I awake to the shriek of a seagull and the patter of raindrops on the window. Outside, the sky is solid grey. As I pull myself together, I remember where I am. We are in Oslo, staying in a small brick house within the courtyard of an old fashioned apartment complex.
Even though the window is open, it is quiet and the fresh air is totally different than what I breathe in Goshen. Here, it is mingled with the scent of the sea and fresh greenery.
We arrived a couple of days ago and though that first walk from the train station to our home away from home was new, we already recognize a few things in the neighborhood. The grocery store is just around the corner, the bakery is up the hill from the cemetery right beside the coffee shop and in a downpour, we also find the Vinmonopolet, the only places to get wine in Norway.
Our first impressions of Oslo are of a spacious city of recent construction. But we do find the little nooks of old wooden houses preserved from the city fires. And we feel at home here. The people walking the streets and running things are helpful and friendly. From the Oslo fjord to the hills surrounding the city, we can tell this city runs smoothly and takes care of its inhabitants. We are glad to be here for a few days to soak in the culture.
First, we take the ferry across the harbour to see the thousand-year-old Viking ships and walk through the living museum of Norwegian culture. We also visit the modern opera house that sits in the harbour, a structure of stone and glass and wood where sea meets sky. We take the metro out of the city and up the mountain to experience the Norwegian love of snow sports, specifically ski jumping. One of the things on our to-do list is going to a small restaurant that I had seen mentioned in Food and Wine. It turns out that our landlord has it on her list of places to eat in the neighborhood.
So we go through the courtyard and out the large wooden door onto the street that edges the cemetery, we climb the hill about two blocks and there we are. Smalhans, as most Norwegian businesses, is an unobtrusive restaurant. There are no signs pointing the way, no huge marquee or billboard to pull us in.
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Inside, we find a comfortable space where people are deep into conversations and eating. We can choose a variety of options so we go for the nine-course menu and share it. Each one comes as fresh and flavorful as the next. Local fish, Norwegian cheese and local berries are some of the highlights. And we really enjoy the leek and potato gratin.
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A few days later, we recreate it in our apartment and eat it along with some fresh Norwegian salmon, caramelized and served with creamy lemon sauce. It reminds us that wherever one lives, there is good food waiting to be made and eaten. Here is the recipe if you want to try it. Our Goshen Farmer’s market might be a good place to get the ingredients.
POTATO AND LEEK GRATIN
Serves three to four people as a side dish.
- 2 medium leeks, thinly sliced
- 2 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp. butter
- ½ cup cream
- ¼ cup vegetable bouillon
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ tsp. nutmeg
- 1 cup Jarlsberg cheese, grated
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a pan and throw in the leeks. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes, until the edges start to turn golden. Empty into a bowl and reserve pan.
- Butter a round ceramic oven dish. Layer one-third of the potatoes, one-third of the leeks, sprinkle with salt and pepper and one-third of the nutmeg. Repeat, making a second layer, sprinkle with a little bit of the cheese. Make a final layer. Heat the cream in the pan that the leeks were cooked in. Add the bouillon. When hot, pour over the potato leek mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
- Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for another 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Serve sprinkled with a little fresh parsley.