Vintage Dad

My mom did 95% of the cooking in our house. The other 5% of hash slinging came in the form of Saturday breakfasts, courtesy of my dad. I’m not sure when this weekend ritual began or why. Perhaps dad was trying to give mom a break one Saturday morning and his culinary creation was so well-received by his hungry brood that he continued the tradition. All I know is that during the majority of my childhood, I woke up on Saturday morning to the smell of something cookin’ in the kitchen.

Ah, the smells. They were very telling as to what Pop was preparing. He had a few specialties that upon your first waking, you could detect from their aroma alone .

My favorite Saturday morning breakfast was palacinky, otherwise known to the Bucek kids as “Nana’s pancakes.” They were simple and oh-so delicious; a crepe rolled up tightly with a filling of cinnamon & sugar, or a thin smear of jelly. Both were phenomenal. We could eat 5 each, and Pop was cooking for himself and four kids – that’s a lot of crepe rolling.

myVmpFBH0uIyoIkujSIfzfwIt wasn’t just the eating that made Nana’s pancakes a treat. Pop would go through a lot of cinnamon & sugar making these puppies, and he usually had to make a new batch and refill the shaker. Ah, that shaker…pale yellow and shaped like an army bugler, it sat on the window sill next to the stove for most of my childhood. I don’t know why it was there as opposed to the the cabinet where the other spices were kept – we only used it once a week. Yet, there it sat.

Once Pop had mixed up the cinnamon & sugar, he’d begin the science experiment. I’d watch as he dribbled a few drops of water into the cinnamon coated bowl, then roll it around. I’d watch the droplets of water become cinnamon coated balls. Another one of Pop’s palacinky tricks was what he did with the dregs of the batter. He’d drizzle it into the hot pan, creating a series of dots, splats and other rorschach type shapes. Despite the fact that I had just consumed a fair quantity of pancakes, I could not resist these organic, one-of-a-kind treats.

slanina-taraneasca-afumataAnother Saturday morning favorite was Slanina – a form of Slovak bacon that my dad would get from a Czech butcher in Astoria, NY. It was smoked, thus fully cooked, and rarely saw the heat of a frying pan in our house. We ate it cold, cut  into slices and slapped on a piece of rye bread with salt & paprika. Between the four of us, plus dad, we could destroy a slab of slanina, not to mention the loaf of rye bread.

I remember once when my friend Leslie slept over, we awoke to a slanina breakfast. I was eager to share this delicacy with her, but after presenting her with a perfectly sliced and seasoned slab o’ slanina on Jersey rye, she wrinkled her nose and said, “EW!”

“Ew?” Waddaya mean, “Ew?”

“It’s all fat!” she said.

Yes, there was a fair amount of fat…it’s bacon! She could not be persuaded to take even the tiniest bite, opting for a bowl of Quisp instead. I sat right in front of her, eating my slanina and spitefully licking my fingers.

Every now and then Pop would decided to fry the slanina – I don’t remember liking it this way, perhaps because of the smell. While cooking, the slanina smelled like B.O. Strong B.O. Have you ever passed someone on the street and caught a whiff of their sour, acrid body odor? You were thankful for every step that put distance between you and the offender. Now imagine that smell ten fold, but you had no escape. Those mornings I kept as far away from the kitchen as possible.

Another one of Pop’s breakfast staples that I was not a fan of was liver and onions. Pop would take a batch of minced chicken livers and slowly saute them in a huge pan with thinly sliced onions and what seemed like a pound of butter. When the onions were soft and caramelized, he’d plop the pan on the kitchen table along with a bag of rye bread (is that all we ate???) and my siblings would descend like vultures.

They didn’t even use plates. They would just grab a lice of bread and drag it through the pan, sopping up butter, onions and little bits of liver. It was the only kid that didn’t like this particular dish. I tried to like it…I really did. Oh well, it just left more for the vultures.

gridI’m sure Pop cooked simpler fare…things like french toast or eggs. All of our Saturday morning breakfasts weren’t so ethnic. But those are the ones I remember the most. No matter what wound up in the kitchen table, I knew that I’d come down on a Saturday morning to find dad, usually clad in a white under shirt and his frayed jean shorts, slinging hash on our very cool, ancient stove.

And I’ve continued the tradition. I try to make Saturday breakfast something more than just a bagel or a bowl of cereal. My kids love their palacinky as much as I did as a kid, and so does there dad. But I can tell you one thing. There will be no liver and onions.