I don’t fall in love easily beyond an occasional cashmere sweater at an end-of-season sale. When I go someplace new and beautiful and hear my vagabond voice say “maybe you should quit your job and live here instead?”, I can usually shut that bratty inner child right up. What about your family? Your friends? The three dogs who run your life? And don’t you sort of like your day job, the patron saint of culinary travel? This is a regular rhetorical exercise in new neighborhoods of Paris, London, and San Francisco where I wander around so happily. Usually, reason wins out. I schlepp home with jam jars and a few airport chocolates. So the fact that I fell wildly and madly in love with the coastal fjords of Norway and still stand ready to ship all my cashmere sweaters there within an hour, strikes me down with drama.
Maybe we’ve all grown jaded about natural beauty as we watch sherbet-colored beach sunsets one after the other in a Facebook feed. We judge allure against sets for The Bachelor/Bachelorette, loaded, as they are, with candlelit rose petals and night-blooming jasmine. Even a friend’s daring zip-line selfie over a Costa Rican crevasse just doesn’t thrill us like it used to. I felt ennui without feeling a thing. But when I arrived in Norway, its arctic coastline set with silver mountains, I splashed into its waters, broke its bread, hiked its hills, and marveled at all its little flowers. Its air smelled of pine needles and clouds. Its progressive politics lead the world in compassionate governance. Hillside towns sprout fishermen/women and outdoor sports enthusiasts. I got used to fish and sour cream for breakfast after just one go. I delighted in the omnipresent bowls of jams & jellies as if they were love letters. And when did the miracle of butter become something so spiritual?How could this have happened? How could these foods and fishy waters be transformative? How will I ever shake them off, these Norwegian Fjords?
It turns out that love can be bought, and I got an exceptional deal of discovery and renewal at the discreet and sumptuous Solstrand Hotel & Spa. It is near (but not too near) the bustling, funky port town of Bergen. Well beyond my expectations for a few quiet days, I found weathered boats and matching boathouses; a heated infinity pool on the still, slate shore; 4 saunas; an art deco-tiled steam room; a sculpture gallery surrounding the spa; vistas of mountains & impossible clarity at every turn. The cuisine was proudly New Nordic which featured ripe and diverse local cheeses, exotic meats (reindeer, elk, moose), red currants and crackling brown breads…these might have had a little something to do with my swoon. And all this for the same price per night I paid last fall at the airport Marriott on a fully forgettable business trip to Hartford. One was love and one was not. “AND WHEN LOVE SPEAKS, THE VOICE OF ALL THE GODS MAKES HEAVEN DROWSY WITH THE HARMONY.” Shakespeare knows.
More than anything, more than everything, there is salmon.
And it is salmon with some complexity – when is it “lox” (as in our New York City bagels with cream cheese), when is it gravlax, when is it smoked salmon and when is is cured? Here’s a quick summary by Bon Appetit:
GRAVLAX: Well known in Sweden and beyond, gravlax is cured (preserved by a mix of salt, lemon, dill and vodka) for about 2 days but not smoked.
LOX: Salt cured (dried by salt pack) but not smoked
SMOKED: Cured (dried/heated) over wood fire at varying temperatures
COLD-SMOKED: brined with salt, sugar, and then smoked below 80 degrees for 10-15 hours; a few sub-categories:
-Nova – from Gaspe, Nova Scotia or the Western Pacific
-Norwegian – subtle smoke with a little oil & mild flavor
-Irish – fattier and milder than Norwegian
-Wild Pacific – soft with rich flavor and no smokey flavor
-Scottish – fatty, strong and smokey
HOT-SMOKED: brined and smoked between 130-140 degrees 1-3 hours; closer to a baked texture; moist & smokey.
Here are recipes & videos on how to prepare salmon at home.
Maybe all you need is love and lox and in Norway, you can find them both.