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.
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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.

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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.

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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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In Praise of Winter Celebrations & a Festive Chicken Pomegranate

Festive Chicken Pomegranate | Pollo al Melograno per le Feste | Lab Noon
“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”

-Rumi

The Light, The Darkness & Winter Celebrations

Days have been getting shorter, and the nights longer and longer. The wind has been growing colder and sharper. Morning light comes up late and lasts only for few hours. It’s the journey of Earth through the seasons, the alchemy of mother nature. We keep our hectic work-shop-work-shop Christmas rhythm as if nothing was happening. But we’re wrong. We have been dwelling in darker days since the beginning of Summer and in a short time, on December 21st to be precise, the night will be the longest of the year. And just as it always happens in life, after the longest time of darkness, light is born. The cold season arrives but there will be an instant of more daylight and then sun will set later and later, just until the first day of Summer. The eternal cycle of life and death, the light and the darkness. The dance of the Earth and the Sun.Festive Chicken Pomegranate | Pollo al Melograno per le Feste | Lab Noon The Winter Solstice has been an ancient feast in many pagan cultures and has influenced many other winter celebrations during time. It marks the birthday of The Light, Mehr or Mithra, the Zoroastrian deity of light. In Iran, it has been celebrated for thousands of years, by the name of Yalda, the longest night of the year, in which people stayed up late, gather friends and family, brought the fresh and dry fruit and grains they had stored since harvest, lit many candles and read poetry or told stories to chase away the demon (the darkness) and welcome the light of the new day. Most winter celebrations have deep roots in this seasonal change and the battle of light and dark. The Roman Mithra was born on December 25th, and so was Sol Invictus (The Unconquerable Sun), marking the Roman Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, a festival to celebrate the sun. The Jewish Hanukkahalso known as the Festival of Lights falls around the same period. And last but definitely not least the most popularly celebrated winter celebrations of all, Christmas is also celebrated on the same December 25th.

All these winter celebrations, as distant and different as they seem to each other now, have been influenced by the birth (nativity?) of the new light and have left their finger prints on one another. I am madly fascinated by finding the similarities and the common roots of ancient customs around the world.  The human race has imaginatively managed to interpret the nature’s unceasing-yet-constant changes into many many beautiful local or global celebrations.
As I told you, I haven’t grown up with Christmas, as it’s not celebrated in Iran. However I have grown up with Yalda. The usual celebration in modern-day Iran is not that complicated. The essential elements are dry or fresh fruit. The dry fruit or Ajil consists of unsalted nuts, raisins, dry apricots and/or peaches. Fresh fruit must absolutely include pomegranate (it symbolizes light!) and don’t-ask-me-how, watermelon! I have no idea how the summer fruit has made its way all through winter (it is said people stored in cold basements to keep it for the winter), but in this period since I can remember grocery stores in Iran burst up with pomegranates and watermelons. Festive Chicken Pomegranate | Pollo al Melograno per le Feste | Lab Noon Traditionally friends and family gathered and sat around Korsi (a low table with a heater beneath and covered with a large blanket) and topped it with sweets and fruits. They read poetries and told stories to pass this long night. (I will be holding a Yalda storytelling workshop for chidlren, in Maxxi muesum of Rome on December 20th & 21st, in the occasion of the exhibition Unedited History, Iran 1960 – 2014 in the same museum. If you happen to be in Rome by March 29th don’t miss it.) 

The Food & Persian Food Bloggers Recipe Round-Up

Since Yalda is a major Persian feast and winter celebration that is really little known around the world, we (some of Iranian food bloggers) have decided to make another recipe round-up just as we did in the beginning of Autumn to celebrate Mehregan. Please check out the beautiful Persian-inspired recipes by these talented people at the bottom of this post. I’m sure you will find great ideas for this festive season, no matter which of these feasts you celebrated. You can find and tag our content for Yalda in the social media by #PersianFoodBloggers and #PFBshabehYalda hashtags.Festive Chicken Pomegranate | Pollo al Melograno per le Feste | Lab Noon I won’t be surprised if I find pomegranate in many of these recipes since it’s the main protagonist of this celebration. My recipe definitely does. We have some great recipes containing pomegranate molasses which is a heavenly ingredient. As great as it tastes, I have found out that the commercial product whether in Iran or outside is full of chemical agents, additives, preservatives and way too many ingredients. So thanks to a tip from Jamie Oliver I decided to make my own. All you need is 100% pomegranate juice (it’s worth the search, trust me), a couple of tbsp of sugar and a pinch of salt.

This recipe of chicken pomegranate is simple, healthy (though not quite light, as it’s the holidays season) and undoubtedly a crowd pleaser. The sauce is sweet and sour to right point and freshened up by the pomegranate seeds. The chicken is crispy on the outside and tender inside, wrapped in the aroma of saffron. And last but definitely not least, the texture and richness created by chopped almonds and pistachios turns it from a normal chicken pomegranate to a real holiday dish. It would be great to be served with Persian steam-cooked Basmati rice, but it’s not necessary. We ate it with some homemade sourdough bread and it was just as fine.Festive Chicken Pomegranate | Pollo al Melograno per le Feste | Lab Noon A word on chicken: On normal days I avoid supermarket chicken all together as industrially produced chicken is pure cruelty and also unhealthy. If I do have to buy chicken though, my options would be 1. get free-range chicken directly from the farmer (which is very very difficult where I live), 2. look for free-range chicken in organic shops, 3. look for free-range chicken in normal supermarkets. Fortunately here in Italy you can usually find pollo ruspante, or free-range chicken in big supermarkets. The color of the chicken is a live yellow, unlike the pale industrial chicken.

I have been inspired by a recipe from the north of Iran called the pomegranate stew. Not to be confused with the classic and world famous Persian chicken pomegranate stew with walnuts called Fesenjan. Continue reading