Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hinc illæ lacrimæ...

Hence those tears...

J. Singer Sargent: The Black Brook (1908)
The semester is over. The school begins again in the first week of January with new faces. I have been here in Norway for 5 months now and I have to say I wouldn't have learnt much more than this even if I have made a trip around the world for those 5 months.
I have learnt that in the smaller places in Latvia they don't use house numbers (something I still cannot believe). I have learnt that in Mexico, on the Day of the Dead people make a crazy party with a lot of food (a special bread) and drink for their dead relatives. I have learnt that the national sport in Lithuania is basketball.
And I have learnt sooo much more about myself and people in general!
I'd like to say goodbye from this amazing, memorable semester, these amazing people I got to know in Norway and last but not least, this fantastic year... with two Scandinavian songs!

The first one is a well-known Norwegian folk melody that is sung in Swedish (by for example Agnetha Fältskog!) and in Danish, too!

Hvem kan seile foruten vind
Hvem kan ro uten årer
Hvem kan skilles fra vennen sin
Uten å felle tårer

Jeg kan seile foruten vind
Jeg kan ro uten årer
Men ei skilles fra vennen min
Uten å felle tårer...

And in English (from this page):

Who can sail without the wind
Who without oars can row
Who can leave a best friend behind
Without tears falling as you go

I can sail without the wind
Without oars I can row
But I cannot leave a best friend behind
Without tears falling as I go...

And... it might be as cheesy as it gets... but only because Nyttårsaften (New Year's Eve) is coming soon... and we just have mentioned the gorgeous Agnetha Fältskog... and this song is the non plus ultra of all New Year-songs in Scandinavia...

Thank you, guys! Godt nyttår! Happy new year!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

God Jul!

I know it's has been a couple of days since the forth Sunday and even Christmas Eve is over. But borte bra, hjemme best (home, sweet home, literally 'everywhere is good but it's best at home'), I flew back to Hungary for a few days and didn't have the opportunity to post the forth verse (after the first, second and third) of Inger Hagerup's Adventslysene ('Advent lights'; one of the most known Advent poems of the Norwegian literature).

Vi tenner fire lys i kveld
og lar dem brenne ned
for lengsel, glede, håp og fred,
men mest allikevel
for fred på denne lille jord
der menneskene bor.

We light four candles tonight
and let them burn down entirely
for longing, happiness, hope and peace
but most importantly for peace
for peace on this little Earth
where we, people are living.

I was writing mainly about holiday food and some other little pieces of information concerning Christmas but there are so many other things I could have told you about this wonderful time of the year... about carpenters called Andersen... about mice celebrating Christmas... I guess it will all remain for next year. I want to post though one last song that is very popular with children in Norway.

The cover of the first edition of Margrethe Munthe's book with the Christmas song På låven sitter nissen
The protagnist is the julenisse (this is how they call Santa Claus in Norway) who doesn't want to share his julegrøt (rice pudding served with raisins, sugar and cinnamon - a very popular Advent lunch or dessert with Norwegians) with the mice dancing around him.

I wish us all - just like Inger Hagerup - a merry Christmas with longing, happiness, hope and peace... God Jul til alle!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Julemat - Christmas food in Norway 2.

The reason why I love Christmas cakes is that very often there is a whole story behind them. Let's take for example Germany's Stollen. It's a very rich sweet bread filled with different nuts, dried and candied fruits and marsipan, covered with the mix of butter and powdered sugar. In the old days, when people started to make this kind of cake, the rules of religious fastening were much more respected than today. During the Advent time, it was prohibited to eat anything of animal origin, eventhough Stollen tasted much better with the butter on top. According to the legends, Germans had sent a commitee to the pope with a little sample of Stollen - with and without the buttery frosting. After the pope had tried both and constated that the cake tasted much better with butter on top, the Germans had got a permission to make and consume Stollen with butter and sugar on top even during the Advent period.
Well, I doubt that I can tell something like that about all the numerous Norwegian Christmas cakes and cookies, but after last time's Christmas Eve dinner review, I decided to dedicate another entry to Christmas baking.
Let's start with the one that is (in my opinion) maybe the most remarkable. It is called kransekake, meaning 'wreath cake':

They usually consider this cake as something traditional Norwegian but the Danish had a very similar recipe already before their Northern neighbours (the Danes often form a horn out of the rings that they fill with candy - it's called overflødighedshorn in Danish, meaning the Horn of Plenty). The kransekake is not only a Christmas cake - they make it for numerous important occasions: weddings, birthdays, May 17 (the national day of Norway)... As you can probably see, it takes a lot of time and effort to make a cake like this. Traditionally it has 18 rings (this is supposed to bring luck for the bride and the groom on their wedding day) and you have to bake and decorate each ring separately. Then you want to add some ornaments like flags, flowers, candy... If you don't have the time to make it, you can also buy it deepfrozen.

According to the tradition, if Norwegians want to be well-prepared for Christmas, they need to bake not less than seven different småkaker (cookies; literally 'small cakes'). What's more, the proportions are strictly set, too. One third of the baked goods should be iron-baked, one third oven-baked and one third deepfried.

How can something be iron-baked? For the preparation of the goro they use a utensile called gorojern ('goro iron') that will give this crispy cake really nice patterns. The cake man called kakemann is a delicious cake with a hint of cardamom. The decoration is optional, however, it's common to make an icing of chocolat or edible red paint. Also krumkaker is an iron-baked dessert - you use a krumkakejern ('krumkake iron') to give it patterns and then shape it into cones while it is still warm. You can have it either plain or with whipped cream or other fillings. The sandkaker are another type of cake that (in my opinion) is craving for filling, however, they often just enjoy them plain. You need special molds that look like little baskets to give the almond-based dough this special shape.

From left to right: goro, kakemann, krumkaker, sandkaker.
I don't know the actual connection between the berlinerkrans and the German capital, but the berlinerkrans (literally: Berlin wreath) is certainly not the same thing as the Berliner (which is a jam-filled doughnut). It's quite a work to make it (due to its tricky form), but the end result is worth the struggle: many consider this as the best Christmas cookie. The smultringer is more like a doughnut (which for me is rather a Carnival food). For me, honestly, these 'fat rings' (they are baked in fat) are really nothing special. The fattigmann is (according to its name at least) a poor man's cake. I think though that a cake that has brandy and cream in it, and then cooked in fat is everything but poor! The sirupsnipper is a molasses cake that has a whole range of spices and smells so much like Christmas!

From left to right: berlinerkrans, smultringer, fattigmann, sirupsnipper.
Last but not least there is the pepperkake (ginger bread) which has an extra importance in Bergen. The second largest town in Norway has a tradition started in 1991: the children in local schools and kindergartens make gingerbread houses, churches etc. that are put together to a huge ginger bread town. The pepperkakeby of Bergen is the biggest and (according to them at least) nicest ginger bread city of the world. 

Well, the next step would be to pick seven of the småkaker mentioned above and prepare them... or just buy them hjemmelaget (home made) on a julemarked (Christmas market) that can be found everywhere in the December weekends in Norway. 

Anyways, no matter how many types of cakes you make, I wish you a beautiful preparation time for Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tredje søndag i advent (Third Sunday of Advent)

Today is a special day in many Norwegian schools and kindergartens: 13th December is the day of Sicilian martyr St. Lucy. Even though saints play by far not an as big role in the Protestant Church as in the Catholic one, the tradition of St. Lucy's day is very vivid in Scandinavia, mainly in Sweden but also in Denmark and Norway!

St. Lucia
We got visit in the morning from a kindergarten. The children formed a luciatog (literally 'Lucia train': they were standing in a row holding each other's hand) and sung the song Sankta Lucia (you can listen to it here). This was originally a Southern Italian folk song (among others, Elvis Presley sings it in Italian) that has been translated into Norwegian. One girl has been chosen to be Lucia - she wore a wreath made out of lights on her head while the others followed her holding candles. It was charming! After the song had been finished, they gave away cakes called lussekatter. It is an S-formed bun made of yeast dough that has a very typical yellow colour because the most important ingredient is safran. (However, since safran is one of the world's most expensive spices, it's common to replace it with turmeric. I doubt that the kindergarten children gave away the safran version but it was delicious with turmeric as well.)

There are many superstitious traditions in the world concerning 13th December. In Hungary, if you build a three legged chair out of wood and you step on it at midnight, you can see the whitches. In Mexico (I have just heard about it lately) it is forbidden to sew on this day.

Even if this holiday has nothing to do with Christmas, it is a quite important day in the Advent time in Scandinavia. Now that the third candle has also been lit on the Advent wreath, we can read what says one of the best-known Norwegian Advent poem written by Inger Hagerup (you can also read the first and the second Sunday's stanza on my blog).

Så tenner vi tre lys i kveld
for lengsel, håp og glede.
De står og skinner for seg selv
og oss som er tilstede.
Så tenner vi tre lys i kveld,
for lengsel, håp og glede.

We light three candles tonight
We light them for longing, hope and happiness
They stand there and light for themselves
and for us who are there
We light three candles tonight
We light them for longing, hope and happiness...

Luciafeiring - Celebration of St. Lucy's day

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Julemat - Christmas food in Norway 1.

I think I would have been able to write about this topic even a month ago... It's been a couple of weeks now since grocery stores turned into some kind of Christmas food providers. The øl (beer) has become juleøl (Christmas beer), the skinke (ham) has turned into juleskinke (Christmas ham) and even marsipan has got the shape of a pig and the name julegris (Christmas pig - a pig-shaped marsipan dessert. Why exactly pig? I don't know, maybe because pork is the No.1 Christmas food in Norway). Not to mention the myriad of Christmas cakes available in the shops...

Christmas food can depend on where actually you live in Norway. However, the most common dish for Christmas is svineribbe (pork ribs) with crispy skin on top. It has been scandalous with pork this year - in many stores they were selling it for a ridiculously low price to attract customers which led to a shortage on this kind of meat and to the fact that importation is needed to provide the Christmas dinner of Norwegians.
But ok, let's say we've managed to get some in the shop. How to prepare it? Take a look at this video where Ingrid Espelid Hovig (I wrote about her earlier here) reveals the secret of a delicious svineribbe... I think it's worth taking a look at the video even if you don't know any Norwegian - the end result gir vann i munnen (makes mouth water)...

Pinnekjøtt (literally means 'meat on the stick') is the name for dried and smoked ribs of lamb which is also a very common Christmas dinner in many families. Served with potatoes, mashed cauliflower and sometimes Brussel sprouts, it's considered to be a poor man's food.

The dried leg of lamb is called fenelår. You can buy it "ready-cut" but since that's way too expensive, most people buy the whole leg. It's really delicious and tastes very "lamby". People eat it as a snack. This is what it looks like:

Another essential part of many Christmas dinners in Norway is the so called medisterpølse which is a white sausage made of pork. You can also buy the medisterkake which has the form of a meat ball.

Surprisingly, those eating fish on the 24th are a minority in Norway. The Christmas fish is mainly torsk (cod) that they cook until it gets a jelly consistency. This jelly fish (not jellyfish ha ha ha) is called lutefisk. One of my acquintances (a lady who comes from the very North of Norway but currently lives in Kristiansand) was complaining that people in Southern Norway are unable to make good lutefisk but it's so delicious in the Northern part of the country...! Well, apart from her, noone has told me anything good about the lutefisk yet. I guess I will have to make up my own mind about it.

And sist men ikke minst (last but not least): since eating kalkun (turkey) on Christmas Eve is traditional in quite a few countries, there are families who have roasted turkey on their table.

Just a personal remark in the end. Growing up in a family where we always had mushroon soup and bread pudding with poppy seed for Christmas, it's interesting for me to see that the majority of people in Norway have meat on the menu. You can eat pretty much anything here: pork, lamb, turkey, fish... except maybe chicken and beef.

Which one of the dishes above would you want to try? :)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Andre søndag i advent (Second Sunday of Advent)

The snow-covered mountains, the Schwibbogen (German candle archs very popular in Norway) and Julenisse (the Scandinavian equivalent of Santa Claus who is, unlike the bishop St. Nicholas (by the way, it's his day today!), is a family man with wife and children) in the windows... Norway is a Winter Wonderland!
However, not only Norwegians can admire the beautiful trees of the Norwegian forests in their city centres but also people of London. Every year Oslo sends a huge evergreen to the largest city of Europe. It's a tradition that started in 1947 and expresses the gratitude of the Norwegian nation for the support of the British during World War II when the circumstances forced the king (King Haakon VII, the grandfather of the present king of Norway Harald V), the royal family and the Norwegian government to exile from Oslo to London. This is what Trafalgar Square looks like in Advent time:

London, 2010

Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland is another lucky city that has been given a Norwegian Christmas tree as a present every year since 1952.
We lit also the second candle on the Advent wreath, so let's see what the poem of Inger Hagerup says after the first candle.

Så tenner vi to lys i kveld,
to lys for håp og glede.
De står og skinner for seg selv
og oss som er tilstede.
Så tenner vi to lys i kveld,
to lys for håp og glede.

We light two candles tonight
We light them for hope and happiness
They stand there and light for themselves
and for us who are there
We light two candles tonight
We light them for hope and happiness...

Two more stanzas to come.