BALLARD GETS TAGGED as Seattle’s “historically” Scandinavian neighborhood, but that makes it sound like a thing of the past.
At last year’s Syttende Mai (17th of May) parade marking Norway’s Constitution Day, that heritage was live. Batons twirled (including those from our middle-school marching band, whose performance brought us there), and flags waved. Sponsors included three branches of the Daughters of Norway alone.
Then came 2020. Syttende Mai was on the calendar for our clarinet player when pandemic cancellations began. First the international parade was nixed, then the festival that required crossing state lines, then events like Syttende Mai — and finally, even the last vain plan for musicians to march around the neighborhood together.
Our seventh-grader was disconsolate, but it was only a one-year tradition for him. For the city, it was a 130-year break, the first time since 1889 that Seattle had no public observance of Syttende Mai.
“While adhering to ‘sheltering in place,’ we encourage you to rely on your inner Nordic strength and remain ‘Nordic Strong’ and resourceful, with hopes of happier and healthier times in the near future,” the parade committee wrote online, with “broken hearts.”
We had no inborn Nordic strength, but were fortunate in other resources — first the basic luck of health and shelter and groceries, then welcome extras like the new “Modern Scandinavian Baking” cookbook (Rockridge Press, $12.99) by Daytona Strong. As Strong put it, “We don’t really need cookies, cakes and pastries and all these things to survive. They are something that are a gift. They’re an expression of love.”
A north Ballard resident and former food editor of the Norwegian American newspaper, Strong has spent years focusing on Nordic cooking and traditions on her website (daytonastrong.com).
Strong’s father immigrated to the United States from Norway at age 11, while her mother is Norwegian “by way of North Dakota,” she says in a phone interview. She grew up in the Seattle area — longtimers might have seen her childhood picture in the Ballard News-Tribune dressed in a traditional bunad dress for Syttende Mai.
Visiting Oslo for the first time as an adult, she was struck with “this intense and profound sense of home, of belonging, of roots.”
She came home determined to hear more stories from her grandmothers of their home country and history. Her Grandma Agny died, though, just as she expected to make that connection.
“It hit me in a really, really deep and bitter way,” Strong says, and set her on a search to reclaim that lost heritage.
Her other grandmother, Adeline, had been a professional baker of lefse, the classic Norwegian flatbread. Strong started cooking and baking with Adeline and with her mother, sharing treasured stories along with recipes and techniques.
“That just became this lovely memory-making tradition, and I think that’s part of why I’m so passionate about using food as a way for generations to connect,” she says.
In our house, those expressions took the form of buns and cookies and the rich buttermilk-cardamom waffle recipe handed down from Strong’s great-grandma Josephine, served with sour cream and strawberry jam. We outdid ourselves just attempting the celebration cake known as kransekage, a dramatic stacked tower of concentric rings, made here with almond flour and powdered sugar, egg whites, cardamom and almond extract. Our rings of dough were rolled too thick, our stacks formed a leaning tower and our icing was applied unevenly, but it was dramatic nonetheless, and the flavors and chewy texture were as good as a bakery. We couldn’t have been more impressed with our resourcefulness if we’d produced a multitiered wedding cake.
Somewhere in these lost months, speaking of resourcefulness and strength, the band teacher asked students to record themselves playing their concert music. He stitched 121 separate productions together in one program, and the students had, at least, some kind of concert (youtube.com/watch?v=hA2Ti5cVfDA). We clapped via YouTube.
I told my seventh-grader he’s lucky he gets another year with his bandleader. I told the 9-year-old we’ll try kransekage again. Our new favorite waffles are Strong’s recipe, which the teenager described as “like cake for breakfast.” By May 2021, I hope we’ll be cheering on the Ballard parade route with some new traditions of our own.
Great-Grandma Josephine’s Norwegian Waffles
Makes 6 servings
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom (or substitute ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon and ½ teaspoon vanilla)
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1. In a large mixing bowl (ideally using a stand mixer), cream the butter and sugar together.
2. Add one egg at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides as necessary.
3. Mix in the buttermilk and milk.
4. Add the flour, cardamom, baking powder and baking soda, then mix into the batter to combine. Let the batter rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, preheat and lightly grease a heart-shaped waffle iron (or any waffle iron you have). To bake, measure about 1/3 cup of batter per waffle, and bake according to the waffle maker’s instructions.
From “Modern Scandinavian Baking” by Daytona Strong