If K’s are funny, Norwegian is hilarious.
In all seriousness, it’s been a month of crab and kransekake. Crab because I wrote a story about going crabbing for Edible San Francisco, so I had to go crabbing to write it because the whole angle of the assignment was that 1) I love crab and 2) I’d never caught one before. Rough seas and crab fishermen strikes seemed like they were going to thwart my best efforts, but I finally found myself on Baker Beach at the ass crack of dawn with my My Very Tall Cousin Sam, a two-person kayak, a crab pot, and a professional photographer. My dad, who was visiting from Minneapolis, came along to see the show. You can read the full story in the Winter 2013 issue.
Kransekake because two different friends had occasions to celebrate and for both of them I made a kransekake. The one above was for our friend and neighbor. In place of the tiny paper Norwegian flags that traditionally decorate this wedding/birthdayChristmas cake, my son and I made flags with pictures of the man of honor on them. It was, to put it simply, a hit. I was thinking of baking kransekake for Christmas Eve, but the entire household agrees that two kransekakes in one month is sufficient.*
These kransekake-marked celebrations were both for people I admire a great deal. They are both smart, creative professional artists who are completely unpretentious and always up for fun. They remind me what I love about San Francisco.
And as much as I love my adopted city, there are times when I hate it. One of my younger cousins was in town and we met for lunch. Being the younger brother of the cousin I went crabbing with, he had heard about our adventure and was asking about it. As we talked, a woman eating several tables over came to our table and said “Excuse me, but I’m a vegetarian. I’m trying to eat my lunch and your discussion of crabs is disgusting.” She proceeded to use the word “disgusting” two more times and to have the unmitigated gall to ask us, in the most righteous, entitled way imaginable, to stop talking about what we were talking about.
I won’t get into how I laughed and asked if she was kidding, or how my cousin recognized that getting into it with such a person was a waste of time and told her sure, whatever. I won’t go into detail about how our discussion was not “disgusting” by any common definition or how we weren’t talking about killing, eating, or cleaning crabs, just going out in boats on cold water with traps. I won’t drone on about how her reward was getting to listen to us talk about how bat-shit crazy she was and trying to come up with scenarios where we would ever feel we had the right to tell someone else what to talk about (we only came up with examples that would first and foremost involve a call to the police).
I will, however, tell you my New Year’s wish: May all the grown-ups stop telling each other what to do.
I will eat my crab and bake my kransekake, as my adopted city and my homeland dictate, respectively, for this time of year. You can eat your bananas (disgusting!) or join a drum circle (my own personal nightmare!) and I promise I won’t get in your way.
* If you haven’t made any kraneskakes yet, here’s how: Whirl 1 pound blanched almonds (I use slivered almonds to avoid having to boil and peel all those nuts individually) in a food processor until they are ground to a fine meal. Stir in 1 pound powdered sugar to combine them well before stirring in 3 egg whites. If your kitchen is warm, you may be able to proceed as is, but I find the dough is easier to work with if I warm it in a double-boiler (or a metal bowl set over simmering water). Once the dough is malleable, transfer it to a pastry bag or large plastic bag with a snip of one of the corners cut off (I like this method because of the insanely easy throw-it-away clean-up). Pipe out thin rings into well-greased kransekake molds (you can get the Norpro Nonstick Kransekake Forms I use here) or, draw concentric circles on pieces of parchment paper and semi-free-hand it – a bold but workable move.
Bake the circles at 300°F for 30 minutes, remembering to rotate the pans or sheets about half-way through the baking time to avoid over- or under-done specimens. Let them cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then remove them and let cool on cooling racks.
If they break coming out of the molds, don’t stress – you can glue them back together easily enough when building the tower. While they cool, make a royal icing of about 1 cup powdered sugar, either a drop or two of vaniall extract or 1/2 tsp. lemon juice, and enough milk to make an icing that is at once spread-able and drip-able. Stack the cooled rings, from largest to smallest, using the icing to glue each ring to the one underneath in. Decorate with drips of icing around the outside and any tiny flags you like.
My son dreams of the day I will let him add sprinkles to the whole thing. Serve the kransekake by letting people simply rip off pieces (in my experience, people need a bit of prodding to do this). Like all Norwegian desserts, it’s truly fabulous with coffee.