The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and IKEA Style Vegetable Medallions

by Darina on August 10, 2010

image @hollywood.com

There is a type of reading experience I yearn for, the kind where I pick up a novel and find myself transported completely, unable to put it down–work, chores, my own writing be damned. It’s an experience that most readers hope to have but rarely find, otherwise there would be a lot more avid readers in the world. Although I read voracious and enjoy a lot of the material that makes its way to my bedside table, rarely am I so fully immersed in a story where the characters are so engaging, the narrative drive so tightly focused, that I’m in a constant state of anxiety; where the characters seem like real people rather than simply metaphors for life.

I can think of few books that have had this effect on me. Gloria, by my mentor, Keith Maillard, was one of them. So was The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, the novel on which Anthony Minghella’s film was based. Highsmith also wrote Strangers on a Train, adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock; this caused her to be forever known as a mystery writer, which the Cleveland Plain Dealer so aptly observed was “like calling Picasso a draftsman”. A crime was often at the center of Highsmith’s works, but her novels were existential in nature. Graham Greene once said that Highsmith created worlds that were “claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger”.

So what does Patricia Highsmith have to do with Stieg Larsson, Swedish author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Apart from them both being labelled as crime writers, nothing. It’s just that despite my piles of books by Hemingway, Nabakov, and Kafka, I’ve always had a soft spot for this type of fiction. Fiction that allows me to unwind after a long day yet has my mind racing with curiosity and asking, what the hell is going on?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is more “literary” than most novels of its genre, employing a somewhat stark and minimalist style that is engaging despite the author’s tendency to pepper his prose with brand names and describe characters’ lunches in full detail (I can relate to that one!) And it seems like someone is drinking coffee on almost every page. Although the book is not as compulsively readable as Highsmith’s novels, I had a hard time putting it down and finished it off in a weekend. I’ve been trying to figure out why.

The trilogy has been hugely successful on a global scale, no doubt in part because the author died of a massive heart attack before its publication. As Larsson died without leaving a valid will, his father and brother inherited his whole estate, now worth twenty million euros and counting, while his common law partner of thirty two years got nothing. The battle in Sweden over the rights to Larsson’s literary estate has been going on for years and to this day is a hot topic.

Death magnifies fame. Would Marilyn Monroe be an icon were she still alive today, fat and having aged poorly, bound to a wheelchair a la Liz Taylor?  The specter of Stieg Larsson’s ghost looms in the pages of his novels, adding another layer of fascination to the unlikely crime-fighting duo of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. Though the mystery at the heart of the story is clever but not spectacular–anyone with a TV has seen it before–I suspect that these two characters  have contributed to the novels’ success as much as the untimely death of their author. Cross a Neo-Nazi fighting journalist with an anti-social multi-pierced and tattooed computer hacker and you have a powerful combination–Sherlock and Watson for the Information Age.

image @tribunenews.com

The Swedish setting also seems to add to the appeal–at least on this side of the pond. Somehow I think I might have found The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo less engaging had it taken place in Boston. As many North Americans, I have always envisioned Sweden–Scandanavia in general–as a near utopia, where women are equal to men, everyone has great furniture, and eats open-faced sandwiches for breakfast. Larsson paints quite a different picture. It’s rather telling that the original title in Swedish is “Men Who Hate Women”. Such a title would never sell to English-speaking audiences, and if it did, it would be found in the self-help section of the bookstore, right next to “Women Who Love too Much”.

I have yet to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the last installment of the trilogy. I’m saving it, like dessert after a particularly rich meal. I want to be hungry again so I can taste it.

IKEA Style Vegetable Medallions

I admit, I’ve long been a sucker for the cheap and chic coolness of an IKEA store. Mostly I like hanging out in the cafeteria. The food is never as good as it looks on the menu, but for half an hour on a busy Saturday morning, I can be transported to Stockholm, a city I’ve longed to visit.

These vegetable medallions are inspired by those currently served with their stuffed salmon–a perfect way to get your vegetables if you’re tired of salads and the same old, same old.

Ingredients:

2 pounds cauliflower, chopped

1/2 pound broccoli, chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 pound potato

5 ounces parmesan cheese

4 eggs

1/2 cup panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs

about ten chives, chopped

sea salt

pepper

dash paprika

dash celery seed

dash cumin

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 375F. Steam cauliflower and broccoli in an extra large pot until soft and mashable. In the meantime, saute the onions in butter over medium heat until brown and caramelized.

2) Boil the potato until soft, about twenty minutes. Drain and mash together with onions and chives in an extra large mixing bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3) Add broccoli and cauliflower to onion and potato mixture and mash as much as possible. Add the oil, eggs, bread crumbs, and seasonings. Stir well to combine.

4) Fill muffin tins to the top with the vegetable batter and press flat. Bake for thirty minutes, or until golden brown. Cool in tins. Run fork along the edges of the tin and pop out medallions carefully.

Kitchen Notes:

  • for gluten free medallions, substitute half a cup of corn meal for the panko
  • broccoli and cauliflower need to be mashed very well; a food processor would be very useful in this case
  • use a non-stick pan and grease it very well to prevent medallions from sticking
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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Simply Life August 11, 2010 at 2:50 am

I’ve been thinking about reading this book after seeing it everywhere – thanks for the info!

BEN GREGO August 11, 2010 at 6:57 am

Marilyn Monroe, if she were still alive today, fat? well, perhaps, but why does anyone automatically assume this? towards the end of her life she was relatively ‘healthy’, for her, after having had gall bladder surgery.she was watching her diet…..albeit still doing the drugs/alcohol, but what the heck, at least she was trying…..I think the aging Monroe would have become a fine character actress, mostly in comedy, as that was her strong suit, but with some dramatic roles here and there….and if she did gain weight in her later years, I’m sure that on her it would have looked good….and with the right hair/makeup and clothes, she’d have STILL been gorgeous!! I’d like to think she would have taught classes in how to perform in front of the still camera; she herself said that was her favorite means of expression; of course her movie career was important to her, but it was in front of the still camera that she really shined!! (or shone!)..Just look at ..”Marilyn Monroe – The Final Sitting, Unabridged”, the Bert Stern book, of over two thousand, five hundred photos (yes, you read right) and you will see a legacy from one of the still camera’s favorite people!!!

Darina August 11, 2010 at 8:40 am

I’m not assuming Marilyn would have ended up fat. I was simply wondering what her legacy would have been had she ended up like Liz Taylor. I don’t think her image would be the same. My point was simply–as I stated in my post–death magnifies fame; I could have used any number of celebrities who died before their time as an example, but I chose Marilyn because she was the first to pop into my mind. I agree that MM was amazing! She has always been my favorite actress.

Tia August 11, 2010 at 9:03 am

You’re right, Ikea food looks better than it tastes. espeically given the price, it’s always SUPER attractive. However, you can’t go too wrong with hotdogs and theirs are pretty good.

Darina August 11, 2010 at 9:06 am

It’s pretty pricey for cafeteria food, Tia. I agree with you on that one. I love their Daim cake, though. Yum!

Joanna August 13, 2010 at 4:50 am

Loved this book and loved the film version, as different as it was. I wish the Hollywood studios weren’t making another one, but I guess the figure it’s a cash cow! Too bad that means tons of Americans won’t bother watching the original!

Darina August 13, 2010 at 7:15 am

I agree with you there. I have a feeling they will ruin it, too. But they’ve cast Daniel Craig as Blomqvist, which actually seems like a fitting choice.

gastroanthropologist August 20, 2010 at 2:21 am

I read all three books within a matter of weeks this past winter and even finished the last book in Sweden which was a real treat because I got to put a real picture to some of the places. I saw the film a few weeks ago and it was great, but nothing compared to the books. Its a shame its being remade by Hollywood, but I must admit I’ll definitely go see it. Do you know if the Swedes will continue to make the rest of the books in movies?

Rumor has it that Larsson left a few more books on his laptop…

Darina August 20, 2010 at 7:52 am

A, he has a 4th one that is about half finished and the laptop is in the hands of his partner. The speculation is that she had a lot to do with the writing process and editing of his books, so maybe she will finish them? I liked the books better, too, and I have been holding off reading the third. He writes in detail about locale in his novels so you were lucky to go to Sweden! Whenever I travel I always bring a book by an author of that country, or a novel that is set there. There was a good article in the New York Times on SL. If you Google it, I’m sure you’ll find it.

gastroanthropologist August 25, 2010 at 11:40 am

Ah, thanks for the info and I’ll look up the NYT article. The second Swedish version of the movie comes out in London this week I think… Smart to save the third book…I blasted through them one after another and now I wish I had taken my time!

SwedishCornerDownUnder...Pernilla November 6, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Thank you so much for posting a recipe of those yummy IKEA style vegetable medallions. I went to IKEA three times this week and had the salmon for lunch all three times – don’t know what I enjoy the most, the salmon or the medallions lol. I will definitely try to make the veggie medallions one day!

Greetings from a Swede in Australia♥

…I haven’t read the triology yet. I only watched the first movie on DVD – sooo good! I like the original titel better than the new one, it’s very suitable… but then again, I understand why they changed it for the overseas market.

Ron Sawyer February 6, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Thanks for posting the recipe. It tasted quite yummy even though I forgot to include the parmesan cheese. In my defence, you didn’t have it included in the directions, only in the list of ingredients. I quickly skimmed over the directions so I didn’t notice. I just made a slightly healthier version but I was still quite pleased. Your recipe was the best one I found on the Net.

Darina February 8, 2012 at 10:49 am

Thank you so much for the comment and for pointing out the error. After my eyes look at something for so long, I tend to miss things. I will make the correction. Glad you are enjoying the recipes. Let me know how you like it with parmesan.

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