I dreamt about non-urban lifestyle long before we moved to the countryside last year.
When I was a kid, my family had a small island where we spent our summers. There weren’t neighbors, electricity, or running water. Whether it shined or rained, my brother and I splashed in the lake, swimming and playing like a pair of trout. Once a week we made a boat trip to the mainland to buy staple foods from a store on wheels, and then my mother fermented yogurt, viili (Nordic sour curd) and buttermilk which we kept cool in an excavation, dug in the ground. Every July wild blueberries and lingonberries surrounded the cottage, and we munched them directly from the bushes. There was a bigger island nearby to where we rowed to pick bucketfuls of wild strawberries, raspberries, and mushrooms in the end of each summer.
When we reached puberty, my brother and I refused to go to the island. It wasn’t hip, and we couldn’t stay apart from our friends for three months a year. As teenagers, we viewed such a vacation as a punishment and, during our last holiday, I plotted how to flee away after reading a memoir by Henri Charriére, called Papillon, which described his escape from a penal colony in French Guiana.
Seeing our resistance, my parents sold the summer house when my brother was sixteen and I was fifteen years old. It took me three years to realize what a loss it was. That’s when I started to romanticize about country-dwelling.
Last December, after having lived in fairly primitive conditions for eight months, the reality of my rustic life-choice finally hit me. In an early morning, as I was going to the basement to burn wood, I became aware that this is how the rest of my days will look like. The goal of downshifting, gardening, chopping wood and shoveling snow had become a part of my field but, all of a sudden, it appeared so ordinary and even burdensome! For the first time, I saw the cellar wasn’t a sanctuary but a cold and damp dungeon where I sat two hours every dawn, meditating, while poking the fire after every 108th mantra, and while having eight legged spiders crawling on me. The walls and the ceiling I had whitewashed in the spring were already stained with soot. In panic, I wondered if smoke and tar smudged my lungs, too. Will I be able to cope with this much austerity until the end of my life? Was it a mistake to move into this shack?
The novelty of everything wears out.
Although it’s human to misplace the desire for fulfillment in material objects, positions, relationships and achievements, I’m bothered how often I still imagine that I will attain contentment by getting one more piece of chocolate or a pair of shoes; or seeing the Himalayas, changing my worldview, studying a degree, and upgrading my significant other to the latest version of husbandhood (sorry, darling)! Unfortunately it won’t happen because the soul I am underneath the flesh, blood, bones, mind and reason is fully compatible only with spiritual energy. Matter, however mesmerizing it may appear, flows on a different, temporary frequency that will always leave the soul hungry. How much longer will I keep confusing things and situations for happiness?
Happiness is a challenge because it’s a mental disposition – a fluctuating emotion – in which suffering is momentarily absent. Like any state of balance, it flips easily out of equilibrium under the influence of an opposite force. Satisfaction, on the other hand, comes from knowing the self and the soul’s relationship with both, material and spiritual nature. Because it’s a conviction anchored in the core character of the self and the purpose of life, it remains unaffected by external circumstances and time factor. If any, my resolution for 2016 is to shift the focus from becoming happy to being satisfied with what is under my care right now.
Crisp bread is not culinary luxury, like pizza and crêpe that offer instant gratification, but a necessity the Nordic folks have dried and stored for survival since 500 AD. As a poor man’s diet, it reflects a short harvest season and the hardship of winter. To me, it summarizes (when compared to any other bread) the difference between happiness and satisfaction.
Households originally baked thin crisps from wholemeal rye flour, salt and water, and hang them on sticks under the roof. Nowadays various grains and seeds are used. Here are my two gluten-free recipes:
SEED BREAD AND BUCKWHEAT CRISPS (each recipe makes about 15 breads of 20cm / 8”)
Ingredients for the seed bread:
1 Cup (250 ml) sunflower seeds
½ Cup (125 ml) green pumpkin seeds
½ Cup (125 ml) sesame seeds
4 Tbsp flaxseeds
5 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
1 Tbsp dry rosemary
1 Tbsp kalonji seeds
1 ½ tsp Himalayan salt
4 Tbsp ghee, oil or melted butter
1 Cup (250 ml) boiling water
Ingredients for the buckwheat bread:
2 ½ Cups (625 ml) buckwheat flour
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp chia seeds
1 ½ tsp Himalayan salt
4 Tbsp ghee, oil or melted butter
1 ½ Cup (325 ml) boiling water
For the seed bread, grind rosemary and all the seeds, except kalonji, into fine powder. Add kalonji and salt, and rub in the ghee, oil or melted butter. Finally pour in the boiling water and mix into a smooth paste. Set the dough aside to rest for 10 minutes.
For the buckwheat crisps mix the flour, seeds, salt and ghee, oil or melted butter. Pour in the boiling water and mix into a smooth paste. Set the dough aside to rest for 10 minutes.
Make lime size balls from the dough and roll them into as thin disks as you can. It’s easier to roll the dough if you place it between two sheets of baking paper. Remove the upper layer afterwards. If you want perfectly round breads, cut them out with the help of a plate or a lid.
Bake the breads at 175 C (345 F) until they are light golden. Because they burn easily, keep the temperature steady.
You may vary the ratio of seeds as you like, and use spices like jeera or caraway instead of what I've suggested. By adding more ghee, oil or butter, the breads will become richer and crispier. Instead of water, you may use sour cream or milk (they don’t have to be boiling hot).