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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The return of Scandinavian food, and a traditional yellow pea soup

When it comes to comfort food, one needs to look no further than Scandinavia for inspiration, with its array of root vegetables, meat stews, cured and pickled fish, and soups such as the traditional yellow pea soup. Yet despite its warm culinary traditions, Scandinavian food is much less common among restauranteurs in America than the more popular cuisines of France, Mexico, China, and the like.


Mazarin Torte

Even in Seattle, which boasts a rich Nordic heritage, the presence of Scandinavian-related businesses has thinned in recent years. However, the food of that region will hopefully make a comeback in 2012.

Scandinavian cuisine is projected to be one of the top ten food trends of 2012, according to The Telegraph. Plus, in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, a couple of restauranteurs are opening a restaurant called Queen of Norway this winter. Before that, the neighborhood’s Copper Gate bar declared itself “Seattle’s only surviving Scandinavian restaurant and lounge,” though one could also get coffee and a pastry at Larsen’s Danish Bakery up the street or smørrebrød (open sandwiches), lefse, and other items at the cafe inside Scandinavian Specialties, less than a mile away.


I had the opportunity of picking up Grandma D. some years ago and bringing her to Scandinavian Specialties for lunch. I wish I remembered more about that visit, and that I had done that with her more often. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember reading about my regrets about not asking Grandma to share some of her stories–stories about her youth, what it was like to live in Norway during the Norwegian resistance movement in World War 2, her experience as an immigrant coming to the United States in 1956.  I’m now determined to capture whatever family memories I can, and as food is such a great connector, my mom and I are putting together a book of family recipes and stories. I have dreams of publishing a cookbook someday–a gorgeous photo-heavy book that weaves together food with the memories that surround it–but in the meantime the important thing is preserving my family’s history and recipes. What a fun project to work on with my mom!

I also brought my other grandma to Scandinavian Specialties a while back, and it was there that I learned–after all these years–that she grew up speaking Norwegian and learned English as a schoolgirl. Grandma H. lived in North Dakota at the time, and to this day has never traveled to Norway, so it surprised me that Norwegian was her first language. It’s amazing what stories are there within our loved ones’ lives, just waiting to be uncovered!

I believe it was during that visit that we had a cup of yellow pea soup, which is traditionally served on Thursdays in Sweden and Finland. Grandma H. enjoyed that soup so much that when I saw a recipe for traditional yellow pea soup in a review copy I had just received for Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking by Andreas Viestad, I decided to make a batch and share it with her. It’s a big deal making a traditional dish for a veteran cook who knows all about the cuisine, so when Grandma approved, I knew this recipe was one to keep around.

Traditional Yellow Pea Soup
Adapted from
Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking

This soup, served hot with a dollop of sour cream, truly is comfort food, with its thick, porridge-like texture and hearty flavor–think split pea soup with a Scandinavian twist.

10 ounces dried yellow peas, soaked in cold water overnight and drained
2 thick slices of bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
6 cups low-sodium beef stock, plus more, if needed, to thin soup
1/3 cup finely chopped celeriac
1/4 cup fimely chopped leek (white and pale green parts)
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped thyme, sage, or rosemary (optional)
Sour cream for serving

Fry the bacon in a pot until it turns golden and somewhat crispy. (The original recipe calls for frying the bacon in a tablespoon of butter, which just seems excessive. I followed the instructions, but in hindsight should have omitted the butter.) Add the chopped onion and sauté until it starts to turn golden as well. Add the yellow peas, 6 cups of beef stock, celeriac, leek, rosemary sprig and bay leaf. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce heat, allowing it to simmer for about an hour. This step is complete when the peas are soft and starting to break apart. Give it a good stir to further dissolve the peas, and add more stock if necessary to thin the soup to your desired consistency. It should be the thickness of split pea soup. Remove the bay leaf and rosemary sprig, adding chopped herbs if desired. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and serve with sour cream.

Serves 4.

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Egg noodle doop (A guest post on Suzan Colón’s blog)

Grandpa M. and me many years ago.

Some of my most treasured possessions from my relatives are their recipes. Whether they’re handwritten in Grandma H.’s spiral-bound handwritten collection, published in a church cookbook, or typed and saved on my computer, each recipe represents special times spent with loved ones throughout the years. For those of us who love food, meals conjure up memories. My mom and I are in the process of putting together a family history through recipes, so I was thrilled when author Suzan Colón, who wrote “Cherries in Winter: My Family’s Recipe for Hope in Hard Times,” gave me the opportunity to tell the story behind one of them on her blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

It was late summer 1992. Grandpa M. had just passed away. T-boned while driving through an intersection. Months in a coma. Gone.

On that September afternoon—in the church where two generations of my family had worshipped God and relatives had gotten married—we all gathered in the steel blue sanctuary to say goodbye.

When you’re ten years old, things hit you in a peculiar way. You store away the details in your memory—little things like the silly nickname you gave your grandfather and the way you used to lock him out of the house and giggle while he pretended to not see you hiding inside. You remember a seven-syllable medical term you can’t define–subdural hematoma–and the quiet helium confidence you felt as you walked up the blue carpeted stairs to give a eulogy at your grandfather’s funeral.

“What I’ll miss about Grandpa was his hot dish.”

What a strange, insensitive little girl, those who didn’t know me must have thought. But in a way that’s inexplicable to those of us who are no longer children, that was the most evocative–and, in a way, profound–honor I could give my beloved grandfather.

You can read the rest of the post and find out what made Grandpa’s hot dish–or egg noodle doop, as he called it–special at suzancolon.net. Then, if you’re willing, please share your food-related family memories in the comments below–I’d love to read them!

Capturing Memories

Wow, being sick has me as forgetful as a goldfish–or maybe even more so. Just a moment ago I took a moment to visit Orangette, and after getting distracted by a great new post on oatmeal popovers, I forgot about the reason I looked up Molly’s blog to begin with. To be honest, sometimes I think that having a cold isn’t all that bad. With delicious hot toddies to sooth the throat, steamy chicken noodle soup, and lounging with a good book all day, can you blame me? But as of today, I’m officially sick of being sick.

Life continues, even when one’s sick. In my case, my newest nephew was born and a colleague got married this past week. It’s an exciting time, for sure, and one full of memories.

I often think about the nature of memories and how to capture those little intangible mysteries. Some people take photographs, others keep a journal. Memories can be caught in-action with a camera or in the near future with paper and pen. But at what point does striving to document a special time–whether it’s a trip overseas or a child’s first trip to the zoo–interfere with the ability to just soak up and bask in the moment? I suppose it depends on the person, and his or her propensity to get caught up in details.

Years ago, while visiting Paris and then Germany with my family and extended family, I kept a detailed account of the trip in my purple journal with a picture of the Eiffel Tower in front. My relatives must have gotten sick of seeing me pull out that journal all the time to capture memories, sometimes in realtime. For example,

“We’re in Rothenberg now, inside the walls of the city. We’re at a cafe and [M] spilled her hot chocolate. She tipped a hot drink at the Eiffel Tower, too. We got a little laugh at her tendency to spill hot drinks.”

What in the world was I doing writing in my journal while I was at a café abroad with my family?! On the one hand, I went overboard during that trip, wanting to remember all the precious little details–to the point that I filled almost half of the journal. On the other hand, reading the little anecdotes about my family, what I had to say about the Parisian metro, and how I described the city’s distinct smells bring me back to that time and place. I’m thankful for that.

It might be easiest to document details in the present, or at least shortly after they happen, but it’s never too late. My mom and I are embarking on a new project, recording family recipes with accompanying stories. Along with the recipe for Grandpa M.’s “hot dish”–a special mix of meat, pasta, and spices I loved eating as a child–we’ll share old photos and memories of Grandpa that are still vivid even more than two decades after he died of injuries from a car crash. A recipe for Scandinavian rice pudding with raspberry coulis will accompany a tribute to Grandma D.’s hospitality and the way she preserved and shared her Norwegian heritage after she left Norway over 50 years ago.

At times it seems like a daunting project, but Mom and I will take it step by step, recipe by recipe, story by story. And in the process, we’ll be creating new memories with each other.

I still love Paris

It’s been two years since Norway stole my heart. True, I’ve always been intrigued by my heritage, but seeing the country for the first time—walking the same streets my grandparents must have tread upon, visiting the same Viking ship museum my dad visited as a child on a field trip in the 1950s, and putting a physical place to the culinary traditions my grandparents carried with them when they left Norway—brought it to life for me like never before.

Just a short time in Oslo was enough to inspire me to declare to my husband, “I want to move to Norway.” I can’t wait to return, whenever that might be. But I still love Paris.

Just as I fell in love with Norway in less than 24 hours, two nights in Paris earlier this month—bookending the rest of our European road trip—were enough to rekindle my adoration of the city. Since visiting for the first time in 2001, I’ve returned more often than I’ve visited most cities in my own country. But as I experienced during those two nights, the enchantment is still there, and perhaps in different ways than it ever has been before.

I can thank Hemingway for at least part of the wonder. Afraid of running out of books to read during the aforementioned trip to Norway, I bought a copy of his A Movable Feast from a bookstore in Bergen. Hemingway’s experiences in Paris in the 1920s gave me a new perspective on the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, especially his time spent at Cafe de Flore, Les Deux Magots, and Brasserie Lipp (that’s it peeking out from behind Cafe de Flore in the photo above). So even though I stayed in the 6th arrondissement while visiting in 2006, when I returned there a nearly two weeks ago to eat at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte, I saw the area in a whole new light.

In addition, having just spent several nights in Berlin, where–as someone accurately pointed out–the city is still trying to find its identity after nearly all of it was destroyed during World War II, I couldn’t help but see the picturesque buildings of Paris in the context of the history of the 20th century. While many cities were ravaged, Paris was preserved, and its iconic architecture survived.

Other sources of the wonder are the sheer beauty and vitality of the city. After experiencing the raw, buzzing energy of the metro at rush hour–its trains screeching through the tunnels, carrying passengers stacked vertically next to and up against each other–emerging into the heart of the 6th is magical. Contrasted with the stuffy, loud, cramped, and fluorescently-lit metro, the open air and natural light of a busy Parisian boulevard makes the overcast May afternoon sky seem to smile and transforms the metallic sound of cars into a song.

All these photos are from our last night in Paris, and from the little sliver of the city we visited that night. What a beautiful way to remember Paris …

… until next time.

Syttende Mai – belated

What sort of Norwegian would I be if I didn’t mention Syttende Mai, Norwegian Constitution Day? I was honored to be asked to write coverage of the event for MyBallard.com, one of the pioneers in hyper-local online journalism. Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood holds what is touted as the largest Syttende Mai festival outside of Norway. That makes sense, considering Ballard’s Scandinavian heritage.

I was in Europe–on the road between Berlin and Reims–on Syttende Mai, the 17th of May, so I couldn’t attend the actual event, but I wrote a preview article for MyBallard. One of the things I was most interested to learn was that the Syttende Mai festivities in Washington are as old as the state. The first celebration took place in 1889, the same year Washington was admitted to the union.

As I mentioned, Ballard has a rich Scandinavian heritage. You can read my articles about its Scandinavian culinary treasures and vestiges of its Scandinavian heritage on MyBallard.com.

An opportunity lost

I was going to talk with her. I was going to finally start asking questions about life in Norway, particularly during the resistance. I was going to show her the photos from my trip to Norway last summer, of the new opera house, the Viking ship museum, the beautiful sunsets in Olso, Bergen and Ålesund.

I had plans to visit Grandma D. one Sunday in July and to bring her a kringle or some other Scandinavian treat. Just as I was putting my opal earrings on before heading to Larsen’s bakery to pick up a pastry that day, my mom called and said, “Grandma’s gone.” What horrible words!

How does one respond? What happens when one hangs up the phone, when the reality starts setting in? On an ordinary Sunday, I would have been at church at the time I got the call, but I had stayed home to prepare to visit Grandma. Change of plans. I now had the whole day open, in which to process my grief.


I’m glad that time is over. My pillowcase is still stained with black mascara, but I can think about Grandma now, see pictures of her, and see her belongings without the same pain, although I may always carry some regrets.

I’m honored to have in my possession some of her handiwork, including a number of tapestries she embroidered throughout the years. Grandma had an eye for detail, and tremendous patience. She even embroidered a portrait of me when I was a child.

Yes, I’m honored to have these pieces of art, treasures that I’ll be able to pass down someday. But I wish I had her stories most of all.