Friday, December 20, 2013

Janssen's Temptation

In terms of jazz content, the following story has to be the most oblique rambling I’ve submitted to you thus far. It would be like writing about the Oscar Meyer hotdog factory in your baseball blog. Your ears would have to stick out as far as Bix’s to find the jazz herein. That being said, this is a subject of too great importance to be ignored.

No wonder he heard things no one else could!

My wife and I were invited to attend a Scandinavian potluck the other night. Erik Jacobson, a.k.a. “Santaphone,” a.k.a. “The Swedish Mink,” co-hosted. After a few minutes on the W3—I think that’s what some of the kids call the World Wide Web—Claudia stumbled upon something called “Janssen’s Temptation.” The first word is pronounced “yahn-sens.” The second word is pronounced “temp-tay-shun.” The name alone should be enough to make a person want to stick a fork in it! I hadn’t been this intrigued by a Swedish dish since Ingrid Bergman. For some reason I pictured Jackie Mason when I wrote that last sentence. Who is this Janssen, and what happened to him when he succumbed to his Temptation? 

As it turned out, it’s basically a casserole made with potatoes, onions, cream and tinned anchovies. Not just any anchovies, but “Swedish anchovies,” which are apparently treated like a traditional pickled herring. When cooked in the casserole, they give the potatoes the salt they need, plus that unique pickled sweetness that I normally associate with herring. It really ended up quite delicious. Tempting, some might say. But before I could stick my fork in it, I had to rustle up the ingredients. 

When faced with a purchase involving any sort of Norse edibles, our house always first thinks of Ingebretsen’s. This is a shop right in the neighborhood over on 17th and Lake. They’ve been serving Northern European food and gifts in this town since 1921, so they know a little bit about what they’re doing. When I had to buy a raffle prize for our feature on the Hall Brother’s Jazz Band last year, I went there. I figured with a Minnesotan band playing New Orleans jazz, what better than to procure a prize from one of the most distinctly Minnesotan stores we have? On that occasion, I found Cajun herring. Perfect! Herring for the Minnesota, Cajun for the New Orleans. The guy behind the counter said that day, “I don’t know why we even call it that. You’d think Cajun food would have some spice, right?” He may have been disparaging the nearly non-existent spice levels in the cuisine of cultures of the northern climes, but let me tell you something. If you want herring, you really should try overwhelming yourself with the choices at Ingebretsen’s.

Anyway, I made my way over there last Saturday. People were streaming in and out. Being the gentleman I don’t have to tell you I am, I ended up holding open the door for about fourteen people. I stood there long enough I was almost arrested for loitering. Finally, I entered into Scandinavian Heaven. It must have been heaven, because there were three young girls, teen angels, standing in a row wearing full white robes. Each held before them silver trays filled with ginger snaps, all the while singing Scandinavian carols. I knew I was still on Earth, however, because if it was heaven I don’t think a man would have to take a number to buy some tinned fish. I found that my forty-six years of Minnesota living had given me enough social preparation to be able to handle the Scandiheavenly Host without any fear, so I waded through the throng in back, where stands the meat counter, grabbed up number 84 and began my vigil.

While waiting, I overheard this exchange. A customer, a lady of seven decades or thereabouts was speaking to a similarly aged man working behind the meat counter. He was dressed in a blue sweater with a yellow shirt beneath, the colors of the Swedish flag.

Imagine a blonde man’s head poking out from the top of this:

The woman said, “I don’t know if I can trust you.” Another guy behind the counter laughed and pointed at Blue Sweater, “He’s actually Norwegian. Can’t you tell?” The woman didn’t laugh, so I’m really not sure she was joking when she said, “I don’t want to talk to a Swede.” 

I decided to mind my own business. I resumed staring at about twenty-eight different kinds of canned fish, many without English language labels. An apron-clad Ingebretsen’s man was next to me neatening the shelves in the cooler. “Say,” I inquired, “Where do you keep your Swedish anchovies?” This made it sound as if I were knowledgeable on the subject. “Do you mean anchovy-flavored herring?” he asked. It only took him that one question to destroy the flimsy camouflage I had constructed around my ignorance. “Well,” I stammered, “it’s for some sort of potato dish.” I pointed at my list of ingredients as if it were the list’s fault. Like flashcards, a series of expressions passed across his countenance. First, there was a kind of disdain for my idiocy. Next, the look of resignation upon remembering that it’s his job to cope with the Scanda-challenged. Finally, he softened somewhat into pity. Pity for a man attempting to function in the world without a complete knowledge of canned fish from the Baltic Sea. He looked me in the eye. “Are you making Janssen’s Temptation?” “Yes!” I answered, in surprise and excitement. Before the sibilance of my “Yes!” finished traveling through the air, his arm swung in an arc with his index finger leading the way, and landed without hesitation on a specific pile of cans. This unhesitating action made superfluous any further speaking on his part. The whitening of the distal joint of his index finger as he pressed his fingertip down on the cans indicated our conversation had finished. I thanked him with what I thought was a proper amount of humility.

When my number was called, I took my two cans up to the counter. I set them down, and another Ingebretsen’s man looked at them and stated in the manner of a jovial, confident Swedish detective, “Somebody’s making Janssen’s Temptation!”  

I’m determined to contrive future Eagles Club raffles in order that they consist of goods from that wonderful shop. I never did look up Janssen to find out how he’s doing. And I wonder. Is he only tempted around Christmastime? That casserole is Balluff’s Temptation now. Don’t tell Ingebretsen’s that a German/Polish man said that!