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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

Christmas Traditions Grow Along With Kids

10363967_808050315900264_1669020257946437512_n[1]When Tevye and the cast belt out “Tradition” in “Fiddler on the Roof,’ they’re singing my song.

I, especially, love the ritual, familiarity and comfort of holiday traditions. For me, it begins on the day after Thanksgiving. While many folks shop til they drop on Black Friday, I decorate til I drop.

My sons unearth the red and green plastic tubs bulging with garlands, angels, Santas and candles, and lug them to the living room. Then I pop a Christmas CD in the stereo and spend the day awash in memories of Christmas past.

Each item from the Play-Doh nativity set, to the Homer Simpson Santa Claus, to the chipped and scratched snowman dishes has a story.

This year I’m making room for new stories by learning to hold less tightly to treasured traditions.

Actually, the process began a couple of years ago with the Christmas tree. Since our boys were tiny, Derek has taken them to Green Bluff to cut down a tree. But our sons are now 21, 19, 17 and 12. Finding a time when everyone has the day off from work to make the trek to the tree farm became impossible.

Derek eyed fake trees, but the younger boys and I rebelled. We reached a compromise: a freshly cut tree from a local tree lot. We also gave up trying to find a night that everyone would be around to trim the tree. I don’t feel too bad about that. Six people, two cats and one tree can create a lot of Christmas chaos.

Other changes have been more difficult to embrace. For 26 years I’ve celebrated a traditional Norwegian Christmas Eve with my in-laws. The feast is a smorgasbord of Norwegian foods and delicacies, but the real flavor comes from the gathering of extended family.

My father-in-law loved Christmas Eve. He was in his element at the head of the table with his wife by his side, surrounded by his four children, their spouses, and his 14 grandchildren. His booming laugh and warm bear hugs made everyone smile.

This was our first Christmas since his death. Instead of ignoring the empty space his absence has left, family members shared their favorite Papa memories. And in the light that shone from his grandchildren’s eyes – in the echoes of their laughter – Papa’s presence was felt once again.

When we got home, no one mentioned leaving cookies out for Santa. That’s OK, Santa’s trying to slim down. Besides, I’m pretty sure our kitty, Thor, would eat them before Santa got a chance.

Christmas morning is different now, too. Santa still leaves filled stockings outside each boys’ bedroom door, but our oldest has to drive over from his apartment to get his.

In years past, four little boys would clamber on our bed at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning and dump their stocking bounty out for us to see.

I don’t miss the crack of dawn part.

And Sam, 12, informed me last year, “You know we all open our stockings while you’re sleeping and then stuff everything back in and take them to your room. You do know that, don’t you?”

Yes, I know that, because my sister and I did the same thing when we were kids.

The six of us still gather around the tree and read the Christmas story from the Bible before the unwrapping begins, but now there’s less unwrapping. I’ve discovered the older the kids – the smaller the presents. Unfortunately, smaller tends to equal more expensive.

Even so, I don’t really miss hundreds of Legos strewn across the floor, or tiny GI Joe guns getting sucked up the vacuum cleaner.

Clinging to traditions no longer current, is like trying to squeeze a squirming toddler into last year’s snowsuit. It won’t fit and someone will end up in tears.

This new year, I’m going to hold on to traditions that fit our family and let go of the ones we’ve outgrown. I don’t want to cling so tightly to the past that my hands are too full to embrace the present.

This column first ran December 29, 2011