Five Halloween treats for grown-ups

Like many former kids, I used to live for Halloween. Sure, the dressing up part was fun, but so was TP’ing the neighbor’s tree. What All Hallow’s Eve was really about were Pixy Stix, Fun Dip, mini Milky Way bars, and REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups (in my world, the latter still reigns supreme).

Still, things change. We grow up; most of us lose our appetite for eating the equivalent of eight cups of sugar in one sitting, we’re aware that those candy bars will go straight to our ass.

Still, I find something a little magical about Halloween: the brisk fall air, the aroma of woodsmoke and swirls of brightly colored leaves. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth anymore, but there are some sophisticated treats out there capable of conjuring my inner child (mercifully, minus the buck teeth and tattling habit).

Below, my favorite confections, regardless of season:

1. Jonboy Caramels
I love me a good caramel, and this micro-Seattle company does them right. I discovered Jonboy at my local farmers market; despite the feel-good ingredients and ethics, these are no half-assed candies peddled by dirty hippies (kidding; I’m a longtime market vendor myself). Made completely by hand with local cream and HFCS-free, these pretty treats come wrapped in unbleached parchment paper, and are sold in little (recycled cardboard) boxes. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and these are intensely rich flavor-bombs redolent of that good cream as well as more potent, sexy flavors.

The selection is small and includes fleur de sel caramel, molasses ginger, and my favorite, an intriguing absinthe with black salt. Inspired by the salted licorice found in Scandinavia, Jonboy’s version is made with local Pacifique absinthe and a blend of anise, fennel, and hyssop. They’re dark and mysterious, like a trick-or-treater you shouldn’t let in the door.

Jonboy Caramels are available throughout Seattle at farmers’ markets and specialty stores, and select Washington and Oregon Whole Foods. Five box minimum for online orders (you’ll be glad to have extra, believe me).2. sockerbit
This groovy New York shop in the West Village is dedicated to “Scandinavian candy culture.” The name translates as “sugar cube,” and is also one of their namesake treats (a strawberry marshmallow square). Just like Ikea, crazy names and diversity are part of sockerbit’s charm. All of the essential categories are here: chocolate; licorice; marshmallow (who can resist something called “Syrliga Skumshots,” which are bottle-shaped sour marshmallows?); sweet; sour, and hard and wrapped candies. All are available for order online, and free of artificial dyes, flavors, trans-fats, and other synthetic nastiness.

It’s hard to make a decision in this place, but if, like me, you’re a slave to anything gummy and chewy, (red Swedish Fish people, I’m talking to you), you’ll be very happy with the tempting selection of fruit jellies. Skogsbär, here’s looking at you.

3. Recchiuti Confections
Lucky me, I used to work next door to this revered San Francisco Ferry Building confectionary (I worked in a meat shop; they traded us for chocolate). Chocolatier Michael Recchiuti is a genius, but it’s his delicate, botanically-infused chocolates that bring a tear to my eye. Bonus: many use herbs sourced right outside the door at the Saturday farmers market. Think lemon verbena; star anise and pink peppercorn; rose caramel, and candied orange peel. Just as heavenly are Recchiuti’s exquisite pates de fruits, S’more’s Bites, and…just about everything else. Order them all online at your own risk.

4. Dutch licorice
Licorice is an acquired taste regardless, but the earthy, intense, salted Dutch stuff is another thing altogether. Made with real licorice root extract–no artificial flavors here–they’re bracing, spicy, herbaceous, and strangely addictive. Any bona-fide candy store worth it’s, um, salt, will stock at least one imported variety.

5. Salt & Straw ice cream in holiday flavors
Ice cream season is supposed to be over (isn’t it?) but this five-month-old Portland, Oregon shop begs to differ. Some examples of their delicious array of super-regionalized “farm-to-cone” flavors: Hooligan Brown Ale and Olympic Provisions bacon, Stumptown coffee with cocoa nibs, and pear with Rogue Creamery’s Crater Lake blue cheese.

New to Salt & Straw is their line-up of Thanksgiving and Holiday flavors, which includes bourbon pecan pie, made with Stone Barn’s Oregon Whiskey; eggnog with butter-rum caramel; blood orange cranberry; pumpkin cheesecake, and a sweet-and-savory brown bread stuffing studded with chestnuts, herbs, and dried apricots. Online orders are a minimum of five pints.

Chillin’ in the Stockholm Archipelago

I had a little too much fun when I visited Stockholm at the end of last summer. After sampling more than my fair share of Swedish meatballs, downing some aquavit and partaking in the city’s surprisingly debaucherous nightlife, my liver and my body needed a break.

My salvation came in the form of a wonderful five-syllable word you might remember from grade school geography class – the archipelago. For those not familiar with the term, an archipelago is a word typically used to describe a small cluster of islands (extra points if you pronounce it correctly). The city of Stockholm sits on a string of 14 islands that form a small part of the vast archipelago that stretches out into the Baltic Sea. For no more than the price of a Swedish crayfish lunch, a fleet of ferries will transport you to one of the many sparsely populated, pine-tree covered islands that populate the chain outside the city center.

I decided the island of Vaxholm sounded interesting and hopped on a late morning ferry. The ferry trip is a pleasant one, offering a visual smorgasbord of the many sights that make Stockholm famous. As our ferry steamed out of Stockholm, I was treated to panoramic vistas of the harbor behind me, the city’s brightly-hued orange and yellow structures glowing against a luminous sky dotted with clouds. Along the way, we passed all manner of sailboats and cruise ships, each one flying the famous blue and gold cross of the Swedish flag. The views on the ferry trip alone made the journey worthwhile.

Less than an hour later, we arrived at Vaxholm. Vaxholm is one of the more populated islands in the archipelago, boasting its own fortress and a small city center. The visit proved to be the perfect antidote to busy Stockholm. I strolled around Vaxholm’s tiny downtown with a few friends, stopping to return some Swedish fish to their native habitat. After a leisurely lunch at a cafe along the island’s rocky shore, we were ready to head back to the city.

This non-event of a day trip is exactly why I liked Vaxholm so much. Just like my ferry trip, I found the island visually striking, dotted with colorful wooden cottages and scenic views of the sea beyond. And unlike Stockholm, there’s no must-see tourist site, making it the perfect spot to find a nice rock in the sun, grab a cold beer and watch as the sailboats pass you by. If you’re really looking to get away, you can even head farther to the north or south, where you’ll find plenty of wild, sparsely-inhabited islands where you can live out the Walden fantasies of your dreams.

If you find yourself in Stockholm this summer, set aside a day trip to visit the archipelago – you won’t be disappointed.


In response to national bullying, Denmark introduces Danish fish

National identity is important in Scandinavia. Jokes between the Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Finns fly back and forth like rapid bullet fire. It was therefore no surprise last month when Denmark accused Swedish furniture giant IKEA of bullying the country, by only naming furniture items of lesser value — for example, doormats and rugs — after Danish places.

After a surge of frustration, Denmark finally found a way to get back at their northern neighbors: the introduction of Danish fish. Similar to their Scandinavian brothers — Swedish fish — Danish fish are made of a gummy-like substance but with a delicious custard filling — just like the country’s namesake pastry.

Svensson Dagbladet, a Swedish daily newspaper, commented in an editorial piece that “the addition of Danish fish to the candy market is clearly symbolic of Denmark’s feeling of inferiority.”