My son, Blake, can’t stop snickering at the can of fishballs resting on Dad’s kitchen countertop and starts snapping pictures with his phone. I watch him select several friends to share his pictures with and wonder if this may become some sort of viral meme. This is comedy gold for most 11-year-olds; I don’t have the heart to reveal to him that fishballs (fiskeboller) is not a loose translation for fish gonads. Fiskeboller are fish dumplings; a combination of white fish (cod, haddock, or pollock), flour and milk. This is a popular dish in the Nordic countries. Some people prefer to make their own and others appreciate the convenient canned version. Yes, Scandinavians use canned and packaged food items too. Like most of Europe, their packaged items have much stricter quality standards, so you won’t be finding any sketchy dyes or unnatural preservatives, just some funny names like fishballs, instead.
Blake still thinks that the dinner menu is a joke and I wish the same ─ I do not like fiskeboller ─ “not in a box with a fox,” or in a can from a man…with a plan. (Damn it! He planned this). Reality sets in for both us as Dad cranks open the tin can. I watch his mustache begin to bend up at the corners. Somewhere under that white curtain of whiskers, a grin is tiptoeing out of its hiding place. Dad fights to keep the corners of his mouth horizontal as he dumps the fishballs into the silver pot, but the tension gives and the small grin bursts in to a wide smile, connecting both of his earlobes. I sort of hate him right now.
Ghosts of Dinners Past summon pinched-faced childhood memories of mighty power struggles between me and the dreaded fishballs. I can’t remember if it was the taste, smell, or maybe just the name…the memories twist my face from calm indifference, to disdain, and finally, disgust. I shoot Blake a look that says, “take a pic and I will make that phone part of the menu.” He studies me, trying to predict my next move; will I bolt, or will I bite.
I want to bolt ─ run like hell and not look back. What I would give for a “work emergency” or a sudden attack of diarrhea, neither are options. I had already spent the last two months preaching the virtues of having an “open-mind,” “trying new things,” “blah-blah-blah,” to my kids when we decided to take on this whole culinary project and “getting back to our roots” thing (monster). I forgot about all the fishy dishes circling those roots.
Like many, I am lifetime card member of the Hypocrite Club; my points doubled with parenthood. Unfortunately, I had maxed-out my limit with all the previous preaching and now it was time to pay. I was going to have to take a bite. My dad is a clever man. Well played old man, well played…
1 can, approximately 20 oz., fiskeboller (fish dumplings)
1 packet of Karrisaus (curry sauce)
*add cardamom and pepper to taste
4 medium-large potatoes, peeled and halved
½ (approx. .5lb) bag of bag baby carrots
Step 1: Make the packet of the karrisaus according to the directions. Google translator will help tons. My dad is not to be trusted at this point, since he will probably say something about adding more fishballs. If in a bind, mix the sauce with approximately half a liter of “liquid,” a tad more than a quart. The liquid should be a mixture of half milk and half water.
Step 2: Let sauce come to a boil and simmer on low (start looking for exits).
Step 3: Add the fiskeboller and continue to simmer for 5-10 minutes. Refuse taste-test if offered on principle of being tricked; offer it to the next generation (child) instead.
Step 4: Boil, then cover and simmer the vegetables in separate pots until tender, approximately 20-25 minutes.
Step 5: Drain the vegetables.
Step 6: Plate the meal with carrots, potatoes, and fiskeboller with karrisaus on top of potatoes. Grab lots of condiments from fridge, just in case. I am a firm believe that ketchup and mustard can work miracles when Jesus and Karma are in cahoots.
Step 7: Take a bite and pray for mercy, maybe an angel will swoop in for the one of the corners of the ceiling and grab the plate.
Step 8: Be pleasantly surprised that the texture or the fishballs are more dumpling-like than remembered and do not have an overly fishy taste. The cardamom and black pepper Dad sprinkled in the karrisaus make this meal “next level.”
Step 9: Look at son with an air of superiority since he chickened-out and insisted on cheese pizza.
Step 10: While chewing, contemplate if Dad loves Blake more, since there were no “other options” when I was little. Come to realization that Blake clearly doesn’t know what he is missing.