Maryland Crab Soup

The charm of analogue photography is something a digital camera, no matter how many megapixels in strength, cannot replicate. I miss the rickety clicking of sprockets as the film is advanced after each shot, the mystery of whether that perfect moment was captured with the right exposure, squinting to decrypt small rectangular negatives against a windowpane, the giddiness upon seeing an image materialise before your eyes in the chemical bath, bringing it out of the red-lit darkroom to examine fully for the first time, and reliving the moment in which the very same scene was carefully composed through a camera viewfinder.

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

But its attractions and limitations are one in the same, and there were one too many instances of gut-wrenching disappointment, coming back from a beautiful holiday to find that the film was botched—the time spent crouching unbecomingly in front of flower specimens and pestering your friends to “wait, stay right there, that’s perfect, just let me adjust the focus!” was all for naught.

In many cases, it’s more than worth that risk. I learned film photography on my father’s old Nikon FM2 and experienced the glory of a 50mm prime lens with the lowest f-stop I’d ever dialled down to. I saw the world in Ilford black/white and, for once in my life, scrupulously delighted in imperfection; if a stunning orange streak of light-leak is technically a mistake, why bother getting it perfect?

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

But alas, there’s the ever-persistent and ever-so-boring issue of expenses, of practicality, of security, of turnaround time. I’ve considered reverting to film for this blog venture, but it just wouldn’t make sense right now. Back in the glory days I would spend so much time in the darkroom trying to perfect one print that normal circadian rhythms were sacrificed in exchange for superhuman night vision; I’d walk out and feel like an analogue vampire in the blinding midday light or, even more disorienting, exit into more darkness without realising the whole day had gone by. Maybe one day I’ll convert my bathroom into a DIY darkroom or win a free film lottery jackpot, but for now I’ll just invite the lovely Hollie Fernando into my kitchen.

Despite of all the reasons I lean digital these days (and hey don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of pixelated nuances that make it as artfully delightful as analogue), I fully understand and respect that she “just can’t fall in love with it”. And looking at her beautiful handiwork, that persistent love affair with film is evident in each grainy-good photograph. She’s shared her final snaps with me, with which I’ll trail off this post in hopes of sharing the best of both worlds and adding a little bit of the double-exposed charm back to my own life.

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

I was honoured when she approached me for a new project of hers, but even more excited to share the process of this meal with a fellow visual feaster. Neither of us had handled a live crab before but I knew that if I were to try my hand at Maryland-style crab soup, I’d want to see this creature all the way through. People are quick to furrow their brow disapprovingly at the thought of killing something in the kitchen before preparing it for the dinner table, as if buying pre-picked crab meat in a vacuum-sealed freezer pack is more compassionate or civilised; on the contrary, I’m of the opinion that freshly and humanely killing your meal is far more respectful to the animal, truer to how we were meant to draw sustenance from resources around us, and generally more tasty!

With crabs, it’s particularly important because bacteria will begin eating away and changing the flavour of its meat as soon as it dies…and no crab should die for the sake of a soup that’s anything less than fresh and flavourful. This is the case with most seafood, which explains why many parts of the world eat seafood while it’s still alive and, in many cases, kicking. (Drunken shrimp and raw oysters, anyone?)

It’s a messy job to kill, cook, and dress a crab, but in the best way possible. Even when taking a hammer and some pliers to the stubborn exoskeletal claws (I would discover fragments of shell scattered about my hair, hours later), we found ourselves in a contented silence; painstakingly extracting the tiny slivers and sweet nuggets of crab meat from every honeycomb crevice was inexplicably therapeutic, serenely systematic. Grab one of these prehistoric-looking crustaceans before the end of their season. I’ve paired them here with piles of Fabaceae and pods of green legume goodies—fresh broad beans, french/string beans, garden peas, runner beans—and a hefty sprinkle of homemade Old Bay seasoning, which is only as complicated as a pinch of every spice in your pantry. And the best advice I can give is to never, ever forget the fresh loaf of crusty sourdough.

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

Maryland Crab Soup w/ Fresh Legumes

  • whole live crab
  • 1 stalks celery, chopped
  • ½ onion
  • garlic cloves
  • 1 t black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 400g tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced thinly
  • 200g waxy potatoes, cubed
  • 1 ear sweetcorn
  • 150g in-pod broad beans
  • 150g in-pod green peas
  • 150g french/green beans

Old Bay seasoning:

  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 T celery salt
  • ¼ t paprika
  • ⅛ t black pepper
  • ⅛ t cayenne pepper
  • pinch of powdered mustard
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • pinch of allspice
  • pinch of cloves
  • pinch of ginger

I educated myself as thoroughly as I could before humanely killing and dressing this crab, and a great thing called Google makes this easy for anyone to do the same. I won’t claim to be an authority, so do check out these videos, read up on reputable marine resource pages, and don’t just shove your live crab in a pot of boiling water!

Bring (unsalted) water to a boil in a large enough pot to fit the crab. Place in the entire crab and cook over high until shells are bright red. Use tongs to remove the crab and let it cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, remove all the meat to set aside and add big segments of shell back to the pot.

Add the two stalks of chopped celery, half an onion, garlic cloves, and peppercorns into the cooking liquid along with crab shell fragments. Boil this broth uncovered for about an hour, skimming the froth off the top occasionally. Strain through cheese-cloth or a fine sieve into a large bowl, pressing out all the liquid and discarding leftover solids.

In a saucepan, sauté onions and celery in some oil over medium heat until softened. Add all the vegetables, along with the homemade Old Bay, into the crab stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add crabmeat back to the soup and simmer 5 minutes more. Adjust seasonings and serve hot with fresh bread.

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

Wandercrush Maryland Crab SoupWandercrush Maryland Crab Soup Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup  Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

Wandercrush Maryland Crab Soup

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Posted in America, Collaboration, Fish & Game, Main, Personal, Soup | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sticky Fig Roll Cake

I was familiar with Fig Newtons long before I knew what a fig looked like—and much less how the honeyed flesh of a fresh one tasted! Little did I know, they’re Nabisco’s non-exotic lunchbox versions of the ancient Egyptian fig roll. 

Wandercrush fig roll cake

With Charles Roser’s 1891 patent for a dream machine that would systematically spit out fig rolls, mass production estranged American kids like me from the delights of a full-form Ficus carica! It’s native to the Middle East and West Asia, also thriving in the Mediterranean climate and finickily requiring a very specific species of wasp to pollinate.

A plant with a biblical backbone, it’s the star of many a parable and a symbol for abundance, security, and prosperity; its leaves concealing a suddenly ashamed Adam & Eve, its tree a running metaphor for the nation of Israel, its fruit signifying ripe maturation and wealth.

Wandercrush fig roll cake

Wandercrush fig roll cake

Wandercrush fig roll cake

When I sank my teeth into a fresh fig for the first time in two deprived decades, I was surprised by how much more supple and subtly sweet it was in comparison to the pastry-sandwiched preserves I knew from childhood. Still, there’s something about the crackling round seeds and condensed nectar consistency of fig paste that I continue to love.

This baked concoction is a homage to both—a base of crumbly pastry layered with sticky, orange-infused fig jam, then slathered with sticky figgy almond cake batter and thick slices of the fresh British figs themselves.

Wandercrush fig roll cake

Wandercrush fig roll cake

And with what better fruit than the fig to celebrate both the birth of a sweet friend and a new church plant in the city? Looking towards the heavens for sustenance just as young plants grow towards the sunlight, Grace London is but a gospeltropic seedling in a barren patch of this city we love very much. At the moment it’s just nine faithful friends who gather, pray, play, and eat (!) as a God-loving family, but the fruit is forthcoming—let it be a prosperous, mature, and joyful harvest.

Wandercrush fig roll cake

Sticky Fig Roll Cake

  • 400g quality dried figs, stems removed and diced
  • 150ml water
  • 80g honey
  • 2 t grated orange zest
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 T almond milk
  • 60ml quality olive oil
  • 40g unrefined sugar
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • 150g spelt flour
  • ½ t baking powder
  • ¼ t baking soda
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 70g spelt flour
  • 50g almond flour
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ t baking powder
  • ½ t baking soda
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 80g honey
  • 1 t orange zest
  • 60ml quality olive oil
  • 3-4 fresh figs
  • almond flakes

Grease a baking tray and preheat the oven to 175ºC / 350ºF.

Combine chopped figs, water, honey, and orange zest in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil before reducing to a simmer. Stir and mash figs as they begin to soften and the concoction reduces into a chunky paste, adding water as needed to maintain the right consistency. It will firm up as it cools, so make sure the mixture is still moist enough to when taking off the heat. Set aside.

Combine wet and dry ingredients for the dough separately, then sift the dry into the well-combined wet mixture until a soft, sticky dough forms. Knead with hands and mix well, pressing evenly into the bottom of the greased baking tray. Spread ¾ of the fig filling evenly over this pressed bottom layer of dough.

Mix the remaining ¼ fig filling in with the wet ingredients for the cake batter, whipping the eggs along with the honey, orange zest, and slowly streaming in the olive oil. Combine the dry ingredients and sift them into the wet, but don’t over mix. Spread this batter atop the layer of fig mixture, then arrange fresh fig slices on top along with a sprinkling of almond flakes.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and risen. Slice into bars and serve warm, gooey, and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if feeling particularly decadent.

Wandercrush fig roll cake

Wandercrush fig roll cake

Wandercrush fig roll cake

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Posted in Arabic, Baked Goods, Egypt, Finger Food, North Africa, Personal, Sweets, Syria, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jamaican Ginger Cake

When learning about a foreign country, one of the most telling and fascinating aspects to observe is the natives’ treatment of the cultural minorities there—how they are spoken of, interacted with, portrayed by the media. Where I left behind the late-night Cuban diners of South Florida, I discovered streets swimming in the aroma of curry spices; and although it’s painfully hard to find a decently wrapped burrito here, I’ll have the extravagant choice of ten different Jamaican hot sauces at the nearest corner shop.

Wandercrush Jamaican Ginger Cake

Notting Hill Carnival is happening right now, some 10 miles north of me. The streets are undoubtedly packed with millions of people despite the pouring rain, and most of them aren’t going to be your typical Ladbroke Grove denizens. Long before Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, Notting Hill was a hub of cheap housing for Afro-Caribbean immigrants and the site of many a race riot in the 50s. Originally an exclusively Trinidadian festival, Carnival has since expanded and evolved to celebrate the West Indian community and influence in London. One of those influences has to be food.

Wandercrush Jamaican Ginger Cake

Wandercrush Jamaican Ginger Cake

As with any iconic dessert item, you’ll find the bastardised but equally popular versions in shrink-wrapped Tesco shelves. This recipe for Jamaican Ginger Cake is comparatively good for your insides, sweetened mostly with dates, roughed up with spelt flour, and made rich with coconut oil. Above all, it is unabashedly spicy and infused threefold with ginger: powder dried, freshly grated, and sugar crystallised.

Wandercrush Jamaican Ginger Cake

I love the bold but humble Caribbean flavours—tropical, spicy, always served in heaping portions of coconut-steamed comfort—and rejoice over the broad selection here. They manifest as trendy street food stalls in Dalston, the authentically loud and vibrant markets of Brixton, even the dedicated “world food” aisles in Sainsbury’s…and an entire carnival that spans bank holiday weekend, overflowing with jerk chicken and leaving residues of celebratorily-spilt Red Stripe on the otherwise-manicured streets of Notting Hill for days afterward, a sticky testament to its rich ethnic history.

Wandercrush Jamaican Ginger Cake

Jamaican 3-Ginger Cake with Dates

  • 175g (~1 ½ cups) spelt flour
  • 1 T ground ginger
  • ½ t mixed spice or cinnamon
  • ½ t baking powder
  • ¼ t baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 T malt syrup
  • 2 T treacle / molasses
  • 55g (¼ cup) melted coconut oil
  • 40g (3 T) muscovado sugar
  • 60ml (¼ cup) boiling water
  • walnut-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • a few dried dates, chopped
  • small handful of crystallised ginger, chopped
  • 6 dried dates, soaked in boiling water

Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Mix flour, spices, and raising agents in one bowl. In a saucepan over very low heat, melt all the wet and sticky ingredients together, only leaving on the flame until combined.
Now stir wet into dry, folding in the egg and chopped dates.
Transfer to a greased tin and bake for 20-30 minutes or until done (toothpick test will have slight residue).

Meanwhile, to make the date glaze, blend the soaked dates in just enough of their soaking water to make a thick but pourable consistency. Set aside.
When finished, carefully turn out onto a baking rack. While cake is still hot, poke holes in the top and drizzle over sticky glaze.

Wandercrush Jamaican Ginger Cake

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Posted in Baked Goods, England, Jamaica, Sweets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka

Since uni officially let out for the summer, I couldn’t remember the last time I properly set aside a whole morning to experiment in the kitchen. The bulk of my travels are over now, but this new internship is keeping me busy and my weekends have been spent in a daze of seeing two of my favourite musicians play back-to-back, photographing friends’ weddings, tackling a few more design projects on the side, and avoiding the start of my dissertation research.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Something about setting an early alarm to tackle a labour-intensive lunch is rewarding beyond the edible end product. For many mothers in the Arabic, Levantine, and Greek world, the definition of labour-intensive dish is moussaka—and I finally understand why. That being said, don’t let the extra work keep you from making this layered gem, pleaser of crowds and tastebuds alike. It’s not so difficult, but requires multiple steps and generates plenty of dirty dishes. I made the spiced lentil filling the night before, and mise en place will speed things along.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Aubergine—king of the nightshades and cornerstone of any moussaka—can be tricky to fry, but baking the slices eliminates oil-sponging issues, requires no pre-salting, and makes less of a mess. And although it’s not particularly similar to the aubergine (which is actually a berry!) in biological terms, the courgette will always be closely associated in my mind and on summer grilltops; along with other culinary tidbits like coriander/cilantro, I’ve had to turn the UK/US terminology switch for eggplant and zucchini. At the height of both their seasons, layering of these two faux-cousins make for a great textural variation, as both are delicately flavoured but result in very different mouthfeel after cooking.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

A cauliflower white-sauce concoction was a gamble, but turned out beautifully similar to a classic flour-butter-milk béchamel and so very suitable for a vegetarian moussaka. There has been a cauliflower versatility boom in the recent years, and the colour itself is practically a blank canvas begging to be adapted. Sprinkled with broil-browned pecorino and fluffed up with a beaten egg, you’ll not be able to tell the difference.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

The assembly, the consumption, and the sharing of moussaka are all worth waking up early for—even during a stupidly busy summer weekend.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka
(serves 5-9)

  • 2 courgettes (zucchinis)
  • 2 aubergines (eggplants)
  • 1 potato
  • 1 sweet potato
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 100ml red wine
  • 150g dried lentils & split peas
  • 300g tomatoes, chopped
  • a handful of cauliflower florets, grated
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 t oregano
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • olive oil

Cauliflower “Béchamel”

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 small cauliflower
  • 3-4 T grated pecorino, plus more for topping
  • olive oil
  • organic milk
  • generous pinch of nutmeg
  • black pepper, freshly ground
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 250ºC / 500ºF and grease two baking trays with olive oil.
Peel aubergine in a striped pattern and slice into rounds that are about 1cm thick.
Peel the potatoes and courgette and slice in similar thickness. Courgette skin can be bitter, but you can leave them on during roasting to prevent the watery flesh from falling apart and peel them off afterwards. I sliced one of mine thicker and lengthwise, which hardly retains firmness after cooking but adds a bit of textural variation.
Place the slices onto a single layer of the baking tray and brush with more olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper. It may take a few batches and the re-greasing of trays to finish roasting all the vegetables, each batch taking about 15 minutes. The potatoes will take longer (or alternatively, you can parboil them), so pop them in while you slice the other vegetables. Keep an eye on them and flip halfway through when one side has browned sufficiently, also rotating the top/bottom racks in the oven.

Meanwhile, heat up olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Toss in diced onion and garlic until soft and fragrant. Pour in wine and allow to boil away. Add lentils, tomatoes, oregano, and cinnamon. Top up with broth/water and add a bay leaf. Coursly grate in a handful of cauliflower florets. Bring to a rolling boil before lowering to a simmer and partially covering. The lentils should be cooked after 30-40 minutes, and the sauce reduced to be thick. If not, leave uncovered until most liquid is evaporated. This can also be made the night before.

For the cauliflower “béchamel” sauce, sauté garlic in butter over low heat. Avoid browning or burning the garlic and remove after a couple minutes to set aside.
Cover cauliflower in broth or water and boil for 10 minutes or until fork-tender.
Transfer cooked florets into a blender along with grated cheese and the garlic. Drizzle with a few gluts of olive oil and puree until very smooth, adding milk as needed to achieve desired thickness. Season with salt/pepper to taste and add a pinch of nutmeg. Gradually and thoroughly whisk in the egg.

Lower the oven temperature to 200ºC / 390ºF. To assemble the moussaka, the layer the roasted potatoes on the bottom of a deep, oiled baking dish. Arrange a layer of courgette and aubergine on top, then spread a layer of half the lentil ragú. Add a layer of sweet potato, more courgette, then another spread of remaining lentils. Finish with a layer of aubergine. Top with the creamy cauliflower sauce, sprinkle with grated pecorino cheese, and bake for about 45 minutes, when top becomes golden and bubbly.
After removing from the oven, wait for the moussaka to cool and firm up so that cutting and serving becomes much easier.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

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Posted in Arabic, Baked Goods, Balkan, Greece, Levant, Main, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Swedish Countryside & “World’s Best Apple Cake” (Part III)

I’ve been going on and on (and onabout my ultimate wandercrush, which has culminated into this final photo essay on Sweden. From the moment I stepped foot into Louise’s seaside home in charming little Nyhamnsläge to the moment our VW camper van pulled up to their schoolhouse-turned-missionary-church-turned-lakehouse in Bjälverud (yep, you read that right), I knew that capturing the beauty of the Swedish waterfront in simple photographic stills would be an impossible task; one can only come so close when attempting to objectify the sublime, but I felt compelled to—quite literally—give it a shot.

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Likewise, from waterfront to waterfront, the kind of hospitality we were blessed with on this trip can’t be measured…except maybe by cake—more specifically, the “World’s Best Apple Cake”, whipped up by Louise’s aunt to append our last meal together.

Assembled around our final feast in the very same pews that the converted building’s last congregation would have worshiped in (and feeling similarly blessed), gathered around the massive wooden table splashed in beams of a Scandinavian sundown, a forkful of this cake did indeed taste like the best in the world.

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

“World’s Best Apple Cake”
adapted from a Norwegian recipe
(serves 8)

  • 2-4 organic apples, peeled and chopped
  • 200g coconut oil
  • 150g unrefined sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g plain flour
  • 50g almond flour
  • 2 t baking powder
  • chopped almonds
  • nib sugar

Melt the coconut oil and add sugar. Stir in the eggs, flour, and baking powder.
Oil a dish (about 24cm in diameter) and preheat oven to 190ºC / 375ºF.
Place chopped apples in the dish, then pour over the cake batter mix. Sprinkle chopped almonds and nib sugar.
Bake for 30-40 minutes and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

apple-Wandercrush sweden apple cakealmond-cake-3

(See Scandinavia Part I & Part II)

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

 

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Posted in Baked Goods, Denmark, Norway, Personal, Sweden, Sweets, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Foraging Sweden & Wild Strawberry Jam (Part II)

Continuing on from Part I of a recent Scandinavian foray, a photo essay and recipe dedicated solely to the pleasures of picking wild summer berries in all their countryside abundance…

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

I’ve recently expressed some thoughts about the trendiness of homegrown local produce, but longtime gatherer Richard Maybe extends it elegantly into the realms of foraging:

“To the cynical the whole business still seems trivial and self-deluding, a fashionable pretence at primitivism. Yet more generously it could be seen as a natural outcome of the ecological concerns and longings of the last decade [...] as growing awareness of how food fits into the whole living scheme of things, and a deepening respect for the ingenuity of our ancestors.”

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

I can understand where the cynicism stems from, but let me tell you—

Treading barefoot on spongey-cool moss after a swim in the crystal clear lake Övre Fryken, plucking a shiny obsidian svartvinbär blackcurrant from its bush did not feel self-delusional; the small but distinct delight of a harsyra wood sorrel’s lemony and clover-shaped tartness crushed between my back teeth as we moved through the woods would be a sin to describe as trivial; fashionability was the last thing on our minds when a flash of pink cued us to park our bikes on the side of the road and pluck an unbearably ripe hallon raspberry.

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

The wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca, also woodland strawberry, alpine strawberry) is known as smultron in Swedish, whereas the common hybrid species of garden strawberry is referred to as jordgubbe. Don’t let their size fool you, because smultron are anything but lesser versions of jordgubbe; they pack more flavour in one tiny bright red nugget than most of the conventionally grown and underripe imported strawberries sold in supermarkets all year around. They’re certainly more fun to acquire!

Wild strawberries thrive low in shaded areas, often hiding beneath other leaves, growing in little drooping couplets, falling neatly off the stem and into your cupped hand (or open mouth). I took a sundown walk on my last day in the Bjälverud countryside and collected a little container of them along the way. Swedes tend to string them together on a grass straw, keeping them from getting smushed and making them appear even more impossibly adorable than they already are.

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Back in London, there are no strawberries to be found growing by the roadside, not even in the quaint faraway lands of East Dulwich. However, the UK berry season is not to be overshadowed; a British-grown strawberry in the summer season can taste as juicy and flavourful as a little ruby gem from the Swedish underbrush.

As an ode to the smultron and accompaniment to fresh knäckebröd crispbread, here’s a very simple strawberry jam. No pectin, no tub of sugar—just a bit of oven time, splash of balsamic, and crank of black peppercorn.

Wandercrush Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

Wandercrush Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

Wandercrush Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

  • 400g strawberries / wild strawberries (smultron!)
  • 2-3 T honey
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 2 t freshly cracked black pepper

Wash strawberries. If using larger conventional strawberries, hull and quarter them. Combine ingredients in a shallow baking dish.
Let these sit aside whilst oven preheats to 120ºC / 250ºF.
Roast for 2-3 hours, mixing a few times until berries are shrivelled and reduced to a syrupy consistency. Let cool to room temperature, puree to desired texture (optional if you prefer strawberry chunks!), transfer to an airtight jar, and store in the refrigerator for up to a few weeks. Serve with this crispbread!

Wandercrush Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

Wandercrush Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

(See Scandinavia Part I & Part III)

Balsamic-Strawberry-Jam-7 copy

 

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Posted in Basics, Breakfast, Foraged, Personal, Sauce, Sweets, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Copenhagen, Stockholm, & Crispbread (Part I)

If revisiting Taiwan required a conscious effort to overcome nostalgia and habit-induced travel bias, then my first foray into Scandinavia required levelheaded quelling of the massive expectations resulting from personal obsessions and displaced cultural hype.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

I’d somehow developed early-onset Scandimania years ago, which is to say that I was a hipster predecessor to those sipping lingonberry beer from mason jars and toting their Kanken backpacks around London (also guilty). I’m not sure what did it—the beautifully minimal and maximally functional design products, the idea of fjord-swimming under the midnight sun, the effortlessly incorporated sustainability and fascinatingly effective socialist model, the lovely letters ø and å, or maybe just the flavour combination of rye and smoked salmon… by the time I’d watched all the documentaries I could access online, I ordered 3 used previous-edition Scandinavia travel guides for $5 and read them cover to cover.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

I’ve never been the hesitant type when it comes to travel, but for some reason I hadn’t been able to make the move and book a ticket. I’d read about every “off-the-beaten-track” attraction, Norwegian hiking trail, and how to recite local breakfast items in Danish, but actually going there meant affirming or invalidating all the expectations I’d built up in my mind; perhaps I didn’t want the risk of reality poking holes in my perfect little Nordic fantasy.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

Growing up as a Taiwanese American and even now living in London, I’ve been subject to innumerable incidences of racist favouritism. It may initially seem preferable to the belligerent sort, but I’ve found it to be much more dangerous and detrimental to the development of both cultural equality and personal identity…so when my naïve Scandimania turned me into a hypocritical fangirl relentlessly batting her eyelashes at anyone revealing their Nordic descent—the more pure-blooded, the more vigorous my batting—I knew it was time to invest in a plane ticket and dispel any unjustified preconceptions.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

You can therefore imagine the mixed feelings of wary apprehension and utter excitement when my dear classmate and friend so graciously offered to show us around her homeland this summer. As was the case in Greece and Thailand last year, I was met with an unimaginable degree of hospitality and generosity from humble and huge-hearted strangers, the loving families of my friends. In Sweden, it extinguished any apprehension and instead built up my appreciation of Scandinavian culture on more robust and deep-rooted dimensions.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

And here it is—the first of a 3-part photo documentation of Denmark and Sweden, complete with a crispbread recipe to munch on. This recipe is highly adaptable to personal snacking preferences; in my post-Sweden berry foraging frenzy (hint: part 2 of 3), I scavenged some deceptively named “Oregon Grapes” from a bush in South London and dehydrated them with some sugar for an extra topping.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

Knäckebröd (Nordic Crispbread)

  • 250ml (1 cup) warm water
  • 5g dry active yeast
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 200g rye flour
  • 100g whole spelt flour
  • egg white (optional)
  • sunflower seeds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • linseed/flaxseeds
  • golden linseed/flaxseeds
  • sesame seeds
  • dried Oregon Grapes (or other berry)

Stir yeast into the warm water. Mix both flours with the salt in a large bowl, then stream in the water and combine with hands until a smooth dough begins to form.
Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm, moist environment for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 175ºC / 350ºF and line two baking trays with parchment paper.
Divide dough into two chunks and roll into thin sheets to lay atop the baking trays. Prick the sheets with a fork, brush with egg white, and sprinkle with seeds and berries. If not using egg white, press the seeds down lightly.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and crisp. If the centre is still softer than the edges after cooling, break into smaller pieces (setting aside the done, crisp edges), and put pliable pieces back into the oven until dried out. When fully cooled (it will become more brittle), crack to eat or store in an airtight container.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

(See Scandinavia Part II & Part III)

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

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Posted in Baked Goods, Basics, Breakfast, Denmark, Finger Food, Finland, Foraged, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Personal, Scandinavian/Nordic, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Grandma’s Zongzi (粽子)

To append my recent recipe-lacking travel post on Taiwan, this is perhaps THE kingpin recipe, loaded with all the nostalgia and symbolism that you’d expect out of a blog post with “Grandma” in the title. Out of her many signature dishes, zongzi (粽子 / sticky rice dumplings) most epitomise traditional, familial, ceremonial, and festive fare; the Chinese have been making them for centuries and the skill is passed down through the generations.

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Traditionally eaten especially during Duanwu Featival (端午节, the fifth day of the fifth Lunar month), they’ve been since spread and popularised via Chinese minorities settling throughout Asia, different names including pya htote in Burma; nom chang in Cambodia; bachang in Laos and Thailand; bakcang in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia; and machang in the Philippines. Thus, many variations and ingredient combinations have evolved since.

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

The Taiwanese version involves stuffing stir-fried glutinous rice (油飯, delicious on it’s own) with various fillings, wrapping all that in bamboo husks, and then steaming or boiling to infuse the leaf’s fragrance into the rice. It takes after the savoury zongzi of Southern mainland China as opposed to the sweeter Northern variations, and Grandma made my favourite to take home—stuffed with salted duck egg yolks and shiitake mushroom instead of the chunks of pork fat that tend to attract much unwelcome attention at airport customs borders. Like many Chinese “meatless” dishes, however, it’s not vegetarian in the sense that pork fat and drippings are involved in the recipe steps and components to impart an undeniably irresistible flavour that brings it all back to memories around Grandma’s table.

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

The all-American vision of cookie-baking with Mom and burger-flipping with Dad was never realised in my household; I went off to college not knowing how to bake a potato, much less having ever engaged in a typically sentimental passing down of family recipes—until this past trip to Taiwan, when I stubbornly made a case for recreating a photograph of almost exactly 20 years ago. I’m rocking my bowl cut and my grandmother beams down as she feeds me a bite of glutinous rice stuffing, the ingredients for zongzi laid out around us on the kitchen floor.

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Somewhere along the early end of that 20-year spectrum, I once lost a shoe to the sticky abyss of a rice patty swamp whilst making my way across to town. Until recent years, I never made a connection between our ancestor’s blood-sweat-and-tears farm labour and the way my mother used to make me finish every grain of rice in my bowl, threatening that the almighty thunder god would strike me down otherwise (it sounds ridiculous, but it makes anti-food waste campaigns nowadays seem absolutely weak!)

Grandma slows her car down on our way home from the market, rolls down the window, and shouts to her friend tending to the neighbourhood plot—“What veg is there today?” My eyes widen as the thought runs across my mind: Grandma is living the hipster dream.

Back in London, I can volunteer at every community garden, co-own a hive at the rooftop beekeeping foundation headquarters, get all my organic vegboxes delivered from within a 10 mile radius—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with these things—but it will never be in quite the same uncontrived, unpretentious spirit found here amongst my Grandma’s generation. It’s just second nature to her, an obvious way of living—“sustainable” because it’s sensible, “local” because it tastes freshest, costs the least, and because she is friends with the grower.

Hey, I’d be the last one to say that we shouldn’t be taking a renewed interest in these principles (because it isn’t just trendy—it’s necessary), but it’s easy to get carried away with instagramming heirloom tomatoes and forget that although we may have popularised the “sustainability” buzzword, everything it represents was long in place before we messed it up to begin with. We should not consider ourselves pioneers of the green movement as much as reinvigorated disciples of a long-established way of human living and eating. There’s no place for pretentiousness there, and this realisation made the vegetables on Grandma’s dinner table that evening taste even sweeter.

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Zongzi 粽子 (Taiwanese-Style Sticky Rice Dumplings)
Makes about 10

  • 500g sticky rice
  • 10 salted duck eggs
  • 20 dried chinese shiitake mushrooms
  • 15g dried miniature shrimp
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 60g peanuts (optional)
  • dried minced daikon radish
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • ½ t sugar
  • salt & white pepper, to taste
  • 10-15 bamboo leaves
  • cotton string, as needed
  • sweet chili sauce, to serve

Wash rice thoroughly and rinse 3-4 times. Cover with ample amounts of water and leave to soak overnight.
Separately, soak the dried mushrooms (and peanuts and shrimp, if using) overnight.
The next day, wash bamboo leaves thoroughly until pliable and set aside to keep moist in a bowl.
Peel the salted duck eggs, discarding whites and setting aside the yolks.

Heat oil in wok. Stirfry shrimps with garlic, then add mushrooms and fry till fragrant. Add the peanuts and mix.
Add drained rice and stir constantly to coat each grain in oil. Keep flipping and turning the rice with a wide wooden spoon for 10-15 minutes. Season with soy sauce for dark colouring and sprinkle in a handful of dried daikon. Keep stirring and frying until the rice is cooked through enough to eat on it’s own. Taste and adjust salt/pepper/sugar seasonings as necessary.

For assembling and wrapping the zongzi, it will be much easier to learn by watching the video below or one of the many YouTube demonstrations that may be slightly different, but perfectly helpful anyhow.
For this recipe, each dumpling should have 2 mushrooms and one yolk wrapped up amongst the sticky rice. If you run low on yolks or are wary of cholesterol, cut them in half using the badass string method demonstrated by my grandma in the video.

To finish, steam the zongzi or boil in simmering water for 4 hours.
Untie and unravel to eat immediately with some sweet chilli sauce, but otherwise they can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to be reheated by steaming or microwaving.

Grandma’s Zongzi from Irina Wang on Vimeo.

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Posted in Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Finger Food, Laos, Main, Malaysia, Personal, Philippines, Side, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Revisiting Taiwan

In terms of jetlag immunity and high layover tolerance, perhaps my travel bug owes a lot to near-annual Taiwan trips since the tender age of one and a half; my ears don’t even bother popping from the altitude anymore.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

That being said, I never really categorised my twice-removed homeland as another country to explore in its own right; it was always epitomised by Grandma’s noodle dish, Grandpa’s calligraphy brushstroke, catch-up sleepovers with my Taiwan-born cousins, midnight snacks from a 7/11 around the corner. I’d never picked up a travel guide, Googled the exchange rate, or known the names of historical landmarks and even cities. Grandma’s house was always just Grandma’s house—and anyway, Taiwan was more a collection of memories than physical locations; the faint smell in a certain stairwell can hurtle me straight back to a specific moment 10-odd years ago when my cousins and I raced down 3 flights as the onomatopoeic “ba-boo” man (the equivalent of a western ice cream truck) cycled by with his horn, but I wouldn’t even begin to know how to geotag it on Facebook.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Three years ago, I saw Taiwan almost as if for the first time; after having to “skip” the two summers prior, I’d never felt so confusingly homesick—not for my parents during countless overnight youth summer camps, not for my own bed after a month of sleeping amongst Amazonian critters, not for a closet full of clean clothes during my first longterm backpacking trip, not for the Florida sun after moving to England. I’d moved away from home, lived on my own for the first time, delved into fine arts, was devastated by and recovered from massive disappointments that forced me to grow up rapidly. My trip last week was similar in the sense that I’d become a different person with different interests; I moved even further away from home, studied in two of the world’s most bustling urban playgrounds, fell in love with design, and belatedly realised that one of my only regrets in life is not having spent more time to know my incredible grandparents.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

I think I’d always been a bit unfair, shutting Taiwan neatly away into a drawer along with other childhood relics—a bookmark collection, an old ring I dug up in the sandbox—when, as a rapidly modernising capital, Taipei is developing at a rate that perhaps exceeds my own. As a living and breathing thing existing within a span of twenty years, it’s subject to the same trends as any other city and its inhabitants. I was shocked, for example, to see a sign for wheat germ pineapple pastries and that stinky tofu was becoming more popular steamed than deep-fried. Time stood still in my drawer of relics; I had always assumed that even if I stopped eating white sandwich bread and cut down on saturated fats, Taiwan would be the place where I’d be happily forced to revert to old habits whenever I wanted a taste of childhood. On the street where my young cousins and I lovingly spent all our time between meals picking the ticks off of stray puppies’ ears, there now sits a shiny red Ferrari.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Of course there are constants, but my changing interests dictate my observations and activities. Last time I hopped from bakery to bakery; this time I spent hours and gigabytes interviewing my grandparents and filming nightmarket food stalls until, tripod less, my hands were unsteady and clothes saturated with the smell of grilled squid.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

And it’s fun this way, like playing catch-up with your oldest friend; the reality is you’re both absolutely different people, but nothing evolves that can erase or devalue those most impressionable early years spent together. No matter how much I grow and change, I’ll know that Taiwan—the way it was then, the way it is now, and the way it will be with every future visit—had and will continue to have a role in that.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

I’ll still have to nurse countless mosquito bites that linger long after I fly back home, I’ll still revel at the ever-expanding ramen cup noodle selection, I’ll still be able to enjoy intestines without risking total social damnation, and I’ll still remember to stock up on cute stationery supplies. I’ll still be waking up for fresh soy milk pressed from beans at the street stalls each morning, and I’ll still be cashing in on the cheap and convenient healthcare system that allows me to squeeze in a dental cleaning walk-in appointment a few hours before my flight. I’ll still bring 6 egg yolk red bean pastries back in my carry-on bag, and I’ll always have eaten half by the time I land. I’ll do all these things until they phase out of relevance—whether it’s because of my growing up or Taiwan’s. And for now, I’ll try a pineapple cake made with wheat germ.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

 

More Wandercrush travel essays:
Eating Thailand / Sailing Thailand / Eating Greece / A Day in Paris

 

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Posted in Market, Personal, Taiwan, Travel | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Sopes with Radish Pico de Gallo

People tend to respond with bewilderment upon finding out I’m from Florida, eyeing me warily as though my mental state must be questionable to voluntarily leave the Sunshine State. “Why would you trade THAT for THIS?”, they demand as they gesture incredulously around to incriminate any cloud in the sky.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

Perhaps with equal unfairness, I tend to brush off Florida’s reputation for sun, sand, and amusement parks; it’s often more swamp than beach, and the seasons blend into one. I find myself appreciating the sun tenfold when it’s more coy about making a novel appearance—but weather aside, how can one even begin to compare a podunk Floridian city to London?

All begrudging hometown prejudices aside, however, there is one thing I will defend Florida for until the very end: the accessibility of Mexican food and Cuban cuisines. Authentic, cheap, honest, no-frills, the kind that seems to be significantly scarcer in London.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

Sopes aren’t the most common Mexican antojitos (street food, but literally “little cravings”), and have hence avoided the kind of Westernisation and international fame that befell the taco and the burrito. They’re open-faced with a lip to hold in toppings and feature a base made of the same masa harina as corn tortillas—only much thicker. Toppings vary by region and household, but usually involve refried black beans and some kind of salsa (red or green, roasted or fresh). These Cuban frijoles negros are similar in texture and huge on flavour, so I’ve made half a batch to top the sopes.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

From the roots of Raphanus sativus, there are many variations of radishes. I grew up knowing the white radish (e.g. daikon) to make a welcome appearance in many Asian cuisines, but I’m aesthetically partial to the strikingly pink version that’s grown in the UK during this part of the year. After the last batch of pink pickles, I couldn’t help but to add a handful of lightly lime-pickled radishes to a pico de gallo, a very fresh tomato salsa eaten alongside many a Mexican dish.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

So when people ask me rhetorically whether I miss the weather, I never hesitate to say “Not at all, but London could do with some better Mexican food.”

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

Sopes with Radish Pico de Gallo
(yields 4)

  • 1 cup masa harina
  • ¾-1 cup warm water
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • refried black beans or half of ((this recipe))
  • radish pico de gallo (see below)
  • mixed lettuce
  • organic thick yogurt or soured cream
  • cilantro, to garnish
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • lime, juice of

Mix together masa and salt, streaming in the water and kneading for a few minutes until a soft dough forms. Adjust water and masa as necessary.
Heat up oil in a skillet, pan-frying the disks of masa for a few minutes on each side so that a slight golden crust forms. Removing from the heat, quickly pinch the edges to form a raised ledge along the circumference of each sope.
Immediately top with “refried” black beans, lettuce, radish salsa, a drizzle of yogurt or soured cream, sprinkle of cilantro leaves, freshly ground black pepper, and a squeeze of lime.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

Radish Pico de Gallo

  • 100g radish, diced
  • 1 lime, juice of
  • 1 lemon, juice of
  • white vinegar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • ½ white onion, chopped
  • 1 spring onion, chopped
  • 1 hot chile pepper, minced
  • handful cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime, juice of

Toss radishes with juice of lime, lemon, salt, and a splash of vinegar to lightly pickle for a few hours or overnight.
Toss tomatoes in salt, setting aside in a sieve to drain for half an hour.
Meanwhile, chop and dice the remaining fresh ingredients. Combine with the drained tomatoes.
Toss with lime juice and season with more salt if necessary.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

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Posted in Breakfast, Cuba, Finger Food, Main, Mexico, Salad, Sauce, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments