Another year gone by. Another new one on the brink of starting. Hope, it will be a happy, healthy and wonderful one!
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Monday, December 30, 2013
It is the last Monday in 2013. My cat sits on my belly kneading my shoulder while I look around her and try to type up this post. The driveway is full of another 10-15 inches of fresh powdery snow, and I got my morning’s work cut out for me. This morning I felt overwhelmed by the deluge of snow already this early in the season and budged: I bought a snow blower. I knew I had to buy one eventually but due to mild winters had postponed it for a several years. But with an overactive Frau Holle (Mother Hulda, Bros. Grimm) I caved right here and now before the end of the season deals happen.
Oh well. Here is something for inspiration. I can easily talk myself into the idea that shoveling snow saves money and is great exercise, but you can live your whole life like that: talking yourself into things that don’t really make you come alive but you just need to do, with a good attitude nevertheless, but life is about more.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
A few days ago I started my vegan reloaded with store-bought gnocchi. Today, it was Sunday, I was adventurous and decided to make home-made gnocchi. I cooked 2 large russet potatoes, cooled them, mixed them with flour and an egg and some salt, and for a moment there I felt like an old nana from Italy visited by Tyler Florence with a camera, rolling, pinching and pressing 1000s of little gnocchi bundles to be thrown in a large pot with boiling water waiting to feed a family of 20. I’ve made gnocchi before, many years ago when I knew little about cooking, and all I remember was that it was a complete disaster and I never made them again. But as said, I felt adventurous.
I cooked a few of them for 4 min and to my great delight they came out perfectly, with a light, fluffy texture and light potato-ey taste (they are really just tiny German dumplings).
Here we go --- home-made gnocchi:
- 2 russet potatoes (mine came up to 1 pound).
- 1 small egg
- 1/3 cup of flour (+ 1-2 TB)
- 1/2 ts salt
Peel the potatoes, cut them into large chunks and cook for about 30min. Preserve the potato water, remove the potatoes and cool (at least 20min).
Use a foodmill and ‘shred’ the cooked potatoes into a soft mash (see picture below). On a large, washable surface, pour out the mashed potatoes,distribute the flour over it, make a small mound, and crack in the egg.
Use a dough scraper and fold in the flour and egg into the potatoes.
The mass should combine to a nice dough that is not too tacky (if tacky, add more flour). Divide the dough into 4 parts. Roll out each part like a tube about as thick as your thumb. Use the scraper to cut off 1 inch pieces.
Place each gnocchi on a fork and press in it from the backside with your thumb. Take it off and place it on a floured surface.
Now, it is time for cooking. They have to be cooked in batches so that they don’t crowd the pot. Use the preserved potato water for extra flavor. If you poured it out accidentally, just use salted water. Bring water to a boil, and then add a few gnocchi (depending on the size of the pot). At the beginning the gnocchi fall to the bottom of the pot, but rise after 1-2min. However, they taste best when cooked for 4 min.
Serve with a simple butter or cream sauce --- just melt some butter with a bit of salt and some herbs. I had it with a side of green bell pepper and corn with truffle butter.
The sky is dark gray, heavy with snowflakes in its belly, the world is still on a Sunday morning but also looking at the oppressive, pregnant sky. Another snow storm is predicted, 6-10 inches starting in the later afternoon. Not just snow, freezing rain, too. I think of the 4000 households in Hancock county that are still without power from the last ice storm on Monday, the ones who sat Christmas in the dark. Maybe, we all sit in the dark by tonight. The ice crusted trees are already heavy with their load of ice crystals, bending deep to the ground. Oh, winter. Oh, newly warmed up winter which creates this freezing rain/snow mess.
Back in the days (5 years ago) it would only pile on the snow until March, when it would all melt and go away. Now, this mixed precipitation. The coastal areas are milder in climate so they’ve been hit the hardest with iced rain. In a few years it will be us, and they will be the green coast of Ireland. Oh, well. Time to pile into the car, get on the road and get everything done before the skies give birth.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Well, this is almost vegan, besides a sliver of feta. Definitely got me out of the vegan rut. Gnocchi, simmered in a flavorful sauce of tomatoes, anchovies, garlic, kalamata olives, baby spinach and garlic.
Gnocchi with tomato feta sauce (1 serving)
- 1/2 –1 cup gnocchi
- 1/3 onion, diced
- 1 ts olive oli
- 4-5 kalamata olives, quartered
- 2-3 anchovy filets
- 1 cup of fresh or canned tomatoes, pureed
- 1 garlic clove, microplaned
- handful baby spinach
- 1/2 inch slice sheep milk feta
- 2 TB of feta brine (or salt to taste).
In a small hot, heat 1/2 quart of water and heat the gnocchi.
In a saute pan, heat the olive oil and fry the onion until browned. Add garlic and sautee until fragrant. Add anchovies and melt into the sauce (1-2 Min). Add the tomatoes, baby spinach, gnocchi and feta plus brine. Simmer on medium for about 10 min. Serve!
Three years ago I started to eat vegan and I was on a roll: so much new territory of cooking to explore! I made myself 3 cookbooks during the course of the exploration of acquiring vegan cooking skills. Then, it peetered out. I made the same things all over again: some veggies, sauteed, likely with quinoa, sometimes potatoes or rice, always with BBQ sauce.
Now, I realize I felt I had cooked anything possible in vegan, I had made the rounds, there was nothing new to explore, discover and taste again. Loosing the mojo.
The combination space of vegan cooking is slightly reduced if you rule out white flour, desserts, and stick to vegetables, only fresh and frozen, legumes, nuts, herbs, polenta, quinoa, pasta, and spices.
But thanks to the human condition of forgetting, I just need to bring out the cookbooks again, and see what vegan, round 2, means for the kitchen adventures. This is to vegan food, revived.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
It is Christmas morning. I am in bed, the bright sun shines through the windows, I see the ice crusted trees in my front yard. They look like JCrew jewelry making creaking sounds. I can hear the Christmas wrapping paper rustling everywhere, smell piles of hot cakes with honey, hot coffee, laughter, pajamas, little kids squealing with delight over their new toys, filling the heart of the giver to the brim with joy, ah, Christmas. In my bedroom it is quiet, wonderfully quiet and calm. But I can still hear all those other sounds The internet takes a rest, until everyone emerges from under the wrapping paper pile, full of hot cakes, puts on the boots and goes for a walk. First checks the computer or smartphone, and at least uploads an instagram.
I’ve soaked up the holiday season for 4 weeks already, every ounce of cookies, glitter, sparkle and holiday cheer and I felt over it 2 days ago. There is only so much Christmas you can pack in one person. Target will have put up 75% off signs at the Christmas decor, replenish the shelves with neat rows of heart shaped item once we resume life. Off to the next holiday. Maybe, there will be Easter bunny here or there. You can never be reminded early enough about the next holiday. Fold the wrapping paper, collect the bow ties, until the next year.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
It is Christmas eve. The ice storm had put everyone on lockdown from Saturday night until this morning. But now, the blue sky and the sun are back. Driving along the streets I realized all I want for Christmas was…. that the sun would shine long and warm enough to thaw the thick ice on the trees with their branches hanging close to the ground, especially the beautiful birches.
But I guess, the best present is that we did not loose power like so many others in Maine. It is warm, candles are for decor, the internet is working, the telephone and oven, too. Merry Christmas!
Monday, December 23, 2013
We have had a particular mix of winter weather for the last few days: freezing rain. My Saturday trek to the local Target store made me pump up the car indoor heating to keep the rain drops from freezing on my windshield. Bought all I needed, stayed indoors for Sunday with the ‘real ice storm’. It is Monday, the Monday before Christmas eve and people got things to do, but today I don’t even dare getting in the car. It is raining some more and immediately freezing. Looking outside, the world has turned into a giant, calm, beautiful and slightly deadly ice rink. The plants build an increasing amount of ice around them, and the shiny cover on the snow also grows. Soon, we’ll be able to put on ice skates.
This would not be half bad if it would last 1-2 days but it is only the beginning of winter, no thaw in sight and likely accumulations of feet and feet of snow on top of the ice. The weirdest weather. But I declare us half lucky (no one wants this weather) that the power was only out for a minute this morning.
I am at a loss of what to do. Worst case, there is always cat sand.
On better news, after almost an entire year of flower to mini lemon to full sized lemons the Meyer lemons on my (indoor) tree have turned yellow. My plant friend from the store tells me “Once you start smelling them, they are ripe”. Hopefully, that coincides with the end of my sinus infection because I smell nothing.
so, there we go. A very weird Christmas time in Maine.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
But as all things work out, in the end, perfectly, I am also still nursing my common cold and I don’t really want to go anywhere anyhow. It had started out of the blue on Monday night and by Wednesday night I had a full bar of liquid cold meds on my kitchen counter. Nighttime stuff, daytime stuff. Cough suppressant. Airborne gummy bears. But still the cold is not going anywhere. In the evening and in the morning, 12h after taking the last dose, my head feels like exploding again, my sinuses are so congested I feel I need an immediate removal off all my upper teeth.
Today, it is time to stay off the OTC meds and try the natural ‘stuff’. No mucus producing foods (dairy, red meat, sugar and white flour), instead mucus reducing foods (raw onions, tumeric and honey, vegetables, plenty of fluids). Hanging my head over a big bowl of hot, steaming water with chamomile or sage every 6hs or so. Staying put. No work. Feet up. Cat snuggles. Hot bath in salty water.
To be honest, all I can think off are the commercials of Mucinex. The cartoons in which those big bellied, unshaven mucus bacteria characters have a party in your lungs or nasal cavities, invite all their friends over to watch football, and then, Mucinex to the rescue – like a tidal wave they are all ousted from the premise.
Ah, commercials. They understand me.
Friday, December 20, 2013
It all started with chicken noodle soup since I am sick. A big pot. After 2-3 bowls, I lost interest. I thought about bringing it to someone else with a cold.
Then, I saw Gina’s soup, a similar soup, only in a Greek direction, with quinoa, tomatoes, kalamata olives and oregano and …. squash. This gave me a reason to attack a bad boy squash that had waited all fall for an opportunity. A new variety of squash highly recommended by Mark at the FM. “Fabulous taste!” But, I must say it is a manly squash.
Only men and some women have a change to cut its hard skin with excessive force. I almost lost a knife in the squash and thought I might to have to steam this way, knife included. Once I got the knife back out without injury to myself or anyone else, it was still not opening up. I contemplated getting my tool box and resort to a hammer and split iron combination. Eventually it budged.
I scooped the seeds, and steamed each half . The soup was reheated, tomatoes, steamed squash, and olives added, a 15min simmer session to fuse the flavors. And there it was, soup re-cooked.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Sunday, I shoveled. Monday, I skied. Today. I took a rest day because tomorrow I will shovel again. Another 8-10 inches. On top of this winter glory, I also caught the first cold and drink hot ginger syrup. And Christmas is approaching in rapid speed.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Perusing the internets I found my dream holiday dinner for one of these days… duck breast with chocolate-chili reduction and apricot polenta, Heidi’s citrusy herby gin punch, and divine coconut candy bars (clicl on photos for recipe)
How to make non-alcoholic gluehwein?
- 1 quart hot water
- 1 bag Taxo passion ice teabag (or 3-4 bag regular passion tea)
- 1.5 oranges, sliced (discard the ends)
- 1 TB mulling spices (e.g. Trader joes, or make your own with cinnamon, cloves and juniper berries)
- 2-4 TB sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of rum extract
Yes, it is one of those days. It started to snow somewhen in the early morning hours, 2 or 3am and the weather maps shows it snowing continuously until 8pm tonight. At that point the big snow shovel exercise enterprise will kick off. It is quiet outside, no one who does not really need to is on the streets. On a day like this, Sunday, and a snow day, it is entirely serene, snow falling quietly, no a sound beside a muffled distant car on the interstate.
Yesterday was the opposite, bright, sunny skies, and thanks to the early reinstatement of long wool underwear and ski pants seemingly not too cold outside, everyone seemed to brave the mall for almost last minute holiday present shopping and the weekly groceries haul, all morphed into a single trip. People tripping over each other, brimming full parking lots, everyone in a hurry and yet enjoying the calm before the storm. Thank goodness for remote satellite imaging! Otherwise, no one would have a clue what is ahead, a day later. (How did people do it 100 years ago?)
So, I put on long johns again, ski pants, a thick fleece and a down jacket, a hat and plugged in the new earphone, listening to “The Book Thief” and braved the powder with a shovel. After a first pass of getting the drive way clear, I turned on the light over the stove in the kitchen and cooked a large batch of gulasch (recipe coming later) for a planned holiday party this week. Now, it is still lightly snowing, the neighbors kids squealing in the snow, playing “I am dead” and dropping in the snow, the neighbors out and about, shoveling or snow plowing their drive way, and the weather map shows that the storm has already passed. It left 10-12 inches behind, enough to pack the skis. But that, tomorrow.
Now it is time to heat some gluehwein and settle in for the 3rd advent.
Friday, December 13, 2013
It is Friday night. It was a long week, and the first snow storm is predicted for Sunday. 10-14 inches. The cold and the snow are starting early this year. Tomorrow everyone will race to buy the groceries for the day and get the weekend shopping done. Sunday will be about cooking, woodstove fires, and hunkering down. Monday? Skiing! But, it is Friday night, and all I want it to hunker down with a good movie, a bowl of hot food and a glass of wine.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
When I look at the temperature forecast for this week, all I can think about are woolies. Yes, merino wool Ibex long underwear woolies. I mean, –2F (-18 C) ? Hmmm, wince!
Yesterday, Anne reported a snow day in D.C.. When I inspected the photo, I secretly sneered with Maine superiority “A snow day for 1 inch of snow?!” “In Maine, there will have to be 2 feet of snow for a snow day.” Later I came across another photo on Facebook, how winter looks like in Canada. My Maine winter superiority crumbled. Yikes.
Monday, December 9, 2013
The winter holidays are the time for fruit cakes, often dried fruit cakes. But with the invention of ice boxes, there is an option of winter frozen fruit cake. This is one came out really well, especially complimented by its sides of a tangy cinnamon cream cheese frosting with a hot berry compote.
Winter Berry Cake
- 2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
- 1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped
Powder Sugar Frosting (on cake):
- 1 cup powdered or confections’ sugar
- 2 TB of milk
- 1/2 ts vanilla extract
Cream Cheese Frosting (as side): (ca 4-6 servings)
- 1 8oz package cream cheese
- 1/4 cup of powdered sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- zest of 1/2 orange
- 2 TB fresh pressed orange juice
Hot berry compote (as side): (ca 4-6 servings)
- 1 cup frozen fruit
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 TB red currant jelly (or orange marmelade)
- 1 TB powdered sugar
- 1 TB brandy or rum (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 10-cup Bundt pan, either with butter or a nonstick spray. Set aside.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk or sift 2 1/2 cups flour (leaving 2 tablespoons back), baking powder and salt together and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until light, about 3 to 5 minutes. Then, with the mixer on a lower speed, add your eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla, too. Add 1/3 flour mixture to batter, beating until just combined, followed by half the buttermilk, another 1/3 of the flour mixture, the remaining buttermilk and remaining flour mixture.
Prepare the berries: if the berries are too big, shortly chop them in a food processor or cut them with a knife into smaller pieces. Also, chop the fresh cranberries in the food processor, rather finely. In the bowl where you’d mixed your dry ingredients, toss the fresh and frozen chopped berries with the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. With a silicon spatula, gently fold the berries into the cake batter (I actually used the stand mixer, and the cake turned rather pink, which I did not mind).
Plop the cake batter in large spoonfuls into the pan, because it’s so thick — in the prepared baking pan and spread the top smooth. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes. The cake is done as soon as a tester comes out clean of batter.
Set cake pan on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes, before inverting the cake onto a serving platter to cool the rest of the way. Cool completely.
Cake frosting: whisk together the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, until smooth. Drip over the cooled cake.
Sides to cake: With a hand mixer, whisk together the cream cheese and its frosting ingredients (powdered sugar, orange zest, orange juice and powder sugar) until fluffy.
In a pan, heat the berries until hot, but not boiling. Add the sugar, jelly and rum (optional), mix to combine and keep warm until serving.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
It is Sunday. The weather is fine, sunshine, quite cold, but no snow. However, in other parts of the country, there is snow and sleet. It makes me think of the first snow of the season, the one that stays because it is so cold outside. On days when it is time to bundle up and go for a walk in the woods in the new snow. Coming home to drink hot coffee, eat pastries and cuddle in socks on the couch with your favorite feline. Snow on a Sunday.
Ginger cake with frosting
- 2 sticks of butter, room temperature
- 250g brown sugar
- 100 g honey
- 375 g flour
- 5 teaspoons ground ginger powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- zest of one lemon
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated raw ginger
- pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- 300 ml milk
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
Preheat oven to 350F . Special equipment: 2 x 8 inch small baking pans. In a stand mixer, mix the soft butter with the honey and sugar. Add in the eggs, fresh grated ginger and the lemon zest. In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt, baking soda, ground ginger and cinnamon. Slowly add flour mix to the butter mix, and alternate with adding the milk. Butter the cake pans or line with paper, and bake both cake layers for 30 min. Let cool for a few minutes, and remove from pans.
- 2 packets Philadelphia cream cheese
- 2 tablespoons soft butter
- 250 g powder sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
finish cake:Mix ingredients of frosting with hand or stand mixer. Use half of the frosting for the middle of the cake. Place the 2nd cake layer on top. Use a decorating bag and a wide tip to apply the second half of the frosting on top of the cake. Done!
Saturday, December 7, 2013
It is the time of the year when you get care packets from your relatives, in my case a care packet contains lebkuchen, zimtsterne, and vanillekipfel, typical German cookies around the holidays. And it also contained German dumplings! Rohe Kloesse, and Semmelknoedel, ahhh! I immediately had to make one for dinner. Normally, there would be gravy, normally, but BBQ sauce and knoedel is also a perfect German-US pairing.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Another week has gone by. Why are the weeks between Thanksgiving and the holidays always so busy? Finishing out work, decorating the house, looking for gifts, pre-holiday cheers and parties to relax from it all… weather that cannot decide if it is winter yet, or not, dousing the land in show, for a few days, and then it is all melting again. Today it is freezing rain. ---- It is Friday. Time to take a deep breath. Which are the stories of this week? Yes, Nelson Mandela’s passing, 2 days reserved for announcement and reverence. Kim’s latest bebe update (isn’t she a beauty already?), and the fact that our spatulas are soon delivered by drones from Amazon in 30min or less. I find this especially fascinating. Today, there are different scenarios of how this will pan out and especially affect Santa Claus.
Scenario 1 in the hypothetical 2015 holiday season:
Or will it be more like in scenario 2, hypothetical 2020 holiday season?
Remember, they are friendly drones, not ones that hover in front of your window with a camera like a paparazzi directly streaming you cooking dinner or doing burpees to youtube:
They can even be deployed for other responsible duties.
Ah, drones. The future!
Sunday, December 1, 2013
This long weekend I had the pleasure of enjoy free HBO and ENCORE thanks to directv (I guess they are thankful for me being such a loyal customer, and thank you thank you for free HBO). So, I scanned regularly what was offered in these 5 days. This morning the most interesting show was a documentary, The Toxic Hot Seat, a documentary about the cancer causing properties of flame retardants commonly used in furniture today AND in many baby articles such as mattresses, car seats, and the beloved breastfeeding pillows. The chemicals are in the cushioning inside, and every time you lay down on your couch or the baby lays down on a baby pillow, air is released from the chemically treated cushion, whirled into the air, and the person will breath it in. – It won’t have an impact right away, but the toxins accumulate in the body and are a leading cause for cancer.
The documentary starts out reasonably enough with a 60 year old man who took on supporting the use of flame retardants all his life, after he was burnt himself at 9 years old. So, yes, flame retardants, don’t we all need them to be safe? It is a fact that a leading cause of fires in the US and worldwide are … cigarettes, dropping lit cigarettes (but who smokes today anyhow?). Originally, the tobacco industry got behind flame retardants, because making a cigarette that would self extinguish and taste good seemed not possible.
So, let’s make furniture less likely to catch fire (hello, Katniss!). In the 70s, people could buy sprays to protect furniture. This chemical, Tris (aka tris (2,3,-dibromopropyl) phosphate), was also used in childrens’ clothing. Back in the 1970s, a researcher investigated how much of this chemical would enter children’s bodies through the skin, and the results were so disturbing that legislation forbid to add this chemical to childrens’ clothing. However, it is still used in furniture and many other baby products. ---- So, this is really a new problem of the last 20-30 years. Flame retardants are only widely used since the 80s-90s. A new source for childhood cancer and potentially also the increased rates of autism. (BTW, they are already phased out in Europe.)
Another sad/interesting aspect is the 6-fold increased cancer rate of firefighters compare the regular population who have to extinguish fires in this ‘chemical soup’ of flame retardants released by burning furniture and breath in the chemicals in the fires.
There are many efforts to a) make the chemical industry prove that those flame retardants are safe or b) to stop them being used so liberally (because they are really not that effective in preventing fires, just effective enough to give you cancer). But of course, the chemical industry has deeper pockets to fight those civil uprisings with plenty of tv ads. So far, it’s been stuck in the legislation and never made. Therefore, the people pursue prize winning investigative journalism, and make films and hopefully, eventually it reaches a critical mass of people who say “what the hell?!”
So, watch it.
Maybe, think twice about those bobby pillows. Just a thought. At least know what you are doing.