Nothing says “home for the holidays” like headcheese…

A traditional Smörgåsbord favorite, Swedish Headcheese

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.

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It isn’t really Christmas without the pickled herring

Homemade Swedish Pickled Herring

Homemade Swedish Pickled Herring

People often take me for being either French or Italian, which I am, but they often don’t realize that I’m actually half Swedish as well. So Swedish that my maternal grandmother (Mormor to me) was born in Sweden and didn’t come to America until she was almost 8.

Having Scandinavian blood means that (if you’re lucky) you’ll spend Christmas Eve opening presents and enjoying a serious smorgasbord of goodies — from homemade headcheese and potato sausage to spritz butter cookies and rice pudding. If you’re not so lucky, there will also be lutefisk and pickled herring present.

I’m (kind of, sort of) kidding on the last one. Half of my family seems to love the pickled pieces of fish while the other half — myself included — glad pass over it for another slice of ham instead. The lutefisk seems to have an even smaller following — I think the taste for that ended with my grandparents. I certainly have never seen my mother try a piece.

But just like most edible family traditions, the older you get, the more curious you become at the process of making them. This is the first year that I was able to spend the weekend before Christmas with my grandparents, and I asked if my grandma would wait until I arrived to make the herring.

She happily agreed. Maybe she thought that if I helped to make it, I’d be more willing to eat it. (Just between us, that will never happen. Ever. Sorry Mormor!)

Regardless of whether I enjoy eating it, I did enjoy watching her prepare it.

The first thing to do is secure your herring. My grandma used to buy whole fish and would have to gut them and clean them herself. These days, around late November she makes calls to fishmongers looking for Icelandic herring fillets. This year she found a small fish shop that promised to have some for her the week before Christmas.

When I arrived, the fish had been soaking in cold water overnight — unrefrigerated, though in a cool place.

Herring Fillets

Herring Fillets

pickled herring goodness

Homemade Marshmallows & the Making of a Mug Topper

Mega MarshmallowI love marshmallows. Not so much on their own but I grew up eating a lot of s’mores and drinking a ton of hot cocoa, so every winter I start to crave their sticky, sugary sweetness. As an adult, I really appreciate a toasty mug of hot chocolate, spiked generously with Rumple Minze, topped with melty marshmallows. Last year, when this blog was just a baby, I decided to try making my own marshmallows with (shockingly) great success.

I was so impressed with myself that this year I thought I’d take it one step further.

Inspiration hit when I discovered these giant two-pound marshmallows online. (As an aside: I love Plush Puffs, their flavors are fun and — big bonus! — they actually taste good too. Not at all rubbery, just soft squishy marshmallow goodness.) Then, on the same site, I saw another item the company offers — mug toppers. They are slices of marshmallow that perfectly fit a cup of cocoa. Seriously brilliant!

I became a bit obsessed…

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Harvest Party: Winning at Wining & Dining in Autumn

Acorn Doughnut Hole Party Favors

It’s a known fact I love nothing more than to throw a party. Give me any reason whatsoever and I will come up with a theme, research recipes and try my hardest to make my house as adorable as possible. So when some of the favorite ladies in my life and I decided to plan a little drinking dinner party, I quickly volunteered to host. We decided on the seasonally appropriate theme of “Autumn Harvest” and decided to do it as a pot-luck style sit-down dinner.

I got into the spirit by decorating my house:

An autumn-inspired wreath helps corral the wine glasses

Autumn potpurri and hors d’oeuvre plates

And as always, a touch of class

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The Obsession Continues… Candy Corn Sugar Cookies

Candy Corn Dreams

Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve been trapped in my own private horror film, something along the lines of Children of the Candy Corn. While I am rather meh on eating them, the sugary little treats that epitomize fall have clearly infiltrated my brain this month. Over the last three weeks, I have painted a candy corn pumpkin and made candy corn krispie treats, and yet still my dreams have been flooded with the colors yellow, orange and white. So last week, in an effort to satisfy the demons, I made some adorable candy corn sugar cookies.

I couldn’t help it! I swear. I had to make them.

On the bright side, they really are adorable. I mean, really. Look at them.

Just don’t look at the wonky one in the back…I have no idea what happened there.

These cookies are the perfect treats to make when Halloween is around the corner. To counteract all the usual chocolate decadence, they are delicate and lemon-y. And, as a bonus, they are small enough that you can eat a couple without guilt.

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Rice Krispie Candy Corns…and my inability to resist Pinterest

What can I say? I am a slave to my desire to make adorable, autumn-inspired things. In the past few weeks I’ve painted a pumpkin to look like a candy corn and hand-crafted my own Halloween door hanger…and there’s no end in sight! I can’t help it, it’s a sickness.

My inspiration this month has clearly been brought by the colors yellow, orange and white!

So when I spotted these cute Rice Krispie treats, dyed and shaped to look like candy corn, I knew that I would have to make them sometime soon. And that sometime turned out to be last Sunday.

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