Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fat Tuesday

A year ago today, I was in Sweden. It was actually quite a fortuitous time to have been there because a storm had just passed through and covered the countryside in beautiful snow. Not much unlike here, our current home. However, the real reason it was great to have been in Sweden on Fat Tuesday, or I believe it's more commonly known as Shrove Tuesday there, is because I got to be introduced to their traditional Fat Tuesday fare--you know me and food!

So where New Orleanians have their King Cake and Hawaii Portuguese have their Malasadas, my hosts in Orebro were excited to share their Semla.

Semla is this wonderfully soft yeasty bun flecked with cardamom in the dough. It was a surprising and unusual flavor but mostly because it was difficult to identify at first bite and it was quite faint-not strong or overwhelming at all. Here's the best part:

They scoop out the middle, mix the crumbs with some milk and almond paste, put it back inside the bun, pipe some lovely fresh whipped cream and top it off with the 'cap' of the bun.

Semla is sometimes even served in a bowl of steaming milk. I purchased this second semla at the airport while waiting to board the plane and it was fabulous with a cup of strong, black, Swedish coffee (which by-the-way, is so well protected you cannot import, mail, or ship other coffee to Sweden without permission). I still dream about Semla a year later. In fact, I wanted this post to be about making Semla but my house is too cold to properly rise any yeast dough without extreme effort so you just get to dream with me.

Since we're on the topic of food and Sweden, I was only there for literally 30 hours. So I cannot review Sweden and all it's glory but it doesn't seem to have a strong cultural identity surrounding food. Their fare is rather simple (which I really do like) but there was nothing that really stuck out. This is what I had for dinner one night and this was as close as I could get to Swedish food:

I opted for chopped steak (essentially salisbury steak or hamburger steak) instead of Swedish meatballs since I can get that IKEA (hahahaa....) and the lingonberry sauce was quite good. They seem to like to drink beer with every meal, like any other European country, I suppose, and they serve boiled potatoes as their primary starch.

On the topic of food, some of you might get a kick out of this--look what I found in the middle of the town square:

Weight Watchers in Orebro!

I did get to see the town's castle and take a tour but I won't bore you with all the pictures. It did look lovely covered in snow though.
It was complete with a moat and everything!

The people were very friendly and many could speak enough English to explain to the dumb American girl how to find her hotel, and how much money she was holding, and what would be best to eat at the hotel bar. I would love to go back and visit during summer where the countryside is said to be the most stunning.

Hope you're having a happy Fat Tuesday in your corner of the world!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Winter X-games

Secret Agent Man has been waiting--literally--for the past 14 years (I think since 1996) for an el nino winter in California. The last el nino brought crazy snow fall in the local mountains all the way through April and he remembered going snowboarding and enjoying the sweetest rides that season.

So, of course, the ONE YEAR I move him AWAY from California is the ONE YEAR that el nino shows up. I'll never hear the end of this. Especially because despite all the snow here, there isn't a great snowboarding mountain around. So clearly, he's salty about missing out on all those sweet rides back in California, he's suffering from shingles (which for the most part have healed nicely), and he's quite literally freezing all the time. Yet, he tries to be a good sport about it.

He even pulled out his snowboard.
Um...hunny? Hun? Where are you going?

He's heading up the mountain...um...I mean, hill. This is our street before the snow plows could come through.

We've got some cool neighbors. That guy up on the right offered to push some snow and build a couple ramps for Secret Agent Man.

And here he comes!

Trust me he was all smiles...too bad he was going slower than an old lady with a peg leg. The pictures made him look good though, eh?

So, that was our big X-game moment. Here I leave you with a thought... Who says there's no waves in PA?

Happy surfing!

Snowmageddon-Doggie Edition

Snow might be novel for us and we probably enjoy it a little more than the average northerner might during this point in the winter but our enjoyment is NOTHING compared to what the dogs must be thinking. They are elated!

Here's Radar dying to play outside.

Here's Taylor trying to find her "spot." Note how high the snow is.


As you can imagine, manuvering through snow that deep is a tad bit more difficult for Radar. What this picture doesn't show is how high he has to jump to beable to propel forward; nor does it convey all the grunting sounds he's making.

But he's happy.

Meercats in PA?

Our dogs are terrible retrievers. So we were caught by surprise when Radar was barking and running around mad and Secret Agent Mad decided to throw a snowball at him (to get him to shut up) that he turned around and caught it! He was probably being a brat and showing up Secret Agent Man but none-the-less a new game was born!

Truth is that Taylor just thinks we're throwing food at her. She'll usually watch where the snowball falls and take a chomp out of it.

Radar can jump pretty high though!

Sometimes, they conk heads trying to catch the same snowball. It's very entertaining in a very sadistic way.

Here's a magic trick...how to make a dog disappear by the time I count to three...



I wasn't fast enough with the camera but Taylor looked so concerned.

In the end, they even learned how to actually retrieve!

And here they are all pooped out, waiting at the door to go back inside. A tired dog is a good dog.

I'll leave you with this picture of our pretty boy snow fox.

Sweet times...

Snowmageddon-PA edition

We thought the big snow storm was back during Christmas. Since then it had been gray and brown with some rain and really frigid temperatures. Some of you may have heard about the huge storm to hit Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD areas that shut down the cities. That same storm hit here and dumped at least 18" of pristine, fluffy, dry, sandy, fine snow.
And now you know why Innuits have 40 words for snow.

The snow piled so high that the stairs on our front porch were buried and there's a good 6" of snow ON the porch.

The trees looked like it was dripping with frosting.

This should give you some perspective of how deep "we" had to dig. My truck's bumper is in the background.

The snow was almost too high for the snowblower.

Secret Agent Man has a lot of fun with the snowblower.

He's also a good neighbor. We have 24 hours to shovel our sidewalks after a snowfall. Secret Agent Man has so much fun with the snowblower he keeps going until he clears the block.

He still needed to shovel the stairs though.

Our village/town/borough does a great job with clearing the streets. This time the snow fell so quickly, they had a hard time keeping up.

Our neighbor thinks we're weird.

Here I am, trying to make a snow angel. The doggies wanted to help. You know, kids make this look so easy but my question is how the heck do you get up without ruining the angel??

While I'm writing this, we're bunkered down, waiting for the next snow storm to pass. Another 12" is expected to fall between tonight and tomorrow night.
Stay warm!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Labels...read them.

I like to think of myself as a pragmatist. I don't make hard and fast rules about food because I think it'll just set myself up for failure or contradiction. For example, remember my craving for nachos? Well, I typically don't buy processed food and I typically don't "allow" chips in the house because I end up eating the bag between two breaths but I figured it's better that I make the nachos than to try to find some semblance of the stuff in town. Anyway, the point I'm *trying* to make here is that food should be food and people should try to eat what, to the best of their knowledge, they believe to be healthy, wholesome, and in moderation. Sounds pragmatic to me.

However, upon closer inspection, food is not always food as we think of it. The closer we look, the more complicated it gets. Me--I like simple...kinda explains why I live out in the middle of nowhere. But to prove my point, take a look at this can of tuna:

For most people, a can of tuna should be made up of what else but tuna, right? Sure, you can have a can of tuna packed in water or packed in oil so therefore the list of ingredients would simply be tuna and water/oil. Granted, sometimes salt might be added as a form of preservative. I can accept that. But read the label on this ordinary can of tuna.
Solid White Tuna *check*
Water *check*
Vegetable broth *che...wha?*
(contains soy) *HUH?*
Salt *um,okay*
Pyrophosphate *pyro-what?*

Now, I'm not singling out this company and infact, this wasn't the except to the rule, but the rule itself. It took me and Secret Agent Man (okay, he was just being patient and humoring me)10-15 minutes to find a can of tuna with JUST tuna and water. The point being that maybe people should pay attention to labels more often. I just don't know why vegetable broth or soy should be in a can of tuna. They aren't bad things, per se (although soy is debatable), just weird. Maybe that's just me.

Did you know some chicken broths and plain old canned diced tomatos have monosodiumglutamate (MSG)? Why would you need MSG in diced tomatoes? Just plain weird to me. Don't get me wrong, I love MSG because it makes things taste so intensely good but I think reducing the amount of processed stuff could do me no harm. Judging from these "case studies" I'm pretty sure I'm getting my fill of MSG without even knowing it.

I just started to read labels a little closer (well, reading things other than the total calories and fiber grams) and I found that the most ordinary foods had extraordinary ingredients. It's actually quite amusing to a nerd like me but it does make you wonder what else you've been eating without knowing it.