Friday, September 23, 2005
[DANSK] Jomfruhummere and my Dad
I love my Dad. I know, every little girl (and the not-so-small ones, too) love their Dads. But my Dad is special.
I think I've mentioned before that I've never lived with my Dad. My Mom and him split up shortly after I was born. When I was little, I always hoped that they'd one day get back together - I imagine all children of split-up'ped parents do that? - but on the other hand, I think I knew, deep down inside, that the arrangement was probably better for everyone like this. Because, you see, this way, there was never any anger. They were never mad at each other, there was never any arguing, never any shouting. Not that I knew of anyways. They stayed friends, and to this day, have a profound respect for each other.
While I grew up, my Christmas Eve's were always spend with the two of them together. Me, my Dad, my older sister, her Dad - and then the rest of the bunch. The rest of the bunch - well, some years that consisted of my Mom's best friend and her family - some years my older sister's Dad's new family joined the party too. When my Dad met my stepmom, C, and my Mom married again, the two new additions was welcomed with open arms to the "mad house". It wasn't until I turned 8 or 9 I learned that not all families have it like that. To me it was just all natural.
Growing up (that is, until I turned 13 or 14 or thereabouts) I spent every other weekend with my Dad. He lived in Copenhagen (I grew up in a suburb, about 30 minutes from the city) in a large apartment where I had a huge room, complete with bunk beds and all. He'd pick me up from school on Friday afternoons, we'd drive into the city and go shopping for dinner. It'd usually involve chicken, one way or the other. I don't remember myself as being a picky eater as a kid, but I supposed I just liked things that was familiar. Roast chicken with rice and curry. Or mushroom sauce. Mmm.
My Dad is the gourmet in the family. He's taken cooking lessons. He and a couple of his bachelor friends (back in the days) ruled the classes. They loved cooking for an entire day, buy lovely bottles of wine, then sit down to dinner in the evening, enjoying the fruits of their labor. Playing some opera while bustling around in the kitchen. I particularly remember gule ærter - a stew-type dish, made with split peas and a lot of pork. A whole, steamed fish, complete with eyes and all - which was of course put in front of me, slimy eyes staring in my direction. That really wasn't fair.
He was the one that taught me how to set a table. At my Mom's I could usually dodge doing it, one way or the other. At my Dad's, it was just a given - I set the table, and there was no way around it. He was the one that taught me to pay attention to the details on a table. We're not talking flower decorations here, c'mon, they were bachelors! But the little things. To put the fork and knife at a straight angle with the edge of the table, not just flying around. To put soup spoons next to the knife, not at the top of the plate ('cause that way you'd think you were having dessert, and it would just be rude to lead people on like that if there was no dessert) How to fold a napkin. Not a paper napkin, no siree - real linen. Real table cloths. Use smaller plates for bread, placed on the right-hand side of the plate and cutlery.
And in the kitchen. The importance of keeping plates and sauce jugs warm. To keep your counter top clean and clear of clutter (I still struggle with the last one) To poke your meat to see if it's done. To make a white sauce. And plain simply, to taste what you're cooking. If you asked my Dad: how long time does this need in the oven/on the stove/in the boiling water? there's no doubt (and it's still an ongoing joke when my sister and I cook together) his answer would be: until it's done.
There's no doubt in my mind that my Dad has had an enourmous influence on both my cooking style and my palate. My Dad had two rules when we ate: if it's too hot and you're burning your mouth, spit it out!! and: Taste. Always taste the food. It's okay you say you don't like it, but you have to try it. No bending that last one either. I had to try that staring fish...
As I got older, and he married C, the cooking became less frequent (and my visits also less frequent). A new wife and two adorable new kids, my younger brother and sister, and for me, boyfriends entering my life and high school - everyday life - will do that to you. And that's the way it's supposed to be. We still had fantastic meals, only not as many as them as we both would have liked. But there was a lot of grilling outside. Spaghetti Bolognese. Big, red slabs of meat and my Dad's sauce made with homemade stock he'd boil on late nights. Fresh peas. Fantastic Christmas Eve's dinners. And now, as the young'uns are getting older, we're starting to pick up the pace again. The settings are different from what I remember them from the large bachelor-pad. Now, it's family around the table. Uncles, aunts, cousins, boyfriends and girlfriends, siblings, grandparents. But it's equally good. No wait. It's better.
For my last birthday, my Dad invited me, C and Martin to Noma, a fantastic restaurant serving food made from Scandinavian ingredients, but using techniques from all over the world. We had a fantastic evening, the food was out of this world, the wines unparalleled. And being with just my Dad and C and no siblings was something that hadn't happened in a while I suddenly realized. And I treasured that moment. Luckily, we are to have many more of those. I love the slow summer evenings of which we've had a couple this season, were we just sit and chat until it goes dark outside - and then chat for a couple hours more.
One of the dishes we had at the restaurant was with Norwegian lobsters. Up until that day, I'd only seen them dead and frozen, but at Noma, they picked them out of the basin they had in the middle of the restaurant, showed them to you, then went into the kitchen and cooked them. They told us they'd gotten the Norwegian lobsters from the Faroe Islands. I know, silly, Norwegian, from The Faroe Islands - but that's just the way it is. I didn't name them, I just eat 'em. With great big pleasure. And I know, they might not be technically Danish, but they're something I very much associate with Denmark and [DANSK].
A couple of months after the restaurant-visit, my Dad had to go to the Faroe Islands for business. And clever man that he is, he managed to bring back a whole box full of little wriggly lobsters. He called me when he was driving home from the airport, his trunk full of the styrofoam box. "Can you and Martin come for dinner tonight? I've brought home something special." I knew exactly what he was talking about.
I rushed up to my Dad's and helped him organize them. My Dad is quite the organizer. We usually just put a little parsley-garlic-olive oil on
them and then give them a short while in the oven ('bout 10 minutes - or, you know, till they're done!) leaving them still soft, the meat melting just from you looking at them. Serve with crusty bread, maybe a green salad or some other salad. If you have enough Norwegian lobsters, you'll eat just those. And remember a side order (but make it a large one) of good company and great conversation. You really can't ask for much more.