Archive for the ‘Food & Cooking’ Category

 Today I had the accidental experience of attending Göteborgsvarvet, which is apparently “the world’s largest half marathon.” As a (former) half-marathoner, I am surprised I didn’t know this was the home of the world’s largest half! I should have had an inkling something was up when I saw a Swedish acquaintance’s Facebook post saying she was off to “toe the line.” It also suddenly makes the choice of our last book club selection make sense.

It was called “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.” I thought someone in the group must be a runner, or maybe all of them since I hadn’t actually met them in person yet. Otherwise, it seemed an odd choice for anyone who isn’t really into running. Even as a runner, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it but it was meant to be my first meeting with the group so I downloaded the Nook version. Turns out, I didn’t make it to book club, and I still haven’t finished the book. A bit anticlimactic after hearing of the main character’s actual death in the hills of New Mexico on a training run as I was just 10 days into reading it. Always a buzz kill when you know the end of the story.

My second clue came when the tram driver made an announcement. The stops are announced by automated voice so when the driver speaks, you know something’s up whether you can understand them or not. Turns out he was announcing that the tram would turn around at Centralstationen instead of continuing as normal. No biggie though, it was only one stop before my intended one so just a bit of a walk. After walking a couple minutes I saw the blocked roads, crowd and… runners! My heart did a skip. As much as I hated running, I also loved it. And I miss it.

But I digress…

So, the above was actually the second happy accident of the day. The first was at the local  Saturday outdoor market. It’s the typical sort of place where you find clothes, electronics, produce, etc. I was struggling a bit at the butcher though because the young assistant didn’t speak English at all, I didn’t speak his native language (Farsi, I presume), and obviously I’m still working on my Swedish. I’m not even sure how much of that he knew.

Anyway, after a few minutes, a lovely woman with Caribbean-accented English began to help me understand the cuts of meat they had, helped me pick one out for my stew, and even made sure I had a proper recipe in mind. She asked where I was from, then told me she was from Jamaica. She was sweet, and fairly representative of people you meet. Particularly those who are from somewhere else themselves. I guess they remember when they were new too. I didn’t want to let her go. I wanted to ask where she lived and what was her phone number, but at the risk of sounding like a crazy American, I let her slip away quietly into the crowd.

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Baked eggplant by Sharise

The first supper from my Göteborg kitchen. Baked eggplant with meat sauce and a simple salad.

So the other day I noted how the act of grocery shopping has changed for me. The other side of that same coin is how cooking has also changed. I only have come into my own as a cook in the last three or fours years anyway, so this is part fun, part frustrating. Sometimes I cook by feeling and taste, sometimes by recipe.

Never mind that I’m working with the limited tools of my husband’s bachelor-style pad, and my limited travel budget (aka, no cashflow yet) so I can’t outfit the kitchen the way I would like just yet. I’m operating with one skillet, one pot, and a myriad of mismatched dishes and cutlery. Feels a bit like I’ve stepped back into college days, although thankfully the food itself is more substantial.

I have purchased a few essentials such as a couple of cheap tools (veggie peeler, timer), and a rather nice baking dish. Fortunately, he still has the two chefs knives I bought last time I was here. The timer is crap but the least important. I’ve noticed that the inexpensive knives and peeler are much sharper and work much better than the fancy brands I bought back home.

So now, I must also convert every measurement from tablespoons and teaspoons to milliliters and deciliters. Ounces to grams. Cups to…what again? The website is my constant companion in the kitchen. I keep saying I will print out the standard conversions and tape them up for easy reference but have yet to do it. Maybe this weekend.

OK, so my ‘mise en plas’ is established and I am finally ready to fire up the pans…err, not so fast. Now I have to adjust for electric cooking (yes, I know this could happen in the USA but I’ve always had gas ranges), having only three burners and an oven with cryptic pictures of God-knows-what, telling me God-knows-what. Oh, and that temperature setting? Convert it from Fahrenheit to Celsius!

Despite all of these obstacles, I’ve actually turned out some pretty good tasting meals, from my first dish of baked eggplant with meat sauce that looks more overcooked than it tasted,  to tonight’s Moroccan Meatballs with baked sweet potato sticks (can’t really call them fries), cous cous and sauteed zucchini. Yum! This is actually fun for now, but when I start to work again…

Today I got to meet a couple of E’s friends. The wife is Swedish-Finnish and the husband Turkish. For their privacy I won’t mention names. We went to visit, not necessarily for Easter, but just because it was a day when the workaholic hubby was going to be home. I felt a little self-conscious that everyone was speaking English (mainly) for my benefit. I asked if they would be speaking Swedish if I weren’t there. The answer was “yes.” But throughout the evening, snippets of conversation occured in Turkish, Swedish and Finnish amongst different pairs of us (or, I should say them).

We literally walked in the door, took off our shoes (as is common here) and sat down at the kicthen table for food. I had no idea we were walking into an instant buffet. Although the meal itself was quite simple; baked chicken drumsticks, salad and rice with a curry sauce, she has now set the bar quite high for when they come to visit us. It’s not that I don’t know how to play hostess; it just isn’t my thing. In nearly 11 years in my own house, I may have had invited guests a maximum of six times, and that includes holidays and special occasions. I don’t mind planned visits, but I don’t like planning to make food, etc. I prefer to have an open kitchen where people can go grab what they want and I’ll provide the homemade margaritas. But, I now have to at least provide one meal in return.

I mentioned my first dish made here was baked eggplant and she said she likes eggplant, so I’m thinking that will be a winning choice when the day comes for me to return the favor.

After the meal, we spent the rest of the evening talking, laughing at her husband who was the butt of too many jokes, and playing backgammon. Wow, I haven’t played that game in years and had to watch a few matches to relearn it. It’s simple enough but I also had to take note of differences in play, such as what happens when you roll doubles. E indulged in ryki, the national alcahol of Turkey, while she and I drank the equivalent of wine coolers. So, no buzz for me but E was entertaining enough for both of us. Her hubby was abstaining for some reason, perhaps the stories of his puking in the kitchen floor after two small glasses of ryki, which he claimed was half a bottle, deterred him from inbibing this time.

As we wrapped up the evening, we said our goodbyes and gave hugs. E and I walked out  into the evening rain and walked to catch our tram. It was a fun day.


Non-Swedish Bananas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have noticed that produce has a distinctly different ripening process and flavor here. The bananas start out green, but instead of becoming the bright yellow that signals ripeness in America, they take on an unappealing grayish/green-brown color.

However, the fruit inside the skin is still wonderfully fresh and quite tasty. The texture is not mushy and doesn’t elicit the gag reflex after only a few days, like the bananas I’m used to.

Tomatoes we would consider still too hard to eat and would have no flavor at home, are remarkably edible and sweet here. Same goes for the cantaloupe. It seems I’ll have to change my shopping approach a bit to accommodate for this difference. Actually, my whole approach is already changed as I must first make  my list, then translate it to Swedish so I know what to look for, then hunt down the items in the grocery store. So far, it takes about 3x longer than normal. I look forward to getting this down to a science one day.

My dinner today with fried Herring and mashed ...

Fried Herring and mashed potatoes (a meal similar to mine). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I snacked on Sweden’s traditional fish for lunch today; herring. I’m no longer sure why I/we have this idea that Scandinavians eat stinky herring that’s either salted or pickled. This was so-called fried (but not deep fat fried like chicken) with a sweet sauce of some kind. It was in fact, too sweet and not at all the experience of eating herring that I’d expected.

I suppose that experience might only come with  the salted variety. I will try again one day. On another note; Nutella is apparently fabulous worldwide!

If you know me, you know I have a thing for organic foods. I found the “eko store” today. Göteborg’s local organic grocery. It’s quite small and has a few essentials, but not sure it will be a must-visit like the farmers market was back home. So far though, its the only place I’ve found nuts and seeds and non-junk dark chocolates. I don’t like the grocery stores here, they are small and look ghetto from the outside. Inside they are OK but selection is limited.

I guess they are small because they seem to serve mainly the community in which one lives; it’s not like there’s one grand Publix or Kroger where everyone goes. But, I will continue looking. Living as a bachelor who ate the same thing  all day, every day, E isn’t exactly well-versed in locating grocery stores. I did see some groceries at the big IKEA, but I don’t want to have to trek out there regularly. And, until I investigate whether the Swedish food supply chain is as disgusting as that in America, I won’t worry so much about the organics. And I hope I won’t have to.