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Exploring the countryside

Written by Chaz on 23 August 2012

We rose relatively earlier on my first day back in Lögla, having planned to make a trip to Linnés Hammarby, a botanical garden that was once the summer home of Carl Linneaus. Linneaus is the mastermind behind the modern system of categorizing plants and animals. It was another beautiful day in the Swedish countryside, and I felt a bit like the family in “Little Miss Sunshine” as the wide-open sunny landscape rolled by outside.

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We arrived at Linnés Hammarby and signed up for a tour of his house before walking around a bit on the grounds. There was a vegetable garden and a pasture of horses and sheep. Interestingly, the symbol shown on the sign below, also engraved on the command key of millions of Macintosh keyboards, originated in Sweden. The command key originally featured only the Apple logo, but Steve Jobs felt that was an overuse of the company’s logo. Its replacement is a Scandinavian symbol for a tourist attraction, and Apple designer Susan Kare found it in a symbol dictionary and decided to adopt it. The symbol thus took on a life of its own.

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We returned to Linneaus’ house, where we were led through its rooms by a very well-intentioned tour guide whose English left something to be desired. I think I could have understood her better had she spoken Swedish. After our tour into the Sweden of a few hundred years ago, we were ready, of course, for a fika. We returned to the cafe at the garden’s entrance, and were soon enjoying a platter of sweets: a chokladboll, or chocolate ball; a monster-sized kanelbulle that reminded all present of Cafe Saturnus; carrot cake; and a nut tart. And coffee all around.

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After our tasty stop, we took a walk through Linneaus’ own garden, filled with the many flowers that he so carefully categorized. The grounds were beautiful, and Anna suggested making a visit an annual tradition.

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Leaving the garden, we drove to the nearby city of Uppsala, home of Sweden’s oldest university, founded in 1477 and considered one of the best in Europe. Even though we had just had a fika, we beelined to Ofvandahls konditori for lunch. In spite of their extremely tempting pastry case, we all ordered baguette sandwiches — a few of salami and Brie and others of ham and cheese — and of course more coffee.

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We took a stroll through old Uppsala, and a guy from Denver picked me out of our group to ask me directions, hesitatingly asking me if I spoke English. I guess my cover was blown. It was especially amusing since he could have just asked any Swede, all of whom speak English nearly as well as I do.

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We walked up to the university library and stopped in at the exhibit of the Silver Bible, Sweden’s most valuable book and one of the best remaining examples of the ancient Gothic language. As we entered the exhibit, I realized it actually wasn’t my first time there. I had visited with my mother during my first visit to Sweden.

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After visiting the library, we returned to the car and set off in the direction of the archipelago, stopping along the way for groceries. We had a simple but wonderful dinner of korvar, the Swedish hot dogs, complete with fresh onions, peppers, roasted onions (very popular on korvar) and the delicious Swedish strong mustard. Though it wasn’t fancy, the meal was great, and at this point in the trip, the simple pleasure of another meal outside under the evening sun with my family was perfect.

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Nils, who had stayed behind in Stockholm to work, arrived after dinner on a bus, and we had a delicious strawberry cake (and coffee) once he got there. We sat around talking for a while over dessert, nearly entirely in Swedish.

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Anna had discovered that the only rebroadcast on Swedish public television of the Allsång performance we had attended was at 2:45 in the morning, so in order to see whether we had actually been shown on the broadcast, we dutifully stayed up to watch. We passed the time by playing cards — I tried to teach spades, but didn’t get very far — until the film “Little Children” came on SVT. After half-heartedly following the extremely creepy film, the Allsång broadcast finally began, and thanks to the fairly distinctive pattern of the shirt I had worn, I spotted myself not once but three times. (You can see the episode for yourself on SVT’s website.)

Tired beyond words but delighted to have become a Swedish television star, I headed off to bed shortly afterwards.

Back to nature

Written by Chaz on 22 August 2012

The following day, with four full days remaining to my time in Sweden, Karin, Erik and I rose early and took the pendeltåg to the tunnelbana to the Roslagsbanan to a bus. In no time flat, we were back in Lögla at my family’s summer house. And after quickly packing up a picnic, we hopped in the boat and sped over to the national park of Ängsö, which we had also visited the previous year.

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We had lunch shortly after we arrived: delicious, light sandwiches of ham, potatoes and Dijon mustard in tortillas, along with kanelbullar and coffee. We sat out in the lovely sun, took a quick swim in the frigid water and spent a while just relaxing. I was in the middle of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City and was completely enthralled (we joked that he should be Swedish with a name like that), and the shore of the national park was the perfect place to read.

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After a while, we took a long walk around the island of Ängsö, spotting the cows for which the park is known. The island had been farmed for many years before it became a national park, at which it became entirely protected. But it soon became overgrown, and authorities realized that the farming was actually necessary to create the beauty the park had been designed to protect.

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After a bit more reading and another kanelbulle, it was time for the short boat ride back to the mainland.

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The grill was fired up shortly after we got home, and before long, the table was set and yet another fantastic meal was ready. There’s something about eating dinner under the incredible evening sun that makes it that much tastier. We had steak, halloumi cheese (very popular in Sweden, and really yummy), tzatziki sauce, potatoes and a salad.

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For dessert, we had a freshly-baked rhubarb pie — naturally, accompanied by coffee. After making a bit more progress on The Devil in the White City, it was time for bed.

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Family time and relaxing eats

Written by Chaz on 2 August 2012

Heading northeast from White Sands, we blew through Alamogordo and made our first stop about halfway to Tularosa. All along the highway was farm after farm growing a crop I had never seen before: pistachios. The nut, a desert native, thrives in high sun and low humidity and needs long summers to ripen properly. As a result, it has become very popular in New Mexico, which meets those criteria perfectly.

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We stopped at the Eagle Ranch pistachio grove and, after taking a look at some pistachio trees, went into their store to sample their wares, which included not only several flavors of pistachios but also a selection of pistachio wines. We had a taste of a few and selected one to take with us for dinner. There’s nothing like a bit of wine at 9:30 in the morning to get you going.

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Eric had promised that he would take us to a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place attached to a gas station in Tularosa for huevos rancheros, which sounded like a location our food guru would approve of. But when we arrived, it became clear that we had made a huge mistake. What had once been was no more.

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Fortunately, there was another gas station nearby that also had a Mexican restaurant attached. Welcome to New Mexico. Eric had the huevos rancheros while I opted for another menu items that was basically the rancheros with scrambled, rather than fried eggs. The dishes were good, though no comparison to Eric’s own homemade version.

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From Tularosa, we continued northeast to Eric’s house in Ruidoso, where we spent the rest of the day enjoying the sun, swimming and having some family time with my aunt Teresa and cousin Madison. We discovered when we arrived that the forest fires we had seen from White Sands had become enormous and were very close to Ruidoso. The highway that we would use to return to Albuquerque the next day was closed, so we would have to leave much earlier to retrace our steps to Tularosa and head north from there.

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Eric was planning to grill steaks for dinner and add some New Mexican flair with a topping of onions, mushrooms and spicy tomatillo, a combination he had recently discovered.

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The steaks turned out excellently, and were joined by green beans, a delicious salad with strawberries and pecans, and the pistachio wine.

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We sat out for a while after dinner, watching hummingbird after hummingbird visit the feeder hanging near the porch, as well as a family of deer that made someone very excited.

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The next morning, we rose early in anticipation of our long detour back to Albuquerque and headed out for breakfast in downtown Ruidoso at Peña’s Place, where we beat the morning rush and grabbed a table on the porch.

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At Peña’s, the breakfast burrito proved to be the most popular choice at our table. I ordered mine “Christmas,” which refers not to a holiday in December but to the combination of both red and green chiles. My aunt Teresa opted for the eggs benedict. All were excellent.

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Before we headed off to drive back to the airport in Albuquerque, we took a moment to do some family portraits.

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After the pictures, Eric and I bid farewell to Madison and Teresa and hit the open road.

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A few hours later, I was saying goodbye to Eric at the airport. Though my visit to New Mexico was just a weekend, we had seen and done so much that it felt like a much longer vacation, peppered with excellent eats, terrific nature and wonderful family time.

Enjoying the Baltic coast

Written by Chaz on 23 July 2011

My time at my Swedish family’s summer house at Lögla couldn’t have been more relaxing. On Thursday, my first full day in Sweden, we took their boat for a short trip to the Ängsö national park — but first, we had to get some gas for the boat and food for our lunch. At the grocery store, I was reminded of the feeling I used to have while food shopping in Stockholm: Even their grocery stores are ridiculously Swedish. From the Tetra Paks of milk (their design, created in Sweden, makes shipping milk more environmentally friendly) to the case of herring and other canned fish products, it’s very clear that you’re not in the U.S. anymore.

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And much like in Thailand, Sweden’s road signs are also pretty distinctive.

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Once we had everything packed and ready to go, we headed out in the boat for the short trip across an inlet of the Baltic Sea to Ängsö, one of Sweden’s smallest and oldest national parks. Our destination was a rocky outcropping facing the afternoon sun.

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After a swim and some relaxation in the sun, we grilled a delicious lunch of sausages (korvar) and followed it up with roasted marshmellows.

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After lunch, we took a walk around the island. Part of the national park is meadow, and to maintain the meadow, cows are kept on the island.

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The national park was beautiful, and it made a perfect getaway. We spent most of the day there, enjoying the sun and water. I can’t remember the last time I had such an incredibly relaxing day.

We followed our walk with a fika — coffee and a snack — before packing up the boat and heading back to Lögla. Though the sun had begun to lower in the sky, hours of daylight still remained. During the Swedish summer, the sun doesn’t set in a hurry.

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Our return trip went smoothly, and before too long, we were back at home, ready for dinner. The Isakssons had planned a very traditional Swedish meal: herring, potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, accompanied by aquavit, a Scandinavian liquor.

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I really enjoyed the herring, which means I’ve fully completed my odyssey from someone who didn’t eat seafood at all to someone who loves it. In Sweden, herring is eaten with dill and gräddfil, which is sort of like sour cream but is a little lighter. We also chased the aquavit with “light” beer, which is the only kind that can be sold in grocery stores. Unlike American light beer, it isn’t any healthier, but rather it’s limited to 3.5 percent alcohol.

Of course, no Swedish drinking experience is complete without a few drinking songs. And so I did my best to heartily accompany a few songs from a little book of Swedish drinking songs.

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After dinner, I helped make a blueberry pie of blueberries picked right in Lögla and oatmeal crumbles on top. We finished the meal with the pie, served with vanilla sauce, and tea and coffee.

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After some more reading and relaxing, I headed to bed, beyond satisfied.