Tuesday, May 29, 2007

life is a roller coaster

Well thank you all again for the lovely birthday wishes! I think birthdays are something to be celebrated and I was glad to be able to share my day with you.

That said, I have to emphasize that my life is not always sunshine and fancy desserts and pretty pictures. That's right, my blog is an optical illusion. Fancy that! My blog is a PART of me, that's for sure, but it's not ALL of me. Not by a long shot. Those of you who know me well (and there really aren't that many of you) know what I mean.

Lurking off to the side of those pretty pictures you'll find the very same existential angst and nagging self-doubt (and not just because of the undone dishes and the unfolded laundry!) that y'all have over at your place. But of course you're still all invited to come over for cake next year.

So yes, life has its ups and downs. Let's start with the weather. Friday was gorgeous most of the day with a couple of showers in the afternoon. During the night the rain started and I don't think it has let up since. Basements were flooded (not ours, we duct taped the door closed!), tree branches came crashing down and people were actually hit by lighting. Yikes.

And I had my own thunderstorm going on in my head. After dealing with a couple of annoying long-term health problems over the past few weeks and finally starting to feel a bit better, I woke up on Monday morning with a wicked case of vertigo. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo to be exact. If you've ever had this, and I've read about a couple of bloggers who have, you'll know how very unpleasant it can be. I've been doing the recommended exercises and am much better today, but yesterday all I had to do was turn my head to the right or look down, and the Tilt-a-Whirl would start. It was like "Stop the world, I want to get off!" Not much fun for someone who is already prone to dizziness and nausea and never liked amusement parks much anyway. Mr M had yesterday off and my little monkeys have a school holiday today so they're watching out for me just in case I do tip over.

But life goes on and this too shall pass. And if I can type, it means I'm still alive, right?

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Friday, May 25, 2007

will you still need me, will you still feed me when I'm 64 44?

Welcome to my humble abode. It's a beautiful, beautiful day.

This is me. Today is my birthday.

What you see is what you get. Did you bring me presents?

My boys (including the 6'4" one) totally spoiled me this morning.

Beautiful gerbera daises in three colours and lots and lots of chocolate.

The shorter boys gave me this painted garden ornament.

And of course there was my lovely little Ebeltoft apple from Mr. M.

And what about the cake? Well, I was in a citrusy mood so I made lemon cheesecake squares and an orange sponge cake that will be served with the strawberry rhubarb compote from yesterday.

It'll just be us and the mother-in-law this afternoon so we're not going nuts on the cake. And although when it's your birthday in Germany you're supposed to be ready for unexpected visitors, I somehow doubt that the vicar is going to pop 'round for a cuppa. A nice, quiet birthday, just the way I like it.

And guess what? It's yet another freakin' long weekend! Wheee! Three days for the gainfully employed, four for the school kids. Pfingsten, the Germans call it. In English it's Whitsun, Whitsunday or Pentecost.

This flower, the peony, is a Pfingstrose in German, because it commonly blooms around this time of year. And boy did it ever! We've had many peony plants in our garden, but they are finicky, and this is the very first time one has actually bloomed. What a great birthday present.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

Wikipedia sez:

It is or was common for a crowd of extras in acting to shout the word "rhubarb" repeatedly and out of step with each other, to cause the effect of general hubbub.

Well, the only hubbub going on around here today was the yearly harvest taking place in our tiny little rhubarb patch. We've had a couple of plants for several years now, and since rhubarb thrives on neglect, it does very well in our garden. We love rhubarb, and apparently if you harvest it before mid-June, it contains less oxalic acid, which means that your teeth will feel less furry when you eat it. And remember, those leaves are poisonous! A little oxalic acid won't hurt you. A lot probably will.

While I was at the grocery store I picked up some juicy local strawberries and then went to work.

The cinnamon rhubarb muffins have a nice crunchy sugared top and the strawberry-rhubarb compote is flavoured with vanilla and cardamom. Great over ice cream or panna cotta and also good as a relish with cold sliced pork.

I'll be doing some further baking this evening because (pssst!) tomorrow is my birthday, and in Germany if you don't make (or buy) yourself a cake, no one else will. Them's the rules.

You're all invited to stop in on Friday to watch me slide even further down the hill I went over several years ago. Should be a lot of laughs. I guess middle-age really depends on how long one plans to live, doesn't it?


Monday, May 21, 2007

meat and three veg doesn't have to be boring

This is what we had for dinner last night.

Green beans, tomatoes and delicious, delicous grilled eggplant. Just barely visible off to the left of the vegetables is a shoulder of lamb (not the most photogenic of meats!), pre-cut into slices and marinated in olive oil, garlic and plenty of fresh rosemary and thrown on to the barbeque. Yum. Was it ever good.

Because three out of four members of our little family run the other way when they hear the word "eggplant" I got to eat that all by myself. They really don't know what they're missing. Vegetables make the world go 'round!

Lately I've been getting a great deal of inspiration from a lovely food magazine called Fine Cooking. My thoughtful mother gave me a subscription for my birthday (only 4 days to go!) and I've received two issues so far, both full of easy, delicious recipes using seasonal foods and lots of tips and tricks for both the novice and advanced cook. Even if you don't get the magazine, there's enough interesting stuff on the web site to keep you busy for hours. And no, no one's paying me to say that. I just quite impressed, that's all.

So if you think you can't cook, think again and go check this out. It might even turn you into an eggplant lover.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

another loooong weekend

Hot on the heels of Mother's Day last Sunday, Germany celebrated Father's Day on Thursday. Because Thursday was also Christi Himmelfahrt - Ascension Day, everyone, father or not, had the day off. The kids also had Friday off making it yet another four-day weekend for them, the lucky ducks.

Mr. M, also known as "Papa" around these parts got treated to one of his favourite breakfasts: waffles and bacon. And he deserved it. I can't imagine a better father for our boys and they adore him.

Quick! Get the maple syrup!

The rest of the day was spent puttering around in the garden. This gorgeous butterfly kept us company for several hours, sunning itself on the stone steps and taking little sips of nectar from the flowers.

Not everyone enjoyed such a peaceful day off, however, since Father's Day in Germany usually has a dark side as well. While some families walked together in the woods and many of the Christian faith attended church services, a group of 60 youths met at a local hiking area and after getting falling-down drunk proceeded to punch each others lights out and do some severe damage with baseball bats. The police were very, very busy, not only in our area but in other German cities as well. I find it really unfortunate that many public holidays in Germany are seen as an opportunity to drink oneself into oblivion. That can't be right, can it? Everything in moderation, I say.

As you can see, I've been a bit too moderate in my blogging lately. Health issues have been getting me down and leaving me a little drained but I'm on top of things and should be up and running again quite soon.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Mummy, I love you because you're all soft and warm and squishy and cuddly"...

...Boy 11 says to me on a regular basis. Well it's no wonder if they keep giving me stuff like this.

Although I HAVE had several generous offers of help to assist in the arduous task of eating it all.

Mr. M visited his mother this morning, I will be calling mine later today.

Happy Mother's Day to mothers everywhere!


Oh yes - nothing to do with mothers, except that he also has one, but normally mild-mannered blogging legend Sal said the F-Word today. Go take a look.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

green is one of my favourite colours

Achtung! If you're looking for the cake recipe, it's here, under this post.

It started to rain on Monday and although we enjoyed the sunshine we were thankful for a little precipitation to keep the garden going.

While the sun was still shining last week I took a few photos of what's been popping up lately.

strawberry plant with shocking pink flowers



chive blossom

My bleeding hearts keep coming back year after year. Aren't they beautiful?

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guilt is rarely a productive emotion

That's why I'm not going to feel guilty about taking so long to jot down the cake recipe from my last post. And also why YOU aren't going to feel guilty about eating the lovely cake you made since it really is quite low in fat and calories.

OK, so I got the recipe out of a monthly German cooking magazine called Lisa Kochen und Backen. Lots of interesting ideas there.

I'll translate the recipe for you as it's written with my adjustments and notes at the end.

Aprikosen-Kirsch-Kuppel mit Joghurt (Apricot Cherry Dome Cake with Yogurt)

Sponge Cake

3 eggs
100 g sugar
1 tsp grated lemon peel
50 g all-purpose (plain) flour
50 g cornstarch (cornflour)
1/2 tsp baking powder

Yogurt Topping

9 leaves plain gelatine
750 g (3 cups) plain yogurt
3 Tbsp lemon juice
100 g sugar
150 g canned or bottled cherries
200 g canned apricots (with extra for garnish)

1. Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Line the bottom of a 24cm (8 inch) springform pan with parchment paper. Separate eggs. First beat egg whites until stiff, gradually adding 50 g sugar. Set aside. In a separate bowl beat eggs yolks with 2 Tbsp hot water and 50 g sugar for several minutes until thick and lemon-coloured. Stir in grated lemon peel. Mix together flour, cornstarch and baking powder and sift over egg yolk mixture. Place beaten eggs whites on top and fold gently until ingredients are just combined. Pour into springform pan and smooth top.

2. Bake sponge cake on the middle rack of oven for 20-25 minutes. After baking turn out onto a cooling rack, peel off parchment paper and let cool.

3. Soften gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes. Mix yogurt with lemon juice and sugar. Squeeze excess water from gelatine leaves and place in small saucepan along with 2 Tbsp water. Dissolve gelatine at low heat. Let cool slightly, then add to yogurt mixture in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Drain cherries and apricots separately and cut apricots into slices. Fold fruit into yogurt mixture.

4. Grease a 24cm (8 inch) smooth-sided bowl and line with plastic wrap. Pour in yogurt mixture and smooth top. Lay sponge cake on top of yogurt, pressing lightly to fit and making sure cake comes into contact with yogurt. Cover top of bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Remove plastic wrap on top, place cake platter on top of bowl and flip over to unmold. Peel off remaining plastic wrap and garnish cake as desired.

Makes 14 pieces. Per piece approx 170 calories, 4 g fat, 5 g protein, 27 g carbs.

My notes

1. I only have a 26 cm springform pan so I used that. I don't think it really matters as long as the pan and the bowl you use fit together. I used a ceramic salad bowl but I also have a stainless steel mixing bowl that would have worked if my springform pan had been slightly smaller. You have to experiment here. If your cake turns out to be too big for your bowl, you could always trim it to size.

2. Unflavoured gelatine comes in two forms - leaves or granulated. If you're not familiar with gelatine you can read about it here. If you prefer to use granulated gelatine, you would need 1 1/2 of those small packages. On the granulated gelatine I have it says one package = 6 leaves, so there you go.

3. I suppose you could also use fresh fruit with this - ripe strawbeerries, raspberries or peaches would be nice. Just make sure everything is drained well and patted dry. Red fruits will tend to "bleed" into the white yogurt. Don't use fresh kiwis or pineapple because their enzymes will prevent jelling.

4. I used low fat yogurt (1.5 % fat). If you wanted a creamier taste you could go for full-fat. You could also try it with flavoured, pre-sweetened yogurt and fruit, leaving out the amount of sugar called for. This cake isn't very sweet and it probably won't satisfy your craving for whipped cream, but it's so refreshing on a warm day and the whole family really enjoyed it.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

...and then we all sat around the fire singing Kumbaya

It's been like summer camp around here this past week. No, wait, summer camp is all about rain and giant bugs and weird food and missing your mom. OK then, it was better than summer camp, especially the food.

The weather has been glorious - temperatures in the 20's and not a drop of rain for the past six weeks. The downside to that (besides me being a bit partial to rain) is that the crops, sugar beets and potatoes to name a couple, are drying up, and the grass is spontaneously catching fire in some areas. That's not good at all.

The upside is that with a some judicious watering, my garden is just bursting at the seams and we've been able to spend almost all our free time outside enjoying our little oasis. And there was a LOT of free time to be had since last Saturday. As well as the May Day holiday on Tuesday, my kids also had Monday and Wednesday off school. Mr M. enjoyed Monday at home too. As you may have noticed, this resulted in a serious lack o' blogging. I really need to get a laptop so I can blog alfresco.

My hostas are going crazy this year

Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night the boys slept in our brand new 6-man tent, which is in reality only a 3-man tent unless you like to play sardines. You know how tricky those tent makers can be sometimes.

tight squeeze

Mr. M joined the kids on Saturday night and I had the pleasure Monday night. The great thing about camping out in your own back yard is that you don't have to pee in the woods. You still have to worry about mosquitoes and axe murderers, but you're not required to stumble through poison ivy in the dark when your flashlight batteries run out.

I've gotten back into the cooking mode a little bit lately, so besides the ubiquitous bratwurst and potato salad, there was also something for the more sophisticated palate: grilled zucchini-stuffed squid, shrimp skewers and red peppers.

And for those of us who think mentioning "squid" and "zucchini" in the same sentence is just wrong, we had that old campfire standby - bread on a stick, called Stockbrot in German.

please excuse the construction site behind the oven - the deck is having some cosmetic surgery done

For dessert one night I tried a new recipe. It's a sponge cake base with a molded yogurt and fruit cream on top. Very low calorie and very refreshing in this heat.

Last night we had friends over for a...barbeque. Ho hum. More bratwurst, more bread on a stick and more toasted marshmallows than anyone should ever be allowed to eat at one sitting.

Life is good. Right now, anyway.

I think I'll go do some macrame.

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