The Italy for me, plus an amazing hazelnut cake

October 14, 2011 § 13 Comments

I have found my Italy!  The Italy that looms large and glorious, sun and wine drenched, vignetted in my dreams.  It’s real!  And it’s in the Langhe part of Piemonte, the region of Italy around Alba, Barolo, Barbaresco…names that may sound awfully familiar to you if you take any interest in wine.

It’s the part of Italy where Nutella was originally invented.  For real.  Just think about that for a moment.

It is the food and wine lovers region of Italy, I think, even more so than Tuscany.  Though it is gorgeous and extraordinary, with sweeping vistas of rolling hills covered with a patchwork of vineyards and hazelnut trees, the bulk of tourists don’t go there, I believe because it’s not really near or on the way to anything else.  So, if you go, it is your chosen pilgrimage, in search of food and wine, and the ridiculously quaint stone villages – complete with a castle and church – perched on every hilltop.  Villages built in the 12th century, and still so tied to their pasts that the day the tower was destroyed in 1275 is embedded in the collective memory and still seems to evoke feelings of pain.

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The Cinque Terre and lots of focaccia

October 9, 2011 § 8 Comments

This has turned into quite a hiking vacation!  Which makes me happy (Joel’s knee is somewhat less happy, but it’s being a trooper).  This is partly due to some of the main paths being closed forcing us to either take the train or the back routes  to get some places, and choosing the back routes.  And partly due to a desire to get away from the throngiest throngs of tourists (I can’t even imagine what this place is like during peak tourist season!).

We’ve been exploring the Cinque Terre area, and though each day we’ve been hiking only 7-10 or so kilometers, the nature of the trails still makes it pretty strenuous.  The builders of the paths seem not to have believed in horizontal traveling, only vertical.  So, going for a walk is like going on a Stairmaster, except with scenery that’s about 571 million times more spectacular.

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Snapshots from Italy

October 5, 2011 § 14 Comments


Ciao from Santa Margherita Ligure my dears!  I thought I’d pop in to say a quick hello, but don’t put on the coffee because I can’t stay long!

Last Saturday we had our (slightly belated) wedding, and words cannot describe the strength of emotions that accompanied it.  It was gorgeous, perfect, amazing, and wonderful in every way, from the day, to the toasts, to the food, to the decor, but most importantly the people.  Simply indescribable to be surrounded by and supported by so many people we love, adore actually, as we declared our love and commitment to one another.  And, what a party!  When I have processed it a little more, I’ll share more with you.

But for now, let’s focus on, well, now.  We are so lucky as to be getting to borrow a friend’s apartment on the Italian Riviera for our honeymoon. Seriously.  Somebody pinch me.

We’ve been here a sum total of a day and a half and already I’ve taken in more beauty than my eyes can handle.  But, I’m coming back for seconds tomorrow!   « Read the rest of this entry »

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. « Read the rest of this entry »

Give a man a fish…

August 4, 2010 § 1 Comment

If you’re squeamish, be forewarned that this post contains some pictures of fish being gutted!

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. Send a man to fish in Norway and pretty soon he’ll cry, “Uncle!  I can’t handle anymore!  Please make the fish stop!  So. Much. Seafood.”  Really.  I swear he will.

I know that we need to be concerned with overfishing, but when you go fishing in the North Sea I can almost guarantee that a little voice inside of you will say, ‘really?’  Fishing in Norway is so far removed from the version of fishing in which you carefully, patiently wait all day for a bite only to be thwarted as often as not, it’s almost comical.  It’s like the fish leap into your boat just itching to get out of the ocean.  I always feel a little as though I’m in that old Sesame Street skit where Burt and Ernie are out fishing.  “Heeeeeeeeere fishy, fishy, fishy!”  And in they come flying.

Much of my dad’s family live in Northern Norway and when we last visited them, we got to go fishing from a beautiful wooden Colin Archer sailboat.  Down went the fishing line, and moments later up came 5 or 6, 30 kg codfish at a time (well, maybe they were more like half that, but that’s still pretty huge!).  Like picking cod off of a big, wet cod bush.  And thank goodness for the abundance of fish, for though you can find all varieties of food in the markets in Norway now, for many years fish was what they had.  In a country where most of the land is rock, and if it’s not rock it’s a fjord farming was not a particularly dependable way to produce food.  So, fish was the main way people survived, complemented by cabbage and rutabagas (later potatoes), and the occasional reindeer!

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Going local in Northern Minnesota – part 1

April 22, 2010 § 1 Comment

A griddled sandwich on lefse – a Norwegian potato flat bread

In the growing hubbub about eating local, supporting local farms, growing your own food, yada yada yada…basically all the stuff that I feel so passionate about I have to act a little blase or else I might pop…I wouldn’t blame a person for thinking that the folks in places like Northern Minnesota (or Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, etc.) might be a little screwed.  I mean, the long, cold winters, the rocky soil and the general “inhospitableness” to farming, you get the idea.  So, it has made me so excited to find when I’ve visited each of these areas that local food movements are actually thriving!…  And people are embracing their love of root vegetables!  When I was just home to Duluth I was fit to burst with pride seeing all the connections that had recently been made between producers, restaurants, consumers, and so forth, allowing them to support each other and eat darn good food to boot!

Duluth (or D-town as some of us like to call it, pretending we’re all cool or something) has a strong, strong sense of place and community, I think driven by the immensity of Lake Superior on its horizon, the still quite strong Scandinavian immigrant culture (some of us are still pretty new!) and the fact that it’s not exactly a place to springboard your career, so most of the people who land there have chosen it for other reasons.  But, because of the community’s strong connection to each other and the area, I guess it makes sense that once people got a whiff of the local potential on the breeze they really dove into it.  In fact, a local community supported agriculture program (CSA) cleverly called The Food Farm (because so many Midwestern farms these days produce commodities, not food) just won a prestigious sustainable food award for the butt-kicking energy efficient root cellar they devised!

Even if not all the produce all the year long can be local, supporting the local food co-op and the locally owned restaurants binds people together and to the land even further, so the sentiment stays local.  And since my parents’ kitchen was in the process of remodeling the first several days while I was there, we had the unusual opportunity (being at-home eaters usually) to explore these local restaurants, many of which were new or else updating themselves to embrace the zeitgeist.

Norwegian waffle with lingonberry jam and whipped cream

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