Friday, September 19, 2014

Reaching cruising altitude

It is a beautiful Friday. Friday! Only one more day until the weekend. With a little bit of premature break yesterday my outlook for today is good. Plenty on the to-do-list, but the attitude is adjusted, the energy slightly recuperated, and it is doable again. Hopefully, I reached cruising altitude for the semester.

This morning I came across this photo.

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It looks like sensuality in the form of cake batter. Silky, fragrant, abundant, luxurious. I just want to stick my finger into this. Here is the recipe!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

(One) Apple picking

It is the time of the year, when the cats come next to me, slightly tap me on the shoulder, and indicate that they want to slip under the covers because there it is toasty warm. And cats, like me, like it toasty warm. The male cat is more rambunctious, finally feeling the weather matches his equipment of a long fur coat and it is also, as all males know, hunting time. Being an indoor cat comes as an impediment at this point.

The outdoor temperatures drop into the 60s, and yet I still don’t want to turn on the heat after the summer.

This week was a tiring, productive and turmoiled one, but then by the end of it I adjusted my objectives for the coming year, felt relieved, felt my agenda is doable and fun without requiring be to turn into superwoman every single day, and the smile came back to my face and into my day. Looking forward to each day is a good way to live. Waking up and wondering how to survive it, not so much.

It’s Saturday and I am lingering. Lingering feels good after such a week. The time for the farmers market came and passed. But I still could go apple picking.

I did go apple picking, but it was picking from one of my own trees in my garden, the only full grown apple this year (which is one more than any other year). The elderberry bush was hanging low with heavy berries and inviting the harvest. I got a huge bucket and brought a scissors. While snipping the elderberries and plunging them into the bucket, I heard music in the neighborhood. It dawned on me that I had seen an email about a block party in the mail this week. “Is that today?” After cleaning up, and getting ready for running errands, I checked my emails and indeed, it was happening right there and then.

I headed over to at least say hello, and to my surprise 3/4 of the neighborhood was eating, chatting, and plenty of kids running around. There were the people that I know and then plenty of people I had not had the chance to talk to yet. – Telephone numbers were exchanged, plans were made, and it was no surprise that it turned out that Kitchn is everyone’s favorite cat and that on his daily strolls he visits everybody and even talks to the indoor kitties sitting at the window fences. Kitchn is the neighborhood mayor. (He also attended the party).

In the evening I heated milk to make kefir, moved all the summer shoes back into the shoe closet and brought out the fall ones. The first fire in the woodstove was lit, the heat in the house turned on. While I plucked the elderberries, I watched Brad Pitt save Linden and the world from zombies. Fall is coming. Time to indulge in antioxidants.

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Note: elderberries need to be cooked, this fruit can be toxic when eaten raw.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I remember nothing

Yesterday, the ipod hooked up to my car sound systems finished with an audiobook on “Wallander” and started a new audiobook on its own, Nora Ephron’s “I remember nothing” which is also narrated by her. It kept me chuckling all afternoon. I had listened to it before, but for some reason I must have jumped to the middle of the book back then since it started with a piece on food writers. But now, there it was, the beginning. “I remember nothing”. She wrote this book in her 60s and although very few people knew then that she was sick it was her farewell book. Her gleaning through the things she actually remembered from her life and the things she did not was as usual honest and witty.

Nora Ephron was never quite on my radar as a person when she was alive. I had seen, of course, all her icon movies from When Harry Met Sally, to You got mail……, to Silkwood, Heartburn and Julia and Julie. For some reason, I mixed her up with Ephraim Kishon, another (male!) Jewish comedic writer and film maker. I thought Nora was actually a man. Isn’t that terrible? …..that in your subconscious you think that such a prolific, successful, productive comedic writer and filmmaker must be a man, someone you heard about before and thought, it must be the same person. Obviously I also remember nothing.

Her telling the story of her life on “I remember nothing” makes this almost understandable. She talks about her college years at Wellesley, and then deciding to become a journalist. She gets hired at Newsweek in the beginning of the 60s, but, as she said, at that time, women did not become journalists. They were mail girls, clip girls, researchers who verified facts on stories written by male journalists. Due to a newspaper strike, when all things haywire and unorthodox for while, she was asked to write a parody on a New York Post daily column. First the NY Post wanted to sue, but then they hired her. And so, she became a journalist, in a time where all journalists were men.

She had indeed a very illustrious career, was married three times, had 2 kids, many successes, a few failures, and is very honestly reminiscing in the book, with her thoughtful, witty observations, because the inside is always different than the outside. I remember the story she tells about Christmas dinner, that they always got together with many friends, and kids, and cooked Christmas dinner together over the years. She was responsible for the dessert and made 2 cakes. Another friend also made several cakes. They were the dessert team. When the friend passed away, there was shuffling on the dessert routine, and she was asked to bring the potatoes. Only then she realized no one ever liked her cakes, and only liked the friend’s ones.

Her Six Stage of Email is also a classic.

Nora, thank you for talking to me in car every day and making me laugh about the idiosyncrasies of life.

NORA EPHRON (19-05-1941 - 26-06-2012)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Stretching the last days of summer

The summer is presenting us with an end of summer heatwave, but the other signs point towards back to school.

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Instead of shorts and tees and sandals, there is a necessity to wear real clothes again. Some cities and states have already started with school, but we have another few days left, including a long weekend. I put on the blinders and try to hold on tight to summer.

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…wanting to make it stretch into another endless summer. Why did it go by so fast anyway?

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But then, it is all about the work/life balance: should we work to live, or live to work? Or… just live…

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Ricotta Cinnamon Plum Cake (Gluten-free)

The season for Italian plums is short around Maine. A few weeks, maybe. Some old fashioned farmers sell them at the farmers market, sometimes they are available in the grocery stores. I have a plum tree in my garden but that will take a while, it is still a baby tree.

But you see, I love plums.

Every year I try a new cake, like the Swiss plum tart (“Waehe”), last year or this Italian Plum tart before. This year I tried something more German with an Italian twist.

It all starts with these plums.

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They are depitted and sliced into three slices per half plum. Mixed with some brown sugar, rum and cinnamon.

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The dough is a basic ricotta cake, which makes sure it will be moister, and a bit richer than a regular cake. Not much cake dough needed, just for a basic layer, spread out in a springform pan.

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The rum-marinated plum slices are arranged in a circular pattern, and sprinkled with some more brown sugar.

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Baked at 350F until the sugar and plums are slightly bubbly and the cake browned and risen.

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Best with whipped cream and maybe a caramel drizzle. Bon Appetite!

Ricotta Cinnamon Plum Cake (Gluten-free)

ca. 10 inch springform pan

  • 1/2  stick (60g)  unsalted butter (if from the fridge, microwave for 15 seconds)
  • 3 oz (90g)  whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1/2 ts vanilla extract
  • 1  cup (125g) all-purpose gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur Flour’s GF flour)
  • 1 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/3 Teaspoon Salt
  • ca. 10 relatively firm Italian plums
  • 1 TB rum
  • 2 TB brown sugar
  • pinch of cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the springform pan with baking spray.
  2. Slice the plums into half, remove the pit, and slice each half into thirds. Place in a mixing bowl and mix with the rum, sugar and cinnamon, and let marinate while making the cake.  
  3. In a large mixer bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the ricotta cheese and blend well. Add the egg and mix well. Add the vanilla extracts and cinnamon and mix until fully combined.
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt.
  5. Add the dry ingredients in several smaller portions, mixing just until incorporated.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spoon (or fingers) as needed.
  7. Arrange the plum slices on top of the cake in a circular pattern and pour the remaining rum and sugar on top. Sprinkle with 1 TB of brown sugar.
  8. Bake 45 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean.
  9. Let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
    Cool completely.
  10. Serve with whipped cream or caramel sauce.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A good summer Saturday in Maine

It was a good, end of summer hurray Saturday at the farmers market.

Starting the day with cinnamon rolls….

organic milk and yogurt

plenty of different vegetables

Plums for a German plum cake

The first apples (with a price hike of $7 per bag, what’s up with that?)

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flowers and bread, especially cute 1 pound loaves

and, of course, wild Maine blueberries.

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It was also the second day of the folk festival in Bangor, which this year featured pleasant, not to hot or humid weather.

Great international folk music at 5 different outdoor stages, and plenty of food.

Chinese drums and dragons

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hemp summer squash cakes

It was 7:40pm and dark outside. It was still a warm August night, and I walked in the lawn barefoot, cutting some herbs for dinner. Later, I watched August: Osage County, a Oscar nominated movie that made it to my house now thanks to Netflix scheduling a long time ago. Baby Cat squeezed herself next to me in the big arm chair. August: Osage County is a movie with big names, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliet Lewis, Sam Shepard, …but most of them in rather unappealing roles, especially Meryl Streep, but she is fearless, finding this mean, old, pill popping, cancer ridden matriarch in herself when she convinced us with endless movies that she is graceful, elegant, funny, sexy, can sing and dance, and cook, and all the good stuff.

Dinner was summer squash from the garden --- this time grated, mixed with herbs, panko, hemp seeds, peas and an egg and fried in the pan.

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Hemp Summer Squash Cakes

  • 2 large summer squash (or zucchini)
  • 1/2 ts salt
  • fresh crushed black pepper
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 TB hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas (or corn)
  • some fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, thyme, savory)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • olive oil  or butter (for frying)

In a large bowl, lined with a clean kitchen towel, grate the summer squash. Mix with the salt, and let sit for 15-20min. Twist the towel, and squeeze out as much water as you can.

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Put the squished, dried summer squash in a bowl, add the other ingredients, and mix well.

In a pan, heat a teaspoon olive oil until very hot. Now, lower the heat to medium. Take about 1/4 cup of zucchini mix, pour in pan, and squish flat to a patty with a spatula or large spoon. Form a patty.

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Add 2 to the pan, and ldon’t disturb the patties. Let fry one side until the rims start to brown, then turn over. Cook on the other side for about 10min to really cook the zucchini and soften it.

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Serve immediately, or keep warm in the oven at 300F.  --- Serve with red pepper spread and hummus or greek yogurt.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Vegan Quinoa Cakes

This was one of my rainy vacation day projects --- trying out Angela’s baked vegan quinoa cakes. Unfortunately, I did not have many of the ingredients at home, so I improvised and added cooked lentils, frozen peas and a salad mix. They still came out great, although they did not sticking together very well. Great picnic and hiking food!

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Baked Vegan Quinoa Cakes (adapted from here)

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax + 6 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats, ground into a flour
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup cooked beluga lentils
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup cruciferous mix from Trader Joes (or use baby spinach, Swiss chard or kale), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon runny tahini paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (I used parchment paper and a silicone mat; the ones on the silicone mat started falling apart, while the ones on the parchment paper stayed intact).

Mix the ground flax seed and the water in a small cup, set aside for 5 minutes to thicken.

Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl, including the flax mixture and the 1.5 cups cooked quinoa. Stir well until the mixture comes together. Shape mixture into 1/4-cup patties with wet hands. Pack tightly so they hold together better. Place on baking sheet. Clean hands between forming patties, it makes it easier to shape them.

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the cakes over, and bake for another 8-10 minutes until golden and firm.

Wait for 5 minutes for the patties to cool, and then enjoy!

Leftovers keep in the fridge for up to 5-6 days. 

Vacation interrupted

Vacation is currently interrupted by rain and dark gray skies. The loud plong-plong-plong of the rain drops on the metal bottom on the window AC unit woke me up in the middle of the night. I started to watch TV hoping to fall asleep again. Not the best start into the day. There is still rain, on and off, until tomorrow afternoon. This calls for more indoor adventures. My fridge is full with cake, quinoa cakes and ratatouille. Maybe, it is time for a new vacation hobby, like knitting.

Regular days with rain would be fine, but we all just expect a little more from vacation days.

Lunch salad with sauted mushroom is always so much better than raw ones.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Maine Wild Blueberry time

Yesterday, on one of my cross country trips, somewhere private between the tourist vein of coastal Route 1 and the artery of I-95 I passed a wild wild blueberry field. Wild wild? Most of the wild blueberry patches are farmed (more like owned and tended) and this one was sitting there, all by itself, big blue billows of ripe blueberries.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Beluga lentils with shitake mushroom

Two days into vacation, the weather forecast for the rest of the week is mixed: thunderstorms in the afternoon. Trips with shopping adventures are still in the cards, but also staying home, getting summer cozy, writing real letters and taking the time to cook more elaborate meals.

I fired up the slow cooker for dried chickpeas. Hummus is on the menu. In a stove top cast iron pot, beluga lentils simmered with sauted onions and a bay leaf, and in a second cast iron pot dried shitake mushroom plumped up in a mix of hot water and braggs amino acids. The hummus would only be ready the next day, but a pan fried dinner of red onions, lentils and shitake mushroom with a dash of salt and crème fraiche gave me just the right amount of fuel for the evening run.

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The cats are on vacation, too. They enjoy a whole bouquet of catnip from the garden. Good feelings, all-around.

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Beluga lentils:

  • 1 cup of dry beluga lentils
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1/2 small red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 ts olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh if possible

In a small enough cast iron pot with a lid, heat the olive oil and saute the onion. Add the garlic once the onion is slightly charred. Pour in the dry lentil, and fill with 2 cups of hot water. Stir, cover with lid and turn down the heat to medium low. Cook for 20-25 min with lid closed. Stir occasionally and check consistency of lentil (if you like more or less al dente lentils).

The water should be cooked off once the lentils are soft.

Shitake mushroom:

  • about 10 dried shitake mushroom caps (or sliced dried shitake)
  • 1 sharp serrated knife
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 TB braggs amino acids or tamari sauce

Use a cast iron pot with a lid, add the water, the amino acids, and keep hot on the stove. With the serrated knife (bread knife is best), cut the shitake mushroom into thin slices. Once a mushroom is sliced, add to the boiling water mix. Once all mushrooms are sliced, stir the pot, cover with a lid and let simmer on low for 20min so that the mushroom ate completely soft and meaty.

Lentil Shitake fry:

  • other 1/2 of the red onion
  • 1 ts olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cooked lentils
  • 1/4 cup reconstituted shitake mushroom
  • pinch of salt, fresh ground pepper
  • option: teaspoon ground cumin
  • dash of Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of crème fraiche (best: vanilla crème fraiche)

Sautee the onion in the olive oil in a regular non-stick pan. Add the remaining ingredients, combine, taste for flavor and serve.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Vacation planning

It is Monday morning and I wonder what to do with my vacation. My cleaning lady buzzes around the house, which is a good start into vacation because I have a clean house, and I don’t have to do it.

nevertheless, what to do?

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A great vacation needs a plan. A list with “what would be fun to do this year?” “any new things I’d like to experience/travel to/see?” “Any summer classics I definitely want to see this year again?”

Last summer vacation I got through 2/3rds of my vacation list, but the remaining 1/3 looks less appealing this summer. There is a vibe, specific for each summer. This summer vibe seems to be more a ‘stay home, bake a cake and invited people over’ kind of vibe. Explorations on the social front. New babies, old friends, the girls. A day in Boston. A hike with friends. Whatever feels right.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

To dangle one’s soul

There is a wonderful German saying if you want to relax, have downtime, go on vacation and just leave all cares behind and it is  “die Seele baumeln lassen”, which literally translates into letting one’s soul dangle… So much more poetic than the simple translation of relax.

My vacation has finally arrived, the day promises to be hot, which often leads the day to be quiet,because the kids and gardeners and lawn mowers stay inside or everyone is off to the beach.

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It reminds me of Italian siesta, the quiet time between 12pm and 4pm, when the streets are empty, the shops are closed, and everyone is home to take a nap.

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But on vacation, there are more opportunities. The sea, a pool, the beach, and it is not just at noon time when it is a good time to hang.

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These are the times to be, just to be, and not to think, plot or plan. Where life is effortless, like a sail on the ocean or the wind in the trees.

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Animals are experts in this.

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so, there. Vive les vacances!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Monday to come

It is August, the summer is winding down. The next 2 weeks are finally vacation for me. It is great to forget all obligations for 2 weeks and focus only on things that are benefiting my wellbeing, allocating a budget to eat at the expensive restaurants, drive places, read a book on the beach, and just let the soul linger, like sailing with a negroni in your hand lazily on a boat in the Sicilian sea. It is fun to wake up and say to myself “what is the most fun I could have today?”, let my fantasy run wild and then do it. ---- In general I feel every day should be lived like that but there are things like lawn mowing, work responsibilities and budget constraints so it does not always workout like this. But vacation? All bets are off.

This was the last portion of the precious Mesclun mix from Chase’s Daily, pricey, with with plenty of crisp bib salad leaves, baby radicchio and bright orange flowers. Here, randomly topped with chickpeas and blue cheese.

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Officially, vacation starts Monday, and there are still things to wrap up at work before that, so this weekend will be a non-weekend. But come Monday, I’ll kick off my shoes and sit back and relax!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A taste of vacation

This morning, after a few days of a lot of work, I felt like “time to for a trip to the coast!”. And so, I did. It started with the usual, Belfast, and vegetables at Chase’s and walking around town. Then, I was off on the back country roads of Coastal Rt 1 to Cellardoor Winery. Fabulous glass of wine with a view. The backroads to Camden, quite the preppy tourist trap. But this comes with good restaurants, so no complaints. On the search for the Camden farmers market, I found 40 Paper. But for dinner I tried the James Beard 2014 Best Restaurants of the Northeast Semifinalist, Francine. Unfortunately, at that point my camera battery died so only a photo of the restaurant. --- the food was superb, and I was lucky to get a table on the romantic veranda right after opening.

Cellardoor Winery, Lincolnville, ME

Several people wanted to know which shoes I am wearing.

A glass of wine with a view on the Cellardoor vineyard and the pond.

40 Paper, Camden, ME

Camden farmers market

Francine, Camden, ME