In honor of my first return to the States after 1.5 years of living in Denmark, I thought I’d share this—the first story I ever wrote for Heirloom Food Project. In those beginning times, this project was specifically aiming to inspire U.S. cooks to participate and take pride in our food culture. Since then, I have realized that many of us living in industrialized nations beyond the U.S. could use this inspiration, too. Enjoy :)
There’s no use getting into an argument with a Dane over which country grows the best strawberries. (It’s obviously Denmark.) I’m here to highlight why there may be truth to their claim – and if that’s not enough – why it’s worth hopping aboard the pride-wagon anyway.
Four years ago, I started Heirloom Food Project because I wanted people to feel immense pride for the foods of their culture. When people take pride in what’s growing around them, they protect it, they celebrate it, they derive great joy from eating it. It binds them to their neighbors. It connects them to their land. It offers them identity.
Whether you’re growing curious about where your food comes from or you’re a food-lover trying to get the lay of your new land, here are some tips.
In the age of Google, we can supposedly access anything we want to know, but that method breaks down when you’re in a new country. Upon moving here, I searched for sources of fresh, seasonal food by Googling “Community Supported Agriculture (CSA),” the term for boxes of produce one can buy directly from farms in my home country. There were no results. After some good old-fashioned conversation with a Dane, I learned that there is a similar offering here in Denmark, but it goes by the name of grøntkasse (green box). Bingo!
...accidentally grabbed the sugar when you reached for the salt,
...settled for the lemon when the recipe calls for a lime,
...roughly chopped veggies instead of giving them a pristine julienne (because the kids are screaming or you're hangry or you're just absorbed in conversation with the folks hanging out in your kitchen),
While you’re out enjoying the Danish landscape this summer, remember to look down. We’re almost always standing on salad!
Once you know what to look for, you’ll learn that we are surrounded by food. Foraging can be a tasty, rewarding way to get to know the flora and fauna of our adopted country. Last year, I took a workshop with Lene Ejlersen, author and wild food educator from Møn. She showed us how accessible wild food is — it grows everywhere from parking lots to forests, it’s free, and you just need these few items to get started:
When I began taking commissions for illustrated recipes, I didn’t realize how deep and soulful the process would be. As I read through the personal stories attached to each recipe, it’s as if I can feel my heart actually warming. Treasured family recipes are a window into your dynamics, celebrations, and what you hold dear. What a privilege to be able to peer in.
Last spring when I was fresh off the plane from Oregon my friends still living there were sharing photos, gushing over the season’s beauty. I wailed, “Spring will never be that good in Denmark!” But then May arrived, and with it came flowers in vibrant pinks, purples, and yellows. Blossoms of all shapes and colors burst forth, and the grass grew thick and lush. I could not imagine a place with a more beautiful spring. Can you?
Look no farther than the flaky Danish pastries to see outside influences. In the U.S., we call a pastry with jam in the center a “Danish.” In Denmark, they call them “Vienna bread,” as they were originally made Austrian bakers. That Austrian style of dough? It came from the Turks. And round and round we go…
In getting to know the edible Danish landscape, I started with my own backyard. Some of the fruit—raspberries and strawberries—had been staple treats back home, and it was comforting to find them here. But others—the wild forest strawberries and black currants—were a whole new experience…
One of the first things I encountered through this project was a gift: free sourdough starter from Meyers Bageri. Claus Meyer, the owner and influencer of the New Nordic food movement, once asked, “Who says that what you get back from life does not depend on what you have the courage to give away yourself?”…
If chilly air rolls in while you’re dining al fresco, don’t retreat indoors. Wrap yourself in a blanket—restaurants often drape them on chairs or tuck them in a basket, and every home is sure to have a stash…
On a sunny November day, Bjarke and I wound our way through Tennessee woods to reach the home of Sandor Katz. Walking into his kitchen was like entering an ode to fermentation—shelves are stacked high with crocks of kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and more. When your gaze reaches the tippy top, you find a stained glass window depicting bacteria.
Khalifa was kind and warm and wanting to spread a message of health and peace through a traditional Senegalese spiced coffee called Café Touba. It’s coffee blended with cloves—to balance out the intensity of the caffeine—and African pepper (Uda Djar)—to clear your throat and settle your stomach.
Often, when trying to define American food, we can get stuck searching for dishes with no distinguishable international roots—those that are purely “American.” But I’d argue that some of the strongest examples of American food culture are customs brought across oceans, adapted, and carried out here.
This week, I’m departing from the places and people we met on the road to talk about the most eastern point on our path—our endpoint—Youngstown, Ohio. It’s where I’ve celebrated most Christmas Eves of my life.
[VIDEO] What is American food? For two months, my partner Bjarke and I crossed the country, learning stories of people, places, and food traditions from Oregon to Ohio in an attempt to grasp an answer.
“I’m from Iraq and speak Jesus’s language: Aramaic,” Ed proclaims while tugging at his t-shirt sleeve to reveal a tattoo of Jesus’s face. We’re sitting on the patio outside of Gyros Express, one of his Phoenix-area eateries. I had just enjoyed a bright and fresh falafel salad.
In Tucson, Arizona, a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, there is a place called Mission Garden. There, roaming the grounds allows you to experience 4,000 years of agriculture—the longest known history of cultivation in the U.S. In that garden, I met Josefina. She was teaching people how to make dulce de membrillo (quince paste) at a festival celebrating fall’s quince harvest.
In the first week of October 2017, my husband Bjarke and I packed all of our belongings in a Honda Civic and set out on a 2-month road trip across the U.S. Every square inch of the trunk was methodically filled with clothes, kitchen tools, and books that we don’t need until we arrive at our destination of Ohio. The back seat holds items for everyday living — there’s my gray backpack we call “the office” wedged next to the small, white cooler we call “the fridge” that balances upon the big blue bag we call “the dresser.”
Each time we dig through bags and boxes to unearth whatever we need next, we are reminded of the volume and energy our stuff consumes. Because of that, every item we carry must serve a purpose in order to continue the journey. There are no redundancies, and we try to get full use out of everything we have...
For me, the tomato will always be inextricably linked to my family’s annual tomato canning tradition.
Every year around Labor Day, we’d gather around bushels of plum tomatoes and get to work. It’s a long process—one that’s best done in the company of others. In this case, many hands make (lighter, but not exactly) light work.
Tomatoes are also one of my most potent examples of the connection between memory and sense of smell. I swear, the aroma from the huge stockpots of simmering tomato puree on that one Sunday in September seeps into the walls of my grandma’s basement and kitchen, and continually releases that sweet, acidic scent throughout the year.
I’m no master gardener, but for each of the past four years, our raised beds have contained zucchini. It seems like the ultimate foolproof vegetable—one that can always be counted on to produce and produce and produce.
Zucchini belongs to the cucurbit family (don’t you love that name?!) along with melon, cucumber, and hard-skinned squash like pumpkins. It’s a summer squash, which means it’s harvested before autumn sets in and the rind becomes hard like those of butternut or acorn squash.
Some years, deep into July I’ll glance at my pale skin and my untouched bathing suit and snap to the realization: “Oh my gosh, it’s summer!”
As a child, summer would loudly announce itself on the last day of school. That marked a clear transition from days defined by early morning wakening and late evening homeworking to the glorious days of sleeping till ten and playing outside past dark.
When that last school bell rang, it was unquestionably, officially summer.
But now, in full blown adulthood, I’ve learned that it’s up to me to acknowledge the season. Nobody is going to pull me out from behind my laptop, walk me outside, and slap an ice cream cone in my hand.
It’s on me—and any of us who can easily get swept up in the day-to-day routines—to partake in our own rituals that squeeze the most out of summer.
This year, picking bright, sweet fruit has been my tactic...
Has this been said to you? Perhaps you were scrunching up your face in disgust as your parent or caretaker used the health angle to get you to eat something green already. Appealing to a person’s desire to be healthy isn’t just a tactic employed at the home dining table; it’s used by food companies and media all the time.
I read that question and paused to mentally scan all past asparagus labels I’ve seen at grocery stores. Yeah, why does most of our asparagus come from Peru?
Alan Beattie investigates this question in False Economy: a surprising economic history of the world. He writes, “it may strike you as odd that…a cost-effective industry spontaneously emerged to airlift a perishable green vegetable thousands of miles around the world from the remote western coast of Latin America.”
That does, in fact, strike me as odd. Is it because Peru has especially good soil for asparagus? A perfect sun angle? Trade secrets that no one else knows?