Archive for December, 2012


Sauerkraut Soup

Ahhh, the Soup!

Ahhh, the Soup!

It’s traditional in my family to eat Christmas Eve Wigilia “Vuh-LEE-uh” dinner. Wigilia means Vigil. It’s a Polish tradition, though we’re Slovak (Slovak, Belgian, German, and someone said Grandma has some Russian and Irish), therefore, we’ve adapted the tradition a bit. Our dinner consists of flat wafers, sauerkraut soup, mashed potatoes, creamed peas, and salad. You’re supposed to eat the wafer first. (Topping it with honey adds flavor to the styrofoam-like wafer, which more or less melts on your tongue.) You fill a bowl with mashed potatoes, pour the sauerkraut soup over them, and then top it with sour cream. You can eat the creamed peas on the side, with the salad, or you can refill your soup bowl with more potatoes and the peas after you’ve eaten the soup. The soup itself is made from pig neck bones (for flavor only), sauerkraut, and roux. You have to be sure to really brown the roux.

When I was little, my mom told me we eat this for luck. I told her we eat this because our ancestors thought the stench would ward off evil spirits. (We also eat sauerkraut for luck at New Year’s, but normal sauerkraut with kielbasa, not the soup.)

We never had a recipe for Sauerkraut Soup written down until my sister got married just a few years ago. My great Aunt Irene would make the soup from memory and we’d all gather at her house and eat in shifts. As a wedding present to my sister (the Home Ec teacher), I gathered family recipes from both sides and put together a cookbook for her. A year after my sister got married, Aunt Irene passed away. The tradition however, lives on. Now my mom borrows the cookbook and makes the soup, and we travel with the giant, hot, sloshing sauerkraut pot the 20 minute ride to Grandma’s where it’s served. (That makes it sound like a wild cartoon sleigh ride through woodsy Pennsylvania roads with a hot pot of tipsy soup, and really, It Is.)

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Jody Brown, author of Upside Down Kingdom and writer at FineLineBooks

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Jose, Sontes server extraordinaire

Jose, Sontes server extraordinaire

Books, Body, and Soul

(Written for Söntés blog, December 2012) 

Need a stocking stuffer for that person who has everything? Need time to collect your thoughts and unwind? Come to Söntés! Not only can you treat yourself to an amazing lunch or dinner (or rest your weary shopping bones by the fireplace, cocktail in hand), but you can also rejuvenate your spirit by taking in the local art on the walls, and by visiting my bookshelf.

Yes, bookshelf. Cicero said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” At Söntés, we’ve taken his words to heart: What restaurant would be complete without a bookshelf? Located next to the Wine Vault, between the entryway and the bar, sits the bookshelf that Tessa uncovered to hold my first published novel, Upside Down Kingdom

What’s so great about a book, and why is it a must-have gift? Allow me to wax poetic:  Upside Down Kingdom is a laugh-out-loud, inside perspective on waiting tables and Washington, D.C., filled with colorful Dupont Circle characters and first-job-out-of-college disillusionment.  One day we’ll see it taught in universities. (I’m not entirely kidding.) As I type this, Upside Down Kingdom is being taught in Dr. John Sievers’ Humanities course at Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC), and I’ve been asked to return again in the spring.  Not bad for its first nine months in print!

Whether you have time to read it now or will save it for the winter months, or you just want to set it on your bookshelf as your personal copy of “what the fuss is all about,” a signed copy of Upside Down Kingdom is a unique and thoughtful gift (for yourself, or) for that hard-to-shop-for friend. At Söntés, hard and soft cover books are available, and Söntés guests can buy signed, personalized books at 20% off the Barnes and Noble retail price

During the holidays with my family, the best gifts always come with stories. You open a gift, usually an everyday item like a book or pen, and someone will pipe up, “Oh, let me tell you about that one!” And they’ll launch into the story of how they came upon the idea for the gift, where and how the gift was found, what terrible weather conditions were endured (my family’s in Pittsburgh), with what savvy shopping skills and colorful characters, helping in the nick of time, brought that gift to my hands… Over the years, I’ve acquired a diverse collection of signed books, and an equally diverse collection of “I once met this author” stories told to me by family and friends. These stories are my favorite gifts.

This holiday season, treat yourself to some “me time” at Söntés while you complete your shopping. Renew your spirit with some chorizo stuffed dates and a glass of Cune Rioja, purchase a Söntés gift card in any dollar amount as a future gift to yourself (or as a last-minute “rescue” gift for someone overlooked), take in the one-of-a-kind artwork (all of which is for sale at great prices), and pick up a copy of my book for yourself or for that friend who has everything. I’d be honored to meet you and personalize the book to you or your giftee (or to simply autograph it so you can use it as a rescue gift!).

No one needs to know you had a great and relaxing time completing your holiday shopping. But if you’re like my family, you’ll tell everyone the tale of how you happened into our warm and well-lighted Söntés on a dark and stormy night, felt at home by the welcoming and happy staff, enjoyed the best food and spirits you’ve ever tasted, warmed yourself by the fire, and met this author…

cookies On 12-12-12 I locked my keys in the car. I realized it as I walked into the gym and noticed I didn’t have my membership key tag to hand to the desk. I went back to the Jeep and started to remove a back window panel from the soft top–which is only a problem in weather below 60 degrees as the fabric shrinks and I may not be able to get it back on. I’m in luck, because this is Minnesota, and it’s about a whole 25 degrees out today. The lucky part is that it’s not currently snowing and I found a dry spot to set down my gym bag.  I removed most of the panel, leaving it hanging so I won’t have to completely restart the process once I’m able to get the keys, and I climbed up on the tire and wiggled into the backseat. I contorted into front seat, still with one foot hanging out the back window, and managed to reach the keys in the ignition where I’d forgotten them. Then I had to reverse the whole process. I bruised my shin, but managed to back out of the window, and then I got the window back in place again. The headlights from the car parked opposite really helped, like being lit in flood lights. This whole thing started because I’d just bought some red velvet sandwich cookies and I just had to sit in the gym parking lot gorging on them. Seriously good.

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