Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I've just been to Sweden . . . my freezer is full!

Shortly after we first arrived, I was invited to the neighbor's house for tea. We were chatting as she was pulling juice and snacks out for the kids, and she said, "My refrigerator is packed, we just went to Sweden yesterday!" That seemed like quite a non sequitur to me, but she quickly explained. Norwegian prices on everything (as we have mentioned endlessly, it seems!) are very high. Swedish food prices are slightly lower, and meat in particular is much cheaper there. We live less than 2 hours from the Swedish border, so it is very common in our area for people to make a monthly trek just across the border to shop in Sweden. 

I thought the school's holiday break would be a good opportunity for us to try this Norwegian custom. We had a great day for a drive--sunny and partly-cloudy but not bitterly cold. The route we took wound around a bit, but in a very scenic way (I could enjoy it, the Professor was driving!).

We found the area that had been recommended by neighbors, and, of course, there was a good-sized shopping mall there, including a large grocery store (and an adjacent hotel, in case you were really into shopping!). We took a turn through the mall to see what was there and found this candy store. Young teen commented that the smell alone must have contained sugar calories! In addition to selling all kinds of Swedish and Norwegian candy, and imports as well (like a wall of M&Ms), they had a center section where you could bag your own candy and pay by weight. We let each of the kids pick out a small scoop of something.

I forgot to take many photos of the grocery store, but they did have a large meat section. We found beef was the biggest "savings" over Norwegian prices--about half price. Chicken, also, was noticeably cheaper. We loaded up on both, then had an ice cream cone at the food court before heading home again. Now to ponder supper . . . beef chili? beef stroganoff? roast beef? hmmmm....

This last photo is for my family--this is the selection of pickled herring choices at the Swedish grocery store. Our local selection is pretty equivalent. Does that make you green with envy?? (or maybe you don't like pickled herring, and it just makes you green?)

God Jul! (Merry Christmas)

Christmas has come and gone (well, in Norway we are celebrating through this week also, but you know what I mean). I haven't been back to this blog for a while, so here are a few photos of our Norwegian Christmas celebration.

Up to the local shopping mall to purchase a Christmas tree. I have read that it is traditional in Norway to put up the tree on Dec 23, but they have been for sale here since the first week of December, and it looks to me like many Norwegians get out their trees much earlier.

We brought just a few special (but unbreakable) ornaments from home. The kids also contributed ornaments made at school, and salt dough ornaments we made with one of Middle Girl's school friends during the holiday break. Twin 2 was adamant that we have a star for the top, so she made one out of yellow paper. It has a certain charm, I think!

Christmas Eve dinner featured lefse that I made at my lefse class earlier this fall (fresh out of the freezer). [See my earlier post on the Lefsekurs]

The traditional Christmas Eve lutefisk! Growing up in a family of Swedish descent, I am familiar with lutefisk, but this is the first time I've actually cooked it myself (I usually leave that job to my mom!). For the uninitiated, lutefisk is a whitefish which is dried, then processed with lye. Before cooking it undergoes a lengthy soaking and rinsing process. It has a distinct odor and flavor, to put it mildly. It is the stuff of legends among Scandinavian Americans!

Here in Norway it is traditional to eat it around the Christmas holidays. We have seen large slabs of lutefisk in the grocery stores for the past month. When the Professor and I went shopping for our dinner, we tried to find the smallest piece possible (knowing that no one in our immediate family is a particular fan!). We ended up with about three quarters of a kg. Interestingly, the package suggested a serving portion of 1/2 to 1 kg per person! (whew, I doubt even my grandpa, who actually liked the stuff, would eat a whole kg himself!).

Following the package directions, I lightly salted the lutefisk and let sit for about 30 minutes before baking in foil. I guess the salt is supposed to draw out some of the water and make the fish a little more firm (it has a bad rep for being gelatinous and gummy, especially if overcooked). The Professor and I both agreed that, for whatever reason, this turned out to be pretty good lutefisk. The thicker section was nice and flaky, and the over all taste was not too strong. (OK, "pretty good" is a bit of a stretch. I think what we actually said was, "this is not horrible, I can manage to eat this!")

In my family, lutefisk is eaten with a white sauce or mustard sauce. We have seen it pictured here in Norway with the sauce and served with crispy fried bacon bits. I decided to try this, and I have to say it was a really good addition. The texture and salt of the bacon were a nice complement to the "softer" texture and strong flavor of the fish. I think this is one tradition we will bring home with us.

We didn't have this on Christmas Eve, but it is an Advent tradition in the Scandinavian countries--Gløgg. This is kind of like a heavily spiced cider. You can add it to wine for an alcoholic drink, or you can drink it as is. It is served warm. We enjoyed ours earlier in the week with some pepperkaker (cut out cookies very similar to gingerbread cookies). This particular bottle is Swedish, given to us by the Swedish cousins who visited earlier in the fall. It was a big hit with the whole family.

Norwegians traditionally celebrate on Christmas Eve with a big meal and then opening gifts. Our friends here have been a little surprised to learn that we also traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve (at least in my family) and not Christmas Day. I don't know whether this is a holdover from our Swedish background or not. It's just "the way things are done"! In many homes in Norway, Julenisse (Santa Claus) arrives after dinner in the form of a neighbor or the father of the family dressed up in the usual red and white outfit. Our Julenisse doesn't come until all the children in the house are asleep, but he did manage to find us all the way over here in Norway and left plenty of goodies for everyone.

In the midst of the food and gifts, however, we also took time to remember the point of it all--the miraculous birth of a baby in Bethlehem who was so much more than just a baby. 

Wishing you all the grace and peace the the first Christmas made possible!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Luciadagen (Santa Lucia Day)

December 13 is Luciadagen (Santa Lucia Day). This is a day in celebration of the Italian saint, Saint Lucy, and is celebrated (with some variations) in all of Scandinavia, as well as in other European countries. Saint Lucy was a 4th century Christian martyr. The date of her martyrdom, December 13, is also said to be the shortest day of the year, hence the "darkest" day of the year. Saint Lucy, whose name means "light," is a natural for commemorating this dark day and giving hope that the light will return. The Scandinavian legends tell of a time of severe winter famine in Sweden, when the local community gathered to pray for food. Two ships appeared across Lake Vänern, loaded with food. Saint Lucy, with her white robe and wreath of candles, appeared at the helm of the first ship. (A similar miracle is part of her legend in Italy).

Luciadagen in Norway is borrowed from the Swedes. With the protestant reformation, saints days were mostly abolished, but after World War II, Luciadagen was resurrected in Norway. Traditionally, the oldest girl in the household will dress in a white gown with a red sash and wear a wreath with candles on her head. She may be followed in by her sisters (and sometimes brothers) also carrying candles. She brings food to all the inhabitants of the house (the Lussekater or Lucia buns). Now, it is most common for the children in schools to process through the school and hand out Lussekater. One girl is chosen to lead the procession as Santa Lucia, and she wears the crown of candles. In the kids' school today, the fifth grade performed the Lucia procession. They processed all over the school with candles (battery ones!) and handed out Lussekater to all 10 grades. As they process they sing the traditional Santa Lucia song.

If you want to hear the song, here is one of many YouTube links:

The words for the Norwegian version of the song (each country has their own version in their native language) are given, with translation, here:
(By the way, this is a really fun blog about Norway written by an Australian who married a Norwegian and found herself way up north in Tromsø. It's well worth browsing, for the photos as well as the insights into Norwegian culture).

One of the commercial results of the widespread celebration of this day is that Lucia gowns have been for sale since late November at our local toy store and other clothing stores. One of the signs that Christmas is coming!

The Twins and I bought our Lussekater at the local bakery, but we enjoyed them just the same! They are a sweet bun made with saffron to give them a really lovely golden color.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More Winter Shots

Young teen was busy on the drive home from Oslo on Saturday snapping photos of the hoar frost, which was quite stunning against the bright blue sky and the sunshine. She did a pretty good job!


Another Norwegian Christmas tradition we enjoyed this weekend was Julebord. We have started attending an international church near Oslo, and have been getting to know people from 30 or more different countries who are here to work, study, and live for a year or two or for good. Each year this church puts on a catered meal for the Christmas holidays, called Julebord. You see these around during this time, fancy buffet dinners with all the holiday treats (I suppose what my Swedish-American family would call a Smorgasbord). Everything was delicious, and we particularly enjoyed the several different kinds of salmon, whitefish, prawns, etc that are fresh and wonderful here in the North Atlantic!

Our Julebord feast

The kids were particularly intrigued (and intimidated)
by this salmon cooked on the bone with the head and tail left on!

Julemarked (Christmas Market)

This week the Professor has headed back to the states to attend theses defenses and meet with students to make sure things keep running while he is here. In his absence, the rest of us ventured into Oslo to the Norwegian Folk Museum for the annual Julemarked (Christmas Market). I was quite proud of myself for managing to drive into the city, find parking, and negotiate the museum on my own with the kids :)

The Folk Museum has buildings from all over Norway and from many different historical time periods. During Julemarked, handicrafters from all over the country come to sell gifts and craft items. There were so many wonderful things. It was such fun to browse, and to see the buildings in their winter setting. It was cold the day we went (-15 C, which is like 5 degrees F), so we ended up heading home early and didn't stay for the folk dancing, etc in the later afternoon. 

We last visited this museum in October, on a chilly fall day. So now middle child has asked, "Can we come back here sometime when it is warm?"! We definitely have plans to return in the summer. During the tourist season they have many more activities going on out on the grounds.

Loved these jumpers made from felted wool (didn't check the price tag!)

Monday, November 29, 2010

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, 
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.
[Christina Rossetti, please see the end of this post for the complete poem]

It is nearly midwinter, and we are in the midst of the season of darkness here. The sun rose this morning about 8:30 am. These photos were taken in the early afternoon. You can see how low the sun is in the sky, even near the middle of the day. The sun was below the horizon this afternoon by 3:30 pm and it was dark by 4:00 pm. So, we light candles, cozy up by the fire, and make an early dinner of warm soup and hot, freshly-baked bread. For we know that the sun (and the Son) and the summer will eventually return.
12:30 pm

Disclaimer: this photo was taken at about 1:00 in the afternoon,
but I had my camera at the "sunset" setting, so the colors are a little more golden than in real life.

3:30 pm

4:00 pm
In the Bleak Midwinter 
(Christina Rossetti, 1872)

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Norwegian/American Thanksgiving--part 2, Eating!

The day of the feast has now come and gone, and a good time was had by all. Everything went pretty well. I spent two full days cooking and prepping, but I enjoy doing that once in a while (so long as it doesn't have to be too often!). I tried a new method for roasting the turkey which worked out really well (courtesy of Cook's Illustrated, my favorite cookbook series, and now my favorite website for recipes). I cut the turkey up before roasting so that the breast section is separated from the thigh/leg sections. Then I roasted the breast side down for an hour, turning it over for the second hour or so of the roasting process. It seemed to keep both the white and dark meat tender, and of course it took less time than a whole turkey. The recipe also suggests you put chopped carrots, onions, celery and garlic in the bottom of the roasting pan along with some broth to catch the drippings. The vegetables really enhanced the drippings, and the gravy was the best I've ever made.

Sorry for the less than artistic photos.
I forgot to snap pictures of the food until after we had already sent people through the buffet line.
We had a nice turnout from the Professor's lab, and our Norwegian friends seemed to enjoy the feast. The pumpkin pie was a big hit. Pumpkins are not really used for cooking here. In fact, one of the gals mentioned that even five years ago it was rare to find pumpkins for sale at all. They have become more common around Halloween.

Before dinner, our kids put on a short skit about the origins of Thanksgiving in America. They wrote their own script (with a little editing help from Mom and Dad) and made Pilgrim and Indian headbands for the little kids to wear. Even one of the twins (#2) got involved. She insisted that she should have a script (she doesn't read) and a speaking part. She did a great job, chiming in with her lines, "Like Turkey! and mashed potatoes!" right on cue :)

The Professor also had us go around and share one thing we are thankful for (this is a tradition at our house). I think this was a bit of a stretch for some of our reserved Norwegian friends. We kidded them that they should consider it a cross-cultural experience.

We are very thankful for the opportunity to be here, and for old and new friends on both sides of the Atlantic who have encouraged us along the way. Happy Thanksgiving to you All!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Norwegian/American Thanksgiving, part 1--Cooking

Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends and family!

Having found a whole turkey to purchase at our local grocery store, we are going to have our own Thanksgiving celebration here (but on Saturday instead of today, because of course there is work/school today!). We have invited a few of the Professor's colleagues over to experience American Thanksgiving with us.

Here are some of the "interesting" aspects of celebrating Thanksgiving abroad:

1. Turkey: not a staple here. Luckily, Norwegians often have turkey at the holidays, New Year's in particular (so I've been told), so I was able to talk a gal at the local grocery store into getting one out of the big freezer in the back for me (they hadn't yet put them out to sell). She brought me a 6 kg turkey (about 13 lb). Then we decided to have more people for dinner, so I went back to see if they had anything larger. I asked for the largest one they had, and they brought me a 5.5 kg bird. I will roast both and we should come out ahead. We have since heard that use of growth hormones is banned here, so in general the poultry is smaller. Should be good taste, however. Amazingly, the turkey was not particularly expensive (less than chicken per kg).

2. Cranberries: Also not a staple here (not surprisingly--I don't know that they are grown outside the US). I haven't found either whole cranberries or canned, but I did find dried cranberries at our local international food market. I have a recipe for a wild rice pilaf that has dried cranberries as a garnish, so we will use that in order to have a token showing at the Thanksgiving table. (We brought some wild rice with us to give as gifts, so we will use some of that to introduce our Norwegian friends to this New World dish).

3. Pumpkin Pie: As a New World vegetable, pumpkin is not big here either. You can't find it canned unless you go to one of the stores in Oslo that has a greater variety of American products. However, because Halloween is catching on more and more, there were whole pumpkins for sale in October. I bought a few, cooked them up, and put the puree in the freezer. We have a family favorite recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, so we knew we would want some pumpkin in reserve!
Pumpkin pie step 1: buy a pumpkin before Halloween

Pumpkin pie step 2: figure out the names of spices, can you guess what these are?

The other trick to pumpkin pie is that you can't just just buy "pumpkin pie spice" at the grocery store. Thankfully, I have a "recipe" from my mother-in-law. For 2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice, use 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp nutmeg. What are those spices called in Norwegian? Check the photo above and see if you can guess. Often the spice jars have photos or you can see through them, but finding the right packets took a little guesswork. (Answers at the bottom of this post).

Only Son did a presentation at school earlier this week. He showed photos of his home and also talked a little about American Thanksgiving. We made little pumpkin pie treats for his class. I used my mother-in-law's recipe for crust-less pumpkin pie and baked it in muffin cups. With a little whipped cream on top, they were good for a sample of American pumpkin pie. Some kids liked it better than others, but the spices are familiar as they are basically the same as those used in making Norwegian pepperkaker cookies during the Christmas season.

Individual pumpkin pies brought to school
Crust-less Pumpkin Pie
(adapted from Betty Crocker New Choices Cookbook)

1 16 oz can pumpkin (about 2 cups puree)
1 12 oz can evaporated skimmed milk (Viking Melk is the brand here for evaporated milk)
3 egg whites (I used 2 whole eggs so as not to waste my expensive eggs!)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (see above for spice mix)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt

topping: 1/4 cup quick cooking oats, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 Tbsp margarine, softened

Heat oven to 350 degrees, Prepare brown sugar topping by combining ingredients into course crumbs. Spray 10" pie plate with non-stick spray. Mix remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour into pie plate and sprinkle with topping. Bake 50-55 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes. Refrigerate about 4 hours.

I used double muffin liners to line the muffin pan, because I thought it might be a bit soggy. I would have used foil liners if I could find them. I baked them for around 20 minutes and then started checking with a clean knife.

Our favorite pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins

Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Muffins 
(adapted from Muffins cookbook by Elizabeth Alston
This is probably my favorite cookbook of all time. Everything in it is very good!
It's out of print, I believe, but you can find used copies on the web)
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice (see above for recipe)
1 tsp baking soda (have your in-laws bring some over from the US!)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt 
2 lg eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree (about 1/2 a 1 lb can)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup (6 oz) chocolate chips (or chopped up baking chocolate if you live in Norway and can't easily get chocolate chips)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease muffin cups or use liners.
Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, spice, soda, baking powder, salt in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, add pumpkin and stir, then add melted butter. Stir until well blended. Add chocolate chips. Pour over dry ingredients and fold in with rubber spatula just until blended.

Scoop batter into muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes or until springy to the touch in the middle. Remove from pan and cool on a rack. 

Key to Spices:
Kanel is Cinnamon (you can probably guess this one, there is a drawing on the label)
Nellik is Ground Cloves (I figured this out by finding a see-through package of whole cloves first)
Muskatnøtt is Nutmeg (nøtt means nut, I also found a see-through package of whole nutmeg)
Ingefær is Ginger (this was the trickiest. I actually went to the aisle where they sell jars of minced ginger to check the Norwegian name!)

If you guessed them all, come on over! You are more than ready to cook in my Norwegian kitchen!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oslo Quiltefestival 2010

Last Saturday morning I took the train and subway (by myself no less!) into Oslo for the Oslo Quiltefestival. It was fun to be among "my people" here in Norway! The show was not large, but there were some really interesting art quilts as well as more traditional quilts to see. Of course, I also enjoyed visited the vendors' displays, too, and found a couple of small kits to buy. Most of the quilting patterns and fabrics here come from the US and Australia, but there are some things done by Norwegian designers. Knitting has such a long tradition here, but quilting is becoming more popular as well. Here are some of the highlights from the festival (you should be able to click on the photos for a larger view):

Utsikt til Sudndalsfjorden by Magda Imregh, Oslo Quiltefestival 2010

The above quilt was featured on the promotional material. It pictures one of the most famous fjords on Norway's west coast, the Sudndalsfjord 
Fjellet Kaller, also by Magda Imregh, Oslo Quiltefestival 2010
by Ulva Ugerup, Oslo Quiltefestival 2010

Oslo Quiltefestival 2010, I think also by Uva Ugerup

Merete Ellingsen, Oslo Quiltefestival 2010

Close up of quilt by Marete Ellingsen.
Gorgeous machine quilting like this on the whole quilt!