December 25, 2007

God Jul!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful white Christmas back home! I'm spending the holidays with my old family friend who's working in Göteborg (Sweden's 2nd largest city on the other side of the country). Here it's +6 degrees and rainy, yuck.

I arrived in the city on Christmas Eve and by the time my train came in at 2pm the sun had already disappeared! :( Paul took me back to his place and we snacked on different cheeses and knäckebröd (Swedish crackers) while catching up. It was wonderful to find out how much of a foodie he is and that's all we talked about until dinner when he made me a delicious dish of couscous with stir-fried veggies, raisins and walnuts. Then we relaxed by the TV and watched Sex and the City (I had never seen it before believe it or not) while pigging out on dark chocolate and drinking glögg. Mmm living the lazy life!

This morning we totally slept in and made crêpes that we ate with various combinations of nutella, cheese, honey, lingonberry jam, and butter. We couldn't really call it brunch since it was 2:30pm by the time we sat down to eat! There's a pattern that's starting to repeat itself: we just can't stop talking about food! Living in Sweden, it's so expensive to eat out that you don't really have the same luxury of eating out all the time as we would in Toronto or HK. So we just fantasize about all the food that we miss back home and just drool over the places we'd eat at when we go back to TO or HK... it's quite pathetic really! Paul however is a master in the kitchen so I'm hoping to learn some cooking tips from him during my stay :) He whipped up a simple but yummy Christmas dinner of Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce, mashed potatoes and green beans.

Posted by mich at 8:09 PM | dreams [0]

December 24, 2007

One Confused Canadian

One of the ways that Canadians differentiate ourselves from Americans is our use of the metric system. But after living in Europe for a couple of months I've realized how much we still depend on the Imperial system. For example, even though we use Celsius for weather temperature, ovens use Fahrenheit. So when I used the oven here in Sweden for the first time I was scratching my head over how anything could bake properly if the dial only went up to 250°... it hit me later on that it was in Celsius, durrr! When I go grocery shopping all the prices are by kilos instead of pounds, and when people talk about their flat sizes in square metres, their heights in centimetres and weight in kilos I feel completely lost because I have no frame of reference those measurements. Even for shoes, girls talk about their 15cm heels. It feels like a whole different world out here, haha.

A friend gave me a great recipe for Mjuk Pepparkaka (soft gingerbread), but since it came from a Swedish recipe book the measurements use decilitres instead of cups. I bought measuring cups here (in metric of course) so now if I want to use my own recipes from home I'll need to convert everything to dL.

Anyway I tried out the recipe with Sandra and Fernanda and although it was a bit dense instead of fluffy (probably from over mixing) it tasted fabulous. The lingonberry inside added a really nice surprise to the gingerbread taste.

Mjuk Pepparkaka

100 g butter
2 dL sugar
2 eggs
1.5 dL sour creak
1.5 spoons gingerbread spice
1 tsp baking soda
3 dL flour
1 dL lingonberry jam

1. Preheat oven 175° C
2. Combine butter, sugar and eggs in one bowl.
3. Combine spice, flour and bicorbanate in seperate bowl.
4. Mix dry ingredients into the egg mixture and add in sour cream.
5. Mix in lingonberry jam.
7. Pour batter into a greased pan and bake 40-45 minutes.

Posted by mich at 12:06 PM | dreams [0]

December 22, 2007

Swedish Christmas

Christmastime in Sweden doesn't feel much like Christmas to me. The holiday is really family-oriented here and not nearly as commercialized or so in-your-face as in North America. I admit that the excessive commercialism of the holiday has gotten to me in recent years (especially now when Christmas decorations start coming out even before Hallowe'en), but I really miss seeing all the colourful and festive decorations and hearing Christmas tunes everywhere you go. Things here are really subtle; even in the darkest time of the year* everyone's house is just simply decorated with a 7-stick electrical candlebra that sits on the windsill or with a decorative star lamp hanging from the ceiling. That's it — no colours either, just the incandescent yellow of the bulbs. We don't even have snow yet and apparently it won't come until January :(

Back in the olden days, December 13 used to be the darkest day of the year, which was the day that Lucia Day was and continues to be celebrated. It's quite an important day in Sweden and here it marks the beginning of Christmas. I woke up early that morning to watch a Lucia concert, in which a procession of girls dressed in white and are led by a girl chosen to represent Lucia, who wears a crown of candles on head. They stop and sing Swedish Christmas songs and then continue their procession. At my office that day we ate lussekatter (saffron buns), which are traditionally eaten only during Christmas, and drank warm glögg with raisin and almonds. That particular glögg had 10% alcohol however, and although I only took about 10 sips, I was pretty much out of commission the rest of the afternoon, zzzz.

julbord. It was my first time trying Swedish food, which consists of a lot of cold salmon prepared in various ways, raw herring in different sauces, and cold cuts. There weren't many warm dishes but the meatballs and Jansson's Temptation were delicious. I did make the effort to try the fish dishes that I normally wouldn't eat. I didn't realize the herring was actually raw so it came as a nasty slimy surprise. I also tried the fermented herring, which is a very Swedish dish. I never though I'd ever eat it when I read about it before coming here, but it's not as bad as it sounds when you eat it with potatoes. I probably won't ever eat it again, but now I can say I've tried real Swedish food :P Later that evening the restaurant converted into a karaoke bar at one end and a disco on the other, which seemed pretty strange to me. People were going nuts in the karaoke area singing out of tune to cheesy Swedish 80s pop music. I've come to realize that Swedes LOVE to sing. I hear them singing out loud everywhere I go: subway trains, dinner tables, airports, bars, and especially at karaoke. The dance floor was no better; the DJ was spinning all Euro dance, which I can't stand, LOL.

Over the weekend I visited Skansen, which is an open-air museum featuring historical pioneer buildings transported from all over Sweden. You can visit each building and watch people dressed in costume demonstrating things like bookbinding, glass-blowing and weaving. My friend and I primarily went there to see the Christmas market and I picked up an English copy of a Swedish cakes and cookies recipe book that I'll be trying out this weekend. I think by the end of my year in Sweden my goal is to be able to read enough Swedish to buy myself a cookbook in Swedish :)

Good news on my housing situation: I got a new roommate from Germany, who's awesome, AND my landlady's finally moving out! Hallelujah! For a while she was being so wishy-washy about whether she was actually going to move out by the end of the month (her son had bought her a new flat, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to move there). But my roommate and I just kept persuading her with cheesy lines like her son will be so disappointed if she doesn't take the place, etc. In just a few weeks we'll be free to have pork, wine and boys at our flat, haha.

* The sun rises at 8:45am and sets at 2:45pm, depressing huh?

Posted by mich at 8:49 PM | dreams [0]

December 14, 2007

Frankfurt Weekend

Last weekend I headed down to Frankfurt on my own, mainly to check out one of Germany's oldest and largest Christmas markets. It was my first time in Germany and I really enjoyed it, but the language barrier was a bit difficult sometimes. Here in Sweden everyone's extremely proficient in English, so when I arrived in Germany I was a bit surprised at first that not many people spoke or even understood English. I've completely taken for granted the fact that everyone in Sweden knows English!

Since Frankfurt is mostly a financial hub, there's not that much historical or cultural attractions to see, but I did visit three excellent museums: Museum für Moderne Kunst (Museum of Modern Art), Deutsches Architekturmuseum, and Schirn Kunstalle Frankfurt. The MMK had an amazing photography exhibit featuring the works of an American who persuaded her way into some of the most private spaces kept away from the public and documented what goes on inside, including an HIV research lab, death row facility, cryo-preservation unit, Microsoft prototype house, nuclear waste storage area, and headquarters of the KKK. The images were powerful enough on their own but reading the descriptions and background behind each shot really put me in awe. The architecture museum was small but it still had some interesting exhibits like Shrinking Cities that examined social, political, economic and architectural factors for population loss, Contemporary Architecture in Korea, and Gaudí Unseen that put some of Gaudí's unfinished works and ideas on display. The Schirn Kunsthalle's Art Machines Machine Art was the most fun and engaging of the three. It looked at artist-created machines that produce unique and random art and examined the role of artist as engineer and the machine as the art but also the "artist." Viewers were also invited to interact with the machines, thereby becoming part of the art-making process. I felt like a kid again going to all the different stations — two hours later I left the gallery with 4 pieces of original artwork :D

I spent my two evenings walking through the Christmas market. It really required those two nights to see everything in the market since it's SO massive... it goes along various streets and alleyways and spills into not one, but two public squares. I really didn't buy much in the markets, just a cute Santa Christmas ornament and a wooden figure that "smokes" when you open him up and put an incense cone inside. I mostly spent my money on food! That weekend I didn't sit down once to eat because I did all my eating at the street markets. It was the most unhealthy thing, but it was so fun to try all sorts of food from the various stalls (tasty too!) Some of the things I had included: a foot-long sausage, greasy deep-fried potato pancakes with apple sauce, dark chocolate covered fruits on a stick, humongous pretzel, broccoli and cheese pizza, corn on the cob drenched in garlic butter, apple-cinnamon glazed almonds, and a hot mug of apfelwein. I also saw my first Starbucks since arriving in Europe (there's surprisingly no Starbucks in Sweden considering they're the world's heaviest coffee drinkers after Finland), so I caved and treated myself to a 4€ small cup of gingerbread latte (but I was so disappointed they didn't have my peppermint hot chocolate *cries*).

Posted by mich at 5:13 PM | dreams [0]

December 10, 2007

Let It Snow

Over the past few weeks here the weather's been miserable. It turned really warm but the sky's been constantly grey and overcast. In Toronto now the temperature is sub-zero but I'm so envious of the snow! Here's it's just been raining, bleh. I really hope we get snow before Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, for the first time ever, I started my Christmas shopping a month early, so now I'm done! All I have to do is finish wrapping and packaging and then ship everything out.

Every last Friday of the month my company holds pub nights in the office, so two weeks ago we had a Polish pub night. I saw the cupboards completely CRAMMED with alcohol - it was nuts. I tried some really good Polish food like breaded meatballs and a sort of coleslaw dish. Afterwards I left for a friend's wine and cheese tasting party. He's French so his mom mailed over TONS of difference cheese from France. I liked the milder cheeses, but I tried one of the stronger ones and I had a hard time digesting it. As for the blue cheese, I just stayed far far away from that.

I got together with a friend at her flat to make homemade Christmas cards and baked a mjuk pepparkaka. Unfortunately I didn't get to taste how the cake turned out but it smelled heavenly, and it must've been quite interesting with the jam mixed inside. A traditional Swedish holiday treat I did try though was glögg, a mulled wine with spices that we warmed up and added in raisins (you can also choose to add in almonds.) I actually quite enjoyed it — the alcohol was quite weak and the drink was nice and sweet. I only had a tiny bit of it yet I still felt like falling asleep while I was crafting... I'm so weak!

Posted by mich at 3:21 PM | dreams [0]

December 2, 2007

Paris, je t'aime

Last weekend I took a trip to Paris to meet up with Jason, who was visiting from Hawaii. I figured it would be nice to see an old friend, and what better place to hang out than Paris! The temperature was a glorious 10° C and the sun was still shining at 5:30pm. I didn't realize how much I really missed daylight — I felt so happy! Poor Jason though; being so spoiled by tropical weather he was suffering in the coldness and getting the sniffles, while I was basking in the "warmth." It was also great to be able to use my French again. People actually spoke back to me in French so I guess my French wasn't so terrible.

I arrived in Paris Saturday morning after only getting 2 hours of sleep the night before, waking up at 3am, taking a 1.5 hour shuttle bus to the airport, flying for 2 hours, and taking another 1.5 hour bus into Paris. Such is the cost for such cheap airfares: the buses end up costing more and take twice as long as the flight itself. Over the course of the trip Jason and I visited the Rodin museum, Notre Dame, went up the Eiffel Tower at night (but we just rushed around the balcony since we were absolutely freezing from the 1 hour wait for tickets), shopping along the Champs-Élysées, climbed up l'Arc de Triomphe, and explored the Montmatre area. We didn't really go on a hard-core sightseeing run and so it was a pretty relaxing trip, which was a nice change of pace for me. A lot of the time we just stayed in restaurants and cafés chatting and EATING! Since I first arrived in Europe I haven't really dined out but in Paris I totally pigged out... and it felt fabulous! Duck, rabbit, pasta, fruit tarts, crêpes, and French pastries, yummy yummy! You can't find this sort of good food in Sweden :(

On our last day together Jason had a flight to catch to Rome so we checked out of the hotel at 6am. After that I was left on my own to explore so I went to la Défense in the downtown area. Since it was still too early to do anything I lounged around at a café with my newly purchased French design magazine until the streets (and myself) started to wake up. I did some shopping, exploring, took another break at the nicest McDonald's I've ever seen, and then walked an hour to the bus station (but I was told that the walk was only 20 minutes.) In any case, my back felt completely broken from carrying my big backpack the entire morning. I really didn't pack that much, but I asked Jason to help me buy a sleeping bag from the States (plus a few cans of macedemia nuts :P), and I bought quite a bit of stuff, and tons of heavy magazines. Buying the magazines before I reached the airport was actually pretty dumb because I ended up having to pay an overweight surcharge for my bag at check-in. It turned out that I could have easily found my magazines in the airport terminal, DOH! But I really wasn't sure with these tiny airports so I erred on the safe side.

Even though this was my 2nd time in Paris, everything felt so new and exciting to me once more. I completely fell in love with the city all over again. The weather was gorgeous, people were so friendly and happy (as opposed to Stockholmers), I understood the language, and it reminded me again of Montreal — I didn't want to come back to Stockholm! The saddest thing was that I had to resort to do my shopping in Paris... definitely not the cheapest option, but still considerably cheaper than Sweden!

Posted by mich at 6:06 AM | dreams [0]