A Happy Easter

Those bunnies up there were an edible thank you to my daughter’s sister friends L & L, who were kind enough to help out with firewood stacking: they came through like two true champs. I made them a big batch of this lemony shortbread-y goodness to show my gratitude, and they were devoured within a day. I’m proud of that because one of the Ls is a really picky eater ;-).

The dough is based on whatever short crust recipe you like; I added an egg yolk to mine even though it’s not actually in the recipe, as I wanted the dough a bit more smooth and easy to work with. Also a fair amount of carefully grated lemon peel, on a fine grater and not using a zester (simply because I don’t have one out here in the country, but it’s also better for the cookies, I found.) Vanilla and salt. Didn’t have powdered sugar so I couldn’t make lemon icing. I used egg wash instead.

Lemony Bunny Cookies

Short crust (300-200-100 g ratio flour-butter-sugar)

1 egg yolk

grated peel of 1 large lemon or more to taste

pinch of salt

1 p vanilla sugar

Chop butter into small cubes and in a bowl make a smooth ball of dough from all ingredients, carefully adding drops of very cold water if necessary. Cover and let rest for about 45 minutes.

Roll out on a flour sprinkled surface, about 4 mm thick, cut out desired shape with cookie cutters. Set on a baking sheet, brush with egg and bake for a few minutes at 160 °C.

Let cool on a rack, and enjoy with a good cup of tea :-).

These cookies were the kick-off to a whole cooking spree that began on Holy Thursday, and lasted until Easter Sunday when I handed over the chef’s hat to my husband who made the most amazing leg of lamb, after my gourmet friend M’s French recipe. We felt we needed to treat our son who has been hard at work studying for his final exams, and turned up here for Easter, starved. So we fed him well, and plenty.

Oh, and I was asked about quiche (pic on the right). The dough is a simple pâte brisée, flour, salt, olive oil and water, to which I like to add 1 TSP dried thyme. It gives the quiche a little extra flavor that goes well with most vegetable toppings. In this case, they were spinach and mushrooms, as well as 3 beaten eggs, mixed with 75 ml heavy cream, salt and pepper, and sprinkled with a little Parmesan cheese.

If you follow this blog, chances are you know him, and care about him enough to keep your fingers crossed starting next week, all through April and early May, please.

It was a good four days, and today I find it hard to jump right back into work mode, so I thought I’d pop over here and chat for a bit. When we came out before Easter, I still had a fair amount of work I wanted to get done; I managed to finish it all, pack up our stuff, and see the hair stylist who agrees with the children’s opinion that I need to keep growing out my shaggy pepper and salt curls. The result you can see above. When we arrived, there was unpacking, heating the house, getting supplies for Easter and do a teeny little decorating.

All good things. My husband’s recent hip replacement didn’t let him do a lot of heavy lifting, and only brief walks, but he did what he could, and all in all we tried to keep expectations down and spirits up – and I’d say it worked out okay. There were other neighbors who were happy to walk Charlie with me, and we spent a lot of time outdoors, which is always a plus. Early spring sunshine, birdsong and fresh air was just what I needed, and I feel very lucky indeed, to be able to look after myself.

Also, I did some crochet; I’ve talked about the poncho WIP before, and it’s turning out to be one of those projects where I wish I weren’t too dumb or impatient to follow a damn pattern. I was making such good progress, but then I realized I was making it tighter than I wanted it to be (pic on the right); it wasn’t supposed to be all flowy like some ponchos are either, and that’s where I went wrong the second time around. I went overboard with the increasing, and then had to unravel _again_. But now I’m finally on the right track, I think (pic on the left).

Finally, my Icelandic Sweater came :-), by crafts Artist Særun Osk. It’s a bit bigger than I thought it would be, but both my son and my husband do not mind AT ALL, which seems fair considering I constantly borrow their sweaters. It’s a family affair, and it’s exactly the right thing to wear in this unstable April weather.

Hope you have something pretty to snuggle into yourself. Here’s to a nice and rainy spring – it makes the mushrooms grow come summer and fall. And now it’s back to work for me, duty calls.

All Work and No Play

As anticipated in my last post, it’s been a busy few weeks. Apologies for my absence here, but there was actually precious little to tell. I got up, walked the dog, worked, walked the dog, worked again, made dinner, walked the dog, worked some more, slept – and rinse, repeat.

We had a wonderfully warm late February, after all the cold and snow and ice, and it felt awesome to finally wear something else than my down coat. But then temperatures dropped once again, and all the early blooms and budding shrubs seem to have stopped in their tracks. But it’s lovely to walk around our neighborhood this time of year, and see the snowdrops and crocuses poke their pretty heads out of the still mostly barren soil. I can’t wait for the scent of nature waking up and finally spoiling us with color and brightness once again.

Meanwhile, my kids are soldiering through home schooling like a couple of champs, my son is buckling down for his upcoming exams, and my husband went and got a hip replacement, defending his title as Bionic Man. He’s being amazingly brave, self-sufficient, and all mind-over-matter. I’m not sure I’d be any of that in his shoes, and I admire the heck out of it.

What has me so busy is the fact that I didn’t like to say no to any of my three current projects with kind of competing deadlines. It’s manageable, but there’s not a lot of leeway, on either one of the books, so I need to keep a tight schedule. I’m trying hard not to melt into the computer and transform into a sentient Translator Bot.

Not sure how much else I’m good for at the moment. I do try and cook every day, so there’s that. But there have been frozen pizzas (always with a home made soup or salad so we won’t die of scurvy), grilled cheese, and quick pasta dishes, more often than not.

I try to take weekends off, though, to catch up with chores (boring), sit and crochet (amazing), and try to spend some time with the family. How lucky am I to have had so many years of being able to adapt my schedule to the kiddos‘ needs? I don’t know how I’d have survived this kind of workload when they were young. Also, I doubt we’d have much of a relationship if I’d been as absentminded then as I am oftentimes now. They don’t seem to take it amiss, thankfully, and learning to be a little more independent is not a bad thing for them, all in all, I suppose. This is a conundrum every working parent needs to find their own solution for.

I recently remembered white beans the way my dad would make them. Here’s the convenience version that suited my schedule better than the soaking and cooking for a long time that he used to do. (Cooked beans, 1 shallot, 1 strip of bacon, cut in thin slivers, chopped parsley, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and 1 chopped tomato, bit of olive oil – 15 minutes in the pan, the end.) I mashed mine up with a fork and had a slice of crusty French bread with it.

Last Saturday, we had one of the school crafternoons – via zoom, these socially distanced days, of course. I was excited to learn how to needle-felt, a discipline I’d somehow never tried before, not sure why. I always did other things during the crafternoons. But I thought it might be nice to do that with my daughter, and produce something cute for the school’s bazaar stand. So we made fruit and other edibles, check it out:

A new skill, and a fun afternoon with my fellow Waldorf crafters. I don’t do as many zoom meetings as most people, and even after a whole year, it’s still a little weird for me. But it’s always really good to see everyone’s faces, and a nice time was had by all.

I’ve read a little about the various psychological side-effects of the pandemic, and discussed them with friends. One thing most people are saying is that it makes them lose focus, and start many things but only finish a few. Well, this tendency certainly manifests in my crafts projects. I have no less than four WIPs, each of which would require me to just sit down and do them. For some reason or other, this is just not happening. Socks are easiest, I find, and felting was the same. Small things, quick to finish, move on. When in a pandemic …

Last weekend, I _was_ going to finish my poncho, the one in what my husband calls the Winter Colors. Well, it turns out that I couldn’t. I found it needed to be looser that I’d made it, after all, and after careful consideration, I ripped it back up to a certain point below the shoulders (top down). Also, I ditched one of the colors (yellow) like my sweet friend M had told me to all along. She was right, and everyone who suggested it needed to be more flowy was right, too. This is what it looked like before I made the executive decision to frog:

This weekend, I look forward to some time for working on the looser version, having been a good little translator and meeting my target for the week.

Have a nice one, take care – and thank you for dropping in!

Snowed Under

In my last post, I lamented the absence of light, and then and then and then… how’s this for more lux? Thank you Weather Gods, or Universe, or Random Luck – whatever force is responsible for this: Great job, we all feel so much better for it.

This is the lake we swim in over the summer, and now it’s pretending to be solid ground. At first, it made me very anxious, but after some coaxing I braved the elements and walked on it for a while. Not all across because I was freaking out when being too far off shore, but walk I did, despite feeling like I was tempting Fate.

As you can see, my City Dog overcame his initial reservations regarding the snow, and has been having fun with it also.

A month has passed, and things have been busy. My time is divided between two book projects now, and I just accepted yet another assignment, so I’ll be nice and busy until September. Not sure how much time I will have to drop in here, and I try not to think about how I’ll manage all the things I will need to. Sometimes it’s best to just power through, one day after the other!

Life out here in the winter is largely determined by feeding the woodburner in regular intervals, to keep the house reasonably warm. This has to be the longest stretch of time we’ve spent here at this time of year, because usually we have the school schedule to obey. Home schooling definitely has its perks, and it has been quite the experience, we’ve had nightly temperatures of minus 16 Celsius!

I’ve noticed that we were all craving simple comfort foods, filling dishes, nothing fancy. Lots of pasta, soups and grilled cheese, with an occasional stew or casserole.

There is one thing I made that I remember from my childhood: rice pudding topped with meringue. My dad used to cook lunch for me (millenials: no school cafeterias in those days!), and he’d often make these meals that consisted of a simple soup, and a big and nutritious dessert like this. I pepped ours up a little with slices of apple, lemon zest and vanilla. It was a wonderful blast from the past, and a great morale booster.

I did do some crafts too, mostly I speed knit socks: For my young friend Th, as a birthday gift, and for my son, same.

And since I was feeling a little down in January, because it was such a dark, dark month, I felt I needed a little bit of pastels. So I remembered that I’d already done a poncho for a friend, and another for my daughter, and figured I’d make one for myself, using these colors:

We’ll see how it turns out. For now, there’s a lot of increasing going on, but I’ve understood the system of that now (it’s basically alternating the granny stripe rows and HDC rows, in which you work every stitch of the granny stripe rows. I’m winging it, as I always do, but it will work out, I think. The soft colors and feel of the yarns give me great happiness. The design is a simple slip over your head affair, no sleeves or elaborate anything. Like a very long cowl, down to my waist, I’m thinking. It’s made from the top down, in rounds, in case you were wondering ;-). The yarns are merino blends, some are sock yarn, others baby merino yarns. Soft and cozy. Just what I need :-).

I hope all of you had some fun with the wintery goodness that was bestowed on us, and I hope everyone is staying warm, and, as ever, healthy. It’s not over, even though it’s been a year almost now. Hang in there – and thank you for reading!

Light, please!

A time capsule from two years ago, this picture still perfectly represents what can be so beautiful about the winter: steel blue skies, a hazy sunshine, the light reflecting on snow, and instantly lifted spirits. Sadly, we’ve had very little of this over the last few weeks.

This post is an attempt to remind myself (as well as you, kind readers) of the things that can help with low spirits when things are weighing heavily on us. All of us are fighting our own demons in the crazy times we live in, right? Struggling through the second lockdown, it’s more important than ever to try and be kind, to ourselves as well as to each other. Not an easy task when you feel so down you feel you have no fucks to give. But it is my true belief that the thing that will get all of us back on track again eventually is the qualities that make us human. Compassion, patience, sense of humor, appreciation of beauty.

Personally, I really like a clean apartment. It is truly uplifting to me to sit down at a free of dust desk, sleep in fresh sheets, and see the wood of my kitchen counters shine. Last Saturday was a day for deep cleaning, and it left me exhausted but very, very satisfied. I’d show you if everything still was the way my cleaning crew and I made it look, but you can probably guess that life got in the way of that! Anyway, it’s one thing that helps me, if only temporarily, to feel better.

Making something pretty is also a good thing. I had some time over the weekend, and finished another pair of knit socks for myself:

It’s no fancy quality yarn, just a ball of sock yarn I found at the supermarket, but I like the shades of green play, and they make me happy, and keep my feet warm.

On Sunday, we met an old friend for a walk. It was her birthday, we brought a thermos, and she brought cake (very good, but for later, because it needed to be eaten in a civilized manner, using plates and forks), and we spent a good hour walking and catching up. Sadly, our dogs don’t get along all that well – as you know, Charlie is small, and he has a hard time trusting larger dogs – and hers is a beautiful, statuesque Lab and Hovawart mix. She’s a sweetheart, as is her Dog Mom. We need to do more of that in the future, before all of this Covid business makes me forget I have real life friends!

Another source of happiness is food, of course. The newest addition to our repertoire is home made Vietnamese summer rolls – a thing I would probably not have attempted if not for my daughter’s sweet friend V. whose family apparently makes them at home on the regular. She told us about it, and we tried, and it wasn’t hard at all. You need a few ingredients from the Asian grocery store, but then you’re good to go – as you may be well aware but I was not, so you get to read all about it ;-).

You need rice paper sheets (which you dip in water very briefly at the table, lay flat on your plate and fill to your liking, wrapping them as you would a burrito), as well as any ingredient you’d like to have in there (the traditional at my favorite Vietnamese place being mint leaves, cilantro, lettuce, chives or green onions, cucumber, sprouts, and glass noodles, with a choice of chicken, prawns or tofu). We added peppers, avocado and extra lemon.

For the Satay sauce, you can be lazy and buy a mix, but it’s pretty easy to make at home. You need fresh lemon grass, ginger and garlic, which you chop, coconut milk, a good scoop of your favorite peanut butter, salt and pepper, some chili, if you like, a pinch of sugar and a dash of fish sauce, maybe some lemon to taste. Heat these ingredients slowly in a pan and cook for a few minutes. Then let sit for a while so the flavors can steep. For eating, you can reheat it, or serve it as it is. (Caveat: This is the way I make it – there may be other, better, more traditional recipes. I just go by my palate, and try to copy the best satay sauces I’ve had.)

The good thing about this dish is that everyone gets to make their own food at the table, and you can put ingredients in there to your personal preference … a laid-back, fun and healthy way to eat. Also, even my pickiest customer enjoys making her own special roll (always a plus), which contains carrot, cucumber and glass noodles, as well as, astonishingly, pan-fried tofu with ginger and garlic! If you prefer your dip more on the lean side, you can substitute the satay with the typical lime, fish sauce and chili pepper concoction served at Vietnamese restaurants.

Next, and very importantly, hot drinks. There are people in the world who don’t like tea. I know and love some of them, but to say I understand it would be a lie. My love for tea began as a kid in the Eighties, when flavored Chinese teas and green teas became popular. My parents were coffee drinkers and didn’t care much for tea, but at my friend B’s house, I fell in love with the magic of tea leaves, learned about steeping, and enjoyed many many different varieties. Her mom had this carefully curated mail order catalog she’d buy her tea from (Millenials: There was no Internet, then! Companies would send out printed brochures and you’d order by filling in what you wanted on a card, and send that in, and then your order would come in the mail. Quaint, right?) Anyway, we were always excited when the deliveries came. Over many steaming cups of black and green, flavored and plain, we became educated, adventurous, and also, in my case, hooked for life ;-).

I never start my day without drinking tea, which I always have long before I even think about food. It wakes up my soul, caresses my flavor buds, and makes me happy, every single day. My choice of morning tea is a very light Darjeeling first flush, delightfully flowery but not too playful – a serious and delicious tea. With breakfast, I have coffee to kick-start me off into my work day, but later in the day, it’s back to tea for me. We have many different flavors because everyone has their favorites (Husband: citrusy ginger mixes, Me: black tea, sometimes with fruity flavors, jasmine blossoms and chamomile, Son: Not picky except for his morning mint tea with orange peel, Daughter: sweet chai, with chocolate or cinnamon flavor). The herbal mixes we have come in assorted colorful boxes with poetic names. We also have a decent Earl Grey for when we feel traditional in the afternoons. I like it with a slice of fresh lemon rather than milk. For after dinner, I’ve gotten used to a boxed variety containing chamomile, verveine and lavender, appropriately named ‚Sweet dreams‘. It doesn’t actually make me sleepy, but it gives me comfort.

I’m not very big on eating chocolate, usually, but I do enjoy an occasional cup of hot chocolate – as a warming, sweet, comforting drink after a walk in the cold, or when working late. I’m sure it’s just as bad for me as a bar of chocolate would be, but sometimes, it’s just what I need, and I enjoy it with no regrets.

As I do fresh fruit. These global days, everything is readily available at all times, even in countries like ours, very far away from the equator where produce grow all year round. We try and stay within reasonable seasonal limits (for our neck of the woods). I never buy strawberries during the winter, for instance, just as I’d never get asparagus before March. But oranges, mango, cantaloupes and such I do buy on the regular during the dark months, and they brighten many breakfast plates, desserts and salads at our house.

All of that just because we don’t get enough sunshine? Well, I suppose it could be worse. In Nordic countries, the suicide rate is quite high over the winter, as is periodic drinking. With a bit too much sugar, we’re way better off, all in all, I think. Depression has spiked over Corona, and only recently, I read that it was even more so over the winter months. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, most appropriately acronymed SAD, and apparently, 6 out of 100 people suffer from it. Symptoms vary from depression to trouble sleeping, feeling unworthy and listless, and in extreme cases, even suicidal. It’s certainly a dangerous condition to have during lockdown, because the system-inherent isolation will affect SAD patients even more than it would everybody else. So, if you haven’t heard from a friend in a while, try and get in touch, because now is the time it really counts, and a phone call, email or text can go a long way with a depressed person.

Checking out today with an uplifting song from the past. I’m aware the artists had issues with the song being so successful, as it wasn’t really their usual jam. Nevertheless, I as a fan feel entitled to still love it now, just as I loved it when we were kids dancing to it at the club when it was Indie night. Enjoy, and let us all hope for some much needed lux in the near future!

January 2021 Post

Welcome to the first installment of this year, here in my little corner of the Internet. I hope you guys are well, and got to enjoy a bit of time off with your families and loved ones.

In the picture above, we were supposed to experience a rare astronomical phenomenon, the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which was happening on December 21st. We hiked up the only significant hill we have in the city, to have a vantage point as well as less light pollution. Unfortunately, as you can see, the only discernible celestial body was the good old moon, as it was a really cloudy night. Nevertheless, the city lights always look so pretty from up there, and that night, it was a truly magical atmosphere up there on the hilltop. There were at least 5 small bonfires. Some people played music, others just hugged their thermoses (us included) and stared up into the murky night skies, trying to see something exciting, and probably failing. Or not – who knows what they had in their thermoses! I still count the excursion as a success, because we went as a family, which is not a frequent occurrence anymore in this house, therefore these moments deserve to be appreciated. And they are.

The Christmas break began early for the kids, and I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t nice to skip the alarm in the morning! Over the holidays, we were quite lazy – lots of lounging around in PJs, listening to Christmas music, watching movies and playing with my daughter’s new Switch console. Who knew I’d get into Super Mario Kart at my ripe old age? But it’s nice to still be able to surprise my kids, teehee ;-).

I also made progress on the Waffle Stitch Blanket, and knit a pair of socks for a sweet 18-year old.

My own Christmas present this year is still on its way. It’s an Icelandic sweater, much like the one my husband owns and that I keep stealing:

I found the knitter artist on Etsy, and fell in love with this pattern she used in a cardigan. Isn’t it pretty?

I wrote to her and asked whether she’d make me a sweater with the exact same pattern, and she said she would. I’ll show you when it arrives. Fingers crossed the measurements worked out, and I won’t look like a sausage wearing it! And if you think that sausages are shaped by the contents rather than the skin, shush. I didn’t eat _that_ much over the holidays.

Anyway, after almost a week and a half of not working, I feel ready to tackle the next projects. Tomorrow will see us getting back to work, and both kids will be home schooling. Right now, nobody really believes schools will open again on the 10th. It seems a lot smarter for everyone to stay put a bit longer, and we all hope the ministry of education will decide for safety, much as they did last spring.

See that tree? I must have walked past it a hundred times without really looking at it. On our traditional January 1st walk, I consciously noticed it for the first time, and to be honest, wondered for a minute if it was dead. Realizing it wasn’t gave me pause, and I felt humbled by how nature always finds ways to prevail. To me, this strangely shaped tree seems like a good symbol for my hope for this coming year, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.

I’d like to leave you with a little frozen leaf appreciation, because beauty can be found in strange places.

Have a good start into 2021, everyone, and thank you for checking in.

Time of Reflection

Talking to anybody at the end of the year, you usually hear the terms stress, hectic, overwhelm, exhaustion … so I’ve decided to do the opposite. Today, I want to talk about what the past year was like, reflect on the good and the bad that it brought, and maybe think about what I’ve learned. You good with that? Then read on.

Not to be obnoxious, but I have to keep repeating (to myself, as well as to people around me) how lucky we were. The pandemic has not hit our country all that hard. We are now in the second lockdown of the year, and for good reason. I don’t even know what it will do to small businesses to have to close shop like this shortly before the holidays, hopefully they were smart and set up a web shop wherever possible. One of my favorite stores in the neighborhood is a lovely Italian lady who sells Polish pottery. She has a small, very tastefully set up establishment on a quiet street in walking distance from our house. Her (brand) name is Athéna Panni – go check out her online shop if you still need a cool gift :-). I know that many of our local restaurants have been starting to sell takeout food, which we try and get every once in a while. It’s not much, but we feel we should at least try and support them.

I was thinking of doing a month-by-month recap of 2020, starting with January. It was a horrible month, work-wise. I raced through a wonderful cookbook, instead of enjoying it like I usually do, to make time for a complete rewrite of a novel translation. The client was impossible to please, and I was actually worried she wasn’t going to honor our contract, for a while. Maybe one learning would be to steer clear of authors altogether in the future, and leave it to a publishing house to deal with these aspects of the business. Trying to find the most positive image for that month, I found this: It was one of my favorite projects this year, the baby blanket for young J, my friend M’s third daughter.

February brought my beautiful boy’s 18th birthday, and a new (nice and highly professional) client. For me, it was a month of recuperating, shaking off the awful past month, and putting myself back together. Also, it was the last time we traveled, when we went to see our new baby cousin-nephew, K.

March memorably brought the pandemic, the first lockdown, and home schooling. Also, we learned about social distancing.

And our dear old cat finally succumbed to kidney insufficiency, after a few months of hanging by a thread. It was heartbreaking to let her go.

April and May were two months spent away from the city. We lived at our small cottage, kids homeschooled up in the attic, my husband worked at the kitchen table, and I established a workspace in my small bedroom. Also, mid May, we brought home from the shelter my son’s much beloved, beautiful new old lady of a cat, Elfie.

June was the last month of school. My son graduated from the Waldorf school – with less fanfare than would have been customary and, sadly, no class trip to Rome due to travel banishment :-/. My daughter transitioned from elementary school to the Waldorf, after two frantic weeks of making up her mind. We had our first Covid scare, which luckily turned out to be only laryngitis.

July was a summer month in the country, spent at the leisurely pace nature dictates. I remember canoeing, hiking, rafting, mushroom picking and swimming. Lazy hours in the hammock or deckchair, crochet in the shade, and enjoying starry night skies, which I can’t show here because my lens is not cut out to hack that kind of visual. A lovely young photographer from Boston who does that kind of pictures is Abdul Dremali – check out his awesome website to have your mind blown here.

August was mostly notable for me breaking my damn elbow. Unprecedented, inconvenient and annoying, it slowed me down like whoa. I managed to heal in record time, surprising even my doctor. I tried to eat well, get enough sleep, and stress as little as possible. Typing with only my right hand became a new skill, and deadlines were kept, even though I was slow AF.

September was a busy month for everyone, kids settling in their new schools, working and me finally ditching the cast. Man, was it nice to be able to put up my hair, and to do crafts again. Also: mushroom season!

In October, my son got his license, and has been driving us around with enthusiasm and skill ever since. There was an anniversary (19 years, incredible!), a birthday (12 years, mind boggling) and a notable trip to the Baltic Sea, where our dog encountered salt water for the first time (wildly unimpressed with the ocean after tasting it, but graciously and generously digging holes in the sand).

In November, my daughter cashed in her birthday present and chose her cat. There was also a crafts extravaganza, that had to do with school, but mostly with my love for all things Christmas! Oh, and good call America, for voting the way you did.

And now, in December, the year had to end with an injured pup (damn the dog owners who are careless with their dangerous pets). Immune system and antibiotics did their thing though, and I guess it all could have been worse.

Things are slowly winding down now. Jobs lined up for the next few months: check. Christmas mail packages wrapped: check. Christmas cards made: check. (Not written, yet, though). Plans for the holidays: check. Tree bought: check. Bills paid, invoices sent out: check. Since the stores are closed anyway, there’s not a lot more to do but deep clean the house, mail the parcels, put up the tree and decorate, and if I feel up for it, do a bit of baking.

All in all, I’m happy enough to see 2020 go. I had high hopes for it, right after New Year’s, but that really did not last. It feels like all year round, it was just one damn thing after another. What the pandemic will do to society remains to be seen. People died. Jobs and livelihoods were lost. So many businesses closed down. Social distancing makes people weird, and lonely. Some families couldn’t withstand the strain of closed quarters, and relationships broke under the pressure. Political change, extreme parties finding more and more followers, not to mention the crazies (pandemic deniers, anti-vaccinationists, conspiracy theorists) … Humanity has suffered a blow, in every respect. It’s up to us now to adapt, and to prevail. Be more thoughtful, kinder, and more patient. Take better care of one another. A coach friend of mine whose website I translated a few years back suggests that every crisis also provides a chance. It might be worth while to think about what that could be.

… And that is a wrap on the ruminations on the past 12 months.

On a lighter note, I’d really like to show you this year’s Christmas cards now. As you know, I’m usually a knit and crochet whiz rather than attempting any other crafts disciplines, so I’m really pleased. I like the simple design, inspired by a DIY project I saw online. The crafter was using a lint roller and shapes cut out from rubber foam, and I used – well, vegetables ;-)!

I had only ever used potatoes for this kind of thing before (did this a lot with the kids when they were younger). But today, I found a thick wedge of celeriac and a big carrot in the veggie drawer, so decided to give those a go. I let them dry for a while after carving, and went out to buy a few sheets of a lovely thick off-white cardboard. Then I did a test run on printer paper, tried out a few shades of green (from my daughter’s water colors), and cut my cards to size.

This is what the cards look like. Came out nicely, didn’t they?

The celeriac gave the print a lovely textured look, very different from what a potato would have done. Some of you (you know who you are) will probably receive one of these cards early next week ;-). Other readers, I encourage you to make your own, I promise it’s an easy and gratifying li’l project.

Is it too early to wish you guys happy holidays? Not sure. I might come back and post next week, or not. In case you don’t hear from me again before Christmas, merry merry to all of you, and thank you very much for reading this wall of text. Enjoy my favorite Christmas carol, sung by an angel with a huge voice.

December Already!

Making an advent wreath has become an annual ritual that tells my lizard brain to catch up and understand that the year is drawing to a close. Of course, there’s still the holidays to look forward to, and I always enjoy those. Christmas this year will be a quiet affair, as will New Year’s, seeing that we’re confined to our homes – not the worst place to be, when it’s cold and dark outside, and we’re warm, have food and our loved ones. These things are not to be taken for granted, and it bears remembering that every once in a while.

Like many others, I have a tendency to fall into the pre-Christmas trap, the mad rat race of consumerism. Buying things just because, and ultimately confusing the indisputable joy of unwrapping gifts with holiday cheer. Mind you, I do like presents, receiving them and giving them. Nevertheless, I’ve been trying to downscale material needs and stick to my mantra for this year: I have everything I need.

I am trying to give a few hand made presents this year. (Wherever practical. For transatlantic gifts, unwilling to pay ridiculous postage, we’re resorting to Jeff Bezos‘ enterprise, and creative as I may be, I am unable to crochet a functional Switch game ;-)). I have a mere 10 days left for finishing my projects, but I’ve done 1,5 of 3 knit hats already, and my daughter’s sweater only needs finishing – which requires a steady hand, decent morning light and peace and quiet. That will have to wait until the weekend.

So the Covid scare remained just that – thank you for asking. Thank goodness! It’s a mystery how my son managed to not get infected after he and his girlfriend spent a whole weekend wrapped up in each other. Some say it’s his blood type (he’s an 0). But at this point, I’m just grateful we were spared, again.

In other health news, my dog was bitten by a fellow canine two weeks ago. We’ve been in and out of the vet’s, there were shots, and antibiotics, and fevers, and swelling, and no doubt considerable pain. He’s been very clingy, and he’s been sleeping a lot, even more than his usual 17-18 hours a day. It was a horrible, traumatic experience altogether. Why people with dangerous dogs insist on walking them without a leash, I’ll never understand. Charlie’s still on antibiotics, and the vet says if these bites get infected, it’s sometimes necessary to have surgery to get rid of the necrotic tissue. Yikes. Hope with me that the antibiotics will take care of it!

It was difficult not to feel like I let my dog down. I wasn’t fast enough to save him, and I feel I should have been. Also, I must confess that the place feels haunted to me now. It was only yesterday that I dared to go back. First, Charlie wasn’t up for longer walks, and now that he is again, I find myself shying away from that spot. Yesterday my husband took us, to exorcise the ghost, as it were, but I have yet to go by myself. I know I need to. That place is one of our favorite hikes, and I’m determined to be able to enjoy it again. Acknowledging the trauma is a first step. (The dog seems to be less affected by this than I. He seemed quite happy and unfazed yesterday, to my relief!)

In the meantime, I learned to appreciate our little park close by, once more. The Gingko tree is always the last to shed its beautiful foliage, and I’m grateful for the final dosage of yellow of the season.

As I told you, we were cooking Thanksgiving dinner the weekend before last, and this seems as good an opportunity as any to share the stuffing recipe I love. It’s great for turkey, and it was equally yummy for a chicken:

It’s the simplest recipe, and this is probably the reason why even my daughter appreciated it. It’s also pretty cool because it uses Johnny Cash’s cornbread recipe :-).

Cornbread Stuffing

1,5 cups cornmeal

1 cup flour

1 TSP baking soda

1 TSP salt

2 TSP sugar

1,5 cups buttermilk

1 large egg

4 TBSP vegetable oil

1 onion (or 2 shallots), diced

Mix ingredients together, pour into a baking dish and bake approx. 30 minutes.

Other cornbread recipes I’ve made use melted butter, some call for more sugar, or more eggs. I find the combination above particularly good. If you get the ratio right, it’s soft and a little bit moist, and can be enjoyed with a bit of butter, or avocado, or bacon, the next day. It’s the onion that gives it a distinctly savory character – which other types of corn bread don’t necessarily have. I love corn bread, can you tell?

After baking, let cool and wrap. Use no earlier than the next day, or bake 2 days in advance.

On the day of cooking, dice:

2 celery sticks

2 onions or 3 shallots

Add 1 tiny (or 1/2) parsley root, chopped

2/3rds of the cornbread, cubed (1 cm)

Prepare about 300 ml vegetable broth.

Chop 1 small handful fresh sage leaves, and pull off the tiny leaves from a good 6-7 large twigs of fresh thyme.

In 1-2 TBSP butter, sauté the vegetables. Add the herbs and cook for a few minutes until onions are translucent. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Careful with the broth. You want the mixture to be soft and moist, but the bread cubes should keep their shape, so don’t add too much liquid. Season with salt & pepper. You can be generous, because when you stuff your bird, you won’t have to season it from the inside. I’m not too fond of touching the uncooked meat, so to me that is a bonus :-).

To roast the chicken, stuff it and put it in a fireproof dish of your liking, brushed with oil. Season with salt & pepper. Leave in the oven for about 1,5 hours. Basting every 20 minutes is key for a crisp skin, which looks prettier as well. Your meat is done if a clear liquid runs out when you poke a thigh with a skewer.

Trimmings in our case consisted of a very modest spread (in comparison to what I’ve seen people do). Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, corn, a salad and corn bread. It was lovely, simple food, and it pleased both kids so much that we decided to make the same thing for Christmas dinner.

Dessert was more elaborate than I usually do: I made my first ever layered cake, a Torta al Pistacchio.

There it is, and it looked impressive, I thought. It was very good, too! However, next time, I will try making the frosting a little less fluffy and moist, and use buttercream instead, maybe with mascarpone, but definitely without whipped cream (like this recipe called for. If you’re interested, it’s on the same food blog I recommended a few weeks back, unfortunately only of use to those who can read German, mi dispiace!)

That was it for today, I think. I wish you a peaceful, happy, and most of all healthy final month of the year.

Thank you for reading.

Covid Crafts

So, my son’s girlfriend was tested Covid positive, and we’re waiting for P’s test result to come in tomorrow; it would be short of a miracle if he didn’t have it, either with or without symptoms. Just in case, we’ve taken the necessary precautions inside the house. However, there is a high probability of us being infected as well, because we are a touchy-feely, affectionate family. In fact, that is the thing I find most vexing, not to be able to touch my boy :-/. I mean, I don’t wish for getting sick, I really don’t. In fact, we’ve been more careful than some of our friends, and doing our level best to avoid it, up to now. Still, a part of me can’t help thinking if it wouldn’t be best to just get it over with?

When I called our pediatrician, they recommended to isolate ourselves as a family, until the boy’s test result is in. So, to pass the time in a meaningful way, I’ve resorted to crafts.

This is my contribution to the festive decoration of the school building. With my fellow Waldorf mom E, I did three of these large twig stars:

You may not be able to tell by the picture, but they’re huge – like 1 m in diameter. Fun and cheap to make too. What you do is:

  1. Collect a huge pile of thin twigs.
  2. Cut out a circle of thick cardboard in the desired size.
  3. Heat up the hot glue pen.
  4. Keep the garden shears ready to shorten twigs to desired length.

And round and round you go!

(Of course you don’t need to make them this big – you can easily make them the size of a plate, or even cutesy little ones with the thinnest twigs, to hang on your Christmas tree as ornaments. Those might benefit from being double-sided.)

One of the branches I brought home wasn’t suited for the project, but I loved it so much because there was some very pretty moss growth on it.

So I was thinking it might be nice to use it for hanging stuff from. Something fluffy, seasonal – it made me think of the tiny snowflakes I crocheted when I was still learning, seven years ago.

Looking at my branch, and its size, I thought what if I made those with a really bulky yarn, so they’d be huge? In my stash, I had some single ply, squishy, ultra-soft merino wool and a few other yarns in the same color, and decided I’d use them all at once, crocheting with a really big hook. I looked up the pattern once again at attic 24, unsure whether the proportions would work, but then I gave it a try with a size 6 hook, and I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out:

The Attic 24 blog has been one of my most important inspirations when I first started to crochet (the other being this YouTube channel – an amazing source for any and every question a knitting or crochet enthusiast, may they be beginners or advanced, might have. In effect, Elizza, the Nadelspiel host, taught me how to crochet!).

Lucy, the Attic 24 host, on the other hand, opened up a whole new universe for me with her impeccable sense of color composition and uniquely cheerful style. It may also well be down to her that I even started this blog. Her documentation of everyday life with children, and crafts, and her pretty pictures of the British countryside, as well as occasional recipes, sounded so appealing, and relatable. Her stories, told with little fanfare, but a lot of kindness and sense of humor, resonated with me to a degree that made me brave enough to start sharing mine.

Professionally, my life was at a crossroads then, and I had yet to make the leap to becoming a full-time translator. Crafts kept me sane (as they still do) and gave me something rewarding to do, over the many hours spent nursing my daughter whose immune system didn’t pick up speed until she was five or six, back to health, again and again and again…

Blogging about our life, my crafts projects and what was cooking turned into the classic weblog you know (and choose to read, thank you so much!) So, here’s to Lucy – who doesn’t know me from a bar of soap, but has been important to me, as a crochet artist and as a writer, all the same ;-).

As you can see, I’ve also made progress on my daughter’s pink sweater, while watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, enjoying the Agatha-Christie-y vibe of the cases, the gorgeous period-piece set and costume design, and Miss Fisher’s significant mischievous eyebrow quirk. The knitting is quick work, and I’m planning to try something new with the sleeves. Have you done dolman sleeves before? I have not, and we’ll have to see how it goes.

When making the cats, I found other patterns for Waldorf knit animals, and these looked easy enough to to, so I made one just to see if I could. Not exactly the most perfect design, and the proportions seem a little wonky – or is this just the way chickens look? As ever, my problem is more with the shaping and finishing than it is with the knitting…

Oh, and check out what I found at my favorite local yarn store! Isn’t it the most festive yarn imaginable? Soft, and deep red and glittery – Christmas socks, I was thinking :-). For whom, we shall see!

Since the flower stall isn’t off limits yet today (as of tomorrow, it may well be, should my boy test positive), I went out and bought a huge armful of fir branches to be able to make my advent wreath next week. It must be the earliest I ever did that, a week in advance!

Side note: I know that crafts are no real solution for dire circumstances (being out of a job, having financial troubles, health issues and dealing with close quarters related psychological problems). I’m not in any way trying to make light of the situation, for it is an existential catastrophe for many, and I’m well aware we have been so very fortunate so far, to be able to stay healthy and sane, as well as busy and getting paid for it. It’s just my go to thing whenever shit gets real to go and make something, or cook something, or take a long walk. These things make me feel better, but may not help you at all. Although, since you are here of your own free will, it’s probably correct to assume you enjoy these things, too ;-).

Leaving here today with a picture of this beautiful leaf (maple? sycamore? can’t be sure!) that had the first frost on it when I saw it while walking Charlie in the morning. It suddenly made me realize it’ll be Christmas in a matter of weeks. Hang in there – and fingers crossed for our virus situation.

Meep!

Is this fellow adorable or what? Also, really tiny. When he speaks, he sounds like a little bird. He will eat anything he can get his cutesie little paws on, which forces us to keep the kitchen tidy – not a bad thing, all things considered.

These two Waldorf kitties were a present to my daughter’s little friend who asked for ’something for her two cats‘ as a birthday gift – remarkable for a 12-year old, I thought. Since it seemed weirdly impersonal to just buy a voucher from the pet store, I decided to try my hand at the knit cat pattern I’ve had for a long time. I’m afraid the first attempt was so terrible it had to be thrown out, but after a bit of tinkering, I stuck with the knitting pattern, ignored the finishing instructions, and shaped the cats the way I thought they should be. Made more sense to me than doing what the pattern said. Maybe I’m just too dumb for those. But in the end, I was happy with the result, and the kitties were completed and delivered to great success.

When I was done with that, the pink yarn I ordered came. I plan to make amends for my son’s washing efforts‘ collateral damage – it was my daughter’s favorite sweater. I started on that while binging Star Trek. Are any of you watching Discovery? Awesome, right? In between new episodes, we like to watch old reruns, all available on Netflix.

To me, it doesn’t get much better than that: Snuggling with husband and dog while watching intrepid space explorers boldly go where no one has gone before, knitting or doing crochet all the while. We’re well into the fifth season of Voyager now. That particular part of the franchise always reminds me of when I watched it first, rented in stacks of video tape boxes for the weekend, from a video rental place close to my apartment. (Millennials: there was no Netflix, nor were there computers at our houses, nor did we even have cell phones. To you, no doubt this sounds like the Stone Age! Even I must confess I can hardly remember what it was like before Internet access.) But, in my memory, it was not a bad time at all. Maybe because I was young?

As stockinette stitch lends itself to bingeing (you don’t have to look all that hard at what you’re doing), I managed to make good progress:

Initially I wanted to work in secret, to then pull a surprise hand-knit sweater out of my hat for Christmas, but now my daughter has spotted it and all is known. Maybe I’ll wrap it anyway. I chose this particular yarn quality (4-ply sock yarn, 75% wool, 25% acrylic) because I wanted something that would not be in danger of getting damaged when being machine-washed. I also had difficulty finding this particular shade of pink – other than in a very exclusive cashmere yarn, which, well, no.

As for work, I’m done with yet another urban fantasy (Demons Do It Better was the catchy English title ;-)), and am looking at two weeks of clearing up my desk, paying bills, submitting invoices, and my end of year doctor’s appointments (bloodwork, ugh, diabetes check, ugh, OBGYN, not that bad because I love her so much I don’t even mind her poking and prodding me), before diving into the next fantasy slash love story, and then … starting on volume II of the Most Famous of All Cookbook Authors‘ French Cuisine, which is an honor and a pleasure both.

Since this is still not that kind of blog, just a quick word on how pleased I am at the way the American people have spoken, effectively throwing the current public embarrassment to a prestigious political office out on his despicable ass. I think they did their country as well as the whole world a great service, and I feel we have a lot to be thankful for next week.

Incidentally, thanks to Covid, this will be the first time in years that I have no Winter Fayre to prepare on Thanksgiving weekend, and I’m looking forward to celebrating, even it will only be with my nuclear family instead of Friendsgiving like we used to do. This is fine. We haven’t spent all that much time together, the four of us, for months. Our son and GF tend to prefer to be alone. Our daughter has more and more Most Important Friends Stuff to do, and so we’re left to our own devices a lot of the time. It’s a new era of growing back into being a couple once again – it certainly is a process, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t find it hard sometimes.

This is a spot that I’m particularly fond of. As you can see, it’s an old oak grove (old in terms of a human lifespan, barely middle-aged in terms of tree life, no doubt), and to me, it’s an enchanted place. I always stop for a minute and just breathe whenever I walk there with Charlie. In early spring, winter and fall, it’s a light-filled space that reminds me of a church with no roof. Maybe the spiritual vibe is all in my head, maybe witches or druids used to converge there, no idea. It’s one of my favorite places in this forest, and I feel grateful every time I have a good reason for being there :-).

The recipe I want to rec today is not my own, but from a food blog I like very much. I stumbled across the blog while working on Ruth Roger’s River Café cookbook last summer, and it’s lovely and inspirational. I get notifications for new posts by Email, and the dish read so intriguing that I clicked on the link right away. I mean, pasta with creamed pistachios, with a dash of whisky or brandy? Come on!

https://authentisch-italienisch-kochen.de/ricette/pasta-ai-pistacchi-e-panna/?utm_source=mailpoet&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter-a-i-k-de-newsletter-post-title_2

The recipe is in German, and you’ll have to piece it together as best you can if you don’t speak the language. If you can read German, and love Italian cuisine, it’s definitely worth while to follow!

The gist of this particular dish is that you briefly sauté and heat the ingredients, then puree, topping your pasta with the creamy result. I assure you it’s amazing – here’s what ours looked like when we made it last week:

Even my daughter had a large plateful, and you know she’s not easy to please. Talking to my vegan friend A. on the phone, we reflected on a dairy-free alternative. I assume you could use a vegan cream substitute, soy or oat-based maybe? Not coconut milk though, I don’t think the flavor would go well with the pistachio and shallot. I will try that variation next time.

Have a good week, everybody. Stay healthy, and keep wearing those masks.

No Politics, Just Crafts

I’m very consciously avoiding refreshing the polls page every few minutes. Can’t concentrate for s… today, so might as well talk about other stuff instead.

I bought the yarn for the socks above at the supermarket – couldn’t resist the pull of the warm orange, and decided I need the socks as a bright spot for the dark months to come. They make me very happy! I don’t usually go in for the industrially pre-dyed patterned yarns, but I love the socks anyway.

They were finished Sunday night, after an eventful day that involved driving a few hours, vehicular knitting, visiting the shelter and bringing home yet another feline family member.

This is Mogli. He’s winsome and mischievous, and he is making a little girl very, very happy :-). Look at that impish little face with the huge ears!

I’ve always enjoyed knitting socks. It’s gratifying to me because it doesn’t take a lot of time, and you can do most of it without paying too much attention. Looking at your socked feet is nice, too – and of course they keep your feet warm, always a plus in ancient buildings like the one we live in.

Initially, I was going to make these for myself

but ended up making them a wee bit too small, and so handed them over to my daughter, who loved the color combo as much as I did.

The amazing fall break week off I gave myself seems to have initiated a crafts energy boost, and after all the socks, I’ve taken up the Waffle Blanket once more. The status quo is this:

That’s fifteen (!) balls of yarn in, the orange being the sixteenth. That blanket will not be a lightweight, that’s for sure. But I’m pleased with the look, and I’m not even agonizing about size and colors anymore. I now have enough yarn to make five color blocks if I want it longer after all. Every blanket is a journey, and this one is no exception.

My Stripy Sweater from last year has undergone final design changes. Planned as a square shaped affair,

it wasn’t really right for my figure, drawing more attention to my chest than I feel comfortable with, so I sewed an elastic in at the bottom edge, and it now looks and feels good to me.

Since the washing machine (and my son who is not yet familiar with the hand wash cycle) effectively ruined my daughter’s favorite pink sweater, I’m planning to make her a new one for Xmas. I’m looking at two weeks off between projects this month, so I’ll get a nice head start on it.

Work-wise, I’m fortunate enough to have been booked for sequels and follow-up projects until April next year. I’m as good as done with the demon urban fantasy that kept me busy over the last few weeks, and have an absolutely fabulous cookbook to look forward to as well. Also, several gorgeous free copies to give to my friends.

Today is a sunny fall day, and there was a first light bite of cold air in the morning. Every time I walk among the beautiful fall-colored foliage we have for a few weeks, I’m reminded of a story my parents used to read to me when I was little: Frederick the Mouse. It’s about a field mouse who does things a little differently from all his fellow mouses – which in the end is a gift to everyone, his family as well as those who get to enjoy this awesome classic among children’s books.

Another nice thing to think about is the fact that it’s pumpkin season. For me that means the Hokkaido variety, which I prefer to Butternut or other winter squash – I enjoy the creaminess and the potato-like texture. Now, I could eat soups every day, and not only when it’s cold out, and pumpkin soup has to be one of my all time favorites. The same is not true for my family, alas. But yesterday when I thought about what to make for dinner, I had an idea. What if, I thought, I were to add little spicy meatballs to the soup? I thought it might be nice if they were to taste a bit exotic, and since I had fresh cilantro and ginger in the fridge, I went with that. I added a little rice, don’t ask me why, it was a spontaneous decision, and then they turned out like pretty little hedgehogs, completely by happy accident:

And what do you know, everybody loved the soup! Even my daughter who hasn’t touched it for years asked for seconds, which I consider high, high praise.

Pimped-up Pumpkin Soup

2 small Hokkaido pumpkins, cleaned, seeded and cut up

3 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 stalk celery

1 small parsley root, peeled and chopped

1/2 clove garlic

250 g ground beef

1 egg

1 handful broken rice

1 piece of ginger, 2 cm, peeled and chopped

1 handful mixed fresh herbs (I used cilantro, parsley and dill)

salt, pepper

vegetable broth to taste

1 cup cream

First, sauté in olive oil 2/3rds of the shallot and half of the ginger. Pour on water, and add the pumpkin, parsley root and celery. Add broth, salt, pepper and maybe a pinch of sugar to taste. Put to the boil.

Now prepare the meatballs. In a bowl, combine 1 egg, the herbs, the rest of the ginger and the shallot, garlic, salt and pepper. Puree with a stick blender. (I do this because my daughter dislikes it when meatballs contain chunks of onion or the likes. It’s completely optional, you might as well chop if you prefer.) Add the ground beef and the handful of rice. Combine to a solid mass, then form small (like 1,5 cm diameter small) balls.

In the pot, watch out for when the pumpkin starts to fall apart, then take the vegetables out of the broth with a slotted spoon. Set aside.

Now add your meatballs to the broth and cook for about 15 minutes. When done, fish out of the broth with your slotted spoon and set aside.

Put the vegetables back in the pot and puree with your stick blender, adding cream and spices to taste.

Finally, put the meatballs back in the pot, turn off the heat, put the lid on and let sit for a few minutes, while you cut up bread or lay the table.

And then – enjoy an autumnal bowl of fragrant, creamy, rich goodness.

Glad you joined me for a little walk away from the news! Let’s hope they will be good. And thank you for dropping by.