vernal veggies.

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When I moved into my little flat in Visby, I was ecstatic to have a space of my own, and a real kitchen. (Well, it doesn’t have an oven, but still – it’s mine and I don’t have to share it with anyone) After months of not really cooking, I was back!

Unfortunately, shortly after this I went to winter school in Portugal and we collectively realized that our last scholarship payment comes at the end of July. I and several others had assumed it would last at least one month longer than that.

Friends: I will soon be poor. I don’t graduate until November, so that’s several months I have to survive with no scholarship.

This immediately took a hit on my cooking. I still cooked good food, but I went completely vegetarian and stopped buying wine or beer to enjoy with dinner. I had already basically forsaken dessert, more for my waistline than my pocketbook, but it was also handy for that (not having an oven is very sad in terms of my baking obsession, but also probably healthy).

For me, vegetarianism meant a lot of legumes. I was able to find harissa in the grocery store, which was literally a miracle as I’ve rarely found it anywhere else and Sweden isn’t exactly a bastion of diversity, especially in the grocery aisles. I cooked up a delicious Tunisian stew from the Gourmet archives that lasted a few nights, the chickpeas delightfully exploding every time I microwaved a new portion.

But things have been getting hard at work. I’m sometimes at the university until 7 or 8 p.m. at night, and I come home exhausted and frequently discouraged. A pile of chickpeas just wasn’t always going to cut it.

So yesterday, I pulled out all the stops. I rampaged through the fresh vegetables aisle in the Coop, then splurged on a big slab of salmon. Get those omega-3’s. After reading Four Fish I now feel guilty every time I buy fish, but I did it anyway.

On the way home, I stopped at the Sytembolaget and bought a bottle of Viognier.

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With the vegetables, I made a small ragout (including some shiitake mushrooms). It was like a bowl of spring, steaming in a light-green porcelain vessel in front of me. If that couldn’t rejuvenate me, what could? I felt like the finished dish matched the blue sky and sun that have been gracing us with their presence here on Gotland every day. And that’s a very good thing.

Spring Ragout

Adapted from The Atlantic

1 tablespoon olive oil

a bunch of scallions (in Sweden, called “salad leeks”), white and light green parts chopped (discard dark green parts)

a bunch of asparagus, ends of stems discarded, sliced into 2” sections; if the stems are thick, also cut them in half lengthwise

2 tablespoons water

juice from half a lemon

splash of white wine

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon honey

1-2 cups sugar snap peas

3-4 large shiitake mushrooms; or use something local, spring, and fresh if you can!

¼ cup parsley, chopped coarsely

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot, then stir in the chopped scallions. Cook for 2 minutes or so until the scallions start to get soft. While that’s cooking, chop up the asparagus. Add it to the pot with the water, lemon, wine, salt, and honey. Stir together and then put the lid on the pot. Cook 2-4 minutes, depending on how thick the asparagus is – you don’t want it to be done cooking at this point, but it should be softening up. Add the peas and mushrooms, cooking 3 more minutes. Finally, stir in the parsley, cook one more minute, and then turn off the heat. Enjoy!

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we found salad in a hopeless place.

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We thought yesterday was going to be an easy day. And I guess it was – just one race. When the women’s 4 x 5 k relay finished, we went, woohooo! Let’s drink a beer in the sun! Then quickly write our two stories, and then go into Adler and explore and get a real dinner!

Of course, none of those things happened. We went inside and began writing. And with more time to work with, we produced better, more detailed, more polished stories. We had time to be perfectionists. It was still 8 p.m. when we left the venue, no time to take the long trip down to the cities.

That morning, as Alex and I were jogging, she said, “if we go out to dinner tonight, I’m going to order just vegetables.” I agreed – a salad! That would be amazing! We have had good carbs and proteins from breakfast (and the other food we steal from breakfast to turn into lunch), but there is a distinct lack of green vegetables, or any other-colored vegetables for that matter. I was longing for vegetables like whoa.

That morning we showed up for breakfast and Nat said, “I really want a salad for dinner tonight.” It was sealed.

So when we didn’t have time to go out to dinner, we were determined to find our vegetables one way or another. I suggested we return to the grocery store near the bottom of our gondola. So we did.

First of all, you have to go through security just to get into the mall. This caused some hilarity since we were still carrying everything from our day at the races. In our bags: computers, cameras, extra clothes, cables of all kinds, leftover lunch, bottles of water, sunscreen, everything. The screener made the first two of us unpack our bags to see what was inside, but the line was getting very long behind us as most people don’t show up at the mall with a  34-liter backpack packed to the brim.

Finally, we were inside! Alex and I spent some time perusing the Adidas store. Winter Adidas products don’t really exist in the U.S., but there was some really nice stuff. The vest we both liked was almost 3000 rubles, though, or 100 dollars. Also, everything said Russia on the back. We proceeded to the grocery store.

The vegetable selection was not huge. But it was big enough. We also returned with other goodies, and a lot of beer. I found one of my favorite Munich beers, Franziskaner Weissbier, and bought a bottle even though it was ridiculously expensive. We’ll split it some day. Alex found a nice double chocolate stout as a similar treat, and we bought quite a few cheap beers to tide us over (including Löwenbräu, another Munich beer – I was like, I went to their tent at Oktoberfest!).

Then we lugged our groceries back to the room ad began our feast. Salad! Oh my gosh! We had lettuce, tomatoes, feta, and a peach we had stolen from breakfast (also olives for the other guys, but I hate olives). It was simple, but I’ve never been so excited to eat some lettuce in my life. What a treat.

In the photo, you can see our food spread – dinner ingredients, some salami-type sausage that we got to put with some cheese and crackers, and then a whole lot of snack food to get us through the days.

Awkwardly, when we arrived in our room, I couldn’t get the lights to turn on. It’s one of those rooms where you insert the room card above the light switch, and then there’s a master switch that you turn on that only works if the room card is in. I pushed that switch and nothing happened. Alex started freaking out that maybe they had checked me out of the room. But eventually, we ascertained that the other lights worked once the card was in – the bathroom and the ones by the beds and desks. Oh well, we thought. That’s enough.

Less than ten minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Nat had gone to scrounge up some silverware, so we thought it would be him coming back. But no. It was a tall Russian, asking, “you have some problems?”

“No,” we said, confused.

Then a few seconds later…. “oh! well actually, yeah, the lights don’t work!”

We hadn’t told anyone that the lights didn’t work or asked them to fix them. Hmmm.

Anyway, the guy began fiddling with the wiring and breakers, as we were laying out our feast and eating it. I’m not sure what he thought of all the beer glasses, plates, and silverware we had stashed away gradually in our room, or the spread of other food we had acquired – whatever, making sure that we pay to eat at the bar isn’t his job, so he probably didn’t care.

We hope that now we can avoid scurvy.

at the grocery store.

Here’s a fun, light, and quick story – after yesterday I wrote so much that my brain is broken and I can’t say anything thoughtful anymore – about what it’s like to go to the grocery store in Russia.

The carrots are as big as your hands:

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I think this might be mayonaisse in strange packaging, but I’m not sure – also does it have speckled eggs in it!?

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And this, I have no idea. maybe olive oil? suggestions welcome:

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I bought one of these chocolate bars which has a creepy baby as a mascot:

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bags of smoked fish:

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and this is also apparently fish-related, although I have no idea what it is:

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caviar, of course:

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and just whole fish:

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everything Sochi-branded, including these little hard bagel-shaped things which we eat like candy (they aren’t sweet though):

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finally, I have no clue what this is, but nice packaging:

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We have been trying to buy snacks and lunch for ourselves (well actually we plunder the hotel breakfast buffet), but after trips to the grocery store more than once we have been surprised when the things that we buy are completely different than what we thought they were! The adventure continues….

things you do in france.

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The next few blog posts, I am quite certain, will be all about the stereotypical things that tourists do in France. I used to hate doing touristy things and be embarrassed by them; I burned with shame as I snapped photos of monuments and sights. Well, now I feel like sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do. I’m in France! Let’s be French!

IMGP1053Even though I learned French all through high school and into college, and visited Quebec regularly for ski races and camps over a period of five or six years, I haven’t been to France since the 1992 Olympics in Albertville. Then, I was almost five years old. Unsurprisingly I don’t remember much.

So this is my chance to get to know the place. Besides the bureaucratic nightmares and endless reams of paperwork that I seem to encounter on a daily basis, it’s pretty nice. On my first Saturday in town we decided to go to one of the traditional outdoor markets. Leaving our dormitories it was a beautiful blue-sky day – but don’t be fooled, it was windy and cold. Apparently around here people say that to know whether it will be cold on a winter day, you don’t look at the forecasted temperature – you look at the forecasted wind.

Katie (in the bottom left of the photo in the cute jacket) said she knew where to go, so we hopped on the tram and got off at a familiar stop, then walked up a long, winding hill on a narrow street with the buildings clambering above us. Eventually we reached the top and real, wider roads – one with a planting in the middle, leading down to a park. With an Arc de Triomphe. I guess every French city has one of their own, no big deal.

It was a gorgeous day. We were astounded – we signed up to go to the market, and we got to walk through this incredible park first? Sure, France, I’ll take it!

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We climbed up and around the vaguely temple-like structure, which turned out to rather ingeniously house a water tank under its floor.

“The market is just down the side on the left,” Katie said.

And by the left, she meant to the left of the aqueduct. Because of course there’s an aqueduct! And of course on Saturday the farmers come and sell their vegetables under the shelter of its arches!

Seriously.

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Finally, we reached the market, and were greeted by everything we’d hoped. Vegetables. Fruit. Fish from the sea, all sorts of meats, from whole gooses plucked except for their heads, to roasted chickens, to the most incredible variety of charcuterie. Bakers of bread and pastries. Cheesemakers hawking both dainty rounds of goat cheese and huge, several-kilo slabs of regional specialties that you could order 100 grams of and they’d slice you off a piece. Honey from so many different kinds of flowers, or if you preferred, honeycomb. Jams from every fruit in the region. Spices.

We walked all the way through the market, wondering as we went along. Each stall seemed more delicious than the next; how would we decide what to buy? We faced some tough choices, that would almost certainly be decided in a completely arbitrary manner.

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I mean, I’ve been to many a farmer’s market in multiple states around the country. There was really nothing new here, minus the aqueduct. But it seemed so charming, the way they wrote the signs with big looping “2”s, and how I got nervous before I asked for something, afraid I’d mess up my French. In the end I walked away with a nice poppyseed-crusted sourdough loaf and a round of the goat cheese, which I have been snacking on ever since. It is delicious, and I don’t think that’s just because I’m seeing the world through French rose-colored glasses.

(It’s really unfortunate that my kitchen situation is so craptastic, because I could buy so many vegetables and other things and cook up a storm. Maybe I’ll write about kitchens later….)

The other highlight of the market were the vendors selling food to eat right there, or take home with you – more take home with you, it seemed, since none of them offered utensils. We were tempted by a giant pan of paella as we walked in, but by the time we returned it was gone. Next was the couscous with lamb, reminding me of all the delicious smells of Morocco. But with no forks we were sort of out of luck. We ended up buying samosas from one vendor and slices of quiche and tart from another, then hiking back up to the park to eat them.

Let me say this for fusion cooking: it can be great. Two of the samosas were traditional, and delicious. The other two had a French spin. One was basil and lemon, also yummy, but what knocked my socks off was a hot, steaming samosa filled with Roquefort cheese and crushed nuts. I am sure Indian cooks are rolling over in disgust, but I couldn’t believe how amazing it tasted. Sometimes you have to think outside the box, I guess.

Happy times – as touristy as it makes us look, I have a hunch we’ll be going back many a Saturday to do our shopping and grab a tasty lunch. Next time, I’m bringing a fork so I can dig in to that paella. Katie and Berenice agree.

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Pickled Pink.

I’ve made my first loaf of bread in my new kitchen – a nice half-rye loaf with a fermented starter – so I guess my house is truly a home. And now that bread is knocked off the list, I can get on with some other cooking experiments in earnest!

Right now, I have one housemate. His name is Seth. He’s moving out in a couple of weeks and then I’ll have a different housemate, but for now it’s me and Seth, and we get along great.

Because Seth is moving soon, he’s pretty busy. And because he’s going to Squamish, British Columbia later this summer, he’s climbing a lot to get in shape. For the last five days he’s been gone on a climbing trip, so I’ve had the house to myself. When he left, he urged me to eat the beets in the refrigerator and the insane amount of lettuce that his girlfriend’s roommate had given us as she tried to harvest her overflowing garden. I was also given the chance to pick up his CSA share, which turned out to be really fun. He has a small share, just four items, but the place had probably ten different kinds of produce to pick from, so I tried to pick what I thought Seth would like as well as a treat for me: rhubarb, which I’ll hopefully be making into a pie sometime soon.

The beets made me hesitate though. I love beets. I love love love them. Since I was very small, when it was unusual for people my age to like beets, I liked beets. I was ecstatic that I was being given the beets. But I also felt bad eating them all. I mean, they were nice beets, and they were Seth’s, and I don’t know him that well yet, so why should I just eat all his beets? The lettuce was different, because it would start to wilt and get slimy if I didn’t have a salad every night. But the beets…

So eventually, I decided to pickle them. That way, they would be incredibly delicious but we’d all be able to enjoy them.

Funny enough, I didn’t use to like pickled beets. I liked them cooked, warm and sweet. But when I got to college and started eating from the salad bar, I discovered that the pickled beets were a good addition to a salad and provided some much-needed color. When I got to Craftsbury, the beets in the salad bar were often pickled in the kitchen itself rather than coming from a food service can. My appreciation of pickled beets quadrupled. They could be really good, and weren’t just a semi-lame way to preserve a favorite vegetable.

I found this recipe in The Scandinavian Cookbook, a gorgeous book which was given to me for Christmas by a family member. Despite being a committed Scandophile, the only recipe I’d made so far was one for cardamom rolls (they were good!). The pickles are great, and easy to make. The recipe says to let them sit for a week before opening them up, but did I sneak a slice after three days? Yes. And was it pickly delicious? Yes. Perhaps the reason that I had previously disliked pickled beets was that they were one-dimensional; this recipe adds in pepper and anise, and gives them a much more interesting, and yummy, flavor.

Besides salads or just eating with a fork, pickled beets are great for other things as well. I made a quasi-smørrebrød with sliced cucumbers, pickled beets, and a fried egg on top of toasted rye bread. Highly recommended.

Pickled Beets

Adapted from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann

7 or 8 medium-sized beets

salt

2 cups distilled white vinegar

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 star anise

1 tablespoon peppercorns or some freshly grated pepper

Start by peeling the beets, and then place them, whole or in halves, in a pot of salted water. The beets should be completely covered by the water. Boil until they are soft enough to eat, but not soft enough to be mushy. Next, make the pickling brine. Put the vinegar and sugars in a small saucepan and heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the anise and pepper and boil for a few minutes. Then remove from the burner and let the brine cool until the beets are done cooking. When they are, put them in a colander in the sink, run some cold water over them, and then, when they are cool enough to handle, cut into slices. You can experiment with what size the slices should be; I like them thin, but not too thin. You don’t want them to fall apart. As you cut the beets, put the slices in a pint-sized mason jar which has been sterilized. Once all the beets are in, pour the brine over the top. It should just fill the jar. Make sure the star anise is in there and if you ground the pepper, try to get it in there too. Put on the lid and let rest until you’re ready to enjoy your beets!