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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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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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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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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.

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Lazy Susan Lefse

Alice Holland has fine tuned the lefse-rolling process by adding Lazy Susan hardware to her lefse pastry board.

I learn from every lefse maker I meet. A little tip, a refinement in the recipe or way of making lefse, perhaps a joke or a song. It keeps lefse making fresh for me, and I make a lot of lefse friends.

I met a lot of lefse makers when I spoke at the Sons of Norway Vennekretsen Lodge in Anoka, Minnesota. One of them was Alice Holland, who handed me a paper with two photos on it and her phone number. A few days after my presentation, I called Alice and she explained the photos and how she made her own lefse pastry board with Lazy Susan hardware attached to the bottom. I was intrigued.

“In 1986, I had a back injury,” Alice said, “and it’s difficult for me to twist my back.” In 1990, during a kitchen remodeling project, workers cut a hole in the countertop material to make room for the kitchen sink. The hole was 19 inches across, and Alice the lefse maker immediately seized the cutout piece for use as a lefse pastry board for rolling lefse. And because of her back issue, she fixed to the board Lazy Susan hardware she purchased from The Home Depot.

“With that, I don’t have to twist my back when I roll lefse,” Alice says. “Just rotate the board with a little push of my thumb.”

I decided to give Lazy Susan lefse making a try. I realized how much I bend and twist and dance around my pastry board as I adjust the angle of my rolling pin in order to roll round rounds. I often rotate the board because I move around the perimeter of the board when rolling. Because I’m not grinding on the same spot in the middle of the board, I reduce the amount of flour used—which makes for more tender lefse—and it prevents the dreaded sticking problem.

I used to add rubber feet to the Keep On Rolling Pastry Board that I sell, but I have removed the feet because it’s easier to rotate the board without them. Using a Lazy Susan lefse board would make it even easier to rotate the board.

My pastry board with Lazy Susan hardware attached. Note that I have removed the rubber feet so the board rotates freely.

To make a Lazy Susan lefse pastry board, I purchased at Menards a 12-inch Lazy Susan by Shepherd Hardware Products. A true Lazy Susan would attach the lefse pastry board to a base board. I decided not to attach my rolling board to a base board because it would require drilling through the rolling board. I didn’t want holes and screw heads messing up the surface of my rolling board. I also didn’t want the extra weight and clunkiness that would come with a second board.

So I simply used No. 8 x 1/2-inch flat head wood screws to attach the Lazy Susan to the bottom of my board I have used for years. I had to use flat head screws; round head screws would prevent the Lazy Susan parts from moving freely. My board is 1/2 inch thick but the 1/2-inch screw don’t poke through to the rolling surface because the thickness of the Lazy Susan hardware stop the screws from sinking a full 1/2 inch.

After attaching the hardware to the board, the last detail was cutting a piece of perforated rubber used for shelf matting and placing that on my countertop and under my pastry board. I didn’t want the Lazy Susan Hardware to scratch my granite countertop.

Viola! I can roll lefse and rotate my rolling board with ease so I can keep on rolling for years with less work. Thanks, Alice!

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Reduce Food Waste

What to do with potato peels when making lefse dough?

Here is a tasty tip for when you make lefse dough. It’s from St. Paul lefse maker Sasha Aslanian, who admits she is “kind of a maniac about reducing waste.” She found the tip in Scraps, Peels, and Stems: Recipes and Tips for Rethinking Food Waste at Home by Jill Lightner.

Sasha wrote:

You take the potato peels from your lefse potatoes, put them in a little bowl and drizzle with oil (I used peanut oil). Then put them on a baking sheet and pop in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Then flip them/stir them around and bake a few more minutes.

I asked Sasha if she had a photo. “I don’t have a photo of my chips because sadly, I just scarfed them down before I sent you an email,” she wrote. “I don’t buy junk food so it was satisfying to make my own, and find a use for something I was tossing in the compost.”

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A Very Misty Christmas

Boiling potatoes for lefse makes mist on the kitchen window.

I am making lots of lefse right now. Tis the season, right? And one of my most favorite times in the process is when the potatoes are boiling and I get to sit. Sit and think. Sit and remember.

I remember Grandma Legwold, her quiet smile that she passed on to my dad, Conrad Legwold. I suppose I have it. I never saw her make lefse but tasted plenty of it.

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

I remember all the old lefse makers who were the stars of my 1992 book, The Last Word on Lefse. The Queen, Ida Sacquitne, who told me about powdered sugar in her lefse recipe. Eunice Stoen, who was the first to tell me she did not cool her dough but rolled it at room temperature, thus saving time. I have come around to doing just that— and love it. John Glesne, who paved the way for me as a man to be a lefse maker in a woman’s lefse world. Merlin Hoiness, the original Mr. Lefse, and Bitten Norvoll, who hated doing dishes and made extra mashed potatoes for dinner so her boys would exchange doing dishes for the fresh lefse Bitten would whip up. And of course, there’s the Boys of Starbuck, a group of old guys who came up with a goofy-then-great idea to create The World’s Largest Lefse that was 9 feet 8 inches in diameter.

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

Those are the lefse makers who come to mind just from one lefse book. The lefse maker list could go on and on. I interviewed 52 lefse makers for Keep On Rolling!, my second lefse book published in 2017. I cherish these memories when I listen to classical music and sit and think about them, especially Linda Bengtson, who I dedicated the book to and who passed on this year.

Many of these lefse makers have passed on, and I cry about that. Sure I miss them, but I think of those memories that brought joy, especially those lefse memories. Everybody has a lefse story, and with the writing of my books and All Things Lefse that have spun off from the books, I have heard so many of those stories. And I give thanks for them.

To sit and think and remember gives grief a good name. I feel better as I do this … have a good Christmas cry thinking back over the year and the years.

As I look at the mist that builds on the window from the boiling potatoes, I think of 12-year-old Timothy, a character in my new novel Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse. Timothy tells his girlfriend Amaya, the main character in the novel, that he sees ghosts. She’s shocked but believes Timothy, and she asks where he sees them. He says, “wherever water is … like … light…. You know … when water is floating, like fog or mist or—”

I don’t see ghosts, but I believe Timothy, that ghosts or something like them are where water is light, in fog or in mist or in falling snow. When I look at the falling snow behind the mist on my kitchen window as I boil potatoes, I think of the old lefse makers and part of a poem Amaya says at the funeral of her Papa, who taught her to make lefse:

See how far you’ve come to get where you are

See who was there with you, to lift up your star

And know they’re still with you, just right over here.

Turn around and tune in; they don’t disappear.

My potatoes are done, so it is time to make the lefse dough. But I look at the mist on the window and think of the old lefse makers who are “just right over here” … and I smile.

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The Woes of Wet Lefse Dough

What do you do when your lefse dough is wet? Well …

Lefse makers tend to find a recipe, often from a loved one in the family, and follow it precisely. I’m the same, or I had been until yesterday. I was in a hurry and got a little loose with my measurements. Actually, I’m kinda proud that I thumbed my nose at perfectionism. My perfectionism is an oppressor, demanding I do it perfect (make lefse, sing, write a book, you name it) or else.

Well, this batch of lefse dough was not done perfectly. I had added too much butter and cream, so the dough turned out wet.

What to do?

Wet lefse dough can mean your lefse rounds will be tough. With wet dough, you think you have to use more flour as you roll in order to prevent sticking. More flour equals tough lefse, and tough lefse, of course, is not your goal. I call tough lefse potato jerky.

To salvage such a batch, I do not use more flour. Instead, I use more time and less pressure on the rolling pin.

I form a patty and then gently press the rolling pin onto the patty. I do this repeatedly, rotating the pin and slowly rolling the dough into a wider and wider circle. Gently is the key word. Squishing the patty creates sticking.

When I get the round to a diameter about half as large as I want the final round to be, I turn the round and move it to another spot on my pastry board. That’s one reason I sell a large pastry board, so I can move the round while rolling and not keep grinding on the same spot, which hastens sticking.

So when you make a wet batch of lefse dough, don’t pitch it and don’t use more flour. Just take more time, turn and move your round at the midway point, and go ever so gently on the rolling pin.

These are the rounds that were rolled from the wet batch of lefse dough.