The start of the year can be hard months, especially in Portland. In the years I’ve lived here, January/February is usually when the winter depression sets in — the realization that we’ve got another five months of constant endless drizzle and gray skies ahead of us, and that my subsequent days will be spent doing the exact same thing: going to work and biking in grim weather.
At this time of year, it’s easy for me to fall into a trap of hating the city, thinking mean thoughts that are unbecoming of a supposedly lighthearted and whimsical food blogger like myself:
I hate biking, I’ll think ragefully to myself as I don my waterproof pants and high visibility jacket to armor myself against the rain. I hate Portland cyclists. They’re the most smug and entitled; think that their paltry 3-mile bicycle commute is a friggin’ race for the yellow jersey. In addition to these jerks, why is Portland considered such a good biking city anyway, especially if it rains like 300 days out of the year? Terrible.
I hate Portlanders, I’ll fume in my head, as I stand hangrily in line behind a woman toting a yoga mat and lengthily debating the merits of different nutrient-dense vegan foods with the cash register at New Seasons, Portland’s local, pricier answer to Whole Foods. Everybody here is so smug and preachy about their alternative diets and their healthy exercises. Why does she have to discuss this with some rando person? It’s only so she can righteously declare that she eats kale everyday and publicly congratulate herself. Terrible.
This year, my solution to such stormy thoughts was to take a vacation. I bought a ticket to Texas to visit Kiron, one of my best friends, who is currently spending a semester abroad at the University of Texas in Austin.
Fun fact about me — I actually went to high school in Houston, where I had a pretty stereotypical childhood. My memories of the place are filled with hours of soccer practice in the blistering heat, blasting music during a long commute to the private school I attended, suburban pool parties turned sleepovers and driving to fast food restaurants with friends. When I graduated from high school, my parents pretty much high-tailed it out of the city, and a result, this past trip was my first time back in Texas in almost ten years.
It was physically and emotionally overwhelming. Physically because Kiron and I ate like kings, and I gained back most of the weight I’d lost in a month (on this sad, mostly carb-free diet I’m on) over the course of four days with unnecessary stops — NO REGRETS. Emotionally because, walking around, I would suddenly get nostalgic flashes as a long lost memory was resurfaced. Oh, this was the Chipotle my friend and I ate at when we toured UT’s campus together! or Oh, I’ve had Amy’s ice cream before after all, there used to be one next to my high school!
Although I enjoyed the trip, the reliving of my past and being immersed in a new-yet-familiar made me grateful for the things I had now; specifically, for living in Portland itself. The fact that good food and neighborhoods were separated by short bike rides instead of congested highways, and the fact that I could easily buy healthy, wholesome foods at small mom-and-pop stores instead of massive, generic grocery stores. It was strange to me that this was my life once, so long ago. And though I have fond memories of living in Houston and had a great time in Austin, the trip made me realize how much I’d changed, especially with regards to the things I value and the way I live my everyday life. I now compost regularly and get irritated if I spend too much time driving. All those Portlanders that I was hating on earlier — the jerk cyclists, the pretentious yogis and smug vegans — they had rubbed off on me after all.
People travel and vacation for many different reasons — to learn, to find new things, to explore, to escape. But my favorite reason for doing so is that for me, traveling somewhere new always reminds me of how lucky I am to have found Portland, a place that I ultimately love and chose as my home.
For those of you who have always found regular cinnamon buns to be too intense and sickly sweet, Swedish buns provide the perfect compromise. Swedish buns are basically cinnamon rolls topped with beautiful Swedish pearl sugar instead of icing. My version of the pastry is filled with marzipan, orange zest and generous pinches of cardamom. When baking in the oven, the buns fill the kitchen with the most wonderful, aromatic scent that really makes the house feel like home.
Some baker's notes:
- Swedish pearl sugar is available online — I like the Lars’ Own kind, but King Arthur Flour also makes their own Swedish pearl sugar variety. Do NOT confuse Swedish pearl sugar with Belgian pearl sugar, which is significantly larger and is intended for embedding into doughs. In a pinch, you can make your own Swedish pearl sugar by using a rolling pin to crush sugar cubes into smaller granules.
- Plan ahead for this one! The dough needs to rise for about 3 hours total — the first hour and a half after the dough has just been mixed and kneaded, the second hour and a half after its been punched down and formed into rolls. If that seems like a lot of time, feel free to make the dough the day before and let it rise overnight in the refrigerator. This trick works better if you use instant/rapid rise yeast.
- If your kitchen is cold and you don’t want to wait forever for the dough to rise, one trick is to set your dough in the oven with the light on. The lightbulb will increase the temperature around 5 or so degrees. Don’t try to increase the temperature more than that, a slow rise is good for flavor development, a fast rise is bad.