When I was 13, I spent the month of August in Norway visiting my pen pal. It was my first trip abroad, my first solo flight, my first taste of just about everything that summer travel – and summer eating – has to offer. For a suburban 13-year-old, it was a surreal, mind-blowing experience.
Each summer, my host family traveled by boat to their rustic summer home in the fjords. We spent two weeks there, in a spare birch cabin perched in the cliff of a fjord, with only cold water and an outhouse. During the day we sunbathed in the scorching Norwegian sun, swam in the frigid waters, and took the boat into town to get chocolate bars and magazines.
Being 13, I loved the sun-tanning possibilities, the swimming and the cute blond lifeguard who rowed his skiff over to visit us every day. But it was the food that turned my world upside down.
Everything was the same, but different. Butter was kept in a cool clay crock on the counter at all times (a practice I still follow). Instead of deli ham, a real Italian prosciutto hung from a beam in the cabin, ready to be daintily carved into paper thin slices at meals (a practice that frustrated me to no end, as I desperately craved giant hunks of this, the best ham I’d ever tasted in my life). Milk came in boxes and was poured over corn flakes – with strawberry jam on top (a delicious practice I followed for years).
In the evenings, it didn’t get dark until 10:30 – and then the sky was alive with shooting stars. Around the campfire, instead of toasting marshmallows, we spread butter on round
white flatbread, sprinkled it with sugar, folded it in half, and carmelized it over the campfire.
But the best food practice, the genius meal, was the koldtbord, or cold table. Similar to the Swedish smorgasbord, the koldtbord is a spread of cold foods that diners make into open-faced sandwiches. It was served as breakfast and lunch, especially when we were traveling
on the boat, in the car, or just roughing it in the family’s cabin.
When it was time to eat, my host mom would lay out a tablecloth and a loaf of bread, with a crock of butter. You buttered your bread, then picked your topping. There was sliced cucumber and tomato, pickled herring or sardines, prosciutto or salami, peanut butter, Nutella, and a hard cheese, which was sliced with a pocket knife. The simplicity of the meal appealed deeply to my finicky 13-year-old palate (as did the Nutella).
Now that I’m a mom, the simplicity appeals deeply to my overextended life. I still use this concept to pack a quick picnic lunch, or a meal for days of car travel. I haven’t been back to Norway since that first visit, but I still love the koldtbord, in all its many incarnations.
Here’s to an August filled with meals that are simple, cold, easily assembled, easily transported, and delicious. As they say in Norway, Vel bekomme!
Larissa Phillips is a cooking instructor and food writer for Parenthood.com. Email her at FeedingYourFamily@Parenthood.com. Check out Larissa’s blog Mothership Meals & Satellite Saucers and discover how to get through dinner without having a breakdown!