Jólabókaflóðið = Christmas Book Flood

IMG_20181225_064318Jólabókaflóðið or Jolabokaflod (Christmas book flood) is the Icelandic tradition of giving books (and reading) during Christmastime, due to the fact that most books in Iceland (Reykjavík is a UNESCO City of Literature) are published during the autumn months. Our family adopted this tradition early on, since not only do we buy lots of books anyway, but it seemed like a good way to spend part of Christmas Eve anyway by stopping into a bookstore as part of our hygge-like celebration of the season. We’ve hit a variety of shops over the years from the local Barnes & Noble, to last year’s visit to the amazing Strand and this year to Politics & Prose.

Books are the backbone of this home – stacks are often found well outside any shelf, and really there are never enough shelves no matter which home we’ve lived in for any length of time. There are books in storage, in the basement, under beds and in closets. We also have three working Kindles (great for travel, audio books and music). If books decorate our home, a trip to the bookstore is a serotonin boost for us — to be near all of those words, with their stories (albeit some better than others), and to get a coffee and cake after perusing and buying the next treasure? Best days ever. No matter how we’ve often lived on academic salaries, lay-offs and what seems like an unending tide of medical bills — for books, while we may pace ourselves, we’ll find a way to buy what we consider friends and bring them home to be members of this otherwise small family of three. There is no such thing as too many books for us and here’s why — because these are our friends, we can always go for a visit — a favorite passage, or an entire round-trip visit, a quick view or an afternoon, doesn’t matter; like our human friends, some days we have more time to chit-chat than others. We love libraries too, more on that later.

Merry Book Flood one and all!

 

It’s Never too Late for Gingerbread

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Somehow 2018 has vanished, but when I found myself on the eve of Christmas eve with a bit of stamina left (everyone else passed out on the couch or with earphones on), I decided it’s just never too late for gingerbread. And maybe this will be my mantra for the year going forward. I went with the simple method on this batch, no rolling/cutting/decorating — so these look a little more like peanut butter cookies in traditional shape but with the distinct taste of ginger and cloves — with just the right amount of satisfying crisp around the edges with smooth centers. Recipe courtesy of my favorite flour, King Author.

I think of gingerbread cookies as the hardest working cookie on the Christmas platter: it’s sturdy, spicy and substantial. On the nutrition side, these cookies actually come in quite well: using my method these come in at 69 calories a cookie (60 cookies per the King Author recipe, using a 1/2 tablespoon + a smidge as a size guide). This recipe also includes a bit of iron, potassium and Vitamin D — anytime you can pick up Vitamin D in the winter, from a cookie no less, is an excellent use of calories. Analyzing recipes may not sound glamorous, but this one from verywell fit is excellent, easy and now I know about the Vitamin D, which I didn’t know before. Of further note on gingerbread — these are excellent for hikes, breakfast nearly year-round, with tea or coffee, though probably not with chai — that’s maybe too much spice?

Hygge, Hearts and the Solstice

IMG_20171205_131721.jpgLast year the New Yorker named 2016 as the year of hygge — the Danish tradition of “getting cozy” during the winter months; for those of us with Danish and other Nordic roots, hygge — and open faced sandwiches are routine parts of the winter holidays and that the New Yorker, is sort of way behind. Candles and wool socks, warm rice pudding and pea soup are not a new things, and in fact, many of us grew up this way — along with grandparents with accents from all of the Scandinavian countries (hygge is not limited to Denmark). The idea of hygge is one of comfort — in both the environment around us, and in our own skin — which sometimes craves wool, snowflakes and soup. Hygge is not a fad, but an emphasis on the beauty of the soul and our relationship to nature; there is never bad weather, but there can be the wrong outerwear.

So to kick the hygge season off, here are a few of my favorite things:

Danish Sandwiches or Smorrebrod : during cozy times, it’s important to eat well — sandwiches offer creativity, variety and fresh flavors — and the opportunity to gather friends and family to partake in preparation. More on sandwiches from Serious Eats for further ideas on how to concoct delicious creations. Of note: if you’re looking for an excellent, and easier-than-roasting-a-20-pound-bird Thanksgiving, consider smorrebrod with a turky-ish and cranberry flair. We went this route this year, and a total success — amongst our variety we included a turkey (chicken works well) salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, honey and mustard resting atop a rustic sourdough cranberry bread, lightly toasted, with plenty of Finlandia butter as a base. Always open-faced, always use a knife and fork.

Juleharter = Danish woven hearts: a quick tutorial and template from the site Bits of Ivory. Red and white are the traditional color scheme, but going a little rogue is okay. Scandinavian holiday decorations lean towards the natural with use of materials such as wood, wheat, wool and of course these hearts which may adorn trees filled with treats or as a simple exchange with a friend. Legend has it that Hans Christian Andersen invented this simple woven treasure — like Santa, this is a legend I think is worth embracing.

Aebelskiver – round, ball-like pancakey donuts: a little trickier than sandwiches and a special pan is needed to create these treats, or a weeknight dinner or brunch in the winter months depending on how you choose to fill them. This recipe is excellent, but I simply use pancake mix and modify — whether with jam filling, ricotta, bacon or really any ingredient that is choppable and droppable into the batter in the aebelskiver pan. Tip: us a wooden skewer (kabob) stick to turn the sometimes wiley rounds of batter — this will take practice, and is totally worthwhile once you’ve conquered the pan and there is no smoke simmering from your stove. Do not use any cooking spray on this pan, unless a black tinge is something you crave with pancakes.

Bokaflod or Julebokaflod: book flood i.e. buy books and read books for the holiday season. This is an Icelandic tradition and most publishers there issue all their new releases in November to get folks ready to celebrate; and if you’re going to pursue hygge — a stash of books purchased for or during the holiday season, then you’re half-way to sandwich making. Think — a mug of strong coffee, a few butter (spritz) cookies, a few candles (pine or balsam scent) your brand new woolen socks and perhaps a high-performance fleece — a fire and now your stack of reading material. You’ve now achieved hygge nirvana.

As the solstice approaches — remember the outerwear — get yourself outside and enjoy the natural world, as there is no better way to begin to understand the majesty and wonder that abounds when darkness merges to light.

Happy Hygge!

p.s. don’t forget to post a few gnomes!

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Krumkake Victory!

IMG_20171012_095428.jpgBecause we currently live where Nordic treats do not abound, we must import. Or tackle solo, because no one knows what we’re talking about when we say, “Hey, where’s the best spot to pick-up lefse?” Let alone krumkake, sprtiz, fatigman or Snofrisk. The first year we lived in the South, I ordered spritz (and julekake) from our most favorite bakery, Larsen’s, in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood; alas, it appears they’ve cesased delivering what we consider to be lifesaving buttery, melt-in-your-mount cookies (although they do still have other, limited items for sale online). For my daughter’s recent birthday, she requested — deep breath, krummake, homemade, from me to her class. Now, this crispy rolled cookie is not one to be taken lightly if it looks like you’re going to be on your own, at home, in the middle of the day (not grading papers like you should be) with only the blue birds outside to hear your anguised cries when your fingers are burnt to a nubbins — as in no feeling left in your finger tips.

So the day before her birthday arrives, and while I’ve searched exhastively around the internet’s Scandia food related shops, and considered a trip to NYC to find krummake — I buckle down with my coffee, put the butter on the counter and plug in my double-wide iron. To note, my iron is non-stick; I do have the over-the-burner iron, but given that we have a glasstop stove currently, this could easily lead to burned hair and gutted kitchen from the butter drips in addition to the no-feeling-left fingers.

It takes just one whiff from the cardamom jar, and I am there — as in, anywhere but here. I’m at my grandmother’s house on her 1950s kitchen stool, itching to get my fingers in the batter; I’m in my great grandmother’s kitchen with her indoor wood stove (something like this) in her tiny Tacoma house — or I’m in our old Seattle condo, rain pelting the windows, with friends gathered for our annual krumkake bake. Wherever my head is, my nose led me there and I am about 3,000 miles from my current kitchen — this is indeed the moment where food and memory collide.

I mix up a double batch, because not only will curious kids be eating this for the first time, but it’s also a good idea to allow for “flubs” which must be eaten by the family (and me) for testing purposes. I dollop in my batter for the first two cookies, close the lid and wait…butter is slowly starting to expel from the press and coagulate in a tiny pool on the counter — clearly I need to grab a cookie sheet to catch this before the butter melts my contact-paper covered counters (yes, it’s a thing and yes it works when you have 1965 ugly yellow formica countertops). Cookie sheet in place, I slowly prop open the lid — to see two golden yellow embossed circles — carefully I extract these delicacies, one at a time from press to towel and begin to roll cookie number one. Hold in place. Let go and sproing! Cookie one is loose and unrolling fast, so I hastily spatula cookie number two out for rolling, fingers not crossed because I can’t, otherwise I’ll drop and shatter this cookie. Cookie two — yep, hold breath…holds; my thumb didn’t quite leave a print on its now round shape, but I’m getting the idea that doing this solo, requires a distinct combination of pressure — and stamina (because now I’m hot, as in sweat on forehead).

At the end of this more than 60 minute baking session standing over the steamy, buttery press — I am thrilled that I’ve learned at my advanced age, that indeed I can climb Mt. Krumkake myself and succeed. But I’m left with one question, “Is there every really enough cardamom?” Answer: no — we all need a little cardamom, or comfort, wherever we can get it — and for me, it’s somewhere contained in that little spice jar.