Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Lefse Lessons: Trial and Error Error Error

A lot of my Quests for New-ness (my method for keeping life from getting stale) involve cooking. Cooking is so prone to staleness – dinner every night over and over and over again – that it needs dedicated intervention to liven it up make it bearable. So there was the Sauerkraut Saga and the Medieval Mustard Mission. Twice, I discovered parables for living with a brand new pressure cooker – once when I bought it and once when I wrecked it. But even if none of those had worked, there was always Barbara’s Ginger Beer Factory, raspberry liqueur, Bourbon Salmon, and further misadventures with alcohol.

Hmmm, cooking Quests for New-ness always seem to involve a certain amount of calamity. Well, New-ness doesn’t come without risk, but how else would I have learned how to whomp mustard?

So when the Sons of Norway put out a call for help making lefse, how could I resist? It was time to call Connie, and that was before I knew that we’d end up covered in flour. Connie and I are really good at getting dirty.

We entered Viking Hall and right off were greeted by Amanda. The same Amanda who’s taught me watercolors and pencil drawing! She teaches lefse rolling, too!

First we have to prepare round boards for rolling on. We cover them with round, pastry cloth covers and pull them snug. Then we have to sprinkle enough flour to cover up the printing on the cover. Lots of flour. We pull a little sock over the special ridgy rolling pins, too. More flour.

At one end of the kitchen, other volunteers are boiling potatoes, ricing them with flour, and making balls to put in the refrigerator. I take a ball from the plate of finished dough balls, put it on the rolling board, pat it, and push it a couple of rolls. Dough sticks to the rolling pin sock. Not enough flour. Get a new sock. More flour.

You have to roll in alternating directions to make sure your lefse maintains Round. My Round is Round-ish. My Round is basically just not square. Or it’s square with bulges here and there.

When your dough is a super-thin pancake, you stick the long, special turning stick under it. One side of the stick is rounded and one is flat. Flat-side down, you scrape under the dough to release it from the board. Then you lift up the pancake.

Then you pick up the pieces that have broken and fallen. Reject!

You roll out another, super-thin. So thin, there are holes in it. Reject!

You roll out another, but it seems most of your flour has been absorbed. You can’t get the stick underneath. Reject!

When you finally get a pancake to stay on the stick, you walk over to the griddle to lay it down and cook. Not so easy! It’s big and floppy and thin, so it falls on the floor before you can make it to the griddle. Reject!
You try to make one a little sturdier, but it’s too thick. Reject!

You roll out another, but it sticks to the pastry cloth. Reject! More flour. One woman volunteer talks to herself, “Flour is our friend. Flour is our friend.” She’s right! I am now covered in flour, but I’m making round-ish pancakes! I turn to the griddle … and my lefse lands with all its sticky sides sticking to each other. Reject!

Connie decides that productivity demands she give up trying to deal with the griddle. She’ll just roll. But Amanda doesn’t give up on us: we have to hold the long stick very low to the griddle and twist it so that the pancake slowly unwinds itself. It’s a balancing act of original placement on the griddle and unwinding over it. Some make it, some don’t.

Once on the griddle, you use the brush to brush off the excess flour. And because flour is now our friend, there’s a lot. Grill the other side and add your lefse to the mountain of lefses on the counter under the sheet. Other volunteers are brushing off excess flour (Flour is no longer our friend.) and packaging the cooled ones.

So much to learn! I am trying to decide if a valuable learning experience for me is a net-productivity-loss for the Sons of Norway, but by now, I’m churning out lefse. Well, I’m producing lefse. I’m not exactly a lefse factory. They can package my round-ish lefse mixed in with properly-round lefse, so maybe no one will notice.

I am exhausted. I whisper to Connie, “Two hours.” She looks at me in shock, “Two hours MORE?” “No, no!” I say. “We’ve been here two hours. I think we can leave.” Everyone else in the room is still toiling away. They were there yesterday and they’ll come back tomorrow. They tell us to taste one
before we leave. (We kindly pick from the pile of rejects.)

We butter it, sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar, and roll it up. It’s delicious!

And now I know how to make it! But first I need a nap. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Back to School (Reunion Version)

I drive onto the university grounds, following the signs for the parking lots on the grassy fields. The first lot, the closest one, says “50+.” Oh, whoa, I think, I can’t park there. That’s for the old people.

Wait a second: I’m here for my 45th reunion. Next time, I’ll be in the 50+!

Nothing like a reunion weekend to bring up the issues of time, aging, memory, way back when, and what next. The place you lived for four years and whizzed around on your bicycle in your sleep is now so full of new buildings – and even a whole new quad – that you are hopelessly lost and disoriented enough to feel disconnected from your own history.

And the class book is filled with so many people you never met that you wonder, Did I really go here? Or did I just inhabit some little insignificant corner?

Nothing like a college campus to generate an identity crisis.

Cindy says, “I worked for Congresswoman Bella Abzug the summer after you.”

“You did? That’s amazing! Why didn’t I know that?”

“Barbara, we know that. We’ve known that. We’ve talked about that.”

Candy is in the photo the night Bella came to dinner. “Candy, I didn’t remember you lived in that house.” “Barbara, you were there???”

The question of identity is time-sensitive. We were who we were once, and some part of us lingers and endures, but what if it’s a part we can’t remember?

Well, then, you still have a great time meeting new people. They have all come back because something interesting beckons, some learning, some exploration, some mystique. I meet Jan (whom I never knew) walking from the parking lot, Ann in a long conversation over lunch, the two aerospace engineers as we discussed the 737 MAX.

And then, there are The Friends. We met freshman year, and we endure. Dennis in from London, Debbie from D.C., Bob from Mill Valley, May and Bet from Oakland. Gayle from Las Vegas, Joy and Jeff from southern California. Neil hurt his hip, so he and Lee Ann can’t make it. Even Jon makes his appearance! We are like Shangri-La: we reopen every five years and we know we’ll always be there. Until, we don’t, and then we’ll miss them each year, like we miss Sally for the first time for always.

There is a class on climate change, a class taught by an ambassador to Russia, a computer musician who built a laptop orchestra, a class on poverty-stricken cities that can no longer even provide 9-1-1. I love all this learning, engaging, access to great thinkers!

But in a class participation session on post-retirement, everyone else seems to have found their rhythm while I’m still … experimenting. I tell them how, in search of something I could repair that wasn’t getting fixed, I couldn’t even get the goose poop cleaned up from a park! I’m looking for my legacy, and it’s elusive. “I’m Barbara, and I waste time.” Everyone laughs.

Afterwards, I hear from LOTS of people: they relate! What a surprise! We are all – always – feeling our way. That’s it. We are all – always – just feeling our way.

Meanwhile, I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake. He writes:
Still and all, why bother [writing]? Here’s my answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: “I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don’t care about them. You are not alone.”
We are all – always – just feeling our way! We are not alone.

One of the classes is “Cultivating Calm: Spiritual Practices for a Healthy, Whole Life.” How could I resist? She talks to us about The Tree of Contemplative Practices, and I didn’t know storytelling counted! And volunteering! And marches! So instead of focusing on how I don’t have the patience to meditate, I can see the benefits of what I am doing.

But this is what she says. She says the best thing she can help a student do is to get that student to wrestle with this question: “Who am I and who do I seek to become for the sake of the world?”

That question never ends! That is my question forever. It was my first identity crisis, and it will be my last, and wrestling with it is the point.

I have gone back to college, and I have learned something.


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