He's flabbergasted, I'm flabbergasted

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Off topic, I love the light at the cottage. It’s been consistently magical.

Acquiring real estate is always risky business. Who knows what dwells behind that lovely wallpaper and under that parquet flooring? So you can't smell mold or fungus, but that doesn't mean it's not under there, lingering and waiting for the perfect time to eat your house alive in under 12 months. So your foundation is pretty dry? Well, there are house funguses that create their own little pipeline with water so they can keep devouring all that you hold dear, quietly channeling the water they need from meters away. It's not until you ask your partner if he's dropped cinnamon on the floor again, that you realise that it's not cinnamon at all; No, it's house hell, spreading its devil-spores into your living quarters.

So the seller has used bathrooms and the ventilation and electricity for years before selling? I'm not that old but have still managed to, as an adult, move into two houses with lethal electricity, that wasn't obviously lethal until one started breaking open paneling and detaching appliances and the shiny, de-insulated live cables showed themselves to our terrified eyes.

What I'm trying to say is, houses (and DIY-owners) are fickle creatures. Nature has its silly little fingers in everything, incessantly breaking down everything by means of weather, flora, fauna and the passing of time. In colder climates like Sweden, a tad too much wrongly placed insulation to keep you warm in the grueling winter months may mean that your house is instead melting with the help of mold because that tad of moisture and warmth that you exude by living, hits the cold outside air in just the right spot inside your walls to keep them constantly wet, and it's all a secret until you find a weird smell that won't go away. It's the recognizable smell of empty wallets, cancelled vacations and carpenter farts.

It's one thing to see things go downhill, and it's another to helplessly chance it if you can't get into the foundations of the house or into the chimneys to see if they're ready to crumble or not.

But in spite of knowing this, it's exactly what we did. We chanced it.

A hasn't been forced to acquire quite as much knowledge about accommodation-entropy as me, but since we moved into this house, his journey has begun for sure. Arriving at the cottage that first time, I brought my experience from living in chaotic houses and we went on to look at that little dwelling that seemed to fulfill everything we wanted in a simpler vacation cottage.

I stared, sniffed, poked, crawled, knocked, listened, flashlighted, stepped around, tugged, opened, closed, lifted and looked under, squinted and felt the cottage. Yeah, the windows are quite literally on the brink of falling apart. Yes, the paneling has started its final countdown to demise. Yup, the roof has to be cleaned and painted and that's a fucking mess to do. The barn has to be cleaned and the little workshop building has to be fixed because it has insulation exposed to the elements. All that is fine. I can see it, and fix it. Of course, I can't see the foundations or the inside of the chimneys or how the walls are insulated, but from what we could gather, it was worth chancing.

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The cottage is an old house that has been a summer home for the last 25 years. You can't expect it to be in great nick, in need of no renovations, and we're on board with a hefty dose of pessimistic pragmatism. The house is 120 years old with renovations in the '40s, including the chimneys we think. This makes the entire thing I'm about to tell you just more flabbergasting.

Let's start this way: I want to lounge in the cottage during the colder months. Things one need to lounge in a cottage specifically during the colder months is; a heat source.

Because in all it's simplicity, the house manages quite well without the modern fancy stuff. There's an outhouse loo, no running water inside (though we still need a hand-pump for the well), no fan-driven ventilation and I have a rocket furnace to cook on outside. That combined with an underground food cellar that holds refrigerator temperatures even during the summer, I don't need electricity to survive out there, of course not counting the need for 21st-century entertainment.

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In the summer that's all fine and dandy, but in the other nine-ten months of the year, one needs a heating system to survive in the great wilderness that is Sweden. I mean, I COULD bolster myself in survival-burritos and accept around-freezing temperatures inside too, but the motivation for that is a little lackluster when knowing that I have a warm home with all life's necessities and modern luxuries just 35 minutes from the cottage.

So, we need a heat source. The cottage has three! Great! We've stared at the two cast iron stoves and the masonry stove since we bought the place in late June, but haven't been able to use them since we had no movement of air in the stoves and no idea what shape the chimneys themselves were in. Also, we're guessing that no chimney sweep had been there this generation (In Sweden you do need to either prove you've done it yourself sufficiently or have a professional sweep your chimneys in order to legally utilize fires inside), since there were no ladders on the roof and I'm pretty sure that they've demanded ladders to do their job for a long time, for obvious reasons; less risk of dying.

Haplessly assuming the chimneys and chimney/stove joints were in bad condition, I imagined not being able to hang out in the cottage until next summer when we'd had the chance to sell our souls and a few of our belongings to afford someone to redo the chimneys and re-set the masonry stove. Patience, dear, I thought to myself. We're in it for the long haul after all.

Yes, there is a portable radiator to plug in but the electricity was installed in the 1940's so we don't want to use that more than is absolutely necessary. The coffee maker is necessary (ahem, lazy) but not much else.

But if we could get the stoves going, we'd be able to heat rooms, cook, have warm water for doing dishes or bathing or cleaning, and just have a nice time all in all. Home and hearth, ya know.

Being responsible homeowners, we brought in the chimney sweep to see if he could at all determine if we could make fires, but he couldn't. There was no ladder on the roof so he couldn't safely access the chimneys and he couldn't do it properly just from below. So we took in a handyman that mounted a ladder and ramp on the roof, and then a company to look at the chimneys and the masonry stove and give us an offer to redo stuff (FYI: It's expensive, hurr) but he thought the chimneys looked okay with the need of some renovations and that things will need maintenance within the next couple of years so why not do it right away right, like a person selling expensive services would say. So then we called in the chimney sweep again because now we could.

Last Friday, he showed up again, merely minutes after the time window he stated earlier had begun, impressive in itself! Climbed the ladder to the roof, gushed over the lovely ladder and ramp, and filmed down the chimneys. Muttered a little to himself. "Chimneys that have been covered are often in worse shape because of moisture getting caught..". Then he went silent up there. I stood on the lawn below, nervously fiddling with things. It felt like an exam. If we passed, we'd be able to really spend time in the cottage right now. If we didn't, at least a year would go by before being able to, and a huge load of money was to be thrown at professionals.

He filmed both chimneys in silence and then decided to come down. Before he went down, he took the boards that had been covering one of the chimneys and threw them off of the roof. A smidgeon of hope flashed inside me. Why would he throw them down and say "You shouldn't have flammable things laying around on chimneys" if we weren't risking setting them on fire?

But I didn't dare hope for reals. We went inside and he took on the first stove. Shoving meters and meters of pipe cleaner devices into the outlet behind the stove, connecting them to a screwdriver and funneling the bristles to the top of the chimney, vacuuming and all that jazz that chimney sweeps do. The soot escaped his attempts to keep it contained in the soot drawers and the pleasant smell of extinguished fires filled the kitchen. I love that smell. It's the scent of life and every day and a sense of connection with the past when electricity wasn't here to solve all of our worldly problems. Don't get me wrong, I love all that jazz, of course. I love having hot showers and being able to make grilled cheese when I'm too lazy to use the regular stove to boil and fry something, and I love having a system that automatically regulates the inside temperature with just the poking of a little lever. But there's a time and a place for winding down and doing things the slow way too, and I really enjoy it.

He poked around and I tried not to hover as intensely as I felt like doing, because being hovered over is truly annoying. Chatted a little about the cottage and what our plans were and ya know, made the time go by on what felt like a path of forever leading to a paper saying "Fires prohibited". But he collected his things, and just said: "So yeah, that's fine". I stared at him. "It's approved?" "Yes!"

You know that moment when you realise how little you believed or dared to hope for something and then it comes true anyways? Blankly I stared at our functioning stove.

He continued into the main kitchen and did the same procedure there with all shoving stuff into holes and screwdrivers and vaccuming. I tried not to hover this time as well, finding ground on a chair that kept me in my place. He crawled around and did his thing. Talked a little about stoves in general, how to retain heat in them etc etc. And then, almost passer-by-like said "Well, you have around 6kWh here", waving a little towards the small kitchen and the stove nearest.

What! Gosh darnit whowuddathunkit! SURE AS HELL NOT ME.

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But then, it was time for the masonry stove... The main hero when it comes to survival in the colder months, because of its heat retaining properties. You only light two fires a day in it and it keeps ya toes from frostbite! It's like magic! The iron stoves are for cooking and heating water (for radiation heat!) and more short-term warmth, while the masonry stove gives off warmth for hours and hours after lighting it.

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On he went, with the same procedure there too. I sat on an old chest to not hover this time as well, but the nerves tickled my inside. If this isn't okay, we still have to redo everything and can't get a stable temperature in here until next year. He lit balls of paper to get the draft going, made a little fire, lit a smoke capsule and checked everything.

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Then he got up, patted the stove and said: "Well, this stove isn't gonna kill you either".
"What?"
"I'm surprised too! What a nice way to end the working week, I didn't think it would all be in such good condition!"
"HAPPY DAYS!"
"Yes, nice!"

I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT. I still can't believe it. Oh man. The joy! The day after I tried making hot water for chai for the first time in a cast-iron stove. And ya know, I made it. I did it! ... A and I sipped our cups of hot chai and listened to the crackling firewood like two old people. Well, not long before that it was an experience not far from the warlike conditions of the battle of Lützen in 1632 from what I've heard, but it sorted itself out when the draft got going.

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I think it's some sort of remaining disbelief that's made me not try and make a fire in the masonry stove just yet, but it's coming. Soon. Yes. Soon. Very soon.

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It looks like a regular cup of chai latte, but it’s really the start of a new era. No dramatization!

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I'm ready for autumn

I remember writing a similar post two or three years ago, about stumbling out of the tattoo studio I worked at and getting hit in the face by Mr. Moist, aka summer in late August.

He's here again my fellow internetters, oh, he's here again.

That time of the year when you find spiders in the basement surprisingly often, like, almost every night just before bedtime, and of course just by your bed. It's that time of year when you try to take an evening walk but have to admit defeat before even leaving your own street because you've already almost stepped on 25 snails that have taken the chance to relocate when everything's terribly wet and moist - just like they like it.

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Everything feels weirdly cool to the touch, because everything's a little moister than what it should be. Clothes feel clingy, sweat breaks long before my body temperature usually requires it, and the misty sunlight fries everything in sight without lifting the heavy feeling.

I mean, I guess it's fine because we have a bajillion tomatoes and chilies in the garden that need to ripen but I as an individual does not appreciate it. I never really appreciate 27C/80F, but even less so now. The moisture content in what used to be called "the air" lays like a heavy blanket atop my breathing organs and it even makes everything smell differently. You know when you walk through your house and all of a sudden it smells like.. building materials? That you haven't smelled before? So you instinctively assume you have water damage and that's gonna suck so bad to clean up because gawddangit you're just finished with the dang carpenters? And then realise it's just September soon and that's how life works?

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BUT, my friends, the wet blanket of hopelessness will eventually lift and it will leave us with my favourite season - autumn. So I'm making all the preparations for it! Curtains are changed and the dining room and the fireplace is kitted with autumny colours and fake flowers because I am a thousand years old. Autumn scented candles have been picked and put on display and I've colour-coordinated some others, which I may say is easy, because my entire house is well adapted for the autumn life.

I've put hours into boiling purees and making apple sauce and have frozen and preserved berries and fruits for later (ya know, I'm AM a newbie at preserving so some of it goes into the freezer in case of failure). I've made pumpkin puree and picked plums off of our neighbour's trees and sorted out convincingly summery clothes, all of which I wanted to throw into the laundry bins because of their apparent wetness, but then I again realised it's September and that's just how life works some years.

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So yeah I accidentally broke off the more yellowy pumpkin when digging around, so it had to come in prematurely. Ahem. But at least we finally got an orange one!

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I've googled recipes for fall and baked an autumn spice cake (SO GOOD!) and eaten warm plum compote with ice cream. We've invited way too many people for the traditional crayfish celebrations and it's gonna be great!

We've planned loosely for the Swedish version of Thanksgiving because we have one! It's the 13th of October this year and is apparently for giving thanks to God for this year's harvest. Being the heathen that I am, I'm opting for nature and the universe and maybe the trolls that keep stealing our socks, leaving the monotheistic deity-bit to my partner.

Hopefully, we'll be able to have a Halloween party as well, we'll see. The autumn plans drifts over into Christmas, having to prepare things here and there for that glorious time of the year as well. Christmas cards are to be made, wreaths decorated, glögg has to be mixed six weeks in advance.

The house is ready. The garden is almost ready. I'm ready.

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In case anyone of you wonder where I spend most of my down time, it’s right in that corner. Love my corner, inspite of looming ancestry in the shape of oversized Polish clocks. It’s the only place in this entire house it fits, haha!

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The "gardener" status update of August

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Our past Sunday dinner: Chard, tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, garlic-tossed beans, cheese-stuffed Jamaican bell chilies and red peppers. The pumpkin is sitting on our kitchen counter because I don’t know if it’s ready to become pumpkin puree or not. The glee in eating stuff that you’ve just dragged from their homes in your own garden, it’s very pleasant!

You guys know my struggles this spring when the weather sexily gyrated between negging (snow) and sultry tease (actually spring), and this summer wasn't much more reliable. The summer-tombola offered everything between 12 degrees and cloudy for weeks to 30 degrees and sunny days on end.

In the middle of all that the plants on the patio started getting bigger and... well when the cucumbers grew eerily big and the cherry tomatoes reddened, the even more gigantic beef tomato plants together offered us... one tomato. One. All the flowers just rotted away and fell off, yellow flecks covering the floor as sad reminders of plants not being in their prime conditions, making sure we'd know about it.

So we threw two of them out and kept the other two on the patio. My partner, fortunately not following my tip of not being sentimental, what-the-hell-planted them outside instead. Same with a few Jamaican Bell-plants that looked mostly like Jessica Day's feeling stick, the travel version. In spite of being a little curious of what the plants were feeling, I thought it'd be somewhat demeaning to wave one of them around while asking the others if they had anything to add, so I didn't.

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Like reproducing phoenixes they rose from the sad ashes of their pot-living and shot out a thousand flowers and tomatoes and chilies. Inside, their species-kin still dwells in pots, clearly demonstrating their displeasure by giving off small, few and overall lackluster fruits to match my labour. Tomatoes and Jamaican Bell chilies, next year you're going right out into the garden.

No fussing around with you bishes, I get it.

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So yeah they love it outdoors, point taken.

In May, I took a piece of broken off cherry tomato plant, let it grow roots in a glass of water for a week and then shoved it into one of the beds as well, along with weaning pumpkin shoots and beans. All of them looked like death for weeks, but I thought I'd just leave'em because we didn't plan on trying to incubate anything else there anyway. We watered them a little and just, well, whatever happens, happens.

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So yeah, this happened.

I should add; we didn't plant any yellow pumpkins. Flat beige ones and tall orange ones and some other version, yes. Round yellow ones? No. So... I guess we have to find a new strategy for next year, huh. *takes notes* Don't let the pumpkins cross-pollinate. *check* Oh, and don't let pumpkins grow ON our garage while slowly destroying the trellis. *pushes glasses up the nose and takes even more notes* I mean, we all know about the square cucumber and how that ended, AMIRIGZFHT wheeze laughter!*

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One of my favourite things about growing veggies: Suddenly, you just find gigantic produce that you haven’t seen before, just like that, without any effort! Like this under-arm-sized zucchini that we hadn’t seen until this picture was taken!

And we have apples, red currants, raspberries, chard, beetroots, zucchini, yellow onions, Aronia berries, leeks and carrots coming up. Well, if they haven't cross-pollinated as well, we'll see. Now, let’s go make some sauced up apple sauce and get sloshed!

* I will tell you about the square cucumber someday.

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A bit late: The semi-sloppy cold-brew showdown

Earlier this summer, in favour of not procrastinating any more than I had so far, I thought I'd make a challenge for myself, with a clear deadline; 24 hours. So I did it! I kept that deadline! But... that was seven weeks ago and I've been dragging out writing this post anyways... Let's just move on and do it even though all you basic bishes (me) out there are already planning your pumpkin spices lattes. *stares at pumpkin in garden*

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Intro to a probably way too long post about coffee

In the rather singular event that any of you, my dear readers, would be this interested in coffee and its chilled companion that you actually get through all of this text (I'm not getting paid by the word, sometimes I'm just like this, sorry), I will let it be known that I appreciate the attention and I would like to inform you that I did this for you.

Yes. Not for me, not for the two other coffee-guzzlers in my household. Especially and assuredly not for my lazy side that wanted to find a better way of sifting the magical brew for a week's worth of always ready coffee. I did it for you. Accusing me of having a personal interest in how to get away easier with the quite tedious assignment of sifting five liters of coffee through paper filters that jam extraordinarily fast would be unfair. Are you calling me lazy because I do not want to spend three and a half hours every week slobbering with coffee grounds all over the kitchen? Do you not want me to be happy?!


Cold-brew the right way?

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Because I'm trash-fancy like that, so far I've made my cold-brew coffee with regular brew coffee. We all know, (okay, just us who have googled it a little too much perhaps), that apart from all the other minutiae about water temperature etc, the coffee nerds think you should use a coarser ground coffee to steep your energy tincture the proper way.

One of my main gripes with this method has so far been 1; that going to a coffee retailer in Sweden to buy a coarser ground coffee would cost my non-existent first born plus taxes per half a pound of coffee and that 2; If I were to buy whole beans, I would have to grind the beans myself and this means that I probably would have to buy a burr grinder that would scream at me furiously during use, to then break after a few months, leaving me with a useless appliance as a sad reminder of today's capitalist consumer-driven market.

But wait!

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Cue; The manual grinder. No electricity used. No bits to fall helplessly apart after doing what the appliance is actually made to do. It's just two pieces of metal with a lever and a box underneath. I wished for one for Christmas. I can grind coffee in it and heaps of other stuff. Like.. spices. And a crayon or two. Great! Now that I had one of those, I could TRY GRINDING A COARSER GRIND MYSELF! Cue life-supporting experiments, ya'll!

So I did try and grind the coffee needed for a liter of coffee in that little box with the lever. It took hours. Literally hours. I watched the entire Godzilla movie from 2014 and got like.. a third of what I needed. Doesn't bode well for the convenience of that method...

You've made cold-brew for years without a fancier grind. What gives?

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A MESS!

The problem with my regular method is... sifting regular ground cold coffee through paper filters, is a real bummer. And I mean a real bummer. It’s nothing like hot coffee happily running through the filters into the pot, offering itself to your longing palate. It takes hours, changing filters and messing around with different containers. "But why not just settle with the more permeable built-in filter that you have on your coffee maker then, Ellet?" you say. Because I happily tried that and it lets a lot more silt through and it affects the taste. *waves gourmet palate hand* Having properly sifted cold brew versus kind of sloppy, silty cold brew, makes a world of a difference with the actual taste of the coffee and when you make it, you're stuck with that batch for like eight days. It's like if I allow the silt to tag along into the fridge, it corrupts the spirit of the coffee. Like hanging out with someone that has a little grudge against you, and you low-key can tell. It just ruins the good mood, man.

Why not iced coffee, that's so much easier!

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From what I understand, most people drink iced coffee, aka hot brewed coffee chilled over ice, milk or whatever. When I made my first round of iced coffee in 2014, trembling with the few little fucks I had left to give about surviving the blistering summer heat, I had to drench that shit in sugar and milk to make it passable at all. I couldn't understand why people were going wild about that bitter reminder that we're all are born into suffering. I clearly remember it to this day. That morning included 29C/85F winds already when I got up at 8 AM and then I had to fight a blackbird that had fallen down our chimney and gotten caught in our fireplace and get it out without hurting or killing the bird, or me, in the process. When I returned to the coffee making and sampled the ghastly concoction, I remember giving up and going back to bed for a few more hours. It was that bad.

A few weeks later I followed the cold-brew rabbit hole deeper and made my first round of the real stuff.

I made it from regular brewing coffee steeped overnight in the fridge and it tasted lovely! Mixed with milk and a dose of sweetened condensed milk, it was now a staple in my summertime household!


"Yeah yeah, but after all this, is coarse grind cold-brew worth sacrificing my first-born for? I mean, I've raised that kid for ten years now and that investment isn't ditched easily”

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So, I decided to actually find out and set up a sampling fest that I forced three companions to try with me.

  • Regular ground coffee ratio 1:5 coffee/water, 12 hours.

  • Coarser ground coffee, ratio 1:5 coffee/water, 24 hours.

  • Coarser ground coffee, ratio 1:10 coffee/water in case I want to drink it just like it is (you usually cut the concentrate 50/50 with milk/etc), for 24 hours.

I had earlier made coffee 1:5, coarse grind, and steeped that for 12 hours and found that it didn't suit my fancy. It tasted like I would imagine the ocean tasting when you're keen for a real fine cold glass of water. Therefore I opted for the 24 hour-steep for the coarser ones in my spectacularly professional taste test.

Result: Both the coarser ground samples tasted more like hot coffee, but with a bitterness that the 12-hour regular grind coffee didn't have.

The unanimous result;

All four of us that tested the different samples preferred the regular-ground brewing coffee,
steeped for a mere 12 hours.

And there we have it!

Somewhat happy that I don't need to get a burr grinder that will scream and break on me, and somewhat sad that I have to keep on sifting that shit through paper filters, I will continue making my cold brew with regular coffee maker-coffee. And I will sift it. For hours. And hours. And it's gonna be worth it.

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Yes. We have an entire shelf with just condiments. I know.

A hint of sunshine before we go: A potential method that I realised though; Keep pouring that coffee into the filter as long as you have something to pour and don't let it settle because it will jam. When I tried this, it brought a little more silt into the end coffee than I wanted, but I managed to filter a lot more before it seemed to jam! Pray for me peeps, pray for me.

*staring at the decimated amount of coffee in the fridge*
*stares at me in the mirror*
*stares at the other two consumers in the household*
*sweat breaks*

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The jelly maker

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I had a short bout with jelly years ago, bravely stepping into the ongoing bird-feast that was our rowan berry trees, fighting off the feathery party while trying to get ahold of two pounds of rowan berries before the birds ate them all in a delirious six day-long noisy binge that started shortly before the crack of dawn and kept going until the dark settled itself over the plains of Västergötland, Sweden.

I also made jalapeno jelly once, being lured in by the thought of devouring it with crackers and brie. While the jelly itself tasted lovely, according to the one who ate it, the process of boiling jalapenos together with sugar and vinegar for an hour made my then-husband flee our home two hours early for work because he couldn't stand the smell of rotting sports socks. I bravely stood my ground only because I'd already started the whole thing, I couldn't just give up in the middle of it even though I really, really, really wanted to.

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So yeah it smelled equally bad this time. But it tastes good!

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Rowan trees before the feasting

Now, rowan berries grow on trees and get eaten by birds at such a rate that their oncoming doom doesn't bother me really, but lately, I've found myself staring out of my window onto three shrubs lighting up in red, feeling the angst of having edible stuff go bad on me. Between our residential garden and the cottage's, we have six shrubs of red currants, and three with black currants, all intensely yeildy.

On top of that, we were three brave souls who tried BBQing and tasting three of the 60 Padron chilies we've been growing, and all three BURNED OUR FACES OFF. "One in ten is hot so beware!" my ass! I'm no stranger to heat, but those little green fuckers packed a punch. My gums stung for 10 minutes afterward. Clearly not edible as is or even with cream cheese, we had to do something else with them. We have jalapenos maturing too. Everything at once!

Now, I know that this is the way it works. No yield, nothing, nope, not yet, not quite, OKAY NOW ALL THE THINGS. That knowledge didn't stop me from becoming overcome with edibles and not having a real clue what to make out of them. A bunch of sweet cherries ended up in the freezer, and a bag of red currants joined them.

So what the hell do we do now?

Well, we make jelly. Lots of it. Lots and lots of it.

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I mean, my 98% vegetarian stature knows that currant jellies go best with a roast, potatoes and a creamy sauce, but I'm doing it anyway. Firstly because it's necessary not to spoil everything out in the garden, and secondly because making jelly is SO. MUCH. FUN.

I can't explain it. Pick berries for hours, unknowingly stick your hands into spider's nests and have to brush off earwigs, boil the berries and then juice the mess and then tip two pounds of sugar into the juice and let it boil, skim endlessly and make all these awkward steps of sterilizing jars and making sure there's a vacuum in said jars and hope it's not all gonna spoil because you're terrible at sterilizing stuff as a newbie, having sticky jelly everywhere and your socks stick to the kitchen floor in the same spot for days because sugar is terrible to drop on the floor but then just look at the jars of semi-clear jelly (because I can't help myself but to squeeze the pulp, hee hee) and feel so content with your doing. Like you've been working magic when it's all mostly just you doing the same thing as any housewife like, ever.

Even A, who spent a traumatizing amount of time picking berries from the very same bushes as a teenager on the demand of his mother, willingly joined in and reflected on the soothing, therapeutic nature of the activity.

So we're making jelly. Red currant jelly, black currant jelly, rowan berry jelly, jalapeno, and padron chili jelly, you name it. When the time is right, I'm even gonna make champagne jelly because I've wanted to try it out for so long! And glögg jelly for that Christmassy trifle. And cola jelly! And... If you don’t hear from me again, I’m stuck to the kitchen floor.

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The cottage

I don't know where to start really.

You know how you want something so bad, for years, and then all of a sudden it happens? The feeling of surrealism mixed with excitement and fear that it's all just a dream that will get ripped out of your hands by that damn mosquito flying into your ear, waking you up at 3.30 AM, AGAIN.

As you groggily slap your own face to get rid of the pest, the realization that the dream was just a figment of your brain's imagination stings just as much as your face does.

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But this seems to be real. My feet ache after walking around for hours to, from and around the cottage, my hands buzz after being used too much. My sunglasses are not at home, because I forgot them over there. Hell, I even have video proof of me ripping out a carpet. Let's hope it's MY carpet, and not someone else's.

We didn't really plan on it. We had toyed with the thought of getting a cottage somewhere rural because I have fantasized about it for so long, and because A have been thinking about it too. We were just supposed to look at old random cottages to get a basis for comparison, so we would know when we tripped over the exact right house in the right spot.

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So yeah we won’t be using that oven. I’m sure it still works, but… no.

So when this popped up on the market, we figured we'd go there. On the way over, we discussed what dealbreakers we have. Big, costly needs of acute renovations, too harshly renovated, dwelling too much in the shadows of woods, too far out into nowhere, too small of a plot, too much traffic, too modern, no electricity, no water source.

The main idea with a country house was getting away from today's connected world, being able to go somewhere and relax, connect with nature in a more natural way. Somewhere where I can hang around old things, build furniture and interior decor that doesn't fit into a modern, sellable house (like building my own kitchen counter, for example). Somewhere to experiment, take care of the old, make a fire in the old cast iron stove and be forced to slow down. The old saying, and I'm paraphrasing, "when the hands work, the mind can rest", is so true for me. A wants to build and experiment with off-grid solutions to modern problems, and while we have a house to do this at, it's just not the same.

In our house, we have warm water, electricity, WIFI, microwaves and all the common comforts of modern life. The feeling of connecting an off-grid solution here just doesn't make sense.

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Important information from 1962

So we got there and were welcomed by the sellers. Walked around with them, and then by ourselves. It's built in 1880 and from what my researched ocular inspections say, it was added-to and renovated around 1930. There's no water or drains inside but has a well outside. It has wooden stoves and a fireplace and the two kitchens from 1930 have probably lethal appliances. There is electricity. Uninsulated attic and a mess of a remade hallway. But the magic happens where the family that sold it, has been living there in succession from the start, and they've left so much old stuff. The barn is filled with random stuff that is worth zero in money, but so much for me. The attic has old furniture and table cloths and pots and pans, that one can find in any old second-hand shop. But it connects the house and the location to the people who have lived there all these years, and I think that's lovely.

Now, you're not supposed to fall in love with real estate and especially not the first one you look at, but I admit, I'm one of the people who do. One of the selling points was the massive amount of stuff they had in there, and we asked if they would leave everything they didn't want to take with them. Of course this saved them days, if not weeks, of work so they said yes. The thought of furnishing an entire house didn’t really gel with us either, it would be too much. With all the perks of this house and the absence of our dealbreakers, it tickled our fancy.

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Drawings from 1955. As personal as it gets, without diaries

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When I a little later, on our alone tour around the property, pointed at the old stone wall and without thinking about myself said "Does this belong to our cottage?", A said he knew that a bid was the table.

And here we are. Life's short, let's chance it. Let's hope we make it through life in regular with all it's obligations and can feel that the cottage provides us with a welcome breeze of calm and old-time renovations that fuels the mind and heart. Wish us luck. We're probably gonna need it.

And also, I'm asking for forgiveness from you guys that are not at all interested in old houses and old stuff, because... yeah you know that's it's gonna be a lot of that from now on.

What I've eaten lately

Yeah, so I needed an excuse to post images of food because I like posting pictures of food even though I'm in no way unique nor really creative or even cook very much, and... well I'm doing it okay? Okay! Good!

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If you love garlic and haven’t tried grilling and smoking garlic in a little olive oil on the BBQ, DO IT NOW. I’ll wait. SO good.

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We tried the white version of our favourite bubbly, Haute Couture rosé. The blanc is meh. The pink is so good, and apparently suits a surprising amount of people’s tastes (source: Going around offering it to 40 people and most gladly accepted refills)!

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BBQ with halloumi and fancy sea salt in a little ceramic pot my mom made in 1972 crowns the food table.

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I tried out my chocolate molds while I made whole coffee beans covered in 70% dark chocolate for the person in the household that doesn’t bathe in cold brew every day, aka my partner. They’re quite nice but leave a serious coffee breath, beware!

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I also made my favourite… bun… cake? Swedish buttercake. It’s like seriously moist cinnamon rolls with cardamom, filled with vanilla cream. Recipe here, in Swedish. I’m sure you can translate it if it tickles your fancy.

Considering how much I love eating, I should cook more. Maybe I should cook more. Hmm.

Reflections on growing veggies + a few tips

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May 2019.
The jungle consisting of three kinds of chillies, two kinds of peppers, cucumbers and two kinds of tomatoes.

I get A LOT of questions about this topic (JK, but we've all heard that one before amiright? #everyfishyblogger) about growing your own food, and while I WOULD consider myself an expert*, I don’t want to claim so because of the dangerous farming lobby that will come after me if I tell you guys how to do it yourselves instead of buying their fake veggies.

So, speaking from a purely leisurely perspective, I will now tell you all my secrets... Yeah, so I have no secrets, this will just be a rambly post about the first three months of this growing season with a few tips at the end, okay?

I used to consider myself a ”combat cultivator” because my favourite form of growing stuff was to throw out seeds onto a selected surface and just kind of wait and see. A few years down the line I have to retract that epithet, because I have been known to grow plants thousands of miles north of their natural habitat, aka here in Fimbulwinter’s God-forsaken lands and that calls for some extra steps to the regular plant maintenance.

And by extra maintenance I mean running in and out with the plants because winter returns in late April, sowing stuff at the right time (the dead of winter), not over-watering anything, having artificial lights on (we didn’t have any this year, you can tell by my crooked chili plants) because the lighting in Sweden in February is, let’s say… ”substandard”.

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You also have to replant everything in bigger and bigger pots but hell if you put a small plant in a too big pot directly, shit will hit the fan! And also, having them out on the glazed patio, ie the only thing keeping them alive in this climate, requires a whole lot of checking temperatures because it gets piping hot in there if the sun shines all day, and I have to slide windows open to let in air when it gets too hot, and remember to close the gaps before it gets cold at night, and also have a heat fan on to keep them alive during nights and keep track of watering the plants one or several times a day, depending on the weather.

Oh, and also propping the plants up with sticks and supports so they don’t fall over and murder themselves by ripping out at the root and falling to the floor when I’m not there (still crying over that jalapeno plant), tying up the climbing cucumbers and the bushy tomato plants so they don’t ya know, break off and die, and having plant sex (with a brush) with the flowers in order to pollinate them just in case any pollinators haven’t been visiting lately. Later this season, I will have to fight pests and weeds off of the plants that are to grow outside. And then there’s the harvesting at the right time, not letting frost get to the plants, covering stuff to shelter them from the sun (ironic...), preserving the yield before it goes off, seeing to using the right kind of fertilizer for every type of plant (and not too much nor too little!), and just generally not killing my plants with stupidity.

But other than that, it’s not that hard!

*ahem*

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I'm not even exaggerating, I wrote all that meaning it and it looks terrible. Why on earth would anyone choose to do this when it's cheap and easy to just buy veggies at the grocery store? I don’t have a good explanation, but like… it gives me meaning! I love the feeling of growing plants from seeds, tending to them and watch them get scarily big without much help, and then eating all the fruits they produce. My mom always waited for me to appreciate gardens, and lastly, I did. But not the kind she loved, she was heavily into roses and flowers and beauty. I love that too, but roses are too much work for me. Growing edibles on the other hand, has gripped me. When we first got those little tomato plants by my ex-mother in law in 2013, I had no idea how much I would enjoy growing my own veggies.

And here I am now, six years later with, honestly, overwhelming plans on a garden and veggie beds and we got literally 15 tonnes of soil delivered yesterday to make all that happen. It's gonna be so much work, and I can't wait!

Not all forms of growing plants are for everyone, you just gotta find your niche. Do you want to grow orchids and scheme against other orchid growers like in Midsomer Murders? Do you want to grow hydroponic herbs all year long? Do you want to grow every sort of pumpkin there is and decorate all of them for Halloween? Do you just want that one kaffir lime plant in your kitchen window because you use so much of it in your cooking? You do you! Try it out and see where your favour falls.

Lastly, not to make this a completely useless post, I DO have a few tips for anyone out there thinking about growing a few veggies or whatever.

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It can get more expensive than you thought at first

Maybe you need seeds and pots and saucers and watering jugs and soil and fertilizer and sticks and string and shading cloth, maybe you don’t. Check around and see what your resources are, if you have things at home to use already or if you need to buy stuff. Just make up a plan, however simple, and look at the plant’s future needs (a plant that gets a meter high needs a big pot in the end, etc) and your own resources. Remember, there’s no end to how much money and time and effort you can put into a garden if you choose to, so you have to set up the boundaries. And as I'm about to mention, you don’t want to get carried away after not being able to kill off the extra 56 tomato plants that now need a lot more soil and a lot bigger pots, right?

Be prepared to care a lot more than you expected to

This one ties into the next point as well. Standing there with your partner, having planted the seeds together, cheering on the little seedlings that are just poking up through the dark soil. When you go around every day updating yourself on progress and tending to the little pots, is when it gets sort of real, ya know. It’s not just a white little seed in a pot, it’s a living thing! A living thing that will need attention, support and will give you wonderful produce to enjoy in the end.

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Don’t be sentimental and/or don’t plant safety seeds

If you’re sentimental, DON’T sow ”safety seeds”, ie many more than you want just to be safe in case a bunch of them doesn’t take on. You’ll just end up with 114 chili plants, unable to kill any of them when they all turn into living things that demand maintenance, bigger pots, and a space to live. Also, you can’t give any of them away because all those peeps who cheered you on when talking about growing your own veggies just want to EAT homegrown veggies, not grow them themselves like common hippies, duh!

So you’ll just end up having to build an entire greenhouse for the plants to live in and THAT certainly wasn’t a part of your budget for this year, dangit! Don’t be sentimental with too many plants, those who are not up to par, those who do not bear fruit, etc. If it makes you feel better, thank the plant for its participation in your life and send it off to the distant gardens of eternity. I’m sure you’ll see each other there, no hurt feelings, etc.

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Don’t plan to sow too many seeds, to begin with

In the dark of January when you start craving life again, it’s easy to think that yeah sure I can handle five of each type of veggie, but reality hits when you suddenly have to replant 50 mini pots a few weeks later, without having even touched the next round of seeds to be planted. I don’t really have room for my plants, but I’m keeping them anyways, OKAY. They’re sort of bundled together, maybe causing them to miss out on sunlight and that may lower the yield... And... I’ve gotten rid of five already, and I still can’t fit the ones left. Note to self, read this list in seven months. I mean, I knew that the tomato shrubs would get a little unwieldy, but now… they hit the ceiling and just fold over and continue growing horizontally in order to fit. Which brings me to...

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Yeah so, getting smaller tomato plants next year…

Be sure to check the plant’s prerequisites before you buy the seeds

Look at the information on the back of the seed packets. Are they gonna be massive and you can’t fit them? Do they crave sunlight and you dwell in the shadows? Are they unable to live outdoors in your climate and you don’t have anywhere inside to keep them? How long does it take for the plant to grow fruits, is there enough time before winter comes? Check the facts first, so you don’t have to practice not being sentimental as much.

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We tried growing “apple cucumbers” this year, a culture classic apparently. But the plants were huge, slow, unwieldy, took up too much room and the fruit tasted like a bitter version of a cucumber. In the time it took for us to harvest four regular cucumbers, we got two small apple cucumbers. It wasn’t for us, so we parted ways, aka I threw them out.
*practicing not being sentimental*


Sunk cost fallacy

Remember, just because you’ve spent hours on sowing, planting, replanting, tending, watering, moving everything in and out of the house because of the cold, tying up, supporting, pollinating and fertilizing, doesn’t mean you have to keep the plants if they give you no yield or if the produce tastes weird. Sometimes, they're just not the right fit for you, and that's okay!

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Thank you for getting all the way here through these ramblings! I’m gonna go stare at a huge pile of dirt now.


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* The thesaurus says that an expert is a person that is very knowledgable or particularly skillful within a certain topic, and with a sprinkle of the classic truthiness, I can be considered as such. Ahem.

Managing my obsessive planting in GoodNotes (4)

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As I’ve said before, when I turned to the dark side and ordered my iPad, I wished that it would come into sooo much use that I wouldn’t regret or angst over the amount of money spent on a tech thingie when I already had other tech thingies. But seriously, together with and thanks to, Goodnotes, it’s the best tool I’ve ever had. I never type on the iPad, nor edit pictures, but I do sooo many other things.

One of them is to keep track of what I’m actually doing in life. School, calendar, lists, information and slips I may need in the future that WILL get lost in the vast expanses of our house (JK, I can lose things on a dime), recipes I want to try and recipes I’ve tweaked to my liking, house things, and... the plant things. Having bought an overwhelming amount of seeds that needs categorizing into each of their month of planting, ways of planting, where they should be located later on etc, and of course the instructions on the packets is good to save for a forgetful seagull like me.

So what does an avid user of GoodNotes do? Start a new notebook of course, complete with a front cover. As you can see down below, not all of my books have covers yet, but I am working on it (in ProCreate on my pad, lavv it)!

I’m still using GoodNotes 4 because the 5th version messed with my documents, so I’m just waiting that out for a while longer.

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One of the things I like, and prefer in the 4th over the 5th version, is that the document pages previews three in a row, instead of four. It’s easier to see what kind of pages I’m looking for when they’re bigger in size. Although, you can opt for adding bookmarks which is really handy when having lots of similar looking pages close to another, making the thumbnails harder to see what you’re looking for, but that is an extra step and you have to add them all yourself.

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I used a simple gridded A4 paper in the GoodNotes (Version 5 has dotted too!) to make a chart of the plants and their schedules. I just used the geometric… button, and lined it all directly in GoodNotes, and then copied it for further use. Preferred months to be planted in brown, pink flowering times, and green harvesting times for edibles.

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I made a chart for where the plants will like spending their time, just to get an overview of what I need to regard when planning the garden. From the top; just outdoors, warm locations/half way sheltered, and then green house. From the left to the right; Sunny, half way shade and shade. And no, I’m not surprised that no plants want to lounge in shady green houses. But hey! In the future, maybe some plants will fit in that category, ey?

I also made small notations about the life span of the plants so I can hopefully make less terrible decisions when it’s time to shove them out into the world. I don’t want to have to dig up plants next year because I’m stupid, not in control of anything and/or forgetful.

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And here you have an example of the specific plant pages. The ones I could find of the internet, I added from there. The ones that I couldn’t find, I photographed and added instead. We’ll see how I like it and keep up with it! I forget so much from year to year so I think it’s gonna do me good to save stuff…

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In conclusion; without the pen, the iPad would be just another random tech thing for me. With the pen, it’s the most awesome tool to do almost anything. We’ll see how long I’ll keep on with GoodNotes 4 instead of the 5th, and if this actually makes me keep track of my shit.

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Third time is the charm even for gardening?

Honestly, things kind of just got out of hand. In more ways than one.

I was supposed to cheerily submit a post last week about this topic, but when I sat down by the kitchen table to take some photos of the seed packets I looked around the kitchen and saw things that didn’t belong and you know that itch to instantly do something totally different than the thing you actually set out to do sets in and you find yourself five hours later, having turned the entire kitchen upside down, rebuilt shelves, cleared out the fridge, washed stuff up, sorted, decluttered and gotten annoyed by exactly how many bags of cinnamon you have? No? Come on, I know you do. Oh, and there were four of them. Four. Yeah, I don’t know either.

Anyways, that’s what happened last week. No pictures of seed packets were taken and no plan was made nor any seeds planted. The kitchen looks great, though.

So, today I tried again. I sauntered into the kitchen around 11 AM and made myself three large cups of coffee to kick start up this sack of potatoes of a body and figured I’d just clear the dining room table and sort my packets in there instead seeing as the kitchen table is full of spice jars because what I ACTUALLY WERE SUPPOSED TO DO today was to assemble a spice rack so we can use the kitchen table again, but let’s not derail us any further.

I sat down, spread the packets out on the dining table and gleefully started planning my attack on the beloved activity of putting small pieces of green into small portions of soil and just hoping for the best. I managed to take some photos, go me!

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But then I thought, “We’re supposed to plant all these dang seeds, and gosh jolly there’s a lot of them, but where?” The patio is a fucking disaster and the little plastic pots I’m supposed to plant in are somewhere in the middle of it. I grabbed my witchy cup of coffee and ventured out onto the patio.

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“Dang, there’s a lot of stuff here.” I stared for a long time at the patio, breaking a sweat because even in Sweden, in February, glazed patios hold the lovely temperature of 35C/95F in the sun. I lifted a bag of fire wood, had nowhere to put it, dropped it again and thought; “We should keep these in the garage, but there’s a disaster in there too.”

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“Yeah, plant those veggies, do it. See if you get to keep’em for yourselves. Hint; you wont.”

The garage. I stared at the garage. Dangit. Before I even had time to register the decision, I knew what tree I was barking up. Cue me seven hours later, sitting down for the first time since that faithful second on the patio, having gone through and sorted the entire garage, sorted and cleaned the patio, AND shoveled my way through 50 meters of icy, knee deep snow to reach the outhouse where the dang missing plastic planting pots could be. They weren’t there, nor in the garage or on the patio.

So naturally I haven’t managed to plant any seeds yet. The garage and patio looks great, though.  

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