Saveur the Journey: Culinary exploration off the beaten path

Saveur the Journey is an experiential learning program specializing in culinary and cultural tours in France, Sweden, and the USA. Our connections with farmers, winemakers, chefs, and food artisans allow for exclusive experiences in traditional food production.

The author with the summer Alps in the background

Enjoying a fall hike with the Alps in the background

As a trained anthropologist I have been fortunate enough to live abroad in some fantastic places. France seduced me the first time I visited and I made it a priority to spend more time there and indulge in its culinary and cultural delights. While teaching English in a French culinary school I was also able to work and live on an organic vegetable farm in a small French village. I cultivated many friendships with all kinds of people, but especially with artisan food producers as my culinary curiosity led to short internships and stages. My fluency in French and a love of food and cooking gave me a “backstage pass” into many bakeries, butcher shops, farms, cheesemakers, and other food producers and farmers.

JokkmokkWinter2014 024

Reindeer circle in a corral near Jokkmokk

Saveur the Journey is about sharing the wonderful experiences I have had in France, Switzerland, Sweden and the US. My unique perspective and position allows me to introduce others to an experience that differs from other tourist companies.

A peek into Saunas

Author’s note:  Amanda and I are no longer in Sweden but I still have a bunch of content that I need to post from our time there.

Swedes are known for many things such as IKEA, Swedish pancakes, Swedish meatballs, Swedish massages, Volvos, still having a king and queen, and saunas (bastu in Swedish). The sauna is a great way to restore a normal body temperature to your frozen body by subjecting it to temperatures approaching 200°F (which sounds way more impressive than 95°C). After a cold day (-35°F for example) a sauna is just the right place to warm up. Tommy, one of Saltoluokta’s chefs, says that people are like clams in the sauna, opening up in the heat and sharing deeply with strangers and friends alike. Indeed the hot dry air, dim lighting, and the hiss of water evaporating on hot stones is a perfect place to talk, tell stories, listen and sweat. Lucky for me, Saltoluokta had a sauna, well actually 4 saunas: a wood burning sauna, a staff sauna, and two saunas for the guests, both male and female.

A simple sauna far from civilization with a smoked trout looking on. Photo by Cate and Logan Mitchell.

A simple sauna far from civilization with a smoked trout looking on. Photo by Cate and Logan Mitchell.

Prior to Sweden, my sauna experience was limited to the saunas that can occasionally be found at swimming pools. I find that Americans generally prefer hot tubs or Jacuzzis. However, I believe saunas have several important advantages over Jacuzzis. Firstly one can spend a long time in the sauna without suffering from the classic hot tub ailments: pruning syndrome and nauseating overheating. As long as you cool yourself off occasionally from the sauna, the body seems to be able to spend a whole day in the there, even when drinking beer.

Secondly, you can cool yourself off in a sauna, which I figured out myself. Swedes have been sitting around in saunas forever (in a historical context), but they can still learn a few things from dimwitted Americans like myself. At a sauna party, I went outside and mined a chunk of snow the size of an English Springer Spaniel which I carried into the sauna. As I passed people outside the sauna they looked at me quizzically.

“What are you going to do with that they asked?” (in Swedish).

“I am going to…give it…hugs?” I replied in hesitant Swedish with confidence.

It was an instant hit, and we even broke off small bits of snow that we put on our heads for a peppermint-patty refreshing feeling. The snow hugs were great, and throwing bits of snow at the ceiling was also a favorite activity.

Wood burning stove with hot water jacket and requisite rocks. Photo by Cate and Logan Mitchell.

Wood burning stove with hot water jacket and requisite rocks. Photo by Cate and Logan Mitchell.

There are a few general rules that one should respect when sauna-ing: the people who sit on the top level (where it is the hottest because of gravity I think) are the ones who are allowed to throw scoopfuls of water on the hot rocks to create the steam which makes the sauna feel much hotter. If you are not on the top, then you don’t add water or you may end up cooking the people on top (who are generally languishing in a heat-induced stupor). Sometimes people pour a little beer on the hot rocks, which makes the sauna smell like the combination of a gym locker and a fraternity but with nice caramelized roasted barley aromas. Apparently pouring vodka on the hot rocks causes a two stage process that begins with the pourer losing his or her eyebrows and then the rest of the people becoming almost instantly but fleetingly drunk. I have not had the opportunity to experience this yet, but I am not looking forward to it.

Looking into the sauna from the changing room. Photo by Cate and Logan Mitchell.

Looking into the sauna from the changing room. Photo by Cate and Logan Mitchell.

Swedes have a different view on nudity than Americans, so “mixed” saunas happen regularly. Everyone keeps their eyes mostly to themselves and there are generally no problems. Not wearing clothes mean that running outside to roll in the snow or jump in a lake is an easy maneuver. My favorite sauna tip for the winter is to put your snow boots on before you go out. Bare feet on ice and snow makes for quick re-entry, but if your feet are warm, you can enjoy the night air for many minutes before the freezing temperatures drive you back in to the hot wood sauna.

A rather good view from this remote sauna. Photo by Cate and Logan Mitchell.

A rather good view from this remote sauna. Photo by Cate and Logan Mitchell.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned about saunas is that they are not just for cold days. Swedes use saunas year round, both as relaxing experience but also as a type of outdoor shower. In the north of Sweden many people have rustic cabins up in the remote mountains that have no running water. Almost all of these remote cabins have a sauna somewhere (often one sauna for several cabins). These saunas are simple wood structures with a wood burning stove that has a water jacket around it and rocks piled on top. As the sauna heats the room, it also heats the water which can be tempered with cold water and used to take a hot bucket shower right inside the sauna room. The floor has spaces that allow the water to drain out, so even at very cold temperatures one can take a hot shower in a hot room. Some saunas are fancy affairs with planed cedar planks, wooden buckets and ladles, glass doors and picture windows. Other saunas are extremely basic with sap oozing pine boards, plastic buckets, and an old wood stove. No matter what the circumstances, I enjoyed every sauna I had the pleasure of sitting in. (and now I hope I’ve inspired a few state-side friends to build their own saunas. I’m happy to offer my consulting services).

Life with Green/Soderbergs

When I married Amanda we received many beautiful and functional gifts from our friends and family. Many of these gifts will hopefully last for years and potentially generations. I in particular was given a wonderful gift, one that was slightly less tangible: front row seats to the circus that is Amanda’s family, the Green/Soderbergs. This gift allows me to enjoy almost limitless and constant entertainment from their biological knowledge (or lack thereof), facility with dubious statistics, and trash talking despite actual results. To add the icing to the cake I also received a fellow spectator and comedian in the form of Bjorn Soderberg, Amanda’s Swedish stepdad.

Over the years I have experienced some excellent and ridiculous discussions. Now these comic displays are what I have come to expect from any family gathering, and they rarely disappoint. During any normal day with the Green/Soderberg family, many discussion-arguments break out where some point is loudly defended or attacked, usually with a key piece of information being omitted or with a key “fact” having no basis in reality. One such example is a heated argument between Amanda and her brother Nick about removing road kill from the road. The argument hinged on the need to prevent squirrels from feeding on the carrion being hit by cars – squirrels are not normally known as carrion eaters but this fact did not hinder them.

From left to right: Nick, Bjorn, Aaron, Erik, Sarah, Ann

Everyone has their signature move: (from left to right) Nick with his Egyptian walk, Bjorn deflates, Aaron as twinkle toes, Erik with Icy Ram stare, Sarah as the Sound of Music, and Ann running for office.

Biology in general seems hard to grasp for the Green/Soderberg clan and the examples are so numerous as to escape counting. Some personal favorites are this gem from a trivia game: “The penguin, puffin, and pelican are all birds but they are all also what?” Nick’s confident and immediate response was “mammals!” The correct answer is publishing companies. I remember some discussion from Amanda’s other brother Erik regarding chickens and that they qualified as mammals as well on the basis that they lay eggs.

More recently, Amanda’s dad misread a sign in a museum on Sami culture. He amazedly exclaimed, “Did you know the Sami people used to milk wolves, varg?!” Though an interesting idea, the sign actually said that they milked female reindeer, vaja. Admittedly, the two words in Swedish contain some of the same letters. The vegetable kingdom also presents itself as a bit of mystery, Nick again sharing the amazing new fact that pickles come from cucumbers. This occurred despite the fact that Amanda’s mom and Bjorn make pickles (from cucumbers) nearly every year.

Following the biology line we also encounter problems with grammar. Perhaps my favorite moment was when Nick was telling a story about eating at a restaurant only to have “two mouse run across the floor.” Erik scoffed and with a grin asked, “Don’t you mean two mice?” Nick’s totally original and bizarre answer was: “No. They weren’t touching,” delivered with an indignant matter-of-factness that effectively created a new grammatical structure in English. Though he left us all slightly stunned, he also gave us material for years: “Look two person! Oh wait, now they are holding hands: two people.”

Sandy and Hal

A lot of funny things come out of Hal’s mouth, sometimes Sandy is able to stuff them back in.

Amanda’s mom, Ann, seems to have had more rigorous academic upbringing as her basic biology and grammar skills are quite good, despite being born in Sweden (I guess Carl Von Linnaeus was alright). However, she still contributes heavily on the humor side of things with an unwillingness to learn actual names and instead create her own. Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort becomes Mount Meadows, Government Camp becomes Camp Government or Federal Camp, Bi-Mart became Bi-more, Bi-rite, and Shop-mart. My favorite happened on our trip up to the Swedish mountains where the menu said we would be dining on “Arctic ptarmigan” soup. Later when someone asked what we would be eating for dinner, Ann replied “the first course is that curmudgeon soup stuff.”

My father’s side of the family places a lot of emphasis on speaking correctly, perhaps it is a Jewish thing. Being able to wield words and weave sentences are required basic skills, and the incorrect word or poorly crafted story does not go unnoticed. The contrast between an evening with Amanda’s family and my own is significant and humorous. Though some members of my side of the family surely spew forth some dubious facts and assertions, the atmosphere at a Green/Soderberg gathering is more akin to a firing range containing those 100 monkeys that are pounding away on typewriters trying to write Shakespeare. It is a hectic scene and sometimes between Bjorn and I we still can’t keep track of a particular argument or even who is arguing what point. Thankfully, those in the Green/Soderberg clan do not hold grudges, so topics change quickly and disagreements are easily forgotten.

(I’m hoping that they also won’t hold a grudge (particularly Nick) after they’ve read through this post!)

Addendum: I realize that Amanda seems to have escaped a good deal of mocking, perhaps owing more to her proximity (slapping range) than a lack of material. Amanda often encounters difficulties with containing liquids. Recently she brought a thermos of coffee along on a day hike only to have it mysteriously spill everywhere. The problem was she had neglected to close the thermos using the screw-on cap, and had assumed instead that the small cup that sits on top of thermos would be sufficient to contain the wily coffee. Last week I wasn’t feeling well and Amanda served us some reindeer soup I had prepared. She did fine with her serving but mine was in a plate instead of bowl. She hadn’t even noticed.

The Better Butter Wars

After living in France, Amanda and I were converted to the French method of butter management. French butter comes in 250 g (roughly 1/2 pound) blocks and is almost never salted (except in the Normandy area). European butter contains less water than American butter, and its higher fat content makes it especially creamy. The French take advantage of their butter’s creamy consistency and spread it by simply scraping a knife at a 90° angle to shave off curls of the firm, cold butter and then firmly spreading it on bread, croissants, or brioche (but only in the morning).

Hold the knife perpendicular to the butter slab and scrape off thin curls of cold butter.

Hold the knife perpendicular to the butter slab and scrape off thin curls of cold butter.

When the butter has softened slightly it can also be sliced into thin slabs by holding knife horizontally. When we returned to the US, we sought out and bought European style butters made by Organic Valley or Pulgra. Once you have experienced the European style creamy butter it is hard to spread anything else on your bread. These butters came in similarly sized blocks and worked well for the French butter technique.

Lay the knife parallel to the butter and slice off a thin piece. Amanda is practicing to be a world famous hand model....

Lay the knife parallel to the butter and slice off a thin piece. Amanda is practicing to be a world famous hand model….

Americans approach butter a bit differently. Our small 113 g (1/4 pound) sticks are not so easy to scrape, so they are approached from the ends where a butter knife can be used to slice off relatively thin chunks. But these chunks don’t spread very well due to their relative thickness, lower fat content, and size. A common solution to this problem is to imprison a single stick of butter in a butter dish which is left out at room temperature. The butter becomes soft and can easily be slathered on the recipient of choice.

American style butter slicing and spreading for cold butter. We fabricated an American sized stick of butter using a laser cutter and a drill press.

American style butter slicing and spreading for cold butter. We fabricated an American sized stick of butter using a laser cutter and a drill press.

This is not a bad technique but in my mind has several drawbacks. Firstly, the soft butter is so easy to spread that one often ends up using more than one intends; which is not necessarily a bad thing! Secondly, I prefer the taste and consistency of cold butter over room temperature butter.

If you don’t believe me then try this simple experiment: take two slices of good fresh bread and toast one of them. Thinly spread cold butter on both of them and then slather with a nice honey. The toast will melt the butter and the honey will sit on top. The untoasted bread will keep the butter cold with honey on top. Now eat them both and see which one you prefer. For me the clear winner is the untoasted bread with the cold butter and honey. Perhaps the sensation of eating cold butter triggers our bodies’ ancient systems to let it know that we are getting closer to God—I mean—eating important calories and fat that will help us through a cold winter or a fight with a kangaroo.

Swedes have a completely different approach to the age old butter spreading dilemma. The Swedes should probably be trusted on this matter for they are large consumers of butter, making the French seem like health nuts at times. While the French only butter their bread in the morning, the Swedes butter any bread they come across, no matter the time of day or intended purpose. Almost all Swedish sandwiches have butter on them, and sometimes the layer of butter can be mistaken for a thick slice of cheese.

Swedish 82% low moisture salted butter (it comes in salted and extra-salted). The 500g blocks are awesome and they have a cow right on them.

Swedish 82% low moisture salted butter (it comes in salted and extra-salted). The 500g blocks are awesome and they have a cow right on them.

The Swedish butter is also the higher fat European style (though in a super sized 500 g format), but the Swedes also demand something that spreads more easily. The Swedish solution is to mix their butter with a small amount of oil (often canola) to decrease its viscosity and expedite the spreading process. These butter/oil mixes are sold in tubs and labeled as Bregott. Virtually every Swede I have met uses Bregott.

Bregott: butter mixed with a small amound of canola oil to make spreading easier. It also has a cow on it, but it is merely a drawing...

Bregott: butter mixed with a small amound of canola oil to make spreading easier. It also has a cow on it, but it is merely a drawing…

The softness of Bregott allowed for a new type of spreading implement to be born: the wooden butter knife. These knives look like the result of a union between a butter knife and miniature canoe paddle. One can imagine that their shape has evolved alongside the Bregott and its container. The wide blade, ideal for spreading, and the pointed tip to retrieve Bregott from the corners of its plastic home, makes the wooden butter a knife a fixture in every Swedish home.

On the left, the typical butter knife. On the right, the Swedish butter knife.

On the left, the typical butter knife. On the right, a very old, classic Swedish butter knife.

Amanda recently made the astute observation that people approach new or foreign butters with their homegrown techniques. More than once our American friends compromised our European style block of butter by slicing it from the ends, a forgivable offense. Recently I had the opportunity to spend a few days in a cabin with my coworkers from Saltoluokta. They became agitated when they realized no Bregott had been packed. Instead they faced a 1 kg block of long, creamy butter. Amanda’s observation rang true, the Swedes attacked the butter with their techniques and tools (the wooden butter knives) adapted to the soft, spreadable, Bregott.

It was a gruesome sight, the dull knives had been plunged into the heart of the butter block where they tried, ineffectively, to scoop out the butter. Of course this was no adulterated Bregott, smooth and creamy with oil, it was regal and firm pure butter. The wounds were spread out, each new prospective butterer seeking a new, hopefully, soft spot. At the end of the buttering session, the proud block looked as it if had been gnawed on by a finicky beaver, who had left random ragged holes, divets, and gouges, as well as several wooden knives protruding from the subdued butter like battle weapons.

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the real Swedes vs butter battle so instead we staged pg 13 version at home. Butter rights activists out there will be happy to know that we reshaped the butter afterwards back to its original shape.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the real Swedes vs butter battle so instead we staged pg 13 version at home. Butter rights activists out there will be happy to know that we reshaped the butter afterwards back to its original shape.

On a recent trip to Switzerland we observed restaurants and hotels serving butter in single serving foil-topped plastic packs sitting in a bowl of ice. In Switzerland one almost never finds ice in drinks, and yet cold butter is important enough to warrant ice.

Will the world ever decide on one type of butter, presented in one way, like some sort of Esperanza universal butter language? I certainly hope not, as eating butter in new ways is exciting, amusing, and always delicious. It is said that “variety is the spice of life,” but I might also add “butter makes the world go round.”

, ,

Fishing and Eating Fish: The Classic Swedish Summer

In addition to skis, the other piece of sporting equipment that I brought to Sweden was my lovingly cared for, Swedish made, ultra-light fishing rod and reel, purchased twenty years ago. I knew northern Sweden would have good fishing with arctic char, various species of trout, perch, pike, grayling and whitefish inhabiting the many streams and clear lakes. With temperatures occasionally in the mid 70s and all the daylight you could ask for, fishing seemed like a good way to start the summer.

Summer above the Arctic Circle.  Non-stop daylight, occasionally warm weather, and tons of fish makes for good fishing.

Summer above the Arctic Circle. Non-stop daylight, occasionally warm weather, and tons of fish on the lake at Kutjaure in Padjalenta make great fishing for myself, Gabe, and Logan. Photo by Cate Dolan.

Following a tip from my old boss OT Utsi, Amanda and I drove about 20 miles north to a place where the roaring Muddus River empties into the much larger, dam-controlled and placid Lule River. OT said it was a good place to catch gädda (Northern Pike), which are ferocious fish with hundreds of teeth, a long body, and an aggressive attitude. Northern Pike can be found in many northern states in the US, and they have a firm white flesh and lots of bones. We discovered that gädda are not a much appreciated fish for the table in Sweden. Years ago people ate them, but now they are often fed to dogs or thrown back.

Erik Green holding a small gadda (Northern Pike).

Amanda’s brother Erik displays his first gädda (Northern Pike). Photo by Nick Green.

A few friends joined us at the fishing spot, as well as a group of 3 middle-aged men and two boys who had established a decent sized camp, complete with circus tent and motorboat. We began fishing immediately, and only a few minutes later our friend Mattias hooked and landed a thrashing 7 lb gädda. To remove the hook requires needle-nose pliers, lest one sacrifice a couple of fingers to the toothy beast. I rushed over to see what was happening. Mattias, slightly disgusted by the fish, was keen to get rid of it as quickly as possible, but I asked if I could keep it to make the famous French dish “quenelles de brochet” translated to the less illustrious sounding “pike-balls” in English. Both the other fishermen and Mattias looked at me a skeptically, confused as to why I would want such a fish.

One thing I will say about Amanda is that she learns quickly. Her first cast, after a few years out of practice, didn’t even go towards the water and actually required a little bouldering to get the lure back. Ten minutes later she was reeling in a beautiful perch, colored like a parrot (if parrots lived in kind of murky water). Perch are much appreciated for their taste and excellent texture.

Amanda catches dinner, despite first fishing on land and also a reluctance to touch fish.

Amanda catches dinner, despite first fishing on land and also a reluctance to touch fish.  I am clearly shocked from the whole incident. Photo by Nick Green.

We made a fire and roasted sausages on sticks, cooked eggplant and spring onions in the coals, and drank a refreshing beer. Later I hooked a perch and another large pike which I almost landed but it freed itself from becoming the inevitable “quenelle” right at the last moment. My arm ached carrying back our catch.

Back home I filleted the two perch and started in on the tricky and large gädda. I watched a French YouTube video about how to remove all the bones, which helped considerably. Later I found a Swedish video which is much funnier, even if you can’t understand anything he says (watch it here). After a good bit of work I finally had two large completely boneless filets, ready to be made into delicious quenelles de brochet.

That evening we dined on the exquisite perch filets. We ate them as they are traditionally prepared in France “filets de perche meuniere” simply lightly dusted in flour and then fried in butter and served with a little parsley, lemon, and new potatoes. For contrast I also cooked a piece of the gädda using the same preparation. The gädda was good, slightly crispy and browned with very white mild tasting flesh. The perch was superb, a firm texture, delicate flavor, and clean taste: the clear winner.

Filets de Perche meuniere with yet another dinner table appearence from the venerable swedish potato.

Filets de perche meuniere with yet another dinner table appearance from the venerable Swedish potato. Photo by Aaron.

Recipe for Filets de Perche Meuniere

4 servings
1.5lbs perch filets
Salt and pepper
Flour for dusting
4 T butter
Parsley, chopped
Lemon wedges

Season perch filets with salt and pepper. Place flour in shallow bowl and dredge filets, lighly covering with flour and shaking off excess. Heat large heavy bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Add 2T butter and when it foams add filets in one layer. Cook about 3-5 minutes until nicely browned on bottom, flip and cook 3 minutes more until browned on both sides, adding remaining butter in chunks. Serve with a sprinkling of parsley and a wedge of lemon with potatoes or rice.

The French dish “quenelles de brochet” comes from the Lyon region where the brochet (gädda, northern pike) are plentiful. Small pike can be grilled, roasted, pan fried, or poached whole and served with a beurre blanc or in white wine. Some people find this fish to have a silty taste, not unlike dirt, though apparently this is more common with very big fish (10 pounds and up) in warm muddy ponds. In any event the French created these dumplings (quenelles) hundreds of years ago by combining finely ground pike with flour, milk, butter, nutmeg, and fresh eggs. The dumplings are carefully poached and then finished in the oven, often served with a sauce nantua, made from crayfish.

Quenelles de Brochet with a safran/tomato bechamel.  They are light and airy yet solid and filling at the same time.  Must be all the eggs and butter!

Quenelles de Brochet with a saffron/tomato bechamel. They are light and airy yet solid and filling at the same time. Must be all the eggs and butter!

Translation of the recipe I used for Quenelles de Brochet

Makes 12 large quenelles
125g butter
200g All purpose flour
1 cup milk
Fresh grating of nutmeg (about 1/4tsp)

4 fresh eggs
200g finely ground (meat grinder with smallest die, or pulsed in food processor) boneless pike (or othe firm textured, affordable, white fish)

Heat the milk and 25g of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Grate about ¼tsp fresh nutmeg into the mixture. When the butter has melted add the flour and stir well to avoid lumps. Continue cooking over low heat until the dough has thickened, dried a bit, and is not sticking to the sides of the pan. Let cool several hours or overnight.

Using a mixer or food processor, combine the cooled dough with 100g softened butter, the eggs, and then the ground pike. Season with salt and pepper. The mixture should be very fine with no lumps. Let rest and cool at least 2 hours or overnight.

Boil a large stockpot full of salted water. Make quenelles (spoon shaped dumplings) by using two large spoons. Use one spoon to scoop the pike mixture and then transfer it to the other spoon using a scraping motion. Continue doing this until you have a smooth dumpling with three sides. Slip the dumping carefully into the boiling water and continue with this process until all the dumplings are poaching. Poach for 12-15 minutes. The dumplings will puff up and float.

Scoop out the dumplings with a slotted spoon, drain them and space them out in a baking dish. Cover with a sauce (a béchamel made with crayfish is common (sauce nantua), but onions, tomatoes, and white wine would also be delicious). Put the baking dish in a preheated 375F degree oven for about 10 minutes. The dumplings will puff even more and then should be eaten immediately before they deflate!

You can find the original recipe I used along with a bit more history about the Quenelles de Brochet here.

Fishing in the mountains can yield some suprisingly large brown trout if you know where to fish!

Fishing in the mountains can yield some surprisingly large brown trout if you know where to fish! Photo by Cate Dolan.

Gabe's big wild brown trout served all 5 of us.  Nothing like lake to spork eating!

Gabe’s big wild brown trout served all 5 of us. Nothing like lake to spork eating! Photo by Cate Dolan.


No thanks. I’m a wildfoodatarian.

I have worked in kitchens long enough to have experienced many different diets: vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, raw food, gluten-, dairy-, nightshade-, salt-, nut-, and shellfish-free. While working at Saltoluokta Fjällstation, I experienced a new eating preference: vilt (wild). These are vegetarians who will eat wild fish and meats. I have never run across one of these in the US, though I have met several people who are vegetarians but will eat animals that were raised sustainably.

Wait, what can't they eat?

Wait, what can’t they eat?

To be a wildfoodatarian in the US would hardly be worth explaining. Unless you or someone you know hunts wild game, you will have trouble acquiring wild game. So what about that buffalo burger, or fried crocodile, pheasant breast, or elk steak you ate on that one vacation? They probably all came from farms. Laws in the US prohibit hunted meats from being served in restaurants, as the animal must be inspected prior to slaughter. Wild fish is still fair game (no pun intended). The laws, put in place in the 19th and 20th centuries, worked as a preventative measure to protect wild animal populations, which had been severely depleted by commercial hunting (read more here).

Spelt galette topped with caviar, red onion, whipped creme fraiche, dill and lemon.

Spelt galette topped with caviar, red onion, whipped creme fraiche, dill and lemon.

Today it appears that the only way to get real wild meats is to go to the local Food Bank during hunting season. For example, in West Virginia, hunters can donate their deer to local meat processors who will butcher everything and donate it to the Mountaineer Food Bank. It’s an excellent program, but it raises awkward questions: why is uninspected meat okay for the poor? Could hunters earn income from sales of hunted deer – an income that could perhaps help economically depressed regions?

Warm smoked Sik (whitefish) were succulent and delicious.

Warm smoked Sik (whitefish) were succulent and delicious.

Sweden has different laws concerning wild meats, and one regularly sees moose, wild boar, and many types of game birds on menus. Wild game is served in other European countries, as well. All these countries simply require the game to be inspected and processed in a certified facility, post-hunt. Reindeer occupy their own category – as semi-domesticated animals that must be slaughtered in a certified facility – a complicated system Amanda is still trying to understand for her research.

Strangely, the wildfoodatarians I encountered didn’t require much menu modification due to Saltoluokta’s game-based menu. All of our proteins for the main courses were wild foods: moose, reindeer, smoked whitefish, trout, and arctic char. Occasionally we used a bit of pork belly, but who wouldn’t? Even our lunch menu used ground reindeer and moose meat for things like lasagna or pasta bolognaise.

Roding (arctic char) roasted over a wood fire.
Röding (arctic char) roasted over a wood fire.

It was a great experience to work with all these wild foods. Reindeer innalår (tender top round) marinated, grilled, and then finished at high heat in the oven was supremely delicious, crusty and slightly charred on the outside, tender and deep pink on the inside. Moose innalår received the same treatment but the meat is lighter in color and milder in taste while still remaining distinctly wild tasting.

Slicing reindeer innalår that has been grilled and then finished at high heat in the oven.

Slicing reindeer innalår that has been grilled and then finished at high heat in the oven.

The fresh caught and smoked sik (whitefish) from the lake were moist and succulent—excellent served with a sour cream caviar sauce and boiled potatoes. Röding (arctic char) and öring (brown trout) were often served whole, after roasting in a bath of white wine, butter, and a showering of almonds. Lax (salmon) is not easily found in Sweden, but it is abundant in nearby Norway. We wrapped exotic asparagus in thin slices of cold-smoked Norwegian salmon and served them up with a chive hollandaise.

JokkmokkSpring2014 187

Asparagus spears wrapped in cold-smoked Norwegian salmon with chive hollandaise.

Northern Sweden becomes a blanket of wild berries during the summer: lingon, blue, cloud, and crow berries found their ways into the menu from accompanying souvas (salted and smoked reindeer meat) to cloudberries sitting below mascarpone cream in a tiramisu. Havtorn (Sea buckthorn) is known as the tropical fruit of the north. It is quite acidic but when sweetened can taste similar to sour orange with hints of mango or pineapple. We used it as a coulis to drizzle on desserts or add a bright taste and color to appetizers.

Havtorn (seabuckthorn) berries add a wonderful taste to sill (pickeled herring),

Havtorn (seabuckthorn) berries add a wonderful taste to sill (pickeled herring),

While mushrooms are abundant here, there is not much of a mushroom eating culture. Still we served a mushroom soup which contained a mix of wild mushrooms in addition to button mushrooms. A morel mushrooms cream sauce made an appearance alongside the roasted moose, and pickled chanterelles livened up a few appetizers.

Cloudberries waiting for their marscapone-cream topping.

Cloudberries waiting for their marscapone-cream topping.

Avant-garde Swedish cuisine is becoming popular for using wild ingredients such as birch leaves, lichen, sea buckthorn, pine tips, bark, reindeer hearts and tongues, and many other wild foods. Ironically, in the US, it appears one might only be able to approach this experience by going to a soup kitchen in West Virginia or DC where a local hunter has graciously donated his or her deer or the National Park Service is culling the deer population.

Low temperature arctic char with

Kristoffer Åström’s low temperature arctic char with smoked carrot sauce, white wine braised cabbage, burnt butter and herbs at Cafe Gasskas in Jokkmokk.

Recently, Amanda and I joined Eva Gunnare from Essence of Lapland for an impromptu wild edibles class where we made a delicious meadowsweet saft, ate birch leaf crackers, and checked out wild salad greens. Stay tuned for a description of that meeting.

One Weird Winter: Experiencing Climate Change in Jokkmokk

Guest Blog and Photos by Amanda

At the end of December, I sat in a kitchen above the Arctic Circle with an outdoor temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit while the entire east coast of the United States experienced near or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The men Aaron worked for (primarily reindeer herders) exclaimed in amazement: it is colder in New York City than it is here! This comparison meant a lot for their understanding of the world. Aaron and I added a piece that hit home for us: it is colder in citrus-growing Florida than it is in polar Jokkmokk.


JokkmokkWinter2014 095

Ice lanterns decorate the streets of Jokkmokk during the coldest days.

Along the Norrbotten coast, the month of March was warmer than any other March on record, between 3 to 6 degrees warmer. The ice on Storsjön in Ostersund melted earlier than ever before on record, while ice along the northern archipelago was rare and weak.

One interpretation of this data is that climate change will make the climate of northern Sweden milder as temperatures rise more quickly in the Arctic than other parts of the world. These predictions are all based on models, so don’t hold me to this statement.

JokkmokkWinter2014Mom 765

Aaron skates along the isleden in Luleå, an important winter activity in Sweden.

At first glance, this result sounds fantastic. However, we’ve seen how a milder climate negatively impacts those people who rely on snow and ice for their livelihoods.

In December, stress set in for reindeer herders. Warm temperatures and heavy, wet Oregon-like snow combined to create a thick layer of snow/ice. Reindeer have difficulty breaking through this cover to reach critical winter feed hidden under the snow. They prefer Utah’s champagne powder. So, some of the herders began feeding their reindeer. Temperatures dropped in January.

JokkmokkWinterMarket2013 123

Reindeer are enclosed in winter corrals where owners can be sure they are fed.

But then another thaw occurred followed by a freeze, and another thaw, and another, while snow continued to fall creating layers and layers of impenetrable snow-concrete. Most herders gathered their reindeer in corrals because starving reindeer scatter far and wide in search of food. There, the reindeer were fed combinations of pelleted food, hay, and if they were lucky, tree lichens (the traditional emergency ration that has disappeared because of logging and slow regrowth).

JokkmokkWinterMarket2014 027

Who knew lichens could be so delicious. This tamed reindeer handles tourists as long as there are lichen treats.

When reindeer are kept under these conditions (un-natural feed), their meat loses some of those good qualities they are so praised for: omega-3 fatty acids, low cholesterol, and high vitamin and mineral contents. Those qualities do return quickly once they are released onto natural pasture. But the idea of the semi-wild reindeer also gets lost, buried under months of feed, and it becomes harder to distinguish the uniqueness of herding from ranching.

JokkmokkWinter2014 149

Pelleted food are delivered by the ton to herders throughout the region.

The cost of feeding reindeer is also impeding. Herders receive some help from the Swedish Sami Parliament, which receives funding from the Swedish government and the EU. Think of these as disaster relief funds.

JokkmokkWinter2014 167

Cute reindeer calf sneaks a bite of freshly delivered food.

One group of herders in our region moves their 1000 reindeer to the coastal archipelago annually. The herders save money by keeping the reindeer on natural feed, more easily accessed since there is less snow at the coast. The reindeer cross to the islands on the ice. Yet this year, the ice melted, and an epic drama began. How would these reindeer get back to the main land without ice to cross on?

The newspaper covered the unfolding catastrophe nearly every day: had it been cold enough to freeze? Were the reindeer able to make it over? At the end of March, temperatures dropped below freezing and ice formed. The first day the reindeer didn’t dare cross – the ice was like a slippery mirror and the reindeer couldn’t stand and couldn’t tell if it was open water or firm ground. Snow fell overnight, and the reindeer were escorted across 50 at a time to ensure they weren’t too heavy on the thin ice.

JokkmokkWinter2014 024

Reindeer circulate in a large corral before being moved.

Then began the modern migration. Large trucks transported them west, through Jokkmokk (where I watched load after load pass through main street from my window), and to Ritsem, just west of Saltoluokta where Aaron was working.


Good thing the reindeer continue to graze. Research shows that reindeer grazing can impede global warming by creating a shrubless landscape that reflects light as snow does (the albedo effect). Thus herbivores (and their human caretakers) can play a pivotal role in maintaining the tundra, which may in turn help the rest of us (

JokkmokkSpring2014 125

We spied reindeer already grazing on these melted patches in the fjäll.

Everyone talks about climate change here. At the national and regional levels, Sweden has put in place Risk and Vulnerability Plans to respond to possible impacts. At a recent conference, a researcher adeptly pointed out that northern Sweden may experience benign impacts from climate change. In fact, she asked, are the rural municipalities actually preparing for an influx of people, from the Netherlands for example, whose lands will be flooded?

JokkmokkSpring2014 058

Spring arrives along the Lule River. Swans, ducks, and loons arrive immediately as the ice opens.

Clearly the US government must also plan in order to protect its citizens because the shifts in weather we have recently witnessed have been anything but benign. Aaron and I have watched international coverage of failed US state and regional governments’ responses to extreme weather this winter. We sit snugly in Jokkmokk, watching its temperatures rise and one of its main industries suffer.


Tools and Toys in the North: Part 1: Snowmobiles

Snowmobiles are the workhorses of the north. Almost everyone seems to own a snowmobile or two. Some are old, battered and wheezy, while others are shiny new and extremely powerful. Many people use snowmobiles as a tool, to move supplies or people, herd reindeer, check on livestock, etc. Snowmobiles are perhaps even more often used as a toy, a way to get out and cruise around at high speed in the woods.

A snowmobile (called a snowscooter in Swedish) is an extremely useful tool.  Here the snowmobile is being used to bring food to the reindeer during this particularly hard winter.

A snowmobile (called a snowscooter in Swedish) is an extremely useful tool. Here the snowmobile is being used to bring food to Johan’s reindeer during the particularly hard winter.

I have seen people riding with dogs sitting regally behind the driver. I have seen snowmobiles pulling long sleds with a half a dozen people and gear, and I have seen hundreds of pounds of long lumber being pulled on a sled. Some diehard users will drive them on bare ground as well.

A skilled driver can take a snowmobile almost anywhere. Many times I have scaled steep and difficult ascents on skis only to shake my head in disbelief at seeing snowmobile tracks from a reindeer herder at the top.

Snow?  Who needs snow to drive a snowmobile?

Snow? Who needs snow to drive a snowmobile?

Our friend Sofia grew up driving snowmobiles and to watch her drive is very impressive. She is about 5’4 with a slender athletic build. On flat even ground she sits on the seat and opens the throttle so we speed along smartly. On variable terrain is where she comes alive, standing and leaning this way and that; deftly convincing the roaring machine to remain upright. Sometimes she will swing one leg over the seat so she is standing with both feet on one side and then aggressively lean outward like she is sailing. All of these movements are fluid and easy, giving the impression that she is dancing with the snowmobile.

Last week I rode with Sofia and our coworker Elin to some cabins located about 10 km across a large frozen lake. The hydropower dams cause water fluctuations which force the lake to heave up miniature mountains of ice, especially where there are rocks that protrude from the water. These small ice mountains can be 30 or 40 feet tall and give the impression that one is walking on a landscape from a far off planet.

Snowmobile with a few sleds behind used to transport us closer to good skiing.

Snowmobile with a few sleds behind used to transport us closer to good skiing.

Traversing the lake requires negotiating these ice heaves. The marked trail dips and climbs steeply and large cracks in the ice loom very close by. I would be nervous to walk on this terrain, let alone drive a snowmobile pulling a sled with two other people and a dog. Sofia charged forward prudently but with confidence, gunning the snowmobile as we approached uphills in order to maintain enough speed, and leaning aggressively to keep us upright.

Several times we came to pools of water that had collected on top of the ice. These are places that are easy to get stuck as the water mixes with the snow to form something akin to concrete. I was riding in the sled with my back facing forward, so I could not see what was ahead. Suddenly I would feel us accelerate, a crescendo rising from the two stroke engine, and then we would plunge into the water, droplets showering over me. Sofia maintained enough speed to keep us from getting stuck, and we were all thankful for her driving skills.

Camera's can't capture how fast Amanda was driving this snowmobile, hence the blurry picture.  More food for the reindeer.

A camera can’t capture how fast Amanda was driving this snowmobile, hence the blurry picture. More food for Johan’s reindeer in the snow pasture.

Sofia’s skill were not developed overnight; she began driving snowmobiles at a very young age, perhaps before most kids learn to ride a bicycle. I watched a 6 year old driving a snowmobile with his dad sitting behind him. The young boy turned the snowmobile around and drove by us, casually waving before speeding off across a frozen lake and climbing a series of small but steep hills.

Saltoluokta Fjällstation relies on snowmobiles during the winter to transport guests and their baggage along the 4 km isleden (ice road) across Lake Langas. The isleden is marked by orange poles drilled into the ice and one must be careful to follow it closely, as weak ice can be found on either side.

One of Saltoluokta's snowmobiles waiting at the ready.

One of Saltoluokta’s snowmobiles waiting at the ready.

Warm temperatures and long sunny days have finally weakened the isleden enough to make it unsafe. We took one of the last snowmobile transports across at the end of April. I noticed Jore, our driver, wearing a set of ice claws around his neck, a security device you can use to pull yourself out of the water in the event you fall through. We crossed the thin ice at high speed, and the water that had accumulated on top of the ice splashed over us as we rode behind in the transport sled. The next day the isleden was closed and a new transportation method was put into place: the helicopter. More on that soon!



What the Upski?

“What the heck is Upski?”  I asked.

“It comes from your country,” responded Johan quizzically. “I think it started in Colorado and has been around for almost 30 years.”

Upski is a method used to ascend snow-covered mountains via parachute and wind.  It differs from randonée skiing in that it’s easier. It differs from kite skiing in that it is less dangerous.  Upskiing uses a harness attached to a parachute, or canopy (the preferred nomenclature) that can be completely depowered by releasing a Velcro tab that allows the wind to flow through it via an adjustable hole in the middle.  This advantageous feature hopefully helps the user avoid crashing into rocks, plummeting off cliffs, or having to cut the lines.

Catching wind with an Upski can sometimes feel like hooking a big fish!

Catching wind with an Upski can sometimes feel like hooking a big fish!

Saltoluokta is apparently an ideal place to Upski owing to the plethora of treeless, snow-covered mountains and almost constant supply of wind.  While many backcountry skiers will wax poetic about their love of skinning up mountains, most are probably lying, and too broke to afford a lift ticket. I count myself in that proverbial boat.  Skinning up is a good workout and peaceful and blah blah blah. The downhill is what puts the ear-to-ear grin on our faces and the spring in our step.  So Upskiing seems like a sweet deal; let the wind pull you up the mountain, then stow your lightweight nylon canopy in your backpack and ski back down to the bottom to do it all over again.

I had the opportunity to try Upskiing with a small group of beginners led by a Swedish mountain guide and two American Upski ambassadors, imported to introduce people to this newish sport.  In the morning, we packed our canopies and headed up the mountain holding on to a tow rope attached to the snowmobile like a ski train.

Here we come!  A momentary lack of wind causes the canopy to bounce off the ground like a helium balloon on its last legs.

Here we come! A momentary lack of wind causes the canopy to bounce off the ground like a helium balloon on its last legs.

The day started off as one of the most windless we had felt in weeks, making for perfect learning conditions that piqued our desire for more speed.  During most of the first hour we traveled slightly slower than the speed of a walking penguin. There are of course no penguins here; you are thinking of the South Pole which is spelled and pronounced differently from Saltoluokta.  There were moments of ephemeral excitement when a stray gust of wind would momentarily whip up the canopy, the lines would draw taught and we slide along for 20 or 30 meters (that’s right I count in meters now).

When the wind did arrive, our canopies eagerly jumped into the air, pulling us forward with a start.  One can steer the canopy by edging the skis and pulling on the ropes in the direction one wishes to go.  The feeling was exhilarating and with a steady wind the kilometers slip by quickly.

The straps in the middle of the canopy allow for more or less wind power.  Seeing what is ahead of you can be a bit difficult at times...

The straps in the middle of the canopy allow for more or less wind power. Seeing what is ahead of you can be a bit difficult at times…

Due to the speed created by the wind it is extremely advisable to have fixed heel skis (not cross country skis). However, cross country skis are what most people are wearing on their feet here (sometimes even in bed!).  My coworker Mats was eager to try Upskiing. Lacking the necessary equipment, he fashioned a haphazard binding system out of old telemark skis, zip ties, NNN-BC boots (not at all compatible with the telemark bindings), rubber straps, and I think I saw aluminum foil, cornichons, and bobby pins, but I might have had snow in my eyes.

The terrain where we were was only slightly uphill, so I never got to experience a wind assisted summit, but it seems like it could work under the right circumstances.  Perhaps eventually a new breed of wind skiers will be born that enjoy the Upski more than the downski.  Rich Upskiers could even engage in “Heliskiing” (Helicopter skiing). Instead of being dropped off at the top of the mountain, they would be picked up there!


Guest Blog: Dueling Meatballs

When you have a visitor from Japan who happens to be a contemporary artist and also uses food as a social medium, you think to yourself: Oh shit, I am just an anthropologist. That means I study cool. I don’t make cool.

Not to worry. Mako was happy with my long walks and brown Swedish cooking, passed down through generations, from my morfar to my mother to me my husband. Mako was also high on oxygen. After spending the past ten years moving between Malmo, Stockholm, and now Paris, she couldn’t stop gulping in breaths of Jokkmokk’s crisp air, much akin to a fish out of water – but happier.

JokkmokkSpring2014 247

Mako enjoys a complete Swedish meal: meatballs, potatoes, and a few of those green things.

On the final night of her visit, I suggested we make meatballs using ground reindeer meat. Aaron mistakenly believed he had securely hidden it in the freezer where I wouldn’t find it. But I did, and with splendid result. Mako suggested we do an experiment. She would cook from a Japanese recipe, while I would cook from a Swedish or Sami recipe.

If you’re in Paris, check out the exhibition she’ll be doing based on her visit to Jokkmokk. Maybe you’ll get to taste dueling meatballs…

Here’s how I made Swedish Exploding Reindeer Meatballs:

I began by not fully translating the recipe from Bonniers Stora Kokbok. This includes key verbs and measuring instruments, but I did have a handle on all the nouns. Despite this trick, the meatballs still managed to explode. It may have been an overdose of whipping cream. Mako, however, was thrilled with the result. Admittedly, she confesses to putting bread on her butter. Thus Swedish cooking, which is heavy on cream and butter, is and remains an ideal diet for her.

JokkmokkSpring2014 234

I may have my morfar’s apron on but I do not have his cooking game-face on.



  • 500 g ground reindeer meat (get reindeer meat from Alaska thanks for the tip Shannon!)
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 deciliters whipping cream (what?!?)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • .5 deciliters bread crumbs
  • 2 cooked, cold potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and Pepper

Let the bread crumbs soak in the cream. Mash the potatoes with a fork into the cream. Stir the egg into the mixture. Peel and dice the onion (mycket fint). Work together the ground meat, cream mixture, and onion. Add salt and pepper (maybe 2 tsps salt and 1/4tsp pepper).

Heat up your frying pan and add some butter. Form your meatballs by rolling them in your hands. Put ‘em in the frying pan. Move the pan around to cook them evenly. Find lingonberries, eat, and show Ikea who really knows how to make Swedish Meatballs!

Here’s how Mako made Delicious and Healthier Japanese Inspired Reindeer Meatballs

JokkmokkSpring2014 226

Soy beans, onions, and ginger wait to be blended.

First, Mako pulled out a piece of paper with Japanese characters on it. Though I understood this recipe slightly less than the Swedish one, I fell deeply in love with the results. The ginger and beans gave it a fresher taste, and reindeer meat is a lean-healthy-omega-3-fatty-acid-low-cholesterol, meat. So why add cream, Sweden? Why? Here is my guess at the recipe Mako followed.

Japanese (Rein)Deer Meatballs


  • 250 grams ground reindeer meat (need reindeer meat in Sweden?
  • 1 box of frozen soybeans
  • 1 egg
  • 1 onion
  • Fresh ginger root
  • Salt and pepper

Begin by thawing your soybeans. Cut up ginger. Peel and dice onion finely. Add soybeans, ginger and onion to food processor. Process!

Combine soybeans, onion, and egg in bowl. Add meat, salt and pepper. Work until evenly distributed.

Heat up your frying pan and add some olive oil. Form your meatballs by rolling them in your hands. Put ‘em in the frying pan. Move the pan around to cook them evenly. Find lingonberries, eat, and show Ikea who really needs Swedish meatballs!

JokkmokkSpring2014 244

Look at those vibrant colors!

For those of you in West Virginia, I think deer meat deserves this experiment as well! Why shouldn’t we be serving wild deer meatballs at our local restaurants?

– Amanda