Category Archives: celebrations/holidays

Recipe: Mama K’s Winter Rotkohl

Rotkohl, ready to cook

F and I have visited his parents’ house in western Germany for, I think, five of the six last Christmasses. A highlight is always Christmas (Eve) dinner: a feast of Sauerbraten (literally “sour roast” – not as weird as it sounds and actually very delicious!), gravy, Rosenkohl (Brussels sprouts), Semmelknödel (bread dumplings), and my mother-in-law’s delicious Rotkohl (red cabbage) dish. Last year, I helped “Mama K” make the Rotkohl and jotted down a few notes so I could share the recipe with you. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try it out for your own holiday feast this year!

Mama K’s winter Rotkohl is a silky-smooth, hearty side dish with a lovely balance of spices and sweetness. Warning: it’s not vegetarian! You could leave out the bacon fat, but the dish might lose some depth. The great thing about this Rotkohl is that it cooks up really quickly in a pressure cooker (you could also simmer it for a long time in a regular pot; I’d guess a slow cooker would also do a great job). If I remember correctly, we actually made it the day before and then reheated it for Christmas (Eve) dinner; that gave the flavors a chance to meld together in their glorious richness.

Anyway, to the recipe! This is a family recipe from K’s mother and I’d highly recommend it as a side dish to any festive (or even not-so-festive) winter meal. It’d probably make a great accompaniment to a Sunday roast.

Rotkohl prep

Mama K’s Winter Rotkohl (my mother-in-law’s recipe; serves 4-6 generously)

Ingredients

  • 4 small heads of red cabbage, chopped medium-fine (see picture at top of post)
  • 4 apples, peeled, halved, & cored
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup Speck (lardons/bacon cubes/salo), or any amount you prefer
  • to taste: red wine vinegar & sugar

Procedure

  1. Wash and chop the cabbage, then toss it into the pressure cooker.
  2. Wash, peel, halve, and core the apples and place them on top of the cabbage in the pressure cooker.
  3. Stick the cloves carefully through the bay leaves (so as not to lose them in the pot! No one likes to accidentally chomp on a whole clove) and then arrange them on top of the cabbage with the apples.
  4. Add a few cups of water to the pot, and salt to taste.
  5. Seal the pressure cooker, bring to a boil, and cook on medium-high pressure for about 10 minutes.
  6. While the cabbage is cooking, fry the Speck/lardons in a hot pan, draining regularly, until the pieces are small and crispy.
  7. When the cabbage is ready, stir in the Speck pieces as well as sugar and red wine vinegar to taste.
  8. Enjoy immediately or heat up the next day for an even richer treat!

What’s Been Cooking? Maternity leave, weeks 5-6

In Germany, expecting and new mothers have the advantage of a legally protected, essentially “no work allowed” time for 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after their due dates. So now I am on Mutterschutz (maternity leave) and working my way through some cooking and baking projects to keep me from getting too stir-crazy at home and to try and stock the freezer with easy winter meals to reheat when our tiny human arrives.

You can catch up on what I made in my first two weeks off here, and in my second two weeks off here. Below, see what I’ve gotten up to in my third fortnight off, including two Thanksgiving celebrations:

Week 5

On Monday, I made one of F’s and my go-to cool-weather dinners: these sweet potato and black bean enchiladas. The recipe is flexible and forgiving, and the enchiladas are always delicious. I’ve been making them semi-regularly for years.

sweet potato & black bean enchiladas

On Tuesday, I made a variation of The Full Helping’s curried quinoa salad. I discovered this recipe a year or so ago and it has become part of our regular salad rotation. The ingredients are really flexible – this time, I left out the broccoli and used two boiled beetroots that we had in the fridge. You can adjust the curry level in the dressing and swap in or out other veggies according to your preferences. Highly recommended!

Also on Tuesday, I baked two test lactation cookies from Serious Eats. I was skeptical of the brewer’s yeast so left it out. The cookies were delicious – F liked them, too! – and I froze the rest of the dough to batch-bake as and when I am breastfeeding (hopefully) and get a cookie craving (highly likely, whether or not I’m breastfeeding!).

simple & delicious

On Thursday I used up leftover cabbage by making smitten kitchen’s roasted cabbage with walnuts and parmesan. F billed it as “really nice, and so simple!” The lemony walnut dressing and hint of parmesan lifted the cabbage to the next level.

Wednesday through Friday, I spread out preparations for our Thanksgiving-themed Kaffee und Kuchen gathering on Saturday. We planned this in lieu of a full Thanksgiving, which, given my due date, we thought was a bit too risky to shell out for an entire turkey and all its trimmings. Enter a slightly early dessert extravaganza! But you’ll have to click here to read more about it.

Week 6

black pepper beef & broccoli

For Tuesday dinner, I made these curried potatoes, lentils, and peas from The Full Helping. They were tasty but quite mild; next time, I’d up the spice levels as well as the amount of lentils. On Wednesday for lunch, F and I made a delicious black pepper beef and broccoli stir-fry, based on this NYT recipe. We served it over rice. I also made some more of my go-to granola; now the freezer is well-stocked for upcoming granola cravings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday was Thanksgiving! There was no sign of the tiny human arriving, so we decided to prepare a mini Thanksgiving feast for just the two of us. Click here to see what we cooked.

choc nut butter oatmeal muffins

Last up for maternity leave cooking/baking: chocolate peanut butter oatmeal muffins from My Name is Yeh. I made these in a sudden burst of energy on Saturday while F was out helping friends move flats. I made a few adjustments to Molly’s recipe: spelt flour in place of the whole wheat flour; mostly almond butter + 20g peanut butter to make the right amount; dried cranberries; zartbitter (dark) chocolate chips; no coconut (didn’t have any). The muffins took 27 minutes to bake through and were thoroughly delicious! We nibbled a couple and I froze the rest for postpartum snacking needs.

That’s it for “What’s Been Cooking?” on maternity leave. Next up: have a baby – hopefully soon!


Thanksgiving 2019: Kaffee und Kuchen + A Feast for Two

 

Given that our tiny human’s arrival is estimated for just a couple of days after Thanksgiving this year, F and I decided it was too risky to plan a massive feast and invite loads of people on the actual holiday. But I wanted to do something to celebrate my favorite holiday and share it with friends in Germany. So, a bit like we did last year, I thought to combine Thanksgiving with the excellent German weekend afternoon tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen (“coffee and cake”), and to celebrate on the Saturday before (slightly less risky in terms of my due date).

Update: As of the day before Thanksgiving, our little turkey was still roasting, so we decided to plan and prepare a a mini Thanksgiving feast for just the two of us to enjoy on the actual day. I’ll outline the menu below the Kaffee und Kuchen details.

Thanksgiving Kaffee und Kuchen – the Saturday before Thanksgiving

I initially planned to make four desserts, and the week before sat down to strategize how to spread the shopping and baking out over a few days – partly to avoid oven clash, but also to avoid doing everything on one day because I don’t have the energy for that at the moment.

But as Saturday approached, my energy was waning and a few people said they couldn’t make it, so I dropped the apple crumble plan and stuck to the following:

  • These maple pecan bars, which this time I made with roughly 2/3 pecans and 1/3 walnuts (pecans are expensive here). These are very rich and sweet – one square at a time is enough – but totally worth it.
    • I made these on Thursday (two days before), put them in the fridge overnight, then cut them on Friday and stored them in a Tupperware container at room temperature.
  • My family’s cranberry upside-down cake, which never fails to surprise and delight people’s taste buds! It’s F’s and my favorite for this time of year.
    • I made this on Friday (the day before) and popped it in the fridge until Saturday morning.
  • My good friend Emma’s recipe for pumpkin pie. I had a bit of a par-baking crust fail on the first attempt (they sunk!), using this pie crust recipe from smitten kitchen. After despairing and then resting, I made a new crust (Emma’s recipe) and risked not par-baking it, which ended up being fine (no soggy bottom!).
    • This all transpired on Friday afternoon (the day before), and I kept the pies in the fridge overnight, getting them out just before people arrived on Saturday (I prefer my pumpkin pie chilled). We served the nice-looking pie on Saturday but I tried the thinner pie (in sunken smitten kitchen crust) on Sunday and almost preferred it due to its higher crust-to-filling ratio.
  • Plenty of freshly whipped cream, made as people were arriving on Saturday.

The Thanksgiving Kaffee und Kuchen afternoon ended up being lovely! Seven people came around 3pm and we feasted on cake for a solid couple of hours. Coffee and tea were abundant, and I was glad I’d picked up some early-season clementines for a fresh, juicy hit after all the sweetness. It was fun to introduce some of my favorite seasonal American treats to German friends. People were intrigued by the pumpkin pie’s unique flavor and spice combination; the cranberry cake was praised; and the pecan-walnut bars all but disappeared. Yum all around!

Thanksgiving Feast for Two – Thanksgiving (Thurs)day

To be fair, the mini feast we prepared probably could have served 3-4 people, but around here we like leftovers. Here’s what F and I prepared and ate on Thanksgiving day:

  • My go-to cranberry sauce. So good.
  • Green beans and crispy shallots, inspired by this recipe. I sautéed thinly sliced shallots in olive oil until they browned and crisped. While that was happening, I blanched the green beans in boiling water for 5-7 minutes, then drained them. To serve, I squeezed some lemon juice and sprinkled a bit of sea salt over the beans, then piled the shallots on top. Delicious!
  • This Bon Appétit bread stuffing/dressing – F requested it after we watched the ba YouTube video about it. It was super delicious: moist underneath, with a lovely crunchy top layer that married well with gravy and/or cranberry sauce. Will add this to the Thanksgiving recipe list for next year!
  • One very large turkey thigh that F dry-brined overnight and then roasted at 180-200C for just over an hour. The meat was tender and moist, but overall it was too salty (especially for me); we couldn’t really see the benefit of the dry brine but it was worth trying out.
  • Gravy!
  • We decided to forego desserts, since we had had enough cake, bars, and pie the weekend before.

Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving weekend and start to the winter holiday season! When in doubt, I highly recommend serving dessert first.


What’s Been Cooking? “First month in Münster” edition

Hello there! Long time no blog, I know. My excuse is that F and I were moving countries. After a wonderful 6.5 years in London, we decided it was time for new adventures in a smaller place with a less hectic pace of life, so we moved to Münster, Germany at the end of May. It was hard to leave our friends and communities in London but we are glad to be in Münster, where we already have a good network thanks to F’s friends from his university days.

Part of moving into a new flat in Germany required buying and installing a kitchen. No, not just the appliances – an entire kitchen. Apparently it’s a thing in Germany. Kitchens are seen as “furniture,” and most flats come unfurnished, so…no kitchens! (Or at least they aren’t a guarantee.) Once a kitchen is installed in a flat or house, if those tenants move out they can either take the kitchen with them (yes, people do that) or they can sell it to the new people moving in.

 

Anyway, designing and buying a kitchen was a new experience for both of us. They are not cheap, but ideally we’ll be in this flat for the next 5-10 years so it’s a worthy investment and we both enjoy cooking and baking. We ended up at KüchenTreff Münster and had a great experience from designing through installation. I’d recommend them if you’re in the Münster area and in the market for a kitchen.

All that was a long-winded way of getting to the point of this post: what F and I have been cooking (and baking) in our new kitchen over the past month! Here goes, in no particular order:

 

I made our favorite Käsekuchen (German cheesecake) for F’s birthday in mid-June. He returned the favor for my birthday two weeks later by making our now go-to cherry pie from Stella Parks at Serious Eats.

 

June was Spargel-Saison in northwestern Germany. Spargel is white asparagus, which I never came across until visiting western Germany and Belgium in May/June. It’s a thing, and for many – like F – it’s something to be enjoyed in multitudes for a short time every year. It tastes completely different from green asparagus – milder and sweeter, to me. Peel it, then wrap it in a foil packet with butter and salt and roast it in a 200C/400F oven for 45-60 minutes. Yum.

Back to baking, the first thing I made in our new oven was a batch of my go-to granola. Needless to say, more batches have followed.

Anita Bean’s lentil-stuffed peppers from her Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook made for a tasty and light dinner on a warm summery evening.

We don’t usually celebrate the Fourth of July (American Independence Day), but F wanted to have friends over for a barbecue and he asked if flag cakes are actually a thing. I wasn’t sure, but I checked smitten kitchen and – lo and behold – she had a recipe for one. A classic yellow cake base (it stayed quite moist, maybe thanks to buttermilk) is slathered with cream cheese frosting and topped with berries in the shape of the American flag. I think it’s one of the most patriotic things I’ve ever done or made… It was a hit with our German friends and I’d definitely make the cake again, with or without the flag design.

What have you been cooking recently?

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International Women’s Day 2019

Happy International Women’s Day (IWD)! If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that IWD is one of my favorite holidays, and one I first became aware of while living in Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer. In short, IWD is a global celebration of women’s achievements but also a day to raise awareness and campaign for change around the continuing lack of gender equality in many countries and societies.

On this International Women’s Day, I did the following: sent messages to the inspirational women in my life; listened to “The Guilty Feminist” podcast on my journeys to/from work; had my ESOL and Functional Skills English learners do an IWD quiz and talk about things like the gender pay gap and paid maternity leave (or the lack thereof) in different countries; and lifted weights at the gym! See below for more tidbits that caught my eye for IWD this year:

In true Guilty Feminist fashion, here is my ‘I’m a feminist, but…’ for IWD, something my fellow RPCVs from Ukraine and other eastern European countries will appreciate:

I’m a feminist, but part of me misses being given flowers and chocolates and wished a good women’s day, love, happiness & luck in a short speech given by Ukrainian schoolchildren. 

So many inspiring quotes in the IWD Google Doodle.

Nicholas Kristof, on point as usual:

Some astonishing facts here:

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Supporting gender equality in athletics. There’s a big push in the UK for women and men to finally run the same distance in cross country races – it’s ridiculous that this is not yet the standard!

I’ll leave you with this from UNESCO:

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How did you celebrate International Women’s Day 2019? Let me know in the comments!

Year in Review: 2018

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

It’s hard to believe another year has gone by. Time flies. As we enter 2019, here are some reflections on my 2018.

Running and fitness in 2018:

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2018 I ran 1,271.3km =  789.95mi, which is 298.2km/185.29mi more than in 2017 – I’m really pleased with that!
  • Overall, it was a good running year. I refocused on building my endurance base with Sunday long runs, did a lot of Saturday morning parkruns, and even got in a smattering of speedwork in the warmer, lighter months. I also did some run-commuting to or from work.
  • I ran my 50th parkrun in March 2018! This had been a major goal of mine and I was excited to achieve it (the t-shirt is great, too). My parkrun total currently stands at 63, with more to come in 2019.
  • Racing (running):
  • Distance cycled: 2,054.6km = 1,276.67mi of commuting to/from work in London. Fewer than 2017 because my commute is now shorter. More energy for running!

Favorite books read in 2018:

  • In 2018 I read about 22 books. There were quite a few that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but to balance those out there were some gems:
  • Jennifer Egan, Manhattan Beach. I really liked Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, and Manhattan Beach was a very different sort of novel but did not disappoint. I loved the 1930s-40s dockside setting as well as the strong female protagonist and a bit of intrigue. Great writing, too.
  • I don’t usually read much non-fiction, but Dave Eggers’ narrative non-fiction book The Monk of Mokha reads like a story, which makes its reality all the more interesting. I learned a lot about coffee and Yemen – apt, given the current situation there.
  • I am a sucker for historical fiction, and Ken Follett is one of my favorites. In 2018, I read A Column of Fire, the third book in Follett’s “Kingsbridge series” that starts with Pillars of the Earth. Just so good.
  • One of my best friends recommended Tamora Pierce‘s Song of the Lioness quartet, which I raced through. Nothing like a good young adult series with a strong female lead and a bit of magic and mystery!
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is brilliant, and I read her first novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, last year. It was not quite what I expected but I couldn’t put it down and her writing is excellent.

Other highlights of 2018, in no particular order:

  • F and I wanted to travel more in 2018, and we certainly achieved that goal. Here’s where we went:
    • A snap weekend in Zürich with my parents. What a nice city!
    • A lovely trip to Provence in early spring (that post has somehow been lost! Sad. If you go, stay at the La Bastide Perchée guest house in Venelles).
    • A few days in the Ardennes at C’s family farmhouse, with both sets of parents.
    • An amazing two-week holiday in California in August, plus a couple of days in NYC (including seeing Emma!).
    • A long weekend with friends in Münster in October, followed closely by a weekend in Düsseldorf with friends and F’s sister.
    • Almost two weeks in Germany over Christmas/New Year, with the in-laws and friends. Good food, good running, great people, and relaxation.
  • Seeing friends regularly over the year for lunches, dinners, drinks, coffees, and board gaming (game highlights: Seven Wonders, Quacksalber von Quedlinburg, Schnapp die Robbe!).
  • Having my parents and five friends with us for our Thanksgiving-in-London celebration.
  • Continuing to enjoy cooking and baking, both new recipes and old favorites. F and I have become more mindful with how much meat we eat and where we get it, plus we’ve been focusing on fuelling ourselves well for our respective cycling and running.

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intention for 2019 is, as usual, to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and other things.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2018:

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2019.

Thanksgiving in London, 2018

After skipping Thanksgiving last year (and hosting a festive cookie party instead), F and I were keen to put on a Thanksgiving celebration this year. As a bonus, my parents flew over to London for the long weekend! We planned the usual feasting on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, but this time we added a twist: F and I reversed the traditional Thanksgiving order! Around 3pm we enjoyed all the desserts with coffee/tea — German Kaffee und Kuchen style. A few hours later, we devoured the savory feast. Everyone agreed that the reverse order worked really well, because we had time to socialise in between while the turkey roasted, and we weren’t too full after dinner. Here’s what we cooked for 9 people, and what we did with the leftover turkey:

  • Dessert:
    • Our favorite family cranberry upside-down cake.
    • Smitten Kitchen’s pumpkin pie with pecan praline sauce. I made the crust, F made the pie, S made the sauce and it was very nice.
    • J&C brought a lovely apple crumble to complete the trio of desserts.
    • Plenty of freshly whipped cream and custard (do you like yours hot or cold?).
  • Dinner:
    • Turkey! We ordered an 11-pound turkey from our favorite local butcher in Crouch End. F stuffed it with apples and thyme, generously salted, peppered, and buttered the skin, and roasted it for a few hours. It tasted great.
    • Gravy: F made a meaty gravy and a vegetarian gravy, and both were silky smooth and delicious.
    • Stuffing: I made the same stuffing/dressing (what is the difference?) that I have for the past few Thanksgivings: this classic sage and onion bread dressing from The Kitchn. I think it turned out the best this year because I used enough broth to keep it moist.
    • Sweet potato casserolemy mom’s/grandma’s recipe that’s been a staple at our family Thanksgivings since I can remember.
    • Brussels sprout and tomato salad: another family recipe.
    • C&W brought some very nice garlicky green beans.
    • Don’t forget the cranberry sauce!
  • Leftovers:
    • There weren’t very many! What we made fed the 9 of us comfortably, and could have fed 10 people. We mostly had turkey leftover, so on Sunday I made a turkey version of my chicken and dumplings, minus the dumplings (we had bread).

We had quite an international group this year: four Brits (all hailing from different regions), two Germans (S was down from Liverpool for a few days), and three Americans. It was the first Thanksgiving for a few people, and I always enjoy introducing my favorite holiday to others. It was also so nice to have my parents around and to share our style of Thanksgiving with them – and how many of my mom’s family recipes we use!


Year in Review: 2017

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

I haven’t written a “year in review” since the end of 2014, but this year I felt the desire to do so as 2017 becomes 2018. While there are plenty of awful things that happened globally in 2017 – politically, environmentally, etc. – I would like to focus on the more personal positives in this post.

Running and fitness in 2017:

On the way to a 5-mile PB at the Perivale 5, Dec 2017. Photo credit: Bespoke Photos.

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2017 I ran 973.1km =  604.66mi. This is about 39 more miles than in 2016, so I’ll take that as a slight improvement.
  • The first half of the running year wasn’t great, as I had a really nasty virus over the Christmas holidays so had a slow return to fitness in early 2017. I had a brief return to the track in the summer before developing some plantar fasciitis. Since then, I’ve focused on building up my fitness base with tempo work and longer runs. That has seemed to work, as in fall/winter I ran my fastest 10k since 2015 and a 5-mile PR/PB!
  • In 2017 I discovered how much I love trail running/racing. Now that I have invested in trail shoes, I hope to do more trail running in 2018. I ran in Trent Park for the first time and loved it.
  • Racing (running):
  • Distance cycled: 2,760.3km = 1,715.17mi of commuting to/from work in London. About 200km/124mi more than in 2016.

Favorite books read in 2017:

  • In 2017 I read about 21 books. I didn’t love everything I read but here are some books that have stuck with me after finishing them:
  • Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard. I’ve loved Chevalier’s writing ever since reading Girl with a Pearl Earring as a teenager. Chevalier also happens to be an Oberlin graduate and I was fortunate to see her speak when I was in college. At the Edge of the Orchard is a historical novel of migration to the American West during the Gold Rush in the 1840s and ’50s. The human characters are interesting but much of the novel is actually about trees: apple orchards and then California’s redwoods and giant sequoias. It has really stuck with me and I’ve recommended it to a number of people.
    • I also read Chevalier’s newest novel, New Boy, this year. It’s a chilling retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello set on a school playground and I’d recommend it to any English teachers for their students to read alongside the original play.
  • Somehow in all my study of English literature, I had never read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. My parents recommended it to me after reading it for their book club a couple of years ago, and I was impressed with this early detective novel. It has all the good stuff – missed messages, mistaken identities, charming villains – while remaining accessible even for those who aren’t used to reading 19th-century novels.
  • I absolutely love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series (the first one is called The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) and this year I read the seventh and eighth books back to back. Every time I open a Russell-Holmes novel, it feels like coming home. Something about King’s writing style just sits well with me. The novels are at once historically dense, character-driven, and detailed but not slow-moving. My dad first got hooked on the series years ago, and I would recommend it to anyone who, to use Netflix-speak, enjoys “historical novels with a strong female lead”. There’s also plenty of mystery and detective work involved!
  • I loved Robin Hobb’s 4-book series, The Rain Wild Chronicles, recommended by a fellow choir singer. Hobb creates a fascinating and robust fantasy world – realist but with touches of the magic and mythical – and tells a good story.
  • Rachel Sieffert, A Boy in Winter. A poignant WWII novel set in a small Ukrainian town. Sad but beautifully written and worth reading for a slightly different perspective.
  • Darragh McKeon, All that is Solid Melts into Air. Wow was this good. A close family friend – my Belgian “aunt” – recommended it and I loved it. It’s set in Soviet Ukraine/Russia/Belarus in the late 1980s around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The shifting perspectives never felt jarring and it’s quite timely, despite being a historical novel. Highly recommended.
  • F and I finished reading Walter Moers’ Die 13 1/2 Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär, an epic fantasy-type novel that we took turns reading aloud. It helped my German a lot and was good fun! I also finished a book of short stories in German – Karen Köhler’s Wir Haben Raketen Geangelt – that were almost all depressing but I loved the writing style and it was accessible enough for me to understand most of what was going on.

Other highlights & achievements, in no particular order:

  • Singing Bach’s St John Passion in English with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and Bach Camerata at St John Smith’s Square in central London.
  • Visiting my close friend Hannah in Bulgaria, where she’s working as a Fulbright ETA.
  • Spending a lovely long weekend with F in Bath.
  • Family and friends descending on London for our post-wedding celebration in July. It was lovely to have a casual party in a local pub and that so many people made the effort to come from near and far.
  • Spending a week walking in the Cotswolds with F. We stayed in a little AirBnB in the village of Longborough and spent each day walking a different loop, stopping for pub lunches and enjoying our escape from big city life.
  • After three years teaching ESOL to migrant women at a charity in Tower Hamlets, I got a new job at a charity in Hackney. I’m still teaching ESOL mainly in Tower Hamlets but also learning about and sharpening my skills in project management and partnerships. It was hard to leave my old team – a close-knit group of amazing women – but it was the right move to make and I’m enjoying my new role. It’s also interesting to see how two charities in the same sector operate quite differently.

Cotswolds walking

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intention for 2018 is, as usual, to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and other things. We hope to travel a bit more this year and I’d like to build up my running mileage to 10-mile or even half marathon fitness.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2017:

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2018

Festive Cookie Party!

This year, Thanksgiving crept up on us before we were able to organize a friendly get-together, as we have done for the past couple of years. So instead, partly inspired by this NY Times feature and partly by remembering that my mom has hosted cookie decorating parties, F and I decided to host a festive afternoon Plätzchenbackparty (“cookie-bake-party”) in early December.

A bit of festive decor

So we chose a date, sent out WhatsApp invites to friends, searched for cookie recipes, and calculated how much mulled wine to make. I got my upper body strength training by using our handheld mixer to make loads of cookie dough the night before, and we stocked up on icing (powdered) sugar and food coloring.

On Saturday, friends came and went throughout the afternoon. Many cookies were baked: I made basic sugar cookies and chocolate cookies, and others contributed Scottish caraway biscuits, Lebkuchen, and shortbread. Once the icings were made – simple powdered sugar + milk, and F made this royal icing – people got down to some serious decorating business. There were plenty of drinks to go around, holiday tunes played in the background, and the atmosphere was warm, cozy, and festive. Highlights included Shana’s Shakespeare cookie cutter (and the creativity that those cookies engendered) and the ever-elusive Christmas jellyfish…photos below!

International Women’s Day 2017: Be Bold For Change

Today is one of my favorite holidays: International Women’s Day (IWD)! On this day, people celebrate the achievements of women past, present, and future, and also raise awareness about gender inequality that still exists today.

IWD holds a special place in my heart because I first learned about it during my time as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. The 8th of March is celebrated in fine style in Ukraine, with women receiving flowers, chocolates, gifts, and many well-wishes from others (mostly men but also pupils/students, if you happen to be a teacher).

Every year IWD has a theme, and this year it is “Be Bold For Change,” focusing on how people — women and men and everyone in between — can help forge “a more inclusive, gender equal world” (IWD website). I can’t complain about that theme! Teaching English to all women, with all women means we talk a lot about empowering women. This term, my ESOL Entry 3 class has had a number of lessons about volunteering, work, and employment and we’ve had a few discussions about gender (in)equality in the workplace. My Functional Skills English Level 1 learners spent part of a lesson reading about the suffragettes and discussing women’s rights historically and now.

Today, we had a lunchtime IWD event at work for our learners to come and celebrate with us. We encouraged staff and learners to wear traditional dress from their or another country. Many of my colleagues wore beautiful saris, and I rocked up in my Ukrainian vyshyvanka (embroidered blouse), recalling fondly the two Women’s Days I spend in Sniatyn:

Wearing my Ukrainian vyshyvanka on IWD

Tutors designed a number of activities for our learners to engage in. These included “find someone who” with positive and empowering elements: Find someone who has run a marathon, who has made someone smile today, who has fixed something at home, who has give someone advice, etc. There was also a gap fill quiz with facts about women’s rights around the world, a map to identify where you are from and write what you like about your country or another one, and places to record a dream job and personal strengths.

Over 60 of our learners attended the event and had a great time chatting, snacking, doing activities, and watching speeches by inspirational women like Malala Yousafzai. I wish I could post pictures of our learners all dressed up and mingling, but many of them are vulnerable and so you must imagine instead!

I like to take International Women’s Day as a day to celebrate all the incredible women in my life, from family to friends to colleagues to students and more. You inspire me to be stronger, fitter, kinder, and more thoughtful. You inspire me to push myself and to encourage others. You inspire me to keep life in perspective and move through it with joy. You inspire me to persevere. Thank you, and keep fighting for equal rights for all humans.


Thanksgiving (in London) 2016 – what we cooked

F and I hosted our second (or third? I can’t remember) Thanksgiving celebration in London on the Saturday following the real holiday (a bit hard to take a random Thursday off when it’s not a public holiday where you live). F’s parents were visiting, too, so they got to experience their first Thanksgiving, and a few friends joined us as well. Here’s what we cooked for 8 people (plus a 10-month-old) — recipe links below the pictures:

  • Turkey! We ordered a 5.2kg bird from one of the local butchers in Crouch End. F stuffed it with apples and thyme, generously salted, peppered, and buttered the skin, and roasted it for 3.5 hours. It came out super moist and delicious.
  • Gravy: F made this one from Serious Eats, using the neck and innards from the turkey but not using soy sauce.
  • Stuffing: I made this classic sage and onion bread dressing from The Kitchn; same as last year. It turned out well and got a number of compliments
  • Sweet potato casserole: my mom’s/grandma’s recipe that’s been a staple at our family Thanksgivings since I can remember.
  • Brussels sprout and tomato salad: another family recipe
  • Cranberry sauce: this is my favorite recipe. It’s super easy and always turns out well.
  • My (American) friend S brought a lovely green bean dish and a pumpkin pie.
  • Our friends H&S brought a nice apple crumble.
  • Cranberry cake: in my mind, it’s not Thanksgiving without this cranberry upside-down cake, another one that my mom/grandma always make. It’s one of my top 3 favorite cakes ever.
  • Freshly whipped cream. Need I say more?

It was a lovely and relaxing evening all around, with plenty of entertainment provided by 10-month-old H. And despite the horrific political year it’s been, there is still plenty to be thankful for.

Birthday Wisdom 2016

Another year older, another birthday reflection post! I turned 28 this week and F baked me the best cake anyone has ever made me:

IMG_2976

Last year I wrote about completing an MA and DELTA and starting a new full-time job. I offered a word of wisdom on prioritizing and finding balance. This past year has tested those words of wisdom on more than one occasion, but I like to think I tried my best to stick to them.

Looking back on this year, I’m coming up on two years as an ESOL and Functional Skills English teacher to migrant women in a deprived area of east London. I’ve taken on responsibility as a line manager and am completing a leadership and management course through work to help me develop in those areas. Teaching continues to bring its joys and challenges; switching to a new exam board for our ESOL courses has helped our students’ achievement rates, but there are still kinks to work out. I have an incredible set of colleagues, inspirational women all.

Ready to get married! 8 April 2016. Photo credit: Fotomanufaktur Wessel (www.fotomanufaktur-wessel.de)

Ready to get married! 8 April 2016. Photo credit: Fotomanufaktur Wessel (www.fotomanufaktur-wessel.de)

This year was big because F and I got married! It felt like the right time. He proposed last summer on Cape Cod, a memorable and meaningful spot for my family and for us, with fond memories of cycling, swimming, running, pastry eating, and relaxing. We got married in Germany this April, in a small civil ceremony with parents by our sides.

This past year has also seen a good deal of choral singing, with highlights being Rachmaninov’s Vespers at St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge; Mozart’s Mass in C minor; Bach’s Mass in B minor; and even recording a Christmas CD. F and I saw Steven Isserlis in a solo recital and we attended a few other concerts, theatre and musical theatre productions. We must take advantage of London cultural life while we can!

Running and sport(s) have been up and down. I did run a 5k PR/PB last September  but slowed down after that, due to busyness and stress in other aspects of life. I’m currently focusing on rebuilding my running fitness base and starting to incorporate speedwork again. I also did my first multisport event this past year: a team duathlon! It was a blast and I could see myself doing more run-bike-run events in the future.

Recent political events in the UK/EU and the USA made me gravitate towards the following quote as my word of wisdom for this year:

We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign – and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us.

-Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, after the ‘Brexit’ vote

With that, I wish you all a tolerant year of unity.

Recipe: Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Glaze

At some point last year, I slowed down on the recipe blogging because I felt like I was just trying someone else’s recipe once and then posting it (with a few small tweaks of my own) for the sake of posting it. But there have been some recipes that I’ve made over and over again and decided are worth sharing — if for no other reason then so I can access them again!

 

This lemon cornmeal cake is one of those. It comes from  Bon Appétit and I’ve made it 3-4 times in the past year or so; I recall it getting high praise from T and C during last year’s Game of Thrones season premiere. F loves lemon desserts and for his birthday this year he requested a lemon cake. I immediately thought of this one and also decided it was high time to share it with all of you. It’s quick to whip up and turns out light, moist, lemony, and delicious. Not a showstopper by its looks but just a really delicious cake. I hope you’ll come back to it as often as I have.

Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Glaze (adapted from Bon Appétit; makes 1 cake)

Ingredients

  • Cake:
    • 1.5 cups (210g) plain/AP flour
    • 1/3 cup (65g) yellow cornmeal
    • 3/4 cup (160g) granulated sugar
    • 3.5 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 cup (280 mL) buttermilk
    • 2 eggs
    • Zest of 2 lemons
    • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup (125g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • Glaze:
    • 1.5 cups powdered sugar
    • Juice of 2 lemons

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 350F/175C (top-bottom heat is best for cakes). Butter a 9″ cake pan and place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla extract.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and pour in the melted butter. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just blended.
  • Scrape the batter into the cake pan, spread evenly, and bake 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • While the cake is baking, make the glaze: stir together the powdered sugar and lemon juice to make a thick but spreadable glaze. Set aside.
  • As soon as the cake is done baking, run a butter knife around the edges. Invert it onto a large plate and remove the pan. Peel the parchment paper off the bottom of the cake. Invert the cake again onto a rack. Stir the glaze and pour it onto the cake, letting it run across the top and down the sides. Let cool before serving.

Enjoy!

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