Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ode to Winter


Orsa Grönklitt - A snow oasis in the “fjällen” (mountains) of Dalarna.  

After surviving winters in Sweden for the first couple of years, we decided that we should embrace all of that cold white stuff and get skis. Cross-country skis, that is. Two years ago we embarked on our very first cross-country ski experience. Let me just say a couple of things about that:

Uncooked spaghetti.

Bambi.

I felt like Bambi trying to walk with skinny pieces of uncooked spaghetti strapped to my feet. How in the world would I be able to do this? I think I skied a total of three times that first winter. “Skied” being a generous description. The following year, for some insane reason, I decided to complete the Tjej Klassik, comprised of a 100km bike ride, a 1km swim, a 10km run, and a 30km ski. 

By winter, I had completed everything except for the ski portion. So I was, you could say, committed. We never got much snow that winter in Stockholm but with my determination to complete this “Tjej Klassik" feat, we rented a car on two different occasions to drive up to more snow so I could practice my “ski techniques". I also took a private lesson, which helped tremendously. By the time the actual race came along, I was, what I thought, adequately prepared. 

I completed the 30km race in just under 5 hours. If you aren’t sure, that is pretty slow. However, I did complete it faster than many of the participants so I did not consider my own time so bad. In fact, I felt a bit like a super hero and imagined myself somewhat of a cross-country ski buff. Ha.


Fast forward to this year. We still did not get much snow in Stockholm. What little snow we did get, our skis, which we discovered on the last morning skiing in Stockholm would be possible, were not in “ski condition.” Meaning, the klister I had put on my skis the previous year (yes, we did not clean them following the race) was pretty much baked on and had formed a hard, plastic-y layer. We were forced to take our skis in to be serviced. 

(Fredagsmys (cozy Friday) in the cabin)

The following weekend, I suppose we could have gone grass-skiing but it just felt fake. There was essentially no snow. FYI, we had a ski trip booked for mid March with my husband’s sister and her husband, who had skied several times already this winter, not to mention that they are pretty much, serious ski buffs. Like for real. We had not been “on” our skis one time this winter.

(Cobalt sky + snow + pine trees = Happy)

Fast forward again, and there we were on that Friday morning, at Orsa Grönklitt, standing precariously on our skis for the first time in a year, about to embark upon a cross-country ski adventure. It felt surprisingly like the very first time I stood on my skis. Uncooked spaghetti. Bambi. It was not so much like “riding a bike” where once you have achieved “balance” it all sort of falls into place. 

(Looking like a pro)

We managed to ski 14km the first day and despite being so sore we could barely walk and if I was sitting on the couch and wanted to cross my legs, I had to physically pick up my leg and cross it over the other leg, we went out again the next day! (I know this was a long, run-on sentence, but it felt necessary to say it that way). 

(Every day was absolutely gorgeous)

Despite our soreness and my feeling like I wouldn’t make it 1km on the skis, we managed to ski almost the same distance the second day. And DESPITE the fact that I had skied the Tjej Klassik the previous year, my husband, who I was almost skiing circles around the previous year, was passing me and skiing circles around ME this year. 

(A tiny snowman)

I don’t know what happened. Maybe my memories of the difficulty of completing the 30km the previous year were blocking my ski abilities this year. I must have suppressed that because I remembered myself to be somewhat of a super hero cross-country skier. Which was not so much the case. 

(Taken with my husband's new GoPro camera)

Even so, Orsa Grönklitt was amazingly beautiful. Out on the trails, if you stopped skiing, you could hear absolutely nothing, with the exception of a bird chirping on occasion. There was cobalt blue sky as far as the eye could see and sunshine, loud and clear, beating her warm rays down on our deprived, winter bodies. It was heavenly.

(A well-earned Happy Hour)

Our cabin itself was a sacred sanctuary, complete with every modern convenience one could possible want. It was a two bedroom cabin with bunk beds. For reasons that may not seem obvious at first, be sure to claim the bottom bunk immediately. After the first day of skiing you will understand. The adorable (tiny) little built-in ladder that you loved earlier that day will suddenly seem like an insult.
(During skiing...)

(After skiing...) 

But all in all and soreness aside, I would highly recommend a cross-country ski trip here in the winter. It was the perfect active getaway. And if you plan for a cabin close to the ski trails, there is little need for leaving the cabin or getting in your car again until your departure date (unless you need to make an emergency ice cream run :-p).


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Greasy Spoon


Along a lone street on Södermalm lies a quaint, little restaurant called The Greasy Spoon. This lovely little gem serves English-styled breakfast and, in my opinion, the best breakfast in Stockholm, that I’ve had so far that is. For such a small, somewhat hole-in-the-wall, The Greasy Spoon is big on flavor and options. My breakfast partner in crime tried the Full Veggie and a pot of English tea while I chose the Scottish Pancakes, with option 1. blueberries and mascarpone, and a freshly-squeezed, grapefruit juice. 


I had eyed the pancakes as they were delivered to tables as we waited and at first I thought the scoop of unwavering cream was, in fact, ice cream. When I discovered that it was actually mascarpone I thought it was perhaps a bit overkill. It was a huge ball balanced atop the stack of pancakes. The English apparently know what they are doing however as it was actually the perfect amount of cream to compliment the blueberries and 'cakes.


And freshly-squeezed, grapefruit juice? I was in heaven. They also serve freshly-sqeezed orange juice and both are served with ice unless you request it without. The doors open at 7:30 am Monday-Friday and at 9:00 am on the weekends. My recommendation is to get there as close to 9:00 am as possible to avoid a long wait. I am not sure what their rules are on booking tables in advance but I do know that there was a party of 6 reserved at the front window table when we arrived, so large party bookings are a possibility.


So, if you find that you are in the mood for a tasty breakfast out this week, I highly recommend The Greasy Spoon. There was a yummy breakfast polenta that caught my eye, as well as a few other tasty-looking options that I would like to try, so I am sure I will be back in the near future. 


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Torskrom - A Not-So-Talked-About Swedish Delicacy


I can't remember if it was last year or the year before but suddenly my husband started talking about torskrom, or cod’s roe, in English. If you are not familiar with roe, that means caviar, or less fancy, fish eggs. He talked about how much he loved eating it when he was a kid, how delicious it was and "oh you have to try it" and "I'm going to get some and cook it for you.” I started getting excited myself. I mean, it sounded really interesting and I'm usually pretty open to trying new things. 

The next time we were at the fish market he asked if torskrom was available. Unfortunately it was not in season and wouldn't be available until the following April, nearly a year away. So time passed and the torskrom was put on the back shelf of our minds. Then, just a few weeks ago my mother-in-law mentioned that she had cooked torskrom for dinner. It was apparently in season already! The following weekend we headed to the market to hopefully buy some ourselves. Excitement brewing.

Now keep in mind, at this point all I know is that this stuff is delicious and the cat is going to go nuts for it. We walk up to the fish counter and my husband asks if they have any. The woman asks how much he wants and he says, “Ett par byxor,” which means “a pair of pants.” Pants? The woman reaches down and pulls up what looked to me like a pair of lungs. With dark veins running through them. Oh. My. God. Did I actually say I would try this? And what about these pants?

In addition to the torskrom we bought some fresh dill, boiled shrimp, a bottle of wine, and then made a stop by the gourmet cheese counter and bakery. As we made our way back to the apartment I wondered how he planned to cook our pants, er torskrom. Apparently very carefully. 


When we arrived home he got to work. The torskrom is very delicate, even though it is surrounded by a thin, skin-like membrane, so wrapping it in parchment paper protects it from exploding or leaking as you boil it in heavily salted water with lots of fresh dill. After it has boiled for about forty minutes you must allow it to cool in its brine.  

It is served in thick slices, outer membrane removed, with lemon wedges. The verdict? I liked it and I would eat it again but for me it wasn't going to replace my own favorite delicacies of shrimp and crab. And the cat? Well, she completely turned her prissy nose up at it. My husband said his childhood cat, Onödan (which means means "the unnecessary" in Swedish), went crazy for it. You never know with cats. 


Cod’s roe, is only available fresh at certain times of the year. It just so happens to be that time of year right now and, according to the guy at the Hötorget fish market, on our second visit to buy torskrom, it will be available from now on up until around April. (Lucky us!)

Will you run out and try it now? I’d love to hear what you think if and when you do. ;-)


Thursday, October 16, 2014

It's Been A While...


It's been a while since my last post and I have to apologize for being away so long. It was not my intention and I've had several fun ideas for posts during that time... So much can happen in two months and I wish I had some amazing news about some fabulous thing that happened to keep me away, but mostly I have just been stuck under the thumb of a big, bad migraine. :-(

I am just now crawling out of that black hole. For those of you lucky enough to avoid headaches and migraines, it might be difficult to understand the sheer joy and happiness of that day when you finally do not have a headache. But let me just tell you, it feels, literally, amazing. Like you can conquer the world, or at least that you can conquer the daily commuters on the subway. I've been trying to commute to work by bike as much as possible so I can avoid all of the smells and sounds of the city that have a tendency to drill holes into my already sensitive head. Unfortunately it doesn't always work out for me to ride my bike and I just have to endure.

So what else have I been up to in two month's time? I started a graphic design class (grafisk design in Swedish) and I am absolutely loving it. Not only is it fun and invigorating but it has been a wonderful distraction from the headache suffering, and it is opening wonderful new creative paths to explore along my journey. It has only been a few weeks so far but I can already tell that the skills I am learning now will help open doors into a future full of creativity and joy. I can't wait!

Here are a couple of photos:



Well, tomorrow is my birthday and I hope to take some time to reflect on the past year, on my trials and tribulations, my joys, my sorrows, and just in general how the last year has been and who I've become as a result. I will also be flying to London with a friend for the weekend so I should have some interesting reviews (on our botanical afternoon tea at Intercontinental & dinner at NOPI) to report. :-D

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.