Sunday 13 December 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 13/12/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Close for comfort

What will you do with your cherished Christmas traditions over the coming weeks? If you’re reading this in the South Pacific then your festive dinner will probably look much the same as ever – with all the usual trimmings – but you might be missing some key family members since your government has sealed your country off from the rest of the world, meaning there’ll be no aunt visiting from Athens or granny from Hong Kong. If you’re in Germany you’ve been living with the angst caused by a steady stream of communications telling you what Weihnachten will not be like this year and, at the time of reading this, you’ll be waiting for yet more measures to be announced to wipe away any remaining cheer. If you’re in Sweden then you’re quite possibly going about your business as usual and planning a julbord (Christmas buffet) like any other year, with all the friends, family, glögg and trappings you’ve been accustomed to for the past 30 or so years.

While I’ve been chronicling the Swiss way of dealing with the pandemic in this column since the start (a generally pragmatic blend of balancing hygiene measures and social restrictions while keeping the economy open, with some recent wobbles), I hadn’t been able to make my way up to Stockholm to experience the Swedish way – until Thursday that is. What a shock!

As Switzerland has moved to shutter restaurants from 19.00 (because the virus doesn’t infect people over breakfast or lunch, we must assume) and close down Sunday trading (even the virus needs a day of rest), I don’t think I was fully prepared for how relaxed life in Sweden remains. Despite domestic political pressure for stricter measures and external criticism from the neighbours to follow a harder line, the Swedish government’s approach of advising how people should behave, combined with peer pressure, has had limited effect. A quick scan around the arrivals terminal revealed that there’s been no uptake on masks, the plexi-glass business is not doing the roaring trade it’s enjoying elsewhere around the world and hugs and kisses were very much in evidence. So far, so super normal. In Stockholm, the streets were certainly quieter than usual (the Swedes have been following the work-from-home advice with great enthusiasm I’m told) but the restaurants were buzzing with friends and colleagues ordering another bottle (or two) and knocking back assorted varieties of schnapps. Some shops had half-hearted distance measures and some hygiene amenities but overall it felt pretty much like Christmas 2019 or 2007.

For the past eight years we’ve hosted a Christmas cocktail and dinner party at a favourite hotel in Stockholm and were conflicted, albeit briefly, if it should go ahead this year. About a month ago I did a quick Saturday afternoon ring-around to our regular guests to gauge the mood and after three calls it was clear that there would be no break with tradition. “We have to do our party, no changes,” said a friend. “We need to laugh and celebrate more than ever.” Shortly after I spoke to the hotel and asked how they would cope and if it was going to be weird with various government recommendations but the view was, “Let’s do it.”

Yes, they would adapt some of the seating arrangements and they’d need to abide by the early last call on alcohol sales but aside from those tweaks we were promised that it would feel like the regular seasonal fixture it has become for our guests and the hotel’s staff. Fast forward and it’s now the morning after, and I’m happy to report that they were right. The festivities ended a little earlier than usual at the hotel but thanks to some foresight by our friends there was already a social-continuity contingency plan in play. At 22.30 sharp taxis pulled up in front of the hotel and we were whisked to a sprawling apartment high above Östermalm. En route a friend explained that the new early shutdown meant that apartments and houses had become nightclubs and he remarked that at least once a week the dancing and merriment wouldn’t wrap up till 5.00 in the morning at his own abode. Judging by the scene in the apartment across the street he was right, as another party was in full flow. “This is what the new night-time economy looks like in Sweden,” remarked another guest.

As the evening carried on conversations and catch-ups revealed another interesting fact about life in Sweden – almost everyone in attendance had had the virus, some as far back as March. And were they happy with how things were going? How their neighbours regarded them? Was the Swedish way the better way? “It’s not perfect but what’s the alternative?” asked our hostess. “Is Germany or France better? Have the Irish figured it out? We have to do our own thing.”


Thirst impressions

Entrepreneurs Karolina and Patrik Svensk are used to starting businesses and making the most of them (writes Liv Lewitschnik). Most recently they sold the footwear company Jim Rickey that they launched 15 years ago and have now gone all in on their next project: beer. The Svensks’ Munklägret brand has quietly been winning fans across select bars in Sweden.

“I started making beer for fun and we then started winning non-commercial beer competitions in Sweden,” says Patrik. “So I moved on to competitions in the US and it did well there too.” The secret to the recipe? Keeping it simple. “Brewing beer is just like cooking – it’s better not to go crazy on the ingredients,” he says. “We like the taste to be quite classic.” Now the Svensks are hoping to expand across Sweden and further afield, and they’re ramping up production. “We’d like our beer to be drunk like a wine,” says Patrik.

The graceful labels featuring plants and flowers drawn by Karolina certainly make the Munklägret bottles stand out on the shelves. The line-up of ales, lagers and pilsners also includes a wild ale, which is sure to surprise newcomers and convert them to the cause.


Lasting impressions

The year that I turned 11, my eldest sister gave me Microsoft Flight Simulator 98, a now cult virtual-flying game for the PC (writes Kunyalala Ndlovu). The premise was simple: create a journey, select a suitable craft then chart a path across the pixelated skies. This unassuming CD-Rom turned my hazy afternoons into explorations as I travelled without ever moving from my small southern African hometown.

At the time, flying abroad from Zimbabwe was not an easy task. It was a gift in itself and my family was one of the lucky ones able to do so. I had been on my first trip to Europe the year before and my young mind still boggled at the new worlds that I had experienced there. Riding a double-decker train in Hessen during the winter was a surreal experience, while the glass pyramid at the Louvre was smaller in real life than in my imagination – as was the Manneken Pis in Brussels.

The gift of the flight simulator allowed me to build on my journeys of curiosity by flying anywhere in the world, on any plane and at any time (bedtime notwithstanding). Much of the world has since changed – not least the technology behind computer games. I now have a curious three-year-old who reads books and watches the world in wonder as I did. As travel is difficult right now, I’d like to gift my son something that encourages his sense of wonder in the way that game did mine – but maybe minus the screen time, which has increased hugely for children since I was young.

I recently heard about Maira Kalman’s book, Ooh-La-La (Max In Love), thanks to the NYRB Children’s Book Club. It’s a story about a dog poet called Max and the wonders that he finds when he travels to Paris for the first time (he and I are aligned on the Louvre). Picture books are a great gift for wide, little eyes. I’m also hoping that in some small way it can reveal the wonder of the world, which an active imagination can conjure, as well as a little time away from the backlit screen while we wait for real travel to resume.


Thought for food

Award-winning Aussie author and food editor Donna Hay’s cookbooks adorn the shelves of kitchens across the globe. The Sydneysider, formerly food editor of Marie Claire, has become just as well-known for her simple but scrummy recipes as for her beautifully sunny food styling, showcased in Donna Hay magazine and a homeware range. Here she talks about family, running in the gloaming and why white miso paste is a pantry must-have.

Where do we find you this weekend?
Out of bed early. I’m on my morning run on Sydney’s beautiful oceanside track from Bondi to Bronte beach. I like to drop by Bondi Market to grab my produce with a green juice in hand. My two sons and I love to be outside as much as possible, so this could be followed by a bike ride or an afternoon on our paddleboards.

How have the past few months treated you?
I have been busy working on new projects, including the launch of my new digital magazine and my new book, Everyday Fresh: Meals in Minutes. Usually I would be travelling from city to city but this year I have been video calling all over the world from my studio kitchen, including the New York City Wine and Food Festival, and live TV in London and the Netherlands. I’m now putting the finishing touches on a series of Christmas cooking workshops, which anyone can join – it will be super fun.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
I’m up early but always home for a big breakfast with my boys. It’s nice to have a lazy morning at home with family.

Soundtrack of choice?
I’m always adding songs to my running playlist. At the moment my favourite is a cruisy little tune by Tash Sultana, “Beyond the Pine”.

What’s for breakfast?
A big green juice and lots of coffee.

News or not?
I like to stay up to date but it’s not the first thing that I reach for.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
One of my girlfriends put me on to some stretching-yoga classes on YouTube. I try to do a quick 20 minutes before I go to bed.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
My 05.00 run is a must. It clears my head and lets my creative thoughts sort themselves into a less crazy order.

What’s for lunch?
It really depends on what’s happening in the studio but a favourite is my mint pesto broccoli bowl with blistered tomatoes.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
I’m currently using lots of white miso paste for sweet and savoury; everything from marinades to salted-caramel sauce.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
Fruit or herb-citrus shrubs [fruit syrups with drinking vinegar] are a current thing in my house. Mixed with soda and sometimes with a splash of gin, they are heaven.

Dinner venue you’ve missed?
The first place I headed back to was Sean’s Panaroma at Bondi.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
A layer of a great serum such as Estée Lauder ANR, with a quick red-light revive under my Light Salon mask.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
It depends on what Monday brings; not many of my days are the same. I might be testing recipes in my studio, dressed for meetings or filming. Whatever it is, it’s usually something paired with trainers.


Basque cheesecake

Our Swiss chef extraordinaire rustles up a bold take on the Basque cheesecake (a crustless riff on the classic) with an unlikely twist: a subtle tang of blue cheese. Go with us on this one, you won’t regret it.

Serves 8 as a dessert

30g blue cheese
660ml cream
400g soft cream cheese
6 eggs
200g sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 170C.
  2. Mix the blue cheese with a little cream until incorporated. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well until a paste is formed with no lumps.
  3. Pour the cheesecake mixture into a springform pan lined with baking paper (or just buttered) and bake for about 50 minutes until the top takes a deep brown-black hue and begins to crack. Let the cheesecake cool and set before tucking in (this will help it to keep its shape). Enjoy it with cream or, as Ralph suggests, with a little honey and fennel blossoms.


Bearing fruit

In the fourth and final of a series of stories featured in ‘The Forecast’, we make for Tennessee to hear how an honest and interesting hospitality business is thriving.

Nestled in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry Farm soon made a name for itself when it opened 30 years ago (writes Sarah Rowland). “The goal from the beginning was to build a place to welcome people to these farmlands,” says Mary Celeste Bealle, Blackberry’s current proprietor. “It all started with my in-laws inviting people into their own home in 1976.”

Years after her in-laws opened the original, Bealle married her late husband Sam and the couple moved in to continue the legacy. Sam opened a butcher and brewery, and hired a master gardener and a farmer to grow food on the property. He then started a wine collection that now boasts more than 155,000 bottles from all over the world.

Bealle planned to play a supporting role at the resort but when Sam passed away three years ago, she took the helm with the encouragement of her father-in-law. “It was more of a family calling,” she says. “I knew it was possible because of the incredible team already in place. Losing my husband changed my life in so many ways that it’s hard to count. But being able to continue his vision by focusing on our family business, with the support of our talented team, has shown me how strong we can be when we stand together.”

The new inns are a series of stone cottages and wooden, hillside cabins – all with views of the Smokies, access to brooks, private terraces and outdoor stone-stacked fireplaces. The food is exceptional too, with award-winning chefs and knowledgeable sommeliers onsite. “A large part of our success today has been in delegating, trusting and believing in others along the way,” says Bealle. “We recognised our passion for bringing things from our travels and experiences to this place. I love that we’re part of something that’s going to continue for generations. At the end of the day we just want to take care of people – that’s the true story of the Bealle family.”

For more in our series on intrepid innkeepers, plus a raft of tips for the year ahead, ‘The Forecast’ is out now.


Dough forth

The way that we eat is changing and a new bloom of chefs and producers have brought the message of seasonality, simplicity and transparency to the table (writes Josh Fehnert). We all need to think about the kind of food that we want to eat, the waste that we’re willing to accept and how the whole food system can be a little more nourishing, natural and nice to those who are supported by it.

If there’s one foodstuff that shows our collective appetite to get back to basics it’s the sudden rise of bread. The daily staple is filling, flavoursome and made with inexpensive and widely available ingredients (flour, water, yeast, salt). So far, so unremarkable, but some part of the alchemy involved in getting the time, temperature and rise right has made artisanal bread irresistible. Even as incidences of gluten intolerance rise, good bread has found its way back to the top table. It’s not quite a luxury but rather an example of how even the simplest aspects of our life can be honed and improved.

Think of visiting a bakery in the morning and bringing home a still-warm, comforting loaf to enjoy with your loved ones. What about the fact that the baker cared about what went into the bread, took the time to get it right and was paid fairly? Also, doesn’t the bakery itself represent a shift back towards community? That’s a slice of the good life, all for the price of a loaf of bread.

To feast on more advice, ideas and insights on living better, buy a copy of ‘The Monocle Book of Gentle Living’, published by Thames & Hudson.


Spruce change

Rent is usually the primary factor ensuring Hong Kong’s place at the top of the list of the world’s most expensive cities. But this year it’s more likely to be the cost of a Christmas tree (writes James Chambers). With expat families stuck in the city for the holidays the price of a real Scandinavian spruce has gone absolutely crackers: the flower market next to Monocle’s Hong Kong bureau has a few left for the equivalent of €1,250. Even bankers are left choking on their Glühwein, prompting entrepreneurial stall holders to branch out into other trees. Christmas conifer, anyone? Expats have also been driven onto Taobao, China’s indecipherable counterpart to Amazon. Prices are reasonable enough although the patchy end product can bring back memories of dodgy lockdown haircuts. Monocle ordered a Nordmann fir from Ikea in early November and the €80 we spent now seems like a snip. Desperate parents and disappointed kids are always welcome to come by and share in the festive spirit – and dark chocolates. Have a lovely Sunday.


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