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Not your grandma's lefse

Quinn Olson creates lefse with ingredients such as curry, pesto, cinnamon and sweet potato. Eric Hylden / Forum Communications Co.

FOSSTON, Minn. - Call it lefse with an attitude.

Instead of just plain ol' lefse, Quinn Olson adds spices - yes, spices - to the dough to give some of the lefse he sells a little kick. Olson readily acknowledges the savory additions might not set well with some of his fellow Norwegians and Swedes.

"I'm pushing the envelope on the Scandinavian part," he says. "Some people just flip out. They don't want you to do anything to lefse."

Still, he thinks it's worth the risk because lefse, which is bland, lends itself to spicing up.

Olson, of Fosston, learned to like various kinds of ethnic food during the 20 years he lived in Southern California. When he returned to Fosston two years ago, he brought his tastes with him and, in the summer of 2009, when he started making lefse under the Kaffehus Lefse label, he decided to do a little experimenting.

Olson has added herbs including chives, rosemary and garlic to his lefse.

"Everything that goes with potatoes," he says.

And more.

"What's really good is pesto," he says.

The pesto lefse he offered to visitors confirmed his claim as they offered two thumbs up for a review. And, by the way, it would be delicious paired with a pasta dinner.

Olson also has sprinkled curry and garam malasa, an Indian spice, into his lefse dough. For people who like sweeter lefse, Olson makes a cinnamon dough. After the lefse is cooked and sugar is added, the lefse tastes like dessert.

"I sometimes use sweet potatoes, too," he says, noting that the flavor is similar to that of potato lefse but that it has a bright-orange appearance.

"That's kind of interesting," he says.

So is his life's story.

Olson, who grew up in Fosston and lived there until he was 20, isn't a stranger to cooking or to seeking business challenges.

When he was 18, Olson started a pizza restaurant in Fosston. It didn't occur to him that it was unusual for someone his age to be in the restaurant business.

A few years later when he sold the restaurant and moved to Los Angeles, Olson continued his entrepreneurship by making bath salts that smelled like food. The flavors, which included cranberry, oatmeal and mandarin oranges, caught the eye of Academy Award producers, and Olson was asked to make 100 16-ounce jars to put in Oscar gift baskets.

"It was great. It got a lot of publicity from that," Olson says, noting that he made and sold the bath salts for a few years.

Two years ago, Olson returned to Fosston to take care of his mother, who is ill.

"I needed to do something I could do from home," he says.

Olson decided to make lefse because he knew it was popular with people in this area. Meanwhile, he knew there was more demand than product available.

"There aren't a lot of people who make it," he says. "Everybody's grandma made it." Olson learned to make lefse from his mom and aunts.

"My Aunt Delores who lives across the alley is the queen of the lefse makers," he says.

The first summer after he returned from Los Angeles to live in Fosston, Olson sold lefse at the Bemidji Farmers Market. This past summer he sold it at the Fosston Farmers Market, which he organized.

"I would bring a dozen packages, and 'poof,' it was gone," Olson says.

Because he makes the lefse by hand and doesn't have anyone helping him, it isn't feasible to increase his lefse offerings, so, instead, Olson decided to try his hand at selling Scandinavian pastries, including flatbread, krumkake and cookies.

Aside from selling the lefse at the Fosston Farmers Market, Olson also takes orders.

"Around the holidays I get a lot of requests to make lefse," he says as he rolls dough and flips lefse the day before Thanksgiving.

Olson's latest food creation is almond and peanut brittle, which he makes in a commercial kitchen at the Fosston Community Center, and then packages and sells it in 3-ounce bags. He plans to sell the candy online and hopes to also sell it in area stores and movie theaters.