Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break – A Look Behind the Scenes
“Functioning as both a verb and a noun, the concept of fika is simple. It is the moment that you take a break, often with a cup of coffee, but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it. You can do it alone, you can do it with friends. You can do it at home, in a park, or at work. But the essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break: that’s what fika is all about.”
Today, April 7, 2015, marks the official release of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Both Johanna and I are sharing a little behind the scenes of how Fika went from concept to final book (you can read hers here). So grab a cup of coffee (or bubbles, like we’re doing today!) and have a read.
Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break – Behind the Scenes
To be an author was never on my list of life goals as a child. Actually, I don’t really remember what was. But I have always loved to write. At home, my mother has framed poems that I wrote at the age of six. From an early age, words flowed. Inevitably, if you write, even if only a little bit, there is always the dream of publishing a book. There is something special about print.
Much like I can’t remember the initial moment when I knew I wanted to write a book, to be honest, I can’t even remember the exact moment that doing a book devoted to the Swedish tradition of fika came to me. I do remember spending a week at my friend Orianna’s house in Sweden four summers ago, perusing through all of her Swedish cookbooks and noting down recipes here and there. Both on summer vacation, we spent the days drinking coffee and making chokladbollar. There was a simple rhythm to that week, it was a nice break from my everyday life at the time. We went on walks, drank coffee, and chatted. Exactly what a summer vacation should be like.
Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break wasn’t born at that moment, but I do remember sitting on her couch looking through an inspiring Swedish cookbook and thinking to myself that maybe it was worth doing a new spin on Swedish food.
At the time I had no books to my name, I didn’t even had a food blog. I just thought it would be fun to write a book about Swedish food.
That idea percolated, and eventually I asked Johanna Kindvall, who I had already worked on a couple of online projects with, if she would be interested in collaborating on a project devoted to my favorite Swedish tradition: fika.
But intention alone doesn’t make for a book deal. In fact, a lot of people have asked how we got a book deal, so I will tell the story here.
After mulling the idea over for several months, in the spring of 2012 we committed to putting together a book proposal. How does one know how to do a book proposal? You don’t. You ask. Fortunately I knew someone who had published two cookbooks and was willing to let me look at the format of her own proposal (thank you Vanessa!), which had turned into her own book deal.
We followed her format exactly, and elaborated on all of the angles of our idea; the concept, the potential market, how we would promote the final product. Johanna and I worked hard on putting together a long list of recipes which we thought really embodied fika and Swedish baking classics. We chose a couple of recipes that we thought were particularly representative of Swedish fika – chokladbollar, semlor and pepparkakor – to feature as sample recipes. It’s funny, because in the end, the pepparkakor recipe that was in the proposal didn’t even make it into the final book. But don’t worry, there’s another one in there, two in fact, on page 118 and 122.
Johanna did a selection of illustrations that we felt would represent the scope of the project. We printed – yes, printed – about 10 copies of the 15-page proposal out and sent the hard copies to a selection of publishing houses and hoped for the best.
We got a few no’s back (including the response from an editor who my cookbook writing friend had introduced me to, who told us the subject was “too narrow”), and a few places that didn’t respond at all. I thought of the unsolicited proposal pile that must be huge at every single publishing house in the country. Throught this process, we were hopeful but realistic; if we didn’t get any positive response back we could do something else with it. Turn Fika into an online series, or pitch a few recipes to magazines.
The summer passed, and we heard nothing, and eventually we accepted that maybe it was just not meant to be.
And then a woman named Kaitlin emailed us. The Fika proposal had come across her desk and she really liked it. Were we still shopping it around? Were we interested in her pitching it to the rest of her team at Ten Speed Press?
Ten Speed Press.
While researching other cookbooks and writing the proposal, I had always had two “dream” publishers in mind. Publishers who I thought that the book might be a good fit for, and who also published a large selection of books that I loved. Ten Speed Press was one of those publishers.
Kaitlin did the in-house pitching process, and eventually we had an offer and a book deal.
A book deal. Officially signed in December 2012.
I remember sitting at my kitchen table in Portland, Oregon with my friends Rachel, Megan and Dave who came over to celebrate. Johanna was celebrating in her apartment across the country in New York as well.
Life is a funny thing. We have so many moments that we experience that don’t even register on our radar. We don’t take notice. And then there are the few moments when in a certain time and place we think, “this I will remember.” That dinner was one of them. Because I remember thinking, when the book comes out, this exact day and evening will stick with me. This day that we were offered a book deal.
Then of course life took a bit of an unexpected turn, as it tends to do.
I took off to Paris on a one-way ticket. I intended to stay for only a couple of months. But that extended into many more, and soon I found myself recipe testing in a tiny Parisian kitchen (dreaming of the Portland kitchen, which up until now had never seemed big), Skyping weekly with Johanna to coordinate recipes, and wishing that my freezer wasn’t full of cookies. As it turns out, you can have too much fika.
We went through so many recipes. It’s hard to really remember that period, more than it was a bit of a blur and baking Christmas recipes in July felt almost sinful. Saffransbullar (pg. 113), for the record, are only supposed to be baked in December.
Later that summer, Johanna and I spent a week together working on a lot of recipes and the book in general. We holed up in her wonderful cottage in Southern Sweden and baked and baked and baked. We took an afternoon to explore the surrounding area as well, Johanna taking me to some of her favorite fika spots, cute cafes, bakeries and gardens nestled into the Southern Swedish countryside.
In this three year collaboration, we have spent only one week of it in the same place. For the rest of the time we have most often been in different time zones and on different continents. Crazy isn’t it?
During this process I often thought of my mother, who in the early 1980s had written a book on designing, weaving and sewing clothing. She wrote it with her sister Marianne, who at the time lived in Botswana. There was a lot of mailing of physical copies of drafts, being sent back and forth between Washington State and Botswana.
Johanna and I had Skype and email and smartphones, which we could easily use to take a photo and send while we were testing. Should it look like this? What do you think of these cookies? Look how boring these ones look, let’s get rid of them!
Times certainly have changed.
Eventually there was a light at the end of the dark tunnel of recipe testing. Trust me, when you are in the middle of it, it seems never-ending. Johanna went into an illustrating cave, and I compiled all my snippets of information and thoughts that I had been gathering, and turned them into something coherent. We finally sent off our manuscript.
I remember reading a blog post once, and I wish I could remember who had written it, about the modern day turning in of the manuscript and how anti climactic it feels. There was a time when you printed your entire text, placed it in an envelope and took it to the post office. Now you just attach and click the “send” button, just like any other email, and while intellectually you know that you have completed a huge task, there’s no real physical proof of it.
Until the first printed proof comes to your doorstep for you to mark up, that is.
Betsy Stromberg at Ten Speed Press did an amazing job designing this book, and it was such a pleasure to work with someone who really understood our own vision and could translate that onto the pages of the book. She and Kaitlin have been such good advocates for this project.
I finally got to see the actual book on January 15, 2015 when the advance copy arrived. And since then Baby Fika has been dragged along all over the place, because I am so proud of her.
Now it’s time for Baby Fika to go out into the world. Here we are, April 7, 2015, a date that has been etched into our minds for quite some time. A moment that for so long seemed like a lifetime away.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I would say it takes a village to do a book as well. I am so thankful to Johanna for doing this project with me; she is a talented illustrator and cook, and she makes a mean rhubarb cordial cocktail. Thank you for making this book what it is Johanna.
I could thank a lot of other people as well, but there’s the acknowledgement section at the back of the book for that. I will say however that throughout this whole process, I have always had two people in mind: my mother and her mother, my mormor. Mormor turned 100 in December, she still bakes, and a few recipes in the book are directly from her. I called her the other day to say hello. She had just returned from a walk, and after a few minutes of chatting, she said, “I have to go and have a cup of coffee on the balcony now,” indicating that it was time to hang up. If there is one person on this planet that embraces the art of fika, it’s her.
As for my mother, if it wasn’t for working hard to maintain all those Swedish traditions far off in the forests of the Pacific Northwest I might never known what fika was. Fortunately she was there to bake, to teach and inspire. Last time I was home in the Pacific Northwest she sent me home with the rolling pin that I used as a child. I don’t know when she first got it for me, but I do remember rolling out pepparkakor with it when I was very little. It’s a small rolling pin, perfect for children. Also perfect for tiny Parisian kitchens.
We are so excited to share this book with you, and hope that you start incorporating fika into your everyday life, be it with one of our recipes, or just taking time to honor a few minutes in the day when you take a break from everything else.
Fika isn’t just a word or a book, it’s a lifestyle. And we hope that you love it as much as we do.
Want your own copy of Fika?
In celebration of Fika’s release, we are giving away a couple of books! Want your own copy of Fika? Post a photo of your own fika on Instagram, and be sure to hashtag #artoffika as well as tag @johannakindvall and @annabrones so we are sure to see your photos. Not on Instagram? Tell us about your favorite thing for fika in the comments below.
Note that we can only ship books to North America. Entries must be received by April 14, 2015.
Want to fika in person?
We have several Fika events coming up and we’d love for you to come:
Johanna and I will both be attending these together, so come say hi to us both in person!
May 4, 3 to 5pm @ FIKA Tower’s Loft – 824 10th Ave, New York City
May 6, 5 to 7pm @ Budin, 114 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn
May 7, 6pm onwards @ 61 Local, 61 Bergen Street, Brooklyn
May 12, 6:30 to 8pm, Author talk with Anna Brones at Book Larder, 4252 Fremont Ave N, Seattle. Click here for more event info.
Don’t have your own copy of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break yet? Buy it here!
- Strawberry Cardamom Cordial
- Sliced Rye and Almond Pepparkakor
- A Podcast About Food, Race, Class and Gender: Q&A with Soleil Ho of Racist Sandwich
- Addressing Gender Norms and Sexual Orientation Through Food: An Interview with L.M. Zoller of I’ll Make it Myself
- Using Food to Change the Thanksgiving Narrative