You say Potato, I Say Potato Lefse
Carb load Norwegian-style with this holiday treat and family tradition.
By Leslie Bilderback 12/06/2013
My holiday traditions are very special. Yours are just okay.
This is what I imagine to be the first holiday disagreement for every couple, and the subsequent inner monologues for years to come. You come into a marriage with historical references that are dear to your heart. They link you to your family and ancestors, and have given this time of year special meaning ever since you were a kid. But
your spouse doesn't give two hoots, because they have nothing to do with his/her side of the family.
Such is the case in our household, where grand pronouncements of sacrifice were made to keep the holiday peace.
There are a number of ways our family traditions morphed into what my children now know as Christmas. We eat our feast on Christmas Eve, which is a Scandinavian thing (my people). We also exchanged presents on Christmas Eve when I was a kid. We would have to wait until the dishes were done and the kitchen was clean — an excruciating task, as the adults prolonged the chore in a hilarious attempt to torture me. I hated that then, but wholeheartedly approve of it now, as currently most of my days are spent thinking of ways to annoy my kids.
Unfortunately, "Christmas Eve presents" sounded a little too greedy for my husband, and the thought of no presents on Christmas morning was too much for him to bear. So I gave that up as my part of our marital Christmas compromise. Now our Christmas morning looks a lot like the rest of America's — hyperactive kids who haven't slept, adults exhausted from the shopping for, and staging of, this elaborate ritual. Thank God my husband wasn't one of those "Santa magically brought the tree, set it up and decorated it in the middle of the night" people. That might have been a game-changer.
In exchange, I have done away with turkey and ham in favor of the Christmas dinner I really want. (I believe that large meat should stay with its appropriate holiday. Don't be cruising across the calendar to test the waters in December. You don't see candy canes sneaking into Halloween buckets or Easter baskets do you? It's not natural.) I have instead opted for a mostly Anglo-Saxon carb-fest of all my favorite foods in one ginormous feast. This usually includes, but is not limited to, prime rib of beef and Yorkshire pudding — not because we have any Brit blood, but because I want the Yorkshire pudding, and prime rib is its wingman. The meal has variations from time to time.
Occasionally an increased interest in vegetarianism has resulted in more grains and veggies on the table. And on the opposite end of the animal rights scale, lobsters have made a few appearances, sent from friends on the East Coast. (FYI –- the bibs are important.)
I come from a family with a hearty Norwegian heritage. My grandparents were especially Nordic at Christmas, when the table would be laden with lutefisk and boiled potatoes. For those of you who have never tried lutefisk (and congratulations for that), it is dried salt cod (or other dried white fish) that has been treated with lye until it takes on a gelatinous (or snotty, as we say in my family) texture. It makes Polynesian poi look like foie gras. Luckily the meal also included lefse, the manna from Valhalla. Lefse is a wondrous flat bread, similar to the tortilla, but 100 times better because it is made with potatoes.
Oh, the joy of potatoes. I have given them up for the most part because, as we all know by now, they have the glycemic index of chocolate cake. But it's Christmas, dammit! So let's go ahead and spike my blood-sugar level with the force of Thor's hammer.
Some Scandinavians eat their lefse as a sweet bread, adding jam or cinnamon sugar. I'm sure that is fine — for them. I'm a lefse purist. A salty butter girl. (That is no double entendre.) I wait all year for that first piece of lefse, hot off the griddle, slathered in butter, which drips down my chin and into the sink over which I am undoubtedly standing. It is my happy place. Thanks be to Odin.
My mom let the gross stuff slide when she made her Norwegian Christmas dinner. But she kept the lefse, as I do. And I bet my kids will too, because there is a mystical link to the past that we create by mashing, mixing, rolling and cooking those potatoes. The effort is appreciated in the world beyond, our Viking ancestors smiling down on us, relieved I didn't sacrifice the lefse in favor of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.
Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She can be found in the kitchen of Heirloom Bakery in South Pasadena, tweeting @lbilderback and teaching techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com