I write my 2018 Norsk Hostfest report from Paris, France, where I am vacationing. Writer friend Tim Brady asked if I was hanging out on the Lefse Bank. His wit is unparalleled, but so far I have not found lefse. However, I can hold on until the end of the week when I head to Norway.
Finding lefse was not a problem last week when I sold books and lefse-lutefisk stuff at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota. Gotta say that of all the attractions — the scads of excellent comedy and musical acts (mostly free) as well as the endless shopping — the most attractive thing to see was the sea of Scandinavians who were actually smiling! I swear — and some were laughing! They’d come to my table looking grumpy, but then they’d brighten when they saw my lefse and lutefisk books. That made me feel good.
Lefse Masters Competition
This smiling stuff got out of hand during the Lefse Masters Celebrity Competition, featuring Daniel O’Donnell, Williams & Ree, and The Texas Tenors. I was to serve as a judge. The competition started at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday on the stage of Stockholm Hall. I was a bit late getting there, and as I walked into Stockholm Hall, the room was charged and laughter was directed at the stage, which I could not see. I was confused why so many people were spilling from the stage area into the vendor aisles and up the stairs to what is the Lefse Mezzanine, where the Lefse Masters is held throughout the week for the non-celebs. But as I wove my way through the crowd, it became clear folks were there to watch the celebs roll and grill lefse. I was to sit at the judges’ table front and center and observe the skills and techniques of the contestants.
Don’t Let That Smoke Bother You
The only problem was it was difficult to discern dexterity with the rolling pin or turning stick with all the smoke rising from the grills. Daniel O’Donnell, poor lad, was the chief culprit. His grill was smoking like a chimney, and lefse was burning so badly that he finally just chucked a charred lefse offstage. But he atoned for himself by rushing to the microphone and singing a lovely “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” — subbing new lyrics that included “my lefse is a burnin’.”
Round? What Is Round, Exactly?
It seemed that the lefse’s shape was of secondary concern to the contestants. The irrepressible Terry Ree had to point out that the lefse rolled by The Texas Tenors was looking like the shape of the state Texas and — whoops — “they just lost the panhandle, folks.” His partner, Bruce Williams, was largely silent but slipped into some sexual rolling when Ree demanded that he roll “faster” and “not so hard.” Which caused a confused Daniel O’Donnell to ask, “What kind of show are we doing here?”
The judging was difficult between Daniel O’Donnell and The Texas Tenors, with TTT coming out on top with a pretty nice lefse. Williams & Ree? They submitted a lefse that looked like it had been used to clean a cannon.
All good fun, good enough to make the Scandies smile.
Yes, Lutefisk Lip Balm!
My last day at the Hostfest I was relieved to discover the lutefisk lip balm. Cost was $2 on sale at a store outside the Great Hall, where all the big-name acts appear. I was disappointed that the lutefisk lip balm did not smell or taste like lutefisk. I mean, I like lutefisk and would have considerd it a bold move had the makers of this balm gone for the real deal rather than a vanilla bean flavor. The label said of this lip balm: “It will put the fear of cod in you.” Vanilla bean does instill any fear. We can do better than this!
Hand-Painted Lefse Rolling Pins
The lefse makers who were judged to have made lefse so good that they placed first, second, or third in Hostfest’s Lefse Masters lefse-making competition earned a cash prize of $200, $100, and $50 plus lefse rolling pins that are adorned by a rose medallion painter. Very cool awards that will undoubtedly be passed down for generations to come.
Here’s to Ron Garcia!
Ron Garcia jokes that during the Norsk Hostfest he is “Norwegian for a week.” Works for me. He is the hall crier, the man who without aid of a microphone or megaphone bellows to those in Helsinki Hall, where the Author’s Corner is, that the hall will open or close in 10 minutes or that the hall is now open or closed for business. Then he sets the tone as the day begins with, “Have a great day, everyone!”
Ron is a Hostfest original and one of the most endearing men you’ll meet in Minot. Frankly, he is one of the reasons I return year after year. See you in 2019, Ron!