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Want to reduce holiday stress and get a few laughs? Try making lefse

Every year, my family and friends gather around a special griddle to make traditional Norwegian lefse. It's a tasty holiday treat that's good for your health in many ways, even with butter and sugar.

Lefse on a griddle
Making lefse is a holiday tradition enjoyed by many family and friends
Tracy Briggs
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ROCHESTER — You'd think that after 20 years of helping my husband make traditional Norwegian lefse for the holidays, I'd catch on to the process. But no matter how many pounds of potatoes I peel, boil and mash to prepare for the batter, I just can't seem to get the hang of the lefse rules of engagement.

In this family, there's only one lefse-making method that results in the properly prepared rounds of deliciousness. And deviations are amicably shunned. We get a good laugh about a past lefse-making mishap when, instead of presenting what I thought were expertly mashed potatoes, I handed over a bowl full of hidden lefse hazards. My potatoes were full of lumps and the situation could have become an international incident, had I not thought ahead and boiled a replacement batch of potatoes.

"When it comes to lefse," says my husband Dave. "You can have lumps in your head, but not in your mashed potatoes."

The truth is, I adore lefse. For three reasons. The first is because the act of making lefse has become a Christmas tradition for family and friends. When Dave pulls out the lefse griddle and other equipment, I'm guaranteed several uninterrupted hours with him, my two boys and if we're really lucky, our neighbors. It's a time of joking, story telling, warmth and togetherness.

The second reason is that the atmosphere created when we gather around that griddle boosts our health. Lefse-making has become a family ritual, and research shows that rituals help to increase feelings of contentedness, happiness and meaning. Rituals may also aid in easing the pain of grief .

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The third reason why I treasure our annual lefse tradition is that, to me, the product — a flatbread that looks sort of like a crepe or tortilla — tastes divine. I've learned that lefse is often smeared with butter, sprinkled with sugar, rolled and eaten (you could really fill it with anything, but don't tell Dave I suggested that!).

As someone who is passionate about healthy living, I'll admit that eating a lot of sugar and butter should not be a regular thing. But the benefits we get from being together as we make the lefse and sample the final products are definitely worth the splurge a couple of times a year. And for the record, an online search of the nutritional value of lefse revealed that one serving (without butter, sugar or anything else) ranges from about 70 to 170 calories and is high in carbs, but low in cholesterol.

The recipe we use comes from my friend Lance's Auntie Charlotte. Her lefse was always fabulous and rolled into perfectly shaped and wafer thin disks — unlike mine that often end up looking more like the shape of Lake Minnetonka, as described in the video below.

Click on the link to watch or listen to a silly session during which my family, my sister's family and our friends who are just like family enjoyed a lefse-making tutorial via Zoom. And amidst the craziness and giggles, you'll learn how to make Auntie Charlotte's lefse.

Auntie Charlotte's lefse recipe

Supplies (easy to find online): Lefse griddle, rolling pin, rolling pin sock, pastry board and cover, wooden lefse turning stick, 2 kitchen towels, plastic baggie for storage.

*Lefse takes practice. Be sure to check out Auntie Charlotte's hints at the bottom. They can really make a difference!

Ingredients: Makes 12 Lefse rounds

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Option #1: Using real potatoes

Russet potatoes (6 medium), 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup milk, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 2 2/3 to 3 cups flour, extra flour for rolling, butter, sugar (white or brown)

Directions: Peel and quarter potatoes. Boil until soft. Drain and use a ricer to make sure all lumps are removed. Allow to cool in refrigerator. While potatoes are boiling (or cooling), mix all other ingredients and let sit for 30 minutes. When potatoes are chilled, mix in as much flour as you can to make a slightly firm dough (this is where experience helps). Heat griddle to 500 degrees. Form dough into a log and cut into 12 pieces. Roll them into balls. On a generously floured pasteboard and cloth, roll each dough ball into a thin, round circle (like a tortilla). Use the lefse stick to lift the lefse off the board and place on the griddle (griddle should be dry - no oil, spray etc.). Fry until bubbles form and the underside develops golden brown spots. Flip and fry other side. Remove from heat and place on kitchen towel to cool. While the lefse is cooling, place another towel on top so the lefse steams a bit more. Repeat. To serve, fold and place on serving tray next to butter and sugar so guests can slather and sprinkle their own. To store: allow to cool to room temperature then fold in quarters, and keep in sealed plastic bag or similar container to prevent drying.

Option #2: Using potato flakes

Supply list is same as above.

Ingredients: 2 cups potato flakes,1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 1 cup milk, 1 cup cold water, 1 T vegetable oil, 1 T butter (melted)

Directions: Mix all ingredients except flour and let sit for 30 minutes. Then add 1 cup flour, mix and form into a loaf. Divide into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and on a lightly floured pastry board and cloth, roll out into a thin round (like a tortilla). Heat griddle to 500 F. Use lefse stick to lift lefse off of the board onto the griddle (griddle should be dry -- no oil, spray etc.). Fry until golden brown spots form, then flip and do the same on the other side. Pop any bubbles that form. Remove from heat and place on slightly damp kitchen towel to cool. While the lefse is cooling, place another towel on top so the lefse steams a bit more. Repeat until all doing is fried. To serve, fold and place on serving tray next to butter and sugar so guests can slather and sprinkle their own. To store: allow to cool to room temperature, fold in quarters, and keep in sealed plastic bag or similar container to prevent drying.

*Hints: As I mention above, there is definitely controversy among my family members about method! Some insist on potatoes, others, insist on potato flakes. And some says towels must be damp and others say they should be dry. But Auntie Charlotte has some hints that help either method:

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  1. Batter/dough must stay cool. If your house is too warm, it can make dough too sticky while you're cooking.
  2. Even if you follow the directions, you may need to add a little flour.
  3. When rolling, use plenty of flour on surface to prevent sticking.
  4. Let lefse cool to room temperature before folding and storing.
Making Norwegian lefse is an annual holiday tradition at our house. In this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion," Viv Williams gathers family and friends for a slightly chaotic and fun lefse-making tutorial that will hopefully inspire you to grab a griddle and give the old-fashioned treat a try.

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

MORE HEALTH FUSION:
When arctic blasts plummet temperatures, stepping outside can be dangerous. In this Health Fusion episode, Viv Williams talks to a researcher about what intensely cold air could do to anyone's lungs.

Related Topics: HEALTH FUSION
Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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