Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lutefisk Season 2014

The seasons continue to come around. This post, originally published in 2009, reminds me that time moves us along. Circumstances continually change in every area of our life on earth. I believe that much of what makes people lonely this time of year is memories of the past. People long for things and folks that no longer exist on earth. It is very important to stay grounded in the present, to try to fully appreciate what each day brings. 
However, tradition brings comfort in its own way.
And it is almost lutefisk season. Some of you are probably not familiar with this delicacy. It is cod fish treated with lye, dried, shipped to America from Norway, where it is then soaked in water. When reconstituted, it becomes a rather slimy, smelly, holiday treat. It is served boiled, steamed, or baked. It is best topped with melted butter, which is the traditional way to serve it. You can serve it under a cream sauce if you are short of butter. I like it with a little salt and a lot of pepper, but that is probably an American addition. In our area it is in the grocery store from Thanksgiving through the New Year, and then again in May. Although I have never been to Norway, I understand that her citizens no longer actually eat lutefisk. Nor do they eat much lefse or flatbread. That was poor man's food and when the poor folks left for America, the Norwegians became more affluent. The Norse people progressed with electricity and refrigeration. But here in America we cling to our poor family traditions.
The very mention of lutefisk causes many people to wrinkle their noses. It is quite aromatic, especially during cooking. But as my mother does, as my grandmothers did, and as my great-grandmothers did, I cook lutefisk once in a while. We serve it every Christmas Eve. Our menu has remained virtually unchanged for over 100 years. The reason makes an interesting story.

Lutefisk reminds me of what my Great-grandmother, Kirsti Engen, did for me. Of my great grandparents, she was the only one still alive when I was born. She, perhaps, gets more credit than she deserves if all were equal, but then, long life has its own rewards. Her husband left her in Norway with two small children when he emmigrated to America. The families there were in dire need and starvation seemed a certainty for many during those times. However, there was  one exciting possibility. The New World of America still had land and opportunities for all. A couple of years later he sent the money for her tickets. She packed up a wooden trunk of possessions and a small wooden box of food for her children. She feared that the fare on the boat would upset their tummies. The trip was especially dangerous for toddlers and her plan was to keep their food as close to normal as possible. She went alone with her children to meet her husband in Dakota. She traveled first by boat and then by train. There was no extra money for her husband, Einar, to travel to meet her when the boat anchored. They got off the train in St. Paul, not quite knowing what to expect. He was waiting.

Less than a year after her arrival, my grandmother was born in their sod house. Soon, a wooden frame house was built. They worked dawn to dark every day in order to stay alive. Four months before her youngest child was born, her husband died. She named the boy Einar and proceeded with their plan. She managed to keep her family on that farm by working hard as a farmer and a midwife collecting whatever fee the family could spare. Her one luxury seems to have been trips to the photographer with her children. I have often wondered if those photographs were paid for with money sent by her family in Norway, but I will never know.
 I remember celebrating her 100th birthday in the old frame farm house. This photo was taken in the 1940's after years of relative prosperity in America and many additions. The inside remained humble, with no carpeting, very basic furnishings, and no indoor plumbing. There was a dip in the  yard where the sod house had stood. 
All seven of her children celebrated with her on that day. We buried her the next year on my eleventh birthday. Because I was her namesake, it seemed a fitting end. I keep her wedding ring, a simple, well worn, gold band in my jewelry box. I received it as a gift from her spinster daughter Ada. She is wearing the white necklace on the photo. My grandmother is on the left behind the cake.

Back to lutefisk.
Great Grandma ate lutefisk, lefse, flatbread, and many other simple foods. They reminded her of the home in Norway that she left and never saw again. She came here hoping for a better life and lived that life with loyalty, courage, and faith. The aroma and ritual of preparing these recipes made her feel closer to home, especially on Christmas Eve, when all Norwegians are celebrating.
I don't know if her life was better for the sacrifices she made, but I know mine is. I am inspired by the loyalty she showed her husband. I am amazed by the courage she mustered raising seven children alone on the prairie in a country so strange that she barely spoke the language. I admire her constant, unwavering faith. In our family we were taught to thank God we are Americans. We keep our Norwegian traditions not because of where they come from, but because of those who taught us to enjoy them. These poor traditions bring the generations closer, and I cherish them each Christmas Eve.
Now, back to the present, let the celebrating begin!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas from our home to yours

Every Monday we welcome our daughter Kirsti to blog from her home in Western North Dakota's oil patch.

This my husband's and my second year celebrating Christmas with our fun little girl. But it's the first one in which she's old enough to experience the joy of the season.

And oh. The joy!

Some things you don't fully understand about parenthood until you get to experience it. Seeing Christmas though your child's eyes is one of those things. Everything is magic. Everything is exciting. Everything is new again.

I hope you are able to experience some of this joy this week. May your days be merry and bright!


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Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my Mom's birthday. She  is the baby pictured with her sister. 
And here they are in a photo booth in 1938.

In 1993 I was asked to write a poem for a Mother-Daughter Banquet at our church. It was a big congregation and quite an honor to be asked to be on that program. My friends had learned that my heart could sing in an iambic pentameter of sorts when I was the Mistress of Ceremonies at the birthday party for our pastor's wife.
 We dressed up in clothes and hats of a bygone era.
Every line I spoke that day as Mistress was written in rhyme. So later, I was challenged to write a poem for our mother-daughter banquet and didn't dare refuse. 
Things have changed, of course in the many years since I wrote the following rhyme. I am a Grandmother now. Time marches on, or flies by.
I was raised in GriggsDakota, with a kind and patient mother. It was from that perspective I wrote the following poem all those years ago. Of course, I dedicated it to Mom and invited her to attend the banquet with me and my daughters. The introduction that evening was  the same one I have written here. And Mom, I hope we laugh as hard today as we did that night in 1993.
 Happy Birthday!

"Mom, for all the times I've embarrassed you in the past, I just want you to know...I am about to do it again."

Thoughts on the MD Relationship

"On Mothers and Daughters they've asked me to speak,
And I have been thinking for nearly a week
Of what I could say that would catch your attention
And what parts of this topic I should now mention.

My mother's a mother, her mother is, too.
And I am a mother, and so, most of you.
And we are all daughters of mothers of course,
So really, all women could be a source

Of info and topics for this evenings rhyme.
But to interview all would take too much time.
You know how it is for a mother these days,
We're so pressed for time, life goes by in a haze.

But, as I considered this particular task
I decided to simply pull off the mask
And give my impressions, though silly or straight,
For daughters and mothers and grandmas turned great.

So, back in my memory I started to travel
To find recollections and let stories unravel.
Of mother-relationships, generation to next.
Before long, I began writing this text.

When I was a little girl, long before teens, 
My mother did house work in her blue jeans.
" Mom, while you're cleaning the house, I'd like to see
You wearing a dress, like the Moms on TV!"

My mom is a pleaser:  The next day I was greeted
By Mom in a dress, with a skirt, long and pleated.
I pretended that I was the star of a show,
With Mom looking gorgeous, till what do you know? 

The floor need washing and as she cleaned up the trail
The skirt of her dress wound up in the pail.
She wrung out the skirt, the end of my dream.
I never discussed it for fear she would scream.

Being a teen girl is sometimes a pain,
With hormones and heartaches and monthly weight gain
When I was that age any little anecdote
Could put me on a real panic note.

Teen troubles kept me going round in a tizzy!
Hair, clothes, important stuff, kept me so busy!
But Mom was there, stable and strong,
She just calmly urged, pushed, or pulled me along.

When you are little, you never guess,
The love in Mom's heart, she can't always express.
But teen years convinced me about mother-love.
Of strength and endurance sent from above.

Then I grew up, how quickly time passes! 
Soon I was taking parenting classes. 
Natural childbirth now was the rage,
My daughter arrived and we turned the page.

I now was the mother of a daughter so small,
It all started over, and as I recall
Us together and wondering where time had gone.
It flies by so quickly, life doesn't last long.

I'm looking forward to Grandma-hood, someday.
I'll bake cookies, make doll clothes and take time to play.
When you are a mother you must be a constable, 
But, Grandma has fun without being responsible 

For all of the practical matters of life
That complicate mother-daughter days and add strife.
Her patience is longer, her duty list, short.
She never has anything bad to report.

Now, my final thoughts and contemplation
To share with you, this congregation:
You must remember, part of a mother's charm
Is that if her daughter has need of it, Mom cuts off her arm!

As a result, the relationship's built
On compassion and love, and a lifetime of guilt!
But as you get older, perspective to gain,
You realize, for mother, this isn't a pain.

It's simply a joy God puts in our heart,
So, from Mother's love, we never need part.
Listen girls, even if Mom continues to bug you,
You can be your own person and still let her hug you!"

copyright: J K Huso Lukens All rights reserved. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Darkest Days and then...

 December brings the darkest days.
 I began to take these photos at five last evening. The sun has set and the color on the horizon was fading fast.
Darkest days bring sadness for many, but I want you to see beauty and hope. 
The prolonged darkness and dim sunlight of our Winter days are a treat or a trauma, cozy or cold.
The poignancy of the season makes us emotional. The memories branded in our minds crowd our minds and color our perspective during the darkest days.  It's a long time until morning.
Enhanced by the light from my pickup's headlights, we have plenty of Holly Jolly sparkle on the icy snow. 
I noticed that there are still a few untouched soybean pods on this plant and a few others that the combine left in the field.  There are tracks around, so that indicates to me that no creature is hungry.
The wildlife has all settled down somewhere snug. They are waiting for the sun to return. As I drive away,  the sparkle leaves with the light.
And I know dawn is forever away from here. 
 The land demands nothing of us now, it rests in frozen silence, unconcerned with darkness or light. 
Perhaps the darkness of December has given us too much time to ponder the past, too much opportunity for regret.
 We need, instead, to look forward.
Next week light will begin to build, optimism will return, the Celebration will arrive. 
And moment by moment, day after day, morning and evening, darkness will fall away as the light returns to GriggsDakota.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fretting Over the Winter Wheat

Today the sparrows are basking in the sunshine. And they should try to catch a few rays while they can. We have had heavy cloudiness and fog for over a week. 
 This is the time of year when the daylight hours are few, anyway. When the clouds were added in pea soup fashion, it has been dreary. However, it has been warm enough to melt most of the snow, leaving the ground bare.
 The Winter Wheat, which had been covered with an adequate blanket of snow in GriggsDakota, is now exposed to the weather that Winter will bring when it arrives.
Our temperatures have plunged down to normal levels around zero degrees Fahrenheit. The winter wheat can withstand that for now.
How long the land will remain open, or without snow cover, is difficult to predict. Some forecasters are predicting a brown Christmas, while others say we will have snow early next week.  
We are cheering for snow. It will help protect the Winter Wheat roots, plus it would be fun to get some snowmobiling in over the Christmas holiday.
But for now we are basking in frigid sunshine with blue skies and open fields of chilly Winter Wheat in GriggsDakota.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How to: A Tea Time Christmas Tree

Inspired by the book, A Cup of Christmas Tea, I made some tree decorations from tea time items.
 These old teaspoons are pierced and made it easy to run a wire and a bit of trim through the end in order to hang it on the tree. I love silver spoons on a lit Christmas tree. They twinkle.
If your spoons are not pierced, I recommend using the mini Command hooks on the back of the spoon. I have good experiences with these. Be sure the spoon back is clean and dry. mount it upside down so it becomes the hook and not the holder.
The pierced spoons allow me to use wire and a few artificial berries along with a ribbon on each spoon. 
 I found these cute cans of tea at TJ Maxx in a pack of three tins. I used hot glue, a crafter's best friend, to attach a bit of Christmas cheer and a wire to the back of each can.
The cans of tea are depictions of the buses in London.  
The sight of them brings a smile, which is what I like to find on a casual tree. 
 I filled in with tea bag packets. The deep color of the paper is pretty elegant for a packet of tea. I poked a hole through the top.
Then pushed a wire with ribbon and berries attached through the hole to assemble the decoration. 
There are teaspoons 
And cute little canisters plus red balls to shine in the lights. 
The tea bags fill in the bare spots and actually catch a bit of light themselves on GriggsDakota's
A Cup of Christmas Tea
Christmas Tree.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas elk in the badlands

 Every Monday we welcome our daughter Kirsti to blog from her home in Western North Dakota's oil patch.

The weather was unseasonably warm last week. Snow melted and all sorts of creatures found their way outdoors to the sunshine. We took walks, hung Christmas lights and generally marveled at the fair weather.

We found we weren't they only one excited about the change in the weather pattern. Wildlife of every shape and size were roaming our beautiful badlands.  Take these elk, for example.

Elk herds usually consist of one sex, male or female. Life is safer when you're in a group.  It's interesting to see what I think are both male and female elk in this herd. (I'm of course not an expert and could be wrong.)
These majestic beasts remind me of their famous cousins, Santa Claus's reindeer.
They feel like another sign of Christmas. It's a treat to view them.
They're foraging and filling their bellies while the weather remains fair. The long, cold winter will likely be back in a few days time. Best to eat up while you're able.
I don't see any red noses or reindeer games taking place. I suppose they leave that up to their fictional friends from the north pole.
Ho! Ho! Ho! 

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Recipe: Santa Face Cookie Directions

Santa is back on the round cookies in GriggsDakota. I have no children around to help me this year, but they always look about the same, no matter who is doing the decorating. I piped the fur on the hat this year. These cookies are a bit time consuming, as all frosted cookies are. But they are not difficult to do.
Kirsti, when she was about 10 used to say, 
"Imperfection is the name of the game." 
They are, after all, just cookies, but Santa is watching in GriggsDakota.

 About 20 years ago I was in Florida during December when I picked up a magazine and saw a picture of cookies that were very neat versions of the ones above. I never forgot that image and have been making them ever since. You can make them fancier by piping and fussing more. I usually opt for quantity. I make lots of these, so I never have to limit the kids on how many they take. I have enough to last from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day. I also like to enlist the help of whomever is around and I want them to believe that their artwork will be acceptable for Santa Claus. After all, isn't that part of the magic?
 I make rolled out sugar cookies. Any round, fairly smooth cookie that is about three inches in diameter will work. If you don't have a cookie cutter, a neatly opened, lid discarded, can will also work
 If the cookies are too small, they are more difficult and less satisfying. Bigger cookies work fine, I have even put Santa's face on a cake top with this easy method.
I make Royal Icing from Wilton Meringue Powder following the directions provided in the can. I add almond flavoring because I am of Scandinavian descent and we do things like that. Meringue powder is available at craft stores, box stores, and Amazon
You will need equal parts of three colors, of course. Red is easier to color if you use the paste coloring which is available everywhere you find meringue powder.   
The icing will be painted on. I keep paint brushes in my cookie cutter drawer for this purpose and this purpose only. Pink is for the face, so keep it delicate. 
I buy Cake Mate tubes to draw the faces, but don't use gel, even if the glitter is tempting. 
It never dries! 
Do read the back of the Cake Mate package and look for the words dry and stacked. 
You will paint the cookies approximately one-third red, one-third pink, and one-third white.
The frosting needs to be thinned with water to resemble heavy paint. If it gets stiff add a drop or two of hot water. Stir it often when you are using it to keep a crust from forming in the bowl. Cover the bowls with a dampened dish towel when you are not using them.
The pink for the face need not be spread to the edge as the white comes around to meet the red. I like to let the color set before moving on to the next color. If you are doing a large amount of these, the first ones are dry when you finish the last one.
Then add the white for the beard in a quarter moon shape around the bottom of the cookie. 
I apply all of the beards. 
I then add all the fur to the cap. This is where a steady hand and piping tools can make these fabulous, if you have time. I have done that, but not lately.
 A white dot gives the illusion of the end of the cap.
Add the face details with Cake Mates which are available at any supermarket. These are my, now grown up, children's favorite Christmas cookies. 
I may not win cookie designer of the year, but a happy family means a lot in GriggsDakota.