Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Thanksgiving, Latvia, and International Day

I AM AWARE that it has been ages since my last blog post. As I said earlier, I do try to keep up with this, but it can be difficult because I feel like I'm always busy with something! Even when I have "time to myself," I'm working on homework or trying to organise a trip to somewhere. But now that I have the opportunity to sit down and relax, I think it's time that I recap what's been going on here the past few weeks.

First of all, let me start off by wishing all the Americans a happy belated Thanksgiving! I hope you ate too much turkey and pecan pie and felt a sense of serenity while you watched the Cowboys lose their Thanksgiving Day game.

Okay, maybe I, as a Texans fan, enjoyed the Cowboys losing more than the average American, but I hope you enjoyed this festive day nonetheless!

I won't bore you with another picture of a plate of food,
but here's a selfie of everyone that showed up for Thanksgiving dinner!
Despite being in Sweden, I, too, celebrated Thanksgiving! And it was a very, very last minute decision. On Monday, I asked three friends if they would be interested in having a small Thanksgiving dinner with me Thursday night because Thanksgiving is one of my favourite days of the year, and I didn't want to miss out on it. They were excited about the idea and asked if they could invite a few people, and, being who I am as a person, I said sure. Long story short, about 30 people ended up being invited.

I was terrified.

I was mostly terrified because I was planning on having to do all of the cooking and baking that is required for a Thanksgiving dinner by myself. I've never cooked Thanksgiving dinner before - the most helpful I've ever been is baking a few pies - so to cook for 30 people for my first time was a daunting idea. I was in nothing short of a panic the entire week as I ran about Stockholm acquiring everything necessary for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday night was when the actual cooking and baking began. My roommate, Valentine, and I baked two cakes, which were delicious, but an absolute battle. The first and perhaps biggest problem we had was that the recipes I was trying to bake with used the customary system, which is pretty much only used in the States. That meant we had to convert all of the recipes to the metric system, which is what Europe (and pretty much the entire world) uses, while we were adding the ingredients. The next problem was the fact that we didn't actually have any measuring spoons or cups, so we usually ended up guesstimating how much to put in anyway. The next problem? The oven. The oven
in our common kitchen is.... Not Good. Our first cake should have taken 10-15 minutes to cook, but in reality it took almost half an hour. And the second cake should have taken half an hour to cook but ended up taking almost an hour. It was ridiculous, but both the cakes were a hit at dinner, so I
suppose I can't complain too much. After we finished baking the cakes and getting them iced, it was time to baste the turkey to let the seasonings set overnight. When I'd asked my mom what to season the turkey with, she responded with "poultry seasoning," but guess what! We don't have that in Sweden, so I Googled what's in poultry seasoning and bought what I could find of it, which was really only two spices. But we worked with what we had, basted the turkey, and put it in the fridge overnight.

Miracle ♥
The next morning, I had to get up early and go to class, but I was given permission to leave early so I could rush home and get the turkeys in the oven (I bought two turkeys, and each one needed about three hours to cook). While the turkeys were in the oven, I stayed true to my Thanksgiving tradition of watching the movie Miracle. It's my favourite movie, so if you haven't seen it, I definitely recommend it! The second turkey was coming out of the oven when my helping hands arrived - Anna from Austria, Sonja from Finland, and Mete from Turkey - and that was when the cooking really got started! We had to make stuffing, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, gravy, and vegetables all from scratch. Yes, even the macaroni and cheese. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese just isn't a thing here. I told everyone to come by for dinner at around 8:00-8:30, so when the clock hit 8:00 and people started coming in, I started panicking. The food wasn't done yet, and I was positive everything was going to be a disaster. But it wasn't. Everyone was happy and willing to wait, and some people even asked if I needed any more help.

Dinner itself was a hit! Throughout the meal, people kept telling me that everything was wonderful and that they were very happy they'd come. During dessert, people kept asking for more slices of cake and raving about how delicious both cakes were. Their compliments really warmed my heart, especially after stressing so much about that one meal all week long.

So what does one do after having a huge Thanksgiving dinner in Sweden?

They go to Latvia, of course.

That's right, the day after Thanksgiving, instead of rushing to the newly opened Mall of Scandinavia (which I really do need to visit) for Black Friday deals, I headed to the sea to visit Riga, Latvia for the weekend.

Hello Riga, you are beautiful.
So last month, I visited Tallinn, which is in Estonia, another Baltic country. Because both of these countries were once under Soviet control, I found it fun to compare the two and see how they'd developed since the end of their communist rule. Because... yeah.... #internationalstudiesthings

Anyway, from what I experienced, Latvia has managed to westernise themselves a bit more than Estonia has. In Tallinn, you still get somewhat of a Soviet feel when you walk down the streets, everything is still written in Russian, most people still speak Russian, etc. But in Latvia, this isn't the case. Latvia has really made an effort to create a national identity for itself. When you walk down the streets, you rarely see or hear the Russian language - mostly just Latvian and sometimes English.

It was a very nice city to visit. Latvia is a tiny, tiny country, and you definitely recognise that when you visit the capital city of Riga. There's just something about it that makes you feel at ease and at home. I preferred Tallinn over Riga, but that's beside the point.

We got back from Latvia on Sunday, on Monday I had class, then Tuesday was international day! The purpose of international day was essentially for all of us exchange students to bring some sort of dish or food from our home country and sit at a table and try to convince the Swedish students to study abroad in our country. I, unfortunately, completely forgot about international day until someone asked me the day before what I was bringing, so I rushed to the American Store (which was a lifesaver during Thanksgiving) to buy the most American things I could think of. I settled on peanut butter M&Ms (peanut butter isn't even a thing here, much less peanut butter M&Ms), Hershey's kisses, and Kool-Aid. Let me just say - Kool-Aid is very, very hard to describe, so I ended up just telling people it's flavoured sugar and to please just try it instead of looking at me in bewilderment.

During international day, I also had the opportunity to try foods from other countries, which was probably my favourite part! All in all, I consider international day a success, and I think everyone their home with me.
The Germans performing their "cultural duty" at international day
else does too. It really was a lot of fun to share a little piece of home with the students currently sharing

That's about it! The trip I've been looking forward to all semester is rapidly approaching - our trip to Finnish Lapland! Now, where we're going is up north. Really far north. It's gonna be cold. Like, -15F at night cold. I am woefully unprepared but excited at the same time! I'm really, really hoping we'll be able to get to see the Northern Lights while we're there as well!

I can't wait to write my post about that trip; I'm sure there will be so much to tell!

Atā! (That's goodbye in Latvian!)

- Lee