What To Do When the Food is Terrible

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As I mentioned in a post a little while ago, I recently went on a very secretive trip for a week.  I didn’t want to tell anyone because I genuinely didn’t want to feel obligated to bring things back for people or see various things that people think are a “must see.”  Instead, as this was a bit of a gift, trip-wise (I had a bunch of vacation time at work that I had to use before I lost it), I wanted to just go somewhere and have a nice, relaxing trip all by myself and just do whatever came to my mind, whether that meant sitting in a cafe all day every day, or renting a car and travelling all over the country.  Well, I decided to go to Amsterdam.  I had been through their airport countless times, as it’s usually the airport through which I have to travel in order to get to other destinations in Europe.  And over the years, I have seen pretty much all that there is to see in the airport, form the kiosks to the snack shops to pretty much every single bathroom.  So, I figured that it was about time to just stop by and actually the city to which the airport was attached.

Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but if you are like me, then you probably go to a place with at least some preconceived notions about it.  That could be something as simple as assuming that people in Spanish might not speak English on a reliable basis, to something more intriguing, such as wondering whether people in China wear pants.  No seriously, someone once asked me that question once.  So it was with me and Amsterdam.  Now, admittedly, I came to have this particular assumption based on prior experiences with travelling to countries that surround the Netherlands, including Belgium, Germany and France.  I have been now to all of those countries – Germany, several times – and have enjoyed the abundant and flavorful food that each of these countries has to offer.  Now, I know that Germany does have a lot of “heavy” foods, like bratwurst and potato dumplings, but I am part German, so I was used to these foods and still really enjoy them, albeit on a rare occasion.  France, well, if you don’t know how good the food in France is, just go there.  You will melt just staring at the breads on offer at the local boulangerie.  That’s not even mentioning the cheese, the wine, the pastries, the charcuterie and all of the other things that they are known for.  And Belgium, although known for its chocolate and beer, does a lot of other things very well, too, and shouldn’t be overlooked for it’s savory tarts and sandwiches.

Now, will all of that background in my memory, I had high hopes for the food in Amsterdam.  So it is with those memories in mind that I ask this completely honest question:  How is it that a country with miles of coastline, surrounded by three food-loving countries puts out what can only be described as spackle?  No, really.  I think that rice cakes might actually taste better than the food that I had in Amsterdam.  And that isn’t the tourist row version of Dutch food, either.  I make it a point to shop and eat from the supermarkets whenever I travel abroad, and this was certainly no exception. I tried some of the street foods, as well as what was in the supermarkets and it was all basically the same.  The traditional Dutch foods were just so bland that I could barely stand them.  And I was hard-pressed to find any decent seafood anywhere.

So, back to the title of this post:  What to do?  Well, you focus on the few things that the Dutch do well.  And I want to emphasize this especially, since I have eaten over 50 types of cheese that the French make while staying in Paris a few years ago.  The Dutch to two things (okay, if you count Genever, then three) *very* well:  Cheese and beer.  And I cannot understate the amazing array of cheese and beer that this country produces, nor the knowledge that the local Dutch have of each.  When I asked people at the supermarket which cheeses to try, they asked me “Do you prefer old or new?”  What?  This is a question that you would never hear here in the US.  Americans have just no concept of decent cheese.  And I blame Kraft for that.  But I digress.  Each day I made it a point to try at least two or three of their cheeses and never once was I disappointed.  Some were firm and pungent, others soft and creamy and more like Swiss.  All of them delectable.  Not one cheese did I try that I would not happily eat to my dying day.

And the beer.  Well, this is coming from a person that barely drinks a glass of any alcohol more than once every six months.  I tried a real Heineken at their brewery on the very first day and amazingly, liked it!  And I am not normally much of a beer person.  And then, every night thereafter, I spent at a local (apparently, the third oldest) pub / bar in the Spui district that made their own micro beers.  And each one, from the blond, to the stout, was just superb.  Rich, flavorful, not filling like they would sit as a brick in your stomach, but light and aromatic.  And each one in their own glass, too.  I would just sit there, nursing one every night (again, I am a lightweight, so I had to limit myself to one, or I will be legless and likely not be able to make it back to my hotel).  I was just in awe.

So, the answer is:  For a week, anyone, especially me, can survive on good cheese and beer.  And do so quite happily. And frankly, looking back on it, even if their other food never really gets any better, I would happily live in Amsterdam for the rest of my life and eat nothing but cheese and drink a beer every night.  And I would die a happy person.  Amsterdam, you might want to just take some notes from your neighbors in Europe, but in the meantime, never stop making your cheese and beer!!!

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Whose Lefse Reigns Supreme?

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At this time of year, everyone has a craving for a food that they associate with the holidays, whichever holiday you celebrate.  Some people crave latkes, other people crave their grandmother’s peirogi.  What do I crave?  Lefse.  For the uninitiated, lefse is like the Norwegian version of a tortilla, though usually they are used in a sweet application, not a savory one.  Made out of riced potatoes (strong hands and wrists are required!) or mashed potato flakes, if you are lazy or in a place where you don’t have a ricer, they form the basis of one of my favorite treats during the Christmas season.  Some people take them with loads of butter, others with cinnamon and sugar, some with all three.  Me?  I like them served warm with a healthy dose of cinnamon and maybe a little light coating of sugar.  Or sometimes, for breakfast, dunked in maple syrup (that must be the American in me).  The sad part is that I don’t have the space, the money or the tools that I need to make them properly, so I am generally reduced to enjoying them only during a few wonderful weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  But then, I suppose that that ensures that they remain special, right?

Now, I have been eating lefse for as long as I can remember and I have had it in a lot of different places; from here in the US to Norway, where it originated.  This brings up the question:  Where can you find the best lefse?  Was it found in Norway, land of its birth?  Or was it the potato-flake version that a friend in Malta made one year for a celebration, using only a banged up, scorched frying pan and a stove that couldn’t control heat?

The lefse made in Malta was, let’s just say, edible.  It served its purpose.  No one would write home to their mother to tell her how much better it was than hers, but it was serviceable.  Edible, like I said.  The accomplishment was not in the flavor, but rather in the fact that my friend was able to use store flaked potatoes, water and butter, along with the only tools available to her at the time:  a small frying pan, turned over to create a larger, flatter surface; a stove that had to be lit using a match and which rarely held a flame for long enough to heat soup, let alone make lefse; a spatula that was more like a rather large spoon and a mixing bowl that was clearly not large enough.  It must have taken her a long time to get even one that worked, but I remember watching her, listening to Maltese pop radio in the background, occasionally interrupted by her roommates coming in asking her what on earth she was doing, and smelling the faint whif of charred frying pan.  It was beautiful.  The steam between that and the tea that was boiling on the stove created was so great that it fogged up the glass doors to the flat, making it look very dubious what was going on in there.  Only when we emerged to the party with fresh lefse, covered in melted butter and cinnamon and sugar did people realize the alchemy that could elicit such delicious treats.

Now, I also had it in Norway, in Oslo in fact, while travelling there with my parents a few years ago.  We were at the outdoor museum, and they were making it fresh, from scratch, in one of the houses and then handing them out for chump change, given the quality of the product.  Warm, almost too warm, with perfect coloring (no scorch marks in sight, but a nice golden color all around) and rolled and filled with any of the previously mentioned fillings that you wanted, they were a joy.  The sun was shining, the air was clear, and you could see the beautiful forest in the distance.  We were already having a wonderful time there, and this was simply the icing on the cake.  You could tell that the quality was the highest possible; well, you would expect nothing less, since this was lefse meant to show off the abilities of the Norwegians to create great food – food for tourists.  It was grand, I admit.  But, you know what?  It wasn’t the best.

The best lefse that I have ever eaten, and which I still reminisce about every year, was made by my aunt, Judy, in her kitchen in North Dakota.  Did she have all of the equipment necessary to make them perfect; from the ricer to the pan?  You know what, I don’t even remember.  What I do remember is that it was the last Christmas that my entire father’s side of the family was able to gather together, my grandmother included, before she finally succumbed to dimentia and moved to a nursing home.  It was dark outside, multiple tables had been pushed together in their living room to accommodate everyone, and the tree was lit, with presents beneath it.  The house was warm from all of the cooking and baking going on, and everyone was drinking, talking and eating.  I by my grandmother and listened to her tell me stories about how Christmas used to be, back when my brother and I were too young to remember and he and I couldn’t wait to open our gifts, and wasn’t it nice that we were now old enough (both adults, by this point) to sit and enjoy dinner and not get distracted by the pretty wrapping and boxes on the floor?  The rest of the meal was typical for us; lasagna (it easily fed everyone and didn’t take too much time or effort to prepare) and garlic bread.  Then, my aunt brought out the lefse.  I don’t think that anyone else really cared very much about it.  It wasn’t as if it was something that had never eaten before, bu somehow, for me at least, it was magical.  My mother is German and I never grew up eating it except when we went up north to visit my relatives, and even then it wasn’t always there.  Lefse is tricky to make well and it takes dedication.  So the fact that my aunt made some that year was very special to me.  It was perfect.  It was warm, served folded, not rolled, and covered in just the faintest hint of cinnamon and sugar and butter.  Just enough to add flavor, but not so much that you couldn’t revel in the potato-y goodness underpinning it all.  My grandmother and I both ate our fair share, and although I don’t think that anyone noticed, I alter snuck back into the kitchen and took another few pieces, now less warm, but no less perfect.

Following that year, my family got together less and less often, and every time with fewer members.  That was many years ago, now that I think about it, but i can still remember it so well.  And the lovingly, perfectly made lefse was the cap to it all.  eating lefse now, even inferior lefse, never fails to bring back those treasured memories.  That’s why, above all others, that lefse was and will always be the best.

Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving – Maltese Style

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This is Thanksgiving week, so I wanted to write a little something about some of my experiences of Thanksgiving that I have had in my life abroad.

Growing up in the US, I have been a part of normal Thanksgiving practices for most of my life.  You the ones – the turkey, the trimmings, the occasional drunk relative that you end up having to listen to for hours as they regale you with stories about their teenage years, which, in case you weren’t around for them, were the best years in the history of the world, and gee, don’t the kids these days miss out on all of the fun that could be had “back in the day”?  Yeah, those.  Oh, and the memories of my father putting so much sage into the stuffing that only he liked the end-result.  My brother, mother and I would endure a few mouthfuls, to be polite, and then relinquish the rest to my father.  Thankfully, I have always been a fan of Stovetop stuffing anyway, so I wasn’t really expecting much from that stuffing in the first place.

Back to the point:  A Maltese Thanksgiving.  Well, the one that I experienced, anyway.  Which wasn’t exactly Maltese, but really more of a dinner that we American students in the international student’s flat complex decided to throw for anyone and everyone that wanted to participate.  It started out as a somewhat small affair, from what I can remember.  All of the international students, everyone from Nigerian nursing students to Indian engineering students to myself and another American there for the archaeology courses, lived in a large complex surrounding a rather dodgy pool that ended up giving a couple of the Canadians eye infections at one point.  I myself only dangled my legs in that water, and never swam in it, much to my relief when they each came back from the local doctor with nasty infections and hefty prescriptions.  Instead, I swam in the open water, on the rare occasions that I got a chance to swim, that is.

Anyway, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, a few of us American students were talking late one night and decided that it would be fun to do something for it.  You know, it would be cultural.  Something to demonstrate to the other students as an American tradition, and one that didn’t discriminate against race, religion, political inclination or anything else.  It was just all about the food.  We each agreed that we would bring something distinctly American, or at least something that we thought would represent something that we grew up eating.  So, mashed potatoes, corn, lefse from one girl (who managed, by the way, to make a really good mock-lefse, giving that she was using potato flakes, a dodgy stove and warped cooking pans – I am still impressed to this day).  I don’t actually even remember what I brought, to be honest.  Something silly, I am sure, like corn or something.  I was enough of a foodie at that point that by not remembering it, I know that it must have been something lame and uncreative.

Before the night of the dinner, though, which was to be held in the *enormous* dining room of one of the larger flats, we started hearing from other people in the complex that wanted to join in, and on top of that, they wanted to bring their own cultural foods to include in the repast.  Well, if you know anything about the first Thanksgiving, then you know that Pilgrims also accepted foods that were native to the tribes that joined them in the feast.  So, who were we to turn that addition?  We gladly welcomed it.

On the night of the dinner, then, to the sounds of CD’s playing everything from Italian rap music, so the popular techno tunes of the day (late 1990’s), literally dozens of us gathered in that dining room to join together in what turned out to be one of the best, and more memorable meals that I would have in Malta.  Copious amounts of cheap Maltese wine was drunk, Indian and Bangladeshi curries mingled with the lefse, mashed potatoes, turkey breasts (that someone managed to locate somewhere, although I can’t imagine how much they ended up paying for it, since turkey in Malta is rare indeed), not to mention the cookies that someone brought, fresh from the local Balzan bakery (remember them, from an earlier post?), the Russian dumplings, the Nigerian breads, and so many other things.  So much that no one was able to really eat everything, but we – every one of us – tried very hard!

After the food, and when the wine started to really take its effect, we moved the table back, and cranked up the music and began to dance.  People showed off their cultural dances and mainstream dances alike.  I did a rather serviceable Irish ceili dance, if I do say so myself.  Someone started to do a little Bollywood style dance and everyone enjoyed the night, well into the wee hours of the morning.  Somewhere along the line, I am sure that the flatware from several flats disappeared into the one hosting the dinner, never to resurface again.  Several chairs were broken, and at one point a few nights later, someone got the bright idea to take one of the broken chairs, dismantle it and use it as a bonfire.  Actually, it made a great bonfire that we used for cooking the Iranian chicken skewers that a friend made.  I can still taste them – a little funny-tasting, since the varnish from the wood on the chairs must have permeated the chicken a little bit, but they were still good.

All in all, that Thanksgiving was one of the best that I have ever had.  No one fought.  There weren’t any people there fighting over who would get the last crescent roll, or how best to make stuffing (do you put it in the bird or not?) and in the end, everyone went back to their respective flats, full, drunk, happy and dead tired.  I can still hear the music, see the dancing and taste the wine.  And I hope that I never forget it.  I have lot contact with nearly everyone that took part in that dinner, but as I eat my Thanksgiving dinner this year, like I have done every year since that night, I will raise my glass just once in their honor and say that wherever they are, and whatever they are doing, I am forever thankful that they were once a part of my life, and will forever be a part of my memories – some of the best of my life.

Things That I Don’t Understand – Round One

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1.  Mayonnaise on Pizza (see:  Budapest teenagers on their way to the subway trains snacking on slices of mayo-covered pizza slices while trying to simultaneously walk down steep staircases to the platform).

2.  Remote Controls for Toilets (see:  Tokyo hotel toilets that I never did figure out.  At one point, I pushed a button and it started to play music, and another button apparently engages that uber-flush, but I never did figure out the other, oh, thousandish buttons that apparently all controlled that one single device that in China wasn’t even available, as they basically still used the good old-fashioned hole in the ground with a couple of small footholds on either side.)

3.  Kinnie (See:  Malta – Wow.  Who thought that the idea of a “soft drink” with the advertised flavor of “bitter oranges and aromatic herbs” was a good idea was obviously smoking something and whatever that something was, I certainly never want it).

4.  Umbrellas in Ireland – Honestly, the winds are so strong (gale-force, really) that umbrellas are no match for them.  You could always tell those people that used them from those that didn’t; not because you saw some people actually using them, but rather because when you got into the classroom at the university, there were those people that were soaked head to toe (those without) and those that were soaked only from the waist down, since they tried to put the umbrella facing the wind, so that it wouldn’t get pushed inside out.  Really.  At some point, whether all of you is wet or only part of you, just acknowledge that you are still wet, still cold, and that the umbrella was a waste of money.  You would be better served just downing copious amounts of tea to compensate for the chill that inevitably consumed you for a good ten months of every year.

5.  Cars / Taxis in London – I once spent about a week in London with a relative on vacation (I had been living there for some time already and really knew the ins and outs of London by that point) who always thought that everything was so far away from everything else and for the first few days wanted to take the atrociously expensive black cabs everywhere.  I tried to remind her that there is literally *no* place in London that is more than a couple of blocks from a tube station.  Literally.  You just needed to turn a corner, any corner – just pick a corner – and you would find one right there.  Why do people bother sitting in endless traffic, and potentially spending enormous amounts of money just to travel a few blocks, when the tube can get you there for pennies and in minutes?  I will never understand that.

6.  Cars in Malta – You can *walk* from one side of the country to the other.  Seriously.  Just give yourself a couple of hours and you have done it.  You could probably even do it in heels.  Try it, it’s fun!

And that’s just a start….

Coke v Pepsi

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I was reminded of this because I recently had a conversation with a colleague of mine in Canada who mentioned that she would never, even under the pain of death, deign to drink Pepsi.  She was a Coke (specifically Diet Coke) fan for life.

This reminded me of my most recent journey – to Finland and Denmark  – and the stark differences between the two in terms of their soda consumption.

Normally, most countries are like the US; there might be a general preference for either one or the other, or, like in the case of Malta, a third option altogether (in their case, Kinnie, whose appeal I never understood).  You might have a somewhat hard time finding one or the other, but it’s possible and even easy in a lot of places, like the US and Australia.

Not in Finland or Denmark, though.  In Finland, although I generally prefer Diet Coke, I was forced to basically drink “Pepsi Max” (otherwise known as diet Pepsi) whenever I wanted a soda.  First, they don’t, like more European countries, offer any non-caffeinated versions of soda, at least that I have ever really found.  But beyond that, there was no such thing as Coca-Cola anywhere outside of a small display in one of the local grocers.  And even that wasn’t stocked every day, so there were a few times in which I went there, only to find that there weren’t any Cokes in sight.  I couldn’t believe it.  Never before in my life have I ever been in a place so thoroughly sold to Pepsi and their other products.  I mean, Coca-Cola is the largest, most widespread brand in the world, and yet, here is a country entirely committed to Pepsi.  Amazing!

Then, I went to Denmark for a couple of days as a side trip.  It was the exact opposite.  It was as though someone from Coca-Cola came and said the the entire country “Hey, you want to be cool like the rest of the world and not backward, like Finland?  Come over here, and let me show you something really great.”  And at that point, the salesman opens his jacket and displays all of the varied (except for the aforementioned non-caffeinated) versions of Coke products.  Every vending machine, from the ones in my hotel to the ones in the train station, offered only Coke products.  It was as if Pepsi never existed.  Simply amazing.  And not a bad thing, if you ask me, since I generally like it more than Pepsi (Pepsi is usually to sweet and not bubbly enough for me).  But still, coming from a country so single-mindedly devoted to Pepsi, it struck me right away.

Nothing else seemed to be like that.  They both carried chocolate products from all over, from Mars and Cadbury to their own local varieties.  They both carried other consumer products from a wide range of companies.  But when it came to their soda preferences, it was just unique and utterly fascinating to see two countries, so close to one another, so at odds over a simple thing like soda.

Interesting.  Very interesting <insert character from Laugh-In here>

La Fromagerie

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I spent a few years of my life (not my most enjoyable years, either, by the way) not being able to properly process cheese or most other dairy products.  Therefore, I spent a long time ordering pizzas without cheese, thereby confounding the person on the other end of the phone taking my order, not to mention entertaining those who saw me eat what was essentially bread and ketchup (with a little Canadian bacon for good measure).

However, by the time that I went on first real vacation in almost eight years – to Paris – I was fortunate enough to have overcome that hindrance and once again be able to enjoy, at least in moderation dairy products, from yoghurt to milk to cheese.

Now, I know, everyone knows that the French love and know their cheese.  I mean, really know their cheese.  In fact, this post was inspired by a book that I recently read on a woman from Wisconsin who, after my own heart, travelled all over France indulging in the still-traditionally-made cheeses of rural France.  This is a country that boasts no fewer than 300 types of cheese by most counts, and perhaps twice that many.

I was a little hesitant at first, I admit.  i had only recently been able to truly eat cheese itself without a lot of, let’s just say, digestive discomfort.  So, as you can imagine, I didn’t want to over-reach what my body might be able to handle.  At least, not the first time.  But like they say about drugs, it’s the first time that can really hook you for life.  And in my case, not only did it hook me, but it ruined me at the same time.

As most other Americans, I grew up eating cheese.  In fact, I remember many times when I would ask my mother for a snack after school or before bed and she would just cut a huge chunk of cheese off of a larger block and I would gnaw away on it for a while.  Happily indulging in it.  I also ate my fair share of grilled cheese sandwiches, made with the ubiquitous American cheese slices that melted so perfectly (or Velveeta wedges, if we were really good and Mom had remembered to buy those large blocks of creamy, salty goodness).  Little did I know, though, that there was a whole other world of cheese out there.  Real cheese.  Cheese that transcends the bland, dry “Mexican blend” stuff that is so familiar in the US.

The first night in the city, I discovered that there was a Fromagerie just a few dozen meters from my hotel.  I had walked by it earlier in the day, without noticing it, since it was closed and in the shadows.  However, by nightfall, as I walked by again, on the way back to my temporary home for the week, I strolled passed it and noticed the light on and saw an amazing sight:  Shelf after shelf of cheese!  Like I had never seen before in my life!  There are no such places in the US.  No stores where you can walk in and be overwhelmed by the smells of the salty, briny, rich cheeses that reside therein.

This was an epiphany.  I stepped through the door to the small (the size of a smaller-than-average bedroom) shop, populated by an older woman and the proprietor; a lovely middle-aged gentleman who didn’t speak more than a few words of English, which was actually far more than the amount of French that I spoke.

I think that I literally stepped in and immediately closed my eyes to take in the smells.  It was almost overpowering, but in the most blessed way.  And the cheeses!  from bright white to deep orange; from round wheels to bricks and slices; from stinky to tangy and from creamy and smooth to crumbly and bleu.  I couldn’t believe my nostrils or my eyes.  I didn’t know where to start, so I walked up to the owner and with a few hand gestures managed to purchase a small chunk of what turned out to be my favorite, a chevre.  Goat cheese.  Briny, a little on the off-tasting side (but in all the right ways) and perfect for spreading on a fresh baguette (which I happened to have just purchased from the local bakery down the block).  I took the chunk and the bread home and spent a few, very contented minutes just savoring the cheese and the crusty, flaky-crusted bread while watching the French version of some news show.

For the next nine days, I managed to eat my way through nearly every single type of cheese that they had.  I made it a routine.  I would stop by the boulangerie on my way home for the evening and pick up a loaf of baguette.  Did it matter that it was from the morning and all French people buy their bread in the morning, for maximum freshness?  Nope.  We Americans couldn’t make bread this good if we tried.  And we have.  Let’s just say that it’s not our strong point.

I tried every type that I could identify and many others that I couldn’t and still couldn’t to this day.  Brie, Camanbert, chevre; cow, goat and sheep cheese.  Oozey, gooey cheese.  Sharp, hard, sliced cheese.  I would buy a few ounces of each and spread them on a whole baguette so that every few bites were a flavor of a new cheese.  And I only ate the same one twice.  It was that first one, from the first night, that I loved the most.  Every night, therefore, I experienced just a little bit of Heaven on Earth.  There is just something about that simple combination of foods that makes you realize that it’s the little things in life that can make you happy.  That make you forget the smoking people in the streets; the dog poo on the footpaths; the closed museums that you spent ages trying to find.  It just makes like worth living just a little bit more.

And you can’t get those cheeses here in the US.  Why?  They are not pasteurized.  None of the ones that I tried were.  And now I lament that.  I lament that I can’t go into a shop, a supermarket or anywhere and get cheese like that here.  I try it sometimes; with mixed results.  We can get decent Danish brie, but truly, it’s nothing like what I had in Paris, and I miss it.  I dream of it.  Sometimes, I think that I can still taste it, if I think and focus hard enough.

But then, as I always say; always leave something to come back for.  I feel like taking another trip to France.

In Praise of the Cinnamon Roll

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DSC01413I recently got a chance to journey once again to another new place in the world and experience all that it had to offer (much of it closed or too rainy to enjoy, thank you very much).  Well, on the down side, Finland was cold, rainy and wet for the majority of the time that I was there.  Even though I watched the weather forecasts for weeks beforehand, I was still caught off-guard by just how cold it was, and was totally unprepared (note to self:  even though you want to try to squeeze your luggage into the carry-on space, it will not be to your benefit to cut out your winter jacket on the off-chance that *Finland* will be reliably warm in September).

Despite all of the issues that I had while I was there, I did discover a few positive things about the experience (visiting my good friend aside, since I knew that that would a great experience).  Mainly, the Finnish, even though they apparently have a food reputation on par with England (i.e. bad, bland, tasteless food), know their food.  And I mean *know* their food.  I fortunately got a hotel with a small fitted kitchen, so that I wasn’t stuck eating out all the time and for that I am extremely thankful.  Because of that, I got to shop at the local supermarkets and discover the foods that the Finns really eat.  Everything from reindeer sausage (delicious) to moose meat cold cuts (even more delicious) to the amazing, cinnamon roll.

Let me just say right now that I have eaten my fair share of cinnamon rolls.  I make them a lot, and not the Cinnabon kind, either.  The real, genuine, amazing, homemade version.  But these were on a whole other level.  Coming back home, I looked it up and realized that the Finns and Swedes apparently were the originators of the cinnamon roll, so it makes sense that they know what they are doing.  So much so, that even the versions that were in packages at the supermarket were far superior to what you normally find even in high-end bakeries here in the US.  The ones that I got to try at Fazer (see photo below) were sublime.

And they come in an amazing amount of varieties, too.  I counted no less than 15 kinds that I could readily distinguish as being unique, but beyond that, there were subtle variations on those that were everywhere.  Some with a sweet glaze, some with toffee filling, and others with huge chunks of confectioners’ sugar balls on top.  All them delectable and soft, puffy and full of cinnamon flavor.   You can eat them by peeling away the sometimes gooey, sometimes challah-ish layers, or you can cut into them with a fork like the locals do.  either way, the light, fluffy bread breaks away to a sensory perception on par with what I imagine a practiced wine taster experiences when they taste revered vintages from France and Italy.  There is nothing childish or Cinnabon-like about these treats.  They are eaten at all times of night and day, from breakfast to dessert, and are often accompanied by the liquid gold that is Finnish coffee.  No matter you eat them, or what variety you have, I promise you that you will be at a loss for words in describing their perfection.

I may have been cold and wet, and I may have gotten a cold while there, but I will be darned if I didn’t enjoy every single morsel of cinnamon rolls that I ate….every single day….every single chance that I got!

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