Saturday, December 8, 2012


This picture has nothing to do with  Thanksgiving or Christmas.
It's just pretty.

OK, I promised a report on what I had for Thanksgiving dinner, so here it is.

I can't exactly remember.

I wish I  knew how to type in a whisper. How awful of me. I'm sure you were expecting something a bit more wordy here. Possibly you wanted a lengthy description of a home made Swedish meal complete with riveting commentary on presentation and taste. Perhaps you were thinking that I would at least have set aside a moment while eating whatever I had to remember what I'm thankful for. Well, I did do that, but it's a daily ritual so Thanksgiving day just doesn't stand out among all the rest. Sorry.

In lieu of describing Thanksgiving dinner I will instead regale you with all the things Christmas that I ate or drank during the two weeks we spent in Sweden. It's not a short list as Swedes seem to enjoy making everything taste different for Christmas. I don't know why. Maybe it's because they don't have the Winter Carnival like we do in Minnesota and need some distraction to keep them from going stir crazy. Maybe they're tired of coming up with new ways to use beets and herrings. I just don't know.

First there was Christmas beer which we had the first night we were there and almost every meal we ate at home in the following days. Leif's dad has a favorite called Pripp's Jul. I'd like to report that it had a festive flavor with hints of gingerbread and candy canes but in truth it just tasted like beer. Maybe I would need to drink the everyday Swedish beer, every day, to find the finer points of Christmas beer. That's never gonna happen so I'll just take Pripp's word for it that it tastes like Christmas, if Christmas tasted like beer.

Then there is a Christmas soda called Julmust. Coca-Cola puts a picture of Santa on the can and calls it Christmas soda. Still tastes like Coke though. In Sweden Christmas soda tastes different. I can't really put my finger on what it tastes like. Sort of like a less sweet cola with a maple syrup taste at the end. Like having Christmas ham and coke in your mouth at the same time. Not unpleasant. Just different.

Christmas bread arrived in the stores a few days after we got there. Sometimes it has raisins, sometimes not, and the bread is more dense and dark. It tastes just slightly sweet and seems to go with everything from meat to cheese. I assume it also goes with caviar because I watched Leif and his dad eat it for breakfast (!), but it will have to remain a third hand report as I really don't enjoy caviar. FYI I didn't spot any Christmas caviar while I was there. I can't imagine that they would leave such an icon of Swedish food unmolested by Christmas spirit, but maybe this is where they are showing great restraint and I'm just not appreciating the effort.

Christmas is also the season for exotic sweet breads like Lussekatter. These are very traditional Swedish sweet buns made with saffron and raisins that are usually twisted into a figure eight shape. Since they all taste pretty much the same, marketing demands that there be a variety of shapes. Long coffee cakes, little saffron squares, big and little figure eights either looking perfect, like they came off a production line or so "hand made" that you'd swear they were fashioned by a team of four year olds on a sugar high. Every time you go to someone's house for coffee they hope that they're the first ones to serve you  lussekatter. Of course they all couldn't be first, but I could honestly say I'd never see one shaped quite like it before.

Then there's the mulled wine called glögg. Every year the municipal liquor store releases a special, limited production flavor of the year in addition to the traditional glögg. All are served warm with raisins and almonds (in the cup so the raisins can soak up some alcohol) and there are alcohol free versions for drivers and kids. This years offering is in a white bottle and has the flavors of Japanese yuzu, ginger and mandarin oranges. I had to look yuzu up as it's a mystery food to me. According to Wikipedia (information source for the discerning) it is a strange looking sour citrus from Japan that is surprisingly frost-hardy. It probably doesn't taste like much on its own, but it's very good in glögg.

One night we had dinner with Leif's brother and his family. We had Christmas sausages called prins korv. Translated directly those would be prince sausages. They are halfway between a hot dog and  a sausage in taste and size, and very good with beet salad and mashed potatoes. Tomas' wife Karin commented that the sausages didn't taste much like prince this year. Never having tasted a prince myself I couldn't argue; I'll just take her word for it.

I actually got to make gingerbread cookies with Karin this year. Pepparkaka is more than just a cookie I found out. It also goes well with cheese....strong cheeses like Gorgonzola and cheeses with garlic or herbs added. Incredibly yummy, in fact. Everyone should try it. You can buy the cookies at IKEA if you must, throw your favorite cheese on it and enjoy. I was skeptical but now I'm a firm believer. It was also fun to be part of a family tradition. It's not easy to do that from hundreds of miles away.

And finally, Christmas candy, represented by the ubiquitous Julskum. I've described this before I think. Really sticky, kind of marshmallowy candy shaped like a Swedish Santa (kind  of like a slightly scary looking gnome in a red suit.) Like glögg, there is a limited edition flavor of the year. This year it's something that roughly translates to wintergreen apple. I was not impressed. I like the regular flavor best, especially the way we had it this time. Karin made homemade chocolate sauce for the vanilla ice cream. That's right, made with real ingredients like cream and butter and cocoa and sugar. And when you dip the julskum into it, well, it's pretty much heaven. Sugar covered in warm, creamy chocolate. I'd suggest waiting till the kids go to bed so you don't have to share.

Leif tells me that while I think of salmon as a solid year round Swedish dish, many Swedes feel it's a very Christmas dish. We had it twice. Once baked in what Karin called an ordinary way and a (I suppose) typical sauce made with creme fraiche or maybe yogurt, dill, lemon juice and red caviar. I really love salmon made this way. The second time we had it Leif's sister used a recipe that she's had for years but never actually tried. Salmon baked with blue cheese inside and a sherry/dill cream sauce. It smells like old socks when it's cooking but tastes great.
Before the big storm hit. Already lots of snow.

In fact, I thought I was smelling me (and desperately trying to remember when I last showered) while the salmon was baking as I was cooking tiny pancakes called plättar. These aren't Christmas either, but I was pretty proud of my little pancakes. I'm so good, in fact, that Leif's niece Rebecka thinks I should live with them so that I can make them every day. She's seven and probably easily convinced of things but I'll take the compliment in the spirit it was given.

We didn't have an actual Christmas dinner so there was no ham, or bread with the ham water, or herrings of many flavors, or beets prepared five different ways. But I think I've managed to give you just a hint of what it means to be Swedish at Christmas, at least while you're eating.

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