Jun 022017
 

Today is the Festa della Repubblica in Italy commemorating the institutional referendum held by universal suffrage in 1946, in which the Italian people were called to the polls to decide on the form of government they wanted, following the Second World War and the fall of Fascism. With 12,717,923 votes for a republic and 10,719,284 for the monarchy, the male descendants of the House of Savoy were sent into exile. To commemorate this event a grand military parade is held in central Rome every year, presided over by the President of the Italian Republic in his role as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister, formally known as the President of the Council of Ministers, and other high officers of state also attend. There are also celebrations in all the Italian embassies around the world and foreign heads of state are invited to attend state dinners and the like. The main parade is in Rome but there are civic celebrations all over Italy. This is a much, much more important date than the day on which Italy achieved unification.

Prior to the foundation of the Republic, the Italian national day was the first Sunday in June, approximate anniversary of the granting of the Statuto Albertino to the kingdom of Italy when it unified in 1861. From 1977 to 1999, for economic reasons, this was the date set for the celebration of the 1946 foundation of the republic. The 2 June date became official in 2000. The grand parade was held in Turin in 1961 to mark the centennial year of Italian unification, and because at the time of unification Turin was the capital.

In 1948, Via dei Fori Imperiali hosted the first military parade in honor of the new Italian Republic. The following year, with Italy’s entry into NATO, ten parades were held simultaneously across the country and in 1950, the parade was featured for the first time in the protocol of official celebrations. This protocol provides for the ceremonial laying of a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Vittoriano, before the President of Italy reviews the parading formations. The ceremony continues in the afternoon with the opening of the gardens of the Quirinale Palace, seat of the President of the Republic and with musical performances by the band ensembles of the Italian Army, Italian Navy, Italian Air Force, the “Arma dei Carabinieri”, State Police, the “Guardia di Finanza”, the Penitentiary Police Corps, State Firefighters Corps and the State Forestry Corps, together with the band of the Rome City Police.

The parade begins when the Corazzieri Squadron of the Carabinieri arrives, either mounted or dismounted, at the Presidential grandstand at the Via dei Fori Imperiali with the President of Italy, and the honors are paid via the Italian Army Band or the mounted band of the 4th Carabineri Cavalry Regiment playing the first stanza of Il Canto degli Italiani, after which the squadron departs.

The parade proper itself then starts with the Carabinieri Central Band striking up to “La Fedelissima”, its official march, leading the parade proper with the parade commander, his staff and escort, followed by the National Colors of the Italian Armed Forces, standards of the regions of Italy and veterans associations. Following them are company-sized formations of Italian Armed Forces units, military bands and members of the Red Cross, Polizia di Stato, the Penitentiary Police Corps, State Firefighters Corps and the State Forestry Corps, and ending with the Rome City Police and the featuring the unique Bersaglieri contingent in their jogging pace.

2015 saw the first appearances in the parade of government employees and the National Civil Defense Service.

Important years of the anniversary of both the Republic and the Unification of Italy have also seen mobile and air columns go past the tribune. The parade ends with a flyby of the Frecce Tricolori aerobactic team in the colors of the Flag of Italy.

If I give you a recipe for an “Italian” dish a fight will break out and I’ll be handed my head. Every region in Italy has its own specialties that it is fiercely proud of.  There is a solution though. The colors of the Italian flag are represented in 2 dishes that are widely known: pizza Margherita from Naples and insalata tricolore. The history of pizza Margherita is disputed, because something of the sort (tomato, mozzarella, and basil toppings) has been around in Naples since the late 18th century, and is mentioned in cookbooks throughout the 19th century. But it was not called Margherita at first, and did not have any patriotic associations because Italy as a nation and the Italian flag did not exist back then. It has those associations now, however.

A more practical choice is insalata tricolore which is an extremely popular antipasto all over Italy, and does have the Italian flag in mind (and in name).  So go for it. Interleave sliced tomato, sliced mozzarella di bufala, and basil leaves, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  It’s a great dish and very simple to make. Just make sure you use the soft white mozzarella not the yellow shredded stuff used for pizza. It comes packed in water.

 

Jun 032016
 

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Today is Labour Day in the Bahamas, a national holiday celebrated on the first Friday in June. The original date of Labour Day in the Bahamas was 7 June, in commemoration of a significant workers’ strike/riot that began on that day in 1942, but was moved to a Friday in order to create a long weekend for workers. Labour Day is meant to honor and celebrate workers and the importance of their contributions to the nation and society. In the capital city, Nassau, thousands of people come to watch a parade through the streets, which begins at mid-morning. Bands in colorful uniforms, traditional junkanoo performers, and members of various labour unions and political parties are all part of the procession, which ends up at the Southern Recreation Grounds, where government officials make speeches for the occasion.

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The Bahamas, officially the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, is an island country of the Lucayan Archipelago consisting of more than 700 islands, cays, and islets in the Atlantic Ocean; north of Cuba and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic); northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands; southeast of the US state of Florida and east of the Florida Keys. Its capital is Nassau on the island of New Providence. The designation of “Bahamas” can refer to either the country or the larger island chain that it shares with the Turks and Caicos Islands. As stated in the mandate/manifesto of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Bahamas territory encompasses 470,000 km2 (180,000 sq mi) of ocean space.

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The Bahamas were the site of Columbus’ first landfall in the New World in 1492. At that time, the islands were inhabited by the Lucayan, a branch of the Arawakan-speaking Taino people. Although the Spanish never colonized the Bahamas, they shipped the native Lucayans to slavery in Hispaniola. The islands were mostly deserted from 1513 until 1648, when English colonists from Bermuda settled on the island of Eleuthera.

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The Bahamas became a British Crown colony in 1718, when the British clamped down on piracy. After the American War of Independence, the Crown resettled thousands of American Loyalists in the Bahamas; they brought their slaves with them and established plantations on land grants. Africans constituted the majority of the population from this period. The Bahamas became a haven for freed African slaves: the Royal Navy resettled Africans here liberated from illegal slave ships; American slaves and Seminoles escaped here from Florida; and the government freed American slaves carried on United States domestic ships that had reached the Bahamas due to weather. Slavery in the Bahamas was abolished in 1834. Today the descendants of slaves and free Africans make up nearly 90% of the population.

In August 1940, 4 years after his abdication of the British throne, the Duke of Windsor was installed as Governor of the Bahamas, arriving with his wife, the Duchess. Although disheartened at the condition of Government House, they “tried to make the best of a bad situation.” He did not enjoy the position, and referred to the islands as “a third-class British colony.” He opened the small local parliament on 29 October 1940. The couple visited the “Out Islands” that November, on Axel Wenner-Gren’s yacht, which caused controversy; the British Foreign Office strenuously objected because they had been advised (mistakenly) by United States intelligence that Wenner-Gren was a close friend of the Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring of Nazi Germany.

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The Duke was praised at the time for his efforts to combat poverty on the islands. A 1991 biography by Philip Ziegler, however, described him as contemptuous of the Bahamians and other non-white peoples of the Empire. I imagine that some of these feelings stem from being demoted from monarch of the British Empire to crown servant for a predominantly black commonwealth nation. Nonetheless, he was praised for his resolution of civil unrest over low wages in Nassau in June 1942, when there was the full-scale riot by workers that led to the commemoration on Labour Day. The history is rather mixed. The Duke blamed the trouble on “mischief makers – communists” and “men of Central European Jewish descent, who had secured jobs as a pretext for obtaining a deferment of draft,” which, in turn, marks his position as a Nazi sympathizer. The Duke resigned the post on 16 March 1945.

Bahamian cuisine includes seafood such as fish, shellfish, lobster, crab, and conch, as well as tropical fruits, rice, peas, pigeon peas, potatoes, and pork. Popular seasonings commonly used in dishes include chiles, lime, cilantro, tomatoes, onions, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, rum, and coconut. Since the Bahamas consist of a multitude of islands, notable culinary variations exist.

Bahamian cuisine is showcased at many large festivals, including Labour Day. Guava duff is a popular favorite. Duff is a British slang term for a boiled suet pudding adopted into Bahamian vocabulary for dessert dishes made with fruit (especially guava) in a dough. Fruit is folded into the dough and boiled, then served with a sauce. Ingredients include fruit, butter, sugar, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, flour, rum, pepper, and baking powder.

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This recipe is party sized for 12 people, but it can easily be cut in half for smaller groups. Even though it’s hot in June in the Bahamas, this is served warm.

Guava Duff

Ingredients

For the duff

12 -15 large guavas
3 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup sugar (plus extra)
¼ cup butter
¼ cup shortening
2 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla

For the sauce

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter
2 egg whites
1 tbsp rum

Instructions

Peel and core guavas. Cut the guavas into small dice and add sugar to taste in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Beat the butter and shortening with the sugar, then beat in the egg yolks. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt together and fold into the butter/egg mixture. Add the vanilla and mix until you have a firm dough.

Divide the dough into 3 balls, wrap, and refrigerate for an hour.

Roll out each ball on a piece of foil to form a fat rectangle. Divide the guava between the three and spread it evenly over each surface. Starting at one end, fold the dough with the guava into roll.

Wrap each roll with foil, place in a large, heavy zip top bag, and seal.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Gently place the bag in the boiling water, and boil for one hour. Keep an eye on the water level and top up with hot water from a kettle if necessary.

Remove the bag from the water, open up the duff packages, slice the duff and serve it warm with sauce spooned over the slices.

For the sauce:

Beat the egg whites in a mixing bowl until foamy but not stiff. Cream the butter and sugar in a separate bowl until they are well combined. Gradually add the egg whites and rum and continue beating until smooth.

 

Mar 172016
 

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Saint Patrick (Latin: Patricius; Irish: Pádraig, Old Irish: Cothraige) was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Known as the “Apostle of Ireland”, he is the primary patron saint of Ireland, along with saints Brigit of Kildare and Columba. He is also venerated in the Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church, and in the Eastern Orthodox Church as equal-to-apostles and the Enlightener of Ireland. You can go to a ton of websites about his life based on available sources, legend and speculation. I don’t see much point in repeating all that stuff here. Rather, I’d like to focus on how St Patrick’s Day has become a world-wide booze up. It looks very much as if this has come about because of the long-term popularity of the St Patrick’s Day parade and associated activities in New York City, and also in the Irish diaspora. It wasn’t until the 20th century that St Patrick’s Day became a public holiday in Ireland, and at the time it was linked to Irish nationalism.

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Saint Patrick’s feast day, as a kind of national day, was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries. In later times, he became more and more widely seen as the patron of Ireland. Saint Patrick’s feast day was finally placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church due to the influence of Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding in the early 17th century. Saint Patrick’s Day thus became a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. It is also a feast day in the Church of Ireland, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In 1903, St Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland. This was thanks to the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O’Mara. O’Mara later introduced the law which required that public houses be shut on 17 March after drinking got out of hand, a provision that was repealed in the 1970s.

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The first St Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland was held in Waterford in 1903. The week of St Patrick’s Day 1903 had been declared Irish Language Week by the Gaelic League and in Waterford they opted to have a procession on Sunday 15 March. The procession consisted of the Mayor and members of Waterford Corporation, the Trades Hall, the various trade unions and bands who included the ‘Barrack St Band’ and the ‘Thomas Francis Meagher Band’. The parade began at the premises of the Gaelic League in George’s St and finished in the Peoples Park, where the public were addressed by the Mayor and other dignitaries. On Tuesday 17 March, most Waterford businesses—including public houses—were closed and marching bands paraded as they had two days previously.

On St Patrick’s Day 1916, the Irish Volunteers – an Irish nationalist paramilitary organization – held parades throughout Ireland. The authorities recorded 38 St Patrick’s Day parades, involving 6,000 marchers, almost half of whom were said to be armed. The following month, the Irish Volunteers launched the Easter Rising against British rule. This marked the beginning of the Irish revolutionary period and led to the Irish War of Independence and Civil War. During this time, St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland were muted, although the day was sometimes chosen to hold large political rallies. The celebrations remained low-key after the creation of the Irish Free State; the only state-organized observance was a military procession and trooping of the colours, and an Irish-language mass attended by government ministers. In 1927, the Irish Free State government banned the selling of alcohol on St Patrick’s Day, although it remained legal in Northern Ireland. The ban was not repealed until 1961.

The first official, state-sponsored St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin took place in 1931. But it was not until the mid-1990s that the government of the Republic of Ireland began a campaign to use St Patrick’s Day to showcase Ireland and its culture, and pumped money into a Dublin parade. As an educated guess I’d be inclined to say that St Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations became bigger and more extravagant in the Irish Diaspora than in Ireland, especially in the United States, because there was a much greater need for a sense of identity and unity among immigrants than within the home community.

The Charitable Irish Society of Boston organized the first observance of Saint Patrick’s Day in the Thirteen Colonies in 1737. The celebration was not Catholic in nature, because Irish immigration to the colonies had been dominated by Protestants. The society’s purpose in gathering was simply to honor its homeland, and although they continued to meet annually to coordinate charitable works for the Irish community in Boston, they did not meet on 17 March again until 1794. During the observance of the day, individuals attended a service of worship and a special dinner.

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New York’s first Saint Patrick’s Day observance was similar to that of Boston. It was held on 17 March 1762 in the home of John Marshall, an Irish Protestant, and over the next few years informal gatherings by Irish immigrants were the norm. The first recorded parade in New York was by Irish soldiers in the British Army in 1766. The first documented St. Patrick’s Day Celebration in Philadelphia was held in 1771. Philadelphia’s Friendly Sons of St. Patrick was found to honor St. Patrick and to provide relief to Irish immigrants in the city. Irish Americans have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Philadelphia since their arrival in North America. General George Washington, a member of Philadelphia’s Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, actively encouraged Irish American patriots to join the Continental Army. In 1780, while camped in Morristown, NJ, General Washington allowed his troops a holiday on 17 March “as an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence.”

Irish patriotism in New York City continued to soar, and the parade in New York City continued to grow, as immigration mounted (along with anti-Irish sentiment). Irish aid societies, such as Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society, marched in the parades, and when many of these aid societies joined forces in 1848 (during the Irish Potato Famine), the parade became not only the largest parade in the United States but one of the largest in the world.

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The City of Savannah, Georgia, has hosted Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations since 1824. Festivities begin more than a week in advance with communal rituals and commemorative ceremonies, such as the St. Patrick`s Parade. Such events were the main factors in shaping Irish-American identity as recognized today. Leading up to the 1870s, Irish-American identity in the United States was reworked through the shifting character of the Saint Patrick’s Day rituals which featured a rhetoric of vengeance against Britain for creating the dire conditions that provoked the mass exodus from Ireland, and of increasing sectarian, yet Catholic, nationalism.

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The New York parade not only has become the largest Saint Patrick’s Day parade in the world but is also the oldest civilian parade in the world. In a typical year, 150,000 marchers participate in it, including bands, firefighters, military and police groups, county associations, emigrant societies and social and cultural clubs, while an average of 2 million spectators line the streets, and millions more watch on television. The parade marches up the 1.5-mile route along 5th Avenue in Manhattan, takes five hours to complete, and is always led by the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York). The commissioner of the parade always asks the commanding officer if the 69th is ready, to which the response is, “The 69th is always ready.” New York politicians—or those running for office—are always found prominently marching in the parade. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch (who was of Jewish ethnicity) once proclaimed himself “Ed O’Koch” for the day, and he continued to wear an Irish sweater and march every year up until 2003, even though he was no longer in office.

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For many years the parade banned gay groups, saying groups could not display banners identifying their sexuality. On September 3, 2014, the organizers of the parade announced a decision to lift the ban on gay groups, saying they preferred to keep the parade non-political and the ban was having the opposite effect. In 2015 OUT@NBCUniversal, an organization of gay employees of NBCUniversal, became the first gay group to march in the parade.

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In the U.S. corned beef and cabbage is the overdetermined dish of the day, even though there is precious little that is Irish about it. I followed suit for a number of years because it’s a nice enough meal, and corned beef was always on sale. When I left the United States I switched gears to more conventional Irish cooking. Pictured are my colcannon and lamb stew from years past, both of which you are far more likely to encounter in Ireland than corned beef and cabbage. Lamb stew with onions, potatoes, carrots, and suet dumplings is often referred to as Irish stew in England. It’s really no more than a one pot dish that was the norm of rural cooking across northern Europe. That is, you keep a meat stock simmering on the fire, and add what’s available day to day. There’s no recipe as such.

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A classic Irish stew these days is normally a mix of lamb that has been browned and then simmered with onions until tender. Then add diced carrots and potatoes and cook them through. Finally add suet dumplings – for me, the best part. Mix together equal portions of shredded suet and all purpose flour. Add a little baking powder and then moisten with cold water to form a stiff, fairly dry dough. Roll into balls about the size of a walnut, or bigger if you like, and cook them in the stew as it simmers. They will cook in about 15 minutes and float to the top. You can also thicken the stew at the end with flour if you like. Mix the flour with cold water in a bowl until it is well blended. Then whisk in some of the broth from the pot. Add this mixture slowly back to the pot, stirring as you do. Bring back to a simmer and let cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve in deep bowls with soda bread.

May 172013
 

Norway
The Constitution of Norway was signed at Eidsvoll on May 17 in the year 1814 when Norway was handed over by Denmark to the Swedish king (not the Swedish government) . The new constitution declared Norway to be an independent nation, but it was soon occupied by Sweden. However, the nation was allowed to retain its own parliament.  Very early on, demonstrations were held on Constitution Day protesting the rule of the Swedish king. So in 1828 king Karl Johan banned all celebration on that day.  The following year by one of those odd historical coincidences, the Norwegian steamer Constitutionen, source of much national pride, was due to dock in Christiania (now Oslo) on May 17.  A large crowd gathered to greet the ship and began singing nationalist songs after a college student, Henrik Wergeland, shouted “Long Live the Constitution” (and for which he became a national hero).  They then moved into the main square and remained there all evening.  The police attempted to disperse the crowd with no success, so the cavalry was called out and began attacking the crowd on horseback with the flats of their swords or running them down.  Later the light infantry joined the cavalry and began beating people with their rifles. What became known as The Battle of the Square raised such a furor throughout Norway that the king was forced to cancel his ban.

It was not until 1864, however, that the celebrations took on their current form when a children’s parade of all boys was organized.  (It was not until 1899 that girls were allowed to join the parade.) To this day the main public event in towns across Norway is the children’s parade, partly in honor of Henrik Wergeland who is venerated by Norwegian school children.

Each elementary school district arranges its own parade with marching bands for each school. The parade takes the children through the community, often making stops at homes of senior citizens, war memorials, and other significant locations. The longest parade is in Oslo which includes around 100 schools. It passes the royal palace where the royal family greet the people from the main balcony. Typically a school’s children’s parade consists of some senior school children carrying the school’s official banner, followed by a handful of older children carrying full sized Norwegian flags, and the school’s marching band. After the band, the rest of the school children follow with hand sized flags, usually in order of grades, youngest first. Patriotic speeches begin and end the parades, but there is a complete absence of militarism.

Lefse is a traditional soft, Norwegian flatbread made of potato, cream and flour, and cooked on a special griddle for festive days. Special tools are employed to cook lefse, including long wooden lefse sticks for turning the lefse as they cook, and special rolling pins with deep grooves. There is considerable regional variation in ingredients and cooking methods of lefse, as well as diverse ways of serving it.  It can be eaten spread with butter(or butter and sugar) and rolled up, or sweetened with jelly. Sugar and cinnamon is also common. Of course, it can accompany meat dishes and stews. It is a must when eating lutefisk, the Scandinavian pungent dish of white fish cured in lye.  The recipe I give here makes 100 lefse, but it can easily be cut in halves or quarters.

Lefse

Ingredients:

10 pounds Russet/Burbank or Russet potatoes (only use Russets).
1 pound butter
2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
6 cups all purpose flour

Peel, boil, drain, rice, and mash the potatoes. Don’t let the potatoes overcook because they will absorb too much liquid, and water is lefse’s great enemy.

Add the butter, whipping cream, salt and sugar and whip until no lumps remain. Turn into a large bowl, smooth the top and cool, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight. This helps the potatoes dry further.

Next day, preheat a lefse grill to 500°F without grease. These grills are round and flat.  A large cast iron skillet makes a reasonable substitute and you can use an oven thermometer to gauge the temperature roughly. You may have to experiment with one or two lefse to get the temperature right. Modern lefse grills are electric with a built in thermostat.

Place a large plastic bag on the counter and lay a kitchen towel on top – you will stack the cooked lefse on one end and fold the towel and plastic over. The towel absorbs moisture; the plastic keeps it just moist enough.

Make a rolling surface out of a cloth-covered pastry board and rub flour well into a sock-covered rolling pin (substitute for a lefse pin), and the rolling surface.

Cut the cold mashed potato mixture into quarters. Place one quarter into a bowl and put the rest back into the refrigerator.

Working with one quarter at a time, mix in 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour.

Using your hands, mix the flour into the potato until it is well blended. Once you add flour to the potatoes, you are committed to that batch of dough. Work quickly because if you let it stand too long it will get soft and sticky. (You can keep the remaining 3 quarters in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 24 to 48 hours.)

Scoop out a portion about the size of a golf ball and form quickly into a ball. Dust the ball with flour and flatten it.

Place the flattened ball on to the floured, cloth-covered pastry board, and with the floured sock-covered rolling pin, roll the dough out evenly into a large circle about 1/8 inch thickness. It is important to use plenty of flour at first. Wet spots can become a problem. If you do get a wet spot, rub flour into it and scrape it carefully to remove as much of the wet spot as possible.

Using a lefse stick (you can use a long chopstick or the rolling pin), transfer the round onto the heated grill or skillet. The lefse will begin to bubble. Peek at the grilled side until it has light brown spots. Slide the stick under it (or use a spatula) and carefully flip it over.

If the edges of the lefse begin to get dry, brown, and curl, you are grilling them too long. If it is not browning well, but remains light, your grill temperature is too low.

Stack the cooked rounds one on top of the other and cover with the towel and plastic. You’ll need a towel and plastic for each quarter of the dough.

Cool 4 to 5 hours and keep covered until ready to serve. The cooked lefse can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, folded in quarters, 10 at a time, in ziplok bags. They also freeze well.

Yield: about 100 lefse