Stockholm Stadshuset, Stockholm’s city hall.



There’s a new ferry that connects Södermalm with Kungsholmen. I’ve always thought that there needed to be a way to go between  the two islands by boat, so I was happy to take the mini journey between Söder Mälarstrand and Norr Mälarstrand. Today was sunshiny and not too cold, so my friend Zanne and I enjoyed the ride from the front bow of the boat.

The route includes some nice views of some of Stockholm’s more photogenic landmarks, including Stadshuset (city hall) and Riddarholm’s church and it’s fun to see these sites from the water. As we got closer to Kungsholmen, we began hitting ice and the impact noises on the boat were pretty loud and crunchy. Luckily, we did not have a Titanic moment and made it safely.

Since it was a short ride, we went back and forth across again just for the heck of it. If you have an SL card for the Stockholm transport system, you can use it.

Stockholm The new ferry boat. Riddarholmen Looking toward Riddarholmen, one of the oldest parts of Stockholm.


ferry ride Pulling into the Kungsholmstorg stop.


Stockholm The ice view.


Stockholm Looking toward Kungsholmen.


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Cincinnati A “tree” of perfectly formed macarons at Macaron Bar.


Cincinnati Just a few of the macarons we made in our baking class at Macaron Bar. Ours had a few air bubbles, but they were tasty anyway!


I’ve got a new respect for macarons. Wednesday night, I took a three-hour class to learn how to create these cookies and I gotta say, making them is quite the process. But it’s also fun as Macaron Bar makes it easy for you thanks to their big kitchen and hands-on instruction.

Macaron Bar is the only bakery in Cincinnati devoted entirely to French macarons. The bakery has beginning classes in how to make macarons and for Christmas, I surprised my mom with a class for her and I to take together. We got lucky and were the only two in the class, so we got extra personal instruction in how to make these meringue-based pastries filled with ganache.

Our instructor Tabitha started by showing us how to make the meringue. The egg whites needed to be whipped until they formed stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, the almond flour and sugar were sifted and then folded carefully into the egg whites. We had to gently fold the ingredients together until the meringue formed “ribbons” when you lifted it up with the spatula.

Next we scooped the meringue into a pastry bag and piped it onto baking sheets. This was tricky, but fun too–forming the meringue circles was my favorite part of the process. While these dried and then baked, we had a tea break and began making the ganache filling. We scraped the bean out of fresh vanilla and then boiled it with sugar and chocolate to make our fillings–white chocolate, chocolate and caramel. The fillings were also put into pastry bags and then we piped them onto the meringue and put them together to make little sandwiches. To finish, we packed up our macarons into boxes to bring home.

Given how labor intensive the process was, I’m not sure I would take the time to actually make macarons at home. But I really enjoyed the evening at Macaron Bar and can definitely recommend it. Plus, what’s not to love about bringing home a bunch of boxes of freshly made macarons?


Macaron Bar Tabitha demonstrates the peaks that need to form when whipping the meringue.



macaron making The dry ingredients had to be folded into the whipped egg whites very carefully so that we did not deflate the meringue too much.


macaron Checking for the smooth ribbon of batter.


macaron Mom gets the pastry bag of meringue ready to use.


Macaron Bar Piping out the macarons onto a baking sheet


macaron bar Shaking out the air bubbles and settling the meringue.


macaron bar Cutting up the vanilla bean.


macaron bar Boiling the ganache.


macaron bar Pouring out the ganache to cool.


macaron bar The baked macarons.


macaron bar The finished product!


Stockholm Self portrait at the Olafur Eliasson exhibit at the Moderna Museet.



At the beginning of this year, I wrote about some of my goals for 2015 and how I wanted to spend more time traveling and writing for me instead of just for work. While the year has not been without difficulties by any means, I am happy to say that I did a pretty good job of satisfying both of these goals at least.

I took some great holidays and did some fun creative writing. I also made time to do some of my favorite simple things like painting, cooking and baking. And on a fun note, I’ve been acting in a theater performance for the past few years. The show is called Wild Minds and we did six performances at Sweden’s largest theater festival at the end of May. In 2016, I will perform this show in Berlin and at Dramaten, Sweden’s prestigious National Theater. So the coming year is looking to be interesting as well.


theater My badge for the Wild Minds performance in Malmö, Sweden at the end of May.


In honor of the coming new year, I thought I would take a slightly different turn and tell you about six things that made me happy–it’s my version of a gratitude list.

concert Courtney Barnett ‘s show in Paris was outstanding.


1. Creative time. I’ve enjoyed acting, painting, going to art museums and seeing live music. I had not painted in some years, so getting my art supplies out again was a lot of fun. Going to Sculpture by the sea in Denmark was a big inspiration on two counts– the art was thought provoking and beautiful and the setting along the Danish coastline was stunning. The Moderna–Stockholm’s modern art museum–had several good shows this year, including the Olafur Eliasson (see the photo above) and Louise Bourgeois shows.


Paris This plaque for Hemingway is in the Latin Quarter of Paris and just at the end of the street where we stayed.


2. Traveling. It’s always a pleasure to really get away from it all at the Great Barrier Reef and Robert and I did a great job of enjoying the sun, swimming and snorkeling. Pushing carpe diem to a new level, we booked a trip to Santorini and left the next day. We loved the scenery, the food and the wine. And Paris, well, it’s Paris and it’s always lovely to be there. Robert and I stayed in the Latin Quarter which somehow felt like the perfect intersection of us– he was there to give talks and be part of some conferences at two of the universities in the area. And of course, the quarter is known for the writers who live there. Ernest Hemingway lived and worked in the area in the 1920s and there  was a plaque commerating this right on the street where we stayed.

For a book-loving English lit major like myself, this was a thrill. And one of my favorite bookstores, Shakespeare and Company, was also nearby and we spent several hours there. This historic bookstore was started by American expat Sylvia Beach in 1919 and served as the gathering point for English speaking writers and publishers. Hemingway mentions the shop in his Paris memoir A Moveable Feast.

Australia What’s not to love about spending time on the Great Barrier Reef’s Heron Island.


3. Hanging out with family and friends.

I made my two annual trips to the US and one to Australia and we got good visits in with family and friends on both continents.  I survived jelly fish stings, huge thunderstorms and also enjoyed baseball games and picnics. Celebrating holidays in Sweden reminds me of what good friends we have and even though midsommar was cold, we had fun. We even traveled to Oslo for a friend’s 40th birthday party. Thanksgiving was also extra special and a dance party helped us lose the after turkey coma. Robert and I spent our 13th wedding anniversary in Stockholm, but did some fun reminiscing about our honeymoon.

4. Putting down roots.

Owning a home again was a long time coming in Stockholm and it’s finally made me feel rooted in all sorts of ways. Little things made me happy, like planting flowers, herbs and vegies on the balcony. But perhaps the key to being at home in my adopted homeland has been figuring out my balance, including discovering what new things to take on and enjoy both behaviorally and culturally, while still holding on to the things that make me, me.

5. Cooking, baking and perusing food markets.

Thanks to having a home I feel comfortable in, baking and cooking were fun to do again. I tried baking some Swedish goodies and making pies like my mother and grandmother. I got some great tips from hanging out in the kitchen with a Swedish chef and had one of  the best dinners of my life in Copenhagen. And I even was interviewed for a Monocle radio show about the gourmet burger trend in Stockholm.

Roy & Son I hung out at Stockholm barber shop Roy & Son to get the story about men’s vanity for Scandinavian Traveler.


6. Writing.

Even after all these years of working as a writer and editor, it still makes me happy to write. It was fun to be back in the pages of SAS in-flight magazine Scandinavian Traveler for an article about  finding happiness in Denmark. I wrote about Stockholm for cruise magazine From the Bridge: click here to read it:. FTB44_PopularPort And I ended the year with another story in their pages about the trendy return to retro barber shops.

And these are just a few highlights of 2015. Happy 2016 everyone!

Athens At the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, on an unbelievably hot day in August.



Stockholm The julbord table at Gamla Riksarkivet, the old archive building. Click on the photo to see the full image.


The Swedish julbord–literally translated as the Christmas table–is a big tradition in Stockholm. Julbords at the more popular restaurants book up months, some even one year, in advance. Even the ethnic restaurants jump in on the frenzy because in a lot of cases, they offer the same food as they always do, put it out in smorgasbord fashion and then quadruple the prices. It’s big business, but I have to say that the food can often be a big disappointment.

That said, going to a julbord is one of my favorite Swedish traditions. I recently went to a julbord at Gamla Riksarkivet with my department from work. And it was one of the best that I’ve ever been to. Top Swedish chefs Christian Hellberg and Niklas Ekstedt collaborated on the menu and it includes all the classic Swedish julbord dishes.

julbord Serving up the pre-dinner glögg.


julbord Our two tables at the julbord, as seen from above.


We started the night with a homemade glögg before sitting down at our tables. Then we helped ourselves to the cold buffet first which, as tradition dictates, had different types of sill (herring), lax, shrimp, ham, mustards, cheeses, pates, breads, and more. After digesting that with the help of some Swedish snaps (akvavit) and drinking songs, we moved on to the warm dishes: sausages, meatballs, ribs, cabbage, kale, potatoes and more. It was so much food. And so very good.

But we’d been warned to save room for the dessert. So I did. And it did not disappoint. Let’s just say that dessert had its own room. That room was set up like an old-fashioned candy store with jars of homemade candies and platters of baked goods that you could help yourself to. There were homemade truffles and candy canes, cakes, pies, puddings, crème brûlée, gingerbread cookies, meringues, and so much more.

As for the setting for the julbord, the old archive building dates back to 1890 when it was originally used to store the Swedish National Archives.  It’s on an island called Riddarholmen and the building was recently renovated and is gorgeous. I can definitely recommend checking out the julbord there if you have the chance.

By the way, I’ve written before about julbords in Stockholm. Here’s one blast from the past  you can check out.

julbord My round one plate.


julbord The iconic Swedish meatballs.


julbord The warm buffet tables.


julbord Suzanne cuts loose in the candy store.


julbord Homemade cakes.


julbord Preparing the crème brûlée.


julbord Johanna checks out the slide that was used to quickly evacuate the archive books in war time.


julbord The Christmas tree in the courtyard of the building.


Christmas markets in Paris

December 11, 2015

in Travels

Paris is often referred to as the city of light (la ville lumière) and during the holidays, it certainly lives up to that title.

I’ve made no secret over the years that I am a bit of a Christmas geek. I love the lights, the parties, the music, the markets and the general buzz. While I’ve been to different holiday markets in Paris before, I had never been to the one along the Champs- Elysées. And I have to say I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It was like a charming little Christmas market went to Vegas on vacation.


Paris The view along the Champs-Élysées. Click on the photo to see the image in full. All photos copyright 2015 by Sandra Carpenter.


I loved it. There are lights, an ice skating rink, rides, games and apparently 160 chalets made in the Vosges that line the Champs- Elysées between the Rond point and Place de la Concorde. The chalets had everything from champagne, mulled wine and cider to hot dogs, foie gras, pomme frites and moules. There were artisans selling ornaments, blankets, jewelry, hats and paintings. We saw Santa get into his sleigh and take off into the night sky with a rocket-like flair. And somehow, Robert talked me into going on the Michael Jackson zombie thriller ride. It was hilarious. I screamed a time or two. Unintentionally. And it was so much fun, too.

Given recent events, there were a lot of police and a fairly big military presence along the Champs- Elysées, too. But more than anything, there were tons of people. That grand boulevard was absolutely jam packed. It was wonderful to see and be a part of it all.


Paris The Christmas “village.”


Paris In contrast to the crowd on the street itself, the ice skating rink was quiet.


Paris Selling light in the city of light.


Paris The star booth.


Paris With the promise of three floors of zombies, who could resist going on this ride?


Paris We’ve got a ticket to ride.


Paris The ferris wheel.





The moveable feast of Paris

December 9, 2015

in Travels

“For all of us who have lived in Paris, we will never forget it because Paris is a moveable feast.” Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast.


I just spent four lovely days in Paris. It was just the getaway I needed to feel inspired and recharge my batteries for surviving the Stockholm dark season. Visiting there so soon after the attacks, I was not sure how things would be and if I would feel safe. But I did and Paris was just as charming as it’s always been for me.

A big highlight of any trip to Paris for me is always the food and wine. So this time, I did things up well and took a foodie tour with Paris by Mouth. It was fabulous. There were only seven of us in the group, so tour guide Emma was able to give a very personal tour of the Latin Quarter’s food.


Paris The artfully done and amazing pastries at Carl Marletti are made fresh daily. All photos copyright Sandra Carpenter 2015.


Let me start by saying I’ve never done a food tour before. It’s not typically my kind of thing. But this tour made me a big fan. I learned so much, had fun and was happy from our very first stop at Carl Marletti on to the very end. I won’t give away all the tour secret spots we went to, but I will say that Carl Marletti had some of the most elegantly crafted and gorgeous pastries I’ve ever seen. And they weren’t just pretty either. They also tasted amazingly good. As for what we had, it was the chocolate eclair and the tart au citron (lemon tart).

From there, we tried fresh macarons–salted butter caramel and a violet one for me. I can’t begin to say how much better a fresh macaron is–the jammy center, the airy meringue. If you haven’t had a fresh, just-made-that-day macaron, then you have not had one!

To recover from all the sweets, we moved on to the savory. Basically, Emma would bring us into a shop, introduce us to the owner and explain the specialties, different food designations and regions. At each stop, she would offer us choices and then select and make a purchase for all of us and put them into her basket so that at our final stop, Maison Claudel Vin & Whiskey, we were able to sit down, drink and sample all of our goodies.

So what did we have in our picnic? Here are a few of the highlights for me: Pave au poivre (cured ham with black pepper), rillettes a l’oie (goose), croute aux moiled (pork pate in pastry), a to-die-for Comte’ –an 18 month old, cooked, pressed cow cheese from the Alps, and Tomme de Saint Sulpice pressed sheep cheese from the Correze region. For dessert, I loved the dark chocolate ganache and Kirsch dark chocolate cherry we had. And it was all topped off with a Cheverny 2014 Sauvigon Blanc from the Loire Valley and a 2013 Syrah from the Languedoc Roussillon.

It was a wonderful way to spend a few hours. And it was indeed, a moveable feast.


Paris The chocolate eclairs and lemon tarts that we sampled from Carl Marletti.


Paris Tour guide Emma serves up a few pastries in the park.


Paris Flavors of Auvergne.


Paris A selection of Paris cheeses.


Paris Trying the cheese at our picnic lunch.




Stockholm The Thanksgiving menu at American Table Brasserie. Click on the image to see the full photo.


Stockholm The main course at American Table.  All photos copyright Sandra Carpenter 2015.


Thanksgiving is such an American holiday that it often makes me feel like I am far from my homeland and family. This year, I was in a November light-deprived funk and felt like I did not want to mess with all the work. But knowing me as he does and that I would be really down if I didn’t do something, Robert talked me into just making a small-scale dinner on Friday evening. So I agreed.

Not surprisingly,  it ended up not really being a small scale meal. (I don’t think that’s possible with thanksgiving). But after I lugged home a six kilo fresh turkey from a local market hall on the subway, it was destined to be bigger. At least it was all a lot of fun.

On the actual day, I worked (it’s not a holiday here in Sweden) and then met my friend Zanne for dinner at Marcus Samuelsson’s American Table Brasserie. The restaurant was running a special menu that promised we could “celebrate a true American Thanksgiving,” so we thought we would check it out. We had a blast. The music was fun, the waiters were friendly and the service was attentive. We got to chat with Marcus for a bit, too. And the meal? It was the best Thanksgiving dinner that I’ve ever had at a restaurant in Stockholm.

We had thyme- roasted butternut squash soup, carmelized pear and frisee salad, roasted turkey with cranberry relish, green beans, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes and gravy. We started with a glass of champagne, ran into friends who were also eating there and in general, just had a great time. Later I talked to my family in the US just before they were ready to eat.

Then on Friday, we had a few close friends over for dinner and did the whole big meal all over again. As I prepared all the touches during the day and pulled out my good china, the glasses from my grandmother Clara, and different serving dishes and silver pieces from my mom, I was launched back into the traditions and meals I’ve celebrated my whole life. I felt intrinsically connected to my family in the US.

As for the dinner here, it was wonderful. Zanne brought brussel sprouts roused with pancetta, cranberry sauce and a pecan and a pumpkin pie while Suzanne brought sweet potatoes and chocolate. Nici and Roger brought really tasty wines and we started with a Crémant that Zanne had found that was excellent. Robert and I collaborated on the turkey and I made a pretty good stuffing with Italian sausage and cranberries. Together with green beans, cornbread muffins, potatoes and gravy, it was all fantastic.

Stuffed as we were on all that food, we somehow segued into dancing and playing music for hours. That helped a lot with the food overload. But more than anything, it was just such a celebration of friendship and good food. And for that, I am grateful.


thanksgiving My dinner at home.


Stockholm Thanksgiving with friends.


thanksgiving For some reason, late night dancing required hats.


“I see you’ve gone Swedish,” said a fellow American who I had just met.

As I looked at her quizzically, she explained further: “You’re dressed all in black, just like the Swedes.”

While I was dressed in a black dress, black tights and black boots, I was surprised by her comment.  I’ve always worn a lot of black, probably too much, to be honest. (Here lately, I’ve made an effort to not wear so much black.)

But that said, when you move to a new country, you do spend a lot of your time figuring out how to fit in. When I first arrived in Sweden, I had to learn about so many new things, from the basic take your shoes off  as soon as you walk in the door of someone’s  home, to the more behavioral not making small talk with strangers  and even about the quirky traditions like the fact that kids dress up like witches for Easter.

I’ve learned to like most of the food and eat salmonknäckebröd and kanelbullar, as well as fika with the best of them. And I’ve even survived the communal laundry. OK, perhaps these are some cheeky examples, but they have all been part of my transition process in some way or another.

But perhaps the key to being at home in my adopted homeland has been figuring out my balance. Discovering what new things to take on and enjoy both behaviorally and culturally, while still holding on to the things that make me, me. It’s about adapting to the culture, but not going too far. It’s about wearing the black because I like to, not just because it’s what everyone else does.

Living here an an expat, there is a set of questions that you are always asked: why are you here, do you speak Swedish, do you like it here and are you Swedish yet? It’s that last question that still gets me after all these years. I just don’t know what the answer is supposed to be. So I typically take the middle ground and say something like: I love where I come from and I love where I live now. And I suppose that’s my balance.


Stockholm A little summer yoga on kayaks moment. Click on the photo to see the image in full. (Photo copyright Sandra Carpenter 2015.)



Swedish cooking King crab, ready to sample. Click on the photo to see the full image.


Scandinavian cooking Chef Fredrik Juhlin, ready to bake the pizza. All photos copyright 2015 Sandra Carpenter.


About a month ago, I had the chance to spend an evening in the kitchen with a Swedish chef. It was a “team bonding” type session with coworkers in one of the Electrolux kitchens with award-winning chef Fredrik Juhlin. We got to watch and chat with Fredrik as he prepared and served us a variety of Scandinavian-style appetizers.

First up was king crab with browned butter, fried bread, ginger and carrot cream.  Interestingly, only the two Americans in the group had tried king crab before–none of the Swedes, Brazilians or Uruguayuans had. But everyone wanted to more from Harbour House Crabs, they loved the crab as it was amazingly fresh and tasty. Next up was a baked celeriac (also known as celery root) that was topped with pickled celeriac and a truffle cream. This one was surprisingly good.

Fredrik then fried rice paper, added a dollop of a mayonnaise spiced with miso, ginger, lime juice, oil and vinegar on top of it and finished off this appetizer with a portobello mushroom that had been pickled with soy and rice vinegar. At this point, I was happy and pretty much full.

But then Fredrik created a chanterelle pizza. The mushrooms were sautéed in oil and salt, then placed on a puff pastry with creme fraiche and västerbotten cheese. It was too good-looking to resist. So I tried it too. And even had part of another piece.

Whew, that was excellent, I thought to myself. I figured we were done. But no, then we got to sit down at a table and were served a main dish of char with vegetables and a dessert. I ended up as overstuffed as if it was thanksgiving. That said, it was a great way to spend an evening. I decided to purchase some Instant Pot accessories  and to try to cook myself.


Swedish cooking Cooking chanterelles.


Swedish cooking The impossible to resist pizza.


Swedish cooking Portobello mushrooms on rice paper.





Stockholm My burger at Vigårda was really tasty and the fries weren’t bad either. Click on the photo to see the whole image.


In the name of research, I have subjected myself to eating many of the city’s gourmet hamburgers of late. You see, I was interviewed by Maddy Savage, editor of Sweden’s The Local, about the burger trend. And I wanted to be able to talk with some degree of knowledge. Hence all the hamburgers.

In Stockholm, it used to be that the option for fast food was the hot dog stand and of course, McDonalds and Burger King. At the stands, the hot dog was OK, but the burgers were really rather disgusting frozen patties of questionable meat origin. So the market was wide open for improvement and in the last few years, it really has gotten so much better.

One of the first restaurants to open was Flippin Burgers but then that was quickly followed by Phils Burger, Lily’s Burger, Prime Burger, Barrels, Burgers and Beer and more. Of course, the burgers don’t come cheaply in this town—they average about 20-plus USD. But all this is where McD’s comes in. There is a new online booking system being tried out by McDonalds in Sweden to coincide with the release of a new gourmet burger. Because of this, there’s been some speculation that they are trying to compete with the gourmet burgers.

So where did I do my most recent burger tests? At Vigårda, I had the original grilled hamburger and it came with  chili, cheddar, tomato, pickled red onion, pickle and mayo. The restaurant chefs say that they: cook fast food with quality and have raw materials coming from farms, fields and the vegetable garden. By the way, it was really good, even by American standards.

At Gnarly Burger–which describes itself as the “simple art of Californian food,” we could not resist having the “Bob’s Hot.” It came with Gnarly dressing, pickled onion, crispy lettuce, oven baked tomato, fried onions, jalapenos and Pepper Jack cheese.  My verdict: Excellent. And at Käk, I had the basic cheeseburger with black angus beef. Here, they  claim to “take the best from the world of fast food.” They also do a good burger. I’ve also written before about other Stockholm burgers.

To find out some more about the burger options, you can listen to the full Monocle Radio interview in the link here.


Stockholm The Gnarly burger was big, fat and juicy. Robert and I split it. All photos copyright Sandra Carpenter 2015.


Stockholm The Gnarly Burger food truck.