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The Poor Potato—From Pity to Praise!

This is the kind of lefse-powered person (I never got the name of that stranger in town) who attends Potato Days in Barnesville, Minnesota—and a big reason why I open my lefse season there each August.

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 I go to Potato Days in Barnesville, Minnesota, at the end of each August.

Potato Days
Potato Days

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, which I describe in Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get Around.

Betty Rud competing in the Potato Days annual 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. Please stop by my exhibit on Front Street, where I will sell my books and all things lefse and lutefisk.

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The Truth About Freezing Lefse

After freezing, my lefse is not perfect … but it’s pretty dang good!

Last March, I fretted about freezing lefse. That even after all these years of making lefse and teaching lefse making, I was not confident about freezing my rounds. I asked for help from my readers, and received it, of course. Lefse makers got each other’s backs, right?

Bonnie Sellner said: “I fold the lefse in half and then again in half and have a triangle. I stack three of these. Then, wrap in Press n Seal. Then freeze. These packages are easy then to just take out of freezer as needed. These are so easy for mailing out to my relatives.”

In my book Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round, Jean Olson of Deerwood, Minnesota, has this tip on freezing lefse: “Before freezing, wrap six cooled-and-folded rounds in Saran Wrap. Wait 24 hours, and then put the lefse in a Ziploc bag for freezing.”

And Connie Bowers wrote: “I have kept lefse frozen for one year and it was still edible.”

This jumbo freezer bag from Target is large enough so folding the rounds is not necessary before putting them in the freezer.

I have found freezer bags from Target that are large enough so folding is not necessary. This eliminates cracking along the fold lines. I also make sure the lefse has plenty of time to cool and dry—but not dry out—before putting parchment paper between the rounds in the freezer bag so the lefse doesn’t stick together.

So after all my fretting, I froze lefse last March and then forgot about it. Until today, nearly half a year later. Is the lefse “edible?”

I dig around in my overpacked chest freezer, curious to see if the lefse is still in a flat position or is buried under a big chunk of boneless sirloin steak or a pile of mint chocolate chip Klondike bars my grandkids go to when they come to visit. Amazingly, the lefse is flat!

I remove one piece along with the parchment paper that covers it. I check both sides of the lefse. One side looks fine, but for some reason the other side looks emaciated, like it has freezer burn! “Poor lefse,” I think, “what have I done to you?”

I let it thaw in a plastic bag so it doesn’t dry, and I wonder if I would serve this to another lefse lover.

Thawing is surprisingly fast. Within minutes, the lefse is soft, and the supposed freezer burn has disappeared. It looks and feels like real lefse!

I pop the lefse in the microwave for seven seconds, which softens the lefse a bit more. I spread butter and cinnamon and sugar, and I am ready for the taste test.

The lefse is more than edible; it’s very good! Taste and texture are excellent!

The truth about freezing lefse is my perfectionism is peeking through. I make wonderful lefse, like many of my readers, that brings oohs and aahs when served fresh. So I have to accept that frozen lefse—and there are many ways to freeze it—cannot be the same as fresh lefse. Fresh is fresh. I try to serve fresh lefse whenever I can, but there are times when I can’t. So I can let go of my perfectionism (yet again) and be proud to serve frozen.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

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A Big Reason I Joined!

Lowell and Bev Johnson enjoying the good life in Norway. What a view!

Well, I finally joined the Sons of Norway. I have spoken at many lodges and say in my speech that the Sons of Norway and I share the same mission: preserving traditions. The Sons of Norway lodges all over North American hold meetings and create entertainment and educational events throughout the year to keep the culture of Norway, and I write books to keep lefse making alive and well … and to keep those who eat lutefisk alive and well!

So it was a no-brainer that I finally became a member. I joined the Synnove-Nordkap lodge in St. Paul because I know a few members in that lodge and have been impressed by the lodge’s vitality. I enjoyed my first meeting at the annual summer picnic last month.

Image from the Synnove-Nordkap lodge of the Sons of Norway.

When I arrived at the picnic, I did some standing around with my hands in my pockets, feeling awkward and like the newcomer that I was. And then Lowell Johnson (pictured above) introduced himself. He’s a funny guy who is easy to talk with, so the time passed quickly and the evening was fun. Nothing like that personal connection and the power of simply saying, “Hello!” I’ll be back and am glad I now support an organization that has meant a great deal to so many who love the Norwegian ways.

Oh, Lowell reminded me that he had submitted two jokes to my newsletter, The Lefse & Lutefisk News. Here they are:

What did Ole say the first time he saw pizza? “Uff da!  Who ‘trew up on the lefse?”

Lars was having trouble getting rid of the skunks under his porch.  Ole told him to put some lutefisk under there.  Well, the skunks are gone, but now Lars can’t get rid of the Knutsons!

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The Verse of My Lefse Novel

The final page proofs of Final Rounds were sent to the printer today! A key part of this coming-of-age novel involves a lefse-making marathon that features stacks of beautiful lefse bowls and lefse-inspired rhymes. Verse is throughout Final Rounds, which makes this novel about how a 12-year-old girl handles grief both moving and joyous.

The release of Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse is only a month away! I cannot take orders yet, but today I sent the final page proofs to the printer.

Final Rounds is a simple novel about a complex character, 12-year-old Amaya, who handles the loss of Papa, her grandfather, by 1) pulling off an end-of-life celebration for Papa never heard of before in Amaya’s small town and 2) by writing—which she hates. Amaya writes about her memories of Papa and makes writing less loathsome—even enjoyable—by writing part of her story in verse.

Below is a peaceful scene involving Papa, Amaya, and Mrs. Taylor, Papa’s neighbor and a high school English teacher who helps Papa and Amaya make 630 rounds of lefse for a Christmas lefse giveaway in New Seljord, their small town in Minnesota. The blizzard and the lefse-making marathon have ended, and the three exhausted-but-grateful lefse makers are reflecting on life and the wonder of the sun emerging as the snow ends. Lefse has inspired all three of them to make up verse throughout the day, and now Amaya and then Mrs. Taylor each add one more verse. Mrs. Taylor, who grew up in Mississippi and has a different appreciation of snow than most folks from the North, has probably the best line in the book with her verse.

Papa closed the barn door. The late afternoon was now tinted with a dreamy, peachy light. It was still snowing, but the sun was pressing its way through the clouds from the west. Reds and oranges and yellows and pinks were everywhere. Even floating snowflakes carried flecks of paint. Mrs. T and I were gaping, and Papa stopped walking to the house and turned to look at us. Then he also looked at the sunset. None of us spoke until a rhyme came over me.

The sun . . . so fun; the snow’s the show.
Please let it last. . . . Don’t let it go.

Mrs. T and Papa smiled and nodded but did not speak.

The sun did not last, but we stood and stood and stood. The sun lowered, and the colors slowly dulled on the final few snowflakes.

“Mrs. Taylor,” said Papa, still looking at the sun, which was just on the roof of her house down the hill, “for a Mississippi girl, you must have had your fill of Old Man Winter.”

She smiled but never took her eyes off the horizon. Finally, she said in a sweet, low voice:

Rain has its rhythm, its charm, and its sound.
Its route is just straight, from the sky to the ground.
But a raindrop may wonder: Where is the romance?
Then winter gives water a chance to dance.

Final Rounds has much more of this kind of verse to complement a heart-rending story that, like grief, is sad and sweet. I won’t see the pages of the book again until it is actually a bound book—mid-August! Very exciting time!

The cover of my new novel, coming next month!

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A Peek at the Lefse Novel

This is very close to the final version of the cover of Final Rounds. The novel will be available in August.

All the writing and editing for my new novel are done, and Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse is in the final stages of production. My designer, Jenny Mahoney, is laying out the pages and incorporating the 20 color illustrations by Heather Bassler Zemien. Exciting!

I call Final Rounds a lefse novel. Let me explain. It is a novel about grief for people 12 and over. Certainly, there is sadness with loss, and the novel brings tears throughout. But the bulk of the book is a set of sweet and funny and moving recollections by Amaya, a 12-year-old whose grandfather, Papa, has passed away the day the book opens.

One of Amaya’s memories is of a snowbound night of making 630 rounds of lefse. In this night, Papa explains to Amaya his rather goofy Eight Rules of Life, which includes a rule on how to handle failure in general and in particular in learning to make lefse. Here is part of the rule and part of the conversation that follows. By the way, the rules are presented in verse and the conversation is also in verse—part of the creative fun in writing fiction!

First, Papa expounds on failure in general:

Does failure mean you will not succeed?

Failure, my girl, may be just what you need…

Failure may mean that something is lacking.

Is backing behind a façade that is cracking?

 

Failure is often ’tween you and your dream.

Your boo-boos and flaws are not what they seem.

Failure’s an invite: Develop. Be humble.

Strengthen your weakness so you will not stumble.

And then Amaya responds with a question about wanting to learn to make lefse but fearing she will make bad lefse, which is a common concern for beginners. So Papa gives a a lesson, passing on the tradition of lefse making.

“Papa,” said I, “may I ask this of you?

“I want to roll lefse, so what shall I do?”

 

He stopped rolling lefse and stared at me so.

“Yes, my granddaughter, this skill you should know.

“What am I thinking? You should roll; it’s time!

“You’re steady, you’re ready—you’ve entered your prime.”

 

He gave me his pin, wood smoothed by his love.

Was I nervous and tense, apprehensive? Sort of.

“Roll dough in your hands and please make a patty.

“Its edges have cracks? Your round will be ratty.

 

“Amaya, my dear, don’t bang and don’t squish.

Let the pin work—if not, you’ll have ish.

“Start round and stay round, check always the shape.

“Lift at the edges; roll thin as a crepe.

 

“Flour them well, your board and your pin,

“For flour will stop your round from stickin’.

“Turn your round once when rolling’s half done,

“Then finish the rolling—that’s it, have some fun!”

 

I smiled and I tried, and I tried once again.

Yikes: one round was shaped like Lake Michigan!

The next was Kentucky, and the next round like Maine.

Texas, New Mexico—no two were the same!

 

 Papa just smiled and said, “It’s OK.

“Keep rolling, Amaya, and do not dismay.

This is one of the many tender moments in Final Rounds. I will keep you updated, and you will be the first to know when the book is published in August.

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A Father’s Day Toast and Joke

The devil’s is in the details about why we make toasts.
Illustration by Peter Krause from The Last Toast to Lutefisk! 102 Toasts, Tidbits, and Trifles for your next Lutefisk Dinner.

Dads are often the keepers of humor in families, ready to risk telling a joke or pulling a prank and usually appreciative of any sort of wit and humor coming their way. So for lutefisk lovers, I offer a toast, a joke, and a tidbit you can use at the dinner table on Father’s Day. All three are from my book The Last Toast to Lutefisk! 102 Toasts, Tidbits, and Trifles for your next Lutefisk Dinner.

The toast has just the right mix of sentiment, wishful thinking, and humor: May you live as long as you want, and want lutefisk as long as you live.

The joke about two retired fishermen is kind of a groaner. Bjorn and Magnus had been buddies at sea for years and years, catching cod, eating lutefisk, and drinking aquavit. But now they are retired. They still eat lutefisk and still drink aquavit. But they don’t catch cod anymore and hardly ever see each other. Kinda sad. And when they do see each other, all they say is: “Long time, no sea.”

The tidbit is a bit of history. The gesture of clinking glasses began when early Christians wanted to produce a bell-like noise that would banish the devil, who was repelled by bells. Another explanation: Clinking glasses brings all five senses into play, so you taste, touch, see, smell, and—clink—hear the drink.

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For Father’s Day Travelers

Traffic will be heavy for Father’s Day drivers, so consider the unique experience of flying with Lutran Air.

For Father’s Day, many in Lefse Land will be traveling to celebrate the day with dear old dad. I pass along this travel tip from Sharon, my “Texas friend,” as she likes to call herself. I see plenty of this kind of Scandinavian humor, and some of it is actually funny … in spots. Like this announcement:

WE ARE PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE LUTRAN AIR IS NOW OPERATING IN MINNYSOTA! ALSO SERVING VISCONSIN, NORDERN MITCHIGEN, AND NORT & SOUT DAKOTA.

If you are travelin soon, consider Lutran Air, the no-frills airline. You’re all in da same boat on Lutran Air, where flyin is a upliftin experience:

  • Dair is no first class on any Lutran Air flight.
  • Meals are potluck. Rows 1 tru 6, bring rolls; 7 tru 15, bring a salad; 16 tru 21, a hot dish; and 22-30, a dessert.
  • Basses and tenors, please sit in da rear of da aircraft.
  • Everyone is responsible for his or her own baggage.
  • All fares are by free-will offering, and da plane will not land til da budget is met.

Pay attention to your flight attendant, who vill acquaint you wit da safety system aboard dis Lutran Air:

“Okay den, listen up! I’m only gonna say dis vonce: In da event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, I am frankly gonna be real surprised and so vill Captain Olson, because ve fly right around two tousand feet. So loss of cabin pressure would probably mean da Second Coming or someting of dat nature, and I wouldn’t bodder with doze liddle masks on da rubber tubes. You’re gonna have bigger tings to worry about den dat. Just stuff doze back up in dair liddle holes.

“Probably da masks fell out because of turbulence which, to be honest wit you, we’re gonna have quite a bit of at two tousand feet. Sorta like driving across a plowed field, but after a while you get used to it. In da event of a water landing, I’d say forget it. Start saying da Lord’s Prayer and just hope you get to da part about forgive us our sins as we forgive dose who sin against us, which some people say ‘trespass against us,’ which isn’t right! But what can you do?

“Da use of cell phones on da plane is strictly forbidden, not because day may confuse da plane’s navigation system, which is by da seat of da pants all da way. No, it’s because cell phones are a pain in da wazoo, and if God had meant you to use a cell phone, God wudda put your mout on da side of your head!

“We start lunch right about noon, and it’s buffet style wit da coffeepot up front. Den we’ll have da hymn sing. Hymnals are in da seat pockets in front of you. Don’t take yours wit you when you go, or I am gonna be real upset—and I am NOT kiddin!

Right now I’ll say Grace: Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let deze gifts to us be blessed. Fader, Son, and Holy Ghost, may we land in Dulut or pretty close.

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The Lefse Novel News

Early sketch by Heather Bassler Zemienof some of the 28 bowls used to make dough for the 630 rounds of lefse rolled in my novel Final Rounds, which is on schedule to be published this summer.

I have written four non-fiction books on lefse and lutefisk, and now I have written my first fiction, a novel that will be published this summer. It is called Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life and Lefse.

You may notice that I dropped the Yes from the title. Too many words and commas with Yes included. That’s an example of how a book emerges and evolves with edits. I am grateful to have several readers who have given feedback and changed the book. And it is humbling to see how much better the novel gets with the work of Kathleen Weflen, who has edited all of my books, and Shannon Pennefeather Gardner, who has copy edited my last two books.

The drawing of the colorful bowls above by Heather Bassler Zemien is another example of how a book emerges and evolves. You saw an early sketch of the novel’s cover in a previous post, but the cover image has changed, which you will see when the cover is finalized (soon). Here you see a start—a messy, incomplete genesis—of mixing bowls used to make lefse dough in a chapter where Amaya, the 12-year-old main character, makes loads of lefse with her grandfather and Mrs. Taylor.

The point: The creative process begins with a mess of words and lines that form drafts and sketches that form beautiful illustrations and wonderful chapters in a book. Don’t judge the early mess. Keep working with it. Get help. Accept help. It’ll be fine. … I’ll be saying this to myself many time in the next few months before publication!

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My New Lefse Novel!

This sketch by Heather Bassler Zemien depicts the night when a record snowfall led to a memorable lefse-making marathon involving 12-year-old Amaya, Papa, Mrs. Taylor, and three Belgian horses. In Final Rounds, Amaya writes about this night as she grieves the passing of her Papa.

I love all things lefse and I love writing, so I’m excited to announce that I have again combined my loves into a new book. This book is a novel, my first, and I’m thrilled.

The novel is titled Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and, Yes, Lefse. It is a short novel for middle school children and older — and I like to think it’s a good adult read, as well. Final Rounds is about grief, a joyous book on grief with 630 rounds of lefse rolled in. The novel begins:

My Papa passed away today, I don’t know what to do.
“My Poober-Pahbers, WRITE!” he’d say. “Writing finds the you that’s true.”

The narrator is 12-year-old Amaya, who doesn’t write or read well because of dyslexia. But she forces herself to write, as Papa, her grandfather, would have wanted. To prepare for her writing task, Amaya makes lefse the way Papa had taught her. Then she faces the blank page and lets her hand move freely — and surprises herself by writing in rhymes! Was it the lefse that led to the rhyming?

She recounts a day-night-day three years prior when she and Papa were housebound by a record snowfall. In this storm, they made 630 rounds of lefse that, as a Christmas tradition, they would give to every household in their small town in Minnesota.

During this lefse lollapalooza, Papa explained his eight rather wacky rules of life to guide Amaya. For example, Rule No. 4 is “Remember KABLOOEY.” What the heck is KABLOOEY?

KABLOOEY’S the thing that cancels your phooey.
If you’re kinda blue, just look for KABLOOEY.
KABLOOEY is humor, hilarity, wit.
When packing for life, load oodles of it.

After Papa defined Rule No. 6, “Know a KNOT, “ his telephone rang. It was Mrs. Taylor, an elderly neighbor near his farm. Her furnace had gone out. Papa and Amaya saddled up their Belgian horses and rode through the storm to pick up Mrs. Taylor and return to Papa’s for the night. The next day, the three of them finished rolling what was left of the 28 bowls of lefse dough. As they rolled, Mrs. Taylor had Amaya and Papa spellbound by the story of purchasing her black hat three decades earlier, which at the time was a defining moment in the life of this young, black teacher from Mississippi.

The story ends on the day of Papa’s funeral. Amaya had wanted to do something special for Papa on this day, and after writing about Papa, his eight Rules, and this magical lefse-making moment with the horses and the snow and Mrs. Taylor, Amaya figures out what that something special is — and it has to do with lefse.

Final Rounds is a tender book on a tough topic, but it the only book on grief that will teach you a tip or two about making lefse … in verse.

I will keep you posted on the progress of Final Rounds as it is goes though edits and proofs. Expect publication to be this summer.

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Freeze Time, in More Ways Than One

ISO a great way to freeze lefse.

Whenever winters get rough — and this is a rough one in Minnesota — I figure lefse lovers have an advantage in surviving freezing temps and record snowfalls: We have lefse. As my friend and editor Kathleen Weflen says, lefse warms us twice. Once when we make it and again when we eat it.

As much as I’ve made lefse and written about it, there is one area of lefse making that I need help with: freezing it. Frankly, there hasn’t been much need in our house. The lefse’s gone pretty quickly after we make it. Still, I want to freeze it so that I can offer it to guests who pop in or to be able to take it to a dinner or party without making a fuss and a mess.

This jumbo freezer bag from Target is large enough so folding the rounds is not necessary before putting them in the freezer.

So I am experimenting with freezing lefse. The issue I have with freezing lefse is it’s not quite as tender when it thaws and the rounds can crack. I have found freezer bags from Target that are large enough so folding is not necessary. This eliminates cracking along the fold lines. I also make sure the lefse has plenty of time to cool and dry — but not dry out — before putting parchment paper between the rounds in the freezer bag so the lefse doesn’t stick together.

In my book Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round, Jean Olson of Deerwood, Minnesota, has this tip on freezing lefse: “Before freezing, wrap six cooled-and-folded rounds in Saran Wrap. Wait 24 hours, and then put the lefse in a Ziploc bag for freezing.”

Is this what you do to freeze lefse? How satisfied are you with your lefse-freezing method?

PLEASE send your tips on freezing lefse! Just email me at glegwold@lutefisk.com. Thanks!

Oh, spring comes in less than three weeks!