Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spring Fever

It feels a bit early to have spring fever here in Stockholm, as I sit here on this last day of February. March brings with it the hope of spring, though I know that there are at least two more months of coat-wearing and cold before spring, and spring fever, are in FULL BLOOM. And yet there it is, staring me in the face. FULL BLOWN. Spring fever. 

Even our cat has it. She appears to have more energy and spunk lately as she leaps and hops around, chasing her "snake" and "killing" the mat in front of our balcony door. She has also been more talkative and she yells at us for no apparent reason. If I didn't know better, I'd think she was in heat but she was spayed last year before we adopted her and brought her home. Perhaps it is merely that time of year for her and she still feels remnants of the hormones that would make her a mamma cat. 

If I felt that spring truly was just around the corner I might be more excited. I find myself yearning so strongly these days for a warm, sunny day and a picnic outdoors on a soft bed of bright green grass, where I might find myself lazily counting clouds as they drift by. For now I'll have to settle for lying on the garnet-colored shag rug in our living room and allowing the sun to warm me through the window. Unfortunately it is still brisk enough outdoors to cause my eyes to water as I walk from the apartment to the subway, the subway to the office, and then on to which ever next destination there happens to be. 

The good news is that it is now light out when I leave the office, which means it may be time to get on my bicycle again instead of being herded along with the rest of them on the subway, or bus. I always feel happier after a leisurely ride to work in the morning. Fresh air is always nicer than the stuffy air of public transportation. I guess I need to locate my rain pants and get with it! 

But in the meantime, how do we fix this battle of spring fever against the final months of winter? We may not be able to walk outside in a t-shirt yet but we can start to plan for it and dream about it. Maybe even pretend we are at the beach.... like the lovely sign above...

... pretend we are listening to waves softly roll in with the surf and to the sounds of seagulls chatting with each other as their soar above...

Or we can pretend we are out on our bike on a sunny day in short-sleeves...

Or reminisce about the coming of spring... 
... and all of the beautiful blossoms that will soon be out there to greet us...

How do you manage your spring fever?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Winter Breakfast

"Did you add salt?" He always asks me that when I make the oatmeal. I never cooked oatmeal with salt before we met. Salt is for savory food and oatmeal is a sweet, breakfast food, right? Okay, technically oatmeal is not sweet at all but you'll never catch me eating it plain or without some sort of sweet addition. And though I never would normally add salt to oatmeal, now I find my hand uncontrollably hovering over the salt bowl for a pinch to toss into the oatmeal as it cooks. 

There are still days that I forget and cook it without salt but nowadays, most times you'll find just a hint of salt flavor mixed in with my butter and brown sugar, or fruit topping. The tiny hint of salt provides a more rounded flavor and when I think about it, most chocolate chip cookie recipes that I've come across call for a little salt. 

A few combinations of things that you could find adorning my oatmeal:

- Fresh blueberries, walnut halves, butter, brown sugar and milk

- A light sprinkling of homemade granola, with sliced bananas & milk

- A BIG dollop of fresh “fruktkräm" and milk. Fruktkräm is a homemade Swedish jam made with any leftover berries and fruits, that are slightly passed their freshness but not quite ready for the compost, with a little added sugar and potato flour for thickener. So delicious!

... or one of my new favorites...

- Sliced bananas and a tablespoon or two of ground cinnamon cooked in with the 
  oatmeal that is then topped with a dusting of brown sugar and a heavy pour of milk. 

 Complete with a lovely cappuccino...

Good to the last spoonful...

And if I'm feeling especially inspired... 

baked oatmeal with bananas, blueberries, milk, eggs and a touch of sugar, cinnamon and pecans...

What favorite toppings or flavors adorn your oatmeal?

Sunday, February 24, 2013


“I have a great idea! Let’s go buy spaghetti-sized skis and then try to balance on them as we walk/slide/ski across the beautiful Swedish countryside.”  Who’s brilliant idea was this? Oh yeah, mine. Well, sometimes the soul has you do things that your mind and body have not yet accepted. This was one of those things. XC-skiing. Cross-country skiing for those of you not familiar with the acronym. (I wasn’t either in the beginning). I have know about cross-country skiing for quite a while. I remember a friend of mine from Berkeley, California telling me about a trip she went on once and how much she loved it. It seemed like such a romantic thing to do. You merely put on your skis and then you simple glide across miles and miles of beautiful snow, into the sunset. Right. 

Cross-country skiing is exactly like that. If you have a very wild imagination, and you squint really hard if you are watching someone like me. My first words when I finally got the skis on and stood up was, “Whoooaaa!” But that barely described the sheer terror that enveloped me in that moment. My next words were something like, “Um... who’s idea was this?!” But I think those last ones were said only in the confines of my own little pea brain. It was hard work getting around that two kilometer track, complete with enough hills to terrify you into submission. My husband did much better than me, aside from falling once and bruising his tailbone because he had the unfortunate luck to land on one of his skis. My bruises were evenly distributed.

So how did we manage to make it around this unfortunately, poorly groomed track, as our friend informed us? With the expert advice and guidance of a pro. Yes, we were primed and taught the basics by our sweet and patient friend who used to compete in cross-country skiing back in Minnesota. How lucky for us to be taught by such a seasoned skier. She even looked the part in her sleek ski-pants and thin upper layers, while I looked like a black marshmallow, in my traditional, insulated ski-pants, rolled up at the ends because they were too long. Yes, living in the land of tall Vikings, most pants are too long for this short, Texas gal. 

However, even after that slightly terrifying first time, we went out alone yesterday for our second attempt and I must say it went much better. I did fall down a fews times but I am pretty sure I felt, for at least a few seconds, what it must feel like to glide across the snow. I also got to know what it feels like to wipe out at the bottom of the hills a couple of times but we did manage to go around the two kilometer track twice this time before calling it quits. Now we are seasoned pros and I am sure that the next time we venture out, we will indeed glide effortlessly across the miles and miles of beautiful snow, into the sunset. Or at least into the forest, where we will hopefully not get lost. 

Heading out... in Stockholm you can just hop on a subway train with your skis and get to a ski track in thirty minutes. 

Action shot! 

You get warm quickly... I had to peel off my jacket and hat. It's a great workout!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Wabi-Sabi Life

Wabi-Sabi. When I first saw these two words I thought they were food-related, having something to do with that spicy green stuff you eat with sushi. You know, that stuff that makes your scalp tingle and your eyes and nose run from the pungent burn from mixing too much in with your soy sauce? Well, I was wrong. Wabi-Sabi is actually a Japanese term or expression used describe an aesthetic or characteristic, generally with a focus on the imperfection and asymmetry of an object. 

I first came across the these words in the title of a book I found at the beautiful design store in Stockholm, Norrgavel. Norrgavel is another place my husband and I have parted with sums of money that could be considered embarrassing or extravagant, were it not for the fact that we love beautifully-designed and hand-crafted furniture and functional art so much. But there at the counter where you check out sat a stack of books about Wabi-Sabi in relation to design. I thumbed through it quickly as I waited to check out. And though I left it there, the memory of it lingered in the back of my mind. 

The next time I happened to meet these two simple words was in an article about Wabi-Sabi sex. I know, what was I doing reading that?! Well, the article was on a site that was not know for having risqué or kinky articles so I figured it would be fairly tame. It actually talked about the same ancient Japanese aesthetic but applied to relationships and accepting the imperfections in your partner. 

This got me to thinking about life in general, with relation to Wabi-Sabi. The Japanese had a good idea. Embracing our imperfections and flaws is part of accepting the flow of life. We are never perfect but as we get older we start to notice more and more imperfections and lament them rather than rejoicing in them. Our imperfections are our stories. They unfold the journey of our life and taking a moment to appreciate and revel in those imperfections is a way of coming back into harmony with ourselves. 

We may not have the physique that we’d like. We may not have the perfect job. We may feel lonely, even surrounded by friends and family, but these imperfections, imbalances even, are the threads that weave our beautiful lives. Take a moment to appreciate some aspect of your life that you feel is imperfect, or even ugly, and choose instead to see the beauty and elegance. Nature is not perfect and yet we see immense beauty in the imperfect ways that mountains jut up into the sky, or the ways that an old, broken-down tree leans off center with gnarled branches. Choose the imperfections and, in those, choose beauty. 

Nature's imperfections... beautiful yellow lichen that covers the rocks of Tjörn, an island off the west coast of Sweden...

Man-made imperfection and asymmetry... viewing the sky through a hole cut into a card...

Imperfections on a raw cement floor create accidental beauty...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Little Lady

There is this great little ceramic gallery and boutique in Gothenburg, on a small side street near the Gustavi Domkyrka (cathedral), called Lerverk. And I actually have a pretty funny story about the name of this boutique from way back before I knew how to [badly] pronounce Swedish. Before we moved to Sweden, we traveled here during our summer vacations. On one of the first trips here, while riding the bus back to his parent's home, I said to my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, " I want to go back to that store called "Lurvurk." He looked at me like I was crazy. Eventually we figured out that I meant "Learvurk" (sounds like). What can I say, it looked like "Lurvurk" to me. 

So anyway, my husband and I have exchanged quite a lot of our money for works of art at Lerverk. My husband's parents have also parted with a great deal of their money in exchange for works of art there, and some of those purchases have been contributed, in the form of Christmas and birthday gifts, to our "Lerverk collection." Sometimes when we are in Gothenburg we visit the gallery and boutique and discover many pieces that we'd love to buy, while other times we merely file ideas away, future gift ideas or purchases to long for. Nearly every summer we select something from Lerverk to add to our ceramic collection. One year we bought a beautiful ceramic rose that was combined with wire, a rubber tube, and cement, which made up the flower's stem and the sculpture's base. Another year we bought a sail boat sculpture with the boat made of raku-fired clay and its mast made of iron. 

There is nearly always something fabulous that we find to covet at Lerverk. On one of our more recent visits I came across the lovely little lady sculpture below. My husband actually has two other figurines made by the very same artist. Two cute little men, one in a black suit and one in a fancy overcoat, that are part of our Christmas decorations. Unfortunately they are packed away until next year but you can view them here on my Finding Happy Day 352 post. I haven't decided yet but I may keep my little lady, in her green evening gown, medallion necklace, rosy cheeks and top bun, around all year long. She just makes me smile. I love the way she looks as if she is either startled or singing. What do you think?

Ps. We still call Lerverk, "Lurvurk," sometimes. Just for fun. :-)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Wrapping Paper Upgrade

Something simple that you can do to dress up plain wrapping paper is to take a paint brush and an acrylic, craft paint, and then paint a simple phrase, a poem, or even a repeating word onto your wrapping paper. It's and fun and easy way to create a special gift for someone you love. I found that it helps to pre-measure and cut the wrapping paper to fit the gift you plan to wrap. I placed a vaxduk, oilcloth in English, over my work surface, but you can also use just plain old newspaper. I also recommend that you find four small items ahead of time to weigh down the corners of your wrapping paper, as the ends want to curl up if you've cut the paper from a roll. I started out without weights and I ended up grabbing whatever was nearby to hold the corners down: a large coin, a candleholder, a pair of scissors, you get the idea. After I began to paint however I realized I needed better weights so I ran off to get four of the many stones I've collected to place on the corners instead. I just "happened" to pick four "heart-shaped" stones. (Me and my heart fetish).

The phrase I selected is one that is special to my husband's family. The original phrase, " Du är go," is Gothenburg slang for, "Du är god," which means, "You are awesome." I personally like the new version, "Du är gov," which was the phrase I chose to paint onto my wrapping paper. But you can chose any word or phrase you'd like. "I love you," "Happy Birthday," "Awesome," "Hip, Hip, Hurray," the possibilities are endless. I love the idea of writing a favorite poem, or if two people you know are getting married you could write, "C + G = Love," using just their first initials.

Once you are done, the paint dries very quickly. I painted mine and used it the same day, merely a few hours later. It is a really fun and creative project that you can do to customize and upgrade your wrapping paper and make something special for your friends or family. It could also be a fun art project to do with your kids. My kitty even liked it. She was so excited when I got started that she hopped up onto the dining table, where she knows she's not allowed. That's ok, she was just excited. Later when I relocated to my work desk, she was more than welcomed to hop up and give her approval, which as you can see, she did.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Two Monkeys in Love

“Once there were two monkeys in love.”

This line is from an anniversary card we received from a dear friend. It makes me smile and giggle every time I see it, no matter how many times I’ve smiled and giggled at it before. The card sits on a shelf I pass by every day so the reminder to smile and the opportunity for a chuckle is always available. And those two kids in the heart-shaped frame with their bicycles? Those kids make me smile too. They never knew each other back then, they met much later in life and I am so glad that they did. Those kids are my husband and me. 

Playfulness is one of the main ingredients of happiness, in my opinion. Even now when we are much taller (and slightly more round) than those two silly kids in the frame, playfulness and riding our bikes are part of the main ingredients of our relationship, and our happiness. There are, of course, many other important ingredients in a happy relationship, like friendship and respect and love. In fact, I would venture to say that friendship is the most important ingredient. Because with friendship, one also has love, respect, playfulness, and a bicycle. Okay, that last ingredient may be special to our relationship.

I read a book once called A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson. I can’t find my copy to get a direct quote but I remember something from her book that has stuck with me. She says that we are to make our romantic relationships more like friendships and our friendships more romantic. This may seem strange but it actually makes perfect sense to me. Treating our friendships with the same level of love as a romantic relationship and treating our romantic partners more like our best friends, which hopefully they are, has a way of transforming both relationships. 

On this Valentine’s Day I reach out to all of my friends... with a wish for you all to be surrounded with the most expansive, soul-warming love possible! And if you don’t have a romantic partner to celebrate Valentine’s Day with, don’t fret, treat yourself to some of your own big-hearted love... and maybe even a decadent chocolate treat! 

Sending out lots of XOXOXO’S!!!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Heart-Shaped Fun

Since Valentine's Day is one of my favorite holidays, I thought I would devote this week to love and all things romantic. I love "love." Most days it could be said that I view the world through heart-shaped glasses, maybe even rose-tinted. I am a hopeless romantic and the symbol of love - the heart - has always been one of my favorites. In fact, my husband has been known to say that I am running out of tokens for bringing home hearts-shaped objects.

I actually understand his fear of having our home overrun with hearts, since i do have a tendency to collect them, but there are times when I just cannot restrain myself. I come across a new heart and it seems to smile up at me, which then makes the corners of my own mouth turn up, and then we go home together. If something so small and so simple can make me smile, should I pass it up? My thoughts exactly, of course not!

I'll admit that we do have quite a few but there's always room for one more, right Whether the heart is a true work of art, or simply a stone with an abstract heart shape, found while foraging at the seaside, the joy they provide is immeasurable.

Lucky for my husband, hearts that I find or make around Valentine's Day usually have a destination and aren't around very long. Below are a few images from my heart-shaped, valentine-making fun...

Chocolate cupcakes... recipe compliments of Jo Burley. :-) The frosting was my own creation - chocolate cream cheese - mmmmm...

Heart toothpicks made by recycling a brown paper bag...

"Layered cake" valentine with paint "frosting"

Another angle...

Bike love. What more needs to be said?!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Combating the Winter Blues

How do you fight the winter blues? Do you have a formula, or list of things that you do to help you get through the long, dark, winter days? Some people take additional vitamins while some light lots of candles or take hot [lemon-scented] baths. A cozy evening at home with a glass of velvety, red wine and a few squares of dark chocolate can also be helpful, but for me the best tools of combat include embracing the winter for all it is worth and planning adventurous outings. Whether it be riding my bike, decked out with winter tires, ice skating on frozen lakes, learning to cross-country ski, or taking an evening ceramics class, my time is filled with winter blues combating endeavors. 

One of the things I really miss during the winter however is going on picnics. There is something so cheerful and happy about sitting outdoors on a picnic blanket, drinking an elderberry soda, or other similar summery beverage, and enjoying a picnic with my husband or a group of friends. One thing I have realized however, is that picnics do not have to be limited to summertime, or mild spring and fall days. Winter picnics can be just as fun, albeit minus sitting outside in shorts or a summer dress. It only requires a bit of imagination and a spontaneous, adventurous spirit. 

Here are a few ideas for how you can make your own winter picnic... and in the process combat a few of those pesky, winter blues...

Picnic #1

A bottle of wine (or other desired beverage)
A selection of artisan cheeses with a variety of hard breads and crackers
An assortment of cold and warm salads, made yourself or picked up at your favorite deli
A crudités plate
A decadent dessert that you made, or picked up at a local bakery

Oh... and don’t forget your picnic basket and a blanket. No trips back and forth to the kitchen allowed! Clear out a spot in your living room, light some candles, sit on the floor and enjoy your picnic!

Picnic #2

A thermos full of hot chocolate
Almond butter and honey sandwiches, or your own personal favorite
A couple of clementines
Maybe a couple of cookies

This picnic is to be enjoyed outdoors and preferably involving an outdoor, winter activity such as a hike through the forest, a walk (or car ride) in the city to a nearby park, or an ice skating outing etc... 

I personally love drinking hot chocolate outdoors during the winter. Something about it really warms the soul and soothes those winter chills. 

What do you do to combat the winter blues?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Travel Series: Gotland, Part One

After hearing so many good things about Gotland from friends and family, we decided that a trip there to see for ourselves was a must. It just so happened that a couple of Swedish holidays (Kristi himmelsfärds dag, or the Ascension in English, and National Day) were clumped together in such a way that we had five days off in a row, including the weekend, so we got an extra EXTRA long weekend without needing to use any vacation days at all. This doesn’t happen very often so we took advantage of it and decided on our trip to Gotland for that weekend. We started planning for our June trip in April. Little did we know that the ferry to and from Gotland booked up so quickly. Even booking two months ahead there were no slots available for cars on the ferry. What a bummer. With some research and luck however, we finagled our plans and decided to rent a car once we got to Gotland and we headed over on the ferry as passengers. Below is my travel journal of our four lovely days on Sweden’s eastern most island.

Day one: Visby

Our ferry arrived in the late afternoon. Not knowing exactly how far away our hotel was we opted to brave it and walk with our luggage instead of taking a cab. It wasn’t such a bad idea, as we arrived to the hotel within approximately fifteen minutes. Check in was a breeze as well and we were given a lovely corner room that had the cutest, mini balcony with views to the sea. In the time we had before dinner we took an exploratory walk around the old town area, or inner city of Visby, which I immediately fell in love with. The quaint cobblestone streets and medieval buildings only added to the romantic charm. Our long weekend was off to a fabulous start. 

For dinner we had reservations at a tapas restaurant called La Masia, located in another hotel nearby. Our own hotel served breakfast only but the staff was very helpful and offered their own restaurant recommendations. La Masia however was selected by yours truly based on reviews I found online. While the atmosphere was pleasant enough, the food was disappointing. The jalapeño popper appetizer, which was one of the things that drew me to the restaurant, was nothing more than a poorly breaded sliver of jalapeño and cheese, with little flavor let alone spice. Their lovely wine selection and outdoor seating however made up for the food and with it being our first evening on vacation we chose to focus on the positives and enjoyed our glasses of wine and the crisp island air. 

Afterward we walked down to the waterfront near our hotel. We strolled along the seawall as we took in the gorgeous sunset, and not too far down we discovered an opening in the wall that edged the boardwalk and decided to go in. There were no signs posted to stay out but we still felt as though we were doing something mischievous. As we strolled around exploring and looking at all of the unusual plants and trees we realized that we had happened upon the Botanisk Trädgården (Botanical Garden), which was open to the public. It was a beautifully, manicured garden and as we wandered through we even met the Botanical garden's cat, who appeared to want company but not affection. Feeling shunned, we said our goodbyes and headed back to our hotel to rest up for the next day's adventures. 

Day two: Fårö

After a lovely breakfast at our hotel we picked up our rental car and immediately headed north to Fårö. If you are heading to Fårö I recommend going as early in the day as possible because the wait for the ferry that takes your from Gotland to Fårö can be quite long. We were only seven or eight cars back in the line to the ferry and we waited about forty-five minutes before we were able to board the ferry. Once on the island of Fårö we took the road west to see Digerhuvud and then drove along the coast up to Långhammars. The raukar, or limestone pillars, at Digerhuvud were amazing to see but if you are tight on time I would recommend driving straight to Långhammars, where the limestone pillars are taller and even more amazing, to allow yourself more time to see the rest of the island, and Ingmar Bergman's home which we missed this trip. 

We stopped for lunch at the unlikely Kutens Bensin, a funky little place that served surprisingly excellent crepes. There was a garden out back with outdoor seating where we sat gazing around at vintage cars and old, neon signs from America while we waited for our food. The only drawback was that we arrived just after a large crowd so it took quite a while to get our food. Aside from the long wait however, I would highly recommend Kutens Bensin. The restaurant owner had lived in the United States for many years and he had a strong affinity for the American fifties and rock and roll. He even had a jukebox with a playlist complete with hundreds of old American songs from past years.

After lunch we drove to the sand beach of Sudersandsviken. It was unfortunately still a bit too cold to sunbathe or go for a swim so we took a chilly, barefoot walk along the water, daring to stick our toes in the icy water, before getting in the car and and heading onward to the Fårö Fyr (lighthouse). The landscape around lighthouse was beautifully picturesque, with a stone-covered beach and the Baltic Sea stretching as far as the eye could see. It felt like we were at the end of the world. We wandered around there taking photos and collecting a few stone souvenirs (me) before we started our drive back to the mainland and our hotel to rest up a bit before dinner. We dined that night at a quaint little Italian restaurant called Isola Bella. It had a gorgeous, interior dining room and a fairly new, modernized outdoor patio. We ordered red wine and pizza. Our wait for the food was the only downfall of our dining experience at Isola Bella. It was most likely an unusual glitch because it seemed that everyone around us was getting their food in a timely manner. We waited forty-five minutes for our pizza and when it finally arrived it was literally ice cold. Extremely disappointing. We mentioned this to our waitress, who was very apologetic and nice about it. We opted not to send it back to be remade, as we were beyond hungry by then but she still did not charge us for our pizza. I thought that was a very nice gesture on her part. My husband and I both agreed that we would definitely give Isola Bella another try.

Stay tuned for part two of this Travel Series....

Monday, February 4, 2013

Pondering Valentines

Have you started thinking about valentines yet? I've been thinking about them for a while now, being that Valentine's Day is one of my favorite holidays, but so far I only have a few ideas tucked in the back of my mind. Do you prefer store bought valentine's or homemade? If I come up with a good idea, I love making my own but there are times when the store bought ones make their way into my valentine stash. Sometimes the good ideas just run dry. 

This year I have what I think is a good idea for layered valentines. Assorted paper, magazine clippings, glue and paint... Like a layered cake but only with paper and glue... and paint for frosting. It sounds weird I know... I'll be back in a few days with more on that... and let you know if store bought valentines are on my horizon.

In the meantime, what are your plans for Valentine's Day? Any fun surprises up your sleeves? I'd love to hear about them! 

Oh, and I absolutely love the Valentine photo below by my friend Danette Mitchell. She does incredible photography work AND she has a fabulous blog too called Danny In The City, where she writes and posts her amazing photos about life and happenings in Los Angeles. 

Photo courtesy of Danette Mitchell Photography
Model: Her daughter, Piper. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Really Awesome Granola

The best granola I've ever eaten was at a small, boutique hotel in Napa, California. My husband and I had planned a fall trip to California, a sort of mini moon or anniversary trip, to visit San Francisco and the wine country. We planned the trip six months in advance and then that August, just two months away from our trip date, my husband received an offer on a job in Stockholm, Sweden. During the time that we wrestled with the decision to make the move or not, part of my stipulation if we did accept the move was that no matter what, no matter how stressful it started to become around the time of our move during those next few months, we would still take our trip to California. I am so glad that I made that stipulation. It was one of the best decisions we made and even now, just over three years later (and living in Stockholm!), I still fondly remember our long weekend in California. And the memory of that delicately, crunchy granola still lingers in my mind.

What was so special about that little, boutique hotel’s granola? Every single component of it was fresh and crisp, it wasn’t too hard or sweet, and it left me craving more. I asked our waiter if he thought the chef might possibly part with the recipe, or at least give me some hints as to how I might be able to achieve the same results at home. He came back with both good and bad news. The bad news was that, as you probably suspected, the chef was not willing to part with the recipe. The good news was that he did give a couple of helpful hints that were key to his recipe. The first hint was to roast all of the nuts separately from the oats. I have found that roasting the nuts separately keeps the nuts crispy without becoming too hard. Their natural flavors are also released and this adds a nice touch to the mild sweetness of the oats. The second hint was to use butter. Of course, everything is better with butter, right? 

Since then I came across a recipe that I have adapted to incorporate these two hints, as well as a bit of experimenting of my own, and the results, I feel, are quite similar to that Napa hotel granola. Normally I would give props to the hotel here but it has since closed and reopened as a different hotel and, since I am not familiar with this new hotel, I don’t feel that I can give my recommendation. The granola recipe I found was first adapted by Ina Garten, or The Barefoot Contessa, from Sarah Chase’s, Open House Cookbook. I have changed the additions Ina uses, reduced the amount of oil, added a touch of maple syrup, and added a bit of butter to give it that extra crispiness. The result is really awesome granola that tastes especially delicious topped with yogurt and fresh berries. 


Ingredients (Makes approximately 10 cups of granola):

8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup sunflower or canola oil
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup, or more, pecan halves
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup roasted, shaved coconut


Roast the pecan halves and then the pumpkin seeds, separately. I roast them individually because they do not roast evenly together. Once the pecans are cooled you can break them into chunky pieces, or you can leave them in halves. I really like pecans in my granola so I have recently started adding about 1/2 cup more and then leaving some of them whole. Set the roasted pecans and pumpkin seeds aside to cool completely.

Measure your oats and place them in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, blend together the oil, honey, maple syrup and brown sugar. While stirring, bring the mixture just to a boil over medium-high heat setting. Once combined thoroughly and beginning to boil, remove from the heat.
Slowly blend the wet ingredients into the oats, a little at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula. Once the wet ingredients and oats have been well combined, slowly stir in the melted butter, also a little at at time. It doesn’t have to be evenly incorporated. 

Spread out the wet oats evenly on a large, baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty minutes, stirring the granola well every 10 minutes, taking care to move the oats from the outside of the pan to the center and vice versa. If you like your granola extra crunchy increase your baking time in 5 minute increments until you are happy with the desired color and crunchiness. Once the oats have cooled completely (approximately 1-2 hours), mix in the nuts and coconut and eat immediately! 

Or you can store it in an airtight container and enjoy over several weeks. :-)

Feel free to experiment with your own favorite additions. I think it would be equally great with a touch of vanilla added to the wet ingredients, toasted, sliced almonds and dried cranberries! The possibilities are endless... Enjoy!

Xoxo, Grace Ann

This French rhubarb yogurt is one of my favorites... and I love that it comes in a glass jar. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Winter Bike Ride

Last January, around the second week of the new year, my husband ordered dubbdäck (studded winter tires) for his bike and he asked if I wanted him to order a set for my bicycle as well. Now for those of you who know me, you are probably thinking, “She’s going to ride her bicycle in the cold Swedish winter? Is she crazy?!” Without a doubt, you are correct. Every part of me wanted to reply, “Thanks but no thanks. There is no way I am getting on my bike when there is snow and ice on the ground.” Every part of me except that weird, unrecognizable voice that spoke up meekly and said “Um... okay.”  What? Okay?! Yes, this same person, who three years ago bought a winter coat that looks like a sleeping bag with arms, was now contemplating riding a bike in the harsh winter of Sweden.

Let me back up just a bit to defend that kooky, meek-voiced person. Up until this point in time our winter had been quite mild. The temperatures were around or above freezing (in the thirties Fahrenheit) and there was no snow or ice in sight. That still feels cold but when you have minus 10 degrees Celsius to compare it to, anything between zero to five degrees Celsius feels quite “balmy”. Besides the fact that deep down a part of me (one I wasn’t quite in touch with yet) wanted to embrace this godforsaken, cold climate of Sweden, where I’d been living, going on two years already. I wanted to be able to say, “I beat the cold! I rode my bike through ice, sleet and snow and lived to tell about it.” 

A week later, just before my winter tires arrived, the temperatures started creeping downward. Then they passed the point of freezing and kept right on going. And it got COLD. The snow began not long after and that continued as well. My lovely, mild, balmy winter was over. Meanwhile, there I was with brand-new, shiny, winter tires... and a promise that I would get on my bike and go. 

The tires arrived safely and my husband put them on our bikes. We won’t talk about our trip to the emergency clinic due to the fact that he nearly took the tip off of one of his fingers off in the process of doing so. (Where the doctor glued his finger together with super glue!) We had our winter tires on our bikes and we were (he was) raring to go. After our first trip out, it was discovered (stated rather clearly by me) that there would not be another outing until I got myself a pair of insulated pants. I nearly froze even with my wool long johns. It was bitingly, numbingly cold. But the problem was not the weather, it was my outerwear. That saying in Sweden, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing?” It is completely and literally true. 

Once all the proper winter gear was assembled, riding my bicycle out in the snow, ice, and freezing, cold temperatures was actually quite fun. Not to mention what a great accomplishment it was for me personally. I had finally embraced the Swedish winter. It took another year to get up the courage to go ice skating on a frozen lake and buy cross-country skis but those adventures are for another day...