I feel very honoured to have the opportunity to present a guest blogger. His writings are usually to be found at his own blog at bleubug.com – a very pleasant place worth adding to your bookmarks/readers. We got acquainted through our mutual interest in fountain pens and soon learned that we both like cooking. So, I imposed some strange “traditionally Swedish” recipes upon him and asked if he could consider writing a guest post at my blog about food (not necessarily Swedish food) and was delighted when he accepted with enthusiasm and almost immediately volunteered to try the kroppkakor. An unexpected spinoff from this is that kroppkakor now goes under the name Krakens in my home. Since he has written his name in hexadecimals below I won’t ruin the puzzle by spelling out his name here – only his initials. A big thank you for contributing with this original and thoughtful post to my blog, TAO!
PS – I didn’t ask him to write the very kind words about my blog. :)
I Am Curious (Kroppkakor)
When does a post about cooking have very little cooking in it? When it starts with this:
54 68 6f 6d 61 73 20 4f 76 65 72 66 69 65 6c 64 20 42 75 66 66 61 6c 6f 20 4e 59
That’s my name and city of birth in hexadecimal notation. While words can connect us they can also be as isolating as that line. There’s not any back and forth of interaction but a static one way flow of information in an email or a blog post. The internet is a miracle of technology that lets us communicate with other people much faster than in the past but often it feels flat. We are limited to being where we sit never close enough to touch, sense body language or expand our envelope of comprehension through other senses. The best we can do is to mimic the organic experience through electronic channels and tricks of light.
I don’t wish to seem too harsh since I am continually amazed by the fact I have friends in corners of the world I never thought about a few years prior. Something like this happening so quickly and easily is truly the marvel of our age (prepackaged bacon was the marvel of the last age). Anywhere the internet reaches there is the option of communicating with new people who think, live, and experience differently (as long as they have the decency to be fluent in English since I’m…er…stupid and lazy).
But since I so very much like the people I’ve met without actually meeting I always want to know more. What is it like to live where they do? What is the culture like? How does it differ from my white bread (or McDonald’s happy meal) American environment? I’m not rich enough to travel the world so what can I do to get more insight and bring me close to distant acquaintances?
One thing I’ve done is swap gifts and now I have a variety of art and crafts from places like the Philippines around my office. It’s great to be able to get the tactile feel of such items and be able to see them around me. In turn I send them some plastic petrochemical wonders we mass manufacture so well here in the U.S. Yep, I get the better end of the deal.
Even better than that since we all have to take in organic compounds to create energy I find that you can bond with others by cooking and eating the same things. I’ll be the first to admit I might enjoy the latter a bit more than the former but making a dish or a meal is satisfying in an emotional and multisensory way. Making another recipe displays your respect and interest in the culture it comes from. Obtaining ingredients, following identical procedures, moving hands in a similar fashion, tasting similar flavors, and smelling like aromas is a way of stepping into another’s world. It’s not like living for a year in Provence to understand French culture but sometimes these little things are all you have available to you.
I’ve accumulated a good number recipes, cookbook, and pieces of culinary advice from friends who are so far away that some I’ve never heard the voices of. Most recently I have been cooking Filipino dishes since that cuisine is both very interesting and quite foreign (literally and figuratively) to me. While my eyes have focused on the other side of the planet I have missed a great deal in-between (like Europe). Since she writes in the English language better that this native speaker you may not immediately notice the owner of this blog is from Sweden. Over some short exchanges about fountain pens we discovered we both liked to cook and I mentioned the only Swedish dish of which I knew was the eponymous meatballs (I’m not going to even think about lutefisk). Unasked she provided me with her grandmother’s recipe for some that taste better than what I’ve had at the only Swedish restaurant I’ve ever ate in: the IKEA cafeteria.
I think I scared lady dandelion by saying that I was going to write about cooking those meatballs. Knowing that so many Americans stereotype that country’s cooking as being all about spherical ground meat nuggets she suggested I try a different traditional dish known as “kroppkakor”. I knew nothing about this dish besides the name had lots of the letter “k” in it and I couldn’t pronounce it. So for internal use in my abode I dubbed them “krakens”. In reality these are not parts of a mythical monster but potato dumplings with a consistency like gnocchi filled with bacon and shallots. Anything with bacon is welcome in my tummy so I was greatly enthused by the prospect of making these.
The plan was to make them for a little dinner party some friends were having. Self-confidence must have intoxicated me to have taken a chance like this since more than a few times with a new recipe I’ve created a mess best flushed away. A few mistakes were made while cooking which I won’t bore you with but in the end they turned out very tasty if a bit lumpy looking. Combined with a Filipino dessert I made I felt quite the international chef that night. I even lucked out and found lingonberry preserves to serve with them. From my IKEA cafeteria experience I get the feeling this is served with every Swedish meal (well, I know that’s not really a valid extrapolation).
I want to get beyond the cooking and tell you about the most important part of this endeavor which was interacting accepting the generosity of someone I hardly know at all. Because I’m such a curmudgeon I can never quite believe how friendly, outgoing, and plain nice people can be. Lady dandelion is decidedly at the top my list for people with this attributes since she not only translated my cooking instructions but took pictures of her preparing the dish in order to help me out. I’ve seen cookbooks with less attractive step by step images! The end result is that using different ingredients and techniques from what is common for me helps me to connect with and understand a bit about people in a way that the written word can’t supply. Sitting down to kroppkakor I felt I had a tiny, tiny glimpse into what a dinner in Stockholm might be like, for example.
I tell quite a few people my stories about how I reach out to the world via cooking. I’m not sure if I bore them to death or not, but I do get asked for many recipes. I wrote this wanting to come up with some profound observation which would sum this all up in a way that would strum the strings of the human psyche and make me look like a deep thinker. In the end I’ve got nuffin’ except this: Human contact is a necessity for us all and the quality of it is dictated by the effort we make. Expanding our horizons about the unfamiliar isn’t always easy nor obvious but the satisfaction derived from it is all the compensation I need. Like Walter Mitty I live a bit out of my head through the good people who take time to share a piece of themselves and their culture whether it be food or anything else. It helps me keep sane and full.
Lingonberry jam. A well-known Swedish brand in an American setting with a label in English.