Christmas in Seattle, and Remembering Mom

I'm just now getting settled back in at home after a nice Christmas visit up north with my sister, Jen, her fantastic husband, Greg and their family, who, I'm happy to report, are just as crazy as my family is. Man, what a relief!

I'll be honest, I wasn't looking forward to Christmas this year. Many of you know we recently lost my mother to cancer and this was our first holiday season without her. I was dreading Thanksgiving - how in the world could we have it without her? She always made a perfect turkey. She knit-picked over every little detail. I could always count on her leaving the nuts off of half her pumpkin pie cake because she knows I have textural issues ...

Dad and I had planned to spend Christmas in Seattle not long after we lost Mom but as the time grew closer and I sat staring at the empty suitcase on my bed, I wasn't sure I could handle being around anyone without falling apart (hence my escape to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving). My Mom loved Christmas. She decorated. She baked. She cooked. And we all benefited from it. For me, it was watching how much enjoyment she got out of this time of the year. More than anything, Mom loved having her family around her so I bucked up and started looking for closed-toe shoes and warm socks (per Jen's instructions).

If anyone dreads packing as much as I do, give me a call and I'll let you borrow Giada, my Italian Greyhound little puppy girl. You put one article of clothing in the suitcase and she drags out and runs off with two. She's a good little helper.

Jen and Greg are your average, every-day urban farmers. They live in Seattle proper, so they're definitely city dwellers, but you wouldn't know it hanging out with them. When they're not growing and canning their own produce, they're making homemade root beer and raising their own chickens and turkeys. I was worried I'd be sitting around being mopey (okay, that did happen once) but quickly got caught up in all the creative going's on. I happily documented while Greg and Jen made root beer for Greg's dad and brother for Christmas.

I really enjoyed the time I spent with Jen and Greg cooking, baking and of course, drinking! I think we all had a good time sharing some new culinary experiences with each other. Being with Jen in the kitchen felt like being back with Mom in her kitchen :).

We spent Christmas Eve over at Rollie and Yvonne Martin's house (that's Greg's folks) which is situated on a bluff that overlooks Puget Sound in West Seattle. It was wet and cold and wonderful.

I'd really been looking forward to this. Greg's parents are of Norweigian decent and enjoy the traditional foods of their homeland, especially during the holidays. Greg had told me about a pretty "interesting" preserved fish dish called "Lutefisk". It's my understanding the Martin family embraces pretty much all foods Scandinavian EXCEPT for lutefisk.

Lutefisk is a traditional dish of Nordic countries. It's basically a preserved white fish that's been reconstituted. That couldn't be all that bad, right? I mean, salt cod is fantastic. How bad could this stuff be? Well, it can be bad, from what I've heard. The fish is air and-or salt-dried and can sometimes also be treated with lye. Yes. Lye. It's name literally means "lye fish". It can smell pretty pungent and when reconstituted has a gelatinous texture that some might find unappealing.

You'll recall I mentioned I have issues with some textures, but I really wanted to try this!

"What are the chances your mom will make us some lutefisk?" I asked my up-until-now accommodating and agreeable brother-in-law.

"No way. No chance in hell. ABSOLUTELY NOT!" he was quick to answer.

Well you know that only made me want it more.

And somehow - maybe it was magic elves or Andy Zimmern from "Bizarre Foods", I don't know - Yvonne surprised us all when she pulled out a little dish of lutefisk from the oven as we sat down for Christmas Eve dinner! I was absolutely delighted! I was also absolutely nervous. Here she'd gone to all of this trouble. What if I hated it? Couldn't get it down?

She recommended the lutefisk be eaten with boiled potatoes and a little dollop of lingonberries or cranberries. I was on the spot now. I couldn't back out - I'd made such a big deal about it! Everyone eyeballed me, willing me to get it over with already so they could dig into the really yummy food: Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots ...

So I took a bite and found it to be ... not bad. Not bad at all. The flavor was mild and the potatoes helped with the jelly-like consistency of the fish, but I got it down no problem. Everyone cheered and passed the Swedish meatballs, which were fabulous and the star attraction at dinner.

It was a fantastic evening and as we sat around the dinner table chatting and drinking coffee, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmingly appreciative of a little tiny thing like Yvonne sharing her heritage with me. She probably has no idea what that meant to me, but she made missing my mom a bit more bearable that evening and I love her for it.

Thanks, Rollie and Yvonne and Jen and Greg for sharing your Christmas with me and Dad. I know Mom would have approved.