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!)