Our Polish Easter: It’s all about the Babka

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 in Easter, Family, Food, Holidays, Recipe | 38 comments


For our family, there is nothing more synonymous with Easter than making and eating homemade Babka. There are many variations of the iconic holiday tradition, but this is what we remember from our Polish heritage and our childhood: a light, textured, buttery, egg-rich, fragrant dough, studded with golden raisins (not too many) and a crusty brown shiny exterior, all to be slathered with more butter (of course).


No other version seems as authentic as this match to what we remember eating at our Grandmother’s home (Stella Uminska Brodow, our Babcia—although we never called her that). Easter memories are full of simple Polish food and tradition—kielbasa, hard-boiled eggs, ham, the treasured babka, early daffodils in the yard, and of a time long ago when the Polish priest came to her home to bless our Easter dinner. It is our joy to continue our heritage, long after all of our beloved Polish family members are with us no more.


One of our newer traditions has transitioned us from the standard solid colored eggs to a technique that is not only easy, but ties in (pun intended) to Linda’s background as a textile designer. By wrapping raw eggs tightly in printed silk tie fabric, and then boiling the eggs with vinegar for about 25 minutes, the dye from the tie is transferred to the shell of the egg, imparting a decorative design, almost mimicking the detailed painted designs of Polish painted wooden Easter eggs.  This technique, courtesy of Martha Stewart (who is also Polish) can be found here:



This year, it won’t be complete without a Good Friday trip to the Polish Deli, Basia’s in Ventnor City, NJ, for the traditional kielbasa and ham, and maybe some pierogi and other Polish delicacies on the side.

Wesołych Świąt Wielkanoc!

Polish Babka

3 pk  (1/4 oz) active dry yeast (3 tbsp)

¾ cup warm water (110F)

1 Tb plus 1 cup sugar

7 3/4 cups flour (about)

1 1/2 cup milk

1 ¼ c unsalted butter or margarine

6 eggs

2 egg yolks

1 1/2  tsp salt

1 cup golden raisins

1 egg white

Grease side and bottom of 2 10-inch tube pans.

In shallow medium bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 1 Tbsp sugar and 1/2 cup warm flour; stir to combine. Cover; let stand in a warm place 5-10 minutes until foamy. Heat milk and butter or margarine in a small saucepan until melted. Let stand until mixture cools to warm. In a large bowl, beat eggs, egg yolks, and remaining 1 cup sugar until pale and frothy. Add cooled milk mixture, salt, and yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Gradually beat in 4 1/2 cups flour. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough into a soft, smooth dough. Divide dough in half. Arrange one part dough in each greased pan. Cover with a damp cloth; let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly beat egg white and brush over top of dough. Bake 50-55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Makes two 10-inch loaves.

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The Year in Review… Or, Be Careful What You Wish For, Part I

Posted by on Jan 1, 2012 in Family, Food, Photography, Travel | 1 comment

Substituted champagne with tangerine margaritas this year.


I have preparing this entry in my mind for a couple of weeks now. I haven’t been diligent with this blog, so I wanted to play catch up. It might not have been so daunting if I had kept up with blogging as events were happening in my life. It’s called procrastination. Yes, many of us are guilty of it, and I admire all of the bloggers that I follow for their tenaciousness for blogging at full speed. My sister and I started this blog to talk about food and life, and I think the first life lesson that I want to pass on is – this is hard! It’s work!! I get that now, so I am not going to consider this a New Year’s Resolution, I’m just going to commit myself to doing a good job, which means I am going to have to gain confidence in my writing skills and implement practical time management strategies to edit my photographs as I make them. Hmmm… a bit daunting already.

I guess the best place to start for this entry is to explain the latter part of the post title. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. In February, I turned fifty years old and so I wished for myself a year full of adventure and experiences. Of course, when you wish for something like that, you are only think of good things. Well, I got the good, the bad and the ugly on a scale like I’d never experienced before. I’ll spare you most of the details on the bad, because then it would sound like I was complaining. The best thing to do with bad things that happen are to turn them around into good things. So to put the good in context, here are the bad things that happened this year.

BAD THING #1 – The Fire

The Fire

The Day After

You never expect something like this to happen to you. Thankfully, no one was hurt. At first, we thought all was lost, but thanks to the volunteer fire departments (all 27 of them) that helped control this fire, we are grateful. If you live in an area where you are serviced by volunteer fire fighters, DO ANYTHING YOU CAN TO SUPPORT THEM! They do this for free. They risk their lives. Their families support them by bringing food and coolers of water while they are doing their job. Even the county sent our food trucks and port-a-potties for this all nighter. The next day, about 100 people were out of work and many of the employees were there to witness the fire. That night, they knew they were out of a job. It was hard to watch what was happening. As a photographer, I wanted to record the event. I could take pictures of the burning building, but as an owner of the company, I couldn’t take pictures of the people watching, especially the employees. It was just too personal and too painful. By the next morning, there was hope. Everyone got together to work to rebuild. We have many people to thank for the recovery, not just the employees, friends and family, but also competitors who helped manufacture our products so we could still fulfill our customer orders. Within a couple of weeks, we started bringing people back to work and even hired more people to get production moving. This is the part where I wish I was a better writer, because I know that I am not adequately able to express the emotional complexity of such an event. So many people did so much to help us out, above and beyond anything that we could have expected, that is, except for the insurance company, but that’s another story.

BAD THING #2 – Illness

Both my husband and I were hospitalized this year will serious illnesses (not at the same time). I’ll post a picture of him, but not of me. I’m too vain. I don’t want you to see me when I haven’t showered in seven days. I took his picture to keep as a reminder as to how fragile our lives are.


As for my illness, it relates to what I wished for. I set out to have an adventure or two this year. The first one I had to cancel because of the fire. I was headed to Italy with other photographers. Later in the year, I jumped at the chance for another photography trip to Africa. I got cellulitis from a flu shot when I started getting immunizations for the trip. A one in a million occurrence. I was in the hospital for a week. Now, if I chose to sit at home and be comfortable, that wouldn’t have happened. If I chose to live my life like that, I would wither and die. That was already starting to happen. I forgot what it was like to take chances and throw myself out there. I accept the consequences for that and I hope that I will continue to learn and pursue new creative outlets. I’m not even quite comfortable writing this blog. Not sure I really have something to offer, but if I don’t do it, I’ll never know, and I’ll never be able to learn from it.

BAD THING #3 – Losing My Eyesight

This is a tough one. At the age of forty six, I was diagnosed with Glaucoma. I had already lost some vision in my right eye, but almost five years later, with surgery and numerous eye drops, it’s still a battle. I can’t drive at night anymore. It’s difficult to focus my vision. At first I thought that it would deter my ability to make photographs, but I am finding that the camera is more like a prosthesis. It can see what I can’t. I will probably write more about this in the future as I work it out.

Stay tuned for BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR PART 2 – The good stuff that happened in 2011 (and more foodie stuff)

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World Famous Family Jell-O Mold

Posted by on Aug 7, 2011 in Family, Food, Recipes | 26 comments

World Famous Holiday Jell-O Mold

When we were kids, we hated this family food tradition: the Jell-O mold that showed up at every holiday occasion. It was either green or yellow, with lots of chopped up “stuff” in it. It wiggled, wobbled, and glistened, but face it? Who would eat that mixture of fruit and vegetables, encased in a brightly colored glob of lemon or lime? The worst part is that it was served with a large dollop of mayonnaise. Mayonnaise! The worst offender of these ingredients. Most of all, I remember it was made in an opaque plastic Tupperware Jell-O mold, with interchangeable sealed lids that reflected the different holidays and had an indentation with a tulip or a Christmas tree for that awful ingredient…mayonnaise. I still have my pale green Tupperware Jell-O mold, sans indented lid. But my mother still has the original.

My memory tells me that the Jell-O mold was the product of my grandmother, Ethel Haster. Surely she was in her heyday in the 50s and 60s and 70s, when Tupperware and Jell-O were on the culinary cutting edge.  She was and will always be the most creative person I know. She influenced our lives in every way with her amazing talents, whether it be knitting, sewing, needlepoint, crochet, cooking or her every day analytical approach to problems, situations, or opportunities. Her gifts are reflected in the generations that followed her, and there isn’t a time that I don’t pick up my knitting needs that I don’t think we were lucky to have had her, and grateful that we inherited many of her passions.So here’s to Gram, who lived in a simpler, non-technical time but approached everything she did with an “engineer’s mind” and a heavy-duty dose of creativity and “get-it-done” attitude.

The Jell-O mold? I’d give anything to be able to have her bring it for Christmas dinner, and would proudly place it on my table, along with whatever else I was serving, and spend the rest of the night talking to her about all the things I wish I did when she was still with us. I’d even have it with the mayonnaise.  🙂


Haster Family Jell-O Mold

1 small package Lime (or Lemon) Jell-O, if you prefer

1 cup Grated Carrots

1/2 cup Chopped Celery

1 small can or 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

Make Jell-O according to package directions, using 1 cup boiling water and 3/4 cup cold water. Add carrots, celery and crushed pineapple. Pour into Jell-O mold and refrigerate until set. When ready to serve, dip mold inwarm water to loosen and release.

Serve with mayonnaise (if you must).

Mix chopped ingredients into semi-set Jell-O.

Pour into (preferably vintage) Tupperware Jell-O mold

Serve with mayonnaise, if you must.

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A Tale of Two Grandmas

Posted by on Aug 7, 2011 in Family | 7 comments

Gram Haster & Grandma Brodow

Our two grandmothers could not have been more different than night and day. Our maternal was a pretty savvy woman, who, in our opinion, could do anything. (She was the first woman ambulance driver in her NJ shore town in the 1970s). She was fun. She liked to drive fast and she liked to go places and do things.

So, to Ethel Haster, we honor her with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek humor with a  “family recipe” that we remember her fondly by: a Lime Green Jello Mold. She was also extraordinary at Thanksgiving with a sausage sage-stuffing; her homemade baked beans were awesome, and I will always remember the big pot of crabs boiling on her stove.

Our paternal grandmother was born in Poland in 1900. She game to the United States at the age of 18, speaking no English. (Contrast this to our material grandmother, where the family rumor is that her [our] ancestors came over on the Mayflower). She married (a chef…does that tell you something?), she worked in a factory, she raised two children; she was an early widow. She spoke with a heavy accent. She was a good person. But, she did not venture far in the world after her initial long journey from her homeland. She remained Polish through-and-through, even though she had become a U.S. citizen.

I only remember her making Babka once. Severe arthritis too soon in her life prevented her from continuing to bake. But, I remember her telling me how to make it as she demonstrated. The important part, I remember her saying, is that the dough “must come from your hands” and then you know you are done kneading. After that time, I only remember buying Babka, and only from the remaining Polish bakeries in Passaic. Always at Easter, and sometimes in between. Babka seems synonymous with my Polish heritage.

Many years later, after my Polish Grandma was gone, I remembered the comfort of Babka in her house and searched for a recipe. I finally found one that was just as I remembered eating at family occasions. It is a tradition that I will always carry on in our family, even though there are no Polish relatives left with us. I know the importance of ensuring that my own daughter carries this tradition on…’til the dough comes from your hands.

To Stella Uminska Brodow, may we always remember the goodness of your heart, and think of you each time we cut into an aromatic round loaf of homemade Babka, cherishing a childhood family memory, long gone.

Cheers to both Gram and Grandma! It is fitting that we inaugurate this Blog in your names. Always live in our hearts. And to everyone reading this–Welcome to our Blog!

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