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.

Summer Solstice Danish-Style

Denmark is the land of the (nearly) midnight sun. The sun sets just before 11:00 in the evening, only to begin its ascent again in the wee hours of the morning. In a land where the winters are long and very dark, it is no wonder that celebrations, and even a God or two, have been delegated to give thanks and perhaps curry favor with the fiery powers that be. Summer Solstice, or Sankt Hans Aften (which means the eve of St. John the Baptist Day), is the height of these jubilations, as it celebrates the longest day of the year. Bonfires are lit, and food and drink are plentiful, as the Vikings of yesteryear, and in spirit, party and feast until dawn.

This year we will attempt our own celebration on a nearby beach.  We will light a bonfire and have a picnic dinner as the sun sets.  It is likely that we will forego the authentic tradition of burning an effigy over the fire, as that may not go over too well with the local residents and could quite possibly get us arrested.  (Proper solstice tradition would have a straw witch burned over the fire.  This symbolizes the riddance of problems, worries, and threats from people’s lives.)

Food typically associated with the solstice celebration is simple picnic fare: grilled fish or meat, fresh boiled local crayfish (which can be a party unto itself) and remoulade sauce, potato salad, green salad.  All of this would be accompanied, Viking-style, by beer, shnapps and wine throughout the evening.


For dessert, something making use of the fleeting yet prolific Danish strawberry season would be appropriate and always welcome.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
Serves 8-10

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small cubes

Mix the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together in a bowl.  Cut in the butter, and work it with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Refrigerate until use.

For the fruit:
4 large or 6 small rhubarb stalks, washed and sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 pounds strawberries, stemmed and cut in half
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Gently toss rhubarb, strawberries and sugar together in a large bowl.
Arrange evenly in a rectangular baking dish.
Cover the fruit with topping.
Bake in oven until rhubarb is tender and the topping is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Kitchen Table Philosophy

Ribeye Arugula Parmesan

Good friends have arrived from Denmark. We originally met 8 years ago when we lived near Copenhagen and had small children the same age at an international school. The first time we got together as families was for a meal in our home, and, since then, there has been no looking back. For the next 5 years we watched our children grow up while we shared many meals together. Our youngest daughters are still best friends, and I remember trying to first speak with their daughter who spoke no English at the time, and my Danish was very new. Instead, we tried to tickle each other, and we made each other laugh and our laughter was our shared language. My son and their eldest daughter are also the same age, and were young enough when they met that gender and differing language abilities were inconsequential, paling in contrast to their mutual obsessions with rocks, fossils and collecting creatures in tide pools.

It has been nearly 2 years since we last dined together, but I feel as though it was yesterday. As I prepare our dinner tonight – grilled ribeye steak with rosemary, arugula and parmesan – I feel as though a close family member has arrived, and I know exactly what to cook for them. I remember specific meals we shared and our conversations at the kitchen table, weaving around the food, the wine and the laughter, stretching late into the evening. I think how food is a universal language, a unifier and equalizer, creating traditions and strengthening friendships that last a lifetime.

Grilled Ribeye Steak with Rosemary, Arugula and ParmesanMay food

Serves 4-6

4 ribeye steaks
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 bunches arugula
Parmesan (parmigiano reggiano) shavings
Balsamic vinegar
Extra rosemary sprigs for garnish

At least 4 hours and up to one day in advance, place steaks in a bowl or container.  Rub with olive oil, garlic, rosemary.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate.  Remove from refrigerator one hour before grilling and bring to room temperature.

Arrange steaks on prepared grill.  Grill turning once, approximately 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Place on cutting board, cover with foil and rest for 10 minutes.

Arrange arugula on a large platter.  Cut steaks in 3/4 inch thick slices.  Place steaks over arugula.  Top with parmesan shavings.  Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Garnish with rosemary sprigs.