Simple Seasonal Pleasures for December

red berry fruit
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

December.  Just when it seems the days can’t get any shorter, they do…for just a few more weeks anyway.  The Winter Solstice is nearly upon us.  As the temperatures drop and we descend into this darkest time of the year, we take comfort in the warmth of our homes, the coziness of a favorite blanket and a hot cup of tea, the company of friends and family.  We create our own light this month.  Light a fire or a candle or two as we usher in this month of celebration and togetherness.

  1.  Reevaluate your holiday to-do list.  With all of the celebrating and togetherness that December brings, along with it comes a long list of obligations and to-dos.  Take a little time this month to really decide what you enjoy doing during the holiday season and what don’t.  Maybe you’ve been making seven kinds of Christmas cookies every December for the past ten years and this year you decide to pare that down to just one or two favorites.  Maybe you hate sending Christmas cards.  Take a year off from it and see how that feels.  If you are exhausted by the mere thought of  December, rest assured you don’t have to do it all.  This is YOUR month, too.  Make it manageable.  Maybe even enjoyable!
  2. Deliberately set aside time for yourself.  It is ironic that as everything becomes dark, quiet and still in nature at this time of year, we run around like crazy people caught up in the busy-ness of the holiday season.  There is magic to be found in the silence of the Winter Solstice if we are willing to make space for it.  Find a little time each day to sit quietly with a cup of tea or coffee and your journal.  Really listen to what this time of stillness is trying to tell you and simply write.  Let your pen flow across the page, stream of consciousness style.  Ask yourself the question, what gifts await me here in this sacred quiet space?
  3. Watch a favorite holiday movie or two.  There are the obvious classics….Elf, A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation.  But don’t forget the more unconventional choices (we consider Die Hard a Christmas movie at our house.  It takes place on Christmas Eve, after all!).  Or dig deep and find a real old-timey classic to enjoy.  I personally love The Bishop’s Wife starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young.
  4. Celebrate the Winter Solstice.  IN WHATEVER WAY YOU WANT.  Unless you are a hermit or live in a cave, you probably have family holiday traditions and rituals that have taken on a life of their own.  Some may feel more like obligations that celebrations.  Even as we evaluate and reprioritize our time as suggested in 1 above, there is no escaping the fact that we will be attending gatherings and celebrations this month that may not be entirely of our choosing.  So why not make the Winter Solstice a holiday that is entirely yours?  You could light all the candles and make a cozy intimate supper to usher in the longest night of the year.  Or take a long, hot bath (once again, candles would be nice here).  Or you could simply be like the trees outside, hushed and still, in a comfy chair in your living room.  Possibly with a hot cup of glögg in hand (see 6 below).  Take some time to craft a Winter Solstice ritual that nurtures you and is entirely yours.  
  5. Notice the miracle that is snow.  If you live in a climate where you experience snow fall this month, take some time to really appreciate its extraordinary beauty.  The way a hush falls over a landscape blanketed with snow.  That squeaky sound your boots make when you walk through it.  The sight of a fragile individual flake resting on your glove (remember…no two are alike!).  We mostly lament snow and the headaches it brings to our daily routine, especially our commute if we have one.  Take a moment and see the wonder of it.
  6. Glögg.  This is the word for Swedish mulled wine.  It’s pronounced “glue-g” by the way.  I don’t want you embarrassing yourself trying to say it in public.  Spicy, sweet and soul-warming, it is served throughout December in Scandinavia, particularly on Sundays to celebrate Advent.  I’ve tried several recipes for glögg over the years, and my favorite is from the book, Fika by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall.  Bonus points if you bake gingersnaps to go with your glögg.  A classic combination.
  7. Hats, scarves, gloves and mittens.  Remember when your parents would tell you that you couldn’t go outside and play until you had on your hat and mittens?  At some point along the way, probably around middle school when we became too cool for hats and mittens, many of us quit wearing these warming accessories.  It’s time to bring them back!  Giving your head and hands a little warmth during this cold time of the year is a small but sweet act of self-love and kindness.
  8. Settle in for a long winter’s nap.  For real.  Sneak away on a weekend afternoon before your social calendar gets to crazy, get under the covers and take a nap.  There is much research to suggest that naps are a key to longevity and long-term wellness.  Even if you “don’t nap,” grab a good book, snuggle into bed and see what happens.  You might just drift off into a much-needed, restorative afternoon interlude.
  9. Give yourself (and others) the gift of acceptance.  Expectations run high this time of year.  Accepting ourselves and others just as we are in this moment will go a long way to making our December that much more enjoyable.  Maybe you’ve had a rough year and aren’t really feeling in the holiday spirit.  Simply accept that starting point and go easy on yourself.  Go back to 1 above and reevaluate those holiday priorities.  Revisit 2 and set aside time for yourself.  By the same token, meet others where they are as compassionately as you can.  Will Uncle Joe try to engage you in a heated political discussion over Christmas dinner AGAIN this year?  Chances are good that he will, so there is no need to expect anything different.  And keep your sense of humor intact!  It goes hand in hand with acceptance for making it through the not so easy parts of the holidays.

Much love and inner light to everyone this month!  Happy Holidays!

Emma’s Buttermilk Rye (Swedish Limpa)

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heirloom grain

we share the last slice

of buttermilk rye

The above haiku was written by my dad’s cousin Lesley, an accomplished and award-winning poet, and was inspired by my great-grandmother’s buttermilk rye bread.  My great-grandmother, Emma, grew up on the southern tip of Sweden within sight of the sea.  Her father owned the local flour and saw mill and also tended to fruit orchards on their land.  The microclimate where they lived was relatively mild and hospitable to growing fruits such as apples, plums, tart cherries, currants and berries.  As a child Emma travelled all over Sweden by train with her father selling the fruit they had grown.

In her early teens, Emma fell in love with a local boy, Sven, who was not as well off as she.  He was determined to go to America and make a better life for himself and eventually Emma.  Sven left Sweden and sailed to America, settling in Illinois.  He changed his name to Swan and found work on a farm, learning to speak English in the process.  He eventually returned to Sweden to get Emma and bring her back to America with him.  The two were married in 1911.

The couple decided to settle in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area as it was home to many Scandinavian immigrants and had a climate and landscape that felt familiar to them. Because of his English speaking experience, Swan was able to find a good job in Minneapolis.  He worked as a chauffeur for a wealthy man who was a director for General Mills.  Emma was quite social and became known for her afternoon fika gatherings, charming the local women with her baked goods and hospitality.

This buttermilk rye bread is one of her recipes that has found its way into my baking rotation.  A tender crumb thanks to the buttermilk and a hint of orange and anise make this an exceptionally warm and comforting bread, perfect for wintertime.  It definitely has a festive, Christmasy quality to it, but it could certainly be made throughout the fall and winter months…and beyond!  The combination of rye, orange and anise is as addictive as it is unusual.  I often find myself craving a slice, slightly warm from the oven, spread with a generous layer of salted butter.  And a cup of coffee, of course.  Despite its citrus and spice notes, Swedish Limpa can serve as a base for your smørrebrød, as long as the sandwich ingredients you use compliment the warmth of the bread.  I have also heard it suggested that you use Swedish Limpa crumbs in your Swedish meatballs, but I have yet to try it.

I am so grateful for recipes like this, handed down through the generations with stories attached to them.  Making this simple bread is a very tangible way to connect with my great-grandmother, revisit her stories and honor her legacy.  What can you make in your kitchen that will connect you with your ancestors?  What recipes do you need to write down in the hopes that they will be carried forward to future generations?  Food can be such an extraordinarily powerful link between past, present and future.

Emma’s Buttermilk Rye Bread (Swedish Limpa)

Makes one loaf

1 Cup buttermilk

1/4 Teaspoon baking soda

1 Tablespoon butter

2 Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons molasses

The zest of 1 orange

1 Teaspoon anise seed, toasted briefly in a dry skillet and then ground, or 1 teaspoon ground anise seed

1 Teaspoon fine salt

2 Teaspoons instant yeast

1 Cup dark rye flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill brand)

2 Cups bread flour

  1. Combine buttermilk and baking soda in a liquid measuring cup.
  2. Combine butter, water, molasses and orange zest in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer.  Remove from heat and cool slightly.
  3. Add buttermilk mixture and molasses mixture to the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.
  4. Add ground anise seed, salt, yeast and rye flour to the bowl.
  5. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low until ingredients are combined.  Add bread flour and continue to mix on low until the dough is fully combined and clearing the side of the bowl.
  6. Switching to the dough hook attachment, knead dough on low for approximately 4 minutes.  If you are mixing and kneading the dough by hand, the kneading process will take longer.
  7. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for approximately 2 hours.
  8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Remove the dough from the bowl and shape it as desired on a piece of parchment paper.  I like the oval shape, pictured above, or you can make it into a circle or even place it in a greased standard-sized loaf pan.  Cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise for another 45 minutes to an hour.
  9. Remove plastic wrap and decoratively score dough with a razor blade or a sharp knife.  Place on a baking sheet (or directly on a baking stone if you have one) and bake for 30-35 minutes.  The internal temperature of the dough should be at least 198 degrees when it is done baking.
  10. Allow the bread to cool before slicing.

Roasted Butternut Squash Smørrebrød with Spicy Harissa Mayo and Pepitas

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Remember that very traditional new potato smørrebrød I shared with you recently?  This is a somewhat unconventional take on that concept.  The same dense rye bread, butter and greens for a base, but this time topped with buttery roasted squash half-moons, spicy harissa mayonnaise, cilantro and pepitas.  A complete break from tradition, but delicious in its own right.

Roasted Butternut Squash Smørrebrød with Spicy Harissa Mayo and Pepitas

Makes 4 small sandwiches (which serves about two people)

 4 thin slices dense rye bread, a little over 1/4 inch thick

Butter, preferably salted

A handful or two of baby arugula leaves

Roasted Butternut Squash Half-Moonsrecipe below

Spicy Harissa Mayonnaise, recipe below

a handful of cilantro leaves (removed from their stems but left whole)

1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds), toasted in a dry skillet

Butter each slice of bread.  Place a layer of baby arugula leaves on top.  Arrange squash slices artfully over the arugula.  Spoon Spicy Harissa Mayo over the squash.  Scatter cilantro leaves and roasted pepitas on top.  Serve.

Roasted Butternut Squash Half-Moons

Adapted from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen

Depending on the size of your squash, makes enough for approximately 4 sandwiches.  Plan on about 6 slices of squash per sandwich.

1 Medium-sized butternut squash

2 tablespoons butter

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut the neck portion of the squash from the rounded bottom (ideally just above where the seeds start).  Peel the neck portion of the squash using a y-shaped vegetable peeler.  You can surely peel and use the bottom of the squash as well, cutting it in half and removing the seeds from the cavity with a spoon before proceeding with the recipe.  I save the unpeeled bottom of the squash for my backyard chickens.  They think it is about the best treat ever.
  3. Carefully cut the peeled squash in half lengthwise, and then into 1/4 inch thick half-moon shapes.
  4. Melt butter in a large bowl.  Place squash slices in the bowl with the butter and toss until coated.
  5. Lay squash slices in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the squash slices are soft and slightly caramelized on the bottom.  Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.

Squash can be prepared up to three days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  The squash is best if it is not cold from the fridge.  Take it out 30 minutes or so before assembling sandwiches to warm slightly before using.

Spicy Harissa Mayonnaise

Makes approximately 1/4 cup

1/4 cup prepared mayonnaise

1 tablespoon prepared harissa (I use the one from Trader Joe’s)

Combine mayonnaise and harissa in a small bowl.  Add more harissa to taste.  Can be prepared up to two days in advance.

Roasted Pear Compote with Cardamom, Vanilla and Fresh Ginger

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Roasted Pear Compote with Cardamom, Vanilla and Fresh Ginger on crispbread spread with cream cheese.  An excellent fika treat!

It’s time we had a little chat about cardamom.  Citrusy, spicy, floral….it is, shall we say, a very complex and exotic spice.  Although native to India, cardamom has somehow managed to find its way into many traditional recipes for Scandinavian baked goods.  The Nordic countries are famous for their cardamom buns, cakes and cookies.  How did this far-flung spice find its way from India to Scandinavia?  Some claim that the Vikings brought it north with them after encountering it on their travels to the Byzantine Empire (now Turkey) or possibly Constantinople (now Istanbul).  Others say it was first brought to mainland Europe when the Moors established a presence on the Iberian peninsula, and it made its way to Scandinavia from there.  Whatever the circumstances, cardamom is the darling spice of the Nordic baking world.

It is not, however, beloved by all.  I once bought my daughter a large cardamom-laced sugar cookie from a Scandinavian bakery.  She eagerly took a big bite, unaware of the cardamom lurking inside, and spit it out, disgusted.  “Mom, why does my cookie taste like soap!?”  Oh, how my Swedish, Norwegian and Danish ancestors must have rolled in their graves upon hearing this!  Clearly I had not done as good of a job raising her as I thought I had.  Not enough exposure to cardamom and now the taste was unpleasant, foreign and apparently soapy to her.  We joke that it might make a good title for her memoir someday:  Why Does My Cookie Taste Like Soap?  Discovering my Nordic Heritage the Hard Way (coming to a book store near you in 20 years or so).  As I said, not beloved by all.

To be honest, I didn’t like cardamom as a kid either.  I now enjoy it in small doses ( a little goes a LONG way), and I feel like some of the recipes I encounter are a bit heavy handed with this potent spice.  If you are new to cardamom or are trying to convince your children of its deliciousness, I would suggest a light touch at first…a quarter or half teaspoon of it here or there.  I also recommend buying the pods and grinding the seeds inside yourself rather than purchasing ground cardamom.  You will be rewarded with a much truer flavor.

This pear compote is delicately laced with whole cardamom seeds, and I absolutely love it.  It makes a delicious topping for toast, crispbread, porridge and granola served with filmjölk, yogurt or milk of your choice.  Or you can just eat it with a spoon!  According to Live Lagom:  Balanced Living the Swedish Way by Anna Brones, compotes are a very common way to serve fruit in Sweden.  This one is my take on a pear compote I made in cooking school some years back.   In class we used it as a filling for a gingerbread cobbler, which is something to consider.  The combination of pears and gingerbread is utterly magical.

Roasted Pear Compote with Cardamom, Vanilla and Fresh Ginger

 Makes approximately 12 ounces

 5-6 small to medium-sized Bartlett pears, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes

2 tablespoons honey

Seeds from 2 crushed cardamom pods, pods discarded

4-5 thin slices of fresh ginger (no need to peel)

a pinch course salt

½ vanilla bean

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine all ingredients except vanilla bean and lemon juice in an 8 or 9 inch square baking dish.
  3. With a small sharp knife, split vanilla bean down one side of the pod.Open up the pod and lay it flat on your cutting board. Using the back of your knife, remove the black seeds from the interior of the pod by scraping from one end of the open pod to the other.  Place seeds and empty pod in the baking dish along with the other ingredients.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring half way through, or until pears have softened considerably.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven.  Using a spoon, remove and discard the vanilla bean pod and ginger slices.  Mash pears with a potato masher or the back of a fork until they are create a chunky, rustic mash.  Add lemon juice.  Taste the mixture and season with additional lemon juice, salt or honey to taste.  Once the compote has cooled, transfer to a clean jar and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

 

New Potato Smørrebrød with Garlic Aïoli and Crispy Shallots

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A confession….I am not from Sweden, Denmark or Norway.  I am an American with Scandinavian roots.  My grandmother on my Dad’s side was Swedish, my grandmother on my Mom’s side was Norwegian and Danish, and my grandfather was Norwegian.  Growing up here in the United States in the 1970’s and 80’s, my family ate a very typical American diet.  The only time that we really prepared foods that reflected our Scandinavian heritage was during the holidays.  Beginning with lefse (Norwegian potato flatbread) at Thanksgiving and continuing on through Christmas with rommegröt (Norwegian sour cream pudding), pickled herring, stirred lingonberries, Swedish meatballs and pancakes (just to name a few), we managed to pack a lot of Nordic recipes into a short 6 week time frame.  But the rest of the year…not so much.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve wondered about this holiday-centric approach to celebrating one’s ancestry in the kitchen, which I’m sure is not unique to my family.  I began to be curious about what Scandinavians ate on an every day basis, not just at Christmas.  I’ve done a lot of reading, cooking and baking on the subject and I’m hoping to share a bit of what I’ve learned here on the blog.  Know that what I share here in terms of recipes is simply my take on what I’ve read and learned about Nordic cuisine over the last few years and through my experience of growing up in a family with Scandinavian heritage.  I don’t claim to be an expert (I’ve never even travelled to Scandinavia!), but I will share with you the unique ways in which I am inspired by Nordic cuisine in my own kitchen.  And I’m sure I’ll share a family recipe or two along the way!

In my last post, we covered the basics of smørrebrød.  Let’s get down to business with this classic example of the Nordic open face sandwich.  My research suggests that Scandinavians are fond of putting cold potatoes on their sandwiches.  This might sound odd but it is actually quite delicious and a fabulous use for leftover boiled potatoes from last night’s dinner.  Thinly sliced potatoes with a garlicky mayo sauce and crispy shallots that taste like little baby onion rings.  What’s not to love?

Smørrebrød with New Potatoes, Aïoli and Crispy Shallots

Adapted from The Scandi Kitchen by Brontë Aurell and Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann

Serves 2

 4 thin slices dense rye bread, a little over 1/4 inch thick

Butter, preferably salted

A handful or two of baby arugula leaves

4-5 new potatoes

Quick Aïoli, recipe below

Crispy shallots, recipe below

1 Tablespoon chopped chives or dill, and/or microgreens

Salt and freshly ground pepper

  1.  Place new potatoes in cold water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are tender but not falling apart.  Smaller potatoes will obviously cook more quickly than larger potatoes.  Check doneness by piercing a potato or two with the tip of a sharp knife.  It should slide in and out easily without much resistance.  Drain potatoes and rinse with cold water.  Set aside to cool.  Potatoes can be prepared up to three days in advance.  Store in the refrigerator.
  2. Butter each slice of bread.  Place a layer of baby arugula leaves on top.  Slice new potatoes into thin (1/4 inch thick) slices and arrange artfully over the arugula.  Salt and pepper the potato slices to taste.  Drizzle aïoli over potatoes (I like to place the sauce in the center between the two rows of potato slices) and scatter crispy shallots and herbs and/or microgreens on top.  Serve.

 

Quick Aïoli

Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine

Makes 1/4 cup

1 small garlic clove

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup prepared mayonnaise

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Mince garlic clove and let sit in lemon juice for 10 minutes or so to mellow out the raw garlic flavor.  Add mayonnaise and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Aïoli can be made up three days in advance.  Store in the refrigerator.

 

Crispy Fried Shallots

Adapted from The Scandi Kitchen by Brontë Aurell

Makes approximately 1 cup of shallots

3 medium-size shallots, sliced into thin rings, rings separated from one another

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon fine salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 cup canola, peanut or vegetable oil for frying

Course sea salt for sprinkling

  1.  Combine flour, salt and a few grinds of pepper in a large ziploc bag.  Add shallots, seal and toss around until shallots are coated with flour mixture.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan until it reaches 280 degrees.  It’s worth using a thermometer here if you have one.  If the oil is too hot, the shallots will burn and if it is too cool they will be soggy.
  3. Remove half of the shallots from the bag, shaking off any excess flour.  Place in pan and fry until golden brown and crispy.  This may take as little as two minutes or as long as five.  Keep your eye on them and look for the visual cues.  Remove from oil using a slotted spoon.  Place on paper towels and allow to drain.  Sprinkle with sea salt and allow them to cool slightly and crisp up.  Repeat with the other half of the shallots.

Shallots can be used immediately or stored in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.  Mine usually stay pretty crisp, but you could warm them in a 200 degree oven to crisp them up if necessary.

The Basics of Smørrebrød

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Roasted Butternut Squash Smørrebrød with Goat Cheese, Pecans and Maple Cayenne Drizzle

“The fastest way to understand the Nordic region’s food culture is to eat an open sandwich topped with butter and hard cheese.”

-Magnus Nilsson, The Nordic Cookbook

The Nordic region’s food culture is largely based on bread.  According to The Nordic Cookbook, before potatoes arrived on the Scandinavian mainland in the early 1800’s, most people ate one to two pounds of bread a day!  It’s no wonder that the open sandwich (smørrebrød in Danish, smørbrød in Norwegian and smörgås in Swedish) became a staple of Nordic cuisine.  The origins of the Nordic open sandwich can be traced back at least as far as the Middle Ages.  At that time it would have been a rather simple affair….probably some kind of fat (butter or animal fat) spread on a dense rye bread with leftover meat or vegetables piled on top.  As fresh ingredients became more available, the open sandwich evolved into something more refined and elegant, particularly in Denmark where smørrebrød is now practically an art form.  There are entire restaurants devoted to the open sandwich in Denmark, and it is even possible to attain the a professional qualification known as, “Open Sandwich Master”.  But not all open sandwiches are fussy restaurant affairs.  Generally speaking, Nordic cuisine has an elegant simplicity to it, and a sandwich made at home might be as basic as a buttered slice of rye bread and a few slices of cheese or last night’s leftovers arranged on top.

Trine Hahnemann outlines a few rules for constructing smørrebrød in her book, Open Sandwiches.  I have included some of them here along with a few of my own to help you put together an open sandwich you can be proud of:

  1.  Barring a few exceptions, Nordic open sandwiches are served on dense rye bread which has been sliced quite thin.  I like my slices just a little over 1/4 inch thick.
  2. If you are using a dense rye, the bread is simply sliced, not toasted.  Sometimes I will do a light toast on mine just to freshen up the bread slightly without causing the exterior to get crispy.
  3. The bread is usually buttered quite liberally with salted butter.  If you don’t usually stock salted butter, you can use unsalted butter and sprinkle a little kosher salt on it after you spread it on the bread.
  4. There is typically one main topping and a combinations of condiments.  A well-designed smørrebrød has a variety of flavors and textures that come together to create a sandwich that is more delicious than the individual components might suggest.
  5. Smørrebrød doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be pleasing to the eye.  That’s part of the fun of the open face sandwich…with no top to disguise what’s inside there is much opportunity for creating something that is as beautiful as it is delicious.
  6. Season as you layer.  If your main ingredient is sliced cold potatoes or hard-boiled egg slices, you are going to want to season that particular layer with salt and pepper before adding the remaining condiments.
  7. Think about your layering, both in terms of visual presentation and what makes sense in terms of the temperature and shape of the main ingredient.  If your topping is warm roast pork, for example, you aren’t going to want to put tender arugula leaves underneath it.  That’s a recipe for soggy greens.  Layer in a way that lets each ingredient shine.
  8. If you really want to get serious about aesthetics, consider placing any sauces that you are using into a squeeze bottle, plastic piping bag or ziploc bag (with a corner of the bag cut off).  This allows you to squeeze the sauce onto the sandwich exactly where you want it. It can be difficult to artfully arrange sauces with just a spoon.
  9. Unless it really doesn’t seem appropriate, always add a shower of something small and green on the very top for garnish.  Chopped fresh herbs, microgreens, sprouts, or watercress are all good choices.
  10.  If you’ve created a lovely smørrebrød piled high with delicious ingredients, don’t try and pick the whole thing up and take a bite.  These sandwiches are usually a knife and fork affair.

Picasso once said, “learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.”  Make a classic smørrebrød or two (recipes to follow), but also get into the kitchen and play!  Let your bread be your canvas and get creative.  Anything goes when it comes to designing your own open face sandwiches.

 

Simple Seasonal Pleasures for November

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Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

November.  We begin this month by setting our clocks back an hour.  The days are short and dusk falls early.  We bear witness to the final days of autumn in all of their fiery glory.  By the end of the month, a hush has fallen over the landscape.  The grass is brown and the trees are barren, skeletons against a gray sky.  We may even see a snowflake or two.  Winter is almost here.

  1. Create inner warmth.  As we lose heat from the sun outside at this time of year, it’s important to create an atmosphere of warmth in our homes and in our hearts and souls this month.  Light a fire in the fireplace, make sure your thermostat is set at a comfortable temperature, keep your favorite blanket nearby for snuggling up.  Set aside extra time for meditation, reading books, journaling or other introspective activities that comfort your soul.
  2. Embrace the darkness.  Just as we lose outer warmth in November, we also lose light.  There tends to be a lot of complaining about this, particularly right after we fall back to standard time on November 4.  This year, instead of wishing this time of darkness away, try making peace it, maybe even enjoying it a little.  November is a great time to practice slowing down, turning inward and spending a little more time being rather than doing.  Welcome the early evenings by lighting a candle or turning on a low lamp.  Cook something warm and nourishing for dinner while you sip a glass of wine.  Turn in early with a cup of tea and a good book.  Write in your gratitude journal (see 4 below).  Make a cozy ritual out of these early evenings at home.
  3. Visit a cozy café or coffee shop alone.  Find a warm, cheerful place you can go to fortify yourself with a warm beverage and soak in the presence of other souls without having to directly engage with them.  This can be especially healing if you work from home or in an office setting and need a change of scenery.  Bring some work, a creative project, your journal or a good book and bask in the warm glow of the company of strangers.
  4. Commit to writing in a gratitude journal.  Sarah Ban Breathnach famously introduced us to the concept of the gratitude journal in her 1995 classic, Simple Abundance:  A Daybook of Comfort and Joy (which I still read daily, by the way).  The idea is to write down five things you are grateful for each evening before bed.  “You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life, ” she says. “And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law:  the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.”  Sarah suggests having a journal that is solely dedicated to the expression of gratitude, a written record of the blessings and abundance that are already yours:  “As the months pass and you fill your journal with blessings, an inner shift in your reality will occur…As you focus on the abundance rather than on the lack in your life, you will be designing a wonderful new blueprint for the future.”  Ready to give it a try?  Find a journal or notebook and take a few moments at the end of each day to review and appreciate the good in your life.  Commit to this simple practice for the month of November, and see if it shifts your way of being.
  5. Go for a walk just for the pleasure of returning home.  There is nothing quite like the feeling of crossing the threshold of your front door, rosy-cheeked after a brisk walk in chilly weather.  The contrast of outer cold and inner warmth heightens our awareness and enhances our feeling of sanctuary as we make our way home after braving the elements.  Set the scene for yourself by making sure your house is toasty warm before you leave.  Have the makings for a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate at the ready.
  6. One word…slippers.  I haven’t had a pair of slippers in years, and this year I decided to go ahead and treat myself to this pair of boiled wool slippers from Garnet Hill.  What a luxury for my always cold toes!  It is so nice to know that they are waiting patiently for me next to the front door when I arrive home.  And a bonus….my floors are cleaner because I’m not wearing my shoes in the house.
  7. Establish a fika ritual.  Fika (pronounced fee-ka) is essentially the Swedish term for coffee break.  It is meant to be a sacred pause in the day, an opportunity to rest, reconnect and nourish ourselves with a hot beverage and possibly a tasty baked good.  The Swedish fika at least twice a day…usually late morning and mid- afternoon.  You can fika alone or with company.  At home or out at a café.  What is important is that you are stopping what you are doing and taking a true respite from the day (we don’t fika in front of the computer while we finish up some work or while we check our social media feeds, for example).  Try setting aside a little time in your day for a hot cup of tea or coffee and maybe a little treat to go with it.  Sounds like an excellent time to write in your gratitude journal!
  8. Make porridge for breakfast.  Did you know that there is a restaurant in Denmark that is solely dedicated to serving porridge!?  Yes my friends, porridge is hot right now (ha!).  Prepare something warm and comforting to fortify you for the day ahead.  Steel-cut oats are one of my favorites, but there are so many different grains that work in a porridge situation.  Rice, quinoa, barley, farro….the options are endless.  If you are tight on time in the mornings, do your future self a favor and prepare your grains ahead and simply heat them up at breakfast time.  If you are a savory breakfast sort of person, give this oatmeal with egg on top a try.  It’s quick as can be and one of my favorites.

The happiest of Novembers to you all!  I am so grateful to have this online space to write and share what I’m thinking and doing.  Thank you for stopping by!