Fastelavn in Scandinavia

Today is Fastelavn Sunday. I remember this day so well as a child and how we prepared for it when I was young. The Sunday’ before Lent is a holiday which boys and girls await with great impatience you know:-) At preschool we made Fastelavensris (se picture to the left!) with great artistry. Sometimes we tied the switches together and decorated them with sparkling tinsel and paper streamers of red, orange, yellow, or green. Also we tied a small doll with stiff outstanding skirts to the topmost branch, and sometimes they decorate the twigs with bright collared paper roses or other flowers.

Following old tradition the children rise at daybreak, arm themselves with Fastelavnsris, or decorated birch branches, and go about the house trying to switch all the “lazy” people they can catch lying abed. This curious custom of switching with branches doubtless originated in an ancient pagan rite of bringing into the village the fruitfulness of spring.

Fastelavn Bolle and coffee for the growing up:-)
All pics taken with my Nokia mobile phone – click to enlarge!

Top of the cream was literary the baked good associated with the day; Fastelavnsbolle or Fastelavns bun and also known in English as “Shrovetide bun” or “Lenten bun”. A round sweet roll often covered with icing and filled with cream. I know similar buns are eaten in other northern European countries, for example the Swedish Semla and then in Norway bolle.

The dough – the result – the treat.

We had a young girl visiting us today and my wife was so kind as to bake the traditional bolle. It’s amazing how seeing the dough and after that smelling the buns baking in the oven reminds me of all my childishly joy. Looking at our young guest eating the bun with the cream and all, gives a vision money can’t buy:-)

I know Fastelavn originates in the Catholic tradition of Carnival, and the name derives from German Fastelabend (“night before fast”). It used to be a large feast to celebrate the beginning of Lent. But how about you and where you live – is there similar traditions going on? It would have been nice if you filled us in with a comment, to deepen this subject!

Norwegian Salmon – a delicacy

We had the loveliest dinner the other day and while deeply involved in preparing, it took me down the memory lane. Since I was very young, I’ve always liked fishing and from the start even more than eating it:-) As a scout I always had a knife in my belt and of course we had to clean the fish. My wife knows this of course and that’s why I was nicely invited to make the dish. For me it’s not a big deal, but since it tells a bit about our culture and tradition or at least habits in Norwegians home, I was thinking why not share the moments with you. Nowadays I don’t have a knife in my belt, but my Nokia mobile phone to document things for you. So let me first show you the result and invite you to sit in:

Click all pics to enlarge – Bon Appetite!

The fish was bought frozen in the local grocery and defrosted overnight in the fridge. Like I said; laying it on the kitchen counter and finding the right knife brought me down memory lane. How we made our own fishing equipment and how exciting it was to see who could catch the first one and the biggest one. Then cleaning it, feeling like a surgeon, and with curiosity finding what was in its stomach. Sometimes a small crab, sometimes sardine, starfish or even sometimes a sea urchin. Then we sometimes lit a camp fire to grill the fresh caught fish. We felt very grown up, self sufficient guys – almost like Robinson Crusoe.

Back to our dinner and the preparation; above you see the whole fish and then clean without the head and fish guts, ready for the final touch.

We have found that the easiest way to make a good salmon dinner is to fill it with butter, some slices of lemon and sliced leek. Then we wrap it in aluminium foil and bake it in the oven for an hour or so. You’ll have to scroll upwards again, to see and enjoy the result – Bon Appetite.

I know my regular readers like to learn something from Norway reading my blog. So let me add that fish is our second biggest export article after oil and gas. Not only because we have the North Sea on our doorstep, but also because fish farming has become big industry in Norway. In its natural streams, Atlantic salmon are considered a prized recreational fish, pursued by avid fly anglers during its annual runs. The rest are commercially farmed. Sport fishing communities, mainly from Iceland and Scandinavia, have joined in the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) to buy away commercial quotas in an effort to save the wild species of the original fish.

So next time you by salmon: look for the Norwegian one and check back on this post to see how easy it can be served as a delicacy:-)

Norwegian Sea Food dinner

After all this Yuletide posts full of calories, I will end this Christmas time food feast with seafood. It’s typical Nordic country traditional New Years Eve food, especially in Sweden. No wonder since the North Sea is full of it:-) I must admit I love all the home made Norwegian Yule food like, Pinnekjøtt (Rib of Lamb), Ribbe (Roasted ribs) and all the cold cuts at Christmas Day buffet (click ‘Archive’ to find more details on my December 2006 posts!), but after all this fat food, sea food is a delightful change. So sit down and let me serve you a lovely, tasty and joyful dish:

All pics taken with my Nokia mobile phone – click to enlarge!

My wife has become artistic in garnishing the platters! No wonder our mouths where watering when we sat down at the table. I like to see a table well decked and of course we used our best china and glasses for this feast. The china was my grandmothers and dates back to around 1920. White wine glasses for the adults of course and one of my contributions is to provide wine with the right temperature; 18C (64F). We had Plaisir de Merle from South Africa. A chardonnay wine, my favorite grape!

This time we decided to have it all. Lobster is my favorite though and it is more than 10 years since I last had some. No wonder since it is very expensive in Norway – around 200 NOK (35$ or 40€) pr. kilo. A sea food delicacy if you ask me and very tasty, especially if you have the right wine with it.

But of course, there are other very good seafoods too: like craw fish and crabs. Nothing is more delicious and enjoyable than sitting around the table and digging the delicate white meat out of the claws and legs. Okay, your fingers get sticky and it takes some napkins, but that is part of the charm. We had this at New Years Eve, the very best end of 2006!

While I’m at it: let me reveal my wife’s surprise when I came from the office last Friday. Since all the kids where out, she had planned for a romantic dinner for two. She knows that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and we had steamed clams with Fettucini Alfredo. She had even bought the same white wine as we had New Years Eve. I am the luckiest husband on earth, don’t you think? :-)

Norwegian Christmas Day Smorgasbord

My Christmas posts have been a lot about food, but then again it is an important part of Norwegian Yuletide. This will be the top of the cream as I will share some old home made food traditions. These are recipes passed down for many generations and I consider myself lucky having a mom who still holds on to them. From my childhood I clearly remember the smell of Christmas in our house weeks before the Holiday. It was a hectic period of course, as everything should be ready, clean, fresh and prepared. My mom and grandmother did most of it in the kitchen with fresh meat coming directly from the butcher. And then of course the cookies – 7 types at least – and the marzipan and other types of confect. It all shows up at our First Christmas Day smorgasbord at the traditional family gathering. Smorgasbord is actually a Swedish word so in Norway we call it buffet (or actually cold cuts table). Let me give you an overview and then to the details, hoping that pictures say more than thousands words:

Bone appetite – click to enlarge!

We start this buffet around noon and it lasts until 6PM at least. We are eating all the time, but most of all talking and enjoying each others company. This is the time when we share and remember the passing year and keep each other updated on plans for the year to come. Grandpa and Grandma is curios about their grandchildren’s future dreams and ambitions as well, of course:-)

Roasted ribs – Salted ham and pressed layered pork

Rolled lam and tongue of beef – Liver pate

Fried pork patties – smoked salmon

Home baked bread

You might think that we are finished with the food shown above, but no. There are all the cookies and sweets you know – an important part of Christmas treats too, especially appreciated by the children. On the left, you see Kransekake (literally “wreath cake”). It takes the form of a series of concentric rings of cake, layered on top of each other in order to form a steep-sloped pyramid. It is made with ground almonds, sugar and egg whites (marzipan) the ideal Kransekake is hard to the touch, yet soft and chewy. Obtaining such a consistency can be difficult, because, although simple in theory, the preparation of a Kransekake is very delicate. Normally it is decorated with Norwegian flags and “crackers” (a toy which you pull on and it pops). This year mom did it differently as she loves to surprise us, and here is the coffee table with all the Christmas cookies:

Dessert table with home made marzipan e.g.

I do hope you’ve enjoyed these Christmas food feasts as much as I’ve had eating and sharing them. It reminds me of a saying: ‘You are what you eat’, but don’t judge Norwegian only from Yuletide! and also, as I hope you’ve noticed; it’s an important part of our culture and traditions.

Soon it’s New Years Eve and we will shoot up our own fireworks. Tomorrow I’m gone to buy them and soon I’ll show you – so stay tuned!

Lutefisk – Nordic traditional Yule dish

There are still more Christmas food to explore from the Nordic countries. These are traditions from thousands of years back and an important part of celebrating the winter solstice. Today I will serve you Lutefisk. It’s made from stockfish (air-dried whitefish) and lye. In Sweden, this food is called lutfisk, omitting the medial ‘e’. In Finland the same dish is known as lipeäkala. The direct translation is lye fish, owing to the fact it is made with caustic soda or potash lye.

Lutefisk is usually served with a variety of side dishes, including, but not limited to, bacon, green pea stew, potatoes, meatballs, gravy, mashed rutabaga, white sauce, syrup, geitost (goat cheese), or “old” cheese (gammelost). Especially in the US (a lot of Nordic people in the Upper Midwest you know!), it is usually eaten with lefse. Even if the common denominator is lutefisk, side dish varies greatly from family to family and region to region and is a theme of recurring controversy when different “traditions” of lutefisk-eaters meet and eat together. Let me serve you the way I like it (with aquavit and beer of course) and then give the recipes:

How to make it:
Saw the fish in suitably sized pieces or leave it whole. Put in water. Leave in water in a cool place for 5-6 days if cut in pieces, 8 days if the fish is whole. Change the water every day.
For the luting use a plastic or stainless steel or enamelled tub (the enamel must be unchipped). Wooden vessels, china or stoneware may also be used.
Place the fish in the tub with the skin side up. Dissolve caustic soda in the water, pour over the fish until covered complete by lut water. Leave the fish in a cold place for 3-4 days.
When the fish is completely luted, it will be well swollen and you should be able to put a finger through it. Rinse the fish and leave in cold water 4-6 days. Change water every day.
If the fish stays in water for too long after the luting it may be soft and difficult to boil. When you boil it, it might also get even softer. My American wife has found a way to avoid that as she ‘bakes’ the fish in the oven. Before it goes in, it looks like this:

You may also click her to find The UNofficial Lutefisk Website:-)
So now you’ve had some of our traditional Yule and Christmas dishes (scroll down if you haven’t had it all!). There are more though as I haven’t served our Christmas Day smorgasbord yet. So stay tuned and if you’re still hungry, there will be more traditions and food in a few days!