Lunch, Anyone?

I’ve written about that vicious cycle before (so much work – imminent starvation – translating cookbook); I swear I’ve gained half of my excess weight because of my specializing in that particular genre. Doesn’t bode well for the future, does it???

Trepidation of impending obesity aside, here’s what I whipped up today after wandering into the kitchen in search of food. For lack of a better term (for it took all of 20 minutes to make, and stews, in my mind, usually take hours and hours of, um, stewing) I’m calling it

No-Fuss Chickpea and Tomato Stew

IMG_2736As you can see, I topped it with Feta cheese and some fresh basil. I thought it looked very pretty, and it was also very good. Here’s how I made it.

1 shallot, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 TB olive oil

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 can chickpeas

Salt & pepper to taste

Pinch of sugar

1 handful fresh basil and oregano, chopped

Gently sauté the vegetables and herbs until the shallots are translucent but not brown, add tomatoes and season the sauce to your liking. Let stew for a few minutes, then add the drained chickpeas and let them heat in the hot sauce for a bit. Chop or crumble your Feta cheese, pour stew in a bowl, top with crumbled or cubed cheese and a bit of fresh basil (mainly for the looks, sauce is yummy just as it is), grab a spoon and eat :-). Quick & easy, as lunch should be, in my opinion.

Dropping out of Blogland again for now with a quick wave and a few pics of last week’s ninja crocheting – I made my first (and probably last, you’ll know why when you see it!) amigurumi for my sweet niece M.’s birthday, as well as a colorful mandala as a bright little personal addition to the white peonies I gave to my wonderful friend M. for her birthday.

It has to be noted, that while I managed the mandala by myself, the unicorn was only finished on schedule because my rock star of a son took care of the finishing and assembling. That boy can sew – soooo much better than I, and unlike me, he’s patient enough to do it, bless him.

Have a great week, everyone :-).

A Domestic Post

I love our apartment. It’s spacious, with large windows and just the right mix of slightly shabby bohemian turn of last century chic and modern amenities. The children get their own rooms, we can each be by ourselves whenever we choose to be, and there’s still enough room to converge for a meal, a movie or a game. But despite all that space, my favorite few square meters over the few precious months of warm weather we get in this climate are our two (!) balconies. One faces East and the other West, so we get both morning and afternoon sun.

IMG_2599The above is the kitchen balcony we share with our neighbors next door. They rarely take advantage of it, because they’re not home a lot, but I always use it for growing herbs. As of last summer, I’ve been proud owner of this fabulous urban gardening contraption, but it’s only recently that I’ve actually begun using it in its designated capacity. It’s a euro-pallet we found in the street, and my son took it home, painted it, lined it with plastic foil and made me this planter for my herb plants for my birthday last year. I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Last week I made a quiche from a random assortment of bits and pieces found in my vegetable drawer (leeks, zucchini, fennel, carrots and a leftover boiled potato), pimped with an unusual combination of herbs I had at my fingertips thanks to that planter (tarragon, mint and thyme – in bloom). Because I’m still trying to substitute as much wheat as I can, I used 2/3rds rye flour for the crust, which added a nice nutty flavor. I topped it with a few slices of goat cheese and thyme flowers …

IMG_2593IMG_2602… and look how pretty it turned out. It was very good, too.

I will tell you how I made this, but be warned: it’s not a lightweight, and that’s just how it is. Shortcrust needs butter (or in some recipes that are not mine, even lard), so if you’re counting calories, you’d better count in some time on the treadmill too ;-).

Veggie Quiche on a Rye Crust

The crust is pretty straightforward – flour, cold butter, 2 yolks, some salt. Some ice water if needed. Quickly make a smooth dough, chill for 1 hour, roll out and bake. Let cool for a bit. Then add the sauteed veggies, pour on the eggs-and-cream mix, and bake until puffed up and lightly browned.

You will need

200 g rye flour

100 g wheat flour

1/2-1 TSP salt

150 g chilled butter (sorry!)

2 egg yolks

2 TBSP ice water if needed to make dough smoother

Quickly knead the ingredients to make a firm, smooth dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

In the meantime, get out a large skillet and sauté in olive oil:

1 leek, the white portion, cut into 1/2 cm rings

3 green onions, cut into rings

2 carrots, cut into thin slices

1/2 bulb of fennel, chopped

1 small zucchini, chopped

1 leftover boiled potato (but only because I had it, the quiche certainly doesn’t need any additional carbs!)

1 TSP thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

1 TSP fresh tarragon, chopped

A few careful leaves of mint to taste, chopped

(The above is what I used. You can, depending on the season, on what looks good that day and your personal preference, use any vegetable and/or herb that strikes your fancy – bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, chard, cabbage, or I suppose even kale, asparagus, beans, green peas, onions, eggplant, okra, squash, mushrooms and seeded and juiced tomatoes …)

Cut up the veggies and cook them with the herbs at medium heat for a few minutes. Season to taste, then let cool in the skillet until you’re ready to fill your quiche.

After 1 hour in the refrigerator, take out the dough and with a rolling pin, quickly roll out a 3-4 mm thick crust. Butter a baking dish and dust with flour. Line it with the dough evenly. You’ll probably have to do some patchworking here and there, because the dough might tear as you transfer it to the baking dish, but don’t worry, it’s not going to show after you bake the crust. Next, pierce the crust with a fork every few centimeters, preheat the oven to 160 °C and bake until the dough sets – 20 minutes should be enough. Let cool for a while.

For the topping, you will need

4 eggs

200 ml whipping cream

Salt and pepper

1 goat cheese log, cut into 5 mm thick slices

Fresh thyme flowers, one for each slice of cheese

Now beat 4 eggs into 200 ml whipping cream and add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the vegetables to the crust and spread evenly. Place as many slices of cheese as you like on the vegetables and top each slice with a thyme flower. Pour the egg mixture in the pan and bake for about 30 minutes at 150 °C, until the surface puffs and browns lightly. Serve with a large bowl of salad so you have a chance to have some non-fattening food with that indulgence :-).

We had a week off from school, two days of which were spent on the Autobahn No. 9. Car travel is always hell for my back, but good for crafts projects when I’m not driving. Here’s what happened on that front:

Originally, this was planned as an addition to my ‚give that couch some color‘ quest, but then my daughter pointed out how very well the color scheme matched that of her room, so … I’ll have to come up with another design for the couch, another time.

Right now, I’m grappling with my first amigurumi crochet project – very exciting, and so much more counting stitches than I’m usually comfortable with, but it’s for a good cause, so I’ll just have to cope ;-)). My sweet niece M.’s birthday is coming up, and I’m making her a unicorn, check it out:

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To come full circle with the domestic topics (notice how I didn’t mention work even once 😉 ?) let’s have a look at the first green peas my husband grew in his vegetable patch, proudly presented by our own little Sweet pea:

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Signing off today with a piece of interior decoration I saw in my mother in law’s guest bathroom:

IMG_2535For those who don’t know any German, it says: Sometimes it’s just better to blame others. It made me laugh out loud, because it’s so to the point for everyone who was, like me, brought up to be a ‚Good Girl‘. Not sure how well that worked out, but I do know that I’m still working on ditching some of that early childhood imprinting :-).

Have a great month of June, everyone!

Favorite Summer Things

Yesterday, we did something we hadn’t done in years. It used to be one of my favorite pastimes when my daughter was little: a lazy afternoon at the park, and a picnic dinner.

It felt nostalgic to think back to those carefree days with no school, no homework or piano practice and nothing more important to do than watch the toddlers play in the sandbox and change a diaper every once in a while. My daughter’s sweetest cutie-pie of a girl friend’s lovely mom and I were sprawled on the lawn – she as a former dancer way more graceful than I, no doubt, chatting and munching on carrot sticks. It was fabulous.

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The weather was like you can see above, and below you can see our mishmash eats.

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There were hard-boiled eggs, salami sticks, a slab of cheese, a lentils and chard salad, a quickly thrown together pasta salad, some cream cheese and crackers, olives, cherry tomatoes, bread and butter, carrot sticks and a few slightly stale leftover chocolate and almond muffins for the young. Not a bad turnout, and a good way to get rid of leftovers and slightly mismatched foods that had just about outstayed their welcome in the fridge.

We had a nice 2 hours out in the sun, and I soaked up the rays like I rarely can once we’ve passed the 20s and entered the 30s. Usually, over the summer, my place is in the shade, under a hat, in some not too heavy long-sleeve garment. I just love the spring and the fall more than the heat, despite the outdoor swimming that I, illogically, love too.

In other news, I’m happy to report that the Three Weeks Without My Boy are drawing to a close. In fact, we’ll go get him Saturday – a prospect that has me feeling like Christmas came a bit early this year, with some Thanksgiving and a couple birthdays thrown in. As suspected, the world didn’t end while he was gone, and I wasn’t crying myself to sleep every night, nor did I stop enjoying life. It helped that, after a few days of absolute radio silence, we did get the odd What’s App and a few pics even – look, aren’t the goats pretty?

IMG_2409In terms of crafts, I started on yet another cushion – a simple Granny Square gradually getting bigger. I’m using up a few leftover sock yarns from the past few months for this.
IMG_2422The color combo is a bit random, probably due to the fact that I grabbed the first four yarn balls I could find when I rushed out the door late for picking up my daughter, and then challenged myself to make something pretty out of the colors anyway. I’m pleased at how it’s turning out, though. For the back, I’m leaning toward either the baby blue or the mint green, whatever will seem more promising in a few rounds.

And since my friend and picnic partner from yesterday M. was curious about the lentil salad, here’s how I made it:

Spontaneous Lentil Salad

2 handfuls black Beluga lentils, boiled

1 green onion, finely chopped

1 tomato, seeded and cut up in 1,5 x 1,5 cm pieces

1 handful cilantro, chopped

500 g baby chard leaves

Olive oil

White Balsamic vinegar

Pinch of sugar

Salt & pepper to taste

As I was in a rush, all I basically did was throw everything in a salad bowl and add the condiments and spices without much decorum or fussing with the dressing. I suppose everything kind of mixed nicely when I was walking over to the park.

And since I never took a picture of that salad, I’d like to throw in a cake, with pics.

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This is before it went into the oven. The cake is based on a recipe I got from Ms M., the wonderful midwife who helped me ease into motherhood when my son was born 15 years ago.

I hadn’t made this for years, and was reminded of it only recently when I was supposed to bring a cake to a school thing, and had neither time nor energy for a grocery run, but needed to work with what I had. So I took stock and what I found sort of triggered the memory of this buttery, fluffy indulgence topped with almond slivers, sugar and melted butter. (Who watches calories when they’ve recently delivered a baby, right?)

The one I made 2 weeks ago did go a bit easier on the butter, and unlike in the original recipe that doesn’t involve fruit, I topped 2/3rds of the cake with sliced apples. I also substituted most of the wheat flour with coconut flakes, and used Stevia sugar because I was out of the regular kind (it happens!). But it turned out nice anyway ;-), and everyone at the parents‘ meet enjoyed it. That’s why, today, I made it again: because I could, and also because it was Children’s Day.

Here’s how I went about it:

Children’s Day Cake

100 g coconut flakes

100 g sugar

Pinch of salt

Zest of 1,5 lemons

100 g plain yogurt

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 eggs

150 g softened butter

50 g flour, possibly a bit more

1/2 p baking soda

1 p vanilla sugar

A dash of milk if needed

50 g sliced almonds (or coconut slivers)

4 TB sugar

2 large Boskoop or other tartish apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

50 g butter, melted

Cream the softened butter, sugar, salt and vanilla sugar. Add the eggs, yogurt, lemon zest, coconut flakes and flour. Add lemon juice to taste. Let sit for a while so the coconut flakes can absorb some of the moisture; should the batter seem too dry to you, add a bit of milk. If it seems to moist, add more flour.

Just before baking, stir in the baking soda.

Butter a baking sheet and dust with flour. Spread the batter evenly, about 1 cm high. At this point, you can either go all the way and just sprinkle almonds (or coconut slivers) and sugar on the batter, and generously drizzle melted butter on top.

Or you can top the batter with apple slices and just sprinkle a wee bit of sugar and a few drops of melted butter on to caramelize. Bake at 160 °C for about 30 minutes or until a light, golden brown.IMG_2471That’s what it looked like when it came out of the oven…

img_2472.jpg… and that was 20 minutes later, I’m not lying. I’d say the cake turned out pretty good ;-). In fact, I’d recommend you go for the coconut slivers instead of the almonds if you do want to try this recipe, they’re far superior.

In Berlin, we get a week off from school next week – a short break that needs to last us until summer break, so I’ll feed the kids lots of fresh fruit and let them sleep in and relax – although there is some renovating I’d like them to help with at the cottage. Maybe I can bribe them.

Enjoy the early summer, be glad it’s not 40 in the shade yet, and look forward to the first strawberries from the region – I just bought some yesterday and there’s just nothing quite like them :-).

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OK, you asked.

If you’re like me a firm believer in chicken soup for basically any ailment from germs to a broken heart, you tend to have excess meat on your hands once the dregs are slurped up. Sick people (especially the little ones) don’t usually have huge appetites, and all they really want is the broth anyway. As a rule, I’ll be saddled with 1 leftover chicken breast and thigh minimum. There are a number of ways to put that meat to good use. Chicken fricassee (I just don’t love it, there, I’ve said it), enchiladas (yum), chicken-tomato sauce pasta with lots of basil (yum again) … or you make a chicken salad, one of my husband’s all-time favorites. Here’s how I do it:

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Chicken Salad for G.

Leftover boiled (or fried) chicken (1 chicken breast and 1 thigh, for instance), meat boned, skinned and cubed

1 shallot, chopped

1 apple, cubed

1 egg yolk

4-6 TBSP Cooking oil

Dash of olive oil

1 TBSP white Balsamic vinegar

1 TBSP Dijon mustard

Pinch of sugar

Lemon

Salt

Black pepper

125 g plain white yogurt

Watercress

1 TBSP pink peppercorns

Home-made Mayonnaise

Never made mayonnaise from scratch before? Well, it’s really easy if you pay attention to a few little things. I assure you that, once you’ve got the technique down, if you’ll ever look at the Miracle Whip jars at the store again, it will be with well-deserved, snobbish foodie disdain.

When it comes to making your own mayonnaise, there’s a lot to be said for some really anal prep – it’s most annoying when you have to hunt in the back of the fridge for your jar of mustard, cup of yogurt or lemon while your mayonnaise may begin to curdle. I usually start out with setting out all my ingredients on the counter, plus a bowl large enough to hold the salad later on, and my flat wire whisk, the one I also use for stirring sauces. (Which is of course what mayonnaise really is, albeit cold.)

Peel and chop the shallot, cut up the apple and meat, then set aside.

Now for actually making that mayonnaise. Separate the egg and put the yolk in your bowl, saving the egg-white for something else (whether you use it – and another 7 or so – for a supple cheesecake or for making a modest egg-white omelet is entirely up to you!). Add salt, pepper, sugar and mustard. Beat vigorously – the yolk needs to absorb all those ingredients, as well as the oil you’ll be drizzling on it in a minute. Keep beating until you’ve incorporated all the oil. Your mayonnaise should now be pale, yellow and thick – the consistency not unlike the store-bought variety you’re familiar with. Now add vinegar and lemon juice to taste, keeping in mind that you’ll be diluting the mayonnaise later on with yogurt (or cream cheese, should you find it too liquid after all), so it’s OK if the flavor is tangy and intense. Keep stirring, then add the yogurt and pink pepper. Taste frequently but don’t double-dip, you’re dealing with raw egg after all, and don’t want any bacteria in there. Add more salt/pepper/lemon juice/sugar/mustard/vinegar to taste. And, of course, other spices, if you want. Some people like curry powder or chili powder or even smoked paprika in this.

When you’re happy with your mayonnaise, add the chicken meat, chopped shallot, apple and pink pepper. Sometimes you need to add more yogurt at this point, in case you have too many solid ingredients. It’s a matter of taste, really, how much mayo you like in your chicken salad.

Cover your bowl and place it in the fridge. Only add the watercress shortly before serving with some really good bread. This is perfect for sandwiches, as a starter, as a dish for brunch, or as a late-night snack – my husband would probably say that there’s no such thing as a bad time for a good chicken salad.

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There is little else to report from the past few weeks. I was editing the heck out of the latest translation project, a cookbook, and it was a big deal to me (even more so than all my translation projects are anyway), because I was working for a new client, one of the Big Publishing Houses, and of course I want them to be happy and come back with more work. Fingers crossed – I submitted the translation yesterday, and as per usual, I’m feeling a bit brain-dead in the aftermath of such high-level concentration over a longer period. Battling a bladder infection at the same time did _not_ help.

But I did manage to watch a few shows with the 2 dudes, and you know that means I needed something to do with my hands. Here’s what I made:

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Another pair of SUCH PINK socks, this time for the little squirrel burrowing under my duvet on a lazy Saturday morning. And, while waiting at the doctor’s office on Monday, I started on these: IMG_1704.JPG

Yarn was picked by my glitz and glam loving daughter (Lurex!) a while back, for practicing her crochet skills. She did that for a while, too – but doesn’t seem to find it as fulfilling as I do, and the yarn was abandoned soon after the first enthusiasm had worn off. So I grabbed it and let muscle memory do the rest while I was waiting to see the doc. The colors are interesting, and the socks will turn out gorgeous, I think. You can never have too many pairs, living in this climate, that much is certain.

I’m signing off today with a very cool shot of gracefully executed Double-Dabbing by my daughter and her friend S.

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Enjoy the first days of March, and the rays of sunshine peeking through. Spring Is Coming!

A Pure Food Post

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Bircher Muesli. Yum.

4 large apples, peeled and grated

4 TBSP ground almonds

6 TBSP oatmeal

250 g yogurt, plain (or more if you wish)

1 TBSP maple syrup (or more if you wish)

aaaand, as of last December, 1 orange, filleted, and its juice

A delicious, wholesome breakfast food, easy to make, and only using staples we almost always have at home. Therefore it’s OK to decide you absolutely need this spontaneously whenever you feel like eating this rather than other weekend breakfast foods. Have to confess I wouldn’t do this on a school morning. Those extra 10-15 minutes it takes to make go a long way around 6.30 in the morning. But on Saturdays and Sundays, it’s a thing I enjoy doing, for my husband, my teenager, and last but not least myself. Obviously my daughter detests it – mixed, no clearly discernible ingredients … no way José is she going to eat that and like it. Cereal for her, toast and jam, granola if we’re lucky, and fruit on the side please, only no oranges, no khaki fruit, and absolutely no kiwi. I’m hoping it’s a phase, sigh.

But about that famous Swiss concoction. You grate your apples, add the almonds and oatmeal, yogurt and syrup, then you fillet the orange, catching every bit of juice, so use a plate rather than a cutting board when you slice it, add that, fold everything in carefully, let sit for a few minutes, taste, add more of any ingredient you feel it needs. Then get out the bowls and spoons and call in the hungry clan members. That’s how it works around here anyway.

The orange was something I never used to do before my goddaughter J told me about having stayed at this fancy resort once where they soaked the oatmeal for their Bircher Muesli in fresh OJ overnight. That gave me pause because it never would have occurred to me to add orange to that mix. But I was curious enough to try it, and was instantly convinced I never wanted to change that recipe ever again. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! And by all means, enjoy  :-).

Oh, you want another? Hm. Why not eat our way through a whole day while we’re at it? Let’s make some lunch next, assuming I was good and productive for a couple hours in the meantime.

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Sauteed Winter Salad

1 bag baby spinach leaves

1 small head radicchio, sliced

1 handful pine nuts, roasted

400 g cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup Mozzarella cheese (I used the baby sized balls to match the cherry tomatoes, but you could easily use the regular size and cut it up into cubes)

1 clove garlic, sauteed, then crushed in the garlic press later on

Very good olive oil

Dash of dark Balsamic vinegar

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Wee bit of sugar to taste

The way this salad came to be was literally by accident. What happened was that I had been storing all my veggies on my awesome shelf on the kitchen balcony – still proud of this, it was my son’s birthday present for me, yay! img_0183

Sadly, those days with the blooming oleander are so over, which brings me to the reason I sauteed the spinach and radicchio rather than use them fresh and crunchy: all my fresh produce had frozen out there over night, and the spinach in particular looked pitiful. I felt pretty damn stupid when I looked at the stuff as I was preparing dinner – and then it occurred to me the salad might be saved if I just threw it in a hot pan with olive oil, garlic and a wee bit of sugar – and it actually worked out beautifully.We had my mother in law staying with us over the holidays to boot, who hates throwing out food with a passion – so nothing was tossed, no precious food went to waste, grace was saved and nobody was any the wiser. Do I sound smug? Well that’s because I was. Everyone was praising my barely salvaged salad, hehe.

I sauteed the spinach and radicchio, sliced the tomatoes, roasted the pine-nuts, crushed the garlic I had sauteed with the leaves, added a generous amount of decent olive oil, baby mozzarella and a dash of Balsamico, black pepper and a bit of sugar to taste, and there it was. A nice winter salad. Next time, I may add some croutons like you do for a Caesar salad – that would be a whole meal right there. As you can see, recipes are, as so many things in life, a fluid thing.

So, that could have been lunch, with some nice, crusty Italian bread.

Now again, please assume I was busy working on my cookbook assignment in the meantime. The kids will have come home from school by now, making hungry puppy eyes at me. And as it’s so cold and dark outside, and we’re still processing the untimely death of our sweet kitty, we’ve been in dire need of comfort food lately. Which obviously brings me to my version of

Mac and Cheese

500 g macaroni, boiled

4 handfuls of grated cheese (anything with a bit of a stronger flavor will do – Cheddar, Parmigiano, Gruyère, Swiss … whatever you have at home will work just fine for this)

250 ml cream, plus 1 cup of milk

2 eggs

2 shallots, cubed

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

Salt and black pepper

Olive oil for brushing the casserole

Since at our house, this is True Comfort Food, I’m usually on my last leg when preparing this meal. Therefore, I don’t make a fuss with preparing a roux, adding mustard or other condiments – what I do is I boil my pasta, cube my shallots, crush my garlic, grease my casserole, grate my cheese and whisk together eggs, cream, milk, salt and pepper. Drain pasta, add to casserole, add cheese, eggs-cream-milk mix, shallots and garlic and carefully combine. Cover casserole and stick in a 160 °C oven for about 25 minutes. Not much longer, and not much hotter, because I like the pasta to be soft and coated in a cheesy, creamy, yummy substance, but still have a bit of a crust if you know what I mean. In the end, it usually looks like this:
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Please forgive the very slice of life photo – the kids were way too hungry to take a picture before digging in.

There was, as you can see, a cucumber salad on the side. Oh, you want that one too? Come on, you guys know how to make cucumber salad, right? At the risk of being really redundant, here’s

My Kindergarten Cucumber Salad

2 cucumbers, thinly sliced

1 small shallot, very thinly sliced

3 TBSP cooking oil

1-2 TBSP white balsamic vinegar

Sugar, salt, white pepper if you have it, if not, don’t worry about it and use black

2 TBSP chopped dill (this you do need, and not the frozen variety either!)

100 ml plain yogurt

Dash of Worcestershire sauce if you like

I used to make this for the kindergarten kids all the time, who were really into it -hence the slightly nostalgic name.

First, slice your cucumbers. After a couple minutes, press excess water out of the slices by taking them by the handful and squeezing. Great for your hands‘ skin, too, as not many things in a kitchen are, so enjoy that!

Add the shallot and dill, make a salad dressing and combine. Let sit for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to mix.

It truly is the perfect salad for Mac and Cheese, in my book. And what do you know, even my daughter eats it, so it must be really something else!

All these recipes feed 4 or 5, btw, in case you were wondering.

Wow. That was one long, food-y post, wasn’t it?

Crafts will probably be up again next time – for I have not been idle, knitting away some of the grief I guess.

Signing off today with an awesome piece of art by my son who is one lucky kid to actually be taught graffiti in school, look:

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and the sweetest birthday present ever – my daughter made this for her daddy end of December. Gotta love those kids :-).img_0847

I Can Eat Zucchini Too, Dammit

Every year, it’s the same. Summer’s here, and with it an abundance of fruit to choose from (Strawberries! Cherries! Raspberries!) Once the strawberries start to peter out, I’m OK, because we get peaches, grapes, fresh apples and pears, yay! So I’m all set on the fruit front.

I love fruit and vegetables the summer season has to offer, and I enjoy eating salad every day, buying fresh eggplants, new potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes that don’t taste like rain (that’s what my dad used to say, and he was rarely wrong about food) … all good, were it not for the dratted green-peeled, really productive but (to me anyway) bland-tasting vegetable my husband and his garden are forcing on me. Try as I might, I just don’t love them :-/. And for that, we do get a lot of them, sigh. This one was forgotten for 2 weeks, and I will say that it looks kind of impressive. I’ve shied away from cooking it – it just seems too big to be tasty, even those who love Zucchini have said so.

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There was a smaller one right next to it on the plant, and since I was feeling hungry just a half hour ago, charitable, inspired and what not, I decided to give it a chance. As you know, I try to stay away from carbs whenever I can, so pasta was not an option for lunch, and it’s horrible outside so I wasn’t feeling like salad either. So I dug out one wedge of a vegetable I do love (Hokkaido pumpkin) and another I don’t (guesses?) from my vegetable cooler, as well as a shallot, some ginger root and a bit of leftover Feta cheese. I sauteed the cubed stuff in olive oil, and lo and behold, with a bit of sage and black pepper, it didn’t turn out that badly. Actually, it was pretty good. :-). This may be the Hokkaido pumpkin’s doing (I love that in every way you can eat it: soup, risotto topping, stuffed, baked, or – case in point – cubed and fried). But all in all I just had a nice lunch, despite the fact that half of it consisted of a piece of Zucchini. Check it out:

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Feeling proud of myself for getting over myself, I needed to share this with the class. Which reminds me of a really lovely pop song from quite a few years back – smile, and listen to Heather Small:

Proud

Feeling Thankful

img_0726See those two? That’s my gene pool. To say that I’m proud of them wouldn’t be entirely accurate – they’re people, both of them, and being privileged enough to raise them doesn’t mean I have a lot to do with who they are. At least that’s what I believe. It was a mind-boggling, discombobulating, amazing eye-opener when I had my son (Green Eyes on the left), to learn that I was meeting an actual person, albeit little, instead of simply taking care of a baby. The second time around I already knew I’d be in for another incredible new acquaintance, and that’s what I got. Not only does my daughter (Brown Eyed Girl on the right) look different – she’s, in many ways, my son’s exact opposite – and therefore also mine, let’s call a spade a spade. And they’re both wonderful!

So one’s this mellow, friendly hippie-nerdy weirdo who loves crafting, composing music and generally creating things that weren’t there before. The other’s this logical but dramatic, driven, hilarious, totally dependable person who will do anything for a friend, who was a voracious reader even at the tender age of seven, and whose thirst for knowledge is absolutely unquenchable.

You could say that there’s a lot of differences between my kiddos, plus the seven years they’re apart. And yet, they love each other, they enjoy each other’s company, and they (most of the time) embrace their differences – it makes for interesting conversation, inventive play, and fits of the giggles like you wouldn’t believe.

Looking back, all I really did this summer vacation was: Sit back and listen to them, watch them interact, talk to them, make them lasagna once a week, and basically allow a _lot_ of ice-cream.

I managed to read multiple books, host a few absolute sweethearts of girl-friends as well as my beautiful niece M. who is always an inspiration, and generally and thoroughly decompress. There was swimming, sleeping in, baking breads, making jams, oh …. and there was quite a bunch of leisurely but goal-oriented knitting. Not to mention hanging out with my own bestie girl friends, and throwing a _nice_ bash for my birthday.

So that was what my summer was like, and I’m well rested as well as grateful.  That my husband had to work all six weeks was obviously a major source of lament, but we managed to have a good time anyway, and we did get to see him for the weekends at least – there’s a lot to be said for vacationing close to home. No major travel time, being able to bring the cats, great public transport for those of us who needed to work.

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The Pink Sweater turned out nicely, don’t you think? I’m so pleased that I managed to make something without using a pattern! And there was even enough yarn left to make a little cowl for my daughter, check it out, once again following the one and only Margaret Hubert’s instructions, and changing the pattern a wee bit, because that’s what I do.

By now, I’m already deeply immersed in two work projects, one of which is going smoothly: Translation of a witty, gritty, sexy gay romance novel. The other is, for some reason, not going that well, maybe the clients expect too much or maybe I’m failing to see what it is they want from me. Hopefully we’ll get there soon, as I’d rather be focusing on getting a grip on the book’s protagonist’s tone of voice. He’s funny, and sounds a little ‚hood, which is challenging to transport into another language. But I’m having a lot of fun with him and his significant other.

This post would probably not be complete without a recipe, and since I’ve gotten to be such a seasoned bread baker over the summer (it’s because I don’t love the stuff you can buy in the country, plus you never really know what they put in there), here’s what I do to make a nice loaf like this:

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Nice Loaf of Bread

200 g wholegrain flour

300 g white flour

(Basically, use any flour you like! I usually use what I’ve got, doesn’t matter. Obviously they all taste marginally different, but it doesn’t make the slightest bit of a difference in terms of procedure. Go for it, experiment, knock yourself out :-. I promise it’ll be gratifying!) Only last week, I substituted with oatmeal as I had run out of flour and couldn’t be bothered to make a dash for the store, and it actually tasted really great, especially toasted and topped with peanut butter and apple slices :-).

1 P dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

1/2 TSP sugar

1 1/2 TSP salt

Dash of cooking oil, optional

Now contrary to what we’ve all been taught when we first learned how to make yeast dough, I never knead. In fact, I advise against anything more than mixing ingredients together, covering and letting rise for an hour. (Why? It’s because I like my breads to have holes, which are created by the air pockets the yeast will form. If you prefer a thick, solid crumb, you might as well knead all you want. Yeast dough is a really forgiving thing – it’ll probably taste wonderful no matter what you do.)

See that pic below? That’s taken the non-kneading principle to the max – letting the yeast do its thing for 16 hours, I’m not kidding. Then you also need a baking dish with a tight-fitting lid and you need to preheat both the oven and the baking dish to maximum heat for 30 minutes, pour the softish dough in, put back in the really hot oven with the lid on for approx. 45 minutes, then take off the lid and bake for an additional 30 minutes, and you end up with a beauty like the one you see here. (The physics of it, if you’re interested, is that you sort of create an oven within the oven – a very hot, humid baking bubble environment if that makes any sense. I’m sure greater cooks have explained this much more professionally, but maybe you’ll understand my ramblings anyway.) These types of breads are usually a great success at parties.

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But back to the first type of bread. Mix your ingredients until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough on your hands. Depending on the types of flour you use, you may have to adjust the amounts of water and flour a bit. Sprinkle flour on top, cover with a clean cloth and let rise for about an hour.

Then, preheat your oven to 160 °C, brush a square baking dish with oil, scrape the dough in with a spatula and bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Check the temperature, and take out once the crust is browned to your liking.

Enjoy your Baking Adventure :-).

Signing off today with a few of my favorite things about the Summer With Almost No Man.