Who’s the Cook?

Ahhh, traditions!  Almost every family has them, and they are especially prevalent this time of year.  A lot of families bake batches of cookies or create ornaments for distant relatives.  Numerous others have little whimsical things that are particular to their families.

ava rolling pin #2

We can’t start them too young, can we? Look at those cute little hands. This is making Thanksgiving leftover pizza!

With Thanksgiving last week, I’m sure many of you dusted off some of your familial traditions to make it a special day.  For the entirety of my childhood and through early adulthood, I spent Thanksgiving with my mother’s side of the family in North Central Minnesota.  My mother has long been the matriarch of this gathering.  It is always delicious, fun, full of laughter and full of fun.  When there actually used to be snow on Thanksgiving we’d have a “golf” tournament on the frozen lake.  We’d sled. We’d play broom ball. We would build snow people.  The day after Thanksgiving my immediate family would go out onto my grandfather’s property to search for and cut down our Christmas tree.  These are very fond memories of traditions that have faded as we’ve grown older and the winter has arrived later and later.

If I’m counting correctly, I have only been to ONE of my maternal side’s Thanksgivings of the last eight!  Wow, that makes me feel bad.  Sorry family.  However, I have spent every Thanksgiving of the last six years with Evan.  We have started some of our own traditions, too.  That’s where this post comes in: making lefse!

Have you ever had lefse?! It is a Norwegian flat bread that is actually not that exciting if you think about it: it’s just potato, white flour, butter, cream and some sugar. It’s very white and bland, like a lot of Scandinavian food.  It reminds me of my grandfather’s love of pickled herring at Thanksgiving which reminds me of lutefisk..blech!  However, lefse is delicious!  Perhaps it’s the nostalgia…or the processed flour and white sugar and starchy potatoes and butter…mmm….Anyhow…

Evan and I started this tradition a few short weeks after we met in South Korea. We kind of fell for each other really hard and quickly…it was lovely!  We made lefse in his little apartment in Seoul and shared it with friends during some holiday celebrations.  He had made it before, I had merely eaten it.

Of the two of us, he remains the expert on all things lefse.  I love that we have a cooking tradition that is his! (Although I am a decent cook, when it comes to holidays I bring Snicker salad to the table and Christmas Eve Chinese take-out for my traditions).

My attempt to recreate the last photo, ca. 2015.  We're a bit older and more up to food safety standards.

Evan the lefse master

We didn’t make lefse last year because of a new baby and lack of space in the yurt and yada yada yada..excuses.  Before that we would make it the night before Thanksgiving because we celebrated with a large group of displaced graduate students at our “campus” farm house.  This year, however, we celebrated Thanksgiving with just our family!  It was lovely and relaxing.  We didn’t have any time crunches and didn’t have to figure out what we would cook at home, what we would finish at another house, how to pack it all…you get the idea.  I just prepped most things the day before and we spent the morning of Thanksgiving cooking as a family.  Ava was a fabulous helper.  It is so great to share our traditions and passions with her!  I can’t wait for our family and traditions to grow.

Ava the big helper.  Good technique already.

Ava the big helper. Good technique already.

So, here is our lefse making process:

I peeled and boiled potatoes the day before Thanksgiving.  I put them in the fridge and forget about them.  I slept in on Thanksgiving day and woke up to all of the potatoes having already been riced!  Evan was obviously excited to take on this lefse challenge after almost two years of deprivation (in the Midwest one can buy lefse at most grocery stores…not the case in Alaska!).

Evan mixed the dough to a perfect consistency using just under five pounds of potatoes…and I don’t really know the proportions of the rest!  Isn’t that terrible?  Maybe he’s just trying to be sneaky with some passed down recipe.  However, I’m pretty sure he just scours the internet for a bunch of recipes and gets a gist of what he should put in it and then mixes the dough until he gets the right consistency.  I liken the consistency with that of play dough with some elasticity.

Yes, it's just a little bit play dough-y.

Yes, it’s just a little bit play dough-y.

I must divulge: We are NOT lefse aficionados. We make it once or twice a year because it is fun and relatively easy.  That being said, we actually do have an official lefse griddle with the correct rolling pin and flipper stick thingy and pastry covers for the rolling board.  But that stuff is in a closet in Minnesota, waiting for us to return…So, we rely on some good ol’ Nordic ingenuity to get our lefse prepared.

Equipment we use:

-Standard rolling pin (ours is small and wooden)

-a #10 cast iron pan

-a 12 inch pizza pan

-two wooden cutting boards

-a clean white cotton t-shirt (I guess it doesn’t have to be white)

-a thin wooden fish flipper

-Stovetop (we have used gas and electric)

T-shirt covered cutting boards work juuuust great!

T-shirt covered cutting boards work juuuust great! As you can see–the non-pregnant (and non-toddler) cook also gets some beer to help with the process.

We wrap the t-shirt around the two cutting boards to create a rolling surface.  The pans are put on the stove over medium-low heat, and a paper towel lined plate is placed at the end of the assembly line to offer a place for the finished product to rest.

Evan portions out and rolls each piece of lefse with painstaking attention to detail.  He can make them so thin!  It is impressive, to say the least.  He carefully wraps the flattened dough around the rolling pin and transfers it to the awaiting heated pans.  This is where I come in.  I’m the flipper and finisher of the lefse…I also happen to be really great at burning lefse while I try to take photos of everything going on while simultaneously watching the turkey and estimating what time other dishes need to go in the oven.

This is where I get to make a mess!  As the lefse flipper/stacker/burner.

This is where I get to make a mess! As the lefse flipper/stacker/burner.

Of course, like any good flat bread (at least in my experience) the first few are terrible. Some stick.  Some burn.  Some are paler than me in the height of winter. As the perfect temperature for the pans is found, they get better and better until a true rhythm is established.

Ava helped Evan roll out some of the dough.  She remained engaged with our lefse making for nearly the entire process–and it was a long multi-hour process! It was very, very cute.  She was “mixing, mixing, mixing” and “rolling, rolling, rolling” like a pro.  She also made sure to stay away from the hot stove. Like most kids, she loves dough!  It is such a fun, tactile thing for kids to explore.  I’m sure she’ll surpass me in her lefse making skills in the next few years, and I can become the official taste-tester (someone has to make sure the darn things are palatable!).

Maybe she'll take over the turkey prep, too?  Here she is helping me dry brine the "kurkey."

Maybe she’ll take over the turkey prep, too? Here she is helping me dry brine the “kurkey.”

In the end we had about forty pieces of lefse.  We eat them the “right” way with butter and white sugar.  I think I ate them heated up with butter, cinnamon and sugar as a kid…but we decided that cinnamon is probably too spicy and has too much color for true Scandinavian palates (I kid, I kid..a little)! Evan prepared some of them to add to our small Thanksgiving spread, and I moved on to finishing the rest of our meal.

We just finished the rest of the lefse off.  I think Evan might be going through withdrawals!  A Christmas batch is in our future, I can tell!

A job well done by all involved!

A job well done by all involved!

What holiday traditions do you have–food related or otherwise?

I hope the season is treating you well and some of your traditions are peeking their heads out for some celebrations!

Until next time,

Sending peace and love from Alaska,

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl

Leave a comment 10 Comments

  1. Linda says:

    We must have peanut bars. Some people call them mocha cakes, but my beloved mother-in-law called them peanut bars and thus they shall remain. These once a year treats are small squares of yellow or sponge cake dipped in a thin petit fours type frosting, and rolled in ground peanuts – salted is best. The cake cannot be a cake mix cake – it must be a fairly dense homemade cake. I used the ancient family birthday cake recipe. The delightful confections are wonderful fresh off the production line but actually taste better if left to age a few days in a cool spot. The flavors meld together and are literally food of the gods. I learned to make these 45 years ago as a very young wife. Mom is no longer with us but the memory of making peanut bars and ca 20 other kinds of Christmas cookies is strong and precious.

  2. Gail says:

    I love the pictures and the “new family” tradition. While we always had lefse when Evan was growing up, we didn’t make it….many good Norwegians, providing it freely at ample church bazaars. His Grandma Isabelle didn’t like sugar on hers…we now have the tradition of having an unsugared piece on the tray in her memory.
    Krumkake with Dennis’ family was always special as the boys were growing up. Another assembly line needed to get them rolled before they cool. Going from the stovetop iron to the double electric revolutionized the process a few years ago.
    Ava will be ready for her next clay experience with all that “rolling, rolling, rolling.”
    We love you guys! Mom and Dad Pederson

  3. Susabelle says:

    Having moved a thousand miles away from our families five years ago, we have our own T-giving dinners now. Sometimes we invite single or at-odds friends who have nowhere else to go. This year it was just my daughters and my husband and I; we had horrible weather and it was best that most people just stayed home and away from icy roads. I wet-brine the turkey (I won’t do it any other way any more), peel lots of potatoes, trim the Brussels sprouts, toast the bread in the oven for stuffing. All sooooo good. We usually eat in the afternoon, so we can lay around being lazy the rest of the day. I do most of the work myself, because I’m truly a one-(wo)man wrecking crew in the kitchen – I work like a very well-oiled machine. I know what goes in next and I am not idle the whole time, about four hours or so. Then we eat all the noms. So good. :)

  4. Bonnie ellis says:

    Such an adorable little lefsa a maker you have there. No wonder you take lots of pictures. Your master lefse maker is handsome too. Such a great tradition to pass on. We love lease with salmon and cream sauce. Or with jelly or lingonberries (something like small cranberries). We make lease for our church Smorgasbord ar Christmas. My dil sent me a package early in Dec. one year. I thought it was too early but put it under the tree anyways. When I opened it on Christmas it was spoiled…she didn’t tell me it was lefse so I didn’t refrigerate it. Now she clearly marks the package.

  5. Marilyn Collins says:

    Thank you for sharing this post. One of our traditions is to hang our stockings up. We always purchase a tall 7 to 8 foot tree. In fact we bought ours today. We also open Advent calendars and have for many years. Wishing you and yours a Blessed and Merry Christmas. May 2016 bring you joy,health and love.
    Marilyn and Family

  6. Joan says:

    Oh what extra fun this posting is!!!! Not sure if it the tradition of the lefse or seeing Ava in the kitchen – nothing more fun than making memories and traditions with children. Mine is grown and so are the grandchildren – so when I can, I share traditions with them if they are interested. I was raised in a huge family with lots of ‘must do’s’ for any time 5-10 of us got together – so that was often – miss those days. Thanks for helping me remember them. Thanks for sharing your family. God bless.

  7. Dori Troutman says:

    Hi Alex,

    These pictures are so precious! I love it when little ones get to help in the kitchen! My daughter has always been so good with her little girls helping out with the cooking and now the seven year old can do amazing things in the kitchen! Ava will be the same way!

    I’ve always been curious about Lefse and now I’m eager to give it a try! I love that Evan does that.

    Hope you’re feeling good? Christmas is not too far away so that means your new little one isn’t either! Hope it all goes well for you and can’t wait to hear the news!

    Tight hugs,

    Dori

  8. Becky Bartlett says:

    I remember Christmas Eve and oyster stew. I hated the oysters, so my dad got them and I enjoyed the creamy soup. The evening also included church and opening gifts.
    Another memory was the Candy Cane cookies. I enjoyed making them and of course eating them.
    Have a Merry Christmas way up there in Alaska.
    Love you
    Aunt Becky (Evan’s side)

  9. Deb Bosworth says:

    Hey Alex,
    It’s wonderful to see all of you working together in the kitchen. Ava is getting so big and what a great little helper she is! Let’s see… we spent Thanksgiving at home ( just our immediate family ) as well. Like you, no time crunches or extra food prep. I cooked all day off and on and relaxed in between with the family. My hubby is our cranberry sauce maker. He makes it every year and it’s yummy. So much tastier than the canned variety. Tart and sweet. You must be getting excited for the new arrival… Just think… Next time you write you just might be a a mommy of two! Can’t wait to meet the newest member of your family… Merry Christmas and blessings for a smooth birth!
    Hugs,
    Deb ( the beach farmgirl )

  10. Susan says:

    Sorry its taken me this long to respond ….avas cute….remind me when my kids were her age…..thry lived to maje stuff with me..,its probably why they are such good cooks now. And your flat bread reminds me of making potatoe pancakes, …i never was crazy about them, as they had a heavy taste for me and i could never eat more than one. But traditions have a way of repeating. Holiday baking was always one of ours. Glad you had a fun time….susana

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