Archive | May, 2011
Monday, 30 May 2011

Thunder, Vikings and Norway

I have a dirty little secret – I went to see Thor last night.  Norse legend, big hammer, lots of lightning and thunder, manly vikings saving the world…ring a bell?  Not only was it a voluntary move to see an action movie with English Hubby, but I have to admit that I actually enjoyed it.

All in all, Marval and Kenneth Branagh managed to churn out a reasonable flick (I dare you to connect the dots between comic books and Shakespearean tragedies).  Not Natalie Portman’s finest hour, but right now she can do no wrong.  Antony Hopkins resonates well as the omnipresent wise old King trying to guide is sons – hot headed Thor and ‘second child syndrome’ Loki – through life’s trials and tribulations.  Plus an ample serving of Chris Hemsworth, need I say more?

Which brings me to the subject of Norway.  Just like the movie Thor, you may not naturally be inclined to go, but there are many hidden surprises if you do.  I’ve been to Norway twice.  First time, a fleeting EasyJet visit to hang out with English Hubby’s best friend, Carlito*.  Second time to celebrate New Year’s with an entourage of friends in Carlito’s magical winter wonderland cabin near Lillehammer.

It was one of the best New Year’s breaks I’ve ever had, and it all started with a few loose words. Something like this:

  • Me: “Hey, we’ve got a friend with a winter cabin in Norway”
  • NYC Entourage: “Never been to Norway”
  • Me: “How about going there for New Years?”
  • NYC Entourage: “Sure. I’m in. Let’s do it…booking tickets right now”
  • Me: “Um…(hesitation)…ok…just let me ask Carlito first…”

And so the hammer of Thor swung into action.  A few emails and Skype calls later, lightning struck.  Carlito foolishly agreed to entertain the five of us, three of whom he had never met before – as a meek consolation we did vouch for their characters, and promised they wouldn’t steal any silverware.

So began 5 days of friend fun in Norway, at the height of winter and frankly the coldest place we had ever visited.

Frozen trees

Brrr, it's cold!

 

We rendezvoused in Oslo (very cold), introduced everyone to Carlito (warm), spent a few days walking around Oslo taking in the sights (freezing cold) and frequenting coffee shops and bars to defrost (warm).

Friends walking along the harbor

Only silly tourists would be out and about

 

Norwegians to snow is like duck to water.  Whereas a light dusting of snow seems to bring JFK Airport to a stand still, Norway thrives!  Ten feet of snow, no problems. Blizzard? Bring it on. Minus 20 Celsius with wind chill from the Arctic, sure…just let me take the dog out for a walk with nothing else but a fleece on.  I can see how the vikings were tough and feared.  Their descendents are genetically impervious to the cold.  Life goes on, just with snow tires attached.

English Hubby lying in snow

English Hubby making a snow angel

 

So we pretended to be well-wintered Norwegians as we shivered across town.  Heading to the Opera House for a dose of Nordic high culture.  My friend C, has a love for architecture.  If you’ve ever had a friend like that, you know that you are no longer able to see buildings in the same light.  We admired the use of floor to ceiling glass windows that lets in the harbor views, and how the entire structure is nestled into its space, creating a summer-ready outdoor amphitheater that also doubles as a roof.

View of the Oslo Opera House

Style and substance all rolled into one Opera House

 

We admired how wood has been used to ‘warm’ the otherwise cold steel and glass construction, and gawked at the Guggenheim-esq structure that leads lucky ticket holders to their seats for a night of opera.

Glass and wood structure of the Opera House

Made of glass, steel and wood

 

Other points on the self inflicted sight seeing tour of Oslo included the Nobel Peace Center, the Royal Palace, the Viking Museum and the phallic park (yep, you read it correctly!).  It strikes me that Norway is a peaceful land.  After all, it is the home of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel Peace Center

A celebration of peace - Nobel Peace Center

 

If that’s not enough peace loving action for you, just take a look at the Royal Palace.  The only thing separating crazy people and the Royal Family at home is a low hanging chain, stretched regally across a few stone bollards.  My local liquor store in Spanish Harlem has more security than that.  Obviously nobody has tried to jack His Royal Highness’ stash of Akevitt!  We casually strolled up to the palace and looked at the front door in awe.  It did cross my mind to knock.

You can’t go to Norway without going to see the viking ships.  What else is there to say?  We came, we saw, we photographed, we conquered.

Wooden viking ship

Gods of the sea

 

Then onto one of my favorite parks in the world.  I’ve been there twice, and still can never seem to remember it’s official name.  To me it will always be known as the phallic park.  No prizes for guessing why…

Snow covered park with statues

Vigeland Sculpture Park in all its glory

 

Once we had “done” Oslo (…sort of like how American tourists are able to “do” Europe in 3 days), the circle of ‘friend fun’ – led by Vino ferocious guard dog (sarcasm inserted here) – headed to the mountains.

Dog lying on couch

Vino the most popular dog on Facebook

 

A couple of hours in the car and we were transported to Carlito’s magic cabin.

Cabin covered in snow surrounded by trees

Camp Carlito

 

I’ve never seen so much snow in my life.  It really isn’t a surprise to me that Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole.  This is the perfect training ground for a snow bound expedition.

Snow covered plains with trees

Winter wonderland view from Carlito's cabin

 

The rest of the days in our wonderful white icing wonderland were filled with snowboarding (skiing for the lesser man and woman), hot chocolates at the chalet, and well deserved hot showers and meals back at the cabin.  I’m utterly convinced that the beautiful fair haired, blue-eyed folks here learn to ski before they learn to talk.  Everyone on the slopes is as graceful as a gazelle.  Young and old alike glide their way delicately through trees and hurl themselves at frightening speeds down the mountain.  In comparison, our New York contingent look like knuckle dragging apes with planks strapped to our feet.  As we were shuttled back up the mountain in the most beautiful covered high speed chair lift, I counted less than a handful of tumbles on the mountain side.  I’m sure they were all tourists or Danish.

Mountain with ski slope

Hajfell ski slope - playground of the Norwegians

 

Now for the vacation finale – every year it happens…you get dressed up, say a silent prayer to no-one in particular, asking for strength to get you through the night.  The restaurant/bar/club/party is always a disappointment for one reason or another.  You curse yourself for wearing that new pair of heels, and worst of all you know you are meant to be having the time of your life (which is often far from the truth) as the clock strikes midnight.  Sound familiar?

Well, ringing in 2010 with beloved friends in a small cabin in Norway was, hands down, the best New Year’s plan ever.  Carlito spoilt us rotten with a traditional festive meal. It was a viking voyage of culinary discovery.  Sauteed juicy reindeer (yes, dear Bambi – sorry kids), ligonberry sauce and a whole load of trappings on the side.

Dinner table with food

New Year's Eve dinner fit for a Viking King and Queen

 

To top if all off (…as if it could get any better…) the Entourage competed for the inaugural International Nobel Yahtzee  Championship title.  With Australia, England, United States (U-S-A; U-S-A) and Norway all vying for bragging rights, the competition was stiff.  English Hubby dominated early, but luck seemed to be on my friend J’s side (side note: she is also the Boggle Queen of the Universe).  C + N blew on dice and rolled with the punches admirably. Carlito and his better half hung in there for dear life.  Tactics, calculation, foul play, bribery and orange cake came into play.

Dice game on coffee table

High stakes in the championship Yahtzee tournament

 

When all is said and done, another year (2009) passed into the annals of history and a new one begun.  The sun continues to rise, and eventually the snow will melt, but our adventures in Norway will be frozen in our hearts and minds.

Sun rising over snow capped mountain plains

Sunrise over Norway

 

May lightning strike twice, in fact many times over and bring each of you many more New Years to remember. Crackling fires, delicious food, fantastic friends. What could be better?

*names have been changed to protect the not so innocent

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Mistaken Identity of a Fritatta

Another gorgeous afternoon in New York City.  Especially on a day like this, food should match the sunshine.

In my mind’s eye, there is a simple equation: sunshine + blue skies + light breeze = fritatta for lunch.  I’ve always pictured beautiful people in Spain sitting outdoors, drinking cava and devouring delicious fritattas.  They are all bronzed to perfection, without a care in the world.  Fritatta = magical faraway land of long lunches, followed by serious siestas.

But alas! My fritatta friend is an impostor.  As I’ve only found out today, he is in fact Italian.  It is his close cousin, the tortilla, that actually hails from Spain.

Fritatta cooking in a pan

Fritatta del Giorno

 

What separates the two I hear you ask?  Apparently it is the egg factor and the use of an oven.  The fritatta is dominated by the egg mixture, whereas it is only used lightly to bind the vegetables in a tortilla.  Both are cooked in a pan, but the fritatta is then slotted into the oven to finish.

Technicalities aside, a fritatta is such an easy and delightful sunny day lunch.

Fritatta on a plate with arugula and toasted almonds

Italian fritatta with arugula and lightly toasted almonds

 

As I savor the taste, I can’t help but notice that all roads seem to lead back to Rome.  Perhaps someday soon I’ll stop procrastinating and finally write about last week’s trip to Italy.

In the meantime, boun appetito!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fritatta del Giorno (read: add in whatever is left in the fridge from last night!)

  • 1/2 cup of onions
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of quarter inch thick sliced potatoes
  • 1 cup of diced veges. Red peppers, corgettes, eggplant or similar seem to work well.
  • 4 organic cage free eggs
  • 4 tablespoons of creamed corn (Ah huh! A magic ingredient that keeps it from falling apart)
  • Dashes of salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup of freshly grated grana pardano stravecchio or parmesan cheese

In a small skillet on medium low heat, cook the onions and potato slices in a tablespoon of oil for 5 minutes.  Add the remaining vegetables and cook until they soften, but are not fully done.  Remove the filling from the skillet and set the filling aside.  Wipe the skillet clean, add the remaining olive oil and heat on the stove top.  Preheat the grill on low.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, and add the creamed corn.  Season with salt and pepper.  Once the skillet is hot, pour the egg mixture into the pan.  It should bubble around the sides.  Let it cook for 1 – 2 minutes, then add the vegetable filling directly into the pan.  Let it keep cooking on medium high heat until the edges start to firm up, and the center is still a little floppy.

Sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the fritatta, then place the skillet under the grill.  This should firm up the center of the fritatta, and also melt the grana cheese, making a delicious slightly saltier top.  Keep watch, and when the egg mixture looks solid on top but still jiggles a little when you shake the pan, remove from the broiler.  Removing at this point and letting it stand for 5 minutes will allow the fritatta to keep cooking to perfection.

Break out some cava, prosecco or what ever takes your fancy and enjoy!

Serves 2 – 3.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Things We Do For Love

Summer has finally arrived, kissing New York City with glorious sunshine and crystal blue skies.

English Hubby turns to me this morning and sweetly coons, “let’s do something together”.  So, where else would we be but (note a hint of sarcasm here) sitting in our local pub watching football [aka soccer, dear Americans].  English Hubby has lured me to the Champions League Final – Barcelona v Manchester United.

So here we are.  Sitting at the bar watching grown men in tight shorts chase a ball.  I’ve penetrated the sacred man cave.  We sit with others of his species perched at the altar (read: bar), where golden nectar (read: beer) is served by the pint.  All warmed by the glow of the flickering flat screen (read: Fox Sports).

English Hubby sitting at bar

English Hubby worshipping at the bar

 

Here in this cavern, they mutter in man code: “they’re not man marking, giving them too much space”.  He is engrossed in a sacred bond with the person sitting to the left.  I watch like a zoologist studying subjects in their natural habitat.

Observation #1  – Man cave noise crescendos every time the ball gets closer to the goal, accompanied by exaggerated head clasped by hands movement, vigorous shaking and gripping of napkins.  Chugging of precious nectar tends to ease tensions.

Observation #2 – Barcelona scores.  Television coverage zooms in on players leaping into the air and bumping chests.  Pray tell dear reader, what purpose does it serve?  Nevertheless, this action seems to invigorate the man cave spectators.

Observation #3 – It is a myth that men can’t multi task.  Plenty of evidence of simultaneous nectar drinking, conversation, and watching of half time ads.  Appears to be well honed talent.

Observation #4 – Male species has fine tuned communication skills, particularly adept at providing timely, specific feedback.

  • Beautiful, just beautiful, hopefully you’ll actually start playing now
  • Excellent, well played, now get the ball
  • You can’t let him run all that way without tackling him
  • It should never have been a goal from there. We’ve got to start playing properly. Look at this, it’s ridiculous defending
  • Oh, c’mon boys, don’t go backwards, go forwards
  • Ah, get up you big girl!

It’s a pity the Man-U players can’t hear English Hubby.  After all, they are only 5,000 miles out of ear shot.

Observation #5 – Feeding time at the man cave is dominated by fish and chips or bangers and mash, both with ample servings of HP sauce.  Judging by the accents, said food must stimulate pleasant associations of home.

Plate of fish and chips

English nutrition at its best

 

Match is over.  English obliterated by Spaniards.  English Hubby is saddened.  Looks like I will have to take him shopping for a summer dress and shoes to cheer him up.

Yes…the things we do for love.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Tuscan Goddess

Here she is.  Let me introduce to the world…Eve.  She arrived May 25, 2011, early evening.  Perfectly formed, all shiny and new.

Marcato Atlas 150 Pasta Maker

Eve, the pasta goddess

A delicious reminder of last week – under the Tuscan sun, where we learned to turn glorious eggs, 00 flour and water into golden pasta.

Ah, Eve – she who offers up temptation.

A souvenir that will just keep on giving.  Admittedly, said pasta maker was ordered on online to save having to lug 8lbs of shiny love home on American Airlines.

Speaking of 8lbs, if the snug fit of my skirts are anything to go by, resistance seems to be futile in Italy.  Tuscans are all true blooded foodies and locavores by birth.  Farm fresh isn’t a marketing slogan in that part of the world.  Of course it’s farm fresh.  There’s no need to assume or advertise otherwise! Who wouldn’t fall in love with a region where good food is taken seriously, to the extent that restaurants can be shut down for days, just on the back of a complaint?

Mental note to oneself: before turning out the first batch of carb filled goodness, I must remember to roll slices of bread through Eve to absorb leftover grease and oil from the lovely Italians who put this ingenious contraption together.

Is it strange to feel such adoration for a shiny inanimate object?