If you fancy a change of scene – and especially with all the Covid restrictions in place – the great fun, low carbon, low cost solution is virtual weekends away!

Our first, in October, was to Scandinavia, doubtless inspired by The Orkney Gin Company – we can see the distillery across the sound from our house – introducing an incredible Aqvavit. Spicy and warming neat, it’s a great drink with tonic, ice and a slice.

Coffee, a Fatty Cutty and we were ready to go!

Karin, a Swedish chef who now runs one of Orkney’s two sourdough bakeries, has cooked in both Norway and Denmark and was full of top suggestions for dishes for me to prepare for the weekend, many of which were on the website scandikitchen.co.uk. Had I been better organised it seems that I could actually have ordered both ingredients and finished dishes from them. I shopped locally with easy substitutions for things which I couldn’t get, and also ordered some of Karin’s wonderful bread, rolls and (wickedly) a chocolate and coconut celebration cake…. Nick had been busy putting together playlists of appropriate music for each of our destination countries as well as making a list of travel videos to watch on YouTube. Once I was back from shopping in Kirkwall where I had even managed to buy the caramelised Norwegian cheese Gjetost in Kirkness & Gorie, we were ready for off.

Karin’s rolls with our first pickled herrings of the weekend ‘at Oslo station’ boarding the train to Bergen.

Our English travel blogger was not on our list of the most inspiring by the end of our adventures, but he got us to Bergen by train. After a dramatic and surprisingly quick (!) journey through spectacular scenery we were ready to board the Hurtigruten to cruise up the coast. I’d like to tell you that we slept on board but, in reality, we slept in the spare bedroom to give it an airing after a summer with no visitors (this is 2020), and to give us the feeling of being away!

Fårikål – my way. Clean and simple flavours – it seems very few spices are used in Nordic cuisines.

Karin had surprised me by saying how much meat is eaten in the Scandinavian countries – it wasn’t pickled herrings all the way. Her top tip for Norway was Fårikål, a stew of mutton and cabbage slow cooked and served with tatties boiled in their skins. I read that stove top cooked rice pudding is a great favourite and so I infused milk with cardamoms for a rice pudding to which I added caramelised oranges, with a nod to Scandi breads with that flavouring. I made a dried fruit and orange salad to go with it and the Gjetost – an American friend married to a Norwegian had once told me that was her favourite way of serving the sweet cheese and the whole combination was delicious.

Karin had also recommended some chocolate and oat truffles which we enjoyed throughout the weekend: they are called Havrekuler in Norway, Chokladbollar in Sweden and Havregrynskugler in Denmark. Here in Grimness they were called delicious! I forgot to take a picture of them….

The next day was Finland! We began with a good look around Helsinki, getting to know a few travel vloggers. An endearing couple from Australia Flying The Nest confirmed in their foodie film that our choice for lunch of salmon soup was indeed one of the Very Favourite Things in Finland.

Salmon soup. Cooked in milk with onion, carrots and potatoes it is like a chowder and very good. I did add allspice and dill which was hinted at in some recipes.

We then explored into the north by train, the most effective way of getting there, and went reindeer sledging. We also spent some time with the Sámi, reindeer herders incredibly proud of their traditions but convinced that they would be the last generation making their living in that way. The film about them was fascinating and raised many issues concerning heritage and sustainable ways of life for the future which urgently need addressing.

Our dinner ‘in Finland’ was the least exciting of our meals – a stew of beef and pork with carrots, onions and turnips brought to life by big spoonfuls of rose hip and apple jelly from a neighbour. I get why the Scandinavians eat so many slightly sharp preserves of wild berries with their meat dishes
I had no pudding planned for Finland and so we cheated and began Karin’s wonderful Swedish chocolate and coconut celebration cake. No calories in that….

Sweden was my favourite country for food on our travels. I did seem to spend a lot of time cooking on this ‘holiday’ which I shall address on future excursions but it was all fun. We started with tours of Stockholm and then a super drone tour of the huge number of islands around the city before pickled herrings for lunch.

Served with crispbreads and Rödbetsallad, a glorious combination of beetroot, apple and a light dressing with dill or chives, my favourite way to eat pickled herrings.

Heading north, again in the company of Flying The Nest, we thoroughly enjoyed a visit to Father Christmas Village in Lapland (we would probably Never really go there but it was fun) and then went husky sledging which did make our Finnish reindeer experience look rather pedestrian. That, of course, worked up a healthy appetite for dinner which was a Feast! It had to be Jansson’s Temptation, perhaps the most famous Swedish dish other than IKEA meatballs, and a perfect showcase for Orkney tatties.

My big culinary insight of the trip – this classic Swedish Christmas potato dish should be made with pickled herrings if the authentic ‘ansjovis’ are not available and not canned salted anchovies. ‘Ansjovis’ are pickled sprats so herrings are much more appropriate for Jansson’s Temptation.

Salmon and such creamy potatoes was filling enough but I had also made Saffransrulltårta, just to prove to myself that I could make a Genoese sponge as mine were an abject failure at College and I hadn’t bothered with them since! Generously flavoured and coloured with saffron, the filling is an astonishingly rich mix of marzipan ingredients – ground almonds and sugars – folded into cream with a little custard. I don’t eat a lot of puds like this and so my menu planning was a bit OTT in this instance. I served it with blueberries. No extra cream required for sure!!

Saffransrulltårta – my best Genoese sponge ever!

Denmark is probably the pick of the Scandinavian countries that I would actually choose to visit. Nick had found excellent travel vlogs to watch about Copenhagen and also about the surrounding sights and attractions and the countryside did look very beautiful. Much as we have been drawn to the softer landscape of Orkney beyond the Scottish Highlands, so the flatter landscape in Denmark resonated with us both, as had the island and wetlands of Sweden and Finland more than the majestic mountains. And, of course, I am completely addicted to the food film Babette’s Feast…

Scandi-style fish soup at Sheila Fleet’s The Kirk Café – it was on the menu the day that we were ‘in’ Denmark so we had lunch out.

Did we bring home souvenirs? No, but we did bring a new addiction to The Bridge, the Scandi-Noir drama which now grips us and we still have 3 more series to watch during the long months of winter. How did we manage not to watch when it was live on TV?

Our first weekend away was a huge success and we shall be enjoying more throughout the winter – it’s far too busy in Orkney in the summer for such Flights of Fantasy! This is the low cost, low carbon travel of the future. We might even get a bit better organised next time…

Our final meal, supper in Denmark, just had to be Smorgasbord with Orkney Akvavit and beer. So as not to be over-filling we had crispbreads for the bases. Smoked salmon with some of the left-over Rödbetsallad; cured beef with a turnip remoulade and smoked pork with cream cheese and home pickled courgettes. Heaven.