Wednesday, December 29, 2010

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!


  1. That looks like "good" lutefisk. Looks flaky and I think you did a great job of baking it. Yes, the flakes are preferred. We tried the bacon bits, here as well. Some liked it better, but this mustard gravy lady just didn't think it quite was what she liked. The fish is so soft, and the bacon bits seemed a little harsh to the dish. To each their own. Thanks for trying it!!! MOM

  2. While I was in Norway, the "Lefse" I got at the store was NOTHING like I knew of it from Wisconsin. It was spongey (more thick), and it was sandwiched with something sweet inside, a little bit like oreo-filling (but not american sweet). It was a horrible experience, disconnecting from what I thought was "Norwegian." But your picture looks a lot more like what I knew as Norwegian. Maybe it's still made, just not sold in grocery stores.

  3. I've seen and heard about the lefse you can get at the grocery store, though we haven't tried it. Some is sold dried and you get it a little wet before rolling it up with filling. We've also found that there are different types of lefse--there is a sweet, non-potato lefse they sometimes call Hardangar Lefse for the region it is from. There is also a potato lefse which is made a little thicker and always cut out to be perfectly round. These are called lømper, and they use them for hotdogs instead of a bun! It's actually pretty good.