April 26, 2016

April 25, 2016

My alma mater is in the news.

A Newsweek article about Trinity High School.

Thanks to my classmate Nora for pointing this article out to me.

Thoughtful Reunion

Brookfield Zoo, 1966. Baboon Island is a good spot for contemplation.

We like them crispy.

One of our cherished memories of Mr. Irene's Dad was his skill at cooking potato pancakes.  He sometimes made potato pancakes when Mr. Irene, my Mom, and I visited with Mr. Irene's Parents on Sunday afternoons. Potato pancakes therefore spark happy memories.

Lithuanian* potato pancakes ("bulviniai blynai") are unlike latkes: the texture of the potatoes used in the batter must resemble a dense pulp, not shreds of potato. Most people prepare the potatoes for bulviniai blynai by processing them in a potato-grating machine (see also here and here) or, less favorably, in a juicer. A food processor does not achieve the correct texture. Mr. Irene's Dad did not have a potato-grating machine, so he laboriously processed the potatoes by hand on the small holes of a hand grater.

We have a potato-grating machine, and we most often use it to make Kugelis. I've been tweaking a recipe for potato pancakes for over ten years, but I never quite achieved the result we wanted. Last night, we were successful. 

Here is my recipe:
 Potato Pancakes ("Bulviniai Blynai")

3 pounds Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes (if you don't own a kitchen scale, then get one)

2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
about 1 teaspoon "Fruit Fresh" or citric acid (optional; prevents potatoes from oxidizing)

1 medium yellow onion

1 cup peanut oil (for frying)

Sour Cream (for serving)

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add part of the "Fruit Fresh" and allow to dissolve. Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Drop potato quarters into the cold water; set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until frothy. Gradually increase the speed to high and mix until the egg whites are stiff. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, using the same hand mixer, beat the egg yolks, sour cream, baking powder, flour, salt, and pepper until the egg yolks are pale in color and the mixture is thick. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Adjust the oven rack to the center positions. Line two cookies sheets with foil. Lightly spray the foil with vegetable spray. Place a brown grocery bag near the stove top. Cover the bag with a thick layer of paper towels.

Set a fine mesh colander into a large mixing bowl and place the colander/bowl assembly under the spout of a potato-grating machine. Process the potatoes and onions together in the potato-grating machine (people suggest processing the onions with the potato keeps the potatoes from oxidizing). Occasionally sprinkle the grated potatoes with "Fruit Fresh" to prevent oxidizing.

Using a spatula, press the potato pulp against the side of the colander to squeeze out as much liquid as possible (do not drain the liquid yet). Let the liquid stand for about 5 minutes, and save the starch that accumulates at the bottom. Stir the potato pulp into the egg yolk mixture; then add the accumulated potato starch. Fold in the egg whites: incorporate the  whites, but don't deflate them. 

Heat 1/4- to 1/2-inch depth of peanut oil in a large, nonstick, sauté pan over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Ladle 1/4 cup of the batter into the oil for each blynas. Lightly press down on the batter so the blynai are round and the tops are flat, position the blynai so they are not touching. Make about four blynai at a time. Fry until the bottom is golden brown, about 3-1/2 to 4 minutes. Fry the other side until golden; about 2 to 3 minutes. 

Remove the blynai from the oil and set on the paper-towel lined grocery bag. Allow both sides to exude some of the oil. Transfer the cooked blynai to the prepared cookie sheet(s) and place in the 425 degree oven, uncovered, while you finish frying the rest of the blynai.

Serve immediately with sour cream.

Makes 12 pancakes, serves 3 to 4.

*Yes, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians follow a similar method for making potato pancakes.

April 23, 2016

Sunbathing Reunion

Door County, Wisconsin, August 1993. Žulė enjoys a little window time. Mr. Irene and I had just driven up to the cottage so we could leave Žulė with Mom while we traveled to San Francisco.

A Closer Look (Part 66)

Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1938. My Dad's twin sister, Jonė, enjoys a spring day with a friend.

Here's the original post.

April 21, 2016

"Tulip" is a cute name for a puppy.

Allen Centennial Gardens, University of Wisconsin—Madison, May 2015. We now favor flower names.

(No, we are not getting a puppy. A conversation about dog names came up last night.)

Daddy's Girls

Suburban Chicago, November 1972. We're relaxing in the Rec Room.

April 20, 2016

Sleeping-Puppies Reunion

Monona, Wisconsin, September 2003. Everyone—except Baci (known at the time as  "Big Red")—naps.

Thanks to our friend Tom for making this photo available to us.

Make one at home.

I started baking in the early 1970s. I don't recall what sparked my interest, but I grew curious about trying new recipes. My paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, did not venture much beyond her own repertoire. My Mom worked full time, so she never cooked, and she only occasionally baked for the holidays. We also had few cookbooks. Besides the 1956 edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Book, I remember the German-language edition of this book, and a copy of European Desserts for American Kitchens.

I started experimenting with some of the recipes in European Desserts for American Kitchens. I first made a Dobos Torte, and then I moved on to a dessert—Crepes Saint Martin—that featured a delicious, rice-pudding-like filling. I finally saw that the book contained a recipe for one of the "triple crowns" of Lithuanian baking: "Baumkuchenas" (the other two "crowns" would be "Napoleonas" and Nut Torte ... at least at our house).

A homemade Baumkuchenas, of course, would not feature the typical "branches" or dough spikes created by baking the cake on a turning rotisserie over an open flame. If  you want a Baumkuchenas with the typical appearance, then order one (the mail-order cakes are quite good). The recipe in European Desserts for American Kitchens, however, tastes almost identical to the traditional, branched cake, and I've been making it since 1972. A few years had passed since I made one, so yesterday I got ambitious.

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Here's how I adapted the recipe:


1-1/2 cups (7.2 ounces) potato or cornstarch
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8.4 ounces) granulated sugar
9 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
9 egg yolks, room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly-squeeze lemon juice

Adjust the oven rack to about six inches below the broiler element. Preheat the oven—on the broiler setting—to 475 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper and the sides of the springform pan with butter. Dust the pan with flour and shake out the excess.

Sift the potato or cornstarch and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, begin mixing the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt and low to medium speed until the egg whites begin to get foamy. Gradually increase the speed to medium-high and then high. While beating, add about 4 tablespoons of the granulated sugar to the egg whites. Continue beating until the meringue is stiff and holds its shape. Set the bowl with the meringue aside.

In another bowl of the electric mixer, with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the remaining sugar. This should take about 5 to 6 minutes, and the mixture should be very light and pale in color. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the lemon rind and the vanilla extract.

On low speed (or by hand, using a spatula), mix in about one-third of the potato starch. Gently fold in half the meringue. Then, add one-half of the remaining potato starch and the rest of the meringue. Finally, fold in the remainder of the potato starch.

Before beginning to bake, place the bowl with the batter, a trivet, and a large spoon or ladle near the oven. Using the spoon or ladle (or a small, offset spatula), spread about 1/4 cup of the batter in the bottom of the prepared pan. Place in the preheated oven and bake until the layer is lightly browned. The first layer may take about 2-1/2 to 3 minutes. When the first layer is done, remove the pan from the oven, set it on the trivet, and spread another 1/4 cup batter over the first layer. Continue in this manner until you have used up all of the batter. In our oven, the layers take about 2 to 2-1/2 minutes each, and you should end up with about 14 or 15 layers. The baking process is tedious.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it rest, in the pan, on a wire rack for about one hour. Run a knife around the sides of the pan and remove the springform. Let the cake rest until it is completely cool, about two hours.

Before serving, whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice and spread it on top of the cake.

April 19, 2016

Postcard: Stalin Avenue

Stalino Prospektas, Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, 1956. It's now "Gediminas Avenue."


Door County, Wisconsin, September 6, 2004. A friend of Mom's adopted "Pepper" at about the same time we acquired Baci. Pepper is one of the most nicely adjusted Poodles we've known.

April 16, 2016

Turned Reunion

Glacier National Park, Montana, July 1972. It's the next decision after a safe arrival.

A Saturday Visit to the Waiting Room

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Suburban Chicago, December 1972. I don't recall why we visited Mom's office that day. Perhaps Dad wanted to hang some more photos in the waiting room (where, like in most doctors' offices, the magazines were plentiful and outdated).

Notice the $2.00 charges for non-business-hours telephone consultations. I worked in that office as a receptionist during the summers; here I am sewing that blouse.

April 15, 2016

April 11, 2016

A Lovely Disposition

Madison, Wisconsin, April 10, 2016. This little fellow is a twelve-week-old Havanese. I met him yesterday, and he is one of the sweetest pups I've encountered.

Related by Marriage: Attention

Nativity BVM Church, Marquette Park, Chicago, Illinois, January 11, 1958. The honor guard at the wedding of Mr. Irene's Parents listen to the ceremony.

April 8, 2016

Stay-Close Reunion

Verona, Wisconsin, May 2015. Sometimes it's safer to stay underfoot.

Happy Birthday, Rex!

Monona, Wisconsin, June 2005. The little guy turns 11 today. He's the easiest dog we've ever had.

April 7, 2016


Glacier National Park, Montana, July 1966. The buck has fuzzy horns.


Kaunas, Lithuania, about 1958. My Mom's friend Joy wrote, "Here I am with Mom. We had a lot of apples!"