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.
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
In the US, liver has been in the news with the California foie gras ban going into effect. However, I hadn't heard until today that Japan is going through it's own liver debate. If you have asked me to NYC restaurant recommendations, I've probably told you about Takashi, a unique West Village spot that serves the cuisine of Korean immigrants who lived in Japan. One of the best dishes on the menu is the raw marinated liver, which is amazingly fresh and doesn't have the mineraly flavor so many object to in this organ meat. It is the best preparation of normal liver that I've ever had.
I read an article today about raw meat eating in Japan that says that unfortunately Japan may ban the dish due to a food poisoning outbreak that killed five people and recent scientific tests that found pathogenic e coli in some samples of liver. But the food poisoning outbreak involved raw meat (yukko, another delicious dish at Takashi, which is roughly like beef tartare) from a department store that was not graded for raw consumption.
Most of the major food poisoning outbreaks in the past five years in the US have involved produce. So far I haven't heard of anyone calling for a ban on lettuce or spinach. It's funny because I know some older Chinese women who have told me that they view the US consumption of salads made with raw vegetables as being very risky. Of course, I am of the opinion that every food you eat is risky and banning food because of risks is foolish and almost always inconsistent with actual logic. Most of the risk is mainly for certain populations like children, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised.
Another funny story I found when I was googling raw liver was that a Korea pop star named IU apparently relished a pile of raw liver on Korean television. The Korean Vegetarian Federation demanded an apology for the incident. Reading the Wikipedia article on raw meat in Korea, the history of vegetarianism itself in Korea is very interesting, with it gaining in popularity along with Buddhism during the Goryeo Dynasty. Luckily in the Joseon Dynasty, the state favored Confucianism and since it was said that Confucius enjoyed raw meat, it became trendy again. The practice of eating raw meat was said to originally have come from China, where is may have become unpopular because of epidemics in the 11th century.
Korea is still a place where you can get a good vegetarian meal though. One of my favorite chefs, David Chang, toured some of these traditional vegetarian restaurants. The tension between vegetarian and non-vegetarian in Korean food is evident to me in many dishes I've eaten over the years. One memorable one was a rice hearty broth with chunks of both blood and tofu. Or Ssam, which is succulent roast pork with a delicious fermented soy and pepper sauce called Ssamjang.
It was actually at a Korean restaurant that I learned to follow Confucius' saying "Do not shun rice that is well clean; do not shun kuai (raw meat or fish) that is thinly sliced." I was with a group of paleo dieters and one made the mistake of sending the rice away. The cook, a Korean grandmother, was very concerned for our health and sent us a platter of sliced tofu.
Tangentially, Taoism has a very strange relationship with grains like rice, some Taoists claiming they feed corpse demons that lead to death and decay. While that might seem like Taoists would get along really well with Loren Cordain, it becomes clear that the ascetics who wanted to avoid corpse demons weren't exactly eating steak, but miserable-sounding herbs and honey, a diet that seems quite similar to that of the Christian Orthodox St. Mary of Egypt, who was said to have lived in the desert as an ascetic eating various plants of the wilderness. However, her goal was penitence, not longevity, which the Taoist ascetics sought. The Taoist practice seems quite similar to modern practices of calorie restriction for longevity.
Most American Christians are very much unaware of the ancient Christian history of meat-restriction. Possibly because it doesn't fit very neatly with modern conceptions of vegetarianism, which stress lifelong abstinence. Ancient Christians fasted from animal products on specific fast days. An devoted Orthodox Christian in Ethiopia or Greece is going to be essentially a vegan for half the year, with some invertebrates and fish allowed on certain fast days. An interesting research article I read about recently discusses how hyenas in Ethiopia are affected by fasting. If you are vegan and traveling in an Orthodox country you can often get an appropriate meal by asking for "Lent" food. Western Christianity split off and became more and more lax about fasting and at this point most Western Protestants know nothing about it. I was looking up tansy (related to Game of Thrones but I don't want to spoil you all) yesterday and I found it amusing that it was once used in dishes during Lent in order to reduce the flatulence people experienced because of legume-heavy diets. Epazote is used similarly in Mexican cooking.
Dr. Lustig's recent moralistic tirade on how we are all so fat and unhappy because are trying to get pleasure from food reminded me of exactly why I love food. For me, gaining a better relationship with food meant learning to enjoy it as an experience rather than just a rote vaguely pleasurable activity. The pleasures I get from food now are far more multi-faceted than just a reward-axis compulsion driven by the unholy combinations of salt, fat, and sugar. When I think of great meals I've had, I think of the beautiful places I ate them in, their presentation, complex and unique flavors, and the people I shared them with.
Strawberries in Sweden
I know what you are thinking- that this is not a "meal." But it was at the time. I had just arrived in Uppsala, Sweden and I wasn't sure what to do with myself. I didn't even know where a grocery store was. But there are these stands in the summer where they sell just strawberries. And these were unlike any other strawberries I'd ever had. You know strawberry flavored candy? These tasted a little like that, but better. I said to myself "this is what a strawberry should taste like." Ever since then I've been unable to enjoy the bland giant watery things that pass as strawberries in America. Occasionally I can find strawberries like these at the local farmer's market, but they are a rare seasonal treat.
"Wolf fish", potatoes, and mussels with a cream sauce at Pingvinen in Bergen, Norway
Bergen is an incredibly beautiful place. My friends and I spent our days hiking the majestic fjords and afterwards were happy to find that Norwegian cuisine is simple, delicious, nourishing, and hearty. Pingvinen is a lovely little pub that specializes in traditional Norwegian food. Nothing fancy, but completely filling and satisfying to eat by the cozy fire as the dusk turned cold.
Pork knuckle somewhere in Krakow, Poland
Another gorgeous place I visited while backpacking across Central and Eastern Europe. There are a variety of places in the city that serve cheap, simple, peasant food. I don't remember what this place was called, but my vegetarian friends enjoyed it as much as I did. The pork knuckle was fatty and tender. I was happy to have the mustard to cut a bit of the greasiness though. It also reminds me why I love traveling in winter, because that's when comfort foods are really comforting.
Fresh cod in Iceland at the Blue Lagoon
Another boon of traveling in the dead of winter is that nothing is really that crowded. The bad part is that in Iceland we didn't get that many hours of daylight. We spent those horseback riding, glacier climbing, and hiking. On the last day we went to the hot spring for a spa day (we were there right after the currency crash, so we were quite rich even though we were just students). Afterwards I enjoyed this perfectly-cooked meal of fresh cod.
A variety of mangalitsa (a fatty breed of pig) sausages (I skipped the bread and the raw onions) from a street fair in Budapest
If you ever have the chance to go to Budapest, don't pass it up. I didn't know that much about it when I decided to go, but it's an incredibly elegant city with a rich history. And if you like high culture, it has fantastic opera, art, and very good food and wine. I enjoyed some amazing meals at fine restaurants like Cafe Kor, but this simple "meal" of sausages when we were exploring the park was so luscious and satisfying that I'll never forget it. It's hard to find sausage as good as this in the US.
Cocido at La Bola in Madrid
The food in Madrid is incredible and there are so many places that have different regional Spanish cuisines that are hard to find in the US. I ate very well there with my friend Nancy, who lived there at the time. Cocido is a traditional stew from Madrid that is very very very filling and delicious. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of my other favorite meal, which was at a bar specializing in Asturian food. They have a unique light sparkling cider that is poured from very high so it gets really bubbly. And you can also enjoy ham (which is everywhere in Spain), a rich blue cheese called Cabrales, and spicy patatas brevas.
Indonesian food made by a friend
A vegetarian meal? Yes, but this was so good that I hardly noticed. The spicy tangy flavors of Indonesian food taste good on anything. Lots of tamarind, black pepper, and chili peppers. And this is also when I realized that the stuff they sell as "tempeh" in the US has a fraction of the flavor of the authentic homemade Indonesian stuff. Unlike the cardboard American tempeh, Indonesian tempeh has a nutty flavor and a bread-like texture. Of course this food was even better because I enjoyed it with friends!
Sorbet and Reindeer at Aed in Tallinn, Estonia
Some of my favorite flavors of Scandinavia. The creamy tangyness of sea buckthorn, the tart brightness of lingonberries, and the gamey savory flavors of good lightly-seared reindeer.
Pig's head at Fatty Cue in Brooklyn, NY
I ate this with Rhys from Let Them Eat Meat and his friend Joe. I promise it was better than it looked. Unlike a lot of offal that have a mineral taste that some people find unpleasant, pig's head is mainly just fat. Luckily, they serve it with sides like a tangy Malaysian curry that works really well with the fattiness of the dish.
Sous vide pork + chanterelles at Manresa in Los Gatos, CA
One of the first really fancy modernist-style meals I'd ever had. The 14 or so courses were all delicious and each dish was a unique experience. This one was one of my favorites because the chanterelle flavor was so strong and worked so well alongside the tender juicy pork. It was even better knowing that the chanterelles came from my cousin Gene Lester's farm.
Bacon-cooked sea bass with citrus at Salt & Fat in Sunnyside, NY
I'm convinced that Queens is the most underrated part of NYC. When I lived there I was so happy with the variety of foods from around the world that were available all hours of the day. Salt & Fat is definitely one of the most creative restaurants in Queens right now, especially now that M. Wells is gone. The food reminds me a little of Momofuku, but it's more a home-style restaurant and the atmosphere is actually a lot more welcoming and creative than at any of the Momofuku restaurants. Of course I'm a little biased, because I love salt and I love fat and they do both brilliantly. Use of ingredients like exotic citrus prevents the food from tasting greasy.
Pork Ribs at Spring Lake Farm in NY
This is a delicious meal I shared with my friend Ulla and her family on their farm in the Catskills. Ulla's father Ingi has been feeding their pastured pigs an increasing percentage of their diet as hay and grass. He told me he was able to do that better because he pellets the hay for them to fatten on. I don't know how that works, but I know I had a really fun time on their farm and I was amazed at how much the pork tasted almost like a really fatty delicious beef! You can buy their pork from our meetup.
I am hoping to eat another incredible meal this Thursday and I hope to blog about it then! I would note that all these meals were eaten after I was able to get my illness under control through eating a paleo-style diet, which gave me the robustness to be able to see the world and eat an occasional treat without suffering any consequences.
I just moved to Chicago recently and have been settling into my new job and new apartment (in Lincoln Park), so that's the cause of most of the silence recently. In the meantime, I've been enjoying some music. I'm a huge fan of a type of music called joiking, which is a traditional Sami style of singing that is mainly wordless chants. I mentioned Torgeir Vassvik in another post, who has a traditional album and a jazz-fusion (very popular in that region) album. Here are two joik bands I've been listening to. One is Adjagas, which has kind of a rootsy folk sound:
Another is Wimme, who uses an electronica background:
From another part of the Arctic, comes this deer song involving throat singing from the Even tribe of Siberia. Someone in a comment mentioned that the only polar people whose diets we can study are the Inuit, which is not true. There are many circumpolar indigenous peoples. In Siberia (a massive part of the world) there are several tribes that have been poorly studied in the past, but there is some interesting research coming out of there right now. I keep meaning to read The Reindeer People, which is about the Even.
In Siberia, shamans combine a distinctive imagery of reindeer and of bird-flight. Their costumes sometimes include imitation reindeer antlers, occasionally tipped with wings or feathers, placed on the headdress or attached to the shoulders at the very point where reindeer are tattooed on the Pazyryk mummies. Like the participants in the Eveny midsummer ritual, shamans may ride to the sky on a bird or a reindeer. But their relationship with these animals goes far beyond mere riding. One shaman is suckled by a white reindeer during his initiatory vision as he incubates in a bird's nest on a branch high in the tree that links earth and sky. Another becomes a reindeer himself by wearing its hide, while hunters with miniature bows and arrows surround him and mime the act of killing. The hide is then stretched across the broad, flat drum that the shaman will beat as accompaniment to his trance. Another shaman, seeking to consecrate his reindeer-skin drum, is guided by spirits as he combs through the forest to find the location where the reindeer was born and traces every place it has ever visited over the course of its life, right up to the point where it was killed. As he picks his way through bogs and over fallen branches, he picks up the scattered material traces of its existence — snapped twigs, dried dung — to gather together every possible part of its being, and then moulds them into a small effigy of the reindeer. When he sprinkles the effigy with a magical ‘water of life’, the drum comes to life. Like a reindeer itself but with enhanced power, it is now capable of bearing the shaman aloft with its throbbing beat to nine, twelve, or more levels of the heavens.
I also enjoyed this throat singing from Eivor, an artist from the Faroe Islands:
If throat-singing and joiking just aren't your thing, here is a baffling and gorgeous music video I've been enjoying from a indie folk band called Phosphorescent:
When it rains here the windows of the buildings behind mine look like they are crying. The raindrops make dark trails in the wet cement. I want to open my window and hear the rain, but I only have one window and it is taken up by the air conditioning unit. I'm not sure whether to take it out or not. I seems like autumn comes so slowly here and one day it's 60 and the next day it's 85 again. I try not to do so much here because I know I am leaving. I've known that for a long time, but I haven't had the strength to do it before, but this time I've set the date and given notice at work and with my roommates. I have to go through with it this time.
It was set up for failure from the beginning. Moving from a place I truly loved, New York just couldn't compare. I tried to make it here. I remember when the plane touched down they pilot said "Congratulations, you've arrived in the greatest city on Earth." Yesterday I sat on the tall grey rocks on Central Park and looked up at the buildings on Central Park South. I imagined that it might be the greatest place on Earth if you lived on one of those beautifully terraced penthouses. But for me it's been a constant struggle. It's been utterly humbling.
I think living abroad had given me a false since of independence. I really did think I could make it anywhere. And in some ways I have made it. My income has increased from minimum wage and more than quadrupled. I have a job. I have an apartment. But I don't have very much else. I don't know why I couldn't fit in here. I don't know if it's something wrong with me or the place, but in the end after a long day of work and two hours on the subway, I do withdraw. Unfortunately that's how I deal with stress, but I never understood the mechanics of this place anyway. Everyone lives so far away from each other and they are always so busy anyway.
I find myself always looking at Uppsala on Google Streetview. Whatever day they chose to take their pictures, it was a perfect day. The sun is shining and the colors of the buildings, a muted yellow and Falun copper red, contrast perfectly against the blue sky. I play a game where I start in the city center and then make my way home to Ultuna, right outside the city, a cluster of red houses among the forests and green fields of late-summer grain. Perhaps it's August, like it was when I first came there. I had trouble dealing with the loss of that place, with the loss of my boyfriend from there. In the dissolution I drove many of my old friends away and failed to make new ones.
But at least something came of it. I took my first biological anthropology class and met Dr. Ralph Holloway, who told me on no uncertain terms that it would be a waste if I didn't do a PhD in something. It had been some time since I had received that kind of academic encouragement. When his class ended and he went on sabbatical I was very sad and realized how much I missed some things about academia.
Last year when I fainted and ended up in the hospital because of my low blood pressure, I lay there alone and realized my life would be a lot better off if I were near my family. My family doesn't live in New York, they live in Illinois. My father has a farm now in Wisconsin. I'll study for the GRE, learn how to drive, hopefully learn how to farm, and because the Midwest is cheaper and I'll have more social capital, I'll actually try to achieve my dreams rather than having to focus on making ends meet. No, Chris won't be coming with me. I'll be leaving behind some wonderful memories of us, but it was an issue of the wrong place at the wrong time. I've been torn about how much to write about stuff like this here, but I writing about my own life has always been part of my blog.
I've learned a lot here, but it's time for a new journey to begin.
Counting miles before we set
Fall in love and fall apart
Things will end before they start
I'm perfectly comfortable with blood, guts, and that sort of thing. But when it comes to the food of simple Americans, I can be quite squeamish. There is nothing so horrible as things such as meatloaf, casserole, "hamburger helper," or lasagna. Add some steamed mixed frozen vegetables and I'm in Hell. I'll never forget the one horrible summer at camp in Wisconsin where I was served mac & cheese with pearl onions and pieces of boiled ham.
In a tiny bookstore in central Illinois I discovered that this sort of horrible cuisine devoid of true flavor has been adapted for the low-carb lifestyle. I unfortunately neglected to record the name of this dread Necronomicon placed upon the dusty shelves of Jane Addam's of Champaign. But this recipe will live in my nightmares forever:
Busy Day Cake
1/3 cup coconut oil or butter. Hmm sounds OK...
1/3 cup soy protein isolate OH GOD
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten flour NOOOOO
1 cup ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon SteviaPlus
6 packets sucralose
1/2 cup cream thickened with water
I won't record the exact specifications of this miserable recipe for fear of what innocent souls might encounter if the instructions were to be followed. The victim might think they were following a healthy diet because it is low in carbs and be mystified when they feel like crap and accidentally eat the whole thing despite a complete lack of true culinary virtue. Don't worry, paleos" are victims too. I once ate half a tray of "paleo" cupcakes. Baked goods of any sort are really not a good idea for anyone, no matter what they are made of. Reminds me of what I feel are the habits of highly ineffective dieters:
- Candy cigarettes: sorry "paleo cupcakes" are still cupcakes and are not healthy food
- Low quality food
- Foods of neolithic invention such as breaded and deep-fried foods.
- Food that is engineered by food scientists to taste good. Be very suspicious of anything made in a lab.
- Liquid calories.
- insipid food. I part ways with Stephan here in that I don't think blandness is key. I think very bland food is very satiating, but so is very complex food with many spices, fermented sauces, bitter and unusual flavors.
I think the meal Chris and I had after we went to the bookstore illustrates this. Portions were very small at Bacaro, but we left satisfied. Flavors like black truffle in risotto, liver-based sauces, and olive oil gelato walk the line between grotesque and delicious that puts you in a state of culinary satisfaction without incitement to overeat.
We also had an incredible lunch at Blackbird in Chicago. The portions here were also very small, but the flavors were unlike anything I'd ever had. Smoked ham hock with sturgeon, lamb with lavendar and broccoli, and licorice root for example. My new goal is not to eat out unless it's something really good like this.
Perhaps this jives with Seth Robert's set-point theory:
3.6.2. Birth of the idea. In June 2000, I visited Paris. The food was excellent. I wanted to eat three meals per day but to my surprise and disappointment I had little appetite, even though I felt fine and was walking a lot. I realized that the new weight-control theory suggested an explanation: It had been hot and I had drunk two or three sucrose-sweetened soft drinks each day, about 630 kJ (150 kcal) each. All of them had been new to me because they were brands not available at home. The novelty meant that their flavors were not yet associated with calories and therefore would not have raised my set point. They had been sweet, of course, a familiar flavor that presumably was associated with calories. But maybe sweetness was effectively a weak flavor, I thought, and what I had observed was another instance, similar to Example 9 (sushi), of bland food reducing the set point.
My weight loss definitely coincides with my growing interest in complex flavors. Of course it's very possible to get fat on Haute Cuisine; there are plenty of expensive restaurants serving baskets of bread and fried cheese balls (maybe a fancy cheese, but still very stimulating to the appetite).
It's a testament to the size of this city that there are several "cult" paleo restaurants frequented by various "tribes." I don't know all of them and most of them I know from the grapevine, but Crossfit South Brooklyn's are Bierkraft (ask for the paleo "muffin") and Palo Santo. Apparently Crossfit Virtuosity's is Fette Sau, a famous Williamsburg BBQ place. Lately Eating Paleo in NYC's has been Takashi, which serves Korean-Style Japanese BBQ in the West Village. John and I have entertained various people here, including the reporter for a show that will be airing in January. Last Weekend we hosted the Eades alongside Jenna from Lean Machine NYC. All I can say is that it's great to meet authors that look as good in person as we're supposed to look on this diet. Remember, if you are representing paleo or high-fat it's your absolute responsibility to look as sexy as possible.
So about Takashi: imagine a temple of meat. The walls are decorated with praises to the wonders of liver and the health benefits of short ribs. Underrated cuts of meat are elevated to the point where eating liver is a joy and not a chore. Did I mention they serve their liver raw? It's fresh from the farm and marinated in a bit of sesame oil. You dip it in a bit of sea salt and it tastes like good fresh bluefin tuna. There is no hint of the deep bloody mineral taste that makes liver normally such a difficult meat to sell. Now that we are overfishing bluefin, perhaps this is the future of sushi? I did try to replicate this at home (I was unsuccessful) and my roommate's horrified reaction reminded me that this is not something normal people eat. But they would want it if they just tried it once here! This is the sort of place where you should go to dive into offal because they do it so well.
The first course is raw grassfed meat, the second is thin slices that you BBQ at the table's grill. Both are very good. The chuck tartare, liver, and spicy tendon are outstanding for the first course. If you want some balance the bowl of pickled and fresh fruits and vegetables, called namul, is a good choice. For the second there are succulent fatty sweetbreads that crisp perfectly. I was afraid of sweetbreads, the euphemistic name for the thymus gland or something horrible sounding like that. But they are nothing but goodness. The stomachs are good two, but mainly a reflection of their marination. This isn't to denigrate the muscle meats, which are also excellent. I believe John and I have eaten everything here.
Now that winter is coming, there are the kind of things I need. Though winter has been slow to come this year, perhaps to keep the birds from flying away. I suppose it's strange to have been here long enough to be saying goodbye to people who are moving on. I know I can't tarry here for too much longer myself. I enjoy the city, but I don't love it. When I see ads for travel on the subway my heart leaps a little. And I'm not thinking about just going for a week, I'm talking leaving— immersing myself in another place again. Maybe it will be a place that refreshes me rather than steeps me in a type of fetid torrent like this city often does.
At least lately I am certainly well-nourished. I have been struggling to eat all my food before I go away for Thanksgiving, including a pork roast from Meatshare, blood pudding from Mosefund, beef liver, and turkey sausages from Brooklyn Cured. I've also been on a bit of a kimchi kick. I think I've probably eaten 4 types of kimchi this week. Maybe I need to move to Asia? But you know I also have this desire to settle down and find a place I'm not afraid to plant trees. I have all these tree catalogs on my nightstand and I always like to read them to relax. Some of them take nearly a decade to bear fruit or nuts. I don't feel my current life in on that kind of a timescale. It would be wonderful to be somewhere I loved well enough to put down those sort of literal roots.
"That's creepy. Why are your walls so empty?" my friend asked
"I don't know" I answered. Though I suppose I did have some reasons for the walls being starkly white. One was that I wasn't sure how long I was going to stay and I didn't want to have to plaster over any nail holes. Or get attached. And what would I put up anyway? Someone had suggested prints from my year abroad, but I didn't want to see those every day. It was enough that I compulsively looked at them when feeling upset. I don't think they comforted me much. They did make my heart beat louder. At some point a few wires in my brain got crossed and instead of being heartbroken for just a relationship, I became heartbroken for a place.
And perhaps it's a foolish thing to post about here, but this is Hunt, Gather, Love. And I did love this place and my life there, perhaps more than I've loved anything in my entire life. And the things I've done and not done since have had much to do with this.
Last night I thought about the day I left Sweden. When the taxi came, what if I'd refused to go? What if I had dug in my heels and stayed? Would I have been able to make it there as an expat? Would we still be together?
The taxi came and I put my small duffel bag in the back. I was illegal there anyway at that point. He left me at the gate and I spent all the time waiting for my flight in a teary daze. It's funny because I had arrived that same way. My boyfriend back then was moving to Hong Kong and didn't want to try things over the distance. He told me weeks before, but I hadn't believed him until that last day when we sat in the parking lot and he firmly told me it was over. The next day I woke up and my eyes were red and swollen. I frantically visited my allergist for conjunctivitis antibiotics before my flight that afternoon.
A month later he sent a letter begging me to come back to him in a few months when he'd come to Urbana, Illinois. But by then I had fallen in love with Sweden and the freedom I had there. It was August and I believe that's the month when things are really perfect in Sweden, though there were days of unremitting rain and it took me some time to figure out how to pay rent, buy groceries, and do other necessary things. I lived out in the country next to the Agricultural School in a big red house with large picture windows. Beside the house was a beautiful forest and over the hills there was the gently winding Fyris river.
Sometimes I find myself absentmindedly clicking through Google street-view of Uppsala. Unfortunately the camera stops at that forest path and I can't go any further. I walk up the path in my mind, trying to burn it into memory.
All my life I'd felt like I wasn't from anywhere, that I could never fit in because of my chaotic background. But finally I was in a place where the fact I didn't have an anchor didn't matter. All the expats were in this together. There were no best friends from kindergarten to compete with. There were apples everywhere. We'd gather them in our bicycle baskets after class. There were trips to lovely pockets of the countryside with vineyards and deep dark pine-bordered lakes. There were dinner parties by candlelight. At one of these I met a Swedish man. And it wasn't like here, where every relationship is cheap and full of foolish little games in the name of whatever stupid little relationship philosophy is fashionable these days. When he held my hand and took me home, he meant it. And here where is doesn't seem to mean anything...I feel bewildered and lost. And I'm a little afraid to say it, because in this city it sometimes seems like it's all about keeping your head above the dust and pretending your eyes don't hurt. But I'm going to be honest here and say I can't do that. I want these things back: a place I actually want to be in, neighbors, apple trees, my silver bicycle, and perhaps love that isn't reluctant and halting.
To tie this back tangentially to paleo, I read in Robb Wolf's book that stress-related cortisol elevation impedes memory formation. Perhaps that's why looking back, that year seems so perfect and my year in NYC seems so empty.
When I look at these pictures I worry that I'll never have these things again. But today I ordered prints for my white walls. I'm here for awhile at least, might as well make the most of things. When I remember them I'm going to try not to keep them in the past, I'm going to love them as if they were still possible. I'm still sorry I lost him and that place I loved, partially at least because of my own stupidity. I can't go back to that, but there are lovely things still left for me and I don't have to compromise that.