I made this!

There is one thing I will never flaunt, and that is my cooking skills. I am grateful if I enjoy what I made, because that's not a given. I'm about to declutter my kitchen and I think a number of spices will disappear when I do. I never use them. I don't know how to use them. And no, I'm not interested in learning. I can't learn.

My mother and her mother (and her mother) are/were all good cooks. Not fancy cooks, but the kind of cooks who can put together ingredients in a way to make a nourishing and tasty meal, and they can do that every day. (I do remember Grandma saying the biggest challenge to cooking was coming up what to make. Her tomato meatloaf was divine, by the way.) I did not inherit this talent from them.

You know how some things are interesting enough to make you want to find out more? I'm like that with computers or astrology, but not with cooking. I don't even watch cooking shows. I may as well be watching a quantum physics lecture for quantum physicists. Actually, I'd give that latter a try because I'd probably enjoy it more than watching somebody pickle fisheyes or something (it's probably been done). The only TV cook I've ever watched with any enjoyment (and even then, only a few episodes) was UK's Nigella Lawson because she was slightly klutzy in the kitchen, a trait that made me feel at home. And she talked about what she was doing in a way I could understand. I watched Jamie Oliver swear he could get dinner ready in 15 minutes, and does—3 courses—and at the end just tosses mint, ginger and lemon into ice water and I know that sounds good; I just cannot understand how he got there, how he knew to combine those. Because when he did, I realized that that would never have occured to me. And so got the same feeling with him that I had in high school chemistry: A mystified void where knowledge should have lodged.

That everlasting void is one reason why I don't know how to substitute. I don't what would work in place of an ingredient I don't have, because I don't understand the combination of the original ingredients. That understanding of how flavors or textures interact is a key to good cooking, and I lack it. The everlasting void is why I expect a lot of my spices will go, too, once I get around to decluttering the kitchen cabinets. They'll go because they were purchased in a mad attempt at understanding them enough to use them outside the one recipe that introduced them to me, and they'll go because rarely used spices in a household of one tend not to be good after a while.

However, in spite of all of the above, I feed myself. Perhaps not spectacularly, and perhaps not creatively, but definitely by my own hand in my own kitchen. I use cookbooks. The only thing I'll just do on the fly are eggs. I am very good with eggs.

I have to make my own food. Partly because TV-dinners get excrutiatingly boring after a while, and mainly because if I am to feed my body the way it needs to be fed, I have to do the cooking. I have to keep it healthy and, in deference to my own monkey brain, keep it simple.

So I try to find recipes where I understand the whole thing and I can do the whole thing. Recipes that do not require a dash of an obscure ingredient, or a food item not sold in Norway, or that have that one step I don't know how to do. I have one chicken recipe I love because when I cook the chicken breasts exactly as the recipe says, they always come out tender and moist. I don't understand why. I am surprised every time it happens. And grateful.

Today's dinner was inspired by ready-made bacon burger patties at the store. I've always thought that ramekin bread would make a good hamburger bun, if you layer with lettuce leaves so the condiments don't leak through, and with that thought (and the knowledge that I have frozen sweet potato fries in the freezer), I ended up with a proper hamburger for dinner tonight. Behold:

Hamburger with ramekin bun

Hamburger with ramekin bun

17th of May breakfast

The great national holiday in Norway, on May 17th, is a far more involved and formal event than the equivalent celebration in the US, on July 4th. There are also a lot of traditions and traditional food associated with the day. This year, I'm going to partake in a 17th of May breakfast in town.

In some ways, Constitution Day in Norway, is not exactly a Sunday or religious holiday. It's a day off but buses run on Saturday schedules and restaurants are open.

A bunch of us got Norwegian citizenship during 2017 and have decided to go All Norwegian the only way foreigners can. So we've decided to have the 17th of May breakfast buffet, which is a tradition. It includes rømmegrøt (sour cream porridge) and that's all I need to know (although cured meats and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs are also traditional fare).

Constitutional Day ribbons

Constitutional Day ribbons

I've booked a table that should also offer a fantastic view of the parade(s). There are three but we'll miss the early one that starts at 7 am. We'll catch the main one that leaves from Bryggen, and then we'll see the Children's parade that goes in the opposite direction and ends at Bryggen. Maybe we'll also catch the rowing race in the bay, too, before breakfast is over.

What a lot of Norwegians do is show up in their bunad (national costume) and line the streets for the parades. They may stay for a bit after the parades, but then they go home. A meal, maybe just chilling a bit, and then it's back out if you have kids. Schools have their own 17th of May activities that usually start around 3 pm. Parents march in the local parade with their kids. Afterwards, it's games and hot dogs and ice cream at the school. I remember that part from my own childhood here.

I never spent 17th of May in town as a child. We had our local school parade and school activities so no need (or opportunity) to go to town. I therefore didn't realize the day ends with fireworks until I was invited to watch one year. I am looking forward to seeing the fireworks again!

Hipp hipp hurra!

The Daily Prompt: Partake

Spaghetti magic

Spaghetti was always my favorite food growing up. I had to give it up when I went low-carb. Last night I had it again, with buckwheat noodles. Tomato sauce, broccoli florets, chicken meatballs and lots of cheese. Yummy! This morning I did my 1-minute wake-up routine of doing steps on my ottoman while lifting with barbells. And I felt absolutely great doing it. Nothing hurt, nothing creaked, I didn't have to keep catching my balance. I didn't even get winded. Is there really more to comfort food or favorite foods than just taste or emotional balm? Hmmm…

Water and bones

As healthy and as long-lived as Norwegians are, they are plagued by one baffling disease: Osteoporosis. As a woman who has lived here for part of her childhood and all of her adulthood, this is something to be concerned about. Is it genetic? Is it dietary? We may have the answer, finally. Good dietary habits when I was a child in Norway included a tablespoon of cod liver oil. As a child, I actually liked the stuff. Didn't like fish, but I didn't mind that spoonful of omega 3's and vitamin D, intended to compensate for the lack of sunshine. (The rule is to take cod liver oil or "tran" in all months with an R in it. There is also the rule not to fish in months without an R in it, so those two rules dovetail nicely.) As an adult I can't stand straight "tran" any more and get my fish oil in capsule form.

In the years since, Norwegian researchers trying to understand the national epidemic of broken hips have proposed many theories: Sedentary lifestyle, not enough milk or calcium in the diet, not enough fish in the diet, not enough sunshine. However, in comparison to countries with a similar population or lifestyle, none of those theories held water.

Water itself may be the reason.

Most fresh water comes from underground, moving in aquifers that give off minerals to the water. All over the world, humans dig wells to get to this water source. But in Norway, our main source of drinking water is surface water. We get it from lakes and reservoirs replenished by rainfall. And that water has hardly any minerals in it since it doesn't pass through rock.

85 % of Norway's drinking water comes from surface water. And the current best theory about why our rate of osteoporosis is so high is the lack of mineral content in our water, especially the lack of magnesium.

It is the one thing that makes sense to me. I have already discovered that magnesium helps my digestion and bowel motility. Now I'm going to double my intake in hopes of compensating for decades of drinking fresh, clear and cold water straight from my tap.

 

(Re current best theory: PDF article in Norwegian with introductory paragraph in English.)

 

Toxic

Coughing so hard, I can hardly breathe. Coughing so hard, I start to feel twinges I shouldn't. This is what I had in February, and for a while I thought I had the flu. I didn't. Instead, my body has decided that some foods are not good for me. The baffling thing was the fever. But if my esophagus was inflamed from all the tummy upsets, then a fever would be understandable. I was out sick a second time with the same thing in March. This time my doctor gave me an antacid, which I think helped my esophagus.

But what is triggering all this?

Prior to this, I'd had a lot of overtime work and dinners that were easy solutions, including pizza. I knew that wheat was a problem. I'd been struggling with a red, flaky forehead during Christmas, when I consumed a lot of food made from flour (including my beloved pumpkin pie). When I avoided wheat, the skin irritation went away.

But just avoiding wheat wasn't enough. I found that eating oats was giving me sinus trouble. So I did a little online research, learned that there are several proteins in the grass family that can be troublesome—not just gluten—and formed a theory: That all grasses had become an issue for me. When reading up on what I then had to avoid, I discovered that I would also have to avoid sugar cane and bamboo. Did not realize that.

So the list is wheat, rye, barley, oat, rice, teff, bamboo, mullet, corn, sugar cane, sorghum, einkorn (spelt), and maybe some others I don't know of. Not grass or grain: Amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat.

I ate pizza on Thursday, and it took two days to shake the sluggishness, muscle aches and sinus headache completely. Well, that at least confirmed for me that I shouldn't eat that food. (Probably shouldn't have had the Irish Coffee, either.)

I tried oats again this morning, adding a couple of spoonfuls of oatmeal to my buckwheat—and was rewarded with one helluva coughing fit, something I didn't get with just buckwheat.

I now know I have to throw out what's left of the oatmeal, if only to make sure I don't fall for the temptation again. But I am reluctant to do that. It's not just the idea of letting good food go in the trash, either.

I have never had to say "no" to any food before, and a part of me doesn't want to be one of those people, picking apart a menu to find the one thing that is agreeable to my body and digestion. It means work. It means I have to make an effort, I have to think in a different way. It means I have to just admit and accept that some foods need to be thought of as toxic.

It means a paradigm shift.

 

The Daily Prompt: Toxic

Willy-nilly

I've never eaten at McDonald's as much I have in Norway. Ironically. You'd think I'd be a regular when I lived in California, but no. Meanwhile, in Norway, McDonald's has been vote Best Employer for 2016. If Burger King had moved into my local mall some 20 years ago, I'd be eating Whoppers. But it was a McDonald's, and Quarter Pounders. And I am now admitting my guilty pleasure: I do eat McDonald's stuff often—up to once a week.

One reason is that the place itself fascinates me.

There are five cash registers, but rarely are there lines in front of them. Because the registers move at different paces, and people don't remain at them to wait for their food, people don't line up in front of them. Instead, they hang back in a loose group and wait for an employee to call out "Next customer" (actually, they call "Available register"). Whoever was first (as defined by everyone else literally watching each others back) moves to that register. Because the people waiting for their food and the people waiting for a register tend to stand around willy-nilly on the same part of the floor, people often have to ask if you are waiting in line to order or to get your order. There is no "fast food" in the American sense, i.e. all ready and handed to you while you are still at the register.

The employees are friendly and smiling, and very, very often not Norwegian, and mostly young. If I want to know what ethnicity has moved into my neighborhood lately, a trip to my local McDonald's will reveal all. It delights me to see so many different people, some more fluent in Norwegian than others, all getting along and all giving the same good service. And McDonald's has won Best Employer due to its focus on and promotion of diversity in the workplace, under the motto of being a "good neighbor" in their neighborhood. (Their own comment on this in Norwegian.)

So today, the smiling cashier who represents one of the other 79 ethnicities besides Norwegian that McDonald's has hired, served me while wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "Great Place to Work". It's also not a bad place to be a customer.

Daily Prompt: Willy-nilly

Egg cups are un-American

My own egg cups

My own egg cups

The thing about growing up with a Norwegian grandfather is that you assume everybody has a cheese slicer and egg cups. Turns out that one of the things American immigrants left behind in Europe were egg cups. I was reading an article on Lifehacker about how Americans eat soft-boiled eggs, seeing as how there is no such thing as an egg cup in the US. It was only then that I realized why a British friend who lives in Hawaii asked if I could get egg cups for him.

In every hotel I've been in in Europe, they serve soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. That is to say, they serve a hot egg that is still nearly raw, or a hot egg that is nearly hard. I therefore rarely eat soft-boiled eggs in hotels. But they do have egg cups (and teaspoons) for the eggs. And I have egg cups at home. Any complete set of dishes also includes egg cups here in Europe.

Now for some etiquette on eating a soft-boiled egg:

A cup and eggcup from my childhood

A cup and eggcup from my childhood

I learned by watching my Norwegian grandpa who had been a sailor for many years. I was quite proud of myself when I mastered lopping off the pointy end of the egg with a knife creating a "hat", like he did. Salt and eat the egg white in the "hat", then salt the rest of the egg and eat that.

Turns out that's the vulgar way. The in-polite-company way to open a soft-boiled egg is to crack the top of the egg with the back of your teaspoon, and peel the shell of the "hat" portion off. Then salt and eat.

All of this is of course easier to do with an egg cup.

Do add salt. Some people add butter. The taste of butter dominates too much for my liking, but I do like herbal salt on my eggs.

Oh, the perfect way to soft-boil an egg? Who knows. Many years ago I happened to win an egg cooker in a lottery (to my delight, as it turned out) and even that thing needs a bit of tweaking so I get my perfectly boiled egg: Solid white, runny yolk.