A Norwegian feast
Every Christmas, three generations of the Maybach family―now ages 2 to 92―gather in a thoroughly modern log cabin near Keystone, Colorado, to celebrate the Old World in New World style.
A few years ago, Carol Maybach, then a recent culinary school grad, began exploring why chefs love to cook for a book she was writing, Creating Chefs. Looking into her subjects' food histories, Maybach became fascinated with her own family's culinary roots in Norway, and instead of celebrating the traditional American Christmas, it seemed time to acknowledge their unique ancestry. "I wanted to put together a menu that honored our past but that also reflected who we are today," she says. "An authentic celebration with contemporary twists."
A Norwegian Christmas is full of ritual: Various Maybachs bury salt- and sugar-coated salmon in the snow to cure for gravlax; bake the seven traditional holiday cookies; roll out floury rounds of dough to make potato lefse (a chewy flatbread); and fry up thin batter into crisp snowflake rosettes to garnish creamy rice pudding, always the last course of the meal.
The Rocky Mountain setting occupies the noncooks. There's the Christmas tree to choose and bring in from the forest, races to run on sleds or skis, and horse-drawn sleigh rides to enjoy. Then everyone sits down to a leisurely five-course feast around the 10-foot-long pine table.
Since burying salmon in the snow may be a little problematic in other parts of the West, and finding birch twigs to roast meat over can be tough, we've simplified Carol Maybach's menu. This being an abundant region in every way, though, you can easily buy the more traditional ingredients for your first Norwegian Christmas. Just make sure to include some aquavit for a postdinner toast to the cooks, past and present, who keep tradition alive.
Info: Creating Chefs (The Lyons Press, 2003; $28 ),by Carol Maybach
Although the Maybach tradition is to bury their salmon in the snow to cure, buying the gravlax is a pretty good option for those of us who live in snowless parts of the New World.
Wine: Blanc de noirs sparkler
• Fresh potato flatbread (lefse) and/or plain flatbread (flatbrod)
• Butter and lingonberry jam
• Pickled herring and/or herring in sour cream
This salad puts color on the table, to say nothing of hearty flavors.
In the mountains, the main dish might be venison or elk, but roast pork loin has a long tradition in Norway too. A sauce made with gingerbread (Gingerbread Sauce) adds a little interesting sugar and spice.
In Norway, an almond is hidden inside one of these desserts, and the lucky recipient gets a gift―usually a marzipan pig.
Maybach bakes this dense, slightly sweet bread in patterned ceramic molds for a decorative finish, but plain pie pans work well too.
• Aquavit and Christmas beer
Note: You can buy the gravlax, caviar, flatbread, jam, and herring at a Scandinavian deli, or order from Wikstroms' Gourmet Foods (773/275-6100).