So you can't actually buy a ticket to Scandinavia yet, because your next trip is months or even years away. But you're nostalgic for the half-timbered villages of Denmark, the sunlit fjords of Norway, the lingonberry-filled pancakes of Sweden. Or maybe that special Finn hasn't come through for you yet and invited you back to his or her home for the candlelit sweetness of Christmas.
And you can't quite curb the hankering for comfort food (meatballs and gravy and potatoes and sweets) or your yen for finely crafted porcelain, glass, jewelry, sweaters, and embroidered linens that you remember from a trip to Scandinavia, or a Danish grandmother, or a Swedish lover whose waffles filled you with ardor. You rent Babette's Feast and My Life as a Dog and Smilla's Sense of Snow and you shudder, enchanted, under a blanket as you watch Smilla jump from ice floe to ice floe. Your mouth waters as you see the Danish villagers sup on Babette's luscious spreads.
But you can't get enough that way.
This is when you up and pay a visit to Scandia Imports or Nordic House, the East Bay's two homegrown purveyors of Scandinavian goods. Both are owned by expatriates who proudly stock all the nonperishable items that their homelands will send. Scandia Imports (1268 Solano Avenue, Albany) has been located on the same corner for 48 years. It might just be the oldest Scandinavian gift store in California, and its proprietor will speak to you in Norwegian if you have even the remotest resemblance to a Norseman. He offers the best Norway has to offer in the form of Royal pewter, stainless jam spoons and cake servers, jewelry and watches, charmingly hideous trolls, and calendars featuring twelve months' worth of landscapes from the land of the midnight sun.
In December the place bustles with shoppers eager to try the cookies and hot glögg that fills the store with spiced warmth. If you don't yet have holiday party plans, you will definitely make some while you sip the wine and then eat the nuts and raisins from the bottom of your cup -- this stuff is just too good to not have a party planned around it.
A little bigger and more culinary is Oakland's Nordic House (3421 Telegraph). It is owned by Danes and stocked with all the pantry items that one might ordinarily see on the shelves in a Danish grocery store: dense black bread, pickled herring, pork sausages, red cabbage, red currant juice, and of course that sweet treat that is peculiar to Nordic taste buds: black licorice.
The storefront is dwarfed by a much bigger neighbor whose shelves offer nothing but sugary goodies: Neldam's so-called Danish Bakery will tempt you with raspberry-and-almond medallions, birthday and wedding cakes, cookies, turnovers, and their best-seller: strawberry shortcake. Some items here are decidedly non-Danish -- like challah loaves, coffee served in Styrofoam cups, and purple Barney cookies. But what you can't find at Neldam's will surely turn up next door at Nordic House: marzipan candies and pancake mix and æbleskiver mix sit side by side with berry jams and cookie presses. And, for that homesick Viking who just really can't get enough: neckties, rolling pins, mugs with pastoral troll scenes on them, and license-plate frames asking, "Have You Driven a Fjord lately?"
-- Kristianna Bertelsen