Feeding the horde

This past weekend we hosted a family reunion for my Icelandic relatives. It truly was like having an invading horde at the house, and given that my family is of Viking descent it seemed somewhat fitting. It was a barrage of noise and movement, and a seemingly endless array of meals and coffee to organize. Icelanders love their coffee. (Do you know rumour has it many Icelanders were encouraged by a letter one new Icelandic Canadian wrote saying coffee was plentiful here?) I loved every minute of our gathering, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, especially now that I've had a couple nights' good sleep! And do you know the best part? The kids who all thought they would be bored to tears with a bunch of people they didn't know were all cavorting together like a band of thieves by the end of the weekend. Not to mention they got a chance to try some traditional Icelandic food.

I bet you're thinking that traditional Icelandic food is horrible stuff like salted fish and stewed seaweed. While it is true that salt cod is the Icelandic version of beef jerky, there are many other interesting dishes that have wider appeal. Of course, childhood memories are often gilded with sugar, so it was the sweeter things most of us remembered. I was thrilled to see that a second cousin who came from Saskatoon (my grandma's brother's daughter) had made vinarterta, a torte that we only ever had at Christmas but is a dessert common at special occasions and festivals. Many other family members had not eaten it since they were kids. One cousin remembered his mom used to make it in October and freeze it so it was ready for Christmas. Each bite was a taste of nostalgia.

My aunt has always been a foodie and she was kind enough to bring out some unique recipes; unfortunately we didn't have time to find all the exotic ingredients needed for Fiskefar (fish balls) or Skildpadde (calf's head stew). My chef husband was game enough to try kleinur though. He waded through a recipe that listed using "enough flour to roll out easily" and finally managed to create the Icelandic sour cream donuts many of us remembered Amma (grandma) making. The next morning he again tackled the Leif Erikson cookbook and took up ponnukokur as his challenge. It seemed a simple enough recipe and it turned out fine, but the translation to "Icelandic pancakes" was a bit off. If he had asked one of us first, we could have told him that they were actually meant to be more like a crepe, not a pancake. At least the ones our Amma made were that way. The breakfast conversation got quite involved once we started to discuss just what was the right way to make them, and what was the best filling. The kids were entertained, as they were tasting for the first time and it was all fine for them. Those of us who had memories were trying to keep their essence intact!

As tongue in cheek as I am in recounting the tale, I was proud to know that one of the pieces I was helping to pass on to future generations was a taste of our heritage. Recipes that had vague directions and unique ingredients were difficult to learn; they required someone who could unlock the key. Google can teach us many things but it can't always pass on the wisdom of our elders.

I am happy to offer the links to these recipes so that they may be preserved, and I encourage each of you to make sure you have your notes recorded for the special delicacies you remember from days of yore. If you can manage to organize a family group together to share around a table, so much the better. But at least sharing recipes will help keep the fabric of family intact.

My heart was warmed by all those young cousins making new friends of their relatives, and by all of us older folk getting to remember all those great memories and tastes we thought we had lost. My dad would have been so proud to see everyone gathered together. I'm glad we toasted him and all the others who are "missing in battle". Here's to your family, be they close or spread apart; may you share the warmth of their love as you share a meal around the table. Skål! (Cheers!)

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About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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