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Chicken Paprikash

Chicken Paprikash

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8 chicken thighs, skinless and boneless (about 2 lbs.)

2 medium onions, chopped or finely sliced (about 3-4 cups)

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tablespoons Hungarian paprika

1 large can (28 0z.) peeled whole tomatoes

2 cups chicken stock

1 Tbsp flour, stirred together with a little water

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tsp sugar

salt, black pepper, olive oil

* * *

chopped fresh parsley for garnish

egg noodles

* * *

Cut the thighs in half, pat dry, season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

In a heavy pot, heat a couple tablespoons of oil (or chicken fat – see below) and cook the onion with a teaspoon of salt, stirring occasionally, until very tender but not browned.  Add the paprika and cook, stirring, for a couple minutes.  Add the tomatoes, their juice, the sugar, black pepper and the stock, breaking up the tomatoes.  Add the chicken, turn up the heat and bring the dish just to the simmering point, then turn the heat down and let it simmer loosely covered for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the chicken is just done.  More sauce?  Add a cup more stock.

Mix the flour mixture into the sauce, stirring until the sauce is slightly thickened.

(*stop here if you’re making ahead) Remove from heat and add the sour cream.  (In a small bowl, stir some sauce into the sour cream a few spoons at a time.  That way the cold sour cream won’t clot when you add it to the sauce.)  Correct the seasoning.

Serve over noodles (or rice, or spaetzle, or boiled or mashed potatoes), sprinkle with parsley.  Offer chunks of crusty bread for sopping your plate clean.

Notes.  This dish is one of our favorite comfort foods.  It’s very, very delicious.  Plus – because the chicken does not need to be browned – cleanup is very easy.  No spatters!

You can prepare this a day ahead, stopping at the (*).  When you’re ready to serve, reheat, add the sour cream, and enjoy.

We like thighs, but use breasts if you prefer white meat.  I used to make this with chicken pieces with skin on and bone in, removing the skin and rendering it until I had about a quarter cup of chicken fat.  I would this fat in place of the oil to give the dish a very rich flavor.  When I made this the other day, I bought a couple extra thighs with skin on and rendered those skins plus all the fat I could trim off the thighs.

I prefer sweet paprika, but you can add some bite by using some hot paprika.  The common ingredients in paprikash are chicken, onions, paprika, and sour cream, but there are variations.  For example, not all recipes for paprikash use tomatoes, some use tomato paste, some add sliced bell peppers (green or red or yellow) with the onions.

The other day I served these with Mrs. Miller’s “Old Fashioned Extra Wide” homemade egg noodles, a product of Mrs. Miller’s Homemade Noodles of Fredericksburg, Texas.  These were flavorful and tender, among best store-bought noodles I’ve ever had.  Central Market had them.  (Leftover noodles get a dab of butter to keep them from sticking together, then into the fridge in a zip-lock bag.  When it’s time for leftovers, I place them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water until they are heated through, then drain and serve.)





Pozole is a Mexican stew based on hominy.  This is the version we serve at our house.  The contrasts are a delight — hot stew, cold vegetables; tender pork and potatoes, crunchy radishes and onions and cabbage.

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2 pounds boneless pork, cubed

2 T olive oil

1/2 to 1 cup chopped onion

2 or more cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup flour

2 to 3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded

1-1/2 to 2 cups coarsely chopped peeled roasted Hatch green chiles (= Anaheim chiles), seeded and deveined (canned are okay)

1 t each: salt, black pepper, sugar

2 potatoes (Yukon Gold), cubed

1 quart chicken stock

1 15 oz. can of pozole, drained (I like white)


Sour cream

Lime wedges

Chopped cilantro, shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, sliced avocado


Brown the pork cubes in the olive oil in a large pot.  Drain the pork.  Add the onion and garlic, sauté for 3 or 4 minutes.  Add the flour, stir well, cook for a couple more minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the tomatoes, chiles, salt, pepper and sugar.  Add the stock.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to a simmer, cook for an hour.  Add the potatoes, cook for another 30 minutes.  The pork should be tender by now.  Add the pozole, heat through.  Correct the seasonings.  Serve in bowls, with sour cream, lime wedges, cilantro, radishes, cabbage, avocado – all to taste.  Pass the hot tortillas.


This is a forgiving recipe.  If you like tomatoes, add more.  Same with the chiles, and the garlic, and onion, and pozole.  I like to reserve about 1/2 cup each of the chopped chiles and tomatoes and add them during the last 20 minutes.  That way there are nice chunks in the stew.  A popular variation is to leave out the tomatoes completely – that makes pozole verde.

This is my adaptation of a Central Market recipe for Hatch green chili stew.  The version in my photos is more red and chunky than green and chunky.  The fresh tomatoes at the market were ho-hum that day, so I used canned tomatoes in tomato juice.  Authentic pozole rojo gets its color not from tomato juice, but from dried or toasted guajillo or ancho chiles, seeded and stemmed, then ground.  I was also short of frozen fresh roasted Hatch chiles, so I supplemented what I had with canned ones.


Cod Chowder with Saffron

The saffron in this recipe reminds me of bouillabaisse, but that’s where the resemblance stops.  This soup is simpler, both in ingredients and seasoning, as well as in preparation.  I think of this chowder as Portuguese, not French.

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Cod Chowder with Saffron

1+ cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only — about 1 large leek)

2 cloves garlic, pressed

3 8 oz. bottles clam juice

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads

1/2 t sugar

1/2 cup whipping cream or half and half

1 lb. fingerling potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch rounds

1/2 cup frozen peas

12-15 mussels, scrubbed

1 lb. cod fillets, cut into 2×2 inch pieces, salted and peppered

olive oil, salt, pepper

In a large heavy pot, over medium heat, cook the leeks and garlic in olive oil until tender, stirring often.  Add the clam juice, water, thyme, sugar, and saffron, bring to a boil, and simmer about 5 minutes.  Stir in the cream.  Add the potatoes and peas and simmer 5 minutes more.  Add the mussels and the pieces of cod. Turn up the heat and cook gently just until the cod flakes and the mussels are open.  Correct the seasonings.  Serve with a crusty bread.

This is a very easy recipe.  I decided to make this when I was at the Wheatsville Coop  not long ago and saw that they had very nice fresh cod.  I filled in the blanks with a second quick shopping trip after checking the recipe.  Central Market had the fingerlings and mussels.

Bon appetit!

Serbin, Texas: Wendish Fest II

I promised sausage and noodles, sauerkraut and pickled beets.  Here they are, and much more.   The Wendish Fest is the annual celebration of the folk traditions of the Wends of Texas.  In terms of community and family appeal, it ranks way up there, right next to the State Fair of Texas, the Zilker Park Christmas Tree, and any one of dozens of chili cook-offs in Texas.

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Witaj! is the theme – Welcome!  Welcome to food and fellowship!

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Joe Musil is shredding cabbage here.  This gentleman is not simply a cook, he’s a master of sauerkraut science.   I brought home jars of “Homemade Sauerkraut” (i.e., plain) and “Russian Sauerkraut” (i.e., flavored with beets and carrots).  I also brought home handouts on Sauerkraut Science and on the Microbial Evolution of Sauerkraut that explain the magic of the fermentation that happens when cabbage and salt are combined.

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There was a sausage-making exhibition at the Fest, and there was plenty of sausage.  Tommy is slicing off chunks here.  He offered me a sample.  Garlicky, coarse-ground, lots of black pepper – I’ve come home!

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And here is lunch:  sausage, sauerkraut, homemade noodles, pickled beets, a dill pickle, and dark bread.   We ate as we listened to a small band play country/western, polka, and swing music, including choruses of “In Heaven There is No Beer” in a half-dozen or so languages.  (I had an orange Fanta that hit the spot.)  We ate at long tables, and there was a spirit of hospitality in the air.  These people mean it when they say “Witaj!”

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There were demonstrations and games and exhibits.  Here’s are some photos of ones that were my favorites.  Washer Toss is a game we would play at out cousins’ reunions – my kinsman Patrick built the platforms at the ranch.  Easter egg decorating reminds me of the eggs that other Slavic people decorate.  Here’s a link to an earlier blog post on the subject.  The tractor seats were part of the Old Farm Equipment exhibit – they were as colorful and appealing as a basket of eggs or a bouquet of flowers.  And finally there is Jim Haley’s machine grinding corn into meal.

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The people?  They were of “all sorts and conditions.”  Lots of folks in jeans and boots and baseball caps – after all, we are in Central Texas.  Here’s my fellow academic Charles.  I teased him, “Every time I saw you you were carrying a pitcher of beer.”  He wrote back, “Well, what do you expect from a Wend raised in the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church?  Have you heard this joke?  In the Missouri Synod version of the New Testament, at the wedding feast at Cana, Christ changes the water into beer.”  He signed his name “Korla.”

These two girls won prizes in the baking contest.  I had hoped to enter the coffee cake contest with my famous Pflaumkuchen, sometimes known as Joseph’s Mogilevsky Torte, but the rules required yeast dough, and required that one submit the recipe with the entry.  I disqualified myself.  When I mentioned this to one of the baking contest organizers, she told me the story of a Serbin woman who entered the contest for years using yeast that she cultured herself used potato peelings. Little kids took part in races riding stick horses, and these big kids rode in on their hogs  both with American flags flying.

Dear Wends of Central Texas, Mějće dźak!  Thank you all very much!



But for the Grace…

But for the Grace…

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Closer. Farther.
But it didn’t happen to you.

You escaped because you were the first.
You escaped because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the left. On the right.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the sun was shining that day.

Lucky for you—there was a forest.
Lucky for you —there were no trees.
Lucky for you —a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a jamb, a bend, a fraction, an instant.
Lucky for you —just then a blade went floating by.

As a result, because, and but, despite.
What would have happened if a hand, a foot,
one step away, a hairsbreadth from
an awful coincidence.

So here you are? Still dizzy from another dodge, another close shave?
A single hole torn in the net and you managed to slip through it?
I couldn’t be more stunned or speechless.
how your heart pounds inside me.

tr. Joseph Liro, 2013

Notes on the translations:

The more widely known English translation of Symborska’s Wszelki Wypadek is that by Magnus Krynski and Robert Maguire (1981). Krynski and Maguire – as do some other translators – render Szymborska’s phrase, “brzytwa pływała po wodie” as “a straw was floating on the surface.” Going from “brzytwa” (a razor blade) to “straw” requires knowing the Polish idiom “tonący chwyta się brzytwy,” (“a drowning man clutches at a razor”), and then connecting it to the English idiom “grasping at straws.” It’s a creative effort, going from idiom to idiom, but one that would be opaque to an English speaker not familiar with Polish. I opted to leave well enough alone with the razor blade – I like the implied connection I see between the blade and the hole in the net.

This poem was written in 1970 and recalls the fear and uncertainty of life in Poland under Nazi occupation. Survival depends on one’s wits as much as it does on random events. A woman speaks these lines to her lover, stunned that he has pulled it off again, reunited with him again, marveling at their good fortune, aroused by being together. It’s wartime, and lovers don’t waste time. Or words.

I selected English that is familiar and colloquial, even breezy, words of a lover who speaks frankly and affectionately. Szymborska’s staccato Polish phrases underline the urgency of this reunion, and the English seeks to mirror them.

Notes on the recordings:

The English version that I read here (2005) was an adaptation of Krynski and Maguire’s work. That year, the local KUT-FM, the local NPR affiliate, marked April – National Poetry Month – by playing recordings of several Austin people reading poetry. Driving about town, one could hear Szymborska, or Pablo Naruda, or Langston Hughes. My friend Frances Schenkkan, herself a poet, recruited me to do the Polish. I read this work in Polish and in English, as well as Szymborska’s “Dwie małpy Bruegla” (“Bruegel’s ‘Two Monkeys’ ”). One of these days I’ll re-record the English.

Notes on the YouTube post:

My nephew Craig Hanna, musician and poet himself, helped with the technology. The art, text, and design are his. Dziękuję bardzo, Craig.


Serbin, Texas: Wendish Fest I

IMG_7546The twenty-fifth annual Wendish Fest was held on September 22, 2013.  Serbin is a country town south of Giddings, Texas, off US 290.  Last March, after years of driving back and forth to Houston and passing the road sign inviting visitors to the Wendish Museum, I finally accepted the invitation.  I had such a fine time that I resolved to attend the Wendish Fest in September.

My late friend Kilian Fehr was of Wendish heritage (Rev. Jan Kilian was the Lutheran pastor who led the original group of immigrants), and Kilian and I used to speak about going to church in Serbin some Sunday.  Kilian died unexpectedly in 1995 and we never made the trip.

Serbin, Texas, is the only Wendish community in the United States, and many of the residents of this central Texas town are descendants of the original immigrants who came here in the 1850s from Lusatia in what is now northwest Poland.  They left their homeland because of religious persecution.  The immigrants traveled in a chartered ship, the Ben Nevis, and that ship has become a symbol of the community.

The Wendish language has its origins in German and Polish, and much of the culture and many of the traditions of the Wends remind me of ones with which I am familiar.  It is a source of some satisfaction to me that I can read a good deal of the Sorbian (Wendish) language.

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St. Paul’s Lutheran Church was established as a Missouri Synod congregation in 1866 and the present church building was built in 1871.  It is the only painted church in Central Texas that is not Roman Catholic.  The plain exterior hides the beautiful interior, painted in turquoise, gilt, and white.

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This parish has been at the center of the Wendinh community from the very beginning.  St. Paul’s is responsible for preserving the heritage of the immigrants, for the museum and archives, and the Wendish Fest and all the rest.  So it was fitting that the day’s activities began in church.  I attended the German-language service, a liturgy of the Word.  It seemed to me that the entire congregation spoke German – they sang and responded and prayed with great enthusiasm, “Vater unser, der du bist in Himmel,” “Und mit dienem Geiste.”  I was really not surprised, as the congregation was mainly middle-aged, but it did surprise me to notice that the two teen-aged girl acolytes likewise sang and prayed in German.  I had a sense that my friend Kilian was with me at St. Paul’s that morning.  He and I finally did make our trip.

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A high balcony surrounds the nave.  (At one time, men sat in the balcony and women below.  I wondered how many of the changes would surprise Pastor Jan Kilian.  How would he feel about the girl acolytes?  Or services in a language other that Wendish?)  The pulpit is located some twenty feet high, and it was from there that Pastor Emeritus Paul Hartfield preached the sermon in German.  The current pastor of St. Paul’s is a young man, Pastor John Schmidt.  The ministry of St. Paul’s includes St. Paul’s Lutheran School, a highly regarded school with about 100 students through the eighth grade.

Adjacent to the church and school complex is the community cemetery.  This is a place of reverence and memory and history.  I have no doubt that most of the current Wendish residents of Serbin and other towns in central Texas are descendants of the settlers who are buried here, and that this is a place of pilgrimage for them.




Theresia, Traugott, Joh. Maria, Selma, Clara Franziska – these are some of the names on the oldest gravestones, old-country names.  These men and women were born in the 1870s and 1880s, the first generation of Texas Wends.  Many of them died young.  Some, like these three Schulze children, died within days of each other, no doubt of a contagious illness.  The inscriptions on the stones are in German – Hier ruht in Frieden (Here rests in peace…), Ein fröhliches Wiedersehen (A joyous farewell…), Hier ruht in Gott (Here rests in God…), geb.  (geboren, born), gest. (gestorben, died).



The edges of these old stones are worn and lichen covers many of them.  The artwork on the stones is beautiful, the work of artisans who worked with chisels and mallets.  They carved lambs, crosses, flowers, leaves and scrolls, even a dozing child, motifs that are peaceful and serene, motifs that invite an affectionate smile.


The newer part of the cemetery contains stones in designs and shapes that are more familiar to us.  There are war casualties here, and people who in old age.  There are flowers and decorations on many of these graves, a sure sign that the memories of those buried here is still cherished.

There was much more to the Wendish Fest.  Today I write of the parts that fed my spirit.  I’ll continue my account with a report on the parts that fed my more whimsical self with sausage and noodles, sauerkraut and pickled beets, and music.


Julie’s Sauerkraut Salad

Julie’s Sauerkraut Salad


This dish tastes like it ought to be Polish or Russian or German, something Eastern or Central European.  Let’s just assume that it is, because I have never seen this recipe anywhere else but in my late mother’s recipe box.

Sauerkraut salad

Mix together and heat to boiling: 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, Cook five minutes or so, until the sugar is dissolved.  Pour this over the following:

1 quart sauerkraut (32 oz.) drained and squeezed dry

(I like the Boar’s Head brand that comes in a bag)

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper

1 small jar chopped pimento, drained

Add 1/4 cup olive oil and mix well. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least a couple hours.

My mom, Julie, liked this recipe so much that it was part of her wake.  In addition to the prayer cards that are part of wakes and funerals back home, we had this recipe printed on stiff cards along with Julie’s picture.  The recipe cards went more quickly than the prayer cards, and I think Julie would have been pleased.

This is the perfect dish to take to a covered-dish event.  It’s a real crowd pleaser – tart and sweet and crunchy and very satisfying.  It doubles easily.

IMG_9406Incidentally, the plate was made by the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg, Russia.  The plate –in the “Singing Garden” pattern – has the same cobalt blue pigment that is the signature color of many other Lomonosov designs.  The factory has been manufacturing porcelain and china since 1774.