Miracle of the Twelve Meatballs

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Gentofte, Denmark. November 2017.

I was in the kitchen of my boyfriend’s mother Jeanette’s home, stirring a splash of vodka into caramelized tomato paste with a wooden spoon in one hand and a glass of rosé in the other. Her jolly Swedish “companion”-slash-”boyfriend” Hans turned up the volume of their radio and started humming along to the jazz trumpet flowing from it. He held his glass under the spigot of the boxed wine on the counter and refilled it.

“I think you should add more,” he frowned, looking over my shoulder.

“I’ve already added two more tablespoons than I should’ve,” I told him, stirring vigorously, “Are you sure?”

“It’s a vodka sauce! More!” he urged, handing over the bottle of vodka.

There was no sense in arguing. I poured in a couple of good glugs with abandon and adjusted the heat. The tomato paste began to loosen. Hans lifted his glass and continued humming along with the music.

Sure, it was gray and positively miserable outside but, by George, life–yes, life!– was happening on the inside. We were determined to make sure of it!

I was woken up that morning by the steady and ruthless rumbling of rain pelting the window of our guest room. The barren trees were succumbing to every whim of the winds. I’d never felt more grateful to have shelter over my head. It was while observing this dreary scene that the vision of creating a red-sauced Italian supper came to me–the kind of meal fit for a mafia boss! With pasta! And meatballs! And a crisp green salad with shaved carrots and a vinegary dressing! And a rustic loaf of country bread! After weeks of subsisting on a practically monastic diet of dark rye bread, pickled herring, and boiled potatoes, I was craving extravagance–and, well, color.

When I came downstairs, Hans had just returned from his morning walk with their two Swedish lapphund dogs at the church cemetery and brought back a bag of various Danish pastries. Jeanette was perched on her usual corner of the sofa, under a knitted wool blanket and thoroughly engrossed in a morning talk show. I told Hans of my menu ideas over a cup of Nescafé. It would be a dinner party, I said, for the four of us! He began to get excited and suggested we check out a recently opened grocery store the next town over for ingredients. Suddenly, a little afternoon adventure was on the books.

Although the house belonged to my boyfriend’s mother, his sister Pia and her own two grown children, Veronica and Marcus, also lived there, along with the daughter’s then-boyfriend and their dog. So, it was a full house. But everyone led their own lives, as though they lived on separate properties, like a small village under one roof. They rarely sat down for dinner together, so when I shopped I was shopping for four–my boyfriend, me, his mother and Hans.

I figured a package of pasta and enough ground meat for a dozen meatballs would suffice. It would adequately accommodate a round of second helpings, which was certain to happen. I picked up a small head of lettuce, tomato, red onion and carrot and placed them in our cart. Salad, after all, was really just a gesture towards having vegetables on the table, as it was not a common occurrence on their dinner table. Meanwhile, Hans went to the bakery section and chose a nice boule with a crackly golden-brown crust.

Once we got back home, the cooking commenced. Hans did all the chopping as I prepared the pasta sauce and meatballs. He told me that he once owned a small French restaurant in Sweden when he was young and showed off his knife skills on an onion. It fell open, magnificently diced. When the clock struck four, he mischievously poured wine for us. “For some reason, the food always turns out better when chef drinks while cooking,” he chuckled. “Are you sure it’s not only when the guests are plastered?” I laughed.

As the meal was starting to come together, we opened the glass china cabinet and pulled out the special serveware that Jeannette normally reserved for the holidays. As I set the table, I thought about how life can easily become an endless stream of monotony if you’re not vigilantly present. Sometimes we get so accustomed to how things are that we end up going through the motions instead of really living. My thoughts were interrupted when my boyfriend popped his head in to say: “Since you guys are preparing such a feast, I hope you don’t mind if I invited the others to join us.”

Hans and I looked at each other, sending all sorts of signals to each other with our eyes. There was too much to process in that moment. Who was rightfully entitled to extend invitations? We looked at the food we’d spent all afternoon preparing and, instead of a feast, it appeared to be a piddly arrangement of provisions.

“I don’t like this,” he sighed, “It’s quite rude.”

“Yes,” I concurred, “On so many levels.”

After a moment, I said, “It’s not that I don’t want them to join us. I just like to be prepared.”

“Exactly,” he said, shaking his head, “I always like to make sure there is enough food for everyone.”

It was time to re-assess and reset our attitudes. I knew that my boyfriend’s sister Pia was on a vegetarian diet at the moment, so she wasn’t going to have any meatballs. But would a bit of pasta and salad be enough?

Hans held up the remainder of the carrot and asked, “Shall I put this on her plate?”

We both laughed and harmony was restored. Hans reset the table and I began plating the food. Pia and her daughter ended up joining us for dinner. Not only was there plenty of food but there were even leftovers. Somehow the meal seemed to multiply as we were eating it. Marcus came home from work later and made himself a plate, wolfing down two meatballs that were miraculously still on the table.

The saying “little is much when God is in it” never rang truer.

Studio Cim Mahony

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STUDIO CIM MAHONY
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T. +45.31.90.17.54


Since we started making semi-annual trips to Denmark, I've been holding off on all visits to randomly researched hair salons in the States to get my hair properly cut and colored at Studio Cim Mahony. From what I learned following Emily Weiss' Instagram, she trusts her hair with only Cim Mahony himself and will fly from New York to Copenhagen just for an appointment. Now, if that's not a true testament to the man and his salon, I don't know what is!

Because it’s located in an upscale apartment, being a client here is akin to visiting the chicest person you can imagine and then having that person give you VIP service. Everything here is tastefully selected, from the unusual floral arrangements down to the teacup from which you're sipping some exotic tea.  It's Cim's ethos come to life. 

I prefer private hair salons because there's a certain level of attention provided that you can't find at the big-name salons. (In other words, it's not listed on Yelp.) There's a sense of calm and focus in this sort of environment. No crazy commotions. Your one stylist does it all, from greeting you at the door to shampooing to putting on the finishing touches. 

While Cim's services are privy only to an exclusive set, his team of highly trained and experienced experts are available to "everyone else". And they all seem to have the same mission: to create healthy and effortless hair that's meant to suit your face and lifestyle. I've seen a couple of different stylists in the salon before but was particularly happy with my recent experience with Sarah Kjærsgaard Sørensen. She has an anti-trendy philosophy in regards to hair, which is common amongst Danish hairdressers in general, but what I really appreciated was that she took her time to get to know my hair history and understood the difficulties I encountered in the past. European women, she explained, don't style their hair with heated tools as is done the U.S. so it's crucial to get the right cut where the mane of hair lays correctly on its own.

I'd banned myself from any trims or salon visits the past seven months, so my ends were raggedy and my old highlights looked brassy. When I came in, I had about five inches of black roots showing, but my color now looks like someone flipped the light switch on from within. Sarah started by weaving in babylights (super thin highlights) throughout my hair and lifted the color two shades up from its natural base for a subtle and soft effect. Then, she gave it a blunt, one-length cut all around so that it has more of a swingy-ness to it. The whole appointment took a surprising four hours from start to finish–and, yes, it was expensive–but, considering the amount of bad haircuts I've suffered in my life, the time and financial investment is totally worth it.

Here's a little Before/After pic:

*I added the waves myself with ghd's Creative Curl Wand.

*I added the waves myself with ghd's Creative Curl Wand.

 

 

 

 

Glerups

One of my favorite finds in Copenhagen were these felted wool clogs by a brand called Glerups. They're pretty much the epitome of hygge, pronounced /hyoo-gah/, which is a Danish concept closely resembling our idea of "cozy". These stylish indoor shoes were meant for coccooning in the winter months. Slip them on with bare feet and they'll keep your toes toasty and warm. Trust me, all you'll want to do is curl up on the sofa, throw a blanket on top of yourself, and sip on hot tea. (For extra hygge factor, light some nice candles.)

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."