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.

Sweet Nothings

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Look, this was my Sunday. It wasn’t raining, and warm enough to sit outside with NO WORK and my knitting and NO WORK. I had stumbled across this yarn

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at the shop across the supermarket when I went for a beer and microwave popcorn run before the Austrians valiantly stood up to larger-than-life Cristiano Ronaldo during the European Championship.

I saw that yarn, couldn’t resist, and suddenly I couldn’t wait to get started on my Little Summer Sweater. It’s going to be a bright, summery addition to anything white or blue, my favorite colors this season. It seems a bit over the top to start on a sweater as an interim project, but sometimes it’s just fine to be silly. I’m being so responsible what with my community service school work, not only keeping deadlines but actually being faster than my clients asked me to … such fast, very translator, as some people who are fond of Doge speak, would put it, right J?

I’m about to wrap up an emotionally draining book translation, the second volume of the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a former London midwife of the 1950s, called ‚Shadows of the Workhouse‘. It’s not a book for the faint-hearted, even though it has hilarious moments and enough Cockney to last you a lifetime. I learned a lot about late 19th and early 20th century England, and not the stuff we can see on Downton Abbey. The trenches in WW I, the Blitz in London in WW II, the _workhouses_, Jesus Christ, I didn’t even know such places even existed. I can recommend the book, but it’s not a happy vacation book, that much is certain, and a lot more depressing than the BBC TV show. I’ll be glad to finish work on it.

I was at the yarn shop because I needed longer circular knitting needles for this baby:
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That shawl sure is going to be big. It’s begun to bunch up a bit in the middle, and I need that cable to be freaking longer. So I ordered those, and found the yummy Pink Yarn while I was there.

Speaking of delicious things, how do you people feel about macarons? Had them? Loved them? Disliked them? Found them tacky? I have to confess to a great weakness for them. As you may have read, I was in a different family place altogether while the young couple got married by the Rockies early this month. I was way too late to pick anything from their Wish List, and I felt so bad about that. So I thought it might be a nice touch to present them with a box of this indulgence, and I found a manufacturer in Colorado and ordered these, a few more, obviously, than you can see in the picture.

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Hope they’ll enjoy them as I know I would – UPS tells me they’re sitting on their porch now waiting for them to come home. I sure hope it isn’t as hot in Longmont today as it is here!

For, guess what, it’s actually finally summer. To be honest, it’s way hotter than I like, 36 degrees Celsius, Jeez. I’m staying in the shade, thank you very much – or here if I possibly can:

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And I want to make ice cream this weekend, lovely, seasonal, cream-and-sugar infused strawberry ice cream. Wonder how that works? All you need is an ice cream maker or food processor, flavorful strawberries, cream, sugar and vanilla, and go for it!

Strawberry Ice Cream

500 g fruit, shucked and chopped

250 g sugar

500 g cream

5 egg yolks

1 lemon, juiced

1 pck vanilla sugar

After pureeing fruit with half of sugar and lemon juice, set aside. Make a custard of cream, sugar and vanilla by heating cream, stirring in sugar and folding in yolks one by one over moderate heat until the mixture thickens. Set aside to cool. After cooling, fold in fruit puree and season to taste: More sugar? Do it. Don’t be shy. Bit of lemon juice? Go for it. Maybe some jam to enhance the flavor? Absolutely.

Now bring out of the freezer your ice cream making bowl (if you don’t have one of those, you’ll have to use a plastic container, pour in your strawberry custard mixture, close the lid and freeze. Take the box out every hour or so and work it over with intent in the food processor or a blender. You’ll end up with slightly shardy ice cream if you skip that, and you want that creamy, silky texture if you can get it, right?).

Assuming you have an ice cream maker, pour your custard in the frozen ice cream bowl and set to churn for as long as it takes for the mixture to freeze. Then stick in the freezer for a few more hours anyway, and then, by all means: Enjoy your ice cream :-).

 

A Wedding, A Funeral & A Drink

IMG_0161Dear C. and J.,

A. forwarded a few stunning pictures of your wedding day. What an incredible backdrop you chose, how beautiful you looked, and how radiant and happy you seem :-)! Congratulations, and our best wishes for a happy future together.
Getting married is a commitment not everyone your age would be willing to make, and I salute you for being so determined to make things work. I know enough of your story to be aware that things weren’t always easy – in fact, to impart a bit of old age wisdom, nor will they continue to be. Life has a way of surprising us with stuff we never considered before, and you can’t really be sure of anything, not even if you tie the knot. But you decided to be in this together, and I find that admirable, romantic and special. I’ll be pulling for you.

J

As sad as I was to not be able to fly out, in the end it was probably a good thing that I had declined the invitation. I think I needed to be here instead:
IMG_0117It’s the final resting place of another loving couple whose love, in their belief, spanned centuries, lifetimes, eternity even.

As for us who continue our lives here and now, we decided it would be a good thing to circle the wagons a bit, and try not to be as dysfunctional as the scattered-to-the-four-winds family had been over the last 30 years. There’s only a handful of us left of the formerly quite large gene pool, and we all feel we need to make more of an effort to stay connected. This post is just one attempt in that direction.

After the small, brief and touching ceremony (I never knew how moving a Chris de Burgh song could be: we listened to ‚Read My Name‘ at the gravesite, at my late sister in law’s request, and it was one serious tear jerker!), we hung out together for the rest of the day. When we parted ways at night, I felt we had done the best we could with a sad occasion. There were tears, but there was also laughter. There was good Italian food, stories were told, plans were made, and there was some very good ice-cream, too. My kids were well behaved, empathetic and sweet – I think they did a fantastic job cheering everybody up when things got too sad. I was glad I had taken them, they’re an awesome duo, those two, and I feel privileged to raise them.

As you people may know, I’m never really without my little crafts bag, and even the burial was no exception. I didn’t knit at the grave – I’m not all that Harold & Maude. But I did knit a bit at the restaurant, and I’m proud to announce that, by now, I’ve made quite a dent into my first ball of Shetland Lace yarn over the last couple of weeks. I’m well into my Navy Blue Shawl now, check it out: IMG_0179

Here’s what it looks like against the light – isn’t it pretty?IMG_0180

Most of the yarn work I do is not for me, and doing something this elaborate and elegant for myself seems a bit naughty at times. As everybody who has done this type of knitting before will know – this type of project needs commitment, and it takes time – and I’m enjoying every stitch ;-)). Also, I’m practicing for an awesome wedding gift …

And that’s basically what I was going to say here today. Signing off with a picture of one of my favorite early summer pastimes: Making elderflower syrup. Have you ever had it? It’s a wonderfully fragrant, summery and sweet addition to soda water. If you do it right, it actually manages to catch the elderflowers‘ scent and taste. I love it, and it’s easy to make. Would you like to learn?   Holunder2 (1).jpg

Elderflower Syrup

1 kg sugar

1 l water

2 organic lemons (or more to taste), sliced

approx. 30 elderflowers (see picture above)

1 TSP powdered citric acid

Elderflowers are in bloom _NOW_. You need to be quick, and forage in the park, or by a roadside, or wherever you can find a nicely blossoming elder bush. Snip the blossoms off with scissors and carefully place them in a basket or bag.

First, check for critters – it’s not only us humans who are fond of that taste, it seems, and I flicked some 10 or so june bugs out of my stash as I was prepping the flowers for making the syrup. Also, while you’re at it, remove as much as possible of the green stems. They can make the syrup bitter.

Boil water and add sugar. Stir until dissolved. Add slices of lemon, citric acid and elderflowers. Cover and let steep for 1 or 2 days.

Now you need a very clean cheesecloth or another piece of thin, cottony fabric. Place the cloth in a large sieve or colander and pour the liquid through. Repeat twice, until you’re certain to have filtered out any rests of fiber.

Now put the filtered syrup back to boil, use sterilized glass jars or bottles to store, and pour in the syrup, using a funnel. Close tightly and let cool. It will keep fresh for about 1 year. We did the double amount and made 6 bottles of syrup.

Enjoy this lovely summer drink! Some people like to add a splash to their Prosecco – but I find it way more delicious without any alcohol involved. Chin-Chin!

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What Was I Up To Recently?

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Hi yarn & stitches fans, today I feel like writing a really nerdy all arts & crafts centered post. Check out the knit dress I made for my daughter: a little in-between project that happened while I was binge-watching The Night Manager. If you found Tom Hiddleston intriguing as Avengers nemesis Loki at all, you’re definitely in for a treat – he plays the lead in this BBC mini series, and he’s incredible. Also really easy on the eyes! Hugh Laurie (another favorite Englishman) plays his adversary, the biggest baddest arms dealer you can possibly imagine, with neither scruples nor a soul. Very entertaining stuff, and great for a few hours of rows and rows of knit, knit and then knit some more. After so many years in this business, I don’t really have to look anymore when it’s a simple piece like that. Experience has its perks.

I’m not usually one to buy cheap yarn (I’m not above it, or stuck up or anything, but I hate shopping, and you only find special offers like this if you go looking, right?). So this was an impulse purchase in February while doing the weekly grocery run, in a place I don’t usually shop at. February was a bad month in terms of light, vitamin D, color … all that good stuff was severely lacking, and there was this beautifully spring-colored yarn – doesn’t it remind you of strawberries, spring flowers and ice-cream? Well, it appealed to me, because I was so starved for color, and so I snatched it up, and at a bargain price too.

Initially, I was going to make a sweater,

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but then, when I was about halfway through the front piece, my daughter looked over my shoulder, and, the way she will when she sees something she’d really like for herself, asked wistfully: Are you making me a dress…? And that was actually a great idea, because there wasn’t enough yarn for sleeves anyway, and of course you can’t get individual balls of special offer yarn anywhere, not if it’s from a groceries discounter anyway. I browsed for necklines and finally decided on a simple shoulder yoke knit in the round, with the sides becoming short sleeves, the way you’re seeing it on the first pic. I remembered that I was a veteran hat knitter, and just did the thing I do when knitting the top of a hat (knit 2tog every 7 stitches, every 6 stitches in the next but next round, every 5 the next but next … you get the drift. Alternating a round of decreasing and one of just knitting). Finally, as I had half a ball of leftover yarn when casting off, I added a row or two of SC and a pretty TC shell edging because I couldn’t help myself. This you can’t see on the pic I took Sunday morning, as it was added on a whim in the car going back to town after the first proper sunny spring weekend in the country, check out the wildlife. If you can’t see it right away, look for a baby lizard basking right there in the sunshine.

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Before the Motley Dress, I finished the baby blanket I started over Easter – didn’t get around to taking it to the post office before, but I’m proud to say that I’ve just done exactly that today. My friend J from Frankfurt and his lovely wife had a baby girl, and I hope they’re enjoying those first magic weeks together – Little M is their first, and in my memory at least there is no time quite like that wondrous, extraordinary, amazingly life-altering experience of getting acquainted with your new offspring. Sigh. Anyway, here’s the blanket:

I enjoyed handling that soft merino yarn, and found the rhythm of color and waves as calming as ever. As you can see, I added a little edging of this and of that (SC in off-white, clusters of 3 DC in baby blue – no gender-normative color stereotypes in this blanket:-)!, a sort of a Larksfoot-type DC thing with a deep stitch in yellow and off-white, and an absolutely adorable row of light green picots to finish it off). I really hope they’re going to like it even half as much as I did. J is a big name portrait photographer, an artist really, and his wife M is a graphic designer, so who knows what they’re going to make of my gift…? My kitty found it comfortable, that’s for sure. And yes, this was taken before washing it, Jeez!

Other than that, I’ve started work on a new book, and received my free copies of the March effort – and what an effort it was! Brainy stuff, what with math and statistics and soccer and betting … But I’m really pleased with it, and proud to have been a part of the project.

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Wishing Dr. Sumpter and his book great success, especially with the European Championships coming up, which was obviously why it was such a rush in the first place. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, by all means go find it, it should be all over the stores now.

And since we all like to eat, how about a little springtime risotto recipe? Nothing special, but as seasonal and wholesome as they come:

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Green Asparagus Risotto

For 4 helpings, you will need:

2 bundles of fresh green asparagus, ends chopped off and thrown in the broth for more flavor, the rest cut in bite-size pieces

2 shallots, peeled & finely chopped

500 g Arborio rice

1 l very good veg broth (I use Cenovis clear vegetable broth)

1 glass of white wine or Prosecco

Best possible quality olive oil

20-30 g butter

Salt, Pepper

1/2 bunch fresh basil, cut into fine strips

Zest of 1/2 lemon

2 handfuls grated Parmesan cheese

You know the risotto drill, don’t you? Do not leave its side, keep stirring, and keep it nice and moist. If you’re new to this iconic Italian dish, please know you’ll definitely mess it up if you think of it as only a pot of rice, because it is so much more, and also kind of capricious.

Make your broth in advance, chop your shallots and basil and open the wine. Grate cheese.

Then start with heating a generous few spoonfuls of olive oil in a large pan or pot. Add rice and chopped shallots, turn down heat and begin stirring. Do not let the onions brown, it’ll ruin your whole effort. If rice and shallots start looking transparent, pour the white wine. Keep stirring until the liquid is as good as soaked up. Then, start adding broth ladle by individual ladle. Stir until liquid is gone, then add more. After approx. 30 minutes, the rice should be al dente. If you’re like me and like your risotto a bit mushier, keep going until it’s soft. Turn off heat, add grated cheese, butter and basil leaves. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes.

Now, you heat another dash of olive oil in a Teflon-coated pan. Add asparagus and lemon zest. Salt sparingly, add a pinch of sugar if you like, cover the pan and stew until tender. Check your seasoning. Add freshly grated black pepper.

Serve each plate with a generous topping of asparagus, and enjoy while it’s in season:-).

And, apropos of nothing, I found this awesome William Carlos Williams quote just the other day – seems too good not to share. It’s right there on my desk pad, inspiring me every day:
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