’Tis the season. For glistening snow (which was concerningly absent), voices raised in song (very much present) and our lovely Stav Hall to be transformed into a smorgasbord of seasonally appropriate, Norwegian food as Christmas Fest descends on campus once more. In honor of my last Christmas Fest on campus, I embarked on a food tour of the Christmas Caf to report on how this year’s culinary offerings stacked up.
Carved meats: This year, the caf alternated between serving turkey and ham as the Christmas Fest entrees. Turkey, for the record, is not even a traditional Scandinavian dish. I think. At least they don’t serve turkey at IKEA.
Do you know what they do serve? Swedish meatballs. I had been positively pining after those delicious Swedish meatballs, a staple of all my Christmas Fests past. But alas, they were not present this year. Perhaps a fiercely Norwegian alumni raised a fuss about those dang Swedes trying to infiltrate our nice meal, or perhaps a BonApp chef just yelled “Meatballs? In this economy?”
That’s probably the case, since the more expensive ballroom catering had meatballs (along with confit of pork and leg of lamb). Ah well. I’m aware my meatball deprivation will (probably) not make the U.N.’s most urgent list of human rights atrocities, but in a festival that’s so thoroughly entrenched in unchanging tradition and nostalgia, down to the inclusion of lutefisk, I claim the right to a little bit of harrumphing.
As for the meats that were present, I have no complaints. The turkey and ham were perfectly moist. Obviously, where there are Norwegians there will always be lutefisk, but lutefisk is not an entree. It’s a dare.
Lutefisk: And I took that dare. I did it for journalism.
After four years of Christmas Fest resistance, I allowed the curling, yellowed piece of lye-soaked fish to be plopped upon my plate. Lutefisk is more translucent than I expected, with a stringy texture akin to partially melted rubber. The strong fishy odor wafting from my plate made me self-conscious. After the appropriate amount of theatrical squealing and fork-prodding, I took a bite.
Look, I’m sure I would eat it quite gratefully if I was trying to survive a harsh Nordic winter and we lost the last of the potatoes in a December squall. That is my only comment at this time.
Assorted sides: The lingonberry sauce was quite nice. I couldn’t really distinguish it from your typical Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, but that’s not at all a bad thing.
Anyway, the potatoes were tender and incredibly buttery. I mean, butter was the only seasoning, but that’s probably culturally appropriate. The sweet and sour cabbage was a welcome dose of strong flavor and had a nice festive color. The beets were also a very pretty color. And the goat cheese added a bougie flair.
Lefse: This traditional dessert gets minimal points for inclusivity because there are never any instructions on how to deal with the enormous vats of butter, sugar and potato-tortillas that have replaced the condiments. I’m pretty sure I ate it like little quesadillas for my whole first fest until a kindly Norwegian took me under her wing and taught me how to roll them up.
But lefse does get maximum points for childlike indulgence, since it is a rare occasion that a person over the age of six is encouraged to take a bite of pure butter and sugar. Cinnamon sugar is easier to sprinkle, but brown sugar feels more hedonistic when you start crunching on granules.
Dessert: There was a good assortment of cookies this year. A rolled-up white one. A pink one. A thin chocolate one with mystery crisps. A black truffle-looking thing with green speckles. All of these had slightly unusual flavors and textures, and it was fun hypothesizing on their contents even if I ultimately had no clue whether I was tasting anise or cardamom or caraway or just almond. Again, I’d like to advocate for labels or diagrams or some kind of guide to Christmas Fest for the non-northerner.
But the little cups of fluffy rice stuff and syrupy lingonberry stuff (my sources tell me it is called riskrem) did not disappoint. Riskrem is a more heavenly experience than “Beautiful Savior.” The tart fruit compote and the subtly sweet rice pudding make a delicious and aesthetically pleasing swirl of fluff. I may not have softly falling snow, or an Ole choir voice or those precious meatballs, but I do have my beloved cups of white fluff. And that, for now, is enough.