Nothing Compares to a Norwegian Shrimp Fest!

Experiencing shrimp the Norwegian way is a special treat. Nothing compares to it in the United States, but attending a Norwegian Shrimp Fest at a Norwegian Church gets you pretty close. And that’s what I had the pleasure of doing earlier this month.

Thank you to Sjømannskirken for letting me use their photo.

This year’s Shrimp Fest at the Norwegian Church in San Pedro took place on St. Patrick’s Day so the ubiquitous green made its appearance. There were green napkins; otherwise, I would have expected red or blue napkins. Also, there was the occasional very green shrimp sitting on the edge of a shrimp bowl. Apparently, it was edible but no one near us was tempted to try it.

The evening was really a very simple and casual affair. Tables were set with large bowls of shrimp (in this case, Arctic Greenland shrimp), freshly baked bread, mayonnaise (real Norwegian mayonnaise!), fresh dill, lettuce leaves, and lemon wedges. Then it was up to the guests to handle the rest themselves. (And the hosts to refill the shrimp bowls, which they did gladly and diligently.)

It was very quiet to begin with as guests set to work peeling shrimp and making their open-faced sandwiches. There’s nothing really too gourmet about this meal. Some people might even be shocked at the amount of mayo that goes into a sandwich. It’s hard to eat fast at a shrimp fest because the shrimp are small and each one takes a few seconds to peel. But the result is certainly worth the effort.

For those of you who are curious about what makes this meal so special, it’s the shrimp. The shrimp enjoyed at Norwegian gatherings are a coldwater species caught at the bottom in the deep waters of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans. They are most often cooked and quick-frozen within a few hours of leaving the water.

While we all were enjoying our shrimp, with discussions of what body part to rip off first, the Slow TV program Saltstraumen minutt for minutt was playing in the background. Saltstraumen is the world’s strongest tidal current located near the city of Bodø (about 50 miles north of the Arctic Circle). I was too busy with my shrimp so I didn’t see much of it, but the glimpses I did catch were a perfect accompaniment to the meal.

Thank you to Sjømannskirken for letting me use their photo.

There were other highlights of the evening as well. When guests had started to slow down their peeling and eating, we did a sing-along of the Norwegian song “Rekevisa” (“The Shrimp Song”) as Sverre, the priest, played the guitar. It had the melody of a traditional children’s Christmas song (“Musevisa”, “The Mouse Song”), but the lyrics about a mouse family getting ready for Christmas had been replaced with lyrics about the joys of a shrimp fest. Another highlight of the evening was a quiz. It included multiple-choice questions on a wide variety of topics, some relating to the evening (like “How many species of shrimp are there?”), others totally unrelated (“How many times a day does a person touch their phone?”). It was really the luck of the draw as to who would win, which made it fun for all ages.

We finished off the meal with some vanilla ice cream with chocolate and caramel toppings. As we enjoyed our desserts, we went over the answers to the quiz. I believe I heard the winners came down from Santa Barbara for the Shrimp Fest. They deserved that bag of seigmenn!

When I return to Norway every summer, a shrimp meal is always on my wishlist of foods. The opportunity to enjoy one here in the States with like-minded people was wonderful, and I look forward to next year’s fest!

Volunteering at Norwegian Church’s Christmas Bazaar 2016

volunteering

This year I switched things up and volunteered at the Norwegian Church’s Christmas Bazaar instead of just attending as a guest. My day was all about food which suited me perfectly.

For me, food has always been a main reason for going to the event. I come to eat foods I only eat once a year, to buy freshly baked goods from the bakery, and to stock up on foods and drinks for Christmas time. On this occasion, I was assigned to the kitchen and café, and that was an assignment I appreciated and enjoyed greatly.

My day started out with getting wienerpølser (Norwegian sausages) in a pot for simmering, stirring lapskaus (meat stew), and slicing geitost (goat cheese) for julebrød (sweet bread with raisins). Once the event officially began, I headed out to the café and served cake and sandwiches to eager guests. Continue reading

It’s Norwegian Christmas Time!

2015 plakat julebasar

Click image to clearly view details

I’ve gotten used to the fact that the Norwegian Christmas Fair happens before I’ve even had a chance to plan my Thanksgiving. I look at it as a way to begin the whole holiday season. This year I was grateful to have an American friend whose other half is Norwegian join me for the excursion to San Pedro. We headed down Friday morning to be there when the fair opened.

I love the warm welcome we receive as we enter, and the offer of gløgg (mulled wine, in this case non-alcoholic) and pepperkaker (ginger snaps) certainly helps put you in the mood for what’s waiting inside. The inside of the church is festive with Christmas lights and decorations.

Just as you enter, you’ll see The Bakery. Don’t delay buying baked goods because they run out. I especially like the ones that come right out of the oven. I always buy to bring home. The after school treat that day for my boys was a fresh skolebolle each along with saft I’d bought from the church store.

Norwegian Christmas Fair BakeryIn the nave of the church you’ll find all the booths. They offer Scandinavian goods of all kinds, both imported from Scandinavia and homemade by members of the church. We arrived when the fair had just opened so the area around the booths was packed with eager shoppers. There was no way to take a picture that would actually show anything. I had to return and take pictures when all the first attendees were enjoying their lunches from the café.

Norwegian Christmas Fair Booths Norwegian Christmas Fair More Booths

It’s always fun to browse the booths and see what’s being offered. This year I was struck by number of items that would truly show my Norwegian pride—a bold Norwegian flag zipped sweatshirt, and a top hat and beanie patterned like the Norwegian flag. Another favorite display was the children’s bunads. Too bad I don’t have young kids anymore and could dress them up in those for special Norwegian occasions.

Norwegian Pride Wear Norwegian Christmas Fair Children's Bunads

A highlight of my visit is always lunch. The kitchen offers a wide selection of traditional foods, both warm and cold. As is tradition for me, I went with rømmegrøt og rød saft (sour cream porridge and red juice), but since the portion was smaller than I expected, I added an open-faced sandwich with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and I couldn’t resist the Norwegian chocolate cake. The foods didn’t disappoint. My American friend enjoyed the lapskaus med flatbrød (meat stew with flat bread).

Norwegian Christmas Fair Lunch Norwegian Christmas Fair Café

Others around us were enjoying ertesuppe (pea soup), sandwiches with shrimp and egg salad, and marsipan cake, just to name a few of the many offerings. And many guests of course were indulging in the waffles. I passed on the waffles because I can make those easily at home and instead I focused on foods that I don’t normally eat at home.

For me, an equally important reason to stop by the Christmas Fair is to stock up on some traditional Norwegian foods. The church store has a refrigerator and a freezer filled with all sorts of foods:

Click image to view meat products!

Click image to view meat products!

  • meats—juleribbe, medisterpølser og medisterkaker, wienerpølser, falukorv, sylterull, fenalår, pinnekjøtt
  • fish products—lutefisk, fiskepudding, fiskekaker
  • cheeses—Ekte Geitost, Gudbrandsdalsost, Ski Queen Gjetost, Synnøve Gulost, Swedish Gulost/Farmers Cheese, Nøkkelost
  • baked goods—bread, fyrstekake, kransekake, julebrød
  • other goodies—Mills Majones, Kalles Kaviar, Mrs. Olson’s Lefser

But that’s not all they carry; that’s just the refrigerated and freezer sections. You can stock up on a variety of Scandinavian drinks (Norwegian soda favorite Solo, gløgg mix, Christmas Soda, Husholdnings Saft); candy and chocolate; and canned, boxed, and packaged foods (including my favorites risengrynsgrøt and rømmegrøt). The variety is just so great that you’ll have to come and check it out yourself.

Norwegian Christmas Fair Store

Norwegian Christmas Fair TombolaThe visitors on Friday were generally an older crowd. They came from all corners of Southern California from Thousand Oaks to San Diego. During the weekend, families will visit. On Friday, the tombola booth with its variety of prizes was ready to welcome the kids. On Saturday from 12:00pm to 2:30pm there will be Christmas craft activities for the kids in the basement, and on Sunday there is a family service at 11:00am. The church yard will be filled with kids playing ball or climbing and sliding on the apparatus.

During all days of the Christmas Fair, there are raffle tickets for sale and drawings. Our Friday visit was short and we had to leave before the first drawing, but I saw some wonderful prizes, including fresh homebaked goods.

The Christmas Fair is just the beginning of the Christmas festivities at the Norwegian Church. On Tuesday, December 1, they will hold their annual Christmas Luncheon with traditional Christmas dishes made in the church’s kitchen. You must RSVP by November 24 so don’t delay if you’re interested. Then on Saturday, December 12, you can return for Christmas Porridge. Below you can see the full program. Enjoy!

2015 Norwegian Church Christmas Program

Celebrating the Norwegian Constitution’s 200th Anniversary

We pretty much overdosed on Norwegian culture this past weekend when we celebrated Norway’s Constitution Day. Maybe that’s par for the course since it was the 200th anniversary of the constitution. (A fact we learned, it’s the oldest constitution in Europe and the second oldest in the world after USA’s!) Every year there are two main events in the Los Angeles area to celebrate the Norwegian holiday. The first one is always on the actual day of May 17th at the Norwegian Church in San Pedro, and the other one is on the closest Sunday at Nansen Field in Rolling Hills Estates. We’ve never attended both in one year, but this year we did, and they were one right after the other!Nansen Field parade

The celebration at the Norwegian Church has traditionally been hard for us to attend since it means driving to San Pedro, about 30 miles away, on a weekday after school for a 5 o’clock event. After-school activities, sports, homework, and traffic have made that close to impossible. But this year, the seventeenth of May fell on a Saturday so many of the factors prohibiting us from going in the past were a non-issue this year. I seized the opportunity. As did over 500 other people! It was the biggest gathering ever. Continue reading

Reconnecting with my roots

Every summer we return to Norway to see my family. Each trip tends to be very similar to the last one—we spend time at the same places, we do the same activities, we see the same people, we eat the same foods— but that’s what we’ve come to expect and look forward to.We're back

We try to plan our visit so that our time overlaps with my sister and her kids’ visit. Both my sister and I want to have some time for all of us to reconnect and make new memories together, but we also want each of our families to have some quality time alone with our parents as well. When all the cousins are together, we love seeing them enjoy each other’s company. When each set is by themselves, we value the special time they have alone with their grandparents.

Arriving at island home via boatWe usually spend about half our visit at our parents’ summer home on an island in the Kragerø area (3 1/2 hours by car south of Oslo). I can’t imagine a summer without spending time there. It’s how I grew up, every summer spending weeks at a summer home on the coast, and I want my kids to experience the same. Continue reading

Celebrating Norway’s Constitution Day in Los Angeles

For me, celebrating Norway’s 17th of May in Los Angeles began by vicariously experiencing it through pictures posted on Facebook by Norwegian friends. I woke up to a newsfeed filled with bold and bright Norwegian flags, happy families dressed in beautiful bunads, and smiling kids in parades. It was a lovely start to the day and I much appreciated them sharing their celebrations!

(Photos courtesy of M. Eriksen, E. Strøm-Gundersen, and S. Mjeldheim)

(Photos courtesy of M. Eriksen, E. Strøm-Gundersen, and S. Mjeldheim)

Ideally, I would have attended the festivities at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in San Pedro that day. It’s a simple celebration with traditional foods (hot dogs, waffles, and Solo are our favorites), a parade around the block waving flags and singing, speeches, and fun and games for the kids. And let’s not forget the ice cream! But this year, “17. mai” fell on a Friday and the kids had after-school commitments until 5 o’clock. The idea of driving in Friday afternoon traffic to San Pedro was unfathomable.

Moods of Norway LA infoSo I had to find an alternate way to mark the day. I had seen that the store Moods of Norway was having a celebration. I was intrigued. Continue reading

Norwegian Church’s Christmas Bazaar (2012)

Thanksgiving hadn’t even passed yet, and we attended our first Christmas event. Every year the weekend before Thanksgiving, The Norwegian Church in San Pedro hosts their annual Christmas Bazaar. It’s an opportunity to not only support the church by buying handmade goods and Scandinavian products, but also to remind Sonny and Doobie of some of the unique qualities of their heritage. Christmas is a special time in Norway and the church certainly recreates some of that.

The kids were a bit reluctant to go. It is a 30-minute drive away on the freeway (assuming no traffic) and they were happily and lazily enjoying their first days of Thanksgiving vacation at home. The promise of Solo and waffles did help get them motivated to go, however. I also told them they could help pick out something special to bring back home.

The bazaar is nothing super big and fancy, but it is very cozy and joyful. We were warmly welcomed with hot gløgg and gingerbread cookies in the entryway which was decorated with a Christmas tree. Just beyond that, we could see the Christmas lights on the booths and hear Christmas music playing. Right away the Christmas spirit came over us. Continue reading

Farm Fresh Produce to Us!

I woke up almost as excited as a little kid on Christmas morning.  For a long time, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of having produce delivered directly to me from a local farm.  After seeing an offer on Living Social for $31.50 worth of produce for $15, I bought it without a second thought.  It was a way for me to finally commit to giving it a try.  On Thursday, I woke up to a box of fresh produce outside my front door.  Since I had seen of list of what to expect, I knew what would be in it, but I was still very eager to open it and check it out.

Reactions by family members varied.  Sonny, the oldest, was the first to join me as I started opening it.  When I started telling him what was in it, he said, “Spinach?!  Ew!”  “Do you know what spinach is?  Can you pick it out for me?” I asked.  He started picking through our box, totally overlooking the spinach that was laying on top.  When I explained it was a leaf, like a lettuce, and showed it to him, he was surprised and asked, “Can I taste it?”  Just that moment was worth the $15.

My dear husband wasn’t as excited as me about the delivery.  When he came into the kitchen, he looked in the box and asked, “Does that mean we have to eat all that?” Continue reading