24 December 2009

Yule Post

One does not only find special Christmas mailboxes in Finland - here in Sweden, during the month of December, one has the choice of posting in three different mailboxes:

And since it is the season, we would like to take this opportunity to wish our readers a happy holiday.

22 December 2009

Snowy Stockholm

These weeks, Stockholm has been covered in a thick layer of snow..

.. and the short days result in very long shadows - even at noon:

The bikes are left in the racks...

.. while the toboggan run is much more busy ..

.. and it is just a lot more fun being outside!

18 December 2009

Pepparkakshus (Gingerbread house)

Another christmas tradition the Swedes take very seriously is the tradition of building gingerbread houses.

In an era of cutting corners obviously you can buy a ready-made kit with walls and roof so the task is 'just' to assemble and decorate it.

However, some people do take the tradition MUCH more seriously and may partake in the Architectural Museum's Pepparkakshus 2009 competition. This competition has been running for 19 years and it seems to be an integrated tradition (well, at least to admire the contributions) among the Stockholmers.

Lisbeth saw a selection of the participating "houses" yesterday and was really impressed by the level of ambition and the imaginativeness. Below is shown the winners but all contributions can be seen on this list. The theme of 2009 was 'Monster' and the participants were divided into three groups: children, bakers and architects, and others. Our readers can make their own guesses as to which contributions are attributed to which participant category...

13 December 2009

St. Lucy's day

From growing up in Denmark, we are familiar with the tradition of celebrating St. Lucy's day, but the Swedes take it to the next level. This time of year the common cinnamon bun (kanelbulle) has been replaced by the saffron containing lussebulle (also known as a lussekatt).

Furthermore it is more or less impossible to avoid running into several St. Lucy processions. So far we have seen them in the old town (the picture), at university, in the metro, and ... in the supermarket - both in the clothing and in the produce sections (!).

02 December 2009

Where we are

The blog is rather quiet while we're travelling but if all has been according to plan, at the publication time of this blog post we should be staying here:

Crazy as well as qualified guesses on our exact location are welcome in the comment section :)

24 November 2009

In the heart of Sweden

For those of you who don't know exactly where the Swedes keep their heart this photo might give you a hint:
Thats rigth; in 'Dalarna'!
(For more info on the Dalecarlian horse: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalecarlian_horse)

Lisbeth visited the 'most Swedish' of Sweden in relation to her job and that even in the infamous village of Tällberg. Even if she didn't have much time to enjoy the lovely country side, she did have the best 'kanelbuller' (cinnamon rolls) yet, enjoyed the Dala hospitality, heard a fantastic performance by Dala singers, practised her understanding of the local dialect, and was generally inspired to visit again during summer where the view across the lake can be better appreciated.

21 November 2009

Throng on the balcony

When we put up the large fat ball last Sunday we were wondering how many weeks it would last.. during the week we had to adjust our expectations, as it was no longer just a Great Tit or two that paid us a visit from time to time: Thursday morning there were no less than ten House Sparrows on the balcony. And sure enough: by this Saturday morning fresh supplies were in demand.

19 November 2009


It is true that the Swedish autumn is cold and wet and grey and dark - one doesn't get to see the sun all that much even during the 7 1/2 hours it creeps above the horizon this particular time of the year.

But for now, Tue forgives Sweden all this and more.

But why?

We were about to leave Hötorgshallen when Lisbeth noticed that one of the greengrocers had the fruits pictured here. These are the so-called tomatillos that you have heard Tue lament not being able to get ever since leaving California. But here they are - in Hötorgshallen in Stockholm. In size and shape they are quite similar to green tomatoes (plus the recognisable papery husk). Although that's the right family, the plant is actually more closely related to the goose berry. And they are the proper ingredient for making Mexican salsa verde - we celebrated the finding by making green enchiladas with prawns and goat cheese.

That's why!

17 November 2009

Traffic on the balcony

After looking for them in vain for several weeks we finally found some fat balls at the supermarket. We put one up on the balcony and a few minutes later there was quite the traffic of Great Tits out there.

15 November 2009

Tube chanterelles

On Hötorget (in front of Hötorgshallen) there is often a market with fruits, vegetables and flowers. This time of year they are also selling mushrooms from the Swedish forests. They start out in the morning selling them at 20 SEK pr. hg (roughly 1 US$ pr. oz) but late in afternoon the price drops and the sales tactics get more aggressive if they still have a lot left. When we came by this Saturday afternoon we had thought about taking advantage of the lower prices, but the good man wasn't so easy to stop once he started stuffing a bag with tube chanterelles. Suddenly we had 100 SEK less in our pockets and were carrying a surprisingly heavy bag of mushrooms.

Home again we learned that the bag contained some 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs) of tube chanterelles (which means that the price was down to 4 SEK pr. hg (or some 20 cents pr. oz) half an hour before they had to be off the square). After spending some time rinsing away the pine needles and the moss we made ourselves a pot of mushroom risotto - and threw a bunch of bags with mushrooms in the freezer..

08 November 2009

Dry skiing

The weekend that we went from October to November, Bertil came to visit us with his two personal servants Martin and Caroline. We went for a walk in the brown landscape of autumnal Stockholm. We may be well into the Swedish fall, and it may already have been snowing a few times, but it isn't really weather for skiing yet. Fortunately there are ways to deal with this if the withdrawal symptoms are getting to be too much.

02 November 2009

Blowing leaves

By now Stockholm is well into autumn and there's a good deal of brown leaves on the ground. That sort of problem is apparently best dealt with by blowing the leaves around. Normally we see gardeners with a small device on their back and a hose - some sort of reversed vacuum cleaner. But in a larger park we saw the same tactics applied on a grander scheme.

28 October 2009


After wondering for while about the fact that we hadn't seen a single butcher shop in Stockholm we were told that butchers are to be found in the three large market halls (so-called Saluhalls) of Stockholm: Hötorgshallen on Hötorget (literally The Hay Market), Östermalmshallen on Östermalmstorg (Östermalm being a part of Stockholm located east of downtown), and Söderhallarne on Medborgarplatsen (literally The Community Square).

Tue went to 'saluhall' to look for cuts of meat not available in the supermarkets. This he found - he returned with a beef tongue and a beef heart, each approximately 6 lbs. It should be noted that this is by far the largest tongue we have bought so far - normally they are about half the size. The heart was halved but other than that not prepared. When the fat, sinews and veins had been trimmed there was some 3 lbs left.

Curiously, both were served during the mid-October weekend that Signe was visiting us. Thursday we had the heart as the Peruvian speciality anticuchos de corazon and Saturday we had the tongue as the Mexican speciality taco de lengua (Tue stayed home to cook while Lisbeth and Signe went to for a café+shopping). We forgot to take any pictures of Signe as well as of our trip to the East Asian Museum, so you will have to settle for pictures of the food we served her..

24 October 2009


On the island Kungsholmen in central Stockholm one finds Stadshuset (Stockholm's city hall). Constructed in the years immediately after the inauguration of the city hall in Copenhagen, it is hardly coincidental that the tower of Stadshuset is one meter taller than the tower of the city hall in Copenhagen.

Stadshuset as seen from lake Mälaren (in June)

Stadshuset is perhaps most famously known for hosting the annual Nobel Prize banquet on December 10th, but also hosts a number of other receptions. In the beginning of October there was a welcoming reception for international students and scholars at universities in Stockholm. Tue was not one to decline the offer of a lunch from the city.

Stadshuset's blue hall

While the blue hall is not particularly blue (the story goes that it was originally intended to paint it blue, but once the architect saw the hall built in red bricks he decided to let it be as it was - without bothering to change the name) the golden hall does deliver what the name suggests: the walls are covered in mosaics with motives from important moments in the history of Stockholm and the background colour is indeed golden.

Stadshuset's golden hall

15 October 2009


Yesterday morning we woke up to snowy weather!

And this is only October - WAY too early for us and the Stockholmians. It didn't stay on the ground for long but certain patches were slippery and the bike ride was cold and wet of course. Maybe we now know what to expect later on?!

Later in the day it did seem as if the weather remembered that it's still autumn, so perhaps we can enjoy that season a little longer...

11 October 2009


Last weekend, Lisbeth's mother came for a visit and beside showing our apartment, Solna and Stockholm, we also went to 'Skansen'. Skansen is an open-air museum with old houses from all over Sweden where costume dressed guides gladly explain about the 'olden days'. It is located on a wind-swept hill top on Djurgården, and since winter has come to Stockholm, it became a rather cold adventure after a few hours - but luckily we could then enjoy 'Bellmans Pyt' (a traditional hodgepodge dish) in one of the inns.

For us the most interesting part of Skansen was however the zoo section - again primarily with Nordic animals.

Relaxing seemed to be the chore of the day:

Eventually this last guy did find enough energy to raise his head so we finally got to see a 'real' moose, i.e. one with antlers!

06 October 2009


In addition to crayfish parties the autumn is also the season for another, more controversial Swedish speciality from the ocean: surströmming. A quick poll at Tue's department indicated that only a minority amongst contemporary young Swedes enjoy this dish - most apparently have never tried it, but all believe to know that it smells and tastes horrible. Knowing this, it is perhaps not too surprising that it was one of the Polish colleagues that invited Tue over to taste surströmming.

But what is surströmming? Strömming is actually herring - and here some might object that herring is called sill in Swedish, which is correct, but according to a royal directive from the 16th century herrings caught in the Baltic Sea are to be traded as strömming.

The prefix sur- (sour) stems from the fact that surströmming is made by letting rinsed and salted fish ferment is open barrels and later canning them. The fermentation continues in the can, building up some pressure. Therefore carefulness is adviced when opening the cans and most airlines have banned cans of surströmming in the luggage.

Our host had tried this a few times before and looked quite the pro as he showed how the can can be opened under water, as an alternative to stepping out into the cool autumn night and opening the can outside as is otherwise advocated. Subsequently he rinsed the contents of the tin a few times under running cold water, and then they were ready.

But why all the fuss? For the simple reason that the contents of the can have a quite peculiar and piercing smell: A pungent mix of fish and rancid fat with a hint of rotten eggs and something sourish. Our host implored us to be extra careful not to drop anything on his furniture. Meanwhile, the French participant this evening was not impressed, quote: "Where I come from we have cheeses that are more pungent..."

Regarding the taste, the most remarkable feature is how strongly salty the fillets are. Traditionally they are cut in small pieces and are eaten in a sandwich made from Swedish 'thin bread', slices of boiled potato, raw onions, chives and preferably sour cream. Tue found them to be edible when surrounded by sufficient amounts of bread, potato and onion - but he still prefers a good old-fashioned pickled herring. Supposedly, there is a different version also, made from whole fish - it is said to taste differently, but on the other hand one then has to gut the fermented fish at the table...

04 October 2009

Sailor Mail

One day as we were biking around a harbour area in Stockholm we noticed another variation of a theme that is well-known by now: Multiple mailboxes in a cluster in a convenient location to solve the problem that the mail man does not necessarily have an easy time getting to the "house" itself to deliver the mail.

28 September 2009

Swedish autumn

Autumn is starting in earnest up here. The first leaves started falling from the trees weeks ago, but during the past week or so the colours have really started changing.

It's actually not very cold yet (even though Lisbeth has taken out her thin gloves for biking in the morning!) so it's lovely to go for walks in the parks in the mild (early) autumn weather.

We are particularly happy about our daily commute through the Haga park and around Brunnsviken where these pictures were taken.

27 September 2009

Porter and the Chocolate Factory

Despite good intentions this year won't be taking us to Munich - where a considerable number of 'chemistry friends' are located - so we decided to mark October fest by making a porter based chocolate cake. Just drinking a few extra beers in the name of the event would have been to easy...

Beer and a little coffee replace milk in the batter and on the first day we could distinguish both tastes in the finished cake. However, when the cake had sat until the next day, it merely tasted like a rich chocolate cake.

And rich is certainly what the suggested amount of glazing would have made the cake. We did buy all 500 g (1 pound) of chocolate but decided to only make half a portion after all - and that was perfectly sufficient!