For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

June 30, 2012

Epicurean Flashbacks

We all know how it feels to have a flashback when hearing a particular song. For a brief instant the melody combined with the lyrics make you travel back in time to a precious place. You stay there for a minute or two, recall the beautiful moment and smile. Memories connected to music are extremely moving; even the coldest hearts heat up reminiscing about good old times. For some people, smells and tastes work the same way.  A perfume, a shampoo, a detergent, or particular food can take you on a trip down memory lane reminding you about a person, a summer vacation or even a period in your life.

Personally speaking, both sounds and smells have huge impact on me, but the latter even more so. It’s almost a bit freaky but yet so lovely. A smell can teleport me to a very specific place in my mind, making me remember precisely how I felt when I first encountered it. In fact, I often find myself seeking distinctive smells that I can later use as points of reference in order to relive a particular moment over and over again.

I witnessed such an amazing flashback the other day, no thanks to a smell rather a specific sound when cooking. Maybe it was the combination of the smell and the sound, but it was certainly the sound that moved me the most. Let me elaborate.

I never considered myself as someone who’d enjoy camping. My idea of the activity is not very good; hubs of caravans, drunken people stuffing their faces with bad food, mosquito bites, dreadful public toilets and showers… no thank you. Luckily, a good old friend proved me wrong and introduced me to a whole new way of camping. Obviously, this story has a twist – the part related to cooking and I’ll get to it in a second.

A week ago, my Spanish friend Cami picked me up at Barcelona airport. We hadn’t seen each other for five whole years and the reunions was ebullient! After the tenth “Is that really you!?” we crammed my huge back pack into the trunk of Cami’s car. I had no idea what to expect of the trip ahead. Cami had planned a whole week of outdoor food and sport related activities, but refused to reveal the details. I was psyched. I love surprises. However, I’m incurably curious and I simply couldn’t resist having a sneak peak into the big box I saw in the trunk. I didn’t see much of it's content but what I did see pleased me very much: a bottle of Rioja Reserva 2007, a big fat chorizo, Spanish goat’s cheese and, as a cherry on top, gluten free bread just for me. I didn’t need to see more. I had full faith that my dear friend had the situation fully under control. While Cami was busy arranging stuff in the car, I performed a short and silent happy dance.

Now back to my story on sounds. It was the second day of my Spanish surprise vacation when Cami informed me at breakfast that we’d head up to the Spanish Pyrenees. In addition to being a passionate foodie like myself, Cami loves climbing, hiking, canyoning and other such mountain related activities. Direction: wilderness. Even though I’m a total rookie in this domain, I was very excited. And my excitement only grew while Cami was preparing the little “survival kit” that contained yummy treats.

Before I knew it, I was walking up a mountain with no people or civilization in sight. With sweat dripping down my forehead, I started feeling the vertigo kick in, but I remained focused. I inhaled the hot air that smelled of thyme and rosemary and kept my eyes on the narrow rocky path. “We’ll definitely earn our lunch today” Cami said with a smile and passed me the bottle of ice-cold spring water. I swear it was the most delicious water ever. ¡Vamos! Two hours later, I was starving. I had been so consumed by the breathtaking view over the Rodellar that I hadn’t felt the hunger before. “Are you hungry?” Cami read my mind right on time. I answer with my favorite Spanish sentence: “¡Claro que si hombre!”

We made camp in a canyon with the river flowing a meter away. Cami opened his backpack. The moment I had been waiting for had come. My mouth was watering. I was ready to dig in to whatever he had in there. As I was reaching for the food, Cami stopped me; “First we need to get refreshed” and jumped into the crystal clear water. I followed the leader. It was perfect.

After the dip I was totally awake. By now my hunger had taken a life of its own, I had to feed it or else… But in no time Cami set up a whole camping kitchen! Aluminum plates that also work as frying pans, aluminum cups, fork/spoons, pocketknives, a butane cooker… the whole deal. I was impressed. As he was preparing our lunch, he made a sound that instantly transported me to my childhood. It felt like one specific sound combined with all the other surrounding elements creating a very familiar whole. The sound was the fork against the aluminum plate! Yes! That was it! For me, that sound makes my mouth water. It’s like whatever's cooking can only be delicious, something “stewy”, rich and scrumptious. It reminded me of times when we used to go on boat trips to the Finnish archipelago in the summer with my parents. On the boat we only had a little camping kitchenette and all kitchenware were made of aluminum. My favorite dish back then was white beans in tomato sauce with grilled sausages and boiled Finnish new potatoes!

“Edith where are you? Earth calling. It’s time to eat.” Cami handed me the hot aluminum plate with steaming food on it. I’m sure I looked like I was having a spiritual connection with some high and mighty force or something.

I took the plate in my hands and gently scraped the plate with the fork. There it was again, that sound! I burst into laughter! What a moment of sheer happiness. There I was, in the heart of the Spanish Pyrenees with a good old friend, but at the same time I was back in the early 90’s on an island in the Gulf of Finland. I was deeply touched. A flashback of my very first epicurean memory! I couldn’t resist licking the plate clean.

June 1, 2012

Dinner in Brazil

When speaking about food, there are always new things to discover and endless possibilities. Just when you think you pretty much know it all, nothing no longer surprises you and you even think that you've tried just about everything considered edible in your understanding of the term, new tastes and new ways of cooking appear. Sometimes simply combining raw materials in an unusual way is enough to make your taste palate go wild. As for myself, I recently experienced a very lovely surprise. I went on a scrumptious culinary trip to the Brazilian world of tastes.  Unfortunately, my private jet was out of order so I didn't get to travel across the Atlantic Ocean, but in my mind my taste buds and I had a very pleasant holiday indeed.

Two days ago I arrived to Strasbourg to visit my former flatmates Tif and Sophie. If you read my post on cheese in January you might remember them. Any way, all three of us love eating, love food and love cooking. All three of us also got graduated this week! Needless to say, we needed to do some serious celebrating. As I stuck the corkscrew into the first bottle of Bordeaux the girls had reserved for the occasion, there were some serious decisions to be made. A glass of wine is always good before making any major decisions by the way. And boy did we have a major decision to make. Where to eat and what to eat for on this very special day. "I don't fee like cooking today" Tif said whisking a cake dough with one hand and holding a wine glass in the other. We just can't help the cooking urge, it's probably genetic.

The cake was all I was willing to let her do though. The evening would be kitchen free. Tif had a suggestion and told us about this little Brazilian restaurant. The only problem was that she had eaten there already a couple of times this week. Still, the more she talked about it the more I seriously wanted to try it. She sold her idea to us without an effort and the decision was unanimous. Brazil here we come!

We arrived to the restaurant and got the warmest welcome. A gorgeous Brazilian man with a beautiful smile showed us to our table. I was fond of Brazil immediately. I couldn't wait to get my hands on...the menu. As I opened the menu a second later a whole new culinary world of opened up in front my eyes. The menu was full of new and exciting dishes I had never heard of before: carurufeijoadamoqueca capixaba, salgadinho just to name a few. What on earth was I about to experience!? What became clear was that dried shrimp, toasted nuts, palm oil, bean pastes, cassava/manioc flour, fresh cilantro and mildly spiced sauces were essential. The ingredients all rang a bell, but the way they were combined to form a dish was unknown and new to me. I was thrilled! A detail that particularly enchanted me was the grilled plantains. My love for bananas of any kind is somewhat exaggerated, I do admit...

We wanted to try everything and choosing seemed impossible. In the end we managed to make up our minds. Xinxim de carne with a side of grilled plantain for me please. This creamy beef stew with ginger, peanuts, coconut milk and spices was served with beautiful rice spiced with cumin. On the side, my beloved plantain and a little spicy sauce made of cilantro, onions, green peppers and tomatos. I think I forgot to breathe for a while. Only the smell of the dish got me high. I decided to wait and observe my friends' faces when they had the first bite. Man was I happy to have my camera! I had to film it. The power good and delicious food has will never cease to amaze me. My goodness! It was a perfect moment. Just perfect. A warm summer night, amazing friends, good vibes and explosions of deliciouness Brazilian style.

Restaurant Acerola - 8, rue du Renard Préchant - 67000 Strasbourg - France.