Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gabriella’s Cabbage Rolls


I first met Gabriella one winter about 10 years ago.  It had snowed and I was going door to door obtaining signatures on a petition.  My boots were caked with show and I had snow on my cap and my gloves and on every surface to which that snow could stick.  I was about half finished with the houses in that neighborhood, when I stomped my way to her door.  I rang the bell and the door was opened by a blond diminutive whose smile filled her face.  “Come in, come in out of the snow,” she said. 

I looked at her clean house with white carpet and shook my head while I quickly explained the reason for the petition.  “You must come in,” she insisted.  “You can get warm and the snow won’t hurt anything.  You really must come in.”  She gestured and I knew she wouldn’t stop asking.  I stood on the mat inside the door and watched the snow slide from my boots.  “Take off you scarf.  Can I get you a cup of tea or cocoa?  How about some cookies?  Let me get you some nut roll.”

Her accent and the words “nut roll” brought back memories of a bakery I had visited as a child living in the Cleveland suburbs.  “Where are you from?” I asked.

“We’re Hungarian,” she said.  It wasn’t ‘til much later in our friendship (because that’s what it became) that I heard the story of her life in Hungary during the aftermath of the 2nd World War, and her need to apply for asylum in the United States.  The story of a young woman who would never see her parents again.  But that’s a story for another day.

One special night—because all nights at Gabriella’s home are special—she prepared dinner.  It began with small shots of liquor, then appetizers, then the main meal.  Just at the point when I thought we were ready for dessert, she presented us with a steaming pot of Cabbage Rolls.  She explained that these were so special that they were served as a special course just after the main course.

And they were unlike anything I had ever tasted.  I need to confess that I am not a meat eater.  Yes, I eat meat on occasion, but given the option, I would rather have beans or cheese or a vegetable pasta.  This was meat, wrapped in cabbage, layered with more meat, served with sour cream on top.  One of the most succulent meals I have ever eaten. But it’s meat with a story.  Not only the story of Gabriella, but a story going back, back, back, to the time when hunters would shoot the wild boar and prepare it outdoors in a large kettle over a wood fire.  Here is the recipe, in modern parlance, just as she shared it with me when I asked her to write it down.  And as for those nut rolls, she gave me the recipe for that, also, but it was too complicated for me to follow.  In pity, she provides me with a nut roll every winter.


From Gabriella: "Here is the cabbage roll recipe. Please study. You do know that it needs to be served with sour cream on the top and fresh French bread--nothing else, only crepes if you want to do dessert."

  1. Place in freezer 1 big or 2 small green cabbages. Leave for several days before thawing.

  2. 3 lbs. Bob Evans Sausage Rolls

    1 lbs. ground beef

    1.5 c. rice

    3 eggs

    Salt, pepper, red paprika to taste

    1 chopped onion

    2 chopped garlic cloves

  3. Mix well all ingredients in large bowl and add 2-3 c. warm water and mix.

  4. 5-6 lbs sauerkraut, drain juice and mix with 1-2 tsp. caraway seeds and 10 bay leaves.

  5. 1-2 lbs. smoked ribs or sausage.

  6. Carefully peel leaves off of cabbage and put in several T. of the meat mixture and wrap into packages.  Large pan. Place 1/3 sauerkraut on bottom then 1/2 smoked meat and place cabbage rolls on top. Then 1/3 sauerkraut, then cabbage rolls, the rest of the smoked meat, then the last of the sauerkraut. Add water to cover almost to top. Place in 350 oven and cook 3 hours then lower heat to 250 and cook 3 more hours. Before serving add paprika to top of pan.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Novel Prologue


Middle East, 9th Century B.C.

I shuffled to the edge of the cliff, tempted to keep moving, but my feet hesitated of their own accord. I looked down at the stream below, and then rolled my head up toward the clouds that always obscured the mountain; no help would come from there. I sloughed off my pack and sat on the edge. My legs dangled over the gorge; one push and I would have peace. The wind held echoes of the mocking voices. “What’s wrong now? Haven’t you done enough?” I tore a leafy twig from the wiry shrub growing out of the rocky cliff, leaving a green scar. The twig bent and twisted in my hands, until it snapped. I watched as the pieces fluttered down, down, down.

“I have had enough,” I whispered to no one in particular. I put my arms behind me and leaned back. He deserved to know.

“I DID EVERYTHING YOU ASKED,” I shouted up at the mountain. “I did everything you asked. . . Lord.” I had been spit on, burned, and betrayed, and now the Queen’s men would surely kill me.

“I am as good as dead, now. Take me. Kill me,” I shouted. There was no one to hear. Better to die by the hand of YHWH, the creator and destroyer of all, or by my own hand, than to fall into the hands of Queen Jezebel. She would never have what she wanted. I would not let that happen. I leaned back and lay on the ground, and waited. I had served and I was finished. If YHWH did not take me, all I had to do was sit up and push off, and I would join the ancients . . . or not. Right now, I didn’t even care. My heart beat through my bones, waiting for the thunder of horses’ hooves to overtake it. I closed my eyes and fingered the fine stitching on my sash. There had been better times.

Friday, January 13, 2012

TV to Life—a poem


The flickering talons grab and grasp

Engulfing us in that linear world.

“Why did he do it?” They ask.

“He can’t bear the thought of being alone.

No man can.”


Turning, twisting, tearing free.

“Is it true?”

“Do you have a fear of being alone?”

“Are you afraid of losing me?”


“Are you like that?”

“Like what?”

“Afraid of losing me.”

“I guess so.”


My heart convulses

As I am wrenched into his world

Where fear of loss pervades.

Their script ended; but

I slog on, scriptless, scared.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Conversion and Measures


Here are a few useful sites for the new year.

  • Have you ever been sitting in front of you computer and you wanted to measure something?  Did you look vainly for a tape measure or measuring stick?  Here is a website that shows you a virtual ruler.  As long as the object you want to measure can be held up to your screen, you can find its dimensions.  I used it to compare the dimensions of my phone to other phones in reviews I was reading.  What will you use it for?
  • Simple calculations:  use Google as a calculator and currency converter.  Examples: 5+2*2sqrt(-4), 3 meters in feet, dollars to euros, 5 GBP in yen.
  • Complex Conversions:  This website helps you convert anything to anything else. 

Now, if we could only convert the Woes of 2011 to the Joys of 2012!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Writing Like . . .


Who influences your writing?  I love to read Frederick Buechner, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Madeline L’Engle, and Annie Dillard, and I would like to write like each of them, or all of them, taking the best they have written into my own work.  I have tried to write like all of them, but when I let the writing sit and then go back to it after a few weeks or months, it doesn’t sound like writing I would want to read; it is a discordant mess, a mixture of wolf and sheep, a combination that leaves only a yellow-eyed, mangy wolf straddling bloody wool and bones, an apparition anyone would race to avoid. 

On the other hand, when I write and take out all shades of Buechner, Bonheoffer, L’Engle, and Dillard, I am left with only me.  And when I return to reread it, it doesn’t sound half bad.  It sounds like something I might like to read.  And maybe you would, too.

No successful writer writes like their heroes, their mentors.  Every writer must develop a singular voice.  When the voice rings false, anything false must be ripped out like the wolf savages a sheep, leaving only bone, sinew, and mangled wool, and replaced with the author’s voice—a voice of neither wolf nor sheep, but a cat who slips by in the fog, at once shadow and substance, shades of all felines who have come before, and yet a preternatural feline whose weaving tail invites us to follow and find ourselves.

And that is where I leave you in this new year.  Editing and cutting, cutting and pasting, releasing your own words to the page.  And as you do, remember that the words that come out of your mouth carry intonation, expression, and movement.  The same word does not carry the same meaning when it is laid out bare in black on paper or screen.   The American language is replete with words to describe, for example, that “preternatural” feline, as aberrant, anomalistic, anomalous, atypical, bizarre, curious, deviant, deviate, deviating, divergent, eccentric, exceptional, extraordinary, fantastic, funny, grody, gross, heteroclite, heterodox, heteromorphic, irregular, odd, off-base, off-color, out of line, peculiar, preternatural, queer, screwy, spastic, strange, uncommon, unexpected, unnatural, unorthodox, unusual, or weird.  But of all these shades of meaning only one will contain the precision that you or I intend.  And if you progress to similes and metaphors, you have even more choices some from existing poetry and prose and some not yet considered.   

Read and respect and emulate your heroes and mentors, but let you own voice ring out clearly.  This is a new year and a time to lay aside our if only’s and want to’s and write like . . . ourselves.