Swedish sunflowers

sunflowers

Sunflowers might not be the first thing you think of when you think of Sweden. But at this time of year, the place is full of them. Well, not really sunflowers per se, but a type of sunflower.

The fantastic thing about sunflowers, apart from their brash yellow colour and the flocks of butterflies that they attract, is the way in which they move. Their big, open faces look up at the sky, reaching for the light, and when the sun is out the sunflower moves its face to follow the its path across the sky. They really enjoy soaking up the rays of light and the warmth that the sun provides. It’s a fantastic sight to behold as you drive through the countryside in France or Italy.

But we’re not in France or Italy, we’re in Sweden. So what has this got to do with Sweden then?

Well, Swedes are like sunflowers.

Confused? Let me explain.

After a long, dark, cold winter, Spring eventually arrives.  This year, it seemed to arrive early. This week, temperatures already soared to 14 degrees celcius, the sky was blue and people hit the streets. Everybody emerged from their winter, and corona, hybernation.

They sat on park benches, on window ledges, outside restaurants, on balconies. They leaned up against sunny walls. And as they sat there, they lifted their faces, just like sunflowers, to face the sun and to feel the warming rays of light on their pale wintery skin. Sometimes people just stopped randomly on street corners and lifted their faces up to the sun, eyes closed, to soak up the light.

So you see, Swedish sunflowers are the Swedes themselves. And you’d be hard pushed to find a more sun-worshipping, thankful population at this time of the year.

Swedish ice batheing

This winter, taking an outdoor ice bath has become very fashionable in Sweden. Disrobing and lowering yourself into frozen lakes at below zero temperatures is considered very healthy for the body and its ability to repair itself.

Spring has now arrived and the ice is melting but die hards are still squeezing the last out of the ice batheing season. Like this guy featured on TV, who regularly sits in the frozen lake – for 20 minutes at a time!

This may seem like a long time, but actually it is nothing compared to the world record. The world record for ice submersion is held by Austrian Josef Koerbel who, in 2020, held himself under ice for 2 hours and 30 minutes. In his case, it was in an ice box on a public square in the town of Melk.

Brrrr.

So, what about you? Do you feel enticed by the concept of plunging into the chilly depths to take an ice bath? Or would you rather keep yourself wrapped up warm and toasty on the bank of the lake?

Swedish Icons: Anita Ekberg

Swede Anita Ekberg, from Malmö in Skåne, played an iconic leading role in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1961). She is notably remembered for the scene where she bathed in la Fontana di Trevi. Born in 1931, she won the Miss Sweden title at the age of 20, and then went to USA to compete in Miss Universe. Although she didn’t win, she worked as a model and a hostess and got small film roles.

She was famously opinionated and refused to change her surname saying that if she became famous everybody would learn her name, and if she didn’t it wouldn’t matter.

Ekberg appeared in many films, but interestingly never a Swedish one. She retired from acting in 2002 and died in 2015 at age 83 in Rome.

Swedish expression: ’There is no cow on the ice’.

With all the open air ice skating going on at the moment, I am reminded of the Swedish expression ‘Det är ingen ko på isen’ or ’there’s no cow on the ice’. This expression is used to mean there is ‘ no need for worry’ or ‘don’t be concerned’. So, where does the expression originate?

Well, like many Swedish expressions, this one also has a rural origin. In the old days, farmers that had no running water would take their cows down to the lake to drink. As long as the cows stayed on land, and didn’t venture onto the frozen waters, there was no risk of them falling through the ice and drowning. In fact, the expression is an abbreviation of the longer saying ‘there’s no cow on the ice as long as their rear end is on land’. (Det är ingen ko på isen så länge stjärten är i land.) As long as they had a firm footing, they could rescue themselves if the ice broke around the periphery of the lake.

So it would seem that the original meaning of the saying might have been ‘there is no need for worry as long as you take precautions.’

Swedish expression: ’There is no cow on the ice’.

With all the open air ice skating going on at the moment, I am reminded of the Swedish expression ‘Det är ingen ko på isen’ or ’there’s no cow on the ice’. This expression is used to mean there is ‘ no need for worry’ or ‘don’t be concerned’. So, where does the expression originate?

Well, like many Swedish expressions, this one also has a rural origin. In the old days, farmers that had no running water would take their cows down to the lake to drink. As long as the cows stayed on land, and didn’t venture onto the frozen waters, there was no risk of them falling through the ice and drowning. In fact, the expression is an abbreviation of the longer saying ‘there’s no cow on the ice as long as their rear end is on land’. (Det är ingen ko på isen så länge stjärten är i land.) As long as they had a firm footing, they could rescue themselves if the ice broke around the periphery of the lake.

The Swedish hot wall – a murderous treat

I’ve written previously about the cream bun called a semla that is eaten around this time of year in Sweden. Traditionally consumed on Shrove Tuesday, this is a sweet, wheat bun filled with whipped cream and almond paste. And it is de-lish-us.

However, there is a way to eat it that I have never got on board with. A traditional method called the ‘hetvägg’, which translates literally a ‘hot wall.’ This is when the semla is placed into a bowl of warm milk, and eaten with a spoon. The result is a sugary, creamy slop.

The ‘hetvägg’ has a long history, going way back to the 1700’s when a warm, wedge-shaped spiced bun was served in a bowl of warm milk. This was eaten around Europe. In fact, the name ‘hetvägg’ has nothing to do with ‘hot wall’, but comes from the German for ‘hot wedge’ – “heisse wecke”. The top of today’s semla is often wedge-shaped as a historical nod to the original bun.

It is said that King Adolf Fredrik died from eating too many ‘hetvägg’ in 1771, but in fact it was a heart attack. Granted, he was a gluttonous man, and eating ‘hetvägg’ was indeed part of his questionable diet. After his death, there was a call to ban the sugary treat, as it was rumoured to have murdered the king.

The ‘hetvägg’ wasn’t banned and today it is still a popular way to consume the semla. I personally prefer mine dry and fluffy. But, hey, as they say in Swedish – ‘taste is like the backside – divided!’

It’s fatty Tuesday – Swedish style!

Today it’s ‘Fat Tuesday’ in Sweden, known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras around the world.

While in the UK we eat pancakes (today is even called Pancake Day) and in Latin America they scoff down fried bread, Swedes celebrate by eating the traditional cream Lent bun – the ‘semla’. I’m also clearly going to indulge. In fact, my mouth is watering just writing this post.

The semla is a creamy bun filled with delicious almond paste. They were eaten traditionally in Sweden to commemorate the start of Lent and the great Fast, leading up to Easter. In the south of Sweden, they still refer to them as ‘fastlagsbullar’ – Shrovetide buns. Nowadays however, semlas are usually sold anytime between Christmas and Easter.

I just love them. I could eat a barrel load. But I’d end up looking like a barrel if I did. I love the taste of them, and the feeling of luxurious indulgence. I also love the knowledge that as you take a bite into a creamy semla, you are biting into over 500 years’ history of Scandinavian baking.

The word ‘semla’ comes from the Latin ‘simila’ which means fine flour and originally referred just to the bun without any filling. As long ago as the 1500’s, bakers started to hollow out the middle of the bun and fill it with cream and butter. As ingredients became more available, bakers started adding almond and cardemon and the type of semla that we know today developed towards the end of the 1800’s. After rationing of sugar and dairy products ceased at the end of WW2, the semla took off and became very popular.

Nowadays the semla trend has reached new heights. Every year bakers around the country try to launch new types of semla, with their own spin on it -for example, the semla wrap, the semla burger, the semla layer cake, the semla cocktail, the chocolate semla, the vanilla semla, the lactose-free, gluten-free vegan semla. This year, the gross-sounding fermented Baltic herring semla was revealed.

But I’m a traditionalist in this matter. Give me a round fluffy cardemon-scented wheat bun brimming over with whipped cream and almond paste.

And give it to me NOOOOWWW!!!

It’s fatty Tuesday – Swedish style!

Today it’s ‘Fat Tuesday’ in Sweden, known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras around the world.

While in the UK we eat pancakes (today is even called Pancake Day) and in Latin America they scoff down fried bread, Swedes celebrate by eating the traditional cream Lent bun – the ‘semla’. I’m also clearly going to indulge. In fact, my mouth is watering just writing this post.

The semla is a creamy bun filled with delicious almond paste. They were eaten traditionally in Sweden to commemorate the start of Lent and the great Fast, leading up to Easter. In the south of Sweden, they still refer to them as ‘fastlagsbullar’ – Shrovetide buns. Nowadays however, semlas are usually sold anytime between Christmas and Easter.

I just love them. I could eat a barrel load. But I’d end up looking like a barrel if I did. I love the taste of them, and the feeling of luxurious indulgence. I also love the knowledge that as you take a bite into a creamy semla, you are biting into over 500 years’ history of Scandinavian baking.

The word ‘semla’ comes from the Latin ‘simila’ which means fine flour and originally referred just to the bun without any filling. As long ago as the 1500’s, bakers started to hollow out the middle of the bun and fill it with cream and butter. As ingredients became more available, bakers started adding almond and cardemon and the type of semla that we know today developed towards the end of the 1800’s. After rationing of sugar and dairy products ceased at the end of WW2, the semla took off and became very popular.

Nowadays the semla trend has reached new heights. Every year bakers around the country try to launch new types of semla, with their own spin on it -for example, the semla wrap, the semla burger, the semla layer cake, the semla cocktail, the chocolate semla, the vanilla semla, the lactose-free, gluten-free vegan semla. This year, the gross-sounding fermented Baltic herring semla was revealed.

But I’m a traditionalist in this matter. Give me a round fluffy cardemon-scented wheat bun brimming over with whipped cream and almond paste.

And give it to me NOOOOWWW!!!

Swedish politics – alarmist or accurate?

There’s a change blowing in Swedish politics and I’m really interested to hear your point of view.

In recent years, the far right, nationalistic party Sweden Democrats (SD) have gained traction. However, although they have a 17% representation in the parliament, they have never sat in the government. This is mostly because the other established parties have refused to negotiate or cooperate with them.

Today, Sweden has a minority government supported by smaller parties. One of the raison d’etre of this solution is to keep SD away from any form of governmental influence.

However, there is a shift. The two other right-oriented conservative parties, the Moderates (M) and the Christian Democrats (KD), are now opening the door to SD. In a bid to gain power, M and KD have understood they cannot reign without SD. Together, this block could get the largest number of votes, if not an outright majority.

Many people are concerned about this. History tells us how radical right-wing parties have previously gained political domination via the established conservative parties. The conservative parties opened the door, and then lost control. People are worried that this will happen in Sweden and that a right-wing union would devastate the country.

What do you think? Is this a valid concern or are people simply being alarmist?

Please share your thoughts.

Swedish Valentine – All Hearts’ Day’

Like many places around the world, Swedes celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th. Called ‘Alla Hjärtans Dag’ – All Hearts’ Day – it is a newish tradition that started around 50 years ago, but didn’t really gain traction until the 1990’s. American influence and commercialization are often cited as the reasons for this. I also think that it’s a timing issue – the month of February is an otherwise boring time of year in Sweden. A little celebration is a small distraction from the tedium.

In Sweden, Valentine’s wishes are not only limited to love interests, but also extended to children, friends and even school teachers.

Romantically, the most common Valentine’s gifts are flowers, and treating your loved one to a nice dinner, in a restaurant or at home. Approximately 10 million red roses are sold around this day, which is huge considering the population is also 10 million.

Heart-shaped candy is also popular, and in Sweden the most common is ‘jelly hearts’. Sales of chocolate and candy apparently increase by 90% every year around Valentine’s Day.

So, I might not have flowers or chocolates to give you, but I’d like to wish each of you a Happy Valentine’s Day. I appreciate that you want to read my writing, and in return I send you some loving energy. I hope you have love and affection in your life and that, when the day comes, you can celebrate with a long, warm hug!