Saturday, October 8, 2011

You may say I'm a dreamer...

I made new year's resolutions.  One of them was to learn to cook three new things this year.  Here it is, the end of January and I've almost already kept that resolution.  I guess I set my goals too low.  It's happened before.

At my place, amongst the detritus of my life, are boxes of books.  They are still in boxes because I haven't yet put together some bookshelves I bought three years ago.  I hear you saying, "You should have made the shelves your resolution."  Touche, honest reader.

I have been enjoying poring over some special cookbooks.  I have "Good Food from Sweden" by Inga Norberg.  Fact: traditional food from Sweden does not contain even the tiniest suggestion of garlic.  Inga, however, does tell cooks that when creating "snacks for the cocktail party" that "the butter is to be unsalted, and creamed, and in some cases mixed with a suspicion of mustard."

I love Inga.  I can almost hear her gentle Swedish lilt as I read.  This is because my maternal grandfather was a Swedish-American.  Meaning, of course, that he STARTED in Sweden and then moved here.  I have memories of him, because he didn't die until he was 94.  When I was little, he would call me Svenska Flikka and we would sit on the back porch in a wooden rocking chair that he'd made with his own hands and listen to Kate Smith sing "God Bless America" on his new record player.

He had a hardscrabble beginning in the USA.  He had to live on his uncle's farm to work off the cost of his passage here, which his uncle had paid.  There are tales of him surviving a winter by eating green potatoes.  I remember him as nothing but kind, however, in my adulthood I have heard that he could be stern and headstrong.  I do remember those trips to Great-grandpa's house with us kids in the back of the car bouncing around on the bench seat being admonished that we would, "Behave at grandpa's house.  No running around the house.  No fighting with your cousin.  Only playing in the back yard or the park.  And IF you behave, you can have an Orange Push Up when we get home."

His was the first funeral I recall attending.  I guess my parents had judged me worthy, at that stage in childhood, of accepting the finality of the loss of a family member and ready to see an actual dead body.  I don't remember the funeral much, but I do still possess a sense of riding in the back of Dad's Lincoln on the way there and listening to an eight-track tape.

On a clear day
Rise and look around you
And you'll see who you are
On a clear day
How it will astound you
That the glow of your being
Outshines every star
You'll feel part of
Every mountain, sea and shore,
You can hear from far and near
A world you've never never heard before

And on a clear day
On a clear day
You can see forever and ever and ever and ever more.

Great grandpa's name was Axel Anderson and he would sometimes give us real silver dollars.  That money was, of course, immediately taken by Mom and put away because, I guess, a child couldn't be responsible to spend it and it was for posterity.  Whatever posterity was.

It's gone now.  Mom has brain damage from a tumor removal and she has lived some different places in the past ten years.  Though she's here where I am now, there's no way of telling where the silver dollars went.  One day about a year ago, though, we were trying to "organize" paperwork and she had some small white cards.  I immediately recognized them.  They were the cards that my great-grandfather had actually bothered to have printed up during his life and he had given them out to people.  He was a deeply spiritual man known to invite the minister over for semi-regular herring dinners.

The card says:
Each morning when I wake I say,
"I place my hand in God's today;"
I know He'll walk close by my side
My every wandering step to guide.

He leads me with the tenderest care
When paths are dark and I despair---
No need for me to understand
If I but hold fast to His hand.

My hand in His! No surer way
To walk in safety through each day.
By His great bounty I am fed;
Warmed by His love, and comforted.

When at day's end I seek my rest
And realize how much I'm blessed,
My thanks pour out to Him; and then
I place my hand in God's again.

-Axel Anderson

So, of course with the Swedish legacy upon me, I find Inga Norberg delightful.  Allow me to share the Foreword to "Good Food from Sweden" (1939) with you:

The recipes in this book will prove to you that the Swedish housewife is a culinary artist who knows how to turn an inexpensive and simple item on the menu into an appetizing dish by just a few deft touches.  She also bears in mind the stimulating effect of a varied menu, as a welcome change from everyday fare.  Being also both clever and economical, she realizes the nutritive value of eggs, cream and butter, and would never in her cooking stint an extra egg or a pint of cream, knowing that she will get far more real food-value out of those ingredients than out of an equally expensive slice of meat, not to speak of the appetizing effect they will have on an otherwise uninteresting dish.
The Swedish housewife also has a flair for turning to good account the cheaper cuts of meat, which are generally looked down on by the American cook for the simple reason that she has never learnt how to transform them into nourishing and tasty dishes.  I am thinking of minced meat.  Not the kind you buy "ready-made," nor the remains of the Sunday roast having passed through the usual Monday morning rites.  The Swedish minced meat arrives from the butcher in its original state, be it good stewing beef, best forequarter veal, or pork, and the mincing process takes place in her own kitchen.  This is to ensure that there is no violation of what might be looked upon as the Swedish housewife's golden rule: "Only the best (meaning superior and unimpaired raw materials) is good enough."
There are a few cooking utensils that the Swedish housewife finds invaluable, and that in the long run would well repay the comparatively small initial outlay.  Those utensils can be had from the hardware department of most leading stores.
Finally, I wish to tell you that many American dishes are quite popular in Sweden and that I have noticed how every years an increasing number of American recipes find their way into our Swedish cookery books.  Exchange being no robbery,  I hope that our American friends will take kindly to these typically Swedish recipes.
                                                                                   INGA NORBERG

Reading the recipes has been fun and informative, although there are many that I would never try.  In fact, there's only really ONE in the whole book that I found myself dwelling on.

But first, you have to read Inga's brief written introductory anecdote about famous Swedish punsch...and the recipe.  Take it away, Inga!

Most people seem to have heard about Punsch, a Swedish liqueur that nowadays is really more popular with visitors to my country than with the Swedes themselves.  It has a sweet rather innocent taste, and inexperienced Germans, coming over to Sweden, are said to have been wont to drink it in tankards, in their own native fashion, being greatly surprised when they wake up the next morning with a headache.  

Swedish Punsch
9 pints water, 5 1/2 lbs. powdered sugar, 2 whole bottles arrack, 1 whole bottle fairly good brandy, 1 whole bottle 95% spirit, 2 teaspoons turpentine
Put sugar and water in preseving pan and reduce by boiling into 9 pints syrup.  Allow to cool.  Mix with other ingredients.  Keep on ladling the punsch for one hour.  Bottle, cork and seal bottles, and keep in a lying position.  Improves with time, but can be used after 2 days.

See why I love Inga?  I have German heritage, too.

Also, Inga gave the recipe for Dreams.  It's in the cookie section.  I was immediately drawn to it by the name.  It doesn't say "Swedish Dreams", just "Dreams".  That's quite a name.  I've never seen anything in the culinary realm ever given such a simple, powerful name.  I mean, we have "Cherries Jubilee" and "Ambrosia" and "Divinity"...but no "Dreams."

1 cup sugar, 1 cup fresh butter, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
Mix all ingredients well together on a breadboard.  Roll into small balls and bake in a slow oven (325 F).

I thought, un-oh.  How long?  Inga?  How long do you bake the dreams?  Crap.  I need to KNOW these things.  Then I realized...I have made SO many baked goods that I oughtta be able to figure this out for myself.  I just need to commit to the project, get the ingredients, put them together, throw them in the oven and watch.  As long as the oven works, the dreams are going to turn out fine.

So, today...first I mixed up the ingredients for the Norwegian Meatballs and gravy that I'm about to make for supper.  That's thing three for the year.  So far.  The secret to the gravy for the meatballs is Heinz 57 sauce.  Make of that what you will.

And then I put the dreams together.  The dough was excellent and easy to roll into balls.  I put 15 dreams on each cookie sheet.  I put the light on in the oven so I could carefully observe my Dreams.  They seemed to fall into round puffy dollops and then evened out.

Dreams take 16 minutes to bake and they are delicious.

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