December 28, 2009

RÖTE GRÜTZE - German Berry Dessert

Röte grütze translates as "red grits". Which does nothing, really, to describe the dessert. It's a kind of loose, fruit pudding which can be made with berries, cherries, plums or a combination. This is a dessert often served in summer, when berries are ripe. But it's also served in winter time, using bottled or frozen berries. In either season, this is a bright ending to a dinner due to its slight tartness and fruit base. It is traditionally served cold, with heavy cream poured on top. Or, you can use whipped cream or nothing at all. A similar Scandinavian dessert is called rodgrod. Some recipes strain the mixture so it's smooth. I prefer fruit pieces and I don't mind the seeds. If you want to strain, go for it.
This year, my hubby requested it for dessert on Christmas and I may make it again for New Year's Day dinner.
My recipe here uses frozen fruit, for winter desserts.

16 oz. pkg. frozen raspberries in syrup, thawed
16 oz. pkg. frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 t. vanilla
1/4 c. rum
8 oz. loose frozen raspberries, thawed
1 c. cream

In large saucepan, combine both types of thawed berries in syrup with cornstarch and whisk together until completely smooth. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Raspberries will break up as you go. The mixture will turn from milky to clear and start to thicken (5 - 7 minutes). When mixture is completely clear, remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and rum. Then gently fold the whole raspberries in. Pour into 4 dessert bowls and refrigerate several hours until set. The consistency should be of a loose pudding. Serve with a pitcher of cream for each person to pour on top, as they like.


I played with this recipe for years before hitting on what I wanted it to be. Then, just as I thought it was perfect, I stumbled upon a variation I like just as well. Tonight I had to make a dish for a potluck, so these meatballs were my choice. But, I forgot to get some feta! Instead, I used pecorino ... and I love it! So, I guess it's an either / or choice that you can make. Instead of frying the meatballs, I bake them. Much easier and they turn out more tender. But if you prefer to fry, go for it. Enjoy them!

1 lb. ground lamb
1.5 lbs. ground beef (85/15 is good)
3 slices substantial white or wheat bread, crusts removed
Approx. 1/2 c. milk
1/4 lb. feta OR pecorino cheese, crumbled or shredded
1 c. kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/2 T. cinnamon
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Olive oil for pan

Dipping Sauce:

8 oz. plain yogurt, preferably Greek strained style
1/4 c. finely chopped Italian parsley
3 cloves roasted garlic

Soak the crustless bread slices in milk; gently squeeze them out and crumble them into a large bowl. Add all of the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix with your hands, gently but thoroughly. Don't over mix or the meatballs will be pasty. Heat the oven to 350 F. Oil a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Oil your hands and form the mixture into meatballs of a size a bit bigger than a golf ball. You should end up with about 36-40 meatballs. Place them on the cookie sheet in rows about a half inch apart.

Bake for 45 minutes until medium brown, but still tender. Remove from oven, let cool 5 minutes, then transfer to a serving bowl. Meatballs can be served hot or at room temperature, with dipping sauce alongside.

For Dipping Sauce:

Mash roasted garlic cloves with the chopped parsley. Add yogurt and stir well to combine. Keep cold until ready to serve with meatballs.


When I was in Utah, I made my pilgrimage to the King's English bookstore, which is truly one of my favorite places on the planet. I've written in detail about it in a previous blog. As usual, books seem to just present themselves to me when I'm there. This time was no exception. I came away with several, one of which I went specifically to buy there ~ Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams. I thought maybe they'd have a signed copy and they did. Terry is a Utah native and strongly connected to the desert landscape. She is an amazing woman and a writer of great depth. Her books explore the natural world and our connection to it and within it. She approaches these spaces and inner spirit with prose that captures both the simple and the sacred. I have had the pleasure of meeting with her a few times, and heard her read and speak. Her passion is conveyed in the unique way she has of reading her own words and in the conviction in her voice as she speaks of the need to preserve wildness, bring it into our lives and learn more about ourselves by being in it.

So, I look forward to savoring this book, reading slowly and thoughtfully. It'll keep me cozy this winter.

November 6, 2009

SELF ~ INDULGENCE ... butter, kisses, stargazing and silk

I admit it ... I'm good at this. Perhaps too good. But, I notice a definite wariness in this country of indulging oneself, even more so in the current economic climate. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting you go spend buckets of money you don't have on fleeting pleasures (although fleeting pleasures are some of the finest!). My belief is that, when we treat ourselves as special beings, we bring out the best we have to give and go forth smiling from within. Denying oneself pleasure just for the sake of it does no one any good.

We all have our pleasures ~ WHY must they be "guilty"? Maybe the Puritans and Pilgrims did too complete a job of convincing Americans that we must suffer for our rewards. In that case, there must have been one hell of a confession/penance/guilt fest over that first Thanksgiving feast! HA! Stuffing, fowl and self-flagellation. What fun!

Several years ago, I brought a package of fine pastry to work with me. When it was time for my break, I brought it out, put it on a plate, made myself some Darjeeling tea in a pretty cup and took it outside to enjoy. I read my new book and, for fifteen minutes, was a world away in a happy cloud. When I came back inside, my friend said, "You know, Gayle, I admire you for being good to yourself. I always save the nice cookies and good things for company. You've inspired me to have some for myself." I said, "Yes! For NO reason! Do it!" It's such a little thing, but it can make you feel so good. The French understand this very well.

Friends of mine who are single often tell me that there isn't any point in cooking just for themselves. But there IS a point. It is another way of loving yourself, honoring your worth, caring for yourself the way that, so often, we are willing to do for others while neglecting our own well-being. And that... will eventually catch up with you, showing you through illness or dis-ease of heart that you're ignoring your core. Give yourself those moments of joy ~ whether it's meditation, smoking a fine cigar, reading till the wee hours (on a work night), eating that flaky pastry with a smile, staying in your jammies all day (maybe even with a special someone) ... whatever makes your heart warm and fuzzy and restores you.

The other day, I listened to Nigella Lawson expound on indulgences and I couldn't agree more! Listen to her radio interview here, and find the recipes, too.

So, what will YOU do for yourself today ?

October 10, 2009


I don't know why, but poetry is on my mind and swirling around. Had another haiku give itself to me and I liked it. The colors this year are especially nice, since we're having mild autumn weather - no wind or rain yet - so the trees are still dressed in their leaves.

Poplar paintbrushes,
dipped yellow in nature's paint,
play color-music.


October 9, 2009


While driving home this evening, I heard the news on NPR that Conde Nast is cancelling publication of Gourmet magazine. Are they crazy? The first food magazine in America, it was started in 1941. Admittedly, the 1990's were not the magazine's high point, but once Ruth Reichl was appointed editor, the class and substance returned. Ruth's Twitter was, reportedly, “Thank you all SO much for this outpouring of support. It means a lot. Sorry not to be posting now, but I’m packing. We’re all stunned, sad.” Along with Gourmet, the company is also cancelling 'Elegant Bride', 'Modern Bride' and the parenting magazine 'Cookie'. Couldn't they find some other equally vapid ones to eliminate? I can't stand it!

So many wonderful writers were first read by American cooks in the pages of Gourmet. Among them MFK Fisher, Samuel Chamberlain and Waverly Root. In its pages, one could read about exotic locales and foods not yet seen in our markets, nor heard of; the story behind the restaurants and chefs; where and how ingredients came to be and the wonderful recipes go without saying. I first started reading Gourmet when I was ten and dreamed of tasting various classic dishes as well as hoping to experience new tastes. I fantasized about traveling to destinations around the globe. Before my virgin tongue ever touched its first lick of wine, I was seduced by the bottles and descriptions. A nascent food fanatic was born. From pancakes to coq au vin to the gorgeous Christmas cookies, I'll miss its inspiration so much.

The American kitchen will be much the poorer with the disappearance of Gourmet.

September 24, 2009


A simple idea ~ write about the things that make you happy. I read a friend's list (ASlowRead) and was inspired to join the fun. For the past 24 hours, I've added to my list and, occasionally, startled my dogs when I suddenly shout "moon"! or something else that comes to mind as I'm going about what I'm doing. I'm pretty sure they think I've finally fallen off the edge.

Herewith is my list ~ nowhere near complete, nor will it ever be, thankfully!


the color green


raw oysters




speaking Italian or German




the scent of desert sage

gathering fresh eggs

a new pen (s)


Reggie, my favorite cat (sshhh, don't tell)

a hand written letter in the mail

skinny dipping

the cheese counter at DeLaurenti's, or ANYwhere


firewood stacked for winter

creating jewelry and paper arts

being awakened by my husband for some
middle of the night skin on skin

polka dots and ruffled edges


finding mushrooms, edible or not

aspen trees

a pot of hot rice


the smell of roasting green chiles

red chile ristras

flower bouquets from the garden

yoga stretches

tide pools

finding cool stones

the sound of wind

of purring

of cello music

of something yummy bubbling on the stove



learning something new

September 5, 2009


Bright, vibrant color and fresh flavors that are true to taste are the best benefits of having a vegetable garden! I didn't know what was out there, nor what I would cook. So, I went out to see what the garden had in store for me. As you can see from the pic, I got quite a haul! The dishes I decided to cook were a Mangalore chicken curry and Fall River Vegetable Stew, from the Moosewood cookbook. The flavors are rich and full ~ one of our summer favorites. Just stirring it makes me feel healthy! I'll use the rest of the potatoes (planted five varieties) in an oyster stew.

Besides the veggies, I brought in great bunches of flowers to put in vases throughout the house. I always like to have enough flowers in the garden to be able to cut bouquets for my spirit. I hope that, whether or not you have your own garden, that you're taking in the late summer days and enjoying their energy. I wish I could have all of you at my table!

August 20, 2009


I came home the other night to a large-size surprise. My hubby said, "Oh, by the way, I bought you a tuna. It barely fits in the fridge." "A whole tuna?" "Yep." Oooookay. So, out of the work clothes and into a rubber suit, I'm thinking. I looked in the fridge. The thing was huge - 31 inches long - 20 lbs.

I'd never dressed out a tuna before, and I knew they were different from other fish. Their bones are arranged in a T, not in a long line like other fish. So, off to Youtube I went. There were various methods, but I found one with clear, short steps. The instructor called it "carking" a tuna. If you look up the work 'cark', it means: to annoy, worry or vex. Hmmm. We watched it together three times, to be sure we got it. Then, out to the picnic table we went, prepared to be vexed.

It turned out to be a fun process and I think I did a pretty good job for my first time. Ripping the tough skin off was particularly satisfying. I got some nice loins off of it, fairly cleanly, and there was plenty left for the cats to munch and tear at. I was surrounded by salivating felines, all amazed at my giant catch. I hate waste, so although others might throw away the trimmings, we grilled some of the bones with meat, saved some for tuna salad and gave the rest to the kitties. There had to be at least two pounds of meat left on the cutaway parts. Then, we grilled the head.

"Why does she keep calling me 'Chuck'?"

Charlie was well-used and delicious! I'm ready for my next fishy adventure.

August 16, 2009


This beautiful bottle of cloudy sake just begged me to buy it. This one is meant to be served cold, which was a new experience for me. I know little about sakes, I have only sampled a few. The taste was delicate, slightly sweet, but elusive. The card which came with it suggested a cocktail to be made with the sake, which is the glass next to the bottle in the photo. I floated the sake on top of tropical juice. It was good, but seemed a waste of lovely sake, as it totally masked the flavor.

I just wanted to post this photo, as I found the colors and milkiness so beautiful.

August 13, 2009


In the dark center of the night, coyote calls. Yipping, howling, barks of energetic communion with their pack ... the sound echoes back to me here. I stand under the summer sky, red-tinged Mars overhead, and listen. Tonight, I can hear the pups yipping, too. Imitating their elders in a higher pitch, shorter calls. The whole group is barking at once, like a bunch of Italians after dinner. I feel blessed to hear them, to know they are out there, living wild.


Not the red, five-spice type, but the brown, soy kind. Tender, deeply-flavored and ohhhh, that yummy cartilage part. Mmmmmmmm.
Though the ingredients list is long, the dish comes together quickly.


2 lbs. spareribs, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
3 T. mirin (sweet cooking seasoning - find it in the Asian section)
3 T. each light and dark soy sauce
1 t. black bean sauce
2 T. brown sugar
2 t. sesame oil
1/4 c. water
1/2 inch slice ginger, peeled and grated finely
1 t. red chile paste, or to taste
2 T. cornstarch
1/4 t. ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts separated
Sesame seeds, to garnish


Put spareribs in a colander and pour 2 quarts boiling water over them, to seal in juices. In a saute pan, brown the ribs in vegetable oil. Be sure to brown them well. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except sesame seeds and green part of onions. Mix very well with a whisk. Adjust as needed to suit your taste.
Add spareribs to the sauce and allow to marinate at least 2 hours. 6 hours is better.
Pour ribs and sauce into a baking dish, in one layer. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 325F for one hour fifteen minutes. Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions and serve with steamed white rice.

August 7, 2009


Once in a while somebody fights for breath.
He stops, getting in everyone's way.
The crowd flows around, muttering
about the flow of crowds,
but he just fights for breath.

Inside, there may be growing
a sea monster within a sea monster,
or a raven named
or a huge muteness of fairly tales,
the wood-block baby that gobbles up everything.
Inside, there may be growing
an abandoned room,
bare walls, pale squares where pictures hung,
a disconnected phone,
feathers settling on the floor
the Encyclopedists never moved out and
Dostoyevsky never found the place,

lost in the landscape
where only surgeons
write poems.

~ Miroslav Holub - Czech poet and physician
excerpt from the poem 'Vanishing Lung Syndrome'

What's this all about? It's about a rare syndrome - not enough understood to be a disease, but enough to kill. It's about radiographs, hospital gowns, timelines and statistics. It's about waking up one day and finding out that every day suddenly means more and that something you never think about ~ breathing ~ is now all you think about. It's about my friend.

He is practically my brother. We think & say the same things at the same time, share a wicked, sarcastic sense of humor, seek out the finer pleasures life has to offer (even when it isn't good for us), bring each other up when down. Besides my husband, he is the only person on the planet who knows EVERYthing about me. And loves me, anyway. That means a lot.

He is 39 years old, has hepatitis A & C, found out a year ago that he's HIV positive and has already survived a rare childhood cancer. How much is one being supposed to have to endure? There is no answer. This is one example of why I don't believe in the Christian version of God. And, please, refrain from telling me why he exists and why I should believe. I don't want to hear it.

The poem excerpt above was written by a Czech doctor who was diagnosed with vanishing lung syndrome. When his scalpel failed him, he turned to his pen. It seems to me that, when we are alone, words and the thoughts that produce them are all we have to navigate our journey. It's what I am doing here. How I try to explain the inexplicable to myself. It helps keep me afloat on the waves I know are ahead. I'll be in the boat with him.

July 12, 2009


Guanciale ~ cured pig cheeks. You still with me? DeLaurenti's in Pike Place Market was the site of some serious food nirvana for me this week. Italy condensed, in taste. I swear, you can hear Italian food angels singing in that place. Just look at the olive oil section ...

I was after the guanciale made by Salumi (run by Mario Batali's father) in Seattle. Salumi is an artisan Italian meat producer and I am grateful they're based in Seattle. I bought a half pound of what I think of as maiale d'oro - pork gold, envisioning savory pastas and soups in my future. A pasta dish was already building itself in my mind. $96 and a heavy bag later, (not $96 for the pasta, but for alllll of the goodies) I headed for my favorite produce vendors and came away with heads of fresh garlic and basil, and some gorgeous tomatoes that had spent all their days growing in sunshine. Why is it that I even have to mention that? ALL tomatoes should grow up this way! Don't get me started.

I also bought a bag of strascinati pasta from Naples. This pasta is shaped like thick potato chips. The chewy bite of it is marvelous. Another similar type is called cencioni. Now, the dish was nearly done in my mind. Pecorino for zing. And the oink ... the salty, piggy taste of the guanciale. Mmmmmmmm!

So, tonight, after a busy week ... it was time to cook all these wonderful ingredients. I walked out into the night garden, smelling the sweet honeysuckle blossoms on the air. I let the evening light illuminate a white shape and pulled a sweet Walla Walla onion out of the ground. Sweet, sharp, green, earthy ... delicious ~

(Strascinati con guanciale)

8 oz. strascinati or cencioni pasta
3 oz. guaniciale, finely cubed or chopped **
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
3 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled and quartered
3/4 c. fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t. sea salt
4 oz. grated Pecorino Romano cheese

In large saute pan over medium-high heat, cook guanciale until crisp. Lower heat to medium. Add garlic and onion and saute until translucent. Add salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Bring heavily salted water to boil in large pot, then add pasta and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, put tomatoes, basil and olive oil into bowl of food processor. Pulse until fairly smooth. Once pasta is done, turn of heat, drain and return to pot on the turned off burner. Pour sauce over pasta, stirring gently, until sauce thickens a little. Serve in bowls, with pecorino grated on top.
3-4 servings

** pancetta can be used in place of guanciale, but don't use bacon, or it won't be anywhere near the same

May 16, 2009


Tomorrow I leave for Europe - Munich, Castelrotto and Merano, Italy and then to the Lake Geneva area. Food, wine and friends, here I come! Don't hold it against me if I don't come back home. In that spirit, I thought I'd write about my favorite dishes I hope to encounter, with a focus on late spring, seasonal ingredients. 

Asparagus will be at its peak, both white and green. Although the tender spears and delicate taste of the white is lovely, I prefer the earthy, grassy flavor of green asparagus. Paired with freshly-made gnocchi, my mouth waters in anticipation. In this country, people seek out the skinny, pencil-thin spears, wrongly assuming they'll be more tender. The truth is, so long as the asparagus is fresh, thicker spears have more intense flavor and are just as tender as the thin ones. As usual, break the stem at its weakest point, and the woody part will be left behind. You can save those pieces to use in making a stock for a future asparagus soup, discarding them when you strain the broth. 

Not strictly seasonal, but a personal must for me, is haxen. Spit-roasted pork shank. Just look at that crispy skin! Heaven! My favorite place to eat this is in the Bavarian countryside, at a little restaurant in Kirchbichl. It is perfect. They serve it with either knödel and kraut (a bread dumpling and sauerkraut) or with a platter of various salads. We always order the salad. It makes us feel a tiny bit less hedonistic for eating such a load of meat! Of course, one should wash it all down with beer, but I don't like beer, so I have it with a heavy red wine, to cut the fat. 

A beautiful lemon-herb risotto tastes bright and fresh in spring. When I make it this time, in my friend's enviable kitchen, I'm going to add some shredded zucchini. A bit of extra color and a nice texture, I think. I'll post the recipe when I return. 

Lest you think I've forgotten dessert, I'll tell you about a sweet ending I love, from the South Tyrol ~ germknödel. Okay, it doesn't translate well into English, if said phonetically. It's pronounced with a hard 'g' and hard 'k' - say 'gayrm-knay-del'. This is a sweet, yeasty dumpling, filled with plum preserves or stewed plums. Over the dumpling is poured a vanilla sauce with poppy seeds and browned, melted butter. Some people eat it as a main course. It is HEAVY and filling. It's often to be found at high mountain-top restaurants where, after a long hike, you feel as if you could eat a horse. And, horse is indeed served in Europe. But that's another story. 

There are other dishes I look forward to, like fresh fava bean and pecorino salad, fruit with zabaglione and grilled lake trout from Lac Leman. So off I go, to food, wine and friends. Enjoy your late spring days ~


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Aspenglow / Buttered Lips by Gayle Nabrotzky is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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