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.

The Girl With Cold Hands : Jul Gift Guide

This Jul will be my first in Sweden, my first with Sebastian and his family. I can promise you…I haven’t trembled with excitement like I’m doing now since I was a child, and still believed it was Father Christmas who carefully arranged the presents under the tree, while his reindeer waited patiently on the roof of our lilliputian cottage.

Naturally, I wanted to do something to celebrate life, this blog and all of you! So, as a thank you for following me on my Swedish journey I have reduced the price of every product in my shop! You will have from today until the 13th of December to place orders.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the getting of gifts, please let me help alleviate some of the stress. Below you’ll find options galore for the loves in your life. My personal favourite is The Whispering Forest Acrylic Block.

For Her

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After The Cold Of The Silver Night Chiffon Top – $26.64

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From The Forest Laptop Skin – $23.68

tb,1200x1200,flat.2u1.jpgAutumn Mornings Tote Bag – $13.99

For Him

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Woodpile Travel Mug – $18.74

mwo500xipad_2_snap-pad600x1000ffffff-u1The Family iPad case – $44.71

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Not The Road Home Graphic T-Shirt – $27.62

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Midday In Winter Drawstring Bag – $24.66

For Them

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The Whispering Forest Acrylic Block – $22.99

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Her First Day To Breathe Framed Print – $68.91

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Forest Dark Hardcover Journal – $15.78

I Couldn’t Stay Out Of The Forest

The snow came, at least for a little while. In the few hours before sunrise and sunset, I would find myself in the forest, losing track of time entirely. When the snow started to thin out on the ground, the days heavy with fog made up for it.

When I look outside in the morning and am greeted by fog, I’m unable to stay indoors. I had a stuffed ‘to do’ list waiting for me to complete it the other day, but I’ve missed too many foggy mornings over the years because of my need to stick to a rigid schedule. No more will that happen. I don’t own a watch and I rarely take my phone out with me when I go into the forest. After a hurried breakfast I grabbed my camera without so much as a backward glance at my ‘to do’ list and headed out into the forest, hoping with all hope that the sun wouldn’t try to break through and obliterate the mystique.

I took a path I’d been wanting to explore further, and I walked and I walked and I walked, my eyes darting this way and that like a curious wolf pup seeing the world for the first time. I deeply relished the peace that came with moving further away from people.

I’ve always had that encouraging – yet stubborn – attitude of ‘just a bit further…’ I wanted to see what was over the next rise, where that stream was hurrying to, if the house behind the handmade gate was abandoned. I wear my curiosity like a cloak, and always take it with me to the forest.

I eventually turned around, somewhat reluctantly, when hunger started to knock against my stomach’s walls. I thought I’d been gone for an hour or so…and was shocked to discover almost four hours had passed since I’d left home. To say I’m thankful for my forest adventures is an understatement. They’re an essential part of my daily existence. I can’t imagine a life without them.

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Jag Förstår/Jag Förstår Inte : My First Day Of Swedish For Immigrants (SFI)

Honestly, I didn’t think today would ever come. It was only last night, when it dawned on me that I would be rising before the birds, that I started to visualize myself behind a desk, pen poised over immaculate notepaper, ready to begin proper with a beautiful language that I’ve been listening to (and silently mouthing) for ten months.

In Sweden school starts early. I needed to be there at 8am which, looking back now was a good thing. It didn’t leave me time to get eaten up by nerves. When I entered the classroom, the smile and ‘välkommen’ from my teacher (Martha) were so full of warmth that my psyche felt cushioned. Surety blossomed from my heart up. I thought to myself ‘this is where I should be, I don’t need to run, I don’t need to be scared.’

I’ve always loved languages, but mastering them hasn’t come easy. Well, it hasn’t come at all. It’s something of an embarrassment to have reached thirty years of age and to only be able to speak my mother tongue.

To begin, Martha asked us, one by one, to introduce ourselves. I was in awe of the fluidity of the Swedish that poured from my classmates. The majority of them were from Syria, but you wouldn’t think it to listen to them speak. Their Swedish accents were practically flawless.

Martha – whose parents came to Sweden from Hungary – rarely broke away from Swedish to speak English, and when she did, it was to only say a few words. It felt so refreshing to hear her speak because she spoke slowly, enabling me time to digest one word before moving onto the next. I found I could understand so much more than I’d previously thought. I’m used to Swedish being spoken at one hundred miles an hour.

We spent some time learning which other languages were spoken by the class, and my jaw progressively dropped lower and lower as the list on the whiteboard grew. I was surrounded by people who could speak Armeniska, Kuriska, Arabiska, Ryska, Grekiska, Portugiskia, Kinesiska…I didn’t get a chance to write them all down. And we were hardly twenty in the group.

Today was about setting the foundations for the rest of the course, and I was relived for the calm ‘easing in.’ Though I did I find myself greatly encouraged by the fizzling enthusiasm of my classmates, and humbled by how they approached me with kind smiles and warm, firm handshakes.

I stopped being able to envisage myself speaking a foreign language a few years ago. I just sort of lost hope that I’d ever master another tongue and haven’t really dwelled on the thought because, as I mentioned, I never thought the day would arrive when I’d actually embark on the SFI course. But today, as I cycled away from my first lesson, I thought to myself ‘actually Katie, you might just be able to do this.’

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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All The Winters Of My Childhood

We had a tiny pumpkin at Halloween that we didn’t carve, and which has been sitting in the fridge waiting for me to decide what I would do with it for a little while now. I’ve been talking about making a pumpkin pie for weeks. It wasn’t a favourite when I was a youngster, I could never get my head around the taste and found it to be quite peculiar. But I’m eager to give it another chance now that my taste buds have had time to mature. I have a feeling I would really enjoy it.

But sadly, money is tight. So I decided on pumpkin soup as it didn’t require me to buy anything in. Rather than following a recipe, I went with my intuition. My mother made countless batches of pumpkin soup during the cold months when I was growing up, and it felt somewhat surreal that it was me skinning onions, garlic and the most beautiful of pumpkins. I followed my mother’s example and blended it up to create a silky, rich texture.

I ate it with some of the pumpkin seeds I roasted the other day and some brown bread topped with butter and cheese. It tasted like all of the winters of my childhood rolled into one lunchtime.

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