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Christmas tree 16 December 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Christmas, Happiness.
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Christmas is back.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love Christmas. Sadly no snow for me this year, though, as I am staying in Australia. But look at my Christmas tree – finding the Christmas spirit all the same. Enjoy your Christmas wherever you are!

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Norwegian Christmas is contageous 30 November 2011

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I am glad it is not just me who is in love with Norwegian Christmas.

Have a look at these pictures, and prepare to fall in love. That Christmas feeling I have been chasing? It is coming on slowly thanks to the internets!

HT: whereisacacia

Cabbage, Pork, Kitsch 8 January 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Christmas, Happiness, Life, Travelling, Travels.
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Growing up in Western Europe, I was never really aware of what else was available on the continent. I mainly travelled to see countries for a reason, such as seeing family, going on a study abroad for High School, or on shopping trips to avoid insane prices. I have rarely been on a tourist trip of Europe.

Consequently, I had never been to Central or Eastern Europe. I had never ventured further east than Berlin, and that was in 2008, long after the wall fell. My mother had been east of the Iron Curtain when she was young, and raved about the countries and the peoples. But growing up during the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent large influxes of workers coming from the east during the summer months to earn as much over a summer picking strawberries as they did working normal jobs over the whole year, I was left with an image in my head of all these countries being cold, poor, and grey. I imagined bitter cold, long food stamp lines and miserable living.

Warsaw, however, has made a tremendous effort to dispel these notions over the weekend that we spent there. It is clearly a city on the way up – with a lifestyle becoming pretty similar to other small, Western European cities. It reminded me of Oslo in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, it was still cold! But it was not as poor or as grey as I had imagined it to be.

We stayed with friends who showed us around and took us to the unseen parts of Warsaw (the best way to see any city!), including a sampling of the the local foods (cabbage, sausage, hunks of meat, gluhwein, dumplings and more meat). And they showed us the sights.

It is a city with a gut-wrenching past which still permeates everyday life. I only vaguely remember my European history, and had to be reminded of all the atrocities that Warsaw has lived through, and it is hard to imagine where you would even start putting your life back together at the end of or at the midst of all that. Between the country being split up several times, then given away from one empire to the next, to a large part of the city serving as a ghetto during the Second World War where the Jewish population was first locked up, then murdered, to the Warsaw uprising resulting in the complete destruction of the city at the hands of the Nazis while their supposed saviours and allies, the Red Army, watched on from the other side of the river, to the Cold War. Where do you start to rebuild after all that?

Our friends took us to the place where the last remaining part of the ghetto wall is still standing. It is only about 10 metres long, and used to be part of the southern-most end of the wall. It now has a school yard next to it, and a plaque has been mounted which shows the city plan and the outline of the ghetto. Its location is harrowing, as it fully brings home how central the ghetto was. It was not an outlying suburb that was set aside for this purpose – it was a large part of central Warsaw. The actual remainder of the wall is surreal and underwhelming, as it is only about 2.5 metres tall. Standing back from it, you can clearly see the buildings surrounding the area, and if you had lived in one of the buildings inside the ghetto, you could have easily seen life outside go by from a second or third storey window. The fact that this is the wall that encircled and entrapped so many people, is unfathomable.

We went across the river Vistula to Praga, where the old Brodno Jewish cemetery is. It was entirely destroyed during the Second World War, and now, the grave stones (called Macewas) are basically piled up in large heaps. Macewas made from precious materials such as marble were sent off to Germany to be used for building projects. Sadly, there are few Jewish families remaining in Warsaw, so there is no one left to care for the cemetery, or to fight for restoration or commemoration. When we were there, snow covered the ground, and the birch and fir trees that have grown in the cemetery since the war added to the desolate and lonely feel of the place.

We went to the Warsaw Rising Museum, which tells the history of the uprising in 1944 against the Nazis. The Poles knew that the Soviet Red Army were closing in, so they staged an uprising, in the belief that victory would only take a couple of days. Instead, it lasted for almost two months before the Poles had to surrender. The Nazis subsequently set about systematically tearing down the remaining city block by block, destroying more than 85% of the buildings.

Yet after the war, even though the entire city was rubble, somehow, the Warsawians picked up the pieces, and rebuilt the city, brick by brick. Literally. Using old photographs and paintings, they reconstructed the city as it was. And they managed to rebuild the city to be believable, quaint, beautiful and historic. To think that at the old market square, where we enjoyed the Christmas market stalls and the surrounding buildings, have actually all but one (one miraculously remained standing) been rebuilt since 1945 is hard to understand.

The tenacity of such a feat is beyond me, yet it seems to be reflected in the Poles; they are serious, somewhat hardened people, and they give off the impression that they are not people that give up easily. And, if I were to generalise grossly after only being in the city for three days, they seem inflexible, stern, worn and tired, not overly friendly to foreigners in general, but they are reliable and earnest, hard-working and aiming for a better life. At every turn, there is a nation moving forward, yet the past is evident everywhere. Great sadness can be read in the people’s faces, as they struggle onwards.

Modernity has now come with shops, malls, cafes and coffee shops littering the city, which was to great benefit for us, as we needed regular rewarming beverages (including potent gluhwein, hot chocolate, coffee, tea, you name it) to prevent us from freezing to the bone. The locals also subscribe to this outlook, with one of my favourite moments being had in a cafe at the base of the Cultural Palace where, while drinking gluhwein, I noticed that the two young men at the table next to us had two cups of tea, two shots of Vodka and one other unidentified alcoholic beverage, which they casually knocked back before slinging their hunting rifles back over their shoulders and strolling out into the cold rugged up and looking like they were heading off to hunt.

After so much history and sadness, we also tried to fit in something a little more lighthearted. On our last day, we went to a second hand market out in the suburbs which I absolutely loved. It was a second hand goods paradise: old clocks, silverware, toys, books, military memorabilia, kitsch and rubbish. I am so glad I do not live in Poland, or I would have bought so much stuff! In particular, I fell in love with a little old rocking horse made of wood, precariously placed on top of a pile of snow, ready to be sold off. It was a gorgeous piece which would never have fit comfortably in my luggage.

So, after a lovely rest and seeing our first snowfall bucket down over Warsaw, we were ready to face our Christmas holiday head on, collars turned up against the cold.

Travel Bug 17 December 2009

Posted by uggclogs in Christmas, Travelling.
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I am travelling at the moment. I just spent 3 days in Sydney where I did incredibly well for a non-shopper (I just don’t like it) and now I am spending time at various beaches with the outlaws for a couple of days.

So don’t hold your breath until the next update.

PS. My, how wonderful Australia is. I am falling in love all over again.

Lussekatter 17 December 2009

Posted by uggclogs in Baking, Christmas.
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Due to my travels lately, I missed a very important date leading up to Scandinavian Christmas last Sunday. I did mention it in my Nostalgic Ramblings, but I did not include the recipe for Lussekatter, or Safron Buns that go with Santa Lucia on 13 December. So here goes.

Lussekatter (Safron Buns)

Ingredients:

150 g butter
500 ml milk (full cream)
8 g of dry yeast
1 g of safron or 1/2 tsp tumeric
150 g sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1300 ml plain flour

egg and raisins for decoration.

Method:
– Melt the butter and mix with milk. Make sure the mixture is about 37 C. Tip: it is the right temperature when you can’t feel anything when you dip your little finger in the liquid.
– Add yeast, and stir gently.
– Add sugar, salt and safron (or tumeric). Mix.
– Add flour in large spoonfuls, and stir to combine between spoons. Do not worry about the dough being lumpy, it will become smooth.
– When the dough is fully combined into a smooth mass, cover with a wet tea towel (to prevent drying out the dough) and leave somewhere warm to rise.
– Leave 30 minutes or until the dough is doubled in size.
– Place dough on a benchtop dusted with flour, knead well.
– Make dough into lussekatt shapes.
– Cover and leave to rise for 15 minutes.
– Brush with egg, and press raisins into the swirls.
– Bake at 225 C for 15 minutes or until done.
– Serve with hot chocolate.

Enjoy

Nostalgic Ramblings 7 December 2009

Posted by uggclogs in Baking, Christmas, Happiness, Life.
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Today is Advent, door number 7.

I say this, because when I was young, and growing up in Norway, we would all have advent calendars, and every day from 1 December until 24 December, you would get to open another door and get another lolly or little gift. This year, we were lazy and only bought a chocolate calendar. My mum used to make the calendar herself, which was a much more personal touch. Yet another thing that I wish to do for my children.

But this set me thinking. In Norway (and Scandinavia in general), there are a million and one rituals around Christmas. This would mean that by the time Christmas came around, I used to be thoroughly whipped up in a frenzy. But is also meant that I would have a real Christmas feeling, which is indescribable, you have to feel it to understand it.

It all starts when the weather is getting colder and colder. It often snows for the first time of the year in October (in the south, the north can be much earlier). Everyone hopes that there will be snow on Christmas Eve. There is nothing that contributes more to the Christmas spirit for me than pine trees heavily laden with snow. We used to have a couple of 10 metre tall trees in the garden that every year looked like they were made just for Christmas. Getty Images can show you what I mean:

Then, 4 Sundays before Christmas, you are supposed to light the first candle of advent. The Norwegians have candle holders with spaces for 4 candles, which you light in succession leading up to Christmas. Often, you say a poem or a prayer when lighting it. We never did this at home, as we are not a religious family, but we used to do it at School on the Monday after.

The poem goes along these lines:

4th Sunday before Christmas:
We light one candle tonight for happiness. It shines for itself and those of us who are here.

3rd Sunday before Christmas:
We light two candles tonight, for hope and happiness. It shines for itself and those of us who are here.

2nd Sunday before Christmas:
We light three candles tonight, for longing, hope and happiness. It shines for itself and those of us who are here.

Last Sunday before Christmas:
We light four candles tonight, for longing, hope, happiness and peace. It shines for itself and those of us who are here.

Then, the advent calendar starts on 1 December. There is the one you have at home, and there often is one at school. And then there is the one which is shown on television – a 24 part series for children that runs through until Christmas Eve. My favourite used to be Jul i Skomakergata, which was shown every couple of years.

At my house, we also had Sinterklaas on 5 December.

Then, there is Santa Lucia on 13 December. This is to commemorate Lucia, an Italian saint. Traditionally, you were supposed to have finished all your Christmas preparations by this date, as superstition dictated that bad spirits would lurk in the shadows on this date and punish those who hadn’t. On Lucia (which is the Latin word for light), you were supposed to light every corner of your house with candles to prevent the spirits from finding a place to hide. Now, we eat Lussekatter (Safran buns, come back on 13 December for a recipe) and there are processions of children dressed in white with candles that come around to hand them out. For some reason they also wear strands of tinsel around their waists, the boys wear pointy hats, and Lucia herself has been transformed from an Italian (with black hair and dark features) to a Scandinavian beauty, with long blond hair, blue eyes and a crown with candles on her head.

You are ‘supposed’ to bake 7 different types of biscuits for Christmas, which means lots of different, awesome baked goods, including gingerbread, and many other delicious and completely unhealthy foods and treats.

People decorate their houses, and many families place their advent candles near the window, so others can enjoy it.

In my family, we decorated the tree on ‘Little Christmas Eve”, which is 23 December, however, for the tree to acclimatise, we would buy it during the week leading up to Christmas, and place it in a cooler room first. This caused less of the needles to drop after erecting it, and it would spread the smell of pine throughout the house.The tree was of course placed near a window, so your neighbours could enjoy it with you.

Imagine walking through the streets, it is so cold that your breath freezes in your nose, and you can see it escaping your mouth. Beneath your feet, you hear the snow crunch, as you hurry home in the semi darkness. Each house you pass has candles in the windows, and the squares of light from the windowpane lights the snow outside. That is Christmas to me.

Christmas to me smells like pine trees, baked goods, oranges and cloves.

And there is nothing more magical than if you remembered to put the low-heat outdoor candles on a tree in the garden before a layer of snow would cover them. When you light the candles under the snow… Oh wow, it is Christmas.

It is Advent! 1 December 2009

Posted by uggclogs in Baking, Christmas, Happiness.
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I love Christmas. And I love baking. I love filling my house with the smells of pine tree, spices, oranges and mouthwatering recepies. I like to decorate the house with candles and ribbons and shiny things.

I will not be at home this year, so a lot of the baking that I normally like to do will not fit into my schedule. So instead I will blog about it! At least I will still feel like it is Christmas, even when there will be no snow, no dark nights with frost descending over valleys of houses with candles in the windows. No last minute Christmas shopping in the freezing cold streets of Oslo.

But by God, there will be Pepperkaker.

And to celebrate the start of December, here is my essential recepy for the month: Really easy Pepperkaker (translated from Norwegian for the inaugural cooking class tonight)

Enjoy!

Pepperkaker

Ingredients:
150 g butter
100 ml syrup or molasses
200 ml sugar
100 ml cream
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
450 g plain flour
Icing sugar and lemon juice for decorating.

Method:

1. Place the butter, sugar and syrup in a saucepan. Heat until all the sugar is disolved. Cool.

2. When cooled down a little, add the cream. Combine.

3. Add the flour, spices and baking powder, and stir until a smooth mixture.

4. Cover the mixture and place in the fridge overnight. This is important to let the spices infuse the dough, and for the butter to harden.

5. Sprinkle some flour on the benchtop and a rolling pin. Roll out some of the dough to about 2-3 mm thick. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Try to be economical, as you don’t want to have to roll out the dough too often, due to the extra flour being added every time you do. Note: if you wish to hang the cookies in the Christmas tree, cut out a hole before baking that you can thread a ribbon through.

6. Place the cookies on baking paper on a baking tray. Bake at 175 degrees celcius for 10 minutes.

7. Cool.

8. Decorate with icing sugar.