Friday, April 24, 2015

The Swede in me: "Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break"

Fond childhood memories and my affinity for all things Swedish drew me to author Anna Bronnes' and illustrator Johanna Kindvall's Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, an illustrated guide to the Scandinavian tradition of taking a mid-morning and/or mid-afternoon break to sip a restorative beverage and nibble tasty treats. While most Americans see coffee as fuel to speed through their day, Anna Bronnes explains that her coffee-loving homeland sees it as a reminder to pause, savor and converse with friends.

Some readers might be surprised to find a modern cookbook without full-color photographs with every recipe. In fact, there are no photos in this book.
Instead, Kindvall's fresh, minimalist artwork perfectly includes just enough detail to illuminate techniques and equipment while giving the book an airy, uncluttered feel in tune with the idea of simplifying and slowing down.As for text, the book is divided into five sections, walking Fika-novices through historical and contemporary fika culture, sweet treats for summer fika and holiday fika, and savory fika fare. Each section begins with several pages of explanation and insight. I found Bronne's analysis of the Swedish love-affair with foods from afar-- namely, coffee, chocolate and exotic spices like cardamom, ginger and cinnamon-- especially interesting. Often, when a cookbook author advocates for homemade, unprocessed and organic, they also champion locally sourced ingredients. But Swedes have happily absorbed many exotic ingredients as foundational flavors in their national cuisine. As someone who values both environmentalism and multi-culturalism, it's a contradiction I'm happy to live with. I was also inspired by the idea of getting out the fancy china and making ordinary moments special, even if that means packing the indoor spread for enjoying outdoors.

And, of course, the 150-page hardcover contains plenty of from-scratch recipes for traditional and contemporary Swedish pastries, breads and sandwiches, all of which had me daydreaming of how I might start a fika tradition in my own home. Notable recipes include: vetebullar (cinnamon and cardamom buns), syltgrottor (jam thumbprint cookies), kladkaka (sticky chocolate cake), rabarbersaft (rhubarb cordial), mjuka pepparkakor (soft ginger cookies) and pannkakor (Swedish pancakes).

For those who enjoy Swedish cookies and are curious about Swedish culture, I highly recommend this book. Or, even if you haven't given much thought about Swedish coffee break, but would like a reason to slow down and savor the little things in life, Fika is a fun excuse to help you do just that.

*I received a complimentary copy of this lovely book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.*

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Finding our calling in plain sight: A guest post by Matt Rennels

I'm very happy to present guest post, by my friend Matt Rennels, who reviews Jeff Goins' new book The Art of Work, which I'm keen to read myself. Once upon a time, Matt, my husband and I lived in the same town, worked at the same newspaper and worshipped at the same church. Matt is passionate about exploring how his faith intersects with his other interests, such as mental illness and overcoming fear. On the topic of careers, Matt also has an excellent post for idealists dissatisfied with their seemingly mundane careers, which I highly recommend you check out after reading his review.

If Ginny Phang can find the silver lining of her life’s work in the face of bleak circumstances, so can the rest of us, Jeff Goins writes in The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do.

Phang was about to be a young single mother in Singapore. Not only did she face social ostracism and eviction from her parents' house, Phang had no job experience and her boyfriend planned to leave her if she had the baby.

So, what to do?

Phang’s gripping story is one of many in Goin’s new book. Art of Work weaves together a collaborative mix of people who have looked past various personal challenges and roadblocks to see something glimmering in the distance. What do they see? Purpose. Calling. Opportunity.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I found something sacred in Rachel Held Evans' "Searching for Sunday"

I've been looking forward to Rachel Held Evans' new book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church for several months. Her excellent blog has challenged, affirmed and inspired me over the last few years. Books written by bloggers often read like scrapbooks of their greatest hits: A rehash of the post that went viral here, an astute observation from commenter Mary L. from Kansas there. Thankfully, Searching for Sunday is not that.

It is an honest, hopeful meditation on her disorienting drift away from her childhood church into the wilderness of doubt, then back to a renewed search for community and the discovery of Christ's Bride in unexpected places.

While many topics covered in her book have been discussed extensively on her blog, Evans resists recycling popular posts. Instead, the book benefits from her versatility as a blogger. Chapters like "Chubby Bunny" humorously relive Evans' childhood growing up small town Baptist. Chapters like "The Meal" showcase her training as a journalist as she interviews the pastor of an innovative, inner-city "dinner church" in New York. Chapters like "Trembling Giant" meditate on the awesome single organism that is an entire forest of quaking aspens in Fish Lake, Utah, as a metaphor for the universal church.  Still other chapters, like "Dust," stem from Evans' Bible college education, reading like beautiful sermons that explore stories from scripture.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jonathan Malm's "Created for More" devotional caters to creatives

One of my favorite aspects to ponder about God is him as Creator. I like to think that when I have moments of creativity, the energy coursing through me is His Spirit, and that my times of dreaming up new ideas are like prayer times for connecting with my Creator God. The times I feel so close to His soft whisper are when I'm writing or envisioning a new children's book or even singing a made up tune as I wash dishes. I think God is in those moments, and I was excited to see a book written from this perspective.

Jonathan Malm, in his devotional Created for More: 30 Days to Seeing Your World in a New Way, hopes to "awaken the spiritual act of creativity" within us by pairing scripture readings, devotions and a creative challenge. I'm going to focus on this hands-on component of the devotional, because I think that's what sets it apart from most other devotionals. 

Malm seems to target those who work in creative professions, since the challenges often involve taking an existing work task and modifying it (cut your resources in half or move the deadline up) or looking at it from a new perspective (avoiding familiar techniques or creating your work in public). Most of the ideas have a clear tie-in to the particular focus for the day's devotion. For example, performing your art in public is paired with a devotion on being brave and resisting the urge to fear others' opinions.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Salad Love" by David Bez a visual feast

David Bez writes at the beginning of Salad Love that it isn't a cookbook. Instead, this is collection of 260 of the most photogenic salads he made over the course of three years of preparing lunch at his desk as part of his personal goal of eating more vegetables, which eventually gave way to the challenge to document it in a blog called Salad Pride.  The recipes in the book, which cater to vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian and omnivorous tastes with an emphasis on crunchy raw produce, are simply lists of ingredients that Bez assembled at his desk. 

In addition to not being a cookbook--as there’s not a whole lot of cooking going on in the recipes--there’s also not a lot of text in this book. The first 30 pages feature the author’s guidelines for the proportions of produce, proteins, toppings and dressings that make up his ideal salad, the back story of how his personal dietary vision became a blog and then a book, and a cubicle tour of how he was able to prepare all these culinary feats at his desk as office mates salivated in the background.