Wednesday, September 30, 2009

maximum sunflowers

These sunflowers (Helianthus maxilimianus) are flowering in the garden now, with hundreds of flower heads on each stem. They are taller than me, and fill the garden bed with yellow sunshine, even when the sky is cloudy. And they are perennial, they come back year after year, as long as you fence them in so the deers don't get to them. Send me a note if you want seeds.

One of my favorite things in the kitchen... this little eggcup, just a simple little egg cup made by iitala in Finland. in their series Origo. Isn't it gorgeous? We had two, one disappeared, and we got two more from KV (thanks!), so now we have three. I usually don't like orange much unless it is on plants, because it reminds me too much of the over-oranged 70s (I grew up in a house with orange doors inside), but I love the color combination on this design. It makes me happy. One day it would be nice to have a bowl and not just a little eggcup in this design, or a plate to go with the egg cup. But it isn't necessary, the eggcup is perfectly fine by itself.

Vacation wine

Some cheap wine that might be useful for tired parents :)

The red one (Daddy) is better than the white (Mommy), I think, but both are fully drinkable.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rain up close

Rain on spider webs in the garden is really beautiful.


When life gives you habanero chilies...

... and your habanero-nibbling brother (OK) is not around, and you need to dispose of 30 hot-as-hell chilies in some fasion, you make JERK. Jerk is not some kind of misbehaved right-winger in this case, but a Jamaican seasoning that is fantastic on shrimp or chicken. And it freezes well, so you can make a lot and it will last forever. Habaneros are among the hottest of all chilies, so this is not the kind you can put in your salad or quesadilles. Or rather, 'you COULD do that', but it would not be good except the first microseconds.

You take the fiery hot chilies and remove the seeds while wearing latex gloves, nostril pluggers, and safety goggles, plus plastic bag and waxpaper on the cutting board - all to avoid unpleasant surprises later when you touch your eye or cut a good cheese on the same cutting board. (The recipe here is not exact - if you want the exact recipe a la our friend Dana, let me know in the comments. )

In a blender, a most magnificent innovation, you then dump the chilies (no seeds!), lots of scallion, lots of cheap yellow mustard (think hot dog kind), fresh ginger and garlic, and spices (coriander, cumin, allspice and LOTS of black pepper), and salt. Thanks LA for grinding 9 tablespoons of black pepper! Sorry about your bleeding thumb. You run the blender fast so it all gets mixed into a thick gue.

OK, it doesn't look tasty, but it is. Depending on how many peppers you put in, you might or might not be able to taste it without burning yourself. You freeze the jerk paste in little plastic bags, about 3 tablespoons in each, which is enough for a pound of shrimp or chicken. When you want to use it, take a bag out, dump the seasoning onto the meat, let sit for a few hours, and then grill. So incredibly good, and HOT.

OK, maybe we can find a way we can send this over to you in Sweden, for your yearly habanero dosage...

Memories from a summer visit to Sundborn, Sweden

This summer we drove through the Swedish province called Dalarna and we stopped by in the famous little village called Sundborn. It is famous for one reason - this is where the painter Carl Larsson had his Swedish house which he featured in his art and several books (gallery of paintings).

The village is quaint, and even the gas station is housed in some old log barns, most likely several hundred years old. Many barns in this area of Sweden are not painted with Falu red paint, despite that Falu Mine is not far away at all. Some old buildings are raised up on rocks, and many of these 'härbren' were used to store grains and other food. The rocks made it harder for food-loving animals to get into the buildings. This is also the area that has the most traditional paintings, and the mailboxes here are generally personalized and gorgeous. No standardized US Mail boxes here!
Through the village runs a small river that has a dam with a yellow, small and local power station (the most gorgeous power station I have ever seen, and below the dam is a lake. Carl Larsson owned one of the islands in the lake right opposite his house and he and his family used to have picnics out there.

The village attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year and the villagers try to keep their appearance. Gardens are well-kept and full of gorgeous plants, and old-fashioned fences ('gärdsgård') made from spruce are kept up and repaired.

An old blacksmith near the dam had an ornate sign like something out of the Lord of the Rings. The name of the building is "å-smedjan", meaning the 'River Smith'. I had never visited Sundborn before but it was strange to see places I have seen on paintings in real life, 100 years later, and they still look very much the same. I liked Carl Larsson's paintings, but I never loved them, but suddenly they came alive. None of the paintings are in Sundborn, they are too valuable, but the interior decorating style and details in their house and gardens fascinated me. It was really an inspiring visit.

Here is the gorgeous powerstation. How is that for amazing industrial architecture? It looked like it was in use too, like many water power stations around Sweden.

And here it is, Carl Larsson's home, where he and his family lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was all designed by him and his wife, both the exterior and interior desgins, and they added onto the house many times. The studio is the tall north-facing windows, and the south of the house has views out on the lake shore.

The foundation of the house is build of blocks made from iron slag, which was abundant in this area of Sweden full of iron mines and foundry's. Carl and his wife Karin designed many of their things, from furniture (like this garden table, a copy of the original), to clothes, and fabrics.

The village carpenter built the furniture to order, and much of the designs where totally against the traditions at the time - Carl and Karin wanted things to be practical, simple, and beautiful with light colors and happiness in everything. They didn't follow many rules, which must have made them stand out in the village as well as all of Sweden. They had 8 kids that they more or less let roam free, which was highly unusual at the time. To the left, two doors desgined and painted by Carl Larsson. I love how he used color, with bright contrasts and earthy hues.

The long window to the family room where Karin sewed all clothes, the children played, and books were read.

During our visit we had some of the old, but not as old as Carl Lasson, tastes of Sweden - Kopparbergs sockerdricka - literally Coppermountain's Sugar Soda - and it was so good. And no HFCS, only real beet sugar! A table in the garden was set up as a little emboidery project where anybody could sit down and start stitching.
More photos here. And here is a painting from Sundborn by Carl Larsson, showing Karin Larsson peeling rhubarb:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Swedes are still viking descendants...

...but apparently not closely related to the very first hunter-gatherers that entered the Scandinavian peninsula when the last ice sheet from the ice age moved north starting about 12 000 years ago. This interesting article was just published and it concludes:

"Today's Scandinavians are not descended from the people who came to Scandinavia at the conclusion of the last ice age but, apparently, from a population that arrived later, concurrently with the introduction of agriculture."

So a new front of crop-bearing invaders came from the south around 4000 years ago and invaded the north. Interesting!

So, what happened to the old stone-agers that didn't do agriculture? Did they die out? Where did they go? Where they like the Neanderthals or American Indians, pushed back and isolated?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stamp of the day: Herbs from Sweden

Today it´s "Frimärkets dag" or " Day of the stamp" in Sweden. Our Post company celebrates this by issuing a new set of stamps. They go well together with LS blogpost below about her kitchen efforts I think. They are very typical swedish stamps in my opinion, clean design, bright colours, and very informative with name in latin for the plants. So this post is especially for the BOTANIST...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

rainbow under the microscope

I just found some amazing supermacro images by Laurie Knight (gallery here). This one is of the scales on a moth wing. As I said before, insects are the gemstones of the animal kingdom.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Homemade hot and sour feasts

Ready to taste my newly made Southwestern Hot Sauce bottled in recycled akvavit mini bottles? Me too, in about a week or two when the sauce has matured a bit. It is made from organic jalapenos and bell peppers, plus a lot of spices. I hope it is hot but not too hot. It was made from jalapenos and dried ancho pepper powder, plus other spices. This weekend I also made sambal oelek (a spicy Southwest Asian condiment, packed in an old baby food jar (I knew they could be used for something good). Sambal is just chilies, a tiny bit of salt and sugar, and a little distilled vinegar. I used the Sapporo variety of chilies for this, mainly because that is what I had just harvested from the garden.

And then I packed lots of herbs into vinegars that are now maturing. You take herbs (clean, but no need to wash them), stuff them in the bottom of a jar, heat up white wine or apple cider vinegar, pour it over the herbs boiling hot, close tight and swirl around niside to sterilize all the surfaces inside, let sit for 2-3 weeks, then remove herbs and put ready vinegar in bottles.

I made lemon+mint, tarragon+garlic, chilipepper+oregano+thyme, basil+chilipepper+chinese chives, plain basil, sage vinegar (that is the photo of the rounded leaves with little hairs on them) and some more. I filled a whole big jar with fresh hot serrano chilies and poured hot vinegar over them too, in a month or two they are ready to be eaten by PP. The rest of us think they are a bit (rather a lot) too hot for human consumption directly out of the jar.

I also made basil-infused olive oil which smells fantastic! You take lots of basil leaves, put them in a pot with a cup of olive oil, let is boil slowly for 5 min (not get too hot!), then let it cool, strain away the leaves and bottle it up. Store in fridge. The vinegars you don't need to store in the fridge. (This last photo is from left to right: basil oil, pickled serrano chili peppers, and mint+lemon vinegar.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Torta is never wrong (Tårta är aldrig fel)

This is an Italian torta. It fills the whole baking sheet, and it is not a cake but a real big Italian vegetarian dish filled with heavenly greens. This is how you do it - make piecrust of olive oil, not butter, enough to make a bottom and a top. Cook leeks, onions, garlic, zucchini, kale, swiss chard, mustartd greens, beet greens, whatever you have until soft. Dump in ricotta cheese, grated parmesan, and an egg or two in the greens mix, sprinkle with hot pepper flakes, and mix. Roll out the pie dough bottom, large, put it on a large cookie sheet (with edges), dump the greens mix in the center, roll out and put the top on, fold up and seal. Bake 45 min or so, then cool. Slice in wedges and eat! It is great lunch food, and you can freeze it and save. I also made this in little muffin tins as individual tortas, yum! Oh, you want the exact details for the recipe? :) I have to dig that up...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lagom design a la Sverige

Interesting article in Newsweek about Swedish design ('That Practical Magic') and how it strives for:

"Sweden's penchant for practical innovation stems in part from its geography. "Resources and materials are hard to come by in the woods of rural Sweden," says Janice Simonsen, IKEA's design spokesperson for the U.S. So Swedes are careful to make full and efficient use of the materials they've got: birch, pine, cotton, and felt."

"The high-concept design culture is also rooted in the country's socialist ideology. Swedes have an overarching belief in equality, and deep sympathy for the underdog. Minimalism and practicality are virtues, and there is no shame in having the same couch as everyone else on the block."

What do you think, blog readers?

OK Snapshot: Human resources?

Seen in a store in Stockholm called Blås&Knåda (blow and knead) for glas
and clay sculptures. The name of this one was The Alchemist (Alkemisten).
Photo by OK.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall is here, report from NJ

Farmstand in Raymertown, NY
(photo from Raymertown, New York State, by LS, more photos here)

I love the farm stands you find here in the USA. We had nothing like this in Sweden that I can remember. Small growers selling their vegetables along the road, and sometimes just with a box where you put the money and take what you want. Gorgeous sweet tomatoes, heavy butternut squashes, great potatoes and fuzzy peaches - all local and family-produced. Long live farming!

I just read that 9 more million Americans have put in a vegetable garden in the last two years, and the seed companies are selling more seed than ever. People are coming 'back to garden', and it is wonderful. Our garden has suffered this summer, but we got som great beets, tomatoes, peppers, and basil. As usual we are under attack from weeds and animals that want to eat everything, and the worst weed this year is the morning glories that want to take over. Our concord grape is out of control too - that needs to be moved outside of the garden and up on a pergola or something so the deers can't eat it. They reach everything up to 4 feet (1.2 m).

Yesterday our heroic work was to move a new large deck door (2 glass doors in a frame), up on the deck for further installation. It took all 4 of us and was incredibly hard work since it was so large and heavy, but we did it! And the big grass mover broke when LA was using it (not his fault), so he had to use the push mower instead and got a big workout. I made tomato sauce from our tomatoes, and PP made bison chili for dinner tonight - I bet it will be heavenly.

I like fall because the air is clearer, the pressing humidity is gone, and the garden is still abundant and wonderful with sunflowers and pink dragonmouth flowering. The hummingbirds are here but flying south, and for some reason the crows go crazy every morning. It will still be green in the forests for another month, but you can see some plants turning reddish already, mainly the dogwoods and poison ivy. We probably had the rainiest and coldest summer since I moved here, but I don't mind much.

AREA is raising two monarch butterflies on the porch and they will hatch very soon so she can let them go and we hope they make it to Central America. Their pupas are amazing, bright green with gold dots on them. It looks like real gold. Insects are the gem stones of the animal world.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

LS snapshot: school has started

And the kids have started to practice their reading and writing skills. How about a 'bra' car? Bra means good in Swedish, by the way. This car has seen better days though.

In Södertälje, the graffiti people have properly (?) marked the road sign with BOV (criminal), and a house with STORT E (capital E). What this really means we can only ponder...

The best softserve icecream in the world...

...can be found across the street from my old elementary school in Eskilstuna, in the Slagsta neighborhood. People are driving from near and far to order the silky-whipped-creamy-softy-white-and-yummy concoctions. Even the construction and public works workers show up at lunch time to have a cup of icecream (they are the ones in the bright yellow clothes).

Slagstaglass... oh, what memories from childhood. It started out like a regular candystore (kiosk) with an icecream machine, and now, 30 years later, the candy is gone and it is all icecream. You used to have to eat the icecream standing on the street outside, and now they even have tables and chairs and a little indoors place to sit if it is cold and rainy. The sign below says 'diet cup' (Dietbägare), but that is not what we ordered.. :)
Mmmm, waffle cups with icecream and accessories. Whipped (real) cream on top of course, and one with 'polkagris'-candy, one with chocolate sprinkles and caramel sauce, and one with fresh Swedish summer strawberries and strawberry jam. The jam is a trademark since the 1950s when it all started with Folke Johansson in this exact place. This is the original, folks! The real thing. It reminds me of the classic concrete icecream on old Rt 66 in St Louis, USA, also fantastic experience.
A closeup for those of you that really want to get your mouths watering. This one was my choice from their extensive ice cream menu. The cups are called 'snäckor', = shells, and the strawberry one is only sold when there are Swedish strawberry season.

Slagstaglass is so local and Swedish that they don't have a website in English. The icecream is made on site, from fresh ingredients, and it is a small family-owned company. Long live the local food producers...