Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dream Butter

In the summer of 2001 I participated in a study abroad program in Paris, France. The program included studies in French and art history, the later being my major. But what the program did not include was my education in the ways of French eating. Which, if you were not aware, includes lots of cheese, lots of bread, and apparently lots of Nutella. Which isn’t actually French but somehow I came to associate my summer abroad in France with copious amounts of Nutella spread generously on French baguette, or artistically swirled and folded into a street vendor crepe. I loved Nutella. Madly.

I still love Nutella and I have been known to take the entire jar, a knife, and a package of digestive biscuits to the couch. We all know what happens there. Eventually you have to put the lid back on and walk it back into the kitchen where you hide the jar deep in the pantry so that next time you open the door, Nutella is not to be seen or even thought of, for months. Sigh. 

Who doesn’t love a good Nutella fix? So when I started seeing recipes for homemade Nutella popping up here and there I filed it away in the back of my mind for a future weekend project. Then a friend of mine mentioned that she too wanted to try making Nutella from scratch so we planned a weekend to meet up and make it together. Unfortunately, my husband came down with a cold and we had to postpone our Nutella-making date for another time, since she would be bringing over her newborn bundle of love to hang out during the process. 

What can I say? I couldn’t resist. I was dying to try making it (read: EAT IT). I threw the pre-roasted and skinned hazelnuts into my food processor and pressed the on button. The recipe said to blend them until they became fine and powdery like a flour and then slowly add coconut oil. It was not specified as to how much oil to use so I started with two tablespoons. Magically the powdery mixture became hazelnut butter. It was amazing. I mean, it really looked like professionally made nut butter. The recipe then said to add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy. 

Um... It. Was. Divine. I admit that I did not actually blend until it was smooth and creamy. Not like the store-bought Nutella anyway. I sort of liked it with a bit of texture and the coconut sugar kept it from tasting too terribly sweet. You could do some serious damage with a knife or spoon (or finger!) and a package of digestive biscuits. I'm thinking maybe even a baguette... I brought a spoonful to my husband to sample. Shortly afterward he was in the kitchen asking for more. Always a good sign. It was so simple to make, aside from the time-consuming task of removing the skins from the nuts, that I think I may try making my own homemade almond butter next. Perhaps it will be chocolate almond butter. I can’t see what harm adding a bit of chocolate could do. What do you think?

Meanwhile, I highly recommend testing this recipe. Not only do you get to control all of the ingredients that go into your Dream Butter, but if you find some cute little jars like the one I found, it makes an adorable little gift for that foodie friend. Heck, it makes a fun gift for any friend! I mean, just look how cute!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Witch Craft(ing)

While our goddaughter was here with her parents visiting us recently, I took them (of course) to one of my favorite stores in Stockholm, Svensk Hemslöjd. It is a small boutique shop that specializes in true artisan wares, handmade and designed arts, crafts and specialty items by Swedish artists. Nearly everyone on my shopping list has received a gift from this shop, including myself ;-). 

Well there we were, browsing around and admiring the Easter decorations, when our goddaughter spotted a small Easter witch, Påskkärring in Swedish, that she fell in love with. I mentioned that I had made my own Easter witch and that I thought I still had all of the supplies to make a couple more, and did she want to make her very own Påskkärring? Her eyes lit up and she said yes straight away (trying my hand at British expression). 

Later that evening she asked if we could take out the supplies to make our Easter witches (a girl after my own heart!) so once I had located everything we set up the dining room table as a craft room and got to work. I really loved watching her creative mind at work. She is only twelve years old but her heart and soul are much older. I showed her a secret way to knot the thread on her needle, a secret shared with me by my own mother, and after only one try, she not only could do it herself but she remembered each time she had to knot the thread again and excitedly showed her Mom and Dad her new trick. Thanks mom! 

I will see if I can create a short video to show this thread-knotting trick and post at a later date. It is a bit difficult to describe if you can’t see it being done. But anyway, below are a few photos from our Witch Craft session. Crafting is one of my favorite things and doing it together with a kindred spirit makes it all the more fun! I look forward to more crafting projects with this lovely and precious girl. She also brought us a piece of her own handmade art, which we will always treasure.

(My Påskkärring is on the left and our goddaughter's Påskkärring is on the right :-))

*All photos except the top photo and the one of my Påskkärring courtesy of Jo Winter.
** Top photo is of my mothers-in-law's Påskkärring, which was the inspiration for making our own. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Travel Tips

I don't travel all that often but with each trip I take I discover more things to add to my “perfect list” of travel tips. It seems more and more common these days that airlines do not provide complimentary drinks or snacks. I had the lucky, or unlucky opportunity, depending on how you view it, to fly aboard three different airplanes this week, due to flight cancellations and transfers. On my first flight (SAS) I was offered complimentary tea, coffee, or water only and on the second and third flights (Air Berlin) I was offered a complimentary non-alcoholic beverage of choice and a bag of chips. So I ate (shamelessly) two bags of chips on flights number two and three, licking my fingers as I went. On the third flight I even managed to score a granola bar. Air Berlin also offered a heart-shaped chocolate as we disembarked the plane. Dinner and dessert. Well, not quite.

My point is that if you don't plan well for the possibility of cancelled flights and/or no time to stop and purchase the overpriced fare the airport shops offer, you could easily starve. Okay, I'll admit, I'm exaggerating slightly but planning ahead really helps. Even if you forgot that you planned ahead, as I did. Yes, I was sitting on plane number one, feeling very hungry when I remembered the cheese and cucumber sandwich I made, and wrapped in three paper napkins, at the hotel breakfast buffet. It was delicious. I think I wolfed it down in three bites. 

Later when I was on plane number two, several hours after transferring to a different terminal and going back through airport security, my stomach began grumbling. The salad I’d purchased in the airport earlier, while very tasty (arugula with mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes), did not really sub as dinner, even with the bag of chips. I was still pretty hungry. Suddenly I remembered that I still had two veggie sausages in my bag AND a rhubarb and custard-flavored raw fruit and nut bar. All things I'd packed for my trip ahead of time, knowing that our trade fair booth would not be providing vegetarian meals.

Let me just say, in case you are wondering, that despite thinking it's okay to gorge on veggie sausages, it definitely is not. It is way not okay. I would recommend more of a variety to your travel snacks but given that it was all I had and there were no other choices, I ate the two sausages, making that a total of 6 veggie sausages in a two day period. For more variety, I would recommend for example, a ziplock bag filled with carrot and cucumber sticks. These are especially nice on long flights when you have a tendency to become dehydrated. I also like to bring ziplocks with my favorite blend of nuts for "happy hour" snacking. 

On one of the food blogs that I like to read, I have also read a tip to make your own meal to bring with you. This is especially helpful if you have special (vegetarian) dietary needs. Consider something simple and light that will travel well. On a fairly recent trip I made a cold noodle salad with peanut sauce, carrots and red cabbage. I thought it was a genius idea until I opened the sauce container and the smell of garlic nearly knocked me out, not to mention my neighbors. It is helpful to consider those around you when planning. Next time I will skip the garlic in that recipe ;-). 

Anyway, there are many more things you can do to prepare for making traveling a bit more pleasant, aside from food. Below is a list of some of things I like to bring when I travel:

Chewing gum 

Great for a quick breath freshener and it also helps with popping ears as you change altitudes.

Empty water bottle 

To fill at the airport after you’ve gone through security- this works well in Stockholm because the drinking water is great. 


Ziplock's with a blend of pre-cut veggies or a combo of nuts, dried fruits, and even a bit of chocolate to perk you up are great if you get too hungry before the meal service. I also find that having both sweet and salty snacks is a good idea. I personally tend to have cravings for both during really long flights.

Hand sanitizer/wipes

Great when you are stuck in a middle seat and those around you are sleeping, or if you just want to freshen up without having to venture off to the restroom.


The airplane ventilation always dries me out, so reapplying moisturizer to my face half way through a long flight feels very refreshing.

Reading material 

I love watching movies on airplanes but having a good book or magazine can also pass the time well.

Back-up sandwich 

I made a cheese sandwich at my hotel because of the limited options but from home I would have made an almond butter, or other nut butter, sandwich with honey, as it holds much longer.

Earplugs or headphones 

These are great if there are crying babies or chatty neighbors in the vicinity, or more importantly, that low rumble/hum of the airplane noise. I never realized how much more relaxing it is when you increase the level of "quiet" around you as you travel.

A travel-sized toothbrush & tube of toothpaste 

It feels like a luxury to brush your teeth if you are traveling over 5 hours, or if your flight gets delayed or cancelled. And if you are traveling through the night, it is a good way to trick your body into thinking that it is bedtime, or morning.

A change of socks and underwear

This is something I sometimes forget but it can be a wonderous miracle if your bag for some reason doesn't arrive when you do. 

A relaxed attitude 

Probably the most important thing on my list, this is helpful even if all of the above items fail or are impossible. Getting upset when there are changes to your travel does no good to anyone and only serves to make the remainder of your travels that much more miserable. Go with the flow and laugh off the mishaps.

That last one is easier said than done but practice makes perfect. And moods are contagious. Your relaxed and happy attitude will affect those around you. So smile and be happy. 

What are your tips and tricks for making travel more pleasant? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

*Photo above taken by Johanna Winter.