Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kulor and muffs

If you know me, you know that I can be a bit of a control freak. I fully admit it - no use trying to deny the truth. And this was very much the case last year as I planned our wedding. As you can imagine, it was a bit more extreme than usual. 

So I decided... I mean we decided... on a nautical-ish theme for our big day. This didn't get fully carried out in the end, but for awhile I was obsessed with finding these. Do you know what they are? They were used way back to keep track of fishing nets, bobbing along the surface of the water to mark the spot. I don't actually know what they're called in English (glass balls?), but in Swedish they're glas kulor - and I went to every antique store I could (much to NS' chagrin) asking for these beauties.  

In the end, I found only one at a darling little antique store in NS' hometown Västervik. I visited in July last year asking for them and the owner said he had one put away in storage, but he'd have it for me when I came back at Christmas. Lo and behold, as soon as I walked in the door that December, he had it ready and waiting - my very own beautiful glas kule. 

The photo above is from that same antique store this fall with this gorgeous muff. I was tempted to buy it, but unfortunately it looks much warmer on the outside than it is on the inside. Perhaps I'll cave in anyway this Christmas. 

Not that it's been that cold so far this winter. Although winter doesn't technically start until December 21, in Sweden, winter's arrival is marked by the first 5 consecutive days below 0 degrees celsius. I'm not actually sure if we've hit that mark yet. 

I can attest, though, that it's been a wet fall. And from the seat of my bike, it's felt pretty cold to me. And it always feels like the wind is against me. Why does that happen? As of this week, though, I caved in and bought a monthly public transport card. Looking forward to all the books I can read now as the world passes by outside my warm bus. I guess that's the official start of winter for me - goodbye biking until 2014!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Recycling rant

I was reading an article last night that described my new neighborhood, Hammarby sjöstad, as an "ecological sustainability effort" to show that "a sustainable community can be achieved in a capital city." As nice as Hammarby sjöstad is, I must say I beg to differ.

My main objection is the scarcity, or rather, complete lack of recycling facilities. Sweden is known to be recycling-obsessed  and Swedes are really good at it. People rinse out their old tetra packs, unfold them, and sort them out from the metals, plastics, cardboard, newspaper, batteries... if it's not biodegradable, there's probably a place to recycle it. 

And throughout Stockholm, there are canisters every few blocks on the side of the road for each of these recyclables.

But not in Hammarby sjöstad! I realized this when we first arrived and I carried some cumbersome boxes around the neighborhood (much to the embarassment of NS) looking for these canisters only to finally surrender to throwing the boxes away. I later carried a load to the mall, sure I'd find something — again, nothing.

I guess the idea is that every building has it's own recycling room so there's no need for it street-side. But not our building! Oh, except between 7 and 7:30pm on  Wednesdays and Sundays. And only for paper and metal. Apparently there've been vandalism problems, forcing 24-hour access to be closed. 

My solution? Every morning, I carry all our recyclables in my bike basket to work and stop along the way to drop them in a receptacle. Do I look like a crazy person? Yes. But it's in the name of earthliness. 

And let's not even talk about how long it takes the water in our apartment to get warm. Talk about a waste! 

In the meantime, I will continue to doubt Hammarby sjöstad's claim - and will continue to carry my boxes and cans yonder. 

Thank you for actually reading to the end this ridiculous recycling rant. I promise it won't happen again.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Stockholm's first pop-up restaurant has a secret

On Thursday night, NS & I indulged in a 9-course meal by a 2-Michelin star chef from London for 495 sek (about $78). Sounds pretty good, right? Especially when considering Stockholm's classically exorbitant prices. But there was a catch....

And I wrote about it in my first article published in The Local! Check it out here:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

To the East Side

Moving is never something to look forward to. The destination, maybe yes, hopefully yes. But I've never heard anyone say "I can't wait to move this weekend, it's going to be so much fun!" And yet, it is almost always a reality for everyone at least once in a lifetime. For Stockholmers, it's more like once a year. And when the owner of your apartment decides they want to move back in, your time is up. 

Our view from the kitchen sink

Fortunately for us, a friend of a friend was renting out his apartment on the exact day we needed a new place - and so we have come to live in Hammarbysjöstad, which translates to "Hammer Village Lake Town." Who wouldn't want to live in a place with that name? 

Hammarbysjöstad is actually still a part of Stockholm, but just East of the city center. And a beautiful place it is. It's one of Stockholm's more modern areas, up and coming you might say. Our building was one of the first, built 12 years ago. Now the area is quite built up and has lots of restaurants and cafes along open, water-side patios. Unfortunately, we've arrived just in time for the weather to cool off - and drastically so. Last week felt almost like summer, and now it's barely above freezing when I ride my bike to work.

I must admit, though, while I appreciate modernity, I will always love the old areas of Stockholm. The charm, the history, the character. I love imagining what happened in those same places decades, or centuries ago. Built in the 1920's, our apartment in Fredhäll had that worn-in character. But it was also very small and had no elevator... now we can ride up and down all we want! I'm still trying to take the stairs, though, for old-times' sake. 

We had a good run, Fredhäll - thank you for a wonderful 2 years and 3 months. Thank you also to our fabulous crew of helpers for Sunday's move. And now it's time to unpack the boxes covering the kitchen table... and the floor... and the bathroom... we've got a lot of stuff for a couple that doesn't have a lot of stuff.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Oh what a summer it's been

I'm alive! 

I just realized it's been more than 3 months since I last wrote. That's more than a whole summer. I'm sorry. I won't leave you like that again. 

But it was one hell of a summer. 

one of the last photos of the night

In case you didn't know, I went from Miss to Mrs. Mrs. Syk, that is. I'm still getting used to it. And trying not to think about all the weird pronunciations I have to look forward to. The joys of an old Swedish soldier's name. I'm the 61st Syk in Sweden, and in all likelihood, the 61st in the world! And the only Katie Syk, I'm sure.

We said goodbye to Stockholm in mid-July and didn't come back until the end of August. 6 weeks off. Hallelulah! 

2 weeks in Annapolis preparing for the wedding (there were just a few last details to take care of - haha)
August 3: a lifetime of wedded bliss begins!
Followed by a lazy, food-filled week with my family at our favorite Delaware beach, Rehoboth
Honeymoon! 10 days down south in Costa Rica, the land of pura vida. What an adventure! Snakes, monkeys, frogs, lizards, whales, tapirs (I didn't know what a tapir was before I saw one heading directly at me on a trail in Corcovado National Park - fortunately they're 500+ pounds of friendly ambivalence)

And our last stop: a whirlwind 6 days in San Francisco/ Sonoma Valley for V&S' gorgeous wedding

Now back to sunny Stockholm. Surprisingly sunny considering it's September 21, the "first official day of fall." I even saw a guy swimming this morning. Thank God for Indian summers to get me through the end-of-holiday blues. 

But to tell you the truth, it actually hasn't been too bad. Catching up with friends and getting back into a routine is nice, with lots more free time too. And I did come out on top with a husband and all. Another word I need to get used to. Husband. Eeeek! 

Thanks for coming back and reading, despite my lengthy hiatus. I plan to be posting now, full speed ahead. And perfect timing, too, with the darkness rapidly closing in on us, Indian summer or not. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

All of Stockholm saw my underwear this morning

And if anyone missed it, they got another chance in the late afternoon and early evening. The combination of a slightly too short dress and a too high seat on my bicycle was not optimal, to say the least. But it wasn't my fault. Really.

My bike was stolen yesterday. Over the last several months, I have become better acquainted with how it feels to come to the spot where you left your bike the night before and find it missing. This happened last November - but on a rainy, cold morning, I was almost thankful to have to take the bus to work.

Yesterday, however, that same helpless feeling was made worse in finding the wimpy lock that had protected my bike sliced in half on the ground outside my apartment where I'd last left it. Someone had come down my tiny bike path of a street and deliberately stolen my bike, equipped with what very well could have been a pair of kitchen scissors - a preconceived burglary.

I defeatedly trudged to the tunnelbana station and got on the sweaty, crowded train. How I longed to be pedalling in the warm sun!

After arriving home last night (by foot), NS made a discovery - my bike had been "returned" and was parked in the bike dock of the apartment next door! What luck, what happiness! The perpetrator had realized their mistake of having stolen the worst bike on the block! Hurra!

I must admit that I have cursed my bike countless times since buying it in April, but, if nothing else, this incident has given me an appreciation for my main mode of transportation. 

The bike was returned intact, albeit a missing seat cover and, curiously, a raised seat. Hence, the day's never-ending peep show. My hope is that in such a liberal city, no one minded too much, but I'm not so sure. Only in Stockholm is a bike stolen in the morning and returned by night fall. And just so you all know, I've now invested in a real lock... let's hope this was my last robbery. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Fishy fishy

Something fishy is happening in Stockholm - you find it walking through malls, ads for it are everywhere, entire salons are dedicated to it. 

It's fish pedicures and manicures! Have you heard of them? Your feet and hands are placed in a tank of water filled with dozens of tiny, flesh-eating garra rufa fish which eat your dead skin. Sounds pretty nice, huh?

I experienced my first - and probably last - fish treatment on Friday. A Groupon lure, MP and I decided to give it a shot. It wasn't until about 3 seconds before we submerged our hands in the tank that I realized how disgusting this was. The visions I had of relaxing with a "manicure" and "pedicure" disappeared with the cool water temperature and feeling of creatures nibbling away on my fingers. I never would have envisioned participating in this treatment, let alone actually paying for it, but the craze has become so wide-spread here that I didn't give it much thought until it was too late.

Apparently the practice of fish pedicures started in Turkey where these garra rufa fish originate. The fish have been used for healing purposes for over 400 years, not only softening skin but also alleviating eczema and psoriasis. The practice has spread through Asia, too, where you can also submerge your entire body in a tank of fish! I don't think I'll ever be lured into that tank, no matter how healing it may be, thankyouverymuch.

There were a few others in the salon with us, none of whom seemed to be too bothered by what was happening to their hands or feet, while MP and I squirmed and writhed every few seconds as a fish tail flapped against our hands and feet. 

20 minutes of hand and 40 minutes of feet submersion later, our appendages felt... soft. Not so soft, but slightly soft. I wonder how long we would need to be in there to get a drastic effect. Athough I have to say, I'm not curious enough to ever do it again. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

HoppingAvettCentralbadetMamdou kind of Weekend

Last Friday night was First Friday Hopping in Stockholm! Started here in November, First Friday Hopping is an open night for art galleries and craft shops to showcase their goods. BONUS: free wine at all stops + snacks + sales = happy Friday. Our tipsy hopping was followed by dinner at a local Italian restaurant - I Cinque Sensi - where the food was slightly disappointing, but the company more than made up for it.

portraits in the window at Ebbas Värld gallery - Ebba was the cutest, most eccentric artist we met, and wanted to draw everyone's face, but our stomachs were growling; photo by Grace Ann

On Saturday night, after gorging on Czech beef and potatoes, MP & I managed our way to the front of the Avett Brothers concert at Debaser in Medborgarplatsen. Those Carolina brothers know their stuff - a truly great show.

On Sunday, NS & I celebrated 7 years together! How 7 years has passed since that fateful day in Perth when we first met, I have no idea, but we celebrated the day at Centralbadet and the night at Mamdou's. 

Despite appearances, Centralbadet (although probably not this sign) dates back to 1904 as a spa in the middle of central Stockholm. Nestled on a courtyard of apartments off the main shopping steet, Drottningatan, the spa is a haven of relaxation. Hot pools, cold pools, big pools, small pools, pools for feet, pools for laps, pools for lounging - we made sure to try each one. Then there were the saunas - mixed saunas, dry saunas, steam saunas and a "cold air shower" to cool off (aka a hole in the wall with air blowing out). Around the main lap pool were candelabras and cozy nooks for contemplation. Have you ever swam by candlelight?

We finished off our day at cozy Mamadou, a new Asian restaurant about a 15-minute walk from our apartment. Despite the fact that we were served the wrong wine (twice, we thought, but through later research, we came to discover that shiraz and syrah are actually the same thing - who knew?) and despite our appetizers and mains being served together, we had a wonderful meal and were perfectly, if not overly, full when we left.

Thank you, älskling, for 7 amazing years - and here's to many, many more!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mexican food in Stockholm - yes!

Welcome Grace Ann of On My Bike with Scissors and a Cast Iron Skillet to Delicious Ambiguity! Here's her take on how a Texas girl survives Stockholm's scant Mexican variety. Enjoy!

What do corn tortillas, leftover baked potatoes, eggs, a cast iron skillet, cheese, avocado, and salsa all have in common? The most awesome skillet breakfast ever, that’s all. 

I woke up this morning craving the taste of Tex Mex and when I opened the refrigerator door, it was as if these ingredients were glowing. My eyes quickly picked out what was relevant to a Tex Mex skillet breakfast and I started chopping, cooking and assembling. The result: deliciousness!

One of the things I have missed the most living here in Sweden is Mexican and Tex Mex food. Coming from Texas, going out for Mexican food and margaritas, or creating a Mexican fiesta at home was something that happened on a regular basis, sometimes several times a week. 

When we first moved to Stockholm, we tried our best to embrace what was available here: combination corn and flour tortillas, salsas with little to no complexity or spice, and cheddar cheese as the best “Mexican” cheese option. Luckily cilantro, avocados and jalapeños were plentiful and tomatillos available seasonally so we were able to make do.

Add to that the occasional, very-much-appreciated care packages filled with salsas, green chilis and enchilada sauce from friends and family at home, and we couldn’t really complain. 

Over time, we've been able to add to our Mexican food resources with the discovery of tiny pieces of Mexico and Tex Mex tucked within the nooks and crannies of Stockholm. The “infamous” La Neta taco restaurant, now with two locations, has several vegetarian options and delicious, homemade salsa. 

And our most recent discovery, a store called Extreme Food, sells an assortment of burn-your-gizzard-out salsas, sauces, and chilis, as well as their quaint little corner devoted solely to Mexican imports. Now, armed with our own tortilla press and a plethora of authentic ingredients, Mexican food is no longer something we have to long for. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

28 Years Young

I have to admit, 28 has been pretty swell so far. 

my birthday party, photo by Heini

I woke up to NS singing me happy birthday with breakfast in bed (a Swedish tradition) - a cheese and marmalade sandwich with dried mango slices on the side (not a Swedish tradition) - and a birthday candle to blow out. No matter that I could only manage 1 bite; not used to eating until I'm at my desk at work. 

Lunch at one of Stockholm's best Thai restaurants (there are many), Koh Phangan. An incredible fika at work of raspberry white chocolate cupcakes, directly followed by the Swedish Fat Tuesday pastry called semla (see below). How convenient (and appropriate, given my love of food) that my birthday fell on such a day. 

And in the evening, a lovely book club meeting to discuss The Kitchen House, an amazing, albeit depressing book. With heart-shaped chocolate cupcakes with chocolate cream-cheese frosting. No wonder my nickname is Kakie.

On Saturday, I threw myself a birthday party with about 30 of my nearest and dearest. I don't imagine our neighbors were too happy given the increasing music volume as the evening progressed into morning - but we didn't mind. And hey, no one complained. 

And on Monday, I started my annual bikram yoga marathon, this time for 10 days. It's the new studio discount, and fortunately for me, a new studio just opened up. Not sure what I'll do when this one's done since I'll have used up my newcomer deals at all of Stockholm's studios, but I'm feeling amazing for now. Hurrah 28!

semla (1), semlor (many!)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cross country skiing and birthday surprises

Since it is inevitable that I'll be turning 28 tomorrow, I have couldn't have asked for a better way to begin what is indisputably my late 20s.

My 30-kilometer Kristinaloppet cross country ski race was on Saturday, and I have to say, I was pretty nervous about it over the few days leading up to that cold, snowy morning. Friday night, NS & I rented a car and did our best to prepare for a hitch-less 6:30am departure for Norberg, about 2 hours northwest of Stockholm.

the start - trust me, I was far from up front

Late on Friday night, NS told me that I might want to bring my bathing suit, "just in case we come across a pool somewhere." I've made it my mantra to bring my bathing suit on every trip for fear of missing an opportunity to jump into whatever body of water we happen upon, but it didn't cross my mind for this particular adventure - it's tough to swim in lakes coated in thick sheets of ice.

"And maybe bring some other clothes, just in case we decide to stop for dinner somewhere," he added.

I was elated! I absolutely love surprises and couldn't wait to see what this one would be.

Our 6:30 departure was a bit delayed, but we still had plenty of time before the race's 10am start. That is, until we missed a turn (I can only blame myself, as the navigator, who needed a quick cat nap). Narrow, back-country roads wind-swept by mounds of light snow led us to our destination with 30 minutes to go go go! I made it to the start line just 20 seconds before the start gun sounded, without having waxed my skis (this is a crucial part of cross-country skiing, and one which I'm far from mastering) - ooops!

coming up on the finish!

The terrain of the Kristinaloppet is not particulary challenging - it's hilly, but nothing too extreme. However, for some reason, I didn't get in a good flow until kilometer 26. That means 26 kilometers of against the wind perseverance - snow in face - ache in lower back - fingers stuck in a grasp of my poles.  I struggled onward, propelled by dreams of blueberry soup (the traditional drink handed out to cross-country skiers at the hydration stations) only to be disappointed after a couple sips.

By the time I made it back to the finish line some 4 hours and 20 minutes after starting in the same spot, most of the spectators had gone home. I managed a strong finish, and passed a couple people on the way, but I have to say it wasn't a heroic performance by any means. Still, I did it! 458th out of 511.

After booking it to the car to salvage what was left of NS' frozen fingers, we headed to the surprise destination, which turned out be Friibergh herrgårdThis beautiful hotel is located along the shores of a lake north of Stockholm in an estate dating back to 1329.  We made it just in time for afternoon tea, and nestled onto a comfy fireside couch with finger sandwiches, baked goods, and beers. It was heaven.

After eating a few too many skagen (a delicious shrimp mix) sandwiches, we relaxed in the hotel's basement pool and sauna before our 5-course dinner. The food was incredible - and we finished it all. Each course was paired with a specially selected drink - white wine, red wine, cognac, something else I'd never heard of. By the end, I was full beyond belief and could barely keep my eyes open. 30km + a 5-course meal will do that to you.

On Sunday morning, we awoke to see ice skaters fly by on the lake outside our window in the annual ice skating race from Uppsala to Stockholm - vikingarännet. We explored the grounds a bit before hopping back in the car and back home. It was an incredible weekend and the perfect start to my late 20s!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Friday at Piren

For the last 2 Friday nights, I've taken NS to dinner - pretty nice deal for him, eh? 

The first was to a restaurant called Piren, or the pier, an appropriate name, as the restaurant is built entirely over the water on a pier. It's modern, straight-lined design creates a cozy interior enclosed by glass walls to enjoy the gorgeous views. Piren is just a 10-minute walk from our place, and I've been itching to go, so I surprised NS with it by leading him through the snowy, waterside, moon-lit trail to our destination.

A bottle of red and some homemade rolls with cream cheese held us over until our entrées arrived - mine a grilled, rosemary & garlic-encrusted lamb filé with creamy carrot mash and truffle oil and NS a grilled entrecote with bearnaise sauce and fries. 

And dessert of course: créme brulée with caramel apple sorbet and chocolate fondant with passionfruit ice cream. Quite a mix of flavors, but they worked.

Then there was our culinary experience this past Friday, of slightly lesser quality - our late-night stop at Max's (the McDonald's of Sweden, but better). But ohhhh how my cheeseburger and fries hit the spot!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Cross Country Skiing through a Winter Wonderland

Last winter, I received my first pair of cross country skis, hand-me-downs from NS' dad's lovely wife. They were made in 1985 in Yugoslavia and I couldn't have been happier to have them! No matter that I had only been cross country skiing a total of 3 times in my life, if you count the time a friend and I duct-taped skiis to our shoes because we couldn't find the boots. Which makes me pretty much the most clueless country country skier in Sweden. No joke.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to test these beauties last year as there was too little snow, so this winter, I was excited to try them out. After a test run around the park by our apartment, I decided to register for a 30-kilometer race, the Kristinaloppet, on February 9. Why not? 

The race is part of a competition called the Tjejklassikern, or "Girl Classic." The Tjejklassikern is made up of 4 events - 30 km cross country skiing, 100km biking, 1 km swimming (thank God only 1), and 10 km running - which take place throughout the year.

I've been training over the last couple weeks, and I can tell you that it's been quite a steep learning curve. My first time involved taking a bus - metro - commuter train to one of Stockholm's wealthy northern suburbs, Täby, where I promptly wandered through neighborhoods and fields of horses in search of the alleged 5-kilometer track. No one seemed to know for sure where it was and, long story short, I ended up getting a ride from a sweet old lady off the side of the road. The 5 kilometers went pretty smoothly, albeit I was the slowest one there.

Last weekend's journey to another track - Ursviks Motionsgård - was thankfully less of a mission, but the 10 kilometers I finished may as well have been 100. The trail wound through forests, up and down hills, each downhill leaving me terrified. Having spent the last 20 years downhill sking, it is a huge adjustment getting used to the long, narrow cross country skis, and I couldn't seem to keep my balance, even on the slightest decline. This explains the monster of a bruise on my left hip.

Third time's a charm. This past Saturday, I met a friend and braved Ursviks Motionsgård again. I'm not sure how I summoned the courage to return, but I'm thankful I did. The day was clear, sunny, and about -10°F - the coldest day so far this winter.  We finished 15 kilometers, getting slightly lost on a supposed 7-kilometer trail, then tacking on a 5k to finish. 

It was incredible. Every branch of each tree was covered in a delicate layer of frost, as were our hair and eyelashes. Men whizzed by us looking like true Vikings, their beards a blotch of whiteness (to be honest, everyone whizzed by us, no surprises there). The air was full of tiny glimmering ice crystals, shining in the rays of sun. We passed dogs running through the snow, one pulling his own packed sled, and horses stomping through the powder. 

And the most incredible thing of all: I didn't fall once. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Royal Concept @ Medis

Nik's cousin is the drummer in the back :)

Last Friday, NS & I headed south to Söder where we watched his cousin, Povel's band, The Royal Concept play before a crowd of several hundred at the ever-popular Medborgarplatsen's Debaser. We were definitely some of the oldest in the crowd, as NS kept pointing out, but that didn't stop us from squeezing to the very front for the full effect.

If you haven't heard this upcoming band, check them out. You'll undoubtedly be hearing more from them soon.

2 of my favorites>
D-D-Dance (cutest start to a video EVER)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 3 days in

They say 13 is an unlucky number. I'm hoping they're wrong, although my hailing in 2013 was not under the best of circumstances as I sprawled on the couch recovering from a stomach flu. 

On the bright side, at least I didn't have to start dieting - my body did it for me. Whether from food poisoning or the notorious vinterkräksjukan (a highly contagious stomach bug which is rampant through Sweden's well-insulated houses this time of year), it was over in a day, thank God. And since then, 2013 has been on the up. Well... almost anything is on the up when you're sick.

so excited for 2013

As for resolutions, I've decided to de-clutter my life, both physically and mentally. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a collector of all sorts - clothes, shoes, sea glass, text messages, scraps of paper, every thank you note and invitation I've ever received - they're all here, and I cannot seem to part with them. Not so convenient for someone who moves somewhat frequently, but what can I say - I'm sentimental. 

However, I have recently been struck by the urge to get rid of stuff. (Perhaps the fact that since Christmas, my clothes do not all fit in my drawers has something to do with it.) Either way, I'm taking advantage of the urge while it lasts and plan to get rid of one thing every day for as long as I can. Quality over quantity, right? 

As for the mental de-clutter, I'm trying to find a balance and focus on the important things. As they say, don't sweat the small stuff.

I'll let you know how long it lasts, but I can happily report I'm going strong 3 days in. What is your New Years Resolution?