It’s the first sunny morning of my trip to Swedish Lapland. This time I’m with Inger, who’s driving me back to the Tornio River that etches out the border between Sweden and Finland. Her English is so-so, the kind where sometimes I ask “either or” type questions and she responds, “Yes, mhmm” without elaborating. Having struggled with languages myself, I know that move.
But she’s sweet, pulling over on the highway at one point to show me Instagram photos taken by, I want to say, a local photographer. As we near the Finnish border, she asks me if I’ve ever been to Finland. When I say that I have not, she makes the executive decision to drive me over the border and back around the next roundabout where you can see IKEA welcoming travelers into Sweden.
Roland picks me up outside of the Lapland View Lodge for the hour-long drive south to the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia. All I know is we’re spending the day out on the water. But Roland enlightens me on his spiel during the ride.
Like most of us, Roland has a day job to pay the bills. But he’s building a side business––Storöns Fisk––where he takes tourists out to his childhood (and adult) stomping grounds along the archipelago islands he partly owns, which I did not know was a thing someone could do.
Arriving at the docks, there’s a small cabin that dates back to his great-grandfather. We head inside for a snack. It’s flat bread with butter, onions, and the local delicacy of Kalix Löjrom––roe from the Kalix river. It’s once-upon-a-time poor man’s food that now goes for 50-some euros for a small container, and it can only be called “Kalix Löjrom” if it’s truly from here, much like champagne needs to come from the Champagne region of France.
I try a few bites. It’s slightly salty with a bubbly texture. It feels like a million microscopic air bubbles are rolling against my tongue. Quite the contrast from the smoked reindeer meat of the Sámi I had a day earlier.
Roland is also selling herring out of publicly accessible fridge. It’s on the honor system. Just roll on by, open the fridge, take what you want, and pay through an app.
Mamaliga is a cornmeal porridge, sometimes with cheese, that you’ll find all over the place in Romania.
I was talking about American cereal brands the other day and remembered some of my favorites, like Apple Jacks and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Sugary garbage, I’m sure, but my childhood nonetheless.
So I can’t get this apple-cinnamon flavor out of my head and it suddenly hits me that these are flavors that would work in a mamaliga.
I used a mamaliga recipe out of Irina Georgescu’s Carpathia cookbook to get the ratios. I subbed in coconut butter and grated apples, and I added cinnamon and honey to the mix.
I went the full breakfast route, subbing the dollop of sour cream that usually goes on top of mamaliga with Greek or Oat Milk Yogurt to keep it vegan. It’s also rhubarb season here, so I topped it off with a scoop of homemade compote before sprinkling some chopped toasted almonds, apples, and cinnamon to finish my bowl of Apple Cinnamon Mamaliga.
Every time I’m back in the US, I try pulling more food memories out of my father. One of the latest ones to come back to him was a mini cherry cheesecake dessert my grandmother used to make. My aunt remembered it as well, describing the graham cracker crust and cherry pie filling on top.
I did a quick search and found a Shugary Sweets recipe. “Yep, that looks like it,” they said. I saved it, thinking I’d make it sometime in the future.
I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to dive into German cuisine. It’s a cuisine that brings to mind monstrous mounds of meat. There’s Schweinshaxe or pork knuckle, a dish that looks like something Fred Flintstone would nosh on. Not to mention every corner of Germany has its own take on the sausage from the Leberwurst (liver sausage from just about any animal with a liver) to the Currywurst of Berlin.
But just as I’ve found a treasure trove of vegetarian recipes from the catalogue of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, I have to imagine the Germans aren’t always stuffing their gullet with whatever once lived. After all, Berlin itself is something of a vegan paradise.
The first German restaurant on my list was Kantine Kohlmann in Kreuzberg. There’s a chic, Weimar Republic vibe inside –– dark blue tiling that blends into sandpaper-colored walls that you can barely make out in the evening chandelier glow. I’m expecting a fast-paced, jazzy bob to start up any minute with everyone kicking back their chairs, grabbing a partner, and flailing about doing the Charleston.
When I was back in Ohio visiting my father, I flipped through old recipe cards from my grandmother. She mostly made desserts. I’ve heard my father say on multiple occasions, “She could’ve opened a bakery.” During my last visit, I learned that she baked treats for weddings of her friends or even for her dentist.
“I remember carrying bags of baked goods for to her dentist when she had an appointment,” my dad told me.
Then I came across a recipe card that didn’t exactly fit in with the rest. Sure, it was wrinkled at the edges like the others with sepia stains and my grandmother’s barely legible handwriting. But the name of this one left me tilting my head to the side like a puppy trying to understand its owner.
What can I say about gallo pinto? First and foremost, it’s how I started many a day in Costa Rica. In the land of pura vida, it’s breakfast––rice mixed with black beans, cilantro, onions, maybe a red pepper, and seasoned with Salsa Lizano, a kind of Worcestershire sauce that’s truly the nectar of the Gods. This simple yet delicious combo is typically served with some scrambled eggs and a hot cup of coffee. I came to love gallo pinto in the same way I loved my ridiculously sugary breakfast cereals with cartoon mascots before I hit double digits.
If you’re looking for something different to make for breakfast that isn’t your typical egg-focused dish, pancakes, or cereal, then you ought to start working gallo pinto into your routine. It even stores and reheats nicely if you want to make a big batch. Just be sure to keep a bottle of Salsa Lizano handy so you can top yourself off with each plate.