Darra Goldstein’s Mussels in Aquavit in The Norwegian American

Mussels in Aquavit

Mussels always take me back to that summer in Oslo, the first time I visited the country where my dad was born. Norway had been a place with almost a mythical quality, someplace alive and real in my mind but also distant and seeming quite idyllic. Arriving by air that summer, a quarter of my life having heard about Norway but never traveling there, I felt a deep sense of home, one that has morphed over the years into a place of longing. There, on the waterfront at Aker Brygge, my husband and I ate steamed mussels with fries, commonly known as moules-frites, while the midday sun forced us to squint and the marine air wound its way through our hair. Something that I had previously associated with an August spent in Normandy years before, due to those signs advertising it outside of beachside cafes, had now become a thing of Norway to me. So now, these little shellfish prompt memories of that special time.

This summer I made a recipe for mussels steamed in aquavit with horseradish from the lovely cookbook Fire and Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking by Darra Goldstein. Released last fall by Ten Speed Press, the book has quickly become one of my favorites in my collection, one that’s as gorgeous to look through as satisfying to cook from (all the recipes I’ve tried are delicious). I interviewed Goldstein for The Norwegian American recently, and she agreed to share her recipe for these mussels with readers. I hope you’ll click on over to the paper’s website to check out the recipe along with my latest story.

Norwegian Bacalao Stew with Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Onion

Norwegian Bacalao Stew

The end of June, beginning of July. The calendar marks the month but also the moment. It was just about this time, when one month rolled into the next, when I stepped foot in Norway for the first time.

“We’ll go to Norway together some day,” my grandfather said when I was growing up. It was an ideal, a good intention and a comforting one I think, to look ahead to some time in the future when he would return to his homeland decades after leaving–he along with my grandma, my parents, and me. But he never did go back.

I grew up steeped in the traditions of my Norwegian heritage but it would be years before I would visit Norway. When I finally did, exploring the city where my father was born and passing by his hometown on the train on the way from the airport into the city, I felt at home, right where I wanted to be.

The country calls to me. It might sound strange, but there’s a part of my heart that’s there. I see photos of the fjords and the craggy green hills, the weathered red barns and slowly-setting summer sun and I yearn to go back. I know the country, but at the same time I don’t. I know its essence even though I’d need a map to navigate its streets.

Norwegian Bacalao Stew

During that visit in the summer of 2008, I met my husband’s Norwegian relatives. A couple of them had flown to Seattle for our wedding a few years before, but I still had yet to meet the others. After eating meals and drinking aquavit with them in their part of the world, I had the chance to return the hospitality for one of the cousins last week. As far as dinners go, these were pretty spontaneous and we served what we had, echoes of the Scandinavian-inspired Midsummer dinner just days before. So as we sat around my kitchen table that first night, eating grilled steak accompanied by dill-speckled potatoes and sliced cucumbers bathed in a creamy dressing–and we happened to have a bar of Scandinavian chocolate in its distinct yellow wrapping on the counter–my husband noted how we were unintentionally giving this Norwegian cousin a little taste of home, far away from home.

Norwegian Bacalao StewBut back to Norway, Bergen to be specific. It was uncharacteristically hot those days we were there. Temperatures in the 80s, 90s perhaps. It being the peak of summer, the sun hovered above the horizon well into the night, casting a golden glow on the multicolored Hanseatic wharf and illuminating the waters spilling in from the North Sea.

On one of those days we ate bacalao stew, the salt cod bathed in rich tomato broth and nestled amongst the broken tomatoes and chunks of potatoes. Food often serves as a link to memories, so when I recreated that stew recently I thought back on those sun-drenched days, remembering the afternoons spent exploring Bergen. I loved that city, loved walking along the cobbled ground and peering down windy narrow streets. There I savored eating a traditional, rustic dish of red deer in a tiny restaurant, washing it down with bracing dill aquavit as clear as the purest water in the fjords. I got to know another cousin a little as we shared beers and tapas, and I sampled smoked whale from the outdoor fish market at his suggestion.

During those days, my husband and I walked and ate, talked and visited. It felt relaxed but it was brief; in an instant it was time to return home and let the memories settle deep into my heart.

Norwegian Bacalao Stew

Norwegian Bacalao Stew with Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Onion
Andreas Viestad says his recipe from Kitchen of Light–which I’ve adapted here–is the classic Western Norwegian interpretation of bacalao. Aside from a little advance planning to soak the salt cod, this recipe comes together easily enough to make on a weeknight. Be sure to have plenty of crusty bread on hand for sopping up the flavorful juices. It’s even better the next day.

1-1 1/2 pounds salt cod
2 medium russet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 large yellow onions, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes, with juices
1 pound roasted red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch slices
4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 dried hot red chiles, chopped and seeded
10 black peppercorns
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Thoroughly rinse the salt cod and place in a large container of water to soak for 24 to 36 hours, changing the water at least twice. Drain and cut the fish into 2-inch pieces and set aside.

Place a large pot on the stove and arrange the potatoes on the bottom, followed by the onions and then the cod. Next scatter the tomatoes on top, followed by the roasted peppers. Add the garlic, bay leaves, two thirds of the parsley, chiles, and peppercorns, gently working these down into the other ingredients by about an inch, taking care not to disrupt the layering. Pour the olive oil all over the top and turn on the heat.

Simmer gently for 30 minutes, shaking the pot every once in a while. Adjust the heat down if necessary and continue to cook for another 45 minutes, still shaking it every once in a while (avoid stirring the stew at any point).

Divide the stew between six bowls, arranging each of the ingredients in every bowl. Garnish with the remaining parsley. Serve with a bowl of sea salt on the side so everyone can adjust the seasoning to their tastes.

In Print: Orange Pound Cake with Wine-Poached Strawberries and Mascarpone

Orange Pound Cake with Wine-Poached Strawberries and Mascarpone

If you follow along on Instagram, this image might look familiar. I offered the sneak peak a couple of months ago when developing a recipe for my latest article in Costco Connection magazine. That article–Beyond the Bun: A Camper’s Guide to Outdoor Cuisine–is now in print, and I want to take a moment to share it with you today. It’s all about how to break away from the typical camping fare of hot dogs and burgers and to eat as well as you would at home, with just a little extra preparation before the trip. You can find the article–along with my recipe for Orange Pound Cake with Wine-Poached Strawberries and Mascarpone–in the May 2014 issue of Costco Connection. Enjoy!

A Lutefisk Feast

Lutefisk Feast“My mom would have been proud of you,” Dad told me from the place where he rested, post-meal, in my kitchen.

As I sealed plastic wrap over bowls of medisterkaker, potatoes, red cabbage, and riskrem to refrigerate and Mom filled my dishwasher with the plates, utensils, and serving dishes from the night’s lutefisk feast, I reflected on what my dad was saying. Words so necessary–both comforting and bittersweet. My paternal grandmother never got to see this side of me–the grown-up Daytona who had settled so fully into life as an adult with a husband and son and who was now trying to keep our family’s Norwegian heritage alive through its food. She had lived to see me get happily married and work to establish a career as a journalist–a dream she had had for me many years before–but this, this part of life with a little family of my own and with a passion for Norwegian food, is where I think we would have connected best.

There was a day in the summer of 2009 that was going to change everything. Standing in the little white-and-beige bathroom in my first house–a mid-century brick home not far from where my grandparents once lived–I looked in the mirror and guided the black pearl studs into my ears. Almost ready to leave, all I had to do was make a stop to buy an almond- and raisin-studded kringle to bring to Grandma’s home for a lunchtime birthday celebration. I was going to propose something to Grandma that day, ask her if we could start talking–truly talking–and if she would tell me about her life and about Norway. I stepped out into the sun-drenched wood hallway to answer my phone and heard my mom’s still-shocked voice: “She’s gone.”

In an instant, everything changed. There would be no kringle, no birthday greetings, no feeling the softness of Grandma’s warm hug as she welcomed me into her home. Grief, mixed with regret, would come flooding in and filling the crevices that I had dreamed of filling with stories and more memories with my grandmother.

What I had wanted was time, time with someone dear to me yet generations apart, someone with whom I was ready to deepen a relationship. I’ve thought about that often throughout the years: Am I spending enough time–quality time–with my other, still-living grandma? With my loved ones? With my friends? Am I hearing the stories of farm life in North Dakota during the war, when my maternal grandparents were falling in love? Am I savoring the feeling of my Grandma Adeline’s shrinking shoulders when I hug her, realizing that each day with her is a gift?

What I’ve long wanted is time–more time with loved ones, more time to get things done. Reading through a  chapter in One Thousand Gifts before bed the other night, I discovered that maybe it’s not more time that I need and necessarily wantbut enough time–enough time to use it well and to the fullest. Though I hadn’t thought about that distinction in the way author Ann Voskamp put it, I’m realizing that that’s how I’ve been trying to live my life this year. Time and time again over the past few seasons I’ve thought to myself, this is when you’ll stop waiting, stop just dreaming and planning, and start doing. That might look as small as ordering a book about food photography for professional development or as meaningful as planning something like the lutefisk dinner my husband and I hosted for a few family members the other night.

The idea of a lutefisk dinner came up a couple of weeks ago and I remembered how much Grandma Adeline loves the preserved, gelatinous fish. While I grew up eating it with the family on occasion, I had never felt compelled to incorporate the dish into my own repertoire. But I realized that I’m blessed enough to have my 94-year-old grandma in my life right now, and while she’s here I want to treat her to a lutefisk dinner.

Soon the date was set. I had developed a menu and found a source for lutefisk (in Seattle, a city with a rich Scandinavian history, you don’t have to look far). As I sat next to Grandma at the candlelit dinner table on Wednesday night I watched as she chose an assortment of dishes, focusing mainly on filling her white plate with lutefisk and the potatoes. “That’s all I need,” she said. She’s a true, old-school Norwegian-American, and a representation of what I’ve read: that a traditional lutefisk feast needs nothing other than white food, simply lutefisk, potatoes, and perhaps lefse. Grandma, with her shrinking appetite, ate steadily and enthusiastically, agreeing to a second portion of lutefisk and leaving nothing on her plate. “I’m never coming to your house again for dinner–you make me feel miserable,” she joked as she commented on how her stomach ached with too much good food.

I’ve worried too often over the years about having enough time with Grandma–I suppose some of that fear comes from unexpectedly losing my other grandma before I was ready to say goodbye–but there’s a difference between an anxious, reactionary life and one that’s sensitive to the uncertainties of life and seeks to treat each day as a gift, living it to the fullest. The latter is what I’m striving for, and it’s with that in mind that I organized the lutefisk feast.

As the evening wound to a close I saw my family members so happy and content and I experienced what some of you mentioned in the Facebook discussion about lutefisk last week–that you love it for the warmth and love and memories that surround these meals. Prior to this week I assumed that it would be a tradition I’d carry on for Grandma as long as she’s alive and then probably cease it (I’ve never been one to seek out lutefisk), but now I understand why so many people hold fast to the tradition. Almost everyone at the table–including my husband and me–had seconds of the lutefisk, which was some of the best I’ve ever had with a pleasant, consistent texture and a delicate flavor accented by melted butter and cream sauce. Who knows, we may just keep up the tradition.

Lutefisk Feast

Our Lutefisk Feast
Though this post is about so much more than just lutefisk, I wouldn’t be able to sign off without including some details about our dinner. Though the food was entirely authentic in its inspiration, purists will note that our feast incorporated both Norwegian and Swedish traditions to honor my family’s Norwegian heritage and to remind my husband of the lutefisk (or lutfisk in Swedish) that my husband ate while visiting relatives in Sweden for Christmas when he was young. Looking back at it, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Lutefisk with Melted Butter and White Sauce: There’s a reason lutefisk is such a polarizing food amongst Scandinavians: With its preparation (it’s basically dried or cured cod that’s been soaked in lye and then rinsed for several days before baking) and the gelatinous texture, it sounds strange and can be an acquired taste, but those who love it are passionate about it. If prepared well, lutefisk can be enjoyable. My husband sprinkled ours with salt and pepper and baked it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. We served it with melted butter–the Norwegian way–and Swedish-style with a white sauce. To make the white sauce, melt 3 tablespoons of salted butter in a saucepan over medium heat and then add 3 tablespoons flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and adding a little more flour if necessary to form a roux. As soon as the mixture thickens and forms a light roux, slowly begin to 1 1/2 cups of whole milk: Start with 1/4 cup and stir until the roux seizes up and all the ingredients are well-mixed and smooth. Keep adding the milk in small quantities, stirring until incorporated and smooth each time (as you get close to the end of the milk you can start adding it in more quickly). Stir in 1 cup of whipping cream and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and continue to heat until the sauce thickens and reduces to the desired consistency. Keep in mind that it will continue to thicken as it cools, and you don’t want it so thick that you can’t pour it from a little pitcher or gravy boat. (As a guide, I used proportions from a little book called Scandinavian Christmas that Penfield Books sent me last year and created the sauce from that.) 

Mashed Potatoes with Butter and Parsley: My mom’s simply-boiled new Yukon Gold potatoes roughly mashed and strewn with melted butter and chopped parsley were a perfect accompaniment for the lutefisk.

Green Peas Sautéed with Onions: Peas were a distinct part of the lutefisk meals my husband remembers eating in Sweden. This quick version from Simply Recipes gives an ordinary bag of frozen peas a special touch by starting with sautéd onions and seasoning the dish with chicken broth, salt, and a pinch of sugar.

Medisterkaker and Lingonberry Preserves: One of the many things I love about Norwegians is their hospitality, and in a similar fashion I served plenty of medisterkaker–spiced, fatty pork meatballs–to round out the meal for those who weren’t interested in eating much lutefisk. Grandma Agny always used to serve these for holiday meals, and I grew up loving them. Lingonberry preserves pair well with medisterkaker, accenting the rich, savory morsels with their tart bite.

Two Red Cabbage Salads: Sweet-and-sour red cabbage, slowly simmered, is a common Scandinavian side dish during the holidays, and while I love the delicate and comforting quality of traditional rødkål, I also enjoy a combination of flavors, textures, and temperatures in meals. I decided to balance this particular feast by making a couple of cold, raw red cabbage salads: one creamy salad inspired by Ekte Norsk Jul Vol. 2 and another with a lingonberry-based dressing. I’ll be sharing both recipes on the blog soon.

Riskrem with Raspberry Sauce: I don’t remember there ever being a time when Grandma Agny didn’t serve riskrem–rice cream–with raspberry sauce for Christmas dessert. I always loved the combination of the delicate, barely-there flavor of sweetened rice and the bold, sweet-tart raspberry sauce. I added a twist to the classic this year by scenting the rice cream with lemon zest. (Recipe coming soon.)

Picking Strawberries at Biringer Farm

Strawberry Pickers

Summer in the Pacific Northwest is one of the most pleasant, enjoyable combinations of time and place that I can imagine. Neither chilly nor too hot, the days are typically sunny and just warm enough to allow for flip flops and tank tops, sundresses and shorts. Upon first sight of the summer sun, people flock to the many lakes to sprawl out on the grass, take a stroll, or get out on boats. With my love of food, summer to me means a chance to embrace the bounty of summer produce with its refreshing, sweet vegetables and luscious, jewel-toned fruit.

This past week I had a chance to go berry picking up at Biringer Farm in Arlington, about 50 miles north of Seattle. Catching strawberry season just in time, I joined a number of people who made their way slowly along the rows of bushes, pushing leaves aside with their hands in search for perfectly-ripened berries. Over the course of an hour or so, I relaxed and enjoyed the summer sun as I collected a flat’s worth of berries to take home. They’re in my freezer now, waiting for me to decide what to make. I’m thinking of a strawberry-rhubarb pie, but am also considering distinctly Scandinavian options. If you have any ideas, leave a comment–I’d love to hear from you!

Biringer Farm Entrance

Tractor at Biringer Farm

Strawberries in Field

Strawberry Picking Diptych

Tractor in Strawberry Field

Picking Strawberries

Biringer Farm Equipment

Biringer Farms Strawberry Fields Diptych

Strawberry Flat

All photos are by Daytona Strong; some appeared in a post on her other blog, The Flying Salmon, at Wanderlust & Lipstick.

Midsummer Picnic in the Meadow (and Thoughts on the Writing Life)

Valley Floor

I sip my tea as I sit down to write, the aromas of rose petals and cardamom pods wafting up from the steaming mug. The floral spiced black tea, purchased at Samovar Tea Lounge during a New Year’s trip to San Francisco, brings back memories of a weekend celebrating with dear friends. I have come to enjoy these quiet moments, times when I sit down and simply reflect and write, taking the time to think and imagine, to contemplate and to create.

I never take for granted this gift, to be a writer–an artist whose canvas is the keyboard. My medium consists of the letters and words that form the sentences, paragraphs, pages, and posts that I write. As I look back on my teenage years and my 20s, I see that this is where I’ve been headed all along. Although I–as every writer does–occasionally have moments of self-doubt, I know this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing.

One of the benefits of the writing life is the preservation of memories. Reading old blog posts, journal entries, and articles takes me back to moments in time that exist only in my catalogue of memories. Often needing a prompt to come to the surface, they reappear when I read such records.

Thanks to this, I will always remember a Midsummer picnic shared in the Methow Valley with my husband and son last week. With the school year behind us and my husband done with three years of graduate school, we took off last week for some time away at a lodge nestled in the valley near the North Cascades National Park about four hours away from Seattle.

Valley View plus Flowers

On Friday we set out for a secluded meadow dotted with wildflowers and rimmed with trees. Emerging at the entrance to the meadow after a long drive through winding, rugged roads, we found a patch just right for a picnic and settled down to eat. It being Midsummer, I had prepared a Scandinavian-inspired meal consisting of the cucumber salads I shared recipes for last week; salmon and pickled herring; an assortment of cheeses from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark; and dill- and parsley potatoes adapted from Molly Wizenburg’s blog; among other treats. (Hint: Follow Molly’s recipe until you get to the herbs, then swap them out with a quarter cup each of chopped dill and chopped parsley–the results appear simple yet are tender, moist, and flavorful).

Tailgate

Cucumber Salad, Tailgate

For those hours we spent in the meadow, life moved at a slower pace. We breathed in the fresh, pure air and listened to the gentle swishing and crunching of grass and twigs as we walked along a trail. Each of us knew this was special, even the normally-active little boy who was content to simply sit on his father’s lap and ride on his shoulders, savoring this time as a family.

Picnic Basket in Meadow

It has been alternately sunny and rainy back home in Seattle since we returned, summer taking a while to arrive as usual. But life is beginning to take on the pace of the season, with a freer schedule, no homework or classes, and the promise of more road trips, picnics, and memories just waiting for us to create.

I leave you today with a collection of photos from our Midsummer picnic. I also encourage you to get out there this summer and share a picnic or two with those you love, capturing the memories through words, photos, paint, or whatever medium you choose. Life is so full of beautiful moments begging to be embraced.

Until next time,

Daytona

Midsummer Picnic

Cheese and Cucumbers

Midsummer Picnic Spread

Tree in Meadow

Tree Branches

Trees in Forest and Tree Trunk

Pine Needles

Forest Floor

Meadow Floor

Wildflowers in Meadow

Purple and Yellow Wildflowers

Returning Home & Reflecting on Kauai

Flip Flops

After three weeks, nearly 20,000 air miles and roughly 40 hours of flying, I am home. During the month of March, I spent more time traveling than I did in Seattle—first a whirlwind trip to New Zealand followed by a quick one-day stop back home, and then a family vacation in Kauai. So I suppose that it makes sense that I’m still trying to get my bearings less than 24 hours after the plane touched down.

I’m in the process of putting away the toiletries, washing clothes, catching up on e-mails, updating my to-do list, and trying to reclaim the rhythm of home. As I do so, I’m caught somewhere between looking forward to all the projects I’m considering embarking on this spring and reflecting on the past few weeks. I’ve taken literally thousands of photos while traveling, and I’d like to share some of my Kauai ones with you today (you’ll find a photo tour of my New Zealand trip here).

I’ll be back to the Scandinavian recipes soon—I promise. In the meantime, I’d like to say thanks to all of you for reading Outside Oslo and to give a special welcome to all the new followers. It’s been so exciting and encouraging to watch more and more of you follow the blog on Facebook in recent weeks, even as I’ve strayed off topic due to travel. Thanks again, and I hope you enjoy this photo-based travelogue from Kauai!

Kauai Beach

Beach Near Poipu

Fish Bowl from Da Crack

At Poipu House

Cave Near PoipuMahaulepu Beach

Waves at Beach by Cave

Kauai Salt Ponds

Salt Ponds in Kauai

Cliffs at Polihale

Windsurfer and Waves at Polihale

Coconut Truck

Coconut in Kauai

Brennecke's

Brennecke's Mai Tai

Poipu Beach

Poipu Beach Collage Poipu Seal

Hammock

Bloody Marys

Hawaiian Rainbow

Sunset at Poipu

Travel: New Zealand

Auckland Skyline in Distance

Here at Outside Oslo I try to stick to the focus of Scandinavian food but every once in a while something calls to me, asking me to digress. Since I’ve been pretty quiet over here on the blog in recent weeks due to travel, I’ve decided to answer the call of my memories and tell you about my recent trip to New Zealand. I visited–with a stop in Honolulu each way–for a travel piece I’m writing, and while I prepare for that story, I thought it might be fun to visually share some highlights of my experience with you over here.

Royal Hawaiian Collage

Honolulu to Auckland Inaugural Flight

Auckland Skyline from Ferry

Lavender and Greenhouse at Mudbrick

Mudbrick Vineyard

Mudbrick Restaurant

Leaving Waiheke

The Foodstore Auckland

The Foodstore Dishes

Waikiki Beach

 Want to read my New Zealand travel story when it’s published? Follow Outside Oslo on Facebook and I’ll share the link when it’s available!

Disclosure: I was generously sent on the trip by Hawaiian Airlines and Tourism New Zealand.

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