Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!!!!!

I already know what you are thinking. You're looking at the clock and saying to yourself "What? It's not the New Year yet!"

Well, that's all a matter of geography. It's 5 p.m. here in Minnesota, which means that it's now midnight in Norway. Right now people across Norway are celebrating with their families and friends, hosting parties, out dancing or sharing a quiet night with loved ones. Well, to be accurate, they were doing those things a few minutes ago. Now most everyone is probably outside watching the fireworks.

So, with that, on behalf of everyone here, I wish our Norwegian readers and members an exuberant HAPPY NEW YEAR!

An updated Gløgg Recipe for your New Year's Eve Party

In preparations for tonight's New Year festivities our Cultural Advisor, Colin Thomsen, has a great gløgg recipe for you. We've been enjoying it, here at the headquarters, for many years now and we figure there's no reason to keep it a secret. Making gløgg is not only fun, but it's a great way to spend time with others, sharing stories and celebrating Norwegian culture.

Here's what Colin had to say about gløgg:

This recipe for gløgg, Scandinavian mulled wine, comes from a 1968 Time-Life cookbook called The Cooking of Scandinavia. We’re not sure if their intent was to entice or to frighten. The cover features a glass of akevitt next to what looks like a ten gallon jar of pickled herring. The recipe, entitled “Professörens Glögg (The Professor’s Glögg)” is identified as being specifically Swedish, although we have no idea why. Swedish, Norwegian or whatever, this gløgg is the best we’ve had. Here is the original recipe and instructions, followed by our own commentary and notes on preparation.

Professørens gløgg

Adapted from Recipes: The Cooking of Scandinavia. Time-Life Books. New York, 1968

To serve 20-25

2 quarts dry red wine (about 2 standard 750 mL bottles)
2 quarts muscatel (or muscato)
1 pint sweet vermouth
2 tablespoons Angostura bitters
2 cups raisins
Peelings of 1 orange
12 whole cardamoms, bruised in a mortar with a pestle or by covering with a towel and crushing with a rolling pin
10 whole cloves
1 piece (about 2 inches) of fresh ginger
1 stick cinnamon
1 ½ cups akevitt (preferably Linie)
1 ½ cups sugar
2 cups whole almonds, blanched and peeled

In a 6- to 8-quart enameled or stainless steel pot, mix together the dry red wine, muscatel, sweet vermouth, bitters, raisins, orange peel and the slightly crushed cardamoms, whole cloves, ginger and cinnamon. Cover and let the mixture stand at least 12 hours so that the flavors will develop and mingle. Shortly before serving, add the akevitt and the sugar. Stir well and bring it to a full boil over high heat. Remove at once from the heat, stir in the almonds and serve the hot gløgg in mugs. In Sweden, a small spoon is placed in each mug to scoop up the almonds and raisins.

ALTERNATE: To make a simpler gløgg, divide the quantities of spices in half and mix them with 2 bottles of dry red wine. Leave it overnight, then stir in ¾ cup of sugar and bring it almost to a boil. Remove from the heat, stir in 1 cup of whole, blanched and peeled almonds, and serve hot.

Those are the original ingredients and instructions. Before making gløgg, read our commentary below.

Forty years after this recipe was published, it holds up pretty well. Still, times have changed and moreover through experimentation we have made a number of adjustments and changes of our own.

First off, until this year, we had never made this gløgg the night before it was meant to be served. Frankly, we had never remembered. Every year we would take out the cookbook the day of the big Christmas party and realize we’d blown it yet again. However, we were never disappointed either. Having said that, this year, we did manage to throw the spices in the wine the night before and the result was even more delicious. So, if you’re organized enough to get it together a whole day ahead of time, by all means do so, but if you’re not, don’t let it stop you.

Secondly, muscatel per se can be difficult to find. Strictly speaking, muscatel is a sweet white dessert wine that is derived only from Muscat of Alexandria grapes. We have never been able to find muscatel in our area (Minneapolis/St. Paul) although we were able to find it online, with prices ranging from about $6 to almost $70. However, muscato – derived from the same family of grapes – is widely (and cheaply) available and works great. If you really want to go for higher quality but can’t find a nice muscatel, I’m sure Lillet Blanc would be just fine. We have always used Linie Aquavit which compliments the spices nicely, but the Oslo brand would probably be good as well.

Another point is that we do not recommend simply chucking all the spices into the pot loose. In our experience people do not like finding whole cloves in their cups (or their teeth). Instead, we put the orange peel, the ginger and all of the spices - with the exception of the cinnamon stick - in a piece of cheesecloth, tie that off with a piece of string and toss the whole thing in with the wine at the very beginning, then take it out at the last second before serving. The cinnamon stick (or sticks – you can never have too much fresh cinnamon in there) we leave out to get a better flavor and also for fear they will puncture the cheesecloth. A side note: don’t try to substitute ground spices for the whole ones. We tried this the first time we made it, in order to save a few bucks, and the result was a gritty, chewy gløgg that had the body of coffee dregs. Shell out the extra $2 and buy the whole spices, or you’ll be sorry.

Finally – and most importantly – we never allow the gløgg to boil. We don’t know what “the Professor” was supposed to be a professor of, but it sure wasn’t chemistry. Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water so bringing the gløgg to a boil even for a short time can severely deplete its psychoactive properties. We use a liquid thermometer and are careful to keep the mixture below 78°C (173°F), the point at which alcohol boils.

In a nutshell, our preparation is to simply start by mixing the red wine, the muscato, and the spices in the pot over low heat. Once this mixture has warmed up a little, add the akevitt and the vermouth to taste - generally, we use a little less vermouth and a little more akevitt than the recipe calls for. As the drink heats up, we gradually add the sugar, stirring regularly so that the sugar dissolves completely. Once that’s done, add the raisins and almonds. Then add the bitters, one tablespoon at a time, tasting after stirring in the first one. If it doesn’t need the second tablespoon of bitters, don’t add it.

The whole process will take a couple of hours. Don’t try to multitask when you’re making gløgg. You’re going to need every ounce of your steadily diminishing concentration to keep the stuff from boiling. It should be served warm, in small cups, and make sure everyone gets some raisins and almonds in their cup. Some people will complain about this, but after a cup or two, they’ll realize it’s the best gløgg they’ve ever had.


Norwegian Movie Night

As a new parent the option of going out on the town tonight is pretty much out of the question. That being the case, my wife and I are going to have a Norwegian movie marathon tonight. We've got Buddy, Insomnia and Sweetland, all courtesy of Sons of Norway's Media Lending Library!

Buddy is a story about the lives of three guys in an apartment who wind up on television, thanks to one of the guys' video diaries. The story shows the convoluted consequences of baring your inner thoughts to the masses and that only the discovery of true loyalty and redemptive friendship can make experience into something positive.

stars Stellan Skarsgård as a detective who has been sent to a town in Northern Norway, where he investigates the murder of a young girl. This movie is like film noir in reverse, because the movie is set during a time of year when the sun NEVER sets and the characters are forced to face the unfolding mystery in the harsh light of day.

Last of all, Sweetland is about a young German, named Inge Alltenburg, who travels to Minnesota in the 1920's to marry Olaf Torvik, a Norwiegan man who lives there. It is a story about Inge and Olaf not being allowed to marry due to there different citizenship's, and not being accepted because of the war with Germany. Over time she learns English and befriends Olaf, Frances, and Frances' family.

I can't wait to watch them all! And the best part is that it's all free because I am a Sons of Norway member. That's right, Sons of Norway has a complimentary lending library for its members that includes hundreds of music and video titles. It's a great member benefit for individuals and lodges. Check it out sometime if you've got a hankering for some Elling or Cool and Crazy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Did you know?

Did you know...

That today's Featured Article on Wikipedia's homepage is all about Gunnhild, Mother of Kings, who is a prominent figure in many of the Norse Sagas?

That according to the CIA Factbook there were only 1.988 million home telephones in Norway, as of 2007, but at the same time there are 5.192 million cell phones in use? I'm guessing it has something to do with the proliferation of cell phone use by children. A recent article over at Norway Post says that 9 out of 10 Norwegian 10-year-olds have their own cell phone. What makes this even more extraordinary is that there are only 4.7 million people in the country. That means that roughly half a million people have more than one cell phone! For what, I have no idea. I can't get the one I have to stop ringing, so I don't know why anyone would want double the aggravation.

Norway and Russia are currently in a territorial dispute over a chunk of land that is called "Dronning Maud Land" (or Queen Maud Land)? It's about the size of Alaska and Texas combined, but only has an average yearly population of six. That's right, six is not a typo. On average six Norwegians live there year-round at a research station called Troll. The reason, you ask? Because Queen Maud Land is in Antarctica. Hopefully you can see the humor, like I do, in that two first-world nations are arguing over barren chunk of land at the bottom of the world where six people live.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Norwegian Christmas

With tonight being Christmas Eve many families use this time to do something together. I know mine sure does, so in that vein I've got some great places for you to check out if you're looking for something to do tonight.

First of all, Sons of Norway members can check out our Information Banks, where we have a couple great items on Christmas in Norway and, for those who like to sing, Norwegian Christmas Carols.

But for those of us who live in the north with the cold and snow, there are other things you can stay inside and do. How about some last minute decorations? Click here to learn how to make Norwegian Christmas baskets for your tree. Or, if you feel like doing some baking tonight, why not try making some krumkake with a traditional recipe?

There's so much a family can do and that's the best part, I think; being with family and loved ones.

Alright everybody, have a merry Christmas and we'll go back to blogging about winter and the New Year on Friday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We now resume our regular programming

Ok, so I’ve gotten a number of e-mails and comments, in recent days, asking why there hasn’t been as much activity on the blog over the last couple of weeks. I confess it’s entirely my fault. I’ve just been through one of the most exciting (and tiring) experiences of my life, and now that things are starting to settle back into a routine of sorts I can take a moment to tell you about it.

You see, my lovely wife gave birth to our first child, a 6 lb 15 oz boy named Sig, on December 5th and I’ve been spending most of the last two weeks at home with our new bundle of joy! I’m happy to report that he’s healthy, happy and, as of today, a 4th generation Sons of Norway member!

He’s a cutie, right? So, there you have it. I think it’s a pretty good reason to temporarily drop off the radar, don’t you? But never fear because regular blogging has resumed!

Resumption of regular blogging…sort of
You know what one of the hardest parts of having a child can be? Picking a name. Think about it for a second; the name you choose will be one of the first, and most basic, way in which your child will define themselves. It will be a huge part of their identity. Because of this, my wife and I looked for a name that we felt represented our German and Norwegian heritage, but was somewhat unique without being cumbersome. We chose the name Sig because it is somewhat uncommon while also being a shortened version of a number of Germanic and Scandinavian names, like Sigbjörn, Sigefrid, Sigfinn, Sigar, Sigvald or Sigurd.

This kind of got me thinking, though. What if my wife and I lived in Norway when Sig was born? Norway has some pretty strict name laws (though they have reportedly relaxed a bit in the last five years) that date back to the 1800’s. Would we have been able to name him Sig or would we have had to go with the full Sigbjörn? Maybe, maybe not.

The most current version of the law, from 2003, states:

One of the most important differences from the old naming law is that a first name can be given as long as it will not cause significant disadvantage to the person concerned or other strong reasons within the realms of common sense. Previously, the name could not cause “disadvantage” but the addition of the word “significant” means that Norwegians now have more freedom in choosing a name.

A restriction in choosing a first name is that if the name is registered as a surname or middle name, it cannot be given to a child unless that name is already a traditional Norwegian first name, or a name in another country or culture where there is no separation of middle and surnames.

To read the full law, you can view it here in Norwegian or you can read a rough English translation here.

There’s also some interesting blog posts about the name laws here and here as well as news stories about them here and here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seasonal Notes

The moose are loose!
And in the ever popular elgnytt (moose news):
Watch where you drive! As the weather gets cold, moose wander near cars, wreaking havoc wherever they roam! Well, perhaps it’s not quite so dramatic, but one article states that 1,321 moose were killed in traffic accidents last year alone, with many more occurrences in the wintertime versus summertime.
Possible explanations? Tasty shrubs along roadways and the alluring salt on the roads. Either way, if you’re living or vacationing in Norway this over the next few months, watch for the kings (and queens) of the forest…

Santa, errr, Julenisse and Julebukk are coming to town
Who stops at your Norwegian-friendly home on Christmas? Does the julenisse beat Santa to the punch? Are you prepared for his visit?
Here are a few tips to working with the julenisse so he doesn’t play tricks on you:
• do leave the farm animals to his care – he’s supposed to guard them!
• don’t forget to leave him a bowl of porridge – yum!

If you want to write to the julebukk, who will come to your home, bearing gifts, or the julenisse, you can address notes to:
N-1440 Drøbak

Friday, December 12, 2008

Norwegian Population Hits Record High

This article from Dagbladet caught our attention this morning. According to new figures just released from Statistics Norway, by the end of the year there will be 4,801,100 people living in Norway, making a record high increase of 1.3% for the year. The net population increase for the year is estimated to be 63,900 people.

All of Norway’s counties have shown a population increase this year, the largest increases being in Oslo and Akershus with 15,516 and 9,363 persons respectively. In Rogaland the increase is expected to be 7,973 people while Hordaland will be up by 7,051. The lowest population growth is in Finnmark which will grow by only 36 people.

Nearly 30% of the population growth is the result of net births, while 70% comes from net migration from abroad. Two years ago net births accounted for 42% of the increase and migration 58%.

For more information (in English) click here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting to Know...District 5 International Director Jostein Bakken

Ah, Jostein Bakken – the enthusiastic International Director from District 5. Read on to reminisce with him about emigrating from Norway and what might make for a stronger Sons of Norway.

Q: How did you get involved with Sons of Norway?

A: It goes back many years, when I first came to this country. My uncle took me to the lodge down here, Skjold 5-100. I was a member from late 1950 to the middle of 1960. Then I moved away, built a house, started a business and then came back again in 1980. Been a member ever since … about 43 years.

Q: What’s different about Sons of Norway now, as compared with then?

A: Not an awful lot has changed, I must admit. We have more young people now, but we had some then .. Of course, I was younger back then… Meetings are getting shorter…
What changes would you like to see in the organization in the next few years?
I think programs have to be improved. I don’t think that giving medallions are doing the job. Of course, I think the tickets to Norway are a good promotion, but it’s so hard to get programs. They aren’t the interesting and educational programs that we should be offering.

Q: Which leadership position within the organization have you enjoyed the most? Why?

A: [without a moment’s hesitation] District president. That was the most fun time in my life in Sons of Norway. The people! I felt at home. The board was really nice to work with, and I enjoyed that the most. And, also, you get to know and visit more people.

Q: When did you come to the U.S.?

A: I came to the United States the 16th of January 1950.

Q: Why?

A: I came for work. I was emigrating.

Q: What do you miss about Norway?

A: Well, of course, I think of Norway because it’s my motherland and it’s a beautiful country – lot of hills, lots of mountains and I was used to it. It was quite a change when I went back for a trip to visit my sister— she is still living there. I didn’t recognize it because it looked so small. I still have Norway in my mind and I frequently go back.

Q: What’s your favorite Norwegian food?

A: At Christmastime, I miss the lutefisk. Every Christmas Eve in Norway, we had lutefisk and ribbe and rømmegrøt.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Norwegian Court Decides Landmark War Crimes Case

This week a court in Oslo sentenced a 42 year-old Bosnian man to five years in prison for his role in war crimes committed in 1992 during the Yugoslav Wars. The case was the first ever prosecuted under new laws allowing Norwegian courts to try cases for crimes against humanity committed outside of Norway.

According to Reuters the convicted man, Misrad Repak, came to Norway in 1993 seeking asylum, and became a Norwegian citizen in 2001. Aftenposten reported that the case began with a tip from Danish police, who were conducting their own investigation into war crimes committed during the conflict. The prosecution’s case alleged that Repak was a mid-level leader in HOS, a Croatian militia, and that he participated in an internment camp were Serbs from the towns Stolac and Capljina were rounded up in 1992. The conviction was for crimes committed in the camp, including torture. Repak was found not guilty on some counts, and the five year sentence is only half of what prosecutors asked for.

Human rights advocates have long been concerned that the generous asylum policies of Norway and the other Nordic countries may have unintentionally made them into safe havens for war criminals. According to Aftenposten there are about 100 persons in Norway suspected of war crimes, including 15 individuals that the Rwandan government has requested be extradited for prosecution for their role in the genocide there in 1994. The new laws, which were passed in 2005 but only came into effect just this year, are intended to show that war criminals will not be tolerated in Norway. Still, the case was extremely complex and the constitutionality of the new laws is yet to be tested. Judge Finn Haugen told the Norwegian press that he believes that the case will and should go to the Norwegian Supreme Court so that the legal principles underlying it can be fully evaluated.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Getting to Know…District 7 International Director Erik Brochmann

The vivacious Erik Brochmann has been an upstanding Sons of Norway member since 1970. Currently hailing from Vancouver, Erik is doing a bang-up job as the International Director for District 7.

Q: What drew you to Sons of Norway?

A: When I got to Canada in 1970--the day after I arrived--I was approached by the field representative at that time, and he sold me insurance. That’s how I got involved, and I’ve been a member ever since, and I haven’t regretted it. It’s been a great 38 years.

Q: What positions have you held within the organization?

A: We’ll start with the beginning. Lodge: assistant social director counselor president oh, and financial secretary At the district level: publicity director vice president president And then international director!

Q: Which was your favorite? Why?

A: Well, I think the publicity director position was very interesting, but I don’t know if that was my favorite... I think the international director has been very interesting, it’s been a learning curve from day one. I think from a lodge level, it’s hard to see the whole perspective. We see, especially in Canada, the fraternal portion more than the business portion.

Q: How does District 7 differ from the other districts?

A: There is some difference – the insurance thing is the big difference – but apart from that we’re not really that different.

Q: Where are you from? What brought you to Canada?

A: I was born in Bergen, Norway. In 1970, I moved to Canada. I was actually at sea, sailing as an electrician on an ocean going vessel. The ship was called Vancouver and I was asked if I wanted a job with a shipping company there in Vancouver. We moved back to Norway, but we only lasted two years, two and a half… Then I was relocated to Savannah, GA. There was no lodge there, but I stayed connected to Sons of Norway.
After a few more moves, Erik and his wife, Veronica, and their children finally came back to Vancouver to settle in 1986.

Q: What’s your favorite Norwegian food?

A: Fårikål – lamb and cabbage – that’s the Norwegian national dish!

Q: Favorite Sons of Norway memory?

A: That’s a tough one…to be involved in putting on the international convention in 2006 was a great experience. The way the members got together and chipped in. It was a big undertaking when we decided to do this.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

100th Post!

Hey everyone, guess what??? This is the blog's 100th post!

This is a bit of a milestone for Sons of Norway. When we first launched back in July there were a lot of us at the headquarters (myself included) who wondered how long we'd be able to maintain this blog and keep the information fresh and interesting. Trust, me it's no easy task and takes a lot of effort even on its best days.

But, with 4 months, 100 posts and thousands of visitors so far, I think it's all been well worth it. Nichole, Colin and I hope you feel the same way; that our work in this little corner of the web has been at turns helpful, informative and entertaining for everyone.

So, with that, on to the next post and hopefully 100 more!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Blog Exclusive: Interview with Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strømmen

Friendship Trees
Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strømmen took a minute to talk with Viking magazine about the annual Norwegian Christmas tree ceremony at Union Station in Washington, D.C. This year, Norway gives the U.S. a 32-foot tall spruce as a symbol of friendship and gratitude. The lighting takes place on Nov. 25.

Q: Why is the tree ceremony at Union Station an important tradition for both Americans and Norwegians?

Ambassador Strømmen: Norwegian Christmas at Union Station is a month-long festival celebrating Norwegian culture and the holidays. Since the festival is now in its 12th year, the tree lighting ceremony has become a holiday season kick-off for many people in Washington, D.C.

Q: What is the tree intended to symbolize?

AS: The tree is a symbol of friendship between the United States and Norway. It also expresses Norway’s gratitude for assistance received from the United States during and after World War II.

Q: Do you include any other Norwegian Christmas traditions in the ceremony at Union Station?

AS: On the morning of the ceremony, the Norwegian Embassy helps kick-off the U.S. Marines Toys for Tots campaign. Children from a local elementary school attend, visit with Santa Claus, and see a giant model train start winding its way through a landscape of Norwegian fjords and mountains. The ceremony itself features choir music, speeches and the tree lighting. We also have a Norwegian-American holiday bazaar on a weekend in early December. Norwegian performers in collaboration with the New York Opera Society sing "Music of the sea: A Norwegian Christmas" at the National Gallery of Art, and there will be a Norwegian jazz concert at the Kennedy Center.

What organizations are involved with making this event happen?

AS: The greater Washington chapter of Sons of Norway and other local Norwegian-American organizations contribute, especially to the holiday bazaar. Each year someone is invited to flip the switch to light the 8,000 lights on the tree (TBD for 2008). Previous attendees have been Princess Märtha Louise, the former Mayor of Oslo, and Earl Hyman, whose career in acting was inspired by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

A Norwegian Christmas tree is also gifted each year to England and placed on display in London’s Trafalgar Square. This tree, like the tree given to the United States, is a symbol of friendship as well as a show of thanks for support during World War II.