Tadeusz Kościuszko and Thomas Jefferson's African American Slaves– a lesson for Black History Month

Today is the birthday of Polish hero of the American Revolution, Tadeusz Kościuszko, born on 04 February 1746.  We all know the part he played in the American Revolutionary War, and he oversaw the construction of state-of-the-art fortifications, including West Point. After the war and his return to Poland, he fought for freedom there as well. After his part in the uprising against the Russians, his arrest, and his eventual release from a Russian prison, he came back to the US for a number of years and became very close friends with Thomas Jefferson. He  eventually returned to Europe and lived in Switzerland until his death in 1817.

So what does this have to do with slavery in America? Well, Kościuszko made a hunk of money for his service as a general in the Revolutionary war. In his will, he stated his wishes that his US assets–which were considerable–should be used to buy the freedom of black slaves, including Jefferson’s own, and to educate them for independent life and work. Yes, Jefferson owned slaves, and Kościuszko wanted to see them liberated and educated. However, it did not come to be. Jefferson never carried out the wishes of Kośiuszko’s will.

It’s interesting to note as well that before his death, Kościuszko emancipated the peasants on his remaining land holdings in the former Polish lands, now in Russia, but Tsar Alexander did not allow it.

Tadeusz Kościuszko was a true champion of liberty and showed it by his actions. He fought to free the oppresses, both in America and in Poland, and was a great humanitarian. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “He is as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.”  A great tribute to a great man. And it’s fitting that now, during Black History month, you know the rest of the story.

For more info on Tadeusz Kościuszko, see this Wikipedia article.

Also, see this blog post on “Tadeusz Kościuszko’s Last Will & Testament: An Unwritten Chapter in American History”

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day

75 years ago today, the Red Army “liberated” Auschwitz and filmed and documented the horrors they uncovered at that Nazi concentration camp. Today, January 27, 2020, the world remembers the Holocaust in hopes that it will not happen again, and to honor the memory of those who perished, not only in Auschwitz, but the millions murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

I was fortunate to visit Auschwitz this past September, and it was certainly a memorable experience to tread on that sacred ground where near 1 million Jews were murdered, along with over 100,000 others. I wrote a bit about that visit in my blog here and also posted some photos on my web site here. All told, it’s estimated that about 6,000,000, or two-thirds of the European Jewish population were murdered.

Never forget. Those who don’t remember history are destined to repeat it.

And, if you have teh stomach for it, I recommend you view this YouTube video, a PBS Frontline hour-long episode that originally aired on May 7, 1985: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy_xWKJubuY. Warning, it may be disturbing. But it is history, never forget.

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Leon's Top Secret Turkey Dressing Recipe**

I’ve decided to spill the beans and post my updated Top Secret Turkey Dressing Recipe.** I guess since I’m Polish, this makes it a Polish Turkey Dressing Recipe. The key secret ingredient is quiet Polish: Vegeta!

There is no right or wrong to this recipe.  The key is to TASTE it as you go along:

  • Fry 1 pound pork sausage until browned.  Drain on paper towels and allow to cool. When cool, process in food processor until fine. I like to use Jimmy Dean Sage Sausage. Set aside.
  • In a large saucepan, melt 1/2 cup butter (butter lovers can double this amount if they wish)
  • Slice and dice 2 or three large yellow onions.  Add to melted butter and fry over medium heat for a few minutes.
  • Slice 3 or 4 stalks celery.  Add to onion/butter mixture.
  • Add 12 oz. of fresh sliced mushrooms (you can use canned if if desired…but why?).
  • Continue to saute several more minutes until onions are transparent and celery softens a bit and mushrooms have lost their moisture.
  • Add a teaspoon or two of Vegeta (or salt if you don’t have Vegeta).
  • Add a nice sized bunch of fresh Sage, julienned (or about a teaspoon of dried sage).
  • Add about a half teaspoon of poultry seasoning.
  • Add fresh ground black pepper to taste.
  • Add about 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper–just a touch to give it some interest.
  • Stir well. Taste.  Add seasoning as needed.
  • Put this mixture in a LARGE bowl. 
  • Add sausage mixture to the above sauteed veggies.
  • Stir the mixture and check for seasoning.  It should be a little on the “not salty” side, as the chicken broth may add a lot of salt, too.
  • Add about a pound of stale bread crumbs (I used to make my own bread, but now buy a loaf of Pepperidge Farm Hearty white bread. Cube it and dry it about 1/2 hour in a 250-degree oven).  If you buy seasoned bread crumbs, you may have to adjust the seasoning, but I consider this cheating.
  • Gently mix the mixture in a large (large, large, large) bowl.  Luckily, I have a humongous bowl that my sister, Mary, gave me years ago.
  • The mixture will be quite dry yet. 
  • If desired, you can add other accouterments, but be careful to not add too many.  For example, maybe leave out the mushrooms and add one or more of the following:
    • dried cranberries
    • raisins
    • pecans
    • hazelnuts
    • walnuts
    • shredded carrots
    • apples
    • mushrooms (ok, you can add them back in if you wish)
    • be imaginative…..
  • When mixed, it’s time to add some liquid:
  • beat one or two eggs and add. Mix well.
  • If desired, you can add a cup of milk or half and half to add some richness, but this is optional.
  • Add about a quart of chicken broth.  I generally make my own chicken or turkey broth and prefer to use that. You can also use chicken base to make your own broth.  Be careful of canned chicken broth–it can be very salty. Best is to make your own ahead of time.
  • Add liquid until the mixture becomes rather gooey.
  • Turn into a greased 3 or 4 quart baking pan. 
  • Cover or cover loosely with foil, and bake until hot. 
  • You can bake this in any temperature oven,  since all the ingredients except the egg are already cooked, all you need to do is heat it and get it to set a bit. I’d recommend about 350 degrees for 45 minutes should be just about right.  If you want a bit of the crust, cook it uncovered the last 15 or 20 minutes.

That’s it.  Pretty simple, huh?  All it takes is some time and a bit of imagination.  Serve as an accompaniment to Turkey or Chicken, or as a substitute for mashed potatoes….or…. hell…. it even makes a great meal by itself (though a wee bit of gravy over the top sure is nice, too).  This recipe does not last long in our house.  Hope you enjoy!

*This recipe is based on Mom Konieczny’s Turkey Dressing: she deserves the credit, she taught me how to cook, and to love to cook!

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A Pierogi Dilemma–to boil then freeze, or freeze, then boil….

I love pierogi. I love to eat them, love to make them, and nearly always have several dozen on hand–just for emergencies.

First, my “credentials.” I started life as a pierogi-eater. They were always a special treat, and we had them every year for Christmas eve. I recall one year when I was young and my brother and I had a pierogi-eating contest. I’m not sure who won, but I believe I ate 14 of them! Well, I was a growing teenager at the time.

Later, when I was on my own, I tried my hand at making them, using my mother’s hand-written recipe, passed down from her mother and her mother’s mother, who brought it from the “old country.” Over the years, I’ve refined the recipe and the technique. I’d say that I’ve made thousand of pierogi over the last 50 or so years since I left home.

Early on, I’d make them and then eat them. Later, I started to gather with friends, and we’d make and eat them together. And they we started making more and more–one year a group of us made well over 400 pierogi. And that brought up the question of storage. At first, we’d boil them all, fry and eat what we could, and then freeze the remainder. But over the years, I started making them myself, just because I like to make them. And then I’d freeze them. At first I always froze them individually, uncooked. Then when a need arose, I’d boil, then fry them.

Eventually I wondered about doing the opposite, making them, boiling them, then freezing them for use later. Each scenario has advantages and disadvantages. Now that you know my “pierogi credentials,” here’s my take on the two various methods and what my experience has taught me

Freeze now, then later boil, fry, and eat

In this scenario, which I tried first, I’d make the pierogi, then carefully line them up on sheet pans (on parchment paper), put them in the freezer, and freeze until solid (at least one day). Once frozen, I place in a single layer in a vacuum sealer bag, then seal, but not so air-tight that I crowd them. The advantage here is that once frozen, they are pretty solid. They freeze well in a single layer and can be stored that way in the freezer. When the need arises, there is no need to thaw, you simply plunk them in boiling, salted water, and cook until they float to the top–and then maybe one or two minutes longer. Drain, then fry in butter and you have these little heavenly pillows ready to serve and eat. The nice thing is, you don’t need to plan ahead, and you can simply take out and boil what you need. It works fine. One note: if you’re going to eat them sooner rather than later, you can skip vacuum sealing. But if you think you might keep them frozen more than a month, vacuum sealing is a must as it will prevent them from getting freezer burn.

Boil now, then cool and freeze for use later when you can thaw, fry, and eat

Lately, I’ve been using another method, and it has some advantages. I make the pieorgi, then boil them until cooked (when they float, give them another minute), then drain and chill in an ice bath. Once good and chilled, coat them with a bit of butter (or oil). Place on a parchment-lined sheet and freeze in a single layer until good and frozen (overnight at least). Once frozen, place in a single layer in a vacuum sealer bag and vacuum seal–but not too tightly, you don’t want to crack the delicate edges. (You could skip the vacuum seal if you plan to use within a month, and just place in a zip-lock bag, but to keep for longer, vacuum sealing is a must to avoid freezer burn).

This method requires a bit of advance planning. When planning to serve them, pull them out of the freezer and let them defrost at room temperature about 3 hours–they’ll still be plenty cold (for food safety) and may still be a bit frozen in the center. If they thaw too fast, just refrigerate. Then, just before serving, fry them gently in butter (I prefer to mix butter and olive oil, 50/50) and they are ready to serve. By the time they are browned, they’ll be heated through (remember, they’re already cooked) and ready to serve. Of course, you’ll need to cook all you’ve thawed, so freezing in smaller batches is advised. Though in my home, leftover pierogi magically disappear quite fast.

Conclusion

There is no “right” way to make pierogi in advance. You have to do what works best for you. In both methods, I recommend you freeze individually. Once frozen, you can place them in freezer bags or vacuum seal them. Which every way you choose, you can ensure you have an emergency stash of pierogi–I always have some on hand, just in cast. Smacznego!

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Poland 2019 Photo Album

Finally! Since we returned from Poland in mid-September, I’ve been going through all my photos and reliving our experience there. And now I am done. All my photos are posted on my web site below. There are a lot of them, plus some videos from the wedding, which was the highlight of our trip.

Over the next weeks and months, I plan to write individual posts here in my blog about the various places we went, things we saw, and things we did–it was a great adventure. But for now, you can get a sneak preview and browse my photos here:

https://photos.leonkonieczny.com/Poland-2019-Vacation/

I’ve tried to optimize the slides for mobile devices, as well. If you like what you see, feel free to leave me a comment here and feel free to share my photos on Facebook or your favorite social media site, but please give me credit. Thanks

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80 Years Ago Today–A Dark Day in History

On September 17, 1939, Poland’s fate and freedom were sealed. While Germany invaded on September 1st, it was the Soviet Invasion on the 17th that sealed Poland’s fate. Stalin and Hitler had one goal–to wipe Poland off the face of the earth forever. Never forget that.

Just a week before the war started, Hitler told his military commanders, “The object of the war is … physically to destroy the enemy. That is why I have prepared, for the moment only in the East, my ‘Death’s Head’ formations with orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language. Only in this way can we obtain the living space we need.”

Stalin had no less “lofty” goal. He approved the NKVD requested order to murder over 22,000 Polish intellectuals and military officers (Katyń Massacre) and the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Poles to Siberia. He, too, wished to wipe Poland off the face of the earth.

To this day, modern Russian history falsely portrays the Soviets as liberators of Poland in World War II. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, with the complicity of the allies, after the war Poland was handed over to the Soviets and the legitimate government of Poland no longer recognized. This situation lasted until 1989 when at last Lech Wałęsa and Solidarność, the influence of Pope John Paul II, that of President Ronald Regan, and others were able to bring about the demise of Communism–that fall of Soviet power began in Poland and quickly spread. But it all started in Poland.

But all of this began 80 years ago today, when a greedy Germany and the Soviet Union carved up Poland, and Poland’s allies did nothing to reach out a helping hand. Never forget.

Posted in history, History of Poland | 1 Comment

Poland 2019 — Day 04

Well, the wedding is over, and in a later post I’ll explain why we went to bed at 2:30, well before the party ended about 4 AM, and why I got up about 10 AM this morning. But once we got going, we headed up to a nice breakfast at the wedding venue, and saw a few of the folks we’d spent the evening with. Eventually, we headed into Gdańsk and easily found our hotel for the next two nights.

We used our afternoon wisely. We went to the museum of the Baltic and were truly amazed. The museum itself is a great review of Gdańsk’s maritime history, with lots of historic exhibits, models of ships throughout history, and many old artifacts. As a part of the exhibit, we for to tour a freight ship, built here in 1949.

But then we took the water taxi across the Motława River, and had the opportunity to walk up into the iconic Gdańsk Crane. Wow, what a great experience. Originally built in the 1300’s, it was rebuilt in 1444, and is just amazing. If you want to learn more, check here: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:%C5%BBuraw_in_Gda%C5%84sk.

The iconic Gdańsk Crane, which we got to tour

Later, we went to Grabiny-Zameczek and had diner with Alicja and more family, but that’s a a post for another time.

Once back in Gdańsk, we walked around a while, hat some “happy hour” at a few places, enjoyed the fresh evening air and then called it a night.

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Poland 2019 — Day 13

Today was our last full day in Poland, but we made the most of it with a full day in Poland’s largest city and its capital, Warszawa (Warsaw). In the course of the day, we logged nearly 9 miles of walking, but we sure did a lot and saw a lot. We started out with a half-hour walk to the iconic Palace of Culture and Science, a building that was a “gift” to the Polish people from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, built in 1955. We headed to the 30th floor of Poland’s tallest building to enjoy the view. Of course, Poles have mixed feeling about this “gift” from the tyrant who stole their country (with complicity of the Allies: Britain, France, and the USA), and kept it under Soviet domination for 45 years. But Poles take it all in stride. Some colloquially and irreverently refer to it as Chuj Stalina (“Stalin’s Dick”). it’s also said to have the best view in Warsaw—because you can’t see it when you’re in it! Nonetheless, I think that today it’s accepted for what it is, an interesting piece of architecture . Poles know how to give and take a joke, but the view from on top is indeed spectacular, and so worth it.

Our next stop was a walk which included parts of the old Jewish Ghetto from World War II, and a visit to the relatively new and award winning POLIN–Museum of the History of Jews in Poland. Wow! It is a really well done, modern, interactive experience. We chose to do the self-guided tour. It was superb. The history of the Jews in Poland is nothing short of amazing. While so many countries in history shunned and persecuted the Jews, Poland actually welcomed them and protected them, along with other religious minorities. There has always been some tensions between ethnic groups, but nowhere else in the Western world was such tolerance seen and even mandated by law.

But then came Hitler, the Nazis, and World War II. Hitler found his Jews there to kill, nearly 3 million, as well as millions of Poles and others. We all know (and should remember, and never forget) that story. The museum is very well done, and well worth a visit.

Then we headed back the old town, but first had a stop at a Monte Cassino monument, and then at one commemorating the Warsaw Uprising. Never forget.

Finally, we were back to old town. We entered via the Barbican and toured that and the old wall, and spent the rest of our afternoon/evening in and around the old square, with some drinks and then a fine Polish dinner. Warszawa is really a great city, in so many ways. In future posts I’ll reflect more on different aspects of our rip to Poland. It had indeed been amazing. And I’m anxious to return, sooner rather than later.

I will be back!

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Poland 2019 — Day 12

Today we left Kraków and headed to our vacation’s starting point, Warsaw. It’d rained overnight in Kraków, though stopped about the time we were ready to leave.

The trip to Warsaw was uneventful, mostly on good roads, expressway, but a lot of rain along the way. But about 4 hours later we were in Warsaw, at our hotel for the next two nights. Once checked in, we relaxed for a bit, a bit tired from the 4-hour trip. But soon enough we took off for some adventure.

We took a long walk, through the lower part of the old town, across the Wisła (Vistula) River, to the Praga district, to see a magnificent, beautiful piece of architecture, the baroque church, the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel and St. Florian the Martyr. It was quite the walk, but so cool to see. And to be in Praga, too.

Then we headed back to the old town and were just tourists there. We had drinks on the square by the old king’s Palace. Then walked around a bit. Eventually we settled on a place for dinner and had a good, traditional, Polish dinner. Tommy hade a potato pancake with goulash that was very good. I started with a clear barszcz with mushroom uszki. Then I had some fried sauerkraut as a side with two sausages, one smoked, one white (not smoked). All was fantastic, very good. We walked around a bit more, enjoying the old town. Some Buskers were out and they were very good. There was also a Polish country music-style group playing, also very good. Warsaw was sure alive and well tonight.

Eventually we made out way back to our hotel. I posted some pics and video on Facebook but can’t wait to get home and really post some good pics. Are you enjoying my blog? Leave a comment!

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Poland 2019 — Day 11

We had a full day to spend in Kraków, and we made the most of it. Kraków is, and remains, my favorite city in the world [though I will admit that Gdańsk is a very close second now, too].

We started our morning with a self-guided tour of Wawel, the castle and ancient capital of Poland. First off was a view of the statue of the Wawel dragon and his cave, right along the Wisła (Vistula) River. The castle is a wonderful edifice, with lots and lots of history. We did the self-guided tour of the magnificent chapel, which is truly amazing itself. To think, many kings of Poland were crowned and worshipped here. It’s really a moving experience. We walked around a bit, then moved on to the palace itself and the chambers there. The area is currently undergoing a renovation, but it’s very impressive.

After wandering around a while and taking lots of photos, we took off walking to our next destination, a trendy spot where young locals go to party at night. It’s an old factory complex, said to be slated for future demolition and remade into luxury apartments or townhomes but currently a trendy night hot spot of restaurants and clubs. We had lunch at one of the cool restaurants there, and it was very avante garde cuisine, and very good.

Eventually we headed back to the old town. Our next stop was the marvelous National Art Museum on the second floor of the Sukiennice. We got the English audio guide and I’m glad we did. We saw some fantastic art by Polish artists, it was truly amazing.

Our next stop was the Mariacki, the fantastic Cathedral that is right on the square. It is amazing, very ornate, and very historic. No trip to Kraków would be complete without a visit to this magnificent, historic church.

Our next stop was Kazimierz, the old, historic Jewish quarter of Kraków—actually, our apartment/hotel is in Kazimierz. We walked around a bit and enjoyed the old buildings, then stopped and had a few drinks along the way.

While weather now was a bit wet, we headed back to the old town and found a place for dinner—Italian food! It was just OK, though.

Later, on the way back, we stopped at a very cool underground restaurant and had dessert and drinks.

Wow, what a day we had in Kraków. I still love this beautiful, historic city a lot. I’ll be sad to leave tomorrow, but hope to return for an extended stay next year…

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