“Food in England”, by Dorothy Hartley

I just found this amazing film about a book and a woman I am dying to dive into further – once I got my next exams nailed, that is – and I have to share it with you. The film is presented by Lucy Worsley, is of slightly crappy technical quality, but no matter, I enjoyed it anyway.

The book has, apparently, never been out of print since it came out in 1954, and – to my great joy – it is also on Kindle. You can also find an article by Lucy Worsley on Hartley in the Guardian, and enjoy some of her smashing illustrations with the help of old Google.

I am definitely going to try cooking a whole three-course meal in a pot, as they do on the canalboat. That is just my kind of cooking, it makes me giddy just to think of it. Though I may, like Lucy, pass on the brawn (which is traditional Christmas food in Sweden, but never on my table…).

I hope you come to like Hartley, too. In a way, very English, but also, not far removed from how cooking would have been done all over Europe in the times she researched. The more I go into traditional cooking from the corners of the world where I feel a certain right of domicile, like Slavish cooking, Swedish cooking, German cooking, I see so much connection, also to the English cooking I have come to love.

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Tenta Time

The Swedish word for university exam is tentamen, or tenta in daily speech. We have two semesters, autumn and spring, and every semester has two reading periods. Reading periods 1 and 2 are in the autumn and periods 3 and 4 are in the spring. At the end of each reading period comes tenta period, a week of lecture free study time -cramming! – and then the great climax: the exams.

20151026_113844When I came home on Monday afternoon, I had to laugh at my shopping. It was all uppers (candy), downers (gin and tonic, which I take in small amounts ONLY if I get panicked and need to knock the top off the stress – no need this time 🙂 ), and a huge stash of the easiest comfort food available (pirogi). I am enormously indebted to my brother-in-law, for coming to stay with the mum-in-law, who is unwell again and has been admitted to hospital for a few days. The husband is travelling, and having the brother-in-law here has meant all the difference for me; I have been queen of my own time.

Not much time to draw, but I passed a new forested park on my way home from school one day last week. That really was the best downer of all, to sit and just draw.

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Afternoon Tea, the ultimate version

Foto0002 (4)One of the most elegant teas one can imagine having, must be, I’m sure, at the Pump Room in Bath. At least for us regular folk, as the Pump Room is elegant, but does not require its guests to be. It is a bit of a tourist trap, as you come out of the Roman Baths (what a great museum that is! more on that at a later date), but so what? We are tourists, after all, and at least one of us knows her Austen back and forth. We inquired after Afternoon Tea, which is quite a meal, and returned later in the afternoon for it, after having checked out how the Georgians lived at the Royal Crescent No 1.

Elegant living at the Royal Crescent.
Elegant living at the Royal Crescent.
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There was live entertainment at the end of the room, a pianist, a violinist, and a cellist filling the air with lovely music.
You start from below with the sandwiches, then have the scones with clotted cream and jam, and congratulations to you if you have any more room for the sweets on top! We prefer Assam tea with that.
You start from below with the sandwiches, then have the scones with clotted cream and jam, and congratulations to you if you have any more room for the sweets on top! We prefer Assam tea with that.
A painting by John Sanders, showing what an assembly at the Pum Rooms might have looked iike a few years before Jane Austen lived here.
A painting by John Sanders, showing what an assembly at the Pump Rooms might have looked like a few years before Jane Austen lived here.
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The Pump Room entrance.

We only had a day in Bath, and I think you need two or three for the entire Bath experience (the Assembly Rooms, the Fashion Museum, the Jane Austen Museum, the Abbey Tower tour), but for me, this time, the Baths, the No 1, and tea at the Pump Room was entirely adequate. We also took a turn in the Parade gardens, walked across Pulteney Bridge, and even had time for a shared plate of local delicacies at the Roman Baths Kitchen before we headed back to the station.

I am linking this post to the T Tuesday Party at Elisabeth & Bluebeard’s. Happy T-Day!

An attempt at drawing the Pulteney Bridge. Not very accurate, I'm afraid.
An attempt at drawing the Pulteney Bridge. Not very accurate, I’m afraid.
The river Avon again. Not sure it is exactly the same one as before...
The river Avon again. Not sure it is exactly the same one as before…

Nordic polenta – rye porridge

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Whisk 300 ml flour into one litre of boiling water. Boil for a few minutes. Done!

In my attempts to have a healthier diet, and embracing all those healthy options that are specialities of my region, I got thinking of porridge. Nothing is more Olde Swedish Every Day Fare than vattgröt, which is porridge made of water and coarse-grain flour, preferably rye or oats. My grandfather had this for breakfast his entire life, and he became over 90 years old (he was a bit uninterested towards the end, perhaps). He would wake up before anybody else, and I sometimes woke earlier than I normally would on a holiday, just to have porridge with him. Often I would have breakfast with grandma, too, her home-made bread was another treat I did not want to miss!

20150625_150110It has been a while since I made porridge, I tend to eat one thing or another in periods of a few months. I prefer rye to oats, and like to make four portions at a time, frying my porridge three mornings out of four. Fried porridge is possibly even tastier. Serve it with apple sauce and cinnamon or jam, some put milk on top, but I like my milk in a glass if I’m having any.

Rye in general does good things for the digestion, and stabilizes one’s bloodsugar levels. It contains folic acid, iron, zinc, and calcium. It also makes you happy, clever, and beautiful. 😉

The porridge sets when cold, and is easy to cut up the day after.
The porridge sets when cold, and is easy to cut up the day after.
Fry to a golden brown on medium heat, in real butter, of course.
Fry to a golden brown on medium heat, in real butter, of course.

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Fasting

The first time I fasted was in 1985. I admit, I did it to loose the ten kilos I had gained during my year as an exchange student in Iowa, but I came away from the experience with more positive effects than just weightloss. After the initial difficult day or two, I became very energetic, mindful and calm. It felt as if I as a whole, mind and body, had been reset. I have since fasted many times, but not as long as the 14 days I did the first time.

In the 70Žs and 80Žs, fasting was made very popular by the various health farms that had been established all over Sweden (since re-cast as spas where you go to spend a lot of cash spoiling yourself with aromatic bubble baths, massages, wine and gourmet food, rather than deny yourself the excesses of modern life to promote longevity and health). One of these was TallmogÄrden, in the next village to where I grew up. Dr Karl-Otto Aly, who was also the local doctor, ran it and promoted fasting as the cure-all for the modern lifestyle. Other health farms had other ideas, like raw food, intestinal lavage, or herb therapy. More or less, they all built on the ideas of Are Waerland, a charismatic health profet who advocated lacto-vegetarianism and abstemiousness. I was very influenced by this and was a lacto-vegetarian for seven years, until I came to LuleÄ. I sometimes think it might do me good if I became one again. Or at least a pescetarian.

20150623_095248Anyway; you could, for years, buy fasting boxes in regular supermarkets, with teas and juices and some kind of mild laxative (in case the prune juice wouldnŽt be enough) for a number of fasting days. TallmogÄrden had its own brand of fruit and vegetable juices. The trick was not to exceed a particular number of calories a day, about 200, as this would make you hungry. For later fasts, I mostly drank water (sometimes with a squirt of vinegar to spice it up), a small cup of coffee in the morning (no milk), a cup of herb tea for lunch and one in the afternoon, and half a litre of broth in the evening. It has been a few years now since I fasted, because of the rather physically demanding job I have, so I thought it was going to be interesting to see if the experience would be different.

In the end, I only fasted for two days. It felt oddly different this time, and perhaps it is to do with getting older and having a changing metabolism. Or perhaps it is about having a changed relationship with the body. I became frustratingly weak. Perhaps it is that I have grown used to being strong – that was hardly part of my self-perception as a younger woman. I don’t think I will do this again, but I will continue to look at how and what I eat. I am steadily gaining weight and have had a lot of rashes around the mouth – definitely food-related – this spring. I need to really look at this, to find a long-term solution.

Fika

Fika is a Swedish institution, and it means simply to sit down, have a break and a cup of coffee, tea, or other drink, sometimes with a sweet bread (which is often called fikabröd, fika bread), cookie, or sandwich. The word comes from a sociolect, a manner of speaking among leather traders. It is a scrambling of the letters in the dialectal word “kaffi” which means coffee. The word fik is often used to mean cafĂ©, as in lĂ„ngtradarfik, or lorry/truck driverÂŽs cafĂ©.

Lunch fika at Café FÀgnan.
Lunchfika at Café FÀgnan. ThatŽs a sandwich with pannbiff (Swedish hamburger) and Béarnaise sauce.

Sometimes fika can be used to replace other meals, like you might have morgonfika instead of a sturdy breakfast of porridge or sour milk with mĂŒsli (which would be your first option, IÂŽm sure), or kvĂ€llsfika instead of a properly cooked dinner. Or even after a properly cooked dinner, as vickning, a late light supper. This suggests a simple meal of a hot drink and a sandwich. When I was a kid, we always had tea and sandwiches in the evening, calling it kvĂ€llsmat, or evening food. The hot meal was eaten in the middle of the day, according to traditional farming culture, at least where my mother was from.

The local folklore museum, HĂ€gnan.
The local folklore museum, HÀgnan (=fence), where café FÀgnan (=delight) is situated. Our favourite hangout place in summer.
Horse fika.
Horse fika.

In the workplace, we have two fikas a day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It is important to take part in fika as this is when we relax with our work mates, develop a relationship with our boss, talk about this and that and get to know each other. It is the glue that holds collegues together, where we become friends and forge loyalty bonds that sometimes exceeds most other kinds of relationships. Having a job is important to a Swede, it is essential to be needed, to pull oneŽs weight in society, to count for something.

Ye Olde Phonebooth.
Ye Olde Phonebooth.

This can also make it a bit hard to stick to a healthy diet – in some groups refusing fikabröd (particularly if it is home-made) can be a bit like refusing communion or disown someoneÂŽs hospitality and offer/reaffirmation of friendship. ItÂŽs tricky.

The photos were all taken during last SundayŽs outing, with T Tuesday at Bluebeard & ElisabethŽs in mind. Happy T-Day!

Had to sketch, naturally!
Had to sketch, naturally!

Cabbage tortillas

First, a couple of sketches, quickly made while walking along with my summer stand-in (who was doing all the hard work, haha). I had no drawing paper with me, but used the back of the adress labels that come on the newspaper bundles and a Ballograf ballpoint. It made me realize what a gem that pen is!

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It seems like the whole town is being repaired: houses, roads, everything!
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I so need to practise drawing cars, but they can not inspire me one bit.

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Second, one of my favourite dishes is Russian cabbage pasties (pirogi), but they can be a bit of a hassle to make. The other day, I had a brainwave, and decided to use Mexican tortillas; one kind of dough should do as well as another, right?

I fried my cabbage, which was fresh and green, with chopped onion and grated carrot. If I have mushrooms, I add that, but not this time. Ah, the smell of frying cabbage, heavenly! Salt, pepper, a bit of creme fraiche on the tortillas before I wrapped them up. Excellent!

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Simple food

The other day, I saw a British television program that made a count-down of the worst to best national diets in the world. The Seventh-day Adventists were also featured, even though they are not a nation as such. They get very good grades for a diet that results from believing that sugar highs and alcohol stupors disconect you from God. Sweden, grouped with Norway and Denmark, made it to 6th place, and Iceland won. Italy and Greece got second place for the famous Mediterranean diet with the olive oil. Russia was ranked low because of all the vodka, and the Japanese got minus-points for the salty soy sauce.

I was really upset, and so was the presenter (who complete lost his cheerful expression and cried), by a visit to a Mexican dentist’s office, where a 7 year old girl, whose teeth were completely rotted away by horrid junk food and soda, was fitted with false teeth. Apparently, the Mexicans ate well twenty-some years ago, but after making a trade agreement with the US, the country is now awash with processed foods and soda drinks, which is sold even to school children. I find it sad that a nation that has so many great food traditions to offer the world is instead mostly connected with an industrial scale poisoning of its most vulnerable inhabitants.

20150616_202057The bottom line is to keep food as fresh as possible. Fish should preferably be eaten raw; use lots of greens, ferment, and drink water. Also, take two-hour lunches like the French (if you can) and don’t snack.

I had all this in mind while making dinner today. It was fast-food, really. I microwaved some mashed potatoes from a few days ago, fried a piece of cod, cut up some lettuce and tomato, and made a simple gravy with a dollop of butter, salt, pepper, and a squirt of Worchestershire sauce (which is a fermented fish sauce, which originates from the old Roman garum sauce).

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I have been thinking a lot about how I need to update our eating habits in the autumn, when I will be getting less exercise (also, I think I am menopausal, which will surely slow down the metabolism). This program provided me with a reminder to keep it simple, and why not keep it Swedish?

The stove and spice-rack

20150607_185857My spice shelf looks rather empty these days, or minimalist perhaps. We use a selection of pepper: black, white, green, pink, which we buy whole grain to prevent them from going off. A mortar is essential! Then there is always paprika for goulash, nutmeg for mashed potatoes and borsjtj, cinnamon for rice porridge, thyme and marjoram for pea soupe, Worchestershire sauce and Tabasco in the fridge for almost everything, and that’s about it. Allspice, of course, for meat stews, cabbage pudding and chutney. Basil is wonderful in anything remotely Italian (which can be anything with tomatoes or mozzarella), but is useless unless it’s fresh. There is a pot of curry, but I can’t remember when we last used it, and something called lemon-pepper, which is a mix of salt, pepper, lemon, cellery, and whatnot that is good on fish and some soups.

The only thing I remember my mother ever using was salt, white pepper, and paprika. True minimalism, but she totally got away with it.