July 17, 2011
Bergen, Day 4: Buns, Lamb Ribs, and Meeting the Parents
Taking photos doesn't just allow me to (sort of) visually remember events that happened, uh, five months ago, but can also tell me the exact time the fading memory happened. The above photo (the view from Kåre's apartment) was taken at 1:23 p.m. on February 15. This means my slovenly self probably woke up some time after 1 p.m. Kåre and I were supposed to be at his parents' house, about a 30-minutes drive away, around 4 p.m. for a home cooked dinner. And thus explains why not a whole lot happened in between.
But "not a whole lot" is still more than nothing! Something, even. And something we did.
We started our day by pumping up our bodies full of sugary buns from Baker Brun, a Bergen-based bakery chain that makes loads of bread and...sugary buns. Here you can buy favorite Weegie pastries like skolebolle (school buns) filled with custard and topped with dried coconut-covered frosting, or karamell bolle (caramel buns) topped with caramel frosting and crushed almonds, or princesse bolle (princess buns) with custard and raisins rolled into the cinnamon and cardamom-flavored dough and drizzled with icing (like a variation on the French pain aux raisins). We got one of each.
For some reason I thought three sugar-and-fat-and-carb-filled buns would be an easy conquest for our two stomachs. Of course, they weren't. Because of the sugar-fat-carb thing I just mentioned. Times three. The caramel bun was my favorite; the others were a bit too sweet for my liking, probably more enjoyable if you eat something savory beforehand. But I enjoyed them all.
We strolled around the city center, passing charming houses, a charming kindergarten, a charming guitar shop, a charming dentist's office, charming snow-covered sidewalks dappled with charming footprints (I mean, there may be repulsive bits lurking around Bergen, as it is a reasonably large city, but they just keep shoving all that charming stuff in your face, and I ain't gonna fight it), until the buns ran out...and then we were off to dinner.
I'm not sure if I was supposed to be nervous meeting Kare's parents for the first time, but I wasn't. From the message his mom, Aslaug, had sent me on Facebook before my trip, it was easy to tell that she and her husband Arne were pretty much the nicest people ever, which makes sense since they raised one of the nicest sons ever. THE CHARMING-NESS CONTINUES.
For dinner, Aslaug cooked a traditional western Norwegian Christmas meal (but also popular in other parts of Norway) of pinnekjøtt ("stick meat")—cured lamb ribs that are brined for weeks, then hung to dry, and sometimes smoked—with boiled potatoes and mashed rutabaga. If you like well salted, rich, adequately tender meat (I do), you'll like pinnekjøtt (and I did). The pinnekjøtt we ate was just salted, not smoked.
Aslaug prepares the ribs by first soaking them in a pan of water for 24 hours (you can do it for a shorter time, but the longer the soak, the more tender it'll be). After soaking, she pours out the water, then steams the stacks of ribs on a grill grate in a pan of water (adding more water as needed) for three hours, until the meat starts to separate from the bone. Traditionally the ribs are steamed over birch sticks though, hence the name "stick meat." (See more photos of the cooking process at My Little Norway.)
Pinnekjøtt is traditionally served with boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, lingonberry jam, and mashed rutabaga/swedes. To make the mashed rutabaga—3 to 4 rutabaga to feed four people—cut the rutabaga in half, then into slices, and then peel the skin off. Cut into cubes and cook them in a pan of water until tender. When done, strain out the cubes and reserve the water. Mash the rutabaga, then add 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter (I'd go with four, of course) and sprinkle 3 to 4 tablespoons of flour (you can leave out the flour for stronger flavor; just add less liquid). Stir well, adding some of the rutabaga water until you get the right texture. (I guess you have to know what that texture is to do it though. Um. You know. Mashed texture. You can do it.) Salt and pepper to taste. You can add pinnekjøtt-cooking water for more flavor if you want. (Thanks to Aslaug and Kåre for the instructions!)
For dessert we had rice pudding with raspberry sauce and ice cream cake. Riskrem, Norwegian rice pudding, is a bit different from the American version, in that they add whipped cream to rice porridge, resulting in a lighter pudding that isn't as rice-dense or as sweet (although I guess that's what the sauce is for). It's not bad, but I must admit I prefer the standard Kozy Shack version.
The horseshoe-shaped ice cream cake, on the other hand, was nicer than American ones I've had, featuring some almond brittle and caramel stuff in the ice cream. I was too stuffed to eat much of it, but little did I know...
...THERE WAS MORE DESSERT, and it was better and richer than before: suksessterte ("success tart"?), a Swedish almond cake made with a base of egg whites, sugar, and coarsely ground almond (sounds like a French macaron, but with lots more almond) and topped with a custardy frosting made of egg yolks, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, and butter. Maybe I'll try to make one before I visit Norway again. ...Ok, probably not. But I'm sort of compelled! Because it was damn good.
...AND THEN THERE WAS MORE DESSERT, in the form of homemade skillingsboller, cinnamon buns. I already did my time writing a Norwegian cinnamon bun primer (plus recipe) on Serious Eats, so you should just go read that. Summary: Norwegian cinnamon buns have a hit of cardamom in them, as many Scandinavian baked goods tend to have. They are tasty. You should eat 'em.
We had a nice night of eating desserts and chatting, which is how most nights should be. It had been a long time since I had been in such a...homey home. The sort of home where the walls are lined with family photos, like this gem:
Mom, Dad, Kåre, and his sister, Anne-Kristin, I'm guessing in the late '80s or early '90s. Oh god oh god it's adorable. I've never had a family portrait quite like this. I mean, we had family portraits, but not any kind that demanded special lighting and being printed on canvas.
Of course, we needed a group shot too. I'm obviously bad at this—I mean, remember that group shot from Blue Hill featuring three attractive, well composed people, and one person named Robyn? (Oh, my name is Robyn. Hi.) And here I am in the photo above, doing something funny with my leg. I don't know why. I forgot everything I learned at the finishing school I never went to.
If there was some sort of girlfriend test, I'm pretty sure I passed with flying, blazingly vibrant colors, preferably the ones trailing behind an eternally buoyant Nyan cat. But there was no test, so it was just a fun, chill night full of good food and conversation.
Posted by roboppy at 1:17 AM
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