It’s been a while, hasn’t it… Last time I posted, it was one week after I arrived home from my two-week jaunt overseas to Sweden and Ireland with one of my best friends.
And then, suddenly…all quiet on the northern front.
It’s not that I haven’t tried to write. I really have. Feverish scribbles in many notebooks record my efforts. And it’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about, either. Indeed, I returned home to the love of my life; I left my second job where I worked en electronics retail; I met my love’s family over Canadian Thanksgiving…oh, and I got engaged just before Christmas! Personal life events aside, there was always the soapbox of some big current issue: a Canadian perspective on the US elections; another voice in the protest against the patriarchy; more insights on feminine self-perception and the issues women have with their bodies… You name it, I could have written about it.
But I lost my voice after coming back home in September. It was as if Angela the Writer was struck speechless by that journey and just felt as if there was nothing to write about on the home front that could hold a candle to the wonders of Sweden and Ireland. (It certainly didn’t help that before I left my second job in mid-November, I kept having mini-breakdowns everywhere because of how stressed out, anxious, and over-tired I was.) And so, as I wound myself into a tighter ball of stress and anxiety and fatigue, the Montreal Autumn waltzed by mostly unnoticed.
And then the Montreal Winter arrived. Cold and dark as it was, the snow didn’t start coming in earnest until just a few weeks ago. The past two weeks in particular have been bone-chillingly cold with blustery winds and near-white-out snowfalls.
Memory Lane, or as it’s called in Swedish, Nostalgitripp, beckoned to me and called me back to Sweden in particular when the snow finally hit in earnest. In the midst of this winter I found myself cocooned in memories of blue skies shining over Stockholm, birch-lined paths through Falun, sun-splashed cobblestones in Gamla Stan, exuberant winds coming off the Baltic…and cardamom buns and coffee enjoyed next to window-baskets full of bright flowers whenever it was time for a fika break.
My fiancé recently let me loose with gift money in the cooking section of Indigo as part of my Valentine’s Day present, and in that particular haul is a book called How To Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life, by Norwegian food writer and chef Signe Johansen. While it’s more of a lifestyle book than one of cookery, Johansen includes many Nordic recipes in it…and in the chapter on fika, there is a recipe for cardamom buns.
If I ever have to summarize my time in Sweden in terms of food, kardemummabullar from Fabrique Stenugnsbageri is always the first thing I mention. Kanelbullar, or cinnamon buns, are commonplace enough in North America, and while the kind we get here in abundance is made in the typical American fashion (gigantic, stodgy, and made with too much sugar), their cardamom counterparts are rare treats even in the fanciest boulangeries of my city. I absolutely love cardamom (many of my favorite tea blends from DavidsTea involve the dried, fragrant green pods) and get noticeably excited when I see it listed on a menu.
Now, hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is a lifestyle that’s all about cosiness, comfort, companionship, and all the little things in like that bring them to life, and I encountered this concept right in the middle of the time of year that tends to make me feel lethargic, uncomfortable, and lonely. But as I read the chapter on fika and looked over that recipe for cardamom buns, I remembered not how the Fabrique kardemummabullar tasted but rather how I felt while eating them for the first time. I’d chosen a rich double espresso to go with it, and as I tucked into this modest little feast I felt all the stiffness, tiredness, and stress of long travel hours melting away. As I ate I felt ready to take Stockholm head-on like the proper adventurer I wanted to be.
If a cardamom roll could do that once, maybe it could do it again, I thought as I read Johansen’s recipe, curled up on the couch with our British Shorthair purring next to my head while snow fell down outside the window. We even do have cardamom in the spice cupboard…
I had time this weekend to take on the challenge of home-made bread, and this morning we had a batch of kardemummabullar waiting for us to enjoy in our breakfast. As I gently tore apart a golden-brown spiral and looked out at the snow that’s piled up on the porch and in the alley below, I felt this long winter brighten a bit with my first taste of the hygge life.
And just as it had done on a side street in Gamla Stan, the taste of fragrant cardamom, fresh bread, and coffee helped me get back on my feet.