Yesterday was a dismal day here at the cottage. The fog hung thick around the walls and the newly prepped ski tracks were ruined by rain. There was nothing to tempt us to go outside and it was a challenge to find something to take photographs of.

However, it was a very good excuse to do nothing except snuggle up in a comfy chair and read a good book. In my case “From Plate to Pixel“. I am trying to get better at taking food photographs and found the book both inspiring and full of practical and useful advice. As today is “Fastelaven” (Shrovetide in English – at least that is the best translation I have found) I also wanted to make some buns. This Sunday is the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent and traditionally it is also the last opportunity to eat well before the fast. Fattening yeast buns filled with cream are usually served sometime during the day.

When the children were small we often filled a basket with hot chocolate and buns and carried it off to Ulabrand, to sit there looking out over the sea on a cold and crisp winter’s day.  Buns filled with whipped cream in a basket and walking is not a good combination, so we created our own tradition by inserting a piece of chocolate in the buns. The challenge was to get to Ulabrand whilst the buns were still hot and the chocolate inside meltingly soft.

The recipe has gradually evolved, from using white flour and sugar, to using spelt and raw sugar. Yesterday it dawned on me that chocolate and orange is a lovely combination, so why not include orange zest in the recipe… The smell of baking orange filled the cottage and the buns turned out exceedingly delicious. If you would like to have a go, the recipe follows below.

Now what has all this got to do with Edradour? Nothing, except that a “wee dram” at the close of a mellow day was the perfect ending. In June last year we visited Scotland’s smallest whisky distillery. They only produce two barrels a day and everything is done by hand, including shoveling the malt. We bought a bottle of one of their most smooth whiskies and it is only brought out at very special moments. Yesterday, for some odd reason, was one of those. The ambiance in the cottage, the warm, snug feeling of sitting by the fireplace, with the dog at our feet – everything was the perfect setting for a wee dram.

The day drew to a close, you could nearly hear the angels whispering good night.

Chocolate and orange yeast buns

For 15-16 large buns you will need:

  • 350g cold milk
  • 100g cold butter
  • 100g raw sugar
  • 1tsp dried yeast or a peasized lump of fresh yeast
  • grated rind of one well washed orange
  • 550g sifted spelt (farro) flour and a little extra flour if you think the dough is too loose.
  • 15-16 pieces of good dark chocolate
  • A little flour for shaping the dough
  • 1 egg whisked with a tablespoon of milk for egg wash
  • A little rough cut sugar brown or white for topping

Use a Thermomix or a food processor to incorporate the butter in the flour together with the dried yeast if you’re not using fresh. If you are using fresh yeast dissolve the yeast in the milk and add the orange zest. Tip the flour mixture into the bowl and mix well. Cover, and let stand for 8-10 hours (or overnight) at room temperature. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead for a minute or two. You may need to add a little more flour at this stage. Divide the dough into two parts and roll each piece out into a “sausage” which you cut into 7 or 8 pieces. Insert a piece of chocolate in to each and roll into a ball. Place on a baking sheet. (You will probably need two baking sheets.) Let rise under a tea towel for 45 min.

Set your oven to 225ºC. Brush the egg wash on the buns and drizzle some sugar on top. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes depending on how hot your oven is. Keep an eye on them the last few minutes. You don’t want them getting too brown.

Serve warm with a cup of hot chocolate. Enjoy!

PS: I am thinking of replacing the milk with orange juice next time. I think they may become even more delicious.

PS for Thermomix owners: You may wonder why I don’t use the TM to knead the dough. This dough is a little sticky and I find it more of a hassle to scrape out the dough to let it rise in another bowl, than to mix it quickly by hand.

Helter skelter in the “stabbur”

“Stabbur” is the Norwegian name for the house where grains and other food were stored on the farms before the time of fridges and freezers. This was also where cured meats were hung to dry. These houses were built so that mice and other rodents couldn’t enter. Some are still in use for air drying meat and to keep a freezer or two, but mostly these houses are now used as storage space.

Our stabbur has definitely been used for storage, and the way things have been put down wherever there was some empty space has created a fascinating mess. No one seems to have tidied up or thought about sorting out things for the last 100 years or so. It is fascinating to go in there and just look and try to figure out what things have been used for. There are at least a thousand and one mysteries to solve. My thoughts also turn to the people who used these things; who used them, why, and why put things just there?

Snow shoes for the horse ...

I go into a kind of trance looking at these things, some of them are really beautiful. The wood planer is worn smooth and oiled by rough hands that have held it for hours on end. The handle on the meat grinder likewise.

An old door handle lies in the corner, the brass gone dull by not having been in use. Wooden strap-on skates hang from a nail, the curly tipped blades gone rusty.

Leather skistraps

Home made skies and sticks hang on a beam above my head. It is not hard to imagine the strength needed to move forward on these skies in unprepared tracks, whereas we glide along silky, smooth ski tracks on super light skis. I wonder who are the lucky ones? The ones who made the skies themselves and then conquered the snow slopes on skies they really could be proud of … or us who don’t have to struggle much for what we have.

A decrepid ladies bicycle stands in a corner – something must have been broken otherwise it wouldn’t have been carried up to the loft and tucked away in a corner, or perhaps the person who owned it was too old to use it?

In another corner are all kinds of carpentry tools, each one a wonder to behold. How on earth did they manage to get things done with these things? Things must have taken time – but then again by having to use time on making things, they probably appreciated them much more.

The women on the farm wove most of the linens. There are still beautiful items in some of the drawers. In the corner of the loft the old loom lies in pieces; it would be an interesting challenge to put it together again. Whether or not it can be put to use is a different matter.

It is nearly a shame to sort this out, but by cataloging it in pictures, some of the memories will hopefully be retained. We aim to try to sort this out one day and display the things on the farm where future generations can see what has gone on before them.

I wonder what Miss Piggy thinks of this, hanging there by the door, staring at intruders with her big eyes? Will she be there for the next generation?

The untouched cellar

For decades the cellar at the farm has remained untouched. Dust and decay has accumulated and most who enter would probably only see all the dirt and dust and stuff which needs to be cleared out.

I, on the other hand, found it fascinating from an artistic point of view and spent an hour down there yesterday looking for and trying to capture the essence of the place. I did not move a thing. Everything is exactly as I found it. I also only used the available light, which there was very little of, and therefore had to use a tripod. A bounce card would probably have cast a little more light on some of the darker elements, but as I didn’t have one on hand, I had to do without.

The brown bottles you see here are the milk bottles which were used in Norway several decades ago. I can still remember the foil caps and the feeling of pressing down on the centre of them to get the caps to loosen.

The walls of the cellar are about a meter thick and built of big chunks of rock. It’s not hard to imagine the hard physical labour which has gone into building this house.

In the cellar there is a cupboard. Can you see that the woodworms have been at work? Behind the door more treasure is uncovered; old jam jars – still with some contents, and  empty ones waiting to be cleaned and perhaps used again. Can you see the cobwebs?

Last fall I bought some blackberry plants, which are resting here waiting to be planted out in spring.

An old pump is making a splash of color –

On top of another cupboard is yet another still life –

On my way out the door I stopped to reflect on all the hard work that had gone into making this cellar, but not only that; this place has stored all the crops that have been grown on this farm; potatoes, rutabaga, turnips, and other vegetables as well as all kinds of berries, both those grown on the farm and picked in the nearby forest. Hours, and hours, and hours of hard work. The people who lived here were very self sufficient – I hope we can do this place justice! Thank you fate for giving us this opportunity to grow and learn and respect those who came before us.

And if after this, you think we are mad to take on a project like this – you may be right, but the house is very solid and it just needs a little care and attention and then I’m sure both we and the farm will be happy.