Paul McAleer

Meals

Paul McAleer

I am still processing Anthony Bourdain's passing. I have been sick the past couple of days so I put on a number of episodes of Parts Unknown and dozed in and out of sleep. I rewatched the Chicago episode, which I felt didn't dive into my hometown the way I hoped it would, but came away still respecting that Bourdain went into this place with one potential perception and let it change him.

“Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one's life.”

All of this and all of the grief and outpouring and stories on Twitter has been a bit much for me, but I have been following along. And in that spirit I wanted to share two meal memories from my youth.

1. Breaded meat.

This is what I called it, and what my mom called it, because she made it. But it was a traditional Czech-Bohemian meal: breaded pork tenderloin. It wasn't the pounded out, razor thin breaded thing that you can find at any state fair – these were almost always chops, still hand-breaded. My mom would make up a big batch and we'd eat it for days. Her breading was a little peppery, and I loved the crispy burnt parts. We usually had it served with potatoes and a veggie, a very traditional European big meal meal. This was usually a Sunday thing as it was a little too much prep for weeknights.

Oh, and there'd usually be kraut served with it - Frank's Kraut, the only brand – but I hated the stuff. Still, the smell of our house during this meal was a blend of sauerkraut and pepper and pork and potatoes and mixed veggies and it was glorious.

2. Kolachy.

I've talked a lot with anyone about my grandma's amazing baking abilities. At the hoildays, her entire place – literally every table – would be covered in cookies and other baked goods. I remember tins and tins and tins filled with cookies and using my grandma's old sifter, which was probably 60 years old. She made everything from flower-like Calla Lily horns (which were amazing and delicate, filled with an airy sweet creamy filling) to the Czech classic, kolachy, and she did it all herself.

I have strong opinions on kolachy. The larger, doughy one is... not as authentic to me, but that's just because it's not what I grew up with. My grandma made cookie-sized kolachy, and we'd have many dozens at the holidays. The flavors? Apricot, prune, poppy seed, cherry. These were the Solo filling flavors. The dough was airy and crisp on the bottom, again delicate, but nicely balanced with the sweetness of the filling.

I never cared for poppy seed, and apricot was my favorite as a kid.

I make kolachy at the holidays now, carrying on this tradition, since I love to bake. I was a little surprised to learn that the recipe I had been handed down... was the same recipe Solo includes on its cans. I feel like I make a good kolachy, but I know my grandma's were better somehow. Still trying to figure out what she did to make them even better.