If only winter were this glamorous.
Er, well it would help if we had a winter to speak of in Britain rather than squalling winds we’re experiencing this week!
Having spent fifteen years growing up in Norway the whole notion of winter wonderland kinda means six long months of flumping, yes flumping around in layers of grey thermals, cute but itchy wool socks, wool hats to wreak havoc with your hair, traditional Marius jumpers knitted by your nan forty years ago (think Sara Lund’s fetching woolen ones in The Killing), not to mention giant snow boots and a layer of god-awful Gore-Tex to shield you from arctic winds. That’s the reality of winter in Nordic countries folks.
Stilton, Squash, Walnut & Sage Muffins
Ahh autumn. London’s trees, with their unusually rich hues of gold, burnished orange and moody auburn bear more of a passing resemblance to New England this year than any I can remember. Seeing Regent’s Park earlier in the week the romantic softie in me felt suddenly overcome by all the pretty colours on the trees. And no, my morning cuppa tea had not been spiked thankyouverymuch.
Gravlaks (salmon cured with dill, spices, sea salt and sugar) on Peter's Yard sourdough crispbread
While there always seems to be a frenzied rush this time of year to come up with the most ghoulish recipe for Hallowe’en I’ve been musing on the joys of that other orange-hued foodstuff: salmon.
Nothing makes me happier than a really good piece of oily fish. Seriously. Chock-full of omega fatty acids to keep your brain sprightly, your heart ticking (not to mention your hair, skin, nails growing & glowing), salmon is the best mood-enhancer as we head into the dark days of winter. Beats prozac any day.
Chocolate Hazelnut Brownies
Brownies. What defines them? In recent years they’ve become ubiquitous here in the UK and to be honest, most of what you see is ersatz. The brownies you see this side of the Atlantic tend to be either slabs of barely cooked, oozing, molten, chocolate fudge bordering on the grotesque, or a thin-ish, cake-ish slice of dark chocolate-ish cake with an identity crisis. Iced brownies are a complete travesty so let’s not even go there.
The brownies I recall from summers spent in New England were neither gooey nor cakey. That’s just a false dichotomy folks. They were also nowhere near 5 cm tall, as seems to be the current vogue here, nor did they contain 500 g of sugar – I’m looking at you Nigella – in one single traybake. A fast-track to diabetes if there ever was one…
Dark Chocolate and Orange Marmalade Quick Bread
Need a spot of baking inspiration this weekend?
How about a squidgy and utterly more-ish dark chocolate and orange marmalade quick bread! Americans are great quick bread bakers and basically they’re just cakes baked in a loaf tin using raising agents such as baking powder and/or bicarbonate of soda instead of yeast. My predilection for loaf cakes stems from childhood birthdays when Mama J baked me a chocolate cake from a packet (always amplified with an extra spoonful of cocoa powder) in a loaf tin, slathered it with chocolate buttercream and decorated with Freia Non-Stop (Norway’s answer to Smarties). It’s just a riff on good old chocolate cake baked in a cake tin but somehow much, much more satisfying.
North Sea Prawn
Prawns, Lemon & Norwegian Mayo (from a tube no less)
Prawn Skagen Crisps on Peter's Yard ace sourdough crispbread
Wye Valley Strawberries & Rodda's Cornish Clotted Cream
Midsummer is traditionally marked across all the Scandinavian countries with celebrations, festivals and even bonfires – in some countries the festivities go on for the entire week of summer solstice, in others you’ll find the feasting restricted to the 21st or 23rd of June.
Flowers are picked, good food is shared and there is a steady trickle of booze to lubricate everyone well into the morning. Songs are sung and as long as the weather holds, much of the midsummer celebrations take place outdoors. Because it’s light virtually 24 hours at this time of year you don’t sleep much – something I relished as a child, using the excuse of midsummer insomnia to read all my favourite comic books late into the night, not to mention the excuse to snack on strawberries from my grandparents’ strawberry patch on their farm.
Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon, creme fraiche and dill canape at The Albion (photo taken by Neil Davey)
“The Best Scandinavians” according to my mother “are always the ones living outside Scandinavia.”
As an Anglo-American married to a Norwegian for nearly 40 years this has been a common refrain from the long-suffering Mama Johansen. She-who-must-be-obeyed would roll her steely grey eyes at the comedy of my father’s immediate family – most notably Papa Johansen’s charmingly eccentric sisters. It made my mother and I a little uncomfortable listening to their continual exclamations of Norwegian pride and how Norway was the best in absolutely everything.
Win six Iittala Korento coffee/tea cups and matching saucers. The Korento range is Iittala's latest launch and I love their bold, summery pattern of flowers and dragonflies
One of the things I miss most about living in Norway is the time-honoured tradition of sitting down and eating cake in the afternoon whilst enjoying a cup of strong coffee or tea. My grandmother always made sure there was a slice of something sweet to pick her up around 4pm, and if she didn’t have a cake already baked there was always the sour cream and vanilla waffle batter on standby for when guests dropped in at short notice.
If you’ve read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy you’ll be familiar with how much coffee we drink in Scandinavia. Someone once quoted me a statistic that more coffee is consumed per capita in this tiny region than anywhere else on the planet. Who knows if that’s true but we do love our caffeine!
Strawberries in a favourite Iittala glass (photo by Debi Treloar copyright Saltyard Books)
I’m thrilled to announce that ‘Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking…Scandilicious’ is now available online and in bookshops across the UK.
For a chance to win a signed copy of the book simply tweet a link to this Jarlsberg & Fennel muffin recipe on YouTube and use the hashtag #winscandilicious by 4pm Friday 13th May.
And as it’s publication day I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite photos from the book…