Saturday, August 16, 2014

Embracing Autumn


I don't know what it was but as soon as August 1st arrived, so did a tingle of fall in the air. Suddenly the days seemed to shorten at a quicker pace, and though it has still been quite warm, especially for Sweden this time of year, I’ve noticed a crispness to the breeze and I hear a crackly sound when the leaves rustle on the trees. Autumn is definitely in the air. 

Usually I am sad to see the summer go. Okay, maybe sad is the wrong word, it's more like a reluctance I feel to step full force into the next season. Perhaps it has been my fear of the long, dark winters ahead that weigh on my soul, or perhaps my body didn’t feel that it had “downloaded” enough warmth from the summer sun to take me into a long, tough Swedish winter, I don't really know. But what I am feeling and experiencing now, with regard to the "höst känslor" in the air, is that my body and soul are fully embracing it, welcoming it even. I am surrendering to nature. 

What else is there to do? When I look at nature around me, the flowers, plants, and trees, they do not seem to fight the changing seasons. Nature continues to evolve according to divine plan. Summer becomes fall, fall becomes winter and so forth. Why then would I not follow suit? The argument that living at a different longitude and latitude having a strong influence on my reluctance to embrace the season’s change can easily be made, given that I was not accustomed to white nights in the summer and black days in the winter when I first moved here. 

Perhaps time is the great equalizer. It has now been nearly five years that I have lived in Sweden. It is a very different place from where I am from, where I grew up, different in almost every way. There are vast differences in the way people interact, the cuisine is different, being influenced by the cold as well as the great abundance of fresh seafood, and the weather, of course, is quite different. Life here is lived differently. 

Perhaps by embracing autumn I am also finally embracing this new and different life in another world... With pumpkin bread, of course. Something comforting and sweet always softens the blow of autumn breezes. 


Autumn Pumpkin Bread:

Ingredients:

1 15 oz can pumpkin
4 eggs
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/2 c unsweetened apple sauce (or just use another 1/2 c vegetable oil)
2/3 c water
2 c sugar
3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter 2 loaf pans, or one loaf pan and prepare a  twelve muffin pan with muffin baking liners. 

In a large bowl, mix pumpkin, eggs, oil, water, sugar, & vanilla extract. Set aside. 

In a clean bowl, measure out the remaining dry ingredients and whisk to blend well. Add dry ingredients to the large bowl with your well-blended wet ingredients.   

Divide between the two loaf pans, or between one loaf pan & twelve muffin tins. 

Bake loaves for 50 minutes to an hour. Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes. Use a cake tester or toothpick to test if done. It should come out clean. 

Additions:

Add a big handful of chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate to the batter before distributing in your baking vessels.

Top the batter in the loaf pans or muffin tin with pecan halves before baking.    

Friday, August 8, 2014

On Being Grateful



"On Being Grateful: Someone somewhere is fighting for their life. Don't focus on what's missing, focus on what you have that others would love to have."

It's so easy when we are faced with disappointments in our lives to hyper focus on them, become inconsolably sad, or even depressed. It isn't a good feeling but somehow we justify it and feel satisfied in our negative emotions. It comforts us and protects us in a way. However, it isn't long before those feelings begin to fester and cause further damage. We become negative in other areas of our life and start to build walls around ourselves. But these walls do more than protect us, they keep others out as well. And thus begins a vicious cycle of sadness, anger, and loneliness.  

What if instead of giving in to those sad feelings, we fought back with happiness? Okay, maybe not happiness per se, but a gratefulness for other, positive things in our lives, lives of our loved ones, or even the simple beauty of nature that surrounds us. Choosing one small thing each day to be thankful or grateful for and staying focused on that can be a positive change. It sounds so simple but just that one small focus can start to break the vicious cycle.

Today I am grateful for my creativity. It allows me to see the world in a different and brighter way. I see beauty and potential in things most people pass by without a second thought. My creativity shows up not just in art projects or creations but also in my every day life, in the way that I solve problems or prepare a meal. Sometimes I forget to be grateful for this gift. 

Today I am grateful for my creativity.

What are you grateful for in your life today?

*Photo taken on the docks of Viks Ödegärde, Tjörn.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Breakfast Popsicles


Yes, you read that correctly. Breakfast popsicles! How can you justify that? Easy. It is merely frozen juice. Healthy, frozen, fruit juice. How can you not justify it? Created out of necessity (it was HOT), and the fact that there was nothing else in the apartment to experiment with, juice popsicles happened. We discovered that our favorite juice flavor makes the most delicious, thirst-quenching popsicles and an award-winning, summer breakfast. 


The juice flavor, if you are wondering, is Brämhults "Blåbär och svarta vinbär,” which translates as "blueberries and black currants." So tasty! If you live in Sweden, you are in luck as it is readily available. My only wish if you do not live in Sweden is that you can find something similar. However, I would think any juice would be delicious (pomegranate blueberry, orange strawberry, apple, etc.). If you already have a favorite flavor in mind even better.


You don’t have to limit yourself to juice however. The other day I made a batch with Turkish yogurt, honey, and roasted rhubarb. I just stirred all of the ingredients together, spooned the mixture into the popsicle molds, and send those babies to the freezer. You could even blend a combination of juice and fruit in your blender first to puree it a bit, or a lot depending on how chunky you want the end result. And since you are enjoying these for breakfast on hot, summer days, I would think the more imaginative the better. I personally would not recommend bacon but if that's your thing, go for it. 


Instructions:

Your favorite juice/yogurt honey fruit combo + Popsicle mold + Freezer = Breakfast popsicles. 

You are welcome.


Ps. You can eat these any time of day, but doesn't the thought of having popsicles for breakfast feel a bit luxurious? Plus, your kids will think you are the coolest ever.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mind Garbage



Ah summer! That time of year when I'm more often riding my bike to work than not. When I am more often reflecting on the beauty of Stockholm, enjoying the fresh, clean air, and in general taking in the sights, smells, and sounds around me. Which means I'm often contemplating my life and day dreaming, two of my favorite things to do. The other day as I was making my way up one of the many mördarbackar (literal translation: a murderously steep hill) that I ride up on my route to and from work, the notion of "spring cleaning" popped into my head. 

Yes, I know it is summer but I skipped over spring cleaning in the spring and I was thinking of my closet and how I needed to get rid of "a few things." Then the notion of "spring cleaning" the cobwebs and garbage in my mind popped up. I got to thinking about how much energy I waste in thinking about things that are unproductive, or even counter-productive, and how cleaning out my "mind garbage" could be a great way to jump start productivity in other areas. 

It would be like cleaning out your email inbox (the thought terrifies me), or more applicable and personal to me, cleaning out the photo storage on my mobil phone (physically painful). On a regular basis I receive a message on my phone that my storage is nearly full and if I do not delete photos (that are already saved to our home storage), my phone camera will stop allowing me to take more photos. How rude.

If my mind also fill up with unproductive thoughts and/or negativity (garbage!), then perhaps it too stops allowing me to take in positive, productive thoughts and ideas. So the idea of taking out the "mind garbage" came up and I realized that I don't even have to wait for my mind to fill up, I can simply throw the negative, garbage-y thoughts away as soon as they enter my mind. We all have mind garbage, or negative, unproductive thoughts. Right?

Just think about how much space would be available for positive, productive ideas if your mind was a clean, fresh, wide-open meadow just waiting to be planted with wild flowers, or any other type of garden you want to grow. We can begin today. Weed out the negative/unproductive thoughts, take out the "mind garbage," and make room for fresh, new thoughts and ideas. Who's with me?

(Saw this when I was in England... Just add "& Mind Garbage")

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mölle Krukmakeri and a Simple, Lazy-Day, 30-Minute Pasta

A mere 500 meters from the town of Mölle. Beautiful scenery all around!

Approximately three hours drive south of our summer house on Tjörn, lies a quaint peninsula in the Höganäs region of Skåne. Tucked into the southwestern coast of Sweden, the beautiful, lush nature reserve of Kullaberg rises above the charming, seaside town of Mölle. I'd heard talk of how beautiful Kullaberg’s nature reserve is. What I didn't hear however, is how breath-taking the views are, even in and around the lazy, country roads that curve around the peninsula, taking you by farms with free-roving pigs, chickens, cows, and horses, along with rows and rows of ready-to-harvest "rödbetor" (beets) and "potatis" (potatoes). It is no wonder that the ceramic studio, which inspired our trip down, was filled with such beautiful bowls, platters, mugs, plates and other assorted vessels for purchase. The beautiful nature is certainly inspirational!

Just one angle of Mölle Krukmakeri's shop & beautiful wares.

Mölle Krukmakeri is a small slice of heaven for clay-influenced folk like myself. Part ceramics studio, part cafe, Mölle Krukmakeri is my dream come true. I could easily see myself running a similar establishment at some point in my life. That is, once I've mastered being able to reproduce a bowl, cup, or other shape more than once, or by chance ;-). In other words, when I've managed to master the clay. (Wink, wink). So far I am a great master of the "unique" bowl/cup/plate. I’m getting there slowly but surely. 

("Hey, my name is Viktor, I bite sometimes") :-D

I’m not entirely sure if it was out of a desire to hold on to the inspiration or merely a love for her work, but we left with two large “pasta” bowls, a beautiful planter, and thoughts of replacing our dishes at home with her gorgeous plates and bowls. Every time we have used these amazing bowls I think of those dishes we left behind and my mind starts rearranging our cupboards to fit them into our lives. One day they will be ours. 

Just the other day we decided to make our “simple, lazy-day, 30-minute pasta” for dinner and my husband claimed that it was the best one yet. I proposed that maybe it was because of the bowls that our simple pasta dish tasted so much better. He concurred. ;-) I think pretty much anything would taste better in one of these bowls. Ice cream? yes. Salad? definitely. Pasta? of course, silly.

Infinity circle love.

Simple, Lazy-Day, 30-minute Pasta:

Ingredients:

- Spaghetti for two, cooked al dente & drained, reserving approximately 1/4 C of cooking liquid
- A larger than probably desired lump of butter
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
- 1/8 - 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of salt
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Chiffonade of fresh basil leaves
- Two beautiful, oversized, handmade ceramic bowls & a healthy appetite

After you have cooked & drained your pasta and set aside some of the cooking liquid, quickly rinse your pot and place it back on the burner on low to medium heat. Melt your butter and once it has started to bubble up, add your garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Add half of your crushed red pepper flakes and continue to stir for just under a minute. Quickly add your pasta and toss, adding more crushed red pepper, ground black pepper, the reserved cooking liquid, and finally a pinch of salt. 


Place a small amount of pasta in the bottom of each bowl, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, layer with more pasta and cheese until you run out of each, making sure to finish with a light dusting of cheese. Sprinkle your fresh basil on top and complete with a turn of the pepper mill. Enjoy! 

Don't you agree that just about anything would taste delicious in one of these?!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hand-Painted Decorative Pillow

"Live in the sunshine, Swim the sea, Drink the wild air" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes I come across an art/craft project idea and I make it immediately. I don’t know why that is really. Inspiration, possibly? Confidence that I can create a similar result? Then there are those projects that I start preparing for but then they sit dormant for months, sometimes even years, like my tie-died shirt project, or my type-setters draw project… Sigh… I have all of the materials to get going but something stops me. Perhaps it is a fear that it won’t turn out “Pinteresting” enough, or perhaps it’s just plain old procrastination. Most likely a combination of the two. 


So anyway, I don’t remember exactly where I came across the idea of “writing a quote on a pillow” but I've had the idea and the materials for several weeks now and I finally decided that it was time. I’d already pre-washed the pillow cover and selected my quote. Now it was just to set up my work space and complete a test on paper. 


The test actually turned out better than I expected. Especially given that I am not the type to pre-write the quote out in pencil, erasing and rewriting until it fits perfectly. I like to just jump in and start painting, eye-balling the distance and space as I go. It was surprisingly symmetrical. However, once I started painting on the fabric, I learned something valuable for the next time. 


Yes, it may be that linen cloth looks nicer than plain cotton, but it is definitely not as easy to paint on, especially compared to brown wrapping paper. Which makes keeping your spacing a bit difficult. Ugh. Needless-to-say, the project turned out okay but not as nice as I had hoped or envisioned. In retrospect I would say that I should have conducted my test run on a similar material and not paper, even though I now have a nice piece of hand-painted wrapping paper to show for it. 


I am just proud of myself for not allowing yet another project to sit dormant for a year out of fear of it not turning out well. And I now know how to improve this project if I were to attempt it again. It isn’t completely horrible. Once the pillow is inserted, the spacing isn't quite as obvious. I mean, no one is going to sit there and analyze the spacing (hopefully!). Plus, the artist may have meant for it to be that way. ;-)

Materials Needed:

 - Pillow cover of choice - 100% cotton or linen is best. Other fabrics or blends may not absorb the paint as well.

- Acrylic paint & thin paint brush

- Wax paper to put inside the pillow cover to keep paint from bleeding to the back side.

- A fun quote or saying. Even just one simple word could be fun. 

Helpful hints: 

It was much more difficult to paint in cursive on my chosen fabric (100% linen). I found that blending the paint with a bit of water to thin it out helped. 

I also discovered that using a smaller brush than I planned to use worked best.

If possible, paint on a scrap piece of fabric first to get an idea of how the paint absorbs and applies to the fabric. 

Wait 24 hours to heat set the paint. Using an iron on a low to medium setting, cover the painted area with a thin cloth (such as an old t-shirt), and iron for 3-4 minutes, concentrating on small sections at a time. 

Insert a pillow form and enjoy your finished product!

Monday, June 16, 2014

It's Pimm's O'Clock!


Summer to me is sunshine, fresh berries, picnics and a swim in the sea, soft breezes blowing as I ride my bike, and cool refreshing beverages to break up the heat. Okay, an ice cream cone now and again can’t hurt either. But a recent re-discovery (in London, of course) of a classy English cocktail has reminded me of another lovely association with summer: The Pimm’s Cup Cocktail. 

Many years ago while traveling back to the US from Sweden we had a 24-hour layover in England. Deciding that one day wasn’t really enough to see much of London, we opted to go down to Brighton for the day instead, to visit my husband’s goddaughter and her parents. They took us to dinner at a lovely little restaurant called Bill’s (I wrote about the London location in my Breakfast in London post), where I discovered, or rather was introduced to, the Pimm’s Cup Cocktail. It was so delicious, fruity, and refreshing that as soon as we arrived back home to Texas and settled in, I headed to the liquor store to purchase a bottle of Pimm’s No. 1 so that we could re-create this lovely summer drink.

On our recent London excursion, I was reminded of this tasty beverage and, even though we did not sample a Pimm's Cup Cocktail while there, I was inspired yet again to make one myself. 


Here it is...

Pimm's Cup Cocktail:

Ingredients:

8-10 fresh mint leaves
8-10 slices of English cucumber
10 cubes diced watermelon
10 cubes diced nectarine
8 frozen (or fresh) strawberries
Fresh squeezed lemon juice (approximately 1 lemon)
Agave syrup
Pimm's No. 1
Ice 
2 mint sprigs
Makes 2 cocktails

In the bottom of two glasses, place a small handful of mint leaves, crushed gently with your fingers, several slices of cucumber, 4-5 cubes of diced watermelon, 4-5 cubes of diced nectarine, 4 frozen strawberries, then fill with ice. 

In your cocktail shaker:

2 parts freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 part agave syrup
2 parts Pimm’s No. 1

Shake and pour evenly into the two glasses. Add seven-up, ginger ale, or sparkling lemonade. Top with a sprig of fresh mint and enjoy!

You can also serve your Pimm’s Cup Cocktails with a small spoon, for enjoying the fruit at the bottom once your drink is finished. Refreshing, light, summery. What else could you ask for? Aside from a warm sunny day to enjoy it with?

*Use other fruits of your liking as well. I'd like to try making one with rhubarb syrup and sparkling water in place of the seven-up, ginger ale, or sparkling lemonade. ;-)

Happy Summer!


Ps. A couple of other suggestions for enjoying Pimm's No. 1:

Pimm's Royal Cup: 

Equal parts Pimm's No. 1 and champagne. Drop a strawberry or two into the bottom of the glass and garnish with a mint leaf.

Pimm's Midsommar Cup:

Same ingredients as the Pimm's Cup Cocktail above only use all strawberries for your fruit and sparkling lemonade instead of seven-up or ginger ale.