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.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Write it Forward


Writing in cursive is something I've never felt I was very good at. When I was in grade school, other girls in my class could write beautiful, rounded letters while mine were wobbly and uneven. The more I tried to take my time and create neat, even letters, the worse they looked. I decided at some point that I was destined to become a doctor because, weIl, you know the stereotype. Of course it isn't true of all doctors and just because I've never liked my penmanship doesn't mean I can't try to improve it. Right? So I've decided to start practicing. 

I began by writing the alphabet. A capital A, a small letter a, a capital B, a small letter b, and so on. Funny enough. When I got to the end I couldn't remember how to write a capital Z! Thanks to Google however, just a couple of minutes later I was completing the final letter of the alphabet. As I examined my work, I discovered that I’d drawn my capital Q incorrectly as well. 

Looking over the results from my first practice session took me back to those days of my very first cursive writing attempts as a young girl. I definitely have my work cut out for me. There's no telling if I'll ever be able to write those beautiful, smooth, round letters I desire but I intend to keep practicing. Hopefully my efforts won’t be completely in vain and my writing will improve a little bit. 

Right now I am focusing on practicing the alphabet as well as writing short poems and quotes. Cursive writing seems to be on the verge of becoming a dying art. I am hoping that my feeble attempts to resurrect my cursive talents, and hopefully improve them, will inspire others (maybe you?) to do the same. So don’t be surprised if you receive a letter, handwritten in cursive of course, from me in the near future. Who knows, maybe you’ll even write me back. Or perhaps you’ll “write it forward” and write a letter (in cursive) to one of your friends or family members. 

What do you think? Do you like your own cursive handwriting? Do you still write in cursive? Perhaps it is old fashioned and perhaps printing letters is easier to read but I still think cursive handwriting is a beautiful art and one that I hope makes a comeback. Retro or not. 

Will you take the time with me to sit down and write someone a letter? In cursive script? 

Note: All quotes by e.e. cummings unless otherwise noted.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Semla Hunt Update

(Thelins Konditori, Kungsholmen, Stockholm)

Well, it's official. I'm eating my way to Easter and larger pants via the Great Semla Hunt trail. I was informed by a friend recently that I should actually be fasting from semlor right now, as Fat Tuesday (Fettisdagen) was the (apparently) first AND last day to eat them until... Easter? I'm not exactly clear on that but I can say that I did follow the rule of not eating a semla before Fettisdagen. And I can say with some level of confidence that I will be continuing my "research," eating a semla or two every week, to determine the best ones in the city (with one same even coming from Gothenburg. So, so much for tradition.

You may be wondering, which semlor (plural of semla) are in the running? Well, it's really difficult to say because aside from that first, weird. chocolate one, they all taste like the absolute best one at the moment of consumption. Now that I have a few under (and over) my belt however, I can be a bit more objective. In order of consumed:

En Nypa Socker - Chocolate semla - An interesting concept with a hard, chocolate center instead of mandelmassa (almond paste), but the bread was completely dried out and tasted like it had been sitting out for several days. 

Chic Konditori - Traditional semla - My first semla of the season and actually this was the very first place I experienced a Swedish semla our first year in Sweden… so delicious! With only the chocolate one to compare it to, it is difficult to say but it was definitely the best… so far…

Gateau - Mini semla - OMG delicious! Definitely the best! Again, so far… :-p

(Steinbrenner & Nyberg, Saluhallen, Gothenburg)

Steinbrenner & Nyberg (Gothenburg) - Traditional semla - No, wait, THIS one was the best! Seriously. AND it was eaten in the hetvägg tradition in a bowl with warm milk (+ a little coffee). I thought the coffee addition was amazing. Mmmmmmmm…

(Fabrique, Kungsholmen location, Stockholm)

Fabrique - Mini semla - Okay. Hands down, THE BEST!!! Sigh… this is harder than I thought…

Thelins Konditori - Mini semla - Really amazing mandelmassa!!! It almost tasted like chocolate. In fact, I actually had to look to make sure it wasn’t chocolate. Unfortunately the bread was slightly dry. Otherwise, it could have been the best one due to the mandelmassa surprise. 

So this is where things stand thus far. Overall I would have to say that the semla from Steinbrenner & Nyberg in Gothenburg was the best to date, though the one from Fabrique runs a close second. The semla from Steinbrenner seemed to have the most balanced flavors and each bite was more delicious than the previous bite. 

There is still Vetekatten left to try and, being my favorite bakery/konditori for kanelbullar and kardemmumabullar, I have strong feelings that their semla will be quite competitive. 

Stay tuned for further updates…

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Great Semla Hunt

(It's no secret what's in that bag. This photo is from our first year in Stockholm and I am pretty sure that bag contains what was my very first semla on Swedish soil)

The first official day of eating semlor was this past Tuesday. Fat Tuesday to be specific, or Fettisdagen in Swedish. However, this is the first year that I've actually gone by tradition and waited until Fettisdagen to eat one.  And of course (of course?) last year I think I may have only eaten one or two the entire semla season and even that was pushing it. Why, you may ask? The answer is simple. Semla burnout. 

(Complete with a cup of strong brewed Swedish coffee)

My burn out happened in the year 2012 and it was so severe that I was amazed that come the following year I still wasn't sure if I could "choke" one down. I know, it sounds serious. But it wasn't because they aren't any good, it was because their richness reaches beyond the limits of time. I think in the year 2012 I probably had reached my semla limit, and knew that, but still decided to eat "just one more."  Well, I wasn't sick as in running to the bathroom sick but even today I can recall the feeling of having had one too many sweet cardamom buns filled with almond paste and whipped cream. 

(Fast forward to present day... the first semla of the year)

They look innocent enough, you might think. Light, fluffy. A delicious cardamom bun filled with mandelmassa (almond paste) and vispgrädde (whipped cream). It seems as if you could stuff at least two down your gullet in one sitting without batting an eye. But I promise you it would be a mistake. Eat only one per day. Their intense, disguised richness needs to be consumed in batches, lest you tempt the fates of semla burnout as I did in 2012. 

(Semla number 2)

I can happily say however that the year 2014 marks the beginning of the end of my semla burnout, and the beginning of The Great Semla Hunt, or my search to find what I consider the best Semla. So far I have only eaten semla from two different bakeries. So far, the best one has yet to be found. But rest assured, I will be back with an update once I have found the absolute best semla to be eaten this side of Sweden. Or when I reach an all new semla burnout ;-).

(Fettisdagen fika at work)

Semla - singular for one cardamom bun with almond paste and whipped cream.

Semlor - plural, meaning any number that is more than one. 

How many do you think you could eat in one sitting? Would you be willing to participate in a semla eating contest?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Handmade [With Love] Valentine

(A homemade valentine from a few years back)

I love valentines. I especially love handmade ones, whether it is one that I receive or one that I make and give away. It doesn't take a ton of effort. Only a little creativity and a lot of heart. You can recycle an old newspaper, gently used wrapping paper from Christmas, a rock (see the heart-shaped rock in the valentine featured above?), or even a Shakespeare book. Don't be appalled, it was already falling apart and begging to be turned into a creative project, or two, or three... I know, it seems sacrilegious but honestly, this book love to be used in valentine projects, handmade cards, heart-shapes for a drawing, or even cut into oversized heart-shaped confetti for bridal showers, just to mention a few. And besides, the romantic words of Shakespeare get to live on in a different way. I think old William would approve.

So anyway, there are still a few days left to make your valentines (or galentines - valentines for your gal friends - a clever idea that I unfortunately cannot take credit for). So pull out your scissors, some Elmer's glue or a glue stick (even tape works in a pinch), some colored markers, an old newspaper, magazine, string, etc. Use your creativity. The recycle bin is your oyster. Jot down your favorite love quote, some words from your heart, or something silly and fun... you name it!

Of course, you could also sing a song for your loved one and perform interpretive dance at the same time in lieu of a valentine card. Speaking of dancing, maybe this year my husband and I will have to come up with a special Valentine's Day dance! Hmmmm.... The Heart Shaker? Or maybe I'm Wild About You? Maybe I should just stick to a handmade card instead? ;-)

Whatever you do, be sure to share a special moment with someone you love. Call your mom or a friend you haven't spoken to in a while or surprise someone at work with a cupcake or similar treat!