Thursday, October 13, 2011

Salted Meat: The Reason Why We Have Refrigerators

I have had run-ins with heavily salted meat twice now since moving to this fair peninsula.  Both times the meat appears just like its fresh, unsalted counterpart but when cooked and served, it tastes like a big bomb of savoriness has just exploded in your mouth.  And not in a good way.

The first salty encounter came from the sea--literally.  I decided to buy some wild-caught seafood from the fishmonger in the sentrum to make for an extra-special dinner on our anniversary.  I selected two plump cod fillets and--ok, here's where I must admit that I was told what to do with pre-salted meat and chose to forgo it--when I asked how best to prepare the fish, the woman instructed me to boil it until tender.  Now, I figured she was just being Scandinavian in her culinary approach, which tends to be to boil things to death.  So I decided no, I would rather bake my cod in the oven without adding any more salt.  Well it turned out that the boiling really was necessary for osmosis to do its thing and rid the cod of the excess salinity.  Connor gamely made his way through the meal, but I just couldn't take the tongue-tingling taste of brine that overwhelmed the flesh. 

Now I thought I had learned my lesson to always trust the shopkeeper's advice and not take pre-salted ingredients for granted, but I had another unfortunate encounter over the weekend. I was all set to prepare the staple meal of Norwegian autumnal suppers, fårikål.  The dish simply consists of layers of bone-in lamb meat and large slices of cabbage that steam away on the stovetop for 1-2 hours.  I had seen packs specifically labelled as fårikålkjott, or fårikål meat, at local supermarkets a few weeks back, so I figured I would still be able to find them easily.  On the day I went to buy the lamb, however, I couldn't spot any as such.  Instead I rifled through the lamb section and decided that lammekjott saltet--salted lamb meat--would work.  I just wouldn't add extra salt, right?  Where have I used this particular train of reasoning before...
The now faux-fårikål bubbled away in the kitchen and honestly, it smelled heavenly.  When it came time to sit down and eat it, however, it was stomach-turningly salty.  Even Connor had to concede to the overpowering grossness of this result.  Instead we had some leftovers and the homemade pumpernickel bread that he had baked earlier in the day (phew).  Lesson FINALLY learned, I think.  Beware the beast of pre-salted meat.
But seriously, Norway, I know you all had to keep your fish and meats by dousing them in excessive quantities of nature's preservative in the olden days, before modern refrigeration became de rigueur, but maybe it's time to retire that treatment of protein, if only to help the naive foreigners among you. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

All about Cabbage on 'Stavanger Expats'

Check out my latest article for the Stavanger Expats web site, which details the cabbage family in all its crunchy splendor and offers up a tasty recipe for Asian cole slaw.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sit on a Potato Pan, Otis

Every good parade should have a mascot, right?
Since festival season in Norway is beginning to wind down, I could not pass up the opportunity to check out the potetfestival, or potato festival, in the nearby small town of Bryne.  I was exciting to get to experience a day devoted to one particular piece of produce, since Connor's mom had enjoyed the annual onion festival in Switzerland so much when they lived there.  We decided to make a day of it and bike (in semi-inclement weather) to Bryne, a 40 mile round trip journey that took a little over two hours each way.  Once we got ten miles south, past Sandnes, the landscape became decidedly rural, all rolling hills and farms advertising fresh eggs and apples.

We arrived just in time for the parade of tractors, which appeared to be the highlight of the festivities.  I liked the cowboy-looking guy rocking a pink tractor with his manliness steadfastly intact:

After all the cycling, we were hungry and ready to tuck into some spuds.  We found the food tent, which was serving several traditional Norwegian dishes.  We passed up the freshly griddled lapper, or pancakes, in search of something more in keeping with the theme.  Here, as in other countries in Europe, they eat pancakes inexplicably from a bag with no toppings; you can even buy shelf-stable pancakes.  It has always struck me as an offense against nature.  If you'd like to read more about this puzzling phenomenon, check out this fun piece.  At the same time, why Americans think we have a stranglehold on the proper way to eat pancakes is curious too, I suppose.  But I digress.  The longest line was in front of the komle station and we hungrily joined it.  Komle are stodgy potato-based dumplings accompanied by mashed rutabega and some sort of salty diced meat; in this instance, it was a side of boiled ham bones with bits of succulent pork clinging to them.  Komle are said to be a staple Thursday evening middag, or dinner.  We shared a large portion and it definitely stuck to the ribs for the ride home.  Unfortunately I forgot to snap a photo of it because, like I said, we were famished.
Inside the tent were some potato activities, mostly for kids, such as stick-a-syringe-in-a-potato-and-shoot-your-neighbor.  I marveled at a display showcasing all the varieties of potatoes grown in this region.
Some of the types had names appropriate to their appearance, like mandel, or 'almond.'  Others carried more intriguing titles, such as those named after women, like 'Cecile.'  Surely there's a story behind that one...

We stumbled out of the main tent in a dumpling-filled haze to discover this whimsical sculpture made entirely out of twigs.

All the shops along the high street had adopted the festive spirit, with artfully-placed potato still lives in their window fronts.  One bakery was doing brisk business offering a marzipan cakelet designed to look like, well, you know.  We had to try it.
We would have picked up a bag of taters to take home with us, but it would have been quite something to lug on our backs all the way home.  Maybe next year.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hike, On Ice

This weekend I had an experience that is as northern as I can imagine: trekking on Folgefanna, the third largest glacier in Norway. When the opportunity presented itself at work to join the Fjellsports club on the trip, I wasn't quite sure what to expect: Would it be ultra-hardcore, reminiscent of Stallone in Cliffhanger? Or would it be a boring walk on ground that happened to be ice? Well it turned out it was halfway between the two, but I'm glad that Folgefanna offers a little adventure while also being quite safe. We did tie off to each other and wear crampons and helmets and I did get to use my ice ax quite a bit.

The town of Jondal provides good accommodation and access to the north part of the glacier. It's a five-hour drive from Stavanger, but skirting the Hardangerfjord is one of the most beautiful drives I've ever been on.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hike Local: Dalsnuten

With friends from England over for a visit this week, I finally got myself organized enough to head to Dalsnuten, a renowned hiking spot nearby.  It took about 35 minutes to drive there and the route was very straightforward.  Dalsnuten is past Sandnes on the other side of Gandsfjord, opposite Stavanger.  There is a good-sized parking lot at the trail head and even a DNT lodge, which was locked yesterday, but appears to offer a cafe during high season.  There were at least six trails that you can embark upon from the car park.  We chose the topptur, since we wanted to catch a glimpse of the purported amazing view.

We set off on a rather muddy path that curved around a pond, one of several in the area.  Luckily, there were wooden boards placed in tactical positions over the boggiest bits.  Sheep made sheepy sounds nearby and we even heard the elusive call of a goat or cow bell, which we could never quite locate. 
The last section of the hike up involved a fair amount of ambling over boulders.   The scene at the top was nothing short of breathtaking:
We could see Stavanger and the Hafrsfjord to the west, all the way down to Sandnes in the south, and beyond.  Our friend Alex even could see planes taking off from Sola Airport.  At the top we observed two 'wow, those Norwegians are hard core' incidents: we heard panting behind us and turned to see a young guy jogging up the steep boulders, only to touch the stone tower that marked the trail's end before jogging back down again.  He didn't even pause to take in the view!  We also spotted a dad with a pre-walking toddler arrive at the peak, with no baby backpack or carrier in sight.  We figured he must be an expert scrambler to be carrying a precious infant while making his way up the rough hill side.  Each of us used all four limbs repeatedly and even then, we nearly wiped out on an oddly-angled rock or mud slick a few times.

There are two toppturer that lead up the hill, so we decided to take the other one down.  It had a large rocky section near the summit, too, which involved a few walking sideways-crab moves and the occasional scoot.  We all agreed that it was a gentler trail overall, however.  I loved the canopy of trees, growing beside an old stone wall, that we walked under.
The hike took about 45-60 minutes each way.  It was a delightful outing, especially in the beatifically sunny weather.  Here's to old friends and great company. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Brown Cheese for Breakfast

In an effort to familiarize myself with local foodstuffs, I picked up my first package of brunost, which translates literally as 'brown cheese.'  Brunost is made by boiling milk, cream, and whey until they solidify.  The brun part of the name is due to the fact that the sugars caramelize during the boiling process, rendering the cheese brown.  Think of it as post-dulce de leche, if you will.  Brunost is primarily a breakfast and snacking cheese and you can place it, in very thin slices, atop bread, crackers, fruit, and even waffles.  It's a popular staple of children's lunchboxes.

Alright, enough cultural context: what does it taste like?  The closest cousin to which I can compare it is the filling of those 'is-this-really-cheese inside' cheese cracker sandwiches.  Not unpleasant, but not fully resembling cheese as we know it.  I'm getting into it, though, I must say.  I can't imagine ever eschewing my beloved peanut butter altogether in favor of brunost, as a Canadian expat boldly writes in this articleBut I am enjoying the opportunity to push my culinary boundaries.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Redcurrants on 'Stavanger Expats'

Wondering how to work with fresh redcurrants?  Check out my first article on the [extremely helpful] Stavanger Expats website.