Let me start by saying that at home in America, I am quite an adequate cook, maybe even a good cook. People eat the food I prepare and say nice things about it. However, I find international cooking to be a challenge. There are countless ways that something may go wrong, and I keep finding new ways.
Potatoes are a staple in the Faroese diet – not mashed potatoes and gravy, not baked potatoes with butter and sour cream, but boiled new potatoes. When I was here in the Faroe Islands for a year in 2005-06, I decided that I really wanted some good American mashed potatoes with gravy. I boiled some small new potatoes from Denmark, and then tried to figure out how to mash them. I didn’t have a potato masher, using a fork would take too long, but I did have a very small hand mixer with a single beater attachment. I discovered that you can make very good wallpaper glue by beating small new potatoes from Denmark with an electric mixer. Apparently new potatoes have a lot more gluten than the large russet potatoes I use in America, and beating them turns the gluten into glue. That day I ate potato flavored glue with gravy.
One day on a visit to my local FK (Føroyar Keypsamtøkan) grocery store, I saw a box on the shelf with a picture of a bowl of mashed potatoes topped with chopped chives and a basil leaf. So this is how you are supposed to make mashed potatoes! I bought the box. Note that I have been studying very hard to learn Faroese, and I know the name of many foods in Faroese. However, like most packaged foods here, the mashed potatoes were packaged in Denmark and had instructions in Danish. I don’t have a Danish dictionary, so my method for reading something in Danish is to stare at the words for a long time while I try to think of a word in some other language that is similar. Sometimes it works. The name on the box with the picture of a bowl of mashed potatoes said KARTOFFELMOS. It has been a few years, but I remembered that the German word for potato is something like “kartoffel,” and I could imagine that MOS might mean “mash.” Kogende vand must be “cooked water,” so I cooked some water. One brev must be an envelope (and the French for “letter” is something like “breve”, which goes into an envelope) of kartoffelmospulver, or potato mash powder (which comes from pulverizing potatoes). Hurrah! By adding hot water to the package I did get mashed potatoes that were quite tasty. I have a few other phrases in my Danish-English cooking dictionary for Faroese food. These are from a box of Tomatsuppe, another pulverized vegetable.
Kog op under omrøring: My literal translation is “cook up under roaring,” which is clearly the equivalent of “heat to boiling.” I think of a roaring river, which looks like boiling water.
Småkoge i 5 minutter: Literally this is “small cook in 5 minutes,” but since all prepositions are interchangeable, it must mean “simmer for 5 minutes.”
Rør rundt af og til: Rundt looks like “round” or “around,” and if rør is related to roaring, it must be to “stir vigorously now and again.”
Now here is one that you can translate without any help: Tips til servering.
Recently, I tried to roast a leg of lamb with roasted vegetables (potatoes, carrots, and onions). It was a little more complicated than adding boiling water, but actually it did seem quite simple. I put rosemary (rosmarin) and garlic (hvidløg) on the lamb and put it in the oven to start cooking. Then I got the vegetables ready, and added them about an hour later. When I opened the oven door, the oven wasn’t warm! I am fortunate enough to have two ovens in my little house, but I had turned on the wrong oven. I wanted to turn the oven to about 350 degrees F, but I couldn’t find my conversion chart. I set the temperature to 200 degrees C, and hoped for the best. Oh, the poor vegetables. I cooked them at 400 degrees F for an extra hour (thanks to the oven mix-up), and they all had a nice rich dark crust on the bottom.
With international cooking, maybe I should stick to adding cooked water to packages of pulverized vegetables.