Back in late February I was stranded in a blizzard on the north side of the Twin Cities (see “White Out” - http://lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com/2012/02/white-out.html). What I am about to share with you had to age a bit before I was ready to put it in writing.
After settling into my motel for the night, I wandered outside into the blowing snow to look for something to eat. Luckily, I chanced upon a small diner offering sanctuary from the storm. The interior was warm and brightly lit and I ordered a cup of coffee and asked the waitress to keep it coming as I perused the menu. Pretty much standard diner fare, and I was just about to order the homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes when the waitress returned to tell me about the special of the day - Lutefisk served with “fresh frozen peas” (well, OK, it is February in Minnesota) and rutabagas. Oh, my lord, how could I pass this up??? Usually, at least in this neck of the woods, it is hard to find lutefisk on a menu after Christmas, when it is a traditional holiday “treat” for Midwesterners of Scandinavian and Finnish descent. I took this trip as an adventure and here I was staring one right in the face.
Having grown to maturity in the Midwest, I certainly know what lutefisk is, or at least what it is purported to be. Simply put, it is some sort of whitefish (frequently cod, but haddock and pollock are also used) which has been air dried and then soaked in cold water for up to two weeks after which lye (yes, that’s right, lye) is introduced in order to convert fish flesh into a bloated, gelatinous substance that looks like it might have been fish in a previous incarnation. Lutefisk does, however, smell like fish . . . fish that has been lying all day in the driveway on the hottest day of the year and then brought inside and stored in a tightly sealed container along with Limburger cheese and one’s old gym socks. I like to claim that I have eaten lutefisk twice . . . once going down and once coming back up. You get the picture.
Lutefisk being fish, after all, has a strange symbiotic relationship with water. Fish live in the water. Take the fish out of the water, salt it down real good and allow it to dry to the point of dessication. Bring it inside and soak it in water for days until it is bloated and the salt has been removed. Store it is water. When you are ready to cook it, sprinkle it with copious amounts of salt to remove the water. After removing the salt, boil it in water. And what do you add to the water? The salt you just removed from it before boiling. Poaching is another popular form of cooking lutefisk. Yep . . . water and a little salt. Some folks forego the water and bake it, but frankly, I don’t see the point. It only makes it smell worse. Remember the day on the driveway? People joke and trade insults about lutefisk (and I am apparently one of them), but there are those who do eat it and enjoy it. So there I was in Minnesota, and lutefisk was on the menu. When in Rome . . . .
I was finishing my third cup of coffee when my meal arrived at the table. First off, I was disappointed to see that my peas were not freshly frozen as advertised, but actually quite soft and warm as peas should be. The rutabagas were boiled, I am guessing along with the peas, then mashed and slathered in butter, as was the very generous portion of lutefisk drenched in a creamy white sauce. Add to this some warm lefse, a thin potato flatbread just right for sponging off the plate when I was done. I was rather pleasantly surprised to discover that the lutefisk was not as pungent smelling as I remembered it from an earlier encounter, and the waitress informed me that the diner used haddock instead of cod because “it isn’t so icky.” Obviously she was not a fan of the stuff. The diner was happy to serve it, but at the same time they didn’t want to put the other, less adventurous customers off their feed.
All kidding aside, I had been on the road much of the day dealing with adverse weather and road conditions, after which I wandered through white-out conditions to find a place where I could get a decent meal. I certainly was not going to order lutefisk and rutabagas on a lark. I had eaten lutefisk when I was young and, frankly, I didn’t think it was that bad once I got it past my nose. And as far as its consistency goes, I eat raw oysters and lutefisk doesn’t hold a candle to those delightful bivalves in the slimy and gelatinous category. So, I added another pat of butter, and a little salt and pepper to the mix, and I enjoyed a very nice meal. There was even room for dessert, a warm slice of Norwegian gold cake and a final cup of coffee.
All too soon it was time for me to make my way back to the motel. The snow was beginning to let up and I was ready to call it a day. When I started out that morning I had no expectation that I would be eating lutefisk before it was over. One more adventure for the road. And my compliments to the chef!
Steven B. Rogers' Random Notes from the Edge of America
in the beginning . . . .
"Journalism is the first rough draft of history." - Philip Graham, late publisher of The Washington Post
[Photo by Michael G. Stewart]
Steven B. Rogers . . . .
is originally from Chicago and is a freelance cultural and military historian and research consultant based in Washington, DC. He holds a BA in German and English from Florida Southern College; a MA in German Literature from the University of Arizona; and a PhD. in Germanic Studies from the University of Maryland. His essays, articles, poems, reviews and translations have appeared in several books, journals and magazines, encyclopedias, and anthologies. He is currently working on books about Frank Lloyd Wright and Thomas Wolfe, and on a novel set in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Having retired from the Department of Justice in 2010 after almost 32 years of service investigating war crimes and human rights violations, he and his wife Sally Ann travel extensively and divide their time between their home in historic Mount Rainier, Maryland, and a lakeside cottage in New Gloucester, Maine.
July 4, 2013. TBA. Reading the Declaration of Independence. Town Hall. New Gloucester, Maine.
August 7, 2013. 7pm. An Evening of Poetry with Steven B. Rogers. Monhegan Library. Monhegan Island, Maine.
August 15, 2013. 7pm. An Evening of Poetry with Steven B. Rogers. New Gloucester Public Library. New Gloucester, Maine.
September 26, 2013. 7pm. Lecture on Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Shakers. New Gloucester Historical Society. New Gloucester, Maine
October 13, 2013. 6-8pm. Road-testing new poems at Iota Club & Cafe. The Federal Poets are featured. 2832 Wilson Boulevard. Arlington, Virginia.
December 8, 2013. 6-8pm. Road-testing new poems at Iota Club & Cafe. Featured readers are Hailey Leithauser and Greg McBride. 2832 Wilson Boulevard. Arlington, Virginia.
from the edge . . . .
Watch here for breaking news and commentary. Two nice pieces in The Lakeland Ledger [Lakeland, Florida] concerning a recent talk I gave as part of the Homecoming festivities at my alma mater, Florida Southern College: http://www.theledger.com/article/20130212/NEWS/130219802 http://www.theledger.com/article/20130215/NEWS/130219559?tc=ar
A very nice tribute to my late friend John Haines by my good friend Miles David Moore who was kind enough to cite my tribute to John in his review. http://www.scene4.com/0113/milesmoore0113.html A nice shout out to my posting on the Newton massacre. http://www.scene4.com/milesdavidmoore/2012/12/recommending_another_column.html
"Greetings from Asbury Park - 2009," in The Light in Darkness. August 2, 2012. http://www.thelightindarkness.com/darkness/greetings-from-asbury-park-2009/
"An America Beyond the Sunset: Thomas Wolfe and Jack Kerouac and Their Manuscripts of the Night," in Pembroke Magazine #41 (North Carolina). Spring 2009. [See "Recommended Links"]
"August Neithardt von Gneisenau," in David T. Zabecki, ed. Chief of Staff: The Principal Staff Officers Behind History's Great Commanders, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008. [See "Recommended Links"]
A Gradual Twilight: An Appreciation of John Haines, Fort Lee, NJ: CavanKerry Press, 2003. [See "Recommended Links"]
"Stories I Have Listened To" in Steven B. Rogers, ed. A Gradual Twilight: An Appreciation of John Haines, Fort Lee, NJ: CavanKerry Press, 2003.
"In Search of John Steinbeck’s Maine," in Steinbeck Studies, Fall 2001. [ See postings for April 19, 2009 and April 26, 2009 for a revised and updated version of this essay.]
"The Frank Lloyd Wright Campus at Florida Southern College: A Child of the Sun" in Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, Summer 2001.
‘That’s the Way to Live:" Thomas Wolfe Visits Vermont." in Pembroke Magazine #32, 2000.
"A Letter from Comrade Baird," in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Spring 1998.
"She Looked Like One of the Valkyries: Who Was Thomas Wolfe's German Girlfriend," in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Spring 1997. (Finalist for the 1997 Zelda Gitlin Prize)
"Ocean Point Rhapsody," in Down East Magazine, August 1996.
"From Nüremburg to OSI: The Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals," in The Holocaust: Introductory Essays. David Scrase and Wolfgang Mieder, ed. Burlington, VT: The Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont, 1996.
"The Postwar German Vogue of Thomas Wolfe," in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Fall 1995.
"‘A Great Education Temple:’ The Frank Lloyd Wright Campus at Florida Southern College," in The Archi, Winter 1995.
"Leslie Baird and Thomas Wolfe: Chance Encounters in Paris and Hollywood," in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Fall 1994.
Spatial Behavioral Patterns in Selected Short Prose pf the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany As Evidence of Developing Cultural Diversification. Ann Arbor: University Microfilm International, 1985.
"The Unconscious Geometry of Human Space," in Günther Pfister, ed. Language Acquisition Through Cultural Awareness. Bethesda, MD: Cumberland Press, 1978, pp. 90-98.
final moments on the edge . . . .
photo gallery . . . .
At the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota - April 2007 [Sally Ann Rogers]
At the helm of the "Rebecca T. Ruark" on Chesapeake Bay - September 2007 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Relaxing in New Harbor, Maine - June 2008 [Sally Ann Rogers]
At the Summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire - May 2009 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Leaving Tilghman Island, Maryland at Dawn - May 2009 [Ian Rogers]
At Harvard University - May 2009 [Steven B. Rogers]
On the wreck of the "D.T. Sheridan" which floundered on Monhegan Island, Maine in November 1946 - August 2009 [Sally Ann Rogers]
At Ohiopyle Falls, in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania - November 2009 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Breakfast in Sunshine, Maryland - January 2010 [Michael G. Stewart]
In the Everglades - March 2010 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Blessing of the John Deeres - May 2010 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Skowhegan, Maine - July 2010 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Man of Mystery - September 2010 [Michael G. Stewart]
Ian's Wedding in Quantico, Virginia - November 2010 [Michael G. Stewart]
Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania - December 2010 [Michael G. Stewart]
Point of Rocks, Maryland - February 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
Steve's New Ink - April 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
In Baltimore - May 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
In Gray, Maine - August 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
In Winchester, Virginia - November 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
Antietam Battlefield, Maryland - November 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
With Sir Walter Scott in Halifax, Nova Scotia - January 2012 [Michael G. Stewart]
Prairie Public Radio Interview - Grand Forks, North Dakota - March 2012 [Greg Gordon]
With Ian - Olney, Maryland - April 2012 [Michael G. Stewart]
Cruising the Chesapeake Bay - May 2012
Harpswell, Maine - July 2012 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Port Clyde, Maine - September 2012 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Delivering campus lecture at Northwestern Oklahoma State University - October 2012 [Eric J. Schmaltz]
In Romney, West Virginia - November 2012 [Michael G. Stewart]
Clarksville, New Hampshire - January 2013 [Tom Jordan]
Addressing the "Legally Speaking" luncheon in Lakeland, Florida - February 2013 [Ernst Peters, The Lakeland Ledger]
At the Glen Allen Cultural Center near Richmond, Virginia - March 2013 [Michael Lawrence]
Marital Bliss - Mount Rainier, Maryland - April 2013 [Michael G. Stewart]