Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Udendørs pissoir - København, Danmark
Just because you take to the sea and cross the world, it doesn’t guarantee that you will come by treasure.
Danes hate the phrase “good night”, so the birthday party went on until all hours and included a late night skinny-dip in the Lillebælt - bottle of snaps and shot glasses in hand. Heaven knows when we finally stumbled into bunks and tents, but plenty of overnight guests made for quick work of KP duty the next morning, and by noon most of us were ambitious enough for a walk.
The Danish leg of my trip was supposed to end that morning with a train to Hamburg and then a flight down to Bergamo, Italy. However, sometime earlier in the week the thought of leaving Strib became less and less appealing. The summerhouse has a magnetic hold on me. I don’t even like going into town all that much. So, with a small group of friends extending their stays, it didn’t take much persuading to get me to change my plans.
I wish I could regale you with tall tales of adventure, but we mainly stayed close to home or struck out on day trips, always back in time for a glass of wine and a good dinner. We spent one fine day in Århus walking along pedestrian streets in the shopping district, eating pølser, drinking strong ales and admiring the Danish masters at ARoS Århus Kunstmuseum.
P.S. Krøyer - Skagens jægere (Skagen hunters), 1898
P.S. Krøyer - Skagens jægere
Another day found us in Svendborg in southern Fyn, looking for yet one more of Denmark’s legendary lunches. We were not disappointed. At Hotel Æro, four of us split an enormous omelette topped with crackling (G.H.W. Bush would say pork rind). It was eaten with rye bread, spicy mustard and pickled beets. There were saner fish entrées, but who wants to be safe & sane on holiday? Emboldened by all that pork fat, one fellow diner ordered the Svendborg stew, or "Pound of Bacon Soup", strips and strips of crispy fried bacon wading in a shallow pool of tomato broth. Ridiculous.
Fynsk Æggekage med flæsk - Hotel Æro, SvendborgSvendborg gryde - Hotel Æro, Svendborg
Skindstegt Rødfisk - Hotel Æro, SvendborgStegt rødspætte - Hotel Æro, Svendborg
Closer to home in Melfar (Middlefart), we returned repeatedly to Holms, the 425-year old inn that anchors that ancient ferry and whaling town. They serve leverpostej, a liver pâté spread, accompanied by sautéed mushrooms and crispy bacon. I ordered it three times in 10 days and cannot believe I’m still alive to tell the tale. There is an extravagant version called dyrlægens natmad (literally, veterinarian’s midnight snack!) served open-faced on dark rye bread, topped with a slice of corned beef, a slice of cooked meat in aspic, and finally raw onions and water cress. Even I never had the guts to order that.
Holms Anno Domini 1584 - Melfar, Danmark
Leverpostej - Holms, Melfar, DanmarkSteak tartar - Holms, Melfar, Danmark
With only a couple of days left on the itinerary, we migrated east toward Copenhagen. Needful of some down time, I snuck off solo early one morning, wandering the capital with nothing but a camera and a coin purse full of kroner. Snob that I am, I cast furtive looks of disdain at the more obvious tourists and kept to myself. I wanted to absorb the city, undistracted, through my pores.
Marmorkirken - København, DanmarkDraught beers - København, Danmark
Late in the morning, I met up with Whogus and a good old Dane, René. They found me drinking a beer in one of the squares off the main walking street. After more walking, lots more walking - and beers, LOTS more beers - and even some sightseeing, it was time to say goodbye. My friends escorted me - besotted - to the train station late in the day for my journey back to Germany and a morning flight to the States. No one was willing to utter the words goodbye. There were awkward handshakes, and then heartfelt hugs before the doors to my carriage closed. I listened to sad songs on my iPod, watching the Danish countryside whiz by, thinking there would be time for happy songs and happier memories later on.
There are so many trite clichés about traveling “broadening one’s horizons.” What a load or tripe! You could walk to the corner market or Timbuktu and it wouldn’t matter one fig but for the companions who share the journey along the way. So if there is a lesson here in my summer story, it is this: enjoy the ride, embrace the company, and dwell on the truth that you only get one shot at this, so don’t screw it up.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Patterns in harvest fields - Strib, Danmark
"...but if everybody would stay content with what is his own and let others enjoy the same rights, then no law would be needed." - Code of Jutland (1241, preamble)
To me, Denmark is the rational embodiment of the "live and let live" sensibility. Danes respect privacy and the rights of property. As long as you're not hurting anybody, pretty much anything goes. You see evidence of this in their industry, in Danish homes, and in how they play. While maintaining a strong free market capitalist economy and a large social safety net, it has few fabulously wealthy or extremely poor citizens. People are not hung up on accumulating stuff, or in sticking their noses in other people's business. An ugly debate about the sanctity of marriage couldn't happen in Denmark. They just don't speak that particular language. And so, whenever I visit, I literally feel the baggage of my divided country slipping away with each passing day. By the time our party reached the summer house, there was no tension in my shoulders. I was infinitely patient, almost serenely calm. 
Summer house cove - Strib, DanmarkSummer house sunset - Strib, Danmark
An excellent state to be in, as there was lots of work to do preparing the cottage for the birthday onslaught. The gardens needed tending, the lawn furniture hauled out of the tool shed, bunks made up, and finally, the flag pole painted and the Dannebrog flown. In between were fabulous home-cooked meals, long walks through the countryside and wicked games of cards lubricated with plenty of excellent wine.
Bøf, kartofler og salat - Strib, DanmarkGrilled pølser - Strib, Danmark
Straw baling - Strib, DanmarkStraw bale crib - Strip, Danmark
We had fine weather all through the week. It made one morning ritual an utter delight: the bakery run. Tradition has it that the first to arise each morning bikes into town for fresh breakfast rolls. Beating Whogus out of bed, however, is a challenge. I personally don't think he sleeps, or maybe he has a twin who steps in while the other dozes off somewhere unnoticed. But Whogus can be relied upon to wait for others to stir before heading off. Everyone seems to love this task most of all. One rarely makes the trip alone. So every morning we break our fast with a meal of still-warm bread, butter & jam, stinky cheese, and strong black coffee. And then we go off together or in small groups for the day's outings. On Thursday morning a large party tent had to be erected and wild berries picked for the night's dessert. Naturally the women all stayed behind to assemble the metal frame and hang the canvas while the boys donned straw hats and carried baskets out into the fields. Oh if saying it only made it so! By the time the guys - sweaty and grimy - had the shelter up, the girls were back with armloads of berries and plums. What an industrious lot!
Late in the day, all was prepared. We shared one last cozy evening together before the crowds descended the next morning. We ate out of doors, dawdling over coffee and chocolate before washing up and starting another game of røvhul. There was plenty of music (everyone seemed to have an iPod), and an almost palpable, convivial, loving atmosphere. I think everyone suspected that once the house overflowed with company, the intimacy would quietly dissipate.
Finally, the day arrived. There were dips in the Lillebælt, the narrow strait that separates the mainland of Jylland from Fyn where our little summer house sits. Many of us were reluctant to forfeit our daily constitution, but did consent to shorten it a bit. There was a light midday meal (mostly liquid on my part) as we chefs prepared the feast. A local Dane had arranged for the hindquarters of a fresh lamb and a turbocharged gas grill borrowed from his boss. In the kitchen, scores of helping hands whipped up pasta, potato and green salads. We were introduced to an herb that grew right along our stretch of beach, to brighten our side dishes. Of course there was snaps, beer and enough wine flowing through the prep work and the banquet itself to float the Danish Navy.
Fresh lamb shanksBurnt offering ascending to the nostrils of God
Kartoffelsalat - Strib, DanmarkPastasalat - Strib, Danmark
That satisfied silence that accompanies any good meal was punctuated by toasts in Whogus's honor, celebrating long friendships and familial ties. Shouts of "skål" rang out into the night and akvavit was lifted to smiling lips. And at last, wild blackberry crumble. Oats, brown sugar and butter crust atop berries so fresh and so ripe that adding sugar would have been nothing short of pure folly. As the mid-summer sun slowly set behind us, we each offered up thanks in our own personal ways for the accident of life and the blessing of friends.
Wild blackberry crumble - Strib, DanmarkWild blackberry crumble - Strib, Danmark
Happy Birthday, Whogus - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Sorgenfri storefront, København, Danmark
Despite the city's being surrounded on all sides by water, all roads in Denmark lead to Copenhagen. Denmark's capital is still its hub and gateway. I arrived by night train from Paris on a Monday morning. Whogus and his greeting party put me right to work. A tour of Pusher Street in Christiana (no photos, please) and then a forced march to the top of the gold and copper spire at Vor Frelsers Kirke (the Church of Our Savior) all before breakfast.
Spire - Vor Frelsers Kirke, København, DanmarkBourdon bell - Vor Frelsers Kirke, København, Danmark
There is an architectural flaw with the spire at Vor Frelsers Kirke, it winds its way up counterclockwise, fatal for right-handed soldiers defending it and the city. But confident there would be no marauding hordes in our immediate future, we paid our kroner, and started the climb, all 311 feet and 400 steps. If you click the photo on the left above, you can just make out figures at the very top of the spire. The view is breathtaking. But it was rainy and cold, and slippery when wet. I couldn't wait to get back to solid ground. And what should greet me upon my return to terra firma? A frosty cold Tuborg Classic. Ahhhh...
We had come to Copenhagen instead of meeting at the summer house not because Copenhagen is the heart of Denmark, but for the archetypal Danish lunch. On the weekend, Danes will sit down to a meal lasting most of the afternoon. It is not uncommon to remain seated at the table for three hours or more. Sorgenfri (roughly pronounced song-free) is famous for its traditional fare. Danes go to great pains to eat here.
Aalborg Norguld AkvavitLunch always begins with a skål  before one even thinks of ordering. Everybody raises a shot glass filled with akvavit (snaps) and meets everyone else's gaze before drinking the contents. As a sign of respect, tradition demands that you again meet everyone's gaze before setting your glass back down. I just love that and am a strict adherent of the practice here at home. Aalborg makes a whole line of snaps distilled from either grains or potatoes. Sorgenfri serves their Nordguld (Northern Gold), distilled in amber. It hints of pine and resin, and will kick your butt.
Fish is always the first course in a formal lunch. Herring, pickled or marinated, shrimp salad and fried cod. Everything is eaten on buttered coarse rye bread. Danes wash down lunch with beer and more snaps. Every skål, or toast, follows the same strict ritual. Unless just released from prison, a Dane won't be seen wolfing down his food. Each morsel is savored with lots of conversation peppering the meal.
Fish courses - Sorgenfri, København, DanmarkMeat courses - Sorgenfri, København, Danmark
After the fish plates are cleared and more toasts offered up, the main courses come out. Liver pâté, frikadeller (Danish meatballs), roast pork and aged cheese. The pork is always roasted with crackling - crispy, crunchy and sweet. The cheese is strong enough to get up and walk away of its own accord. Being Danish is not for the faint of heart. Finally, forks and knives slow their pace, there is a distinct silly turn to the conversation, and grins break out everywhere. You've just spent a good part of the afternoon in one attitude sampling Denmark's greatest joys: sharing her spoils.
Americans nap after stuffing themselves. Danes walk. We ended up at Tivoli, people-watching and playing arcade games. Somewhere along the way a beer garden was spied and the remainder of the day became a blur. Welcome to Denmark. Please check your liver at the door.
Brolæggerstræde 8, 1211 Copenhagen, Denmark
Tel. 33 11 58 80

Monday - Saturday: 11.00 - 23.00
Sunday: 12:00 to 18:00
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Friday, September 4, 2009

Once a Dane...

Danish postcard - Strib, Denmark
If, as they say, the third time's the charm, how does one characterize a fourth visit to Denmark? Twenty years ago, I was at the tail end of a 4-month long trek through Europe; backpack, Eurail pass and the obligatory bible, Let's Go in hand. I had already more or less retraced the footsteps of David Lowery's "Eurotrash Girl", except my movements preceded his by five years. Perhaps I was his inspiration. I was now in Copenhagen making friends and perfecting my beer drinking skills at a kollegium at the University of Copenhagen. I was trying to get in touch with Whogus, my old college roommate, who was studying at Kalø for the summer, presumably working on his Danish, but probably just perfecting his beer drinking skills as well. It took five days to get a message to him. By then I was pretty much sauced.
Whogus was finishing up his course work in a couple of weeks and was then going to spend the remainder of August at his family's summer house in Strib. We made arrangements to meet up first at his aunt & uncle's in Århus then take the train south together. I spent those gap weeks drinking wine and eating snails in Burgundy, but that's another story.
DecorationsThat first visit to Denmark coincided with Whogus's 30th birthday, a watershed year in Danish culture, especially if one is still unmarried (bachelorhood gifts center around cactus for some reason; it was never satisfactorily explained). There was a big party with lots of Danish relatives, amazing food, and maybe a little too much akvavit. By the end of my stay I was an honorary member of the clan with all its rights and privileges, centering around eating and drinking, mostly.
We have since celebrated Whogus's 40th - a truly international affair, his marriage to a beautiful Danish girl, and now the marking of half a century on this earthly coil. Along the way, I've reinforced friendships and come to see Denmark as a second home.
Danish Royal Guard
Tuborg beer ad - Middlefart, DenmarkDanish vernacular - Middlefart, Denmark
Danes are a lot like New Yorkers, a proud people, cool to outsiders, but loyal as hounds once befriended. They're rather off-handed about it, but deeply love their country and queen. They cultivate a comfortable, uncomplicated lifestyle. Like me, they are lovers of bread, cheese and beer, making me Danish in all but name.
Spirits soared as we all came together for the celebration. It was a happy reunion of far-flung friends who so rarely get a chance to gather in one place. We solidified bonds the way cultures have done so for millennia, at the table. There were other diversions to be sure, but we came together as family and friends at meal time. That is when distractions were quieted, and we could focus on one another. It was jolly, convivial and outright silly at times, but all emanating from a source of love.
I suppose in the end, the fourth time is distinguished with the Blog O. Food Seal of Approval.
Gamle fisker robåd - Strib, Denmark (the old fisherman's rowboat)
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Nut Tree

Kitchen pans - The Nut TreeBut hush - Earth's valleys sweet in leisure lie;
And I among them wandering up and down
Will taste their berries, like the bird or fly,
And of their gleanings make both feast and crown.

Harvest - Edmund Blunden

With a mix of unintended but welcome British artists and eclectic groups from the States, the drive to Oxfordshire can only be described as restful. Sensitive to J-Mac's mellower predilections, I selected tunes aimed to soothe but not lull him to sleep behind the wheel. Once clear of Heathrow, one enters a landscape of rolling fields bordered by woods, and trim little hamlets. Elbow, Adele, Morrissey, Billy Bragg, and Bob Mould serenaded us along our scenic way.
Arriving at Charlton-on-Otmoor, I was introduced to our hostess, Jude. She was a pure delight. She is one of those classically British women who must have nobility somewhere in the family tree. There was a casual elegance about her accompanied by that tireless wit which only a Brit possesses in any great measure. She could not have been a more welcoming host. I have a hard time of it around new people. I am petrified of doing something completely inappropriate and thus sealing my fate as the unwelcome intruder. It took all of eleven seconds (I clocked it) for Jude to make me feel completely at ease.
Over a glass of wine, Jude and J-Mac caught up. She directed questions my way and seemed genuinely interested in hearing the answers. She wanted to know all about my trip, and when the conversation got around to You Gonna Finish That?, she began to talk excitedly about our dinner plans. Up to that point, I had been expecting a quaint meal of roast beast and pudding accompanied by cool ales or a claret at the local pub. I was laughably uninformed.
The Nut Tree
From all outward appearances, The Nut Tree is simply a traditional village pub in the English countryside. And to be sure, the denizens do frequent the bar for a pint or two after a hard day in the fields. Once one enters the dining area, however, all similarities to your local watering hole end.
Along with partner Imogen Young, Chef Mike North - already a darling of Britain's hospitality industry - opened the Nut Tree in January of 2007. Raised in the area, North had always dreamed of owning the Nut Tree. In 2005, at age 25, North made headlines as one of the youngest Michelin starred chefs at the Goose in nearby Britwell Salome. Lightning struck again when, this past January, Mike and Imogen were awarded another Michelin star at the Nut Tree.
The Nut Tree Degustation Menu

Ballottine of foie gras with cherries and fresh almond

Grilled diver-caught scallop with lemon curd and fennel salad

Pavé of Nut Tree smoked Orkney salmon with whipped horseradish cream, Avruga caviar

Risotto of wild mushrooms with Parmigiano-Reggiano and summer truffle

Grilled fillet of aged Oxfordshire beef with triple cooked chips, baked tomato, onion rings

Roast breast of Barbary duck with sautéed Jersey Royals

Pan-fried fillet of seabream with crushed Jersey Royals and confit tomatoes

Raspberry soufflé with raspberry sorbet

Sticky toffee pudding with caramelised apple tart and praline ice cream

Bitter chocolate tart with almond milk ice cream

Vanilla crème brûlée
Jersey Royals in expert hands - The Nut TreePurée of zucchini soup - The Nut Tree
Ballottine of foie gras with cherries and fresh almond - The Nut TreeGrilled diver-caught scallops - The Nut Tree
Pavé of Nut Tree smoked Orkney salmon - The Nut TreeGrille fillet of aged Oxfordshire beef - The Nut Tree
Baked cherry tomatoes - The Nut TreeSticky toffee pudding - The Nut Tree
I will dispense with all my usual histrionics when excited. Without exaggeration, the tasting we experienced at the Nut Tree was, unreservedly, the best meal I have ever had. Ever. Meats were perfectly grilled, the sauces flawless, seasonings were expertly balanced throughout. Chef North and his staff executed presentation exceptionally well. Between courses, Imogen or one of her young hostesses came to the table to make sure everything was going well. They were all effortlessly charming. At one point Imogen hefted out the Catey Award the Nut Tree had just won for Best Newcomer. The Catey is Britain's culinary equivalent to our Oscar. It's a tremendous achievement.
The staff at the Nut Tree
Finally, lingering over our port and dessert wines, Chef Mike came out to receive his well-deserved praises. We talked over top of one another like starlings, trying to out do each other in our adoration. I must admit, he took it most graciously. Imogen and Mike are Hospitality's Ideal. Mike is unassuming and wants only to find the best ingredients, and prepare them the best he can. Imogen runs the front of the house like your favorite luxury hotel. Her enthusiasm as hostess is genuine and infectious. They've both worked very hard to get where they are today. They deserve every success.
The Nut Tree
Main Street, Murcott, Oxon, OX5 2RE
United Kingdom
01865 331253
Dining Room
Monday - Saturday
Lunch 12noon - 2.30pm
Dinner 7pm - 9pm

Lunch 12noon - 3pm

Reservations recommended
There was a trip to the city of Oxford the next day with a soggy tour of some of the colleges and lots of photos of Tudor and Edwardian architecture. There was a rather underwhelming lunch at Jamie Oliver's restaurant, Jamie's Italian (although the mushrooms and scamorza cheese appetizer was outstanding). I couldn't have ended my visit to Britain on a higher note than the Nut Tree though. It would not be possible. I too now sing the praises of England's cookery. The entire encounter was a revelation, one I'll treasure always. As they say, if you're ever in the neighborhood...
Hanging pots - The Nut Tree
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
All photos generously provided by Judith Ghilks, with my gratitude.