Cooking Class #2 – Brain Food

Everyone (or at least everyone who grew up in my house) knows that brain food is code for fish. As a young boy aspiring to someday be a genius I ate a lot of fish. I never became a genius but I did develop a liking for seafood. In fact, I was really looking forward to coming to Denmark, a place where you are never far from the ocean, and having some good fish. The problem is that before this class I had fish a total of maybe three times. On the night of this cooking class I had four fish dinners. What a great night.

Danish Brain Food

Main Courses and Salads

Colorful Salmon & Cabbage Salad

I really liked this, but salmon might also be my favorite food so that could explain why and it is possible that I liked the salmon simply because it was salmon. There was nothing special in the recipe, at least compared to how mom used to make it. This is “colorful salmon” because it was cooked on a bed of red, yellow, and green peppers. That’s all. I should take this time to mention that Apparently Denmark does produce salmon though I haven’t seen it everywhere. I have seen more lox here than I have in the US. Also, hey look! More cabbage.

Fried Herring & Brussels Sprout Salad

So. Many. Bones. They weren’t like normal bones either. No, they were bones like little hairs. One carefully chosen miniscule bite and there are at least five right there tickling your tongue. This could very well have been the most frustrating meal that I have ever eaten. I’m not a huge salad eater but I did eat much more of the salad than I did herring. The recipe might be fine and this specific fish might have been bad, but either way I couldn’t eat all of it. The salad had almonds, apples, blueberries, and oranges so it all worked out just fine.

Cod Cakes with Remoulade & Bean Salad with Feta

Remoulade is weird. That’s the main message of this section. The other food was fine, but that stuff is strange. Ours had pickled vegetables, yogurt, and curry. I’m not a huge fan.

Fried Smoked Mackerel with Chives & Potato Salad

I think that this was the best, and not just because I made the mackerel. It just tasted good. The mackerel was salty and the diced radish/onion/chives salad was the perfect complement to that. Even the potato salad was unexpectedly good. It wasn’t the typical potato salad with equal parts mayonnaise and potato. Our potato salad had onions and cranberries and mustard and honey and balsamic vinegar. And of course Potato. A big improvement. The real highlight, at least for me, was the mackerel. Yes, it was good, but that is not why I liked it so much. I liked it because it allowed me to finally learn how to de-bone and skin a fish. That’s a start!

Dessert

Apple Cupcakes

First we need to address that these, all of these “cupcakes” were actually muffins and the woman tricked us when we first started. Cupcakes have frosting, these did not. Once I worked myself past that betrayal I realized that these were pretty good. Apple and cinnamon is always good.

Banana-Walnut-Chocolate Cupcakes Muffins

It was like a banana bread but individually served. I could appreciate the effort that went into them because Denmark does not have chocolate chips and you instead have to cut pieces of chocolate which is a pain and a mess. A delicious mess.

Oat Cupcakes Muffins

Oat cupcakes sound so much better than oat muffins. The name just makes them taste so much better since what you see is what you get.

Blueberry Cupcake Muffin

This is the exact same blueberry muffin that your mom has probably made for you countless times. If she hasn’t, I’m sorry for jumping to that conclusion.

So that is two weeks down. Two weeks was all it took for me to realize that I am never going to be a food critic. Thank goodness we can cross that occupation off the list.

Cooking Class #1 – Danish Budget Food

I’ve tried cooking before. Not much, but I have. It always seems like such a waste to spend money on food that you then spend what feels like hours making just so you can stare hungrily at a half eaten plate wishing that you had just gone to the cafeteria instead. It’s a waste of time, money, and always leaves me hungry. And it’s not just me who thinks so. I had attempted cooking a couple times last year with my friend Kirsten and we were both disappointed by our efforts, then we found out that we were both going to Denmark and that there was a cooking class through DIS. Given our previous experiences I am not sure why we decided to try this in a foreign country but we did. I guess we are just optimists.

Anyway, we have five cooking classes in which to learn “Cooking the Danish Way.” Two of those classes are already done but have not yet been written about. The way the class is structured involves splitting into four groups of about four and each making a salad, a main course and a dessert. There used to be only one dessert but as our instructor pointed out “I’ve noticed that American’s like sweets, so we make four sweets.” All of us Americans appreciate that.

So, here we go, what we made during our first cooking class!

Danish Budget Food

Main Courses

Brown Cabbage with Medisterpølse

The smell, look, and texture of this didn’t seem to appealing. I mean, boiled cabbage and spongy light colored sausage? That’s not exactly what I am craving right now. Throwing in Danish dark bread with mustard doesn’t do much to quell my apprehension, or stomach. But it was actually surprisingly good. I couldn’t explain why, but it just wasn’t that bad. I would even make this sometime.

Brændende Kærlighed – Burning Love

My favorite from the budget food class! I like mashed potatoes. I like onions. I like bacon. Put it all together and I am one happy dinner. Happy and full. Also, the good news is that this can’t possibly be too hard. I am sure that I will be able to recreate this one.

Chicken Meatballs

There’s no link on this one since the concept is pretty simple and there is no real Danish translation. Frikadeller is about as close as you can get but those are typically made with pork and fried, not baked.

Curry Cabbage

When I think of curry I don’t typically think of Denmark. Apparently neither does Google. Cabbage yes, but not curry. My host parents said that in the 1970’s and ’80’s curry really took off here, though the curry was typically very bland. I can back that statement and say that the trend is still continuing today. This is the main course that my group made. And we made a LOT of it. Two full cabbages, a lot of carrots, a whole bottle of (weak) curry powder, and quite a bit of beef. There was nothing special about it but it did manage to feed some of the students in kollegiums for a week afterwards (you’re welcome). That and the fact that I made it. I didn’t make it alone but I did help and I didn’t screw it up. This is the first real food I’ve made , besides a fried egg or something, that wasn’t completely ruined. I was pretty happy with that. Never before has cabbage and weak curry tasted so delicious.

Dessert

Bedstefars Skæg – Grandfathers Beard

I’m just linking to pictures here so you can see what it looks like. I am doing that just so I can tell you that ours looked better. The group that made this did a really great job making it look nice if nothing else. Yes, it tasted good but I don’t know what else to say about that aspect. I think this might have been my favorite dessert, except maybe for…

Drømmekage – Dream Cake

baked coconut on top of a vanilla cake. I think the texture was the best part. My group was responsible for this dessert, but unfortunately I cannot take any credit at all. I wish I could. Some other time.

Roulade with Strawberry Jam

I’m linking to a swiss roll because that is basically what it is. It tasted great but is pretty common throughout the world. The good news was that the group doing this made a mistake and used baking soda instead of baking powder (the containers and names look almost identical in Danish) so they made another one and we got two.

Cinnamon Cake

Again, nothing too exciting but it definitely tasted good. It reminded me of something my mom would make and made me realize how much I will miss Thanksgiving this year. I guess I’ll just have to make them myself to try and make up for that.

So that was the first cooking class in all of it’s belt busting glory (there were a lot of leftovers and we all had the better part of four meals). There were some things that were rather common but overall I was happy with how things turned out. The class (and this blog) have even turned me into one  of those people who takes pictures of their food, though I only do it in this class. As silly as I sometimes felt photographing that food I know that I need to get it on this blog. With my computer gone I don’t have a way to upload them at the moment but I will figure it out once I am back from my study tour next week.

Next up is “Brain Food” which I am planning to write today and post while I am in Berlin/Prague just so you don’t have to go another whole week without me. I know how much you would hate that.

DLL #7

Theft = Tyveri

Theft! I’ve been robbed. While my family and I were spending the weekend in Skagen (more to come on that soon, promise) someone came into our house and, along with making a giant mess, took a number of things. I lost a few small things like a an old camera and some cash and one major thing – my computer. In the country that is perceived as a crime free utopia there can only be one explanation: someone is sabotaging my blog. They know how much of a pain it is to peck out letters on the Danish keyboards and are hoping that this connivance will dissuade me. Ha! Fear not loyal readers, I will suffer through the inconvenience to bring you the news from Denmark. Just remember that if there is suddenly less punctuation it is because it isn’t where it should be on this keyboard and I’ve given up looking for it. Also, you can probably forget about a lot of pictures for the moment. I will still be taking them but the loaner computer that DIS lent me does not have a memory card slot and I don’t think the other computer lab ones do either. I will still take them but I won’t be able to get them on here. I guess you’ll just have to wait. The suspense will be great. I’ll describe Berlin and Prague and Skagen to you and your imagination can run wild with my incredibly beautiful and lucid prose and then I will eventually get all of the pictures up and you can look at them. Or maybe you just like my words better. Yea, I bet that’s it.

Anyway, I am working on a solution but I wanted to let you know that things will be even more screwy than before. At least for a little bit.

DLL #6

Knife = Kniv

I know that I haven’t been writing a lot recently, but I also haven’t been sleeping a lot recently, so quit complaining.

The only reason I am writing now is because of something I saw just a few minutes ago. I am sitting at the kitchen table doing homework while my host dad makes some food for our travel tomorrow. He is making frikadeller, which requires some chopping of vegetables. Before cooking, he sharpens a knife. While he is cooking Sofus, my eight year-old host brother, walks over, grabs a knife, grabs the metal sharpening tool, and starts to sharpen. Thomas watches a second before going over to show him how to do it and then goes back to cooking. He keeps an eye on him and will occasionally come over to help but for the most part Sofus is on his own.

This is normal in Denmark. Kids here are more independent than I am. Just today twelve year-old Lærke decided that she wanted to bust out some sweet pastries after she got home from school. So she did.

Contrast this to the hysterical American parents tackling a child in order to get the knife out of the child’s hand.I’m not saying either is right or wrong, but differences are interesting.

The cultural differences between personal responsibility and the treatment of children is incredibly interesting, maybe the most intriguing difference I have found since I have been here, and something that I will definitely plan to explore more in depth at a later time.

Swedish Weekend

I am officially exactly one week behind on blogging. It could be worse.

I last left you in Norrebro Bryghus with my European Business class. This was at about 3:30 on Friday afternoon. By 5:30 I was loaded into a car with Thomas, Lærke, Pelle, and Sofus on our way to Sweden.

We were going to Sweden for two reasons. First, Lisbeth was in Sweden all week working extra hours. Apparently Southern Sweden doesn’t have enough doctors and she could make some extra money for their next trip. We were on our way to pick her up. Secondly, I had never been to Sweden and my host parents had decided that I should. I agreed and so we went.

After a 20 minute drive North to Helsingor we were on the ferry headed to another country. The ferry itself is actually worth mentioning. Though the trip was short (no more than 25 minutes) the set-up was actually very nice. The style was sleek and simple with white walls and colorful, strange shaped chairs. Of course there was a little cafe and a hot dog place. But there were also two slot machines, a bar, and a mini-mart. Having only ridden the concrete boxes that serve as ferries on Puget sound (though I had never thought of them so negatively until now), the whole thing seemed over the top. Thomas explained that at one point in the journey we crossed  into international waters, which helped to explain the huddle of people clutching cigarettes and alcohol (heavily taxed items) milling around until about 10 minutes in when the loudspeakers announced something in Danish/Swedish. Also, I learned that Sweden sells alcohol in liquor stores like many US states. Thomas explained this as we watched a man look sadly down at the bottle in his hand as we crossed into Swedish waters.

Off the ferry we headed to the cabin that our neighbors and family friends had lent us for the weekend. We took a moment to get out of the industrialized city of Helsingborg and into the countryside where I could see an immediate difference between Denmark and Sweden. This is also when I realized that I was in Sweden, a whole other country. Yea, strange, right? Including Denmark and the US I have been in six countries prior to this so Sweden counted as 14.2% of the countries that I had been to and I hadn’t even had to prove that I should be there. There wasn’t even anyone sitting at the customs both! I was a little disappointed. Anyway, back the countryside. It was lovely. Along the road there were yellow and green fields with a think forest of trees just beyond them. Every so often a small yellow or red house would be plopped down into the middle of one of these fields, reminding me, for some reason, of LEGOs. And there were finally hills, small hills, but it was an improvement over Denmark in this respect.

The cabin was small and basic. No water and no power. Despite that (or maybe because of), it was wonderful. It was a traditional Swedish red (I didn’t know there was such a thing) dot surrounded on two sides by a cow pasture and a national nature reserve on the other two. The inside was just as idyllic. With no electric lights we had to open all of the windows and light candles as soon as we arrived but doing this only seemed right. Electricity would just have ruined the mood.

Sweden

Cozy

Sweden

Our Swedish cabin

After a freezing trying to cook dinner over the small fire and stuffing myself with the sausages we did cook, we all went to sleep early.

The morning was still cold but the hot oatmeal warmed me up right away and we took off on a hike around the nature reserve. We hiked for about three hours and at the end Thomas asked me how this compared to the forests in Washington. I couldn’t bring myself to break it to him that Washington had Sweden beat here. So I just avoided the lie and said that both were lovely and shouldn’t we be going to get Lisbeth soon?

Sweden

Pelle is apparently good at catching animals

And that’s what we did. Lisbeth was justifiably exhausted but she was still ready to get hiking. The next stop was a nature reserve along the coast, but we were not there for the nature. We were there for a very special piece of art. This is somewhat of a secret and I am not positive i should be telling you about it…but oh well, lucky you. A nature reserve is supposed to be an area reserved for nature, right? This means no construction or man-made distractions not sanctioned by the government. So how did a man, for 30 years, manage to collect driftwood and turn it into a sculpture? I don’t know, but I do know that sculpture does not do this monument justice. My family had a hard time describing what exactly we were going to go see, and now I can understand why. We follow the majority of the other hikers off of the path for maybe half a kilometer and I see Pelle leaning against an upright wooden rectangle. I admit that I was a little disappointed. Sure, the box seemed to be maybe 6 or seven feet tall and a couple of feet deep but nothing very impressive. Certainly nothing worth driving out of our way to see. But then I took a step forward and saw this.

Sweden

My first look into Ladonia

Sweden

Sweden

This was the microstate of Ladonia. For 30 years an art professor had been coming here illegally to collect driftwood and turn it into this monumental fortress by the sea. Basically the story is this: the government wanted the fortress to come down and the artist didn’t want it to. After years in court the government won. The new owner of the fortress simply said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I don’t care. Your rules don’t apply here, we are a free country. Long live glorious Ladonia.” And that is the story of one of the strangest places I have ever visited. Does this count as country number 8?

A view of my host family

Sweden

When we finally left Ladonia we went further into the nature reserve towards the sea. The sun was starting to set as we climbed up the coastal highway past small clusterings of white buildings below. With the green around, the sea behind, and the reddening sky above, it looked like something out of a magazine. And apparently we weren’t the only ones that thought so. There was a photo shoot for Volvo happening along the road. An elegantly tall blonde woman in a long turquoise dress was standing to the left of the car while an even taller man in a suit (top three or so buttons unbuttoned of course) stood next to her. My first thought was “wow, they must be cold,” and my second was “wow, that picture is gorgeous.” Not the gorgeous people, not the gorgeous car, but everything as whole. I admit, if that car could get me to this place and this view on a consistent basis…I would buy it.

At the top of the cliff, where the road had to stop or take the plunge down into the see, we got out and walked a ways to make our cup of noodle dinner. It’s good to know that some things are consistent everywhere you go. Apparently marshmallows are apparently not one of those things. We roasted Haribo marshmallows. If you have ever had a Haribo candy with the soft white bottom that you have always thought might be marshmallow then you have had this and it does not roast well. I never thought I would say this, especially not while in Europe, but I think it has too much sugar.

Our meal was timed almost perfectly with the sun. As we finished Pelle and Sofus raced to the top of the hill where the sun was almost disappearing into the water. The rest of us followed more slowly but our steps did quicken as we neared the top. I couldn’t believe I was in Sweden watching this sunset. It all seemed to perfect.

As the last piece of the glowing orb was swallowed (you know the way the last bit always seems to go down faster, like momentum is finally sucking it in), my host family started clapping. Though fitting I also thought it was strange. Lisbeth leaned over and told me that during the summer Skagen, Denmark there are bands and orchestras that play on the beach as the sun goes down and everyone, including the musicians, applauds the suns exit as the music stops. And that, she told me, is where we were going in two weeks. I can’t wait.

Sweden

Goodnight, Sweden

DLL #4

Vindue = Window

(I had an idea, the links to Google translate will now be embedded in the word. I’m only four posts into this series and I’m already innovating.)

Windows seem important to the Danish culture. They are everywhere, and good thing too. There is a lack of artificial light inside buildings which leads to an increased reliance on natural light. I have friends who say that their room is so poorly lit that they have to make sure to do homework as soon as they get home, otherwise it is simply too dark to read. Sure, this system works well now, but what will happen later in the year when the natural light is gone by four in the afternoon? I guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, I am enjoying sitting next to these walls of windows, somehow I just feel more comfortable next to the sunlight.

-Riley