Hello! Welcome to The Wooden Spoon, a vegetarian Hungarian cooking and baking blog!  My name is Sarah Elek, and I am very excited to begin this blog journey with you.  In the past, I wrote a blog about art and art history called “The Art Caravan”.  While I love making art, writing about art didn’t hold my interest quite as much, and I eventually stopped blogging.  Since then, I have maintained a personal blog chronicling creative endeavors and fun events in my life, but have been dreaming of a new blog to replace “The Art Caravan”.  The concept for The Wooden Spoon has been in the back of my mind for quite some time, and I am eager to share all I know about Hungarian food.

Hungary, circa 1930(?)

You may be asking yourself, why Hungarian food?  There are a few reasons, but the primary one is that I come from good hearty Hungarian heritage.  My Dad’s parents, Margaret and Zoltan Elek, were both  Hungarian and immigrated to America with their families as teenagers.  While my Grandfather was born in Hungary, my Grandmother was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and her family went back to Hungary, and then came back to America again, where they eventually stayed.  Both families settled in Ohio, and my Grandparents met on a streetcar in Cleveland.  What could two young, attractive Hungarians do besides fall in love and get married?  While they started their family in Ohio, they owned a restaurant called “The Corn Crib” (which actually wasn’t a Hungarian restaurant- it was a BBQ joint).  Eventually they had their fourth son, my Dad Bob, and moved to Florida to escape the cold Ohio winters.  Fast forward a good twenty years or so, and my Dad is getting ready to marry my Mom, Tammi.  Of course, my Grandmother made sure my Mom knew how to cook good Hungarian food before she married my Dad- you couldn’t become an Elek unless you could cook for an Elek, I think.

Great Grandma and Grandpa Szabo

Grandma and Grandpa Elek

A few years later, I was born, and a few years after that, my brother Daniel came along.  When we were growing up, my Grandma and Grandpa Elek lived in Oregon, and we didn’t get to see them very much.  But they came to visit, and I loved to have long phone conversations with my Grandma.  We were very close, and I always considered myself similar to her.  I could confess all my neurotic childhood worries to my Grandmother, and she would understand.  I loved my Elek family, all the Uncles and cousins and all the food.  Whenever we would all get together, there was always lots of food, and of course there was always Hungarian food.  I remember one of our big family reunions at my Uncle Dennis and Aunt Karen’s house in California.  Grandma made Kifli, my absolute favorite Hungarian pastry, and I reverently took a picture of it, all pristine and buttery and covered in powdered sugar.  Since my mother had been required to learn to make all this stuff, we ate it at home too.  My favorite dish ever, hands-down, was Chicken Paprikash.  Even when I went away to college, it was my most requested special coming home dish.

Grandma and me

So this blog is about Hungarian food because Hungarian food is my heritage.  I want to document and share all of this amazing food with everyone else out there, so they can enjoy the warmth and comfort that it brings as well.  My Grandmother was an amazing cook, and an even more amazing pastry chef, and Hungarian food is how our heritage was passed down to us.  My mother is also an amazing cook and pastry chef, and she actually taught me how to cook Hungarian.  Throughout this blog, I will be cooking and baking directly from my Grandmother’s recipes.  This may be a challenge, as Grandma can could cook and bake from memory and feel, and her recipes (and handwriting!) can be hard to decipher and are often missing crucial steps.  I will also be cooking and baking from a variety of Hungarian cookbooks, in an effort to explore new recipes and expand my understanding of Hungarian food.  My Grandmother’s traditional recipes could be called “country food”- they may be different than what you would get if you went to a four star restaurant in Budapest.  These are labor-intensive, fill-you-up, meat-and-potatoes type recipes.

Except for the part about “meat”.  The final thing I will be attempting to do through this blog is cook vegetarian Hungarian food.  I think the reasons why I am a vegetarian can be saved for another post, but for now I will say that I became a vegetarian in February of 2010, right after I started dating my amazing boyfriend, Misha.  I had already been trying to go vegetarian for awhile, and he already was, so it just made sense.  He is an incredible cook, and makes almost all of our meals for us (lucky me!), and of course they are vegetarian.  We still eat fish from time to time (who could give up sushi?), but we do not eat any other form of meat.  When I quit meat for good, one of the things I was most worried about was how I would survive without Chicken Paprikash.  In the year and four months that I have been a vegetarian, I have become convinced that I can convert many of these Hungarian meals I love so much to meat-free without losing their essence.  This will be an experiment, and many tests will have to be done, but I believe at the end we will have vegetarian Hungarian food even my grandmother would love.