Two days in Oslo: a grand cafe, moods of Norway and visiting peace

The next day I wandered around on my own but to my dismay, found nothing terribly photo-worthy.

No sweeping panoramas of the fijords, no grand squares or world-reknowned historic monuments. Drat.

I fully intended to visit Vigeland Park and its famous naked statues - over 200 in total - but it's just too bloody cold.

Instead I went back to the harbor to check out the Nobel Peace Center, a museum dedicated to Nobel Peace Prize winners and their works.

Loved their stories. And being indoors.

The entrance is graced with a rather provocative installation.

I'm still trying to decide if I like it or not.

I'm sure there is a ton of fascinating Nordic history here, but to me the most interesting thing about this city was the food, the shopping and the people. Unfortunately my SLR failed to make the cut for the 20-kilo limit on baggage and I can't very well stalk passersby with my little pink Cybershot. Sigh.

So I settled on looking for little pockets of interest and groovy details.

I stumbled across "The Cube" by Bård Breivik, a permanent installation at the University of Oslo.

It's kind of like Oslo's version of the Chicago bean.
Supposedly each of the four sides will be eventually be installed on a wall.

The is something a little disquieting about a total lack of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, in the city center at midday.

Seriously, where is everyone??

Actually, I rather enjoyed the solitude.

That evening we met up with a couple of Andrea's colleagues for dinner at the Grand Cafe (circa 1874), a famous meeting place for writers, artists, academics and diplomats since the days of Henrik Ibsen.

As we took a cozy table by the window and watched the city bustle past, I imagined what it would have been like to eavesdrop on their idle chatter. Brilliant.

The seasonal fall menu featured regional fare themed on classic Norwegian fairy tales. Amazingly, I have no decent photos of our dinner. I will let that be a testament to the goodness of the wines.

The insanely yummy dessert, however, is emblazoned on my palate...

Praline caramel mousse served with apple jelly and cake crumbs.
I die.

Everything was so delicious we asked the chef to come out so we could thank him personally. I worked up the nerve to ask him about the preparations, but he only smiled and said if I wanted to know I'd have to work in the kitchen. I guess I'll have to wing it.

The reindeer isn't likely to appear on the recipe index, but the beetroot butter and caramel praline mousse are definite must-try's this season so stay tuned...

After dinner we retreated to the Theater Cafe for a glass of port.

And a few more silly snaps before bed.

Next time we visit Norway we’ll definitely do more of a nature trip, but we really enjoyed Oslo and would love to come back when we have more time.

Tomorrow we're off to Helsinki!

Nite Nite.


Two days in Oslo: bars, bras and seafood bisque

I love my husband's job.

After being back in Holland for only 10 days - with a quickie to Italy in between - we took off for Scandinavia where he's rolling out a big SRM project for Nike in Norway and Finland. Sadly, my winter coats were not amongst the 200 pounds of stuff we brought from Chicago. So whilst my friends back home have been enjoying an Indian summer lunching on the terrace at Fred's, here I sit.

The Hotel Continental was a great home base. Family-run for four generations, it's over 100 years old and I was super psyched to find it listed as one of the Leading Hotels of the World. It's all old-world elegance and Euro-charm with a touch of kitsch to brighten things up. Like orange velour polka-dot pillows. Love.

Having pulled an all-nighter before we left, I prepared myself to dive into the big fluffy bed. Oddly, the comforter was only half the size of the bed.

There was also only a single set of towels in the bathroom. At first I thought it a bit bizarre, but apparently they take conservation quite seriously around here so we took this opportunity to do the same and rationed the towels between ourselves.

I'm pretty sure I got the better end of that deal

The first of two lovely surprises was that they stock my favorite bath products. Yay!

The second was a bouquet of flowers from my husband.
So sweet.

I carried them with me all the way to Finland.

In the early evening we walked down to the harbor in search of food. The twilight was spectacular.

Dodging the herds of ferry commuters, we meandered down the boardwalk at Aker Brygge.  The enormous lifestyle complex is the most visited destination in Oslo, home to 70 shops, 40 restaurants, a cinema, a plethora of other businesses and some really stunning residential complexes. Clearly touristic but elegant, sophisticated and a surprisingly lovely place to hang out - kind of what Navy Pier could have been if it chose to cater to a more cosmopolitan crowd.

For a moment, I actually thought I could live here.

Drawn in by furry seat covers and heat lamps on the outdoor patio at Druen, my now-favorite wine bar, we snuggled up and ordered some wine. Although "stylish" is not a word I would free-associate with Scandinavia, this town has some serious world-class shopping and people-watching.

As I looked wistfully at the people in the wine bar enjoying the company of friends by the fire, I felt the tiniest twang of jealousy as I thought of all our good friends back home - in both countries. Sigh.

After our little warm-up we abandoned the comfort of the heat lamps to explore all the side streets and alleys, tracing the path of a long line of bras that were strung up the length of the boardwalk.

We found out later that it was an installation to promote Breast Cancer Awareness. Cool.

Since we only had two nights here (and it was too bloody cold to venture out too far) we walked a little further trying to find another restaurant that looked equally inviting.

We could have wandered around all night and I think not found one we liked better.

So we returned and perched ourselves in front of one of their cozy tabletop fireplaces and enjoyed a heavenly meal whilst sampling their extensive wine collection.


Amazing how a single meal can make or break our impression of an entire country.

Although we didn't have a chance to see much of it, we fell in love with Oslo and will return...

But preferably in the summer next time.

Scandinavian Seafood Bisque
Feeds: 6

We had an on-going obsession with fish soup while we were here and ordered it every chance we got. Although it's not necessarily specific to this region, seafood bisque will forever conjure up memories of Oslo's bra-lined boardwalk.

2 cups dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
2 celery stalks
1 lobster, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds (optional; you can use cooked lobster as well)
12 medium-size shrimps, in shell
24 mussels, well scrubbed
12 sea scallops
4 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 cup fresh spinach, well rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup grated carrot
salt and cracked black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Combine the white wine, bay leaf, onion, garlic and celery in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the lobster, cover the pot and steam for 10 minutes. Remove the lobster, set aside and cool. (If you use cooked lobster, cube it and add it in at the end.)

Add the shrimps to the boiling broth, cover the pot and steam for 5 minutes. Remove the shrimps with tongs, set aside and cool.

Add the mussels, cover the pot and steam until they open, also about 5 minutes. Remove the mussels with the tongs, extract the meat and discard the shells. You can leave a few in-shell for garnish.

Add 2 cups of water to the liquid in the pot, bring to a boil and add the scallops. Cover the pot, and steam for 3 minutes. Remove the scallops with the tongs.

Extract the lobster meat, reserving the shells. Peel and devein the shrimps, reserving the shells. Chop the meat into bite-size pieces, cover and set aside.

Throw the lobster and shrimp shells back in the broth and add 2 more cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the broth and return it to the pot. Discard shells.

Bring the broth to a simmer over low heat. Add the cream, milk and herbs and simmer until mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.

Add the seafood and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the spinach and carrots and simmer another 2 minutes to just wilt the spinach. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Enjoy with your own favorite memories on a crisp fall evening.
Preferably with good friends.


The art of making something out of nothing

It's almost 7pm. All over Milano people are bustling about for aperitivi. This was one of my most favorite things about living there.

We, however, are still in Holland. But I will not be deterred. So whilst my husband is running late from work, I decide to do something "wifely".

Our fridge is painfully bare at the moment, as we are leaving tomorrow for a week. The sad inventory: 6 slices of prosciutto, 5 olives, and 3 tubs of sprouts that I had to have (I've been on this weird sprout kick lately) but now am not quite sure what to do with.

Italians are masters of l'arte d'arrangiarsi, the art of getting by. Or (for all you Eat, Pray, Love fans), the art of making something out of nothing.  Whatever you want to call it, it's time for me to step up and earn my red, white and green stripes.

Game on.

Pickled & Prosciutto-wrapped Broccoli Sprouts

In a small bowl combine 1 small clove of minced garlic, a dash of salt, a grind of fresh pepper, and 1-2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar or mirin (Japanese rice wine vinegar).

Add a large handful of broccoli sprouts and toss lightly.

In a small skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium flame for about a minute. Take it off the flame before it starts smoking, pour it over the broccoli sprouts and toss.

Throw the broccoli sprouts against the hot pan (just to wilt them a little) and roll them in the slices of prosciutto.

Arrange on a plate with olives and grisini - or whatever was left in your fridge.

Mission accomplished!


Kitchen karaoke and Brussels sprouts

In a valiant attempt to force myself to eat something "raw" for lunch today, I found myself trying to justify an impulse purchase of Brussels sprouts.

Since when do THOSE two concepts come up in the same sentence??

I vaguely recalled a salad of raw Brussels sprouts from Quartino (the bar where me, Jen and the 10 East crew were near-permanent fixtures for the better part of 2008) and in a mad fit of culinary delusion, thought I'd attempt to duplicate the deliciousness...even though I had no recollection of any other ingredients.

But I pressed on, mindlessly chopping a dozen of the little suckers into razor thin shreds, eagerly awaiting some divine inspiration.

I'm partial to olive-oil based salad dressings but was afraid too much might drown out the flavor of the sprouts, so I put a tablespoon in my trusty Misto and gave them a couple of spritzes with a shot of sea salt.

By this time my enthusiasm started to wane. And I was getting hungry.

I stared at them for a moment, half-hoping they would start whirling around like a tornado and suck in the appropriate ingredients by virtue of some innate flavor magnet.

But they just stared back at me...waiting.

I stuck my tongue out at them. They didn't even flinch. I really wanted to hurt them. Perhaps a tablespoon or two of lemon juice would sting a little. Hmmm. Worth a try.

No response.
They were silently mocking me.

Now faint with hunger, I absentmindedly grabbed the pepper grinder, which I forgot I had used the night before to grind some corriander seeds, and started twisting away. I got through a few turns before I realized that it was corriander (NOT pepper) that was flying about. But what the hell, I was feeling sassy. And a little light-headed. So I kept twisting...

Revived with an inexplicable sense of accomplishment for this obscure spice experimentation, my confidence grew and I proceeded to dance around the kitchen, knocking over the fruit bowl with one grand sweep of my microphone...er, fork.

A lone pear rolled itself away from the protection of the pack towards my cutting board. Sadly, this story does not end well for him.

While mixing in his yummy little bits, I spied some pumpkin and sunflower seeds and a pile of dates leftover from the Vegan Truffles I made the night before. A handful of each met with the same fate.

Before I knew it, a lovely, fresh, surprisingly delicious salad appeared before me.

Of course, the real test with be dinner with the FranKats tomorrow night!

Update: The recipe was taste-tested the following night and garnered rave reviews.
Here's the recipe, Cara. Enjoy!

Citrusy Pear & Brussels Sprout Salad

12-16 raw Brussel Sprouts, washed and thinly chopped (toss cores)
1 pear peeled and chopped
A handful each of raw sunflower and pumpkin seeds
A handful of dates, pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (or a few Misto spritzes)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Ground sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
Optional: a couple of turns of ground coriander seeds (accidental but good)

yields: 2 cups (approximately one soup bowl or two small plates)
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