Writer’s Block: Quenching Nordic cravings

Calls of “Hei og velkommen” fill my dreams these days as Scandinavian heritage beckons a visit – if not with a trip to my forefathers’ Norwegian farm town, at least with the making of lefse, a tasty Norwegian comfort food.

Sue Austreng
Sue Austreng

You see, a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of witnessing (and documenting with story and photographs) Sand Creek Elementary School’s simulation of 19th century immigrants entering Ellis Island as they arrived in the U.S. Witnessing that re-enactment brought to mind stories of my great-grandfather Johan Larsen Austreng’s voyage from Lillehammer to Ellis Island and eventually Minnesota.

While I long to visit my country of origin, perhaps meet some distant members, I’ve yet to gather the necessary krone to fund the journey, but it is tops on my bucket list! In the meantime, I carry close to my heart several reminders of my heritage and like to practice traditions of the Nordic sort. Why, I’ve even learned to do some tatting – knotting cotton thread then snipping it to create lacy doilies and other decorative pieces. .

A favorite Nordic tradition I introduced to my children when they were just little ones is the celebration of St. Lucia’s Day Dec. 13. Early in the morning on that special pre-Christmas day I’d dress my daughter in an ivory white dress with a red sash around her waist and place a crown of candles on her head. She’d quietly creep into her brothers’ room, gently wake them and share Lussekatts with them, a breakfast pastry flavored with saffron and dotted with raisins.

More reminders of my Norwegian heritage come at Christmas time with pines and rosemaling accenting the windows and walls of our home, Nordic fiddle music dancing from room to room and happy cries of “Gud Jul” shared with loved ones.

The only member of my immediate family to make a Nordic trip is my youngest child, a staff sergeant with the U.S. Air Force. Back in 2009, he spent some weeks in Norway on an Air Force exchange. While there, he lived in a snow cave which he and his comrades carved into the side of the fjord. They cross country skied to hunting grounds, harvesting quail and roasting the birds over an open fire for dinner. Back in town, my son and a fellow airman were hosted by an elderly couple who led them on walking tours of Trondheim and Bergen, describing the historic places and sharing the stories of legendary Norwegians.

Scenes of his Nordic meanderings flow in and out of my desktop screen saver. Ahh, the beauty and wonder of snow-covered fjords, fishing boats docked at Vågen, bicyclists gripping tow ropes in order to make it up steep residential streets.

One of the reminders I keep close to my heart is a custom made ring, fashioned from a krone coin that my dear staff sergeant brought home for me as a souvenir of his Norwegian military exchange.

Just a quick glance at that coin tugs at my heart strings, pulling me toward the Nordic soils in which my family is rooted.

My familial heritage took on an additional Scandinavian twist not too many years ago when my mom discovered her dad’s Finnish heritage. And then, wouldn’t you know it – I married a Swede!

Uff da! What’s next on this magical Nordic tour?

As I said earlier, a trip to the Scandinavian countries is on my bucket list, but in the meantime, making lefse will have to quiet my cravings for all things Norwegian.

Last weekend, in celebration of our Nordic heritage, a dear friend and I spent the weekend making several batches of lefse. Sounds of the Norwegian fiddle echoed and danced on my kitchen walls as we set about this traditional task.

Employing the appropriate tools – potato ricer and masher, lefse rolling pin and turning stick, lefse grill and a traditional time-tested recipe – Rhonda and I riced and rolled, then turned and grilled dozens of pieces of that traditional flatbread.

And then, of course, we couldn’t resist but to spread a few samples of our made-from-scratch lefse with butter and sprinkle on generous spoonfuls of cinnamon and sugar.

After nibbling a few bites we were want to declare, “Smaker veldig godt!”