Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Crumby Christmas Gift

Several years ago, I had the good fortune to visit My Opera-Loving Friends in Norway during their sabbatical from the college. I arrived shortly after the Norwegian national holiday on May 17, just in time for the ever-lengthening days and the brilliantly hued and astonishingly fragrant lilacs.

My friends, knowing my vegetarian ways, spent their leave year visiting several ethnic restaurants in Oslo, looking for places where they could take me to dinner and know that I could eat well. (Believe me, this was not a hardship for them; like me, they enjoy traveling on their stomachs.) In my two weeks with them, I sampled Italian, Middle Eastern, Indian, and even Ethiopian food –- as well as classic Norwegian fare –- at a number of good restaurants.

That was only for dinner, though. Since we usually traveled during the days, we often had a picnic lunch of wholesome bread, good cheese, fresh fruit, cookies, and plenty of water. Though it may sound boring, eating those same things day in and day out, the scenery in which we lunched more than made up for it. (Imagine a mountaintop picnic, watching reindeer cross the snowy incline below us.)

For breakfast, we had a regular routine as well: muesli with milk or soy milk, bananas, tea, and slices of toasted julekage, the Norwegian Christmas bread studded with raisins and laced with cardamom. Like my one friend, I found that such a delicious bread shouldn't be reserved only for Christmas, and when I returned home, I looked for a recipe.

Happily, I found a recipe for julekage in the Betty Crocker International Cookbook, though when I followed it as written, I was duly informed that, while tasty, it did not adhere strictly to the version they had enjoyed in Oslo. With a little tinkering, though, I managed to come up with something that made everyone happy.

Since then, julekage has become a holiday tradition for us. I bake a generous loaf for them and another loaf for my friends the Absent-Minded Professor and the Southern Belle, and sometimes I'll even bake a loaf for myself so that I have an excuse for making really good cinnamon toast.

So once the cookie baking is gone and all the baklava is packed up and delivered, it's time to bake julekage.

I'll be visiting with My Opera-Loving Friends and their family early this year, so I needed to take the time this evening to whip up a loaf. (I'm glad it doesn't take long!) And in another day or two, I'll do it all over again for my other friends and their bread-devouring family. They'll get to enjoy the tender, enriched crumb, toasted and possibly slathered with butter and maybe even cinnamon sugar, and before you know it, Christmas and the julekage will be but a memory.

But what a crumby memory!


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