fika: the art of the swedish coffee break

Judge this book by its cover (go ahead, it’s safe!).  The cover illustration tells you everything to know: Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall’s Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break, with Recipes for Pastries, Breads, and Other Treats is a book about coffee breaks done right (in the Swedish tradition). It's 25% lifestyle and history, 75% a cookbook, and 100% interesting.  Of course, I would say that – baking is my jam.

fika: the art of the swedish coffee break by anna brones and johanna kindvall book cover
An illustrated lifestyle cookbook on the Swedish tradition of fika--a twice-daily coffee break--including recipes for traditional baked goods, information and anecdotes about Swedish coffee culture, and the roots and modern incarnations of this cherished custom.

Sweden is one of the world’s top coffee consuming nations, and the twice-daily social coffee break known as fika is a cherished custom. Fika can be had alone or in groups, indoors or outdoors, while traveling or at home. A time to take a rest from work and chat with friends or colleagues over a cup and a sweet treat, fika reflects the Swedish ideal of slowing down to appreciate life’s small joys. In this adorable illustrated cookbook, Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall share nearly fifty classic recipes from their motherland—from cinnamon buns and ginger snaps to rhubarb cordial and rye bread—allowing all of us to enjoy this charming tradition regardless of where we live.

My dad’s family is Danish-American, but his mother died young, so no recipes traveled down that side of the family tree to me.  I’ve always been curious about Scandinavia and its food, though.  With the last name Larsen and as the shortest (at 5’10”) of a bunch of giants, it makes sense.  When a Swedish cookbook popped up on my radar, I took note.  I asked my library to order a copy.  I then read it cover-to-cover and baked out of it and racked up $7.50 in library fines and put it on my wishlist so that one of my freakishly tall brothers can give it to me as a gift. 

Fika is arranged seasonally and traditionally (by traditionally I mean there are sections of the homemade favorites, the items you’d find mostly in a bakery, and then heartier items like breads at the end).  While the focus is on baked goods that go with coffee, there’s also a fair bit about the slow, handmade, homemade traditions of day-to-day life in Sweden.  I enjoyed the bits about history – where and how certain dishes originated, the proper way to enjoy them, suggested flavor combinations, and so on.  But the star, of course, is the food.

muskotsnittar (nutmeg slices)

The authors included recipes that run the gamut from easy (a spiced shortbread cookie) to complex (holiday fare), with easy-to-follow instructions. Johanna Kindvall’s art brings each recipe to life.  That’s a distinctive thing about this cookbook – there aren’t any photographs.  Instead, Kindvall’s illustrations of the steps and finished product are the guide.  And her art is both charming and informative.

kronans kaka (almond potato cake)

To “test” the cookbook I made 4 recipes: Nutmeg slice cookies, almond potato cake, toasted rye buns and soft ginger cookies.  Since the focus is on “homemade” and slow living, the instructions don’t call for any intensive appliances (though there were some tools I didn’t have, but I got by with substitutes), but I used my mixer with no ill effects.  Reading the recipes all the way through is a must – some of them take a day or two to complete! 

rostade ragbullar (roasted rye buns)

The nutmeg cookies turned out well and my book club devoured them: A-.  The almond potato cake was a solid B – good when it came out of the oven, but not something I’d make again unless I have gluten-intolerant guests.  The rye buns (I’ve never baked with rye flour before!) were fantastic: A.  And the soft ginger cookies were GREAT, A+.  Note: These recipes called for less sugar than American favorites across the board. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but it’s something to be aware of.  The stars of Swedish baking seem to be nuts, cardamom and other “Christmas-y” spices – I don’t know if I’ve ever baked out of a cookbook with fewer chocolate recipes!  It was kind of liberating. I look forward to making even more of these recipes in the future.

mjuka pepparkakor (soft ginger cookies)

Is it clear that I like this cookbook?  I hope so.  If there’s one thing I can point to as a “con” I’d say that the authors didn’t need to devote quite so many words to urging readers to slow down and savor their coffee breaks.  That’s preaching to the choir.  In the end I didn’t mind it, though, and I don’t think many will.

In all, Fika is a beautifully illustrated homage to Swedish baking, with tasty recipes and tidbits about history and culture sprinkled throughout.  I can’t wait to have a copy for my own bookshelf.

Recommended for: anyone who likes to experiment with baking, those interested in international food traditions, and for the perfect treats to go along with a cozy cup of coffee.

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!

making space for books

Thursday, July 16, 2015 | | 6 comments
I do not tend to think of my blog slowdown (posting has neared a standstill at points over the last year!)(you may have noticed. or not.) as a positive thing. There are good books I've missed, even better conversations skipped entirely, and potential new internet friendships ignored. However, there is a silver lining to the quiet (probably several, really): I now sit with books. I make space to contemplate them – sometimes unconsciously. I still read them at the same speed as ever, and after I finish I continue to jot down notes and reflections to help recall later what I liked and didn't like.


But then I wait. I let my heart stop hammering and my tears dry.  I turn those thoughts over and over. Sometimes I change my mind entirely. Sometimes when I get down to finally writing and posting the review I focus on a theme or outside concern that doesn't bear any relation to the direction my notes took in the first place. I think it’s a wonderful change. My reviews end up more thoughtful, or at least more representative of the reading experience I had and the way I'll remember the book down the road. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that these long-mulled reviews end up being more positive than the ones I used to finish one night and post the next day.  And I don’t mean positive as in “I love every book I read now!”  I mean it in the sense that I am more enthusiastic about the books I’ve read, and who they might be perfect for.  I bring up books in conversation more often, even if they were not my cup of tea.  I’m sharing them more readily, too (both recommendations and physical copies).

I take this rekindled enthusiasm as a promising sign for both my reading and my blog.  I needed the “blog break” over the past year, though I lamented (and was ashamed of) it at the time.  But these days I’m excited to read, and consider my reading, in a slightly different way.  It’s a good thing.

I’m curious: How long do you consider a review and/or how long does it take you to write a review?

the last ten books i checked out from the library

Tuesday, July 14, 2015 | | 2 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

I tweaked this week’s topic a bit – it was supposed to be ten recent books you acquired.  I can’t remember the last book I got in the mail (not because it was so long ago, but because my memory is bad!).  So, I decided to take the cheating cheater’s way, and use the last ten books I checked out from the library.  They were all helpfully listed on my online library account, so that I didn’t have to go chasing plastic-jacketed copies under the bed.  Yes, I’ve already run up library fines on some of these titles.  That's life.

The Last Ten Books I Checked Out from the Library


1. Fallout by Gwenda Bond – I've heard good things about this title for months now.  I decided to skip the signing line at BEA and added it to my library holds list instead.  I need to carve out some time to read it!

2. Fika: the art of the Swedish coffee break, with recipes for pastries, breads, and other treats by Anna Brones & Johanna Kindvall – I saw this title on the publisher's website and asked my library to purchase a copy.  I have Scandinavian heritage but that didn't come through in family recipes, so I'm always curious about traditions and food from that part of the world.

3. Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr – Translated Norwegian children's book.  Waffles.  Yeah, I'm in.

4. Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Reviews called Novik's book an homage to Robin McKinley, and that is a surefire way to pique my interest.  I'm already a couple of chapters in and liking what I'm reading.

5. Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge – Hodge was a fantastic blogging discovery from last year.  Her novel Cruel Beauty and novella Gilded Ashes put her firmly in my auto-read category.  I can't really emphasize how much I'm looking forward to a book that the author compares to Patricia McKillip's Alphabet of Thorn.


6. Shadowshaper by Daniel Jos̩ Older РThere's a lot of positive hype behind this diverse urban fantasy, and I want to see what all the fuss is about (plus, I'm always in for diverse SFF).

7. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – It won the Newbery Award.  I don't need to say anything else, but I will.  The author is a DC-area local.  Yep, need to read this one before I see him speak at the National Book Festival.

8. Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone – Can't remember where I heard about this title.  Maybe Kirkus?  Anyway, wherever it was, I put it on hold immediately.  It's not YA but I assume that there's some crossover potential due to the themes and age of the protagonist.  And I love magical realism, so.

9. Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson – SimonTeen Canada put together a Canadian YA reading list on Tumblr for Canada Day on July 1, and I added several of the books from it to my to-read list.  Book discovery happens when you least expect it!

10. Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff – I really loved Graff's A Tangle of Knots when I reviewed it two years ago.  I haven't kept Graff on my radar, but this one was featured in the LA Times' summer reading list.  I'm looking forward to it!

Honorable Mentions (i.e., ebooks currently checked out from the library): Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire.

What’s the last book you checked out from the library?

top 10 “top ten tuesday” meme topics

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 | | 1 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

Today’s “official” Top Ten Tuesday topic was the top ten books read so far in 2015.  I don’t know if I’ve blogged enough since January to come up with 10 titles, so I decided to cheat a little and do last week’s topic instead.  I’ve been participating in the TTT meme on and off since 2012, so I had plenty of posts to pick from, but it was fun to go back and look at how my lists (and reading preferences) have changed.

Top Ten TTT (Top Ten Tuesday) Meme Topics

1. Blogging confessions – I remember going over weird (quirky?) things that I do to decide what to share. I can be pretty reserved, but I let loose with this topic.

2. Favorite places to read – Mmmm. Just thinking about my favorite places to read puts me in a happy mindset. 

3. New-to-me authors of the year – This is a great topic that gets recycled every year.  It prompts me to go back over my reading and evaluate what worked, and who I’ll be keeping an eye out for going forward.

4. Things on my reading wishlist – Now this was a difficult prompt!  I don’t give much thought to what I’m searching for when I pick up a book.  I either pick it up or I don’t, and I either enjoy the story or I put it down.  But really digging into my preferences, and realizing that there are holes (or at least shallow parts) in my favorite genres was interesting and informative.

5. Books from my pre-blogging days – Some of the books I liked from the days before blogging do not stand up to the sort of scrutiny I’ve developed as a reviewer today.  And that’s okay.  I continue to harbor a lot of love in my heart for those old favorites.

6. Favorite character names – When I think about a book a couple of years after I read it, I remember the world-building and the plot, and possibly a character or two.  I do not remember character names, unless I’ve done a reread.  My brain’s just not built like that!  That made this topic a difficult one.  However, going back over my favorite books in search of names made me remember why I love a lot of the books I do!

7. Authors who take up the most space on my shelves – Easy peasy, and fun to do.  I took note of where my book hoarding proclivities and blogging interests diverge.

8. Favorite picture books – I use this post as a reference point whenever I go to a baby shower.  Building a picture book library for friends’ children is one of my greatest joys!

9. Most intimidating books – What I loved about this topic was that it spurred so much discussion (both on the internet and in real life).  It turns out that everyone is intimidated by books!

10. Scariest book covers – I’m not going to lie, there are some book covers I can’t look at full-on.  They’re just too creepy!  That said, it was a lot of fun to compile this list.

Did any of these make your list last week?
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