A Festive November

As I sit writing on this quiet November afternoon, I’m amazed that so much time has already elapsed since my last monthly roundup. It’s been a good month, although it’s gone by quickly. I spent much of it cooking my way through Norwegian and Swedish recipes and giving you some early ideas for how to add a Scandinavian touch to your holiday plans.

There were the first of the syv slags kaker…




…and sandbakkels.

Scandinavian Almond Bars

There were the Scandinavian almond bars I grew up eating…


…and a graham cracker twist on pepperkakor.

Lingonberry Cake with Walnuts

Lingonberry walnut spice cake would be perfect for last-minute holiday guests or as a hostess gift…

Norwegian Pancakes

…and Norwegian pancakes would make a delicious Christmas day brunch item.

Kale Salad with Lemon, Almonds and Cheese

Kale salad with lemon, almonds, and Nordic cheese is a delicious way of enjoying fresh vegetables amidst the rich and creamy foods often served this time of year…

Rødkål Red Cabbage

…and the traditional rødkål conjures up memories of Christmases gone by for many people with Scandinavian backgrounds.

Orange and Nut Bowl

We talked about ways to add a festive touch to your home with fruit and nuts

Scandinavian Christmas Book

…and got inspiration from various books including Scandinavian Christmas, Christmas baking, and Swedish Christmas Traditions.

Apple Pie

We made an apple pie

Macy's Christmas Star

…and talked about traditions.

I’ve enjoyed hearing about your Christmas traditions and memories as well, and I’m looking forward to sharing more ideas with each other in the coming weeks!

Book Inspiration: Christmas Baking

Since we’ve been on the topic of Scandinavian Christmas books lately (here and here), I’d like to share with you another one that’s inspiring me as I plan my holiday baking: Christmas Baking: Fun and Delicious Holiday Treats. This newly-published book from Swedish pastry chef and food writer Mia Öhrn features a variety of candies, cookies, and other baked goods.

Though the book is on the thin side with only 38 recipes, it’s full of so many photos (which provide inspiration in and of themselves) that this will be a book I’ll return to time and time again for ideas. Some of the recipes I’m considering making this holiday season include lingonberry toffee, “Mozart Almond Chocolates” made with homemade nougat and almond paste and covered in dark chocolate, sugar-coated gingerbread sticks (made with leftover pepparkakor dough), and rice pudding pie. Enjoy!

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Full disclosure: A review copy of Christmas Baking was sent by the publisher.

Book Inspiration: Swedish Christmas Traditions

As I plan my Scandinavian Christmas, I’m digging not only into old family traditions and recipes, but also perusing newer books dedicated to the topic. One of those is Swedish Christmas Traditions: A Smorgasbord of Scandinavian Recipes, Crafts, and Other Holiday Delights by Ernst Kirchsteiger.

This book–published by Skyhorse two years ago–features a variety of recipes, from savory dishes such as Ernst’s apple herring (and a pickled vegetable recipe for those not keen on pickled herring) to sweet treats such as white chocolate-coated marzipan medallions and traditional cinnamon hearts. Though the focus is on food, the book also includes crafts for decorating your home Swedish-style and some festive floral arrangements.

Check back soon for more recipes and Scandinavian Christmas books!

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Full disclosure: A review copy of Swedish Christmas Traditions was sent by the publisher.

Book Inspiration: Scandinavian Christmas

I have been a fan of Danish cookbook author Trine Hahnemann for a while (her Scandinavian Cookbook and The Nordic Diet are two of my favorite Scandinavian cookbooks). So I was excited to find out that she was publishing a cookbook this fall dedicated to one of the favorite topics of Scandinavians: Christmas.

Simply yet appropriately titled Scandinavian Christmas, Hahnemann’s newest book is full of recipes that would be perfect for anyone hoping to add a Nordic touch to their holiday table. You’ll find everything from an assortment of Christmas cookies and traditional savory dishes to new interpretations of classic dishes, such as the salted cod bruschetta that Hahnemann has created as a nod to lutefisk.

It’s a beautiful book full of delicious recipes and gorgeous photos. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I do!

Scandinavian Christmas Book

Scandinavian Christmas Book

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A 3-Year Blogiversary

It’s been three years this month since I started Outside Oslo. While my friend Christy and I were driving away from a book signing for Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef the other night (if you haven’t bought her new book, My Berlin Kitchen, yet, please do–you’re in for a treat), my friend suggested that I do a “blogiversary.” I dismissed the idea at first, since the official anniversary of my first post was a few weeks ago. But after considering it more, I realized that it would actually be fun for me to go back and read through my old posts and reminisce over the events and experiences of the past three years.

I took the leap and published my introductory post on September 1, 2009. After Grandma Agny, whom I wrote about on Tuesday, died earlier that summer, I found myself clinging to my Norwegian heritage as a way to try to get closer to her. As part of the grieving process, I went to a Scandinavian bar in Ballard to drink an aquavit in her memory and took a trip to the mall to seek out Scandinavian cookbooks and try to find a Norwegian perfume called Laila. I bought my first cookbooks–Aquavit and The Great Scandinavian Baking Book–and I started a blog.

It took a little while to get my bearings, due in part to what seemed like a limited availability of Scandinavian cookbooks that weren’t old-fashioned (I’ve since discovered many wonderful ones and have a page dedicated to them). I featured the first recipe–Potatoes and Chanterelles with Lemon and Dill–later that month. As the weeks and months went on, I alluded to “an emergency at work” and the stress that accompanied it. Being new to blogging, I didn’t want to get too personal, but looking back at it, the words “emergency” and “crisis” are about as vague as I could have gotten! I woke up one October morning to a voicemail from the newsroom where I used to work. The assignment editor was calling me for the scoop on the fire at the theatre where I was the communications manager. A fire? At the theatre? That’s some way to find out. I skipped the morning shower and got out the door as quickly as I could to get to the scene. Emergency crews blocking the road couldn’t tell me much, but we all soon learned that the theatre and its adjacent building were the target of a serial arsonist. The adjacent building was destroyed. The theatre had to be gutted, but thanks to the firefighters’ aggressive efforts to save it, it could be restored. That experience defined much of that fall as we worked on finding a temporary home for our Christmas production and race to get the theatre restored in time for the beginning of the 2010 season. I got calls from media all the time, and on opening night of the first production back in the original space, I greeted not only the usual critics, but also fielded reporters and photographers in a celebratory frenzy–we were back, and all four local news networks were there to mark the occasion.

While all of that was going on behind the scenes in my life, I blogged about baking lefse with Grandma Adeline and shared scenic photos I had been taking. Over the past several years, Grandma has been teaching my mom and me how to make the perfect lefse, rolling it out round and thin and cooking it just right. We’ve also made sandbakkels, krumkake, and Norwegian waffles, as well as an assortment of cookies. While I’d share photos of our lefse lessons, I’d mainly hint at the other items, not realizing at the time how perfect each one of those experiences would have been to share here on Outside Oslo. As time went on I found myself struggling to keep to a theme, which I had made too broad. I set out to write about my experience discovering my Scandinavian heritage, when what I mainly wanted to write about was the food. I baked cakes–Tosca Cake and Swedish Brandy Cake being two of my favorites–and shared even the non-Scandinavian recipes I loved here on the site (the crab cakes from summer 2010 are amazing).

The next year I kept writing–here on Outside Oslo, and increasingly elsewhere as well. I started another blog, Nooks & Cranberries, with a friend, developed a story for a novel and participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and resumed the freelance writing I had taken a break from. I was working, too, and I discovered how hard it is to balance so many different roles and projects. Before I knew it, I was expecting a baby, and–bam!–the exhaustion and fatigue hit me by surprise. We were also actively trying to buy a new house, and I gave myself permission to put aside my writing goals temporarily and just focus on the immediate needs in my life.

Much of 2011 and the first part of 2012 were pretty quiet here at Outside Oslo, though I tried to touch base here every once in a while, even if just to document progress on the move or share something I thought might be of interest here. Looking back at it, I think that hiatus was one of the best things I could have done for my writing career. It could have been dangerous, had I not started writing again, but stepping back and taking some time to adjust to the changes in life and modify my writing life in the process gave me the ability to dream big. I started sending out queries not only to local publications, but to national magazines, and now I’m officially a nationally-published freelance writer–and a professional food writer! When I left my in 2011 to be a stay-at-home mom, I had visions of trying to reboot my freelance writing career, but I had no idea how exciting it would become. It’s been an exercise in improvisation and trial-and-error to figure out how to keep writing while taking care of a very active little boy and trying to cook and keep the house clean, but I’m doing it, and feeling so encouraged and energized by the progress. I’m excited to see what comes next!

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Saying Goodbye to Summer with a Trio of Salads

Summer Salads

When I was a kid, summer ended in the beginning of September, on the first day of school. These days, however, I let the season linger, embracing the last of the long days and warm weather as the season gently transitions to fall.

So I was caught by surprise the other day when I read a lovely post by Hannah of Honey & Jam. In honor of everything she loves about the approaching season, she looked ahead to the golden-lit, apple-filled, crisp days of autumn. Though the Seattle weather forecast has highs in the 70s and even 80 one day this week, I’ve now started to think about how I want to spend the remaining weeks of summer as I look forward to fall, one of my favorite seasons. On my late-summer list: sipping mojitos on the porch with my husband after work (he makes the best mojitos I’ve ever had), eating an abundance of perfectly-ripe late summer produce, and establishing a new routine of regular walking before it gets cold outside and I lose my motivation.

With that, I’d like to offer you a trio of summer salads as inspiration to take advantage of the best that summer has to offer before we welcome fall. These salads are from The Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnemann. Though the word “diet” is in the title, this book feels less like a diet book than a beautiful and delicious cookbook aimed at inspiring people to adopt healthy and sustainable eating practices while losing weight in the process. Serve these salads with grilled salmon or chicken and maybe a glass of chilled white wine or rosé and you’ll be in for a real treat.

Napa Cabbage with Shrimp, Watercress, and Radish

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
5 1/2 ounces napa cabbage (the original recipe calls for pointed cabbage), cut into inch-long slices
7 ounces cooked bay shrimp
5 ounces radishes, thinly sliced
2 ounces watercress

Whisk vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper together in the bottom of a large bowl. Add cabbage, shrimp, radishes, and watercress, and toss until combined.

Tomato, Cucumber, and Mint Salad

1 cucumber
9 ounces cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped mint
salt and pepper
juice from half a lemon

Cut cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Cut into thin slices. Halve the tomatoes. Combine cucumber and tomatoes with the mint, salt and pepper, and lemon juice, and serve.

Fennel, Strawberry, and Feta Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette

1 head of fennel, thinly sliced with a mandoline grater
1 cup strawberries, sliced
1 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup raspberries
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or raspberry vinegar

Soak the sliced fennel in cold water for 30 minutes to allow the edges to curl up. Drain well, then gently toss with the strawberry slices and feta. Make the dressing by blending the raspberries and vinegar in a food processor or blender, and drizzle over the salad.

Recipes serve four or more people.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of The Nordic Diet from the publisher. However, I made no promises to give a positive review, and am sharing my honest opinions of this book.

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Scandinavian Cookbooks

It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally put the finishing touches on a roundup of Scandinavian cookbooks. You’ll find this list in the menu, or just click here.
I’ve enjoyed discovering new (at least new to me) Scandinavian cookbooks throughout the years, and I’ll continue to update this list as I find new ones. If you have favorites not mentioned on the list, let me know about them!

Cardamom Cake

Wow, there’s less than one hour left of the month of May. Where has time gone? Tomorrow will be the first of June, and summer is just three weeks away. Since my last post, I’ve been pretty busy working on some freelance writing projects, and I’m sad to say that I’ve been neglecting Outside Oslo. The good news is that some of those projects involve writing and cooking, and I’m in the middle of some major recipe development right now! It’s intimidating, to be honest, but also very exciting. I’ll share information about those articles and recipes as they’re published, the first in the next few weeks and then some others in a few months.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a recipe for a cake I baked for Easter last month and just haven’t gotten around to posting. It’s from Swedish Cakes and Cookies. If you’re not familiar with the book, I suggest you check it out. I found out about it from my sister-in-law, and then bought a copy while at Powell’s Books in Portland last spring. It’s full of recipes for cakes, cookies, sweet breads, and pastries, and everything looks delicious. This particular cake is scented with cardamom–I love that spice!–and garnished with pearl sugar and almonds, which give it a nice crunch.

Cardamom Cake
Adapted (barely) from Swedish Cakes and Cookies

1 cup butter, melted and allowed to cool
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/4 cup milk
3-4 tablespoons sugar, for garnish
small handful of sliced almonds, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a cake pan.* Beat eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl until thick. Sift together flour, baking powder, and cardamom, and add to the batter along with the milk and butter. Mix just until combined. Pour batter into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle with pearl sugar and almonds. Bake in the low portion of the oven for about 1 hour. Remove from pan and cool.

*This recipe calls for a 10-inch round one; if you use a different type of pan, like I did, do so at your own risk and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Cookbook Review: “Kitchen of Light”

Every once in a while you come across a cookbook that you feel you would like to live with exclusively for a few weeks, cooking obsessively through the mouth-watering recipes and discovering the full range of the author’s palate. For me, one of those cookbooks is Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad.

In this colorful book, Viestad, a Norwegian food writer and TV host, takes hungry readers on a culinary tour of Norway through his eyes. Viestad’s essays take readers to big cities like Bergen–which boasts northern Europe’s largest outdoor fish market (he also shares a recipe for the classic Bergen Fish Soup)–as well as to remote parts of the country that few of us will ever see. For example, as the host of American Public Television’s New Scandinavian Cooking, Viestad has had the opportunity to tape an episode in Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island well north of the mainland and less than 750 miles from the North Pole. He calls it “the last frontier,” and “one of the few remaining areas of totally unspoiled wilderness in Europe, even the world.” Not many of us will ever step foot on its snow- and ice-covered ground, but thanks to Viestad’s book we can get a taste of what it must have been like to be a trapper or hunter living on a chilly island, the “northernmost inhabited place in the world,” over a century ago; with his accompanying recipe for Svalbard Beet Soup with Goose Stock, we can imagine what it must have been like to eat a steaming bowlful of soup made with goose meat when the geese arrived in the spring.

What I love about this book–well, one of many things that I love–is how Viestad manages to modernize Scandinavian food while staying true to its roots. While you won’t find recipes for rømmegrøt, lefse, or many of the other dishes my grandparents would have cooked, you will occasionally find other traditional dishes, including Viestad’s lovely herb-scented Traditional Yellow Pea Soup (I recently featured the recipe here) and the classic dessert called Veiled Farm Girls. The recipes are based on ingredients commonly used in Norway, including cod and pollock and berries such as lingonberry.

While much traditional Scandinavian cuisine is hearty, such as porridge or lamb stews, and sometimes consists of preserved foods like lutefisk or gravlax, Viestad shows readers the fresh and seasonal side of how Norwegians eat, highlighting the sun-kissed berries ripened to perfection in the long summer days and the wild mushrooms found in late summer (I made his New Potatoes with Chanterelles and Dill a few years ago, and loved it).

It’s rare to find a Scandinavian cookbook published recently that doesn’t veer from the traditional and include recipes that look nothing like the Nordic food of days gone by–Kitchen of Light included. But Viestad includes notes throughout the book on how his recipes fit into Scandinavian cuisine. For example, accompanying his recipe for Slow-Baked Salmon with Soy Sauce and Ginger, he points out that soy sauce and ginger have been known in Norway for centuries but have recently been popularized by Asian influence on Scandinavian cuisine. However, I still have no idea how Viestad’s recipe for Broccoli with Capers, Garlic, and Anchovies, while delicious and full of flavor, relates to Scandinavian cuisine.

Kitchen of Light, is a lovely book that’s so much more than cookbook. Viestad’s essays on places and products–with beautiful photos by Mette Randem–will make you want to visit Norway and discover its food. If I haven’t sold you yet on checking out this book (I have no incentives to do so, other than wanting to share something delicious with you), let me offer a few recipe titles to entice you. Here is a sampling of what you’ll find in Kitchen of Light: Rosemary Cod with Vanilla-scented Mashed Rutabaga; Salt Cod with Peas, Mint, and Prosciutto; Mussels with Aquavit, Cream, and Tarragon; Juniper-Spiced Venison with Brown Goat Cheese Sauce; Onion Pie with Jarlsberg and Thyme; Summer Berries with Bay Leaf Custard; and Cloudberry Cream with Rosemary and Vanilla. Enjoy!

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Kitchen of Light from the publisher. However, I made no promises to give a positive review, and am sharing my honest opinions of this book.

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