Saturday, November 04, 2006

Looking for a bargain? Visit a flea-market!

I worked for the European Commission for three months in 1999. During my stay in Brussels I learned to appreciate flea-markets. I had already visited Brussels for a good number of years, as I had friends that lived there. But these stays were very social, so I never managed to visit the markets, as they opens early sunday morning.

That changed when I moved down. I had much time to explore the three large markets in Brussels. Here sunday is market day, and if you want to visit you have to wake up early sunday morning. You can first visit the large market by the South Station - Gare du Midi. This market has a distinct ethnic feel to it, as the area have a predominantly arab population. This is a wonderful food market where you can buy vegetables, meat, spices, and herbs. You can also find clothes, pots and pans, plants, music and much much more. It is open from 6 AM to 1 PM .

Then you have the second hand market at Jeu de Balle. It is situated inb the Marolles Quartier on the hillside leading down from the large Palais de Justice. Here you have second hand goods, furniture, ornaments, carpets and cutlery. If you are looking for antiques, the market at Sablon is the place to go. It is open Saturdays from 9AM-5PM and Sundays 9AM-1PM. Here you can get the really good stuff, but the prices are much higher, and if you have the time and knowledge, I bet you get better bargains at Jeu de Bal.

Last year I went to the Antique Market at Portobello Road. It takes place on Notting Hill in London on Saturdays. This is the largest market I have visited, offering everything from valuable art works to junk. As the market has grown much the last years some claim that the quality of what is offered is not what it used to be.

The last years, to my joy, a flea market has been established under the motorway-bridge in downtown Oslo, close to the Radisson Plaza Hotel. This markets, that opens early on saturdays, offers mainly second hand china, electronics, clothes and much more. There are much junk but you can find nice things there. The oldest market in Oslo is at Vestkanttorget, not far from Vigelands Park. Here you find better quality items, antiques, clothes, records, and more.

Friday, November 03, 2006

To shop, or not to shop, that’s the question!

The Swedish edition of the website Pricerunner - has made a survey on where to shop, and where not to shop in Europe. The shopping took place from august to October 2006 and it compares prices on 26 different products in 21 European capital cities This is not shopping for a traditional trolley as the comparison covers a wide range of products as milk, mp3-players, jeans, diapers, and CDs.

It is a shame to say that the city where I live, Oslo, is the most expensive capital city in Europe. It is 68 % more expensive to buy the content of the trolley in Oslo, than in the two average European capital cities. Those are the Euro capital itself, Brussels and the Austrian capital Vienna.

And where would you go for the ultimate retail therapy? Definitely to Eastern Europe. In average it is 37% cheaper to buy the same trolley in Vilnius in Lithuania than in Brussels, and if you go to the Hungarian capital, Budapest, it will cost you 26% less.

So that might be something to consider for you shopoholics when you book your next flight tickets.

See the full results here (Swedish only)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Historic Hotels in Norway

If you want to spend some nights in a hotel out of the ordinary, you should see what the website Historic Hotels in Norway has to offer. Among its members it has some of the oldest and most prestigious places to stay in the country.

As the wonderful manor hotel of Baardshaug Herregaard in Orkanger close to Trondheim, built as a private residence in 1891 for the Minister and Consul General Christian Thams. Another well known hotel is the Hotel Refsnes Gods at Moss south of Oslo. This impressive building from 1767 by the Oslo Fjord was originally built as the leisure farm for the Scottish-Norwegian family of Chrystie. Today the hotel is widely known for its wonderful kitchen and impressive wine-cellar.

The historic Hotel Union in Øye built in the 1890s in the characteristic swiss-inspired style has had royal guests as Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, King Oscar II of Norway and Sweden, Queen Maud and King Haakon VII of Norway. Both Hotell Union and Hotell Dalen in Telemark were built in the in the 1890s, and are impressive architectural monuments in wood from the time when the first tourists visited the country.

The website displays a great number of hotels on a variety of different locations, and in different styles. So take a look and see how to upgrade to first-class the next time you’re visiting Norway.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The World of Truffles

For those of us with a normal sized wallet, some foods are totally out of reach, and others may be consumed in small quantities. However, they can always be called luxurious food. A glass of summer truffles (image) will cost you € 600 pr. kilo. That is however inexpensive compared to the price of black and white truffles.

The summer truffle is the less expensive of the varieties and widely available in grocery stores. But it is worth paying the price, as a little of it goes a very long way. The truffle has a wonderful ability to enhance the taste of every dish they are used. But the really great experiences trufflewise are those you get where truffles are only one of a very few ingredients.

I have used summertruffels in my cooking for some years. Still the star of the truffle world is the white truffel. Compared to the summer truffel it is so much more aromatic in taste - and so much more expensive. White truffles may be sold for up to € 5000 - 7000 a kilo. I have tasted a dish with white truffles only once.

In July 2000 I stayed a small in week in Florence and one evening I and my travel companion had a great meal. The nearest neighbour of our restaurant was the impressive Il Doumo, the Cathedral in Florence. And it was a wonderful warm italian evening. We were served a simple dish, raviolis with a basil and walnut filling in a creamed white truffle sauce. The experience will follow me to the day I die.

I also remember one episode with the famous english-italian cook Antonio Carluccio. As he visited the heal of Italy, Puglia, in quest of the white jewel, he prepared the most expensive pasta dish in the world for the trufflehunter and his wife. They were peasants that never had tasted this wonderful ingredient in spite of the fact that it grows outside their doorstep. She was highly skilled in the art of cleaning and preparing truffles for sale. Antonio Carluccio boiled some plain tagliatelle, and then prepared the sauce. Butter heated in a skillet, a little salt and pepper and a €750 white truffle. Some of it slighty warmed in the skillet and the rest mixed raw into pasta in thin slices. And to end it - some parmeggiano reggiano. And then she tasted truffles for the first time in her life.

Then we have the black truffles. I remember I bought 30 grs of the stuff, i.e. truffles from Perigord, at the Delhaize Supermarket in Ixelles in Brussels. I paid €60 for the small tin. That is €2000 pr. kilo. I served the contents in a wonderful rich chickenliver mousse. It was superb!

My favourite recipe is a pastadish where one of the summertruffles (there are usually two in a glass), is blended with basil, parmeggiano, walnuts, stock, marsalawine and cream. The sauce is heated, and allow to warm over a very gentle heat, and served with Nero de Spia black pasta - coloured with squid ink. A dramatic recipe.

So run out and buy some truffles wherever you live. Here are two useful links to the world of truffles, and some recipes.

The website of the Urbani family - one of the larges italian providers of truffles

The FAQ Cooking with truffles will provide you with some good recipes with truffles

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Mediterranean Cuisine

The food of the Mediterranean is something to dream for during the cold Scandinavian winters. As I write, just now it is snowing in Oslo, and that makes me dream about Provence. I pick up the thread from yesterday and write a little bit about Mediterranean food in general and the Provencal Cuisine in particular.

I always feel that the ingredients in Mediterranean food brings the sun into your kitchen. The wonderful fresh vegetables, zucchinis, aubergines, wine red plum tomatoes, bright red peppers, and sprigs of fresh herbs, that grow wild along the Mediterranean coast. Thyme, rosemary, oregano, and of course the ever present garlic and olive oil.

I have only been in three countries along the Mediterranean coast, Spain, France and Italy. Of course the cuisine is different but in some way I feel that their food spins around the same theme. I have recognize the same theme in greek, turkish and lebanese food I've eaten. In Spain they serve Tapas, in Greece, they eat mezedes, and in Lebanon Mezzeh, small dishes wonderful to eat with a glass of wine or a freezing cold beer in the warm mediterranean evening.

Italians eat their lasagna, and the greeks their Moussaka. More or less the same - a tomato and bechamel dish, in Italy in several layers with the white sauce and tomato sauce separated by pasta sheets, and in Greece they substitute the pasta with postatoes, and both are topped with wonderful grated cheese. In Spain you get your Paella, and in Italy the risotto - key ingredients their own locally grown rice and fresh vegetables and fish or meat - or both!

In Provence, you are served the wonderful vegetable stew, the Ratatouille, made to eat for itself or as a supplement to other dishes. If you go to Marseille yor may eat its renowned fish soup le Bouillabaisse. The name is referring to the way it is cooked, and it litterally means boiled over low heat. It is a aromatic fish soup made from sun ripened tomatoes, onions, garlic, fish-stock, saffron, and several types of local fish and shellfish. The closest thing you get to an italian pizza is the Pissaladiere. The Pissaladiere is a tasty pie made with sweet onions, anchovis and black olives, with a wonderful crunchy crust.

Here are some websites that may tell you more about the Provencal cuisine and its ingredients and give you some recipes of typical provencal dishes:

French Provencal cooking


The World Travel Award Winners 2006

Since 1993 The World Travel Award has been given to hotels, airlines, airports and others in the international travel industry. Around 170.000 representatives from the industry in 200 countries are allowed to vote.

The lucky award winners for 2006 have now been announced on the World Travel Award Website.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Provence - How to get there, where to stay, and what to see?

My sister and I are going to Marseille the end of November. The whole trip was kind of a stunt, as we both wanted to get away for a few days. We tried to book a budget ticket to Rome with Norwegian Air Shuttle, but only one of us managed to get a cheap ticket. So we cancelled the tickets. My sister did, however, manage to book two round-trip tickets on a new flight from Torp airport to Marseille operated by Ryanair. The price tag? You won’t believe it – a little less than 60 Euros, all included.

I have visited the South of France only once, in April 1984. Then I had a one way flight ticket from Oslo to Paris, and travelled on by train to Toulouse. As there was a large conference in town I visited the Cathedral of St Sernin to see the grave of Thomas Aquinas and then travelled on…

I left the train in the beautiful walled city of Carcassonne, where I stayed a few nights in a hotel overlooking the traffic on the Canal du Midi. Then I moved closer the Mediterranean coast to the beautiful city of Sète, where staying at Hotel de Venice on the beach stretching as far out as Cap d'Agde.

Later I had a room with view two nights at Hotel Regina overlooking the gothic papal palace in Avignon, before I left the hot south for the cool elegance of the city of Strasbourg. I enjoyed staying at Hotel Carlton by the railway station for three nights, before travelling home to Oslo by train.

I loved the south of France and I look forward to another visit.

My sister and I leave early evening and arrive close to midnight Saturday November 25th at Marseille airport Provence. As we arrive this late, we need to find transportation to the city centre. Reassuringly there is supposed to be a shuttle bus to the city every 20th minutes. In the worst case a taxi will cost us 46 Euros by night.

We stated by booking two nights at the Hotel Alizé by the old seaport on We a payed a bargain price of 176 Euros for two nights. The hotel had got great reviews from former guests displayed on the website. This was not because of a high standard, it is rated only with two stars. The guests were particularly satisfied with the hospitality and service from the hotel staff.

But after two nights, we have no bookings so the question remains, where will we go? It all depends on the weather. It is november and actually completely off season. The average temperature in Marseille in November is 10 degrees Celsius. That means that you might get mild days or freezing cold days. For us that may mean either some days by the sea or some days in the interior of Provence. And there are enough to see. And the good thing being off season. The should be plenty of of rooms available.

What is there to see. If you travel to the coast you find the medieval walled city of Aigues Mortes. This 13th Century city is situated in the landscape of Camargue, south west of Marseille in the Rhône river delta. Travelling into central Provence you find another historic city - Aix en Provence. It is situated 25 minutes north of Marseille Airport Provence. This wonderful city of culture has 2000 years of history packed with historic monuments, museums and galleries. These are only two historic citys of many. Further north and west you can visit Montpellier, Nîmes, or Avignon, and further south - the cities on the Riviera.

And ofcourse - we have to find somewhere to eat and drink, to enjoy the cuisine Provencale and the local wine. That is something I will return to in a later article.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The day after - Halloween

There is always a day after an evening before. That day you have to struggle with the effects of the evening before. A lot of clearing up and a headache, but it was all worth it. It was a great party because I have great friends!

As you can see the buffet took up most of my worktop. I served small pizzas with tomato sauce, black olives and mozzarella. Very easy really. You buy the ready made pizza dough and make the pizzas. It does not take much effort. In the US you have the Pillsbury products. In Scandinavia you can also get the dough in a small tube (Sara Lee). I bought one croissant tube, split the croissants in two, took some mustard on and rolled a small german bratwürst in it. Delicious when they're baked in the oven. Some of the food tok a lot of time. The chicken roulade takes a lot of time to make, but is delicious hot and cold. I use my japanese ceramic knife and carve the roulade into very thin slices.

I am ashamed to say, but I am extremely untalented when it comes to desserts. I solve the dessert problem as I buy a cake mix, make the cake and add a lot of alcohol in it. It tastes great. Yesterday I "baked" a chocolate cake and had half a glass of Braastad XO cognac in the frosting. I "made" a cheesecake, substituting a little bit of cream with half a glass of Cointreau, and added some frozen berries on top. A good idea, and you get away with it! Well, the product turned out great. I loved the cakes - both of them.

Every one left happy yesterday and I had a great time. It is a pity is over, but there is another Halloween in 2007 to look forward to.