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10 July 2008

sometimes mistakes lead to the best bites

little jam tarts

I am always inspired by the comments that accrue at the bottom of the Monday ingredients posts.

When I first began this little Monday project, to show a single ingredient, in season, and ask you how you like to eat that food, I had no idea how much you might like it. Some weeks, I still think, "Popcorn? Isn't that pretty boring? How much will people have to say about popcorn?" And then, after a day or two, I realize, you really like popcorn. I mean, you really, really like popcorn! (Or Savoy cabbage or cherries.)

It's not really a wonder. It's food. Food is how we connect, with our hands and our stories. Sit over the table with someone and try not to know that person better by the end of the meal. Impossible. I adore the way you pour forth your ideas for meals and midnight snacks with each ingredient. I feel like I know the people who gather here just a bit better by the end of each week.

And the enthusiasm! I do hope that many of you have made dishes inspired by the lyrical descriptions that others have left of their pasta with anchovies and lemons, or picking strawberries with their grandmothers. Along with all these connections, the Monday comments compel me to make food.

This Monday, you were especially generous with your ideas about red currants. Red currant jelly with garlic and onions for pork. Red currant clafoutis. Vanilla custard with red currant syrup. And good old jam. Ah, my mind whirled and twirled with ideas.

But, being nine months pregnant and about to pop, I don't have as much energy for hours in the kitchen as I did before. And, frankly, not enough red currants to make each of those suggestions turn into dishes.

I was, however, most intrigued by the several people who suggested I make rote grutze. Since I had never heard of it before, I wanted to try. Just like the frikadeller I made back in the spring, foods that I have never eaten, which loom as traditions in other places, make me want to enter the kitchen, singing.

Of course, spending some time online, researching and reading people's thrilled accountings of eating this German summer berry pudding made me even more excited. Food as connection. Food as conversation. Food as conversion, from one culture to another.

So I entered the kitchen this afternoon, ready to cook. Long nap behind me? Check. Belly band in place to hold up my abdominal muscles? Yes. All the windows open so I could stand the place at the front of the stove? Essential.

I picked gorgeous red currants from their branches, sliced up strawberries, rescued the raspberries at the back of the fridge which were about to become blowsy. Good old potato masher in hand, I pureed them all together. And then set them in a pan on the stove.

Among the many recipes I had read, I noticed many mentioned a slurry made of cornstarch. Aha! This is gluten-free. I stirred up a liberal amount of cornstarch and some red wine and stirred. Whenever I work with cornstarch, I'm struck by how crunchy it is, how it thickens everything around it as it stiffens.

You'd think I'd know, then, to not put too much slurry in. But as the fruits (sugared and touched with a bit of lime juice) started to gather together, I couldn't resist a few more drips, and then a tablespoon.

Soon, it had all become thick as jam. Delicious? Oh yes. Tart, with just enough sweetness, the red currants lending an unusual bloom to the usual fruits. I could have eaten many spoonfuls.

But was it rote grutze? I don't know. Reading can only teach you so much. It seemed too thick to me. After I chilled it awhile, I realized it really had become jam. Should I take a picture of it and call it rote grutze for this site?

Nah. I remembered a suggestion someone had made on The New York Times, on Mark Bittman's blog, about picnic ideas. She made little pie crusts in muffin tins, and filled them with jam. Another person's story inspired me to stay in the kitchen.

And so there I was, nine months pregnant and ready to pop, making pie dough on a hot Seattle afternoon? Am I crazy? You bet. But it was worth it.

Within fifteen minutes, I had the little jam tarts you see above. After I took the photo, I made sure to save at least half of them for the Chef when he returns home tonight. It was an effort.

rote grutze with goat's milk yogurt

And the rest of the pudding/rote grutze/mistake with a lovely taste? I just thinned it down with some seltzer water, and settled some goat's milk yogurt on top. Sweet, lovely berries of summer, with a tangy hit of milkiness. Little Bean kicked for half an hour after I stopped eating.

So I don't have a real recipe for you today. Recipes are starting to feel too prescriptive to me anyway. It's so much more rewarding to play in the kitchen, listening to my instincts, and creating something good even when what I expected did not transpire.

It feels like this process is what parenting might be like. Enthusiastic suggestions, references to recipes from people who have gone before, exuberance and listening, and then deciding for ourselves. We're bound to make a hundred mistakes, a week. But are they really mistakes when we learn, and create new moments?

We'll find out soon.

15 Comments:

At 5:45 AM, Anonymous Sho said...

No recipe today? You are turning into a Yiddish cook! It must be little bean and the chef. Your husband must have some Jewish blood somewhere down the line...

My nana's recipe for pie dough had beef lard as an ingredient. Does it have to have beef lard to taste good?

Shoshannah

 
At 6:28 AM, Blogger Allison said...

A real gift of parenting a newborn baby is that they have few expectations. As wee primates they have some specific needs (Have you read any of the Bowlby studies? They're very relevant when thinking about what drives a newborn) but when they have their tummy full and are securely snuggled they're pretty well set.

We and the baby get to start at the very beginning with and develop the loving responsiveness that leads to trust. To begin a relationship with a very, very small person from a position respect and compassion is to learn their preferences and opinions and trust that they know how they feel and what they need. It takes a bit of deciphering initially, but I don't feel that the learning process that you'll take together a series of mistakes; it's the development of your relationship. :-)

 
At 6:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right, Shauna. Making do with what comes is really what parenting is all about. Your ability to learn from mistakes in cooking will hold you in good stead on your adventure in motherhood!

Blessings on the journey!

Kris from Virginia

PS - From what I gathered at the links you provided, there is no official recipe for rote grutze, so in the spirit of country housewife cooking, I'd say you did just fine. :)

 
At 7:36 AM, Anonymous Sally said...

I haven't tried this one yet, but I just wanted to thank you for introducing me to arepas. My new favorite comfort food. I love getting my hands in there and not working from a "real recipe." I'm also making your crispy polenta wedges, repeatedly. Mmm, mild corny goodness.
Thanks again and keep up the fantastic work! My friends and coworkers (non-Celiacs) read your blogs now, too. :)

 
At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Vanessa said...

Dear GFG: Love your website, loved your book! Also, since you’re a little tired out in the kitchen, thought I’d suggest a quick pasta substitute for Italian cravings: the humble cabbage! Yep, just slice the head thinly, split each slice in half, and flash stir-fry it with olive oil. Toss it with veggies, mix it with a good tomato sauce, and sprinkle with real Parmesan, and it’s even better than Nonna's (but please don't tell her I said that! ;) :) ). Thanks v. much, good luck with The Little Meatball (no doubt, you and The Chef will do great! :), and all best wishes to you and yours, Vanessa

 
At 8:48 AM, Blogger Allison said...

Ha! I just reread my own post and laughed to see my wacky sentence structure. Composing your thoughts while in the company of a three year old who has an urgent need to play Chutes and Ladders makes for some interesting editing. ;-)

 
At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Stephanie said...

Shauna,
I hope you don't mind, but I'm adding to all the comments that are more about parenting than food! You will definitely benefit from an ability to consider mistakes a learning experience.
Two of my favorite resources:
(1) a bed and a book-this came in particularly handy when I had number 2, but I should have thought of it earlier. When all are in tears, and the breast doesn't work (it usually does), it's time to get in bed and grab a book. Even the youngest of infants will love to hear the lilt of your voice as you read. (You could probably use the time to proof a page for your own new book!)

(2) www.kellymom.com Learn to love this website. You've gotten a lot of thoughts, advice, and even argument from all of us "lactivists" who read your blog. You'll get good, though sometimes conflicting information from us. Your pediatrician, however, may have a lot of MISinformation. Sad, eh? But you know from your history that doctors don't know everything. Kellymom has info, advice, medical research...on breastfeeding.

So excited to see pictures when little bean comes along! But no rush...remember they can come late, too. And doctors haven't a clue about that, either!

 
At 10:29 AM, Anonymous EB said...

It truly is the way we connect and I am surprised that YOU were surprised by our enthusiasm! Especially since you offer up so much of your own. It's infectious. And yes... we love our popcorn.

I have to say that most of my best creations in the kitchen are due to making due and/or mistakes. It's the cooking universe's way of making things fabulous.

 
At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Stacie said...

I have found that the longer I am on a gluten-free diet that I am much more inclined to cook a full meal with 3 ingredients and salt, pepper and butter. By ingredients, I mean a green veggie, a starch of rice or potato and maybe a meat or another single veggie. The simple, unadorned goodness of my CSA veggies and organic meat has been eye opening...my former anger over not getting to eat wheat has turned into the best thing that could have happened to me...and plus, I have gotten to read and watch your success too...Happy Birthday Little Bean...I have a feeling the time is pretty close!!!

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger BealcA's Pad said...

Yummy! It looks so good. I have been telling all my friends here in Loveland, about your blog. It seems that more and more people are becoming gluten intolerant. I sure wish that they had known when I was a kid what was wrong with me, and not after I am up in years.
Thanks again.

 
At 9:20 PM, Blogger Kathleen said...

I think your description of parenting is right on and a great outlook for a new (ok, almost new) parent. I'm going to send what you wrote to the PEPS group I just finished facilitating.

Oh, if you haven't already, I'd highly recommend PEPS. It's a great way to connect with other new parents.

 
At 10:13 AM, Blogger katie stone said...

i began visiting this blog 2 years ago in the midst of some horrific digestive troubles (allergies and the like) that have just recently resolved themselves. it truly is a journey--and a wonderful one if you can decide. your writing has inspired and comforted me and i look forward to reading your posts with the same excitement i would have in waiting for a letter from an old friend. thank you, shauna.

9 months already?! best of luck in this new chapter--with all of the chaos and catastrophe in the world, it is a relief that people like you and your chef are helping to contribute to the generations to come...it will be a better place because of you and your children.

 
At 4:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shauna

Thanks for your fabulous posts. I want to share with you and your guests a story about my 7 year old daughter. One day when Rory was 4 she came to me and said "mom I have been sick with a stomach ache for "years". Why don't you take me to the doctor?" I of course felt terrible as I had just assumed her continous stomach aches were part of her childhood.

Rory was diagnosed with celiac disease by the time she started kindergarten (thanks to an amazing MD)

Just a month ago my two children and I were talking about 'if we had wishes' One of my wishes was that I would discover a cure for celiac disease. Rory looked at me with a suprised expression and said "but mom... celiac is a part of who I am and it makes me special. No. You should make a different wish... I don't want to change me."

How blessed am I?

I have been along with you from the start Shauna and you have shaped my attitude, and thus my daughter's attitude about gluten free living. Thank you

Rhonda

 
At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Rhonda, that is so beautiful and sweet! You have a very special daughter indeed!! And it sounds like you are equipping her for a satisfying life that just happens not to include gluten.

Kris in rainy Virginia

 
At 1:51 PM, Blogger chefamanda said...

I was so excited when I went to the farmers market on Saturday to find red currents are one stand! I made a version of rote grutze yesterday and cannot wait to enjoy it tonight. The red currents I picked up here in MI seemed to have a horseradish back flavor is this normal?

 

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