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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Breakfast in London

(One of hundreds of the red double-decker buses zipping around the city)

Let me just say, London is amazing. It is highly diverse, has tons to offer and, in general, is a huge city spread across, what feels like, a very large portion of great Britain. Even if you tried you couldn’t see all of it in a week, let alone a few days. But even so, we spent three gorgeous days trying our hardest. And succeeded somewhat. However, given the vastness of London and all of the wonder it encompasses, I will be blogging about our trip in digestible bits and I've decided to begin with what feels logical, and so happens to be my favorite: Breakfast!

I have always loved breakfast but I guess my love affair with dining out for breakfast began when I lived in Los Angeles. Back then, my favorite haunts included The Backdoor Bakery in Silverlake (Best scones and oven pancake with berries, and which I've learned has since closed and re-opened later in a new location), Figtree's Cafe at Venice Beach (Cool, healthy vibe with a clear view of the Pacific Ocean), and Millie’s Cafe on Sunset Blvd in Silverlake (Amazing pancakes and seriously the best biscuits around!).

So when I started planning our trip and asked some friends for advice on what to see, do, and eat, I was happy to hear the suggestion to skip the hotel breakfast and eat out. (Yes!) As luck would have it, our hotel was a stone's throw away from a wonderful open-air market called Borough Market, which had tons of stalls peddling fruit, vegetables, exotic imported goods, cafes, juice bars, bakeries, restaurants tucked into nooks and crannies, pubs with eclectic beers, and the list goes on and on. Needless-to-say, we had a blast exploring and our taste buds are still savoring the delectable morsels we consumed. Here is a breakdown of our London mornings:


("Dropped scones")

Bordering on fine dining, though lacking just slightly in service for such status, we sat down to a nicely set table overlooking the market below. We both ordered regular coffee, which arrived in individual French presses. My husband opted for "The Veggie Borough," while I selected the "Dropped scones with stewed Yorkshire rhubarb and yogurt cream". Envisioning a basket filled with mini scones, I asked our server how many scones were served. He replied, "About nine." I figured the scones must be pretty small, so I ordered the dish. Well, in case you are wondering, "dropped scones" are the English equivalent of American pancakes. They weren't exactly silver dollar-sized but they were not regular sized either. And there were in fact 9 total pancakes/scones served. The Yorkshire rhubarb was superb and the yogurt cream added that just "over-the-top" decadence. I ate everything. We would be walking everywhere that day, so... I needed my energy, right?

Day 2: Bill's


After a long first day of walking nearly twenty kilometers (!!!) we headed back down to Borough Market with breakfast at "Bill's" in mind. I'd been to their Brighton location some years back when we had a 24 hour layover in England, on our way home to Texas from Sweden. The Brighton location was open across the entire front of the restaurant/cafe and had the feel of an open air market, as we were surrounded by shelves of specialty products and food goods. A slightly different to the feel of their London bank side location, though there were specialty products on shelves here and there around us. 

We were moving somewhat slowly that morning but my cappuccino and scrambled eggs with toast hit the right spot. And aside from the portion being much bigger, it was almost like eating breakfast at home. The food was fresh and tasty, the service pleasant and prompt and we were fed and out of there in just about thirty minutes exactly. It worked out perfectly for meeting our friend at the train station nearby. And getting on with our second day of walking nearly 20 kilometers!

Day 3: Elliot's Cafe, Borough Market


Hands down this was our favorite breakfast in London. Everything was homemade and fresh and incredibly tasty. Feeling at this point like we'd eaten plenty, we thought we'd try for a "lighter" start. We ordered a side of brioche toast (with honey butter!) to share and we each got a yogurt with homemade granola and stewed rhubarb. Hello?!!! The rhubarb was To Die For. It had been "stewed" in a syrup scented wtih star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, and orange peel. Holy moly it was good! I'm going to try to replicate it for sure.

(I love the red steer peeking in from the roof across the way)

Then to top it off we each had a fresh pressed juice of apple, carrot, & ginger, which was a lovely refreshing boost to our "light breakfast." The host was a bit annoyed that we came in with our own coffee, understandably, but he allowed us to bring it in anyway. What can I say, we simply had to try the coffee at Monmouth Coffee Company, which was just next door and had been recommended by a friend. Overall the service at Elliot's cafe was superb. They were friendly and helpful and they even gave us a complimentary slice of their chocolate chunk brioche bread, that I saw sitting out in the bar and had inquired about out of curiosity. Which, by the way, was also to die for.


Needless to say, breakfast in London was excellent and I am very happy with our decision to forgo hotel dining in favor of exploring neighborhood haunts and favorites.

We would definitely return to all of these places, especially Elliot's Cafe. 

Ps: Borough Market, located in the London Bridges/South Bank area, is simply amazing. I highly recommend a stop, or two, here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

That's Smashing!


Kitchen tools are some of my favorite toys. When I first discovered the lemon-colored lemon press for pressing the juice out of lemons I thought I’d discovered the best tool ever invented. Aside of course from the stand mixer, the blender, the food processor, and the toaster. You could say that I love kitchen gadgets. I especially love the ones that make food prep easier. Duh. Call me lazy but I would much prefer to whip cream with an electric hand mixer than stand there with a bowl and whisk for 10 minutes. 

Discovering new ways to save time and energy in the kitchen makes me happy. So when we were on our recent trip to the US, and a friend of ours introduced me to my new favorite time saver, I was ecstatic. But let me first ask, how do you smash your avocados for guacamole, or your bananas for banana bread? Chances are most of you will answer "with a fork” or, like I used to do, “with a potato masher.” 

Little did I know the sheer joy I would get out of using a simple metal kitchen whisk to complete these tasks. There I was, in our friend's kitchen, I was about to begin mashing the avocados with a fork (since my beloved potato masher was far away in Stockholm) when our friend recommended that I use a whisk instead. A whisk?! She handed it to me and, strange as it seemed, I went to work. 


Let me just say... Amazing! It worked beautifully and it half the time it used to take me with my potato masher, which honestly wasn't that long but still. I was mostly amazed at how beautifully and evenly it smashed the avocado. So I put the whisk to the test the next time I made banana bread. Same thing. Amazing results! Net time you make banana bread or guacamole, try it. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. 

Ps. Thanks for the tip, K!!! 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cucumber Refreshed


It never fails. Every time I make a trip home to Texas, the bathroom scale tips upward by around five pounds upon my return. Well, I guess it was no secret that I was eating as if my life depended on it. As if eating and tasting everything, especially Tex-Mex cuisine, was my job. What a cool job that would be! If only someone could figure out how to avoid gaining those pesky extra lbs. However we all know the reality. And that is too many enchiladas and stuffed jalapeños is just that. Too much. They start to gravitate toward the hips, thighs, and stomach. Ugh. 

But it couldn’t be helped! When you crave and miss a certain food and you only get an opportunity once a year to enjoy it, you have to take that opportunity. In full force. Which we did. 

So since our return I've gotten rather friendly with our juicer in an attempt to reverse the "eating too much delicious food" damage. Our old favorite stand-by combo, christened "sharknado" by my husband, has been getting some competition. A new, or rather old, favorite is apple, ginger, and lemon and a brand new combination has emerged in the experimenting - Cucumber Refreshed - a simple blend of cucumber, lime, & mint. And I'm so much in need of a cleanse that after my first sip, I felt the cucumber blend needed a bit of sugar. Is that insane or what!? 

To answer your question, no, I did not add any sugar. Though an addition of even one apple, pear, or kiwi, might make the "medicine" go down a bit better. ;-) Therefore I propose the following combination:

1 whole English cucumber
1 green apple (keeping in the green family, but any apple can be used), cored.
1/2 fresh lime, peeled (substitute lemon if you do not have lime)
A great big handful of fresh mint leaves (stems can be included)

Juice these ingredients in your juicer, stir, and enjoy. If you do not have a juicer you could try blending the ingredients in a blender but I would recommend peeling and dicing the cucumber and apple, and adding some water to help it blend. I’d start with a fourth to a half cup of water and increase as needed. 

The cucumber and mint combo are refreshing and cooling and the lime adds a soothing alkaline element as well. The apple is a special bonus added solely for flavor purposes. You can leave it out if you prefer a more cleansing drink. 


Do you have favorite juice combinations? I’d love to hear about them!

(* Here is the recipe for our Favorite...)

Sharknado:

1 English cucumber
1/2 fennel bulb
3-4 romaine lettuce leaves
3-4 leaves of kale
2-3 stalks of celery
3 apples
1 pear
1 big hunk of fresh ginger (about the size of your thumb)
1/2 lemon, peeled