Palm Oil Non Sequitur

Weird argument in the World Wildlife Fund’s magazine for why Swedes shouldn’t avoid buying palm oil.

“Sweden has such a small population that it doesn’t matter to the environment whether we buy environmentally destructive palm oil or not. The big markets are in other parts of the world. But if we buy environmentally certified palm oil, then we get to have a voice in the discussion about palm oil production.”

How would a small group of people buying certified oil have any impact on the market for uncertified oil? Makes no sense. I don’t want those producers to cultivate any oil palms whatsoever.

To protect the environment, I prefer to buy local rapeseed oil.

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Weekend Fun

One of four grotesque male faces on a 17th century object in the Tre Kronor castle museum. The piece looks like a little baptismal font, but the label says "possibly a kitchen mortar". Neither function seems likely.

One of four grotesque male faces on a 17th century object in the Tre Kronor castle museum. The piece looks like a little baptismal font, but the label says “possibly a kitchen mortar”. Neither function seems likely.

Had some quality fun this past weekend.

  • Dinner at Tbilisis Hörna, a Georgian + Greek + Italian restaurant. Service was slow and unsynched but the food was great. The deep green tarragon soda in a bottle with almost exclusively Georgian script on the labels added to the sense of not being anywhere near Stockholm.
  • Gig at the Globe Arena’s annexe with psychedelic Australian genius Kevin Parker and his band Tame Impala.
  • Chinese banquet cooked by my wife and sis-in-law, to celebrate the end of the Year of the Wooden Goat and the beginning of the Year of the Fire Monkey. I got out my old mini steam engine and oversaw Jrette operating it with her cousins.
  • Visited the museum in the basement of the northern wing of Stockholm’s Royal Castle, to learn more about its Medieval predecessor that was torn down after a major fire in 1697. Not very informative, mainly a lot of 17th century sculpture fragments. A few Medieval coins were in a tiny, poorly lit glass-topped depression in the floor where you could barely make them out. But one wall of the basement is the castle’s 13th century perimeter and the other is 15th century building fronts, so that’s something. This level was the ground floor at the time: the closest you can get to visiting the Medieval castle.
  • First semla of 2016. Mmm…
  • Bach’s Mass in B minor at Nacka Church, the last major work he completed, played on period-style instruments by the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble. Silver trumpets!

Dear Reader, what did you do for fun over the weekend? It’s an important issue: fun is after all the meaning of life.

Saturday Morning Mushrooms

blandsvampMushroom picking again this morning, this time in the area between Lakelets Skinnmossen and Knipträsket. Found more velvet and birch boletes than we cared to pick.

  • King bolete, Stensopp/Karl Johan, Boletus edulis
  • Orange birch bolete, Tegelsopp, Leccinum versepelle
  • Velvet bolete, Sandsopp, Suillus variegatus
  • Chanterelle, Kantarell, Cantharellus cibarius
  • Gypsy mushroom, Rynkad tofsskivling, Rozites caperata
  • False saffron milkcap, Blodriska, Lactarius deterrimus

Oh how annoying that the image gallery function is so bug-ridden.

Crayfish Gastroliths

It’s the time of the year when it used to become legal to catch and sell Swedish crayfish (since 1994 there is no limit), and so the grocery stores sell Turkish and Chinese crayfish for a few weeks. The traditional way to eat them is to boil them with dill, salt and a little sugar, and serve them with toast, strong cheese, beer and akvavit. I don’t drink but I love shellfish, so crayfish time is always a treat for me. My wife, being refreshingly unorthodox about traditional Swedish customs, and indeed about all traditional customs thanks to a Maoist childhood, served crayfish with smoked shrimp, aïoli and boiled potatoes last night.

There’s a fun detail about these animals: sometimes you find a pair of little white buttons in their heads. These are known as kräftstenar in Swedish, “crayfish stones”, and gastroliths in English. (The same word is also used for actual stones eaten by crocodiles, birds and other dinosaurs to help digest their food.) As Andrew Hosie of the Western Australian Museum explains:

… crayfish gastroliths … represent a remarkable physiological process to conserve calcium.

Much like people require calcium for strong and healthy bones, so too does a freshwater crayfish to maintain its armour. … As crayfish (indeed all crustaceans) grow bigger, they must periodically shed the exoskeleton and form a new one. To start a new exoskeleton from scratch would require large amounts of new calcium.

The hormones that drive moulting (referred to as ecdysis) trigger calcium carbonate to be removed from the exoskeleton and starts forming a pair of these gastroliths in the stomach. After the crayfish has moulted, the gastroliths are reabsorbed and used in the strengthening of the new exoskeleton. Only freshwater crustaceans form gastroliths because unlike seawater, freshwater has very little dissolved calcium salts, so in an effort to retain calcium, crayfish form these little gastroliths, or even eat the old exoskeleton.

Check out the strange story of what my friend Eddie unexpectedly caught in his crayfish trap.

Friday Mushrooms

zvampHas it really been almost four years since I blogged about mushrooms? This afternoon me and my wife repeated our September 8, 2010 expedition to the hills between Lakes Lundsjön and Trehörningen and picked almost a kilo of mushrooms in a bit more than an hour. We got:

  • King bolete, Stensopp/Karl Johan, Boletus edulis
  • Bay bolete, Brunsopp, Boletus badius
  • Orange birch bolete, Tegelsopp, Leccinum versepelle
  • Birch bolete, Björksopp, Leccinum scabrum
  • Entire russula, Mandelkremla, Russula integra
  • Two kinds of red or brown brittlegill, mild-tasting and thus non-poisonous. Scandyland has more than 130 species of brittlegill, none are deadly and luckily there’s a simple taste test for which ones are good to eat.

Deservedly Forgotten Swedish Drink

Sweden used to have its own version of Irish Coffee: kaffekask. It was big in the 19th century and I believe it dropped from favour during our 1917-55 period of liquor rationing. Nobody seems to drink kaffekask anymore.

A kask is a type of helmet like the ones worn by English bobbies. But that’s apparently not the etymology of kaffekask. More likely it comes from Low German karsch, “harsh”, “abrasive”.

Kaffekask consists only of coffee and 40% (70° proof) potato schnapps plus optionally a sugar cube per cup. Swedish schnapps (brännvin, “burn wine”) is usually flavoured and does not to my knowledge go through the barbarous vodka process where you distill nearly pure alcohol and mix it down again with water. But that is not to say that it is anything like Irish whiskey. Brännvin nowadays is an old folks’ drink taken only at a few ritualised feasts a year to the tune of old drinking songs.

Should you still want to try this blast from the past, there is a traditional way to get the proportions right. You put a silver coin and a copper coin in your cup. Pour coffee into it until you can’t see the silver coin anymore. Then top up with brännvin until you can see the copper coin again. It will be harsh.

Bread and Microbes

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I found some slightly mouldy bread in the cupboard, cut off the mould and made toast. And I thought about bread and microbes.

For flavour, not as a raising agent, I make sour dough. My method is simple: I mix rye flour with water in a glass, cover it with cling film and put it on the countertop for a week or so. Lactic acid bacteria soon colonise the mix, lowering the pH to make the environment cosy for themselves and deter any other opportunistic microbes.

When the sour dough smells like vinegar I make bread dough with it, adding a second microbe: yeast fungus. The yeast eats sugar in the flour that the lactic acid bacteria haven’t had time to gobble up, and then it emits carbon dioxide gas, causing the bread to rise. (Rubbery gluten protein in the flour makes sure tenacious bubbles form instead of the gas seeping out of the dough.)

Then I bake the bread, which kills off the bacteria and yeast. After 50 minutes at 225 C, the bread is sterile. And delicious! But after a week or so, the bread gets recolonised by microbes, unwelcome ones. This time its another group of fungi, blue-green mould. Tastes awful, so I cut those bits off.

And my toast? I ate it all, sending it straight into the greatest throng of microbes it had ever encountered: the symbiont bacteria in my gut.

Phew, Salami Is Not Spiced Adipocere

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Adipocere / corpse wax:

a wax-like organic substance formed by the anaerobic bacterial hydrolysis of fat in tissue, such as body fat in corpses. … a crumbly, waxy, water-insoluble material consisting mostly of saturated fatty acids. Depending on whether it was formed from white or brown body fat, adipocere is grayish white or tan in color. … The transformation of fats into adipocere occurs best in the absence of oxygen in a cold and humid environment, such as in wet ground or mud at the bottom of a lake or a sealed casket …

Wikipedia

Salami:

Salami are cured in warm, humid conditions to encourage growth of the bacteria involved in the fermentation process. Sugars (usually dextrose) are added as a food source for the bacteria during the curing process … Lactic acid is produced by the bacteria as a waste product, lowering the pH and coagulating and lowering the water-holding capacity of the meat. The acid produced by the bacteria makes the meat an inhospitable environment for other, pathogenic bacteria …

Wikipedia

Sheep In Cabbage

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I am making fÃ¥rikÃ¥l, a dish whose name has a kind of brutal literality, meaning “sheep in cabbage”. It doesn’t ring quite so harshly in Swedish, as we have no separate word for mutton, using the same word for the animal as for its meat. I’m making fÃ¥rikÃ¥l because I had it in Oslo a few weeks back when I happened to visit that city on the day following the great Sheep In Cabbage Day, which has been celebrated on the last Thursday of September since 1997. (Here’s a basic recipe. Opinions differ as to whether you should use black pepper or allspice, and possibly add bay leaves and thyme.)

Bellman’s Pale Rhenish

Dear Reader, please try saying “ENSKTBLEH”. Yes, six consonants in a row. ENSKTBLEH. OK? Now sing it, loudly and happily. Go!

I’ve spent three happy days at the first ever Picture Stone Symposium in Visby, listening to papers, moderating some bits and giving a presentation of my own that went down pretty well. And one evening I was reminded of a) that I’m a weird singer, b) that one of C.M. Bellman’s least felicitous phrases occurs in one of his best-beloved song lyrics.

During a reception Thursday night in the Picture Stone Hall of the Gotland County Museum, a UK colleague asked me and a lady whose name I didn’t catch to sing something in Swedish. She suggested Bellman’s Bort allt vad oro gör, “Begone All Troubles”, and we went at it. Now, I don’t have great vocal range, defined as the number of notes between the lowest and highest ones I can comfortably sing. But my main problem is where that range is on the scale. My high tenor is out of phase with most people’s ranges, so when this lady intoned the song, she put it right in a spot where I couldn’t do the whole thing without frequently switching octaves. Sigh.

“Begone All Troubles” is about relaxing and sampling wines. And this is where Bellman makes the singer go ENSKTBLEH. Vad det var läckert! Vad var det? Rhenskt bleckert? Oui, Monseigneur. “This was really good! What was it? Pale Rhenish? Yes Sir.” RhENSKTBLEckert. Silly drunken poet.

The word bleckert fell out of use more than a century ago. It is a cognate of “bleach” and Sw. blek, “pale”. The vintage may still be around though: apparently it was made in the area between Coblenz and Andernach. What’s it called nowadays?