While studying abroad in Copenhagen this semester, I chose to live in the brand new “Culinary House.” I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed up for the housing option, but I knew I was likely to be in good company. I fantasized about a warm, cozy place with delicious smells constantly wafting out of the kitchen. We would get into meaningful conversations about the true definition of umami and whip up elaborate meals on a daily basis. I would learn a lot from these food people, I figured. There is always more to learn in the kitchen.
Not only did I learn, but I was loved. To be quite frank, Copenhagen had me down and out for most of the semester. The perpetually cold weather soured my mood, and I didn’t know how to deal with reserved, quiet Danes. When I wanted nothing more than to go home to New Orleans for some familiarity and warmth, I was deeply grateful for a house of kind people and delicious food to cheer me up.
This semester was a study in hygge. Our floor of seven girls had many different personalities, but we shared a reverence for food. It became clear how powerful food can be; how it can foster relationships between sorority girls and hipsters, how it can create inside jokes and lasting memories. The house served as a kind of laboratory to examine our individual relationships with food. We use it to procrastinate, to feel better about a bad day, to cure boredom, to treat ourselves, to feel accomplished, and to simply survive. My roommate, Cheryl, says it’s a good thing we do need it to survive. Otherwise, foodies would be a bunch of weirdos with a fanatical obsession they indulge in at least three times a day.
After cooking in a decked-out IKEA kitchen for four months with six people in Copenhagen, here is what I learned:
**Lessons from a Culinary House**
1. Jerusalem artichokes are not to be trusted. We invested in two weekly CSA bags. At first we were eager to cook with strange wintery vegetables, but when we received nothing but celery root, potatoes, parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes for the fifth week in a row, we were fed up. We had to get creative. Most things taste good when shredded and fried in patties, chopped up raw into a salad, or pan-grilled. However, Jerusalem artichokes are nothing but evil, ugly, beige vegetables that make you gassy. Beware.
2. Anything roasted is delicious. Broccoli? Cauliflower? Even Brussels sprouts? Yes. Just add plenty of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and pop in the oven at 475°F for 10-20 minutes. A drab raw vegetable is suddenly transformed into something that resembles a delightful savory super healthy potato chip. Also, if you only steam your vegetables because that’s the healthy thing to do, you should not be reading this blog. Nothing but steamed veggies are for sad people. Live a little and roast ‘em.
3. Crack an egg on it. This one doesn’t apply to me, but my omnivore roommates quickly discovered the scrumptious simplicity of the egg. It can turn any dish into a meal, and it’s hard to mess up. But please, for the awkward vegan, buy cage-free, organic eggs! Tak.
4. Put things in your coffee grounds. The next time you’re feeling bored with your drip coffee, add spices: cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa powder, or cayenne add a nice kick to coffee. A sprinkling is enough to jazz up black coffee.
5. A good friend is someone who cooks enough dinner for you too. There’s nothing better than coming home after a long day to find out one of your roommates happens to be taking the time to cook up a delicious meal, and is generously making enough for your dinner as well. Karma is real, people. If you cook for others, they will cook for you.
6. Sticker charts work for grownups! Predictably, our space-age Danish kitchen quickly turned into a cesspool of breadcrumbs and sticky food stains. The cleaning schedule our RA had tried to enforce didn’t seem to cross our minds, and it seemed that a few of us were constantly picking up after our messier housemates. Solution: a cute sticker chart for chores!
7. Birch sap is an excellent substitute for water. Perhaps not the most realistic lesson, but that one time we ate at the best restaurant in the world they served sap instead of water. It’s delicious. Try some if it ever comes your way.
8. Ranger up! Don’t think you can eat anymore? You can. Ranger up! I believe in the power of your stomach to expand to make room for even more delightful treats.
9. Always keep a pair of slightly larger jeans that you actually want to wear. At one point or another, you will ranger up too hard and be unable to squeeze into your skinny jeans. That’s when you know you are truly living the Culinary House Lifestyle.
Suzannah Schneider is finishing her semester at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. She is sad to leave her culinary cocoon, but can’t wait to show off her new skills to food friends in New Orleans.