Saturday, 29 January 2011

River Cottage Dreams

This morning I was awoken by Hubby, kissing my cheek and whispering "Happy birthday, darling!" How nice when your birthday falls on a Saturday, don't you think? I was served coffee in bed, and my present was the entire River Cottage television series, that I have wanted for a long time.

For those of you who have missed this series that was aired on English Channel 4, it is about this fellow here, bearing the ultra posh name Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - and his trials and tribulations living and cooking in the country. The series, which became a great success in England went on for many seasons. It is fantastic for anyone looking for inspiration about cooking and growing organic food.

Tonight, after a nice dinner with wine, Hubby and I will lounge in front of the television and get lost in dreams about buying a large house somewhere in the English countryside, keeping chickens and making gourmet food from our own produce.

Well, that will probably never happen (at least not before we're pensioners) but we're is allowed to dream a little, aren't we?

Hope you all have a lovely weekend too. :-)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Oh deer!

This weekend we drove across the mountain to Skien to celebrate my mother’s birthday. One of the nicest things about visiting her is seeing all the animals that roam around her house. Although she lives less than a hundred yards from the main road, there is an abundance of wildlife in the small strip of forest stretching past her house and down to river. We have seen hares and badgers, foxes and moose, and even lynx and wolves. But roe deer are the most frequent visitors. Sometimes, they seem to wander around the garden all day long. Obviously they must thrive there, but after months of cold and floundering through half a meter of snow, there were some scrawny creatures that met us this time.

The young male that was born last year seemed to struggle especially much as he dug desperately through the deep snow searching for something edible. When he came closer to us, we saw that he staggered a little as he walked and it was painful to see how emaciated he had become.

Frequently, they gnawed on the pine bushes in an attempt to find something green, but judging by how long they spent chewing every mouthful, this was tough stuff.
We were worried that they might not survive this winter as there are still several months until spring arrives with fresh green shoots to eat, so we drove to a farmer’s outlet to see if they could recommend some fodder for them.

They said corn pellets were the thing. It only cost 7 GBP for a bag of 25 kilos, so it was not exactly expensive. The saleswoman thought the animals might be a bit sceptical at first, but she was confident that they would soon get used to the taste of it.

One problem was how to lead the deer to the food. They use tracks that they rarely stray from and we could hardly expect my 80-year-old mother to wade through snow up to her bum to feed them every day. Hubby found out that he would shovel a path for them, and lay a trail of pellets up to the food tray.

It was not long before one of them came strolling along to see what all this strange activity was about. They were reluctant to go all the way to tray though, but as night fell, we could see three animals there, munching away. There was some pushing and bickering between them, so it was clear that they liked their new goodies. I hope everyone got some.

The next day the tray was licked clean, and numerous tracks revealed the night’s activity.
Now that we have travelled back to the West country again, it's up to Mum to feed them. Seeing as she is such an animal lover, she’ll probably take that task seriously.

Do you have deer in you garden? Maybe it would be a good idea to put out some food for them. A little extra nutrition can mean the difference between life and death, as many animals succumb in such harsh winter months. A salt stone nailed to a tree or post will give the deer valuable minerals even during a normal winter.
Although we curse them in the spring, when they eat our tulips or wreck the bushes, we do appreciate them, and want to enjoy the beauty of their company for many years to come.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Best Cake in the World!

Judging by what we see in the media at the moment, it seems that the whole world is in a collective struggle to compensate for Christmas binging. The press strikes while the fat is hot (and we still remember our New Year’s resolutions), egging us on. With fierce fervour we sweat away at the gym (at least twice before becoming passive members); we hold our noses and bravely swallow diet shakes (with "delicious" strawberry and chocolate flavour); and with obvious discomfort we wrap ourselves up in hats and scarves to go for Sunday "walks" in the freezing cold.
For my part, I know I never manage to endure this for long, so I sit on my ever bulging bottom, and enjoy a snack now rather than later. After exerting myself in the laundry room and making a super-healthy salmon dinner today, I’d like to spend the afternoon in the sofa with coffee and cake. I would invite you in for a cuppa, but it is a bit difficult since you probably don’t live in the neighbourhood. However, should you too be in need of something nice with your coffee, here’s a recipe for what we in Norway call the Best Cake in the World.

  • 150 grams butter
  • 150 grams sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 50 ml (0.2 cup) milk
  • 150 grams flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 5 egg whites
  • 175 grams sugar
  • 100 grams almonds

Cream Filling
  • 250 ml (1 cup) whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 500 ml (2 cups) custard
  • 1 tablespoon rum

Start with the cream filling. It needs to stand in the fridge for a while to become firmer.

Whip cream and vanilla extract and mix with the custard.

A few drops of rum will give the filling a nice flavour. If you fancy a little drop yourself, then by all means have a sip, but honestly it tastes better with coffee a little later. ;-)

Separate egg whites and yolks. Be careful, even the tiniest bit of yolk in the whites will destroy the meringue.

Whip butter and sugar light and airy, and then whip in the milk and egg yolks before adding the flour and baking powder.

Spread the dough on baking paper in a large square cake tin.

Beat the egg whites, while adding sugar little by little. The meringue mix should be stiff and glossy.

Spread the meringue mix on top of the cake dough.

Roughly chop the almonds and sprinkle on top of the meringue.

Then it is into the oven at 175 degrees (Celcius) for 20 minutes. Have a look at it after 15 minutes, just to make sure the meringue does ’t brown too much.

When the cake has cooled, cut it in two and put one part bottom down on a platter.

Spread cream filling over the cake.

Add the other half on top, and voila, you have a Kvæfjord Cake ready to serve.
It really tastes wonderful, so enjoy yourself! :-)

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Wish I was there

On days such as today, with the icy wind howling and rain and sleet beating down on us, when it seems as if daylight just can’t manage to penetrate the thick clouds, then I agree with those who say that you have to be somewhat masochistic to live in Norway. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea then, to spend the day looking at photos from our honeymoon in tropical Cebu in the Philippines. My pining for sun and warm weather suddenly became overwhelming.

The sound of a gentle breeze rustling through the great leaves of a palm tree would be music to my ears.

Imagine lying in the shade and wriggling your freshly painted toenails while sipping an ice-cold mango shake...

… or coconut juice served fresh in the nut.

You could take a dip in the crystal clear warm water…

…where tropical fish would be only too happy to share your lunch.

The trees are full of all sorts of exotic fruits…

…and flowers…

…that you can put in your hair.

This was the view from our veranda at the Shangri La resort. Quite different from the disheartening view from our window today. Ah well, I suppose there is only one thing to do - eat cake!
If there are more of you out there who need to comfort eat, I’ll put out a recipe for the world’s best cake in a little while.

The colour of hope is light green

 Our New Year’s dinner party was so nice that I thought I’d show you a few photos of the table setting.
We have a rather grand dining room here at Hilltop House, but unfortunately it isn’t in use very often. So, when there is an appropriate occasion, it's nice to lay the table with damask, crystal, silver and all the trimmings.

My theme for this table was hope for a happy new year, and in Norway we say that the colour of hope is light green. The fact that light green is one of my favourite colours as well also plays a part. I think that New Year's Eve is not only a time for looking ahead, but also for reflecting over the past, so the table is laid with memories.

First, I covered the table with a large white damask cloth and then a smaller green one across the middle. I have had these tablecloths for many years. I bought them in Prague at the Christmas of 1989. Those of you who are old enough will remember that this was an incredibly exciting time. I'll never forget the intoxicating sense of freedom that swept across Europe that Christmas. To travel to the capital of the Velvet Revolution when it was actually happening, is probably one of the smartest things I've done in my life.
On top of the damask, I have put a white translucent table runner with thin golden threads. That also decorated our wedding table when we got married, and is obviously a very good memory. :-)
The light green celadon plates were brought painstakingly back from Thailand. I had such trouble bringing them with me on a crowded airplane, where I was almost the last one aboard. There was obviously no space left in the overhead compartments, and I argued with the flight attendants who wanted me to send the plates as checked baggage. There was no way I was going to have my nice plates broken, when I had spent half my holiday budget on them, so I ended up sitting with the box on my lap the entire flight from Bangkok to Copenhagen where we transferred to Oslo.
I got the Czech crystal for my 30th birthday, when all my friends had chipped in to buy these lovely glasses for me. The cutlery is called Admiral from Hardanger Cutlery and the set includes gifts from friends and family who keep supplementing me with serving spoons, which suits me very well.
The jade grapes are a souvenir from Hong Kong. I bought them in 2001, when I celebrated Chinese New Year there. It was quite an experience, especially when we realized that the Chinese not only invented gunpowder, but knew how to use it too. I have never before or since seen the likes of those fireworks that they launched from barges in the harbour.
The silver napkin rings are Hubby’s contribution. They were apparently a flea market bargain. The linen napkins are probably the only new things on the table.

It is not a proper party table without flowers, I feel. In the middle of the bouquet is a small light green Christmas tree bauble that I inherited from my grandmother.

The flower vase is also celadon from Thailand. I inherited that from a friend who sadly departed life too all too soon. I'm so glad I got this vase from her family, for she was my travelling companion on that trip to the Orient, and I remember all the fun we had together.

The dinner plates are heavy and rather unpractical, because I dare not put them in the dishwasher, but they are so lovely that they must be used anyway. I really like the cracked glaze that characterises celadon.

The salt pots are also celadon. They are a gift from a friend who had taken them home from Bali. One of them originally had a lid, which I unfortunately managed to break because it fell to the floor as I unpacked the gift. That made me decide never to have hard tiles on the kitchen floor again. I broke so much stuff during the years I lived in a house with terracotta floors. If you have wood or vinyl flooring, a cup or a glass can actually survive being dropped on the floor, but drop it on a tiled floor and it’s had it.
The candlestickholders were given to me by my father many years ago. They’re only silver plated, but they still have a nice lustre. Around them, I wrapped garlands of white roses. (Yet another memory from our wedding table.) When I see the picture now, I think that maybe it was a bit over the top, but what the heck.

A New Year's table must also have some guardian angels. If they are going to look after us in the coming year, the least we can do is let them join in the celebration, right?

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Here is our contribution to Petunia's heavenly photos. Hubby is the photographer, of course.
The picture was taken out of the window at Haukeliseter this Christmas. The icicles were really huge, some of them several meters long, so here it is probably not recommended to sit and lean against the wall. Just imagine having something like that falling on your head!

More heavenly photos can be found here.

New laundry room

At long last our new laundry room is completed. Some of you might remember from last summer that I told you how we had a leak in the cellar. It turned out to be worse than expected, and the repair process went on for months with large fans drying the room, the floor which had to be broken up for a new drain to be installed, the stopcock which had to be replaced and a lot of other stuff that I'd rather forget. As you can imagine, it ended up costing quite a bit. It stings having to dish out more than 30,000 kroner (3,000 GBP) in unforeseen expenses, just to pay the plumber. When the time finally came to furnish the room, there was not much money left. It was enough for a trip to IKEA, and then we did what we could to find inexpensive solutions and salvage old stuff.

The result is, as you can see, not a super-modern, streamlined laundry room, but a bright and pleasant room where it's nice to work. It's quite an improvement from the old, dingy room with its dark pine walls and red-painted mouldings. (Which you can see here.)
It was a challenge to find good solutions in such a small room with three doors, but at last we have enough storage space. We even managed to squeeze a small cupboard in between the washing machine and the hot water tank. There is no space for the tumble dryer here, but there is space for it in the next room.

 Don’t worry - the walls are not lopsided. :-) It's just Hubby that has played with his camera again.

One can fit a lot into a typical 80 centimeter wide kitchen cabinet from IKEA.

This is my favourite part of the room. In this little nook there was room for some narrow shelves, which Hubby made from planks. Here we have space for the detergents and such, and it's incredibly practical and handy.

The old zinc boxes have in their time been used for storing glass photographic plates. Now they have been given new life here.
Like most other ladies in Bloglandia, I also have Durance products in the laundry room (they are irresistible, aren’t they?). I do not use laundry detergents from Durance though, because I think that conventional detergents do a better job, but I buy bottles of Durance hand soap, which I pour over into soap dispensers.

A good hand cream is important to have readily available for use after you have washed and scrubbed. Especially now in winter, when it's so easy to get dry hands.
I decorated the shelves with lace. A small leftover turned the piggy bank into a French maid. Having a piggy bank in the laundry room is actually a useful tip. All the pennies that are found in trouser pockets end up here.

An old jam jar does the job as a container for stain remover. The two metal boxes with washing powder have stickers with Whites and Coloureds. I had to cut a little off the stickers to make them fit, but it does not look too bad, I feel.

To make the most of space above the washing machine and the hot water tank, we cut some MDF to appropriate lengths and painted them white. Then I bought baskets to fit. They were a bargain at half price. Hubby was so frustrated because he could never remember what was inside them, so I bought some small zinc plates and wrote on them what the baskets contain.

Over the sink we installed a rail so clothes can hang to drip dry.
We chose to keep the old ceiling lamp. Now that the room is painted in bright colours, it actually offers ample light. Also, I think that it looks quite nice too.

The same rail from the IKEA Bygel line was also mounted on the wall.

We also bought a Grundtal drying rack to mount behind one of the doors. It can be folded against the wall when not in use, so it doesn’t get in the way of the door.

The large drying rack has been placed on hooks behind another door where it is out of the way when not in use. We also mounted a row of pegs. Here you can see my old-fashioned feather duster. I discovered some years ago that it is incredibly handy to use for ornaments and narrow shelves.
Some hotels are courteous enough to provide their guests with proper laundry bags. They are very handy when travelling. The fabric breathes, so it is much better than storing laundry in plastic bags. I also use them when I’m going to the swimming pool.

I use a large wicker basket for the laundry. It holds a lot and is comfortable to carry. Actually, I think it’s intended for use in the garden, but never mind that.

The enamel soap dish that I got for Christmas hangs by the sink. It is so incredibly lovely! I also got some lavender soaps with bits of dried flowers in them, so now the room smells of lavender.
Crafts are not my forte, but I like to have something to keep myself busy with, so I knit cloths from cotton. They are much better than the ordinary cloths you buy in the shop. I crocheted the towel a few years ago. It has been tucked away in a drawer, but I thought it fit in here.
The towel is hanging on this cool hook that I found in the back of a closet in the cellar. I thought it deserved better, so I put it here. In the same closet, I found several other nice hooks that I now use to hang mops and brushes on.

Hubby almost fainted when he found out I wanted to buy old fashioned clothes pegs for forty kroner (4 GBP) for a set of five, and regaled me with stories about how little they cost in his childhood when the gypsies travelled around and sold such things for next to nothing. That didn’t help me much, for we don’t have any peg whittling gypsies that come knocking on our door around here. But a phone call to England solved the problem. My in-laws are visiting at the moment and they brought along a lot of "dollypegs" as they call them. Just think, in England they only cost 90 pence for a pack of ten. I got four packs, so now I have plenty.
The small zinc tub is actually a herb pot, where you can write on the board what kind of herbs you are growing, but I think it is much more appropriate for keeping clothes pegs in. Incidentally, it comes from England too.

The wall clock was also bought in England for a fiver, when we visited a market in North Shields in the autumn. I think it is very sweet. The old-fashioned zinc lamp was a Christmas present from a friend some years ago.

I won the heart at a blog giveaway a while back. It is beautiful, but I have been struggling to find the right place to hang it. Finally it ended up on the wall here, where I can see and enjoy it every day. It matches the room’s colour nicely, and you have to try and make a room look pretty, even if it's just a laundry room, right? Perhaps it is even more important to decorate a utility room so that you can feel good about working there.

I had two old frames lying around and thought they could be used here, so I searched the net for some appropriate pictures. These two fit the bill perfectly!

 Now, it's not as though washing has become my favourite pastime since we finished the laundry room, but compared to previously, it's good, clean fun (pun intended).