A traditional Smörgåsbord favorite — homemade headcheese served with red wine vinegar and pickles
My mother’s side of the family has many of traditions that seem to crop up around the holidays. There are the usual ones that almost every family has in common — baking cookies, picking up the freshly cut tree and sticking an orange at the toe of each stocking.
We also have a few slightly more unique ones, such as presents that aren’t as they appear. At our house, if you get a package that feels strangely light, the chances are high that you’ll be sent on a treasure hunt of some kind before you can claim your gift. We take pride in coming up with new ways to out-clever each other, but my grandmother is the reining champ.
She has made me decipher full letters written in Swedish, with only a dictionary to help guide me through the clues. She has folded up money into tiny pieces and stuffed it into dried pasta noodles. I once had to pop a dozen balloons to get a gift certificate out. She’s a devious mastermind when it comes to giving gifts.
She is also the main provider of our more…well, unconventional traditions, which are of the edible variety and stem from my grandparents being full-blooded Swedes. There’s the (recently posted about) homemade pickled herring, the hand-stuffed potato sausage and the headcheese that I avoided like the plague until I was in my twenties and discovered how it good it actually is.
How can something so potentially evil look so innocent?
A couple of weeks ago, I pulled up my sunchoke plant and was greeted with a lovely harvest of the knobby root vegetables. Even though I had been looking forward to that moment all summer, suddenly I felt bewildered. What should I do with them? I haven’t cooked sunchokes in years. So I turned to Google.
Which dropped me down a rabbit hole I had not at all expected — an online journey featuring flatulence and intestinal distress. What I discovered was something I had thankfully been totally unaware of all my sunchoke-eating life. Apparently about 50 percent of people have painful digestive issues fueled by sunchokes — to the point that some of the comments on the recipes I was researching made me cringe. Commenters on some sites cried out that every recipe should come with a written warning that these unassuming tubers could wreck severe havoc on unsuspecting eaters. I was floored.
Some people were so intense that even though I was 99 percent confident in my ability to enjoy sunchokes with no ill effects, I actually became a bit anxious. What if all the times I had eaten them were flukes? What if this time I was part of the wrong half of the population? How would I survive an 8-hour day in a small office with that type of reaction? Finally I set my nerves aside, picked up my knife and got cooking.
A few weeks ago my friend Oliver and I decided to make dinner together and watch some Battlestar Galactica, our latest TV obsession. Since it was a weekend, we decided to be a bit more adventurous with our meal and as we were tossing some ideas around, inspiration suddenly hit. I had recently read a post on one of my new favorite blogs “Dinner for Winners” that involved grilled calzones. Which sounds pretty damn perfect to both of us.
Things started off innocently enough. We had a good spread of fillings: pesto, marinara, chicken, tomatoes, goat cheese, salami, mozzarella and caramelized onions. We had some dough, charcoal and a pizza stone.
I got the coals going, set the stone on the grill and then we got to work.