Tuesday 13 December 2016

Swedish Saffron Buns - a Must Have on St Lucia

Today is St Lucia, celebrated in Sweden with singing by Lucia and her followers, but I won’t go into all that too much, as it’s quite a complicated thing to explain properly, with its different origins, evolution and present day traditions – if you want to see how it’s done nowadays, search for ‘Luciatåg’ on YouTube, and you’ll get everything from performances by toddlers and school children to professional televised shows accompanied by popular Swedish singers, or you can read the (mostly accurate) Wikipedia article.

This post will be all about the must-have thing to eat on St Lucia in Sweden – saffron buns, called saffransbullar, lussekatter or lussebullar in Swedish. 

They serve them in school lunch rooms, sell them in cafés, bakeries, supermarkets and petrol stations, but the best ones are home baked. I must confess that the last few years we haven’t had them on that day in our family since it’s our eldest child’s birthday so we eat birthday cake instead, but we do bake and eat them on the first weekend in December, or on the first weekend in Advent, whichever comes first. We also have them for breakfast on Christmas Eve, as that was tradition in my dad’s family when he grew up, was continued in his own family, and is now done in his grown children’s families. Usually they are baked as separate buns, but for our Christmas Eve breakfast, all the buns are put next to each other to make one huge break bread, sometimes in the shape of a tree. EDIT 24th December: This is how it turned out this year: 


Making these is a good family activity, even toddlers can take part with a bit of help. Of course there are dozens, if not hundreds of recipes for Swedish saffron buns, there is something for every taste, but this is a classic one that I use. For convenience I often use dry yeast (it stores much longer), but fresh yeast works just as well. If you use fresh yeast, change the work order accordingly, dissolving it in some of the buttermilk rather than mixing it with the flour.

Butter: 175 grams
Milk: 500 millilitres
Yeast: 50 grams (or the same equivalence in dry yeast)
Sugar: 175 - 200 millilitres
Ground saffron, ground: 1 gram
Plain wheat flour: about 1500 millilitres
(Egg: 1)

Start by melting the butter in a saucepan. While it’s melting, grind the saffron in a mortar to release the flavour. You don’t want a weak saffron flavour, so feel free to add a bit more saffron than the recipe calls for.

When the butter is melted, add the milk and saffron, and heat to finger temperature.

Pour most of the flour into a bowl or dough mixer. I’m one of those weird people who rather like to mix bread dough and whip cream by hand. Add the sugar, salt and dry yeast, and mix well. 

Add the egg and mix it in. (Optional, but it will give a more flexible dough.)

Pour the finger warm saffron buttermilk over the flour mix, and stir thoroughly. Add more flour if needed. 

When the dough is of a good bread dough texture, letting go of the bowl, sprinkle it with flour, put a tea towel over it and let it proof to double size. (Note: if in doubt, better leave the dough a tiny bit too wet than to dry. It's easier to add flour later if needed, than to remove any.)

Put the dough on a floured surface and knead thoroughly, until it becomes smooth and elastic.

Make the buns. Take a piece of dough, roll it out, and then coil the ends to make a somewhat exaggerated curly S-shape. Traditionally many different shapes were made, but this one is most common today.

Put the buns on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment, push a raisin into the middle of each coil (optional – I don’t like raisins in bread, so we leave some of them plain), cover with a tea towel and let them proof again, for about 30 minutes.

The buns have proofed enough when they spring back when gently poked. Give the buns an egg wash and put them in the middle of the oven, at 225-250 degrees Celsius. Depending on your oven, it will take about 5-10 minutes - they should be golden brown on top when finished.

Eat them as they are. Yum!

A common thing to have with saffron buns is julmust, a non-alcoholic, carbonated drink flavoured with malt and hops. Non-Swedes usually dislike it at first try, but for Swedes it is such a typical thing to drink in December, and many people have opinions on which brand is the tastiest. If you feel like giving it a go, I believe many IKEA stores have it, but I can’t vouch for how good it is – we have another favourite in my family ;) If julmust is not an option, milk, tea or coffee are other common drinks to have them with.

If your're Swedish - do you have any family traditions with regards to lussebullar? If you're not Swedish, have you tried saffron buns? How did you like them?

Friday 9 December 2016

Waltz of the Snowflakes

When perusing Pinterest sometime last autumn I came across some adorable paper ballerinas with snowflake tutus. Grown up though I am, I really liked them, but thought maybe they wouldn’t work in our home; they seemed more suited to little girls, and I’m the only female in the family. After several weeks, I reconsidered, thinking “well, there’s no guarantee I’ll ever have any daughters, and even if I do, they might not like ballet”. So, I decided to make a few snowflake ballerinas anyway, and have them as decoration for the “girls’ night in” I was planning with some friends.

In the summer I had made snowflakes from mini Hama beads that I had left from a project I did years ago. I made every one unique, though some of them are rather similar.

Then a few weeks ago I got caught up in making snowflakes with paper quilling; there are lots of tutorials on YouTube and on Pinterest if you’re interested to try it. All in all, I had enough suitable items to make a proper Walts of the Snowflakes decoration.

I used this template for the ballerinas, but edited out the skirt, which I then cut out of thin cardstock. I chose to make all three of them hold the same pose, to echo the feel of a corps de ballet, but made the tutus different, just as no two snowflakes are alike. The tutus were made from classical folded and cut paper snowflakes. I made the ballerinas rather smaller - 13,5 centimetres (5 5/8") from head to toe, smaller than my hand - than the inspiration pictures, as I think smaller quite often is prettier. I cut the snowflake tutus up the back, and glued them together again, using strips of paper, once they were in place on the ballerinas. The join is almost invisible. 

I hung the dancing snowflakes from the lamp fitting over our kitchen table, together with the quilled paper snowflakes and mini Hama bead snowflakes. On the threads that I hung the snowflakes from I also strung white glass beads, and put some threads with glass beads between them here and there to fill out any spaces. It became a very pretty, wintery decoration, the pictures really doesn't do it justice. The ballerinas make pirouettes when the heat from a candle under them makes the air move. I am quite delighted with them, and my boys also like them. It is not exactly a Christmas-y decoration, so it’s probable it will stay up well into the next year.

Have you made something similar? Please share a link!

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Button Tree Ornaments

These little ornaments are a bit whimsical, but cute. They also make a nice craft for children. Remember those bags of non-matching buttons I mentioned in my last post? A while back I decided to get some use out of the green ones. I apologise for the poor quality of the WIP images, the lighting was pretty bad.

The supplies I used were green buttons of varying sizes, wooden beads for the trunks, yellow glass beads for the toppers (star shaped buttons are nice too, but I was working from stash), and I stringed the ornaments on green linen thread that I’d twisted to make thin cords.

I put the wooden bead on first, making sure it was in the centre of the cord. Then the largest button went on, after that one of the smallest ones, and then a large one again, as the trick to making this look like a spruce/Christmas tree and not a cone is alternating the buttons of a decreasing size with really small ones.

For buttons with two holes the cord naturally will run through each of them, and on four hole buttons, the cord will go through two holes diagonally across from each other. When all the buttons are stringed, add the bead on top, tie off the cord (make sure the knot is big enough to prevent the glass bead from slipping off), and your ornament is done!

This is a great project for left-over buttons, and if the buttons don't match from one tree to another it's actually not a bad thing, as no two trees look exactly the same in real life. If one would someday want the buttons for something else, they are easily redeemable.

Have you made a neat holiday craft using buttons? Please share!

Saturday 3 December 2016

Crocheted Star Ornaments

When browsing Pinterest I came across these crocheted little stars made by Persia Lou, and as each star only require two rounds, I though they’d be quick and fun to make. The pattern called for wool yarn, but though I love wool, I've had wool ornaments eaten by bugs when in storage, and as I'm in enough worry over my stash of wool fabrics and yarn, not to mention my historical clothes, I decided against that. The cotton yarn that I had of a suitable colour was too thin, so I tried making them from hemp twine that I had at hand. It worked very well, except that the twine was a bit rough to work with, so I could only make one or two stars at the time to protect my hands. Unlike the instructions in the pattern, I did not starch my stars, so they are a bit less crisp and pointed than the originals, but nice anyway.

Once they were done I thought they needed an extra little something. I once got three small bags of buttons, in green, red and blue respectively. It wasn’t the best deal of my life, as it turned out that rather few of the buttons actually matched. For this project they would work well though, so I picked out every red button of the size that I wanted, and stitched one in the centre of each star. I made a hanger from the twine, and the ornaments were ready to be hung.

Simple but pretty, if one is into a Scandinavian Christmas decor, an "old fashioned" Christmas or the “rustic” Christmas (whatever that’s supposed to be) that seem to be one of the trendy themes right now.

Have you crocheted some kind of ornaments for Christmas?

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Jingle Bell Ornaments

One day when I went through my stuff I came across a bag of tiny jingle bells that I got several years back when making a costume for a friend (Esmeralda in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and thought that they’d make nice ornaments for our Christmas tree. They don’t jingle very well, but they look pretty, and I had lots of them.

As they are so small (each bell 11 millimetres in diameter), I stringed four of them on a piece of hemp twine, grouped them together tightly and made a knot to keep them in place. I tied the ends of the twine together, then bound a little satin ribbon bow around the top, secured with a few stitches to prevent little fingers from undoing it. In the end, I got eleven little ornaments.

They don’t make much of a statement, but not every ornament has to be big or flashy. We have rather a small tree anyway, so it doesn't look ridiculous. I really like how they came out, even if they are very small.

Do you use jingle bells to decorate for the holidays?

Sunday 27 November 2016

First Sunday of Advent

I love this time of year! As I live in Sweden where many people get uncomfortable when one talks about religion, I don’t often mention it, but I am a practicing Christian (Latter Day Saint/Mormon to be exact), and Advent is filled with the hymns I love the best. Music speaks to my heart in a way nothing else does, it allows me to express the feelings I find it difficult to put words to, and the centuries old hymns reminds me not only of Christ and His role in my life, but also of my ancestors that might have sung them during cold December Sundays, wearing layers of clothes made from wool and sheepskin to keep the cold of the unheated, white limed little churches at bay. All the fairy lights, illuminated stars and candles that quite literally brings light to the dark of the Northern winter makes me happy. For me, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.

In Sweden many, many people, believing Christians or not, have Advent candlesticks at home. Traditionally, the four candles are set in a line on a special candlestick, but nowadays many variations exist. After trying out one of these modern ways, I have returned to tradition, and I like it better. This year my candlestick is decorated with a brocade ribbon, a plain satin ribbon, both from my stash, and a couple of twigs of boxwood held in place with a hemp string. Earlier this evening I lit the first candle as the children were eating porridge.

 Sometime around the first Sunday of Advent is the time when most Swedes start to put up their holiday decorations. Earlier this week I decorated two of the kitchen windows with greenery, fairy lights and red bows. The greenery is artificial wine vines that we got to decorate for our wedding reception, but with the lights (also from our wedding) and the red bows, it looks Christmas-y enough. When Eldest saw what I’d done he said “How pretty! I’m so proud of you, Mummy!” Children are often good for one’s self-confidence. Although the lights don't go all the way down, it's not as noticeable in real life as in a photo, and it does look rather cosy.

 How do you prepare for Christmas? Any traditions from your country or family you’d like to share?

Monday 21 November 2016

A Paper Chain

A while back I tried making a classical paper chain, but unlike the heavy, clumsy ones we made in school, I wanted a small, dainty one.

I used 12” x 12” two-sided scrapbooking paper that I had in my stash. One sheet of paper made a 57 link chain that is approximately 59” (150 cm) long. I made two, and have not yet decided if I want to join them or not. The fact that my paper had a gingham print on one side made it easy to cut without much measuring and with no drawing at all.

Making a paper chain is really simple, but I took a step-by-step picture anyway.
-          Cut your paper into strips; mine were 5/8” (Ca 1,5 cm) wide.
-          Cut the strips into shorter lengths; I cut every strip in three, making 5/8” x 4” (about 1,5x10 cm) strips.
-          Run every strip through your fingers a few times, carefully making them curl so they won’t chink later.
-          Glue the chain together.

If you want, you can leave a strip or two, in case your chain gets broken and needs repairing – a definite possibility if you have pets or small children.

Do you decorate with paper chains? Please tell how, or share a link!

Saturday 19 November 2016

A Door Wreath for Advent

Next weekend marks the beginning of Advent, and I'm looking forward to start putting up my Advent/Christmas decorations. I have been listening to Christmas music for more than a month already, and been making several types of ornaments that I plan to share, but let's start with a welcoming door wreath that I made today.

I made the base from fresh birch branches that I twisted into a circle. Round it I attached twigs of northern white-cedar (not a native plant to Europe, but not unusual in gardens and parks), spruce and ivy, and decorated it with spruce cones. I picked everything from what was once gardens in our neighbourhood, but have stood abandoned for years. To keep everything together I used string, as it will allow me to take it apart after the holidays, and put the plant materials back into nature.

As a finishing touch I looked through my stash and found a strip of cotton fabric, in a shade of red too bright for me to be likely to use it indoors, which I wound round the wreath.

The result was rather cheerful and pretty, I think, and though the weather is very mild and often wet right now, it did raise my Christmas spirit both to make it and to see it on my door.

Do you make your own wreath (or other door decoration) or do you buy it? What's your style?

Thursday 10 November 2016

Wizarding Halloween 2016

On 31 October four families of friends joined us for our annual Halloween party. Our house was close to overflowing, with ten adults and twelve children, all born within the last five and a half years. The youngest was only a few weeks old. The dress code was “witch/wizard or Muggle”, and most chose to represent the magical community in one way or another. The number of different wands that had been procured for the occasion was rather impressive. 

I had spent the last few weeks putting up decorations here and there, beginning with out of the way things. Most of the decorations I have already blogged about (or will do so), so I’ll not go into great detail about them – if you’re interested you can follow the links to those blog posts. Here's a sort of house tour of how it looked the day of the party.

In the hall the shopping parcels from Diagon Alley where stacked nonchalantly on the window sill, next to a bowl of sweets for trick-or-treaters, and a small "Halloween tree" trimmed with bats, miniature brooms and a black cat. 

In the corner where our pram usually stands I put the broom, an umbrella, some hats and shoes. I left that area pretty empty, as I expected our guests to put their own prams there, which they did.

In the hallway on the way to the kitchen I put a pile of books - I rather liked the image of the toads and mushroom on the cover of one of them. On top of the books I put a jar of dried plants and my twig candle holder (still not sure how I like that one).

Most of the decorations were concentrated to the kitchen, as that's where we'd spend most of the time. The floating candles were up again, but instead of scattering them evenly across the ceiling, I divided them into three groups, one in the corner by the sofa, one above a cupboard and the rest over the kitchen table. I rather like how it came out. Thanks to my mother-in-law who gave me more electrical tea lights to play with :)

In front of the windows curtains of bats were flying - sorry for the poor image quality. The Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff wall hangings were also up.

In the lamp above the kitchen table I had hung various plants to dry, some with tags noting the name of the plant and when it was picked.

In the window above the sink I had a couple of magical plants, and some candles in bottles. 

The bookshelf was filled with potions ingredients, the false book spines and book covers, and a tankard with quills.

The noticeboard was full of ads, notes and flyers from various magical shops, St Mungos and so on. A few hand written letters finished off the look.

I had made new cushion covers for the throw pillows, in purple linen, and I put them on over the green checked cushion covers that was already on them, making one of many small instances of purple and green combined.

On the cupboard in the corner I placed some books, including the miniature guestbook disguised as Tinctures - the Tiny Tome, my miniature forest scene in a bell jar, more candles and our own wands

The party was, as usual, ‘bring a dish’, and the theme was “British or Wizarding”, and to accompany the Ginger Newts, green-and-purple biscuits,

and Yorkshire puddings I hade made,

we had a roast, deep fried potatoes, gravy, roast vegetables, (Little One kept picking food from my plate) 

trifle and cheesecake.

It was a very nice party, but I was very tired afterwards, and for this post being rather late, I can only blame being a bit burned out on the whole thing. But it's not yet time to leave the wizarding word behind; next week my HP-fan sister-in-law and I are going to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, something we're both looking forward to. And of course, several of the decorations and foods mentioned above I haven't posted about more in detail yet.

But that will come when it comes - now I feel ready to start posting about Christmas decorations! 

Friday 21 October 2016

My First Broomstick

For the longest time I’ve wanted a broomstick of my own – what Harry Potter fan hasn’t? I never ran into the kind I wanted though (except for tolerable looking kid’s Halloween brooms, but unless I got one with the intention that it would be the boys’ toy broom, that would just be silly), so in the end I researched what it would take to make my own. And now I have made one!

 Last spring I found a good sized branch, broken off from a tree at the playground, and thought “perfect”. It wasn’t quite perfect really: it was riddled with worms and such, but apart from that the wood was sound, so I decided I’d use it anyway. When you don’t have forests close by or a car to get you there, you have to accept what’s available.

 I brought the branch home, removed the bark, sawed off the parts I didn’t want.

I smoothed the stick with a knife and then sand paper.

 I stained it with very strong tea, and I set it aside (indoors) for a few months.

For the business end of the broom I collected birch twigs. You are really supposed to collect them before the sap rises in spring, but I didn’t look into broom making until much too late, and couldn’t wait until next year to get started. If I make another broom I’ll try to be more forward-looking.

Close to our home there is a field that seem to have been in disuse for several years, long enough that young birches have had the time to grow a lot taller than me. I felt that I could take twigs from there without anyone minding. When I was sort of content with what I had collected, I stripped them of leaves and put them in the shed to dry over the summer – but not until I had laid them out loosely together with the stick to get an idea of what the finished broom would look like.

A couple of weeks ago I finally assembled the broom. 

I gathered up the birch twigs one by one, and made them into a tight bundle, where the ends of the twigs ended at about the same length, and when possible pointed inwards rather than outwards: when my hand wasn’t enough to hold the bundle together I strapped a belt round it, and continued to add twigs. 

When that was done I used hemp rope to tie them together. I wrapped the rope round a stick to make a handle – that helped me pull the rope really tight without hurting my hands.

I then sawed off the twigs at the top, to make a neat finish. Note to self: if you want a fuller broom, gather lots more twigs than you think you'll need next time, they shrink as they dry.

I cut the stick down a bit, as it was too crooked to easily put the bundle of birch twigs on. It ended up slightly too short, so maybe we’ll have to pretend it was a broom one of us got as a teen, and as we prefer Floo powder or Apparition to flying anyway, we never really bothered getting a new one.
The bottom of the stick was sharpened to a point to make it possible to get it into the tightly bundled up birch twigs. I had to taper the sharpened end even more then in the picture for it to work, but I got there in the end.

When both parts of the broom were finished, I put the sharpened end of the stick into the top of the twig bundle. With the broom upside down, holding on to the bundle, I then pounded the broom, handle first, into the ground, driving the handle into the middle of the birch twig bundle. After a while it felt really sturdy and secure. I washed of the surplus tea - somehow I never got round to that before - and that was that, my very first broom!

It wasn’t really all that difficult, though of course mine isn’t very pretty, having neither the proper tools nor the experience. It’s certainly not a Nimbus or a Firebolt, but all in all I’m happy with it, especially seeing as I never was very good at working with wood.

And now - UP!

Any of you ever tried making a broom? Or have you got a nice ready-made one? Please share links!