Sunday, September 10, 2017
With fall comes one of my favorite times of the year: apple picking. I got there on the first day when self picking opened and a batch of Paulareds is waiting for apple cake, apple cider and and just apple eating. I debated if I should continue on to Belfast or New Balance, since New Balance had a 40% off sale. Left turn or right turn? not that I need anymore shoes.. I decided to the take the backroads of Maine, following my trusty, yet slightly outdated car navigation system to guide me to Skowhegan.
I find it fun to travel the backroads of Maine, far off the beaten path from tourist through roads, which are wider and with better pavement. The backroads are crooked, curvy and winding and remind me of streets in Europe. Beautiful farmhouses are hidden there along the backroads, wide grounds around the houses, manicured with tractor lawn mowers, definitely not push lawn mowers, people not wanting to be found and not caring to be public. I followed along the private roads, and ending up on a main road again, right into Skowhegan. I got some fantastically fitting running shoes, and called it good. I was hungry at this point, and for the first time, just stopped there, in Skowhegan, stepping in this peculiar bar that hangs right over the big towering dam like structure that seems to dominate Skowhegan. There must have been must industry once that needed so much power, but these days the only interesting thing seemed to be the New Balance Factory and outlet that brought me back.
I sat there, hanging precariously about 60 ft above the waters, with a crowd of other bar goers on a Saturday evening, and it was not half bad. The backroads can take you to interesting places, not just in Maine, in life, too.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
So, it was time for a warm, smooth, spicy and filling soup. I whipped up another batch of this red lentil soup that needs little preparation and cooks fast. A few Indian spices add a unique character, and the late-stage added kale rounds it out.
I had to search for my notes again for this soup recipe so I am putting it in the place where I most likely find it again, my own blog. Note, that I write this down with as much detail as I can for myself; feel free to use other ingredients (e.g. regular olive oil or grapeseed oil, etc.)
Red Lentil Soup with Kale(makes 3 larger servings)
- 1 cup dry red lentils
- 4-5 cups of water (or broth)
- 1 teaspoon blood orange olive oil (or plain olive oil, or grapeseed oil)
- 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 inch-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into tiny dices
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- 0.5 teaspoon turmeric
- 0.5 teaspoon ground fenugreek
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1-2 tiny hot dry (pequin) chilies (depending on taste) (or tiny bit of cayenne)
- 1-2 teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder (if using water)
- 2 handfuls of kale, torn up
- In a non-stick pot, heat the olive oil, add the onion and raw ginger. Once the onion is sauteed and see-through, add the garlic and saute the mix for another minute.
- Add the lentils, water, and the spices. Close the lid, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer with closed lid for 30min.
- Use an immersion blender, and puree the hot soup (or let cool down, and use a blender, but no hot soup in the blender)
- Put the soup back on the stove, add the bouillon and the kale.
- Heat soup again, and let the kale wilt down to preferred consistency (still crunchy or buttery soft).
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
I've seen hops growing up 3 story buildings in the middle of Bangor, and now it seems the Maine landscape starts more like the landscape you drive by in Bavaria on the autobahn towards Munich: wide fields of hops in their characteristic harvesting arrangement: growing up, what seems to be, large clothes lines.
Great article in The Maine Magazine.
The other day I made a Dark Rye bread mix from King Arthur Flour. I poured the mix into the bowl of a stand mixer with the kneading hook attached, mixed the dry ingredients with the yeast, and added the water and a dash of olive oil, and let the machine do the work. It came together in no time, and I padded down the loaf in a little bread basket to rise. It would only rise when I placed it next to the woodstove oven, where it was cozy warm, not Maine winter kitchen cold. I flipped it on a sheet, and baked for 45min. Rye bread perfection. (The mixes are not expensive and 20% off this week. That made $3.96 for a loaf of rye bread).
Saturday, January 28, 2017
January is almost over, and it was mild this year. We were unprepared. Last year we were told it is an El Nino year, with that, a milder winter on the East coast was expected. This year it was supposed to be normal again, but winter seems even milder than last year. But, what’s really normal these days.
Nevertheless, the month has come and gone, and we are on the verge of February. There is another serious chance for deep snow, freezing temperature and plentiful skiing but the 10 day forecast gives nothing away of a potential winter encore. The semester has started and we are settling into a new rhythm of classes and homework, and juggling more balls. Life feels like swinging on a swing on the weekends, and then get back to juggling some tasks during the work week. Time advances and suddenly we’ll feel ourselves propelled into summer again. Just like that.
I am in love with this beautiful picture of the vegan lentil meatballs. It’s a picture I took myself years ago, and it inspired me to make this dish again. A true vegan classic.
Vegan lentil ‘meat balls’ with marinara
Preparation of lentils:
- 1/2 cup beluga/French lentils (they are small and green/black)
- 1/4 cup red lentils
- 1/4 cup chickpeas
- 1 1/2 quarts water
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 2 garlic cloves
Lentil walnut porcini meatballs:
- 2 cups cooked beluga and red lentils and chickpeas
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 medium sweet onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 garlic clove, microplaned
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or dried)
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 2 TB tomato paste
- 1 TB red pepper spread I used Trader Joes red pepper eggplant spread) – if you don’t have any, use a pinch of paprika and 1 teaspoon agave nectar
- 1 oz dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
- 1 oz dried porcini mushroom, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
- 2 TB BBQ sauce
- 4 TB ground flax seed, 1/4 cup of water (mix to make 2 flax eggs)
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 3 TB finely chopped walnuts
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a large baking sheet with some olive oil so that the meatballs won’t stick. Set aside.
- Prepare the flax eggs by combining the ground flax seeds with hot water, and set aside. The mix will gel.
- Add the olive oil to a frying pan and sauté the onions, chopped carrots, minced garlic, thyme and reconstituted mushrooms over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5-7 min.
- Add the tomato paste and red pepper paste and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, until all the ingredients are mixed well and the liquid is absorbed.
- Transfer the mixture to a food processor, and let cool in the food processor for about 5 min.
- Add about 75% of the cooked, and slightly cooled lentils/chickpeas to the vegetables in the food processor, and chop coarsely until all the ingredients are well combined. (It will be quite mushy, that makes the lentil balls even more sticky and hold together).
- Add the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
- Add the flax egg, regular bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, chopped walnuts, BBQ sauce and the salt to the pureed mix as well as the non-pureed cooked lentil mix. Mix with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.
- Let sit for about 10 min (for the bread crumbs to soak up the liquid and bind the meatballs).
- Use a small ice cream scoop and scoop out ping pong ball sized meatballs. Place the lentil balls in the prepared baking sheet, allowing 1/4 inch of space between the balls and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid.
- Bake the meatballs at 400F for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
I am not sure if it’s a real trend, but in the last winters, maybe the last 5, there has been a noticeable trend towards warmer winters here in the coastal areas of Maine. It is as if the cold front band is pushed farther north from the jet stream, and we are now in some rain/sleet zone instead of a snow zone. My friends up North still have plenty of snow this winter, but here it comes and goes: Snow, and rain, and snow again.
It has been rather frustrating because instead of crisp powder and blue skies to whisk through the forests on skis, I now see dripping gutters and soggy streets. But a new feeling starts to set in, a realization that January and February might just be normal life with normal temperatures and normal shoes, and the existential bracing for arctic survival mode is no longer necessary.
I must admit I have not been much in cooking mood lately. However, on Black Friday I snagged an Instant Pot for around $60 on Amazon (the regular price is around $100), and it has been a really good buy. It is a multifunction pot, but I bought it for the electric pressure cooker function. Now, I can make cooked beans or chickpeas from dry, unsoaked beans in about 30min. Or deeply flavorful broth in 30min. Or cook spaghetti squash really fast.
I read somewhere that chicken wings are the best starter for chicken broth, because of them being mostly bones and fat, which is essential for good stock flavor. The instant pot has a broil function, although it takes a while to heat up, it works rather well (and no need to clean up another pot). I sauteed the wings first, with some onions and olive oil.
Once they were browned, I added carrots, celery and a bay leaf.
I filled the instant pot to the max line with cold water, and set it to soup/stew, closed the lid and it is doing the rest of the magic on its own.
I typically let the pot sit after it is done, and it keeps hot for a while and therefore, slowly simmering. There is a little vent that shows if there is still pressure in the pot or if it has dissipated and the lid can be opened.
Voila, chicken stock!
Monday, December 5, 2016
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.
Friday, November 25, 2016
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.
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.
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.
A close-up look:
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.
Monday, November 7, 2016
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.
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.
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.
It is an important election this year --- please, go and vote!
Monday, October 17, 2016
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.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
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.
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.
I measured out 1/4 cups of fritter, and then made them flat in the pan.
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)
- Grate the summer squash and carrots in a large bowl.
- Add the corn, yeast, parmesan, panko, herbs, and pepper flakes. Mix gently.
- In a separate cup, swirl the egg with a fork, then pour over the mixture.
- Mix well, add a bit of salt and pepper, not much since the parmesan cheese adds the necessary salt.
- Heat a 10 inch pan with half of the olive oil, until hot.
- 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.
- Serve immediately. Optionally, sprinkle some Dukkah over the fritters.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
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.
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.
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.
Swinging on ‘my’ swing.
Dreaming of a little house in Stonington, just enough for 1-2 people, a cat, little cleaning, heating and upkeep included.
Then it was back to 44 North cafe, for another round of writing and some light white wine and dates stuffed with goat cheese.
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
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
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.