We had just finished the previous week's stuffed cabbage when Tuesday rolled around again. It was the day I'd designated for my weekly Slovenian cooking adventure. The one day I work from home and have the kitchen to myself.
Unfortunately, I had already started to feel overwhelmed at the thought of another meat-heavy meal. I figured my husband (the main cook in our family) might have passed his limit. Not a good sign, since this was just the second week in a year-long project.
So I decided to take a break. Instead of dinner, I would make a Slovenian-style breakfast for a party of one. I could get my ethnic meal out of the way early (and privately) and make us a normal dinner.
I consulted Women's Glory, my vintage guidebook to Slovenian American cooking. In the middle of the "candies" section, they had strategically placed a page called "Easy-To-Prepare Breakfast for Teenage Girl."
At the top of the page, a smiling pre-teen girl posed behind her healthy breakfast. I did a double-take. That 1950s shirtwaist dress could have come out of my own closet. She had her dark hair in a lopsided page boy 'do. Rounded cheeks, rounded arms, slightly thick waist. A pretty little girl, but already on her way to plumpness. It was like looking into a mirror and into the past. My past. . . and my future, as a perennial dieter.
Weight-conscious girls are prone to skipping breakfast, the authors warn. But three well-balanced meals, starting with a good breakfast, are an important protection against obesity. So here's what they suggest, for the Basic Breakfast: Orange juice (4 ounces). Cornflakes (1 ounce) with milk (4 ounces). Buttered toast (2 slices). Milk to drink (8 ounces.)
A teenage boy, of course, needs more: Twice those quantities of cereal and milk, with some sugar on top, Plus an egg, another piece of toast with jam, for a total of three slices. Finished off with a cup of cocoa. Evidently, the Slovenian American boy of that era didn't need to watch his weight.
Hmm. Corn flakes, white bread with butter, orange juice, whole milk. Not the kind of diet that has ever worked for me. But more wholesome than Pop Tarts. And better than nothing at all.
But if I was going to consider today's breakfast as part of an ethnic cooking project, I had to do something better than that.
I had one easy solution, and a fitting one: Jelly Rolls.
That's how we referred to the special treat my mother made for weekend breakfasts. Paper thin egg-rich pancakes, made one at a time in a frying pan, and then wrapped around assorted fillings. Jelly was traditional. My Scottish father, who liked savory foods, took his jelly rolls with butter only. But the favorite with us kids was butter and brown sugar. My mother would stand at the stove, frying them up, sometimes trying to store a supply in the oven, so she could sit and eat with us. But the four of us could eat those jelly rolls as fast as she could cook them.
Filled with cottage cheese, they became blintzes. My mother had learned about blintzes, she said, from our close family friends who were Jewish. A little later, we learned that jelly rolls were the same thing as French crêpes.
French crêpes. Jewish blintzes. American jelly rolls. But there is one name we never learned: palačinke. Palachinke. The Slovenian version of the same treat, and also a traditional food. But my mother never suggested that our beloved jelly rolls had any connection to her Slovenian roots.
Jelly rolls would be easy. But almost too familiar, since I already made them myself, though not as often as I did when my own children were small.
Meanwhile, I had come across another dish, with the same ingredients, but in an unfamiliar form. An odd but intriguing hybrid: A cross between an eggy pancake and an omelet, but chopped or torn into bits.
Each of my cookbooks had a version. Woman's Glory included a recipe for Kaiserschmarrn, or Emperor's Omelet, in the pastry section. The American Slovene Club's cookbook listed Crumble Pudding, or Shmarm, as a dessert as well as a potato substitute.
The Progessive Slovene Women of America seemed to have the most accurate take on the dish, right down to the proper spelling. Under Egg Dishes, they offered a recipe for Pancake Crumbles, or Šmoren.
Palačinke or šmoren? A beloved old favorite or an oddball dish that I couldn't quite envision?
I had the perfect solution: I would do both, with the same egg-milk-flour batter.
It would be an adventure.