Mothers & Daughters
This is my husband’s annual blogpost, enjoy! Mimi x
My grandfather was an austere man who earned his PhD in economics in Germany, dragged my German grandmother kicking and screaming back to Iceland and started a family. Later he served as Iceland’s ambassador to the Soviet Union and finally retired back in Reykjavík where he presided over a very formal household. He wore a suit every day and enjoyed a three-course lunch prepared by my grandmother. In the evenings he swapped the suit jacket for a cardigan but kept the tie and had a more relaxed supper in his office, assortments of breads and condiments, usually washed down with a cocktail. He was always served first, when he spoke others listened. As a child I had lunch with my grandparents three times a week and before I could sit down to face my grandfather, my grandmother made me wash my face and hands and combed my hair. When I had friends with me she did the same to them. One of them had golden, wavy hair, he was my grandmother’s favorite. Now he is bald. Such is life. In the evenings, when they were having their supper in the “office” my grandmother liked to talk. She really loved to talk. But when my grandfather had enough he simply said, “Lottí mín, that’s enough”. She didn’t mind, by all accounts they had a very good marriage, based not on equality but mutual respect for each other and each other’s domains. My grandfather never questioned my grandmothers running of the house, the first time he entered the kitchen was when my grandmother was in hospital. That’s the same day he found out washing dirty plates works better with hot water than cold. He was an economist not a physicist.
This is the world my father grew up in and after law school, after finding a girl to marry he too took his seat at the head of the table. My mother, having finished university herself had other ideas. My father kept his seat but the privileges were gone. As a modern man he accepted that, if somewhat reluctantly. At Christmas he’d sit down and open a bottle of red wine (probably Chateauneuf du Pape – strangely the only red wine I heard anyone speak of in Iceland in my youth) only to be called back into the kitchen to help with the ptarmigan sauce. He usually returned slightly pissed off, but he understood. The days of his father were gone. My parents both worked hard and often my father came home with a hopeful look on his face and inquired what was for dinner. “Nothing” was sometimes the answer, if my mother had a big lunch at work. I would be the smug kid sitting behind her, scoffing down sausages and Heinz spaghetti with tomato sauce she had prepared just for me.
I understood then and I understand even better now my father’s frustration at the changing of the ways. His childhood hadn’t prepared him for it, nobody had taught him how to be anything than the head of his future household. I’d say he coped more or less pretty well. More or less. As for me I’ve never had any excuses to treat women as anything other than equals and I haven’t, at least not in any meaningful way. Jerk as I may be that’s one area where I got it right. I thank my parents for that, both of them.
In my early twenties I had the theatre experience of my life. Two plays by Anton Chekhov, one after the other in a double feature extravaganza. I went alone, can’t remember why. The room was small and the stage split the audience in two, stretched across the room. The cast sat on stage the entire evening, dressed in white linens, sipping tea and complaining, I loved it. This was at the Reykjavík city theatre, an uncharming, modern (not anymore) building connected to a shopping mall. At the interval I had a meal by myself at Hard Rock Café in the mall. It felt all wrong, I wanted to be in white linens, complaining, not sipping a chocolate milk shake with a burger. I had always loved dinner parties, always loved restaurants. That was the evening that made me understand how much I love the table.
My grandfather ruled the table. My mother’s quest for independence and equal rights made us take a break from it, briefly. Perhaps that was necessary. Now we are back at the table but this time there is no boss.
Every night we come together as a family and have a big meal. The food is always great, the atmosphere often. It’s where we talk to our children, plan the days ahead. Where I try, not always successfully to teach them some manners (Gaia, when you learn to read and see this I want you to know that I am talking about you!).
My wife is an astonishing cook. That’s why she cooks and I clean. But that was last years topic.
Last year Mimi asked me to cook for the blog. This year I offered. I figured she could use a hand. We had no plans, it would probably be Italian since that’s what I always cook. I chose two dishes that I love, one from my favorite restaurant in Iceland, one from last year when Mimi was in the clinic with Audrey and I was feeding the family. I don’t bake. I like to say that I prefer savory things but lack of talent comes into it too. On my own I would resort to cheeses, some biscotti with sweet wine. But my wife came to the rescue with a “smashing” (she talks like that) walnut cake, aimed straight at my heart.
I used to work in advertising. I know how to stage things. I got tired of it. Casting a girl for a cornflakes ad, finding her a husband, getting them kids. Shooting them having a “moment” when everybody just wants to get paid and go home.
I love to improvise, working without a script. The food is on the table, the “cast” is there, unpaid and badly behaved. Something will always catch my attention, an onion, a puppy, a nicely lit room. This time my lens turned towards my wife and girls, they were just too adorable, especially when they were ignoring my commands. I think the images speak for themselves.
Mothers and daughters.
My favorite restaurant in Iceland was called La Primavera. Outside Italy and possibly New York, the best Italian food I’ve ever had. I went there a lot. A lot. The owner/chef, Leifur Kolbeinsson has moved on and opened a new restaurant in Reykjavík concert hall where he still cooks amazing food. These balls are from the La Primavera cookbook that I used to own. I hadn’t made them in a while and called Leifur this week to brush up on the recipe. He says hi! (As I was making them Mimi insisted I use more spinach than I intended, otherwise they would be too “bready”. She was right, made this way they are delicious.)
Spinach & gorgonzola balls
(for 8 balls)
750 g/ 1 & 2/3 pounds frozen spinach (about 1 pack)
2 small slices of stale bread
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon plain flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
8 teaspoons gorgonzola cheese
Parmesan cheese, grated/to serve
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the butter sage sauce
A large handful of sage leaves
80 g unsalted butter
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Steam the spinach until soft and drain. Squeeze out the excess water (very important otherwise the balls will be watery), and chop as finely as possible. Place 2 small slices of stale bread in the food processor and pulse until you get fine breadcrumbs. In a large bowl (or you can mix everything in the food processor, just pulse lightly) combine spinach, breadcrumbs, milk, nutmeg, flour, salt & pepper and mix until well blended. Roll out approximately 8 walnut-sized balls. While shaping the balls, insert a small teaspoon of gorgonzola inside and reshape.
Heat a large saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil. Cook the spinach balls for 8 minutes and drain.
While the spinach balls are cooking, prepare the sage butter sauce.
In a large pan, melt the butter on a medium heat. When the butter starts to sizzle, wat until it turns light golden brown, then lower the heat and add the sage leaves. Season with salt & pepper, and shake the pan for about 30 seconds.
Drizzle the sage butter sauce on top of the spinach ball. Grate parmesan on top before serving.
Last May, when Mimi was in the clinic with Audrey I felt compelled to keep up her cooking and tried my best to ease the pain of “mommy” not being there. These quails were a hit and I’ve made a version of them a few times since. I love sage and I love quails and the original recipe came from my googling around the internet finding a way to cook them together.
Quails with white wine & herbs
8 slices pancetta
4 cloves of garlic, halved
8 sage leaves
A few sprigs of rosemary
240 ml/ 1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Season the quails inside and out. Stuff the quails with pancetta/sage/half garlic clove/sage leaves. Season with salt & pepper.
In a large dutch-iron pot, melt the butter & olive oil on a medium heat. Brown the quails on all sides until golden. Add the sprigs of rosemary, pour the wine and reduce to 3/4. Cover the pan, lower the heat and continue to cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the quails are cooked through and tender.
Gâteau aux noix/ Walnut cake
150 g/ 1 cup walnuts, chopped finely + at least 5 walnuts halves for decorating the cake (you’ll need a dash of icing sugar & honey)
3 tablespoons dark rum
80 g/ 1/3 cup unsalted butter
130 g/ 2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
40 g/ 1/3 cup plain flour, sifted
30 g/ 1/4 cup cornstarch (maïzana)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
A pinch of fine salt
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F
Chop walnuts finely – you can also place walnuts in a food processor and pulse until you get coarse crumbs. In a large bowl, combine sugar, walnuts, and mix well. Add the butter, honey, eggs and rum. Add a pinch of salt and vanilla extract.
In another bowl, combine sifted flour, cornstarch and 1 teaspoon baking powder. Mix well.
Fold in dry ingredients into walnut mixture. Line your baking mould with butter and pour the batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes (you can test-knife and check – if it comes out clean it’s ready). Sprinkle a dash of icing/confectioner’s sugar in a frying pan and sauté the walnuts on a medium to low heat for a few seconds until slightly golden. Spread with a little honey and place on cake (see photos).
Serve with whipped cream (optional).