Road-Tripping: Danish Style

P1010844This post has been in draft format for months now, we got up to so much on our trip and I had so much I wanted to say that I ended up procrastinating, but I have finally completed it. So here we go…

Buckle in guys, and let me take you on a road trip through Denmark. From Viking ships to tall ships, to Lego ships, here’s what we got up to in the land of the Danes.

First stop, Copenhagen. We were met off the plane by our friend and lovely host for the week, Pia. Keryn and Pia spent a lot of time exploring NZ together while Pia was studying abroad in NZ. So it was lovely for her to show Keryn some of her home too. I was lucky that I got to come along for the ride. Thanks ladies.

It makes me smile to tell you that our first destination, after dumping our bags, was for porridge. I didn’t do much planning for this trip, but once I happened across a blog about Grod, a cafe in Copenhagen with a menu entirely consisting of porridge, I knew I had to incorporate this into our trip somehow.

I am a mad fan of all things porridge. I have it for breakfast every day at home and sometimes, to my boyfriend’s disgust, order it off brunch menus on the weekend. “You could be having that at home” he says “have something special.” As he tucks into his eggs benedict with mountains of bacon on the side. He just doesn’t appreciate the joys of a decadent cafe made porridge.

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My Grod porridge was like a dessert; creamy oats with rhubarb compote, Danish yogurt and toasted almond flakes on top. Totally divine. I did get order envy though when the next customer made a choice that involved a huge wallop of thick caramel being heaped on top.  I nearly ordered seconds!

20150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_0008Our next point of call was Rosenborg Castle, a massive Royal residence right in the centre of Copenhagen. It was built by Christian IV as a summer house for royalty and now houses the Danish Crown jewels and many other royal relics and collections. I loved all the dark wood interiors and ornate gilded features. We spent the afternoon there and ended up having to be shooed out at closing time, not before taking jumping shots in front of the royal thrones.

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No visit to Copenhagen would be complete without seeing Nyhavn, the iconic entertainment and canal district of the city. Bitterly cold and with rain threatening, we gamely jumped into a canal boat and sailed out for a sunset cruise along the canals. We passed the Royal Palace among other historical buildings and the other icon of Copenhagen, H.C Anderson’s The Little Mermaid statue, albeit from behind.

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We had dinner along the canal, pork and potatoes, our first taste of hearty Danish fare and Pia warned us of the prices, offering to go somewhere less touristy if we wanted to. But for me, the expensiveness that Copenhagen is infamous for, was unfounded. I found most things to be on par with London, which I know is expensive but hasn’t got the same reputation for it, or cheaper.

Our food and drinks went down well, and as we wandered home on a surprisingly lively Tuesday night, we stopped in for a spiked hot chocolate at a local cafe. Despite the temperature the tables outside were pretty full and we all snuggled under blankets sipping our gloriously indulgent drinks.

After a night in Pia’s quintessential Scandi style apartment – so many compartments and hidden storage drawers and a raised bed with a wardrobe underneath – we headed to our next destination, Roskilde, to pick up that essential road trip item, a car, call in on Pia’s mum and grandfather and visit the UNESCO world heritage Roskilde Cathedral.

20150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_0161It’s a grand Gothic church where all but one of the Danish kings and queens have been buried. The inside was quite different to most of the churches I have seen in Europe so far and I loved all the bold detail. What struck me also was the massive scale. The church features a number of royal burial chambers that are not only imposing rooms but feature huge monuments and coffins built in different periods of history.

20150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_0176One of the most interesting features of the church was the “Kings Column”. As I know many families did, when I was growing up my parents used to track the height of me and my siblings on a door frame every birthday, the “King’s column” in Roskilde is exactly that but played out over centuries. Visiting royalty and noblemen have been asked for centuries to record their heights on the pillar and I am pleased to tell you that I am taller than most Danish kings throughout history. Although there is one who was giant, but historians believe that was a technical error. Or this king was just lying.

20150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_0204We spent the rest of the day driving across the islands of Denmark.

20150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_021620150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_0225Searching for the highest point in Denmark… however most of the road looked like this.

P1010909Stopping in on Hans Christian Anderson’s childhood home.

20150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_0237Before arriving at Pia’s family home in time for a traditional Danish dinner of Fraikadeller. Fraikadeller are pork and beef meatballs, ours were homemade by Pia’s father and were absolutely delicious.

We struggled out of bed the next morning to make the early sailing of The Hjejlen, the world’s oldest operating paddle steamer, to take us to Himmelbjerget or in English ‘Sky Mountain’. We made the leisurely walk up for some beautiful views and a delicious picnic of leftover Fraikadeller and rye bread.

We spent the night in Aalborg on our way to Skagen. Skagen is the point where the North Sea and the Kattegat (Baltic) Sea meet and is the northernmost point of Denmark. This was my favourite part of the whole trip.

We walked along the sandy spit to dip our feet in the two seas.

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We explored the gorgeous yellow town of Skagen.

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And discovered the extremely photogenic Den Tilsandede Kirke or The Sand-Covered Church. Perched on such a windy coastline it is a constant battle to keep this church from being buried by sand, as it has been historically.

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Boyed by the sunshine and dipping our toes in in Skagen, we took the plunge for a swim in the North Sea at Lokken. It was freezing! But you have got to be tough to spend your summer holidays in Denmark.

The ubiquitous sight of any Denmark road trip, windmills!

20150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_0472Travelling around Denmark we usually took The Marguerite Road, the scenic route through the islands identified by the marguerite flower symbol. As Keryn takes her middle name from the pretty flower we had to get a pic of them together.

20150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_0594We stopped back in on Aalborg as we had learned there would be a tall ship gathering there that day. We wandered down the waterfront eating candied almonds and listening to a Danish rap band on a nearby stage as the ships settled in the harbour and the crews started their evening festivities.

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With our time in Denmark fast running out we made the short trip back from the North of Jutland to Billund, the home of Lego. It couldn’t really be skipped from a road trip around Denmark could it? We spent an entire day here riding the attractions, exploring the Lego cities and making our own Lego figurines as souvenirs. We are much too old to be the target market, but it was good fun none the less and a trip down memory lane for Pia who had visited in her childhood.

‘Everything is awesome’ the theme song to the recent Lego movie was blasting out on rote at the entrance and a various sites in the park too. Luckily I love it and made sure to sing it incessantly throughout the day even when it wasn’t around.

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Nyhavn in real life and in Lego.

20150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_014020150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_0553Our final stop before flying out was to Jelling village, a UNESCO world heritage site important because it is home to an ancient Viking burial site, thought to be created for Viking kings. The powerful Vikings made huge mounds for their burials which enclose a tomb at the bottom and in the case of the Jelling mounds there is a large stone ship.

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Our road trip was rounded off by coming across a Viking ship sailing in a nearby lake on the drive out of Jelling.

20150728_Denmark_Road_Trip_0607Denmark was such a great country for a road trip, especially as it has the dedicated Marguerite route. We were reminded often of New Zealand, too. With the windswept sandy coastlines and sunny but chilly climate we were travelling in, it felt very similar to an NZ autumn. Denmark also felt very outdoorsy with lots of opportunities for hiking and getting out in the sunshine and lots of friendly people it did make us feel very at home.

So, now I’m thinking about my next road trip, what other countries are good to travel around by car?

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Gingerbread CupCakes

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In the lead up to Christmas my office goes a little bit food mad. We start to see the first boxes of Celebrations and Quality Streets around mid-November and we’re surrounded from then.

Our banks of desks get filled with trays of biscuits, sweets, baking and all manner of naughty things to share. ‘Tis the season after all.

This year we added to the food marathon by hosting a Christmas Bake sale. It was the fourth we have held this year in support of our colleague who has run 12 marathons for Macmillan Cancer Support this year. A pretty amazing feat so the least I could do was bake in support.

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Oh who am I kidding? I don’t need any excuse to bake I’m just happy to have willing eaters so baking for a good cause is a win-win for me.¬† Over the year I have taken in my Afghans, banana loaf and scones but for Christmas I knew I wanted to try something festive.

Hunting through my growing collection of recipe books I came across this recipe by Hummingbird Bakery in their Cake Days Recipe Book. I have modified it slightly as I didn’t have any molasses. I also made the cupcakes much smaller than the recipe called for (so there was more to sell) and they turned out fine.

I decorated the top by rolling the freshly iced cupcakes in ground up Gingernut cookies. I thought it might add some crunch, but of course the icing made them go soft pretty soon. I liked the look it gave the cupcakes though and it hid all my icing imperfections so suited me perfectly.

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Here is the recipe I used if you want to give these a try, but I also highly recommend buying the cookbook too. There are so many special occasion recipes in there I always find it’s a great inspiration.

For the batter:

140g butter, softened

200g caster sugar

100g golden syrup

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

310g plain flour

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

240ml hot milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius and line a muffin tin with muffin cases. 16 for large cupcakes, 24 for smaller ones like I have made.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the golden syrup, eggs and egg yolks and continue mixing until well combined.
  3. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, spices, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture, mixing on a low speed and adding in two or three batches, alternating with the hot milk. Continue to mix until all the ingredients are well incorporated and the batter is smooth.
  4. Divide the batter between muffin cases, filling each one two-thirds full. Pop in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until risen and springy to the touch. For the smaller muffins I checked them after 15 minutes and found them ready then. Allow to cool in the tin for around 10 minutes then move to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

For the icing:

600g icing sugar

100g butter, softened

250g full fat cream cheese

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

  1. Using an electric mixer beat the butter until soft and white in colour. Add in the cream cheese and beat until well mixed.
  2. Add in the icing sugar slowly until all combined and smooth.
  3. Stir in the lemon zest by hand.
  4. Spread the icing evenly on cupcakes and decorate as desired. If you wish to use the ground Gingernut biscuits then create a ridge with the icing by swirling it around with a flat knife. Put the ground Gingernut crumbs on a flat plate and roll the cupcake lightly in it. Shake off any excess crumbs and leave to set.

Serve with some festive cheer!

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I will be making these for many years to come for sure. What is your signature Christmas bake?

Last Minute Gift Ideas for NZ Family + Friends

As someone who has spent a lot of Christmases away from home, I wrote about them all here, it has always been important for me to feel connected to my family and friends back home at this special time of year.

One of the best ways for me to do that has been through buying presents for them. I don’t know if I ever put so much effort or thought into Christmas presents before I left home but it is one of my favourite things to do for my family and friends now.

It’s a time when they’re always coming to my mind and I remember all their funny little quirks and what makes them awesome as I deliberate over what gift I want to pop in the post for them.

Working within the restrictions of the post system and New Zealand’s strict bio hazard rules forces me to get extra creative with my gifting every year too. So I can’t send that delicious craft jam picked up at the European Christmas markets, or next seasons nail polish colours to my younger sis? No worries Royal Mail; challenge accepted!

As I’m always trawling the internet myself for postable gift ideas, I thought I’d pay it forward and share some of the winning ideas I’ve had over the years and awesome things I have been sent by others.

If you still have a bit of shopping to do I hope this gives you a bit of inspiration and if you have any other ideas that have worked for you please add them in the comments. Oh and let me know how you connect with your family overseas too. Of course I always plan in a Skype session to open the presents on my Christmas Eve, their Christmas morning which totally sets me up for the holiday period.

Although these ideas all have a NZ flavour they could easily be sent anywhere in the world.

Cookie Time Postcard Cookies – One of the best ideas ever and such a great surprise to receive in the mail! Basically it is a cookie that can be slipped through your letter box. Cookie Time is a bit of an institution in New Zealand and you will definitely be a winner if you chose to put one of these on your Kiwi friend’s doorstep.

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The Caker Cake Mixes – I was sent a dark chocolate and chili cake which looked and tasted divine. There are lots more options on the website now. Cake is always a good idea!

Photo Credit -thecaker.co.nz

Or of course – order them a cake! How could you go wrong with one of these beauties? ^^

The Book Depository – This website is a godsend. Free shipping anywhere in the world. FREE! Their delivery is reliable and quick and they have such a huge selection of books you’re bound to find something to suit anyone or everyone on your gift list. Ben often makes it a personal challenge to buy a book for everyone on his gift list.

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The Ryan Gosling Tea Towel by NZ designer Colleen Pugh who sells her creations through her label Dear Colleen. One of my friends sent this to me for my birthday last year and I love it so much I haven’t been able to use it. It’s hanging in my stairwell instead and still makes me laugh.

Check out this link too, Ryan has seen the tea towel!

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Photo calendars, books or prints – Yes! Definitely inflict pictures of you and your adventures on friends and family members. It’s guaranteed to keep you on their mind through the whole year. I have used Moonpig for cards numerous times and PhotoBox for calendars this year. Both are great quality for reasonable prices.

Kiwi Etsy Stores – Support local crafters by ordering a gift from a New Zealander on Etsy. Etsy is a market place for all things craft, so chose out something original and skip the pricey shipping by keeping it all in NZ.

Happy shopping!

Orphan’s Christmases- Celebrating away from home

Christmas has come in many guises for me since I left home for Japan as a 21 year old. What started off as a two year teaching contract has turned into nearly 6 years away from home and counting. So it has meant I’ve celebrated a fair few Christmases without my family, although I have been lucky to have my sister join me once in Japan and once in the UK. Happily though there have always been a few other ‘Orphans’ around to help me celebrate.

I have celebrated Christmas cross-legged on a tatami floor, warm and cosy under a friend’s kotatsu table, drinking Asahi beer and eating so much food while the snow fell outside. This was the first year I spent away from my family and I decorated my apartment with tinsel sent from home and origami my students taught me to make. This was my first Northern Hemisphere Christmas and, although strange at first, I did come to love the wintry snowy Christmas.

2010 Japan

Life in Japan was still very new for me, but I was slowly settling in and making some friends. I was so grateful for all the other teachers staying in japan over Christmas, it helped to make the time feel more festive. Especially as the Japanese don’t really celebrate Christmas. Here is a bunch of us getting into the spirit by carolling in the lead up to Christmas. Snow was falling and it was pretty magical.

2010 Japan caroling

I’ve spent it on the tropical Okinawan Islands. There we partook in the Japanese Christmas tradition of a Kentucky Fried Chicken Dinner. True story, KFC is synonymous with Christmas in Japan and we had to give this custom a go.

2011 Japan KFC

We were treated in the evening to a lovely festive spread by the hostel we were staying at. Our eccentric Japanese host cooked a chicken and we ate our way through traditional and non-traditional side dishes in the eclectic hostel common room. I remember a German guy snorting wasabi at one point and partying with some Czech guys who were obsessed with their snuff (tobacco). It was one of the most random Christmases I’ve had.

My first Christmas in London was spent around a tiny dining table wearing shiny new Christmas jumpers in a cosy North London flat. I remember bucks fizz, egg-nog and a charades match that got a bit out of hand. We were hosted by some lovely Aussies who we now count as very good friends.

2012 London Christmas

I’ve celebrated in a spacious country house on the outskirts of Bath, with a big group of friends and a massive Ocado order. Although it was the first time many of us had cooked our own Christmas dinner, we pulled it off like pros. I was in charge of the roast potatoes (I used goose fat, it was a success!) and after dinner we wandered round the cute little neighbourhood in the fresh winter sunshine.

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My bangin’ roast potatoes¬† ^^

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Last Christmas we celebrated with Ben’s family in Italy. Ben’s brother spends his winters working at a ski chalet for British guests. So when Ben’s parents visited from New Zealand last year, Ben and I went out to meet everyone there for the holidays. We spent Christmas day having sparkling Prosecco in mountain chalets and skiing the Dolomites until sunset.

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This year we’re getting ready for our 6th Orphan’s Christmas. Our jumpers are at the ready and we’re putting up some decorations. We’re currently living with a master Pavlova maker too so dessert is sorted.

We’re looking forward to having a truly Kiwi Christmas next year though, when we make the trip home to see our families and friends. I can’t wait to spend the day in the day in the sun with a BBQ dinner, lots of NZ wine and a wander along the beach to kick off the lazy summer holidays.

I’ve added this post to a monthly travel link up. I’ve been meaning to join in for a while and this month stars aligned, (read: I learned of the topic in time and it was something I could write about yay!) so I’ve added my post. Check out some of the other awesome takes on this month’s theme The Festive Season, below.