It has come to the point in the holiday season where I really just want to stick a straw into the balloon that is the month of December and blow it up a little. I’d like it to be two weeks longer, or maybe three. That’s the amount of time that I estimate I’d need to get all of the holiday things done that I want to get done, including just being able to sit comfortably in the holiday spirit without getting nervous that it’s going to end before I can have enough Sufjan Christmas moments.
I had a lot of mediumly grand plans this holiday season: adding rose nougat to my annual cookie boxes, throwing a Lefse and Latke Chrismukkah Party, making a Dala horse shaped stollen-y cake, and not having to pay for expedited shipping on the gifts I ordered online. At most, I only achieved abridged versions of these (thanks to these quick stollen bars and free shipping from Pendleton). But no party and no nougat. Which is fine because this season was still packed with other people’s parties, almond-heavy cookie swaps, and little Cliff’s Baptism bash. It also has yet to be packed with Christkindlmarket and an Upper Peninsula pasty tour. And I have a dentist appointment at the beginning of January so it’s probably best that I didn’t make nougat.
But the one thing that I would seriously schedule first in the event that my expansion of December by way of blowing it up with a straw plan actually worked is a lefse weekend. Ever since I learned about the lefse making tradition when I first moved here, I admired it (even despite the fact that the first time I made it, it ended in tears). Making lefse symbolizes the holidays in the upper Midwest, it’s a group activity that’s been happening year after year for generations, and there are so many stories surrounding it. But to be totally honest, it wasn’t until I made lefse with cousin Elaine and aunt Ethel when we filmed the Chrismukkah episode of Girl Meets Farm back in October that it became a food that I craved with all of my might. Is it because I’m pregnant? Maybe. Good things, especially potato-centric things, do tend to taste better these days. Or maybe it’s because the last few times I’ve had it, it was store-bought. When we made it on the show, I was reminded of how fluffy, soft, tender, and flavorful it is when it’s fresh off the grill and slathered with softened butter. I wish I could have eaten more of it during the filming. I wish I could have paused cameras for a minute so that I could run to my cabinet and pull down all of my jams, nut butters, Nutella, etc., and just sit there eating a bite of lefse with each. But we were on a schedule and I needed to pace myself because that was also spätzle week.
And then after filming wrapped I had one ultimate foam-at-the-mouth pregnant lady epitome. It happened on the plane to Florida when I opened up the December Bon Appetit and saw the most drop dead beautiful spread of roast beef, pickles, a white creamy sauce, and salty buttery fluffy rolls, all set up for a party. It was simple and stunning. I shoved it in Eggboy’s face and he also started foaming at the mouth. The more I stared at that spread, the more I realized I had to do it… but replace the rolls with lefse. And replace the roast beef with ham (I’m going through a ham phase). I mean??!!! Just imagine a soft warm sheet of lefse slathered with mayo and wrapped around salty hot ham. The pickle could be in it too, or it could be on the side, it would be perfect either way. I am a little dead just thinking about it. I might need to schedule a random January party just to do this. But something tells me that lefse ham tacos would taste better without the vibe of New Year’s diet mishegas in the air.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been daydreaming of.
<3 Lefse and ham. <3
Here is our family lefse recipe, which was developed by Ollie Amundson, my second cousin three times removed in-law in-law. (Or, the wife of Eggboy’s great grandpa’s second cousin.) It has more sugar than many other lefse recipes, and the fact that it uses oil instead of butter has been raising some eyebrows. But it’s the family recipe that Ethel has scribbled on a very special notecard and I love it for its extra sweetness and soft moist texture. The following includes directions for if you have a lefse setup (a lefse grill + a lefse stick) and if you do not (you’ll need a low-sided skillet and a large offset spatula). FYI, my ham taco fantasy uses smaller, skillet-sized lefse. This is best made as a group activity and it is best eaten the day of, however it is very common to keep a stock of it in the freezer. For video help, check out the video that the New York Times filmed at our house a few years ago!
makes 18 large sheets or 36 smaller sheets
5 lbs. (2.25kg) red-skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-2” cubes
1/2 c (100g) sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
2/3 c (133g) neutral oil, such as canola
1 (5-oz) can evaporated milk
2 1/2-3 c (325-390g) all-purpose flour, plus quite a bit more for dusting
Softened butter, sugar, cinnamon sugar, jam, or any other toppings as desired (like ham.)
Add the potatoes to a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil until the potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and rice them into a bowl, continuing until you have 8 cups. Add the sugar, salt, oil, and evaporated milk, and mix to combine. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
When you’re ready to grill, preheat a lefse grill to 400º or set a low-lipped skillet over medium high heat (I like using a cast iron pan, at least 10” big). Add the 2 1/2 cups of flour to the potato mixture and mix to combine. It should be sticky and hold together, but not so sticky that it’s impossible to work with, if so, add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour. Divide dough into two logs if you’re using a lefse grill, and four if you’re using a skillet. Cut each log into 9 pieces and place three of the logs on plates or a cutting board in the refrigerator. Keep the dough chilled while you’re not working with it, and work with one log at a time.
Roll one ball of dough into a ball and place it on a work surface dusted with flour. Dust the top of the dough with flour as well and gently roll it out into a large thin circle, about 1/4” thick, adding more flour as needed. Rotate and flip the circle frequently as you’re rolling it out so that it doesn’t stick. And again- add more flour as needed! Not knowing to do this is what brought me to tears the first time. Using a lefse stick or a large offset spatula, transfer the circle to the grill or skillet and cook until small brown splotches appear on the bottom, about a minute. Using the lefse stick or spatula, flip it and cook on the other side, until small brown splotches appear. Transfer to a plate lined with a clean dish towel and cover it with another. Repeat with the remaining dough, stacking lefse on top of one another between the towels.
Serve with toppings as desired. This is best eaten the day of but leftovers can be refrigerated in a ziploc back and reheated in the microwave until warm. Or frozen and then thawed/microwaved before eating.
photos by chantell and brett!