Do you Have a Food Blog?

That is a question I’m frequently asked when I give in to my urge to snap a picture of my food, or something that looks like it has the potential of becoming something good to eat, or when I send or show my friends something I made. It’s not a coincidence that this is one of the more important categories on this site, here in my little corner of the Internet.

It’s the lovely month of June, and for 2 weeks now, the weather has been seasonally appropriate. This also means two blooming edibles I’d like to talk about today: elder flower and acacia blossoms.

From the former you can make a sweet and fragrant drink, elder flower cordial. I’m not sure I ever said how to do that on here, but I’ll tell you, if you’d like to make it – it’s easy, and delicious. From the other, you make yet another dish from my childhood. In France they go by the fancy name of beignets d’acacie, but we just called them acacia flower fritters.

So, the drink first. If you live in the vicinity of a park, go scavenging, and collect about 20 flowerets. Watch out for critters, as they tend to huddle on the stems. But you’ll be cutting those off anyways in order not to have a bitter aftertaste, so you should be protein free without much of a fuss.

1 kg sugar

1 l water

4 lemons

1 orange

In a large pot, boil down the syrup, stirring until sugar has dissolved. In the meantime, wash and slice up your fruit. Throw the largely stem free blossoms and the fruit in the hot syrup, let cool, cover and walk away for about 3 days.

Find some bottles with well fitting lids. I bought these when we needed them for the school bazaar a few years back. You can wash and reuse them, no problem. Remember to sterilize them right before you pour in your finished syrup.

Stir the concoction every once in a while, tasting the flavor. When you feel happy about the way it tastes, strain through a sieve in which you’ve placed a clean cheesecloth, to filter out unwanted particles. Pour the liquid back into the cooking pot and bring to a rapid boil. Then pour into the sterilized bottles and let cool. Dilute to taste, with either sparkling water or Prosecco. Chin-Chin!

The acacia flower fritters are, as many of my childhood foods, also a memory of my dad. To this day, acacia honey is my favorite, and this may well be the reason why: When I was little, we lived on a quiet cobble stoned street in a provincial city in Romania. Our street led to a tiny square, the Piata Schiller, which was, in those days anyway, flanked by acacia trees. They couldn’t have been very big, because my dad was able to reach the blossoms, which he collected in a basket. At home, he made some sort of pancake batter (no idea how, exactly), dipped the whole stems, blossoms and all, in and pan-fried them. There may have been powdered sugar on top. I never really connected the dots to trying this out myself, but this year, when walking Charlie at the community forest, I suddenly found myself with a few of these blossoms literally in my face, and happened to think of it. I brought a small, sweet smelling bag home with me.

Online investigation led me to beignet recipes, which call for separating eggs and beating egg whites, also lemon zest. Feeling too impatient for that, I just made a rather thick pancake batter of 2 eggs, flour, 1/4 l milk, a pinch of salt, and a few TBSP of sugar. Also, I zested a lemon and added the zest, because why not.

After careful washing and patting dry on paper towels, I heated a generous amount of oil in a frying pan, and then did what my dad had done like 4 decades ago. It was very exciting!

I’ll admit the shape could use work – but I was so happy with the result anyway. I let them rest on a paper towel to soak up the fat, and rather than adding extra sugar, I squeezed some fresh lemon on mine, yum!

Since it seems to be that kind of day today, I started cooking this morning, making my own version of eggplant puree, melitzanosalata in Greece, or as it’s called in Romanian, vinetesalata. This is also something my dad used to make, and it was a complicated process of roasting the whole eggplants on the stovetop, wrapped in aluminum foil, salting them when done, letting them cool, scraping off the charred peel, and chopping them up with this wooden tool, on this wooden board:

The wood is for avoiding oxidation – which would happen when you chop the vegetables with an iron knife, or something. This is a historic tool, no clue how old, a family heirloom, I think. So, vinetesalata is also a dish I never made before – until today, as you can see above. I live in a place where Greek restaurants, Turkish shops and Lebanese eateries are abound, so it never really occurred to me, I suppose. This morning I found an eggplant in the veggie drawer, and was inspired.

I did not roast the whole thing, but instead did this:

Vinete My Way

1 eggplant

1 green onion

1 clove garlic

sprig of fresh dill

salt, pepper, sugar, paprika powder

olive oil

lemon, a dash of white balsamic vinegar

Cubed the eggplant and fried it in olive oil with a bit of garlic, until the pieces got really mushy. Then I pureed them with a tiny bit of fresh green onion, some olive oil, a dash of vinegar, a pinch of sugar and some dill (because I did not have any fresh parsley), diluted with 125 ml yogurt, seasoned the creamy paste with some more lemon juice, salt, pepper and a tiny bit of paprika, added a good slosh of olive oil, and called it good.

The bread happened this afternoon. I’m really looking forward to a nice Balkan dinner tonight :-).

So, there you go, an all food blog post!

However, I do feel I should add this:

Thanks for the kind inquiries! Yes, our boy graduated high school, with decent grades to boot – and now the world is his oyster. There has been quite a bit of partying going on among the class of 2021. We’re very happy, relieved and grateful he could see all the hard work pay off. It’s just a great feeling, accomplishing things, isn’t it?

We’ll talk crafts when I come back. I have been knitting, a little, finished a pair of birthday socks, and started a new pair, nothing too exciting, but pretty anyways. Making socks is gratifying because, to me, it’s quick work – but more about that next time.

Enjoy your weekend, and thank you for reading :-).

A Weekend in Bed

Last week was memorable for a number of reasons. Our son passed his oral exams with flying colors, which is amazing. Also, said son and I got our first shot of Covid vaccine on Friday, which led to a weekend largely spent in bed with the side-effects. It wasn’t pretty. Fever, joint pain, headaches – in my case, lingering, and I’m a little stupid with it, after four days in a row. It’s not alarming enough to suspect thrombosis, so I’ll just have to sit it out. Good thing I submitted my manuscript early last week. And good thing I have you to talk to, since I can’t really concentrate on work.

Since I could do little else but veg out, play with my Sudoku app and drink copious amounts of tea, I decided some knitting in bed was indicated. There were projects to finish! What you see above is the Strawberry Hat, modeled by a somewhat disgruntled Charlie. Don’t worry, we took it off of him right away. No animals were harmed, not at this house! The hat needs a pompom still, but my daughter was so happy to see I was done that she made grabby hands and wore it all Sunday, which ended up being a Pyjamas Day for all of us. Haven’t had any of those for a while now, and once the pain meds kicked in, it wasn’t so bad.

Next, I finished the socks for Cousin A in the states.

Hopefully, they will keep his feet cozy. I like the color flow. It reminds me of the ocean, which I’d dearly love to see again this year. We’ll see if it’s in the cards. Infection rates have gone down, thank goodness, so we may get lucky.

On Sunday, I started the next pair of socks, birthday socks for a young friend, who couldn’t really make up her mind about color and said darkish, maybe navy, maybe grey – so this is what she’s getting:

I’m considering giving her a navy heel and toe in case I get bored with the soft heather grey. A bit like the one on the right, obviously with a different color scheme.

Not to give you the wrong impression – I may be bitching about the headache, but I’m really happy to put up with it as I’m sure it beats the alternative, by miles. I feel relieved, grateful, and so, so fortunate to live in a place where we have access to modern medicine.

Re. food: I was asked for the recipe for a cake I made the weekend before. It was a leftovers cake, mostly, for which I used random ingredients I found in the cupboard at the cottage, that ended up tasting yummy as I threw them together. Check it out:

Chopped Apple Cake with Hazelnut Praline

3 small, ancient apples from the veggie drawer (or 2 regular sized), peeled and chopped

300 g flour (I used spelt flour)

1 p baking powder

200 g butter, softened

150 g sugar

3 eggs

1 P vanilla sugar

Pinch of nutmeg

Pinch of salt

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Handful of hazelnuts, coarsely crushed

100 g yogurt

Handful of store-bought hazelnut praline

First, cream the butter until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until sugar crystals dissolve. Add salt , vanilla and nutmeg, and one egg at a time. Continue beating. Add yogurt, lemon zest and juice, and nuts. Finally, fold in the flour and baking powder.

Pour batter into a baking dish, top with the apples and hazelnut praline, and bake for 45-5o minutes at 170 °C.

The nutmeg was added on a whim, but I have to say it gives the cake a really nice and unexpected aroma.

Back to graduation – wish our teenager luck for tomorrow, which is the day they’ll be told their grades. It might mean he’ll get to sit a re-examination (he has the feeling he could have done better in math, and his GF knows for certain she could have). It might also mean that he’s done with school. Either way, the day holds great significance for this family and my son in particular, and we’ll take all your crossed fingers, please and thank you.

But since restaurants have finally opened for outdoor dining again, we booked a table at our favorite Greek taverna anyway. We have not had dinner at a restaurant in 6 months, I think.

Sorry if this post seems a little frazzled. At this point, I’m not sure what it reads like, as it is a precise reflection of my current state of mind. Thank you for reading it anyway!

Tipsy

As I may have written before, I don’t really drink; I’m not a teetotaler, nor an addict – I just choose not to drink because my body doesn’t handle alcohol very well anymore. There are occasions, though, when I don’t care, and damn the consequences.

The reason why we toasted with a glass of excellent champagne today is that our son just came home from the last oral exam of his high school graduation. Grades will be announced shortly, and he’ll know whether they will call for a re-examination or not, so the fat lady hasn’t sung just yet. However, this one was the last of six, and it’s fair to say the past few weeks have been a doozy.

Those who regularly read this blog are probably aware the boy is dyslexic as well as diagnosed with ADD; school has not been easy for him, nor for all other concerned parties. Some of his teachers – the majority in fact, were kind and supportive, as you would expect from people entrusted with your child’s education. Others, not so much. Since they are little more than a waste of space to me, I won’t bother talking about them.

The wonderful, knowledgeable and dedicated ones have been a treasure to know and to work with. They managed to turn around a miserable, frustrated child who had just about given up to ever be able to learn how to read and write, and make him like school, develop skills and become a confident human being.

Being a parent of a special needs child is challenging, and exhausting, but also really rewarding if things work out. I’m so proud of my son. So proud!

For anyone who has a dyslexic child, I encourage you to empower them, find help, get them educational therapy and teach them strategies suited for their special brains. Do not listen to the knuckleheads who tell you all your child needs is a bit of discipline and tough love – they are wrong, and should not be allowed around any kids, let alone those who are special. So, find them tutoring, find them a studying method that works for them, encourage them to believe in themselves. Ensure that their teachers take into account their being different. They can get there, I promise. Educate yourself, do not be afraid to address their needs, talk to your kids‘ teachers. Ask the therapist to explain to the teachers how they can best support them. Take the time to try and understand how their minds work. They are probably among the smartest people you know. You just need to catch up.

Yes, I am emotional today, but that’s not down to the champagne, I assure you. The past weeks have been nerve-wracking, to say the least. And even if there should be a re-exam in the lad’s future, it’s probably safe to say the worst is over. Today he gets to celebrate, and today he has reason to be proud of himself.

I’ve submitted a book translation this morning, so I guess I get to be little proud, too. Also I managed to get an appointment for my first Covid vaccination for tomorrow, which is really great. Not looking forward to how my body might react to it – I’ve heard this and that, and some people are out for the count for a few days. I’m making a pot of chicken soup in case I should feel sick. It’s always a treat, in sickness and in health ;-).

My daughter’s strawberry hat is coming along nicely, and since it is a bit too complex to knit when watching a movie, I’ve been working on my cute little nephew’s custom socks, check it out:

As the calendar tells us, it’s asparagus season, a fact not so much corroborated by a look out the window, necessarily. I swear I can not remember ever having worn this many scarves and coats this late in spring. But since asparagus grows even as early as March, it’s probably not bothered by the chill as much as are we.

Anyway, last weekend, I made a pasta dish with green asparagus and lemon butter, a combination I can highly recommend.

Pasta Primavera My Way

1 bundle green asparagus

3 green onions

1 lemon

handful of basil leaves

50 g butter

Parmesan shavings to taste

100 g linguine per person

First, wash and clean asparagus and green onions, and cut diagonally. Roughly chop basil. Boil pasta. In a non-stick pan, melt the butter. Add salt and a pinch of sugar as well as lemon juice to taste. Throw in the vegetables and sweat for a few minutes – they should be, like your pasta, al dente. Combine all your ingredients in a bowl. If you feel it needs it, you can add a slosh of good quality olive oil. Toss with Parmesan shavings.

If you happen to have a leftover egg as I did, by all means, add that ;-). It’s not necessary for the dish to be great, though.

So, wish me luck with my jab tomorrow, and thank you for reading!

So Fluffy

My history with pancakes starts at IHoP, moves on to Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix, makes a stop at Wince’s house in Silicon Valley, and finally graduates in my own kitchen. What you can see above is my latest batter concoction, which uses unsweetened shredded coconut in addition to flour. I’ve used almond flour before, which was nice too, if expensive.

One thing you have to know about me is that I get motion sickness, on planes, ships, sometimes even in cars. For long flights, I’m always on Dramamine or else I _will_ throw up. This was no different when I first visited the States in the early Nineties. One side-effect of the drug (in addition to feeling ZONKED!) is that I need lots and lots of food after I land, or else. So, having touched down in Boston, IHoP seemed like an adequate place to take care of that. Needless to say, the fluffy, buttery, syrup-drenched goodness of American pancakes found its way from my plate straight into my heart.

As a Young Adult, I did not cook much. Making pancakes seemed so far out of my league that I bought an honest to God pancake batter mix before flying home, and had anybody I knew who went stateside bring back a package if they could fit it in their luggage, because then you couldn’t find it here in Europe. Today, this seems ridiculous, but my mid twenties self did not think so ;-).

The first time I witnessed someone making pancakes from scratch was at my girl A’s then-boyfriend’s house some ten years later. And you know what? Those were quite good. Not saying better than at a good diner, but I took notes, and have been making pancakes ever since. There is just no decent diner culture where I live, so you need to make do…

My children don’t know any of this. They think my pancakes are the best in the world (which is sweet), and I try and live up to their expectations. Sometimes the plain version my daughter loves gets a bit boring, though, and I add fruit. Classic blueberries, but I’ve also done sliced bananas, sliced apples, raspberries and even tried strawberries but decided those were better as a topping.

I found the addition of shredded coconut was a good one. It adds a bit of texture and chewability that I’d urge you to try. Just substitute parts of the flour, maybe like a third. The ultimate ratio depends on lots of things, like how many eggs, what kind of flour you use, whether you use buttermilk or regular milk – generally, I use 500 ml buttermilk and three eggs for 4 ppl, add a generous slosh of maple syrup and a pinch of salt, whisk, and then add the dry ingredients until I like the texture. Batter should be viscous, gooey but not too thin. Finally, I whisk in 1 P baking powder, and then let the frying begin!

A week has passed, which I spent mostly out at the cottage, working, working, working, and walking, walking, walking, by the lake, in the forest, in the meadows. Home schooling may be challenging, but it certainly has its perks. If you’re lucky enough to be able to work remotely, it can literally be done wherever.

We had a bit of a Covid scare, again – a girl in my daughter’s class got infected, poor thing – and of course everyone was asked to stay home for a while to avoid spreading anything the girl might have given to the other kids, on the one day they were actually at school last week. We were spared, thank goodness, but it was an uncomfortable 48 hours. On a happier note, my husband got his first vaccination, which is awesome. One down.

Wishing you a speedy vaccination – which seems an odd thing to say, and I’m sure it will read even stranger a few years down the line. For now, I’m sure everyone who dropped by can relate.

Have a good week, everybody, and thank you for reading!

Place of Rest

Last weekend was a good one, that held all the things I like about our country cottage. There were long walks, there was baking, there was fresh asparagus because it’s almost May, there were friends – and also, very cool, all the four of us went out together – a thing not to be taken for granted. As my brilliant friend N said: When we were young, we fled from our parents. And our kids choose to spend their vacations and free time with us. What a blessing, right?

Anyway. What also happened was that I was able to put to rest a piece of my late parents‘ headstone. I’ve talked about the strange German regulations regarding cemetery use before. If you don’t feel like re-reading my rant, don’t. I was angry and depressed, lashing out because I felt helpless. Anyway, the gist is that in this country you (usually) rent the tomb from the city for a duration of (usually) 20 years. In some cases, you can renew the lease, in others you can’t. This was the case with my parents‘ grave, their time was up and I was asked to have removed the tomb and remains. I contacted a local stonemason to take care of it, and I asked him if he would cut off a piece of the headstone for me, and have it shipped to Berlin. This happened end of last year, and the stone sat in our shed, neatly wrapped up in bubble wrap, waiting for the right moment to find it a new (and hopefully permanent) resting place in our garden. Last Sunday, my husband and son helped me position it next to our old linden tree in front of the house.

I feel relieved and like I’ve found a closure I wasn’t even really aware I needed. (You’d think burying your parents would grant you that, but hey. We live and learn.) So thank you everyone who commiserated with me, and listened to me complain about the stupid law, also you people who helped me come up with this very good solution for a sad problem.

On to something a little less dark. I said I baked over the weekend, and despite this being a stolen recipe, I feel I should share it. The original was this one, and I was very happy to have found it when I was browsing. My version looked less perfect than the blogger’s, and I think I also know why. Cooling the dough balls dipped in powdered sugar _again_ before baking is key (you need space for 2 baking sheets in your fridge for that), as the blogger points out – unfortunately without specifying how long exactly. Next time I make them I’ll go with an hour and not 30 minutes. But they were very good, despite the less than perfect optics. The kids wolfed down the last four today :-).

If you don’t read German, no problem – just google Lemon Crinkle Cookies, and you’ll find lots of inspiration. It seems to be a popular variety. I can guess why!

And in case you’re too lazy to do either? Here’s what you do:

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

300 g flour (I used spelt)

1/2 TSP salt

1 TSP baking powder

peel of 1 lemon

115 g butter (not chilled but room temperature)

150 g sugar (I used less, about 120 g, but added 1 p vanilla sugar)

juice of 1 lemon

2 eggs

powdered sugar

First, beat butter, sugar and lemon peel until fluffy. Beat in 1 egg at a time, then add lemon juice. Then flour, salt and baking powder. The dough should be smooth and sticky. Chill for at least 45 minutes. It should be firm enough to roll little balls between your palms. Dip the balls into powdered sugar and set on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. It should yield two sheets of cookie dough balls. Find room for those in your refrigerator, walk away and do something else. I’m serious. The cookies‘ looks will benefit from a thorough chilling.

Then preheat the oven to 175 °C, and bake for 15-20 minutes. Enjoy with a cup of tea, glass of milk, or espresso – these are good with any.

In crafts news, I ripped the crochet poncho up yet again, because I had messed it up in one place, and it didn’t really even out as I had hoped; to the contrary, the irregularity became more obvious as I went. So with a big sigh I frogged like twenty-five rows, again. I was a bit angry with myself and wished (not for the first time) to be able to follow a damn pattern like a normal person.

My friend A. whom I complained to said: But then you wouldn’t be you! She seems to think creative potential and following a pattern are mutually exclusive. Not sure if that’s true – what do you think?

Anyway, I doggedly started again, adding some rounds over the weekend, and will continue to pay careful attention as I go now. This was Sunday morning, and to me it does not get much better than this, crochet in bed, tea at my elbow, and my two li’l dudes sleeping at my feet while the sunshine streams through the window.

Have a productive week, everybody!

A Happy Easter

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

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

Lemony Bunny Cookies

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

1 egg yolk

grated peel of 1 large lemon or more to taste

pinch of salt

1 p vanilla sugar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Work and No Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snowed Under

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light, please!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December Already!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornbread Stuffing

1,5 cups cornmeal

1 cup flour

1 TSP baking soda

1 TSP salt

2 TSP sugar

1,5 cups buttermilk

1 large egg

4 TBSP vegetable oil

1 onion (or 2 shallots), diced

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

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

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

On the day of cooking, dice:

2 celery sticks

2 onions or 3 shallots

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

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

Prepare about 300 ml vegetable broth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.