Tag Archives: Senja

Blood Tests and Welfare Cases

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day

It’s been a busy week this week. There was lots of work to catch up on, on Monday as well as a couple of meetings. For animal welfare cases, I often work with Thomas and he’s often a source of great advice, but recently we have both had so much work to do outside the office that it hasn’t been easy to keep that contact up. This week, with his help, I’ve finally resolved a query that has been rumbling on for a while. I say I resolved it, but actually it was him that ran the meeting I set up. I was watching and learning though, and next time I would be able to tackle it myself.

On Tuesday I was out taking samples from goats. Our team are sent lists each year of tests we should carry out, checking for various animal diseases that cause a lot of distress or present a public health risk (part of the OK program). As well as taking blood samples, which will be tested for brucellosis (which can affect different species, including humans) I tested for mites by swabbing in their ears and paratuberculosis by taking samples of poo. At least, in theory I took poo samples. In reality, it was far harder to extract faeces from goats than I had expected. Next time, I will have to find a better strategy as my sample pots were definitely a lot less full than they should have been. Nevertheless, there is pleasure for me in blood sampling because it’s something I’m good at. That said, crouching down and standing up again forty times was a stark reminder that I’m not as young as I once was!

Thomas and I also worked together on Wednesday, meeting about a police case that we’ve been working on. There, both of us were learning, in particular regarding how to build up an evidence file to make sure everything is documented well enough that someone reading the file for the first time can fully understand the situation and where each piece of evidence was located. We also went through a lot of photos we had taken in the course of the meeting. Those photos were powerful evidence, I think. Seeing them afresh created quite an impact. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know how much I like to take photos and I pride myself in taking good photographs at work as well. If you are taking a picture of a thin animal, for example, the result is very dependent on the angle you take it and the clarity of the image. When you can see all the ribs and the bumps along the spine, you know that animal is painfully underweight.

On Thursday, I was out on another long-rumbling case with Birgit. More learning, because Birgit is great at her job as well. I even got to put some of the tips the police contact had told us the day before into practice. Birgit is good with animals and people and also compassionate towards both. The case in question will benefit from her steadiness and experience.

And yesterday, Thomas and I had a meeting with someone who may apply for a licence to process moose that have been run over and killed (to use for meat). The law regarding such premises changed drastically in the summer, and unless you are computer literate and know where to look, it can be difficult to navigate the process. Fortunately Thomas is fully on board with those changes too. Much of my job revolves around knowing where to find relevant information. Keeping up with so many different strands is one of the challenges of the work we do. Because we are in a rural area, we have to tackle a very wide range of issues. One moment, we could be assessing guinea pigs to see whether the conditions they are being kept in are adequate, the next we are deciding whether animals brought in from Ukraine are being kept in compliance with the modified quarantine rules, and the next again, we might be checking whether a reindeer carcase is fit for human consumption or whether the facility where that is being done has taken all the appropriate steps to ensure that those working there are safe. One thing I will say is that my job is rarely boring!

I am hoping to take most of next week off. It’s not a holiday. Rather it’s time that I have built up over recent months working long hours. I now have enough hours to take a week off and hope that I get to do so. I have already made plans to sacrifice Tuesday to another goat blood test (the cut off date for sending is the 15th December) and there was news yesterday that the police, very sadly, shot a man who is a farmer in our area. It was in one of the newspapers that Mattilsynet are involved and my boss was asked to comment, so the information that it’s in our area is not confidential information. It’s possible there will be some work involved with that case next week, or even during the weekend. If I am asked to go in at short notice, I will do so willingly. This is a very unusual and tragic incident in Norway and if there is need for an assessment of animal welfare, then Thomas and I are on the front line, alongside our boss, Hilde. I think we are a good team.

Finally, I hope you are enjoying my Advent photos. Hopefully I will be out and about next week to take some more. If there’s good weather, so much the better!

Triar enjoying a walk in the park

Cosy Lunch at Senja Roasters

It’s a while since I’ve made a food post, as my friend Vicky pointed out in an e-mail a couple of weeks ago. I’m hoping to meet her in a few days’ time, so this one’s for you, Vicky.

There weren’t many choices on the menu, but that often goes hand in hand with excellence. Better to use great ingredients to produce a couple of incredible dishes than to try to do too much and dilute the effect. Both John and I chose Spanish meatballs with mash. It had a wonderful, rich flavour. The potato was topped with tiny pieces of crispy onion and the meatballs were given extra texture and taste with a sprinkling of chopped smoked nuts. It really was delicious.

Spanish meatballs with rustic mashed potato

Outside, the autumn weather was stormy, but as usual, it was warm and welcoming inside, with a wonderful view over the harbour at Stonglandseidet.

For dessert, we both had vanilla and lemon tart, to which I added a cappuccino. I might have preferred a slightly stronger element of lemon, but all in all, it still tasted as good as it looked.

Vanilla and lemon tart with cappuccino coffee

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend. See you next week!

Next

Sunrise/sunset: 02:22/ 23:20. Daylength: 20hr58min

And so the months of perpetual daylight have passed again for this year. There’s a feeling of change in the air as we move towards the autumn. There’s change coming up for me too. On Monday I should get the keys to my new house. I am feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness. The mortgage payment went out of my bank a couple of days back, and my account, which was replete with the deposit, suddenly looks very much emptier, and the limitations on what I will be able to buy and do with it came into focus. There are a few things I urgently need to fix. There was snow in the loft last winter, so the hole that let it in needs to be fixed. Also the heat exchanger (which most Norwegian houses use as a significant part of their heating in winter) needs fixing or (more likely) replacing. On top of that, we need, as an absolute minimum, beds to sleep in. My kind colleague, Øivind, has offered us some furniture, including sofas, so at least we will have something to sit on.

In addition to the furniture, there are various other things I had to do, including arranging contents and building insurance, and letting the post office and National Population Register know I will be moving. There was a close call yesterday when the estate agent rang me up in the afternoon to say that the insurance for legal problems with the exchange hadn’t been paid, by my bank, with the mortgage. This was apparently serious enough for her to suggest that the exchange might not go ahead on Monday. I presume that might have set me in breach of contract, but fortunately they allowed me to make the payment and send evidence I had done so. Everything to do with the bank is done online here, so barring further problems, hopefully everything will go ahead as planned.

It’s been a mixed week at work. The first half was spent out on the road with Gry. Always a good thing! As usual, she had some very interesting snippets on sheep farming. The most interesting, from my point of view, was that in the past couple of years, she has started breeding her first time ewes with Norwegian Villsau rams. This means that the first time they give birth, they will have relatively small but hardy lambs, which are more likely to thrive with a first time mother. She and her sons are so engaged in making improvements to the farm that it’s inspiring to hear, as well as fascinating.

Sheep on pasture near the road at Stonglandseidet

The downside of going out with Gry is that it means that once the visits are finished, there are reports to write. These are relatively straightforward in uncomplicated cases, but this week, for example, I went to a farm where there were some animals with no eartags. Norwegian law is very strict on traceability, and an animal without tags is much more difficult to track. They can’t go into the food chain, and of course, if there’s an outbreak of infectious disease, it potentially makes tracing which animals were in the area at the time much more difficult.

So if there are animals without tags, and especially if there are other traceability problems, such as not updating the Livestock Register regularly enough, I have to serve notice that those animals that can’t be traced must not be moved off the farm. In addition, I have to set deadlines for the farmer to have the animals properly tagged again, and explain which laws cover the problems I found, and what they mean on the ground.

In addition to the report writing, Line sent me notice that next week, I have to go out and certify a horse which will be travelling to Sweden. I’ve inspected many horses in the past that were travelling from Scotland to Ireland. The inspection itself isn’t complicated. But back then, the paperwork was just that: paperwork. Standard forms would be printed out and filled in. Now all the paperwork has to be produced through a Europe wide system called Traces. Not only is the system itself quite impenetrable, but everything has to be registered and double checked. The importer (who in this case was a private individual) has to be put in the system at both ends, so as the person sending the horse from Norway, and the person receiving it in Sweden. Putting someone in the system in Sweden has to be done by an official vet in Sweden. We can’t do it here.

Because I have barely used Traces, Line had kindly set up a meeting at twelve on Friday to walk me through it. After a long week at work, I had been hoping to get away early to go swimming with John and Andrew. I thought the meeting would take perhaps an hour and hopefully less, but it turned out to be much more complicated than I had realised. Not only did everything have to be put in place in Traces, but there was also information that had to be added in Mattilsynet’s own system MATS. I think Line had not realised just how unfamiliar I am with the sections of MATS that I don’t regularly use, and also perhaps hadn’t realised how difficult it still is for me to work in Norwegian, in any circumstance where the language is complex or unfamiliar. She was very patient, but by the time two hours had gone by, I think we were both pretty tired of the situation. I rushed away at the end of the meeting, hoping we would still be in time for an hour of swimming, but it was at that point I found out that there was a risk of the house sale not going through, which had to be sorted immediately, and by the time that was finished, there was no time left because the pool was shutting.

Still, every cloud, as they say. Having missed the pool, we decided to go out and see if we could swim in a lake instead, so this was where we ended up.

Lake near Silsand, Senja

We took some wood and had burgers and hotdogs afterwards. Obviously that doesn’t quite fit in with the low fat eating I’ve been doing for the past month or so, and I’m suffering somewhat in the aftermath, but by the end of the evening, I had certainly put the past two days at work firmly behind me.

A couple of pictures to finish up, from a walk last weekend, arranged by Ann. By next week, I should have a new house not too far from here. See you there!

Fish and Chips

Sunrise/sunset: 03:36/21:58. Daylength: 18h22min

I didn’t update last week. I was too busy wallowing in the nostalgia of my UK visit. The past two weeks have also been filled with movement and travel, some further afield, but others involving more local discoveries.

Ten days ago, I travelled back down to Rogaland, where I used to live. I was bound for a Mattilsynet meeting about the important communication on welfare between abattoirs and the vets out in the field that I talked about in this post: The Ever Changing Sky

I emerged into the 11pm darkness at Sola Airport to be greeted by the ever present smell of slurry. It’s a very famous phenomenon. Jo Nesbø even mentions it in one of his books. Anyway, I had completely forgotten until I stepped outside into the warmish night air.

Knowing I would arrive so late, I had toyed with the idea of staying in an airport hotel and travelling onwards on the morning of the meeting, which didn’t start until eleven. But I had found a bus that would take me to Sandnes – the number 42 – and so I thought I’d risk it. I remembered the airport buses from when I used to live there, so I assumed I would be able to pay on board, but when the driver only opened the doors in the centre of the bus, it was obvious I wasn’t going to be able to buy one. Scrabbling online, I found I had the Kolumbus App already. Crossing my fingers that there would be no inspectors at that time of night, I finally bought a ticket for what I thought was the correct area, just as we pulled into Sandnes.

By this time it was midnight. Technically, I was still working, still on the clock, which I had switched on in the office when I arrived in the morning. Logging onto my computer to clock out, I thought I would check tomorrow’s meeting, so I opened up the Teams app to check the calendar. There was no venue listed. In fact, it was listed as a Teams Meeting. For a long, sweaty moment, I thought I had just travelled 2000km for a Teams meeting. A check of the e-mails confirmed that I had not. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had!

But the meeting was a success and I’m very glad I went. One of the tasks I struggle with at work is speaking up in meetings, but I had some valid points to make, based on both experience and reading around the topic. It was also great to meet some of the other Mattilsynet staff from other areas of Norway.

I flew back on Thursday afternoon and arrived home almost as late as I’d arrived in Sandnes. There was no rest though, as I had arranged an inspection with Gry on the Friday (post about Gry). The tour took me on an exploration of a part of Senja that I had never visited. Indeed it’s a small corner of the island that I had missed in all my driving around. We stopped in Gryllefjord for a surprisingly tasty chunk of pizza from the local shop. *

Surprisingly tasty pizza

Gryllefjord is an amazing place. It’s ramshackle collection of houses, clustered on the edge of the fjord, under a brooding overhang of mountains, with a small harbour. It was a cloudy day, and the tops of the mountains reached up into the mist.

We also drove to a nearby village, reached through a tunnel in the mountainside. The old road, which went over an exposed ridge, was often blocked in winter.

It’s always a joy finding new places near to where I live. There was also a restaurant in Gryllefjord, which was closed at the time of our visit. I had heard from others that it was a good restaurant, and when I checked online, it appeared that there was fish and chips on the menu.

For anyone living in the UK, that probably seems like a non-event. Fish and chips is the original British fast food. I can remember before Chinese and Indian takeaways became common, and well before the invasion of the US burger craze, that fish and chips was a staple. But in Norway, fish in batter is rare. So when John came over the next day, which was also his birthday, I suggested that we should take a tour out to Gryllefjord to try out the Skreien Spiseri and he jumped at the chance.

It was a much brighter day and we stopped along the way at Hamn to take a few photos. There were also some reindeer by the road, looking surprisingly defenceless without their antlers.

The fish and chips was delectable. We will definitely be back.

Fish and Chips from Skreien Spiseri

As you can see from the photos of John’s birthday, the weather was almost spring-like. I was hoping for a smooth segue from winter to summer, but it wasn’t to be. It started to snow again a couple of days later. I went to Tromsø on Thursday this week to go on an inspection with Line, who works there. Arriving back on the fast boat at five thirty in the afternoon, I walked back through Finnsnes centre and paused to take a couple of photos.

Still, I enjoyed the walk, even if it was a little more “refreshing” than I would have predicted a couple of weeks ago.

And as you know, there’s one member of our household, who always welcomes the snow! Hope you have a great week everyone.

Triar, looking cheery at the new snow fall

*I forgot to say that I also drank a cup of black coffee from the shop, when I was out with Gry. Perhaps, in time, I will indeed be truly integrated into Norwegian society. Maybe if I tell the authorities that I managed it without milk, they will give me a Norwegian passport faster.

Confidence

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

It’s been a mixed sort of week. As there wasn’t so much to do here on the 26th and 27th of December, we drove around a good deal during the brief periods when it was light. Though the days are very short, what light there is has a wonderful luminous quality. Coupled with the landscape of Senja, it becomes difficult to know when to stop taking photographs.

I took Anna to the airport and Charlie to the bus on Tuesday. Both arrived home safely. Always a relief, particularly when travelling to somewhere outside Norway, as Anna was doing.

My return to work was abrupt. Anja phoned me on the afternoon of the 29th December. A difficult case that I had dealt with before (and which I believed was under control) has flared up again. I am frustrated not to be able to discuss it more. It comes down to a dispute, as do so many of our cases. And if I judge it wrong, then animals will suffer.

Though I’m not in the UK, I saw a lot about the recently on social media about another child who had been beaten and killed by her mother and partner. The press always goes to town on those cases and reports unquestioningly from all those related people who made reports that were ignored. The subtext is always that the social workers were stupid to ignore such clear evidence.

Though obviously the main grief is for the child, I have a degree of sympathy for those professionals involved. So many of the cases I investigate involve a judgement regarding who is telling the truth. If those reporting were always good people, then it wouldn’t be complicated. But through my work here, I am learning that it is rarely straightforward. Obviously there are those who mistreat their animals. But there are also vindictive people who use the authorities to make lives difficult for others. There are even occasions when those people send in their flying monkeys if they see that they have not been successful themselves. It really isn’t cut and dried that lots of reports mean that there is something seriously wrong.

And so it comes down to a judgement about who is telling the truth, bearing in mind that sometimes it might be both or neither, and that there can also be misunderstandings. I am lucky to have a supportive team around me. I had advice from Torkjell, the regional big boss, and he chatted to Hilde, despite the fact that she was on holiday. I feel fortunate to have had help.

Regardless of difficult cases, family life goes on. The pond in the middle of the town is frozen and a couple of days ago, someone came and cleared away some of the snow, making tracks for ice skating. John and Andrew went and bought some skates, and for the past couple of evenings, they have been out on the ice doing circuits.

Tracks on the pond for ice skating

And of course Triar also needs to go out. John and I took him out for a walk up on the ski slope a few days back. There was fog over the fjord, but as we drove upwards it cleared. It was another of those days when it was hard for me to keep going as the temptation to stop and take pictures was overwhelming.

Triar is wearing his winter boots.

I posted a picture of our kransekake on social media. It’s one of my favourite Norwegian deserts, chewy rings of almond flavoured deliciousness.

Kransekake with crackers and Norwegian flags

Usually, people say how lovely the photo is, but this time someone asked whether it was meant to look like a dalek. And now I’ve seen it, it’s impossible to unsee. Of course, the only thing to do with that kind of information is to embrace it. Next time, the crackers should be placed to point straight out in front, and if I’m feeling really keen, I will create a plunger out of chocolate to give the full effect.

Anyway, I hope that 2022 is a better year than 2021, and that wherever we find ourselves, we can find some brightness in the road ahead. Happy new year to you.

Strange Days

Sunrise/sunset: 02:31/ 23:11. Daylength: 20hr40min

It was on this day last year, that John and I set off to drive To The North. In a week’s time, I will have been here a year.

It’s been a strange time, all in all. Not that it hasn’t been wonderful in many ways; it has. But coronavirus has had an effect on all our lives that would have been difficult to imagine only a few years ago. In the past year, I have lost an uncle: a wonderful man, larger than life, of whom I have many wonderful and cheering memories, and also an aunt – not technically mine, but an aunt by marriage who was one of the kindest people I have ever met. I could never have imagined that I would be unable to attend their funerals. Nor that I would have been unable to visit my mum and dad for a year and a half, with no definite sign of an end to restrictions amid continuing reports from around the world that the virus is continuing to spread and mutate, despite (or perhaps even because of) the vaccine.

So here I am. Logically coming was the right decision. John has settled nearby and has a permanent job and friends with whom he goes climbing and walking. Andrew has settled into school and has taken up the piano. Anna has been with us since she came home for Christmas and wasn’t able to return to university in the UK. We have a lot of freedom to go out locally. The Norwegian government have done a sterling job in limiting the spread of the virus and we are so remote that often it’s hard to remember during everyday life that we are in the middle of a pandemic.

But it’s odd to think that I have been here a year, in an area I had never visited before I drove up here in a few chaotic days one year ago. I haven’t been home to Yorkshire or Scotland. I am hoping to see my parents at Christmas, but everything seems so unstable that it is impossible to make firm plans.

Still, life goes on. While on a grand scale, everything is filled with uncertainty, on a small scale, I am thriving. This week at work has been special. When I started work a year ago, I was given a list of tasks to complete. One of them was to engage with colleagues who worked in other sectors within Mattilsynet. We cover everything from drinking water to cosmetics as well as food safety on all levels between farm and plate. It had been discussed occasionally, but due to the strict coronavirus rules, where nobody was meant to go anywhere that wasn’t essential, it was always put on hold. But last Friday, alone in the office with Randi and Øivind, I decided it was time to seize the opportunity and I asked whether they had anything planned for this week.

The result was that I went out with Randi on Wednesday for some Smilefjes tilsyn and Friday with Øivind to inspect some waterworks.

Smilefjes is Mattilsynets system for inspection of restaurants and food outlets. When you enter an eatery, there’s generally a certificate on the door showing a happy Smiley. If the inspection didn’t go so well, the Smiley might be less cheerful, but the kitchen we inspected was well organised and clean. I was shown around the restaurant and communal areas of the guesthouse as well, while Randi wrote her report. It was a lovely place: an old building in an area where few old buildings exist. There was a huge fireplace in the restaurant and comfortable couches in front of a large television, which the owner proudly told me was the only one in the building. There were photographs too, black and white pictures of years gone by. I felt nostalgic for the times when staying in hotels was a casual weekend activity and I wanted so much to stay overnight. I took a photograph out of the window as Randi was finishing up her report. The book in the foreground is to record the weight of the fish you catch in the river outside.

On Thursday, quietly melded between the restaurant and water inspections, I carried out my first solo animal welfare inspection. I say solo as I had no other inspectors with me and the responsibility for the case lay with me, but I had support from a fabulous member of Dyervernsnemnda (a little about Dyrevernsnemnda here) called Berit. Berit drove down from Tromsø and she was wonderfully helpful and reassuring. Thanks must also go to Birgit, who made sure I followed the correct procedures beforehand.

Afterwards, I went out for some fish and chips with Ann to celebrate in the cafe that serves the ski slope at Fellandsby.

Yesterday, Øivind took me out to inspect some waterworks. If that word conjures up an image of a huge building with pipes and filtration, then like me, you will have to think again. We drove out onto Senja and headed south to a remote village, where we met the group of men who organise the water supply for the few houses in that area. We sat outside in the sun, as Øivind asked a series of questions about cubic metres of water per year and how many people are supplied. It was an interesting discussion, partly because of the logistics. In summer, there might be fifty people there, whereas there are only four permanent residents. But for me, it was a stark reminder of social changes and history. The four permanent residents are all over 80. The rest are a mix of tourists and very likely people whose parents used to live there, who have moved away, but return at weekends and for the summer. I found myself wondering about those still living there: all of them are in their eighties and nineties. It’s a very long way to the hospital if anything goes wrong.They likely still have families on Senja who look after them. But when they are gone, will the village only exist as a holiday place? There was an old schoolhouse, which is now used for social events. But once upon a time, there must have been families and people who worked the land and/or lived from the sea. Did the four people still living there attend the school, all those years ago? It was a reminder of how much things can change within a lifetime.

After the conversation, we walked up to see the water source. No filtration in sight and the small pipe that carries the water to the village was underground. The water comes from a river. I found myself surprised that it doesn’t freeze in winter, but the water must continue to run underneath all the snow and ice.

This was where we walked to. It was perhaps a kilometer up a grassy track from the village.

Such a peaceful place. I could have passed a happy few hours, listening to the water rushing over the rocks.

And here is the “waterworks” we inspected!

So the village is supplied from the water that runs down from the mountain. It’s not filtered or cleaned and technically, it is a water supply and not a drinking water supply. Øivind made some recommendations. The water source cover should be locked with a padlock, just in case. And the quality should be checked at least once a year. Likely times for the check would be after heavy rain, or when the snow is melting, preferably at a time of year when more people are arriving.

But those who run the system assured us that nobody had ever been unwell from the water in the fifty years since the pipes were installed. It was another reminder of the differences in the lives people in Norway lead. The idea that everyone in Norway should be treated exactly the same (one of Mattilsynet’s aims) is challenging, to say the least. There has to be flexibility when dealing with a country where the ways of life are so very diverse.

And to finish up, here’s are some pictures from Tuesday, when we met one of Anna’s old teachers, who was up for a holiday in the north. We took Triar for a walk in Ånderdalen afterwards. It really has been a very good week.

Very British

Sunrise/sunset: 01:14/ 00:34. Daylength: 23hr

There has been a massive change in the weather this week. Until now, it’s been warm and sunny, on and off, but the forecast this week, courtesy of YR.no looked like this.

Not only has it rained a lot, but those temperature listings aren’t very accurate. I took John to the airport on Tuesday and noticed that the temperature was a rather chilly 5.5°C. I took a picture after dropping him off. The mountains were shrouded in mist and the river was a distant mirage.

When the mountain peaks emerged now and then, they too showed evidence of the chill in the air.

I was reminded of the weather forecasts in October and November last year, where they announced that the snow line was now at 400m, 300m, 200m and you could watch the gradual descent into winter.

I am very much better than I was. My blood pressure has returned to normal, thank goodness and I seem to be generally on the mend. I was back to work yesterday. I was afraid that I would be too tired, but I had a good quiet day in the office catching up and arranging things for next week.

Though I spent much of the week resting, Anna and Andrew offered to take me out for a Senja Roasters brunch on Thursday. How could I resist? I’ve been wanting to try the French Toast ever since I read the description and it didn’t disappoint. It was wonderful, filled with caramel flavours.

French toast , brown cheese and mascarpone whipped
cream, honey, roasted pears, and pumpkin seeds

Our trip did lead to one of those truly embarrassing British moments, however. Thomas is always telling me off for thanking him and I probably still apologise way too often, but this was one of those more toe curling examples. The lovely waitress was explaining to us that there was no cured ham for the Banger Toasts. Instead, they were substituting chorizo. I’m not sure where she was from, but I didn’t quite catch what she said at first. When it dawned on me, I said, in a rather loud voice, “Oh, chorizo!” About one second later, my brain caught up and I remembered that, of course, her pronunciation was almost certainly the genuine article. It was more an announcement of realisation from me than any attempt to correct, but it was one of those wonderfully cringeworthy moments I love to share with you all!

We walked down the track to my favourite beach afterwards. Happily it was between rain showers. Though summer is passing and the green has passed its vibrant zenith, Senja is still stunning. There are orchids and harebells, sandy beaches and misty mountains. And sheep with bells on. What could be more Norwegian than that?

Hot and Cold

Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.

John and I went swimming in the sea last Sunday. It was after midday and the knowledge that we had to get up soon after 4a.m. the next morning was hanging in the air, but the sky was a wonderful clear blue and the air was warm. It seemed a shame to waste it. So rather than spending the day lounging around, we set off and drove to an isolated beach up on the north-western tip of Senja.

Golden sand at Skaland, Senja.

John had been to the area before, having walked up the hill in the photograph above with a colleague from work. We might walk up it together some day, but for now I was content to kick off my sandals and walk across the soft sand. The water was a chilly nine degrees, but we took the plunge anyway. There weren’t many people there, but there was a boat anchored in the calm waters of the bay. Its owners were also enjoying a day in the sun and it struck me, not for the first time, that having a boat would give a whole new perspective to exploring the area.

Moored sailing boat in the bay at Skaland.

At the other end of the bay there was a building, jutting out on stilts over the sea. With the backdrop of turquoise sea and yellow sand, I was reminded of the Caribbean shacks in the TV series Death in Paradise (filmed in Guadeloupe) though there was also something distinctly Norwegian about it as well.

Beach at Skaland, southern aspect.
Building on stilts at the water’s edge.

It got very warm on Monday and Tuesday. Thirty degrees is not something I expect here, though when the sun is up twenty four hours a day, it does allow a lot of hours for the heat to build without the cooler evening and night to offset it. There was a thunder storm forecast for Wednesday night, and I found myself contemplating whether I might find a way to capture a picture – you know the type – a perfect bolt of lighting on a backdrop of darkness. I confess I thought about this more than once before I remembered the inconvenient facts that

a) By ten or eleven o’clock in the evening, I would have already been in bed (and hopefully asleep) for a couple of hours.

And more profoundly

b) That it wasn’t actually going to get dark – well not that proper kind of black darkness I had been considering – for at least two months.

I’m not sure whether the storm ever actually arrived. If it did, I slept through it. It definitely rained and was cooler afterwards, but I had to content myself with a picture that reflects the perfect stillness of the air in the early evening leading up to it. I was hoping that in the morning, it would have been stripped, but it wasn’t, so I’m guessing it didn’t even rain that hard but in my head, I’ve given it the portentous title “Before the Storm”. I’m not going to change that, just because events inconveniently didn’t unfold in the way they ought to have done!

See you next week.

Before the Storm!

The Roasters Return

I said last weekend that it wouldn’t be long until John and I returned to Senja Roasters. We decided to explore the three course menu and so we booked a table for this evening. There’s always anticipation before going to a new restaurant. It’s not always possible to predict how the food will taste from reading a menu and though there were good signs (local and international ingredients, paper menu, limited choice) those things don’t always translate into food heaven. This time there was no disappointment. John and I decided to share the meat and fish options, though next time, if there’s a vegan risotto, I will definitely go that way. But for now, I want to share this evening’s fabulous meal with you.

Senja Roasters Café.

The starters sounded interesting: Cod tongues and coffee-crusted tataki reindeer. The cod was wonderful, light and crispy. For me, this was extra special. Fish in batter isn’t common here. It was like a tiny taste of home.

Cod tongues with tangy-mayonnaise and wakame salad.

The tataki reindeer was exquisite. Almost black on the outside, rare in the centre. It was meltingly tender and packed with flavour.

Coffee-crusted tataki reindeer with beetroot ketchup.

We must have looked hungry because in the fairly brief interval between the starters and the main courses, we were brought some more of those delicious crusty bread rolls we had last Sunday.

Onto the mains, again we shared the meat and fish dishes. The waitress was very attentive and happily brought us separate eating plates and bowls for all three courses. We started with a tasty halibut dish on an unusual sweetcorn and red onion salsa. The flavours were lifted by a light-touch citrus sauce:

Halibut with maize salsa and orange chimichurri.

Next up, slow roasted lamb shank with a rich red wine sauce. Traditional flavours, but extremely well done.

Lamb shank with fried butternut squash in red wine sauce with a hint of chocolate.

We spent a few minutes chatting in between the main course and the dessert. The view outside the window kept drawing my gaze as the light changed over the fjord. Here we were in a modern restaurant, not in the centre of a city, but out in the wilds of Norway. Imagine popping over in your boat and tying up outside… maybe one day!

And finally, onto the dessert. Two very different choices here: a rhubarb crumble, sweet and piquant, and a tiramisu, bittersweet coffee taste with a sweet, creamy finish.

Rhubarb crumble.
Tiramisu

We rounded off the meal, me with a cafe latte and John with the hot chocolate at the top of the page. It was a perfect end to a fantastic meal. I think our enthusiasm must have been noted because the chef came out at the end to talk to us. As John pointed out afterwards, you know when you’ve had a great meal when you run out of ways to tell the waitress how much you loved it all.

And a final touch, when we were in Roasters last Sunday, they told us they were expecting a visit from Mattilsynet and hoping to earn the smiley face that means the inspectors found the hygiene was good. It seems they must have passed as I saw this on the way out.

Here is this evening’s menu, for Norwegian speakers. For any non-Norwegian vegans reading, the starter was cauliflower soup with fried almonds, raisins and mint oil, and the main course, butternut squash risotto with porcini mushrooms.

Edit to add a photo of the risotto from a week later. Also delicious!

Senja Roasters Website.

Senja Roasters

Something caught my eye as Thomas drove into Stonglandseidet on Friday. On the front of an unassuming building, a sign: Senja Roasters. It seemed an unusual name for somewhere so far out into the countryside. Cafe culture hasn’t reached rural Norway to the same extent it has reached the UK. I have driven round the northern end of Senja before and thought that a coffee shop would have turned a pleasant drive into a proper day out. And so I tucked away the information in my head to check out later. It was more a stir of curiosity than a white hot hope.

I checked it out when I got home and my interest grew. Senja Roasters, I discovered was indeed a café with, as I had hoped, a special interest in coffee. Not only that, it had a real foodie vibe. Local Arctic ingredients – tick! Complementary use of imported food – tick! Vegetarian? Vegan? Yes to both. There it was, a truly international eating experience, tucked away on an island in a remote part of Norway.

The menu sounded great. The brunches or Frunches (the Norwegian word for breakfast being frokost) included the delicious sounding Challah Toast – “French toast made out of challah bread or brioche, brunost and mascarpone whipped cream, honey, roasted pears, pumpkin seeds and almonds.” and Banger Fritters – “Beetroot and ginger, smoked carrots, and crispy tofu.

The dinner menu sounded good too. Butternut soup with fried butternut and crispy cabbage, poached halibut with cherry tomatoes, sugar buttons and saffron sauce, homemade rhubarb crumble.

And so this morning, I asked John if he would like to come out on an exploratory mission with me. Good as the café sounded, there was a chance it wouldn’t live up to expectations. I also wondered about price. The website didn’t say and it seemed liked the kind of upmarket place that would charge upmarket prices in a city in the UK. How expensive would the same experience be out on Senja?

It was a fair drive from home, so by the time we arrived, it was definitely approaching lunchtime. First impressions were good. Though it was empty, the surroundings were very pleasant: a mixture of clean blue walls and rustic wood that fitted well with the menu.

We had intended to drink coffee, check out the prices, and come back another day. We ordered coffees – a cappuccino for John and a latte for me. The waitress (I think she was Daniela, though I forgot to ask) brought our coffees very promptly. I explained we probably wouldn’t be eating today, but would like to see the menu. She brought them – printed on ordinary A4 paper – another good sign. A pre-printed menu doesn’t always indicate poor food, but if the chef is using local ingredients, which can vary from day to day, it’s much more likely the menu will vary as well.

To my pleasure, the prices didn’t seem any higher than they would have been in London. For Norway, they were normal. The coffee was wonderful too: well rounded and smooth, with no trace of bitterness. Within a couple of seconds, all my careful plans were abandoned. I asked John whether he would like to share the cheese platter, and he agreed he would.

The website had listed the team behind Senja Roasters as being from Spain, Finland, Germany, Russia, Australia and France, so I was hoping for a truly international selection and I was not disappointed. There was Manchego Ezequiel, imported directly from Spain, Chevre goats cheese, Norwegian Brie from Dovre Ysteri and Gorgonzola pikante defendi.

It was accompanied by homemade blueberry and onion jam and quince marmalade. There were warm, crusty bread rolls, salt biscuits and Norwegian flatbreads. It was a wonderful combination.

I asked Daniela a little about how long Roasters had been open. To my amazement, she told me that it had only opened last week. Like us, the team had felt that Senja was rather short on coffee shops, and rather than regretting, as I had done, they had decided to do something about it. Amazing to think that if Thomas and I had passed by only a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have made such a wonderful discovery.

As it is, we will definitely be going back. Today’s menu sounded delicious, and Daniela said it would continue until the end of this week. After that, there will be summer menus. I hope that the tourists, who flock to Senja in the summer, will discover Roasters. It is definitely worth a visit.

Senja Roasters Café Website.