Meditations

Midsommarafton Orphans Grill – Expats Banding Together


Midsommar is one of the most important holidays in Sweden, second only to Christmas. Unlike the 2pm sunsets and sub zero temperatures in December, however, the Midsommar celebration is met with warm weather, lush greenery, and never ending sunsets. Like most celebrations, Midsommar revolves around food. Traditionally, the first potatoes of the season, chives, cream, herring, and fresh Swedish strawberries are eaten, along with lots and lots (and lots and lots) of beer and snaps. A majstång (May pole) is raised and danced around, crowns of greens and wildflowers are worn, and drinking  songs are sung.

Most Swedes head out of the city and celebrate the Midsommar long weekend with friends and family away at someone’s sommarhus. And I do mean almost everyone. For those of us left behind, Stockholm has an eerie, vacant feel to it, which I liken to being on a university campus the morning after the last day of exams. My friend Alison recalls, on her first Midsommar weekend alone in Stockholm, feeling rather like she was in the middle of a Will Smith movie where the world was ending and she’d been left behind.

So this year, as expats are wont to do, we banded together a hodge podge group of Midsommer orphans who had no sommerhus to escape to, and forged a celebration of our own in the city on Midsommarafton (midsummer’s eve). We had three Canadians, three Americans, two lovely Latvian ladies, two Central Americans, and, to make sure we all stayed in line (and judge our Swedish speaking competitions), two real live genuine Swedes.

We headed to a park in our Södermalm neighbourhood, each person armed with a flimsy single use grill procured at the local supermarket for 25 Swedish crowns (about $4) and some food to share. There was no herring, but there were potatoes a plenty, haloumi, veggie kebabs, deviled eggs, macaroni salad, fresh home made burger buns, various meat stuffs, polenta, sweet Swedish strawberries, and, because who were we to break tradition, lots and lots (and lots and lots) of beer.

There was good food, cold beer, great company, and a lot of laughter. Sommerhus or no summerhus, a great Midsommarafton grill was had by this group of expats.

Polenta is one of my favourite things to take to a grill. It comes together quickly and can be prepared well in advance. I slice it up and let it sit in a container drizzed with olive oil, so it is easy to transport, and when it comes to grilling it’s a simple matter of popping the lid and placing the polenta squares onto the hot grill. A couple of minutes on each side and you’ve got a crispy treat that looks way more impressive than the actual effort that went into making it. You can spruce it up with various herbs, as I have done here, or with other added ingredients of your choosing. Sun-dried tomatoes? Olives? How do you like your grilled polenta?

Grilled Polenta Recipe:

You can make your polenta up a day or two in advance and store it, covered, in the fridge. I’ve also frozen polenta in the past and it thawed and grilled up nicely. For vegan polenta simply leave out the cheese.

4 cups water or vegetable broth

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups polenta

1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

olive oil for pan, and for drizzling

Lightly oil a 9 x 11 inch baking sheet and set aside. In a large pot bring 4 cups of water or broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in salt, then polenta. Reduce heat to low, and stir continuously as polenta thickens up. Continue stirring until polenta is forming a cohesive mound, and pulling away from the edges of the pot. Stir in cheese, if using, and herbs, and mix well. Remove pot from heat, and spoon the polenta into the prepared pan. Using a spatula, or wet hands, press the polenta evenly into pan. Cover the surface of the polenta with a piece of plastic wrap, and set aside to cool. Once the polenta has cooled and set, slice into squares. Set the squares into a large food storage container, and drizzle lightly with olive oil.

When you’re ready to grill, place oiled polenta squares onto hot grill. A couple of minutes on each side should do the trick. If the polenta is sticking to the grill when you try to flip it, give it another minute. Serve hot off the grill.

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