Sunday, April 30, 2017


The Hermit Kingdom. It’s a country that leaves many people wondering how exactly it came to be the way it is. For many people, it represents the stereotypical dictatorship. For others, it represents a perpetual problem and threat: a volcano due for its turn. North Korea has certainly made the news in the recent years and especially as of late. The stories I read about this country leave me bewildered (to say it mildly). It’s almost seemingly the opposite of Western civilization as we know it today. But what’s it really like? Few people have been allowed to venture there and have reported back on what it’s like in their everyday lives. 

The name Korea stems from the word Goryeo (also spelled as Koryo). When Persian merchants stopped by, they botched it and pronounced it as Korea. However, its current version wasn’t used until the 17th century when Hendrick Hamel of the Dutch East India Company wrote about it when they were shipwrecked in Korea. After the countries split, it was given the distinction of being North Korea vs. South Korea. North Korea became known as Chosun or Joseun, and in English, its full name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

North Korea is located on the Korean Peninsula (no kidding?) in East Asia, and get this—it’s on the northern part of the peninsula. I’m totally not joking. Some places are a misnomer (I’m looking at you Iceland and Greenland), but North Korea is exactly where you think it is. It shares a border with South Korea to the south (surprise!) and China to the north and a very short border with Russia in the northeast corner. The Sea of Japan is to the east and the Yellow Sea (and Korea Bay) is to the west. Mountain ranges cross the country; the highest point, a volcanic mountain called Mt. Paektu, is over 9000 ft. There are coastal plains in the west, and nearly 70% of the country is covered in forest. Summers are hot and rainy while the winters are frigidly cold from the winds that blow in from Siberia.

Kim Il-sung
The oldest remnants of pottery in Korea dates back to around 8000BC. By the time we reached the Iron Age, the peninsula was controlled by three kingdoms and eventually united to form the Goryeo Dynasty. In the late 1300s, the Joseon Dynasty took over and implemented a number of reforms including the adaptation of the Hangul (Korean) alphabet. After a period of relative peace, the Korean peninsula began to be invaded, which led to its initial isolation. By the mid-1800s, European powers were making moves throughout Asia and the Pacific, and Korea was still unwilling to modernize itself. After several rebellions and some socio-political changes, they became known as the Korean Empire in 1897. Japan annexed Korea and occupied the country in 1910. They began fighting the Japanese with guerilla tactics, and one of the resistance leaders was Kim Il-sung. At the end of WWII in 1945, Korea was divided along the 38th parallel, with the northern part occupied by the Soviet Union and the southern part occupied by the United States. (Keep in mind—no one consulted the Koreans on this matter.) Kim Il-sung was recommended to become Chairman of what became North Korea. By 1949, most of the Soviets and Americans have bowed out, but there were rumors that the North was going to invade the South. Those rumors proved true in June 1950 as the Korean War took off. It’s often used as an example of a “proxy war”: a war where two powerful groups (Soviet Union and US) use other smaller groups (North and South Korea) to fight the war instead. It still remains divided by the DMZ (demilitarized zone). [Side note: I once briefly dated a guy from South Korea who had to patrol the DMZ when he was in the military. He once stepped on an old land mine and had to stand perfectly still for nearly 8 hours as he waiting for people to fetch the land mine expert and diffuse it. I have a hard enough time standing in line at the grocery store.] After the war, North Korea remained isolated and introduced the ideology of Juche to differentiate itself from other communist countries like China and the Soviet Union. Juche is like libertarianism on steroids. After Kim Jong-il took over in 1994, they got even more introverted and really fixated on the military. During this time, North Korea began to suffer from food and energy shortages. Today, Kim Jong-un is the one in charge and has apparently done all of these “miraculous” feats (like his father and grandfather), and he’s also really obsessed with nukes. 

Situated along the Taedong River, Pyongyang is North Korea’s capital city. With a population of between 2.5–3.2 million people, the city is actually well planned: most of the streets run either north-south or east-west. It’s not only the center of government, but it’s also the center for commerce, education, transportation, and industry. There are a few examples of modernity to its main attractions if you were to look at its cityscape, but it’s contrasted with run-down, drab buildings.

Because North Korea has adamantly insisted upon their closed-door economic policies and strived to be completely self-sufficient, their economy has suffered. Coupled with a series of unfortunate events (famine, lack of arable land, natural disasters, lack of skilled labor, low energy supplies, crumbling infrastructure, loss of trading partners), North Korea’s economy basically went into the toilet. There are electricity shortages. Everything is highly nationalized. Their healthcare and education are free, housing and food receive huge subsidies, and taxes were axed back in the 1970s. There are a few places where foreign companies can come in and work, especially in fields like technology and science. But overall, their economy is far behind that of its southern counterpart. However, I saw a headline today that their economy may be slightly improving.

Technically speaking, North Korea is an atheist state. But I think that it’s somewhat of a misnomer and not fair to everyday atheists who for the most part, don’t really care if someone follows a particular religion so long as it’s not forced on everyone. But even at that, there are a few religions found in North Korea: Korean shamanism, Chondoism (a Korean version of Confucianism), Buddhism, and Christianity. Technically, the constitution grants freedom of religion, but it’s also highly regulated and controlled by the government, and some religions are highly persecuted as well. North Korea has also implemented this idea of Songbun, a sort of loyalty ranking. It goes back two generations to determine how much you support your government. The three leaders (Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un) are treated like royalty and gods even. This is why I falter at calling it an atheist state: because the government is their gods. They want the people to live in awe and fear of them, never to speak ill against them, and uphold the craziest accomplishments attributed to them (like Kim Jong-un being able to drive at age 3, or Kim Jong-il walking at age 3 weeks and talking at 8 weeks).

North Koreans also speak Korean, but there are a few dialectal differences between the Korean spoken in North and South Korea. The Korean used in South Korea incorporates many loan words from Chinese and English and also uses hanja (writing Korean words using Chinese characters). However, in North Korea, many of the loan words have been changed to purely Korean words, and they don’t use hanja; rather, they write Korean using choson’gul (the Korean alphabet, also called hangul in South Korea). 

Kim Jong-un with Dennis Rodman
Almost everyday, I get a news pop-up on my phone about some crazy thing concerning North Korea involving nuclear testing or something. Here’s your homework: I would also suggest watching VICE’s 2008 documentary called “Inside North Korea” and watch Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. But you should also check out the VICE episode from Season 1, Episode 10 called “The Hermit Kingdom: Basketball Diplomacy”(2014). It’ll give you an idea of what it’s really like over there. But in the meantime, we’re going to TRY to delve into its cultural arts in a desperate attempt to make sense of this country.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Well, Earth Day was yesterday, and I missed the March for Science. It was cold and blustery here in Indianapolis, and I subconsciously (or consciously?) turned my alarm off instead of hitting snooze and woke up after it started. Oh, well. I was there in spirit. But today is the day I get to make up for it: I’m making Norwegian food today.

I rolled my meatballs in this. I feel like a genius.
My bread for today is potato lefse. It most likely got its start from trying to figure out what to do with the leftover mashed potatoes. And I forgot until this morning at around 1am that I was supposed to make the mashed potatoes a day before and refrigerate it at least overnight. So… I woke up and made them this morning. Since I normally make my bread first, I put this off until last in order to let my potatoes sit as long as possible. To make the mashed potatoes, I boiled four potatoes until they were soft, then I drained it and cut in 4 Tbsp of butter until it melted, followed by a ½ tsp of salt and a ¼ c of heavy whipping cream. I mixed everything until it was completely smooth. When it was finished sitting in my fridge, I set up a space on my table with my pastry mat. I mixed my mashed potatoes with a cup of flour and kneaded to incorporate it all. I had my doubts since it was pretty crumbly at first. After I got it to somehow come together, I formed it into a log and cut it into 12 pieces, rolling each into a ball. I took one of these balls, rolled it in flour then flattened it out a little with my palm. Then I took my floured rolling pin and rolled it out as thin as I could without it breaking. Using a spatula, I carefully transferred it to my hot skillet. It really only needs 1-2 minutes on each side before I flipped it. There should be some brown speckles in it, and when it finally started looking like it was done, I took it off and moved it to a plate. This was the absolute best. I loved the flavor of this. It still definitely had a mashed potato flavor to it, but in convenient flatbread form. However, mine was very susceptible to falling apart. I’m definitely doing this again, though. 

My butter sauce congealed a little by the time I took this photo, but the whole thing was wonderful!
There are two main dishes today, all thanks to a super finicky son of mine. So, bring on the meat! The first one I made is Salmon with Lemon Butter Sauce. I bought four salmon fillets with the skin still on them. I rinsed the fillets in cold water and patted them dry with a paper towel. Then I seasoned them with some salt and pepper before placing them in my skillet with some olive oil. After about 4-5 minutes on one side, I flipped it to the other side. When it was done, I transferred it to a separate plate.  To make the sauce, I mixed together some minced garlic, a ¼ c of lemon juice, 1 tsp of salt, ½ tsp pepper in my blender and mixed until it’s smooth. Then I added in a stick of butter that I cut into smaller pieces and blended again. I poured this mixture into a saucepan and added in the capers, parsley, and lemon zest and heated this together. When it was time to serve it, I drizzled the sauce on top of the salmon. Of all the dishes I had my doubts about, it was this one, but it turned out to be fantastic! Even my son thought it was really good. (Haha, proved him wrong!) The sauce and the salmon just went together like a cats and boxes. I would definitely make this again. 

The perfect comfort food. I'll definitely be making this again.
The other main dish I made was Norwegian Meatballs. I was curious how this would be different from Swedish meatballs, but from what I’ve gathered, the Swedish counterpart has a few more ingredients involved. In one of my larger bowls, I mixed together some milk and some cornstarch. Then I added in my ground beef, onion, salt, pepper, egg, and nutmeg, and I mixed until everything was well blended. At this point, I covered it and put it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Once it was chilled, I formed 1-inch balls and browned the meatballs in a skillet with hot oil. When each meatball was done, I removed them from the skillet and put them on a different plate and set it off to the side. I used some lean beef, so there wasn’t much drippings left, so I added in a little extra oil in the skillet. In a separate bowl, I mixed together the beef broth and some cornstarch until it was blended before pouring it into the skillet. I brought this to a boil and let it cook until it thickened (about 2-3 minutes maybe?), then I added my meatballs back into the sauce. I covered it and let it cook for about 5-8 minutes. Just before I removed it from the heat, I added in a little bit of sour cream to the mix and stirred so that it was all mixed well. This dish was wonderful–the perfect comfort food. We all agreed this would’ve been much better on some wide egg noodles.

Tasty for the entire year!
Finally, to go with all of this, I made Norwegian Christmas Cabbage. In the bottom of my pot, I laid a couple of slices of bacon. Then I layered it with some shredded cabbage (I bought a package of angel hair cole slaw mix, which is nothing but shredded cabbage). On top of the cabbage, I sprinkled a little bit of flour, some caraway seeds, salt, and pepper. I went on layering like this until I used up my bacon and cabbage, adding in enough water to almost reach the top of the cabbage-bacon level. Putting the pot over a medium heat, I let it cook for about 45 minutes before taking it off the heat. After letting it cool for a bit, I drained a lot of the water off of it and mixed in a little vinegar and sugar and stirred. This was actually pretty good, and I’m glad I opted for a bag of shredded cabbage instead of doing it myself. I thought it was good with the shredded cabbage as opposed to larger sections of the leaves. And it certainly saved time. The recipe suggested using white wine vinegar but I didn’t realize I was out so I opted to use apple cider vinegar instead. I think next time I’ll use the white wine vinegar like I was supposed to.

10/10 stars!! Clearly the winner for today!
It’s been a while since I’ve made a meal where every dish came out well. I’ve learned quite a bit since I started this about four years ago, but there are still things I mess up. And sometimes the recipes I choose aren’t the best written ones. (And sometimes it’s just that I don’t read the directions carefully.) But I have to say that when I’m tired, frustrated, and my feet hurt, my husband will come in and give his second opinion, and sometimes even do part of the work for me. And 99 times out of 100, he’ll get the dishes afterwards, even when I trash the kitchen. (Oh, he’ll chide me of course.) This would be way harder to do if it weren’t for him. And for that, here’s my thanks: I keep him well fed.

Next up: North Korea


Most likely, the earliest musical traditions stemmed from the Vikings. There have been a few artifacts that led anthropologists to piece together their musical traditions. However, the music of Norway can generally be divided into two parts: traditional and modern.

Hardanger fiddle
Vocal music of the North Germanic style included many different kinds of songs from ballads and short, improvised songs to work songs and hymns. Sami vocal music centered around a style called joik. It’s been described as sounding similar to the chanting you hear from some Native American music traditions. Epic folk songs are probably the most important musical form of vocal music. They often tell stories of heroes and historical accounts, often with a flair for the dramatic and tragic. 

Instrumental folk music pretty much doubles as dance music. There are two different kinds of form you’ll find in dance music: two-beat (halling, gangar, or rull) and three-beat (springar or springleik). Quite a few dances from other areas of Europe made its way to Norway such as the fandango, mazurka, waltz, and polka. Music and dance go hand-in-hand, and since much of Norway’s folk music is dance music, many of the dances were named after the particular style of music. One dance is the halling. Although it’s mainly danced in the rural areas of Norway, the halling dance is also found in areas of Sweden as well. This dance, typically performed by men at weddings and parties, is a fast dance with rhythmic and acrobatics moves.

Probably one of the most dominant, if not iconic, instruments in Norwegian music is the Hardanger fiddle. It’s generally played just like a regular violin, except that the performer plays on two strings at the same time. There are other smaller differences between the two, but the most notable one is the highly decorated outside, sometimes inlaid with goldleaf or other materials. I showed photos of the Hardanger fiddle to my daughter who plays violin, and we agreed it’s one of the most beautiful instruments ever. It’s a key instrument in most of the dance music. Other instruments you’ll hear in folk music include the lur (an older horn instrument similar to a trumpet), the bukkehorn (a goat horn), the langeleik (a box dulcimer), the harpeleik (chorded zither), the tungehorn (type of clarinet), the Melhus (another type of clarinet), and the seljefløyte (a willow flute). 

While Norway has produced a number of very talented classical composers, the most well known one is probably Edvard Grieg. He was one of the more prominent composers of the Romantic era, and like Dvorak in the Czech Republic or Sibelius in Finland, Grieg often worked traditional folk tunes into his works. Grieg’s most famous work, at least in my opinion, is his Peer Gynt suite. (Peer Gynt was originally written as a play by Henrik Ibsen.) If you’ve ever watched cartoons, you’ll know this suite. Look up the songs “Morning Mood” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

I feel like I only sampled a little off the top when it comes to modern Norwegian music. I mean, I didn’t even get to some whole genres like metal rock. However, I listened to the blues musician Bjørn Berge. I’m already a fan of blues, and I know that sometimes the term “blues” gets thrown around to mean a wide variety of styles, but this really didn’t disappoint. Sung in English, it sometimes reminds me a little of Celtic/Irish music and sometimes a little country. I think his song “Zebra” put him on the map.

So, I listened to the band Röyksopp. They are the quintessential 1980s electronic band. I imagine they were what Shiny Toy Guns listened to for inspiration. It also makes me think of video game music or cheesy movie soundtracks. However, I kind of like it in a way.

The group Side Brok is a rap group that has no problem with stretching the genre. They create a completely different feel between songs by use of string instruments, changing up the instumentation, and even bringing in other genes like reggae. Of course, they rap in Norwegian, so I’m not sure what they’re saying.  

Another hip-hop group I came across is Karpe Diem. They represent the minority hip-hop groups that have started popping up in Norway. One member is of Egyptian-Norwegian origin and the other is of Indian origin. I liked what I heard from them. It seems genuine.

Stella Mwangi is a Kenyan-Norwegian musician whose had hits all over the world and featured in a number of TV shows and movies. Her music is kind of mix of pop, dance, and hip-hop. I think it’s fairly catchy.

Tommy Tee has been in on the rap scene for a while and has his own radio show about the rap scene. Ok, so I took a listen to his newest album Bonds, Beats and Beliefs Vol. 2 that came out last year. I actually really like what I’ve heard. The first track “The Plague” is my favorite—it starts off with a sound bite of Bernie Sanders. 

Of course, I had no idea the group a-ha was Norwegian. If you don’t know who they are, you’re probably young. They formed in 1982 and have played off and on ever since. Their most famous song “Take On Me” is one of the most iconic songs from the canon of 1980s pop music.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Norwegian artists generally followed many of the trends of European art. And generally speaking, Norwegian art is considered part of the larger Scandinavian art category.

Viking art was one of the leading periods of not only Norwegian art but was a prominent period in European art at the time it thrived. Evidence of Viking art can be found across Scandinavia, Iceland, and the British Isles. Metalwork was particularly popular, like what can be seen in penannular brooches (similar to what Ned Stark wears in Game of Thrones), weathervanes, weapons, jewelry, and coins. Viking ships also have a very distinct shape. Sculptures called runestones dot the countryside across Scandinavia and other Northern countries. These runestones are often highly carved but can vary depending on the time and location in which they were created. 

Johan Christian Dahl is often considered the “Father of Norwegian Landscape Painting.” He led the way for other landscape painters like Johannes Flintoe, Adolph Tidemand, Kitty Kielland, and Harriet Backer.
by Harald Sohlberg
The latter part of the 1800s saw a rise in the prominent artistic movements of the day: Impressionism and Neo-Romanticism. Artists like Harald Sohlberg, Lars Hertervig, Frits Thaulow, Christian Krohg, Nikolai Astrup, and Thorolf Holmboe were among the more prominent artists in these movements. 

Probably the most well-known Norwegian artist is Edvard Munch (pronounced like “monk,” not “munch”). He helped to influence the Symbolism and Expressionism movements. Munch’s famous painting, “The Scream,” is recognized throughout the world. It’s always been a favorite of mine for many reasons. It perfectly sums up working a corporate job.

The vast majority of Norwegian literature is written in the Norwegian language, at least in modern times. The earliest forms of literature were the Eddic poems of the 9th and 10th centuries. Many inscriptions were written in the runic alphabet during this time period. However, as Christianity spread, they also brought along the Latin alphabet. Old Norse literature was often linked to Icelandic literary traditions, and they shared many commonalities. During this time, religious texts, historical accounts, and stories chronicling the kings were quite common.

However, from about the latter part of the 1300s up until their independence, Norwegian literature saw a latent period. Nothing significant was written during this time, or at least, there wasn’t much evidence of any. Henrik Ibsen referred to this period as the “Four Hundred Years of Darkness.” I mean, there were some works that stemmed from this era, but in comparison with times before and after, it was pretty lacking. More like “Four Hundred Years of Writers Block.”

After Norway gained its independence, there was a surge in many of the cultural arts, literature included. The first university was established in what is now Oslo in 1811, three years before their independence. From that point, Oslo and other cities became havens for writers to hone their craft and publish books and papers in Norwegian, spreading across Scandinavia and then the world. The “father of a new Norwegian literature” is often attributed to Henrik Wergeland. While Germany had the Brothers Grimm and Denmark had Hans Christian Andersen, Norway had Peter Asbjørnsen and Bishop Jørgen Moe to spread Norwegian folk tales. 

As the late 19th century rolled around, four Norwegian writers became quite prominent—dubbed The Great Four—Alexander Kielland, Jonas Lie, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen is mostly known for his plays, especially A Doll’s House and A Wild Duck (both of which I’ve read). When I graduated from high school, a friend of mine who I had acted with gave me a copy of six plays by Ibsen. I still have it on my shelf. And of course, he’s a staple in college literature classes.
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
As we rolled over into the 20th century, literature took on much more of a social and political commentary and a post-modern standpoint. There have been three Norwegian writers who have won Nobel Prizes in Literature: Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1903, Union between Sweden and Norway), Knut Hamsun (1920), and Sigrid Undset (1928, born in Denmark).

Up next: music and dance

Monday, April 17, 2017


I have had a keen interest with Norway for quite some time now. I think it started when I worked at Concordia Language Villages and was introduced to the Norwegian camp called Skogfjorden. I worked at the Japanese camp, but one year, we had a girl who worked with us who also had worked at the Norwegian camp. The first time I ever heard the Norwegian language was when she read me the Norwegian version of the famous book “Everybody Poops.” It was such a memorable moment for me. 

The name Norway as we know it in English comes from the Old English name for it: Nor∂rveg(r), which roughly meant “northern way.” The Norse have two names for their country: Noreg in Nynorsk, and Norge in Bokmål. (I’ll explain the difference in a minute. Keep reading.) It was eventually Latinized as Northuagia, Northwegia, Norwegia, Nortmannus, Norwei, Norwey, and finally Norway.

Norway is located in northern Europe and considered part of the Scandinavian countries. Its western shore touches the Norwegian Sea, which is just east of the North Atlantic Ocean and north of the North Sea (that’s really north!). Just across the Skagerrak Strait on Norway’s southern coast is the country of Denmark. And much of its eastern border is shared with Sweden. However, in the far north, Norway wraps around the northern end of this region and borders Finland and Russia. Norway also includes the islands known as Svalbard (almost due north in the Barents Sea), the smaller island Jan Mayen (in the Norwegian Sea between Norway and Greenland), and the island of Bouvet (in the South Atlantic Ocean north of Antarctica). The Swedish border is lined with the Scandinavian Mountains while the western coast is carved out with fjords and coastal ravines. There are areas that experience permafrost all year round (not a place for me), but the southern portions of the country enjoy some decent dry and moderately warm summers. Norway is a haven for many animals that thrive in the northern climes.

The earliest artifacts of life in Norway were found along the coast. As the cultures and civilizations grew and developed better weapons and tools, they also began to trade (and start fights). Much of their subsistence was tied to fishing and the sea and some agriculture. Starting in the 8th century, the Vikings became the big thing. The Vikings were seafarers who also explored and traded, often with force. In 872, Harold Fairhair (according to tradition) was the one who united Norway and ruled as its first king. From about the 10th century, the Norse philosophies began to give way to Christian ones. During the mid-1300s, the Black Death killed off more than half of the population. Denmark, Sweden (which also included parts of Finland at that point), and Norway entered a union called the Kolmar Union. A little over a hundred years later, Sweden left. Norway and Denmark actually remained together until 1814. Protestantism was introduced during the mid-1500s. Norway was hit with several famines between the end of the 1600s and 1800. The country decided to declare its own independence in 1814 and named Christian Frederick as its first king. This was a period of nationalism that followed this, which was when many of their cultural arts started to expand. During WWI, Norway tried to remain neutral, but Britain picked them for their team. They tried to remain neutral again in WWII, but Germany invaded and picked first. Norwegian forces pushed the Germans back and became allies with the UK and US. Oil was discovered in 1969. During the 1980s and 1990s, Norway’s economy grew through a series of reforms set by conservative policies, and all of their foreign debt was paid off. There were a couple of terrorist attacks in 2011 and I remember watching it on TV. It was done by some crazy dude that looks like the character Silas from The Da Vinci Code (Silas’ picture pulls up if you go to Google Images and search for “guy from Da Vinci Code.”)

The capital of Norway is Oslo, located on the southern coast along the Oslofjord. This city of about a million people (according to estimated 2017 stats) was first settled around the year 1000. However, it wasn’t established as the capital city until 1299. Today, Oslo is a major world city and serves as a center for commerce, government, education, and the arts. Several museums, galleries, and theatres are found throughout this compact city. Not surprising, but winter sports are quite popular in Norway, and there are several venues for skiing, ice hockey, but also for football/soccer.

Norway is the second richest country in Europe. It consistently ranked toward the top of lists of stable, high-functioning countries. Using a combination of capitalism and social democracy, Norwegians enjoy a high quality of life. Public healthcare is free (for the most part), and there are no tuition fees to study at the university level, even for international students (for the most part). Parents even have 46 weeks of paid parental leave (which is about 46 more weeks than the US offers), and the country generally has a low unemployment rate. However, the cost of living is very expensive in Norway (Norway has some of the highest gas prices in the world at over USD$9!), even though there are many corporate headquarters in Norway, and it has a number of natural resources and natural gas. 

The Church of Norway used to be the official religion, and the constitution still requires that the king adhere to Lutheranism. Many people are still “affiliated” with a church for its basic rites, but by 2010, those who attend on a regular weekly basis have dropped to an estimated 2%. Roman Catholicism is the second most followed denomination and a number of other denominations are found here as well. As Norway became more diverse in its population, other Eastern religions have also been represented here. Norse Paganism, and that especially of the Viking Age, flourished before the introduction of Christianity. It was forbidden in many areas, but it remained alive in some of its traditions, celebrations, names of people, and names of days of the week. 

Norway has two official languages: Norwegian and Sami. And when it comes to Norwegian, there are two versions: Bokmål and Nynorsk. While both are used in education, government, churches, and the media, the vast majority of the people write in Bokmål rather than Nynorsk (which are both only used for written Norwegian). And many people speak a different dialect that differs quite a bit from the written form. Norwegian is quite similar to Danish, Swedish, Finnish, and Icelandic, and all of these are generally mutually intelligible. Many Norwegians study English as a second language, but some choose French, German, or Spanish instead.  

The US state of Minnesota has the largest population of Norwegians outside of Norway. I learned about this when I used to work there during my summers. Many of their traditions and names trace back to their Norwegian roots. You’ll also find a ton of Lutheran churches up there, too. Norwegians have also had their hand at exploring and relocating to other areas too, like Greenland and Dublin, Ireland. The country has certainly contributed to the world of literature, art, music, and politics. I’m pretty excited to learn about some of famous composers, authors, and artists I didn’t realize were Norwegian.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, April 9, 2017


So, I took a couple weeks off, kind of unexpectedly. But hey, this is a seven-year project, so I’m owed a few breaks every now and then, right? I used this break to fight a little bit of sickness thanks to this stupid weather and a newfound allergy to MSG, but I also worked on my research for a novel I’m writing. I’ve been reading about the medical histories of the First Ladies of the United States this week. It’s been really interesting, and I’m absolutely grateful I live in the era of modern medicine. 

This is the most beautiful thing I've seen all day.
But now it’s time to get back to work on Nigerian food. The bread today was a hands-down choice: Agege bread. First I started with my scalded dough enhancer (something I’ve never done): I put about ¾ c of all-purpose flour in a medium bowl, and then I poured 100 mL of boiling water on top of it. I quickly stirred it to incorporate all of it together and put a lid on it. I set it off to the side for about an hour until it was completely cool. (It can actually sit for 12 hours.) Mine immediately converted in to rough looking dough balls. Once it was cool, I put 3 c of flour into a large bowl and mixed in 3 Tbsp of sugar, 1 tsp salt, and one packet of active yeast. After making a well in the center of the flour, I poured in my scalded flour and 140mL of lukewarm water (that was supposed to have 2 Tbsp dried milk in it, but my husband moved it and didn’t tell me where it was). Once I stirred everything together, I let it rest for about 10 minutes. My dough was absolutely too dry, so I ended up adding in another ½ c or so of water to help it come together before turning out the dough onto my floured pastry mat. Although it was pretty sticky, I kneaded it for about 15-20 minutes. The recipe recommended do a “stretch, slap, and fold method” of kneading. At this point, it cut in my 3 ½ Tbsp of butter into the dough. I cut up my butter into small pieces so that it’ll be easier to fold into it. And I spent another 10-15 minutes kneading my butter into the dough just to make sure it was cut in well. I could really feel it in my hands from all the kneading! Then I formed it into a ball, put it in a greased bowl and covered it with a damp towel (I actually used cheesecloth) for an hour so it could rise. When the hour was up, I punched it down and divided the dough into three smaller balls. I re-covered them for about 10 minutes while I prepared my greased loaf pan. I rolled each ball out into a log shape and laid them in the loaf pan. Then I covered it again and let it rest for another half hour. I brushed the top of the bread with a little melted butter (you can also give it an egg wash) before baking this for about 28-30 minutes in a 375ºF oven. This bread was not only beautiful to look at, its flavor and texture were nearly perfect. The outside had a nice crown, but the inside was soft and the crumb’s tiny air bubbles created this light texture that pulled apart easily. I’m trying to figure out why the Nigerians were keeping this such as secret??

The consensus was that this was meh. Not horrific, not fantastic. I'm probably the one who liked it the best. Chef's bias.
The main dish today is Asaro, or Yam Porridge. I washed, peeled, and cubed four sweet potatoes (in lieu of yams) and placed them in a large pot. Then I diced my onions and mixed it with just a little bit of crushed red pepper (or more if your family’s not a bunch of wimps like mine). I set my onions and pepper mix off to the side. I added enough water to the sweet potatoes to cover them and started boiling my water. Once I got a good boil going, I added in my onion mix, some chicken broth, some smoked fish (I used canned smoked trout), and a little bit of the canola oil included in the fish (in lieu of palm oil – I actually found it, but it was $8, and I knew I wouldn’t use it enough to justify the cost). I covered the pot and kept cooking it enough until the sweet potatoes were soft, adding in a little salt and pepper along the way and stirring occasionally. Just after I turned off the heat, I added in some baby spinach and parsley and stirred, but I realized it was not boiling down to a porridge consistency. So, I let it boil some more. And then my husband helped me transfer it to a smaller pot. I even smashed some of the sweet potatoes a little, leaving some larger pieces still in there. Finally, we just poured off most of the liquid, and it really didn’t taste that bad. Well, it wasn’t as horrible as I thought it was going to be. If you eat it with the bread, it’s actually pretty tasty. Even the kids ate some without complaint. I think it would be better if I had some grilled meat of some sort with it. 

This was wonderful -- the hit of the evening, besides the bread, of course.
To go with this and even serve as a dessert, I made Nigerian Fruit Salad. This variation included cubed papayas (I used golden papayas this time instead of the maradol papayas that I usually go with), a cubed gala apple, a couple of sliced bananas, part of a can of pineapple tidbits, a ½ c of orange juice, 1 Tbsp of sugar, and ½ tsp of ground cinnamon. I mixed all of this together and let it chill for a couple of hours. I topped it with shredded coconut just before serving. This was really good. The orange juice (along with the cinnamon and sugar) really made this taste good without being too tart. I will probably make this again if I have to bring a fruit salad somewhere. I actually want to get some vanilla ice cream and put this on top. Leave it to me to take something healthy and turn it to the dark side. (Like a dark chocolate drizzle?)

Overall, this was a pretty good meal. Pretty tasty if I may say so.
Although this took a lot longer than I originally intended, I’m glad I finally got around to making Nigerian food. Nigeria is a country that has quite a bit to offer, yet there are a lot of misconceptions about it. It’s a country of extremes. People in the cities enjoy many of the modern ways of life, but even at that, there are still some slums in the background. Other rural areas of the country struggle with access to clean water and medical supplies, not to mention the complicated situation with gaining access to these basic human needs when it comes to areas overrun by desertification and terrorist groups. Some areas have people working for major national and international companies – including the Nigerian space program, while other areas have people escaping their hometowns as refugees. But if there’s one thing I noticed that binds all the people, no matter their ethnic origins, is their appreciation for the land and the rhythm of their people. Music and the arts is their language, a way of expression and identification. And you can’t help but be drawn into that vibrant aura of being Nigerian.

Up next: Norway

Thursday, April 6, 2017


Although there are not a lot of details on the early music of Nigeria, there are carvings that show musicians in their craft. For the vast majority of the time—no matter the culture—traditional music was performed for either a ceremony or ritual of some sort, whether it be a funeral or wedding or for some community purpose. Much of their music is tied to the land or agriculture (like growing season and harvest season).

Both men and women sing work songs while doing daily tasks. Complex rhythms help keep feelings of monotony at bay—well, as much as can be expected. As far as vocals go, call-and-response is the most common choral form. The extreme northern regions of the country have more Islamic influences on their music that can be seen in its use of drums with single-line melodic lines. 

One of the central instruments of West African music is the xylophone. Typically these instruments are made from wood planks that are laid on logs from banana trees. This is laid on top of resonators, usually made from hollowed out logs. A number of other percussion instruments are used such as bells, struck gourds, scrapers (either on shells or notched sticks), rattles, and a number of different kinds of drums (including the famous talking drums like in the video above). A few kinds of stringed instruments are found here as well, including the musical bow. It looks like a bent wooden stick with a single metal string connecting the ends and is resonated by the mouth as the string is either plucked or bowed. An arched harp is found along the eastern side of the country and has five or six strings tuned to the pentatonic scale (think of just the black keys on a piano). There are also a number of other trumpets, thumb pianos, shawms, flutes, horns, and clarinets played in Nigerian music.

Nigeria has a lot of diversity in its dance traditions, and many of these depend on the specific tribe these traditions emerged out of. Granted, there may be similarities that are spread out among certain regions. I’m highlighting a few of the more common or interesting dances found in Nigeria: Swange Dance (popular among Tiv people, danced by men and women), Ukwata Dance (religious dance of the Abbi people), Ikpirikpi-ogu (war dance), Adamma Masquerade Dance (male Igbo dancers with a female as the masquerade), Gese Dance (Yoruba religious dance), Ekombi Dance (feminine dance from Efik peoples, a dance of grace), Ohogho Dance (a Benin dance used to ward off evil spirits), Bata Dance (this acrobatic Yoruba dance is associated with the God of Thunder), and the Nkwa umu-Agbogho Dance (this “maiden dance” shows off rhythmic chest and waist movements).  

As far as modern musicians go, the first I listened to is Segun Adewale (not to be confused with a businessman who is also known as Segun Aeroland). He’s considered the father of Yo-pop, which is a mix of funk, jazz, reggae, Afro-beat, and juju music. He also worked together with Sir Shina Peters, who is an accomplished juju musician. Both styles are heavily reliant on a constant rhythm underneath the music.

And then there’s Fela Kuti. Although his main genres are Afrobeat and highlife, there’s quite a bit of jazz included, and many times it’s quite reminiscent of funk, soul, and even disco. I really liked what I listened to. And apparently there was a Broadway musical based on his life. Who knew? Lagbaja is an Afrobeat musician whose music makes heavy use of the bass in a few of his songs. Gotta love some bass. Although some of the styles reminds me of some of the popular styles of the late 1980s into the 1990s.

I really enjoyed listening to Olamide. A hip hop artist, I appreciated the acoustic music underneath the lyrics and the change up in styles between songs. I listened to his album The Glory, and there were a few songs that sounded like it could be on mainstream radio. Another hip-hop artist I came across is Vector (thankfully not the guy with the squid gun in Despicable Me). Overall, I like his style. He mixes up the styles between his songs, and there’s just something about it I like.
I also listed to Ice Prince. He’s actually won several awards for his rap albums and songs. After sampling several of his songs, I can tell why. I liked what I heard. I listened to part of the album Fire of Zamani, and to me, it’s pretty chill but it has a little bit of a reggae feel to it at the heart of it. The beat is different, but I think it’s still there deep down inside of it all.

Finally, I just discovered Mr Eazi today. Although he was born and raised in Nigeria, he moved to Ghana to get a degree in mechanical engineering. His music is really chill – I love it. Even though part of his catch phrase is “zaga dat,” which reminds me of Beanie Man's. He just released his mixtape Life is Eazi, Vol. 1 – Accra to Lagos, which I hope means there’s a volume two coming later. 

Up next: the food