Shopping Smorgasbord

little swedenAfter having to reschedule at least four or five times, the Matthews Family Band finally made it to North Carolina’s little piece of Swedish heaven last week.

That’s right, we went to Ikea in Charlotte.ikeaThe Kid’s been before, and in fact, sleeps on an Ikea bed.  Petey and I were both neophytes.  I wasn’t expecting much, I mean, it’s a furniture store with meatballs—I’ve shopped for furniture and home goods, and Stouffers make perfectly fine Swedish meatballs.

But, sure, let’s ride three hours to Charlotte, for a lamp.

I’ve decided Ikea’s kind of like giving birth.rosemary's babyMothers: you know how everybody talks about how much labor and childbirth hurt?  And how the real thing is so much more painful than your wildest nightmares?  Like how there really are no English words that can adequately describe the scorching, soul-eviscerating torment you’ll experience?

Parents and Grandparents: Do you remember people trying to communicate how much you’ll love this baby?  And how shocked you were at how hard, fast, and total this tidal wave of love actually felt, and how it transformed every single thing about you and your life?

Yeah, Ikea’s sorta like that.13The place is huge. This isn’t Target with full grocery store.  This is original thirteen colonies huge.  The foyer is bigger than an airplane hanger.  There’s a nursery/kid jail that’s bigger than your average Chucky Cheese.

It takes up two floors.  When you walk in, there’s an up escalator, but no down.  I still have no idea why.  There are lots of partitioned areas, so you can’t see very much at one time.  Which is probably a good thing, because if I could’ve seen everything at once, I probably would’ve had a stroke from pure sensory overload.

ikea apt

An Ikea studio apartment.

The top floor is furniture.  They have it divided into rooms, like most other places.  But they also have these apartment pods of varying sizes for various customers in various life stages.

I discovered a kitchen that was so perfect it was like it had been torn right out of my mind.  It was big and bright with lots of tall work surfaces and spreading out room.closetThen I found my dream closet.  It was more of the Louvre for clothes, shoes, accessories and purses.  There was a beautifully upholstered slipper chair and even a glass of Champagne waiting for me on the luxurious dressing table.

The only problem is that 85% of my clothes were absolutely not fancy enough for it.  I just couldn’t picture my sweats and boring lingerie in such rarified surroundings.  I’d feel sorry for the bulk of my stuff.  Like flip-flops with a ball gown.

gown flop

…so evidently, that’s a thing now. 

Ikea’s first floor’s full of small home goods like linens, lamps, and kitchen gadgets.  Ingenious, unique items at a great price.  That’s where I picked out a blue gossamer summer throw, a snuggly gray one, steak knives, and various other items I couldn’t live without.

That’s also where they have a mini-grocery selling frozen versions of food they serve in the café, Swedish specialties and some candy (FYI-skip the chocolate bulk candy; it’s too sweet and not fresh).     swedish chicAnd throughout, everything is clean and bright with that Ikea blend of attractive casual yet super chic.

I still have no idea how the store’s laid out.  We just wandered around until we came to food.  We ate.  Then there was an elevator.  We went down.  Then we wandered around until we came to cash registers and left.

I’m not sure how they accomplish this tricky bit of auto-navigation.  I think they just use some sort of Swedish Jedi mind control tricks.swedesAnd PS, the meatballs were way better than Stouffer’s.

Thanks for your time.

Sweet & Salty, Salty & Sweet


Pharma-Bro Martin Shkreli.  The line forms behind me.


It’s one of those nifty multi-syllabic German words that captures the meaning of a nuanced feeling or situation which doesn’t translate to just one word in English.  In this case the word means, “A face in dire need of punching.”

So, here’s a complicated, almost labyrinthine concept that could use one of those uber-efficient, Germanic portmanteaus: deeply understanding something for most of your life, but not knowing it’s even a thing.spoilerI’ll explain: (Spoiler alert: it concerns food.)

When I was a kid, we were living in Puerto Rico and my mom took cake decorating classes from Winnie Chazzarue.  The frosting they used in class became our go-to frosting; we use it for Mom’s Famous Christmas Cookies, cakes, and cupcakes.

I just recently realized one of the really special things about it. frostingThe recipe calls for a full teaspoon of salt.  Most frosting recipes, if they do contain salt it’s barley more than a pinch.  In our frosting, you can actually taste the salt, but in most delicious way. For years I’ve been enjoying the current flavor “It” girl of sweet-salty mashups.  I’ve been trendy since elementary school and didn’t even know it.

Last week, Petey and I accompanied The Kid to Charlotte.  Our offspring is in the process of tricking out a home craft station that ex-con Martha Stewart would shank a bunkmate for.

martha cut a bitch

The woman will cut a bitch.

Back in the beginning, when Mr. “Ikea” designed these brilliant, alluring villages of consumerism he decided to include a restaurant so that folks wouldn’t have to leave for sustenance.  Like the ‘no clocks’ thing in Vegas; people just wander around in timeless dream states, muttering, “I need a knarrevik (nightstand).  No, wait!  Maybe I really need an arv bröllop (cake stand).”

At said restaurant, we all had their famous meatballs, with mashed potatoes and gravy.  The food wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t palate-challenging, but it was tasty and soul-soothing.

ligonberryThe sweet in this cozy collab brought an unexpected touch of culinary sophistication to the meal.  It’s lingonberry jam, which next to Abba and Ikea itself, is Sweden’s most famous export.  They have it in the same vessel in which they put mustard and ketchup to dress hot dogs at Costco’s snack bar. costco hot dogIt’s red, with the translucent sheen of a perfect pigeon-blood ruby, studded with shards of fruit.  It’s sweet, with a sourness level comparable to Boysenberry.  The flavor’s as if cherry and cranberry made a baby.  I like it.  I brought home an Ikea-bought jar and have already had a lingonberry and sun butter sandwich on my homemade sourdough—the sandwich’s a keeper.  I’m trying it on biscuits next.daim torteI’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I loved everything, including the desserts we shared.  They have a crispy confection with almond toffee and drenched with milk chocolate ganache called a Daim torte and a treat with layered cream and cake, covered with marzipan that tasted just like bubblegum.

Did the food have that intentional mild carb-y blandness of large-scale preparers and purveyors of meals, like elementary schools and hospital cafeterias?    ikea school foodDon’t care, doesn’t matter.  I wasn’t a wife and mother of indeterminate heritage eating an early dinner over-looking a parking lot in Charlotte North Carolina.

This food felt so darn Swedish, I was Inga, a 19-year-old blond, blue-eyed, Nordic Goddess, enjoying a meal in my exquisitely decorated, perfectly weathered farmhouse thirty minutes outside Stockholm.


Garbo-the best Swedish export ever.

Next week I’ll have returned from Sweden, and returned to my boring normal self.

And I’ll have a recipe for Swedish meatballs so good and authentic that they just might send you on your own Nordic adventure.swe meatballThanks for your time.