A LITTLE (MORE) NIGHT MUSIC … Part 2

The sun won’t set
It’s fruitless to hope or to fret
It’s dark as it’s going to get
The hands on the clock turn
But don’t sing a nocturne
Just yet …….

Lena … Good night. And when you wake up in the morning, you won’t know what time it is.

[fast forward]

David … Good morning.
Linda … Morning. So, what time do you think it is?
David … Hm … about 7.30, 8.00?
Linda … 4.15.

We went back to sleep until it really was 8.00.

Lena offered the most amazing breakfast every morning. Breads (artisan, one white AND another filled with hazelnuts) … Wasa flatbread, a lunch time favorite when I was a little girl … cheeses (a slightly grainy, 24-month Vasterbottensost AND a creamy, dreamy cow’s milk) … amazingly yummy yogurt with Tahitian vanilla … salmon … muesli with nuts and raspberries … Kalles Kaviar (cod roe paste, in tubes, a taste treat that those born in Sweden miss when they go overseas) … butter … separate bowls of hazelnuts AND pumpkin seeds … blueberry/cranberry juice AND orange juice … coffee.

Today is Midsummer, and we were going to be honorary Swedes. Lena had it well planned.

We drove (yes, in a Volvo) to a local park, big and open and green, and we helped Lena and her friends/neighbors built a midsummer pole that would be the center of the celebration later in the afternoon. The pole is about 20 feet long/tall, now resting horizontally on saw horses, with a triangle at the top and two rings hanging from the cross bar. It is being decorated with leaves and flowers … people cutting branches into manageable lengths, grabbing a few flowers, and bringing them to a woman who used a thin wire to wrap everything around the pole. In the end, it is all covered with leaves and flowers … no pole is visible.

When we are done, everyone spread out blankets in a circle on the grass, and shared coffee and sweets. My cantucci are a big hit … as we told everyone the story of how we arrived in this corner of Sweden. How we arrived in our corner of Italy. And how David and Lena met in a strange corner of California.

Before heading home, we drove along the coast. We stopped at a little harbor with little huts that people use to store boating equipment … or just relax with the maritime view on a beautiful day. Water is an important part of the identity of this peninsula. Boating and sailing are popular recreations … and I remember fondly my visit to Stockholm years ago, staying with an old friend of my dad and his family. We took a sailboat to a nearby island, and sat there eating sardines right out of the little can. While Eastern Sweden is about the lush forests, the West Coast is more rocky, with long, low vistas extending evocatively to the horizon. Wide blue skies and calm blue water. Peace.

It was time to head to our first Midsummer pole dance. The day had turned grey as we walked through the forest, along a dirt road … to arrive at a clearing with a 30-foot tall leaf-and-flower- covered pole. Hundreds of people filled the area … many in costumes or period clothes, others just dressed up. Some wore wreaths of flowers on their heads. Many drank, many ate, everyone smiled.

It’s been a long time since I wasn’t the only blonde in the room.

Soon the dancing began. A group of about six musicians began playing instruments … and a petite grandmother started singing. She must have been doing this for decades. The people formed a circle around the pole … then another … and another. Six in total. Dance to the left, dance to the right … they all knew the words and hand gestures and steps. When Lena asked if I wanted to dance, I didn’t hesitate. Oh yes!

Apparently, the most famous of the dances is Little Frogs. The origins of the dance are lost in history, but it is silliness and joy personified. Holding hands with strangers, laughing … giggling with children, giggling like children.

The next dance was about Daily Chores. Again … infectious. The words she knows, the tune she hums.

It seemed like fantasy … perfectly cast, costumed, choreographed.

We re-joined David at one of the tables, sipped coffee, and watched the rest of the dancing. I had wondered if I would miss espresso or cappuccino … I have to admit, no. There is something about savoring a mug of coffee. Especially on a cool day.

But we had promises to keep … to dance around the pole that we had decorated a few hours earlier … and we walked through the woods and across a small river toward the car. As we drove the few miles, the skies cleared, and by the time we parked the car, blue skies had returned.

The pole was just being raised to cheers and applause. And when the dancing started, we were in the innermost circle to do Little Frogs and Daily Chores … especially fun, since we were dancing with the people we had met that morning. And they loved that we wanted to join in the fun. There’s one dance where the youngest children “hide” near the pole … and David, 6’ 2”, crouched low next to them.

There was a pop-up tent with coffee and sweets, and Lena said we needed to try it all. We agreed. There were cinnamon rolls (which Lena explained are one of Sweden’s most famous and most loved treats … adding that we would make them at home the next day!) and Tosca Cake and cinnamon-ginger cake. All were so good, I couldn’t pick a favorite. The buttery Tosca Cake is topped with lightly-sugared slivered almonds … the spice cake a delicious detour from classic pound cake … the cinnamon rolls subtle and tender and fun to pull apart. From our blanket, we watched the kids play various games. Three-legged race … change costumes relay … obstacle course. Some of the dads participated, but that didn’t always guarantee a victory.

Back at home, dinner was herring … the traditional Midsummer dinner … and Lena and Per brought out seven different flavors. Herring, dense and full of flavor. My mom used to make it with minced raw onions and sour cream, left to sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days so the onion softened and the flavors melded. Tonight we ate herring that was slightly sweet … spicy with peppercorns … creamy with sour cream … brightened with sprigs of dill … salty/vinegary … piqued with smooth mustard … grandfather’s. This last dish, which has the texture that a toothless old man could eat, has various variations. Lena’s family recipe is herring minced and mixed with hard-boiled eggs and anchovies. Scandinavian comfort food. We also enjoyed new potatoes with chives and dill and sour cream. The beverage was also a midsummer tradition … Aquavit … and Per offered three bottles. From Sweden, Norway, Denmark. I can barely drink wine that is 15% alcohol, so a bottle that touts 35% or 40% is well above my pay grade. I happily drank Prosecco as we chatted into the night.

A weekend in the country
How enchanting
On the manicured lawns …….

After a leisurely breakfast, Lena took out the big mixer and her recipe book, and proudly showed me the cinnamon roll recipe. Her younger son’s favorite. While Lena measured and mixed and rolled, I watched. And photographed. A couple of hours later, spicy perfume filled the air … we savored warm cinnamon rolls, tender and buttery and light, with mugs of hot coffee. Delizioso … utsokt.

In the afternoon, with a snack of apples and cinnamon rolls, David and I drove to Tjoloholm Castle, a beautiful estate on the coast. The weather continued to be perfect, the bluest of blue skies, sun shimmering like stars on the water. The castle/estate was closing, so we couldn’t go inside the 120-year old building, but the gardens and grounds were gorgeous. In fact, on the terraced lawns overlooking the bay, a bridal party with a radiant bride in a billowing ballroom-style gown was taking photographs. We sat on a boulder, watched the water, and ate our treat.

Lena and Per asked if we want to be in charge of the barbeque that night. Of course we said oui. And grill WE did. They had bought fish skewers and shrimp, as well as small sweet peppers and zucchini. (The new potatoes were boiled and buttered.) While we savored the briny and delicious shrimp, David enjoyed cheese … and commented on the cheese slicer that makes conveniently thin slices. We have two in our drawer, I said. Cool. We drank white wine tonight, a mineraly Sancerre that went so well with the fabulous, flaky, flavorful fish.

Abby’s contribution to dinner was a mouse. Happily, she didn’t offer us any … she ate everything, except the teeny tiny green gall bladder that remained on the deck. We did offer her fiske … but she declined.

For dessert, we indulged. Strawberries with freshly whipped vanilla-scented cream and vanilla bean ice cream. When our bowls were licked clean, I wondered … out loud … how the ice cream would taste sprinkled with some of the Dutch cocoa that Lena had showed me earlier. We all agreed it was excellent. But we all had our next bowl of berries un-cocoa-ed.

(To be continued …)

FUDGE CAKE

And it’s gluten-free …

1 cup toasted almonds, finely ground
4 oz. butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
¾ cup cocoa
4 eggs
¾ cup milk
1 Tbl. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract

- Butter and cocoa a 9- to 10-inch round falsebottom pan. Preheat oven to 325°F (160° C).
- In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. With the mixer on low (so it doesn’t splatter), add the cocoa until incorporated.
- Add the eggs, one at a time.
- Stir in half the milk, then the almonds, followed by the remaining milk. Mix until well blended.
- Pour into prepared pan.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until just set.
- Serve at any temperature … even frozen.
Enjoy!