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How to Make a Masterpiece

The Queen’s Rolling Pin.

It started three years ago when I wrote Keep on Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. Dan Larson of the Minnesota Woodturners Association (MWA) had won $500 in an MWA contest for who could create the most beautiful lefse rolling pin. The pin was so beautiful that I had to put it on the cover, seen below.

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

Ever since publication of Keep On Rolling! a steady stream of customers at the farmers markets I do would ask if Dan would sell that cover pin or could re-create another. Sell it? Absolutely not, says Dan. That stays in his family, and they use it during the holiday season to make lefse.

Understandable that Dan would not sell that pin, but would he make another? Several customers have asked, I said. At first, he declined. Finding the right burl to create an eye-popping barrel was not easy, and the hours and hours of handwork that goes into those handles put him off.

I let it go until last Christmas, when yet another customer asked about having the cover pin re-created. Dan was still hesitant, but he threw out a price high enough that he figured it would put off customers who kept bugging him about making this pin. Turns out, price was not an issue; the customer wanted it for her mother who was in her 90s. She made a deposit, and Dan began his search for wood.

Woodturner Dan Larson

Oh, the Pressure

People who create masterpieces wince at these three words: “Do it again.” Dan explains: “I felt a lot of pressure with duplicating that first pin I did for the contest. I like doing new stuff, freelancing, following the wood to see where it leads. So I was resistant, thinking I had to come up with something as good as the original or better, making sure it was up to my standards of quality. It was a grind but a good exercise in testing my skills.”

His first challenge was coming up with a burl in winter. He had one in his stock, but that didn’t pan out. “I thought, ‘Holy buckets! What am I going to do now?” Dan says. He got help from fellow lefse rolling pin maker and MWA member Bob Puetz, who provided several cherry burls. Even with those burls, Dan had three “crashes” before he got one burl that was not “punky” wood (without big cracks and pits that characterize burls). From that one burl, Dan managed to turn three rolling pin barrels.

Example of roughly turned maple burls. The bottom burl became the rolling pin that appeared on the cover of Keep On Rolling!
Dan Larson making the cherry lefse pin grooves on his lathe.

Handles: Less Drama, More Diligence

Dan turned many more handles than he needed for the three rolling pins, just in case some handles didn’t turn out the way he wanted. The turning was less of an issue than the detail work. It took countless hours of carving and burning a black band that makes five evenly spaced turns from end to end. This detail work was inspired by the designs and techniques made famous by Avelino Samuel of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Between the solid burned band is a barber poling band of about a billion burned dashes that are the finishing touches to a fabulous piece of art. And then to show off the rolling pins, Dan made cherry stands shaped like a Viking ship.

Carving the handles.
Burning the handles.

Oh, by the way, this is a functional piece of art with a stainless steel rod and food-safe stainless steel bearings.

Never Say Never

Dan finished with three masterpieces. The customer had her pick and was thrilled with the result. The other two I sell as The Queen’s Rolling Pin

The Queen’s Rolling Pin.

… and The King’s Rolling Pin, below.

The King’s Rolling Pin.

Whatever I call these masterpieces, Dan calls it quits. “No more,” says Dan about making more lefse rolling pins with this design. “There was a lot of pressure. And the time, oh! Finding the right burls and then getting the details on the handles. I was in the middle of making one handle and said, ‘Damn, I forgot how long it took to carve and burn all these marks.’ No, this is it. I may make another one for love, but not for money.”

Fair enough, Dan. You can rest knowing you have made your mark of beauty on the lefse-rolling community.

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Wanted: Words That Inspire

Mrs. Taylor

In these troubled times, I find comfort and inspiration by starting my day with meditation and then saying two prayers, two Psalms and two Bible verses, Jeremiah 17 verses 7 and 8.

These Jeremiah verses, by the way, are the same verses Mrs. Taylor (above) recited loud and proud when she needed strength and courage as a young woman in a new town far, far from home. Mrs. Taylor is a pivotal character for 12-year-old Amaya, the main character in my novel, Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse.

Here are the beautiful verses:

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.

They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17: 7-8

I offer this passage in the hopes you do the same. Do you have a favorite verse in the Bible or a favorite prayer or poem that carries you through the day? If so, I hope you will share it in the comments below or by emailing me at glegwold@lutefisk.com. Thanks.

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Lutefisk Ts for the Times

A must for getting though life and especially tough times is humor. Where to find humor in a pandemic? Not a problem for lutefisk lovers. Poor old lutefisk—which I love—can generate humor in any situation, and that humor often shows up on t-shirts.

My lefse/lutefisk friend Jeanne Sumnicht tipped me off to a Facebook page called I Love My Norwegian Heritage and it sells all sorts of apparel that would be fit to wear in these times and maybe even for the right Syttende Mai celebration, which is Sunday. Comments for the t-shirt above include:

No problem….if you have a plate of lutefisk, I will be standing WAY farther than 2 meters away!

One plate of lutefisk will kill the virus.

This t-shirt generated 94 comments, all variations of “Amen!!” Here are a couple:

The reason my son was happy to go to Norway with me – he knew that no one would try to talk to him.

Including marriage!! Remember the Norwegian who loved his wife so much, that he almost told her…

I’ve always said lefse is the antidote to lutefisk, so I end with the above sweatshirt that balances all the negative directed at lutefisk.

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All’s Not Quiet on the Lefse Front

The morning-after view of my far-from-lost weekend of lefse making. The result is purple lefse made with sour cream and sweet potato lefse. Both are excellent and just in time for Lent and Easter.

The coronavirus pandemic is causing the world to stop and shelter and wait as the public health storm clouds build. It’s quiet, once inside your shelter, with no sports or concerts to distract and very little human contact to help soothe your troubled soul.

Normally, this is a quiet time in Lefse Land, the off-season when grills and turning sticks are shelved. But this is not a normal time, and I sense that all is not quiet on the lefse front. Just today, I received an email from lefse and rosemaling rock star Shirley Evenstad of Minneapolis, who was featured in my book Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. She wrote that she was thinking about me today as she boiled five large russets, cut into long strips for cooking, which only took 10 minutes in salted water. Then for ricing she put them through her new Kitchen Aid grinder using the smallest grinding disk, thus only running the spuds through once. In other words, she was tweaking her method. “A person can learn a lot about procedures,” she wrote, “if you are always trying to improve your efficiency. … I do love making lefse!

I have no doubt Shirley is not alone. People love making lefse, and if there was ever a time to steep yourself in the calming rituals of making this traditional food, it’s now.

Lefse is a touchstone in my life, so I’ve been trying lefse recipes that I had heard about but had considered too weird and therefore unworthy of my lefse efforts. Last Sunday, I tried lefse using purple/blue potatoes and sour cream as a replacement for cream. Also, sweet potato lefse.

Purple Lefse With Sour Cream

Riced purple/blue potatoes.

Blue/purple potatoes are not easy to find, but when I saw them in my local co-op, I snapped them up. After boiling, I peeled and riced, enjoying their distinct earthy aroma and how lively they looked in the bowl. When ricing and stirring in butter, sugar, salt, and sour cream, it felt like this was a stout potato that made for more effort when mixing than with russet potatoes.

The sour cream? I had heard about sour cream lefse and had always wanted to try this. So why not? I just removed the whipping cream and replaced it with the same amount of sour cream.

Because the dough seemed denser than dough from russet potatoes, I reduced by feel the amount of flour, and started to roll and grill. The edges of the rounds were a little more jagged that I would have tolerated in a russet round, but the strength of the dough ensured that the rounds would not fall apart when lifting to the grill.

Not only is it a stunning sight to see a purple lefse on your grill, but also the aroma of sour cream rising from the grill is like…wow!

When I put the round on the grill, it became a pretty purple progression of dark purple changing to light purple from the right side of the round, the side that went on the grill first, to the left. Cool!

The taste? Wonderful! I ate this lefse plain, with butter, and with butter and cinnamon sugar, and it was all good, very good.

Sweet Potato Lefse

Boiled sweet potatoes.

The message is short and sweet here: Try sweet potato lefse.

Sweet potatoes are a super health food and can be super colorful. Boiled and mashed and riced, the neon orange sweet potatoes were a sassy contrast to my blue bowl. Making this batch of lefse was going to be really fun!

I boiled the sweet potatoes too long, and after I added butter, sugar, salt, and cream, I had a wet, wet mess. I do not fear wet dough, but this was the wettest batch I had ever worked with.

And yet, with a goodly amount of flour, it worked and the dough rolled beautifully …

And bubbled and browned like potato lefse.

I was worried the taste would be too sweet potato-y. But no, the sweet potato taste was subtle enough that I was satisfied this was still lefse and not a hokey gimmick.

Some people may be put off by the non-traditional look of purple and orange lefse. They may say not to mess with a good thing, and let lefse be lefse. Tradition! Not me. Bring it on! There’s room in Lefse Land for all sorts of lefse.

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Where Have All the Flours Gone?

A hard-to-find grocery item.

I went shopping for flour the other day, to make lefse. In one grocery store, shelves were empty of King Arthur Flour, my favorite, and all flours. So I went to another store. Empty. The coronavirus pandemic had sheltered us all, and folks were stocking up (for how long?) on flour, toilet paper, cereal, pasta and pasta sauce, disinfectant wipes, etc.

So here we are, in our homes swinging from fear to gratitude to grief to disbelief to prayer. What-if questions nudge us in the night, and virus and economic news is dire throughout the day.

When we need it most, we can’t hug. We have to shun each other and swerve away from approaching walkers — who, like us, are trying to find relief in movement and nature. When we need it most, we can’t meet to sing or worship or to simply share a piece of pie and sip our tea.

But we still have lefse. For those of us in Lefse Land, that’s no small thing. Making lefse calms our internal troubled waters and puts us in touch with other lefse makers who have lived through tough times.

Bitten Norvoll

I finally found two 5-pound bags of flour, and while making lefse last weekend, I thought of Bitten Norvoll. She was Norwegian, and in 1950 she and her husband Torbjorn moved to Minneapolis. I interviewed them for my first book, The Last Word on Lefse: Heartwarming Stories — and Recipes Too!

Bitten Norvoll made lefse in the basement of her Minneapolis home so the excess flour didn’t mess up her kitchen.

Both Bitten and Torborn were from towns north of the Arctic Circle; she was from Narvik and Torbjorn from Andenes. They lived through the three-year German occupation in World War II.

Three years. As I made lefse and remembered Bitten’s fresh smile, I wondered how the today’s questions of “How long?” and “How bad?” were the same then for Bitten and Torbjorn. We’ve been pressing for answers about COVID-19 for weeks now, but how did these questions about the Nazis and the war change over the course of years under life-death conditions that were similar to ours today?

Occupation. Today, we are directed to stay in for our own safety and the safety of others. Back then, many Norwegians were told to get out. “Two days before Christmas my family was told we had twenty-four hours to get out of the house, or we’d be thrown out bodily,” said Torbjorn. His family moved to an apartment above a store; three rooms for traveling officers were also on the floor. His family’s house, which his family didn’t re-occupy until three months after the war ended, was converted to a hospital. Bitten said Norwegians were forced to turn out lights at night and read only German newspapers.

Thinking of the temporary shortage of flour and other foods today, I recalled what Bitten said in the chapter I wrote about the Norvolls. “During the occupation we could buy potatoes, and we knew so many ways of using potatoes. We couldn’t buy much milk or butter or margarine — or a decent flour. The flour we could buy was so heavy. You’d bake bread, and the outside was hard and crusty and the inside just a lump of dough.”

Bitten and so many others of that Greatest Generation made it through. They must have wondered how they would do it. But they did it, together, a day at a time. As we look ahead with hope and fear, we can gain strength in looking back at the Bittens in our lives.

Bitten was one of the lefse makers in my mind when I wrote the lyrics to “Keep On Rollin’: A Lefse Song for Voice and Piano” (copy of front page below). Erik Sherburne wrote the music with the idea of honoring the resilience of the old ones, those lefse makers in their 80s and 90s who keep on rolling through whatever life throws their way. I especially like the bridge of the song:

A lefse maker I once knew she said here’s what you do

When in a storm just let your faith take form

Keep on a rolling, the sun will shine anew

So stand tall, be true, stay strong, be you!”

from Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round
“Keep the faith, O give thanks and you’ll be fine.”
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Funeral Lefse

Last February, I got an email from Penny Wells. Penny had signed up for one of my lefse classes last fall but had to drop out because her mother was ailing. The email said that her mother had passed away at the age of 90, and Penny was looking for lefse to be served at a visitation before the 3 p.m. memorial service on March 7.

I was honored to be asked … and I was a little nervous about the task of making 40 rounds of lefse for a funeral. It had to be perfect, I thought, and that thought is like kryptonite to a recovering perfectionist like me.

But I did it, and I was very glad I did. I felt good as I imagined how the lefse would add to the celebration of this life, much the same way it did in my novel, Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse. And when Penny picked up her lefse the morning of the memorial service, I was especially glad to learn a bit about Phyllis Harriet Schutz.

Penny said her mom, known as Nana, was spirited woman, and Penny impressed me as being like her mom. The obituary said: “In typical Nana fashion, her last days were full of smiles and laughs (and a few scowls), surrounded by family and friends.” Nice way to go out, I thought.

Nana was born in 1929 (like my mom, Darlene Schumacher) in North Dakota (like my mom) to Elvin and Aagot Iverson, “hardy Norwegian farmers,” said the obit. Nana moved to Fargo for work (like my mom) and met James Schutz on a blind date and soon married.

Penny pointed to the last few lines of the obit, which made me even more happy that I got to know Nana through lefse. It read: “Nana’s infectious spunk will live on in all who knew her. Nana loved people, cigarettes, and vodka gimlets, perhaps not in that order.”

Here’s to you, Nana!

“Let us make our glasses kiss;
Let us quench the sorrow-cinders.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Phyllis Harriet Schutz.
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Lefse and a Pastor’s Lust

Little did I know last Christmas that the innocent little act of selling an heirloom lefse rolling pin and turning stick could lead a Lutheran minister to lust.

Well, it did, and it weighed on my soul when I learned about the situation in an email from Rev. Daniel Bowman, pastor at Hawk Creek Lutheran Church in Sacred Heart, Minnesota.

Pastor Dan and Hawk Creek’s Lefse Ministry were featured in an entire chapter of Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. He is a wellspring of faith and a man of the people as he rolls thousands of lefse each fall when the church gives away and sells lefse to the community.

His family reached out to me last Christmas, hoping I had a beautiful lefse pin that could serve as a gift to Pastor Dan. This pin would replace the pin he’d used for years, which was showing wear.

Pastor Dan Bowman

I worked out details with Pastor Dan’s daughters Hannah Shibeshi and Ruth Haugstad, who decided to go with the Magnificent Maple Walnut Wave masterpiece made by woodturner Jim Jacobs (see photo below). This is a bigger pin with larger handles for Pastor Dan, who stands 6′ 4″ tall.

The family wanted the gift personalized with the words “Pastor Daniel Bowman Psalm 34:8” written on the pin. That passage in the Bible, by the way, is:

O taste and see that the Lord is good: Blessed is the man that trusteth in him.

Psalm 34:8

Jim is not an inscriber, but he did a pretty darn good job fulfilling the family’s wish (see below).

Jim Jacobs, who turned this rolling pin on a lathe, personalized the pin, which was a Christmas gift from Pastor Dan’s family last year.

Pastor Dan’s Bind

Christmas came and went, and on January 3 of this year, I received an email from Pastor Dan, who thanked me for working with his family to provide his special Christmas gifts. He continued:

When I first saw the picture on your website, I was absolutely and viscerally stunned. Being a rather frugal person, I didn’t think myself worthy of such beauty and extravagance. This led to a serious problem with my ongoing violation of the 10th commandment, or 9th commandment, as it may also be considered in the Lutheran tradition. In either case, related to the lust of the eyes. My problem wasn’t at all with my “neighbor’s” wife. But it was with her rolling pin! A variegated design with multiple woods all lined up would be impressive and beautiful, though expected of a skilled wood craftsman. But this dark maple wave design of varying thickness is beyond description. I cannot imagine the specialized techniques or jigs Jim Jacobs must have used to create this “out of the box design” beauty. I must thank him in person some day.

My rolling pin that has crafted approximately 100,000 lefse was gradually seeing wear and tear, especially from rubbing on the outside part of the handle from the knobby stopper on the metal rod. Occasionally I will have to pluck extraneous fibrous wood pieces from lefse. I do not have ball bearings, but have been fortunate to have a metal rod as the axle. I shared my problem (of the need for a new rolling pin as well as my problem with the commandment violation) with my daughter, not thinking that she would even consider getting it [a new rolling pin].

If you think about it, one way to conquer lusting after your neighbor’s house is to buy another like it for yourself. In any case, I no longer have the problem—as it regards lefse rolling pins, at least—since I am now the proud owner of one of the most beautiful rolling pins in the world.

At this point in the email, I was pleased that Pastor Dan was so pleased—and impressed that he was open about his “violation” of the last two of the Ten Commandments. Yes, he is one of us, I thought. But there was more to the story, an issue of self-worth, it seemed! Pastor Dan wrote:

I now have a new problem. How does one go about steeling up the nerve to press a “Mona Lisa” upon a ball of simple and ordinary lefse dough? Applying such a beautiful piece of art to culinary projects seems quite prodigious (aka prodigal – “extravagant”) – something akin to throwing pearls before swine, using the language of faith.

The other issue, a result of my strong sense of loyalty, is this: How will I feel about relegating the older rolling pin to a life of disuse in a drawer? Will it be something like putting one’s mother (or spouse) in the nursing home? How will I deal with my sense of betrayal of one who has been such a friend for so many years?

I will need your ongoing prayers on this matter. I wonder if thinking it through in terms of a death and a resurrection experience would be helpful?

I saw Jim Jacobs the morning I received the email and passed on Pastor Dan’s compliments. Jim read the email and then apologized for putting Pastor Dan in a Ten Commandment bind because of his rolling pin!

Oh, the power of lefse and all things lefse!

In the months since these issues surfaced, I have been praying for Pastor Dan. Let your faith lead you, my friend.

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Purple Potatoes for Healthy Lefse

Almost two years ago, Chuck Hays wrote a blog titled “8 Unconventional Tips for Making Purple Lefse”. He uses Vitelotte Noir potatoes to get the purple color, and he steams them, never boils them. He doesn’t mash or peel or rice the Vitelotte Noir but simply puts the cooked potatoes, skins and all, through a meat grinder using a screen with a 1/8-inch holes. He doesn’t chill the potatoes, and he uses olive oil in his recipe.

Stack your purple lefse between towels for cooling.

I thought about purple lefse recently when I was reading a health-and-diet book (How Not to Die by Michael Greger, M.D., with Gene Stone). There was a section about sweet potatoes, a “superfood,” according to the author, because they are packed with nutrients and high in antioxidants. So, of course, I have put sweet potato lefse on my long list of lefse things to try.

The author also wrote that potatoes with blue or purple flesh were better than plain potatoes in reducing inflammation and increasing “the antioxidant capacity” in the bloodstream of subjects in a scientific study. “Blue potatoes may have ten times more antioxidant power than regular white ones,” writes Greger. “The most exciting purple potato study to date had people with hypertension eat six to eight microwaved small purple potatoes a day, and they were able to significantly bring down their blood pressure levels within a month.”

Finding blue or purple potatoes for lefse is the problem. I found some last fall in a Minneapolis co-op, but a produce guy said I’d have to wait until next fall when local growers start providing these special potatoes. Until then, I have to go online.

The Vitelotte Noir contains the antioxidant anthocyanin that gives this spud its unique color.
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Free Books! Early Start on Spring Cleaning

Yes, I know we’ll get socked with a big snowstorm or three here in Minnesota in March, but there are many days when spring is in the air. Which means spring cleaning.

I have many “returns,” books that are fine except for a small blem that caused the bookstore to return them. I won’t sell them, but I will give them away.

So here’s the deal for March. If you buy my novel Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse, I will include in your order a free return copy of both of The Last Word on Lutefisk and The Last Toast to Lutefisk.

Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse

To get three books for the price of one, here’s what you do:

  • Order online Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse.
  • DON’T order the lutefisk books. I will automatically include them in your order unless your write in the notes section of the order that you don’t want the lutefisk books.
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

Please help with my spring cleaning. Order a good novel and get two more fine books for free, books that are too good to sit on a shelf unread because of a little dent or slight crease in the cover.

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Lefse and Potato Leek Soup

When I teach lefse classes, I give out my recipe for potato leek soup. Why? Because in making lefse dough, there are always extra amounts of riced potatoes. There are many uses for these extra spuds, but none tastier than using them in potato leek soup.

Jeanne and David Sumnicht took my class and received “extra credit” by:

  • Making lefse on their own within a week or two of when they took my class. I always recommend this because there is less chance you will forget a step or technique in how to make lefse if you do it close to the time you learn. Jeanne and David made lefse the day after their class.
  • Making potato leek soup. They did that promptly as well, and served it and their own lefse for lunch (see photo below).
The perfect 1-2 combo for the tail end of winter: potato leek soup and lefse.

Jeanne and David, congratulations! You go to the head of the class!

Jeanne and David Sumnicht: Lefse friends are friends for life.

Oh, yes. Here is the recipe for potato leek soup. Enjoy!

Potato Leek Soup, made from the extra potatoes when you make lefse dough.