Thursday, May 3, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons... Reinvent Your Blog!

Okay, so not to harp on the obvious, but I am no longer in Denmark. Which, sadly, means no more touring around Danish museums, events, or poking fun of the culture with quite so much regularity. Lacking the source of my subject, I have decided to branch out to being an "expat" in my own area and doing the tourist thing in the name of blogging. Still trying to figure out what to do about the blog name issue...

So here was my first documented Stateside outing. The Corning Museum of Glass!

While moving to Denmark might have been a head-scratcher for some of my more geographically-challenged American friends, I think Corning might actually be worse and warrant the posting of a map. For reference and orientation, that's NYC/Long Island, "the center of the known universe," in the lower right portion of the map.

I am amazingly fortunate and lucky to have a friend who works at the museum as an instructor and glass artist and who gave me a wonderful tour around the studio so I could get a firsthand look at how glass is actually created.

I then headed into the museum itself, which is divided into different sections covering glass as art as well as the history and evolution of glass and its many uses.

Below on the right is Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who hand-crafted his own microscopes and is credited as being the "Father of Microbiology." On the left is some dude who made telescopes and who made me realize that I should have brought a notepad to jot things down. Like his name. Which was not Galileo... that I might have remembered.

After chiding myself for how little of my high school/college chemistry and history I still remembered, it was on to the art. The iconic Mr. Chihuly was everywhere, as expected.

In the entrance...

...and overhead.

Some surreal, some ethereal...

And finally, my quick whirlwind tour concluded with a rush through the historic glass gallery. Some classic examples...

...and finally some German forest glass.

Forest glass

Which was about as close to Danish as I was going to get this trip. Except for maybe the Design House Stockholm glassware for sale in the gift shop...

Stay tuned for more (American) adventures, like spring at the farmer's market and  waxing philosophical about the heavenly big box store that is Target.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Random Nature Shot of the Week

Random Old Nature Edible Shot Shots of the Week From Last Year

I came across some old photos taken by a friend of the delicious array of food we sampled at the Nordic Food Festival last year and thought I'd share, now that everyone's had a chance to recover from the oversexed-food-orgy of a promotional image for the event.

Some fish hiding beneath sea-buckthorn mousse.

Smoked salmon, a smoked mussel - like biting into an ocean.
On ocean that happens to have some dill floating in it...

Say 'hello' to my little (tasty) friend.

Pig, as art.

FYI: This year's event takes place August 24 - September 2. If any company would like to sponsor a roundtrip ticket to Copenhagen for this author, I will gladly let you plaster yourself all over this blog and make shameless plugs of your product or service.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Democratic Party

I've been told by expat friends and that Spring has arrived in Copenhagen. I kicked around a few ideas for posts based on this knowledge - sidewalk cafe culture, organic and bio-dynamic farming, and finally settled on a celebration of Danes at their social best. Nothing brings people out of the word work like warmer weather. We're happier, saner, friendlier people when the sun is pumping us full of vitamin D. Last year, I warmly welcomed the false-summer that was April in Denmark. (Summer came and went a little later in June. By August, still wondering when it was going to come for real, I finally realized I'd missed it.)

Islands Brygge, April, 2011
Warm weather brings everyone out. Which led me to the thought that social life in general in Denmark brings everyone out. One of the great mystifying elements of life in Copenhagen was the blurring of age demarcations. The idea that things must be age-appropriate, that family-friendly means a watered-down event realistically targeted at safety-conscious couples with kids age 4-12, that grandparents' and grandchildrens' interests are two circles who shall never join in any Venn diagram known to man.

Here are some of the more  interesting festivals and events that I had the great sociological fortune to be a part of during my stay in Denmark and some of the observations I took away.

1) Distortion: The Open Source Party
Imagine a city that likes to drink. Really likes to drink. But instead of getting all Spring-Break-Girls-Gone-Wild-trashy, it gets all warm and fuzzy and fun. Imagine for four (it's up to five this year) days, that city sponsors a big street party that moves from neighborhood to neighborhood, spanning indoor and outdoor venues, closing down whole blocks and sections of a major metropolitan area. And then cleans up the mess!

From its own website:
"Distortion is a carnival-type event with an anything-goes attitude. Most events are free and open-sourced to over a hundred 'street hosts' - that's over one hundred distinct street parties in 5 days."

If you want to skip the video, or have impressionable American children or coworkers looking over your shoulder, here are some of the highlights:

0:38 The 'old' people
0:57 The 'really old' guy
1:15 The retro roller skates, most likely worn by someone not 'old'
1:19 The tango couple
2:09 Bananas in Pajamas (not kidding)

You'll have to go the website and watch some of the other videos to catch the kids on bikes, riding parents' shoulders, and break-dancing in backpacks. I'm pretty sure there's not a demographic that isn't covered which lends a kind of what-would-happen-if-your-parents-showed-up-at-Spring-Break feel. Apparently the answer in Copenhagen might be hang out and party with you...

2) Kulturhavn (Culture Harbor): The Pirate Party
Spanning three days and three of the city's biggest public harbor areas, Islands Brygge, Sydhavnen, and Refshaleøen, this festival brings together the 'diversity of Copenhagen's clubs and civic organizations' to showcase music, theater, dance, sports and arts. Or, said another way, it allows a participant to walk along the harbor front and through a mash-up of anything you could imagine anyone being into. Ever.

Amazingly, these photographs were all taken on the same day, at the same festival.

A member of the Scottish bagpipe band.

A demonstration of parkour - French street acrobatics.

A flash mob of dancers.

Drowned bicycles recycled as art.

And finally, because, what's a harbor festival without pirates?

3) Copenhagen Cooking: Let Them Eat Cake
A ten-day festival celebrating the cuisine being fawned over by the international foodie scene, the promotional ad could not have been more blunt in trying to get across the idea: New Nordic is sexy.

That's New Nordic food we're talking about here, people. Food. I can assure you, any fixation on that image in the weeks leading up to the event were strictly trying to determine, 'Is that lovage or chervil she is draped in?"

All joking aside, events were held across the city, for all ages, and at varying price points, to allow the general public to peek inside the movement that in some ways has been limited to those with extremely large expense accounts or who just happen to have 'verjus' kicking around in their pantry.

At the signature Nordic Taste event, restaurants from all over Scandinavia set up in the Meatpacking district and small samples of cooking as high art were doled out to the masses.

4) Stella Polaris: Chill to the People
This kicking back while listening to electronic music festival spent two days traveling to other cities before culminating in a giant lawn party outside the Statens Museet for Kunst (National Art Museum) with Moby as the headline act. Did I neglect to mention that all these events were also free? This one is supported through a foundation that solicits donations (as well as corporate sponsorship) but there was no entry fee to get in, just some good-natured jostling for a prime spot on the grass.

The early crowd
The 'target audience,' as described by the festival's own website:

"The crowd is a great mix of discerning electronic feinschmeckers, happy families with playing children, intoxicated after-parties, smooching couples sharing kisses and cool white wine, and the odd surprised group who just happened to walk by and decided to stay."

Balancing out all the excess wth some fruit,
organic of course
A children's art area and un-supervised kids running around with their parents' cell phone numbers written in marker on their arms completed the un-American family-friendly vibe.

So here's to Spring, with its promise of warmer things to come. May we all come out of hibernation and live a little.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Random Nature Shot(s) of the Week (That Were Not Taken in Denmark)

Well-makers lead the water;
fletchers bend the arrow;
carpenters bend a log of wood;
wise people fashion themselves.


Still in Love

Nearly April, 2012, and we're still in love. We = Travel & Leisure Magazine, which named Copenhagen "Europe's Best Town for Foodies."

I think I have figured out the formula for writing about Copenhagen dining. It goes something like this: gush, drool, gush, gush, lovey smoochy face, drool, mega-drool, name drop, gush some more, finish with a *sigh*. It's fun to read for sure, and, I admit, you gotta love the balls of a chef who can talk about "trash cooking" when referring to his $268, 20-course extravaganza.

Bon Appetit had to go even a step further, getting all Facebook-stalker-ish and taking it into the guy's home kitchen, and challenging the reader to decide which is cuter: his adorable Nordic-elf of a daughter or the perky, button-cute chanterelles on the counter next to her. This article has also provided me with my new favorite term: "Scandi lifestyle envy"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

In Love

Since I've been back in the States, I can't help but notice how in love certain segments of America seem to be with Copenhagen, Denmark and Scandinavia in general. Here's a general survey. I still can't decide if it makes me more or less 'hjem'-sick...

A search of the New York Times website turns up no less than nine articles that reference the world-renowned Copenhagen restaurant Noma in the past few months alone. You can practically hear the sound of Mark Bittman's drool hitting the pages of the magazine section as he lauds head chef Rene Redzepi as the 'Prince of Denmark' and dishes out Noma-style recipes like Whitefish with Grilled Cabbage and Langoustines with Oysters and Seaweed.

Replace dude in the suit by the window with Me!

A mere month after my return, imagine my surprise to discover that I'd beaten Mr.  Bittman himself to the punch, having had one of my last, best meals in Copenhagen at Restaurant Paustian. To add to the entire feeling of deja vu, the photograph featured in the article shows the exact table I sat at. And my very same waitress!

And not to single out NYT or Mr. Bittman for their unabashed obsession, other food magazines have similarly jumped on the bandwagon. The January 2012 Food & Wine magazine features a love-fest between the aforementioned Mr. Redzepi and California chef Daniel Patterson in which they tinker around the kitchen creating new recipes. 

This is how exciting it is to be Danish!

I found the whole article a bit alienating. Despite my love of cooking and food, I couldn't quite muster up the same high-five slapping enthusiasm for dishes like Brown Butter Chicken Jus with Citrus and Greens, in which each diner is allotted exactly three walnut pieces and about six leaves of parsley as garnish. According to Redzepi, "A recipe is like when you buy an Ikea closet with maddening instructions. You need to bring some common sense to it." An interesting parallel, given that a meal at his restaurant including wine will cost you about as much as Ikea's most expensive closet... though it also explains why there are so many courses as it must take a lot to fill up if you replace all the meat with a suggestion or hint of meat.

Interesting for entirely different reasons was a September 2011 Bon Appetit article on an obscure restaurant in the wilds of Sweden and yet another chef obsessed with scraping things off the forest floor and eating them. The article didn't entirely convince me of the chef's overall sanity, however I did come away with an appreciation for his up-front honesty, a characteristic I've found universal among the many Scandinavians I've known and encountered:

'A rickety old ice cream maker was delivered to the center of the dining room and loudly cranked. Again, we all looked. "I deliberately don't take care of my ice cream maker so it will make a lot of eeer-awww, eeeeh-errrkk sounds," Magnus Nilsson says with a sly, faint smile.'

The entire Viking-worship phenomenon isn't just limited to food and restaurants. Here's a bunch of other stuff I've run into:

Town & Country's December 2011 issue featured a small article on blogger Mikael Colville-Andersen and his championing of the 'citizen cyclist'. Copenhagen Cycle Chic is a fun blog that gives a great sense of Danish bicycle culture, fashion and the amazing number of things that can be done with, by or on a bike. While it did bring back my nostalgia for riding on the back of a bicycle through the city, it did not convince me that drop crotch pants should be as universally adopted.
Elle Decor's November 2011 edition features a Stockholm apartment that could be similarly found in the tonier 'burbs of Copenhagen. Good move not featuring the bathroom in the photo shoot as there's nothing glamorous about showering standing over your own toilet.

An article on a Danish art collective's recent project in New York City caught my attention, not so much for its daring, as for the name of the artist interviewed - Bjørnstjerne. For a country with such strict naming rules, I'm surprised they let "Bear-Star" fly...

The entire Design Within Reach catalog is like taking a stroll through a Danish design museum, though I'm not exactly sure whose reach they're referring to by carrying a $15,000 sofa.

Why all this love? My favorite explanation comes from journalist and author Joel Stein's column for Food & Wine magazine's Nordic trendspotting piece:

Nordic Food: Ikea is Forever

Humorist Joel Stein ponders our Scandi-centric moment, as we eat skyr, watch Nordic chefs and worship prefab furniture.

When money is flowing and times are like a Jimmy Buffett song, we tend to think of heading south. To less stressful places with charmingly lax laws, fruity cocktails and warm azure water lapping upon us. These are cocky thoughts. They are 2006 thoughts. In 2011, we find ourselves thinking of all things Nordic. Of mittens and mutton. Of stylish sturdiness.

So we are hunkering down, longing to eat at places like Copenhagen’s Noma—easily the most influential restaurant in the world, converting chefs into micro-localists, foraging lichen in their basement and curing musk ox. Platters of toro sashimi might not be around in 10 years, but you can be sure there will be lichen and musk ox after the apes take over.

Scandinavia is about resilience, hardiness, a cool edginess. It all makes sense right now; we want to simplify. To drink clear, hard liquors (aquavit) and listen to spare pop songs (Lykke Li). We trust these things in times of trouble. Because no matter how low the NASDAQ falls, you can always buy things at Ikea. And when they break, you can buy more.