Friday, January 31, 2014

Stockholm's Best Kept Secret (Shhhh!!! Don't Tell...)

In case you were wondering how tough it is to survive a Swedish winter, I'm here to tell you, TOUGH! Here we are, a month into "real" winter, that is, temperatures staying below freezing (32 F, or 0 C), and I am nearing my tipping point. I can say however that I am still enjoying wearing my wool socks, sweaters, hats, and gloves. And it is still seems like fun to drink hot cocoa outdoors and feel like a brave Viking, while enduring my eyes tearing up from the icy air blowing not-so-gently into my face. 

Then the thought hits me. There will be at least two more months of this!!! The bravery starts to diminish and the whimpering begins. And even though we really are embracing winter by going XC skiing (cross-country) and anything else we can think of to truly enjoy the Swedish winter, so as not to just sit back and suffer through the dark and cold (but still cozy days), it is starting to get tough.

I start to crave wearing sandals and t-shirts and the feeling of warm sunshine beating down on my brow. Of eating an ice cream cone and not getting goose-bumps while enjoying it. And just about the time I think I can no longer endure it, a couple of friends invite me to join them in a visit to Storkyrkobadet - a sauna and bath house in Gamla Stan. 

Seriously, this is the best kept secret in town! For just 50 Swedish kronor (about 8 US dollars) you can enjoy a cozy hot wood sauna, with a lovely indoor, candlelit pool to cool off in. Yes, real candles light your way as you swim from one end to the next. Completely lovely. In addition, we discovered on our visit that you can also sign up for a 20 minute massage, or skin peel, for only 150 kronor extra. Now granted, the massage and skin peel are more therapeutic than spa-like in reality but when your knots are melting away and your skin is being polished (to a shine), who really cares? You leave feeling refreshed and able to bear the cold once again. 

I was telling a colleague of mine about my visit to Storkyrkobadet and she revealed an interesting bit of history about it. Apparently the bath house has been around for quite a long time. In fact, she told me, since the days that inhabitants of Gamla Stan flocked to the bath house for their daily, weekly (or perhaps monthly?) baths because their apartments had no showers or bathtubs! Can you believe it?! I was completely shocked. 

She also shared with me that her very first apartment as a young adult did not have a bath or shower, but that there was a communal bath house that all of the tenants shared. You had to sign up ahead of time to use it, similar to signing up for the laundry room. She did mention that her apartment had a toilet and a sink. Thank goodness! Okay, this was 30 years ago but still. 

Would you like the idea of a communal bath house? I personally like having my own shower and bath but I think it is an interesting concept.

For those of you who live in the Stockholm area, I can highly recommend a visit to Storkyrkobadet. My entire experience from my walk through the quaint cobblestone streets of the old town area to the relaxing warmth of the bathhouse was refreshing and invigorating. Ladies can visit on Monday and Thursday evenings. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Spicy Roasted Broccoli with Black Thai Rice

(Uncooked black Thai rice - it turns purple when cooked)

I have to be honest, broccoli is not one of my favorite vegetables. But on occasion, I crave it and roasting it with ginger, and my recently discovered favorite, fresh turmeric, satisfies my tastebuds every time. Spicy Roasted Broccoli with Black Thai Rice is one of my go to meals when I am craving something healthy, but flavorful, and I don’t want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen. I love the earthiness of all of the flavors combined and the nutty crunch of the whole grains. The sauce adds just the right amount of sweetness and kick leaving my whole being, mind, body, and soul, satisfied after eating it. 

A couple of years ago I came across a recipe for something called a Buddha bowl. It was a combination of grains, legumes, vegetables, and a simple sauce. I loved the concept. I love eating out of a bowl and I love the comfort of warm, steaming vegetables and whole grains. It feels clean, almost holy to eat it. Maybe you understand what I mean? Anyway, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Would love to hear your feedback if you decide to try it!  

Spicy Roasted Broccoli with Black Thai Rice


Pine nuts. toasted (pumpkin seeds would be nice too)

150 ml uncooked black Thai rice (The opposite side of your pyrex measuring cup shows milliliters)
Pinch of salt

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp chopped fresh turmeric
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 head broccoli, washed and cut into florets
1 red chili, sliced in rings
1-2 C chopped raw kale, massaged
2 eggs, pre-scrambled and set aside


2 tbsp soy sauce
1-2 tbsp maple syrup
1-2 tsp sesame oil
1-2 tsp rooster sauce (more if desired)
If you have access to it, a dash or two of Dr. Bronners Liquid Amino Acids adds a nice flavor kick, and a few extra amino acids doesn’t hurt ;-).

Step 1: 

Toast your pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until they start to become a light, toasty brown color. Set aside to cool.

Step 2:

The rice will take about 40 minutes to cook, similar to cooking times for brown rice, so get your rice started cooking before you begin to prepare your veggies. For black, or brown rice, I measure 1 part rice to 2 parts water with a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil, add the salt and rice, stir and then place the lid on the pot. Turn the heat down to a simmer and let it cook for forty minutes. No peeking! After twenty minutes check your rice to make sure it is not simmering too high or too low. should be perfectly cooked. It should be at a gentle, rolling simmer. Tip #2, don't stir the rice. Adjust the temperature if needed, replace the lid, and allow to continue cooking. 

Step 3: 

Whisk all of the sauce ingredients together and set aside.

Step 4:

While the rice continues cooking, let’s give the veggies some love. One thing I've learned in cooking is to read through the recipe first and prepare as many ingredients ahead of time as possible. This includes measuring out the spices. I like to dump them all together if they will be added at the same time. Small bowls are very handy for this. “Mise en place” is the French term for preparing ahead. I call it getting my ducks in a row. :-) Whatever you choose to call it, it truly is a great strategy for cooking. I can’t tell you how many times I have ruined a recipe because I was not prepared and things burned or overcooked while I had to take 15-20 minutes to cut up my vegetables, measure out ingredients etc. So I definitely recommend taking the time to prepare ahead. 

Now you are ready to put it all together… 

Heat your skillet with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Begin sautéing the chopped turmeric and ginger for a minute or so, then add the broccoli and sauté, stirring occasionally for about 5-7 minutes. Just when your broccoli is starting to brighten up in color, add the sliced red chilies and sauté for another minute. 

At this point I add a drizzle of the sauce to the vegetables, just to give them a little more flavor. Now toss in your pre-massaged kale and sauté until it has softened, approximately 2-3 minutes. Finally stir in the pre-scrambled eggs. Allow to heat through while stirring for a couple of minutes. The rice should be done by now as well. You are ready to serve!

Start by dividing your rice into two bowls. Drizzle a bit of the sauce over the rice, then layer with your vegetable mixture. Drizzle more sauce over the vegetables and top with your toasted pine nuts. My recipe made three servings. One for me, one for my husband, and one for my lunch at work the next day! :-)

Feel free to try your own variations of vegetables, nuts, and grains. The possibilities are endless. One that I can think of right off the bat (and that appears to be calling my name) includes brown rice, black beans, roasted sweet potatoes, and avocado. Maybe with a large dollop of salsa, some toasted pumpkin seeds, and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro on top… Yum!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Vanilla Almond Peanut Butter Smoothie

Sometimes on Saturday or Sunday mornings I get caught up with drinking my coffee and surfing the internet and before I know it I am starving and feel like I could eat a horse. At that point I want breakfast but I don’t have the patience to a) come up with something to make, or b) take the time to make something. That is where the beloved smoothie comes in. Normally I have a few different versions I like to make but this morning upon inspecting the contents of the fridge and freeze, I discovered it was slim pickings. Lucky for me as I was forced to concoct a new, delicious flavor that will now be one of my new favorites. 

I won’t waste your time talking about what was missing, how I howled, and then how I decided to make this smoothie. I will just jump right in with the recipe and let you take it from there. The important thing with smoothies, and especially with this one since I don’t have an exact recipe, is to be creative and daring. Don’t be afraid to try a new combination. There are a couple of things that I recommend using as your basic ingredients and then the rest is up to you. 

My first recommendation is to use frozen bananas. We all buy bananas and either forget to eat them or let them go behind the tasty point of ripeness. Often in this apartment, those bananas reincarnate as banana bread. But sometimes, those bananas get sent to the freezer graveyard where they await ascension into a smoothie. Frozen bananas make your smoothie icy and creamy without having to use ice and getting a watered down flavor. Mmmmmm. Try it next time you make a smoothie. I promise you will not go back.

The other ingredient I recommend keeping on hand is nut butter. Peanut butter, almond butter, the type is up to you. Peanut butter especially adds a wonderful flavor to smoothies and makes it feel like you are getting a treat instead of a protein-packed brain freeze. One of our favorite flavor combinations is peanut butter with chocolate soy milk, yogurt, and frozen bananas. YUM! We have tried using vanilla yogurt, plain yogurt, and don’t tell anyone, but we’ve even used Yoplait’s Boston cream pie flavor in the past. Nowadays I would not use Yoplait light because of the added artificial ingredients but I will also not deny that it created a very tasty smoothie. Anyway, bottom line here is to keep some type of nut butter on hand for a quick protein smoothie. It makes it very easy to just throw a couple of tablespoons of nut butter, your choice of milk, and a frozen banana in a blender and, voila, a smoothie appears!

Vanilla Almond Peanut Butter Smoothie


2 frozen bananas
2 heaping tablespoons of peanut butter
1/2 cup Greek or Turkish plain yogurt
Approximately 2 cups almond milk (or rice milk, soy milk, or regular milk)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract (homemade is especially delicious*)
1 tablespoon or more of maple syrup.

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth(ie appears). Make adjustments to the amount of liquid, sweetener, or frozen banana as needed. Also, if you use vanilla yogurt, skip the maple syrup. 

Pour into two glasses and enjoy with a friend. 

*Recipe for homemade bourbon vanilla coming soon!