I first met my friends, Roman and Roxana, over 22 years ago. We had all just moved to Denver. Roman is Polish, Roxana is Columbian, and they met in New York (where such geographical junctures have been known to happen). At the time, their eldest son, Matthew, was about a year old.
There is an old Germanic/Eastern European custom to eat sauerkraut on the first day of the new year to assure yourself a prosperous year (or, as Pony is accustomed to say, “After a meal like that, the rest of year can’t be any worse). Roman and Roxana and I have met the first day of each new year for just such a feast for some 22 years, without interruption. During that time, my career as a musician in the Denver area grew. I started teaching more and more private students, playing gigs in and around Denver (and throughout the state of Colorado), and eventually took on teaching at a couple of community colleges in the area, as well. I also formed my recording label and produced five CD’s (so far).
Roman went on to become a nuclear medicine technician, and he and Roxana had five more kids (I teased Roman, suggesting it had something to do with the way he held his fork while eating the sauerkraut that produced that particular form of prosperity).
It is not just sauerkraut. It is sauerkraut with roast pork and kneflehs. Kneflehs are a type of Swedish noodle (the recipe passed down from my grandparents to my mother, and thus to me). A German version is called Spaetzle. You take four cups of flour, five eggs, and 1-2 cups of water (or maybe a little more, especially in the higher altitudes and drier climate of Colorado). These ingredients are mixed together and should make a batter that is more or less the consistency of oatmeal (it should ooze around in the bowl, but be careful not to make it too runny with too much water; it is best to start with a cup and a half of water and add a little at a time until the desired consistency is achieved). This batter is then chilled for about 4-6 hours, then you use a knife to slice the batter into long strings (the noodles) into a pot of lightly boiling water. The cooked noodles will rise to the surface to be scooped out of the pot, drained and set on a platter.
In the Engberg family, it is customary to make a bed of these noodles on your plate, cover them with butter, then pile the sauerkraut and roast pork on top of that. Like the singing of Bob Dylan, it can be something of an acquired taste, but I look forward to it every New Year’s Day.
Over the years, we have included many friends as part of this feast; many people who have become part of what I regard as my created family. A few of them have played on my CD’s (Roman and Roxana’s third child, their daughter Veronika, went from being featured on the cover of my third CD to playing cello on one of my most recent projects). Even with our recent touring, I was glad to have made it back to Denver and to continue this particular tradition. I am not sure what the New Year may hold for me, but when I measure my wealth in friends and family, I feel I have already had a most fortunate run on this spinning planet.