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.

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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.

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

Renköttbullar

Ingredienser

  • 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

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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

Ingredients:

  • 250 grams ground reindeer meat (need reindeer meat in Sweden? www.utsiren.se)
  • 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!

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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

 

If I wake up a 6:30 am I have time for a ski tour before I start work at 11 am.  I have skied most of the close, smaller, peaks around Saltoluokta, but larger peaks are visible in all directions, some of them with ideal slopes for skiing.  The biggest visible peak is Måskostjåhkå, which measures a little over 1400 m and is completely above tree line.  The approach to the base is about 5 km long over gently sloping terrain and the ascent has two steep parts and then follows a ridgeline to the pointy top.  My friend Sofia had a day off on Friday, and I rearranged my schedule to start at 3 pm instead of 11 am. Tommy, the head chef, gave us a ride in a sleigh pulled behind his snowmobile. In addition to Sofia and her border collie, Vessla, there were two other coworkers that came along for the snowmobile transport, necessitating two sleighs.  Even though the terrain was not very steep the smaller snowmobile had problems pulling the load, so we periodically had to jump off and push up the steeper parts.

Måskostjåhkkå at 1420m catches sun and beckons to be skied.

Måskostjåhkkå at 1420m catches sun and beckons to be skied.

Wind is very common in the mountains and it whipped at us as we rode in the sleighs, sitting cross-legged on reindeer skins, our backs to the wind.  Fortunately the wind was not so strong, and it was blowing in clear skies, a welcome sight.  Forty minutes of riding (and pushing) brought us to the base of Måskostjåhkkå where our two friends donned their skinny touring skis and set off back towards the lodge.  Tommy loitered for a moment; snapping pictures of us and watching reindeer make their way up a steep slope.  Sofia and I did an avalanche beacon check, strapped on our backpacks, and clicked into our skis.  We looked at the topo map and chose a route that would afford us the most protection from avalanches, opting to avoid a ravine and instead traverse a wind-scoured slope.  A group of seven reindeer had chosen the same path and were steadily traversing the slope single file. We waited for them to reach the top and then set off following their tracks.

Snowmobile transport makes the approach quicker.

Snowmobile transport makes the approach quicker.

Thousands of acres of un-skied snow awaited us; only reindeer stealing our powder turns.  Fortunately the reindeer are very considerate of powder conservation, consistently walking in each other’s footprints.  Our first traverse was the steepest of the day, but the reindeer had chosen an elegant line and the snow had a firm base with about 4 inches of soft snow on top, promising blissful turns on the descent.  At the top of the first pitch we picked our way through rock gardens on a plateau while heading towards the next pitch, which also proved to have a layer of soft snow.  At the top it became icy and windblown and we erred in our route and had to remove our skis and walk over wind exposed rocks for several hundred meters before clicking back into our skis.

Sophia and I layered up and ready to gain elevation!

Sofia and I layered up and ready to gain elevation!

The approach to the summit was gradual, but the snow was carved in windblown chunks, that looked not unlike currents in a river.   Vessla the border collie loped in front of us, occasionally pausing to roll in the snow.  We traveled along the bumpy snow for about half an hour, steadily gaining altitude until the top of the mountain was visible.  Here the snow was harder and wind-carved more dramatically and ornately, resembling sea corral in places.  The wind was strong enough to occasionally blow my hood off.  The weather had been cloudy with occasional bursts of sun, but as we reached the summit, the clouds cleared and we were treated with a magnificent view.

Sophia with lots of snow and mountains behind her.

Sofia with lots of snow and mountains behind her.

We donned extra layers and ate an early lunch out of the wind under the watchful eye of Vessla.  The decent of the upper section was much better than expected.  The wind carved snow was soft enough to break through and didn’t throw our skis off course.  We skied the bumps, occasionally getting air as we carved our way down.  We picked our way through a few rock gardens before reaching the first steep downhill.  The snow was soft and the angle was perfect for controlled turns with lots of speed.

Vessla with her snow makeup on.

Vessla with her snow makeup on.

Vessla ran hard to follow us as we gleefully made arcs.  A long traverse followed, ending at another excellent slope with great snow.  We had reached the point where Tommy had left us with the snowmobile but we were able to continue downhill for another half mile or so. We followed a shallow ravine that snaked its way through the foothills and deposited us out in a small flat valley floor.

Back down on the valley floor.Back down on the valley floor.

Skins were reapplied to our skis and we crossed the valley and climbed a small hill on the far side.  From here we could see Saltoluokta lodge below and to the east.  We removed the skins and tackled crusty snow, our tired legs fighting their way down the last long descent.  The slope eventually led into a dwarf birch forest where we found better snow.  Without the firm snow below, Vessla labored to keep up.  Sometime it looked more like she was swimming than running.  Finally the trees and slopes disappeared and we emerged onto the frozen lake that Saltoluokta fjällstation overlooks.  We skated on our skis for the final leg of the journey.

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Back at the frozen lake!

I had time to eat a hearty lunch of moose stew with mashed root vegetables, take a shower and a quick nap before starting work.  My legs were tired but my mind was carefree and happy, a great way to start work.  Should I consider this trip as my commute?

I am often asked where I learned to cook.  My response is, in addition to my mother and Swiss-born grandmother, a talented French woman named Caroline (Caro).  Caro works as a psychiatric nurse in Geneva, Switzerland.  When she is not working she usually throws herself into some task such as replanting all her roses, building and then rearranging furniture, planting a fruit orchard, sewing costumes for her grandchildren, and cooking, of course.

Caro on her visit to northern Sweden sporting reindeer antlers

Caro on her visit to northern Sweden sporting reindeer antlers

Caro is best described as a dynamo.  She is small and slightly built, but she is a fountain of energy.  She has a loud and quick laugh with an expressive face.  Clear eyes twinkle when she talks quietly and deliberately, but they dance when she explodes in outbursts of rapid dialogue and laughter.  Possessing an often fiery disposition, she is the antithesis of passive aggressive; she speaks her mind freely and with great passion.

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Caro and I check out the buffet at Saltoluokta. The menu included smoked salmon wrapped asparagus with hollandaise, moose steak, celery root potato puree, and more. (Photo by Amanda)

When Caro cooks it is never just one dish.  She makes appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, and often several whole meals in the time it would take a normal person to make a lasagna.  The result is that there is always food everywhere: gratins, stews, tartes, soups, roasts, and amazing salads, just waiting to be served.  With her excellent sense of taste and thousands of hours of experience cooking, Caro can seemingly throw together ingredients and create a beautiful, delicious meal in very little time.  She applies this same technique to baking (sometimes with disastrous results owing to baking’s closer relation to science rather than art).

Caro comes from the land of cheese.  Fromage d'Abondance in the ageing cellar

Caro comes from the land of cheese. Fromage d’Abondance in the ageing cellar.

Throwing dinner parties is something she enjoys, and one rarely hears of someone turning down an invitation.  Even when I would help her cook, I would still be surprised with the end result, simple dishes elevated to fancy restaurant status, or dishes that just seemed to come out of thin air.  Some examples of favorites are a lamb and beef stew cooked in a Dutch oven sealed with pastry dough, Belgian endive braised overnight until caramelized, potimarron soup that tasted of chestnuts, cod fritters, choucroute garni with various sausages, ham, and slabs of smoked pork belly, cherry cloufoutis with whole cherries, grated root vegetable salad, lemon braised artichoke hearts,…the list goes on and on.

Amanda and I sitting down to dinner in France five years ago

Amanda and I sitting down to dinner in France five years ago

When cooking Caro drapes a hand towel over her shoulder and moves quickly and surely.  She seems to have little use for a chef’s knife, instead using a small paring knife.  Humming can often be heard as she assembles wonders out of inconspicuous ingredients. I was not surprised when Caro used these same techniques during her first visit to northern Sweden to experience our life above the Arctic Circle.

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Caro and Aaron ascend the hills above Saltoluokta (photo by Amanda)

Naturally, Caro and I cooked together during her visit. First she prepared us Tartiflette, the hearty French mountain dish of potatoes, lardon, onions, cream, and a creamy and delicious raw milk cheese called Reblochon, smuggled in Caro’s suitcase.  Then she joined me in the Saltoluokta kitchen and helped prepare the dinner for the guests.  She made a cabbage salad with carrots and a vinaigrette that was crunchy and fresh. For the staff she made lemon tartes and miniature tarte tatins, half dollar rounds of buttery dough covered with darkly caramelized apple.  Again everything was made without a recipe and in an astonishingly short amount of time and caused everyone to smile broadly when they tasted it.

France is a great place to learn to cook.  The French have a long and illustrious culinary tradition, a strong contrast to the rather finicky fads that pass through the US. Learning to cook from Caro is especially fun because she eschews recipes and charges into dishes with bravado and confidence, drawing from her culinary experience and knowledge to add ingredients she already has on hand.

 

I arrived in Saltoluokta Fjällstation on a snowy day by snowmobile transport.  By the end of the ten minute ride, I was covered in a light layer of snow.  I was shown to my new living quarters for the next three months and set about unpacking my clothes, skis, and kitchen knives.  I will be cooking food and skiing mountains at a remote mountain lodge, hence the packing list.

A few of my new co-workers on an orientation ski trip. (Photo by Mats Jacobsson)

A few of my new co-workers on an orientation ski trip (From left to right: Sophia, Elin, Tina, Kajsa). (Photo by Mats Jacobsson)

A few hours after I arrived with my friend Sophia from Jokkmokk, the rest of the Saltoluokta crew for the spring season were brought across the frozen lake by snowmobile.  Most of my co-workers are from southern Sweden, some of them have never been so far north.  Despite the fact that my Swedish is less than good, I still felt like I was less of foreigner to these northern Swedish mountains than the Swedes from southern Sweden.  I have grown accustomed to the snow and cold, the northern culture and dialect, the Sami influence, reindeer, the northern lights, and of course skiing.  Still I am a Swedish neophyte, which means many new experiences and surprises await.

A view from our lake at Saltoloukta

A view from our lake at Saltoloukta

The next day, after a delicious Swedish style breakfast (fresh baked bread, butter, jam, cheese, sliced deli meats, oatmeal, musili, nuts, lingonberries, blueberries, cornflakes, sliced veggies, soft and hard boiled eggs, Swedish caviar, orange juice, coffee, and tea) we introduced ourselves and began an orientation, which was hard to concentrate on because I only halfway understood what was being said.  Luckily, because I will be cooking, most of the information about guests, cleaning, room numbers, and reception chores didn’t apply.  I did meet the head chef who I will be working with.  His name is Tommy and he is also from southern Sweden but has worked at Saltoluokta for the past 6 years.  He is in his late 20s, loves music, and is high energy while being very laid back.  His Swedish is fast and hard to catch, even my old boss OT said he barely understood him.  Fortunately Tommy’s English is very good.

Smoked pork belly, local cheese, mixed greens, meadowsweet vinegrette.  Tommy the chef in the background.

Smoked pork belly, local cheese, mixed greens, meadowsweet vinegrette. Tommy the chef in the background.

After a long day of lectures we all sat down to a bizarre but tasty meal of “chili sin carne” which as far as I could tell was tofu chili served with pita bread, salads, crème fraiche and lingonberry juice to drink.  One of my co-workers is a vegan, thus the vegan main course.  After dinner everyone made their way down to the lakeside, where a wood fired sauna had been burning for several hours.  We enjoyed a cold craft beer while we waited for the sauna to reach the optimal temperature, about 170˚F.  The wooden sauna was hot and very relaxing, the darkness cut only by the flickering coals in the stove.  Periodically water was ladled onto the hot stove, sending up a cloud of hot steam and encouraging us to sweat freely.  People slipped out of the sauna into the refreshing coolness of the next room, or even ventured outside to roll in the snow.  When I stepped out of the squelchingly warm sauna the cool air felt like biting into a peppermint patty.

The first few days in Saltoluokta the weather was snowy and cloudy, but occasionally smooth snow covered mountains and craggy peaks could be glimpsed through the clouds.  I set my alarm for 6 am and readied my skis, skins, and gear for a sunrise ascent.  I am lucky enough to be able to put my skis on right outside my door to begin the climb to any one of a dozen peaks.  The snow was light and powdery and the trees changed from pines to birches to dwarf birches until I emerged from the tiny forest above treeline.  The sun had not risen but there was enough light to make my way upwards, the snow lightening the surroundings.  As I gained altitude I crossed reindeer tracks and even surprised a small flock of arctic ptarmigans, their white pear shaped bodies gliding in like torpedoes through the crisp morning air.

Clearing skies reveal more mountains.

Clearing skies reveal more mountains.

I set my sights on a small peak and reached the top by 7:15 am, just as the sun was beginning become visible.  The weather had cleared and I was able to see rows of mountains all around me, with a long valley winding off towards the west.  A winter paradise surrounded me.  I savored the view and investigated future climbs with my binoculars before setting off downhill on my skis, leaving symmetric squiggles in the soft snow.

Heading up in to the mountains.

Heading up in to the mountains.

When I am not skiing I am usually in the kitchen, cooking wild foods for hungry guests who are either returning from, or going, skiing.  The Saltoloukta restaurant serves local mountain foods, like reindeer, moose, arctic char, trout, and smoked whitefish.  Most of the food is served buffet style, so guests are sure to eat enough food, even if they have skied all day.  Cooking for a buffet is a new experience. For me, it is more like catering than the line cooking I am used to.  Instead of preparing each diner’s meal separately, everything is cooked together.  The kitchen here is full of big pots and pans, with almost no small pans.  My other cooking jobs have been the opposite, lots of little pans so that each guest’s meal can be prepared to order.

We bake our bread fresh each day, for both breakfast and dinner service.  I will be adding some diversity to the baking program, making naturally leavened (sourdough) boules, and open crumb “pain rustique.”  Some interesting culinary highlights have included a sea buckthorn (a yellow, tart berry, similar to a cranberry but tastes tropical, almost like passion fruit) butter with herbs, homemade vanilla ice cream with warm sweetened cloudberries, Danish rye bread baked with sunflower seeds and yogurt, salmon colored trout from the lake sautéed on lemon sea salt, sous vide moose top round, smoked reindeer heart with aged cheese, pickled chanterelles, and herb crostini.  We also served souvas, which is Sami word meaning smoked, but generally refers to salted and cold smoked reindeer meat.  The souvas we serve here I prepared while working at Utsi Ren.  It is delicious, lightly sautéed with onions and mushrooms and doused in cream (a common Swedish food treatment).  Souvas is very popular dish in northern Sweden owing to the fact that it is already seasoned, travels well, can be prepared quickly and tastes fantastic.  It was interesting to hear that my coworkers from southern Sweden weren’t familiar with it.

"Suovas" salted and smoked reindeer

“Suovas” salted and smoked reindeer

The first three weeks of work at Saltoluokta fjällstation are “family week” and the first week is the busiest week of the season.  The Stockholm region has “winter vacation” right now, so families book a week at the mountain lodge where adults can ski, snowshoe, ride snowmobiles, ice fish, sightsee, eat, drink, take saunas, and generally be merry while their children have outings scheduled every day with similar activities.  We had 45 children and 37 adults this week, which meant lots of work for everyone.  Saltoluokta takes on extra staff to run activities with the kids, while the rest of us learn a new a job while at maximum capacity.  While I only work in the kitchen, the rest of the staff rotates through different shifts including serving, reception, cleaning, and breakfast.  Reception seemed to be the most exciting of the tasks, as many of my co-workers have never worked a reception desk.  To make matters worse, the rooms are numbered in an almost inexplicable fashion.  One of the people I work with, who is a very talented linguist (she fluently speaks Swedish, Finnish, English, and French), confided in me that she had only one guest check in during her shift at the reception desk.  She explained where his room was located and gave him the room number.  A few hours later she was on her way somewhere else when she found him taking up residence in a completely different room.

This is the top of a small mountain about 1300ft of evelvation above the lake.  The descent takes 15 minutes.

This is the top of a small mountain about 1300ft of evelvation above the lake. The descent takes 15 minutes.

The earliest I start work is at 11 am, which gives me ample time to have a leisurely morning, or more often, scale a new peak and ski back to my door.  My day supposedly ends at 8 pm, but that has not happened yet. Usually I finish cleaning the kitchen at 10 pm.  The 100 yard stroll from the kitchen to my room is usually lit by stars, and occasionally aura borealis.  I have seen vivid displays, where the shimmering green lights seem to emanate from the north but flow all the way across the sky to the southern horizon.  Magical rivers of light that seem to inspire awe and wonder in all who see them, much like Saltoluokta Fjällstation itself.

The northern lights (photo by Mats Jacobsson).

The northern lights (photo by Mats Jacobsson).

I knew that Sweden was going to be expensive.  Sweden taxes luxury items like alcohol, cosmetics, Ferraris, and eating out, heavily.  To make matters worse the Swedish currency, called the kronor, is not the Euro, despite Sweden being in the EU since 1994.  The kronor is not very big, but there are a lot of them.  One US dollar is about 6.5 kronor. Something that costs 100 kronor (like a beer in a bar) is $15.  Plus the Swedish bills themselves are overwhelming my wallet, and not in quantity.  Like many countries, (but strangely not the US), Sweden puts emphasis on the size of their money.  A 20 kronor bill is smaller than a 100 kronor bill.  The 500 kronor bills don’t even fit in my wallet.  I am forced to fold them into origami American money.

The Swedes also have coins, of course, and they are generally bigger than US currency, and more powerful. The leader of the Swedish coin is the 10 kronor.  The advertisement on the side of the gas station near our apartment reads

“alltid en varmkorv för en tia”

which means you can always get a warm hotdog for one of those 10 kronor coins (hotdogs are ubiquitous in Sweden).

JokkmokkWinter2014 095The smallest coin is the 1 kronor, which is about the size of a quarter but worth a little less.  Sometimes purchases tally to fractions of a kronor, like 231.50 but everyone just ignores anything after the decimal point.  A pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream costs 51.50 at the grocery store ($8), so unfortunately it has slipped from our diet along with fresh vegetables (achieving an Arctic balanced diet).  Gasoline is also, unsurprisingly, costly.  At 14.xxx kronor a liter, it works out to about $8 a gallon. You at least get 95 octane and they let you pump it yourself, something you cannot do in Oregon.

One solution to high gas prices... (Reindeer racing at the Jokkmokk Market).

One solution to high gas prices…Reindeer racing at the Jokkmokk Market. ( photo by Amanda)

We were warned by Amanda’s mother that apartments do not come with lights; instead you have to furnish your own.  That seemed like the least of our worries until we arrived in our apartment and it was dark.  No problem. We shopped at Kupan, which is similar to a Goodwill or Salvation Army second hand store but run by the Red Cross.  We were able to find what was in my mind a pretty decent ceiling lamp; Amanda found it hideous and described it as un upside down wooden garbage can.  Undeterred I bought it and when we arrived home, we attempted to install it.  Remember this was the first night in our apartment and we had arrived with our suitcases which due to increasingly stringent airline weight limits, contained no furniture.

Though many living arrangements are different in Sweden, they still believe in putting ceiling lights on the ceiling. Even with the metric system, the ceiling is still much higher than I can reach.  We quickly realized that we had nothing we could even stand on, our suitcases being too soft and no furniture or ladder in sight.  We could have asked a neighbor, but we remembered that Swedes don’t like to talk to their neighbors and being new we wanted to make a good impression.  Luckily our landlords, who live in Boden, near the coast, were at the building doing some maintenance.  I described our problem and they dashed off to ransack the basement and utility rooms in search of something to stand on.  They found a perfectly good chair in the garbage room, and gave it to us as a gift.  It performed admirably and we had our light installed, plus a fine piece of furniture that we took turns sitting on as we ate dinner.

A lucky find: second-hand  wooden touring ice skates.

A lucky find: second-hand wooden touring ice skates. (Amanda)

Encouraged by one working light we decided we should have more. We went to the electronic shop which had dozens of lights hanging in the window.  We quickly realized why they have so many lights, no one can afford them.  Their most modest examples were 700 kr, more than 100 USD, and these looked like they would willingly be at home around a dog’s neck, to impede chewing on a wound.  Like all good American consumers we knew what to do next: use the internet to buy stuff from IKEA.  IKEA did have cheaper lights, some as little as 200 kr (40 USD), but they also looked like junk and didn’t come with a bulb.  The light bulb we bought for our first lamp was 70 kr (10 USD), and it is without a doubt the most environmentally friendly light bulb I have ever owned.  It barely makes any light at all, and virtually none in the first few minutes, a very important time in the functioning of a light.  We decided to bide our time, lower our standards, and see what we could find second hand, with a working light bulb included.

Now I have traveled a lot so I have a few tricks up my sleeve.  One of my brilliant tricks this trip was to leave our sleeping pads that we use for camping behind, as they are bulky and I figured we could buy new ones in Sweden.  I was completely right, you can buy new ones in Sweden, or someone can. Sweden does have a King and Queen, after all, who in case you missed just welcomed their second grandchild into the world…in NYC. Perhaps you missed the news, but it was hard to miss here.  Anyways, at first I thought the price of the sleeping pad was the SKU number.  Even the most basic, thin, wimpy, inflatable sleeping pad cost more than $100 and the salesman leveled with us and said he would never use it in the cold, which considering our situation didn’t seem like a worthwhile investment.  Foam sleeping pads that can be had for $20 in the US were still almost $100.  Apparently finding such things second hand is very difficult.  Swedes have a different mentality from Americans when it comes to purchasing material goods.  Swedes rarely donate things; rather they buy quality items to begin with and use them until they are completely worn out.  The second hand market is much smaller.

Small bunches of delicious black kale (aka dinasaur kale, Cavolo Nero, etc) for about $5.

Small bunches of delicious black kale (aka dinosaur kale, Cavolo Nero, etc) for about $5 at Rosendal’s Tradgard.

Life was beginning to look grim, or at least expensive, which is pretty much the same thing.  Luckily we received a tip from our helpful landlords “go to the source, the source of junk!”  So we went to the “återvingsstation” which is the “recycling center” (“dump” before they invented the environment).  This place is really cool. Basically they look at what people are throwing away and if anything looks decent or even salvageable, they save it.  They have an extensive workshop with a bunch of craftspeople who repair all the “treasures” and then sell them to keep the program running.  We found the two people in charge and explained our situation.

“We just moved to Jokkmokk and we are looking for furniture” Amanda told them in Swedish.

“What do you need,” asked the woman.

Before we could respond, the man beside her responded, “Everything.”

Both jumped into action, “Ok, so you need everything, bed, table, chairs, couch, TV….”

They led us to a storage room and began pulling out the things we needed.  “Here is a bed, and mattresses, look good?”

“How much does it cost?” we asked.

“Hmm, 100 kronor ($15)?”  they replied.

“Ok! Sounds good!”

They continued like this with everything we could want, and each thing cost about 100 kronor, though a particularly nice leather couch commanded a 250 kr ($40) price.  After we had amassed a huge pile of furniture, I noticed several bicycles standing in the corner. One was a slick looking road bike.

“How much for this road bike” I asked in half coherent Swedish.

“Hmmm, well it hasn’t been fixed by us yet, so it might have problems, how about 100 kronor?”

Then they asked how we planned to get everything home.  We had originally thought we could load stuff on our car’s roof racks, but this was a lot of furniture.

“We can deliver it in our big box truck if you like,” they offered.

“How much will that cost” we asked.

They thought for a moment then replied, “How about 100 kronor?”

They showed up at our apartment 10 minutes later with 4 people jammed in the cab of the truck.  They unloaded in about 15 minutes, including a free armchair they had found that they thought would complement our furniture.  To illustrate the fact that we live in a small town, one of the workers said he had moved a table out of this apartment not too long ago.  The woman in charge said her cousin had lived in our apartment.

Our newly and affordable furnished apartment, complete with an ancient TV that buzzes a lot.

Our newly and affordable furnished apartment, complete with an ancient TV that buzzes a lot.

Sweden is generally expensive, but a person can find affordable things with a bit of creativity. Plus there are a lot of social services.  We are covered for health care. For example, hospital visits cost a flat fee of 200 kronor ($35) and includes everything, such as X-rays and blood work.  While the US spends lots of money on young people and their recreation (sports complexes, school sport programs) Sweden is good at investing money in things aimed at people of all ages. Jokkmokk has a free cross country ski trail system with lights for night skiing (remember during the winter “night” is most of the day).  Additionally, Sweden has lots of social services that work to keep people out of poverty, by providing skills and language training and help finding jobs. Newly arrived immigrants (like us) can receive free Swedish language training, 3 hours each weekday, and homelessness and hunger are much rarer than in the US. Certainly these come at a cost, like that $15 beer, that $8/gallon gas, and that 30% income tax, which limit how much excess money you do have to spend on luxury goods.

Yeah, at what price?

Yeah, at what price? (Sporting my second-hand Norwegian sweater) (Amanda)

So I am sure some of you are wondering if anything is more affordable in Sweden.  There are a few things to be sure, such as snow, but others are few and far between.  Cream seems to be slightly cheaper in Sweden, which may explain why Swedes use it copiously.  Also almond paste seems to be easier and cheaper to buy here.  That seems to round out the list.  The US is much cheaper for almost everything, but at what price?

I had heard many good things about Saltoluokta Fjällstation, a Swedish mountain lodge, located just outside of the Laponia World Heritage Site near the border with Norway.  Not only is the scenery beautiful, but the 100 year old lodge is charming and isolated and they cook some of the best food around.  In December I submitted a job application along with a shiny new translated-into-Swedish CV for a cooking position.  A few weeks later, I was contacted by Johan who manages the lodge at Saltoluokta.  Humorously, our phone conversation transpired only in Swedish, a rarity because usually Swedes will speak English to me when they discover I am American.  Johan seemed interested in me as a cook, despite my lack of mastery of the Swedish language, so he invited me up to the lodge for an interview.  Saltoluokta is northwest of Jokkmokk, and the drive takes two hours on snow covered roads.  The lodge is located 4 kilometers across a lake, and during the winter, visitors either ski in or are brought by snowmobile. During the summer, they travel by boat.

Our trusty volvo, ready to drive except when its too cold to drive

Our trusty Volvo, ready to drive except when it is too cold to drive. (Aaron)

Temperatures had not risen above -15°F in the last two weeks, and Thursday morning, the day of the interview, the temperature was -25°F, a normal morning start.  I brought our car battery inside the night before to warm up, and Amanda marveled how something the size of shoe box could weigh as much as a loveseat.  Our 1987 240 Volvo is perhaps the only vehicle above the Arctic Circle without an engine warmer that you plug in at night.  Starting the cold car was extremely difficult, and necessitated calling Nila (one of my bosses at Utsi Ren) to help.  After he pumped the gas with the choke all the way out for about 10 minutes, the engine finally caught.  I was low on gas and was hesitant to turn the car off, but Nila assured me that no one turns their car off while pumping gas in this kind of weather. This was a shock considering laws in Oregon prevent customers from even pumping their own gas, let alone leaving their car on while they do so.

sunset in jokkmokk

Sunset in Jokkmokk at my local clear-cut ski hill. (Aaron)

While all the landscapes around Jokkmokk are beautiful, one can take for granted the evergreens, birch trees, snow, and lakes.  Driving to Saltoluokta revealed snowy mountains, rising high, treeless, and majestic.  I craned my neck out of the window, salivating for future ski adventures.  I arrived at the parking lot in Saltoluokta, where three frozen cars, glazed with ice and frost, huddled together in a small turnaround.  Across the lake the mountains were even bigger, and I was greeted by a strange and beautiful sight, a chunk of a rainbow hovering in front a particularly large peak.  It was not raining, of course, so I guess you would have to call it a “snowbow,” except it wasn’t a bow at all, just a chunk of colored light.  I will name it a “SAUSSB” (Small and Unusually Shaped Snow Bow).

A snowmobile was dispatched to pick me up and I heard it roar to life across the lake.  I could see it briefly, winding its way towards me following a worn snow path marked with reflective poles across the ice.  I waited in the -20°F weather, taking short breaths of the clear, cold air.  The snowmobile arrived piloted by a large man with a beard wearing a preponderous amount of clothes, a ski mask, and goggles.

“Jag heter Jore. Har du varma kläder?”

”Ja,” I said.

We took off and I tucked my face into my jacket and hunched behind Jore to divert a little of the icy, piercing, wind.  Though there was much beautiful scenery to look at, I mostly kept my head down where I could stay warm and not have to worry as much about frostbite.  We arrived and went inside where we decreased our bulk, onion-peel fashion, by removing many layers of our outerwear.  I was introduced to Johan, who runs the mountain lodge.  He spoke to me in Swedish and gave me a quick tour of the staff living quarters while we waited for lunch to cook.  In addition to having lodging, all the staff are on the meal plan, which is good because otherwise I think you would have to hunt or fish your own food.  Saltoluokta is very isolated,. It is 80 miles to the nearest grocery store, plus you have to get yourself across the ice.  The staff lives onsite in simple private rooms, with a nice communal living area complete with a big fireplace.

view from Saltoluokta lodge

View from Saltoluokta Lodge (photo stolen from their website)

Johan pulled up my CV on his laptop (yes there is Wifi there) and we sat down for the interview.  It was a good challenge to both understand his questions and then make semi coherent responses in Swedish.  Sometimes I am pretty sure I answered questions that he didn’t ask, but I think I made a good impression overall, and he was excited to hear that I had extensive baking experience, especially sourdough breads.

I haven't lost all my moves: crusty baguette with respectable "ear"

I haven’t lost all my moves: crusty baguette with respectable “ear.” (Amanda)

We sat down to a delicious lunch that Johan had prepared, baked arctic char from the lake with boiled potatoes, a green salad and a sauce of red onion, garlic, parsley, olive oil, and vinegar that was the boss.  Glancing out the windows I could see mountains just begging to be skied and our conversation turned to skiing.  Apparently not only does Johan enjoy Alpine Touring skiing but also Telemarking.  Furthermore his wife and a friend were out using an “up ski,” a 15 foot parachute/kite invented in Colorado that pulls a skier up the mountain using wind.  I could see treeless slopes right outside the window, and even bigger mountains were visible in the distance.  We chatted about skiing and then he gave me a tour of the lodge and the kitchen.  The kitchen is small and well equipped, even having an outdoor kåta for smoking fish and meats.  The dining room has not been changed since its inception in 1918, which means that it does not have electric lighting; candles provide all the lighting.  Wood floors and walls, wooden tables and chairs, and a big fireplace rounded out the small dining room.

Saltoluokta lodge reception area

Saltoluokta Lodge reception area (stolen from their website)

They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner every night, but reservations are required (popping in seems hard anyway) and they have one sitting for dinner, which starts at 6 pm.  The first course is plated, as is the dessert, but the main dish is buffet style, which should make it easier on the chefs.  While working as the evening chef at Gathering Together Farm one of the most difficult things was the timing of dishes so that the appetizers flow seamlessly into the main dishes with just the right amount of pause.  This is easily accomplished for a few tables, but if you are juggling a dozen or more tickets it can become hellish.   Lunch at Saltoluokta is usually not well attended as most people are out during the day skiing, trekking, or exploring.  Breakfast is a typical Swedish affair, fresh baked bread, jam, cheese, egg, yogurt, musli, coffee, tea, etc.  Dinner might be roasted leg of reindeer, with potato gratin and red wine sauce, or whole arctic char, smoked whitefish from the lake, or moose meat.  Desserts are simple but elegant, like pannacotta with lingonberries, crème brulee with cloudberries, or the venerable chocolate mousse (I want to do a “moose” dinner with an arctic char mousse, roasted moose filet, potatismos (mashed potatoes) and chocolate mousse for dessert).

"Suovas" salted and smoked reindeer

“Suovas” salted and smoked reindeer served up at our house. (Amanda)

“Vad tycker du?” (what do you think?) asked Johan.

“Where do I sign?” I responded.

Johan smiled and shook my hand.  Hopefully the other staff will be fun. Apparently a few of them are from Norbotten (the northern “province” of Sweden, of which Jokkmokk is a part), but most are from the south of Sweden and they are even looking at hiring a French woman.  My friend Sofia, who is the cousin of OT and Nila at Utsi Ren, will also be working at Saltoluokta.  She is an avid skier as well and plans to bring her snowmobile with her, so we should have access to a lot of backcountry skiing.

Ski art

Ski art (Aaron)

The head chef has worked there for six years and he will be in charge of ordering ingredients and making menus, though I imagine I will have some input as well.  Cooks must be creative and resourceful: the nearest grocery store is farther away than outer space (62 miles above sea level is the conventional measure for where space begins according to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)), and deliveries do not always go to plan.  Johan said the lodge is a warm and welcoming place, with almost no traces of pretentiousness:

“We might not pour wine from the correct side but we are genuine, welcoming, and make sure everyone is well taken care of.”

I could not believe my luck, a wonderful place to work and cook with a backcountry skiing paradise right outside my frozen doorstep.  Johan and his wife Rebecca asked about Amanda and made it clear that she would be welcome to stay with me for as long as she wanted.  I will work for five days and then I will have two days off, so I will also go back to Jokkmokk sometimes.  The idea of some overnight ski trips is pretty appealing though.

Finally my dream is realized, skiing and eating ice cream!

no risk of melting ice cream on pants at -5F

No risk of melting ice cream on pants at -5F (Aaron)

Here is some more information and pictures about Saltoluokta.

When Amanda received a grant to do anthropological research in Northern Sweden I began mentally preparing for a long and very dark winter.  Our first stop in Sweden was Stockholm, which is considered southern Sweden but is about as far north as Anchorage Alaska.  When I would tell people that I would be living in Jokkmokk for a year they looked at me cockeyed and told me how cold and dark it would be, some saying we would be experiencing complete darkness for days on end.  We arrived at the beginning of November and while there wasn’t as much daylight as say Bali, the snow covering the ground, trees, and anything else not moving very quickly, reflected the light and made things appear lighter.  My Swedish language teacher told us that the sun would no longer be visible in Jokkmokk from about December 7-January 10.  However due to angles, vectors, the Pythagorean Theorem, roundness, refraction, and wild colored long underwear, there would still be daylight.

Amanda and I cross-country skiing on a warm sunny day in Oregon, near Mt Hood

Amanda and I cross-country skiing on a warm sunny day in Oregon, near Mt Hood

On the shortest day of the year the sun officially rose around 10:42am and set at 12:25pm (I actually made both those times up, but I can assure you that it’s darker here then where you are and that those are pretty close).  Still it wasn’t that bad, and truth be told, I think it is lighter here during the winter than in the Willamette Valley of Oregon where we were living before.  In the Willamette Valley winters are characterized by low clouds, above freezing temps, and an almost constant drizzle, luckily they only last from October to June.  Isn’t it funny how people can make the best of the situation no matter the horrible conditions “well sure it rains all the time but it never rains hard (Willamette valley)” or “well we don’t have much sunlight but the snow makes everything lighter(Jokkmokk)” or “it’s not as hot here as some places (Dallas).”

Aaron the sledder

Aaron the sledder

I love learning new things and I am often in the midst of discovering a new hobby or interest.  This began when I was still drinking water out of the dog bowl and was about the size of a pineapple sitting down (I was sitting, not the pineapple) according to one of the few pictures of me as a child.  First I loved heavy machinery (backhoes, front-end loaders, skidders, bulldozers, etc) and then “My Little Ponies,” and then fishing to name a few.  Well anyway after working my way through all kinds of stuff, my current kick is skiing.

Telemarking at Mt. Bachelor, Oregon.

Telemarking at Mt. Bachelor, Oregon.

I grew up in a place where people go on vacation to ski, New Hampshire (at least those who can’t afford to go to Vermont).  So it might surprise you that I did not learn to downhill ski as a child, rather my “sport de glisse” was sledding where I was known locally as “that kid who sleds like everyone else but doesn’t know how to ski.”  I did have one ski experience in Italy my freshman year of college and I found that while not being a particularly good downhill skier, I was really good at going over jumps on skis and then landing with all concerned appendages going different ways.

This is one way I fall, but I have many...

This is one way I fall, but I have many…

After college I found myself at the gateway to the Swiss Alps in you guessed it, France (the geography in that particular region is fuzzy).  Thanks to an amiable Brit named Tom I learned to snowboard, which involved falling 742 times on each run.  The key to snowboarding is mastering the edges; a momentary lack of attention can result in falls hard enough that you have to go back up the hill a ways to pick up your hat.  Anyway Tom gave me the instruction and support I needed such as this tip on my second run “kay, now we are goin’ to get some speed and hit a jump.”  By the second day I was picking up my hat less frequently and by the third I looked like John Wayne on a horse, except for on tow ropes.

Snowboarding is easy to learn if you don't mind falling.

Snowboarding is easy to learn if you don’t mind falling (Mt hood in background)

Snowboarding was fun and exhilarating and there was much less to worry about than skiing.  You don’t have poles and skis that can go different ways, just a plank that is basically nailed to your feet.  I loved the feeling of shifting back and forth between my edges, carving crisp turns or weighting the back foot in deep powder and watching the tip of the board glide though the quiet white.  Skiing (or “riding” if you are a snowboarder) in France was great, excellent snow with exceptional food and amazing views.  When we would stop to eat our lunch of baguette, comté cheese, and saucisson, passing skiers would chime a “bon appétit” our way with a nod.  Plus skiing in France was affordable, which I realized is not the case everywhere, like small mountains in West Virginia for example.   I began to think how taking a ski lift up is kind of cheating, though what wonderful cheating it is!  Still the idea of self propelled uphill travel for gravity propelled travel downhill was very appealing.

What?! How is he skiing up?

What?! How is he skiing up?

I had heard people talk about “Telemark” and “Alpine Touring” skis, magical skis with free (or occasionally free) heels that you can affix a sealskin (if you lived like 100 years ago) or some kind of fabric that glides one direction but grips the other (uphill direction).  I did some more research about these skis and found out that “Telemark” is a Norwegian word that translates as “unnecessarily difficult way to ski that is beautiful and seductive” and “Alpine Touring” is an English word that means “really expensive.”  So when the opportunity to buy a pair of telemark skis with climbing skins from a guy moving to Florida presented itself, I pulled the trigger and bought something I had no idea how to use.  Luckily the guy who sold them to me also had no idea how to use them, telling me that these were the next generation of telemark skis and you could choose between the extremely difficult “free heel” mode, or you could lock down the heel like an Alpine Touring ski.  A telemarking friend gave me a pair of old telemark ski boots and I set off on my first uphill ski adventure with two friends.

Skinning up Mary's Peak in Oregon, Gabe and Aaron visible

Skinning up Mary’s Peak in Oregon, Gabe and Aaron visible (photo by Amanda)

Traveling uphill on skis through deep snow is a great workout and is a wonderful way to be outside.  We skied upwards for several hours, eventually covering about 5 miles of gradually sloping to steep switch-backing terrain.  Then it was time for the big moment, the downhill!  My telemark bindings look like a cross between a transformer and a rattrap and my friends were afraid to offer any advice or get their hands too close.  Not wanting to diminish the difficulty of my descent (which is a typical telemarker’s sentiment) I kept my heel free in what I thought to be “Telemark” mode, which was actually uphill free pivot mode.   This meant that my feet could pivot forwards with no resistance (this resistance is the key to Telemark skiing and allows the skier to put downward pressure on the ski and initiate turns).  In my effort to be a genuine telemarker I was completely out of control, the equivalent of riding a bike with loose handlebars.  The good thing was that the snow was soft and there was lots of it, knee deep powder (known colloquially as “pow pow”) in some places.  With my free pivoting bindings I would fall and completely disappear, the skis lying parallel to the ground and me lying on top of them, nothing breaking the surface of the snow until I would pull myself laughing giddily from the fluff.

Falling is part of the journey...

Falling is part of the journey…(no knee deep pow pow in this photo)

I eventually learned that I was doing it all wrong, adjusted my gear, and began to develop the correct technique through enthusiasm, willingness to fall, and the joy of turns.  My friends also tipped me off that my skis were indeed women’s skis, evident by the yellow flowers on blue background.

The author telemarking, the technique is not so great but the smile shows the enjoyment!

The author telemarking, the technique is not so great but the smile shows the enjoyment!

Skis were of course one of the things I brought with me to Sweden, figuring that we would not want for snow.  Jokkmokk is not in the mountains, rather the terrain is rolling but there are some small hills that can be downhill skied.  One such hill is visible from our apartment window.  It has been recently logged so there is plenty of room to ski.  On January 12 the clouds and snowy weather lifted and the sky was clear, so I decided to “ski to the sun.”  By increasing my altitude I figured I would be able to once again see that great ball of fire that is the basis for life.  I had perhaps foolishly left my Telemark skis in Oregon and instead brought an Alpine Touring setup.  The temperature was holding steady around -4F but I quickly warmed up as I skinned uphill.  After only a few minutes of travel I felt the warm glow of the sun and sure enough it was back, hanging triumphantly just over the horizon.  Encouraged, I quickened my pace and headed upward, momentarily following a group of 8 reindeer as they ran ahead.

The sun is finally visible after being absent for more than a month

The sun is finally visible after being absent for more than a month

It took me about 30 minutes to reach the top of this little hill and I was treated to a spectacular view of Jokkmokk and the surrounding landscape.  I could just barely make out our apartment building, a yellow speck in the distance.  Using our cellphone, which seems to have been designed by delinquent monkeys and only gets reception half of the day, I called Amanda.  She was just barely able to see me with binoculars, though she claimed I was only the size of speck of salt.

My private ski resort, other than reindeer, rabbits, and moose, I seem to have the whole place to myself

My private ski resort which I seem to only share with reindeer, rabbits, and moose

I changed my skis to downhill mode by removing my climbing skins, locking my heels, and tightening my boots.  Donning my helmet I pushed off from the summit down a steep wooded bank, winding my way through trees until I blasted out into the open.  The snow was soft and light and I floated along, leaving symmetrically squiggly tracks on the blank canvas of snow.

sometimes it is more comfortable to ski uphill in a dress. Mother's day on Mt. St. Helens

Sometimes it is more comfortable to ski uphill in a dress. Mother’s day on Mt. St. Helens.  Notice flower skis and complicated bindings.  (From left to right:  Jimmy, Steve, Aaron (photo by Amanda))

Skiing is fun with friends. From left to right: Julie, Knut, Frank, Aaron, Gabe, Ochimo (photo taken by Amanda)

Skiing is fun with friends. From left to right: Julie, Knut, Frank, Aaron, Gabe, Ochimo (photo by Amanda)

Since Jokkmokk is located above the Arctic Circle, I figured it would be cold.  I grew up in New Hampshire, so I am no stranger to cold weather, having seen -30°F before.  Imagine my surprise when it was colder in Florida than here in northern Sweden when a polar vortex descended upon the U.S. and a warm spell graced us.  “Climate change” and “global warming” were batted back and forth like a badminton birdie. The weather and fluctuations in temperature are a big deal here as they greatly affect grazing conditions for reindeer.  Warm weather can melt the snow which refreezes and makes it very difficult for reindeer to dig for lichens, which means the herders must move the reindeer to easier grazing or feed them costly fodder, a difficult undertaking.  We were told that in the last ten years they had one day of thaw before December, and that was bad enough. This year alone they have already experienced three.

The sun is back in our apartment!

The sun is back in our apartment!

The temps here have returned to normal, and the citizens of Jokkmokk have breathed a frosty sigh of relief.  Last night it was -33°F and the high for today was -27°F.  So what does one do when temperatures are this low?  Well you can stay in your warm apartment and watch movies and bake.  Or you can see if your clothes are up to the task and take a hike. After engaging in the former for days on end, Amanda and I decided to go for a walk, but we were afraid to start our car as it is one of the few around here that doesn’t have an engine warmer, and starting an incredibly cold car can be really hard on the engine.

even trees get frost

Even trees get frost

In Sweden they have a saying that goes “Det finns inget dålig väder, bara dåliga kläder” which means “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”  If you have the appropriate clothing, you should be comfortable.  I put on my wool long underwear, then a pair of wool pants, followed by Gore-Tex ski pants.  On my upper my body I had wool long underwear, a wool shirt, a fleece, topped off with a huge down parka made for base camps on Mt Everest, a gift from my mom.  Some big mittens with down liners, a Swedish wool Baklava, a sheepskin/wool hat, heavy wool socks and Mukluks (wool lined, moose hide and canvas soft boots popular with Iditarod racers) rounded out the ensemble. Amanda does hers by numbers: 4 pairs of pants, 2 long-sleeved shirts, 2 fleeces, 2 hats, and 2 down jackets.

a mild face of frost

A mild face of frost

At -30°F the moisture from your breath will often condense and freeze on your eyelashes, mustaches, hair, and anything else close by, giving a very frosty appearance.  As an interesting side note wolverine fur resists this condensing and is therefore very valuable as a trim for a hood (I haven’t seen any wolverine fur yet).  One can stay warm if you are appropriately dressed and moving, though the feeling of -30°F air on your exposed face takes a few minutes to become accustomed to and breathing sometimes hurts.

real deal frost

Real deal frost

We were treated by the appearance of the Sun, which actually poured in through our 3rd story window for the first time in six weeks. It was beautiful outside, the sun casting shadows (they have been absent for quite some time) and illuminating snow covered trees in magnificent light.  We were not the only ones out; we passed quite a few people out for a walk, their faces etched with frost.  We passed a reindeer over-wintering in its owner’s backyard. It glanced at us, looking rather comfortable in its bed of snow. The soft fluffy snow made me wish I was backcountry skiing, and I think I could stay warm even at these temps, as self propelled uphill travel is good at producing heat.  During our walk I had to actually unzip my jacket a bit to let off some extra heat from all the insulating clothes I was wearing (down is still the world’s most efficient insulator, better ounce for ounce than any synthetic).  Perhaps to strengthen this point we saw several birds out and about; ravens, magpies, and of course the cheeky and determined chickadees.

cold can be beautiful, a veiw towards the lake

Cold can be beautiful, a view towards the lake

Our walk lasted about two hours and our cheeks were very rosy when we came into our warm apartment.  We decided to treat ourselves to some “Irish Coffees,” a delicious mixture of strong coffee, sugar, cream, and whiskey of course! (look for the recipe at the end of this post).  After we had warmed up with our Irish Coffees I started thinking about what I could do with all this cold weather culinary: make ice cream!  I have always been confused by people who don’t like to eat ice cream when it’s cold out (Amanda is one of these people).  Historically, before freezers were readily available ice sources, ice-cream would have been very difficult to fabricate in the summer, but not so hard during the winter, as cold is an important ingredient.  In the US I have an ice-cream maker, so I can make ice-cream whenever I want, even in the summer.

making ice-cream using the "outside freezer"

Making ice-cream using the “outside freezer”

The FDA says that freezers should be 0°F to store food, but some stand alone freezers can reach -29°F, so I figured my outside air would be plenty cold (probably even too cold) to make ice cream.  I began by making a simple ice-cream base, heating milk, sugar, vanilla bean, then stirring in egg yolks and cooking until the mixture thickens.  I chilled this ice-cream base in the refrigerator for a few hours while we went for a walk, then poured it into a ceramic 9X13” baking dish and set it outside on our balcony.  Every 15-20 minutes I brought it in and whisked or stirred it with a wooden spoon to prevent ice crystals from forming, this will give it a smooth and creamy texture.  It took about two hours to freeze the mixture into a creamy and firm ice-cream, not bad! I found my inspiration here: www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/02/vanilla-ice-cream/

The sun is back, but it is not very high

The sun is back, but it is not very high

I have a dream of taking ice-cream with me when I go backcountry skiing.  Unfortunately it is often too warm in Oregon to take ice-cream skiing, one risks meltage at temperatures close to 32°F.  Here in Jokkmokk I will have no such pesky warmth problems – unless climate weirdness descends again.  Ice cream is amazing stuff and would ideally be brought on a summer hiking trip, but this would be quite complicated. Backcountry skiing with ice-cream will be easy, and I don’t mind eating ice-cream when it’s cold out, especially after a strenuous uphill.

Tonight the temperature is supposed to drop even lower, and we might even hit that magical number where the Celsius and Fahrenheit scale intersect, -40°!

 

Amanda’s Irish Coffee Recipe

For each serving of Irish Coffee

  • 6oz strong black coffee, freshly brewed
  • 1-2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 ½ oz whiskey
  • 1 T heavy whipping cream (lightly whipped)

 

Put brown sugar in mug or sturdy glass.  Add hot coffee and stir to dissolve brown sugar.  Add whiskey then pour cream over the back of a spoon so if floats on top of the coffee.  Serve and enjoy!

Irish coffee with an almond/anis/lemonzest biscotti

Irish coffee with an almond/anis/lemonzest biscotti

I had told Olof Thomas (OT) my boss and reindeer herder that Amanda, the anthropologist, and I, the ever curious food/farming enthusiast, would love to accompany him on any reindeer related expeditions he might have.  Sure enough one week after meeting him he was calling to ask if we wanted to see a big fall separation of reindeer for the Sirges Sameby in the foothills of the mountains.  “Bring your skis, lunch, and lots of warm clothes and just follow the stream of people on snowmobiles heading into the mountains,” OT instructed us in his fend-for-yourself fashion we’re growing familiar with.

We awoke on Sunday morning in Jokkmokk to find that the mercury had dropped to a brisk twenty below zero (Fahrenheit), which is colder than most freezers.  Luckily our car roared to life after stammering and wheezing most uninspiringly at first.  We scraped with all manner of windshield clearing devices to clear the thick layer of ice and then we were off.  We passed reindeer casually pawing at the snow on the side of the road, regarding us placidly as Amanda tried to immortalize them with a camera thrust out of the window.

Reindeer digging in the snow for food, a common sight along roads

Reindeer digging in the snow for food, a common sight along roads

Though there are not many roads in these parts we still had a hard time figuring out where to turn, as apparently there is also a lack of signs.  After some difficultly and several disagreements we were about to turn around at a large dam Amanda mistook for some sort of guarded compound when we were passed by a car pulling a reindeer trailer. Reassured, Amanda permitted me to drive on past the dam and eventually we found the large parking lot OT described.  Our car seemed to be the only one that didn’t have a reindeer trailer.  We watched a snowmobile disappear into the birch and pine woods and head off into the mountains.  We donned our skis, cinched down our down jackets in an effort to avoid being mistaken for the offspring of the Michelin man, and set off.

Appropriate clothing for -20F skiing

Appropriate clothing for -20F skiingThe skiing was beautiful, high mountains blanketed in thick snow rising to the west, marking the border with Norway.  We quickly reached the tree line and continued on, though we doubted whether or not we were going the right way despite the occasional snowmobile (they are called “snowscooters” in Sweden) passing us.  Finally, after 3 kilometers, dozens of snowmobiles started approaching us, coming down from the mountain, single-file, carefully pulling sleds with passengers nestled in reindeer hides, noses visible beneath thick fur hats. We spied OT and his uncle Per Ola riding together.  The first time I met Per-Ola he was wearing thick green pants, a faded blue button up shirt with suspenders and a white hardhat, keeping himself busy with some task, whether reindeer or fish related.  He is in his mid sixties, and is short and adorable, always chipper and smiling and an excellent crafter of duodji (sami handicrafts).  Before we knew his name we simply called him “funny uncle.”  Per Ola and OT told us we were almost there and that we could see about 6000 reindeer in the corral.  Soon they would be driven down to the lower corral for the separation.  Even though it was only about 1:30pm the sun was setting and we pushed on to see the herd.

The high mountains the form the border with Norway

The high mountains that form the border with Norway

Moisture from our breath froze around our faces, giving us a frosty appearance.  The temperature had not risen during the day so we did not linger long watching the herd of reindeer slowly circulate counterclockwise. Their antlers musically clinked and they quietly grunted, a sound something between the unlikely cross of a frog with a pig. We descended again with a small flock of snow white ptarmigans flying just ahead of us as the light completely left the sky.

Kuorpak Reindeer CorralThe herd of reindeer in the upper corral

On our windshield was a note from OT describing where his cabin was located.  Part of the directions involved turning at a “blue down jacket hung on a pole” and then looking for his car “after a while.”  We found it with no problem and opened two sets of doors to step into his family’s tiny cabin.  A small woodstove blazed and 4 beds lined the outside of the single room, each with another bed underneath and all covered with reindeer hides.  We removed our frozen clothing and warmed ourselves by the fire.  It would be several hours before the reindeer separation which gave my water bottle, now frozen solid, enough thawing time to render the contents slightly liquid.  Now was a time to eat and rest, which we gratefully did.  We accepted OT’s generous offer of reindeer stew with what looked like ramen noodles (Sami fusion food?).  It was warm and delicious and we sipped on glögg (Swedish mulled wine) and talked.

Various people, both relatives and friends, dropped in to say hello, strategize, eat, drink coffee and lie on a reindeer hide.  We met a good many people and heard some funny stories.  OT explained that to be a reindeer herder is to wait.    A snowmobile passed by the cabin and OT was able to tell not only the make and model of the snowmobile, but also the owner, whom he identified as one the herders who had been out gathering the reindeer in subzero temperatures for the last three days.  These herders would have to rest and eat before the separation could begin.  It was only about an hour later that we got word – via smart phone – that it was time to put back on all of warm clothes and go out into the night and -25°F weather to begin the reindeer separation, an activity that could take all night.

Back into the trees along the snomobile tracks

Back into the trees along the snowmobile tracks

OT prepared us for the evening’s separation. He explained that the corral where the reindeer are separated looks like a flower, with a central round area and 20 “petals” peeling off from it.  In the very center of the round part was a pole with a powerful light shining down.  Each petal has a door and is numbered.  OT works with his family, the Utsi’s, so we were in their petal, number 18.  Other people were already on location, busily shoveling snow and making birch wood fires to stay warm.  OT suddenly motioned for us to follow him. We went with about 25 other volunteers to move the reindeer from one corral to the closest big corral.  I grabbed hold of a long piece of plastic, about 5 feet high and 100 feet long, with other volunteers.  By holding this plastic and walking towards the reindeer we could cause them to move in the direction we wanted.  Even though the plastic was not strong enough to hold them, the reindeer did not want to go through or jump over it, so for the most part they did as we wanted.

After moving half the herd into the closer corral, we herded them into another, smaller corral. This time I wasn’t operating the plastic sheet. Instead I was clapping and swinging my arms about, bringing me back to my days at Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Asheville, NC, where I was often herding pigs, cows, and sometimes turkeys.  Several times the reindeer decided it was not in their best interest to go the way we were suggesting, so they turned and ran toward us.  This was a bit unnerving as there were: A) hundreds of them running straight at me; and B) some had enormous antlers.  Both Amanda and I were amazed when the reindeer poured around us like water. Not a single one touched either of us, even though antlers were flashing by perilously close to our heads.  I later learned that it is very rare to be run into by a reindeer. How the song Grandma got run over by a reindeer originated I cannot fathom.

We moved back to the flower and slipped into our petal to wait for the first group of reindeer.  OT said, “Aaron, when I call for you, come and grab the reindeer by the antlers and help me drag it into our area.” That was the first time I had ever heard that particular sentence and I was excited to help.  I was not prepared for the chaos that ensued.  One hundred reindeer poured into the central corral snorting and looking a bit confused.  Meanwhile about 40 reindeer owners, men, women, and children, tried to look at their diminutive ears to find their own special earmark.  People were peering around with craned necks and wrinkled brows. I assume they were wrinkled but it was hard to see too clearly because of the large fur hats most of the people were wearing.

Suddenly a hand would shoot out and grab a reindeer who would immediately try to go the opposite direction.  Oftentimes a hand would come out of a glove and feel one of the reindeer’s ears, to determine precisely who in the family it belonged to.  The herder would pull his reindeer, who was usually striking the same pose one would imagine a horse on a black diamond ski slope would adopt, knees locked, with head pulled back.  At any given moment, reindeer slid past, pulled by their herder into the correct petal.  Some reindeer loitered in front of the petal that perhaps they liked the most; a few it seemed were even looking at the numbers in an attempt to make the whole process easier on everyone.

The lights allow the reindeer separation to go on into the wee hours of the morning

The lights allow the reindeer separation to go on into the wee hours of the morning. This photo comes from a forest reindeer separation. Amanda’s camera froze the night of the Sirges separation.

“Aaron” I would hear and I would dash off to grab a reindeer by the antlers and take it to our petal, sometimes alone but most often opposite another herder.  Both male and female reindeer have antlers, and even the calves have antlers, making them easier to handle.  The calves were about the size of a large yellow lab, but occasionally we came upon a hark (castrated male) that was the size of a very large whitetail deer with enormous antlers.  Once we had dragged the reindeer through our door and into our petal, they were vaccinated against flies, and recorded as to whom they belonged to.  When released, they usually ran a few frantic steps, spotted the other reindeer, and quickly joined the others placidly digging holes in the snow to reach food.

The reindeer we would separate would be transported by trailer (hydroelectric dams, logging, and roads have made driving the reindeer overland increasingly difficult) to their winter grazing grounds where they can be more easily helped in the event of food shortages and predator attacks. One might wonder why a reindeer herder doesn’t try to cheat and take reindeer with other herder’s earmarks and the answer is that it doesn’t help them. Taking someone else’s reindeer means having to take care of them for the winter, a costly endeavor, so herders make certain that they are only claiming their reindeer.

Kuorpak - AmandaAmanda toasts our assent of the foothills.

One of the reindeer we separated had a large open wound on its back haunch, the telltale sign of the wolverine, the most powerful member of the mustelid (weasel) family.  OT and I pulled the reindeer around to see if the butcher would buy the reindeer, but OT got disoriented in the circle corral and we went around too far.  After taking our bearings among all the other herders going their separate ways OT finally located the butcher who agreed to take the reindeer.

Children were at the separation and they worked together to identify and catch their own calves and pull them to the correct door.  Larger reindeer sometimes shook their heads vigorously and it was hard to hold on.  OT and I were pulling an especially strong and exuberant male reindeer with rather large antlers.  As we neared the door he decided he would rather not oblige and began to buck and thrash.  With a loud crack the antler that OT was holding broke off in his hand.  I was just barely able to hold onto this enraged reindeer long enough for OT to grab the now much smaller antler.  We pulled him into the door where OT handed his handhold over to Amanda while he sawed off the other antler (they have no nerves or feeling at this time of the year) so that the reindeer would fit in his trailer.

When most of the reindeer had been claimed someone would shout something in Swedish and everyone would retreat back to their door.  Then a new group would rush in and it would all begin again.    Between reindeer groups we would warm our hands and feet by the birch fire and occasionally sip hot glögg.  Above us the northern lights waved like rivers of greenish light, trailing across the clear night sky.  While we were awestruck by this beautiful display our comrades seemed quite accustomed to being outside at -25°F, separating reindeer under the northern lights.   Our group was speaking North Sami between themselves, but others around us were conversing in Swedish or Lule Sami.  Amanda and I don’t speak any Sami at this point, so we were often spoken to in English, where I seem to do much better.

The decent as the light lives the sky

The sky is remarkable at this time of year.

The reindeer separation would go on for many hours, with the herders working until the early morning hours.  Still OT considered this work a “vacation” and fun, and while I disagree about his first assertion, I did find it quite fun.  Unfortunately we had come ill equipped to spend the night and so we regretfully turned down OT’s invitation to stay and instead we began the 60 mile drive through the dark woods along a road that was commonly used as a “moose safari” road.  Not two miles from Kuorpak we came across a mother reindeer and her calf who trotted ahead of our car along the road, unwilling to jump the high snow bank and wade through the deep snow.  The road was not wide enough for us to pass them so we had to wait and give them ample space.  Eventually the mother veered off and the calf, after a moment’s hesitation, followed her.  Along the way we also saw a beautiful red fox, as well as female moose, as big as cow, lying dead on the road, presumably because of a collision with a very large truck.  The northern lights shifted and flashed across the frigid night sky as we drove along the snow-covered roads back to our warm apartment.

Disclaimer:  If you do not approve of eating animals, become uneasy at the mention of blood, or wish not to see a reindeer being processed *read only to the asterisk*!

“We are not working in Porjus tomorrow. I have to pick up a few of my reindeer,” Olof Thomas, my boss, phoned to tell me.  Porjus is the town about 40 km north of where we live, the location of Utsi Ren and my current place of employment.  Olof Thomas (OT) has dark hair, a slight frame, is just over 30 years old with two kids, and in typical Sami fashion (and in contrast to most Swedes) is not very tall.  He often appears quite serious, but more often he is keeping a straight face to enhance some joke or jest.  A focused worker, he is most happy when doing something and does not like to sit still. Luckily he almost never finds himself with that particular problem.  He grew up in Jokkmokk and trained as a nurse in Uppsala before returning home to herd reindeer and take over his family’s reindeer meat business.

OT received a call from another Sami reindeer herder, telling him that a few of his family’s reindeer were in a neighboring herder’s corral about 100 km away.  The herder, not wishing to care for another person’s reindeer, requested that OT come separate his reindeer from the couple hundred reindeer that were ready to be transported to their winter grazing areas along Sweden’s Bothnian Coast.

OT asked if I would like to accompany him. I excitedly said yes and also secured a car seat for Amanda. Her studies inevitably overlap with reindeer (note the word reindeer doesn’t have an “S” in the plural form, a common mistake).  OT said he would pick us up when it was light, which on December 4th was about 8:30 am, even though the sun doesn’t officially rise until almost 10 am.  He arrived in his old 940 Volvo wagon with a trailer hitch and the first thing we did was retrieve a trailer made to haul reindeer.  The trailer is basically a wooden box, about 5 ½ feet tall by 6 ½ feet wide by however long. This one was about 20 feet.  These djur transport (animal transport) vehicles have a space in the wall near the top so the reindeer can breathe. When the trailer is full of reindeer on a cold day, one thinks smoke is pouring out from the trailer.

The reindeer trailer empty

The reindeer trailer empty

We drove east on the snow covered highway heading towards the coast’s large city of Luleå, following the Little Lule River, one of the traditional autumn migration routes of the reindeer.  We turned off the highway onto a small road where we eventually came across a small herd of reindeer, perhaps 12, digging calmly through the foot deep blanket of snow, looking for edible plants and lichens.  Even though some of the reindeer were on the road and in our path, they moved unconcernedly and deliberately, steam escaping from their noses and antlers nodding in the crisp air.  OT spotted a few of his own reindeer in the herd, discernible by notches cut into the ears which serve as a “brand” of sorts. One must have a trained eye to identify the different marks, knowledge often only gained by growing up as a herder. Another Sami reindeer herder recounted that someone once asked him how they can tell their reindeer apart from the hundreds and sometimes thousands of others. He responded, “We look at their ears and we can tell who the reindeer belongs to.”

The observer’s follow-up question was:

“Where are their ears?”

So it certainly takes a bit of practice and training.

We arrived at the corral, but before we could get out of the car first we had to turn the car and trailer around so it was facing the correct direction.  We drove nearly 2 miles down the road, which like most winter roads in northern Sweden is flanked with high snow banks and just enough space for two cars to pass.   Finding no turn around, we ended up getting out of the car, unhooking the trailer, turning it by hand, then turning the car around and hooking everything back together again.  We arrived at the corral to find about a dozen or so men and one woman standing around a fire, sipping coffee from thermoses and slicing hunks of meat in their hands for lunch.  In a wooden fenced corral, reindeer circled counterclockwise—they mysteriously always move counterclockwise—and their antlers made a light clinking sound.  They are beautiful animals, more stocky than a white-tail deer, with heavy fur and beautiful coloring, shades of browns and white.  Some of them have antlers the size of a hockey goal.

The herders ended their lunch and the reindeer loading began. Trailers were backed right up to the corral, and the reindeer were funneled through the gate using a long, light 5 ft. plastic tarp held by three men. The men used it as a temporary wall to gently encourage the reindeer to move in the desired direction.  The reindeer could easily break through the tarp, but it gives the illusion of being impassible and they usually do not test it. If a deer didn’t manage the jump into the trailer or refused to follow the rest, herders would simply grab it by the antlers and hoist it into the trailer.  I was amazed at how the reindeer could be handled without going into a conniption fit. The loaded trailers rocked and bucked as the reindeer jostled for space.  Once one trailer was loaded the next backed in. The feeling was similar to an airport with planes picking up passengers.

You might wonder why a migrating animal such as the reindeer must be moved to winter grounds by a carbon-eating truck. The reasons are complex but during the last century, these northern landscapes have been crisscrossed by  hydroelectric dams, railroads, open-pit mines, highways, logging areas, and tourists, which have all made driving reindeer overland very difficult.

Powerlines make reindeer herding very difficult, these ones actually "sing" with electricity

Powerlines make reindeer herding very difficult, these ones actually “sing” with electricity

*I saw OT slog through the deep snow for about 10 meters in order to increase the moisture content of the snow, and on the short trip back he detoured to break a small dead, straight branch off of a spruce tree and stuck it in the snow close to the corral. OT joined the others in funneling and loading the reindeer until it was his turn.  In addition to loading a few of his reindeer he was also planning on harvesting a reindeer to sell to a friend.  With the help of another herder named Magnus (who towers over OT and me), he separated his five reindeer and forced them into the chute and then into his trailer.  He and Magnus caught a medium sized reindeer by the antlers, and before we knew what was happening he had quickly stuck a large antler handled knife that hung from his belt into the back of the reindeer’s head, severing the spinal cord.  The reindeer collapsed to the ground and OT and Magnus quickly pulled him out of the corral and off to the side.  OT handed me a plastic container that had a former life holding ice cream and told me to catch the blood.  He removed another knife from his belt and cut a tuft of hair from the reindeer’s chest, exposing the skin beneath.  The knife plunged into the chest, and a few seconds later found the heart, releasing a stream of blood that I caught with the plastic container, holding it until it began to overflow.

The author stirring the reindeer blood

The author stirring reindeer blood

“Here Aaron, this is your job. Take this stick and stir the blood until it cools off, otherwise it will coagulate,” OT instructed me, picking up the stick he had broken off earlier.

I crouched in the snow, stirring the blood and watching it coagulate around the stick into a gelatinous dark blob and marveling how the low temperatures (it was about 12°F) had prevented any of the spilled reindeer blood from soaking into my gloves.  OT and Magnus dragged the reindeer over to a set of trees with a long metal pole fastened between them. They propped the deer up on its back. Pulling yet another knife from his belt OT began skinning the reindeer while Magnus helped.  The men knelt in the snow and chatted as they worked, steam rising off the reindeer in the cold.  Though my fingers were buried in thick gloves, they were still cold.   OT and Magnus worked bare handed with their sleeves rolled up.  This was obviously not the first time they had processed a reindeer, they moved quickly and surely, delicately freeing the hide around tight spots using their knives but mostly tugging and pulling it off.  They scored around the elbow of the reindeer and broke the bone off.

Olaf-Thomas (left) and Magnus removing the reindeer hide

Olaf-Thomas (left) and Magnus removing the reindeer hide

They called me over to help lift the reindeer up, so that it could hang by its back feet from the pole tied between the two trees.  It was heavy and three of us strained to lift well above our heads and slip its back tendons around the protruding pole.  OT used his knife to open the body cavity, carefully covering the tip so as not to puncture the stomach contents.   He removed the offal and then threw snow in the carcass to cool it off. He turned to us and explained,

“You can make many things from the blood.  Yes you can make blood sausages but you can also make blood pancakes and blood dumplings” said OT earnestly.

I myself have a strong affinity for boudin noir, French blood sausages made with cream and usually served with apples. While these are made with pig’s blood, I found reindeer blood to taste very similar.  When I worked at a French butcher shop I used to prepare 30 or 40 pounds of these boudin noir each week.  Their texture is soft and luxurious and the taste is wonderful, though many people like blood sausage much more before they know what it is. “All parts of the reindeer can be eaten or used for something.  Nowadays the slaughter companies throw these parts away and fewer and fewer people know how to prepare all parts of the reindeer. But my father still eats reindeer hooves and head for example” said OT.  I learned that often the trick to prepare these lesser known “cuts” are to simmer them for 5-8 hours.

Amanda and I had been stationary for the last couple of hours and the lack of aerobic activity was causing us to become cold, so we were happy when Magnus carried the now cold reindeer like a bride across the threshold and into the back of OT’s Volvo wagon.  Magnus invited us to his house to warm up and eat our packed lunch, which he supplemented with the usual black coffee so strong one abandons all hope of even trying to mellow it with milk, as well as saffron sweet rolls in the shape of an “8.” OT and Magnus shared information and exchanged drawings of family members’ ear marks in case future reindeer were mixed up, while we played with Magnus’s cute reindeer herding puppy, who was very pretty and well behaved until we started egging her on and Magnus scolded her, further proving we should never own a dog.  Before we left, Magnus showed us an enormous black bear skin and head in his attic. He was forced to keep it there for the sake of the puppy who, he told us, would otherwise spend hours barking at the snarling bear head.

From Magnus’s, we stopped to let out the reindeer in Lakaträsk, the winter grazing grounds for OT’s family.  Amanda and I created a wall to divert them from the road and towards the woods. OT released them from the trailer, and following a bit of panicked confusion, the reindeer trotted off down the powerline in the deep snow.

The trailer was now empty, which was fortunate because OT had to pick up a new snowmobile in Vuollerim, snowmobiles now being a crucial tool for reindeer herding.  Even though the town was dark and quiet, there were quite a few people shopping for snowmobiles, or snowmobile parts.  We helped OT load the new snowmobile, which involved lifting the front skis onto the back of the trailer and then running the tread which caught the lip of the trailer and pulled the snowmobile in.

“Are you excited about your new purchase?” asked Amanda as we drove home. “I am not excited like a kid at Christmas. This is a tool and I am forced to buy it because, now with two kids, I no longer have time to tinker with my old snowmobile.  I would rather ski than use the snowmobile.  Being a reindeer herder can become expensive,” replied OT.

Jokkmokk is a Sami word meaning "bend in the river" which is just visible

Jokkmokk is a Sami word meaning “bend in the river” which is just visible

In New England where I grew up, dairy farmers were forced to take out loans and had to invest tens of thousands of dollars on new equipment and machinery in order to continue to be competitive in a changing food system.   The Sami people have already faced myriad challenges and obstacles, from loss of herding land to the threat of radioactive fallout in reindeer meat from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to make a living from reindeer herding, despite the technological advances, good reindeer meat prices, and labor saving devices, a plight not so different from small scale farmers in the US.

The trip back to Jokmmokk was hurried as OT was responsible for picking up his children from school.  As we extricated ourselves from the car OT asked if he could have some of the blood to make blood pancakes for his family.  We poured some blood into a jar and he drove off.  His children might view blood pancakes the way an American child views a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Reindeer herding is variable work and a herder finds him/herself doing different things nearly every day.  Despite the fact that OT had driven about 200 km, slaughtered a reindeer, loaded reindeer, unloaded reindeer, built a relationship with another herder, bought a snowmobile, picked up his kids, and made them blood pancakes, he considered such a day “easy.”  A few days later we would get a taste of what we considered “hard” work, separating thousands of reindeer in -20°F weather….