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Triumph of the Mundane

Slow blogging at its finest

Swede Success Times Two – Finally!

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After the initial run of bad luck in Nordic cooking, I decided to choose a dish as close to no-fail as I could find. Hence Hasselback potatoes. Simply slice some Yukon Golds (this is a house-brand variety), lightly brush the exposed bits with olive oil, and roast. The only “hard” part is remembering to do a second brush of olive oil and sprinkle on some kosher salt at the halfway point. The hubs is so crazy about these that we ate our way through a whole bag of potatoes in a little over two weeks.

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Clearly the gods of Nordic cooking were smiling on me because the disappeared-into-the-ether Swedish meatball recipe wondrously, mysteriously reappeared on my Facebook feed. The recipe isn’t difficult, just a tad fussy, and the flavor is pretty delightful. Surprising what a little cardamom and nutmeg will do.

A few adjustments: The recipe called for 1.5 lb of ground beef; the 1 lb in the fridge had to do (plus the 1 lb of ground pork, as called for). Rather than tear up bread, I decided Panko breadcrumbs would suffice — but figuring out the amount was pretty much a crapshoot. And since there was less meat, I only used one egg. The result was softer, looser meatballs — made them larger, too. Oh, and I used yogurt instead of sour cream, my usual substitution. Perfect winter meal. Good thing they turned out well because we’vegot a boatload in the freezer.

If Thor is now on my side, as it appears, must be time to crack open those Nordic cookbooks again.

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Urban Legends of the Trail

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I hear tell a tale of two folks and a dog who done wandered off the paved trail one day and pert’ near disappeared. It was a mighty fine adventure that took ’em ’bout an hour, or possibly much, much longer, to find their way back to civilization.

Seems it all started when them folks and the pup got on the trail only to be  confronted by two unleashed dogs whose disinterested humans followed a goodly distance behind. Leashes, people! Leashes! What in tarnation is so difficult about leashes?! With a large barking labradoodle headed right at ’em, well, the easiest thing to do was head up the dirt trail before things got ugly. Couldn’t be far before that trail intersected with the pavement again; they’d seen other folks re-enter the main trail with their dogs lots of times.

So they wandered up the hill and within a few minutes were surprised at how far away from civilization they felt. The constant presence of street noise on the main trail disappeared. The trail went up and it went down — steeply. It switched back and forth repeatedly to get to the bottom of a ravine, then repeated the process to get back to high ground. And the trail slanted deeply sideways, putting one precariously close to a rapid, tumbling descent with every step. After the third or fourth ravine, well, only the pup was still running strong.Yes, the mini fjords of the Midwest can be taxing on human and, eventually, beast.

And the lady adventurer, well, not having planned on this excursion, quickly realized these were the wrong boots. Oh, they had plenty of much-needed tread, but they were heavy. And while the thin socks were warm enough, her feet slid inside the boots requiring extra effort for each step. She cursed not being more diligent about yoga for the flexibility needed for grabbing branches and taking high steps up, and the balance for taking sliding steps down. But she did become reacquainted with her glute muscles.

Figurin’ the rescue squad might find only their cell phones, she wanted to take more pictures. But her main goal was not going arse over tea kettle down the hillside.

Also with surprising quickness, the nearby rich kids academy (because rich kids don’t go to a school), and the parents’ fancy homes had disappeared from view; all the trio of accidental adventurers saw were trees and snow. And snow and trees. After cresting more than a half dozen hills, houses blessedly reappeared. But these weren’t the same houses visible from the paved trail. And the railroad tracks were nowhere to be seen. Where exactly they were was, and remains, a mystery.

At this point, the couple drew on the wisdom they had gained from many years of riding bike trails: The trail is just as long back to the car as it is going out — only you’ve got less energy. They turned around. Funny thing, though, it was a cloudy day so they didn’t really know which direction they were headed, and pretty much every snow-covered tree looks like the next so every direction looked the same. And there were a.lot. of trees. As well, they had made several choices at Ys along the way, which had to be properly re-chosen on the way back.

Why just look at this Google Earth pic – you can’t even see the dirt trails!

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Now even the pup was showing some stress. She’d been wary of the narrow bridges crossing the fingerling creeks on the way out, and was even less inclined to cross them on the way back. And the snow was starting to turn to ice balls between the pads of her paws; her people not thinking she’d need Musher’s Secret on this excursion, left her paws bare. Problem is, that paw problem only gets worse over time and the party came to halt several times on the steep slopes to clean the pup’s paws.

‘Bout now, the fun aspect of this adventure was wearin’ pretty thin. But the car doesn’t get any closer by whining, so they trekked on. First the chimney of the academy appeared through the trees. And soon the Rock of Gibraltar came into view. OK, it was a rough tree stump that reminded the gentleman adventurer of the Rock of Gibraltar. Sorta.

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That was funny on the way out, but it was likely delirium talkin’ on the way back. Soon the car – with its heated seats – came into view. Rarely is a sight so devine. With only themselves as witnesses to these events, the couple and the pup headed home.

So how do I know this tale is true? Well, I listened to them retell it to each other with great animation as they stood in line at the donut shop. Seems the lady adventurer was sure she’d used up all her carbs on the adventure and felt it imperative to replenish. The gentleman adventurer indicated he was feeling the same deprivation.

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Ben Ming Nian or Seeing Red or Don’t Ask Me About My Underalls

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This card was made for me by a friend who enjoyed my use of the famous Dorothy Parker line. We laughed when I opened it. Then came Chinese New Year. No one’s laughing now.

For a reason that also includes Bastille Day (for another time), I like to indulge in a little celebration on Chinese New Year: the first bike ride of the season. Because here in the Midwest the holiday often falls in early February when it’s a tad warmer and less icy than January 1, so taking the bikes out now is smarter – or a touch less stupid. This year, the date was immaterial.

Several pop-culture-y sites also make a minor fuss over the holiday, which lead me to discover that this is a Ben Ming Nian for me – my zodiac year of birth. A good thing, you’d think. Not so much. Talk about what fresh hell! Don’t start a job or change jobs, don’t buy a house — or even move, don’t get married. Those are just the things one can control! Every move pretty much torques off Tai Sui, a mysterious power that controls people’s fortune.

Then, in an odd, third-rate-motivational-speech turn, challenges and opportunities may come one’s way “with efforts and firm belief.” I might be able to see the opportunities if I could bring myself to get out from under the bed.

I was ready to brush it off as superstition until I recalled my last Ben Ming Nian, and I wanted to grab a brown paper bag because hyperventilating was a possibility.

What to do? Wear red. Lots of red. Especially red underwear. But I can’t buy it myself; for maximum effectiveness, red clothing must be gifts. Oh yea, I can see the hubs flipping through a rack of panties . . .

If you need to find me, I’ll be back under the bed facing east (another trick to assuage Tai Sui).

What fresh hell indeed. See you in early 2018 — as an added twist of misery, this lunar year has 13 months. Send red socks!

 

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Swedish Meatballs, Finnish Swearing

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This Nordic cooking thing is not going well. First the kransekake fail. Now Swedish meatballs. Really, how can Swedish meatballs get screwed up? Give myself a break, I said, do something easy enough, I decided. Well, the end result was perfectly-edible-but-flavorless meatballs.

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Again, referred to the humongous all-things-Nordic cookbook; the secondary cookbook didn’t even have a recipe for Swedish meatballs.

No significant, no less distinct, flavor. One tablespoon of strong mustard was called for, so I added two and threw in some other seasonings. Still not enough. A day or two earlier, a Swedish meatball recipe rolled by on my Facebook feed and I remember thinking, Don’t forget that; that looks good. Several spices were listed. Couldn’t find the recipe again to save my soul. Still haven’t found it.

Resorted to swearing in Finnish. That’s the emoji above. Perkele: Say it like you mean it, as in the three examples here.

 

 

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World Peace Will Have to Wait

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World Peace Cookies, that is. I was all set to bake those but got distracted by a big bag of sharp, bitter, and tart. Costco had Meyer lemons on special. I’ve wanted to cook with them, and now I’ll get plenty of practice.

Since the hubs doesn’t like lemon in savory dishes, tangy desserts it is.

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I don’t cook with citrus fruit often and had forgotten the lovely mess one can make. All. those. seeds! The rasp is normally employed for grating parmesan so zesting proved no problem. But we have nothing even vaguely resembling a citrus reamer or juicer. Brute force had to suffice.

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The recipe was specifically for Meyer lemons; found it on Epicurious. Good thing it called for 3/4 cup lemon juice – three lemons down, a dozen or so to go! The result is quite tangy, the flavor much deeper than had I followed the recipe in a mundane cookbook which called for a mere 3 Tablespoons of lemon juice. Why bother?

Soon I’ll get back to world peace, once we’ve gotten through the sharp, tart, and bitter of winter.

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Bag Ladies

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A couple of years ago I got the idea to thank my friends for being my friends by giving them something personal — beyond the cheer, kindness, and thoughtfulness (and occasional baked goods) that I make sure to bring to those relationships.

Because I like making things, bags came to mind. For each woman, I look for a fabric that reflects her personality. Forgive the immodesty, but on the whole I have pretty good taste and a rare gift-choosing ability, so trusting my judgement puts me on solid ground.

This is my latest bag. It went to a woman I met through work. She’s artsy. I’d like to be artsy. Although we have a lot in common, our friendship didn’t really solidify until we weren’t working together. The pattern is Glenda from Swoon. (The credit is included only if someone feels inclined to find out more; I have no personal link with the company.)  I do love the interwebs to find new and different things.

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Of course for this level of effort, passing friends and acquaintances won’t be receiving bags any time soon. But I still have a dozen good women on the top-line list. That will keep me busy this year.

Lentil It Be

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Lentils and greens, two more New Year’s foods. This choice was as much to return to better eating as for any illusion of influencing the cosmos in my favor. With typical American gusto, I’ve noshed my way through the holidays. Enjoyable, but time to return to reality.

Lentils with pasta, canned tomatoes, and arugula was a long-time lunch favorite. The arugula held its rewarding crunch for several days. Amazing. But for reasons unknown, this dish fell off the radar. Perhaps I simply ate it one too many times, dispelling the charm. So I reworked the recipe for the new year.

Two shallots cooked with the lentils. Added kale both cooked and fresh; ditto the tomato. Pasta seemed superfluous. Lunch perfection. Having forgotten the expansion factor of soaking lentils, I’ll be enjoying this for several days.

Almost good enough to forget Saturday’s fail: I attempted to make kransekake on December 31. Is that the last fail of last year or the first fail of the new year? The recipe in the fairly recently produced seminal work on Nordic cooking looked amazingly simple and straightforward. A little egg white, some sugar — grating the marzipan appeared to be the hardest part. Ha! Looking back, it’s almost as though the author included the recipe with an air of dismissive disdain, an embarrassing must.

When the goal is a fairly dry dough, add wet to dry ingredients until the desired consistency is achieved. Again, something I realized in retrospect after following the lauded author’s recipe. Recipes later culled from the interwebs indicated either heat or cold to get the right consistency. (The recipe on Nordic Food & Living seems worth a go.) And clearly a boatload of elbow grease is needed to get the marzipan thoroughly incorporated. Previously, the closest I’ve come to marzipan is the character on Homestar Runner.

Since there was no way to firm up the soggy dough, I decided to bake some cookie-ish rounds in hopes of salvaging the experiment and getting something I could taste for reference. Watching the rounds expand, I upped the oven temp for a quicker set — which did nothing for the set and gave the round blobs a Florida-grade tan. I can only bear to share a tiny pic of the result.

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The taste is quite nice — kind of an almond-flavored toasted marshmallow. And I was smart enough to make only a small batch on a silicon mat, reducing waste and clean up.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll watch a few episodes of the Great British Baking Show while eating a bowl of lentils and kale to ready myself for the next challenge.

 

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(her)Ring in the New Year

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Many good things happend in 2016. Positives notwithstanding, however, the year had a few pretty craptastic events that tainted many of the days. Several unpleasant-if-mundane realities occurred — things that happen to everyone but had an extra layer of, well, crap.

After much deliberation, I have determined the cause to be herring. Specifically, the New Year’s pickled herring.

Eating pickled herring on December 31 and the next day (superstitions only work if you cover all possibilities. . .) is the only New Year’s tradition I have observed without fail since childhood. There’s a little quirky history behind it that I love — acknowledging the uncertainty of the future while hoping for good fortune.

Rewind to the last day of 2015 when I found myself without a jar of pickled herring. Dashed to the closest grocery store. While I couldn’t tell you the name of the brand that’s ubiquitously available, I can tell you it wasn’t stocked at this store. Something told me what was available was inferior, but I bought it anyway. Inferior it was. Mushy, not much flavor, and way too sweet.

Well, look how that turned out.

Determined not to let this unpleasant fate befall another year, I planned and purchased with intent and purpose: A month ahead I took advantage of being near IKEA, cooler in the car.

In the words of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, “Hallelujah, noel, be it heaven or hell, the Christmas we get we deserve.” Clearly the sentiment extends to the following week’s holiday. And I, for one, am starting 2017 with forethought and positive action.

May the new year bring you unexpected opportunities for joy and ample rewards for your efforts.

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Christmas Cooking Surprise

My first go at making Parmesan Mousse went well, but the surprise came in the spoils.

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Onions and rosemary are cooked and steeped in heavy cream. Their flavoring work complete, they’re strained out and discarded. Looking at the strainer, I couldn’t help but take a flavor-filled bite. Some of the parm clings to the onion bits.

Hmmm. Grab a small leftover potato. Slice up a tomato. Combine and heat in the microwave, then broil for a few minutes in the toaster oven. In between those cooking steps, soft-cook an egg (I did a 6-minute steam). Top potato-tomato mix with cooked onion spoils and the egg.

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Sometimes I surprise myself — in this case, delightfully so!

Here’s another quirk: The onions are mild since they’ve been well cooked; a good choice for me because I don’t like strong onions in breakfast dishes. But then I generously topped the dish with Frank’s Hot Sauce. . .

Merry Christmas to all; may the day bring you happy surprises.

 

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