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This is a tiny digression from family recipes, but it’s too good to pass up!

Between a toy store and the cheerful Řehoř Samsa cafe in Prague’s Lucerna passageway lies a forbidding closet of a bar. With its cramped depths and (appropriately) volcanic-red lighting, Bar Ignis is hardly welcoming, unless you’re down on your luck–but it does have the most entertaining menu board I’ve ever seen. Clearly, there’s a frustrated novelist or poet with a warped sense of humor buried back there, somewhere…
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Hungry? Eat, for Pete’s sake!*
Hot game sausage –>photo of the animal available
Homemade hot dog –>only in Ignis
Pickled hermelin cheese optimist or pessimist**
Brussels pâté with cranberries
Black Forest ham
Bread with fat and cracklings
Bread with fat spread
ONLY HERE!
Wine from the casket
Rosé served with a strawberry
Champagne served with a strawberry : 2 dl Kč 78 [6 3/4 oz.; ~$4.60]
Sangria with melon
Retsina Greek wine
Red wine: 2 dl Kč 49 [6 3/4 oz.; ~$2.90]
Lambrusco
Merlot (late harvest)
Rulandske
Portugal
Cabernet Sauvignon
Frankovka

*In Czech, this rhymes and sounds a lot snappier.

**No idea what the “optimist or pessimist” part means (but hermelin cheese is the Czech version of Camembert, and is insanely good).

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The gracious folks at Jauntsetter are featuring my Prague tips and favorites as part of their Trip Pick, this week: Perusing Prague. There’s another one coming up, later this week, and is really a Patisserie Tour with some walking thrown in.

And the first batch of Italian/Irish/American recipes arrived in the mail today, courtesy of my mom! :)

Looks like I’ll be making Pařížský dort (Parisian Cake), which I’ve wanted to do. Let’s hope the monsoon that’s swirling around New York doesn’t wreak havoc on the egg whites. (Or is that just a myth?)

The American side of the project is a little bit easier, logistically: I have most of the family recipes I need, from a massive cookbook my mom made for me, five years ago. The one I use most is my Italian great-grandmother’s risotto recipe, which was typed out way before I was born and includes a note that “the best romano and gorgonzola can be bought at Pinelli’s on 15th Street” in Denver.

But I had a last-minute ticket to Prague (since my husband was going to be there on business for two weeks), and my goal was to get Jakub and his dad to talk about family recipes. The first week we arrived, there was a frenzied search for the two strawberry-container boxes of recipes I’d last seen when we moved out of the apartment Žižkov and which I was counting on having access to, for this project. Jakub’s dad managed to find the recipes, and we sat down, one night, to look over them. There are hundreds of recipe cards, some of which I was lucky to photograph and am excited to try, over here in New York.

Jakub's dad and the Big Recipe Night

Jakub's dad and the Big Recipe Night

Jakub's dad's kitchen, Žižkov

Jakub's dad's kitchen, Žižkov

Skořicové hvězdy (Cinnamon Stars)

Skořicové hvězdy (Cinnamon Stars)

The recipe above is Skořicové hvězdy, or Cinnamon Stars. Made with egg whites, powdered sugar, cinnamon, lemon peel, and almonds (among other ingredients), it sounds like the perfect Christmas cookie, doesn’t it? Maybe I should experiment, even though it’s July.

When I was casting around for what to do for this project, this list came together:

1) Prague

2) Cafes in Prague

3) Historical/literary cafes in Europe

4) Family history (thanks to the epic crawling-through-old-factories New Jersey trip, last month)

5) Cooking

6) New York food

7) Czech food

These are all things I’m passionate about. If you throw in literature and writing, they’re mainly what I eat, sleep, and breathe. (Half of them are wholly baffling to my mathematician husband.) One night after scribbling starts and stops for each of these, I went to bed, frustrated and running out of time to submit the project proposal to DailyLit. In the middle of the night, I woke up and could hear the bakers in the bagel place four stories below our apartment banging around inside the shop, clanging together pans and huffing to and fro with giant paper sacks of flour. The word “ghost” came to mind. I went back to sleep.

Fast-forward to last week, at breakfast in Prague with a friend who’s a jewelry designer at her favorite place, near Slovansky Dum. I’d been rambling on about digital publishing, and Twitter, and the job I’d applied for at Martha Stewart. I could see none of this was all that thrilling, to her. She squinted at me, and poked at a bed of floppy anglická slanina (English bacon) atop scrambled eggs.

“What exactly is it that you’re working on?” she asked patiently.

I’d picked a combination of numbers 1 through 7. “A family tree…of recipes. In blog form.” It had sounded good on paper, and in talking to my mom, but it was oddly hard to formulate, maybe because so many photos and faces crowded into my mind when I went to talk about it. “Everyone has a collection of stories like this–recipes and foods that are symbols of someone in their family. It’s family history.”

Outside in the courtyard, waiters at the cafe in the center, their long aprons stretching nearly to the ground, began setting out more teak chairs and tables before the mid-morning rush. Inside the cafe, it was quiet, still.

“It seemed like a good way–or at least one way–of looking at the immigrant story, from both an American and a European perspective,” I added.

Shelley laughed. “I have to tell you something. Every month or so–you know–we go to the village.” (My friend’s husband is Czech; like many families, they make the occasional pilgrimage back to his hometown, and to their summer house.) “Last time I was there, I made apple pie.” Here she stopped, looking at me closely. “Do you ever make this? I finally found a crust recipe that’s the best crust you could imagine.”

I groaned. “No, never. Crust hates me.”

“It’s my grandmother’s crust.” She wiggled her fingers in the air. “It’s so light! I’ll send you the recipe. Anyway,” she leaned in, “one time we were there, not so long ago, Rich’s uncle asked me to make it for him. The next time, he asked me to teach him how to do it. Now I have a bunch of requests from other villagers to teach them how to do it.” Shelley smiled. “It’s true that these recipes have lives of their own–as long as you keep them alive.”