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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.

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

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

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

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

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

Snow?  Who needs snow to drive a snowmobile?

Snow? Who needs snow to drive a snowmobile?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Saltoluokta's snowmobiles waiting at the ready.

One of Saltoluokta’s snowmobiles waiting at the ready.

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

 

“What the heck is Upski?”  I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).