Articles on this Page
- 04/24/14--19:42: _Longtime Love
- 04/24/14--19:44: _World's Most Elegan...
- 04/24/14--19:44: _Off the Clock
- 04/24/14--19:46: _Shifting Gears
- 05/02/14--10:00: _Lady Baltimore Eats
- 05/02/14--14:00: _Sweet Spot
- 05/03/14--12:00: _The Endless Evening
- 05/05/14--11:49: _The Brew: The Malle...
- 05/06/14--14:15: _Nantucket, MA: Whit...
- 05/18/14--15:43: _Babylonian Breakfast
- 05/20/14--12:00: _One Good Find: Koro...
- 05/20/14--13:00: _Eugene, Oregon: The...
- 05/26/14--15:19: _Gai Hor Bai Toey (T...
- 05/28/14--08:00: _Room with a View
- 05/28/14--14:00: _Rite of Spring
- 05/24/14--15:27: _A Midsummer's Dream
- 05/25/14--18:22: _Filmjölkslimpa (See...
- 05/26/14--13:18: _Knäckebröd med Frön...
- 05/26/14--13:55: _Ostkaka med Färska ...
- 05/26/14--14:48: _Blades of Glory
- 04/24/14--19:42: Longtime Love
- 04/24/14--19:44: World's Most Elegant Nightcap
- 04/24/14--19:44: Off the Clock
- 04/24/14--19:46: Shifting Gears
- 05/02/14--10:00: Lady Baltimore Eats
- 05/02/14--14:00: Sweet Spot
- 05/03/14--12:00: The Endless Evening
- 05/05/14--11:49: The Brew: The Malleable, Marvelous Michelada
- 05/06/14--14:15: Nantucket, MA: White Elephant Village
- 05/18/14--15:43: Babylonian Breakfast
- 05/20/14--12:00: One Good Find: Korovka Candies
- 05/20/14--13:00: Eugene, Oregon: The Valley River Inn
- 05/26/14--15:19: Gai Hor Bai Toey (Thai Pandan-Wrapped Chicken)
- 5 tbsp.grated palm sugar or light brown sugar
- ½ tsp.ground white pepper
- ¼ tsp.kosher salt
- 4cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 cilantro roots or 4 tender cilantro stems, chopped
- 1(1") piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1½ tbsp.coconut milk, preferably UHT from a carton
- 1 tbsp.toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp.Worcestershire sauce
- 2½ tsp. oyster sauce
- 3 tbsp.dark soy sauce
- 2 tsp.cornstarch
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, halved
- 1 tbsp.light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp.granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp.sesame seeds
- 12(2" wide) fresh or frozen pandan leaves, rinsed or defrosted
- Canola oil, for frying
- 05/28/14--08:00: Room with a View
- 05/28/14--14:00: Rite of Spring
- 05/24/14--15:27: A Midsummer's Dream
- 05/25/14--18:22: Filmjölkslimpa (Seeded Buttermilk Bread)
- Unsalted butter, for greasing
- 2 cupswhole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
- 2 cupsbuttermilk
- ½ cupmolasses
- 2 cupsrye flour
- ½ cupsliced almonds
- ⅓ cupflaxseed
- ⅓ cupsunflower seeds
- ¼ cuppumpkin seeds
- 3 tbsp.sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp.kosher salt
- 1 tsp.baking soda
- 05/26/14--13:18: Knäckebröd med Frön (Seeded Crispbread)
- 1¼ cupsfine cornmeal
- ½ cupsesame seeds
- ½ cupsunflower seeds
- ¼ cupcanola oil, plus more for greasing
- ¼ cup flaxseed
- 1 tbsp.kosher salt
- 1 cupboiling water
- ¾ cup sugar
- 6 cupsquartered strawberries
- ½ cupminced mint
- Unsalted butter, for greasing
- ¾ cupblanched almonds
- 2¼ cupscottage cheese, drained overnight
- ¾ cupheavy cream
- ¾ cupmilk
- ¼ cupflour
- Confectioners' sugar, for garnish
- Whipped cream, for serving
- 05/26/14--14:48: Blades of Glory
See the recipe for El Coyote's Cheese Enchiladas »
7312 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
See the recipe for Lucky Luciano »
See the recipe for Lime Pie »
See the recipe for Nectar of the Ancient »
1-5-4 Tomioka, Koto-ku
Harris Salat is the co-author of Japanese Soul Cooking (Ten Speed Press, 2013).
300 Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107
415/644-0240 One Ferry Building, No. 44
San Francisco, CA 94111
Traci des Jardins is the chef-owner of Jardiniere and Mijita.
FACT:Food writer M.F.K. Fisher savored her last meals of the day, often eaten after midnight.One of her favorites was an egg fried in butter with cream and Worcestershire. "The minute the egg has set and the juices are bubbling," she wrote, "it is time to eat and go to bed."
"Noooooo, don't do it like that!" my 72-year-old Aunt Eadie hisses, yanking my mallet away. "Don't crush it!" We're at Bo Brooks, a northeastern Baltimore crab house, and I'm about to bash a fire engine–red, seven-inch jimmy when my aunt springs into action. She reaches over, cradles the crab (underside up), and begins to demonstrate the true-and-only method for consuming it—a set of actions quite possibly as codified, if not as ancient, as those of a Japanese tea ceremony. "Now, first you grab hold of what's called the apron—start from this pointy little thing here—then you rip back until you've got the guts exposed. You see all that golden-yellow gooey stuff? That's the mustard. It's the fat, the best part. Eat it or I'll hit you."
And then we eat, just eat—rip, dig, crack, puncture, slurp, right to the top of our skulls—succumbing to the near-narcotic rush that comes from devouring vinegar-and-beer-steamed alabaster nuggets of good, pure Chesapeake Bay blue-crab meat, mixed with the pow!-right-in-the-kisser pungency of rock salt and Maryland seafood seasoning. Few words pass our lips. We're in crab nirvana. "Welcome to Bawlmer, hon," Aunt Eadie says as she flings me another crab.
It never fails. Regardless of how much time I have spent here, I am an outsider—an alien from out west whose parents broke free from Baltimore after World War II and raised me in California on Bergman movies and avocados and grilled lamb, not Orioles games and sour beef and scrapple. Aunt Eadie is my bridge to sacred back-east traditions long ignored or forgotten by my immediate family—and whenever I visit, I am a foreigner who must be taught how to eat, how to interpret the local dialect ("oil" is url; "pocketbook" becomes pockybook), how to appreciate this city all over again—and appreciation has not come easy.
The summer vacations I spent in Charm City—the name dreamed up by some public-relations whizzes to promote the town in the 1970s—as a kid were wondrous, but disorienting, too: Here was a place that was green all summer long, not brown and brittle like home. Here was a place where important Historical Monuments lurked around every corner ("Fort McHenry is my favorite hysterical place in Baltimore," Aunt Eadie would tell me, tongue only somewhat in cheek), as did social traditions that were every bit as fixed in the past. The city remained, and remains, unfamiliar to me. Why, then, do I know its savory, sweaty, sour, exaggerated tastes as well as I know the dream I had last night? Why, when I eat spice-encrusted steamed crabs and toothache-sweet, chocolate-frosted Berger's cookies—the antithesis of the California food I grew up with—do I feel that I am, in some primal way, eating the food I know best?
Aunt Eadie is my bridge to sacred back-east traditions long ignored or forgotten by my immediate familyAnd so, in search of Baltimore's gastronomic essence, Aunt Eadie and I set out one morning, with "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" blaring on our car radio. "Look!" says Aunt Eadie, slowing down in front of a tiny sliver of clapboard house. "That's where we lived when we were so poor, one year all I asked for was a can of asparagus for my birthday." We're near our first destination, Hollins Market, in a gradually gentrifying neighborhood of quietly regal, upright row houses that H. L. Mencken once called home. Hollins is a remnant of Baltimore's city-subsidized market system, established in 1763. Once there were hundreds of such permanent, indoor markets nationwide. Now they only number in the teens, and Baltimore has six—Hollins, Cross Street, Broadway, and Northeast, all still city-sponsored, and the now privately owned Lexington and Avenue markets.
These places echo a time when everyday food-shopping meant bustling stalls and giant piles of staples like cabbages and carrots and potatoes—an experience considerably more engaging than a trip to the supermarket. At Dominic's Produce in Hollins Market, for instance, crowds of customers positively descend on four-foot-high mounds of assorted loose-leafed greens—collards, curly kale, mustard, turnip, and rough-and-ready clumps of field cress, roots attached—all destined for quick-frying with bacon or for long stewing with salt pork. Nearby, Bernie's butcher shop sells these and other "seasoning meats"—thick sheets of salt-crusted fatback, knobs of hickory-smoked ham hock from North Carolina, and rose-colored slabs of westphalian ham. I catch Aunt Eadie, trying to conceal a tear, paused at the poignant intersection of food and memory: "It's just whenever I see ham like that, I think of Mama," she says. "She used to stew everything with a hunk of that in it."
Elsewhere in the market, at Chuckie's Fried Chicken, a queue some twenty people long leads the way to the juiciest, most delectable fried chicken north of Kentucky (its deliciously crackly skin is spiked with a mild seafood seasoning). It's lunchtime by now, and we happily crunch our way through a few thighs and drumsticks. "Now we need some dessert," Aunt Eadie announces. She suggests we stop at the bakery inside Eddie's, a market a short drive away. Here, Aunt Eadie and the counterwoman converse in reverent tones about their favorite Baltimore desserts: fresh peach cake, snickerdoodle cookies, and that queen of local confections, a real ladies'-circle kind of thing called lady baltimore cake—three dreamy layers of white cake with a mixture of chopped pecans, dried fruits, and boiled frosting sandwiched in between. After a slice apiece and some coffee, we're on our way.
This crab is a pure taste of sea spray that just about plunges me right into the Chesapeake BayOur next stop is Cross Street Market in Federal Hill, one of Baltimore's oldest neighborhoods and the recent site of much enthusiastic urban renewal. We pay a visit to Tommy Chagouris, proprietor of Nick's Inner Harbor Seafood—where, from outward appearances, all of Baltimore must come to slug down National Bohemian beer, tell crass jokes, and eat the best crab cakes in town. Chagouris, a sharp, energetic guy, has been working full-time at this wildly successful fish market and raw bar (previously owned by his father) since the moment he finished high school. "The day I graduated," he recalls with a shudder, "my dad set the alarm for 3:30 the next morning and said, 'Son, you're going to work.'" As we walk around his small seafood empire, I pose a question: How does Baltimore's market culture stay so alive and kicking? "Everyone gets along with everyone," he says simply, and adds, "There are lots of people in this city who wouldn't have anything to live for if our markets didn't exist."
Aunt Eadie and I can't resist ordering a few crab cakes before we go. We pull up a stool in front of Nick's executive chef, Bill Thomas, who could make crab cakes with his eyes closed. What's his secret? Nothing much—literally. Only the faintest trace of binding (eggs, cracker meal, and a dab of mayonnaise) holds Thomas's cakes together, allowing the spectacular sweetness of his jumbo-lump local crabmeat to take center stage. "Don't let anyone tell you that crab from Florida or the Gulf is the same as ours—and don't even talk about crab from South America," Thomas says, scowling. I bite into a golden-crusted morsel. Oh, yes, there's a difference, all right—this crab is a pure taste of sea spray that just about plunges me right into the Chesapeake Bay.
If I had the unenviable task of identifying what Charm City, USA, tastes like, what would I say? That it is defined by Maryland seafood seasoning—the spice blend that shows up in (or on) virtually everything but dessert in Baltimore? That it tastes of the impressive harvest of the Chesapeake Bay? That it is all about the sweet-and-sour flavors that the city's German immigrants tossed into the stew pot to produce dishes like sour beef (Baltimorese for sauerbraten) and sauerkraut? Or that it tastes of the North as well as the South? Baltimore is, after all, equidistant from Virginia and Pennsylvania, and you'll find fried chicken alongside scrapple on menus all over town—as well as pit beef, a specialty that unites both sides of the Mason-Dixon.
Nancy Longo, chef-owner at Pierpoint Restaurant & Bar in the harborfront neighborhood of Fell's Point, has been concerned with these kinds of questions about the city's culinary identity for the better part of her food-obsessed life. This lovably tough Baltimore native (picture Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon , all grown up) has fashioned a menu that ranges from Maryland to the Mediterranean to Asia, with fabulous-tasting updates of typical Baltimore dishes—like crab cakes made with unorthodox smoked crabmeat, and sublime crisp-fried oysters stacked atop fried red tomatoes and sprinkled with kernels of grilled Silver Queen corn.
We marvel at how little the food has changed since the 1940s and '50sOne sunny Sunday, Longo and I sit in her restaurant leafing through vintage Baltimore menus. Looking at those from a trio of the city's greats, we marvel at how little the food has changed since the 1940s and '50s—except, of course, for the prices: There's Maison Marconi, an elegant Baltimore institution that calls to mind Galatoire's in New Orleans, where you can still order the chicken à la king, sole florentine, and lobster cardinale (diced lobster in a mushroom-sherry cream sauce, served in the shell) that are listed on the 1947 menu—classy dishes that disclose rich sauces and gentle seasonings and leave you yearning for a manhattan and some sparkling conversation. There's Haussner's, maybe the most flamboyantly decorated restaurant in the history of the world. (I'm not joking: More than 500 paintings and dozens of sculptures adorn its interior. It's an acid-trip version of the Metropolitan Museum.) On its yellowed 1952 menu is the same Smithfield ham and crab "sauté" (actually broiled) that is pleasing diners today. And there's the Woman's Industrial Exchange tearoom, whose delicate offerings for the ladies-who-lunch set have barely changed a lick in 45 years—chicken salad and tomato aspic are standards—and a staff that hasn't changed much, either.
"You think you can leave this place," Aunt Eadie tells me, "but you can't, no matter how hard you try. I've tried before. But I keep on coming back." My aunt and I are scrambling for seats at that mother of all Baltimore food traditions: a backyard crab feast, held during the peak crab season of deep summer. The cast of characters at our event—25 in all—has altered somewhat from those in the snapshots in Aunt Eadie's battered family-photo album, but the food is identical: There's corn on the cob, corn pudding, coleslaw, crab soup, cucumber salad, sliced tomatoes, and, of course, great, freshly steamed stacks of crabs that we bought live earlier from one of the roadside vendors that stud Baltimore's landscape, especially in summer. There's loud conversation and even louder boasts about the prodigious number of crustaceans Uncle Pete consumed in one Roman-style crab orgy back in '55. Here at this meal, old ghosts dance around every picnic table and memories are always guests of honor.
Deep in the throes of the feast, I turn to my aunt. She is teaching an old friend, a steamed-crab virgin down from New York, her crab-eating protocol: "Nooooo, Darrell, don't do it like that—don't crush!" she scolds. He blushes. I smile. The spices burn my lips like someone's set flame to them. But no matter: I stuff my face as if I'd been fasting for days. In just a few weeks, crab season will be over. In the meantime, I have Baltimore coursing through my veins.
See more recipes from Baltimore »
Learn how to pick a crab »
Károlyi Mihály u. 9.
Carolyn Banfalvi is the author of Food Wine Budapest (Little Bookroom, 2008).
See the recipe for Spaghettata di Mezzanotte »
See the recipe for Broccoli Rabe, Cannellini Bean and Ricotta Crostini »
See the recipe for Tricolore Salad with Grapefruit Saba Vinaigrette »
Dana Bowen is the executive editor of Every Day with Rachel Ray.
In Puebla I had my first truly great michelada. I watched with anticipation as the young girl making it took a gargantuan styrofoam cup and dipped it into what looked like a small pool of blood (it was actually a tamarind glaze that only looked like blood and tasted like spicy-sweet candy). She then spooned powdered beef bouillon and several dashes of umami-rich Maggi seasoning sauce into the bottom along with hot sauce and chile powder for heat and tomato juice for balancing acidity and sweetness. She filled the cup with ice and topped it with a frosty 32 oz bottle of Victoria lager. The concoction was tangy and spicy and hit all the right notes of refreshment and savoriness.
Now, when I make micheladas at home, I take cues from the bartender in Puebla: I add small spoonfuls of chicken bouillon and Lawry’s seasoned salt into the bottom of a shaker pint with a few dashes of Maggi and about twice as much hot sauce. I squeeze in plenty of lime juice along with a shot glass or two of Clamato. I fill the cup with ice, top it off with beer, and give it all a steady whirl with a bar spoon.
From this basic formula, the possibilities are endlessI’ve experimented enough with the recipe to come to the conclusion that most of the ingredients are interchangeable or outright omissible—you can substitute soy or Worchestershire sauce for the Maggi, for example, or leave out the bouillon altogether if you don’t have any on hand. The choice of hot sauce is important—lately I’ve favored the Mexican brand Valentina because it’s savory, well-rounded, and available at my local bodega. I wouldn't scoff at adding Spicy V8 or store-bought Bloody Mary mix to a michelada, but the briny, tangy funk of Clamato brings the drink to the next level.
When it comes to beer, golden Mexican pilsners like Victoria and Tecate seem to be the go-to for most people, Mexicans and Americans alike, and they work well enough. Personally, especially when paired with clamato instead of tomato juice, I prefer something darker such as Negra Modelo—its roasty malts add a pleasant depth of flavor to the drink.
I've also experimented with nontraditional beer styles, too. For a smoky rendition, I've used a smoked lager like Aecht Schlenkerla from Germany or Jack’s Abby's Smoke & Dagger from Massachusetts; the smoked beer’s smoldering campfire-essence complements Mexican snack foods such as grilled carne asada tacos and charred elote perfectly. I've also dabbled with IPAs for a bright, floral michelada. West Coast-style standbys like Bell’s Two Hearted or Lagunitas IPA work best and are assertive enough to impart distinct citrus and tropical fruit notes. The bitterness of the hops amplifies the cocktail’s spicy components which, depending on your spice tolerance, may or may not be a good thing.
If you find this all too fussy, consider a simpler michelada like the one I had recently at Café Central, a bohemian night club in Oaxaca City. There, they simplify and streamline the process into four easy steps: Crack open an ice-cold can of Tecate, slick the rim with lime juice, dust it with salt and chile powder, and serve.
In the AreaBeyond the travel trinkets, magnets, and the like emblazoned with ACK, the island's federal aviation airport code, most of the treasures you’ll find are made locally by residents. Nantucket Looms is a shop founded in 1968 as a weaving studio. It offers classes and sells baskets, blankets, and other textiles. Purchase a rattan and wooden lightship basket made by second generation weaver Michael Kane from his gallery. An early 19th century tradition learned from the native Wampanoag tribe, some baskets are also adorned with scrimshaw, engraved ivory pieces. Nantucket Looms; 51 Main Street;
Michael Kane Baskets; 18A Sparks Avenue.
Purchase handmade stationary and cards at Parchment with a purely Nantucket charm. Many visitors who decide to wed on island come here for locally engraved invitations.Parchment; 11 Washington Street.
Visit Sweet Inspiration to purchase the famed chocolate covered cranberries, “Coco” the whale truffles, Nantucket chocolate scallop shells and many more island inspired treats.Nantucket Chocolate; 26 Centre Street.
See the recipe for Makhlama Lahm (Iraqi Eggs with Lamb and Tomatoes) »
Korovka, $5.99 for a 1-pound bag at Amazon.com
The bar at Sweetwaters on the River, its lovable restaurant, has been offering throwback cocktails for the Inn's 40th anniversary—not speakeasy-style pre-Prohibition drinks, but rather, the type of cocktail that Warren Beatty might have sipped when he was getting with the ladies in 1975's Shampoo: a vodka and orange juice Harvey Wallbanger with a proper Galliano float; a sloe gin fizz; a creamy, almond-flavored pink squirrel.
Dinner is pure Northwest coast comfort food. In other words, I could have bathed in the potted Dungeness crab, goat cheese, and marscapone fondue. And my linguine was tossed with a gratifying abundance of fresh clams, along with garlic and leeks, Roma tomatoes, and shreds of asiago cheese. I loved it.
Another lovable thing about a stay at the Valley River Inn, though, is the service. The staff makes you happy because they themselves are happy—so happy, in fact, that they seem to stay on forever. The chef, bartender, and much of the waitstaff have been at their craft here for decades, and nothing feels stale. That’s testimony enough to the enduring charm of the place.
Out back, the Klamath River rolls along. The Inn will hook you up with a fishing guide if you want to catch one its muscular steelhead salmon, or a paddling or rafting trip, or you can just take a stroll or jog, or borrow a bicycle from the Inn and peddle, down the riverside path. You might just see a bald eagle diving into the water for its dinner. —Betsy Andrews
In the Area
Wine Tasting: Oregon’s Williamette Valley is a premiere winegrowing region, known for its bright pinot noirs. The hotel can hook you up with a VIP wine package that includes vouchers and transportation so you can go tasting at local vineyards during your stay.
Oakshire Brewing; 1055 Madera Street, Eugene, OR 97402; 541/688-4555.
Hop Valley Brewing; 990 W 1st Street Eugene, Oregon 97402; 541/485-2337.
Whitewater Rafting: Adrenaline junkies can hook up with Oregon Whitewater Adventures and careen down the rapids on one of the many local rivers. Oregon Whitewater Adventures; 541/746-5422.
2. Lay 1 pandan leaf with stem side facing upward on a work surface; place 1 piece of chicken over center of leaf and tie leaf in a knot. Wrap loose ends of leaf around chicken, flipping package; tie another knot, encasing chicken, and trim ends. Arrange chicken packages in a single layer on a 10" pie plate. Boil 1" water in a 14" flat-bottom wok fitted with an 11" bamboo steamer. Place plate with chicken packages in steamer base and cover; steam until almost cooked through, 10–12 minutes.
3. Heat 2" oil in a 6-qt. saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Working in batches, fry chicken packages until cooked through, 1–2 minutes; drain on paper towels. Unwrap and serve with reserved sauce.
If you rise early enough in Los Angeles, you will often find a chill in the air and sometimes even a blanket of fog. At this hour at the Hotel Bel-Air, a smoky blue dawn embraces the estate's palm trees and bougainvillea vines, dewdrops glisten like gems on the chaise lounges, birds dart in and out of patches of mist. Wrapped in a plush throw on my terrace, I cuddle up to a room service breakfast served to me by a dapper waiter named Felix, who pours strong French press coffee as if he were performing a ballet move. Brioche French toast is nothing new, but this one is ravishing, kissed with vanilla and dressed to the nines in a blueberry compote. In between bites, I nosh on strips of house-smoked salmon and pieces of perfectly ripe fruit. From a basket of pastries I pluck a pain au chocolat: not skimpy on the chocolate and intensely buttery. The reflection of the rising sun shines from the window of some movie star's mansion across the canyon. I pour a second cup of coffee, trying to imitate the finesse of Felix, and sit back to take in the view, reveling in how completely decadent it is to be up so early and to feel so glamorous.
Sara Kate Gillingham is the founder of thekitchn.com
FACT:In 1893, the Waldorf Hotel in New York City became the first hotel in the world to offer room service, an amenity that attracted A-listers from inventor Nikola Tesla to gangster Bugsy Siegel.
The soil on the Swedish island of Oland, off the mainland's southeastern coast in the Baltic Sea, has special powers. So says my gardener friend Asa Johanson, who lives here. “Anything you plant just explodes!” she exclaims, holding up an intensely green and purple kohlrabi that looks like a starburst, its root boasting a crown of thick leaves that radiate in all directions. It's an early June morning, and we are gathering vegetables for a lunchtime feast to commemorate Midsummer, a national holiday as important to us Swedes as Independence Day is to Americans, though its roots go much further back.
While Midsummer was traditionally celebrated on the summer solstice, it now takes place anywhere between June 20 and June 25. As far as traditions go, ambition levels vary. Some Swedes just head to a bar, attend a car race with hotted-up Volvos, or grab a few six-packs and a patch of grass to gather with friends. Others host extravagant parties featuring regional folk dresses, vast smorgasbords, and live music that go on for days.
For this year's Midsummer celebration, I made the five-hour drive from Stockholm to Oland with a friend, Anna Olsson, to meet up with Asa, who's working as a gardener at Capellagården, a crafts school in the island's village of Vickleby. Friends of Asa's from the island will join us too, forming a group of a dozen or so revelers. The school, a renovated farmhouse that usually sits empty for several weeks over the summer, will be the site of our party.
By the time Asa and I return from the garden, it's eight in the morning. The sun has been up for five hours, and our friends are convening in the farmhouse's spacious kitchen. Though it's early, we are all excited and ready to cook. Asa and I put our haul on the counter: bouquets of fresh mint, sage, thyme, marjoram and basil, fennel, and a half-dozen duck eggs, their colors ranging from warm brown to bone white.
Anna, who has the curious distinction of being both a naval officer and a pastry chef, fires up a gas stove to boil a battalion's worth of new potatoes with sprigs of dill, while Nina Stenby, a textile artist who, along with her husband, Pelle Lundberg, runs a bed and breakfast in the village, prepares a traditional golden-colored Västerbotten cheese pie. As she pulls it from the oven, its steaming cream-and-egg-enriched filling framed by a browned, buttery crust, the kitchen is filled with a bewitching, nutty aroma. Meanwhile, Pelle, in deference to the vegetarians in our midst, does up a lively lentil salad tossed with cherry tomatoes he's sautéed in butter and olive oil with shallots, rosemary, and thyme until they nearly burst. Pelle has already stoked the school's woodburning pizza oven to make a rough country bread. And while Anna tackles the duck eggs, boiling, chopping, and drenching them in browned butter, Asa focuses on her produce, composing an enormous salad of lettuce, raw asparagus, and sunflower seeds that she decorates with flowers before dressing it with olive oil and pepper.
As everyone else is occupied with the cooking, I decide to make some aquavit, Sweden's most beloved libation. I pour vodka into bottles packed with aromatics—lemon verbena, dill, fennel, and lemon peel—and place them in the refrigerator to chill. I know that in a few days the spirit will be wonderfully infused with their flavors.
Since it is virtually unthinkable to undertake a traditional Midsummer feast without fish—the bedrock of Swedish cuisine—we have plates and plates of it. There is gravadlax, salmon cured with salt, sugar, white pepper, and dill, which Pelle skillfully cuts into long translucent ribbons. We also have smoked flounder and innumerable variations on pickled herring, some matured for months with cinnamon, allspice, sandalwood, and sugar, others quick-pickled in white vinegar, sugar, and salt. Looking over our spread, I am reminded of something British food critic A.A. Gill once wrote: “If you think Swedish women are spectacular, wait till you see the fish!”
At 11 a.m. we start setting the huge communal table, which we've assembled from several slightly warped and tarnished folding garden stands and have arranged under a great ailanthus tree in the field behind the farmhouse. But no sooner do we get the first place setting down than the sky suddenly darkens and it starts to rain. There's thunder in the distance, so we scurry to move the feast indoors. Soon we're set up in the sedate dining room at Capellagården. But as we start to bring the food out from the kitchen, the sky clears up. And so we move back outside, set our table, fill our glasses with aquavit, and toast the sun with a resounding “Skål!” (Cheers!)
Moments later plates are being passed at a pace that's almost comically frenetic. There are grilled lamb sausages from the village; buttercup yellow wedges of sharp Västerbotten cheese; pillowy slices of the fantastic filmjölkslimpa, a rustic whole wheat bread that's dense with nuts and seeds made by Pelle this morning, now spread with fresh sweet butter. And, of course, there's a basket of knäckebröd, rye crispbreads with an addictive crunch. I take great pleasure in piling my plate high with spiced pickled herring drenched in a sweet and sour brine loaded with fresh chopped chives and red onions. It's my favorite thing on the table, though it faces stiff competition from the mustard herring and horseradish herring, both of which I mound atop the crispbreads. Pelle soon proposes a toast, and instinctively everyone tunes up to sing:
Sjung hopp faderallan lallan lej
Sjung hopp faderallan lej
Och den som inte helan tar
Han heller inte halvan får
Sjung hopp faderallan lej
Here's the first
Sing hop fol-de-rol lalen ley
Here's the first
Sing hop fol-de-rol lalen ley
He who doesn't drink the first
Shall never, ever quench his thirst
Here's the first
Sing hop fol-de-rol lalen ley
It's the most popular drinking song in the country. At the penultimate verse, everybody raises a glass, makes eye contact with as many people as possible, downs his or her drink, and pours another round while continuing to sing. Between gulps and verses, I savor the combination of the buttery duck eggs with the silky gravadlax, the creamy cheese pie, and the zesty herb-packed salads. I chase down the herrings and salmon with shots of both the herbaceous citron-laced aquavit and a drink made from sloe berries picked by Asa and her mother last fall in this very spot. I steeped those berries in vodka for three months in my pantry back in Stockholm, and now their plumlike flavor and dark red color suffuses the drink.
Though it feels as if we could eat all afternoon, at 3 p.m. we take a break to clear the table and head into town to participate in another time-honored Midsummer activity, which takes place on a grassy field. Here we join a few hundred other merrymakers for the raising of the majstång, a tall pole festooned with greenery and flowers. Armed with a picnic basket filled with coffee and pastries, I watch as children dance and play games around the pole, helping myself to creamy spoonfuls of Asa's cheesecake topped with mint, strawberries, and clouds of whipped cream.
Part of the pleasure of Midsummer is the seemingly endless hours of sunlight, which afford us ample time for yet a second epic meal. While lunch was a traditional smorgasbord of classic Swedish dishes, dinner is a far more casual affair. Back at the farmhouse, we head outside and fire up a woodburning grill.
As we place logs onto the fire, we are surprised to hear the sounds of men laughing and shouting in the distance. Suddenly Pelle and some of his friends come around the corner of the house struggling to move a stand-up piano on a pushcart, wobbling considerably on the uneven terrain. “Let's put it on the lawn!” Pelle says excitedly, waving his arms to direct his crew. After some loud discussion and heavy lifting, the piano is in place, a green herb garden providing a perfect backdrop.
Some of us gather around the piano as Pelle's friend Chester Elmroth starts playing a series of jazzy standards. Others huddle by the glowing coals of the grill, lured by the scent of roasting lamb blanketed in fresh herbs, pork sausages, and the makings of a grilled salad: asparagus, kohlrabi stems, and quartered eggplants, all slathered in olive oil. Once they come off the grill, we toss them with boiled buttered beets and lemon-juice-soaked fennel.
Again we set the table, taking our time, as there are still many hours of daylight (and, we hope, clear skies) left. Finally, the meats come off the grill, and we sit down to clink glasses once more. The lamb is juicy and tender, with a crust of caramelized herbs, and the grilled salad is wonderfully warm and smoky. An ad-hoc composition of leftovers from the luncheon is a welcome dish, with its mash-up of new potatoes, dill, and chopped, blanched kohlrabi, all bathed in melted butter. When I start to flag, I seek the snap of fresh vegetables; the mizuna and radishes Asa and I harvested this morning make up a pleasingly bitter salad that reawakens my appetite. After a while, the table disperses, and a few of us climb up on the roof of Capellagården to finish dinner while watching the sun go down over Sweden, munching on local cheese, homemade hard bread, and nuts and drinking wine until long after the sun has set.
That sun is high in the sky by the time I roll out of bed the next morning, my head as foggy as one would expect after such a day of revelry. Still, there are things to do today, things I am determined not to miss. Just a short walk from Vickleby is a vast limestone plain known as the Great Alvaret. I convince my friends to head there; it's the perfect place to recuperate.
We arrive just before noon to find a serene landscape of grass, flowers, and low bushes waving slowly in the wind. It's painfully beautiful and—considering our collective condition—mercifully quiet, apart from the calming birdsong. We're lucky, too. We've come here on one of the few days when you can witness the short flowering of dropwort, which coats the plains in milky white.
Asa, Anna, Nina, and I have brought along the perfect Oland picnic brunch: kroppkakor, a local specialty of fortifying dumplings made with potato, flour, bacon, onion, and spices. We enjoy them in the customary way, with sour cream, to boost the richness, and lingonberries, which provide refreshing acidity and sweetness. Pelle suddenly turns up on his Brompton folding bicycle, eager to get his share of kroppkakor, too. Maria, a friend of Asa's who lives nearby, arrives with two horses, offering us all a chance to go riding on her young Irish Tinker horse.
I decide to stay put, stretching out on a blanket for a much-needed afternoon nap. Far in the distance I can see a line of cows moving slowly along the horizon. As my eyelids begin to droop, I try not to think about the long drive back to Stockholm or the steadily shortening days that lie ahead. Instead I savor the sense of ease and contentment I feel—the feeling of Midsummer.
See scenes from Per's Swedish Midsummer celebration »
Learn how to make aquavit »
See a travel guide for celebrating Midsummer in Sweden »
2. Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 3-qt. oval baking dish; set aside. Pulse remaining sugar and the almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Add cottage cheese, cream, milk, flour, and eggs; purée until smooth and pour into prepared dish. Bake until browned and slightly puffed, 45 minutes to an hour. Let cool slightly and dust with confectioners' sugar; serve with the strawberries and whipped cream.
The Pandanaceae family is a large one, its members ranging from small shrubs to huge trees. But the aromatic Pandanus amaryllifolius, native to Southeast Asia, is the only species whose leaves are used for cooking. Called pandan wangi, fragrant pandan, in Indonesia, the plant is essentially a giant clump of grass, with long sharp blades spiraling outward from a central stem (hence its other common name, screwpine). Because of their length—anywhere from two to seven feet—the blades are generally cut into segments or tied into knots to get them to a manageable size. They are also tough and fibrous to the point of being inedible, so they are used as a seasoning only.
Cooks throughout Southeast Asia have devised a panoply of techniques for harnessing pandan's full character. The leaves can be spread out as a bed for steamed items, cut and folded to make cups for small confections, or blanched and then wrapped and tied around various fillings to make boiled dumplings. In Mangalore in southwestern India, large pandan leaves are coiled into cylindrical molds, filled with a fermented rice and lentil dough, and steamed to make fluffy breads called moode, which bear the impression of the leaf fibers as well as their heady aroma. Thai cooks infuse egg custard batter with pandan's flavor by tying a few leaves into a tight knot, then submerging them in the mixture and repeatedly massaging the bundles by hand, bruising them until they release their oils.
As this range of preparations suggests, pandan is wonderfully adaptable; its flavor works equally well in both savory and sweet preparations. When using it for desserts, I'll pound the leaves to a pulp with a little water in a mortar and then wring out the viridian juice for two of my favorite Malay sweets. One of them is onde-onde, poached pandan-green rice flour dumplings with a shaggy coat of shredded coconut. Plump with a filling of melted palm sugar, they burst with a flowery sweetness when bitten.
The other is a beloved party treat from my boyhood: pandan chiffon cake. Tall and regal, it is a curious manifestation of America's culinary influence on my native country. In 1948, the U.S. magazine Better Homes and Gardens published a General Mills recipe for chiffon cake. Years later it made its way to Southeast Asia—most likely on boxes of imported cake flour—where it picked up a local flavor. By the 1970s, emerald green chiffon cake was all the rage from Indonesia to Singapore; it's just as popular today as it was 30 years ago. Most commercial versions of the cake are made with artificial pandan paste, a lurid Day-Glo green substance that bears as much resemblance to the real thing as cheap vanilla extract does to real vanilla bean. Shrill and cloying, it lacks the nuances of the fresh leaves. So when I bake pandan chiffon at home, I juice as many as 50 leaves to get a cake that, unlike the commercial versions, is naturally fragrant. It's one of my signature potluck dishes.
I also love using pandan to make the spicy, ruddy Malaysian dish ayam masak merah, chicken cooked in a tomato and chile gravy. I bruise a dozen leaves, then bundle and knot them before setting them to simmer in the sauce, where each bundle releases its oils. I always add extra leaves to the pot; their cool, sweet perfume tames the chiles' heat and softens the tomatoes' acidity. And a few leaves cut into three-inch pieces and added to a pot of plain rice imbue the grains with an exquisite flavor as it steams.
I've also found that wrapping foods with the leaves is one of the easiest ways to impart pandan's flavor. A Thai friend showed me how to make gai hor bai toey by bundling marinated chicken chunks in the plant's larger leaves, then steaming the parcels and deep-frying them. Each time I make it, I watch closely as the leaves start to brown in the hot oil, inhaling deeply as the sugary marinade caramelizes and pandan's flowery scent morphs into a woodsy nuttiness.
Though I've been cooking with it for decades, pandan still delivers surprises. On a recent afternoon, I was in my kitchen making kue bika ambon, a rich, eggy Indonesian cake prepared with coconut milk that's boiled with pandan leaves, lemongrass stalks, and kaffir lime leaves. By some mysterious synergy, the combined aromas of the finished dish conjured an extraordinarily vivid scent reminiscent of damask roses. I'd wager that a Parisian perfumer couldn't create anything better.
Read more about cooking with pandan leaves »