Sunday, November 29, 2009

Homemade Soup, Christmas Decor, Norwegian Advent, and Ancient Greek Poetry

Have patience, Faithful Reader. Yes, another week has come and gone without a Scandinavian Saturday meal for you to read about and enjoy photos of. This and this explain what we ate instead (and why) the past two weeks. And this week I didn't prepare a Nordic feast because of an abundance of Thanksgiving leftovers that needed to be used up, and I didn't know what Scandinavian thing to do with cold turkey other than to make smørbød ["open-faced sandwiches"].

Instead I made homemade turkey soup that simmered all afternoon: bacon, a couple onions, a bunch of celery, carrots, potatoes, leftover cooked broccoli and cauliflower, turkey stock, chicken stock, beer, fresh thyme, dried rosemary herb mix, cracked black pepper, seasoned salt, lemon pepper, garlic, fresh parsley, scallions, leftover turkey, and--at the end--cream. It was mighty delicious, I must say.

In between making supper and sitting down with my laptop to get some work done, I helped a bit with Christmas decorating. I moved some furniture and got the tree set up and strung with lights and then let the ladies decorate it (well, except for the hiding of the pickle ornament, which is my job--remember?). We usually put the Christmas tree upstairs in the living room, but this year we decided to try it downstairs in the family room. There's plenty of room there for it, after all, and it does look nice there, adding a beautiful sparkle to the family room where we spend many an evening together. There's also plenty of room to stack presents underneath and beside it . . .

Thanks to Susan and the girls, the entire house now looks Christmas-y and is ready for the arrival of our holiday guests: Susan's sister Cassie, her husband Nick, and their son Davis, who will be in Dickinson with us for his very first Christmas! Yay! It's bound to feel more like Christmas for them here in ND than in SC anyway. Yesterday as the girls would set out this or that Noel knickknack on a table or shelf, they'd remark how Davis should enjoy grabbing for it or chewing on it, etc. Funny how we're looking forward to Davis' getting into things in our house, but when it was our own children doing the crawling around and grabbing, we weren't so thrilled. Hm.

In lieu of tales of my own Scandinavian cooking this week, I offer you this morsel to sate your desire for something Norwegian: info about Advent in Norway from someone who lives there(remember this catablogue entry from a couple months ago?). It seems appropriate to share it with you today, the first Sunday of Advent . . . and the day after the night on which I usually make Norwegian food for my family. The blogger offers us readers not only a traditional Norwegian Advent song but also a traditional Norwegian Advent calendar that is so simple, you may even have the supplies in your kitchen right now to make it and set it out to use and enjoy. Check it out!

P.S. This is neither Scandinavian nor Advent-related, but have I mentioned that, a few weeks ago, Hillary checked out from the library the Greek epic The Odyssey and that we have been reading it aloud as a family? It's pretty fantastic, actually, to see the girls "getting into" the story and hear them asking/answering questions about the people, the Greek gods, the plot, the characters' motivations, the dramatic irony (e.g., "We know ___, but the characters don't know that!"), etc.

So far we're at Book IV, in which Telemachus, searching for news of his missing father Odysseus, has arrived at Lacadaemon to ask Menelaus if he knows what became of Odysseus following the end of the Trojan War, in which both Menelaus and Odysseus had fought. Got that? The girls do.

And they know that Menelaus' wife Helen essentially caused the Trojan War by leaving her husband and running off to Troy with its handsome prince Paris, causing the Greeks to board warships to Troy to reclaim Helen . . . thus starting the decade-long Trojan War. So the girls knew perfectly well the meaning behind Helen's words when, thinking back in time while speaking to her husband Menelaus in Book IV, she says, "When all you [Greeks] fought at Troy, launching your headlong battles just for my sake, shameless whore that I was." I did get a "What's a whore?" after that, of course. Classic literature = good times for the entire family!

By the way, I'll save you a trip to the library to check out The Odyssey for yourself. You can read it online here, and this site is a helpful source of information to serve as a companion to your reading.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Attitude of Gratitude

On their way back home from an appointment in Bismarck, my dad and stepmom stopped by our house late yesterday afternoon and asked if we had a spare bed for them! We had invited them to our home today for Thanksgiving dinner, so what point would there have been for them to drive home last night, go to bed, get up today, and drive back here again? So we had overnight guests and got to visit with them longer than we expected. And today around noon, Susan's dad brought his mom to our house to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. It was truly a feast, and we took time to express our thankfulness for all our blessings. In all my years, I have never experienced a Thanksgiving at which there was not more than plenty to eat. We have been very fortunate, and we're aware of that and grateful.

Susan's dad, Roger

Susan's grandma, Laura


My stepmom and dad, Beverly and Arlo, with Susan and my daughters: Suzanna, Hillary, and Abigail

Faithful Reader, you want to know all about the food, don't you? Of course you do. I tapped the knowledge of the Interwebs to find out what foods might have been served by the Wampanoag and Pilgrims nearly 400 years ago, and I offered suggestions to Susan (the lead menu developer and cook for today's feast) to add some historical authenticity to our meal. She did what she could (and what she felt like) to work in some of those ideas without totally throwing out the foods that we have become accustomed to having at Thanksgiving. And authentic or not, the food today was delicious and abundant--mission accomplished!

Authentic foods would have included venison, corn, dried berries, grapes, nuts, and goat cheese. Here's how we adapted with our appetizer tray:

  • peppered beef jerky
  • corn nuts
  • dried blueberries, dried cherries, craisins, and golden raisins
  • smokehouse salted almonds
  • garlic and herb goat cheese
  • farmhouse cheese
  • multi-grain and whole-wheat crackers

(The girls really went to town on the appetizer tray. At one point I saw them making little sandwiches: one cracker with goat cheese spread on it for the base, then a chunk of beef jerky, then a slice of farmhouse cheese, and another cracker on top. Followed by a handful of nuts, fruit, and corn, of course.)

Other authentic foods would have included wild fowl, pumpkin, squash, oysters, cranberries, and onions (among other foods available at the time that we just decided not to work into this year's menu). We also chose to include some traditional-to-us foods that were NOT available in 1621: potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, and sugar (they would have had tart cranberries but not sweet cranberry sauce; and they would have served pumpkin as a vegetable but not as a sweet pie). So here was the rest of our meal:

  • butternut squash soup: roasted butternut squash, onion, carrot, celery, olive oil, sweet potato, chicken stock, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, and cream
  • roasted turkey: turkey with salt, pepper, fresh thyme, and chunks of onion, garlic, and lemon in the cavity; salt, pepper, fresh thyme, and butter rubbed underneath the skin; and olive oil rubbed all over the outside of the bird
  • stuffed mushrooms: sausage, scallions, parsley, mascarpone and Parmesan cheeses, panko, garlic, olive oil, sherry, salt, and pepper fried and then stuffed into jumbo mushrooms and baked
  • deviled oysters: oysters, crushed crackers, melted butter, chopped hard-boiled eggs, green pepper, onion, Worcestershire sauce, evaporated milk, cayenne pepper, salt, and Dijon mustard baked in a casserole
  • sweet potatoes: whole sweet potatoes baked in the oven and then peeled, chopped, placed in a baking pan, drizzled with caramel sauce, covered with marshmallows, and put under the broiler to toast the marshmallows
  • mashed potatoes with gravy made from the turkey drippings
  • roasted Brussels sprouts: Brussels sprouts trimmed and cut and tossed with peeled pearl onions in olive oil, drizzled with bacon grease, sprinkled with salt and pepper, roasted, and then tossed with crumbled bacon before serving
  • cranberry salad: whole-berry cranberry sauce, crushed pineapple, sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, whipped cream, and marshmallows
  • buttered and sugared lefse, made and sold by the ladies at our church
  • wine, sparkling cider, and water
  • for dessert: pumpkin pie, apple pie, homemade whipped cream, and coffee

It was such a delicious meal, and we are all still so-o-o-o full. All our guests have left, and I'm warming up a small plate of leftovers and thinking how fortunate we are to be able to have family over for celebrations such as this, to be able to buy and serve plenty of food to our family, to have adventuresome family members who will eat whatever we serve, and to have the skills to prepare and serve a feast such as the one we enjoyed today ("Thank you, Susan!!").

Oh, by the way, Suzanna made special cookies last night that served as table decorations today and lovely parting gifts that over-stuffed diners could take home to eat at a later time whenever their appetites returned. They were turkeys that she made from sugar cookies and cake decorations:

She placed one cookie on the dessert plate at each place setting at the table. When it was time for pie, she put the cookies in plastic baggies to free the plates for dessert, and each guest left with a turkey cookie to enjoy later!

There's the turkey cookie on the pie plate. Relatives will recognize the lefse plate in the middle of the table. Yum!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food + Friends = Fun

Last Night
Our friends/neighbors Chuck and Reba and their kids Madeline and Jack came over for supper last night. We had Madeline and Jack over to play and eat supper with us a while ago to free their parents to attend parent/teacher conferences at school; and when Chuck and Reba came by to pick them up again afterwards, we decided that it had been too long since we'd all had a get-together, so we scheduled Friday's supper.

Susan and Abigail prepared a layout of crudités: radishes, cucumbers, celery, carrots, red peppers, yellow peppers, and orange peppers with ranch dip; and sliced pears and apples with caramel dip. Susan also made three huge pizzas, and the kids drank fruity beverages while the adults drank beer and wine. Susan made brownies for dessert and served them heaped with Schwan's vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.

The food was terrific; the kids had a great time playing together, as always; and the adults enjoyed visiting and joking (Chuck and Reba are hilarious). However, I had been under-the-weather all week as well as under-rested due to my staying up extremely late each night in an effort to get all my work done for school. My body must have decided that "enough was enough" by the time last night rolled around--at one point in the evening, I could barely keep my eyes open any more! When the host disappears for a span of time and his daughter reports that he's sleeping on his bed, the keen guest takes that as a clue that it's time to gather the kids and head home. I don't think I exhibited great hosting right there--how embarrassing. Thank goodness they're such close friends!

Tonight
Susan and I had supper with another set of friends, Deana and Jim. They invited us and several others over for their second annual pre-Thanksgiving deep-fried turkey potluck supper (remember last year's event?). Susan and I were the first to arrive, so we got to sample some homemade blueberry wine that Deana opened to share with us. After everyone got there with their dishes for the spread, we ate: turkey, ham, tossed salad, vegetable salad, coleslaw, cranberry fruit salad, fresh grapes, li'l' smokies in barbecue sauce, cheese cake, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and blueberry coffee cake (you just never know what all will show up on the table at a potluck).

A lot of the other attendees are our friends by virtue of their being my coworkers, and several of them were involved in the recent community theatre production that Susan and I attended (remember?)--so we had plenty to visit about throughout the evening. They're an educated and humorous crowd; the topics that we covered in our conversation ranged from which English translation of Homer's Greek epic The Odyssey is the best to which male movie stars qualify as "hot" to which comes first in a relationship: friendship or love. An evening spent with those friends is always an interesting one.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'll Be the Judge of That

Tonight I served as a judge for the wackiest beauty pageant I have ever seen. It was the Miss(ter) Blue Hawk Pageant sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Honors Leadership Program at the university. (The blue hawk is our university's athletic mascot.) Students in the honors program came up with the idea last year as a way to bring people together for fun and silliness while raising money for a good cause. I don't know to whom they donated the proceeds last year, but this year all the money went to the Neufeld Gemar Williamson Account at Wells Fargo Bank for the families of the three students from our university who died recently (remember?).

I didn't attend last year, so I didn't know what to expect tonight when I arrived. I was one of five judges, and we were seated in the front row of the auditorium for optimal viewing of all the pageant events. There were eight contestants, all male, vying for the crown and competing in three initial events: formal wear, swim wear, and talent. We judges were given ballots to score each contestant on a scale using specific criteria for each event, and our scores were tallied to determine the top five, who advanced to the final round: the formal interview. Based upon their answers, we scored them again to determine the top three places. Highlights:
  • The auditorium was packed with students and some faculty and staff. There was lots of support for the event and for the gentlemen competing.
  • One of the men chose women's clothing for his formal wear event. His muscular legs (he's a student athlete) in fishnet stockings peeking out from a mini skirt, along with his dark skin and his wig of long black hair, made him look a lot like Tina Turner; and his I'm-acting-like-a-female mannerisms during that event contrasted sharply with his muscular build for a very humorous effect!
  • All the guys "worked" the audience with gusto, shaking their booties, winking at the ladies, sashaying across the stage, and generally being silly while walking around in their swim wear and dancing across stage in their formal wear.
  • One contestant, for his talent, announced that he had "outsourced" it due to his not having any talent of his own. He brought onstage a friend who performed an original rap song in his place.
  • Another contestant performed an extended dance routine while wearing athletic shorts that a football player would wear and insert a protective cup into. Except that he didn't insert the cup. And he didn't realize that the stage lights would make the material of his shorts essentially see-through. And he was directly in front of us judges. And the dance routine involved lots of jumping up and down. And the dance went on and on and on. I think you get my point. (We certainly got his.)
  • Another contestant, for his talent event, invited me and two other judges to come onstage and dance while he "deejayed" some music. When I hesitated to do so, he got the audience to coerce me, and I ended up displaying some funky dance moves that some of my students captured on video using their cell phones. Yes, I'm now a superstar.
  • The men prefaced the competition with a group dance routine that had been choreographed for them and that was well rehearsed. There was a tie at the end of the night that we broke by having them repeat that dance. We didn't tell them which two people were tied, so they all danced like mad to impress us one last time.

The students who organized the event did a terrific job and had everything for us judges well laid out, including clear scoring sheets, bottles of water, clip boards and pens, and gift cards to thank us for our time and effort. The audience enjoyed it, and the contestants were good sports about showing some skin and putting themselves on display for judging. The winner was a student athlete from Guatemala who wowed us with his Latin dancing in the talent event and seemed to be a favorite with the audience, too. And, thank goodness, there is a first runner-up who will be called upon to carry out the (non-existent) duties of Miss(ter) Blue Hawk should the winner not be able to at any point before next year's pageant.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Your Sneak Peak of Sneak Pique

Tonight Susan and I attended a play put on by a new theatre group in Dickinson: Sneak Pique Productions (see this and this). Their very existence is exciting: we have access to community theatre again! There are theatre productions in the local schools and at the university, but Dickinson adults who wish to act or direct or work backstage or have some other kind of involvement in theatre haven't had many options in recent years other than an annual murder mystery dinner theatre production put on in the winter as a fundraiser for the public schools' foundation.

Years ago, Susan tells me, there was Sosondowah Summer Theatre, a group that performed several plays each summer at an amphitheatre on the lawn of the university. However, that group was inactive by the time we moved here, and the amphitheatre has since been removed. We came here from a community in which we had been very involved in local theatre for years and years, so it was with some regret that we resigned ourselves to adapting and just becoming audience members instead. Now it looks like we may be back onstage in the future!

In the meantime, we had a good time tonight in the audience supporting Sneak Pique's first production. They were supported by other groups, as well.
  • The university's Foundation and Alumni Association was one sponsor, creating superior publicity materials and other behind-the-scenes support.
  • The local Odd Fellows Lodge was another, lending Sneak Pique its facility (on the second floor of a building downtown) to use as a performance space.
  • One downtown business, JP Frameshop and Western Edge Gallery, not only lent several framed works of art to decorate the walls of the theatre space, but they also framed a portrait of the university's long-time football coach that was painted by a local artist, unveiled at the opening performance of the play, and signed by both the coach (Hank Biesiot) and the painter (Troy David).
  • Another downtown business, Stix n' Twigs Café, which normally has limited hours of operation (late morning to late afternoon), reopened after each performance [except for tonight's] to serve dessert and wine at a post-show reception. (I forgot which additional local business supplied the wine in support of the production.)
  • Burn the Floor Dance Studio sent troupe members to perform a routine between acts at most performances and before the show tonight.

Outside the Odd Fellows Lodge building downtown, an usher was stationed in black clothes and a red vest to welcome audience members. A red carpet was laid out on the sidewalk for us to walk upon into the building. We ascended a staircase that had strings of white lights lining each side of the steps, and more ushers greeted as at the top of the stairs and guided us into the performance space: a rectangular meeting room with a stage set up at one end and rows of chairs lined up to the back wall. The sight lines weren't terrific because the "house" (where the audience sits) wasn't "raked" (built on a gradual ramp with seats in the rear higher up than seats in the front); but by leaning to the right and left to see between people's heads in front of us, we ended up seeing most everything just fine.

The play was a comedy by Christopher Durang: The Marriage of Bette and Boo. It was pretty funny, and the cast (including several of our friends and coworkers and even one of my former students) did a great job. They were scheduled to run Thursday through Saturday and were sold out each night. They added a performance tonight, which also sold out, so we were lucky to get tickets. It's too bad that there was no post-show reception tonight because Susan and I were looking forward to the cuisine, but it was probably best to get everybody home and to bed at a reasonable time on a Sunday night.

The show of support by local businesses that sponsored the play and by audience members that sold out each performance bodes well for future productions by Sneak Pique. Keep your eyes open, Faithful Reader, for future posts; you never know when I might be writing about a play with Susan and/or me in the cast!

Norwegian Officers


I have noted the clamor of the crowd of faithful readers wondering "What up?!" after finding no weekly Scandinavian Saturday update. Alas, I did not prepare a Scandinavian meal yesterday because (a) I needed the day to catch up on work instead and (b) I knew that we'd be eating a meal with Scandinavians this evening following our monthly Sons of Norway lodge meeting. I decided to count tonight's menu even though I knew there would be nothing particularly Nordic about it. It was the lodge's annual Thanksgiving meal, so the spread included turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, salads and crudités, and pumpkin pie for dessert. It was very tasty, but there wasn't even so much as a piece of lefse in sight. Heavy sigh.

Speaking of the Sons of Norway meeting, Susan and I--having been lodge members for a full year now (remember?)--are now lodge officers! We assented to the nominating committee's requests; and the slate of nominees (with our names among them) was presented at this afternoon's meeting. Since there was only one nominee per office, the lodge president was allowed by our bylaws to declare all of us "elected" without having to put it to a vote. So, when our terms begin next January or February (I can't remember which), I will serve as vice president of the lodge, and Susan will be both newsletter editor and youth director.

Suzanna, too, has an office: musician! Yes, they have given our 11-year-old daughter the duty of playing piano for the lodge, which she will do to accompany us in singing the table prayer before a meal and . . . well, I don't know when else they need a musician, actually. At the start of a meeting, we always sing the Canadian, Norwegian, and American national anthems, but we sing along to a cassette tape. Maybe they will have her play those for us? I do know that they are buying an electronic keyboard and sending it home with us so that she can practice on it between meetings. Cool, huh? (But will it be too much pressure for our little girl? Is accompanying a group beyond her piano skill set at the moment? We shall see . . .)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Piano Extravaganza

Abigail, Hillary, and Suzanna with their piano teacher, Mrs. Vold

This afternoon our daughters performed in the Badlands Piano Extravaganza, held at the university and presented by the Badlands Music Teachers Association. For each song in the program, six or eight students performed simultaneously! Yep, they played piano duets, so two students would sit together at a keyboard (four keyboards total), and all three or four pairs would play the same duet together as one of the music teachers in attendance conducted.

For several weeks all the students had rehearsed their duets as part of their regular piano lessons with their own piano teachers, and then this morning they gathered to rehearse for the first and only time with the other students in their groups. Suzanna and Abigail sat together at the same keyboard for their group's song: "Let's Go West." Hillary's group played "Happiness Runs." The performances went very well, and it was fun to hear the full sound of so many hands playing at once and to see so many unfamilar faces: other piano teachers besides Mrs. Vold and all their own students, whom we don't see at Mrs. Vold's recitals, of course.

At the end of the concert, there was a drawing to win a free electronic piano keyboard donated by Jacobsen Music. All the performing students' names were put into a basket, and we figured that, with three kids amongst the piano players today, the odds of winning were in our favor! Alas, no Moberg won. Nevertheless, the extravaganza was a fun break in the middle of our day and another opportunity for my buttons to burst with pride.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Am Davis; Hear Me Roar

Time for more photos of our adorable nephew Davis, whose first Halloween was spent in a lion costume. ("Say 'Roar,' Davis! Come on!")

The kid knows how to pose, huh? Apparently his folks (Susan's sister Cassie and her husband Nick) just left him sitting out on the front step all night to serve as a themed decoration next to the pumpkin. Maybe he also handed out candy to the trick-or-treaters.

I artsy-fartsified a couple pics of Davis and his parents. Here he is with Mommy.

And here he is with Daddy. (Nice hat, Nick.)

Aw, isn't he just the cutest? Keep those kisses a-comin', Mommy! (Oh, wait, he's a Southern boy--maybe he calls her "Big Momma"? or "Miss Cassie"?)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Funeral and Family

So today was the funeral for Susan's grandpa Elmer Gustafson. Susan picked up the girls from school after dinner and brought them home to get dressed for church. My dad and stepmom came to our house after dinner, and we went to the church together. Elmer had 11 children, so you can imagine the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren in that family. Even with just a fraction of his descendants in attendance, the pews reserved for relatives were pretty full. Even though Elmer lived 98 years, it was sad to gather for such a farewell--and saddest of all to see how his wife, Susan's grandma Laura, cried and mourned the loss.

The congregation sang two hymns: "How Great Thou Art" and "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory." I accompanied our three daughters, who sang "He Is Good"; and the church organist accompanied Susan and me when we sang "Thank God for the Promise of Spring" (here's a beautiful version of the latter). It was the girls' first time singing for a funeral, so we coached them not to make eye contact with anyone in the congregation. At weddings and for other types of vocal performances, we usually give the opposite advice; but seeing a crying relative at a funeral can send a singer into sobs him-/herself and derail the song entirely. Anyhoo, they did a terrific job. And our accompanist, who had never rehearsed with us and did not even receive the music until right before the funeral, just knocked it out of the park, adding appropriate ornamentation throughout, slowing down at the right (albeit unmarked) places, all with the instincts of someone who has learned through the years how to follow a singer when accompanying.

We joined the funeral procession to Taylor afterward for a graveside service in the cemetery northeast of town. That's where Elmer's parents and siblings are buried, too. Afterward, there was no big family gathering. This is totally unlike my own family--and Susan's mom's family--who would have determined beforehand some relative's house for everyone to go to after the funeral for huge amounts of food and lots of visiting and sharing of memories and viewing of photo albums, etc. Nope, not today; everyone just said goodbye and drove away. Strange.

So we invited a few people to our house for supper: Susan's brother Jerrett, their dad Roger, Roger's girlfriend JoAnn, Roger's sister Sharon, and my dad Arlo and stepmom Beverly. Susan served a lettuce salad tossed in a vinaigrette with crunchy chow mein noodles, cashew nuts, and bacon; chicken cacciatore stewed all day in a crock pot and served over tri-color fettuccine noodles; a variety of fresh fruit in a yogurt sauce; and, for dessert, homemade angel food cake drizzled in homemade whipped cream and topped with both lemon and raspberry sorbet, served with "chocolate velvet" coffee. Yeah, pretty much delicious.

It was good to be together, to visit, to pose for photos (a "must" at any get-together that involves Mobergs), and to stand on the front step and wave goodbye to everyone until their tail lights were no longer visible (again, standard procedure for when we have company). It was a sad reason to have family over for supper, but it was nice to be able to host them.

Suzanna, Hillary, and Abigail with Grandma and Grandpa Moberg

Sharon, Jerrett, Abigail, Suzanna, Susan, Hillary, JoAnn, and Roger

P.S. I had to duck out of the house for a while this evening to attend parent/teacher conferences for Abigail and Hillary (Susan stayed behind to entertain our guests and finalize supper). I was feeling pretty proud as I looked at their report cards and heard from their teachers!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Spiciest Norwegian Food Ever!

The widely accepted stereotype about Scandinavian food is that it is bland. Nordic-Americans themselves are probably to blame. What do we persist in serving our families at holidays and our communities at church potlucks? Foods that are white or shades of brown with spices no bolder than salt, pepper, or minced onion: mashed potatoes, lefse, creamed vegetables, meatballs, glorified rice, all sorts of white cookies, etc.

It may be a consequence of practicality ("Our forefathers used what was available to them in this cold and unforgiving land") and, by now, tradition ("But those are comfort foods; my grandma used to make them every Christmas!"); but it's a bum rap. The more that I prepare Scandinavian foods with my family each week, the more I discover a variety of interesting flavors that I didn't experience while growing up and eating the cooking of the Norwegians and Swedes of northwest ND. Yep, the palates of most of my relatives would never identify as "Scandinavian" what Suzanna and I served tonight for Scandinavian Saturday!

Suzanna lit the candles for ambiance.

These were the dishes that disproved the "bland" reputation, burning my family's tongues, slowing down their eating pace considerably, and increasing their milk consumption during the course of the meal.

Norwegian: Ost Suppe med Øl ["cheese soup with beer," our take on Wisconsin beer cheese soup]

We diced and sautéed onion, carrot, celery, parsnip, and garlic in oil and seasoned the vegetables with cayenne pepper, hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Then we added chicken stock and brought it a boil. We reduced it to a simmer and added beer. In another pot we melted butter and whisked in an equal amount of flour to brown. Then we whisked in whole milk and half-and-half and heated it until thickened. Then we added tons of grated cheese: Gruyère, sharp cheddar, and (for that Scandinavian touch) Jarlsberg [a mild Norwegian cheese similar to Swiss] and gjetost ["goat cheese," a brown and fudgy Norwegian cheese with a distinctive flavor]. We whisked the cheese mixture into the soup and added Dijon mustard, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and more hot pepper sauce. We topped each individual serving with a handful of cheddar kettle corn. It was very good (and a good way to use up a block of leftover gjetost), but the girls noticed the cayenne and pepper sauce more than I did.

Norwegian: Brennende Kjærlighet ["burning love," which was so spicy that I understand now why it's called that!]

When we had brennende kjærlighet at Norwegian camp this past summer, it was not spicy at all. The cooks had made mashed potatoes in one pot and boiled ring sausage in another, then removed and cut up the sausage, and finally stirred the chunks of meat into the mashed potatoes to serve as one dish. An alternative way to serve brennende kjærlighet is not to stir the meat into the potatoes but to use the mashed potatoes as a base upon which to serve a spicy sausage mix, which is how Suzanna and I did it. Quite a difference from what we ate this summer!

Suzanna made standard mashed potatoes, cleaning and peeling and cutting the potatoes (which I then boiled and drained) and then using a hand mixer to whip them with cream, butter, salt, and pepper. I fried scallions and button mushrooms in butter and added chili powder, coriander, cumin, hot pepper sauce, lemon juice, chili pepper paste, and Fargo Shake (a "sweet and spicy" spice blend created for the eponymous ND city by Wayzata Bay Spice Company). After the mushrooms had released their moisture, I sprinkled in some potato starch to tighten the sauce and then added grated carrot and chopped smokey ring sausage.

The spice mix worked with the sausage to add the "burning" to "burning love," and our tongues were grateful for the bland potato base to counter the spiciness. My own mother's version of brennende kjærlighet (although she never called it that) would have been mashed potatoes with creamed corn used as a gravy over it and boiled ring sausage served on the side. And her spices? Salt and pepper added to the creamed corn at the table. So bold!

Norwegian: Stekte Epler med Kremfløte ["fried apples with whipped cream"]

Suzanna was the queen of prep work for tonight's meal, grating all the cheese that went into the soup, washing and chopping all the mushrooms, slicing the sausage, peeling and cutting the potatoes, and coring and chopping all the apples for dessert. At the grocery store we selected six different types of apples for a variety of skin colors from pink to red and pale green to lime. This afternoon Suzanna washed and chopped them and tossed them in the juice from a lemon and put them in the fridge. At the same time, I whipped some heavy cream, white sugar, and vanilla extract into a thick, glossy, decadent topping for our dessert. That, too, spent a few hours in the fridge.

After supper (while Susan and I waited for the girls to finish their spicy food), I fried the chopped apples in butter, adding brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom. Before taking the apples off the heat, I added a few shots of brandy. Each person then spooned the colorful apple mixture in its warm caramel sauce into his/her bowl and topped it off with a generous dollop of whipped cream. It was really delicious and, although spicy from the cinnamon and cardamom, certainly a cool-down for our tongues after the soup and sausage dishes.

I'm not generally so good at making just enough of something to last only one meal; there are always leftovers. So I'm not sure how we managed to have only one serving's worth of leftovers of the brennende kjærlighet after supper. We do, however, have a full gallon of ost suppe remaining if any of you, Faithful Readers, would like to swing by and sample it. (Maybe it should be called brennende ost suppe ["flaming cheese soup"] instead!)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tragedies

It has been a rough week around here. Sunday night three university students used a cell phone to call a friend, reporting that they needed help and were near water; but the message wasn't clear, and the call was cut short. Thus began a worried search for those students--involving police, community members, their softball teammates, and other groups of university students--that ended Tuesday with the discovery of their bodies inside a vehicle submerged in a rural stock pond northwest of the city.

When I heard that terrible news, I was with a group of 30 university students in New Town for a field experience in the public schools there; we drove up at 5:30 A.M. Tuesday and were to stay overnight, spend Wednesday in the schools, and return Wednesday afternoon. Well, three of the victims' softball teammates were with my group, as were a few more baseball teammates (the men's and women's teams practice and travel together so much that they're as close as one big team), and they were completely distraught. The rest of the group was stunned, too--so we checked back out of the hotel, reboarded the bus, and came back to campus Tuesday night.

University classes were canceled Tuesday night and all day Wednesday, which was designated a day of mourning and remembrance. They were canceled again Thursday afternoon so that all faculty and students could attend a memorial service for the three ladies at 2:00 P.M. We heard from a local pastor, the university president (who was clearly emotionally shaken), the student body president, the three ladies' softball coach and team co-captain, and all of their parents, who were remarkably composed and said such beautiful things about the compassion of our community, the capability of our police and university officials, and the character of our students.

I had never met the three ladies, but I couldn't help crying throughout the service with sympathy for their family and friends, so many of them my own students whom I watched clinging to one another for support, not sure how to react or to process their own emotions--and several of whom I had hugged and listened to and sat with first in a hotel room and then on a bus late Tuesday night.

You can trace the related events from Sunday through today here. You could also search the Internet for news about Ashley Neufeld, Kyrstin Gemar, and Afton Williamson. The story captured national interest and was featured on television news (including Today and Good Morning America) and in newspapers across the U.S. and Canada (the three ladies were from CA, CO, and MB).

As if that weren't enough, yesterday Susan's grandpa Elmer Gustafson passed away. After 98 birthdays and 70 years of marriage to Susan's grandma Laura (remember Elmer and Laura?), "Grandpa Gus" ended his life's journey in the nursing home where he and Laura have been living recently. Susan's dad Roger (who was here for supper tonight) has started making funeral arrangements, and his siblings will be coming to town in the next few days to join him. The funeral will be Monday at 2:00 P.M. at our church, and Susan and I will sing one song, and our three daughters will sing another song. (Elmer always brightened up whenever our girls showed up to visit, so it'll be a sweet moment to have them sing for him one last time.)

Elmer was nearly 80 years older than the three students from our university who died this week, so their deaths were definitely more shocking. However, it's no less sad to say goodbye to a loved one who is elderly. Please keep Susan's family in your prayers as well as the families of Ashley, Kyrstin, and Afton.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Quick Meal That Wasn't

Halloween isn't so much a Scandinavian thing, so I had been racking my brain trying to think of an appropriate Nordic menu for last night's Scandinavian Saturday supper and hadn't come up with anything. Because I was in charge of chaperoning the girls for their afternoon and evening of trick-or-treating (remember?), Susan asked if I'd rather have a Scandinavian Sunday this week, and that was just fine with me.

However, because of a full day of Halloween events, I got very little done yesterday that I needed to for work and was hoping to catch up a bit today. So I selected a menu that I thought would be relatively quick . . . but I was wrong. Every Scandinavian meal seems to take me a long time, I guess because it's always something that I've never made before, so I have to follow the recipes carefully and make just one thing at a time in order to maintain my concentration and not burn whatever dish I'm working on at the moment! Moral of the story: still didn't get any work done today, but it was another fine meal.

I had Hillary, my helper this week, arrange some gourds to serve as table decoration.

We got to use a soup tureen tonight! Fancy.

We filled the tureen with blomkål suppe ["cauliflower soup"]. We sautéed onion, garlic, and curry powder in butter, then added carrots and celery, and finally added cauliflower (three kinds: white, orange, and purple!) and fresh parsley. We added turkey stock and chicken stock and set it to boil. In a separate pan, we melted butter and whisked in flour and whole milk. We took that off the heat and added half-and-half. Then we added that to the stock and vegetables, adding dill and other seasonings to the soup. It simmered for a long time and was burn-your-tongue hot when we ladled it from the tureen into our soup bowls, stirring in sour cream at the last minute for extra creaminess.

Hillary made salat med agurk ["lettuce salad with cucumbers"] all by herself! She tossed some mixed salad greens and chopped cucumber in a cucumber-ranch dressing. She put individual portions at everybody's place setting and added sea-salt-and-pepper croutons to each plate. Refreshing!

We baked reke, krabbe, og kamskjell med dill og hvitløk ["shrimp, crab, and scallops with dill and garlic"]. It was essentially an Italian shrimp scampi recipe with extra seafood and with dill for a Norwegian touch! We marinated the seafood in olive oil, white wine, kosher salt, and black pepper. Into some softened butter, we mashed garlic, shallots, fresh parsley, rosemary, red pepper flakes, the zest and juice from a fresh lemon, panko, kosher salt, and black pepper. That served as the topping for the seafood, which we baked until the crust was brown and the butter was bubbling. It was sinfully delicious!

For dessert we served fersken blåbær smuldre ["peach blueberry crumble"] with vanilla ice cream. We mixed peaches and blueberries with the zest and juice from a fresh lemon, sugar, flour, and cardamom and poured that mixture into individual ramekins. With a mixer we combined flour, white sugar, brown sugar, kosher salt, cinnamon, and diced cold butter to make the crumble with which we topped each ramekin. It looks terrific, doesn't it? However, I added too much cardamom; the peaches weren't cooked through; and I wasn't thrilled with the gooey-ness that the flour created in the juice from the fruits. Live and learn.