From the Belle Tower | One more item checked off the bucket list

03/08/2013 12:00 AM

03/05/2013 9:44 AM

On my bucket list was a something quite challenging, at least for me. Tandem skydiving? Hiking the Appalachian Trail? African safari? Have we met? Y’all know I don’t have any of that high-minded physical exertion stuff on my list. No, no.

Before I get completely dotty and check into the Gardens of Despair Nursing Home Out By The Interstate Highway, I simply had to eat the Swedish meatballs at IKEA. It wasn’t as easy as you might think because the nearest IKEA is a wretchedly dull four-hour drive from my home in Wilmington, N.C., to the big city of Charlotte.

Until you have actually driven this road, you can scarcely imagine such a mind-numbingly dull expanse of scrub pine and substandard housing but, woops, there it is. Hour upon hour with only the occasional “wake up Fool!” strips on the pavement to relieve the monotony. Thank you, D.O.T.

I’m exaggerating, of course, but not by much. There are darling towns off the main highway that are fun to explore. (“Turn here! See Sausage Made!”) but the highway itself, well, only the promise of horse-free meatballs and sleek, well-priced home furnishings (plus super cute juice glasses for a dollar!) made the drive worthwhile.

I’ve heard that Charlotte also contains stadiums, museums and nice restaurants but, really, why eat anywhere else but a furniture store, am I right?

It was only a tiny deterrent that, last week, the meatballs at IKEA stores in Europe were found to contain horsemeat. Hysteria ensued. Europeans are so very particular about their food. And yet, haggis. Go figure.

A spokesman’s lukewarm words of comfort reminded me of the (very) old Monty Python skit. The restaurant guest asks what’s on the menu and the server responds: “Rat pudding, rat pie and strawberry tart.” Visibly upset, the diner says, “Strawberry tart???” and the server says, “Well, its got some rat in it.”

Maybe you had to be there.

One place I had to be was IKEA. And I’m happy to say that it has now been safely checked off the bucket list. The meatballs, 15 of ‘em, served with mashed potatoes and lingonberries were delicious. IKEA is somewhat obsessed with lingonberries because they apparently grow plentifully in Swedenville.

The only other place I’ve ever seen lingonberries was at a pancake house at Dollywood (OK, also a bucket list item; I told you I like to aim low).

My friend, Lisa, also an IKEA virgin and a vegetarian, was pleased to see meat-free options. Most involved lingonberries.

We were Donner-party levels of hungry as we lined up behind one of those families where the kids get to make all the decisions. (“Atticus, what type of pickled herring would you like? Take your time; everyone can wait.”) Our nails grew while the kid pondered. Finally, I moved my tray around all of them earning a home-school stinkeye from the mom. Whatever. I haven’t got all day. There’s more on that list.

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