4 02 2010

I can’t find a good English translation for “pausbild” – pause picture? While I answer your great comments on the previous posts, here are some photos of my favourite animals:

A cute seal
A seal at the Niagara Aquarium – aren’t seals the most beautiful animals?

My cuddly seal pup
My cuddly seal pup called “Umbrella” – not so white anymore and a little squished… All my favourite cuddly animals and dolls were given to me by my father’s uncle and his Swiss wife, including this seal, which I named after the first English word I learnt (but didn’t know how to pronounce). As a teenager I had a big framed poster of a baby seal on my wall.

Which are your favourite animals? Real or cuddly¬† ūüėČ

I had forgotten all the seals we saw in California two years ago – actually the first time I saw the animals in the wild. The male Elephant seals are grotesque but the female ones are beautiful (for a change, usually it’s the other way around in the animal kingdom).

Seals sunning themselves, Big Sur, CA
Seals sunning themselves, the Big Sur, California

A pouf or two…

29 01 2010

When having a shower one day I noticed this text on the new shower gel:

Foams without pouf

Isn’t that kind of weird? That they need to explain that the soap foams without a pouf? I mean, I have never ever in my whole life used a pouf (the word, the word – soooo funny if you speak British English) and always managed to get a foam from my shower gel!

A pouf

I actually have a pouf…

or two poufs

Two in fact! I got them for free when buying shower gel and I don’t really know what to do with them (since the soap foams without one ūüėČ ) so they are just hanging on the bathroom cabinet doors… Any suggestions what to use them for? I remember that my grandmother used to have one when I was a child and I was fascinated by it – I don’t know why I have the impression that she used it for cleaning the sink. I need to ask her!

Do you use a pouf, or maybe a wash cloth?

It reminds me of a face cloth incident when I was a student in Venice, Italy. Two girls were room mates; one from France, the other one from England. When the English girl’s mother came to visit, she used the French girl’s face cloth as a kitchen cloth to do the dishes!! The French girl was too embarrassed to correct her, but I guess that she bought herself a new one!?

Wednesday recipe: Petchie’s delicious sandwiches and an etiquette poll on handshakes

27 01 2010

I don’t know how many times I have referred to O’s yummy sandwiches, and they are really delicious, but recently I have discovered a new favourite, that I make myself. They were inspired by a recipe in Rachael Ray’s Everyday magazine, but as always a little modified to what’s in the fridge and to my taste:

Making sandwiches in the frying pan
Making sandwiches in a non-stick frying pan (no oil) or use a grill pan if you have one

Petchie’s delicious sandwiches
– any kind of bread, we hardly ever have sliced bread at home and “normal” bread works fine; two slices for every sandwich
– 1 egg per sandwich if the slices are rather big, otherwise half an egg per sandwich is fine
– 1-2 slices of ham / turkey
– 1-2 slices of cheese

Fry the egg(s) as you’d like them. I prefer the egg yolks a little runny since I don’t use any butter or margarine for the bread. Assemble the sandwiches with the fried egg, slices of ham and cheese, and then put them back in a frying pan. Heat them up, press down on them slightly while in the pan. Flip them over and make sure that the cheese has melted.

Cut them in half and serve with a fresh salad.

NB. The sandwiches don’t need any butter nor margarine – not on them and not when fried in a non-stick pan. You don’t have to be over-generous with the cheese either since I usually find that melted cheese seem to be “more” than dry cheese! Quite a healthy sandwich in the end, and very delicious! They are even good cold, I made them for a pic-nic a few times.

Cheese-ham-egg sandwiches
Petchie’s yummy egg-ham-cheese sandwiches, served with a salad

And now for the first etiquette poll of 2010:

Do you always shake hands when you meet a new person? Let’s not get into the shake-hands-or-kiss-on-the-cheeks-discussion here, and let’s just stick to handshakes! I think that most Swedes are used to shaking hands the first time they meet somebody, but I have noticed that it is not always the case – especially in the Anglo-Saxon world.

The first time I realised that handshaking was not the norm was in England. I was visiting an English friend, staying with his family, and meeting his friends. The friends I could understand, they were young[er] than I, but I recall being surprised when his parents* didn’t seem to want to shake my hand.

Another time was when I started my first job in the European Commission in Brussels and a colleague did the “rounds” with me, introducing me to all the new people, and very few volunteered their hand. I felt extremely awkward when I realised the most of them didn’t expect to shake hands with me! And these people were French, Belgians, Italians, Spaniards, Greeks – I know that they might be more used to kissing on the cheek, but not with new colleagues on the first day…

Same non-handshaking experience since we moved to Puerto Rico – mostly with Americans actually. I never know when to shake hands and when to just do a little “hi-wave”, especially since shaking hands is such an instinct for me as a Swede. I feel so silly when left with my arm hanging in the air, you know when you have to pull it back discreetly, maybe do the little wave and hope that nobody noticed that you didn’t know the etiquette! I have also noticed this habit of just saying hello and no handshake (maybe a little nod) in TV-series (Desperate Housewives, Gilmore Girls**) and films.

My conclusion is that Swedes are bigger on handshakes than most nationalities, something I would never have thought!!

Oh, and here’s a funny link – detailed instructions on how to shake hands! And if you ever meet my father, make sure you have a firm handshake, he judges people on that first impression!

*) I can’t remember now if it was both parents, or just the [step-]father, who was very friendly and even put on some old ABBA LPs for my sake, so it wasn’t a lack of friendliness or hospitality.
**) Am I weird for noticing stuff like that when watching TV or a film? What is interesting that both these TV-series take place in quite formal environments… ūüėē

Pillows – a cultural divide or gender issue?

10 11 2009

After recovering from the excitement over the almost-disaster of buying plane tickets on-line,¬†let’s do some¬†pillowtalk:¬†

Yesterday I was checking out some posts on one of my favourite interior design web-sites;,¬†when I saw the following comment “Do Swedish people not use or need pillows?” on a post about a Swedish summerhouse¬†and it made me think of the cultural differences of pillow use.

An American bed
An American bed in Pennsylvania

In the US a bed doesn’t seem to be¬†entirely made until it is covered¬†in pillows and shams. Sham is another American word that I had never heard (in the bed context) until I moved to Puerto Rico! It always makes me think of a scene in Sex and the City where Charlotte and her then-husband Trey are arguing while un-making the bed, pillow by pillow (or shams?)… It is quite a funny scene, even though they are discussing the serious subject of infertility, but the whole pillow&sham situation makes it silly.

So, no wonder that the American (I presume) reader of the Swedish summerhouse post thought that the pillow-less beds looked a little bare (see bedroom photo in the post linked above)! I guess that the pillows might have been removed for the photo shoot or maybe the people owning the house don’t use pillows! In my family, both my parents sleep with very thin pillows, and I am always complaining that the pillows¬†at home¬†are useless (too flat).

Summerhouse guesthouse
In our summerhouse (guesthouse) we have both pillows and some decorative¬†“shams” – but just one on the bed and two in the sofa

When I arrived to our furnished apartment here in San Juan, one of the first things I did was remove all the decorative pillows and shams that were covering the bed! I think that I counted to 8 pieces, and I was actually a little confused – which ones stay in the bed and which are to be removed when sleeping?

Master bedroom
Some of the pillows and shams on the floor next to the bed before I gave up and hid them in a wardrobe

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE pillows and sometimes go under the name of “The Pillow Girl” (O’s nickname for me). I need at least three pillows – two for under my head and one to hug while sleeping. O uses one… Recently we bought new pillows (memory-foam) and I tried twice to sleep on¬†one – but it hurt my neck as it was too¬†high.¬†Funny, O now uses one of the memory foam pillows even though it is higher than two of our old feather-down pillows together.

However,¬†you can call me lazy, but I don’t want to spend 5 minutes every night removing stuff from the bed… We actually never use the bedspread (√∂verkast), and just re-arrange the sheet (duvet when living in a cooler climate) and the pillows we sleep on in order to make the bed in the morning.

Reading in bed
All these pillows are to be slept on – except for the “king-size” pillows behind the smaller pillows, that are used to cushion against the hard bedframe

Nevertheless, there is one place where I don’t think you can have too many pillows and it is in the sofa! The other day when Saltis and I were sitting down for a cup of tea in their sofa, she made the remark that her husband always gets annoyed with all the pillows in the sofa and throws them on the floor – O does the same!! Is it a girl thing to like pillows?? What do you think – do you also have lots of pillows in your sofa?

And a¬†question: In which European country do you have SQUARE pillows (for the bed)? In the US there is something called Euro-sham, which measures 26″ x 26″ (66 cm x 66 cm) and I am curious where that measurement comes from? I am trying to think of the different pillows I have¬†slept on in different countries – they all seem to have been rectangular (usually longer than the¬†Swedish ones, which are 50 x 60 cm). ¬†¬†

For those of you who are interested in definitions:
Pillow: a bag or case made of cloth that is filled with feathers, down, or other soft material, and is used to cushion the head during sleep or rest
Sham: a cover or the like for giving a thing a different outward appearance: a pillow sham. A pillow sham is used for a pillow that is only decorative.
Cushion: a soft bag of cloth, leather, or rubber, filled with feathers, air, foam rubber, etc., on which to sit, kneel, or lie.

And American pillow sizes:
Standard: 50 x 66 cm (20 x 26″)
King: 50 x 91 cm (20 x 36″)
European: 66 x 66 cm (26 x 26″)

Spanish twin beds
Spanish twin beds and a thin rectangular pillow can be seen on the right. I like how the chandelier is reflected on the wall in the photo. This is the room where we used to sleep, but nowadays we have our own room at O’s parents’ place.

And a funny pillow story to finish off:

In the autumn of 2002 some of my fellow masterini* and I, who happened to all live in Belgium, organised a reunion in Brussels. Among us, we managed to host everybody in our homes so nobody had to sleep in a hotel. I lived in a tiny attic apartment with a small bedroom + a sleeping loft, and we were 7 of us, so I had asked my Austrian friend T** to bring a mattress, since he was driving from The Hague.

The friends that I were hosting¬†arrived from different corners of Europe, and¬†T was¬†a little late as usual.¬†When he unpacked his car I asked him about the mattress. He said “Oh, I decided to not bring a mattress, but I brought my pillow“!! Well, the pillow was big (square when I think about it!) but a little small to sleep on, so I guess he wasn’t that comfortable during the two nights he stayed at my place…¬†But¬†as the saying¬†goes “as¬†you make your bed, you¬†must lie in it”! ¬†That he was utterly shocked by the fact that we were two Swedish girls and one Swedish guy sharing the sofa bed is another story¬† ūüėČ

*) Nickname for the students who have studied my Master’s programme in Venice – it really should be masteroni after graduation but the Italian diminutive just stuck..
**) Austrian T was the one who took over my apartment in Brussels when I moved to Puerto Rico Рbut he has since then moved back to Vienna.

NYC in Sepia

5 11 2009

I like playing around with the sepia function of the camera:

The Rotunda, Guggenheim
I have realised though that sepia needs clouds – a sepia-coloured sky without clouds (or in this case too many clouds) isn’t interesting, it’s just too flat… The Rotunda, Guggenheim

Tarot readings
Tarot readings – only $20

Queensboro bridge, October evening
I love the lit-up Blackberry screen in the girl’s hand, underneath the Roosevelt Island aerial tram and the Queensboro bridge in the background

Flowers in Manhattan
Cozy Corner flowers

The Ritz Diner
The Ritz Diner where a blog brunch took place in November 2008, between 4 Swedish bloggers, three husbands and two American-Swedish daugthers

New York building and fire escapes
New York fire escapes

Queensboro Bridge seen from York Avenue
The Queensboro bridge again

The Met II
The Met

The Met
The Met, again

Ellis Island
Amazing to know that some of my relatives probably passed through this hall on Ellis Island 100 years ago or so

Ellis Island luggage
All the stories these luggages could tell us… Ellis Island

View from the 38th floor
The view from the 38th floor

Wednesday Food Rant: What’s with the cheese [obsession]? and burger etiquette

4 11 2009

The Wednesday recipe is today substituted by a food rant ūüėČ However, if you are interested in an inspirational food blog – check out my friend Erika’s Food Blog (in Swedish). She publishes weekly menus and yummy but simple recipes. It is quite fitting that I refer to Erika today as we share an obsession for the Alpine cheese speciality raclette ever since we studied French together in Annecy, France*!

Swiss specialities in Gruyere, Switzerland
Swiss cheese specialities in Gruyère, Switzerland

Standard question in the US: Do you want cheese with that? which often¬†becomes Don’t you want cheese?* Bitchy Petchie thinks “I would have ordered a cheese burger if I wanted cheese with my burger!” However, most of the time you don’t even have a choice; cheesy omelettes, spinach with cheese, cheesy scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes with cheese, artichoke dip with melted cheese, cheesy hash – the list goes on…

Egg and cheese biscuit + a muffin = airplane breakfast
Not the best illustration of a egg-and-cheese-biscuit (since I didn’t open the wrapper) I got as breakfast on the plane last week. I only¬†ate half of the muffin¬†as I had¬†already eaten¬†a proper sandwich at the airport, and didn’t touch the scarily¬†cheesy biscuits…

I read a recipe in Elle Decor (US edition) for Duck-and-egg hash, where it was first of all claimed that “putting potatoes together with meat is distinctly American“, which I would beg to differ – what about the Swedish pyttipanna or the Danish biksemad? But yes, the recipe was distinctly American in the sense that it contained 4 oz of cheddar!

What’s with the cheese obsession in the US? I probably sound like a snobby European, but if you love cheese so much – why don’t you eat the¬†real deal, instead of “cheese”? Processed cheese doesn’t even taste like cheese, and is so full of preservatives and additives. It does seem like there has been¬†a turn lately in the cheese habits of the Americans, at least in the ads on¬†TV it is increasingly common¬†to point¬†out that the pizza is made with “real cheese” or that the cheese is not “processed” but made the traditional way.

I am also fascinated by the little variety of cheese: I head Rachael Ray say once “Gruy√®re tastes similar to Swiss” – You don’t say, Gruy√®re IS a Swiss cheese!! And what is “Swiss” cheese anyway, that’s like calling a cheese “French”! Switzerland has 450 types of cheese¬†(and France even more), while the US seems to have American, Swiss, Monterey Jack¬†and cheddar. You would expect a cheese-loving people to demand a little more when it comes to taste, texture and ingredients.

Gruyere cheese in Gruyere
Real Swiss cheese in Gruyère, Switzerland

Don’t get me wrong, I like cheese too, but there’s a time and a place for it! I don’t want cheese in every dish – scrambled eggs are perfectly¬†tasty without cheese, mashed potatoes as well,¬†while I do like a slice of cheese on my morning sandwich. I had breakfast at the hotel in New Jersey last Friday and was a little surprised to realise that there was no cheese on the breakfast buffet. Quite a few types of bread (well,¬†two types of ready-sliced bread, and different kinds of bagels) but only jam, cream cheese and peanut butter. In the end I didn’t have any bread, just some cereal, hash¬†browns¬†and fruit salad.

Cheese drawer in the fridge
Our cheese [and ham] drawer in the fridge – and I do not take any responsibility for the tube of Swedish “Kr√§ftost” (Crayfish “cheese”), nor the slices of “Swiss cheese product”!

In our household we eat¬†our fair¬†share of cheese; O’s yummy sandwiches for breakfast on the weekends, and O loves a snack of¬†the above¬†crayfish “cheese”¬†on a piece of bread.¬†I also do acknowledge that this kind of Swedish “cheese” is not better than American processed “cheese”, but to my excuse I don’t actually¬†eat it. The “Swiss cheese product”, next to the cheese tube in the above photo,¬†was left behind by our youngest visitor – whose mother noted that it was obvious that her daugther was American-born since she had refused to eat¬†“real¬†cheese” when she was in Sweden! O’s family absolutely loves Swedish hard cheese and we always bring a few kilos when we go to Spain from Sweden, while my parents love the Spanish Manchego, a type of sheep’s¬†cheese.

Mexican cheese
Mexican cheese in a Tijuana market

Finally, I also find it interesting that¬†Rachael Ray (who I by the way,¬†do like) will say that a dish that she is making is really healthy because it has a lot of vegetables, and then she pours in a cup or two of cheese!! Oh well, that’s like putting cream on your breakfast porridge, as shown on ads for Reddi Whip***; just another¬†one of those American phenomena I am so fascinated with. Maybe it is just an ad (let’s hope), but the idea of whipped cream on porridge¬†feels like a sacrilege – porridge that¬†can be¬†such a¬†healthy choice for breakfast…

And for an etiquette question, more or less related to cheese:

When you are in a proper restaurant (i.e not a fast-food joint), and you have ordered a hamburger, with or without cheese, do you eat it with your hands or with cutlery? I always eat it with fork and knife, which I¬†realise maybe is completely against the idea of a¬†burger¬†but¬†I don’t like eating stuff with my hands (too messy) and I usually don’t eat the top part of the bread (usually too much bread¬†for me). What about you?

NB. The question refers to eating a burger in a proper restaurant, i.e not in McDonald’s, Wendy’s or Burger King…

*) We also studied in Link√∂ping but that didn’t leave any long-lasting food memory!?
**) Almost comparable to the reaction you get in the¬† UK when you don’t want milk with your tea!
***) I won’t get started on what I think about whipped “cream” sold in a can – something I have hated since I was a child and I learnt to order “eis ohne sahne” in German!

Rainy Autumn in New York

2 11 2009

The freshness of the autumn rain in New York is already a distant memory, and my jacket, socks¬†and long-sleeved tops are waiting to be stored back in the wardrobe… until next time I leave the island, for Christmas in Spain.

Here are some photos to show you what I was up to last week in New York:

Sunrise over the Atlantic

The 6 o’clock morning flight from San Juan to Newark is at least two hours too early… but the sunrise is always beautiful! And it is great to arrive in New Jersey already at 10, and to be able to be in NYC by 11.30 or so.

Rain in Newark

I didn’t care that it was raining in Newark… For an autumn-lover like myself, living in the tropics, it was the perfect weather!

The Guggenheim exterior

When I arrived to my hosts, my dear blog friend Saltis & her family, a sick M greeted me with a hot cup of tea and a little chit-chat before he headed back to bed. Saltis came home and we had a chatty lunch over Thai food (the fried rice with chicken was almost as good as in my favourite Thai restaurant in Brussels). In the afternoon I headed to The Guggenheim to see the Kandinsky exhibition.

The Guggenheim rotunda

My favourite Kandinsky painting was one called Bleu de ciel (Sky blue) – it was just so cheerful and I loved the different circus-looking shapes. I am considering buying the print from

It was my second visit to The Guggenheim in New York but I have also visited The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice several times – a wonderful museum by the Canal Grande. I can recommend the Peggy Guggenheim autobiography “Out of this Century”¬†– what a fascinating woman and life!

Walking along Central Park

I walked along the Central Park three times in the rain on Tuesday and Wednesday and every time with a smile on my face under the umbrella! I¬†told Saltis that I would treasure this experience and think of it when I walk in San Juan in the heat and humidity…

Rain and fog in NYC

Yes, it rained and it was grey – but I enjoyed it! After my museum visit on Tuesday I headed to Crate & Barrel (best free toilets in this area of town!!) where I looked at Christmas decorations and mused over the fact that the Swedish H√∂gan√§s pottery is sold under the name “Nilsson”. The Marimekko textiles haven’t been renamed Heikkinen or Virtanen though ūüėČ

NY Marathon ad
Preparations were on the way for the New York Marathon that took place on Sunday, i.e after I had left. I really liked the poster listing the different neighbourhoods that the race passed through.

Christmas decorated bus
Christmas seemed to be more present in the City than Halloween… And the bus decorated with the Radio City Christmas show definitely cheered up the dreary autumn afternoon.

The evening turned out to be a real girls’¬†dinner since M was¬†too weak and feverish to¬†eat with us. Saltis took advantage of the situation and served gnocchi,¬†one thing that¬†M doesn’t like and I love*.¬†The meal was¬†great and we talked non-stop until I realised that¬†my early morning (woke up at 03.15) was starting to¬†take its toll…¬†I had a great sleep on the comfy¬†Ikea sofa,¬†even though the very charming cats Lipton and Tazo made me jump a few times when they tried to cuddle with me –¬†since I was already sound asleep by then!

It's time we Met - love the slogan!

On Wednesday morning I went to the second¬†museum of my trip – The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I love their slogan “It’s time we Met” – very clever.

Fika in The Met

At the Met I saw Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and an exhibition called “American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765 – 1915″¬†– just the kind of art I like; of ordinary people doing¬†everyday things, instead of kings and queens posing stiffly on horses…

Rain on Union Square
Rain on Union Square

After having walked down to 59th Street for the third time, I decided it was time to take the subway – to save some time. I headed to Union Square where I was to meet up with Saltis for lunch. However, I had some time to spare so I visited my favourite shop in NYC – Fishs Eddy and then nipped across the street to ABC Carpet & Home, another cool interior design shop.


The ABC Carpet & Home shop window had this text displayed –¬†register on the website and show your support for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December!

Barnes and Noble at Union Square

It was still raining and while I waited for Saltis, I went to Barnes & Noble to look for a place to sit and read, without having to buy a coffee.¬†I found a row of chairs by the window on the 1st floor, perfect for a tired walker… I love that you can sit down in American bookshops, either on chairs or on the floor (it is quite common in France and Belgium as well), to read a book or magazine. I had brought my own book though,¬†the first Paul Auster book “The Brooklyn follies” that I have read and I loved it!

Saltis and I¬†had a yummy noodle lunch at Republic on Union Square and it occurred to me that if my last New York visit had a French bistro-theme, this definitely had an Asian-theme**! My hostess was in desperate need of some new jeans so American Eagle was our next stop where she actually found two pairs of jeans. Our shopping motivation decreased rapidly and after a quick visit to GAP and H&M we decided to call it a day (the 80’s inspired fashion in H&M might have contributed…).

Tazo, the cat
Tazo, the drinking-out-of-a-glass cat

The sick husband, M, was still fast asleep when we came home, but he¬†did feel¬†strong enough to have dinner with us – sushi! I was amazed at everything that can be home-delivered in New York City¬†– not just food but diapers, and food for both humans and cats… So practical and it must be great to not have to haul heavy shopping bags around town. It is something I have been thinking about lately, and¬†I suggested¬†to O this weekend that we should consider getting some of our basic grocery shopping ordered and delivered¬†when back in Brussels. However, I am married to a man who loves shopping (!!) so he was sceptical “as it takes away the pleasure of supermarket shopping”¬† ūüėē

Lipton, the cat
Lipton, the majestic cat

After dinner I was treated to the amazing view from the 38th floor in the neighbouring building. Saltis & co live on the 18th floor, and their view is already quite impressive, but on the 38th floor you can actually see Manhattan in all directions, as well as the East River and Roosevelt Island and the beginning of Long Island City where O and I were staying in November last year.

Diaper boxes can be fun!
Ella, the diaper box climber

Some more photos of my visit on Saltis’ blog… And I still have some sunny photos from last Thursday¬†to show you.

*) When Saltis & co were visiting in Puerto Rico, M and I discovered that we have very similar taste in food – unlike our spouses we don’t like intestines (liver, kidneys etc)¬† and they think that we are quite¬†picky… ūüėČ
**) I was also reminded that I still haven’t written about our Philly-trip in August, which had a certain Belgian beer caf√©-theme…