MERRY AND SWEET

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I was thrilled when Gina at Willowday asked me to participate in The Creative Collective Sweden Julkalender/Annual Holiday Countdown!  As a fellow American and ex-pat living in Stockholm, I’ve long admired Gina’s myriad of talents (!) and her passion for creating beautiful objects and spaces.  She’s also a generous, inspiring artist who firmly believes in sharing her platform with other creatives.  When Gina requested a holiday post, I thought of the one treat that always brings me joy: Cupcakes.

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Mia Lewis, the fictional, hard-charging Wall Street executive in my novel Lagging Indicators, has a soft spot for cupcakes.  They are her guilty pleasure and she loves to gorge on a box of dainty delicacies from Magnolia Bakery in New York.  She even finds a rustic cupcake café to eat her sorrows away after fleeing the city in professional disgrace. This little character detail–Mia’s love for these sweet, whimsical creations–was drawn from my own obsession with cupcakes.  I love that they’re a study in contradictions; miniature but over-the-top, decadent but designed for portion control.  Cupcakes were also the festive treat my mom baked by the dozens for my birthday.  I waited all year for the chance to bring them to school and hand out to my classmates at snack time.

I was disappointed to discover there was no such birthday cupcake tradition in Sweden when my own children were small.  However, I shouldn’t have been surprised; cupcakes evolved in the United States during the 19th Century.  They coincided with the shift from weighing out ingredients when baking to measuring out ingredients.  Cupcakes were originally cooked in small pottery cups and their “invention” saved significant baking time in the oven.  When muffin tins became popular in the 20thCentury, people began preparing cupcakes in these individual molds, adding to the convenience.

Cupcakes have become nothing short of a cult phenomenon and they invaded Sweden in the last decade.  Swedes call them muffins, which I find rather confusing, but I’m nevertheless thrilled that I’m able to find the baking paper, pans, and toppings needed to bring these small masterpieces to life.  

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I adore making cupcakes for the holidays.  My specialty is pepparkaka, or gingerbread cupcakes, and I embellish them with a variety of Christmassy flavors and decorations.  My recipe is semi-homemade since I rely on the Kungsörnen Pepparkaka cake mix.  I’ve made gingerbread cake from scratch in the past and can honestly say that it didn’t taste any better, so I put all of my focus on the icing and garnish.  I use a base recipe for buttercream frosting from Domino’s Confectioner’s Sugar and convert the measurements, working with the Florsocker found in Sweden. 

My favorite holiday glazes are vanilla, cream cheese, and peppermint.  In addition to the standard red and green sprinkles, my toppings reflect a Yuletide motif: candy-cane shavings; pepparkaka cookie crumble; Hershey’s Kisses; Christmas M&Ms; mini-marshmallows; powdered cardamom; marzipan figures; metallic and winter-themed trimmings… Deep hues of red velvet, evergreen, and hot chocolate transform a humble cake into a sparkling gem.  Small in stature, but big on imagination, I think holiday cupcakes embody the magic and merriment of the season.  GOD JUL!

Marzipan figures from Thelins Konditori.

HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE: 2018

Bibliophiles can be tough customers.  It’s not easy shopping for books or literary-related gifts for people who are well-versed in authors and have specific thoughts about what they will or will not read.  Many bookworms I know are a fussy lot who take great pride in their esoteric tastes.  This is why it’s so much fun to shake things up with snazzy presents that will take them out of their dusty book zones!  Here’s my roundup of holiday goodies that will (hopefully) bring a smile to the most manic bibliomaniac among us.

Books are the most obvious place to start, but why not give a beautiful coffee table book with illustrations of literary people, places and things?  Or what about a cool tome that chronicles the edgy underground scene of writers, artists, and performers in New York during the 70s and 80s?  The Writer’s Map is a clever atlas of the fictional, inspirational, and real-life journeys that storytellers have narrated in their books–perfect for Harry Potter or Treasure Island fans.  I think that libraries are near-sacred spaces and Massimo Listri takes us inside the world’s most extraordinary temples of knowledge and information.  For the writer who loves fashion and books?  Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore will satisfy their sartorial and literary cravings.  Plus you can’t go wrong with Joan Didion on the cover!

I work better when I have good gear.  Blame it on the neurotic Virgo in me, but an organized desk breeds and organized mind.  But that doesn’t mean my desk accessories have to be boring!  Practicality and aesthetically-pleasing can go hand-in-hand.  Why settle for a plain stapler and tape dispenser when these marble gems can be found at Target?  I’m always searching for my phone or favorite pen underneath the papers on my desk and this valet tray would keep essential items in a designated spot.  The Hay Beak Scissors are a whimsical Danish design classic.  Swedish Svenskt Tenn’s weighty Alpha Omega bookends are a heritage piece that can be passed down from generation to generation.  The pewter Syltkruka Vase, also from Svenskt Tenn, is the perfect container for storing pens and pencils or filling with a small bouquet of flowers.

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I received this Smythson planner as a gift last year and I used it so much–despite being so dependent on my iPhone for managing appointments and notes. There was something so tangible and satisfying about writing stuff down and I found that I was less forgetful.  I’m treating myself to a new diary for 2019 and because it is such an investment piece, I handle it with care.  Smythson also has wonderful small notebooks to catalog a writer’s free-flowing thoughts!

While we’re on the subject of organization, I can’t seem to keep all my cords, devices, passport, etc together when I travel and am always frantically searching for something.  I think a Shinola Tech Travel Folio such as the one above would solve the problem!

Reading for pleasure is a cozy, self-indulgent exercise.  Why not take it to the next level and burn this divine, aptly-named Byredo Bibliothèque scented candle while enjoying the new private label Lost in the Stacks Coffee or Enchanted Library Blackberry Tea from Strand Book Store in New York City?  Drink from this New Yorker mug with a groovy illustration of the Strand itself!

These retro-inspired tee-shirts of classics from Out of Print would get even the most screen-obsessed person in a reading mood.  They’re also the perfect gift for the bibliophile who has one or two or three favorite works of literature!  Since 2010, Out of Print’s mission has been to spread the joy of reading by transforming literary classics into bookish apparel and accessories. With every purchase, you help them to donate books and support literacy programs around the world.

I love John Derian’s vintage aesthetic and these trays with decoupage images of fonts and phrases are a lovely way to bring the writing and book-loving theme to your home.

John Derian paperweights are stylish decorative objects to keep on your desk.  They also look great in a coffee table vignette or as part of a shelfie!

I don’t know about you, but I get the munchies if I sit too long at my desk and oftentimes the best energy-infusion is something sweet!  The holiday season brings with it a host of tempting flavors and colors and there’s no need to break the bank either.  Give classics like M&Ms or Hershey’s Kisses and popular peppermint bark in a glass jar or small basket to your writer and reader friends. Tie a ribbon around it, pair with a book you’ve already read and like, and they’ll be so touched and thankful!

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While in Los Angeles for her Becoming book tour, former First Lady Michelle Obama made a surprise visit to the Para Los Niños Tina and Rick Caruso Early Education Center, located in Skid Row, to spend time and read with a group of four-year-old children from an underserved area of Los Angeles. Mrs. Obama’s visit was in Partnership with Penguin Random House and First Book and is a part of Penguin Random House’s one million book donation in the Obama family’s name. (November 15, 2018)  Source

Do-it-Yourself gifts are usually the most personal as are the ones extended in the spirit of giving.  One organization that I support is First Book.  Since 1992, First Book has distributed more than 175 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families in more than 30 countries.  Books have the power to transform lives and a donation–no matter how big or small–made in your or someone else’s name can have a significant impact.  This gift guide was meant to inspire and entertain, but the true meaning of the holidays centers around gratitude and community; spreading love, peace, and joy.  Wishing you and your nearest and dearest the very best for the season!