Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Of aquavit and anniversaries

Some final thoughts about my Norsk Høstfest experience, and a special call out to the 6th anniversary of this blog:

So much of Norsk Høstfest is lost in translation. The smells (cinnamon roasted nuts mingling with lutfisk and rømmegrøt); Grandma (old woman on stilts and a stilt-enabled walker whose interactions with crowds leave everyone bewildered and laughing); Scandinavian folk music and vagrant vikings; long lines outside of Uff-Da Tacos; artisans and their crafts; Norwegian sweaters; carved wooden trolls and lefse flippers and aebleskiver turners; and rolling carts selling water, coffee, and kransekage. 

Each morning I grabbed a cup of coffee at my hotel, sometimes exchanging pleasantries with the awesome Canadians (Jean, you know who you are!) lined up for their breakfasts. I drove a tank-like Impala to the Fairgrounds (often getting lost), found my trashcan-encased parking space, and headed into the Fairgrounds (Parking in the Høstfest VIP lot requires finding a spot between large green trash cans that separate parking and driving spaces. At the end of each day I had to move the garbage cans so that I could pull out of the space.). The parking lot is surrounded by more campers than you can count, and Høstfest is pretty much held within one large compound with halls named for Nordic capitals. We cooks spent a few hours on the Nordic Kitchen stage each day, preparing our favorite Scandinavian-inspired recipes for crowds of 10 to 50. We passed out samples, bonded with our Minot hosts (Gigs and Larry) and each other, and worked our tails off. It was glorious. 
Driving in Minot: The good people of Minot delivered a rental car for my use. I drove the two miles between my hotel and the North Dakota State Fairgrounds twice daily. I got lost most days, both directions. (I never found my way to either of the two Starbuck's located in Minot, and each morning I looked with envy upon our sound guy David's Starbuck's cup.) After years of driving tiny uncomplicated vehicles, I had to Google instructions for turning on the headlights of my Rent a Wreck Impala..
Hotel Laundry: Having only one (lucky cat) apron and performing two kitchen demos each day, I made good use of my hotel's laundry. Each night reminded me of life in an apartment as I scampered down the hallway in my pajamas sans makeup, praying NOT to run into anyone.
While we are on the topic of hotels: At The Noble Inn they are excelling at customer service in ways folks in the Twin Cities haven't even thought of yet. Every morning, every night, Cody (Assistant Manager), Cindy Lou (chef), Pamela (bartender/server), and the amazing room service staff (who left me sweet notes many days) made me feel like I was a celebrity. Heading to Minot soon? Make a reservation at Noble Inn and get used to being spoiled. Be sure to grab happy hour at the Fox in the Hound's Pub (order the best and most unique BLT you'll ever taste) and be prepared to receive hugs upon checkout.
Seattle's Old Ballard Distillery: They quickly established a reputation among aquavit lovers in America when they opened a few years ago. I finally met owner Lexi and learned much from her during her daily Nordic Kitchen demos. I also figured out a way to pack three bottles of her snaps into my luggage.
I arrived home Sunday before noon. "Did the cats miss me?" I asked T about a hundred times. I was satisfied when my aquavit, tin of smoked herring, licorice caramels, Chef Stig's cookbook, aprons, and clothing were unpacked and Oskar took their place in my luggage as if he didn't want me to leave without him again. It is good to travel and meet new friends. It is even better to come home.

Happy 6th Birthday to my little blog! 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Living in a Nordic dream: Norsk Høstfest

I often dream of cheese, ABBA, and lefse: the trinity of celebration. It is a rare and wonderful moment when the triad guides my path.

On Tuesday my Norsk Høstfest hosts Suzanne and Larry invited me, Chef Stig, and his wife for a pre-Adbacadabra concert dinner. Chef Stig contributed a wheel of his blue sheep cheese, one of many cheeses he makes in Montana.

I come from the Dairyland. We take for granted artisan producers and grassfed cows. Our cheese mongers carry all manner of fresh and aged cheeses in cow, sheep, and goat. They import cheese from every corner of the earth. My cheese drawer overflows onto the shelf. We are never without good and great cheese. Yes Stig's rich creamy brie dotted with blue ash was life changing. This is the best cheese I have ever tasted.

Back at Norsk Høstfest the hall smelled of the lutfisk that had been cooking all day. We took our seats for the ABBA tribute band concert. Now, where I come from we tease about the intense reserve of our Scandinavian roots. There is a comfortable stand-offishness that we consider to be good manners. But Minnesota has nothing on our North Dakota friends! While I could hardly control myself, dancing in my seat and singing along, the rest of the audience sat stoically as the performers pranced across the stage and belted out a perfect ABBA performance. By the "Dancing Queen" encore the crowd stood, although possibly to stretch rather than to dance. We had a blast.

I woke up Wednesday morning wondering if it had all been a dream. I trudged down to breakfast and there on the buffet were lefse rolls and flatbread. If this is a dream, please don't wake me.

Clicking my heels and heading back to Høstfest, this time the Fairgrounds smelled of meatballs and cinnamon almonds. Accordion players in costume greeted me with folk music. On the Nordic Kitchen stage we prepared Scandinavian treats and cajoled the crowds. Vikings, trolls, and a troop of singing children wandered in and out of Hellsinki Hall. I met Ms. Norsk Høstfest and purchased an entire round of lefse for only ONE DOLLAR!

The best way to describe Høstfest is it is as if the Minnesota State Fair and Midsommar at American Swedish Institute had a beautiful baby, and I get to hold her all week long.



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Have maple syrup, ready for travel

My final stop in Minnesota was Surdyk's Flights, because everyone knows that nothing sustains a traveller better than a taste of home. Tummy satisfied, I hopped on my flight to adventure in Minot, ND!

"Minot? Why not?" a new acquaintance teased me this weekend when I told him of my gig here in the Magic City. I'll be cooking on the Nordic Stage twice daily at Norsk Høstfest, the largest Nordic celebration in North America. The festivities begin tonight, but already trolls have been transforming the State Fairgrounds into a place worthy of a viking celebration. I'll meet you at the Lefse Mezzanine near the giant Dalahäst.

And for those of you who have always wondered what a maple syrup snob does when travelling to unknown breakfast locales: we bring our own bottle a la Seinfeld. A taste of home, indeed.