Category Archives: iowa

All We Owe We Owe Ioway

We didn’t make it to the 2017 Iowa State Fair, alas, so we missed our chance to see the famous butter cow (literally, a cow sculpted out of butter) and her companion this year, a butter likeness of Laura Ingalls Wilder, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Little House on the Prairie author’s birth. Given that this year also marks what would have been Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday, and that like Wilder he also has an Iowa connection, we wonder if he was also under consideration for this honor. After all, other buttery boys have served as milkmaids in previous years at the Fair, including a simply creamy Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Garth Brooks.

But let us not be bitter over butter, or churn up any controversy here. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a fine and fitting choice, especially given the dairy-themed nickname her Pa famously gave her, “Half Pint.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder Butter Sculpture via USA TODAY

via USA TODAY: Sarah Pratt standing by the Laura Ingalls Wilder butter sculpture

The Iowa State Fair also brings to mind that wonderful old movie, State Fair (the 1945 version, that is), with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Especially this delightful little ditty in which they really spread it on thick – the butter, AND the good ol’ Iowa “corn”.

Given the house and half acre of Iowa we’re paying a mortgage on, we might slightly adjust the song’s title to read, “All We Owe, We Owe in Ioway.” But putting aside that IOU we owe IOWA, we do also owe Ioway our thanks for its brand of good wholesome fun, which of course is not just limited to state fairs and butter sculptures. After all, Iowa is home to several Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings, if not a Butter Frank – not yet anyway. We’ll do our best to butter up the selection committee for next year’s State Fair sculpture.

Thank God for Daffodils

There’s a reason that midwesterners are strong, hardy people. It’s because midwestern winters are long, bleak periods of torture. Everything is brown and gray and barren and depressing for months on end. And then one day you see daffodils at the grocery store and you heave a sigh of relief.

“Soon, it will be grey no more,” you whisper to yourself.

In a matter of weeks the leaves will populate the trees, flowers will dot the landscape and life will seem worth living.

Until then, we have these little stems of sunshine.

The First Snowfall of the Season

This American House: An American System Built Home

Here in the upper Midwest, the first snow of the season – whether it comes in October or December – is always exciting. Snow has a way of quieting the world and making the newly naked trees seem a little less obscene. It’s winter, folks. Grab the beauty while you can. For a new year awaits us on the other side.

Mr. Porter’s Garage: A Frank Lloyd Wright Connection in Decorah, Iowa

The Porter House in Decorah, Iowa, photographed in the fall of 2013.

The Porter House in Decorah, Iowa, photographed in the fall of 2013.

While showing friends around lovely nearby Decorah late last summer, we happened to pass by the incredible Porter House Museum. This beautiful 19th Century Italianate house is notable for its one-of-a-kind surrounding rock wall, a contribution made to the property by its equally one-of-a-kind owner, Adelbert Field Porter (1879-1968). Mr. Porter, commonly known as “Bert,” was a gentleman explorer, naturalist, and photographer who culled from his vast collection of natural curiosities to create “nature art,” such as his remarkable wall.

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A Return to Home: Homemade Lefse Recipe

Lefse Recipe on This American House

In many ways, buying this house in northeast Iowa has felt like returning home for us. This despite the fact that neither of us are from Iowa. For me it’s a return to the small town life that I knew growing up. And for The Mister we’re once again in a region of the country that proudly celebrates its (and his) Norwegian heritage. And just like in his native Fargo, North Dakota, that Norwegian heritage means that there’s lefse in grocery stores.

Lefse is a Norwegian flatbread that I, a small town boy with southern roots, had never encountered until I met The Mister. It’s kind of like a tortilla but it’s made out of potatoes. And whereas a tortilla is stuffed with meat and cheese and other fixings, lefse is simply smeared with butter, rolled up and eaten as is.

Enjoying Homemade Lefse at This American HouseI was introduced to lefse on our our first visit to The Mister’s parents’ house in Fargo. It was one of the first things we were presented by The Mister’s adoring and adorable mother, Louise. We were kids then, The Mister and I, and so of course we had made the entire twelve hour drive in the dark. After The Mister picked me up from work on a dark February Friday, we set out on our first road trip together. We had only met the month before but we were already quite smitten and this trip was one of those “take him home to meet mother” deals. To say that I was nervous is an understatement. Fortunately Louise made me feel right at home, even as she had to explain lefse to me.

Over the years I’ve found ways to bring this Norwegian treat into our lives. One Christmas I ordered a box of Freddy’s Lefse, The Mister’s preferred brand made in his hometown, as a surprise treat. And on every visit to Fargo we’ve picked up a package or two to take back to the city with us. While it has yet to become my favorite food, I appreciate the heritage and, more importantly, the memories associated with lefse.

It was during our first weekend in This American House that I spied packaged lefse for sale in the local grocery store. I purchased a couple packages and excitedly brought them back to the house. “You’re home!” I said to The Mister, and held up the packaged lefse to illustrate the point.

Like anything, packaged lefse is only half as good as homemade. The Mister has often told me how delicious his grandmother’s homemade lefse was. There was always a sense of wistful longing in his voice when he would say this. I’ve heard stories about how his dad had taken a class to learn how to make it and how his lefse was almost as good as his grandmother’s. Stumped for a birthday gift this year, and now that we have a house with the space to store it, I bought The Mister an 8 Piece Lefse Starter Kit  . And now I understand what he was raving about all those years. Homemade lefse is delicious!

We set up shop in the dining room for our inaugural lefse experiment. As an experienced baker, I was pretty confident that I’d be able to follow the lefse recipe that came with the kit. And except for a few oopses along the way, our first batch of lefse turned out quite nicely. Here’s how it’s done:

Making Homemade Lefse at This American House

HOW TO MAKE LEFSE

1. Make mashed potatoes. (Or, if you’re pressed for time, make a batch of instant mashed potatoes.) Let cool.

2. Add equal amounts of flour as potatoes. For instance, if you have 2 cups of mashed potatoes, add 2 cups of flour.

Lefse Dough

3. Form the potato mixture into balls that are roughly the size of tennis balls.

4. Chill the potato dough balls overnight.

Rolling Lefse on a Floured Surface

5. The next day, place the chilled ball of dough on a well floured surface. (This handy board and cover were included in The Mister’s lefse kit.  You can also roll your dough on a counter top or large cutting board.) Smoosh the dough to flatten it a little.

Making Homemade Lefse at This American House5. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a very thin disk. As The Mister’s high school friend and fellow lefse lover advised, you want the rolled dough to be the consistency of a paper towel. That is, you want it to be super thin and almost transparent.

Making Lefse at This American House

6. Our lefse kit came with a turning stick, which is an invaluable tool when you’re dealing with such a thin dough. The turning stick is used to lift the dough off the pastry board and place it on the grill.

Lefse Cooks on a Grill at This American House

7. Once on the grill, let the lefse cook for about one minute. Then, use the turning stick to flip the lefse over on the grill. Let it cook for an additional thirty seconds.

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8. To keep your finished lefse from getting crispy as it cools, store it sandwiched between towels. The condensation created by the hot lefse will keep them soft.

The Mister and His First Homemade Lefse

9. Try not to eat all the lefse as it comes off this grill. This will be harder than you think it might be. Once you slather butter on a hot lefse and gobble it down it’s hard to stop yourself from having another. And then another. If you do end up with any leftover lefse, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

While The Mister has always enjoyed his lefse simply buttered, according to a post on the Lefse Facebook page others have been known to eat it with butter and sugar, cream cheese and lingonberries and even lutefisk.

*By the way, I hope the photo at the top of this post says “You’re going to love this lefse.” Google provided the translation to Norwegian. If it turns out that I’m wrong about that, let me know!

Images: This American House