The Past Recaptured?

Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage with Rye Bread and Sour Cream

I do not have anything to say about Proust in this posting. Maybe I should have called it “You Can’t Go Home Again” or some such title. My earliest memories are about being raised in a Hungarian household in Cleveland by loving parents. I could not, would not ever repudiate that part of me; and I keep going in search of experiences that, like Proust’s madeleine bring back the happy memories of my childhood.

There used to be some good Hungarian restaurants in Los Angeles; but, as big a city as this is, there do not appear to be any at this time. So Martine and I show up at the local Hungarian Reformed Churches for their festivals. I go to recover my memories, and Martine goes because (although she is French) she loves Hungarian food more than any other.

Despite a rare May rain shower, we went to the Majális festival at the Grace Hungarian Reformed Church in Reseda. We have been going here for almost ten years. Even within that short time, we have seen the parishioner base age as the old Hungarians die off and the younger ones spread out to the four winds. Still, the food is excellent. Their stuffed cabbage is superb, and their baked goods are world class.

The Grace Hungarian Reformed Church as It Looked Several Years Ago

Their pastor is still Zsolt Jakabffy, who keeps soldiering away at maintaining a parish amid the rapidly changing demographics of the San Fernando Valley.

Wait a minute! What’s a Catholic boy like me doing hanging out at a Protestant church? It all goes back to when my Catholic father and my Protestant Reformatus mother made before their children were born. Any boys would be brought up as Catholic; any girls, as Protestant. Just my mother’s luck that she gave birth to two sons.

So, yes, I have no compunction looking for God wherever He is invoked.

 

Þorrablót

Now Tell Me You’re Not Hungry

Now Tell Me You’re Not Hungry

Those of you who are vegetarians can stop reading now. Following is a piece from today’s Iceland Review about how Icelanders celebrate the start of Þorri.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the old month þorri, which generally is celebrated with traditional Icelandic food, enjoyed at large gatherings called þorrablót, held in various places throughout the month.

The food, typically served as buffet, includes the items listed below:

Dark rye bread, slightly sweet and slowly baked, commonly called þrumari or thunderer, because of the thundering it frequently produces at the rear end of those who enjoy it.

Dried fish, or harðfiskur: extremely addictive, despite its distinguished, strong smell. It’s most frequently enjoyed with a bit of butter.

Putrefied shark, served in tiny cubes the size of sugar cubes, but quite different in taste. These cubes are not for the delicate, but a delicacy to others.

Brennivín, also known as Black Death or aquavit, brewed from potatoes. This beverage is ideal for getting the shark down your throat.

Rotten eggs. The best ones are said to come from the West Fjords. They are indeed rotten and smell rotten.

Rams’ testicles which have been boiled and then cured in whey. You will be spared any further description.

Pressed meat from the heads of lambs, or head cheese, often cured in whey. Don’t let the description scare you away. This is considered delicious.

Liver sausage, made from the liver of sheep, is every child’s favorite. Its cousin, the blood sausage, is also popular, but together we call them slátur, meaning slaughter.

If none of the above is to your liking, rest assured you will like the hangikjöt or smoked lamb, which cannot be missed.

Note that the food above is proof how well our forefathers made use of their resources and let nothing go to waste. For preservation, meat was either smoked or stored in whey, and fish was dried.

So, if you’re invited to a þorrablót, don’t let the chance go by to experience it. Dress up and be ready to dance after dinner. [Or something.]

A Hungarian Interlude

Stage Mother Putting the Finishing Touches on Her Daughter

Stage Mother Putting the Finishing Touches on Her Daughter’s Costume

Today was the annual Majális-Tavaszi (May Day-Spring) Fesztival at the Grace Hungarian Reformed Church in Reseda. Martine and I headed there early so as to have one of their authentic Magyar lunches. I had Gulyás Leves (Goulash Soup), while Martine ate Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. The main event for Martine was the arrival of the pastries, which resulted in a large and ravenous line.

Even longer was the line for langós, which is Hungarian fry bread (very much like Navajo Indian Fry Bread), on which people put grated cheese, sour cream, and minced garlic. For some reason I have never been able to determine, this is considered one of the most desirable Hungarian foods.

The church puts on a children’s program of folk dancing, singing, and a recitation in the hall.  Afterwards, the parish’s superb a capella choir sings in the church proper.

While it won’t help my diabetes any, it’s always good on occasion to reconnect with my roots. It is fun for Martine as well, as she is one French girl who prefers Hungarian food to the food of her native land.

 

Where Lobster Is King

Maine lobster license plate

The most pleasant surprise of our recent vacation was my discovery of North Atlantic shellfish, particularly lobster, crab, clams, shrimp, and mussels—but particularly lobster. Whenever I had eaten lobster or shrimp caught is warm Pacific waters, I started feeling a scratchy throat that would last for several hours. In Maine and Maritime Canada, however, that was not the case. Martine and I sat down to seafood feasts at least once a day, and sometimes more.

Why I could not eat California lobster and why North Atlantic lobster from Maine and Nova Scotia was so succulent, I cannot guess.

The standard option was something called a lobster roll. This reached its most Lucullan proportions at the Main Street Market & Grill in Bar Harbor, Maine. Inside a sesame seed bun was a several inches thick congeries of lobster pieces, mostly from the claw. There was minimal mayo and other garnishes to detract from the experience.

Throughout the area, the clam chowder was a standout. We also tried lobster bisque (good) and lobster stew (which is a soup, and outstanding), mussels, crab rolls, and other shellfish menu items. What neither Martine nor I know how to do is to perform surgery on a lobster or crab carapace and hoist out all the tasty bits using a dazzling array of tools. No matter: It’s the meat we were after.

On the mad dash from Bar Harbor back to the airport at Manchester, New Hampshire, we detoured to Kennebunkport, Maine, and had our last fling at Mabel’s Lobster Claw, having to pass the famous Clam Shack because they had no indoor seating, and we were in the middle of a rainstorm. That detour cost us dear, as it seems that every stretch of road was under repair, and fat men in raincoats stood by like so many Paddington Bears in their yellow slickers while we fumed away in traffic.

When I saw how much Martine enjoyed lobster, I decided to make a slight change in our itinerary so that we could visit a lobster museum and hatchery in Bar Harbor called the Oceanarium. (I would provide a link, but their website appears to be having problems.) We spent two hours learning about how lobsters are hatched and trapped; and then we were off to the Main Street Market & Grill to have ourselves some.

Note: Regarding my last post, I finally got in touch with my physician, who prescribed some additional antibiotics and some Advair and Albuterol to keep the asthma down. It seems to be working, such that last night I managed to sleep for ten and a half hours—my first good sleep for two weeks.