This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
An incomplete list of my favorites- I set the timer on 30 minutes to sift through my photos (makes me realize why I take them- Schwa, Ruxbin, Blackbird's dinner menu are absent because I didn't take any) and here is what I picked.
@home: lingonberry(frozen w/ no sugar/crap added from Erickson's Delicatessen & Fish), seaweed (Seasnax), reindeer pate (Smoking Goose Meatery), and buckwheat pancake (buckwheat from Chicago winter Greenmarket, soured in sour cream for a day, mixed with egg, cooked in butter)
@home: chestnut flour (Chicago greenmarket)-battered smelt with sambel oelek aioli
@Hotel Lloyd in Amsterdam: a dinner of caraway gouda, fresh lettuce, pomme frites, mint tea, and sweetbreads
also their cheesy/beefy/quark coffee delicious breakfast
@Dahlgren's in Stockholm PERFECTLY cooked local lamb on earthy rye
@Frantzen/Lindeberg in Stockholm: raw beef tartare from an older dairy cow with SO much flavor, smoked eel, creamy bleak roe
@Publican in Chicago cooked by Chris Cosentino of Incanto in SF: noodles made with pig skin
Pork belly egg buns with sardine katsuobushi from my friends Nick and Shannon
@One Sister (now Elizabeth): oyster, mushrooms, meringues
Pork belly with sour cherries and herbs, cooked with "ancient roman" spice blend (cumin, coriander, black pepper, fish sauce, etc.)
@Next Sicily The most perfect tiny bit of handmade pasta with bottarga (fermented fish roe)
@Blackbird fluke with sea beans (soo deliciously oceanic) and lardo
Fantastic SE Asian food at SM Underground here in Chicago. Didn't get great pics, but the chicken curry wrapped in banana leaves was amazing.
Almost everything I ate at Vera (I eat their often since it's next to my office)- like this perfect spicy blood sausage hidden under these eggs, the skewers of tongue and octopus, and the divine uni deviled eggs
Seafood sausage at Saigon Sisters: I was skeptical, but it was just the right amount of fishy balanced with perfect curry spices and kaffir lime leaves
Another Asian-style sausage was this bone marrow sausage that used squid as a casing at Embeya. Every part was perfectly cooked, a feat considering that squid seems to overcook easily.
The absolutely perfect gravlax wrapped in turnip at Elizabeth. Salmon tasted completely balanced with the herbal notes.
Warabi Mochi at Next. I'd always wanted to try this mochi, made with earthy brown bracken starch. It was a little pillow of pleasure. I also loved the matcha. The sweetfish/ayu on the menu were also a revelation- their flesh really was sweet in just the right way.
Fish and custard? Who but Doctor Who would have ever thought this could work, but it did at Elizabeth, where I was served a Loup De Mer (Branzino) dish with just the right amount of terrestic custardy sunchoke and apple cider vinegar
The crispy duck heart hash at Au Cheval is the dish that made me like breakfast again, even though Au Cheval isn't open for that meal except on weekends. The crispy potatoes, creamy cheese, fatty gravy with bits of mineralistic duck heart, flecks of chives, and crowned with a perfectly cooked egg, yolk just waiting to be popped so it can join the fatty party.
No really, this is a bowl of new potatoes covered in autumn leaves at the Publican book release dinner for Faviken. But the potatoes are perfectly cooked and the summer butter you dip them in reminds you that simple foods can be absolutely perfect.
Everything I ate in Montreal was incredible, but I'll never forget this duck fat poutine at Au Pied Du Couchon
The silky beef tartare served by Thurk
More pork skin noodles, this time in a "Pad Thai" at the Trencherman's brunch that was actually more like a ramen down to the savory salty broth
Sweet potato with torched marshmallow ice cream from Jeni's was as good as it sounded...except better in every way. Better than the real thing. Grass-fed milk too and no weird gums or anything like that.
Senza's (the GOOD gluten-free restaurant) playful itty bitty cup of chicory "coffee" and flourless dark chocolate brownie with tiny marshmallows served at the end of the meal
The lardcore grits and cornbread at Carriage House, as well as the pimento cheese...I never had good memories of that stuff, but they make it with good ingredients and it is TASTY
My own simple lard-pastry buckwheat mini-mincemeat pies meat with real suet and some roadkill deer someone gave me
The boyfriend's perfect chicken ballantine stuffed with pork sausage, mushrooms, walnuts and arugula :)
Well, time's up, sure I missed a lot, but the whole point is that I ate well this year. If I can eat this well next year...life will be good.
This blog wouldn't exist if food wasn't important to me, but it amazes me how I can continue to have experiences relating to food that change my view of things. That's one of the reasons I haven't written a book. I'm just not there yet in terms of experience, even though I've made great improvements in my life and maintained them, there is still much to learn. How could I ever put the pen to the page knowing that my words would be a static representation of my views for months and even years?
Last year when I lived in New York City there was a little tiny diner on a remote corner of Long Island City, one of my favorite parts of the city. It's so close to Manhattan, but oddly desolate. Standing alone amidst the glittering lights of the city, with the roar of the highways in your ears, is a surreal Blade-runner esque experience. One that many people miss out on because of an irrational skepticism towards Queens, which has some of the best food in the city.
But M. Wells, that little diner, was special. And I ate there at exactly the right time. It's hard to explain, but it was during a time when I was trying very hard to make myself someone I wasn't for the sake of a relationship. I have an unfortunate predilection towards this whole "destiny" thing, perhaps that is just the way my mind works. It helps me craft narratives, but it also makes me try to craft my own life into a story sometimes, with signs and wonders guiding me. Doubts that don't fit the story often get ignored in the name of these destinies.
And there were many doubts about all kinds of things in this relationship, one of the major ones was that I had to adopt a particular religion in order to go forward with it, a religion that required very regular fasting from almost all animal products. There were many beautiful things about this religion and I felt drawn to it in many ways.
And I thought, well, I can do this. With all I knew then, compared to when I was vegan, I could make it work for me. But I was miserable. One priest told me I could try vegetarianism instead, but it didn't seem to help.
I might never know why. I was reading The Meat Fix recently, which is the story of a man who was vegan and suffered from terrible health problems which went away when he added meat to his diet. Why does this happen? There are so many potential explanations, but for me even supplementing with carnitine, taurine, b12, and DHA didn't make a difference. I was depressed all the time. I started having menstrual irregularities. My list of food sensitivities seemed to just keep growing and growing. All the sudden, for example, I was sensitive to shrimp, one of the few animal products legitimately allowed. One thing I have been proud of with my dietary experiments was that they have allowed me to travel. But here I was throwing up violently in a bag on the train to Manhattan. And missing work because my period cramps had become crippling, so painful that they brought me to tears.
I felt more socially isolated than ever too. Why me? Why this? Why can't I just make this work like it's supposed to? Why does my body seem to rebel against me after even a week without meat? I was told to pray harder.
FAUST. The pain of life, that haunts our narrow way,
I cannot shed with this or that attire.
Too old am I to be content with play,
Too young to live untroubled by desire.
What comfort can the shallow world bestow?
Renunciation! - Learn, man, to forgo!
This is the lasting theme of themes,
That soon or late will show its power,
The tune that lurks in all our dreams,
And the hoarse whisper of each hour
And then one day I read about M. Wells, opened by Hugue Dufour and his partner Sarah Oberatis. I found myself there almost as if in a trance, I found myself there at the counter, eating bone marrow, brain, liver, and butter...lots and lots of butter. I was eating everything I wasn't supposed to eat, dusted with gluten, cheese, and irrevocably impious in its decadence, but I felt so energized, so alive again. I continued to cheat on my destiny there, becoming more bold to live the life I really wanted to live, powered grilled cheese sandwiches layered with liver.
At the same time, I was also reading the book Blood, Bones, and Butter, the autobiography of chef Gabrielle Hamilton. I never reviewed it here. It was so well-written, but her relationships made me intensely uncomfortable. I saw in her tense relationship, what my own could become if I continued to try to make myself into someone I really wasn't. Mired in doubt and contempt, irrevocably tied together by children.
I gave up on my "destiny". I ended my relationship, quit my job, and moved to Chicago. I have never regretted this.
Now I am wise enough to realize that I should only be with someone who accepts me for who I am now, whether then what I might be. And now I really do feel like I'm living rather than just coughing under a constant miasma of doubt and misery.
M. Wells tragically closed when the landlord doubled the rent. I would have felt worse about leaving Queens though if it had stayed open. But I had fallen in love with that ridiculously fatty food from Montreal. And looking up the Dufour online, I found he was once involved with a restaurant in Montreal called Au Pied Du Cochon. I made it my mission to someday eat there despite my inability to pronounce it correctly.
I added Joe Beef to the itinerary after reading it about it in Lucky Peach, which was fortunate since Au Pied and Joe Beef are "friends" if restaurants can be friends. The staffs share ideas, friendships, and meals together.
I ate there first, with fellow blogger Easy as Pi, one of the few dietetics students in the world who could enjoy such a meal. The thing about Joe Beef is that there is only one menu in the entire restaurant. And it is written, in French only, on a chalkboard we were facing away from. It was also really dark. So we asked our bald tattooed waiter for a recommendation. He said "no." I was a bit miffed, but just named two random things I had heard the restaurant is good at: bone marrow and horse. He said we also needed the guinea hen. OK...
It is only lately that I have been learning to appreciate meat as it really is, not the meat that most of us are used to, bland and standardized, but the meat of animals that have had varied, often long, lives. In Sweden earlier this year they had on my menu at Frantzen/Lindeberg tallow and tartare from a 7-year-old dairy cow. I thought it was intoxicating, earthy, and maybe just a bit eccentric. And then I met Magnus Nilsson, a renowned Swedish chef, on a book tour here in Chicago. His cookbook is a revelation to me, especially since I help my family with our relatively new farm where we are raising our own beef. Old cows, I thought, were not much good, except for ground beef that maybe you could turn into chili. But Magnus explains in his book that he prefers older cows because of their deeper more complex flavor which he enhances through dry aging. According to him, this meat has real marbling caused by the use of the muscles as the cow ages, interspersing it with fat, whereas corn-finished young cattle marbling "is just blubber."
Joe Beef's Bathroom Bison
I think Magnus would have loved the horse at Joe Beef. It had so much savoriness and character that it tasted much like an aged cheese. The guinea hen was also very powerful, with the dark meat tasting almost livery, amongst wild mushrooms with their own characteristic umami flavor enhanced by the gamey fat. What can I say about the bone marrow? It was perfect. We were stuffed, like the giant bison head that startles you in the bathroom.
Breton buckwheat wheat with butter, cheese, ham, and mushrooms
The next day I ate a Breton buckwheat crepe at La Bulle au Carré and then we had coffee with the awesome people of Eating Paleo in Montreal, at secret paleo hangout The Knife/Le Couteau, which serves amazing coffee and properly-brewed tea, as well as very good "paleo" treats from Almond Butterfly. Joshua, the organizer, compared it to Bierkraft in Brooklyn, which also serves a paleo crowd despite being a beer store (my kind of paleos).
Unfortunately I had a little too much coffee and felt like my heart was beating out of my chest when I ate my wild boar and mushroom risotto at Bistro Cocagne, which has a nice late-night tasting menu that is pretty cheap for the quality.
The next day I knew I had to eat lightly in order to prepare for my meal at Au Pied. I ate some little treats at the Jean Talon Market, where I mostly bought things to take home. I love that Quebec has a wild food movement that is all about reflecting the local northern boreal terroir. There were a variety of places selling things like cattail shoots, birch syrup, Labrador tea, and spruce beer. I wish I had known about Les Jardins Sauvages, because I would have loved to do one of their wild food dinners. I was interested, as I always am, in local cider, but was skeptical when I found most of it was "ice cider." When I lived in Sweden, I visited a vineyard there that made ice wine, which is created from grapes left to wither on the vine in the frost, the sugars concentrate as the fruit shrivels. It wasn't far off from very very oversweet mead. Ice cider is largely made the same way, with frosted apples, but the ones I tried were really nice and dry, so I actually brought some home.
Mushrooms and ice cider
I had a light lunch at Omnivore, a Lebanese spot that uses locally raised meats, and then a perfect afternoon tea with Japanese snacks at Maison De Thé Camellia Sinensis, a peaceful little tea house with a large variety of very good teas, as well as a nice boutique.
It rained much of the time I was in Montreal, which I don't mind, but later that afternoon the rain broke. And as I walked to Au Pied there was a perfect double rainbow arcing between the fiery autumn leaves. And one end led right to Au Pied, where the staff joyfully gathered outside to see it. And I try very hard not to believe in destiny now, but this was hard not to notice.
I was very lucky to be seated at the bar far end of the bar where the drinks are made. I'd heard some complaints from friends that service is bad at the tables. The service I had was excellent, from Florant, who came from the border of France and Italy. He stopped me from ordering several things, urging me to order things that were the most distinctive about the restaurant and that also wouldn't be impossible for little folk to eat. I started with the half order of the duck fat poutine, which is a signature dish there. It was good, but of course it was good, it's duck fat poutine after all. It's covered with gravy and cheese and fatty liver. The real skill was displayed in the second dish I had, which was fresh eel wrapped in pastry with potato, apple, and sage. The dish wasn't beautiful, but in all other respects it was perfect. I had their own beer, which was only so-so, but Florant gave me resinous spruce beer, which was amazing and I only regret I didn't bring any home, but I've made my own before and when spring comes and the spruce shoots are out, I'll have to make it again. Amazingly, the whole trip I was able to tolerate alcohol, even my arch-nemesis red wine, which normally gives me leg cramps. Maybe it was the sheer fattiness and richness of the food? I don't know.
Food at Au Pied was not photogenic, but it was delicious!
It was interesting that the people there seemed pretty svelte, not much different than the people in Sweden, despite having such meaty fatty food. It is also a place where you can get non-aged raw milk cheese. If the FDA's pronouncements were true, it's amazing that Quebec isn't a wasteland of food poisoned zombies. Either way, I ate plenty of it.
And when it came time to leave, I was sad and I hope to go back, maybe to visit Au Pied's Sugar Shack or Les Jardins Sauvages. And to see all the amazing people I met again. I also connected through Toronto and from the Porter lounge stared out at that glimmering city. I'd like to visit there some time too, and Porter seems to fly there from Chicago 17 times a day. A bonus for being a cold-loving creature is that I didn't encounter many tourists at all and none of my flights were full.
It was an adventure, and adventure I might never have had in another less happy life. Sometimes I imagine there are parallel universes, that versions of me from them reach out, to tell me even there I would have made similar decisions. That this is why the pilot mistook me for someone for Toronto, that a man at a coffee shop there told me "hello again," that someone had checked in under my name before me at Joe Beef. But these are once again my brain trying to make a grand story out of a mundane life. The word "mundane" comes from the Latin root of "belonging to the Earth", and if my life is about that which comes from the Earth, that is the home of apples, mushrooms, wild geese, birch and all I know that is good and green, then I don't mind.
I've had some incredible meals lately, despite being very busy. I have a bunch of books I need to review, but you know how that goes. I think things will calm down for me after my work gets a real office and I also move into a new apartment. And stop traveling so much.
I have a bunch of new cookbooks I've been trying out. The first is April Bloomfield's A Girl and Her Pig. I only ate at her famous restaurant, The Spotted Pig, once. It was quite an ordeal since they don't take reservations. I remember waiting for four hours and being very very very hungry. Luckily she is known for her fatty British-style food. Later she opened up the Breslin. Back then I wasn't exactly rolling in money, so I lurked outside at the Ace Hotel and ate the snacks at the coffee shop there, which included homemade pork rinds and fried lamb belly.
The most memorable dish I had at the Spotted Pig was a parmesan custard with asparagus and prosciutto. I was thrilled to find this in her book. I had only made custard once and that was probably two years ago when I was an idiot and didn't understand that there was a reason for cooking it in a hot water bath/double boiler. I was unfortunately making frozen custard. What resulted was a terrible ice cream with bits of scrambled egg throughout. If you ever want to make ice cream that you aren't in danger of overeating, this is an excellent method of food unreward.
This time I actually followed the instructions. The result was delicious and it tasted good on everything I put it on.
Farm egg + parmesan custard + grilled asparagus
I also used another of her recipes as a complement to one of my own. I've been in love with fresh pork belly for several years, ever since having it at Momofuku. I think I love it more than I love bacon. When the Momofuku cookbook came out, I started cooking it at home, riffing off their recipe. I use less sugar than Chang and more umami. I'm now quite happy with my method, which involves just putting a cube of it in my crock pot, drizzling it with a little honey + lots of tamari + a few drops Red Boat fish sauce + a bit of lime juice and leaving it on low overnight. Then I chill it and slice it (it is easier to slice when chilled). Because it's pork belly you get fat to sear it with accumulating at the bottom of the crock pot. I sweat some chilies in that and sear the belly a little. Then I season to taste with salt and pepper.
It is rich though, so it's nice to have something to cut it. This night I used a crispy and bright radish salad from April's book, which involved a nice technique of rubbing the radishes with herbs and flaking parmesan on top + some delicious pickles that my guest brought me. Pork Belly's bonus, which is the rendered pork fat and jelly, is absolutely fantastic for cooking everything. So I cooked some fingerling potatoes in it and dressed them with little tiny lumps of farm butter and freshly ground black pepper.
The fun doesn't stop there, because what doesn't taste better with the flavored pork fat? These shrimp that I cooked in it were incredible.
Another cookbook I bought recently was Beginnings by Chris Cosentino. I first encountered him in college when I was writing about food law. He was an ardent critic of the foie gras ban in Chicago (which was later overturned) and received death threats from animal rights activists. He is also known as "Offal Chris" because he promotes the use of offal. I credit him for piquing my interest in the subject. So when I heard he was coming to one of my local favorite restaurants, the Publican, to cook for a night, I took out reservations immediately. The meal did not disappoint.
Every dish was really really good, but a standout was the spaghetti. When it came to the table I was not very happy because to be honest it looks like it was pasta made out of onions. And to be honest I don't like spaghetti very much and never have. But our waiter told us it was actually pasta made out of pork skin! Don't ask me how he does it, the recipe is not in the book. The sauce was amazing, it had some kind of oceanic element in there that worked really well with the briny olive flavor and the bright tomato. Chris needs to perform a valuable public service and tell the world how to make this.
Another dish I really want to learn how to make is his pork belly with clams. The sauce tasted very much of egg yolks, but I have no idea how to make it. Maybe some kind of light bearnaise-like sauce with stock?
The next day I tried my hand at one of his recipes for a sardine "iron chef" party. This required fresh sardines, which I got at Issacson and Stein, an excellent place to get cheap fish. The cost is that they are not going to baby you and help you with things. And while I sometimes fry smelt, which is a whole fish, this recipe called for fileting the fish, which I had never done in my life. I had some help, but he didn't know anything either. We followed some instructions from youtube and the result was some mangled, but passable, filets. Cosentino's recipe calls for just marinating them in olive oil and serving them raw, but this isn't San Francisco, and we pan seared them. And then layered them on sourdough crostini with Cosentino's Boccalone nduja, which is a delicious rich spicy sausage that spreads quite luxuriously. I don't know if I will be doing fresh sardines again for awhile, since I live in a studio apartment that reeked for days, but I definitely could stand to have some more nduja, which can be found at Publican Quality Meats.
But one of the most innovative dishes at the party was from my friends Nick and Shannon. I told Nick he could make a zillion dollars if he had a stand selling this. Nick made his own katsuobushi from sardines. I can't explain how, but they have their own blog and hopefully they will post on it. But katsuobushi is a umami flavor goldmine, which he grated on to braised pork belly and spread on pickled ramp aioli. But the amazing thing was that the bao bread here was made with just baking soda + bright yellow farm fresh egg yolks (from Paulie's Pasture), which is somehow steamed in a pressure cooker. The original method is described here.
I was at Belly Shack and I noticed they have gluten-free items, but they are all also vegetarian and somewhat miserly considering the rest of the menu is so decadently fatty. I definitely did not order them. I notice this pattern at other restaurants, where anything non-standard, vegan/XYZ-free/etc, is relegated to some low-fat bland "healthy" ghetto. How much awesome would it be to be able to get something that normal people want to eat, like these delicious bao?
Apparently if I wear almost no makeup and a cute ruffled shirt, I look very young. At a party the day before my birthday, two people told me I looked 12-13, which I thought was hilarious. I turned 26 the next day and went out to the last night of One Sister, an underground supper club. It was the last night because chef Iliana Regan is opening up a restaurant called Elizabeth in Lincoln Square. I'm very much looking forward to that, because I love her style of cooking. It reminds me a lot of the New Nordic movement. Lots of foraged goods and naturalistic presentations.
Where else can you get a cured Alaskan wild bear wild rice crispy treat with Wisconsin cheddar?
Or chocolate covered chicken liver mousse? If only I could eat such things every day. You can see much better photos of her menus at Jen Moran's photography page.
It was an amazing birthday dinner. As I've written before, Iliana is a chef to watch.
Unfortunately the weather here in Chicago has been quite hot lately, which coupled with low air quality ratings I have trouble tolerating due to lung damage that occurred when I was younger. Perhaps I need to move away from the city (or at least far away from anywhere with a real summer), but for now I am heading to visit my cousin in CA, to read and eat oranges. Food recs in the South Bay area are welcome!
Something very strange happened to me recently. It was almost as I if was reenacting 2008. It's hard to believe it's been that long, that it's 2012 now and it's been nearly 4 years ago since I hopped on that plane to Stockholm, Sweden. I remember that day very well because that morning I woke up with my eyes all red and very obviously infected. What bad luck. Can you get an eye infection from crying? Because I admit I had been crying. He was going to Hong Kong and I was going to Sweden and he said there was no way we could continue our relationship over those distances. I rushed to the doctor to get antibiotic eye drops and got on that plane. In the distorted half-dreamlike world of my first jetlag and trying to get my legs in a strange country, thankfully heartbreak passes quickly.
Months later he would ask me to come back with him, but I had fallen in love again and I couldn't accept. I had fallen in love with Sweden and I wasn't going back to the dreary plains of Central Illinois. Not for anyone in the entire world.
I lived in a big red house and had a big room. It was a room of my own, which was a huge luxury to me coming from the standard American college dorms. It had big windows so I could so easily track the dramatic death and re-birth of the sun that occurs in such northern latitudes. The kitchen was quite big and there was plenty of room for everything I wanted. It was in that kitchen that I really learned how to cook.
The month I moved there, August, is perhaps the best month to be there. The sun is still lively and sets late, the temperature ideal, and the woods and gardens full of bright juicy berries and apples. I would fill my bicycle basket with every type of apple you could possibly imagine from the Apple Genetics Garden, some tiny and bright red, others that looked average, but had pale pink flesh. And I would bike home through the woods, home to make an apple crisp or some other delicious home-baked treat.
one of the pictures I took in my first days in Sweden
Later I would also live in Stockholm with someone I loved, in one of the tallest buildings in the entire city, where I could watch over it, red, pale pink, and muted yellow. I thought for a time that I would give up my country and my language to live forever in Sweden with him.
When that dissolved, for a long time afterwards I would have intermittent regrets. Particularly when things weren't going so well. Our time together gained a mythical romantic veneer. It wasn't even about him anymore, it became about this entire country, this beautiful perfect life there I wanted back. Except it never existed. Looking through my photo albums, perhaps I predicted that this would happen. There is one photo of Vaksala Torg in Uppsala, taken in February. The muggy sky casts its gloom over a pile of dirty snow. Distant people passing by are looking at the ground. Why would I take such a picture? I remembered then that I had taken it remind myself how much I hated it there at that moment. That I was lonely, unhappy, alienated, and bored then, just as I would be many times after I left.
But it was never that which I thought about when I took the daily journey in the subway, feeling like I was buried between concrete walls. It was the woods, the gardens, the red houses, the Fyris river, Lake Mälaren, and the magnitude and depth of winter there- dark, fresh pure snowfall, with candles in the windows of nearly every house.
But the fact that I knew this wasn't the whole reality of life there was perhaps at the core of why I didn't go back, why I put it off for years. But this year my sister decided to study in Uppsala too, so I wanted to visit her.
On the plane I hoped to sleep, but the man next to me was a giant and kept poking me with his elbow every time he moved. I watched the 2002 version of Solaris, in which people are pulled in and tormented by old memories made flesh by some incomprehensible extraterrestrial life form.
Perhaps it was perfect that I didn't think about the dates of my trip very well and I ended up in Uppsala for Valborg, the quasi-pagan May Day celebration turned drinking binge that engulfs the city for days. I was less than enthusiastic about this, having experienced my first real hangover only a few weeks earlier. I thought I was some kind of immune mutant, but I was wrong. I am still amazed that there are people who tolerate having such a headache every weekend. I was more enthusiastic about fika, the national coffee/pastry past time. Something hilarious has happened on the Wikipedia article for fika:
In contemporary Sweden, where a significant percentage of the population is on LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) or similar carbohydrate restricted diet, you may nowadays be better of staying away from the sweet things altogether; a cheese tray may be preferred, and the traditional "seven kinds of cookies" would probably be perceived with suspicion or almost as offensive.
I certainly didn't notice that and enjoyed my terrible murky sludge-like coffee and Kanelbuller, a cinnamon roll that's actually not too sweet, but wasn't as good as I remembered.
A "fika" at Ofvandahls
I do think LCHF has had an influence on the country though because quite-excellent high-fat dairy products are available everywhere, a far cry from my recent trip to Florida where I had to go to several grocery stores to get anything decent. I stocked my sister's fridge with my beloved gammaldags mjölk (old-fashioned milk), which can be as high as 4.5% fat. It's like drinking ice cream. But better. It tastes fresh and creamy and like spring grasses. I've been many places, even Switzerland where I drank raw milk, but no milk is better than that.
However, sitting there in the cafe, I realized that it wasn't as fun as I remembered. Neither was drinking champagne at 9 AM while sitting out by the river waiting for the so-called Valborg raft race. The rafts are quite amusing, there was a Dr. Who one with the weeping angels and at least two Nintendo rafts. However, it was not a race by any means. The rafts lined up, as well as they could being made of foam and piloted by drunken people, and queued to go down the falls. Divers were standing by for the inevitable raft collapses.
I visited my old home. It looked the same, but it wasn't home anymore. I could see silhouettes of strange people inside. It reminded me of the time I went back to my childhood home. It felt strange to see someone else's cars and decorations all over it. Now, as in then, I choose not to linger. There was nothing left for me there. Everyone I knew was gone. What can you do in such a place, but stand awkwardly? It's less useful for remembering than a photograph. I didn't want to take any now. I didn't want any pictures of this place that wasn't home anymore.
Back when it was home
I also spent some time at my old student nation, Kalmar, which is certainly much nicer than the places where most students in the US hang out. You can join which ever of the thirteen nations you want to and each has a pub, a cafe, a restaurant, a small amount of housing and often hosts balls, fancy dinners (called gasques), clubs, and sometimes plays/concerts/other arts events. They are run a little like the infamous Park Slope Co-op in NYC though, which is that you have volunteers doing everything. Want to be a chef? Just sign up for this list and now you are tonight's chef. Same for baker, waitress, bartending, and just about any type of staffing job. I was a waitress for a brief time, but I was a terrible waitress to say the least. That's how it is when things are run by volunteers. They work OK and are sometimes awesome... sometimes.
Other times it is nice to eat go somewhere and eat something made by an actual chef. Which is exactly what we ate in Stockholm. Back when I lived there, these we places I looked into from the outside, dreaming of the day when I might go to them. So the Stockholm that we went to was a new one to me.
After a morning filled with drinking increasingly bad coffee and eating pastries (I was well-stocked with Pearls IC, gluten-ease, and super enzymes). we went to Dahlgren's Matbaren for lunch. We sat the bar so we could talk with the people who worked there and see the kitchen, where it looked like they were breaking down a lamb and making delicious looking sauces from scratch. We had some incredible bright-yellow butter on home-made Knäckebröd. The fried sole I had was perfect, surrounded by crisp early spring vegetables that I dipped in a lemony dill aioli. My sister's lamb on rye was even better though. The lamb was cooked absolutely perfectly and had a wonderful balance of fat and succulent savory meat.
Our waitress, Jessica, was from Australia and we talked about how different Swedish lamb tastes compared to earthier grassier lamb from her home country. Our meal was filling, almost too filling, and we made the mistake of ordering a plum sorbet, not knowing that we would be presented with a basket of buttery perfect madeleines and peanut-chocolate fudge.
Later we wandered through Skansen, a historical park of sorts where we witnessed some pony and jug-bashing ritual we didn't understand and gaped at various otters and bears. Later that night I took my sister Frantzén/Lindeberg for her birthday, one of Stockholm's Michelin-starred restaurants. I had wanted to try New Nordic cuisine for some time. Of course I tried to go to Noma, but as far as I know, 10,000 other people were also on the waiting list.
Unfortunately, when we started the meal I was still quite full from lunch, which augured poorly for my performance as a gastronome. The meal there also started out uncharacteristically heavy. Even the amuse bouches were a two-punch of onion and liver. Either way, I started feeling kind of overwhelmed by the richness of the dishes. The oyster with cream didn't help much. When a chunk of bone marrow came out, unadorned with anything that would cut the overwhelming fattiness, and in fact covered in caviar. It seemed like everything in the restaurant so far was drenched in it. It reminded me of this one time I thought I got such a good deal on ikura and I ordered more than I could handle, forcing all my friends and my then-boyfriend to endure it in every dish to the point where everyone was annoyed by it. First world problems. But it seems quite common in Sweden, where they sell caviar in a tube so you can squeeze it onto everything, though I can't say it's good caviar and is unfortunately adulterated with a variety of other junk including rapeseed oil.
Then there was a memorable tartare, which they seared with a blow torch next to the table and then dressed with tallow that they said was from an 11-year old dairy cow named Stina (!?), as well as smoked eel and more caviar.
Beef tartare with strong flavored tallow from an older dairy cow + eel + bleak roe + smoked eel
The cow thing took us into "Portlandia" territory, reminding me it is very strange to be in a country where nearly all the young would be classified as hipsters by most Americans and where I feel quite unstylish and clunky. However, none of them were there dining at the restaurant with us. The crowd there was decidedly older. I understand the price deters many young people, but in Chicago you do find twenty-somethings at restaurants like Next. Perhaps this was a testament to youth unemployment or to the fact that Sweden doesn't have much of a "dining out" culture. Indeed, nearly all my old Swedish friends I reconnected with did not have jobs, despite being older than me. The music the restaurant played seemed like it was for young people that just weren't there.
Land of Feeling by Here We Go Magic: A song from the restaurant I've become quite addicted to
Another song from the playlist: Beach House- Norway, a favorite of mine
The tartare was delicious and I knew it, but I couldn't finish it. This never happens to me. I was worried. Then they brought out bread. It was sourdough that had been fermented for three days. With rich hand-churned fresh butter. God, it was incredible, but I knew that if I had more than a sliver, I would not be able to finish the meal. There was also a salad that contained every possible local in-season vegetable you could possibly dream of, a dazzling array of morels, cow-parsley, celeriac, salsify and thirty-seven other ingredients, drizzled with butter. Amazing, but over-stimulating in every way possible, though less so than this really ridiculous lamb dish I had at Alinea recently.
But then I was refreshed by a dish that was possibly that greatest that I have ever tasted, though it was not the most photogenic. Turbot baked slowly for 4 hours with white asparagus and a sauce of pine, lemongrass, and mint. The fish was like silk and it melted in my mouth like white chocolate. As did the asparagus, adorned like a snowy Christmas tree with the flavors of forests. It was absolutely perfect. I used to not appreciate fish much, but these days I think I have been converted. It prepared me for a dish of chicken with something ominously delicious called "chicken butter" which seemed like a mixture of chicken fat and butter. I've also never had cock's comb before and I was pleasantly surprised that it just tasted mainly like fat.
Later the sous-chef, Jim Löfdahl, took us inside the kitchen, which was surprisingly tiny. The music made sense then. It was the music for the people who worked there, chefs, sous-chefs, and cooks all young and handsome. Jim told us that the band Miike Snow, who are fans of the restaurant, put together their playlist for the night.
The next day we flew to Amsterdam on a whim. I don't really know why. To visit my friend Rosanne and to not linger too much in Sweden perhaps? We stayed at a very self-consciously hipster hotel called Lloyd Hotel. It's not just a hotel, it's a "cultural embassy." It really was even more strange than I imagined. The "lobby" for example is a series of lofts. One of them had a "forest" of words with a blood-stained carpet. Another on top of that was filled with strange patchwork chairs, but mostly with a rug that looked like the swamp thing, though on the last day we noticed that loft had been furnished with a large strange dining table with places set up for thirty. Climbing up though the lofts, I started to get vertigo and worry a little. Our room was at the top. I only really care about food, so I had chosen the "1 star" room. The hotel has rooms of every star value and it's up to you to chose your poison. Our room reminded me of the time when I was little and I thought the house was going to be robbed, so I hid in the bathroom and I wondered if maybe I would have to live there forever. Also it was a bit like a mental institution, but thankfully the beds were very comfortable.
Dutch people are very tall and it seemed the designers there had purposefully designed everything in the hotel so I couldn't reach it. Luckily everything bad about the this room was made up for by the restaurant, which served me an epic meal of fried cheese, regular gouda cheese, crispy lettuce, fresh mint tea, pomme frites, and sweetbreads. I am very against hotel food, but this was very good. I also fell prey to the breakfast buffet. It's not easy to find good breakfast food in Amsterdam. My friend Rosanne said this was a meal people eat at home. But Lloyd Hotel had an admirable spread of good coffee, LOTS of delicious dutch cheeses, bloody red roast beef, fresh-squeezed orange juice and something delicious that I later learned was called full-fat quark. I had seen this before in Austria and had avoided it because the name reminded me of an unsavory Star Trek character. That was dumb. It was amazing- tangy and creamy, like icing.
Damn good hotel food
We saw some fancy paintings and some canals, of course. Ate some delicious Indonesian food, which is hard to find in the US. We had a dinner of steak and pomme frites with Rosanne at a restaurant called Pastis. We went to two breweries that made me wish I were in Belgium instead. I also became very picky about coffee all the sudden, which was bad since it led to the sudden realization that nearly all coffee in Scandinavia and The Netherlands is really really terrible. In the case of Sweden this is sad because Swedes have some of the highest coffee consumption in the world. No wonder they need chokladbollar, which are really just giant chocolate butter balls, (or cheese for the LCHC-conscious Swede) to enjoy their fika.
Back in Sweden I met my Swedish friend Jenny at Johan and Nystrom, which I found through reading staff tweets from Frantzen/Lindeberg (a good way to gage the local food/drink scene). It was certainly better than anything else I had drank during the trip.
It was time to re-visit old hangouts. Would they be as I remembered? First stop was Akkurat, which is almost certainly among the best pubs in Sweden and arguably among the best in the world, which is something since Sweden is not exactly known for beer, having had its craft brewery movement stifled by ridiculous regulations. One of the best Swedish craft breweries is Jämtlands. Akkurat was one of the few places with their beers on draft. It was easy to notice that these memorable beers with names like Heaven and Hell were no longer on tap.
Maybe their relationship soured, but that was OK, because while I was in NYC too soured- on excessively hoppy beer. And I started getting into wild beer before I took my year-long beer hiatus since I thought (perhaps erroneously) that beer was causing problems for me (I'm still not sure about this and I"m trying to see if I can get away with certain styles). If you like kombucha, you will like sour beer. And I REALLY like kombucha. And Akkurat, is turns out, has a huge cellar just for aging these "wild yeast" beers. Even I didn't want to buy a $50 bottle of beer, but a vagabond American beer aficionado at our table let us take some of his and I was quite content anyway with my Tilquin Gueze. After 1.5 beers, my terrible alcohol tolerance meant we were required to go to my old drunk-food spot, Soldatan Sveik, which plys a mixture of fatty Scandinavian and Czech home-cooking. I had raggmunk, which are potato pancakes with bacon and lingonberries.
It was all good, but I knew then I wouldn't miss it, at least with the aching I once had. Friends were gone, people had moved on. I saw Martha Wainwright in concert once in Uppsala and came to love this song, which to me is about the people that disappear from your life, perhaps the inevitable result of a world of transients.
I didn't belong there anymore. When I left before it was a waterworks at the airport again, leaving someone I loved behind that last security checkpoint. But this time, I walked through calmly, more concerned with duty-free than tears. Even Chicago, so new to me now, felt more like home. So many things had happened to me in the time since I was there. This was no Solaris, my mind was too changed to even conjure up a simulacrum of my past loves. I had new longings and none of them were in Stockholm. You can love someone and think it's forever, you can think you've found a home, but time takes its tolls on delusions. You just have to wait, and hope, and never stop looking. And also eat whatever the hell you want when you are vacationing in Europe :P