I’ve got the best dad in the whole world. Among all the boxes shipped to my house from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Harry & David and every other retail outlet on the Net was one yesterday from Broton, Minnesota, marked PERISHABLE in permanent marker. I knew exactly what that meant: Dad came through for me. The ambrosia had arrived. All the other boxes could wait on the porch. PERISHABLE from Broton was urgent.
The one-pound package of lutefisk had defrosted but was still cold. Not that that mattered much. Unlike other previously frozen fish where it’s not a good idea to refreeze, you can do pretty much anything you want to lutefisk. Freeze, defrost, refreeze, hang outside on a clothes line. It’ll pretty much taste the same once you cook it.
My grandmother, Katinka Hagebakken (no, I didn’t make that up), called lutefisk the “poor man’s cod.” Technically it is cod, but unlike cod that you stuff with crab and bake in butter and lovely exotic herbs and spices, lutefisk is salted and dried for storage. Then to inflate it, it’s soaked in water and lye. Yes, lye. Tasty. And I’m not being sarcastic. It really is tasty. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Hundreds of people stand in line for hours at small country Lutheran churches throughout Minnesota when they host their annual lutefisk dinners. Check out this website for a comprehensive list of lutefisk dinner sites throughout Minnesota (and Wisconsin and Seattle and even Las Vegas): http://www.geocities.com/napavalley/3227/events.htm.
I know most people don’t like lutefisk and can’t understand why those of us who love it bother using a fork when a straw would be so much easier. But I’m used to the jokes and the insults and the references to Jello-O. Sticks and stone, my friends. Sticks and stones.
My dad was my lutefisk dinner partner for many years, but he lives in Minnesota and I in Pennsylvania so in recent years I’ve had to eat my lutefisk feast alone. It’s not that we talked much when we ate. You don’t talk when you eat lutefisk except to say, “Please pass the lutefisk” or potatoes or lefse or butter or sugar (for the lefse). We were united in our cause, two lutefisk soldiers who together fought the onslaught of insults hurled at us from our loved ones. My mother was the worst and my husband was a close second. Every year they’d snidely insinuate that the barbecue ribs or eggplant parmesan or chicken Kiev they were eating was superior to our “stinky old lutefisk” (their words, not mine). “Smells like an armpit” is something I heard on many occasion. My father and I just ignored them and kept on eating, confident in our consumption, delirious in our butter coma.
My father didn’t forsake me. The lutefisk is here, safe in my freezer. Next week, my stepsons and I will make lefse. While there isn’t an ounce of Norwegian in their blood, they have mastered rolling and flipping.
Lefse is the “perfect child” of a lutefisk dinner. Everyone loves lefse. Lefse this and lefse that. Sure, it’s good. I love it. But its primary purpose is to scoop lutefisk on to your fork, kind of like bread at a roast beef dinner. Lutefisk is the featured act. Lefse’s the backup singer.
Here’s my plan. Some lunchtime after January 1, when everyone’s back to work and school, I will prepare my lutefisk, slap some butter and sugar on a few lefse rounds, boil up some white potatoes, and sit down at my dining room table alone with a photo of my father by my side. I will eat my lutefisk in peace. No insults, no talking, just me and my all-white-food feast. It will be heaven. I can taste it already.
Dave Fox writes about lutefisk more, oh, how do I say, “realistically?” than I do. He’s certainly more humorous than I am about it. I’m way too serious about my lutefisk. (Click here to read “Make Love, Not Lutefisk.”)
I will try to blog during the holidays, but Claire will be here and I lose track of time when Claire’s around so I might not get a blog out here until after Christmas. Don’t give up on me! Check back after your own feasts and get-togethers. I promise more blogs then.
One last thing. I found out my People Magazine debut will be January 5. My weight loss blog (www.freewebs.com/lynnsjourney) will be featured in their “Half Their Size” edition. I have NO idea how it will look, what they’ll say about me, nothing. They did a photo shoot a few weeks ago, I hated my hair, but whatever. It is what it is and we’ll go from there.
Merry Christmas, everyone! Be safe, stay in touch, and don’t forget to breathe.