Midsummer in Havana

Since Andreas and I both are in constant search of the authentic side of our travel destinations (i,e. our trips are less spa environments, smoothies and infinity pools, and more cold showers and Soviet-style “luxury” breakfasts…), we decided to stay at airbnbs for most part of the trip. For the first part of the trip, we intentionally avoided Havana Vieja since we would be staying there our last says in Cuba. Instead, we opted for an airbnb in Vedado, in a more residential area and only a few blocks from the waterfront and with a few communist architectural masterpieces (or monstrosities?) nearby. Best of all was roof terrace that came with and our host Arin’s lovely breakfasts! (Here on airbnb) Our first day, Arin also arranged with an old-school car to take us around for a few ours. Very touristy but also a very convenient way to get an overview of the city and to see areas beyond Havana Vieja. The number one surprise was the beautiful Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba  with a lush green sea of hanging trees – like stepping into a fairy tale forest!

Malecon Havana

Malecon Havana

Havana Cuba

Havana Cuba

Havana Cuba

Botanic Gardens Havana

Botanic Gardens Havana

Swedish Midsummer

Bodeguita del Medio

Malecon Havana

After our drive and Swedish Midsummer lunch on the roof terrace – my first in years and solely thanks to Andreas (although the selection of snaps on the table ended up being more for decoration that actual intake) – we spent the rest of the afternoon in Havana Vieja and had dinner at a Le Bodegita Del Medio (allegedly a favorite of Hemingway’s) upon the recommendations from my manager! And yes, we did write our names on the wall!

Seeing Cuba – A Dream Coming True!

It always starts with a dream. Then maybe a text. My dream of visiting Cuba likely developed sometime in my teens, with Hemingway and other books and movies from the first part of the 20th century, only to eventually end up on my bucket list of travel destination within reach as Cuba increasingly opened up to tourism over the past decades. The only thing holding me back was that I really wanted to see it with someone, for no other reason than that I wanted to share my impressions and this experience, and Cuba was not on the top of the bucket list of my regular travel companions. Or so I thought until I sent off a text to Andreas back in April to let him know that I was on my way to Stockholm and as a side note dropped a question about Cuba.

Me: “Also wondering if you’d be up for seeing Cuba, before it gets invaded by Starbucks and  Mac Donald’s?”

Andreas: YES! Let’s plan when we meet!

Easy as that!

Cuba street view

Reminders of Cuba’s history all over Havana

Back from Cuba!

I am home after nine days in Cuba! It’s been wonderful. Surprisingly, I was able to roam with my cell phone in most places so I’ve up dated my IG @asagiertz along the way, but unfortunately, my blog app wouldn’t upload photos instead so I couldn’t post from there. But I’ve been writing along the way, so here we go!

Cuba street sign

Going to Cuba!! 

I’m on my way to Cuba! It’s another trip on my bucket list and it has been a dream of mine for many years to see Havana and the rest of the island before it changes too much. And even though I like to travel alone, I really wanted to share the Cuba experience together with someone! Luckily,  I found someone who is as eager as I am to go there in my friend Andreas! We got to know each other when we both lived in Chisinau, Moldova, many years ago, and have since traveled together to places like Odessa and Jura. So a perfect travel companion for this trip!

We have booked Airbnbs in Havana and on the southern side of Cuba, and will be away for over a week. I expect that I will have little access to internet in this period but I will update with lots and lots of pictures when I get back. See you then!!

packing cuba

Sunday Savor: Italian Style Pasta Salad

Another one of my quick favorites that is in season right now is my pasta salad with mozzarella, cherry tomato, baby spinach and olives.  And then with a dash of olive oil, and salt and pepper  Actually, pasta salad is a good quick dish that can be used as a slush dish for left-over veggies. Just mix together. I got hooked on whole wheat pasta on the third try and prefer it now since it tastes more than white wheat. But an advice is to measure portions and be careful with olives, olive oil, and cheese. A cup (2.5 dl) of pasta is 200 kcal, and regular veggies adds very little, but it’s easy to make portions twice that size and then drown with olive oil and or cheese. So top up with veggies instead!

Pasta salad recipe

Pasta salad recipe

Pasta salad recipe

For those who enjoy it, a good vinaigrette probably adds an extra touch to this recipe, but I like it simple, optimizing the taste/ingredients ratio!

Back to the Farm

Back to the Farm – literarily! Saturday, I joined a couple friends and volunteered at the Bread for the City farm lot a few kilometers outside of DC. Bread in the City support low-income families in DC with food and strive to create food justice by increasing access to fresh produce in food desert neighborhoods. We were about 35 people there, helping out with weeding, pruning, and picking berries. My friends and I ended up in a group that arranged corn-based cover plastic to avoid the spread of weed and the decrease evapotranspiration. Compared to the farmers that I work with in Malawi and elsewhere, this was very light work and on,y for a few hours, but lots of fun. And incidentally, Bread for the City grow on UDC’s land, in the same place as their research plots and greenhouses with hydroponics and aquaponics are located. So I already spent several Saturdays there when I took my Certificate in Urban Agriculture at UDC  last year. A good start of the weekend!

UDC Farm

UDC Farm

UDC Farm

UDC Farm

Farmers for the day: Diana, Jake and I!

I ❤️ Crispbread

Since it was Sweden’s National Day this week, I thought I’d share with you possibly the most Swedish snack: crispbread. Cheap, non-perishable, and healthy, they are a staple in Swedish households. Originally round and with a hole in the center so that they could be hung above the fire to dry, these days, they come in many of different shapes in Sweden. Abroad, the brands Wasa and Leksands have found their way into most supermarkets and cost about 2-3 dollars a package with about 25-30 crackers in each package. They are also packaged neatly into paper-only packages, so no plastic or mixed materials, and little waste.

However, the reason I stick with them is the ingredients they are made of: various combinations of wholegrain rye flour, regular rye four, yeast, and salt. That’s it! A rarity these days when the list of ingredients in breads look more like a list of a chemical experiment. And while filling, every cracker is about 30-60 kcal. I have them for breakfast in the weekend, or with soup or a piece of fish like salmon or herring, for lunch or in the evening. Here is what they can look like chez moi:

Wasa Crispbread

Wasa Crispbread

Happy Swedish National Day! Creme cheese on Wasa Sourdough, White Rye and Hearty. Toppings: cucumbers, lettuce, avocado, an egg, or strawberry puree.  

Monday Motivation

This week I’m reading:

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, to get new ideas about what we need in life and what we don’t.

This week, I’m listening to: 

NPR’s Hidden Brain: Money Talks (episode 69) with Neeru Paharia on how we spend our money,  conscious shopping, boycotts and buycotts. With interesting thoughts on how if markets were structured differently, we would probably make different choices as consumers.

This week, I’m following with interest:

Instagrammer Our Food Stories. @_foodstories_, whose beautiful food pictures inspire me to invite friends over for dinner!

Food of the week:

In anticipation of Sweden’s National Day on Tuesday, Swedish crisp bread is my food of the week. Cheap and healthy, and the perfect base for a great breakfast, snack, or evening meal to a cup of tea. I’ll show more later in the week.

Cause of the week: 

This week, I’m making another donation to the famine in Yemen, Northern Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. The UN has made an appeal for 4.4 billion dollars to provide food to the affected population but as of March, only about  10 percent had been mobilized according to the New York Times.

This week, these words by Winston Churchill inspire me: 

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give”

The Life-changing magic of tidying up

I’m also enjoying strawberries this week and probably next as it’s strawberry season is here in DC: small and sweet and fresh from the farmers’ market! 🍓

Sunday Savor: Overnight Oats

One of the ways to reduce our own environmental footprint is through food. We can chose to eat more locally grown and organic food, less meat and animal sourced products, drink tap water instead of bottled beverages when possible, and cook more ourselves. This doesn’t always apply as efficiencies in our food chains can at times be counterintuitive, but broadly, I’d say these are some good pointers for sustainable food. And, of course, DON’T THROW AWAY FOOD! I write in capital letters as some 30% of all food that reaches retail is thrown away globally.

I try to live as I learn because I know how important this is for our planet. There is just one problem; I don’t particularly like cooking unless I have guests, and while I want what I eat to be nutritious, I really want cooking to be something I don’t have to put a lot of time and thoughts into. I also try to not buy groceries more than once a week as there are so many things I prefer to do with my time other than shopping. Instead of giving up this seemingly impossible equation,  I have developed a few dishes that are easy and quick, and fairly healthy, that I thought I’d share to encourage cooking among likeminded.

First out is overnight oats: the new trendy breakfast that cafes charge ridiculous amounts for. The great thing with this breakfast is not only that it’s quick and cheap, but also that you can make a batch and keep for the week. (For how long exactly? Golden rule, if it tastes weird after a few days, you probably shouldn’t eat it! But according to other recipes that I scanned, they said 3-5 days, depending on the perishability of your ingredients.)

There are a bunch of different versions of the overnight oat recipe, including with greek yoghurt, nut butter, vanilla extract, and maple syrup, but mine is the most basic and without unnecessary added sugars. For 5 portions, mix 2 cups (5 dl) of old fashioned rolled oats with 2 cups (5 dl) of milk (I normally use regular soy milk, haven’t tried with almond.) Mix in a bowl and divide into 5 jars. Put in the fridge over night and grab one in the morning. Add berries, or pieces of fruits, and maybe some nuts or chia seeds on the day that you will eat the oats. Off season, I keep frozen berries in the fridge, which is perfect to drop the jar in together with a few coconut flakes, and then take along to work. Just remember that while berries are almost calorie free unless eaten in large amounts, nuts quickly adds to the calories amount. So limit to a few for flavor and healthy fats!

And an attempt to visualize the process:

Ball Jars Small

Overnight Oats

Overnight Oats

Overnight Oats

Overnight Oats

1. I use small glass jars // 2. Mix oats and milk in a bowl // 3. Put in jars and put in fridge over night // 4. The day of eating, add berries, fruits, and/or nuts and chia seeds // 5. Bone appétit!! 

From Stockholm to the UK with Love

This weekend, my heart goes out to London and the UK. I can’t even imagine how it must be to experience three attacks in less than a few months. I don’t write every time there is a terror event in the world – there were so many this past week, including in Egypt, Afghanistan, and the Philippines, that I frankly lost count. But every time it happens, I feel horrible. It’s so senseless! I thought I would write something after my trip to Stockholm, about how Stockholm seemed to have gone stronger out of the terror attack that took place in April, when a car drove into a pedestrian street. But I find this unexpectedly difficult to write about. What was lovely in Stockholm was the small reminders here and there of what are our core values, namely openness, trust, inclusion, and tolerance. Although the flowers that people had put at the site of the attack were long gone, I saw small signs with positive messages that businesses had put up. The day that the attack happened, people used the hashtag #StockholmOpenDoors to help those that were stuck in the city during the hours that all transportation was shut down, and just like in Manchester, 1000s of people gathered just a day or so after the attack to manifest peace and community. And I think this proof of unity somehow gave more to Stockholm as a city than the attack took away from us. In fact, it may be the only way to survive such senseless violence and I hope that while less reported in the media here, people in other countries around the world do the same when terrorism strikes. To quote Swedish Crown Princess Victoria who, when asked how we come out of something like this, said: “Together!”

A few pics from an open Stockholm in the midst of cherry blossom season, with Stockholmers with roots from all over the world doing what Stockholmers like more than anything else: sitting in the sun!




From Kungsträdgården in Stockholm, May 2017