The beauty of simple things

The beauty of simple things

We are nearing the end of August already, and my partner and I are enjoying what turned out to be a surprisingly fun and enlightening challenge.

Last Saturday, we did a big shop in one of the larger grocery shops around (which, for us, means that we spent almost 1000 NOK or ~$100). They had 30% on all fruit and veg, so we went a little mad. Fun things like blue Congo potatoes (still haven’t tried them, looking forward to it!) and special varieties of kohlrabi that you used to only be able to get in the north, but whose popularity is making its slow way soutwards, all made their way into our basket.

With all this food in our fridge and pantry, we thought to ourselves “how long can we live on this food?”. So that’s exactly the challenge we set ourselves.

Our original dinner plan was for one week. We passed that point yesterday and we have only been through about half the dishes on our original list so far. The first week, it was all about using up the greens that spoil first. Things like rocket, kale, and some awesome-but-wilty purple carrots we got as a moving in gift. Now we are moving on to the things that store well, like sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, beets and potatoes.

Despite our self-imposed halt on grocery shopping, we have been eating very well. I am a bit of a food hoarder by nature, and I like having a stocked pantry. This means we have a generous amount of things like flour, sugar, lentils, beans, seeds, rolled oats, canned tomatoes and coconut milk to substitute and stretch our fresh vegetables with. It is also berry season, and my partner has been spending almost every lunch away from his writing desk going up into the forest to pick blueberries. We have also found several stray bushes of red currants on the wayside, which made several glasses of jelly and squash (and the drained berries have been turned into red currant chips/leather, which was a surprisingly good snack). The best think so far has probably been the meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) squash, which has a delicious complex flavor and not at all as sweet as most berry-based squashes. The season for meadowsweet is over now, but next year we will make at least twice as much. It is delicious!

In short, we have used up almost all our sugar on our fun adventures, and it has been worth it without a doubt. I don’t normally use a ton of sugar, so it has been a bit of a shock to see bag after bag poured into the large pots of raw juice for preserving, but it helps to think that this will hopefully get us through a big part of the winter without needing much store bought supplies. I don’t have any illusions that it will pull us through all of winter. Partly because I have not preserved on this scale before, and partly because we just moved across countries, and our stock of jars and bottles is small but growing. Come next year, it will be a different game!

Photo 13-08-2017, 19 13 07
I am no pro, but these babies set beautifully. A bit too much actually, next year I’ll use less apple peel per liter raw juice for the jelly.

But back to our food-based challenge. As you can tell, we have actually enjoyed not allowing ourselves to go to the store. We have even gone to the lengths of satisfying our snack urges by slicing and frying potatoes for chips. An educational reminder of just how much oil goes into that crispy snack. Plus, having to actually get up off your butt and make a snack before you can enjoy it certainly also raises the bar for how much you want it before you actually go through with making it. I have also tested a no-knead (or self-knead) method for bread baking in Miyoko Schinner’s book: The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples, a cookbook that quickly rose to be one of my favorites in my tiny but growing selection of vegan cookbooks. It was ridiculously easy, and the results spoke for themselves!

The one thing that inspired me to write this post, however, was my partner’s delicious carrot and onion pie.

To understand my mini-epiphany, you first have to understand that when we make pie, it is usually an over-the-top thing based on “how many tasty things can we stuff into this one pie shell?”. Less than five different fillings were rare, and while these pies were certainly tasty, this simple version with onion, grated carrots and a generous helping of oregano and some other spices was delicious. It was simple, and the flavors were allowed to speak for themselves, not fight with each other for attention.

In short, this simple pie was much better. We appreciated the ingredients a lot more, and it left a lot more room for many different pies later, where previously, with our “chuck it all in there” approach, all the pies tended to taste much the same.

I have really liked our attitude to food this past week. It really has been a positive “how can we optimize what we have?” versus “we need x to make y, let’s head to the shop.”. We still write an ongoing shopping list whenever we notice that something is running low, and I think it will make for a denser and more efficient shop when we do go.

But for now, we have more than enough fresh veg to last us for at least another week. We can probably stretch that even more too, by making simple staples that require little fresh veg like lentil soup, lentil loaf and more delicious pies. I am decidedly making more bread next weekend too. Why buy a boring loaf when a homemade one is not just super easy but tastes at least ten times better and you know exactly what’s in it?

This is fun! Right now, we have a very different attitude to food than we had just over one week ago, and I really hope it will stick. Our appreciation for how we use our food has increased a lot, and we have learned a lot at the same time. Of course, we hope to grow more and more of our food ourselves, which would also reduce how often and how much we need to shop. We’re not there yet, but there is rocket in the windowsill and chives on the porch.

Could you go a month without going to the grocery store?


2 months in Trondheim

2 months in Trondheim

Long time, no blog post.

As usually happens when there are major changes in my life, it is often easier to just hang on for the ride, rather than trying to keep up with blogging and other updates.

I am in Trondheim, back in Norway, and have spent just over 2 months in my new position. My supervisor is a rocket of energy and enthusiasm. At times it seems that all I can do is to try my very best to just hang on and try to keep up. It has been great so far, but then again I started during the quiet summer season. In autumn there will be the added stress of teaching and courses. I am quite nervous about teaching the undergrads, but I suppose I’ll just have to do my best!

After living with my amazing doppelganger while looking for an apartment (I could easily have stayed there, we have so much fun!) we managed to find a roomy basement apartment that is only partly dug into the hill behind it. To the west, we have the most gorgeous view of the city through three large panorama windows. I look forward to spending many happy evenings looking at sunsets at night. Not to mention cradling a big cup of tea or hot chocolate while watching wind and storms howl by outside!

My view the very first night in the new apartment. 

Amazingly enough, this is the first time either of us have lived in an apartment that feels… homey. Previously it’s all been student housing and shared housing and living with friends and always with this overhanging knowledge that this is temporary.

Not so in this new place.  I have a personal hope that we will be able to stay and live in Trondheim for the foreseeable future. Certainly, in an ideal world, I would like us to stay here until we have saved up enough to buy a place of our own. Hopefully it is not too lofty a goal, as neither of us are envisioning huge mansions. It might sound dorky, but one of the things I am really looking forward to is finally being able to save up more than just a few nickles and pennies here and there. Enough for both a rainy-day fund and a house fund.

I know. Crazy, right?

For that we need to work though. Luckily (or should I say unluckily?) I now have one of those jobs where I could be working from pretty much anywhere, barring any teaching, meetings or other scheduled activities.

Did you, for instance, know that polar bears are suffering not just from loss of habitat, but also from anthropogenic sources of toxins? PFCs are found in many a waterproof tent, jacket, trouser or non-stick cookware, and a recent study has found that these chemicals are already at such a high level in polar bears that they are having a detrimental effect on their steroid hormones. Steroid hormones control a lot of sex-dependent behaviours, and could be one of the reasons the polar bear is reproducing even slower than normal, having fewer cubs, more cubs dying at an adolescent stage, and perhaps also one of the reasons fewer older females are observed (source).

PFCs have been targeted quite heavily by environmental activists like Greenpeace, and a phase-out has been promised. You can help by opting for PFC-free gear next time you need outdoor kit, or choosing stainless steel, cast iron or ceramic cookware.

Because I want to live in a world where polar bears are not just a history lesson.

The last couple of days

The last couple of days

It’s the last week in London on my part. Or rather, at this point it is only the last few days. I’ve been stalling writing this post, just like I’ve been stalling actually packing my bags.

Two bags. One suitcase and one backpack. And the familiar feeling just before a big change. It was a lot more distant before I actually sat down today to see how much of my stuff I could actually get into the bags.

Most, as it turns out. Our place isn’t that big, and we always knew we were going back to Norway. The books are a problem. We’ll figure it out.

Friday, Norway. Monday, Trondheim, and a whole new chapter will begin.

Emil is terribly exited and has been looking at flats for the last couple of days. This time, maybe, we’ll get something nice where we can actually live.

So, of course, I had to go one last trip to Kew before heading off. Easily the best thing about London. This time they had a guided tour on rhododendrons. We even got a small tour of the old part of the herbarium, which we are told now houses over 6 million different samples, and where they receive over 30 000 new samples every year. Kew is amazing.

My life is in suitcases and boxes again, but at least this time we know what we’re going to.

So let’s Bilbo it up and get this adventure on the road!

The Name of the Wind

I am rereading it again. Possibly one of the most important stories I ever read as an adult. Most of all because, as a student, I never felt like I had time to read anything non-curriculum related. There was always a student’s guilt of not having studied enough, read enough or worked enough.

So it was with some trepidation and a slight bit of delight that I picked up The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, one mild summer afternoon under the Arctic midnight sun. I think I had just finished my exams, or maybe it was just that year’s lectures that had ended. I was free as a leaf on the wind, and I had been sending long glances after this book with the cliché cover and enticing back blurb. I had not let myself afford it before, but it kept beckoning me. Tempting me in the gorgeous bookshop that is oh, so common in both Norwegian universities I have attended, but woefully lacking in my partner’s London campus, as they are just not able to compete with Amazon.

As I mentioned, I had not read a book purely for my own enjoyment in years. I had a bad case of student’s guilt and an empty purse. The book cost at least half a week’s worth of good food. A whole week’s worth in a skint time. I was feeling hollow myself, studying because that was what I did.

Little did I know that the fat, little book would soon become my new treasure. A way back into the long-loved fantasy books of my youth.

In the very beginning, the prologue and mood-setting in the Waystone Inn confused me. It took a bit to get started. I thought I knew what was going on, doubted myself, but it turned out I had been right after all. I sat in my landlady’s good couch. The kind that is meant for snuggling up with a cup of steaming tea and a good, well-read book.

Once the book got started proper, the rest of my tea got cold. Over my head, the midnight sun wandered around the horizon in a way that is natural to the northerner’s but difficult to describe in writing. The feeling of night with the quiet, crisp silence and yet the light is bright as day. It is delightful, and a perfect setting for drowning in a book. And boy, did I drown.

I pulled an all-nighter then. Something I have only done a small handful of times in my entire life. I read the whole little brick of a book in one single setting, only interrupted by a call of nature. And because I was slow to the party I had the liberty of being able to walk back to the bookstore the day after and pick up the second book. This one I did not read in one sitting, but it was a delight all the same, even at less than 48 hours. Not as much as the first one perhaps, but there is always something special about being first.

Because I have a tendency to go a bit mad once I latch onto somthing, I searched for more of his works. What I found was his blog, and I read happily through the archives for perhaps two days straight. After that I still keep tabs on it. He has a lovely way with words. A lyrical way that dances through your mind, even without the melodic rhymes of a song or a verse. It just rolls beautifully off the page in thoughtful, lilting syllables. He rekindled something in me that had been forced under a lid for several years as I felt too busy by my science curriculum: A love for the well-written word and stories that don’t just follow the narrow path.

At some point I actually sent him an email. It was gushing and embarassing, but underneath was a question that had burned inside me for a very long time. Because all the good fantasy I had read was in English, I was somehow conditioned to think in English, especially when it came to fantasy. I wondered, anxiously, if it was possible for a non-native English speaker to write well in English. To write compelling, beautiful stories in a language that was not their first.

I was not really expecting an answer. Imagine my delight when one arrived in my inbox almost a week later. It was short. At only 27 words it is possibly the least verbose I have ever seen the bearded bard.

Even so, it was 27 words I held close to my heart. By mentioning Russian author Dostoyevski (who wrote in English), he validated years of rocking back and forth between yes, no and maybe.

Then there was The Slow Regard of Silent Things. And Rouges. And Bast. Old Holly was another small delight, even just for the beautiful flow of the words.

For Christmas my partner got me a Kindle. I had not wished for one. It was not that I did not see how one might be convenient, but I do try to keep a decluttered and fairly minimalistic life. It was simply not on my list. Yet now I am finding I quite enjoy it. Whereas before I would bring a book to the airport, and be done and disappointed long before the journey’s end. Now I can bring more than a book, a whole bookshelf worth of books. It is like a magnificent book of books, and it is glorious. I can bring my favourite, most verbose author while still bringing Gaiman, science and new authors I discover along the way. Like Abercrombie, and Lynch. It doesn’t weigh any more in the least, and it has quickly become a tiny treasure trove. An easy way to keep reading because the device itself is slim and light, no matter what heavy tome has currently caught my attention.

This might be a strange way to go about it, but in some strange way of things, I am trying to write out my appreciation to the author who brought me back to the comforting home of fantasy novels of all kinds. I thought about writing reviews, but they would probably have become far too meandering and easily distracted. Probably it would have turned into one long mess of a thing where I try to review all two books and short-stories all at once. And I suppose that simply will not do for a good review.

It is true that I am, somewhat anxiously, returning to the world of science and research in a few months. But this time, I am determined not to let the world of dragons and magic slip me by while I do so. I even make fledgling attempts at crafting stories of my own. They are fledgling, mercurial things. But there is enjoyment in trying to find them in between the words and spaces. It is a delightful hobby, and I hope to keep at it.

So thank you, Rothfuss, for giving me back the delight of well-told stories. For setting my own imagination once again alight.


The road goes ever on and on…

The road goes ever on and on…

So, last Friday I got some pretty world-shifting news. In one relatively short phone call, I was suddenly going to be a PhD student.

This was never something I really aspired to. I felt I lacked the ambitions and the background to make such a thing happen. I was happy with getting a degree in environmental chemistry and helping the world in that way.

As I might have mentioned before, the recession hit as I graduated, and my aspirations towards working in an environmental monitoring lab was temporarily stalled. In London my crafting hobbies were difficult for some reason, which led me to pick up my age old hobbies of reading and writing instead, which was relaxing and enjoyable. I still wanted a job though. Something permanent and preferably related.

Then this PhD position showed up in my job searches back at the university where I did my MSc. It was pretty much an open application. You contact the supervisor, together you craft a proposal, and then you send in a personal proposal along with your application and CV. It was a rare chance, but I avoided it, intimidated by the prospects.

At some point, I realised I was being an idiot. What better chance would someone get to delve deeper into environmental science than to actually have a hand in crafting the proposal yourself? In the ever famous words of… who knows by now? “If not me, who?”

So we crafted a fantastic proposal on new and emerging pollutants and how such pollutants can be easily studied and analysed. And, to my astonishment, we got it.

So now I am in this strange place where I suddenly have to realign my thinking into not just looking up at those ambitious PhD students I’ve spent time with in university already, but actually being one of them. It is an intimidating and at the same time humbling experience.

I suppose since I want to work on environmental issues, I might as well give it my all!

I really want to do this right. The feeling of being equal parts excited and intimidated does not seem to fade. I am still waiting on the official contract from HR, but I have no reason to believe there will be any issues this time, not like the unfortunate incidents around my exchange to Brazil.

I still hope to keep writing though, even if I know there will be far less time for such things. Far less time for anything, really. And still I have every intention of living and enjoying life back in Norway with forests and nature at my doorstep and crafty, inventive friends ready with a cup of tea and long discussions.

It has been two interesting years in the English capitol, but I am ready for a new kind of adventure now.


Source: PhDcomics


Two Man Show

Two Man Show

So, my partner got tickets to the Two Man Show at Soho Theatre this weekend. Not just that, but when he mentioned the show to his supervisor, she made sure his entire class got tickets to see it. He’s been hyped up about it for months, seeing as he missed his chance last time when the tickets had sold out.

As with the time when we went to see the amazing Kate Bornstein last year, I am afraid to admit that I had very little idea about just what it was we were going to see. It is very much my partner who is the theatre geek, but I do appreciate it when it is not too loud.

Two Man Show was well written. I am not sure how it might look to someone who is not at least somewhat familiar with feminist concepts, but I have an inkling that such people might not have found their way to this show. It was located all the way at the top of Soho Theatre, a small, intimate room with limited seating and close proximity to the performers.

It was raw, and aggressive. But it did so without ever really ridiculing the humans they were performing. The men were, make no doubt, men, and yet they were perfectly human and at the same time annoyingly blind to their own privileges. The kind of man you just want to shake because they just don’t get it, and no matter how you try to talk about it, it just isn’t taken or comprehended in the way it was intended.

Both the women and men were presenting several facets in a way that, hopefully, will make us all remember that gender is more than stereotype and expectations. The female characters were tough and vulnerable, just like the male characters were. They hi-lighted issues around problematic tropes like “wearing the pants in a relationship” and “being a man”, not to mention how the entire language we use is structured around male dominance and female submission. Naturally, they opted to turn away from spoken language for several sections of the show, relying on body and dance instead to make their point.

Without giving too much away, I can say that it was good. Well timed to run just before 8. of March. I was thoughtful when I left the theatre. Stuck in my own head for the duration of the trip back home. How can I help? How can I be supportive? What is the best way to reach others with all the issues close to my heart? Veganism, feminism, pollution, overpopulation, discrimination, global warming… don’t ask me to pick just one, because they are all important to me and I want to fight for them all.

At the same time, I am amazed at what has been accomplished in the last 100 years. From Votes For Women to female professors lecturing university halls on feminism and equality. There is a long way to go still, but a lot has been accomplished as well.

My father recently made a comment when I was home for the holidays last time that he had noticed I had grown more political over the last years. Although one of my initial thoughts was just that I had finally grown some opinions.

I suppose he might be right.

Confessions of a 20-something WoW-addict

It’s been niggling at me again lately. That scourge of a game that swallowed so many hours, days, weeks, months and years of my life as a late teen and early to mid twenty-something. I left it many times, yet like so many, I kept coming back to it. Right now, stress and depression means I have a strong desire to play World of Warcraft again. That endlessly time-wasting game that could shut my mind and the world out for ages at a time.

Luckily, it’s not just easy to get back to it. A year ago, I managed to save up to buy a new laptop. I’ve been running exclusively on Ubuntu ever since. To get WoW to work here, I’d have to fiddle with a windows emulator and pull our some small programming effort, read tutorials and download a massive amount of gigabytes over our slightly wonky wifi.

I suppose all of those things are problems I should be overcoming or cursing, depending on my mood, but on the contrary. If they can keep me away from that game I don’t really want to play, that is good. Or rather, I want to, but don’t want to at the same time.

Right now, a part of me really want to play. Work is stressful and a depression is looming. I want to play with my partner too. But he knows no one who played WoW who was not addicted in some way and he is very apprehensive about it. Luckily for me, as it adds yet another layer of obstacles on the road to playing again. Most of these obstacles I’ve laid myself, and with good reason.

So we have been playing these ridiculous smartphone games instead. For hours and weeks when we have spare time in the evening and on the weekend. It might be just as much a waste of time, but at the very least a smartphone has limits. It has a limited battery life and there is a limit to how big the games can be, just as much as there is a limit to how complex they can be. After a certain amount of hours or days, we grow bored and move on to something else. They give that gratification of a few hours wasted on a mindless game, but without the hook of just another level or just another X, Y or Z.

It is something I have never been able to explain to someone without an addictive personality. That pull and desire to get back at the colourful, fantastic world in front of the screen. A world where you are good at something without much investment. A world where you earn money, complete quests, level up and life seems to work.

Yet, and this might sound odd considering all I’ve just written, I don’t really want to play. At some point, I realised that I didn’t want to be good at tailoring or alchemy or herbalism in some game. I wanted to be good at those things in real life! It might sound ridiculous, but that was my revelation, and I’ve tried hard to clutch at it whenever the old desire rears it’s head and makes me stumble.

I have googled more than once how to play WoW on Ubuntu, but I am happy to say that I have not actually gone to the step of downloading the game. Yet. Knock on wood, etc.

I want to write,  I want to draw, I want to create and… to my own astonishment, right now I also want to research and do science. Good scientists don’t waste time on WoW. I try to tell myself, which is ridiculous, of course. They do if they want to, they are people just like everybody else.

In less than five months we will pack up our belongings and return to Norway. If we are lucky, perhaps we might even return to a city with a healthy, thriving viking reenactment community where the urges will be stalled by crafting nights, tea, laughter and hiking in the fresh, crisp air of the mountains.

And I want to keep writing and creating. While we are here, writing is the easiest, but I hope to take courses in ceramics as well. That feel, that smoothness, that touch a good artisan has with their trade, that is not something any amount of skill points in a computer game can replace.

At least, that is what I am trying to tell myself.

I might just put on The Hobbit again. The gorgeous craftsmanship and attitude of the hobbits always seem to help quell these urges. And have you looked in the art books? Goodness me, those things are gorgeous! Enough to make even someone like me want to pick up carpentry and woodcarving as well!