Christmas Yule tree Santa or Nisse and food traditions in Norway

Norway Christmas Traditions #AChristmas or Yuletide and New Year are connected to very old traditions and important celebrations in Norway. Keep in mind we are on top of the northern hemisphere. After a long period of darkness and cold, no wonder people needed a break and celebrated “the return of the sun” – with wild feasts that lasted for days. These traditions are all based on folklore and myths since the return of the sun has an important influence on our daily life and calls for special celebrations. Imagine: In our capital Oslo (latitude of 60° North) right now has 6 hours of daylight with the sun really low on the horizon at midday, compared to 19 hours and hardly no dark at all at summer solstice.
In this post I`ll share some of the typical Norwegian Christmas and New Year traditions – the happiest season of the year – and I have made some photo collages to illustrate which I hope you like (click to bigify and enjoy!):

Christmas trees:
Norway Christmas Traditions #BChristmas trees became common in Norway from around 1900 and I guess you know it’s originally from Germany. Before presents are opened, we “go around the Christmas tree”; all the family holds hands to form a ring around the tree, and walk around the tree singing Yuletide carols. It was fun but hard when I was a child, only to see all the presents – however the adults knew we would be far too busy after opening them – so walking around and singing first, then the presents : -)
Most everyone has either a spruce or a pine tree in their living room – decorated with white lights, tinsel, Norwegian flags and other ornaments for Christmas. As a child and with my children of course, we made paper baskets of shiny, colored paper. The baskets can be filled with candy or nuts. Chains made of colored paper are also very popular.
To see a tree decorated outdoors is a new thing, but also more and more common. To the right in the pic, you see my parents tree on their balcony. Notice the bowl with Christmas porridge at the bottom and beside it: The Yule Log painted as a Nisse (more details below!).

Christmas food traditions – the Smorgasbord:
Norway Christmas Traditions #CFor thousands of years we have developed our food preservation traditions and our folk tales have over time become mixed with other European folklore, like for example Santa Claus (Nisse). All of this comes to mind when visiting my parent’s home for the Christmas Day smorgasbord. The house is filled with Yuletide spirit, decorations and food traditions which have been in our family for generations. Counting about 15 people, there is always a lot of food left, so join us, sit in and enjoy my childhood’s food feast memories in the photo. There will be served e.g. Ham, Pork Ribs, Tongue, Roast Beef, Lam Roll & Lever Pate and of course Salmon & Herring.

Remember all these are homemade with fresh meat coming directly from the butcher – made with love and care, based on recipes past on for generations! Just by thinking of it, especially when I enter my parents’ house this special day, I am literary taken down the memory lane – just by closing my eyes. I remember mom and grandma in the kitchen almost the entire month of December; the smell, the atmosphere, the excitement and the anticipation. There was something in the air – it was Christmas – the most wonderful time of the year!

Sweets and Nisse too of course:
Norway Christmas Traditions #DIf you thought the food and the feast ends here, you are wrong! No, when you are filled up with pork and lamb and ham and maybe had a short walk or a power nap to digest at least a bit, then the special homemade sweets were on the table. Typical it would be the home made marzipan served in a very old confect box and of course the Ring cake (in Norwegian, Kransekake).
Behind the top of the cake, you see some Santas or Nisse as we call them in Norway. So let me tell you a bit about him:

A Nisse is a mythical creature of Scandinavian folklore originating from Norse paganism – actually close to what we call an elf. He was believed to take care of a farmer’s home and children and protect them from misfortune, especially at night, when the house folk were asleep – type Fjøs Nisse (Fjøs = barn).

Yule and Fjompe Nisse from Norway #1Nisse is the common name in Norwegian, Danish and the Scandinavian dialect in southernmost Sweden is Tomte and Tonttu in Finland. He was often imagined as a small, elderly man (size varies from a few inches to about half the height of an adult man), often with a full beard; dressed in the everyday clothing of a farmer. However, there are also folktales where he is believed to be a shape-shifter able to take a shape far larger than an adult man, and other tales where the Nisse is believed to have a single, cyclopean eye.

In the 1840s the farm’s Nisse became the bearer of Christmas presents in Denmark, and was then called Julenisse (Yule Nisse). This mythical character then turned into the white-bearded, red-capped friendly figure associated with Christmas ever since. Shortly afterwards, and obviously influenced by the emerging Father Christmas traditions as well as the new Danish tradition, a variant of the Nisse, called the Julenisse in Norway and Jultomte in Sweden, started bringing the Christmas presents in instead of the traditional Julbock (Yule Goat).

Ihope you have enjoyed my reminiscing of my childhood and a walk down memory lane. Christmas Eve is now upon us and its time not only to remember our traditions but to give them to our own children and families.
From all of us here to all of you: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

RennyBA celebrating 60 years with a look back

RennyBA celebrating 60 years with a look backTurning 60 years of age gives cause for summary and reflection. A lot has happened in the world since I was born in 1952 – in the last century, even the last millennium! Growing up in a small town near the countryside without electronic toys, digital media or Internet, gave me a childhood very different from todays. It’s easy to idealize the good old days – I’ll try not to go into that trap – but it has given me a foundation which has influenced me in a way I still appreciate today:
I can never remember being bored even if we didn’t have any video games, amusement parks or youth clubs. I guess it has to do with the fact that we were our own entertainers and the woods, the forest or the mountains were our inspirational playgrounds. It’s easy to make a miniature farm with sticks and pinecones you know :-) Turning your younger sisters baby carriage into a box car was great fun too – not to mention all sport activities like football as well as skating, skiing and alpine sports. Hiking and fishing were great fun, especially when we grilled the catch of the day on the fire afterwards – these were the best weekend activities I can remember.
I would have loved to document all this in photos, but it was not that usual to have around in my childhood. However, thanks to my mother, I have an album where she has collected photos taken in my younger years. I do hope you’ll get an idea of what I am trying to share:
RennyBA celebrating 60 years with a look back RennyBA celebrating 60 years with a look back

RennyBA as a social media enthusiast:
We’ve had big changes in all areas since I was born – especially in science and technology. I mean, I do remember when we had our first telephone installed in our house – and the manual operator. Today in nearly every corner of the world, one cannot enter a café or walk down the street without seeing someone talking, texting, or surfing the Internet on their cell phones, laptops or tablet PC. IT has become ubiquitous and is changing every aspect of how people live their lives.
Recent advances in our ability to communicate and process information in digital form – a series of developments sometimes described as an “IT revolution” – are reshaping the economies, the societies and daily lives of many people – including me. Just take a look at where to find me on the net in the box above :-)

My dear wife’s party surprise:
RennyBA celebrating 60 years with a look backWe met on the net almost 15 years ago – she lived in the US and came over 13 years ago. We might be early adapters in using IT to find each other, but think of it: not even a psychic or a magical fairytale could think up a love story like that 60 years ago!
Today she’s throwing a birthday party for me: We have invited a few of my best friends to a “Boys only” party and she even prepared the food (my favorite): Rakfisk (fermented fish) for a starter, Smalahove (Head of Lamb) as the main dish and caramel pudding for dessert. We are in the middle of the party when this is posted – having the greatest time, enjoying our company and going down memory lane with good old memories from the past, almost 60 years. I’m sure I feel the same as I do when writing this: I must be the luckiest man in the world – so Happy Birthday to me and many, many years to come :-)

Outdoor recreation in crisp Norwegian fall colours

Colorfull Fall in NorwayMy blog is about Norway, our culture, traditions and habits including the significant four seasons and fall or autumn is an excellent example. In Norwegian the season is called Høst which comes from the harvest of fruits, vegetables and grains that traditionally would be stored for the winter. It also means a significant change in the nature – the most colourful one – a perfect time for outdoors recreation; for charging your batteries before the dark wintertime season. We’ve had the loveliest sunny weather this weekend and my wife and I have had some quality time while enjoying the colourful fall scenery on our photo hunts. You’re welcome to join and enjoy some of the shots – let’s start with some collages I’ve made with the PS Touch app on my iPad:
Colorfull Fall in Norway Colorfull Fall in Norway

Outdoor Recreation:
I love it and have posted about it plenty of times: Norwegians love outdoor life associated with physical activity or use of leisure time in nature. With outdoor life, I mean enjoying nature’s air outdoors, and should not be confused with English free or clean air, or even free of contamination. However, that’s what you get and it’s of course an important part of the recreational effect of a family trip out and about – especially in the fall!
Colorfull Fall in Norway Colorfull Fall in Norway

If you think about it: We humans lived outdoors long before we lived indoors, and we had two million years as hunters and gatherers. So we’ve developed a body and a mind that is predisposed to a life in and of nature. The last thousand years however, we have developed a culture and a civilization that somehow appears to put ourselves above the rest of nature. To find peace and a new balance we need to interact with the old natural elements. My respectful contention is that these environments are vital to our health, well being and peace of mind:
Colorfull Fall in Norway Colorfull Fall in Norway

The Crisp Fall colours:
Talking about quality time and the colourful season change in fall, I’ll let these photos speak for themselves:
Colorfull Fall in Norway Colorfull Fall in Norway
Colorful scenery; nature, people and animals in perfect harmony!
Colorfull Fall in Norway Colorfull Fall in Norway

Norwegian Fall Cuisine:
Talking about traditions and habits within the frame of significant seasons: Even from my childhood, I remember well the smell of fall in the house – yes, you could smell it all over: Får i kål = “sheep in cabbage” or “mutton and cabbage stew” if you like: made from Norwegian mutton and fresh harvested cabbage, served with falls fresh potatoes. You can read all about this dish and even get the recipe in an earlier blog post of mine!
Even if my dear wife is an American, she has learned the tricks in making the very best dish – and if you add the nice treat she always packs for our quality time in the outdoor recreation – well then you know I am the luckiest guy in the whole world:
Colorfull Fall in Norway Colorfull Fall in Norway

Now you have seen us exploring our natural environment. How do you interact with your natural environment? Maybe you don’t have these colourful changes in your seasons, but every place has its own unique beauty. Let’s hear from your part of the world – share with us in the comments!

Taste of Florence in Italy to a Family from Norway

A taste of Florence #1Nestled in the valley of the Arno River, Florence “The Cradle of Renaissance” is squeezed between the hills that made it famous. Its center is full of works of art and buildings of great historical and architectural value, covering a period of time ranging from the early Middle Ages to the late twentieth century and the surrounding area is no different. The beauty of the landscape is characterized by villas, churches, monasteries and picturesque small towns and of course the food! There’s something about the fact that you can picture many of their dishes being cooked in medieval-style terracotta pots; indeed, many still are.

Part of the Tuscany region, it’s cuisine is appreciated around the world for its fine natural and flavorful ingredients; a typical expression of the Mediterranean diet, considered among others, the most wholesome and tasty, olive oil, pasta, fish and first choice meats. With these few basic ingredients the Tuscan local chefs can create exceptional dishes. Among the most important produce is white truffles, a much appreciated variety. Other ingredients such as wild asparagus and herbs also contribute to the rediscovery of simple flavorful dishes (pappa al pancotto, ribollita, hearty vegetable soups), where olive oil is the star ingredient, strictly bought from the local olive press.

A taste of Florence #9While on a family trip to Italy last week we all fell in love with its history, landscapes, art and architecture, but as important part of the culture, we also wanted to explore its FOOD! I mean even those who have never been there know Italian food in some shape, taste and form – who has never eaten pizza or spaghetti? However we had an idea of that the easygoing Italian way of life most visitors find so alluring and desirable – La Dolce Vita – is indisputably linked to the Italians’ instinctive knowledge of how to eat and drink well.

A taste of Florence:
A challenge however, was that we had only one day to spend in Florence and how do you get it all in? The answer is “A taste of Florence“: a five hours tour that created a lifetime of memories, complete with hands on cooking, tasting, sipping, and sightseeing! With our host Cristina Cappulletti, we really learned that Tuscany and Florence drinks and food is by all means historical. Cristina, a local, experienced and knowledgeable guide enthusiastically gave life to all the stories there was to tell about how Tuscan cuisine reflects the age of the region and city’s traditions. It’s almost impossible express all we experienced and learned in a post, but since pictures tells more than a thousand word, I will try to cover the most – or give you A Taste – by presenting a few from my photo hunt during the trip:
A taste of Florence #2 A taste of Florence #3
Starting with a delicacy, we had a taste of e.g. Bollito di Manzo (Boiled Beef Biscket) with salsa verde and salsa picante – delicious!

Bakeries and Café:
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An introduction to the art of Italian Coffee while tasting Sfogliatella, Budine di Riso and Sfoglia

At the Market:
A taste of Florence #8 A taste of Florence #14
A journey in fresh Tuscan servings: Balsamics: Condiments & Traditional Certified – Tuscany Olive Oil – Crostini Toppings – Cheeses: Pecorino & Parm Reggiano – Salumi: Prosciutto & Finocchiona.
A taste of Florence #9 A taste of Florence #11

At the Enoteca – wine cellar:
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The very best taste of Tuscan winery : -)
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At the Gelateria or Cioccolateria:
A taste of Florence #23
We wanted to explore the food delights of Tuscany and Cristina from A Taste of Florence literary gave us it all! We had the cheeses, olive oils, and salamis right where they are made! She gave a wonderful lecture and taste of the origins of Tuscan and Italian wines and we really enjoyed a hands-on cooking class, and lunch with wine tasting in the best of wine cellars. I have never been as sure in my recommendation: Next time you visit Florence – whether the first time or a return visit – don’t miss this adventurous guided tour. Go visit their web site and start planning right now!

This is the second post from the big family trip we had last week; my wife (DianeCA) and I, our children + SO and even my grandchild met up with Diane’s brothers and spouse from the USA. 14 people in all gathering in Pisa at the Park Hotel California, and having the time of our lives enjoying each other’s company, getting better acquainted and exploring this wonderful part of Italy. From my first post: Family from Norway touring Tuscany in Italy, you’ll get an introduction and then you will know that I’ll do more posts from this trip, so stay tuned!

Blogger tourist in Milan enjoy Italian cuisine from Lombardy region

Al Matarel in Milan #5In Milan at the Lombardy region of Italy the cuisine varies considerably throughout following the contours of the land: Geographically speaking, Lombardy’s northern half is Alpine – including the Swiss border – while its southern half makes up part of the Po River Basin which runs through the Lombardy capital of Milan. When we then add: home to one-sixth of Italy’s total population, the region of Lombardy is truly a study in contrasts on many levels.
Culinary influences are bound to be just as diverse as Lombardy’s population base owing to the wildly varied terrain, internal distinctions in cooking styles and long history of influence by nearby and/or conquering nations .With such a heritage, cooking traditions are ingrained and recipes unlikely to have been changed for centuries in the important handing down of kitchen legacies.

My wife and I had some time for exploring the local attractions while attending the CEPIS Council Meeting in Milan two weeks ago. The top of the cream was when the host’s AICA President in Milan, Roberto Berlini, invited us to a local restaurant with the regions specialties on the menu. It was returning the favor after we did the same when we had him as a guest in Oslo two years ago and I gladly take you along on this culinary adventure:
Al Matarel in Milan #1

A Lombardy gourmet adventure:
When entering the restaurant, Roberto – knowing the owner and staff – told them what we were hoping for: The local specialities and here you are:
Al Matarel in Milan #4 Al Matarel in Milan #6
Left – starter: Salame Melanese & Right – Torta di mele with gelatto
Al Matarel in Milan #5
Main course: Osso Bucco with Risotto Milanese

Trattoria Al Matarel:
Al Matarel in Milan #11Resistance to altering recipes and techniques that have filled the Lombardy tables with good country food for a large span of recorded history can be seen as a sort of “foodie pride” which began its cultivation long before pop culture’s re-embrace of and return to simple cooking, homemade and wholesome.
Our dinner was exactly that kind of experience: It looked, smelled and last but not least tasted Italian – and after talking about Lombardy both with Roberto and the staff, we were certain this cuisine was from the region too! I mean, we’ve tasted both salami and beef before, but never like this – not to mention risotto: the Italian way – in Lombardy – is the best!

This is my last of three posts from our stay in Milan – a cultural, historical as well as culinary adventure. Don’t miss the other two:
-> Blogger tourist in Milan in Lombardian region of Italy
-> Blogger tourist in Italy at Navigli in Milan