Good Grief and Recipe for Norwegian Kringle

March sucks and I am glad it is over. Many feel the month symbolizes beginnings and endings: winter melts into spring; cool nights lighten into warmer days ─ a constant revolution of life and death on the planet. This final segment of the year is anything but a gentle curve for my family. My mother also came “full-circle” in March, as a baby, later a bride, and then a can of ashes.
I thought about writing a jaunty little Easter dinner post, but I deleted it, every character on the screen. I could give a rip about sharing how to cook the ham, mash the potatoes, etc., because it is not that important. Coping with a loss during a holiday or a month that is chocked full of memories can be “challenging.” I hate therapy lingo, I prefer to keep with “it sucks.” Rituals and traditions quickly lose their luster if you don’t take time to acknowledge or “process” (I dislike this term too) hard emotions. I am not a counselor, but I have some “been-there-done-that-experience” and wanted to share what has worked for me thus far. (I have yet to be on the six o’clock news, yet.)

1. Get up; brush your teeth; and wash your face.
2. Find your sneakers and move yourself. Feel the air in your chest and remember you are still living ─ you have important shit to do.
3. Make good coffee; life is short.
4. Focus on helping someone else for the day (or longer). It’s okay if you feel a little annoyed at first. Time to develop that dry sense humor, even feeling pissy or off-color is better than being depressed.
5. Do your work in whatever expression it needs to take form in.
6. Don’t pick your nose, because your loved one can probably see you.
7. Come home and make something delicious and share with those you love. My mother’s world famous kringle is a recipe I turn to when I think of her.
8. Set a place setting for the one you miss.
9. Rest well and repeat.

***

The following is my mother’s recipe for Kringle (pronounced “Kringla”- short e sound). There are many versions, but I am partial to my mother’s which is common in Norway. The Danes and Swedes have similar versions that appear in rings and with various fillings. This one is simple and is often requested at family and other social gatherings.
There are three main steps to this pastry, not including the extra miles you will need to run after eating this ─ think Paula Deen and her love for butter and now don’t think of it, because you will want to avoid eating this. Tell your skinny jeans to shut the hell up. I promise it is worth it. The first two layers are both pastry: buttery, flaky crust on the bottom with a puffier dough resting on top. The final layer is all confection, glossy almond icing with toasted almonds running the entire length of the pastry. You might as well just keep those running shoes close by. “Diet Coke Math” cannot save you here, either. This dessert is rich so keep the servings small and remember to give the one you miss a piece. You can eat it later, Mom would want it that way.

Kringle

Ingredients:

Bottom Layer
1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter
1 cup of white flour
1 tablespoon of cold water

Middle Layer
1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter… you were warned.
1 cup of white flour
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon of almond extract
3 eggs

Icing Layer
2 cups of powdered sugar (You can adjust for desired consistency.)
1-2 teaspoons of almond extract (Are you hardcore with the almond extract? Adjust to taste, rebel.)
2-3 tablespoons of cream or milk (Just use the cream and go down in a blaze of caloric glory.)
*Optional, top with slivered almonds if you want to be extra fancy.

Preparation:

Layer 1
1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2) In a large-ish bowl, cut the butter into flour until crumbly.
3) Add a tablespoon of cold water and from the dough into a ball.
4) Divide the ball in half and pat each half into a 2-3-inch-wide/oblong strip on each (ungreased) cookie sheet. This dough will be stretched thin, don’t panic.

Layer 2
5) Take another stick of butter and peel it like a banana, bon appetit…Go straight to step 5 instead.
6) Melt the butter in a sauce pan; add a cup of water; and bring to a boil.
7) As soon as the mixture comes to a boil, turn stove off, and remove pan from heat.
8) Add the flour; this will make a slick mass of dough.
9) As the dough cools, stir in each egg separately.
10) Add the almond extract and mix in.
11) Spread the mixture onto of the crust, on each cookie sheet.
12) Bake for approximately 45 minutes; watch to make sure it doesn’t get too brown. It should be golden and puffy.

Layer 3
13) Mix powdered sugar, almond extract, and cream until a thin icing consistency forms.
14) Spread icing on pastries after they have cooled completely.
15) Add almonds on top if desired.
16) Serve to those you love the most.

 

Farmor’s Waffles: The waffle recipe to end all waffle recipes

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There are only a handful of shopping days before International Waffle Day, March 25…Another opportunity for the Targets, the Kohls, the Macy’s to extend their hours for last minute shoppers, this time scrambling for pants with “stretchier” waistbands. I am sort of loving the moment that leggings and track pants are having in fashion lately. Thank god the gyms also have extended their hours; summer is only half a hemisphere away. This is just enough time to pack yourself silly with waffles and sweat off the evidence before you hit the beach. If you are going to be running some extra miles, they might as well be worth it, enter Norwegian waffles.

Norway, like many other countries have their own spin on waffles or “vafler.” Some countries use yeast, others milk, some only cream, and a few countries use more exotic ingredients like coconut milk. Those who follow special diets also have their own unique blends with nut-based milks, gluten free flours, and egg substitutes. The impatient, or “efficient,” waffle-lovers use toasters. It’s all good, but some waffles are more superior than others. Unlike Belgian waffles, Norwegian waffles are a lot softer and less dense. The sour cream also adds a little tang that makes them more interesting than their blander American cousin, relying mainly on milk as the main source of dairy ─ boring, like beige on beige with a touch of taupe. Frozen aisle versions have a purpose (Nutella or peanut butter shovel), but are also sort of crap, even if they are “whole grain.” “Lego my Eggo,” ─ sure, take the box, just leave me and the Nutella in peace. My farmor’s (father’s mother in Norwegian) waffle recipe is my favorite, so good you can eat them naked. Yes, stark naked, topless, nothing on…the waffle, mind out of the gutter please. Did I mention that they are also marvelous with whipped cream? Can waffles be sexy? I guess it depends on the cook and the company ─ it’s a versatile recipe, whisk with care.

Like most Norskes (Norwegian people), Farmor used a “vafler iorn” to make her waffles. These irons create adorable heart-shaped waffles, so even your burnt (“test”) waffles look like they were made with love…aawwww. Olivia, my daughter, in true teenage girl fashion, fancies rolling her eyes at these testaments of love. Sometimes, I am tempted to tell her that her face will stay that way, but she’s taken an anatomy course, so I will just endure for now. Like many moms, I had a special snotty-kid-reaction-bypass-button (SKRBB) inserted in my brain shortly after having my first child. The SKRBB translates all eye-rolling into “Thanks Mom” and “Yes, I would love more chores;” it was part of the hospital’s motherhood package. Lucky for this kid, her frosty behavior will not affect the waffles (or me), in fact, the waffles freeze amazingly well ─ winning.

Farmor’s Waffles

Ingredients:
3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1teaspoon of baking soda
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 pint of rich sour cream (none of that low-fat nonsense)
2 tablespoons of melted butter
1 pint of cold water
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated

Directions:
Measure and sift all dry ingredients.
Beat yolks.
Add sour cream, butter, water, and stir together.
Next, add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
Beat egg whites until stiff.
Fold whites into the batter by hand.
Let mixture stand for at least 10-20 minutes.
Cook in “vafler iron” or waffle iron and save your toaster for toast.
*Serve hot or traditional Norwegian style, cold, with butter, Nutella 😊, butter and sugar, butter and jam, or butter and gjetost (Norwegian goat’s milk cheese). Consider making a double batch. The extras, as mentioned above, freeze well.

Fishballs with Curry Sauce/Fiskeboller med Karrisaus (Served with potatoes and carrots)

 

My son, Blake, can’t stop snickering at the can of fishballs resting on Dad’s kitchen countertop and starts snapping pictures with his phone. I watch him select several friends to share his pictures with and wonder if this may become some sort of viral meme. This is comedy gold for most 11-year-olds; I don’t have the heart to reveal to him that fishballs (fiskeboller) is not a loose translation for fish gonads. Fiskeboller are fish dumplings; a combination of white fish (cod, haddock, or pollock), flour and milk. This is a popular dish in the Nordic countries. Some people prefer to make their own and others appreciate the convenient canned version. Yes, Scandinavians use canned and packaged food items too. Like most of Europe, their packaged items have much stricter quality standards, so you won’t be finding any sketchy dyes or unnatural preservatives, just some funny names like fishballs, instead.

 

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Blake still thinks that the dinner menu is a joke and I wish the same ─ I do not like fiskeboller ─ “not in a box with a fox,” or in a can from a man…with a plan. (Damn it! He planned this). Reality sets in for both us as Dad cranks open the tin can. I watch his mustache begin to bend up at the corners. Somewhere under that white curtain of whiskers, a grin is tiptoeing out of its hiding place. Dad fights to keep the corners of his mouth horizontal as he dumps the fishballs into the silver pot, but the tension gives and the small grin bursts in to a wide smile, connecting both of his earlobes. I sort of hate him right now.

Ghosts of Dinners Past summon pinched-faced childhood memories of mighty power struggles between me and the dreaded fishballs. I can’t remember if it was the taste, smell, or maybe just the name…the memories twist my face from calm indifference, to disdain, and finally, disgust. I shoot Blake a look that says, “take a pic and I will make that phone part of the menu.” He studies me, trying to predict my next move; will I bolt, or will I bite.

I want to bolt ─ run like hell and not look back. What I would give for a “work emergency” or a sudden attack of diarrhea, neither are options. I had already spent the last two months preaching the virtues of having an “open-mind,” “trying new things,” “blah-blah-blah,” to my kids when we decided to take on this whole culinary project and “getting back to our roots” thing (monster). I forgot about all the fishy dishes circling those roots.

Like many, I am lifetime card member of the Hypocrite Club; my points doubled with parenthood. Unfortunately, I had maxed-out my limit with all the previous preaching and now it was time to pay. I was going to have to take a bite. My dad is a clever man. Well played old man, well played…

Ingredients:
1 can, approximately 20 oz., fiskeboller (fish dumplings)
1 packet of Karrisaus (curry sauce)
*add cardamom and pepper to taste
Sides
4 medium-large potatoes, peeled and halved
½ (approx. .5lb) bag of bag baby carrots

Preparation:
Step 1: Make the packet of the karrisaus according to the directions. Google translator will help tons. My dad is not to be trusted at this point, since he will probably say something about adding more fishballs. If in a bind, mix the sauce with approximately half a liter of “liquid,” a tad more than a quart. The liquid should be a mixture of half milk and half water.

Step 2: Let sauce come to a boil and simmer on low (start looking for exits).

Step 3: Add the fiskeboller and continue to simmer for 5-10 minutes. Refuse taste-test if offered on principle of being tricked; offer it to the next generation (child) instead.

Step 4: Boil, then cover and simmer the vegetables in separate pots until tender, approximately 20-25 minutes.

Step 5: Drain the vegetables.

Step 6: Plate the meal with carrots, potatoes, and fiskeboller with karrisaus on top of potatoes. Grab lots of condiments from fridge, just in case. I am a firm believe that ketchup and mustard can work miracles when Jesus and Karma are in cahoots.

Step 7: Take a bite and pray for mercy, maybe an angel will swoop in for the one of the corners of the ceiling and grab the plate.

Step 8: Be pleasantly surprised that the texture or the fishballs are more dumpling-like than remembered and do not have an overly fishy taste. The cardamom and black pepper Dad sprinkled in the karrisaus make this meal “next level.”

Step 9: Look at son with an air of superiority since he chickened-out and insisted on cheese pizza.

Step 10: While chewing, contemplate if Dad loves Blake more, since there were no “other options” when I was little. Come to realization that Blake clearly doesn’t know what he is missing.

Norwegian Split Pea Soup/Erter Souppe

Split pea soup is older than Campbell’s Soup Co. annddd…Jesus. Romans began cultivating this lime legume sometime between 500-400 B.C. Athenians vendors were selling bowls of pea soup in the streets. Its popularity grew into the 19th century and began popping up in other countries, mainly because it was a cheap and nutritious food source. The dried peas could be stored for a long time, which kind of made this the “bean of Europe” in many ways (“Vegetarians in Paradise/Peas History/Peas Nutrition/Peas Folklore/Peas Recipe”).

If you should travel abroad and get a hankering for some split pea soup, or just see it on the menu as you scan for chocolate cake; you may notice some differences in the recipe based on the country it is from (“Pea Soup”):
– Canada prefers yellow peas.
– Germany’s version has smoked meats like ham, bacon, or sausage in it.
– Poland feeds a thick version to its Navy, probably so it can stay on spoons in choppy waters.
– Swedes and Finns eat their soup with pork and pancakes on Thursdays, to prepare for fasting on Fridays.
– The U.S. eats a version from a red-labeled can. This pork and carrot recipe was inspired by French-Canadian mill workers, who settled in New England during the 19th century.

There seems to be a divide to what “real” Norwegian split pea soup is. Some believe it is only yellow peas, others green, and a small independent faction, it is whichever bag of peas is on sale. My dad belongs to the latter. Most can at least agree that it doesn’t come from a can, even moi, I mean “meg” (me in Norwegian).

Today I am sharing the version that my dad’s mother, my farmor (father’s mother in Norwegian), made on many evenings at the lake cabin. The soup has seasonal versatility with a few simple modifications. During cold weather, serve with hunks of hardy rye bread and beer. If you live where it is super cold and snows a lot, like Fargo or “Anywhere Minnesota,” you can have this with two beers ─ you’re not driving anywhere.

In the summers you can omit the meat and serve with flat bread crisps and a cold (small) glass of aquavit. Traditional aquavit is a very potent Norwegian liquor and is also super old. It has been made the same way for approximately 200 years and has nasal-passage-clearing notes of anise and caraway.

Ingredients:
1 lb. dried split peas
2 med potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 larger carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup of diced rutabaga, peeled and chopped (Good lord, this one is awful to peel and chop ─ think “Sword in the Stone moment.”)
½-3/4 cup celery, chopped
1 meaty ham bone/ham hock (1 -1 ½ cup of meat)
2 tsp of ham stock (bullion)
Dash of black pepper to taste
Dash of salt to taste
2-3 bay leaves

Preparation:
*Check peas for stones and debris. Do this or pay later at the dentist!

Step 1: Cover the peas with 8-10 cups of water in either a pot or crock pot. (I have not used the instant pot on this yet, because it intimidates me – baby steps).

Step 2: Add the chopped potatoes, carrots, onion, rutabaga, and celery.

Step 3: Put the ham bone/ ham hock and ham stock/bullion into the pool. Bring the pot to a boil; cover and let it simmer over low heat for about 1 ½ hours and stir occasionally.

Step 4: Then take out the ham bone/hock and remove the meat. Dice the meat and put the meat and the bone/hock back into the pot.

Step 5: When peas soften or start breaking up, taste and add salt and pepper, if needed. Cover and continue to cook for another 30-45 minutes on low and stir occasionally.

Step 6: Remove bay leaves when finished. Serve in bowls with flat bread, biscuits, dinner pancakes, or hardy bread and enjoy!

 

 

Luspkaus (gluten free)

It starts the same way it always had, a large metal pot and a wooden spoon. The newspaper spread wide on the counter; a peeler rests at its edge. All the usual suspects, onions, potatoes, carrots, rutabaga (“Norwegian peaches,” story for another day), line up near the cutting board. A large chef’s knife poised for its first chop, while ground beef sizzles on the stove.

My dad, the executioner, is not an apron kind of man, but his mother wore one religiously. I am a little sloppy, Dad suggests a poncho and lays out more newspaper. I cycle through the heart warming reasons for this project in my head, connection to family, passing on heritage, creating memories, eating healthier, and a hid

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den one…I want to learn how to cook well, maybe even neatly (poncho-free). It will start today with Lupskaus.

Lupskaus is a Norwegian stew (literally translates to stew) that is as unique as the cooks behind it. I think of it as the “kitchen sink” of stews, or to be politically correct “leftover friendly.” The peas and carrots little Johnny rejected last night, the shallots purchased for the fancy recipe you never made, in they go ─ call it “dinner deja vu.” Lupskaus is hard to mess up, unless you do something silly like add (real) peaches, then you were a victim of my farfar’s (Norse for father’s father) lose translation of rutabaga and other questionable vegetables that would not pass a “selective” (picky) child’s palate preferences.

While there is a little prep, some browning, chopping, and peeling, the pot does the rest of the work. You are free to cruise Netflix, post (this) recipe pics to your Instagram *cough*, convince your kids that peaches really are on the menu tonight, talk trash to all those who doubted your culinary potential on Facebook ─ you got time for world denomination, but first dinner.

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1 medium size onion, chopped
½ of a medium rutabaga, peeled and chopped *please see special note about this below
2 pounds of russet potatoes, peeled and diced
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
½ of a medium-large size head of cabbage, chopped
½ pound of dinner sausage, sliced
4-5 bouillon cubes
2-3 bay leaves (fancy)

*Rutabaga is a pain in the a$$ to chop. Since the vegetable is covered in wax, you will need to have a clean and DRY cutting board (and iron will). “Peel” the waxy skin off with your most intimidating kitchen knife, then wipe the wax off the blade. Halve, quarter, eighth, etc., and chop into small enough pieces that will help make the cooking process faster.

Preparation:
Okay, you can go ahead and thank me now, because I (Dad double-checked) listed the ingredients in order of use. You’re totally welcome.

Step 1: First, brown and crumble ground beef until no longer pink. Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent.

Step 2: Layer the vegetables from hardest to softest in this order: chopped rutabaga, potatoes, carrots, and then add just enough water to cover this.

Step 3: Next add the chopped cabbage and pile on the sliced sausage. Toss in the beef bullion cubes and add the bay leaves.

Step 4: Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and let the pot simmer for approximately an hour and a half-ish. Once vegetables have softened-up, root vegetables should be falling apart, stir the mixture, add salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low until ready to serve and stir occasionally to help the flavors meld.

Step 5: Remove bay leaves (or put in someone’s bowl that you do not like that much today) and serve in either bowls or on plates.

Our family likes to eat this with mustard. We “smuggle” Idun, Norwegian brand, in our suitcases whenever possible, a spicy brown or Dijon mustard will also do. Serve this dish with flatbread, fresh bread (please no Wonder “Bread”), or biscuits and enjoy.