Category Archives: Food

Semmla and Lent

Frosty weather for the start of lent

Mardi Gras looks a bit different in Sweden. It is much colder than Rio or New Orleans, but there is no bonhomme like in Quebec. They said goodbye to the Catholic church quite a while ago, but retain some (modified) traditions. Naturally, my favourite is semla, the seasonal pastry. A semla is a cardamom-flavoured yeast bun split open and filled with marzipan and whipping cream. A variation called ‘groda semla’ or frog semla (???) mixes the cream and marzipan together first, then fills the bun. Both are good!  Originally this was a way to get rid of some of the rich foods before lent started, kind of a last treat before the austere season before Easter.  However, people liked them so much and when an austere lent became less important, it was a tradition to eat a semla every Tuesday during lent.  Rock on!

All the delicious semlor in a bakery

I am not really one for yeast dough, so I experimented and made some semlakex (semla cookies) with cardamom dough and a pat of marzipan on top that caramelized in the oven.  No cream, but they are far more portable for bringing into work!

Food Post

Really nice savoy cabbage and Swedish 'rötfrukt' (root vegetables)

It has been a while since I posted about Swedish food or our cooking exploits here, so it is time for a food post now!  We are getting more used to Swedish food and taking advantage of what local ingredients have to offer. Here are some meals, but we will post on baking soon too.

Mashed potatoes, onions, green peas, carrots, Västerbottenost cheese sauce, all in a cabbage leaf. A Swedish burrito!
Our homemade smörgås: carrot bread with cream cheese, pickled redbeet salad, ruccola and västerbottenost cheese. Redbeet salad is pretty popular around Christmas. Västerbotten ost is a hard, well-ripened cheese from the Västerbotten region (where Umea is).

Lördag i Stockholm

We spent the Luciadagen weekend in Stockholm checking out the city a little bit more and to learn some Swedish Christmas baking secrets from Catherine’s colleague Per.  We arrived around 10:30 and spent a couple hours walking around Gamla Stan (old city) and checking out the Jul Marknad (Christmas Market).  The sun even made an appearance, which if you’ve been following along is quite the rare occurrence these days.

Jul Marknad in Gamla Stan
Jul Marknad in Gamla Stan
I'm not sure what this building is, but Catherine says this show looks like a postcard picture.  The advertisements on top are for two of the big daily newspapers.
I'm not sure what this building is, but Catherine says this shot looks like a postcard picture. The advertisements on top are for two of the big daily newspapers.
Gamla Stan from Södermalm
Gamla Stan from Södermalm
City hall from Södermalm
City hall from Södermalm
One of several churches in Gamla Stan
One of several churches in Gamla Stan

Per made us a traditional Swedish lunch of kale soup with eggs and knäckebröd and then we got down to business of baking.  Per had already prepared the pepparkakor dough using his aunt’s secret recipe.  So “all” Catherine and I needed to do was roll out the dough and cut into shapes.  The challenge is that the best pepparkakor is made very thin and cutting the shapes and getting them off of the counter top without mangling the cookie is difficult.  But after the first tray we started to get the hang of it and the cookies turned out great.  We made a variety of shapes, but mostly the simpler ones worked best like circles, hearts, and diamonds, although Catherine made lots of pigs as well.  Pigs may seem like a strange shape for Christmas cookies, but Swedes eat pork for Christmas dinner and have a little sense of humour about it so it’s not an uncommon shape.  But Christmas trees, Santas and angels not so popular in the Swedish cookie shaping.  Per was impressed, and happy that he didn’t have to roll out all the cookies himself this year.

Per scooping out the dough
Per scooping out the dough
Catherine rolling and cutting
Catherine rolling and cutting
The final product - much better than any store-bought pepparkakor!
The final product - much better than any store-bought pepparkakor!

While we were rolling and cutting Per was busy preparing two other Swedish Christmas specialties: Knäck and Chocklad-kola also made with secret family recipes. Knäck is a traditional hard Swedish toffee and Chocklad-kola is a softer dark toffee.

Per boiling the Knäck
Per boiling the Knäck
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Cutting the chocklad-cola into strips
The choklad-kola wrapped individually wrapped in paper
The chocklad-kola individually wrapped in paper
Once the knäck reaches the perfect (very hot) temperature it gets spooned (very carefully) into tiny paper cups.  Catherine got to help with this difficult job but for my own safety I continued rolling cookies...
Once the knäck reaches the perfect (very hot) temperature it gets spooned (very carefully) into tiny paper cups. Catherine got to help with this difficult job but for my own safety I continued rolling cookies...

We had a great time learning to make three new treats – and sampling wasn’t too bad either!  If you’ve been good (and if Canada Customs doesn’t decide to confiscate our unlabelled baking), Tomten may just bring you some of these treats as a julklappen.

Julbord

I went to Umeå again this last week for a two-day full department meeting. We talked about grant and manuscript submissions for the coming year, and I proctored a journal club discussion with the PhD students.   The highlight, however, was the julbord.

This shows 2.5 out of 6 jubord tables.  Awesome!
This shows 2.5 out of 6 jubord tables. Awesome!

Most people know about smörgåsbord as being a Swedish buffet. Julbord is a special variation for Christmas.  Good julbords have some classic inclusions: ham, luttefisk, pickled herring (sometimes 6 kinds!), bread, knackbröd, meatballs, sausage, cold potatoes, boiled eggs, red cabbage, beets, chopped kale, some kind of salad or veggie plate, and snaps. You can drink either snaps or Julöl.  If you drink wine you’re a noob.  Apparently, their are a million ways to identify yourself as a julbord-noob, as I learned from this valuable post on Sweden’s English-news-for-expats site.

Jul öl and a snowman full of snaps.  Shortly after this I 'hit the wall' literally because I wasn't looking where I was going, so these were my last drinks.
Jul öl and a snowman full of snaps. Shortly after this I 'hit the wall' literally because I wasn't looking where I was going, so these were my last drinks.

Luckily, it went well.  I had jul öl AND awesome jul snaps.  We went to a really great place, where most things were made on the premises, including the bread AND the butter! I ate fish, even the pickled herring, and about a postage stamp sized piece of smoked reindeer (enough for me).  My favourite was the Janssons frestelse, like scalloped potatoes with cream, onions and anchovies.  Also good was the rödbetsalat, a creamy salad with pickled beats.  I thought the whole thing was great – even the 12 kinds of sausage I only admired, but didn’t try. The dinner food was great AND THEN I FOUND THE DESSERT TABLE!  (Sorry, no picture)  There was ostkaka (which translates to cheesecake but is more like a baked ricotta pudding so I am just going to call it ostkaka), cloudberry sauce, mixed berries and cream,  swiss meringue banana pudding, chocolate mouse, passionfruit fool, ris malta (rice pudding), lemon cheese (another ricotta special) and a think chocolate pudding.  There was also pepperkador, toffees, and a big variety of Christmas candies.  AWESOME!

When we got back to the hotel Hasse and I checked out the sauna (bastu).  It was ‘only’ 50 degrees.  Apparently it is not so uncommon to have 80 degree saunas.  How is that even possible? I think that could cook an egg or a lobster.

This is a picture of me in Umea at about 10 in the morning.  This is pretty much as light as it gets!
This is a picture of me in Umea at about 10 in the morning. This is pretty much as light as it gets!

The next day I got up and did some reading before out meetings started.  It was dark when things got started – and pretty much dark when we had coffee break.  It was unseasonable warm so I was able to step outside for a bit to take a picture.  Check out how dark it is!  The sun was set at 2PM.

Home Cooking

My favourtie meal this week was chicken-noodle soup, because I have a cold.  Graham made really good biscuits too.  But we also made hoot owls using mom’s recipe  just after Halloween, at Elizabeths’ suggestion.

Hoot owls, fresh out of the oven!  These were popular with the folks at work.
Hoot owls, fresh out of the oven! These were popular with the folks at work.
Yum!  Hoot owls!
Yum! Hoot owls!

We make a lot of our favourite Indian and Asian-type dishes still, but we have also tried to use some local foods in a local way.  We eat more wasa bread and beets and potatoes and carrots than we did before.  We eat more cruciferous type things too, like cabbage and kale.

Meatballs with kale-cream sauce, potato mash and lingon berry sauce.  Also Jul öl, which is dark Christmas beer.
Meatballs with kale-cream sauce, potato mash and lingon berry sauce. Also Jul öl, which is dark Christmas beer.

Personalfest

On Friday evening we attended “Personalfest” which is the yearly staff party for the university. Before the party we crammed into the hot steam sauna in Catherine’s building so we could be nice and dehydrated before the partying got started.
130  staff and partners attended the party, but only a small  group from Catherine’s department.  We had dinner, drinks and dancing to a live retro cover band.  The band was  actually quite talented – they were able to play pretty much any request.  It was interesting to hear the selections of the Swedish folks as many of the English songs were not recognizable to us English-speakers but seemed to be well-loved hits by the Swedes.  It was nice to get out and meet some new people and not have to cook for an evening.  Here are some pictures of the evening.
Camilla and Catherine
Camilla and Catherine
The band playing requests
The band playing requests
us at the party
us at the party

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Girlie drinks aren't just for girls in progressive Sweden
Girlie drinks aren't just for girls in progressive Sweden but it doesn't make sense to me to drink a scotch followed immediately by a bacardi breezer (which I saw men do more than once).

Foods

Graham and I both like to eat, so we have developed some foraging and cooking skills. My parents are very open-minded and mom in particular is very adventurous and creative and encouraged us to try new things (just try it!)… but she wasn’t about to make a veggie option in additional to the meal she was cooking for the family when I decided at 12 that I didn’t want to eat meat. Graham is not a vegetarian, but he eats a TREMENDOUS amount to keep up with his activity level and crazy Hamilton-steel-furnace-metabolism. We are used to cooking vegetarian meals for ourselves, often with Indian, South-East Asian, and Latin American flavours. I think its fair to say that we both take an interest in food and cooking; we have a collection of cookbooks at home, I have a diploma in Applied Human Nutrition from SFU, and Graham has an honorary degree in eating awarded by Superstore.

One of the coolest things about traveling has been seeing and tasting the local specialties, and self-catering (or at least picnicking) along the way. We try to check out the outdoor markets and grocery stores whenever we can to see what grows there, what people buy, and what things cost. We have described some of the things we ate in the different countries, but there is a lot more so I thought it deserved its own post. We have a few pictures of markets, so I thought I’d post them and narrate. If you are not a food person then my apologies, we’ll be back to the vagaries of Swedish bureaucracy shortly.

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I know it seems nerdy to get excited about cabbage, but these were far and away the nicest cabbages I had ever seen; they are in the main market square in Prague.

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These berry baskets are also in Prague. If you look carefully at the top of the photo, you can see a vertical stick – this held a sign with a camera crossed out. No pictures! Unfortunately I didn’t see that until after the picture. Opps.

Pretzels are a pretty popular street food in Czech Republic and Poland.  This window in Prague is pretty nice, but most of them were just little hotdog-type carts.  In Poland, a fresh, salt-sprinkled pretzel will set you back 1.3 Zloty (about 50 cents Canadian).
Pretzels are a pretty popular street food in Czech Republic and Poland. This window in Prague is pretty nice, but most of them were just little hotdog-type carts. In Poland, a fresh, salt-sprinkled pretzel will set you back 1.3 Zloty (about 50 cents Canadian).

Cute neighbourhood grocery store between Krakow and Oświęcim, justr for Elizabeth.  Sorry for the crap quality.
Cute neighbourhood grocery store between Krakow and Oświęcim, just for Elizabeth. Sorry for the crap quality.

Me making my standard picture face at a paprika stand in the Great Market hall in Budapest.  Spicy!
Me making my standard picture face at a paprika stand in the Great Market hall in Budapest. Spicy!

Wide view of the great market square in Budapest.  It is like Granville Island Public Market, but bigger and more diverse.
Wide view of the great market square in Budapest. It is like Granville Island Public Market, but bigger and more diverse.

Sweets at an outdoor festival in Budapest.  I had one of the closer chocolate-covered ones – it was an express train to marzipan city.
Sweets at an outdoor festival in Budapest. I had one of the closer chocolate-covered ones – it was an express train to marzipan city.
This is a ‘LAngorm’, the street food that is most popular in Hungary.  It is like a beaver tail (deep-fried flat donut) but with garlic, cheese and sour cream.  We needed to balance out those healthy apples somehow.
This is a ‘lángos’, the street food that is most popular in Hungary. It is like a beaver tail (deep-fried flat donut) but with garlic, cheese and sour cream. We needed to balance out those healthy apples somehow.
I love Ovaltine, even though Graham says it tastes like dirt.  In Austria they had lots of Ovaltine products, including two kinds of chocolate bar, cold drink in a bottle to go, and Ovaltine granola.  Awesome!
I love Ovaltine, even though Graham says it tastes like dirt. In Austria they had lots of Ovaltine products, including two kinds of chocolate bar, cold drink in a bottle to go, and Ovaltine granola. Awesome!
We made some purchases here today in Gavle: half kg of Chantarelles for about CDN$4 and half-litre of fresh lingon berries for just under CDN$2.
We made some purchases here today in Gavle: half kg of Chantarelles for about CDN$4 and litre of fresh lingon berries for just under CDN$2.
This is my favourite fruit stand so far – this sign means ‘you’re welcome!’ so these are free apples from our new neighbours.  We have been enjoying them!  It is definitely apple season here, all the lawns are covered in them.
This is my favourite fruit stand so far – this sign means ‘you’re welcome!’ so these are free apples from our new neighbours. We have been enjoying them! It is definitely apple season here, all the lawns are covered in them.