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Lefse Unites … But Aquavit Lefse?

Just a wee bit of aquavit added to lefse dough?? Yikes! However …

I have made speeches all over the Midwest, in red states and blue. But no matter the location or the leanings of the audience, the unifying power of lefse took over. Respect, cordiality, and a lefse kinda of love were in the air. Let’s remember that as we move forward after the election.

After all elections, it seems, most of us are weary of politics—whether we win or lose. Especially this year. So it’s a relief to get back to rolling lefse and connecting to the fun of this grand old tradition. Elections come and go. Lefse lasts.

So for fun, I decided to try—against the wishes of every lefse lover I know—making lefse with aquavit. Just a small batch. See what happens. Who knows, maybe it’ll be good. Or not…

I refer to my blog called “One-Potato Lefse—40 Minutes”. The idea is sometimes you want lefse but don’t want a big production. With this quick-and-easy lefse, it’s a perfect time to try new techniques or ingredients. I’ve tried lefse with sour cream, and it was excellent. Why not lefse with aquavit? Hey, if it’s good, it makes for great conversation in a long winter. If it’s bad, I can work on the rest of the bottle of aquavit as consolation.

Gee, aquavit lefse looks like lefse …

The question, of course, is: How much aquavit do I add to the dough? As a guide, I thought of vanilla, which is about 35% alcohol. A little bit goes a long way. My one-potato lefse makes for about 1 cup of lefse dough, which includes 2-3 tablespoons butter, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon powdered sugar, 1/8 cup cream, and ½ cup flour, extra for rolling pin and rolling surface.

With a nervous hand, I added 1/2 teaspoon of aquavit. I have three different aquavits, but went with my favorite specialty brand (the white frosted bottle in above photo) made in a bathtub by an acquaintance in Texas (another story). I mixed the dough, added flour, and within 10 minutes rolled three beautiful rounds, if I say so myself.

So how did the aquavit lefse turn out? In a word, wonderful! Frankly, I wish I would have added slightly more aquavit to enhance the subtle sweet, woody, slightly caramel and anise taste that really popped with added butter. The aquavit should not be so obvious that someone would exclaim, “Who added aquavit to this lefse?” But it should be enough to make the taster pause in appreciation and ask, “What’s in your lefse recipe? This is unique!”

Give it a try with aquavit or whatever ingredient you have a hunch about. Be bold but be subtle.

The verdict on aquavit lefse? Wonderful. I celebrate my experiment’s success with a splash of aquavit.

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A Moment to Remember Mary

Mary (Marit) Nyre’s story as a 12-year-immigrant girl is that of a novel.

When I sent the first edition of The Lefse & Lutefisk News to 66 recipients three years ago, I had the conviction that there is a strong community of lefse and lutefisk lovers out there eager to hear all the news that’s fit to print about their favorite food and their favorite love/hate food. Well, the community is indeed strong. There has been a ten-fold increase in the audience, mostly word of mouth, and I am rewarded with funny yarns, lovely notes, and heartwarming stories. Everyone, it seems, has a lefse tale — and a lutefisk joke — to tell.

For example, lefse maker Barbara (she didn’t want her last name used) wrote a nice thank you note after receiving my books Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round as well as my novel Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse. I wrote back, and the exchange led to this heartbreaking story about her grandmother Marit Nyre, who went by Mary. The story is well known in the family and is as follows:

Mary was from the hills and mountains of Norway, the story begins. Her father left for America, and Mary, her mother, and three siblings remained in Norway. The plan was for the father to cross the ocean, build a home, and send for the family. Weeks became months, and months became years. Then around 1880, the message came. Mary’s mother packed up the family so they all could be together again in America. They severed connections to relatives and friends and to Norway.

They boarded the sailing ship to America. Mary was 12 at the time, the oldest of the children. The ship was over-loaded, and the North Sea rough. Marit’s mother became sick and died. She was buried in Liverpool, England.

It was up to Marit, who could not speak English, to make the crossing with her three siblings. Her only possessions were a few bundles, a trunk, and a ticket to New York City.

Marit and the children made it to New York and indeed were re-united with her father. She went on to live in North Dakota and is buried in Carpio, ND. But this part of the crossing story ends with the following, which was published in Marit’s obituary: “The hardest part of the whole trip was when her father asked where Mary’s mother was when they reached New York!”

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The Lefse Mask Advantage

There are two advantages for wearing a lefse mask.

For lefse folks, there are advantages to wearing masks in this pandemic. Two come to mind:

  1. We are introverts. We proudly display this bumper sticker: I’M A SOCIAL VEGAN—I AVOID MEET! So a mask is a godsend. It helps limit transmission of the virus, and it helps us hide. It covers our flat affect and scowls, which is good. Who wants to be seen as a sourpuss? So with a mask, we can frown away to our heart’s content. The drawback, of course, it that a mask hides our gorgeous smiles … but we are very stingy with smiles anyway. In Keep On Rolling! Life of the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round, lefse maker Cordell Keith Haugen told me: “I think the only time I saw my grandmother Mari Haugen smile was when she offered lefse.”
  2. We can say something without actually saying something. Again, we are introverts, so feelings have to ricochet through a labyrinth of cultural no-nos before they escape to the frightful freedom of expression and vulnerability. But by wearing a lefse mask with KEEP ON ROLLING! front and center, we don’t have to utter a peep. People see a lefse mask and smile, which, heck, may even make us smile! And the mask can preach a succinct sermon at a time when we need resiliency and hope.

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Potato Praise!

Nothing but high praise for the lowly potato, especially home grown.

Normally, this is lefse festival season. If not for the pandemic, I would be itching to travel to the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, ND, in two weeks to greet old friends and sell new lefse and lutefisk products. But the Hostfest was cancelled, as was Potato Days in Barnesville, MN, where I have sold my stuff in August for years and have been a judge at the National Lefse Cook-off.

I am sad about losing a year of lefse festivals. But I am glad that this year I planted a few potato plants and yesterday passed a pleasant afternoon hour harvesting five pounds of what seems to me to be rather jovial spuds of not insignificant size, thrilled to be freed from the dark underground and at last basking in the warm sun. These potatoes will make the dough for what undoubtedly will be my best batch of lefse ever!!

The potato yield was small consolation to the loss of going to the lefse festivals, but consolation nevertheless. Plus the digging and excitement of discovering—you never know how many potatoes will be there and how plump or puny they will be—unearthed special memories of Potato Days and Barnesville.

I love it—and kids do as well—that Barnesville, MN, can creatively make so many fun events, like this spud-picking contest, out of the simple potato.

Of course, Potato Days in Barnesville is on the Lefse Trail, which I presented in Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. Here is what I wrote to lead off the Barnesville chapter:

Pity the poor potato. It’s packed with flavor and nutrition, and yet typically people display pathetically little potato appreciation. They deem it to be lowly and grubby, and they disparage the dirty little tuber, using phrases like “small potatoes” and “couch potato.” The spud doesn’t see the light of day until it’s yanked from the muck, sliced, fried, mashed, riced, rolled, or whipped—and then greedily gobbled up.

Thankfully, there are people in our midst who find the potato to be most appealing. A. A. Milne, who wrote books about the thoughtful and steadfast Winnie-the-Pooh, praised the potato right proper when he wrote, “What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”

Pardon the promotional potato preamble (I lose perspective regarding potatoes), but it helps explain why we are in Barnesville. Lefse lovers are pretty decent folks who applaud the pomme de terre, holding it high because it is the fundamental ingredient in the most fantastic food this side of heaven. When it’s lefse time, it’s tater time—and it’s tater time all the time during one potato-packed weekend in this northern Minnesota town (pop. 2,570 in 2013). Barnesville’s annual Potato Days Festival in late August pulls in around 20,000 spud lovers who participate in events that embrace all things potato—including the National Lefse Cook-off. With good food, kooky contests, silly stuff you have to see to believe, and a gripping lefse competition, Barnesville’s food festival is a must stop on the Lefse Trail.

Let’s stay safe and hope that Potato Days and the Norsk Hostfest make a big comeback next year.

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HaikUff-Da Poetry Contest Winners

Being a poet of sorts and especially inspired by lefse and lutefisk, I wrote last month about the non-winners of Ingebretsen’s HaikUff-Da Poetry Contest. I was judge in the Christmas Foods and Traditions category. The non-winners I featured were good but they were non-winners because the poems had too many syllables in a line; haiku is strict about five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. Also, I was bound not to write about winners because Ingebretsen’s had not announced winners yet.

Well, the names of winners have been released, and the winners in the Christmas Foods and Traditions category are from New Mexico, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Who knew there were so many far-flung lefse and lutefisk haiku poets out there?

I must pat myself on the back because I am partial to lefse and lutefisk, and it was disciplined work not to favor haiku about my favorite foods. But I did it. The winner in my category, Doug Mattson from Albuquerque, NM, wrote about herring. So, good job Doug and good job Judge Gary!

Check out the second and third place winners in the Christmas Foods and Traditions category as well as winners in the other four categories: Midsommer, Ole and Lena, Nordics and Social Distancing, and Edvard Munch.

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Lefse Haiku, Woo-Hoo!

At long last, I can honestly say I have arrived! The honor of being asked to judge the Haikuff-Da Poetry Contest is … well, it’s the culmination of a career of writing four non-fiction books on lefse and lutefisk as well as my most recent book, a lefse novel called Final Rounds. How can I explain just what this honor means to me to judge the Christmas Traditions and Food Category, the highest of all categories, indeed? I have judged lefse contests at the top of the lefse world at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, ND, and Potato Days in Barnesville, MN. I have sung my lefse song “Keep On Rollin’” on stage at the Norsk Hostfest and at scores of speaking engagements. I have had the privilege of teaching hundreds of people to make lefse in my classes. But these career triumphs are merely prologue to judging the Haikuff-Da Poetry Contest. Yes, tears are choking my words, so I lean on the lyrics of Cole Porter when I say it’s the top, it’s …
The Tow’r of Pisa
The smile on Mona Lisa
The most—it’s the max!

Winners will be announced July 31, but I can give you a sneak peek of the quality of each haiku. These are four haikus that did not win because, perhaps in their excitement at pulling off a haiku about lefse or lutefisk, they did not adhere to the strict rules about the first line must be five syllables, the second seven syllables, and the third five.

Lutefisk, a food?
You lye if you make it, and
You lie if you like it.

Naughty gnomes, nisses;
Fraudulent frolicsome friends,
Crunch Christmas Krumkakes!

Lutefisk or Glögg
Uff-da what a choice that is
Maybe I’ll just have both

Hot fire crackling
At the window a frost bead
My lefse sizzling

These are good and it is too bad there was a syllable miscount with each. Who knows, one of them might have won. Anyway, high marks to Ingebretsen’s for hosting the second annual Haikuff Da Poetry Contest. Check for the winners July 31.

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Free Book for One Day Only

"Keep On Rolling!" Cover Image
“Keep On Rolling!” Cover Image

One thing the pandemic has done is increase my appreciation for the things I have, including my health and family—and my customers. I am glad you are there year after year supporting my books and all things lefse and lutefisk.

Therefore, I offer any one of my five books free! This is good for one of my books for today only (Wednesday July 15, 2020), so hop on this one-day deal by emailing me at

Final Rounds

You can link to descriptions of my books to help you decide which one book you want to get free, but don’t order online. If you do, you will be charged, which means the free offer won’t be free. Again, to take advantage of the free offer for one of my five books, email me at Today only.

The Last Word on Lefse: Heartwarming Stories Cover Image
The Last Word on Lefse: Heartwarming Stories Cover Image

Concerned about a shipping charge? Not to worry. Free is free, and you won’t be charged for shipping. But that is only if you email me at and specify which of my five books you want free. Wednesday only!

The Last Word on Lutefisk: True Tales of Cod and Tradition Cover Image
The Last Word on Lutefisk: True Tales of Cod and Tradition Cover Image
The Last Toast to Lutefisk Cover Image
The Last Toast to Lutefisk Cover Image
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The Lefse & Lutefisk Mailbox

You may have to modify your old lefse grill to be able to use newer probe control models.

In normal times, I interact with countless lefse and lutefisk customers at festivals, markets, and book signings as well as during my lefse classes. We cover the waterfront about such things as modifying your old lefse grill to be able to fit the newer probe control models (see photo). But these discussions are not happening with the pandemic, and I miss talking shop with my lefse and lutefisk chums.

Therefore, I am opening the Lefse & Lutefisk Mailbox.

If you have a question, tip, or idea about equipment or ingredients or techniques for preparing and serving lefse and lutefisk, let’s talk. Email me at … PLEASE!

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Another Lefse Novel?

We lefse novelists have to stick together.

Lefse friend for life David Sumnicht said as we played a recent round of golf that he had picked up a lefse book that wasn’t mine. Of course I knew that authors other than me had been moved to write non-fiction books about lefse, but I was intrigued when David said this book was a novel. Well, well!

When I describe my novel, Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse, I call it my lefse novel if I am in a rush. But it is actually about grief. A 12-year-old girl’s grandfather dies. While she mourns his loss, she delights in the lefse-making memories they shared, especially one night of 26 inches of snow when they had little choice but to make 630 rounds of lefse and examine Papa’s eight rather goofy rules of life.

Final Rounds

I have read and recommend The Invention of Lefse: A Christmas Story, by Larry Woiwode, Poet Laureate of North Dakota and writer in residence at Jamestown College. His work has been featured in the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic. He’s an honored and awarded writer, so I was thrilled that, like me, he also has found inspiration in this humble flatbread lefse.

The novel is only 63 pages, and I was driven to find out why lefse was invented. There is the suggestion of lefse half way through the book, but it is not until page 51 that the word lefse appears. It has been invented out of desperation and transforms the Christmas meal of a Norwegian family in the first decade of the twentieth century, two years after Norway gained independence.

With humor, tender moments, quirky characters, and lefse, The Invention of Lefse: A Christmas Story is a winner.

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The Classic Red Bowl Glazed Rim

How do I set prices of my rolling pins and the other lefse products?

I should explain first that I am proud to work editors, illustrators, photographers, and designers on my books, and I pay what they ask because I know them and trust that they are quoting a figure that is fair to both of us.

Same with the many providers who make the lefse rolling pins, turning sticks, bowls, cozies, pastry boards and covers, lefse earrings, and on and on. I like that the lefse market sends money their way, which encourages them to continue to create distinctive and beautiful products that customers appreciate.

Again, I pay providers what they want. Too often, creators of art and fine products are underpaid and are forced to “settle” on a payment they are not happy with. Not with me. I pay their fair price and then add on a dollar amount that feeds my business. The sum is the price of the product.

Typically, the retail price is split 50-50. That is, the provider of the product and the seller each get half of the retail price upon sale. With me, it’s a 65-35 split with the provider getting the 65%.

I could charge more to be in line with standard practice in the marketplace, but customers would then have to pay more—or they may not pay at all. Or I could lower prices by driving a hard bargain with providers, and driving them away. I don’t like either of these options, so I go with a 65-35 split. It pays to be unique in the marketplace, especially when I can be fair to provides and customers alike.