Lilla Julafton


The hyacinths are blooming, there is a little fire cracking in the corner of my living room, jazz versions of Christmas songs are playing and the tree – complete with gifts – presents itself in festive splendor. What’s happening? It’s Lilla Julafton!

The Little Christmas Eve is a name I took from my co-worker for having a pre-Christmas gathering. Yesterday I already had some folks over för glögg, pepparkaka and lussekatter, today we had a girl night lighting the third candle.

During the preparations for these evenings, I encountered quite some problems with acquiring the ingredients needed. By now, I could almost make a list of “things Helen wants to buy that are unattainable/ridiculously overpriced in Gemany”.

It started with the saffron that you need to make lussekatter. In Germany, saffron costs ten times as much as in Sweden. I am not kidding you, ten times. While everyone gets their saffron gram for 4 euro at the Swedish supermarkt, in Germany, being able to bake with saffron screams “I am rich”. Luckily, my dear Malin in Karlstad acted immediately when my saffron-emergency-call came and shortly thereafter, a gram came to my mailbox.

On Wednesday I took a halfday off to go to IKEA to buy glögg. As Ikea is never in the inner city (except for in Hamburg), it takes a while to get there but since it’s the place to get glögg, I dedicated some hours to it. I also had a curtain rod with me that I didn’t need and wanted to return, so it was totally killing two birds with one stone. However, when I got there and asked to return it, they told me they wouldn’t take it back because I didn’t have the receipt. Well, a while ago, that store made national news with taking back everything anytime, but I guess those times are over? Well, okay, I thought, I get it, they can’t give me my money back. But I really don’t need that curtain rod anymore and I certainly don’t want to take another bike tour home with it. So I asked if I can leave with them to sell it again. No, they said. “But I’m kind of like giving this to you as a donation”, I tried to explain. The shop assistant just shook his head. Sighing, I took my curtain rod and walked to the info desk because I couldn’t take the thing with me on my glöggmission because you’re not allowed to take bought products inside. At the info desk, they told me they couldn’t keep it there and it was too large to lock it up. Seriously, I just want to buy glögg, I was close to crying out. But, contenance – instead, I nodded nicely, took the curtain rod with me to a corner close to the entrance and “lost” it there. Really, why is it so difficult to get rid of an IKEA product in their own store…Anyway, I walked through the store as quickly as you can, grabbing some candles here, a lamp there, you know things you just suddenly happen to need to get from IKEA. I got to the check out and looked for the glögg. Eventually, I asked the staff only to be informed that “Glögg is sold out”. What?! On December 7th? “You can go to the other IKEA in Düsseldorf”, was their advice. Well, a) I don’t have a car b) I can’t take another halfday off to travel there by public transport c) IKEA does not reveal any information about plants and food in stock so I can’t call to be sure that they’ll have glögg. Not an option. Again, a friend came to my rescue, this time my new friend Linnea who gladly shared with me her family recipe on homemade glögg. It’s not that difficult, it’s just that, you guessed it, some ingredients are unattainable/ridiculously overpriced in Gemany. The cardamom capsules were sold at the pricey spice shop (once I figured they are not called “cardamom seeds” in Germany), but the pomerans or even its relatives were impossible to get a hold of. I spent quite some time going to different stores until I finally texted Linnea who now goes by the nickname “glöggakuten” in my world. She assured me that oranges would work too and letting the glögg sit for three hours would be enough. I think the only thing I did wrong was making it not sweet enough but no guest complained so that’s fine!

My last Christmas-related shopping difficulty (I’ve had non-christmassy too like trying to buy small plastic flower pots, impossible!)  was getting candles for the tree. I had to go to three shops and in the first two they looked at me as if I was completely out of my mind, wanting to put real wax candles on a Christmas tree. “Nobody does that anymore, I don’t even know where you could buy them”. Ahem, well, I actually know quite some people who still do that. And I refused to surrender to the electric candles only, next year they’ll force a plastic tree on me, eh? The third store thankfully conformed to my wishes and provided me with candles. I bought 40 right away in case they don’t sell them any longer next year!




Renate receiving the first lussekatt (“We probably look very stock-photo right now”) / The tree, and yes, I need a drapery under it.


At the Christmas Market with Linnea and many more of our organization’s juniors (“Rikard, you keep  capturing that handsome guy in the background in the photo!”)



A star in the office, beautifully against the sunset.


My plants are multiplying like crazy so now I have a lot of new ones for you to get as a Christmas present.

P.S.: My first Christmas present was given to me by the Ordnungsamt! (That’s the regulatory authority, literally the Office of Order.) Remember how a mean Dane stole my wallet and all that was in it? I didn’t get a new driver’s license and some other cards you can temporarily live without because getting new ones is expensive and also, I held on to the hope that a good Dane would find the wallet eventually so that its non-money contents would find its way back to me. And so it happened! Ordnungsamt wrote me a letter asking me to pick up my stuff, hooray! It will be interesting to see what came back and what the thief kept.


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Our party location

One week from now, I will be sitting in the Old Town, attending a pub crawl that’s part of the jubilee we’re organising. “We’re been talking about this for almost a year”, our head of the junior division said today, “and now it’s almost here!” Just one week left! This week, we’re coming to the detail level and while it’s going to be a lot of work, it’s also going to be such fun. So much to look forward to. But I am also worn-out beforehand, maybe it’s because I’ve been beavering away in the kitchen until long after dusk tonight. I’m fikaansvarig tomorrow and am defending my baking reputation with a recipe that I got from Michelle’s mom in Skåne some weeks ago, it’s a variation from Sju sorters kakor and I have great expectations.

Speaking of fun, my extra co-worker persuaded me to join the project choir of the church. It’s a choir for people who can’t commit to a regular choir practice but want to sing – four rehearsals, four weeks, one performance. Perfect as a first step back into choir for me! The first rehearsal last week was already fun and yesterday it was even better. We’re singing four songs, two in German, one in English and one in, lo and behold, Latin. Luckily, there are some very strong candidates in every voice, it seems, so that it’s easy to get a pretty good sound. It affirmed my belief that human beings are made to sing.

And we got some great news today! My press release made it into Dagens industri! The newspaper, which is often abbreviated as Di, is the most influential business paper in Sweden and reported about a company that we awarded our annual award to, and that’s how my press release ended up there. I was very pleased!

Del, vad blir det?, 6 i citat-samlingen

“Jag vill ha lugn och ro”. – “Det är fan fint med lugn och ro”.

Die Katze im Sack – det låter som en hip bar”.



A good blogger blogs once a day, I suppose. I have not even managed to blog once a week recently. The reason is that I am not exactly in good health (if you ever want to curse someone, wish them problems with their disks) and my sick days have not inspired me to write, instead I watched Grey’s Anatomy and boy, has it gone downhill for that (once my favorite) series.

Today I turned 27, a number that is near-impossible to pronounce in Swedish for a non-native. The good thing is that, in Sweden, people usually ask you for the year you were born in (“Are you an 88?”) so I don’t have to worry too much about the coming year and my pronunciation struggles. (I can pronounce 27, but it takes more concentration and tongue twisting than most other words.)

My27th birthday I decided to spend at my parents’ house for the first time in 4 years. My mother had asked me to bring a Bible for a birthday surprise. Yes, a Bible. Because I am a good child, I did not object and brought my school bible. My mom then presented me with a recipe for a cake that goes like this, “Take 1,5 cups of Moses’ fifth book, chapter 32,14a and mix with 6 pieces of Jeremiah chapter 17,11a”. All ingredients were listed like this, except for baking soda because they seem to not have had that back in the day.

I was showered with lots of congratulations, among them my uncle sending a voice message with him playing “Happy Birthday” on the piano, Linus and Alain shooting a Helen’s-birthday-video at the gorgeous beach in Thailand and twenty Swedish high school students that my friend Malin worked with this weekend singing a Swedish birthday tune for me. That is only three of over 60 lovely greetings, from former choir mates, current and former co-workers, pen friends since ten years, from distant and closer family. Thanks a lot for those!

Even Google changed its logo for me!

Even Google changed its logo for me!

My parents and I went to an exhibition for my birthday that was titled “Decision Making”. I thought that was rather fitting, you know, getting older and making choices and all. The exhibition was very well-done with smart displays and interactive elements. At the end, you got the results of the answers you gave to the questions in the interactive elements and you also read lots of decision-making tips which were quite inspiring. If you want to go see it, too, the exhibition (in German) is in the Universum Science Center in Bremen and should be open until May. I even got in for free because I was a birthday child!

One of the questions you were asked in the exhibition: "If you met a Swede and fell in love, would you emigrate or break up?" Duh.

One of the questions you were asked in the exhibition: “If you met a Swede and fell in love, would you emigrate or break up?” Duh.

My actual birthday celebration will be a dinner (at 27, in a temporary health state of a 87-year-old, I guess you don’t party) which I will have in Stockholm next Friday. I have celebrated my birthday so many times there now; it almost feels like a tradition. (Even though February is one of the worst months to travel to Sweden.) Let’s hope my Swedes don’t make me pronounce 27 at the dinner.


The two best things


What are one of the two best things in the world? Exactly, Swedish cardamom buns (kardemummabullar) and raspberries (hallon). So typical that I like the most expensive berries most. (Raspberries are very expensive in Germany.) Luckily for me, I am friends with the superb food blooger Delphine who runs Del’s Cooking Twist. On her blog, she does not only provide readers with new recipes all the time (I wish I was that creative. I have been cooking the same twelve meals for three years.), she even gives her tips on the best eateries in Stockholm. Or Paris, New York, Lisbon – you get the idea. (It is okay to travel somewhere else than Stockholm once in a while in case you wondered.)

Delphine has made it into several magazines and has an amazing number of followers so I am honored to be allowed to share one of her fabulous recipes with you. And of course, it includes the two best things: cardamom and raspberries.


Do you want to go for a real Swedish fika Friday? I suggest you bake these “fruity, deliciously cardamom-parfumed” buns then:

Ingredients (serves 20):
For the dough:
7 cups flour
50g fresh yeast
½ cup butter
¼ cup milk
½ tsp salt
½ cup sugar
2 tsp ground cardamom
For the filling:
400g raspberries
½ cup butter, at room temperature
Zests of one lemon
1 cup sugar
½ tsp cardamom seeds
4 tbsp raspberry jam
To decorate:
1 egg
Pearl sugar

For a detailed tutorial to walk you through each of the steps of the preparation, click here.  Happy Baking!