Sunday, December 8, 2013

Homemade Christmas Cards


Last year I snatched up some of these pine tree discs that were scattered on the ground around the Christmas tree lots - leftovers from trimming the bottoms of Christmas trees that were on their way to new homes. I even went back on a separate day with an empty plastic bag to collect a few more, knowing that these little tree scraps would come in handy for a project, or two. I just had to wait for the inspiration to come. And come it did! The first wave of inspiration came last year when I made these cute little seasonal decor stands

The second wave of inspiration hit more recently however, when the idea suddenly hit me to make these cute little mini forests. Later I decided they would make the perfect build-your-own Christmas card. I hate to say it, but I had to pat myself on the back for this one. Sometimes when ideas like this come, the resulting product isn't at all what I envisioned. But these little tree forests turned out even cuter than I thought they would. 






You never really know with creative projects. Sometimes they turn out to be huge time and money wasters but sometimes they are the best thing since sliced bread. Either way, when an idea comes that will just not leave you alone, you have to go with it. I am really glad I went with this one. And I am equally glad that my packaging idea worked out as well. I found the perfect sized boxes to mail them in at a local office supply store, and they were on sale! Which is a small miracle in itself :-). 





I only wish I had thought of the idea sooner so that I could make and send even more of these little tree forests out into the world. 

Items needed for this project:

Scrap wood Christmas tree bottoms, or any other suitable wood item to act as a stand
Scrap paper from magazines, catalogues, etc.
A free-form tree template (I hand drew mine)
Glue stick
Toothpicks, cut in half with the pointy ends trimmed off
An awl, or pointy tool, to make holes in the bases for the toothpicks to stand in
Your imagination and a sense of adventure

Have fun!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Happy Advent Calendar

(Rörstrand porcelain: Starboy)

Happy first Advent of the season! I truly love this time of year in Stockholm and the Swedes really know how to celebrate it with all of the cozy candlelit cafes filled with delicious warm drinks and saffron buns, just to mention a few of the wonderful treats. Starting today you also begin to see paper star lanterns and advent candlesticks in home and shop windows, emitting a soft warm glow and brightening up the dark winter days. 

And of course, there is the advent calendar. This year I decided to make my own to tick off the days until Christmas. Instead of purchasing a pre-made advent calendar with candies hidden behind a paper lock/door, I thought it would be fun to make an advent calendar with things to do each day as opposed to simply eating a small chocolate. Don't get me wrong, these small actions could easily include a yummy treat, as you'll notice number one below commands you to enjoy a hot chocolate. And that means today in case you were wondering.

So instead of going to yoga class this morning, I sat at my desk cutting out and gluing Christmas-themed symbols to represent each day of my calendar. I also shamelessly admit that I listened to Christmas music as I worked. It was very much a meditative act so I didn't feel so bad about missing yoga, and I did go for a run in the afternoon so it seemed justified. My cat was also very helpful (not). She especially loved when I got to the part of attaching strings to each day's symbol. I finally gave her a piece of the string to go play with, which has since vanished. I hope she didn't eat it! (I am pretty sure she did not eat it). 

Below is my list of action messages for each day. Feel free to follow along, or borrow them for your own daily advent action calendar. You could even write them on a piece of paper and tuck them into your children, your girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, or wife's lunches, tuck them under a pillow, or tape the message to the bathroom mirror for someone, even yourself, to find each morning. It warms the spirit to have something happy or positive to think about each day. What is more positive or happy than celebrating fond memories, or creating new ones? 



1. Enjoy a hot chocolate to kick off Advent.

2. Give a surprise treat to someone. 

3. Send a handwritten letter to someone you haven't seen or spoken to in a long time. 

4. Watch a Christmas movie to get into the holiday spirit.

5. Call someone you haven't spoken to in a while to brighten their day. 

6. Drink glögg with a friend or loved one. 

7. Bake homemade cookies. 


8. Write your favorite quote or poem on a piece of paper & leave it somewhere for a stranger to find. 

9. Give someone a compliment.

10. Listen to Christmas music.

11. Make Christmas candy.

12. Go for a walk and look at Christmas lights.

13. Celebrate St. Lucia day.

14. Go get a Christmas tree! 

15. Go to the “Pussstation” (literally: kissing station) at Central Station and kiss under the mistletoe.

16. Take a friend out for coffee or fika & talk about your favorite holiday memories. 


17. Watch the movie "Elf" & have something cozy and warm to drink. 

18. Wrap Christmas presents and listen to Christmas music. 

19. Send someone a secret Santa surprise. (Shhh! Don’t tell… it’s a secret!)

20. Eat gingerbread cookies & blue cheese (yes, together… super yummy!)

21. Decorate clementines with whole cloves & red ribbons. 

22. Drink hot spiced buttered rum & apple cider.

23. Eat hazelnuts and play filipin!

24. Do everything and anything that is Christmas-y! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Two Kanellbulle Kind of Day


(Two "pepparkaksmuffin" from Fabrique bakery)

Well, it's that time again, a "two kanelbulle day" has rolled back around (wink, wink). I will elaborate on that comment later on but first a little intro. One thing that is pretty neat about Sweden is that you never have to remember to schedule "female" doctor visits. You know, things like your pap smear, mammogram, etc. The healthcare system sends out a notification "calling you" to your appointment and all you have to do is show up. It is pretty nifty. The experience isn't that different here in Sweden, though if you are shy or uncomfortable with getting undressed it can be a bit surprising, to say the least, your first visit. There are no cute little closets to change into a paper gown and, in fact, there are no paper gowns either. It is just "remove your clothing from the waste down and hop up butt-naked onto the table. And relax."

Or in the case with getting the mammies grammed, you are asked to "remove your clothing from the waist up and walk up to the boob squishing device and wait until further instructed." How did I forget how painful it was?! At first you think it will be okay. The technician places your boob onto a flat metal surface (no, it's not cold at all!) and then presses a flat plastic, see-through plate on top of it. Then presses it down even further!!! Um, ouch? To say the least. Luckily it doesn't last that long. But long enough that all you can think about is the kanelbulle that you are treating yourself to afterward for being a good girl. Okay, in all honesty, you've probably been thinking about that kanelbulle since you received your mammogram appointment in the mail.

Though no matter how much you sugar (& cinnamon) coat it, getting your mammies grammed is the same everywhere. You leave with your poor girls flattened, embarrassed, and neatly tucked back into your over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder. Then you race -walk to the nearest bakery selling the famous, Swedish kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). That is one important difference between the US & Sweden. In the US, while there are dozens of tasty substitutions, there are no true kanelbullar to take your mind (& your boobs) off of that horrible experience.

So, from the photo above you have probably gathered that I did not leave the bakery with kanelbullar this time. Was it just a [lovely] coincidence that the bakery had these lovely, boob-like gingerbread muffins with cream cheese frosting? Probably not but I can say with all honestly that they were the most amazing gingerbread muffins I have eaten and the cream cheese frosting certainly sugar-coated my mammy gram experience. I'm not sure but perhaps my new ritual of getting a kanelbulle, or gingerbread muffin, afterward is a good thing. I mean, no one really looks forward to a mammogram but if you have something else to look forward to, the experience can be almost pleasant. Almost. ;-)

(Seriously, how could you pass these up??!!!)

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Beer and Cheese Tasting Party

(Beer & cheese tasting is serious stuff.)

This past summer I had the good fortune to be introduced to beer in a more positive light. I have never really been a “beer person,” normally preferring a glass of wine or a margarita, so I was surprised to discover that I actually really liked beer. Well. certain beer, that is. I guess I am still not quite an overall beer connoisseur. I know that I’ve always liked dark beers, like Guinness stout or a dark porter or chocolate stout, the type of beer my husband likens to “eating a loaf of bread.” I haven't tried too many in between a stout or porter and a pilsner or even an ale, so I didn’t know the vast expanse of beer that existed. Or that I could even one day say that I actually enjoy beer, rather than just tolerate it.

(At Vatten restaurant on the island of Tjörn)

My positive beer experience began when one of my brothers-in-law introduced me to the brand, Poppelman, at a family dinner in Gothenburg. It just so happened that one of the people who started the brewery that makes Poppelman was a friend of my husbands back when he was still living in Gothenburg. We thought that was kind of cool and it made us like the beer even more. We soon discovered that Poppelman could only be purchased at the Systembolaget on the west coast so on our next trip to Gothenburg we stopped by one to pick up a few bottles to take back to Stockholm, where I promptly forgot about beer. 

Some weeks later my husband asked me if I wanted a beer one evening and I said that I’d share one with him, still thinking like a non beer drinker. It happened to be Poppelman’s "Nya Världens IPA (India Pale Ale).” A very, tasty brew with a rich, bitter flavor, that I learned came from the hops. I later discovered that the more hops flavor in the beer the better. Maybe I could be a beer drinker after all.

(A tasty line-up!)

Later, during the summer, Poppelman, now known as just “Poppels,” made a reappearance when we had an informal “beer tasting” with one of my husband’s sisters and her husband, while we were at the family’s summer house on Tjörn (An island off the west coast of Sweden). My brother-in-law had purchased a selection of Poppels' brews for us to sample and we went through them one by one, deciding which were our favorites and noting the differences in flavors. My favorite remained the "Nya Världens IPA". I guess I just really like a “hoppy” beer. Our beer tasting was so much fun that an idea was planted in my mind, though I didn’t really realize it until a few months later.

As fall approached I suggested hosting a dinner party at our apartment. I didn’t want it to be anything too formal, as I am not practiced in cooking a fancy meal for more than four people, so I thought, “Why not have an Oktoberfest beer & cheese tasting party, with a big pot of chili and cornbread?” And so was born the idea. All guests would be invited to bring 6 bottles of their favorite microbrew, or some new brew they've wanted to try. I created a Facebook event and all invitees were asked to write which beer they would be bringing in their RSVP. I then began research to find cheeses to pair with the beers. 

(Nibbles ready to be eaten and mugs ready to be filled with hot buttered rum & spice apple cider) 

The party kicked off with a welcome drink of hot, buttered rum & spiced, apple cider. We then moved pretty quickly into the beer & cheese tasting. Each guest had a sheet of paper with two columns: one for the name of the beer and one for a one word description of the beer. Yes, guests were asked to describe each beer in just a single word. This was probably the hardest thing we did all night.

Just over our half-way point of beer & cheese tasting we decided to take a dinner break and get something of substance in our bellies. Spicy, vegetarian chili with green chili & cheddar corn muffins hit the spot and we all agreed that any of the beers would pair nicely with chili. For dessert I made mini, pumpkin tartlets, served with fresh whipped cream. Everything was a hit.

(Dessert eating and pumpkin decorating)

During the tasting we held a beer trivia contest, with questions such as, “Match the word for beer with the correct language,”  “True or False, In Japan beer is sold in vending machines.” and “Identify the author of this quote (Benjamin Franklin): ‘Beer is proof that God loves us.’” Later in the evening we had a pumpkin decorating contest. Both games with real prizes for the winners, and each guest/couple got to take home their decorated pumpkin.

(Mini pumpkin tartlets with sea salt and roasted hazelnuts)

Below are the tasting results. If you've never had a beer & cheese tasting I would highly recommend it. It was a truly fun event and one I would definitely repeat in the future, and especially during the chilly months of fall and winter. Based on our experience however, I would definitely recommend limiting the tasting to between 6-8 beers, 6 probably being the ideal number. We tasted a total of 11 and it felt like a bit of overkill. And as you can see below, the fun of coming up with one word descriptions and even pairing a cheese with the beer sort of fizzled out after number 8. 


Sigtuna Lager: Light, Bland, Hopsy, Drinkable, Summery & Fresh

Cheese: Goat/Chevre, Ementhaler

Mikkeller Kärlek Höst/Vinter: Piney, Eccentric, Happiness, Flowery, Hoppy, Tangerine-nose, Bitter, Aromatic, Forest, Frosty

Cheese: Manchego, Cheddar, Goat, Brie, 

We Love NY Yellow Cab Lager: Bitter, Hoppy, Flat, Ethereal, Cat-tongue

Cheese: Goat, Manchego, Gouda, Morbier 

Nils Oscar Oktoberfest: Chocolatey, Well-balanced, Delicious, Fall, Easy-to-drink, Smooth, Fresh, Good, Mocha 

Cheese: Cheddar, Morbier, Pecorino, Dark Chocolate, Saint Agur 

Alaska Smoked Porter: Thick, BBQ, Meaty, Smokey, Flavorful, Ham(y), Salami, Hickory, 

Cheese: Gouda, Chocolate, Saint Agur 

Hoegaarden: Fresh, Fruity, Citrusy, “Sliskig” (means icky sweet), Candy, Crisp, Lemondrop, Banana

Cheese: Svarta Sara (stinky cheese), Saint Agur, Goat, Manchego 

Pang Pang, Puttin’ in Hours: Hoppy, Dancing-on-the-tongue, Honey, Citrusy, Apricot, Summer, “After-work”, Flower-power

Cheese: Brie, Ementhaler, Saint Agur

St. Eriks Oktoberfest: Bitter, Dark, Hops, Chocolate, Hoppy, Chocolate+Coffee, 

Cheese: Chocolate, Saint Agur

St. Eriks Mathias Dahlgren: Bitter, Hoppiness, Hoppy, Happy, 

Cheese: Chocolate, Saint Agur

Poppel Belgian Wit: Frisk (Fresh), Acidic, Kvällsdopp (Evening swim), Lemon, Cider, “Pee” Luktig (smells like pee :-O)

Cheese: No cheese selected here. I think we were petering out at this point)

Innis & Gunn Oak: Vanilla, Sweet, Cuba-libre, Rum-cola, Cocktail(y), Pirates, Rum(y), Caramelized-sugar, Rum

Cheese: No cheese selected here either :-) but I think it would pair nicely with a     dessert - especially one with caramel or custard


PS. Yes, chocolate is not a cheese, but it was really delicious with many of the beers we tasted :-).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Butternut Squash & Buffalo Mozzarella Flatbread with Shallots & Fresh Thyme


I am one of those people who is easily influenced when it comes to food. All it takes is seeing a photo of something, such as a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs, turkey or vegetarian of course, and suddenly I have to have just that. Right now I find that I am especially influenced by all of the wonderful fall ingredients that are available right now, butternut squash being one of my favorites. 

I was contemplating what I could make for dinner with this nutty, subtly sweet delicacy when suddenly the idea popped into my head: Flatbread with roasted butternut squash and buffalo mozzarella. Yum! My mouth was already watering. Rich and yummy flavors, but also bordering on the healthier side of pizza. A flatbread would also be something simple enough to make that it wouldn't take the entire evening to prepare. 


Off I went to the grocery store to collect my ingredients. In addition to the squash and mozzarella I opted for fresh thyme, shallots, some fake bacon and a little Parmesan cheese. The "bacon" and Parmesan would add a nice element of saltiness to compliment the sweetness of the squash and the mild, fresh flavor of the buffalo mozzarella would round it out to perfection. 


Now, for the butternut squash. I have cooked and prepared butternut squash enough times to know all of the ways that don’t work when it comes to getting the result I want. It is easy enough to merely slice the squash length-wise, scoop out the seeds and lay it face down in a baking dish with a bit of water to keep it from drying out. However, the end result is a mess of flesh that is difficult to use, if it is not to be used in a soup or puree. 

The best method I have discovered so far is to peel the entire squash before carving it up into cubes. This does make it a bit slippery to work with (so be careful!) but in the end it is the quickest and most efficient method that I have found. And you get some nice caramelization on the edges of the squash when it is roasted without the skin. Which tastes amazing.


I recommend roasting your cubed squash in a cast iron Dutch oven but if you do not have one a baking dish in the oven works well too. I place my Dutch oven directly on the stove top. The cast iron heats up really well and the heat distributes evenly so be careful not to have the heat too high. I use about a tablespoon of olive oil and a thick pat of butter. Once the butter stops sizzling add your cubed squash, stirring well to coat each piece. Then place your lid on and let her roast. Check often to control the heat and make sure it isn't "caramelizing" too much. It should take between 20-30 minutes, depending on how high you have your heat.

You can even add a drizzle of maple syrup (if you love syrup like Buddy), when it is nearly done, but I think the sweetness of the squash is perfect all by itself. If you are roasting in the oven, I would place the baking dish in the oven first  to warm it up, then add the olive oil and butter. Once the butter has melted you can add and toss your squash. Bake at 200 C  (approximately 400 F), stirring every so often to avoid burning. Once cooked, allow the squash to cool slightly.


Now you are ready to assemble your flatbread. This recipe is so delicious. I am already craving it again. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!


Butternut Squash & Buffalo Mozzarella Flatbread:

Preheat your oven to 265 degrees Celsius (approximately 510 degrees Fahrenheit), with your baking (pizza) stone in the oven. I know, this is hot, but it is one of the keys to making amazing pizza & flatbread. If you don't use a pizza stone, you can just put your pan in the oven with the pizza when it is ready to bake.

Ingredients:

2 ready-to-bake pizza doughs (*see tips below)
1 small to medium size butternut squash, peeled, diced, and roasted
1 package fresh Buffalo mozzarella, sliced and hand torn
2 small shallots, sliced in rings 
2-3 slices of fake bacon (or the real stuff if you aren't vegetarian), cooked & crumbled
Fresh thyme, rinsed and separated from the stems
Olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh ground pepper
Sea salt

Directions:

Roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface. Or if you are not using a pizza stone & pizza peel, place dough onto your prepared baking pan.
Brush dough lightly with olive oil and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt.
You can layer the remaining ingredients however you want but this is the order I followed:
Roasted butternut squash
Torn slices of mozzarella
Shallot rings
Bacon crumbles
Fresh thyme leaves
Remaining Parmigiano cheese
A twist or two of freshly ground pepper
Repeat for second flatbread

Using your super peel, transfer to your flatbread to your pizza stone in the oven. Bake for approximately 6 minutes. Keep an eye on it because it cooks quickly. 

Remove your flatbread from oven, transferring it to a round pan. (Leave your baking stone in the oven for flatbread number two). Slice your flatbread and enjoy with a glass of chardonnay or pinot noir.

*Tips that will make your flatbread/pizza making life easier:

- Purchase already made pizza dough from your local pizzeria. They are usually pretty inexpensive and it saves a ton of time. Plus they've already nailed the recipe and you are guaranteed delicious crust every time.

- If you do not already have one, purchase a pizza stone for baking homemade pizzas. It makes a huge difference and is well worth the small investment. 

- Get a Super Peel. Seriously! You really should consider getting one of these. My husband wanted one for the longest time and, thinking it was one of those frivolous, kitchen gadgets that would sit unused in the cupboard until our next big move or kitchen clean out, I sort of refused to get it. Then one day I decided, "Okay, let's try this thing," and I ordered it for him as a gift from my parents. I now have to eat my words. It has been one of our best kitchen purchases and we both love it. 


Bonus: Check out these amazing anonymous photos taken from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mind Over Matter - Part 2

(Notice there are now three check marks - only one more to go!)

When I last checked in regarding the Swedish Women's Classic (Svenska Tjejklassiker), it was a mere two days before I was to hop into some very cold water and swim 1 kilometer as fast as I could. Well, the water was pretty darn cold but after standing around in my wetsuit for thirty minutes the cold was not as shocking as I had anticipated and the swimming part, while challenging, was not at all as bad as I thought it would be. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure I can also say that I was mistaken in thinking that the swimming portion of this four-part endurance feat would be the most difficult. 

The very next day after the Vansbro 1 kilometer swim, I pulled out my running shoes, dusted off my Garmin, and started training for the 10 kilometer run. The race was just under three months away. It seemed like plenty of time to prepare but I figured I should get started. Ahem. 

Have you ever trained for a running event? If you are already a runner, it doesn't count. I'm talking about starting from scratch, as in from a sitting position on your couch. I'm kidding, sort of, but the minute I started my couch to 10k program, running one minute, then walking one minute, and repeating ten times, I felt that I needed to question my sanity. 

You'd think running for just one minute would be a piece of cake right? (A piece of cake sounds good right now and I miss my couch!) I peeked at my Garmin, merrily keeping time, after what seemed to be a reasonable amount of time, only to discover that I'd been running for a mere 20 seconds. 20 seconds???!!!! Holy cow. How was I ever going to be able to run 10 kilometers? 

I kept with my training however, thinking (and hoping) that it would get better. In the beginning I endured cramps in my lower legs that were so severe, I'd have to stop completely (I couldn’t even walk) and shake out my legs until the pain became bearable enough to walk my minute and start running again. Gradually I built up my time and distance and the cramping stopped but, even so, I continually questioned my ability to build up to the point of finishing the 10 kilometer race. And yet, with a discipline and determination that surprised even myself, I stuck to my training schedule and continued running 3 times a week. Some days I even got up before work to run, which was the biggest surprise to myself. Until....

.... a little under three months later, on Sunday, September 29th, I actually completed the Lidingö Tjejloppet - 10 kilometer run. I personally think it should be called, "The Up and Down and Over-the-Hills and Through the Woods" race, but that is beside the point. It was tough. And by tough I mean probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. But I can also say that it was a truly amazing experience and something I might even do again.


A couple of things I learned along the way:

  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 
  • The body truly is stronger that the mind thinks it is.

Truer words have not been spoken. I encountered a couple of minor injuries along the road in my training. Plantar faciitis in my left foot and runner's knee in my right knee both threatened to stop me. However after speaking with runner friends and other sports enthusiasts, I learned some exercises and things I could do to alleviate the symptoms, strengthen the surrounding muscles, and allow me to keep training. 

After all of this has been said and done:

If you have even an inkling of desire to train and participate in some type of sports event, be it bicycling, running, even walking, I encourage you to start training - like now! It won’t be easy but I can guarantee that if you keep it up, the pain will go away and it will get easier. Your body will get stronger ... and so will your mind! 

I have tried running many different times in my life but due to the horrible cramping I would experience in my lower legs I just thought, “running isn’t for me,” and after a short time period I would quit. No one told me that these pains were normal and that it would take time to build up my endurance in the different muscles and tendons. No one told me to keep going, or that it would get better. Well, I am telling you...

KEEP GOING... it WILL get better! 

And send me a photo of your finish when you complete your first 5k, or 10k if you are crazy like me! 

Like Nike says, JUST DO IT.

Ps. Just one tiny event left for me to do to complete the Svenska Tjejklassik - 30 kilometers on cross-country skis. Double gulp. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Plum Crazy


An early fall day. Sun shining. Out for a trail run through the woods with a couple of friends. Lunch after on the deck. Perhaps the final day to sit outside without a blanket. A bit chilly but the homemade carrot soup warmed us. Mmmmm. With a yummy arugula, chicken and bean salad on the side. Afterward, picking and eating the cutest tiny little plums directly from the tree. “You guys should take some home with you.” With pleasure, thank you! We were also invited to pick fresh pears and apples from our friend’s abundantly adorned trees. Heavenly!

Once home I contemplated what to do with the plums. I searched one of my favorite food blogs for recipes using these lovely gems. Lo and behold, there was a recipe for a plum galette! Of course! It sounded absolutely perfect. And, I had most of the ingredients on hand. 

Here’s what transpired:


Plums are rinsed and ready to be made into a simple galette.


Pitted? Check. Only a few were eaten during this stage. It is nearly impossible not to. And the entire time I was thinking, “I should have picked more!”


Ready for the oven!


Look at that bubbling gooey goodness. Just begging to be eaten.


Served with a generous dollop of Turkish yogurt and a drizzle of honey.


This galette was good to the last scrape... I nearly licked the plate, as you can see. Instead, I just enjoyed a second piece. :-) Why not?!

Recipe adapted from Mynewroots.org. Since I didn't have every ingredient, I merely used what I had on hand. Changed I made to the recipe included:

  • Spelt flour instead of rye.
  • Agave syrup instead of maple. 
  • Vanilla extract instead of scraped bean pod.
  • Probably 1/4 tsp of dried thyme instead of 1/2, but in the future I would use the whole 1/2 tsp, or plan ahead and use fresh. It was hardly detectable with only 1/4 tsp.
  • Turkish yogurt instead of sheep’s milk.
  • Added a drizzle of honey.

The crust tasted fresh and crisp without the heavy feeling of eating a crust made with butter. And I really loved the texture that the poppy seeds added. I drizzled honey over the top because I love honey with Turkish yogurt and there was so little “sugar” in the recipe. And I thought it was a good idea. 

It is worth noting that my husband ate only one slice of this galette. I pretty much finished it off/gobbled it down over the course of the next four days. 

I think it would be just as tasty with other fruit, if plums are not available or in season.

Happy fall!

Friday, September 20, 2013

I'm Falling for... Well, Fall.


I don't normally relish the coming of winter. In fact, I am probably better known to fight it. Kicking and screaming all the way into the dark days of November. And then into December, and January and February as well. By March I will be completely and thoroughly done with wearing boots and scarves and my winter coat. But for now let's focus on the positive.

There are many things about this time of year that seem to act as a sort of winter salve as we ease ourselves into the cold months ahead. Fall is one of them. I just love this time of year. I love unpacking all of my winter sweaters, scarves, boots, and coats. I love lighting candles and sipping mugs of warm, almond milk, herbal tea, and pretty soon, glögg (Swedish spiced wine).

I love the changing of the leaves, when the trees are filled with rich ruby red, rusty orange, and deep golden hues. I love once the leaves have fallen and they crisp-ily crunch under foot as I walk over them. I love the excitement of Christmas shopping and deciding on presents for my family and loves ones (Shhhh!!! I know it is too early. Let's pretend I didn't really mention the C word!). I love celebrating both my birthday and my husband's birthday, as well as our wedding anniversary, all in the fall months ahead!

So even though there is a long, dark winter moving in on us, there are many wonderful things to look forward to. And probably one of my absolute favorites is the return of the great pumpkin. I LOVE baking pumpkin treats. And that is why I am sharing with you this amazing recipe and some of the adaptions that were passed down by a friend (E), as well as my own adaptations.


All About Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients:

1 15 oz can of pumpkin puree*
4 eggs
¾-1 cup of sunflower oil 
2/3 cup of water
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups of sugar
3 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 cup dark chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C)
Butter 3 loaf pans (3x7 inch). Or you can choose to make 1 loaf and 12 regular-sized muffins. Or skip making loaves all together and make 24 regular-sized muffins. Your choice!

In a large bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients, plus the sugar, until well blended.
In a separate bowl, measure remaining dry ingredients and whisk well, creating a well in the center.
Incorporate wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring until just blended.
Pour into your choice of prepared pans or muffin tins.

Bake loaves for approximately 50 minutes. Muffins will bake in about half of the time, but check them at about 20 minutes. Breads are done when a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.

*If canned pumpkin is unavailable, use cooked pumpkin that has been pureed in a food processor or blender.

Enjoy a thick slice, or muffin, on a rainy, fall day. Ps. They taste just as good on a sunny day too ;-). 

Here's a great tip: The loaves freeze well, so if you end up making two loaves you can freeze one of them, or cut them in halves, freeze 3 halves and save one half. Simply take a frozen loaf/half a loaf out of the freezer and place in the refrigerator the evening before the day you would like to enjoy it. Place in a preheated 400 F (200 C) oven for 8-10 minutes to warm it up just before serving. It comes out tasting like it's been freshly baked! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Weekend Breakfast


A quiet Sunday morning. You awaken and make your way down to the kitchen. Make a couple of cups of coffee. One for yourself and one for your husband. You feed and pet the kitty, then hand-deliver coffee to the husband. Spoiled. Perhaps, but totally deserved.

You then settle in at your desk to enjoy your coffee and morning ritual of sitting in front of the computer and discovering what happened on the Internet in the mere eight hours you were asleep. Suddenly the coffee cup is empty. Not too much later the stomach starts to growl. So back to the kitchen you go.

What's it going to be? Often on the weekends, a more extravagant breakfast tempts you. Scrambled eggs with beans and toast, American pancakes with bananas or berries and maple syrup, or breakfast tacos maybe? Today however, simplicity calls.

Whole oats are soaked in almond milk, then topped with fresh blueberries, a dollop of Greek yogurt, and finally, a drizzle of agave syrup. A perfect start to the morning. A new weekend breakfast ritual created.

What is your favorite weekend breakfast? Do you have a tried and true morning breakfast ritual?

Friday, September 6, 2013

What's on Your Wish List?

(Bag from Orla Kiely's new Autumn/Winter 2013 collection)

It seems like my wish list is always growing. It's not that I want that much or that I'm super materialistic, I just like nice things. It just so happens that nice things happen to cross my path quite often and my eye is naturally drawn to beautiful design, like this Orla Kiely bag, or pretty much anything orange. And did I mention that the interior of this beauty is orange? Well, it is. Absolutely gorgeous. I had to control myself to not buy it immediately when I saw it. Though I will admit that I hung around the store longer than normal and I "tried it on" in the mirror, admiring it and picturing us together, me and the bag, out in the city. Sigh.

You see, it's the time of year when my husband and I agree to not buy things for ourselves. We make this pact every year around this time. With birthdays and Christmas coming up, we start making wish lists instead so we have gift ideas when the time comes to buy presents for one another. 

This bag is at the TOP of my wish list. Or even a gift certificate to go towards it. Hint, hint.

And if the season comes and goes and any items are still on our wish lists, it is then declared open shopping once again. I will run right out and buy this bag. Who knows, maybe it will be on sale by then!

Have a Happy Weekend!

I am planning to...

... clean out my closet some more. Always fun to make room for the new ;-)

... go for a run with my running club on Saturday.

... ride in the Sthlm Bike ride at the crack of dawn on Sunday (42 kilometers before coffee??!! I must be insane).

What are you planning to do?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dining While in Jail?


Yes, if you happen to be at Hornsgatan 82 in Stockholm, Sweden. Located just a stone's throw away from our apartment in central Stockholm lies one of Stockholm's new best kept secrets. Häktet. (Shhh... it's still a secret!) Named for its previous incarnation as a jail, which is also the precise meaning of its name, the atmosphere is moody and haunting, though refined and stylish by today's hip and trendy standards. The original jail served the public between 1781-1872 and the location has since the 1900's served as a bar, until its most recent make-over.

The chef's creations were fresh and inspiring. Mussels in a wine and cream broth paired nicely with the bread and senap smör (mustard butter), and the hälstrad gös (grilled perch) served with asparagus salad and wine-braised spinach was the perfect meal after our all day drive to and from Vansbro for the Tjejsim (women's swim) competition. 

My husband and I enjoyed our meal and the atmosphere so much so that we made a return visit when another friend was visiting from the States just a few weeks later. The mussels were a definite repeat but for the main course I selected the "Bläckfisk och Kungskrabba" (squid and king crab) served with browned butter and lemon-scented, Beluga lentils, which were holy cow good. And aside from spilling my own glass of ice water right into my lap before we really got started, the evening was perfect and the food delicious and satisfying. We were too full for dessert but I am strongly inclined to return, yet again, for something on the menu that had to do with rhubarb. 

If you find yourself in the mood for an evening out any time soon, drinking and dining among the ghostly spirits of the old jail, I would heartily recommend Häktet. Do make reservations because it will definitely not remain a secret for long. And do plan on having a leisurely evening ahead of time, as the servers allow you plenty of privacy and lengthy spaces to enjoy each course ;-). 


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Happy Margarita

(Happy (Hour) Margaritas on the balcony)

It is natural to want to think that all margaritas are Happy Margaritas. The sad truth however is that this is just not the case. The difference between a regular, old margarita and a Happy Margarita includes, but is not limited to, fresh ingredients, tequila label, and how much fun you are willing to allow a simple drink to give you. And it will deliver.

I am even willing to bet that after you have tried this Happy Margarita recipe, you will never go back to that other recipe you've been using. And if you've never had a recipe? Well chances are good that this will become your go-to margarita recipe for entertaining guests. Or just entertaining yourself. 

Making The Margarita

What you need:

Drink shaker
Margarita salt to salt the rims of your Happy Margarita glasses
Limes (approximately 8 limes for two margaritas, depending on how large and how juicy they are)
Sugar
Patron Silver Tequila
Cointreau Liqueur
Ice

What to do:

Ahead of time, prepare your simple syrup using one part sugar to one part warm water. You can even use about 1/4 less sugar as well and it's still sweet enough. (I found this out one time when I discovered that I didn't have quite enough sugar - while in the middle of making my simple syrup - oops). I usually make 1/2 cup of simple syrup but if you make more than you need you can store the leftover syrup in the frig for a couple of weeks. Use it for more Happy Margaritas, or even homemade lemonade!

Once sugar is completely dissolved in the warm water, cover and place it in the refrigerator to chill. 

In your drink shaker (mine has lovingly come to be known as my margarita shaker), layer ingredients in order as follows*:

Fill three quarters full with ice cubes
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice 
2 shots simple syrup 
1 shot Cointreau (You can use Triple Sec or Grand Marnier, but Cointreau tastes the best in my opinion) 
2-2 1/2 shots Patron Silver Tequila

You want the tequila to go in last to avoid bruising. This sounds strange I know, but a bartender told me this back in my restaurant days and my margaritas always turn out delicious. Plus, who wants bruised tequila?
Shake vigorously, then taste to be sure you don't need to make any adjustments. Sometimes you may need to add a bit more simple syrup, or tequila. Once you've declared margarita perfection, pour into your pre-salted glasses, dividing the ice evenly as you pour. Add more ice if necessary or desired and float a thin slice of lime on top. You can also strain the ice to enjoy your Happy Margarita straight up. 

Enjoy with tortilla chips and your favorite salsa!

*This recipe makes two tasty adult beverages

(Salting the glasses - Photo courtesy of W. Simms)

Additions that increase the deliciousness of your Happy Margarita exponentially:

A chiffonade of fresh basil or mint leaves
A shot of Chambord, or raspberry syrup
A splash of freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice

Saturday, August 17, 2013

25 Rules for a Happy Vacation

(Cooling off the tootsies at Finnhamn)
  • Leave your expectations at home. Something always "goes wrong" or doesn't happen as you expect. Hence, the “leave your expectations at home” rule, which just might be the most important one. 
  • Over packing is okay. You're on vacation. Unless you are traveling with a backpack. Then pack as little as possible. 
  • If you will be gone longer than a week, bring two sets of sleep clothes. You might have access to a laundry room but if you don't you'll be glad to put on fresh jammies at the start of week two. Maybe even ecstatic.
  • If you aren't taking a plane, bring a reusable bottle for water. Makes life easier when you can fill it up at the hotel, hostel, cabin etc., and not have to think about where the nearest convenience store is. And they are often "inconvenient" to find when thirst strikes and you are in an unfamiliar place. 
  • Eat ice cream, or some equivalent treat every day. This is vital to vacation happiness. You will be doing a lot of active exploring and you need to keep your energy up. 
(4 of the 18 flavors at 18 Smaker in Stockholm)
  • Don't forget your camera and/or charger for said camera (or mobil phone if you use that for picture taking, which I do).
  • Plan activities and places to visit at your destination ahead of time but leave room for some spontaneity too. 
  • Sleep in until you wake up. You're on vacation!
  • Band aids and Neosporin for blisters, scrapes, or cuts. Always. 
  • If breakfast isn't included with your hotel room, venture out and try a local breakfast spot. This is one of my favorite things to do when traveling.

(Granola in Copenhagen)
  • This may be crazy, but I always bring my own bar of soap. Being prone to migraines and sensitive to scents, having my own soap sometimes means the difference between a headache day or a non-headache day. And I love having a normal sized bar instead of those tiny medallions that I seem to constantly drop in the shower. 
  • Sit at a cafe with a latte and treat and people watch. As often as possible. 
  • Wet wipes or hand sanitizer can make your life easier, and germ free!
  • Bring a rain jacket and/or umbrella.
  • Go out for an evening stroll or bike ride after dinner. I tend to eat more and later when I am on vacation and getting even a little exercise after a big meal helps me sleep better. 
(A bike ride, with my rain jacket that I was happy to have brought along!)
  • Drink lots of water! With all the extra coffees, beers, or glasses of wine I tend to forget to drink enough water. And hydration is always a good thing even if you are not consuming above mentioned beverages. 
  • Plan down time. I have a tendency to go, go, go when I'm visiting a new place. I want to see as much as possible. But I've learned over the years, with some help from my husband, that vacation "naps" or quiet time is definitely not overrated. And they give you a second wind for continuing on with your exploration. 
  • Go off the beaten path. I often find the hidden jewels of a city, town, or destination this way. Explore the local neighborhoods, not just the city center. 
  • Buy local art. It is a nice keepsake and it supports the artist who is trying to make the world more beautiful.
  • Be Happy all the live long day! You're on vacation!
(Need I say more?!)
  • Take time to smell the roses, or other fragrant flowers, along the road. 
  • Send post cards to family & friends. It may be old-fashioned in today's day and age but everyone loves to receive mail. And it's a nice way to let them know you are thinking of them. 
  • Bring a good book to enjoy on the journey to and from your destination. 
  • Invest in good luggage. The right rolling suitcase or carry-on/handbag can make a huge difference when you are hunting for your connections, hotel, etc. 
  • And most importantly.... HAVE FUN!!!! You’re on vacation!
(Fun and games at the Mirror House in the Copenhagen's Central Park. We practically pee'd ourselves taking photos and using the mirrors to make our heads, feet and rumps huge or tiny. Embracing your inner kid is always lots of fun.)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vacation Series Part 1 - A "Tjörney" Begins... With A Single Step...


... Or in this case, with a car fully loaded with friends visiting from the US, a cat in a cat carrier, and jam-packed luggage for just under three weeks. There were no bicycles, no scissors, and no cast iron skillets involved but there was lots of salt water, fresh, sea air, sheep petting, and crab cooking going on. Last summer I came up with the term tjörney and wrote about it in one of my Finding Happy in 365 Days blog posts when we were about to embark upon a journey to Tjörn. I thought it was cool and catchy and it rhymed with journey, which we were about to take, so it stuck. And it is always a special journey to travel to Tjörn. Tjörney is my word, but you can borrow it.

Anyway, off we went on our tjörney...


... and it was marvelous! This year we decided to stay for two weeks rather than our usual one-week visit. And it made a huge difference. I mean, you have just barely begun to relax after one week. After two weeks however, you are like melted butter. There is something refreshing and healing about being near the ocean and breathing in the heavy, salt air. Towels never seem to completely dry out, your feet are dirty and stained on the bottom from picking red and black currants and walking barefoot, the nights are silent and dark and restful, and the sea breeze blows away all of your worldly cares.


Three things that I've come to associate with summer at Tjörn are: 1) Picnic, boat trips out to Skaboholmen, a smaller islet of Tjörn, 2) Buying fresh crabs directly from the fisherman the day they are caught (and, of course, eating them), and 3) Watching Pina explore the outdoors (albeit attached to harness and leash), eating grass and bugs, and being taunted by the birds.


Skaboholmen is a special place for my husband. He spent nearly all of his childhood summers there. Exploring the rocky cliffs (complete with a secret hidden cave), swimming and basking in the sun, and enjoying picnics with his family and summer friends. It has likewise become a special place for me. Even on days that are a bit more chilly than desired, I look forward to packing up our picnic and feeling the cool air against my face as we make our way to Skaboholmen in our little, motor boat. My husband realized on this trip that their little boat is about 30 years old! (See top photo) He, or she, has served the family well over the years.


Previously christened a badkruka (literally means swimming pot, but it is a term used to describe someone who is a chicken when it comes to getting in the water), I am now officially a swimming goddess. I no longer stand for hours at the waters edge, hesitating until my husband loses his patience, or turns blue. I may hesitate briefly but I now leap in (more like a frog, really), with wild abandon. As long as someone is already in the water to scope out the jellyfish scene. My husband has become my personal, jellyfish scope. I send him out first and he goes under the water, does a 360 turn, and then pops up and says, "ingen maneter," which means no jellyfish. Which means I have to get in. (Brrrrrr!)


Then there are the crabs. Delicious, west coast crabs cooked in salted water with a bit of beer, sugar and fresh, crown dill. Some summers we've missed out on getting crabs but this summer we succeeded. I always love going to pick them up. It is just a short drive away from the summer cottage. We park next to the water and then walk along a passageway, next to the cottages where the fishermen live, to the crab fishermen's sjöbod, or boathouse. It is dark inside with the only light coming from a couple of windows and an open door facing the bay. The fishermen sit wrapping crabs in newspaper while you keep count as they go into the bag. Then you race home to scrub and cook them! Seriously, it doesn't get much better than that.


A new favorite part of going on a tjörney however is watching the fun and excitement our kitty has exploring nature. She loves it there. She loves to sit and eat the grass, and any other tasty weed she comes across, along with an assortment of bugs and insects. And although she did not succeed in a catch, she hunted a field mouse one day and was taunted by a mother bird nearly the entire time we were there. The mother bird had a nest of four babies that we discovered a week into our stay and she was determined to keep Pina's attention distracted from the nest. She obviously had no idea that Pina was on a leash and harness and couldn't get to her babies. That is, as long as we were around to watch her. That sneaky cat figured out how to get out of her harness by turning herself around and hoping and pulling again the tautly, stretched out leash until she was able to wriggle out of it. I noticed one day, as we were "hanging out" together in the yard, that she was hoping around and I stood up to see if she had caught something or was caught on something. I caught her just as she'd completely freed herself of the harness and just before she took off. From then on I knew I had to keep a closer eye on her. Smarty cat.
Her favorite place to sleep inside the cottage after a morning or afternoon of bird watching and sunbathing was snuggled between the extra, foam mattresses, stacked on their sides in one of the spare rooms. She even crept inside one of the mattress covers one day (they fit completely around the mattress like a giant pillow case) and it took forever to find her. I finally noticed the lump sticking out on the side of one of the mattresses. She's a sneaky one.

If you have never been on one, and chances are good that you haven't since I came up with the term, I highly recommend taking a tjörney, or just a journey if a tjörney is not available. It is a magical and relaxing way to spend your vacation and recharge.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of my Vacation Series...

Have a Happy Day!