Gamla Stan view The patterns on the ice were so pretty last weekend.

 

Snow, sleet. Snow, sleet. That’s been the weather today. It’s created large mushy puddles of sloppy snow that are hard to avoid. It’s not a day to year your good boots.

January and February are always tough months for me in Stockholm. Even though the days are getting longer, they are still short. And often just endlessly gray all day. While there’s been a lot of gray since I got back from the US, there’s also been a good amount of snow. That snow helps to brighten up the gray. And hey, it is pretty.

So while it may sound like I am whining just.a.little, I’m overall good. It’s been fun to be back home in Stockholm, seeing friends, getting back into routines and enjoying our apartment.

The photos here are from last weekend. The first two are from Södermalm, looking toward Gamla Stan. And the next one is on Södermalm. I love the gray light in all of them.

 

Gamla Stan Subway lines.

 

Södermalm The church yard at Maria Magdalena.

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new year toast My cousin Kezia took this photo of me just before we headed out to celebrate on new year’s eve.

 

I’ve never been a new year’s resolution making type of person. Maybe I don’t want to risk failure, but I don’t think that’s quite it. I just never got into that whole list making for life thinking. That said, I have been trying to live my life more deliberately over the last few months. Specifically, I’ve been harkening back to my days as an English lit major and thinking of Henry David Thoreau, of all people. When I read Thoreau in university, I have to say that his writing left me cold. But some of his thinking in Walden has always stayed with me:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ….. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life….”

Living deliberately was what I did when I moved to Sweden. I had spent so many years thinking  that I wanted to live In Europe, but never actually making the move. (You can read more about how I followed my dream in this link.) I’ve had my tough times with living in Europe, but ultimately, I’ve never regretted that basic decision to live abroad.

Now I’m finding the need to be more deliberate again in terms of a few things in life. Mostly, I want to do more of my own writing and traveling. But to make time for and support these habits, I have a few decisions to make. So in 2015, I will spend time figuring out how to make things happen for me.

I will keep you posted on how it all goes. Thus far, 2015 has been filled with a lot of laughs thanks to spending time with some of my favorite people–my Carpenter cousins in northern Ohio. That makes for a nice start.

Happy new year/gott nytt år!

 

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christmas traditions As far back as I can remember, I’ve had buttermilk waffles for breakfast on Christmas morning.

 

I’ve been back in the US for the last week or so, seeing family and friends and in general, doing all those little Christmas things I’ve done all my life. I baked and decorated sugar cookies with my nieces and nephews, drank egg nog out of my Santa mug, shopped with my mom, wrapped presents for my dad, watched the Charlie Brown Christmas show and listened to all my favorite holiday songs.

There’s such a simple pleasure in observing all these traditions, eating my Mom’s Mexican wedding cookies– aka pecan sandies–sugar cookies, raspberry almond bars, and way too many more for my own good.

And I was thinking about how lucky I am that I get to continue these traditions, while also getting to incorporate all sorts of traditions from my adopted homelands of Sweden and Australia as well. So that means my holidays typically also include Swedish herring and snaps as well as Robert’s Australian pavlova. It’s a veritable smorgasbord–that’s actually a Swedish word, did you know–of food.

 

holiday traditions These Santa mugs are older than me! I can remember drinking milk in them as a kid.

 

xmas traditions Making cookies with my niece and nephew. Given all the dough we ate, it’s a wonder that we had any left to bake and decorate.

 

xmas traditions Some of the finished sugar cookies.

 

xmas traditions Lots and lots of peanut butter kisses. xmas traditions The Christmas tree at my parent’s house has hand-blown glass ornaments that my mom collected for years from a craftsman in Houghton Lake, Michigan, where we vacationed every summer.

 

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Stockholm Christmas goodies from the Kungsträdgården holiday market.

 

Christmas in Stockholm Lussebullar or saffron buns.

 

Stockholm Christmas beer from Mathias Dahlgren.

 

The last weeks have been filled with all sorts of things I love: holiday dinner parties and drinks with friends, Christmas markets, the Nobel prize ceremonies, my book group white elephant party, and more. It’s all been a lot of fun, but with everything that’s been going on and then flying to the US, I suppose it’s no wonder that I ended up with the flu just after I arrived. At least it seems to be the 24-hour version and I seem to be doing much better today.

Here I’ve included some of my favorite images from Stockholm, including everything from Christmas desserts and beer to ice skating and holiday markets.

Hope you are enjoying your pre-holiday madness too!

 

Stockholm Christmas carolers.

 

Stockholm Christmas lights in Hornstull.

 

Stockholm Ice skating at Kungsträdgården.

 

stockholm Our international dinner party included recipes from Brazil, Uruguay, England, Australia, Romania, and the US.

 

I always enjoy watching the fanfare of the Nobel prize ceremony. I always enjoy watching the fanfare of the Nobel prize ceremony.

 

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stockholm The Gamla Stan Christmas tree.

 

I’ll soon be flying to the US and I am feeling the split–that divided feeling of wanting to stay here in Stockholm to enjoy the holidays in my own home. But at the same time, I very much want to travel to the US to spend the time with my family and friends there.  It’s never easy.

While Stockholm has been incessantly gray and dark, it is still pretty at Christmas, as can be seen by these photos from Sunday afternoon, just before 3 pm.

Stockholm The af Chapman boat at sunset, around 3 pm.

 

Stockholm The Grand Hotel.

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julbord Lux Holiday stars by the julbord.

 

julbord The dessert table at Lux.

 

Today is Lucia day and though it’s not an official holiday in Sweden, it is a big celebration with plenty of traditions. Yesterday at work, a choir came and sang Santa Lucia to us, as well as several other traditional Christmas songs. Being the Christmas geek that I am, I always enjoy it. And today, I’ve seen countless little girls wearing their lucia crowns–even the woman working at 7/11 was wearing hers. You can read more about the tradition and watch a video explaining it by clicking this link.

As always this time of year, I’ve been busy with holiday parties and dinners. On Wednesday, I went to a traditional Swedish julbord–literally a Christmas table or smorgasbord–with coworkers at the restaurant Lux. In basic terms, a julbord is an eating frenzy in the same way that thanksgiving is in the US. Typically, you start with the cold items: sill (herring) and gravad lax, cheeses, pickles and hard breads. This is accompanied with snaps and singing.

Eating round two includes warm dishes such as julskinka (holiday ham), köttbullar (meatballs), prinskorv (small sausages) and Janssons frestelse (Jansson’s temptation is a gratin made with potatoes, onions and anchovies). Then finally, there’s dessert: chocolates, mousse, cheesecake, pralines, fruit, and more.

It’s a lot of food. And like so many things in Sweden, it’s a tradition I’ve come to enjoy.

 

Lux Filling up plates at the julbord.

 

Lucia The lucia choir getting ready to sing.

 

Lucia day The lucia choir.

 

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Stockholm A moose parade at Berzelii Park.

 

Stockholm And there are also moose roaming around Sergels Torg.

 

In spite of the endless gray and sunset at the ridiculous hour of 2.48 in the afternoon today, Stockholm is still pretty in the holiday season. So now I share some of my favorite holiday lights around town.

This year, it seems there are a lot of moose around town. Who says there’s no wildlife in the big city? The top photo is from Berzeli Park and the lower is from Sergels Torg. Fun, aren’t they?

Stockholm And just for something different, the lights at Kungsträdgården.

 

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Skansen Tomten and friends at the julmarknad.

 

Stockholm Holiday lights at Skansen.

 

Skansen Swedish knäckebröd or crisp bread and jam.

 

I have a confession to make: I am a Christmas geek. I love the holiday markets, the lights, decorations, parties, and just the general buzz around town. Hanging my Christmas stars in the windows and pulling out my favorite old decorations just adds to all the happiness.

In my 10 years in Stockholm, I have developed my own traditions, the things I have to do or it just doesn’t seem like Christmas. Some of my favorite things to do include going to the Christmas markets or julmarknads. And of the julmarknads, one of the very biggest is at Skansen. This open-air museum from 1891 features historical Sweden in a nutshell. There are historical homes and buildings with workshops for silver smiths, book binders and bakers. Craftsmen dressed in period clothes demonstrate the old ways of working and show off their handicrafts.

At Christmas, Skansen has all kinds of old-fashioned holiday traditions. At the julmarknad, there are booths with Christmas treats of all sorts, from chocolates and saffransbullar (saffron buns), reindeer sandwiches and glögg (mulled wine) to cheeses and herring and bread. There’s a lot of food to choose from and there are also booths with sheepskins and slippers, hand-blown glass ornaments, woolen scarves, homies, jams and much more.

Then there are Christmas carolers, horsedrawn carriages, and the Swedish favorite: dancing around the Christmas tree. It’s enough to keep even a hard-core Christmas geek like me entertained on a gray and rainy Sunday.

 

Skansen Christmas bullar–sweet rolls.

 

skansen Serving up fried elk sandwiches.

 

Skansen Outdoor dining.

 

Skansen Christmas carolers.

 

Skansen Dancing around the Christmas tree.

 

Getting warm by the fire. Getting warm by the fire.

 

Skansen The puss plats or kissing place, complete with mistletoe!

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Bridge reflection. Thanksgiving provided a distraction rom the ongoing gray that is life in Stockholm lately. Apparently, we had 6 hours of sunlight in November.

 

Stockholm The gray view from our dining room.

 

The big thanksgiving dinner on Saturday left me feeling happy in all sorts of ways. First, it was good to be able to host a dinner party in our new place. And of course, it’s been great to have all those turkey leftovers.

But more than all this, it felt good to celebrate this American holiday. In my 10 years of living abroad, I’ve learned that I have to “do” thanksgiving in some way or another. If I ignore this holiday or think that I don’t want to bother with it, I always end up in a funk of epic proportions. And who needs that? This time of  year in dark Sweden, I can’t afford to take on any more funk.

Thanksgiving is just one of those holidays that’s packed with memories and rituals. I remember grandma Clara mashing the potatoes while everyone teased her not to leave any lumps, my otherwise not cooking in the kitchen Dad cutting up celery and onions for stuffing, playing touch football in the backyard and my mother rushing around to make all those essential parts of the meal while setting the table with her good china. And from the time we got up till we went to bed, the TV was on, first with the thanksgiving day parades and then with the football games.

I find myself acting out those traditions in my own way–using my good china and the tablecloth from my mother, the butter dish from my grandmother, the salad bowl from my aunt–and having friends stand in for family. And of course, I made all those side dishes that you HAVE to have on thanksgiving.

Thinking about all that food, I could not resist asking friends what they serve on thanksgiving.  I got some fun answers–hope you enjoy!

Marilyn: Cranberries, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, red wine.

Therese:  Green beans (for color), pecan pie and a choc chip cookie or three to top it off. Sticking to the basic staple items.

David: Our family is not crazy-in-love with turkey. So, we often have chicken enchiladas (mine are pretty danged good) and then go to the zoo, which is absolutely fabulous on Thanksgiving and Christmas – no human crowds and the animals don’t seem to mind that they still have to put in a full-day’s work.

Carole: Smoked turkey with stuffing, braised brussel sprouts with bacon, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes.  Pumpkin pie certainly, maybe pecan.

Kezia: I’m all about the stuffing and a good bottle of white wine.

Terri: 1.Mashed potatoes. 2. Wine.

Barb: My homemade cherry pie!!! Yummy.

Angela: Mac and Cheese, sweet potato soufflé and cornbread.

Maureen: Dressing and Frisch’s pumpkin pie!

Joanne: We’re contributing stuffing/dressing and a cranberry pie for a collaborative dinner for 20. I believe beer bread (with homemade beer, I think) and a sweet potato dish are also on the menu among many other dishes.

Jodi:  I’m simple: two kinds of potatoes, dressing, green beans (maybe casserole but I have oven issues so the more I can do stove top, the better!), a salad of sorts, corn bread. I think I’ll do some candied pecans this year too.

Sia: At our house it is turkey, stuffing, trimmings, and spanakopita!

Linda:  My mom’s and grandma’s recipes: turkey and gravy, whole berry cranberry sauce (homemade), green beans with toasted almonds. We are having baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon butter instead of the old favorite Sweet Potato stuff; its an uber-sweet mix of sweet potatoes, butter, sugar and eggs whipped together and topped with a pecan, brown sugar struessel, a relish tray with black olives and mini gherkins (sweet n sour); crescent rolls, mashed potatoes (with gravy), sausage and cornbread stuffing (with gravy), and deviled eggs. Wine & iced tea. Follow in about an hour with cheesecake.

Judy: We are spending Thanksgiving at our clubhouse here in our Condo Association here in Stuart, Fl, with friends and neighbors. The association is providing the turkeys and we just bring a dish for the buffet. I am making cornbread casserole and Coconut custard.

Linnea:  I am having some Swedish friends over for Thanksgiving and we are doing: Turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, sourdough stuffing, brussel sprouts with panchetta, mashed potatoes with gorgonzola, pumpkin & pecan pie, green beans.

 

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thanksgiving in stockholm My friend Suzanne took this photo of me and the table just before we ate.

 

thanksgiving Turkey and all the trimmings.

 

Last night, we celebrated thanksgiving here in Stockholm. It was almost a disaster.

On Friday at midnight, Robert and I headed to a local pub to drown our sorrows. Because when we pulled the almost six kilo turkey we had purchased at a local market out of its wrappings on Friday evening, it stank. Truly. It was the most evil, rotten egg, roadkill-in-the-sun smell that I’ve ever had in the kitchen.

As Robert rinsed the bird and pulled out the giblets, I frantically googled: does fresh turkey smell?

Apparently, there can be a sulfur smell that gets released as you remove the plastic that then goes away with rinsing. But for a fresh turkey, you should apparently only keep it in a home fridge for about two days because they don’t maintain a cold enough temperature.

Even as I looked up the details, I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that there was no way we could serve up this foul fowl. The smell was imprinted in my nostrils. We would worry that we were poisoning our guests. The turkey itself looked good, but the things inside it were definitely off. So I took the heart and neck out to the trash while Robert went ahead and kept rinsing and then created a brine for the turkey, hoping against hope that the smell would go away.

It didn’t. That’s when the pub came in. And when I got up at 6 the next morning because I could not sleep and wanted to see if by some very slim chance that the smell had magically disappeared, it still was there.

So we left the evil turkey on the balcony and went back to Hötorget. By this time, I was dropping the f bomb in practically every sentence I spoke and ready to cry. I was in a  panic. Large, whole turkeys are not so easy to find in Stockholm. And finding one that was fresh, not frozen, was the other problem since we had eight guests coming for dinner soon.

Let’s just say that I was not in a good place. There was not time in my prep schedule for this disaster and I was having grim thoughts of serving up only veggies and no turkey for thanksgiving.

But when we got to the hall and talked to the vendor, there was a turkey for us. Hallelujah! After we explained our situation, and what we thought went wrong, the guy took pity on us and gave us a deep discount. And when we got home and Robert prepared the new turkey for a short brine, there was no smell.

Relief.

Robert was in charge of the turkey, gravy, roasting vegetables and creating a welcome cocktail. I made Ina Garten’s sausage and herb stuffing, fresh cranberry chutney, cornbread muffins, a kale, cranberry, walnut, pumpkin seed and spinach salad, spiced pecans, and a veggie tray. Judy brought a corn casserole, pecan pie, pumpkin apple pie and biscuits. Nici brought green beans with bacon and mashed potatoes, as well as some of the wine grape jelly from her own garden vines. Suzanne brought sweet potatoes. John brought wines and the new glögg for the holiday season.

Everything was fabulous. There was not one thing served that was less than absolutely delicious. After all that hard work, I forgot to even take a photo of turkey no. 2. Oh well.

As for the other turkey, it’s still on the balcony. I don’t want to go near that toxic waste. I am hoping a vulture will swoop down and take it away.

 

thanksgiving Waiting patiently for dinner?

 

thanksgiving The food coma has set in…

 

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