There is no getting around that no amount of mindfulness exercises will soothe my soul at this point. I’m having some “mail-drama” with mail being lost and now also my mail being opened when delivered. I filed a formal complaint on Monday and I’ve been advised to file another one and for that I had to sum up the number of things (and the value of them) and I feel gutted. I’ve basically been robbed. It might seem a silly thing to be upset about but it has an effect on my life as I cannot say yes to publishers that want to send me books, I’m not gonna order any myself, birthday present have gone AWOL apparently and I live in dread of getting like the electricity or gas shut off because they will claim I haven’t paid the bills (most of those have arrived. Nobody wants to steal my bills it appears, which is another indication that something is afoot; only the good stuff is missing. If I see any of my neighbors with Glossier blush it might get ugly).
Another reason for distress is that Murasaki died. Yes, I’m legit upset by the death of a fictional character. I’m talking, as so often, about Tale of Genji. I knew she was gonna die, I have read enough about the book and that is often analyzed. And she was awfully sick a few chapters ago which should have prepared me. But no. At this point I have read a chapter (or 30 pages) per day for a month and a half and I’m way to invested. They are family now (even the Kokkiden consort. I haven’t forgotten the malicious lies she told, but I’ll smile and be nice for now).
I’m gonna go watch trailers of Wes Anderson movies (as none of them are on HBO so I cannot watch the real deal). I’ll leave you with a few lists of yesteryear. Note to self; tag Christmas stuff better as to make it easier to find.
This isn’t about Christmas per se but a lot of things from the Asian Supermarket make for a nice present or sticking stuffer.
Gift guide 2016; On the wall
Gift guide 2016; On the vanity
Gift guide 2016; On the hangers
Gift guide 2016; On the bar cart
Gift guide 2016; On the table
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t ever give children anything that makes a noise. This is from Konig’s book, but also something that I knew before.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
I cannot contain myself any longer, I declare the Christmas season open!! Obviously the best way is to start small, and then build up slowly, to prolong the enjoyment but also by spreading it out there is less risk of overload I think. Here are seven ways to say “Hello!” to the Christmas season.
- Get out the Christmas books. Just having a moment with a coffee and looking in Christmas books (and in my case saved issues of interior design magazines Christmas issues) is a way to get into the spirit and find inspiration.
- Visit the florist. There is a certain selection of flowers and plats that go with the season; hyacinths, paper whites, Amaryllis and Helleborus are what comes to mind. They set the tone, this year I think I’m gonna go for all white flowers I think. And some leafy greens like eucalyptus.
- Agonize over the Christmas candle. All the fancy labels and a few cheap ones have a special candle this time of year, or a few. This year Diptyque is doing a wonderful series with magic animals on the containers (unicorn! Dragon! phoenix bird!). The unicorn one smells of hinoki, obviously because hinoki is everywhere. I also have my eye on the Byredo candles and feel the “Incense” one and the “Rose water” one are both calling my name. To me, it is very important what candle I have this time of year as I live in a small flat, and to me scents really set the tone. I need to make a decision soon.
- Dress thyself in a kitschy sweater. I usually wear a lot of holiday themed tights (a bit of tartan works wonders) but I really want to look like a Christmas tree. Nothing sexier on a man either.
- Drink the Gin& saffron tonics. There is a list of holiday cocktails coming for sure but let me remind you of the wonder that happens when adding just a few saffron threads to a tonic bottle with a screw cork/topper and letting it sit for 20 minutes. Saffron tonic is best made with Schweppes and I also encourage you to a dash of something sweet like orange liqueur to it.
- Buy big bowls of clementines. The citrus fruit is starting to turn up in stores and it is at it’s best right about now so enjoy. And it looks cheerful to have big bowls of orange goodness on the table.
- Listen to holiday music. And when I say holiday music I mean Wham’s “Last Christmas”. I have the cheesiest taste in Christmas music and I’m not even ashamed.
The dinner table will end up looking something like this on Christmas eve I think. It should be noted that the 24th is the big day of celebration in Sweden; that’s when families gather to overeat and desperately try to avoid sensitive topics.
As the theme is “Greece” I’m going with a white linen tablecloth (inherited) to start with, a blue linen runner that I made years ago (reusing fabric from when I friend got married and had medieval themes wedding and I made an outfit). The same plates,glasses and cutlery as usual(it’s the everyday stuff) and I’ll bring out the brass cover plates because the should be used. I need to give them a proper polish before though. The linen napkin as a knot will appear; I’m really into it right now. As the big serving plates I have are these green ones(I have two) they will appear probably. I also have a few brown plates somewhere that could look nice. Pared down and a bit rustic is the feeling I’m going for. A jar of pine cones might look nice instead of flowers. Or maybe spread the pine cones one the table?
The little houses that I bought as a kid(when Greece stilled used drachma as their currency; the price tag is still underneath) with be table decorations I’ve decided. Throw in some tea lights and that’s all there is room for.
Menuwise I’ve been looking at these two books(in addition to my own culinary memories). Danyel Couet’s book Paris-from chèvre chaud till couscous merguez is in Swedish but he basically visits all the neighborhoods in Paris and cooks a few dishes from each including the area around Saint-Michel which is the Greek quarter. Falling Cloudberries-a world of family recipes by Tessa Kiros is of a similar kind but she explores her family tree and cooks accordingly, which means a touchdown in Greece.
There will be a bowl of olives. Instead of classic Swedish meatballs there will be the kind with mint, keftedes. Instead of Tzatsziki, the classic yoghurt,garlic and cucumber sauce, there will be a yoghurt,saffron and cucumber one. Roast potatoes. A salad of beetroot(very classic Swedish stuff) but without mayonnaise and instead some nuts,feta cheese and some kind of dressing. My mother will make a lemony roast pork fillet. I’m gonna visit the greek deli this week and see what nice things they have on offer to add to this. Maybe some dolmades just because I really like the sweet and sour taste of them. The dessert will be some kind of apple pie using filopastry, loads of honey and spices; served,again, with yoghurt or yoghurt ice-cream. I might throw a couple of drops of orange blossom water on the apple pies for a baklava-feel. Does any of this make sense to anyone else?
Last year I was given a big box of tablecloths and doilies; many of which were damaged. Could I do something with it? Of course I can, but sometimes it takes me a while.
A big part of the box were Christmas-stuff; embroidered or printed doilies and a few were actually meant to hang on the wall I think.
My solution was to make a patchwork of them, creating a big tablecloth which is the only kind I use. The match isn’t perfect; I had to cut out bad bits and do the best I could. I used what is called a “table blanket” as the canvas to stick them all to; it ended up being like a laying a puzzle.
The effect is obviously maximalist. It won’t be used this Christmas(as I’m going for a white,blue,turquoise and green thing) but hopefully in the future. The dining room table is filled with sewing projects otherwise I would have kept it on there for the weeks leading up to the big event.
When I use it I will probably try to keep everything else simple; just a bunch of mismatched red candlesticks, white plates(might bring out the inherited brass cover plates now that I think of it), and the green ceramics from Swedish firm Uppsala-Ekeby that I sort of collect. Tying the linen napkins like this,into a knot, is something that I saw in an ad the other day and I’m really into it right now. It looks so nice, such a simple thing really, but just the dot over the i somehow.
As much as I love Christmas I feel no need to stick to the protocol with same procedure every year, and I rather dread having to eat the exact same Christmas lunch twice which can be the case if parents are divorced, you celebrate Christmas both with your family and that of your partner or several other reasons. A few years ago I forced a new tradition on my family; themed Christmases.
The idea is not celebrate Christmas like another culture but rather be inspired by colours,scents,tastes and phenomena. Mix that up with our Swedish traditions and it ends up being Christmas with a twist. And luckily my family is rather liberal in that way.
Obviously the idea came from having spent Christmases abroad and making do with what was available, and those years were all the more memorable. That has been a positive side effect of this; we don’t know which Christmas was which year, but we do remember “The Japanese Christmas” with cocktail sausages baked in soya,ginger and sesame seeds, the salmon main course, the minimalist table setting. And the year we did a “Spanish” thing with tapas; who can forget my dad feeding the cat Pata negra? We still talk about the Tiramisu made with mascarpone,soft gingerbread cake and lingonberries from the year we went Italian. This year the turn has come to Greece.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Greece, when I was younger, and I’ve had a few knick knacks from then that I’ve saved(true story; they were forgotten at the cottage for years and when found last year I held on to them for this purpose) and will turn into ornaments for the tree or maybe I’ll put them on the table; these little houses are rather darling actually. I think I had a village at some point.
I had planned going with a blue and white theme but it’s turning out to be more turquoise and white with a dash of red. I don’t mind; I have a fair few turquoise items because I love it. Putting hyacinth in a Savoy Vase from Ittala was something I saw in a magazine, they did it with paper whites in a clear vase but I thought this looked fresh. These pompoms that I made last year, that I’ve forgotten what I was gonna do with, fits the theme and will also become ornaments for the tree. A quick and easy idea that can be adopted to any theme; just google how to make them.
Now I just have to plan the menu…