Spring is here. Maybe.
Spring in Siberia With a View is a tentative season: it shows itself, lures you into a false sense of security, then slips away, allowing for another blast (or two, or three) of winter. I believe a higher power is at work here, his/her/its actions designed to inspire hopelessness. What good is being a high power if you can’t enjoy some cruel fun now and then?
So, spring is a test. I, and others who cart a good share of Nordic genes, are prone to dark moods encouraged by winter conditions. Spring of the type we experience in Siberia With a View, then, adds to an irritating storyline, one developed by that malevolent, cosmic puppeteer to push us to our limits.
A burst of sunny skies and warm weather causes us to (at this point, metaphorically) hurl open the doors of our cramped, stinky, and smoke-filled sod and log lodges, and tramp outside to greet the sun, there to shed garments that have gone unwashed for five dark months, and find a spot in the fjord that, now nearly free of ice, promises a frigid bath.
We are invigorated by the blessing of spring, shaken from our despair, made ready to sail off and raid monasteries, brutalize monks, shred illuminated manuscripts, start fires, etc. So, when spring teases us, and retreats, our reactions are not pretty.
In times gone by, fooled by a false spring, we could engage in an ax battle with cousins (who cares about family ties after you’ve been cooped up together for months on end, listening again and again to the story about the day Sven, the berserker, stripped down, painted himself blue, and took on the entire Irish army). Now, despite a powerful urge, we cannot take to the cul de sac for an old-fashioned brawl, winner take all.
One obstacle to our natural urge: the law. Police invariably spoil a therapeutic donnybrook. Those damned tasers make life difficult.
Second obstacle: the sorry fact that most of the folks that a Neo-Nord’s genetic imperative compels him or her to pummel are dinks, sheltered these days by trigger warnings, safe havens, do-gooders, and the court system. Muling dinks, to be precise. Muling dinks, placed at a distance, safe from the thumpings they so richly deserve.
We live in the Age of the Dink, sunk neck deep in a milieu in which sniveling little goofs propel themselves and their delicate ideas into the public realm, and remain beyond arm’s length from anyone they irritate. Ah, the gauzy, safe glory afforded by politically correct Internet trolls, university administrators, and the smart phone.
Dinks abound, and, come false spring, their capacity to inspire violence is at a peak. They are like Aunt Gladys’ Peekapoo, Randy, who becomes enamored of your shin during dinner. Randy has his own bowl of food, set on the floor at the end of the room; he could, and should, tend to his own business. But, no, Randy flails away on you, beneath the table, out of reach, beyond reproach, intent on ruining your new pair of khakis.
The feebs most in need of a false spring thumping, and least likely to get one, are like dogs barking in the distance at night: never close enough to shoot, always far enough away to avoid detection and the delivery of well-lobbed antifreeze meatballs. And yet, that damned barking: it keeps you awake at night, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The dogs bark, you go nuts.
It’s a shame that, when spring tickles the Nord fancy, then laughingly sprints away for a few weeks, dark urges can’t be exorcised in a public setting, with little or no legal consequence attached to the outcome of a fray.
I have a plan: here in Siberia With a View, we can rope off the junior high school athletic field across from Town Park, and use it for the False Spring Knockabout. Anything short of death that occurs inside the designated area will be allowed. Murder will be a misdemeanor offense, if the act occurs in that space, punishable by a small fine levied on the killer and, if need be, accompanied by his or her house arrest, complete with ankle monitor to ensure the safety of the kin of the victim until real spring arrives and danger passes. No weapons allowed inside the perimeter during the Knockabout; this is a place for hand-to-hand fun.
I will form a Nordic team. Members of the team – ax men and shield maidens alike — will be ready to engage in mayhem, should weather conditions merit the effort.
Just as I reached a nadir last week, awakening to see snow flakes in the air a day after I sat on the deck, confidently sipping wine and listening to the birdies, spring returned, in the nick of time. The weather has remained springlike for several days, pleasant enough to quell my anger.
Pleasant enough, that the inane pets barking in the distance affect me less; pleasant enough, that I again think it might be time to shed my putrid garments and head for the fjord to wash away winter’s sleaze and yeasts.
My urge moves me from thoughts of an ice bath to the notion of firing up the grill, and cooking outdoors. It’s a sad substitute for thumping a simpering weenie, but it’ll have to do.
I admit it: I am lazy, and therefore my grill involves the miracle of propane. No charcoal for me: too labor-intensive, too messy. And, with my perilously short attention span, I might be distracted by something bright and shiny. Next thing you know, the deck is in flames. Can’t have that, I need to build equity; I have no insurance.
I’ll take the propane tank to the store, and have it refilled. If I remember to turn the burners off after I cook, I should have enough propane for a couple weeks of grill work.
I take the grill racks out and clean them. I wire-brush the rust off the burners. I remove the bird nest from the body of the grill, and I am ready to go.
The fare? Who cares, as long as it is heavy-duty protein. After all, I am leaving the sod lodge after a long winter. Spring requires dense nutritional input to combat the sloth born of the season past, when mayhem is not allowed to do the trick.
What I’ll do, once a choice of protein is made, and a few veggies are readied for the rack, is indulge one last affair with the oven. Yep, one final indoor baking spree. The time is nearly here that firing up the oven in the kitchen will produce an uninhabitable environment, something akin to a Mumbai laundry at noon, on the warmest summer day on record.
I can get away with oven work in late March, use the oven to do two things: first, produce a side suitable to accompany whatever flesh sizzles over the propane-fed flames and, two, pay homage to the Swedes who, for millennia, have fallen victim in the trap of false spring.
I’ll make Jannson’s Temptation. It’ll go with anything I take off the grill: it involves a wad of carbs, cream and butter, and it’s got mysterious saltiness. It is a food group unto itself. In the spirit of a yearly rebirth, I’ll make a nouveau version.
Fingerling potatoes are still the rage among foodies, and will be perfect for a variation of Jansson’s Temptation that uses these ordinary, but extraordinarily expensive, tubers.
The ingredients are few: fingerling potatoes (about 1 ½ to 2 pounds for a four-serving batch), a tin of anchovy fillets, a white onion, a few cloves of garlic, a stick of unsalted butter, a cup and a bit more of heavy cream, a quarter cup of whole milk, Kosher salt, and fresh-ground black pepper (you could substitute white pepper if you’re a hyperfoodie but, beware, this makes you a dink).
Wash, then parboil the spuds until just fork tender. Drain and cool.
Thinly slice the onion, and cook the onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft. Remove from heat. Peel and bruise the cloves of garlic and put them in a heavy saucepan with the cream and milk. Bring the mix to a slow boil, take off the heat. Garlic is not a common ingredient in this dish, nor in most traditional Swedish recipes, but who doesn’t love garlic? It thins the blood following five months in hibernation.
Drain the anchovy fillets, and reserve the oil. Chop the fillets or leave them whole. It is an aesthetic decision.
Preheat the oven to 400, and put a rack in the middle position.
Butter a baking dish, liberally, preferably a reasonably deep gratin pan. Slice the fingerlings in half, lengthwise. Put down a single layer of slightly overlapping spuds in the pan, and top with a layer of onion, and half the anchovy fillets. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the garlic from the cream, and moisten the first layer of goodies in the pan with cream. Dot with butter. Repeat. Top with a layer of potatoes only, dot with butter. Pour approximately half the remaining cream over the top. Drizzle on a couple tablespoons of the reserved fish oil. Dot with butter.
Pop into the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Add the remaining cream, put back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes or so, until the potatoes are soft, the cream is clotty wonderful, and the top is crusty brown.
Invite a whiny dweeb or two over for dinner.
Eat with an ax set next to the plate.
It’s spring, isn’t it?