From Norway To La Mesa With Love

LA MESA -- It is more than 5,000 miles from Oslo to La Mesa. And on this cool Thursday morning in December, 2011, the women working to holiday music in this garage, tucked down a steep driveway scraped out of the foothills of Mt. Helix, are more than a few generations removed from their Norweigan roots.

Still, as they have done each Christmas as long as anyone can remember, the generations fall into place around large bowls of flaked potatoes. Mixing flour with potatoes and gauging the consistency and moisture to get just the right mix, they roll out thin crepe-like pancakes that are then quickly baked on a hot plate.

Robin Safford, part of this Riley clan, has hosted this lefse party at her home in recent years. The women process more than 100 pounds of potatoes in the days leading up to Christmas and this sort of Norweigan tortilla serves as the backbone of the holiday meal.

"It is all we eat,'' Safford said as she stood shoulder to shoulder with her mother Jeri, sister-in-law Cheryl, nieces and one male interloper -- an in-law -- who was breaking what has been a traditionally all-female operation this year.

Lefse is such an old Norweigan tradition, its history is not quite certain. Some believe the Irish were involved . Maybe that's where the "Riley" name slipped in.

What is measurably clear however is the versatility of the creation. Warmed, buttered and sprinkled with cinnamon, it is sweet. Wrapped around meatballs made of beef and pork, it is savory. That meatball dish is, in fact, the Christmas night meal.

No turkey. No ham. No roast beef. Just meatballs wrapped in lefse and dipped in gravy. It turns out 100 pounds of potatoes can make enough to serve 25 with plenty of leftovers for freezing.

Watching this tradition unfold again this week, it is clear that the lefse tradition is about more than the food. That it requires teamwork and hours spent together, gives time to talk and catch up.

Amid Thursday's lefse marathon Jeri's granddaughter Becky slipped her a card with a special message. Quietly, the impending arrival of an 11th great-grandchild was announced.

And for anyone who finds themselves courting any woman from this clan, here's one piece of advice: Like the lefse.

"When someone starts hanging around this family it is a test of whether they will fit in,'' Robin said. "If they don't like lefse, they're out!''






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Tags: Christmas, Irish, La Mesa, La Mesa news, Lefse, Mt. Helix, Norway, Riley, Robin Safford


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