Mandelmussla (Almond Tart Shells)

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Are you considering becoming a creative person?  Too late.  You already are one.

Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

I listened to an episode of NPR’s On Being with Krista Tippett this morning in which Ms. Tippett interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and, most recently, Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear.  Ms. Gilbert talked about how many people believe that creativity is reserved for the artists of the world, and that they themselves are not creative.  She went on to say that we can easily disprove this theory by looking to our ancestors.  Our grandparents and great-grandparents were creative makers, somewhat out of necessity, but also because human beings are inherently creative.  We have a desire to make things, and to make beautiful things…it’s simply the way we are.  “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person,” she says.  “You and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers.”

These little tarts remind me of my own legacy of creativity, the one that began with my Scandinavian ancestors spending long cold winter days in the kitchen baking exquisite breads, cookies, cakes, pies and tarts.  Why?  Because they wanted to create something that went a little above and beyond the ordinary….it’s what we are hard-wired to do.  Little tarts like these are lovely and delicious works of art, a small offering of beauty made for no reason other than the pleasure of doing so.  Oh, and the pleasure of sitting down and savoring their sweetness with a strong cup of coffee, of course.

How will you be the artist that you already are today?  What will you make that’s just a little more beautiful than it needs to be?   Perhaps these charming little almond tart shells are just the thing to get you started.  The blank canvas of fika treats, these simple tart shells can be dressed up with any manner of fillings…jam, sweetened berries, pastry cream, lemon curd, whipped cream just to name a few.  They are also delicious on their own, served upside down and dusted with a little powdered sugar.

You will need a set of small tart pans for this recipe.  I am fortunate to have inherited my pans from my mother, but if you do not already have a set, they are available through Amazon for a reasonable price.

Mandelmussla (Almond Tart Shells)   Makes 25-30 tart shells, depending on the size of your tart pans

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 cup blanched, slivered almonds, ground fine in a food processor

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled

1. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

2.  Add the egg, followed by the ground almonds, salt and almond extract. Mix until incorporated.

3.  Add the flour and mix on low until just combined.  Do not overmix.

4.  Remove bowl from mixer and knead the dough gently with your hands inside the bowl for a minute or two until it all comes together into a cohesive whole.  Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a large sheet of plastic wrap.  Wrap tightly and chill dough for at least 30 minutes.

5.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly butter 25-30 small tart pans.  Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator and tear off a piece that is approximately the size of a walnut.  Pat the small piece of dough into the tart pan using your fingers.  The dough should be uniformly 1/16th inch to an 1/8th inch thick across the surface of the tart pan.  Be mindful to create a nice even edge at the top of the pan.

6.  Place 8-10 filled tart pans on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment paper and slide them in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until they are light golden brown in color.

7.  Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow tart shells to cool before handling.  Once they are cool enough to touch, tip them upside down and remove the tart shell from the pan.  This may take a little help from your fingers and by tapping and/or wiggling the pan a little to loosen the tart shell from the sides, all the while being mindful of the fact that the tart shells are fragile.  This may take a little practice.  Let the tart shells cool upside down on a wire baking rack.  Repeat with remaining tart pans, baking 8-10 on a baking sheet at a time.  Fill (or don’t fill) as desired.

*These tart shells freeze beautifully.  Put any tart shells that you are not immediately eating or filling in a freezer bag and consume at your leisure.

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Shall We Fika?

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To truly fika requires a commitment to making time for a break in your day, the creation of a magical moment in the midst of the routine and the mundane.

Fika, Anne Brones and Johanna Kindvall

At its very essence, the Swedish term “fika” (pronounced fee-ka) means to take a break and enjoy a cup of coffee and possibly a delicious baked good to go with it.  Fika can be a noun (it’s time for fika) or it can be used as a verb (shall we fika?).  But to simply call it a coffee break as we understand that term in English would be missing the point.  The tradition of fika runs deep in Sweden.  Life in structured to accommodate fika, even in the workplace, and the expectation of a midday opportunity to stop what you are doing and enjoy a cup of coffee and a treat is something that is anticipated and enjoyed as a part of daily life.

Fika is not something you do in front of a computer screen or as you scroll through social media on your phone.  It is meant to be a sacred pause in the day, an opportunity to rest, reconnect and nourish ourselves.  One can fika with others, strengthening our relationships with friends, coworkers and family over coffee and conversation.  One can also fika alone, nurturing the relationship with the self instead.  The particulars are entirely up to you…coffee or tea, treat or no treat, alone or with company.  What matters most is that you pause, unplug and enjoy a momentary respite from the day.

Hygge

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Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things.  It is about being with people we love.   A feeling of home.  A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.

-Meik Weiking, The Little Book of Hygge

In Denmark there is a concept called “hygge” (pronounced hue-ga) that has no literal translation into English. Some say the closest definition might be something like “coziness”, but it goes a bit further than that. Hygge is the intentional practice of creating a sanctuary of warmth and intimacy.  It’s about appreciating the simple things, cultivating small moments of comfort and joy in our everyday lives.  It’s about anticipating and celebrating the changing seasons of the year.  It’s about being grateful for what we have and savoring the simple pleasures that are available to us each and every day.  In short, hygge quietly elevates the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Hygge has left the shores of Scandinavia in recent years and has become something of an international phenomenon.  Several books have been written on the subject, and sales of faux fur blankets, sheepskins and candles have skyrocketed as companies seek to take advantage of our desire to find the comfort and security we so desperately crave.  As such, hygge is often dismissed as a fad, soon to be replaced by the next latest thing.

But to brush the concept of hygge aside as simply a fad is shortsighted and unfortunate.  We cannot underestimate the importance of creating a haven that welcomes us home at the end of each day, where we can relax and be ourselves without pretense. The quiet act of carving out a comfortable, compassionate space for ourselves and those we love can be revolutionary and deceptively powerful.

How can we create more hygge in our lives?  A good place to start is to simply pause and notice what’s going on around you, particularly the small everyday details we tend to take for granted.  Notice the warmth of a cup of coffee in your hands first thing in the morning.  The smell of rain and wet earth after a thunderstorm.  A glimpse of the moon peeking out from behind the clouds late at night.  The quiet, rhythmic breathing of your dog sleeping next to you.  Taking note of these seemingly small details can create a much needed moment of softness and comfort in our day, of feeling at home in the world.

The Small, Calm Thing

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“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.  Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world will help immensely.”

.-Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Finding a “small, calm thing” in this era of busy-ness, distraction and overwhelm is a difficult task.  It’s true, we cannot fix the entire world all at once.  But we can create a peaceful space in our own small corner of the world, an authentic sanctuary that comforts, nourishes and restores our weary souls.  It is from this place that we become our most powerful, able to act on behalf of ourselves and others.  Not from a place of exhaustion or overwhelm, but from a place of love, kindness and authentic generosity.  Our gestures may be small…taking the time to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee, setting down the phone and giving someone our undivided attention (a great and rare gift these days), sharing a meal with family or friends, baking a loaf of bread for a neighbor.  But the impact of these small endeavors can be great, a tiny bit of love shared from one soul to another.  Like ripples in a pond made by a tossed pebble, our tiny acts of kindness spread outward in ways we cannot measure.

This blog is my ripple in the pond, my unique expression of a “small, calm thing.”  My ancestors come from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and the Nordic culture and landscape inspire me when I consider how I want my life to feel:  Open, spacious, peaceful.  I want to incorporate as much of this Scandinavian influence into my daily round as possible, both to connect with and honor my ancestors and to create this desired state of being.  Along the way I will share recipes, ideas and insights that inspire me.  I hope that you will find warmth and comfort here in my cozy online kitchen as I explore what Nordic living means to me.

Embracing Winter

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“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home.” -Edith Sitwell

In the Scandinavian countries there is a concept called “hygge” that has no literal translation into English. Some say the closest definition might be something like “coziness”, but it goes a bit further than that. Hygge is an attitude of acceptance and gratitude for the inner warmth that winter offers us. It’s an opportunity to embrace the darkness of the winter months with gentle, soothing pleasures of the soul. Candlelight, sitting by the fire under a warm blanket, steaming hot chocolate, a cozy stew and a glass of red wine for dinner….all very hygge.

“Hygge seems to me to be about being kind to yourself – indulging, having a nice time, not punishing or denying yourself anything.” –Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country.

 I know a lot of people who spend winter wishing it were spring. Instead, let’s follow the lead of our Nordic friends and happily sink into winter this weekend. Stock wood for the fire. Get out your flannel, your coziest blankets and a good book. Prepare something warm and nourishing in your kitchen, light the candles and enjoy a glass of wine. Forget spring for awhile, it will come in good time.  Be gentle with yourself and embrace the gift of cold and darkness that winter brings.

Everyday Luxuries

Make space for the little things that bring you joy. The fresh flowers on your desk, a cozy fire in the woodstove on a cold January day, real cream in your coffee, the glow of candlelight on the dining room table. These small luxuries are not meant for someday, but for everyday. Celebrate your inherent worth with the little things that bring you pleasure.