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August 30, 2012 Comments Off on Exchange

The six of us walked single-file into the woods. The German-Costa Rican (I’ll call her T. from now on) lead the way, using a flashlight to illuminate the narrow path before us. She led us to a very steep pile of  boulders. We began to scale it, a formidable task, I learned, if you’re carrying a shopping bag containing digestive biscuits, marshmallows, chocolate, and cans of cheap beer. I stumbled upwards with my loot. The other four followed, one of whom carried a mixing bowl full of sticky stockbrot dough.

We arrived at the fire pit. We gathered fallen tree branches, moss, and dry pine needles. I crumpled pages from an old magazine of mine into balls. We arranged everything into a sort of teepee shape and lit a few matches.

We’d talked about building fire in the woods. Perhaps bringing a few things to roast. Maybe a six- pack or two. A German volunteer who I’ve gotten to know well–the bonfire was her idea–suggested we have stockbrot, or “stick bread.” Bread you bake yourself over an open fire. I was intrigued. T. and I suggested an all-time American classic: s’mores. Most of the people who’d be coming to the bonfire hadn’t heard of s’mores, but they were open-minded.

We decided right then and there that we’d venture into the woods on the next clear, cool night.

While s’mores are obscure in Europe, ingredients for s’mores are readily available in Swedish supermarkets. Apart from graham crackers and Hershey’s milk chocolate bars. So T. and I decided during our trip to the local supermarket to substitute with digestive biscuits and dark Swedish chocolate. These would be “Swedish s’mores,” we joked.

Our timing was impeccable. Our hosts declared that the day of our bonfire would be an “outdoors day.” Which, for us lowly “WWOOF-ers,” meant weeding. We weeded a big patch of strawberries, a big patch of artichokes, and then we capped off the day with a big patch of rhubarbs.

By the time our working day was done, we were ready to blow off some steam.

We sat around the fire, drinking cans of beer and grabbing hunks of stockbrot dough from the mixing bowl and spearing them onto birch branches. The trick to stockbrodt, I learned is to distribute it evenly over the stick. Don’t pack it onto your branch in one lump. Yes, I did that, and I also made the mistake of trying to roast mine like one would a marshmallow. So I incinerated it. A charred outside and a doughy, uncooked inside. Fortunately for me, my subsequent attempts were much tastier.

After a few helpings of stockbrot and a few more cans of beer, T. and I declared it was time to make s’mores. I instructed my new German friends how to make their s’mores authentically “American.” That is, by cramming as many charred, gooey marshmallows in between their digestive biscuits as they could. I also emphasized the importance of burning their marshmallows for optimal taste.

The s’mores went over well. They didn’t garner the ecstatic response T. and I’d wanted. But I like to think that we broadened some horizons.

Our group headed back home around midnight, to rest up before another day of weeding, washing, or whatever our hosts had planned for us.

**And I’ve got to say, those “Swedish s’mores” tasted much better than the American originals. The quality of ingredients was superior and the finished product rich and quite substantial. This might sound blasphemous, but consider switching out graham crackers for digestive biscuits, or thick, moderately sweet cookies, and Hershey’s with dark chocolate next time you want to make s’mores.

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