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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Today only.
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 email@example.com and specify which of my five books you want free. Wednesday only!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org … PLEASE!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I didn’t know what to expect. I knew people would appreciate fine art combined with a functional heirloom lefse rolling pin, but I didn’t know if anyone would appreciate these pins enough to pay $1,200.
Well, I now know. The King’s Rolling Pin has sold!
Rolling out new lefse products is exciting. It’s fun to create new products that improve lefse making and strengthen the lefse tradition in the process. These products draw out people in the marketplace who are searching for distinctive and useful lefse products. It’s satisfying to match the right product with the right customer. It was especially satisfying to match a customer with The King’s Rolling Pin. The customer was thrilled to find the perfect wedding present for a friend’s daughter.
The Queen’s Rolling Pin is all that remains of the three masterpieces Dan Larson made to match the contest-winning rolling pin that’s on the cover of Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. Dan has said that’s it; he won’t make another. If you think it to be the perfect gift—even to yourself—please purchase. But I admit that it would not be a bad thing if The Queen’s Rolling Pin is not sold. Heck, I just might buy it to use and pass on in honor of Keep On Rolling!
This is lefse for those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, as the old Nat Cole song says. Yep, it’s too darn hot (Cole Porter) to make a big batch of lefse, right? But where there’s a will there’s a way, so OK, we’re going to use one potato to make four rounds of lefse in 40 minutes.
1 potato baker size (russet is standard but you can use any kind of potato) 2-3 tablespoons butter 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon powdered sugar 1/8 cup cream ½ cup flour, extra for rolling pin and rolling surface
Makes about four lefse.
Cube and pressure cook the unpeeled potato for about 5 minutes. Microwaving a whole unpeeled potato poked with holes for 4 minutes and then 4 more minutes after turning is an option, but sometimes the potato dries out too much.
Peel skins from cubes, mash, and rice twice to remove small lumps that could tear the rounds when rolling. Result is about 1 cup of riced potatoes, depending on the actual size of the baker potato you choose.
Melt butter in saucepan and mix in salt and powdered sugar until dissolved, or nearly dissolved.
Stir butter-salt-sugar mixture and cream into the riced potatoes, and stir until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Cover with towel or paper cloth and let stand while you set up rolling station and lefse grill.
Knead in flour and let dough stand at least five minutes to allow the gluten in the flour to do its thing of holding the dough together when rolled thin.
Roll 3-4 four rounds of lefse.
Enjoy with iced tea.
Notes: When I first tried this One-Potato Lefse, I stuck to my trusted recipe based on 3 cups of riced potatoes. But I found the lefse was dry and lacked flavor, so I slightly increased the amount of butter, sugar, salt, and cream. That made for more flavor but also a wet dough that some might call sticky.
Many lefse makers recoil at the idea of rolling sticky dough, especially when it has not had a chance to cool, which is the case here with lefse in 40 minutes. I am OK with this because I go light on the rolling pin and turn the rounds several times, which prevents sticking.
So be flexible and adventuresome. Trust your lefse-making skills this summer and give One-Potato Lefse a try.
When the kids came into my life, I was terrified. I explain my fears in this video I made at the request of my minister. She asked for my reflections, as a white grandfather of two grandchildren seen as black, on protests stemming from George Floyd’s killing. I gladly agreed to do the video because it helped me think and feel and not just fear. The video served as the intro to a song I sang for the service that streamed online last Sunday. The song is “Hold On”, a song about holding onto faith. I won’t take you into the service and the singing of the song, but please watch this two-minute video.
The takeaway is that my fears turned out to be the foundation of a blessing, one of the biggest blessings of my life. I learn about race daily because of the make-up of my family—and I got two great grandkids as part of the deal!
I write and speak and teach about lefse, primarily, with a little bit of lutefisk on the side. I do it because I want to preserve and pass on lefse and lutefisk traditions to my family and others. Some have asked that with such diversity in my family, am I concerned that the lefse-lutefisk tradition will die off in my family when I die? Sure, but I would worry the same if my family were all white. Passing on traditions is a concern, period, for all parents.
I go back to what I said in the video: Love wins. The love between my grandchildren and me has overridden my fears and has led to their love of lefse and the lefse-making tradition. My 12-year-old granddaughter Amaya rolls lefse and has helped with my lefse classes. My grandson, Zo? Let me tell you a lefse story about Zo.
A Lefse-Rolling Lesson
Last holiday season at the local farmers market where I do a lefse-making demo and sell my books and related products, Zo asked if he could roll a round. He and Amaya help with setting up and tearing down our table, and with selling. I pay them handsomely.
Ten-year-old Zo is a natural in the market, checking out other exhibits and chatting up and charming vendors—who reward him with free samples. When he asked to roll a round of lefse, he understood that all eyes are on lefse makers as they roll; it’s just too cool to ignore. But he was undaunted because he wanted to do this cool thing.
I have coached him, but mostly he learns by watching me and then trusting his own style. He started to roll just as two white customers came to the table and asked me lefse questions. As I answered, I realized they were not listening to me but were intent on watching Zo roll.
I feared they may say something about race, something about a black little boy making a Norwegian food. It is the same fear I have had since I put up my Black Lives Matter sign in my yard many years ago. Would it scare away those who take my lefse classes? No one has ever said anything about the sign. I imagine a few have had issues with it, but I also believe in the good in people. I believe most have come to support this movement toward justice and away from racism. I see more and more of these signs in my white neighborhood, so I do believe people want justice for blacks — and that black lives do matter, just as they do for me.
My other fear regarding Zo in the market that day was that
he was rolling a rag of a lefse round and that the customers were in horror as
this lefse-making train wreck was unfolding. I followed their eyes to the
pastry board … where Zo was rolling a perfectly round lefse round!
I smiled and turned back to the customers, who were aghast.
One of them finally said, “I can’t do
The customers smiled at Zo and congratulated him repeatedly
on his lefse round.
After the customers moved on, Zo the charmer started working
on his grandfather. “Papa,” he said, “you know what I’m doing here for you,
right?” Meaning, Zo was drawing paying customers to the table, not only because
he’s so dang cute but also because he rolls a pretty dang good lefse round. He
was angling for a tip.
“I’m way ahead of you, Zo,” I replied. I knew where he was going the minute he shrugged his shoulders in an “oh, by the way” fashion and said, “Papa …”
At the end of the day, I paid him handsomely … and gave him
a handsome tip.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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 email@example.com. Thanks.