Friday, December 23, 2005

Was mache ich mit dem Eigelb?

Or: what to do with the yolks?

One of the delights of the internet (at least now, since about google) is that you can just type in anything and get an answer. (I won't at this point go into details over what sort of things I've tried in the small parts of the hour...just for fun, you understand...).

But when I'd baked my hazelnut macaroons, this is exactly what I did - I typed in: Was mache ich mit dem Eigelb?
And what was the answer? "Eierlikör, natürlich!"

Well, not so naturally to me. Sure, I make advocaat more or less every Easter, when I end up with masses of egg from blown out shells - but for that I use the whole egg, not just the yolk. But, after looking at recipes on the net, it seems that this is actually more the exception than the norm - a lot of them use the yolk only.

Excellent. Another wonderful bit of information is the fact that there are many, many ways of achieving this quintessentially Dutch liqueur (Or is it?? See below!), and I am delighted to find that I don't necessarily need evaporated milk - which my Mum's recipe asks for but which isn't the sort of thing I normally keep in my cupboard and which they don't sell at Lidl (just over the road from me - too close for comfort, i.e. I resent having to actually DRIVE somewhere for my food...).

The only question remains: can one buy 'Weingeist' (oh, wine spirit, oh spirit of the wine...) in this country, as one can in Germany, at the pharmacy? (Where one can also buy Haushaltnatron for Brezeln, of course, but that's another story...)
If yes, that would be incredibly useful (as we seem to have actually used up [drunk???!!!] all the Pott 54, and don't quite know how to light the Feuerzangenbowle this year... but I'm digressing as usual....).

However, with an alcohol %age of 90 odd, that seems highly unlikely - as clearly the Brits cannot be trusted with alcohol... ;-)

ANYWAY, this is the easy peasy way, using brandy and evaporated milk.

Eierlikör /Advocaat

3 eggs (or in this case, 4 egg yolks)
3 tbsp of sugar
6 tbsp of evaporated milk
lemon juice (optional)
1 cup of brandy

Blend all ingredients in a blender. Pour into sterilised glass bottle.

Opinion as to how long this stuff keeps in the fridge seems to be divided. But in my experience, this is totally irrelevant, as it is ready to be drunk immediately... and does not tend to survive any of the parties it was made for... if indeed, it ever makes it all the way to the party... hic

My bottlle is half way empty as we speak, and what is left is not worth taking anywhere... I rest my case.

According to Wikipedia, this alcoholic beverage derives its name from avocado:
The natives of the Amazon region had a drink called 'abacate', made with avocado, which the Europeans discovered in the 17th century. When they added rum and demerara sugar, 'advocaat' in its original form was invented - apparently the egg yolks were simply a substitute for the avocado!!!

Hmm, I wonder what it would be like with avacado? - Not exactly less calorific but better for the cholesterol conscious.

Anyway, there are lots of variations on this. A lot of recipes use cream instead of evaporated milk, icing sugar instead of caster sugar and add vanilla sugar; the alcohol used also varies - it seems a lovely field for experimentation!!!

For a chocolate and/or moccha variant: add nutella or cocoa and/or instant coffe or Camp (a chicory & coffee essence).

Some people claim that egg nog (or egg flip etc) is superior to advocaat - see a very illuminating entry over at the traveler's lunchbox under the heading: Top Nog.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Biscuit Bonanza

Oh my goodness, did we eat!!! And chat, and laugh, and drink...

Saturday was my first blogger meeting (Celia, Jeanne, Jenni, Joanna, Johanna, Martina, Melissa and Melissa's friend Wampe) and what a feast it turned out to be! Johanna, the host, treated us to Sauerkraut, Bratwurst and various Austrian dips. But that was only the 'amuse bouche'! We continued with a sumptious cheese fondue, complete with smoked hams and gherkins, washed down with white wine. Just in case we were still short of a calorie or two in this first instalment of the annual 'put on a stone in one month' marathon, we were then treated to mulled wine/cider and the complete array of Christmas cookies that everyone had brought! (The variety shown above is only plate 1...) Of course, every single one had to be sampled and swapped! YES!!! We all went home with containers full of the most delicious homebaked creations!
Just opening my tin, the smell catapults me back to a gappy toothed little me, singing Christmas songs by the light of the candles on the advent wreath, with my Mum and my brother, just as Johanna had conjured up on Saturday... Thank you so much Johanna for bringing back such happy memories, for hosting this event, and for all the hard work that went into it. Thank you to everyone else, too, for being absolutely marvellous company and such terrific biscuit bakers. Particular thanks must go to Melissa for her driving me down to "Twickers", and Joanna for driving me to High Wycombe.

I won't go into all the details of my semi-catastrophic cookie making, suffice it to say that OH had already noticed the mark on the dining room table and had inspected it and found a whole piece missing underneath... ooops!I've also got muscular ache, though why in my left arm, that remains a mystery.
Anyway, here's the recipe I followed:

Haselnussmakronen – Hazelnut Macaroons

Recipe says, it will make 70, my empirical research says: 50 at the most...

4 egg whites
200g caster sugar
1 pinch of cinnamon
1 pinch of salt
300g ground hazelnuts (for best taste, grind just before making macaroons)
50-70 whole hazelnuts (just in case)

Beat the egg whites until stiff, add the sugar in batches and continue beating until the mixture stands in stiff peaks, then carefully fold in the rest of the ingredients, except the whole hazelnuts. With two wet teaspoons, drop walnut sized heaps of the mixture on to a baking tray lined with baking paper. Place whole hazelnuts in the middle of each macaroon. Allow to stand. (Some recipes suggest letting them rest at room temperature for an hour...)

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 130º C for ca 20 minutes.

It is important at this point that you don’t go up into the attic to search for your nice Christmas tin...

Will keep for several weeks in an airtight container.
Apparently, they can even be frozen...

variations I found:
4 drops of bitter almond essence/vanilla essence
100g desiccated coconut & 200g ground hazelnuts
a mixture of ground and flaked hazelnuts
1 teaspoon lemon juice
icing sugar instead of caster sugar
grated lemon rind

I also found that it might be possible to ‘grind’ the hazelnuts in a food processor...

My Mum used to make coconut macaroons all year round, but I never took to those as much, they were just too sweet for my liking. Of course, it would also be dead easy to make them with almonds, for which I might try the ground/flaked mixture for a more varied texture.

The suggested temperature in the recipes ranged from 120º C to 300º C, and the suggested baking time from 8*-30 minutes, making it the ideal recipe for me, operating with a mini oven where the temperature cannot be determined (at least not by you - you get what you’re given), and where the heat can disappear despite of the stepladders’ valiant efforts...

* 8-10 minutes at 185º C, for soft macaroons, suggests one recipe

Soon to come:
Was mache ich mit dem Eigelb?
What do I do with the yolks?

I wonder how similar my advocaat is to Johanna's home made Bailey's?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Round Robins

Last year, amongst the Christmas books Tom buys me every year, was one by the otherwise well appreciated Simon Hoggart, which annoyed me enormously.
The book came in a manageable format, a pretty red and silver sleeve, which features a funny seasonal cartoon and the intriguing title, ‘The cat that could open the fridge’. Moreover, the blurb promises an ‘inimitable funny commentary’, and attests that the writer has wisdom and humanity, with a touch of class. (Yes, you’ve guessed it, such accolade can only come from a fellow journalist, one who has worked for the same paper and who is still a colleague in broadcasting…)
Well, I only recall laughing out once, namely at the quote on page 92, when an extremely miserable circular letter, describing all the disasters and mishaps of one family, ends thus: ‘On this note, we wish you an equally contented and peaceful 2004’. As the comic element was provided by the sender himself it did not need SH’s commentary at all. As for the rest of the book: it didn’t even put me into the agreeable state of mild amusement, which is all any of the other books that have the undeserved praise “hilariously funny” heaped on them have ever managed to do. In fact, it thoroughly frustrated and angered me. So much so, that I have decided not to send any more Round Robins.

And to those of you who might see the book around, or - heaven forbid - the follow-up, I'd like to say:

Do not buy this book. Its 145 pages consist almost entirely of quotes from Christmas letters, all of which have been sent to SH by readers who declare to absolutely loathe them, who find them excruciatingly boring and/or disgracefully smug and boasting. At £9.99, SH has added nothing worthwhile. In fact, everything he says/implies about the so-called round robins – the writers don’t know when to stop, the letters aren’t really funny, not really entertaining, not really enlightening, not really insightful, and really, really, really could have done with radical editing… – aptly applies to his own book. Only difference being that the poor betrayed writers of those letters did not claim to be funny and insightful, they had the decency to use their own words and didn’t ask anyone for payment!!!

If you’ve ever felt like SH’s contributors about someone’s Christmas circulars – namely that they’re “boasting, whingeing, ... miserable, ... nit-picking, testy and grandiloquent, ... packed with facts without information and information without knowledge", their writers "often blissfully lacking in self-awareness” – don’t be as cowardly as they were! Don’t shop those people (whose only ‘crime’ is to think that staying in touch is a nice trait) to SH so that he can publish another book, with 95% of the work done by the very people he insults. One page, for instance, contains less than 18 words by the author himself. Instead, do the decent thing: Tell them that you don’t want to be bothered with their annual whinge.

And another thing: Reply to Christmas greetings! Only horrible people like those who write to SH, and include such lines as, ‘my oldest and dearest friend, but oh dear, what a plonker!’ think that not replying for a decade is a hint that they don’t want your Christmas cards, the rest of us think that you simply can’t find the time, but that you still appreciate hearing from us!

I for one have decided not only to give up writing Round Robins, but also writing to people who do not write to me. I used to think such tit-for-tat attitude was rather silly and small-minded and petty, but the thought that there could be just one person out there who thinks of me as someone “trapped in a forest of self-delusion” who forces other people to plough through "thousands of words describing every detail of someone’s life" (as if free will and bins didn't exist...), has resulted in this resolve. Instead, I'll point people into this direction, my blog.

Blogs, of course, will undoubtedly receive the same loathing as Round Robins by fans of Simon Hoggart, are they not, after all, certainly by those people's definition, the very epitome of wearisome self-important drivel, detailing every boring development in some non-entity's life: from what they've cooked/eaten to their nostalgia for 80s punk, let's say?

Well, to all of those (who might as well call for the undertaker now, as they're clearly already dead inside) I have to say, I have 'met' more people via blogging who are tremendously kind and generous, interesting and exceptionally educated (which says quite a lot considering I have worked at Universities in Germany and the UK for longer than I care to admit to), not to mention talented, funny and original, than in 'real life' for yonks and yonks and yonks!!!

And tomorrow I'm going to meet some of them in the flesh, and I can't wait!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Middle Eastern Delights

This time, my food parcel came from ISRAEL, from my lovely friend Simona, and the organic look of the contents and the previous art meme inspired me to lay them all out as a picture. It looked quite spectacular - unfortunately, my camera doesn't do it justice.
The totally delicious goodies are:
"hair halva" (halva=lit. sweetmeat; made from sesame seeds, honey or sugar syrup; other ingredients may be added, for instance rosewater, dried fruit, nuts, spices), two different types of Hummus snacks (savoury but not spicy-hot), chocolate coated (white and dark) raisins, caramel liquorice (!), candied strawberries, mini oranges, pomelo and papaya, and quince paste. Not in the picture are mini chocolate and halva snacks, and I also left out - for obvious reasons - the absolutely FANtastic handcream Simona sent.
What an absolutely thrilling, exciting and exotic parcel! Thank you ever so much Simona!!!
It's difficult to say what I like best - judging from what has been eaten most of, it would be the hummus snacks. But I think that's got something to do with the fact that it's not sweet, so you don't feel so guilty. Also: you can eat more savoury food in one sitting than sweet. The boys love the strawberries best, but I think I prefer the pomelo, I love the lush combination of citrus and sweet perfume. The hair halva is also absolutely gorgeous, and I could gobble it up in one go, as I adore the taste as much as the odd consistency of this sesame-honey concoction, which demands finger licking - surely one of the definitions of yummy food.
But I have to say that it was the quince paste which excited me most - simply because of this year's unsuccessful Quest for Quince... I will write more about this in The Quince Connection...
-- I know, I know, promises, promises; I never seem to get round to anything I announce. I still haven't added all those recipes from the Childhood Meme..., and, and, and, ad infinitum. But you never know - now that there are 5000 other things more urgent than the blog, I might just feel the urge to ponder the wonder of quinces...

Monday, December 12, 2005

meme: art & gastronomy

I'm not quite sure whether this is my favourite food related picture, but it is Bacchus, after all, painted by Caravaggio, no less, who IS one of my favourite painters. More of his paintings on (where I swiped this...).

Oh yes, this is the tag:

And the invitation came from SaoMai

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tim Tam Slam!!!

Finally! Writing about my other parcel!! Over at Chocolate & Zucchini, we've been having an international parcel exchange, and over two weeks ago (my oh my, time really does fly when you have to go into orbit every week...), mine arrived from New Zealand. It took only 6 days (thumbs up for the Kiwi post!!), and it was from the lovely Barbara, whose acquaintance I had already made, which pleased me enormously and added a particularly personal touch. Just look at those 15 multi-coloured parcels, with their beautiful bow of black satin, to make them look like licorice allsorts, which is of course, my avatar and name (Lakritz = licorice). How sweet is that???
And as much thought had gone into every item chosen, and there was a long letter to explain the unique regional choices.

Pineapple Lumps (going since 1935)
- the candy for Kiwis, and it's easy to see why: the chewy, juicy pineapple candy is encased in rich, dark chocolate... they're very addictive, no matter whether they've been in the fridge (recommended) or not... [-- ooops, all gone on day 1]
Whittakers Peanut Slab (going since 1896)
Apparently, the peanut slab is sold everywhere from service stations to supermarkets, preferab;ly placed by the check out... and yep, I can see why you just have to have one! They're delicious!!
[-- mmmm, gone by day 2/3]
Cairns Fudge (made by a company owned by Chris Cairns and his fatherLance Cairns, NZ cricketing icons)
Now, that would be of particular interest to my cricket obsessed son Ozzy who's so determined to step into Freddie Flintoff's shoes that I had to turn the garden into a cricket pitch - but did he get any of this?
[No prizes for the correct answer... ]
Chai Tea Spices (to be added to tea)
It actually says 'Masala Spice' on the pack, which of course makes this girls' ears prick up, does she not, after all, live in the very heart of Balti land, the land where garam masala and tikka masala rule?? And indeed, the spices are: ginger, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper -- sounds like a veritable Christmas spice mixture to me... [I haven't tried it yet as it requires proper tea leaves and the only ones I've got in are Earl Grey, and the bergamot would be overpowering...]
Flaky Salt
NZ version of Maldon salt; yum, yum... we should really cut down on salt, but find it very difficult indeed... , but, of course, this is quality salt...
Strawberry Huller
OMG, this made me want to go out and hunt down some out-of-season-strawberries immediately!!! Okay, so that hasn't actually happened yet, but I did promise Barbara that, come next Easter, I'd buy myself a Rumtopf in Germany and that I 'd start the 'pick your own' as soon as the season starts, and that I'd use that strawberry huller to the amazement of all my friends, and come next autumn, I'd be able to send her a jar of Rumtopf fruit in time for Christmas!
[--No comments, please!]
Of course! And very delicious it was, too!
[Well, yes, it's gone!How long do you think licorice can last in this house?!!]
Harris Coffee
Well, of course again -- it's Barbara's name. -- We'll keep that as our rescue pack when we find ourselves in desperate need of a strong, hot caffeine injection only to find we're unaccountably completely out of coffee... and instead of expletives, we'll be able to say, 'Thank God for Barbara!'
Home Made Vanilla Sugar
And that's without knowing that I clearly believe that one must never ever run out of vanilla sugar under any circumstances...
Hmm, olives and oil, adding that French touch, as did the
Zucchini Seeds
The Z-word had to be there!!! And while this made me smile, there were two things that made me laugh out loud:
a cake batter scraper, because I also included a spatula for such purposes to my parcel to Catherine, although a completely different model; and this absolutely cute mini quiche pan, which Barbara suggested for making mini quiches for Ozzy to take to school. Well, I might as well admit it now and get it over with: I do the earthmother look quite well and I do own an apron saying "Domestic Goddess", but I'm sure my mother-in-law meant this present ironically... I do like food and I do like cooking, but ever since falling in with the real, the true foodies, I've realized that I don't qualify at all... A proper meal prepared by me is more the exception than the rule, Tom cooks more often than I do, and my poor kids have to completely and utterly fend for themselves, because ever so often I'm still teaching at dinner time, and in the mornings, I'm either already out of the house, or, on the days I don't teach in the mornings, I don't even manage to be up early enough to make them breakfast... (no lectures on breakfast being the most important meal, etc, etc pp, please -- I know that! But knowing doesn't equal change... -- I'm weak; I get into ruts; I go to bed too late; I drink too much...)

Still, this cute little pan is certainly going to come in handy for little quiches or tartlets to take on our picnics which will undoubtedly be part of the 'pick your own' sessions next year!!

Before I finally come to the explanation of this post's title, I'll have to mention two more items, the New Zealand Listener (the glimpse of which made me cringe with guilt -- how did Barbara know that I desperately need to go on a diet?),
and dried persimmon snacks, both of which deserve their own entry, as they spurred happy hours of research (otherwise known as procrastination periods...), and sharing the findings makes them seem less like wasted time but more like worthwile tasks. Of course, those times (and others devised to escape urgently beckoning duties) were responsible for not getting down to doing this write up. (In conjunction with my inability to make it snappy, and a very laborious method of typing...).
So, without further ado, what is the Tim Tam Slam?

Well, first of all you need
Tim Tams - Australia's favourite chocolate biscuit. (Barbara is an Australian living in New Zealand, just in case you were getting confused now...) They look like Penguins (the ones produced by McVities, not the animal), and do indeed taste similar (more up-market was Franks verdict), but their chocolate has a slight hint of caramel, and the cream filling has a vanilla-chocolate flavouring. You also need a hot drink. Then you nibble both ends off the biscuit and brace yourself for the most disgustingly gooey and yummy taste experience you've ever had in 5 seconds flat: you use the biscuit as a straw for your drink and quickly slam it into your mouth before it disintegrates into your tea or coffee!
The Tim Tam Slam is also known as the Tim Tam Suck or the Tim Tam Bomb.

Thank you soooo much, Barbara, for all the phantastic gifts, for all the thought and work that went into preparing this wonderful parcel!!! And last not least for providing us with this most unique taste experience!!!

Monday, October 10, 2005

EBBP 2: "The Making"

Glazed Salmon Kebabs with Udon Noodles:
I adapted this recipe from Ainsley Harriot's "low fat meals in minutes"; he uses monkfish.

prep: 15 mins
cooking time: 10mins
Serves 4

500g cubed salmon
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp tomato puree
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp clear honey
1/2 teasp Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1/2 teasp chilli oil
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
250g udon noodles (thick Japanese rice noodles)
green cabbage, roughly chopped (I had pointy cabbage; Ainsley used pak choy; I think other greens, even spinach, would also work well)

1. Prepare the marinade and drop the salmon pieces into it; marinate for at least 20 minutes (Ainsley doesn't actually do this -- so if you're in a hurry, you can proceed to point 2 -- but I always feel that marinating works really well, the longer the better)
2. Thread the fish onto 8 skewers. If you use wooden ones, remember to soak them for 20 minutes before using them.
3. Cook the skewers over hot coals or under a pre-heated hot grill for about 6-8 minutes, turning frequently, until the fish is cooked through and a little charred.
4. Meanwhile, run the noodles under hot water to separate out, then steam over apan of boiling water with the cabbage for 3-4 minutes. Serve the fish skewers piled on top of the udon noodles.

Four out of four test eaters really liked this dish, particularly the salmon, which was succulent, mildly spiced, with the charred bits being particularly tasty. As for the noodles: they taste just like other rice noodles but they look spectacular. I'd certainly use them again as a stylish variation .

We also tried the Japanese iced tea. Both boys love iced tea, so at least we didn't get the usual moaning and whining beforehand (let alone the writhing and choking and pretend vomiting noises). But - you'd better not read on, Talia - it did not go down too well. In fact, Frank described it thus: as if someone had smoked a cigarette and then exhaled the taste into water. And I have to say, he's got a point, it is a rather smoky taste, but even our ex-smoker (nearly one year without nicotine!) who might still crave the taste of cold ashtrays, was not impressed. I drank all mine, but then again, I drink all sorts of herbal tea... The only one I won't finish is that stinging nettle one I bought at the farmers' market, the one which prompted Ozzy to declare, "Mum's buying dope", which in turn prompted me - highly alarmed, if not to say agitated - to start a thorough investigation into what exactly made him think that... Apparently, school had seen it fit to have an anti-drugs lesson complete with illustrative material...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Into Orbit

Well, bicarbonate of soda will not exactly send you into orbit - as some taste experiences apparently do if some food bloggers are to be believed - the photograph is only here because I referred to the 3 1/2 pence mystery ingredient at the back of my cupboard in an earlier post. I think even the design betrays its belonging to a bygone era..., and I reckon it was one of those items that my mother-in-law likes to pass on regularly after one of her clear-outs, with the ominous words, "I think you're more likely to use this up than I am..."

Anyway, not what this post is about, not at all. This post is not food-related, it's about my first week back at Uni.

Monday did not start well inasmuch as the Head of German phoned me to ask whether I could teach a level 7 course that night when I had been planning on finally getting stuck into my preparations for the first year teaching... But of course, even though I hivered and hovered, eventually, in the end, I agreed. The fun really started when I got an e-mail informing me that my Wednesday morning class was to take place in one of the Physics buildings ( Orlitt 2), with the added note, 'I'm sorry, but I know you are one of the tutors least likely to be fazed by having to find a room previously unknown . . . you know, "to boldly go where no tutor has gone before" and all that. We've not been allocated this room before, but you never know, it might turn out to be a gem!'

WELL..., this booking into Orlitt 2 might just as well have been into Orbit 2 (to stay with physics metaphors, as it happens to be The Year of Physics, apparently!!). It doesn't seem to be on any map of the campus, even students doing physics had never heard of it, and when a frazzled secretary (having been pestered by desperate students all morning ...) finally phoned room allocation, THEY didn't even know where it was!!

But of course, spot on, I wasn't going to give faze a chance, I took appropriate precautions: I arrived at the University for 8 am, so that I'd have enough time to find the room. Well, it was very unlikely to be a gem, and it isn't. Behind all the other physics buildings, nearly off the campus (but very close to the Barber Institute of Fine Art, where I intend to go straight after those exhausting 2 hours of beginners' teaching), there are two hut-like buildings, both helpfully called Orlitt 1 (though one of them also carries the immensely useful further clarification: "104"). Luckily, on the day in question, another early bird member of staff noticed me looking puzzled beyond description, and volunteered the information that teaching room 2 should be the one on the left, and should he unlock it for me? (Ah, I thought, another little obstacle to make my Wednesday mornings "interesting"...). The one-story building - the words 'pre-fab' and 'temporary' come to mind - seems almost deserted and a bit spooky (one room contained, apart from some other festering items, an empty fridge, with the door wide open), and there is definitely no toilet around for miles. The room itself is passable enough, with newish chairs, unlike others I've encountered, where the filling is dying to burst out into the open or which have raw metal poking out where a side-rest should have been - a sight that greeted (and almost injured) me on my first day at work! -- It is not an ideal room, as there is hardly room to manoeuvre (which is what we have to do quite a bit in Modern Languages!!!), but hey, no room ever is! (Except for the ones in the School of Education, which - believe it or not - we can only use if we pay for them.)

As for the students, they turned up one by one, all 15 of them, in the end, and the Head of German and I were pondering whether we could use this little IQ test as an indicator for future exam success... (Mind you, the first student was simply lucky, he was able to just tag along with me...).

All in all, it made for quite an entertaining morning, with plenty of opportunity to bond with my students, especially the girl who studies "Disaster Management", who has clearly come to the right place for immediate application of new insights and skills! I had to suppress the question whether she does home visits, although I'm sure a stint at my house would classify as a
field trip!!!

I have a feeling that the lovely collegue who arranged this room for me simply wanted to provide me with a foil for one of my "things that happened to me this week" stories!

Yes, yes, still to come:
- EBBP2: the making
- my recent cultural exploits
- the whole backlog of recipes from the Childhood meme
- AND another parcel to report on!!! This time from New Zealand! From the lovely Barbara over at winos and foodies

Oh, and of course, how about the fact that Andrew must be aware (but has kept stumm!) that there is another blogger, someone who's also been part of EBBP2, who lives so close to me that the first part of our postcode must be virtually identical... Just how exciting is THAT?

Monday, October 03, 2005

EBBP 2: The "Tasting"

The Cake
(scroll down for the recipe)

Now, if you're thinking, 'Ah, for once, a decent photo on Zabeena's blog' , I have to tell you that I've nicked it from Talia's, but I'm sure she won't mind, as it is depicting the Choccolate & Zucchini Cake she sent me as part of the parcel in the current EBBP 2 event. I had to 'borrow' hers as my picture simply did not do it justice (see below: Cheese, Cloves and Cake). (In the same way as my attempt at 'This is the way the cookie crumbles' photographs of Moira's American Cookies did not -- in fact, my kids forbade me to put them on the blog!! So if you want a peep and the recipe, go to Who Wants Seconds?)

As you can see, this cake looks absolutely scrumptious, and I'm telling you IT IS !!! If you like your cake as richly chocolatey and as moist and sumptious as possible, without the sickly sweet addition of icing and/or buttercream, this is the one for you! And if you simply love the subtle hints of luscious spices to set off and enhance the chocolate, look no further!! -- Even Frank (who is, as I've said before, the self-declared connoisseur of bakeware in this family) raved about the texture and taste! And when he likened it to the very best carrot cake (his favourite!), I let him in on the secret ingredient... The latter had been a discussion point between the boys: I didn't want to say what it was because they both HATE courgettes, so they had taken it upon themselves to guess what 'zucchini' might be... The closeness to German 'Zucker' had led them to believe that it was nothing more sinister or disgusting than sugar. (Clearly, their reasoning didn't stretch far enough to notice that sugar wouldn't exactly constitute a very 'secret' ingredient in a cake... )
Anyway, this cake is really sensationally good!
If there is only one cake you're going to make this autumn/winter, this has got to be the one!!

The Cheese

First of all, you need to know that I'm mad about cheese. Cheese would be a lot harder to give up than chocolate. Oh yes!! And this goat's and sheep's milk cheese is totally to die for!!! Unlike most goat's and/or sheep's milk cheese, this one is a hardcheese, processed like Gouda and matured. It is light in colour, crumbly in texture, and rich, salty and acidic in taste. It melts on your tongue in the way slivers of Parmesan do. now, I ate cheeses in France this summer as if there was no tomorrow (and as if there were no calories, in fact, as if I were not prone to obesity...), and I loved a lot of them, but none of them left me longing, hankering, pining as this one will, once I've finished it! This cheese has immediately climbed into my top ten of best cheeses of all time, and next time I go over to Germany, I will have to send my brother over the border into Holland to procure a piece of this cheese for me, or else!!

The Sausage

Think 'best charcuterie', think 'Continental smoked sausages', think 'air-dried', think 'cured'. Then add the pungent taste of cloves. Now, I love cloves, adore cloves, and I think of them as quintessentially autumnal. So, needless to say, I loved this sausage, too.

The Jam

Ah! This is just soooo special! First of all, I had never heard of dune berries before, so, my golly, what an experience this lovely woman is providing! And secondly, totally unbeknown to her, of course, dunes and berries in Holland, conjure up very specific holidays for me...

It must have been 1994, because I was pregnant with Ozzy, and in order to combine the 'obligatory' visit in Germany with a holiday, we had opted for a week in Zandvoort. Frank and I had gone to Germany first, and then drove over to Holland and met OH (oh for Heaven's sake, let's give him a name, let's call him Thomas - Tom thereafter - as Th. Hardy is one of his favourites) at Amsterdam airport. Busy executives like him sometimes only manage a week of holidays, and as fate would have it, most of those 7 days were spent in hospital!!! BUT -- this way, Frank, who was 5 at the time, gained a completely child-oriented holiday, which involved going into the dunes, flying a kite, and gathering the most delicious berries. (They were like blackberries, only infinitely more gorgeous, blacker and sweeter and bigger and juicier and all the rest of it, in short, the stuff that myths are made of .) -- It was only this year that Ozzy and I came across the scrap book of that holiday, and he -- Ozzy -- was very jealous, and demanded a similar holiday in Holland straight away...which wasn't an option, but as luck would have it, just a couple of weeks after finding the scrap book, completely out of the blue, I received a phone-call from the lovely lady we stayed with then, and I think we will soon be making plans for a visit.

But no, we did not, on that occasion, encounter orange dune berries. I don't know what they are, but they are certainly special. The consistency of the jam is rather like one of my own, more soupy than set. The colour is, wow, most autumnal, the most marvellous orange brown, full of sun rays and specks of orange. The taste is a very sweet pumpkin combined with a very tart redcurrant, and there are traces of ripe gooseberries, sweet chestnuts, rosehips and plump sultanas, soaked in rich wild honey.

Absolutely marvellous, absolutely unique. (And as an aside to Andrew: it goes spiffingly well with the Ernest & Julio Gallo Sierrra Valley 2004 Californian Chardonnay, which I happen to have at hand, right now...)

What an absolute treat!

So thank you ever so much, Talia, for providing me with such entirely new and exquisite taste sensations!!!

And thank you, Andrew, for organising it all and presenting the results so well !!!

For news of what I've done with the noodles and the tea, please return in a few days time.

In the meantime, here's the recipe for the most luxurious Chocolate & Zucchini Cake, as adapted by Talia from Elise of 'Simply Recipes'.

The Recipe:

2 1/2 cups regular all-purpose flour, unsifted1/2 cup cocoa (this make for a chocolaty but not over kill flavor, next time around, I might add a bit more, say another ¼ cup)2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda1 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon cinnamon3/4 cup soft butter2 cups sugar3 eggs2 teaspoons vanilla2 teaspoons grated orange peel2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini (I added an extra ½ cup, could easily take another 1 cup)1/2 cup milk1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (add many many more walnuts)

Glaze (directions follow)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.1 Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.2 With a mixer, beat together the butter and the sugar until they are smoothly blended. Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition. With a spoon, stir in the vanilla, orange peel, and zucchini.3 Alternately stir the dry ingredients and the milk into the zucchini mixture, including the nuts with the last addition.4 Pour the batter into a greased and flour-dusted 10-inch tube pan or bundt pan. Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes (test at 45 minutes!) or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes; turn out on wire rack to cool thoroughly. 5 Drizzle glaze over cake. Glaze: Mix together 2 cups powdered sugar, 3 Tablespoons milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until smooth.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Cheese, Cloves & Cake

from Amsterdam!! Yes, my parcel has just arrived, and it's all absolutely wonderful and so spot on (as in: so many things that I absolutely love)!
Chocolate Cake (in fact: Chocolate & Zucchini Cake - how good is that?!)
Clove Sausage
Sheep & Goat's milk Cheese
& Dune Thorn Berry Jam (a completely new food to me)

And can you see the little black faced sheep? Talia who sent me this parcel, says that's what her name means, and it's the most wonderful, sweetest thing you can imagine! (I think even in my dreadful picture - I must do something about that camera! - its character comes across!)

All those items came from the weekly organic food market, and from the back of Talia's cupboard: UDON NOODLES and Japanese Barley Iced Tea. And I already know what I want to do with the noodles - only: WHEN???

I haven't even posted my own parcel!! I'm so sorry Andrew! Apart from nearly burning the house down (see below), all sorts of things have gone wrong, too. The damson jam turned out too thick, the nectarine & amaretto jam turned out too runny, the curtain rail came down, the printer is out of order (which I need to complete my parcel - don't ask!!) and I have a major problem with Frank on my hands! I shall try to get everything sorted asap, and do a proper write-up, but now I must rush back into the kitchen...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Not so much waxing lyrical as burning the house down...

Bramble vinegar

I made this with blackberries, picked at Bilberry Hill (bilberries are wild blueberries or huckleberries), in the Lickey Hills, just outside Bromsgrove on the last day of the holidays, which has become quite a little tradition for Ozzy, and Sally's kids. The blueberries are made into blueberry muffins (eaten while still warm!), and the blackberries into jam. Some of the jam and some Chardonnay and some vinegar essence made the bramble vinegar, which will form part of the "something fruity, something autumnal" offering of BBBP2.
Now, I thought it would add a nice professional touch if I sealed the cork with wax, especially as this item will travel. I have a small melting pan which is ideal for the purpose, and I chose a burgundy red candle to match the colour of the vinegar. Sparing you all the boring details, I'll just say it was more difficult than anticipated, and even though I managed to abuse an Irish Coffee contraption as a sort of vice to hold the bottle steady, the procedure required several melting periods. As I was also trying to meet the deadline for the tax credits (so as to avoid losing money, and - more importantly - OH's wrath), I scampered off to the living room to sort through the piles and piles of admin trash (i.e. opened but un-sorted envelopes ranging in importance from Inland Revenue to "Last opportunity to buy...., pay nothing until next Autumn!" ), in order to find clues for apparently crucial snippets of information such as PAYE numbers, employers' tax reference and exactly how much my husband earns... - leaving the wax to melt away in the pan on the open gas fire...
You've guessed it, when I got back into the kitchen, I was greeted by a huge flame, and had I taken any longer, I'm sure I would have burnt the kitchen down (which at least would have prompted an immediate replacement...), the handles of the eye-level grill pan were already in the process of melting...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Cupboard Love

This is the content of cupboard number 1, mainly bakeware. And as I had quite correctly anticipated (see 'I'm swimming...'), virtually everything was out of date, including my plain flour!! I filled a whole box (one of those collapsible ones) with items to throw away. In fact, my cupboard number 1 would be virtually empty now had I not selected another box full of food to regain their place in said cupboard under the persuasive premise: "I reckon 'Best before...' simply means the item isn't quite as potent as it could be...".
It was quite an experience, at once nostalgic-melancholic and cathartic.
There were two distinct 'areas' of neglected foods:
a) items for elaborate cake creations: icing (rock hard), small containers with decorations (colour faded and tasteless), food colouring, glycerine, liquid glucose (without exception out of date).
I haven't made any spectacular cakes since..., since..., well, not since Ozzy was quite little. All his recent birthday cakes were bought ones (M&S to the rescue...). When before, there would have been Thomas, and Gordon in the ditch (surrealistically incorporating Batman...), and even Henry in the tunnel (with moveable brick wall)!
Though my favourite ones were for adult birthdays (Big Zeros): a huge crab for a Cancerian friend, and for my darling husband the idyllic riverside scene, with a Burberry clad (or so I fancy), flatcapped man fishing from a bridge. I even took photographs... alas, this was before digi cams...

b) items purchased in Germany without which I can't live (or so I seem to believe every time I visit), the vast majority of which appear to have been produced by Dr. Oetker. Only - just how many packs of vanilla sugar does one need?!! Clearly none, as I've got packs going back to the year 2000!

But if you think that's out of date - think again! Apart from my pièce de la résistance, which is so old it dates back to the Dark Ages when food did not even carry bb or eb dates, there were two packs of sheet gelatine from 1994!!!

Needless to say, I didn't find much in cupboard number 1 that I can send to a fellow food blogger without running the risk of being prosecuted for indirect manslaughter by means of mailing without due care and attention!!
Not to worry - I've got two more -- equally large and equally overcrowded -- cupboards to go through, surely not every area of my culinary life can be quite so finito?!!.

At any rate -- this is a good exercise... Without EBBP 2, I would not have sorted through my cupboards at this point in time (I REALLY have far more important, pressing things to do...). And although it has all the painful elements of the "7 up" series which has just been on tv again (and yes, come to think of it, I'm currently approaching one of those 7-year-boundaries...), it also makes me feel as if I'm finally making some progress towards a new kitchen, a new cooker (!!!), and a completely new phase in my life! (Though Frank's 'Let's get a new cooker before Christmas!' seems preposterously optimistic considering this family's habitual time-frame!)

So, Andrew, can we have a 'freezer raid' next? Followed maybe by 'Hidden treasure in your garage' and 'What's lurking in your cellar?'

Yours sincerely,
Ms Frazzled-Disorganized
"The Shambles"
Big City

PS: I have a photograph of my pièce de la résistance, but it wouldn't upload (though the programme said it had done it...), so you'll just have to guess what it was and how old it is .... A little clue: the price tag reads 3 1/2 pence!!!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Strasbourg Terrine with Gewurztraminer

What a phantastic day I've had today! (Well, apart from being woken at 7 am, that is.)
First, I met a friend of mine for lunch who had a present for me: a plastic coffee filter -- an item which will finally restore coffee happiness in this house. It is our favourite method of brewing the hot, brown caffeine injection, so desperately needed in the morning. Ever since I broke my ceramic Melitta filter, we've been suffering from having to make do with the infinitely more inferior method of using a cafetière.
Then I had a time-tabling meeting with my head of department, into which I went with the goal of persuading him to give me a "compact teaching load", i.e. not one and two hour slots scattered over the whole week - which we achieved (provided enough students enrol on the respective courses).
Afterwards, we had the usual departmental meeting for old and new tutors, followed by a cheese and wine party, at which I actually managed to do some net-working, quite unlike my usual inclinations.
But the best thing was when I found a lovely surprise in my pigeon-hole: the above mentioned Terrine Strasbourgoise Marinée au Gewurztraminer (20% de Foie Gras d'Oie -- I know, I know...) and a card, which reads: To a special teacher. Now, Primary School Teachers get such things all the time - but it doesn't happen that often in the Tertiary Sector, so I was really pleased and quite, quite touched.

PS: I'm making pear chutney at the moment. (Well, something had to happen to all those jars..., when Syvvy suggested throwing them away, I knew I had chutneys, pickles and jams coming on, and after all, the EBBP2 theme is "something fruity, something autumnal"...)

Pear Chutney
4lbs pears, 1 pint vinegar, 2-3 cloves garlic, 1 1/2 lbs brown sugar, ginger, grated, mixed spice, salt, cayenne pepper, nigella seeds, fresh coriander

Peel, core and chop the pears, cook with 1/2 pint of vinegar and the crushed garlic until thick and pulpy. Add the remaining vinegar, the sugar, ginger, mixed spice, a good pinch of salt, and chopped coriander; continue cooking for a further 20 minutes or until thick. Pot and cover. Makes about 5 jars.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Meme: Childhood Memories

Mettwürstchen, Waldmeister Wackelpudding, Ahoij Brausepulver and my Mum's Mocca set, which was used on my birthday, for a proper "Kaffee und Kuchen" party. We had Gestreifter Affe and drank Caro Kaffee (A coffee substitute made from chicory, caffeine-free and therefore suitable for children; it was called Mocca Faux in French which mutated into Muckefuck in German - just thought you'd like to know...).

Childhood Food Memories

I have greatly enjoyed everyone’s stories on this meme which has been running from about mid August, I think, and every single one triggered a new slice of memories for me, and like so many others, I don’t know how to restrict myself to just 5 items. Choosing, selecting, deciding... not exactly my strong points... I’d like to give you a big spread, the whole spectrum, from the foods which get you excited because you remember them (or something similar) yourself, via foods that amuse you because of their names, and foods that you’ve never heard of and seem ‘exotic’ to you, all the way to foods that achieved mythical status over the years.
Looking at my long list, I think I shall divide them into three categories:

Sweets & Cakes, (Savoury) Home Cooking, Eating Out

Sweets & Cakes

Some of the sweets I used to love secured their place in my heart purely by the power of their names (so, well done, the marketing department):

Liebesperlen“Love pearls” (tiny, multicoloured sugar balls)

Katzenzungen“Cats’ tongues” (flat, elongated pieces of chocolate, supposed to look like cats’ tongues)
[See also footnote 1]

Katzenpfötchen[1]“Cats’ paws” (small balls of licorice with a soft centre)

Mäusespeck “Mice belly fat” (marshmallows)

Götterspeise/Wackelpudding/Wackelpeter[2]“Food of the Gods”/ ”Wobbly Pudding”/”Wobbly Peter” (jelly/jello)

Dr. Oetker Eselchen Zitronenspeise[3]“Dr. Oetker’s Little Donkey Lemon Dessert” (a lemon mousse dessert; lemon meringue without the meringue)

Gestreifter Affe oder Kalter Hund oder Kalte Schnauze - “Stripey Monkey or Cold Dog or Cold Snout”

This was the cake for kids’ birthday parties. It’s made with coco fat, cocoa powder and biscuits and doesn’t require any cooking. By layering the cocoa mixture and the biscuits, one achieves the stripey effect when cutting slices. (Recipe to follow)

Zitronensuppe“Lemon Soup”

This was one of my favourites when I was little, it’s just the juice of lemons, egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon. The egg whites are beaten stiff and float on the soup like fluffy swans. (Recipe to follow)

Mohnkuchen “Poppycake”

My grandmother used to bake the best poppy cake ever, followed closely by my ex-mother-in-law (first marriage). Unfortunately, neither recipe has survived. I once ordered all the ingredients from Germany to embark on a poppy cake adventure (I had gathered several recipes) but if I remember rightly, I never even got round to baking a single one. Every bakery in Germany sells Mohnstreusel (poppy crumble), but none are ever as moist and sumptious as my Oma’s.

Home Cooking


My Mum brought this recipe back with her from Hamburg where she had lived for a few years. Our version did not look anything like the picture. It was a very quick mixture of mashed potato, onions and corned beef, with the possible addition of some herring (either Matjes or Grüner Hering), which my Mum had to cut into minute pieces as I hated anything fishy. I think I loved the name as much as the association with sailors and its reputation for being a dish for ‘rough men’.

Kohlrouladen“Stuffed Cabbage Leaves”

Very much a staple dish of Germany, and indeed, with some variations, of Central and Eastern Europe. The way the cabbage soaks up all the flavours is inimitable. A very underrated vegetable, cabbage. (But I would say that, wouldn’t I? - Recipe to follow)

Linsensuppe mit Mettwürstchen“Lentil Soup with Smoked Sausages”

Hmm, another dish I never cook because the boys don’t like lentils. I, however, liked this dish so much that I asked for it to be cooked on my birthday. (Mind you – it is in winter!). The best thing about it are undoubtedly the Mettwürstchen (as opposed to the Wiener, which they seem to have in the picture), which everyone in the family love. I can’t get anything like it here, so I import and freeze them. As I de-frosted a pack for this picture, I think I have a yellow split pea soup coming on, which they will just about tolerate for the slices of sausage immersed in it.

Königsberger Klopse“Meatballs à la Königsberg[4]

This was probably my very favourite dish as a child. Small meatballs (pork & beef & a small portion of herring) in a light sauce flavoured with capers. Sounds peculiar perhaps, but it is soooo yummy! And it’s one of the few German recipes that my children actually like.

Süße Specksoße“Sweet Bacon Sauce”

Now, this is something that I absolutely hated as a child – my grandmother’s salad dressing. She used Speck (best translated as a piece of bacon fat, I suppose), which she diced very finely and then fried until crips and brown. White vinegar (very basic vinegar, made from vinegar essence and water) and sugar would be added to this, and the still warm sauce would be poured over the lettuce. I remember it as a pretty gruesome combination. But my brother thinks we should try it sometime, our palates might have changed!

Eating Out

OMG, I have spent so much time writing and researching this, I’ll have to do this very briefly. This is the type of food which I mentioned in an earlier post, dishes which have achieved myth status. One of them was a Jägerschnitzel (an escalope, usu. pork, “hunter’s style”), but unlike the one which you can still eat at virtually any German restaurant, this one came with a sauce of chanterelles (unlike the button mushrooms you get these days). And for some reason, these chanterelles have never been matched (and I’m very jealous of someone here in the food blogging community who reported on being able to buy them fresh and in bulk...).
The others all originate in Carinthia (Southern Austria) and/or Slovenia where we used to spend
our summer holidays. Next year, I’m planning to go back there with my brother (and spouse and sprogs, of course) and try to find them still on the menu...
Karawankengeheimnis (Secret of the Karawanken, which is the moutain range between Carinthia and Slovenia), Husarenspieß (Hussar’s kebab), and of course, that Wiener Schnitzel of all times, on the road to Kranska Gora...

So, all that remains is for me to find people to tag who haven’t been part of this meme yet... Not an easy undertaking... I shall try Jenni of Pertelote, and Andrew of spittoon, and Mona of Mona’s Apple. This is how it works:

Below is the meme tree. When it’s your turn, move down the list, drop number one from the top spot, move the numbers down, and place yourself in the number five spot. Don’t forget to link the blogs (except yours).
1. Nami-Nami
2. The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz
3. 80 Breakfasts
4. Bucaio
5. A Lot On My PLate

[1] Trying to find a link/photograph, I stumbled over a very funny blog, which I can only recommend to
anyone who reads German, which not only came up with the following (quite disgusting) recipe for Hot Cats’ Paws,

1 bag Katjes Katzenpfötchen
Put a few Katzenpfötchen on a plate in the microwave, briefly heat at maximum temperature, make sure the Katzenpfötchen don’t melt completely. Serve immediately.

but also a discussion on Katzenzungen (see above), which they described as “this auntie prezzie consisting of rather inferior chocolate” – this statement was then hotly debated, culminating in the emergence of more examples of chocolate creations based on inferior chocolate and/or being an offence to the senses:
jaffa cake, Erfrischungsstäbchen and Mon Chéri. The latter, a brandy soaked cherry in dark chocolate, is a distinct favourite of mine and of most of my fellow expats. One of my friends also asks for Erfrischungsstäbchen (‘refreshment sticklets’) to be brought back – which I have to concede, are a bit sickly: small sticks of chocolate, filled with some sugary crust containing either lemon or orange flavoured syrup. In the discussion mentioned above, the jaffa cakes were consistently referred to as jaffa scheiße (i.e. shit), and one participant pointed out that “jaffa cake” when pronounced in German sounded like Jaffakacke anyway...
They also reminded me of another very popular “auntie prezzie” (the only time, apart from birthdays, Easter and Christmas that we’d get any chocolate) was Eiskonfekt , lit. ice confectionary, which comes in rainbow coloured mini aluminium cases and somehow tastes cool (lit., not figuratively). Apparently – I’ve just learnt this from the link (which is a ‘chemistry in action’ site) – this is achieved by a large amount of coco fat and the addition of sorbitol. To intensify the cool effect, it is often kept in the fridge.

[2] Of particular note is the green variety. The flavour is supposed to be Waldmeister (asperula odorata; galium odoratum; woodruff; reine des bois; belle etoile). It's a herb which flowers between April and June. Apparently, for the jelly, only artificial flavours are used because of the bitter taste. It is also used to make the syrup that goes into Berliner Weisse, and it is the key ingredient for Maibowle (a white wine punch).

[3] It seems ‘Eselchen’ doesn’t exist any more, but ‘Aranca’ is similar – the website is also another opportunity to cringe at the art of machine translation...

[4] Königsberg is called Kaliningrad today, and is the capital city of a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania. It used to be the capital of the German province Ostpreußen (East Prussia), the earlier fiefs of Ducal Prussia, and before that the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights. Immanuel Kant, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Lea Rabin (a.m.o.) were born there, and Hannah Arendt grew up in Königsberg.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I'm swimming..., I'm drowning...

...yes, that’s actually me, the tiny blue speck (pun absolutely intended) in the middle of the picture... but I wasn’t drowning then, I was simply enjoying the crashing waves at Plage Verger.
Before I digress[1], what I meant to say was: I’m drowning because of all these things I’ve signed up to do ... not to mention all the depressing things I really ought to do.

And on top of it all, Ozzy insists that he really does want to go to grammar school – even though he has so far not put in any effort whatsoever and is struggling on all fronts, even with the non-verbal reasoning – which had me tearing my hair out and trying to find a tutor with whom he’d hopefully not throw a tantrum, argue over semantics and claim that the tests’ authors needed their heads examined.
When really, at this stage in the proceedings, we ought to give up. When really, at this time of the year, I should get down to sorting through my own piles of teaching materials. When really ..., no, I won’t own up (yet) to what really, really, really needs doing and has been waiting to be done for... ehm, 3 years? 4 years?

Still, at least there won’t be any apple or pear harvest this autumn (both the apple and the pear tree had to be sacrificed), and therefore no chutney making (not that this has slowed me down in terms of holding on to every glass jar our family has managed to empty in the course of the year...). Which brings me neatly to the fun things I’ve signed myself up for.

Something fruity, something autumnal

– that’s the theme of Euro Blogging By Post 2, organised again by Andrew of spittoon.

Or rather, that’s one half of the theme. The other being a cupboard raid – to rummage around at the very back of it for an ingredient which you may have bought in a mad flurry of high spirited culinary inspiration only to find your enthusiasm dwindling into nano crumbles faced with your piles of ironing to do/essays to write/admin to sort. In other words, an ingredient you have never got round to using. In an ingenious twist to the care parcel idea, you add one such ingredient, AND – this is the exciting bit – your recipient has to create something with it. (I expect it is supposed to be something edible, not making a collage, or using it for urgent wall plastering – which is probably all my back-of-the-cupboard-ingredients are good for, suspecting that they’re so alarmingly beyond their use-by-date that the World Health Organisation is probably issuing toxic waste warnings as we speak.

To pass something on that you thought you wanted to use but then lost interest in, to someone else to wrestle with, is an excellent idea, which could work for me in many different areas. “Wouldn’t a yoghurt maker be of use to you? Part of the symptoms of an unfamiliar strain of domesticity I seem inexplicably to have caught last summer”. “Here are a few rolls of wallpaper I bought during a bout of decorating fever which befell me all too briefly in 1998”, “How about a batch of wool? I must have acquired it during a spot of earthmotherly delusions in a former life.”

In fact, I can feel lots of ‘Secret Santas’ coming on – which is the just the cue for another thing I’ve signed up for: a parcel exchange between people on Chocolate & Zucchini.
Similar to the Euro one, except there are no country restrictions and we’ll talk about it on C&Z, as opposed to a blog.

On the same forum, initiated by me, and deadlined for next Wednesday – so there really is no excuse!!! – will be the Life of Pi book review and menu presentation . I have to hang my head in shame, but I’m not even half way through the book, and worse still, so far it hasn’t succeeded to tickle the parts which ignite culinary invention, or at least the parts which conjure up food memories...

The latter can induce involuntary salivating, as I’m sure you all know, and is probably what will happen when you read about other people’s food memoirs – which you have the opportunity to do when you follow through the following meme[2], which I was privileged to have been tagged for by a lovely new acquaintance from C&Z: KAI whose blog is bucaio.

NEXT: Childhood Food Memories, THEN: Cupboard Love

[1] “I’m swimming” was an expression serving staff used at the Mövenpick restaurant when they weren’t coping with the amount of orders in their ‘station’. As you may know, the second law of thermodynamics commands people to feel the urge for dining out at exactly the same time, and when they turn up at the same eatery in bulk, a subcategory of the centrifugal force compels them to seat themselves in the relative confines of only one waiter’s ‘station’ – totally oblivious to the fact that other loitering waiters and waitresses aren’t actually supposed to take orders outside their ‘station’, unless a colleague with piles of plates in their hands gallops by with barely concealed panic, and hoarsely hisses the above idiom. (If you’re young and female, and you’ve got Italian colleagues, they might actually approach you at the first sign of your gazelle like sprint, and volunteer to help... ah, those were the days!)

[2] From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The term meme (
pronounced [miːm] in IPA; from the Greek word μνήμη for 'memory') first appeared in the 1976 book by Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene. ... Different definitions of the meme generally agree, very roughly, that a meme consists of some sort of a self-propagating unit of cultural evolution having a resemblance to the gene (the unit of genetics). ... In casual use, the term meme often refers to any piece of information passed from one mind to another. This usage more closely resembles the analogy of "language as a virus" than Dawkins' analogy of memes as replicating units. This definition has come into popular use on the Internet.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Claude Monet's garden in Giverny

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Myth in the Making

Moira's pancakes: EBBP 1 (2)

Ozzy in the process of eating.

The teenagers – my older son, let’s call him Frank, because he is, whether you want him to or not (he also worships an American musician of this name), and his girlfriend, let’s call her Syvvy, because she’s half-American, has a literary bent and her favourite book is The Bell Jar – had spent a few days near Manchester, and Ozzy and I couldn’t wait for them to come back, so that we could try out Moira’s pancake mix with oats and walnuts.

Ozzy, in particular, was extremely looking forward to our American breakfast with maple syrup, having already predicted that they were going to be the best American pancakes ever because the mixture had been made, TOUCHED, by a real American!!! (It became increasingly clear to me that Moira had already ascended to the higher echelons of Americans revered by him, which include such dignitaries as Joe Satriani and Homer Simpson...).

I entered the kitchen with some trepidation (I could so easily envisage myself messing it all up, not being known as the greatest pancake tosser of all times...), and with Ozzy’s help proceeded with the experiment.
Most of my cooking is deemed experimental by my family, who would much rather stick to their beloved curry – cooked by OH – than try out the ‘exotic’ dishes I like to conjure up with much maligned ingredients such as broad beans and lentils. Mind you, the experimental label is probably more a testimony to the forays into extreme cooking that I occasionally undertake with my friend Sally – events which see us oscillate between mad scientists and apprentice witches, when we simply substitute unavailable chemicals with something else at hand, a somewhat reckless abandon and fearless overconfidence, which therefore do not always yield quite the expected results. But that’s another story, and I will let you know if and when project Brezel ever moves from its hard as a house brick stage (simply think salt dough) to something more resembling edible fare.

The pancakes turned out to be less challenging than that. The thick mixture (quite unlike my runny German/English version) forms miraculously into just the right size pat in terms of height and diameter and is easy enough to turn once it starts bubbling (as so well instructed by Moira).
Ozzy’s delight was supreme – apparently, he had been hoping to make this kind of pancake for a loooooooong time, and now finally, all thanks to this lovely woman in Cambridgeshire, this dream had become reality! As soon as had he finished his allocated lot, he was planning when to have the next lot (as a wise precaution I had only used half the mixture), when Daddy would be able to sample them. Then suddenly panic flashed across his angelic face, “But what are we going to do then??? Have you got the recipe for the mixture?!”

I assured him that we would obtain the recipe ASAP, but I could see the traces of doubt in his face, which told me that he knew instantly that no pancakes would be like these pancakes ever again. These pancakes, like the best American cookies ever, would become part of the food mythology of this family, along with the Bara Brith (Welsh currant bread), the likes of which we will never taste again – which of course does not prevent my mother-in-law from hunting for one every single time she visits Wales – and all the other dishes that have achieved the status of legends in this house: the garlic ribs we had in Haarlem, the roast goose and dumplings in Oberstdorf, the Wiener Schnitzel in the little inn on the right hand side of the pass down towards Kranska Gora, the pizza with green olives from the baker’s in ‘our’ street in Florence, and let’s not forget the frutti di bosco ice-cream just outside Vatican city. (About the latter more in the next post, if I ever get round to it.)

And as for the Granola..., well, I’m afraid I have to report that it never ever made it into the general tasting arena, as I started munching on it while I was on the PC, and there being nobody around to rescue it and stash it away in the kitchen cupboard, its fate was sealed... Oooops, sorry... Needless to say, it was as delicious as all the other edible gifts! Thank you so much again, Moira, it’s been such a wonderful experience!

And thank you again, Andrew for organising it all. I think the write-up is still going on, AND Andrew is organising the next one for September, 24th!!

Now, I've got to go now, as we're off to a festival and then on holiday, so, 'see' you all in September. Oh, and if you're looking for something to do: why not read Yann Martel's The Life of Pi and tell us which dish the reading experience inspired - this is what we do over at Chocolate & Zucchini, where we have just started a book club!!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Euro Blogging By Post 1

Euro Blogging By Post 1, the idea which prompted me to start this blog in the first place, is fully underway now, with people receiving their parcels and writing about it on their blogs. (There’s a lovely little gingerbread man logo to go with this, but unfortunately, I didn’t manage to import it to this blog...)

Our parcel arrived yesterday, and the little one, let’s call him Ozzy (yes, you’ve guessed it, he’s a right little head-banger), ran all the way to the attic to bring it to me. He could hardly contain himself, so much did he want to rip it open and see what the goodies were. Well, Moira (Who Wants Seconds?) who sent us this very heavy gift (which was nearly £9 in postage, ouch!) must have sensed that there are children in the house with a very sweet tooth!

As the photo doesn’t quite reveal, there was a large bag with chocolate chip cookies, a pancake mixture, a bottle of maple syrup and homemade granola. The pink card on the left contains the recipe for the quintessential American cookies, and the blue-white-and black-card in the middle (depicting an Ikea cow), a message from Moira. I loved the lot – the zip-up bags, the idea of the pancake mixture, Moira’s handwriting, everything! And this was before the first smell, the first bite, the first taste of the cookies!!!

My goodness, these cookies are truly sensational! – The ‘just as mother intended’ feel already starts with the smell, which nothing shop bought could ever achieve. Then you dig your teeth into the crunchy, oaty surface, and as soon as your tongue makes first contact with the chewy yet crumbly texture, you go, “Oh yeah!!!” And then, of course, the chocolate chips start melting on your tongue... mmmh, divine. – But don’t just take my word for it:
Ozzy loved the way they were sticky and airy at the same time, and “how the lumpy bits jilt and jolt in your mouth”; the teenager (who thinks of himself as quite a connoisseur of bake-ware and calls muffins ‘the King of Foods’) exclaimed ecstatically, “Just the right texture – it is so difficult to get the balance right, they’re either too doughy or too floury, and these are perfect!”; and OH declared categorically, “Best ones I’ve ever tasted!”

Thank you ever so much Moira, for your very generous parcel, and many thanks to Andrew at spittoon for coordinating it and doing the write-up.
And my sincere apologies to Jenni of Pertelote who is the unlucky recipient of my parcel, which is in no way as exciting as Moiras or as thoughtful and pretty as hers, which went to Dagmar in Sweden. I could cry just thinking about it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Harry Potter and the Cucumbers of Doom

... or are they pickled gherkins? An acquaintance alerted me to the following link yesterday:
(Don't bother if you can't read German.)
I don't know where exactly she came across it but she mentioned that this project had undertaken to translate the latest HP in something like 48 hours, a task that normally takes at least 3 months. (Yes, I can virtually hear the heaving and spluttering by anyone remotely associated with professional translation...)
Of course, I had to follow it up immediately. And lo and behold, it seems to be quite a laudable undertaking. Yes, it endeavours to translate every HP before the official translation is published, and no, I could not find any hint as to appropriate qualifications, and deplorably, no University appears to be affiliated -- BUT it seems to encourage readers of Harry, learners of English, thousands of them keen enough to buy the book in English, to try their luck at the art of translation.
It’s a true community thing, with a muck-in feel to it. Upon registration, one is allocated 5 pages to translate within a week. Each text thus supplied will go through three different clearing points and if accepted as a useful version it moves up a level to ‘editors’ who select the best passages and expressions from a number of versions. A final editor pulls it all together to produce a complete version of HP in German, before the official translation comes out (for HP 6, this will be Oct, 1st).
From what I can tell, members are mainly amateurs whose only reward is the downloading of the finished text – provided their entry had been accomplished enough. (Oh yes, no pain, no gain!)

But what’s it got to do with cucumbers and gherkins, I hear you ask... Hang on ... all will be revealed in due course!

The on-line friend who drew my attention to this link, justifiably asked how consistency of style could possibly be maintained with such a technique and presumed that the resulting text would necessarily have to sacrifice the literary experience to not much more than plotline.

Now, I haven’t seen any complete chapters of Harry-auf-Deutsch (HaD), but surfing their forums, where members have access to a comprehensive glossary of JK Rowling’s terminology and characters, including all the recent ones, and the opportunity to discuss any translation problem, however tricky or intricate, with a huge host of Harry fans, I can certainly report that nobody - whether it’d be a modern, techno-savvy translator with a Masters degree in translation studies, or your old-fashioned fellow poet in the mould of the Schlegel brothers, or Thomas Carlyle, or for more recent examples (and less accessible languages) Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney – nobody could take the task more seriously.
I discovered a 12 page long, most intense, fervent and passionate discussion on the finer points of translating the chapter title ‘The Unbreakable Vow’, including every aspect and level, be they syntactic, semantic, pragmatic, stylistic, or contextual, making full use of the width, depth and speed of the medium, the last entry recorded yesterday at 3:37 am. (To imagine such a platform for disseminating their doubts over comprehension, interpretation and the sheer exasperation of successfully translating a pun - let alone anything as technically challenging as a transposition from iambic pentameters to alexandrines - into the ether would have been totally exalted utopian daydreaming to even the most lethally intoxicated of the Romantics...).

I wonder whether Klaus Fritz[1] at Carlsen Verlag (i.e. the German publishers of HP) ever possibly has the chance to subject just one expression, just one chapter heading to so much thought and such scrutiny from so many sides and angles!
As an extremely frustrated and disillusioned language teacher in this country, I have to admit to ending up quite choked, and very much close to tears, so touched was I at the display of something so incredibly educational, which no programme, however well meant and didactically thought through, could ever have achieved if it had come via the ‘appropriate’, the ‘official’, the ‘proper’ channels.

And what about CUCUMBERS?! What about GHERKINS?!

Some of you really never lose focus, do you? (Unlike me, who was born with myopia, which means I can’t focus at all. -- Which explains a lot...)

Harry Potter and the Cucumbers of Doom

HaD (Harry-auf-Deutsch) have two areas dedicated to LEMONS – only they call them ‘Gurken’ ..., which are, depending on your preference, either cucumbers, or gherkins – which adds a whole new dimension to the popular song, ‘I say tomatoes, and you say tomatoes.... -- lemons, cucumbers and gherkins being such wholly different items of food...

But – back in the realm of semantics – what we’re really talking about are mistakes, blunders. Bad translations. Ranging from the duff to the downright ludicrous. HaD list both, Fritz-Gurken and HaD-Gurken.

I am not going to explain, or even just comment on the level of lack of cultural transfer, I’m just going to list some of the gherkins (I opt for that version basically because it’s the sillier term of the two!) for your own perusal as to why they pose a translation problem:

- to blow a raspberry
- yours truly
- coming up to scratch
- large, square houses, with large, square owners
- he ought to have asked her out
- for good
- learn by heart
- rest home (NB: even in the last instance, not translated correctly!)
- as he scrambled to his hands and knees
- Hermione was going spare
- he had taken to...
- gave someone quite a turn...

Tomorrow: My parcel has arrived! Family food tasting coming up!

[1] Dr. Klaus Fritz, *1946, studied sociology, philosophy and politics (note: neither English nor German literature and/or linguistics!). Before mysteriously landing the job of translating hitherto unknown author JK Rowling, he had translated mainly non-fiction.