Lefse season fast approaching

Ah, the crispness in the air 9we’ll hit a low in the 20s tonight), the wind swaying the bare branches of the trees, the red and green decorations appearing in the stores…yes, it’s … lefse time!  HUH?

For those of you uninitiated ones, lefse is just the most delicious treat ever, that’s all.  I’ve already posted a number of times on lefse, so I won’t repeat. You can click on the tab above to see those posts.

But I will add something new.  Someone recently searched my site with the terms, “making lefse large batch.”  So I wanted to give some advice on this topic.  I don’t know just HOW large a batch this person has in mind, but I’ve made a hundred lefse before, and that’s a lot for one person.

Do not cut corners on the mashing part, i.e., I always recommend ricing the potatoes to avoid lumps.  You can’t roll out a piece of potato lefse dough if there are hunks of potatoes left in it.  Maybe if you have a LOT of lefse to make, you could run the potatoes through a food mill, like you would applesauce — just make sure you leave no lumps.  Effort on this front pays off in the end.

Also, do NOT add all of the flour to the cold mashed potatoes at once.  Yuck!  It gets too sticky if it sits for a while.  Only add flour to maybe 2 or 3 cups of potatoes at a time, mix, and then roll out the individual circles of lefse.  Then repeat until finished. This will keep you from making too sticky a dough and then having to add too much flour.

When people tell me that they have had potato lefse and thought it was too heavy, I always think that the problem is the potatoes are not properly whipped and too much flour was added.  If you make it right, potato lefse is tender and moist.  That’s what Grandma taught me, and I’ve found it to be true as I’ve taken over the lefse-making in my family.

Ah, now I’m hungry.  Darn.

Lefse That Is Not Lefse, Rommegrot That Is Not Rommegrot, and

Lefse That Is Not Lefse, Rommegrot That Is Not Rommegrot, and
Grandma’s Stinky Cheese

Today I learned a lot about Norwegan food, mostly how everything I
thought I knew about it was wrong. Or at least not quite right. We
had a chance to visit again with my oldest relative in Norway,
Kristianna, and I asked her a lot of questions about many topics,
including Norwegian food from the old days.

Lefse, as some of my readers have pointed out, is not made with
potatoes in Nowegian cuisine, as a matter of course. Most lefse seems
to be made of flour not potatoes. One can find potato lefse here in
the Old Country, but it tastes a little sour. In fact, I am told that
sour milk is an ingredient in both kinds of lefse. Hmmm. I had an
opportunity to buy some at the local grocery store tonight. Okay but
not as good as my Grandma made.

Rommegrot. That is what I always make with lefse at Christmas, or so
I thought that was what I was making. Turns out I was making what is
called flotegrot! The difference is one makes flotegrot from cream,
and rommegrot is actually made from sour cream (one part sour cream to
two parts milk). Still cooked using the same method, but different
end product. Also, I discovered that rommegrot and flotegrot are
summer/fall dishes not Christmas time because in the winter the cows
stopped producing milk. Rommegrot, in fact, was the star dish of the
autumn harvest festival. Go figure.

I also heard a little about gammelost, what my grandma always called
stinky cheese. Her grandma from Norway always brought this
foul-smelling homemade cheese with her when she came to visit.
Grandma talks in her book about how that cheese reeked. We cannot get
it in the US (I have tried), but I was able to buy some in that same
grocery store tonight. Oh my goodness. Talk about disgustingly
foul!!! Not only does it smell bad (though not as bad as I had
imagined), but the taste is utterly unpalatable. How anyone can like,
let alone ingest such a substance is beyond me.

All kinds of myths shattered, folks!

And while I’m at it, turns out also that those beautifully
embroidered, traditional native costumes (called bunads) that they
“wear in Norway” are an early twentieth-century invention from
Southern Norway. My forebearers never wore such clothes. They wore
black wool maybe with a white colar to spice things up a bit, never
danced or drank, and spent long winter nights reading sermons and
other religious texts aloud to the family as they knitted or mended
fishing nets.

In some ways, my grandma had more in common with this lovely elderly
relative, Kristianna, that I met with today than I had in common with
grandma myself, despite the language barrier (K. does not speak
English) and different nationalities. Life when they were young was
similar in Norway and Minnesota — both on farms in rural and somewhat
isolated areas. I just kept thinking today how alike they were, how
much seeing K. reminded me of my wonderful grandma. It was a good day
today, but like so much on this trip, bitter sweet.

With internet problems continuing, I am not sure when I can post
again. Until we meet again, takk and ha det!

Vikings, Farmers, and Fiskers: A Day in Oslo

Blood rains from the cloudy web on the broad loom of slaughter.  The web of man, grey as armour, is now being woven; The Valkyries will cross it with a crimson weft.

Okay, not my words!  This comes from the Great Icelandic work, Njal’s Saga, written around 1200 AD. But I thought I’d start with it because my friend and I began our day today (after a leisurely and HUGE Norwegian breakfast) by going to the Vikings Museum across the bay.  It rained all morning but cleared around the time we walked over to the Folk Museum, which was a good thing since the first place was indoors and the second largely outdoors.

Vikings are amazing.  Okay, so I’m not thrilled about all the rape and pillage, kill and slaughter, etc. part.  But I saw and read a lot in the museum about Viking culture and how varied it really was.  Farmers and traders were even more numerous than warriors.  It’s just that the blood and guts stuff captures our imagination the most.  Well, I tell you, seeing a real 850 AD Viking ship is impressive!

Next, at the Folk Museum, we got to see houses and other buildings from different regions of the country.  And lo and behold, in one of the houses a woman was making LEFSE!!  I just about flipped.  Certainly I whipped out the 20 kroners fee and enjoyed every last bite.  I’ve written a lot about lefse and won’t bore you with that stuff now.  Suffice it to say that THIS lefse was soft and chewy and rather thicker than I had ever seen.  But it was also a potato-less lefse.  Several people have come to my blog looking for such recipes (lefse no potatoes), so here’s the one the museum provided:


2 eggs

250 grams sugar

125 grams melted butter/margarine

1/2 litre buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking powder

about 1 kilo wheat flour

Barley flour

butter, sugar, cinnamon

Mix eggs with sugar and butter, and stir into the milk.  Mix the baking powder with some flour and stir into the blend.  Mix with so much flour that the dough is easy to roll.  Barley flour makes it easier to roll out the lefse.  Bake the lefse ona  griddle or in a dry frying pan. Serve with butter, sugar, and cinnamon on top.

Now, it was a pretty good treat and all, but NOT real lefse as far as I am concerned.  The lady making the lefse told me that this recipe is for special occasion lefse, and potato lefse is for everyday .  Yeh, that’s fine by me.

The Folk Museum was wonderful.  I learned a lot about Norwegian farming in the nineteenth century as well as architecture and culture.  Very cool place to visit, especially the stave church on the grounds.  Oh, and the funniest thing…we met a high school girl there who was born in the city where I now live.  Talk about “it’s a small world”!

Our final museums were nearby: the Kon Tiki where we saw the flimsy ships that Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Pacific from Peru to Tahiti.  Cool but the museum was closing, so we just popped in for a glimpse. We had a little more time at the Norwegian Maritime Museum, which stays open later.  Also very interesting and helpful for my research, too.  I got to see the kinds of boats used by my ancestors when they fished in the Lofoten fisheries in the far north in Norway.  Hard to imagine such work being done in relatively small craft.  I’ll be up north tomorrow, though, and will hopefully be going out to a nearby island off the coast of Bodø, so I’ll get to try out the whole boat thing on the coast.  We’ll see how my stomach likes that!

So, it was a day of vikings, farmers, and fiskers (fishermen).  Tomorrow we fly to north of the Arctic Circle to Bodø.  I am unsure about internet connection in the apartment where we will be staying, so don’t be surprised if I do not post every day, as I have been doing.  I’ll try to get on the web every day if I can, but I have no idea if this will be possible.  For now, it’s time to pack for our early morning flight to the far north!

Christmas without Grandma: Eating my Way through Grief

This year was the second Christmas without Grandma. I didn’t fall apart like last year, when we decorated the tree. I didn’t get all sniffly when I prepared the lefse and rommegröt. I didn’t feel particularly glum when I cooked Grandma’s Swedish meatballs.

But I ate. A lot.

Even so, I did not go off the Weight Watchers plan. I just lucked out because I started the program back in October on a Tuesday, so my week ends on Monday night. Christmas Eve was Monday night, and, as always, I had barely eated into my 35 extra points for that week. So enjoying a second helping of meatballs, multiple lefse, and rommegröt, a handful (only one!) of M & Ms and a glass of wine, only put me 18 points down out of my 35. Then the week “ended.”

Christmas Day I got 35 more points. Yippee! I used up 16 of my 35 for the week on Christma Day and night. The day after Christmas there was still lefse calling to me, but I only used 6 of the 35. You see, the feasting was abating. 🙂 Of course, that leaves me little room for New Years Eve (which will fall on the last day of this “week”), but that holiday isn’t very important to me, and I’m not a big drinker, so I think I’ll make it through without going outside my points total.

The last time I did Weight Watchers, I was so “good” during the holidays, only eating minimally of high points foods. And I felt horribly deprived. Ugh. That approach was clearly not sustainable. I’m looking for a different path. Eat basically what I want on select days of the year when food matters to me, and then work doubly hard to lose what I gain right away instead of letting the weight creep up.

Truth be told, I needed to eat through my grief this year. The food of Christmas spells comfort to me, it stirs memories of unconditional love and vast quantities of assurance and hope. I miss Grandma, and eating “her food” with near abandon, helped me to feel her near me again.

What I did do “right” was NOT eat filler stuff that I normally would consume just because it was in front of me. I ate the things I really loved, and I stopped when I was full. But when I got a little hungry again, I ate more of the good stuff instead of counting and waiting and apportioning my pleasure to small doses per day.

Now, one of the down sides to having a week that starts on Tuesday is that my regular Weight Watchers meeting time is on Tuesdays and thus is cancelled for two weeks because of Christmas and New Years. I coud go to some other meeting, but I am pretty busy getting ready for my Peru trip and doing holiday things, and I prefer to stick with the group leader and members I know. So I’ve decided that I’ll go and weigh in, at least, on the day before I leave for Peru, Jan. 3. That way I’ll know how my strategy worked this holiday season, and I’ll also have a way to find out what happens to my weight on the trip. (I’m curious if I’ll lose weight when not trying — merely because of the conditions we’ll be under in rural Peru.) Anyway…

Did eating help me deal with my grief? Yes.

Do I still have a problem with eating? Yes.

Do I need to get back to eating fewer points per day? Yes.

AM I doing that? Yes. Well, after I finish those last four lefse, that is….

Christmas Eve Recipes: Another Dish to Serve with Lefse

As I stated earlier, lefse is pretty good all on its own … but here is another Scandinavian dish that goes great with lefse for Christmas Eve dinner. As always, stories are included 🙂 My lefse recipe and tips can be found in earlier posts (see lefse category at the right).

I like to serve fruita soupa with my lefse. Yes, I’m sure you can translate the Swedish: “fruit soup” — no mystery there! Our friends, Krista and Nils, who came to our Christmas Eve dinner that night that I wrote about in my post of Dec. 18, 2007, introduced us to fruita soupa, and I went nuts for this intensely flavored dish. I’ve served it every year since then.

Here’s how to make it:

First thing to do is to follow package directions to pre-soak LARGE tapioca pearls (need the large kind — small just don’t work that well, though they are better than nothing). Basically, the directions say to soak a half cup of tapioca in 2 cups of water overnight in a bowl in the refrigerator. You really need to soak this as directed or the tapioca will be too hard to cook thoroughly the next day! (I know from experience that it’s nearly impossible to cut corners on this step. But if anyone has a suggestion for how to speed up the process, please comment and let us know!)

Put soaked (and drained) tapioca pearls and dried fruit (apples, apricots, pears, prunes, raisins — a mixture of whatever you like) in a heavy pot (or, ideally, a crockpot if you’ve got one) and add in enough water to cover fruit, plus an inch or so. Very thinly slice a whole lemon, rind and all (though you’ll want to remove the seeds). Add to pot. Toss in two whole cinnamon sticks. Heat this up on medium or so until it gets a tiny bit bubbly and then reduce heat to low and simmer for hours. Exact timing will depend on the tenderness of the fruit and other such variables, but the idea is to really meld the flavors, so I usually put it in a crock pot and let it cook all day. If you are cooking it on the stove, be sure to stir every once in a while to avoid burning the bottom — remember, there’s a high sugar content in the mixture due to the fruit.

Periodically check mixture (regardless of the cooking method you are using) and add more water when the mixture gets too thick. The final consistency that you are looking for is like beef stew, chunky but you still need a spoon to eat it. So for most of the cooking time, you’ll want it thinner than this to cook down to that final consistency. This dish improves with a little “aging,” so feel free to make it a day or two ahead and refrigerate. It can be microwaved to reheat for serving.

I serve fruita soupa warm with a little half and half or cream (at room temperature or cool — doesn’t matter) drizzled over the top of each individual serving (or put cream in container and let folks drizzle however much they want). The cream does wonders for this tangy dish and rounds out the flavors beautifully. (Those watching their calories can substitute fat-free half and half.) I do NOT add sugar or other sweeteners. The fruit is pretty sweet as it is. And though dried fruit is higher in calories than fresh fruit (and thus has more weight watchers points — 2 pts. per 1/4 cup), it is still a healthy choice because of all of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Very filling and satisfying, too! Eaten with some lefse and rommegröt and you’ve almost got a meal!

I have been told that in the old days folks offered fruita soupa to pregnant women and new moms. Fiber for the expecting and iron for the newly delivered. So when I was in my third trimester, I asked my friends to bring me fruita soup every week or so. Luckily that was in the fall, so it didn’t seem too out of season. But I’m sure they must have thought I was a bit wacko to keep asking for this. Oh, and why didn’t I cook it myself? I went into pre-term labor (which was stopped after a few days hospital stay), but I was on bedrest at home for nine weeks. I guess that was a scary time for me in some ways, but honestly, what I remember most is the kindness of our friends and strangers who pitched in and gave us all manner of help. Fruita soupa was just one of many delicious dishes folks shared with us; there were brownies (I craved these in a purely carnal way — I simply HAD to have brownies), beef (same sort of craving), and pineapple (I once ate a whole pineapple in one day!) Our friends also helped usto finish the baby’s room, which had been left half-done when I entered the hospital, and some friends paid for a housecleaner to come and lend a hand once a week for a few months (the only time we’ve ever had such a luxury — wonderful!)

Our baby was safely delivered — one week late … isn’t that the way?!

These days, I only eat fruita soupa on Christmas Eve, but with every bite I recall the kind souls who looked after us when we needed their help. And I remember the lesson I learned from that experience: people actually get pleasure from helping others, so it’s not only okay to ask for help if you need it, but you are, in essence, doing folks a favor by giving them an opportunity to feel good about themselves!

What to Serve with Lefse (plus stories, of course!)

What to serve with lefse…? Nothing! Eat a stack of lefse for your whole meal 🙂 No, seriously, there are a few items that go really well with lefse. I’ll be putting up recipes in the next few days, so you’ll have time to shop for ingredients. (P.S. Bonus story at the end of this post!)

The first thing that springs to mind is rommegröt (ROOM – UH – GROOT). Grandma told me that in the “Old Days” folks would milk a cow right after it gave birth and make a special dish from the ultra-creamy milk. I guess the calf was out of luck! But since they raised cows to produce cream and butter to sell, they wanted to wean the calves off the momma’s teat as soon as possible anyway. In fact, Grandma explained how they did this by dipping their hand into a bucket of milk and letting the calf lick their fingers, moving every closer and closer to the bucket of milk. I can imagine the rough tongue eagerly lapping the dripping milk from my hand….

Anyway, whatever the genesis of rommegröt, these days we make it with heavy cream from the supermarket! Buy a quart of the heaviest, richest cream you can find and heat it in a heavy pot very slowly — very slowly. Do not scorch or boil. The point is to heat until some of the butter rises to the top. You want it to separate some. Once you see the butter rising to the top, you are going to add a half teaspoon of salt (to bring out some flavor) and some all-purpose flour (add a tablespoon at a time, starting with 2 tablespoons — you can always add more if it doesn’t thicken properly) and whisk mixture to prevent lumps. Stir continuously. Heat at this point might need to go up a little to make sure the flour cooks, but again, do not scorch!

Cook for a few minutes or so until the mixture resembles cream of rice or sour cream (sort of). What you are looking for is a creamy porridge-like consistency. Pour the glop into a pretty dish and set on the counter top. Do not cover and do not refrigerate. Why? Because what you are after is a layer of melted butter floating on top of a cream-porridge. After the butter rises, sprinkle liberally with white sugar. As the dish cools, the sugar and butter will combine to make a crunchy top to this creamy dish.

If no butter separates out, do not panic. Just melt some butter and pour it on top. Voila! Rommegröt. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to pull that little trick. Every year I would talk to Grandma on the phone and ask her for help with my rommegröt: “It’s just not separating, Grandma!” Every year she’d ask if I coooked it slowly enough, etc. I think I’ve been in too much of a hurry too often (big surprise), and that has been my rommegröt’s downfall. When I slow down, it works fine.

A story about rommegröt…. When my husband and I were in graduate school at Washington State University a dozen or so years ago, before my son was born, we invited a Chinese exchange student (Boudi) and her son to share Christmas Eve dinner with us and another couple at our home. Now, every Christmas Eve, I always prepare a Scandinavian dinner in honor of my grandmother’s family (recipes to follow in coming days!) I figured that our Chinese friends would find this custom interesting, and they graciously accepted. In addition to the items I supplied (Swedish meatballs, rice, potatoes, carrots and peas, lefse, and rommegröt) our American friends supplied their own Scandinavian favorites (potato sausage, creamy cucumber salad, rice pudding, and fruita soupa). Yes, makes your mouth water, eh?!

Well, we sat down to eat and explained all the dishes, and Boudi and her son sampled everything. Then this boy — about 16 as I remember and tall as anything — asked if he might have seconds of the rommegröt. “Of course,” I said. I was surprised, though, because I had thought that, generally speaking, Chinese people tended to be lactose intolerant or at least did not care for dairy all that much. Boudi then explained that in their particular region of China, one of their regional specialties is a kind of fried cheese. AH!

After his fourth helping, the Chinese teenager polished off the last of the rommegröt! We adults all stared with gaping mouths. Then we shared a hearty laugh. Eeghads, that boy can eat, I thought. Of course that was before my son was born, as I’ve said, so I had no idea yet how much a growing boy can consume.

Eventually, we all got bundled up for the drive to town to take Boudi and her son home and to head to the Christmas Eve service at our church. We lived 17 miles from Moscow, Idaho where we went to church — our own town of 1,000 souls was smack dab in the middle of miles and miles of rolling wheat and lentil fields. Now covered with about a foot of fresh snow. Uh, oh.

After a wild ride into town with our international guests, we made our way to church. Candles and friends greeted us, and as we sang the old, familiar carols, we could see the snow continue to fall outside the windows.

The next morning, we awoke to a brilliant blue sky, dazzling sun, and two and a half feet of snow. That Christmas day we snuggled under the covers, snuggling with our dog and watching old movies, and we ate leftovers — minus the rommegröt, of course. Ah, but there was still lefse!

More lefse suggestions, by request!

Folks keep searching my site looking for answers to additional lefse questions, so I thought that today I’d try to answer what I think searchers want to know.

On the topic of flour… I always use all-purpose, unbleached, white flour. Do not use self-rising flour! On occasion I have run out of my flour of choice midway through the process (yes, hard to believe) and used a little whole wheat flour for rolling. This is not ideal but can work. I’ve never tried using all whole wheat flour or other kinds of flour such as rice or barley, etc. I imagine you could use other types of flour, but you will want to follow the same guidelines I wrote about in earlier posts: do not use too much, do not overmix, dust off any excess flour.

Someone was looking for a flourless lefse recipe. I don’t think that’s possible, but if folks have a gluten allergy, try using gluten free flour. After all, when making lefse it’s important NOT to work it too much or mix when warm exactly because you do NOT want to activate the gluten. So I suspect that gluten-free flour would be a fine substitute. If someone tries this, please let me know!

As for the person asking how to moisten lefse for serving, well…. First off it’s important to make sure when you make it in the first place that you do not use too much flour or it will dry out quickly. Second, lefse does not stay delicious for long. Personally, I think you should eat it within two days. It should stay plenty moist during that time if you cover it with plastic wrap. Sometimes I pull from the bottom of the stack where the lefse stay the moistest. You can put it in the fridge, but then you will have to heat it up somehow or it’ll taste funny and be too stiff to rol up and eatl. I have warmed it before, but it’s tricky. What I did was spray a fine mist of water on a stack, wrap it in foil, and put it in a low oven for a little bit until they were the right temp. Generally, though, I just leave mine on a covered plate on the counter. One other option is to freeze some of the batch right away in a tightly seeled package. Eat the rest over the course of two days. Then when you need more, thaw the lefse on the countertop and let them warm up to room temp naturally. I have also microwaved lefse for a tiny amount of time, but you have to eat it fairly quickly if you do that because the process changes the consistency of the lefse upon cooling.

Hope this helps answer any burning questions you all have about lefse! Grandma would have gotten a real kick out of how many people are coming to my site looking for answers to lefse questions.

Grandma’s House; or, The Fine Art of Decorating

I used to love touring Grandma’s house. It was filled to the brim with all manner of bizzare items accumulated over the years. The glass eyes of the dead deer head on a panelled wall of the family room commanded me to pet the carcass. Sick, I know, but I found it necessary to oblige.

Then there was the old-fashioned crank phone on the wall by the stairs — it didn’t work but provided all manner of good fun winding it up and pretending. “One ringey-dingey,” we intoned with a nasally voice. Yes, I’m old enough to remember Laugh In!

By the window in the music room, a glass church with steeple and movable doors caught the light. Grandma had taken up the art of stained glass making after retirement, and this piece was her crowning achievement.

On the wall across from the bar, hung a massive crocheted tapestry of an English hunting scene, complete with jumping dogs with tongues hanging out. I never quite got the point of that one. My Scandanavian Grandma was not the English hunting party type. It was executed well, but never seemed to fit.

In the front foyer sat a deeply carved chest with an old military uniform in it (WWI, I think?) and on top rested a velvet-covered photo album, with garishly painted plate on the front … of cherubs, was it? Or a plump beauty? Behind the chest sat a large vase filled with peacock feathers. The mail would fall through the slit in the front door and land next to the chest. Whenever I went to pick it up for Grandma, I had to touch the carved trunk, velvet book, and luminescent feathers.

In the kitchen above the counter hung a “kitchen witch” doll. And slid into the space between the stove and the dishwashing machine, hid the lefse griddle and formica rolling board. Catching a glimpse of these from time to time could evoke all the wonderful emotions associated with our annual lefse-making marathon. Mom sent me the griddle a while back. It hides in my pantry now.

Dear sweet Grandma. Such a mountain of stuff left behind in that house and yet so utterly empty it feels. How difficult it is to part with the things she made so patiently with her own hands. Yet we do not have room in our homes for such things, and we don’t really want them. Honestly, the charm of these objects was entirely depenedent on Grandma imbuing them with meaning.

Yesterday a box arrived for me with Grandma’s beautifully framed photographs of her family (my first request when asked what I wanted from Grandma’s house was these photos): her parents’ wedding picture, two enlarged candids of kids with wiggling toes sitting on a porch and mounds of children piling into an old Ford, and Great-Grandma’s sewing school graduation picture with ten women solemly sewing for the photographer. Plus Mom sent me the photo of Grandma that I had brought to the funeral, an enlarged photo in black and white that I had taken on our last trip to Minnesota. Grandma is looking out into the distance with her back to the corner of the barn her dad built on the homestead. In fact, this is the photo I use on this blog for my avatar. I had matted and framed the photo for the service and given it to Mom to keep. But she gave it back to me. The corner of the frame was crushed from shipping, so I’ll need to get a new frame if I want to hang it. But I didn’t ask for that picture and didn’t really want it on my wall. It’s one thing to have the long dead and gone hanging there, but Grandma lives too much in my heart still to hang her up in the hall of the dead.

I don’t mind posting the photo here, though, so you can get a better look!


I am Bilbo…surprisingly

My husband and I just started reading The Hobbit to our ten-year old son. We’d been thinking of doing this for a while, and the timing was finally right. I was very surprised to discover how much the first chapter spoke to my current situation so pointedly. In other words, I felt as if I were Bilbo Baggins about to set off on an adventure when all I really want is to stay home in my comfy hole, eating lefse and reading good books. Ah, but Bilbo’s “Tookish side” is awakened by the tales of the dwarves who invade his cozy space, and before he knows what he’s done, he has boldly proclaimed that he will join the brave band in their daring adventure. And here I am getting ready to go off to lord-knows-where in rural Peru, scared witless like poor Bilbo.

Read on and see what I mean:

Bilbo’s home is charaterzed primarily by its “comfort” and the proposed journey is dangerous.

“…people considered [the Bagginses] very respectable, … because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected…. This is the story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained — well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.”

When Gandalf explains that he has come to Bilbo’s house because of an “adventure,” Bilbo replies, “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today! Good morning! But please come to tea — any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!” Then he kicks himself for inviting Gandalf to come back the next day. He suspects that he should have cut things off right away, irrevocably. But his politeness leads him down a path from which he finds it harder and harder to extricate himself!

When the dwarves begin to arrive the next day, Bilbo must play host, bustling around getting them tea and cakes and beer and wine and eggs and cold chicken and pickles, etc. After tea, he weakly asks, “I suppose you will all stay to supper?” His politeness again.

The dwarves help him clean up but are very rough with his dishes. They tease him with a song: “Chip the glasses and crack the plates! / … / That’s what Bilbo baggins hates.” But they do no harm. Bilbo is anxious nonetheless about these superficial things. Then he learns the story of the devastation of the dwarves’ community by the dragon Smaug and the group’s quest to take back what is rightfully theirs. A noble quest, beside which his fears about broken kitchenware are shameful, or at least childish.

When Bilbo hears Thorin’s declaration, “a journey from which some of us, or perhaps all…may never return,” the hobbit “began to feel a shriek coming up inside, and very soon it burst out like the whistle of an engine coming out of a tunnel.” The group is startled by his outburst and finds him “kneeling on the hearthrug, shaking like a jelly that was melting.” Gandalf explains away the reaction as an anomaly, and Bilbo is declared by Gandalf to be a useful personna. He offers a skill none of the others has.

Bilbo’s pride makes him try to live up to Gandalf’s recommendation. “He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce. … ‘Tell me what you want done, [he says] and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.'”

By chapter two is off on the adventure of his life.

So, yeh, I’m going to Peru. The Project Director had faith in my ability to contribute to the work of the group. What business does an English professor — who loves her comfortable home and is a big scaredy-cat quivering on the floor — what business, I ask, do I have in going galivanting off to what might as well be another world with a bunch of ENGINEERS?! They are like an alien race to us humanities folks. Ah, but that unquestioning confidence placed in me…. I am determined to prove that I can be useful.

I must have read The Hobbit ten times in my youth. As my husband began reading it aloud the other night, the words were so familiar and comforting. This story lives deep inside of me. I had forgotten it was there, though. I’m so happy that I have rediscovered it just when I need to be reminded that no matter how afraid we are, we can face our dragons and win. Even the most unlikely of us, lowly English Professors, can be, dare I say … heroes.

I’ll settle for coming back in one piece.

What will I “gain”…? We will all have to wait until I get back on January 20 to find out.

“lefse recipe no potatoes” and other miscellaneous matters

Someone recently came to this site having searched “lefse recipe no potatoes.” I just had to laugh when I saw that cause there IS no lefse without potatoes. I mean, that person is just outta luck if there are no potatoes in the pantry. Some things are non-negotiable!

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. We went to my grandma’s niece’s husband’s sister and brother-in-law’s, as I mentioned earlier. This year, that brother-in-law’s family also came, so there were 18 of us total. What a kck to have Thanksgiving with such a big crowd! And everyone brought a lot of lovely food, so there was a huge variety from which to choose. I thought I did very well with balancing enjoyment of the feast and sticking to my Weight Watchers plan. I remembered to stop at one point and do a body check to see if I was satisfied yet. I was still hungry, but I did decide to slow down the eating even more. Then, it took me a full fifteen minutes after eating everything on my plate to decide to get seconds. I chose to pile on some of Mary’s excellent raw cranberry relish and some Chilean Squash casserole, sans cheese. (These two dishes were special and scrumptious but relatively little in terms of points and calories.) I also chose to take one more big bite of stuffing. The whole meal was only about 13 points. Very reasonable for a feast day! I’ve lost over nine pounds in four weeks, so I’m on track. In fact, I’m almost half-way to where I want to be before I head out to Peru.

Today I’m ordering bug-repellant/UV protection clothing. Step Two of the “keep myself safe on this scary trip” program. 🙂 Anyway, I found the perfect hat: weighs only 3 oz., broad brim all the way around, long back section to cover my neck, chin strap to keep hat on in windy conditions, SPF of 50+. I’m set in the hat dept. Also, I bought some BuzzOff shirts, pants, socks, and bandana. I’ve bought a couple of these items before, and they work well in our New England buggy summer. Some of those items are also SPF 30+, so that’s a double bonus.

Next time I shop for the trip I’ll be tackling the “layering for cold temperatures” issue. Then on to a water sterilization system, sleeping bag, pocket knife, headlamp…. Any of you folks have suggestions?