Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Who says you can't go back? Zima

In the nineties I wore so much khaki that I was once mistaken for a clerk at the Boy Scouts store in our local strip mall. I watched Friends and Seinfeld religiously, I biked everywhere, and existed on a steady diet of Cheetos and cheap beer with intermittent nibbles from my young daughter's Kid Cuisine TV dinner. (I didn't worry about my weight because I didn't have to. Yet.) Mom jeans, bib overalls, and sun dresses over white t-shirts paired smartly with banana clips and chunky heels. Things were pretty good, but I never thought I'd feel nostalgia for those years. I'm an 80's girl, after all.

The 90s represented my first breath of freedom. Technically an adult, but not really mature enough to recognize that status, I ran through the decade with breathless abandon. My friends and I spent summer evenings together, toasting to our lives with cold Zimas pulled from a cooler of melting ice, just like in the commercials. Zima was a joke to some, and life's very essence to the rest of us.

As quietly as banana clips and mom jeans disappeared, so too did our favorite malt beverage. I don't recall being warned that Zima was leaving the liquor store shelves and our summer nights. Was there was an announcement we ignored? The 90s ended as Florida ominously forecasted the decade to come, and just like that our carefree days ended. I waved a sad goodbye to Al Gore and my innocence.

Last year when Gilmore Girls released the 4-part mini revival, a renewed interest in Zima spread among Gen-Xers (we who partook of the cocktail back in the 90s) and Millennials (those who were too young to enjoy the refreshing beverage during its heyday).
Obligatory Gilmore Girls-Zima reference explanation: Zima played a significant role in the TV drama, as Luke and Lorelei enjoyed a few bottles of warm and aged "chick beer" to toast their engagement.
We knew Zima was still sold in Japan, and we searched the Internet for viable recipes to make our own. But without the original, how could we know if what we were drinking was legit?

Around us the world was falling apart. There was little comfort outside of binge watching the aforementioned Gilmore Girls reboot and Friends reruns. Then it happened: rumors about the rerelease of our beloved Zima had some of us questioning this as possibile fake news. Yet, on the 4th of July I wandered into our neighborhood mom and pop wine shop, and there on the front wall was a shrine built of cases and cases of fresh Zima.

It was like being confronted with myself at 27. Remember me? Remember the hope you had? Remember tanning and not worrying about sun damage? I tucked a 6-pack under my arm and gladly paid a hefty $10 to relive those years.

T and popped the caps off a couple of chilled bottles and we were transported to the past. Zima tastes like youth. It tastes of unidentifiable sweet (but not cloying) citrus, grounded with a tickle of pink bubble gum. Its effervescence is refreshing, like a bike ride with the wind at your back. It is the love child of My Pretty Pony and Hilary Clinton's headbands.

I've become a Zima hoarder. Soon after the 4th the stores in our city were selling out. I bought out the remaining stash at our neighbor store, where the owner assured me they will stock the limited release Zima as long as the supply line continues. On these hot humid days when the news tells us that the craziness of politics continues, I reach for a cold Zima and reflect. I wonder if my old bib overalls still fit.

Various locations across the United States for a limited time only.
Price: $6 to $10 for a 6-pack.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Midsommar, Vikings, and the 4th of July

Somewhere along the way I've lost myself in the season, living in a dreamlike state and not really sure what I've done day-to-day since summer began. On warm evenings I look out over our backyard and breathe in the calm green air, pour a glass of rosé and remind myself to remember the details of these good nights when everything is lagom in our house: just the right amount, not too little, not too much. We thrive within the walls of our house, where peace reigns and where the politics of our time have not yet corroded the ozone.

Meanwhile, summer waxes and there are festivities to attend: a Cooking Matters benefit attended by nearly every chef in the Who's Who catalog of Twin Cities great cooks (and a Pyramid-style game show to draw in new volunteers), a Midsommar celebration and a Viking cooking class at the American Swedish Institute, and a luxurious 4th of July weekend filled with family and memories of childhood summers when the world only needed to be as big as Gaylord's expansive park with its annual party complete with pony rides and fireworks.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Breakfast: Swedish-style

I'd heard about the significance of Swedish hotel breakfasts, but until I experienced the phenomenon there was no way to understand (or appreciate) its massive importance. Imagine waking up in your small but modern hotel room, stumbling bleary-eyed to the dining room, and meeting the largest smörgåsbord your greedy little tummy has ever dreamed about:
Rows and rows of fresh, robust breads with soft balls of spreadable butter and more preserves than you know the names of in Swedish. Next to the bread is an entire table of cold cuts, pates, cured and smoked salmons, pickled herrings, crispbreads, quick pickled cucumbers, lingon, pickles, fresh vegetables, and at least three Swedish cheeses. Move on to the yogurts and filmjölk, nuts, dried fruit, more preserves, honey, granola, tropical fruit, fresh fruit, and syrups. American breakfast is also represented, as well as English, with scrambled and softboiled eggs, bacon, baked beans, sausage, priskorv, and Swedish pancakes. Pastries piled high include cardamom bread and cinnamon rolls, croissants, cookies, and more butter, preserves, and desserts. You might find bagels and cream cheese, and fruit juices. And coffee. Lots and lots of hot fresh coffee. Strong enough to wake your taste buds, and gentle enough that even I can stand two cups before my day begins. Too strong for you? Add a little milk and get over yourself.

Find a seat at a solo table, or eat with new friends at one of the communal spots. Be sure to grab a clean plate if you dare go for seconds.

Not staying in a hotel? Look for a decent coffee shop as soon as you rise, and return there every morning. The owners will get to know you and offer free slices of cool crisp melons. You will dream about cafe lattes served in bowls as big as your head and topped with petite meringues. Eat your way through the bakery items, and never leave a sandwich loaf or a salmon paj behind.

Always relax over your breakfast. Appreciate your coffee, your surroundings, and your blessings. Coffee isn't to-go, coffee is to-stay.

Finally, when the sad day arrives and you must say goodbye to Sweden, be sure to take an early SAS flight out, and drown your sorrows with the nicest little boxed breakfast you'll ever have: coffee or tea, a warm bun or crispbread from the passed basket (so civilized!), cold cuts, cream cheese, butter, vegetable,yogurt, granola, marmalade, and juice.

My theory, following two weeks of blissful Swedish-style eating, is that it isn't just social democracy that makes Nordic people the happiest on earth, it is their amazing breakfasts.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The permanency of place: Sweden

Sweden owns her permanency. She owns a solid, sturdy cultural significance that is apparent in her ancient buildings, cobblestone streets, and meatballs. There is a cadence to Swedish life; a rhythm of walking and communing, and frequent breaks for coffee and buns. Swedes stroll to the beat without effort while those of us less accustomed to wearing heels on hilly brick roads stumble occasionally from the unfamiliarity of it all.

I felt a calming joy as I breathed in the air of Gamlastan for the first time. It smelled of waffles and cream gravy, with a hint of cigarettes and beer. It smelled like an adventure.

The words from an old Aerosmith song kept swimming in my head, "Don't want to close my eyes,
I don't want to fall asleep, 'Cause I'd miss you baby, And I don't want to miss a thing…"

So I sucked the marrow out of Sweden. I danced to ABBA, I petted dogs, I gazed at the archipelago waters, I pushed my nose deep into the blooming flowers, I pressed my hands against the stone buildings, and I spoke terrible Swedish to anyone willing to converse.

When I was a kid my Grandpa Johnson gave me a little brown music box that played a few bars to "Fly Me To The Moon." The ballerina that once graced the music roller is long gone, and the outside of the box is covered in weird stickers from the 70s. But the song still plays, plink plink plink, and whenever I hear the melody I feel my grandpa's presence. In recent years I've heard "Fly Me To The Moon" playing in random public places immediately following several significant life events. It is eerie and wonderful, and whenever this happens I know my grandpa is watching over me.

One morning in Uppsala we leisured over breakfast discussing our plans for the day. (If you've never had a Swedish hotel breakfast you need to get that on your "must do" list immediately. It is a smörgåsbord of delightful dishes, from beautiful breads and pastries to pickled herring and smoked salmon, from pates and cold cuts to bacon and eggs. There is yogurt and fruit and vegetables and every manner of preserves, toppings, butters, etc. It is a feast that never ends, and you wash it all down with a good strong cup of coffee.) And right then, right there in the middle of Sweden in the middle of our amazing trip, "Fly Me To The Moon" came over the sound system. I nearly cried into my coffee.

I felt Sweden's importance in my life. I felt my grandpa and all those who came before us, whose feet left Sweden more than one hundred years ago. She still owns us, and I am ok with that.

More to come as I soak it all in.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

When you leave cats behind

I am off on an adventure, and leaving T to tend the cats. When it comes to Oskar and Orson, T is the go-to guy for feedings, cleanup, and playtime. I am more of the scheduler and overseer. I've left a large board with reminders to T for the little things he might forget, but he probably wont even notice it. We both know I am a little neurotic when it comes to my two little guys.

When I return, there will be stale water and Oskar will have forgotten to eat a few meals. But neither cat will be any worse for wear, and likely won't even realize I've been gone. Cats and dogs love the ones they're with. Thankfully most husbands don't operate on that model!

I'll return in a few weeks. Meanwhile you can view my adventures on Instagram at nordicfoodgeek.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The return of grill season

Before I met T, every season was grilling season. It didn't matter if it was 75 and sunny or 30 below with three feet of snow on the ground: nothing came between me and my grill.

Since settling into this so-called adult life of marriage, work, and high maintenance-cat parenting, we began saving the grill for not-too-busy nights when exhaustion doesn't pull us to the couch and Netflix binging. On those glorious nights when we do grill, life feels exactly the way it is meant to be.

I noticed a year or two ago that my grilled feasts were beginning to take on a predictable pattern. Grill night became taco or pizza night, with little variance. I'm like a kid who demands ice cream for dinner every night, only there is no one to tell me "No!" Because gosh, I love tacos and pizza! The names might not change, but the stuff you put in or on them can be unique and completely not boring. It just takes a little creativity, and a love of the medium.

T has been off mammals for two years now. All winter I've been adding mushrooms to our meals, and I am ready to shake things up a bit. With a little help from Monterey Bay Aquarium (download the app or print out the pocket guide), I've been reaching for a lot more fish. Grilled fish tacos are the taste of summer.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Biggest Loser: sleepless setbacks

Last year at his annual exam, Orson received rave reviews for his slender waist and feline-proportioned features. This year, we all received a gentle scolding. Obsessed as he is with food and eating, Orson begged his way into a slight weight gain and now faces another round of food deprivation as prescribed by our stern vet.

Orson is a determined guy. He's gotten into the habit of forcefully, violently waking T several times each night demanding a second dinner, early breakfast, second breakfast, etc. Orson can be very persuasive, and nothing we do soothes his nighttime appeals. He wails and whines, he jumps up and down on T, he bites T's ears or plays with the string on his pajamas. He uses T's body as leverage and pushes me with his sturdy legs (and I wake up just about to fall to the floor). Eventually, Orson bullies his way into second dinner, early breakfast, second breakfast, etc.
When we shut the bedroom door Orson throws his body against it. If you've ever thrown a 17 pound bowling ball against a wooden door, you know the sound it makes. THUMP. THUMP. When he tires of that he stands on his back legs and jiggles the door handle with his front paws. WIGGLE WIGGLE JIGGLE. But Orson's favorite way to get back into our bedroom is to slide his paw underneath the door and "boing" the door stopper. Over and over and over and over again. A strong cat can get quite a sound to emit from the stopper.

We've created all sorts of deterrents, stuffing rugs and papers and shoes under the door. Sometimes our inventiveness works and we spend a blissful few nights without being harassed. More often than not Orson figures out a way around the obstacle and the thumping and jiggling and boinging begin again. And again. And again.

As a result of his persistence and our need for sleep, Orson gained a pound this year. We aren't exactly back at the drawing board, but we are looking for ways to ease Orson's hunger and our sleeplessness.