A Beginner’s Guide To Swedish Midsommar

Bengt Nyman, Flickr

Pickled herring, drinking songs, a pole covered in flowers, boiled potatoes, dancing like frogs. Yes, that’s Swedish Midsommar (otherwise known as “Midsummer” in English).

Thanks to Swedish roots around the world and a general love of Scandinavian culture, the popular Swedish holiday – the sun was gone all winter, you would want to celebrate the longest day of the year too – is well known outside of the Nordic lands.

Not well versed on this Swedish celebration? First off, get the basics from this video by the Sweden.se:

Now, let’s get to the important part: celebrating. How are you going to get a Midsummer celebration going if you’re not in Sweden? Easy. Follow these simple steps.

Round up a few friends that like to eat and drink.
This will probably be your easiest task.

Find a long table.
Midsummer dinner tends to be served as a sit down meal complete with a nice tablecloth, napkins and real silverware. This is not your average American BBQ.

Make a midsummer pole.
If you don’t have the manpower to hoist up a long one, construct a smaller makeshift one.

Dance around said midsummer pole.
Dancing is a precursor to eating.

Track down some pickled herring.
It’s not Swedish Midsummer without it.

Serve Aquavit.
Again, you can’t call it Swedish Midsummer if you don’t have the classic drink.

Make a dessert that involves fresh berries.
Preferably strawberries and ideally in cake format.

Eat and drink late into the night/early morning.
The sun isn’t really going to ever set after all.

A few Swedish inspired Midsummer recipes to get you started:
Gin + Aquavit Cocktail
Matjessil Salad
New Potatoes with Dill Butter
Pickled Mustard Herring

Glad Midsommar!

A European Culinary Essential: 5 Recipes To Celebrate World Nutella Day On February 5

There was a time when Nutella was merely a memory of European backpacking trips. The stuff was bought as you tried to keep your daily budget to $20 a day and would be spread on slices of bread from a local baker as you trekked through the old world.

But the hazelnut chocolate spread rose in popularity, and soon began to spread around the world, and now it’s as easy to find in an American grocery store as it is in a crepe stand in Paris.

February 5 is World Nutella Day, and for a product that has become synonymous with European breakfasts it’s only appropriate that the product gets its own international celebration. In fact, World Nutella Day is in its seventh year, and because of it, the website has a collection of over 700 recipes.

The earliest form of Nutella was created in the 1940s in Italy. Since then it has spread to global proportions. In fact, the amount of Nutella produced worldwide in one day is equivalent to nearly three times the weight of the Statue of Liberty.

To evoke travel dreams, here are five recipes perfect for celebrating World Nutella Day.

Make Your Own Nutella

It’s hard to go wrong with hazelnuts, chocolate and sugar, and Nutella is surprisingly easy to make at home.

Nutella Stuffed French Toast

The ultimate breakfast just might be French toast with a layer of creamy Nutella inside.

Nutella Cake

Infused with a little Frangelico, this cake is easy to make and shockingly addictive.

Hot Nutella and Cream Cheese Sandwich

A dessert sandwich? Yes. Combine Nutella with the savory flavor of a grilled cheese sandwich and you get this delectable item.

Chicken Enchiladas with Nutella Mole Poblano

Who said you had to stick to sweet dishes? Nutella makes an excellent addition to the classic chocolate mole sauce of Mexican dishes.

[Photo Credit: janineomg, Istelleinad]

8 Delicious Street Foods From Around The World That You Can Make At Home


There is a certain beauty to street food: it’s simple and with one bite you have a true taste of the local culture. Some people even pick their destination based on how much street food they can get. But exotic street food doesn’t have to be restricted to the alleyways you found it in. With a little creativity and daring in the kitchen, you can turn your own dinner table into the best foreign street food stand around. Just make sure you get a stray cat or dog to sit next to it for the sake of ambience.

Bánh xèo
Bahn Xeo has always been a personal favorite of mine. The savory rice crepe, traditionally filled with shrimp and bean sprouts, is a common staple on Vietnamese menus, and despite its complex taste you can actually make your own in about half an hour. What’s key in this recipe is the mint and nuoc chom Vietnamese dipping sauce. Try this recipe from Closet Cooking.

Parisian Crepes
For a food lover, the ultimate question when roaming the streets of Paris is often: sweet or savory? It’s difficult to choose between a good crepe filled with cheese or one with gooey Nutella… or one with sugar and lemon… or one with gruyere and mushrooms. You get the picture. Look no further than the Parisian pastry master and food blogger David Leibovitz for this basic buckwheat crepe recipe, perfect for the savory versions.

Fish Tacos
Feet in the warm sand, a cold cerveza in your hand and a couple of fish tacos from the dilapidated stand at the edge of the beach. Life doesn’t get better than that. But for those times when you can’t hop on a plane to Baja, a super easy solution to making fish tacos is to coat pieces of fish in cornmeal. When you pan fry in a little bit of vegetable oil, the fish gets a nice crunchy flavor. The top with all the good seasonings: cilantro, red cabbage, pineapple, guacamole… whatever you have on hand. Foodista has this good basic recipe, which includes a spicy jalapeno mayonnaise.

Satay
A good satay, like the kind you’ll find in Malaysia or Thailand, complete with the perfect dipping sauce, is all about the marinade, which means taking the time to let the meat marinate. Of course having a barbecue will do wonders, but you can also make them with the use of a grill pan on your stovetop. Satay skewers are the perfect thing for an appetizer or dinner parties where you have to serve a lot of people. Start with this Malaysian recipe from Just As Delish.

Elote
I have a friend that brought this Mexican grilled corn to numerous dinner parties last summer, and it was always a hit. The trick is in its simplicity – it really is just grilled corn with a few additions – making it just what a street food should be. Warm and messy, it’s the kind of dish where you’ll definitely want some napkins. Try this easy recipe from Food Blogga.

Bolani
A common street food in Afghanistan, bolani is somewhere in between a calzone, a handpie and a quesadilla. In other words: fried, doughy goodness. The key in good bolani is in the filling. Go with a potato or pumpkin base and make sure to employ plenty of leeks and cilantro. If you are short on time, you can use tortillas instead of making your own dough, like Humaira at Afghan Cooking does, but if you’re up to it, it’s worth it to make your own. Conflict Kitchen from Pennsylvania has a solid one, although you may need to cut it in half depending on how many people you are serving.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee
I got used saying ca-phe sua dua (phonetic spelling of course) when I spent time in Vietnam a few years ago; there was no getting through a hot day in Saigon without one. You can of course get really complex with your coffee brewing and invest in a Phin, the filter that Vietnamese coffee is brewed in, or you can just use a good cold brew (let a French press stand over night) or some strong stovetop espresso, then just add sweetened condensed milk and ice cubes.

Socca
A sunny afternoon in Nice, France calls for a batch of socca. The gluten-free crepe made from chickpea flour is good on its own, or you can get creative with what you serve with it. Goat cheese and olives anyone? Drizzle with olive oil, serve with a good rose and it’s almost like you are on the Cote D’Azur. Try this recipe from The Kitchn.

[Photo Credits: MyDays, Charles Haynes, Serge Melki, abrowncoat, iPyo, sarihuella, Anna Brones, toehk, Tran’s World Productions]

A Family Night Out In Baghdad

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
After a long road trip around Iraq, I find myself back in Baghdad. It’s our last night together as a group. For our final dinner we decide to eat a famous Baghdadi recipe at a famous landmark –mazgouf fish at Abu Nuwas Park.

Abu Nuwas park runs for one-and-a-half miles along the east bank of the Tigris in central Baghdad. It’s named after an early medieval poet who was half Arab and half Persian, and wrote poems in both languages. His poetry celebrated wine and sex and made fun of the Arab nostalgia for Bedouin life. This ensured trouble during his lifetime and fame after his death.

In keeping with the Abu Nuwas’ liberal tradition, the park that bears his name is a neutral ground for the city’s warring factions. Everyone comes here to relax, not fight. Of course there’s still the usual cordon of armed guards. Trust is in short supply in this country.

Once inside, though, it doesn’t feel like Baghdad at all. Families have picnics on blankets spread under trees. Kids do cartwheels on the grass. The Tigris glitters with reflected streetlights. A fountain at the edge of the riverbank shoots up water as colored lamps make the jets pulse red and purple. Music mixes with the calls of vendors selling nuts, candy, and Spongebob Squarepants balloons.

We’ve come to dine at one of the city’s most popular restaurants, Mazgouf, named after a large fish found in the Tigris that’s considered a delicacy. The fish is cut in half down its length and stuck on spike next to an open wood fire to slowly cook. When it’s done, it’s pulled off the spike and put on a plate. The scales and eyes on the outside are still preserved, making a sort of bowl from which to scoop out the goopy and incredibly rich insides. The restaurant at Abu Nuwas Park is said to be one of the best.

We find the restaurant and sit outside. As usual, the people at the next table come over and welcome us to Iraq. Mazgouf is made to order so there’s a long wait before we get our meal. Once it comes, everyone digs in with relish. I’m no expert on mazgouf but it’s the second-best meal I’ve had this entire trip. It’s so rich and heavy I can only finish half of it, although I’d love to eat the whole thing. The mood at the table is celebratory. We’ve made it through Iraq unscathed. Everyone is thinking of home but disappointed to be leaving.

While everyone else is leaving tomorrow morning and the guards will go off to other duties, my flight isn’t until the following morning, which means I get a whole day to myself in Baghdad. This worries me only slightly. My time in Iraq has taught me that the country is far safer than most people believe, and my hotel is in a good neighborhood. Besides, staying in the hotel all day simply isn’t an option. I just hope I don’t have any trouble when I go out alone.

After dinner we stroll around the park. The mood is relaxed and festive. So is the dress code. A woman walks by in a skirt and I almost keel over. It’s the first bare female leg I’ve seen in more than two weeks. Young couples who may very well be unmarried walk hand in hand, whispering to each other. I’ve stepped into another world. It’s even more relaxed than Kurdistan. Flashing lights and squeals of laughter draw me down a path and to another gate.

%Gallery-172598%It’s an amusement park. Kids are zipping around on bumper cars in the middle of a pool, or shooting down a giant inflatable slide. Their big brothers and sisters play videos games in a nearby arcade.

Getting in requires going through another checkpoint. There’s a brief hassle as the park’s guards demand that our guards leave their guns behind. Captain Ali, the senior of our two guards, doesn’t like that idea. I’m not sure how it’s resolved but we eventually get through, only to be stopped again.

“What now?” someone in our group groans.

“Photo! Photo!” the park guards say.

“Oh, OK.”

We all line up and take each other’s photos. I still haven’t figured out why Iraqis all want their photo taken. Only one of them has asked for a copy, and he never emailed me so I could send it to him. Maybe they just want to be part of my holiday memories. That’s cool. Memory made.

As soon as we’re through I ditch my guards. I don’t think those kids on the Merry-go-Round are going to shoot me, and after more than two weeks of these guys dogging my movements I’m sick of them. I slip behind some spinning ride with flashing lights and I’m gone.

Swarms of laughing children zip past me as I wander among the rides. I shake my head in amazement. How is this possible? This country is torn apart by war and sectarian bitterness and here everything is just fine. These families are the Iraqi majority, the decent folks who want all the bullshit to stop so they can get some enjoyment out of life. It would be silly to think they’re “just like us”; they’re not. But they’re enough like us that when this whole mess sorts itself out, I know who I want to come out on top.

“Mr. Sean.”

I turned around. Aw crap, Captain Ali has found me.

“We need to go now,” he says.

“Yeah, yeah.”

I turn away and keep walking. He trots patiently behind. This is a game he knows he’ll win.

Families come up to me, asking that I photograph their children or forcing their kids into impromptu English lessons. The kids take it with good grace, as curious as their parents about this strange foreigner who’s wandered into their fun.

Well, almost all the kids take it with good grace. One man drags his toddler over and urges her, “Say hello. Say hello.” She bursts into tears.

“Tired?” I ask.

He smiles and nods.

“Yes, tired. Late night.”

We laugh, one father to another.

Another tug at my arm. It’s Captain Ali again. Go away.

“Mr. Sean, we need to go.”

He leads me off, holding my wrist like a naughty child. I could complain, but he’s the law and even though he still has a reserve of good humor, his patience is at an end. We head for the exit.

Three bombs exploded in Baghdad this morning. More than a dozen killed. The story is already being broadcast by all the major news channels, with the usual blaring headlines and snuff film visuals. I take a last look around at Abu Nuwas park, at the picnicking families and the laughing children and the guys selling balloons. There are no TV cameras here.

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “A Solo Stroll Through Baghdad!”

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel

Learn A Culinary History Of Thanksgiving In America

culinary history of ThanksgivingEver wonder how pumpkin pie and roast turkey came to be synonymous with Thanksgiving? You may want to get yourself to Brooklyn restaurant The Farm on Adderley on November 13, when food blogger and “historic gastronomist” Sarah Lohman hosts an evening of “American Cookery” with a culinary history of Thanksgiving. Taste and learn about all of the holiday favorites, from mashed potatoes to green bean casserole, the origins of each recipe, and the traditions associated with each dish. Lohman is also an educator with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and a curator with many New York-area institutions, and regularly leads talks and walks around the five boroughs with an emphasis on culinary history. She’s previously teamed up with The Farm for events like a pre-industrial dinner.

Visit TheFarmonAdderley.com to learn details on the event.

[Photo credit: Flickr user riptheskull]