A taste of cardamom

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.

“…for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

Leonardo, writing in Italy on the subject of man taking flight, was still right:  once you’ve been somewhere and found more of yourself and your heart outside of wherever you call “home,” you’ll always want to go back.

And so it is with Sweden.  A few days now into Ireland and I’m still catching up with photo editing and journalling, and therefore still stuck on Sweden particularly in terms of my writing.  My heart is happy to be on the Emerald Isle at long last, but it’s also already yearning to beat once again in time with Swedens’s old, wise heart.  Luckily for me, my other half is looking forward to coming along next time, and I’ll only be too happy to oblige and indulge his own curiosities by bringing him back to places in Stockholm and Falun that I found and fell in love with on my own.

After returning to Stockholm from our weekend “at home” in Falun, we spent much of our time once again in Gamla Stan as well as Djugården Island, the former to revisit some of the more interesting and peculiar shops we’d discovered on our first outing as well as to visit the Kungligastottet (the Royal Palace) and the latter to see the Vasa Museum. We were blessed once more with beautiful weather and countless more discoveries and little marvels along the way.

As we drive now through a rainy Irish countryside to make more memories and gain new experiences of the world, images of “my” Stockholm keep a firm hold on the pieces of my heart that I found there.  I say “my” Stockholm for the way it was when I first walked upon its venerable stones will never be that way again; I will return to this northern city more knowledgeable of its ways and privy to some of its secrets, and I’m sure I will always find something new to love there — but it will be like coming back to a familiar friend who has also grown and changed in the interim, and therefore Stockholm as she showed herself to me when I first met her will always be uniquely mine.

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View of Strandvägen from Djurgårdsbron, the bridge that takes you from Stockholm proper into Djurgården.

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Stockholm, you are beautiful! 

 

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One of the quirkier shops in Gamla Stan. We don’t know its name or how anyone manages to find something to buy in here or how it’s still open. It’s as if everyone in Sweden came with a box from the attic and dumped it out in this shop.

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One of my favourite window displays ever, in any city I’ve ever been in!  A candy shop called Polkagris Kokeri in Gamlastsan (Lilla Nygatan 10) combines old books, vintage luggage, and greenery with their home-made candies and confections to create an eye-catching, whimsical, and utterly beautiful display.  @gamlastanpolkagriskokeri on Instagram for photos, and http://www.gamlastanpolkagriskokeri.se for more info.

A weekend at “home”

Early on Saturday morning, my travelling companion and I boarded a train at Stockholm Central that was heading for the town of Falun.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of people who fly Stockholm, especially for the first time, don’t necessarily plan on taking two days out of their trip to Sweden’s capital to go see a town two hours out into the countryside, but we did — because a very old, very dear, and very special friend of mine lives there.

I’ve known him for more than half my life, yet this weekend was the first time we ever actually met face-to-face. But from the first hello and long-expected hug to the last good-bye and one last hug to last us until next time, I felt like I had gone home for the weekend.

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Not actually outside his place, but rather by the entrance of an adorable little bed-and-breakfast in the former miners’ district near the Falun Mine. Half of them were torn down in the 1960s or thereabouts, and the half that survived are now cosy, but rather pricey, homes for Falun families.  The horse figure here is actually known as the Dala Häst, or Dalarna Horse, and is a prevalent souvenir option for sale in Swedish gift shops.

Not only is there a lovely old soul in this town, but the town itself is also a lovely old soul.  We three spent most of our waking hours talking and walking through Falun on impromptu tours from his apartment to the Falu Gruva (the Falun Mine) or through church graveyards (the “Old Church” couldn’t contain the town’s population at one point, so sometime in the early half of the 1600s construction began on the “New Church”).  All along the way, we were walking in the middle of the town’s streets flanked on either side by quiet houses, many of which were painted in failuröd – a distinct reddish-brown shade of paint made from the run-off of the Mines that’s composed of iron ochre, flour, and oil.

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“We haven’t really seen many people…so…what are all the Swedish people doing on a Sunday?” — “Mostly…minding their own business.”

After the hectic day-and-a-half journey from Montreal to Stockholm and a long amble through Gamla Stan, our weekend in Falun really was a lovely escape that brought us right into the tranquil, beautiful heart of Sweden and her people.  But the best part of all was finally having the chance to spend time with two of the best, most wonderful friends anyone could ever ask for, including one whose heart of gold was the reason why I insisted we trek out to this small town whose heart beats thanks to copper.

It’s strange how a place so far from where you live can feel familiar even though it’s entirely new to you.  Part of the reason was that as we were walking through Falun he was telling us the town’s story, and how intimately he knows and how deeply he loves his home came through in the narrative he gave of its old, long life.  There’s something truly transformative and magical about having a tour guide with personal connections to you as well as to the town, instead of one who’s just paid to do it as a job.  The other part of it was that, having known and talked to him for more than half my life, any conversation to be had over the weekend was merely a face-t0-face continuation of a stream of chatter that’s continuously flowed since some time in 2002.

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Maybe not everyone is as lucky as I am to be able to “go home for the weekend” while on vacation abroad, but certainly if you’ve got a long haul in Sweden it’s worth it to take a train into Falun and take in the many little marvels (as well as the one grand marvel that is the Falu Gruva) it has to show you.  I’m highly aware of how fortunate I am to have many reasons to go back to Falun on my next journey into Sweden, and how one of them can give me a hug when I set foot back in this beautiful town again.  I’ve found a big piece of myself on its quiet streets and in its unbroken, dramatic sky, and I’m sure there’s more to find down the road.

A full, rich day

We slept in on Friday morning — a well-earned lie-in, because ever since Wednesday evening we’d been on the move from YUL through CDG to ARL, not to mention getting into Danderyd via Stockholm (roundabout, to say the least).  Our first Airbnb booking for Sweden turned out to be a studio apartment renovated from a basement mudroom off the garage of a quaint yellow family home.  Danderyd, being a rather affluent Swedish suburb, offered us quite a scenic walk from our rental to the Tunnelbana in Mörby Centrum.   Getting between Central Stockholm and Danderyd was much easier on Friday compared to navigating the system on Thursday, and on Friday once we hit Central Stockholm we walked down from the station into Gamla Stan.

Oh, Gamla Stan!  I love the “old town” of cities, and make it a point not only to visit my own in MTL often but to also explore those of the few other places I’ve been to during my shorter travels.  There’s something exhilarating about being in such an old place: older than any city I’ve ever walked in, as its earliest strata is somewhere in the 13th Century while most of what’s visible now dates from the 16th and 17th.  As Elizabeth Kostova wrote in The Historian,  For the first time, I had been struck by the excitement of the traveler who looks history in her subtle face.”  

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These #leadinglines in #Stockholm, #Sweden that I found in #GamlaStan along #Skeppsbrokajen show my first steps on roads older than anything I’ve ever known back home in Canada, maybe even including Canada itself… A loving reminder from this #venerable #city to a #young #traveler:  to trust the journey, to bloom where she is planted, to always remember that the #curiosity of a hungry mind and a wild heart can only be satisfied by actually going out there and doing something to gain #knowledge.  

 

As this was our first full day in the environs of Stockholm before heading into central Sweden for the weekend, we were quite pleased that the weather blessed us with lots of sunshine and a bit of a breeze for our hours-long stroll through Gamla Stan.  After numerous times reminding each other that “we have time – we’re on vacation” my companion and I finally let go of any vague notions of an actual itinerary and just wandered through narrow cobbled streets, popping in and out of stores as we pleased and even picking up a few things on the way.

After walking down and seeing about six or seven “cafés” we clued in that around here, it seems that the word is used to describe a place that serves coffee as well as real bistro menus, we finally settled on stopping at an actual “just coffee” shop.  We had our first official Swedish fika at a café at Stora Nygatan 6 — Naturbageriet Sattva — where you can find organic pastries (including gluten-free, sugar-free, and even a few vegan options), pretty good coffee and tea, and a cosy table for two inside or out.  We opted for outside, enjoying coffees and a cinnamon roll as we chatted and people-watched during a long, long fika.  I myself had nearly forgotten the pleasures afforded by long coffees with old friends, and by the time we were ready to hit the stones once more I felt refreshed and bright.

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A little ways down the road, we stumbled upon a boutique selling household linen products that proudly bore the phrase, “Made in Sweden.”  Knowing my BigSis is back home planning her future nest with her fiancé, I had to stop in and take a closer look at what was afforded at HAPPYsthlm, Stora Nygatan 36. I ended up buying her two tea towels, both made from a lightweight pure cotton, one of which in a navy-blue and bright tomato-red print of birds and florals that seems to be one of the shop’s signature designs.  Not only was it on household linens of all sizes, but also on other products inside including various forms of stationery and ready-to-frame prints.

 

After lunching on a park bench across from the Riddarhuset, we took a roundabout route back down Stora Nygatan to Skeppsbrokajen, circling up around the eastern side of Gamla Stan past the Royal Palace.  Crossing over Strömbron, we strolled through the Kungsträdgården where my knowledge of Swedish kings (gained from the odd mixture of the Sabaton album Carolus Rex and my own mother’s hobby of studying world royalties) came in rather handy.

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Karl XII / Charles XII of Sweden — also known as Carolus Rex.  He ruled from 1697 to 1718, from the age of 15 until death by bullet to the head.  To this day it’s unclear whether enemy or friendly fire ended his reign, during which he was known for his moral austerity and brilliant campaigning on the battlefield.  A staunch believer in the Divine Right, his death marked the end of autocratic rule in Sweden and was followed swiftly by the Age of Liberty. 

Nearly 20 000 steps later, we made it back to Danderyd where we passed the evening editing photos, discussing further all the sights we had seen, and planning out our next day’s worth of travelling.  In fact, I’m tucked safely into my seat on the train towards Falun, where we’ll arrive soon to spend the weekend with an old, dear friend of mine who I’ve known for literally half my life but have never yet met.  I’m excited beyond words to finally make a face-to-face connection with him, as over the years he’s been a loyal and kind soul through my most difficult experiences.

So far this vacation has been so much more than just “time away” from both of my jobs.  It’s been about discovering more of my truest and best self, about finally turning dreams into reality, and about bringing the best of what I’ve already experienced in life with me to get the most out of what’s new.  It might be rather rainy and  chilly right now outside the train window, but my heart is warm and cosy.  This trip has been everything I wanted it to be, and more besides, and that bodes well for the remainder.

Good thing, too, as I’m flying home from Dublin on the 14th!

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For all the latest on this 2016 Sweden and Ireland adventure, follow my Instagram page @demipinte — and if you want to see it all from the whimsical view of a plush-toy German Shepherd that my boyfriend gave me for the trip, go to Instagram as well to follow @kep.the.shep !