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Originally published November 15, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 15, 2006 at 10:54 AM

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Risgrynsgrot fuels Swedish Santa Claus

Nothing says Christmas in Sweden like Donald Duck cartoons, straw ornaments for the tree and a special rice porridge known as risgrynsgrot...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Nothing says Christmas in Sweden like Donald Duck cartoons, straw ornaments for the tree and a special rice porridge known as risgrynsgrot.

A peeled almond hides inside the creamy treat. Whomever finds it gets a wish, or marriage, or good luck depending on whom you ask.

Kirkland resident Per-Ola Selander has enjoyed risgrynsgrot (called jul grot at Christmastime) with cinnamon as long as he can remember. It's what he brings to American holiday gatherings like Thanksgiving to share one of his favorite holiday treats from home alongside the turkey and stuffing.

After 13 years in the United States working in the wireless telecommunications industry, Selander says Thanksgiving to him is a time to enjoy food and the company of good friends. He and wife Beth have joined their neighbors, John and Jan Martinka, the past few Thanksgivings, and Selander plans on bringing risgrynsgrot again this year. In Sweden, Christmas is the big food holiday, Selander said. In the afternoon, seemingly the whole country stops in its tracks to watch the same Disney holiday cartoons that have been televised for years. Tables are laden with pickled herring, ham with a crisp glaze, sweet red cabbage with apples, meatballs, dark, sweet bread dipped in gravy, and sometimes turkey. Selander now heads to Seattle's Ballard neighborhood to fetch most of these essentials.

And, of course, there's risgrynsgrot. It's what fuels Santa Claus and his helpers during the dark, cold nights. Selander's collection of Swedish textiles (many sent in care packages from his mother) includes a table runner complete with a pair of smiling little men dipping their spoons into bowls of porridge.

The 45-year-old remembers locking himself in the kitchen of his home in Southwest Sweden at age 6 to prepare a pot for his parents as a special treat.

"I'm surprised I didn't burn down the apartment," he said with a grin as he stood at the stove in his kitchen, stirring some with a wooden spoon carved by a family friend back home.

And just as leftover turkey becomes fabulous turkey sandwiches, Day 2 of the porridge is even better, Selander says. He adds cream, sugar and pieces of orange to transform it into what he calls Rice from Malta.

"It's very yummy."

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com

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