Thursday, June 25, 2015

Scampi, “Grampi,” and a “Modern” Family

The other night I made scampi for dinner. 
When I make scampi, I tend to sip on the cookin’ wine. When I sip on the cookin’ wine, I tend to have deep thoughts…
Between mincing the garlic and salting the pasta water, that night’s deep thoughts turned to my Grampa Joe.  Why?  I haven’t a clue.  Was he famous for his scampi…nope.  Did he love seafood…not that I’m aware of.  Was he Italian…not even a little bit.  So what flipped the switch in my percolating noggin from scampi to Grampi?

Maybe it was chopping the garlic? I didn’t observe Grampa Joe in the kitchen very often, but when I did, he was always in the faithful company of his pristine Swiss Army knife, ready to slice a paper thin wafer of sharp cheese or cold sweet butter.

Perhaps it was that I've been spending a lot of time at Mom and Dad’s these past few weeks.  Over the years, their spare bedroom has become a storage bunker for all of the family artifacts including Joe’s walking stick and hiking boots, his box of handmade wooden carving tools and his Swiss record collection.  I’ve been helping sort the wheat from the chaff and we’ve been uncovering countless treasures in the process.

Whatever the reason, there I stood that night over the sizzling shrimp, sippin’ on that wine, sifting through memories of Joe in my mind and finding myself yearning to fill the gaps. Over the next few days, as Mom and I dug for gold in that spare bedroom, we spent a good amount of time reminiscing about that amazing rock of a man and together, we mended a quilt of memories that had long been tucked away.

To watch my mother remember Joe is really quite extraordinary.  Most girls love their Daddies.  But Mom’s story is special, and to see her carefully turn the pages of and old notebook of his or cradle one of his photographs in her hand reminds me of the unique relationship they shared, the power of choosing love, and the legacy his choices left for all of us. That legacy is my mama and without him, all of our stories would either be nonexistent or be quite different indeed.

You see, “Grandpa” Joe was actually never a father at all in the biological sense. On July 29, 1938 his fate would forever change as he watched his best friend Ambrose welcome the birth of his third daughter and on the same day mourn the loss of his beautiful wife.  In those days, it was unheard of for a single father to care for an infant child, not to mention two teenage girls and the family dairy business.

So, with great trepidation but even greater love, one of my grandmother’s sisters Josephine booked passage on the next ship from Switzerland.  In a matter of days, my sweet “Grandma” Finy was reluctantly transformed from a maiden living in a small Swiss mountain village to a single surrogate mom living in a San Francisco third floor walk-up.

Enter a knight in shining armor: the strapping Joseph Indergand, a dapper bachelor and business man who had emigrated from the old country to America years before to join his best friend Ambrose in pursuit of his American dream.

Fluent in five languages, a voracious self-taught learner, skilled mountaineer, fitness buff, and student of culture and music, my dapper, soon-to-be Grandpa Joe had no lack of female attention in his single days. 
As we opened several vintage cigar boxes he had meticulously stowed in his dresser of drawers, we unearthed tidy little bundles of post cards, letters and photographs he had carefully tied with brown twine and tucked away. Mom grinned as she recalled Grandma Finy coming across these from time to time, discreetly rolling her eyes about the ghosts Joe's groupies from many miles and many days gone by.

Alas, the fan club was to be disappointed when the chivalrous Joseph came to the rescue of his best friend Ambrose and offered to raise that baby girl alongside Josephine, providing the stable family unit my mother would have otherwise not had. Here they are on one of their summer trips to Kings Beach in Lake Tahoe where Grampa Ambrose (Grampa Cheese, to me) was building his lakeside pub and cottages (the current site of Caliente restaurant).

So, there they were, a “modern family” so to speak well before the concept of non-traditional arrangements became the norm.  But it worked; a shy young woman, in a somewhat arranged marriage, raising her niece alongside a man she barely knew, adding to it the fact that my Grandpa Ambrose was still in my mother’s life as he spent time with her over the summers and never allowed Joe to legally adopt (see a related blog entry dated September 2, 2011 “Grandpa Cheese”).

It’s funny, because to this day, none of us, my mother included, really know the intricacies of Joe and Finy's relationship. We know that Joe knew Finy and her four sisters back in the old country but we aren't certain to what extent. We know they were married in Reno about a year after my mom was born and a prior trip back and forth over the border to Mexico was involved as well (something to do with immigration we think). We know that they were devoted to each other for over 40 years and especially to their precious infant ward. We know that they loved each other deeply.  This is their wedding photo.

We know that they called my mom Schatzi (pronounced Shot-zee) which translated means darling, and managed to dote on their sweetheart while providing a traditional, staunch and austere Swiss household at the same time. And we know, more than anything, that their purpose in life was to provide a warm, loving and safe, albeit simple, life for their little girl. This is a sweet little paper box we found filled with buttons and bows of my mom's...labeled by Joe "Schatzi."

Unlike my Grandpa Henry who wouldn’t hesitate to give Grandma Anna a little love pat on the fanny as she walked by, Grandpa Joe was forever the staunch gentleman. 

I’m not sure if I ever even saw Joe and Finy hold hands, but I am sure that I never once saw them apart from each other’s company.

To see the four of my grandparents together, which was most weekends by the way, was a hoot. Talk about worlds colliding! But it all worked out and we grand kids have the gift of those precious memories for it…summers at the ballpark, car trips crammed in the wood paneled station wagon and family holidays rotating from house to house.

Speaking of family holidays, I remember Grampa Joe making a traditional Swiss pastry and sharing it with us on special occasions.  I’ve thought of it from time to time but until now have not made the effort to unearth the recipe. Well, easier said than done! 

After placing calls to relatives both here and in Switzerland, digging through piles of tattered old recipes and searching the internet for hours, Mom and I have come up with only a smattering of possible options.

What makes it even harder is that we don’t seem to completely remember what it tasted like to begin with…or if we even really liked it!  What we do know is that it reminds us of Joe and when we make it, we will think of him, honor him and maybe even remember a few more stories about a breed of man that might be extinct in today’s modern world.  I’d like to think that these simple values of loyalty and commitment are still alive and well today as, clearly, Joe is proof that miracles happen when human beings choose love and duty over self.  My amazing mother and the person she became as a result of his choices is evidence of that.

Follow us as we attempt this version of Pastete (it is spelled several different ways but this seems to be the most common) that we found in a local cookbook from my Swiss cousin, translated by mom.

Surprisingly, it was close to how we both remember it.  The dough is firm and flavorful...not a tender pastry by any means, but kind of addictive and quite tasty.  The filling is delicious, if you like raisins, and the kirsch and Magenträes* add just a bit of je ne sais quoi that I think is fun. I imagine Joe enjoying a hearty slice with a cup of coffee in the morning, maybe as an afternoon snack with tea or with a strong shot of Schnapps as a rare after dinner treat.

Ürner Paschtetä


  • 3 eggs
  • 250 grams sugar (a little over a cup)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200 ml milk (about 7/8 cup)
  • 200 ml apple juice or cider (about 7/8 cup)
  • 250 grams unsalted butter (a little over two cubes)
  • 1300 grams flour (about 2.9 pounds or 5 1/2 cups)
  • 5 tsp baking powder**


  • 600 grams raisins, half regular/half golden (about 1.3 pounds)
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1/2 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs Magenträs*
  • 1 Tbs Kirsch
  • 150 ml apple juice or cider
* this is a popular Swiss sugar and spice mix. If Magenträes is unavailable, use 1 Tbs of this mix:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp red sandalwood powder (found on Amazon)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • pinch of cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground anise seeds

** my research showed that German baking powder is different than ours so I made my own mix to best mimic their formula. To do the same, mix 2 parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda.

Save one egg yolk for brushing. Put the remaining eggs in a bowl. Whisk in sugar and salt then milk and apple juice.

Melt butter in a pan at low heat then add to the bowl.

Stir in flour and baking powder until it starts to pull away from the side of the bowl.

Let stand at room temperature while you make the filling.

In saucepan, mix raisins, sugar, cinnamon, Magenträes, kirsch, and cider and simmer for 2-6 minutes. 

Knead dough again on a floured surface just until it is smooth and workable and cut in half.

Roll out on half and place on a sheet pan measuring approximately 30-40 cm leaving a rim about 3/4 “ high.

Distribute still warm raisin mixture on the dough.

Roll out the second half of the dough and place on top of the raisin mixture. Seal edges with water, kirsch or egg.

Use the dough scraps to make a decorative raised border if you like. This was not in the recipe but Mom remembers Joe doing this.

Brush top with the reaming egg yolk which has been thinned with a little bit of water.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes at  400° F.

Pretty isn't golden brown!

Disclaimer: OK, so I never once called Grandpa Joe “Grampi”…it just rhymes with scampi. And, if you were hoping for a recipe for scampi...sorry!  Just sauté shrimp in butter and olive oil, add in some chopped garlic, a few splashes of dry white wine, a big squeeze of lemon juice, more butter, salt, pepper and a little parsley and you're good to go!

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