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Trip Report: Ski Vacation to France Part II

After eating a wonderful meal at La Cremailliere we met up with Thomas Barnier, former professional French Freestyle skier who now works as a ski instructor. Thomas met us at the top of one of the lifts of Avoriaz. Avoriaz is part of the Portes du Soleil, one the largest ski areas in the world with 12 interconnected resorts in France and Switzerland and over 650 km of slopes.

Shall we ski in France or Switzerland? Photo credit Scott Shepler.

Our group of 12 was here to ski/snowboard the alps by day and eat our way through the regional specialties, especially the cheese and wine, by night. Avoriaz (pronounced “ah-vor-ee-ah”) also sounds like it could have figured prominently in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy e.g. “on the third day look north to Avoriaz for help.” Anyway, we were greeted by Thomas who was tall, had long hair, a surfer accent in French and English, and was wearing the nearly calf-length red parkas of the ESF (Ecole de Ski Française). Thomas is the close friend of a friend of mine named Sylvain, a musician who sells vegetables at the farmers market for Denis Dutruel, my former boss.

Thomas, with his duster style ski jacket, looked like some kind of ski cowboy. Photo credit Nick Green.

Thomas began our lesson by talking about the principles of carving, of edging our skis, keeping our weight forward, flexing our legs. This group was all experienced skiers and were all familiar with carving. Thomas led us on slope to watch us carve. The sloped he happened to pick (on purpose I am quite certain) had about the same incline as a road in Kansas on its way to Missouri. Lacking any speed (mostly we were poling to arrive at the lift) we had scant opportunity to carve, though we did manage. At the bottom of the “slope” Thomas greeted us each individually.
“Aaron did you feel the sensation of carving” he asked.
“Oh yeah, I definitely felt it, lots of carving going on, I love to carve” we responded (or some version of that answer).
“No you weren’t carving, I was watching you and you didn’t carve at all!” Thomas rebuked us.

“What? I thought I was carving” says Nick. Photo credit Aaron Schorsch.

After that he had our attention (I guess he figured that since we were all accomplished skiers we would be reluctant to accept his teaching, unless he crushed our egos a little). Luckily, he took us on some steeper slopes where we could show off our carving techniques. Then he did a mogul workshop with us, showing us how to put our weight in the front part of skis and swing the backs around. He was enthusiastic and doled out compliments, but there was always his no-nonsense side with quick, unequivocal corrections at the ready.
“The moment your weight is in your heels, its too late!” he told us.
We were preparing for a guided backcountry 20-kilometer-long descent of the famous Vallée Blanche on the Mont Blanc Massif. This is an optional day trip and is for strong intermediate or better skiers and snowboarders who have some experience skiing “hors piste” (off piste, not “horse piss” as one of group wrongly claimed). Our preparation involved skiing our way through various resorts in the Portes du Soleil area, even make a good-sized loop into Switzerland and back in a day. At the French resort of Châtel we found some good fresh powder, and everyone got a chance to work on their off piste powder skiing technique. There were some spills on a steep run through some sheltered glades but mostly the group look somewhat competent.

We were mostly getting better…Photo credit Scott Shepler.

Raclette cheese is quite mild in a solid state but when melted this creamy cheese has all kinds of delicious flavors! Photo credit Lily Zhang.

We were also preparing by eating delicious sausages, lots of pastries, some beautiful salads, and Raclette (cheese scraped onto boiled potatoes and served with huge platters of charcuterie, cornichons, and pickled onions). Raclette is from the French and Swiss Alps and was originally a dish that herders made while up in the high pastures. They would place a half-wheel of cheese with the flat (cut) side next to an open fire. When the edge exposed to the fire started to bubble and melt they would scrape (“racle” in French) the cheese onto bread or boiled potatoes.

You can use a raclette machine that holds a half wheel of cheese on an incline and has a heating element that recreates the open fire. However, most raclette machines are an electric broiler that you place in the center of the table and can place small pans containing a slice of cheese (Raclette is now a type of cheese, but others will work as well) to let it melt and bubble. When eating that much cheese, charcuterie and rich food it is important to drink enough wine. The group followed that advice to the “t”.

Scott says: “Mark, can I go on the Vallee Blanche descent? Please…” Photo credit Sue Shepler.

The descent of the Vallee Blanche is weather-dependent, and I had been in touch with our French high-mountain guides, Ludovic and Fix. Our arranged day was Wednesday and the weather was looking very promising. We had an early departure to travel the 1 hour to Chamonix. Ludovic and Fix suggested that everyone obtain skis that were at least 90mm underfoot as there was a good chance of encountering lots of fluffy fresh powder.

The entry to the Vallée Blanche is impressive and beautiful. Photo credit Aaron Schorsch.

There was a lot of excitement and nervousness in the group. To enter the Vallée Blanche requires a walk along a very narrow, steep ridge that has a fall of several hundred feet to one side and considerably more on the other side. To be continued…

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Nulla consequat massa quis enim. Donec pede justo, fringilla vel, aliquet nec, vulputate eget, arcu. In enim justo, rhoncus ut, imperdiet a, venenatis vitae, justo. Nullam dictum felis eu pede mollis pretium. Integer tincidunt. Cras dapibus. Vivamus elementum semper nisi. Aenean vulputate eleifend tellus. Aenean leo ligula, porttitor eu, consequat vitae, eleifend ac, enim.

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I have worked in kitchens long enough to have experienced many different diets: vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, raw food, gluten-, dairy-, nightshade-, salt-, nut-, and shellfish-free. While working at Saltoluokta Fjällstation, I experienced a new eating preference: vilt (wild). These are vegetarians who will eat wild fish and meats. I have never run across one of these in the US, though I have met several people who are vegetarians but will eat animals that were raised sustainably.

Wait, what can't they eat?

Wait, what can’t they eat?

To be a wildfoodatarian in the US would hardly be worth explaining. Unless you or someone you know hunts wild game, you will have trouble acquiring wild game. So what about that buffalo burger, or fried crocodile, pheasant breast, or elk steak you ate on that one vacation? They probably all came from farms. Laws in the US prohibit hunted meats from being served in restaurants, as the animal must be inspected prior to slaughter. Wild fish is still fair game (no pun intended). The laws, put in place in the 19th and 20th centuries, worked as a preventative measure to protect wild animal populations, which had been severely depleted by commercial hunting (read more here).

Spelt galette topped with caviar, red onion, whipped creme fraiche, dill and lemon.

Spelt galette topped with caviar, red onion, whipped creme fraiche, dill and lemon.

Today it appears that the only way to get real wild meats is to go to the local Food Bank during hunting season. For example, in West Virginia, hunters can donate their deer to local meat processors who will butcher everything and donate it to the Mountaineer Food Bank. It’s an excellent program, but it raises awkward questions: why is uninspected meat okay for the poor? Could hunters earn income from sales of hunted deer – an income that could perhaps help economically depressed regions?

Warm smoked Sik (whitefish) were succulent and delicious.

Warm smoked Sik (whitefish) were succulent and delicious.

Sweden has different laws concerning wild meats, and one regularly sees moose, wild boar, and many types of game birds on menus. Wild game is served in other European countries, as well. All these countries simply require the game to be inspected and processed in a certified facility, post-hunt. Reindeer occupy their own category – as semi-domesticated animals that must be slaughtered in a certified facility – a complicated system Amanda is still trying to understand for her research.

Strangely, the wildfoodatarians I encountered didn’t require much menu modification due to Saltoluokta’s game-based menu. All of our proteins for the main courses were wild foods: moose, reindeer, smoked whitefish, trout, and arctic char. Occasionally we used a bit of pork belly, but who wouldn’t? Even our lunch menu used ground reindeer and moose meat for things like lasagna or pasta bolognaise.

Roding (arctic char) roasted over a wood fire.
Röding (arctic char) roasted over a wood fire.

It was a great experience to work with all these wild foods. Reindeer innalår (tender top round) marinated, grilled, and then finished at high heat in the oven was supremely delicious, crusty and slightly charred on the outside, tender and deep pink on the inside. Moose innalår received the same treatment but the meat is lighter in color and milder in taste while still remaining distinctly wild tasting.

Slicing reindeer innalår that has been grilled and then finished at high heat in the oven.

Slicing reindeer innalår that has been grilled and then finished at high heat in the oven.

The fresh caught and smoked sik (whitefish) from the lake were moist and succulent—excellent served with a sour cream caviar sauce and boiled potatoes. Röding (arctic char) and öring (brown trout) were often served whole, after roasting in a bath of white wine, butter, and a showering of almonds. Lax (salmon) is not easily found in Sweden, but it is abundant in nearby Norway. We wrapped exotic asparagus in thin slices of cold-smoked Norwegian salmon and served them up with a chive hollandaise.

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Asparagus spears wrapped in cold-smoked Norwegian salmon with chive hollandaise.

Northern Sweden becomes a blanket of wild berries during the summer: lingon, blue, cloud, and crow berries found their ways into the menu from accompanying souvas (salted and smoked reindeer meat) to cloudberries sitting below mascarpone cream in a tiramisu. Havtorn (Sea buckthorn) is known as the tropical fruit of the north. It is quite acidic but when sweetened can taste similar to sour orange with hints of mango or pineapple. We used it as a coulis to drizzle on desserts or add a bright taste and color to appetizers.

Havtorn (seabuckthorn) berries add a wonderful taste to sill (pickeled herring),

Havtorn (seabuckthorn) berries add a wonderful taste to sill (pickeled herring),

While mushrooms are abundant here, there is not much of a mushroom eating culture. Still we served a mushroom soup which contained a mix of wild mushrooms in addition to button mushrooms. A morel mushrooms cream sauce made an appearance alongside the roasted moose, and pickled chanterelles livened up a few appetizers.

Cloudberries waiting for their marscapone-cream topping.

Cloudberries waiting for their marscapone-cream topping.

Avant-garde Swedish cuisine is becoming popular for using wild ingredients such as birch leaves, lichen, sea buckthorn, pine tips, bark, reindeer hearts and tongues, and many other wild foods. Ironically, in the US, it appears one might only be able to approach this experience by going to a soup kitchen in West Virginia or DC where a local hunter has graciously donated his or her deer or the National Park Service is culling the deer population.

Low temperature arctic char with

Kristoffer Åström’s low temperature arctic char with smoked carrot sauce, white wine braised cabbage, burnt butter and herbs at Cafe Gasskas in Jokkmokk.

Recently, Amanda and I joined Eva Gunnare from Essence of Lapland for an impromptu wild edibles class where we made a delicious meadowsweet saft, ate birch leaf crackers, and checked out wild salad greens. Stay tuned for a description of that meeting.

When you have a visitor from Japan who happens to be a contemporary artist and also uses food as a social medium, you think to yourself: Oh shit, I am just an anthropologist. That means I study cool. I don’t make cool.

Not to worry. Mako was happy with my long walks and brown Swedish cooking, passed down through generations, from my morfar to my mother to me my husband. Mako was also high on oxygen. After spending the past ten years moving between Malmo, Stockholm, and now Paris, she couldn’t stop gulping in breaths of Jokkmokk’s crisp air, much akin to a fish out of water – but happier.

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Mako enjoys a complete Swedish meal: meatballs, potatoes, and a few of those green things.

On the final night of her visit, I suggested we make meatballs using ground reindeer meat. Aaron mistakenly believed he had securely hidden it in the freezer where I wouldn’t find it. But I did, and with splendid result. Mako suggested we do an experiment. She would cook from a Japanese recipe, while I would cook from a Swedish or Sami recipe.

If you’re in Paris, check out the exhibition she’ll be doing based on her visit to Jokkmokk. Maybe you’ll get to taste dueling meatballs…

Here’s how I made Swedish Exploding Reindeer Meatballs:

I began by not fully translating the recipe from Bonniers Stora Kokbok. This includes key verbs and measuring instruments, but I did have a handle on all the nouns. Despite this trick, the meatballs still managed to explode. It may have been an overdose of whipping cream. Mako, however, was thrilled with the result. Admittedly, she confesses to putting bread on her butter. Thus Swedish cooking, which is heavy on cream and butter, is and remains an ideal diet for her.

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I may have my morfar’s apron on but I do not have his cooking game-face on.

Renköttbullar

Ingredienser

  • 500 g ground reindeer meat (get reindeer meat from Alaska thanks for the tip Shannon!)
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 deciliters whipping cream (what?!?)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • .5 deciliters bread crumbs
  • 2 cooked, cold potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and Pepper

Let the bread crumbs soak in the cream. Mash the potatoes with a fork into the cream. Stir the egg into the mixture. Peel and dice the onion (mycket fint). Work together the ground meat, cream mixture, and onion. Add salt and pepper (maybe 2 tsps salt and 1/4tsp pepper).

Heat up your frying pan and add some butter. Form your meatballs by rolling them in your hands. Put ‘em in the frying pan. Move the pan around to cook them evenly. Find lingonberries, eat, and show Ikea who really knows how to make Swedish Meatballs!

Here’s how Mako made Delicious and Healthier Japanese Inspired Reindeer Meatballs

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Soy beans, onions, and ginger wait to be blended.

First, Mako pulled out a piece of paper with Japanese characters on it. Though I understood this recipe slightly less than the Swedish one, I fell deeply in love with the results. The ginger and beans gave it a fresher taste, and reindeer meat is a lean-healthy-omega-3-fatty-acid-low-cholesterol, meat. So why add cream, Sweden? Why? Here is my guess at the recipe Mako followed.

Japanese (Rein)Deer Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 250 grams ground reindeer meat (need reindeer meat in Sweden? www.utsiren.se)
  • 1 box of frozen soybeans
  • 1 egg
  • 1 onion
  • Fresh ginger root
  • Salt and pepper

Begin by thawing your soybeans. Cut up ginger. Peel and dice onion finely. Add soybeans, ginger and onion to food processor. Process!

Combine soybeans, onion, and egg in bowl. Add meat, salt and pepper. Work until evenly distributed.

Heat up your frying pan and add some olive oil. Form your meatballs by rolling them in your hands. Put ‘em in the frying pan. Move the pan around to cook them evenly. Find lingonberries, eat, and show Ikea who really needs Swedish meatballs!

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Look at those vibrant colors!

For those of you in West Virginia, I think deer meat deserves this experiment as well! Why shouldn’t we be serving wild deer meatballs at our local restaurants?

– Amanda

 

I am often asked where I learned to cook.  My response is, in addition to my mother and Swiss-born grandmother, a talented French woman named Caroline (Caro).  Caro works as a psychiatric nurse in Geneva, Switzerland.  When she is not working she usually throws herself into some task such as replanting all her roses, building and then rearranging furniture, planting a fruit orchard, sewing costumes for her grandchildren, and cooking, of course.

Caro on her visit to northern Sweden sporting reindeer antlers

Caro on her visit to northern Sweden sporting reindeer antlers

Caro is best described as a dynamo.  She is small and slightly built, but she is a fountain of energy.  She has a loud and quick laugh with an expressive face.  Clear eyes twinkle when she talks quietly and deliberately, but they dance when she explodes in outbursts of rapid dialogue and laughter.  Possessing an often fiery disposition, she is the antithesis of passive aggressive; she speaks her mind freely and with great passion.

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Caro and I check out the buffet at Saltoluokta. The menu included smoked salmon wrapped asparagus with hollandaise, moose steak, celery root potato puree, and more. (Photo by Amanda)

When Caro cooks it is never just one dish.  She makes appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, and often several whole meals in the time it would take a normal person to make a lasagna.  The result is that there is always food everywhere: gratins, stews, tartes, soups, roasts, and amazing salads, just waiting to be served.  With her excellent sense of taste and thousands of hours of experience cooking, Caro can seemingly throw together ingredients and create a beautiful, delicious meal in very little time.  She applies this same technique to baking (sometimes with disastrous results owing to baking’s closer relation to science rather than art).

Caro comes from the land of cheese.  Fromage d'Abondance in the ageing cellar

Caro comes from the land of cheese. Fromage d’Abondance in the ageing cellar.

Throwing dinner parties is something she enjoys, and one rarely hears of someone turning down an invitation.  Even when I would help her cook, I would still be surprised with the end result, simple dishes elevated to fancy restaurant status, or dishes that just seemed to come out of thin air.  Some examples of favorites are a lamb and beef stew cooked in a Dutch oven sealed with pastry dough, Belgian endive braised overnight until caramelized, potimarron soup that tasted of chestnuts, cod fritters, choucroute garni with various sausages, ham, and slabs of smoked pork belly, cherry cloufoutis with whole cherries, grated root vegetable salad, lemon braised artichoke hearts,…the list goes on and on.

Amanda and I sitting down to dinner in France five years ago

Amanda and I sitting down to dinner in France five years ago

When cooking Caro drapes a hand towel over her shoulder and moves quickly and surely.  She seems to have little use for a chef’s knife, instead using a small paring knife.  Humming can often be heard as she assembles wonders out of inconspicuous ingredients. I was not surprised when Caro used these same techniques during her first visit to northern Sweden to experience our life above the Arctic Circle.

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Caro and Aaron ascend the hills above Saltoluokta (photo by Amanda)

Naturally, Caro and I cooked together during her visit. First she prepared us Tartiflette, the hearty French mountain dish of potatoes, lardon, onions, cream, and a creamy and delicious raw milk cheese called Reblochon, smuggled in Caro’s suitcase.  Then she joined me in the Saltoluokta kitchen and helped prepare the dinner for the guests.  She made a cabbage salad with carrots and a vinaigrette that was crunchy and fresh. For the staff she made lemon tartes and miniature tarte tatins, half dollar rounds of buttery dough covered with darkly caramelized apple.  Again everything was made without a recipe and in an astonishingly short amount of time and caused everyone to smile broadly when they tasted it.

France is a great place to learn to cook.  The French have a long and illustrious culinary tradition, a strong contrast to the rather finicky fads that pass through the US. Learning to cook from Caro is especially fun because she eschews recipes and charges into dishes with bravado and confidence, drawing from her culinary experience and knowledge to add ingredients she already has on hand.

 

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  1. Nulla consequat massa quis enim.
  2. Donec pede justo, fringilla vel, aliquet nec, vulputate eget, arcu.
  3. In enim justo, rhoncus ut, imperdiet a, venenatis vitae, justo.

Nullam dictum felis eu pede mollis pretium. Integer tincidunt. Cras dapibus. Vivamus elementum semper nisi. Aenean vulputate eleifend tellus. Aenean leo ligula, porttitor eu, consequat vitae, eleifend ac, enim. Aliquam lorem ante, dapibus in, viverra quis, feugiat a, tellus.

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Aenean commodo ligula eget dolor. Aenean massa. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Donec quam felis, ultricies nec, pellentesque eu, pretium quis, sem. Nulla consequat massa quis enim. Donec pede justo, fringilla vel, aliquet nec, vulputate eget, arcu. In enim justo, rhoncus ut, imperdiet a, venenatis vitae, justo.

Nullam dictum felis eu pede mollis pretium. Integer tincidunt. Cras dapibus. Vivamus elementum semper nisi. Aenean vulputate eleifend tellus. Aenean leo ligula, porttitor eu, consequat vitae, eleifend ac, enim. Aliquam lorem ante, dapibus in, viverra quis, feugiat a, tellus.

 

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  • Nulla consequat massa quis enim.
  • Donec pede justo, fringilla vel, aliquet nec, vulputate eget, arcu.
  • In enim justo, rhoncus ut, imperdiet a, venenatis vitae, justo.
  • Nullam dictum felis eu pede mollis pretium. Integer tincidunt. Cras dapibus. Vivamus elementum semper nisi.

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Nulla consequat massa quis enim. Donec pede justo, fringilla vel, aliquet nec, vulputate eget, arcu. In enim justo, rhoncus ut, imperdiet a, venenatis vitae, justo. Nullam dictum felis eu pede mollis pretium. Integer tincidunt. Cras dapibus. Vivamus elementum semper nisi. Aenean vulputate eleifend tellus. Aenean leo ligula, porttitor eu, consequat vitae, eleifend ac, enim.

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