Sunday, July 24, 2011

When it rains, it pours...

Literarily, yes. But that is Australia in a nutshell, isn’t it. The weather here doesn’t do anything half-hearted. When it’s hot, it’s hot, 40 plus, you feel like a piece of bacon, sizzling away. When it’s dry, it’s dry, the ground full of cracks, Spinifex on the horizon, water restrictions and dead cattle. When it storms, it storms, roofs flying off right, left and centre, cars in the trees and waves the size of 12 storey buildings. And when it rains it pours. None of that Swedish drizzle I used to grow up with. The one where you weren’t sure if it was wet fog or light drizzle.

But when the rain gets cracking in Oz, the weather makes sure we know about it. Did I say 72 hours straight? Well, yes, that was just the warm-up, I’ve since lost count. Everything gets waterlogged, the garden, the car, the house, the shoes, the kids and the cat. Rows and rows of weeping double brick houses that just can’t deflect any more moisture. Let it rise, let it come down from above, damp walls have never been so damp. In this water world, I keep thinking Tretorn. And why I didn’t get any on my last visit to Sweden. For the non-informed, Tretorn is the most reliable gumboots manufacturers in Swedish gumboot history. This is the gumboot for the real weather people, none of the fashion statement Kate-Moss-on-her-way-to-a-rock-festival-kind-of-over-rated-type of gumboot. Tretorn is like the Volvo of gumboots, perhaps not fighting for a spot on the catwalk, but delivers on the promise of dry feet and a comfort.

The gumboot is a bit like travel insurance, you feel slightly annoyed that you keep paying the premium and never ending up needing it. The gumboots fall in the same category. 99% of the time those boots will stand there in the wardrobe looking at you, all shiny and unused. You feel it was a bit indulgent to buy them, waste of money and all that. But then comes that golden moment when the skies open up and let the torrents of water flood our streets. Those boots then get a chance to shine, in more than one way. They keep you dry, they keep you protected and they will continue to do so wear after wear. And you thank your lucky star that you wisely invested in a pair of gumboots.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Control Your Climate

In the spirit of ‘don’t ask what the climate can do for you, but what you can do for the climate’, Swedish interior designer Anna-Carin McNamara will guest blog on how to control your climate, stay warm/cool and have a fatter wallet to show for it. Please enjoy some climate words of wisdom....

“You should be used to the cold – you are Swedish!” is something I get told very often. The fact is I have never felt or been colder than here in Australia.
Creating a comfortable indoor climate, something Swedes are quite spoilt with, seems for some reason an unsurmountable task for Australians. Delusional believes that we live in a tropical climate and a “That’ll do” attitude is drying out our skins and our wallets without us even being aware it could be so different.

I know it comes down to dollars and “cheap and quick” is the mantra. To spend money on heating and cooling for the lifetime in a draughty house is conveniently neglected when the renovation budget is tight. Not sure about you but I think we use our heaters from April to October – 7 months out of 12! Still, heating and insulation are neglected and cooling is always prioritised.

If Australians were to adopt some of the Swedish ways of construction, not only would we leave the cold out in winter but also prevent the heat from coming in during the summer.

So what would it take to build the Swedish way?

Insulated walls and floor - lesson number one in building technology in my Swedish college was to calculate the time it takes for heat to travel from one side of wall to the other thereby classifying - depending on where you live -the type of wall you need to build to maintain a perfect (20-22 C) indoor climate. And I can reveal it was never just double brick.

Windows - Double-glazing or at least a “no gap” frame.

Controlled ventilation – no, the beach towel in the gap between the windows does not qualify.

Heating - hydronic (ie water) carried heating in either radiators strategically placed or as underfloor heating.

Voila! The perfect base for a pleasant room climate, to be enjoyed without your fleece and woollen beanie.

Colours/lighting/ furniture are rendered useless if you have to spend your time rubbing hands for heat or hover around the heater in the corner…. If you are like me generally by bedtime- finally – an acceptable temperature have been achieved and then the next morning it all starts again with slippers and mittens…

So go for it, take control of your indoor climate and you’d be surprised how much more pleasant life will become, summer and winter. And your wallet will also be happier in the long run.

Image courtesy of

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The only Hives you want to get

What is it with Sweden and popular music? There is so much going on and so much happening that it’s spilling out left right and centre. Not only does aussie talent like Sarah Blasko choose to go to Stockholm to record albums, just to work with some of the best producers around. Swedish musicians are going places, all over the place. Even to Australia, en masse!

In the last couple of years we’ve had the chance to see some great Swedish bands, like:

Junip, featuring the super-talented Jose Gonzalez, who not only can strum that guitar and sing in tune, he’s pretty easy on the eye and we would all love to have his babies.

Shout Out Louds, Swedish pop perfect, channelling a bit of the Cure mixed with lighthearted easy listening, but with charm and appeal. The buttered popcorn of pop tunes.

Wildbirds and Peacedrums, husband and wife duo with a highly unique sound. Music that keeps on giving, play it again, and again.

Lykke Li, with a name like that, there must be a future. Lykke Li has been the darling of Australian music radio for a while, her latest album even being Album of the Week at fbi radio earlier this year.

And last but not least, the Hives! Never have white shoes looked so funky, and there is something about a drummer in a suit. Very civilised. Coming to our shores in July to let the groove loose at Splendor in the Grass and at the Horden Pavilion, so get there if you can.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Chook, The Witch, her Jesus and his Bunny

Easter in Sweden, as well as in many other corners of the world, can only be described as another split personality kind of tradition where the Christian reflection on Jesus’ crucifixion is seamlessly mixed with devouring copious amounts of chocolate washed down with eggs in any shape or form. Throw in a witch, a broom, a bonfire and a handful of colourful feathers in the equation and you have some serious explanation to do to the younger generation. All in the name of tradition. And as I stand in the supermarket queue behind a mountain of chocolate, sudden philosophical questions arise and I quietly ponder to myself....what came first, the chicken or the Jesus?

Well, let me tell you good people, they are actually part of the same story. The egg is an early Christian symbol for the resurrection of Christ. The Christian tradition has been to decorate and eat eggs at Easter, all in the name of Jesus. The chicken came into the equation as an extension of the egg. The egg hatches and out comes a chicken! Could the conclusion then be that Christians think Jesus is a chicken?

While I’m on this egg roll, have a look at these eggcups above, will you.
Sometimes you just have to extend the circle of love and include neighbouring designers such as Danish Pernille Vea who created these happy, spirit-lifting eggcups for Menu.

But returning to how chocolate manufacturers have kind of hijacked the Easter egg from the Christian tradition, I urge the empire to strike back. Cadbury and gang, watch out, I have a sneaky feeling that next year there might be competition in the chocolate department, as we will see some delicious chocolate crucifixes bumping those little bunnies from the shelves. It is the Easter spirit after all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Semla, the Creamy Story of the Perfect Bun

There are so many wonderful reasons to love Sweden and all things Swedish. But I feel that if you want to capture in a nutshell WHY you should indulge in a bit of amore Suecia it has to be in the little tradition we call fettisdagen and semla.
How many countries do you know that urges you to stuff yourself full of yummy cream buns, all in the name of tradition? And basically as often and as much as you want around this period in time?

The official fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday) is calculated according to ol’ Christian calendar tradition and this bun-eating extravaganza takes place the day before the start of a particular fast, which falls in February or March. In true hedonistic self-indulgent style, we dropped the tedious idea of the fast but kept up with the devouring of delicious cream buns. How appropriate!
So at this time of the year in Sweden there will be whipped cream-filled buns tempting you at every bakery, cafe and home. Many people bake their own, invite some friends and family for a bun-fest in the afternoon. Then the very next day you just roll into a bakery and pick another one to go with your coffee. ‘Tis the time, no questions asked, no guilt being placed upon your bun-munching self. There is no holding back, the nation is urging you, ‘keep eating these buns, you are part of living tradition’!

I have found an outlet in Sydney for my semla crave, Cafe Svensson makes some fantastic ones! But most of the time I happily bake them at home to wild delight of la familia. It’s an annual winner that put you in the good baking books for months, perhaps even years.

Here’s how you whip some up yourself.

To make a dozen Swedish semlor, you will need:
• 25g of fresh yeast (or dry yeast if you can’t find fresh)
• 75g of margarine or butter
• 200ml of milk
• 2 eggs
• 1 teaspoon of salt
• Half a teaspoon of cardamom
• 500ml of sugar
• 700ml of plain flour
• 2 teaspoons of baking powder
For the filling and topping, you will also need:
• Roughly grated almond paste
• Whipping cream
• Milk
• Icing sugar
How to make a semla:
• First, melt the butter or margarine in a saucepan, add the milk and heat until lukewarm.
• Crumble the yeast into a bowl, and add some of the liquid to dissolve the yeast. If you use dry yeast, follow instructions on the back of package.
• Add the remaining liquid, plus the salt, cardamom, 1 egg, sugar and 600ml of the flour.
• Work the mixture together into a dough.
• Cover with a cloth and leave the dough to rise for around 30 minutes.
• Mix together and work into a dough, a kitchen-machine makes this easy.
• Mix together the baking powder and remaining flour and work into the dough. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth.
• Separate dough into maximum 12 round balls.
• Lightly grease some baking sheets, put the buns onto the sheets and allow them to rise for 35-40 minutes.
• Beat the other egg and use a brush to glaze the tops of the buns.
• Heat the oven to 250 degrees C and bake the semlor in the middle for 10 minutes.
• Cover the buns with a cloth and allow to cool on a wire rack.
• Before eating your semlor:
• Cut a circular “lid” off the top of each bun. Use a spoon to scoop out the inside of the bun.
• Mix together the grated almond paste with the inside of the bun, add milk to make a smooth mixture and use this mixture to fill the hole.
• Whip the cream and spoon the cream on top of the bun filling.
Replace the lid of the bun and decorate with icing sugar.

Recipe courtesy of

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Aim for the Stars and Land in the Tropfest

Swedes are not the only ones to have an affectionate relationship with Sweden and recognise a certain amusing aspect of homo swedus. Local Sydney filmmakers have caught the Nordic vibe and created a little black and white short film all about the quirky Swede. Check out this Tropfest finalist called Den Sista Galaxonaut, directed by Alexander George and Tyrone Lindqvist. This film follows an extremely competent and successful guy called Sven Larsson who was the first man on the moon (at least according to George and Lindqvist). Though not a winner of 2011 Tropfest, it is definitely the winner in my books. Any guy called Sven is a winner, simple as that.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Illustrated Fashion

People love fashion, people love art. Sometimes the two come together and make a perfect match. Such a happy marriage is just what funkis fashion in Australia has entered with Swedish Artist Stina Wirsen. Since graduating from Konstfack, the College of the Arts in Stockholm, in the early 90’s, Wirsen has created an interesting body of work, all ranging from stamp-designs for the Swedish Post Office, illustrating for a broad range of Swedish companies, to portraits and fashion illustrations. Wirsen now spreads her art over the boarders of Sweden and creates fashion with Funkis downunder. Check out the stylish t-shirt available through Funkis in store and on-line. Hopefully there will be more illustrated threads coming our way in Australia.