Adventures in Buying Local: Visiting the Fishmongrel

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  A fabulous read, I thought, as did my book group from church.  I knew that there were good reasons to buy local and all that, but it was inspiring reading about how Kingsolver’s family spent a whole year trying to eat only food grown by people they knew (including themselves).

Okay, in a nutshell, here is the point:  trucking and training and flying and shipping food from thousands of miles away to our grocery stores just so we can have asparagus in September or raspberries in January is taking a huge toll on our planet.  For one thing, look at how much oil it takes to transport those foods so far.  And another point, the kind of super-agribusiness it takes to actually pull that sort of thing off is resulting in an alarming reduction in plants and animal varieties, and that is dangerous because a nasty bug that is resistant to chemicals meant to kill it can come along and wipe out 25% or more of a certain type of food in the blink of an eye.  Plus, food from far doesn’t taste as good as fresh food.  So there.

There’s more to it than this, but you get the basic idea.  Now, here’s the reason I recommend the book.  I KNEW about the importance of local and sustainable food systems and all that, but I didn’t really KNOW it in any way that translated the big issue into my own life.  Reading about Kingsolver’s family, helped me to truly understand.  I read and actually felt hopeful.

So my book group, which is comprised of women from my UU church, read the book and discussed it at a potluck on Sunday night, and we are very excited about working together to help our own families, our church, and our community to be better stewards of the earth, to enjoy healthier and more satisfying food, and to reverse the trend of borrowing from tomorrow for the food whim of today.

For the past month, as I’ve been reading, I have started making changes.  We already belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.  But I never gave a thought to where the rest of our food came from.  For the first time, I went to our city’s farmer’s market this week and got the best heirloom tomatoes and cantaloupe I’ve had in a long while.  I also ran into a ton of people I know (wish I’d taken a little time to freshen up a bit before going!)  Ah, I thought, I can supplement whatver I do not get each week from my CSA with the farmer’s market offerings.  Good.  But…where can I get locally made bread, cheese, and most importantly, grass-fed meat? Cause I ain’t goin back to no feedlot beef never never never.

Well, I’ve been trying to find out about these and other options and it’s like a full-time job.  I will persevere, but I wish it were easier to make the switch.  And that leads me to the title of this post.  Today I finally got around to checking out a local fishmonger’s shop.  Okay, so that’s what I call it.  Is that because I study British literature of the 19th century or do people here in 2008 USA also call a person who sells fish a fishmonger?

My son, whom I dragged all around town on errands today, got a little mixed up by the word, saying fishmongrel instead.  Cutie!

Unfortunately, the place didn’t actually sell fish except fully cooked on a plate and all that. I thought for sure that was a fishmonger shop.  Nope.  No such luck.

Back to more research, I guess.  School starts very soon, though.  If I don’t have my suppliers figured out by then, I’m afraid I’ll not be able to follow through as well as I’d like once I’m back to teaching.  At least I’ve discovered the Lowell farmer’s market.  Can’t wait until Friday when I can get some more of that delectable cantaloupe!

Goodbye to Landegode, Goodbye to Norway

Our last day in the far north of Norway, my cousin arranged for us to take a boat ride out to the island of Landegode. From every village on the coast for miles, this is THE major landmark, and even more importantly for fishermen trying to head back to shore, Landegode has been a crucial navigational aid. It is also a place almost deserted these days, with few people living there. But my traveling companion and myself were amazed to discover that many people in town have never been there.

The island is very important to me and my Norwegian cousin because that is the place where our mutual ancestor lived. It was an incredible ride out to this island that rises straight out of the sea in jagged spikes. We stopped a little ways from Landegode to throw a line off the side of the boat, no bait, just a flashing lure and some empty hooks. After a few minutes of my tugging on the line up and down to fool the fish, we reeled in two lovely pollock, which we ate for lunch upon our return.

The water is crystal clear, and we enjoyed an unusually calm ride out to sea. By the time we turned toward shore again, however, a cold wind picked up and the clouds moved in to obscure the peaks of Landegode. The island’s name translates into good-land. Yes, what land exists on the shore in tiny patches is good, I suppose. But more so, it is a land to inspire awe. My cousin says that when he goes fishing on a beautiful day like it was when we started, he doesn’t care if he does not catch a thing. It is enough just to view the rugged land and calm, blue sea.

The elderly relative we visited twice during my trip, Kristianna, told us: “…beloved Landegode, most beautiful thing I know.” She lived with the sight of that good land for seventy years before moving to a nursing home. Above her head on the wall hung a painting of Landegode in winter.

And so we have left the far north now, and today visited Trondheim. Tomorrow we fly to Bergen, moving south in great leaps. The next day we board a ship to take us over the North Sea to England. We are tracing the immigrants as best we can.

No internet, I expect until we arrive in the UK in a few days. Meanwhile, I leave you with my hope that all is well and you are living in a good land, a land that you call beloved.

Vikings, Farmers, and Fiskers: A Day in Oslo

Blood rains from the cloudy web on the broad loom of slaughter.  The web of man, grey as armour, is now being woven; The Valkyries will cross it with a crimson weft.

Okay, not my words!  This comes from the Great Icelandic work, Njal’s Saga, written around 1200 AD. But I thought I’d start with it because my friend and I began our day today (after a leisurely and HUGE Norwegian breakfast) by going to the Vikings Museum across the bay.  It rained all morning but cleared around the time we walked over to the Folk Museum, which was a good thing since the first place was indoors and the second largely outdoors.

Vikings are amazing.  Okay, so I’m not thrilled about all the rape and pillage, kill and slaughter, etc. part.  But I saw and read a lot in the museum about Viking culture and how varied it really was.  Farmers and traders were even more numerous than warriors.  It’s just that the blood and guts stuff captures our imagination the most.  Well, I tell you, seeing a real 850 AD Viking ship is impressive!

Next, at the Folk Museum, we got to see houses and other buildings from different regions of the country.  And lo and behold, in one of the houses a woman was making LEFSE!!  I just about flipped.  Certainly I whipped out the 20 kroners fee and enjoyed every last bite.  I’ve written a lot about lefse and won’t bore you with that stuff now.  Suffice it to say that THIS lefse was soft and chewy and rather thicker than I had ever seen.  But it was also a potato-less lefse.  Several people have come to my blog looking for such recipes (lefse no potatoes), so here’s the one the museum provided:


2 eggs

250 grams sugar

125 grams melted butter/margarine

1/2 litre buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking powder

about 1 kilo wheat flour

Barley flour

butter, sugar, cinnamon

Mix eggs with sugar and butter, and stir into the milk.  Mix the baking powder with some flour and stir into the blend.  Mix with so much flour that the dough is easy to roll.  Barley flour makes it easier to roll out the lefse.  Bake the lefse ona  griddle or in a dry frying pan. Serve with butter, sugar, and cinnamon on top.

Now, it was a pretty good treat and all, but NOT real lefse as far as I am concerned.  The lady making the lefse told me that this recipe is for special occasion lefse, and potato lefse is for everyday .  Yeh, that’s fine by me.

The Folk Museum was wonderful.  I learned a lot about Norwegian farming in the nineteenth century as well as architecture and culture.  Very cool place to visit, especially the stave church on the grounds.  Oh, and the funniest thing…we met a high school girl there who was born in the city where I now live.  Talk about “it’s a small world”!

Our final museums were nearby: the Kon Tiki where we saw the flimsy ships that Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Pacific from Peru to Tahiti.  Cool but the museum was closing, so we just popped in for a glimpse. We had a little more time at the Norwegian Maritime Museum, which stays open later.  Also very interesting and helpful for my research, too.  I got to see the kinds of boats used by my ancestors when they fished in the Lofoten fisheries in the far north in Norway.  Hard to imagine such work being done in relatively small craft.  I’ll be up north tomorrow, though, and will hopefully be going out to a nearby island off the coast of Bodø, so I’ll get to try out the whole boat thing on the coast.  We’ll see how my stomach likes that!

So, it was a day of vikings, farmers, and fiskers (fishermen).  Tomorrow we fly to north of the Arctic Circle to Bodø.  I am unsure about internet connection in the apartment where we will be staying, so don’t be surprised if I do not post every day, as I have been doing.  I’ll try to get on the web every day if I can, but I have no idea if this will be possible.  For now, it’s time to pack for our early morning flight to the far north!

Double-digit birthday boy

Today my son turned ten. It’s a big deal.

Today I am celebrating a decade of motherhood. That’s a big deal.

I bought my son a fishing rod (Ugly Stick) and reel, and a comical shirt (“How come all of my shirts are boring, Mom?”) I also bought him some playdough because I know he’ll like it but would never ask for it and I want him to stay a kid a while longer. And I got him some books, of course, and some nail clippers. Odd gift, you say?? Ah, but for a while I have been telling him that when he turns ten, he can clip his own gosh darned nails, thankyee very much. 🙂 And keeping with the double-DIGITS theme, I also got him new gloves and toe socks to keep all his DIGITS warm.

What did I get for myself to celebrate my decade of motherhood? Nothing. Instead ask what I gave up: 3 more pounds lost at today’s weigh-in. Awesome!

Tomorrow I have a story for you all about lefse making….

Back on the Homestead: Grand Tour part 4

On our mega road trip this summer we spent a total of nine days in Minnesota. Out of seven weeks traveling through twenty-two states, that’s a big chunk of time. But it felt like we could have stayed there much longer. For one thing, I had no idea how interesting and enjoyable the state would be from a purely recreational standpoint. The plentiful lakes are not just some butter company slogan — they (the lakes not the butter — though there was a lot of that, too) are everywhere and are lovely little waystations for wildlife. Driving to Itasca State Park we saw a bald eagle dipping towards a little gem of blue water and two deer leaping across the tall cement barriers on the divided highway to cross to a shaded glen by another little pond.

I felt an interest in Minnesota for its own sake (not just as a research site) that I had not anticipated. “Let’s come back here some other time and do some exploring, ” I suggested to my son, who was, at the time, dutifully working on his scrapbook pages for Crookston, Beltrami, Itasca, and Bemidji that morning that we left for Grandma’s hometown of Thief River Falls.

“Yeh. Let’s come back and fish!”

Fish. Fish. Fish. That’s all this boy can think about now. A smile lifted the corners of my mouth. He was so happy.

On the drive up to TRF, a fairly short one, I plopped a taperecording of Grandma into the car stereo and listened to her voice telling about her grammar school years at the Busy Bee School in Smiley township, Hazel, Minnesota. Soon my son set aside his scrapbook and began to listen, too. He got particularly quiet when she talked about how the neighbor boy, Leonard, stole the honey from a bee hive and was stung all over by the angry bees. My child, for years, had an almost paralyzing fear of bees. (That phobia had pretty much gone away except — wouldn’tcha know it — he just got stung at school on Thurs.! Time will tell what fallout there’ll be from that one.)

Next Grandma launched into the story of the old haunted house in the woods by the school house. The kids explored the building one day during lunch hour and were frightened by a banging noise and what they thought to be a figure in the upstairs window.

It felt so normal to hear Grandma’s voice as we drove along closer and closer to her birthplace.

We met my mom’s cousin and her husband for lunch in TRF near our hotel and they accompanied us to the local museum/archives. Thank goodness, too, because cousin Melba was a wealth of information. We found some needed facts at the archives and then decided to head out to the house in town where Grandma lived for a year, working for her room and board so she could attend high school (there was no HS in Hazel, so she had to wait to attend 9th grade until she was strong enough and mature enough to go to hire as a maid/nanny). We walked the few blocks from that house to the school, and I could see how easy it would have been for Grandma to come home at lunchtime and make lunch for the kids and then return to school. I mean easy in the sense of do-able, though clearly this duty would be tiring and inconvenient. But when the alternative is to stop your education at grade eight…?

The next day Melba took us out to Grandma’s birthplace, the homestead her parents claimed and developed in the early 20th century. The current residents are so kind and were very happy to extend hospitality to us. We got a tour of the barn (original) and granary (original) and I walked around taking pictures. The original house had burned down a number of years ago but sat on the same site. I decided to walk the LONG drive from the house down to the mailbox because Grandma includes a story about doing this in the book. Her younger brother and her cousin (same age as her brother) joined her one day when she had to go get the mail. It was about a six or seven minute walk to the box. When it was time to return to the house, the four-year-olds refused to return with Grandma (six yrs.) But when she got back to the house sans kids, Aunt Hanna beat Grandma with a stick (she was carrying firewood into the house at the time). Grandma ran like crazy back to the kids and brought them home again. Wow!

After we left the homestead, I asked Melba to take me to the remains of the town of Hazel, thinking there would be a footprint of sorts, despite being told that there was nothing left there.

There was nothing left there.

Shoulder-high grass, a deeply rutted road looping through the area, an old mattress dumped off to the side. Nothing discernable. I was so intensely saddened by this erasure. All that those immigrants had tried to create here was utterly gone. Not even a foundation left. All had crumbled. I guess I thought that Minnesota would be more tame than out west and thus more would remain. But this wasn’t really true. A town can disappear in green Minnesota just as easily as in bleak Montana, perhaps even more completely. On the dry, rolling hills of Montana, remains were exposed to the elements, yes, but whatever was left could be viewed from far away.

But Hazel had utterly disappeared and a great sadness came over me. Grandma was gone. Her town was gone. The family farm was all carved up and gone to highest bidders. An Indian gambling casino bustled not a half mile from her parent’s homestead. And as we drove back to town through a driving thunderstorm, I discovered that one of Grandma’s tapes had been ruined. Nothing remained of the recording of her discussing her high school years and last Christmas at home before they lost the farm in 1929.

For the first time on the trip, I cried.

Roadtrip to Grandma’s home state of Minnesota: Part 2 in my continuing Grand Tour series

I was out of town for a few days and have missed bloggin. Sorry about that! Picking up where I last left off in my reflections on our summer road trip…

We arrived in Minnesota at my husband’s aunt’s house on the afternoon of the 4th of July. After the intense driving for three days to get there, it was a relief for my son to run around in a bona fide yard. He kept zooming through the grass and halting only to ask for instructions on his next feat. “Tell me what to do next, Mommy!” And I would make up some ridiculous sequence that included zig-zagging from this tree to that with jumping jacks every five steps, dribbling the soccer ball while patting his head, walking like a chicken, etc.

The next morning we moved on to Alexandria, where my grandmother’s paternal grandparents settled. We stayed with Grandma’s first cousin, John, and his wife Dee. What wonderful folks–so helpful! They had arranged for a visit to the local Historical Society, called various people who now lived on “our” land to make sure we could visit, and arranged a little family reunion, inviting cousins from around the area to come and meet us.

I had rather assumed that I would find little of use for the book on this part of the trip, mostly because we are talking about a very long time ago when the great-great-grandparents, JA and Lotta, settled there (1885). But I was surprised to discover a great deal while there. Like the fact that JA and Lotta had given up farming on Lake Victoria in 1898 and had decided to try their hand at logging in another community further north called Spruce Hill. They abandoned that attempt in 1900, when it became clear that the town was not going to thrive. The railroad had been persuaded to build a station in a neighboring town, so the Spruce Hill saw mill lost it’s chance for easy transportation of lumber. JA and Lotta gave up and returned to “Alec,” this time farming on the eastern shore of Lake Burgen. I had always though Grandma’s Dad grew up at Lake Burgen, but he never lived there. It was Lake Victoria rather.

When John and Dee took us out to Lake Burgen, I felt the strangest connection to the place. I had been there before on my last trip to MN in 1995, when I chauffered Grandma around the area. We had come out for Aunt Evelyn’s 90th birthday celebration. Anyway, this time, I saw the place in a new light. Such a beautiful beach, with the point still named after our family. Water lilies floated along part of the shoreline, the water was a brilliant blue and clear as glass, and the sky that day was a stunning turquoise with a few white, puffy clouds dotted here and there.

My son went nuts as soon as we walked down to the point. Frogs a plenty. Water. Sand and dirt. And big fish lazily swimming along the shoreline, almost so close you could grab em. My son is nine years old. And he is a nature fanatic. He zipped along the shore, carrying an irrepresible grin. And then it got even better. The teenage daughter of the current residents came out with a fishing pole and some bait. My son’s eyes flashed as he caught my eye. I nodded.

Thirty minutes later, after repeated losses of assorted minnows (“Those fish are so sneaky, Mommy, stealing our bait!”) he caught his first fish ever, a good size sunfish. Yes, he tossed it back in. For the rest of the trip it was fishing this and fishing that. “Ya know how dinosaurs were my big thing from 4 to 8 years old? Well, fishing is going to be my thing from 9 to … uh … 70!”

Grandma’s maternal grandparents came from Norway, above the Arctic Circle (more on that in another entry). They were fishermen, catching cod off the Lofoten Islands. I guess it’s in my son’s blood, eh! In any case, Lake Burgen fed my great-great-grandparents’ family during many lean years. Grandma’s cousin, Mildred, who made a recording for posterity (Lord, bless her!) talks about the frequent fish-fries they held at the lake. The men used nets and caught scads of fish. Mildred complained about having to help clean them (UGH) and then they would fry up a couple dozen fish to feed the guests who were picnicking on the lawn/beach.

Back at John and Dee’s were two suitcases full of old photos, one of which showed Grandma’s father, Oscar, and all of his siblings in a boat on Lake Burgen. Oddly enough, Aunt Gerda was the one holding the oars and not any of her three brothers. I suspect she was a feisty one! I heard that she had wanted to marry a Norwegian and was prohibited. She was married off to a local Swede instead. At least that’s how the story goes!

Since my return home, I’ve been able to put a few more pieces together in the puzzle of that side of the family. I’ve finally placed who Aunt Sofie is (JA’s sister, who emigrated from Sweden a year after JA brought his family to America). Figuring out this part is important because I have, through Gerda’s granddaughter, made contact with actual Swedish relatives. They were eager to find out whatever happened to Sofie, so I’m glad to be able to give them some info. I’m really hoping that I will get a chance to visit the “Old Country” next summer. Still some gaps to fill in the first chapter.

We managed to pack quite a few activities into our stay in Alec, inlcuding a visit to a local museum where a real Viking runestone is kept. Oh, and “Big Ole” a giant statue of a Viking. Plus we saw the house and land at Lake Victoria (not so clear a lake but alos lovely people living on “our” land). The only problem was that my visit had uncovered so much that I was a bit spoiled, with too high of expectations for the other locales to come….