Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Remembering My Mother, Alice Kilpatrick (1923-2018)

Remembering my mother, Alice Kilpatrick (2/1/23 to 2/11/18). She passed away peacefully on Sunday, February 11,  in Lafayette, California. I felt privileged to be there for her final moments. She had just turned ninety-five. 
My mother was an amazing woman. A retired teacher and school psychologist. A hospice volunteer. A staunch liberal who recently decided she was actually a progressive. A feminist. Married to her high school sweetheart, my wonderful father, for not nearly long enough, since he died before he was seventy. Survived and deeply missed by her three children, two sons-in-law, four grandsons and their partners, one beautiful great-granddaughter; and by her one surviving sibling, a brother. 

My mother never forgot where she came from. She grew up in Cleveland during the Depression, in a first-generation Slovenian immigrant family who struggled with poverty, alcoholism, family violence, and more. She and her three siblings were all resilient. They broke the cycle. They all flourished. But she was the one who emerged with a fierce compassion and a refusal to embrace a "bootstrap" narrative that never worked as well for anyone who didn't happen to be white. All her life, she gravitated to the lost, the outsiders, and the disenfranchised. 

My mother was lucky to find a soulmate in John Kilpatrick (1922-1991). She and my father raised their family in Ohio and then in Illinois, where they became active in community affairs and she blossomed in her midlife career as an educator. At the age of eighty, she left the midwest for California.

My mother set the bar high, especially for me, her first-born daughter: Excel in school and take it as far as you can. Choose a profession that has meaning and helps others. Aim for financial stability but not wealth. Find a good husband. Have children. (Natural childbirth and breast-feeding preferred.) Never tolerate prejudice or injustice. And try to lose twenty-five pounds. (Yes, you read that right. She had an odd and unfortunate preoccupation with something that was never in the cards, genetically speaking, for either of us :-)

If you would  like to remember my mother, you can play a tune for her. She had come to love Cajun music. Or bake a loaf of potica. (If you don't have your own family recipe, you are welcome to try hers.) Or consider a contribution to any of these organizations that she and my father supported: the NAACP, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Habitat for Humanity. Or make a donation to the Hospice organization of your choice. Our family is particularly grateful to Hospice of the East Bay here in the San Francisco Bay Area, who offered so much support during our mother's final eighteen months.
From the formal obituary, which can be found here

The family invites donations in her name to two special places: Hospice of the East Bay in California, who provided such compassionate care in her final eighteen months of life; and the Chicago Botanic Garden, where a private celebration of life is planned for later in the year. Current arrangements are being handled by the Trident Society in Walnut Creek, California, where Alice lived prior to her final illness.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Sauerkraut Quiche with Buckwheat Crust

Sauerkraut quiche. Ever hear of it? I first came up with the idea a year or so ago, but it quickly became a favorite at our house.

Originally, it was a spur-of-the-moment experiment. I was putting together one of my quick quiches for dinner: A pat-in-the pan crust made with oil, then a layer of whatever cheese and veggies we had on hand, and filled with a simple egg-milk mixture. We had some leftover sauerkraut, and possibly some sausage, so I tossed it in.

I wasn't quite sure how the sauerkraut would work, but it made for a tasty if unusual quiche: Dense and tart, with the unmistakable flavor of Central Europe. My husband loved it and started to request this odd dish regularly.

We enjoyed sauerkraut quiche several times during the winter holidays. I made it for our first night of Hanukkah dinner, to accompany my husband's signature latkes:

He even suggested it for New Year's Eve, but I opted for something a little more elegant. But I made it again a few days later. This time, I made a buckwheat crust, to give it even more of that characteristic Slovenian flavor. And I used my very first jar of homemade sauerkraut, from the pickling and fermentation workshop I attended in early December:


This final version was the best yet. I have included the recipe below, although sauerkraut can be a welcome addition to any basic quiche recipe. 

Since I had never come across sauerkraut quiche, I figured this must be my own quirky invention. With the addition of the buckwheat crust, it may be. But it turns out that that sauerkraut pie is also a traditional German dish, although online sources do caution that it is unusual and probably an acquired taste!   

Sauerkraut Quiche with Buckwheat Crust

Sauerkraut Quiche with Buckwheat Crust


1 cup white flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil
2-3 tablespoons cold water


1 cup sauerkraut (preferably homemade!)
1 generous cup grated cheddar or other sharp cheese
1-1/3 cup milk
3 eggs
1 rounded teaspoon Dijon mustard
caraway seed (if sauerkraut doesn't include it)
2-3 tablespoons parsley, chopped

For crust: Whisk flours and salt together. Add oil and mix in with fork or fingers. Add enough water to make a crumbly dough. Press crust into 10 inch quiche pan. Line crust with foil and pre-bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes or until firm. Let cool while you prepare filling.

For filling: Drain sauerkraut and arrange onto pre-baked crust. Top with cheese. Beat eggs, milk and seasonings together and pour into crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until firm. Let cool before cutting and serving.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Holiday Retrospective for December 2017

December was a busy month in my kitchen, with three holidays to observe: Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year. I got too caught up with family, house guests, entertaining, and holiday celebrations to do much blogging. So now it's time to catch up!

Here's a look back at December--and a preview of upcoming posts:

I've already written about my first-ever attempt at yeast-raised kifli or rogljički. That's how the month started. I dubbed them Potica Babies and took them to a couple of parties, including the annual Christmas gathering at the Slovenian Hall in San Francisco:

Soon it was Hanukkah week. It is usually a low-key time, with adult children who live far away. But on the first night my husband and I always light the menorah and he makes the traditional potato pancakes or latkes. This year, he suggested I contribute something new: sauerkraut quiche, an odd but tasty dish I'd created earlier in the year. It was a tangy if non-traditional addition to the holiday meal. One of these days, I vowed, I would get around to making my own sauerkraut, just as my grandma did.

The opportunity came a week later, when I attended a wonderful pickling and fermenting workshop sponsored by an organization called Slow Food-East Bay. I came home with a collection of beautiful jewel-like jars of pickled and fermenting vegetables. It was a wonderful assortment, but the two in the middle were of special interest: sauerkraut (of course!) but also those turnips to the left, which are similar to an unusual Slovenian specialty called kisla repa.

Next, I had a breakthrough on the potica front. Just before Christmas, I finally baked a loaf in the traditional round shape!

At around the same time, I made a slightly different version of those Potica Babies: dairy-free, and with the same walnut-honey filling we use in our family potica recipe. This batch was even better!  

After Christmas, I had a problem: We'd had a full house for almost two weeks (our sons, their partners, and another young family member) and supplies were low. No more cookies and two more annual holiday gatherings on the calendar: A friend's Boxing Day party, and then our own New Year's Day open house. It seemed like the perfect time to try out an unusual-sounding bar cookie recipe I'd known about for years but had never tasted: Yugoslavian Christmas Cookies. Thew were a surprising success!

Meanwhile, the sauerkraut had fermented in our cool kitchen and was now in the fridge. It tasted really good! I used it to make another sauerkraut quiche. This time, I added one more touch to make it Slovenian: a buckwheat crust!

We are still working on the last of the Christmas potica. Fortunately, it makes great toast!

Happy New Year! Recipes to follow!

Friday, December 15, 2017

New for 2017: Potica Babies! An Old Favorite with a New Name

Last week, I had a sweet dilemma. Two holiday potluck parties in the space of three days:A musical gathering at the home of a Cajun music friend, followed by a Christmas party at San Francisco's Slovenian Hall. I wanted to bring a dessert that would work for both events.

I ruled out potica for two reasons. For one thing, I was pressed for time. But I also knew that our treasured celebration dish is often overlooked in a holiday buffet line of non-Slovenians. Is it too rich? Too plain? Too hard to categorize? I don't know. But I hate to see a half-finished loaf of potica languishing on a platter at the end of the evening. 

So I decided to make a holiday sweet I had wanted to tackle for awhile: A yeast-raised version of the ever-popular pastry/cookie you can see in the photos at the top of this page. These delicate filled creations go by a variety of names. But they are everywhere during the winter holidays. I thought it would be a good compromise, since I could use a walnut filling that would capture the flavor of potica.   

What do you call these tasty morsels? The proper Slovenian name, rogljički ("little horns") is challenging to say and spell, so many of my vintage cookbooks use one of the more familiar labels: kifli, kolache, or nut horns. (The popular Jewish version is known as rugelach.) 

This pastry originated in Central and Eastern Europe, with an enriched yeast dough as the foundation. But the version known to most Americans--artfully shaped cookies, often buried in confectioners' sugar--has a definite New World lineage. The key ingredient is cream cheese, an American invention. The recipe was introduced in 1939, in an inspired piece of World's Fair marketing by the Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese company. 

(Tablet Magazine, a Jewish publication, tells the whole fascinating story here.

The ubiquitous cream cheese pastry is dense and rich: one part butter, one part cream cheese, two parts flour, often with eggs. Little or no sugar--and no leavening. I have used this style of pastry in several recipes on this blog: American Slovenian Nut Horns, made with cottage cheese instead of cream cheese. Baked Flancati, in which sour cream is added. And I have been making Jewish rugelach for years. 

But I had never tried the original European yeast-raised version. 

When I turned to my vintage Slovenian American cookbook collection, there was no shortage of recipes. Each cookbook had at least one. They were virtually identical: Butter, sour cream, egg yolks, yeast, and flour, in the proportions you will find in the recipe below. There were slight differences in the method of preparation. I stuck closely to the "Kifli (with yeast)" recipe in my newest old cookbook: Pots and Pans, from the Slovenian Women's Union of America. I liked the simplicity of the dough preparation, which was similar to making pie crust.  

I prepared two fillings, walnut and jam. Although I consulted my cookbooks, I ended up improvising. I wanted the walnut filling to taste like my family's potica, so I added honey and cinnamon. 

Somewhere along the way, it hit me: I was making little poticas! The walnut filling was the same, except for the addition of egg white. The refrigerated sour cream dough was almost identical to my family potica recipe--except for the absence of sugar. 

And when I cut into one of these little horns, it even looked like a potica: 

Well, all right. Maybe it looked more like the end of a potica, where there is more dough than filling. But this was clearly a miniature yeast bread. Rich, but not as rich as the butter-cream cheese version. It had the special scent and tang of a yeast-raised pastry. And, unlike potica, it could be served straight from the oven.

And best of all: There were no leftovers!

At the Cajun music party, these little horns disappeared in a half hour. Luckily, my accordion friend Mark, who makes kifli himself, managed to snag one. He even gave me a thumbs up!

Two days later, when my husband and I arrived at the Slovenian Hall, I was greeted by an anxious question: Had I brought potica? No, I admitted, not this time. I figured someone else would. But no luck. Not one of us had come through.

That's when I decided these little horns deserved two names: The proper Slovenian one, and one more. After checking on the spelling with Mia, my Slovenian teacher, I wrote out the label:

Rogljički--or Potica Babies.

Toward the end of the evening, I noticed that just three of these sweet babies remained on the tray. I quickly wrapped them up and slipped them to my teacher.

This recipe is a work in progress. But I think it's a keeper.

Vesel Božič! Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays to All!

Potica Babies: Rogljički ("little horns," yeast kifli)

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 packages dry yeast
1 cup butter
1 cup sour cream
4 egg yolks

confectioners' sugar for rolling
fillings (see below)

For the dough: Combine flour, salt and yeast in large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Mix sour cream and egg yolks. Make a well in center of the large bowl and add the sour cream-egg mixture. Combine into a soft dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead for several minutes, until dough is smooth. Divide into 6-8 balls. Flatten into discs, wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or more.

Alternatives: Some recipes recommend dissolving yeast in a few tablespoons of warm water or milk before proceeding as above. Others treat the butter differently: softening it first, or even melting it in warmed sour cream, before adding the yeast. With any of these methods, the dough will take longer to chill.

To shape: Roll out each portion of dough onto a surface that is dusted with confectioners' sugar. To make the familiar crescent shape, roll each portion into an 8-9 inch circle and cut into 8-12 wedges. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling on the wide edge (see photo above) and roll up. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet with the narrow pointed end underneath. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. Let cool, then dust with confectioners' sugar.

Other possible shapes: Roll into a rectangle, cut into diamonds, and pinch two points together to encase the filling. Or roll up the rectangle into one or two long rolls and cut into shorter lengths.

Walnut Filling (makes 1+ cup, enough for half the dough)

1 cup walnuts, ground
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2-3 tablespoons honey, if desired
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white, unbeaten

Jam Filling (makes about 1+ cup, enough for half the dough)

1 cup jam or preserves (I used blueberry)
ground walnuts (enough to thicken)
cinnamon to taste
1 egg white, unbeaten

Other Filling Options: Any favorite potica filling should work. My homemade poppy seed filling would be a good choice. Be aware that too much egg or liquid can cause the filling to run or expand, especially if you use the open-ended "horn" shape.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Balkan-Inspired Cornbread with a Louisiana Twist

What does Balkan cooking have to do with Louisiana cornbread?

On the face of it, not much.

Except for this: It was my love for the Cajun accordion--and the Cajun and Creole music, food, and culture of Louisiana--that led me to a deeper appreciation of my own Slovenian heritage and to the even larger world of southeast Europe.

And cornbread happens to be popular in both places.

Then there was the practical reason: Yesterday, I needed to make a side dish for a big post-wedding celebration in our local Cajun-Creole music community. Cornbread seemed like the perfect addition. Naturally, I went back to my never-fail Balkan cornbread recipe as the foundation. My inspiration for that dish was a particularly moist "proja" recipe from Allison, an American blogger in Paris who got it from a Serbian friend. So I added my own little Cajun-Creole touches--and there you have it.

The changes were small ones. Some cut-up red pepper. A Cajun seasoning mix. And doubling the recipe, of course. Traditional cooking is a lot like playing folk music. A recipe, just like a tune, gets passed around, adapted, and expanded.

The recipe below did not disappoint, although it was a little on the mild side. Next time,  I might try to make it spicier. More of the seasoning mix, perhaps some diced hot peppers, or a few drops of hot sauce would give it even more Louisiana heat!


Balkan-Inspired Cornbread with a Louisiana Twist

1-1/2 cups polenta or cornmeal
2/3 cup white flour
1 T Cajun seasoning mix (I used Slap Ya Mama)
(additional salt if seasoning mix doesn't include it)
6 eggs
1 cup oil
1-1/2 cups plus 3 T sparkling water
1-1/2 cups plain yogurt
2 cups feta cheese, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen

To make it even spicier: Add more of the seasoning mix, some diced hot peppers, or some Louisiana hot sauce!

Oil two 8-inch cast iron skillets, two small ceramic dishes, or one large rectangular ceramic dish (at least 9" x 13"). Sprinkle with a little cornmeal.

Combine cornmeal, flour, salt and seasonings in a large bowl. In a medium bowl mix eggs, oil and sparkling water. Add these wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir well. Add yogurt and stir. Mix in feta cheese cubes, parsley, red pepper, and corn. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

First Date Potica, Beginnings and Endings (and a short cut version)

Recently, I learned a new family story. My grandmother's potica helped launch my parents' courtship.

My parents met on a YMCA-sponsored bike hike the summer before they entered the same Cleveland high school. Their tale of love at first sight was part of our family lore for as long as I can remember. But I never knew the date of the momentous event--or about the potica--until I starting reading my parent's old World War II love letters.

My parents wrote almost every day of their three-year separation. The memory of that first date was so important that they acknowledged it every month when the day rolled around, at least during their wartime correspondence. They always exchanged anniversary greetings and often reminisced. So that's how I learned the full story.

My parents, early 1940s, Cleveland,
with my father home on leave
I found the most detailed account in one of my mother's letters, written on what she referred to as their sixth anniversary. After the group bike outing, she had invited the cute boy with the curly hair, along with a couple of his friends, back to the modest home her family shared with the landlord and his kids in a mostly-Slovenian neighborhood called Collinwood.

My grandmother welcomed her daughter's new friends. To sweeten the deal, she held out the promise of refreshments: soft drinks and a taste of the potica she was making.

Those teenage boys agreed to wait around for potica? I started to imagine my clever grandma laughing in the kitchen! Now she could be certain the young people would remain under her watchful eye for at least a few hours--or longer, depending on where she was in the potica process. No Slovenian boy would have fallen for that trick. But my father was Scottish. For all he knew, she might have been whipping up a quick batch of scones.

Hours later, my parents still sat in the living room, completely smitten. They talked all night long, while my father's captive buddies waited patiently. At some point, there was even some potica.

When did my grandmother start working on that potica? If only I had learned the story a year earlier, I could have asked my mother. But now she was too diminished, in body and in mind, to have any kind of extended conversation.

My parents' wedding, 1946
with my Slovenian grandmother at far left

Potica will never be a spur-of-the-moment treat. But this sweet story raises a  good question: How quickly could my grandmother (or anyone) turn out a potica? Are there shortcuts that save time but don't compromise the final product?

I would answer with a qualified yes.

My family recipe (that's the original copy below) is actually easier than most, because of the simple layered filling and the make-ahead yeast dough. But it does require advance planning, because the dough is supposed to rest in the refrigerator overnight before rolling and filling.

My mother's original potica recipe

But what does "overnight" mean? An equivalent stretch during daylight hours should work just as well, but are the full eight hours really necessary? After all, the dough never rises much in the refrigerator.

Once before, I had taken a chance with a shorter daytime rise, when I decided at the last minute to make potica for an evening social gathering. The details were hazy, but I thought the loaves were a little flatter than usual.

Two months ago, I tried once again to make potica in a single day. This time, the occasion was a sad one. The husband of Mia, our wonderful Slovenian teacher at San Francisco's Slovenian Hall, had died unexpectedly. France Rode, a prominent engineer and inventor, had been a much-loved figure in the community. I wanted to bring potica to the gathering that would follow his memorial service.


In theory, I did have the full weekend before the memorial service to make potica. With better planning, it would have worked. But I was out of everything but yeast --and I wanted to visit my ailing mother on Saturday afternoon. Once we got home, I wasn't in the mood for grocery shopping, much less a post-dinner dough preparation.

So that left Sunday. A single day to shop, make the dough, let it rest in the refrigerator, hand-grind the walnuts, and then fill and bake the loaves.

The day began with a morning walk to the corner market and ended twelve hours later with the covered loaves cooling on a rack, while I toddled off to bed.

Yes, it can be done. It was a full day. But it also felt like a kind of mindfulness practice.

I sampled the potica the next night, when some of my fellow students gathered at my house. It tasted fine. I took most of it to the memorial later in the week and froze the rest to take to our final Slovenian class the following week, for our annual end-of-term celebration.

That final class was bittersweet. As always, there were visitors, musicians, food and drink, and student presentations. But France Rode's absence was felt by everyone.

When my turn came to present, I talked about my family history. I told the story of that "first date" potica-- including the key detail I had learned just that morning, when I re-read my mother's letter.

I had just learned that today was the anniversary of that long-ago meeting when my parents started talking and, fortified by my grandmother's potica, never stopped: June 19, 1938. And now I was honoring it myself, for the first time, in a time and place that felt just right.

For Slovenians, potica always seems to be there at the important moments. For times of sadness and times of celebration. To mark beginnings and endings. It's part of who we are.

A few tips about "shortcut" potica with my family recipe

Aside from the obvious--shop in advance, start early--there is just one significant way to make a faster version of my family's traditional recipe, which normally calls for an overnight rise in the refrigerator.

If necessary, you can make the potica in one day rather than two by reducing the time the dough chills in the refrigerator. The family recipe does work as long as the rich yeast dough (which includes melted butter and sour cream) is completely chilled before rolling it out.

To prepare (and chill) the dough as quickly as possible: Pour the melted butter into a room temperature bowl and let it reach a cool, semi-liquid state before mixing it with the other liquid ingredients to make the dough.

Prepare the dough as usual. Wrap and chill.

I found that three hours in the refrigerator may be sufficient, although five hours was better. The five hour loaf (shown in the photo at the top of the page) rose a little more and held its shape better than the three hour version.

A slightly denser loaf is a small sacrifice if the alternative is to have no potica at all. And my family's style of potica (rich, thin layers, flattish loaves) is closer to baklava than a light, airy yeast bread. Most importantly, the intoxicating flavor and aroma remain the same, even with this small shortcut.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Pierogi Lasagna Update, with Mushrooms and Farmer Cheese

My first version of pierogi lasagna was based on a recipe from the website of Alice Kuhar, a Slovenian American radio personality in Cleveland. Before then, I had never heard of this popular American hybrid.

Lasagna is really a misnomer, because the dish is essentially a casserole version of the popular Eastern European dumplings known as pierogi--or, if you are Slovenian, žlikrofi.

Lasagna with a potato-cheese filling turned out to be much tastier than I imagined. But it is an admittedly heavy dish, more suitable as a side than a main course. A few months ago, I set out to make it lighter. More protein, fewer carbs, and meat-free.

It occurred to me to use some farmer cheese in the filling. A quick online search showed that someone else already had this brainstorm: Cleveland's celebrity chef Michael Symon. Like me, he is of half Eastern European heritage and has family roots in Johnstown, PA, where my own immigrant ancestors once lived.

Symon's recipe looked tasty--and ambitious, since he makes his noodles from scratch. But it was even richer than my original version, with a full pound of bacon and some some heavy cream added to the mix.

I went back to my original recipe and made a few changes. I skipped the bacon and used sautéed mushrooms instead. I added a layer of farmer cheese and cut down on the potatoes. Since my husband was getting over the flu, I used a lighter hand with the seasonings: less garlic and onions, and no chives or marjoram.

The result? Delicious! Lighter, protein-rich, but still in the Eastern European spirit. Comfort food. It is also an easy make-ahead dish, especially if you use no-boil lasagna noodles. Details follow.


Pierogi Lasagna with Mushrooms and Farmer Cheese

1-2 small onions, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces mushrooms, sliced
a little wine, if desired
1-1/4 pounds potatoes. mashed
1 c. grated sharp cheese (I used cheddar)
¼ cup milk or sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 teaspoons fresh chives, minced (optional)
1-2 teaspoons fresh  marjoram, minced (optional)
1 pound farmer cheese

lasagna noodles (I prefer oven-bake style)
sour cream (optional) for top
grated parmesan cheese for top

Dice onions. Brown in olive oil until almost carmelized. Set aside. Brown garlic and mushrooms in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little wine, if desired. Set aside.

Wash and halve the potatoes, leaving skins on. Cook in boiling salted water until tender.  Drain. Be sure to save the potato water. Allow to cool slightly, then mash, adding a little potato water if needed.

Combine the mashed potatoes, onions, garlic-mushroom mixture, grated cheese, milk or sour cream, and seasonings. If needed, add more liquid to make filling spreadable. Taste and adjust seasonings. Under most circumstances, this tastes best when the filling is highly seasoned.

If lasagna noodes require pre-cooking, prepare according to package directions. I prefer to use no-boil lasagna noodles. You will need about ¾ pound.

Oil a 9 x 9 inch casserole dish. Place first layer of noodles on bottom. Spread with 1/3 of potato mixture, topped by 1/3 of farmer cheese, crumbled or dropped in spoonfuls. Add another layer of noodles and repeat, for a total of 4 layers of noodles and 3 layers of filling, beginning and ending with noodles. Top with a thin layer of sour cream., if desired, and a sprinkle of  parmesan cheese and chives.

The dish can be refrigerated, covered, until baking. If lasagna appears too dry after refrigerating, pierce noodles with a sharp knife and add some of the reserved potato water. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Cover with foil if top becomes too brown.

Let cool for about fifteen minutes and cut into squares to serve.