For most public school students in the Chicago area, the first Monday in March brings yet another day off from school—this time it’s the most obscure holiday of all, the celebration of the birth of Casimir Pulaski.
Pulaski, who was born in Poland and died a hero fighting in our Revolutionary War, never even visited Illinois. But Illinois, with its large Polish population, created the holiday in his honor in 1977. It became a school holiday in 1986, says Jan Lorys, director of the Polish Museum of America.
So spend the day teaching the kids about Pulaski and Polish culture.
The Polish Museum, 984 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, will host a Pulaski Day kick-off ceremony at 10 a.m., but the event is unlikely to be kid friendly and the museum will close at noon.
So, instead, take the kids for a real Polish adventure in one of the city’s oldest Polish neighborhoods that lies along Milwaukee Avenue near Belmont Avenue. Wander down the street, eavesdropping on the Polish conversations.
Lorys recommends letting the kids sample some Polish cuisine from the buffet at Czerwone Jabluszko (Red Apple) Restaurant, 3121 N. Milwaukee Ave. Ask them to try a little bit of each of the exotic dishes, then go back for more of the foods they like, he says.
Next, head across the street to Pasieka Bakery, 3056 N. Milwaukee Ave., for the paczki, a doughnut-like pastry. If that doesn’t give the kids a sugar high, he suggests taking them to the Polish Store at 3069 N. Milwaukee Ave. for caramel-coated candy called krowka (little cow). For slightly healthier fare, he recommends the black currant juice (it’s high in vitamin C) from Wally’s International Market, 3256 N. Milwaukee Ave.
If you’re looking for an indoor event, try the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier. At 2 p.m., the museum will present “Pulaski Prosze!” (“Pulaski Please!”) on the history of Casimir Pulaski and Polish culture. Children can learn to dance the polka and sing Polish songs as well as sample traditional Polish food, says the museum’s Leah Witherspoon. It’s free with museum admission.
Even if you choose to spend the day at home, it’s possible to incorporate some Polish culture by baking kolacky, the traditional Polish jam-filled cookies. But start early. The dough needs to chill at least one night in the refrigerator. Amanda Wegrzyn, Medill News Service, and Cindy Richards
(makes 3-4 dozen cookies)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 tablespoons whipping cream
Powdered sugar for rolling and sprinkling
Assorted jam, fruit fillings or almond filling (found in the baking section of the grocer; do not use almond paste, use almond filling)
Beat butter and cream cheese with mixer until light in color. Slowly beat in flour and whipping cream until blended. Divide dough into two disc-shaped portions, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough from the refrigerator and let soften for 10 minutes so it can be rolled easily. Don’t let it soften too much or it will be sticky.
Sprinkle the work surface and rolling pin generously with confectioners sugar and roll out dough to about ¼-inch thickness.
Use a 2-inch round cookie cutter or glass dipped in confectioners sugar to cut out cookies. Place on ungreased cookie sheet, leaving a 1-inch space between them. Make a small thumbprint in the center and fill with approximately ½ teaspoon filling. Bake 12-16 minutes until bottoms are very lightly browned.
Cool on wire rack and sprinkle generously with confectioners sugar while still warm