Embracing hygge with gløgg (Scandinavian Mulled Wine)

Gløgg

A pot of spiced wine simmering on the stove, releasing its fragrant spices into the air. The flickering glow of candles, a crackling fireplace. It’s hard to imagine a more cozy setting in which to celebrate the holiday season or perhaps to welcome friends in from the cold. This is, for me, the easiest time of year to actively practice the art of hospitality that I grew up experiencing from the Norwegians in my life. these days, one of my favorite ways to do it is with a pot of gløgg.

Essentially a mulled wine, gløgg—spelled glögg in Swedish—conjures up that Scandinavian idea of hygge, or coziness, that Americans are beginning to catch on to. Even an ordinary bottle of red wine becomes something special when it’s combined with warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Add a bit of orange peel, a generous pour of aquavit, a dash of sugar, and a handful of almonds and raisins, and you have a drink that’s as festive as can be.

Gløgg Spices

Gløgg

I have been wondering lately if the antidote to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season might be found in a handful of Scandinavian recipes. What if, by creaming sticks of butter into sugar to make cookies and mixing up pots of spiced wine, we could somehow infuse the essence of hygge into our own lives? That’s certainly what I’m trying to do.

Hygge—the Danish term for a cozy, warm lifestyle and an emphasis on wellbeing—is embraced throughout Scandinavia, and it seems like it might be just what we need to dampen the stress and frenzy that so often accompany the holiday season.

We can hygge with the typical cozy things like warm, fuzzy blankets and fragrant candles glowing on shelves. We can pull on our softest sweaters and cradle portable mugs of steaming beverages between mitten-covered hands, then tuck into buttery cookies upon returning indoors. But we’d be missing the point if we didn’t pair it with community and relationship, those parts of life that are so essential.

Gløgg

Gløgg

This holiday season it’s a goal of mine to pour a bottle of wine into spice-infused aquavit anytime I’m anticipating visitors. I have the wine already purchased, the spices waiting in the pantry. Gløgg is simple to prepare, only requiring a little bit of advance planning. And the result? Well, who wouldn’t feel instantly welcomed when walking into a warm home filled with the aromas of wine and spices? Paired with the company of good friends and loved ones, this is as hygge as it gets.

Gløgg

Gløgg (Scandinavian Mulled Wine)
There are multiple ways to make gløgg. Around here, we steep the spices in the aquavit, ideally overnight. But on the occasions when we don’t plan ahead, we simply let the spices mingle in the aquavit over a low heat for a couple of hours, keeping the pot covered to minimize evaporation. I first shared my recipe for gløgg in The Norwegian American a year ago. Each time we make it, we do it a little differently, but the idea is the same. If you don’t have aquavit, go ahead and use vodka or even whiskey. I’ve added dried figs to the traditional mix of raisins and almonds, a tip I learned from Anna Brones, coauthor of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, at a baking class last year. No matter how you make it, be sure to enjoy the company. Oh, and if your guests are new to gløgg, be sure to warn them that it’s stronger than it tastes. Taking care of them in this way is just another way to extend your hospitality.

1 1/2 cups aquavit (or vodka or whiskey)
1/2 cup raisins
8 dried figs, quartered
3 cinnamon sticks
10 green cardamom pods
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 star anise
2-inch piece of orange peel
1 (750 ml) bottle red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup blanched almonds

The day before you’re going to serve the gløgg, pour aquavit into a jar along with raisins, figs, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves, star anise, and orange peel. Cover and let steep overnight, swirling it occasionally. After about 12 hours, strain the mixture, reserving the spices and fruit. You can make it ahead up to this point or proceed immediately to the next steps (in which case you need not strain the aquavit).

When ready to heat the gløgg, combine the spice-infused aquavit, wine, sugar, and the reserved spices and raisins in a medium saucepan with the almonds over low heat. Cover and let it slowly warm up for about half an hour or so, stirring occasionally and giving it a taste now and then to check the flavors. (There’s a moment, which is somewhat magical, in which the gløgg goes from good to amazing—it’s hard to describe until you’ve tasted it, but once you have you’ll know what I mean.) Be patient and keep a gentle heat—you don’t want it to boil, or even really simmer . When the gløgg is hot and the flavors have developed to your liking, ladle the gløgg into mugs, ideally something clear and heatproof, adding raisins, figs, and almonds to each. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and slice of orange, if you wish.

Note: The longer the spices stay in the gløgg, the stronger they will become. If you’re going to keep the gløgg on the stove for a while, you might want to remove the cloves, and maybe the cardamom and orange peel too, when it develops its proper flavor. If you have leftovers, strain into a jar, reserving the raisins figs and almonds. Reheat on the stove, with the reserved raisins, figs, and almonds, when ready to serve again.

Serves six.

Gløgg

Scandinavian Cinnamon Rolls

Scandinavian Cinnamon Rolls

While the cloudless blue sky and wind-free warmth of August hardly seem like the start of a new season, in reality autumn will creep up surely in the coming weeks—subtly at first, then erupting into its crisp, fog-laden fullness. I’ve been noticing the shift already, from hazy mornings draped in gray to the spiders testing out nooks and posts around the house to spin their webs. This is a time for coziness.

It seems like Americans have been gradually catching on to the Scandinavian idea of hygge in the past couple of years. Hygge—the Danish term for a cozy, warm lifestyle, like koselig in Norwegian and mysig in Swedish—seems like it might be just the antidote we need for the cold and darkness in the seasons ahead. And that’s where these cinnamon rolls come in.

Fragrant with the warm aromas of cinnamon, freshly-ground cardamom, and hot, buttery yeasted dough, these buns would be perfect to serve for fika, another Scandinavian concept that I think it’s time Americans adopt. The very definition of fika—the Swedish word for a social coffee break—invokes savoring coffee and baked treats in the company of friends. While cozy can look a lot of different ways, from plush blankets and flickering candlelight to thick sweaters and scarves, we’d do well to consider community an integral part of it. When you start with a warm, spiced bun, it really can’t be too hard.

Scandinavian Cinnamon Rolls

Scandinavian Cinnamon Rolls

Variations of these buns are popular in Scandinavia and rightfully so. There are the kanelsnurrer, or Norwegian cinnamon twists, and also kanelbullar, or Swedish cinnamon buns. (October 4 is the treat’s official day in Sweden.) Sometimes they’re called knots. Whatever name you use, they seem—at least to me—an edible version of hygge.

In this recipe, we’re starting with a sweet cardamom-scented dough and using that to blanket a rich, fragrant spice filling. Recipes vary quite a bit and can be as simple as butter, sugar and spice, or include a bit of almond paste or marzipan. Some recipes don’t use any filling at all.

While they’re commonly made with cinnamon, Scandi Kitchen features a vanilla and cardamom variety. Signe Johansen, author of Scandilicious Baking adds a little crème fraiche to the filling. She also suggests making the dough the night before to let it ferment a little for flavor and texture. I’ve become a big fan of freshly-ground cardamom and use it in both the dough and filling in my cinnamon buns. After doing the hard work of grinding it in a mortar and pestle (and subsequently sneezing at least 10 times in the span of a half an hour) earlier this year, I finally broke down and bought a spice grinder. I use it exclusively for cardamom, and treat it almost like my cardamom spice bottle, storing cardamom seeds in it. Each time I use it, the spice releases an aroma that make me think of my grandfather’s old cologne, warm and intense, complex, yet soft.

In these last weeks of summer, as one season begins to topple into the next, I’m planning ways to make this the coziest autumn yet. With these cinnamon buns releasing their spiced fragrance throughout the house, I don’t think it’s going to be too hard.

Scandinavian Cinnamon Rolls

Scandinavian Cinnamon Buns

For the dough:

5 tablespoons butter (salted)
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 cups flour, plus more if necessary
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons freshly-ground cardamom
1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten

For the filling:

6 tablespoons butter (salted), room temperature
3 tablepsoons packed brown sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
Scandinavian pearl sugar

To make the dough: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter then pour in the milk and let it scald. Remove from heat and cool until it’s warm to the touch. Pour into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the milk. Give it a quick stir, then let it sit until it starts to bubble.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, and cardamom. When the yeast has started to bubble, gradually stir in the flour mixture, and then the beaten egg. Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured surface and knead for five minutes or so, until the dough comes together and you can see little pockets of air if you cut into it. The dough should be somewhat sticky, and a bench scraper can help if it sticks to the counter, but add more flour as needed. Transfer to a large bowl, cover with a damp tea towel, and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling by mixing the butter, sugar, and spices either with a mixer or with a fork until combined and smooth.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s a rectangle roughly 16-by-20 inches. Spread the filling over it, reaching all the way to the ends, then fold the dough toward you, lengthwise, making a long, skinny rectangle about 8-by-20 inches. Cut the dough into 16 strips. Form each into knots by twisting the ends in opposite directions a couple of times, then rolling them around your finger a couple of times and tucking in the ends. Place on baking trays that are either greased or lined with parchment paper. Cover with damp tea towels and let rise another 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sprinkle the tops with pearl sugar, then bake for 10-12 minutes. For an extra special treat, enjoy while they’re still warm and release their spiced aroma when you bite in.

Scandi-Style Salmon Burger in the Norwegian American Weekly

Scandi-Style Salmon Burger

A taste for the sea must run in my blood. Wild salmon grilled, cured, or smoked; oily silver-blue mackerel salted and grilled; humble cod, elegant with its understated opaque white flakes–these are foods my kitchen knows well. Most of the time I prefer fish cooked simply, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt to accent the taste of its native waters. But every once in a while a recipe or idea comes along that warrants playing. Such is the case with the Scandi-style salmon burger I’m sharing today in the latest issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. This recipe is packed with the traditional Nordic flavors of salmon, dill, and rye, and its open format is a nod to the traditional Scandinavian smørbrød. Bright and flavorful, it’s a perfect transitional weather meal as we eagerly await the arrival of spring. Head over to the Norwegian American Weekly for the recipe.

Scandi-Style Salmon Burger Scandi-Style Salmon Burger

Scandinavian Cooking Class in Olympia, WA, July 14

Grilled Salmon and Cucumber Salad

The sun is shining more often than not around here right now, and the gentle warmth and the lushness of this season have me dreaming of Scandinavia. This time of year is when I start to think of the similarities between the food of Scandinavia and what’s available here in the Pacific Northwest: salmon from local waters, berries picked at the peak of perfection, mushrooms and herbs–the list goes on. With that in mind, I’m excited to announce that I’m teaching a cooking class at the Bayview School of Cooking in Olympia, Washington, on Tuesday, July 14. The theme is Dinner in the Land of the Midnight Sun, and I’m going to be demonstrating how to make an assortment of classic Scandinavian and Nordic-inspired dishes, including salmon with lemon-horseradish cream, cucumber salad, potatoes with dill, and Norwegian bløtkake, a layer cake loaded with cream and strawberries. To see the full menu and to register, visit the Bayview School of Cooking’s website. I hope to see some of you in class!

Starting Again, with Pickled Beets

Scandinavian Pickled BeetsTime goes quickly here, sometimes too quickly. I know it’s something we all experience, the subject of small talk and of catching up with old acquaintances at big events, but it’s true. The time really does fly. As I sit here at my desk on this 14th of January, the sun forces its way through the shades, reminding me that it’s a new year, that winter will soon give way to spring, that though the calendar might point to a season of stillness, new life–from the maple trees outside my home to the bulbs nestled in soil–is getting ready to burst forth in full bloom. It’s hard to believe that it’s already mid-January, that I have been sick–cold after cold and now bronchitis–for over a month. Has it really been almost a year since Grandma suffered her strokes? Almost a year since I drove my toddler son to the hospital to visit his great-grandma one blindingly sunny winter day after another? Soon it will have been a year since we gathered at the rehabilitation center for the makeshift 95th birthday party my dear Grandma couldn’t even comprehend.

I’ve shied away from this space lately for a variety of reasons: a sense of perfectionism that’s creeping in due to my other forms of writing; being uninspired by the formula that food blogs are falling prey to, getting duller and duller even as their photos and graphics get shinier and shinier (tell me, please, that you know what I mean?); and being in a season of life that I want to write about but find too personal to approach quite yet in such an informal place as a blog.

But I miss it, too, miss the way it feels to have a place to write quickly and without the gloss of perfection that some other forms of writing require. While there’s a permanence to blogs–content lives out there unless deleted–one post is replaced by another and then another in a fleeting way, almost like a journal entry that gets buried deeper and deeper into a collection of notebooks that the keeper fills and collects just in case there might be a time, somewhere down the road, when she might want to remember.

For a long time I’ve wrestled with the purpose of this blog. Sure, it’s a Nordic food blog, and its food sticks to that theme for the most part. But who is it for? Am I trying to create content for the reader? Or for myself? Maybe it’s just weariness from a seemingly-endless illness talking (right now my ribcage hurts each time I take a deep breath or dare to cough), but I think I want to care less and write more. There was a time when I didn’t believe in writer’s block. I was a journalist, writing story after story, day after day, focusing my brain on the words at hand even as scanners scratched and top-of-the-hour headlines blared on the competing networks. Deadlines didn’t wait for inspiration. Writer’s block was a luxury I couldn’t afford. These days–though I’m beginning to step up my freelance writing and other projects again–I have more of that luxury. And I’m afraid I’m giving in to it too often. Oh, I don’t feel like writing today. I can wait until tomorrow. Or this one (if you’re a writer, too, I’m sure you know it too): I should clear my desk. Or better yet embark on a massive organizing spree before I start writing! Yeah, the writing life can be full of excuses.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions or strict goal-setting. I find those too restrictive. But I do like to have intentions and a system to make them happen. So I’m not promising to blog here on any sort of predictable schedule. But I do want to do it more frequently. There will be recipes, sure, because that’s what a food blog is all about. But I’m going to care less about the format, the glossy veneer, the oneupmanship that’s so common, and care more about the practice, the experience of getting those words to flow more freely, and getting comfortable again with sharing those words online rather than obsessively editing myself.

And so I’m starting again today, with pickled beets.

Scandinavian Pickled Beets

Scandinavian Pickled Beets with Star Anise
After baking a bunch of cookies (krumkaker, pepperkaker, sirupsnipper and more) while at home, sick, over the Christmas season, it seems appropriate to trade sweet for savory today on the blog. Pickled beets are a classic Scandinavian condiment, something to serve with everything from the Swedish hash pytt i panna to sjömans biff, or sailor’s beef stew. Though coming from no single source, this recipe takes cues from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trine Hahnemann, a 1964 recipe found on Epicurious.com, and An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler; the addition of star anise comes from Hahnemann, a Danish chef.

3-4 medium beets
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoons pepper
1 star anise

To cook the beets, I like to use Tamar Adler’s method from An Everlasting Meal: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the beets snugly in a shallow pan, she instructs, then with the water running and the pan tipped to the side, wash the beets under its stream, leaving a little of the water pooled in the pan once it runs clear. Cover the pan tightly with foil, then roast until the beets are cooked through, about 40 minutes for medium-sized beets. Adler’s method steams the beets and allows the skins to be easily rubbed off once the beets are cooled. After rubbing off the skins, cut the beets into quarter-inch slices and place in a shallow, heat-safe dish.

Place vinegar in a medium-sized pot along with sugar, salt, pepper, and star anise. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Pour over the beets. Let cool, the refrigerate overnight before serving.

For the sake of transparency I should let you know that I’ve received review copies of some of Hahnemann’s books. I love them, regardless, and they hold prime spots in my Nordic cookbook collection.

Scandinavian Pickled Beets

“Nordic in the Northwest”: My Article and Recipes in The Oregonian

Daytona with Oregonian Article

So, here it is: the article I have been longing to tell you about! Published yesterday as the centerpiece food piece in The Oregonian (with a front-page teaser!), “Nordic in the Northwest” examines the similarities between the way of eating in the Nordic countries and the Pacific Northwest, especially each region’s emphasis on local, seasonal foods.

I started working on this piece earlier in the summer, interviewing experts on Nordic cuisine, researching immigration to the Pacific Northwest from Scandinavia, and developing five original recipes. If that weren’t exciting enough, I got to do all the photography, with three images used in the package.

I designed the recipes to work together as an entire late-summer menu, though you can certainly pick and choose which ones to make. They honor traditional Scandinavian cooking while reflecting modern influences. With salmon, blueberries, and an assortment of produce figuring heavily in the menu, the recipes also emphasize eating local and seasonal as much as possible and in such a way that is relevant in the Pacific Northwest and the Nordic countries this time of year.

I’ve included some outtakes from the photo shoot here in this post. Please do feel free to pin them on Pinterest–in fact, I’d be honored if you did!

Grilled Salmon with Lemon Horseradish Cream

Seasonal Greens Salad with Cucumber

Rye Berry Salad with Mushrooms and Goat Cheese

Blueberry Fruit Soup

Danish Vanilla Cookies and the Search for a Lost Recipe

Danish Vanilla Cookies on Parchment

When I gave a speech about connecting heritage and food to a group of Norwegian women last spring, one of them said that she wished her 20-something-year-old son would take an interest in Scandinavian cooking like I have. Obviously an important part of her life, the food of her heritage hasn’t yet become a connecting point between the generations. I wish I had a solution for her, a way for her to convince her son to take notice of the richness and memories woven into old recipes and the food served to generations of family members. Until that happens though, I hope the woman makes a point to collect and gather her family’s recipes, writing down memories and stories as she goes.

I certainly don’t expect everyone to get as giddy as I do about handwritten recipes and boxes of notecards with ingredient lists in elegant penmanship. But I do know that food is one of the easiest ways to bring people together and prompt connection. It’s a way to carry on traditions and to conjure up memories.

I’ve written before about how I have only a few recipes from my late grandmother Agny. Most were lost after she died. The few I have come from old church cookbooks and my other grandma’s collection of recipes. One of my great regrets is that I didn’t join Grandma Agny in the kitchen and bake with her, listening as the process coaxed out stories of life in Norway. It’s a tradition I share with Grandma Adeline and my mom, and one I feel so privileged to get to enjoy.

Danish Vanilla Cookies in Process

Danish Vanilla Cookies Cooling OffFor the last couple of years I’ve been trying to recreate some old cookies that Grandma Agny used to make. Sweet and buttery, with a pleasant, toothsome crunch, the cookies were a staple at Christmastime. All I know is that they were a traditional type of Scandinavian cookie that Grandma shaped in an unconventional way. Formed into parallelograms with horizontal lines pressed into them with the tines of a fork, they were delicate and pretty, and Grandma served them with pride.

Many of you have offered ideas for what those cookies could have been, and I’ve been following your leads and baking through recipes in my Scandinavian cookbooks. I’ve come close at times, but I’m not there yet.

The fun part of the process is discovering cookies that I’ve never made before, including these Danish vanilla cookies. With an easy dough made little more than the normal butter, sugar, flour, egg, and baking powder, they’re flavored generously with vanilla, which lends a rich quality to them that pairs perfectly with a glass of milk. Think sugar cookies with an extra punch of flavor.

As I took my first bite, still warm from the oven, I analyzed the flavor, comparing it against the cookies I have filed away in my memory from so long ago. Not quite. These cookies are too crisp, too. I’m encouraged, though: I have a new recipe that I’ll be sure to make again and again, and thanks to the suggestions that some of you have left on my Facebook page since I asked for ideas yesterday, I have plenty of direction for where to take my search next.

Danish Vanilla Cookies with MilkDanish Vanilla Sliced Cookies (Vaniljesmåkager)
Adapted (barely) from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 cup salted butter, at room temeperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar, for decoration

Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until smooth, then add egg and continue beating until the batter is light. Mix in the vanilla extract. Stir together flour and baking powder in a separate bowl, then add to the batter, mixing until all the ingredients combine and form a stiff dough.

Turn out the dough onto a work surface and knead briefly, further incorporating the ingredients without overworking them, then separate the dough into two portions and roll each into a log two inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in waxed paper and foil and chill in the refrigerator.

At this point you can either wait an hour or so, until the dough is chilled through, or you can wait and just keep the dough in the fridge until you’re in need of some freshly-baked cookies. According to the original recipe, the dough will keep for up to two weeks.

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the chilled logs into rounds about 1/8-inch thick and place on the prepared baking sheets about an inch apart. Bake in the top third of the oven for about ten minutes, until the tops begin to turn golden around the edges. Allow to cool slightly, then dust with powdered sugar.

Yields about 30 cookies.

Part of the WanderFood Wednesday Recipe Swap

Midsummer Picnic in the Meadow (and Thoughts on the Writing Life)

Valley Floor

I sip my tea as I sit down to write, the aromas of rose petals and cardamom pods wafting up from the steaming mug. The floral spiced black tea, purchased at Samovar Tea Lounge during a New Year’s trip to San Francisco, brings back memories of a weekend celebrating with dear friends. I have come to enjoy these quiet moments, times when I sit down and simply reflect and write, taking the time to think and imagine, to contemplate and to create.

I never take for granted this gift, to be a writer–an artist whose canvas is the keyboard. My medium consists of the letters and words that form the sentences, paragraphs, pages, and posts that I write. As I look back on my teenage years and my 20s, I see that this is where I’ve been headed all along. Although I–as every writer does–occasionally have moments of self-doubt, I know this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing.

One of the benefits of the writing life is the preservation of memories. Reading old blog posts, journal entries, and articles takes me back to moments in time that exist only in my catalogue of memories. Often needing a prompt to come to the surface, they reappear when I read such records.

Thanks to this, I will always remember a Midsummer picnic shared in the Methow Valley with my husband and son last week. With the school year behind us and my husband done with three years of graduate school, we took off last week for some time away at a lodge nestled in the valley near the North Cascades National Park about four hours away from Seattle.

Valley View plus Flowers

On Friday we set out for a secluded meadow dotted with wildflowers and rimmed with trees. Emerging at the entrance to the meadow after a long drive through winding, rugged roads, we found a patch just right for a picnic and settled down to eat. It being Midsummer, I had prepared a Scandinavian-inspired meal consisting of the cucumber salads I shared recipes for last week; salmon and pickled herring; an assortment of cheeses from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark; and dill- and parsley potatoes adapted from Molly Wizenburg’s blog; among other treats. (Hint: Follow Molly’s recipe until you get to the herbs, then swap them out with a quarter cup each of chopped dill and chopped parsley–the results appear simple yet are tender, moist, and flavorful).

Tailgate

Cucumber Salad, Tailgate

For those hours we spent in the meadow, life moved at a slower pace. We breathed in the fresh, pure air and listened to the gentle swishing and crunching of grass and twigs as we walked along a trail. Each of us knew this was special, even the normally-active little boy who was content to simply sit on his father’s lap and ride on his shoulders, savoring this time as a family.

Picnic Basket in Meadow

It has been alternately sunny and rainy back home in Seattle since we returned, summer taking a while to arrive as usual. But life is beginning to take on the pace of the season, with a freer schedule, no homework or classes, and the promise of more road trips, picnics, and memories just waiting for us to create.

I leave you today with a collection of photos from our Midsummer picnic. I also encourage you to get out there this summer and share a picnic or two with those you love, capturing the memories through words, photos, paint, or whatever medium you choose. Life is so full of beautiful moments begging to be embraced.

Until next time,

Daytona

Midsummer Picnic

Cheese and Cucumbers

Midsummer Picnic Spread

Tree in Meadow

Tree Branches

Trees in Forest and Tree Trunk

Pine Needles

Forest Floor

Meadow Floor

Wildflowers in Meadow

Purple and Yellow Wildflowers

Cucumber Salad for Your Scandinavian Midsummer Menu

Sliced CucumbersIn the beginning of my career as a journalist, I was paying my dues as a television news writer working in the middle of the night to prepare the morning newscast. Back then I would pull into the parking lot at the TV station located across the street from Seattle’s Lake Union and walk the two dozen feet from my car to the main entrance, swipe my badge at the door, wave hello to the graveyard security guard and settle in at my desk in the empty newsroom, the florescent lights mocking my tired eyes and the police and fire scanners blaring at the assignment desk and reminding me of the inability to fall asleep at my desk even if I tried.

Sliced Cucumbers

Back in those days, there was little time for a social life. I’d leave the newsroom around 9:30 or 10 in the morning, after most people have gone to work. I’d crawl into bed below windows covered with towels to block out the midday sun, and I’d sleep until that sun had gone to bed and it was time for me to repeat the process.

Cucumber and Dill Salad

I kept at it month after month, year after year. Six years ago, however, I made a change. No longer committed to a career in TV news, I found myself inspired to make a switch. I left a writers’ conference in Portland, Oregon, that June inspired to steer my skills toward print journalism. I gave it some time before making the move, and then later in the summer I gave my notice.

I spent the rest of the summer adjusting to a normal life, getting used to sleeping in the same bed as my husband for more than two times a week and getting used to sleeping–get this!–at night. I spent those August and September days sleeping late, talking walks to process things, and taking steps toward finding another job. If I picture that time in a snapshot, I think of my old neighborhood street illuminated by the gentle, warming rays of the sun. The sun! That bright object I had spent so many years covering up!

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

I wonder if my experience reflects what Scandinavians feel this time of year when the sun stays out most of the day in contrast to the winter when it barely makes an appearance. Traveling to Bergen in the summer in 2008, I got my first taste of the Nordic summer sun. Going back to the hotel, closing the blinds, and going to sleep while the sun had not yet set wasn’t easy.

My family will be marking the summer solstice and Midsummer with a Scandinavian-inspired picnic this year. Simply prepared with salmon, pickled herring, a selection of Scandinavian cheeses, crispbread, dilled potatoes, and cucumber salad, all the components are chilling in the fridge right now, waiting to be enjoyed.

As I was preparing the menu, a cucumber salad was a necessity, but I found two that caught my eye. One, with cucumbers sliced thinly, was more of a quick pickle while the the other retained the watery crunch of the cucumbers but dressed them with dill. Both recipes are adapted from The Scandinavian Kitchen by Camilla Plum. Though the ingredients are similar, the results are quite different. Try one or both–or improvise and take cues from the second recipe and add dill to the first. In any case, these salads are distinctly Nordic, and they’ll add a fresh flavor to your Scandinavian Midsummer menu.

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

1 large (15.5 ounce) cucumber
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup cider vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Thinly slice the cucumber with a mandoline and place it in a heat-proof bowl. Bring water, vinegar, and seasonings to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring frequently. Pour over the sliced cucumbers and stir to coat. Cool, stirring occasionally. Serve right away or store in the refrigerator.

Serves 4-6.

Cucumber Salad with Dill

1 large (12.5 ounce) cucumber
1 small bunch of dill, stems and leaves, chopped finely (about 1 generous tablespoon)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Cut it into 1/4-inch slices at a slat. Stir remaining ingredients together in a medium bowl. Toss the cucumbers with the dressing and marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours before serving.

Serves 2-4.

A Salad for a Scandinavian Picnic

Scandinavian Potato and Egg Salad

Today the birds sang brightly, their whistling chirps piercing through the still spring air. The afternoon sun cast a diffused light through the clouds and the temperature called for sweaters over tank tops and t-shirts. Yet the day still held the promise of warmer months to come. These are the signals that point to picnic dates and barbecues, long evening walks and cocktails sipped on the porch at sunset.

To complement the season, substantial salads have comprised the theme of dinners at my house in recent weeks. From a pasta salad with asparagus, radishes, and a creamy avocado dressing to a chickpea and feta salad that’s been a staple in my house for several years, such dishes have formed the base of most meals in my house recently, with the fish or meat being almost an afterthought. Most recently we enjoyed a Scandinavian potato, egg, and dill salad.

Potato Salad Dressing Ingredients

When it comes to potato salads, it seems that there are as many versions as there are families to make them. Whether they’re made with a Scandinavian, American, French, or German touch, they’re each unique and personalized for a particular palate. For some reason or another, I’ve never developed a signature potato salad. Both my mom and my mother-in-law make spectacular ones with an indulgent combination of flavor and texture, but I haven’t learned their tricks. This week, however, I think I came up with a potato salad to call my own.

Inspired by the Tangy Egg and Potato Salad in Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking, I got to work mixing up a dressing of sour cream, mayonnaise, grainy mustard, dill, shallots, cornichons, green onions, and lemon juice. The dressing generously coated boiled new potatoes, which I sprinkled with fresh chives before arranging hard-boiled eggs on top. Author Signe Johansen calls her version a pepped-up version of a traditional Scandinavian salad, and if that’s the case, then mine takes takes even more creative license, swapping out her salad cream for mayonnaise and her pickle recommendation for cornichons, giving the salad some American and French touches.

The result, to me, is perfect. With a sprig of dill and a few chive blossoms as garnishes, the vibrant colors of the salad reflect the beauty of spring. Pack it up in a basket with some smoked salmon, a thermos of coffee, and a few slices of bløtkake (Norwegian cream cake) with fresh strawberries, and you’ll have the makings of a delicious Scandinavian picnic.

Potato and Egg Salad

Scandinavian Potato, Egg, and Dill Salad
Adapted from Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking by Signe Johansen

14 ounces new potatoes
4 eggs
6 green onions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
3-4 tablespoons finely-chopped shallot
12 cornichons, finely chopped
¾ cup sour cream
1 heaping tablespoon mayonnaise
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
4 sprigs dill, finely chopped, plus one more for garnish
Juice of one medium-sized lemon
Pinch of ground allspice
1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped

Bring two medium pots of water to a boil. Gently lower the eggs into one and allow to simmer for 11 minutes, then remove the eggs and submerge into a bowl of ice water to cool. Meanwhile, lightly salt the water in the other pot and cook the potatoes in simmering water until fork tender but not too soft, about 20 minutes. When the potatoes are cooked through, drain and set aside in a cool place until they reach room temperature.

While the eggs and potatoes are cooling, prepare the dressing by placing the green onions, shallot, cornichons, sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, chopped dill, lemon juice, and allspice in a large bowl and stirring to combine. Taste and adjust ingredients to suite your tastes.

Add potatoes to the dressing and stir gently to coat, then transfer to a serving dish. Scatter the chives over the top. Peel and quarter the eggs and place them on top and garnish with dill.

Serves 6.

Spring Potato and Egg Salad in Dish

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