My Imaginary Friends: #2. Gabe’s Necklace

My husband used to work in northern Sweden every winter. (Go to It Was a Bitterly Cold -22 Degrees) I flew up for a long weekend. On Friday he had to drive on a frozen lake, writing code for the braking system  that would become ESP, a safety feature now installed in cars everywhere.

I went exploring in downtown Arjeplog. The only tourists were people like me, family members visiting the car engineers.

It was March, a grand -6 degrees at the warmest part of the day, so I went to the Silvermuseet. I like museums anyway, and Arjeplog’s museum is a fun mix of artifacts from early settlers, a history of the now-closed silver mines, and the earliest presence of humans. I was the only visitor in the museum.

A tall glass case contained a runebomme, an old Saami drum. [1] When I moved closer for a look, lights clicked on and a recording of drumming began to play. I was surprisingly moved, and totally intrigued by the images etched on the drum hide. Animals, people, and boats were depicted.

The Saami Shaman Drum Kobdas (drum) is a sacred map. It contains drawings of people and the spirit gods and goddesses of Nature often centered around a symbol of the sun. They are used by the shaman (male and female alike) to awaken other levels of reality to guide families in their daily life, find the right path during migrations, locate things which are missing, heal diseases and help the community in times of crisis. They can also foresee the future and give guidance. [2]

The museum gift shop sold gifts made by local artists. I bought myself a necklace. It’s made with reindeer horn scrimshaw, embedded in arctic curly birch. I don’t wear it often, but when I do it always feels special.

Many years later I wrote a character named Gabe Burgess, who is given a similar necklace by his Norwegian lover as a remembrance before they part ways in Greece. I liked the idea of a burly man tucking the amulet into his shirt when he went traveling.

Eight-pointed snowflake

I thought my necklace was the image of a snowflake. Today, as I did some research to make sure this post’s information on the museum and the drums is accurate, I discovered this:

The image is really an early compass.

My world explorer Gabe has always worn a depiction of the points of the compass, guiding him safely home.

Perfect. – Jadi

Saami compass

He liked the romance of travel, in every sense of the word. His destinations veered wildly from year to year. In the beginning, Gabe’s journeys were random. As a youth Gabe traveled with a heavy, framed backpack and headed often for the beaches. He spent a blissful month camping on the southern coast of Crete with a busty blonde from Norway named Berit. At the end of the four weeks he returned to New York City with Berit’s address and telephone number tucked inside his passport, and a talisman around his neck. On their last night together she had turned her head away from him and reached for the necklace tucked under her long hair.

She made him close his eyes as she placed a chain over his neck. “Go look in the mirror,” she requested, and obediently Gabe walked to the little oval mirror in their beach hostel. In it he found his own image (now much darker and even properly black after a month spent in the island sunshine), his neck encircled with an image on wood. He pulled the chain back over his head to examine it more closely.

Signed by the artist

Berit put her arms around his waist and stared over his shoulder at him in the mirror. “It’s Saami.” She explained, “It’s a snowflake with eight points to it, carved on reindeer horn. The wooden back is birch. It is to bring you luck, dear friend,” she added solemnly, and kissed the side of his temple.

-from my chapter Waiting in Broken In: A Novel in Stories

NOTES: Text and photos © Jadi Campbell 2020. [1] Arjeplog Silvermuseet. The Catholic Church destroyed the drums, outlawed their use, and persecuted the shaman (noajdde). Many drums were buried or hidden. “Of the thousands once existing, only 71 drums have survived with their skins intact[.]” Saami Drum [2] From Arctic Saami Style Kellamknives.com

Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts.  Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Let Them Eat – Elk?

Tradition is a fine thing. I’ve hung on to Thanksgiving even though I live overseas. Actually, I hang onto the holiday probably because I live overseas. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas.

The Annual Eating of the Elk tastes as good as it looks

Our traditions include what I grandly call The Annual Eating of the Elk. The Germans involved in this ritual just refer to it as Elchessen, or the Elk Meal. Whatever.

For years, the Spousal Unit spent two weeks out of every single December, January, February and March up in northern Sweden. The Artic Circle in the dead of winter doesn’t offer much in the way of culinary pleasures. The highlights were these:

  • Going out for pizza in a pizza parlor run by two Iranian refugees who had fled SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, and ended up staying. The pizza was meh but every order came with a free dish of cabbage cole slaw. Because cole slaw is traditional? Because cole slaw is Italian? Because cole slaw provides a desperately needed source of Vitamin C?
  • Fresh reindeer blood, available by the vat in the local grocery store (say Yum everyone!)
  • White bread that is sweetened
  • Smoked salmon
  • Rumps of elk

It became tradition that my husband and his colleagues always packed German bread and bottles of whiskey in their suitcases before they flew north. Because alcohol is expensive in Sweden, and nights up there are reeeeeally long.

It became tradition that the engineers returned home with packages of elk roasts.

Thorsten, Spousal Unit, Konrad and Gerhard all used to work in Sweden. Only Gerhard still does that gig: he’s now responsible for bringing back the elk. Eventually, this evolved into an on-going 20+ year (!) tradition that Thorsten cooks an entire elk dinner for the engineers and their mates Bettina, Heike, and yours truly. *

It’s almost impossible to find a common weekend free when you’re trying to get a group of Germans together. Those 6 weeks of vacation time they’re famous for getting? Germans take every single minute of that time. Good luck coordinating 7 people’s schedules and pinning down a night when everyone’s available to meet for a dinner. We still talk about the year we ended up eating elk roast in August. It was the hottest day of the summer and over 90° in the apartment. (Thorsten’s kitchen had heated to way over 100°.) The heavy meal and accompanying heavy red wines were deadly.

But, Tradition muss sein.

Thorsten has it down to a culinary science, an art form. He marinates the elk in red wine and spices for days. Then he puts it in the oven to roast until it shrinks to about half the original size. Thorsten serves it with gravy, homemade Knödel and cooked red cabbage.

I asked Thorsten for his recipe and have translated it  for you here, just in case you have 5 pounds of elk roast hanging around in your freezer.

You’re welcome.

20 Semmelknödel

20 Teile Baguette (ein Teil etwa so gross wie ein kleines Brötchen) abschneiden. Brot in kleine Würfel schneiden. In warmer Milch einweichen. 5 Eier dazugeben, ebenso 250 Gramm gewürfelten und angebratenen Speck. Ebenfalls 2 klein geschnittene und angebratene Zwiebeln dazugeben. 2 Bund Petersilie kleinschneiden und dazugeben, salzen und Muskatnuss reinreiben. Die Masse gut durchmengen bis ein homogener Teig entsteht. Falls die Masse zu trocken ist Milch dazugeben (Teig muss gut durchgezogen sein).

Tennisball grosse Knödel formen und 20 Minuten in Salzwasser ziehen lassen.

Wer keine Zeit hat kann die Petersilie schon fertig geschnitten aus der Tiefkühltruhe nehmen. Ich nehme immer 2 Becher a 40 Gramm.

20 Bread Dumplings

Cut about 20 small bread rolls into small pieces. Soak bread in warm milk. Add 5 eggs and 250 grams of diced, fried bacon. Add two small diced, sautéed onions. Add 2 bunches of chopped parsley, salt, and grated nutmeg. Mix the dough well; add more milk if too dry. Make 20 big dumplings the size of tennis balls and cook them in simmering saltwater for 20 minutes. If you don’t have the time or can’t find fresh parsley, use 2 packets of frozen parlsey.


This was only Round One. We always go back for seconds

2 kg Elch

2 Beutel Sauerbratengewürz anrösten und mit 2l Rotwein ablöschen. Kurz aufkochen lassen, Beize abkühlen lassen und Elch für 4 Tage einlegen.

Elch abtrocknen, salzen und von jeder Seite 1 Minute scharf anbraten. Fleisch aus Bräter herausnehmen. Wurzelgemüse und Tomatenmark im Bräter anrösten. Rotwein-Beize dazugeben und aufkochen lassen. 8 Teelöffel gekörnte Brühe dazugeben. Bräter in den auf 180 Grad vorgeheizten Backofen geben und Fleisch ca. 2 Stunden schmoren lassen. Fleisch herausnehmen, Flüssigkeit durch ein Sieb in einen Topf abgiessen. Sosse etwas einkochen lassen mit braunem Sossenbinder zur gewünschten Konsistenz abbinden. Zum Schluss 150 Gramm crème fraiche unterrühren.

4-5 Pound Elk Roast

Roast two packs of Sauerbraten spices and add 2 liters of red wine (a bottle of red wine is ¾ of a liter). Let the marinade cool and then marinate 4.5 – 5 pounds of elk in it for 4 days.

Remove and dry the meat, salt it all over, and sautée in oil 1 minute per side. Roast some root vegetables and tomato paste; add the marinade and let the mixture come to a boil. Add 8 tablespoons of broth concentrate. Place roasting pan with elk in sauce in a 180° C (375° Fahrenheit) oven and cook for 2 hours.

Remove the elk. Purée the sauce or pour it through a sieve. Cook down the sauce to your desired consistency; add corn starch if needed. Before serving, stir in 150 grams of crème fraiche.


If you make the same dish for the same people for enough decades, one of two things will happen. You become the Master of the Meal known as The Annual Eating of the Elk.

Or you order take-out pizza from the 2 Iranian guys.

NOTES: *Not their real names. All other details are accurate. Got to the following posts for related foolishness: It was a Bitterly Cold -22°, My Mother-in-Law’s Cookies, The Rose Colored Windows that Weren’t, Christmas Markets © Jadi Campbell 2019. Photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.