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Scary, Halloween Lefse? Use Instant Potatoes!!!

Horrors! Are you afraid— very afraid—to use instant potatoes in your lefse? Be brave along with me as I try it next week as part of my lefse-making classes.

Wanna know how to scare the krumkake out of most true-blue, traditional lefse makers on Halloween? Tell them they have to make lefse using instant potatoes!

This has been a forbidden ingredient in lefse because, say traditionalists, instant potatoes are not real (although the box says the contents are 98 percent potatoes), and using instant potatoes is perceived to be cheating.

Part of lure of lefse is in the anticipation that is increased with the time required to boil potatoes, mash them, rice them, make the dough, and then cool the dough overnight. This potato-prep time is a nostalgic labor of love that connects us to those who made lefse before us, to grandmas and aunts in the “good old days.” But with potatoes that are instant (can’t you just see the sneer as traditionalist sputter that word), the anticipation is diminished, and the connection to grandma is hurried by an unquestioned and unwelcomed need for speed.

On the other hand, there are times when you don’t want—or physically cannot pull off—the big production; you just want a little lefse. Why not use instant potatoes and get right down to some fun rolling?

When I wrote The Last Word on Lefse 25 years ago, I was one who sneered at instant potatoes. But with age and with the writing of Keep On Rolling! this year, I no longer sneer. Over the years, I have interviewed too many lefse makers who make excellent lefse using instant potatoes.

So for the first time I am going to explore using instant potatoes as an experiment in my lefse-making classes, which begin next week. We’ll make dough with “real” potatoes and dough with instant potatoes, and we’ll see how the lefse rolling and baking go, and how the lefse tastes. I’ll let you know.

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Bad Weather, Good Lefse

Invariably when Julie Ingebretsen and I meet at Ingebretsen’s Store in Minneapolis, it marks the start of lefse season. Last week I spoke to a class about lefse and lutefisk, and then I signed books in the gift shop.

This morning I look out my window, and a howling north wind is shoving treetops severely south, and slushy snow is slanting sideways. Ah, lefse season has begun!

Lefse is the ultimate comfort food, and pausing to eat it with a cuppa tea underscores the fact that you are nice and cozy and warm when the world outside is not. I maintain that making lefse has the effect of an anti-depressant. Rather than being subject to the dim, bleak, gray conditions that characterize foul weather, lefse makers defiantly thumb their nose and merrily roll a few rounds.

So, I welcome the first snowfall just as I welcome my annual appearance at Ingebretsen’s. Last week, I spoke there about lefse and lutefisk, signed books, and talked shop with Julie Ingebretsen, pictured.

I remember the first year I signed books at Ingebretsen’s in 1992. The Last Word on Lefse  was brand new, and the outside temperature on the day of my signing was frigid. And yet, as I approached to the store in my car, I could see a line of rather cheery pre-Thanksgiving shoppers coming out the door.

I quickly set up my table, which Julie had positioned right inside the store door so that shoppers could not miss me as they entered. Let’s sign some books!

And yet, bundled-up shoppers would invariably enter the store and move right past my table to the market section. Their primary mission in coming to this grand, old establishment was to purchase lefse, lutefisk, cheese, polse, smoked ham, meatballs, herring, blood sausage “klub,” and liver pate.

I waited, crestfallen, thinking something was wrong with my book or me.

Nothing was wrong. After shoppers had succeeded with their primary mission and allowed their bones to thaw in the warmth of the store, they relaxed and roamed—and eventually found my table full of lefse books. They’d smile, pick up that beautiful blue book, and say, “You wrote a whole book on lefse, then?”

In the end, sales were brisk, and it was a very good day. Bad weather, but a good lefse memory.

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The Balm of a Lefse Song

What a pleasure to meet Pam Oman at the Scandinavian Food Fest in Hudson, Wisconsin. She has written Chapter Three, a moving book about grief. She made my day with a note about the message of resiliency, gratitude, and faith found in “Keep On Rollin'”.

Last week I was in Hudson, Wisconsin, selling books, prints, and lefse rolling pins at the Scandinavian Food Fest, which is put on annually by Bethel Lutheran Church. I was invited by Pam Oman (pictured), who greeted me with small blue book that she wrote: Chapter Three.

This is an irresistible, brave book on grief. I know that sounds odd—an irresistible book on grief—but we all have had and will have grief. Chapter Three helps readers get through it. Pam pulls no punches as she writes of her husband’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease, her challenges with epilepsy, and then her growth as a woman and a writer over the two years following her husband’s painful death.

As I read the book, I see the healing power of writing as Pam works through grief. There is nothing like the act of writing.

There was a hand-written note from Pam tucked in the front of her book. In the note, she commented on how the themes of resiliency, gratitude, and faith are common to Chapter Three and Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round.

The part of the note that really touched me was near the end when she commented on my lyrics in the song “Keep On Rollin’”. Pam wrote: “I especially love, “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!”

I am grateful that this song, once just a silly notion, has been a balm to people like Pam.

 

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Lefse Friends

Rev. Daniel Bowman, aka the Holly Roller, rolled lefse non-stop during the Hawk Creek Lutheran Church Lefse Ministry Bazaar in Sacred Heart, Minnesota. He successfully connects faith and lefse.

When you make a lefse friend, you make a friend for life.

In the research and writing of Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round, I’ve made oodles of lefse friends—and have added to my ever-growing list of lefse friends that started 25 years ago when I wrote The Last Word on Lefse.

This past week or so I’ve renewed lefse friendships and made new lefse friends in Story City, Iowa, and Sacred Heart, Minnesota. I was in each town to speak; sing my lefse song “Keep On Rollin’”; and sell my books, prints, and heirloom lefse rolling pins.

In Story City, I enjoyed getting to know members of a very vibrant Sons of Norway chapter, Kong Svrre. And many of the names of lefse friends from my first trip there 25 years ago were raised, including Merv Tieg, Marian and Ray Skartvedt, Muriel and Marval Melling, and Alice Miller. All have passed on, but some of their descendants were there to say hi. And one lefse maker I interviewed for Keep On Rolling!, Carolyn Yorgensen of Ames, Iowa, was there demonstrating how to roll Hardanger lefse (hard lefse), which Story City is known for.

And then in Sacred Heart, it was wonderful seeing Rev. Dan Bowman (pictured) again, one year after I had first interviewed him for Keep On Rolling! His church, Hawk Ridge Lutheran Church, is known for its Lefse Ministry because Pastor Dan (the “Holy Roller” in Keep On Rolling!) heads up a huge team of volunteers who make thousands of lefse rounds (most rolled by Pastor Dan) for donations and church fundraising. Inside each lefse package is a prayer or an inspirational message written by Pastor Dan. What outreach—irresistible!

I must say that I get a faith injection whenever I am around Pastor Dan. He oozes faith, and I am grateful that he has made a firm connection between faith and lefse. It is this connection that inspired me in writing the lyrics to “Keep On Rollin’”, which includes this repeating line in the chorus: “Keep the faith, oh give thanks, and you’ll be fine.”

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Love Handle

This lefse stick handle, specially made by Minnesota woodturner Dan Larson, feels so right in the hand. You’ll flip over it!

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this story about resourceful folks making their own lefse stick. People who wanted to save money on lefse-making equipment would use the long, thin, wood strip that’s in the sleeve at the bottom of window shades. They’d slide out the strip, bevel off one of the ends, and use the stick for flipping and carrying lefse rounds. I have done this for demonstration purposes in my lefse classes, and it works fine. You could also do the same thing with a yardstick.

You can get by with whatever as a lefse stick. When I first bought my narrow-handled, 2-foot-long lefse sticks for under $5 each, I was satisfied. They did the trick, and I didn’t give them another thought over decades of use.

And then this week I came upon the lefse stick pictured that was made by Dan Larson, a Minnesota woodturner who also made the beautiful lefse rolling pin that is on the cover of Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. Dan puts thought into every piece he makes, and before making his lefse stick, he saw the major shortcoming with lefse sticks: the handle. Most handles are skinny extensions of the lefse stick. They may have a design painted on them, but they don’t feel all that good in the hand, and the handle doesn’t make for easy flipping of rounds.

Dan’s stick is wide and flexible, and the ergonomic handle is large and rounded and smooth and good looking. It feels good—really good—and the calm you draw from it when holding the stick is as good as meditation.

Chances are you’ll only use one lefse stick in your life, so why invest in one that adds comfort and joy to lefse making? The Best Handle Ever Lefse Stick.

 

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Day 4 of Hostfest: 4 P.M. Gary Legwold

During my regular 4 p.m. talk about my books from a stage in the Author’s Corner, I sang “Keep On Rollin'”.

I took a mid-afternoon break from my table in the Author’s Corner at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota. I walked over to Copenhagen Hall to have my Hostfest fix of Williams and Ree. They have always been my favorite act here, with their irreverent comedy and good music.

Earlier in the day, I introduced myself to Terry Ree as he walked by my signing table. I had sent Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round to his agent, and he immediately recalled getting the book in the mail. We laughed about their participation in the Lefse Masters Celebrity Competition in 2016 and my interview with Bruce Williams, which is in Keep On Rolling!

After their 2:15 p.m. show, Williams and Ree signed CDs and whatnot in the music store in Copenhagen Hall. I introduced myself to Williams; we had done the interview for the book over the phone. He had not yet seen the book but said he would check with Ree, who had. I signed a copy of “Keep On Rollin’”and gave it to him, laughing that he was under no obligation to work the song into their act.

I had to get back to Helsinki Hall for my little 4 p.m. gig. All of the authors speak about their books at a set time each day, and the times are listed in the Hostfest program just like the big-name entertainers. Cool! I talked about scenes or characters from my books, and I sang two lefse songs from my books: “Keep On Rollin’” and “Iss Called Lefse for a Purpose,” a song about overcoming perfectionism in order to make good lefse.

The first day I sang “Keep On Rollin’”, I butchered it, missing words at page turns, feeling the stage fright, and wondering how a lefse song, of all things, would fly. But each day was better, proving that when you bump up against some bad stuff, you “keep the faith, oh give thanks, and you’ll be fine,” as the lyrics say. And I was heartened when several people returned to the table a day or two after hearing the song and said the tune just stuck with them throughout their day.

That’s ending the Norsk Hostfest on a good note!

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Day 3 of Hostfest: Mollie B Drops By!

Mollie B and Ted Lange, who are the heart of Mollie B and Squeezebox, thrilled me and pleased the audience at Oslo Hall by singing a verse of “Keep On Rollin'”.

So I’m sitting at my table during a slow time on a Friday morning in the Author’s Corner at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota. A tall, beautiful woman accompanied by a taller friendly looking fellow stepped up to the table and flashed dazzling smiles.

“Hi, I’m Mollie B.”

Ted Lange also introduced himself.

She has a wonderful voice and plays the keyboard and about eight instruments while performing. He is a dyno accordion player and the leader of the band Sqeezebox. Mollie B and Ted are the heart of the group Mollie B and Squeezebox that was performing twice daily at Oslo Hall at the Hostfest.

Mollie knew Erik Sherburne, who wrote the music to “Keep On Rollin’”. They went to Luther College together, and Erik had told her I would be at the Author’s Corner.

Mollie, Ted, and I talked a bit, and then she asked to see the sheet music for the song. She looked it over and looked at Ted and then back at me.

“Can I take this? Maybe we can work a verse or two into our 3 o’clock show.”

I said sure, and at 3 p.m., I took a seat front and center at Oslo Hall. Mollie B and Squeezbox have an amazing high-energy act, with professional musicianship, an immediate connection to the crowd, voices you want to hear more of, and lotsa polka tunes that get people up and dancing.

They hadn’t played “Keep On Rollin’” by 3:30 and then by 3:45. I had to be back to the Author’s Corner to speak and sing the song myself at 4:00, so I was growing to accept that they would not be able to work the song into their act. Oh, well.

At 3:56, Mollie started talking about Erik and this new lefse song,“Keep On Rollin’”, that is about lefse but also tradition and resiliency. She explained that they just picked up the music and had not performed it before, but here goes!

She sang the tender intro beautifully, and it was thrilling to hear a pro’s treatment of the song. Then she and Squeezebox launched into a very peppy version of the first verse, Mollie singing, playing the keyboard, and trying to turn pages without missing a word. She missed a word or two, but no one knew because she’s a pro who keeps on rolling.

After they finished the lefse song, I made a quick exit to get to my 4:00 gig. At the back of the hall, I turned and gave Mollie B and Ted a smile and a thumbs-up. Mollie B smiled and waved without missing a beat as they played another happy polka.

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Day 2 of Hostfest: The Power of Touch

Book lovers are drawn to touch the heirloom lefse rolling pins as Jane Legwold, right, explains the whole line of Keep On Rolling! products.

 

Mary stopped at the table and tenderly touched the cover of Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. That is the common first move by shoppers here in the Author’s Corner at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota. For book lovers, it is as if the cover is a touchstone from which they draw strength.

“People still love books, maybe even more now than ever,” said Mary. “I have about 200 books in my e-reader, and each book kinda gets lost in the e-reader. I still love a good book. Each book holds so many memories.”

So true. People leave the Author’s Corner loaded with books, and I don’t see this desire to touch and hold a book diminishing. Good news for authors and readers!

The power of touch is especially telling as people come to the table to touch the heirloom lefse rolling pins I brought to the Hostfest. Oh, how they love to feel the smooth finish and hold the honest weight of the lefse rolling pins turned by Jeff Luedloff and Bob Puetz of the Minnesota Woodturners Association. People love their beauty and are thrilled that they can actually be used for rolling lefse. Several have been sold to folks wanting to give them as a wedding or Christmas present.

Speaking of beauty, the sun is rising on crisp, still, sun-washed-prairie morning as I drive to Minot for Day 3 of the Hostfest!

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Day 1 of Hostfest: Scandimonium!

Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, when not rolling lefse in the Lefse Masters Celebrity Competition at the Norsk Hostfest, do video clips and perform music in “Ricky Nelson Remembered.” They are twins and the sons of singer Ricky Nelson.

An exciting day of the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota. The first day is settling into my spot in the Author’s Corner, which is located in Helsinki Hall of the North Dakota State Fairgrounds. A dozen authors are there with their books, including Lauraine Snelling. She is an amazing novelist, friendly and prolific beyond belief. Readers crowd around her several tables of books, and she anchors the Author’s Corner yearly.

I took a break from my table in the mid-afternoon to watch the Lefse Masters Celebrity Competition. Lots of laughs and octopus-shaped lefse that kinda cracked when it was rolled for submission to the judges, who were chosen from the audience gathered at the Lefse Messanine in Stockholm Hall. The winner was Matthew Nelson. Or was it Gunnar Nelson? They are twin bothers and sons of singer Ricky Nelson. They present film clips, videos, and music to celebrate their father’s legacy in “Ricky Nelson Remembered”.  They are regulars at the Hostfest.

And it is always fun to greet old friends from my lefse travels. Alice Redfield from Granrud’s Lefse  in Opheim, Montana, stopped by. Jan Storhoff, a choral singer in the Twin Cities and an editor I used to work with, came to see me sing “Keep On Rollin’” on the little stage area of the Author’s Corner. And John Erickson stopped by three times. Twice I was away from my table, but the third time we connected. He is from Peterson, Minnesota, and knew my dad, Conrad Legwold. He runs the Peterson Museum. That was really a treat to see John and talk about Dad and those early years in Peterson.

On to Day 2!

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Bundles of Joy

It brought grins when boxes and boxes of books—my books—arrived.

Yah-ba-dah-ba-doo! Not many things are more exciting than when a driver unloads pallets of brown boxes full of great promise in the form of shiny new books—my books!

The initial printing of Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round arrived at Conrad Henry Press, and immediately 150 books (five boxes) went to one distributor, another 74 books were sold in Barnesville, Minnesota, at the rainy Potato Days, and another three boxes are out the door due to individual orders. A fast start, for which I am grateful.

I’m especially grateful for the early reviews from those who have gotten past the first impressions of the covers and the illustrations and the beautiful layout of the book and have started to read the 24 chapters. Two examples:

I’m loving it. Strong, interesting content. Creative. I’m thinking the recipes will be incorporated into Hart Lefsefest 2017! — Roxanne Hart, St. Paul.

Bra gjørt! Well done! The book is a great window into the life of lefse in the USA in 2017! I love all the colorful pictures!  — Rev. Dennis Preston, Brandon, MN.