Shoofly Pie

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Possibly meant to be a version of the British classic Treacle Tart (Harry Potter’s favorite), this sweet molasses pie is an American tradition, especially in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. There are a couple of versions, but this recipe is the one I got when we visited the region during the Bicentennial. (That’s 1976, kids.) Supposedly it gets its name from the flies it attracts, which is pretty gross, if you think about it too long.  So don’t think–just bake.


1 unbaked pie shell

½ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup boiling water

½ cup molasses

1 large egg, beaten slightly

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup brown sugar

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons butter


  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Stir together soda, boiling water, and molasses. Mix in the beaten egg, then pour into unbaked pie shell.
  2. In a separate bowl combine flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cut-in the butter until the mixer resembles a coarse crumbs, then spread on top of the molasses in the pie. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown. Serve at room temperature, with a dollop of crème fraiche or a scoop of buttermilk ice cream.

You Say Potato…I Say Potato Lefse

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My holiday traditions are very special. Yours are just okay.
This is what I imagine to be the first holiday disagreement for every couple, and the subsequent inner monologues for years to come. You come into a marriage with historical references that are dear to your heart. They link you to your family and ancestors, and have given this time of year special meaning ever since you were a kid.  But
your spouse doesn’t give two hoots, because they have nothing to do with his/her side of the family.
Such is the case in our household, where grand pronouncements of sacrifice were made to keep the holiday peace.
There are a number of ways our family traditions morphed into what my children now know as Christmas. We eat our feast on Christmas Eve, which is a Scandinavian thing (my people). We also exchanged presents on Christmas Eve when I was a kid. We would have to wait until the dishes were done and the kitchen was clean — an excruciating task, as the adults prolonged the chore in a hilarious attempt to torture me. I hated that then, but wholeheartedly approve of it now, as currently most of my days are spent thinking of ways to annoy my kids.
Unfortunately, “Christmas Eve presents” sounded a little too greedy for my husband, and the thought of no presents on Christmas morning was too much for him to bear. So I gave that up as my part of our marital Christmas compromise. Now our Christmas morning looks a lot like the rest of America’s — hyperactive kids who haven’t slept, adults exhausted from the shopping for, and staging of, this elaborate ritual. Thank God my husband wasn’t one of those “Santa magically brought the tree, set it up and decorated it in the middle of the night” people. That might have been a game-changer.
In exchange, I have done away with turkey and ham in favor of the Christmas dinner I really want. (I believe that large meat should stay with its appropriate holiday. Don’t be cruising across the calendar to test the waters in December. You don’t see candy canes sneaking into Halloween buckets or Easter baskets do you? It’s not natural.) I have instead opted for a mostly Anglo-Saxon carb-fest of all my favorite foods in one ginormous feast. This usually includes, but is not limited to, prime rib of beef and Yorkshire pudding — not because we have any Brit blood, but because I want the Yorkshire pudding, and prime rib is its wingman. The meal has variations from time to time.
Occasionally an increased interest in vegetarianism has resulted in more grains and veggies on the table. And on the opposite end of the animal rights scale, lobsters have made a few appearances, sent from friends on the East Coast. (FYI –- the bibs are important.)
I come from a family with a hearty Norwegian heritage. My grandparents were especially Nordic at Christmas, when the table would be laden with lutefisk and boiled potatoes. For those of you who have never tried lutefisk (and congratulations for that), it is dried salt cod (or other dried white fish) that has been treated with lye until it takes on a gelatinous (or snotty, as we say in my family) texture. It makes Polynesian poi look like foie gras.   Luckily the meal also included lefse, the manna from Valhalla. Lefse is a wondrous flat bread, similar to the tortilla, but 100 times better because it is made with potatoes.
Oh, the joy of potatoes. I have given them up for the most part because, as we all know by now, they have the glycemic index of chocolate cake. But it’s Christmas, dammit! So let’s go ahead and spike my blood-sugar level with the force of Thor’s hammer.
Some Scandinavians eat their lefse as a sweet bread, adding jam or cinnamon sugar. I’m sure that is fine — for them. I’m a lefse purist. A salty butter girl. (That is no double entendre.) I wait all year for that first piece of lefse, hot off the griddle, slathered in butter, which drips down my chin and into the sink over which I am undoubtedly standing. It is my happy place. Thanks be to Odin.
My mom let the gross stuff slide when she made her Norwegian Christmas dinner. But she kept the lefse, as I do. And I bet my kids will too, because there is a mystical link to the past that we create by mashing, mixing, rolling and cooking those potatoes. The effort is appreciated in the world beyond, our Viking ancestors smiling down on us, relieved I didn’t sacrifice the lefse in favor of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.


Gingerbread Houses (and other structures)

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I have confessed my love for gingerbread many times, but I am not sure if you know about my obsession with gingerbread construction. It is problematic at best.

It started when I was a pastry chef, making centerpieces for the restaurants I worked in. Now our projects represent our summer vacation. Guess where we went this year …
mt rushmore
Don’t feel compelled to go crazy like me. (I once did the Taj Mahal.) Simple houses are fine, too.

The best gingerbread for construction is made with cheap but fragrant materials. I use shortening instead of butter because I don’t plan to eat it. But if you use this recipe for edible gingerbread men, substitute butter for the shortening, and cut the spice quantity in half. Here I have added more spice than I would want to eat (for its room-freshening ability).


1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
3-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 TB. cinnamon
1 TB. ginger
1 tsp. clove
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup water


  1. Beat together shortening and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add molasses and mix to incorporate.
  2. Sift together dry ingredients and add them alternately with the water to the molasses mixture .
  3. Divide the dough evenly into thirds, then press each piece between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll with a rolling pin to create an even sheet of dough about 1/4-inch thick. Chill sheets in the fridge or freezer until firm, at least 30 minutes or overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Place one parchment-packaged sheet of dough on a baking sheet and carefully peel off the top piece of parchment. Cut out the pattern pieces for your structure. To keep them in shape, remove the excess dough around them rather than moving the pieces themselves. Place the parchment paper on a baking sheet. Repeat until you have all the pieces you need. Excess dough can be re-rolled, chilled, and cut as needed.
  5. Bake pieces until slightly puffed and firm, about 15 minutes. Cool completely. Meanwhile, make the Royal Icing ‘glue’.

Royal Icing:
2 egg whites
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1-1/2 to 2 lb. powdered sugar, sifted

In an electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar to medium peaks. Slowly add in sifted powdered sugar until the icing is thick and holds its shape. (The amount needed will vary with sugar brands, and the moisture content of the egg whites.) Icing can be thinned (if necessary) with a few drops of water.

  1. Assemble the structure on a serving platter or stiff board. Fit a piping bag with a plain tip and fill the bag halfway with royal icing. Pipe a fat strip along the wrong side of the vertical edges of the front of the house. The two side pieces are then butted up against these strips of icing and held in place for 30-60 seconds. Re-enforce the inside joint with a bit more icing. Pipe similar strips on the wrong side of the back of the house, and press the back wall up against the two side pieces. Allow to set and harden for at least 1 hour.
  2. Pipe icing along one side of the roof line, and set one roof piece on top. Allow to set 30-60 minutes. Repeat on the other side of the roof. Again, allow to set 30-60 minutes.
  3. Use remaining icing to decorate your house as you see fit. Glue on candies, make icing icicles, pipe architectural features, or leave it simple and just give it a light dusting of powdered sugar snow.