I was born and grew up in Norway, and like most Norwegians I have a special place. The special place can be the cottage, the place they were born, or, as in my case, the place where my family hails from – a little hamlet near the Southern tip of Norway with a particularly evocative name: Viestad. There, on a smallholding that once belonged to an eccentric cousin of my grandfather I have my summer paradise.
It is the same every year. For a few precious weeks I try – not always very convincingly – to live off the land, growing my own potatoes and vegetables, eating eggs from my own chickens and occasionally eating them, too. (They don’t seem to mind, and they taste great.) It is also different every year – even every day. Nature is in a constant state of change. One day it is raining, a week later you have to try to establish a makeshift irrigation system to ensure the plants don’t die. A storm may fell a tree; a lamb may escape the fence. There are also machines that need to be mastered. Chainsaws, tractors, grass cutters – moody apparatuses that may at any time conspire against you and force you revert to the old rusty saw, to pick up the hoe, or to learn to master the scythe.
Sometimes I think to myself: “If only I had a real vacation without a hundred small and big things to do!” But as time goes by and the stress of city life lets go, I become one with the environment and I appreciate how the gentle pace of the day’s tasks directs my life. It is a condition without either idleness or stress, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, even when I am standing there in the rain in the middle of the night, trying to catch a runaway lamb, or untangle a goat that has got its tether tangled up in some bushes.
I have been lucky – or cunning – enough to combine this pastoral idyll with work, and over the years we have made two episodes of New Scandinavian Cooking from the farm, and my 2010 (Norwegian) book Ekte mat, was to a large degree written from the farm.