Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas by the Sea

It was one of those long periods, with dark days, too short, too much work, with little motivation to go anywhere when with a late start almost guaranteed an arrival in the darkness. Instead I raked leaves and mowed the lawn one last time. The kale loves the season, more than it likes summer, it seems.

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But then, the active work period was over, the weather forecast promised a clear sunny sky, and it was the timing for Christmas by the Sea, an annual 3-day event in Camden, a wintery New England cozy Christmas extravaganza where Santa Claus arrives from the sea on a boat.

Stopping first in Belfast, where Chase’s Daily unfortunately was on fall break and my lunch fell through, I continued to empty harbor in Camden. The remaining windjammers are wrapped in white foil, and yet someone managed to attach a Christmas tree on the top mast. I can only imagine, some sailor climbing up there, not only carrying himself but a decorated tree with a long electric line, and then having to attach it. It was calm and quiet and dark, and the stores bright, white with tiny Christmas trinkets. It’s the time of the year to cozy up to each other.  No snow yet, but it cannot be long.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

When kale and Brussels sprouts met

Finally, life is slowing down for me for a little while, at least this week. There is not much time left until the holiday break and teas, carols and boozy parties with lebkuchen will sparkle up this period. It is a cheerful time of the year, socially, with bubbles and lights everywhere, which makes up for the short and dark days, with no snow to brighten up the landscape yet.

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Around Thanksgiving, the farmers market winds down. There are squashes, and locally grown Brussels sprouts, radishes, beets, potatoes and kale, hardy kale that is still growing in my garden.

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Last time at the farmers market I found the two had a date, while I was not looking, the kale and the brussels sprouts, and now there are kalettes.

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A close-up look:

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Cute, no? A bit confusing and surprising, but cute. Just, what to make with kalettes?

To fight my increasing tendency to grow attached to the couch and fall into hibernation, I went for a long walk today. Fresh air helps to blow the cowebs out of my head. The streets were empty. Half of the houses had 8 cars in the drive way, and the other houses were dark with empty drive ways.  I made a new cat friend on my walk, a tiny black cat with a colorful ribbon as a collar. She first look alarmed when she saw me,  but then she scanned my secret cat friend badge and ran to me, head butting my hands while I stroked her fur. The weather is still mild, with a slight bite of cold in the air.  Then, it was time to head home and eat with my beloveds, the turkey was ready.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Marzipan Apple Cake

The sun is pale golden, almost all the leaves have fallen to the ground by now, and it is still mild, there is no need for a fire in the woodstove yet. I raked a few bags of leaves, there are still many more to rake. Things have been so busy for the last month that I had all the cake pans and ingredients out, for this cake,  on my countertop, and yet I did not find the time to bake it.

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The marzipan apple cake from the new cookbook “Classic German Baking”. The recipe has been published on many sites and I was enamored with it before I laid my hands on the book itself. The dough includes grated sweetened almond paste (marzipan), which brings the cake into a different stratosphere. I hesitated if I would find almond paste locally but I did.

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A bushel of apples is resting in my basement. Since I like apples to be very crisp, I do my best to take them to work, slice them into lunch salads, and bake cakes (well, fail here). Once they lose the crispness they will become fresh pressed ciders or then, when I lose patience, gifted to local horses. 

Yesterday, after raking the leaves, I made myself coffee and ate the first slices --- it is a divine cake!

Apple Marzipan Cake:

I made several changes to the original recipe, so I’ll write it up with my changes. I reduced the amount of marzipan, and it was still very sweet and ‘marzipan-y’'’. I also divided the batter into 2 spring cake pans, a 8 inch diameter and a 5 inch diameter spring pan, and omitted the apricot jam.

  • 4 medium apples, (1 3/4 pounds, 800g)
  • 1 organic untreated lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1 TB sugar
  • 100g  almond paste
  • 3/4 cup (150g) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 14 tablespoons (200g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup, 3 tablespoons (150g) flour
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

1. Butter a 8 inch and a 5 inch springform pan (or a single 10 inch pan) .

2. Peel and core the apples. Divide the lemon juice into two separate bowls. Slice two of the peeled and cored apples into 1/2-inch slices (3 slices per quartered apple), and toss the apple slices in one bowl of lemon juice. Dice the other two apples into 1/3-inch (1cm) cubes. Toss in the other bowl of lemon juice.

3. On the stove top, heat a larger pan with 1TB butter, and 1 TB sugar, and once melted add in the diced apples and saute for 5 minutes. Let cool.

4. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).

5. Using a grater with large holes, grate the almond paste into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and salt and mix until the almond paste is finely broken up.

6. Add the melted butter, almond extract, and lemon zest, and continue mixing until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

7. Whisk together the flour, cornstarch and baking powder in a small bowl. Turn the standmixer to slow, and spoon in the dry ingredients into the almond batter mixture. Once done, stop the standmixer, and fold in the warm, diced apples by hand.

8. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Place the sliced apples in concentric circles on top of the batter, pressing them in very lightly.

9. Bake the cake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour for the large spring pan, and 45-50 min for the smaller one.

9. Remove the cake from the oven. Let cool, and then run a knife around the inside of the cake pan to release the cake, and remove the sides of the cake pan.  Serve with cognac whipped cream or vanilla icecream.

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It is an important election this year --- please, go and vote!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Gone with the wind

It was a short weekend. A one day weekend, in fact. On Sunday, it was overcast, but surprisingly mild. My favorite apples, the Idared, could finally be picked, and so I made it a day, apple picking and the Breakwater Lighthouse in Rockland. Rockland has several lighthouse, but this is the one at the very end of a long, long breakwater way, which was man-built into the wide harbor of Rockland to guide the ships, with a lighthouse at the end of it. When the tide is high, the waves splash over the big Maine granite boulders of the walk way. At low tide, only the wind pummels the visitors. It is a beautiful, almost 1 mile walk which seems much farther.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Summer squash fritters

A few days ago I finally cooked again something that resembles a meal. The summer squash are 3 (any size) for $1 at the farmers market right now. There are boxes of free squash along the way where I go walking in the evening. This summer, I used them for spiralized ‘znoodle’ salads. But the znoodle salad has a now a competitor: the fritters. The ‘pancakes’ are not really fried, just pan-fried. They are fairly easy and fast to make, with a grater for the summer squash and the carrot, a handful of corn kernels and a nice mixture of herbs and nutritional yeast to give them a solid, nutty flavor.  Easy summer food! But very satisfying.  The key is in the nutritional yeast.

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First, grate the summer squash and carrot in a bowl. Add the grated parmesan cheese, panko bread crumbs, and an egg.  Now, for the flavoring: I used a combination of dried thyme and fresh mint, and a heaping helping of nutritional yeast, and some red pepper flakes for some background sizzle.

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I measured out 1/4 cups of fritter, and then made them flat in the pan.

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After about 5 minutes on each side they are ready to go.

Summer squash fritters (makes about 4 fritters)

  • 1 larger summer squash (ca 8 inch)
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • 1/4 corn kernels (frozen is fine)
  • 3 TB nutritional yeast
  • 2 TB grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 –1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (to your liking)
  • 1 egg
  • salt, pepper
  • fresh or dried herbs: thyme and  mint
  • 1 TB red pepper flakes
  • 1 TB of olive oil (divided)
  1. Grate the summer squash and carrots in a large bowl.
  2. Add the corn, yeast, parmesan, panko, herbs, and pepper flakes. Mix gently.
  3. In a separate cup, swirl the egg with a fork, then pour over the mixture.
  4. Mix well, add a bit of salt and pepper, not much since the parmesan cheese adds the necessary salt.
  5. Heat a 10 inch pan with half of the olive oil, until hot.
  6. Scoop 1/4 cups from the mixture, place in pan and flatten. Sear for 5 minutes, and then turn, and sear for another 5min on the other side. Repeat for the other half of the mixture.
  7. Serve immediately. Optionally, sprinkle some Dukkah over the fritters.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Cozy times

I know I will regret this. But today I am glad the sky is overcast, and although I have not been outside, I hope the heat broke. It was still in the upper 80s all week, and humid. That, coupled with a some unspecified bug I caught made me feel run down, and in need for rest and feet up on the couch.  When the skies turn to gray, I feel like a natural calm coming over me, and for one day I am grateful for it.

As said, I will probably regret this soon.

The cats are suddenly alert. Thunder is rolling in.  They will take cover under the bed soon, and I debate if I get my pasta maker out. This day calls for pasta and a slow-cooked tomato sauce.  But maybe just for downloading photos and blogging.

Yesterday, a last hot, humid day I drove again, to Stonington. This summer I have been enchanted by it. This time I stopped on the way, before the road leads to the tall bridge, up on the hill. Caterpillar Hill. It has the most breath-taking view of all of Maine. The beautiful landscape of the many small inhabited and uninhabited islands of Penobscot Bay, sitting next to each other, to they can be reached by sail boat or kajaks. I sat down, with my camera, and stared into the horizon. Such beauty. I wished I’d had a house on Caterpillar hill to see this view every morning.

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On my way to Stonington, I stopped by the 44 North Cafe Deer Isle store and roastery, in the old Deer isle high school building. Unfortunately they were closed.

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Once I arrive in Stonington, I sat down in 44 North Cafe, worked for a while. It was popping with people, mostly elderly tourists, enjoying the times when everyone else is back to school.  Around 5pm I went on another walk.

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Swinging on ‘my’ swing.

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Dreaming of a little house in Stonington, just enough for 1-2 people, a cat, little cleaning, heating and upkeep included.

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Then it was back to 44 North cafe, for another round of writing and some light white wine and dates stuffed with goat cheese.

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It was late when I was driving back, and it had started to rain. A long drive through the narrow, winding streets, with winds picking up and rain coming down. It must be very different in the winter here.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A dose of spice

This semester I am taking a creative writing class. The idea of writing a book has ghosted around in the back of my mind for years, but I  found the thought of execution daunting and overwhelming, and I shh-ed it away.”Yes, one day.” I knew fully-well that day would likely never come. But, like good and meant to be ghosts, they don’t go away, and come back regularly, knocking on the mind’s door and testing the waters. I became increasingly brimming with ‘want’ and equally increased impatience of ‘I really don’t know of how to to do it!’. Over the summer, I listened to a short course on creative live. “Write your story” with this surprisingly mesmerizing instructor, Joshua Mohr, who made the idea of crafting a story look doable. This course increased my understanding significantly and planted a seed of confidence that this could be fun.  I started to played with the idea of taking a university creative writing class. Just get my feet wet. Maybe, just the first few classes?

I almost talked myself out of it again, 15min before the class. But then I headed to the classroom. It was a small. I had expected a large lecture hall with hundreds of students, so I could squeeze in, in the back, and hide. But it was a fairly small class room, 25 students at most, and these are typically filled to the brim. Auditing means you need to sit on the floor. I almost turned around on my heels again, leaving the whole idea behind.  The students were still streaming in, and a few seats were left as I could see through the loophole of the door. The instructor arrived, looking at me with a quizzing look of “can I help you? are you lost?” but he did not say a word.  I asked if I could audit the class, blablabla. He looked at me, intrigued and lightly amused,  and without other ado he ushered me in.

And that is how it started.

I am taking a writing class.

I had no idea what to expect. I don’t have a desk full of first drafts that just need rewriting. I don’t have any drafts. Actually, I never really have written anything (as in fiction).

We got a list of reading material, books that should be read from a writer’s perspective, and to write a review of what we can learn as a writer. We got the first assignment, “Write 5-8 pages of creative fiction, non-fiction or 5 poems until Tuesday.” “What?????!” I hastily looked around, no one seem surprised and I was sure there was probably a class I missed that explains of how to do that.  “Aren’t we supposed to learn this first?!!!”  I angstily thought in sheer panic. My mind started scrambling “What do I need for this?!”

The wheels have been turning since then. It is the weekend now and I will have to sit down soon, and get started. I still have no clue what I should write about.  In a mad google search, I informed myself about character development, plot, point of view, narrative arc, but I still need an idea. A plot! I am still stumped and start thinking again “Maybe, this was a crazy idea, because you don’t even have an idea of what you want to write about. What kind of writer are you!”

Oh dear, oh dear.

I have been reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut this week. I like him.

My ‘normal life’ still goes on, the normal humdrum of same-old same-old auto-repeat, and it now feels like it has a layer of pixie dust, a spice mixed in. It is transformed into something exciting and glorious, full of expectation. Like a child with a new cool toy.. Free zones are no longer filled with mind-numbing netflix and a glass of wine, but reading books, thinking about characters, and using my imagination.

A little new endeavor, and everything is changed.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

House on a Ledge

There is no denying it: summer is over. Or at least, summer break and school starts again. Sigh. I had a really relaxing summer, free from pressures, outside and self imposed, and I am not really ready for the rigorous schedule of the academic year. Summer feels like softly swinging in a hammock, on my own time and pace, and the school year feels more like a rat race.

I can feel my squirrel genes engage, shuffling pictures of silky soups through my mind, sift through cake recipes,  making me bring home large bags of  beets, and marking the start of pick your own apples in the calendar. It’s all good, but I rather return to the begin of summer again, and go into an endless loop.

Here are some photos from my last summer trip. Since it was so serene in Stonington, I went a second time, this time able to spend a few hours in 44 North Cafe since it was open. But first I visited my new friends in Ellsworth, at Rooster Brothers. They graciously share some brioche with me each time I come.

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Penobscot Bay.

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