Norwegian Rhubarb Cake (Rabarbrakake)
Getting to the Heart of Food Writing (and a Swedish Currant Cake)
Pannekaker–Norwegian Pancakes–For Dinner

Celebrating a Family Tradition in Nordic Design’s Christmas Magazine

Nordic Design Christmas Magazine 2013 Cover

One of my favorite holiday traditions is baking with my grandma and mom. Each November we start a months’ long routine of gathering in the kitchen to bake through our family’s traditional recipes. There’s lefse, krumkaker, sandbakkelse, and much, much more. I had the opportunity to share a little about the tradition–along with my grandma’s recipe for sandbakkelse–in Nordic Design’s Christmas magazine this year (find my story on pages 73-76). In addition to my story and some other great recipes, editor Catherine Lazure-Guinard has put together a great compilation of gift suggestions, ideas for decorating, and more. I hope you’ll check it out as you prepare for your Scandinavian Christmas this year!

My Article in Nordic Design Christmas Magazine 2013

Recipe in Nordic Design Christmas Magazine 2013

Images are screenshots from the magazine. Read the story–and check out the whole issue–here.

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.

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars

Candied GingerSo many of the dessert recipes that find their way to the pages of this blog are traditional–old Scandinavian classics that have stood the test of time. But I love discovering new recipes, too, especially when they incorporate some of my favorite Nordic ingredients and flavors. Recently my friend Christy–a fellow Norwegian-American–sent me a recipe she had spotted for candied ginger-cardamom bars. I promptly printed it out and committed to baking them soon.

Cardamom, with its pungent perfume of sandlewood and a grandfather’s cologne, is one of the quintessential spices of Scandinavian baking. Its scent–earthy and exotic–conjures up childhood memories of visiting my grandparents’ midcentury home overlooking Puget Sound. Commonly used to flavor krumkaker, vaffler, cakes, and a variety of other traditional treats, cardamom holds a prominent place in the food experiences of most Scandinavians.

So while the recipe in my inbox wasn’t necessary a classic, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. But first things first: What was I going to do about the candied ginger?

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars

Ginger Root

I have mixed feelings about the dry, crunchy, potent nuggets that reside in a canister on grocery store shelves: all at once too strong and sweet–yet strangely addictive. Not a fan of over-processed and preservative-laden food, I set out to make my own.

Candied ginger, it turns out, is easy to make. A little time-consuming, sure, but fun. Techniques vary. Some recipes call for slicing the ginger into coins. Other instruct a matchstick shape. Some cook the ginger in a sugar syrup immediately, while others have you simmer the ginger in fresh water once or twice before cooking it in the syrup in order to mitigate some of the overpowering flavor. The latter is extra effort, but it’s worth it. The resulting candied ginger is assertive yet refined, a more balanced and sophisticated version of its packaged relative.

Candied Ginger

So much of baking depends on quality ingredients, so when making a recipe like this in which the taste of the ginger will shine, I’m happy to put in a little extra effort. Plus, I now have a bowlful of extra ginger to keep on hand for future baking. It would be a nice addition to homemade granola or even a ginger spice cake. With Christmas coming up in a couple of months, the ginger would also make a welcomed gift for a food-loving friend. Come to think of it, Christy, if you’re reading this, you might just find yourself with some homemade candied ginger soon…

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars
Adapted from Bon Appétit by way of The Oregonian

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 egg
3/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prep a 8-or 9-inch square baking pan by spritzing it with baking spray.

Whirl flour, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt together in a food processor to combine, then add the butter. Pulse to work the butter into the flour, continuing until you have a course meal. Crack open the egg and beat it; add two tablespoons to the flour, reserving the rest. Pulse some more just until the dough comes together, then add the ginger, pulsing just enough to combine. Turn it out into the prepared pan and press it evenly across the bottom. Brush the top with the reserved egg.

Bake about 40 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, until the top of the bars is golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (it will be moist but should have no crumbs). Set the pan on a rack to cool.

When cooled, cut into 18 bars by dividing into three long rectangles and then cutting each of them into six bars. Stored at room temperature in an airtight container, these should last several days.

Serves 18.

Candied Ginger
Adapted from www.davidlebovitz.com

1 pound fresh ginger
5 to 5 1/2 cups sugar, divided
Pinch of salt

Peel the ginger thoroughly, then slice as thinly as you can. Follow the direction of the root’s growth when possible to produce coin-like shapes, but feel free to adjust the angle and slice into long, thin oval when the nubs taper down. Uniformity isn’t crucial here.

Place the ginger in a nonreactive pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Drain the water (you could reserve it for another use if you’d like) and repeat with a fresh batch of water.

Once you’ve simmered the ginger in fresh water twice, drain and return the ginger to the pan with 4 cups sugar, 4 cups water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. David Lebovitz says to cook until the temperature reaches 225 degrees or until the liquid’s consistency becomes like thin honey. (I allowed the syrup to boil for about ten minutes, and then considered it done–the liquid seemed thin on the spoon but had the consistency of simple syrup when I cooled a little on a spoon in order to taste it.)

Remove the pot from the heat and drain the syrup well, reserving it for another use (hot toddies or herbal tea, anyone?)

Combine the ginger slices with the remaining 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar in a bowl and toss until the sugar coats the ginger. Shake off the excess sugar (David suggests reserving it for another use, such as ice cream or batter) and spread the slices onto a cooling rack to dry.

If you’re planning to make the candied ginger-cardamom bars on the same day, then you can chop the ginger after a couple of hours. Otherwise allow the slices to dry overnight.

Store at room temperature.

Easy Lingonberry-Poached Pears

Lingonberry Poached Pears

I’d like to let you in on a little secret. We don’t actually eat that much dessert in my family. You’d probably think otherwise when looking at the recipe archives and scrolling through old posts. But although I bake a lot, most of the cookies, cakes, and tarts end up going into other people’s mouths. That said, the occasional dessert can be a satisfying end to a meal, especially if it’s made with fresh fruit–like the lingonberry-poached pears I’m sharing with you today.

Lingonberries are as much a part of Scandinavian pancakes and desserts as cranberries are to Thanksgiving meals here in the United States. The flavor of the Nordic berries is similar, too, though the tiny spheres contain a tart juiciness all their own.

This past weekend as I slowly simmered pear halves in a lingonberry poaching liquid spiced with cinnamon, a warming fragrance of fruit and spice filled my kitchen. It struck me how satisfying something so simple (just three ingredients, not including water!) can be. After the pears had softened, I set them aside to cool while I reduced the liquid into a lingonberry-studded syrup to pour over the top. The finished dessert was a refreshing, not-too-sweet end to an otherwise heavy meal.

Lingonberry Poached Pears with Cream

Lingonberry-Poached Pears
Though it’s possible to find frozen lingonberries at some specialty stores, it’s usually easier to purchase lingonberry preserves. Last spring someone asked me where to find the preserves, so I opened up the discussion on my Facebook page–just click here to read the comments and join the conversation.

2 pears
1 cups lingonberry preserves
1 cups water
1 cinnamon stick

Peel the pears and halve them lengthwise, leaving the stems intact. Remove the cores. Set aside.

Place lingonberry preserves, water, and cinnamon stick in a saucepan large enough to hold the pears snuggly in a single layer and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat and add the pears, adjusting heat as necessary to keep the liquid just barely at a gentle simmer. Cook until the pears are tender when pricked in an inconspicuous point but still hold their shape, about 20 minutes. Remove the pears and set aside. Bring the liquid back to a boil and continue to cook until it thickens to a syrup, about 15 minutes. Refrigerate the the pears and syrup until completely chilled. (At this point you can even leave them overnight.)

To serve, place each pear in a dish and spoon a little of the syrup over and around it. If you wish, you can pour a little vanilla cream sauce into the hollow of each pear, but the dessert is equally good without it.

Serves 2-4.

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

The Nordic Bakery’s Ginger Cake

Autumn Leaves

We have entered one of my favorite times of year: autumn. By the time late September arrives, sunlight casts a warm, cheery glow on the cooling Seattle days, and it’s still perfectly reasonable to wear my favorite warm-weather dresses–though perhaps covered with a sweater or light jacket. The leaves brighten up a little as they begin their transformation into a fiery display of colors. Cozy pots of soup simmer on the stove, filling the house with aromas of onions, garlic, spices, and herbs. The last figs and tomatoes of summer mingle with the heartier produce of fall as one season gracefully topples into the next.

Figs and Chanterelles Diptych

Cake with ApplesAnd of course there is cake.

The first cake of autumn this year was a spicy ginger cake from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook. Heavily flavored with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and ginger, each bite of the dense crumb packed a wallop of spice hinting at the aromas and flavors that will be so prevalent in my baking in the months to come.

Oh, autumn. I love the gauzy fog that shrouds the crisp mornings and the way a hot cup of coffee feels between my hands on a cold, damp day. The falling leaves lend an artistic touch to the sidewalks. And there’s the cozy feeling of curling up with a blanket and a book while the rain beats on the windows.

I may be a bit early bringing such a spicy cake into the kitchen when it’s only September, but let it serve as an introduction to all the festive cakes, hot beverages, and cookies that will be baked in the months leading up to Christmas.

Enjoy!

Leaves and Spice Cake

Ginger Cake and Leaves

Ginger Cake
This recipe is adapted from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook by Miisa Mink. It is quite spicy, so if you prefer a subtler flavor, then reduce the spices, especially the clove and cardamom. If possible, bake the cake a day in advance to give the flavors time to develop. If you prefer a moister cake, feel free to brush a sugar syrup over the top of the cake, allowing the liquid to trickle down through the crumbs and infuse the cake with a soft sweetness.

2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 eggs
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter an 8-inch springform pan.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then mix in the vanilla. Add each of the eggs, one at a time, beating well before adding the next.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and spices together in a medium bowl and pour into the batter, folding it in until just incorporated. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top of the cake is firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about one hour. Don’t just trust the toothpick test on this one–be sure that the top is firm as well or you will end up with a cake that’s undercooked in the center.

Let cool. Brush with a sugar syrup if desired.

Serves 12-16.

Ginger Cake and Apples

Wine Pairings for Scandinavian Food?

White Wine Simple

When you think about Scandinavian food, what are the first things that come to mine? Salmon, dill, almond, cardamom, berries, mushrooms, potatoes, pickled herring, apples–and that’s just a starting place. The food of Scandinavia is guided by tradition as well as geography and the seasons, resulting in a variety of regional cuisines with no shortage of seafood, game, cakes, cookies, dairy, and produce that varies widely throughout the year. As rich as Scandinavian cuisine can be, it’s not typically one of the top ones for wine pairings. After all, what kind of wine would really go well with pickled herring?

Food and Wine Pairing Session

At a wine pairing session this weekend at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle, I decided to get to the bottom of wine pairings for Scandinavian food. I asked chef John Sarich, culinary director at Chateau Ste. Michelle, what he’d pair with Scandinavian food. Riesling, Riesling, Riesling, he repeated as I listed some of the hallmark flavors in many dishes–salmon, dill, horseradish, potatoes. And then I stumped him with pickled herring. Sure enough, my suspicions were right: Don’t even try, stick with aquavit and beer. But I’m intrigued by the Riesling pairing. Much Riesling is too sweet for my palate so I rarely consider it. But as I’ve been mulling over the flavors of both the food and this particular wine (especially the drier ones), I think he’s onto something.

What about you? What do you like to pair–wine or otherwise–with your favorite Scandinavian foods?

Full disclosure: Although I paid my way to the conference, there were plenty of free things handed our way, including a cookbook from Sarich and a discount on the conference for people blogging about it. Just thought you should know.

Back to School, Scandinavian Style, with Skoleboller

SkolebollerI don’t know about you, but September always brings about happy memories of shopping for school supplies and fall clothes as a child. I used to love this time of year with all the anticipation surrounding the start of a new school year. New classroom, new teacher, new subjects–everything new.

Now that I’m a mother, I’m beginning to think about some ways to infuse back-to-school season with some of the same excitement that I always looked forward to when I was a student. I started to think recently about skoleboller, or school buns, which have long been a favorite treat among school kids in Norway, and I think baking these will become a tradition in my home. Skoleboller, also known as skolebrød, begin with a cardamom-scented yeast dough baked with a dollop of vanilla cream. They are then glazed and topped with a dusting of coconut. How much better can you get, right?

I’m working on perfecting my recipe, but Sunny over at Arctic Grub and Siri from The Translated Baker both have recipes that look pretty good to me. So let me send you off into the weekend by encouraging you to check out their recipes. Peruse their blogs while you’re at it; you may just find some additional Scandinavian recipes to try!

And come back next week for another Norwegian recipe–I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen and bake something for you.

Skoleboller

Reflecting on a Milestone

Nordic in the Northwest Oregonian ArticleWow. I’d like to thank you all for your encouragement and celebration when I announced that my Nordic food article was featured as the centerpiece food story last week in The Oregonian. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many likes on the Facebook page! You are the best. I still get excited every time I walk by the various copies of the newspaper at my home, and I’d to try to explain this story’s significance to me.

As a lifetime writer who studied journalism in college and has made a career out of telling stories through the written word, getting published in The Oregonian marks a significant point in my writing life. With a reputation as one of the biggest and best newspapers in the Pacific Northwest, the Pulitzer Prize-winning paper has fostered and trained many excellent journalists; its former managing editor in his book “A Writer’s Coach” called it a “writer’s newspaper, a place where words matter.”

Daytona with Oregonian Article

Six years ago this summer I traveled down to Portland, Oregon, for a writers’ conference organized by The Oregonian and the Poynter Institute. Being surrounded by all of that integrity, creativity, and passion stirred something in me, and that weekend I decided, without a doubt, to leave broadcast news and pursue a job in print.

Even in 2007 that was a daring decision; as I took a communications and marketing job while doing freelance writing on the side, I watched as print editions of newspapers and magazines continued to decline.

As my family and I drove north from Portland last Tuesday after picking up a few copies of my article in that day’s paper, we passed the conference site and it occurred to me how momentous the article was. Six years after that influential experience I was back in Portland holding a copy of that respected paper–a “writer’s newspaper”–with my own article in it. Even though my stories about food have been published nationally, a byline in The Oregonian–especially on the topic of Nordic food, my specialty–is perhaps the one I’m most proud of.

Thanks again for all of your enthusiasm. Even without knowing the full significance of this article for me, you’ve written kind words, shared the article with your friends, and celebrated with me. I’ll say it again: You are the best.

“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

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