Saturday, July 28, 2012

Swedish Fish

A little over two years ago, we found ourselves on the island of Gotland off the coast of Sweden. It was June 24th. We had enjoyed a wonderful hike along the seacoast, beachcombing. And then we visited the main town, Visby.

Visby was a lovely place, narrow streets of neat stucco houses painted in pastel colors. Brightly colored flowers flourished in window boxes and tiny patch gardens. But the odd thing about Visby was the silence. There were no people walking in town, no children playing in the yards, no laundry flapping in the breeze. All the doors were shut tight. I was beginning to think that Visby was a museum the size of a town. Lovely, but sterile.

As we came to the edge of town, there was the ruins of an old church and a graveyard. And at last, some humans, walking their dogs. But so few...they couldn't possibly be inhabitants. We walked more, into a park with wide expanses of grass and large ancient trees. And an odd sound: the voice of a man, magnified and echoing. Followed by music...and then singing, surely the singing of children.

Over the crest of a hill and then we saw them: the entire population of Visby, lounging on blankets arranged around a towering maypole decorated with flowers. The adult Swedes were eating picnic lunches; the children, many wearing wreaths of fresh flowers, were encircling the maypole, dancing, singing, and gesturing to the melodies--think the Swedish version of the Hokey-Pokey. This was no ghost town!

The delight of witnessing Midsommer--one of the most important festival days in Scandinavian culture--made such an impression on my family, that we've celebrated Midsommer since then. No Maypole for us--I have teenaged sons, after all--but a traditional Swedish picnic meal. New potatoes, scrubbed and sauteed in a pan, seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh dill or parsley. Cucumbers--English seedless are best--thinly sliced and prepared with a simple dressing. Sometimes I make a quick brine with water, sugar, salt, and vinegar, accented with dill; other times, I toss the cukes with a spoonful of olive oil, white vinegar, salt and pepper, and chopped dill.

And then there's the salmon. So simple. On a hot day, this prep doesn't overheat the kitchen, and the poaching helps the fish stay moist.

Swedish Poached Salmon
adapted from the Swedish tourism website, www.sweden.se

1 1/2 to 2 lbs fresh salmon filet, wild caught is best

Poaching liquid:
1 quart water
1/2 c white vinegar
2 Tbs sea salt
5 peppercorns
5 whole allspice
2 bay leaves
1 carrot, chopped
3-4 stalks of chives, fresh
3-4 stalks of dill, fresh

Combine all poaching liquid ingredients in a shallow saucepan (large enough to hold salmon). Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, gently place the salmon into the liquid, and cover. Let rest until the liquid cools; you can test the internal temperature of the fish after about 20 minutes (it should read 145F). Gently remove the fish from the liquid and peel off the skin. Serve with new potatoes or potato salad, cucumber salad, and tartar sauce or Swedish mustard. Leftovers keep well.

A lovely dessert with this is Saffranspannkaka--a saffron-flavored cake made with rice and almonds, and served with fresh seasonal fruit and a dab of whipped cream. But some frozen delights from IKEA will also work.

Hej da!





Below Basic

If you have school-aged children, you are familiar with the travesty known as "Standardized Testing," a gift from Bush 43's administration. (We prefer the term "No Child's Left Behind"...which means the spankings all come from the right side.)

In Pennsylvania, parents receive an annual statement regarding our children's performance on these tests: is my student "Advanced"? Or merely "Proficient" or "Basic"? Or--horrors--"Below Basic"?

I vote for scrapping the current system of educational assessment. But I want to preserve that rating scale--and apply it to the products offered by Cable/Internet service providers. Because it's Olympics Time once more, and all I want to do is watch. Something. Anything. But I can't.

Because although we have "cable service" and "internet service," we don't have a TV. And in order to live stream the olympics online, we need to have "Advanced" cable service...not the pitiful, inept, requiring remedial summer school "Below Basic" package we do have.

I attempt to log on via the Olympic website. It bumps me over to my cable provider. Which won't even let me into the website since I don't have the correct password. I manage, after a 10 minute wait, to live chat with a cable company agent. At least I was told it was an agent. It could have been a bot. After some elementary walking me through the websites I had already checked and totally ignoring my questions, the agent tells me I need a "Starter Package" (read: overpriced upgraded cable service). I try to inform the agent that I started 10 yrs ago, I am not starting anything else. For $67 per month I expect a few more channels than a set of rabbit ears and some aluminum foil can get me.

The agent responds by telling me to be sure to complete the customer service survey following our chat and to indicate that my problem was "Resolved." Nice try, Bot.

Yah. Right. I tell the agent that since I can't access cable service I might as well eliminate paying for it. She gives me the phone number for the main office so I can do just that. Last time I talked to the company regarding eliminating my cable service--since I don't use it--they quoted me a higher rate for internet service alone. Hunh??

Yes, this is a company that received national press on MSNBC for being in the Top 10 for WORST CUSTOMER SERVICE. Talk about Bottoms.

So how about another cable service? Well, there isn't one.

Can you say "Monopoly?"

Another ISP? Well, the competitor isn't sure that service is available in my area. Because I live beyond where the cable line ends, a mere 7 miles from Philadelphia city limits. Even though the competitor provides our local phone service. Hunh??

I guess you don't want my business either.

You know, dial-up and my grandfather's vintage roof antenna are looking mighty attractive right now.

PS: Funny, I'm able to live stream the Olympics--for free--off a British website. It feels so good. Like smoking in the girl's room and graffiti-ing the school. And maybe keying the principal's car.