Leaving the city, we soon found ourselves surrounded by the peaceful Swedish countryside, where we saw the most vibrant field of red flowers. They reminded us of the scene in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy and her friends walk through the sleep-inducing poppy field.
We entered the town of Vadstena, known for its famous Monastery and church, which are still destinations for many pilgrims today. While walking around the grounds, we learned that the monks and nuns were allotted 2.5 liters of beer a day from the on-site brewery, which they enjoyed while they studied the Scriptures. Now that, my friends, is church! 😉 We stayed at this historic place, which has since been converted into a hotel called Vadstena Klosterhotel, and enjoyed some good ‘ole monk beer after we had settled into our quaint, spiritual retreats (I mean, rooms).
The monks definitely had an amazing view from those rooms! Lake Vättern is just across the way, which my mom and I jumped in in the morning to wake ourselves up, just like the locals do.
Vadstena Castle stands proudly at the edge of the lake. We walked through its courtyard, admiring its early Renaissance design that was built for defense, and pictured the Kings of Sweden that spent time in there.
We walked over to Munkklostret, the hotel’s restaurant (which we enjoyed so much, we ended up eating there both nights). Usually, dinner is served inside the Monastery, surrounded by old, stone walls lit by dim candle light. The pictures we’d seen looked really cool – like you are really eating in the Middle Ages. But because it was summer (and of course they want to take advantage of the many hours of daylight, as well as the heatwave that was going on) they were serving outside under a tent. This too was a nice atmosphere and we took in the view of the lake while we were eating. I started off with the most simple, lovely shrimp salad – a pile of very fresh, small shrimp, a handful of crisp greens, herbs, and a piece of hearty grilled bread.
Dustin got another version of the famous shrimp sandwich (which I described in my previous post). We actually enjoyed this one more. The ratio of shrimp to bread was more balanced, and the shrimp was tossed with mayo, rather than being on its own. I didn’t care for the salty roe on top, but luckily he did!
I was still burned out by my plethora of pickled herring the night before, but I thought I might as well try Dustin’s entrée because it was prepared in a different way: pan-fried and served with potatoes and lingonberries. Delicate bunches of mache lettuce garnished the dish. Unfortunately, I still didn’t care for the herring (it’s just one of those fishy-tasting fishes that I just can’t quite get excited about), but the potatoes and lingonberries were exceptional! The flavors were reminiscent of Thanksgiving.
From here on, my commentary about the food has been challenged, because my kleptomaniac cat hid my little pocket-sized notebook that had all of my food notes that I took throughout the trip. Until it shows up, I must rely on my memory. So let’s see. I ordered the veal which was marinated in lime. It was served with a “potato roll” (a thin wrapper, sort of like phyllo was filled with potato, and a light cheese like ricotta), and a huge dish of lemon-sage butter. I had never had such a thick cut of veal before, but it was very tender and flavorful. Some fried morel mushrooms were served underneath the veal.
While we were eating that night, we were visited by a small hedgehog who scurried up to our table, and then around the perimeter of the outdoor eating area. We were very excited by him, but noticed that no one else in the restaurant seemed to care (we then learned that hedgehogs are about as common as squirrels are here, and then felt silly for taking pictures of it).
A notable dish from the following night (this one was not accompanied by a hedgehog viewing) was the vegetarian entree. I ordered it because of its mysterious, vague description – “a variety of seasonal ingredients, both local and international.” That could be pretty much anything, right? I was thrilled when I saw a pile of fava beans, pieces of white asparagus, braised fennel, shoots, and giant caper berries (actually, I found those to be a bit too salty, but I tried a few bites). It was served with another one of those “potato rolls” which I had enjoyed so much the night before!
We ordered the rhubarb oatmeal crisp both nights. It was served with a bowl of vanilla cream that we pretty much wanted to drink with a straw (but didn’t). There was another impressive dessert that didn’t get its picture taken – a strawberry consumme with a lavender panna cotta in the middle. The consumme was so concentrated and tart that was the perfect accompaniment for the sweet custard.
Before leaving town, we had to participate in a Swedish custom – fika – the traditional afternoon coffee break, usually accompanied by a little sweet treat. A friend of mine who lives there told us that Sweden is ranked second for highest per capita coffee-consuming counties (Finland is apparently #1). Embracing the “when-in-Rome” philosophy, we found a cute outdoor cafe, ordered some double espressos and these beautiful star cookies, covered with sugar; the perfect pick-me-up in the middle of the afternoon, before leaving town. I think I’ll continue this custom at home, being 1/4 Swedish and all 🙂