30 October, 2009

Happy (almost) Halloween

Punkins at the outdoor market at Sergels Torg a week or so ago

We're going to a costume party. If any of you have seen Stu's facebook lately, you know what he is planning to be. I, on the other hand, have NO idea what to dress up as. And we, as Americans, are expected to be awesome at the whole costume thing (because Halloween is not a Swedish thing, as my classmates have reminded me a million times this week.)  But I walked down Drottninggatan yesterday (while soaking up some sun...real sun!) past the party store Buttericks, and there was a LINE out the door. With security guards manning the people traffic!! You can't tell me Swedes *don't* get into Halloween, because those certainly weren't all Americans lining up to get into a costume shop.

So I'm open to ideas. The sun is out again today, so its the perfect excuse to go for a walk to find some costume-making ingredients.  Will post pictures if it is a successful endeavor.

In the meantime, happy halloween!

29 October, 2009

Sun, sun, sun, sun, sun, sun!

Its been a rainy week, and I haven't seen the sun for days. But its out this morning!!  Thats worth posting about, I think.

I'm done with working regularly. And my last day as a "barnflicka" went out with a bang...the 3-year-old girl peed her pants in the living room before I could airlift her to a toilet. Not only did she pee her pants, but also her socks and the rain boots she was wearing. And then her 1-year-old brother tried to "help" me mop up the pee with his sleeves. How much fun did I have cleaning on Tuesday!?!?  She wasn't even upset about wetting herself, but she cried like a banshee because her last bite of pepparkakor (cookie) fell in her puddle. Fun times.
But to celebrate, Stu cooked me dinner all by himself and took me to see "Julie/Julia" (he got to see Zombieland, so I got to see a chick-flick about Julia Child, who is the awesomest. Its fair.)

I also started Swedish classes this week. Its called SFI, Swedish for Immigrants, and its free. In fact, Im told that the government used to *pay* immigrants to take Swedish language courses to help them assimilate, but not no more. The teacher is really enthusiastic and she speaks only in Swedish, which is great! So far, its a mix of cultures and ages in the class, but everyone speaks perfect English, so some of the horror stories I've heard don't seem to be pervasive. We'll see how it goes...

26 October, 2009

Hey wait, its DC bars that are known for inescapable political blathering

Its exam time in Swedish higher education. Not for Stu & I, with our bizarre module schedules, but we both did get our grades from the first course this week. Out of grades A-F (and yes, that includes the possibility of getting an E or an Fx grade) I got a B. Which was the highest in the class, apparently. And Stu also got a "pass," which meant he didn't fail (they won't get real letter grades for a while, as I understand it.)

Anyway, the end of exam time coincided with pay day here. Swedes get paid once per month, on or around the 25th. And people get *very* excited about pay day.  So we had a few friends over to our apartment for wine on Friday and then went out to a fancypants bar in Stureplan to meet up with more friends to celebrate the end of exams (but not for us), payday (again, not for us) and our friend RV's 30th birthday.

Stureplan is where lots of pretty people hang out, and spend too much on cover charges to get into clubs that are too loud to talk in. I prefer dive bars (I still miss the Raven and Wonderland...haven't yet found acceptable equivalents here, though Södermalm probably has a few close competitors.)  But it was RV's birthday, and he had a handful of American friends fly in to help him celebrate, so he wanted to show them a posh time, apparently. Not to mention these guys are lawyers or something with 6-figure salaries, so this was probably up to their normal standard.

So I sat down next to this bearded burly American and introduced myself. Turns out, they all live in DC, so it was easy to strike up conversation.  Stu immediately got bored with this guy, and I suppose thats not saying much, but I should have taken cue. We did the whole "why are you in Sweden" thing, and he talked about how much he likes Stockholm so far.

Then he asked me what I did in the US before moving to Sweden, and I had barely gotten the words "...worked at a nonprofit by the White House" out of my mouth before he started shaking his head, and saying "Oooooh, one of thooooose."  Turns out we have vastly different political views, and he was the kind of person who wants to push his politics on you if you don't agree in the first 5 minutes of meeting you. Obviously, he stereotyped me from my "nonprofit" comment right off the bat. He proceeded to drone about how he didn't want to pay for health care for the entire country and blah, blah, blah (bored me just re-typing what he said.) And I thought, YOU ARE IN SWEDEN, you moron...they live this way and it works for them! 

Anyway, not to get further into a political debate (turns out we did agree on a few points that our "party lines" might not normally allow) but it struck me as funny. DC is a political town, where the first question you are asked in a bar is "so what do you do?"
Stockholm is not that way, from my limited 2.5 month experience. I have rarely been asked what I did for work in the US...very few people actually know that I am a librarian. I have not been asked at all (or stereotyped, for that matter) about what my politics are.  But you throw two District of Columbians (what do we call ourselves, I have no idea!?!) together in a bar in Europe, and we still seem to find that question as important in the first 5 minutes, and one on which we judge each other!

We carried on a fairly civilized conversation afterward, as he managed to redeem himself by buying me a beer (I am easy to please) and describing how the birthday-celebrating group accidentally found themselves at a cougar bar the night before. They were so drunk that they stumbled into Golden Oldies, even got carded by the bouncer who point-blank said "Are you sure you want to come in here?" and promptly charged them each 180kr cover when they beligerently answered "yes, we're here to drink!" (thats about $25 per person, to walk in the door!) They were the youngest by 25 years.
I laughed. And I actually learned from him...avoid Golden Oldies.  We even managed to meet up with them on Saturday night, at a much less pretentious place with extremely good sangria. And there was no political engagement at all. We all played nice.

Until talking with this guy, I had forgotten this aspect of DC politics...that it is nearly inescapable in that city.  Even more interesting, now that I think about it, is that in Sweden of all places, I meet one of the 3% of district residents who did NOT vote for Obama.

Regardless, my thoughts on this: I am happy with my grades, I wish I got paid so that I could enjoy payday, I like meeting new people no matter what their politics, I miss and I don't miss DC, the weekend was a blast, Monday comes too soon, and Stu is usually right.

And happy birthday to my dad.

23 October, 2009

Sweden likes equality

The Lutheran Church of Sweden approved same sex weddings yesterday. The government legalized it last May. Yay, Sweden!

DC recognizes same sex marriages from other states, and is hopefully not far from performing them in the District. Wish we could say the same of about 40 other state governments...

22 October, 2009

The frustrations of flat f*&%ing cookies

Thats it. I am no longer attempting to bake cookies on Swedish soil without Arm & Hammer.

I am in the middle of an art theory class which makes me want to bang my head against a wall, so I have been coming up with lame excuses to *not* read the chapter on semiotics in the late-modern. I know, I'm such a grown-up. Yesterday, I rearranged the living room furniture all by myself for no good reason other than I didn't want to read about minimalism (that pull-out couch is like a ton of bricks, too.)

Today, I decided to make cookies. These cookies, specifically. Needing exactly 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda, which is *supposed* to be similar to the Swedish bikarbonat, so thats what I used. It is rainy and chilly today, and I figured it'd take at least 20 minutes to go buy the walnuts and raisins, and a good chunk of time to grate carrots and make the dough. And because tiny Swedish ovens such as ours are configured with only ONE baking rack (seriously?!?) it would take at least 4 or 5 rounds of 12 minute baking cycles to bake all of the cookies. So I was looking at a nice hour and a half of non-reading time.
I should probably get my head checked, I know. Just read the damn book!
And I felt even dumber after taking that first round of what should have been plump, moist lovely little mounds of carrot cake cookies out of the oven. Flat as pancakes. And not fluffy American pancakes, *Swedish* pancakes (so, flat as crepes.) With little nubs of walnuts and raisins making the only 3-dimensional forms on the sheet.


There was no saving them, either. They had started to get brown & crispy on the edges, but the centers were still too soft, so I had to scrape them off the sheet onto a plate in one amorphous pile of carrot-y, cinnamon-y mess.  But what do you do with an entire bowl full of dough? It was good, but I couldn't eat the whole thing raw (I thought of it, though!) I dumped it all into a small loaf pan, and I have a feeling that it too will be an utter failure.

Stu had a brilliant suggestion: to use it as ice cream topping. So I'll stop by and get a tub of vanilj glass on the way home from work tonight. Seriously, no more baking soda disasters. How do Swedes make cookies? They can't all be flat pepparkakor?!?

21 October, 2009

Elk and lattes

First, the lattes. Nothing to get TOO excited about, but Starbucks has just announced it is opening its first store in Sweden...in Arlanda airport in Stockholm. Too far from me to get a pumpkin spice latte fix, but pretty convenient for when we travel. And one of these days, that will actually happen.  We both have a 3-week break between Dec 18 and Jan 11, so we are thinking some place warm and/or sunny.  Any suggestions?

And I made elk for dinner last night. Not for Stu, but for the 3 Swedish kids, unappreciative of the occasion though they were. I had never cooked an elk before! Never even eaten it, in fact. Scandinavians are big fans of wild game, though. When we were in Oslo, we went to a semi-traditional Norwegian place for dinner, and I had moose stew and a few bites of SAK's reindeer (which, while she ate it, she happily sang "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to thoroughly gross us all out.)

The family just started getting a food service that delivers all the ingredients and recipes for dinners each week. A great idea, in theory. Of course, the recipes are IN SWEDISH, so I have to muddle through them to make something edible to a 3-year-old, which would be a challenge even if they were in English, since these are not kid-friendly meals (these kids don't eat cauliflower, much less kohlrabi!!)

So I chose one of the simpler-looking possibilities...a pasta-and-meat-sauce type recipe, but with ground elk. Or älg in Swedish. It smells pretty terrible while its actually cooking. But holy crap, was it good when thrown together with some garlic and onions and crushed tomatoes!  I have never eaten much meat, and for about a year or two, I was a full-on vegetarian. But since being in Sweden, I have reverted and am thoroughly enjoying being a carnivore. Or omnivore, technically. I haven't given up vegetables entirely.

Anyway, I have learned the hard way that I have to present food to these kids a certain way so that they don't have a complete melt-down at the dinner table. So the pasta was served on colorful dinnerware, and the meat sauce in all its elk-y glory pushed way over on the other side of the plate (not touching), with the giant squeeze-y bottle of Heinz Ketchup acting as mediator before anyone could utter a "bleh bleh" about dinner. Aaaannnnnnnddddd....

they still didn't eat it. It was chaos. Hopefully, the parents enjoyed my attempt, since there was an entire pan of elk sauce left untouched. But I think it was a gateway meat.  Watch out, I might have *Stu* cooking it soon...

19 October, 2009

More random pictures of Stockholm

Thought my dad might get a kick out of this street, in our old neighborhood...

Stockholm tourist shop...tax free underwear and Dala horses!

A bakery that we meant to go back to, but haven't yet. And a first dinner at our new place.

And Svea, on a manhole cover.

15 October, 2009

and a BIG thank you

To SAK, for bringing us the giantest jar of JIF peanut butter ever (all the way to Oslo), and to her dad BK, for buying the us the giantest jar of JIF ever, and to my dad DG, for passing on the info about us needing the giantest jar ever.

Jar of honey included to indicate actual size

I didn't even realize the Swedish peanut butter I had found tasted not-quite-right until I had some American peanut butter. It was just SO right.  Tack!!

Stockholm ran out of money...

...and the library will stay as is! 

We live a stone's throw from stadsbiblioteket, the Stockholm main city library. Its lovely. Built in the 1920s, it has a huge round orangey drum, and the books are shelved in the round. Very cool. When I am done getting paid for working in a few weeks, I am thinking of volunteering there a few hours a week, just so I don't lose my librarian skillz. 

Anyway, there was a push to update and expand the library, which led to a design competition, and the winning design would have demolished parts of the historic building. This led to a big debate in the city, and even UNESCO's cultural heritage board Icomos threw in their 2 öre to say that the building was too exceptional and the architect (Gunnar Asplund) too respected for the proposed changes. 

Sound familiar? DC went through the exact same arguments around the same time with the main Martin Luther King Jr library...famous, venerated architect (Mies van der Rohe), plagued by problems and no longer fitting users' needs. Because of all this, MLK library is now on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Apparently, the city council thought function should come before form, and they have been hard-pressed for this expansion to happen. But this week, it was reported that the venture is just too expensive, and plans have been scrapped (didn't that happen with the Corcoran's Gehry, too?) I am so happy to hear this!  My opinion is too biased to count, though, because I LOVE this building (not to mention wanting to avoid 2+ years of construction in my 'hood.) And I think the Mies van der Rohe is ugly as sin, and a terrible library, so I am all for a revamp in DC.

14 October, 2009

Its snowing in Stockholm

Its October 14th. I *want* to be excited, but its ONLY OCTOBER 14TH! I talked to my sister yesterday, who said it was 70+ in DC.

12 October, 2009

Adventures in Cooking

We try to teach Stu about the wonders of cooking. He's coming along. With a few minor (burned) experiments along the way of course.


A: You saute some mushrooms and then add a little crème fraiche.

S: ...Ah, c
rème fraiche. Of course... Is that like fresh cream?

A: No, it's like a thinner sour cream.

S: So by fresh it's meant sour?

A: Yes.

He still has a long way to go. And you thought we had troubles with fil.

A small selection of pictures from Oslo

Oslo weekend

And yes, a Norwegian taught us how to accurately spell Stu's last name.

09 October, 2009

Oslo weekend

We are heading to Norway today! We are taking the train from Stockholm Central, so there will 6 blissful hours of study-time each way. We plan to check out the Munch museum, lots of walking, maybe the new Opera House, eat some moose. Maybe we will even figure out how Stu's last name was originally spelled in Norwegian while there...

Back on Sunday with pictures & stories!

07 October, 2009


Uh huh, if you were ever a Swedish child (or are still one), you would know that the title of this post means 'poop'.

I am a barnflicka for 3 lovely Swedish children (which again, literally translates to children-girl, but is just as odd as us saying babysitter...I don't actually sit on any babies. Usually.)

Surprisingly, the 6-year-old is very well-mannered. The state would like to think it has something to do with its anti-spanking laws, however, these kids spent more time in Chicago than Stockholm. But he really just wants to talk with me in English about my (read: Stu's) video game collection. However, the 3-year-old girl is in a poop phase. And every other word out of her mouth has something to do with 'Bajs' (pronounced Bice, like Bo. Is that an American Idol reference coming out of me? Yikes.) And she is teaching her little brother all about it. We stroller from daycare to the oldest boy's school and back again, through the streets of Östermalm (read: rich people neighborhood) singing songs about Bajs. Both kids, at the top of their lungs. Strangers look at us funny.

And Swedish kids have all sorts of names for all sorts of bajs. My personal favorite is bajs korv, which means poop sausage. And when you walk down almost any Stockholm street, you can't help but run into the staple of Sthlm street food, the Korv vendors. I have looked at them differently lately. At your own risk, a YouTube song about Bajs Korv (It might also make you think about apple pie differently.)

I've been educated in bajs bullar (poop balls) and bajsig (poopy) and hallonbajs (raspberry poop). You get the picture. But the highlight of my week was bathing the littlest Swede on Monday. He was happily swimming, playing with a little whale, not singing or thinking about bajs at all.

And then he pooped in the bathtub.

04 October, 2009

...and I changed the layout a little

New picture, more Stockholm-y than the jars of apples.

I wish there were some way to make the text blocks wider on the screen...they feel too narrow when you plunk pictures in the posts.

Kanelbullens Dag

It is October 4, 'officially' Kanelbullens Dag in Sweden, or Cinnamon Bun Day!

We arrived exactly 2 months ago in Stockholm, and today was my first experience ever baking the buns. I'm not sure that I shared my frustrations on the blog about baking cookies, but let's just say my endeavors all turned out very, very flat. I used a US recipe which called for baking soda, but all I could find was baking powder/bakpulver. I'm no chemist, but I thought they were fairly interchangeable. They were pretty tasty, but not the soft, cake-like molasses cookie deliciousness from the picture. I have since found bikarbonat, but it is sold in teeny, tiny packets, not like the giant yellow boxes of Arm & Hammer. And it still yielded very flat cookies.

So this morning I was determined to make the best buns ever. Stu said I woke up talking about baking. Actually, I even went to the store for ingredients BEFORE having coffee this morning, which is very, very unlike me. I cannot function without coffee.

I went to the ICA that has a fairly large baking section. Asked some nice Swede how to translate 'yeast' in Swedish. Jäst. Sounds about the same. But the store was out of the little packets that we are used to in the US. Instead, I found a slightly larger packet of jästmix for vetebröd, with a lovely picture of a pile of bullar on the front. So I bought it, attempted to translate it, and proceeded to make the worst kanelbullar known to man. I am a disgrace to my Swedish heritage. The mix was SO dense that Stu and I both have aching shoulders from trying to roll the dough out. They smell delicious, and they turned out to be the right shape, but they are pale & crumbly, and thicker & drier than scones. So, so wrong.

So Stu and I abandoned the endeavor and joined our friends at the NationalMuseum to see the Caspar David Friedrich show. And went to a lovely Frenchie-Swedishy cafe in our neighborhood that is known for having some of the best bullar in Stockholm, Cafe Saturnus. The place was packed, and the buns were as big as your head. They even had a take-away tent outside because there was a line out the door to find a seat. We bought 4 and ate them at home.

This behemoth was lunch and dinner. That is how you properly celebrate Kanelbullens dag...none of this amateur stuff! I don't know what I was thinking.

But I am now on a personal mission to perfect my technique...anyone have a good recipe, preferably in English? In fact, baking in Sweden has proved so tricky for me, I almost think I need a teacher. I'm going to search YouTube for some step-by-step bulle-baking tutorials...

Ah, with pictures!

Maybe a little complicated for my skill-set, but its in English: http://annesfood.blogspot.com/2007/10/swedish-cinnamon-buns.html

Gotta love Smilla the Cat, making it look too easy:

01 October, 2009

Fall nostalgia in Stockholm

As I am writing this, we are in the middle of another freak downpour in Stockholm. It was sunny and the sky was blue, and I thought I heard someone flushing a toilet or something. But no, it was little tiny hail pellets followed by some lovely cold, gray rain. The weather report always shows a 10 to 20% chance of precipitation here, but its hit or miss as to whether anything actually falls from the sky. I have the windows open to hear it. Remind me of this when I inevitably complain of getting sick next week.

They turned the heat on in our building this week. I have heard that we are one of the first to have it on this year, and that many Stockholmers are complaining. Because its cold here.

Fuzzy & Bundled before going out.

Not too cold, but a brisk mid-50s during the day, and a chilly low 40s at night.
I love it. The air smells different, crisp and sometimes with a hint of a burning fire. The smell reminds me of every Columbus Day weekend of my childhood...about 15 close families would all travel over the holiday weekend in October to Deep Creek Lake, MD, and stay in cabins. We'd go hiking and see waterfalls, ride horses, buy apples & cider, have a huge party with a bonfire, and my personal favorite, the requisite trip to Candy Land (yes, aisles and aisles and aisles). We are actually traveling to Norway next weekend to see a friend who came to every one of those Deep Creek holidays (we decided to skip Berlin in favor of Oslo to get to see her.)

Obviously, Swedes don't celebrate Columbus Day, since their continent wasn't ¨discovered¨ by the man. Most don't even know there is such a thing in the US. Stu & I got married on Columbus Day weekend last year. Its one of my favorite holidays in my favorite month, and my mormor and morfar got married the same weekend in Sweden in 1941 (we even wear their wedding rings.) Granted in Virginia in 2008, Columbus Day was practically beach weather, and the sound of an ice cream truck could even be heard as we exchanged vows outside.

Its amazing what has changed in a year.

Maybe not so much a part of fall, but certainly fueling some nostalgia: I found American peanut butter last week. Twice the price of a jar of Nutella. I bought it, and promptly opened it & ate it out of the jar with a spoon. The brand: Mississippi Belle's, thankyouverymuch.

And the sun just came back out.