Summer Appreciation Post

IMG_6363Welcome to serenity;-).

This is what I see when I spread out my blanket at ‚our‘ spot by the lake. Isn’t it beautiful? I’m always astonished at how few people come here, but of course I’m not complaining. To the contrary, I’m deeply thankful we get to have this place to ourselves more often than not.IMG_2394As you can guess, we have moved our life out to the country cottage for the next few weeks, and so far it’s been pretty chill. We’ve done the things we usually do when we’re here: Walk in the forest, swim in the lake, find mushrooms, cook, grill, sleep in, play games, sit by a fire, gaze at the stars at night. Our lazy routine is punctuated by the kids‘ sudden cravings for favorite foods, or certain things that need to be eaten because nature or the garden supply them.

When we found chanterelle mushrooms after the rain last week, we made the best fanfuckingtastic grilled cheese from them, see above. Pimped with green onions and fresh rosemary, yum.

The above are plum dumplings, one of my childhood favorites. I learned how to make them at an early age, since they were one of my Dad’s specialties. It’s not difficult, albeit a messy process. Consisting of a mashed potato, flour and egg gnocchi dough wrapped around a plum and boiled in salt water, they’re breaded in buttered breadcrumbs and eaten with a bit of sugar. The kids just like to roll ‚em in the stuff as you can see above, and depending on the type of plum you use, it may be necessary too.

Other Parents Have Time to Cook foods are: lasagna, pancakes for breakfast, as well as, notably, my husband’s Jewish pizza topped with chanterelle mushrooms, what a treat that was! I was going to take a picture but the pizza was gone so fast I didn’t have a chance. So sorry, maybe next time. But you get the idea – thin, crisp pizza dough topped with sour cream, onions, mushrooms and cheese – very good stuff.

IMG_E6285The above was my adaptation of a classic Arabic basbousa cake; I was inspired to make one myself when I read about it on Cleobuttera’s blog. Her recipe sounds very good, but that particular day I was dying to know whether it isn’t possible to add dark chocolate to the orange flavor, and use spelt semolina instead of the called for wheat. And what can I say? It was certainly a worth-while experiment.

As of late, I’ve become quite the home-made syrup buff, check out the flavors we made for the school fair in June (yellow is elder flower, red is raspberry), so the orange syrup part didn’t scare me.IMG_5955We ended up with a lovely melt-in-mouth dark chocolat-ey concoction soaked in sticky orange bliss. Nice with a glass of milk, black coffee, and (I was told) with a glass of fruity champagne. Not drinking much myself, these days, as my body does not appreciate it anymore. Who knew I’d end up becoming such a health nut??

We have a sweet four-legged visitor for a couple days who is making puppy dog eyes at me, urging me to leave the hammock I’ve been typing away in and take him for his midday run:IMG_6375Cooper is an Australian Shepherd, and he’s a very cute bundle of activity, this one. Since we also brought the cat, it’s an interesting experiment. So far, they’ve been giving each other the evil eye, and the kitty needs to be coaxed to come out of the house at all:

IMG_6369That hammock has become a favorite place to do favorite things in, here’s my new couch blanket coming along nicely, on DC row at a time.IMG_6297Have a beautiful summer, wherever you are and whatever your favorite seasonal activity may be. I’m off to the woods with a strapping, woofing young fellow now.

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Detachment Part Two, and More Heat Eats

IMG_6111When I stumbled across this piece by André Aciman in the New York Times a while ago, it resonated with me, not only because of the example he gives (his boys have moved out…), but because it made me realize that I, too, tend to try and anticipate what bad things are going to feel like so I’ll be prepared when they happen. But while this type of emotional rehearsal may seem like a valid strategy to any constructive pessimist, it may ultimately prove futile. For despite all anticipation, there will always be stuff you hadn’t reckoned with: Life can and will whack you over the head with Unexpected Things.

Mr. Aciman advises to be thankful and enjoy the good things as they happen. It’s sound advice, too, for these precious moments of joy are the piggy-bank for coping with the times life will give you lemons and throw you curve-balls. img_2907.jpgRemember your first heartbreak? I’m sure you do. One moment you feel loved and happy and secure, and the next you get dumped, and realize that the person you cherished, relied on, and trusted in is yours no more. Long story short, apparently my son’s ex-girlfriend (bizarre consecutive words right there!) has fallen out of love with him over the course of her 3-month exchange in the UK, and ended their 2 1/2 year relationship. He didn’t see it coming, all seemed fine when he went to visit her over Easter, but that’s how it goes with still waters. I also remember how much can change over the course of such a long time. She’s made her decision, and he needs to accept that.

But boy, do I feel for my boy. He’s being very mature about it, for now. He says he’s sad, he certainly seems subdued, but he doesn’t want to talk about it much, not to me anyway. There’s a solid support system of friends. Maybe he talks to them, or he simply lets them take his mind off things. They got him to join a gym, which we support, and of course we also have his back. His baby sister makes him laugh, his cool daddy took him to the Long Night of the Sciences, and we’re going to have more mom and son dates again. Yesterday we cooked, and watched 2 episodes of vintage television, Deep Space Nine, which I can only hope he didn’t just do for my sake. He seemed to enjoy it.

Also, we’ve begun checking out our boxed up old vinyls, and of course I have a back story to each and every one! (The Cure’s Head on the Door album (went to see them live on stage for that tour, and Robert Smith said nothing at all to the audience other than hello, good night, and announcing one song with the words ‚this is the Kyoto Song, I’m sure you wouldn’t understand‘ ;-))! What do you think? Was he always like that on stage, or was he in a particularly weird mood that night? We found The Sonics‘ first album that opened my mind to garage rock with an unforgettable BANG, just listen to this: Psycho; and of course, courtesy of my music lover of a daddy, this hauntingly beautiful Étude by Alexander Scriabin. In the YouTube link, Vladimir Horowitz is playing – the recording my dad had was by Svjatoslav Richter, different but equally sublime. I could go on and on, but I’ll save that walk down memory lane for RL, I think.

So, the detachment business. Here’s what I’m doing right now:

a) Allow my boy to be in pain – I’ve passed on Prof. Pearlman’s advice from ‚Call Me By Your Name‘ (don’t snuff it out, let yourself feel it); who knew I’d need to quote this to my own kid so soon? And what a good thing I just read that wonderful book …

b) Get used to not having sweet St. around any longer, friend-zone or no friend-zone, things are probably going to be awkward for a while now.

c) Trust my son to cope with this by himself, and with a little help from his friends.

I don’t know if it’s even possible for a parent not to grieve by proxy, I don’t know how not to anyway. I know my son will be miserable for a while, but I also know he’ll learn something from this. And of course there will be quite a few who’ll happily console him if he lets them!

And since even heartbroken people need to eat, especially when they’re 16, how about a little comfort food that’s heat wave compatible? Have some

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Gigantes Bean Salad

Usually, I would use a can of tuna for this, but since I had run out and it was the weekend, here’s what I used instead. Sun-dried tomatoes, lemon stuffed Spanish olives and because this is me, capers;-), make for a lovely Mediterranean combination. Olive oil, dash of lemon juice, oregano and black pepper – and you’re done. No cooking required, always a plus when its more than 30 °C.

You will need:

Canned Gigantes beans, cooked

1 small shallot or onion, sliced or chopped

Handful of sun-dried tomatoes, cut into strips

Handful of green olives, lemon stuffed and sliced

2 TBSP capers (recipe also works without these if you dislike the taste)

3 TBSP olive oil

A few squeezes of lemon juice, to taste

Very little salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 TBSP oregano, dried

Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl, season and let steep for a bit. Enjoy with or without crusty bread – from a nutritional point of view, it’s certainly unnecessary, but if it makes you happy, by all means, have some.

Thank you for reading, everyone, and have a good week!

Heat Wave Eats, Part Two

After two days of massive rain showers, temperatures have evened out to a pleasant 25 °C, and it felt like all living creatures breathed a sigh of relief. One definite upside of the heat last week was that it left the most perfect water temperatures at my favorite lake behind. Usually, I’m kind of squeamish when getting in there for the first time after the winter, but yesterday it was a real treat. Cool but not too cold, clear water, dragonflies buzzing lazily, and the lushest shades of green all over the foresty lakeshore (and since I couldn’t possibly not think about this wonderful summer song as I was typing this particular word, enjoy that: Lakeshore Drive).IMG_E6043And while husband and kids can handle solid food even when it’s 30 °C, I personally had little else but fruit, salad and yogurt over the past week. IMG_6008What you can see above is one of my secret weapons whenever the heat makes it unfathomable for me to even be in the kitchen with a lit stove. The white stuff is a sweet concoction based on our German cream cheese variety, which goes by the odd name of Quark; it’s not as solid as cream cheese, and when whipped up with an electric blender with some whipping cream, it can become as fluffy as a mousse.

Favorite Summer Dessert for Finicky Eaters

500 g Quark (cream cheese would work too if you can’t get it in your neck of the woods. 400 g cream cheese and 100 ml yogurt, in that case)

100 ml whipping cream

3 TBSP sugar (substitute with maple syrup or even Stevia or another sweetener to taste, if you prefer)

Bit of vanilla

Juice of 2 lemons

Bit of lemon zest to taste

Fresh berries of your choice

Put all ingredients (other than the berries) in a bowl and beat them into fluffiness using an electric blender. Put in the fridge for min. 1 hour – this is infinitely better when thoroughly chilled.

Wash berries and serve on the side in deference to particular eaters. Naming no names, there are some at our house who need all foods to be very clearly discernible from each other, and would refuse to eat this lovely dish if I were to add, say, blueberries right away…IMG_6004So while one person might have this, IMG_6007there are some who’d rather decide by the spoonful what they garnish their food with:IMG_6009Be that as it may, this Quark has proven to be a crowd pleaser many times over (it used to be a signature dish of mine when parent-cooking for the kindergarten), and it’s still a family favorite today.

There’s also a nice winter variety that I like to use freshly squeezed orange juice and orange fillets for, also quite good with cubed fresh mango as a topping.

Sorry I didn’t get around to do a write-up of this before. My Friday afternoon was all about new sensations, which I will probably be experiencing on the regular as of this month. It seems, dear friends, that the fates (and my daughter) have chosen to make me a HOCKEY MOM… IMG_6030That was me putting on a brave face of acceptance, sitting in front of the club house, nursing a diet soda and feeling like an impostor. Also a wee bit annoyed by the regulars, some of whom were drinking beers at 4 in the afternoon, I kid you not!, while unabashedly checking out the fresh meat. Ugh! Luckily, I had brought my crochet:IMG_6031Guess I showed them :-))!

Upside is they have WiFi, so this week, I’ll just bring my computer to the bleachers and do some work while the newest hockey enthusiast is having her fun (I’m so glad she chose a sport by herself, actually, and not something I made her try. A very good thing!)

Have a lovely week, everyone!

Heat Wave Eats, Part One

In Berlin, we’re experiencing very high temperatures for end of May. It’s gone up to 32 °C today and the brief mini storm only added humidity to the heat, sigh. My son took his beloved electric fan to school with him this morning because their classroom heats up so badly in the afternoons. He’s going to be one popular boy today ;-)).

Dishes best served cold are the go-to culinary strategy for this kind of weather, and there’s a few that I’d like to suggest, for enjoyable eats that won’t put you in a food coma as soon as you’ve swallowed the last bite.

The first thing that comes to mind is Gazpacho. I always have a craving for it in the summer, and I love how it’s filling but not heavy, in a wholesome, happy-making way, much like a salad. Come to think of it, it is a bit like a pureed salad! Here’s my version of this iconic Spanish veggie soup:

Cool as a Cucumber Gazpacho

1 red pepper, seeded

1 yellow pepper, seeded

1 cucumber, seeded

2 green onions

1 can tomato passata

6 TBSP tomato paste

500 ml tomato juice

1 stalk celery

1 lemon, squeezed

1 piece of chili

1 small clove garlic

8 TBSP olive oil

Salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, pinch of sugar

Peel, chop and place in a bowl the vegetables, tomato juice, paste and passata, olive oil, lemon juice and spices. Puree with a stick blender, thoroughly. Don’t forget to wear an apron, the stuff will spit.

Add more seasoning, lemon and oil to taste. Cover and place in the refrigerator for min. 2 hours.IMG_5999Make croutons from any leftover bread of your choice: Cube and fry in a pan in olive oil with a crushed clove of garlic until browned. Sprinkle with a bit of salt.

Serve gazpacho with a cold drink and more bread if you’re so inclined, or if you’re in a hurry, just pour a glass and enjoy like a smoothie. Consistency should be about the same.IMG_6002I’ll continue with cold food tomorrow. Dropping out of here again with a quick wave and some pics of my old lady of a cat and her own, very wise strategy for the heat: Do not move unless absolutely necessary.

 

Write What You Know

This is one of the things you frequently hear in creative writing classes. There seems to be a great deal of discord among writers on whether that’s BS or not, and I’m not even sure what my own stance would be if I actually were that kind of a writer, you know, of fiction, with stories to tell. Since I’m not, and blogging about practical, mundane stuff, I can certainly attest to this axiom being more than valid, especially when it comes to one of my pet topics, recipes. Imagine someone writing about how they think a cake should be made instead of documenting the correct ingredients, measurements, and method! Chances are the result would be a disaster, even though the text might be a fun, Doctor Seuss-like read, which would create modern art when put into practice.

I can assure you all the recipes I share on here have been tried and tested, as well as approved by an esteemed jury of family and friends before being published – and if I’m really lucky, the food is still sometimes called art ;-).

So, a word on peppers. I may have written about them before, and people who know me in RL are aware they’re not my favorite vegetable in the world. It’s true that they’re really healthy, and my family loves them, so I do buy peppers, but love them I do not. The notable exception are the little green pimientos you may be familiar with from tapas spreads – I do enjoy those. So when the three red peppers my husband had hopefully bought were staring me right in the face yesterday, and I found myself wishing they were little and green instead, I thought, why not pretend they are.

I prepared them exactly the same way I would go about making pimientos (place on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, roast in the oven). And what do you know? They turned out really good! And because my teenager was supposed to bring something for the cookout at his girlfriend’s and was too incapacitated by the previous night’s party to be of any use to me in the kitchen, I took pity on him, let him rest for a bit, and threw together this pasta salad with roasted peppers:

IMG_5973.JPGIt was a nice, summery side dish for their barbecue. Incidentally, it was vegan, also – it’s one of their friends‘ chosen lifestyle, and I try to respect that when cooking for those kids. So, grated Parmesan cheese on the side. But interestingly enough, nobody seems to have missed it because they completely forgot to add it :-).

Pimiento-Style Peppers Pasta Salad

In the spirit of exactness, you will need:

400 g pasta

2 cloves garlic

3 red peppers

4 – 5 TBSP olive oil

salt

pepper

Small handful of pine nuts, roasted

A few leaves of fresh basil, cut into thin strips

Wash peppers, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in a hot oven and roast for about 15 minutes, until their skin starts to blister. Turn down heat and let roast another 5 minutes. In the meantime, boil water for pasta, crush garlic and roast pine nuts in a frying pan.

Combine in your salad bowl: Olive oil, lemon juice, salt, garlic, pepper and roasted pine nuts. Take the peppers out of the oven and set aside in a covered dish for a few minutes. Then seed the peppers and peel the parts of the skin that come off easily. Cut into 1 cm wide strips. Cook the pasta al dente, strain and let cool for a bit.

Add everything to the bowl, mix and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Finally, add the basil strips. This salad is very good while still slightly warm, but can be prepared in advance and eaten as a cold side dish. Hot or cold, enjoy!

And that’s what I call a productive lunch break right there! Have a good week, stitch readers.

The Boy With Blue Hair

I have written about my son’s school before. It’s an independently run Waldorf school and a small one at that, which has both its perks and its pitfalls. Sometimes, you need advanced social skills and emotional intelligence for coexisting with certain teachers, colleagues or classmates, as you can’t simply switch into a parallel class (there’s one of each grade only). If you’re absolutely incompatible as human beings, you may be forced to change schools, which has resulted in a fair number of comings and goings over the years, but fortunately, these rarely concerned us personally.

If things go smoothly, though, the kids are solid with each other, and the teachers really care about them, this creates an exceptional environment of mutual respect, affection and trust. I’ve attended breathtaking theater performances that were born from this safe space, I’ve read astonishing papers, and the kids have written and publicly read absolutely incredible poetry. They never fail to impress me.

But let me tell you about what happened yesterday. The German teacher had assigned the kids to write speeches, about a topic of their choice. One of the boys (E. with the blue hair) wanted to talk about homosexuality. It went well, E.’s very bright, and a good speaker. And then, in closing, he came out to the class as gay! After a moment of silence, there was cheering, applause, and the teacher complimented him for personal courage.

As a parent, I cannot help feeling glad to have enrolled my kid at a place where there exists such an atmosphere of trust. My son said the boy hadn’t even told his mom before opening up to his friends and teacher in class. Remarkable, isn’t it?

On this positive note, I’d like to add a few pics of my latest crochet project: It’s a blanket for our couch, in a simple but gorgeous color block design I found on Pinterest. The pattern can be found here, but I’m changing everything but the color scheme, really. My yarn of choice is thinner, my hook is smaller … so 220 instead of 81 stitches across, double crochet instead of single crochet, and God knows how many rows this is going to take … but I knew that going in, and I ordered a generous amount of yarn, I’ll be fine. I couldn’t wait to start swatching and starting out, even though it made for a late night yesterday, and the need for some extra caffeine this afternoon.img_5314.jpgHave a great weekend, everyone.

Crochet Flowers My Way

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Soon, it will be my dear friend A.’s birthday. We met at day care when our daughters were not even two, and quickly bonded over the kids, who were each other’s first BFFs (very cute to watch :-))). And over the course of the girls‘ many, many play-dates, and all those afternoon hours spent on each other’s couches, we became close friends too. We have a similar geographic and sociological background in the Balkans, and of course, we both like to knit – the ultimate crafter’s mind-meld. And while A. feels more comfortable recreating solid Ravelry patterns, and I always go rogue with those because diagrams and stitch numbers and such confuse me, we both end up with pretty handcrafted pieces and love each other’s work. Last year, A. made me this thing of beauty for my 50th:

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I’ve only taken it out for a few special occasions, and I always feel wrapped in love, warmth and luxury when I wear it.

But about those little flowers. I plan to sew them on to a set of white bed linen, much like the one you see below. That one’s a duvet cover I made for my daughter a few years back, and it has been a favorite ever since. When A. recently said it was the ‚most beautiful thing she’d ever seen‘, there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to make her one of her own for her birthday. So here I am, crocheting flower after flower after flower, ‚cause I’m going to need plenty.

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And seeing that I’ve actually taken photos of the individual steps, to show them to another friend who was interested to learn, I thought I’d put a real pattern (not really daring to call it a photo tutorial) on here and be done with it. So here’s how I go about crocheting five-petal flowers.

Cute Little Crochet Flowers

The yarn I used for this is very thin mercerized cotton. I believe you could do embroidery with it if you wanted, it would certainly fit through any sewing needle’s eye. I was working with a 2 mm hook for the center and a 1 mm hook for the petals.

You will, as has been pointed out to me, need to be familiar with these US crochet abbreviations to understand:

SC single crochet

DC double crochet

I’m not going to start explaining how you do those because there’s excellent YouTube tutorials for that kind of thing. I’m just going to assume you already know how to make those.

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Using the 2 mm hook, crochet 11 SC into a magic ring. Pull tight and join with a slip stitch. If you’re as anal about these things as I am, you want to use your second color for the slip stitch already. The color change will be invisible if you do, see?

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With the second color, chain 1, then proceed to make 1 SC in every one of the stitches of the round. Join with a slip stitch.

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Chain 1. Then make 5 DC in the second stitch from hook.

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Chain 1. Slip stitch into the next stitch – 1 petal made.

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Make 4 more petals in the same manner.

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End with a slip stitch into the last stitch next to the first petal you made. Bind off and cut yarn.

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Now all you need to do is darn in the 4 threads, which I don’t need to explain, and go and make more if you had fun doing the first. Crochet flowers can look great on just about anything:

IMG_1507Canvas totesIMG_1611Birthday cardsimg_1400.jpgShoulder bag decoration

I’ve sewn them on T-Shirts, knit hats and I mended a hole in a much beloved sweater using a crochet flower – the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

So, try it out and let me know how you did with the pattern! Oh, and remember the old Instagram lore, pics or it didn’t happen 😉 – you know I am always curious to see your stuff.

Thank you for reading, and happy hooking!