Yeah I don’t do Christmas Cookies… I have other traditions.

I was born in Poland and though my family didn’t live there long after I arrived, we took from there many traditions and recipes that we still enjoy today. When you uproot yourself and embrace a new “homeland” you really need to remember where you came from, your name might change, your country will change, city might change, and your life will change, but the recipes and family traditions you have are your true link to where you’ve started. These traditions are part of who I am.

One of those traditions for me is making pierogi. We don’t make Christmas cookies like my American friends, in fact when I try they are disastrous (more on this later.) I remember the first time my parents entrusted me with this Polish tradition of making pierogi,  I was 3 years old and anxious to pitch in during Christmas. They set me up at my own little table, with a little rolling pin, a tiny bit of dough, and off I went making my first pierog (singular for pierogi). My nimble fingers and tiny hands helped seal the filling inside the dough and pinch it shut with that familiar, crimped pattern. After that, it went into the boiling pot of salted water along with the ones my parents mass produced. They bobbed and rolled around until they were done and floated to the top. Typically our family would make around 100, we’d freeze or chill most of them and use a bit at a time. On Christmas Eve we are not allowed to eat meat, so we had to be careful to only eat the ones filled with sour kraut and dried mushrooms (I’ll post more information about our Polish Christmas traditions soon.)

As time went on I began being a bigger part of the pierogi making tradition, in high school my dad and I would dress in extra layers then venture down to our creepy, cold basement, turn on Christmas carols from his dinky little radio, sing at the top of our lungs while we made dough by hand, rolled it out, cut numerous circles and filled it with either ground beef and onion or sour kraut and dried mushrooms.

Pierogi frying, courtesy of Wikipedia. Oh stop judging me, I couldn't take pictures my hands were covered in dough.

For many reasons that tradition has solely become mine. I take great pride in my craftsmanship and I have since added a few “improvements” to helping my dough stay fresh and my pierogi numbers above 100 – even if it’s just me making them. This year I mixed the dough in our Kitchen Aid Mixer, my holiday pride and joy. Yes, I am cheating a little, but this way I can make more dough and faster without tiring my twiggy arms and frail hands. I also work with smaller amounts of dough and seal the rest in a bowl so each round I make is as fresh as the last. Also, this year I took mass production to a new level. Wire racks! For ages we tried to cool off our boiled creations on numerous plates deposited around the kitchen, they would cool, but the belly would stick to the plate and from time to time we’d have a disaster, requiring me to quickly eat the evidence. The wire racks worked great, keeping my product off the plate and cooling more quickly and evenly. I’ve also taken things a step further by layering parchment paper between my layers of pierogi so they don’t stick as much when packaged in Tupperware and more can be fit into my tiny freezer. (Pierogi are known to compete for space with my Lean Cuisines.)

When we are ready to enjoy them, I simply thaw the ones we’ll eat in one sitting and then saute with oil or butter. Crispy, crunchy skin, encasing a lump of meat or sour kraut and mushroom filling.

Each year I begin the process wondering why I don’t do this more frequently during the year, why I wait until December to make things happen. Three hours later, caked in dough in what used to be my kitchen, I remind myself that this is a tradition best kept up during Christmas.



Ramseyer Geiske Holiday Tree Getting Tradition

In the last handful of years the Ramseyers (Adam and myself) have met up with the Gieskes (Josh, Julie and now Ethan and Emma) to head out to snowy Spring Lake and pick out a tree from Josh’s Aunt’s tree farm and nursery. Each year both families selected the perfect blue spruce (prickly needles and all). And each year we would tie them down and wedge them onto the back of Adam’s truck. We would then ceremoniously drive to Fricano’s for pizza, warming wines and good conversation.

As time goes on the truck begins to die a slow and painful vehicular death and we now live in opposite corners of Greater Grand Rapids from our friends the Gieskes. So when this year’s annual Tree Getting event came up we hemmed and hawed whether the truck would make it, whether we would find a day to go that works and whether we should stay closer to home and just get one at Home Depot.

But I am a stickler for tradition so when we heard from Josh, plans were set into motion. The momentous occasion would happen on Dec. 5th, at 5pm. Grand Rapids had hardly seen any snow, but we realized rather quickly that the lakeshore area was enjoying some lake effect snow – oh Mother Nature went nuts that night. We clamored out of the truck and met up with the Gieskes (I was still wrapping up a conversation, but was some what there) Ethan began pretending that he is on a cell phone and put his little hand up to his face and blah blahed away in tune with my own words. Love those kiddies.

Picking the tree happened quickly. Ethan pointed to the tree of his dreams and I told Adam to just pick one, any one… apparently I get cold and impatient so holiday traditions be damned I needed to get  fed and back in the truck. The boys fastened both stumps down and we snaked our way down the road to Josh’s parents house to drop off the kids. Tonight we would feast at Fricano’s as adults! We also called ahead, unlike the Tree Getting of 2008, when we arrived only to discover that the whole restaurant was shut down for a private party. Try telling an adult only child that she can’t have her pizza. I thinly masked my disappointment. So now we call ahead. And success, they are open!

We chatted a few minutes and then headed back out, it’s now snowing at a good clip and it’s getting hard to see the road, but no matter, we are going to Fricano’s. Four pizzas and a few drinks later our dinner conversation was winding down, Josh and Julie suggested moving to a different venue, perhaps a Starbucks to finish up the evening. To be honest, though it was snowing more and it was getting late, we know the importance or adult time so we gladly agreed.

We slid our way into the Starbucks parking lot and proceeded to shut the place down by 10pm. Hmmm… really getting late now and Mother Nature had other plans. We picked up the kids and the car seats were re-adjusted into their family sedan. The trees we so carefully chose were covered by a thick blanket of snow (I am already sick of the stuff, no matter how fluffy and beautiful.)

Instead of taking the expressway we tailed the Gieske car – eventually losing sight of it through the thick, near blizzard-like conditions (by my standards.) Adam checked his rear view mirror from time to time to make sure our sappy cargo was still in tow. We bumped along and slide back and forth. About 40 minutes into our trip home Adam looks back again (right at the corner of Wilson and M 45) And says, “oh no I can see out the back window.” Why yes, one of our trees is now gone. Go ahead and fill in my response, “place favorite curse here and repeat 4 times at the top of your lungs. Go ahead that’s how that happened.” Then he said, “you have to call them and tell them what happened.” You see, not only did we lose a tree we lost THEIR tree. Their perfect family Christmas tree lovingly selected by 3-year-old Ethan. Now I changed my tone to, “shit, shit, shit… do I have to call them?” Oh good, Julie answered.

Me: Hey there, we had a slight snag.

Julie: Oh no, what happened? You guys ok?

Me: Oh yes, but we lost a tree.

Julie: Oh no, you lost your tree?

Me: Nooooo….. guess again…we lost yours.

Julie: (insert long pause) oh, well… um… that’s okay…

(but it wasn’t ok. You can’t tell a 3-year-old his tree is gone and well how do you coordinate another tree getting if you don’t have the right vehicle for it, two small  children and this was the only night that worked.)

So I did something very un-only-child like…I offered those guys ours. We trekked the rest of the way with our/their tree and dropped if off in Wyoming before turning around empty-handed and heading home. It’s nearly midnight before we get back. We’ve been gone since 5pm.

Cue the waterworks. At this precise moment I lose it, and begin crying. Not so much for the tree we left behind (God I hope it splintered otherwise someone’s bumper found it in the morning.) But that we had carefully coordinated an event that we weren’t even sure we’d be able to go one only to return with nothing.

Ramseyer Christmas Tree #2

Adam: It’s okay, we’ll get a tree tomorrow from my work.

Me: We *gulp*, *sniff*, have nothing to (incoherent words) for it.

Adam: Um yeah, why don’t you go to bed. We’ll deal with this in the morning.

Me: Why did this happen, *sniff*, *blow nose* so tired, Mother (bad word) Nature, you got us good this time!

The next evening I went to Home Depot where Adam met me, within 15 minutes we had a tree selected, bound and gagged in the back of our truck. That evening I was chipper as the lights were being put up, the ornaments were being hung with care and plenty of nog was being had. A new tradition is born, the Home Depot Holiday Tree Getting of 2010.