Norwegian Books in English

The Thirst by Jo Nesbo (Nesbø)

Crime Fiction is the most popular genre in Norway, and Jo Nesbo is the most successful serial author of Thrillers to date. He also writes Children’s Fiction.

Timba ia a Troll by Tor Åge Bingsværd & Lisa Aisato
Modus by Anne Holt
Fart Power by Jo Nesbø

The Doctor Proctor children’s book series is written by Jo Nesbø who is also a Thriller novelist.

A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard

This title is the second book in the six-book series of My Struggle, or the more controversial Norwegian title, Min Kamp. It is an autobiography posed as fiction and details the lives of himself and family.

Encircling by Carl Frode Tiller
The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn
The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl
Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
The Disappearing Children by Lars Joachaim Grimstad
The Burnt-out Town of Miracles by Roy Jacobsen
The Frozen Woman by Jon Michelet
Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen
Knots by Gunnhild Øyehaug
Cardamom Town by Thorbjørn Egner

Advent Song

Advent Season is the Christian “countdown” in celebration of Christmas day. Starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, a candle is lit and a hymn or poem is cited. On the following Sunday two candles are lit and so on, until the Sunday before Christmas.

There are a few different songs and poems, but this one is the most famous in Norway.

Adventsangen

Nå tenner vi det første lys
Alene må det stå
Vi venter på det lille Barn
som i en krybbe lå

Nå tenner vi det andre lys
Da kan vi bedre se
Vi venter på at Gud, vår Far
skal gi sin Sønn hit ned

Nå tenner vi det tredje lys
Det er et hellig tall
Vi venter på at Kongen vår
skal fødes i en stall

Nå tenner vi det fjerde lys
og natten blir til dag
Vi venter på en Frelsermann
for alle folkeslag

The Advent Song

Now we light the first candle
It must stand alone
We wait for the little child
who laid in a manger

Now we light the second candle
Then we can see better
We wait for God, our Father
to give his Son down here

Now we light the third candle
It is a sacred number
We wait for our King
to be born in a stable

Now we light the fourth candle
and night turns into day
We wait for a Saviour
for all mankind

Arctic Cathedral

The Arctic Cathedral is a landmark in Tromsø standing at the end of the bridge on the mainland. Its ‘Cathedral’ status is only a nickname, as it is actually a parish church of the Church of Noway. The architecture is quite unique and there is some debate whether it looks like an iceberg, a Sami lavvu or a fish-drying rack.

The church has become a part of the famous tourist pilgrimage walk from the city centre, over the bridge to the Arctic Cathedral, and then up the mountain via cable car to see the wonderful panoramic view of the Arctic landscape.

Traditional Norwegian Grøt

Even though rice is the most common grain to use today for Norwegian grøt, traditional Norwegian grøt is made from barley. Since the Viking Age, at least, barley has been the most common cereal crop grown in Norway, and still is today. Even though researchers haven’t determined how early barley has been used as a porridge, grøt is considered the first warm meal.

The Vikings farmed barley and took it with them to their overseas settlements. Archeologists have found remnants of barley in Viking ruins in Greenland. The word ‘grøt’ comes from the Old Norse ‘grautr’, meaning ‘rough ground or coarse’. Whole grain grøt was the original until better grinding tools and techniques allowed for flour grøts. During the Viking Age, grøt was considered healthy and nutritious, and became a central part of the diet.

During the Christian era, from the mid 1100s, grøt was considered a sacred meal and ‘no man should pay tithes on it’. Grøt was allowed to be made on Sundays and holy days. Bread, however, was restricted, and it was forbidden to make more than one could eat.

Wheat, oats and rye was also used for traditional grøt but the grains were only grown in limited quantities in the south. The most luxurious grøt was made with fresh milk. Sour milk grøt was common as souring milk was the best way to store milk for long periods. However, water grøt was the most common for the regular folk. Rømmegrøt is a variant, made from semolina flour and sour cream. This grøt was normally a festive dish as it was both expensive, with accompaniments such as cured leg of lamb (fenalår), and fattening.

Moonshine or beer was a usual accompaniment, and people ate salty meats and salty fish with their grøt. To keep the grøt for longer, a crust was allowed to form after cooling to create a lid. The crust could be peeled back and reused, preserving the grøt for several days.

Grøt was not only used for eating but for medicinal purposes too. A famous grøt from Trondelag added gammelost, Norwegian mouldy cheese, to the mixture, giving it a good dose of penicillin. Vikings and Norsemen used the natural crusting of grøt to cover over sores and wounds. The warmth of the grøt naturally eased sore muscles and arthritis.

Grøt was an important part of social customs. It was a feature at socials, Christenings, celebrations and weddings. Suitors visiting the house could tell what answer they would get by what was served – water grøt meant a definite ‘no’, but waffles was a definite ‘yes’.

Grøt wasn’t seen as a sweet dish until much later – people preferred to put their syrup in their beers. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s, when sugar and cinnamon were introduced to Norway, that grøt started making its way into the dessert arena. Nowadays the most common grøt is the sweet risgrøt, rice porridge, a modern day variation to an Old Norse favourite. It has been around since the 1800s, when rice began to be imported to Norway, and the iconic Hanna Winsnes gives a recipe in the first ever Norwegian cookbook published in 1845.

It was well known that when you had your fill of grøt, it would not take long before you’d fall asleep. This is true today!

Barley Grøt Recipe

I make my barley grøt the traditional way. Add some extra mix-ins to take it out of this world!

Makes enough for four big helpings

Ingredients
500 grams of whole grain barley
2 litres of whole milk + extra for thinning.

Serving – raisins, cinnamon, sugar, clementines.

Method
Soak the barley over night in cold water on the bench. This pre-softens the grains.

Drain the barley.

In a good, big pot, heat the 2 litres of milk through, not boil.

Add in the barley and stir. Stir. Stir. Stir. You don’t want the milk to burn on the bottom.

A lot of recipes say you can leave the grøt to simmer without stirring but that never works for me. I have tried it all, and stirring is the only way to ensure my grøt turns out evenly creamy. You have to give your grøt a lot of lovin’, just like risotto. Constant stirring will make sure the milk won’t burn on the bottom and that the grain will get an even soaking. The grøt will nearly triple in size. Add more milk in if needed.

How long do you cook? Well, it depends on how soft you want the grain. For a quick cook and al dente grain, the grain needs to simmer in milk for an hour with stirring. For a slow cook and soft melt-in-your-mouth grain, three hours. (Tip: the three hours doesn’t have to happen all at once, and you’d only do it if you want it super traditional!) I cooked mine here for about 40 minutes.

Just in:

After 10 minutes:

After 30 minutes:

After 40 minutes – al dente:

As the grøt cools it will thicken. This is when I usually add in more milk. Also, I like my grøt thin, so after serving the family their portions, I usually add in a little more milk and stir it in to warm it up before dishing my plate. Serve warm.

Extra flavours:
Traditionally grøt is eaten with salty foods such as ham or salami, but I made this barley grøt for dessert. I mixed in raisins first so they could soften from the heat of the grøt to a melt-in-your-mouth state. I added cinnamon and sugar – cinnamon always first so it melts on top of the grøt. I sliced the clementines and gently mixed them in to warm, the juice blending with the creamy milk. The citrus flavour adds freshness and tang to the grøt.

This grøt is also great with a dollop of fruit jam, fresh pomegranate, and even a mix-in of 86% cocoa chocolate, which melts splendidly!

Without extra milk:

With extra milk:

http://www.dokpro.uio.no/litteratur/winsnes/frames.htm

http://sciencenordic.com/vikings-grew-barley-greenland

http://www.middelalder.no/oslo-i-middelalderen/dagligliv/59-grot

Komsa Mountain in Alta

Alta city’s highpoint is Komsa Mountain. It may not compare in height or size with Bergen’s Seven Mountains or Tromsø’s Mount Storsteinen, but it has just as much significance to the thriving little Arctic city.

In good weather, the panorama view is spectacular of the Alta Fjord and the city. The sunsets of the Arctic are wonderful to watch–you really feel on top of the world. Komsa is a special place to view the Midnight Sun and even the Northern Lights as the summit is reachable in the winter.

The mountain has spiritual significance for the Sami people with an old sacrificial stone, dubbed The Medicine Woman where trinkets and valuables were offered up to nature. In 1925, the geologist and archaeologist Anders Nummedal discovered remnants of Stone Age settlements on the mountain. The findings became known as “Komsa culture”. And in 2000, a field of rock carvings were uncovered, consisting of seven figures.

For the locals, the Komsa is a destination for exercise, nature watching, sunbathing, grilling, and picking berries. The mountain has many hiking routes over the top and around to the beaches on either side, as well as skiing tracks in the winter. Even though the mountain has standard tracks, they dodge around rocks, shrubbery and trees giving hikers many options. It is said you can never come down the same way you climbed up Komsa Mountain–but it’s always fun to try.

As with most hiking mountains in Norway, Komsa has a sign-in the guestbook where people from around the world can leave their mark among the local contributors.

Sledding

If you’re from a country that doesn’t get snow, then visiting Noway in the winter is an amazing experience. Just being in the snow gives hours of entertainment – feeling it, throwing it, catching snowflakes on your tongue, listening to the crunch under your boots… Norway is a winter playland.

As a visitor, without even joining a ski, snowshoe or dog sledding tour, you can have loads of fun just spending a few hours at a local sledding hill – and it’s free! You will need a sled though, which come in many varieties and can be hired at tourist equipment centres or bought at toy or sporting goods stores. You can find simple butt sleds for under 100 kroner at supermarkets.

Quite often the locals have already done the work clearing deep snow and building jumps for the thrill seekers. Sometimes sledding hills can have very elaborate tracks with pipes used as rails for snowboarding practice.

Sledding is for the whole family, is great exercise, fun, and on a sunny winter’s day, will immerse you in the BBQ culture with the locals.

King Crab Safari

The red king crab is a giant crustacean native to the Alaskan coast and the Bering sea. They can grow up to two metres from claw-to-claw. Fleshy and tasty, they are considered a delicacy by many, especially in Asian countries.

Norway didn’t always have the king crab. They migrated from Alaska to make the most of the Arctic waters. However, Russian Scientists sped up the migration when they were experimenting with breeding near the Russian-Norwegian border to increase the yearly yield of their fisheries. The crab thrived in the Barents Sea environment and it didn’t take long for them to migrate into the lush Norwegian waters. Now the crab can found along the entire northern coast of Norway – it has become a invasive species.

Norwegian scientists are concerned for the natural ecosystem as the crab devours everything in its path. Many crabs are culled, and there is a small but strong industry of exporting live frozen crab to China (the crab can be frozen up to 24 hours and defrosted for a live sale), however, there are still only a limited number of fishermen that have permits to fish the crab commercially. But, you can certainly do your part to help the environment by eating your fair share on a King Crab Safari – a win/win.

I was lucky enough to go on a King Crab Safari with Destinasjon 71° Nord at Honningsvåg. The tour company offers safaris as part of their summer experiences. The package included an open boat ride out to the crab pods, instruction on how to handle, slaughter and cook the crabs, and finished with a king crab meal in a lavvu. Of course, there were many photo ops.

(The head tour guide was kind enough to pose for my camera.)

We had the opportunity of holding the crabs while on the dock, practicing the technique shown us so we didn’t get caught by the giant nipper. The crabs were quite heavy, and some were more feisty than others.

The guides were great with answering all the questions by us tourists, they were knowledgable about the crabs and the industry, and threw in a few funny stories, while they slaughtered and divided the crab. If you want to participate in the butchering, speak up, otherwise you can just watch.

After the crab was boiled in a pot of sea water over the open fire inside the lavvu, it was rinsed in cold sea water to cool it down. The shell was then cut to make it easier to get to the flesh.

Back in the lavvu, the crab was served only with bread to allow room for two or three helpings. And the taste…? I’ll let you decide.

The tour was a nice half-day adventure that the whole family could enjoy. But, if you love crab, this experience should be on your bucket list.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post.

Straumen Gård

Traditional houses are scattered throughout Norway. Some are still lived in, some have been turned into open-air heritage museums, and others have been left to survive on their own.

The little folk museum, Straumen Gård, is one of the most unassuming heritage sites I have seen so far. Tucked away on the south side of Kvaløya, next to Tromsø city island, the old farm site has a delicate sweetness afforded to its quiet coastal surroundings and overgrown vegetation.

Built in the early 1800’s, the farm consists of a barn, tool sheds, a well and a few charming houses, which are open to the public at certain times of the year. The museum is a nice little stop along the way to the Senja ferry, but you must be on the lookout for it otherwise you’ll pass it by in a blink of an eye.

One Kvaløya Sunset

As a photographer in your hometown, you have your favourite spots to take the perfect photographs. You know when to go, what equipment you need according to the weather and light, and you even have your favourite camera settings that bring out the best in the landscape.

Ten years ago as a beginner photographer, I had no clue what I was doing. One clear-sky afternoon in Tromsø, I decided to go out somewhere to take pictures of the sunset. With a brand new camera I barely knew how to work, baby in-tow, I set off towards the water in hope of capturing something half-decent.

Some might think I got lucky with these pictures, but no, I had help–the natural beauty of the Norwegian landscape. Early in my photography practice I quickly realised that you did’t need amazing filters and fang-dangle lenses and flashes and hundreds of settings to choose from to take a magical photo of Norway. All I needed was nature and the north’s amazing natural light. The experience greatly influenced my philosophy of this photo blog–to keep everything real, authentic and raw.

As it’s the blog’s ten year anniversary this month, I’ve decided to give it a makeover. It means I’m replacing all the photos with their larger, better-quality versions (as the internet can handle them now–haha!) , and also updating a lot of the information in blog articles. This will take some time, of course–I have over 1000 posts! But rather than waiting for all the work to be done, I thought I’d release the new version of the blog so you can visit some of the older posts that have been a part of the journey of me falling in love with Norway.

So, I hope you enjoy the raw version of the first sunset I ever photographed in Norway.

Sommarøy

Summer Island is a beautiful little coastal town in Tromsø’s west. It’s one of my most favourite hideaways as the ocean views are spectacular. Because of the coastal weather the panoramas change constantly in colour and atmosphere. Every visit brings a new perspective of the beauty and majesty of Tromsø’s best kept secret.

Sommarøy is linked by bridges, which provides great opportunities to take birds-eye pictures over the waters. The vista is dotted with small islands with mossy grassland and the colours in the sky and the sand beds change the tint of the waters from aqua blues to warm greys.

To the west are the blue mountains of Senja, to the east the mountains of Kvaløya and in the northern waters is the cliff island, Håja.

If you are looking for an ocean adventure then Sommarøy has arctic sea cruises and whale safaris, sea rafting, deep-sea fishing and boating. They also have camping by the shore with caravan patios and a miniature farm for the kids.

A popular activity at the hotel is ice bathing–relaxing in the spa then jumping in the cold ocean–in summer or winter! Apparently it is very invigorating but I am yet to try it. As the town song goes: “We heat the tub with Russian timber, so no trouble with the winter storm. At home you may be used to bubbles, but here you have to make your own…”

It is a nice one-hour drive out to Sommarøy around Kvaløya from Tromsø. There are two ways you can go–the low road (south) which is better for campervans and tourists. This road takes you past ancient rock carvings, Straumen Gård Museum with 18th Century timber houses, and the worlds northernmost rhubarb winery. Or you can take the smaller, winding high road (north) along Kvaløya’s fjords and fishing villages. If you are coming from Senja you can go by car ferry through the islands.

Sommarøy is perfect in the summer where you can enjoy endless sunshine with the Midnight Sun. The island also boasts spectacular Northern Light displays but you have to brave the ice and snow if you want a sighting as Aurora only comes out for the winter. Why not relax in a hot tub while you marvel at the rivers of Northern Lights.

Norwegian Flatbread

Flatbread (flatbrød) is a traditional Norwegian unleavened bread. It is dry, flat and crispy, and often made for the Christmas season.

Flatbread was an essential part of the Norwegian diet for a thousand years, since the time of Vikings. It used to be the daily bread for farmers and peasants during the Nordmen times. The word ‘flatbrød‘ was mentioned for the first time in the stock books from the Bergen Manor in 1519. It was noted that they had 14 barrels of flatbread from Sunnhordaland and the manor was told that the flatbread from Hardanger was baked on stone.

The technique and recipes of flatbread baking was passed on from generation-to-generation. Women who could bake flatbread were highly regarded. On the West Coast it was said that there was ‘little care in the home if there isn’t a good stock of flatbread’ and that ‘there is not a married girl who does not know how to bake flatbread, spin and weave’.

Because the bread is an unfermented pastry, it can be stored for long periods of time. Nordmen would have a day of flatbread baking in the autumn to prepare the winter stores. The bread could be stored in barrels or stacked on shelves. It usually lasted over a year, and sometimes longer if the weather was dry. Flatbread has been known to last 40 years! It is said that the older the flatbread, the better the taste, just like wine.

Flatbread had different thickness qualities for different uses. Thin crisp flatbread was commonly used for entertaining guests and was served with fine garnishes such as jam and soft cheeses. The bread could be made thick and rough for a more hearty meal with soup and stews.

Flatbread making became a cultural art form. The prized bread was rolled out to a millimetre thickness, a round disk of 60cm in diameter. A long stick was used to help pick up the large dough circle and lay it onto a large round hotplate over an open fire for baking. The baking was a challenge because it was important to maintain a medium temperature under the plate for an even bake – a hard task using fire as the heat source. It was usual for the house wife to spend all day in the baking room. It became very hot work, and often it was the duty of the children to bring the housewife water and food regularly. In Romsdal, it was common for two ‘bakstekjerringer’ (baking wives) to share the work between them – one rolling out and the other baking off.

In the early 1900s, flatbread was commercially made. This convenience started the end to the long baking tradition of flatbread. Thick bread became popular in Norway, especially after the great movement of people from WWII. The tradition of flatbread has almost slipped away and there are only a few who carry on the tradition in the home. There is now only one major commercial producer of flatbread – Mors Flatbrød made by Stabburet. It is sold in supermarkets in Norway and exported to the U.S.

However, the flatbread tradition is kept alive at heritage and folk museums and farms. Today, electric skillets for home baking and the flat sticks can be bought at regular electrical appliance stores, and you can buy metal skillets for open fires at camping stores.

Though, you certainly don’t need all the fang-dangle equipment and flours to make flatbread at home. We have already done our flatbread baking for the Christmas season and I must say it was much easier than pie! There are many different modern recipes and flours you can use – flatbread can be made with any combination of flours, even pea flour and potato flour – but we did a simple version that worked very well with baking on our stovetop.

Flatbread recipe

The quantity below makes a lot of flatbread so you will have stocks for all of the Christmas season. It can be stored in a dry cool place for a very long time. Fresh flatbread is great to eat but it gets much better with age. It is not necessary to make the traditional 60cm diameter size bread (most of us don’t have the traditional skillet for it). Making frypan sized bread is more practical (and fits in your frypan…lol). After it is cooked and cooled, it is usual to break up the bread to eat so the shape and size of the bread for cooking is not important.

Ingredients
750g brown flour
500g fine white flour
half a tablespoon of salt
1 litre of sour milk
barley flour for kneading (and traditional texture)

Method
Mix dry ingredients together. Fold in milk. The mixture will naturally be a little wet like a paste more than a dough. It is good to let the dough stand for a while but, of course, it won’t rise.

Sprinkle a good amount of barley flour on a clean bench and gently knead the dough to form a log. Divide the dough into workable sizes. If you are using a traditional skillet then you want about 200g of mixture to make a 60cm diameter flatbread. We divided our dough to be small enough fit into the centre of our palm. This meant when rolled out the pieces to fit into our frypan perfectly.

Roll out a piece of dough, using more barley flour, into a very thin sheet. The thinner it is, the better. All water needs to be evaporated from the dough while in the frypan – if it is too thick the dough will burn before the water can be evaporated. Unfortunately, when the dough is so thin it is hard to pick up from the board without stretching it. We used our rolling pin, rolling up from the end, to pick up the dough and lay it on the frypan. This is when a flat stick is handy when you are making 60cm diam. flatbread.

The frypan needs to be at medium heat because essentially all you are doing is baking out the moisture. Do not grease or use any oils in the frypan – it needs to be dry.

Lay the rolled dough onto the pan. It will take a minute or two to harden on the bottom and then you can flip it over. If your dough becomes golden brown on both sides but the inside is still moist it means that the dough wasn’t rolled out thin enough. Don’t worry, it is not a waste – it can be finished off in the oven later.

Take the flatbread out of the pan, you can dust off any excess barley flour on the bread with a cooking brush, and then put it on a wire rack for cooling. If there is any barley flour left in the pan, just discard it before starting the next batch.

Then repeat for each – roll out, pan-bake, brush away and set on the rack. We used three frypans at once to speed up the cooking time because there is a lot of dough. And, we used the Romedal baking method – (meaning, people were working together) – Lilu and I rolled, and Moose baked.

To finish off any pieces that didn’t quite dry out during the baking process, heat the oven to 100 degrees celsius. Put the flatbread on a rack and into the oven to dry out more. Monitor the crispness and then take them out to cool.

I have found that because hand rolled flatbread can be uneven sometimes, parts of the bread can be a little chewy when fresh. The best solution – leave it out to dry for a couple of days. We did that for all of our bread, but make sure to cover it with a cloth to prevent dust settling on top. Every day we nibble on a little piece, and every day the bread gets better and better. It is true that flatbread needs to mature to be at its best.

Flatbread is broken up into pieces to be eaten. It can be used as a side for soups and stews, especially fish. For a meal, it is common to use salty meats, jellied meat, jam, sour cream or mayonnaise, brown cheese and soft cheeses. The Viking way of eating flatbread is with cured ham and sour cream.

As a snack, the pieces are broken smaller to be used with berries, jam and cheese. It is also good with dip and just plain with good butter. Flatbread can also be broken up into bit size pieces and eaten as a breakfast cereal with milk and honey.

I have always wondered why Norwegians make their regular sandwiches with only a bottom layer of bread. I swear it is because of the long standing tradition of flatbread with condiments piled on top.  (You can’t sandwich flatbread.)

Tips: As mentioned before, flatbread can be made with any variety of flour. It is sometimes good to replace a little of these flours with wheat flour to help the dough form. However, a rough flour is more traditional. Sometimes a meat grinder was used to grind the grain instead of a flour-mill to make the dough tougher, otherwise it could be too loose to roll out.

Here are some basic traditional recipes with other flours:

Barley Flatbread
1kg of barley flour, 6oo mls of water and 1 teaspoon of salt.  (It is good to replace a little flour with wheat flour to help it fix.)

Oat Flatbread
1kg oat flour,  6oo mls of water and 1 teaspoon of salt. It can be useful to use a pasta machine to roll this dough out before the last thinning roll.  Bake on a lower heat.

Pea Flour Flatbread
1kg of pea flour,  400 mls of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  This one can get a little thick so cook on a low heat.

Combination Flatbread
300g each of oats, barley and rye flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and 600 mls of water.  Roll in oat flour.

These recipes can also be adjusted to add in potato flour (which actually started the Lefsa tradition), butter and sugar for sweeter doughs, and sometimes cardamon. I’m sure you can also experiment with different herds and spices too.

You can view more traditional flatbread baking pictures on the Norwegian digital museum website: flatbrødbaking

Northern Senja

Senja is the second biggest island in Norway. It is considered a ‘little Norway’ because it has many environments and habitats that are similar to regions all over the mainland.  Here is just a sample of what you can find in the north of Senja.

Polar Bear Tombstone

I never thought a tombstone would make me smile and say ‘how cute!’ But you just can’t help yourself when you see one like this. It is even in 3D. I think it is a wonderful idea to have something such as this carved on your tombstone that represents your life. A site like this would be a joy to visit.

This tombstone is in the Tromsø cemetery. Paul Bjørvig was a Norwegian hunter and polar explorer. He was born in Tromsø and went on his first expedition at age 13. Throughout his life, Bjørvig went on many expeditions in various roles into the Arctic and Antarctic. Many attempts were unsuccessful. In fact, he often found himself the only one left alive on a couple of occasions and had to bunker in caves or frozen ships for a couple of months until the ice melted and he could return home. His most notable company was Wellman 1894-1909, Gauss 1901-03, the Drygalski and Deutschland expedition with Filcher 1911-13.