Little Life Stories

As if Ketchup Weren't Bad Enough
I generally find traditional Swedish food to be quite tasty even if pickled herring isn’t my personal go-to holiday food.  Gourmet Swedish fare is truly delicious, and I really love and appreciate the Swedish food culture’s emphasis on foraged, local, and seasonal foods.  But I draw the line at ketchup on spaghetti; I’m not even willing to try it.  I just can’t fathom why one would put ketchup on spaghetti, especially in this day and age when relatively tasty canned pasta sauce is so inexpensive and convenient.

As if ketchup weren’t bad enough, my co-worker has discovered a new favorite: squeeze-bottled barbecue sauce on spaghetti.  Shudder.  

SUNDAY, MARCH 24, 2019
Soon, Soon
Soon, soon, spring will be here.  I’m trying not to get overly excited like my co-workers since it always snows in April, but we’ve just had a beautiful, sunny, relatively warm weekend that promises spring in the near future.  And for the first time in months, we have some direct sunlight coming in through the south-facing windows of our apartment.  In celebration of the sun, we brought our balcony furniture up from our basement storage closet and enjoyed brunch outside (albeit wearing our thickest down jackets).  We also went for a long, waterside walk exploring the new-to-us stretch between Vinterviken and Bredängen just south of central Stockholm.  Most of the ice has melted, but in the deeper, more protected bays, the ice remains.  The transition between the ice and open water was striking in the sparkling sunlight.
More signs of spring’s approach are a few snowdrops and crocuses and lots of birdsong early in the mornings.
I just had to laugh at the carpet of astroturf that someone laid under this bench.  What a great sense of humor.

You Know You Have Everything When...
You know you have everything you could ever need when you come home from vacation with souvenirs for your laundry room!  Ok, we also came home with a few food items (chocolate, coffee, molé sauce)and a bottle of mescal, but we just didn’t need another handbag, or scarf, or any of the other beautiful, reasonably-priced handcrafts we didn’t purchase while in Mexico over Christmas.  On the other hand, just having our own laundry machines in our apartment is a huge luxury in Stockholm, and now we must also have Stockholm’s coolest laundry closet.

Foraging Mushrooms in an Ancient Graveyard
If you’ve read much of my blog, it’s no secret that Carl and I have really gotten into foraging since moving to Sweden—nettles for soup and pine needle shoots for infusions in the spring, herbs for salads and meadow flowers for teas in the summer, and berries for jams and mushrooms for sauces and appetizers in the fall.

The foraging is partly a natural extension of Carl’s childhood of roaming the forest and picking mushrooms and berries with his mom.  Carl’s repertoire of known and safe mushrooms, berries, and herbs has expanded dramatically since childhood, but the foraging as a rewarding activity has been a part of Carl’s life since childhood.  Picking mushrooms and berries is an customary part of Swedish culture—probably most Americans assume that picking mushrooms involves psychotic episodes while most Swedes equate mushrooms with fine dining.

For being such an embedded part of Swedish culture and identity today, mushroom picking has a relatively short history here.  Surely the Vikings and earlier prehistoric peoples used mushrooms to spice up their menus, but with the advent of Christianity circa 1000 A.D, that knowledge was lost in a general fear of the dark, dangerous, unknown and mystical forest.  The establishment of Sweden as a nation around 1520 was all about independence and the young nation sought to distance itself from the Danes and the Germans who had been all too powerful in Sweden.  Instead, the nation turned to France as both an ally and a role model—there was nothing so elegant or sophisticated as the French court and Sweden’s monarchy spent the next 250 years or so striving to imitate and outdo the French kings.  Contact with and the desire to emulate the French led to a slow introduction of mushrooms to the aristocratic table starting in the 1700’s. 

When Sweden, in the 19th century, imported a Frenchman to be king who openly loved mushrooms, the aristocracy began to eat more mushrooms.  One of Sweden’s tastiest mushrooms is now known as Karl Johan in honor of this king (Karl Johan = Porcini or King Bolete).  But the general public was still disgusted by the thought of eating mushrooms.

It didn’t help that mushroom picking and eating was propagandized as a way to get nutrients and calories throughout the svältår or “starving years,” a series of famine years throughout the 1800’s.  Again during the strict rationing of WWI and WWII, the government encouraged the public to forage in the forest for food.  Booklets with photos and descriptions of common edible mushrooms were handed out but to little avail.  One ethnologist wrote that in one rural area:

“The old Swedish farmers could eat grass and leaves, sawdust and dirt, just about everything possible, except mushrooms.  He’d rather starve to death.”

Thus, mushrooms were associated with stop-gap emergency measures to stave off starvation and not exactly with fine dining.
Booklet from WWII with images of safe mushrooms for the table.

But somehow, during the back-to-nature decades of the 60’s and 70’s, mushroom picking became a popular pastime and an integral part of Swedish culture.  It probably helps that with the advent of modern medicine, there are very few deaths from poisonous mushrooms—only 15 people have died of mushroom poisoning in Sweden since the 1950’s.

So anyway, last weekend, Carl and I took the commuter train about half an hour south of the city to the suburb of Jordbro where there just happens to be one of Scandinavia’s largest Early Iron Age grave fields.  There are about 800 visible graves and 2000 underground graves spanning from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D.  They are placed tightly together, and the graves have a variety of executions: low mounds covered in turf, low mounds of exposed stones, lone standing stones, standing stones in a formation, circles of standing stones, random groupings of standing stones, squares and triangles marked out by stones, concentric circles marked out by stones, standing stones in ship formations, a double square formation marked out by low stones...

The grave field at Jordbro isn’t known for exceptionalities: super huge mounds, or really tall standing stones, or exceptionally massive boulders.  The graves here are generally relatively lagom and modest.  It was probably everyday people who were buried here, not chieftains.  But Jordbro is known for the variety.  Grave fields generally feature one or two types of formations that get repeated over and over again for a thousand years, but at Jordbro, the community almost seems to have experimented its way through monuments to death.

One theory is that each type of formation was used to commemorate a specific niche in society—maybe lone standing stones for priests, square shaped formations for healers, and mounds for aristocratic women.  But as Carl pointed out, it’s all conjecture.  Our grave yards are certainly not organized that way: Priests don’t always have flat headstones and doctors don’t always have standing head stones and aristocratic women don’t always have cast iron fences around their graves.

Another extraordinary thing about Jordbro is that it is even remaining and is relatively intact.  A section of it was cut of by the railroad tracks, but the majority of it is generally intact.  There were probably many more large grave fields at one point of time, but they have always been a tempting source of building stone and have often been flattened for either farming or development.  It’s incredible that this grave field has survived, especially so close to the city.

Large community grave fields like the one at Jordbro are generally limited to the Early Iron Age.  By about 500 A.D., people started burying their dead at the edge of their own farm instead of in the communal cemetery.  It is thought that this new practice was a way of establishing ownership over a piece of land: "my ancestors lived here so therefore this land is mine.”

I was also intrigued by the hålvägar or sunken roads that crisscross the area.  Sunken roads are ancient paths that have been worn down into the earth by frequent use over many years.  The fact that several roads converge on the Jordbro cemetery points to the fact that it was a central part of the community.  Perhaps the grave field was used for more than burials?  Maybe judicial hearings or ceremonial rites or seasonal markets were also held in this holy, communal space?

We hadn’t set out to pick mushrooms, but we ended up finding a surprising number considering that we had only found a single mushroom on our outing the weekend before.  Mostly we found Yellowfoot or Funnel Chanterelles, but we also found a couple of regular Chanterelles and Wood Hedgehog mushrooms.

It might be a bit odd to forage food in a modern cemetery, but foraging in the ancient, pre-historic grave field felt perfectly natural.  We were clearly not the first foragers to pick there as we found definitive signs of previous foragers.
Cleaning and frying the mushrooms.

Once at home, we decided to scrap our original dinner plan and made a mushroom themed meal instead.  Combining our freshly foraged mushrooms with a bunch of canned Porcini that we had picked last year, we fried up the mushrooms and made a white lasagna with homemade bechamel sauce.  On the side, we had a toasted baguette with Black Trumpet Mushroom butter.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have mushrooms to extend the theme to our salad.  But the meal was so heavenly tasty!

Source for history of mushrooms in Sweden:

A Glorious Fall
After a record-warm and record-sunny summer, Stockholm continued to be blessed through September and October with lovely weather and extra-glorious fall colors.  We spent the summer hiking, kayaking (see below) and enjoying our balcony as much as possible; 
the fall continued in much the same manner, with the added bonus of mushroom picking.  Despite a more normal amount of rain this fall, the forest doesn’t seem to have quite recovered from the summer’s drought so while we have found some mushrooms, we haven’t found the copious quantities that we’ve stumbled upon in autumns past.   
One early fall Saturday we met up with some friends south of the city in Hemfosa, a commuter train station only half an hour south of the central station yet so out in the middle of nowhere that the road to the commuter train station is gravel!  From the commuter train station, we tromped through the forest picking mushrooms with Carl as our mushroom expert and guide.  
After a couple of hours of gathering, we made a little fire on top of a rock outcrop and fried up some veggies and the mushrooms in butter and enjoyed our feast while listening to the crackling of the fire. 
Another fall weekend Carl and I took the subway to the end of the line at Akalla.  After just a ten minute walk from the subway station, you enter a pastoral ideal that feels miles and centuries away from the city; 
a series of connected nature reserves forms an enormous green space just outside of the city center where you could easily hike the entire weekend without finding suburbia again.  
This visit, we focused on Hansta Nature Reserve because its forests of oaks, hazel, and other deciduous trees (cultivated in the Bronze Age and encouraged by resident farmers ever since) promised to be perfect for leaf-peeping.  Our guess was correct—the entire forest was glowing, pulsating gold.
Yet another weekend, we stayed in the city and walked some waterfront trails that we had never explored before.  The foliage around Ekensberg, Mörtviken, and Vinterviken did not disappoint.
We had several weeks of glorious foliage, and then a sudden, light snowfall in late October.  At that point, we knew that fall was officially over and that the seasons had turned; pre-winter has now taken over Stockholm.
Not only is it now pre-winter, but it is rainy, grey November.  Despite the grey mist, Carl and I spent last Sunday wandering through the forest on Lovön in hopes of finding mushrooms.  We only found one edible mushroom, quite a disappointment for Carl!  Even so, it did feel good to get out and move about.  The forest isn’t gloriously beautiful in the grey mist, but it has a mystical beauty that surprises.  
Gordon’s settled in and ready for winter.  We did have the radiators on for a couple of days, but then it got warmer again and we turned them off.  He spent those couple of days lounging on top of the living room radiator, but now he has to suffice with burrowing into down blankets.  You’d think he didn’t have a fur coat of his own!   
The Year of the Kayak Summer
This year, after trying for several years in a row, Carl and I have finally become members of the Stockholm Kayak Klubb!  Becoming a member is really just a matter of trolling the internet at the right time, but only a few spots become available each year and they go quickly.  But this year, we lucked out and were able to sign up before spots ran out.
The kayak club house

The kayak club is a convenient ten or fifteen minute walk from our apartment in Rålambshov park, and it’s even on the way home from work.  There are several hundred members, though it seems like most of the members aren’t terribly active, because we rarely encountered more than a couple of people at the clubhouse, and it was usually the same selection of people that we ran into time and again.  The clubhouse isn’t fancy, but it’s right on the water and has a little kitchen, changing rooms, a bathroom, showers, and even a sauna.  Most importantly, there is storage for roughly 75 kayaks as well as an adequate number of carbon fiber paddles, life jackets, and spray skirts.
Kayak storage and docks at the club

Members can borrow any of the club kayaks as often as they like (or you can store your own boat, but there’s a waiting list for a storage spot).  After the first year, members can even bring a friend who may use the club’s equipment.  Surprisingly, we’ve never had problems with kayaks being available, they’re just always there and ready to be put into the water.

The club has two docks jutting out into the water.  They’re very low, making it easy to crawl in and out of the kayaks without getting so much as a toe wet.  

Unlike everything else in Stockholm, the club dues are very reasonable at 900 kronor or $100 per year.  Renting a kayak for an afternoon costs half that much, so if you use the kayak twice per year, you’ve already broken even.
We weren't the only ones out on the water this summer: Stockholmers were out swiming, sunbathing, kayaking, boating, and SUPing in droves.

The club membership begins with a three evening course which starts from how to take care of the kayaks and gets into paddling technique and culminates in self-rescue.  The club’s boats are exercise and racing boats, so unlike typical sea kayaks, they’re quite unsteady and are prone to rolling.  After showing that you can both self-rescue and swim your boat to shore, you become a full-fledged member and are given keys.  The key distribution was a bit anti-climatic, but it was still one of the most exciting moments of our year!

Once we received our keys, Carl and I settled into a steady rhythm of doing a shorter, hour-long (ish) paddle one workday evening and a longer, several hour to full-day tour one weekend day every week.  There was a big pause over our summer vacation, but otherwise, we paddled quite a lot this summer.  And we loved every minute of it!

Paddling Stockholm’s waterways is seriously fun.  It’s a very relaxing and almost meditative form of exercise, but it is certainly a good upper body workout which strengthens the torso, back, shoulders, and arms.  It’s also a beautiful way to see this beautiful city, and I really enjoyed getting a unique perspective on common sights.
Riddarholmen, Västerbron
It’s also interesting how the heavily trafficked bridges almost melt away from consciousness when I’m in the kayak—the bridges are so big and so high up that they almost don’t exist in the world of the water and my little boat.  At other moments, the bridges frame scenic views of the cityscape.
Årstabron, Essingebro

Shorter paddles included paddling around the islands of Långholmen, Lilla Essingen, Reimersholm, or Stora Essingen or paddling around Riddarfjärden, the large open bay on the freshwater side of Gamla Stan.  Longer paddles included paddling around the island of Kungsholmen, out to the islands of Fågelön and Kärsön, around the Årstaviken Bay and the Årstaholmarna islands.  We covered quite a lot of territory and even paddled several of the routes both clockwise and counterclockwise, but there are still a good number of trips that we still have on our list.

The exercise and racing kayaks are too fragile to be pulled up on land, but the club does have one double sea kayak with a retractable rudder that’s perfect for picnics on lazy summer afternoons.  
Lazy weekend picnic paddles

While I love the wide open views of Norrmälarstrand and the Stockholm City Hall, I think my favorite places to paddle are the more intimate canals such as Pålsundet between Långholmen and Södermalm
and the Klara Kanal between the mainland and Kungsholmen
 and the leafy canal between Lilla Essingen and Kungsholmen.

Some of the paddling routes are past dense areas of the city bristling with buildings,
but quite a lot of the waterlines are so green and leafy that only the tallest buildings poke up over the foliage.
In other places, you get a really poignant view of the city’s development through history.  

It’s amazing how quickly, from the water’s viewpoint, you leave the city.  While the kayak club is right downtown, it only takes a few minute’s paddling to go from huge apartment buildings to single family houses to summer cottages only accessible by boat.
A particularly fun trip was to Årstaholmarna, a couple of connected, small islands in the middle of Årsta Bay.  They can only be reached by boat, and there’s no regular boat service to the islands.  No one (legally) lives on the islands and they are now a nature reserve.  Even though we were in the middle of the city, we felt a bit like we were on a deserted island (we practically were!).

It’s now reaching the end of fall, and presumably the paddle season.  While some of the club members apparently paddle well into the ice-breaking season, I’m not sure I’m all that into such hard core, potentially deathly paddling, especially considering the unsteadiness of the kayaks.  Maybe next year???

Does Butter = Happiness?
So I was in the grocery store the other day and saw that the local dairy has changed their butter packaging.  The block of butter used to just simply say “Smör,” or “Butter” on all four sides.  Apparently, the dairy has decided to get a bit more marketing savvy, and now, two of the sides say “Lycka,” or “Happiness.”  Subtle marketing, right?

I’m not sure that butter is the primary key to happiness, but it is definitely an important contributing factor in the autumn, especially when eating an appetizer of wild, self-foraged mushrooms, fried up in a healthy dose of butter, on Carl’s homemade bread.  Yum!  In combination with a crisp glass of white wine, candlelight, and a wonderful dining companion, wild mushrooms fried in butter are certainly one way to embrace happiness!

Foraging: Hawthorn and Yarrow
Last weekend, Carl and I went on a day hike in Gålö Nature Reserve which is about an hour south of the city by commuter train and bus.  The island nature reserve is probably best known for having Stockholm’s longest sand beach, but being autumn, Carl and I were attracted by reports that the inland areas have ancient deciduous forests.  Since the vast majority of forest this far north consists of pine and spruce, we’re still searching for the perfect leafy forest for fall foliage.
Some of Gålö's non-sandy waterlines

It turns out that the “forest” on Gålö is really hummocks of hardwoods amidst grazing pastures.  The pastures are in the flatter, lower lying areas with relatively deep, fertile soil while the hummocks are where the granite bedrock rises out of the earth and forms hills with little to no soil.  Millennia of grazing livestock have naturally shorn the low lying areas, while millennia of farmers have rooted out “less useful” trees from the hummocks for the benefit of oaks, hazel, birch, elm, and other “useful” hardwoods.  At a glance, the wooded hillocks look like they’re naturally forested, but they are actually just as cultivated as the open hayfields below.
Pastures bordered by hardwood groves

Stegsholm’s Farm is still in use for milk production today, and the current tenants are the fourth generation in the family to tend the land.  Low lying land is still used for summer grazing and haymaking, unwanted trees and undergrowth are still subtly culled from the hummocks.  The resulting landscape doesn’t feel wild in the slightest, but it doesn’t feel fully “civilized,” either.  One can sense the ancientness of the environment, the scene feels intuitively right despite not being natural.  The open, hardwood hummocks are just the type of “forest” that we instinctively crave.

Fall was in the air: it was the fist chilly morning of the fall and the trees were just starting to turn.  The sky was bright blue and there was an autumn crispness to the air.  As we walked, we gathered a few mushrooms though the mushroom harvest still seems to be suffering from the summer drought.  Fried up in butter, these became a delicious appetizer to Sunday dinner.  We also picked a few apples which were meant for an apple cake, but they are still awaiting their turn in the oven.

The hawthorn (hagtorn in Swedish) trees were ablaze in color with their golden leaves and ruby red berries.  Our foraging book gives a very bland description of the berries, but we decided to try any way.  Before we added sugar, the mush was quite uninviting, but with sugar, the berries are beautifully flavorful.  We added cinnamon and made a lovely chutney out of them.
I tried the hawthorn cinnamon extract with pear cognac expecting a delightful concoction of fall incarnate, but the drink needs a little work.  The hawthorn flavor completely overwhelmed the pear.

We also picked some yarrow (röllika) from one of the pastures.  The flowers in herbal tea are palatable but like many meadow tea ingredients, not terribly exciting.  Dried, the flowers make a bitter medicine tea that I only find drinkable with a lot of sugar.
The stems and leaves, however, make a zesty and tasty addition to a salad.  They are a bit milder than rucola (which I often find too overpowering) but serve much the same purpose of bringing a bit of zing and flavor to a simple salad.  The yarrow leaves mellow out after a couple of days.
Our day on Gålö was so lovely, further proof that “everyday” adventures are just as enjoyable and necessary as longer and more exotic expeditions. 

Walking to Work
Left: Riddarholmen.  Sometimes it only takes one tree.  Right: Rådhuset, the Stockholm Court.
This summer I’ve started walking to work 3-ish times a week.  It’s nearly three miles or five kilometers, but it only takes 15 minutes longer to walk than to take the subway.  So why not get some exercise and enjoy my beautiful city instead of crowding onto the subway car?  It’s been a beautiful spring, summer, and fall with hardly any rainy days, so the weather hasn’t held me back (actually, many mornings this summer it was so sunny and hot that I almost didn’t walk!).  I’ve found that I feel much more relaxed and awake when I get to work by walking than when I take the subway.
Left: 1700's and 1800's, side by side, on Hornsgatan, Södermalm.  Right: Billboard says "Thank you for showing LOVE in traffic."

There are two bridges connecting the island where I live (Kungsholmen) to the island where I work (Södermalm), and both routes take about the same amount of time, so about half the time I take the  eastern route over Riddarholmen, and about half the time I take the western route over Långholmen.  I vary the route to and from the bridges quite a lot, too.
A little bit of greenery on dense Brännkyrkagatan, Södermalm.

Although I am walking to commute and not to sightsee, I am often struck by a beautiful detail that I haven’t noticed before that I just have to stop and take a photo of.
Left: Stand up paddleboards on Riddarfjärden.  Right: Fridhemsgatan.
I try to limit my photo breaks to one stop per commute.  I’m now starting to consider taking our “real” camera with me everywhere I go because the phone camera usually produces such disappointing results!
Left: View of Södermalm from Riddarholmen.  Right: Pålsundet between Långholmen and Södermalm.

Impulse Buy

So I was in the grocery store the other day, and in the checkout line I was scanning the headlines of the gossip newspapers when I noticed that in addition to the magazines, gum, chapsticks, and candy bars, there were pregnancy tests on offer as an impulse buy.   I definitely understand the psychology behind having magazines and candy bars on the impulse-buy shelf at the checkout counter, but pregnancy tests?  Is that really something that one buys on a random impulse?  Funny.  In an even better twist of humor, the pregnancy test on offer is from what seems to be Sweden’s main provider of condoms.

MONDAY, MAY 11, 2018
A New Perspective on Stockholm
By law, Sweden’s roofs are extraordinarily well equipped with safety measures to ease roof maintenance and chimney sweeping.  Our recent houseguest, Kelly, an architect, even commented on the abundant rooftop equipment.  As an architect specifying the rooftop equipment, I’ve always been intimidated by the sheer amount of things that have to get attached to a roof—walkways at roof ridges, platforms at chimneys, ladders connecting one level of walkways to the next, even handrails in certain places.  I understand that it all makes rooftop maintenance much safer, but it also seems like all of those extra attachment points through the roof would create numerous extra risk zones for leakage.  This is one of many physical manifestations of how the worker in Sweden is protected and given as comfortable a working environment as possible (in spite of enormous cost). 

A creative entrepreneur in Stockholm has taken advantage of one building’s rooftop safety equipment and runs Rooftop Walks for tourists on the old parliament building (now a federal courthouse) on the island of Riddarholmen.  A while back, my parents-in-law gave Carl and I a gift certificate for a Rooftop Walk.  Life and then an icy winter got in the way, but this spring, we were finally able to go on the adventure.  It was SO cool!

You really do get a new perspective on Stockholm from the rooftop.  Even though you’re only six or seven stories up, you feel like you’re looking down on the water and on the city.  You’re almost level with Södermalm’s cliffs and you get to see all the rooftops that you otherwise only glimpse.

In addition to a new visual perspective, we also got a new historical perspective on the city.  Our guide was very knowledgeable in Stockholm history and she really drove home a new-to-me understanding about the German involvement in medieval Stockholm.  I had known that there were numerous Germans in medieval Stockholm, but I had always assumed that they were here for trade.  And they were, but they were apparently originally invited because the formerly farm-focused Vikings needed help in building a city.  They had previously had no need of big cities or of building in stone, but Christianity and the new economy required them.  The city invited their trading partners, the German Hansa League, to settle in Stockholm in order to help them build a “modern” city.

This the Germans did, and the Germans and Swedes prospered side-by-side.  The city council was half Swedish, half German.  Some decades were marked with peaceful cooperation, other decades by treachery and mass murder.  In the late 1300’s, the Germans locked 76 prominent Swedish councilmen in a barn and set fire to it.

An interesting side effect of the dual city was that until the Reformation, Germans and Swedes attended mass in Latin at the main church, Storkyrkan.  After the Reformation, services began to be held in the local language.  Services in Storkyrkan were thus held in Swedish, which many Germans didn’t understand.  They built themselves their own church so that services could be held in German.  Even today, this church is known as Tyska Kyrkan or The German Church. 

Our Rooftop Walk took us up and down and around, constantly giving us new angles to see our city.  It was a fantastic experience and I warmly recommend it to tourists and Stockholmers alike!  Thank you Ylva and Anders!
SATURDAY, MAY 09, 2018
Foraging: Meadow Plants for Cocktails and Teas

Drying the meadow plants
In addition to foraging Wild Garlic (see my post below), Carl and I also foraged several meadow plants on our recent camping trip at Riddersholm's Nature Reserve

Perhaps the prettiest of the plants were gullvivor or cowslips.
We have tried the cowslips several different ways.  First, we boiled them with a simple syrup and made Cowslip Cocktails with vodka and soda water out of it.  The cocktails were subtle but tasty, but perhaps more sweet than flavorful.  The next night, we infused the cowslip simple syrup with ginger.  These Ginger Cowslip Cocktails had a better balance of flavor vs. sweetness.
Brewing the cowslip simple syrup and the resulting coctail

We also made tea from the cowslip flowers.  Like the cocktails, the tea was a bit subtle, but it tasted soothing and nutritious.  The dried cowslips made an even more subtle, slightly hay-y tea.

The other yellow flower we picked were dandelions, or maskrosor.
Like the cowslips, we made a simple syrup with the dandelion flowers.  The resulting Dandelion Cocktail, also with vodka and soda water, was a bit sharp but more flavorful than the cowslips.  The next time, we infused the simple syrup with ginger, and the resulting Ginger Dandelion Cocktails were quite good, perhaps a new favorite.
Dandelion simple syrup in the making

Tea from the fresh dandelions was drinkable, but not noteworthy.  Same with the dried flowers.      

We also picked the leaves of dagkåpor, or Lady’s Mantle.  Carl said that the resulting tea from the leaves tasted like “grass with an artichoke flavor,” and I agree.  Pleasant and healthy-tasting, but not a new must-pick favorite.
FRIDAY, MAY 08, 2018
Foraging: Wild Garlic
I recently posted about camping at Riddersholm's Nature Reserve where we picked bags of wild garlic, known in Swedish as ramslök.  Several of the nature reserve’s forest floors were seas of ramslök which is actually a relatively rare plant, especially on the Swedish mainland, so finding such quantities of it was unexpected and fun.

Back at home, we’ve been eating the wild garlic in one form or another for weeks. The most common thing to do with the plant is to make soup.  We tried several different recipes: one with a white wine base, another with pureed asparagus, and yet another with a cream base.  All were delicious, but I think that our favorite was the cream base.

Much like one makes garlic butter in a food processor, we also made ramslök butter.  It is delicious by itself on bread, as a sandwich base, and to fry eggs in.  We even made liters of ramslök pesto—it was fairly easy to make, just the wild garlic, lots of olive oil, and lots of sunflower seeds in the food processor (our own recipe!).  The pesto has been very tasty on crackers for a picnic lunch and on slices of baguette as an appetizer.

I didn’t photograph them, but we made delicious ramslök pancakes, fried in and served with ramslök butter. 

Additionally, we have frozen and dried large quantities of the ramslök for future soup dinners.  It’ll be interesting to see which method retains the most flavor.

Many of the things we’ve foraged over the past few years have been fun to taste, but they haven’t been so amazing that we’ve felt like it was worth the effort to pick year after year.  Wild garlic, on the other hand, is so flavorful and versatile that I’m pretty sure we’ll pick it every spring now that we’ve found such a bountiful source.

Catching Up: Winter, Spring, and Practically Summer 2018
I haven’t been keeping up with my blog very well lately, I guess I’m too busy living my life to write about it.  But it’s a good life, and I want to remember it!

We got home from Christmas vacation (See “Snowy Holidays”) to a snowless and not toooo cold Stockholm.  It was very unusual, but we even went for a day hike in January.  The forest wasn’t at its best—frozen creeks, grey weather, leafless trees—but we did see some beautiful ice formations in the creeks.  You could hear the water gurgling and see bubbles of air pass downstream, all below the icy surface.  It was a moment of magic in an otherwise seemingly dead forest.

Another weekend we went long-distance ice skating on Källtorpssjön at Hellasgården, a recreation area just outside of Stockholm.  I’m still uncomfortable out on the ice, even when it’s very thick.  I love the possibilities of long-distance ice skating, but I haven’t quite come to terms with my fears of falling through.

Later in the month, it finally snowed, but only a few centimeters—not enough to go cross country skiing.  But, on Rönningesjön Lake just north of Stockholm, the city plowed a five kilometer-long ice skating track on the lake.  Beside the ice skating track, the piled up snow was just deep enough to be prepared into a cross-country skiing track.

The winter progressed and was consistently cold, and it snowed on and off, but only one weekend had deep enough snow for cross country skiing.  Instead, we got our skiing kicks on a hut-to-hut ski touring trip in the mountains, (see “Ski Touring in Jämtland”), on a cross-country skiing trip a few hours north of the city (see “Spur-of-the-Moment Cross-Country Weekend in Dalarna”), and on downhill skiing trip in the French Alps (see “Serre Chevalier (Reprise)”).  I also contented myself with walking through the snowy, icy city, enjoying the ironies of a high dive over ice and plastic palm trees waving in the freezing breeze.
Despite the lack of snow, the weather stayed cold well into April and the ice remained thick on the lakes.  But suddenly, the weather turned unseasonably warm and the ice in the city began to melt away.
Klara Canal

Outside of the city, however, the ice was much thicker and it took a while for the sudden warm weather to make a dent in the ice.
We took a day hike north of Stockholm to Runsa, an area on Lake Mälaren that has been the seat of local power for millennia.  A palace designed by architect Jean de la Vallée in the early 1600’s marks the more modern seat of power,
and unusually large lakeside grave mounds confirm that the area was also the seat of local power in the Iron Age.  Interestingly, the Iron Age farm was built on top of a natural height.  Sheer cliffs dropped down into the water and toward the farm fields in three directions, and stone walls topped by wooden palisades closed off the farm from attack on the fourth side.  Such fornborgar or “ancient fortresses” are common in the area, but they were usually used as a defensive post by a whole community in times of distress.  It is unusual that one farm and family built and occupied this type of fortress by themselves, giving further evidence to the fact that this was the seat of an unusually wealthy and powerful clan.
Left: an opening in the now-collapsed stone defensive wall.  Right: Stone foundation of the Iron Age longhouse.
In addition to the large grave mounds I mentioned above, there is a large stenskeppssättning or “stone ship setting” just below the fortress.  These standing stones  in the shape of a ship served as a grave marker for an extremely important person.  An extra large eight-foot tall (above ground) standing stone at the ship’s prow is especially impressive.
The ship-shaped stone setting is easier to make out from above.  On the ground, it's obvious that the stones are purposefully arranged in a rounded form, but the ship form isn't as clear.
While we did hike a bit at Runsa, the day was so beautiful and warm that we were more tempted to lounge in the sun than continue hiking.  We spent a couple of hours snoozing in our hammock on top of the fortress.  In the sunshine, it was so warm that we didn’t even have our jackets on.  Even though the trees hadn’t even started budding yet, this day trip felt like the beginning of spring, almost summer.

Right after my “Long Weekend in San Diego,” two friends (Kelly, a friend from grad school, and her wife Bethany) arrived for a visit.  They timed their visit specifically to share the Valborg holiday with us.  We celebrated the traditional start of spring at a bonfire in the park just down the street from our house.  I was surprised at how few people were at the celebration, especially given the unusually warm weather—we had a front row view without having to elbow our way in.

In addition to bonfire viewing, we shared our beautiful city with our guests for an action-packed week. Among other activities, we took the tourist boat to Drottningholm Palace one sunny morning.
 At one point on the boat ride, the boat stopped and stood still for a bit.  It took us a while to figure out why, but then we saw a deer with a full rack swimming across the channel from one island to another!  Another sunny day we took a ferry out into the archipelago for a day trip to the islands of Gällnö och Karklo.  In addition to a little day hike, we also rowed from one island to the next!
And we had sunset drinks at my favorite neighborhood bar, Mälarpaviliongen.  
We also visited Skogskyrkogården or Woodlawn Cemetery.  It was total luck but we were there for a very rare open house where all of the chapels were open to the public instead of being used for services.
Left: Steel grate over the door to Asplund's famous Woodlawn Chapel.  Right: Through a window of the New Crematorium, you can see the ovens at work. 

It rained a bit at the beginning of Kelly and Bethany’s visit, but then it turned clear, sunny and warm.  This marked the beginning of a record-breaking heat wave in Stockholm.  It remained sunny and nearly cloud-free for a completely unprecedented five entire weeks.  It was so constantly sunny and warm that it was starting to feel like Texas, only greener.
Humlegården and Vanadislunden, two city parks.

Carl and I spent two warm, sunny weekend days exploring Paradiset, Tornberget, and Svartsjön, three contiguous nature reserves just south of Stockholm.  It is a surprisingly huge area of ancient forest
This viewing platform is atop Tornberg, Stockholm County's highest point.  From the tower, you can see very little development and lots of forest.
only lightly touched by human intervention.
Scenic farm at Paradiset
The landscape is a mostly pine forest on very rocky terrain with the granite bedrock rearing up through the thin layer of earth here and there.  In the low, slow-to-drain areas, bogs replace the forest.
Rocky forest and bog at Paradiset
Dark, sparkling lakes invite a swim, and we had our inaugural swim of the year in Långsjön.

The days are getting longer and longer and we’re now into the time of year when it never gets completely dark.  Carl and I have been attending a good number of cultural performances lately, and when the opera or ballet gets out around 11p.m., it’s still light enough out to read by.
Left: Evening at the Folk Opera.  Right: Walking home after an evening at the Royal Ballet.

Looking back on all this feverish activity from long-distance ice skating on frozen lakes to swimming in them just a couple of months later makes me feel like it’s no wonder that I’m always exhausted.  But the truth is, for every day that we’re out and about exploring our beautiful city, we spend another weekend day lounging on our balcony reading and enjoying evening cocktails.