Monthly Archives: July 2013

Being on Writing Overload

I want to call this Writer’s Dump, Writer’s Deluge, Being Hit On The Head With A Muse’s Clue-by-Four, something.

Whatever it is, it’s not Writer’s Block.

I’ve been in this writing overkill mode for a few days now, and it’s kind of scary. As in, I’ve been producing 2-3 full posts or 4-5 half-started ideas each day, and the half posts really just need me to go make some pancakes. This is so not my normal route – usually I get a few ideas in a row and slowly hash them out over a few days, a photo session here, a paragraph there, with three posts-in-waiting lurking in my tabs for editing.

On day three of this marathon I did a quick Google search for “the opposite of writer’s block” and found chatter mainly in the context of writing novels or long prose. There, it can be a serious problem. Design too many worlds or plot twists, and you no longer have a story, you have a bad soap opera.

Another post, again on novel writing, described it as flow, but that didn’t feel quite right either. By the time I got to the final edit on this post, the worst of it had stopped, and I didn’t feel any different than I had the day before, except for the sudden joy of actually sleeping for eight hours.

The thing is, I don’t write novels, or at least haven’t in ages – I write short to long blog posts. There are no worlds to write here, no sagas, no plots involving pies. (Though there should be.) If I spin off in a different direction I just open a new document.

It was more like once I get started for a session, ideas got pumped out at rapid speed. Or that every idea is supercrazyawesome and needs a voice.

My voice.

Since Norway I’ve been having trouble sleeping. And a few days after I got to Sweden, I began writing and simply didn’t stop. I began writing this post at two in the morning as my second article of the night. This was also after completing a second draft for another blog post I began the day before, and earlier in the same day I randomly began writing on two ideas at once. I literally couldn’t sleep until some of these ideas were at least in usable form, which was both exasperating and incredibly exciting. I felt like a Writer with a capital W, except I missed getting a full night’s rest.

I already looked at my allergy medication list and as far as I can tell “sudden bursts of inspiration that keep you up at night” is not a side effect.

In the interim, I’m driving my roommates a bit nuts, as practically everything I’m thinking has turned into a post or photography idea. I’ll talk, sure, but the paragraphs keep on forming and it gets harder and harder to maintain eye contact. Even on ‘break’ things are still crazier than they were before the writing dam broke.

Given how awkwardly I was sleeping in Scandinavia, I suspect it’s the result of poor sleeping habits (link to whining on Chris here) and simply getting excited to write again after an extended illness.

All this writing awesomeness aside, part of me wants it to stop fully, if only to let me actually sleep regularly before three am, but the rest of me wants to just keep on going, to add in that last sentence. Sleep can wait, after all, you’re healthy now (link to whining on health). I’m also scared of the eventual burnout coming with a heavy pricetag, like not being able to write for a month or more or suddenly loathing my camera. It hasn’t yet, but I keep on thinking it will right after I finish a post.

My muse, if such a thing exists, totally has a Dark Side and is baking cookies, so I think I’ll be burning the midnight oil for a bit longer, just until things adjust towards normal. I hope they’re at least chocolate chip.

 

Food loves of Norway

Honestly, I have a lot of things I loved in terms of Norwegian food, and I’m rather sad that I can’t duplicate a lot of it fully out in the states. (Apparently we can get cloudberries on the east coast, but I’ve never seen one in the Seattle region.)

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Because Ricochet tends to focus on sweet things, I’m going to comment on desserts, but I had some rather awesome savory dishes as well that will get gushed about over on Crave Local.

Pjalt. Oh my goodness, pjalt. One of my few food regrets from Røros was not eating Chris’s share as well as my own.

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I’m not going to explain pjalt correctly, so no matter if this sounds bad to you, if you like baked goods, get it and eat it. Pjalt are a regional specialty for Røros, a baked pastry that tastes like a fluffy cross between a pancake, a crumpet, and a waffle. (The closest thing I’ve had are Polish kolaches, but that’s not quite right.) Then the gorgeous Norwegians had to take this already lovely thing and top it with local butter and brown goat cheese, getost.

It’s this marriage of fluffy baked softness, sweet cheese, and some of the best butter I’ve had in my life, and it is so freaking good. Seriously, if we hadn’t been going straight from the bakery to a copper mine I would have asked how well they kept then stashed a half dozen in the fridge for the flight to Stockholm.

Waffles. Unlike the Americanized Belgian waffle, Norwegian waffles are not necessarily crisp; they can be soft. They’re heart-shaped, usually in clusters of five, and topped with jam they were the majority of what I ate at the Rica Nidelven’s breakfast buffet. This is not a bad thing.

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I tried them at the Trondheim airport pjalt-style, topped with getost and butter, and it’s not bad, but it’s not pjalt. I’d stick to slathering them with strawberry jam.

Tyttebær. My love for Norwegian lingonberries shall never die. (Not sure if I’d like pjalt topped with lingonberries, but it’s okay – I can have many food loves in my stomach.)

Just trust me when I say they differ from Swedish preparations of lingonberries. Norwegian tyttebær are tangy, still slightly chewy berries in syrup, that belong with reindeer and other hearty things, and often potatoes. I know I can probably hunt down the berries in Ballard – if I can’t find them there, I’ll be rather confused – and maybe I’ll make a Norwegian Forest Cake. We’ll see.

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Rørosmat ice cream. This is amazing ice cream, thanks to whatever magic the Røros grass and mountains are contributing to the milk. And they have tyttebær ice cream, thank their lactose-loving hearts, and it is glorious, this mix of slightly sour, tangy ice cream and lightly tart berries.

Of course, they barely ship the ice cream within Norway. I need to fix that.

Things I learned in Norway

When we were in Norway, we stayed in two cities – Trondheim and Røros, which are completely different experiences. But it was definitely different from our trek in Stockholm – and better for two Seattle kids who don’t like to be in super loud cities.

Here are some tips I wish I’d known before making the flight out, and what I’ll be keeping in mind for the next trip.

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Most days, everything closes by 6. For a city brat like me this was a bit of a shock, especially as Trondheim is a larger town than where I grew up. The Rema 1000, a supermarket chain, certain larger stores, and restaurants are open past that, but almost everything else had big signs highlighting “Now Open Until 18:00” – so it was a bit of a big deal to be open even that late.

The cool thing, though, is a lot of the stores are still specialized – there are embroidery shops, more hair stores than I’d ever seen (until I got to Stockholm), fishing stores, and lots of neat alleyways, some with rather impressive street art. (There’s a fair amount of art, period, but it all flows together.)

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On the plus side, both cities are great for day treks. The bus system is good, there’s a direct train to Røros, and most hotels have bikes for rent if you don’t want to use the Trondheim city bikes. Since the Trondheim city centre isn’t too large an area, it’s really fun to walk about and see everything. Nidaros Cathedral is gorgeous, and there are parks, small churches, and stunning architecture everywhere.

Even better, they have signs pointing you to the city centre – where there’s a rather lovely tourism bureau who can help you out. Definitely say hi; I was working with Lisbeth of Visit Trondheim for this trip, and she’s amazing.

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It’s also rather calm in the summer once the students are off campus, and not ridiculously hot. Just make sure you bring an umbrella in case it rains, as it can be pretty sudden.

It’s a good idea to spend two days sleeping. I’ve been to Australia, which is a longer flight than going to Norway, so I assumed I had a rough idea of how bad the jet lag was going to be.

I was so wrong. The jet lag hit on the first day like a sack of bricks, and went away about as easily.

We were only late to one appointment during our time, which thankfully was fixed very easily, but the first day or so we were fairly useless. I was also not in the greatest moods thanks to being exhausted. It didn’t help that our flight in to Norway was rather convoluted, but I’m so glad we had our hotel room nearby so we could nap.

The long days are really long. In Trondheim, midnight was about as bright as a slightly cloudy 7 pm in the summer here. Since we weren’t used to it, we would go out for dinner then realize it was 11 pm only by checking our clocks. We had no internal sleep cycle whatsoever even by the end of the first week.

Since this translated somehow to us waking at 2 am, we compensated by spending our free time napping. Make sure your hotel has really, really good curtains.

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Thought American portions were huge? Have some more reindeer. Chris and I were rather content sharing meals when we could; it not only saved money, but it meant that we ate everything as opposed to bringing huge amounts back.

And at least in Røros, we ended up eating reindeer almost everywhere. It’s rather tasty, but I would be nervous for bringing vegetarian friends to parts of Norway. I think I went to one restaurant with a decent selection of vegetable-based options, and the potatoes are really good, but a vegetarian cannot live by potatoes alone.

Cake Day: Bakery Nouveau

Ah, Bakery Nouveau.

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I don’t even remember when I started visiting the West Seattle location. I just know we started going, and it was always something of a treat. The desserts were always lined in neat rows, slices and eclairs and adorable puffs of brioche.

Now Capitol Hill has their own location, making it that much harder to want to leave the neighborhood. It was bad enough once Crumble & Flake opened, but this is dangerous. And, to make it worse, this new spot has later hours and is near the Ice Cream Central that is Pike-Pine. I threatened to make it part of my jogging route, if only to get cake more often.

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This time around, Chris and I went hunting for tarts; the bakery range is from bread to pastries, and you should definitely try the baguettes if you want to have one epic picnic. (This will probably be the most “normal” Cake Day I post, but I don’t mind if you don’t.)

And even in their desserts, their treats are best when they’re simple and built to let seasonal ingredients shine.

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Like this croissant, just filled with a raspberry cremeux and topped with fresh raspberries. The best bites were when you could get all three on the plate, with the sweet and tangy berries coupled with the buttery, sugary goodness of the danish dough. The pastry was lovely on its own, nicely flaky and crisp on the outside, but it was far more awesome with the raspberries. Yes, the laminated dough is fancy, but it’s done perfectly and almost to the point of burning, so that you get all that caramelized awesomeness on the crust.

Or one of my favorite summer treats: pate brisée, pastry cream, and fresh strawberries, brushed with jam. It’s not the most inventive dessert out there, but it’s one I never tire of eating year after year. I’d just love to see them use our local tiny berries, or maybe Shuksans or something intensely strawberry.

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Since the pastries usually max out at $6, they’re the kind of thing you get on a special occasion, like a nice day out or a date. I tend to just walk in and spend $30 on things.

To paraphrase Jiro Dreams of Sushi, one of the best ways to make good food is to eat good food. While I can absolutely make pastry creams and lemon curds and all of these wonderful things, I can always improve and learn. Or sometimes I just don’t want to spend a few hours making a whole cake when all I want is a slice of perfection. For that, there’s Bakery Nouveau.

Blueberry cookies for school and science

I’ve been on a blueberry binge for a few days now. Being able to buy locally sourced fresh and frozen blueberries is probably one of the nicer things about living in the Pacific Northwest, so they’re the dessert of choice in the house whenever possible.

Originally I had this plan of going on a blueberry baking spree, as I had found three eerily similar recipes with slightly different preparations, but then I went and ate all the fresh blueberries. That and I didn’t feel like washing dishes all day, as we have a ridiculously slow dishwasher. Since I also have hands that have put me in physical therapy for the last five years, so hand washing wasn’t going to happen, laziness totally won.

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Oh, I made the first one, but it got eaten ridiculously fast and there’s nothing to write except: tasty, will eat again.

That being said, I had a ton of greek yogurt, and I’d been meaning to try this recipe from La Fuji Mama for blueberry cookies. The blog post itself is a bit wee, all about smiling faces and fluffy things I don’t associate with school now thanks to two years in graduate studies, but cookies are cookies.

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Like most cookie recipes, this was on the easy scale of recipes. Mix wet ingredients, mix dry ingredients, combine, bake. I was concerned about how dense the dough was – it was practically behaving like scone batter and wanted to fight me at every turn of the spatula. It at least looked innocent enough once I’d scooped the cookies out, even with all the berry juice striping.

Unlike the original, these didn’t flatten out, probably because I used frozen berries. The tops never reached golden brown, and pulling them out once even a hint color peeked out the sides showed that the bottoms were at least cooking. My first thought when I looked at them was the Pinterest meme of “Nailed It.”

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Right.

I switched to the tiniest cookie scoop, the two teaspoon one, and got the tiniest little blueberry bombs ever.

And they were bombs. As in, when I bit one, berry juice squirted at my eye. I am so glad I was wearing my glasses, because that sucker would have been a direct hit.

I admit I probably wouldn’t make these again without heavy, heavy modifications. I don’t like that the ratio of yogurt to sugar is 1.5:1, especially in something that’s trying to be set up as somewhat wholesome. They’re not; they’re sugar puffs with some yogurt for protein. I’d probably crank up the spice profile, add lemon zest into the batter directly, decrease the sugar at least by half, and keep them small. They’re not bad, they’re just not exactly healthy. And the cookie’s a little bland by without the berries.

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So, back to the drawing board.

On the plus side, I now have a new set of taste testers, so I’m probably going to make more of these cookies on their request/pleading. (If you lovely people are reading this, thank you! I think the guys were going to kill me if I kept this up without finding more stomachs to spread the disaster over.)

The taste testing team – who needs a better nickname, stat – declared them delicious in the first incarnation. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to leave without making sure they had the recipe. And they did disappear rapidly, including my eating at least five, so it’s not like the recipe’s a lost cause. I’m just on a bender to make my sugar fixes slightly more awesome.