Sunday, September 6, 2009

Exploring His Maternal Heritage Through a Culinary Adventure

My dad's side of the family is Polish, and I think that Nick definitely takes after his Polish relatives. Yesterday, Greg and I took Nick to my Uncle John's Birthday Party. It was a surprise party and it turned out to be really fun. This party was at The Lone Tree Manor, in Niles, and it was definitely a Polish kind of place.

The picture below shows my aunts and uncles, all seven of them. Here they are, from left to right: Uncle Steve, Uncle Joe, Aunt Theresa, Uncle John, Aunt Mary, my dad, and Uncle Al.

My father is the youngest of seven, and it is very seldom that they all get together. But for my Uncle John's 70th birthday, relatives from as far as Arizona, Florida, and Wisconsin came to celebrate. We hadn't seen most of them since my grandfather's funeral in 2006, and none of them had ever met Nicholas.

Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted by a few of my uncles, who declared definitively, "That baby is definitely a Polack!" (Meant in the kindest, most complimentary way, of course.) Nick was very excited to see everybody, and he got to meet all of his many great uncles, great aunts, and cousins. We sang "Happy Birthday" and "Sto Lat" (Roughly, "May you live 100 years" in Polish) to my Uncle, and chatted with everyone until the banquet hall actually told everyone they were closing and it was time to leave.

I like this picture, because my dad and Nick are looking at each other with the same expression. We spent a good portion of the evening looking at old pictures, and we found one from the fifties with my dad as a baby. He looked remarkably like Nick.

But perhaps the funniest part of the evening was the food. Polish food is very distinctive, and I feel incredibly nostalgic whenever I eat it. My paternal grandmother passed away when I was in my mid-twenties, and I still miss her. It is kind of sad that Nick never got to meet his great-grandparents on my dad's side. As a child, there were a few big family gatherings every year in Schiller Park. My grandmother would always cook for an army, and I can remember how much fun it was to go to her house and play cards and admire the '60s era decor and the Jesus paintings. I actually flashed back to my childhood, and for a second, I was 8 years old, sticking to the plastic covers on my grandparent's couch and smelling overcooked beef, boiled potatoes, and cheap beer. I could feel the shag carpeting under my toes, hear the loud voices of my chatting relatives, and see the smoke hanging in the air from all of the cigarettes. These are vivid, comforting memories to me, and many times yesterday I felt like I was in a time warp.

This restaurant reminded me so much of those times. The tables were covered in plastic, just like my grandparents' furniture. Fake flowers, slightly dusty, decorated the tables, and bright chandeliers sparkled from above. The all-you-can eat buffet was a classic example of Polish cuisine, at least as I know it. Polish food is hearty, never spicy, and very well-cooked. For example, when the Polish cook vegetables, they boil them until they nearly fall apart. Then they drain them and add butter. Polish sausage is probably my favorite Polish food, because my grandpa used to be a butcher and would always have the best sausage when we'd go to his house.

Pierogies are another Polish staple, and they're often filled with saurkraut or even potatoes. A pierogie is the ultimate carbohydrate bomb: Dough with potato inside and butter dripping off of the outside. I suppose it was my duty as a mother to introduce my son to the wonders of Polish cuisine. I have to say that Nick loved the sausage and the saurkraut pierogies, and he sucked down the well-boiled vegetables like they were going out of style. It was the meat jello that was the funniest, however. I could not bring myself to try such an item, but my cousin Maria said that it tasted vaguely like chicken soup, only gelatinous and very wiggly. I forget who at the table said, "Hey, I bet Nick would like that. He eats anything." And so it began. . .

As someone who has taken quite a few child development courses, I know that children go through stages of emotional development. The first one, and the one that Nick is in right now, is called "Trust vs. Mistrust." This is a time in a child's development where he learns whether or not to trust the adults in his life. Nick trusts me completely, or at least he did until the whole meat jello incident.

Even though Nick really didn't seem to dislike this disgusting jiggly concoction, I still felt a little bit guilty. Kind of like the time in grade school when a bunch of us girls dumped disgusting things together into a kind of potato/chocolate milk/ketchup/applesausce mountain, and dared one of the cuter boys to eat it. He did it, and he didn't die or anything, but I still felt a little guilty.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but Nick was incredibly well-behaved throughout this long family event. He did let out a really loud "muppet growl" when my cousin Ted was saying grace, but I guess that's just what babies do. Nicholas was up way past his bedtime, too. We didn't get home until 11:30, and Nick usually goes to sleep at 8 p.m. sharp.

I like this picture of Nick with his daddy, because you can see Nick doing what he does when he's tired. He sucks really hard on his binky and pulls on his ears. Nicholas actually slept an hour later than normal this morning, after his adventurous evening.

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