Lake Norman Magazine October 2007

Celebrate Oktoberfest

BY CATHY SWINEY
PHOTOS BY RICHARD RUDISILL


observer2Halina Genaro appreciates food. She values it more than just for its nourishment and its ability to bring people together. On a deeper level, she values food for the role it plays in family heritage.

“It’s been instilled in our family the importance of holding on to…that history of your nationality because you can lose that so easily in a country that has so much diversity,” she says.

Genaro, who was born in Darmstadt, Germany, was 2 years old when her family immigrated to the United States. In their Chicago home, she heard only German and the occasional Polish that also was spoken by her father. Genaro learned English at school, as well as from neighbors.

“In Chicago, they had ethnic neighborhoods, so you would always be understood,” she remembers.

She grew up eating traditional German foods that her mother prepared. Her mother, Karoline Beck Glowacki, died three years ago, but Genaro fondly remembers the perfection of her potato salad, stuffed cabbage, mashed potatoes and gravy, and sauerbraten, which is a beef pot roast with sour gravy.

“She was always cooking,” she says. “All we ate was her home cooking. That was her life.”

Husband’s encouragement

Genaro, who lives in Denver, might not have picked up many cooking skills from her mother – children were shooed out of the kitchen – but her mother’s love of it rubbed off. Genaro also credits her late husband, Tony, for encouraging her to cook those handed-down recipes so their children would appreciate their family heritage.

“He was adamant about having the children know their history,” she says.

Married at 19 years old, she and Tony, an Italian descendant, traveled to Germany and Italy on their honeymoon, meeting many relatives for the first time. The food wasn’t so different from what she grew up eating, but she found herself missing American foods.

“We were there for three weeks, and I was homesick for McDonalds,” she says with a laugh.

Returning home, her husband, who enjoyed cooking, quickly realized her cooking limitations and helped change that. However, there are a few good stories told in the family about some of her early attempts in the kitchen. One story that brings laughs is the first time she made pork chops. As dinner began, Tony asked where the meat was. When she indicated the chops were in the bowl near him, a glance revealed a curious sight.

“They were little hockey pucks,” she says with a big laugh. “All I knew was to cook pork real good. He called me Speed Chef because I didn’t know how to cook anything but on high.”

Fortunately for her family, her cooking abilities improved. Her pork chops are edible, and she says her favorite thing to make is spaghetti sauce using a recipe from her husband’s family.

“I love to cook everything,” she says.

German specialties

Christmas and Easter are two times Genaro’s kitchen fills with aromas of pork and cabbage. Although she hasn’t made them since her mother died, Spritz cookies in particular are special. The pressed, buttery treats are a Christmas staple.

“My mother used a meat grinder that had an attachment on it (to make the cookies),” she says. “I still have that grinder.”

Winter Stew is her favorite German meal. “It’s cabbage and smoked sausage in a pot,” she says. “You’ve got a meal in less than half an hour. Put it in a bowl with some good bread, and everyone’s content.”

Her German cooking also kicks into high gear during October, in honor of the annual Munich festival, Oktoberfest. Noticing the abundance of restaurants serving international cuisine and seeing that her birth country’s food wasn’t represented in the area, Genaro set out to change that.

In the spirit of German warmth and hospitality, two years ago she started celebrating Oktoberfest at their restaurant, The Landing in Sherrills Ford. For that month, special features on the menu include silver dollar potato pancakes with an applesauce dip as an appetizer, potato salad, sauerbraten and bratwurst, along with German beers and wines.

“The response has been wonderful,” she says. “Ex-servicemen would come in and reminisce and remember the good foods they had over there. Just to meet the people who are in love with the food was such an awesome experience to me.”

Just in time for Oktoberfest, Genaro happily shares recipes that have been mainstays in her family for years.

“My mother would be so honored,” she says.
Easy Potato Pancakes
4 cups shredded potatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons shortening

In a large bowl, mix potatoes, onion, seasonings, eggs and milk. Add flour a little at a time to make a thick mixture. Scoop up 1/4 cup of the mixture and slightly flatten into a hot skillet with melted shortening. Cook until brown and crisp; flip. Serve with applesauce.
Yield: 4-6 servings

Red Cabbage
2 tablespoons shortening
1 head red cabbage, quartered, cored, and sliced thin
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup wine vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tart apple, peeled, cored and sliced

In a Dutch oven, melt shortening. Add cabbage; stir to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste and wine vinegar. Cook over low heat until cabbage is tender, about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add water and vinegar as needed, sparingly. Add brown sugar and apple. Cook 20 minutes.
Yield: 4-6 servings

Base Recipe for Cabbage or Sauerkraut
2 or 3 slices bacon
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
1 bag sauerkraut, rinsed, or 1 small cabbage, quartered, cored, and chunked
1/2 cup red or white wine
1/2 cup stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon in a skillet. Remove bacon and crumble; set aside. In bacon fat, saute onions and seeds until glazed. Add sauerkraut (or cabbage), bacon, wine, stock and seasonings. Cook over low heat until tender and liquid is reduced, about 30 minutes. Serve with potatoes, sausage or pork chops.
Yield: 4-6 servings
NOTE: 1 or 2 tablespoons of shortening can be substituted for bacon.

Winter Stew
observer1Prepared sauerkraut using recipe above
4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
stock (beef, chicken or vegetable)
1 package smoked kielbasa or smoked sausage
instant potato flakes

To sauerkraut in pot, add potatoes and enough stock to cover. Over low heat, simmer for 1/2 hour. Add sausage; heat through. Before serving, thicken with instant potato flakes.
Yield: 4-6 servings

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