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.

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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Early Breakfast at the End of Winter & a Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni)

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Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon
The alarm rings at 5.30 am. I turn it off immediately so that it wouldn’t wake him. I look at the phone and I run my thumb up and down on the screen to make my half-open eyes get used to the light. I sit in bed, It’s still as dark as it was when I went to sleep barely 5 hours ago. Then slowly, I reach for my woolly poncho and I prepare my heavy body to drag itself to the bathroom. By the time I get the courage to splash some lukewarm water in my face, some 20 minutes have passed. I know I’m gradually coming back to life when I turn on the big computer and open Spotify. I search for my super early morning playlist, “Sounds of Nature” and I make sure a forest sound plays. I pray the ads wouldn’t start right away. 

Mission: Breakfast. 

I turn on the espresso machine and I think about what to make for breakfast. My usual routine alternates between oat porridge and something with one organic egg. Mostly it’s a simple and healthy french toast that I prepare with my home-made sourdough bread, which I always bake with wholegrain flours such as rye or spelt. When I’m out of bread, I make a small oat pancake-thing (I love oats for breakfast). Then I’m distracted by the jiggles of my phone. It’s my to-do-list app saying I must prepare the files for MAXXI museum’s speciale event for Norouz. “Yeah, I know, I know” I mumble, and I open the whole list, which is synced to another calendar app, which is synced to the notes app and iCal. 

It’s a little overwhelming to say the least. It’s a loooong list of projects I need to finish, tasks that ought to be done, researches, meetings etc. Most of them are related to my final thesis project, which is due by the end of March. I am officially finishing my long university studies (two bachelors and one master) at Rome’s Fine Art Academy in Graphic Design & Photography. The project is very close to my heart as I told you, because I get to combine my passion for food & photography with my love for graphic & editorial design. Now I can finally reveal you what I’m working on. I’m creating a cookbook! A single, unique copy with my own recipes and photos (which have either already shown up on this blog or will soon). I think it would be a dream for a designer foodie to make their own cookbooks all from scratch. It also tickles that not-so-secret desire of getting published that lurks at the back of the brain of any food-blogger. So you get the picture. It’s a period of hard work and barely any rest.

Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon

That’s when I decide I want something more than my oaty breakfast routine. Something special, cozy and sweet. After all, my early breakfast is the only moment during the day that I can dedicate completely to myself. Enjoying the quiet, taking my time, listening to the cheep cheep that comes from the speakers, sipping my coffee and getting mentally ready for the long, busy day. I opt for a homey comfort food. Firni (or Fereny) is a porridge that my mom used to make me either on Friday mornings (weekend in Iran), or when I had a soar throat. It’s the closest thing that comes to Kheer, the famous Indian rice porridge. Actually similar porridges are common in many countries in the region, specially in central Asia. I even discovered it’s called by the same name in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Firni: aromatic, silky warmness in bowl

Now that mind is made up, with a lively sprint I search in the pantry and reach for the rice flour. Some cardamom pods, and the most significant ingredient, rose water. This combination of aromas would pour the essence of childhood into my bowl of porridge. Rose water is the smell of middle east captured in a bottle. You need to take it in little doses, like a powerful potion, or you’d kill the dish with too much aroma. Just the way too much potion would ruin the magic. A teaspoon is more than enough for two portions. 

Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon
Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon

I dissolve the rice flour in some water, heat up the milk with the cardamom pods and then mix them. I keep stirring, while looking outside the window, watching the first rays of sunshine rising from behind the buildings. I almost lose track of time, it’s like meditation. I know it’s ready when I feel the liquid has thickened. Then I sit against my hot Firni, white as marble, soft and smooth as silk, smelling like a garden of roses in Spring. I hold the bowl with both hands to warm them up. Each spoonful wraps my mouth in a gentle and warm velvet and I feel it’s milky path all the way from my throat to my belly.

The light is still grey and blue but now I’m fully awake, warmed up and fresh as the roses. Despite the chilly dark morning, I know Winter is over. The new season is at the gates. I smile and I think to myself… Buon giorno! Continue reading