WND – Asparagus & Sequins

May 21, 2009


There are a lot of things to miss about living in Europe.

There’s the fact that in France and Italy even in the most run down bar with the sketchiest clientele, you are still guaranteed a good cup of coffee.

There’s the fact that even in Heathrow’s dingiest terminal at 6am (Terminal 4 – the one you fly out of to get to Malta – if you’re curious) you can still get an excellent fry up and tea made with boiling water poured over tea in the pot and then brought to the table. The sequence is important, because it’s in contrast to the dire American habit of bringing you a cup of microwaved water with a tea bag sitting next to it. You cannot achieve a good cup of tea this way, and one of the reasons that our favorite diner is our favorite diner is because they understand this. Also, they make really excellent sweet potato pancakes.

There’s the fact that buttered bread with chocolate sprinkles is a perfectly acceptable breakfast in the Netherlands. And, if you don’t have hagelslag for breakfast, there’s a chance that you might get to have raisin bread stuffed with almond paste and topped with a slice of sharp cheese instead.

There’s the fact that while Belguim is the butt of 90% of jokes told in Western Europe and my father maintains that their contribution to the battle of Waterloo was to stand around eating frites (probably with mayonnaise), the food is universally excellent and since the institution of the Euro stopping in Belgium on your way to somewhere else to eat lunch no longer leaves you with a pocketful of useless Belgian francs.

There’s the fact that Mediterranean cultures still believe in a midday siesta, and in Italy the preferred afternoon snack is gelato.

There’s the fact that the most perfect meal in the world is tiny grilled lamb chops seasoned with rosemary and olive oil, and it can be found in pretty much every restaurant in the Peloponnesus and is always excellent.

However, of all the perfectly valid reasons to miss living in Europe, come May the thing I actually miss the most is the Eurovision Song Contest.

The Eurovision Song Contest is annual proof that Europe may have a common currency and open borders, but when it comes to the important things everyone still dislikes and distrusts each other. I find this comforting, particularly since I still dislike the Euro even though I concede its utility.

There is nothing quite like the Eurovision Song Contest in America. It’s a combination of the singing talent of American Idol, the sequins and dance routines of the Miss American Pageant and the voting rules of the Electoral College. It’s been around since 1956, which is mildly mind boggling. It’s consistently one of the highest rated evenings of television in Europe, which isn’t mind boggling at all, particularly if you’ve ever actually tried to watch French or Italian TV. Thus far the only European countries that have never participated in the contest are Liechtenstein, Kosovo and Vatican City. Vatican City makes sense (although I’d pay good money to see the Vatican front a group for Eurovision), but I’m not sure why Kosovo and Liechtenstein think they’re above the insanity. Nor am I entirely clear why Israel counts as a European nation for the purposes of the Eurovision Song Contest, but it competes every year*.

For reasons that I find unfathomable Eurovision isn’t broadcast by anyone in the US – I really think this a marketing opportunity that BBC America is missing out on – so I watched it as a streaming broadcast on Sunday night, much to my roommate’s bemusement. This was faster than watching it live, since it meant I could skip the boring ballads, but on the other hand I missed out on the partisan commentary. For my money the British commentary is the best because nobody does scathing like the British when they’re trash talking the continent.

Norway won this year. Technically speaking they may have had one of the more talented singers, but I think Armenia was robbed. I think Armenia should have won for perfectly capturing that elusive combination of sequins, national identity and completely inappropriate pop song that is the hallmark of the Eurovision Song Contest. Most of the Western European nations took themselves far too seriously, with solo female artists in long black evening gowns singing soulfully (yes, France and Malta I’m looking at you). The lower the average GDP of the country performing, the most outrageously awesome the performances got – thank you, Moldova for the sparkly green sequined lederhosen, and Albania for the faceless sequined dancing Gumby, and bless you Ukraine for the go-go boys in gladiator costumes. I’m attributing Germany’s highly entertaining performance of Miss Kiss Kiss Bang – with the cabaret dancers who looked like they’d escaped from the set of “The Producers” and the sparkly sparkly pants the singer was wearing – to the lingering influence of East Germany.

I’d love to now be able to say that Dinner is the food embodiment of sparkly bad pop except that I cannot even begin to imagine what that food would look like. Okay, I lie. It would probably look like a menu created by Sanda Lee, and while I agree that copious amounts of alcohol probably makes the Eurovision Song Contest even funnier, we did a Sandra Lee dinner once and it was more challenging than anticipated** and I don’t feel like putting us all through that again. Instead Dinner is gently encouraging the weather to remain Spring-like, with (local) asparagus and basil and (optimistic) tomatoes.

* Apparently (thank you Wikipedia) entrance to the Eurovision Song Contest has nothing to do with being European, it’s determined by membership in the broadcasting network, and Israel is a part of it. Go figure.

** There are upwards of 1000 recipes by Sandra Lee on foodtv.com and once we’d discarded the ones that involved ingredients people were allergic to and eliminated the recipes we just couldn’t bring ourselves to make, we were left with approximately seven recipes.

Basil & Gruyere Crusted Chicken
Egg noodles
Tomatoes with Mozzarella

Basil & Gruyere Crusted Chicken
This lacks aesthetic appeal on the platter, but it’s very tasty. I’m not sure what you’d need to do to make it more attractive, maybe if you rolled the chicken with the filling and then baked it?

Recipe previously given: Basil & Gruyere Crusted Chicken


Tomatoes & Mozzarella
Pretty good tomatoes all things considered.

t&m composite





  1. Well, I am quite pleased to report that the item that I started downloading last night and finished downloading just now is, in fact, the complete 3-hour Eurovision Final, hosted by Graham Norton. Do I see a Eurovision party/dinner in our future?!?

    • Yes please.

  2. Holy crap! Can we watch excerpts when I come to Boston? This post made me laugh harder than any other food blog ever.

    • Who am I to deprive someone of their first taste of Eurovision?

  3. Did you know that the “Norwegian” winner, Alexander Rybak, is a Russian born in Belarus (Minsk) who grew up outside Oslo.

    I loved the comment about Eurovision from a blogger, Ben Widdicombe “…you might come for the terrible music, but you’ll stay for the bad costumes and ridiculous dancing.”

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