Thursday, June 20, 2013

Midsummer in Sweden

(Photo from Gunnebo Slott in Gothenburg - 2010)

It’s hard to believe that Midsummer is already upon us! It seems like just yesterday I was thinking about switching out my winter clothes for spring and summer clothes. And though we have had some nice warm days, it still does not yet feel like summer here in Stockholm. That being said, there are only three days left until Midsummer and time to get my menu  in gear, make those Midsommarkranser (flower crowns), and prepare to sing, dance, and hop like a frog around the Midsommarstång (May pole). You know what they say... when in Rome... or Sweden in my case. 

We will be spending Midsommar on the west coast this year. So far we've celebrated Midsommar at Gunnebo Slott in Gothenburg with my husband's family, a delicious picnic and homemade flower wreaths, here in Stockholm at Vitabergsparken with some dear friends and some really good champagne, and again on the west coast on the island of Tjörn, where my husband's family has a summer cottage. This year we are heading back to Tjörn. Hopefully the weather will make a change for the better. Right now it is looking like a rainy, indoor Midsommar. Which means lots of eating and libations. It's not necessarily a bad thing but some sunshine would be nice for the longest day of the year. 

Here are a few photos from past year's celebrations:


(Picking flowers from my sister-in-law's garden)

(Making my Midsommarkrans (flower crown))

(Picnic at Gunnebo Slott in Gothenburg)

(Svenska jordgubbar (Swedish word for strawberries - literally translates to mean "earth men")

(A glass of bubbly with strawberries and citronmeliss, or lemon balm)

(The dinner spread)

(Too shy to dance arround the May pole at Gunnebo, my husband and I came across this lonely pole the day after so I took advantage of the privacy and hopped around it like a frog)


(Vitabergspark in Stockholm with a couple of our dear friends, B & J) 
(Leaf crowns "borrowed" from a group that left them behind!)

(Midsommarstång, or May pole)


(Vegetarian quiche for lunch, topped with chive blossoms and chopped chives, both from the garden)

(Cardamom & pear cake)

(Our very own Midsommar pole)

(Who is that on my wine glass???!)

(Um... this was what was left after lunch... however, this also disappeared during the "clean up")

(A little fun and games between meals... my husband pulled out his unicycle)

(Beautiful hand-painted sign for our summer cottage neighborhood - Viks Ödegärde)

(Gentlemen doing gentlemen-ly things - scrubbing the potatoes!)

(Dinner spread)

(Best Midsommartårta (cake) ever! - Recipe below)

Important things that must be present for any successful Midsummer: 
  • Lots of fresh flowers from the garden (or supermarket)
  • Lots of fresh, Swedish strawberries (and if you think you have enough, buy a few more cartons)
  • Inlagd sill (pickled herring) & fresh Swedish potatoes (of course with all the classic accoutrements: finely chopped red onion, chives, sour cream, löjrom, dill and lemon. Some also serve it with chopped, pickled beets and chopped boiled egg. 
  • Swedish snaps (O.P. Anderson is our favorite)
  • Did I mention Swedish strawberries for the cake?
Speaking of Midsommar and Swedish strawberries, my absolutely, favorite, Midsommar dessert is one from Ernst Kirchsteiger, that one of my sisters-in-law turned me on to.This "midsommartårta" is one of the best desserts you'll ever eat. I hope you'll try it! (I have written in the English instructions directly after the Swedish ones).

Ernst Midsommartårta - 8 bitar (8 servings)

(Tip for the US: If you look at your Pyrex measuring cup, you will see a measurement for milliliters (ml) on the opposite side)

SMET 1 (Batter 1):

1 1/2 dl vetemjöl (100-150 ml flour)
1 dl strösocker (100 ml sugar)
2 tsk bakpulver (2 tsp baking powder)
150 g smör, smält (150 grams butter, melted – 1 stick is 113 grams)
3 äggulor (3 egg yolks)
5 msk grädde (5 tbsp cream)

SMET 2 (Batter 2):

3 äggvitor (3 egg whites)
2 dl strösocker (200 ml sugar)
1 tsk vaniljsocker (1tsp vanilla sugar, or just vanilla extract)
mandelspån (1/2 -1 cup sliced almonds)
FYLLNING (Filling):Rikligt med bär, som hallon, vinbär, blåbär och jordgubbar (Plenty of fresh berries, such as raspberries, red currants, blueberries and strawberries – we used strawberries only)
3 dl vispad grädde (300 ml whipped cream)
mera bär till garnering (More berries for garnishing)
florsocker (powdered sugar)

Gör så här (Instructions):

1) Sätt ugnen på 175 grader (Preheat oven to 175 C/350 F)

2) SMET 1: Blanda vetemjöl, strösocker och bakpulver. Vispa ihop
med smält smör, äggulor och grädde. Bred ut på bakplåtspapper i en långpanna. (Batter 1: Blend flour, sugar & baking powder together.
Whisk the melted butter, egg yolks and cream together and add to the dry ingredients. Spread out on a cookie sheet prepared with parchment paper).

3) SMET 2: Vispa äggvitor, strösocker och vaniljsocker till en tjock
maräng. Bred ut marängen ovanpå den första degen. Strö över mandelspån.
(Batter 2: Whip the egg whites, sugar and vanilla sugar/vanilla until you have a thick merringue. Spread the merringue over the first batter and top with a generous sprinkling of sliced almonds).

4) Grädda i nedre delen av ugnen i cirka 30 minuter eller tills
marängen fått lite färg.
(Bake in the lower part of the over approximately 30 minutes, or until the merringue is light brown).

5) Dela kakan på mitten och lägg bär och grädde på den ena halvan. Lägg på den andra halvan, garnera gärna med bär och pudra över florsocker. (Divide the cake in two, spread whipped cream and berries on the bottom half. Top with the second half of the cake and garnish with more berries and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Tips: Gör dubbel sats med två bottnar för en större tårta. (For one large cake, double all ingredients and layer the whole cakes :-D I recommend doubling the recipe  - it is THAT GOOD!)

(Does this not look completely divine??!)

One other Midsommar tradition is for young girls to gather seven different flowers during the day into a small bouquet. You then sleep with the bouquet under your pillow and supposedly you'll dream of the man you are to marry. Since I've already married the man of my dreams I won't be participating but I think it's a nice tradition.

(Handpicked on our afternoon walk near the summer cottage)

Will you sleep with seven flowers under your pillow this Midsommar?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tjejvättern Adventure!

(First training ride... you can see from our clothing that it was not warm in Stockholm yet)

Back around Christmas time, one of my friends mentioned to a group of us that she was going to ski the Kristinaloppet - a thirty kilometer cross-country ski event - and asked if any of us wanted to do it with her. I'll admit I was tempted to say yes but given the fact that I'd never even stood on cross-country skis, I thought better of it (well, my husband told me I was crazy to even entertain the thought) and politely declined. A week or two later the same friend asked if we would be interested in doing a 100km bike race/ride in June. This was more doable and sounded fun and I had plenty of time to train, albeit during the cold, icy, Swedish, winter months. At least in the beginning of our training period. Was I completely crazy?

(Spring training ride... much better :-))

Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But in the end, five of us, plus one and then minus one closer to the race, ended up making it to Motala for the Tjejvättern. In one car with five bikes and five girls, and we not only survived but conquered the race. We all finished in under five hours, which was the originally estimated time we had allowed ourselves, with stops.

(Three bikes on the back and five girls and two bikes inside... ready to roll!)

What began as a fitness goal turned into one of the neatest bike adventures I've been on. Closer to the race we discussed going up the day before to avoid having to get up with the chickens and drive there the day of the race, for our 10:48 a.m. start time. The race was to take place in Motala, Sweden, which is a couple hours drive from Stockholm. Unfortunately the hotel we had booked for Saturday night was now full on Friday so one of the (very resourceful) girls (K) just happened to find Kullagården - a farm bed & breakfast with a room large enough to accommodate the five of us, with an extra cot. I was apprehensive at first but staying there turned out to be one of the most awesome experiences during our trip.

(Cow greeters, as we drove up to the farm... Kullagården Bed & Breakfast)

 (Hay!!! Early morning grazers the next day)

(Entrance to the bed and breakfast)

(The Barn)

Kulla Skattegård, as it is called, runs an ekologisk, or organic, farm and horse hotel. Breakfast, towels, sheets, our own bathroom, and cow greeters included. And the proprietor went above and beyond to ensure our stay and experience was comfortable and pleasant, allowing us to lock our bikes in their garage over night and even printing out a race start card for one of us who accidentally left it on the printer at home. She even gave us directions the "back way" to Motala which took us through more beautiful farm land. It was a wonderfully peaceful start to our day.

(Got my kit on and ready to roll!)

Once in Motala, we managed to find parking and get to the start just in the nick of time. And that was arriving early, so we thought. Most of the race took us through country, farm land where we were unfortunately forced to share the road with cars, and even a street sweeper in one stretch of road. (There were some curse words uttered during this leg of the ride). However, the "mountain stage," as I like to call it, was absolutely beautiful... quiet... and peaceful... as we wound up... and then down... the mountain through sunny and pine-tree, shaded spots. Lovely!

(This photo is courtesy of C - one of the gals on my "team")

I felt strong throughout the race but once we hit the 70km mark I was ready to be rid of my clipless pedals and the shoes that were attached to them. It's funny that they are called clipless pedals, when the shoes are actually clipped into them. My shoulders were also complaining and every so often I stood up on my pedals to give my bum a breather from sitting on the hard, unapologetic sadle. But once I reached that 10km left marker I was given a burst of energy and spunk and I sailed into the finish. 

(M, G, Me, C & K - Photo courtesy of C)

We hung around Motala in the afterglow of our finish for a short while, lounging near the water front or in the lush, green lawn of the park, before we got back on the road for Linköping and the much awaited and longed for hot showers and clean, non-bicycle clothing. The restaurant, Riva, that a friend of a friend had recommended to us just so happened to be located right across the street from our hotel in Gamla Linköping. How convenient! We dined on some of the most delicious pizza I've had. And being a connoisseur of pizza I truly feel that my opinion is accurate. I had a pizza appropriately named, La Favorita, only without the oxfile (meat). We finished the evening with a stroll around Stortorget (the big square), an ice cream cone, and a visit to the hotels roof top.

(Riva - Restaurant recommended by one of K's friends - It was awesome!)

(La Favorita - without "oxfile," or beef)

A few more photos from our visit to Linköping the evening and day after the race...

(Cykelparkering (bike parking) Before)

(Cykelparkering After)

(One of the many churches around Gamla (Old) Linköping)

(A rooftop sneak peek at our hotel - Best Western Linköping)

(A cool exhibit of "dreams" along a wall by the water)

(The entire wall - it was really fun to read the dreams of people from ages 2 through 80+)


It was an awesome adventure... 

On My Bike... 

but this time with Friends and a Cast Iron Will!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Homemade Rhubarb Pop-Tarts

Who doesn’t have a fond, childhood memory of Pop-Tarts? Maybe even a fond, adult memory of them? I was always a big fan until I discovered that they were made with high fructose corn syrup, among a long list of other ingredients that seemed a bit unnatural to me. Then I discovered a healthier version with Nature’s Path Organic, which made me really happy. I could now enjoy Pop-Tarts, a.k.a. toaster pastries, without feeling like I was betraying my goals of healthier eating. 

However, upon inspection and comparison of this new, more, "healthy version" with the original Pop-Tart (on a mountain bike trip out to west Texas with my husband and a friend of ours) the total sugar was actually [slightly] higher in the Nature’s Path version (frowny face). Well...  you can’t win them all! I still love knowing that there is a version of my beloved, childhood favorite, made with healthier, organic ingredients, and I will eat them as often as I please.

Only, in Sweden, "as often as I please," isn't as often as I'd like, as it isn't so often that I obtain "access" to them. Last Christmas one of my dear friends in Texas sent me not one, but two boxes of my favorite Nature’s Path, unfrosted, blueberry, toaster pastries. I was in heaven. And I still am actually. I save them for special occasions, or mornings when I am especially longing for something to remind me of my old home. It always helps. Thanks again, D!

Unfortunately, I am now down to one pack of two pastries. Why not try making them myself? Funny you ask... after a previous post on my blog, Finding Happy in 365 Days, a friend suggested I make my own. I am just now getting around to that, after nearly a year! Well, as they say, better late than never. And I must add that I will be making these often! While, they are a tad more buttery and rich than the organic, Nature’s Path version (I may have to work on a healthier crust), they are absolutely divine and will definitely suffice until I can restock my beloved, blueberry toaster pastries ;-).

For the rhubarb filling I placed approximately two cups of chopped and peeled rhubarb, fresh from N & K's garden here in Sweden (thank guys!), in a small simmer pot with a couple of tablespoons of water and several tablespoons of sugar. I allowed it to cook down, stirring and tasting often, and adding a bit more sugar to balance out the sour taste of the rhubarb. I then used approximately 1 tablespoon of rhubarb "jam" per pastry. Delicious!

A summer "kid" enjoying rhubarb fresh from the garden...