Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Two Kanellbulle Kind of Day

(Two "pepparkaksmuffin" from Fabrique bakery)

Well, it's that time again, a "two kanelbulle day" has rolled back around (wink, wink). I will elaborate on that comment later on but first a little intro. One thing that is pretty neat about Sweden is that you never have to remember to schedule "female" doctor visits. You know, things like your pap smear, mammogram, etc. The healthcare system sends out a notification "calling you" to your appointment and all you have to do is show up. It is pretty nifty. The experience isn't that different here in Sweden, though if you are shy or uncomfortable with getting undressed it can be a bit surprising, to say the least, your first visit. There are no cute little closets to change into a paper gown and, in fact, there are no paper gowns either. It is just "remove your clothing from the waste down and hop up butt-naked onto the table. And relax."

Or in the case with getting the mammies grammed, you are asked to "remove your clothing from the waist up and walk up to the boob squishing device and wait until further instructed." How did I forget how painful it was?! At first you think it will be okay. The technician places your boob onto a flat metal surface (no, it's not cold at all!) and then presses a flat plastic, see-through plate on top of it. Then presses it down even further!!! Um, ouch? To say the least. Luckily it doesn't last that long. But long enough that all you can think about is the kanelbulle that you are treating yourself to afterward for being a good girl. Okay, in all honesty, you've probably been thinking about that kanelbulle since you received your mammogram appointment in the mail.

Though no matter how much you sugar (& cinnamon) coat it, getting your mammies grammed is the same everywhere. You leave with your poor girls flattened, embarrassed, and neatly tucked back into your over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder. Then you race -walk to the nearest bakery selling the famous, Swedish kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). That is one important difference between the US & Sweden. In the US, while there are dozens of tasty substitutions, there are no true kanelbullar to take your mind (& your boobs) off of that horrible experience.

So, from the photo above you have probably gathered that I did not leave the bakery with kanelbullar this time. Was it just a [lovely] coincidence that the bakery had these lovely, boob-like gingerbread muffins with cream cheese frosting? Probably not but I can say with all honestly that they were the most amazing gingerbread muffins I have eaten and the cream cheese frosting certainly sugar-coated my mammy gram experience. I'm not sure but perhaps my new ritual of getting a kanelbulle, or gingerbread muffin, afterward is a good thing. I mean, no one really looks forward to a mammogram but if you have something else to look forward to, the experience can be almost pleasant. Almost. ;-)

(Seriously, how could you pass these up??!!!)

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Beer and Cheese Tasting Party

(Beer & cheese tasting is serious stuff.)

This past summer I had the good fortune to be introduced to beer in a more positive light. I have never really been a “beer person,” normally preferring a glass of wine or a margarita, so I was surprised to discover that I actually really liked beer. Well. certain beer, that is. I guess I am still not quite an overall beer connoisseur. I know that I’ve always liked dark beers, like Guinness stout or a dark porter or chocolate stout, the type of beer my husband likens to “eating a loaf of bread.” I haven't tried too many in between a stout or porter and a pilsner or even an ale, so I didn’t know the vast expanse of beer that existed. Or that I could even one day say that I actually enjoy beer, rather than just tolerate it.

(At Vatten restaurant on the island of Tjörn)

My positive beer experience began when one of my brothers-in-law introduced me to the brand, Poppelman, at a family dinner in Gothenburg. It just so happened that one of the people who started the brewery that makes Poppelman was a friend of my husbands back when he was still living in Gothenburg. We thought that was kind of cool and it made us like the beer even more. We soon discovered that Poppelman could only be purchased at the Systembolaget on the west coast so on our next trip to Gothenburg we stopped by one to pick up a few bottles to take back to Stockholm, where I promptly forgot about beer. 

Some weeks later my husband asked me if I wanted a beer one evening and I said that I’d share one with him, still thinking like a non beer drinker. It happened to be Poppelman’s "Nya Världens IPA (India Pale Ale).” A very, tasty brew with a rich, bitter flavor, that I learned came from the hops. I later discovered that the more hops flavor in the beer the better. Maybe I could be a beer drinker after all.

(A tasty line-up!)

Later, during the summer, Poppelman, now known as just “Poppels,” made a reappearance when we had an informal “beer tasting” with one of my husband’s sisters and her husband, while we were at the family’s summer house on Tjörn (An island off the west coast of Sweden). My brother-in-law had purchased a selection of Poppels' brews for us to sample and we went through them one by one, deciding which were our favorites and noting the differences in flavors. My favorite remained the "Nya Världens IPA". I guess I just really like a “hoppy” beer. Our beer tasting was so much fun that an idea was planted in my mind, though I didn’t really realize it until a few months later.

As fall approached I suggested hosting a dinner party at our apartment. I didn’t want it to be anything too formal, as I am not practiced in cooking a fancy meal for more than four people, so I thought, “Why not have an Oktoberfest beer & cheese tasting party, with a big pot of chili and cornbread?” And so was born the idea. All guests would be invited to bring 6 bottles of their favorite microbrew, or some new brew they've wanted to try. I created a Facebook event and all invitees were asked to write which beer they would be bringing in their RSVP. I then began research to find cheeses to pair with the beers. 

(Nibbles ready to be eaten and mugs ready to be filled with hot buttered rum & spice apple cider) 

The party kicked off with a welcome drink of hot, buttered rum & spiced, apple cider. We then moved pretty quickly into the beer & cheese tasting. Each guest had a sheet of paper with two columns: one for the name of the beer and one for a one word description of the beer. Yes, guests were asked to describe each beer in just a single word. This was probably the hardest thing we did all night.

Just over our half-way point of beer & cheese tasting we decided to take a dinner break and get something of substance in our bellies. Spicy, vegetarian chili with green chili & cheddar corn muffins hit the spot and we all agreed that any of the beers would pair nicely with chili. For dessert I made mini, pumpkin tartlets, served with fresh whipped cream. Everything was a hit.

(Dessert eating and pumpkin decorating)

During the tasting we held a beer trivia contest, with questions such as, “Match the word for beer with the correct language,”  “True or False, In Japan beer is sold in vending machines.” and “Identify the author of this quote (Benjamin Franklin): ‘Beer is proof that God loves us.’” Later in the evening we had a pumpkin decorating contest. Both games with real prizes for the winners, and each guest/couple got to take home their decorated pumpkin.

(Mini pumpkin tartlets with sea salt and roasted hazelnuts)

Below are the tasting results. If you've never had a beer & cheese tasting I would highly recommend it. It was a truly fun event and one I would definitely repeat in the future, and especially during the chilly months of fall and winter. Based on our experience however, I would definitely recommend limiting the tasting to between 6-8 beers, 6 probably being the ideal number. We tasted a total of 11 and it felt like a bit of overkill. And as you can see below, the fun of coming up with one word descriptions and even pairing a cheese with the beer sort of fizzled out after number 8. 

Sigtuna Lager: Light, Bland, Hopsy, Drinkable, Summery & Fresh

Cheese: Goat/Chevre, Ementhaler

Mikkeller Kärlek Höst/Vinter: Piney, Eccentric, Happiness, Flowery, Hoppy, Tangerine-nose, Bitter, Aromatic, Forest, Frosty

Cheese: Manchego, Cheddar, Goat, Brie, 

We Love NY Yellow Cab Lager: Bitter, Hoppy, Flat, Ethereal, Cat-tongue

Cheese: Goat, Manchego, Gouda, Morbier 

Nils Oscar Oktoberfest: Chocolatey, Well-balanced, Delicious, Fall, Easy-to-drink, Smooth, Fresh, Good, Mocha 

Cheese: Cheddar, Morbier, Pecorino, Dark Chocolate, Saint Agur 

Alaska Smoked Porter: Thick, BBQ, Meaty, Smokey, Flavorful, Ham(y), Salami, Hickory, 

Cheese: Gouda, Chocolate, Saint Agur 

Hoegaarden: Fresh, Fruity, Citrusy, “Sliskig” (means icky sweet), Candy, Crisp, Lemondrop, Banana

Cheese: Svarta Sara (stinky cheese), Saint Agur, Goat, Manchego 

Pang Pang, Puttin’ in Hours: Hoppy, Dancing-on-the-tongue, Honey, Citrusy, Apricot, Summer, “After-work”, Flower-power

Cheese: Brie, Ementhaler, Saint Agur

St. Eriks Oktoberfest: Bitter, Dark, Hops, Chocolate, Hoppy, Chocolate+Coffee, 

Cheese: Chocolate, Saint Agur

St. Eriks Mathias Dahlgren: Bitter, Hoppiness, Hoppy, Happy, 

Cheese: Chocolate, Saint Agur

Poppel Belgian Wit: Frisk (Fresh), Acidic, Kvällsdopp (Evening swim), Lemon, Cider, “Pee” Luktig (smells like pee :-O)

Cheese: No cheese selected here. I think we were petering out at this point)

Innis & Gunn Oak: Vanilla, Sweet, Cuba-libre, Rum-cola, Cocktail(y), Pirates, Rum(y), Caramelized-sugar, Rum

Cheese: No cheese selected here either :-) but I think it would pair nicely with a     dessert - especially one with caramel or custard

PS. Yes, chocolate is not a cheese, but it was really delicious with many of the beers we tasted :-).