A Barefoot Icelandic Fairy

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Anna María is a young singer-songwriter from Iceland, with a voice that ranges from sweet and romantic to earthy and powerful. The program she played yesterday night in Berlin mostly consisted of her musical interpretation of a series of love poems her grandfather had written for his wife, her grandmother, over the course of their 60-year marriage.

Backed by a band of young Icelandic musicians (a drummer, base player and fellow singer songwriter Svavar Knútur), Anna María’s deeply moving performance actually brought tears to people’s eyes – mine included – even though the German audience probably didn’t understand any of the lyrics – again, me included. The album is called ‚Hver stúnd med thér‘ – (each moment with you), and is well worth listening to, if you’re even remotely into romance and Nordic music.

Wearing a beautiful long dress, curls falling loosely around her shoulders, and no shoes, the artist looked exactly like my six-year old daughter draws her fairies. I liked the no shoes part, as I think it represents a lot of the things I love about Icelandic culture: it’s real and unpretentious, and it has that deep connection to their crazy nature, while at the same time being profoundly appreciative of true beauty.

The last song was an encore, Anna María’s version of ‚Lili Marlen‘, played to great effect – from the first note, she had the audience singing along with her. Check out her music, and if you’re lucky enough to catch one of her shows, by all means go, it’ll certainly be a treat. Here’s her webpage: http://annamaria.is/

It occurs to me that I’ve now shared something other here than family ponderings, recipes or crafts for the first time. Those who don’t know me must think I’m such a chicken head :-). It’s just that usually, the parts that are more than a mom with hobbies just don’t end up here. But raving about a lovely show was certainly worth opening up a little more.

On the crafts front, I have little else to report than that I’m working on a sweater for my husband (who is a very tall man, alas!) – as I’ve already hinted, I will eventually tell you that story here. My friends are probably already smiling, as they know that, in a way, that sweater is as old as my marriage ;-). Oh, and I’ve finally managed to work out a way to make crocheted slippers. It’s such a curse to be stupid about diagrams and any pattern that isn’t Lucy of Attic 24’s wonderful, easy, photographed and perfectly explained, awesome tutorials. I just have to figure everything out myself and it takes trial and error – and most of all, it eats time like nobody’s business. But in the end, I usually get there, as I have this time. Will show you once I’ve finished with the second.

For now, I wish you a great day, week, end of month, and a relaxing winter vacation, those who have next week off from school as we do. No alarm, yay!!!

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This is how I make Chili

I’ve written about my son before. He’s a sweet, easy-going guy with a great sense of humor. He’ll soon be 13, and he’s heavily into Dub Step now, as kids will be these days. He’s an artist, a musician and a tech whiz. He’s the only one in the family I’d trust with a power tool.
Also, he’s particular when it comes to foods. Of course he loves pizza and burgers just like any other kid. He also likes sushi, though, and caper berries, he actually enjoys runny French brie, and he wouldn’t touch ketchup with a ten-foot pole.

Wonder what his favorite dish in the world is? Oddly, it’s chili con carne, so, despite of myself, I’ve become quite a seasoned maker of that old Mexican traditional. My recipe is most probably stolen, as I’ve eaten chili more times that I can remember, both here and in the States, over the years. Unlike many other cooks, I never add corn – I’m actually pretty certain that any Mexican native would call that an abomination. I may be wrong about that, I don’t really care for corn in chili, I just don’t think it adds anything to it. Be that as it may, the other day I was asked to write up what I do to my version of chili, so here goes. You will need:

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300 g ground beef
4 onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large handful of parsley leaves, chopped
1 large handful of cilantro, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
red beans (kidney or pinto), 3 cans
2 cans of tomato passata
dash of red wine
olive oil
cumin
chili flakes
salt, pepper and sugar to taste

In a large stock pot, fry the ground beef in olive oil until brown, then turn down heat and add chopped onions and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes. Turn heat back up, add red wine, veg and herbs, canned tomatoes ad spices.
Let stew at low heat for at least 1 hour, gently stirring every once in a while. Adjust your liquid if necessary, and check your seasoning. Add the strained beans and let simmer for another half hour at least.
Again, check your liquid and seasoning at regular intervals – especially if you have a gas stove like I do – it’s humiliating to have to scrub a cooking pot only because you couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to your rice, stew, soup or chili. I know because I’ve been there, more often that I’d like.

Not unlike a stew, a good chili only gets better the second day, so should you be in a position to not have to cook the day you’re planning to eat this, by all means go ahead and make it in advance. If you reheat chili, please see paragraph above. Beans are dangerous in terms of potentially ruining your cooking pots. Delicate and spiteful legumes, it would seem.

So there – happy with your chili? Good. Open a bag of tortilla chips, make a small bowl of guac, and serve with plenty of thick sour cream.

Oh, right, guac! We always have it as a side dish for chili, and this is how I make it:

3 soft avocados, peeled, pitted
1 lemon, juiced
1 handful of cilantro leaves
3-4 green onions
salt to taste
(chili flakes and cumin, if you insist. I love it more à’l nature)

Using a stick blender, mash the ingredients above to a yummy shade of alien green paste, season the way you like it, and serve. That was easy, right?

Enjoy this completely European and entirely personal favorite way to eat chili! And please let me know how you make yours – I’m always happy to learn!

New Beginnings, Linzer Torte and Raspberry Goodness

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Hi there, and welcome to a new year here in my little neck of the woods of Blogland. New Year’s was great, celebrated with a bunch of sweet friends, on a general note of ‚good riddance‘! Nobody seemed sorry to let go of the old year, in fact I believe everyone was genuinely relieved that it was finally over. There was wonderful food – I learned about a new way to cook salmon – will write that up soon, with a nod to His Cookness Don V. – and plenty to drink, there was dancing, and there were, once again, fireworks, beautifully orchestrated by our special effects artist, sweet F. – thank you so much, you’re awesome! I felt, as I always do with those particular people, in a very good place, and thankful that they’re my friends.

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Our vacation was spent in our place in the country, relaxing, going for long walks, looking up into the vast winter skies, some sledding and taking advantage of the 3 days of snow there were, cooking, chatting to friends, and enjoying the archaic pleasure of heating our old house with our sturdy wood burner. Of course, there was also some frantic cleaning the house top to bottom after New Year’s – a therapeutic way to start the year, I highly recommend it.IMG_8077IMG_7655

On the crafts front, I made an executive decision, which I will write more about another time, as it’s worth a blog post in itself. I bought some nice, fluffy yarn for a hat for my young friend L. – check it out:

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finished the spiral stripy hat for my six-year old (minus the darning in ends and attaching the pom-pom), and other than that, I’ve been truly and unapologetically lazy!

For my husband’s birthday, I boldly went where I hadn’t gone before and made one of his favorite cakes for the first time: Linzer Torte

This is great Austrian stuff, and he was really pleased with the result. I never got around to taking a picture, it was gone so fast 😉 – but the recipe is this one:

200 g flour

100 g sugar

1 pinch of salt

150 g ground almonds

1/2 Tsp powdered cinnamon

1 pinch of powdered cloves

some vanilla to taste

some lemon zest to taste

1 egg

50 g cake crumbs – after giving a huff (seriously, who just has that at their house?) I substituted those with some more almonds, sugar and flour, to great effect

200 g butter (yup, that number’s accurate!)

Raspberry jam for filling

Egg yolk for brushing lattice

Make a shortcrust by quickly kneading all ingredients together, roll into a ball, wrap in cling foil and put into the fridge to firm up. The recipe called for an hour of resting which I definitely didn’t have, but it worked anyway. Roll out the dough 3-4 mm thick on a well-floured surface (cause it will _stick_!) and carefully line a buttered and floured spring form, or pie dish, with dough. Leave some extra dough for making the pretty lattice that decorates the top. For this, you can use a fancy pastry wheel, if you have it. Should you not have such a pastry-chef-y item on your hands, just cut the leftover dough in thin strips (approx. 1 cm wide) with a sharp knife.

Don’t worry if, when lining your baking dish, the dough should break on you. (Mine did.) You can easily repair any tears or holes with extra patches of dough with your fingers. Spread a generous layer of jam on your Torte crust, and place the dough strips on top in a lattice pattern. Gently brush with egg yolk, then place the pastry in the oven to bake at about 160 °C for 40 minutes.

As I was out of raspberry jam after an enthusiastic Christmas cookie baking spree my husband and his brother had embarked on a few days back, I used what was on hand: blackberry jam, and it worked nicely. I somehow didn’t like the idea of apricot with the wintry, spicy nut flavor of the dough. I may be wrong about that.

After a while, you will notice a lovely spicy smell permeating the house, not unlike when baking Christmas cookies. Go check on the cake every few minutes, it would be a shame to burn it!

Linzer Torte will stay fresh for a week – or so I’m told. I’m in no position to tell you first-hand because ours was gobbled up really quickly. It goes nicely with whipped cream, but it’s also really good just by itself.

Sooo, since we’re already deep in the sweets department, and since I was asked to make this dessert three times in a row within the last two weeks, I feel compelled to write up my son’s favorite. It’s a concoction of meringue crumbs, frozen raspberries and whipped cream – pretty, fluffy and intensely enjoyable! I have no picture for you right now, sorry, but I will try and convey with words how deliciously cool, crunchy and fruity it is.

The idea is to layer meringue crumbs, fruit and whipped cream in a glass bowl, topped by raspberries as the last layer. It also looks lovely served in individual helpings in water or wine glasses. Here’s what you will need:

1 l whipping cream

2 P vanilla sugar

1 bag of meringues

500-750 g frozen raspberries

I’m a little fuzzy about the quantities. This is actually for your own benefit as well as due to my own unwillingness to be exact when it comes to numbers! You get to decide exactly how rich, sweet or fruity you want this to be ;-).

I personally like this with plenty of fruit, as little meringue as possible, and a healthy amount of whipped cream. I’m not that fond of the slightly soggy consistency you get when the meringue has completely dissolved, and I actually like the raspberries to be just this side of frozen. You want the meringue crumbs to melt in your mouth, and the berries to maintain their shape so you can squash them on your tongue, and the whipped cream to be as fluffy as possible.

Whip up the cream with the vanilla sugar until it forms stiff peaks. Set aside. Crumble the meringues into approx. 1 cm and smaller pieces and open your bag or box of raspberries.

Layer the bottom of a glass bowl with meringue crumbs (approx. 1 cm thick), add a generous layer of raspberries, so that the crumbs are completely covered in fruit, and top with a 2 cm layer of whipped cream. Repeat the process until your glass or bowl is full. I feel it looks prettiest if topped with fruit, but this is also entirely up to you – for some, meringue crumbs may be the loveliest topping ever, and some may feel cream can’t be beat.

Enjoy after chilling for at least two hours – it’s light enough to have even after a heavy dinner, and you may be able to squeeze in two helpings if you have it after a lighter meal.

I’m looking forward to writing The Story of the  Sweater here soon – it’s actually 13 years old.

And I won’t lie, I’m greatly looking forward to days becoming longer again soon. Winter solstice already happened a few weeks back, but I haven’t really noticed any change, have you?

I’m leaving you with an intense picture of the sky over Berlin from this weekend – this was taken BEFORE the current bout of miserable, cold rain and sleet hit us. May it be gone soon, and may your year 2015 be filled with sunshine!

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