Friday, May 25, 2012

Return to Copenhagen

A few weeks ago, I was living under the California sun and preparing for what I was sure would be a chilly weather adventure in Copenhagen.  Last time I was here (spring 2005), it was what I like to call pastry and coffee weather.  I was bundled up, all mittens and scarf and winter hat.  As it turns out, I've arrived for the warmest weather week of the year-- people are sunbathing everywhere as if it's Santa Monica.  In true California style, my packing strategy was mostly motivated by the fear that I would freeze to death in the Scandinavian winter.  But one can't complain when sunshine is such a rare luxury around here!  As you can see from the picture above, our afternoon cake and coffee session was uncharacteristically bathed in light.

With 15 months of an international internship ahead of me, I know I will be looking back on this sunny weather fondly once winter strikes.  You might be wondering what I was doing to prepare for my trip while failing to research average summer temperatures.  Why, food-related research, of course!  To prepare for my extended stay in Denmark, I attended the recent UCLA lecture given by René Redzepi and Lars Williams of noma and Nordic Food Lab fame.  It was by chance that they happened to visit my city just before I was to become a temporary resident of theirs.  The chefs were kind enough to bring the audience samples of their culinary creativity (a plan almost foiled by temporarily lost luggage.)  We tasted cucumber powder, cricket sauce, and ice cream made with seaweed indigenous to Denmark.  (In the lecture, we learned that seaweed is not currently a large part of the food culture in Denmark, though there are hundreds of varieties in the region.)  I would love to eat at noma one day, but if I never do, I consider a $20 lecture ticket (plus UCLA parking pass) a heavily discounted and thrilling opportunity to taste anything these chefs have touched.  

Ranked as the best restaurant in the world three years running, noma celebrates the local ingredients of Denmark by constantly foraging for new culinary inspiration.  Lars Williams even described finding ants that tastes like kaffir lime, which sound just crazy (and also awesome) enough to try at least once.  Maybe kaffir lime ants will eventually invade menus in Los Angeles just like truffle oil-- we'll start to add citrus insects to our high end mac and cheese just like we used to add lobster.  While I've not yet foraged for such ants in Denmark, I have already experienced living off of the land here.  As luck would have it, I arrived just in time for deer hunting season, and enjoyed fresh venison from the fields of Roskilde just a few days after landing.

Above, the hunting grounds and hunting lodge near where I'm staying.

I will spend my first few weeks here staying with a Danish family who I lived with in 2005, during my college semester abroad.  Lone and her husband Jan are the chefs behind the aforementioned special meal.  To put it lightly, they can hunt and cook a mean dinner.  Sometimes the best, most memorable meals are cooked at home and not at trendy restaurants-- and meals at their house definitely fall under this category.  We've been lucky to stay in touch all this time, and my Danish host mom even visited Los Angeles last spring.  

Below, we visited the Bruery, a small brewery based in Orange County, CA who makes a beer inspired by Danish style rugbrød.

 Of course, all Danish visitors must have a picture with the lovely Pacific Ocean!  Here we are at Crystal Cove State Beach.
 Yes, it's just your typical reunion bakery hunting trip in Los Angeles!   Magnolia bakery was one of a handful of bakeries we had the chance to visit together.

The bakery hunting photo brings me back to where I started: the cake bathed in sunlight at the start of this post? It's Lone's homemade coconut cake, just one of many delicious traditional Danish recipes she whips up when inspiration strikes.  Baking is a common passion of ours, and a particular talent of hers.  Despite her talents, she always tells me "Oh, it's very simple to make this recipe."  But I know the truth-- this woman has skills.  And what fortune that I am able to enjoy everything that comes out of her generous kitchen, along the great company that comes along with it. 

tiny and irresistible sugar cookies that will leave you thinking "just one more..."
homemade buns, often enjoyed with cheese and jam at breakfast
a typical Danish breakfast in this household
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