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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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!