Swienconka for Two?

The Real Butter Lamb

The Real Butter Lamb

My husband and I awoke to an empty house today. We think it might be the first time in over 20 years we haven’t had at least one of the kids here with us on Easter morning. We are fine with it. My husband is in his Polish food glory. I’m happy that I’m not staring down two candy-filled Easter baskets knowing that I’m going to end up losing the battle of willpower and diving in to them. It’s a happy empty nest.

Preparations for Easter or, in our case, a Polish Easter can take days. Hard boiling eggs, buying and cooking up the Polish sausage (the holiday variety, if we can get it around here. Side Note: Yes, we know about Ostrowski’s, but they do not use the same recipe as Redlinksi’s (in Buffalo, NY), which is my husband’s favorite, so we usually just get a decent stand in from Wegman’s.), getting the butter lamb (Side Note: We got a “REAL Butter Lamb this year!), getting the ham, getting the seedless rye bread, and that is the bare minimum for the Polish traditional meal of the day on Easter Sunday: Swienconka.*

The food for this meal is usually blessed. In the Buffalo area, churches are overflowing with folks bringing huge baskets, stuffed with everything for the swienconka to be blessed the Saturday before Easter. I’ve heard that at some churches, the priest has had to come out and do a mass blessing in the parking lots to all the folks trapped in the gridlock in their cars. Around here, our church has done the Blessing of the Food Mass but attendance is considerably lighter. In fact, the few times we’ve gone, there have been probably fewer than 30 baskets. This year, with just the two of us, we did not make it to have our food blessed. I often wonder how many years of blessing we can get out of, say, our salt and pepper shaker’s contents…I guess I would need to pay attention to how often I refill them during the year. Anyway, the lack of actual, current blessing, however, did not stop us from having the traditional meal. 

The Basic Traditional Polish Meal

The Basic Traditional Polish Meal

I was happy to not have to dye the eggs, buy candy, or decorate the house. Our daughter made it over to our house in time for church, which was nice. We got a nice Easter note from our son. My parents are having us over for Easter dinner. It’s a very happy empty nest, indeed.

 

*Swienconka – I do not know how to speak or write in Polish, so I’m using the word tweeted out by my sister-in-law, who will know better than I the ins and outs of Polish Easter words.

 

Bonus Day Fun

 

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. So long, in fact, that one of my fellow HoCo bloggers introduced me tonight as a retired blogger. Very funny, HoCoConnect! Because I have had such a good “Leap Day” and not because I was guilted into it, I am inspired to get back to my blog. (Smile)

Tonight, the HoCo Bloggers were invited to enjoy a meal at the new Nalley Fresh Restaurant, which is in the Dobbin Center plaza near Performance Bikes. Nalley Fresh offers a “Chipotle-style” make your own salad, wrap, or bowl. I think one of the more unique offerings, and there are several here, is the sweet potato base for your bowl. I did not try it, because I was drawn to the salad. There is a wall of lettuce options, and I asked to have a romaine and spring mix combination. From there I had to choose a protein, which wasn’t easy. The beef looked fabulous. There was shrimp and salmon, and three styles of chicken, and I was stuck in the land of too many choices. It was temporary. One of the very friendly staff members had told me to ask for a small taste of the protein to make sure I’d like it. So, I asked to try the plain, grilled chicken. It was OK, but I wasn’t sold on it. So, I took a chance on the whisky chicken. I proceeded to the next friendly server and picked a bunch of my favorite salad veggies, then skipped the cheese (as I do) and asked for ranch dressing on the side. I was offered a piece of nutty bread, which I accepted. It was a delicious salad if I do say so myself. It was very obvious why fresh is in the name. It was super fresh. On top of a great meal, John really liked the wrap he chose, too, it was fun to meet new bloggers and chat with the regulars. (I’m going to have a lot connecting to do on social media after I get this post up.)

I was happy to get to tell JessieX in person that I love her new blog series, The Uber Chronicles. It is so perfectly her. I was so energized by her excitement and our conversation that I’m sure that is also propelling me to write this post.

Earlier today I was able to get in one more Masters swim practice for February, and it ended up being about 500 more yards than the coach actually wrote for us. Note to self: It’s time to grab your prescription goggles so you can read what is actually written on the white board. It was a happy problem on a bonus day!

Go check out Nalley Fresh for yourself. You may even run into this guy:

Chef Nalley at the New Columbia, MD Nalley Fresh Location

And, if you’re lucky, there will be live music and you’ll catch him playing a mean harmonica.

#hocoblogs

 

Our Empty Nest Game is Strong

 

We had a chance to take a page out of our Empty Nest playbook this weekend and it was fantastic, dare I say, glorious. As a couple, John and I went into empty nest-hood with a basic survival plan, some vaguely articulated hopes, and a determined flexibility. We did great! Although, I didn’t fare as well, at least initially, but that’s a topic for another post.

Since that momentous August two years ago, the kids have come back and gone again and come back and so on. Thus, the parenting territory has become murky or murkier than pre empty nest. It has required many adjustments on our part. Currently, the biggest one being how to handle the limited amount of “empty” in our house. We have found ourselves being less motivated to be the foot loose and fancy free empty nesters we were in the beginning, in exchange for spending time with one or both of the kids. Despite the soundness of our thinking, we were a little stuck.


That is, until this past week. We learned that very dear friends were going to retire on Friday. We knew immediately upon hearing the news that we wanted and needed to be there. “There” being Buffalo, NY. We were able to clear our schedules in under a week and head up to Buffalo. Our friends, Tom and MaryJane, have owned a pizzeria in the town my husband grew up in for 31 years. He actually worked for them 30 years ago. They are about our age, and when John finally moved to Maryland, he kept in touch with them. My first trip to Buffalo included a required stop at the restaurant and introductions. MaryJane and I hit it off instantly, and I would look forward to getting together with them during our Buffalo visits. To think that we wouldn’t have their restaurant as a stop during future visits was so sad. We had to get there one more time. Plus, they were planning a big party Friday night.


We ended up making the trip without the kids, which was a little strange since they were both technically at home. But it was also really empty nesty of us. We realized how much we had needed to get away almost the minute we arrived at the restaurant, which was our first stop upon arriving in town. We had a great visit and we’re thrilled to get to Torella’s one last time to wish our lovely friends happiness and lots of spur of the moment fun!


 

 

 

 

 

 

Not So Picky After All

A "Green Bag" from Whole Foods

A “Green Bag” from Whole Foods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I learned something quite astonishing about myself this past evening. I’m still in a bit of shock. John was also amazed when I told him the news. It happened during a food tasting event. I was invited to attend the exclusive sneak peek tasting of the new menu offerings at The Counter. The Counter is the in-store diner at the Whole Foods Market in downtown Columbia, MD.

Breakfast Sandwich at The Counter "Counter Fave"

Breakfast Sandwich at The Counter “Counter Fave”


I am not a adventurous eater. In fact, I’m a straight up picky eater, who tries to act like a normal eater. I can pick the smallest particle of black olive from an empanada with my eyes (partially) closed. I can remove onion or pepper pieces from just about any dish with the surgical precision of a brain surgeon. I rarely order anything off a menu that I don’t modify in some way. And this picky gal found herself at a food sampling party. It was great. I ate breakfast sandwiches with cheese on them (I don’t eat cheese on any sandwich unless it’s a grilled cheese sandwich.) But that wasn’t even the amazing part. I ate braised kale and caramelized kielbasa. My husband is Polish and can attest to my non-sausage eating ways. But, this breakfast sandwich, called “Counter Fave,” was very tasty. Another, “The Biscuit” was also very good, and it had fried spinach and chipotle remoulade.

Breakfast Sandwich at The Counter "The Biscuit"

Breakfast Sandwich at The Counter “The Biscuit”

I tried everything, as if I wasn’t a picky eater. Next up was Southwest Tofu and aged Cheddar Scramble. Yes! I ate Tofu! I ate kale and tofu and everything had cheese on it. It was really good. I’d order it and eat it again.

The Scrambler Breakfast at The Counter Southwest Tofu and Aged Cheddar Scramble

The Scrambler Breakfast at The Counter Southwest Tofu and Aged Cheddar Scramble

Another shockingly delightful offering I couldn’t believe I ate and really liked is from the lunch and dinner menu. It is the Avocado Tacos. Deep fried avocados, cabbage slaw, chipotle remoulade in a soft tortilla shell. The avocado has a plain breading and is deep fried. It has the most interesting and tasty textural contrast with the cabbage slaw. It’s a must try, if you’ve never had anything like it before. The chef who was introducing the samples told me that it is a customer favorite and was rolled over from the previous menu. So, you are in luck if it was one of your favorites.

Avocado Tacos at The Counter

Avocado Tacos at The Counter

For me, the best sample of the event, was the “Columbia Burger.” It is a blend of short rib and ground chuck. It was served with caramelized onions, mushrooms, special sauce on a Brioche Roll. I did not remove the onion. It was delicious. It was so delicious. I highly recommend trying it. The Counter also offers desserts. But what caught my eye was that they serve Milkshakes and MALTS. Yes, malts.  And, it is very hard to find malts around here. And an awesome malt…well, let’s just say, I’m in the Market for one (no pun intended!). I am looking forward to pairing one of those awesome burgers with a chocolate malt. 

The Columbia Burger at The Counter in Downtown Columbia, MD

The Columbia Burger at The Counter in Downtown Columbia, MD

The evening was obviously all about the new menu offerings, but I was equally if not more impressed with the Whole Foods Market Chefs and marketing team. They eagerly and thoroughly explained every item, answered questions, and made sure everyone had a chance to sample everything. It was an absolute joy to be there. I am grateful to have been invited to this sneak peek and can’t wait to bring my family back for dinner.

 

@HoCoBlogs

Family Traditions: Glue? Glitter? A Little of Both

The Delicious Fresh Turkey from Maple Lawn Farms

I am feeling so grateful and blessed for this past Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I am still silently giving thanks. Our son surprised us by coming home a day early, and we were all beyond thrilled. Alyssa was thrilled (though she didn't say so) because she finally had someone else to absorb our constant attention, and because she missed her brother. John and I were thrilled because the weather was supposed to be horrible the day Alex told us he was coming home, and because we also missed him. However, I was a little bothered by the fact that I had not had the chance to give the house its final cleaning before Alex came home. We also had planned to have our from scratch, family recipe beef and vegetable soup ready for him when he walked through the door. My mom was taking care of soup duty, so I could prepare for cooking the Thanksgiving dinner. So, the soup wasn't even at our house yet. Those two things, a clean, “company ready” house, and a special soup dinner don't sound like big deals. But, since Alyssa left for college, I tried to do at least those two things every time she came home, and especially when she came home for holidays. I wanted her to know how special it was to us that she was coming home. I am continuing this tradition with Alex's visits. However by the sound of it, neither kid has picked up on any of my attempts at tradition. Alyssa said, “Mom, Alex doesn't care if you vacuumed. He is just happy to be home.” He also knew the soup would not be ready a day early. And, while I still have a bit of a knot in my stomach at not having the picture perfect, June Cleaver welcome for him, he was happy. The soup on his second night home was delicious and loved by all, and I did finally vacuum the next day, too.

Our Traditional Thanksgiving Feast
 

This new information does not deter nor disappoint me. I think having a few, well-placed, nicely-timed family traditions are part of the glue that keeps families happy and together. They are also that little something special, like glitter, that says, “You are loved!” “And, we are happy you're here!” I have wonderful memories of clean houses and special dinners for holidays from my parents and grandparents.
So, I know that, eventually, our kids will delight in these little acts of love. And, that these traditions will be meaningful to them when they come and visit us with their families.

 

Truly A Treat

HoCoBlogs Party at Seasons 52
 

I kicked off my birthday month by attending the HoCoBlogs party for bloggers and blog readers at Seasons 52 in the new outdoor wing at The Mall in Columbia. What a great decision that was. I had been fighting a cold for a week, so I wasn't sure I had much energy to mix and mingle with my fellow bloggers and blog readers. But, I been very eager to check out Seasons 52, so John and I went. The Howard County Library, a co-host, greeted us at the entrance with a Choose Civility wristband and information about an upcoming Choose Civility Symposium panel discussion, The Ball's in Your Court: Can Civility and Sports Coexist? This symposium is on Thursday, October 9 at the Miller Branch of the HoCo Library System. Find details about this event at Choosecivility.org.

Our group, apparently 80 plus in number, had the outdoor seating area and it was a perfect evening to be outside. I was happy to see a few familiar faces right away. As we made our way back to the bar, we chatted with a few folks. By the time we made it there, we were ready for a cold beverage.

 

Seasons 52 Signature Flatbread

 

Seasons 52 was a delightful host. There was beer and wine at the bar, and the friendly and energetic staff quickly brought water and sodas around, as well as signature flatbreads. We were thrilled to try the flatbread appetizers we had heard about, and we were not disappointed. I liked the Garlic Pesto Chicken flatbread the most.

In addition to the familiar faces, there were quite a few new ones, too. Just as John and I were about to head back into the “mob,” a new blogger, Jamie, approached us and struck up a conversation. Her blog thepurposepages.blogspot.com is about two months young. We had a really nice time chatting, and we enjoyed introducing her to some of the long-time fixtures in the HoCoBlogs community.

Meet New HoCoBlogger Jamie!

We had a wonderful evening and are looking forward to our next HoCoblogs event.

@HoCoBlogs

 

From the Farmer’s Market to the Farm

Farmer's Market Lettuce

@HoCoBlogs

There has been much blogging and tweeting about buying local, buying fresh and supporting local farms. Today, I decided to jump on the farm stand bandwagon and went to the Farmer's Market at the Oakland Mills Village Center. I made it there about a half hour before it closed.

There were pros and cons to arriving so late, but I was determined to check it out. The main pro was that it was not as crowded as I'm sure it was earlier, so I could visit each stand and easily see what each had. The obvious con was that there were a lot of empty slots. I settled on broccoli from one stand, a large bag of mixed lettuce from another, and cookies from A Bite of Heaven, that we had for dessert. They were very tasty. I really liked the Snickerdoodles. It was a safe start. I came straight home and had a big salad for lunch. It was delicious, as one would expect.

Our “Perfect” Strawberries, Picked by Us

As if my big outing to the Farmer's Market wasn't adventurous enough, my mom and I talked ourselves into heading out to Larriland Farm for the “pick your own strawberries.” Alyssa was eager to join the fun, so off we went. There were a lot of folks in the fields. We picked about two rows and headed back to the main farm to pick our own spinach. We were on a roll!

This character was at Larriland Farm. He was not too interested in posing for this photo, but I took one anyway.

We had another big salad with our dinner that included some of the spinach from Larriland and a bunch of vegetables either sold out or not available yet from the farm stands. Delicious! I think I'm sold on making the extra trip to the farmer's markets.

I thought about what prevents (or has prevented) me from actively participating in farmer's market shopping. Three things popped into my mind: 1) I never carry cash and I assume that farmers will only take cash; 2) There isn't one on my beaten path, so I have to plan to make a trip to one; and 3) I've not really shopped at farmer's markets much, so it's hard to know who has the best produce. I'm sure it could be argued that there is no bad produce at a farm stand. But, I think just that little unknown has held me back. After today, however, I am more willing than ever to become a frequent shopper at these markets and farms.