December 2009

My wife was born in Minnesota and has a Norwegian heritage.  Every heritage and culture is known for its history, traditions, and often – food.  So what are Norwegians known for?

About all I can come up with is:

1.  The Vikings

2.  They talk funny

One thing they are not known for (at least favorably) is their cuisine.  I mean, when is the last time you saw a Viking restaurant?

Sara has an aunt and uncle that live a few miles away from us and wanted us to share in the traditional Norwegian Christmas feast – Lutefisk (pronounced “loot a fisk”).  Unless you are from the upper Midwest (or Scandinavia) you have probably never heard of this, so let me explain.  Note:  any food that needs an “explanation” should automatically raise a caution flag.

Lutefisk starts out as perfectly normal whitefish or cod.  What happens next would probably be protested by PETA if they knew about it.  This is an expert from a website I found on Lutefisk.  I am not embellishing, this is direct quote.

Lutefisk is made from dried whitefish (normally ling, but cod is also used), prepared with lye, in a sequence of particular treatments. The watering steps of these treatments differ slightly for salted/dried whitefish because of its high salt content.

The first treatment is to soak the stockfish in cold water for five to six days (with the water changed daily). The saturated stockfish is then soaked in an unchanged solution of cold water and lye for an additional two days. The fish swells during this soaking and its protein content decreases by more than 50 percent, producing its famous jelly-like consistency. When this treatment is finished, the fish (saturated with lye) has a pH value of 11–12, and is therefore caustic. To make the fish edible, a final treatment of yet another four to six days of soaking in cold water (also changed daily) is needed. Eventually, the lutefisk is ready to be cooked.

In Finland, the traditional reagent used is birch ash. It contains high amounts of potassium carbonate and hydrocarbonate, giving the fish a more mellow treatment than would sodium hydroxide (lyestone). It is important to not incubate the fish too long in the lye, because saponification of the fish fats may occur, effectively rendering the fish fats into soap. The term for such spoiled fish in Finnish is saippuakala (soap fish).


Let me summarize.  This is a fish that takes on a jelly-like consistency, is caustic, requires special treatment to become edible, is intentionally stripped of its nutritional value, and turns into soap if its treatment isn’t timed just right.  All of the sudden Twinkies look like health food.

After it is cooked, the fish is mercifully served over mashed potatoes and covered in a white cream.  The fish itself looks like translucent, gelatinous cabbage.  The taste is VERY fishy.  I don’t like fishy tasting fish, but if you do, it might not be that bad.  The kicker is the consistency.  Imagine a killer whale’s phlegm after it just had a huge herring dinner coughed up on your dinner plate.  If that doesn’t work, try fish Jell-o that hasn’t been refrigerated quite long enough to completely congeal.  I have no idea why people would choose to subject their palates to this culinary atrocity.

I had my Lutefisk experience and will stick to turkey and dressing for now on.  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and wish you a happy and safe New Year.  Now I just need to find some hog jowl, black-eyed peas, and mustard greens (you Southerners will understand).


Christmas Day will soon be upon us, so here’s a little tune to put you in mood.  Sing to the tune of Silent Night:

Late at night a parent’s plight

To put the kids in bed without a fight

A brain surgeon would be angry and riled

Assembling these gifts of splendor reviled

Oh, is that an extra piece?

Yes, it’s an extra piece.


Later that night I get in a fight

With a bulb that just won’t light

This bulb was supposed to go in the main star

On top of the tree that now looks bizarre

Boy my nerves are worn

I glare at my tree with scorn.


After the night at dawn’s first light

Little faces lit happy and bright

Unwrapping presents at a frantic pace

Wrapping paper all over the place

This is what it’s all worth

At least I didn’t go through childbirth!


Hey, I never claimed to be a songwriter.  Merry Christmas!

Now that our youngest is able to walk around the house and collect little treasures, Christmas decorating has become a daily routine.  The Advent calendar that my wife bought for the kids is a bare Nativity scene with the little Velcro figures (Olivia calls them “cookies”) spread throughout the house and our Christmas tree, which was once beautifully decorated, is now bare to a height of about 3 feet as the ornaments have slowly migrated up the tree and out of the reach of curious hands.

Of course the actual day of decorating had its usual stresses and blunders.  It literally took about ten trips to the basement to bring up all the decorations – it looked like we were getting ready to move again once everything was upstairs.  Then we got to work on the ginormous 10 foot artificial tree that takes about three weeks to put together with the help of a construction crane.

After completing the tree, I took the empty boxes back downstairs while Sara got to work on the outdoor lights.  We’re not the Grizwalds, but we have a decent amount of exterior illumination and Sara actually enjoys putting the lights up.  I have no problem letting her run with that…

After getting the empty boxes (and a few  boxes of decorations that we never use, but I always carry upstairs, unpack, repack, and take back downstairs) back in the basement, I went out to check on Sara’s progress.  She proudly showed me the routing of her lighting around trees, shrubs, porch rails, columns, and flag poles leading all the way up to the electrical socket on the porch where she held up the wrong end of the plug and asked me if we had an adapter so she could plug it in.  Yep, she started way out in the yard with the end that it supposed to go into the wall and ran the whole thing backwards.

I gave her that look that every husband has given and every wife recognizes.  She still didn’t get it…

I don’t mean to belittle Sara – I’m sure many of you have made this same error and at least she was out there putting up the lights, but there is a good lesson here.  No matter how creatively Sara put up the lights, no matter how good they looked, how hard she worked, or how good her intentions, her plan would fail because she started with the wrong end.  Sometimes we realize that we started in the wrong place and try to correct it by working harder, rationalizing, or simply ignoring our error when what we really need to do is go back to the beginning and look at how our endeavor began.  With Christmas lights, the fix is pretty simple.  With careers, relationships, and life priorities, the required correction can be intimidating, but it is necessary if we want our lives to light up.

I’m giving finals, turning in final grades, and wrapping up the end of the semester, so it has been pretty crazy lately.  Because of this, there will not be a posting this week.  Give me a break – it’s my birthday!

This Thanksgiving was yet another gluttony-fest for my family.  When my oldest daughter became old enough to really get into Christmas a few years ago, we decided to stay home for Christmas.  This means that when we travel to see my family for Thanksgiving, we do Christmas in the same weekend.  That’s right, Thanksgiving on Thursday and Christmas on Friday.  Take that, marketing geniuses.

On Thanksgiving Day, we get up early embark on a 400 mile journey from Atlanta to West Tennessee.  We have dinner at my grandmother’s that consists of the typical Thanksgiving fare: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, various casseroles, and enough desserts make the entire field of the Tour de France diabetic.

On the next night (our early Christmas) we have a tradition of having breakfast for dinner.  I’m not talking about bacon and eggs here.  We have a breakfast casserole that is filled with sausage, eggs, cheese, bread, and deliciousness, hash brown casserole, some sort of blueberry, buttery, sugary, bready thing, bacon, ham, and biscuits.  This is my favorite meal of the year.

The next night, we overeat for no particular reason: barbecue, beans, and potato salad – good Tennessee food.  It’s interesting that during the holiday season we hear a lot of people talking about how not to overdo it and how to counteract all of those additional calories consumed.  I say, who cares?  It’s a special time that only happens once a year.  So what if I gain a pound or two?  As long as overeating does not become a habit, there is no real harm done.

I generally eat well and have healthy habits.  I run 15 miles a week and lift weights 4 days a week.  Why should I get all bent out of shape over a weekend of eating like a Roman emperor?  I think this is a fallacy that we experience not only with regard to our physical well being, but in all aspects of life.  We focus too much on the rare occurrences (a weekend of overeating, a big presentation, an upcoming exam) while neglecting the daily habits that truly shape our lives.  If you want to make a change in your lifestyle, don’t go out and do something big once or twice a year, do something small every day.