May 27th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
For someone who loves to travel and cook, the prospect of helping my friend Christina, fellow alum of Columbia University’s graduate journalism school and resident of Stockholm, prepare for her 40th birthday party could not have been more tantalizing. So, while my husband Sean bounced around Europe, attending business meetings, I recently hung out in Stockholm for 9 days, shopping, cooking, and sampling the fruits of our kitchen labors.
Because I am accustomed to cheap American food prices, I found grocery shopping in Stockholm shocking. A quart of milk ran about $4. A pint of raspberries went for anywhere from $7 to $15. A single bottle of 3.5% ABV beer, the only kind sold at markets, cost at least $3. Wine? I paid twice the amount that I do in NY for a bottle of Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet. No wonder everyone asks out-of-country guests to pack a healthy stash of alcohol in their suitcases. Forget that extra sweater. Bring more rum!
Vibrant outdoor markets, such as the one held behind the Hotorgshallen food hall, did offer bargains. There I stocked up on bundles of fragrant fresh mint for Friday night’s mojitos. At less than $1 apiece they were a deal that couldn’t be beat. Hmmm…. Maybe I should have eaten mint for the duration of the trip.
Inside Hotorgshallen, as well as at the upscale Saluhall on Ostermalmstorg, I browsed through more exotic fare. Hankering reindeer hearts, fermented Baltic herring, lingonberries or imported mangosteens? I could snap them up at either food hall.
Back in the kitchen Christina and I prepared dishes that reflected both Swedish heritage and modern cuisine. No, no reindeer or herring. Instead smoked salmon served on baguettes and brown Danish bread, salads of orzo, spinach and pine nuts, lentils and red onions and tomatoes and cucumbers starred in the main course. For dessert cheesecakes came au naturel or dressed in blueberries.
As usual, all this searching for and preparing food left me ravenous. Most days I just ate a cheese sandwich that I had slapped together at Christina’s and then consumed on the go. A few times, though, I splashed out for lunch. At the Moderna Museet on Skeppsholmen I sprung for a bowl of spring vegetable soup, a kanelbullar and glass of red wine. The pleasure of good, traditional food, along with the gorgeous views of Lake Malaren and the Nordiska Museet and Vasamuseet, made the $27 pricetag worthwhile.
Some of the least expensive meals came from a food kiosk in Mariatorget Square on Sodermalm or at – gasp! – McDonald’s. The grand total of a shared lunch of a McChicken sandwich, McFish sandwich, medium French fry and small Coke was $20. All things considered, a great deal.
May 27th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
After several days spent in a foreign city I am always itching to sneak out and explore the countryside. There, I believe, is where the “real” heart of a land exists. Don’t get me wrong. I love urban life but with McDonald’s everywhere from Marrakech to Bucharest and streets teeming with tourists who look and sound a lot like me, I feel as though most cities have become too globalized to provide a true glimpse at a country.
With 24,000 islands in the Stockholm archipelago I don’t have to go far for a different taste of Sweden. I just hop a ferry and in less than an hour or two I could be on “the beach,” in the forest or wandering through the wooded, pedestrian-only island of Grinda.
Rimmed by sandy beaches as well as rocky shorelines, Grinda provides a range of pursuits. Hike the rolling hills, kayak on the sea, camp out or just sit at the sole waterfront cafe and drink beer, read a book, or catch up with old friends. A sucker for animals, I get a kick out of watching the local wildlife — fat, free-range, red-feathered chickens bobbing and pecking at the ground, sheep dozing in the grassy fields, drunk daytrippers urinating off the docks.
A note to anyone contemplating a trip to Grinda: The island has two unmarked docks in the south and north. The ferry from Stockholm arrives at the north location. The ferry to the capital departs from the south. We didn’t realize this until missing the last ferry back. Frantically, we tried our hands at semaphore. Then we called for a water taxi. As that would have cost between $500 and $600 . . ..
Closer to Stockholm is the island of Lovon, home to the royal family and their 17th century, UNESCO World Heritage palace, Drottningholm. Wandering through the well-manicured gardens, lounging on the lawns, and touring the 18th century Court Theatre and Chinese Pavilion all have their pleasures. However, I prefer to take the speedy, 3-hour ferry from Nynashamn to the Swedish municipality of Gotland.
Located 56 miles off the mainland, this ancient Viking settlement, with its few forest-lined roads, small fishing villages, and close to 100 medieval churches, charms me to no end. Its capital, Visby, was once a Stone Age sacrificial site. Today the fortified town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and, with 22,000 residents, the most populated area in Gotland.
Off the coast of northern Gotland lies the flat, limestone island of Faro. With a population of less than 600, Faro lacks medical and postal services, law enforcement and banks. What it does possess are limestone stacks, fishing shacks and the resting place of Ingmar Bergman. The writer-director lived, filmed several of his movies, and died here. He is buried in a simple grave behind the island’s church.
May 24th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
With so many extraordinary places in the world to explore, I try not to visit any spot more than once. There are the exceptions. A passionate Anglophile, I’ll never say “no” to a trip to the UK or Ireland, no matter how many times I’ve tromped the streets of London, Dublin and the like. France, too, has a certain repeat appeal. All that wine, history, culture and food!
The Scandinavian country of Sweden joins the list of rare places to which I will happily travel again and again. Below are a few highlights of May in Stockholm, when the sun rises at 4 a.m. and sets after 10 p.m. and life is both more relaxing and invigorating.
Comprised of 14 islands on Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea, Stockholm has a multitude of pretty waterfront scenes.
The view from the ‘skinny bridge’ to Skeppsholmen. This small island contains several museums, including my favorite, the Moderna Museet.
One of the most popular attractions in Stockholm, the Vasamuseet houses the massive, 1628 Swedish warship, the Vasa. The ornate ship sank on its maiden voyage and was salvaged, intact and whole, from the Swedish harbor in 1961.
Because of a ferry strike, a boat sits empty and idle near Ostermalmstorg.
Cross any bridge in Stockholm and you’re bound to see groups of men, rods cast over the railing, fishing for whatever they can catch in Lake Malaren.
With two massive stores on the outskirts of Stockholm everyone truly does go to Ikea.
Find yourself near the Royal Palace in Gamla Stan around noon and you invariably will witness the changing of the guard. Traffic does not come to a halt for this daily occurrence but instead follows the parade at a not-so-safe distance.
Don’t own a car, don’t want to pay high fares on the efficient and clean public transportation system yet oh-so-tired of walking? Rent a bike from one of the many stations in Stockholm. Like shopping at Ikea, everybody does it.
Not everyone drives a Volvo — or Saab, for that matter — in Sweden. However, quite a few of these classics can be found on the streets.
May 3rd, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
Gadget girl is back, with another glimpse at some of her favorite quirky kitchen tools. While none are essential, they all make time spent at the stove a little easier and fun.
Mezzaluna – After watching Nigella Lawson swish the curved blade of her mezzaluna over a mound of fresh herbs, chopping them to bits in seconds, I knew that I had to have one. My 10-inch, single blade knife was a souvenir from Italy but you can find them in various sizes, number of blades and types of handles pretty much anywhere. Along with herbs, the mezzaluna also makes quick work of nuts and chocolate. Just rock it across the intended target and in seconds it is chopped. Nice, gentle workout for the arms, too.
Rectangular measuring spoons – Rectangular instead of round, these measuring spoons slide into the smallest of spice jars. http://www.kitchenkapers.com/10152.html
Garlic Card – Invented by a Swedish chef, this plastic card grates garlic into a fine pulp. Unlike when I use a metal-toothed grater, half of the garlic isn’t left clinging to the teeth. Brilliant!
Hot Spot Silicon Trivet – My round trivet wrenches off jar lids, pulls pans from the oven and protects my dinner table from hot bowls and pots. The 11-inch square trivet goes beneath my perpetually running laptop, shielding my old, cherry writing desk from the heat the computer generates. Talk about useful!
Microplane Spice Grater – Why not just use an adult-sized Microplane grater on cinnamon sticks, nuts, and whole nutmeg? Hmmm…. Bloody knuckles, for one thing. This tiny, handled grater takes the worry out of grating small or awkward ingredients. It’s also perfect for adding a dusting of nutmeg or chocolate to drinks.