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)
Patron Silver Tequila
Cointreau Liqueur

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!