Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Culinary architecture

Gingerbread houses are decorative, they smell good (as edible things tend to do) and they're a sure sign that Christmas is coming. Coming? As you can probably tell, this is a somewhat belated post about the making of gingerbread houses. I've been enjoying my Christmas presents and working on my holiday beauty sleep so much that I simply couldn't find the time to put up these photos. I finally managed to squeeze it into my busy schedule.

First you obviously need to make the parts. We baked these during our gingerbread baking stint the day before Christmas Eve.

Then you glue the parts together. The fact that melted sugar hardens pretty quickly makes it the professional culinary construction worker's favourite choice, and most importantly, I think it's the only kind of glue you're supposed to eat.

The ceremonial gluing of the chimney. It might look a bit sticky and wobbly now, but you can fix (aka hide) that with icing. This teaches us that covering up your flaws can sometimes be not only good, but even delicious.

Et voila!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The day before

The day before Christmas is ablur with activities. Apart from the obvious task of getting the presents ready, you need to prepare all the tasty treats.

Like gingerbread cookies!

Mmm. :)


And finally, marzipan.

Pretty groovy, huh? I made the sushi (lower left corner) and assorted stuff to the left. Two very creative and giggly young ladies made the various animals, vegetables, fruits (and everything in between) that dominate the right-hand three-quarters of the platter.

Off to bed, it's a big day tomorrow. Yes -- in case you didn't know -- we cheat in Scandinavia; Christmas Eve marks the big celebration with all the presents and such.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Unbaked "Lucia cats". Simply put, they're saffron seasoned buns, they're yummy, and thus they're an important part of Christmas.

Here they are after baking in the oven.

Today was the 4th Sunday of Advent, which basically means we have fika with four lit candles and some nice saffron buns, ginger bread and julmust .

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

St. Lucia's day

Yesterday was St. Lucia's Day . I went to the celebration at church (which has been featured earlier in this blog), and found that this is a very popular day. Sure, I know the church is usually packed when there's free entertainment to be had, but I've never seen a queue this long in front of a church.

Unfortunately the photo came out very blurry since it's always so darn dark here in Sweden, but you get the idea. I used our real digital camera, not my phone this time.

Getting a seat was actually quite easy, despite the amount of people. I reserved one for my mom in the second row while she parked the car (getting a parking spot was crazy hard), and then went to the back of the church to get some shots of the Lucia procession when she had taken her seat. The ones I tried to take from the side was even blurrier than the photo above, so you'll have to make do with one from behind.

At this point, I had had time to mount the camera on a tripod, to get some long exposure shots with no flash. Using a flash to light up a Lucia procession really defeats the purpose. I wanted to convey the light versus darkness feeling that is the whole point of the scandinavian Lucia celebration. Yes, I felt a bit like a dork for using a tripod, but I'd have felt even more like a dork if I'd lit up the whole church with my flash. Which incidentally is what someone in the front row is apparently doing in this photo, making it look rather surreal.

The white-clad boys and maidens sang the classical St. Lucia song as they slowly filed into the church. There were also some maidens already assembled at the front of the church with unlit candles, which the new arrivals lit with their own, spreading warm candle light in the dark winter evening.

Finally, with everyone there, the songs started in earnest. The choir was a mix of schooled singers from music classes, small kids and regular students. It sounded great, as it usually does.

In this photo you can see that the pews are stacked with people, and that the church is a place where you should keep your mouth shut, paraphrasing the sign. Another thing I discovered is that the back of the church is apparently a place for photographers and parents cradling restless children.

The Lucia stands in the front with a crown of candles. She never sings, she just stands there, looking pretty. Note the warm glowing warming glow.

The church sure looks nice in this light, and the acoustics really lend themselves to choir song. It's hard not to get at least a tiny glimmer of a tear in your eye at some point or another.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Xmas market

I went to the Christmas market the other day. It took place at the outdoors museum here in town, where there's a bunch of nice old buildings. As I understand it, they've been moved there piece by piece and arranged to form a small village. It's like walking straight into the past. The market mostly fits the theme of the surrounding buildings, but the occasional anachronism still pops up here and there. It's a market, not a historic reenactment.

Here are some of the more old-timey wares...

...and these ceramic shiny things are a bit out of place, although it did seem like everyone was selling tomtar , what with it being a Christmas market. After all, Santa is basically just a bigger version of these little fellas. The thing that really struck me as being out of place was the kanji 夏, because it's far from summer right now. (If they're both seasons, I'm guessing the other one might say 秋, autumn.)

Apparently honey can cure a cold, according to this salesperson. Well, I don't mind honey.

You could also go inside some of the houses. This tiny old store was kinda crowded; I guess it was built in simpler times when this town was just a tiny village. Here, you could buy old-style candy in a paper cone, and the clerks were dressed up in old-fashioned clothes.

Some final thoughts:



All in all, the whole market had a nice atmosphere. It was all fun, except when one of those fire things came loose and almost hit a little girl! Yeah, that was scary, but no one got hurt.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Crazy tree

I found this at a furniture store:

Kinda scary.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


I recently learned from a japanese friend that an old name for Japan is 瑞穂の国, which means "The Land of Abundant Rice." It's a nice name, and easier to follow than the kanji for U.S.A., 米国, which literally means "rice country." (Since rice was synonymous with currency when Japan came into contact with the US, the name actually means "rich country.")

Anyway, the archaic name for Japan struck me as very interesting, since I recognized the first kanji, 瑞, which is one of the chinese characters that represent Sweden: 瑞典. These characters were probably chosen by people in Hong Kong for their phonetic value, because when read in the Cantonese dialect they sound kind of like the English word "Sweden" (or so I've heard, I only know a few words of Cantonese). So now that I knew that the first kanji can be interpreted as "abundant," what could the second one, 典, mean? A quick dictionary check told me "rule, code, law."

Hence, according to its phonetic representation in kanji, Sweden is the Land of Abundant Laws! Extraordinarily, the semantics turned out to be dead-on, as Sweden does indeed suffer from a ridiculous amount of rules and regulations. As Björk once said: "I thought I could organize freedom / How Scandinavian of me"

Sunday, November 27, 2005


One of the most eventful days of the year has come and gone: Shop window Sunday. In Swedish, it's called "skyltsöndag," as "skyltfönster" means "shop window" and "söndag" means "Sunday." (And "skyltfönstersöndag" is too long to say.) Today, all the shops fill their windows with Christmas decorations (as do people at home), so naturally everyone likes to go strolling through town and see it all. This has evolved into quite a festive day, when the town suddenly transforms into a market with all kinds of activities greeting the advent of Christmas. Because that's exactly what this day is; the beginning of Advent .

We started the day by going to the pet store, where they had a small cat exhibit. Of course I don't remember the names of the different cat races, but it was fun to see pure bred cats.

Next, we went to the town square. Funnily enough, one of the first things I noticed had little to do with skyltsöndag. Apparently, the hamburger kitchen that is frequently stationed on our square had a new paintjob.

I like the pixelated trees.

However, there were lots of things much more Christmas related. For example, children waited in line to talk to Santa Claus. He was on his way through town and had camped out on our square with Mrs Claus. The kids must have been very patient, because the line was long, as you can see in the first photo in this post.

Good thing he has a back entrance, in case he needs to get away from all those kids, and it's also a perfect way for me to take a few pictures.

Other activities not depicted here involved buying stuff to support a plethora of causes with different degrees of selfishness (from school trips to animal shelters). I'm guessing the following was one of those money scrounging activities, but it looked fun.

Apparently, they take children for rides in that military vehicle. I saw it driving around later, filled with children who were no doubt having the time of their life.

The highlight of the day was probably the troupe of santas who suddenly came marching across the town square. At first I just planned on keeping up with them for a while, trying to get a few good photos, but then I overheard someone say where they were headed. It sounded ridiculous, so I had to follow them. First note that it was a cold day; my poor fingers were freezing just from taking off my glove to snap these photos. Now watch the weirdos.

Yes, it's clearly on purpose and of their own volition. They're wearing wet suits under their costumes, so I'm guessing it's not as cold as it looks. I don't know why they're doing it though; it's not as if they ever asked for my money. Maybe as a publicity stunt, but since I have no idea who they are it feels kinda like they failed. On the other hand, they hadn't quite got started yet when I had to go. I wanted to hear the Christmas carolers.

This is actually three different choirs. They took turns singing Christmas carols, which made me half expect them to throw down and start a sing-off, heckling the other choirs while they sang. I was a bit disappointed when they applauded each other instead.

After their joint performance, the three choirs split up and went charoling around town. I bumped into one of them repeatedly riding escalators up and down, singing Jingle bells. Quite amusing, especially when hapless escalator passengers were caught up in the middle of the choir.

To round off this post, here's a crowd photo and a couple of shop windows. I almost went the whole skyltsöndag without taking a single shop window photo. Duh.