I worked late today because of an all-day workshop about applied machine learning. (Great workshop, had fun and learned a lot.)

How nice it felt today to have such big kids. Adrian went home from school on his own; Ingrid took care of grocery shopping and cooked dinner. By the time I got home, dinner was already halfway done. No need for me to leave the workshop early or rush home to sort out the practicalities.

Adrian, inspired by Ingrid’s weekly dinners, now also wants to start cooking. For now he doesn’t quite have the skills to do it on his own – he can peel potatoes and chop things but that’s about it – so we’ll be cooking together once a week.

It’s not so much the cooking process that appeals to him. It’s the power to decide the meal.

Today we made mashed potatoes, and chicken nuggets for him and some store-bought veggie burgers for the rest of us.

We take turns to bring Friday fika to work, and it’s my turn tomorrow. I made a double batch of double lemon muffins, and the “double” means that first you bake lemon muffins and then you drench them in lemon syrup. Plus there’s poppy seeds in them to make them even more delicious. I’ve been longing for lemon poppy seed muffins for some weeks already, so the fika at work was a perfect occasion to make some.

Some marketing association has named 4th of October “cinnamon bun day”. Cinnamon buns are ok (except for Swedish store-bought buns which are always covered in large amounts of pearl sugar which I find nearly inedible). Poppy seed buns are much better, though. Ours are an Estonian family tradition – they’re a cross between cinnamon buns and the long poppy seed rolls that are traditional across all of Eastern Europe.

Sometimes I happen to see one of those articles or blog posts about people who sell 90% of their stuff and move into a camper van or a tiny cottage or a river boat, and then live a minimalist life there, and evangelise about how happy it has made them.

Now I am not particularly fond of “stuff” and I can easily imagine having less of it and being happy about it. And I can imagine living happily in fewer and smaller rooms than we currently have. But a small kitchen? Never! Cooking in a cramped kitchen is frustrating and takes most of the joy out of cooking. A large sink is a must, as is a large cutting board, and enough counter space for both the cutting board and all the ingredients and utensils around it. And enough space around the kitchen table so that one can walk around people sitting there without squeezing.

Chocolate balls (made of cocoa powder, butter, sugar and rolled oats) are a traditional Swedish sweet. Super easy to make, and (done right) quite delicious. For an adult version, add some espresso and rum. The one in the photo is a kids’ version: Adrian and his friends rolled their own chocolate balls during his birthday party on Sunday. Some of the boys made bite-sized balls; other balls were nearly fist-sized. The last and largest one we cut in two for Adrian and Ingrid to share.

I had a free evening today; Eric picked up the kids and took care of dinner etc.

My afternoons and evenings are always stressful. From around 15:00 until after dinner, I’m always watching the clock, calculating and scheduling to make sure I get everything done on time. I need to get my job done, so I cannot leave too early – but I also need to pick up Adrian in time, and buy and prepare dinner, and make sure everyone gets to their activities in time. Dinner sometimes needs to be early, and sometimes it cannot be early, because the activities are at different times every day. I feel like a slave to the clock.

So it is extra nice to be able to let go of all that occasionally. To cycle fast only because I enjoy it and not because I am in a hurry. To cycle slowly when I feel like it. To go out for a leisurely restaurant dinner.

Today’s dinner was at Lao Wai, a vegan Chinese restaurant that’s been a favourite of mine for twenty years already. I used to eat there regularly when I was a student because it’s very close to the university. The one and only waiter looks just the same as he did twenty years ago, maybe a tiny bit rounder in the face. Out of curiosity I asked him how long the restaurant has been there. Twenty-five years this month, he told me. I hope they keep going for another twenty-five.

Fresh bread.

I’m a food snob, and bread is one of the foods I am snobbiest about. Most Swedish supermarket bread is barely worth eating_ lavourless and with the mouth feel of a dry, loose sponge. Many upmarket “artisanal” breads are no better – expensive and with lots of very crusty crust and lots of big sourdoughy holes, but still without much flavour.

Eric’s breads on the other hand are so good that I can eat them every day and still not tire. Most of them I eat with only butter. There is no need for cheese or anything like that.

The bread in the photo, a scalded rye loaf with sunflower seeds and caraway seeds, is my absolute favourite. There are others that have more yummy things in them, but this one has the perfect balance between everything.

It was Ingrid’s turn to make dinner, and she picked one of her and Adrian’s favourites: stuffed bell peppers.

That whole dish has kind of come to belong to Ingrid. Both kids love her version, which is the same every time. If I tweaked it in any way (which I would, if I were to cook it) it could not be anything but inferior.

We were talking about plums, and that led to Eric baking a plum cake. And that led to me also baking a plum cake, because Eric’s was going to be yummy but not the kind of plum cake that I was craving.

I want my fruit cakes to have lots of big, luscious, juicy chunks of fruit in them. A cake should have enough batter to give it some structural integrity, but not much more – there should ideally be more fruit than cake. Quite often I decide that the amount of fruit in the recipe is ridiculously small and double it.

So we had two plum cakes, and it was interesting to see just how different they could be. Eric’s was like a loaf of banana bread but with plums instead of bananas: spicy, very moist, but with no clear plum flavour. Mine was dense, heavy, and with distinct pieces of plum.

Mine also had half a cup of sweet plum wine in it. (The recipe called for madeira, probably because most people don’t have plum wine at home…) Adrian tried the batter before I added the wine, and then the finished cake, and said the wine totally destroyed the cake. Eric and I thought it was the best batter ever.

Upside down plum cake (Swedish)