Weekend & What I’ve done with elderflower

The elderflower season is short but sweet. On these few days in June when the trees blossom their scent spreads with the wind, and the freshness after a rain is augmented by that distinct smell released by the droplets hitting the flower heads. The allusiveness is probably part of the allure. It’s a scent and taste so connected with a certain time of year; the end of the school year and the midsummer celebrations, in short; the beginning of summer.

The other day I made the by now annual collecting of elderflower; as always with foraging make sure you know what you are picking, that it’s allowed and do so away from roads with heavy traffic. Then it’s off to the kitchen!

I do not rinse them as some do, I just give them a proper shake to make sure no bugs make it into cordials etc. So far this year I’ve made vinegar, cordial and liqueur.

Vinegar

This is a recipe I got from the oft mentioned Frances Bissell. It’s very simple; add flower heads to white vinegar. Bissell recommends using 2-3 flower heads for a small bottle of white wine vinegar( which I’ve interpreted as the 37.5 cl ones). She thinks that the flowers should be replaced after a week but I have never done that because of time and availability. I find that infusing the vinegar for two weeks give a good result and supermarket vinegar is just fine. I usually make a few small bottles as it’s the kind of thing I don’t use loads but love giving away to culinary mined friends. I use it mostly when making sallad dressing or mayonnaise that’s gonna be served with seafood. Elderflower and salmon go very well together.

Cordials

I’m not gonna give you an exact recipe as the internet is full of them. It’s well worth making as mixed with water or mineral water it’s a wonderful thirst quencher to say nothing of the possibilities as far as cocktails are concerned. I will say this; play around with the choice of citrus fruit. I’ve used lemons and limes which is quite traditional but also grapefruit peels and those of oranges. I’ve used bergamot syrup instead of sugar with great results. There is room for improvising as far as that is concerned.

Liqueur

I use vodka as the base. The thing is to pour a a couple of centiliters (like 4 cl) from the bottle, then add all the elderflower and just a bit of simple syrup* (like 5 cl) as it helps the flavor develops. Then use the poured vodka to seal the whole thing. Elderflower that are in contact with air will oxidize and turn brown, giving the whole thing a bi-taste and less then savory colour. Then it should sit on the window sill for a week, a two three more weeks in the back of the cupboard. Not until it’s done do I really mix it with syrup to the desired level of sweetness. The flowers will turn a little brown and give the vodka a slightly yellow colour but usually that just looks nice. Makes it artisanal looking or something. Cordial is also a shade of yellow and no one minds that?

I don’t know if the seal is visible but there is one. Since it’s there feel free to open the bottle up and smell it during the time it infuses. Depending on how much elderflower you add it will take different amounts of time. I make a strong one, I can always dilute it with plain vodka in the end.

*I refer here to simple syrup made with caster sugar and water. It’s easier to use then pouring caster sugar into the bottle as I don’t have to shake or turn the bottle during the time it infuses to make sure everything blends.

Hopefully this can be of some help to someone.

-Suss

Weekend&how you should lobster-ify your life..

Lobsters are the hottest crustaceans around right now. Not since Schiapperalli collaborated with Dali on a dress have they been this hip.

Probably it’s mostly Dolce&Gabbana are driving this trend, those lobster earrings are everywhere. And where they go, people will follow(apparently).

1.Wear it;H&M has this t-shirt. That’s an option if you want in on this trend. A better way is to just read either Consider the lobster by David Foster Wallace(I’ve ordered a copy but it hasn’t arrived yet) or Husmoderns död och andra texter by Sara Danius if you are fluent in Swedish. Again; books are not something I think of as an accessory but I often have one in my hand so I might as well look trendy while I’m at it. The former I have not read yet but it comes highly recommended, the latter is absolutely brilliant. Danius is the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy for a reason. The notorious eighteen knew what they did when the asked her to join(if the members of the academy were available like movie star cards in the 60’s (or Pokémon cards)  I’d probably be willing to trade quite a few of the others to have her and historian Peter Englund).

2. Eat lobster rolls; This is one of the things that Gwyneth Paltrow and I agree on, this and the usefulness of grey cardigans.  I’ve learned the hard way that I eat like a neanderthal and thus have grease stains on several delicate items of clothing, as lobster rolls always are served with a dollop of mayonnaise on top. I need a bib, and more lobster rolls. I lament my silk blouses but I really think it was totally worth it. Mayonnaise!! Always make sure to put some finely chopped chives in the Hellman’s mayonnaise you serve them with. Or make your own mayo and use elderflower vinegar(I’m sure Gwyneth would approve; I made the vinegar myself )

3.Watch Last week tonight with John Oliver; they have a mock supreme court with dogs. But when President Trump got to elect a member to the court they chose a lobster as a symbolic representative in their mock-court. Because lobsters are trendy. The could just have chosen a cat, a parrot or a pig. They didn’t. They chose a lobster. Just sayin’.

-Suss

7 things from the Asian supermarket

IMG_1863I went by the asian supermarket yesterday to pick up soba noodles, sichuan peppar and a few other essential foods, but there is more to be found there. It’s a great place to shop to be honest. Here are a few things to look out for;

  1. Fans; these are ever so useful when it’s warm out and a small fan that you can fold up is a good thing to have in your bag. I stock up on these and frequently give them as presents.
  2. Soaps; especially rose and jasmine. They smell great,cost next to nothing and are not drying. I mostly adore the packaging to be honest.
  3. Sheet masks; turns out that the asian supermarket is where reasonable priced and good quality taiwanese and korean sheet masks can be found.
  4. Fortune cookies; These are somewhere between styrofoam and something you can eat but I count them here as they are not essential food. However they are fun to have at a dinner party and can be a nice decoration on a glass of chocolate mousse.
  5. These tiny teacups; I have a weak spot for blue and white china and I seem to be partial to this, the cheapest around, and some very fancy Royal Copenhagen and Spode. These are great for chocolate mousse,chocolate fondants,to serve an espresso/macchiato or punch.
  6. Really big bowls of this kind; great to serve punch from or use as fruit bowls or possibly floral arrangements.
  7. Teapots; Have we meet? You need teapots of all shapes and sizes(obviously) but these are reasonably priced, really good quality and in worst case they have other uses. They never go out of style.

-Suss

Lent & life’s simple pleasures?

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It’s that time of year again; the time of abstention.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not religious but I still see the point of a longer time of reflection and evaluation of myself and my habits. That sounds very pretentious; in reality I “just”abstain from certain things during this period and hope for the best. This year, like last, I’m not eating any added sugar for 40 days and 40 nights.

I do not have a weight problem(or maybe I do; I don’t weigh enough according to some) nor do I have an addiction to sugar. But it is a bad habit; for my skin, my teeth and for my blood sugar levels, and as someone you gets really hungry(and “hangry”) keeping those in check is a service to mankind.

Previous years I’ve been a vegan( a fail in many ways; I was tired all the time and lost weight. Totally undertand why vegans often mention that they are vegan: it’s all you can think about), abstained from dairy and given up on things related to my incessant running around like a ninny(take-away coffee etc.). It’s always an experience, I do learn something about myself, and it’s a chance to live “outside the box”.

My decision to not eat any added sugar until Easter has a lot to do with vanity and also that horrible low blod sugar in the afternoon. Some people talk about sugar like it’s the devil and compare it to drugs; I don’t. But it is a shame that sugar has become such vital part of social gatherings, that it is used in a way that many things just taste like it(it is absolutely the kind of thing where you build up a tolerance for it; like salt you need more and more to taste it). So in a way this is about recalibrating my own tastebuds.

The social things is the hardest; if I ever get an inkling of what sober alcoholics go through it’s now. I know this from last year; not having a cardamom bun when everyone else is tucking in is frowned upon to say the least.

I’m not saying that I’m morally superior because I do this, but some people act like I imply it. All I want is to stop eating sweet stuff that I don’t actually like, just because it’s there. And I do, for convenience, hunger or politeness, it is a fact that some of the stuff that effects my skin and mood in a bad way wasn’t worth it. I could just eat less of it, but that’s not how I work sadly. Adding that to the fact that it’s everywhere and often offered to me; I have willpower but not that much.

I’m not alone in this, not counting religious people all over the world that observe Lent, I have two friends that when I suggested this a few years ago really liked the concept and have done it too, but with other things. The original push came from Elspeth Thompson and her book “The wonderful weekend book-reclaiming life’s simple pleasures”. If I haven’t written an ode to it already it’s sure to come. I think  it’s a brilliant collection of advice and ideas,  like the big sister I’ve never had. Maybe it’s a bit outdated now(it was originally published in 2008) but a lot of it still rings true. If anything life has become even more hectic and demands multiplied, it’s my sorely needed slow life talisman.

So no licorice and no chocolate but fruit. No cocktails(which contain liqueurs and syrups) but maybe a glass of wine on occasion. I’ll put cheese and apple on my toast or maybe some mashed banana and a dash of cinnamon.

Will report back around Easter.

-Suss

Ture Sventon and the mystery of the novelty “temla”

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It’s that time of year; when cafés and bakeries fill their window displays with that lovely thing called a “semla”. I do eat a few every year, unlike the private detective Ture Sventon that I remember from growing up.

Sventon has them every day, he must have his semlor! and a bakery close to his office supplies. He loathes to pronounce the letter “S” as it makes him think of the pastry, he says “temla” instead of “semla”. That he has one S in his name is one of those things that you explain away as a child because so few things make sense anyway, and as a grown-up it has become a charming incongruity. Point is that this Sherlock Holmes-like character,in my mind, has become forever linked to the pastry and thus a tradition was created of rereading a book from my childhood and having a bite.

A “semla” is a traditional swedish pastry that consists of a bun with a bit of cardamom, whipped cream and a filling av almond paste. Very simple ingredients that come together wonderfully and are eaten in the time leading up to Lent. Fettiddagen is our version of Mardi Gras and semlor are also kalled “fastlagsbullar”(which means “lent buns” pretty much).

Every year they turn up earlier which usually leads to moral outrage in some quarters. It’s a matter close to swedish hearts. Even Starbucks here in Sweden have joined in; as much as the Stockholm crowd has taken to Pumpkin spice lattes and brownies we won’t give up our local traditions and so the american chain sell “semla” too. They stick to a very traditional version, which is maybe for the best.

In my childhood there were a few variations of semla going around; in addition to the traditional one there was “karlsbader semla”(where the whipped cream and almond paste had been mixed) and “wiener semla”(where the bun had been exchanged for one usually used for a danish/danish pastry, almost a croissant). But a few years ago a lot of bakers started trying to outdo each other with novelties. Some more successful then others. And it should be said that far from all the bakers have perfected the art of the traditional semla to begin with; the proportions are everything.

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  1. The raspberry semla; This is one of the innovations that I actually like. Putting fresh raspberries in the whipped cream gives it another layer of flavour, and a distinct freshness. The tartness of the berries marries well with the almond in particular. Blueberries, blackberries and cloudberries has also been tried over the years and they are not bad either.
  2. The Semmel-wrap; According to some this is a modern classic. I’m not a fan since the proportions end up being wrong even though it is admittedly easier to eat. The innovation came from Tössebageriet here in Stockholm and they are in many was the vanguard party (as you’ll see further down the list).
  3. Princess semla; this years sensation is not something I’ve tried myself. I’m not keen on Princess-cake(a swedish layered cake covered in green marzipan) but a lot of people are so one baker combined it with the semla. It went viral and I think we are tired of it already.
  4. The Licorice semla; Tössebageriet strikes again. I do love licorice so had to try one. I summed up my experience with the words” Not as bad as I feared but not as good as I hoped”. I don’t want another one.(pictured above with “Wicked”)
  5. The organic sourdough semla probably made by a man in a very hip mustache;  That bun wasn’t very good, it tasted too much like bread. It also lacked the fluffiness. (This one is in the pic in the top of the post)
  6. The Nutella semla; putting Nutella in the middle instead of almond paste isn’t a good idea in my book. Too sticky, too sweet.
  7. The Semmel cake and mini-semla; basically an oversized semla that can be cut into pieces. Very good for office gatherings. This was all the rage a few years ago but I don’t see it so much anymore. I thought it was a very good idea, it responded to a practical need. The bite-sized semlor are still around and are a very good idea.

This post might only be of interest to swedish readers but still. Fiddling with classics, mash-ups of flavors and the creation of franken-foods isn’t going anywhere; if it hasn’t happened to your favorites yet it will; it’s just a matter of time before someone deep-fries a cheesecake.

-Suss

In bloom

I love flowers; their beauty is a feast for the eye and as someone who among potted plants has a bad reputation as a killer, it’s most often cut flowers that I buy. To my credit  I’ve become good with orchids(I even get them to bloom again) and a few leafy greens(which I’m really into […]

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I love flowers; their beauty is a feast for the eye and as someone who among potted plants has a bad reputation as a killer, it’s most often cut flowers that I buy.

To my credit  I’ve become good with orchids(I even get them to bloom again) and a few leafy greens(which I’m really into right now actually) but tulips,hydrangeas and peonies will always have a special place in my heart. Potted hydrangeas could be an option but I was given a huge bush just before Christmas and sadly within a few days it was dead; they are high maintenance in that form whereas cut hydrangeas last forever. Especially if adding some glucose to the water.I’ve desisted from reading Amy Stewart’s book “Flower confidential” because I have a feeling it will ruin cut flowers for me, for ever.

I have been thinking about this in general and an article in the Financial times House&Home supplement also brought it up. The article had another focus(about flower subscriptions; very interesting; sadly behind their paywall so I can’t link: weekend edition 11/12 of February) but the point was raised about how having fresh flowers is such a part of how we live now, it’s considered an “everyday luxury” and arrangements are seen in many a photo in social media(guilty as charged). But how to square that with the consequences?  In the end it can’t be  sustainable to fly flowers all over the world if they last only a few days, especially not if they are cheap, right?

The article point the the “good value” that subscription services can offer(lower overhead cost and a different strategy for buying) and also that they can work in close contact with suppliers and chose those growers that have more sustainable practices. I see the point of that.

I don’t know about subscription services but in Stockholm there is a florist, Bunches, that aims to work with growers that have fair working conditions and a sustainable practice. They try to make this profitable by selling only flowers in season and in ready bunches. Which suits me just fine as I prefer having one kind of flower in my vase or just the one stem. Hopefully they’ll grow their business and this kind of practice will spread. On occasion I’ve asked for organically grown or fair-trade flowers at other florists and every now and again there is something. If we as consumers keep asking the market will cater to our demands.

Another thing that I do sometimes is pick up the fair-trade certified carnations or roses that they sell at the deli where I live. Neither of them are my favorites but when they turn up in delicious colors it’s worth it. Maybe no environmental points but at least I hope that money is ending up in the right hands.

When the flowers are bought it’s all about following instructions; ask how to make them last as long as possible. There is a special knife sold that gives great cuts and that make it easy to renew it after a few days. Changing water is essential etc. I won’t give advice on the how much glucose to put in water to make some flowers and branches last because the few gardening books I have and the instruction on the bottle give conflictual advice; I still haven’t figured out which way is the best.

The best flowers, not surprisingly, are the ones I grow  or forage for myself. I woke up to snow again this morning so it is high time I started making impossibly grand plans for my little balcony; maybe I’ll try some flowers this year?

-Suss