Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas time for the Uber-Swede

Am I the only one that, upon the holiday season, digs into her little ancestry and therein, finds the most over-the-top, ethnic-loving, tradition-embracing, uber-Swede there ever was?  I'm a staunch supporter of celebrating Christmas during the Christmas season so there are no Christmas carols or ornaments or gift shopping (to be honest) before Thanksgiving.  But man oh man, on Black Friday I awake with a little Swedish flag painted over my heart.  I don the right clothing (Scandinavian sweaters, don't you DARE say they're Norwegian), place little clogs and straw goats under my tree, make the only Swedish foods I know of (which, for the record are all poor man's food made to stick to your ribs and get you through the brutally dark cold winter).  I convince myself that I thoroughly enjoy winters in Chicago because it reminds me of the years of bitter winters and famine up in the dark north.  Where else do you find a saint honored for feeding people with candles on her head?

This year, I maybe went a little over the top.  Now most folks for Christmas like to go to the beach.  Hawaii, Florida, California-- anywhere that's warmer than here.  Who, after all, needs a white Christmas when we've been having a white November, white December, and Lord knows we'll get a white January, white February, white March and goodness knows maybe even white April.  I must seriously be a glutton for punishment because this year, I decided I wanted to spend my Christmas week in Anchorage.  One of my sisters ran away up to Alaska after college and never came back and I hadn't been there in the winter since 2001.  It was time.  I needed more darkness, and more cold.  So I happily spent the shortest day of the year in the darkest state in the US.  For the record, the sun rose at 10:14 AM and set at 3:41 PM.  That's a whopping whole 5 hours, 26 minutes and 57 seconds.

Enter uber-Swede.  I loved it.  We went cross country skiing everyday while I was there.  Normally Katherine and I take little Jack Jack the wonder dog hiking and backpacking with us (he has his own little camping pack that holds doggie treats and his shovel to bury the things he leaves behind) but this time, we took him out to skijor.  He was a little unhappy with the booties but was quite excited to be out with us in the cold snow, skiing past moose seen and unseen.

The sad, or rather, fantastic part of it all is, I loved it.  I loved skiing in dim twilight at 2:30 in the afternoon.  And mostly, I loved cooking my little Swedish heart out with my sister.  Before I even arrived she had made 6 loaves of Swedish coffee bread, so we skipped that one this year.  But we made pepparkakor and Swedish meatballs.  And you know what?  it's lovely being a wanna be Swede over the holidays.  It's incredibly good to point to life-long traditions and know they were there even before little me.  So, uber-Swedes unite!  And I'll see you again in December of 2010.

Alaskan Pepparkakor

3 3/4 c flour
2 t baking soda
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground coves
1 t ground ginger
1 t ground cardamom
1 c butter
1 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1 egg, beaten
2 T birch syrup (to be bought at
       the Alaska state fair)

Whisk flour, salt and four spices together in a medium bowl.  In a separate large bowl, beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Mix in egg and syrup.  Slowly add flour mixture until evenly blended.

Divide batter into 4 equal portions, form 2" x 4" x 8" bricks and wrap in clear plastic wrap.  Refrigerate overnight. 

Preheat oven to 375.  Using one "brick" dough at a time, allow the brick to sit on the counter for about 5 minutes or until maleable, just barely. Roll out on well floured space, about 1/4 inch thick (or thinner if you're Cynthia Erickson and have mad pepparkakor skills).  Use as much flour as you need so that the dough does not stick to the pin, the counter, or you.  Cut into cookies using a star or heart shaped cookie cutter.  Using a silpat (I'm a new convert!!) place on cookie sheets and bake for 5 minutes.  Watch closely!!!  you don't want the edges to brown at all, so if you have a hot oven, watch them!

Consume with lots and lots and lots of good coffee.  Preferably Kaladi Brothers.

 Swedish Meatballs

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Florence Nightingale Soup

It must have been a miserable fall for the healthcare community.  Not only have these folks been in the spotlight in terms of new legislation (which let me tell you, as part of the financial community, that's NEVER a fun spotlight to be in) but they've also been swamped with more patients than ever.  My mom aka. Best Public Health Nurse in the State, has been doing double duty helping low-income women find breast and cervical cancer screening and moonlighting as a flu shot provider on the weekends.  Craziness.

I'm officially up to using both hands to count the number of people in my office who have caught H1N1, and while I really want to call this soup by that name, I think I should opt for inciting, rather than funny, no? Flo Night Soup it is.

My Scandinavian genetics have been holding strong and diligent vitamin popping has certainly paid off this fall.  No serious colds or influenza, yet, hand-sanitized-fingers crossed.  I picked up this recipe from Coco Pazzo's chef demo at the Green City market this summer and so far, have made it for 2 under-the-weather loved ones.  I've been reading lately about how fantastic mushrooms are for your immune system and I may say that this soup is proving their point.  It will stick to your ribs, pump you full of vitamins and is much much much better on the second day.  I have used fresh herbs and even the frozen ice cubes I make every summer from abundant herb producers on my windowsill and both are equally flavorful-- quantity of herbs is the key here.  The caramelized butternut squash adds a nice sugary snap to the deep salty flavored mushrooms.

Florence Nightingale Soup
2 cups 1/2 cubed butternut squash, peeled
2 t cinnamon

2-3 T olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 leek, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 c mixed mushrooms
1/2 c dried porcini mushrooms

1/2 c mixed herbs (tarragon, sage, rosemary, basil) chopped
2 cups bulgar
3 quarts chicken stock
salt & pepper
1 bay leaf

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 T oil.  Add butternut squash and cinnamon and sautee until carmalized well, about 5 minutes.

In a large soup pot, saute onion, celery, leek and carrots until the onions turn translucent.  Season with salt and pepper. Add sliced mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms release some of their liquid.   Add dried mushrooms and bulgar and caramelized butternut squash.  Add chicken stock and bay leaf and bring to a simmer.  Adjust seasoning and cook until bulgar is tender (probably about 20-30 minutes). 

Starch from bulgar will thicken up this soup A LOT!!  I always buy a whole extra carton of chicken stock to add to each serving as I reheat.  Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup stock to each full cup of soup. 

Again, this soup is much better the next day and promises to be a lovely healthy kick in the butt for your loved ones.  A votre santee!