Growing up in a Polish-American household (one quarter, at least), we ate golabki pretty regularly. This is traditional Polish fare -- cabbage leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice, usually with some vaguely tomato-based sauce lightly spread over them. Cheap and good.
Polish is such a funny language. Consonant sounds that aren't contained anywhere in the actual letters creep into words. When spoken by a true Pole, "Bogdanski" came out sounding something like "Boydangski." And "galobki" sounded like "gwumpkie." I never learned how to spell the word correctly until a visit to the Portland Polish Festival a couple of years back.
There was even some sort of neighborhood joke (the details of which I forget) that ended with the punchline, "We want gwumpkies, we want gwumpkies." I think it might have been somewhat racist, as many of the jokes circulating around that neighborhood were in those days. I distinctly recall that it got quite a few laughs as we dug into the rolled-up meat and vegetable entrees, made of ground beef, maybe a little onion and rice, and generic store-bought Jersey cabbage, baked in a dish (Corning Ware in those days, no doubt). You got everything you needed for this meal down the street at the Foodtown, from that produce guy "Hy" (you talk about your ethnic slurs -- ask my relatives what they thought of "Hy").
Although we appreciated the gwumpkies (and their cousins, green bell peppers stuffed with the same ingredients), after a while they got a little too familiar. One evening, my brother (then maybe 8 or 10 years old) decided to go on strike against gwumpkies. He hated them, he said, even under the thick layer of catsup that he insisted on applying to every dish set before him. He was determined. He would never eat gwumpkies, ever, ever again.
Mom was equally adamant. "Those are perfectly good gwumpkies. Eat them!" she said. The starving children in China, etc. No way, he replied. "Well then, fine, go to your room, take your plate of gwumpkies with you, and don't come out until you've eaten them all!"
Off to the bedroom he went, dish of gwumpkies in hand. But he didn't eat them. Oh, no. Instead, he found a length of string in our desk drawer, broke out a bit of meat from inside one of mom's golabki, and tied one end of the string around that morsel of meat.
And he walked over to the fish tank. Yes, little brother was going to go fishing for our lone angel fish (or maybe it was a goldfish), using gwumpkie meat as bait.
He never did get the fish to bite, and as I recall, he never ate the supper, either. Mom eventually discovered his impromptu fishing expedition, scolded him again, and took the plate back from him. Wasting food was a major sin in our house, but I doubt that anyone actually ate those golabki. No doubt they were cast off to wherever Newark household garbage went in those days -- probably filling in a swamp somewhere nearby.
Little brother was in the doghouse.
Until the next morning, when the fish was discovered floating on the top of the tank. Dead. "You see, Mom? Those gwumpkies are bad for you!"
Even our mom, never at a loss for words, didn't have a good response for that one.
Anyway, all this golabki talk is prompted by the last couple of nights' dinners at our Portland house. At last Saturday's Hollywood Farmer's Market, I picked up a bunch of organic red chard, a wonderful vegetable. The sign above the bin suggested that you try chard instead of standard cabbage in a stuffed cabbage dish.
After I relayed this idea to my wonderful bride, she dutifully dug out a simple but elegant recipe for such a thing and put her personal touch on it. Within a couple of days, I was eating an updated version of the classic from Down Neck Newark. Red chard instead of stronger cabbage, ground turkey instead of beef, and sliced mushrooms out of the can thrown into the stuffing. She was cautioning that it was nothing, but she was so wrong. It was divine. And like so much ethnic food, it was better the second day.
Mmmmmmmmm... gwumpkies. Pass the pan, and praise the Lord.