Five Friday Reads 27.03.2015

Atomium

  • How Britain got the hots for curry‘ from BBC News. Curry is an Indian food that’s quite popular in the UK, right? Wrong, it’s much more complicated than that.
  • How to make the perfect saag paneer‘ from The Guardian. Chana saag is probably my favorite dish, ever, but nearly impossible to make a truly crave-worthy version at home. I can’t wait to give this version a go, with or without the paneer.
  • The Forme of Cury‘ via Manchester University’s library. The Forme of Cury was a later fourteenth century cookbook commissioned by Richard II. Manchester University has digitized a selection from the book, making for a fascinating afternoon of browsing.
  • The Bean Doctor‘ from Orangette. Ever since reading about these creamy, simple beans on Orangette, I’ve been thinking about when I’ll be able to make myself a pot. I think I’ve found my new post-work staple.
  • Face of a Nation‘ from Monocle. From Hello Kitty to Doraemon, the Japanese are known for their cute and kooky mascots. Monocle takes an in-depth look at what, and who, makes these carton characters come to life.

A crayfish and rocket sandwich

Flickr via LuciAH

Chewy, crunchy, creamy: the rocket and crayfish sandwich mixes divergent tastes and textures better than any other bread-based meal. With squishy whole grain bread, toothsome crayfish, crunchy rocket and just a hint of creamy mayonnaise, the sandwich is an archetype of less-is-more simplicity. There’s a reason that this combo has become a classic grab-and-go lunch in England and abroad.

But, lo, the pitfalls! Add too much mayo and the sandwich disintegrates in your hands. Throw in so-called fun spices and you lunch on a wannabe crab cake. Too much rocket, too many crayfish: the sandwich falls apart.

Here’s how we’ll do it: grab your bread, ideally a whole grain with plenty of give. This isn’t the moment for your toothsome, crackly country loaf. Take a moderate amount of mayo, a teaspoon will suffice, and spread it evenly over the slices. Gently chop your rocket, layer it on one side and scatter the crayfish over the other. Close it up, cut it in an attractive diagonal half. Eat. Done.

Friday Five 20.03.15

Behind the Grand Place

  • Where Did Curry Come From?‘ from Slate. A spicy creamy curry is generally considered Indian, or possibly Thai. But it turns out that the dish’s roots may pre-date its appearance in either country.
  • Chocolate Experts Hate Mast Brothers‘ from Slate. If you’ve ever tried a beautifully wrapped chocolate from Brooklyn’s favorite chocolatiers, you’ll know the flavor can be a bit of a shock. But is it the mark of quality? Industry experts weight in.
  • How Cereal Became the Quintessential American Breakfast‘ from Serious Eats. Cereal might be the picture of a routine weekday breakfast, but it wasn’t always. This article traces cereal’s evolution from health food and sugar-packed energy bomb to its current battle to remain relevant admist changing dietary concerns.
  • Extreme cod feasting — as only the Norwegians know how‘ from The Guardian. Before oil, the Norwegians made a name for themselves as cod fishers. Turns out that the fish might be the secret to their healthy lifestyle and good demeanor.
  • Inking Ahead — Tokyo’ from Monocle. The Japanese are well known for being stationary nuts. Here’s an inside look into how they’ve keep tradition alive and produce astounding innovative pencils and pens.

How to Enjoy Delicious Danish Øllebrød at Home

Homemade øllebrød

Soaked scraps of dried rye bread boiled to mush. Smooth, sour porridge topped with thick skyr or frothy æggesnaps (creamed egg yolks). Meet øllebrød: meaning ‘beer bread’ in Danish, a more accurate translation would be ‘weirdly delicious porridge’. This is oatmeal, lost to the dark Danish winter. This is food, not an art piece designed to garner social media likes. But don’t fault øllebrød for its humble appearance. After one spoonful, you’ll realise anyone can succumb to øllebrød’s spell of nostalgia, Scandinavian heritage not required.

Øllebrød, pronounced ooh-le-brooht, was a staple dish for Medieval Danes, though nowadays kids are more likely to eat it for breakfast on chilly winter mornings. The meal’s origins remain shrouded in mystery. Some believe monks invented the dish, dipping old rye bread into beer to soften the dried out scraps. The next morning, they’d heat up the crumb filled liquid and savour the resulting porridge for breakfast. Others trace øllebrød to the peasant home. Bread husks were dropped into a bubbling pot, warm beer added and the whole thing simmered. People would serve themselves periodically throughout the day when hunger stuck. Regardless of its origins, rye bread porridge has been mythologized in Danish culture and now serves as a routine reminder of the individual’s place in the nation’s history and culture.

Despite the dish’s unknown birthplace, the recipe has ostensibly withstood change. To prepare, you boil some stale rugbrød — dense Danish rye bread — and add beer — usually hvidtøl, a low alcohol brew (many modern versions omit this). Then, cook the mixture until it forms in a spoonable, mushy paste. Today’s palates might enjoy topping it with a dusting of sugar or a luxurious dollop of something cold and creamy. While øllebrød is unique to Denmark, other Northern countries serve up similar rye based dishes. Finns enjoy mämmi, a dessert sweetened with sorghum and flavoured with orange rind. Mämmi is most commonly served at Easter, while øllebrød is eaten for breakfast throughout the year. Given its cultural specificity, øllebrød serves as a way for Danes to assert their storied cultural identity on a daily basis.

 

Rugbrød

 

As Korean parents induct toddlers into the world of kimchi, Danish adults usher children through the cultural rite of rye bread porridge. And, like marmite divides the British public, rye bread porridge cleaves Danish opinions: you love it or you hate it. Memories help Danes acquire a taste for øllebrød. Danish bloggers recall eating a steaming bowl as a special wintertime treat when visiting grandparents or as an indulgent breakfast to steel them against the cold. With the assertive tang of sourdough rye, liking øllebrød is easier for those reared with an appreciation for strong, sour flavours.[1]

The breakfast has endured rollercoaster fortunes: popular in the Middle Ages through to the early twentieth-century, forgotten for most of the twentieth century, and newly popular in the twenty-first. A focus on rye’s health benefits and Scandinavia’s rise as an epicentre of cool have pushed this stick-to-your-ribs breakfast into the spotlight in Denmark and beyond. Øllebrød is everywhere. It is on Pinterest. It is on Instagram. Craving øllebrød but don’t have any rye bread? Try instant porridge flakes, available at your local Irma supermarket! From Copenhagen to New York, the porridge graces restaurant menus, appearing as an ice cream-laden dessert at New York’s Acme and as a hip breakfast at Copenhagen’s Grød. Bloggers embrace the porridge, citing the foodie film Babette’s Feast in which some Danish girls teach French Babette to prepare øllebrød. What was once a Danish taste has now gone global: Nordic-philes around the world masquerade as Danish children as they revel in the rustic joy of eating mushy boiled bread.

Ready to eat? Good. Here’s a simplified version — sans beer — that cooks up quickly in the morning. This isn’t your super authentic recipe. This is your adapted, non-Danish kitchen recipe (want the real deal? Try this recipe and this one). My version was tested using both Finnish-style Ruis bread —softer than rugbrød and unseeded — and a Danish-style rye bread from Bread’s Bakery in New York. Enjoy!

Quick Øllebrød — serves 1

100 grams rye bread

200 ml water

Pinch of salt

Yogurt, almonds, raisins to top

Crumble rye bread in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, reduce to a steady simmer and cook for approximately ten to fifteen minutes. Stir intermittently. When the bread has completely broken down, it can be taken off the heat. Cook until it reaches the consistency you’d like (somewhere between runny and oatmeal-dense is a good start).

[1] Other strong, sour flavours popular in Denmark include: pickled herring, liquorice, currants.

Five Friday Reads 13.03.2015

Kamppi in Helsinki

  • Crisis in Korea as younger generation abandons kimchi‘ from The Guardian. Although kimjang, the communal act of making kimchi, was recently put on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list, Koreans import most of their beloved fermented cabbage from China, leading kimchi purists to fear for the product’s future.
  • How to Make Incredibly Simple, Incredibly Delicious Pasta e Fagioli‘ from Serious Eats. Daniel hits the nail on the head in describing Italian food: there are a billion variations, so why not try a simple version.
  • 7 Cultural concepts we don’t have in the U.S.’ from Mother Nature Network. From Danish hygge to Japanese wabi sabi, this article presents 7 fascinating cultural concepts that demonstrate the wonderful mutability of culture.
  • The Seven-Minute Egg‘ from Saveur. An entire article about soft-boiling an egg for seven minutes? In Molly Wizenberg’s capable hands, an article about boiling an egg for seven minutes is easily one of the most insightful articles you’ll read this week.
  • ‘Being René Redzepi’ from Oak: The Nordic Journal. Sure, we’ve all heard about Redzepi, Noma and his penchant for serving foraged dishes, but here’s a look at what it’s like a regular day is like running number one restaurant in the world.

How to Snowshoe for Beginners

Snowshoes

 

Go snowshoeing! All you need is a pair of shoes and the ability to walk!! This appeal reverberates throughout snowshoe literature, but — in my experience — a successful expedition requires more. You’ll need warm clothes and, if you’re the whinging sort, waterproof pants. You’ll want insulated gloves, a backpack, some water and trail mix, not to mention a pack of disposable hand warmers. Although snowshoeing may have once been a question of strapping on flotation-friendly shoes and walking across deep drifts, modern sensibilities have complicated the sport, evidencing a shift in how contemporary society moves.

Neither heroic age explorers nor intrepid mountaineers sparked my snowshoeing mania. Nancy Drew launched my desire to crunch over the white stuff. I was twelve, playing White Wolf of Icicle Creek. I sent the game gratuitously crunch-crunching over simulated snow in my artificial shoes. Even though snowshoeing starred in my winter reveries for years before I strapped actual metal frames onto my real-life boots, those dreams opened me to the sport’s unique pace and beauty.

As ice skating began as a way to converse energy in frigid Northern Europe, snowshoeing sprung out of necessity. Snowshoes helped those living in cold regions reduce the effort needed to cross areas blanketed in snow. Unfortunately, since early snowshoes were composed of wood, clues to the shoes’ origins have dissolved along with the snow they traversed. We may be momentarily sated by British archaeologist, Jacqui Wood’s assertion that Ötzi, a remarkably preserved corpse found near Bolzano in Northern Italy, died wearing his snowshoes. In the absence of a distinct origin, the modern snowshoe-r may freely transpose their understanding of the sport onto its history.

Despite the uncertain provenance, researchers have charted the snowshoe’s development in relation to the terrain in which the shoes were found. Given the distinct appearances of snowshoes in North America and Europe, nomadic Central Asian tribes are thought to have invented the shoe, taking their gear with them as they dispersed. Thus, the unique snowshoes in Northern Europe, Canada and Eastern United States arose from a common ancestor. The variations we see were subsequent adaptations to suit each terrain’s unique challenges. In the North Eastern United States, Native Americans favoured Bear Paw shoes. These shoes were wide and circular, perfect for manoeuvring in densely wooded areas. Maine Native Americans preferred a longer style, aptly called the Maine snowshoe, that allowed the user to move quickly across large expanses. Within each region, various shoes would be interchanged throughout the season, depending on the specific snow conditions. Although the snowshoe’s origins are up for debate, the relationship between the snowshoe’s local use and environment marked, and continues to mark, the shoe’s development.

Trees on the trail

Modern snowshoes seem the natural progression in snowshoe’s evolution, responding to today’s multi-purpose manner of sport as previous models responded to topographic particularities. Gone are the regionally specific, artfully woven foot beds. Today we enjoy zippy aluminium frames with waterproof neoprene foot beds and tough steel crampons. A standard pair of snowshoes can transition from backcountry terrain to rolling hills, reflecting the varied approach the modern sportsperson craves. We aren’t static in our practice; we move between regions, shifting landscapes and lengthening our hikes. Although certain subcultures cry the superiority of the traditional snowshoe, these old models are better at generating romantic fantasy than navigating trails. The contemporary snowshoe’s ability to shift between various terrains and purposes reflects spontaneous modern movement as the North Eastern Bear Paw or Maine-style shoe once mirrored local culture.

None of this was on my mind as I set out on that first nerve-fuelled snowshoe hike. After driving the six-hours from Brooklyn’s cement-grey to the Adirondacks’ snow dusted peaks, my legs itched to escape into the enticingly unblemished powder. But what was once routine for the region’s Iroquois population was, for me, an endeavour.[1] Shivering in the mountain chill, I hurried into my sweater, zipped up my vest, yanked on my socks and laced up my boots. With ceremonial pomp, I threw my backpack over my down-coated shoulders. Now came the rite of the first snowshoe fastening. Although these preparations might seem hopelessly modern — as distant from the Iroquois’ daily snowshoe jaunt as my subway commute — the process helped my speedy twenty-first century mind relate to the simple pastime.

If elaborate skis exemplify complicated contemporary winter sports, snowshoes are the no-frills throwback. Forget the instructor strapping on your skis, your own trembling hands can put on snowshoes. And forget skis punishing your curiosity as you stand up; snowshoes won’t slide in separate directions like wooden sticks will. I stood up, took a tentative first step, and felt the tight grip I had against the snow. One step became two and five the snowshoe’s steel crampons continued to support me. The shoe’s back remained loose like a flip-flop.[2] When I reached a slightly slick surface, the metal grips protected me from plummeting down. No matter your hiking style, there’s a snowshoe to support you. There are light shoes for running; mid-sized shoes for hiking on groomed trails; and large shoes for venturing into the backcountry. But I didn’t worry about the best shoe. I just fastened my rental shoes, handed to me without mention of a size, and began to stomp atop the snow.

Forget wobbling around on ice skates for years, snowshoeing is an instant gratification sport. But even instant gratification necessitates a revised outlook. For the flat hike, snowshoeing requires adapting your gait for a wider-than-normal base and adjusting your expectation from a brisk walk to a contented clomp. You walk and you wander and, if you arrive at a hill — steep or shallow — you pause momentarily taken aback by the incline. Look down at your feet and appreciate the ample base grounding you. Approach the incline at a slight angle then walk. Aha! The metal grabs earth and you enjoy a solidity no normal shoe could possess. Adjust your posture, maybe move forward a bit to prevent yourself from tumbling back. Poles might be helpful, but they aren’t necessary. Because, with a little focus, you’ll realise you’ve conquered your mini summit and are ambling to the pleasant rhythm of snowshoes thwacking against icy trails.

Like anything that excites people, snowshoe literature presents manifold techniques and competitions for zealous athletes. Magazines articles describe the fervid sub cultures that only snowshoe using traditional wooden shoes, the kind that decorate every serious lodge’s fireplace. Blogs profile the athletes petitioning to earn Olympic recognition for the sport. But you can abandon your competitive streak at the lodge, along with the ornamental snowshoeing gear. Meandering through the pristine terrain means wandering away from the present. Spotless trails offer a glimpse into what snow would look like if cars and foot traffic didn’t blacken it immediately. Routine concerns dissolve; just navigate from point A to point B without becoming a galumphing wet mess. Only now, if you do slip into soppy misery, there’s a warm room and a cup of hot cocoa waiting for you.

Light through trees

Whereas the production of superlative snowshoes was once an art, the modern preoccupation seems to concern techniques for a first-class expedition. This discussion displaced the location of art in snowshoeing. Before the industrialisation of snowshoe production, snowshoe making was a prized craft and way to interact with spiritual forces, in addition to being an essential survival skill. Although some traditional snowshoe craftspeople still exist, large companies manufacture the majority of footwear traversing the trails. We can personalise our hike by selecting from among a rainbow of colours and different frames. This consumerism bears no resemblance to art. But a peaceful walk through the wood does. When the discussion of gait and proper shoe disappear, we’re left with the same terrain the snowshoe-ers of yesteryear crossed. We may experience the journey differently — following packed trails bears little resemblance to marking freshly fallen powder — but the basic elements remain. As Native Americans remained mobile through harsh winters, so can our identities shift on a snowshoe expedition.

The trail’s peaceful atmosphere and clean landscape immediately enveloped me, but it was the calming rhythm of walking through snow that seduced me. Is this how Native Americans felt as they traipsed to their destination? What was it like when populations required snowshoes? These thoughts danced into my mind, then fluttered out as I admired a small, snow cloaked tree or listened to the sound of water running under a frozen over lake. Sometimes a song would pop into my head, disappearing when I arrived at the more absorbing rhythm of water flowing under a frozen stream. The sun filtered down through the trees, illuminating the snow with a gentle glimmer. A frigid winter breeze occasionally whipped through, but the consistent movement promptly warmed you. I imagine Native Americans felt similarly.

Snowshoeing shouldn’t be considered a niche sport: it is everywhere. It allows you to encounter the past and engage with your present. It can be a serious, Olympic-minded endeavour or a fun afternoon activity. It helped shape continents and cultures. Snowshoeing is modern and antiquated, and all the more exciting because it exists within this tension.

[1] It should be noted that neither the Iroquois nor the Algonquin, the Native American tries settled in New York, settled in the region. Instead, the used the mountains for warfare.

[2] This is not true of all snowshoes. Some strap to the rear of your foot as well, reducing the snow spray with each step, making it less likely you’ll need gaiters to keep snow out of your boots.

Five Friday Reads 06.03.2015

Spot the Moomins!

  • This Arctic Seed Vault Could Save Our Food Future‘ from Munchies. I’m not usually a fan of Vice Munchies’ pop take on food, but this is probably the best look at the Svalbard seed vault you’re going to get. And if it has the word Svalbard in it, I’m clicking.
  • Danish Porridge‘ from Prospect Magazine. British ex-pat Sally Laird explores how Danish hospitals integrate their patients into the local community through practice and, yes, through food.
  • My Saga, part one‘ from New York Times Magazine. Yes, Knausgaard wrote a long article for the New York Times Magazine. But his refreshingly mundane outlook on North America, and interesting relationship with Viking history, make the lengthy article worthy of your morning commute.
  • Scientists have figured out what makes Indian food so delicious‘ from Washington Post. Despite the article’s slightly misplaced mathematical stance, it argues that Indian food is so unique in using lots of different flavors without overlapping profiles. Interesting to think about next time you enjoy some chana saag!
  • The Magical Realism of Norwegian Nights‘ from The New York Times. What’s it like to live in Norway’s far North in winter? A permanent twilight, a gentle fog.