Sunday, July 29, 2012


I promised that my next post was going to be about food, and while the main reason behind this post is Nordic Fest, a good portion of what I did during the festival involved food ... so it's sort of the same thing.

Nordic Fest happens every year to celebrate Decorah's strong Norwegian heritage. The streets are closed down, little houses for venders pop up on the main street, flags are hung in every possible spot, and store windows are decorated in Norwegian fare just for the one weekend event.

On Friday, I got off work early and spent the afternoon wandering the festival with Laura. We checked out the 'Viking Encampment' with craft fair (full of neat wood workings like spoons and bowls, pottery of various sorts, and metal working). The Vesterheim has a whole bunch of little houses built by Norwegians long ago, so we checked out the insides and enjoyed a slate roof. There was an art fair that prompted me to buy a pretty pottery cup, and we had the opportunity to check out a lot of the stores on Water Street that we never usually do.

However, I know you all aren't here to hear about 'what we did', so here's what we ate. Friday began our eating challenge, in which we decided we needed to make sure we tried every type of Norwegian food offered. Plus, I only took pictures of my food.

First was varme pølse, a sausage wrapped in lefse (which is a flat pancake-like bread made with potatoes that is ubiquitous to Norwegian cuisine). Next we had a lingonberry slushie that was really good. And finally, my fair favorite - rømmegrøt with rosettes. Rømmegrøt is a warm custard served with melted butter and cinnamon and sugar, and rosettes are funnel cake flavored cookies (which taste like funnel cakes because they're deep fried like funnel cakes). Traditionally served at Christmas, I was pretty excited that I had the opportunity to eat rømmegrøt three different times throughout the weekend. And I'm in full support of any culture that has funnel cake flavored cookies outside of county fairs.
rømmegrøt with rosettes
This was all before our supper, Smørgåsbord, held at Decorah First Lutheran. This Norwegian supper included meatballs and mashed potatoes with gravy, ham, green beans, coleslaw, pickled herring, pickles and pickled beets, lefse, rømmegrøt, søtsuppe (sweet soup of various dried fruits in syrup/juice), cookies of various sorts and all with fancy Norwegian names like krumkake (shaped like horns), kransekake (almond ring cake), and kringle (soft doughy pretzel shaped pastry). We soon discovered that most Norwegian desserts are some recombination of butter, cream, and sugar. Not a bad way to eat. Since we hadn't quite prepared for how much food we would be eating at super, we smuggled out a few cookies because we were really full. 

After eating, we watched the Nordic Dancers. This troop of kids began dancing together in the third grade after being selected for the team, and they all dance together for 10 years. The organization only holds try outs when they need a new team - so if you were born in the wrong year, then you're out of luck. While dancing Norwegian dances may seem like the dorky thing to do, in Decorah all the cool kids do it. And this explains why everyone in this town knows how to dance. See, later that evening there was a Foot-Notes dance. I know I've told you about these dances before, full of waltzes, two-step, polka, and shadish. This particular dance was held on the street in front of the court house on a perfect summer evening with a clear sky and cool breeze. And unlike other dances, there were hundreds of people here. Everyone knew how to dance, buzzing around the dance floor to the same beat. I love dancing in Decorah, but this dance may top them all due to the pure abundance of people, the perfect summer evening, and the energy of everyone together having a fantastic time.

Saturday was equally full of Nordic themed awesomeness. Laura and I took part in the rock throwing contest (in which you hurl 50 pound rocks as far as possible), checked out more entertainment of string bands and vikings, and ate even more than the day before. We had delicious skekt svinek jott (pork chop on a stick ... which was the bone), vaffel (waffle with ice cream and fruit on top), nisse (lingnonberry ice cream), and another Norwegian supper. The first one was so delicious that we decided we couldn't pass up another chance at First Lutheran Church. The main difference was carrots instead of green beans and boiled potatoes instead of mashed ... so I won't make you drool more by walking you through the delicious eats again. We also tried lutefisk, the famed fish of Norwegian lore. While we didn't partake in the eating contest, we tried the gelatinous goo that was drowning in butter. It's not terrible, but it's not delicious ... completely deserving of all it's jokes.

eating lutefisk!
pork chop on a stick!
Norwegian Dinner No. 2
The end of Saturday brought another Foot-Notes dance and fireworks. Laura lives on the dike, so we took some lawn chairs up to the top, drank our beer, and watched exploding balls of light in the sky. Decorah doesn't do fireworks on July 4th ... but they do them for Nordic Fest. And while firework shows are pretty standard, this one had the prettiest ending I've ever seen - with many of the white, weepy ones that stayed in the sky when finished. Our white-trash lawn chairs with cheap-cigars and beer drinking ways made the viewing all the more better.

With an uff-da to finish the weekend, I'm glad to say we accomplished our eating goals, and I feel pretty good about the level of commitment I gave to Nordic Fest. Undaunted conviction to Nordic ways, and to the Decorah lifestyle of Eat the Butter and Go Dancing. Mange takk, Decorah.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dairy cartels in the land of few surprises.

Fourth of July has come and gone, and with the promises of something amazing Tor, Steffen and myself headed to Madison, Wisconsin for Rhythm and Booms. After tricking me into thinking it could snow on the Fourth back in Winter, and by liking this seemingly innocuous holiday so much to deem it his favorite, I told Tor he had to make it an amazing Independence Day. And, while not on July 4th, it was a fantastic weekend.

After stocking up on snacks for the road from the Farmer's Market, we set off towards Madison, Wisconsin with just a few stops planned in between. And by a few, I mean that we did so many randomly awesome things that I can't remember it all. In fact, before we even made it to Wisconsin we had ourselves some cheese curds and ice cream from the Waukon creamery. Delicious.

'Hiking' In.
In Wisconsin, we stopped at Blue Mounds to set up camp. As the highest point in Wisconsin, this 'mound' provides a cave, camping, and beautiful hiking. We chose a hike-in camp site that involved all of a 1/4 walk down a paved road to nice little camp sites ... rough. After setting up the tents, we checked out a few observation tours to appreciate the view. It was impressive - you could make out the entire Wisconsin river valley and see gorgeous little farms all over the land.

First, we went to Cave of the Mounds. This National Natural Landmark was discovered some years ago by accident, and is (according to the fantastic 'Historical Consultant' interviewed for a pre-tour video) one of Wisconsin's few surprises (because those things don't happen a lot around here!). It's a gorgeous cave that has all the features of a cave, and our tour through was perfectly cooling and entertaining.

Afterwards, we headed out to Spring Green Prairie Reserve. This prairie has more sandy, dry conditions - so there are cactus through the prairie. We climbed up the bluff to the top and got a gorgeous view. Due to an ignored 'Trail Stops Here' sign, we discovered the best spot was impassiable with poision ivy. So we hiked across the bluff to find this amazing rock output with an amazing view. We sat and enjoyed the view for quite a while - I could have spent quite a bit of time here, but fireworks were to be had.

Amazing Views!
After hiking back, we looked for some Technu (yes, we also found some poision ivy all around our feet and legs), then jumped in the river for a lovely dip. After being sufficiently cool and testing our swimming abilities (only Tor could stand the current enough to swim to the other side), we finally headed into Madison for the fireworks display. With traffic and maddness, we weren't sure we'd make it on time. But, a quick parking find and a run down the hill found us seated in the park as the show was beginning. The show featured 30-45 minutes of beautiful fireworks, supposedly correagraphed to music. The music portion sucked, though the Whitney Housten tribute was entertaining. The fireworks felt like a technicolor version of birthday cake, and I love birthday cake.

I saved one donut for breakfast. Mmm.
Afterwards, we went downtown for dinner and drinks at The Great Dane. Wisconsin is known for having good beer, so why not get some while we have the chance? Afterwards we wandered around the main street into campus, with it's many bars and great atmosphere. We wandered around campus a little bit, enjoying the campus filled with various groups of drunk college-aged persons. After exploring and enjoying, we stopped by a donut shop on our way back to the campsite (it was open at 2:00 when we needed it to be!) and fell asleep, hard.

On Sunday morning we woke up easy and headed off on our adventures. We stopped in Spring Green - an artsy little town that had a delightful little cafe for breakfast. We had stopped by here for a look at Talisen the previous day ... today was just about the breakfast. After wandering around downtown, we took the back country roads along the Wisconsin River to Iowa, stopping at a random cheese store and at a little reserve for a quick hike along the way. It was great.
The Wisconsin River!

 All in all, Wisconsin isn't so bad either. All of the back roads are paved because of the 'milk cartel' (trucks don't like the gravel), so it was a pleasant ride. We ran into a pretty chapel, stopped for pretty views, and enjoyed the meandering river. It was a fantastic weekend. And, for the actual Fourth my friends and I swam in a local hide-away quarry, drinking beer and enjoying the cool for a couple of hours. This weekend, we went to fireworks in Spillville, where people come from all around. It was really great. People care a lot about the holiday here, so it was fun to experience it in so many different ways.