Away From It All, But Not Quite

IMG_3923As of yesterday, we’re back to homeschooling, I’m 50 odd pages in on my new book translation, and my husband has gone back to working from home after two productive weeks of vacation spent taking care of his garden, and painting our kitchen, bless him. Corona seems very far away, out here in the country. Things are more quiet than usual, we’ve had no visitors, and we think twice about going grocery shopping, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

As I mentioned before, the book I’m translating is about people who’ve stripped their lives down to the bare necessities, living in Caravans, mobile homes, refurbished school buses or Tiny Houses. Of course, while I work, I can’t really help wondering how I’d do if I were to live like that, and questioning what it is I’d need to be happy. Thinking about it made me realize how little that actually is: A roof over my head, food on my table, my family safe around me, some sort of heating. I’d probably want a bit more creature comforts than the average mobile home provides (i.e. my own toilet and a source of hot water), but it seems that even these things are doable if you’re prepared to deal with emptying the black water and grey water tanks every week, which seems a small price to pay for being able to go pee at night in your own space if you need.

I admire these people for their dedication to doing their thing, and I can relate to their distrust of the rat race most of us participate in to pay our bills. Writing jobs can be done from the road, too, so I suppose I could do what I do for money from a mobile home, if it were required. Well. I have two school children, so maybe not any time soon. But maybe one day.

There are all sorts of scenarios for what the world after Corona will look like, and some of them paint a bright picture of humankind coming to their senses and changing their ways into a sustainable way of living. Personally, I don’t believe that will happen, as long as the world leaders are what they are, and don’t even get me started on the US government’s way to deal with the crisis, which seems abysmally ignorant of the most vulnerable people in their society – hopefully people will see that and vote accordingly.

Yesterday night, I watched our chancellor’s press conference in which she implored everybody to hang in there, and carry on the way we have been for the last few weeks. She said to not be fooled by the fact that small businesses have been allowed to open again yesterday, and correctly pointed out that we will only know in two weeks whether the infection rates will spike because of it or not, and that it’s entirely possible things will have to go back to being stricter again in case they do.

A valid reminder, and I’m glad I watched it. It’s easy to forget, out here. I feel privileged and thankful to be able to have my spot in the sun, and my healthy family to enjoy it with.

One thing I’ve noticed is that people seem to cook more, and it’s one of my friends‘ pet peeves at the moment, their running out of ideas of what to make for their brood. And since I _never_ have a shortage of ideas when it comes to food, I thought I’d jot down a few things I’ve made over the last couple weeks, quarantine cooking, if you will.

No. 1 – Wild Garlic Pesto

What you see is what you get – pick a handful or two of wild garlic, add a bunch of basil leaves, pine nuts, Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, salt & pepper to taste, and generously slosh over good olive oil. Puree with a stick blender or in a food processor, and have with: pasta, on a sandwich, with grilled or poached fish, or as a dip with crackers.

IMG_3955No. 2 – Home-made Pizza

As long as you can find yeast (there was none to be had before Easter, until I was pointed towards a bakery by a very helpful sales assistant at the supermarket, and may I say it was very good, fresh yeast they sold there under the counter!), make a fluffy dough with a good few TBSPs of olive oil added. Let rise. Make a decent tomato sauce, put veggies or meat on your pizza, top with mozzarella slices and a sprinkling of Oregano, and you’re done.

No. 3 – Meatballs and Potato Salad Mediterranean Style

My newest meatballs hack is making a paste of onions, mustard, herbs, paprika, salt and pepper, egg(s) and – wait for it – a generous spoonful of Ajvar, which is a smooth paste of roast peppers and garlic popular in the Balkans. THEN add the ground beef and mix well. Make the meatballs and fry in oil. For the potato salad, add chopped celery sticks, green onions and red peppers, as well as chopped parsley to the cubed boiled potatoes and vinaigrette. It’s an an unusual version of the classic potato salad, but very tasty, and good with hot and cold meatballs.

IMG_3883No. 4 – Asian Style Glass Noodles Salad

This was based on a recipe from one of Jamie Oliver’s older books. As far as I remember it contained two central ingredients I didn’t have (prawns and fish sauce), also I did my own version of five spices (probably only had three of them or so – cinnamon, ginger, cumin), but I did have a rest of fresh cilantro, and some roasted peanuts, and it turned out alright! Fried ground beef with spices, added soy sauce, chopped cilantro, 1 chilli pepper and a generous amount of chopped peanuts, squeezed one lemon, added a TSP of maple syrup and some extra olive oil, cooked the vermicelli and mixed it all together. Yum!

IMG_E3856No. 5 – Rhubarb Cake With Very Little Flour

This happened because rhubarb’s in season, yay! Also I wanted to try out a version of cake batter that used ground almonds rather than flour; I had seen Antoni the Cook make almond flour pancakes on Queer Eye, and I was going to try that out. It went well. I separated the eggs and creamed the butter, used light brown sugar and a bit of maple syrup, and put way more of the peeled & chopped rhubarb on top of the cake batter than seemed reasonable. Oh, and I dusted the batter with some cream o‘ wheat before putting the rhubarb on top, to prevent the cake from becoming too soggy, and I sprinkled a generous spoonful of sugar on the rhubarb before the cake went into the oven.

IMG_3897No. 6 – Easter Bun(ny)

Do everything as you would for a big, sweet cinnamon bun, then use a bit of the dough to make ears, and thinly slice a date or two to make the face. Easy! This happened on Easter Sunday, and it made our family and a few neighbors really happy.

No. 7 – Finnish Pannukakku, courtesy of Pen Pal B.

So, this was an experiment, okay? It’s not actually supposed to look like this – check out pics online and you will see it’s usually flat, and while it’s in the oven, the corners inflate and rise spectacularly, but most of the pannukakku (Finnish for pancake, in case that wasn’t obvious) actually stays kind of thin. Which is not what happened when I made it. But it was lovely anyway, warm and sweet and very indulgent – a breakfast for weekends. Find a recipe online, and try it – not sure I’m allowed to share hers here. Basically a thick pancake batter with melted butter. Eat with fruit preserves, maple syrup, or sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

img_0219No. 8 – Crisp Fried Lamb Cubes and Green Beans on Pilaw Rice

A recipe from my gorgeous Turkish cookbook. The thing that makes the meat so special is that you boil it down in soda water before frying it in butter or olive oil. An unconventional cooking method I had not heard of before, and tried out of curiosity, and that turned out to be absolutely delicious. And since lamb, in my opinion, calls for green beans, I always make it with a side of those, and serve it on a bed of pilaw-style white rice. (Add cubed onions, salt and butter while boiling the rice.)

So you can see that a lot of cooking for the brood occurred. On top of the recipes shown and described, there were also many salads: mixed, cucumber salad, Caprese salad; mac’n‘ cheese, several times; we grilled hamburgers and steaks; I made absolutely lovely kohlrabi in a white sauce with fresh dill; also a cauliflower and broccoli casserole, only enjoyed by my husband and myself; roast chicken thighs with vegetables, sweet potato and potato wedges; I tried my hand at home-made fries (which turned out a bit on the soft side, but were nice all the same); pasta and tomato sauce; loaded omelets; I don’t know how many slices of grilled cheese; apple pancakes; regular pancakes; banana pancakes… it’s surprising I got any work done, when I read through that list!

Crafts have taken a back seat, for now. I did start on a granny square blanket for my baby neighbor who is due any day now – I’m trying out a color sequence that dotted the baby blanket I made for my friend M’s little girl earlier this year. Not sure how it’s going to turn out yet:IMG_3982Also, I’ve continued on a pair of color block socks for myself, but that’s about it.

IMG_3981So, that’s what the last two slow weeks of Pandemic Easter Break were like. In between all the cooking and work, I spent every minute I could here:

with these two dudes:

Could have done a lot worse, I feel.

Thank you for checking in, friends, and: stay safe, stay sane, stay healthy!

Carbohydrates

IMG_3363People frequently complain about gaining weight over the holidays, and that makes so much sense, given the general notion of joy equaling rich foods, heavy with butter, sugar and meat – all very customary around Christmas time. It’s also cold and dark in the mornings when we get up, and it’s cold and even darker when we come back home from work or school, so it’s understandable that we resort to comfort foods (few of which, unfortunately, seem to be calorie light-weights) to give morale a much needed boost. But it is unsurprising we feel it later on the scale or at the waistband.

I guess I must be some sort of freak, because it’s not really the holidays but the year’s darkest months, January and February, that get me in trouble. Eating for comfort is one aspect, but my working longer hours because of my lunch breaks spent at the park or community forest now, instead of at my desk, is another. Working late means eating more. Simplest of math.

IMG_2408To me this means carbohydrates. I don’t do well on a protein-heavy diet, such as Atkins and keto, especially not in the winter when I crave something comforting and filling. Over the summer I might be fine eating salad and a piece of meat or fish for dinner. But in the winter, I need to have carbs. Rice, pasta, polenta, potatoes, bread … Any of those will do the job, but to say I can easily resist freshly baked goods would be lying. I’ve gotten better about cake, because anywhere that’s not a hipster organic bakery, this automatically means wheat flour, which I try to avoid. Unfortunately, I know how to bake cakes, too, and I use other types of flour.

It might be a losing battle. My solution for now is restraint, and to have less of the stuff than I would have done when I was young. (Spaghetti Carbonara plus the contents of a bread basket for lunch?! Yup, that was me, and I was still skinny. Youth metabolism, sigh.)

So, if you have any solutions for a methadone program for carbs addiction, please let me know, but don’t come at me with eat more meat, that just won’t cut it for me. Legumes are not a solution for every day, but I like them, I can live with eating more of them, and I am.

So much about the food conundrum, which I’m so very well aware is a luxury first-world problem. We are very lucky to be able to be this picky, also neurotic about our weight, and I know that.

Moving on to crafts, which keep my hands busy, my mind at peace, and if all goes well, give me (and you, I guess) something pretty to look at when I’m done.

This yarn was an impulse purchase at a cheap store, where the motley colors and fluffy softness strongly suggested to be used for making a new couch cushion, which I hadn’t done in a long, long time. I tried out a few stitches and made my daughter choose, who decided for this:

Knit two, purl two, repeat. The end. That cushion took only a couple of hours to make, but I had to take breaks in between. My fingers get tired really fast when I’m forced to work with anything thicker than a 3 or 4 needle, and this was probably a 7 or 7,5. Charlie promised to leave the cushion alone, and so far he has, despite the suspicious demeanor displayed in the pics.

I’m also steadily knitting new color block socks on the side, whenever I’m just sitting and doing nothing else, playing with colors as I go. IMG_3366The blue ones will be for my daughter, and the yellow ones I will probably wear myself. Few people really like yellow, even though it’s such a happy color. Not easy to wear when you’re light-skinned, but I suppose on my feet it will be just fine.

And now my dog feels I really need to stop writing and take him out to pee:

IMG_3367Gotta run, thank you for reading, lovely people, bye :-).

The Ultimate Sandwich of the Season

d14a8ad5-ceae-483a-b0c3-53d1be19bc98 2This was me yesterday after finding this big ass porcini mushroom… which, as it turned out, was way too old, and inedible to anybody but the maggots that were already feasting on it. There may be people who welcome that extra protein and just eat it anyway, and more power to them – my husband always says we’ll be eating bugs instead of chicken sooner or later. I’m not cut out to hack that. But it was fun to discover that Old Man Mushroom all the same.

So, mushroom picking is one of the things I love to do most in the fall, as I probably said before, and porcini mushrooms are my absolute favorite. They have a subtle, bacon-y flavor that goes perfectly with just about any carbohydrate imaginable: rice, pasta, potatoes, polenta, bread … and of course many people enjoy porcini as a side with meat roasts. I don’t like to add too many ingredients to mine, aside from a little butter and/or olive oil, salt and pepper.

After finding no less than 7 of them when walking the pup this morning, I made this:

First, I sauteed the thinly sliced baby porcini mushroom you see in the middle of my cutting board in a bit of olive oil and butter, with a few slivers of garlic and a bit of salt. Then I threw a slice of bread in the frying pan so it could soak up the juices, arranged the mushrooms on it once cooked, added a handful of arugula and called it lunch. I’m not sure I ever had a better sandwich.

As you may have guessed, I’m out at the cottage, planning to spend 2 lazy weeks doing little else than be outdoors as much as possible, feed the woodburner, read, do my fancy ZEIT crosswords (for US readers, this is the German equivalent of the NY Times crosswords, style- and challenge-wise), do crafts, cook for my kiddos and sleep in as long as Charlie will let me. He is not an early riser (he will get up if need be, but he’s just as happy to dog-nap until a very civilized 9 a.m.). Sounds like a plan, right? I feel I deserve it, having swapped my summer vacation for the translation of a thick cookbook. I’m going to enjoy the heck out of the next 2 weeks :-). The second week, we’ll be three, then a lot, because my daughter has asked her sweet girl friends out here for a birthday slumber party. She’ll be 11, and it’s nothing but bizarre to me. Wasn’t she a baby just yesterday?

IMG_2664.JPGMoving on to crafts :-).IMG_1762The above is what became of the rainbow pattern baby blanket. I’m still debating whether to do a picot border – but I could easily imagine just leaving the slim border of SC stitches all round. Opinions on this matter would be very welcome! I brought what feels like ALL the other yarn, so I’ll be tinkering and that is an awesome way to spend my free time.

And now, nature calls. Going to take the doggo for a long sundown walk. Have a lovely week, everybody, and take advantage of the sunshine as long as we get it!

Harvest Crumble

IMG_1617Much as I would have liked to go apple picking last weekend, my friends‘ trees are small, and there was not enough fruit to harvest for her to need our help. But there was some, and she gave me a basket of freshly picked apples, I made a sweet yeast dough, my husband peeled and sliced, and in the afternoon, we all had cake together in her sun-dappled garden. And since we had miscalculated how much fruit we were going to need for the cake, I also made a few jars of apple sauce.

 

Chunky Apple Sauce

Apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices or chunks

Brown sugar (or any other kind) to taste

Cinnamon to taste

Squeeze of lemon to taste

A few TBSP water if required

In a non-stick cooking pot, put apples to the boil. After a few minutes, they’ll begin to fall apart. Stir every now and then, you don’t want them to stick to the bottom. Add a little water if the fruit don’t exude enough moisture. When the apples are cooked, add sugar and cinnamon to taste. In our case, we did need quite a bit of sugar, because the apples were _very_ tart – perfect for a cake, but for the apple sauce, extra sweetness was definitely needed. Add a few drops of lemon if you wish. And that is it – healthy, easy to make apple sauce that beats the flavor of the store-bought variety by miles.

Speaking of freshly picked produce, now for the exact opposite! Looking at the content of my veg drawer with a keen eye this morning, I found all sorts of sad-looking, orphaned seasonal fruit: three wrinkly apricots, one ancient wild peach and a mushy regular peach, as well as yellow and regular plum-colored plums that nobody loved because they were NOT sweet. This morning, I felt like giving the lot of them a happy ending in form of a decent, autumnal crumble. Nobody’s going to care what the fruit looked like before, and the tartness will easily be balanced with a bit of sugary, buttery, crumble topping. After arranging the fruit slices in a pleasing manner, I sprinkled some brown sugar on top, and then made the crumble:

Crunchy Crumble Topping

100 g butter

50 g brown sugar (stevia or other sweetener if you’re skipping sugar, J.)

50 g ground almonds

50 g spelt flour

Pinch of salt

1 yolk

Zest of 1/2 lemon

Vanilla powder to taste

Quickly combine the ingredients with your hands to a consistency of large crumbs, just as you see above. Top the fruit with the crumbs. Refrigerate until needed, or bake right away if you’re hungry. My brood’s prob. going to break out the ice cream or ask that I make whipped cream to go with this, but that is, as many things in life, a matter of taste. Which brings me to a question I have for you today.

Yesterday night I worked some more on the baby blanket I wrote about in my last post. I’m pleased with how it’s coming along, even if I find making irregular-width stripes vexing, as I do like my things in EVEN PROPORTIONS, thank you very much … in this case, it’s how it needs to be though, in order to become a cute baby blanket. Or so I thought.

Because my sweet son, wandering in after his shower to say goodnight, stopped in his tracks and said: „Oh cool, you’re knitting a Pride flag!“ :-))) Wonder what the fashion-conscious queer crowd would make of a hand-knit Pride flag ;-))! And while at first I found this hilarious, of course now I’m beginning to question my design, because while I wouldn’t have minded my babies having a pretty thing that is also a political statement, I find I have no idea how the mom-to-be feels about that kind of thing. What do you guys think? Is it not appropriate for a newborn? Do I need to switch the color sequence around a bit…? Please advise!

And have a happy Thursday, everybody – gay, straight, or any other acronym.

Slow Day, Slow Food

IMG_E1306I really thought I knew all the important stuff about home-made focaccia: make a fluffy yeast dough, add tons of olive oil, bake, the end – this is what I would do whenever there was an urgent demand for it. Filling a focaccia had never occurred to me before I recently learned about Gorgonzola-filled focaccia (basically you roll out two layers of dough, smear the Gorgonzola in between, seal the edges and bake, much as you would a calzone). This apparently kicked open some doors in my creative mind, and since I’m kind of smitten with baking stuff in the shape you see in the picture, this is what happened in my kitchen yesterday.

Fabulous Focaccia Buns

I was working, as I often am, with leftovers: there was some lemon-and-basil pesto I had made the week before, I had sun-dried tomatoes and some parmigiano already grated.

So basically I rolled out the dough, spread the pesto on it really thinly, strewed the cut up tomatoes and the grated cheese on top, and cut it in three about 12 cm wide, long strips. These I rolled up lengthwise into three ’sausages‘, then cut them in 3 cm long sections, which I set in a round baking dish lined with baking paper. After generously sloshing on some more olive oil, I put it in the preheated oven at 160 °C.

Btw, to make the dough, I used fresh yeast (1/2 cube), approximately 500 g spelt flour, as well as 1 cup of warm water, 2/3 cup of olive oil, 1 1/2 TBSP sea salt and 1 TBSP sugar.

The lemony pesto was made with very little garlic (no more than 1/2 clove), three 3 cm long pieces of lemon peel, as well as the usual mix of basil, parmigiano, pine nuts, salt, pepper and olive oil. I think I also added a bit of arugula and fresh parsley, a handful of each. It was a nice pesto :-).

The little morsels you see up there went away like the proverbial hotcakes at my Fair Planning Committee meeting yesterday night. There were three pregnant ladies present, who happily munched on the small buns ;-). They made for an excellent snack, and I will experiment with other fillings in the future.

We’re on the (hopefully) last leg of the current heatwave (temperature’s supposed to even out into a reasonable 20 odd °C next week), and I’m waiting for response on a test translation I submitted this week. I’m probably not the cheapest option they have (rarely am, with my not exactly exotic language pair that is offered by many, many colleagues around the world, some of whom live in countries where they can survive on a fraction of what you need in Western Europe), but I’d be really thrilled if they decided to work with me, as it would allow me to go (if only vicariously) on two really epic hikes in the Himalaya. Fingers crossed!

As for now, I’m stuck with this:IMG_1299and of course this little dude:IMG_1298who loves the lake-shore but not the water ;-). And yes, life could be way, way worse.

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody.

Next Project, Please

Phew. Weeks of translating Italian cuisine have come to an end, with my submission of the final chapter this morning. The book itself wasn’t particularly challenging – in fact, most recipes were very conventional. There were few dishes I’ve never had before, and most of those were foods I don’t care about, offal and venison and pork – not my bag, any of those.

Introductions to individual recipes are usually the most charming part of any cookbook. The little chatty paragraphs that explain a special ingredient, or the author’s history with a recipe, a little back story of sorts. In this case, there was not a lot to work with in terms of those – this particular author seems to be more of a chef than a writer, so it’s all quite to the point, go hit the chopping board, pots & pans.

So, all in all, a lovely, not very difficult book to translate. This was a stroke of luck, because I was struggling with my time management a bit. Working part-time, being a new Dog Mom, not to mention a Mom Who Does School Things… I managed not to drop any balls, but my attention span left a lot to be desired! Don’t know how it would have been with a manuscript of lengthy chapters and/or complex content. All you people with brainy jobs who are also responsible pet owners, I tip my hat to you. How TF do you manage, and not lose your minds?!

But now this job is done, my brain is deep-fried, and my body has responded to the stress by giving me a mean bitch of a migraine. I’m so glad nobody is expecting great things of me today. All I need to do is go see the dentist and cook my children dinner. I’ll walk the dog, and I’ll do laundry. And I’ll write a rambling post for my stitch friends :-), while I’m still too zonked to talk to potential clients about my next assignments. Tomorrow, maybe.

So I was going to share with you guys two recipes. The first is a perfectly seasonal celebration of three yummy late summer ingredients:

Chanterelle Mushrooms, Green Beans and Arugula (on Pasta)

Seems random, you say? Well, that’s because it literally was the contents of my veggie drawer on a day I needed to whip up a quick meal for kids & friends. You may be familiar with this situation. The combined flavors of the aromatic chanterelle mushrooms, the scent of the rosemary, the fresh, creamy green beans and the peppery arugula were surprisingly good! It had never occurred to me before to put beans and chanterelles in one dish, and now I have, and my son has asked me to make it again, so praise from high places. Maybe I can take a picture next time I make this and add it later on – because today, there’s no valid photo of the dish. It was late, we were starving and we finished eating before I even thought of photographing. I have two other pics that are vaguely similar. Maybe you can kind of merge them in your mind’s eye :-).

Just picture the above mixed with a nice bowl of fusilli pasta, tossed with a couple handfuls arugula, a splash of olive oil and a dusting of black pepper, topped with coarsely grated Parmesan cheese.

In my large frying pan, I sauteed 1 chopped shallot and 1 clove garlic, about 500 g chanterelle mushrooms and 500 g green beans, all at the same time, with a twig of rosemary and sea salt. Meanwhile I boiled the pasta, grated the cheese and washed the arugula.

Drained the pasta, mixed it with the vegetables in a large salad bowl, let sit for a bit, then tossed in the arugula. Put pepper and Parmesan cheese to taste on top. And sat everyone down for an impromptu and very satisfying meal.

The second recipe is also experimental, for me anyway. When it comes to sweets, my taste-buds seem really conservative compared to my friends‘ – no orange and basil ice-cream for me, and I don’t go in for the whole marzipan and goat cheese flavored chocolate (I just invented this, no idea if there is such a thing, the combo sounds gross to me), thank you very much … However, last week I had a wonderful organic iced tea with peaches and rosemary flavor, and no artificial ingredients whatsoever. It was absolutely delicious. I had wanted to make peach jam anyway, and that iced tea made me want to try to give my peach jam this precise, subtle rosemary zing. So I did :-).

White Peach Jam with a Twist

2 kg white nectarines or peaches (skin the peaches if you want – same procedure as when blanching tomatoes)

Appropriate amount of gelling sugar (there are different types, check the fruit/sugar ratio before cooking)

1 lemon, squeezed

1 twig fresh rosemary

Proceed as described on your gelling sugar package – in my case, this was: wash, pit and cut up the fruit. Puree with a stick blender, then mix with gelling sugar. Bring to the boil and cook 4 minutes on high heat, stirring all the while. During these minutes, put in the whole rosemary twig so that your jam can absorb the flavor. Here’s the tricky part – too long, and the rosemary may become too dominant. Too briefly, and the flavor may be too subtle. You want to test frequently until the flavor is to your liking. Do not double dip – use as many spoons as it takes if you don’t want germs, and I’m not kidding. At this point, bear in mind that the concoction may seem overly sweet now but will seem less so once cooled. I guess you knew this, now I feel stupid reminding you of these basics. But for those of you who are new to jam making, it may still be valuable content, so.

Remove the rosemary immediately and discard. Stir in the lemon juice and let boil one more minute. Test the jam’s consistency by putting a little spoonful on a plate. If it sets as it cools, your jam is done. Put in sterile jars, stand those upside down for a minute to seal, then put them right side up and let cool.

This jam has been tried and approved by a prestigious jury with: toast, bread, crispbread, buttermilk pancakes, crepes, and on one of the rare occasions I was craving something really sweet, I ate it plain with a spoon. Je ne regrette rien :-).

Finally, crafts. As I pointed out in the beginning, I was kind of too busy to even think about stuff like that. Okay, I did make a granny square on Granny Square Day over lunch, here, feeling all the autumn-y color feels:img_1202.jpg
But over the past weekend there were car rides, and since I wasn’t driving, I got to finish one sock and the first half of the second for my sweet little friend A. Here’s how far I’ve gotten:IMG_1290.JPGAny day now. My daughter has dubbed these the ‚Night Socks‘ – she has a point, doesn’t that yarn look exactly like a starry night…? My little poet.

May you all have a lovely, late-summery week.

Time Is Fleeting

An old friend posted a video of clouds passing overhead on his IG yesterday, asking ‚when was the last time you just watched clouds passing by?‘ in the hashtag. Funnily enough, this was precisely what I had been doing myself before I took my phone to check my IG. He lives on the East Coast in the States, I’m in Europe – and there we were, doing the exact same thing, and even the skies looked similar – partly cloudy ;-).IMG_E6670Not having enough time for xyz is a common pet peeve. We all complain about not getting around to accomplishing this or that, or about days being too short, or about having too little quality time with our loved ones. Our days are organized in ways that leave little room for improvisation – work, school, afternoon activities, exercise, chores, appointments … all these Regular Must Dos sometimes make it hard to find room for just about anything that doesn’t have a timeline.

As a person who works from home, my life is blessed in terms of my not having to run somewhere everyday for work. I love that, even if it sometimes means I have to hop when a client says frog, no matter if I’m on vacation or not. It just sort of fell into place this way over the years, and it works out well for everyone – even though my teenager would appreciate more alone time sometimes. On the other hand, he also appreciates me proofing his school assignments, a handy thing if you’re as dyslexic as he is.

And now I have, like, a dog, to quote Detective Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn 99. Regular bathroom breaks, even if they’re not scheduled, do need to happen, and one long walk per day is a must to keep him (and myself) happy and balanced. What this inevitably cuts into is my crafts time. My husband who is both a smart dude and a planner pointed this out in advance, not that I was paying a lot of attention. Before Charlie moved in, I was concerned with things like ‚will he even be happy with us‘, ‚will he be able to cope with city life‘, and ‚how the heck will he and our old kitty get along‘.

Having a cat as a pet, you can pretty much pick up your crafts project whenever you’re done with work and have no other, child-related obligations. With a dog, this is obviously not the case. Walking the pup takes up 2 hours, every day. I do try to get my friends to go with me, so I get to see them even if I don’t go out at night much, and Charlie thankfully doesn’t mind my chatting to someone while he’s off the leash doing his thing. But time for crafts has become scarce, and this is why I only have a measly half of a sock to show – which I made when watching movies at night when the dog was tired enough to simply sleep, without needing me to play, or cuddle.img_1174.jpgThis was yesterday morning when I thought it would be a good time to continue knitting sweet A.’s pair of birthday socks. It wasn’t really happening until later at night when watching a few episodes of Elementary. This is how far I’ve gotten over 1 week:img_1182.jpgSo not a lot of crafts, more walking, less watching the clouds – but all in all, life isn’t so bad.

And since dog or not, we do need to eat, here’s my version of hummus. It’s a mix of my lovely princess N.’s tahini recipe and the hummus tahini I got to know and love in Greece, in another lifetime.

Hummus My Way

1 can chickpeas

2–3 TBSP tahin paste

1/2 clove garlic

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp cumin

Generous squeeze of lemon

6 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP water

Yogurt to taste

Puree the chickpeas with the garlic and the olive oil to a consistency of your liking – mine turned out a bit on the chunkier side, because ancient stick blender, sigh. Add tahin, salt, lemon juice and cumin to taste. Stir thoroughly to make a smooth paste. If you’d like the mixture to be creamier, add a bit of water and/or yogurt. You could put some chili or pepper, but I actually prefer hummus to have its natural, nutty flavor rather than being spicy.

Enjoy with bread, veggie sticks, crackers or on a sandwich.

Thank you for reading, and have a productive day :-).

Ten Foods for Growing-ups at Our House

img_3438.jpgMy children are – among other things – the light of my life, the apple of my eye, my heart of hearts … and I know few things better than seeing them tuck into something I made, and knowing they think I’m a master chef or at the very least the best cook they know. As sweet as that is, it’s of course not true. But I try, and I’d say I am a decent cook, and I also know that I can whip up meals for children in my sleep, no problem.

When I first began to cook, I learned from my dad, and after I lost him way too early at 15, I taught myself. I ate my way through many European countries, North America,  Egypt, Brazil and Thailand (don’t even want to do the math of how much money I spent in restaurants in my life). I read cookbooks, studied them, really, and I have absorbed information on technique, methods, food stuffs and recipes for 4 decades, putting theory into practice every day since I moved out at 17.

It has been a gradual process for me that got me to the point of refusing to put up with bad food. It’s such an unnecessary waste of calories, and seeing how most of us could stand to lose a few, shouldn’t eating actually be pleasurable, and healthy too? I’m not even talking about (very occasional) cravings for a Big Mac, or a Falafel sandwich, or a Terrible Taco. It’s the convenience junk many people eat at their house when they think they’re cooking I’m more concerned about. You may believe you’re preparing a meal when instead all you do is re-heat the flavor-enhancer-laden gunk Monsanto or Kraft Foods want consumers to believe is actually nutritious. It’s bad, it makes us fat and it doesn’t even keep us happy.

Forgive my rant, this is actually not what I wanted to write about  :-). Got sidetracked. What I did want to do is enumerate a few recipes I love but my brood do not. Yes, there most certainly are foods like that. And on occasion, I cook them, too. Let me show you.

First and foremost: polenta! I grew up on it in the Balkans, and I’ve never stopped loving it. In this picture, I topped it with baby artichokes dressed with a bit of garlic, lemon and arugula. IMG_1630Second of all: Risotto! For whatever reason the kids don’t like it (probably good for husband’s and my waistline), because we both do, a lot. Below, as you can see, it’s topped with green asparagus.IMG_3546Third, oddly, ratatouille. They will eat tomato sauce, they will eat peppers (zucchini not so much), but for some reason they will not touch this wonderful celebration of summery vegetables.IMG_2411Fourth, sadly, they won’t have anything to do with pumpkins. This was a dish I threw together for my son’s veggie ex girlfriend – a ginger and rosemary flavored cream sauce with cubed hokkaido and its summery cousin, courgettes. S. loved it, as did I, but my kids did not :-/.IMG_0265The next one, fifth, is a fifty-fifty miss. Son detests it, daughter enjoys it – lemon and garlic chicken thighs and vegetables baked in the oven. IMG_0508.JPGThe sixth again unites the disdain of the youngsters: Leeks Quiche – husband and I think it’s wonderful, kids won’t even look at it. Leeks, ew! Quiche, how could you!IMG_1838The seventh is for me only, because there’s no love from the others at our house for the Tortilla Española.IMG_1481Eighth, Arabic fish in cumin flavored tomato sauce, with a handful of capers and bay leaf. It’s heavy on the garlic and absolutely yummy – thank you, habibati N., for sharing.

Okay, ninth is a broccoli or cauliflower casserole, gratinéed with a Bèchamel sauce and strong cheese. Lovely, but hated with a passion by the next generation.IMG_9368Tenth, astonishingly enough, is home made apple sauce. It’s what I have when the kiddos eat rice pudding ;-). The plate you see below contains both, but that’s just for show.IMG_0724.JPGTastes change over the years – this is a status quo of a 17 year old’s and a ten years old’s least favorites. It may not be valid in the future.

Should anybody be interested in recipes for any of the above, please ask. This week is a good one for writing just for fun, so best take advantage of that.

And enjoy your food, whatever it is you will be cooking today. Of course, I’m also interested to know what that is. Let me know!

 

Food for Very Hot Days

Hi stitch readers, nice of you to drop in despite the infrequent installments over the last few weeks. Sorry but sometimes RL gets in the way of the online business, I’m sure you can relate. I was busy with work, the typical last weeks of school madness and the slings and arrows of getting into the groove of life with a dog (who is adored by everyone except our old lady cat :-(().IMG_0465.jpg

IMG_5985All in all, taking care of the pup has been much less of an adjustment than I would have thought, and I’ve adapted to my new routine with ease. Walking a dog is as good a purpose for leaving the house as I can think of, and probably really healthy for me to boot, because we all know how most types of exercise bore me. I’ve found out that both pup and I prefer walking in the forest rather than at the park, so most mornings that’s where we go after the kids leave the house at 8.IMG_6629So, summer break. Some years this means nothing to do for a couple weeks other than catering to the youngsters and driving them to this beach or that. Other years it simply means working in a different place (as of last week, the country cottage). This year being one of the latter, I never really stop working unless it’s the weekend, and sometimes not even then. But what with the heatwave we’re experiencing, it sure is pleasant to be out here, with the lake a mere 5 minutes away.IMG_0547Eating when it’s well in the 30s (Celsius) is a challenge because unlike some, I’m unable to survive on ice-cream alone. You can’t really not eat, because despite the heat you get hungry. And even though for some odd reason watermelon makes me really full, that is also not exactly satisfying when what your body really wants is something savory.

So today, my son requested a chilled tomato soup. That was, as it turns out, a genius idea, for this awesomeness is how it turned out:IMG_E0692It would probably have benefited from a handful of croutons, but really who can be bothered when it’s 37 °C?! Not me. You want to make this? Here’s how.

Tremendous Tomato and Basil Soup, Chilled

1 shallot

1 green onion, the white bulb portion

1 fat clove of garlic

1 handful of parsley

2 handfuls of basil

5 sprigs of thyme

1 vegetable broth cube

2 cans tomatoes

1/2 l tomato juice

1 large carrot, sliced

4 TBSP olive oil

1 slice of lemon

salt, pepper and sugar to taste

1/2 tsp chili flakes

1 bay leaf

1 small jar capers in brine

Peel and chop the vegetables and herbs, stalks and all. Heat the olive oil and sauté your chopped vegetables and herbs. Pour in some water and add the broth. Add sugar, salt and pepper, as well as the slice of lemon. Bring to a boil. Add the canned tomatoes and cook for 30 minutes with a closed lid so the flavors can combine.

Take off the heat and remove the bay leaf and the lemon slice. Puree with a stick blender. Then (sorry, but you’ll have to, or it won’t have the elegant, silky quality we’re aiming for) pass through a sieve. You may have to do this in batches. Discard the coarse stuff. Add to the strained soup the tomato juice, chili flakes and capers, along with their brine – it adds to the tartness of the soup. Check your seasoning.

Chill the soup thoroughly. If you’re impatient and/or very hungry like we were today, you might as well freeze it – the flavor won’t suffer, I promise.

Garnish with a basil leaf or two. Add to your heart’s desire: mozzarella, Parmesan shavings, feta cheese, goat cream cheese, a dollop of crème fraîche, or croutons. And enjoy :-).

After taking an evening walk with the pup, we were all sweaty and exhausted (it was still 36 °C), and after a shower, I had both a craving and an idea. Peach milkshakes, I thought. We did have a bunch of fresh peaches, and an orange, as well as some frozen pieces of mango, and some vanilla ice cream. The stick blender did its job. It was really, really yummy, and just what I needed after the insane heat of the day.img_0696.jpgThis is how we made our concoction:

Peachy Milkshakes

4 peaches or nectarines (or more to taste)

1 orange, squeezed

4 TBSP frozen mango

4 scoops vanilla ice cream

1/2 lemon, squeezed

1 TBSP brown sugar

1 cup milk

Puree all ingredients with a blender, add some water if the shake is too thick for your taste, and drink up!

And finally, since it was the weekend, and my wayward son came back after 2 days of partying in the city, I also made these, feeling way more like a stay-at-home-mom than I would like:IMG_0679I’m well aware I’ve written up cinnamon buns before, but it’s only recently that I thought of making them look like a bunch of roses from the top – all you really need to do it set them in a round baking dish, next to each other, and voilà, you have this very pretty piece of baking on your hands. The recipe is the same as here. Only they look a lot prettier like this, aaand they don’t dry out as they might do if baked as individual rolls. If they even last long enough to, teehee. This batch was gone after a day :-), and there was only three of us!

So, have a most excellent summer, everyone. I may or may not be back soon with more food stuff. Translating really good recipes is always an inspiration ;-).IMG_0550

Calling Buckwheat

IMG_9845I first ate these in France – la belle Bretagne to be exact – where this type of really thin Crêpe-type pancakes go by the name of galettes. I loved the nutty flavor the buckwheat gives them but never really tried to make them myself. However, since having forgone wheat, I’m always intrigued to find substitute grains, and one day I just felt like experimenting.

Now the downside of buckwheat is that it doesn’t contain gluten (duh, you say) and therefore, you need other ingredients to make the batter hold its desired shape in the frying pan. To accommodate that, I use both buckwheat and spelt, and I use more eggs than I normally would, which works really nicely.

This impressive stack up there was made over the Easter break, for 4 children and 4 adults who returned from an afternoon of canoeing. I went a little over the top with the measurements, but the leftover 10 or so were just as good the next day, so no complaints.

Perfect Buckwheat Pancakes

750 ml milk

3 eggs

200 g buckwheat flour

200 g spelt flour

1 TSP salt

4 TBSP sugar

Vegetable oil for frying

Mix the eggs and milk, add sugar and salt, then whisk in the flours. I find that the buckwheat soaks up a lot more fluids than regular flour, so it could be that you may have to add more – I use tap water, spoonful by careful spoonful. You use too much, you need to add more flour, and that can ultimately lead to way too much batter (see above). Anyway. The consistency you’re aiming for is quite thin, somewhere between Crêpe batter and regular good old German Pfannkuchen batter. If that means nothing to you, you want it to be the consistency of a slightly thawed, intensely slurpable milkshake ;-).

A flexible spatula is an asset for these – and a decent, not too heavy, flat frying pan is key. As you can see, I used two different pans so the whole process wouldn’t take me all afternoon. One of them was a proper Crêpes pan (top right), unfortunately, not mine, but I can definitely see the appeal. (Not a fan of buying each and every kitchen gadget I see, normally I’m all for down-scaling rather than amassing clutter, unlike others in this house, naming no names. But that pan I like.)

So you pour a very small dash of oil into the pan, heat it (but not to smoking point), ladle in your batter and swivel the pan so your batter forms a thin, even layer on the bottom of the pan. Once the batter starts to curl away from the edges (I think this takes about 1 minute, but you’ll just have to see what your batter and your stove and the frying pan you’re using are doing). Turn the pancake over and fry from the other side, half the time. Repeat until you’ve used up all the batter.

Eat with: Jam, Nutella, grated Parmesan, smoked salmon and cream cheese, salad, stir-fried vegetables, tomato sauce, mozzarella Caprese, pesto sauce and cheese, asparagus, ham, cream of spinach and Gorgonzola, lemon juice and sugar or apple sauce … there’s literally nothing these don’t taste absolutely awesome with, as the batter is neither overly sweet nor too salty.

The last few weeks were more eventful than you’d expect from a sleepy two weeks of no school in the country. We had astonishingly gorgeous weather and enjoyed the magic early spring light, bees buzzing and orchard trees blooming. There were lazy afternoons in the hammock, walks through the millions of shades of green in the forest, cooking, baking and playing board games, grilling and toenail painting. I finished up a book on craft beer brewing, and started on another cookbook – Italian cuisine by a prestigious London restaurant owner. We had a wonderful couple days over Easter, hosting my girl J. and her husband who are about to become new parents – effectively making me and my husband great-aunt and great-uncle :-))). We’re very happy for them, and they seem in a really good place, the right mixture of chill and excitement, and humor – the most important quality of all when it comes to parenthood, in my opinion.

Welp, and finally, from the looks of it, I’m about to become a dog owner – meet my new buddy Charlie, who’ll be moving in end of the week:

IMG_9771He’s the little fellow I wrote about in one of my last posts. It took his current owners a while to make up their minds, but in the end we met up after Easter, and that was that. I’m alternating between freaking the f… out and being over the moon :-). IMG_9870Here’s an old picture that may be an indication for the origin of my love for Dachshunds. These were my parents in 1967, my mom beaming, proud of her new baby, and my dad grinning and holding their dog. Teehee. Early childhood conditioning all the way …

I hope he’ll be happy with us. I hope my kitty won’t lose her shit. I hope I’ll be patient and chill enough even if things go a little sideways. I hope for so many things – please help and send good vibes, my friends.

There was not a lot of time for stitches these past two weeks, but there was some. This is part of my contribution to the upcoming summer fayre at my son’s Waldorf school: Potholders in nice, summery colors :-). img_9872.jpgI’m feeling a bit nostalgic this time around, as it’ll be one of the last events I’ll be responsible for, probably. My daughter may not go to the same school, probably. Also, I have a dog to think of now. Won’t be able to put in the time like I used to, probably.

So, from this mental place of being unsure about just about everything, I’m wishing you all a pleasant start into the week, and some of that serenity we can see in this picture:IMG_9742