Meeting My Norwegian Family in Drobak, Norway

I have been searching for my European roots forever, it seems like. Since I was a kid, the connection to the Europeans was very vague and I always felt like I didn’t really know who I was and where my family comes from. After searching through Ancestry.com for years and trying to ask family members what they could remember, I used 23andme.com.

23 and Me is a website to test your DNA which gives you ancestry information and used to give you health information. I got my results one day, and I jumped on the map view to see if I had family in any of the places where my ancestry is supposedly from. There was one distant cousin in Norway! He was supposed to be a 3rd – 5th cousin. I decided to message him to find out if I could find a link. I didn’t hear anything back from three months, but I had my trip planned anyway. I planned to end my European vacation in Norway and stop by Drobak to take it all in – with no clear direction or idea where to go.

2 weeks before I left for Europe, I got an email back from the cousin. He was willing to help and was more than helpful through the process. He is an amateur genealogist that was able to translate all the Norwegian documents that lead me from my roadblock of only great grandparents names, to people from the 1600s. He also got me in touch with a living relative in Drobak! He hit a roadblock when going through the path of my great grandmother’s brother’s side. He found a grave, and called the graveyard to see whole bought the grave. That led him to my 2nd cousin who is still alive. We contacted each other and I excitedly flew to Oslo a couple weeks later.

Eddy, my 2nd cousin, was absolutely amazing to us. He picked us up from the airport and drove us to Drobak with the 3-5th cousin. The four of us took a drive through the scenic and beautiful seaside town of Drobak, 20 minutes south of Oslo. We saw the grave sight (minus the missing graves) of my great grandparents. We then went to the original house that my great, great, great grandpa Olaf built. We were able to walk into the house and see the same view that my ancestors have seen for 150 years.

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Vegan in Paris Sucks, and My Thoughts on Paris

Paris in my head is a romantic, majestic place that mimics all the cuteness of the cartoon Madeline, the perfect uniqueness of Amelie, and the Eiffel Tower all rolled into one. The reality doesn’t add up to that impossible equation, but I still have a small part of it in my heart.

Paris is not romantic. It has the most beautiful and planned architecture I have ever seen, but the attitude of the people make it outright annoying. The crowds of tourists and the irritated feel of the customer service makes it less and less romantic every second I’m there. Being vegan made them even more irritated and confused which was just…splendid. They thought we had a disease basically, but mostly they were offended that we were rejecting their way of life: bread, wine, cheese, meat, smoke – repeat.

I do have to admit that I am spoiled to live in America where customer service is ‘the customer is always right’. You can take anything you can buy back to the store or restaurant. Most people are helpful and will smile at strangers. I guess in other countries they think that is the “dumb American helpfulness” but after enduring the fake kindness my whole life, it is hard to deal with the irritated French.

But all complaining aside, when we found amazing vegan restaurants and nice people – it was all the more exciting and wonderful. The daily markets are truly remarkable. We stayed in an Air bnb in the 13th Arr. on Rue Broca which was the best location to be in. You can wake up, take in the beautiful architecture, take the subway to the Eiffel Tower, Seine, Louvre, or just stroll through a park. Pick up some organic, flavorful food and have an impromptu picnic on the water.

My overall experience was not great. The French are cold to outsiders, which makes it not a very welcoming place. I could get used to the amazing health care, view, and food – not to mention location to every European country you could visit in a weekend. Also, Lucas’ family and friends were really nice and hospitable to us. But maybe I can try the south of France next?

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Vegan in Stockholm, Sweden : Sodermalm Eating Delights

For the rest of the Swedish trip, we spent days walking through Sodermalm, the hipster downtown of Stockholm. With the beautiful cobblestone streets, random vegan buffets and bakeries, stunning Swedish art and shopping, and the views of Stockholm – it was our favorite place to walk.

We ate at Chutney – which is absolutely amazing Indian food with the Swedish style buffet. You get unlimited chutney, Swedish bread and vegetables, coffee and tea with up to two plates of amazing food. It was so good we ate their for lunch and dinner the same day! I still miss the food to this day. They have desserts as well, which are ok but not amazing- the meals were better.

We also happened to see a vegetarian buffet lunch spot while looking for a half-vegan bakery. Vegetariskt Matcafe Legume was 90% vegan and was similar to the Chutney buffet style of super healthy, good, Indian and Mediterranean food with free coffee and bread.

I also heard about a bakery that had many vegan options. Naturbageriet Sattva was a complete surprise for me. I walked a long way to find it, and when I finally found it, I was kind of disappointed. It looked like a really boring natural bakery – which the name means basically – natural bakery purity (sattva = purity in sanskrit). The place was very minimal and the baked goods were in one small fridge. They looked really blah (like most Swedish desserts: flat, to the point). Since I walked the whole way there, I still loaded up on almost every vegan dessert anyway. I grabbed a cinnamon roll, cakes and cookies, everything. The lady was very nice. She was surprised we were not Swedish because she said every foreigner comes in with a massive backpack (probably all the vegan travelers on a trek from Happy Cow). She explained how an American Buddhist helped make some of the recipes. We walked out of there, packed the desserts away and didn’t even try them until that night. To my surprise – they were AMAZING! They were to die for and I gobbled them up with our friend’s parents. Lesson: Don’t judge a dessert by it’s boring exterior!

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Stockholm, Sweden – Arriving and Sandhalm

I know this is VERY overdue, but we had a pretty amazing time in Sweden that included private boats, islands, Swedish vegan restaurants and bakeries, and lots and lots of blonde tall people.

We flew from Paris to Sweden on September 7th after spending a very relaxing day in a suburb of Paris with Lucas’ family. We took an hour flight that was almost empty with the first people who spoke English in 2 weeks! I almost spoke French to them when they greeted with with their big HALLO. We left Paris, which I was happy and sad about. After about an hour and a half, we started flying over an amazing scenery of jagged islands, deep blue water, and lots of trees. We landed in the middle of a lush forest and nothing else about 40 minutes away from Stockholm.

They have a high-speed train that goes directly to the city center in 15 minutes and goes over 200 mph. We arrived at night and Kris, Lucas’ college friend from Hong Kong, picked us up and drove to his house just outside Stockholm. Everything was clean, perfect, and quiet.

Kris and his wife suggested we go to a popular island called Sandhalm which takes 2 hours by ferry that next day, Sunday. We awoke on Sunday very early and jumped on a ferry that took us to the Baltic Sea. The weather was amazing, the air is clear, and the mini islands we passed for two hours seemed to be an endless loop of perfect red and white Swedish cabins with private yachts. The Swedish flag flew in the wind and the only foreigners in Sweden sat in the back of the boat, a couple Indian guys, some sort of white lady, me, and Lucas. Everyone in Sweden kind of looks like me except 99% have bright blonde hair. We are all tall with similar features, which was interesting to see. I don’t think they see an integration with darker skinned people or even brunettes so the segregation felt weird all the time – but it was still beautiful.

We reached the island at lunch to find absolutely nothing to eat. Luckily Kris packed us some notoriously thick Swedish bread (quite good) and jam to survive the rest of the day on. He also gave us some notoriously STRONG Swedish coffee in the morning to keep us up the rest of the day. We roamed the island to find clear water filled with jellyfish. Beautiful cabins scattered the coast, but this island was only a 15 minute walk across. We started walking through the forest and there wasn’t a person in sight. Only beautiful trees, mushrooms, and cushy plants underneath our feet. It felt like a gnome would pop out at any moment, and the silence was shocking and refreshing.

We reached the other side of the island where there was a beach with the coldest water known to man. A group of crazy Swedish people jumped right in to the freezing water and stripped down naked to change in front of us – which they seem to like as well! We roamed seemingly deserted island for a couple more hours and headed home on a belly full of dill chips. Every restaurant only carried meat and the only vegetarian option only opened up after the boat left. But it was still an amazing day!

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Vegan Homemade Peanut Tofu Spinach Dumplings

Homemade vegan dumplings with a perfect thin dough are amazing, but making the dough super thin by hand is hard – for me. I opt to buy dumpling skins from the Asian market (without egg) and make my own filling (I found a Korean rice wrapper). This is a super easy meal that can be made almost as fast as frozen dumplings! Play with the ingredients, almost anything tastes good in dumplings (except meat!)

  • 1 box of small dumpling skins (without egg – or make your own)
  • 1 container  (14 oz) extra firm organic tofu crumbled
  • 1 large handful baby spinach (around 2 cups) chopped
  • 3/4 cup peanuts – blended into a powder
  • 1/2 red pepper chopped into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 green onion chopped
  • 2 TB rice vinegar
  • 3 TB Braggs Amino (or soy sauce)
  • 2 TB sesame oil

Dipping sauces:
Sweet & sour sauce, soy sauce, and homemade chili oil

Directions:  Mix all ingredients into a large bowl. Heat skillet on high and spray lightly with oil. Layout dumpling skins on parchment paper. Have a bowl of water next to you, and place a tablespoon of filling on each dumpling skin. Put some water on your fingertips and stick the two sides of the dumplings together (like a taco). Next make small folds on the top to make the traditional design and to lock in the filling more. Place dumplings in the skillet and fry on both sides for a few minutes until browned. Note: Some people like to add 1/2 cup of water and boil the dumplings at the end, but I find this make them less crunchy – but you can do this at the end if you like. Eat immediately with sweet & sour sauce, soy sauce, and chili oil for dipping.

Time: 10 min prep, 10 min frying

Filling will make about 40 dumplings – serves 4
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New Native Foods Cookbook!

I just bought the new Native Foods cookbook, and it’s amazing! There are dozens of recipes that I have been wondering about for years – and now I know the secrets! This includes the wellington, cupcakes, strawberry shortcake, seitan meatballs, and tons more. Today I made the Asparagus Risotto that was really good and super easy to make!
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Gooey Vegan Zucchini Bread

This recipe has lots of zucchini which makes it a gooey, lovely bread. You can even add chopped walnuts or chocolate chips, or both to make it even better! This uses smashed banana instead of flax because I don’t like making poop bread as much as many other vegans, but feel free to sub if you want.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 ripe banana smashed
1 TB vanilla ext.
3/4 cup almond/rice milk
1/2 cup agave
2 cups shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a bread pan and set aside.

Take two bowls, one for dry and one for wet ingredients. For the dry, mix in: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom. In the wet bowl, smash the banana with a potato smasher until smooth. Add coconut oil, vanilla extract, almond milk, and agave. Mix dry and wet ingredients together. Mix in zucchini. Add walnuts or chocolate chips if desired.

Pour mix into bread pan and cook for 40 minutes or until knife comes out clean.

Serve warm with some Earth Balance on top for an extra treat! Enjoy!

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Easy Vegan Pot Pie!

This recipe is super easy, vegan and soy free. It can probably be gluten free with a different crust on top, so try out different ingredients and have fun! This is a perfect vegan Thanksgiving or Christmas meal for the whole family!

2 TB olive oil
1 large yellow onion chopped
3 garlic cloves diced
2 large Russet potatoes peeled and cubed
2 large carrots cubed
1 can small peas
1 head of broccoli cut into bite sizes
1/4 flour
2 TB nutritional yeast
2 TB Braggs liquid amino
1 1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 tsp herbes de provence
1 tsp crushed black pepper
1 9″ rolled pie crust (buy or make your own)

Preheat oven 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook onion and garlic until onion is translucent. Then, put in the carrots and cook for about 2 minutes while mixing every so often. Next, put in the potatoes and cook turning every so often until potatoes are tender but not mushy. Next, put in flour, nutritional yeast, and liquid aminos and then the vegetable broth to create a gravy and mix around for a couple seconds. Mix in the broccoli, peas, and spices in. Turn off skillet heat.

Place the entire mix in the pot (either a large pot (ramekin) or individual smaller pots). Place the dough on top of each pot and place in oven for 30 minutes. Cover the sides of the dough with foil if it begins to brown too much. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Serves 4.
Takes around 20 minutes to prepare, 30 minutes to bake – 50 minutes total.

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Best Vegan Roasted Veggie Orzo Recipe

I make this dish all the time because it’s pretty easy and it contains all of my favorite things! I usually mix up the different sauces according to how I feel that day. The more sauces the better!

Orzo Recipe
2 packages whole wheat orzo (15 oz each)
1 yellow onion chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
2 bell peppers (red and green) chopped in 1/2″ squares
1 package Italian Field Roast Sausage – use all four links and chop into half moons (definitely do not substitute for any other seitan!)
2 zucchini chopped into half moons
1/2 container cherry tomatoes chopped in half
1/2 jar marinara
1 recipe pumpkin seed pesto (recipe below)
1 jar artichoke antipasto (trader joes)
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes
1 avocado

Pumpkin Seed Pesto Recipe
3/4 cups pumpkin seeds
1 cup fresh basil packed down
3/4 cup olive oil
1 TB sea salt
2 garlic cloves
1 TB lemon juice

Directions:
1. Start cooking orzo as instructed on package. Put hot orzo in large bowl when done. At the same time make the filling and pesto.
2. Heat skillet to high and and 2TB olive oil for frying. Once hot, add onion and garlic. Heat a couple minutes until onions are translucent, then add seitan. Cook seitan until browned on both sides. Add in zucchini, bell peppers and lower heat to medium mix everything together and cover. Mix every minute to make sure nothing sticks or burns. Cook about 5-7 minutes and turn off heat.
3. Pesto – Put all ingredients in blender. Done.
4. Mix your fillings with the orzo. Top with the pesto and mix in thoroughly. Add in marinara, chopped tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, and antipasto. Add all sauces to taste.
5. Grab a scoop in each bowl, top with slices of avocado.

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Loving Hut – Paris, France

I had an amazing time at Loving Hut, and I would have never expected it. I have been to over 12 Loving Huts all over the world, and the Paris location is the best Loving Hut I have been to!

I had been to some disappointing and expensive restaurants in Paris, with rude or just uninterested waiters. I had also been sad to hear that I had to walk by hundreds of creperies without eating anything!

Luckily, Loving Hut came to our rescue with the amazing crepe dish they offer. It was so good, and I miss it so much! The waitress was very nice and spoke a little English. They also sold vegan croissants in a bag, vegan dark chocolate spread, books, and more. I bought up everything and ate that the rest of the trip to curb my cravings for sweets.

I highly recommend trying this Loving Hut out, you won’t regret eating the crepe!

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