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

Wait, what can't they eat?

Wait, what can’t they eat?

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

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

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

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

Warm smoked Sik (whitefish) were succulent and delicious.

Warm smoked Sik (whitefish) were succulent and delicious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cloudberries waiting for their marscapone-cream topping.

Cloudberries waiting for their marscapone-cream topping.

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

Low temperature arctic char with

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

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

Guest Blog and Photos by Amanda

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cute reindeer calf sneaks a bite of freshly delivered food.

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

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

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Reindeer circulate in a large corral before being moved.

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

Migration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow?  Who needs snow to drive a snowmobile?

Snow? Who needs snow to drive a snowmobile?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Saltoluokta's snowmobiles waiting at the ready.

One of Saltoluokta’s snowmobiles waiting at the ready.

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

 

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 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?