Columns

Sizzling Sisters Sausage Sunday (Go Pig or Go Home)

If you don’t want to know how the sausage gets made, you should stop reading now. Seriously. Recently my sisters-in-law and I had our annual Sizzling Sisters Sausage Sunday.

Forty pounds of pork butt, 6 pounds of ground beef, 5 pounds of pork fat, 6 pounds of potatoes, 6 pounds of onion, assorted spices, a secret ingredient, a fair amount of wine (for us, not the sausage) and many inappropriate jokes later, we have sausage. Lots and lots of sausage.

Each year my sister-in-law Camille Jordalen and her Norwegian husband, Kjell, host our family Christmas Eve gathering, which I call “The Festival of Strange Norwegian Meat.”

While steamed Brussels sprouts, boiled potatoes and my favorite, mashed rutabaga, make an appearance, the real star of the annual feast is meat – specifically pork with a side of lamb.

I’ve never been able to embrace the salty tang of pinnekjøtt (cured lamb ribs) but I look forward to ribbe (pork ribs with a thick layer of fat), Swedish meatballs, Swedish potato sausage and two Scandinavian sausages – medisterpølse and medisterkaker.

I’m not exactly sure how the Swedes got involved in our Norwegian meal, but I suspect my mother-in-law and her Swedish heritage had something to do with it.

For several years we bought the potato sausage from Egger’s, but then my sister-in-law, Susie Hval, got a meat grinder. She wanted to try her hand at making homemade bratwurst, and once she conquered that, she was ready for a new challenge.

“Why don’t we make our own medisterpolse and potato sausage?” she asked.

And thus a tradition was born.

Camille makes the medisterkaker on her own because that sausage is formed into patties and fried. The other two are link sausages, which is where the teamwork, fun, and double entendres come in. We’ve given birth to 11 sons between the three of us. Trust me when I say there isn’t a sausage joke we haven’t made or heard. This is also probably why our spouses vacate the house when Sizzling Sisters Sausage Sunday commences.

I suspect watching their wives grind 40 pounds of pork butt and squeeze it into slippery sausage casing makes them a bit squeamish. By the way, those casings are made from pig intestines. Go pig or go home, that’s what we always say.

With our aprons on and hair pulled back in messy buns, we get down to business Pioneer Woman style.

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Pork and pork fat is sliced and diced and fed into the grinder. Onions and potatoes are added for the potato sausage.

“This always reminds me of the Play-Doh barber shop,” Susie said.

She’s right. The meat coming out of the grinder looks just like the hair coming out of the figures’ heads in the Play-Doh Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop of our childhoods.

After two rounds of grinding, we’re ready to squeeze the meat into the casings. The casing is slid on to an attachment on the grinder. It’s a delicate operation because if the sister who is pushing the meat through pushes too fast, sausages can rupture.

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Once we have a long rope, we’re ready make links. This involves a process I call “swinging the sausage” which is Susie’s specialty. Much like jumping rope when we were kids, she swings the sausage till the ends are tight and ready to tie.

Tying the slippery ends is challenging, especially when your hands are coated with pig fat, but we manage to get it done. Actually, Susie manages to get it done. Camille tried tying, but struggled, and I’m a disaster at balloon-tying, so I don’t even attempt it.

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For the potato sausage, the casings are pricked with little holes, so they don’t explode upon cooking. This is my job.

While we work we catch up on life and family – that is when we aren’t talking to ourselves. We’ve discovered that each of us tends to keep a running commentary when we’re concentrating, much like we’re the hosts of our own cooking shows. This works great when working alone, but it does get a bit confusing when cooking with others.

Seven hours flew by and at the end of the day we had freezer bags full of sausage, ready to be browned and served on Christmas Eve.

We sampled the sausage and agreed that each year it tastes better. And that secret ingredient? It really isn’t much of a secret – it’s love with a hefty dash of laughter.

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Columns

Montana, Milestones and Wascally Wabbits

When several Facebook friends posted about their fabulous experiences at Quinn’s Hot Springs in Montana, I knew I’d found the destination for our anniversary getaway. Especially since a hot springs visit meant I could actually wear the swimsuit I’d purchased last year to wear on Hawaiian beaches. The suit that arrived shortly after our plane took off for Oahu.

I booked the “Cabin Fever” special for two nights, and on March 21, our 31st anniversary, we hit the road. Less than three hours later we were greeted by a friendly front desk clerk.

Our room keys were attached to tiny flashlights.

“Press once to turn on the flashlight,” the clerk explained. “Press twice to scare away any bears. Press three times to attract a bear. Nobody’s survived pressing it four times.”

You have to love a Montana welcome – and Montana scenery. The resort, located on the Clark Fork River in the Lolo National Forest, is tucked in a hollow and surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

We briefly explored the grounds, checked out the hot springs temps (106 degrees in the warmest pool!) and headed to the historic Harwood House for dinner.

Built in 1948, the log restaurant features the original fireplace and offers a menu comparable to any big city fine dining establishment.

After we let our prime rib dinner settle, we donned our suits and robes and headed out for a late-night soak.

It took a certain amount of bravery to take off my robe when the outside temperature hovered at 50 degrees and a light misty rain was falling, but by golly, I had my Miracle Suit on, so off went the robe and in went Cindy.

The glorious heat of 100-degree mineral waters quickly quelled my shivers. Though there are six pools for soaking and swimming, we braved only the three warmest pools that first night. The faint smell of sulfur proved a small price to pay for the delicious luxury of sinking chilled shoulders into warm water that left our skin feeling silky soft.

The steam from the pools wafted upward into the moonlit sky, adding an otherworldly air to our scenic vista.

In the morning, after a hearty breakfast, we hiked along the banks of the Clark Fork. So far we hadn’t seen any wildlife other than the elk head in the dining room and the moose head in the lodge.

A flicker of movement caught Derek’s eye.

“Look!” he said. “It’s Peter Cottontail!”

Indeed, just a few yards away, a rabbit sat munching on something he’d found in the tall grass.

“Oh, he’s so cute!” I exclaimed. “I want to pet him! Can we keep him?”

“If you can catch him, you can keep him,” Derek said.

Now, regular readers know my husband has issued an edict that we are a two-cat household. No matter how many sons move out, I’ve been forbidden to continue replacing them with kittens. It’s the price I pay to stay married to a pretty great guy, but with son No. 3 exiting the nest at the end of the month, my nurturing instincts are in overdrive.

So, imagine my joy – my exultation, when I was this close to getting a pet bunny. THIS CLOSE!

Unfortunately, my rabbit-stalking skills leave much to be desired.

I figured a direct approach was out, so I carefully inched sideways across the grass, avoiding eye contact at all costs.

“Um. What are you doing?” Derek asked.

“Shh! I’m catching a rabbit,” I hissed.

But his question distracted me, causing me to look up and meet the wary black eyes of my prey. In a flash, he bounded off.

“You did that on purpose!” I said.

Shoulders shaking with laughter, Derek said, “I have never, ever seen anyone hunt a rabbit like that!”

My annoyance dissipated a short while later, as I sipped a fizzy, fruity drink while lounging in the pool. It wasn’t a mai tai, but when the sun came out, I closed my eyes and soaked in the rays and the mineral water and didn’t miss Hawaii a bit.

Then Derek decided to visit the polar plunge pool.

Lots of bad ideas begin with the words, “Hold my beer,” but I didn’t try to dissuade him. Gamely, he swung his legs over the edge and into the 55-degree water of the cold pool, lowering his body into the chill.

Boy! I haven’t seen my husband move that quickly in a long time. He was back in the soaking pool before I had time to sample his beverage.

“I think my heart just stopped!” he said.

Later, on our way to dinner, we decided to visit the casino inside Quinn’s Tavern. Apparently, in Montana a few gaming machines make a casino.

We’re not much for gambling, but Derek recently took a trip to Laughlin, Nevada, with a buddy and wanted to show me his newfound knowledge.

I picked a slot machine and slid in $2, while he explained about lines and bets and a lot of other stuff I didn’t pay attention to. When our $2 had more than doubled, I was ready to take our $8 winnings and head to the restaurant.

“No,” he said. “We gotta keep playing. This machine is hot!”

I let him take over pushing the buttons and watched the $8 dwindle down to $1, and then the tide began to turn. In ten minutes, with our winnings at $101.52, we decided to take the money and run.

The next morning, flush with victory and hot springs water, we returned to Spokane.

Our sons were eager to hear about our adventures and wanted to know what we meant by “sulfur smell.”

“It smells like the fart bombs Santa used to put in your Christmas stockings,” Derek explained. “Next time you guys should come with us!”

They smiled and quickly left the room.

It’s a pity, because I feel like with their help, next time I could actually catch a bunny.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval