vernal veggies.

IMGP5839

When I moved into my little flat in Visby, I was ecstatic to have a space of my own, and a real kitchen. (Well, it doesn’t have an oven, but still – it’s mine and I don’t have to share it with anyone) After months of not really cooking, I was back!

Unfortunately, shortly after this I went to winter school in Portugal and we collectively realized that our last scholarship payment comes at the end of July. I and several others had assumed it would last at least one month longer than that.

Friends: I will soon be poor. I don’t graduate until November, so that’s several months I have to survive with no scholarship.

This immediately took a hit on my cooking. I still cooked good food, but I went completely vegetarian and stopped buying wine or beer to enjoy with dinner. I had already basically forsaken dessert, more for my waistline than my pocketbook, but it was also handy for that (not having an oven is very sad in terms of my baking obsession, but also probably healthy).

For me, vegetarianism meant a lot of legumes. I was able to find harissa in the grocery store, which was literally a miracle as I’ve rarely found it anywhere else and Sweden isn’t exactly a bastion of diversity, especially in the grocery aisles. I cooked up a delicious Tunisian stew from the Gourmet archives that lasted a few nights, the chickpeas delightfully exploding every time I microwaved a new portion.

But things have been getting hard at work. I’m sometimes at the university until 7 or 8 p.m. at night, and I come home exhausted and frequently discouraged. A pile of chickpeas just wasn’t always going to cut it.

So yesterday, I pulled out all the stops. I rampaged through the fresh vegetables aisle in the Coop, then splurged on a big slab of salmon. Get those omega-3’s. After reading Four Fish I now feel guilty every time I buy fish, but I did it anyway.

On the way home, I stopped at the Sytembolaget and bought a bottle of Viognier.

IMGP5835

With the vegetables, I made a small ragout (including some shiitake mushrooms). It was like a bowl of spring, steaming in a light-green porcelain vessel in front of me. If that couldn’t rejuvenate me, what could? I felt like the finished dish matched the blue sky and sun that have been gracing us with their presence here on Gotland every day. And that’s a very good thing.

Spring Ragout

Adapted from The Atlantic

1 tablespoon olive oil

a bunch of scallions (in Sweden, called “salad leeks”), white and light green parts chopped (discard dark green parts)

a bunch of asparagus, ends of stems discarded, sliced into 2” sections; if the stems are thick, also cut them in half lengthwise

2 tablespoons water

juice from half a lemon

splash of white wine

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon honey

1-2 cups sugar snap peas

3-4 large shiitake mushrooms; or use something local, spring, and fresh if you can!

¼ cup parsley, chopped coarsely

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot, then stir in the chopped scallions. Cook for 2 minutes or so until the scallions start to get soft. While that’s cooking, chop up the asparagus. Add it to the pot with the water, lemon, wine, salt, and honey. Stir together and then put the lid on the pot. Cook 2-4 minutes, depending on how thick the asparagus is – you don’t want it to be done cooking at this point, but it should be softening up. Add the peas and mushrooms, cooking 3 more minutes. Finally, stir in the parsley, cook one more minute, and then turn off the heat. Enjoy!

lisbon.

DSCN1413

A little late on the report for this one, but I recently got back from Portugal. Portugal! The warm, sunny Iberian peninsula.

For some reason it had never occurred to me to go to Portugal before. On my list of things to do in Europe, this wasn’t on it. No offense, Portugal: neither were a lot of other typical tourist things. But when my masters classmates and I were planning out our “winter school”, we had one primary criterium: cheapness. After that we were divided between whether we should go somewhere typically wintery and play in the snow, or go south. South won, and after a heated debate between Greece and Portugal, we ended up in Lisbon.

It was great!

My friend Lore and I built in an extra two days to be able to explore and do touristy things. We hit all the famous monuments, the gardens, big churches, and wandered the twisty, hilly streets of the old city. It was awesome. The first day, we arrived to our beautiful hostel right near Barrio Alto (Lisbon Calling; the rooms are beautifully designed, the beds comfortable, and the price cheap: an amazing community which will forever make other hostels seem depressingly inadequate), and wandered up the hill.

We got a “refresco” at a kiosk in the square; we sat at the foot of a huge statue. We ate petiscos, the Portuguese version of tapas, at Taberna da Rua das Flores. Holy cow, were they good. Lore doesn’t really like fish that much, but she was brave and ate them anyway – even more remarkable because it was mostly raw. But the flavors! Sort of fusion, but a little bit of tradition. The first dish we had was some kind of small herring-like thing, raw with a sauce and sesame seeds and seaweed. I’ve never liked pickled herring but I was floored at how good it was (and the seaweed too, yum!). I’m on a student budget and basically never eat out these days, so maybe the food seemed even more remarkable to me. It had just been a few hours in Lisbon, but we were already pretty sure we loved this city.

We slept well in our beds, woke up to a lovely Portuguese breakfast included in the hostel’s room fee, and set off toward Belém, west of the city of Lisbon proper. There, first we tried the famous pastéis de Belém, some pastries which I can’t even describe other than scrumptious. They were warm out of the oven; the line out of the pastryshop extended around the corner. Not even in Paris have I seen such a queue for a pastry. And, dusted with cinnamon, we soon found out why.

pasteis

We spent several hours exploring a large Hieronymite mosastery, then wandering through some gardens, past a large monument to Portugal’s explorers, and up to the Tower of Belém. I’m fascinated by old things: we don’t have many of them where I come from. The Abenakis lived in our part of New Hampshire, and they don’t leave behind big monuments (which, of course, is actually better in a number of ways….). The first European settlers arrived in my little town of Lyme in 1764. We have a few very old houses, but nothing like this. While my town was a little collection of settlers and farmers trying to scrape by, Portugal was the richest empire in the world. (okay, well, it was a little past its prime in the late 1700s, but still)

I got to see that. It was cool.

Everything was beautiful. Everything was sunny. It was a perfect day.

DSCN1026

DSCN1033

DSCN1049

DSCN1059

DSCN1061

DSCN1077

DSCN1091

DSCN1096

DSCN1098

DSCN1099

DSCN1105

DSCN1114

I had been working quite hard before I left for winter school, and was really still working there: while I waited for Lore to arrive that first day, I had been busily typing away. In Sweden alone, we have one paper which has come back from review (and to which we must, of course, make huge changes), one which we are finalizing with co-authors, and one for which I’ve done about half the analysis and none of the writing. I’m also finally turning my Switzerland thesis into a manuscript. Plus, money is getting tight and I’m trying to apply for more grants (do you know of any small grants for graduate students? please!? I’m getting desperate!!).

So to walk along in the sun with Lore leaving all of our cares behind us – I can’t even explain how good that felt.

It felt good.

After our Belém sightseeing it was 2 p.m. and we were starving, so we were forced to stop and grab lunch at a touristy cafeteria and while not exactly disappointing, it was overpriced and nothing compared to our meal the night before. We headed into Lisbon proper and explored a bit in Baixa/Chaido, and bought gelato and sat looking at the river. Nice.

Then: we met up with my friends Marta and Gonçalo! They started the masters with us in Uppsala so many months ago, and Marta was one reason I was really excited to move back to Uppsala. I actually lived with her in January. They took us to a miradouro, basically a nice park up on a hill overlooking the city. Classmates Min Ya and Berenice soon arrived from the airport and joined us. We sipped beer and relaxed and were so happy to be together.

together by bere

Ah so happy!! (l-r) Lore, Marta, me, Min Ya, and Bere. Photo from Bere’s camera.

I’m all for sightseeing, but I found out what people really do in Lisbon: they relax and sit in miradouros with their friends. There are no laws against public drinking. It’s a lovely, lovely way to spend an afternoon. At some point a few days later, I stopped being so set on running all over the city to see this cool thing or that, and realized that hey, maybe we should take this message to heart, and stop and sit and relax and enjoy ourselves somewhere with a nice view and a glass of wine.

Man, this is getting long. The next day, winter school itself started. We moved to Quinta Sao Pedro, a lovely estate across the river, and it was more like a retreat.  It was a very productive session: we all workshopped the introductions of our theses, which was super helpful. The next day we worked on figures, each presenting three from our papers and getting feedback on what we did well, what we didn’t do well, and how our visual representation of our data could be improved. In another session we worked on our CV’s, comparing notes and how to organize things. It was, in all honestly, a much more useful and helpful experience than I thought winter school would be.

hard at work. photo: Lore Ament.

hard at work. photo: Lore Ament.

We did other things. We went to the beach, and to the aquarium. We ate a lot of good food. We drank a lot of beer and wine, and I fell further in love with Portugal’s vinho verde. We went to a fado house and listened to great music as we ate dinner.

message from bere

Our message for the half of our classmates who decided not to come to winter school. You lose, suckers!! Photo: Berenice Villegas.

group photo jump from bere

Photo: Berenice Villegas.

group photo from bere

Photo: Berenice Villegas.

Looking west. MEMEs from across the ocean (l-r): Brazil, Mexico/USA, just USA, and just Mexico. Photo: Berenice Villegas.

Looking west. MEMEs from across the ocean (l-r): Brazil, Mexico/USA, just USA, and just Mexico. Photo: Berenice Villegas.

beach relaxing from bere

phew. Arash and me relaxing. Photo: Berenice Villegas.

beach photo bere

photo: Berenice Villegas.

sunset bere

Sunset on the beach. Photo: Berenice Villegas.

In the end, almost everyone left. Min Ya, Lore and I stayed a little longer, and went to a beautiful botanical garden in Principe Real. We could have stayed there forever exploring.

DSCN1360 DSCN1363 DSCN1372 DSCN1393 DSCN1401

And then, after another night in the hostel and a morning sitting by the river soaking up the sun, Lore and I left too.

Getting home was a nightmare. Fuck Air France.

I’m left with nothing but happy memories of Lisbon, and I can’t wait to go back again. I can’t believe that I had never known how obvious a place this was to go visit. Go! visit it!

I’m back to work, back typing away at all those papers, but I feel quite a bit better after a week in a totally different place.

DSCN1419

DSCN1422

incredible Visby.

DSCN1005

When I moved to Visby, I was like, woohoo, this is pretty cool, it’s sunny and I live in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But I didn’t really figure out just how cool it was until this weekend, when instead of having to go to work (BORING, amiright?) I was able to explore a little bit.

I mean, there were hints. For instance, this is the street I live on:

DSCN0991

And the running isn’t bad here either. This is just a 15-minute jog from my house:

DSCN0977

DSCN0985

But on Saturday, I packed my bag to head to the university for the internet (I don’t have it in my flat, meaning I spend a lot more time reading and listening to podcasts, which I’m quite happy about), and was determined to take the long route, camera in hand.

This is the other side of that city wall on my street:

DSCN0992

It was quite a lovely way to start a walk.

I usually always take the same route to and from the university. It takes about seven minutes, and there is one alternate route about the same length. So I’ve seen one side of the medieval part of the city. What I didn’t realize that rather than being, say, one half of the walled snclosure, it was actually just a fraction of it. The old city is much much larger than I had previously realized. The walls are very extensive. I explored them.

DSCN0996

DSCN0999

And then, eventually, I went inside.

DSCN0998

DSCN1000

Amidst the cobbled streets and the small, cute old houses, there is a ton of history here. I mean, no duh: it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. But I didn’t realize quite how much that meant. My corner of the city has mostly houses in it. This other side? There were the houses, but also a lot of much older things. There’s one cathedral which is maintained, beautiful, and still in use.

DSCN1006

There are many, many others which are unmaintained, beautiful, and not in use. Okay, unmaintained is not a fair characterization. They have been fixed up quite a bit. But they don’t have roofs. They are falling down, or rather they were falling down and have now been frozen in one point of the falling-down process, fixed at a certain amount of fallen-down-ness. Some have grass growing on what little roof remains. And they are open to go inside – but only from May through the summer, so I couldn’t wander in and look up at the sky through the roof of a church. In one, I took a photo through the gate barring my entrance.

DSCN1008

DSCN1009

DSCN1010

DSCN1012

In short, I have accidentally landed in an amazing place. When my supervisor told me he worked in Visby, a satellite campus, rather than Uppsala proper… I was sad. I love Uppsala and my friends are there, and I was really sad to leave them. I had a good life there, whereas here I am almost completely solitary.

But I’m not at all sad anymore. This weekend I also took a long 2-hour run north of the city and ended up in some amazing nature areas, as well as just running along the rocky beach. This is a great, wonderful, amazing place. At least for now, I’m enjoying my solitude. Plus, I have visits from a couple of friends to look forward to, and my own trip to Portugal next week, and at least one if not more trips back to Uppsala to visit. I don’t think I’m going to be too lonely.

Final thought: paging Kate Mosse. I love southern France, but I think you could write a great book set here!