|For more information on Sweden see
Aussies in Sweden
and on Australia Australians Abroad
måndag, november 09, 2009
Yes, you'll be sure of a big surprise as the old children's song promises. But there won't be any teddy bears having a picnic, but instead a parade of black sheep framed by the falling leaves of a Swedish autumn.
I don't know what kind of sheep these are, but there is a small flock of them on a property on the way out to the lighthouse and we often see them from the side of the road. They provide such a wonderful contrast to the raining leaves from the trees. Even the leaves gathered at the base of the trees have left a carpet blazing with colour, which I know would prove irresistible to young kids and dogs as a place to romp and play. Who can remember rolling through crunchy autumn leaves when they were a kid?
Autumn has become my favourite time of year. Here, in the north, it doesn't so much sneak in as it did in Adelaide, it literally sings. At least in the early part of the season, before the dreaded November greyness creeps in. There was nothing really comparable to it in the temperate climate of the Adelaide plains, though one could get a taste of a European autumn if you visited the Mount Lofty Botanical Gardens at the right time of the year. However, I find that now I'm surrounded by autumn and I love to watch both the changing of colours and of moods. It begins quietly enough - you start to notice a crispness in the morning air and the first signs of colour change in the woods.
Hidden in the undergrowth are this season's blueberries. These are not as large as the blueberries we grow in Tasmania, and I believe that while the Swedish word blåbär translates directly as "blueberry", they are a close relative the bilberry. But don't quote me on that! They are highly prized and it's not unusual to see Swedes out on the weekends, dressed in warm clothes and wellies and carrying baskets and buckets and special rakes, combing the bushes for the fruit. We prefer to simply pick them with our hands and eat them straight away like a couple of lazy, foraging bears.
Don't they look stunning? They are like little blue jewels or the bright, shiny Christmas balls on a fairy Christmas tree. They are not the only jewels to be found in the woods at this time of the year. There are also the bright red ruby like lingon (cowberry in English. They grow in abundance in all of the woods and can be used to make a jam, which can be served with either sweet or savoury food.
The jam is not unlike the cranberry sauce we use on our Christmas turkey, so it goes well with meat dishes, on pancakes or even spooned over your morning porridge. The lovely grey green moss that surrounds the plants is gathered and used as a decoration for the advent wreaths. It's a lovely, soft spongy moss and as long as you keep it wet, it will retain that texture, making it ideal to surround the candles and prevent fire. Pretty and practical.
As the month continues, we start to see the rowan berries brginning to fruit. These berries stay around for a long time, being quite tolerant of the cold and are a valuable food source for both migratory birds heading for the warmer climates of southern Europe as well as the poor birds who eke out their existence here over the long Swedish winter.
Gradually, the weather shifts, the storms threaten and the trees begin to change colour. You notice this all over town, not just out in the woods. Outside of our apartment building we have mostly oxel or Swedish whitebeam trees. It is actually where the name of this town comes from. It is a compound word, made up of the three Swedish words Oxel (whitebeam), Ö (island) and sund (sound - as in an inlet or deep bay). Put them all together and you get the island in the deep bay where the Swedish whitebeam grows. Far easier to say Oxelösund, isn't it?
The autumn colours this year were more brilliant than I can ever recall seeing them, with the textures, so varied and so characteristic. This even extended to the rocks and the sea - the clouds and the sky. As a package, they have been powerful and a joy to behold. During the recent stormy weather, there was a constant stream of threatening dark cloud rushing past, masking the sunlight and casting the sea and rocks into a deep grey, starkly contrasting with the autumn grasses. Such a day makes a simple afternoon walk to the shops into an experience to savour.
There is the brilliant golds of the two two kinds of birch growing here – the pendulous silvery one that looks so Japanese in the mists as well as the more compact form flame like golden torches in stands by the roadside. The beautiful bronzed notes of beeches, their branches reaching out like fingers, making a warm tunnel of the road, or standing majestically in the fields. And golden pillars of larch shining out in the depths of the surrounding dark pines. It is all utterly beautiful; superlatives just can’t do it justice.
The paths and fields remind me of milk-soaked Weetbix as the dry, crunchy leaves cover the moist and muddy forest floor. We get the full range of colours here as we have a good variety of broad leafed trees and they range from burnt oranges, mustardy yellows and deep reds, through to shades of brown and the dark greens of the pines. You are also conscious of the fact that before you know it will all be gone. In a matter of days with the strong winds the tress will be bare. A little later the ground will be covered with snow. It will be pretty, but perhaps not as colourful so we enjoy it while we can.
If you look carefully at the picture above (click on it for a bigger view) you can see that what looks like rocks in the field are in fact sheep. They blend in so well with the landscape that they seem almost to be a part of the land itself. You might be wondering if we are trespassing on private property, but we aren't. In Sweden they have something called Allemansrätten, which gives you which is the right to walk freely in the woods without asking the landowner for permission. There are some basic rules though. You are not allowed to break branches, pick protected flowers, leave rubbish or go into enclosed fields without closing the gate. But this right of free access makes it possible to go out in the beautiful woods and enjoy them - even pick mushrooms.
But perhaps not these ones as pretty as they look. It's like a magical fairy land apartment block. I keep meaning to learn more about mushrooms here to know which are the safe ones and which we can pick. In Adelaide I always got my mushrooms (mostly champignons or button mushrooms) from the central market and they looked nothing like any of the mushrooms they prize here in Sweden. I'm not sure I'd know a cantarell mushroom in the woods if I fell over it! I hope they don't revoke my Swedish citizenship because of that.
I have read that 99% of mushrooms are not toxic, 1% are ... and those 1% are very difficult to distinguish from the non-toxic varieties. It doesn't auger well for a rich mushroom sauce does it? We don't want to end the evening in the casualty department of the local hospital. So for now I'll just look in wonder at them and perhaps ask Santa for a mushroom book. Because that is the other thing our thoughts turn towards as the seasons change and the chill sets in - soon it will be advent and Christmas. Something bright and cheerful in the fast approaching darkness.
I wonder if L-G will let me put up the Christmas lights next weekend? After all it's the annual Christmas pageant in Adelaide on Saturday - it must be time. I'll work on him...
lördag, november 07, 2009
torsdag, februari 26, 2009
I know that before Tuesday, I've been gone awhile here. Sorry about that. It's been a combination of busyness, server connection problems, busyness, an online Scrabble tournament and busyness. I don't think Blogger likes me very much at the moment. We'll see if this one posts - so much over the last month has just refused to connect to the server. No posting. No commenting here or on other Blogger blogs. Very frustrating.
Recently, I've been discussing whether online friends are any different to offline friends. The general consensus among the people I know is that they are better. That said, and I know that I may be in a minority of one, but, I just don't get this whole social networking thing. I can just about keep up with the few blogs I read - if I had to add full time Twitter, Facebook et al to the mix, I’d never have time to do anything else but sit at the computer.
Maybe my desire to consume 'friends' is about the same online to offline. I have space and place for only a few very carefully chosen examples, to whom I am fiercely loyal and fiercely protective, and most of whom I have known a long time. I have lots of acquaintances, but few true friends. I suspect that most people confuse the two terms and call people 'friends' when I'd call them 'acquaintances'. Plus, it's also fair to say that, without exception, my offline friends are as unconventional as me, in some way or another.
Whimsy social fluff fluff just isn't me and I can't be bothered with people who have hours to spend in pointless discourse. I'm not the sort of person to ever want to sit around in coffee shops for hours and I am constantly amazed by some people's stamina and ability to maintain conversations based on absolutely nothing of substance for hours at a time. But, I'm usually quite a self-sufficient sort of person, and if people start being unexpectedly and undeservedly nice to me, I tend to be very cynical and extremely suspicious of their motives.
I don't have enough time in a day to do all the things I want to do, so why I might have time to sit around tapping out text messages into my phone to inform people I've never met and whom I will probably never meet of what I'm doing, I have no idea. And, really, there are enough distractions around me already without everyone else telling me what they are doing every ten seconds. Perhaps it would be different if I lived in a city or spent lots of time travelling on public transport with nothing else to do.
I was talking someone who got their first laptop last month. She told me that she gets in from work at 1.30am every night, and had to go and see her doctor this week because she was too tired to function because Facebook keeps her up until 6am every day. The doctor gave her sleeping tablets and Prozac. That’s a life?
On the other hand, I DO love blogging. What I put into it directly determines what I get out of it. It's there as a permanent and tangible reminder of things I've done, or seen, or thought at any point in time. But, it's only there when I choose to access it. I hate the idea of other more intrusive or transient forms of social networking. Maybe it's the control freak in me?
I'd say my online networking is pretty much like my offline networking. There has to be a point to it, and I have to think that I'd enjoy spending time with the online people I engage with, face to face, and would share interests, or philosophy on life. Actually, I have met up with a number of online friends and with only a single of exception (which, in hindsight, wasn't really that surprising anyway), I haven't been wrong in my assumptions.
I don't think my online persona is very different to my offline one either. I have no desire to be schizophrenic. What you see is pretty much what you get, and if I don't like you I simply won't engage with you on any level. As someone said to me last year, it's not so much that I don't suffer fools gladly, it's that I choose not to suffer fools at all ;)
But I'm happy to engage with my little feathered friends. I've taken to feeding the local ducks and conning myself into thinking that they might actually like me. This, based solely on the fact that they recognise
Once that is over, and a mere 30 seconds after leaving home, she is determined to head back to the comfort of the warm, fluffy blanket on the couch. In an effort to convince her, I show her that it's just a short, straight walk about 300 metres to the pond near the copse of trees at the end of the path.
She eyes it suspiciously, internally computes the distance to be the equivalent of 90 km in tiny, mincing dog steps and decides to vote with her paws and head for home. She tells me her food bowl is calling her name.
But I'm made to sterner stuff - and I'm considerably bigger than she is, so I shortened the leash and half dragged her to the pond. And yes, she complained the whole way. Can you hear her?
"I'm going to report you for dog cruelty"
"My paws are cold. It's all right for YOU. You've got boots"
"Why haven't I got a woolly hat?"
"I need sunglasses, too!"
"I want to go home"
Honestly, whoever said that dogs have masters has obviously not met my dog, who is very much in control. She has full time service staff. And like all long suffering servants we have to put up with her cheap, nit-picking, fussy ways.
Eventually we arrive at the pond and as we near, the ducks come pouring out to greet
I love listening to them as they gather around, quacking excitedly. At least it drowns out the complaints from the poodle princess, who is straining at her leash and begging to hot foot it homewards. I'm careful and watchful to include everybody who is there. Several of the bolder ones, both males and females, come right up to me and pull at my leggings. But most simply wait and look up with expectation.
These are just the ordinary, very common gräsand or mallard which one can see everywhere. The striking, almost iridescent green ones are the males, with the females being the pretty speckled brown ones. They really are so beautiful and friendly and they allow me to get very close to them, so I feel like part of the flock. Some of them even eat out of my hand. You have to watch them all and share the food evenly or it could all quickly degenerate into a rugby scrum.
Ducks are rather companionable in the winter. Sure, they want the food I toss to them, but maybe they just like my company too. In the summer they don’t waddle up to me, quacking hello, and lifting their faces to take a good look at me.
They’re far too busy in summer. And to be honest, we’re also too busy to sit down and chat. In winter, however, the pace of life slows, and I can concentrate on the little things, like ducks. In that mood of companionship, I turn to the ducks after I've shaken out the last of the food, admire their cute, smiling faces in the winter sunshine and say "Ska vi kramas?" ("Shall we hug?")
And they immediately take off and fly away. Leaving me bereft, L-G killing himself laughing and the poodle still carrying on with her whining monologue.
Maybe next time....
And speaking of hugging, the big news here in Sweden is that the Crown Princess (Victoria, not Princess Lambi this time) announced her engagement this week to her long time boyfriend (and commoner) Daniel Westling.
No doubt, the Swedish equivalent of New Idea will be salivating with joy. The wedding is set for the summer of 2010, so they have 18 months of speculation about the wedding dress to fill their frothy, silly magazine. My mother-in-law would have been thrilled. She just loved the aristocracy and I know she would have regaled us with the latest gossip on the preparations.
While looking for an article about the engagement to link to, I came across this one, which contains an unintentionally hilarious mis-spelling of Victoria's fiancé's name. Wrestling??? What a hoot. While I knew that the king was not too happy about his daughter's choice for a partner, I hadn't realised it had come to this :-)
tisdag, februari 24, 2009
When we think of Easter and food in Australia, it immediately conjures up images of freshly baked, spicy hot cross buns. The debate about hot cross buns is both heated and intense, with differing opinions about whether there ought to be peel-or-no-peel in the hot cross buns, sultanas or fruitless or alternatively whether people expressing an affection for chocolate hot cross buns ought be crucified.
Here in Sweden, similar arguments rage over the traditional pre-Lenten delight of semlor or fastlagsbullar. These delicious buns, traditionally eaten today (fettisdag or Fat Tuesday) are fairly simple to make and far too easy to eat. After spending nine winters in Sweden, I can assure you I have had ample opportunity for a fairly detailed examination of the buns.
The basic concept is: Cardamom, cream, almond paste, all in a sweet bread. They're an institution across Sweden, with annual competitions to find the best baker, and discussions about who has good ones for how much. There's no talk about varieties or flavours as with hot cross buns, because the only common variations on this traditional item are what to do with the almond paste, whether to add extra almonds and how to eat them. I have, however, seen recent mention of chocolate semlor and ones filled with raspberry jam. My Swede, who is something of a semlor fundamentalist says "Sacrilege! Crucifixion!"
Now, before I continue, it's only fair to warn you that these buns have killed once and they'll no doubt kill again. What could be more thrilling than tempting fate by eating a delicious cream filled bun that was thought to have been the cause of the Swedish King Adolf Fredrik's death in 1771. Of course it might have also been the enormous meal he consumed before scarfing down 14 of the buns served in bowls of warm milk. While these buns are heavenly, I don't know that eating more than one or two in one sitting is recommended.
The history of the traditional Fat Tuesday treat is rather interesting. I was raised a Catholic, so I'd never really encountered these before having one in Sweden and I was curious. The modern semla (plural - semlor) is descended from the German and Danish kumminkringlor, a pretzel-shaped bread with cumin, which came to southern Sweden during the 1600's when that area belonged to Denmark. The first mention of semlor being eaten in Stockholm dates back to 1689.
The name semla comes from the Latin word simila, meaning wheat flour which was a luxury reserved only for the very wealthy classes. The buns were originally filled with hot cream, butter and cinnamon. The almond paste filling didn't arrive until the 1800s when Swiss bakers came to Sweden bringing their knowledge of almonds with them and the whipped cream filling and cap on top didn't become common until much later in the 1930s.
The oldest name for the buns, hetvägg, indicated that it was served in hot milk. Although most English recipes for the buns instruct the cook to serve in a bowl of hot milk, the tradition seems to be rarely observed anymore. Besides making the bun rather difficult and messy to eat, a bowl of hot milk doesn't really add flavour or better texture to the bun. If made without the whipped cream, the hot milk would be somewhat more appealing.
So now to how to make them!
Semlor / Lenten buns
Makes: 16 buns
Time: about 90 minutes
* 25g fresh compressed yeast
* 250ml whole milk
* 3oz or 85g superfine granulated sugar
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 heaped tablespoon ground cardamom
* 2 eggs, room temperature
* 1lbs 5oz or 600g plain flour
* 7 tablespoons or 100g melted butter
* 1 egg white and a dash of milk (for egg wash)
Melt butter and set aside to cool. Weigh and measure out all of the ingredients and arrange them near your workspace. Warm the milk to around 40C/105F. Crumble yeast into the warm milk and stir until it has fully dissolved. Stir in the sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs and a few tablespoons of flour. Stir until the mixture is smooth and the flour completely incorporated. Set aside for a couple minutes until it begins to bubble.
Pour the yeast mixture into a larger bowl and begin adding flour a few tablespoons at a time. Stir with a whisk or dough whisk until it begins to thicken. From this point on, knead the dough with your hands. Continue adding flour a few tablespoons at a time until the dough is soft but still slightly sticky. You may have a bit of flour remaining, but resist the temptation to add it all if the dough has the right feel. The amount of flour you need to use to reach the point of soft, yet slightly sticky, dough will vary depending on the type of flour, the age and moisture content of the flour and the humidity in the air.
Knead in the butter (it is important that the butter does not come in contact with the yeast before the yeast has had a chance to start expanding) until it is fully incorporated. Again, resist the urge to add more flour in lieu of kneading the dough until the butter has been absorbed. Sprinkle a tiny bit of flour over the dough if it is a bit too soft and tacky once the butter has soaked in, but be conservative. You want a soft, slightly sticky dough. Knead for a couple of minutes and place into a bowl that has been lightly greased with vegetable oil or butter, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm spot for about 20 minutes to rest (Don't leave it for an hour thinking more is better since you don't want to over-proof the dough as this will make it tough).
Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a smooth surface. Do not flour your workspace or the dough. Knead dough lightly and divide into two parts. Roll each half into an 8-inch rope and cut into 8 1-inch pieces.
Take each piece, place it on your workspace cupped in the palm of your hand and, with a reasonable amount of pressure, press down while moving your hand in a circular motion until the dough has formed a smooth, tight round ball.
[See also diagram] If your dough isn't a little sticky or you are having trouble forming a smooth ball, rub your workspace with a damp towel and try again. Arrange balls on baking sheet lined with baking paper leaving an inch or so between them. Lightly brush with egg wash. Cover with a teatowel or plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise for about 30 minutes or so.
Heat oven to 200C/390F. Bake buns for 10-12 minutes until they are a light golden brown. Place on cooling rack and allow to cool.
Traditional Almond Filling:
* 200g almond paste
* 1,5 dl or 3/4 cup milk
* bits of bun scooped out for filling
Grate almond paste into bowl. Beat until smooth. Blend in milk. Add bun crumbs and beat until smooth.
* 3-5dl (1½ cups) whipping cream, cold
* 2 teaspoons sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
Pour cream and sugar into a completely dry, cold bowl and whip to stiff peaks. Place cream in a pastry bag fitted with a #7/14-mm star tip.
1. Slice top off of buns. Take the tops of the buns and cut into heart, star or other shapes if you like. For the strictly traditional, use a pair of scissors held at a 45-degree angle to make a triangular cut on top of the bun about 2cm or 3/4-in deep. Trim excess bread from the underside of the triangular divot.
2. Spread almond mixture onto the buns or into the triangular hole.
3. Pipe whipped cream generously over the tops.
4. Place top of bun over the whipped cream.
5. Sprinkle with icing sugar.
lördag, januari 17, 2009
Wind From the Sea
Andrew Wyeth, 1948
Many years ago, I encountered Andrew Wyeth's "Wind From the Sea" and sat rapt with the magazine in my lap for some time, entranced by the tattered lace curtains blowing in the unseen wind from the sea, by the old window and the rather bleak (in conventional terms anyway) landscape beyond the window.
At the time of my encounter with the painting, I was not old enough to read, and I had no idea what the painting was called or who had painted it, but I knew that here was something special, and that the image before me would be with me all the days of my life. A child does not have the vocabulary to describe such things, but the painting was simply magnificent and it called me out of my child self, into it and somewhere else, over the hills and far away. It was compelling; it was stark and sombre and poignant beyond words - it was liminal and absolutely magical. I have never forgotten, and I have indeed carried the image around with me ever since, all the days of my life.
Andrew Wyeth, 1989
The subjects of Wyeth's much later and dreamlike "Snow Hill" are dancing merrily around a beribboned pole, not a May pole as one might think at first glance, but a winter pole crowned by an evergreen and surrounded by snow. We cannot see the faces of the six dancers, but they were all known to Wyeth as models, and they were friends at various times in his life. On the hillside below is a farm near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, a place known and loved by Wyeth in his childhood. In the distance we glimpse the railway tracks on which Wyeth's father was killed with his young grandson in 1945. Wyeth once said jocularly that the subjects of this rather surreal painting were dancing around the pole in anticipation of his death because he had been so difficult to work with. The dancers certainly appear to be in a festive frame of mind, but if they are celebrating anything at all, it is Andrew's long and fruitful life and his art, not his demise.
To Andrew Wyeth, I owe my early engagement with the grandeur of life and the natural world, with the luminous, the magical, the wild and the fey which has sustained me for fifty odd years. Every trip I have ever taken into the woods with camera had its genesis in my meeting with Andrew Wyeth's 1948 painting - every moment of wonder, every exposure, every entranced moment spent tracing shadows and shapes and textures in the wild.
Andrew Wyeth died yesterday in his sleep at the ripe old age of ninety-one, and I never had a chance to thank him. How I wish it had been otherwise. He gave me the world, and the eyes with which to truly see it. What child could ask for more?
onsdag, januari 07, 2009
What do you mean there is no thirteenth day of Christmas? Where are you living, anyway?
Yes, yes, yesterday was the twelfth day of Christmas, with the celebration of the Epiphany, the day when the Magi (Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar) arrived to visit Jesus as an infant. It is celebrated in many countries as an extension of the Christmas festivities and the official day to dismantle Christmas.
But not in for we in Sweden.....
And for that we can thank a Danish King called Knut. He was sainted by the pope in 1169, with his feast day being made 7th January (the first weekday after Christmas). This was the day that Swedes chose to end the holiday season. But in the sixteenth century, the church calendar was reformed and Knut's day was moved forward a week. As the Swedes had always been accustomed to ending their Christmas holidays on Knut's day, they solved the dilemma by extending the party and simply continued celebrating an extra week.
What eminently sensible idea. So we don't take down out lights, trees, decorations until next week. Which is just as well, really because it is still very dark and bitterly cold and we need all of the light and colour we can get. I don't complain about the two month long season.
As well as the tree, we still have the Christmas cards pinned to our bookshelf. They have come from friends all over the world and bring us a lot of joy. Christmas cards are a lovely way to let us know that we are in somebody else’s thoughts and they are a simple way to connect us with friends and family. When we start to receive these beautiful cards, they initially form a migration pattern across our home. We often open them at our kitchen table where we stand them up by the Advent lights. Then, when we start receiving more and more, they begin to be found all over our home wherever there is an empty space and inevitably get toppled over by a passing poodle.
I'll have to think of a better way to display them next year. I had thought of a ribbon strung across the wall, but many of the cards are "postcard" style with no fold, so what could we do with them? While it is nice to stand up Christmas cards on a table, they can be easily knocked over by small gusts of wind, or small furry paws. So we chose to pin them on the bookshelves so we could see them and know they'd be safe. I think I'll try and thread them on ribbon and make garlands out of them. But that's next year.
And at this time of the year, you can pick up some inexpensive decorations. I mostly have enough to keep me happy, but I had missed having a Nativity set. So I was tickled to find this little tealight candle holder. You just don't see Nativity sets around, as Christmas is much more about yule than Christ here.
I've tried to explain to a slightly bemused L-G how we set up the whole scene when I was a child. We'd buy straw from the local feed store and my gran would help us arrange it on the table and explain to us how each figure in a nativity scene has meaning, and the manner in which they are arranged was very important. I can't begin to tell you what a wonderful and special woman my gran was. I especially think of her at Christmas time. We just loved to do all of the set up. At that time, there were so many "no touch" Christmas decorations (thinking of all of the lovely blown glass balls we had on our tree), so it was nice for we children to be able to touch and set up the Nativity scene over and over again each year. And the competition among us for who would lay Jesus in the manger after Christmas Eve midnight mass was intense.
There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest
clothed to its very hollows in snow.
It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray,
every blade of grass, every spire of reed,
every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.
It seems, as the cold weather is here to stay. It was -22°C overnight (-8°F) so we stay as close to the warmth as we can. I did go out to feed the ducks with a vigorously protesting Lambi, but she ran home faster than you could possible believe after I distributed the last crumb to the poor birds.
I realise looking around me that I really need to tidy up — I just don't understand how a house can get messy when all you're doing is sitting on the sofa reading most of the time. Must be gnomes. I sure wish they'd learn to clean up after themselves. I'm about to start a new book today, having just finished reading the very delightful The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was such a wonderful story, set in post war Guernsey, told in a warm style and reminded me a lot of a cross between a Barbara Pym novel and the classic 84 Charing Cross Road. I was sorry when it ended, as I'd come to feel that the characters were a bit like family.
I frankly wanted to pack my bags and head off there myself to take in the atmosphere and history of the island. It also made me ponder the question of why letter writing seems to have gone out of fashion. It’s such a shame I think it needs to come back, don't you?
måndag, januari 05, 2009
Once upon a time, the holiday of Christmas revolved around celebrating the birth of Christ. There were angels and wise men and frankincense and myrrh. But some of my more irreverent friends don't quite see it in the same light. Indeed, one of those friends came down for a visit yesterday and presented me with The Holy Toast as a birthday gift.
While I'd like to think that she appreciates the depth of my Catholic faith and her sole reason for giving me this was the genuine thought that it might promote religious reflection during normal activities like making breakfast, her cheeky grin told another story. Though it was far more tasteful (hard as that is to believe) than what she wanted to buy me, but was forbidden by her boyfriend from doing so...
This stamper actually creates an imprint of Mary on your morning toast. After all, isn’t a little worship with your jam exactly what the priest ordered? Poor L-G was not sure who was the madder - myself or Justine, but hey if it's sacrilege for such a modest price, what else can I say but Amen to that!
It will now be holy toast or nothing in my house from now onwards. I wonder if I should make a sign for the door? And I wonder what our Swedish friends who stay here in the summer will think. They were already alarmed by the postcard this same friend sent me from Lourdes last year, complete with the Virgin of Lourdes who "appeared" depending on how you viewed the card....
But we had invited her down from Stockholm for the day with the promise that she could see a boring town where everything was shut. The weather gods however decided to pull a fast one on us and sent down a great deal of snow, then plunged the temperature to -15C (5F) and turned on the sunshine to make every snowflake glisten and glitter like dazzling diamonds. And even Oxelösund look nice!
This is the view of the harbour in the early morning (well, early for us, anyway). The mist you can see above the water is called sjörök and is caused when the air passing over the water at a much lower temperature. I've seen patches of this before, but never the whole harbour and all the way out to sea. We just sat there in wonder, watching it all drift slowly and calmly across the bay. We reluctantly left the stunning view across the harbour and headed up to Nyköping to collect Justine from the impressively named Nyköping's Central Station, which was little more than a deserted platform...
See, even that looks presentable with a covering of white powder. We apologised profusely for misleading her into thinking this might be a grey, dull and boring day, but she decided to be gracious and stay since she'd travelled so far.
While we were here, we decided to see how fast the rapids were running down by the old mill on the river. And it was a fantastic sight.
The scene was like a picture postcard from a winter wonderland. Justine told us that while cold in Stockholm, there was not much snow around. Obviously there was some kind of divine intervention going on to turn on all of this beauty for her visit. "Damn", we muttered to each other "Now she'll want to come back again!"
Nyköping is in fact a beautiful, lovely old town and it was especially dazzling and sparkly in the snow, with the water powering through the weir, creating spray, mist and ice sculptures everywhere we looked. Justine was kept busy snapping away at everything like an embarrassing Japanese tourist.
As the water powered down and the snow stirred softly in the gentle breeze, you could still hear the sounds of the birds frolicking cheerfully in the trees. The snowy trees were like Christmas all over again. Even parts of the waterfall had frozen and there was snow on the eaves of the buildings, cottages and sculptures. It was straight out of a Christmas card.
The spray glistened in the sunshine, creating whirling rainbows and the snow was pure white in the dazzling sun, stirring up the imagination. Hmmm...not at all the experience we had promised... It was as though someone had come through with a big can of spray on marshmallow and coated everything. And when the sun glittered off the snow crystals, I was reminded of those Christmas cards people used to send with glitter on them. I used to love those cards with the sparkling dust on them. In my innocence, I used to think that someone really rich had sent the card.
Lambi was über-unimpressed being forced to be out in the cold when we should have been home eating saffron buns and admiring her instead. We stood watching the stream, looking at the laxtrappa (salmon ladder, leap, stair?) and wondering if the salmon could actually use it. It would seem so, if this fishing website is anything to go by (and yes, that madman is standing in the freezing water). Apparently they catch trophy sized salmon up to 23 kilos and sea trout up to 13 kilos here.
This is a popular walking route through the town as it follows the winding river all the way past the castle and into the sea. We walked a bit more (under extreme protest from the frozen poodle) looking at teenage boys fishing from the shore, people out strolling, dogs walking (not that it inspired Lambi to bother), kids on sleds and families out feeding the ducks and enjoying the day.
Feeling a little frozen, we went back to the car and continued our exploration around town. This time Lambi was cross that Justine was in the front seat (which is HER place) and she whined piteously until Justine was forced to nurse her the whole way back home. Hee, hee.
We didn't go straight home, but detoured to take her through the woods and out to the lighthouse keeper's cottage at Femörehuvud. It was a bracing walk and the sea and sun were refreshing, except to Lambi who couldn't for the life of her understand why we were there without a picnic.
I actually put her down for a short time so she could practice being a real dog for a change and you should have seen her reluctantly skulking along, much to the amusement of everyone there. She's incorrigible.
Those two guys were really chuckling as they waited for Lambi to make her way through the gate. So yes, I picked her up and carried her the kilometre or so back to the car...
We were then able to get down to the serious business of afternoon tea, chatting, dinner and the gift giving. Much more to Princess Lambi's style, especially as she could just lay in her basket and be warm and admired and slightly singed when she came too close to Justine's piece of bun).
Justine had also bought me flowers. And not just any flowers - she found sprigs of sugar gum and golden wattle - in Sweden! L-G could not understand my excitement, even when I recited the lines from the Monty Python philospher's sketch: "This here's the wattle, the emblem of our land. You can stick it in a bottle, you can hold it in your hand." (I did this while Justine was at the loo in case she thought I was nuts. Needless to say, this was before she gave me the Holy Toast maker....)
As far as he's concerned, a flower is a flower. He had no idea that I'd go crazy over what looked quite ordinary to him. Yes, I can see him failing the Australian Immigration test miserably if he fails to recognise it as the floral emblem of our great land.
This morning, while the Holy toast was cooking, the kitchen was filled with the lovely scent of eucalyptus and wattle. It was both a welcome reminder of home and provided a contrast to the winter landscape outside as well.
And the snowy and ice continue today, with even colder temperatures. The big chill is settling in up north with temperatures plummeting to -35C (-31F) overnight. It was a more tropical -20C (-4F) here, but still I see that bays in the Baltic are starting to ice over and some of the more sheltered waters in the archipelago might be skateable this year - the first time in a few years that it has been possible.
All I can say is brrrr..... and pop some Vegemite on my Holy Toast.
This month's postsIf you go out in the woods today... (måndag, november 09, 2009)
New post coming soon... (lördag, november 07, 2009)
Ska vi kramas? (torsdag, februari 26, 2009)
Killer buns (tisdag, februari 24, 2009)
Wind From the Sea (lördag, januari 17, 2009)
On the thirteenth day of Christmas.... (onsdag, januari 07, 2009)
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Toast (måndag, januari 05, 2009)
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