Saturday, January 19, 2008

Borlänge and Nora

In the days between Christmas and New Year (mellandagarna - "the between days" - in Swedish) I went over to the House of a Thousand Wows to game. One of the game was played was about rail travel in Sweden. It's not the Ticket to Ride / Nordic countries version but an older game based on a hex map. I wanted to play it in part to get a better idea of city names in Sweden.

The northern-most city on the map was Mora. I joked about the "mines of Mo-ra", to some groans. (Geoff, you can groan as well.)

I was talking with Pär. He invited a few people over to his place for fika and tango, since there wasn't much going on over the holidays. I talked with him a bit about my difficulties of finding new clients, and my decision to expand and look for more general purpose programming work, rather than only in chemistry. My goal now is to live in Göteborg, as compared to being a chemistry software developer.

He called me the next day about doing some work for his company. They are a hardware company working on a project with a dozen other companies to get better data on road conditions. One of the things the project has done is instrument a number of cars to record things like speed, location (via GPS), direction, tire slip, hitting the brakes, shocks, etc. as well as set up weather stations next to the roads. This gets SMS'ed to the main computers, which processes the data, runs some weather prediction models, and puts the result on a map for visualization of the road conditions.

The idea is that this can help with "countermeasures" (salt and sand) and route planning. Pretty spiff.

He asked if I could go along to help with evaluating the web-based mapping visualization component, being developed by another group. The short version is he wanted someone with software experience because his company is a hardware company and doesn't know the right questions to ask, or at least the right way to ask the question. I joke that my job title for my Swedish business card will be "nördtolk" - nerd translator.

The meeting was at Vägverket - the Swedish Road Agency - at their main offices in Borlänge. The city wasn't established until the 1940s so I got to joke they they haven't "lived there for a long time". Bor länge means "living long", but the name comes from Borlængio "vägsträcka där man måste bära (båtar och) last" - stretch of road where one must carry (boats and) cargo. That is, portage.

There were no flights that week from Gothenburg to Borlänge so we drove. There were three of us going up and four coming down (the 4th came up a day later by train). It's about 6-7 hours away though coming down was longer because of snow. Swedes have a thing about "godis". Loose/bulk candy for the most part. You can get it in the shops. You can get it in the movie theaters, and more people get that than popcorn. And there's driving godis. Apparently an essential part of any Swedish road trip.

We stayed in Falun and went into Borlänge during the day. Falun has it's own knäckebröd, so of course I had to get some. Apparently it has its own sausages as well. My joke there was talking a walk in town is a Falun gång (gång=walk, and it sounds like Falun Gong).

On the second night we went to ... Nora! Yes, that place I learned about a few weeks ago- I went there. Pär and I went tango dancing there. He had looked them up on the web and made sure there was dancing that night. With the two of us there were 13 people. A couple of them I had even seen at Tangocamp. So, not many people, but it was fun.

These places were in Dalarna. A symbol of the province is the Dala horse. They are very fond of their horse and it shows up in a lot of places. One last word play joke for this blog. The Swedish word for horse is "häst". This rhymes with the word for west, which is "väst". (In American, sounds like "hest" and "vest"). The transit system in Gothenburg is called Västtrafik - "west traffic". Dalarna's is called Daltrafik. But I think it should be called Hästtrafik.

What to see where these places are? Here's the Google map route.

Only after I got back to Gothenburg did I realize that we passed very close to my ancestral home, as it were. My g'g'g'grandparents came from around Örebro, at least according to the research my mother's mother's cousin did some years back. And my niece and my g'g'g'g'g'g'grandmother share the name "Margaret." I may be off in the "g" count there. It was a long time back, going to the late 1700s.


For last year's New Year's Eve party I went to Camilla's. This time she and I went to a friend of hers' to celebrate. As typical it was a knytkalas. I made something simple: a chunk of mozzerella, a leaf of basil, and a chunk of tomato, on a toothpick.

I only knew Camilla's sister, so at the start it was kinda slow. Then a couple other of friends of Camilla's showed up, also foreigners, so we started chatting, and asking questions about what Camilla's been doing in Sri Lanka.

The apartment was on the 5th floor on a slope, which meant it was over the roof line of much of the city. Fireworks are legal here, unlike Florida. And I mean the good kind that shoot upwards 20 stories and make a sparkly boom. A lot of people buy them. A whole lot. It was great.

I'm used to city fireworks, which are an order of magnitude bigger, but only in one spot. Imagine the entire view (even some upwards because people were firing from close by) covered in fireworks for almost half an hour. Tres cool! In reading the paper though it looks like they might be banned in the next few years. The other downside is there's a lot of trash afterwards. It's almost three weeks later and I'm still coming across firework wrappers.


Swedes celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, just like our Cuban neighbors in Miami. I went over to Gudran's for it. Also there were her two daughters, her aunt and uncle, her brother (or was it cousin?) and Kerstin (another tango dancer).

It started at 11am. We met there and took a walk around the Botaniska Trädgården (Botanical Garden). After a while we had fika in the gazebo. At least that's what I would call it. The Swedish name is "lusthus pavilion", which directly translates as "pleasure-house pavilion", which makes me think of Coleridge's Kubla Khan. According to various English dictionaries, gazebos are supposed to be open or perhaps screened in. Doing research now I found only one "unique in being fully double glazed." And it's a Finnish BBQ. I'm going to call it a "gazebo acclimatized to Sweden." A pavilion is any sort of outbuilding so that's probably the correct term.

We headed back to Gudrun's, and after a bit I made a small lunch. My family's tradition for Christmas Eve supper is an Ecuadorian soup called locro. That link talks about Argentinean locro, which is a different type. For pages more about Ecuadorian locro see here and here.

It's always been tricky getting the right cheese for it. In Miami Mom used queso blanco, which was "white cheese" that was cheap and easy to get. It needs to be something that melts nicely when warmed up, and has some taste to complement the potatoes. It's possible to buy queso blanco elsewhere in the US but it's really expensive, so I've been using Christy's suggestion of Monterey Jack. Which I can't get in Europe.

Last year I was in Leipzig at J&J's for Christmas and I made locro for Christmas Eve. South Africans, like most Americans, celebrate on Christmas day so that worked nicely. Johann and I went to a cheese store at the central train station (largest station in Europe). I walked around and picked up cheeses until I found two which looked and felt right. One worked out much better than the other, but I can't remember which is which. I made it again when I visited last November. We went to the same place and again, I can't remember what we got. Perhaps gouda this time? Whatever it was, it worked out.

Some time in early fall I tried to make it here in Sweden, which has its own cheeses. I tried "prästost" but it didn't work out right. It melted too easily. A few days before going over to Gudrun's I tested Herrgårdsost (långlagrad mager, to be specific. According to the Swedish page it's an Emmental cheese.

I tried it. While I was boiling the potatoes I nibbled a bit of the cheese. Mmmm, I could tell the taste was going to be a good fit. It melted nicely. Yes, Herrgårdsost is a winner! So Mom, Christy? Want to try an Emmental next time?

It was a success at Gudrun's as well. Very much enjoyed. I also brought a couple of avocados, which Mom likes with her soup, but they weren't that ripe even after waiting a couple of days and I don't think it added anything. The chives (gräslök - "grass onion") were a good addition.

In case you're wondering about the recipe, it's not really fixed. Chop potatoes into bite sized pieces. Boil. While it's boiling, cut the cheese into small cubes. Once the potatoes are done, drain. Add whole milk until the potatoes are nearly covered. Heat (after all, the milk was cold). Remove from heat. Add cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Don't ask me about the proportions, I eyeball it each time. Maybe 2 or 3 times the potatoes by weight to cheese?

For a light lunch for 7 (one was lactose intolerant) I used 12 potatoes, 350g cheese, and 500ml mjölk. Roughly.

Here's the instructions in Swedish, which I wrote up for Gudrun

Skala och skära potatis i bitar. Koka. Medan du väntar, skära osten i bitar. Häll av vattnet. Tillsätta tillräcklig mjölk för att närmast täcka potatis. Värma soppan (eftersom mjölken var i kylen). Ta den av spisen. Tillsätt ostbitar och kyrdda med salt och peppar. Jag tycker bäst om att äta med gräslök. Min mamma föredrar avocado. Majs skulle passa jättebra med. Men se på de där sidorna för andra variationer.

It might be nice next time to try with a bit of corn (like a corn chowder) or some bell peppers.

Friday, January 18, 2008


When last I wrote it was the Nobel prize night. Two days later was a Thursday. After Gerhard Ertl's nobel prize talk at Chalmers, to a pretty full audience. I then started preparing for dinner.

It was the end of the season knytkalas (potluck) at Oceanen and I had gotten it in my head to make a curry. When I was in South Africa, and after going to Ham's parents' place in Durban, I decided I should learn to make Indian food. I found what looked to be a decent cookbook at a bookstore in some mall. Plus it was at the equivalent to a dollar store, so quite cheap. I also picked up a copy of Madam and Eve.

I pulled out the cookbook and started looking for something to make. It was a tossup between a vegetable or a mutton curry, and the deciding factor was getting mutton. I didn't find mutton at the local stores and only latter did I find the lamb sellers at Saluhallen. So veg curry it was.

I working on the dish I found a few interesting things about the book. It was published in England, not South Africa, and by an English author. That's perhaps why the recipe called for a turnip, which doesn't strike me as all that Indian. There's an image of "chilies drying in the sun", which is true. The picture was from New Mexico. It was a ristra hanging on an adobe house. Can you say "file photograph"? I knew you could!

The recipe itself had a problem. It described twice how to chop up the potatoes. First in "rough chunks" and second in "small pieces." I ended up having to improvise by looking at the final picture and thinking of how I wanted it to be. Even better was that I had never cooked with turnips or eggplants before. I found some nice web pages which helpfully explained.

I made 150% proportions and my pot wasn't big enough so I used two pots, but there wasn't enough liquid so the potatoes didn't boil enough. I decided to use a brute force solution, and picked out all the potatoes so I could boil them separately. You get the idea that this is taking a while?

I added the spices as suggested, tasked it, and it was bland. Very bland. In true English style bland. I think I added 4 times the spices until it finally tasted strong enough. I was worried that Swedes don't do so well with hot foods but Gudrun encouraged me to go for it, so I did. I had some South African mixed spices in a bag, with no ingredients list. I used that as well, which means I don't know all that went into it. Oh, and the coconut milk was the key to making the taste right.

Even then it didn't taste quite right, so I made a batch of rice to go along with it. I'm a jasmine fan, while a traditionalist would probably go for basmati. That passed my taste test.

Finally. All done. Took it to Oceanen and put it on the countertop with the other foods. Most brought things like cheese and cookies and bread, which I saw was the case in previous times. That's why I thought to bring something a bit more substantial. It went over quite well. By the end of the night all the curry was gone, and most of the rice. Gudrun said that when she tried it she wondered if I had toned down the spices a bit, but then a few seconds later the heat came.

That's one thing I like about Indian food. I remember ordering a sandwich in Cape Town (at the News Cafe on Main Road near Green Point Stadium, if you want to know) with peri-peri. It was tingly hot, but like a song with one note it didn't have much depth to it.