happy paczki day 2014

IMG_1288Happy Paczki Day 2014!  Honestly, I don’t think I can say it any better than I did last year, in my prayer for Fat Tuesday, so I won’t.

But do press this, my annual tradition of gleeful glee.  (Is the polka music no longer working?  Egads!)

I owe you a serious update.  There’s a lot going on.  But with my main laptop in the shop for at least a week with almost all my data, a half-working backup laptop that turns off when it decides it is tired of working, and a loaner from school — all in Week 9 — I’m a little scattered.

But in case you’re curious in the interim: I’ve been off milking goats at a farm stay; I’m co-curating a Special Collections exhibit on the past 500 years or so of science in the kitchen using rare books at the Knight Library; I just gave a keynote talk on 100 years of science in food to 450 captive souls at Pleasant Hill High School; I’m teaching two great food studies classes next term open to all UO students (see the teaser video for COLT 231 here); and I now have more egg recipes than a chicken.

Yes.  More soon.

a world of possibilities for stuffed cabbage rolls, fermented!

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Polish stuffed cabbage (golabki, or little pigeons, pronounced, basically, Guh-WUMP-kee) was never a favorite of mine growing up.  I don’t particularly like the mixture of ground beef, rice, and sweet tomato sauce — often ketchup — in the funky steamed cabbage that forms the roll.  It is rarely seasoned properly, so it lacks salt and flavor, and with its yellow-grey leaves and smear of orange sauce is just about the ugliest thing to emerge from a pot ever.  And the name is vaguely horrifying.

But, I reasoned, if a dish has survived generations across an entire continent, it should have a good reason to continue.  I do like meatballs, and I do like cabbage, and I do like the Greek dolma stuffed grape leaf filling with lemon.  I’d try to pull together a tomato-free version of the classic stuffed cabbage recipe, something that improved the taste and the look as much as possible.

Turns out I can’t stop eating them now.  They’re surprisingly light and flavorful, and would make a great new year meal.

The beauty of stuffed cabbage is the variety of possibilities.  If you can break away from your Eastern European traditions, or look more deeply into them, you’ll see that stuffed cabbage has as many flavors as Eastern Europe had geopolitical borders.  And the little pigeons graciously subjugate themselves to our new emphasis on local and whole grains, too.

The basic recipe is 1 cup of rice, 1 lb. of ground beef, and an egg, with seasonings.  Instead of a boring swap to brown rice, we could start with kasha or buckwheat groats (or cracked grains), a traditional substitute for rice golabki.  Quinoa or couscous would be similarly mushy and appropriate. And if we go there, we could easily move over to wheatberries or rye berries or frikeh or fregola sarda for a less firm stuffing, but still very delicious.

We used black “forbidden” rice, then swapped out the ground beef for some ground veal and pork sausage I had languishing in the freezer.  The pork sausage added a moistness and flavor from within.

From without, well, I had the brilliant…I’m going to go there, BRILLIANT…stroke of BRILLIANCE to use whole leaves of fall cabbage that I had fermented sauerkraut-style a few months back.  These sauerkraut bombs I nestled in between rolls wrapped more conservatively with savoy cabbage, a light variation on the more traditional round cabbage leaf wrappings.  When cooked in chicken broth instead of tomato sauce, it make for a tangy and delicious stuffed cabbage.  Don’t have whole cabbage leaf sauerkraut?  Just use regular sauerkraut, mixing some in with your filling and adding a layer or two in the cooking pot for more flavor.

If you’re meat-free, I suggest using any number of fillings to substitute for the meat.  It’s perfectly traditional to use farmer cheese or potatoes or mushrooms with your rice/kasha (try this Jewish version with mushrooms, kasha, and a cream sauce). And why not lentils and chopped walnuts and carrots?  Kohlrabi!  Leeks!  Parsnips?  If you’re afraid of the filling not holding together, just add another egg.  I also suggest bread crumbs to help on that score.

The decadent can skip the grains altogether. Chopped pork shoulder is divine.  How about a traditional tamale stuffing of shredded pork or beef, almonds, and raisins?  And think about it: do you like stuffed peppers?  Same filling, so why not make an inverted stuffed pepper, and put the peppers inside the cabbage rolls?  Chef Tiffany Norton at PartyCart even uses pickled ginger for her forcemeat.  Why can’t you?

Yes, the world is your cabbage.  You can stuff it with anything.

EDITED TO ADD:  More ideas from the Queen of Preservation, Linda Ziedrich!

EDITED AGAIN TO ADD:  A vegetarian Polish option from a reader, Linda Peterson Adams.  Thanks, Linda!  “Parboil the cabbage to remove leaves. [Mix] 2 cups cooked dry rice, pearl barley or buckwheat groats, a few tablespoons soaked and chopped fine porcini mushrooms, salt and pepper. Stuff rolls with this mix. Put a layer of leaves in a dutch oven, and add 2 cups fermented rye liquid or stock with the mushroom soaking liquid. Dot with butter. Cover and simmer until tender, about an hour. Thicken leftover liquid with beurre manie. You can also add sour cream at the end. You can also use sauerkraut to nestle the birds in in cooking.

Tangy Stuffed Cabbage Master Recipe

  • 1 large head savoy cabbage
  • 1 cup cooked grains (try short-grain rice, black rice, kasha, quinoa)
  • 1 lb. ground meat (try a combination of beef, veal, pork, pork sausage, etc.) or 2 cups farmer cheese or sauteed wild/button mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs IF you are using the vegetarian fillings only
  • 1 large egg
  • 2-4 cups sauerkraut, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • paprika to taste (optional)
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Cook the rice or other grains as necessary and cool.

Prepare the cabbage leaves.  Heat a pot large enough to submerge whole cabbage leaves with enough water to blanch the leaves.  Carefully remove the core and outer leaves, keeping the whole cabbage intact.  Peel off the layers of leaves without tearing if possible, and rinse thoroughly.  Reserve the inner, smaller leaves for the bottom of the pot.

Trim the thick bottom vein of each leaf by either cutting it out or shaving off layers until it is almost as thin as the surrounding leaf.  (If you do not do this, it will make rolling harder.)

When the water comes to a boil, blanch the prepared leaves for about 30-45 seconds, or until pliable and easy to roll.  Note: plain cabbage should be blanched longer, about 2 minutes; if you are using whole-leaf sauerkraut instead of savoy cabbage, just rinse the leaves, don’t blanch them.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place the smallest leaves in the bottom of a dutch oven or similar large pot with a lid.

Mix up the filling.  Add the cooled, cooked grains, the meat/cheese/mushrooms, a large egg, and a cup of the sauerkraut (eliminate sauerkraut if you are using whole leaf sauerkraut as a wrapping, add breadcrumbs for structure if you are using the vegetarian fillings).  Drop a bit of the filling into the steaming water or the microwave for a few seconds, so it will cook enough so you can taste for seasonings.  Adjust seasonings with salt, pepper, and paprika.

Roll the cabbage rolls by placing about 2 tablespoons full of filling at the thick end of the leaf, folding the end over the filling, then folding the two sides over the filling, then rolling up to the end tightly.  Place seam side down into a dutch oven.  Repeat for all rolls.  If there is filling left, roll it into a meatball and nestle it among the rolls.  Nestle the rest of the sauerkraut between rolls and between layers.

Add chicken stock, cover, and cook for about 2 hours, or until the filling is firm and most of the stock is soaked up into the cabbage rolls.  Better the next day.

Serves 4-6.

a tale of two detroit bakeries: polonia

Note: Part I of this post can be found at A Tale of Two Detroit Bakeries: Greektown.

Polonia describes the Polish diaspora, the people of Polish heritage living outside of Poland.  In Detroit, waves of Polish immigration swelled in the last decades of the nineteenth century with the promise of factory jobs and political stability. We can still see the infrastructure of the communities established then if we drive around the west side of the city and on the east side in Hamtramck, the still-bustling Polish-American neighborhood where you can get delicious pastries like these at the venerable New Palace Bakery:

Much of my family originally settled in the Michigan Ave-Junction area on the west side; it’s just north of the area now called Mexicantown. My grandmother went to school at St. Francis d’Assisi (above, with the Polish eagle) and my grandfather St. Hedwig (below), where they were later married.  This part of the city is rather bleak and shuttered, unlike Hamtramck, where there’s still a thriving community.

I discovered on the plane back home, flipping through June’s Food & Wine, that there is some gentrification happening along Michigan Avenue near these old churches — someone’s opened up a chic coffee shop and a barbecue restaurant.  I was patting myself on the back for having a photographic eye because they and I both took a picture of this building:

Unfortunately, THEY did not have a mom driving who does not share a keen appreciation for run-down buildings with letters painted on them, one who didn’t want to stop the car, forcing THEM to snap an action shot from a moving vehicle.  It was actually pretty funny, because she was concentrating on trying to find particular houses and understanding the layout of the neighborhood, while I was trying to take pictures of individual locations and cool grafitti and such.  So I keep yelling, slow down, Mom! Stop for just a second! WAIT! And she’s totally ready to just leave me on the street so she can drive around the block to see what’s there.

I did manage to get a few good shots in, including this one of the lot where my grandpa once owned a gas station, Michigan Ave. and Wesson:

Regardless of our divergent adventuring styles, we did agree on the need to eat Polish food.  We went happily over to the east side to check out Hamtramck, where we dined like Polish princesses on dill pickle soup, borscht, city chicken (cubes of pork shouder and chicken breaded and baked on skewers), fresh kielbasa (one of the highly underappreciated stars of the sausage world), pierogies, and potato pancakes.And I was reminded of the many years my grandma worked in a Polish bakery when we entered the New Palace Bakery that I mentioned above.  It’s a place where paczki (Polish donuts) are made daily, and the cooler bursts with trays of cookies and pastries and cakes, including a thin layer cakes called Seven Brothers and Seven Sisters.  I bought a donut and a loaf of seedless rye, my favorite bread in the world.  And I felt thankful for Polonia and the city that hosts it.

To see more baked goods, including paczki and chrusciki (angel wings), click the thumbnails in the gallery.

niblets: multicultural edition

So much to announce, and I just haven’t had the will to do it.  Started this post three times today.  Bad news, since it’s still freezing cold and wet and I have fullblown spring fever.  So I’ll keep it short.  Consider it the World Literature Survey of dining niblets from your favorite home town.

– Japanese.  Go to Kamitori on 11th and Willamette.  It’s worth every (inexpensive) penny. Go especially if you’re into real Japanese food, not just chicken teriyaki, even if they do have that, too.  And tell the chef how much you appreciate the authenticity (but it’s ok if you recommend axing the krab salad in the kaisen (left).  I’m actually ready to come to blows if someone ruins this place.

– Lebanese.  Go to the new Middle Eastern Deli at Plaza Latina on 7th a few blocks east of Chambers.  She’s still working out the kinks and setting the menu and prices, so go and defend your favorites.  I found the tabouli (top photo, with various pies, hummus and tahini) particularly good — the parsley is not smushed to soggy bits with a heavy knife and loaded down with bulgar wheat.  Just as it should be.

– Jewish.  Tomorrow night starts Passover.  Got my brisket in gear and am cooking it as we speak, a Joan Nathan recipe.  I hope this is a good compromise between my two recipes, one called “Traditional (If Dull) Passover Brisket,” and the other one, “Cranberry Brisket,” which I love but has been vetoed by the no-fruit-with-meat half of my relationship.  This half also absconded with one of the apples for the haroset, so I made apple-pear-haroset.   Yeah, I know.  But it’s supposed to be like mortar in texture and color, right?  Right.  I’m glad to hear that Humble Beagle will be serving matzoh ball soup all week, since it’s the one thing we’re not making due to the hilariously quirky mismatched dietary profiles of my guests.

– Thai.  I perused the menu and spoke to someone who had the authority of an owner at Sabai, a new “Pacific Rim” or “Thai Fusion” restaurant in Oakway.  I’ll be nice and just say these two terms make me shudder unlike any other.  The good news is (at least for fans of the popular American-style Thai Ta Ra Rin restaurant), is that the menu is very similar to Ta Ra Rin.  The authority figure told me that they were planning to introduce Indonesian dishes, which would indeed be a nice addition to our local ethnic cuisine.  I’d just really like to see 1) serious attention to reducing the sweetness of all of the dishes if the menu is indeed based on Ta Ra Rin’s; and (2) offering non-sweet dishes with a vinegar or even just dry-fried, salt-and-pepper profile.  All Americans don’t like Thai food that’s achingly sweet.  Indonesian food can be way too sweet too, so it’s going to be a rough ride.

– White.  White flour, that is.  Excellent article about Tom Hunton (right, at the Saturday farmers market) and Camas Country Mill in the Register-Guard today.  It discusses the mill engineering and Tom’s decision to diversify from grass crops to wheat and other grains, including teff.  The article acknowledges the liberal-conservative partnerships that can (and need to) happen with food system changes, and shows how Tom’s making it work with his partners. Way to go, Diane Dietz!  That was the best food reporting I’ve seen in the R-G in a while.  So why was it in the Business section?

– Mexican.  Still loving taco night on Sundays and Mondays at Belly, and hope the owners have a good time scouting out new menu items on their vacation down south.  The restaurant will be open only for taco nights this week.  But a small grump: I am sad the tortillas are now being served cold instead of nicely griddled.  Can we change that?  I fully realize that after a couple of margaritas I don’t notice anymore but still.  Shh.  And kudos to Belly for being mentioned in visiting LA food critic Jonathan Gold’s twitter — he was in town for a UO School of Journalism award and said the tripe and trotters on toast gave him “a lot of happiness for $8.”  I like a man who gets his cheap thrills in organ meats.

– Polish.  And speaking of organs, I bought my Easter kielbasa a couple of weeks ago at Benedetti’s Meat Market.  Fresh kielbasa is always hard to find in Eugene, so go check ’em out.  You can bet your dupa I’ll be making my Easter soup this year. Our cup overfloweth with fresh eggs, since the farm chickens have decided the weather be damned; it is spring!

– Italian.  But if you’re not in the mood for Polish Easter soup, check out Sfizio for their Umbrian regional dinner on Easter Sunday.  I haven’t seen the menu, surely by some fault of my own, since they usually send ’em by now.  But it’s a good option to staying home and eating too many Cadbury eggs and jelly beans.

– Fermentation Nation.  Thanks to everyone for coming out to the Master Food Preserver class on fermented foods.  We had about three dozen attendees for the demo, and everyone was so enthusiastic and full of questions it really energized all of the teachers.  We really had a great time discussing kefir, yogurt, kim chi, sauerkraut, cider vinegar, chocolate, and sourdough bread.  The next class is on emergency planning and we’re offering a canning basics series this summer after the produce starts to come in to the market.  We’ll be teaching pickling, jamming, water bath canning (with tomatoes), and pressure canning in four classes for $40 (see a full schedule of courses here).  Yes, that’s $40 for four classes TOTAL, not each.  We’re also starting to connect with other MFP programs nationwide on our Facebook page.  Follow us and let us know what you’re interested in canning and cooking this summer!

So how’s that for short?  Don’t forget, I am a professor.  We don’t do short.

tiptoe through the tulips salad — when winter just won’t give up

The tulips were finally in their glory last weekend, but the rain did its best to wipe them off the face of the earth.  I find early spring in Eugene kind of depressing.  April is the cruellest month and all that.  The combination of wanting to be outside and the damp chill always get to me.  I can’t get warm.  I need sun.  The dirt beckons!

Kind of creepy so stated, no?

Ah, what better to pitchfork you out of the funk than a brilliantly colored, flavor burst salad that does perfectly well with storage apples and the rest of fall’s sauerkraut?

This magenta-red sauerkraut, apple, and carrot slaw is of Polish origin.  I don’t think I’d make it with store-bought sauerkraut.  But if you find yourself with a big jar of homemade stuff, or better yet, several jars of homemade stuff taking up half of your refrigerator because you couldn’t resist the beautiful cabbages you saw for just pennies a pound last fall…go for it! (And if you’re interested in learning how to make sauerkraut, take a $5 OSU Extension Master Food Preserver Kitchen Quickies class on exactly that topic on May 13!  More information in the box to the right.)

The proportions are approximate.  If you like more carrot or apple, adjust accordingly.

The bright colors of the carrots and sauerkraut will stay true and won’t bleed, so feel confident that you can prepare this ahead of time.  Serve in a glass bowl, so everyone can dig the color.  Vegans will love the blend of pro-biotics, raw vegetables, and a hint of sweetness that suggests the faintest sin.  Others may very well enjoy it with grilled sausages.

Polish Sauerkraut-Apple-Carrot Slaw

Serves 6-8 as side salad

  • 1 quart red sauerkraut
  • 2 firm, tart apples (granny smith work well)
  • 2-3 medium carrots
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. caraway seed

Grate the apples and carrots in a food processor.

Rinse the sauerkraut if necessary to eliminate some of the salt.  Drain sauerkraut well.

Chop the sauerkraut and add to large bowl.  Add apple and carrot.  Dress salad with olive oil, sugar, and caraway, to taste.

Allow salad to sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving.

flesh/spirit

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I was taken on a very special tour of Buffalo yesterday: the old Polish neighborhoods on the East side.  Churches and butchers.  Sacred and profane.  Spirit and flesh.  Just how I like it.

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While not as horrifying as the cracked-out rubble of the once bustling neighborhoods of Detroit, Polonia is a melancholy place, marked by all the signs of decline and poverty. But with my charming tour guide — a third-generation local –the boarded-up windows, pawn shops, stretches of painted concrete and empty lots became corner bars and sausage factories and shoemakers and polka palaces again.

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I would urge you to find someone who can give you a tour of your city.  The architecture, even overwritten by generations of changes and decay, tells fascinating stories of how we shape space into communities and barricades.  And if you can still get gołąbki, pirogies, and a side of czarnina with a chrusciki chaser, all the better.

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I’ll be flying back to Eugene this weekend, and I’m glad to be returning to the town that I love, but I’ve grown fond of Buffalo in the month I’ve spent here.  Great libraries, Polish food, fascinating history.  Not too shabby.  Luckily, I get to return in June!

dyngus day

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Happy Dyngus Day!  It’s Easter Monday, a holiday celebrated mainly (from what I can tell) by Polish-American people and their fans in my host city of Buffalo.  Pussy willows, Piwo, Polkas, Parades, Parties and a Plethora of Polish Pride. Go team!   Piwo is beer, and the pussy willows are used as a substitute for Easter palms (since there aren’t too many palm trees in Poland…or Buffalo), and some people use them to hit other people in an ancient spring ritual of greeting, after those people douse them with water.  Go team!!

Will I be attending the parade, mingling with the throngs at Broadway Market, quaffing piwo at the local pubs in Polonia, randomly striking passers-by with pussy willows?  Probably not.  I don’t have the patience for the crowds, and am too busy preparing for my upcoming talk on Wednesday.  Alas.  But I’ll be there in spirit.

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I honestly didn’t intend for this to become a Polish food blog, but I’m just so tickled to have Polish food around I can’t stop thinking about it.  I just have to mention my own Dyngus Day celebration  — eating Easter bread.  It’s an egg-glazed, round, rich loaf studded with golden and dark raisins.  Bought it on my adventure to Wegman’s, a supermarket that has a plethora of ethnic and upmarket foods, and a sign over an aisle that helpfully directs people to frozen pierogies.  Scored some seedless Polish rye, too.  They had Polish coffee cake, which I sampled but didn’t buy, and CHRUSCIKI, little angel wing cookies!  Also didn’t buy.  Because — good god — how much carby Polishness can one person consume?

I do want to tour the Polish areas of town before I leave, and check out Broadway Market on a quieter day.  Can’t wait.

polishing a few off: notes from buffalo

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The first meal I made in Buffalo was, inadvertently, pirogies!  I was so excited to find these fresh, huge, plump sauerkraut pierogies at the super-supermarket, Wegman’s, that I rushed home, made some fresh applesauce, and did the whole nom yards.  Polish people: we are legion.

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I was also very pleased to discover that the university has an international food court, with cheap and somewhat greasy but authentic Korean, Japanese, Indian and Middle Eastern Food.  The Chinese food looked suspect, but you know how I am about that.  There’s also a kosher deli.  And that’s all I’ve discovered — I’m sure there’s more.  But after living in ethnic food purgatory, it’s a welcome relief to run down to the fast food joint for a steaming bowl of oyako-don with a side of taro root bubble tea, know what I mean?

The first day was sunny and gorgeous, but then the hospitality crew arrived.  Knowing I was from Eugene, they dropped off this package at my front door this morning:

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Ah, home sweet home.  But hey, who’s complaining?  No snow yet.

I’m staying with a friendly graduate student, who has been extremely generous with her space and even her friend’s car (see supermarket trip, above).  She’s showed me a trick or two, and seems tolerant of my need for quiet and unfun cloistering this month.

And oh yeah, the archives are wonderful.  I am feeling really lucky right now.  I landed in the middle of preparations for a big Joyce conference (part of the reason I’m here) and they are working on an accompanying exhibition in Special Collections, where I’m working.  The room is filled with Joyce’s spirit, plus a constant trickle of people who want to talk or read about him.  I’ve already met a handful of people who are doing interesting things.  But I’m trying to master my jetlag, so more about all of this later.  And most likely, with food.

happy paczki day!

It’s Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras. We celebrate the Polish version — Paczki Day. Paczki, pronounced basically /PONCH-key/, are jam-filled donuts with a fine crumb and a rich taste. One article I read describes them as “tennis ball-sized pastries deepfried in lard.” Paczki Day is celebrated mostly in the Polish-American enclaves of the Midwest, although we did manage to score a great box of genyooine paczki at the Big Y in Mansfield, CT, one fine year. This article provides history and some recipes, which are probably better than the one in my first Polish cookbook, which yielded what could only be called paczki crepes. One of these years I’ll try to make them again, especially since all we can get around here is donuts at Safeway. We have the Zolotoy Petushok Russian deli in Eugene (and of course, the nearby Albany institution, Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant), but no Polish bakery.

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I grew up in the Detroit suburbs, but didn’t really celebrate Paczki Day until high school, when I began with the zeal of a born-again paczki-thumper and haven’t stopped since. My great-grandparents came to Michigan and raised their children in Detroit, like many Polish families around the turn of the twentieth century, forming a community that still spoke Polish at home and kept Polish traditions alive in schools, shops and churches. By the time I came around, the families had long since moved into the suburbs and Polish neighborhoods like Hamtramck were in decline, as was much of Detroit. My exposure to Polish-ness was a few phrases and songs and my grandma’s cooking. Mmmm…Easter soup, kielbasa, city chicken, Polish rye bread, fresh horseradish. And it was the message to stay away from Detroit because it was dangerous.

Still, I get an ancestral pang when I see images of Detroit, a city that’s been swallowed up by a recession and its insidious opiate– the casino culture that I find truly horrifying. It’s the ache of being unwanted and misused. It’s horror at the wasteland of a once-vibrant midwestern city, and worse yet, one that bred my people and gave them a safe place to land when they began their American journey and rests their bones in forgotten cemeteries on odd lots in the city. It’s the loss of one particular community at one place and one time. It’s hopes that were scattered far beyond the streets of Hamtramck, falling into the crevices and furrows of other neighborhoods and other cities. It’s my America.

So here I am. I collect international cookbooks and live in Oregon and sit in California chairs and drive Japanese cars and celebrate Passover with the zeal of a born-again brisket-thumper. Hamtramck, I hear, has undergone a bit of a revitalization, and there is a hipster community of musicians and artists, many folks who care very much about the place. I encourage everyone, therefore, to reach into that bakery box for some paczki, because some things in life are worth tradition and some things beg to be reinterpreted, renewed, reborn. Make mine a Marionberry.