Late last night when the snow had started falling and I could not sleep, after a discussion on conveying passion in wine writing, I was wondering; How can a beverage be the instigator of emotions, and what is it that defines that kind of wine? I struggled.
A wine which elicits emotion is not unlike attraction to another person; difficult to pinpoint. Only a few people have experienced love at first sight, but I’m sure most of us can identify with the feeling of walking into a room, sharing a glance with someone and knowing that out of the 50 people in the vicinity, this is the one you want to talk to. A minute later you are not satisfied with talking, you want to break the wall and get closer. Touch. If someone at this point asked you to specify why, you wouldn’t really know. You have not yet shared your views on life, your values, your tastes in music, your interest in having children or your favorite vacation spots. Things that, had you been asked to list the most important criteria for a future partner might have been supremely important. The person might even be too tall, too fat or too skinny when compared to your ideals.
If you describe your favorite wine, perhaps you will talk of deep, dark fruit aromas, chocolate scent and a demanding tannins. But in your glass is a wine which it’s lightly perfumed, soft, with elegant ripe strawberries on the nose – and it is making your heart sing. You might not even be noticing those components, because the best wine experiences tend to defy terminology. They may not be perfect wines, but they make you feel.
That is how it is for me. Wines in general and “industrial”, cookie-cutter wines in particular can be described fairly well in terms of structure, scent, flavor and quality. They might be quite good, and often match what I expect of them. Then there are these wines – disproportionally often biodynamic and from artisan producers – where the regular tasting notes evade me. Instead, I get images and emotions. This instant triggers the full extent of my curiosity, shakes me out of my everyday stupor (hey, when tasting 100 wines in a day, “stupor” is an appropriate word) and directing every nerve ending to the discovery of this thing which has connected with me on an emotional level. It starts with the scent, in a wine, or the eyes, in a person. Either way, it is a prerequisite for opening my senses to the subject of possible affection and the desire to explore it further.
What amazes me is how accurate that first sniff or first glance is at identifying something or someone special. In Blink – the Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell says our brains compute a million factors we are not even aware of collecting within milliseconds. Our instinct at the first impression is thus much more accurate than we could ever expect, and more correct than if we break down the information into lists and analyze it. I bet there is something to this.
Of course, there are confounding factors. Imagine that amazing local wine from the veranda in Greece. The bottle you dragged home in your suitcase is nothing like what you remember it to be. Nor is your Greek summer fling when brought home to gray, rainy Britain. Sometimes we simply can’t ignore the influence of the setting…
Even after a fleeting encounter, the impression of certain people stay with you, in spite of forgetting what you talked about, or exactly what the person looked like. You can’t shake them, and want to be near them again, to satisfy the curiosity to learn more, come closer. Certain wines do the same. It is not a specific scent or flavor or “mouth feel” that gets to you, it’s the “being” of the wine, something intangible. This is what fascinates me with the best of wines. These wines of feeling may not be the same for me as for you. As it is with people. Energies align, but the wavelength is not identical for everyone.
The ability to fall in love is probably uniquely human. It is a blessing, a fantastic reminder that we may be content alone but that there is a special level of happiness which can only be reached with another human being. That a wine can elicit an emotion even vaguely reminiscent of this does not make it a substitute for love. But it is an amazing indication that wine, at its very best, has a place in our hearts as well as in our glass. And maybe, just maybe, that sharing the one (the wine, preferably) with the other (the person) might be the straightest path to bliss in our lifetime.
In great grand-aunt’s cook book there are recipes for sweets, of course. With the run up to Christmas I’m testing my way through them. One of my favorite pretty treats is candied citrus peels, with their slight bitterness and light acidity. The colors, reminiscent of slivers of sun, are just what I need in the dark Swedish November. In the book, the recipes are in two places – first you candy the peels and then you glace them. For the sake of not sticking together in the jars, I tend to dip mine in granulated sugar as well.
As they are, they look great as a decoration for cakes, or in little cellophane bags as sweet, colorful gifts. With half dipped in dark chocolate they are a great candy to serve with a coffee.
Here is my slightly adapted recipe.
Candied Citrus Peels (Syltade och Glacerade Citrusskal)
1 kg (2 lbs) citrus peels (I do lemon, orange and grapefruit from ca 10 fruits. It’s plenty. Organic is best, otherwise wash well.) Cut in slivers, removing some but not all of the white pith. Boil twice for two minutes each and pour off the water.
Bring 1 kg (2 lbs) granulated sugar and 0.5 l (2 cups) of water to a boil and add peels. Boil until the peels are clear at medium temperature, approximately 45 minutes. The peels should be covered, if not, add sugar and water in 2-to-1 ratio.
Remove the peels to drain.
Let the sugar-water continue boiling until hard-ball stage or reaching a temperature of ca 127 C/260 F. Take from heat and place pan in boiling water so the syrup won’t crystallize.
The remaining sugar syrup can be cooled, kept, and reheated as a glaze for a citrus sponge cake or as an ice-cream topping (poured over vanilla ice cream with fresh oranges perhaps?)
So, to be honest the first set of Swedish gingersnaps from great grandaunt Märta’s cook book did not turn out the way I am used to. It seems things were not as spicy back in the day, and I like my Swedish gingersnaps with a serious ginger-cinnamon-cardamom-punch. Her recipe reminded me of a cross between a sugar cookie and a ginger snap, which was lovely in itself. Different texture too. To spice (sic!) things up I powdered some of the dough with cinnamon and sugar and got delightful little holiday treats nevertheless. I’m calling them Märtashjärtan (Märta’s Hearts).
I have been asked to do some traditional baking for a Lucia celebration with the international chambers of commerce in Stockholm in two weeks’ time. By then I will have to see that my new recipe works as intended instead.
New attempts to follow!
Today, I’ll give you the recipe for Blodpudding – Swedish Black Pudding, traditionally served with lingonberry jam, bacon, fried slices of apple and/or a white cabbage salad. You can use cranberries mixed with sugar if you can’t find lingonberries in your country. I’ll write the recipes in metric (and touches of US), translated from the old Swedish measurements.
1/2 litre pigs blood (your butcher might have it frozen)
2.25 dl (ca 1 cup) porter or other flavorful dark beer
2 tbsp dark syrup (sirap), treacle or molasses (can be increased to 3 if you like it sweet)
4.5 dl (bit less than 2 cups) whole-grain rye flour
50 grams beef suet (njurtalg) – I used duck fat but butter or any other animal fat should work
1 finely chopped/grated red onion
1 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp salt (recipe called for 1.5 tbsp, waaaay too much)
1 tsp grated/powdered ginger
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp dry majoram
(I also added 1 tsp ground cloves and 1 tsp ground allspice. Next time, I will increase the spice amounts by 50% since I love the mix)
Strain the blood into a bowl, whisk, mix with the beer and the syrup/treacle. Whisk in the flour and the spices until no clumps remain. Brown the onion in the butter, add to the blood mixture. Melt the fat and add. Pour into a greased, breaded metal or ceramic pan. The pan should not be too large, the batter should get at least 10 cm (4 inches) deep or more. Place the pan, covered by a lid or wax paper followed by aluminum foil to keep it moist, in a water bath in the oven at ca 175 C / 350 F for an hour. Check with a stick that it has set to the core.
Take blodpudding out to cool, place over night in fridge with a weight on top. The next day, cut the blodpudding in slices of ca 1.5 cm/half an inch and fry in butter and serve as above. In the book it called for serving with lingonberry jam and melted butter only, nowadays we add those other things as well.
This recipe turned out really well, except I went with half the original amount of salt which was still way too much. Bit dry, but then again I cooked it for an hour and a half without cover. It’s an excellent use for pigs blood if you can get a hold of it – lots of iron for the winter! I’m going to look for an organic farm to get it at next time. The combination of sweet and orientally spicy with cheap basic ingredients is typical for traditional Swedish food.
I guess I ended up there as well. In the place where the written word is part of my identity, of my thought process, of my decisions and definitions. It should have been expected if I look at my family. My father has the word as part of his DNA, his thoughts falling onto paper like drops of water from his fingertips. Rows of books on our shelves bear his name. My sister has always had a language to make me alternately laugh and cry. She is only truly at home in a place where the words come to her – without them she seems lost. With a bit of final tuning she has in her the potential to be one of the most beautiful writers of our generation. Even my 90-yearold grandfather writes; articles and books for the crowd interested in the steam-engine trains of days past. We write. That is how we create our link with the world around us, how we make our thoughts and dreams come into vision for ourselves while sharing this blessed life of travel and discovery we have been granted.
But how then, come to terms with this in a world where the written word is losing its value? Where freelance journalists can hardly make a living because the only word desired is the ad-word, or possibly advertorial content. Where people don’t want to read more than 140 characters in a status update. Where depth is so seldom rewarded. Where the real journalism of days past – the one that takes time, a critical eye, many many hours of digging, and which definitely can’t be bought – is no longer possible to carry out if you need to pay for rent. And if it were financially viable – would it even matter? Will people read it and know the difference? The shelves are full of glossy magazines, each one a bleak copy of the other. What is said in 98% of those texts has already been said. Probably better. Content in droves is available online. For free. Not even I want to pay for it. The most successful blogs are the ones written by “Blondinbella” and other young, hip fashionistas who more often than not can’t manage rudimentary grammar (and why would they want to – their content is driven by the pictures of their latest outfit and their readers couldn’t care less). Quality writing on the internet exists and can be an amazing resource and a fantastic inspiration, but I will bet my unacceptably low writer’s fee that it is not where the money is.
This might seem like a rant based on my personal challenge of making a living as a freelance journalist in wine, but it is not the case. The world is evolving and I have had so many career roles besides writer that I am not worried about finding a new one. But what worries me is what the diminishing value of the written word means for our society, and even more so, what the marginalization of independent, in-depth journalism means for critical thought in future generations. The written word has given me so very much in life, given me insight and adventures beyond my own experience. Has forced me to view the world from different angles and broadened my mind toward my fellow human beings. I don’t see that something else has taken its place. Glimmers of hope come when magazines like ICON launch, with space for long, deep and beautifully written articles. (I bugged their editors for most of 2012 until they finally gave in and gave me my first commission.) They have been around for a year now; if they make it, maybe the future for quality writing is not as bleak as the current Swedish November “sun”. If not… well…
The wine writer is dead, says my favorite wine writer (sic) Andrew Jefford. But when we met a few months ago he also said that the written word is the best possible way to communicate on wine. “I feel writing will continue to be associated with wine,” he said. “The synthesis of the intellectual and the sensual and all the layers of complexity; none of this is easily resumable in any visual form. You can be very succinct in writing which is hard in other media. Visually, wine tasting is dull. Through what you write you can open up a whole world of sensorial analogies which are not easily available to anybody watching.” I feel this argument stands for a great many topics outside of wine.
The wine writer is dead. Long live the wine writer?
There is nothing to get the holiday mood going like the scent of thin Swedish gingersnaps, ”pepparkakor”, baking in the oven. ”Gingersnaps” is actually a better name than ”pepparkakor” – pepper cookies – since the cookies have ginger but not pepper. Oh well, not my problem. Either way, they are full of traditional Swedish Christmas spices like ginger, cardamom, cloves, bitter orange… One day I should find out why we have so many Indian spices in Swedish baking, but I’m sure it has something to do with our East India Company trading there in the 1700s. Anyone know?
With Christmas around the corner I thought I’d work my way through great grand-aunt’s recipe book to see if I can find a new spicy favorite. Here goes.
Recipe 1563 from Husmoderns Bok
2 cups (5dl) golden syrup or light molasses (ljus sirap)
425 g melted butter
2 tbsp bitter orange peel (pomeransskal). Recipe calls for fresh finely chopped ones, I’d find powdered ones easier to use.
1 tsp ground green cardamom
0.5 tsp ground clove
0.5 tsp ground ginger
(I added 1 tbsp ground cinnamon, not in the recipe)
Ca 3.5-4 cups wheat flour (the amount was not specified) + rising agent.
Bring the syrup and spices to a soft boil, remove from heat and add butter. Pour into mixing bowl and add flour with the added leavening until it forms a steady dough. Let it rest at least one night in the fridge.
Next day, roll thin on lightly floured table and take out shapes with cookie cutters. I use my thinnest possible spatula to move them unto lined cookie sheets. The recipe says to bake in a ”not too warm oven and remove from sheet immediately when done”. I’m going to try 200-225 C/400 F and 4-5 minutes until golden brown.
Have some generous servings of delicious tapas and Spanish wine at the busy Delicatessen in the cool part of town, Grünerløkka. Next door is Le Benjamin, where you will get top creative cooking in a relaxed setting. A must.
Try the natural wine list at the French bistro Bacchus by the Domkirke. They can open and serve most things by the glass – just ask. The setting is cute and art deco, in a house which might have been stables for the church. The food is simple and home made from good, local produce. This was a tip from fellow wine lover Richard van Oorschot.
Try the seafood at Tjuvholmen Sjomagasinet. It’s a classy, modern place in the glass buildings of newly built Tjuvholmen. Their oysters and lobster are as fresh as they come and the champagne is Louis Roederer. Mmmm.
The best coffee in town can be had from micro roastery Tim Wendelboe. They have an espresso bar and training center in Grünerløkka. Tim himself won the world barista championships in 2004, and his staff are following in his footsteps. Their perfect double espresso in the sun after a hard night of champagne partying does wonders for the spirit. I speak from experience.
Stroll through Norway’s first indoor food market Mathallen and finish with lunch or more serious four course dinner at Von Porat – they get their ingredients from the butcher and delicatessen stores in the hall and really care about quality. The view down over the bustling food market below is great. For a lighter snack, try the bar Champagneria Bodega with their delightful tapas. For a hearty, messy lunch to brighten the soul, definitely try the duck confit sandwich at Ma Poule, made famous in the Danish Torvehallerne food market.
Try Nobilis, where the young good looking crowd hangs out and enjoys the food and wine while waiting for the place to turn into a night-club. By that time, I’d suggest taking your glass of champagne to the cozy heated outdoor area instead. This place has a good eye for creative combinations of flavors and are very talented at food/wine matching. The desserts are divine.
Maaemo is already a destination in its own. With two michelin stars off the bat, this place has a wait list to rival that of Noma. Still, if you can afford it and can get a seat, it will be a memorable experience in New Nordic Cuisine.
And, not to miss, look up one of the Åpent bakeries for their amazing bread and sweets. Åpent Bakeri Inkognito Terrasse 1 is just behind the royal castle. The one at Parkveien 27 has a great breakfast tray that can serve as lunch. The best bread in Norway? Scandinavia? The World??? If you see the founders Manu or Oyvind, say hi from me. I’d like to apologize for clearing out their secret stash of excellent magnum bottles of Pierre Peters champagne…
This insatiable need to travel… It takes so little to trigger a trip. Within a few weeks I met three fellow foodies/wine lovers from the country to the West from my current home, which made me realize I know nothing of the food scene in a national capital only an hour’s flight away. Well-known wine educator and writer Svein Lindin (who I met during Cape Wine) promised to take me to see his favorite restaurants. Lovisa Morling of Åpent bakery invited me to her 40th birthday party and to come see Norway’s first food market Mathallen and to try the best bread in the Nordics. Niklas Johansson runs the floor of Oslo’s only two-star restaurant, Maaemo, tempted me by talking about the differences between how Maaemo match wine to their New Nordic Cuisine compared with Mathias Dahlgren or Noma, during a top sommelier meeting in Stockholm.
Three days were only enough to scratch the surface of the Oslo food scene. Within the Nordic capitals, Oslo has been the last to develop into a food destination. But it has. And still is.
Three things stood out for me.
1. The seafood is fresher and tastier than most places around the world – not surprising since the ice cold North Sea is just around the corner.
2. Norway is still expensive, but not as shockingly pricey as we have made it out to be. The only sticker-shock I had was the post-party-burger at Burger King.
3. Oslo is where the very best bread is made. I often say Sweden has much better bread (at the top end – what’s in the stores is appalling) than France or Italy. The sour-dough at Åpent bakery had a flavor which beat most michelin-starred bread servings I have had. I find myself craving it terribly already. Check out when the Hairy Bikers visited Åpent! The staff and bakers are all sweethearts too, and I regret not asking for a starter culture to take home. Building bridges across national borders can be done so well by live yeast culture, no?
Oh, and as an additional discovery (I should have known this one) – Norwegians eat breakfast-foods for lunch! At a wine-fueled lunch with Lovisa at the charming Von Porat restaurant in the Mathallen food market, the only options are lovely plates of cold-cuts, eggs, bread and marmalade. I now know that a breakfast plate is not only matched brilliantly by champagne – the biodynamic Austrian gewürtztraminer from Meinklang was an additionally pleasant pairing. I would, however, skip the cheese pultost. ”Acquired taste” is putting it lightly. It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve tasted in the past five years. If you want a new cheese experience, try the whey cheese brunost/mysost instead. It has a caramelized sweetness that reminds me of ski trips to Norway as a kid.
Tomorrow comes my quick guide to Oslo food!
A few weeks back, one of our family friends and professional photographer Greg Windley visited Stockholm. He came along as we had lunch with the beautiful and talented Laura Catena from Argentine icon winery Catena Zapata. This video is the result from his joining – a lovely description by Laura on why she loves working with malbec and what she thinks of the future for Argentine wines… Look and enjoy!
Stepping outside of my regular wine-writing box, I just have to share this recipe I made this morning with inspiration from Not Without Salt. I interviewed a leading researcher on anti-diabetic foods last week for an article. She had recently finished a study on the merits of rye and barley. Seem to be super-foods when it comes to optimal quality carbs – they keep your blood sugar balanced for up to 17 hours! Of course, you have to ingest a healthy dose, like a pure rye bread or a barley porridge. I took heed and created this bread for my weekend breakfasts. Crazy good, I have had way too many slices already…
1/2 cup (1.25 dl) whole grain spelt flour
3/4 cup (2 dl) rye flour
1/4 cup (0.6 dl) almond flour
1 teaspoon quality salt
1 teaspoon baking soda or baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch allspice (optional)
1 cup (2.5 dl) pumpkin puree (bake pumpkin in oven to soften, then puree, or buy pureed)
1/2 cup (1.25 dl) safflower oil (or other high quality neutral oil)
2 eggs (go organic! Much more nutritious)
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 (1.25 dl) cup water
1/2 cup (1.25 dl) raisins (preferably yellow)
1/4 cup (0.6 dl) or a bit more crushed/cut barley
1/4 cup seeds/nuts (I used sunflower seeds, chopped almonds and hazelnuts but take what you have)
The night before, I mixed the wet portion (including the barley and raisins). It sat over night for the barley and raisins to swell.
The next morning, I mixed the dry ingredients first, then stirred them into the wet portion, and poured the batter into a buttered bread pan. Top with seeds/nuts, and bake for ca 40-50 minutes (until stick inserted comes out dry). Tip out of pan, cool slightly, slice, serve with real butter, a good cheese and maybe some marmalade.
Delicious, ”fall spicy” and satisfying! Not low-cal by any means but definitely a bread packed with great things for body, mind, soul – and your blood sugar.