Something Swedish


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Julbord: Christmas Table

I’ve eaten Christmas dinner in Sweden four times now, but it wasn’t until this year that I realized how traditional it really is. A week before Christmas we had lunch at a restaurant, which happened to be serving a “Julbord.” Christmas in Sweden is all about the Julbord – think “Smörgåsbord” but with all the classic Christmas foods. The restaurant Julbord was serving the exact same Christmas foods as I’ve eaten in Sweden the last few years; it’s not just a family tradition.

Come noon on December 24th (Swede’s celebrate on the eve, or afton) our Julbord looks something like this every year:

Except this year we somehow forgot the boiled eggs – a Swedish tragedy. So, whats on this Christmas Table? Let’s see!

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Julskinka: Naturally, The Christmas Ham – only eaten after smothered in mustard.

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Dopp i gryta: “Dip in the pot” –  Using the rich flavored Christmas Ham broth, it is very traditional to dip dark bread and to eat the soaked bread along with Christmas dinner.

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Janssons Frestelse:  “Janssons Temptation”a delicious dish with very thinly cut potato ‘sticks’ is cooked in the oven with a secret ingredient that makes many non-swedes squirm…

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Anchovies. and anchovy juice.  Sounds gross, I know, but it’s awesome and full of flavor!

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Kålpudding:  Cabbage pudding. Thinly chopped cabbage, fried with syrup, baked with a thick layer of seasoned ground beef in the middle.

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Some Kålpudding and Janssons Frestelse  preparation.

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Fläskkorv: large pork sausage

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Prinskorv: “Prince sausage”  mini hotdog-like sausages

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Köttbullar: The homemade meatballs, of course.

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Brunkål: Brown Cabbage, served as a side dish. Cabbage is boiled and fried and seasoned with vinegar, salt and syrup.

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Christmas Bread

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Cheese, bread, butter, and salad.

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My Christmas feast. Bottom center is the Kålpudding and Janssons Frestelse.

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Alongside we drank Julmust, beer, and snaps.

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Julmust is a very popular cola beverage that is Christmas themed and has a distinctly different “holiday” flavor.

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After dinner and before the presents we eat Struva and glögg – a Swedish mulled spiced wine served warm with raisins and almonds.

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Later that evening we enjoyed Swedish cheesecake, icecream, jam, and cream with coffee, tea, and liquor.

If we had any young kids in the family our Christmas eve festivities would be very different, having to schedule around the must-watch 3:00pm Christmas cartoon, “Kalle Anka,” or as we know him – Donald Duck.  Every year half of Sweden faithfully sits around the television and watches “Kalle Anke och hans vänner önskar God Jul” or “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.”

Which would probably be followed by a mysterious Santa knocking on the door and giving out presents.

Christmas eve is also filled with tons of chocolate treats and candy, both as dessert and presents.

On Christmas Day, as if we aren’t full enough, we have our next food tradition – Lutfisk served with boiled potatoes.

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Lutefisk is a white fish that is air dried to later be re-hydrated with water and lye. The fish soaks in the lye water for weeks before it is ready to be cooked. The fish has a strange consistency the first time you eat it, but it is easily forgotten because it is served with a ton of white sauce, salt, and pepper. There are very small bones in the fish,  so be careful!

One last thing – it is very popular to make gingerbread houses in Sweden, as well as to eat ginger bread cookies throughout the month.

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Swedish Wedding: “Svenskt Bröllop”

Last week I went to my first Swedish wedding!

Attending weddings from different places is a huge insight into the cultures, traditions, and beliefs of the country and people. Having already researched Swedish weddings for my own wedding here in Sweden last year, I knew what to expect but was excited to see if we did it “right.”

1. The Church vs Civil Marriage: (Kyrkbröllop vs. Borgerligt) Despite being a secular country, where most Swedes don’t attend church on a regular basis, many Swedes choose to have a church wedding. Many Swedes have their weddings in church because of strong long standing traditions and/or to have a higher power present at such an important moment. Civil marriages are also very popular and common because many weddings in Sweden are more casual and small. Civil marriages are often done outside of city hall, on a beach, in a field, in the garden, at the family’s summer cottage.

Our friends had their wedding in a picturesque  church with red and white wooden exterior. It was beautiful and quaint, with a view of the ocean. Their ceremony was surrounded by old paintings, stained glass, and candles. Our civil wedding was outside surrounded by nature, in the  grass and sun, under a tent with birch trees. To me both locations/styles seemed perfectly Swedish.

2. Vows & Ceremony: It is not common to write and say your own vows in Sweden, especially when you get married in a church. Although, that tradition has been catching on and is becoming more popular recently. The “I do” I’m so familiar with is replaced with “Ja,” the Swedish word for “Yes.” The legal rights are the same between church and civil marriages, but the ceremony is not. The “long” version of the civil ceremony is two minutes. Our officiant was nice enough to extend and alter the short civil ceremony to include both English and Swedish, our own vows, a poem, and a sand ceremony.

3. Seating: The most common way to arrange the table at a wedding in Sweden is in the shape of a “U.” All the tables are connected and everyone is together. There is a “head table” but it is not separate than the others, just in the center. I think this is a great way to seat all the guests, easier to mingle and meet new people. We sat families and friends together, basically creating an English side and a Swedish side. At our friends wedding they decided to make it fun and mix it up by seating new people next to each other (even couples are slightly separated) with information about each guest in the program, this is apparently a very common thing to do at Swedish weddings.

4. Wedding Favors: It is not common to give out wedding favors in Sweden, unlike  in the U.S.. Wanting to bring the two cultures together at our wedding, I decided to give wedding favors anyway since it is a pretty big part of American tradition. I was not surprised to see no wedding favors at the wedding we attended.

5. Presents: A different tradition that I was looking forward to seeing is the opening of the wedding presents at the wedding in front of the guests. We did not do this at our Swedish wedding because we thought it might make American guests uncomfortable.

6. Toastmaster: In Sweden each wedding has a person especially appointed to handling the organization of toasts, games, and events. Anybody and everybody gives toasts at a Swedish weddings so it is a big deal and commonly takes up a large part of the reception (Making the meal last a long time!), the toastmaster makes sure this goes smoothly by being notified of all speeches beforehand and timely introducing each toaster throughout the party. The toastmaster is commonly the best man or maid of honor, but not always.

7. Games & Songs: Unlike an American wedding, most Swedish weddings have a variety of entertainment planned by the toastmaster – usually at the expense of the bride and groom. The games are often “tricks” or quizzes that the newlywed couple need to play. This is something we did not include, so I was thrilled to see it at our friends wedding. The first game was for the blindfolded bride to pick her husband by feeling the legs of the groom and three other men. The second game was for the groom to pick the bride by being kissed (on the lips) by her and three other women. Except that the when the blindfold went on, the women were switched with men!

8. Bridal Party: In Sweden it is uncommon to have the large entourage of people involved in the wedding like in America. Instead of five or six bridesmaids/groomsmen it is usually only one or two.


Some More Traditions:

  • Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” holds true for both American and Swedish weddings.
  • In this gender-equal society the father of the bride never “gives the bride away” at the ceremony, instead the couple walk into the wedding together- hand in hand, as equals.
  • When the groom leaves the room at the reception it is common for people to jump up and kiss the bride (on the cheek) while he is away. Same goes for when she leaves.
  • Some Swedish brides wear a bridal crown of flowers, ribbons, and/or myrtle leaves.
  • Swedish brides traditionally have a silver coin in the left shoe from her father and a gold coin in the right shoe from her mother. This is so she will ‘never go without.’
  • It is said that whoever steps inside the church first or says “Ja” (I do) the loudest will ‘wear the pants’ in the marriage.
  • Throwing the bouquet and garter belt is not a tradition in Sweden.
  • The cake cutting does not typically involve smashing cake in each others faces.

Swedish Wedding Trivia:

  • Try not to wear a red dress to the wedding – some might think that you slept with the groom.
  • The bouquet used to be made of the foulest smelling weeds to ward off trolls, thankfully this is no longer tradition.
  • The verb for “Married” in Swedish is “Gift” [yift]. If read as a noun “Gift” means “Poison.”
  • Civil weddings were introduced to Sweden in 1908
  • Sweden was the 7th country to allow same sex marriages. In May 2009 civil marriages were allowed, in April 2009 all marriages are gender-neutral, and in November 2009 same sex marriages are allowed in churches.
  • The bride usually wears three bands, one for engagement, one for marriage, and a third for motherhood.
  • Midsummer is an extremely popular time to get married in Sweden, but according to a poll in 2010 August has the most registered weddings in Sweden.
  • The Bride is called “Brud” and the groom is “Brudgum” (Bridegroom) and the two together are “Brudparat” (Bride pair).

GRATTIS PÅ BRÖLLOPET!


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New York City

Being back in Sweden reflecting over our vacation to New York City, I realize how odd it feels to call two places “home.” To call your parents house “home” because you grew up there is hard to compare to relating to two entirely different countries both as “home.”  To feel like you belong – to be comfortable, connected, and relaxed – to fit in –  to be able to make friends – to know people, the area, and things to do –  to be able to be yourself. To be coming and going all in the same visit.

Home is where the heart is, and you leave a piece of your heart in every place you’ve been and with every person you’ve met along the way.

This was my first time actually visiting New York City, spending time with friends and family, seeing the sites, making memories, shopping, eating American food, trying to do as much as possible in three weeks.

Reuniting with so many people was much needed, even if we sadly didn’t get to see everyone. BBQ’s, road trips, picnics, dinners, shopping, laughing, talking, or just sitting around doing nothing. Catching up and telling stories. Celebrating birthdays. Jumping in the ocean. Riding on a Ferris wheel. Going to the mall. Aimlessly walking around Manhattan. Watching fireworks. Going to museums. Just spending time doing anything with people we love and miss.

I tackled my Things I Want to Do Eat List. Continue reading


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The Magic of Midsummer

The summer solstice is a pagan holiday when the sun rises the earliest and sets the latest which was said to be the most powerful day of the year, when magical elements are strongest. In Sweden the summer solstice is called Midsummer, once celebrated by sacrificing for fertility.

 Nowadays it is celebrated differently, but traditions and symbols are still recognized. Midsommar traditions in Sweden are so beloved and important that the day was debated to become the country’s Nationaldag, and to many people it is.

Until 1953 Midsommarafton (Mid summer eve – Most Swedish holidays are celebrated on the eve, instead of the day) was always celebrated on June 23rd. Now it is always observed on the Friday that falls between June 19th and the 26th, giving Swedes a three day weekend to properly enjoy the longest day of the year.

You can’t have a Swedish midsommar with out the maypole, “midsommarstång” (Midsummers pole). The central part to midsommar is decorating, rising, and dancing around the maypole to traditional music and traditional clothing.

One of the most popular maypole songs isSmå grodorna”  (The Little Frogs), where the dancers hop around the maypole.

“Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.”

“The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to observe.
No ears, no ears, no tails do they possess.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.”

Not only do maypoles get adorned with flowers and ribbon, but it is also common to decorate a crown as well. From wild flowers, string, and ribbon it is traditional to make and wear a “midsommarkrans.”

From 2010, when we celebrated mid summer in New York City

Flowers and greenary are an important part of Midsommar, once believed to hold the potency of magic on this day. Herbs are stronger, plants can bring good luck and health, and picking nine different sorts of wildflowers and placing them under your pillow would make you dream of your future spouse on this night.

Fresh Swedish strawberries are a top priority when celebrating Midsommar.

This year I picked berries for the first time ever, these small sweets are called “smultron,” and are a great addition to the strawberry desserts.

So very tiny, tasty, and fun to pick!

We had bowls of strawberries and smultron with mint and vanilla ice cream. We also had a strawberry and whipped cream cake, and a rhubarb and Strawberry pie!

Midsommar is also known for the new potatoes. Fresh from the ground, covered in dirt, and ready to be scrubbed –  new potatoes are one of the centerpieces of the midsommar meals. New potatoes paired with an assortment of pickled herring and boiled eggs followed by fresh strawberries is the way to go.

Aside from the food, the flowers, the magic, the maypole, the dancing, and the music, there are the games. Many friends and families play group games on midsommar as part of the festivities.

We played a classic Swedish game called “Kubb”

The real magic though, is in enjoying the 18 hours of daylight with great company.

Glad Midsommar!


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Swedens National Day

Blue and yellow flags everywhere you look- Swedish pride is soaring today!

Even Google Waved its Swedish Flag!

Sweden celebrates June 6th because it marks the date when Gustav Vasa became King in 1523, making Sweden independent from Denmark and Norway for the first time. Also, on June 6th in 1809 Sweden adopted a new constitution.  Sveriges Nationaldag is a new name for the holiday, from 1916-1983 it was called Svenska flaggans dag (Swedish Flag day). This National Day has only recently become a red day, meaning a day off, since 2005. Swedes are known for not being overly boastful, so in an effort to make the holiday more popular the government decided to make it a red day so the people have the day off to celebrate. Being so new, many surveys have revealed that many Swedes still don’t know how to observe it and just enjoy the day off. Some people celebrate by watching the Royal family’s ceremony in Stockholm. Most people consider Mid Summer to be their national day for celebration.

Today I went out in hopes of finding something special for the occasion – but was only met with closed stores and empty streets. Red days make Halmstad a ghost town, but I was determined to do something to celebrate my first Nationaldag in Sweden. I decided to play Swedish Flag Scavenger Hunt in town.

I thought it would be a good day to visit one of my favorite places, an open air museum with old Swedish cottages. It is up on a high “mountain” which gives a great view of the city. To my delight, this is exactly where the rest of the town was! I finally found the celebration – and people, and flag jackpot! I couldn’t understand the speeches or songs, but  I didn’t need to. Just seeing everyone waving Swedish flags, listening, laughing, clapping, and being proud was enough.

Years ago there was a competition to create the national pastry to be eaten on this very special day,  it is called Nationaldagsbakelsen. But many people don’t know about it, it seems. Even googling for it is a challenge. All I can gather is that there are Strawberries and Almond paste. In hopes to eat this national specialty I went to the bakery in the morning, thinking it would be much like the semla craze, but alas the bakery was closed along with all other stores since it is a red day. No wonder this cake is so elusive and unknown, how should one be introduced to a special cake if the bakeries are closed on the day you should be eating it? Of course, there are recipes and perhaps people buy it the day before?

I decided to make my own version:

I might have cheated with a small premade snake cake (perfect size for two people who love cake), but I cut it in half and added a nice layer of Almond paste to make it special and even more Swedish. If it was a full size cake I would have added strawberry slices around the flag of blueberries and banana, but I think it was a huge success! Hubby came home with blue and (unbloomed) yellow flowers and a wooden Swedish flag so I have a keepsake from my first Nationaldag!


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Never Stop Doing What You Love

Four months ago my husband urged me to keep doing what I love. Writing. He knew I was out of my element when I moved to Sweden and out of the groove. He suggested to start a blog. To keep me inspired, to keep my skills sharp, my mind alert, and my passion burning. It’s hard to get back into my old rhythm, but I know that I miss it and I need it.  This is to inspire myself and others – a reminder. Moving abroad turns your life upside down and inside out, it takes time to find yourself again, but never stop trying. Take the time and do it. Take your new life and use it as ammo, fuel, momentum.

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Life changes. Things get harder just because they are different. It doesn’t take much.
You’re not where you thought you would be. Time flies. People change.
Adjust.
Make the best of it. Find balance. Never Stop Doing What You Love.
Don’t say you’ll do it later. Or that you have more important things to do now.
Even if life is perfect and all the pieces aligned, don’t neglect your passions.
Sometimes we forget we have them.
Sometimes we adapt new ones and forget the ones we had.
Remember the way they made you feel.
To write. To read. To knit. To play an instrument. To throw a ball. To dance. To sing. To draw.
These things built you. Made you who you are today, wherever that might be now.
Sometimes we feel empty and can’t figure out why.
Life can be great. You love who you are with, where you are, and what you do.
Though something isn’t right.
It’s those passions you forgot about, pushed away and neglected. Priority elsewhere.
Bored, fading, and tired of waiting, they reach out to you and beg. Tugging on your sleeve.
Pick them up. Dust them off. And start again.
Don’t think it. Or say it. Or promise it. Or plan it.
Write. Read. Knit. Play. Dance. Sing. Draw.
Now. You haven’t forgotten how.
Only how they made you feel.
Complete. Calm. Skilled. Proud.


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The Things I Tell Myself While Learning Swedish

Learning a New Language is a Long Journey on an Ever Changing Path.

It Takes Time: I need to constantly remind myself that this is one of those things that I cannot get really good at overnight- or even over a few months.

Every Word is an Accomplishment: When I feel like I should be further along than I am, I look back and count all the new words I’ve picked up.

Memorizing is Not Learning: It doesn’t count as a new word until you can use it, until it pops into your head when trying to form a sentence.

If you get it Wrong, it’s Okay: As long as you are in the ball park, it is an improvement- one step closer.

People Will Understand You: Even if you mess up, most of the time your message will get through. As long as you try.

Only Speaking Will Help: Even immersion doesn’t help if you don’t participate. Reading, writing, listening, and practicing in your own head won’t make it easier to actually use the language.

Perpetual State of Learning: Even after you are done with SFI, SAS, and what ever course comes after that, you will always be learning the language. It will take years to feel perfectly comfortable, it will take tons of practice and different situations to become adaptive and use the language the way it should be. You will learn new words every time you talk to someone new.

You Sound Different: Stop obsessing over the accent being “wrong” or “off.” It will never sound natural or perfect. Just like when someone is speaking English- it is easy to tell that they are from a different country, or even just a different state. So what?

Breath: You might feel like your anxiety is taking over, and that you are the only one who turns bright red while speaking Swedish, but you are not. Use your anxiety as adrenaline and run with it instead of freaking out and falling down.

Stop Comparing: Other people in class will be better than you. They will pick it up faster, have better pronunciation, and understand more. Don’t compete with them, everyone learns at their own pace. It’s not a race, it’s better to actually learn than to seem to be the best.

ä, ö, and å Are Real: These are actual letters. They are not A’s and an O with funny hats. Concentrate on dotting your vowels, it does change the meaning and pronunciation of a word.

You are Not Just Learning a Language: You are learning a culture and its traditions. It is not just the words you learn, but when it is proper to use them. Learning the nuances of the language is just as important as reading the context of everything around you.

It Won’t All Line Up: Let go of your understanding of language. Everything will not switch over perfectly, in fact most things will not line up at all. Sentences are formed in a different order, definitions of words are slightly different, tenses are different.

Translation Not Included: English has words that don’t exist in Swedish and Swedish has words that don’t exist in English. That’s just the way it is.

Stop Relying on Google Translate: Pick up a dictionary instead. That bad habit of double checking if what you are about to say or write makes sense by putting it through Google Translate- stop it. It’s better to get it wrong and be corrected. Don’t get stuck relying too heavily on something you can’t use in real conversations.

Stick With It: Swedes will switch to English if they realize you are not Swedish, or that you are struggling. If you are able to, continue speaking as much Swedish as you can even if they choose to speak in English.

Swenglish is Okay: For now. If you don’t know a word, or exactly how to express yourself, it is okay to substitute English words into Swedish sentences or vice versa while you are learning.

No One is Perfect: Native English speakers get English wrong all the time. People who have been speaking English as a second language for 30 years still make mistakes. It’s not rare to forget a word or mess up in your own language, of course you will stumble with a new one.

In their Shoes: Remember all the people over the years that have spoken to you in broken English. They must have felt the same anxiety, panic, embarrassment and struggle- but were brave enough to use their limited language skill.

In My Own Shoes: I always admired anyone for trying to speak English as a second language. I felt compassion, and tried my best to understand them or help them if needed. It helps to imagine others will feel the same way towards me – they will not laugh, or think I am doing it wrong. It’s all about perspective.

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All of these are easier said than done, but it is a start. 

  Hope my photos inspire you to take “The Road Less Traveled,” whichever path it may be.

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