Friday, September 3, 2010

Finding our Way: Food

Our home is a short walk to the local train station, but it is a small station, so the trains stop here only once an hour. It is also rather expensive to take the train. But, until we are able to get a used car, it is our main mode of transportation. The Professor also can take a bus to get to work, but they run even less frequently near our house, so it depends on the timing.
Grocery shopping was our first outing. There are no shops in our small village, so until we get a car, we take the train to the nearby town to get groceries. Many days the Professor stops for a few things on his way home to save on train fare. We have learned to shop with a different mentality since we have to carry everything that we buy. On weekends, the kids all ride the train free with an adult, so we bring along extra hands then. We are beginning to find our way around the stores and to be able to interpret what we are buying. Thankfully, most grocery items have some kind of picture or drawing on them. 
Some favorite things at the grocery store:
Cheese---in a tube!
Norwegian brown cheese (yes, it's cheese)
  1. The little shopping carts just for kids (we used to have these at home, but our youngest two don’t remember them and look forward each time to pushing their own carts)
  2. The automatic bread cutting machine: bread is sold in whole loaves, you take it out of the paper package and put it through the slicing machine. Great fun!
  3. Cheese in a tube: this is something I remember from our trip to Sweden many years ago. It’s probably the equivalent of Cheez-Whiz, only tastes much better. A soft white cheese with flavorings (shrimp, bacon, ham) that comes in a tube like a toothpaste tube. Very handy for picnics and take-along snacks
  4. Many different kinds of whole-grain crackers (Norwegians eat a lot of lunch meat and cheese on bread or crackers for both breakfast and lunch)
  5. Middle Girl likes the small tubs of Leverpostei (liver paste, like liverwurst or Braunschweiger). It also comes in small individual tubs that she says the kids bring to school to spread on their bread for lunch.
  6. Only Boy has surprised us by becoming fond of the special Norwegian brown cheese. It is very different tasting, almost having a peanut butter flavor to my mind (a similar color, too). It is made from goat’s milk or a combination of goat and cow’s milk. We have sampled the mild version so far, but it comes in different “strengths.”
  7. Ice Cream bars: We don’t buy ice cream in a tub much (I know, that surprises many of you!!), because it is expensive and also hard to get home on the train. However, it is easy to find individual ice cream bars for sale around town at pretty reasonable prices. And they are indeed a step above the typical US ice cream bar. Imagine good quality ice cream dipped in a really delicious chocolate coating (not that waxy stuff that passes for chocolate in the cheaper US brands). This is a favorite treat when we are out and about. We even had a visit from the ice cream truck in our neighborhood one evening our first week here.
  8. Nøttepålegg (Hazelnut chocolate spread). Many of you might know Nutella in the US. I never bought it at home, but the Norwegian equivalent is quite inexpensive in the store brand, so I introduced it to the kids. Spread on toast it’s a yummy afternoon snack.
  9. Norwegian salmon (need I say more?). We bought it frozen at the grocery store, and it was still delicious.
Some things have surprised us. Peanut butter is readily available in small jars, and not particularly expensive here (which, admittedly, is not saying much). We have found popcorn, Cheerios, US brands of taco shells and other items that make us feel like home. But here are a few things that were harder to find:
  1. Yeast and baking powder: this was not a question of availability (of course they have them), it was a matter of finding the little packages with Norwegian labels. After 2 or 3 trips, I managed to pick up some tørrgjær and some bakepulver. A minor victory!
  2. Mayonnaise: I’m not sure whether this is something not widely available, or just something we haven’t come across yet. We are enjoying some very good mustard on our sandwiches, however, so we don’t miss it too much. We have had packaged, prepared potato salad that is quite good but tastes like it might be made from sour cream instead of mayo. This bears further investigation . . . [update note: after talking with one of our neighbors, I have discovered that mayonnaise is sold in the refrigerated section, and sometimes comes in the tubes like the squeeze cheese. Another case of just not knowing where to look. It’s amazing how much context comes into play as we look for things in the stores. What items are usually grouped together, which are refrigerated and which are not, and so on).
  3. Cheddar cheese: We have a good, all-purpose white cheese that has a little more flavor than mozzarella, we have the infamous brown cheese, we also have parmesan, mozzarella, some cream cheese (Philadelphia brand no less), but I have yet to see cheddar or other yellow/orange cheese. Perhaps our local store is somewhat limited. There is an Asian/Indian type grocery store in town as well with more imported items, so we will have to spend some time there to see what else we find.
I packed a couple of cookbooks in our boxes (along with some US measuring cups and spoons), but it will be a few weeks yet before they arrive. Without internet as well, I’m basically cooking off the top of my head. We have managed to make approximations of some of our staple dishes. I’ve also experimented with some packaged foods. Yesterday I made brownies from a mix, using the measuring cups that were left here to get 5 deciliters of water, and doing my best to interpret the basic cooking instructions based on what I already know about how to make brownies. (By the way, the package described them as an “Americansk” treat!)

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