22 July 2008

fermented fish

July 14, 2008

For our last dinner at the summer cottage, we had a traditional Swedish meal of surströmming, fermented fish. Yes, fermented fish. The definition below is pretty accurate: it is fermented herring, with a very "different" taste, one that is most definitely acquired. "Strong odor" is by far and understatement. The odor was so strong that Roger had to open the pressurized can down by the water, far away from the house with a table as a shield so as not to get any of the juice on him! Lots of northern Swedes like this type of fish, although it seems that the only people that like it have been eating strömming since birth.

The summer cottage from the water.

The road to the summer cottage.

Roger seeks shelter behind a table when opening the surströmming, something so rank that it actually is classified as a biological weapon by the United States.

Here is a useful primer on surströmming from Wikipedia:

Surströmming ("soured (Baltic) herring") is a northern Swedish delicacy consisting of fermented Baltic herring. Surströmming is sold in cans, which when opened release a strong smell. Because of the smell, the dish is often eaten outdoors. However, opening the can under water or inside a plastic bag, somewhat lessens the smell, as well as prevents the person opening it from being soaked in brine, as the fermentation often builds up a considerable pressure inside the can.

The herring is caught in spring, when it is in prime condition and just about to spawn. The herring are fermented in barrels for one to two months, then tinned where the fermentation continues. Half a year to a year later, gases have built up sufficiently for the once cylindrical tins to bulge into a more rounded shape. These unusual containers of surströmming can be found in supermarkets all over Sweden. However, certain airlines have banned the tins on their flights, considering the pressurized containers to be potentially dangerous.[1] Species of Haloanaerobium bacteria are responsible for the in-can ripening. These bacteria produce carbon dioxide and a number of compounds that account for the unique odor: pungent propionic acid, rotten-egg hydrogen sulfide, rancid-butter butyric acid, and vinegary acetic acid.[2]

One proposed explanation of the origins of this method of preservation is that it began long ago, when brining food was quite expensive due to the cost of salt. When fermentation was used, just enough salt was required to keep the fish from rotting. The salt raises the osmotic pressure of the brine above the zone where bacteria responsible for rotting (decomposition of proteins) can prosper and prevents decomposition of fish proteins into oligopeptides and amino acids. Instead the osmotic conditions enable the Haloanaerobium bacteria to prosper and decompose the fish glycogen into organic acids, giving it the sour (acidic) properties.

Kristen smells the surströmming. Not a crowd pleaser it seems.

Kristen has a taste....

Definitely an acquired taste!

Hans' first school in Holmsund where he attended first and second grades.

A folkboat sailing on the bay at Holmsund.

The two wind turbines at Holmsund. When you stand underneath them you realize how huge they are (the blades on the large one are about 130 feet) and also how loud they are. It was pretty amazing to be so close to them and feel and hear the swoosh...swoosh...swoosh of natural power.

After three weeks in the cold north we migrated south to spend some time in Stockholm and especially with Hans' sister Åsa, her boyfriend Henrik and their twins Ida and Max. Ida and Max were born on May 18 when we were in Martinique, and we spent a little time with them at the summer cottage, but now we have been able to go and live with Åsa and Henrik for a few days, with the premise of helping Henrik put insulation on their new house, but probably spending more time having fika and playing with the babies!

Hans and his beautiful niece Ida, age 7 weeks.

Hans' sister Åsa's twins Max and Ida in their stroller.

Ida takes a bath... lucky Hans gets to hold her.

Kristen and Åsa hold on to the babies.

Kristen gets ready for an exciting motorcycle ride with Henrik (exciting to say the least... try going 220 km/hr (137 mph) on a windy road and see what you think)

Hans poses for his motorcycle gaycation postcard.

14 July 2008

Sailors in the Snow

July 14, 2008

We just got back the other day from spending a couple of days hiking in the mountains near Bjorkliden, some 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. At this time of year in this part of Sweden the sun never sets. Unfortunately, sailors legs aren't made for walking, so we got pretty exhausted by the end of it all. Still, the views were spectacular and if you are interested in hiking in unspoiled arctic tundra, the north of Sweden can't be beat.

Above, two pics of Gammelstad in Luleå. An old church village where farmers would build cottages so that they could attend church and have a place to stay since they had to travel long distances.

Kristen's first time across the Arctic Circle.

This is what you'll see if you look out the window in 95% of northern Sweden. Lots and lots of tall pine trees.

The road to Björkliden.

We killed a lot of mosquitoes with the car driving up north.

Lapporten, a famous landmark in northern Sweden.

Kristen checks out the midnight sun.

Our first campsite, can you spot the tent?

Kristen had some trouble getting up the steeper parts of the trail with the heavy backpack... it was especially hard when she started laughing.

The intrepid voyagers.

Wait, I thought it was summer. What's this white stuff?

Kristen stops for a drink of water. The water up on the mountain is super clean and tasty, no need to add bleach here.

Hans treks up through the snow. Crunch crunch.

Not a bad campsite.

Hans takes a minute to do his best Obama impersonation... nodding his head significantly.

We had to rent these boots to trek through the snow.

Hans leads the way back down the mountain.

Reindeer! The red X marks a snowmobile trail.

Pretty flowers.

Kristen surveys her domain.

A snow-melt river in the mountains.

In Sweden you can find a train station just about anywhere, this one was at the trailhead to Låktatjåkka Mountain.

We went to Norway... and we're never going back. Kristen's new slogan is: "Norway? No Way!" It was cold, rainy, no good coffee shops, and the beer cost 23 Norwegian Crowns ($5.00) a piece at the grocery store.

Despite the Norway? No Way! general atmosphere, the scenery was still beautiful. This is a fjord.

Hans tries to stay warm at the fire in the cold, rainy north!

Kristen grimaces with the cold as she cooks up dinner... who's idea was this anyways?

Abisko Canyon, where a lot of the melted snow drains into the big lake, Torneträsk.

Tulips in July?!? We're definitely north of the arctic circle now.

Kristen makes friends with a stuffed reindeer.

Have you ever seen a road sign for an igloo? You can see this sign in northern Sweden... it's for the ice hotel.

Jukkasjärvi Church constructed in 1902.

After a few days in the mountains Kristen seeks replenishment and nourishment at Max, the best hamburger joint in the world.

Giant cheese slicers.

04 July 2008

Happy fourth of July!

July 4, 2008

We've been having a fantastic time at stugan, the summer cottage, in northern Sweden. Hans' whole family has been here this past week: mom, dad, sisters (Sofia and Åsa with their boyfriends Patrik and Henrik), both grandmothers, uncle Lars, and, of course, the new twins Max and Ida.

Proud new grandmother Karin holds Max while new Aunt Sofia happily holds Ida.

Ida and Max hanging out.

Kristen and Ida.

The sun was shining hot and bright this morning so Kristen decided to go for a swim. She tests the water....

And she's in! It's definitely a little colder than the Caribbean sea...15 degrees instead of 30! One can say: refreshing!