7 pieces of advice on the holidays (by women who know good advice)

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Having nobody to create a bit of magic for wold save time and stress, but oh, the sadness.-Lucia Van Der Post

I love a lifestyle book, I really do. When done right it’s the perfect mix of lifehacks and the comforting words of an older sister I never had. I have a few, and for you I flicked through them looking for salient pieces of advice that will hopefully be helpful in the weeks to come. Let’s get cracking.

  1. Christmas books. I have mentioned The wonderful weekend book many times but I do find it a great seasonal companion, just as a little reminder and source of good ideas. I do not do all of the things all of the time, but since I’ve had it I have tried several recipes, gone with suggestions and embraced the spirit of it. Some of the things I probably did even before, which why it appeals to me. Christmas books is such a thing, I reread A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens every year. I should get more though; Thompson mentions John S. Goodall’s An Edwardian Christmas which sounds like the thing I would love, and The Oxford book of Christmas poems of which I hope to manage to get several as it would make a great Christmas gift.
  2. Drills make great gifts. Rita Konig’s Domestic Bliss-how to live does not a have a Christmas section, but it does have one dedicated to presents. In that she points out that nice drills, preferable cord free and with a light in the front for drilling in the back of cupboards, is a great gift for men. I will add that it is also a great gift for women. There is no amount of singing “Run the world” by Beyoncé or writing papers about suffragettes that has been as emancipating in my life as the moments when I have been able to put up shelves and paintings for myself. I don’t need no man for that. I have also done it for several of my friends. Just get on with it.
  3. Don’t ever give children anything that makes a noise. This is from Konig’s book, but also something that I knew before.
  4. Consider a winter picnic. Mentioned in both Thompson and Konig’s books ( in this case I’m referring to Rita’s culinary trickery) it does mean a very different thing in the U.K. In Sweden we might have some serious snowfall around this time of year. Which mean that you can go sleigh riding down the slopes; no matter how old you are it’s still fun. If you feel like an idiot, volunteer as a babysitter for someone you know’s child and then use the child as an excuse. Kids love it and their parents will be forever grateful for a few hours off during the weekend. But you really must put nice things in the basket; warm apple juice with a bit of cinnamon in it to drink, that sort of large thermos intended for meals is a great investment in any case but for this they are brilliant as you can bring bangers and mash with you, or fried dumplings. Can you imagine that; being out on excursion and being able to enjoy some dumplings, maybe a bit of fried rice and cups of smokey lapsang tea. Glorious. And don’t be naff trying to it with chopstick, just pierce them with a fork. You probably want to keep your mittens on while eating bc. of cold. When it comes to dessert, for lack of a better word, on these kinds of picnics I cannot imagine anything but orange flavored milk chocolate. Integral part of winter adventures in my childhood, it has shaped me for life.
  5. What Christmas requires is profusion. Lucia van der Post is to the point with that piece of advice. I always say that there is safety in numbers (I’m a bloody economist of course I would say that) but there is also style in numbers. Many a sophisticated person have figured this out and I have learned from them. Twenty tulips look great, a big bowl of tangerines just catches the eye and a long row of tealights, even placed in the cheapest bodega glass, looks wonderful.
  6. Start small. Again; Van der Post has some good advice. She does point out that decorating the house is a cumulative project, there are layers and layers that get added on. Having the complete thing from the beginning is impossible and even if you went out and bought everything now, you probably wouldn’t like it in a few years becasue it will date quickly, there are trends to Christmas too (and that is saying nothing about the fact that it is lack a sense of time or tradition). If I was to start collection Christmas ornaments now I would probably focus on birds because in a few years it would look incredibly chic with a Christmas tree with just bird baubles, even though they would represent different trees there will still be a theme. That’s not how it will play out though , my tree is an eclectic mix of inherited, bought and made (crochet napkins rings by my pseudo-auntie) and it’s like a photo album. I still love it (and I saw a donut bauble in a shop today and I’m gonna buy it. So there. That makes me happy. In the end there is nothing as boring as too much good taste).
  7. No shame in a bit of catering. I’m 100% behind Van der Post on this one. This whole “oh, one must do it all oneself” bollocks is gonna make us all go mad. There are some amazing delis, I have a lot of love of the frozen food of Picard and even the supermarket has much to offer in this. Do a few key things that you care about yourself, and let professionals take care of the rest. I haven’t baked a saffron bun in years, I might still bake the gingerbread snaps but I buy the dough. Christmas is about eating good food TOGETHER, not about the food. And don’t both cleaning either; after Christmas you’ll have to do it all agin, just tidy up a few choice areas (my mum always checks the stove top so that sparkles when she visits; just don’t look in larder).

I’ll probably return tomorrow with another list because I’m in the mood for it. False sense of having everything under control being the prime reason.

-Suss

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Thursday&TBR

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So they have finally arrived. The books nominated for the August-prize in the category “Non-fiction”. It will be my main reading this month although I did make the decision to continue with Tale of Genji too, just not be so strict about it. Which seems to be a sure way to lose track honestly. One day I don’t write a post and I’m of the blog wagon immediately, same with the mindfulness exercises.

So I will read in Tale of Genji everyday, otherwise I’m doomed to fail. What I’ve noticed  though is that whilst I’m over halfway in the number of chapters, I’m not so in the number if pages. The conclusion is then that the chapters ahead are longer, so it might make sense to switch tack and read a set number of pages from now on. I aim at 30 pages/day, which according to my calculations would be doable but means that I still finish it in November like planned, just later in the month.

So far I have read a book and a half from this stack; Hédi Fried’s short but intense book about the holocaust, based on the things students ask her when she is out in schools speaking about her experiences in extermination and labour camps during WW2. Very good, and worth reading. Everyone has a few hours to spare for this.

The other book, that I’m almost done with, is Brandvakten by Sven Olov Karlsson. I remember the massive fire in the Bergslagen region in 2014, the family cottage is close by for starters and the smell of it all made it down to Stockholm. I’ve put it on hold right now because a few books turned up from the library that need my attention (of course, now they turn up. Worst timing ever) and I want to speak to a few people about what I’ve read. Not that I dispute his version, or his facts. That is all true and based on interviews. He is very clear about what is his opinions and experiences and what is data. What I have a hard time with is the fragmented way of writing, and the disposition in the book.

If I didn’t know a lot about it beforehand I would understand very little. It’s great that he puts it into perspective and a global context with global warming, but so much of this book is too brief. It ends up being “neither chopped nor minced” as the Swedish saying goes. Either be brief about everything but then at least try to keep the same format, or go in-depth with a few things. As interesting as I find it, it’s a jumble. It could have been edited better or the material could have been better used. They could have stuck to a timeline, but no; we go back and forth a lot, which given the brevity of the chapters isn’t charming, just confusing. I will reserve my final thoughts until when I’m done, but doubt that the verdict will be more than “average”.

-Suss

Wednesday&Winter reads.

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*Complains about the weather, like always, but nobody needs to hear that again. Just keep in mind where I’m coming from with this*

An often made remark when it comes to Russian literature is how well suited it is to the colder season. Part of that is because they are usually of the big kind and so you need a lot of time. At home. On the sofa. With endless pots of tea. I don’t know how many times I’ve told the story of how I managed to read War and Peace in about a week; I was quite simply snowed in. I wasn’t alone but after two days in a very small cabin there is nothing  more to say, the jigsaw puzzles have ben laid and playing cards is out of the question after the rather intense dispute rereading rules the first night (words were said that can never be taken back. Someone may or may not have been accused of cheating). Anna Karenina I loved so much I got up extra early in the mornings to read before I went to school. I will probably reread it at some point in my life.

But all those are well-known. Tolstoy and  Dostoyevsky are giants. Bulgakov is not far behind I guess. Let me suggest a few less talked about books about Russia that might keep you entertained this winter, presented in order of size.

  1. The Romanovs by Simon Sebag-Montefiore. I’ve been thinking about reading this book all year and hopefully it will happen soon. I have read Sebag-Montefiore however and he has mastered the craft of a good biography for sure, in this case it’s gonna read like an episode of “Game of thrones” because, well that’s early Russian history for you. I need to finish the Genghis Khan book first for a more seamless transition in history.
  2. The Possessed- adventures with Russian books and the people who read them by Elif Batuman. I think I’ve mentioned this book before but it really is a hidden gem. Not the best book ever but such great thing to inspire to read the classics, and give depth to the experience of reading them.
  3. The bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. I said the other day that I was gonna stop talking about this book, well guess what? If I’m gonna make a list of books about or in Russia it’s gonna be on that list. Remember you can match it to your outfits this winter and there is a cocktail to sip too.
  4. Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. He did win the Nobel Prize in literature but seems sadly forgotten. I rarely see his books on IG, but this is a love story to keep you warm at night complete with capitalist villains, poets, war and a love that stays true (in fact two!). If you don’t have time for the book make time for the adaptation of it. And when I say adaptation I mean the old version with Omar Sharif as Dr. Zhivago. It is the one true adaptation.
  5. Nothing is true and Everything is possible adventures in Modern Russia by Peter Pomerantsev. Well-written, informative and with heart; What more can you ask for? Pomerantsev, called “Piittrr” by his Russian colleagues has roots in the country, his parents are émigré,s so there is the language and a connection, but also an outsider as he grew up in Britain. That gives him a unique position in terms of watching and understanding, especially in the later chapters when he writes about Russian who move to London.
  6.  Mastering the art of Soviet cooking by Anya Von Bremen. I’ve written about this one before, for sure. Why wouldn’t I? Blini, Borscht and Beef Stroganoff are the cornerstones of “the winter kitchen”. In all those I prefer my own recipes to Von Bremzens but whatever. This is so much fun, and full of love and history. It’s a feel good book at heart, except mingled with it is the legacy of Stalinism which always leave a bad aftertaste. Chase that with a bit of vodka maybe?
  7. Eugen Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. The great Russian poet is never a bad idea. His novel in verse isn’t as read as it ought to be, it make excellent reading out loud in front of the fireplace (which is what they do in Zhivago incidentally). Onegin should have put a ring on it.

What books in or about Russia do you recommend?

-Suss

 

Tuesday&The nominees are…

IMG_5176Last night I attended the reveal of this years nominees for the Swedish literary award “The Augustprize”. As I’ve mentioned before I’m an ambassador this year and will keep an eye, and hopefully read, all of the nominated in the category “non-fiction”.

When it came to the fiction category I wasn’t that surprised; I haven’t read any of the books yet but I had heard of most of them and I’m waiting for two of them from the library. I so love Sigrid Combüchen and that her latest Sidonie och Natahlie got nominated doesn’t surprise me, nor does the nomination for the critically acclaimed  De kommer drunkna i sina mödrars tårar (they will drown in the tears of their mothers) by Johannes Anyuru which is a dystopia with a terrorist-theme. In the fiction category those are my most anticipated reads but that will have to wait because I have a stack of books coming my way, and those are not in there.

In the fiction category “non fiction” I had heard of several of the nominees, thought about reading at least two but hadn’t got around to it yet. I did make my reading resolution this year to read more in Swedish but have ended up mostly reading fiction in my mother tongue. The book Brandvakten about the fire in Bergslagen in 2014 is probably the one I most look forward to as I have a connection to the area and even though the fire never moved in that direction you could smell it. In fact on a few days we could smell it even here in Stockholm. The biography about journalist pioneer Ester Blenda Nordström is my second pick but the book about the future of the EU by Per Wirtén is not far behind. I had totally missed that this had been released, Wirtén is a well-known journalist and social commentator and so he knows how to write and has interesting viewpoints even though I don’t always agree with him.

The full list of nominees in non-fiction are;

  • Ett jävla solsken. En biografi om Ester Blenda Nordström by Fatima Bremmer
  • Frågor jag fått om Förintelsen by Hédi Fried
  • Brandvakten by Sven Olov Karlsson
  • Nära fåglar by Roine Magnusson,Mats Ottoson and Åsa Ottoson
  • Den nya dagen gryr. Karin Boyes författarliv by Johan Svedjedal.
  • Är vi framme snart? Drömmen om Europas Förenta stater by Per Wirtén.

You can read about the other nominees here (in Swedish).

What you can also do is keep an eye on the blogs and social media of my fellow ambassadors, here are some;

Johanna Lundin has a blog

Rastlösheten has a blog too

Both of these ladies will be keeping an eye on children books/YA.

In the fiction category you can

Listen to the podcast En förbannad podd.

Read the blog “Just nu just här”

Follow “Älska Romaner” on IG.

I will keep you updated on the reading, events and other things in connection to this.

-Suss

 

Monday&My seven fave chapter names from Tale of Genji

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Reading Tale of Genji is a joy so far. I’m not even halfway yet (but almost) so my final thoughts are still weeks away but right now I’m digging it. I should be reading it with pen in hand because there are so many lovely descriptions of clothes and objects that I want to go back to, and I’ve found a few expressions that sound like cocktails already, but when I read it it’s with my heart and I lose myself in the text. My brain notices the genius but my soul is to engaged for me do something about it. I will have to reread at some point, or try to skim through looking for things I liked in the text.

One thing that is easy to find (it’s on a page of its own), and that I find pleasure in are the names of the chapters in this book. Considering there are 54 chapters not all of them are brilliant, but enough to give you a glimpse of the poetic language, the esthetic emphasis and the emotional character of the book. Any of these might turn up as drink at my house.

  1. Chapter  4; The lady of the evening faces. Some kind of champagne cocktail maybe? Evening face to me means lipstick and I keep thinking about Conigliaro’s “Lipstick rose”. Maybe that’s an angle.
  2. Chapter 11; The lady at the villa scattering orange blossoms. A dash of orange blossom water in a drink automatically make me think of a Ramos gin fizz. There is stuff to work with there.
  3. Chapter 15; A ruined villa of Tangled gardens. This chapter I have already read and it is indeed the prequel to “Grey gardens” minus the raccoons. Don’t know how to turn it into a cocktail yet.
  4. Chapter 24; An imperial excursion. Champagne, some Cognac V.S.O.P and something else. Only the best is my point.
  5. Chapter 41; Spirit summoner. I guess some absinth wouldn’t be amiss in this one?
  6. Chapter 47; A Bowknot tied in Maidens’s loops. Roll with the puns and use Bowmore whiskey? Make a twist on a Maiden’s kiss?
  7. Chapter 53; Practicing calligraphy. I could do something spectacular with the egg white foam with this one.

So I will be reading this book for some time and talking about it for even longer. I can get obsessed with certain books, that’s just the way it is. Something else that I talk about often, I guess, is how much I love the combination of green and pink and how much I adore Japanese prints.IMG_5124

The one side by side with the book(in the beginning of the blogpost) was a gift, one that is now framed and placed next to my Sonia Delauney poster. It has all come togheter nicely.

-Suss

Vendredi&Vin chaud

The other morning when I left the house I noticed that it was nippy out, to the point that I should have either worn my winter coat or put on my little down west underneath the coat I was wearing. Luckily I had a big wooly scarf, and my little thermos of coffee, nice and toasty I was, huddled up with my book in the corner of the train. You can make anywhere cosy if you have good books and coffee.

Later that day however I was shivering in a bad way. Someone had lured me out on a walk in the nice autumn sun, and it was nice as long as we were putting one fot in front of the other. The minute I was standing and waiting for the underground I curled up desperatley in my scarf, and at that point the sun was rapidly disappearing and with it any warmth it brought.

So when I got home I was both hungry and cold, and very much in the need for comfort food. I ended up mixing two things (some left over ragu and one small portion of vegetable stew) I had in the freezer which I ate with pressed potatoes which really is one of the best side orders; fluffy carbs and so light compared to mashed potatoes (which I love don’t get me wrong but there is a lot of butter in that one)

While I was waiting for the whole thing to be ready I made myself some Vin chaud and read entries from Life is meals a food lover’s book of days by James and Kay Salter. I’ve mentioned this book before of course, and I will again. At this point I’ve read all the little sections for different days at least twice. It’s such a lovely kitchen companion, just the right amount to read in between, and so so good for my mood, always.

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Vin chaud; serves two

Mix equal amounts of red wine and boiling hot water in a heat proof glasses ,approx. 2 deciliter of each depending on what glasses you are using (so each glass 1 dl wine+1 dl hot water), and then add 1 teaspoon of caster sugar to each glass, stir, and then garnish with a thin slice of lemon on top. Serve and enjoy responsibly!

This is a very nice aperitif during this time of year as it is quite light, not a lot of sugar and spices as the glow later in the season. It’s easy to make too, which is an added bonus. Why more bars in this town don’t serve it is beyond me, French bistros do however, that’s how I learned about it in the first place. If you want a non-alcoholic option I will always think fondly of blackberry cordial and boiling water with some lemon and possibly cinnamon mixed up.

Now if you excuse me I have to get out some extra blankets, socks and locate the hot water flask because winter is coming, soon.

-Suss

 

Thursday&Trend alert!

I’m gonna bring up The bear and the nightingale one last time and then I’ll stop. But this cover, which is from the hardback that came last year, must have been on the tables of many creative spirits because a quick browse in the shops (when I was looking for jeans and a shirt of the sustainable kind) was like seeing this cover all over.

These are some of the items I found that would make excellent camouflage, and that’s not bringing up all the items that could match it “in spirit” if not outright; I’m talking about blue brocade, Russian style coats, plenty of fur (fake of course but still glamorous). Dressing trendy this season means pretending you are a woman traveling on the Tran-sibirian Railway between Moscow and Beijing as it would be if Chanel made a commercial of it (and pretended that it was the 20s). I also went by a shopwindow and saw children clothes that would also have looked good next to this cover, although I don’t think they should read the book.

This is making me want to shop floral dresses something awful, which obviously is the last thing I need right now. I should however buy my own copy of this book as I will probably want to read it again and again, and look at the cover for inspiration.

-Suss