Yesterday Mom and I decided to attend Yulefest, the annual Christmas festival at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. Neither of us had actually been to the museum before, and clearly we need to go back when the aisles and exhibits aren't crammed with vendors and musicians and sugared-up children...but it was a fun couple hours.
The vendors offered up an interesting, peculiar mix of objects: there were mugs and flags and imported licorice, but also Fimo clay jewelry and pashmina shawls in sealed plastic bags, labeled by someone with a tenuous grasp on English. Of course there were also more Nordic sweaters than you could shake a stick at; you couldn't turn around without getting hung up on somebody's silver buckles. I was honestly more curious about the food. I did not see any lutefisk on offer, though I suspect that it brings a unique array of liability issues with it.
But there were pastries: a whole table spread with cookies and little cakes and, to my delight, lefse. (I'm also delighted that both lutefisk and lefse appear in Wikipedia, hee hee...but since I had to explain the latter to my personal trainer this morning--a confession, if you will--I'll do so here as well.) Lefse is a Scandinavian flatbread, basically a tortilla made with potatoes. There are savory versions, served with ham or summer sausage in them...but we always had it sweet, growing up: spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, rolled into a narrow cone. They had both kinds on offer at the Yulefest booth, a dollar apiece; outrageous, but I nonetheless paid up and eagerly took a bite.
Margarine. Instead of butter, it was spread with margarine.
Which was revolting, and yet made me well up a little, because that was how we had it when I was little. We were cheap, and butter in the 70s was somehow ostentatious and bad for you both, like a rare steak. So my Grammy would spread slices of lefse with Nucoa brand margarine, a soft stick of which was always present in her bright-yellow Melmac butter dish, and that was the flavor of my heritage when I was six or eight or twelve years old. Manna from heaven.
I remember margarine-ing and rolling up dozens and dozens of little lefse tubes with Grammy one night, for a presentation on My Family History in seventh-grade social studies the next day. Did she come to school with me that morning? I want to say yes, but she would still have been pre-retirement, so maybe no. I brought family photos, and my great-grandmother Dina's apron with its handmade lace insets. Even at 13, my waist was too wide to fit...though it occurs to me now that poor Dina might have been crammed into a corset. I rambled on for some appropriate interval and then plied Mrs. Taylor's first period with sugared vegetable shortening on white bread, basically. I was a big hit.
So that rolled lefse tasted ambrosial to me, as Mom and I wandered through the rest of the museum. The building--a former elementary school from the early 1900s--has a tricky and peculiar layout, and at one point we found ourselves peering through an open door into the kitchen. I deeply regretted not bringing a camera, at that moment, because here we discovered the crack lefse assembly line: four snowy-haired Scandinavians at a long table--three ladies, one gent--carefully buttering and sprinkling and rolling a truly enormous quantity of lefse, on down the row. The Costco-sized yellow tub of Gold-n-Soft margarine stood before them at the ready. God bless us, every one, ya sure you betcha.