Friday Fictioneers – Stockholms Slot

This is my latest entry into the weekly challenge brought to us by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Just follow the rules: Using the photo below as a prompt, write a one hundred word story that has a beginning, middle and end. (No one will be ostracized for going over or under the word count.)

Comments are of course welcome!

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copyright – Managua Gunn

“Who’s this granddad?”

Nils climbs on my lap, puts a peck on my unshaven cheek and makes himself comfortable. He points at the photo behind me, half-hidden behind a stack of books, newspapers and bills.

Nils is my daughter’s first son, the latest addition to the family. I love them all but this little blond guy reminds me of the three year old I once was. They have come for the week.

I look wistfully at the old shot. A young person in full uniform, proudly guarding the Royal Palace in Stockholm, staring ahead. Long before the accident that stole my legs, and his grandma.



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Swedish Saffron Buns

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I made these buns last nigh for a last celebration of Chanukah; butter is oil, isn’t it?

In Sweden they are called Lussekatt and are associated with the celebration of Lucia – a Scandinavian festival which has roots in indigenous Germanic pagan, pre-Christian midwinter mythology and marks the observance of the winter solstice and the rebirth of the sun. It was commonly believed in Scandinavia, as late as the end of the 19th century, that this was the longest night of the year, coinciding with the winter Solstice. A belief that is also found in the poem A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day by English poet John Donne.

Ingredients for a dozen buns:

3/4 ounce yeast / 21 grams
1 cup lukewarm milk
a pinch of saffron or tumeric
Scant 1/2 cup butter, melted
1 pounds all-purpose flour / 1 cup – I used 3/4 plain white flour and 1/4 spelt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup raisins

24 raisins
1 egg, beaten

Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk in a mixing bowl, then add the saffron and keep stirring until the mixture turns yellow. Add the melted butter. In a separate mixing bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then stir in the sugar and raisins.

Pour the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until the dough comes cleanly from the edge of the bowl. Knead the dough on a floured counter for 10 minutes, until it is shiny but not sticky. Put the dough back in the bowl and let rise for 1 1/2 hours at room temperature.

Lightly knead the dough again on a floured counter. Divide into 22 equal pieces. Roll them into sausages then curl the ends so that each piece is shaped like the number eight. Put one raisin in the middle of each circle. Place the breads on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, cover with dish towels, and let rise again for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the risen breads with beaten egg. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown all over. Let cool on a wire rack. Eat them as they are, or spread with cold butter.

Slightly adapted from a recipe found in The Scandinavian Cook Book – A Year in the Nordic Cuisine

Fear vs Autonomous Choice

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My frequent visits to Swedish schools with our language exchange have allowed to glimpse into the Nordic school system and to observe how different it is from the Latin approach.

In short it seems that the Nordic approach trusts the students to make responsible choices while the Latin method instills fear in the students hoping that this will prevent them from making wrong choices.

Let me illuminate you with a few examples:

Time: When we visit places with the exchange I have noticed that our attitude towards schedules and times vary. Fo instance my French colleagues announce meeting times and try to frighten the students with all the things that will happen to them (things that sometimes happen) while our Swedish counterparts will just explain the daily schedule.

Computers: My school has computers of course but in rooms that are locked unless a teacher is present. If our students use computers during a lesson, we are supposed to make sure they don’t listen to music or visit websites that will distract them from their work.

In addition a lot of my colleagues are still wary of computers and wish they did not have to use them every day. I even know a few who refuse to have a computer at home.

When we first visited Sweden, computers were at the students’ disposal in open spaces. In the school we now have the exchange with, each new comer is given a Macbook Pro for the length of her/his/ stay in the school by the local authorities. When their students are on their computers Swedish teachers trust that they are working and will rather discuss what they are doing and how than behave like policemen.

I have never heard a teacher moan about having to use the computer.

Internet access: My school has no wifi connection and a lot of websites are banned (YouTube, Facebook, email providers, etc). It seems our local authorities fear the students will either access inappropriate sites or not use the Internet wisely. Similarly I have heard colleagues say the weirdest and silliest things about Facebook, to the extent that I wonder if some of them even know what it is.

In most Swedish school, students can access the Internet via wifi from their computers or smart phones. Sure enough I have seen students on Facebook in class but it usually took place before the lessons got started. Once the students were made to work actively they forgot about Facebook.

While neither approach is perfect – and I hope I am not too naive as regards the Nordic system – I tend to believe that fear is likely to produce immature and neurotic grown-ups rather than healthy, well-adjusted adults.

For those interested in education in general – and you don’t need to be a teacher to appreciate this – I recommend Seth Godin’s latest book Stop Stealing Dreams. It is free for everybody to download.

Astrid & Veronika

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Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson– a Swedish author who lives in New Zealand – is a wonderful story about the unlikely friendship between two different women and how they share life stories and become friends told over a few months.

Veronika is in her early thirties. She rents a house in a small remote Swedish village to complete a book and recover from her recent past. Her nearest neighbor is Astrid, an 80-year-old recluse nicknamed the village witch.

While Veronika has traveled almost her entire life, Astrid has spent most of her life under the same roof. Yet both women are lonely and step by step they become friends.

As trust develops between them, each woman slowly starts sharing her own secrets and sorrows. The narrative focuses on Veronika and Astrid alternatively, thus inviting us to share the women’s feelings and perspectives. Eventually both characters come to terms with their pains and are able to move forward in their own ways.

The rhythm of the novel is slow reflecting the author’s love of poetry but it never becomes tedious. It is also deeply rooted in Swedish folk culture with frequent evocations of the country’s landscapes, flowers, berries as well as food.

Last but not least, the book contains numerous quotes from different poets and introduced me to the powerful poetry of Karin Boye.

10 Reasons to Visit Sweden

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– The scenery: the landscapes are magnificent. You are never far from a lake or the sea and there are lots of forests.

– The cities: Stockholm and Göteborg are two large cities with plenty to offer. There are numerous interesting museums and art galleries, synagogues with regular services, canals, lots of shops and restaurants. With under one million inhabitants for Stockholm and half a million for Göteborg, they have a reasonable size that makes them very pleasant to visit.

– The food: the Swedes eat a lot of fish and are very careful to serve both fresh and tasty food. The breads and desserts are quite nice too.

– Languages: 99% of the population speak English. If you are more adventurous, mastering a few basic Swedish words and expressions is not too hard. In addition, Swedish grammar is not very different from English grammar.

– Swedish literature: I am a fan of Swedish crime fiction and enjoy crime stories when I need to escape. I recently discovered Johan Theorin‘s novel Echoes from the Dead and strongly recommend it for its atmosphere.

– Cuture: Music: Swedish pop music has not acquired international fame but some groups and individuals are quite pleasant to listen to. If you have a little time try Kent, Jonathan Johansson or Håkan Hellström.
Movies: you all know about Ingrid Bergman but the Swedish film industry is still strong and alive. The Millenieum movies are worth watching, so are the Kurt Wallender series or the films by Lukas Moodysson.

– The welfare system: low unemployment, no beggars in the streets, free lunches at school for all, 480 days of paid parental leave for each child, daycare, etc. This is better explained by Gabriel Stein in The 10 best reasons to move to Sweden or My truth about tax in Sweden.

– Health and the environment: much before it was fashionable, and necessary, the Swedes have cared for their health and their environment. Recycling, walking, cycling or public transport (rather than driving), affordable organic produce, waste management, homemade food, nature protection are part and parcel of their every day life.

– LGBT rights: according to ILGA-Europe, Sweden is the second most gay-friendly county in Europe.

– Last but not least, the Swedes: the Swedes are usually welcoming, unassuming and kind. They are very proud when you take an interest in their small country and are more than happy to share the things they enjoy.

Vegetarian Pyttipanna

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Pyttipanna is a traditional Swedish dish consisting of potatoes, onions, sausage/meat leftovers from past meals. You finely chop all ingredients and fry them in a pan, served with fried eggs and pickled beetroot. Here is my own vegetarian version.

Ingredients (per person):
– 1/2 onion
– 1 carrot, cubed
– 2-3 smallish potatoes, cubed
– 1/2 middle-sized beetroot or a small one, cooked and cubed
– 1 egg

Fry the onion, potatoes and carrots until they start to brown. Cover with a lid and turn the heat down. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes (depending on the size of your vegetables cubes and the freshness of the ingredients you use) or until the vegetables are soft.

Add the cubed beetroot and stir the mixture. Cover for another minute or so. Add the egg and cover again until the white is slightly set but the yolk is runny. Serve immediately.

Options:
– Use fresh mushrooms instead of beets.
– The egg can also be poached separately before being added to individual plates.

Finnish version with salmon

Swedish Fish Soup

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A couple of weeks ago when I was in Sweden we went to a fish restaurant where my colleagues had fish soup. I ordered salmon instead as the soup had shrimps. However it looked and smelt so good that I looked at it carefully to see what it contained. This morning I read a few recipes and here is what I came up with.

1 red onion
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 carrots, grated
pinch of saffron threads
2 dl white wine
2dl fresh cream
2 dl water
freshly ground pink peppercorn and black pepper
300 gr salmon
300 gr firm white fish (cod or flounder)
sprigs of fresh dill
crème fraiche

Gently sauté the onion and the garlic. When translucent, add the grated carrots and sauté for another 5 minutes.

Add the wine, cream, water, pepper and saffron. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Finally incorporate the fish and toss in the dill.

Serve hot with a dollop of crème fraiche in each bowl.

Quick Update

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I am finally back from Sweden and back to the Blogosphere (at least for now) after 10 wonderful days with our students who were extremely well-behaved. They were polite, punctual, interested, appreciative and curious. What more could we dream of?

They also took the time to express their gratefulness: some of them thanked us profusely before leaving the coach and one sent me an email via Facebook.

Our colleagues in Sweden were extremely helpful and welcoming. In fact they were both new to the exchange as one former colleague is now retired and the other one no longer wished to take part because of the work involved. Obviously there was apprehension on both sides as a minimum of common understanding and goals is necessary for such an exchange to go smoothly but it worked out really well.

One teacher is a woman from Argentina whose family comes from Spain and Italy who is married to another Argentinian of both French and German descent. She teaches both French and Spanish when she is not raising her five children. We were welcomed to their homes on a couple of occasions and were most happy to share their daughter’s cakes after a cold and wet outing at the weekend.

The other teacher is a divorced mother of two who teaches French, Swedish and Swedish for foreigners. She enjoys reading and going to the movie, which means she and I had long conversations on favorite books and films, as well as school politics, teaching and religion.

Both women are very different but complementary and we shared lovely moments with them with or without the students.

It is now time to catch up with work and High Holiday preparations. I still have not decided whether I want to bake a honey or an apple cake but salmon will definitely be on the menu.

Shabbat Shalom!