Sweden Part 6: Stockholm

Simply put, Stockholm is a beautiful city – water everywhere you look, the stately palace, narrow stone streets shaded by tall, old buildings, churches, and gorgeous scuptures. The Grand Hotel wasn’t too shabby either 😉

We headed to old town Stockholm (Gamla Stan) after checking into our rooms, where we saw the King’s palace and the changing of the guards. Then we entered an old square with impressive statues, and picked one out of many sidewalk cafes in which to eat and view all the amazing buildings around us, as well as the crowds of tourists.

When I saw Swedish meatballs on the menu, I knew exactly what I was getting. I had checked almost everything else off my list of “must-try Swedish foods”  (pickled herring, salted salmon, absolute vodka, etc.) but had not yet seen meatballs! See how excited I was?

They were covered with that delicious, creamy gravy (yep. Just like at Ikea, but better) and served with mashed potatoes, and lingonberries. Yum. Comfort food.

We moved away from the square and walked down narrow streets to one of the most touristy streets we’d ever been on. But it’s all part of the experience, and we went into shop after shop buying Swedish souvenirs just like everyone else, such as earrings made by a Swedish craftsman made out of recycled forks and spoons.

By mid-afternoon we had worked off our meatballs and were ready for fika (remember? The traditional coffee break?) One minute we were enjoying an espresso and little almond cookies at a sidewalk cafe …

The next minute we were caught in a downpour! The umbrellas started giving out, spewing us with water as the wind swung them back and forth. The man at the table next to us was desperately trying to hold one up as two of the bus boys ran around trying to take them all down before they broke. We watched people scramble through the square holding newspapers (or whatever they had) over their heads. Soon, were one of those people too, because we had to get back to the hotel to get ready for dinner and had not thought to bring the complimentary umbrellas sitting by the door. What an exciting afternoon. We safelty returned to the hotel after splashing our way down a few streets. It was absurd, but all we could do was laugh, and then change our clothes.

We ate in our first Michelin star rated restaurant that night – Mathias Dahlgren. The main restaurant “Matsalen” has recently been granted its second Michelin star. “Matbaren” – the food bar – holds one Michelin star and is known for a more casual setting. Both dining experiences are in “à la carte style,” which means you get to choose from many exquisite small plate options, going at your own pace until you are extremely full (at least that was our experience). The restaurant is also known for its extensive wine list. It was fabulous, as one would expect! The low lighting only allowed us to capture a few pictures, I hope you’ll appreciate my descriptions!

We sat down at a long table next to the bar, taking in the modern decor, low lighting, and vast amounts of wine bottles displayed above the bar. An eclectic soundtrack played in the background – everything from jazz, to techno, to country was heard throughout the evening, and we really wanted to ask for a copy of the playlist! At each table setting was a wooden tray, lined with a rustic paper menu (containing both food and drinks on one easy-to-read page). Next to the tray was a little paper bag tied with a string. We curiously opened the bags and found several varieties of freshly baked cracker-breads inside. A small pad of butter on top of a cool stone was served alongside. We ordered a bottle of rosé wine and felt spoiled already.  The atmosphere felt even more relaxing when our waiter explained that we could order things as we go, rather than in courses. No pressure here.

We loved the simplicity of the menu. Items were divided into 5 categories:  From Our Country, From Other Countries, From the Plant World, From the Pastry, and Dairy Products & Cold Cuts. First round, I ordered “Fried sepia from Italy” – lightly pan-fried squid with garlic, parsley, and lemon. Usually, I’m freaked out by the texture of squid (either too chewy, or too creamy) but this was perfect. I could hardly even tell I was eating squid. The flavor was subtle and the accompaniments were light and refreshing. Equally light and refreshing was my dad’s “Leaves, sprouts, herbs from Ekerö,” – served with a dressing on the side of olive oil, vinegar, salt, and black pepper, and tasting like everything had just been pickled from the garden.

Dustin ordered “Horseradish herring from Simrishamn” – served with baby potatoes, whitefish roe, browned butter, and chives. It was layed out beautifully on the narrow plate.

Another favorite (that was so good, it was ordered twice at our table) was “Beef Dahlgren” – my brother’s self-proclaimed “perfect meal,” a perfectly cooked fillet of beef (this is the kind of place where they don’t even bother asking how you like your steak cooked), served with potatoes, truffle gravy, and a 63° egg on top. Ok, I must digress for a minute because we were all fascinated by this egg! Apparently 63° is the magical temperature that yields a soft yolk, a completely cooked white, but with a creamy texture. When you cut into it, you think “wait, this egg is not cooked,” but when you take a bite, you realize that the creaminess is a result of the way it was cooked – slowly in a water-bath, from what we understand. I wish I was more of an expert to explain more, but I’ll let you ponder the magic the way we did at the table.

We were amused when our menus (which conveniently doubled as place mats) were replaced between each plate that we ordered (unless you were successful in not dropping or spilling anything on yours, and then they let it be).

I wish I had pictures of our second round of dishes. My mom and I split the “Dumplings of pork” – the most delicate, flavorful dumplings we’d ever had, swimming in a broth with vegetables, sweet & sour syrup sauce, and lemon rind. As someone who is a huge fan of Asian food (as you know from this blog), I hope you can truly believe me when I say that this was THE best Asian dish I’ve ever had in my life!!! Really. Way to go, Chef Dahlgren!

After the dumplings went away (I don’t think we spared a drop in the bottom of the bowl), we devoured a selection of cheeses from a Swedish dairy, Vilhelmsdals. Toasted bread, a small bowl of jam, and cold-pressed locally grown rapeseed oil was served with the cheese.

After two dishes each, lots of fork passing (because of course we all had to try everything) and 3 (4?) bottles of wine later, we were on to dessert (and yet a 3rd replacing of our menus — don’t worry. They’re made of recyclable paper). I was so full that I chose what the waiter called “a good, light option” – a martini glass with yogurt on the bottom, followed by a layer of nuts, olive oil, and sea salt. On the top was a scoop of peach sorbet. Beautiful. Simple. Stunning. I want to make that at home sometime. We also tried the “Rhubarb crumble pie” with vanilla sauce, strawberry sorbet, and clove. Amazing flavors. The boys went straight for the “Baked wild chocolate from Bolivia” – basically a chocolate cake with a molten center, served with sour cream, toffee ice cream, and nuts. And when our dessert plates were empty, our champagne flutes were dry, and the house-made Limoncello had been downed, they brought out a bowl lined with more paper menus filled with little goodies – chocolate truffles on sticks, and bite-sized madelines.

Whew. Now that was a meal – one of those that will probably go down on that list of “best meals of my life.” I feel really fortunate to have been able to eat there!

What better way to end our time in Stockholm (and Sweden) than walking along the bridge by the Grand Hotel, taking in the view of the city lights. The moon rose close to 11pm, and we talked about our favorite places and favorite dinners. We also joked with my mom about why our Swedish ancestors had decided to leave! What an amazing country, and a relaxing trip – a chance to go back our roots, eating and exploring in the same places that my Great-Great-Grandfather and his family might have gone.


Sweden Part 5: Ã–rebro

Several people asked us, “Why did you go to Örebro?” It’s just a random metropolitan area in the middle of Sweden. Well, we had worked our way across to Western Sweden, and it was the perfect place to stop on our way back across to the East side. It does have a famous castle there, complete with a random hand sticking out of the water pointing at something, a peaceful river that flows through the city, and a lively nightlife (we heard drunk people yelling below our hotel window into the wee hours of the morning). It was actually sort of jolly.

There appears to be a fairly large Middle Eastern population there, and we saw lots of kebab and falafel shops that smelled so good as we walked past! There is an old town, Wadköping, (the largest open-air museum), where you can see traditional 18th and 19th century houses and craftsman shops. It also happens to be the hometown of Dustin’s favorite punk band – Millencolin. So what’s not to like? We even ate some good stuff there too!

Conveniently, there was an English pub connected to our hotel, called The Bishops Arms. It was 4th of July and we wanted to eat something more American than herring or preserved salmon, so we chose the pub (English. American. Whatever. haha) We had planned to eat outside on their patio, but as soon as it started thundering and raining, we had to be content with the inside. The lighting was low (hence a slightly blurry picture, which normally wouldn’t make the cut for this blog :)), but the food was comforting and the beer refreshing!

I ordered nachos, which came with salsa, guacamole, and a garnish of pea shoots. Dustin’s penne pasta with steak, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, fresh greens, and shaved Parmesan was pretty satisfying as well! My mom got a croque monsieur sandwich that was simple and comforting, and my dad’s hamburger was one of the most delicious we’d had in a while – the cucumber sauce that they spread on it was the perfect fresh condiment!

The rain took a brief hiatus, just in time for us to take a walk around the town after dinner. Live music reverberated from almost every corner of the city, lights from bars, restaurants, and clubs reflected in the river. People spilled out of outdoor seating areas onto the sidewalk, laughing and talking, and others lined up outside of two-story night clubs with deep pounding beats coming from the inside. Back in our room, it was interesting getting to sleep, but we did not regret our quick stop in this city!

My one complaint? Our room was one of several unfortunate ones – a giant poster/advertisement made of an almost-opaque white material was hung on the outside of the hotel building, covering over windows and blocking what could have been a castle-view. Awesome. But hey, we were thankful for a cozy bed, a satisfying dinner, and the sound of the city bustling below!

Sweden Part 4: When in Vadstena, Drink as the Monks Drank

Leaving the city, we soon found ourselves surrounded by the peaceful Swedish countryside, where we saw the most vibrant field of red flowers. They reminded us of the scene in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy and her friends walk through the sleep-inducing poppy field.

We entered the town of Vadstena, known for its famous Monastery and church, which are still destinations for many pilgrims today. While walking around the grounds, we learned that the monks and nuns were allotted 2.5 liters of beer a day from the on-site brewery, which they enjoyed while they studied the Scriptures. Now that, my friends, is church!  😉 We stayed at this historic place, which has since been converted into a hotel called Vadstena Klosterhotel, and enjoyed some good ‘ole monk beer after we had settled into our quaint, spiritual retreats (I mean, rooms).

The monks definitely had an amazing view from those rooms! Lake Vättern is just across the way, which my mom and I jumped in in the morning to wake ourselves up, just like the locals do.

Vadstena Castle stands proudly at the edge of the lake. We walked through its courtyard, admiring its early Renaissance design that was built for defense, and pictured the Kings of Sweden that spent time in there.

We walked over to Munkklostret, the hotel’s restaurant (which we enjoyed so much, we ended up eating there both nights). Usually, dinner is served inside the Monastery, surrounded by old, stone walls lit by dim candle light. The pictures we’d seen looked really cool – like you are really eating in the Middle Ages. But because it was summer (and of course they want to take advantage of the many hours of daylight, as well as the heatwave that was going on) they were serving outside under a tent. This too was a nice atmosphere and we took in the view of the lake while we were eating. I started off with the most simple, lovely shrimp salad – a pile of very fresh, small shrimp, a handful of crisp greens, herbs, and a piece of hearty grilled bread.

Dustin got another version of the famous shrimp sandwich (which I described in my previous post). We actually enjoyed this one more. The ratio of shrimp to bread was more balanced, and the shrimp was tossed with mayo, rather than being on its own. I didn’t care for the salty roe on top, but luckily he did!

I was still burned out by my plethora of pickled herring the night before, but I thought I might as well try Dustin’s entrée because it was prepared in a different way: pan-fried and served with potatoes and lingonberries. Delicate bunches of mache lettuce garnished the dish. Unfortunately, I still didn’t care for the herring (it’s just one of those fishy-tasting fishes that I just can’t quite get excited about), but the potatoes and lingonberries were exceptional! The flavors were reminiscent of Thanksgiving.

From here on, my commentary about the food has been challenged, because my kleptomaniac cat hid my little pocket-sized notebook that had all of my food notes that I took throughout the trip. Until it shows up, I must rely on my memory. So let’s see. I ordered the veal which was marinated in lime. It was served with a “potato roll” (a thin wrapper, sort of like phyllo was filled with potato, and a light cheese like ricotta), and a huge dish of lemon-sage butter. I had never had such a thick cut of veal before, but it was very tender and flavorful. Some fried morel mushrooms were served underneath the veal.

While we were eating that night, we were visited by a small hedgehog who scurried up to our table, and then around the perimeter of the outdoor eating area. We were very excited by him, but noticed that no one else in the restaurant seemed to care (we then learned that hedgehogs are about as common as squirrels are here, and then felt silly for taking pictures of it).

A notable dish from the following night (this one was not accompanied by a hedgehog viewing) was the vegetarian entree. I ordered it because of its mysterious, vague description – “a variety of seasonal ingredients, both local and international.” That could be pretty much anything, right? I was thrilled when I saw a pile of fava beans, pieces of white asparagus, braised fennel, shoots, and giant caper berries (actually, I found those to be a bit too salty, but I tried a few bites). It was served with another one of those “potato rolls” which I had enjoyed so much the night before!

We ordered the rhubarb oatmeal crisp both nights. It was served with a bowl of vanilla cream that we pretty much wanted to drink with a straw (but didn’t). There was another impressive dessert that didn’t get its picture taken – a strawberry consumme with a lavender panna cotta in the middle. The consumme was so concentrated and tart that was the perfect accompaniment for the sweet custard.

Before leaving town, we had to participate in a Swedish custom – fika – the traditional afternoon coffee break, usually accompanied by a little sweet treat. A friend of mine who lives there told us that Sweden is ranked second for highest per capita coffee-consuming counties (Finland is apparently #1). Embracing the “when-in-Rome” philosophy, we found a cute outdoor cafe, ordered some double espressos and these beautiful star cookies, covered with sugar; the perfect pick-me-up in the middle of the afternoon, before leaving town. I think I’ll continue this custom at home, being 1/4 Swedish and all 🙂

Sweden Part 3: Göteborg

When we first walked into the Avalon, we were met with a babbling indoor water feature, colorful, modern decor, and techno music playing softly in the hallways; This feng shui certified hotel was a  fun change of pace from the peaceful harbor setting the day before.

Göteborg has a bustling, up-and-coming city feel, juxtaposed by beautiful, old buildings, squares, and churches. Many shady parks offer tired shoppers, families, or pretty much anyone a place to eat, read, take a nap, or socialize.

Touristy boats guide groups of people through the city’s many canals.  A Botanical Garden is a little eden in the middle of the busy city.

There is so much to take in. First stop – a Carlsberg beer at the hotel’s  sidewalk cafe and a “snack plate” including olives, seasoned nuts, cheese, mushroom tapenade, and apple sauce (yes, we also thought it was a random addition, but welcomed the sweetness on which to end).

We sipped, chewed, and watched various beautiful, fashionable people walk by. Many stopped and looked up at the hotel’s clear-bottomed terrace pool that juts out over part of the street above their heads.

(Notice the pool at the top right?) Walking around the city made us hungry, especially when we walked through the famous indoor food market, Saluhallen, which holds over 40 little stores selling everything you can imagine: baklava, marinated olives, salami the size of your head, fresh produce, and Swedish beer, etc, etc.

Now officially starving, we decided to eat at Avalon’s restaurant for dinner.  One of the most innovative appetizers I’d ever had was waiting for us: Thin, delicate slices of beef carpaccio were wrapped over cubes of yellow watermelon (think updated version of prosciutto-wrapped melon). The surprising accompaniment was cauliflower puree and florets, as well as edible flowers. Somehow the sweet, nuttiness of the cauliflower really worked with the saltiness of the carpaccio and the refreshing sweetness of the melon. Genius.

Behold, a Swedish classic: the räksmörgÃ¥s (open-faced shrimp sandwich). It’s impossible to see, but I swear to you that there is a piece of bread hiding at the bottom – a dark brown, sweet rye bread. On top of that is chopped hard-boiled egg, some mixed greens, an abundance of perfectly cooked shrimp, a spoonful of roe, and tasty little dill flowers. Usually the shrimp is mixed with mayonnaise before going on the bread, but at this place there was a thin layer spread on top of the bread. As soon as I get over my shrimp-sandwich overload feeling (this was the first of several times that I ate it during our trip), this will be very easy to recreate at home!

Another Swedish classic rounded out our meal: thick pieces of salt-preserved salmon, served with creamy dilled potatoes, a pile of mixed greens, and a small bowl of spicy mustard. We also had a dessert that was almost too complicated to explain, but it involved green rhubarb ice cream, some kind of light brown foam (hazelnut, perhaps?), milk chocolate and little tapioca balls. We all agreed that there was too much going on that we didn’t really get, but we were definitely impressed by the concept.

On our second day in the city we visited the Göteborg Museum of Art , where we walked up many floors and worked up a hunger looking at fabulous works of art; everything from photography to landscapes of Sweden in the 1500s.  A cart outside was selling the most intruiging thing: hot dogs topped with mashed potatoes, drizzled with ketchup. We couldn’t say no. I’m hoping this catches on in the States. Other than the fact that it’s a carb fest, creamy potatoes are the perfect thing to put on a hot dog! We gave it a thumbs up. The cart also offered a vegetarian hot dog, as well as other toppings (to top the mashed potatoes), such as creamed herring. I chose not to add that to mine.

It took some time (as you can imagine) to regain our hunger after that dog, so my mom and I did a little shopping and a lot of walking around. We also did one of our favorite activities; reading menus in restaurant windows, trying to choose our next meal, even though we were still full from the last. We chose a place called TvÃ¥kanten, one of many cute restaurants with outdoor patios, complete with soft couches as chairs and comfy pillows (some cafes even provide blankets outside!) Before we had even decided on what to order, the waitress (who spoke English just as well as I can – why don’t we require foreign language study in American schools!?) brought each of us a tiny jar, containing something red. She explained it was a gazpacho, with a thin layer of olive oil resting on the top – the chef’s treat. We unclipped the jars and devoured the refreshing, cool soup, feeling spoiled already.

As we finished the last spoonful, our appetizers arrived. I didn’t capture it in a photo, but it was another carpaccio dish – this time with almonds, baby swiss chard leaves, an artichoke puree, and balsamic reduction. Delicious flavor and texture combination!  I then decided to take a small break from herring and salmon and order the vegetarian entrée: slightly crisp asparagus served over a barley risotto with fried shallots (or something oniony), yet another kind of foam (have you noticed we encountered a lot on this trip?) mushrooms, sun-dried tomato, and a gremolata on top (chopped lemon zest and fresh herbs), which added a bright  zing to every bite. I confessed that I could be a vegetarian right then and there.

Dustin did not take a break from herring and salmon. In fact, I believe he ate herring for breakfast almost every morning (among other things). His salmon dish was spectacular, he said. It was seared, and served over raw apple, horseradish, new potatoes, and a creamy white sauce. A pile of roe was on the plate as well.

The lighting was getting too low to photograph our desserts – a baked apple & caramel tart with a crumbly topping, served with lemon ice cream, and a drizzle of maple syrup on the plate. It tasted more like fall than summer, but it was still one of the best desserts I had on the trip. Dustin quickly consumed his bowl of strawberries, black sugar, lime, vanilla ice cream, and litttle cardamom crisps. Both desserts impressed us. No tapioca balls here. We walked back up the street to the Art Museum – the place where many couples (and others) come to sit on the steps and look out over the city and the sunset. Can you believe this is how light it was at 10:30 pm?

Even after setting, the sky does not darken, and the nightlife starts full swing. A spirit of excitement was in the air as we walked back to our hotel, looking up one last time at the light sky against the old buildings.

Sweden Part 2: Salt & Herring in Klädesholmen

Of course I had to order the 6 varieties of pickled herring. We were staying at a hotel floating on the sea called “Salt & Sill” — “sill” means herring. Each of the rooms is named after a spice or a fruit, such as Citron (lemon) or Kanel (cinnamon).

The restaurant there has a deck that juts out over the water. It was very windy and 86 degrees in the sun so we opted for the porch/sunroom that’s been converted into a dining room and ordered some Swedish draft beers, Swedish “Pripps BlÃ¥,” to cool off while we looked over the menus.

I was happy with my appetizer choice. A beautiful mound of creamy crab salad with egg and spring onions was topped with fresh pea shoots. Next to it on the long plate was some mustard sauce, a seared and pickled piece of mackerel (I got used to eating this in Japan), and a piece of raw lobster that had been “ceviche-ed” for lack of a better term and sprinkled with dill.

Dustin’s appetizer was three kinds of pickled herring paired with three kinds of “snapas” or schnapps. Personally, I think the schnapps may greatly enhance the taste of the herring. But I’m getting to that 🙂

My second course was hotel’s namesake, the “herringboard” – which is exactly how it sounds. A wooden board was brought to our table with 8 little cups on top of it. 6 of them contained various flavors of pickled herring: herring with bacon, herring in mustard sauce, herring marinated in vanilla and orange, herring in red vinegar, oh and two more (honestly, they all started to taste the same, though the vanilla and orange one was memorable. Dustin enjoyed that one a little too much and even ate some for breakfast the next morning (!) The last 2 little cups contained minced red onion and pieces of cheese (classic accompaniments).

Another plate arrived soon after the herringboard; some more classic pairings  – boiled potatoes with dill, hard boiled egg, and creme fraiche. Although I didn’t love the herring (and was more excited by the accompaniments ), I’m glad I tried a Swedish staple! It seemed appropriate to eat it while we were next to the sea, watching boats go in and out of the small harbor.

Breakfast the next morning was as satisfying as ever. After we loaded our plates (well, at least my plate) with salami, cheese, bread, a hard boiled egg, pickles, a baked tomato, and cucumber, we watched a seagull swoop down into another guest’s orange juice glass and take a few “sips” (whatever it is that birds take).

When the man came back from getting his breakfast from the buffet, we had to inform him that a bird had shared his juice. The man’s reply was “incredible.”

By the end of our short stay on this little island off the western coast of Sweden, we were grateful for the salt (the presence of the sea, and the smell of the air) and were enlightened by the sill (a culinary challenge, but one I do not regret!)

Sweden Part 1: Sigtuna

Despite the small detail that our bags went to Copenhagen and we had to wear the same clothes for 2 days straight while we awaited their return, Sweden has been great so far! We enjoyed the view of the lake in Sigtuna and watching families picnicking on the grass, flying kites, walking their dogs, sunbathing, and paddling small boats. Oh, and of course eating too! When we arrived at 8 in the morning after being awake for who knows how many hours, we were immediately drawn to a little bakery that sold delicious, strong coffee in small cups, and a variety of perfect little pastries – a cherry tart with a crumbly topping, a cinnamon-cardamom bun topped with coarse sugar, and a flaky raisin, almond, and cinnamon twist.

We succeeded staying awake until our dinner at the Sigtuna Stads Hotel, where we had to apologize for not having a change of clothes. (They didn’t seem to care. We were eating so early anyway  that no one else was even in the restaurant!) Still, the impeccable service did not match our attire. We were immediately brought an amuse-bouche: a small piece pickled herring, on top of some potato that had been dyed by octopus ink, caviar, and the weirdest powdery butter that had the texture of snow, but was warm — we think molecular gastronomy was involved! How cool!

My mouth now feeling sufficiently amused, I enjoyed a salted salmon appetizer, served with meadow sorrel, cucumber, roe, and brown bread.

Dustin and my Dad both had a simple salad of beets, hazelnuts, and baby greens.

Next I ate pike-perch (a mild white fish) with dill, lobster foam, carrot puree, and baby root vegetables. Wow. This was the kind of entrée I had only seen in an Iron Chef battle!

Dustin ate an interesting cut of lamb that included more fat than what most Americans are probably used to, but it was  tender and flavorful. I asked him if he remembered what it was served with and he said he didn’t, other than that it was garlicky. So there you go! At least you can gawk at the presentation!

Dessert was a selection of Swedish farm cheeses (my favorite of which was a blue that was so subtle and delicious) with fig jam, bread, and lightly dressed greens.

However, my fork kept gravitating towards Dustin’s “variation of rhubarb” creation. Isn’t it beautiful? Rhubarb ice cream sat atop cookie crumbs, surrounded by little toasty meringue drops, raw shavings of rhubarb, cubes of stewed rhubarb, and edible flowers. A delicious masterpiece.

We were just as impressed by the strawberry sorbet accompanied by a green strawberry snow. How the chef made it, we have no idea, but we were content to sit back and bask in the mystery of it all. By this time we could barely keep our eyes open, but last I remember we were enjoying a glass of champagne. Time to hit the most comfortable pillow ever!!

Jet-lag enabled us to wake up before anyone else and take advantage of the early morning light reflecting on the stillness of the lake. This was the lighting at 4am!

We had the oldest church in Sweden all to ourselves that morning. We walked around its cool, stone walls in appreciation of its history and antiquity.

Breakfast here is heaven on earth. A smörgÃ¥sbord of sweet and savory things – from liver pate to flaky pastries filled with fresh custard; smoked salmon, hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced meats,  baby pickles, you name it. There is surely something for everyone.

Here I am peeling my perfectly cooked hardboiled egg!

Choices to wash everything down included 6 kinds of juice, 3 kinds of fruit soups, including blueberry and rosewater, and strong coffee. Perfect cure for jet-lag!

Fully fueled and caffeinated, we made our trek to our next stop on the west side of the country …

Taverna-Style Baked Feta Dip

Once upon a time, on our first night in Oia on the island of Santorini, we were starving and jet-lagged, walking along the cobble stone streets in search of something to eat. There were many stray dogs and cats wandering the streets, almost all of which appeared to be well fed and taken care of by the many shop owners. One tall dog that came up to my hip started walking alongside of us. Delighted (because I love dogs, especially big dogs), we continued on together, until the dog diverted to the right and bolted inside a small, dimly-lit taverna that was blaring jolly music. We decided this was a sign and followed the dog into the restaurant where we were greeted by a smiling Greek man who didn’t speak much English. We ordered this appetizer from him, along with a basket of crusty bread, and a bottle of local Santorini wine; it was heaven. As we spooned the hot feta and veggies onto our sliced bread, we were happy to see that the dog also received a treat for entering the restaurant. Throughout the meal we talked about how to recreate it at home. Luckily, the ingredients were so simple that it was possible to do so, even in Japan. Now we’ll share it with you!

1 block of feta cheese
Extra Virgin oilve oil
cherry tomatoes, sliced
green bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
red onion, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
dried oregano, to taste
salt & pepper, to taste

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Place the feta in the middle of a small ceramic baking dish. Add the olive oil to the dish until it almost reaches the top of the feta.
  • Scatter the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and garlic around the dish. Add the oregano, salt and pepper.
  • Bake for 15-20 min. or until the olive oil is bubbling nicely, and the feta is starting to melt around the edges. Let rest for 5 minutes. Place in the center of the table and serve with lots of sliced bread and a spoon for serving.

A Food Pilgrimage to Big Sur

After you’ve wound your way along the beautiful Highway 1 coastline, past the cabins grouped together called “resorts,” motels, general stores, and the ranger station, is the charming Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant. So many delectable things come out of their wood burning oven at this simple, rustic, Big Sur gem. This is what my mom and I consumed during our 24-hour food pilgrimage:


selection of breads with butter and salt

wood roasted quail, micro greens, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, and vinaigrette

mache lettuce, apples, goat cheese, walnuts, and apple cider cinnamon vinaigrette

butter-braised line-caught california sea bass

succotash of fava beans, butter beans, peas, corn, baby green beans, and fingerling potatoes

pizza of carmelized onion, figs, goat cheese, and arugula

lemon steamed pudding, huckleberries, and lemon verbena sauce

Melville 2007 pinot noir

Although we could have eaten outside on the deck in uncomfortable metal chairs, we were drawn to the coziness of the inside, which was softly illuminated by candles. Seated next to us was a table of bearded men who looked like lumberjacks. Presented with our menus (single sheets of paper attached to clipboards), we chose a beverage – two pints of Anchor Steam, brewed just up the coast in San Francisco. We also ordered a plate of mixed olives in olive oil because it seemed like the right thing to do.

We had just begun to sip the foam off the top of our beers, when a small cutting board arrived with four kinds of bread from their wood burning oven – pumpkin, asiago cheese, multi-grain, and one that we think was sourdough. Next to the pile of bread slices on the cutting board was a small cup of unsalted butter and a beautiful pile of salt crystals. It was too dim in the room to see, but when I lifted my salted bread up to the candle, I could see specks of orange and gray. It was fun to take a pinch of salt and season our bread as we ate. Along with the olives, we probably could have left after that and been satisfied.

Our salads arrived on huge plates. My roasted quail was so crispy and flavorful like bacon, and just barely wilted the micro greens beneath it. The roasted red peppers and mushrooms were a perfect earthy match to the quail and the vinaigrette with a hint of sweetness. My mom’s salad tasted like the epitome of fall with apples, walnuts, goat cheese, bundles of mache lettuce and an unforgettable apple cider-cinnamon vinaigrette. By this time we had scoured the extensive wine list and decided to go with a pinot noir that was so smooth and delicious, it paired with everything we ate.

My wood-fired pizza was an appealing purple (figs), white (goat cheese) and green (arugula). Underneath everything was a thin layer of caramelized onions. It was so good I didn’t miss tomato sauce or mozzarella. My mom’s butter braised sea bass was so simple and delicate. Beforehand we had selected which veggie dish to accompany the entree. The succotash turned out to be the perfect choice – a medley of beans, corn, peas and tiny potatoes.

After I had asked for the rest of my pizza to be wrapped up, the dessert menus arrived, which of course we couldn’t turn down. The steamed lemon pudding was nice and light. The huckleberries and lemon verbena sauce made it even better. Two glasses of really good champagne ended our almost-3-hour meal.

I guess we couldn’t get enough the night before. Or maybe it was because we wanted to get out of our “charming” little cabin as soon as possible, but we were back the next morning for our coffee and breakfast to fuel us for our hike.


roasted asparagus quiche with asiago cheese

ricotta-apricot jam danish

house-made donut, donut hole included

freshly brewed coffee

The quiche was quite possibly the best quiche we had ever tasted. The crust was so flaky, and the inside was so rich, made with fresh eggs from TLC Ranch in Watsonville, California. I never thought asparagus could be so good for breakfast. The danish was light and flaky, with the perfect thin layer of ricotta and jam. Donuts are always hard to turn down, but when they’re made by the Big Sur Bakery, they’re even harder. Needless to say, we definitely had enough fuel for our hike to the ocean and through the redwood trees, still recovering from the fire that swept through them earlier in the year.

Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant
Reservations: 831.667.0520
Highway One
Big Sur, California 93920

Tidbits from Kauai

We spent 5 rejuvenating days on the Garden Isle for our spring break. Waimea Plantation Cottages was our home for the first three nights on the quiet side of the Island.

My dad barbecued fresh Mahi-mahi, Opakapaka, steak, asparagus, and onions on our ocean view porch,

We drank tons of mai tais.

In town we ate at the Shrimp Station, home of the supposed “best coconut shrimp on the island” (the verdict: we’d had better, but it was still really good), and some really messy but satisfying shrimp tacos. Of course the sights were impressive too:

Beautiful Waimea canyon,

the Napali Coast (look familiar?) *cute Jurassic Park theme song*,

A tubing adventure down old plantation canals (sorry, didn’t get captured on film), and a self-guided tour of the Kauai Coffee Plantation.

The last two nights were spent on the resorty side of the island at the Sheraton. On our drive over there, we stopped in various quaint towns to eat ahi tacos & coconut ice cream.

We took in a view of taro fields.

Dustin jumped off a waterfall while we watched.

We visited a lighthouse and bird sanctuary, and walked on a quiet beach.

When we weren’t laying on the beach, getting a long overdue tan, and swimming in the ocean (we avoided the pool that had an odd green-ish tint to it), we visited the noted Spouting Horn that spits ocean water 50 feet into the air. We ignored the warning signs and walked down the rocks to a get a closer look (I guess Dustin got a better glimpse than I did).

We had to eat lunch at Puka Dog, the famous Kauai style hot dogs (that just so happened to be featured on Anthony Bourdain!) The hotdog or polish sausage, along with mustard and a special sauce (choose from mango, papaya, coconut, etc.) is contained in a bun with a hole at the top. A brilliant idea, really, except as you hold the dog upright, all the sauce drains to the bottom, so the last few bites are a little unmanageable. But I still give it a thumbs up, and I must not be alone because the line was going out the door by the time we left.

At Roy’s in Poipu we snacked on salted edamame seasoned with sesame oil, while we tried to decide what to order. With the help of our friendly and eager-to-please waiter, we ended up with a gigantic appetizer boat for 5 filled with all sorts of delectable things – Szechwan ribs, seared Ahi with spicy mustard and ginger, chicken and basil spring rolls, skewered shrimp, and fried wontons. Then I devoured some of the best fish I’d had in a while; Hawaiian Ono swimming in steaming Chinese ginger-sesame oil with fluffy jasmine rice. My Lime Drop was phenomenal, almost as good as the pineapple upside-down cake and the chocolate souffle with a molten center for dessert. We consumed so much, our table was one of the last to leave the restaurant that night.

There’s something about a vacation in a tropical place that makes it hard to come back to wherever you came from. We’re still transitioning back to day-to-day life in Japan, but the cherry blossoms are helping. They’re in full bloom right now and they’re beautiful. It’s our last spring in Japan to enjoy them so I better get outside!

Nostalgic Greek Salmon

Nothing beats the simplicity of fresh salmon, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and sweet basil, tied together with the flavors of lemon, olive oil, and oregano. This was the perfect light summer dinner. We intended to make it with shrimp, but when we found that our grocery store was sold out, we had to make a plan B, which turned out to be salmon. We were quite pleased to find a new way to enjoy salmon that evoked memories of sitting at a seaside table in Oia, Santorini on our honeymoon, watching the sun set behind the caldera.

2 salmon fillets

olive oil
salt & pepper
cherry tomatoes, halved
feta cheese, broken into small pieces
a few basil leave, torn
lemon juice (we used about 1/2 of a lemon)
splash of white wine + more to drink of course!

  • Rub the salmon with olive oil and season both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano.
  • Put about 2 TBS of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, cook the salmon until done, a few minutes per side. Transfer salmon to plates. Turn the heat down to low.
  • Add the tomatoes, feta, basil, wine, and a few squeezes of lemon juice to the pan. Toss everything together until the tomatoes start to burst.  Spoon on top of the salmon, and enjoy with a glass of white wine, and if possible, a view 🙂