Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Day before Advent along Randers Fjord

It's now the last Saturday in November, and tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. The weather is dark and gloomy with a sun peeping out for seconds once in a while. Maybe the sun is tired. Better luck in the spring. It's a very small tour on this day, and if you don't mind we'll  pay a short visit to a few churches in the Randers district. I had to control some old church photos. When we pass the town of Randers, a new building  lies close to the road, it's an Elvis Presley Museum. It's called Graceland, but I suppose the real Graceland is much bigger. They have placed Santa Claus' reindeers outside, but where is Santa?
Lem church

There are many medieval churches in this area, most of them built in the Romanesque period but with Gothic towers. Lem church has got a pretty church bell from 1547 and other details like the fine stone portal with a bow. It's almost like a Christmas band! The church was locked - nearly all churches are closed in the week-end, except at service-time of course, but I only had to look at some details on the outside walls.

 - coming to Linde village.

The next stop was close by in the village of Linde. The gravestone with cross inserted in the church wall  is Romanesque. Upon the church yard is a crooky tree and a tree with yellow paradise apples, and in a corner was a funny Christmas decoration, some "shoes" plant with house leek.  Along the church dike was a pretty hedge of holly trees with glossy leaves and lots of red berries. A very suitable tree for this time of the year.

In the village Mellerup was a small church without a steeple, and it was open. It's a little simple church without much ornament. There is a special Gothic crucifix above the triumph arch, called the Mellerup crucifix.
The pulpit and sounding board are Renaissance from 1634, and above the granite baptismal font was an Advent's wreath with purple bands, a colour which is a part of church traditions. The church was ready for the first Sunday of Advent, and it would probably be decorated with spruce and candles tomorrow. But outside along the dike are some trees I find very prettty, the pollards. Like an ink drawing. There are not many left by now.
The Gothic Mellerup crucifix
Mellerup church bell from Middle Ages.

A tiny ferry called Ragna

Biking the Greyhounds

We drove down to Mellerup fjord, which is a part of Randers fjord,  to take a coffee break, but it was extremely cold with a very cold wind. The weather people on TV had been threatening us with storm and the sky was black in the horizon. A cyclist passed us with two beautiful dogs, greyhounds, a little one and a big one. The little one was a greyhound-child I suppose. Here is a tiny, tiny  ferry called Ragna, which is crossing the fjord in a few minutes. In summer this is quite a different place, well, but so is everything. In a distance along the fjord is a long plateau. Here lie a long row of houses, a part of the village Mellerup, they've got a fine view over the fjord, but it is an icy cold pleasure today!

On our way home we passed a church in Albæk, also Romanesque and Gothic, amazing how many churches in this district. People will visit them in December for the Advent's service and the Christmas service, especially on Christmas Eve. Or else the churches suffer from "emptyness."  I'm not a church goer myself, but I would be sorry if some of them are abandoned. I hope the medieval churches will be allowed to stay - they are an important part of our history.

Close to Randers fjord lies the manor Støvringgård with a history from the 1300s. The present building is from the 1500s. For a period it was a kloster for ladies of aristocracy, but it has now rented apartments for common people, who are chosen by the bishop, so I guess the residents are not so common after all.


There was a sudden sunlight across the landscape, but suddenly it became darker, the wind blew up and the November day ended with dark drifting clouds.

photo Randers fjord district 26 November 2011: grethe bachmann

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas, Klejner - Recipe


500 gram flour
125 gram butter
125 gram sugar
1 teaspoon cardamom
sliced peel of 1/2 lemon
3 eggs
2 table spoon cream
1/4 tea spoon carbamate

Palmin for cooking
(this is coconut fat, and I've found out that for a portion like this they use 1 kilo for cooking) .

Crumble together the dry ingrediences (flour, sugar, butter, carbamate) . This gives best result if the butter is cold.

Add cream and eggs, work the pastry well. Divide the pastry in five balls, cover them and let them rest for a couple of hours in the fridge. ( you may also let the pastry stay in the fridge till next day). Roll the pastry thin upon a flour-sprinkled table, cut the pastry into ruder (like diamonds in a cardplay), scratch a cut in the middle of each diamond.

Wring the klejner, put them upon a dish. It is important to wring 1/2 of the klejner before start cooking. Heat the palmin, try if it is hot with a match. If it is sizzling around the match the oil is okay. You can start cooking now. Do not put too many klejner into the oil. They must not touch each other too much. Cook until they are golden on both sides. Remember to turn them.

Put the klejner for draining upon fat-absorbing paper. When they are cold put them in a cake tin.
See to that the palmin has a good temperature all the time, or the klejner will become grey and dull.

If the oil is too hot the klejner are burnt outside and pasty inside, if the oil is too cold the klejner absorb fat and get heavy.  

Good luck!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas Traditions in Denmark

Christmas is like fashion today. The traditional colours, white candles, green spruce and pine cones and red bands are mostly replaced by this year's fashion, one year purple, next year gold, then silver and so on. One year all decorations had to be white there was snow outside and when you came into the house all was white. There are so many variations in the decorations that it would be impossible to describe them all. So I have just collected the most usual Christmas traditions in Denmark. They might not be so different from other countries. 

Advent's wreath with purple bands in Mellerup church 26 November 2011

The Advent's Wreath
The Danish jul starts with an Advent's wreath with four candles, where the first candle is lit the first of four Sundays before Christmas Eve, 24. December. Adventus is Latin, meaning coming, and this custom is the countdown to Christmas, a custom which is marked in almost every Danish home. The Advent's custom had a single candle around the 1899-1900s, but it was replaced by a new fashion from Austria and Germany with a fourcandle-wreath, decorated with purple bands in the church. The custom was not introduced to the Danish homes until the 1930s. The wreath is traditionally bound in spruce, eventually decorated with pine cones and red berries and equipped with white candles and red bands for hanging up. The candles are lit one at a time and on the fourth Sunday all four candles are lit.

The Calendar Candle
The Advent's wreath is often  supplemented with a calendar candle. The candle is divided in 24 fields, often decorated with pixy- and spruce motifs. The calendar candle is lit from 1. December and each day, where it is creating a cosy center around the breakfast table. It's usually the children's job to blow out the candle, before it reaches the next date. At the same time the windows of the house are decorated with candles and flowers, often poinsettia, hyacinths or Christmas cactus, and as December goes, the decoration is supplemented with baubles, crawling pixies and homemade decorations. These Christmas decorations are also used as a gift when people visit in the Christmas time. Usually there are moss, pine cones, spruce and candle arranged in a foundation of clay. But the decorations can be much more ingenious than this with new ideas each year. Kindergartens, schools, institutions and workplaces are decorated for Christmas - and in town squares in almost every Danish town is placed a huge Christmas tree, on the town square in Copenhagen the biggest of all.

Christmas Brew of the Year.
 But also the Danish beer has its time around Christmas. Like the presentation of  Beaujolais Noveau in November, the Carlsberg-Tuborg breweries release the Christmas brew of the year in December, often brought out by the Jutland horses . This is a beer, which is a little heavier, darker and often stronger than usual.
Christmas in Randers

Christmas lunch in firms
Beer and snaps are popular in the yearly Christmas lunch, which is celebrated in most Danish companies. Many hotels, inns and restaurants offer traditional Danish julefrokoster every day in December, and all canteens in the whole country are preoccupied with the important topic - what to serve for our Chrismas lunch this year? In a traditional Danish julefrokost are various dishes like salmon and herring and warm dishes like fish fillet, a  Danish sausage called medisterpølse, meat balls, roast pork, apple bacon, fillet of pork, blood sausage, liver paté with bacon, chopped steak with fried eggs, roast duck and various cheese with fruit and a dessert, rice á la mande with cherry sauce. A sumptuous selection, which demands strong physics to survive the next period of Christmas culinary customs.

Christmas calendar.
The children have one or more Christmas calendars,  supplemented with electronic Christmas calendars in the Tv-channels. Many children have also a calender with 24 little Christmas gifts 

Christmas Cards and Stamps
christmas card collection in the window
Christmas stamp 2011

A good tradition is the contact to family and friends by sending them a Christmas card  - the card is equipped with special Christmas stamps besides the common stamps. The Christmas Stamp Foundation is one of the oldest charity organisations in Denmark - they publish a new Christmas stamp each year. The idea came from a Danish postmaster, Einar Hollbøll, who took initiative in 1904 to publish the first Christmas stamp. The motif is different each year, and everyone is free to send suggestions for the design of this year's Christmas stamp. The Danish queen Margrethe II was one of the designers. The surplus from the sale goes to Danish Christmas Stamp Homes, where 700 children with a difficult childhood are living on a free stay for a time each year.

Sancta Lucia 
According to the Catholic church Lucia is the saint of light (lux = light in Latin). She is celebrated between 12-13 december, especially at schools, old folk's homes and institutions all over the country, by parades with songs, glögg and Christmas cakes. According to the legend Lucia wore a garland of light upon her head,  so her hands were free to illegally give other Christians food and drink, while they were hiding in the catacombs of Rome.

Christmas preparations
When Christmas is coming near the Christmas preparations increase significantly in most Danish homes, because people from childhood were "programmed" into the rituals, which are necessary to create a real old-fashioned Christmas. No doubt that Christmas has become commercialized, but the free, cosy Christmas preparations are still number one priority . In the last two weeks before Christmas big supplies of traditional Christmas baking like brown cakes, vanilla cakes, honey cakes, pepper nuts and *klejner are being baked, and the children are now the main producers in the kitchen together with Mom.
*klejner are baked a pot with hot lard 

Christmas trees ready for sale, Gl. Ry

 Christmas tree
In December are made decorations for the Christmas tree, braided Christmas hearts, decorations in gold and silver and coloured paper, and the homemade Christmas candy is made with marzipan, soft nougat, nuts, almonds, dates, candied berries and chocolate. And now it is time to go out to buy the Christmas tree. When the custom began about 200 years ago, the usual Christmas tree was a spruce, but today the most popular tree for Christmas is the Norman type. It's needles are more bluish and soft and they last longer than the common spruce. Many find it a lovely tradition to go out and choose their tree and cut it down themselves.

If the tree has to be decorated according to traditions there must be a star in the top. There have to be garlands of little Danish flags, paper cones and hearts filled with candy, little toy instruments and "fairy's hair." Although the live candles are preferred on the Christmas tree, the electric light garlands are gaining ground  because of the danger of fire. In the old good old days it was the head of the family, who was the leader of the Christmas tree project. The gorgeous Christmas tree was presented to the rest of the family by him, when the food had been consumed - and the children were so tired and sick with expectations that they did not get the optimum pleasure of this wonderful event.

Christmas Evening
Today it's common that the children participate actively in the decoration of the Christmas tree. It is first of all the children's feast. The time for the Christmas dinner has also been moved to an earlier time, so the children get the best opportunities for a wonderful Christmas. The great feast in Denmark is Christmas Evening 24. December. Most families have a light lunch in the morning and try to have the children get a little sleep at noon, but this is not always a success - the kids are too excited. Many families go to church in the afternoon before dinner. This tradition is more for maintaining the good and solemn Christmas atmosphere than for Christianity. 
 Most Danes have roast duck on Christmas evening, but roast goose or roast pork are close in popularity. The dinner has usually no first course, but the old tradition was to have rice porridge with butter in the middle and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. The duck or the goose is served filled with prunes and apples and with accompaniment of red cabbage, beetroots, and white and sugar browned potatoes. The dessert is mostly rice á la mande with hot cherry sauce. A whole almond is hidden in the dessert, and he/she who finds the almond, gets an almond gift, bought for the occassion. If there are children present, it's not unusual to have more than one almond gift. No one must be sorry.

In the old days there was a tradition for giving the animals an extra treat of fodder on Christmas Evening. According to superstition they can talk on that evening, and it was not a good thing if they talked bad about their people.

Dancing around the Christmas Tree
When dinner is over, the candles are lit in the Christmas tree and the family dance around the tree - if there is place enough - and sing Christmas songs. There are lots of Danish Christmas songs and psalms - they have been sung for generations and are a part of the private Christmas ritual. When the children have no more patience for this dancing and singing - which happens - there is time for unwrapping gifts. Someone in the family is chosen as the lucky one, who hands over the gifts - often the family father, dressed as Santa Claus. And it is best to give and take and unwrap and thank you, before the next gift is chosen - but this is not always possible! Depends on how small the children are.

After all gifts have been unwrapped is often served some fresh fruit, candy, Christmas cakes, coffee and a little avec. The family usually goes early to bed on Christmas Eve. They can sleep a little longer, and the children can enjoy their gifts in peace and quiet! Hmm! Not always! But on the 2. Christmas day it's time to have the yearly Christmas lunch with the closest family and eventually closest friends.

Source: Visit Denmark: Jul i Danmark, Danske Juletraditioner

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lady's Bedstraw /Gul Snerre

Flora and Fauna
Galium verum

Lady's Bedstraw has little yellow flowers, gathered in tufts at the top of the plant. A colony of Lady's Bedstraw reminds at a distance about a yellow carpet. The plant is common in a dry and sunny, grassy bottom, along roads, in sandy beach fields and in dunes. Lady's Bedstraw sends out a spicy, honey scent, which is especially strong before rain. Flowers in June-August.

Other names:  Cheese-rennet / Cheese-running / Maid's-hair / Our lady's bedstraw / Petty Mugget / True Bedstraw / Yellow Bedstraw / Yellow lady's bedstraw / Yellow spring bedstraw

Folk medicine:
Lady's Bedstraw was used in skin problems and stomach diseases and as a sweat-impelling means. It was also an effective means against viper bite and other poisoning. It worked against gouts, cramps, stones in the kidneys and it was easening epilepsy. Children's scabies was given an effective bath with Lady's Bedstraw. It has also been used to combat sleeplessness. A decoction is good as an addition to hot water to soothe the feet of a weary traveller. In Europe, people have placed a piece of the plant in their shoes for protection against blisters.

pasture with common sorrel, Lady's Bedstraw and Festuca rubra

Its common name probably derives from a Christian legend that claims it was part of the bedding used in the manger in which Jesus lay.  It was believed that virgin Mary had plucked it as a bedstraw for baby Jesus, because the flowers were soft as a blanket. Before Christianity the flower was considered sacred and dedicated to the goddes Freja (Frigg), who is the goddes of love, marriage and home. The plant has been used as stuffing in pillows and mattresses, particularly for women about to give birth, as it was believed to ensure a safe and easy childbirth. Frigg helped women give birth to children, and as Scandinavians used the plant Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum) as a sedative, they called it Frigg's grass.

Bedstraws are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species.

Practical use:
In the past the dried plants were used to stuff mattresses, as the coumarin scent of the plants acts as a flea killer. But it was also hanged up in the rooms, partly as a decoration, because the yellow colour lasts long like an eternelle, and partly as a source of scent because of the spicy aroma. Lady's bedstraw was also used to spice beer. In Denmark, the plant (known locally as gul snerre) is traditionally used to infuse spirits, making the uniquely Danish drink bjæsk.

The latin name Gallium derives from the Greek ‘gala‘ that means milk.  Lady’s Bedstraw is sometimes referred to as Cheese Rennet or Cheese Renning. This name corresponds to the common use of the plant as a milk curdler. The plant contains an enzyme suitable for this purpose.  What makes this plant especially useful in cheese production is that as well as curdling milk, it also colours the cheese a bright yellow.The flowers were used to coagulate milk in cheese manufacture, and in Gloucestershire to colour the cheese.

Plant dye:
Among the other common names used for the plant is Maid’s Hair. The yellow dye that can be obtained from the stems, leaves and flowering tips has been used as a hair dye. Although it has never been widely cultivated for this purpose, a red dye can also be produced from the roots and has been used for dyeing wool and other fabrics in places like the Western Isles.  The  flower top was used to dye yellow and olive green. Galium, or Ladys' straw, was used as a red dye during Anglo-Saxon times in England.

Snaps/ Bjæsk:
Use the flowers, it's best to use the buds just before flowering. They can be dried for later use, but not freezed. Put the flowers in a bottle, fill it with neutral snaps. Drawing time 1-2 days and not longer. After filter it has to be thinned. It's better when stored. The characteristic taste comes after storing it for a long time.

photo Vilsted Lake and Strandkær, Mols 2007, 2008:
grethe bachmann

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Children Say

"World's Best Mom":

First Moms think it's fun to have children, until they can walk.
Nicolai, 10 years.

My mom never drinks beer, and she never smokes. She is only eating salad.
Firat, 8 years.

I want to have a big bum like you, for then I don't fall down into the toilet.
Julie, 3 years,  to her Mom.

It is not that important to have a TV. Because your parents always want to watch something else.
Kasper, 5 years.


"Lovely Children":

Mom, if a baby comes out from your stomach one day, then I think we should tell daddy.
Arthur, 4 years.

Look, I think the weather has gone into pieces...
Thea, 4 years. (about rain)

When it is autumn, the trees take off their clothes and people put on their clothes.
Aurora, 8 (about God)

photo: gb

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mid Jutland, Lake District, Dusty Rain in November

A Taste of Denmark

This hedgerow  is from the second  week of November and almost all trees and bushes have lost their leaves now. It is early, compared to the previous years. It's one of those days where the sky is thick and grey, but where the colours are soft and blurred like in one of those English paintings which I like so much. Some British movies have caught that atmosphere in the landscape.

You probably know those  traffic circles. Various towns have created various traffic circles. This town, Ry, has chosen stones for the circle. They don't grow into a wilderness like some bushy circles do. If a town has a conncetion to a famous man, fx like Piet Hein, they place his super ellipse and super egg in traffic circles at the entrance to the town, a huge super ellipse and super egg, looking like they are made in solid silver. I'm not sure which town, maybe it's Skjern in West Jutland. The other little picture is a pretty villa at the top of a green hill in Ry, an expensive residential neighboorhood. 

But I'm not looking for a stay in town, I want to go out into the countryside, although the air is dripping with tiny rain drops. In Danish we call it "støvregn" (dusty rain) - you say drizzling. It must not grow into rain. I don't have a water camera. I know that photographers pack their camera into plastic, but I'm not a professional photographer. I can make a day without taking photos -  or I might take a photo from inside the car if necessary!

A path through a ploughed field. That dark umbra of the newly ploughed field is so warm. Don't worry about winter! December is a warm like umbra with lots of candles in the house and Christmas preparations. A tall bush in silhouette upon the little hill, waving with its twigs and branches. I cannot see what kind of bush, but it is perfect at that place, isn't it. Taking a closer look -  it might be a hawthorn.  

As usual on our way into the Lake district of Mid Jutland we pass the village Vrads with the little white church and the field with the Jutland horse. Usually I have a little chat with this horse, but not today. There are always three horses in this field, and the Jutland horse is the most curious. It has the most lovely friendly eyes under the thick  forelock. It looks as if it has got a haircut.

First destination was a path through a nature reserve, but we had to walk across the road to the lake instead. The soil was so muddy and smooth that we were sliding along the path like on ice skates. The lake was beautiful. The water was like the oh so often described mirror, and the farthest corner looked like a Norwegian mountain lake, dark and black. Everything was silent. Even the cows on the other side of the lake. They were only staring. Sweet cows. The resting place was not for use that day. Too wet. But we bring our folding chairs. Looking across the lake in a coffee break is not the worst thing to do for a cool Jutlander! I don't think you know the verse about the Jutlanders, and it is impossible to translate, but a Jutlander "he's strong and tough, and whether things go up or down you'll never see him being lost!" I'm not sure it fits with me - although I'm a born Jutlander!   
Cammock leaves by the lake

The next place on our little tour was at Klostermølle. On the way we passed the meadow where trees and bushes have been removed to give place for birds. Many geese are grazing here in winter. A tree is left in the middle of the meadow and the buzzard usually sits here, watching for prey, but today the tree has been occupied by a humble crow. We're always looking for the kingfisher by the water stream - there is a big channel and water mill at Klostermølle, built by the Benedictine monks in the early Middle Ages, but I have made some posts about this before. I like this place. We did not see the kingfisher, and if we had then this little bird is extremely quick. I haven't caught a useful photo yet. You'll just see a blue metallic glimpse ahead of you, and then it comes back a little later, always like a little blue lightning. Such a little tease!  And I haven't got the patience to wait for a perfect shot. The watermill at Klostermølle lies by one of Denmark's largest lakes, Mossø, and the shores of this lake
 are among the loveliest places I know. The trees along the lake are so pretty, I hope they will keep healthy so they don't have to fall. Here was once a fine kloster, and I can easily imagine the monks walking around here. The place is so peaceful, and today every sound is like covered in a soft woolen blanket.

The weather gets more and more dusty with rain and this soft-coloured photo looks like a painting.


Twilight came, and there was a sudden glow behind the forest until darkness fell completely. The days are short...........

photo Mid Jutland November 2011: grethe bachmann

click to enlarge pictures.