Farming in Norway

April 25, 2016

Intrepid explorer, I find myself presently in the airport of Trondheim Vaernes, Norway, awaiting my next mode of transportation.

I’ve been absent from this blog for quite some time, so a little catching-up is in order. In February and March, I spent three weeks Wwoofing on an organic sheep farm on the Norwegian island of Jøa. I am now headed back for an extra month. Continue reading

Wild Brussels!

Forêt de Soignes - Brussels' Oasis.

Forêt de Soignes – Brussels’ Oasis.

Brussels is a city of unexpected wildlife. In the space of two days, I have seen both a lone fox and a colony of bats (also a documentary about swifts, but that is irrelevant). Though these sightings are not the stuff of safaris, to me they feel exotic. Amid cobblestones, cars and buildings, animals enchant me; their encounter is a step into a fairytale.

As I was saying, on Monday evening I met a fox on luxurious Avenue Louise. He waited for the green light and crossed ahead of us pedestrians. As the approaching tram 93 caught him in its headlights, Continue reading

Marie’s Garden : Self-Picking

One of my fondest childhood memories is of blueberry-picking with my grandmother and my brother. We’d drive out to a farm outside of Atlanta and return with our buckets and bellies full of berries.

Therefore I was thrilled to discover that a self-picking farm had sprouted up near Brussels. Without further delay — well, I heard about it in spring and waited until September — Mum and I headed out there last weekend.

A glowing pumpkin field.

A glowing pumpkin field.

Though only fifteen minutes out of the European capital, Marie’s Garden lies nestled in the countryside. The rural air makes people cheerful; they debate about how many onions to buy, and show their children how to pick leeks.

In addition to leeks, the Garden grows all manner of things : kale, yellow squash, Brussels sprouts, green beans, pumpkins, raspberries, mint, and even teetering sunflowers. Mum and I picked green beans for dinner, along with squash, a few kale leaves, and the odd raspberry.

Posing with the season's last raspberry — and some grass, after I spilled all our raspberries on the ground.

Posing with the season’s last raspberries — and some grass, after I spilled all our raspberries on the ground and had to pick them up.

It felt great to be crouched under the sun, plucking our dinner from the warm dirt. I’ve often found nature has this restorative power. I guess something deep down inside of us needs that connection to the earth, to greenness and growing.

I would highly recommend visiting Marie’s Garden. Though Brussels has its fair share of local markets where you can purchase great produce, there’s something so unique about harvesting it yourself. And they sell ice cream. I need say no more.

Marie’s Garden
Valkenweg 116
3090 Overijse
Tue-Fri : 13:30-17:00 (cashier closes at 16:50)
Sat : 10:30-17:00
Sun : 10:30-16:00

Rain and Elderflowers

It’s been a rainy Wednesday here — not unusual in Brussels.
As my next exam is only in a week, I’d scheduled to take a day off today. I’m glad I did, because I woke up feeling awfully fuggy, with heavy limbs and a sore throat. I spent the morning drinking ginger tea with honey and reading the third Harry Potter*.
Despite the tea, my sluggishness persisted, so I decided a nice walk in the woods was just the thing to wake me up. The woods — a mere fifteen-minute-walk from our house — are my comfort place. Every time I go there I feel bathed in peace. I almost like them even better in the rain, because it gives everything so much muchness. The colors are brighter, the smells stronger, the air fresher. It beautifies nature. (For example, have you ever noticed how water snakes down tree trunks in solitary rivulets? The shiny tendrils of water remind me of snail trails.) Besides, the rain chases everyone away; the chipmunks and I get the place to ourselves.

Once there, I wandered along some of my favorite paths, pausing now and then to admire minute details : frail ferns, a colorful birch tree, a petrified vole.
When I came out onto the main path, my eyes were drawn by some yellow-white flowers. I would never have looked at them twice, had I not recently seen a picture of the very same flowers on David Lebovitz’s blog. Upon reading his post — in which he leisurely stops to pick elderflowers in the French countryside — I had felt wistful, and slightly jealous (“Gosh, I wish I could just stumble upon elderflowers and bring them home to make cordial!”). But here, in front of my very eyes, were elderflowers, I was sure of it!
Why, I could pick some too! Visions of whicker baskets and homemade cordial filled my mind while a blissful smile spread across my face.
As I continued on my way, I realised there were at least ten elder trees in the vicinity. I’d never noticed them until I spotted that first one. There were large trees, their sprays of flowers as big as my hand, and baby trees, with wispy, aspiring flowers.
However, by now I was starting to feel sick again, so I made my way home to fortify myself with some lunch. Filled with enthusiasm, I looked up recipes on Internet.
But … uh oh. At this point, my conscience chose to make a belated entrance, ruining the fun, as consciences often do. Say, it whispered, you’re so big on protecting the environment. Shouldn’t you perhaps have qualms about picking all the tree’s flowers? I’m sure it’s not allowed.
Well, sure enough, a quick search on the Forest Authorities’ website informed me that the picking of flowers is forbidden, as each and every little plant plays an important role in the ecosystem. Drat. As a member of the environmental group at my university, I couldn’t very well go against this direct injunction.
Ah well. The dream of elderflower cordial lives on. Perhaps the local park has no such rule.
Later on, I baked scones, as they seemed the only fitting conclusion to a rainy day. I curled up with a mug of tea, a buttered scone, and Harry Potter. Aah.

* On Harry Potter : I’ve read the books so many times, I know them nearly by heart. They’re sort of my go-to book when I feel gloomy. Reading a Harry Potter book, I find, is the equivalent of curling up in a quilt, with a warm cup of tea.

The In-Between Month.

A fiery, fallen leaf. © Allison O.

Autumn colors.
© Allison O.

I love October.

A rainy windowpane; a crisp, sunny morning; the crunch of an apple; the smile of a jack-‘o-lantern; the shuffle-shuffle of leaves.

It’s a month full of simple pleasures, of oft-repeated traditions.

Inside, October means getting out slippers, bathrobes, blankets and furry socks. Turning up the heat, closing the door, and snuggling down, your hands cupping a steaming mug of tea.

With October come hearty soups and stews, squat little pumpkins, hunched on people’s doorsteps, and oozing apple pies. But above all, October means the smell of pumpkin bread, wafting in warm waves from the kitchen, as my mother pulls out the fresh loaves.

Weather-wise, October has a few tricks up its sleeve. It starts out sunny and warm, leading us to believe it’s still summer — something we are only too ready to fall for. However, under its cloak hides winter, ready to stretch out its icy fingers.

Though we may be deceived by the warm spell, the trees know better. Already, their leaves are falling, gathering in mulchy piles on the ground.

Every morning when I pay for the tram to glide me along the avenue, I am also buying a front-row ticket to the park, in full dress rehearsal : robes of purple, yellow, orange, ochre and red, a glorious blaze of colors.

In the nearby woods, the earth is covered in blankets of leaves. Beechnuts crunch underfoot. Now and then, a hurried chipmunk scurries about in the underbrush, an acorn firmly clasped in its mouth.

Everywhere, nature is readying for the winter ahead.

Slowly but surely, the humans are too. Already, there’s a feel of Christmas in the air, so thick you can almost taste it. Visions of fir trees and turkey creep into people’s minds, as stores put up early decorations.

I find October’s duality wonderful. October signals the end of summer and the beginning of the holiday-season. It is a month of beautiful colors, of edible traditions, a month of warmness and togetherness, of tea and of magic.

It’s a crisp apple.  It’s a patchwork quilt.

It’s a piece of pumpkin bread.