How many Billy Bookshelves does the average person buy in a lifetime? I asked myself as I drove towards the new IKEA that has opened outside Avignon. Every place that I have lived, L.A, London and now France I have bought a set to hold my books. They are cheap, do the job, (as long as you remember to keep the heavy books on the bottom shelf otherwise the chip board splits) and you can leave them behind when you leave.
I was meeting my friends Neassa and Julie for what was meant to be a day out, but as I grappled with bad time management, slow traffic, and getting lost, I wondered what it was that had made me think that this was going to be fun? Was this not everything I hate, mass consumerism on an industrial level?
Having driven twice round the wrong zone industriel, I asked for directions and eventually found my way, over the dual carriageway and onto another zone, to the unmistakable blue building with its giant yellow letters (which stand for Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd, the name of the founder, his farm and area of Sweden where he came from, now you know!). I parked the car and headed to the entrance where my friends were waiting for me with smiles and compassion, even though I was the one who was 45 minutes late. They let me rant as they whisked me straight upstairs to the cafeteria for lunch; we stood in line and looked at all the various salads and options on offer, but we all knew what we were going to have……Swedish meatballs of course! Luckily, this being France, they also served wine by the glass, which I was in dire need of to calm my rattled nerves!
Neassa, it turned out, was quite the experienced IKEA shopper and showed Julie and I how to stack our lunch trays into the little trolleys, where to get mustard and how to work the drinks machines. Over lunch she admitted that she used to fly from Dublin to Glasgow with her sister for the day to go to IKEA, before they built the one in Dublin!
Having finished the meatballs, downed the glass of wine and tucked into a shared macaroon, (I love how they do these local touches, to remind you which country you’re in) everything was once again all all right and I was able to relax and let the IKEA World in. The shopping could begin!
We started in the cooking department where we stayed for a good 45 minutes looking at all the sparkling glasses, the pretty paper napkins, colourful crockery, clever gadgets, mixing bowls and saucepans; all of which promised to enhance my cooking and baking skills (it’s just a plastic chopping board Julie to Angela).
Next was the bed linen section, where we also lingered quite a while; I wondered how my life might be improved with a malleable pillow or a fluffy under sheet, would I not sleep better and therefore have a more productive day, if I had one? Would this not lead to a more creative and eventually successful life? What about new clean sheets and duvet covers that hadn’t lost their buttons or gone a streaky blue in the wash? Would these not hugely benefit my life?
We finished downstairs and went upstairs, (crazy people that we are, we were doing it in the wrong order) and went through the living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen showrooms. It was like playing in a giant sized dolls house, where all the normal travails of life are swept away and problems solved with clever units and stowaway solutions.
Whilst we were there we bumped into people we knew and got lost and found each other again, stopped for coffee and carried on shopping. At one point I caught myself looking at the black and white photos of the designers and for a split second, wondered how I might live my life over, go to furniture design college and join the IKEA designer family, so I might always live in a house like this, where life is beautiful, Swedish and ordered.
Neassa and I were looking for a washing bowl that we couldn’t find anywhere, even though we’d seen them displayed in the kitchen section and in the catalogue; everyone we asked kept sending us to other departments and by the end we must have walked round the store two or three times in our search. Finally we gave up and decided it was time to go home and headed to the check out where we were shocked to realise that we had been in the store for six hours! How had that happened? And how come we hadn’t got the one thing we had come for? It was too much for Neassa to bear and as we were standing in line she decided to make one last attempt to find them; she went racing off and was gone for quite a while and just as I was wondering how I was going to pay for her purchases that I had put onto the conveyor belt, she came flying down the shopfloor, triumphantly wielding two black washing up bowls; success at last! Now that’s what I call determination!
I left Julie and Neassa in the food section buying frozen meatballs and lingonberry jam to take home; I decided to resist and left them to it, I’d had my fill, until the next visit of course.
Later I was proudly showing the Artist all I had bought, first up was the Parmesan grater that you fix over a tin, “You can just put the lid on the tin if you’ve grated too much,” I said.
“But how d’you stop it from being forgotten at the back of the fridge?” he asked (some people are so cynical).
Then I showed him the kitchen scales.
“Haven’t you got two sets already?”
“Not digital ones like this,” I said, “It does both metric and imperial and it takes the weight back to zero so you can keep adding things to the bowl as you go along.”
Then there was the egg timer, (What’s wrong with the one you’ve already got? Its not yellow and it doesn’t ping) the soap dishes, the toilet roll holders, a doormat, a bag of candles…..
“Did you buy any meatballs?” He interrupted.
“I didn’t know you wanted any” Sometimes you just can’t win!
Here’s a recipe for making your own meatballs.
- 250g minced pork
- 250g minced beef or vea
- (or you can use just pork)
- One small onion or I/2 large one, chopped finely
- 2 slices of stale bread crusts removed
- or 60gms breadcrumbs
- 250ml of milk (or enough to cover bread)
- I egg
- Pinch of Allspice
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 10 gm chopped parsley
- (or other herb that you prefer, dill might make it more Swedish)
- 2 tbl Olive Oil
For the sauce
- 300 ml beef or veal Stock
- (home made or stockcube)
- 1 tbs flour
- 60 ml cream or crème fraîche (optional)
- Lingonberry Jam or Redcurrant Jelly
Pour enough milk over the bread slices to cover them and let them soak for five minutes or so.
Finely chop the onion and mix with the mince, the egg, Allspice, salt and pepper. Add the soaked bread with the milk. Make sure your hands are clean and get in their and mush it all together.
Then form the mixture into balls, whatever size you want, remembering that they will shrink a bit. You can now put them in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up, or continue on to the next stage.
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and when it is hot, drop in the meatballs and fry until brown on all sides
Remove the meatballs from the pan, pour away excess fat or any burnt bits, and stir in the flour. Mix this in, scraping up any bits stuck to the pan and then gradually add the stock, stirring all the time to avoid lumps. Bring up the heat and continue stirring. When the sauce starts to thicken, add the lingonberry jam and the crème fraîche, or cream, or neither. I’m not keen on creamy sauces, so added a slosh of red wine instead, to give it a French twist and used rosehip jelly, (as I’d skipped the lingonberry jam section) which my friend Celia had made.
There are many different versions of meatballs and they are made the World over. My mother who was German, and sadly passed away exactly a year ago, used to made what she called Buletten, which we anglicised to ‘Bullets’. She made them as above but shaped them more like small hamburgers and served them without a sauce with mashed or boiled potatoes and vegetables. I also remember when I was young, a woman who sometimes looked after us as children during the holidays, Frau Messersmidt, used to make them by dropping them into boiling water and then adding a white sauce. The variations are endless.
Whilst in IKEA I came across Phillip and Jude Reddaway who own a beautiful old priory called La Madelène from which they conduct wine tours of the Rhône region. I did a three day course with them two years ago and learned a lot about the local wines and so I asked Phillip to pair a wine with the meatballs and this is what he came up with.
“At this time of year I`d go for a red and one not too grand/expensive, not overly intense – in fact a good Cotes du Rhone or better still a Beaumes de Venise Cru level red. The latter is made in the village better know for sweet muscats but their reds – elevated to Cru level in 2005 – are fruity and fresh , with more acidity and zip than say a Gigondas or a Vacqueyras. Excellent examples are made by Domaine des Bernardins, Chateau Redortier and Domaine Pigeade, the price around €6-8. The freshness should marry well with the slight spiciness of the meatballs. In a few months time when our weather has started to warm up I might go for a Tavel rosé, a style full of summer fruit flavours but with sufficient weight to pair with a meat course. My tip: the Tavels from Domaine Maby, price around €8.”