Will Hike for Waffles

August 10, 2010 § 1 Comment

We took Joel for a mountain hike up in Telemark to make sure he had both the seaside and mountain experience of Norway.  This wasn’t a piddly little walk, it was a legit hike up the upper part of the ridge of one of Norway’s higher mountains, Gaustatoppen.  If there were a description of the hike in a guidebook (actually there probably is one somewhere, but I don’t have it so I’ll make it up), I’d guess it would say something like:  ‘On this hike you will be gratified by amazing views of mountains and valleys.  In fact on a clear day a hiker can see 1/6th of the entire country from the top of Gaustatoppen.  Cherish these views, for you will have earned them.  The climb to the top will take a fairly swift group of adults about 2 hours of scrambling over loose scree, exposed above the tree line.  You will be going up, up, up, up.  An intelligent foreign hiker will take advantage of the excuse of a view to stop for occasional breaks.  Once you have reached the top and enjoyed your triumph, you will be faced with the hike back down, on which you will encounter the self same scrubby loose rocks you clambered over on the way up.  In the downward direction these rocks are liable to cause spills and the odd twisted ankle.  Have fun!’

It was a picture perfect day for a hike, but had we been hiking something equivalent in the U.S. I’d guess we would have run into at most 5 or so other people, and there would have been a book at the top, in which we would have signed our names and been able to read proud accounts from other intrepid hikers.  In Norway, as we pulled up to the hut at the base of the hike, we saw an impressive line of parked carves, snaking along the side of the narrow road.  Most of them were mini vans.  And, as we began climbing it was easy to see why.  In Norway, Gaustatoppen is considered a perfectly family friendly hike.  It wouldn’t occur to many Norwegians even to wonder if their 3, or 5, or 7 year old would be able to climb up a mountain.  Of course they can!  What else would a person in their right mind wish to do on a gorgeous day (if you aren’t by the ocean, that is)?!  Certainly a hike takes longer if you’re carrying a 2 year old and leading a 6 year old, but parents seem to be perfectly fine with taking the time they need.  It’s an opportunity to hunt trolls, chase sheep, and contemplate which types of rocks are best for sitting or throwing or what have you.  And if you’re bringing your 82-year-old grandmother with you, well you don’t even need to slow down a bit for her!  She’s likely to leave you eating her dust as she jets up the mountainside.

Hiking (and cross-country skiing in the winter) isn’t called exercise.  It isn’t even “physical activity.”  In Norwegian minds it is just part of the “free air life” they prefer to lead, an enjoyable, spiritual, time to be with nature and each other.

But why are Norwegians so tough and intrepid that their chosen lazy summer day activity is a long, challenging hike, and their favorite winter wonderland activity is a full day of cross-country skiing?  Where does this motivation come from?  It may be the absolutely stunning, rugged beauty of the country (totally unbiased opinion from this particular patriotic Norwegian: it’s the most beautiful country in the entire world), and the fact that long networks of trails are impeccably kept, easily accessible even when you’re in the largest cities (just take the tram!), and free.  It may be the intensity and deep-rootedness of a national identity tied to surviving difficult conditions and basically ‘being a Viking.’  But, I have a secret hypothesis that it’s something a little more delicious than that (okay, actually I think the first two things are true too, but this third is totally the most important): waffles and chocolate.  You see, dotting the trail network that grids the country are little huts at which you can stop and buy coffee or hot chocolate, waffles, and chocolate bars.  Even at the tip-top of a mountain!

On any group outing, someone will always be carrying a particular chocolate bar called a Kvik Lunsj, which is like a KitKat in that it is chocolate sticks with wafer in the center, but it is sooooo much better than a KitKat.  This chocolate bar is so closely associated with going hiking and skiing there are actually trail maps printed on the inside of the wrappers now!  And oh the waffle huts!  I will hike or ski a reeeeeeeally long way (I have evidential proof of this) as long as I can have occasional breaks for hot freshly made waffles smeared with raspberry jam.  They’re like cardamommy, slightly doughy, barely crisp, heart-shaped Energizer Batteries.  You stop, you eat them over a leisurely cup of coffee, and then “boom boom boom boom” off onto the trails for another happy 4 hours!

However, in the end, the waffle huts, the chocolate, the coffee, are not just carrots dangling from millions of sticks (approximately 4.8 million sticks, according to population statistics), coaxing the young and old alike to lurch forward, their hands grabbing the air in front of them, and thereby propelling them on days worth of expeditions through the open air.  (I think we can all say from experience that the promise of a treat is not actually that strong of a motivator, at least not over the long term.)  The waffles and chocolate are a major indicator of an entirely different structuring of attitudes toward physical activity. That it’s supposed to be fun!  Active outdoor time isn’t something you squeeze into your day, or do because you “should.”  It’s an enjoyable full-day activity, like a day at the beach or the zoo or even going to the movies.  And it’s something anyone can enjoy and partake in.

Of course, attitude adjustment or not, it still doesn’t hurt to have some waffles! 🙂

Norwegian Waffles for Skiing and Hiking

Because of the water these are a little crispier on the outside than my family recipe.  This is the style you’ll find in most waffle huts along the trails.

(serves 4-6)

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 Tbs. sugar
  • 4 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (or vanilla sugar)
  • about 3 cups flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. cardamom
  • jam for serving
  1. Whisk together the wet ingredients and sugar (all the ingredients from eggs through vanilla) until well combined.  In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients.  
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until a smooth batter is formed.  Allow to stand for at least 30 minutes before cooking. 
  3. Heat your waffle iron (one that makes heart shaped waffles).  Brush the iron with a little butter at least before cooking the first waffle, and in between each waffle if you have a sticky iron.  Add some batter to the waffle iron, close, and cook until the waffle is golden brown, about 4 minutes.  Repeat until all the batter is cooked.  Serve warm with good raspberry jam.
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