Starting Again, with Pickled Beets

Scandinavian Pickled BeetsTime goes quickly here, sometimes too quickly. I know it’s something we all experience, the subject of small talk and of catching up with old acquaintances at big events, but it’s true. The time really does fly. As I sit here at my desk on this 14th of January, the sun forces its way through the shades, reminding me that it’s a new year, that winter will soon give way to spring, that though the calendar might point to a season of stillness, new life–from the maple trees outside my home to the bulbs nestled in soil–is getting ready to burst forth in full bloom. It’s hard to believe that it’s already mid-January, that I have been sick–cold after cold and now bronchitis–for over a month. Has it really been almost a year since Grandma suffered her strokes? Almost a year since I drove my toddler son to the hospital to visit his great-grandma one blindingly sunny winter day after another? Soon it will have been a year since we gathered at the rehabilitation center for the makeshift 95th birthday party my dear Grandma couldn’t even comprehend.

I’ve shied away from this space lately for a variety of reasons: a sense of perfectionism that’s creeping in due to my other forms of writing; being uninspired by the formula that food blogs are falling prey to, getting duller and duller even as their photos and graphics get shinier and shinier (tell me, please, that you know what I mean?); and being in a season of life that I want to write about but find too personal to approach quite yet in such an informal place as a blog.

But I miss it, too, miss the way it feels to have a place to write quickly and without the gloss of perfection that some other forms of writing require. While there’s a permanence to blogs–content lives out there unless deleted–one post is replaced by another and then another in a fleeting way, almost like a journal entry that gets buried deeper and deeper into a collection of notebooks that the keeper fills and collects just in case there might be a time, somewhere down the road, when she might want to remember.

For a long time I’ve wrestled with the purpose of this blog. Sure, it’s a Nordic food blog, and its food sticks to that theme for the most part. But who is it for? Am I trying to create content for the reader? Or for myself? Maybe it’s just weariness from a seemingly-endless illness talking (right now my ribcage hurts each time I take a deep breath or dare to cough), but I think I want to care less and write more. There was a time when I didn’t believe in writer’s block. I was a journalist, writing story after story, day after day, focusing my brain on the words at hand even as scanners scratched and top-of-the-hour headlines blared on the competing networks. Deadlines didn’t wait for inspiration. Writer’s block was a luxury I couldn’t afford. These days–though I’m beginning to step up my freelance writing and other projects again–I have more of that luxury. And I’m afraid I’m giving in to it too often. Oh, I don’t feel like writing today. I can wait until tomorrow. Or this one (if you’re a writer, too, I’m sure you know it too): I should clear my desk. Or better yet embark on a massive organizing spree before I start writing! Yeah, the writing life can be full of excuses.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions or strict goal-setting. I find those too restrictive. But I do like to have intentions and a system to make them happen. So I’m not promising to blog here on any sort of predictable schedule. But I do want to do it more frequently. There will be recipes, sure, because that’s what a food blog is all about. But I’m going to care less about the format, the glossy veneer, the oneupmanship that’s so common, and care more about the practice, the experience of getting those words to flow more freely, and getting comfortable again with sharing those words online rather than obsessively editing myself.

And so I’m starting again today, with pickled beets.

Scandinavian Pickled Beets

Scandinavian Pickled Beets with Star Anise
After baking a bunch of cookies (krumkaker, pepperkaker, sirupsnipper and more) while at home, sick, over the Christmas season, it seems appropriate to trade sweet for savory today on the blog. Pickled beets are a classic Scandinavian condiment, something to serve with everything from the Swedish hash pytt i panna to sjömans biff, or sailor’s beef stew. Though coming from no single source, this recipe takes cues from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trine Hahnemann, a 1964 recipe found on Epicurious.com, and An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler; the addition of star anise comes from Hahnemann, a Danish chef.

3-4 medium beets
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoons pepper
1 star anise

To cook the beets, I like to use Tamar Adler’s method from An Everlasting Meal: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the beets snugly in a shallow pan, she instructs, then with the water running and the pan tipped to the side, wash the beets under its stream, leaving a little of the water pooled in the pan once it runs clear. Cover the pan tightly with foil, then roast until the beets are cooked through, about 40 minutes for medium-sized beets. Adler’s method steams the beets and allows the skins to be easily rubbed off once the beets are cooled. After rubbing off the skins, cut the beets into quarter-inch slices and place in a shallow, heat-safe dish.

Place vinegar in a medium-sized pot along with sugar, salt, pepper, and star anise. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Pour over the beets. Let cool, the refrigerate overnight before serving.

For the sake of transparency I should let you know that I’ve received review copies of some of Hahnemann’s books. I love them, regardless, and they hold prime spots in my Nordic cookbook collection.

Scandinavian Pickled Beets

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake (Rabarbrakake)

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

Amidst almond-scented cakes and recipes featuring plenty of dill, I’ve occasionally veered from the topic of Scandinavian food to talk about writing. As a journalist and creative writer, it’s long been a big part of my life. Lately, with a dear relative suffering from a series of strokes in February, it has become a way for me to cope as well.

The past month or so has been challenging in ways I am still working through. I process best sometimes through the written word, and so I have spent some of my writing sessions trying to wipe away the heartache with pen to paper or keystroke by keystroke. As a personal form of writing, it hasn’t been right to share here, and with the weight of my loved one’s illness shadowing me on many days, I’ve struggled to write much about food on the blog. But oh how I have longed to!

Week by week, as she has shown continued signs of improvement, the melancholy has lifted little by little. And along with that, the Seattle weather–which recently gave us the rainiest March on record–has been offering white cottony clouds strewn in patches against an otherwise clear, vivid blue sky. Spring has brought with it the cottony explosions of cherry blossoms, steady gaze of daffodils, and now Japanese maples unfurling a little bit each day. There is rhubarb waiting to be stewed into compotes and fruit soups, cocktails and pie. And there is Norwegian rhubarb cake.

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

I’m often struck by the simplicity of Norwegian recipes. Looking at a short list of ingredients–often mostly some variation of butter, sugar, milk, flour, and eggs–I’m tempted to dress it up a bit, adding a little bit of spice here, some flavoring or other adornment there. Usually when I resist, it’s a good thing; the term elegant simplicity has come to mind again and again when I’ve speared a fork into a slice of Norwegian dessert and brought a bite to my mouth, letting the richness and wholeness of the finished product linger for a moment as I reflect on how it’s just right. That’s the case with this rhubarb cake, which is little more than a moist butter cake studded with slices of fresh rhubarb that almost melts into the batter as it bakes. In its simplicity, it is perfect.

I hope to be back to writing about food here at Outside Oslo more frequently in the near future. There are all sorts of Scandinavian recipes I’d love to share, especially leading up to Syttende Mai. In the meantime, please do keep in touch–I love getting notes and comments from you, and you can also connect on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. And now, I hope you’ll enjoy a slice of rabarbrakake!

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake (Rabarbrakake)
Adapted from Norwegian National Recipes. Also featured on the blog last year.

1/4 cup butter (I used unsalted)
1/3 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 large stalk rhubarb
Powdered sugar (optional)
Whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in milk and set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a nine-inch springform pan.

Beat eggs and sugar on high for a minute or two–let them get light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and slowly pour in the milk and butter. Mix in the flour and baking powder until just incorporated, then pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading the top into an even layer with a spatula.

Trim the rhubarb and cut into quarter-inch slices on the diagonal. Scatter slices evenly over the top of the cake. Bake for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool on a rack in the pan for about five minutes, then remove from pan and continue cooling on a rack.

Dust top of cake with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream if desired.

Cake will keep a day or two if covered, but is best on the first or second day.

Makes one 9-inch cake.

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

Lemon-Scented Riskrem (Rice Cream) with Raspberry Sauce

Riskrem

The blog has been sleeping, in a state of early winter hibernation these past few weeks. But on the other side of the screen things have been brewing, dreams being wrung out and filled back up, taking wing. A new year symbolizes a blank canvas, and while ultimately it is nothing but a new set of dated pages in the same life, it offers a chance to reflect on the past 12 months—their blessings, trials, successes, and struggles—and then to give oneself the freedom to boldly move forward without judgment into a new season, believing that the days to come are filled with potential.

I began my own process of reflection and planning sometime back in early or mid December—it feels like so long ago now—and have given my heart the time and space it’s needed to make sense of the thoughts and ideas about the writing life that have been bubbling to the surface and challenging me to take notice: ideas bold and brave and utterly surprising; a challenge to turn all my creative and professional pursuits on their heads and shake them out to see what happens; an urge to stop the inward battle between the typical shoulds and expectations of today’s professional writing life and the musts of my own.

I have rarely picked up the pen to write and have neglected the camera over the past few weeks. The timing has not been right. It’s as if the words and visual compositions inside of me have urged me to wait, to let the creativity rest and ponder. Christmas meals with family and New Year’s celebrations with friends have punctuated the stillness, along with deep heart searching to uncover my ultimate priorities and goals for this moment in life and check my past progresses against them. Rather than planning and documenting recipes and meals for the blog I have cooked solely for the purpose of feeding my loved ones well. I have savored time spent alongside them in the kitchen and at the dining room, the camera serving only to take a few snapshots for the sake of memories.

Riskrem

And now a week into the new year I have come out ready to begin again, pursuing the same ultimate goals but with clarity and purpose, without the periphery work that I now realize is serving as a distraction. The words feel rusty but ready. The eyes are refreshed and prepared to look through the camera lens with a new vision. The heart? Well, that heart is almost overflowing with excitement for what is to come, grateful for the freedom to shake everything up and rediscover and declare its motivation and focus.

Rather than make resolutions, I set goals, dream dreams. They’re flexible, open to modification along the way, but they provide a vision for the year to come and direction for the days that make up that time. They give me a framework to work with, a sense of how I should use my time. Far too often this past year I found myself frustrated with the industry expectation of social media success and bogged down by the ever-growing email inboxes filled with too much clutter amidst the messages of true meaning. This year I’m committing to using social media as a necessary tool but never letting it steal from time better spent elsewhere in my writing life. As for email? I’m taming it, slowly but surely, and hope that in good time I will have freed up that space to be used for enriching communication—and that includes my own responsiveness, as I can’t tell you how many emails I have left unanswered, despite my best efforts, throughout the years. As I’ve learned from Emily Ley and Lara Casey—a couple of entrepreneurs and moms with hearts for encouraging others to live rich, meaning-filled lives, and whose planners and goal-setting tools I love—a little structure, evaluation, and planning can go a long way in freeing up time and space so that we can focus on what matters most. For me, that’s my family, friends, faith, and writing dreams. I’m looking forward to what 2014 holds and am trying to savor each and every day as it unfolds.

Riskrem

Lemon-Scented Riskrem (Rice Cream) with Raspberry Sauce
While Norwegian riskrem is very much a Christmas tradition in my family and for many others, I’m going to be bold and say I see no reason why it shouldn’t be brought to the table on other occasions as well. As I have worked to recreate some of my late Grandma Agny’s recipes over the years, riskrem is the first that I succeeded at. Now that I’m comfortable with the recipe, I feel free to tweak it, adding various amounts of sugar and cream and even modifying the flavors. This one–with the zest of a lemon–is fresh and not too sweet, while maintaining the delicate nature that I love so much about the dessert. Enjoy!

1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Arborio rice
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar plus 3-4 tablespoons
Seeds from a vanilla bean
Zest from one lemon
1 1/4 cups cream
12-ounce bag frozen raspberries, defrosted

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan and stir in the salt. Add rice and simmer, covered, about 20 minutes until the rice absorbs the water.

Add the milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla seeds, and about half of the lemon zest and stir to combine. Bring almost, but not quite, to a boil, stirring occasionally, and cover, simmering until the rice has plumped with the milk and the pudding has thickened. Taste at some point and add more lemon zest if you wish–it should taste a little stronger here than you’d like in the finished dessert, since you’ll be folding in whipped cream at the end. Remove from the heat and let chill thoroughly.

When ready to serve, whip the cream with one to three tablespoons of the remaining sugar, depending on how sweet you like your riskrem–the pudding that’s a base is only moderately sweet. Starting with 3/4 of a cup, begin to fold the cream into the pudding, adjusting the amount until you have a consistency you like.

Make the sauce by pureeing the raspberries with a tablespoon of sugar. Pour raspberry sauce over each portion of riskrem and serve.

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.

Reflecting on June

Dear Friends,

Let me invite you into my kitchen for just a few minutes on this hot summer afternoon. I have just slid a disk of dough into the refrigerator, where it will chill for the next hour or so. And right now I am simply sitting on a bar stool and sipping an ice cold sparkling water spiced with a few dashes of bitters. Time seems almost to be standing still, put on pause by the heatwave happening in the city right now. (I know, it’s relatively cool compared to other parts of the country, but for Seattle it’s hot.)

In my kitchen, the lights are off, the shades are drawn two-thirds of the way, to keep out the heat and prevent creating more. At least until it’s time to bake the tart! It’s quiet in here, except for the swishing of the water scrubbing dirty dishes inside the dishwasher. It’s June 30, and summer seems to finally have arrived here in Seattle–in terms of weather and activities. School and graduation and end-of-the-year parties and homework and tests and papers are all a couple of weeks behind us. Now there’s time to go to the farmers’ market, visit the beach, splash in the pool, go for long walks–whatever we want to do after work and on weekends. After being an MBA wife for three years, it’s taken a while to settle into the new routine, but it’s starting to sink in!

A month ago I sat down to map out some things I wanted to share with you here at Outside Oslo during the month of June. Now looking back at the month, I’m enjoying seeing how several of those posts panned out and how others turned out to be a surprise. With a quiet kitchen and hands freshly washed after massaging butter into flour to make a flaky, buttery crust, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the past month here on the blog.

Rhubarb and Mackerel Collage

We played around with an interesting flavor combination with Norwegian Mackerel with Roasted Rhubarb early in the month.

Scandinavian Almond Cake with Tea

I shared a Scandinavian Almond Cake while thanking you for being such supportive, engaged, and encouraging readers.

Ice Cream Article

I announced my latest article in Pregnancy & Newborn magazine (homemade ice cream, anyone?)…Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam with Bread

…and shared recipes for Nordic Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam

Bløtkake

…and Norwegian Bløtkake.

I reflected on the writing life

…and shared highlights from my interview with celebrity chef Tyler Florence.

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

There were two cucumber salads

Midsummer Picnic

…and a Scandinavian-inspired Midsummer picnic enjoyed in the Methow Valley a few hours away from Seattle.

Strawberries in Cream

Finally, we celebrated the regal strawberry with one of the simplest and most delicious preparations.

Thanks again for reading Outside Oslo and for sharing your own experiences and memories of Scandinavian food with me. I always love hearing from you.

Wherever you are, I hope you are staying cool and enjoying the start of summer.

Until next time,

Daytona

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

Cucumber Salad for Your Scandinavian Midsummer Menu

Sliced CucumbersIn the beginning of my career as a journalist, I was paying my dues as a television news writer working in the middle of the night to prepare the morning newscast. Back then I would pull into the parking lot at the TV station located across the street from Seattle’s Lake Union and walk the two dozen feet from my car to the main entrance, swipe my badge at the door, wave hello to the graveyard security guard and settle in at my desk in the empty newsroom, the florescent lights mocking my tired eyes and the police and fire scanners blaring at the assignment desk and reminding me of the inability to fall asleep at my desk even if I tried.

Sliced Cucumbers

Back in those days, there was little time for a social life. I’d leave the newsroom around 9:30 or 10 in the morning, after most people have gone to work. I’d crawl into bed below windows covered with towels to block out the midday sun, and I’d sleep until that sun had gone to bed and it was time for me to repeat the process.

Cucumber and Dill Salad

I kept at it month after month, year after year. Six years ago, however, I made a change. No longer committed to a career in TV news, I found myself inspired to make a switch. I left a writers’ conference in Portland, Oregon, that June inspired to steer my skills toward print journalism. I gave it some time before making the move, and then later in the summer I gave my notice.

I spent the rest of the summer adjusting to a normal life, getting used to sleeping in the same bed as my husband for more than two times a week and getting used to sleeping–get this!–at night. I spent those August and September days sleeping late, talking walks to process things, and taking steps toward finding another job. If I picture that time in a snapshot, I think of my old neighborhood street illuminated by the gentle, warming rays of the sun. The sun! That bright object I had spent so many years covering up!

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

I wonder if my experience reflects what Scandinavians feel this time of year when the sun stays out most of the day in contrast to the winter when it barely makes an appearance. Traveling to Bergen in the summer in 2008, I got my first taste of the Nordic summer sun. Going back to the hotel, closing the blinds, and going to sleep while the sun had not yet set wasn’t easy.

My family will be marking the summer solstice and Midsummer with a Scandinavian-inspired picnic this year. Simply prepared with salmon, pickled herring, a selection of Scandinavian cheeses, crispbread, dilled potatoes, and cucumber salad, all the components are chilling in the fridge right now, waiting to be enjoyed.

As I was preparing the menu, a cucumber salad was a necessity, but I found two that caught my eye. One, with cucumbers sliced thinly, was more of a quick pickle while the the other retained the watery crunch of the cucumbers but dressed them with dill. Both recipes are adapted from The Scandinavian Kitchen by Camilla Plum. Though the ingredients are similar, the results are quite different. Try one or both–or improvise and take cues from the second recipe and add dill to the first. In any case, these salads are distinctly Nordic, and they’ll add a fresh flavor to your Scandinavian Midsummer menu.

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

1 large (15.5 ounce) cucumber
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup cider vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Thinly slice the cucumber with a mandoline and place it in a heat-proof bowl. Bring water, vinegar, and seasonings to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring frequently. Pour over the sliced cucumbers and stir to coat. Cool, stirring occasionally. Serve right away or store in the refrigerator.

Serves 4-6.

Cucumber Salad with Dill

1 large (12.5 ounce) cucumber
1 small bunch of dill, stems and leaves, chopped finely (about 1 generous tablespoon)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Cut it into 1/4-inch slices at a slat. Stir remaining ingredients together in a medium bowl. Toss the cucumbers with the dressing and marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours before serving.

Serves 2-4.

The Writing Life

Keyboard

Life is full of filters. We customize an image of ourselves daily that we want to portray to our colleagues, and we share the best of life while ignoring the worst when posting status updates to Facebook or Twitter. Blogging is no different, really, when we have a theme that we try to stick to. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately–that perceived need to stick to the content that is supposedly the reason that people read.

When I started Outside Oslo back in 2009, I thought of it mostly as a personal journal, made public and therefore something that I hoped that people would stumble upon and hopefully want to read. As people began to resonate with the posts and share their own stories about the connection between food, heritage, and family, I began to tighten my focus.

But when reading Ashley’s post today over at Not Without Salt–one in which she described a moment in her day, a quiet, beautiful moment savored amidst the chaos and clutter that comes with being a parent–I began to think about the filters that such a topic places on the writing that I do, and as a result the limited frame of reference that I share.

Life–my life, specifically, for the purpose of this post–is bigger than the meals cooked and the ethnicity of origin. Each day I find myself occupying positions of wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, cousin, niece, aunt, friend, writer, and any other role that comes into play.

There are days when my life as a wife are full of celebration as I watch my husband wrap up the final days of graduate school. There are days when I nurse a sick toddler back to health and kiss his forehead when he falls head-first onto the ground. There are days when I feel I’ll never catch up to the multiplying emails finding a semipermanent home in my inboxes (yes, inboxes). And there are the days when I feel–rightfully so–that there is not enough time to write the queries, articles, and blog posts that I want to write.

I shared a couple of weeks ago the struggle I was having with my writing life, the experience of having so many ideas and projects in the works that I was losing sight of my longterm objectives. From that, I momentarily lost my voice. In the effort to fill so many hats I found myself racing to stay on top of multiple missions at once, and as a result losing sight of where I have been headed all these weeks, months, and years. I am coming out of that, though, I am happy to report. I am confident of that. It’s nothing new for the writer, and nothing new for me. Back when I was a journalism student in college I knew it all too well. It happened again when I worked as a television news writer and producer. No matter what, I just kept writing. The difference between then and now, however, is the outlet that I have here at Outside Oslo. Here, I can simply write. I can process what’s going on in my head using the medium that often trips me up but that I also love so dearly: words. I read a while back that Molly Wizenberg founded Orangette as a way to practice writing and develop her voice. She wanted to be a food writer back then, if I remember the story correctly, and she used the blog as a place to practice, a place to write. 

Too often lately I have been overly concerned with finding the right story to tell here at Outside Oslo, which has made the blog feel on occasion more like one of my assignments than a place that is an extension of my heart. I would like to change that. I would like to share more details of my days, more of the trials and errors I encounter as I seek to grow my skills as a recipe developer and photographer in addition to writer, and ultimately more of who I am as a person and an individual.

Scandinavian food–particularly the cuisine of Norway–is a passion of mine, but as I said, it’s only a slice of life. I’ll be writing about it for months and years into the future, both here and in other platforms. But I hope you’ll keep reading and stay involved and engaged as I expand my focus and share the bigger picture of life here at Outside Oslo. The food will remain “Scandi-centric,” but I would like to open up my life and my heart a little bit more and allow Outside Oslo to be a place where I can feel free to experiment as a writer at times and rest at others. Please continue to follow along and keep sending me comments and emails along the way. I truly love hearing from you. Thank you for reading.

Sincerely,

Daytona

Image originally shared at my other blog Nooks & Cranberries

A Scandinavian Almond Cake to Say Thanks

Scandinavian Almond Cake with Strawberries and Tea

Today I’m sharing with you a recipe for cake, one of those multipurpose-serve-now-or-freeze-for-later types of cakes. But first, let’s have a little heart-to-heart.

I want to say thank you to all of you for reading this blog and for all the comments you leave here and on the Facebook page. Your enthusiasm means a lot to me and has encouraged me to shape Outside Oslo into what it is today. They say that the writing life is a lonely one, but I beg to differ. When I’m writing, it’s in the found moments, the few hours here and there in the midst of a full and meaningful life. Writing is my quiet time and even though it’s a solitary task, I always know there are the readers out there who will share in the process by reading my work, some of whom will be generous enough to reach out and drop me a comment or note. We all write to share, so as individual and solitary as the craft often is, we are never really alone in the process.

Scandinavian Almond Cake with Strawberry

That said, the writing life isn’t always easy. In fact, someone asked me the other night how I do it. How I manage to stay at home with my child and maintain a career as a freelance writer. I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I don’t manage very well, to be honest. I’ve been feeling lately at times like I’m struggling even to write, like there are so many different projects, articles, blog posts, and queries swirling around in my mind that my brain struggles to grab hold of just one and focus for any length of time.

A few months ago I felt like my writing life was invincible. Friends were telling me I was in my season as a writer. Scoring writing assignments, being invited on press trips (including an awesome one to New Zealand), churning out some great story ideas–I felt on top of the world. This spring, however, I took a step back to reevaluate what I was doing in light of my longterm goals. I found that my dream projects were taking the backburner to the more immediate assignments and that I wasn’t carving out time to work on my longterm goals.

I’m working on time management and organization, trying to restructure my routines and create a new system that will allow me to accomplish the goals I’ve set out to achieve while making my family my number one priority. It’s a continuous process, and one requiring plenty of trial and error and tweaking along the way. Isn’t that the case with life, that as soon as you get a rhythm down it changes beat and you stumble a bit as you try to readjust?

Scandinavian Almond Cake

While I’m writing this, I’m aware that you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with the cake you’re seeing in the photos. Not a lot and everything, all at once. Blogging is an extension of the journalist’s life, with the blogger acting simultaneously as editor, reporter, writer, photographer, and publisher, putting together a packaged piece and then publishing it at the right moment. It’s a time-consuming process and often a labor of love.

As I consider some ways to reboot my writing life, dedicating more time to some areas and less to others, one thing is for sure: Outside Oslo will remain one of my priorities. This place brings me so much satisfaction, and for that I am grateful to you. So I guess I could say this cake is for you, a way to say thank you for being so great.

Almond Cake with Strawberries and Tea

Scandinavian Almond Cake
Adapted from The Everything Nordic Cookbook by Kari Schoening Diehl

3/4 cup sliced almonds
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast the almonds in a large pan over medium heat, stirring constantly until they turn golden. Transfer them to a bowl to cool, then grind them in a food processor.

While the nuts are cooling, prepare the batter. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg, milk, and almond extract and beat until you have a smooth batter. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt, then add to the wet ingredients and mix to combine.

Butter a grooved almond cake pan and pour the ground nuts inside, shaking to coat all the sides. Discard the excess nuts. Pour in the batter, taking care not to disrupt the nuts, then bake until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean, 40 to 55 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan so it doesn’t break. Carefully invert on to a platter, then dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Happy New Year!

Rice Cream

My photo for rice cream, published with my latest article in the Norwegian American Weekly

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and holiday season. Can you believe it’s already 2013? I love this time of the year–settling into a new planner/calendar, reevaluating old goals and setting new ones, and beginning anew. It’s been pretty quiet over here at Outside Oslo, hasn’t it? Behind the scenes, I had been working on so many writing projects in the fall months that I gave myself a bit of a vacation. Of course, however, writers never are able to “turn off” the creative voice inside their heads, but for me a vacation meant taking a short break from seeking new writing opportunities and allowing myself the leeway to be more flexible on my blogging schedule. Instead, I worked behind the scenes on moving Outside Oslo over here to www.outside-oslo.com (it’s still a work in progress), did some professional development in the form of reading about writing, and just relaxed and enjoyed the holiday season with my friends and family.

As a stay-at-home mom who is also a freelance writer and blogger, I find that balancing everything and keeping my priorities in focus requires constant evaluation. It’s easy to be so wrapped up in the current tasks that one temporarily loses sight of the big picture, so for me, taking a little break every once in a while is a good thing. Each time I do it, I get back to work refreshed and energized and ready to move forward with new momentum.

I’ll be back really soon with more stories and Scandinavian recipes. In the meantime, update your bookmarks and RSS feed to follow Outside Oslo over here instead of the old site.

Finally, since I mentioned the writing I’ve been doing, I’d like to share a few places I’ve been published or appeared recently:

Most recently, I received the latest edition of News of Norway in the mail yesterday and was delighted to see that “Learning from the best,” a personal story about baking lefse with Grandma Adeline, was chosen to be published amongst other reader reflections on holiday traditions! If you’re not a subscriber, you can monitor their website for when they upload the current edition online.

Also, a years-long desire to come up with a signature recipe for rice cream was satisfied this past holiday season thanks to a writing deadline! When the editor of the Norwegian American Weekly asked me to contribute a story about a culinary tradition for the paper’s Christmas issue, there was no doubt in my mind that rice cream would be a perfect recipe to share, since it was a holiday staple at Grandpa Lauritz and Grandma Agny’s house as I was growing up. The story, “A Christmas dessert rich with heritage: Norwegian heritage, Christmas culinary traditions and family create the perfect holiday atmosphere,” was published last month and is also available online.

A few weeks before that, I contributed a story and recipe to the Norwegian American Weekly’s series on syv slags kaker: “A New Tradition: The Norwegian syv slags kaker custom brings back old memories and inspires new traditions.”

With a background in broadcast journalism, I had fun reminiscing about my former career when recording a vignette for The Scandinavian Hour radio show’s Christmas special, which aired on Seattle’s KKNW 1150.

Finally, I shared Grandma Agny’s recipe for surkål over at The Oslo Eye in November in an article called “Amidst New Scandinavian Food Trends, Traditional Norwegian Fare Still Warms the Heart.”

I have a couple of other stories that will be published in magazines in the coming weeks, and I’m in that excited waiting period that always comes in the weeks and months leading up to seeing an article in print. I’ll let you know when they’re published!

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