Dream Puffs

Last year, Starbucks surpassed Subway as America’s #2 restaurant, measured by gross sales (McDonald’s is still top dog).  I don’t consider Starbucks a place to “dine”, so second-place is impressive.  Then again, Starbucks’ bakery case has matured since its initial offerings.  There are temptations-a-plenty now, en route to the barista.  The traditional breakfast items share space with yogurt parfaits, fruit-and-cheese boxes, “fold-over” sandwiches, and entree-size salads.  But it’s the smaller offerings I want to talk about today.  Look closely through the glass – you’ll see sous vide egg bites and Bantam’s bite-sized bagels.  Those little guys could be the future of fast food.

egg bites

I haven’t tried the mini bagels, but Starbucks wins me over with its egg bites.  The first time I gave them a whirl, my wife and I were in the middle of Lent, trying to find alternatives to the foods we gave up.  Egg bites to the rescue.  The sous vide prep means cooked in water, with nothing but a bit of spinach, red pepper, and cheese mixed in for flavor.  Simply elegant (elegantly simple?), and the light, fluffy texture makes them as delicious as they are convenient.

Three Little Griddles
Æbleskiver

Now let’s talk about real breakfast foods.  Last weekend, my wife and I went to a nearby restaurant called Three Little Griddles.  Much to my delight, Griddles had Æbleskiver on the menu.  If you’re Danish, you already know what I’m talking about.  Æbleskiver is heaven-sent breakfast: puffy little balls of pancake with a sweet surprise in the middle, finished off with a delicate dusting of powdered sugar and a side of raspberry jam.  Æbleskiver is Danish for “apple slices”, but you’re more likely to bite into a strawberry or a fruit-compote filling instead.  Three Little Griddles also offers Æbleskiver with an egg/bacon filling, coated with a maple-syrup glaze and powdered sugar.  A complete breakfast!

NOT Æbleskiver

If you haven’t heard of Æbleskiver and the first thing you thought of was “doughnut hole”, shame on you.  Doughnut holes don’t even qualify as poor man’s Æbleskiver.  Doughnut holes are a clever product designed to get you to buy more when it appears you’re buying less (think “fun-size” candy bars).  I have two issues with doughnut holes.  One, they’re not actually the “hole” of a solid doughnut, but prepared and baked separately instead.  Two, they’re not shaped like a doughnut hole should be (picture it – something more like the hub of a wheel).  They should be called doughnut balls.  But enough of this talk; I’m wasting words.  Let’s keep the focus on Æbleskiver.

My first taste of Æbleskiver came when I was little, in the Central California village of Solvang.  Solvang is like, well, a kid’s “Little Denmark” – a town small enough to walk around, with an overabundance of shops selling toys, candy, and ice cream.  Several windmills spin slowly above Solvang’s high-pitched shingle rooftops.  A church sits prominently on the edge of town.  A small park serves as the town square, complete with a bandstand-sized gazebo.  All that’s missing is some water-filled canals and cobble-stoned streets.  But meanwhile, there’s plenty of Æbleskiver.  Some restaurants even bake them out on the sidewalk, rotating those little dream puffs to perfection in their unique iron skillets.

If you credit the Danes with the invention of ball-shaped food, the rest of the world takes a distant second with its imitations.  China makes a spherical egg-based fruit-filled waffle called Gai Daan Jai.  Japan makes a variety of savory ball-sized snacks called Takoyaki. (Savory? Yuck.)  And America makes doughnut holes called Munchkins.

As if Æbleskiver isn’t cool enough as a food, it’s also a cool word with a unique spelling (note the “letter” Æ).  Perhaps Starbucks will start carrying it, along with the egg bites.  I’d buy both and a coffee for a complete breakfast.

Finally, if Æbleskiver has you wondering what other delights Denmark has to offer, consider ÆblekageÆblekage is “apple charlotte” – stewed sweetened apples layered with butter-roasted bread crumbs and crushed makroner (an almond-flavored meringue), topped with whipped cream and red currant jelly.  Oh my; sounds like dream stuff.

Æblekage

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

North Pole Vault

One of these days I’m going to visit Norway. The allure of Arctic glaciers, fjords, and waterfalls beckons me to snowshoe north of the Baltic Sea. My wife and I toured Denmark and Sweden a few years back, but if I were to choose only one of the Scandinavian countries it would be Norway. I must have a little Viking blood in me. In fact, my AncestryDNA results say I have about 14%.

Besides its spectacular natural environs, Norway is known for hearty wooden structures that dot the land. Stave churches – quaint, timber-framed buildings from medieval times – can still be found in many of the villages.  One of the most famous is likely the most recognizable structure in Norway – the Urnes church in Songnefjorden (above photo), built back in 1130 and still standing today.

Here’s an even bolder proposition for my Norway expedition.  After I make the pilgrimage to the Urnes church, I could hop a plane four hours to the north, to the island of Spitsbergen in the remote archipelago of Svalbard.  I’m still in Norway but I’m a whole lot closer to the North Pole.  And it is here, 430 feet above sea level, I would find what may become the future most recognizable structure in Norway: the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

The Svalbard Seed Vault is exactly what it sounds like – a place to store seeds.  Why would a country spend more than $9 million to build a seed vault?  Because bad things happen in this world, putting our food supply at risk. After reading about Svalbard I learned there’s an entire network of seed vaults around the globe (including one right here in Colorado).  These vaults contain food crop seed samples in the event the world “runs out” someday.  But even the vaults themselves have no guarantees.  The national seed bank of the Philippines was destroyed by fire, and the seed banks in Afghanistan and Iraq were lost to the ravages of war.  That’s where Svalbard comes to the rescue.

Svalbard is the “seed vault for the seed vaults”.  Think of it as a library.  If one of the world’s vaults needs a replenishment of seeds (or some global crisis destroys the vault entirely), they “borrow” packets from Svalbard.  Once more seeds are generated, a portion of them are returned to Svalbard to restore the library.  Almost 900,000 food crop varietals are represented in Svalbard – by half a billion seeds.  The facility is the size of a football field and all those seeds don’t even make it to the fifty-yard line.  Plenty of room left for more.

Svalbard is likely the most secure seed vault on the planet because it’s buried four hundred feet inside a sandstone mountain, encased in the Arctic’s permafrost.  Svalbard recently made the news when the vault flooded from snow melt and early season rain (that’s not supposed to happen – global warming anyone?)  But the water didn’t make it any further than the vault’s entrance tunnel before it froze again.  Sounds like all those seeds will be cold, dry, and undisturbed for a long time – just as the vault intends them to be.

Here’s another reason to like Norway.  Government-constructed projects exceeding a certain cost must include artwork.  Svalbard was expensive enough, so the seed vault entrance is decorated with stainless steel, mirrors, and prisms, reflecting the polar light of the summer months.  In the winter, the entrance is illuminated with greens and turquoises and whites through fiber-optic cables.  With this installation we get to appreciate the “importance and qualities of Arctic light”.  Pretty cool.

Sadly, if my Norway sojourn ever included the Svalbard Seed Vault, I wouldn’t get past the entrance.  There’s no receptionist (nor any other staff members 0n-site).  Instead the facility is monitored from a remote location around the clock.  You have to pass through five levels of security to get to the seeds themselves.  Tourists like me have no shot.

I won’t be getting to the Arctic anytime soon after all.  As for Norway, I’ll have to be content with a visit to a Stave church or two.  But I’m grateful for the Svalbard vault all the same.  On that note, I think I’ll head over to Home Depot and buy a few seed packets for my summer garden.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

 

 

 

 

Happy Days Aren’t Here Again

Last week included a holiday and you probably didn’t know it. On March 20th the world celebrated “International Day of Happiness” for the fifth consecutive year. The United Nations adopted a resolution in 2012 to establish the holiday, seeking “a more holistic approach to development” and recognizing “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal”.  Ladies and gentlemen, the UN is trying to bring more joy to the world.

 

 

 

 

I’ll admit, the first time I read about a holiday for happy I had to wonder what really goes on behind closed doors.  Maybe the UN reps spend their days on Facebook liking/loving posts like the rest of us.  Maybe they’re happy and they know it and clapping their hands.  Maybe they ask each other “aren’t you glad you use Dial and don’t you wish everyone did?” Then 0ne day someone decided a celebration of all that happiness was in order.

On the other hand, maybe the UN’s daily agenda is so depressing someone insisted 1 out of every 365 days should be set aside just to feel better. A don’t-worry-be-happy moment.

 

 

 

To go together with March 20th, the UN also publishes the “World Happiness Report” (WHR), an annual measure of happy in each of 155 countries.  The recipe: the combined measures of income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust (trust defined as absence of corruption in business and government).  The WHR then crunches the numbers and tells you how close you are to the happiest place on earth.

Again I had to ask myself – is the UN for real?  I mean, I’m usually as merry as the day is long, and I assumed the same was true of my fellow Americans.  “Not so fast”, says the WHR.

The 2017 top ten: 1) Norway, 2) Denmark, 3) Iceland, 4) Switzerland, 5) Finland, 6) Netherlands, 7) Canada, 8) New Zealand, 9) Australia, 10) Sweden.

Look at that list again.  See any patterns?  Five of the ten are the Nordic countries.  Another two are in close proximity.  Another two are side-by-side way down in the Southern Hemisphere.  And finally you have Canada (which feels like a party-crasher).  But the ingredients don’t lie – everything’s coming up roses in all ten.   The Nords, the Swiss, the Dutch, the Canucks, the Kiwis, and the Aussies are walking on sunshine.

If the happiness formula is to believed, Norway has it all figured out.  Consider the following excerpt from the WHR Executive Summary (p. 1): Norway moves to the top of the ranking despite weaker oil prices.  It is sometimes said that Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it.  By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies.  To do this successfully requires high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity, and good governance, all factors that help to keep Norway and other top countries where they are in the happiness rankings.

And how about the Americans?  We come in at #14.  That’s happy-happy-joy-joy compared to most others, but consider this: we’ve never hit the top ten and we’ve been dropping since the first year the WHR was published.  The U.S. gets high marks for income and life expectancy but falls short in the other four categories.  To add an exclamation point: this year’s WHR includes a chapter by Jeffrey D. Sachs titled “Restoring American Happiness”.  As Sachs puts it:

The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it. But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach. The United States can and should raise happiness by addressing America’s multi-faceted social crisis— rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust—rather than focusing exclusively or even mainly on economic growth, especially since the concrete proposals along these lines would exacerbate rather than ameliorate the deepening social crisis. (WHR, p. 179)

Take note, Washington D.C.

The World Happiness Report is a 5MB, 188 pg. report available here, if you want all the details on where everything’s coming up roses (or not so much).  For me, the message was clear enough from the top ten.  If Americans want to live happily ever after, we need to study our neighbors to the north (as do our counterparts in Europe) or delve deeper into life “down under”.  Extreme temperatures be damned, all of these people are as happy as clams (at high water) and whistling while they work.

Cheer up, Yanks; it’s not the end of the world (as perhaps it is in #155 Central African Republic).  At least the U.S. claims a spot in the top ten percent of the WHR.  That’s happy landings on my runway.