2010-01-15

A little German in me...

So it has been cold.  But not Canadian cold.  But just cold enough to warrant a nightly hot bath and warm socks.  And candles and the need to really tell yourself to leave your haven of an apartment.  Because even in the winter, the outside world does exist.

I am back and in the swing of things and enjoying my yoga practice to a new degree.  I am bounding out of bed, even after not so much sleep to do strange and interesting things like stand on my head for fun.  I even think I need less sleep because of this new enthusiasm.  But now begins a weekend where I do not have to get up at crazy early hours for the first time in a long time.  I may even sleep in until - gasp - 7am.  I try to aim beyond that sometimes, but for a 5:30am-er, that really is sleeping!

So last night I wanted to break away from my usual warm weather comforts of soups and sauces and risottos.  I had some sweet potatoes that were begging to be used.  So I cut them up and put them in a roasting dish.  Then the wheels began to turn.  I wanted a bit of colour, I wanted a bit of contrast from sweet, but please people, I am not Southern enough to start reaching for the marshmallows.  But a tart, crisp Green apple?  Yes please.  Olive oil, salt, pepper.  Pre cooking.


Are the colours not lovely?  And the smell would have been homey, if it were not for some sauerkraut that I was roasting on the stovetop to accompany.  I love me some sauerkraut, but I am sure my neighbours do not love me for making the building smell like old socks.

Once the taters were good and crispy and the apples were good and melty, I tossed them in a bowl with some walnuts and spooned the sauerkraut overtop.  Germans have apples and potatoes and they have sauerkraut and potatoes - we just have a new partnership here.



Belly happy.

Have a great weekend.

2010-01-07

Three Kings Day

A warning: I am moving away from this blog in the next couple of months (around my one year "blogaversary").  My life is moving in some new exciting directions and I think in April or May I will start a new blog to supplement that.  This blog was all about trying to think and cook positively throughout a downtrodden time.  It certainly helped on some of my harder days - sometimes putting your thoughts into the Universe really does work.

I work near a airplane/engineering training grounds, so I constantly hear jets whizzing past.  What a lovely sound!

I digress.  Yesterday was Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. Traditionally it marks the day when the three kings presented their gifts to the baby Jesus.  And as we know, the Swiss don't like going to church, but they certainly like their religious days and traditions.

So how does one appropriately celebrate?  Well, with a sweetened bread/cake.  I actually received one in the morning from a stranger who pulled it out of a big paper bag.  As I did not know the tradition, I stayed away from the "accept candy from strangers" rule and promptly got rid of it.  Then I realized that I had had the opportunity to become "queen for a day" and was saddened.

So here is what you do.  You buy the available for three days only "Konigskuchen" (chocolate, sugar, white bread - goodbye New Years resolutions!).  You pull off pieces carefully.  If you have a baby Jesus in your piece (yes, this is disturbing, but go with it) then you can take the crown that accompanies the cake (the source of much amusement for children, let me tell you) and you can put it on your head and gloat and boss around everyone.  It looks a little like the Burger King crown from the 80s.  But as you can tell, it has oh so much power.



Sadly, even with my pawing through sweetened white bread, the crown was not mine.  Boo. 

2010-01-03

Pickles, pickles everywhere (and not a drop to drink)?

Eventful yet again.  These journeys back to Switzerland certainly ensure that I am not an emotional wreck upon leaving Toronto.  It began with some drug sniffing hounds and crazy amounts of security as we boarded the plane for Amsterdam.  They looked at each and every one of us suspiciously as if it were merely inevitable that we were carrying copious amounts of pot.  I nervously eyed my bag of dried kale, certain that it looked a little too close to a plant I am sure they were trying to avoid on the plane.  Alas, I got through.  Upon landing with my typically rough stomach, I found myself in a line for one hour just to catch my connection.  At these moments, I am sure my basic expression is one that is completely nonapproachable.  The whole idea of smiling is exhausting.  But luckily, I have seen every European airport more times than I can count, so I can do the whole thing in my sleep.  Literally. 

My second flight I was dead asleep after attempting to read one sentence.  The stewardess woke me up to ask if I wanted crackers.  Um, lady?  Was that really worth awakening me from my beauty sleep?  I woke up again when the plane hit the ground and then walked in a deep dark haze to get to my bag.  I was certain it was not the wet mess, slightly open, that tumbled out of the baggage claim.  Uh-oh.  Is that pickle juice?  The thing I joked might happen did in fact.  And even worse, an ugly pair of underwear was peaking its way out of the top of the suitcase.

I tried to act surprised yet dignified as I shoved my things inside and walked through the airport reeking of pickle juice.  A train, a walk and suddenly I actually found myself in my apartment.  My beautiful apartment with the best view, which luckily was giving me one of the few ice and rainless days ever.  The Christmas lights were still in full bloom, the shops were still closed, and I, my friends was safe and sound and surprisingly awake.  Even better...those pickles made the BEST welcome home snack.  Worth every embarasssing drop.

2009-12-09

Christmas cookies

Hello Sweet blog world!

I was in Prague for St Mikuláš day, and after more yoga classes than I could count per day (no matter how zen you might be, after 5 hours, your mind starts going "Another downward dog?  Damn, girl, I just want to eat some pizza!")  But anatomy was learned, laughs were had and the true spirit of the season was felt.  Sometimes, when you sit just talking and moving and in pure silence for days you feel so much, it is incredible.  You wonder if that feeling is normally just suctioned out of you by constant activity.




But I got back from this pure retreat, and I felt like being naughty.  It is the Scorpio in me - when I am too well behaved for too long, a little devil likes to sit on my shoulder and whisper ideas.  So I took this time to bake my Christmas cookies, to be given to coworkers and neighbours alike.  Two of my neighbours barely know me but they got them anyway.  It is a very Canadian tradition.  Not Swiss at all.  The last place I lived at I gave my neighbours cookies and they looked at me like I was trying to poison them.  I thought about stopping but then I thought "Tis the spirit of giving and maybe eventually this will seep into this culture too!"  So I made a batch of cookies. 

I wanted to go the healthier route, since people usually have enough fat around their midsections by the time Christmas rolls around.  And people seemed to be happy to hear that they could have a bunch of cookies without the inevitable guilt.

First batch, I doctored up a vegan ginger cookie.  Only instead of ginger pieces I put in candied orange and then grated in some orange peel.  The result was fabulously spicy.  The original recipe had the ginger and lemon, so feel free to experiment as need be.


Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger (I upped this, but it is to your taste)
3/4 cup minced candied orange pieces
1 1/4 cups cane sugar
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (you don't taste it for those who fear such ingredients)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used the beans from a vanilla pod)

Preparation:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, and candied orange pieces.

In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup of the sugar and all the remaining ingredients.

Stir the two mixtures together until moist and incorporated, shape into a disk, and cover with plastic wrap. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, or up to 1 day.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets.

Flour your hands and form the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the dough balls through the sugar.  You can flatten them, but I like them raised and chewy so I skipped that step. Place the cookies 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake the cookies for 18 minutes, or until slightly browned (they won't get very dark, so be careful not to keep them in too long). The house will smell like gingery heaven.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for a minute. Then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.




Yummeee.  And they taste unhealthy enough to have one of my coworkers unknowingly eat 4 with his tea.  Fantastic stuff.

Then, as a tribute to my love of Italian cooking, I made a dark chocolate biscotti.  They were traditionally made with almonds, but I thought that whole hazelnuts would be a refreshing change.  Also, as an added bonus, the final product tasted like a crisp version of Nutella.
Chocolate Biscotti


2 cups (280g) flour
3/4 cups (75g) top-quality cocoa powder (don't skimp on this one - it really makes a difference)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature (you might need 4, so judge it once you start mixing)
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 1/2teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (125g) whole hazelnuts
1 egg for glazing

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.
2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the 3 eggs, sugar, and extract (or if you have a very small European kitchen and only two bowls, cheat a little as you see fit.  These are YOUR cookies). Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, then mix in the nuts and the chocolate chips until the dough holds together.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into two logs the length of the baking sheet. Transfer the logs onto the baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.
5. Gently flatten the tops of the logs. Beat the remaining egg and brush the tops of the logs liberally with the egg. (You won't use it all). Sprinkle the tops with the coarse or crystal sugar and bake for 25 minutes, until the dough feels firm to the touch.
6. Remove the cookie dough from the oven and cool 15 minutes. On a cutting board, use a serrated bread knife to diagonally cut the cookies into 1/2-inches slices. Lay the cookies cut side down on baking sheets and return to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet midway during baking, until the cookies feel mostly firm.
7. Once baked, cool the cookies completely then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. If you wish, the cookies can be half-dipped in melted chocolate, then cooled until the chocolate hardens. But it isn't necessary, as the chocolatey flavour really shines.  And with a black cup of coffee, it makes life worth living. Not that I am dramatic about food or anything.



One of my tin o'treats.  Oddly, I have the occasional sweet tooth, but these days it is way down.  I feel more like the salty stuff, which isn't as prevalent during Christmas.  Still, I will never turn down a hot glass of slightly sweetened glühwein.

"Instead of being a time of unusual behavior, Christmas is perhaps the only time in the year when people can obey their natural impulses and express their true sentiments without feeling self-conscious and, perhaps, foolish. Christmas, in short, is about the only chance a man has to be himself." ~Francis C. Farley






2009-12-01

Oh the weather outside

Is frightful.



But the incense is so delightful.



And if you have no place you want to go (but your new meditation pillow)


Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!





So as late as yesterday the forecast called for rain.  The Swiss have no idea when a snowstorm is going to hit, and as such, I wore my ballet flats and brought my umbrella, feeling prepared.  My poor toes, is all I can say.  Plus, I have had the new lesson of realizing that the times that you enjoy your cute apartment on a 45 degree incline are not on snowy icy days in a country where there will never be salt on the sidewalk.  Maybe I should bring my own package of salt, and sprinkle it in front of me as I walk.  Otherwise, I think I could safely toboggan to work, perhaps using my own butt as the tobaggan.

However, it sure is pretty.  It mades me want to be all warm and cocooned.  I learned to wear some more practical boots today and trudged to work.  My forty minutes of walking from train station to bus to the middle of nowhere substantially increased today.




Apparently it is a tropical 4 degrees in Prague so when I go there (I leave Thursday) I will need a bikini or two.  Plus, my yoga lesson plan - wish me luck!

2009-11-26

A recipe I will NOT give you

Yes I blog about food, and as such, I am supposed to give you all my trade secrets.  But can't a girl have a secret recipe or two that she saves for the people she loves and dinner guests (and one badly planned party where guests ate the following dish off of paper plates?).  I learned this dish during my cooking class in Italy.  And I won't tell you the exact details, but if I like you well enough, I will make it for you. 

There is no veggie substitute for the following (I tried to make it with soy and my tastebuds went "nooooo")


Organic.  Love that the Swiss don't mess around.  There is a picture of the animal on the package as in, stop living in denial, this is how it goes.

Mixed with what is called "the trinity" of Italian cooking.  Chop chop.





I will tell you one secret.  You have to mix it with other things and cook it down BEFORE you add the tomatoes.  Because bolognese is a meat sauce with tomatoes, not a tomato sauce with meat.

So here is part of the magic occuring:




Meaty steam, how I love thee.

Then add the tomatoes and simmer and bubble and turn your stove and countertops a delicious shade of red:


Another secret (wow, I am too nice to you guys.  Must be this Christmas spirit) is that you leave it.  Leave it for three hours, four hours...test your patience, smell up your apartment and your taste buds will be the better for it.

I served it atop noodles and spirilized zucchini for bulk.  It was too yummy to explain.  And of course, a glass of red wine on the side, and a huge smile on my face.



Beautiful stuff.  Sideways beautiful stuff.

"Let's be naughty and save Santa a trip."

2009-11-25

A night off

Sometimes my life is so horribly organized...so Swiss...that I must rebel from it and have a night off from living in a perfectly clean, healthy existence.  So last night I left my dishes in the sink and ate chocolate for dinner.  And one would think I would feel badly today because of it.  Wrong...I feel wonderful.

Thursday is apparently the light up the night Luzern.  And tonight is Christmas tree lighting Luzern.  But that is not to say that it has not already started.  Here are a few examples on my walk home:




I love that one, the window panes becoming part of a giant advent calender.  I think it is very inventive.  And some lovely shop windows:



The lovely bready men come out at Christmastime.  It is basically just white bread with chocolate chips or raisins.  And of course, what would Swiss decor be without:



I seriously cannot imagine who would buy one of those things.  Isn't your home supposed to be a little peace and quiet?  And one of my favorite bakeries near my apartment, Hug (tagline: Hug gemacht.  Hausgemacht. means "Made by Hug.  Homemade.")




My parents would love that there is homemade stollen EVERYWHERE - it is their Christmas treat.  I have to say, I love the smell of gluhwein (mulled wine) and gingerbread.  Yum-E.

Here's to the wonderful windows that you will pass by today!