kinsfolk + comfort = waffles

Long ago Scandinavian immigrants, hungry for their own piece of dirt and the American promise of a better life, helped shape the culture of Minnesota. The vast, wind-swept prairies and dense woodlands felt as close to home as they’d found since arriving on American shores—a familiar backdrop of long dark winters and an almost infinite number of rivers and lakes. Though this landscape lacked the ruggedness of many parts of Scandinavia, it offered a countryside fertile for farming and was punctuated with the drama of a great northern lake defined by a sweeping shoreline reminiscent of the seaside.

As families from Norway, Sweden, and Finland settled into their new country they preserved Old World rituals of hospitality, including a deep affection for a good old-fashioned coffee klatch. Gatherings that are never complete without fresh from the oven cakes, breads, and pastries.  

Did you know that a warm, vanilla-perfumed breeze makes us kinder to strangers?  Or that delicious aromas make us feel happier and more concerned about the welfare of others? It's a proven fact.

As a new generation pioneer—an innovator and trailblazer—Stine (pronounced “Steen- a”, like the end of Christina) Aasland landed in the North Star State in 2014. A highly successful entrepreneur in Norway, Stine unintentionally (but happily) is now recognized as the official Waffle Queen. The company she founded here, Nordic Waffles, sprang from her experiences running a gas station chain in Norway that served waffles as a sideline, but one that eclipsed all other parts of her enterprise. Over time she found her passion and fortune in sharing her love of a tradition she grew up with. 

So what are Nordic waffles? Compared to other European styles, Scandinavian waffles are thinner with crisp edges. Basically batter cakes that are cooked in shallow cast-iron molds or irons, Scandinavian waffles are most often stamped with a distinctive heart pattern. Because they’re thin and tender they wrap easily around smoked fish, cheeses, eggs, or other savory fillings. Or are beloved topped with fresh berries, lingonberry jam, thinly sliced brown cheese, cinnamon-flavored fresh cheese, or other sweet partners. Wherever you look in Norway, Sweden, or Denmark, you'll find regional preferences for favorite accompaniments.

What Stine found, despite deep pockets of Scandinavian heritage in the United States, no one was serving up this type of waffle. A series of serendipitous connections brought her to Minnesota, where she’s already building strong community ties and enjoying an enthusiastic following in unique coffee houses that are adopting her waffle program.   

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A phenomenon called “slow TV” is a surprising smash hit in Norway. An unbroken timeline of television programming that broadcasts special stories like National Firewood Night (hours of video showing burning logs) and National Knitting Night (taking a sweater from shearing a lamb to finally pulling out the knitting needles—a 13-hour oddessey), harkens us all back to a more unhurried time. Time with loved ones, a sense of well-being that comes from embracing the “coziness of the soul.” A focus on life’s simple pleasures that is seamlessly entwined with the flow of daily life. Absorbing nature and an uncluttered simplicity—plants, flowers, candles, simple table settings, warm woven lap throws to chase away dusky chills, entryway baskets filled with boiled wool slippers for guests to slip on and scuff about indoors. And always freshly made food, lovingly cooked or baked to nourish and sustain.

So in that same spirit, an event like the Valentine’s Day Hot Metal Pour at a local sculpture park—artists demonstrating the ancient art and craft of transforming metal—typifies our eclectic fascinations with connecting to elemental experiences. Truly, think about an audience of hearty folk emerging from their winter hibernation to slog through a muddy field to watch a host of leather-clad metal artisans toss logs into a huge fire, then turn iron into molten metal that’s poured into molds and cooled quickly in the chilly late winter air. Fascinating stuff on a leisurely Sunday afternoon...and what could be better than snacking on a fragrantly golden brown hot-from-the-waffle-carousel Nordic waffle? Wrapped around some crispy bacon and an egg with gooey cheese (or how about a few slices of smoked salmon, cream cheese, and spring onions), eaten out of hand with a steaming cup of strong coffee or rich hot cocoa. Pretty darn satisfying for the young and not so young.

This year's March 25, International Waffle Day, turned the Norway House in Minneapolis into a Saturday field trip. A drive-through hot waffle kiosk in the parking lot was the highlight, drawing hundreds of families of Scandinavian descent along with others interested in Norwegian culture. We loved seeing the display of intricately patterned and colorful Norwegian sweaters, many handed down from generation to generation. And a good time was had by all.

As the earth warms up, Nordic Waffles will appear at any number of summer festivals around the upper Midwest, embracing the always too-short season of long warm evenings and outdoor gatherings of friends and families.