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!