I love the 17th of May. I love how complete strangers greet me with ''happy birthdays'' on the street. I love the coming-together of people of all backgrounds; the long children's parades, the school bands and, of course, the russ – the High School graduates. I love that you don't have to buy any presents. I love the way people dress up in their national costumes, bunads. I love the way that people are given two whole days of public holiday to be patriotic. And, more importantly, I love to eat.
Though there is no specific dish associated with syttande mai, food plays a very important role. In most, if not all, families, the day begins with a decadent breakfast – in my home this means scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, homemade bread and freshly ground coffee. Then, after watching the children's parades in the cold May air (for it is always freezing!), I head to my warm, homey kitchen. I know most Norwegians prefer to eat pølser (hot dogs) with crispy fried onions flakes, and wicked amounts of softis (a kind of super-smooth ice cream). But hos meg, it's all about the lapskaus and kaffimat (''coffee food''). We usually make four or five cakes (for seven or eight people), including the kransekake, which I wrote about here. It's absolutely superb.
This year, though, I'm going to miss out on the festivities. It's utterly disappointing, and it's taken me two years to prepare for it psychologically. Because I'm in the International Baccalaureate programme, I have not only one, but two, exams on the day of all days. And there's a third on the 18th as well, so no evening celebration then. I suspect whoever scheduled the exams is a very lonely, no-fun person. It's especially sad for me because I'm moving to France in August, and won't be able to properly celebrate the 17th of May next year either. The good news, though, is that those are my last exams. After 14 years of shifting from one school system to another, I'll finally graduate. And we get an extra month of vacation, so it's not all bad.
Still, I thought I'd jot down a few of my favourite things about my beloved country (in no particular order), to mark the special day next Thursday:
1) The Welfare System – everybody gets free education/higher education, paternity/maternity leave and health care (you never have to worry about hospital fees!)
2) The Safety – you never really have to fear anything, police don't have to carry weapons, you don't have to watch your kids when they're out playing, and you can meet top politicians (or the Royal Family) on the street and talk to them.
3) Quality – there is fresh air wherever you go, and the water is fresh and good. You can drink the tap water in the bathrooms if you want, and it'll still be clean.
4) Human Rights – gender equality is very important (we're the 2nd most gender-equal country in the world), as are human right (ranked as #1 on the UN Human Development Index list) and you can say, write, think and believe in what you want.
5) Politics – Norway's not a member of the EU, there are many political parties, youth can get into Parliament, you are not represented abroad by a President, for whom nearly half the country didn't vote for anyway, but by a political neutral King. Elections are also less expensive.
6) Wealth – the immense wealth (Norway has the largest capital reserve per capita of any nation) is shared more or less equally between all, you can spend and shop more abroad because everything is cheaper than in Norway (it is 90% more expensive to live in Norway than in the United States, and 55% more than in the EU). It makes you feel rich.
7) Nature – large areas remain rough and relatively untouched, you're free to wander anywhere you want (even on private farmlands), you're never far from the sea or a fjord (at least if you're from the west coast), and because you can hike alone in the wilderness for days without meeting another human being, if you want.
And that's about it, I think. I hope you have a wonderful week, whether you're celebrating the 17th of May of not. But I am also curious: what do you love most about your respective countries? Anything you miss when you're abroad?
|Vanilla and Berry Cake|
Original Recipe ® Marion Fløysvik
Sweet, vanilla-soaked and fresh, this is a mixture of two traditional Norwegian cakes: the ''Verdas beste'', the Norwegian national cake, and the ''Blautkake'', a whipped cream and vanilla sponge cake. It's definitely inspired by both, but with my own twists. And because it was made in honour of the 17th of May, I decided to go for a patriotic twist. The berries made the cake decadent and downright delicious :)
340 g. flour
3 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
170 g. unsalted butter, at room temperature
240 g. sugar
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
150 g. almonds, chopped
300 ml. crème fraîche
Vanilla Cream (® Morten Schakenda)
500 ml. whole milk
100 g. sugar
4 egg yolks
40 g. cornstarch
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
250 g. heavy cream
3 tsp. vanilla sugar
A handful (or two!) of raspberries
A handful of blueberries
1.Vanilla Cream: Whisk the egg yolks and cornstarch together in a bowl. Set aside. Combine the vanilla seeds, sugar and whole milk together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Let the milk cook, and pour into the egg yolk mixture, whisking continually. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan over medium-low heat, and let cook once more. Strain the mixture back into the bowl (in case the eggs coagulated).
2.Cake: Preheat oven to 175°C (347°F). Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl, and add the eggs and vanilla seeds. Mix well. Add all the dry ingredients and blend well together. Add the crème fraîche and shaved almonds, and mix to form a homogenous batter.
3.Pour batter in a buttered and lined baking pan à 25 x 40 cm (9.8 x 15.7 inches). Bake for 30-40 minutes and remove from oven. Let cool completely.
4.Assembly: Whip the vanilla sugar and heavy cream stiff. Spread the vanilla cream evenly on the cake, followed by the whipped cream. Decorate the cake with raspberries and blueberries, or other berries, of your choice.
A few notes...