How to Host a Fika and Cheese Party
I have found the cure for pre-holiday anxiety: invite a Swedish baker to your house and let her fill your kitchen with warm smells. This discovery came by way of cookbook illustrator Johanna Kindvall, who arrived by bus from Brooklyn this weekend with a rolling suitcase full of dough.
She also came with 2 loaves of rye bread, a round tin of homemade rye crisps, a pair of fun outfits (red-checked pants and a mushroom-patterened smock of her own design), a bottle of wine, a dozen illustrated prints, and 16 copies of her new book, written with Swedish food writer Anna Brones, Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break.
Ten minutes after Johanna arrived, we were sipping coffee in Reading Terminal Market and reviewing her list for last-minute groceries (almonds, raisins). Snip, snap, and we were trundling through my front door, whereupon she tied an apron around her waist, poured Champagne, and began blanching almonds. On went the oven, and out came the dough.
I put on some Nina Simone and rustled up my rolling pin.
Then I unwrapped some beautiful cheese.
I unrumpled a tablecloth from the basement and put on some Chapstick.
By 3:30, we were relaxing on the patio, my dining room table set for 15 mystery guests who had signed up to devour ginger cookies and blue cheese for Johanna’s book party, an event we called “Cheese and Fika” — Fika is a Swedish coffee hour. Mulled wine simmered on the stove, two cheese boards relaxed, and even the dog took a snooze.
When guests arrived, Johanna pulled out more tricks: she taught everyone how to light rummy mulled wine on fire, then demonstrated how to roll a rye cracker as thin as an eye patch.
Everyone sipped and nibbled, warm and cozy, happy and appreciative — what a lovely bunch of cheese lovers! (I feel inspired to begin a series of Sunday cheese salons. Hopefully, I can wrangle the time.)
Until this weekend, I have admired Johanna from afar — reading her illustrated food blog is one of my favorite ways to relax. But now. NOW, I know better. Why enjoy Johanna from afar when meeting her in person means that your whole world will smell like cloves?
Try This At Home: A Cheese and Fika Party
I have a new love of pairing cheese and Swedish bakery, thanks to Johanna. Her soft ginger cookies were so delicious shmeared with blue cheese, and her whisper-thin crispbread crackers were a revelation to me — so good with goat cheese and chutney, and so much better than storebought versions. I dream of keeping bins of them on my counters from now on. Johanna likes to serve her ginger cookies with butter. Decadent, and highly recommended, especially with a side of mulled wine or cardamom tea.
Treat yourself to a copy of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall (Ten Speed Press, 2015).
Pick out a few recipes for Swedish cookies, crackers, and bread: Pepparkakor (Swedish Gingersnaps, page 118), Mjuka Pepparkakor (Soft Ginger Cookies, page 122), Rye Bread (with anise and prunes, page 148), and Knackekex (Crispbread Crackers, 152). You can bake these a day or two ahead.
Prepare Flaming Glogg (Swedish Mulled Wine, page 126). This is the best I’ve ever tasted, thanks to the homemade spice-infused rum. When you add it to the warm wine, you can light it on fire and it sends up a purple flame. Cover it after a second so the goodness doesn’t burn off (!!) and float a few blanched almonds on each serving.
Select Inscrutable Cheeses: Try a soft goat, an Alpine, and a spreadable blue. Aged Cheddar is a terrific pairing for ginger cookies, Johanna says. We enjoyed a very stinky wheel of Rippleton with Johanna’s moist rye bread.
Ask Friends to Bring Fruit and Jam: Ask your guests to bring chutneys, jams, dried fruits, bowls of apples or pears. We were thrilled when Marisa McClellan of Foodinjars turned up with several jars of honey-sweetened jams from her forthcoming book, along with some pickled kohlrabi.