Sunday, December 30, 2007

Looking back at 2007

... is near. What happened this year? I know that nearly nothing happened in the last 5 days when I was sick; typical to get sick on your vacation isn't? That is just the worst of luck.

But back to 2007. Some highlights:
We started this blog on April 28. Nearly 10 000 visits since we started counting, probably a thousand photos and images, 600+ posts about everything from stamps, travels, Tour de France, steam locomotives, crapshots, music, to Bionicle and horses. Swedish design versus made in China, funny youTube videos, and ponderings about the meaning of it all - it is all here...

I turned 40 (= it makes no difference it feels the same) and PP got a birthday train in August. This is also the year where I think I officially transformed from being a person interested in food to a real food-crazy person (PP had some influence in this, thanks!). Now I really think about what we buy and cook and eat. As much as possible is local, organic, small-scale tasty, and good. I read books on the ethics of food production (never another Tyson chicken in this house!), food travels in China, road food travels in the US, biographies of food writers, food in Paris, and the ethnobotany of spices and herbs. What used to be a chore ("Mom, what's for dinner?"), has transformed into something important and fun.

We grew plants in our garden in the wet summer, and we grew pests in our garden too (molds, rusts, smuts, moles, rabbits, deers, groundhogs, caterpillars - you name it and we had it). It was the year of garden warfare and we lost all peas and beans and most of the cucumbers to non-human digestion. The moles are still at it, eating our lawn right now. PP and I did build one bird house that was immediately occupied by some wrens. Oh, we did a mouse house too.

We cooked, among other things lobsters, tomato sauce, pickles and tomatillo salsa, Thanksgiving dinner, Roasted Chicken and Squash, oysters (ok, raw! not cooked), the best tomato-mozzarella tart, and fried chicken a la Whistle Stop Cafe. Tonight we are having raw oysters and fried flounder.

Meals out I remember well: Curtis BBQ (Vermont), Via Ponte (New Jersey), Fore Street (Maine), and T J Buckley's (Vermont, which I really need to blog about!).

We traveled to many places, like Chicago, Yellowstone, New Hampshire (and drove up on top of Mt. Washington to see Canada), Vermont, Maine, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.

We stayed in New Jersey too and hiked the mountains, saw Cape May, Swedesboro, the postoffice of Buttzville, found a Whistle bottle in the forest, visited the translucent American Glass Museum, and the little known New Sweden.

And this is my favorite blogphoto this year (thanks, O.K.!).

A little book of quotes

Since I was 15 or so I have been keeping a little book of quotes, and I think I am on my third one now. The first one was feared in the family when I grew up, because you might end up in it! And many did. I still have that somewhere in a secure place, so one day I can tell you what silly things EH and O.K. said 25 years ago.

But now I have another one, started in 2000, and mostly with some really good kids' quotes. Here is just a few from kids and family and friends. All are overheard by myself, none are made up. I am not saying who said what, but you might be able to figure that out yourself. Of course some of the things only makes sense if you know both Swedish and English. Enjoy!


Grandma has dot-com. She has a million websites. (Kid, 5 years old, after seeing the internet for the first time)

I am too tired to do nothing. (Kid, 5 years)

Kid 1 (5 years old): - I love to have stinky pants!
Mom: - Maybe I should write that in my quotation book and read it to you when you are 15?
Kid 2: - YEAH!
Kid 1: - No, no! I changed my mind, I hate stinky underwear.

See, we are making a nice clean mess! (Kid, 6 years old)

- How can I not listen to him? My ears are always on.

(looking at tracks in the snow)
- Look, it is a bird! It has three feet.

If you are not nice the ghost of President Bush will come after you.

I am so hungry I could eat a vegetarian.

If you are close to an electric eel you might get shocked.

Mom, I know why Jewish don't celebrate Christmas. They don't celebrate little Harry or whatever his name is. (Kid, 6 years old)

I need to read a little bit more to get a little more tired. (11-year old at bedtime)

How do you make this baby run? (10-year old girl standing inside the steam locomotive)


If there were no garbage men we would be in deep shit.

-What is a 10-cornered polygon called?
- Decandent.

Even when it rains in Sweden, the humidity is lower. [than in NJ, of course]


- Du är så fyndig!
- Ja, jag hittar alla mina skämt på rea!

Vad kallar man en bok som ramlade ner i youghurten?
- Bibliofil!

American Museum of Natural History är jättestort. Man kan bara gå in på en sektion åt gången.

Såna som inte vill vara ensamma hemma.

Jag är inte längre makalös! [said the newly married woman]

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Images of Christmas

We were invited to some friends' Louisiana-inspired Swedish Christmas party and AREA was the Lucia, complete with long white dress and candles in her hair. Great food too, and the best lutefisk I have ever tasted (but it had Cajun spices on it, that's why). Meatballs in cream sauce, Leksandsknäckebröd, lingon, ham, herring, yum! And glögg of course! Their whole house was decorated with Lucia dolls and figurines, maybe a hundred, and some very old. Great party!

At work we had an ornament contest and this is the creation of one of the students - all made from lab materials and nothing else. Some pipette tip boxes, tubes of various sizes, aluminum foil, caps, and viola! You have a Christmas scene! She won 2nd price.

I found this beer in the store and just had to buy it for PP, who loved it. It really looked like old oil, incredibly dark.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Presenting the blogfunctions

I´m just showing Pippi Longstocking how it works.... in case she wants to make her own post someday...
Poor LS who has stomach-flu, have you tried a kuckelimuck-piller?
Get well soon! EH in company of Pippi herself.....

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Home in bed...

It's been rather quiet on the blog front, since I have been in bed with the stomach flu. Maybe I am getting better, not sure yet. It is a terrible thing to have. For your enjoyment, I am posting AREA's photo from New York City's skyline at night - long shutter speed, shaky hand, great photo. Do you see how they all form the front of a reindeer?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Stamp of the Day: A jazz legend

Stamp of the day - Oscar Peterson, whose music we have been listening too all day. See PP's post below.

Surprise gift of Christmas 2007

These arrived as we were opening our gifts!
Super needed and super thanks!
I love them!

Our Christmas decorations

The four advent candles in a candle holder made by PP from soapstone and brass. The soapstone was scraps leftover from when the kitchen counters were made.
Our lights outside speak for themselves, we hope. Ecxept right now the peace is broken, we need to fix some of the lights.
A tree full of straw things (imported from Sweden or bought at IKEA) and things from PP's home, plus some homemade things by kids. Here are the two flocks of reindeers, the pipe cleaner clan versus the straw clan.
Old fruity Christmas ornaments from PP's grandma, probably at least 80 years old.
A pig sniffing a pine cone.
Angel-tomte hybrid.
Fluffy tomte.

One of the Greats is gone

RIP Oscar

Listen to his humming/groaning Dad did this too...when my Dad made a recording the sound enginner kept stopping the tunes and trying to find out what this "noise" was, they finally figured out it was my Dad humming along with the tune.

Horsing around on the computer (title provided by LS)

Yeah! We opened presents yesterday (the Scandinavian way)! And I got one of the presents that I really wanted! It's called Lucinda Green's Equestrian Challenge. It is indeed a horse game, and of course it's not as good as the real thing, but it is quite fun!

Here is a review:

Considered one of the world's greatest riders, Lucinda Green is an eventing legend. At 19, Lucinda won her first Badminton Horse Trails, going on to win that prestigious event a record six times on six different horses. She represented Great Britain in three Olympic Games, winning team silver at the l984 Olympics. Lucinda now spends much of her time teaching Cross Country skills for the new generation of riders.

Your goal is to work your way through two-star and three-star competitions until you're ready to take on the world's top eventing riders at the four-star level. Create the perfect horse to be your partner in play, practice and competition. You'll form strong bonds with your horse as you feed, groom and train to perfect your skill. The more you train with your horse, the better he will perform as you win your way to prestigious international events comprising Show Jumping, Dressage and Cross Country. There are multiple levels of difficulty for players of all ages.

Info about Lucinda Green:

Monday, December 24, 2007

What can happen when two married people like the same things...

They, unaware of each other, buy the same present for each other. First PP opened his present from me, and then I opened mine from him, and it was the same thing! A wonderful thing - a cookbook from Cafe Pasqual's in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we had a fantastic dinner on our honey moon. The title is Cooking with Cafe Pasqual's. But we only really need one cookbook :)
I was so sure he didn't even know it existed, and he thought he was so smart and had found the perfect present for me...

If you ever come to Santa Fe, this is the place to go to. Or come to our house and we will cook some for you.

Skrinna pa Sotsjon pa julafton (or Skating at Soot Lake on Christmas day)

Today we paid a visit to a nearby lake for a try on the (long) skates. MH now 5,5 years old tried the Isvidda skates with support egdes. He mastered them after some trial in between me and OK, the last round he only hold on to the tip of my ice-pik. DH look with interest from the shore. After this first time of childrens play, OK and I took a nice skating tour around the lake.

Black, crystal clear ice with air bubbles and frozen nymphaea leaves. Blue sky and sunpainted cloud, 2 degrees Celcius. No friction, all heavenly beautiful. Some photos from our day below.
After that a good afternoon with the obligatory "Kalle Anka kl 3" on TV and a visit from the Santa. MH is suspious, and OK:s disguise not so hard to look past, on purpose of course. DH is sure about Santa still. Everybody got something they wanted. A good dinner with ham, homemade meatballs, sill, dopp-i-grytan, rodkal and murkel vol-au-vent.

EH on skates

Air bubbles in the ice

The water was higher when it first froze, so all the stones where icecovered and ice "hills" where created.

Frozen leaves in the clear ice.

Happy holidays to all! from the Sweden-based part of the family!


New buzzwords for 2007

The New York Times has an article about new words that popped into our language in 2007. Have you heard them?

Colony collapse disorder (about bee hives dying)
lolcat (laughing out loud cat pictures)
global weirding (the whole climate going crazy)

They forgot the word locavore, someone that tries to eat food that is only locally grown (within 100 miles, ca 70 km). I don't like that word that much, I like "ecological local eater" better, or maybe 'ecoloceater'.

the HAM

Well at 6am this morning I was washing off the Japanese saw so I could cut off a couple of inches of the ham so it would fit in our oven! It is now a 21 lb(9.5 kilo) ham.

Now its is already perfuming the house....

Here is a bit about where our ham came from:

Berkshire pork

Here is the recipe I am using:


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Christmas!

The day before Christmas eve is called "dan före doppardan" in Swedish, which means the day before the day when you dip ("doppar") bread in hot ham stock. The Christmas is perhaps a bit more than that but the food is certainly an important part of the celebrations. This also the day for secret wrapping of gifts and a lot of cooking. The smells should really fill the house...

The picture above the mantelpiece is from Mistras in Greece.

Where did 'Santa' come from?

I have been reading up on this subject, and learned that one of the people that poopularized our image of Santa (jultomten) was an American-Swede working as an advertisement artist for Coca-Cola in America, Haddon Sundblom.

In the 1930s, he conceived a rotund and jolly fellow wearing a red suit, wide black belt and black boots. Haddon gave him sparkling eyes, rosy cheeks and a bottle of Coca-Cola. (link)
Each year from 1931 to 1964 Haddon Sundblom created a new Santa for Coca-Cola's "thirst knows no season" campaign. (link)

Before Haddon, Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper's Magazine in the US had drawn the first santa as a man with a beard and a fur suit.

Of course people had been worshiping St. Nicholas (called Sinterklaas in Dutch, and 17th century Dutch settlers brought the gift giving tradition to America) since Medieval times, and he was a Catholic saint that had cared deeply about the poor.

There must be some link between the gnomes (tomte) of Sweden and Santa's hat too, anything else would be impossible. Also, I wonder if the rein deers have anything to do with the old goat traditions?

Also, report from our Christmas tree: The cats have not yet climbed up into the tree to get to the ornaments (=toys in their minds), but they drink the water out of the tree base. When we cut the tree at the local christmas tree farm, we found a bird's nest in it. We defrosted the nest, and now it is back in the tree, here in our living room. Pictures are coming later...

Santa's wish list, as I imagine it:

  1. No more global warming (save those glaciers and pack ice in the Arctic)
  2. Al Gore for president
  3. Drink less Coca-Cola and loose weight
  4. Free all rein deers and let them eat lichens
  5. No presents to sitting American presidents
  6. Health care to all Americans (the last western country in the world without health coverage for all citizens, I think)
  7. More snow in Sweden and in America on Christmas
  8. Reusable wrapping paper, recycle, recycle
  9. LED lights on the Santa wagon
  10. More homemade and activity presents for children, less poisonous junk and things that break
  11. Peace on Earth...

Want rice with that?

Feed the wor(l)d by testing your English vocabulary. For each correct answer, will donate 20 grains of rice to hunger relief programs. Last night we got up to about 5000 grains total.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Apropos EH's post about the shortest day of the year - this is also the longest night of the year, here depticted in a illustration from the moomins by Tove Jansson.

Here in NJ, we have:
Sunrise: 7:17am & Sunset: 4:34pm
Moonrise: 2:06pm & Moonset: 4:38am
So a little bit more light than Sweden here in New Jersey, except of course that it is cloudy and we won't see either sun or moon today.

We talk about midnight sun, but why don't we talk about midday moon? I assume that in the far north that has no sunshine in the winter, you can have moonlight during the day and evenings too, right? Depending on if the moon is full and up of course.

Now "Mot ljusare tider..." (lighter times). But first, Christmas!

Christmas music

7 degrees over the horizon

Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year.

Stockholm (59 N, 18 E) will have the sun at a maximum of 7 degrees over the horizon. The sun rises at 8.44 am and sets at 14:49 pm.

In swedish we call this day Vintersolstånd or Midvinter. The vikings had a special name for the day Nidhögg, and they had a party to celebrate that the day got longer again.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Brunch in Stockton, NJ

In little Stockton along the Delaware River is a little family-owned breakfast/lunch/dinner place called Meil's, which is also a bakery. On the weekends for brunch there is always a wait, sometimes up to 45 minutes, but people wait patiently outside until a table becomes available. KV and I were here one Saturday in September, and we had a wonderful simple meal. On their website they say:
"Yes, it’s that tiny little place with a name that nobody can pronounce in a town that nobody can find, serving meals that nobody else can make."

Ham and broccoli quiche (pie) with fresh fruit. Everything is made from scratch, not prefab food.
Spinach omelett with homebaked bread and more fruit.
The bakery section. People come in to buy loads of scones, muffins, and cookies.
I love the old glass cabinet.
With it all, a glass of ice tea with lemon.
You can't make any reservations and they don't take credit cards,
so bring your cash and patience - it is worth it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Book review: The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones

This is a fantastic book. This is GREAT book. This is a book that made me change my view of China and Chinese food. This is probably one of the best books I have read in 3 years. The author Nicole Mones has written three novels that all center about Chinese and American culture shock, modern and history, contemporary love stories about art, food, and love.

The three books are unrelated, but related in that most of the stories take place in today's China. The first book I read by her was A cup of Light - also one of the best books I have read in 3 years. I can't remember books longer than 3 years, so that is my cutoff date :), (well not really true... I do remember some books forever). A cup of light is about ancient Chinese porcelain and ceramics and antiquity dealers. Her third book I am reading now, and it is called Lost in translation, and is about the search for the hominid skeleton called Peking Man.

But back to this book, The Last Chinese Chef. A woman has lost her husband in a car accident a year earlier and finds out that there is a woman in China that says her husband is the father of her child. So she has to travel to China and check it out. She is also a food writer for a magazine (think Gourmet), so the editor tells her to go and interview a new, young American-Chinese chef that cooks Chinese food the old-fashioned "imperial" way in Beijing. He has just been invited to be one of ten finalists for a competition to design and cook a banquet, and the two winners will form the Olympic team. You only get to have two helpers, and he has two old uncles that help him out. His father was a famous chef before he fled China with his family and settled in California - and in his new life he stopped cooking. I won't tell you what happens, you will have to read the book.

What makes this book such a great read is the descriptions of people, places, and details - from the food to the language to architectural details. The American author has lived in China for 18 years, and you can tell. It is like the book is a documentary, that is how true it feels.

I didn't know that food in China is such a social event - people never eat alone, and food is always shared on large plates in the middle of the table, never plated on separate, individual plates. And presentation is really important, and texture more than taste sometimes. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. And 'fake' food that surprise you, such as a whole chicken skin stuffed with tofu and mushrooms so it looks like a chicken, but is not. Nothing is like the Chinese food you get at restaurants in America or Sweden! This sounds so much better!

Now I, 1) want to go to a REAL Chinese restaurant and order a sampling menu of traditional Chinese food, and 2) learn how to cook some of these dishes. Maybe not the chicken skin one, or boiled chicken feet (served in Princeton, in fact), but there are others that sound so good. Chinese cooking is not just soy sauce, fried shrimp and sweet and sour sauce with white rice... it is spareribs with ginger and scallion wrapped in lotus-leaves and crispy duck with aromatic herbs...

Other people like this too:

"The most thorough explanation of Chinese food that I've ever read in the English language." -RUTH REICHL (see my earlier book review)

On Nicole Mones website you can also get advice on how to find good real Chinese cooking in America. And she explains the paradox about Chinese restaurants in the US and their boring menus:

"Chefs have told me “American taste” means Chinese-style dishes prepared with a limited range of pre-mixed sauces, usually no more than 5-7 per restaurant. This is why a Chinese–American restaurant can have 150 menu items but only a handful of different flavors."

"Wherever you live, there may be better Chinese food than you think. More than one immigrant chef has told me he would love to cook and serve Chinese-style dishes, but he fears his American diners won't accept food prepared according to real Chinese tastes." (link)

Finally, some good news!

New Jersey on Monday became the first state in more than three decades to abolish the death penalty after a state commission ruled the punishment is "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency."

Finally, someone is doing the right thing, I think....

Swedish words: Glansis

The picture is borrowed(linked) from SSSK in Stockholm. An association of iceskaters.

Glansis (Smooth hard ice) is what we get these first days of cold weather. This is like skating on a mirror, a fantastic feeling. Sometimes so clear you can see the rock on the bottom, many meters below the surface. I have not tried yet this year, but I longing..

There are so many words describing ice: some examples here (in Swedish)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Stamp of the Day: Iles des Sourds

I just loved these 4 stamps, but I don't know anything about them.

Boletus, anyone?

Here is someone that knows how to hunt for mushrooms with a camera! See more great photos on Pietro Tagliaferri's website. Also, it seems to be his first day blogging, so leave a nice comment if you like!

A place to dream about: Itatiaia National Park, Brazil

In southeastern Brazil, not far from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, is a beautiful national Park, called Itatiaia. The park includes rainforest on the side of the mountain range, all the way up to the alpine shrub land and bare peaks. I visited this place in 2005 on a gorgeous spring day.

"This is the birthplace of mountain climbing in Brazil. In 1856 Franklin Massena was the first climber to reach the top of Pico das Agulhas Negras. Standing 2,878 meters above sea level, it that was for decades mistakenly considered the highest mountain in the country." (link)
Pico das Agulhas Negras means Peak of the Black Needles, and this giant rock really looks like its name. Millions of years of erosion has carved out deep furrows in the rock. This is in the tropical part of Brazil, but it is so high up you can get snow storms up here.

There are many trails, like this one, but they are not well-marked and not that well-maintained. We walked over this bridge and nobody got hurt, but I was happy that it was only a meter or two down to the soggy ground below, not a few hundred feet deep over a big river gorge.
The plants you see are mostly a small shrubby bamboo species. It was a strange feeling walking around in this alpine area with bamboos around you. Very different from Scandinavian mountain flora, but still similar!

This is a flowering bladder wort (Utricularia). On its leaves at the base of the plants it has little bladders that it catches insects and other small animals in, so it is carnivorous. The flowers were maybe 2 cm across. Grassy leaves, pretty nice! It might not be grass, because in the tropics there are many other monocot plant families that look like grass but are not.
Mosses, liverworts, lichens and micro plants love the wet ground. This is a Lobelia, a plant related to blue bells (Campanula). The long red flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds, and this plant grew along the road up to the peak, in the rain forest. On the way down from the National Park we passed this road stand with preserves made from local fruits. There were hundreds of kinds. The bags in the front contain limes and a local kind of pine nuts, Araucaria nuts, that are very tasty when boiled.
From our hotel that evening, looking up towards the Itatiaia peaks...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Stamp of the Day: Viking waves

Waves and water have been around on Earth much longer than most other things, except rock and minerals. It is just the last few thousand years, the seas have seen strange things such as boats floating on top of them. The same waves that crashed over marine dinosaurs are now crashing over piers and oil drilling platforms. Some things change, some do not. Stamp of the day is in memoriam of the Danish-American sea connections since Viking times.

A green tree

A recycled Christmas tree - what do you think? Not sure where the photo came from, but someone had to drink a lot of beer to make it!


Det är vi, vi vågorna,
som vagga vindarne
till vila!

Gröna vaggor, vi vågor.
Våta äro vi, och salta;
likna eldens lågor;
våta lågor äro vi.
Släckande, brännande,
tvättande, badande,
alstrande, avlande.

Vi, vi, vågorna,
som vagga vindarne
till vila!

We, we waves,
That are rocking the winds
To rest!

Green cradles, we waves.
Wet are we, and salty;
Leap like flames of fire
Wet flames are we:
Burning, extinguishing;
Cleansing, replenishing;
Bearing, engendering.

We, we waves,
That are rocking the winds
To rest!

- August Strindberg

Poem from Strindberg's play "Ett drömspel" / "A dream play" which I saw tonight. It premiered a hundred years ago and is still very relevant.

(Listening to while posting: Devin Townsend - Depth Charge)