The Unbearable Heaviness of Eating

Many of our meals in Copenhagen included herring (here, fried, brined, and topped with red onion), potatoes, and pork.

Many of our meals in Copenhagen included herring (here, fried, brined, and topped with red onion), potatoes, and pork.

We arrived at the home of my boyfriend's mother, on the outskirts of Copenhagen, just a few days before Christmas. Her two Swedish lapphunds, Sigge and Silop, barked incessantly when we stepped inside, uncertain of who these strangers were. After all, it had been five years since my boyfriend last visited and it was my first time there altogether. The sharp barking ceased once the rounds of hugs commenced.

His mother, Jeanette, lives in a large three-story house that was built on a hilltop in the early 1900s and overlooks a lake. In fact, it's so big that it was transformed into three apartments in which to house herself and her companion Hans, her daughter Pia and teenaged grandson Marcus, as well as Pia's grown daughter Veronica and her boyfriend Kasper, who have their own private dwelling in the attic with a puppy named Belder. 

After such a long journey, we were hungry and eager for a hot meal. Everyone bustled around the table, setting out dishes, pulling up chairs, and pouring cold beer into glasses. A board of traditional Danish dark rye bread sat at the center, ready to be topped by an array of pickled herring, rullepølse (spiced rolled ham), and Gamle Ole, a distinctively pungent cheese. A large brick of softened butter was hurriedly passed around.

The chatter was done loudly and Danish, though, I didn't much mind. I was a fly on the wall, witnessing a Danish family's weeknight dinner. "Jessica!" Jeannette called out from the other side of the table, in her heavy accent,  "I am happy you are here." As a foreigner, those magic words instantly made one feel warmly welcomed. 

Hans, being Swedish himself, carried over his pièce de resistance: Janssen's Temptation, a rich Swedish casserole filled with lots of potatoes, cream, onions, and juniper-and-sugar-tinged pickled sprats. I personally can't resist any home-cooked dish that appears in a casserole dish, but found that–aside from my boyfriend, who requested that dish–none of the others partook. I tried offering some to Pia, who sat beside me, but she smiled and happily pointed to her plate of rye bread and cheese.

Hans peered at me over his glasses and sighed, "Danish people find the taste of 'Swedish anchovies' too strong." Then, he looked at the table and announced, "I have a second one in the oven called Jensen's Temptation," he joked, "which has less anchovies." (Jensen is the Danish version of the Swedish surname Janssen.) Everyone rolled their eyes and shook their heads at him.

"Do you really like this?" Veronica asked incredulously from across the table.

"I love it!" my boyfriend exclaimed, shoveling a forkful into his mouth.

"Well then, that can be your Christmas present!" she deadpanned as laughter erupted.

Hans passed me a shot glass filled with snaps, a Danish aquavit. Soon enough, everyone had one.

"Be careful with this," my boyfriend warned, "People have been known to completely lose it after two."

Jeannette held up her glass and roared, "Skål!

"Skål!" we roared like a band of rowdy Vikings as we downed the shot. A fireball of alcohol raced down my throat. 

It would not be the last I'd see of dark rye bread, cheese, potatoes, cream, butter, herring, pork, or snaps. Day after day, they'd all make their appearance. Don't get me wrong, it was some of the most memorable home-cooking I experienced, but I started to feel like a Christmas goose whose gullet was being filled to capacity. 

After Day 4, I looked over at my boyfriend and wailed, "I don't think I can do this anymore! I just need clear broth and bitter green leaves!"

We were in bed, severely jet-lagged, watching The Americans on Netflix at 2 a.m. He had a made a habit of bringing midnight snacks into bed and I had made a habit out of indulging in them with him.

"Oh, stop it," he said, taking a bite of rye bread, slathered with whipped lard and topped with pickled herring. "It's the holidays."

Sigh.

"O.K. One bite."

 

 

 

The Mouseburger Chronicles

A couple of years ago, I went looking for a copy of Having It All by Helen Gurley Brown after seeing it mentioned in Lena Dunham's own memoir-slash-self-help book, Not That Kind of Girl:

When I found her book, I did not yet understand Helen Gurley Brown’s position in the canon, that she had been written about and reacted to by the women who would come to guide me, women like Gloria Steinem and Nora Ephron ... All I knew was that she painted a picture of life made much richer by having once been, as she calls it, a Mouseburger: unpretty, unsocial, unformed. She believed that, ultimately, Mouseburgers are the women who will triumph, having lived to tell the tale of being overlooked and under loved. Hers is a self-serving perspective, but one I needed more than anything. Maybe, as Helen preached, a powerful, confident, and, yes, even sexy woman could be made, not born. Maybe.

Admittedly, I still haven't read Lena's book in its entirety because I found myself more intrigued by her original source of inspiration: Helen Gurley Brown, the real deal herself. Helen, the legendary editor of Cosmo, was fearless when it came to talking sex, careers and her brand of girl power, which encourages young women to go experience life to its fullest before settling down. This, according to her, sometimes included taking on a married lover. (Well! She wasn't a controversial figure without reason!)

Her book is written as though you're sitting down to lunch with your very fabulous and very confident mentor. I can just imagine her wearing a pink Chanel skirt suit with coiffed hair, speaking dramatically with expressive eyes and hand gestures while occasionally pushing around the salad on her plate with a fork to trick you into thinking she's actually eating. She's Yoda–but in a very Legally Blonde kind of way.

As you flip through the book, her nuggets of wisdom jump out as bold headlines:

AS YOU SUCCEED, KEEP A LOW PROFILE

TINY TASTES–JUST TO KEEP IN TOUCH WITH FORBIDDEN DELICACIES–ARE DANGEROUS

SOMETIMES THE SCENE MAKES UP FOR THE MAN

Each section contains powerful insights and refreshing new perspectives, as well as appalling and endlessly amusing pieces of advice. ("At any rate, after someone has made love to you with skill and grace, an orgasm is a way of saying you enjoyed yourself, even as you compliment a host on a wonderful spinach quiche.") It's one of my most cherished books. I find myself coming back to it again and again. The fact that she goes out on a limb and is unabashedly herself at all times is highly inspiring.

The book begins by examining what a "mouseburger" is: "...people who are not prepossessing, not pretty, don't have a particularly high IQ, a decent education, good family background or other noticeable assets." This is not seen as a problem, however; to her, it's a launch pad. She includes a brief quiz to help you determine whether or not you qualify. Mouseburgers, you see, are self-assured in their own cleverness. They're intuitive, observant and possess a bottomless reserve of drive. They're the embodiment of infinite potential. If you are one, all you need to do in order to "have it all" is simply apply yourself. With her book, you can mouseburger your way to the top!

To date, I have now purchased a total of three copies of this book. My boyfriend's daughter was reading it when she came to the ranch for the Christmas holidays a few years ago. She was so engrossed in it that I gifted my cherished copy to her. It didn't take me very long before I replenished my personal library with another copy for myself! It's one of those books that makes you want to spread its gospel to worthy friends. A couple of years ago, I showed it to my friend Aura and she took to it instantly. She's been referring to the two of us as "mouseburgers" ever since. 

I decided to surprise Aura with her own copy last week when we met for lunch at Croft Alley. She was overjoyed and hugged it to her chest. After lunch, we wandered along Melrose Place and went to Violet Grey, where she stood in awe of the store's innate glamour. "You've never been here before?" I asked. She shook her head. "This company was built by a mouseburger!" I whispered proudly.

RMS Beauty Un Cover-Up + Serge Lutens Cellophane Cils Mascara

I'm starting to adopt products that enhance what I have naturally rather than create artificial results, hence, I present to you my latest discoveries: RMS Beauty's Un Cover-up and Serge Lutens' Cellophane Cils Mascara. These are my two must-have products for looking like a fresher and more awake version of myself.

After doing some research on organic and natural beauty products, I've found that the ones by RMS Beauty are consistently given high ratings. Renowned makeup artist Rose-Marie Swift's beauty line uses raw, food grade ingredients in their natural state. This means that all of the enzymes, vitamins and healing properties stay intact which makes it even more appealing. I use the Un Cover-Up in #33 and dab it over my undereye circles. What I like about this product is that it also brightens up my eye area and the color seamlessly melts into my skin. It makes my skin look moisturized and slightly dewey–never cakey! I also love the little frosted glass pot container which fits perfectly into my bag.

As a forewarning, I must confess that Serge Lutens' Cellophane Cils Mascara is a bit of a splurge at $65 a pop, which explains why I've tried this mascara on numerous times at Violet Grey and Barneys but hadn't been able to bite the bullet and actually purchase it. When my boyfriend asked me what I wanted for Christmas this past year, I immediately answered: "This really, really amazing mascara by Serge Lutens!" He couldn't understand why I'd ask for a tube of mascara until he realized its price tag. How can I describe it? Well, it has a unique, sheer glossy black formula with tiny fibers that give your lashes length and definition, but not overtly so like all of the other dramatic mascaras on the market. Think about how your lashes look wet and pretty after you step out of the shower–that's the effect that this mascara gives you. I love that it doesn't look like you're wearing any mascara at all.

Here's a pic of me with both of them on:


If you ever come across either of these items, give them a try. They've definitely got the SGD stamp of approval!




The Definition of a Huckleberry Friend

One of the many iconic scenes in Breakfast at Tiffany's is when Paul Varjak tears himself away from his typewriter upon hearing the strumming of a guitar from his downstairs neighbor Holly Golightly. Normally dressed to the nines, this quintessential New York party girl is seen perched on a windowsill, pared down in a sweatshirt and jeans with a towel wrapped around her head, stealing a contemplative moment to herself as she croons "Moon River." There was one line from that song that stood out merely because I had no idea what it meant: "My huckleberry friend." For years, it hung in my mind. I searched Paul Varjak's relationship with Holly Golightly for the answer. Theirs was a mutual adoration laced with innocent flirtation; there was a certain playfulness that freed them from being neither friends nor lovers. What was between them was open to interpretation. It was beyond definition.

Everyone should have a huckleberry friend at one point or another. It is an experience that showers your life with magic for as long as it lasts, whether it be for a couple of weeks or a couple of years. The after-effects, however, last for much, much longer. I met my huckleberry friend at the very end of a dinner party uptown in 2008. He introduced himself just as I was leaving. His eyes contained big, blue floating orbs that were at once angelic and impish. Although we'd never met before, I felt a curious kinship with him. He began inviting me over to his apartment, just to talk over tea or cocktails. I always felt deeply insecure that I wasn't interesting enough for him to want me as a friend, but the invitations kept coming anyway. 

His tastefully appointed studio apartment was more like a private parlor in which he could host the people he liked–and he wasn't fond of very many. He served his tea and cocktails on a silver tray with proper china and glassware. The tea was always either loose jasmine tea leaves from Chinatown or a sachet of Lipton tea; the cocktails were made from old, long-lost cocktail recipes that he had scribbled down on a notepad. He had undeniably good taste and was more than happy to impart his opinion at any given time. He convinced me that white jeans were chic all year-round and that I should sometimes wear sunglasses with prescription lenses indoors just for fun.

In the beginning, I had written him off as one of those flighty, fabulous people that say "Let's do something" and never do, but he proved me wrong. He was reliably available which allowed us to develop rituals around each other's company. He'd meet me at Citarella to keep me company while I grocery-shopped. We had dim sum lunches in Chinatown on random weekday afternoons and ordered the same dishes every time. On Sundays, we'd stroll through the neighborhood and top off the afternoon with a strawberry ice cream sundae at Lexington Candy Shop. With him, every moment was crystallized into a charm.

Years ago, after a particularly heated fight with an ex that left me in tears, I called him because he always knew how to cheer me up. He invited me over to his apartment for a little tea and sympathy. I made the walk down Park Avenue that winter’s evening, with a big fox fur hat on my head, clutching the front of an oversized gray wool coat closed with a gloved hand. My nose, pink; my eyes, puffy. Crashing into his sofa, still upset, I recounted the argument with bewilderment and confusion as he poured hot water into a pair of mixed matched teacups. He pulled out a small, clear plastic dessert box from his mini fridge. “I bought you a slice of pumpkin cheesecake because girls like sweets," he said with a shrug. He cut the wedge in half and placed my half on a zebra-patterned plate with a red rim. 

That night, he decided that the ultimate pick-me-up was to go dancing at Beatrice Inn, the louche subterranean West Village hot spot which has since been closed down by authorities. We hurried down the steps and pushed our way through the dark crowded room. With our drinks in hand, he led me up to the black and white checkered dance floor where we danced the night away, brushing shoulders with everyone around us. Then, there was a change in tune. I recognized the opening notes and the beat. It was Roxy Music’s “More Than This." 

I could feel at the time, there was no way of knowing...   

"We have to dance to this song," he said, turning his baseball cap backwards and holding out his hand. “Will you dance with me?"

It was a slow-dance. Our faces were close but facing away from each other. The rest of the room faded away. What year is this? Where are we? What is happening? I thought moments like these only happened in movies. I felt like I was falling in love, but suddenly I didn't know what love was anymore. I thought we would kiss, but we didn't. When the song ended, we hopped into a cab uptown-bound. I dropped him off on Park Avenue and rode the rest of the way back to my apartment. 

When Christmas rolled around weeks later, he asked me to meet him in Union Square for lunch. He had a gift for me. It was wrapped in brown paper with a hunter green ribbon. With it, he gave me a tiny white envelope sealed with a messy little blob of red wax. “Don’t open it now," he insisted, “It’s embarrassing." I stuck it in my bag and we went to lunch as usual. When I returned home, I opened the gift, a CD, The Best of Roxy Music. The second track was “More Than This." The card said:

To J:

This is the only present I bought this year that has any meaning.

x E

 

Flæskesteg (Danish Roast Pork)

"Can you make a Danish roast pork for lunch by 1 p.m.?" asked my boss one morning.

Just so you know, flæskesteg is a glorious roast pork dish typically served on Christmas Eve in Denmark. It was VALENTINE'S DAY. But no matter. 1 p.m., you say?  It was rather busy in the studio that day, but the recipe looked so simple that I figured the deadline would certainly achievable.

Thankfully, I had ordered a 5-lb. slab of pork from Ottomanelli & Sons down in the West Village the week before. (Apparently, from the recipes I've seen, a five-pounder is the most popular serving size for this dish.) The key is that the fat and rind must be intact. After all, the crackling is the prize here!


1 5-lb. slab of pork loin, with rind and fat intact
Dried bay leaves
Whole cloves
Sea salt and pepper

--

1. Preheat the oven to 450.

2. Pat the pork dry. With a sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch incisions into the rind and halfway down the fat.

3. In a small bowl, mix 2 to 3 tablespoons of good sea salt with a teaspoon of dried cloves so that the aroma infuses. Rub the mixture all over the pork. Finish it with a light shower of freshly cracked black pepper. 

4. Insert a few bay leaves here and there into the cuts. You can also stud the pork with a few more cloves, if you like.

5. Roast the pork at 450 for 30 minutes. Best part is seeing the crisping in process.

6. After 30 minutes, lower the heat to 350 degrees and add 3 cups of boiling water to the roasting pan. Cook for an additional hour or until done to your likeness.

7. Let the pork rest for 10 minutes inside the oven.

8. Serve with Dijon mustard, boiled and buttered potatoes, pickles, and beets.


My flæskesteg wasn't ready until about 2 p.m.

"It would've been so nice if it was ready by 1 p.m." said my boss with a sigh, dabbing a bite of roast pork with mustard.

"If I were hired as a private chef, it would have been!" I said, with my hands on my hips, laughing.