• Looking for Sweden in New York

    Date: 2014.08.19 | Category: Sweden, Travel | Comments: 0

    Unlike the past two Augusts, I’m not in Sweden–I’m in New York, so at least I’m closer to Sweden (only six time zones away!) than I am when I’m home in California. I decided to see if I could find a touch of Sweden in the big city.

    mysterious1. The Mysterious Bookshop: Looking for Scandinavian thrillers? There’s a special section devoted to Nordic authors at this TriBeCa bookstore, now the last of its kind (i.e. an independent mystery bookseller) in the city.

    2. Gudrun Sjödén: The Swedish designer sells “eco-conscious clothes meant for the mature woman,” in the words of the New York Times. There are a lot of airy tunics and wide pants; I figure that by the time I’m officially “mature,” I’ll have a whole wardrobe of Sjödén fashions–if I can afford it. They’re a bit pricey, but the quality’s good and I have gotten plenty of wear out of the items I bought in Stockholm. This was my first visit to the New York boutique; I hit the sale rack in the back and found a couple tops. Not sure if it’s coincidence or the start of a “Little Sweden” retail district, but I spotted two other Swedish retailers within a half block of Sjöden’s SoHo store: Boutique Acne and, surprisingly enough, Fjällräven, the purveyor of outdoor gear best known for their ubiquitous Kånken backpacks, carried by every Swedish schoolchild.

    3. Sockerbit: Swedish lösgodis store, which basically means you choose from a selection of small candies in bins, scoop ‘em up, and place ‘em in a bag. Sockerbit, located in the West Village, charges $12.95 a pound for its colorful imported wares. I was hoping to find some of the round Swedish candy-coated mints I love, but no such luck; I wound up purchasing a few chocolate items, skipping the popular-with-Swedes salty licorice and sega råttor (gummy rats). There are also some Swedish grocery items, like mustard and lingonberry preserves, for sale, as well as Marabou candy bars.

    4. Fika: I stopped by the midtown outpost of this Swedish coffee chain when I was here last year but the loud music sent me running out the door empty-handed. When I saw they’d opened a branch on the Upper West Side, I stopped by, and to my delight, there was no music playing at all. It was blissfully calm in the midafternoon. Sandwiches are named after Swedish cities, like Göteborg and Lysekil; I wonder if this is so the staff can quickly spot a Swede? No one not from Sweden would ever pronounce “Lysekil” correction (lee-suh-sheel, more or less). I was rather confused by the name of the sandwich I ordered–Burträsk (bewr-tresk)–until I Googled it. Turns out it’s a small town in the province of Västerbotten. There was Västerbotten cheese on my (delicious) sandwich. Mystery solved! I might go back tomorrow for some Princess cake.

    swedishcottage5. The Swedish Cottage: I often make a point of walking past the Swedish Cottage on the western side of Central Park, despite the fact that it’s not all that Swedish-looking. It’s used as a marionette theater now, but was “originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia,” according to the park’s web site. “After the exhibit, Park co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted chose the rustic building for Central Park.”

    6. Red Rooster: I was fortunate enough to dine a few times at midtown’s Aquavit restaurant during the tenure of Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef Marcus Samuelsson. (TV cooking-show fans may recognize him from “The Next Iron Chef” and “Top Chef Masters.”) His current project is Red Rooster in Harlem, and while it does offer Swedish meatballs, the menu primarily consists of Southern comfort food. I had cornbread and catfish, which are not Swedish in any way, but they were very tasty. Anyone looking for actual Swedish food should check out Smörgås Chef, where Joe & I dined last year. And Aquavit is still around, though the prices are at what I consider “expense account level.”

    7. Scandinavia House: Not much going on there now, but they frequently show Scandinavian films and have exhibits and lectures during the non-summer months. They always show the official Scandinavian nominees for Best Foreign Film a month or so before the Oscars.

  • “Welcome to Sweden” Mystery Solved!

    Date: 2014.08.09 | Category: Sweden, TV | Comments: 0

    Thanks to the Stockholm Visitors Board for helping me ID the mystery location in Thursday’s episode of “Welcome to Sweden.” It’s Fjällgatan in the Södermalm area of Stockholm.

    Stockholm - Fjällgatan

    The reason it looked familiar is obviously because I’ve walked along this beautiful and historic street many times, but only during the day–and I don’t think there’s any denying that it looks a lot more glamorous at dusk. I had actually poked around this neighborhood a few times on Google Street View but don’t think I would have made the connection without the help of @VisitStockholm, since the colors are so washed out on Street View!

    The yellow building is Sofia Småbarnsskola (preschool).

    “Fjällgatan” means “mountain street,” and it is indeed high up, with some spectacular views. Take a look courtesy of 360Cities, which is the next-best thing to being there and enjoying an ice cream at Fjällgatans Kaffestuga.

  • “Welcome to Sweden”: A Double Dose

    Date: 2014.08.07 | Category: TV | Comments: 1

    I really, really disliked last week’s episode (“Get a Job/Farthinder”) and finally forced myself to sit through it again so I could take notes on it. If “Welcome to Sweden” had been “Welcome to Poland” instead, I probably would have bailed on the series at this point. And yet, those little glimpses of Stockholm sustain me through the awfulness.

    semlaThings I hated:

    Semlor (delicious cream-filled pastries) are out of season at the time this episode takes place (summer). They are traditionally served during Lent, but in recent years, they have gotten so popular that they turn up earlier and earlier. Still, you would really have to hunt to find a café serving semlor in the summertime. I’m not saying such places don’t exist, but it would be on par with trying to find a store selling candy canes and fruitcake in July–it’s highly unlikely.

    Bruce behaves like a jerk to almost everyone in this episode: the beleaguered man in the employment office, the woman at the Swedish equivalent of the DMV, the woman behind the counter at the café, his best friend (who loses his job because Bruce can’t drive a car with a manual transmission). I don’t care whether or not he behaved like a jerk toward Gene Simmons, because I can’t stand Gene Simmons. And yet, Simmons’ cameo was probably the high point of this episode. Go figure.

    Dala horses turned up in three places: the café, Bruce and Emma’s kitchen (on a potholder), and the employment office.

    “Nollvisionen” (“Vision Zero”), referred to in the DMV scene, has been adopted by San Francisco. The goal is an end to all traffic deaths by 2024. Maybe if we all get those self-driving Google cars…?

    FarthinderBruce laughs at the “Farthinder” road sign. It warns you that there’s a speed bump or similar traffic-calming device up ahead. “Fart” means “speed” in Swedish. It never occurs to me that words like “farthinder” are funny because I grew up with these words and they don’t register as odd or humorous. I remember that during one of my trips, a Swedish celebrity had just broken up with his girlfriend, and one of the tabloids bore the enormous headline “SLUT” (the equivalent of “It’s Over”). It took me a minute to realize why my American traveling companion found this so hilarious.

    The boat scene is agonizing (callback to Bruce’s seasickness in Episode One), but at least we get a nice glimpse of one of the most beautiful parts of Stockholm, the quay near the Grand Hotel (Blasieholmskajen). That is indeed where many sightseeing boats depart. I read somewhere that one of the passengers on the boat is Greg Poehler’s real-life father-in-law.


    On to tonight’s episode, “Fitting In/Vänner” (“Friends”). This episode is much better, despite the fact that it starts with Bruce joking that Emma and her friend sound like the Swedish chef. That would have been enough to get me to dis-invite him to all parties henceforth.

    Perhaps one of the reasons I preferred this episode: there is so much Swedish dialogue. Americans are introduced to the following Swedish words: slipmaskin (a floor sander) and utbränd (burned out–a concept I wrote about a few years ago). There’s also a callback to Episode Two when Emma’s mom says that one of the only Swedish words Bruce knows is “bågsåg” (a bow saw or “Swede saw”).

    I noticed in the past two episodes that Bruce’s Iraqi friend Hassan is always shown carrying rosary beads. Since less than 1 percent of Iraqis are Catholic, according to Wikipedia, perhaps that is why he left Iraq for Western Europe.

    There are some fantastic scenes of Stockholm, including great shots of the Opera near Kungsträdgården (the King’s Garden) and the island of Skeppsholmen, where the boat af Chapman is docked. The only location I couldn’t recognize was the one below. Click on the images to enlarge:

    wts1 wts2

    I think it might be in Kungsholmen or Södermalm? In any case, it looks familiar. I’m hoping my aunt or my parents, who are in Stockholm at this very minute, can help me out.

    Bruce calling Emma’s friend Lisa and Emma’s mom, using Google Translate to help him “speak Swedish,” is him at his most charming, but the spa scene is just as icky as the café scene in Episode Four. High-end spas are expensive–you’d think Bruce (who was too broke to buy a semla last week) would have thought twice before deciding to take his girlfriend’s mother for a day of treatments. The 5000:- (which she winds up paying) is equivalent to about $700 U.S.

    Did Ace of Base really have the most successful debut album of all time? Of course, I had to look that up, and while they’re in the top 10, they were bested by the all-American Guns ‘n Roses.

    Emma notes that Swedes are proud of Ola Rapace, the actor who appeared in “Skyfall” and was henceforth known as “James Bond-Ola.” This nomenclature is something I’ve always found pretty funny–the thing celebrities are best known for becomes part of their name. If your name is Erik and you appeared on the Swedish version of “Survivor,” “Expedition Robinson,” you would be known forever after in the Swedish media as “Robinson-Erik.” It would be as though we knew Kelly Clarkson as “American Idol-Kelly.” That said, I doubt any Swedes have ever referred to Rapace as “James Bond-Ola.” He’s successful for a wide variety of movies and TV shows, and also known for being married to original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” actress Noomi Rapace (they divorced in 2011). Americans may also recognize him from the Swedish “Wallander” series, which has been shown on the “MhZ WorldView” program in the States.

    The shoe scene at the party is a bit uncomfortable, but funny. Yes, Swedes make you take your shoes off. It’s sort of surprising that Bruce wouldn’t have been clued into this by now, since he’s lived there a few weeks. I follow this tradition in my own home, but I don’t make our guests remove their shoes. In Sweden, it’s expected; here, it’s considered kind of annoying.

    DALLASBruce’s parents, played by Illeana Douglas and Patrick Duffy, are introduced at the very end of the show. Douglas is 49 years old. FORTY-NINE. Poehler is 39. For pity’s sake. The “reveal” of Duffy is a surprise that must have delighted the many Swedes who watched “Dallas,” which was wildly popular in Sweden. I would occasionally watch “Dallas” when I wanted to hear people speaking English (I never once watched it when I was back in the U.S.). This was a long time ago–nowadays there are numerous Swedish satellite channels seemingly devoted to airing reruns of American sitcoms, reality shows, talk shows and dramas. I just checked the listings, and if you were to flip through the channels at the moment I am writing this, you could catch “The Nanny,” “Frasier,” “90210″ or, God help us, “Wife Swap.”

    For more “Welcome to Sweden” chat, don’t miss Slate writer Jeremy Stahl’s recap (he critiques it each week with his Swedish wife).

    Note: Next week, there’ll be a special two-hour episode of “Last Comic Standing.” “Welcome to Sweden” will return on Aug. 21.

  • “Wait Wait”: What Got Cut

    Date: 2014.08.02 | Category: Radio | Comments: 0

    The three panelists on “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” are allegedly competing to see who can accumulate the most points by the end of the show. If you’ve ever tried keeping score at home, however, you will most likely become incredibly confused when the numbers don’t add up. That is because some of the questions the panelists answer always wind up on the cutting room floor. (A correct answer yields one point; the Lightning Round questions near the end of the show are worth two points each. The Lightning Round is more difficult, since there are no hints.)

    “Wait Wait” is a game of improv for the panelists–most (but not all) of Peter Sagal’s zingers seem to be scripted–so obviously not every joke is going to be a gem. During Thursday’s taping at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco, the panelists were asked seven questions. The final four did not make it into the broadcast.

    Here are the topics of the ones that were heard:

    1. Nude artist’s models are threatening to go on strike in Paris

    2. A wealthy man whose purchase of a $34 million yacht helped save a company from financial collapse

    3. In a historic first, Cosmopolitan magazine offers smokin’ hot sex tips for lesbians (nope, sorry, I’m not going to link to that one!)

    These four were axed:

    1. The TSA is seeking input from passengers on how to speed up security lines

    2. An ESL teacher was fired for writing a blog entry about homophones

    3. Buddhist monks are stressed out about traffic

    4. Playing “hard to get” doesn’t actually work for women

    They seemed to use a lot of the Amy Tan interview. Listening to it today, I was surprised how much of it made it onto the air. One thing that I noticed: Amy had mentioned that she and her mother moved to Europe because her mom felt their house was cursed. That bit was heard in the broadcast, but not the reason (because Amy’s older brother and father had both died recently). Obviously that’s more of a tragic topic than usually comes up during a comedy show.

    The “Who’s Bill This Time?” segment that opened the show, featuring a contestant named Tommy (leading to some “Tommy, can you hear me?” jokes), went on for a good 20 minutes. That part was really streamlined. Tommy’s job had something to do with experiential education, and there was a lot of banter about that.

    Two of the panelists asked for do-overs for the predictions that ended the show. The topic: “Now that handshakes have been deemed unsafe, what will be the next common behavior to be declared unhealthy?” Alonzo Bodden initially said something about Starbucks that I can’t recall, but nobody seemed to get the joke, so he changed it to CrossFit. Paula said “sex,” and then switched to “choral music.” Neither answer was particularly hilarious, but after over 90 minutes of taping, it’s probably hard to still be firing on all comedic cylinders.

  • No review tonight…

    Date: 2014.07.31 | Category: Radio, TV | Comments: 4

    10570034_619571901490914_812178553_nAnyone coming here for a “Welcome to Sweden” recap will have to wait a day or two, because I just got home from a looooong taping of NPR’s popular news quiz, “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” The radio show, which normally tapes in Chicago, is finishing up a three-week residency in San Francisco, and because the Bay Area is full of public radio superfans, the dates sold out in record time. I managed to snag two tickets to the final taping. If my friend and fellow WWDTM fan Vallery is reading this, I knew you were going to be in Ashland this week, which is why I didn’t get a ticket for you, and the previous dates were already sold out. Plus you would have been sad because Paula Poundstone was on the panel. (Paula is Vallery’s least-favorite panelist.) Happily for me, my favorite panelist, comedian Alonzo Bodden, was there, along with Maz Jobrani. Anyway, everyone should tune in (or download the podcast) over the weekend–I actually took a few notes during the show, so after it airs, I’ll tell you what got cut! The taping took about an hour and 40 minutes and needs to get reduced to about 50 minutes, so it will be ruthlessly pared down.

    For anyone who did watch “Welcome to Sweden”: since I’ve already watched it once, a few months ago, I can say that it contains my least favorite “oh my gosh Bruce is such a jerk” moment of the series. But Gene Simmons, whom I dislike even more than Vallery dislikes Paula Poundstone, was surprisingly tolerable. More to come…

  • “Welcome to Sweden,” Episode 3: “Proving Love”

    Date: 2014.07.24 | Category: Sweden, TV | Comments: 0

    I joked to my mom recently that I’m planning to spend next summer in Stockholm doing “Welcome to Sweden” tours, similar to the popular Stieg Larsson walks, which take tourists past landmarks from the “Dragon Tattoo” books and movies. Of course, first I have to figure out just where Emma and Bruce are supposed to live. The establishing shot shows a view of the island of Riddarholmen, home to some of the city’s oldest buildings, including the church where Swedish monarchs have been buried since the 16th century. Here’s a gorgeous photo taken from the City Hall tower.

    It’s possible that their apartment is located in Kungsholmen, where City Hall is located–that’s also where I lived for the first few months of my life! Even if they can’t see Riddarholmen from their apartment, beautiful views are only steps away. A walk along Norr Mälarstrand is a must if you visit Stockholm.

    giant dala horseDespite the scenic views, there is some stuff in this episode that really bugged me. First of all, Bruce’s behavior when he is speaking to the official at the Migration Board is just dumb–why does he start talking about serial killers? Even if he’s nervous, it doesn’t make sense. (I do love the giant Dala horse on the office’s windowsill, though–the wooden horses seem to grow larger every week. I hope they eventually travel to Avesta so they can visit the world’s largest Dalahäst.) I also got annoyed when Emma had to give up her super cool minimalist furniture. At least she got to keep her Arne Jacobsen chair in the end. (They retail for over $6,000, so it makes sense that she would be upset about having to part with it.) Sweden is the home of IKEA–no one should have to ship furniture from America to Sweden! Though Emma’s brother did love that Barcalounger…

    We learn some dubious facts about Swedes in this episode. Do Swedes truly believe that you should never have a bedroom that faces the street? I’ve never heard that, but then again, my aunt lives in a studio apartment. Unless you have a huge place, you probably don’t have much of a choice in the matter.

    As for looking out the peephole to make sure no neighbors are coming–I’ll admit that’s exactly the sort of thing I would do, here or abroad. “If you care about Swedes, leave them alone,” says Emma. That’s true in almost any American big city as well. The American movie “Pi” featured a scene in which the protagonist looked through a peephole in an attempt to avoid interacting with his neighbors.

    Bruce and Emma’s building has one of those tiny cage-shaft elevators that holds just three people. They’re common in old buildings in Stockholm, retrofitted into the center of spiral staircases. Even though you can look out, they’re not for the claustrophobic.

    arton56The beer Emma is shown drinking is Arton56, produced by Åbro Bryggeri. It was launched in 2006 to commemorate the brewery’s 150th anniversary.

    Emma’s father brings “flyttgröt,” or “moving porridge,” when he comes to visit. This is an old Swedish tradition for when you’re visiting someone’s new home for the first time, though it doesn’t literally have to be porridge. Bread or a cake would work. If you want to try some genuine Swedish porridge, here is a recipe from the woman who cooked for my late grandfather toward the end of his life:

    1.5 deciliters rice
    3 deciliters water
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 Tbsp butter

    Mix these four ingredients and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes over low heat.

    Add 7 deciliters of milk; stir. Simmer, covered, over low heat for 45 minutes. Do not stir the mixture at all during this time! When it’s finished, stir in a tablespoon or two of sugar. It might make a nice snack to enjoy while you’re watching the next episode of “Welcome to Sweden.”

  • “Welcome to Sweden,” Episode 2: “Learn the Language”

    Date: 2014.07.17 | Category: Sweden, TV | Comments: 0

    I never thought I would hear the phrase “Nu ska jag knulla dig” on NBC. The word “knulla” was used twice in tonight’s episode of “Welcome to Sweden”–the first time, Emma’s dad complained that “ungdomarna har knullat sönder sängen. Fan också!”

    “Welcome to Sweden” may censor bare butts, but they sure don’t censor naughty Swedish words! Please note: “knulla” is a very vulgar word. So are “fan” (literally: “the devil”) and “skit” (“shit”), which also turned up in this installment. I’m going to define “knulla” as “to have sex,” though Google Translate will give you a more, shall we say, direct definition.

    Between the uncensored language, in this episode, Bruce learned Will Ferrell’s secret to mastering the Swedish language–a tape featuring a super-sexy narrator–and got indigestion from eating cinnamon buns. Cinnamon allergies are rare. Bruce’s gastrointestinal distress sent him to the outhouse, which for some reason is perched right on the water’s edge. This odd placement was enough to make my Swedish aunt stop watching the show, because no one would place an outhouse on a dock!

    Incidentally, my mom grew up in a very, very rural part of Sweden, and their house didn’t have indoor plumbing when she and my aunt (her sister) were young. I remember her telling me that the man who emptied the outhouse buckets in their town had no sense of smell, making him ideally suited to the task. (This article has info about how outhouses were cleaned back in the olden days. “In general, it is best to clean it about once a week in winter and twice a week in summer.” Boy, am I grateful for flush toilets!)

    kallesThis is the brand of margarine on Emma’s family breakfast table: Lätta. That means “light,” so it’s a low-fat product. I also spied a tube of Kalles kaviar on the table. Kaviar is a fish-roe spread that’s sold in a tube. I find it completely unappealing, but it’s an extremely popular product. The brand’s slogan is “En väldigt svensk smak” (“A very Swedish taste”). The tube depicts six-year-old Carl Ameln, the son of the CEO. Fun fact from the Kalles web site: “As a thank you for letting us borrow his face, Carl was given free caviar for the rest of his life. We deliver tubes to his door to this very day.”

    How many Dala horses did you spot in this episode? There was one in the bedroom, one in Emma’s dad’s toolbox, and one at Will Ferrell’s house. While Will Ferrell is indeed married to a Swedish woman, art auctioneer Viveca Paulin, his wife in this episode was played by an actress, Sara Askelöf.

    Emma’s brother Gustav has another money-making scheme, following last week’s taco truck idea. This time, he wants to open a reggae club. Reggae was popular in Sweden long before it made waves in the U.S.–if you want to see something really bizarre, check out Swedish reggae artist Peps Persson’s appearance on the popular variety show “Allsång på Skansen.” He sings in a Southern Swedish (Skånsk) dialect. His first reggae album came out in 1975, and he’s still alive and kicking at the age of 67, so perhaps he could perform at Gustav’s club!

    When Emma’s father Birger is trying to get Bruce to pass him a tool, he’s asking for a bågsåg, or “bow saw.” According to Wikipedia, bow saws are also known as “Swede saws.”

    Emma’s mother overhears her complaint about having to live in a “Friggebod” with her family. A Friggebod is a small house you can build on your property without having to get approval from the government. The maximum size of a Friggebod is 15 square meters, or about 160 square feet, so Emma is obviously exaggerating for effect.

    She and Bruce wind up staying at the Hotel Diplomat on Strandvägen, which is one of the most elegant streets in Stockholm. There’s a beautiful shot showing the waterfront, with the Gröna Lund amusement park off in the distance.

    See you back here again next Thursday, when Bruce and Emma finally move into their apartment in Stockholm, and Bruce tries to meet the neighbors!

  • “Welcome to Sweden,” Episode 1: “Day One”

    Date: 2014.07.10 | Category: Sweden, TV | Comments: 2

    I hope everyone tuned in to the premiere of “Welcome to Sweden” on NBC! A few days ago, I set a Season Pass on my TiVo to record it, selecting, as I always do, “first run only.” (I do this automatically, since some of the cable shows I watch are repeated zillions of times during the week.) Imagine my surprise when I checked and the TiVo was not going to record the show, because it was listed as a rerun in the program guide.

    Welcome to Sweden

    “Original air date: March 21″? Yes, that was the date it originally aired… in Sweden! Also, what’s the deal with the misspelling in the title? “Valkomen”? I can forgive the lack of an umlaut, but it’s välkommen, with two M’s. (That word means “welcome,” by the way.)

    I was able to reprogram the TiVo and see the show. Overall, the content seemed identical to the Swedish version, although the ad breaks seemed oddly placed, particularly the one during the kräftskiva (crayfish party). The program airs on a commercial network in Sweden, but I assume the ads were placed in different slots there. And, of course, there was pixelating. So much pixelating! Heaven forfend that U.S. viewers see a bare butt! None of the butts were pixelated when the show aired in Sweden. Swedes can handle butts.

    A few cultural notes:

    It was great to see Arlanda airport and a Taxi Stockholm cab in the episode. Since I’m not going to Sweden this summer, it made me feel a little wistful.

    Bruce gets seasick en route to Emma’s family’s summer house (his seasickness is a plot point that is also featured in a future episode). It turns out that you can also drive there, however. A gorgeous summer home in (I’m assuming) the Stockholm archipelago that is close enough to the city that it’s accessible by auto? That place would be worth a fortune.

    Emma’s brother mentions that he wants to be an entrepreneur and drive a taco truck. Fun fact: tacos are hugely popular in Sweden. The phenomenon of fredagsmys (literally “cozy Fridays”)–eating tacos at home, usually made with store-bought ingredients made by Old El Paso or the Swedish company Santa Maria (nee Nordfalks)–is so well-established that it’s been the subject of academic papers.

    John PohlmanI’m really glad that the John Pohlman joke stayed in–he’s the Swedish weatherman whose name sounded a bit like Amy Poehler’s (Greg’s sister in real life, but one of Bruce’s “celebrity clients” in the world of the show). For some reason, when I was a child, my family developed a fascination with Pohlman, who delivered the forecasts on Sweden’s state TV network for over 30 years. So that reference felt like a personal shout-out to me. (I’m sure Greg Poehler didn’t come up with that joke, since Pohlman retired years before he moved to Sweden.)

    The time line of the show is a bit skewed, since it seems to be midsummer (Bruce comments on the fact that it never gets dark), but the family is eating crayfish. Nobody would eat crayfish at midsummer! Crayfish parties are held in August, not June. Swedes are very big on tradition. Of course, Emma’s family’s slurping of the crayfish is very funny, so I guess we’ll forgive this little lapse.

    As Bruce learns, don’t drink alcohol in the sauna!

    DalahästKeep an eye out for the dalahäst in interior scenes. Every Swedish home must have at least one. These painted wooden horses are an immediately recognizable symbol of Sweden. They are fabricated by hand in the province of Dalarna, and each one is an individual work of art. You will never find a plastic or Chinese-made dalahäst for sale in Sweden. They tend to be rather expensive, and now you know why.

    Join me here again next Thursday, as Bruce meets up with Will Ferrell and tries to learn Swedish!

  • Mad Food

    Date: 2014.06.08 | Category: Food, Theater | Comments: 0

    A few months ago, one of the local theaters we are involved with began hosting small cocktail parties for donors. They get a chance to mingle with the cast of the play they sponsored, watch a reading long before the show opens, and enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres. The first such event was catered by a local restaurant, which charged $200. “I’ll bet I can do just as good a job for $20!” I proclaimed. I soon had the chance to put my money where my mouth was, and my career as an unpaid caterer was born.

    For my first cocktail party, I simply picked up some sliced meats and cheeses at Trader Joe’s. I love shopping at TJ’s so it was easy and fun. However, I soon became more ambitious, and ventured into themed foods. For “Always… Patsy Cline,” I decided mini-biscuits with ham seemed vaguely Southern, so I made that, and served them along with cheese cubes, honey-roasted peanuts, and fruit. The next show on the schedule was “Boeing Boeing,” a farce set in the 1960s. This time, I decided to go all out and prepare appetizers from that era.

    Good Housekeeping Appetizer BookThanks to the success of “Mad Men,” a show I have admittedly never watched, it’s extremely easy to find recipes online for period-appropriate hors d’oeuvres. Fans of the show have documented the cocktail parties they’ve thrown to celebrate Don Draper and his crew; deviled eggs, cheese balls, and hollowed-out tomatoes filled with tuna salad seem to be popular with the “Mad Men” crowd. I decided to plunge into the depths of my own cookbook collection, and dug out a copy of Good Housekeeping’s Appetizer Book, published in 1958. (Close enough to the early 60s!) I’m pretty sure I acquired this long ago in a bundle I purchased at an estate sale, along with a bunch of other ancient cookbooks, like Old-Fashioned Molasses Goodies and Chicken ’79!

    Looking through the Appetizer Book, I quickly realized that no one really wants to eat just like our grandparents did back in ’58. Many of the recipes are downright terrifying. I fear our beloved donors would turn and run if I brought in a bowl of Peanut-Ham Spread (1/2 cup peanut butter, a can of deviled ham, 1/4 cup of mayo and 3 tablespoons of chopped dill pickle). Peanut butter figures in several recipes, including the sinister Peanut Butter-Catchup Dip (1/2 cup peanut butter blended with 1/2 cup “catchup”; serve with corn chips).

    ghbookTake a look at this two-page spread, showing Creamy Egg-Chive Dip surrounded by celery hearts, spiced pineapple, and Hash Mounds (squares of white bread topped with mustard, pickle slices, and corned beef hash). This is what passed for “elegant” food 56 years ago.

    I decided to get some inspiration from the cookbook, while avoiding the actual recipes. Below is a pic of some of the food I came up with: a fruit salad of red grapes and canned pineapple (because the 60s were all about canned pineapple); ham and cream cheese roll-ups, made with very modern lavash bread (there were also some vegetarian roll-ups made with chive-and-cilantro spread); mini-pigs in a blanket; and a cheese ball coated with crushed toasted pecans, served with Ritz crackers. One of the donors, who had spent time in Denmark, had suggested to me earlier that I serve sill (Swedish pickled herring); I’m not sure if he was serious or not, but I rose to the challenge and bought a jar. We’ll see how much of that gets eaten.


    The next play is “Little Shop of Horrors,” so I need to come up with some appropriate dishes for that. It’s about a carnivorous plant, and one of the songs featured in the score is called “Somewhere That’s Green,” so perhaps I should focus on green foods. Snap peas and broccoli florets with Green Goddess dressing? Guacamole? Green olives and green grapes? Feel free to leave a suggestion in the comments.


  • A Song For Europe (2014 Edition)

    Date: 2014.05.10 | Category: Music, Sweden, TV | Comments: 1

    I always love watching the Eurovision Song Contest, but this might have been one of the greatest years yet. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Eurovision, it’s an annual song contest held each year in the country which won the previous year’s competition. Last year, Denmark won, so 2014′s Eurovision was held in Copenhagen. Thirty-one countries went into the semi-finals, and 26 moved on to today’s grand finale.

    I, of course, always root for Sweden, which had a strong entry this year with Sanna Nielsen’s power ballad “Undo.” Sanna was a favorite to win, but she wound up coming in a respectable third. “Undo” sounds like the sort of song you could imagine hearing on the radio. It’s smooth and professional, befitting a country which produces global hits on a regular basis.

    In that, however, Sweden’s Eurovision entries are in the minority, because this year also served up some truly bonkers stuff. There was the Polish entry, which was something you might wind up with if Katy Perry had been born in Warsaw and liked to churn butter in her spare time.

    The French group Twin Twin sang a song called “Mustache,” and I’m not entirely sure that this wasn’t an Andy Samberg/The Lonely Island parody sketch. It was quite awful, and fittingly, it finished in last place.

    Did you know that there are boy bands in Belarus? And that they sing songs about cheesecake? Sweet, sweet cheesecake.

    One of the last songs of the night was by the Netherlands duo Common Linnets. I found this song to be quite excellent, in a completely non-ironic way. It has a very heavy Americana influence, with a bit of country twang and beautiful vocal harmonies. Plus, the Linnets have an awesome vintage Dolly Parton/Waylon Jennings look going on. This might just be the most un-Eurovision song I’ve ever heard during Eurovision; in fact, three of the four credited songwriters are American. It finished in second place, which is a little frightening, because while I really like the song, if Eurovision suddenly started being all about high quality professional material, it wouldn’t be nearly as much wacky fun to watch.

    So who took home the crystal microphone statuette? Austria’s entry, a bearded lady: drag queen Conchita Wurst. As far as big, dramatic ballads go, I think Sanna’s was better, but Wurst (25-year-old reality show star née Thomas Neuwirth) had the superior backstory. Petitions to have her removed, or censor her performance from the telecast, circulated in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. The Belarus petition stated, ‘Thanks to European liberals, the popular international contest, which is to be watched by our children, has turned into a hotbed of sodomy.” Won’t somebody think of the children? One minute you’re watching a chick with a beard on TV; the next, you’re checking online to see if Good Vibrations is able to ship butt plugs to Minsk. A vote for Conchita also served to protest institutionalized homophobia in Russia and other Eastern European countries.

    To me, the most upsetting thing about Wurst is that she looks uncannily like Kim Kardashian with facial hair. In fact, Eurovision was won by a trans woman, Israel’s Dana International (no, I don’t know why a middle eastern country participates in a European song contest), way back in 1998, so a drag queen champ isn’t particularly shocking. Anyway, congratulations, Conchita–Eurovision will be heading to Austria in 2015!