Wednesday, November 22, 2017

23rd Annual Friends Thanksgiving

When your best friends are people you've known for (eh hem) four decades or so, you feel pretty thankful. Some of my besties have been reuniting annually each Saturday before Thanksgiving for twenty-three years. We decided this past weekend that we are the original architects of Friends Thanksgiving (now called Friendsgiving by those NOT in the know), and if not the creators, certainly we are in top running for longest Friends Thanksgiving without a breach.

We've been holding court at K and J's house for years, but sadly they left us this summer for the stormy skies of the West Coast. This year we decided to change things up and head out to eat.

We landed at Alma in Minneapolis, where we gathered in a private room to dine and drink, laugh and catch up. After our feast, we headed upstairs to the hotel where a pajama party raged into the wee hours (with a little help from the bartender downstairs who wasn't at all shocked to see a few ladies in their pjs ordering some Old Fashioneds).














 


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Childhood magic: marshmallows and trolls



I have a long and storied history with marshmallows and trolls.

Marshmallows were my first treat. My mom would drop a good handful of pastel-colored minis on the tray of my highchair when I was a hungry toddler waiting for dinner. My older sisters would clump through the kitchen and ask if they could have some. On a good day, I might take a bite off one tiny mallow, swallow one half, and hand a sister the drooly bit in my pinched fingers. On a bad day, I'd just shake my head no. They were my marshmallows and I was not usually inclined to share.

And the trolls? Oh how I always loved trolls. Perhaps it began with my imaginary friend, Macaroni. She lived in the fields behind our house on Main Street, and she palled around with this creature who looked like a reptile and a troll had a baby. We called him Alligator. Alligator was quiet, and afraid of our Great Danes, but he was a good sort (although occasionally mischievous). When my family had the rare dinner out, we headed to the Jolly Troll, a smörgåsbord known for its endless buffets and decorated with mechanical trolls. The trolls were fascinating.

Last year I met the Jolly Troll heiress. Carole Jean Anderson is the daughter of the restaurants founders, and she still has a dozen of the guys in storage. When I met the trolls face-to-face, I knew that I wasn't the only one who needed a little troll nostalgia to brighten up these dark times.

Carole Jean and I began meeting with Ingebretsen's owner, Julie Ingebretsen, and the three of us dreamed up last weekend's "Troll Encounters of the Jolly Kind." The event was at Ingebretsen's in Minneapolis, and the trolls (cleaned up thanks to the amazing crew at  Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre) took their places around the store, reminding us of the magic of childhood.

Carole Jean performed and told stories about her life with the trolls. We were delighted at the turnout and standing room only crowds. There were tears and laughter as we shared our memories. While the restaurants have closed, the trolls haven't died, yet the event reminded me of a fun wake. More than one guest told me the trolls reminded them not only of the defunct restaurant, but also of Dayton's 8th Floor Holiday Displays, those long gone but not forgotten wonderlands.

When I'm involved with an event, you know there is going to be food. That's where the marshmallows come in! We recreated the infamous Jolly Troll Cranberry Fluff Salad. I wrote about the trolls and the fluff over at Called to the Table this week.



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trunks, tricks, and treats

Halloween is upon us at last! It's been a heck of a year, peeps, and we need Halloween more than ever before.

Have you heard about parents who take their kids "Trunk-or-treating" rather than walking through their neighborhoods and knocking on doors? Trunk-or-treating events are held in parking lots, with trick-or-treaters wandering from car to car, and receiving treats from adults standing next to their open car trunks. Huh. I guess I am a little skeptical of this phenomenon. The last lesson I want to teach kids is that it is OK to receive candy from a random stranger's car and open trunk. Probably the real reason I am not sold on the idea of trunk-or-treating is because, as I say every year, as long as parents allow their children to trick-or-treat, we will continue to find reasons to trust our neighbors. There has never been a greater need for that, at least in my lifetime.

To remind us all why Halloween is the most patriotic holiday of the entire year, here is a snippet from a 2009 post. Happy Halloween! Enjoy your treats, and be sure to admire every witch, princess, and superhero that appears outside your door.


I start to feel giddy waves of patriotism as soon the Jack-O-Lantern candle is lit and I stand anxiously at the front door with an overflowing candy bowl waiting for trick-or-treaters. Trick-or-treating is democracy in action. 
On Halloween children live out the American dream that you can become whatever you want (as long as you work hard and have the necessary resources). On Halloween we open our doors to both strangers and kids we know, and we share what we have.
I hear complaints that teenagers (some without costumes! gasp) ought not to be trick-or-treating. They are welcome on my door stoop.  Teenagers with pillow cases full of candy are harm to no one. I hear about parents who bring their children to church parties or malls rather than trick-or-treating in their own neighborhoods. As long as parents allow their children to trick-or-treat, we will continue to find reasons to trust our neighbors.  And has anyone really ever found poison in their candy?
Last year an elderly Hmong woman (without a costume! gasp) trick-or-treated at my house. She held open her bag and in a thick accent uttered those magic words, "Trick or treat." I gave her extra candy.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Adventures in blogging and a Norsk Høstfest recap

I am finally, if temporarily, focused on becoming what I want to be when I grow up.
It took years before my Oprah moment happened; when it occurred to me that people would be happiest pursuing careers they wanted as children.  At 5 years old I decided to become Lou Grant, a nun, and a cowgirl.  Once a person opens themselves up to the universal plan everything else starts to fall into place.  Of course, you need to do your homework in case karma decides to throw a pop quiz.
Excerpt from first blog post, October 5, 2009

My favorite quote about blogs is from a local sports guy who said, "Blogs are diaries online that no one reads." A truer statement does not exist, but hopefully this space has provided a few readers with entertainment, recipe ideas, and a smile or two. You have to be a bit of a narcissist to be a writer, and blogging feels like a natural extension of that characteristic.

Happy Birthday little blog! Indeed my life has become pretty darned adventurous since I wrote the words above. The adventures began with the experience of cooking on the National Mall in D.C. as part of the University of Minnesota team competing in the Solar House Decathlon, and following that all sorts of other amazing opportunities presented themselves including three consecutive years at the Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota.

Last week I headed to Minot once again in my role as the Swedish American food representative, and this year was especially awesome. The four-day Scandinavian party is filled with music, food, lutfisk children and dala horses, crafts, vikings, and every kind of sensory experience imaginable. It is also filled with dear friends that I see just once a year, and that I have grown to love.

My demos:
Wednesday:
11:30 AM Lussebullar
4:00 PM Barley Pudding

Thursday
11:30 AM Plättar - Swedish Kringle-Style
4:00 PM Ostkaka - Swedish cheesecake

Friday
11:30 AM Klenäter (fattigmann)
4:00 PM Herring 3 Ways

Saturday
11:30 AM Kroppkakor (dumpling)
4:00 PM Swedish Pizza












Monday, September 11, 2017

Jul: Swedish American Holiday Traditions


Well, here we go! My book release is happening soon, as is the Launch Party at the American Swedish Institute. I hope you can join us for a night of fun, food, and cocktails. Here are a few details straight from ASI!

Jul: Swedish American Holiday Traditions  Patrice Johnson Book Launch
 

Celebrate the launch of, Patrice Johnson’s new book by tasting recipes and hearing directly from the author during this moderated Q&A session. Patrice Johnson is an author, self-described Nordic food geek and a popular ASI Nordic Table instructor. She will be joined by blogger, photographer, podcaster, and social commentator behind StephaniesDish.com, Stephanie Hansen.
From smörgåsbord to St. Lucia processions, Swedish Americans are linked through the generations by a legacy of meatballs, lutfisk and other dishes often related to holiday traditions. Johnson explores the meanings and stories behind these various versions of celebrations and new approaches to traditional recipes. Featured recipes from the book include yellow pea soup (ärtsoppa), Swedish pancakes (Svenska plättar) and assorted Swedish cookies.
The book is available November 1, 2017. You can purchase copies at this event, in the ASI Museum Store, and from the Minnesota Historical Society Press, $24.95 hardcover, 264 pages.
Cost: 
$5 General Admission. Includes samples of select recipes.
 

Monday, September 4, 2017

State Fair Diary: love, actually

The opening and closing scenes from the movie "Love, Actually" occur in an airport, with images of joyful, tearful reunions. As the reunion montage rolls, Hugh Grant (playing England's prime minister) tells us:
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around. 
I am a sucker for this stuff. I cry like an ugly baby every single time. Gulping in air and sobbing uncontrollably. It's the same for me at the Minnesota State Fair. Every year I attend this reunion of people, place, animals, and food. Every year I feel such joy, pride, and love for my people, my community, my state. We aren't perfect, far from it, but by golly we do our best.

Sure, I was miffed this year when Paula Deene was invited to attend opening day. I stood at my post near the Sustainability Stage distributing samples of organic, locally grown melon. Every single time someone approached me asking, "Is this the stage where Paula will be?" I grimaced and answered with a terse, "No. This is the SUSTAINABILITY stage." Seriously, State Fair. Paula Deene? In the year that Minnesota was ranked 2nd worst for racial inequality. In the year that will be remembered for police shootings. During a time when most of us agree we need to make the State Fair more welcoming toward all people in our community. Why Paula Deene?

I pushed aside my annoyance and concentrated instead on the reunion at hand. During my recent trip to Sweden we discussed with Swedes their inability to brag about what they do well. It just isn't done. In fact, when I asked a 20-something to describe her three greatest characteristics she looked at me with fear and bafflement. As a result of their Scandinavian humility trying to describe to them the brag-fest that is the Minnesota State Fair was difficult. The Fair began as a marketing ploy, demonstrating to outsiders that in Minnesota we have the fattest pigs, milkiest cows, largest produce, and best of the best. That sort of bragging isn't done elsewhere.

Certainly, we do have the fattest pigs and milkiest cows. Our produce is stunning. Our bakers make the most beautiful cakes and pies and lefse rounds. Our canners make the most elegant jars of pickles and jams. Our bees make awesome honey, our trees provide us with delicious maple, and our church basement ladies know their way around light tasty meatballs. Our 4Hers know how to dress their llamas. We got it going on, Minnesota.

All through the twelve days of Fair, we attended concerts (Jim Gaffigan! Tanya Tucker! Some polka playing German band from New Ulm or something! Garrison Keillor!). We ate the new food (lefse wraps! deep fried licorice! cotton candy sparkling wine! duck bacon wontons! tamales with mole sauce! deep fried smores! wild rice meatballs! beef pockets! egg rolls on a stick! Izzy's ice cream!). We ate the old food (corn dogs! cheese curds! deep fried olives! salmon on a stick! walleye fingers! perch fingers! walleye cakes! pretzels! crepes! hotdish on a stick!). We stepped carefully through the cow and horse barns. We ooohed and ahhhed at the political crop art. We smiled when we saw the ribbons our friends' pears, cookies, and bracelets won. We jostled strangers in line for corn or beer and quickly become friends. We chatted on the shuttle leaving the fairgrounds about the dogs at the Northwoods stage who played frisbee, the Butter Heads, the 4Hers and their nifty projects, the parade, the fire at the french fry stand, or how many ribbons Marjorie Johnson won this year, and just how do you tell Fairchild apart from Fairborne? And of course, we talked about the weather; this mild cool weather, so unusual at our hot sticky get-together.

Every day I made plans to meet with friends I hadn't seen in a few days, a couple of weeks, even a year. Every day all around me I heard squeals of joy as other friends and family met up with each other. In unison our groups of reunited loved one hugged each other tight at the places we meet up every year: the Blue Barn, around the DNR fish pond, at the DFL booth, for the free photo calendar at Education Minnesota, and at Tejas for that annual Beergarita.

A lot of people I know don't like the Fair. They curl their lips and say something snarky about the Great Sweat Together. They complain about the crowds and the weirdness of it all. I don't try to convince them otherwise. No sense in arguing with those who don't feel the way I do. The Minnesota State Fair is a thing of beauty. It is a reminder that we do our best in Minnesota, and we continue trying to do better. We cheer each other on. We appreciate what we have. And for a few short days, twelve of the best we offer, love is all around.