Monthly Archives: December 2010

Shrimp and Egg

One more food post for Swedish Christmas Eve.  It’s a very ritualized meal in our family.  We don’t do the traditional ham.  Instead, we eat a smogasbord, one dish at a time in a specific order.  We begin with cold herring and small boiled potatoes, and then move to the gravad lax and then the shrimp and egg.  The last fish dish is Jannson’s frestelse — a shoestring scalloped potato dish with Swedish anchovies, which are sweet, juicy, and spicy, not so salty.  Then we eat small meatballs with no sauce but a bit of broth and ham and cheese and hardbread.  And we sing and drink snapps, and finish with rice pudding and Christmas cookies.  It is a simplified version of the one we used to do, because we have a lot of people in our house who just don’t like herring all that much.  So no more sillsalad and matjes herring.  And no more braised mushrooms and kidneys (thank goodness) or eel and scrambled egg, which was my Czech Jewish grandfather’s favourite.  I haven’t told anyone, but I think I might make fagelbo this year.  If I do, photo and recipe next December, because it is very pretty.

This is one of the easiest dishes we make and it is easily multiplied for a bigger crowd, or shrunk just for one or two.  You will need:

  • 4 hardboiled eggs, peeled halved lengthwise
  • 1 1/2 c cooked peeled baby shrimp, the kind you get frozen in a big bag
  • 1 boston lettuce

Line a plate with lettuce leaves.  Spread the hardboiled eggs on it in one layer.  Layer the thawed shrimp evenly over the eggs.  Then top with the following dressing, made of  all these ingredients, mixed together:

  • 1/4 c whipped cream
  • 1/4 c good mayonnaise.  I was not much of a “brand” person until I bought some Whole Foods mayonnaise. *Shudders at the memory*  I suggest Hellman’s.  You can also replace some of the cream and mayonnaise with good yoghurt.
  • 1 tbs. chopped dill.  If you don’t like dill, this whole Swedish Christmas Eve thing may not be for you.  Just saying.
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • dash white pepper

Here’s what it looks like before you add the dressing.  You can see the dressing to one side, and also some cheese on a wooden board.  God Jul!

Gravad Lax

By far my most popular post ever is the one to my bullar, which I linked in the previous post. I thought I would continue the Swedish Christmas season theme by giving you our recipe for gravad lax — salmon cured with dill — that we eat on Christmas Eve. Our cousins laugh at us and say that gravad lax is not appropriate for Christmas Eve but we just think they’re jealous. Begin a couple of days before you want to eat, so the evening of the 22nd for Christmas Eve.
You will need:

  • As large a piece of salmon filet as you want to eat, cut in two equal sized pieces
  • Equal parts sugar and salt (kosher is nice but we don’t bother).  You can use 1/4 cup of each.
  • white or black peppercorns, ground.  for 1/4 cup sugar and salt, use 2 tablespoons of pepper.
  • a massive bunch of dill

Mix the sugar, salt, and pepper together.  Place half the fish, skin side down in a glass or enamel or non-reactive metal baking dish.  Sprinkle some of the sugar/salt mixture over it.

“Lucy, how much is ‘some’?”

I was afraid you’d ask me that.  It depends on the size of your fish.  Not so it is a thick white layer.  Just so much that there is a nice sprinkling.  About as much as the sugar/cinnamon mixture you sprinkled over the bullar, how’s that?  If you use the full 1/4 c of sugar/salt proportions, you won’t come close to finishing the mixture, unless you have a massive piece of fish.  Put most of the dill layered over the salmon.  Sprinkle more sugar/salt on the dill, about the same amount as before.  Put the other piece of salmon on top, skin side up.  It will look remarkably like this:

Gravad lax

Put saran wrap over it, or put it into a clean plastic bag.  Put the salmon in the fridge and weight it down with all those heavy condiment jars you keep in your fridge and can’t bear to throw away.  Now you know why they are there.  Or use a big can of tomatoes, or something heavy.

Every twelve hours or so, turn the salmon over, and then put back the weights.  You will find that a little juice collects in the bottom of the dish.  Great battles are fought in our family over whether you are supposed to pour off the juice, or whether you are supposed to leave it in.  I forget which one we do right now, but I’m sure we’re right.

When you’re ready to eat, remove the weight, lift off the first salmon piece, gentle remove any clinging dill and sugar/salt, and slice thinly.  Sprinkle with a little fresh dill and serve with mustard sauce.

Oh wait, you want the mustard sauce recipe too?  To be perfectly honest, the one they sell in a jar at IKEA is perfectly acceptable, but if you can’t make it to an IKEA, you can whisk together:

  • 4tbs mustard.  Not Dijon.  Not something grainy and German. The Swedish mustard from IKEA  would have been perfect, but if you could have bought that, you could have bought the dill sauce.  Oh well.  Next year.
  • 1 tbs. powdered mustard
  • 3 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs. white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • massive amounts of dill.  This is why you didn’t use it all in the salmon.

Let it sit in the fridge for a bit so the tastes all marry.  The whole thing should come out looking a bit like this:

Gravad lax and dill sauce

Happy Sankta Lucia

It used to be the shortest day of the year, before they changed the calendar. This year, at least in Chicago, it is just the coldest. So stay warm. And if you haven’t done so already, go make bullar and let the scent of cinnamon and cardamom fill your kitchen. While they’re baking, you can read Making Light, where there is an interesting post up about the traditions and songs associated with Sankta Lucia. I have never been able to find the version of the song we sing. My family sings one verse; my cousins sing quite a different verse, and neither has ever turned up in the magical world of google.

Could we be the last remnants of some impossibly old and forgotten folk tradition…?

Random Thoughts on Death and Men

Hearing of the death of Elizabeth Edwards yesterday reminded me of my favourite story from Melissa Banks’ first collection, The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, about the continuing adventures of Jane Rosenal. Melissa Banks is a much underappreciated and underestimated writer by the way (and yes, I know she is very popular, but she deserves much more attention than she already receives), in that way women who write about love are never taken seriously as authors.

Anyway, my favourite story is the second last one in the book, “You Could be Anyone.” It marks a shift in tone from the rest of collection, both because it is written in the second person, and because it tells the story of how Jane discovers she has breast cancer while she is dating not the right man. The relationship ends, and radiation treatments begin. Jane sees a therapist.

It was easier when the menace came from the outside, you tell a therapist; she nods, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Thursday after Thursday, you tell her about your relationship with him. You talk and talk, waiting for the cure. After a while, though, it occurs to you that even a perfect understanding of failed love is the booby prize.

NaNoWriMo Recap

Well, I didn’t “win,” in the sense that I didn’t write 50,000 words. I was doing very well, getting about 2,000 words a day, and was ahead of schedule but then, as I knew I would be, I was derailed by a visit from my mother, Thanksgiving, and, above all, a deadline on an article that was due on November 30th. But I did get 35,677 words, and I am thrilled with that.

So what did I learn? I learned that I can write academic prose and fiction in the same month, though not at the same time. It doesn’t matter if I have “free time” to write the other in while I am writing the first. If my headspace is occupied with one project, it can’t divide itself in two for another.

I have a good seven chapters begun on the new novel, and I feel like it is solid stuff. Many of the things I learned were things relearned from previous NaNos. Writing 2 000 words per day does not mean you have to sacrifice quality. It does mean your story will live in your head 24-7 and will generate connections and developments seemingly without your involvement. That is always fun. Characters will grow before your eyes.

I think I do my best writing under this regime. I think 2,000/day is too much for me to sustain for longer than a month, every day with no break. But I know that when i get in a rhythm of writing, say 1,000 a day, the work stays fresh.

I already can’t wait for next year.