Saturday, October 31, 2015

Our Time In Sweden

The whole point of our Europe trip was to attend Ashley's friend's wedding. Before we knew where else we would be traveling, Sweden was going to be our home base. We spent one of the two and a half weeks in this beautiful country. Knowing that we would have friends to show us around, I didn't research as much as I did with the other countries we planned to visit. Before this trip, Sweden was not a place that I had immediate plans to visit. There were no negative notions about this country but places like Prague, Amsterdam, and London screamed out my name. During my stay I developed a special place in my heart for this Scandinavian country. The people, the architecture, the language, and of course, the fika made my stay so incredibly enjoyable. I look forward to returning there one day.


Where we stayed:

We flew into Stockholm and spent our first few days in the Södermalm neighborhood at Hellstens Malmgård. This hotel is conveniently located near the Zinkensdamm T-bana stop. It's also walking distance to Gamla Stan and the city center. The hotel is situated a little off the beaten path in a nice garden setting. The property itself is beautiful with old-world charm. Our room was small, which should be anticipated in European hotels. The neat thing about our room was that it had a loft. A sturdy wood ladder led up to the large, open area with low ceilings and two low-to-the-grounds beds. The bathroom was small but had modern renovations. I really loved the communal areas the hotel offered. There were small tables and chairs in the main courtyard; and in the foyer right outside our room, a lounge style wooden chair, couches, and coffee and tea were available. I spent one evening hanging out in that awesome chair journaling and reading. The hotel also had a great selection of books that previous guests had left behind. The breakfast here was great. It was your traditional European hotel breakfast of fresh baked breads, meats, cheeses, fruit, yogurt, as well as cooked eggs and sausage. This hotel totally reminded me of a bed and breakfast my mom and I stayed at while visiting Boulder, Colorado. I hope to one day bring her to this gem because I know she would love it.

What we ate:

Beijing8 - A modern and fresh Dim Sum spot we stumbled upon. I highly recommend the steamed broccoli. It was cooked perfectly and the thicker bits of salt sprinkled on top really brought out great flavor. The duck dumplings were spicy and delicious. The chicken dumplings, on the other hand, were too basic for my taste but great for those non-adventurous eaters. The staff here were nice and friendly.

Weindels Konditori - Being our first day in Sweden, we knew we needed to get our fika on. For those who aren't familiar, fika is an important part of Swedish culture. It's a coffee break usually accompanied by a pasty or other nibble. It  This looked like a cute place so we decided to give it a try. My espresso was great! All the coffee I had during our stay in Europe was on point. We also got a few pastries to share. The pastries were good, some better than others. We did stop into another Konditori the next evening called Eclair, which I much preferred.

Our first fika!

Légumes - It's a known fact that the Scandinavian countries can break your budget. Lucky for us we found this great and inexpensive place to have dinner. Légume offers vegan and vegetarian friendly fare in a buffet-style setting. The food is served to you but you pick and choose what you want and can go back for seconds, or thirds if you are really hungry. They had a wide variety of hot and cold dishes to choose from. The food was really good. It was filling and healthy which is also a plus. If I remember correctly, the cost for my meal was 85 SEK which is about $10 USD.

Barobao - Stopped in this place for a quick snack. The pork belly bun was all I tried but boy was it delicious!

What we did:

On our first day in Stockholm we explored the Söder neighborhood. It was suggested that we stay in this neighborhood as it's the new up and coming area of Stockholm. It offers plenty of shops, restaurants, and beautiful buildings to gawk at. The following morning we walked to Gamla Stan. This is a must when you travel to Stockholm. Gamla Stan or "Old Town" is one of Europe's most well preserved medieval city centers. Meandering the narrow streets takes you back to another time.


Where we stayed:

For our first two nights in Uppsala we stayed at the Park Inn by Radisson. I chose this hotel because for the wedding, a bus was going to shuttle us to and from the venue. I wanted to be close to the drop off spot since I knew we would be drinking and didn't want to walk far in a foreign place. The hotel was very nice and tailored to Americans. The room and bathroom were larger than most European hotels. It even had a fitness center which I used one night. Breakfast was included and was enjoyable as well. It was similar fare to what we had at our previous hotel.

For the remainder of our stay in Uppsala we stayed at Martin's father's house. He was going to be out of town and was so kind to let us stay in his beautiful home. It was by far the best place we stayed during our trip.

The wedding: 

Before our trip, I had met Jess twice through Skype while Ash and I planned our itinerary. It wasn't until the wedding when I finally got to meet her in person. Jess and her entire group of friends and family made us feel so welcome. I can't say enough how nice everyone was. The entire wedding was in Swedish and during dinner when everyone made their speeches, her friends at our table were kind enough to translate. The wedding and all it's tiny details made the evening a memorable one. I'm so thankful I was able to be part of their special day.

Hand painted signs by her family. That vintage 1950's bus in the background is what we arrived in.

Beer on the table was crafted by Martin, the groom.

Both the bride and groom are vegetarian so they opted for a full vegetarian dinner.
Jess was pretty excited for us to try the Utedass.

What we ate:

Once we moved over to Martin’s father's house we had a full kitchen to take advantage of. Jess cooked us dinner a couple nights, making falafel one night and fried halloumi burgers another. I had never tried halloumi before but I noticed it quite a bit on menus throughout our trip. In London, Ash ordered vegetarian fish and chips using halloumi in place of the fish. It was so good. Something about the saltiness of the cheese and the crispy outer coating is just delicious. We did go to breakfast one morning to a cafe that Jess had suggested.

Café Linné Hörnan - This place is a dream. I wished that I lived in this beautiful city so I could come to this cafe every morning for coffee and a pastry... or two. To say the least, it was a very enjoyable experience. Along with an americano, I tried their cardamom kanelbullar and a super dense and moist hazelnut cookie (didn’t get the name). The strong and fresh flavors were such a delight and they paired so well with the coffee.

Another meal I greatly enjoyed was one that Jess prepared for lunch. It’s a traditional Swedish cheese pie called våsterbotten paj. Similar to a quiche but more cheese and less of an egg texture. It was really fun to be able to try a classic specialty made by a local in their home. Jess and Martin were such great hosts. Their kindness and calm nature was a pleasure to be around. Spending time with their adorable son was also a plus.

Something else to add onto your list of things to try is Mjukglass (soft serve) with sprinkles. There are kiosks all over Stockholm and Uppsala that sell them. American sprinkles don’t even come close to how good the sprinkles in Europe taste. It was like a crunchy candy coating covering the soft serve. Amazing.

 One thing I learned is that Swedes love their candy. We came across loads of candy bins throughout the city. Naturally we had to try some! Anything chocolate with hazelnut was my favorite. There were quite a few of the gummy varieties I really liked too.

What we did:

Jess and Martin took us on a bike ride through the city of Uppsala to Gamla Uppsala “Old Uppsala” to see the Royal mounds. These ancient burial mounds date back to the 5th and 6th century. There is also the Church of Gamla Uppsala as well as a museum.

The Uppsala Cathedral is not to be missed. This incredibly beautiful church dates back to the 13th century. It is the tallest in the Nordic countries. You must go inside and take in all the exquisite detail. It's truly amazing.

View of the Cathedral from where we were staying.
  A walk through the Botanical Garden and the Uppsala University Library.

On our last full day in Sweden we took a day trip to Stockholm. We stopped for lunch at Vigårda. They offer so-so burgers (beef, chicken and vegetarian options) but great sides and dipping sauces at reasonable prices. Before we made our way towards Djurgarden bridge we stopped at a Systembolaget to grab some wine. Systembloaget is a government owned chain of liquor stores. It is the only retail store allowed to sell alcohol. We thought it would be nice to have a drink out on the water as we were going to rent a pedal boat. Being out on the water was a fun adventure. I didn’t realize how hard those pedal boats work your legs but it was a great experience shared with great people. Sweden and everyone I met during my stay will always have a special place in my heart. I can't wait to one day return and explore more of this great and beautiful country.

Ash spotted this girl walking in front of us and asked if she'd take a photo with me. She was super sweet.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin-Zucchini-Banana Bread

I've posted quite a few breakfast bread recipes here. That's because they are so easy to whip up and a great way to have breakfast all week. Now that the weather is finally cooling down it's actually starting to feel like Fall. What do we do in Fall? Eat everything pumpkin! I'm not a PSL drinker but I do love everything else pumpkin. Just the other night I made a vegetarian green curry with pumpkin. It was so spicy and delicious. That should be a future post. Having leftover roasted pumpkin from that evening, I mashed it up and turned it into Chocolate Chip Pumpkin-Zucchini-Banana Bread. This bread is really yummy! I like to serve it toasted (so the chocolate melts) with almond butter and sliced banana. It's also a filling fiber rich meal which will keep you going until lunch.


Dry ingredients
½ cup gluten free oat flour (blended up oats)
½ cup rice flour
¼ cup gluten free oat bran
¼ cup ground flax
¼ cup tapioca starch
¼ cup coconut sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon cinnamon
A few dashes of ground ginger
A dash or two of ground cloves

Wet ingredients
1 cup mashed pumpkin (canned pumpkin could also be used.)
1 medium banana, broken into smaller pieces
⅓ cup canola oil
⅓ cup blackstrap molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup almond milk
1 egg

Add ins
1 medium zucchini, grated
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

To make:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients. Gently mix to combine. In a food processor, blend all of your wet ingredients except for the egg. Once all wet ingredients have been mixed, add your egg and blend for a few seconds. Pour wet ingredients into the dry and mix together until all of the flour blend is saturated. Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes.