Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sweden is freezing (update with OK snapshot)

– 34.7 degrees Celsius in Jokkmokk right now. That is a lot colder than a regular freezer for you Fahrenheit people in the US and Belize who might not be used to Celsius.

Quote of the day from the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet:
"Most people dress like the upper part of the body is going to the Antarctic and the lower to Hawaii" (link)

Update: I added OK's snapshot of today's paper in Sweden. Translated: NEW SMHI-WARNING. ARCTIC SEA CHILL HITS ON NEW YEAR.
SMHI is the government weather bureau in Sweden.

Are you staying warm over there in Sweden?

Christmas in New Jersey

Julgran och tomte (Christmas tree and Santa) - we were ready for Christmas. The tree is local, has lived its life only 2 miles away and was cut down by PP, carried by LS, PP, and AREA to the truck, and LA had the honor to carry the saw. This year we decorated it with PP's heirloom ornaments and Swedish old-fashioned straw ornaments, all in red, white, and grey (except for the straw). We also had little fly agaric mushrooms (flugsvampar) and apples in the tree, but not real ones. The star is a typical, traditional Swedish star, not symbolizing a Jewish star (which would be kind of weird on a Christmas tree). The little Santa sitting on top of the fruits of the strychnine plants from South Africa is also Swedish - sheep wool, red felt, and a little wooden nose is all he is.

The meeting of the giant mittens in the kitchen! Thanks KV for the sheep mitten. Perfect as you can see.

Swedish meatballs - a bit misshapen but really good. The secret is allspice (kryddpeppar).

During the day the sun was shining over our snow, probably the first white Christmas in 5 years in New Jersey, yeah! The geraniums were happy too. In the evening, the 4 candles on the advent candle holder (adventsljusstake) were lit - the beautiful holder was made by PP from Brazilian soapstone (a leftover piece from our sink) and brass. Around it, an assortment of more candles to light up our dinner.

We got a 15 lbs (7 kilo) Turkey from Griggstown Farm for Christmas Day dinner, but before cooking it needed brining. You throw it in a giant ziplock bag, fill in brine (apple juice, oranges, salt, sugar, spices, and secret ingredients), tie it up and then, here is the trick - get some duct tape to make sure you tape the bag into a ball so the turkey is completely covered in the brine. Then in the fridge for 12 hours (you better have a big fridge). Then throw out the brine (and bag), make a stuffing, and cook stuffed bird in the oven for dinner then next day. It was AMAZING. The gravy was made from the stock from the turkey and apple cider, and so incredibly good I could just have eaten the gravy and nothing more. But we had more - sweet potato gratin with chipotle peppers, stuffing with wild rice, sausage, bread, pecan nuts and herbs, and Brussels sprouts cooked with old-fashioned bacon. It was incredibly good, and we had leftovers for days.

Taking a swim on Christmas Eve

That is what these japanese lady beetles were doing in a glass in our house. We had a beetle invasion due to the sunny weather, so we gathered them up in a glass and let them have a pool party before they were let outside.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Summer meadow

AnS finished this gorgeous embroidery this Christmas weekend, filled with Swedish summer flowers. The Swedish flowers here are (in Swedish and Latin and sometimes English): cikoria (Chicorium), smultron (Fragaria, wild strawberry), fibbla (Hieracium), tistlar (Cirsium, thistle), algort (Filipendula) and much more.

Monday, December 21, 2009

OK snapshot: 'Veboa' by night

Out in the country (=Barking Dog Plaza) we are keeping the fire going! -17
degrees C outside, plus 25 C inside. (Americans, that is about 0 F outside
and 80 degrees inside.

'Veboa' = wood shed (really, it is vedbod, OK is just a bit accented).
Photo by OK, posted by Lena.

The darkest day of the year.. today. And still, it is a lot more light in New Jersey than in Sweden. It is cold too, both here and in Sweden, and we have snow in NJ too for a change. Hopefully it won't turn in to slush before Christmas. Are you rady for Christmas yet? Gingerbread cookies made, decorated tree, brown cabbage on the dinner list, presents arranged, enough milk for the rice porridge, and all little santas (tomtar) up yet? We are kind of ready, but not totally. Two more days of work before vacation. We lit the last of the advent's candles last night and it is only 4 days to Christmas Eve. This year passed to fast. But I am so happy that now it will get lighter in the mornings.

Since you have a 'vargavinter' (wolf's winter, i.e., really cold) in Sweden, you could make this beautiful thing from the Resurrection fern Blog. And we can dream about green abundance again, but real and dead, such as these 60's inspired Rörstrand items. Time for breakfast here, some hot tea and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. (The photo is the midnight sun from the Arctic.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

When you ask for snow, you might get it:

"Record 24 Hour snowfall records have been set in Roanoke,Virginia, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland and 2nd highest for Philadelphia so far with this monster snowstorm."

"This massive Atlantic storm will continue to strengthen, dumping dangerously heavy snow and producing even white-out conditions from Baltimore to Philadelphia to New York City to Southern New England and Boston."

So far, all we have seen are nice little snowflakes and heavy winds. I think we have 6 inches (12 cm) right now, but it is predicted to snow all night..

."Finally the storm will move completely out to sea by early afternoon on Sunday, all that will remain is the ongoing shoveling and plowing."

It feels like Sweden! PP reported that he and AREA bought the last milk carton of organic 2% milk today and people are parking their cars nose out and close to the entrance of their driveways, expecing large amounts of snow.

Our Christmas tree is lit and decorated, we are ready now to get snowed in!

OK snapshot: Tired of the winter?

Take the bus! (hint, Paradiset in Swedish means "Paradise"). Snapshot by
OK in Stockholm, Sweden. Posted by LS.

R.I.P. Saab

Too bad and very sad, but personally I have mourned SAAB since GM took over in 1995 or so. I still remember when they revealed the 'new 900' in Sweden and people didn't like it at all. It wasn't a SAAB anymore, and since then SAAB has skidded downhill and now it is in the ditch at the bottom of the hill. The real SAAB has been gone for a long time, now it is just the Americanized SAAB that has to go.

I still would love to have a real SAAB at some point in my life, like a 96. At least the truck brand Scania lives on (nice history here), and you can watch SAABs in movies (Sideways, for example).

Here is the official comment from SAAB itself:
"Sad. We believed in this. No more comments from Saab for now. We have to wait for directions from GM."

This comments reminds me of the death of Gourmet. Diversity, species, and good things are disappearing... (Thanks to AREA for helping with the sad saab logo.)

Very good food and very good food things...

Yesterday a very smelly package arrived in the mail - a Tennessee Smoked Ham from Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams, a small company that is recreating the old-fashioned smoked hams without any modern additives. Our ham was 14 months old and weighed about 15 pounds (that is about 7 kilo for us Swedes, so like a 1-year old or so). Heavy! But the smell. Close your eyes (oh well, you are reading, but imagining that you are closing your eyes and open your nostrils). Breath in - suddenly you are in a old smoky log cabin with bacon cooking on the stove, and the smoky smell is not that kind of annoying smoky flavor when you put wet spruce branches on a little fire in the winter and the smoke burns your eyes, but long-slow good smoke from a burning wood that has penetrated everylittle pore in the log walls of the house. You can't buy anything even remotely similar to this in any store around here. We haven't tasted our ham yet, since it is for Christmas Eve dinner ('julskinka' for 'julbordet'), but I am sure it will be heavenly. Thank you Benton's!

The day before Lucia (Dec 13) I made saffron buns ('lussekatter'), typical for Lucia in Sweden. They turned out great!

The beginning of a braised beef dinner from oxtail and short rib pieces, from our local supplier down the street. We bought a quarter of a calf that had fattening himself up over the summer here in the Sourlands, so now we have about 120 lbs (55 kilo) of grassfed, organic lean beef in our freezer for the rest of the year. And it is cheap to buy it this way. And yummy. Tomorrow we are making Cajun-style meatloaf from some of the ground meat.

I have tried to make Tarte Tatin (an upside down French apple cake) three times now, and everytime the apples stick to the pan at the very end. But it tastes great. Here is the beginning, when you slow-cook apples with butter and sugar for hours so they caramelized. Later you put dough on top, cook it in the oven, and then turn it upside down after it has cooled a bit.

One of my most favorite things in our kitchen is the superduper out-foldable pantry PP custom-built. It looks like two doors, but when you open you have shelves on the doors and inside, and the inside shelves fold out too. You can see every little can, pasta box and pepper jar, and all the spices are accessible and just right there when you need them. It is amazing how much food you can store at a little space with this. It is mouse proof too.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Maybe we will get snow too!

This just arrived in my mailbox:
"The National Weather Service has placed the campus community under a Winter Storm Watch from Friday night through Saturday night."

And here is a photo by AREA from our storm in February 2005.

Out of the darkness into the light

Amazing what a little snow can do.

We have had snowfall for the past days, sometimes even heavy snowfall, and now we have about 30-40 cm of light, fluffy snow. It´s still white and lies virginly untouched over the landscape. Today the sun greeted me on the way to work, spreading streaks of gold over the winter white. Earlier this morning a night blue sky slowly brightened in hues of blue, and white Christmas lights were glistening in bushes and trees around the houses, partly covered in snow. All branches and forms enhanced with snow.

I love this, it´s such an improvement from November's mud and darkness.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Crumbs from the internet and life

Funky embroidery: Space Spores in Search of the Perfect Martini

Do not watch the movie Bus Stop. Just don't do it. Trust me.

The wood peckers are attacking our house. For real.

Malagasy curry and collard greens was amazing. (thanks, Chad!)

Blast from the past: Pirate Island Board Game (Sjörövarspelet / Sjörövarön)

Pirate Island board game from the 1950s

This is THE board game we grew up with in my family, and the one my mom played as a kid too in the 1950s. It has everything you want and is by now not only tradition in the family but a must. This summer we played it several times during our visit from the US.

Pirate Island board game from the 1950s

The story is simple, as are the rules, and still, no game is the same. The captain of the pirate ship has died but before he did, he hid the treasure on a pirate island in one of nine possible places. He ripped the island map into nine pieces, ate the piece where the treasure is, and handed the other eight pieces out to his six surviving pirates on his death bed. The survivors immediately set off for the island, each in its own boat, to shoot each other, get the map pieces, and then dig up the treasure and leave the rest behind. Nobody dies, if you get shot you just have to wait three turns, and there is no way of telling who will win, since you can easily steal the treasure from each other after it is dug up.

Players scheme, alone and with others, run in the wrong direction to fool the pursuers, shoot with the cannon to stop an escaping pirate that has the treasure, and you might fall into rivers or down cliffs if you are unlucky. Once the poor treasure drifted to sea on the escape raft, all alone, since the pirate that had it had gotten shot and fallen into the water off the raft. In that game, nobody won.

It is a classic game, and it is so well made and can't be bought anymore. The game board is printed paper but has fabric where it folds, and the six figures are heavy lead die cast (I think) and hand-painted (see photo above). They all have special names - it is the Chinaman with his yellow coat and hat and one gun in each direction ("Tjo-Pang"), the red-coated tall and skinny "Markisen" with two piccadillos aristocratically aimed for an imminent duel, the muscular African-American man named "Hannibal", a black and white man that looks like a lunatic ("The Rat from Marseille"), the fat, bare-bellied white "Svullo" with green pants, and the black-dressed "Kapten Hook-up" that shoots up in the air. They are all designed so you can hang the little metal treasure chest on them if they are on the run. Today's games are either electronic or plastic. Sigh.

Fredrik in Sweden decided to remake the gameboard into 3-D with styrofoam. Check it out, it is great, and they have a little film trailer on Youtube of the final version (see below). (Game rules in Swedish here). It is strange, but there is very little information about this game on the internet.

The last trip was today...

.. for the Orient Express. It is no more. It used to go from London (or Paris, or other western cities) to Istanbul (or other eastern cities), through the then volatile and dangerous Balkan countries. So, all we have now is James Bond on the train in the movies, murder stories by Agatha Christie, or numerous mentions of the train in everything from Star Trek to Mutant Ninja Turtles. I would have loved to go on this train about 100 years ago, wouldn't you?

The first train left France in 1882 and had and served:

"The train was composed of: 1. Baggage car, 2. Sleeping coach with 16 beds (with bogies), 3. Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axles), 4. Restaurant coach (nr. 107), 5. Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axles), 6. Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axles), 7. Baggage car (complete 101 ton).

The first menu on board (October 10, 1882): oysters, soup with Italian pasta, turbot with green sauce, chicken ‘à la chasseur’, fillet of beef with ‘château’ potatoes, ‘chaud-froid’ of Game animals, lettuce, chocolate pudding, buffet of desserts."

Friday, December 11, 2009

The universe is in our blood

Galaxies, from the Hubble telescope (photo: NASA)

I grew up with the synth-pop band Adolphson & Falk in the 1980s in Sweden, and even if I have loved their music from the beginning I never really realized until recently how scientific and astronomic it is. After seeing the nebulas, stars and galaxies last night, this is suddenly put in some perspective. I think there is life on Mars! What do you think?

Some lyrics from the song 'Vidare' [Further] on the album 'Med rymden i blodet' [With the universe in our blood]

Vi söker efter ljus igenom teleskopen. [We look for lights through the telescopes]
Vi letar efter liv där andra solar rår. [We search for life where other suns rule]
Vi sänder ut ett rop och lyssnar efter ekon. [We send out a shout and listen for echos]
Vi sträcker ut vår tro så långt det nånsin går. [We stretch our belief, as far as possible]
Vi drivs att finna svar, att se igenom illusioner, [We are driven to find answers, see through illusions]
att sträva mot en gräns i en oändlighet, [to aim for a border in an infinity]
att lösa varje del av universums ekvationer [to solve all parts of the universe's equations]
för att stilla för en stund vår vetgirighet. [to calm for a moment our quest for knowledge]
Vi söker vidare, [We seek further,]
vi vill inte stå kvar [we don't want to be left behind]
med en syn på vår omvärld [with a view of our world]
som är begränsad och smal. [that is restricted and narrow]
Vi vill se vidare [We want to see further]
förbi kända perspektiv. [behind known perspectives.]
Vi har rymden i blodet. [We have the universe in our blood.]
Den är en del av vårt liv. [It is a part of our life.]
Likt äventyrens skepp som besegrat oceaner, [Like the explorers' ship that conquered oceans,]
sänder vi vårt hopp på en hoppfull färd. [we send our hope out on a hopeful quest.]
Vi låter tanken sväva runt i galaxernas banor [We let our thought float around in the orbit of the galaxies]
och letar kunskap om oss själva i varje främmande värld. [and look for knowledge about ourselves in every foreign world.]
För även du och jag består av stoft från en stjärna [Because even you and I, consist of dust from a star]
liksom varje planet som snurrar okänd och skymd. [like every planet swirling unknown and hidden.]
Fast vi är ljusår från varann står vi varann så nära, [Even if we are light years apart, we are so close,]
för vi är alla barn av en och samma rymd. [because we are all children of the one and same universe.]

They also made songs about standing radio waves, binary numbers, etc. ... :) I can't find this song on youtube, but there is another one, Krafter vi aldrig känner ["Powers we never feel", about gravity]. This reminds me a lot of Harry Martinsson's Aniara, written in the 1950s, a classic long poem about a starship looking for a new planet after humanity has destroyed the earth. I grew up reading science fiction (Asimov, Heinlein, etc.), and with the new data about methane on Mars and water on the moon I am starting to think we are coming full circle... Science is really an amazing thing and we are living in really interesting times.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What we did tonight...

We saw...

The Pleiades (Plejaderna), the photo above (source: Hubble telescope, NASA), The Orion Nebula, Mizar and Alcor, twin stars in the Big Dipper (Karlavagnen), The Andromeda Galaxy, and the Beehive Cluster, with a 12-inch telescope at the department of Astrophysics at Princeton University. It was a great night! My favorite was the Orion nebula.

OK snapshot: Art by Stina Wirsén

Click for larger images of Swedish folklore. Snapshots by OK.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Stamp of the Day: December 7 and Hawaii

Today is the 341st day of 2009. Are you ready for 2010? I am not, it feels like 2009 just started and I haven't even picked up speed yet. I need two-three months more to finish what I had planned for this year, both at work and home.

Today' date is the day Pearl Harbor was attached in 1941, Cicero was assassinated in 43 BC, Delaware was the first state in 1787 to ratify the US Constitution, US declared war on Austria in 1917, the stea locomotive Norfolk & Western 611 ran for the last time in 1994, Galileo (the spacecraft) arrived at Jupiter (yes, the planet), and the birthday of Louis Prima. And finally, it is the Cotton Candy day in the US.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

painting the dark

Making art is hard, but I think it is even harder if you paint night scenes. In a recent issue of the Pastel Journal, Don Williams is interviewed and they show some of his night scenes, which remind me of Winston Link's railroad photos, some paintings by Edward Hopper, and old black and white film noir scenes. Take a look at William's art here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Recent food memories

Recently we had really good Thai takeout for lunch, and in the soup we found this strange botanical contraption. It turns out it is a stem with fresh peppercorns! I wonder where they get them, I would love to have some for my classes.

Thanksgiving dinner plate at our house: Apple cider glazed free-range turkey with sausage-corn bread stuffing, caramelized sweet potatoes (long orange), green beans, pomegranate-glazed carrots (yum!), cranberry relish (thanks DG), gravy, curried onions, and brussels sprouts with bacon. It was fantastic.

Our turkey!
Bacon - it doesn't look that appetizing, but it sure tastes good.
This was our son's breakfast sandwich on Thanksgiving day. BLT sandwich, without the lettuce (we were out), and with bacon at megalomaniac proportions.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009