Columns

Go home chicken, you’re drunk

Tears poured from my eyes as I thumbed through the pages. My sides ached with laughter. I snorted. I guffawed. I giggled.

Who would think a cookbook could provoke such hilarity?

Just when I caught my breath, I spotted a recipe for Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky, and I howled again.

But first a little background. My mother collected recipes like there might not ever be another Dorothy Dean column or Campbell’s soup cookbook. She clipped them from newspapers, magazines, flour bags and shortening cans. She filed them in index card boxes and three-ring binders. Cookbooks lined a shelf in her kitchen and filled drawers in her buffet. Even after my dad died and she didn’t have anyone to cook for, she kept on clipping.

Her cookies were legendary. For years, she supplied my boys with enough baked goods to feed a small platoon. Her dessert plates were the first to be emptied at every church potluck.

In recent years, she tried to downsize. I’m not sure which sibling ended up with her battered copy of Irma Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking,” but she gave me my grandmother’s vintage “Good Housekeeping Cookbook” and her own copy of “Better Homes and Garden Cookbook,” which I still haul out every time I bake apple pies.

My recipe box is filled with her handwritten recipe cards.

When she moved into a retirement home, the cookbooks and clipping collection had to go. I didn’t have time to sort through her recipe-filled envelopes, but somehow I snagged a cookbook and brought it home before her house sold.

With the holidays approaching, I finally sat down to go through it. The 270-page cookbook has no cover, no back and no title. I have no idea who produced it. I think I grabbed it because it features Mom’s handwritten commentary. Some recipes had checkmarks or stars. Some said “try,” and others had “good!” written next to them.

The source of my amusement came from the many, many recipes that called for some kind of booze.

Mom is such a stringent teetotaler that she’s never even purchased cooking wine or sherry. She certainly never had the ingredients for Drunk Chicken, or Bourbon-Pecan cake, or New Bacardi Chocolate Rum cake. And even if she had the ingredients for Beer and Sauerkraut Fudge Cake, I can’t imagine that she’d inflict that on anyone.

It’s wasn’t only the alcohol-laden recipes that gave me giggles, just the names of some of the recipes induced mirth.

Creeping Crust Cobbler anyone? How about some Liver Surprise? (Spoiler alert, the surprise is cinnamon, or maybe it’s the applesauce.) Beef Birds with Olive Gravy gave me pause, but Carrot Loaf- a Meat Substitute made me queasy for hours. The recipe calls for rice, carrots, eggs, milk and peanut butter!

Not every recipe proved as stomach-churning. Amazed, I discovered the original source for Mom’s Five-Hour Stew, her Busy Day Chicken and Rice, and the zucchini fritter recipe I’d assumed was my grandmother’s. The titleless cookbook is proving to be a treasure.

My husband enjoys my culinary escapades, but he was a bit bewildered last week when he called and asked about our dinner plans.

“I thought about making Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky,” I said.”But catching a pheasant and getting it drunk, seemed like a lot of work. And how can you tell if a pheasant’s spunky?”

“Uh…” Derek murmured.

“Nevermind,” I continued. “We had some poultry in the freezer, but you’d better come home soon.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because the chicken’s already drunk,” I replied.

Unlike my mother, I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the recipe.

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.

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