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.

 

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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!

Road to a Blanket

IMG_0367Scrolling down my photo library, I can see that I must have first gotten the idea for this blanket in March 2016, unbelievably long ago. It seemed like such a simple, straightforward design then! I love the little polka dot drawing I jotted down on my blotting pad so much that I cut it out after having scribbled all over the rest of the sheet, and kept the clipping. Now, I don’t design many patterns myself, usually I just see something somewhere and try to copy it as best I can, which is probably the reason for my being that attached to this one. Would you like to see how it turned out? Oh, please be interested, because I cannot wait to show you:

IMG_5493To me that is pretty much the loveliest little girl blanket I can think of, and I’m incredibly pleased with how the design turned out. Almost (but not quite) as importantly, my daughter loves it to pieces and is showing it to all her friends – can’t ask for higher praise than that, am I right?

So, in the beginning there was that drawing on my desk pad. Then there were the first few dots – made just like any Granny Square center, only that the first two rounds were the same color.IMG_5635It’s entirely possible that there would have been an easier way to make the off-white square shapes, but I couldn’t really think of one, so I went with what I knew and crocheted simple Granny Squares.IMG_3331I was very happy with how they looked, and went on to make more. Over time (and by time I mean over the course of roughly 2 years), I crocheted about 140 of these babies, 126 of which made it into the blanket. It turned out I had just too many pink ones in the end, and I have a small pile of leftover squares that will need to be dealt with eventually.

And then life happened, other things took precedence, and I didn’t even think about the Dotty Blanket for a long time. When I did look at the few measly squares I had done, and after a rough estimate of just how many of the darned things I needed for the blanket to be a reasonable size, I couldn’t even – so I put them away again.IMG_1812And then, finally last summer, I knew I was looking at a two days drive (as a passenger) to Brittany, and I chose making dots as a vehicular crochet project. At this point, I had gotten over myself and done the actual math; I realized the color scheme needed a certain symmetry of chance, if that makes sense. So I counted, and calculated, and ultimately figured out how many of each color there needed to be. I was off by only a few.

It was a bizarre two days in the car: my family were all wearing headphones and listening to their audio books, and I was doing my thing with the crochet hook, probably mostly meditating. It is a very repetitive motion, making those round centers. When we arrived at our destination, I had made about 100 dots, and was feeling pretty zen ;-)).

Then our cousin M. had a baby, and I decided to crochet her a baby blanket, so that’s what I mostly did by the beach, as well as on our drive back. By the way, the book my people were listening to was The Expanse – which is now out as a really awesome TV show on SyFy – to a Science Fiction geek, it doesn’t get much better than that. I’m having a great time watching that show with my squad :-). Two words: Shohree Aghdashloo!!!

Over the fall break in October, I took up making off-white squares again, and by November I had finished, and sat down with my daughter to determine the final color sequence. It took us the better part of a Sunday, and I actually taped the final arrangement with transparent packing tape so as not to upset the order. First the taped down makeshift blanket was actually stuck to the parquet, which, for a few most annoying weeks required cleaning around it. Before Christmas, I was forced to transfer it onto the clothes rack for the holidays – where it stayed until February, when I finally had time for the home stretch.IMG_E4387.JPGBy now, the suspense of this post must be killing you (on the other hand, nobody forced you to come here and read, so you must be here by your own free will, right…?)

Maybe you’d like me to tell a joke in between. Here’s one I love: Why are ghosts such bad liars? Well…? Because you can see right through them! Hahaha, I bet that woke you up!

Where were we? Oh, right, in February I finally started the assembling process, crocheting the squares together with rows of SC. The result looked like this:IMG_5053Pretty early on, I had a bad feeling about the proportions – they seemed a bit off (too little off-white in between the dots), but it was only when I realized the blanket would be way too small like this that I gnashed my teeth and ripped the SC back up, swearing a blue streak, and proceeded to add yet another, final off-white round to _every f…ing one_ of the damn squares.

Looking at the finished blanket, I know it was the right decision, but I won’t lie, it was not pretty. Given that I’m not the tidiest person in the world, I’m sometimes amazed at how anal I can be about this stuff.

Anyway, here’s what it looked like before darning in threads, of which there was an impressive amount, as you can imagine. My kitty loved sitting on it as long as they were there, probably hoping there would be mice popping out of it.IMG_5262I even took a picture of the thread snippets after I was done, the pile was so impressive.IMG_5574.JPGFinally, there was the important question of whether to do a border or not. I couldn’t really make up my mind, so I thought I’d just go ahead and see what it looked like, and then decide whether I liked it or not – by then, I’d become sort of cavalier about ripping things back up. I decided the edging needed to look like the rest of the off-white fabric, so I did rows of Granny clusters, like this:IMG_5380I just added row after row until I found the symmetry pleasing, and declared the blanket done – no, that’s actually not what happened. It was my sweet Princess N., la chefesse du design, who made that decision. Shukran, habibati. Soooo – let’s see two final pics, and then it’s a wrap for this post, and we can all breathe easy 🙂IMG_5629IMG_5630Thank you, dear stitch readers, for reading through this. I really appreciate your attention, as I’ve appreciated each and every one of you who gave me advice and encouraged me to keep going with this project – you know who you are. I love you guys!

Mercimek Çorbasi

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Sorry, sorry, I know I promised a total crochet post on the finished Dotty Blanket, but it seems I needed to get this out of my system first. But it’s coming, and soon. I may actually have a bit more time to write on my hands for a little while, which feels odd because I’ve been so busy over the last 9 months. But I’m (almost) done with the crafts books now, only some more proofing required, yay! The English version of the gorgeous embroidery book is available already, go check it out, it is wonderful, easy to understand and unexpectedly cool :-)!

But back to the subject matter. Living in this city, you can’t really help picking up some Turkish; migrant families have enriched Berlin’s cultural and culinary landscape for decades, and we enjoy the fresh produce in Turkish markets, the energetic salvos of people chatting in their native tongue in the streets, the huge, happy families picnicking at the park, not to mention the many excellent street food vendors that are so hard to pass by without grabbing a quick döner kebab, lahmaçun or fresh, minty bulgur salad, dinner at home be damned.

I first had mercimek çorbasi, the iconic lentil soup (for that’s what it is you’re seeing in that picture) shortly after moving here in 2000. There used to be a very good Turkish restaurant right on Hackescher Markt that supplied all sorts of comfort food to the media and advertising crowd (sorely needed because of our psychopath of a CCO… that dude was the only person who ever made me have stress dreams about work, ’nuff said).

The soup is made of red lentils and veggies, boiled down and pureed. It’s a staple, and as my Istanbul-savvy friend M. tells me, it is also an effective remedy for when you’ve had too much raki in one of the many bars there, if eaten late at night. We usually have it for dinner on miserable, cold days, and my brood insist on a pile of buttered garlic toast on the side for dipping. Usually, you add a dash of cream, but I’ve found that it’s actually better with coconut milk, so you’re getting the vegan version in this write-up today. Here goes:

Mercimek Çorbasi

250 g red lentils

2 shallots, chopped

1 piece of leek (white portion if possible), chopped

3 carrots, chopped

1 parsley root, chopped

2 celery sticks, chopped

Handful of parsley stems

2-3 cm piece of ginger root, chopped

3 TBSP tomato paste

Salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, pinch of sugar

1 can coconut milk

Vegetable broth to taste

Cooking oil

Lemon wedges to serve

Peel and chop the veggies as you see fit and heat a bit of cooking oil in a large saucepan. Put the veggies in and gently stew for a bit, until shallots look translucent but aren’t brown. Add hot water and lentils. No salt though! As you know, we always add salt only _after_ the lentils are tender, for otherwise we might wait forever for that to happen. Same goes for the broth.

Let stew at medium heat, and only after you’ve bitten into a lentil to see whether they’re done, add your spices, broth and tomato paste. Discard the parsley stems. You could leave them in and puree with the rest, but you’ll get a prettier color with no green ingredients in there. Puree the mixture, add more water if necessary, as well as coconut milk, and season to taste. I like the soup to be thick, but not too solid, others prefer a puree-like consistency – ultimately, it’s up to you how much liquid you add. It should be a nourishing bowl of yellowish-orange, slurpy happiness. Squeeze a lemon wedge over the soup before eating, dip in a piece of bread, or your spoon, and enjoy!

As a sidebar only, here’s a couple of things I made after I was done with my daughter’s blanket:IMG_5563.JPGA slouchy knit hipster hat for my birthday girl A. in California, modeled by yours truly, threads not darned yet when the picture was taken. A. had very specific ideas for – well, just about everything concerning that hat! Yarn (acrylic, no wool, ‚cos it’s scratchy), shape (slouchy), color (periwinkle), pattern (stockinette with a rib cuff) … I so hope she’ll be happy with it. I enjoyed wearing it, and it sure wasn’t scratchy but soft and cozy.

Also, check out what I’ve been experimenting with for a couple days now – these are crochet frisbees. You wouldn’t believe they actually fly that well, but they do! I can personally attest to their functionality – we played with the first prototypes over the weekend, and they’re great! 🙂 They sell them (more professionally looking models than mine, but I’m just starting out!) at the coolest toy store I know, Flying Colors on Eisenacher, and I happen to know the lady who makes them, who was good enough to send me some pics. Of course, I’m always on the lookout for new crafts things to make for the school fairs, and this is one very cool idea right there!

So I tinkered with the crocheting in the round and the increases a bit, and in the end I even wrote down how it’s done. In case you’d like to try your hand at it, here’s what I did:

Cool Crochet Frisbees

Using a #5 crochet hook and appropriate yarn, crochet 7 SC into a magic ring and pull tight.

1st round: 2 SC into each stitch, always stitching into the back loop only so the fabric stays nice and flat.

2nd round: SC into every stitch in the round.

Use a marker – even I got confused without it and I’m usually not a great friend of markers at all as I find them cumbersome. Also, start each round with a chain stitch – it helps you find your start of round should you for some reason misplace the marker. It happens!

3rd round: Repeat *1 SC, 2SC into next stitch* all around.

4th round: SC into every stitch in the round.

Repeat 3rd and 4th rounds until you’re happy with the size. It could be that you’ll have to do *2 SC, 2 SC into next stitch* the last couple rounds so the edge doesn’t curl or make waves (you really need it to be solid, even and flat for this one), or, as it happened when I was doing the spiral pattern, do no increases at all in the last few rounds. I’m assuming it depends on how tight your crochet is, and on the type of yarn you use. You’ll get there!

Decrease round: SC into every second stitch all around.

Do two more rounds of SC into every stitch, bind off and darn your threads in carefully. These babies need to be able to withstand both the laws of physics and grabby little people’s hands.

I love that you can actually use these frisbees indoors also, without being too worried about the Ming vase (not that I have any), or giving someone a black eye with it.

Leaving this post today with a few uplifting spring pics – I say we earned this spring, don’t you think???