Wednesday, August 31, 2022

August: Away from My Kitchen

The forbidden space of the kitchen on the National Geographic Explorer lies behind the window in the photo. Only the kitchen workers are allowed inside (though in the past I believe they used to give tours to the ship's passengers). As a passenger on the ship, I received almost all my meals from July 31 through August 15 from this kitchen -- so this was and was not “my kitchen” in August. And I found almost every meal just delightful and found that among the several choices at breakfast, lunch, and dinner there was always something that I really enjoyed. In addition, during the pre-dinner cocktail hour and presentation time, the waiters would come around with big trays of hors-d’oeuvres that were very enjoyable.


A selection of meat, fish, and vegetables was available daily at breakfast.
Other areas of the buffet included many types of bread and pastry,
several kinds of fruit, cereal and oatmeal, and several specials.

Omelets were made to order almost every day — once there were waffles instead.

Cocktail Hour

Although I mostly drank wine, I tried one or two
mixed drinks from the open bar. My Margarita 
was nice with an hors-d'oeuvre of brie and jam.

A "White Lady" for me, sherry for Len.


Most evenings, we sat down to beautifully set tables with white tablecloths and dinner napkins, and were given a printed menu and a glass of red or white wine (if we wanted it). Usually there were three choices of starters, often including a salad. Then, three choices of main course: a vegetarian dish, a fish dish, and a meat dish. A few alternatives like a steak or spaghetti with red sauce were always available. Lunch was the same as dinner, with a very light soup-sandwich-salad buffet served in the observation lounge as an alternative.

We most often chose fish, as it’s really well-prepared and varied on the Explorer. The kitchen also provides special items for people with special needs such as gluten free or vegan. On two occasions, we enjoyed a themed buffet dinner — once, a Filipino buffet and once, an Argentine “Asado.” Here are a few highlights from the lunch and dinner choices:

“The perfect egg”

Veal osso bucco with vegetables.

The Filipino buffet was in honor the kitchen staff who
are almost all from the Philippines. A suckling pig was the piece de resistance.

At the table showing our plates filled at the “Asado” buffet,
which offered grilled foods with an Argentine theme.

A vegetarian timbale with crisped greens.

Rice-encrusted squid.


One dessert choice at lunch and dinner was usual, with alternatives of a brownie or ice cream or sometimes cheesecake. Fortunately the dessert portions were small! I’m sure we could have asked for more than one though I never wanted to do so. Here are a few of the many desserts, which were mainly quite delicious.

Passion fruit mousse.

Just part of the vast dessert buffet on Filipino night.

Crème Brûlée. 

Rhubarb crumble.

The chef prepared this chocolate lava cake
during last year’s voyage too!

Back Home in My Own Kitchen

Iceland and Greenland magnets from this year and last year.
The boots are part of the traditional dress of the Inuit women of Greenland, still worn on special occasions.

Well, not much to say about the week or so that I’ve been home. Only one new thing — the usual magnets for the fridge! I’m sharing these kitchen thoughts with Sherry and her loyal bloggers who write a post each month on the theme “In My Kitchen.” 

We missed a lot of summer produce — but managed one plum cake.

Souvenir of Greenland: an Inuit Tupilaq bone carving.
Originally a tupilaq was a dangerous monster, but these creatures have
become the subject of traditional carvings that no longer have such significance.

Greenland was a beautiful place to visit!

Blog post and photos © 2022 mae sander

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Books I Read in August

While traveling and since I've returned,  I've read several books, but I've never taken the time to write any blog posts about them. The Kindle App makes it easy to have lots of reading material even while traveling light! So you can see above, my Kindle screen with books I've read. Before the month is over, I wanted to list and briefly describe them, but if I try to review them, I'll never catch up. 

  • Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda. I would call this a romantic novel, in a very French style. The characters are quirky and mainly lovable, and they develop deep relationships and commitments to one another in the course of the story. One of them is a hard-working chef -- unlike many American novels about Paris restaurants, this shows the painful and abusive side of life in a restaurant kitchen in Paris.
  • Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec. This is a great police procedural, set in Pont-Aven, Brittany, where Gauguin and other artists lived in the 19th century. The memory of the artists is at the center of this suspenseful murder mystery. I especially enjoyed reading about the wonderful meals that the characters ate, for example:
    • "They ordered straight away, without much discussion. Belon oysters harvested from the river a few hundred metres away, followed by grilled monkfish with fleur de sel, pepper and lemon, washed down with a chilled, very young red wine from the Rhône valley." (p. 250).
  • The Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman. This is the second of the novels about policeman Joe Leaphorn, written around 40 years ago and still wonderful to read because it's so knowledgeable about the lives of the Navajo and Zuni people in the Southwest. And very skillfully constructed. Hillerman was a master! Over the years, I've read the whole series and I'm starting over.
  • The Far Traveler: Voyage of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown. I reread this to connect with all I was learning about the Viking settlements of Greenland beginning in the 10th century. It was wonderful to learn about events that took place 1000 years ago in the exact locations that we visited.
  • Quake: A Novel by Auður Jónsdóttir. I enjoyed this interesting psychological novel by an Icelandic writer. There are so many Icelandic writers -- considering the very small size of the country, and I'm planning to read more. The New York Times recently published a tempting list: "Read Your Way Through Reykjavík"
  • The Daughter of Dr. Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This is a scary horror story based on the work of H.G.Wells. Moreno-Garcia is excellent at turning the standard horror genre into something different, where women are more powerful and less victimized, somehow.
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G.Wells, one of the inventors of Sci-Fi as we know it. I had to read the original as well as the knock-off. This was first published in 1896. There are at least two movie versions, which also influenced Moreno-Garcia, I think.
  • Ant Farm by James M. Jackson. When our fellow passenger Jim on the Explorer told us that he had written a series of detective novels, of course I had to read one. This is the first Seamus McCree novel in his series. I liked the hard-boiled style of the mainly first-person narrative, and I enjoyed the references to many types of birds (Jim is an avid birder) and also the numerous meals that he mentioned. Here's one of Seamus's descriptions:
    • "I drowned my pancakes in maple syrup—the real thing from Vermont. Years ago Paddy [Seamus's son] had insisted I ditch the supermarket plastic-bottle stuff. He claimed maple syrup was the one sweetener that didn’t impede mineral absorption, or some such. I admired his eating habits, but usually didn’t want to emulate them. He’d live longer than I, but I was unwilling to give up meat to gain a few years of life expectancy. In this case, I didn’t care what his reasons were; real tasted better." (p. 83).
Jim Jackson and his wife Jan in the lounge of the Explorer.

Blog post © 2022 mae sander.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Watching “Borgen” and Remembering our Visit to Ilulissat

The harbor of Ilulissat was blocked by an iceberg the day we visited, so the ship couldn't dock.
We had to use the zodiac boats to get to land. This is the site of much of the Greenland action in “Borgen.”

Since our return from our long trip, we have been watching Season 4 of the Danish TV series “Borgen,” recently released on Netflix. The action takes place partly in Greenland, which is an autonomous region of the kingdom of Denmark, from which it receives an annual grant. Thus the government of Denmark plays a large role in Greenland, so the Danish politics in the earlier parts of the series continue in this season.

The main action in Greenland takes place specifically in one area that we visited: in the town of Ilulissat, the Ilulissat Icefjord, and Disko Bay with its huge icebergs that come from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier. This is a real place -- and is also the site where, fictitiously in the TV series, oil is being found. There are also a few scenes in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland set in places that we also visited. And a sequence in the extreme North, where no tourists go. The filming was done in the exact locations that we toured.

In “Borgen,” the Danish Arctic Ambassador is taken hiking up this steep slope in sight of the Icefjord.
Here you see our fellow-passengers climbing the steep rocky slope.

The Arctic Ambassador in Borgen: Asger Holm Kirkegaard, played by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard (source).

The political characters in Borgen, both Danes and Greenlanders, have many issues with oil drilling, including the general issues of climate change and the specific concern that a fragile and valuable environment will be disturbed. The plot centers around the global and local risks of oil drilling, and the aspirations of Greenlanders to obtain enough money from their natural resources to be independent from the government of Denmark and no longer dependent on the large annual grant. Watching the series is making me think more about the economic and cultural challenges faced by the native people of Greenland.

Borgen Season 4: Nivi Pedersen as Emmy Rasmussen. (source)

Our local guide on the boardwalk to the Icefjord,
the area where the Greenland scenes of Borgen are set.

One thing I do know: Greenland has oil and many other valuable mineral deposits such as copper, and there are indeed controversies over the risks of drilling and mining, as portrayed in the TV series. In 2021, in fact, Greenland's government decided to ban oil drilling, which wold be a substantial source of cash if exploited.  

"Greenland’s west coast alone is estimated to contain about 18 billion barrels of oil, according to a recent study from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. The U.S. Geological Survey has previously estimated that there may be double that volume in crude and natural gas in the east." (source: Time Magazine)

I'm enjoying the Greenland scenery shown in the series. As I said, it's in exactly the area where we visited. It’s impossible to imagine the awesome beauty and sheer size of the icebergs and ice formations there, so I like viewing the scenes in which the characters in the series are seeing what I remember. In the final episode, there’s even a trip to the Icefjord in a small boat that looked just like the one that took us out, but they only mentioned whales, and we actually saw them.

An iceberg in the Icefjord, as we saw it from the little boat.

Food Scenes in Borgen

When viewing TV shows, I'm always looking for any food the characters eat: Borgen has people at the table in homes and restaurants, but the details are vague — a piece of cake here/a sausage there. The main character, the Danish Foreign Secretary Birgitte Nyborg, seems to always say "Thanks, I'm not hungry." Or she has the waiter clear her untouched plate of food, which isn't shown or described. When a colleague brings in a meal from McDonald’s she says she never eats food like that — so he eats her burger as well as his. 

In another scene, which was sort of amusing, a couple have spent the night together and the man makes his partner a beautiful breakfast (which we viewers don’t see close-up). She has had only a glass of OJ, when they are urgently called into a high-level meeting. As they rush out of his apartment she says Thanks Anyway.

But the characters do drink a lot of coffee! And beer! And wine! And Perrier!

Episode 2: A Greenland official offers a Danish rep cake and coffee.

Borgen characters at the table -- with coffee. (Publicity photo).
The one Danish person who was traveling with us on the Explorer was the photo rep from NatGeo. She recommended the series enthusiastically, and our impression is that it has been quite popular in Denmark. 

It's a fun series even if you haven't been to Greenland! The plot and the pace are  good, the characters are interesting, and the actors are skillful and effective.

More Places Featured in Borgen (that we visited)

Zodiac landing on the shore of Disko Island where the fictional oil was found.
(I've posted this photo before.)

Here's Len in the incredible, unspoiled landscape of Disko Island.
The proposed oil drilling efforts in Borgen Season 4 are a threat to this area!

Another town beside Disko Bay.

UPDATE: Headline in the Washington Post on Aug. 29, 2022:

Greenland ice sheet set to raise sea levels by nearly a foot, study finds

Blog post © 2022 mae sander

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Street Art in Greenland

As we walked through several small towns in Greenland, we saw a variety of fascinating art works on houses and on commercial buildings. The shop signs and other signs are also often interesting. 

The Inuit sea goddess (or demon) named Sedna or Sassuma Arnaa.
She could cause the disappearance of game animals during hunting season. A Shaman could placate her.

A fish-cleaning table near the harbor.

In the small towns of Greenland, the vividly-colored houses clinging to the steep hillsides
make every view seem like a work of art!

Blog post and all photos © 2022 mae sander

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Foods of Greenland

A very Danish-style buffet of open sandwiches was served to the
Explorer passengers while we waited for the plane back to Iceland.

Food has been a major problem for the many peoples who settled in Greenland over the last 4000 years: including the Inuit, the Vikings, and even the modern residents. All of them have dealt with the challenges of one of the world's most extreme climates. The current population of around 57,000 people includes around 90% Inuit people, with the remaining population mainly Danish people. Greenland is a part of Denmark, so the imported food often comes from Denmark, and the cuisine in restaurants is influenced by Danish traditions.

Most produce, meat, dairy products, and grains have to be imported to Greenland today: approximately 80% of food is imported. (source) Supermarkets and smaller shops are the major source of food — but the prices are high, and some of our guides told us that many families still hunt and gather traditional foods, which they share with their friends and relatives. Small local markets also sell fish and game, and commercial fishing provides a source of nutrition for the population. There are a few farms, especially in the south, but the growing season is short, and very little land is hospitable to farming; climate change has recently enabled some cultivation of a wider variety of crops. Sheep and goats can be raised in a few favorable areas, but an author writing a few years ago noted there were only 16 cows in all of Greenland; all milk products are imported. 

Almost every local guide mentioned how terribly expensive they found the food in the supermarkets. We noticed the supermarkets: huge buildings in every small city where we walked around. In fact they looked like typical European or US supermarkets. However, the foods they sell are more-or-less unaffordable by many families.

A supermarket in one of the towns we visited.

Inside another market.

The bakery inside the market.

I know very little about economic and social conditions in Greenland, or about their welfare system, which is funded by Denmark, and which attempts to provide for all residents. However, I'm aware that many families are very poor, young people are troubled, there are high rates of alcoholism and suicide, housing shortages are an issue in some areas, and many Greenlanders have problems adapting to rapid cultural change, including the availability of non-nutritious processed foods.

Food insecurity is an issue for many people in Greenland although some can continue to obtain food by fishing and gathering shellfish and seaweed; by hunting for game like reindeer, hare, swans, geese, and other birds; by going to sea for large mammals like seals and walruses; by fishing in the salmon rivers and other streams, and by gathering edible plants. Households and small producers continue with traditional ways for making sausage, drying fish, and preserving berries, as well as modern methods of freezing meat and seafoods. It is out of necessity that many people still hunt, fish, and gather the small wild berries and other tundra plants when they are in season. The traditional hunting technology has of course mainly been replaced by guns and modern fishing equipment. I have no real idea of whether the food thus obtained is in any way adequate or just a pious fiction told to tourists. I need to do more reading on the harsh realities of life for the Greenlanders.

From the point of view of a birder and amateur wildlife photographer, my understanding is that almost all wild birds and animals, both large and small, are valued as food, and that indeed hunting affects the populations of these animals. As a tourist, I see the pressure from humans who hunt as a reason why these creatures are quite shy and hard to see. For example, the ptarmigan is a small bird that we would have loved to see and photograph, but this species are wary of people and we never sighted one. In fact, they are a highly valued food of the local population, which probably makes them avoid all contact.

Takanna: Delicious Food from Greenland.

I bought this Greenland cookbook, which has recipes for fish, game, and wild plants. It's interesting but not useful. There are many recipes for ptarmigan!

A Tourist Tastes Modern Greenland Food

During our trip to Iceland and Greenland from July 31-August 16, we had almost all of our meals onboard the National Geographic Explorer, which has a wonderful kitchen, a skilled chef and kitchen staff, and uses excellent quality ingredients. However good these meals are, the cuisine of the ship is in no way native cuisine of the area we visited. Therefore, this post is based on the few times we ate off the ship, and on various lectures, books, and so on. A future post will describe the food served on the ship.

At a hotel in Sisimuit, we tasted a number of local special foods.
Here is snow crab, lumpfish roe, and various game sausages.

A friend caught us tasting another bite of dried cod
at the end of the tasting event. It was really nice.

One of the open sandwich choices
at the airport buffet.

Dining at the Rowing Club of Kangerlussuaq.

Reindeer sausage on the Club buffet.

Musk ox tenderloin, which I found quite tasty, slightly sweet.

Reindeer stew was a choice at one meal on the ship.
I found it somewhat dry.

With sadness, I'm aware of the stark contrast between the luxury foods we eat while touring exotic areas and the actual conditions of the life of the residents of the area. This is always an issue for tourism, and I don't know any good way to deal with it. I am aware that Denmark provides a good deal of aid to the people of Greenland to alleviate poverty and social problems.

Historic kitchens of Greenland

Museums and reconstructed Viking dwellings often included kitchens and cooking equipment from historic times.

The hearth inside the reconstructed long house of Eric the Red’s farm.

Viking settlers, who lived in Greenland from the 10th to the 15th centuries, learned to hunt, fish, and gather wild plants, relying on local food as well as European food. They raised pigs and cows brought with them by ship for meat and dairy products, and also ate the meat from sheep that they raised mainly for wool. They planted European crops, and gathered hay to feed their livestock in winter. The climate became colder in the 14th century making it more difficult to farm, but they had adapted to locally-available products. Although at the end food was indeed scarce, it seems to have been other factors that mainly caused the Viking settlements to disappear. 

An old-time kitchen from one of the museums.
European colonists returned to Greenland in the 18th century. Like earlier immigrants, they had to adapt to the local hardships and climate challenges, though they were able to obtain imported foods along with those available locally. As these early kitchens show, these settlers had a lot more European household goods, especially metal stoves and utensils, wooden furnishings, etc.

Another old-time kitchen.
A set table from the museum in Nuuk.

These photos only document the European historical kitchens. The museums provide quite detailed information and many artifacts illustrating historic Inuit ways of hunting, especially kayaks, harpoons, and other equipment for taking seals and walrus. However, I didn't really see much about food preparation and cooking, though it was mentioned that hunting, fishing, drying the fish, gathering and preserving berries and other vegetation, and sharing of food were important factors in Inuit nutrition.

Blog post and photos © 2022 mae sander.