Saturday, November 11, 2006

Weather on your destination - some services on the net

There are many national and international services that provide forecasts on weather around the world. To make a list of them all would be impossible. Some larger websites may provide you with what you need in order to prepare for what weather conditions you might meet on your destination.

I have tried to illustrate what you might expect on three websites, using my next two vacations as examples, to show current weather conditions in Marseilles and Barcelona and what weather conditions I may expect in November (Marseilles) and December (Barcelona).

Website providing:

Website providing:

Website providing:

Restaurant Olympen - R.I.P.

Sadly the restaurant Olympen is now closed and the work to destroy a long and rich history has started. Restaurant Olympen has been in the same house for a century and is one of the few remaining traditional brown bars in Oslo.

Olympen was an unpretencious, traditional beerhall and a monument to times long gone. A place that welcomed everyone, even those that feel increasingly uneasy with the new trendy world.

So where are the Norwegian authorities? Do they understand the value of these old taverns and beerhalls? Maybe, if they represent the bourgois culture, the places where wealthy citizen meet after an evening at the opera, or if Ibsen, Bjørnson, or Grieg once went there. The places where Herr Andersen met fru Kristensen however, those that made Oslo into what it is today, are not worth considering as historic monuments.

Olympen and many other places on the former working class eastend of the city represent something completely different. A place to feel at home in an increasingly trendy world. A world that have forgotten so much and so many, and has embraced the cold new capitalism. The world that value everything in money.

For you tourists a genuine place to go has disappeared. One place less to recommend off the beaten track in Oslo, one threat less to the tourist traps of the city. There are still a few left, but hurry up if you want to experience them. The interior designers and property developpers stand ready to destroy what is left.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Tapas - bite-sized food

Tapas are the ultimate finger food and perfect either to serve for drinks before you serve a larger meal or for a cocktail-party. In Spain you get tapas, some times for free as a complement for drinks in bars or you pay a symbolic price to grab a few. It might be small slices of jamon Serrano (cured ham), spicy meatballs in an even spicier sauce, sausages in sherry, shrimps in garlic, and much more.

When I make tapas I am not very concerned whether I make something traditional or not. The most important is to find tastes that work. I steal a few ideas and I use some traditional recipes. Either way, served with a good bottle of cold cava, it’s a great start to an evening. Here are some recipes to consider.

Prunes in bacon

Prunes, stones removed
Half a slice of bacon

Roll the slice of bacon around the prune. Fasten with wooden toothpick. Roast in oven until brown and crispy

Sausages in sherry

Bites of spicy Spanish sausage
Sweet sherry

Place sausage bites in oven-proof dish. Pour sherry over. Roast in oven until sausages have browned and sherry is reduced. Place toothpicks by the tray for self-service

In Caprese Bites

Large basil leaves
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Small mozzarella balls

Use long sticks as skewers. Take on basil leaf, followed by ½ cherry tomato, mozzarella in the middle, then ½ cherry tomato and basil leaf .

Manchego cheese with spicy orange marmalade

Manchego cheese, in cubes
Orange marmalade

Mix marmalade with chilli the day before in order to infuse. Make it as strong as you want. The day you serve, spread the marmalade on tray, place a toothpick on each cube of manchego. Place on tray.

Have a nice evening!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rising room-rates force travellers out of US biggest cities

In September the average room rate on Manhattan had increased 12% compared to the same periode last year. Travellers that want to spend the night here will have to pay in average $304 pr. night. The bad news to us travellers are that the prices are not expected to fall. The industry expects rates to increase even higher in 2007.

Many travellers are now choosing hotels further away from downtown areas of the main US cities or are shortening their stays in order to reduce their costs. In the US the average rate pr. night is the highest on Manhattan, followed by Boston ($208) and Chicago ($203). The rates have, however had the biggest increase in Chicago. Here you have to pay 14% more in average for a room, compared to last year.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The lobster - the Cardinal of the Sea

My cousin Billy Eastman, a hard working fisherman from Exeter N.H., caught this, and another monstersized lobster far out to sea off the New England Coast. It weighed 12 lbs, and was probably 30-40 years old. While lobsters are found in large numbers along the Eastern seaboard, they are still regarded as luxurious food elsewhere, where lobsters are not found them in such abundance. Lobsters are up there with foods like caviar, foi-gras, and oysters. Served with roses and a bottle of Dom Pérignon or Krug to the person of your choice you are enterring serious romantic territory.

Some of my best culinary moments are lobster moments. One of them is from Brussels. The best seafood restaurants in the European Capital are found at Place Saint Cathérine. During my stay in 1999, I was visited by my best friend Ketil Johan Zahl. We wanted to have a serious seafood meal and I booked a table at the restaurant l'Huîtrière, at Baaksteenkaai 20. It serves traditional Belgian food, both from Wallonia and Flanders. We chose a menu with four dishes:

- Entree: Foi-gras on toast
- First main dish: One half boiled lobster served with salad and two sauces
- Second main dish: One half oven baked lobster with whisky-sauce
- Dessert: Chocolate cake

We were served a glass of Sautérnes to the foi-gras (ofcourse), and we shared a large bottle of dry white wine. The first lobster dish was served cold with salad and two mayonnaise based sauces, one of them with added tomato paste. The second dish the lobster meat had been taken out of the tail, head and claws, diced and tossed in a cream based sauce mixed with whiskey, filled into the shell and baked in a very hot oven. It was wonderfully tender. The lobster meat had most probably been raw when removed, as shellfish may get very tough if overcooked. I tried to copy the idea on a dinner using boiled lobsters, and it ended up rather tough to eat. The whole meal was stunning and the chocholate cake at the end - filled us to capacity or maybe beyond!

The second lobster memory is from Thanksgiving that I celebrated in San Francisco in November 2000. I stayed with Jude Bartlett, that ran the local wine store . Some friends on a sabbatical stay rented a room there, and I squeezed in for a week. As I stayed there I volunteered to cook the Thanksgiving dinner at the Day, where as we were having an official celebration the following sunday. I was brought up to a fish-market not far from the summit of Twin Peaks, so easily seen from many parts of the city. Here I bought two live Maine Lobsters. My idea was to make a pasta dish from raw lobster meat in a white wine sauce.

Getting the meat raw , I needed to kill them with a knife, and I did. The sauce was a white wine sauce made from scratch with butter, flour, white-wine, lobster-stock (made from the shells), and cream. The sauce was served with tagliatelle, and parmeggiano reggiano. Today I might have added some tomato paste in order to get a stronger taste and to get a seafood-colour on the dish. But still it worked great. The story about the tyrannosaurus-sized turkey served on the Sunday dinner will be told later.

Lobsters must be eaten fresh to be enjoyed fully. If you can get them raw, do, and if you buy them precooked to use them in hot dishes, do make sure that you just heat the meat through. If not, you may end up with a very tough result. I do not buy the frozen ones any more. I have had very bad experiences with the frozen imported canadian lobsters. In the worst cases they tasted quite off, and the meat were usually very tough. They may be used to make lobster-stock, and the meat may be cut in very small dices and mixed with other shellfish and fish. But these kind of lobsters may be substitued by other and better shellfish as raw tiger prawns, shrimps, or crabs.

But - if you are looking for love - buy a bottle of champagne, a bouquet of roses and boil two lobsters - and you're in business. If not - you can still have a great meal.

Enjoy! And good luck!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Todays soup (Serves 2)

Todays soup is extremely easy to make and is very inexpensive. It will cost you around €3. The chorizo can also be substituted with chicken or sausage.

1/2 large leek, sliced
1 medium sized red pepper, sliced (keep the seeds)
1 tbsp olive oil
100 grs / 3 oz spanish chorizo, diced
7,5 dl/1 1/2 pt water
1 1/2 cube of chicken stock
1-2 tbsp boiled rice
2 tbsp sweet thai chili
1 tbsp paprika
2,5 dl / 1/2 pt single cream

Cut the chorizo into cubes. Fry them and allow to cool on some kitchen paper.

Fry the peppers and the leeks until light brown. Then add water, sweet chili and stock-cube. Boil for 5 minutes.

Then pour everything into the blender, add boiled rice and blend well until soup is completely smooth. Pour back into the pan. Then add cream and allow to boil for a few minutes. Add fried chorizo when serving.

Serve with bread and a tablespoon of sour cream.

Boiled rice may substitute plain flour or cornflour as a thickener. On Sunday I made a rizotto and I hade some leftover. Arboreo rice is very good to use in the soup as it is quite glutinous, but plain boiled rice may also be used.


Monday, November 06, 2006

The UNESCO World Heritage sites in Norway

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has established world heritage sites over the whole globe. These sites may be of architecural, historic or sites of exceptional natural beauty. These sites have been through a long nomination process before being granted this particular status. In Norway there are 7 world heritage sites. Four of them are historic sites of exeptional value.

Stonecarvings in Alta (4200/500 BC)

The oldest of the stone carvings at Alta, in Finnmark county, are over 6000 years old, and the youngest are from the first millenium BC. Over this vast timespan the inhabitants at Alta has carved animals, geometric figures and depictions of themselves. These carvings are one of the few sites going back to the first flocks of hunters and gatherers that settled these areas. All in all man has left more than 5000 figurs in the 5500 years people have used this area. These carvings have certainly played a very important religious and ideological role in theses peoples lives, under the harsh arctic skies.

You can visit Alta, by taking the flight services operated by Norwegian Air Shuttle or Scandinavia Airlines from Oslo.

Urnes Stavkirke (1130)

Urnes Stave Church is the oldest of Norways 28 stavechurches. It is dated by dendrochronology to the year 1132. This makes the building one of the oldest wooden structures still standing in Europe. It is not the first church on the site. There used to be at least one structure that predates the current building. Alterations have been made in the 17th century, but in spite of this the church with its impressive norse woodcarvings is remarkably well preserved.
Urnes is situated by the Sognefjord on the West Coast of Norway and is not situated as close to points of public transportation as the other site.

Bryggen (Bergen)(1360/1702)

Bergen is the second largest city in Norway and its history goes back more than 900 years. It used to be the Norwegian capital in the Middle Ages. The city has many important old historic sites. Among them is "Bryggen" the old hanseatic quarter, that used to be the headquarters of the Hansiatic league from 1360. Even though it has burnt down several times since the middle ages, the old houses on the site today, built after a fire in 1702 follows the plan of the medieval buildings that once used to stand here. When you walk along the narrow passages between these extraordinary buildings you feel you are back to the 18th century and beyond.

Bergen is the busy commercial and cultural centre of the Norwegian west coast and is certainly worth a visit. You may take a plane to Bergens Flesland Airport or travel by train over the impressive Hardanger Mountain Plateau. There are also cruiseliners that visit the city during the summer months, so there are many ways to visit Bryggen.

Røros (1644/1679)

The old mining town Røros was founded in 1644 after a farmer discovered huge amounts of copper close by. From the mid 1600's the city grew into the most prosperous cities in the country. The center of the city can be dated back to 1679, when the Swedish army burnt the city down. Today you find a large number of listed wooden buildings in the city, official as well as dwellings. Particularly impressive is the church built in 1784 that can house up to 1600 church goers. The wooden buildings are built from the 17th up to the present. Still the character of the city itself as a 17th century mining-centre has been well preserved. The city is especially beautiful during the cold winter months.

The best way to get to Røros is by train from Oslo or Trondheim, operated by the Norwegian State Railways (NSB)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sunday breakfast

After a night out (returned home at 1 AM after a excellent dinner), it is nice to have a good breakfast. This is the easiest morning snack I know, and it tastes great.

Use a tube of ready made croissant-pastry. Here in Oslo you get Sara Lee-brand. Roll out the sheat and follow the instructions. Place your favourite spicey sauce, some cheese, and sliced meats and roll into a croissant shape. Take what you have in your fridge. Some good cominations are:

Spanish Chorizo

Cooked ham
White cheese (gryuere, swiss cheese, Jarlsberg)

Browned cubes of bacon or even better, parmaham or pancetta
Mild bluecheese

As to the last recipe - do not use Roquefort or Stilton, as these are far to salty. Use a mild bluecheese, as a creamy gorgonzola. If you would like to use stilton or roquefort you could ofcourse skip the bacon or parmaham and have a delicious vegetarian croissant.

Have a nice breakfast!