A FARMHOUSE IN NORWAY, WANDERING VS. NESTING AND RØMMEGRØT, A SOURCREAM PORRIDGE

PROLOGUE

As the holiday season ends in Italy, I suddenly had the feeling that I need to get away from here. This is not because of what I am not appreciating at the moment, but rather an attempt to remember, and cherish what I do love about Italy. I don’t often forget it, but distance is crucial for perspective.

Then I remembered last summer, when I spent almost a month in Norway, and how towards the end I missed everything about Italy so much that I couldn’t wait to be back. This is a recap of that journey. Memories and recipes that I wrote down a year ago, and a reflection on travel vs. nesting that I came upon this summer.

Some useful info: The photos from the post are almost entirely from the town of Ænes, in the west of Norway and not from Bergen and Trolltunga.
I found the farmhouse on Helpx, but they also rent one apartment in the farmhouse and a cabin at the shore. More details here.
Summer-in-Norway-Saghar-Setareh-Lab-Noon-21-1

I. ON GOING FAR, AND ON STAYING

Travel is wonderous. Educational. Life-changing. Essential. Travel, especially when solo, works like a hidden mirror, with scattered fragments on the roads and train tracks and airports, that reflect our true faces. In travel we learn the way to ourselves. In the habits and food and sceneries so unfamiliar to our home, we discover, and appreciate where we come from.

But this story about traveling to the (somehow) far north, where the water is gelid and the sky a different blue, is actually a homage to staying. To simply being, where one is. Observing. Maybe in silence, but most importantly, in peace, with oneself. For there needs as much self awareness to stay, as to go. 

Going is many things. It’s outside of us. The arrangements, the finance, the encounters, the novelties, the discomfort, the wonder. The tiredness, and being happy about it. The falling dead asleep. Going is often the answer, when staying is not an option. Or merely unbearable. Sometimes going is a manifestation of freedom. Other times it’s a mobile imprisonment to what we can’t handle in sedentariness. 

Staying, on the other hand, is not necessarily a form of idleness. It is not always static. Staying, observing, being present and being content, peaceful and even grateful about it, is something of a miracle at our fast paced, crazy time. Where every moment there is something to do, errands to run, a space to fill, a conversation to speak, even an idea of a long solitude is something to be feared. For years I had been told that solitude is the dimension that enables us to relate to others. Never had I quite realized it until now.

I am, by all means, what they call a lone wolf. I live alone. I often work alone. I travel alone. Many times I go to restaurants alone. I do my shopping alone, I organize my everything completely and solely on my own. Most of the places I have ever traveled to, I have seen alone. It’s my thing. I am comfortable with it. Many times I don’t even think about it. It’s my way, my life. I live it as it is. It has not always been my willing choice to do all this alone, but I have anyway. And I know, at the age of 34, that this fact does not mean that I am alone. I’m not. I have many good friends, many near, a lot around the world, and an (almost) loving family who cares about me from afar, in its own imperfect way. 

This summer, I ended up staying. Not entirely out of my own decision, but due to circumstances. And for the first time, in 34 years of my life, I discovered what it feels like to just, happily, be. This however, is the story of summer of last year, where I chose the roads, the cold and the movement.

Summer-in-Norway-Saghar-Setareh-Lab-Noon

II. THE MOUNTAINS, THE FORESTS, THE SEA

Among the green mountains covered with clouds, and that cold dark grey water of the fiords, it would have been so hard not to feel blue as I left the farmhouse that had been my home for the previous three weeks.

This Norway trip, although long planned and even longer fantasised about, has been surprising in all its predictability so far. The desire for it was born exactly a year before as I was boiling away in the exhausting August of Rome and I watched Marta’s journey towards north. By April, everything was planned and I knew where I was going. The rest was just logistics.

Summer-in-Norway-Saghar-Setareh-Lab-Noon

I wanted to be surrounded by nature and in touch with earth. And that I did. I learned to feed and milk goats, fight goats and capture runaway goats. Hold them by the horn and drag them back behind their fence. I fed and polished a horse (didn’t ride her though. Hrafna looked too old and frail to be able to handle my weight, or anyone’s, really.) I cleaned her stable, put her stinky, shit in the wheelbarrow and took it to the poop hill where organic fertilisers came to being. I weeded the strawberry garden, the leek patch and all cabbages, roses, berries and in between.

I collected unlimited fresh raspberries, blueberries and red currants. But most satisfying was indeed collecting fresh eggs from the chickens and have epic breakfast with soft boiled eggs every morning. I think I would have never got tired of that. I learned that with super fresh eggs, you can’t count so much on peeling the shell, but you should cut through the egg — with the shell and all — with the knife. You should place the egg strategically above your toast which must be already buttered, lying on your plate, waiting to suck in all that shiny red yolk in. Have a little spoon at hand so that you can scoop all the egg white left in the shelf onto your bread. Sprinkle salt. Wolf it down. With a big mug of coffee (bleeeaah, been missing real espresso or moka since day one).

I walked and hiked in jaw dropping beautiful nature. Intact, wild, respected but most strikingly, silent. Norway is not huge, but it’s vast for its 5 million population. The Norwegians seem to have been very influenced by its rainy, cold weather for generations. When travelling on the bus from the farmhouse to Bergen, I was thinking no wonder the country is so quiet and with no conflicts. Small population, enormous resources, away from even the biggest world conflicts, (although they were involved in WWII, occupied rapidly and brutally by the Nazi Germans). 

In my experience, as long as you looked enough like them and you were close enough to them on the map, they got along quite easily. White, blonde, northern European. The further away from that imaginary, the more it feels as if you’re being watched, and questioned, not unlike a bizarre creature in a zoo! Very politely, and often prejudicially, but nonetheless like an animal in a zoo. 

I arrived to Norway, with a long infected old wound, that I kept scratching. Masochistically watching it bleed little drops of bitter blood, and never having a chance to heal. The salty air of the fiords, and something about the spirit of novelty, and the desire to free myself from a useless burden, made me realize it was time I found a cure for this wound.

So among the fog-caped green mountains, wild rivers with musky rocks in the middle and dark, troll-roaming forests, I tore away that fake golden locket of painful glory off my heart. It continued to hurt for a long time, but not as much as before. It got better. With time, it healed. It always does. I might bear that burn mark scar, but I will never forget that feeling of being alive again on the top of breathtaking Norwegian mountains.

Then I hiked for 26 kilometres to see a “troll’s tongue” (Trolltunga). I walked the pain away, and jumped into the cold fiord the next day to freeze its memory forever in my head.

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The wonders of Tuscia, a hidden gem up north Rome and in the south of Tuscany

PLUS A RECIPE FOR “HAY” PASTA WITH CRUNCHY GUANCIALE, HAZELNUTS AND PEARS

This post is in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce of the city of Viterbo and Italian Stories that took us on a blog tour in October 2018.

WHY “SLOW” TRAVEL IS NECESSARY

If Italy has been in your travel radar lately, or if you’re a resident in Italy with tourism in your radar, you might have come upon some articles in the recent months inviting you to go beyond Chianti, or anywhere in Tuscany when organizing your next holidays in this beautiful country. The truth is that while responsible and well dosed tourism helps keeping communities alive, flourishing local economies and revitalizing the otherwise vanishing cultures, irresponsible fast tourism does the exact opposite; in other words it destroys our favorite, beautiful spots on earth.

It’s time we looked beyond the old classics. Not because they no longer have wonders to offer us, but because in order to preserve those wonders, we need to cherish the treasures of other less know places. Equity; this is the concept of our era, and the tourism industry has neglected it for too far.

THE TUSCIA EXPERIENCE; CULTURE, ART, FOOD

When I first traveled to Tuscia last October, I never imagined to encounter this much richness in history, culture, craftsmanship, art and food. Why did I know so little about a land so close to where I have called home for the past decade (Tuscia is only a two hour drive in the north of Rome, right before the borders of Tuscany)?

The land was home to the ancient Etruscans who ruled in central Italy before (and partly contemporarily with) the Romans. This trail is still visible in the supreme art of ceramics of Tuscia. Many centuries later, the Pope would choose this area for both vacation, and necessary refuge, when he was not safe in Rome. What’s more, Tuscia is also on the last track of Via Francigena; an ancient road and pilgrim route running from France to Rome and Apulia, where there were the ports of embarkation for the Holy Land.

The powerful and wealthy Farnese family — contemporary rivals of the Florentine Medici family during the renaissance — have left breathtakingly beautiful villas and palazzi in the Tuscia area, as well as Rome and beyond. Palazzo Farnese and Villa Lante are two perfect examples of their mind-blowing glory and sophistication.

The Tuscia Experience (which you might remember from my highlighted Stories on Instagram) is a collection of activities and workshops you can do directly with many artisan producers and craftsmen. You can engage in anything from cheese making to bookbinding to ceramic decorations in ancient Etruscan style to ham making workshops and much more. I am leaving the PDF brochure here to download.

PORK, WHEAT, CHEESE AND “MAGIC HERBS”, EATING AND DRINKING TUSCIA

It’s a fascinating experience to visit how the irreplaceably famous cured meats of Italy are made. From prosciutto (which is made in a couple of different ways), to salami, to guanciale, the cured pork cheek so beloved to Romans, and the quintessential ingredient to Roman classics such as Amatriciana and Carbonara.

Regional products of Tuscia

Simonetta and her sister run the Coccia Sesto Prosciuttificio, the ham making factory their father founded decades ago, that now they have successfully expanded. You can visit the process, shop their products and have lunch all at the same place. Apart from their own cured meats, they also serve cheese and other specialities (I was the only one brave enough to try pork’s ears, cooked under a porchetta).

Antonio Brizi runs Il Fiocchino, a sheep cheese making factory somewhere near lake Bolsena. The sheep milk he uses is from the Tuscia area near his factory and in his own words that, plus natural lamb rennet, enzymes, salt and time are the secret ingredient for one of the best pecorino cheeses I have ever tasted.

The fieno pasta is very popular in the town of Canepina, in Tuscia. Fieno literally means hay in Italian, which indicates the thinness and the yellow color of this delicate egg pasta. Not to be confused with paglia e fieno (straw and hay), thick ribbons of pasta similar to tagliatelle that come in two colors of green and yellow. The other name for this typical Canepinese pasta, is maccarone, which is equally curious and should not be confused with maccherone, the thick tubes of pasta made in most of southern regions of Italy.

Guido Fanelli runs a small pasta making factory, and is well known for his exceptionally good fieno pasta, among all the other types. The fieno he brings to restaurants comes in large, delicate packages, as if it was a bridal box holding precious handmade lace.

Antonella runs a farmhouse called Sapori di Ieri, which translates to the taste of the past. She cultivates organic vegetables, fruit and herbs, then turns them into sauces, jams and “magical” mixes. Hazelnuts and chestnuts are that grow abundantly in this area are among her special products.

The Itineris brewery, where master Brewer Claudia makes his craft beer, used to be ceramic factory. Here Claudio has created a small paradise of intese yet sophisticated flavors marry in dark bottles of his many types of craft beer.

Marco Camilli, a for pharmacists, runs a legume farm where he cultivates organic pulses. Surpassingly, Marco does not come from a family of farmers, he chose to change careers and started experimenting with agricultural techniques.


FIENO PASTA WITH CRUNCHY GUANCIALE, PEARS AND HAZELNUTS

This is not what you would call an “authentic” dish, but its ingredients are. The producers I mentioned above kindly provided me with them, and asked me to develop a recipe inspired by the simple, yet intense of flavors of Tuscia. I am quite proud of the result (so proud I ate ALL the pasta I cooked for the shooting in one go).

The fieno pasta on itself is surprisingly flavorful. The fatty touch and crunch of guanciale, beautifully contrasts the sweetness of the sautéed pears. Toasted and crushed hazelnuts bring a pleasant chewy texture to delicate pasta. Everything comes together with sharpness of extra-aged pecorino cheese, and then is brightened by the fresh aroma of the “magic” herbs.

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10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Pt. II

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

This is the second part of a previous post about my 10 food striking memories from more than a decade of living in Italy that you can read here.

As I said, not only was I not a foodie when I came to Rome in 2007, I wasn’t aware nor interested in particular ingredients or recipes either. I had had limited experience with some food on one hand — pork and alcohol, due to the restrictions in Iran — on the other, I still had the culinary taste of child, on some levels. I didn’t eat most of the vegetables, I hated fish in every form and way. All this changed forever when I started eating my way through Italy. 

Join me on the rest of this journey though food and drinks that made the best part of my twenties (and early thirties). There’s no recipe in this post, and photos don’t necessarily represent the dish I have written about.

6. His Majesty the Pork; Porchetta and Salumi

All the pork I had tasted back in Iran came in the shape of a few varieties of cold cuts. That is to say just some ham, and maybe some sausages that on very rare occasions we bought (illegally) from the Armenian’s shop, or that someone had smuggled in from abroad. 

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Once in Rome, soon enough I was introduced to porchetta, the pork marvel rolled with tons of herbs, then roasted in its own skin until very crispy. I would ask the lady in the sandwich shop near Campo de’ Fiori to fill my sandwich (in a Roman ciabatta bread), with sun dried tomatoes and grilled eggplants. The tiny grocery shop right under my house on the other hand, would sell cheap pork steak. The fatty meat tasted divine to me, or better to say, it was a delicious sin I had never made.

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Once I discovered the glorious world of salumi — the Italian cold cuts, there was no going back. One slice of prosciutto crudo and I was sold. Fatty salame used to be my favorite, capocollo, and mortadella came next. My heavy consume of these cold cuts was at its peak when we used to go to very inelegant evening picnics to the hills just next to roads, packed with a couple of supermarket baguettes, some cold cuts and a bottle or two of wine that we would share. No cutlery, no glasses, pure joy.

7. Seafood

It is no secret that I used to absolutely hate fish. It took me a couple of years in Italy to transform that dislike to love and curiosity. I came to the realization that fish has an adult flavor, meaning you can’t really appreciate it until you’re fully grown up. My first ever pasta with fish, was with smoked salmon and cream. I spat out that first mouthful my friends insisted I tried.

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Later my friend Gianni suggested he would make me shellfish pasta “the Sicilian way”, which consisted in topping the pasta with heaps of a mixture of slightly toasted bread crumbs with finely chopped garlic and parsley, soaked in a generous amount  of olive oil. Bread on pasta? Why not! Just another lovely, Italian carb on carb. 

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

My romance with seafood may have started from the readymade frozen shellfish sauces from the super market, but it has gone a long way from there. I’ve learned to cherish and absolutely love seafood thanks to the Italian way with fish, to the point that now it’s among my favorite dishes. Not a summer passes by without many cones of fried little fish (baby octopus, anchovies and calamari), and I have mastered the art of perfect spaghetti alle vongole veraci — clam spaghetti, which is now one of my most favorites pastas ever.

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
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