If you can imagine where I live — miles from the nearest neighbor, with warm and inviting lights glowing from the lodge across the lake, the landscape blanketed deep in snow and quietude — and then peek into one of the windows of the “wellness room” where we normally play New Age music and practice yoga, you’ll find five or six men (and two women) lined up in teak rocking chairs brought in from the front deck, all in their Carhartt suits and winter boots, peering at an eighteen-inch television screen, cheering and rocking back and forth on Super Bowl Sunday.
We have a precarious satellite system at the lodge, and often, with snow, wind and other obstructions, the signal will be lost for a few minutes. Then, the rocking chair choir will all shout a long “Oh” in unison and chatter away to each other until the screen comes back up. Super Bowl is a lively tradition, even all way out here.
You might think it odd to put a television in the wellness room, normally a big open contemplative space with an Oriental carpet, a small massage room off to the side, and a hot tub out the deck. The TV usually sits hidden behind a wicker trunk holding yoga mats, brought out only occasionally to watch Iditarod videos with guests in the summertime. It just happened to be where the satellite cable reached, so I live with the annual mood-shift of my normally peaceful and quiet room.
Like any other host during The Big Game, I look for appetizing snacks to offer an enthusiastic crowd. Some Super Bowl favorites have been black bean chili and cornbread, moose-meat sliders, pizza, pizza, and more pizza. Everyone likes different styles of this so we end up making a wide variety of individual pizzas. Carl prefers Canadian bacon and pineapple. I like pissaladiere, a French dish loaded with soft sautéed onions, garlic, anchovies, and olives. Neil, our Anchorage expeditor who has been at the lodge for the past month helping to build a new cabin, likes meat-layered protein bombs. Whatever the pizza of choice, we’ll make an attempt to offer it on Sunday.
Another tradition for our Big Game party is to prepare our smoked salmon tacos. The filling for this dish has been in our family for a long time now. It is basically hot-smoked salmon, sour cream, lemon juice, cardamom, and black pepper, all flaked up together. I prefer to add in as little sour cream as possible to make a moist spread. Others put in much more to make the spread thick and creamy.
Pickled red onion is a staple in our kitchen. We use it to dress up countless dishes. It is simple to make and keeps practically forever. Its addition adds a bright spot of color in the depth of winter. I make pickled onions with apple cider vinegar. It’s more acidic than red wine vinegar and I like that extra sharpness.
When it’s over, we’ll tuck away the television and move back the rocking chairs. We’ll be a little tired of pizza and tacos for a while. And, when our guests arrive later in the week, the wellness room will be playing soft and soothing New Age sounds without any remnants of a football party in sight.
- 1 pound kippered (hot-smoked) salmon
- ¾ cup sour cream
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 lemon
- 2 large red onions
- 1-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- Chop half of the kippered salmon in the bowl of a food processor. Add the sour cream, cardamom, and pepper. Grate the zest of lemon into the salmon mixture as well. Process the salmon mixture until it is pureed. Transfer the puree to a large bowl. Coarsely chop the remaining salmon and add it to the puree. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate until serving time. (Other flavorings, such as fresh chopped basil, cayenne pepper or sun-dried tomatoes, can be substituted for the cardamom.)
- Peel the onions and cut off the bottom and tops. Cut the red onion in half lengthwise, and then slice the halves into ⅛-inch-thick slices. Place the onions either in a glass bowl or canning jar. Heat the vinegar and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the hot liquid over the onion. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for up to a month.