Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ska vi fika?



I’ve fallen in love with Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall, a review copy of which landed on my doorstep a few weeks ago. It isn’t just a great cookbook, it’s also an affordable and adorable object and a fun read. I like this little book so much I recommend you buy it not just for yourself, but in bulk to give as gifts. The audience for Fika is broad, but there’s a certain type of person whose life will be incomplete without it. If you have a friend who bakes, collects vintage china, wears a Marimekko apron, and/or covets an AGA, buy her Fika this instant! 

Does it sound like I’ve suddenly started promoting products on this blog? Never.

In case you don’t know, fika is the Swedish ritual of pausing at some point every day to regroup with a hot beverage and a baked good, of carving out a “magical moment.”  “You can do it alone, you can do it with friends,” write the authors, but fika is “something everyone does, at least once a day. It factors into travel planning, work schedules, and even a relaxed weekend at home. Life without fika is unthinkable.” 

I always wondered how Mrs. Olson knew so much about coffee. Fika.

I often “fika” (the word can be used as a verb) at American cafes that sell giant to-go lattes and giant brown muffins. Giant muffins and Starbucks increasingly happen in Sweden too, but there’s a countervailing tradition of daintiness, variety, fine china, creating a sense of coziness (mysig), and home baking. (At one point, proud Swedish housewives prided themselves on offering seven types of homemade cookies when they served coffee.) This is the legacy that Fika celebrates.

Clockwise from upper left: ginger meringue, hazelnut crisp, oatmeal sandwich cookie with a layer of ginger-spiked chocolate inside. The photograph makes them look big, but they are very small.
I’ve been on a bit of a Fika tear and I have nothing but praise for the recipes. All the cookies I’ve made from the book have been crispy and bursting with bright flavors of ginger, hazelnut, chocolate and/or butter. American cookies seem heavy and floury by contrast. These cookies are also quite small -- after all, if you’re serving seven kinds of cookies, you don’t want people to fill up on their first.

These are also, for the most part, easy cookies. To make hazelnut crisps, my favorite Fika recipe so far, whisk together 1 egg, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter, 3/4 cup very finely chopped unblanched hazelnuts, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and a pinch of salt. (I always appreciate a recipe that doesn’t make me blanch the hazelnuts.) Drop by teaspoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets, bake at 350 degrees F until dark golden brown at edges, about 10 minutes. Leave on sheet until firm, remove to racks. SO GOOD.

Yesterday Mark and I were killing time in San Francisco while Owen finished his painting class and we ended up at a place I’d heard about called the 20th Century Cafe and I finally had a chance to try their famous honey cake. 
This will ruin you for oafish bundt cakes.
Just look at that magnificent slice. Look at that pretty china. Only as we were leaving did I realize we’d just had a perfect fika.

So: buy Fika and if you ever come to San Francisco, fika at the 20th Century Cafe.

Two healthy recipes to recommend:

I’ve made this refreshing and satisfying brussels sprouts salad from River Cottage Veg Every Day about a dozen time in the last couple of weeks, usually for lunch. Thinly-sliced sprouts, aged cheddar, apple, some thyme leaves, big squeeze of lemon, olive oil, toasted nuts. To the recipe as printed I would add: walnuts are better than hazelnuts or almonds and you should chill the apple. It’s not going to rock your world, this recipe, it’s just a nutritious, tasty salad, that you can make very quickly, day after day, without going to the grocery store to replenish your lettuce supply. Brussels sprouts take weeks to wilt, unlike wimpy lettuce.

It's really good, trust me.
Also: I love, love, love this smooth parsnip soup, also from River Cottage Veg Every Day. (This recipe might actually rock your world.) I highly recommend adding the yogurt when you serve it -- the cold yogurt in the hot, gingery soup is a wonderful contrast. I should say that Owen didn’t care for this soup at all -- and kids in general might not. He politely pushed his bowl away at dinner. Later that night, after I removed his computer keyboard because he hadn’t done his chores, he got furious and began insulting my cooking, one of his new “things.”  He said: “That soup? It’s like you vomited into a pot and tried to feed it to me.”

I laughed and didn’t give him his keyboard back.

The soup is great.

Finally, I came out of reviewing retirement to write about the chef Nora Pouillon’s memoir, My Organic Life, and you can read the piece here.   

47 comments:

  1. Oh my, I can not tell you how much I look forward to reading your posts! I love your writing and wit and identify with being on the receiving end of less than positive commentary from children who don't do their chores. Stay strong.

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  2. You are a temptress, Jennifer. I am one of those people you describe, so I guess I need Fika. I also think I need RCVED. Is it just the British version of the River Cottage Veg book published by Ten Speed Press? I am going to make that salad for lunch tomorrow or Tuesday.

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    1. I think it must be the same book -- it's very nice looking. I hope you like the salad.

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  3. I follow a Swedish food blogger - http://annesfood.blogspot.com/ - but usually skip her recipes as they are in grams. I'm lazy. Anyway, you might like it.

    I read your Post article and maybe it's my sleep deprivation, but your book takes on a different, darker (but funny) meaning without the comma in the title: Make the Bread Buy the Butter.

    (To prove I'm not a robot, I had to select the images of bread! How appropriate.)

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    1. Oh no, was the comma missing? I didn't look. I'll look at Annes food. Do you have a scale? I really like mine and have almost entirely gone over to weight measure.

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    2. Yes, the comma is missing. I don't have a scale but am curious to try it, mostly for bread. I worry that I'm too old to change my volume ways!

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  4. This was a fun read, Jennifer. So many cookie recipes to explore: after all, I'm the "cookie grandma" for Jacob, who will be three years old June 27. And, a great excuse to buy some more Weck jars(which I really like), in which to store the cookies. The soup and salad are also on my "to do" list, now. Thanks for the link re your review of Nora Pouillon's memoir. I see that Owen is keeping up practice of letting you know how much he appreciates your home cooking---I congratulate you on your cool way of dealing with parenting issues. Enjoyed your post so much. You enthrall your readers so much, at times, that you get this reaction I can only call weird--all that nagging in some of the comments concerning intervals between posts. Love how you deal with that the same way you deal with Owen!

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    1. Thanks! I hope I'll be a grandmother one day and I will definitely be the cookie grandmother.

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  5. My brain has churned up the information that in Denmark, "mysig" is "hygge". Why do I remember this?

    I think I need "Fika" for the cover alone. In another life I will be a Marimekko-linens-purchasing, tiny-tasty-cookie-baking person hosting perfect coffee hours in my sunsplashed, colorful yet minimalist kitchen. In this life, I'll just read "Fika" and dream while intermittently yelling at the kids to stop using the kitchen shears for their craft projects and letting unread sections of the two week old New York Times spread over all the counter space available.

    I would have eaten your soup with much pleasure. My family would have had the same reaction as Owen, alas. Someday I hope to reach your Zen point and make food I like and damn the consequences.

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    1. It must be hygge! My sister-in-law lived in Denmark for a few months and I remember her using the word "hygge" in a Facebook post.
      I once painted a lot of furniture white and tried to live the graceful Shabby Chic/Marimekko/mismatched floral china lifestyle, but it just didn't work. Ugly dark things and clutter from my real life kept intruding and eventually I went back to brown furniture and ebay Oriental carpets. Better camouflage. Which is my way of saying, I can't do the clean, bright Scandinavian style either, much though I love it.

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  6. Last August Harman and I met his sister (from Philadelphia) in Stockholm for a delightful two-week trip to Sweden and Denmark to reconnoitre with their long-lost Scandinavian cousins. We were introduced to the concept of Fika. Did you know that the word fika is just the syllables for coffee rearranged? (Kafi becomes fika, or something like that.) There is a very strong, though a bit old-fashioned, tradition of making seven different cookies. Harman's cousin Marianne did just that for us! I was nonetheless baffled by the fact that they provide only part-skim milk to pour into your strongly brewed coffee, which for me meant a thin, cold drink. Everywhere we went, strong coffee and cold, 2% milk. I tried to finagle cream wherever we got coffee. Hard to do. I don't understand this. But still, I'm so pleased you were introduced to Fika.

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    1. Ugh, that coffee sounds horrible. I would rather not drink coffee at all than drink it with cold 2% milk. I remember your trip!

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    2. It wasn't actually horrible at all. I have no right to complain! It was nice strong coffee, I just like my coffee both creamy and hot, so that was hard to achieve in Sweden. There were so many wonderful food moments in Sweden and Denmark. For instance, Marianne made us a fabulous buffet of all her specialties, including home-pickled fish, meatballs, pork, chicken, pasta, and salads. The Swedes also don't seem to eat dessert after dinner, which is probably because they indulge their sweet tooth at fika. Oh! and they don't use napkins the way we do at every meal. I guess they aren't messy eaters.

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  7. Thanks for putting that Amazon hyperlink in there....my copy should arrive 4/29....I always thought Swedish coffee would be a weak brew that people drank all day long, maybe it's that 2% milk. I cannot abide anything less than half and half in my coffee personally. Now I also need to eat at Nora--it was also reviewed favorably in the Washingtonian recently.

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    1. I ate at Nora back in 1991 or so and I can't remember a single thing about it, except that I dined there with one of my mother's close friends and for the first time she talked to me as an adult, told me adult stories.

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  8. Oh - I am dying to know about the ginger meringues! How were they? I have been on such a ginger kick lately, the fresh ginger at the grocery store is just gorgeous right now and I can't get enough.

    Also, (I commented on an earlier post, but I don't know if you saw it) your ice cream piece was quoted on Food52's new podcast series! I love Amanda, so I was very jealous of you :)

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    1. I did see your comment! I love Amanda too. She is always so generous and gracious and writes so beautifully.
      The ginger meringues are really good. Have you had those chewy Chinese ginger candies? The meringues remind me a bit of those.

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  9. I was inspired to make the salad last night, although I was too lazy to convert all the gram measurements into ounces and besides, I don't own a kitchen scale so would have to way to measure Brussels sprouts and apples by the ounce anyway. So I just did the amounts the way I thought we be good and it was a great salad! I didn't have thyme so I omitted it and subbed Emmentaler for the cheddar and used walnuts for the nuts. Yum! Crunchy, light, filling, and fresh. Thanks for the idea!

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  10. I LOVE River Cottage Veg Every Day! We moved from the UK with six suitcases for a family of four, and that book came with us. I haven't tried that salad, but am excited to!

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    1. Christin -- It might have been you who recommended River Cottage Veg Every Day! Someone mentioned it in the comments over the summer and I put it right on the list. Next I want to make the sweet potato soup. I'm trying to eat more vegetables and this is exactly the kind of book that helps me do that -- very casual in style, not fussy.

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  11. I LOVE River Cottage Veg Every Day! We moved from the UK with six suitcases for a family of four, and that book came with us. I haven't tried that salad, but am excited to!

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  12. There is a chain of coffee shops here in Manhattan named Fika! They serve very strong, very expensive coffee and some very nice looking food that I have not had the pleasure of eating.
    I fit all of the criteria for owning that book except for the Marimekko. My very old, much cherished apron says "Berkeley Bowl Produce" on it. I worked my way through OT school in their bulk foods section, bagging up whatever came out of the bins and answering customers' questions about food. One day I suggested that a customer go to the fish market and purchase some salmon caviar {she was looking for one of those little glass containers of lumpfish roe, which we didn't carry}. She asked me how to serve it, and I gave her some ideas {bake some tiny new potatoes, top them with sour cream and a blob of caviar, make a little cake out of hard boiled eggs, butter, and onions, and use the caviar to frost the top}. Whereupon the next person in line sneered, "For a person who probably earns minimum wage, you sure know a lot about eating expensive food." Only in Berkeley!

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    1. That's a great story! Berkeley Bowl is one of the reasons I've occasionally daydreamed about living in Berkeley.

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  13. Can't believe my wonderful library has copies on order. Yay

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    1. My library is quite sluggish on the cookbook front.

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  14. I have just had my first slice(s) of honey cake this past Easter; was curious about the cake on display at the local Polish Deli. very simple but great stuff.
    Oz

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    1. Was it a one-layer, unfrosted honey cake? When I read about this cake I was skeptical that it could be as fabulous as people said, but it really was.

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  15. My copy of Fika just arrived! While it's true it doesn't take much to persuade me to purchase a new cookbook, this one holds special appeal. I'm not at all familiar with the specific Swedish tradition, but it's one (I now see) I've been practicing my whole life: even on the strictest of eating plans (which, truthfully, I don't do all that often), I still have to have a bite of something sweet in the afternoon. I've been doing this since I was small and it's a tradition I've been personally observing for the last 40 years. So this Fika had immediate appeal. That, and those ginger meringues... and the seven kinds of cookies. And this book is a total charmer! I can't wait to spend time with it.

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    1. Oh, I am so glad!!! I have now made the chocolate slice cookies but have decided to postpone my fika until post-exercise.

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  16. You've made me excited for my trip to Minneapolis this weekend, where I'd already planned a Mother's Day visit to the American Swedish Institute's fabulous Fika cafe, surely the best museum cafe ever. Perhaps this cookbook will be in the gift shop, in which case I'll decide I can acquire one more cookbook. Really, my floors won't collapse from just one more. At least I think not.

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  18. Just this past week I led (and fed) my book group in a discussion of the Swedish novel A Man Named Ove by Fredrik Backman. And in order to properly feed my fellow readers, and because you'd raved about it, I borrowed a copy of Fika from the library. I made the Cardamom Cake- Kardemummakaka. That recipe alone will be worth the price of the book. Thanks for turning me on to Fika, Jennifer!

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