Start As I Mean To Go On : Breakfast With Havregryn

We all do it…we all say to ourselves, be it in a quiet whisper or a proud announcement on social media, that ‘this is the year we’re going to eat better.’ I’m managing this, in little ways, like by eating havregryn (rolled oats) for breakfast instead of a bowl of sugary, processed cereal.

Now, I’m not sure exactly why Swedish rolled oats taste different to the Scottish rolled oats that I’m used to, though it’s probably something to do with the crop. They taste healthier, more rustic. Havregryn is what I imagine porridge to have tasted like when the Vikings ate it three times a day.

We make it with water here and cook it on the stove, just as I did in England The Swedes like to add a bit of salt too. Instead of topping it with treacle though, we add a spoon of apple sauce, lots of cinnamon and sometimes a splash of milk.

Thankfully, it’s just as filling as the porridge of home, and though its taking me a little while to get used to the taste, I’m looking forward to adding some of the blueberries we gathered in the forests during summer to my next bowl.

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The Best From 2016

Hej hej! I hope you all had a magical Jul and New Year and that 2017 is being kind to you.

I’m so relieved to be waking up in a fresh New Year, and am using every second to live as fully and as happily as I can.

This year I will be getting to know Sweden on a much deeper level…but more about this in one of my next posts!

For now I want to share my favourite posts from 2016! I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed living them.

My Initiation Into The Swedish Tradition Of Semlor

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I Could Smell Spring

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My Week In Photographs

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Photographing My Viking

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An Interview With Bronte Aurell Of Scandinavian Kitchen

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To My Dear Swede

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Roadtrip To Hagfors In Värmland

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Sebastian’s Family Home In Hagfors

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Rimfrost Live In Trollhättan

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Rimfrost Live In Göteborg

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Fishing In Värmland

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Thrift Haul

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My First Swedish Midsummer

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ATrip Out To Borås Djurpark

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Meeting My Friend After Six Years

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Turning 30 In Sweden

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Re-Shaping Fika : Mandelkubb & The Skogstroll

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Re-shaping Fika : My Man Made Blåbärspaj

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Bride Of The Birds

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I Couldn’t Stay Out Of The Forest

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Jul I Sverige : Making Orange Clove Pomanders

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Our Holiday In The Motherland : Climbing Roseberry Topping

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On The Shortest Day

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My First Jul In Sweden

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My First Jul In Sweden

‘We celebrate on the 24th, watch Donald Duck and eat ham with mustard,’ Sebastian told me months ago when the subject of Jul first surfaced. As my first Jul in Sweden approached (at an unfathomable speed), the all encompassing magical festive spirit – which had been laying dormant ever since I still believed that he existed – awoke.

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Sweden and England share some similarities when it comes to celebrating Jul. One being the mammoth decision of ‘whose house this year?’ I was quietly ecstatic when I learned we would be heading North to Hagfors to spend Jul with Sebastian’s family.

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The sky was crowded with stars when we started our four hour car journey, and I watched the road side in the hope of seeing at least one of the 400,000 moose that roam Sweden. But the giant beasts were wise and stayed in the shadows. Only mice, deer and fox made themselves known to our headlights.

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When we arrived in Hagfors, Pia and Peter had illuminated the dark garden. I could feel the spell of a new experience taking hold. Inside in every room white candles burned, lit paper stars hung from window frames and straight legged straw Jul Goats stood to attention.

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Pia had gone for a minimal colour palate with her decorations – red, white and grey with accents of green here and there.

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A petite Christmas tree was guarded by Father Christmas and two Jul Goats. I could see some of the presents stacked underneath were tagged with my name…

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On the morning of the 24th (Swedes celebrate Jul the day before we do in England) I woke up to a breakfast of Risgrynsgröt, a semi-sweet rice porridge served hot with milk and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. It was delicious in its sweet spiciness, and I found enough comfort in one bowl to see me through into the new year.

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We made a brief but memorable visit to the home of Sebastian’s Grandmother’s  where I found myself amidst dozens of merry, polite Swedes. I was introduced to members of the Svedlund clan, including Riccardo who originally came from El Salvador and married into the Svedlund family, and Julia, a biologist with a burning desire to have a career as a novelist. We ate handmade pepperkakor while talking about the Swedes obsession with coffee and the sad reality of the job situation in Sweden.

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Sebastian was always animated when her talked of the Swedish julboard, and I knew a little of what to expect, but the quantity and variety was staggering. Alongside three different types of herring, I found myself plating up halved eggs topped with shrimp and caviar (it was my first time eating caviar and it went down like a dream), salmon, prinskorv (prince sausauge), köttbullar (Swedish meatballs, every family has their own recipe), beetroot salad, pork ribs, Janssons Frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation) and julskinka (Christmas ham). Pork is something of a sacred tradition with the julboard. A few pigs always made it past the fall slaughter, and would instead be slaughtered on the shortest day of the year – the 13th of December (Lucia Day).

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Come 3pm we had all congregated around the TV in the living room for the annual viewing of the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special, ‘From All of Us to All of You.’ It dawned on me that the entire day had been arranged as so not a minute of the show would be missed. Jiminy Cricket had the role of presenting fragments from Disney cartoons including Robin Hood, Lady And The Tramp and The Jungle Book. It’s the same format year in year out, that is except for the ending when they present something new that Disney have in the works.

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After Donald Duck, Sebastian’s step-father disappeared and returned in his guise as Tomten. He moved slowly across the garden, a lantern swaying from one hand. Little Tyra wasn’t in the least bit afraid. She welcomed Tomten in, and as the sky darkened, he handed out our gifts one by one. When it was time for him to pick up his lantern and leave, Little Tyra presented him with an orange and a clementine for the ‘long’ journey home. I rediscovered Jultide magic this Jul in the far north, and I intend on holding it close and never letting go.

My First Lussekatter

The celebration of Lucia has always been ‘around’ in my life as it were, since I was seven years old and started attending a Rudolf Steiner school. I discovered the candle crown through the illustrations of Elsa Beskow and John Bauer.

Now, Lucia is a festival which has quite complicated origins, but it’s dedicated to a Saint Lucia, a Christian martyr from Italy who was executed during the Diocletianic Persecution.  Simply put, it’s a celebration of light, as St Lucia is traditionally thought to ‘wear light in her hair and she occupies the role of bearing light in the dark of the long Swedish winters.

In homes across Sweden, the eldest girl gets up before the sun and bakes lussekatter (saffron buns). She dresses herself in a white robe, ties a red sash around her middle, places a candle crown on her head and delivers coffee, the fresh lussekatter, and pepparkakor (gingerbread) to her parents, accompanied by singing siblings.

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But Lucia has a darker side too, a side which I found myself all too eager to explore. In old Sweden, Lucia night, also known as the longest night of the year, was a dangerous one. In Pagan lore on this night all animals were possessed and developed the ability to talk. Up in the north of Sweden, there was a legend that Lucia was in fact Adam’s first wife and she consorted with the devil.

Now, you may have already made the connection, but lussekatter translates to Lucifer’s cats. These especially vibrant (that’s the saffron), S shaped buns represent a curled up cat, and are traditionally handed out during the Lucia processions which take place across Sweden. Traditionally there’s two raisins – the eyes, Lucia is the patron saint of the blind and was herself blinded before being executed – one at either end of the lussekatter.

I would have loved to have made my own lussekatter, but time wasn’t on my side today, and shelling out for a packet of saffron wasn’t within my means. (Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, is sold at the cash registers at supermarkets and pharmacies here in Sweden.) So I bought a lussekatter instead.

As advised, I warmed it up gently before eating. I can say now that saffron isn’t a favoured spice of mine. The bun wasn’t unpleasant as such, it was wonderfully soft, buttery and slightly sweet, but the saffron gave it a slightly off taste, a taste that cannot compete with kanelbullar or pepperkakor. I was thankful for the accompanying glögg!

 

Where Is November Going So Fast?

I’m sat here at the kitchen table with the rain cracking against the windows like stones. This time last week we had snow. I miss it. I miss it terribly. I don’t know what November is doing, or where it is going so fast. When I look outside it’s difficult to see where the tree tops end and the sky begins. I love this early darkness, it makes up for today’s lack of snow. A little bit at least. Out of the corner of my eye I can see the books I collected from the library today stacked on the floor on the hall – novels, collections of short stories, photography manuals, a memoir in the shape of a comic, an account of a failed polar exploration. I was so hungry at the library. I couldn’t leave a book behind.

I’ve just eaten two pepparkakor, one in the shape of a fir tree, the other in the shape of a heart. I didn’t look into the tub when I fished them out. Pepparkakor are the taste of winter, they’ve always been the taste of winter. I’ve finished my fifth cup of tea and am craving another one. I need it hot, strong, sweet. The past week and a bit has forced us to endure challenges which have gathered up and used my strength, Sebastian’s strength, Little Tyra’s strength. But we’ve also experienced some wonderful changes. The other day we welcomed Wolfbane and Boney – two feline ladies in their prime – into our home. I’ve lived around animals my whole life, but have always, unfairly I suppose, favoured dogs over cats. I never expected that this winter I would bond with two beautiful felines, but it’s happened. Wolfbane, the older of the two  comes and sits on the table where I work, and I run my fingers through her fur and nudge her head with my own. Often she’ll settle herself down and fall asleep, softening my heart. Nearly every night since she arrived here Boney has been bedding down with me, purring loud en0ugh to wake the dead.

Talking of sleep. I’m wondering now what time I ought to go to bed. I’m not used to wondering that anymore. I’m not used to needing to be somewhere. Early tomorrow morning I’m starting the Swedish For Immigrants course or SFI. I’m nervous. On Tuesday I’ll meet with the Dr who put me back on my medication in September. We’ll discuss increasing the dosage. I’m hoping for an increase. I’m my best self on a higher dosage. Then, on Wednesday Sebastian and I will travel across the North Sea, and he’ll meet my family for the very first time. I haven’t seen them since March and am yearning for their affection, for their closeness, for their laughter in my ears. Not long to wait now.

On a different note, I established a website for my photography. Sweden has been so influential in my development as a photographer and much of what you will find at the website has been featured here. Heck, look at that. I called myself a photographer! I’m slowly getting used to having the words ‘I am a photographer’ in my mouth.

 

My First Glögg

This will be my first Jul in Sweden, and I’m excited! I’m hungry for the experience and ready to embrace new traditions, new ways of celebrating this most beautiful of times. Slowly, slowly little bits of Jul are making their way into the apartment – we’re eating plenty of gingerbread and forever lighting candles – and I’m welcoming the festivities with open arms.

While out shopping the other day, Sebastian suggested we take a bottle of non-alcoholic glögg (the Swedish version of mulled wine) to bring winter in. Sebastian said he preferred the non-alcoholic version, as it reminded him of the Jul celebrations of his childhood. I’m not a drinker, so I was more than happy to go with the non-boozy alternative.

The nights are closing in very early here – I love it! – so it’s nice to have something, sweet, warm and spicy to enjoy while old man winter wanders around outside, frosting the spider webs and encouraging the icicles to grow. It’s common here in Sweden for every family to have their own glögg recipe, and the drink has a lengthy history. Fascinatingly, glögg roughly translates to glow, though it started life in 1609 under the title glodgad vin which means ‘glowing hot wine.’ It was in the 1890’s that drinking glögg became a Jul tradition.

It’s tradition to serve glögg warmed in a little mug with blanched almonds and raisins, and a tiny spoon to scoop out the fruit and nuts. Lussebullar (a sweet bun made with saffron and raisins) and pepparkakor (gingerbread) are also part of the glögg tradition. On this occasion, we enjoyed our glögg with pepparkakor hearts. (We went for gingerbread from Göteborgs Pepparkaksbageri this time. It has a really spicy kick which is ever so moreish.) The glögg we chose is from Blossa, a company which offers an extensive range of specialized glögg. It was deliciously sweet, with warming spicy tones of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cardamom. Accompanied with the pepparkakor, it made for an especially cosy, memorable winter evening.

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Goodbye Jack-O’-Lantern

Yesterday I lifted the lid off our Jack-O’-Lantern, reached inside his belly and pulled out the tea light. It was something of a solemn moment. We’ve been struggling to truly say goodbye to October and Halloween, and I’ve been burning the pumpkin every day since Sebastian calved him. There’s something so special about the smell that comes from a lit pumpkin. It reminds me of my childhood in our tiny miners cottage. When we would light the pumpkin, the whole cottage would hum with its comforting scent.

But yesterday, it dawned on me that instead of throwing him away, we could do something special with his body instead. I decided to take him out into the forest and leave him there for the creatures – and the little people – to enjoy. But first I needed to carve away the sinister grin that had been keeping us company through the long nights. I ensured all the burnt parts were cut away, and bagged up only the unblemished parts of the skin and flesh to take out with me.

It hadn’t snowed the night before, and the clear skies had gifted us with a covering of ice and the very first of winter’s icicles. Having already spent time in Sweden during winter I knew where they would be hanging, and scrambled up one steep embankment after another to admire nature’s delicate ornaments.

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Fika With Anna’s Pepparkakor

Nothing says ‘welcome winter, we’re ready for you’ more than a Fika of pepparkakor and hot, sweet Liptons Tea. Little Tyra was unwell the other day with stomach flu, so when I went to the store to stock up on blåbärssoppa (the Swedes drink lots of blåbärssoppa or blueberry soup when they’re unwell) I also picked up 2016’s first packet of pepparkakor or ginger thins. When I was little and ill, my mother used to always give me ginger – mostly in the form of gingerbread – as it worked to combat nausea.

Fortunately, Little Tyra is bouncing around again like usual, and we have plenty of pepparkakor left over. The brand I picked up was Annas Pepparkakor, a company which started as a home bakery run by two sisters in Stockholm in 1929. Nowadays, Annas Pepparkakor still use their original recipe and are sold worldwide.

These thin, fragile biscuits are so crisp yet smooth to eat, and practically melt in the mouth. The distinct, rich, hugely moreish spice flavour created using ginger, cinnamon and cloves brings all of your senses to Christmas morning. As an English woman I naturally had to see how well they would dunk in my tea. Fortunately I had my wits about me when I dunked, and surveyed that two quick dunks were just about all the pepparkakor were able to take. One quick dunk is more than sufficient.

While slowly nibbling my final pepparkakor – I wanted to make it last – I found myself reading about an interesting Swedish custom where you place the pepparkakor in the palm of your hand, then, using the index finger or thumb of your other hand tap it three times and make a wish. If the pepparkakor breaks into three pieces then your wish will come true. Naturally this meant I had to grab one more and try it for myself. Now, I won’t tell you what I wished for, but I will tell you that my pepparkakor did break into three pieces!

If you’re intrigued by Annas Pepparkakor, and would love to develop your knowledge, I strongly recommend you head to their gorgeous website where you’ll find history galore, as well as plenty of inspirational ways to serve and eat your pepparkakor.

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The Delicious Gifts From Our Pumpkin

We finally got around to carving our pumpkin yesterday, but it’s okay! Halloween in Sweden is a little different. We celebrate until the 6th of November, the day on which Alla Helgans Dag (All Saint’s Day) falls. It’s on this date – also the first day of winter  – that families go to the cemeteries to visit the graves of their deceased. Pass a cemetery in Sweden on Alla Helgans Dag, and you will see it flooded with candlelight.

So, our pumpkin will stay alight until tomorrow. Though knowing us, it’ll be a bit longer. Halloween is the most special celebration of the year in this household, and we hold onto the Halloweeney feeling for as long as possible…even though the snow is quietly blanketing the ground outside.

Once Sebastian had cut a lid out of the pumpkin, I set to work on taking out the seeds, then on removing the seeds from the stringy guts, which took the best part of two hours. All the while I was picking away the pulp, I was thinking to myself ‘hell, I need to thank my mother a thousand times or more for all the hours she spent preparing seeds to roast for my siblings and I when we were growing up.’

Once they were clean, I preheated the oven to 180C and covered the seeds in a few glugs of olive oil and a handful of salt and black pepper. They went into the oven for about twenty minutes until golden and crunchy. This kind of hands on work with foodstuffs, where you really have to be into what you’re doing can make the difference between an average day and an accomplished day, and I felt greatly accomplished as I nibbled on some pumpkin seeds, and breathed in the heady, sweet scent coming from the slowly warming Jack-O’-Lantern.

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How I Spent October

October was an extremely special, productive and, despite the darkening days (which I love anyway), an enlightening month. I’ve always held Autumn close to my heart, but I had no idea quite how strong a spell the changing of the leaves could hold over me. I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve spent simply staring out of the window.

It was a month where I really focused on my photography, and pushed the boundaries of what I thought I could accomplish as, dare I say it, a photographer. With the help of two special ladies and our art project The Divine Weirdos, I’ve been able to explore new darknesses. I’ve never had the courage to call myself a photographer before today, and when I say it it is with a slight waver to my voice. I think it’ll be a while before I write it anywhere other than here. I’ve always felt there were too many ways in which I still have to develop before I can give myself the title.

October also found me being proactive in terms of discovering new Swedish foods and culinary traditions. It’ so easy to get stuck in routines…and I made a determined effort to lay some to rest.

October was all of this, and so much more. I hope you enjoy the following photographs and words and where they lead…

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My talented friend Erzabeth Svedlund and I magicked up Bride Of The Birds, a photoshoot involving a wedding dress, owl like makeup and our beloved forest.

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Photo : Erzabeth Svedlund

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Photo : Margit Angéla-Brigitta Mortrand

October saw me get crafty…especially crafty actually. I’m so proud of how crafty I was. I manifested the creature you see above you (for a Divine Weirdos photoshoot) creating the fingers out of silver foil and black tape.

They celebrated National Poetry Day in Britain on the 6th of October, so I did my part here in Sweden and wrote this poem.

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The first episode of a documentary which I’ve been working on with my man and his band Rimfrost was released…and very well received!

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I tried Swedish blodpudding for the first time (and adored it!) ….

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…and re-shaped how I take my Fika for a week. (Click on the photo you like to go to the post).

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I uploaded new photos for sale in my shop, including images I caught of dewy spider webs in the early morning.

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We enjoyed the Halloween celebrations at Liseberg.

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I went out before breakfast to catch the mist

…and was contacted by Douglas Elliman Real Estate to take part in a Fall Style Board Challenge…which I graciously accepted.

I also helped Rimfrost to take some photographs…which will be revealed soon…and filmed them LIVE shopping! If you want to know what I’m talking about, head to their Facebook page.

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I eagerly anticipated my first Halloween in Sweden, and celebrated in a way much more my style than heading to a loud party…by taking photos in the forest, eating cake and watching Penny Dreadful. The festivities aren’t quite over yet though…the pumpkins will stay alight until the 6th of November!

 

A cold winter is predicted, and snow is already on the way! I’m shivering with excitement over what November will bring.