Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Oma is Better than Yours

When you have an Oma, you have no choice but to be crazy about food and cooking. Amanda and I got our food-frenzy from our parents, and John most certainly got it from his parents- my Oma and Opa.

Oma and Opa (my Yugoslavian grandparents...from back when there was a Yugoslavia) came to the good ol’ US of A in the early 50’s, with the twins Walter and Ernie in tow, and lil’ Johnny just a bun in the oven. Having survived the war, Oma and Opa spoke no English, had little money, and set out to achieve the American Dream. They ended up in southern California (Hemet, to be exact) where they started an egg ranch. From raising chickens and selling eggs for a living, to making homemade sausages, liquor, goulash, paprikash, spaetzel, schnitzel, and strudel for their growing family, Oma and Opa had a love affair with food from get-go, and passed it directly to their boys- who have taken turns working in restaurants and butcher shops, and who all have fantastic gardens and palates.

Growing up, Amanda and I experienced these delicious traditions through Oma’s Christmas boxes (Oma cookies will kick the butt of your American Grandma cookies any day). Filled to the brim with homemade Christmas cookies (nutty crescents, jam filled butter cookies, sugar cookies with a lemony icing) and thick, heavy strudels with flaky sweet dough (a walnut/rum/raisin, and a gooey-amazing poppy seed) the arrival of these gift baskets meant Christmas had truly arrived. Growing up we didn’t always have the means to make trips to Southern California from Washington, so Oma’s Christmas cookies were the next best thing.

In the summer of 2002, Amanda and I visited Oma and Opa for the first time in about 7years (for the first time as adults), and were greeted with the best of all greetings- a ham hot from the oven with homemade horseradish and fresh juicy garden tomatoes, hot cabbage rolls in flaky wonton type wrappers-still dripping from the fry pan (just a snack, Oma says), and crispy yet moist homemade ‘fryin chicken’ (just an appetizer, Oma says). During that visit, we ate until we could barely move, played more games of dominoes than I can count, marveled at old black and white photos of Oma and Opa in Europe in the 40s and 50s, and snuck into the Orange groves with Opa, where he proceeded to climb trees and toss oranges to us. Opa passed away later that summer, and we have never forgotten how special that trip was, or how happy we were to have spent that time with him. Since then, the four of us (John, Mel, Amanda and I) have made sure to visit more often… which we just did.

Last weekend the fam flew down to Hemet. Our trip started, as most Oma visits do, with a hot freshly baked ham (even in 100 degree Southern Californian August), made into sandwiches on rolls slathered with horseradish and piled high with Uncle Walter’s juicy sweet tomatoes. We dined on ham sandwiches morning, noon, and night, in addition to sticky buns, cookies, pork chops, pasta salads, chicken & rice, burgers, and potatoes. Halfway through our trip, Oma pulled a tray of cabbage rolls from the fridge… all rolled up and ready to fry. We devoured those in seconds.

On our final morning at Oma’s, Amanda and I got a lesson in Oma Cookery. Oma’s “fryin’ chicken” is somewhat of a legend. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, really, just basic fried chicken, but Mel, try as she might, has never been able to recreate the golden fried deliciousness of Oma’s chicken. Amanda and I donned our European style aprons and got to work, frying chicken with our Oma. You can try to recreate Oma's chicken, but it probably won't be the same if you don't actually make it with an Oma.

Oma’s Fryin’ Chicken:

Step 1: Combine 2 granddaughters and 1 Oma
Step 2: Button up your Euro-style aprons
Step 3: Have Uncle Walter or Uncle Ernie de-bone the chicken breasts and slice them thinly
Step 4: Arrange said chicken breasts in kitchen sink and pat dry- sprinkle first with seasoning salt, then with salt & pepper- rub.
Step 5: Whisk 'a little bit' of milk with eggs in a bowl, mix 50/50 Italian bread crumbs and plain in a flat dish, fill another flat dish with flour.
Step 6: Dip chicken breasts in flour, egg, breadcrumbs- repeat with all pieces. NOTE: gently pat breadcrumbs into chicken… do not flatten with your fist.
Step 7: Pour vegetable oil into electric skillet circa 1962 (they just don’t make them like they used to). Heat to about 467 degrees.

Step 8: Add chicken pieces to oil, turning once after a minute or two.
Step 9: Drain on paper towels.
Step 10: Eat as much as you can possibly stuff in your overly full belly, then pack the rest for the plane ride.
Step 11: Hug Oma, kiss Oma on the cheek, devour chicken, repeat.

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