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Man of a Thousand Slovak Songs

November 3, 2010

Jozef Ivaska, Slovak performer

“I love you,” Jozef crooned, inches from my face, kind, blue eyes looking deeply into mine.  “I love you,” he repeated several more times, as he placed his arm around me and pulled me closer.  I smiled a bit sheepishly, enjoying the moment yet wondering what my husband would think.

Quite by accident I learned of the famous Slovak  performer, Jozef Ivaska, aka “Man of a Thousand Slovak Songs.”  He was coming to DC to perform and was looking for a place to stay, I heard through the local Slovak grapevine. “He can stay here,” I thought, and on the spur of the moment emailed him, inviting this perfect stranger into our home.

He ended up not staying here, but did come to dinner last night with a small posse of people, including the wonderful Helene Baine Cincebeaux, a writer/tour guide/informal ambassador to Slovakia.  I decided to invite others too and we ended up with an eclectic group of 30 people from all over, including Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Iran, the Czech Republic and of course Slovakia.

One of the table decorations I bought at Giant - who knew brussel sprouts grew so beautifully on stalks like this?! I still can't stand the idea of eating them though.

We called the evening Pauline’s Feast (thank you, Stan). I decided to make several of Pauline’s favorite dishes – stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, pierogi, knedlicky, chicken paprikash and her walnut cake.  About midway through the preparations, I realized it was a bad idea to make so many dishes at once, for the first time, and I began to think of the evening having the very real possibility of turning into Pauline’s Tragedy.   I then began to think that inviting so many people who didn’t know one another to meet people I didn’t even know was also possibly a very bad thing, and soon Pauline’s Tragedy began to look probable.  Bad food, awkward social event.

Pre-party jitters were now fully in effect as the clock struck 6 (party to start at 7) and I pulled the potato pierogi that I had made so painstakingly the night before out of the fridge.  The layers of well formed half moons had disintegrated into a grey soggy mass that stuck to the wax paper.  Horrified, I attempted to boil the few I could scrape loose from the paper, and gave birth to congealed, floating blobs that looked more like Mickey Rourke‘s pockmarked face than a pierogi.  Panicked, I turned to the oven to check on the stuffed peppers reheating in the oven for the past 2 hours.  Dear god, they were hard as hockey pucks – still FROZEN.  Husband, who had abandoned me to actually work all day, sauntered upstairs from his basement office at this critical point and announced that he now had to go vote.  I cannot repeat what I said in reply.

Mickey Rourke's face/ Tonya's Pierogi

Somehow, I managed to pull off Plan B, conceived at 6:15pm.  I threw some food together on the stove (some frozen purchased perogi, and  Jaro’s cassoulet), whipped up a salad, parsleyed a bag of carrots, and cranked up the oven.  I ran to dress at 6:45 as ordered by my 10 year old daughter, the only calm person in the house at this point, as she grabbed the vaccum and then did the huge pile of dishes that had suddenly accumulated.  I made her promises of shopping excursions that I could probably actually never fulfill.  She beamed and scrubbed even harder.

At 6:50 the first guest arrived.  The evening began to unfold, and by way of introduction to our vocalist, Helene told a 30 year old tragic story about Jozef’s life under communism; only later did I realize that it tied Jozef and I together even more uncomfortably.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Stan permalink
    November 3, 2010 10:48 pm

    The colours are Fall despite Mickey’s face…. and Brussel sprouts one of my favourites… remove outside leaves, cut bottom of individual stems and make two shallow cuts in stem and then steam for a few minutes. Perfect. Wartime delicacy…. but probably out of necessity as everyone could grow them. Pauline would have been proud, it sounds a unique soiree. But we do need more now about Jozef’s life.

  2. Lily permalink
    November 4, 2010 2:21 pm

    The evening sound absolutely great! But I’m with Stan, want to know more about Jozef, his life and is he as charming as he looks?


    PS Tonya you couldn’t make a bad meal if you tried!

  3. November 4, 2010 4:26 pm

    Jozef is completely charming. Melts your heart!

  4. November 8, 2010 9:34 pm

    Tonya – I loooved the description of the pre-party – so funny as none of that showed

    It was the most magical evening and went as smooth as silk – everyone was so charming and interesting – our contingent of 9 enjoyed it all immensely. The dishes you served were amazing, the table looked spectacular and the desserts were simply gorgeous!

    Jozef loved singing for you and your friends! We all felt so at home!

    Bravo or Slava as they say in Slovakia!!!!! I think Aunt Pauline was smiling down on you with your outstanding Slavic hospitality!!!!!!!!

    Srdecny pozdrav!!!!!


    • November 9, 2010 5:58 pm

      Thank you, Helene! It did work out alright, didn’t it? I had a great night, and a great week of nights with my new found Slovak friends.

      More on Jozef and the magical night to come….


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