Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Norwegian Flat Bread (flatbrød)

Everyone loves lefse, but I think fewer Americans have experienced the dry "flatbrød" I grew up enjoying with my family.

While lefse is like a soft, potato based tortilla, flatbread is a thin, crisp cracker, intended for long storage and delicious with tiny bit of butter.

Making it has always been a big social experience as well, and I had depended on my parents to organize the event, usually just before Christmas. Many years have passed since our last flatbread party, and I realized it was up to me to start the tradition anew.

I invited my sister-in-law, who isn't a speck Norwegian but can cook just about anything. You need people like that on your team when you are re-building something only vaguely remembered! I had to promise we'd make lefse as well (which we did).

I happened to have the special equipment favored for the task:
  • a large flat lefse grill, 
  • a giant lefse rolling pin (the checkered surface gives you the needed pull on the dough), 
  • a clean Bethany board to make rolling easier, and 
  • plenty of flat, thin wooden paddles for lifting & transferring the rolled dough.
  • an oven set to warm, with a tray for catching crumbs
  • The only important piece missing was a large soft brush for dusting excess flour off the dough & griddle. I substituted a clean, unused paint brush, but had to be very careful not to let it touch the 500 degree griddle (would melt instantly!)
 If you don't have these:
  • If you don't have access to a lefse grill, you could experiment with a very hot non-stick skillet or other flat grilling surface. Lefse grills go up to 500 degrees - on a skillet the cooking times may be a little longer. Here's another blogger's advice.
  • A standard rolling pin may work also, but if you can borrow something with more clout you'll be happier!
  • Any clean surface you would use for rolling a pie crust would work also, just keep it well floured
  • You could come up with something to replace the wooden sticks. I saw one lefse blogger who made their own by sanding down smooth lath pieces or paint stirring sticks. Basically you want a stick that is long (about 18-24"), thin, smooth & strong and has ROUNDED edges. 
My folks experimented for YEARS with the recipe. Here is the only one I wrote down, with a note about what I actually did:

Anderson's Flatbrød

6 C white flour
3 C whole wheat flour
2 C cornmeal (I ended up using about a half cup cornmeal and 1 & 1/2 Cups Masa flour)
heaping Tb Salt
5 C water
1 stick butter, softened

We mixed all the dry ingredients, cut the butter into the flours, and then gradually added the water. When it was pretty well combined, we turned the stiff dough onto a board and kneaded it just enough to make sure it was well mixed.
Then we divided it into smaller portions, and from those into balls of dough.

My family used to make massive flatbrød that
filled the grills from side to side! My sister-in-law made them smaller, but this made them much easier to work with and store.

The cloth covered Bethany board really makes rolling much easier than a plain wooden board, but you still need to keep it well floured.

We like our flatbread as thin as possible - about the width of a piece of cardstock! You can experiment with yours. Thick flatbread can be hard to eat.

Rolling tip: work the ball into a flat round with your hands, and keeping it floured, work the roller from the middle out, working all the way around the dough (don't roll all the way across from side to side). As it expands, you can leave the middle alone and focus on the edges. You want the dough to be as even as possible. Let the heavy roller do the work. If you lean onto the dough too much you'll tear it or get it stuck to the board or pin.

My sister-in-law didn't care if it was perfectly round, and I decided that was just fine. It all tastes the same!

Once it's rolled out, slide the stick under the middle & gently lift off the board. Tap it to remove excess flour, and if you are ahead of the baker, it's good to have a place to store them (like those we have wedged in the laundry hamper!)

 To put on the grill, lay half the dough on the dry grill, (no grease or oil is used) and unfold the rest by flipping the stick over until it's all flat on the grill. Use the brush to gently flick off excess flour and re-position the dough if need be.

In a few minutes (grills vary) the first side will be done. Check by lifting with the stick to see if small brown freckles are appearing. Use the stick to flip it over, and do the other side.

When both sides have nice brown spots like this, you are ready to move it to the oven, where it will need to be for several hours to finish drying. (It will probably be a little chewy yet if you try it now, even though it should seem very dry & stiff.)

brushing flour off the dough. You can simply blow flour off the grill.

Clean any flour left on the grill by swiping it quickly with a cotton cloth. We set our grill up outside so the house doesn't get full of flour.

When it was finally completely dry, we broke the pieces in half (or more) to put in gallon size ziplock bags. My husband was sure we'd made enough to last through Christmas, but we didn't even make it to Thanksgiving. Oh well! Gotta have another party I guess!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Leaf Collage Fabric Table Runners

Before tackling this project, please verify that the leaves you are working with are not toxic. Many popular garden plants and shrubs are highly poisonous, and you do not want to get the leaf sap on your skin.

Some to avoid:
Euphorbia, also known as Spurge, is a common nursery plant and poisonous. Getting the sap on your hands may produce blisters, but getting it in your eyes may produce blindness.

Angel's Trumpet is highly toxic - I will not grow this in my garden. Oleander is another extremely toxic plant, and the smoke from burning the wood is deadly.

Cherry, peach, plum, apricot and almond leaves are reportedly poisonous, as are Caladium, Elderberry, Horse Chestnut, Golden Chain (Laburnum), Mountain Laurel, Oak, Rhododendron & Azalea, and Red Leaf Maple.

Here are a couple resources for checking this out:

Generally safe -- but please verify on your own -- are Japanese Maple, Big Leaf Maple & Vine Maples (West Coast natives)  and Sweet Gum.
Place your fabric on a sturdy and disposable piece of lumber. It will get stained from the leaves. Using Non-Toxic leaves, put the top side down on your fabric and pound with a hammer. It is very tedious, and ear protection is a good idea. Watch your fingers! 

Here is a close up of the runner I made years ago on a light brown fabric, still my favorite!
Step 2, I simply used a zigzag stitch and trimmed with scissors. A satin stitch would have been very nice also.
Step 3, I took it outside & sprayed it with Scotch Guard & hung it to dry. The colors bled a little from this, but not too much. I wanted to create an irregular shape, like a "leaf puddle". 
This did not turn out quite like I wanted --lace helped.

This is for my "Banquette" table.
And the brown runner for the dining table.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Winter Container Arrangements from your Garden

The tender annuals are nearly done for the year. Time to raid the garden and woods for materials to fill the flower pots until spring.

Here's today's project.

1. An antique woodstove sits by my front door. The begonias gone, I started by arranging various greens (evergreens and Bay Laurel) and some hydrangeas.
The hydrangeas won't last too long. I will probably replace them by Christmas. 

 Silver Nettle grows out of the pitcher.

 2. The Heuchera coming out the top of the stove is getting leggy. I filled in with sprigs of Santolina -- jammed into the pot, they may even take root!

3.  Cottoneaster added to the pot to partially cover the rusty stovepipe. I discovered the stems were easy to bend into shape.

 4. Sword Ferns for a little drama. Almost done.

 5. (below) A few rose hips was just what it needed.

I put a plastic salad container in a wooden box to hold water for the next arrangement. Evergreens will last a long time in the cool temperatures even without water.

Step one, something big to help hold things together, then add some Santolina & Russian Sage...

Weeping spruce and red twigs, Variegated evergreen broadleaf.
This might take root also!

Finally, Cedar Berries and some Bay Laurel.
 Not bad for free.