Remembering the Holocaust

      Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On January 27, 1945 the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Soviet Soldiers.

A number of my family members, Hungarian Jews, died at Auschwitz. Several of them miraculously survived, including 3 of my grandparents. I wrote a bit about this in the early days of my blog (read here), and also wrote about a different perspective in my series on Inspiring Women (found here), after reading a book called A Train in Winter.

Today is an official occasion to remember the horrors of the Holocaust and those who suffered and died or were impacted profoundly beyond the gates of those camps post-liberation. As well, we remember those that fought for freedom and helped to liberate all those whose lives were yet spared. More than remembrance, the events of WWII form a part of who I am. I will never pretend to truly fathom the experience of those who lived the Holocaust in reality, but somehow I feel that my very essence is made up of fiber impacted by those events. I was shaped in part by grandparents whose experiences were not at all unlike the books and movies that tell the personal stories of Holocaust survivors; of betrayal, loved ones lost, deaths witnessed, cruelty and violence undergone, spirits crushed and lives forever altered. My childhood was impacted by two grandmothers who physically survived Auschwitz itself but were left very different in their emotional and spiritual existence. Some who survived the Holocaust described themselves as having ‘died’ there.

Auschwitz and the other concentration camps were factories of dread and despair, but also some of the most beautiful aspects of humanity shone through in the relationships that formed there: love, companionship, kindness, empathy, hope, perseverance, sacrifice, courage, creativity.

I don’t really know how to observe this day, other than to reflect on the bravery and endurance of my family and all those who faced similar fates; to consider how fortunate I am to be free, safe, happy and privileged; to have been shaped by events that undeniably changed our world eternally; to be realistically aware of the capacity of man to do unimaginable harm; and to choose instead to ensure my impact on this world is positive.

Zichronam Liv’racha (Hebrew – may their memories be for a blessing)

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Identifying My Canadian Voice

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I began the journey of blogging in February 2013, with the intention of it being an outlet for writing whatever might be on my mind, and in particular to explore my love of poetry. I never intended to write about food, and I also never considered that writing about food could actually fit well with my objective of sharing, without boundaries, from my soul.

I was intrigued by the Canadian Food Experience Project because I do love food and cooking, but also because of its purpose: to identify a Canadian voice for culinary arts and facilitate a clearer perspective on our culture, via food. I’ve always been intrigued by our Canadian “culture” and am drawn to any initiative that unites people and builds relationships.

It seemed to me, at first, that these CFEP challenges and the resultant writing would be misfit with the rest of my blog. It could even alienate readers that follow my blog mainly for the poetry. What I’ve found instead is that it has been simply a different way of exploring who I am at my core. Some of my monthly posts really got at the foundations of who I am as an extension of my family and my heritage, as well as the food I grew up on. This helped me to recognize the crucial influences in my life. Others were focused on my own creativity as I set about inventing recipes from scratch; something I’ve not done much of. I have realized through a year of focus just how much I relish the process of creating interesting food, and it emphasized how much I really love baking.

My Canadian voice, vis-à-vis food, is no different than my voice as it relates to my other writing and take on life in general. So in this last post of the project, I have defined this voice by means of a few self-identified characteristics that this blog and the CFEP have allowed me to reveal.

My Canadian voice is broadminded and exploratory, multi-dimensional and exciting.

My family is from Hungary and I very much identify with this heritage. I like to experiment with new flavours, spices, ingredients and even lifestyles (i.e.: vegan, raw, etc.). I believe the multi-dimensional nature of our country makes it a fascinating place to live. I have always had friends who themselves, or their families, hailed from distant lands – India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Israel, and so on and have eaten traditional foods from many parts of the world, right here at home. These opportunities to ‘taste the world’ represent the wonderful compendium of flavours that come together to create a diverse and special ‘food nation’ here in Canada. Together with our country’s First Nations, Canadians are fortunate to have a world of culinary possibilities at our fingertips.

My Canadian voice is colourful, loyal and holistic.

I enjoy delicious food but I also enjoy healthy food. I want to make and eat meals that are not only tempting to the eye and satisfying to the palate, but also make the body healthy and strong. Some of my posts have evidenced my love of fresh and wholesome ingredients, which stimulate the senses and nourish body, mind and soul. If these fresh ingredients can be obtained locally and their purchase supports nearby producers in the process, then the benefits are double. When I support dedicated growers nearby, I can even visit their farms and feel confident about the products I’m eating . In season, I can literally create a rainbow on my dinner plate and connect with a greater good in the process.

My Canadian voice is creative and courageous.

I am not afraid to try new things, inside and outside the kitchen. Without the courage to allow ourselves new experiences, even if failure or pain is an option, we do not grow and learn in the same way. We would be denying ourselves rich opportunities to be better, stronger, fuller people. Cooking is both an art and a science. With copious websites and cookbooks out there, the number of available recipes is boundless. To go beyond and create something unique requires creativity. I’ve pushed myself out of my box in order to start from scratch with spontaneous inspiration and a few key ingredients, to create recipes that put smiles on people’s faces. The writing that goes along with my recipes shows a glimpse of who I am, and I’ve tried to be courageous in sharing transparently, as I do with my poetry.

My Canadian voice is open, honest, caring and relational.

In large part, I cook and bake for others. Sharing my baking with family and friends makes me happy; knowing I have brought them joy. It is key element of relationship-building for me, being a natural nurturer and someone who strives to influence others’ lives positively. In all kinds of relationships, my goal is to always be transparent about my values, feelings and priorities, honest in my communication, compassionate and loving in my actions and present and active in helping the relationship flourish. It is also crucial to admit mistakes in order to open yourself up to learning, and this is the same for cooking as for almost anything in life.

I believe that my commitment to this project and all that I have written about has exemplified these characteristics of my voice – things I strive for, even if not always successful. It has taught me that no matter what I am writing about, I must relentlessly pursue the identification and communication of who I am at my core and a life that allows me to live it authentically.

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A final note to cap off this year-long project, I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to Valerie for challenging Canadian foodies and chefs to contemplate their food identity. She lives her passion so evidently and has created and collected so much enthusiasm, ingenuity and fellowship amongst us in the process.

The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

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Full Plate of Christmas

Since I joined the Canadian Food Experience Project, writing about Canadian food traditions and memories, I have consistently followed a theme: bringing my Hungarian heritage into my Canadian identity. And, since food has played such an integral and meaningful part of my life and one which has been literally and figuratively fed by this heritage, it has seemed so natural all along. And so, this month, as we prepare for Christmas, the traditional food I bring to the forefront is once again a Hungarian dish.

Being from a family that is Hungarian on both sides, I was fortunate enough to enjoy this amazingly tasty food basically twice a week during my entire childhood. But, as I have alluded to before, my paternal grandmother was the true culinary matriarch. My CFEP posts have been as much a tribute to her as they have been to the foods themselves.

My parents divorced when I was 13, and since that time we have had two annual Christmas celebrations. In some ways, this has proven to be a bonus, including two Christmas dinners. Christmas Eve dinner is reserved for the celebration of my Dad’s family, and this meal was cooked by my Grandma until she was too ill to live in her home. Since she passed away, my aunt took over the meal. And, the traditional Christmas Eve meal includes copious quantities of delicious Hungarian foods. And, anyone who knows Hungarian (or most Eastern European) menus, knows that they often include dishes made with cabbage of various types. So, since cabbage is a vegetable that is grown in Ontario and available fresh and local until December, it seemed an opportune time to showcase such a dish.

I love cabbage, raw or cooked. I ate A LOT of cabbage as a kid in many forms, and quite often it was prepared by first being grated. I remember the smell of the kitchen as my maternal grandmother grated green cabbage for the Sunday meal and I always got the best treat to munch on – the raw heart of the cabbage, so sweet, sprinkled with salt. I find dishes that include cabbage to be very comforting and warming. As I sit here writing by the fire with a belly full of Hungarian food, I feel full.

I could have chosen a number of cabbage dishes to make for this month’s challenge, and I did go back and forth a few times, but ended up settling on one that could be used as a main course, or a side dish. For most Canadians, the richness and heaviness of this dish would definitely constitute a main course, but in my family, it forms only one element of the Christmas meal. This dish is called Székely Káposta, a stew made with tender pork and wine sauerkraut, and of course lots of Hungarian paprika. Káposta means cabbage and the Székely are a subgroup of Hungarians who possibly originated as the people of King Attila the Hun. (If you enjoy Eastern European history and wish to read more about this, you can visit this well-referenced Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Sz%C3%A9kely_people)

And so, I once again pay homage to my Grandma, which leaves me recalling abundant memories with a warm heart. I have such gratitude for the years we had with her and the incredible, complex meals she so tirelessly prepared for those she loved. I can only hope those I love enjoy my food even half as much.

Székely Káposta (Hungarian Pork and Sauerkraut Stew)

Ingredients

• 1, 1L jar wine sauerkraut
• 2-3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (or lard, if you really want to go authentic)
• One extra large (or two medium) yellow onion, chopped
• 3 heaping tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika (do not buy grocery store paprika – you need to
purchase the good stuff at a European delicatessen, like Szeged brand)
• 2 lbs. pork tenderloin, cubed
• ¾ cup water
• 1 cup full-fat sour cream
• 1-2 tsp salt

Directions

Empty sauerkraut from jar into a strainer and rinse lightly. Set aside to drain excess water.
Heat oil over medium-low heat in medium dutch oven.

Add onion and sautée gently until fully browned and soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon paprika as the onions are cooking and stir frequently to ensure paprika doesn’t burn.

Add pork, water and another tablespoon of paprika. Stir well and cover, stewing over low heat, about 7-8 minutes until pork is just cooked.

Stir in remaining paprika, the sauerkraut and sour cream. Combine well, place lid on, and cook over low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. As with any stew, the longer you cook over low heat, the more flavour is infused. Salt to taste.

Serve immediately or place in oven to keep warm and the flavours will continue to intensify. Add a dollup (or more!) of sour cream to each serving, if desired.

Works well as a main dish on its own, or with potatoes or rice. Or, may be a side dish to accompany a dozen other foods like in my family! This is very truly comfort food which warms from the inside-out.

SZKELY~1
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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.