merry christmas

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it’s beginning to look a lot like christmas

I cannot believe that it’s Christmas on Saturday! I know it sounds like such a cliché, but this year has really gone by so fast. I feel like it was only a few weeks ago I moved back to Stockholm, not almost nine months. 2016 is almost over and I don’t even feel like it ever really began.

 I guess part of the reason why the year feels like it’s gone by so fast is because since April the weeks have only been the transport route to the weekends, when I get to see S. I haven’t been doing much during the weeks (mainly work and gym) so leaving home just before 8 am and returning around 8-9 pm 2-4 days a week kind of turns it all into a blur.

 But now I’m looking forward to a few days off. S is coming here on Friday and then we’ve got all the days between Christmas and New Year’s off. We’ll be doing Christmas at home (so for the next few days I’ll be really busy with food prep for Saturday) and for NYE his family is coming over – so I’ll be cooking a NYE feast.

 I’m planning on doing a lot of good stuff for Christmas and NYE, so there should be some good recipes coming up here in the New Year. For Christmas there’s going to be gravad lax (Swedish cured salmon), Christmas ham, meatballs, mini sausages, potatoes, cheese and bread, English rice pudding, as well as gingerbread, saffron buns, knäck (Swedish almond toffee), Rocky Road, and maybe some other chocolates. I won’t make everything myself though, but the ones I do I’ll post about. For NYE I’m thinking some sort of beef wrapped in Parma ham served with a potato gratin of sorts and then a take on Eton mess for dessert. Pleasing the in-laws in the food department isn’t always easy, but a nice piece of meat with potatoes and an English dessert should do it!

 What’s really disappointing though is that it’s not looking like we’re going to get a white Christmas. The snow chaos in the beginning of November was getting my hopes up for a white Christmas, but after the initial chaos and some one-day followers, the temperature has steadily risen above freezing and none of the (sporadic) snow has stuck. Today is due to be 8 degrees and Saturday 5 degrees. So not looking hopeful there.

 I’m still excited about my first Christmas really being at home again though. No feeling like you have to cram so much in because it’s the longest consecutive period you’ll be home all year. Not sleeping on a blow-up mattress in my mum’s living room/kitchen. Not living out of a suitcase. And being able to decorate our home the way we want. Having our own Christmas tree, advent stars and advent candlesticks in the windows, and the four advent candles present in many a Swedish home at this time of year.

 I’ve always liked Christmas. Going down to my grandparents’ (though we’re not doing that this Christmas Eve), sticking to the tradition and always having the same food and watching Donald Duck, year after year, even though we’re all adults now. I think I must have got the whole Christmas gene in my family because my brother couldn’t really care less (he’s been working on Christmas Eve the past few years – great overtime pay) and for my mum it’s been kind of a case where the older we get the less traditional she is. She definitely used to go all out when we were little, even when we were teenagers, but when we started getting older and more independent she started scaling it down. S doesn’t really feel the same way about Christmas as I do either, so three out of five years we’ve spent Christmas at my grandparents’. (The first year together we spent Christmas apart – had only been together about two months – one year my mum and brother came over to London, and last year we stayed in London because he wasn’t allowed to fly.) This year we wanted to be at home though, seeing as it’s the first time we have our own place, so we’ll go down and see my family in the days after Christmas instead.

Which means I have to cook. I’m looking forward to it though. I’m going to make my own gravlax (not very difficult, just time consuming) and I’m going to make a Christmas ham for the first time, using my brand new slow cooker I got as a Christmas present from the MIL. (I got it early because it had to be delivered to my house.) The ham needs to boil for 9 hours in the slow cooker and then go in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, so I’m planning on boiling it overnight. Then I’m also attempting to make an English rice pudding rather than the traditional Swedish risgrynsgröt (rice porridge) on S’s request. Though I think they’re very similar – the rice pudding is thicker due to being made with cream instead of milk and baked instead of boiled – he doesn’t like the Swedish version very much, so I promised I’d give it a try. Can’t be that difficult, can it.

It’ll only be a small gathering and we’ll end up having leftovers for weeks, but I’m really looking forward to it. To use the favourite word of the Swedish nation, I think it will be cozy.

/t

lussebullar

Today is Lucia, which is an old Swedish tradition. Surprisingly, it’s technically the celebration of an Italian saint, but in true Swedish fashion we’ve thrown in some pagan associations too. You don’t need to look far to find pagan celebrations in Sweden – just look at Valborg (Walpurgis Night), Midsummer, and even Easter and Christmas. (On the Thursday before Good Friday children in Sweden dress up as Easter witches and go knocking on doors to get sweets, and Christmas is commonly said to be celebrated at the end of December because we already had pagan celebrations then that the Christians wanted to replace.)

Anyway, back to today. Lucia is a Catholic saint from Sicily who lived during the late 200’s, and the story is that she was persecuted for being a devout Christian. As a young girl she had taken a chastity vow, but her mother – not knowing about the vow – arranged for her to be married because she herself was sick. When Lucia found out, her and her mother travelled to St Agatha’s shrine to pray for a cure. The mother was cured and agreed that Lucia would not have to be married, but her intended husband was not please by these news, and so he reported her to the Governor of Syracuse who ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image. Lucia refused and was then ordered to be defiled in a brothel, but when they came to pick her up they could not move her. Eventually she was killed with a sword.

St Lucia’s day became 13th December, which before the calendar reformation coincided with the Winter Solstice. The Swedish Lucia tradition is therefore thought to stem from that. There are Swedish versions of the legend saying that St Lucia would bring food to prisoners, and that to be able to carry as much as possible she would put the candles on her head, but reference to this is not commonly made in the English articles about her. What is more likely is that we put Lucia onto our pagan tradition to be able to ‘Christianise’ it. According to folklore, 13th December was a dangerous night on which many supernatural beings moving about, and it was thought that animals could talk on that night. Because it was a dangerous night, people should try not to go to sleep, and some would walk the towns with torches to bring light on this darkest night.
13th December was also the day on which all the Christmas celebrations should be finished, and when the Christmas pig should be slaughtered. People would therefore often have a small feast, and some even called it ‘mini-Christmas’.

And there you have it. This mix of pagan tradition and a Sicilian saint has brought us today’s Lucia celebrations, where a girl with a crown of candles leads a procession of boys and girls in white gowns, singing Lucia songs and handing out gingerbread and lussebullar (saffron buns) to people – which neatly brings us onto the recipe of the day.

Lussebullar, or lussekatter, are a Swedish Christmas food strongly associated with Lucia. ‘Att lussa’ is the verb used in Swedish for describing partaking in a Lucia train, so lussebulle technically means ‘Lucia bun’ and lussekatt means ‘Lucia cat’. Apparently the latter is because the lussebulle came about in Germany, where the devil, in the form of a cat, beat children while Jesus, in the form of a child, gave out buns to children who were good. To keep the devil away the buns were coloured with saffron – since the devil had an aversion to light. You learn something new every day!

Either way, lussebullar are one of my favourite things, and I always get that giddy feeling when they start selling them in the shops. But what’s great about them is that they’re actually not very difficult to make, you just need some patience, and they usually turn out so much greater than the store-bought ones.


Ingredients
50g fresh yeast

100g butter

500 ml milk

250g quark

1g saffron

150 ml sugar

0.5 tsp salt

ca 1.7 l flour

raisins

1 egg / some milk

First I want to emphasise again how much I prefer fresh years to dry. I know everyone can’t get their hands on fresh yeast, but if you can it’ll so be worth it.

Start by crumbling your yeast in a big bowl.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the milk. Heat to max 37 degrees Celcius. The easiest way to know that it’s right (if you don’t have a thermometer) is to do the finger test. Just dip your finger in there and if you basically can’t feel the liquid (i.e. it’s neither hot nor cold) it’s good to go. Make sure your finger doesn’t just graze the top though – the bottom could be hotter which would kill the yeast.

Pour the liquid over the yeast little by little until it dissolves. Add saffron, sugar, and quark and dissolve. Then add almost all of the flour, tip the dough out of the bowl and knead until smooth.

Leave to rise for at least 30 minutes.

Once the dough has almost doubled in size, tip it out onto a floured surface and cut into smaller pieces. I usually do this by halving the dough and then halving each bit as I go, which I believe gave me 36 buns.

To make the buns, take one piece and roll it out into a long, thin(ish) strand. Then grab the ends and roll them up opposite ways until it resembles and S. If you want to (I don’t like raisins) garnish by putting one raisin at each end of the S.

Leave to rise for another 30 minutes.

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Again, this step is up to you. You can either glaze the buns with a beaten egg before baking, or do what I do and brush them with some milk after. I prefer the milk after, because it gives the buns a soft exterior, but others prefer the top to be more bread-like.

Either way, bake the buns for 5-10 minutes (depending on the size) at 225 degrees Celcius, then why not enjoy them while they’re hot with some glögg or julmust.

julbord

As I’ve been teasing you with little mentions of the Swedish julbord in two of my recent posts, I thought it was time to show you what it’s all about.

We went down to this lovely little town outside Stockholm called Mariefred, which is located on lake Mälaren (which runs all the way up through Stockholm and out into the Baltic Sea). According to Wikipedia they had just under 4,000 inhabitants in 2010, and you can trace its origins back to the 1370’s when the Head of the Royal Council built a fortress on the peninsula. That fortress later became Gripsholm Castle which was used as a royal residence until the 1800’s but is now a museum. Across the water from the Castle you have Gripsholms Värdshus, an inn that was established in the early 1600’s. If you sit in their garden you have a view of the Castle, and behind it the local church looms high. It really is a picturesque sight.

The inn was where we were heading for our julbord. We had a two-hour slot booked for lunch, and we were not disappointed. They had everything I want at a julbord (my granddad would argue that the pigs’ trotters were missing) but with an atmosphere that was of a more luxurious nature than my childhood ones.

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The first stop was in the lobby where we were greeted with glögg and some gingerbread before making our way in to the restaurant. Usually glögg is served last, as an aperitif kind of, but we were a bit early, so decided to take a seat in the sofas and warm ourselves with some.

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This is the herring table, and it’s supposed to be your first stop. As you can see there are all different kinds of herring and they will all have different flavourings, like for example black pepper, mustard, onion or dill. I don’t like herring though, so I skip this step.

Then you have the cold-cuts and salmon. We had two kinds of gravad lax, one normal and one that was flavoured with beetroot and vodka. I’ve never tried that before but it was really nice. There were also some other ‘fishy’ bits like eggs topped with Skagenröra or caviar and a fish cake of sorts.

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Then on the other side of that table there were the cold cuts. You had jellied veal and veal tongue (eugh) and different types of game sausages – moose, wild board, reindeer, etc. – similar to salamis. And of course the most important of them all: the Christmas ham. Together with this you should take some bread from the bread table, and some Christmas cheese (which is essentially an Edam cheese).

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We then move on to the hot foods, where there were meatballs, mini sausages, potatoes, pork belly, mushroom omelette, red cabbage, creamed kale, Janssons frestelse (a potato and anchovies gratin) and something called dopp i grytan (which means dip in the pot) and is essentially the fat from the boiling liquid from the ham, melted again. You’re meant to dip somewhat stale bread in it.

Then, finally – saving the best for last, was dessert. There was a cheese board, but I didn’t go for that. There were skumtomtar (marshmallow-ish Santas), knäck (toffee with almonds in it), polkagrisar (hard boiled mint sweets), ischoklad (literal translation ‘ice chocolate’ – chocolate mixed with coconut oil), fudge, and marmalade sweets. There were then also little mini desserts: a chocolate mousse with raspberries, saffron panna cotta with blackberries, ris à la Malta (rice pudding rice mixed with whipped cream-ish – I don’t like it), almond pastry cases filled with whipped cream and a forest berry compote, and Swedish cheesecake with cream and jam.

So all in all the main food was a very traditional julbord, but the desserts were a mix. It was very good though and we seemed to have timed it well, because most people arrived when we were ready to go get the hot foods – meaning we were one course ahead of the others.

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Next week I might have a julbord with my working group, but if we end up going we’ll be going to a seafood restaurant, so it’ll only be seafood. I really hope everyone can come, because I would really like to go though – the menu looks amazing.

december

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Well, at least it’s December now! It drives me nuts when Christmas decorations start popping up in shops, shopping centres, and on the streets in October. One of the Swedish radio stations has started a practice where they only play Christmas music until Boxing Day and this year they began on11th November!

In Sweden we observe Advent (I don’t really want to say celebrate because we don’t technically do much). So the four Sundays before Christmas, Swedish people will light candles, drink glögg (mulled wine), eat gingerbread and saffron buns, toffee and chocolate, and just bide our time until Christmas. We put up electric candle sticks and stars in our windows, and have Advent candles that we light on the Sunday, the first candle on the first of Advent, the first and second on the second, and so on. Often someone you know will have a glögg party on one of the Advent Sundays. This year Christmas Eve (which is when we celebrate) is on a Saturday, which means that the first of Advent was quite early, at the end of November, this year.

This weekend is the second of Advent and we’re having friends over from the UK. Because S has never been to a julbord (other than Christmas lunch at my family’s) we’re going down to a picturesque town outside of Stockholm tomorrow to enjoy one. It’ll be my first in over eight years as well. It’s also my office Christmas party tonight, so I’m feeling very much like Christmas is drawing nearer. On Wednesday I made lussebullar (saffron buns) and gingerbread for the weekend, and I’ll share the saffron bun recipe with you when I have a chance to write a longer post and pick out what pictures to use!
/t