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Swedish saffron buns (lussebullar)

 

Three weeks ago I volunteered at the American Swedish Institute’s Julmarknad (Christmas Market), helping children make woven paper hearts and other decorations to bring home. While I was there, I was able to talk to one of the Swedish language instructors, who has been teaching there for over 20 years. He mentioned that Swedes are always interested in visiting ASI and the general Scandinavian culture of Minnesota for a few reasons, one of them being that the culture here is very different from Swedish culture now. When the Swedes and the Norwegians and other Scandinavian immigrant groups came over to the U.S. in the 1800’s, many of them were motivated by overpopulation and a slow economy.  So, the collective cultural memory in places like Minnesota of the Scandinavians is one that is simple, homey, and traditional. You’ll see replicas of Scandinavian and German markets all over the place, and of course, everyone has a Swedish or Norwegian relative.

But the traditional dresses, potato dinners, sweaters, and other common tokens of Scandinavian heritage found in Minnesota seem a strange, quaint relic of the past to current visitors from these same countries. The rustic, rural culture of the 1800’s in Scandinavia is memorialized here; meanwhile, cities in Scandinavia have grown to become powerhouses of fashion, technology, food, design, sexay underwear, etc. I smile whenever I come upon the Swedish/Norweigan goods booth at the State fair, because it is so different from the Sweden I know. Granted, I still don’t know much, and many of the smaller towns in Sweden probably still hold on to traditions that are a little more “out-dated” in places like Stockholm, but Minnesota’s funny nostalgia for this period so long ago is interesting. For one, the immigrant memory is keeping this period in history very much alive. But to urban Swedish visitors, our definition must look a little strange. (Although the marriage of old and new is coming alive in places such as Bachelor Farmer.) That is why I think the new addition to the ASI is so wonderful: the historic, rich granduer of the mansion combined with the light, natural sim. Both are stylish. The new…definitely has more diverse, exciting food than the old. I’ll take both the painted Dalarna horse and the minimalist Sagaform vase, thanks.

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In the spirit of things both old and new, I present to you a traditional Swedish food that Swedes hold dear to their hearts, no matter what age and where they live. Lussebullar (saffron buns) are eaten on St. Lucia’s Day, December 13th. They are golden, soft buns with a touch of sweetness. Just out of the oven, they’re warm and tender and you’ll wish you had a whole Ikea bed made out of them. I asked my friend, with whom I made these for the first time two years ago, for a recipe directly from Sweden – I am wary of interpretations of these buns, especially since his Swedish mother was pretty picky about our baking methods. I have translated the baking amounts from dl and grams.

St. Lucia Buns

3 1/2 tablespoons yeast

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

2 cups milk

11 1/2 tablespoons greek yogurt or cream cheese

1/2 – 1 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup flour

a pinch of salt

1 egg

In a saucepan, melt the butter and milk together, until the temperature reaches lukewarm. Crush the saffron along with a pinch of sugar and add to the milk/butter mixture. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, stir together yeast, remaining sugar, and the milk/butter/saffron mixture. In another bowl, sift together the flour and the salt. Combine the flour with the yeast mixture and knead. Set aside in a covered bowl in a warm area and let rise for 25 minutes. To make the saffron buns, roll out strips the size of your finger and cut. Twist into shapes, as pictured above.

Set them on a greased baking tray and allow them to rise again for 35 minutes. Brush with the egg whisked together with 1 tbsp of water. Bake at 225 degrees for 10 minutes.

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Cleaning out the fridge

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 I returned home this weekend eager to spend some much needed time with my family – it’s been nine months since I was last home! – and have enjoyed settling back into a familiar place, even as my relationship with the concept of home changes the older I get. I’m not a kid anymore, guys – when I come home and my Dad’s fridge is messy, bless his heart, I don’t shrug and help myself to the leftover plastic takeout box of Chinese food. Rather, I think, this fridge needs to be cleaned!! My sanity depends on it!! A bit dramatic, but I’ve grown after living on my own and dealing with small kitchens.

I cleaned out the fridge and found the following: 7 soft, pitted apples and 2 bananas, completely black. The solution is applesauce and banana bread. God, I love how gross bananas can get, but as long as there’s no mold, they’re still good to go even when the skin is black, & the inside is a dark brown. You’re hesitant but once you whip them into bread and start to smell the kitchen after half an hour, the buttery, banana-y, wheaty sweetness tells you it’s all gravy, baby.

(Oh but wait – my dad’s oven is broken, too. And the only cure is staying near the oven for 50 minutes, flipping the oven broiler on and off in an attempt to keep the temperature somewhere near 350. And it may have resulted in a completely burnt bread top. So there’s no after photo.) This bread was taken from the King Arthur Flour cookbook but tweaked to be dairy-free and healthier. The molasses lends a deeper richness, and turns it into more of a caramel-y banana loaf. Using coconut and oatmeal means it is moist, but with a chewy, thicker texture that makes this bread perfect with a slice of butter.

Hearty Molasses Banana Bread

1/2 cup coconut or canola oil

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon molasses

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/3 cup coconut flakes

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 mashed banana

1/4 cup honey

2 large eggs OR 1.5 Tbsp flax seed with 2 Tbsp water

1 1/2 cup flour of choice

1/2 cup oatmeal

2 tbsp of water, apple cider, or milk.

Preheat oven to 350 F and butter a standard loaf pan (9×5). Beat together oil, sugar, molasses, baking soda, salt, spices, coconut, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add banana, eggs or flax, and honey, continuing to beat. Add flour, oatmeal, & liquid of choice. Stir until smooth. Pour into pan. Optional: drizzle 1 tablespoon molasses and sprinkle coconut over the top for a crust. Insert into oven. Bake for 50 minutes, then cover with foil and bake an additional ten. Tester should come out clean. Let cool and slice! Yum.

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chocolate (avocado) butter & friends in all places

 

Post-college life is strange. For many, the immediate downside is that you no longer have a concentrated area in which tons of your friends live. In fact, you no longer have tons of friends, period. Even in Minneapolis, just 40 minutes from my alma mater, many of us alums have wondered, “How does one meet other people out of the blue?”

The upside, however, is the friends that you do keep in touch with are pretty cool. There are no set rules for the types of people you keep in touch with following a significant phase in your life. They may have been your best friend, a casual friend, a friend crush – you find yourselves sending little updates and looking forward to what they have to say in a genuine way. You might send letters, or e-mails, or packages of brownies, and every time you get something or send something it will make you smile. It may be little, but it’s meaningful. You get to connect to the human experience and hear about others. Suddenly, you don’t feel so alone.

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I think my avocados are part of a conspiracy theory: let me back up. This week, they remained hard, green outer shells for a few days, leading me to believe they were nowhere near ripe. One morning? Boom, over-ripe. Just like that. What are you waiiiiting for, they seemed to say. I’m mean, we’ve been ripe for like, foreverrrr. This led me to the pseudo-problem that is “I have too many ripe avocados!”, which, of course, everyone knows isn’t a problem at all.

I didn’t have the ingredients for guac, plus I was in the mood (as I always am) for something sweet. Vegans are fond of avocado frosting or avocado mousse because the texture is perfect for creamy desserts, but I wanted something a little more low-key. Chocolate avocado butter is the perfect in-between, a vegan equivalent of sweet cream, without the sugar rush of frosting. It feels just like soft butter after spending some time in a food processor. Add cocoa powder, a little stevia/maple syrup/honey/molasses, and it turns into a creamy, rich, melt-in-your mouth cocoa spread.

P.S. If you’re really in the mood to spread, the NYTimes has a collection of savory spreads for the holidays.

Cocoa avocado butter

1 1/3 cups mashed avocado

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar as desired (molasses, maple syrup, honey, etc)

1 tbsp vanilla

1 tsp coconut or canola oil

1 tsp salt

(optional: 1 tsp cinnamon)

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor; process until it is the texture of soft, whipped butter.

Spread on a thick slice of warm toast, sprinkle a lil’ sea salt, there ya go. Store in the fridge.

Edit: One week later and my avocado butter is still perfectly kept in the fridge. While I’m sure it’s not meant for a long shelf life, at least know you don’t have to eat it all in one sitting. Or maybe you will. I won’t tell.

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Holiday Shopping 2012

One thing I enjoy post-Thanksgiving: Christmas songs on the radio. Generally, I really like ’em. Except for that one dramatic tune “Christmas Shoes”. Have you heard that one? I hate it, sorry. The WORST holiday song, the bane of my family’s December, which I am guessing only Washington DC has to suffer through, is the song “Christmas Eve in Washington” by Maura Sullivan. Check it out if you dare.

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