Friday, September 28, 2012

Food and meals in Sweden

Back in NH, many of my meals were often prepared quickly, with the exception of my cooking streak during July when I wasn't working. Often, when things get busy, spending time cooking loses priority. We had a good variety of quick meals, either to make ourselves, or something inexpensive that was already made.

Here in Sweden, eating out is almost always expensive. Lunch is cheaper than dinner, but usually I am perfectly content eating sandwiches for lunch. In general, I haven't really built up a collection of quick meals to make. It is easy to make spaghetti, because it is obvious that tomatoes are tomatoes, and pasta is pasta. Finding the right spices took a little bit of time, but that got sorted out. Apparently mac&cheese is not a thing here. Although I just remembered that I saw a box of cheese sauce in the section with the sausage, so I'll have to try that sometime. But when we first got here and I wanted mac&cheese, I had to make my own cheese sauce. From real cheese!

So I am getting good experiences with cooking, but again, I don't really want to be spending too much time with cooking. One way I am cutting corners is with instant mashed potatoes. I remember eating them when I was a kid, and they were flakes that you mixed with milk and butter and salt. Now (or maybe just here in Sweden), the instant mashed potatoes are a powder. You just add hot water. It is as easy as making tea!

I'll apologize now that none of these paragraphs really flow or have nice transitions.

The other day, I found what looked to be a granola bar. It was in the gluten free section, where I was looking to find some oats (I eventually found them by the rice, and then I made a delicious apple crisp.). And it was delicious!!

I ate this yesterday before leaving the office. It had oats in it. And maybe oat flour? And some vegetable oil. And cranberries and pumpkin seeds of course. It was super delicious, and with 250 kcal of energy, it definitely held me over until I could get dinner. Greg also had one, and he said it tasted like cookie dough, so it makes sense why I thought it was so delicious.

I also love that it says "On-the go!" which is a bit of a novelty here. In the US, it seems typical to be eating foods on-the-go, or at least snacking on foods throughout the day. This does not seem to be the case here. Actually, I've noticed that in the European airports I have been in lately, people generally do not eat food outside of the designated restaurant areas. Foods seem to be eaten as meals, and proper meals only. No grazing here. Unless you are me, and you stocked up on Flapjack cranberry & pumpkin seed bars:)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dancing in Sweden, pt. 2

 The other type of dancing I've done since arriving here is Swedish folk dancing. There is a student group called Philochoros, which has a really good reputation and has been around since 1884 (and a bit earlier, under a different name). They are offering beginner classes in Swedish folk dance, and after looking at the list of dances (Schottis, Hambo, and Polska, oh my!), I knew I had to go. Luckily the classes are available to everyone, not just students.

I was surprised (really really surprised) to see how many people showed up. There were easily 50-100 people, in a hall that was ideally sized for maybe 30. I was also a bit surprised that the class was a true beginner class; most people who came seemingly never danced any type of dance before.

I love seeing that there are people interested in dancing, and especially interested in a type of dancing that I highly esteem. I also love that it is young people who are interested in folk dancing, which I wouldn't typically expect. What I don't love, is that a group of people new to dancing, who are in a small hall, don't have a sense of the idea of steering a path in such a way as to avoid major collisions with other dancers. Oddly enough, this bumper-car style was not necessarily restricted to the newbies. I may have once been dancing with a good dancer, who may or may not have been one of the instructors, and one of my legs got so far left behind because we rammed into another couple. Hypothetical situation.

Needless to say, the dancing I've experienced has been leaving me feeling somewhat unfulfilled. To be fair, I think the majority of the time during the class I was really enjoying myself. It just doesn't take many negative parts to leave a sour impression of the whole.

Next week we are in a different location, so here's to hoping it is larger. I'm also hoping that maybe the class size will start to dwindle as the term goes on. I don't like being selfish, because I'd prefer to always want to expand dancing as much as possible, but if the environment isn't ideal for it, we just have to do the best we can.

I also really want to stick it out until the eleventh class for the Salta Hunden. How will it be compared to Dartmouth's version of the Salty Dog Rag? We just won't know for ten weeks!

For reference,
Dancing in Sweden, pt. 1

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Last week there was an incredibly bright rainbow visible out my office window. If you look closely you'll see it was a double rainbow.

I walked across the hall and was happy to see the other end of the rainbow visible out the kitchen window:)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dancing in Sweden, pt. 1

Last week I went to my first Modern Western Square Dance (mwsd, for those in the know).

Last week I went to my first mwsd, while in Sweden.

Somehow, this type of dancing is incredibly widespread. Far more widespread than contra dancing, and far more widespread than traditional square dancing. So if I wanted to find regular dancing, this was the kind available. (As an aside, there are other types of dance around, like swing and tango, but I have little interest in those.)

To be quite straightforward, my loyalties lie with traditional square dancing. Maybe that isn't fair, since I never even gave mwsd a try. But now I have tried it, and my loyalties still lie with traditional square dancing.

Before going to the dance, I didn't quite know what I was getting myself into. I had been told to expect something in the style of a contra medley (this means the dance is always changing on the fly, so you have to listen carefully). Basically, how it worked was that the caller called a move, and we did the move. And then the caller called the next move, and we did the next move. There was little to no repetitive sequence, which is how all traditional square dancing goes.

Mwsd also has levels. I danced "basic", even though many of the "basic" calls are the same in traditional square dancing, or at least have a comparable call, so the move was something I knew. The dance was a class, and as such, new calls were taught. So, a dance would start, and then we'd pause and learn a new call, do some more moves, learn a new call. The music was recorded, so the caller just turned down the volume. Also, if anyone messed up a dance, the caller just waited for them to fix their square before calling the next move.

My overall impression of mwsd was that it didn't really feel like dancing. During two hours of dancing (every other dance, since I couldn't dance the "plus" level dances) I only once, for about four seconds, felt like I was dancing. The rest of the time, it felt more like a game.

Have you ever played Bop It? I remember one Christmas a relative of mine showed up with a Bop It Extreme, and we spent the whole day passing it around trying to get the best score.

To me, mwsd seems just like a Bop It. You hear a command and act on it. "Spin It" You spin the red disc.
"Circle left" You circle left.
And while you are acting on the command, you prepare your brain for the next call.

I never realized how much I appreciated the repetitive flow of a dance until it was taken away. So mwsd turned out to not be my favorite, although I don't think any of us thought that it would be. There are certainly some items on the "pro" list for mwsd, so I'll probably go back, but maybe not every week.

This concludes part 1 of the Dancing in Sweden series.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

pea soup and pancakes; reindeer and radiation

Today I learned that lunch on Thursday in Sweden should be pea soup and pancakes. And the pancakes are best eaten with whipped cream and jam. Apparently this has been going on for quite some time, possibly starting as a military thing, but possibly happening prior to that as well.

I also learned that reindeer is good to eat (it is, I've had it) but not more than once every other week. The reason? Radiation. Apparently after Chernobyl, Sweden experienced higher radiation levels than Fukushima just experienced. Many of the reindeer in the northern parts of Sweden had to be killed, and even today, they have elevated radiation levels. Luckily it is below the "safe level" for consumption, as long as you don't eat it every day...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thank you Sweden for fika

I still know basically zero Swedish. (Sidenote: After many technical difficulties with Rosetta Stone, I finally got it installed on my computer. The combination of Rosetta Stone not running on Linux, plus my mac not having an optical drive, was really more challenging than it ought to have been.)

One Swedish word that I know and love is 'fika'. Google Translate will tell you that means 'coffee' but it is so much more. The wiki article is actually quite good. Sweden loves coffee breaks, often with sweets, and for that I love Sweden. And I think sometimes they say 'fika fik' which might be even better than fika!

That got me to thinking about how we have Sweden to thank for many things, including Skype, Spotify, and the centigrade scale. And that train of thought led me to this article, which shows just how many great things Sweden is responsible for! I haven't read the whole list, so I'm not sure if fika is on there, but it is definitely my favorite Swedish invention.

And this is an interactive post! What is your favorite Swedish invention?!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bicycling in the rain

Before today I always opted to ride the bus to work on rainy days, rather than taking my bicycle. Today however, today was a day for riding a bicycle in the rain. A quick check of the weather forecast made me realize that the afternoon and evening would be clear and nice. Plus the rain wasn't coming down too hard. I've been prepared to ride in the rain. I have a rain jacket now that is actually waterproof, plus I have rain pants. Combine that with my hiking boots and I become fully waterproof, with the exception of my face and my hands.

I used the technique of putting the hood of my rain jacket under my helmet. It blocked out some of my hearing, but it also kept the visor of my hood in place, so I didn't have to look like this:

That is not me, by the way. But it is what most people look like while riding bicycles in this town. Another popular technique is to wear a poncho that covers the handlebars and anything you might be carrying on the back of your bicycle. Like this:

That is also not me. The other option, which seems the most ridiculous and ineffective is to hold an umbrella. There might be a time and a place for this, like if you are riding a tandem bicycle on Mackinac Island, but otherwise, I just wouldn't recommend it.

All in all, I didn't mind riding my bicycle in the rain. The really unfortunate part was that it was also incredibly windy, and the wind was against me. The wind never seems to be blowing in the direction I am going. Either way, I am glad to have gotten past my first bicycle ride in the rain. Now the only thing left to look forward to is riding my bicycle in the snow!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Gamla Uppsala

On Saturday we took a bike ride to Gamla Uppsala. It was a short ride from home, and the weather was beautiful. There is not much left in the old section of Uppsala. There is a museum (which we didn't go to), a church, and a cafe, but the main draw is the burial mounds. The pictures don't quite capture how impressive these are. I also had assumed that each mound had several people buried in it, but we learned that there was just one person in each burial mound.

 After walking around the burial mounds, we stopped by the cafe for a kaffe and this delicious blueberry tart with vanilla cream. Really delicious.

The church was a cool stone church. I'm not sure why so many of the windows were plastered over.

The only downside of the adventure were the spiders. Somehow, there were just tiny spiders everywhere. You could be walking along, or riding your bike along, and it would feel like you went through a spider web. There were just streams of spider webs and also spiders streaming through the air. It was a pretty breezy and warm day, so maybe this is an anomaly, but really. There were just spiders everywhere. In the photo below you can kind of see some of the spider webs in the tree.

And here is one of the spiders that landed on my bicycle, along with two of his bugs.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Evening sky lately

Two photos taken from the balcony at twilight. We've been getting a lot of really nice sunsets here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A likeness between Hanover and Uppsala

When I was first starting my PhD research, my advisor took a sabbatical in Stockholm. One of the things she had told me about Uppsala was that it was exactly like Hanover. I didn't quite understand how that could be. There is a population difference of about 140,000 people. Also, here they speak Swedish.

But after being here for a little while, the similarities are starting to pop up everywhere. First and foremost, both are college towns. When classes are out of session, the number of people around is greatly reduced. And the majority of people you meet are in some way affiliated with the college/university. S

Both have big hospitals, which are teaching hospitals.

It is against the law to have a true bar. All establishments that serve alcohol must also serve food.

When you walk through town, it is likely you will run into someone you know.

One of the main grocery stores is called the Coop. (Except that in NH it is the Co-op, short for cooperative, and in Uppsala it is the Coop, which rhymes with hoop.)

At the beginning of the term, there are students who dress in strange, brightly-colored clothing. See Exhibit A and Exhibit B. You can't even tell which of these groups of people speak Swedish. (Although let's be honest, the Dartmouth kids really need more hair dye and mohawks.)

Exhibit A
Exhibit B

I think there are other similarities that I am forgetting at the moment. At any rate, there are a Lot.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Swedish Housekeeping

This is what I got out of the 50 minute housekeeping meeting that was in Swedish:

-someone is to go to Stockholm tomorrow, and that is all he has to say, so he leaves
-something about Maria Lundqvist
-something really solemn that made everyone incredibly quiet
-something about Jan-Erik (who wasn't present)

My thoughts: "did something grave happen to Jan-Erik?!" "If someone died, wouldn't someone translate to English for me?!"

In walks Jan-Erik, looking quite healthy.

"okay nevermind the previous thoughts"

-something about a presentation and Skype
-something about the Turkish president

At this point, my coffee is gone.

-something about solar maximum, carrington, and space weather propaganda (that one I only got because the Swedish is the same as the English, apparently)

A lot of other stuff.
Ingrid tries to end the meeting, but there is actually more to say.
A lot more other stuff.
-something about Eiscat
Meeting ends.

There is always a summary sent out, so it will be interesting to see what I missed.

Monday, September 3, 2012


I have gotten the impression that to truly experience Swedish culture, you must experience surströmming. Luckily, I have arrived just in time for surströmming season (although I'm not sure why it has a season if it is canned)! And doubly luckily, I have made the acquaintance of some Swedish folks who are fans of surströmming. So I can now say that I have tried this Swedish delicacy!

If you clicked the link to the wiki page, you will see a picture of the exact can of surströmming that we had. If you didn't click the link, let me just tell you that this fish gets a lot of hype. To me it has been described as rotten fish that has the strongest, most-horrible odor in the world. Ever. Technically it is just fermented and not rotten. But it does have a really strong odor. We ate it outdoors, which is the preferred method in order to keep your house from smelling for days afterwards. The smell was definitely strong enough outdoors to make me believe you would not want to open the can in your house. However, I think I was prepared for an even stronger smell. It was pretty entertaining to watch the can being opened inside a plastic bag in order to prevent the pressurized can from spraying rotten fish juice everywhere. It is definitely worth it to have professionals around for this stuff.

I managed to be an observer of how to get the edible parts out. Some people eat the skin, some don't. 

Despite the fact that the smell of surströmming is wretched, the taste isn't too terrible. It was really incredibly salty, and then had a sort of fishy after-taste. The flavor wasn't too distinct, but I also ate only a tiny tiny bite plain, and it was quite potent.

The normal way to eat it is as pictured: bread, spread with butter, then potatoes, then surströmming, then onion, tomato, more onion in sour cream or mayo, topped with a bit of dill. And when the fish is all decorated up like this, then it is really not so bad at all. Maybe I was just enjoying the experience, but part of me thinks that if I had prepared the same stack of food without the surströmming, it just might not have tasted as good. The bit of salty-fishy-ness was so slight that it just added a touch of flavor. Not so bad at all.