Travel


My first meal in Denmark was Oksekødsuppe — “beef soup” — which the locals tell me is a typical Danish meal.

After a planes trains and automobiles type of voyage, I arrive at the home (and church) of my friend, the priest. He is celebrating his 50th with family and 130 of his best friends. He lives in Nykøbing Falster. This small Danish town is not called nigh-oh-bing fall-stir. It sounds more like New-kuhrbin fahstahr. To my ear, the Danish language sounds, well, like mumbling. I mean no offense. I love this country and its people.

I arrived in Denmark exhausted/jet-lagged and frankly a little traumatized after my train ride from the C’hagen Airport. I had an “open” ticket rather than a reserved seat. After getting bumped by German families, old ladies and a Turkish traveler because (by hand motions alone I realized) I was sitting in their seats, I gave up and stood for the 90-minute ride.

There was one disconcerting moment on the train when I tried to buy a bottle of water. The vendor told me she couldn’t make change for my 50 kroner bill. I was so frustrated — and, yes, angry at that point, I snarled, you mean you have NO MONEY. She jangled an envelope of euro coins and said “yes, I have euros. This is a GERMAN train.” Oh great!!!! I’m on the wrong flipping’ train. That once happened to me. Years ago, I found myself sitting on a train in Denmark, taking in the green pastures, when I realized I was the only person in the car. The conductor explained I had missed my stop. I was going the wrong direction. So — fade to black/fade up — here I am in 2013 with my 50 Kroner unchangeable bill on a German train. I was admittedly a little. Freaked! Out! But I made it. Just in time for a shower and soup.

My friend’s home was filled with the delicious smell of the Oksekødsuppe. What’s that, I asked — it smells downright celestial. Seemed the proper thing to say to a priest.

When the soup came to the table, it was this delightfully delicious melange of beef broth and leeks, carrots, little cubes of something called pastinakker (pretty sure it was parsnip, although before cubed — it was immense). Then kødboller: tiny little meatballs (likely veal) and melboller — small oblongs of dough the size and shape of garlic cloves — which I mistook them to be. Of course, the meal was preceded by the commensurate gin & tonic (there WERE some English priests in attendance after all).

All to the tune of the conversation most animated and entertaining to watch. I could understand the visiting Brits of course – but the Danes. Well, that’s another matter. I understood not a whit but they seemed to be a happy family by the look of it.

All in all — it was a comforting and reassuring way to begin this adventure.

Velbekomme!

I’m making one of those trips to Europe that, though exotic by no means, is not run-of-the-mill: Denmark for a friend’s 50th then to Berlin with a couple of priests.

I am entering Scandinavia this time through Stockholm. I feel like I’ve stepped into a Stieg Larsson trilogy. At least in regards to how people look. And the landscape as seen from the plane was downright dragon-tattooesque. Of course, airports are rarely in the best parts of their countries so this is unlikely “typical” Sweden.

Food booths are trumpeted in English here at the Arlanda airport for the most part. A Starbucks, of course. How depressing is that — you can get burnt roast coffee with badly expressed espresso anywhere in the world! God. I’d be more accepting of McDonald’s — which offers something unique. Getting mediocre Americanized continental-style coffee in cultures with their own brew seems veritably sacrilegious. (My deepest apologies to my Pac NW friends). All the Starbucks offerings were labeled in English — although instead of Poland Spring, they were hawking Ramlosa. But, as usual, I digress.

While transferring planes in Stockholm, some quick observances. Some people — I think SAS personnel — were propelling through the airport on small 60’s-kitchen-green scooters. The kind you see children playing on. One foot on, the other doing the movin’

The largest snack joint was “Street Food” with Marcus Samuelson’s face splashed everywhere. Usual airport shop fare with a local twist. Hamburgers. Fish burgers. Something called “Rootfruit” – chips of potato, beet and parsnip.

People smoke in small rectangular glass booths — slightly larger than those you’d see in a fifties game show, presumably ventilated.

Security consisted of “go downstairs” after Passport Control. One flight. Ring a bell, and security will look at your bag. Which is precisely what i did — me alone. Solo me in a little room with a security conveyor belt and one female guard.

Ain’t travel grand.

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I admit, I have not shared this year’s Swine-stravaganza known as the Great Minnesota Get-Together because it just didn’t feel like a typical fair-on-a-stick experience. Honestly, Janet Eats’ favorite food at the fair this year didn’t even come on a stick.

Actually, favorite foods (plural) because it was pretty much a toss-up between Sweet Corn ice cream with Honey Bacon sauce and the Walleye Roll. Neither on a stick. And almost not even fair food per se, because I could see eating either of those dishes at a sitdown restaurant.

The ice cream. Oh my god, that ice cream. Rich icy (not creamy — I like my frozen confections granular on the tongue not buttery) ice cream studded with nuggets of sweet corn kernels and toasty almost praline-like corn nuts. On top: crispy bacon bathing in a warmed honey sauce. I hate to say it, but this sublime smoked porky corny treat has supplanted the Honey Sunflower Ice Cream cone that was my perennial favorite. Yes. Sadly. True.

As to the Walleye fair fare: think Lobster Roll. It was prepared at a booth — way at the end of the fairgrounds. Sandwiched between the lumberjack competition arena and the pets building where, if you schedule your visit just right, you can watch them spay a dachshund. In other words, not far from Machinery Hill.

The booth has several other Walleye dishes (I think one of them is fried and on a stick but don’t hold me to it) as well as salad on a stick, and batter-fried bacon. The Walleye Roll — oh walleye is in the perch family, popular with Minnesota fishermen. Anyway — like a lobster roll it has a mayo base and is served in a buttered roll. Appropriately enough it also contained wild rice. The mayo was very light. The sandwich was placed on a bed of shredded lettuce and peppered perch-fectly.

My fave at the fair this year. Steeled me for the afternoon parade of prancing pickles, marching bands, and giant heifers on wheels.

His naked skin basking in the sunlight, his lithe body bent in a crouch, muscles rippling, jeans hanging just so revealing … We didn’t know his name. We thought of him as Fabio.

(Screeching sound of sudden stop).

Oh! Not that kind of delicious fantasy.

We’re talking food here — more specifically what can happen on an English language menu in foreign lands. I have oft wondered if I could make a living (albeit a very small one) fixing another country’s menus. Whether it be Eggplant Milk in Istanbul (it turned out to be some sort of creamed eggplant) or Pasta with Meet Sauce in Rome.

Which brings us to those delicious fantasies. In Sicily — during my first visit to that country — we ordered an item called “Fantasie di Carciofi“. Carciofi are artichokes. Honestly, I’m not sure why the restaurant gave this particular name to the dish. In context, it likely has meaning to the locals. However, put that phrase through babel.com and you get the appetizer called “Fantasy of Artichokes.” It was, indeed, fantastic. Artichokes three ways: marinated, breaded and sautéed, battered and deep fried.

The “Deliziosi dei Affumicati Pesci con Arancia” became “Delicious of Smoked Fish with Orange.” Yes, it was delicious.

So, too, was that hunk on the roof in the Sicilian village of Cefalù!

While staying in the lovely resort town of Taormina, on Sicily’s east coast, my travel mates and I had yet realized two of our ambitions for that particular leg of the trip — see Etna erupt and visit a quirky little bar in the hills. To get up the mountain (though the guide books suggest you walk up its curvy, vertiginous switchbacks — no sidewalks of course) — we drove. And drove. As the man behind the wheel commented, “I think those were our tail lights I just saw.” Finally, we arrive.

We were in quest of a particular bar. I’ll let my friend Victoria’s description set the scene:

…go up the hill to the tiny town of Castelmola and walk around for a spectacular view of Etna, Taormina, etc. But the real reason to go there is to have a glass of Almond Wine…at the Bar Turrisi, which is a creaky old 3-story joint decorated COMPLETELY in over 3000 penises. Seriously.

(more…)

We’re not talking Hansel & Gretel here — I mean real, true breadcrumbs. They are used unexpected ways in so many dishes in Sicilia. Well, at least in the parts of Sicily I’ve visited (admittedly few).

Loving this country! Leaving Roma, a city in which I feel comfortable, and know how and what to order. In Sicilia, it is all new customs, food, and certainly all new types of people.

If you are looking for something Siciliano-style, expect to find anchovies, pistachios, raisins, olives, capers, and, oh those breadcrumbs.

I have had crumbs dusting perfectly grilled cubes of swordfish, coating vegetables and sprinkled on pasta.

I am rushing out to meet my travel companions for the Villa Casale, but here is what we had for dinner. The waiters at Il Duomo in Taormina were kind enough to let us split the dishes up among ourselves.

Sarde a Beccafico — Sicilian style stuffed sardines. The most delicate piece of that homely fish, stuffed with I am not sure what, served with a few jagged squares of roasted potatoes and a little slice or two of roasted red peppers.

Verdure Selvatiche con Crostini di Pane — Sicilian Wild vegetables with croutons. Wild is right. It was the ugliest twist of some deep dark, stalky green with fronds I’ve seen. Scattered with chunks of delicious chewy croutons drenched in fruity olive oil. I *think* the green was wild fennel because it was licoricy and had those fronds. It was sheer ambrosia of the veggie persuasion. You just know they really did forage those greens.

Pasta e Mollica — Pasta with anchovies, olives, capers and those ubiquitous breadcrumbs. Yum. Me.

Oh, by the way, this general comment: if you think you’ve eaten caponata — think again!!!

The mosaics await, gotta run.

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Lunch is not all pasta with potatoes here in the Eternal City. I have seen this dish with oranges and olives, dressed with oil, for years — both here in Roma and in the states. I am not sure whether it is of Roman origins or not — so much of what one eats in this country is specific “tipico” to its region. I have admittedly seen some variance to that on this trip. Just like it used to be you couldn’t even order a cappuccino after noon but now you can — other regions’ foods are popping up here. I have seen pasta with pesto at a couple of trattorie this week — pesto is from Genoa, not Rome. I would be curious to see if that kind of regional culinary mixing happens in smaller towns or just in this sprawling metropolis.

While eating my “don’t leave Rome without (eating) it” cacio e pepe pasta dish at my favorite Roman restaurant Soro Margherita, I decided, finally, to order the orange salad. Important to note, that any salad or veg dish (it may be oranges but this is no dessert) is served after the primo (first course) of usually pasta, rice, or gnocchi and the (second course) secondo. That baffled me when I was first visiting Italy. This truth had not yet come up in my guide books. I would go to a restaurant, order pasta with (what I thought was going to be a side of) a vegetable. Watch my pasta get cold (okay, so I didn’t wait!) wondering “where’s my broccoli”? Sometimes even, I would ask the waiter to cancel the veg because I was full, dammit!

I digress. As I am wont to do. This simple orange salad was ambrosia! The oranges, blood oranges, were just the perfect mix of tart and sweet, so juicy that one bite caused an explosion of the most delicate and succulent tastes on the tongue and, if you weren’t careful, down the chin. The salad was dressed with a light, fruity but not intensely so, olive oil. The juice mixed with it to make a simple dressing. Sprinkled lightly in the dish, just the perfect grind of black pepper (not sure what the story is with the pepper here, if they roast it, or if it is farmed from somewhere else in the world than we are used to, but it is very special). They top the salad with perfectly sliced, crisp fennel and a small handful of mixed black olives. Simplice but squisito!

It was truly the food of gods. My dining companion tells me that it is the antidote to the pasta and deep-fried artichoke carciofi alla Giudia we had consumed. Eat this orange and fennel wonder, and it erases the fat and calories of anything you ate before it.

Oh. Yes.

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Lest you think I only eat thinly disguised donuts that don’t seem like they’re donuts because they have names I can’t recall — here is my porta via (take out) dinner purchased at a pizza/forno (bakery) in Monti. The turisti are all out in the piazzas now, or at the wine bars, or having those little glasses of nuts and chips & plates of savories with their glasses o’ wine (read Apertivi Time in Rome). There were only Italians in this pizza joint, working folks, grabbing a little slab of pizza like me. I walked away with veggie pizza with a slice of potato tossed on — and then oh those greens!

Why are they so damn good!?! I make them at home. They dont taste like this. Granted, I don’t see those water tubs with stalky greens floating in them that seem ubiquitous in every shop or super mercado I have visited. I went with cicoria (chicory) tonight. Alas, I think the punterelle season is over.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not all I do while in Rome: eating. I have been museuming, churching, praying, monumenting, Pantheoning, Coliseuming. Walking, walking, walking. It’s that food as microcosm thing at play. The way a culture does their food is the way they live and think. Hey, better minds than mine have pondered this. People you might say who are higher on the food chain. But, the Italians express themselves with those plates of bitter greens yanked from the ground. And, by the way, those Roman greens are nothing like the ones in Florence. Or, Assissi.

I ran into a funny blog written by an Italian in America when looking for the name of that killer sweet I had for breakfast. The writing is in Italian, but you get the drift with the pictures. This hapless soul looked into the face of Taco Bell coffee and a Hearty Man breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, pancakes and toast. When all he wanted was un caffè e un cornetto.

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Ama Roma appears to be the new saying for la Bella città. Love Rome. And, really, how could you not.

At this morning’s breakfast ritual, with my cappuccino (pronounced copp-ew-CHEEN-oh) I picked a pastry larger than my hand. Hell, larger than that graphic hand on the side of the Roman city truck.

I loved that pastry. I’m glad I chose it (although at that size, it probably chose me). I should never be allowed to order it again.

It was the flakiest kind of pastry, covered all over with the lightest of sugar glazes, filled with just enough — abbastanza— cream. Sprinkled with a dusting of powdered sugar. Then, placed into the case for this hapless traveller. I didn’t see any locals in that coffee bar eating the hand-sized pastry with their copp-ew-CHEEN-oh.

I asked what it was called. I heard pasta and alla Romana. I think I’ve read about this legendary pastry, typical, only in Rome. As I walked out, I did see more pastries that looked like it. Just smaller. Hmmmm….

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What a day I have had.

I had my usual cornetto and caffè for breakfast. Walk walk walk. Then the most delicious lunch composed of my favorite pasta Romana: Cacio e Pepe (simply put: pasta with cheese and pepper — though believe me, there is nothing simple about this pasta) and then coniglio (rabbit) arrosto (roast), and cicoria. Incredibile! Il pranzo with my favorite priest. Of course with wine which, no excuses here, is much less alcoholic than ours in the U.S.

Walk walk walk.

I saw the Vatican. St. Peter’s. A charming little Via with antique store after antique store. The bridge of angels — Pont Sant’Angelo. Every bridge over the Tiber lined with African and Albanian immigrants who sell mini-tripods, sunglasses, costume jewelry, and these funny gel-filled soft rubbery like balls that the vendor slams into a board which makes the little squishy gel ball flatten like a puddle only to re-form as a little creature. Hard to describe. But, cool.

They are aggressive and persistent but, unlike the old toothless Roma (gypsy) ladies who don’t so much beg for money as whine, they will go away after a pitch. Or, two.

Now, though the picture doesn’t do it justice — for the price of a glass of wine, my apertivo of choice, I get a table, under an ivy-covered umbrella, as much time as I want (the Italians NEVER try to get you to leave. In fact, sometimes, you have to wave madly to get your bill, il conto, to get out of the restaurant or cafe). And all these snacks. Pretty much my dinner (leaving room, of course, for gelato). On this table I have a small cup of peanuts, another of potato chips, and a little plate with 2 tiny spinach pies, three little tomato tartlets, and 2 slices of crusty focaccia-like bread dripping with olive oil.

Oh. Oh! I just bit into what I thought was the spinach pie. Instead it is this flaky pastry triangle with anchovy paste inside.

Heaven. I’m in heaven!

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I am here to tell you: watch out when you’re hanging out with priests!

I had the unexpected pleasure to discover I was in Rome with one of my best friends in the world — who happens to be a priest. He was in town, staying at his Alma Mater in centro storico. We started our evening with gin and tonics on the rooftop, warm, inviting and surrounded by a stunning view of Roma. St. Peters was just behind me.

On the hour, the bells rang from every church in this city of a thousand churches. Beautiful sunset in Rome with fascinating people.

This night, we dined at a cool little ristorante near the Campo dei Fiori. I ordered pasta e patate — which is pasta with potatoes. It was tomatoey, which I did not expect. And soup-like. I wondered aloud whether it would be redundant to sop up the sauce with bread. I only asked, of course. I did it anyway. After dolce, one of our priestly party told me about a kind of “darker” grappa. The waiter, who was alternately in our face, and absent when we needed him, told us it was called, in Italiano: Grappa Scura. Less lighter fluid, more smooth brandy. Yum. Me.

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In all the years that I have been coming to Italy — even with living here, I simply haven’t been here in puntarelle season!

Puntarelle (they never seem to have a singular puntarella version though it is certainly a singular green) are strictly a spring vegetable. It is a succulent curlicue green, barely bitter, served with a simple garlicky, lemony, anchovy-laden dressing. I have had it before, maybe once, but not here. Not in Rome. Not like that. This trip, I experienced it at a little ristorante in the Campo dei Fiore. Just feet away from the older Roman women who populate the market, making sure that all the goods are table ready. The greens are usually displayed in water baths. Talk about farm to table.

I am a fan of greens, despite the fact I was one of those granddaughters of Italian immigrants who was embarrassed by the fact that granny was out in the yard plucking weeds from the lawn to cook for dinner. I have asked Italians before just what puntarelle is (are?). They say it’s like dandelion (not quite) or chicory, which I find almost inedibly bitter. When in Rome, I heard the people behind me wonder what is that? But they didn’t ask me. So I did not answer.

Did I already say how succulent that salad was? I have a feeling I better order it every chance I get — it probably has a life span of a minute thirty.

Oh – techno-victory. I transferred that image of the puntarelle from my iPhone to my iPad — with a gerry-rigged setup of connectors not exactly made for that function.

I think I’m beebling.

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Just arrived in La Bella Città — Heading out for my first Roman meal. Just sitting here in my room, I can smell crusty bread from the forno (bakery) below my window. Caffè from the bar across the way. Some kind of sauce bubbling on someone’s stove I this apartment building. When you fly overseas, they try to occupy you with food. I did have my dinner of some kind of chicken with rice. But, after my attempt at sleeping on the plane was only marginally successfully, I resisted that which they called a breakfast to save myself for the city itself. Fear not, I shall fill you in on everything as the days go by.

Having nothing to do with eating (unless a nursing baby fits into that category) — on the flight over here, I had a funny experience. When I got to my seat, there was this fretting Italian man who, as it turned out, was attached to wife, said nursing baby and another bambina about 5 years old. It seems the man was unable to secure the entire middle bank of seats for his family. So, he wanted me to give up my aisle seat to compensate. I did not want to do that. I did make it clear that I could speak Italian and, in fact, though I’m always anxious to start using the language as soon as I embark, I resisted. As a result, hubby and Frau did not know that I could understand most everything they said as they trashed me for not moving. Throughout the entire flight, the husband crawled over me to get out. And they kept handing the baby back and forth, back and forth over me.

The child was quite sweet and I thought a sport about it all. She watched me eat my apple (instead of the airline food) and kept whimpering. I am pretty sure she didn’t actually eat real food, except from Mom. But, hey, I wanted to whimper myself after 7 hours with her parents. And, no sleep on the flight over.

Now, off to the streets.

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When you visit another place, you always get the chance to experience so many wonderful things — food, of course, being one of those foreign delights.

Everyone pretty much agrees that so much of what passes as food here is junk. Overseas, it seems so much more pure. Let the culinary adventures begin.

Here I am in a city I have not visited, in a country with customs so different than mine. Eating food that elicits so very often the phrase: “I’ve never eaten this before!”

Oops gotta go. Sights await.

More anon.

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While most of my friends and family are making plans for the holiday weekend, I have some big plans of my own. MY Christmas night will be spent on a transatlantic flight.

Destination NOT Constantinople!

Stay tuned …

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