A day in the life of a hired hand at Norsk Høstfest includes waking early, ironing my apron if I was too exhausted to do it the night prior, heading down to the hotel lobby to exchange morning greetings with the other Norsk Høstfesters, and grabbing a cup of coffee to go. During the seven-minute drive to the North Dakota Fairgrounds I turn on the radio to a happy country station and sing loudly along to songs I've never heard before.
We all wear badges to get in and out of the event, and as we check in the guys try to give me a wristband ("So you can get back in if you leave today.") which I wave away assuring them I won't leave for about twelve hours. If I'm lucky I run into a few characters, grab something tasty to eat with my bad cup of coffee (I know I'll get so lost no one will ever find me again if I dare venture to the downtown Starbucks. Besides, the car I am driving is so enormous it has taken me several days to learn to park it.), and find some space at the Nordic Kitchen where Chef Stig is typically already prepping his food for the day and the gals from Nordic Ware are organizing their kiosk store.
Høstfest is housed in a large building made up of large halls connected by vast hallways, and during the fest each hall and hallway is cram packed with Nordic themed shopping, food, music and entertainment, wandering Vikings, many many trolls, and tens of thousands of people celebrating every bit of the experience. The halls are named for Nordic cities, and our Nordic Kitchen is housed in Helsinki.
At the Nordic Kitchen we take turns cooking Nordic-inspired treats while anywhere from five to fifty guests watch and listen, and wait (somewhat) patiently for edible samples. Chef Stig Hansen is a favorite. His Danish dishes help him to sell lots of cookbooks, as does his dry wit during presentations. We've got half an hour between cooks, so as soon as samples are passed out our den mother Gigs helps us wash and dry dishes and tidy up the kitchen. Occasionally we have a guest cook, and this year the delightful and wise Beatrice Ojakangas was with us a few times. As I helped to grease and butter her cake tins, I thought, "I am sitting at the foot of the master."
Last year my cooking theme was updated Swedish foods, and this year I am making modern Swedish suppers, from barley risotto and Flying Jacob to banana curry and kebab pizzas. With each presentation you learn dos and don'ts. I'll never be as smooth as I'd like, but gosh what fun it is to try!
We are friendly with the vendors in Helsinki, including a few favorites that we try to bring samples to, and occasionally our generosity pays off with a reciprocal treat delivery (The candy people are our absolute favorites. More Finnish licorice? Yes, please!). And we always, always, give our awesome technical and sound team extra portions. A well-fed tech team is happy team!
While most of my day is spent at the kitchen, occasionally I break away and explore the other halls. All around are the smells of good food and the sounds of beautiful music. Approaching Copenhagen Hall is like walking into another world. That's where they house the Vikings. Last year the only food outside of Nordic Kitchen that I tried was the lefse, which I had every single day. This year I am determined to taste some of the wonders that are Høstfest. So far I've had a Viking on a Stick and an amazing wheat lefse filled with almond cream (having that again today with my morning coffee!.
After the final cooking presentation we give the kitchen one last scrubbing for the day. Back in my hotel I snack on a dinner of pumpkin lefse, fattigman, and glass of wine. I throw in a load of laundry so my apron is fresh, fall into bed, and dream of cardamom and trolls.