julmarknader & julbord = Christmas markets and Christmas smorgasbord

I'm working on posts about our recent trip to Spain, but am going to skip over it for a bit and talk about December in Sweden.

The Swedes had warned us that November is grey and December much better- holiday festivities and lights and more. True to form, this seems to be the case! More clear skies and even the moon showing tonight- gorgeous lights reflecting on the water. We started hanging our own lights to add to the festive cheer.

My mom, Linda ("Lita"), is visiting from Bend, OR... 20+ hours of elapsed travel to get from Bend to Phoenix to London to Stockholm. We gave her a few days to settle into the time zone (though she took a field trip to Uppsala with me her 2nd day here and helped us find a dress for Santa Lucia Day for Elizabeth on day 3- more on that soon).

A few of Linda's photos from Uppsala to whet your appetite to come visit us!

 Old runestone in Uppsala

Today, however, was full on Sweden & holidays...

We went to Skansen, which is the large open air museum and one of the largest Christmas markets in Stockholm. It was a bit nutty. Tons of people, music, food, stands with people, kids. General, happy chaos with open fire pits to warm your hands on. Sightings of the apparently famous Swedish straw goat (goats used to deliver Christmas presents until Santa took over the job).

[Side note on straw goats: The Swedish town of Gävle builds an enormous straw goat each year. Apparently it's also sport to light it on fire, so the town works hard to protect it (and you can go to prison for 3 months for burning it). Want to know more? See here]

The Fowler family was generally easy to spot in the crowds due to bright colors. Lara- looking more like a Swede in all black. Lita- visible with a bright hat.

There was some quite catchy folk music being played (and some encouragement for dancing. Hard not to join in! We have no idea what this Swedish song is, but the crowd clearly did.)

I've interviewed Elizabeth, Stephen, Lita and Chris about their take on both Skansen and then our dinner tonight. Lightly edited interview transcripts below...

Elizabeth: most of the animals were hiding, but overall it was fun. The waffle [heaped with whip cream and jam] was really good. The small homemade dwarves were cute.

Stephen: I enjoyed seeing the different things being sold. The food was really good- traditional Swedish. The animals today were a bit less interesting [mostly they were curled up and asleep].

Lita: I liked the fact that they had the wood fires everywhere, and you could cozy up (there were no screens to protect you). I liked seeing the sellers in their traditional clothes (photos by Lita).

Lita, continued: I also liked seeing the birds- magpies in multiple colors. Owls, woodpeckers. I would have liked more time with the buildings.

 Lita, cont.-- We did see the silversmith, which was pretty special. They used a big press to cold press silver into shapes. I can't imagine how much that weighed.

The silversmith's massive press (above); sample pressed silver (below) with steel molds (heavy!)

We also saw a few other workshops.
Photos from the tin shop first- left is an old fashion cookie cutting tin. Right is the set of tools.

Book bindery:

And animals!

Chris: I like the idea that Skansen is a crowded market space targeting families with young children, but is also filled with flaming steel discs filled with open flames... very Swedish. no rail, no screen, put your own wood on. Lots of fire to warm your hands. [He noted that he's not a big fan of crowds].

Lita on lunch (scrapple). It was interesting to see how they made scrapple in a traditional way- over a wood stove. [effectively pancake batter with meat fried in lard]. Chris: scrapple- eh. While the production was cool, the food was maybe not so much. I liked the gnomes... I'm into gnomes
[Editor's note: sorry, no photos of gnomes- just photos of scrapple making]

We worked our way home from Skansen- walk to the bus, take it for a while, catch another bus, walk home. Home for a bit (though Chris and the kids scampered off to climb at our nearby climbing gym for a bit). Some vacuuming, some bathroom cleaning, some showers (all the good stuff), somewhat dressed up, and off we walked into the dark and rain to make our  "julbord"-- holiday smorgasbord-- scheduled for 17:45 at a nearby restaurant.

I told my mom that walking to dinner would make her think we were lost in the woods. Out of our neighborhood, onto the nearby trails, onto a road turned bike path/horse path (dodge the piles of horse dung), up a hill, and 1.5 km in the quasi dark later, voila, a restaurant. Glad to see the lights in the window.

What to say? Julbord is a traditional Swedish meal.... it's been advertised for weeks (since before Halloween)? We didn't really know what it was except that it was a traditional holiday meal. When a cool restaurant that we had stumbled into some weeks back advertised a julbord, I thought we'd give it a try and made reservations. It's quite something-- literally a smorgasbord/buffet of traditional Swedish foods- herring, meats, veggies, breads, and desserts- oh my. I'll let my interviewees share their thoughts below. Quite a meal (and quite a set of desserts). Photos below.

Elizabeth: dinner was good. Well, actually dessert was good- the peppermint hard candies were my favorite.

Stephen- dinner was really good. My favorite part? Dessert. Most of the foods were ones that I don't normally eat. It was all good in general. [Editor's note: he bravely tried pate, pickled herring, and more-- bravo!]

Lita: dinner was exquisite. All kinds of fish. The presentation was wonderful, and the variety amazing. And they had parsnips and turnips and tricky sweet potatoes for Elizabeth (who thought they were mangoes). The dark chocolate mousse was fantastic. I liked that when I put my coat on for dinner, it still smelled like the woodsmoke from Skansen.

Chris: What do I think of julbord? It was magical. Part of it was the mystery, the build up. The number of advertisements, colleagues talking about it-- there has been an intensity of feelings brewing since late Oct- made me want to know what this was all about. Walking through dark up the hill to the restaurant- we didn't know what to expect [or really what to wear so dressed up a bit]. People had on funny holiday hats- I was wondering if we were supposed to as well?

The range of foods was very different from what I had expected. I now have a good sense of what more traditional Swedish foods done well might be like. It's hard get excited about pickled fish in the abstract, but 10-12 choices of pickled fish, a lot quite good (his favorite: thai lemongrass and pickled herring). The fish had good flavor and texture- not smooshy. Firm, tasty.

Overall, I'm enjoying the way the Swedes prepare for the  holiday season- so many white lights everywhere- windows, storefront, balconies, etc. To be in a space that is all lit- made me feel festive. It's hard to be separated from our normal holiday routines: we haven't put up a tree [yet], I'm not listening to the King's College Choir day in and day out. Since we're having a non-traditional Christmas, it's been fun to do a julbord.

[Reading from the couch, Stephen chimes in: "that's how much I said, right?"]

Pictures of dinner and dessert (it helps to have two photographers. If I'm in the picture, my mom took it. If she's in the picture, I took it. The other photos are from both of us... )

The drink of the season- Julmust (some kind of soda? We can't quite place the flavor). At the buffet line thinking about what kind of herring to try.


 I'll have to work on food photography.... so many good things to try!

And then there were the desserts. 

Lovely evening walking home in the dark and seeing the lights of our neighborhood, both from a distance and from closer up. No luck finding our neighborhood beaver in the dark. 

Time to settle in with too full tummies- hoping for snow but not sure we'll get it. Tomorrow's weather prediction is for 100% chance of 0.1 inches of snow, but with temps ranging from 45 to 38 degrees F.