Syttende Mai: Seattle, 1980s

Syttende Mai with Grandparents 1980s

Old Ballard was about as Scandinavian as you could get. Though far from the Nordic countries, the little neighborhood north of downtown Seattle had drawn immigrants by the thousands over the years. It used to be as easy to find lefse as it was a burger. And if you needed gjetost, pølse, or any other type of Scandinavian food–not to mention housewares or souveniers with Norwegian flags or “Uffda” printed on them, you didn’t have to look far.

The neighborhood has changed a lot over the years, but I still distinctly remember what it used to be like before the massive changes of the past decade. With Syttende Mai coming up tomorrow, I’ve been digging up old photos and memorabilia and thought I’d share some here today.

Syttende Mai 1980s Mementos

Syttende Mai 1980s Mementos

From a handful of family photos taken during the celebrations in the 1980s to old Syttende Mai issues of the Ballard News-Tribune, this box is filled with nostalgia for me. The photo up at the top of the post is my favorite. On the left are Grandpa Lauritz and Grandma Agny, who had arrived in Seattle from Norway right around Syttende Mai in 1956. Next to them are Grandma Adeline–my only surviving grandparent–and Grandpa Lowell. That little girl in front is me. If you’ve spent time in Ballard throughout the years, you’ll recognize the old Bergen Place behind us, prior to its redesign a decade ago.

Syttende Mai 1980s Mementos

Syttende Mai 1980s Mementos

Syttende Mai 1980s MementosBoth sets of my grandparents lived in Ballard when I was growing up, and driving down to meet them at the parade was an annual event. I’m so glad my parents saved these old issues of the Ballard News-Tribune; at some point along the line, a photographer had captured photos of me and they were published for a couple of years (on the chair in the lower left of the May 15, 1985 cover, and holding a flag in the May 14, 1986 issue).

Today’s Ballard might be known more for its condos, restaurants, and nightlife than its Scandinavian roots, but Syttende Mai is still one of its biggest events of the year with events at the Nordic Heritage Museum and Leif Erikson Lodge during the day, leading up to a parade through the streets of Ballard in the evening (the 17th of May Committee says more than 20,000 people came out for the parade last year). I’ll be there tomorrow, hopefully adding more photos to the collection–photos that I’ll someday look back upon with the same sort of nostalgia as I do with these.

What are some of your Syttende Mai memories–in Ballard, Norway, or elsewhere? I’d love to hear about them!

Gluten-Free Scandinavian Almond Cake with Rhubarb Compote

Gluten Free Scandinavian Almond Cake

I sometimes wonder what it was like to be her. Two feet on Norwegian soil, then one. And with the second step onto the gangway, a release, a launch into a new life.

My grandmother was about 40 years old when she packed up her life to immigrate to the United States with her husband and son in the spring of 1956.

Standing on the ship, she would have seen the verdant seven hills of Bergen rising high above the glistening waters as clean and pure as tears. The gentle sway of the ship at dock would have been subtle but perhaps just present enough to be a scapegoat for the tightening chest and quaking belly. Soon the ship would depart, sailing inch by inch, then mile by mile, memory by memory, from a country that had, until that day, always been home.

I think about that journey each spring as the anniversary rolls around. And yet, I can only imagine what that experience would have been like, only speculate at the emotions swirling in my grandmother’s heart as the ship sailed out of the fjord, the town and the hills disappearing from view as gradually yet surely as the sun setting below the horizon.

I got the phone call announcing Grandma’s death in 2009 as I was getting dressed to visit her to celebrate her birthday. That was the day I was going to ask her if we could start talking–really talking–about her life. I know there were stories there–firsthand accounts of living in Nazi-occupied Norway, heartbreaking memories of losing an infant son, the decision between a husband and wife settled well into their adult years to leave home and start fresh in a new country. I wish there were unknown journals and letters somewhere out there that I would happen upon someday, words scrolled in a handwriting I’ve since discovered that my own eerily resembles. The chances of that happening are slim. A generation is dying; one of her closest living relatives in Norway recently passed away. Memories exist in the minds of the few she left behind and in the photos bound in old-fashioned albums stored away.

Still, I think about that monumental move each spring. And as I do, I always reflect upon my grandmother, a woman I understood only so much during her lifetime but who fascinates, intrigues, and inspires me more and more all the time.

Rhubarb and Almond Cake Diptych

Gluten Free Scandinavian Almond Cake

One of the qualities that stands out most when I think about Grandma Agny was her hospitality, something I strive to emulate. That takes many forms for me, from hosting dinners to taking dietary restrictions into consideration when baking for an event. So many people avoid gluten that I’ve found it helpful to have a go-to cake recipe that I can bring just about anywhere.

This cake–adapted from the blackberry, almond, and cardamom cake in Signe Johansen’s Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking–incorporates the distinctly Nordic flavors of almond and cardamom into its rich, moist, and pleasantly toothsome texture. I shared a version of it on the blog a while back, but have simplified it and adapted the ingredients for standard measurements rather than metric. The cake pairs wonderfully with a Scandinavian rhubarb compote loosely adapted from The Scandinavian Kitchen by Camilla Plum. Plum recommends cooking the compote in the oven rather than on the stovetop, a process that helps protect the appearance of the rhubarb’s structure, even as it melts into shreds; the stirring in stovetop cooking breaks apart and mixes the rhubarb, yielding a much different result.

Almond Cake with Rhubarb Compote Diptych

Scandinavian Rhubarb Compote

Gluten-Free Scandinavian Almond Cake with Rhubarb Compote

For the compote:
5 medium stalks rhubarb
1/3 cup sugar

For the cake:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium eggs
2 1/2 cups almond meal*
2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
Gluten-free powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut rhubarb stalks into 2-inch lengths and arrange in a baking dish that can roughly hold them in one layer. Sprinkle sugar over the top. Cover dish with a sheet of foil and bake for 10 minutes. Peel back the foil and carefully turn over the rhubarb pieces. Bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes until the rhubarb is cooked through. Carefully lift the cooked rhubarb with a wide spatula or spoon and transfer to a serving dish. Cool. The compote can be made up to a couple of days in advance if you’d like.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a round 9-inch springform cake pan. Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla, then add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition.

Whisk the almond meal, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a medium bowl, then fold into the batter.

Pour into the pan, spreading the top evenly with a spatula. Bake for 30-40 minutes; you’ll know it’s done when the top has turned golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool.

Remove the cooled cake from the pan and sift powdered sugar over the top. Serve with the compote.

Makes 1 9-inch cake.

*The original recipe calls for 250 grams ground almonds. I like the precision of metric measurements but understand that not everyone uses a kitchen scale. Since the weight of the almond meal with vary depending on how much you pack it, pour it into the measuring cup and let it settle, but do not pack it in.

Mor Monsen Kake – A Classic Norwegian Cake for Christmastime

Mor Monsen Cake

I’ve sat down twice to write this post—actually, I’ve sat down to write it more times than I can count, but twice I’ve drafted something and decided to start over. I’m in a dry spot creatively and I’ve struggled to find the right words to communicate the things I’d like to tell you. I’ve been sitting on this post for far too long, though—and the cake you’re looking like is already long gone—so it’s about time I stop worrying about telling the perfect story and just touch base here on the blog, even if just for a moment.

The cake I’m sharing with you today is called Mor Monsen Kake, or Mother Monsen’s Cake. It’s a classic Norwegian cake flavored richly with lemon zest and garnished with almonds, currants or raisons, and pearl sugar. Have you ever tasted it? It’s been a beloved cake since the 19th century since a Norwegian author wrote what is believed by some to be the first Norwegian cookbook. Hanna Winsnes, in her 1845 book, Lærebog i de forskjellige Grene af Huusholdningen (which Norwegian-born Sunny over at Arctic Grub loosely translates to A manual On The Different Household Chores), included a recipe for this cake, attributing it to Mor Monsen. That woman’s legacy lives on to this day in this popular cake, though we don’t know much else about her.

Mor Monsen Cake

I’m intrigued by the history of recipes—how they originated, what inspired them, who developed them. The mystery surrounding Mor Monsen is part of what draws me to this cake. Was she a friend of the author’s, or perhaps a relative? Did she attend the author’s church (Hanna was the wife of a priest)? What other recipes did she develop that may have been lost (or attributed elsewhere)? We’ll probably never know the answers, but I love that we have her name and that her recipe has stood the test of time: Her cake is still popular in Norway today.

I also wonder about the inclusion of lemon. Citrus is not native to Norway, so it must have been an expensive ingredient for housewives in the 19th century. Perhaps this is why Mor Monsen Kake is enjoyed during holidays such as Christmas, times in which families would work extra hard to provide a special, warm environment for their loved ones.

With the all the questions I have about this cake, I do know one thing: You should make it part of your Scandinavian Christmas this year. The simplest cake batter, all it takes is creaming butter and sugar together and adding the lemon zest and other requite cake ingredients, then pouring it all into a pan. Sprinkle with almonds, currants or raisins, and pearl sugar, then bake. When it’s cooled, cut it into its distinctive diamond-shaped pieces, and you’ll have a cake that’s simple yet elegant, already cut into serving pieces making it great for transport, and that keeps well. I’ve heard that you can even freeze it—though you may not need to.

While we’re on the subject of Scandinavian Christmas, I have a number of recipes lined up for you this season, so I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog and follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. You can also access some of my past Scandinavian Christmas posts here. And now for the cake…

Mor Monsen Cake

Mor Monsen Kake (Norwegian Mother Monsen Cake)
Adapted from Authentic Norwegian Cooking by Astrid Karlsen Scott

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (salted) butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 eggs
Grated zest of one lemon (use an organic one if possible, or scrub thoroughly)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cups slivered almonds
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
3 tablespoons pearl sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 9- by 13-inch pan with parchment paper and grease it.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly into the batter before adding the next. Mix in lemon zest. In a small bowl, combine flour and baking powder, then tip into the batter and stir just until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, scraping all the last bits from the bowl, then smooth it into an even layer with a spatula. Sprinkle the almonds, currants, and pearl sugar evenly over the top and press the garnishes gently into the top of the batter. You want to do this ever so slightly–Scott says to do this so the garnishes stick to the cake once baked.

Bake until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack until cool enough to handle, then remove the cake from the pan and let finish cooling (Scott suggests doing this by inverting the pan with a baking sheet). When cool, cut the cake into the signature diamond shapes, or into parallelograms if preferred.

Food Lovingly Prepared and Joyously Served

Old Family Photo in Grandparents' Dining Room

I miss them. It hit me one night as I sat at my desk in my office, suddenly thinking about my grandparents. In an instant it was like I was back there at their house overlooking Puget Sound, so many years ago, as a child. I miss them, I kept whispering to myself, tears coming to my eyes as I reflected on those two people now long gone.

It wasn’t long after my grandmother Agny died in 2009 that I started this blog. As I tried to cope with the dark shroud of grief messing with my heart on those sunny days of July, I browsed the bookstore shelves looking for Scandinavian cookbooks. Soon I started trying out the recipes and looking for even more sources of this food that somehow fed my healing heart.

The cuisine of my heritage was a way to feel closer to my grandmother, a dear woman who seemed in some ways, even in her nineties, like she would never die.

Now as I think about why I keep writing about Scandinavian food–here on the blog and for various publications–I keep coming back to one thing: It’s all about the people. Sure, we eat for survival, for sustenance. But it goes so much beyond that. We cook to feed ourselves, to feed our soul, and to feed each other. We eat because we need to live and survive, but we also need to thrive and to connect.

Rice Cream

I’m not just talking about Scandinavian food. I’m talking about family. About people. Love. Connection. Hospitality. A life fully lived and shared with others. That is what my grandparents gave to me, what they shared with my parents and me whenever we would visit. Three of my grandparents are gone, but I hold onto their memory, as well as the promise that I will someday see them again on the other side of eternity.

Wedding Day with Grandma

The next night, after that one in which my grandparents’ memory came back to me so strongly, I sat in my office again, sorting through papers, organizing stuff, making sense out of the piles that accumulate so often. As I opened an old greeting card I saw my grandmother’s handwriting–elegant cursive, at a slight diagonal, with a trace of a shaky hand that still carried with it so much grace and dignity despite age and frailty. I skimmed that note, and the other ones I came across. Mentions of love, how happy she was that I had found such a good husband, thanking me for a recent visit. I did not read them in detail, not yet. But they are there on the floor right now, organized by year with other greeting cards and mementos. They are calling out to me in some ways, to read them and reflect and remember such a beautiful woman whom I miss so much. One of these days I will bring myself to read them again.

If I am honest, Outside Oslo is very much a legacy of a memory, something that grew out of grief, as a way for me to cope. But it ended up blossoming into so much more and helped me to connect with my heritage and to better understand somebody I still love to this day and will always be thankful that I was able to call Grandma.

That woman gave me the gift of love and showed me how to quietly and humbly serve someone with hospitality. She demonstrated how food can be a means of communication, a way to share something in a way possibly more profound than words. As I photograph Norwegian cakes and Swedish cookies and write about them here, I’m doing more than swapping recipes. I’m trying to tap into the rich connections that we make when we sit down to share a meal lovingly prepared and joyously served.

Norwegian Heart Waffles Horizontal

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s Scandinavian or French, Mexican or Chinese–the experience is universal. That’s why it all matters, why I took so enthusiastically to writing about food. It just so happens that I am Norwegian, and so that is the cuisine that speaks most clearly to me. So whatever cultural background or interests you have, I hope you’ll keep reading Outside Oslo–for the food, of course, but also for the essence of why it all matters. It’s not just a pretty photo or a mouthwatering recipe. It’s a way to silently and subtly show love, to feed each other well, and to foster the rich connection and conversations that our hearts so desperately need.

May your relationships be enriched this week as you connect over food.

Until next time,

Daytona

“Nordic in the Northwest”: My Article and Recipes in The Oregonian

Daytona with Oregonian Article

So, here it is: the article I have been longing to tell you about! Published yesterday as the centerpiece food piece in The Oregonian (with a front-page teaser!), “Nordic in the Northwest” examines the similarities between the way of eating in the Nordic countries and the Pacific Northwest, especially each region’s emphasis on local, seasonal foods.

I started working on this piece earlier in the summer, interviewing experts on Nordic cuisine, researching immigration to the Pacific Northwest from Scandinavia, and developing five original recipes. If that weren’t exciting enough, I got to do all the photography, with three images used in the package.

I designed the recipes to work together as an entire late-summer menu, though you can certainly pick and choose which ones to make. They honor traditional Scandinavian cooking while reflecting modern influences. With salmon, blueberries, and an assortment of produce figuring heavily in the menu, the recipes also emphasize eating local and seasonal as much as possible and in such a way that is relevant in the Pacific Northwest and the Nordic countries this time of year.

I’ve included some outtakes from the photo shoot here in this post. Please do feel free to pin them on Pinterest–in fact, I’d be honored if you did!

Grilled Salmon with Lemon Horseradish Cream

Seasonal Greens Salad with Cucumber

Rye Berry Salad with Mushrooms and Goat Cheese

Blueberry Fruit Soup

A Cake from Gourmet, May 1956

Gourmet 1956 Cake

The ship carrying my dad and his parents from Norway to their new home in the United States docked in New York 57 years ago this month. From that moment on, the family of three would strive to settle into a new life in a new country, in a place where everything was foreign and at times incomprehensible. When May rolls around each year, I think about that anniversary and how life permanently changed course with that solitary decision. I think about the future that unfolded because they immigrated, and I wonder at their experience in those first moments and in the weeks and months that followed.

Arriving in a new country, my dad and his parents were eager to adjust and acclimate, to learn the language and make new friends. What would have caught their eyes as they perused book covers, newspapers, and magazines, as they familiarized themselves with a new language and practiced reading and speaking every chance they could?

With her love for hospitality, I can picture my grandma buying a cooking magazine in New York to read on the journey west to Seattle. Would she have opened the cover and started on the first page, mouthing the words that popped out on advertisements and studiously reading the articles and recipes? That’s what I would have done. All I can do is speculate, but with that in mind I dug into the online archives of Gourmet magazine to see if I could find anything from the month my family arrived in America.

Cake from Gourmet 1956

With just a little searching I found an article called “Classes in Classic Cuisine: Pâte à Biscuit and Pâte à Génoise,” by Louis Diat, originally published in May 1956. “When I was a young man,” he begins, “I liked to devote my free Sunday mornings to a busman’s holiday.” He goes on to describe the pleasure he would take in baking at home with his daughter after a strenuous week supervising kitchens at the RItz-Carlton. Diat speaks as though talking with a friend, and candidly admits to his feelings of self-doubt when it comes time to teach his readers in Gourmet how to make classic pastries, as it had been years since he had worked as a pastry chef. With a refreshing amount of transparency, he brings his readers into the kitchen with him as he studies up on the craft. And then he begins his lessons.

This is the type of article my grandmother would have appreciated. Honest and instructive, with practical takeaways designed to ensure success in the kitchen of a home cook. As I read the article for the first time, I scanned the recipes–pâte à biscuit au beurre, pâte a génoise, gateau aux matrons, gateau à l’orange. Steeped in the French tradition, the collection of cake recipes would equip anyone with a solid repertoire of cakes from which to experiment and build upon. One in particular caught my eye: pain de gênes, an almond cake.

Cake, May 1956

It doesn’t take much more than the word “almond” to convince me to give a recipe a try. Despite its distinctly French origins, the cake seemed like it would appeal to a woman who had left her heart back in Norway so I soon set out the ingredients and started baking.

Beating a half pound of almond flour in my stand mixer with fine sugar and eggs, I watched as the batter formed, slowly taking on a light and fluffy consistency. Adding more sugar and another egg, as well as butter, I continued on with the recipe, then mixed in the flour and salt and a little bit of Cointreau as a flavoring (the original recipe called for kirsch). The results the first time around were spectacular, with a cake tasting almost as rich and nutty as pure marzipan. Remembering reading something about temperatures in the body of the article, however, and noting that the cake was rather short, I revisited the text and noticed that the author stressed the importance of beating the batter in a bowl kept warm with a towel wrapped in hot water. The key here is in the temperature, as the cake contains no leveners such as baking powder. Trying it again, I baked the cake in a smaller pan and flavored it with aquavit. Delicious again. Still a little short. Perhaps that’s how it’s supposed to be.

In any case, I offered the cake to my parents on a recent visit. I was off to an event and they had come to babysit. Normally I pay them in wine, but this time there was cake. The evening came and went, and at the end we said our goodbyes. Later, though, came the news.

We’ve had that cake, they excitedly announced. You’ve had that cake, they said, trying to trigger my taste memory back to the days at my grandparents’ cardamom-scented Ballard home. Could it be that I was on to something when digging into the Gourmet archives? I don’t know. It seems like such a longshot. Pain de gênes is, after all, a traditional cake. A traditional French cake, however, not a Norwegian one. And therein lies the key. My grandmother clung to the Norwegian cooking traditions when she immigrated; I remember no French items in the meals she prepared while I was growing up. Somehow, from somewhere, this one slipped into her culinary repertoire.

Could this recipe, published 57 years ago, been the one she used? All I can do is speculate. However, since so few of my late grandmother’s recipes remain to this day, I like to think it’s possible.

Cake from Gourmet May 1956

If you’re interested, the article is worth a read. I’ll leave it to the master to teach you how to prepare the recipe, which is available on page four of the article.

Published: Creating the Family Cookbook in Costco Connection

Family Cookbook Article in Costco Connection

When it comes to creating a family cookbook, there are so many things to consider: how many recipes to include and what format it should take are just two of them. My mom and I are in the process of creating our own family cookbook, and so when an editor at Costco Connection asked me to write a story on the topic, I jumped at the opportunity. That article is published in the April 2013 issue, and if you happen to be a Costco member, you’ll find it on page 49. For the rest of you, you can read “Creating the Family Cookbook: How to Preserve Your Family’s History–One Recipe at a Time” in the online edition. You’ll find great tips and inspiration in the interviews with Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write For Food (a must-read for anyone interested in any type of food writing); Alice Currah, author of Savory Sweet Life and a blog by the same name; Terry Guzman, author of a self-published family cookbook called What Can I Get You; and Elise Bauer of SimplyRecipes.com. The article includes three recipes, including my Grandma Adeline’s peanut bars, which she’s been making since the middle of the last century when she baked them for a restaurant. I grew up eating these sweet and nutty confections, and I trust that you’ll love them as much as I do.

This article epitomizes the current phase of my career, a time in which I get to have my “dream job.” When I started my career as a journalist fresh out of college, I envisioned a future of covering the news, eventually moving from my role as a writer and producer to becoming an anchor and reporter. Little did I know that I would eventually find my ideal outside of the newsroom and in my own home. Since leaving the traditional working world in 2011, I’ve begun freelancing more and more, transitioning from general news and features to writing about topics I’m passionate about: primarily food, Scandinavian cuisine, and parenting.

Check out the article! I hope that you enjoy it and that if you’re working on your own family cookbook, that you find it helpful and inspiring.

Image used with permission from Alice Currah.

A 3-Year Blogiversary

It’s been three years this month since I started Outside Oslo. While my friend Christy and I were driving away from a book signing for Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef the other night (if you haven’t bought her new book, My Berlin Kitchen, yet, please do–you’re in for a treat), my friend suggested that I do a “blogiversary.” I dismissed the idea at first, since the official anniversary of my first post was a few weeks ago. But after considering it more, I realized that it would actually be fun for me to go back and read through my old posts and reminisce over the events and experiences of the past three years.

I took the leap and published my introductory post on September 1, 2009. After Grandma Agny, whom I wrote about on Tuesday, died earlier that summer, I found myself clinging to my Norwegian heritage as a way to try to get closer to her. As part of the grieving process, I went to a Scandinavian bar in Ballard to drink an aquavit in her memory and took a trip to the mall to seek out Scandinavian cookbooks and try to find a Norwegian perfume called Laila. I bought my first cookbooks–Aquavit and The Great Scandinavian Baking Book–and I started a blog.

It took a little while to get my bearings, due in part to what seemed like a limited availability of Scandinavian cookbooks that weren’t old-fashioned (I’ve since discovered many wonderful ones and have a page dedicated to them). I featured the first recipe–Potatoes and Chanterelles with Lemon and Dill–later that month. As the weeks and months went on, I alluded to “an emergency at work” and the stress that accompanied it. Being new to blogging, I didn’t want to get too personal, but looking back at it, the words “emergency” and “crisis” are about as vague as I could have gotten! I woke up one October morning to a voicemail from the newsroom where I used to work. The assignment editor was calling me for the scoop on the fire at the theatre where I was the communications manager. A fire? At the theatre? That’s some way to find out. I skipped the morning shower and got out the door as quickly as I could to get to the scene. Emergency crews blocking the road couldn’t tell me much, but we all soon learned that the theatre and its adjacent building were the target of a serial arsonist. The adjacent building was destroyed. The theatre had to be gutted, but thanks to the firefighters’ aggressive efforts to save it, it could be restored. That experience defined much of that fall as we worked on finding a temporary home for our Christmas production and race to get the theatre restored in time for the beginning of the 2010 season. I got calls from media all the time, and on opening night of the first production back in the original space, I greeted not only the usual critics, but also fielded reporters and photographers in a celebratory frenzy–we were back, and all four local news networks were there to mark the occasion.

While all of that was going on behind the scenes in my life, I blogged about baking lefse with Grandma Adeline and shared scenic photos I had been taking. Over the past several years, Grandma has been teaching my mom and me how to make the perfect lefse, rolling it out round and thin and cooking it just right. We’ve also made sandbakkels, krumkake, and Norwegian waffles, as well as an assortment of cookies. While I’d share photos of our lefse lessons, I’d mainly hint at the other items, not realizing at the time how perfect each one of those experiences would have been to share here on Outside Oslo. As time went on I found myself struggling to keep to a theme, which I had made too broad. I set out to write about my experience discovering my Scandinavian heritage, when what I mainly wanted to write about was the food. I baked cakes–Tosca Cake and Swedish Brandy Cake being two of my favorites–and shared even the non-Scandinavian recipes I loved here on the site (the crab cakes from summer 2010 are amazing).

The next year I kept writing–here on Outside Oslo, and increasingly elsewhere as well. I started another blog, Nooks & Cranberries, with a friend, developed a story for a novel and participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and resumed the freelance writing I had taken a break from. I was working, too, and I discovered how hard it is to balance so many different roles and projects. Before I knew it, I was expecting a baby, and–bam!–the exhaustion and fatigue hit me by surprise. We were also actively trying to buy a new house, and I gave myself permission to put aside my writing goals temporarily and just focus on the immediate needs in my life.

Much of 2011 and the first part of 2012 were pretty quiet here at Outside Oslo, though I tried to touch base here every once in a while, even if just to document progress on the move or share something I thought might be of interest here. Looking back at it, I think that hiatus was one of the best things I could have done for my writing career. It could have been dangerous, had I not started writing again, but stepping back and taking some time to adjust to the changes in life and modify my writing life in the process gave me the ability to dream big. I started sending out queries not only to local publications, but to national magazines, and now I’m officially a nationally-published freelance writer–and a professional food writer! When I left my in 2011 to be a stay-at-home mom, I had visions of trying to reboot my freelance writing career, but I had no idea how exciting it would become. It’s been an exercise in improvisation and trial-and-error to figure out how to keep writing while taking care of a very active little boy and trying to cook and keep the house clean, but I’m doing it, and feeling so encouraged and energized by the progress. I’m excited to see what comes next!

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The return of Scandinavian food, and a traditional yellow pea soup

When it comes to comfort food, one needs to look no further than Scandinavia for inspiration, with its array of root vegetables, meat stews, cured and pickled fish, and soups such as the traditional yellow pea soup. Yet despite its warm culinary traditions, Scandinavian food is much less common among restauranteurs in America than the more popular cuisines of France, Mexico, China, and the like.

Gravlax

Mazarin Torte

Even in Seattle, which boasts a rich Nordic heritage, the presence of Scandinavian-related businesses has thinned in recent years. However, the food of that region will hopefully make a comeback in 2012.

Scandinavian cuisine is projected to be one of the top ten food trends of 2012, according to The Telegraph. Plus, in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, a couple of restauranteurs are opening a restaurant called Queen of Norway this winter. Before that, the neighborhood’s Copper Gate bar declared itself “Seattle’s only surviving Scandinavian restaurant and lounge,” though one could also get coffee and a pastry at Larsen’s Danish Bakery up the street or smørrebrød (open sandwiches), lefse, and other items at the cafe inside Scandinavian Specialties, less than a mile away.

Lefse

I had the opportunity of picking up Grandma D. some years ago and bringing her to Scandinavian Specialties for lunch. I wish I remembered more about that visit, and that I had done that with her more often. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember reading about my regrets about not asking Grandma to share some of her stories–stories about her youth, what it was like to live in Norway during the Norwegian resistance movement in World War 2, her experience as an immigrant coming to the United States in 1956.  I’m now determined to capture whatever family memories I can, and as food is such a great connector, my mom and I are putting together a book of family recipes and stories. I have dreams of publishing a cookbook someday–a gorgeous photo-heavy book that weaves together food with the memories that surround it–but in the meantime the important thing is preserving my family’s history and recipes. What a fun project to work on with my mom!

I also brought my other grandma to Scandinavian Specialties a while back, and it was there that I learned–after all these years–that she grew up speaking Norwegian and learned English as a schoolgirl. Grandma H. lived in North Dakota at the time, and to this day has never traveled to Norway, so it surprised me that Norwegian was her first language. It’s amazing what stories are there within our loved ones’ lives, just waiting to be uncovered!

I believe it was during that visit that we had a cup of yellow pea soup, which is traditionally served on Thursdays in Sweden and Finland. Grandma H. enjoyed that soup so much that when I saw a recipe for traditional yellow pea soup in a review copy I had just received for Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking by Andreas Viestad, I decided to make a batch and share it with her. It’s a big deal making a traditional dish for a veteran cook who knows all about the cuisine, so when Grandma approved, I knew this recipe was one to keep around.

Traditional Yellow Pea Soup
Adapted from
Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking

This soup, served hot with a dollop of sour cream, truly is comfort food, with its thick, porridge-like texture and hearty flavor–think split pea soup with a Scandinavian twist.

10 ounces dried yellow peas, soaked in cold water overnight and drained
2 thick slices of bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
6 cups low-sodium beef stock, plus more, if needed, to thin soup
1/3 cup finely chopped celeriac
1/4 cup fimely chopped leek (white and pale green parts)
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped thyme, sage, or rosemary (optional)
Pepper
Sour cream for serving

Fry the bacon in a pot until it turns golden and somewhat crispy. (The original recipe calls for frying the bacon in a tablespoon of butter, which just seems excessive. I followed the instructions, but in hindsight should have omitted the butter.) Add the chopped onion and sauté until it starts to turn golden as well. Add the yellow peas, 6 cups of beef stock, celeriac, leek, rosemary sprig and bay leaf. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce heat, allowing it to simmer for about an hour. This step is complete when the peas are soft and starting to break apart. Give it a good stir to further dissolve the peas, and add more stock if necessary to thin the soup to your desired consistency. It should be the thickness of split pea soup. Remove the bay leaf and rosemary sprig, adding chopped herbs if desired. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and serve with sour cream.

Serves 4.

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Egg noodle doop (A guest post on Suzan Colón’s blog)

Grandpa M. and me many years ago.

Some of my most treasured possessions from my relatives are their recipes. Whether they’re handwritten in Grandma H.’s spiral-bound handwritten collection, published in a church cookbook, or typed and saved on my computer, each recipe represents special times spent with loved ones throughout the years. For those of us who love food, meals conjure up memories. My mom and I are in the process of putting together a family history through recipes, so I was thrilled when author Suzan Colón, who wrote “Cherries in Winter: My Family’s Recipe for Hope in Hard Times,” gave me the opportunity to tell the story behind one of them on her blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

It was late summer 1992. Grandpa M. had just passed away. T-boned while driving through an intersection. Months in a coma. Gone.

On that September afternoon—in the church where two generations of my family had worshipped God and relatives had gotten married—we all gathered in the steel blue sanctuary to say goodbye.

When you’re ten years old, things hit you in a peculiar way. You store away the details in your memory—little things like the silly nickname you gave your grandfather and the way you used to lock him out of the house and giggle while he pretended to not see you hiding inside. You remember a seven-syllable medical term you can’t define–subdural hematoma–and the quiet helium confidence you felt as you walked up the blue carpeted stairs to give a eulogy at your grandfather’s funeral.

“What I’ll miss about Grandpa was his hot dish.”

What a strange, insensitive little girl, those who didn’t know me must have thought. But in a way that’s inexplicable to those of us who are no longer children, that was the most evocative–and, in a way, profound–honor I could give my beloved grandfather.

You can read the rest of the post and find out what made Grandpa’s hot dish–or egg noodle doop, as he called it–special at suzancolon.net. Then, if you’re willing, please share your food-related family memories in the comments below–I’d love to read them!

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