Am settled in Denmark for a few weeks visiting my oldest dearest friend since childhood, Pam, and her husband Chris. Two kids are at university, but one is still at home, together with the two dogs.
Denmark is cold, damp, and very dark… you can actually feel how much shorter each day is than the prior – something like 15 minutes of light is lost every day. Shiver. Most days are overcast and at least occasionally drizzly, and the landscape is very autumnal – haven’t been able to take any good photos – or rather, I have, but they all look a bit bleak, even when there is good sunlight. And the photos the day it snow flurried are really discouraging – though sadly the snow didn’t show up in the photo, so no point posting those either!
Still, I like the landscape, and would like to see it in summer. My friends’ house is adjacent to a public park, a natural small lake and wetlands area surrounded by woods. There are dozens if not hundreds of waterfowl and seagulls (the seagulls make me a little homesick for Oporto, though the Danish ones aren’t sitting on my windowsill to screech, like the Portuguese gulls did!). Also quite a few blue heron – saw one roosting in a tree, which was a shock!
Pam and Chris have to do quite a lot of entertaining in conjunction with Chris’ work, so shortly after I arrived I was helping Pam prepare for a dinner party for eight. Pam is a brilliant cook, and generally one of the most hospitable people I know, she creates, or rather simply lives every day, a wonderful ambience. Besides knowing Pam’s home where she grew up, and the family summer home in New Hampshire, her dorm room and post-university flat, I’ve seen the homes she has created for her own family in England, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco, Portugal and now Denmark (Bulgaria is the only one I missed in the past 13 years or so), and the minute I walk in, it is home to me, too – I recognise so much of the furniture, books and tchatchkas accumulated over the course of a lifetime, half of which has been spent travelling – it’s an incredible visual history, and a wonderful familiar environment for family and friends, but also fascinating and welcoming for the near-strangers who are entertained each month in the course of business.
This dinner party was, I think, typical – guests were punctual, warmly welcomed by host and dogs (one gentle and curious if intimidatingly massive, the other small, noisy and cheerful [oops – that’s describing each of the two dogs, not meant to be describing Christopher in there !!]). Guests were immediately set at their ease with drinks and nibbles to hand, any necessary introductions smoothly made and conversation spontaneous, warm and easy – much of which I think is attributable to the ambience, the setting. If the house were rigidly formal or impersonal or decorated more for show than family life, then it would be much harder for people to relax and open up so quickly. We had just enough time to get to know one another a bit over drinks in the living room before transitioning to the dinner table.
Food and wine: bald list to start…
With drinks in the living room: nuts and olives, spiced shrimp, parmesan garlic crackers and a wonderful brie baked with praline marmelade. Personally I could have made a meal of just the brie, and probably will do for myself one cold and dreary day, with a good book and some wine. The guests were offered drinks if they wished, or red or white wine – and I’ll talk about the wines in a minute.
First course was a tomato, shallot and goat’s cheese tart with a green salad and cranberry dressing, main course was salmon with a sauce of apples and cream served with asparagus and wild rice, and the pud was a marsala pot de crème with an almond cookie and mixed berries served alongside (currants, raspberries and blueberries), and marsala for those who wished to drink the wine with the pud. After dinner coffee and tea was served in the living room with chocolates.
Pam devises her own menus and does nearly all the cooking herself from scratch – e.g. she made her own spiced shrimp and parmesan garlic crackers, the marmelade on top of the brie was homemade from the citrus trees around their house in Lisbon last year – or maybe it dates from the citrus grove surrounding their Moroccan home a few years previously, can’t be sure. I do remember in Morocco a friend of theirs was an italian woman who harvested the lemons from their garden to make limoncello, then gave them a bottle, which was luscious.
The only food offered that she hadn’t prepared herself were the little chocolate dipped almond biscuits that accompanied the pot de crème (and they came fresh from the bakery in the village). Preparations can be a bit fraught at times, for instance she brought home what she thought was a piece of fresh horseradish to grate and use in the sauce over the salmon. After grating and tasting a bit, we concluded it wasn’t really horseradish (only been here two months – command of Danish does not yet extend to the word for horseradish!), so she rummaged through cupboards and freezer and improvised – I think she said there was ginger in there, I’m not sure what the final mixture was, but the dish turned out very well and was served forth graciously – no inkling at the table of kitchen dramas behind the scenes. Later she told the story on herself, and brought out the packet of the mystery veg to ask the Dane who was present what it was – he confirmed it was not horseradish, though I don’t think we ever found an english word to translate whatever it was.
The wines… before dinner, besides spirits or mixed drinks there were two wines available – a Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages Combe aux Jacques 2007 which was a very pleasant supple fruity wine, and a Chilean Chardonnay Reserva, Leyda Valley, Viña Leyda. The chardonnay was a nice clean wine – no fermentation in oak, and no malo-lactic fermentation permitted either, so it’s very fresh, citrussy without being too tart – there’s a touch of honey in there to keep it from being too sharp or aggressive. Both of these wines sell for about 50 dkr, which works out to around USD $10 or around GBP £6.50 or so – both good candidates for “house wine” for all the entertaining my friends do, as well as for their own routine drinking and cooking consumption.
To get a little perspective – my wine education to date has mostly been at the high end of the old world: a series of tutored tastings of the top burgundies in an intensive one village at a time format, italian feasts designed to showcase the barolos, barbarescos, valpolicellas and amarones of top makers, the only Spanish wine I know is Vega Sicilia (a producer dinner one night and a tutored tasting of their full range across several vintages another time), almost the only rieslings and gewurtztraminers I can recall by both name and taste are Zind Humbrecht (again from a producer dinner, as well as other random tastings), my real introduction to claret occurred when I tasted all seven of the legendary first growth clarets of a single vintage side by side in one night… you get the drift! Lucky me, but it means my palate memory and benchmarks are well beyond my means, so tasting and learning about the more modest end of the market is a bit of a revelation… If I sound wide eyed and astonished that I can really enjoy a wine at this price level, well… I still am! Frankly, I hope I never lose my sense of pleasure at finding a good wine at any price.
With dinner we had a lovely Alsatian riesling (so now I have a second one for my palate memory list), Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Les Princes Abbés 2006, which was quite dry – I’ve forgotten the numbers quoted to me, but it had half or less of the residual sugars of other rieslings I looked at. The dryness and citrus quality of the wine was a good foil to the rich sauce of sautéed apples and cream over excellent salmon. The Domaine Schlumberger website has excellent tasting notes, quite detailed and technical, written by a professional sommelier, they make for interesting reading.
Pam is very lucky – and I have been too! – that she has an excellent wine shop in the village, Vinoteket. I have had occasion to work with all three of the sommeliers there to pick wines for Pam’s entertaining, and they have all been patient, knowledgeable and just plain fun to talk with. And they have all had a bottle handy for me to taste something every time I’ve visited. Take a look at the Vinhoteket website – even if it is in Danish and you can’t actually read most of it, the wines are universally comprehensible and they have a good and interesting range.
There is another dinner party tomorrow night, and we’ve chosen a very promising looking wine for that, also the gentlemen at Vinoteket have ordered some Danish wine for us to try, should arrive later in the week, so look for a report on that soon, too.
I do love travelling, and I’ve been so lucky on that score the past year or two, and boy I do love good food and wine… all of which would be not nearly so much fun without the wonderful people, old friends and new, every stop of the way. Despite some troubles the past year or more, I have been incredibly fortunate on this side of things.
Always try to conclude a posting with some evocative image… so after all, one landscape photo taken out in the woodlands / marshlands near by, very autumnal…
Very much a drives-you-back-to-the-fireside-with-a-glass-of-red-wine kind of image.