When Siri Iversen, daughter of local decorators Jim and Rachel Larson, went to Norway in 2003 for her college semester abroad, she had no intention of staying more than the few months it would take to learn about that country’s social welfare system for her urban studies major at the University of Minnesota.
But then, she didn’t plan to fall in love with Bent Are Iversen, a photo-journalism student.
An abandoned cabin in the region where Iversen lives, Sogn og Fjordane (and yes that is a tree growing out of the building’s sod roof, not an unusual site according to Iversen)
After a two-year trans-oceanic courtship (and several trips back and forth from Minnesota), Siri and Bent Are married on Dec. 15, 2005. They lived in Minnesota for two years, but a job opportunity at the Norwegian regional newspaper Firda presented itself to Bent Are and they moved to Forde, a beautiful little town in Sogn og Fjordane on the west coast of Norway.
Without a job, and missing some of the comfort foods not available in Forde (like bagels, apple pie and pumpkin bread), Iversen turned her creative energies to baking. With the help of her mother’s recipes and others that she found on the internet, she was able to satisfy her craving for “homestyle” food. From there, she branched out to Norwegian specialties such as eplekake and rosinboller.
But a woman can’t bake all day, so Iversen started a blog about her baking (and her life) called “The Transplanted Baker.” (She describes herself as a pie-lovin’, bread-risin’, apron-wearin’ expatriate living the good live on the west coast of Norway.) She enjoys writing, and her humorous and conversational approach makes for an interesting read. Add to that the wonderful photographs she takes (she has a good advisor!) and, of course, the recipes, and the result is a charming glimpse into her life in Forde.
Iversen often begins her articles by relating the food to a childhood memory or recent event in the family. (This includes baby Lasse, who she refers to in her blog as her 10-pound bun because that’s how much he weighed when he was born last February. She says he’s now tipping the scale at 24 pounds.) Her readers are an eclectic group, encompassing both friends and family from Minnesota and people who found her by Googling about food or through links from other writers. Some of the latter have become good friends, even though they may live as far away as London or Anchorage.
Thanksgiving was a challenge the first few years in Forde, as Iversen didn’t know where to buy a turkey and ingredients for other recipes. She had her mother send pecans for pie and two chickens substituted for the bird. Now she knows where to find a turkey, yet mom still has to send almond extract, cream of tartar, mayonnaise and Reese’s Pieces. (Some things you just can’t do without.)
Living far from one’s hometown can be hard; flights are expensive, so the Iversens only make it back here about once a year. Because the dollar is not so strong, it is costly for Siri’s family and friends to visit Norway very often, too. But Bent Are’s parents are within driving distance and his brother lives in Forde, so there is family nearby.
Iversen says she’s still adjusting to living in Norway after two and a half years. “I love living in the middle of such incredible nature,” she says, “but it has been difficult getting acquainted with people there since they are much more reserved than Minnesotans.”
Of course, there are benefits to living in Norway. Iversen appreciates the wonderful family traditions that the Norwegians have-baptism and church holidays are much bigger deals there than they are here. She likes the regional diversity of the foods; every area has its own recipes for specialty and everyday foods. And the government-supplied benefits are great-health care is universal, and if she decides to go back to school, it will be paid for.
Still, Iversen misses American food: “slow-roasted meats, the variety of produce you can get in the States, a slice of apple pie, and a decent burger.”
Siri Iversen’s blog, The Transplanted Baker, is on the Park Bugle’s website, www.parkbugle.org. Click on Blogs, then Other Blogs, and you’ll see the tab to get to her site.
Michelle Christianson is a piano teacher, musician, writer and frequent contributor to the Park Bugle.
Siri Iversen’s Norwegian Apple Cake
Makes 6 servings
1 cup granulated sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla sugar (or 1 t. vanilla extract)
2 large, or 3-4 small, crisp apples- peeled, cored, and sliced into thin “boats” (as you
would for apple pie)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup almonds, finely chopped
1/4 cup raisins, soaked in warm water for a few minutes, then finely chopped
A handful of pearl sugar
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter your favorite baking dish (I used a 13x9x2 oval dish, but I think any dish roughly that size will do, it will simply adjust your baking time a bit).
2. In a large bowl, cream the granulated sugar and butter together. Fold in the eggs, one-by-one, until well blended.
3. Sift the flour into the mixture, along with the baking powder and vanilla sugar. If using raisins, blend them in now.
4. Using a spatula, pour half of the batter into the baking. Layer half of your apple boats over the batter. Pour the remaining batter over, then lightly press the remaining apple boats into the top of the batter, preferably in an attractive design.
5. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top (and optionally, sprinkle the chopped almonds, pearl sugar, and any extra raisins, if desired).
6. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, checking with a toothpick for doneness. Serve with either fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.