Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

My maternal grandmother was Lithuanian and she was definitely the family matriarch. We spent many weekends and most holidays with her, grandpa (the Irish one) and lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. Grandma was always trying to fatten us up and lived in a neighborhood full of bakeries (Lithuanian, Portuguese and Italian) in east Cambridge (MA). I miss going to the Lithuanian festival in Baltimore (and later in Catonsville MD) with my brother, seeing faces that looked like our family, and the food, viryta (honey kick-ass liqueur) and good Lithuanian beer. This video, by Michael Gebert about the closing of the oldest Lithuanian restaurant, celebrates the end of an era in Chicago and got me thinking about my one-quarter (the strongest quarter) Lithuanian heritage.

I’ve just discovered (thanks to this old Baltimore City Paper article) that viryta (aka Lithuanian Nectar of the Gods) is not Lithuanian at all but Lithuanian-American. My friends in Arlington VA know all about viryta since I would always buy a bottle or two at the Lithuanian festival from the Baltimore Lithuanian Athletic Club. As one of my friends said, “it’s quite warming.”

In my hunt for a viryta recipe, I got distracted by kugelis recipes. Kugelis is a Lithuanian dish made from potatoes, bacon, onions and eggs, yes, it’s a bit heavy. I found an old blog post by Bob Skilnik titled “Kugelis – Break Out a Baltic Porter and Eat Like a Lithuanian.” I had to click. It’s been a long time since I’ve made kugelis and I think I’ll start with his mother-in-law’s recipe.

Speaking of potatoes, snack food alert: Lay’s Tangy Carolina BBQ potato chips, as if I needed any help with my bbq/fat/salt jonesing. I’m imagining what type of dip would go best with them. Something with horseradish.

On my recent trip to Chicago, I was given a 22 oz bottle of Flossmoor Station Pullman Brown Ale by a friend who knows of my love for good beer. I had heard about Flossmoor Station but had never had their beer. This one was delicious — a very dark substantial brew, lip-smacking and roasty with hints of molasses (it’s one of the ingredients) and coffee, and a silky feel from oats. It reminded me more of a porter than a brown ale. It’s worth seeking out if you’re in the area. Now, I’m thinking about Baltic porters. Might be time to go hunting for one!

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