Home Grown Food

DK Salad

I may be exposing my suburban roots, but it thoroughly impresses me when an entire meal can be harvested from a back yard.  Nowadays, there is plenty of talk of local, sustainable food, and happily this concept is growing through local farmers’ markets and CSA’s, movements such as Slow Food, and committed practice by chefs and home cooks alike. Last week, the BlogHer Food Conference offered panel discussions on urban farming, canning, preserving and foraging. NOMA, the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant crowned number one in the world this year, creates its menu from ingredients which are locally foraged. Times are changing and hopeful as we return to our land, our communities and our kitchens.

I do my best to buy locally grown food, grateful I live in a part of the country where we have an abundance. I remain mindful of what and how we eat, aware that this is a learning curve – a process to move through in order to change a pattern of living and eating into a way that feels intuitively correct. Yet, as I pat myself on my back, I cannot help but feel like a self-aggrandized neanderthal when I think of my husband’s family in Denmark. My state of attempted permanent mindfulness is their norm, naturally and reflexively. While I write about it to convey an epiphany, they feel no need to articulate it, because it’s their way of life. Like breathing.

Mushrooms tf

When we lived in Denmark, and now when we return to visit, a frequent outing was to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in the countryside. Each visit culminated in a family dinner based on food harvested from their property. The last meal we shared with them went something like this:

It began with homemade salumi made of venison and duck hunted from the nearby forest.  As we nibbled on the lean slices of salami, my brother-in-law went outside to harvest bucketloads of crayfish from their lake. He returned with a dripping basket teaming with crustaceans. In one arm he cradled giant porcini mushrooms the size of tennis balls, which he had spotted growing by a grove of trees on the way to the dock. In the meantime, after I had rather naively inquired as to whether there was a salad I could help make, my sister-in-law returned from her garden where she went to gather her daily harvest of vegetables. She profusely apologized that she did not have any lettuce, while she heaved her basket on to the table. It toppled to the side, spilling out its contents, a free form cornucopia of heirloom tomatoes, chard, new potatoes, red potatoes, yellow carrots, crab apples, garlic, zucchini, crookneck squash, red onions and grapes. She declared that this was only one day’s worth of a harvest. It should all be eaten, since there would be just as much to harvest tomorrow. So, we got cooking.
Crayfish plate

The porcinis were cleaned, sliced, and dressed with olive oil and salt. I made a salad of colorful heirloom tomatoes, red onion and chard; potatoes were roasted in olive oil and garlic; apples and carrots were sliced and put in lemon water for the children; we sautéed the zucchini and crookneck squash; the crayfish were boiled and cooled; homemade bread was warmed and sliced; the table was laid while we gamely tried to find room for all the plates and food. As we tucked into our meal, my brother-in-law told us to save some space for the pigeon and duck he had braising in the oven that he was eager for us to taste, adding that he had saved the largest porcini mushroom for a cream sauce which would accompany the birds.

This was a delicious, abundant meal created from food hunted or grown on the property. The further beauty of it was that there was no need for a written recipe. Each dish reflected the main ingredient, either cooked or raw, enhanced with salt, pepper, some olive oil, perhaps a little vinegar and lemon or a simple sauce. It was delicious and sating – a feast for a king despite our hosts’ humble means.

I still have so much to learn.

Heirloom Tomato and Chard Salad with Red Onions and Basil

Serves 4-6.

2 pounds assorted baby heirloom tomatoes, sliced or halved, depending on size
2 cups mixed red and green chard leaves, stems removed
2 small red onions, peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup purple and green basil leaves, stems removed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Arrange tomatoes in the center of a serving platter, alternating colors. Arrange chard leaves around the edge of the platter. Top tomatoes and chard with red onion slices. Garnish with basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Summer Solstice NOMA-Style

NOMA Nordic Cuisine

Last summer we were in Denmark visiting friends and family during the summer solstice.  Miraculously, we managed to get a coveted dinner reservation at the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant NOMA, and realized that our luck was only due to the general population out partying in traditional solstice-style on beaches before bonfires rather than in restaurants.  Seizing our opportunity, we invited our Danish friends and hosts (who were more than happy to abandon tradition for a table at NOMA) to join us.

That evening, we dined on a fabulous prix-fixe menu consisting of 7 courses composed exclusively of ingredients hailing from Nordic countries.  (NOMA is an acronym for Nordisk Mad – or Nordic Food in Danish.)  A visit to this restaurant is highly recommended if you are in Copenhagen, although advance reservations are a must. It is a fantastic collaboration between Danish chefs Claus Meyer and René Redzepi.  All ingredients originate from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.  They run from the familiar to the exotic: eel, musk ox, green strawberries, hare, seaweed, rye bread, black lobster are a few examples (quite out of context.)  You may feast on dishes such as Sautéed Dover Sole with New Danish Potatoes, Green Strawberries and Elderberry Sauce perhaps accompanied by Stirred Mashed Potatoes with Lumpfish Roe and Crispy Chicken Skin, and finish with Caramel Ice Cream with Icelandic Buttermilk, Dried Swedish Berries and Sorrel Crème Anglaise.

NOMA Nordisk Mad Cookbook

I enjoy poring over the NOMA Nordic Cuisine cookbook, which I bought as a memento after our meal. It is an inspirational and unique testament to Nordic terroir, and apropos several interesting blogs that attempt to prepare every single recipe in a particular tome of a cookbook, I would seriously have a go at reproducing NOMA’s – if only I could get my hands on chickweed, seakale and sweet cicely.  For now, I do what I always do and improvise with the seasonal and local products I find in my part of the world.

As we drove home after our long dinner, it was approaching midnight.  To the west the sun had just set and exited the sky in a swirl of orange and purple flourishes in its haste to rise again. To the east it was doing just that, where the sky was brightening and soft pink tinges nudged the gray-blue midnight summer sky.  It was truly a magical Danish solstice moment.

How (not) to Plan a Trip to Europe

Italy 2008 009

Last summer, at about this time, I was on the internet browsing housing and travel opportunities to Europe for this summer.  We had just returned from a trip to Denmark and France, and I was already looking forward to returning this year.  Summer is our time to go back to our European roots where we lived as a family until our move to the U.S. 2 years ago.  In the summer, we have the luxury of time on our side with a long school holiday, the conveniences of telecommuting, and, luckily, many friends in numerous countries with guest bedrooms.  As I browsed the internet, I drooled over beautiful pictures of villas and imagined sitting by their pools, exploring the grounds, indulging in delicious meals and exploring nearby medievel villages.  I also figured I should start investing in some lottery tickets.

A requisite for the next trip would be a stop in Copenhagen.  It’s important for us to keep our connection with friends and our family life there.  However, if we were traveling all the distance to Europe, we hoped to arrange another trip – within our trip – to take advantage of setting foot on the European continent.  We would find that villa, that restaurant, that village.  But where?  It was easy to let the imagination run wild; we had many months to finalize our plans and dreaming is free.  Would we take our usual detour to the south of France or Tuscany?  Should we do something different and stay north, heading east to Stockholm or even St. Petersburg?  What about traveling back to where the children were born near Geneva?  Or, how about England, where we also lived – should we visit our old town and house, and stop by Stonehenge to check that it was still there?  The possibilities were endless.  Half the fun of travel is thinking and planning; there was plenty of time on our side.  I relished organizing our trip and made a mental note to purchase those lottery tickets. 

Then the new school year started.  Life became busy and scheduled.  And, as things go, my back went out (all that flying didn’t help.)  Any future travel plans were relegated to the back burner while my back healed and we focused on local life.  Fall turned to winter.  School marched on with kids, commitments, and goodness-knows the myriad things that need doing during the school year.  Christmas passed and spring arrived.  New job opportunities presented themselves.  (FYI: opportunity is a euphimism for “unforeseen change, stressful uncertainties, potential risks and/or possibilities.”)  Europe suddenly seemed far away while our present life teemed with houseguests, homework, school plays, work responsibilities and potential life changes.  Travel focused on local destinations: Tahoe for skiing, Carmel for beach, L.A. for American Girl Doll Store (ok, ok, but we are living in the U.S. for the first time ever in my daughter’s life.)  Before we knew it, school graduation was approaching, summer activities beckoned, and we still had not organized our trip – at all.  We tentatively waited, keeping options open while we were teased with the promise of  work commitments requiring travel to Europe (but where?)  In an attempt to wield some control over the situation, we purchased tickets to Denmark for 3 weeks in August, seemingly late enough in the summer for everything to sort itself out.

And suddenly the end of July arrived.  While we had a ticket to Copenhagen, we had a week wide open in our trip with no guest bedroom to borrow, during which we had hoped to travel elsewhere – our holiday in the holiday.  In a moment of wistful nostalgia, I went back to my well-perused vacation websites from last autumn, and lo and behold, I discover a pleasant surprise.  There are some specials out there for the (very) last minute traveler.  For those spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventurers who are loathe to plan ahead, guess what?  Houses that haven’t rented are offering big discounts!  That beautiful villa I admired last September actually had a last minute vacancy … next week!  Not only that, instead of paying a king’s ransom for the whole caboodle for a week, we could have two en-suite bedrooms for 5 nights for less than the going rate at a local hotel – breakfast included, so I could over-indulge in Italian espressos.  Things are looking up!  So, as we pack and prepare for our trip, I realize that there is a whole world of last minute travel opportunities out there for the taking.  I shall remember this for our next trip next summer – which I hope to book in September. 

Summer Solstice NOMA-Style

Last summer we were in Denmark visiting friends and family during the solstice.  Miraculously, we managed to get a coveted dinner reservation at the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant NOMA, and realized that our luck was only due to the general population out partying in traditional solstice-style on beaches before bonfires rather than in restaurants.  Seizing our opportunity, we invited our Danish friends and hosts (who were more than happy to abandon tradition for a table at NOMA) to join us.

That evening, we dined on a fabulous prix-fixe menu consisting of 7 courses composed exclusively of ingredients hailing from Nordic countries.  (NOMA is an acronym for Nordisk Mad – or Nordic Food in Danish.)  A visit to this restaurant is highly recommended if you are in Copenhagen, although advance reservations are a must. It is a fantastic collaboration between Danish chefs Claus Meyer and René Redzepi.  All ingredients originate from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.  They run from the familiar to the exotic: eel, musk ox, green strawberries, hare, seaweed, rye bread, black lobster are a few examples (quite out of context.)  You may feast on dishes such as Sautéed Dover Sole with New Danish Potatoes, Green Strawberries and Elderberry Sauce perhaps accompanied by Stirred Mashed Potatoes with Lumpfish Roe and Crispy Chicken Skin, and finish with Caramel Ice Cream with Icelandic Buttermilk, Dried Swedish Berries and Sorrel Crème Anglaise.

MPMS Stepping up 08, bday, food 112I enjoy poring over the NOMA Nordic Cuisine cookbook, which I bought as a memento after our meal. It is an inspirational and unique testament to Nordic terroir, and apropos several interesting blogs that attempt to prepare every single recipe in a particular tome of a cookbook, I would seriously have a go at reproducing NOMA’s – if only I could get my hands on chickweed, seakale and sweet cicely.  For now, I do what I always do and improvise with the seasonal and local products I find in my part of the world.

As we drove home after our long dinner, it was approaching midnight.  To the west the sun had just set and exited the sky in a swirl of orange and purple flourishes in its haste to rise again. To the east it was doing just that, where the sky was brightening and soft pink tinges nudged the gray-blue midnight summer sky.  It was truly a magical Danish solstice moment.