Grandma M is Swedish. Lately one of her recurring stories is how she was conceived on the boat between the USA and Sweden, or Sweden and the USA, or maybe she was conceived in Sweden and then her parents returned to the USA . . . anyway, she has some kind of Swedish connexion that the rest of her siblings don’t have, and in raising her children, and then grandchildren, it seems the two most important things for any of us to be are Christians and Swedish. It’s hard to tell which one is more important. Or maybe, to her, they are inextricable.
Maybe for this reason Christmas and Swedishness seem to me to go together as well, and so my freshman year in college, I decided to provide my roommate and two suite-mates with a St Lucia Day celebration. Since this was one Swedish practice I had been told about for years but which we had never actually instituted in my family, I kind of made up what to do . . . which was to make a wreath to wear on my head (in this case, lacking other relevant supplies, I made it out of strips of index cards stapled together, wrapped with green tinsel-garland, and with rolled up index cards affixed in intervals to be candles–they had gold tinsel on top) and make a cardamom bread to serve them on a tray with hot chocolate or something (since none of us were coffee drinkers at the time) for breakfast.
This was going to be tricky, because at least two of them had 8 o’clock classes and we lived in a dorm, with a public and insufficiently stocked kitchen–as per dorms. Plus, I really didn’t want Roommate-Sarah to catch me down there making her secret cardamom bread. (Note: I have had three Roommate Sarahs. This was the first one.)
So I went to an upperclassmen dorm where I knew someone, and I took my cardamom bread mix (limited resources, folks, limited resources) and added water or whatever, and mixed it. And waited for it to rise. And waited, and waited, and waited. It didn’t rise, so finally I formed it into a ring and put it on a baking tray and stuck it in the upperclassmen dorm oven.
The oven turned out to be abnormally small . . . for the enormous Jabba-the-Hutt-type creation that emerged from it. Apparently the bread decided to do all its rising in there, and it overflowed the tray to such an extent I didn’t really have anything to put it on. I also was completely out of time to let it sit and cool, so I thanked my hostess, grabbed my homework, threw the strangely bloated loaf into a clean, never-before-used garbage bag, and headed back to the dorm.
The next plan was to drop the bread off at a friend’s on another floor of my same dorm, so none of my living companions would suspect anything. I made the drop, skedaddled back to my own room, and went to bed. And got up again at 5 o’clock in the morning. I ran up the stairs, sneaked into my suspecting friend’s room, and grabbed the garbage bag of spiced carbohydrates. I opened the bag and . . . the entire loaf, not having cooled properly the night before, was completely soggy. (Carbohydrates, indeed.)
What ensued was a desperate dash from the top floor of the dorm to the basement, and various and sundry attempts to dry out the sodden loaf before Roommate Sarah or either of my two suite-mates woke up to get ready for class. I tried the microwave. I tried the standard oven. I sneaked into my suitemates’ room, where the heater was blasting, and put it on top of the heater. Finally, in complete desperation, I brought it into our bathroom and took the blowdryer to it.
It worked! Just in time, too. Quickly I made us some hardboiled eggs in our hot-pot, and just as Jenny-the-Suitemate started stirring, I burst into her room with cardamom bread, eggs, margarine for spreading, and some sort of hot beverage. Her roommate Jacquie got the same treatment, and Roommate Sarah got the rest. I probably told them about my entire ordeal with the bread. Happily, none of them were germophobes, I guess, because everybody ate it.