December 2005 Archives

duck from a can!

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Øyvind (Astrid's older brother) and his wife/kids arrived from Oslo last night, so we got up early and went out to Kvernvik. Only Eirik was up, the rest of the arrivals were either asleep or had dashed into town to take advantage of post christmas shopping.

We didn't have a lot of time, as Astrid had to work at 2:30 in the afternoon, so we rushed through an early cold lunch (or brunch for many) before heading upstairs to open a new round of Christmas presents.

Whilst Astrid was at work, I explored the local heavy metal shop and browsed for Aussie wines at what I've affectionally dubbed the vinmo'

Found a lovely merlot from Darlington Point which went well with the Mock duck with cassia, star anise and blood orange sauce, which was nice and my improv addition of over ripe persimmon was not a bad idea at all. The recipe came from Kylie Kwong's restaurant - Billy Kwong.

Astrid liked duck from a can the way I cooked it more than real duck as it's less fatty!

Boxing day is traditionally a day of rest, so we slept in a bit. Before Vegard picked us up (he's only recently got his license and seems to like being able to drive us around)

It was a beautiful day, sunny, cold but not much wind. So we went for a walk around the area where Astrid's parents live. I'd mentioned an interest in Viking things so Vegard showed us viking rock carvings less than 500 metres from astrid's parents house. They were something like 3000 years old but were only rediscovered in the last 40 years. Not many people know about them, they are not marked or on a walking trail. We continued our walk and saw other carvings about 2 km away, these were more extensive but as they were adjacent to a sports field some kids had vandalised the sign that was posted near the carvings. So i couldn't get much of an idea about the meaning behind these carvings.

Had early dinner (more like lunch for me) I made an amazing Penne pasta, the sauce being a cross between Arrabiata and Ortolano which was just short of being too hot - chili wise.

The early dinner was in the aid of us going to see Narnia at 4:30 PM. Was quite impressed with the film adaptation of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, hope they make more. The animatronics and computer graphics were well integrated into the film and really helped the audience buy a cast of talking animals who weren't disneyified into the realm of cute.

Tilda Swinton was as usual amazing, using her androgynous figure to good effect as the ice witch/queen. The children were cast well according to the book, although Susan was a bit too old.

Some elements were dropped, but nothing essential, and the scene with Aslan and the stone table didn't shy away from realism - little kids might have trouble with this.

Much of the violence is not explicit, using editing cuts to hide the gore, as is expected for a kids film. But the battle is played up, probably inspired by the epic battle scenes in lord of the rings, but it doesn't come across as epic as those from the return of the king.

The supposed Christian undertones are played straight, without much bias - which is a good thing as it's a magical story which has been enjoyed by generations of children. There were suggestions at the outset that Disney was going to target this towards the Christian market and I'm glad they opted for a wider audience.

Better than King Kong and definitely the holiday movie I'd recommend for kids over Harry Potter and the aforementioned big ape.

Stayed in town, at a friend of Astrid's place, who was away over Xmas/New years, so we have a small, centrally located flat to ourselves until I leave.

Norwegians like their Sunday walk, which is usually more like a bushwalk. Christmas day being on a Sunday (and with all the actual Christmas stuff happening the night before) it seemed like a walk would be a good idea. So Astrid's younger brother picked us up and we went back to Ullandhaug (the area where the communications tower and botanic gardens are). Had a nice hour and a half walk, was cold, windy but clear sky so the sun offered occasional warmth. Plenty of others were out for their Sunday walk, so many that we had trouble parking our car!

After the walk, we went back to Kvernevik where Astrid's parent's live and had another big dinner, which for me was leftovers plus a blood orange and fennel salad.

After dinner, we played a game - Passport which was like a travel version of trivial pursuit, harder in some ways as I knew nothing about some countries. Astrid was very clever or lucky depending on how you look at it.

God Jule

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Well, it's all over for another year. And due to being in another country/time zone I got the jump on Santa by a few hours!

These Norwegians celebrate on Christmas Eve, and can work until midday before heading home to celebrate.

Dinner is usually between 3 and 5PM, although without kids or work to worry about, we had the freedom to delay ours till 6PM.

I jazzed up an old staple, zucchini stuffed with pine nuts. This time adding sheep's fetta to the stuffing and throwing chick peas and herbed rice in with the couscous bed. Was delicious.

Also, I made a pomegranate and persimmon salad which was unusual and lovely, halfway between savoury and sweet.

Astrid's family had Cod, which is a tradition in their family and reflects their location as fish is mostly chosen by those who live near the coast. Dessert was rice cream porridge with a red berry sauce. The rest of Norway prefers a dried mutton cooked with pine or crispy pork ribs over the fish.

After dinner, we opened the presents (at the request of Astrid's father, "with no rush - as there are no kids this year"), everyone seemed pretty happy with their presents. Astrid's use of a wish list paid off with her getting three books she had wanted to read.

A quick phone call from Oslo confirmed that I'd provided some valuable ideas for Unni's kids (Astrid's sister) who were delighted with their presents.

Once the presents were all over, we had coffee and cake - where the cake was more like a series of stacked biscuits. Concentric circles, with each a bit larger than the previous, stacked to form a cone. Some kind of baked almond marzipan mixture. It all ended quite late, but I guess we started late. A nice evening though and very different.

In an interesting piece of trivia, i just saw a piece of comedic genius based on a British skit that dates back to the 20s. The film version I just saw was recorded in the mid 60s and is a key part of the Norwegian Jule/New Year tradition, screening every Christmas in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Norway and probably elsewhere on continental Europe.

Despite this, I'd never seen it and it's reportedly just as unknown in Britain.

This BBC story gives more detail.

Update: This is shown on new years eve by SBS at 8:30PM, glad to know someone in Australia gets this. I discovered this after reading an article bemoaning the poor state of TV programming around Christmas in oz.

http://www.theage.com.au/news/tv--radio/so-this-is-christmas/2005/12/15/1134500959685.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap2

This evening, met up with two of Astrid's friends and their partners for dinner, we ate at what was supposed to be Stavanger's best Thai restaurant.

The food was nice, but relied on significant chilli to hide the fact that the other flavours were not as rich or as authentic as I am used to. The chilli was pretty much at typical real-thai levels, but the other flavours were not so well balanced. Too much fish sauce also to make up for the lack of fresher ingredients I think.

Definitely though much better than I was expecting, and way too hot for everyone else at the dinner.

After a lovely meal and chat, we had a beer and continued to chat at a nearby pub Munken - which was great except for the in the end very funny accidental dropping of my shopping - from some middle eastern and asian shops.

The one item in glass broke, which was pomegranate molasses - everyone was rushing to clean it up, then Bente had a taste - a broad smile broke out on her face, "hmm this is nice - what is this?". Then she was encouraging everyone else to taste, ignoring the need to clean up and the resultant mess we had made. Was very funny.

Ikons & Paper Planes

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Today, the weather was very foul and made us very slow to get started.

Eventually Astrid decided that we needed to get out of the house and get some fresh (and very wet) air. So we headed into the centre of town. Wanting to keep dry and warm, we decided to visit some art galleries - which were okay, the most interesting was a series of Balkan ikon art that represented a contemporary revival of interest in this style. There were subtle modern elements integrated into the otherwise very traditional designs.

After that we did what I hope will be the last of the Christmas shopping followed by a rewarding and relaxing hour in a relatively new cafe which offers better and more flavoursome food than the norm around here. This focus on fresh and flavoursome is thanks to the new to Stavanger manager who is originally from Italy.

After town, we stopped by Astrid's sister's place and had lovely cup of tea and nibbles whilst we chatted. The children, Ulrik & Håvard played at being Julenisse (Santa) as they gave out small presents. Later I showed the two boys how to make some new paper plane designs, but was told by their father Torbjørn to keep the water bomb plane design till it gets warmer!

Botanic gardens

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Taking advantage of a rare clear and sunny day here in Stavanger, Astrid and I went to the highest point in Stavanger, which has a communications tower on the top of the hill. There's also a viewing area and cafe (open only on Sundays).

A clear day made for a lovely view, although the sun had warmed up plenty of fog, so the view in some directions wasn't so clear!

Stavanger sits between two fjords and is surrounded by water (the sea, fjords and many lakes) making for a very picturesque outlook.

It also helped me get my bearings a lot more as I had previously been to many different areas in Stavanger but not really connected them together.

Around the tower and continuing down the hill is a scattering of forest that extends for a fair distance in one direction. We walked through the forest, down the hill towards Stavanger's botanical gardens. The Norwegian forests are much thicker in the tree canopy, letting very little light through, so there is only a mossy undergrowth usually.

Astrid was rather negative about the botanic gardens before we got there "it's winter, will be very boring - everything will be dead." and "it's nothing compared to your botanic gardens in Australia".

In the end though we enjoyed it a lot, I found a section that had plants from Australian and New Zealand plants, and because most of our plants are not deciduous these were a lot more interesting than the mostly dead (on the surface) plants in other sections of the gardens.

The most vibrant specimen was a alpine mint-bush from Mount Kosciusko.

Dry-run for Jule

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Today we had a pre-cursor to Christmas dinner, Astrid's sister came by with her kids and husband to have dinner. The food was traditional for Jule in Norway, pork ribs with crispy crackling served with a Norwegian berry sauce and brussel sprouts, potato and carrots on the side.

Being the solitary vego I had to cook my own food - I made:
Capsicum stuffed with walnuts, garlic, tomato and rice.
Mushroom stuffed with capsicum, snow peas, sheep fetta, pine nuts and red onion.
Raw broccoli and roasted vegetable salad with toasted sunflower, sesame and soy dressing.

Was really worried about finding decent quality vegetables and other ingredients until Astrid asked about this when she was at work on Friday and found out about a fruit and vegetable shop that had a much better range than anywhere else. We went there on Saturday morning and it was quite amazing, I even saw a few things we don't get in Oz. Wasn't cheap though!

The reason for the early Xmas dinner is that Astrid's sister is going to Oslo to have Christmas with her husband's family.

Was a nice lunch, but I really struggled with the idea of eating dinner at 3PM, this is definitely is one of the big culture differences between Norway and Oz.

Astrid and I went for a drive to Hå today, it's about 45 minutes away and is in the Jæren area which is primarily farming orientated. Very flat and windy.

We went to an old parish called Hå Gamle Prestegård which was located by the sea, and has been converted into an art galley. Beautiful location, lovely old buildings and some interesting art.

The whole area had more snow than we had received in Stavanger and it looked nice seeing the contrast of the snow covered rocks with wild waves crashing a few metres away in the surf.

Capped it off with Gløgg and cake. I'd had Gløgg flavoured tea before, but the real thing is a very heavily spiced warm drink, sold as a syrup which is mixed with hot water, or red wine. It's really too sweet (for me) the way they serve it - I'd like to make it from the original spices one day.

Snø at last

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Since I arrived in Stavanger, i've been very persistent in asking, so will it snow soon? I'd really enjoyed the "proper winter" of Oslo and going to Stavanger felt like stepping back a season to Autumn as the trees had some coloured leaves left clinging on, it wasn't so cold and there was so much still green.

Stavanger is a lot warmer than many other parts of Norway, mostly I think due to the coastal gulf stream that keeps many of Norway's sea-ports ice free year round. Warm it may be, but it's also very windy, meaning that even in summer, it can be quite cold due to colder winds brought in from the ocean.

Today, finally my wish was fulfilled, the temperature dropped to near-zero and after a clear and sunny (but cold) day, in the afternoon it started to snow, first it was more like slush then as the temperature dropped it turned into proper snow.

Astrid was at work (they'd found out she was back in the country and asked her to fill in for a shift) so I sat at her parents place watching the snow storm out the window. When she got home Astrid told me she had done the same thing at her work, but the snow fall was heavier there and she was worried about driving home on the snow covered roads.

The snow storm was fascinating to watch (at least for me, who had never seen snow falling before) as the wind was very strong, the snow was being blown almost horizontal. This left a very patchy snowfall pattern.

The snowfall was light and it won't last, but I hope it will snow again before I leave. The wind dies down after the snow and it's usually sunny and cold but nice, rather than grey, wet and 8 degrees that it mostly has been since I got here.

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