Growing up as a first-generation Norwegian in the Midwest certainly made for some “interesting,” ok, awkward school lunches and show-and-tells. This includes horror stories about “Norwegian peanut butter sandwiches (not really peanut butter… braunschweiger) and sharing my reindeer boots with my fourth-grade peers (Maybe I was wearing Prancer and Vixen?). The whole name thing didn’t exactly help me blend in either. (Since you asked, pronounced “Signa” or “Cigna”). First days of school were particularly brutal. I always ended up sounding like either a medical condition or a flamboyant figure skater. As a teacher, these past scars made me extra sensative to getting a student’s name right.
It was only during the long summer and holiday breaks spent with my father’s parents at the lake and in my farmor’s kitchen that I felt normal.
Cardamom and nutmeg scented memories of traditional Scandinavian meals, prepared with simple ingredients, and served with story grounded me in who I was.
As I grew older and had a family of my own, things took some unexpected turns. My son was in and out of the hospital with chronic Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Turpura, ITP, (he is fine now), my marriage dissolved, and I lost my mother and my farmor to cancer. During this time, I also finished a graduate degree and began teaching.
I was in a survival mode and just kind of lost myself. If my kids (I have a daughter in high school and a son in junior high) were doing well, then I felt okay-grateful. As things settled down, I moved closer to my dad to pester him and give my kids the opportunity to be as close with my dad as I was with his parents. He is also teaching my daughter how to drive-Bonus! Anyway, part of coming home included weekly meals with Dad. It wasn’t until these meals that I realized how far I had strayed from cooking a decent meal and the tradition behind the ones I ate with family long ago.
Admittedly, I never been an amazing cook, but we weren’t starving either. My standby dinners had reduced to a sad rotation chicken breasts and (bagged) salad, frozen pizza and more (bagged) salad, chicken nuggets and (frozen) broccoli, sloppy joes and baby carrots-really chips, and Chinese take-out. I could be going to culinary hell, or a meeting with child services, but I am mending my ways.
So here we all are, three generations in a kitchen making great traditional “scandi grub” together. We laugh, we heal, and we share the stories and traditions about the people and places behind each plate. Put down the phone; turn off the television; pull up a chair; and let’s spise.