Category Archives: celebrations/holidays

International Women’s Day 2015

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” -Gloria Steinem

Happy International Women’s Day (IWD)! Today is the day to celebrate the achievements of women around the world but also to recognize barriers that many women continue to face and emphasize the need to keep pushing for greater gender equality.

I wasn’t really aware of IWD until my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Ukraine, where IWD is a national holiday. (I’ve written a bit about how IWD is celebrated in Ukraine here and here.) The holiday isn’t really celebrated in the US — I was talking about this strangeness recently with Hannah, who is currently a PCV in Georgia. Perhaps because it started in Europe, it has never really been adopted by the US (correct me if I’m wrong — I haven’t lived in the US for a while!). It’s only an official holiday in a handful of countries, but today the United Nations recognizes and issues remarks about it.

Anyway, Women’s Day is one of my favorite holidays because it does have a two-pronged effect of celebrating women’s achievements and also drawing attention to the still-rampant inequality across the world and what work still needs to be done to ensure that women have the same rights and opportunities as men.

Along those lines, there are two great initiatives worth learning about and supporting: Emma Watson’s HeForShe campaign, “a solidarity movement for gender equality,” echoing Steinem’s quote above that gender equality is a human rights issue, “not only a women’s issue.”*

The second initiative is Let Girls Learn, a US government initiative “to ensure adolescent girls get the education they deserve.”** The even cooler part of this is that Michelle Obama just announced that The Peace Corps is partnering with Let Girls Learn to continue expanding the areas and ways that girls are encouraged and educated around the world. There will be more targeted trainings for PCVs,  grants for gender-related projects, and more PCVs trained to focus specifically on “advancing girls’ education and empowerment.”*** So good.

Women’s Day also holds a special place in my heart because the work I currently do is exclusively with women. I work at a charity in one of the most deprived boroughs in London; we provide settled migrant women with the opportunity to learn English (my role), learn new skills, gain confidence, and train for future study and work. My students inspire me every day and I am proud to be making even a small difference in the lives of other women.

How do you feel about IWD? What are you doing to make a difference in the lives of women and girls?

*http://www.heforshe.org
*http://www.usaid.gov/letgirlslearn
***https://letgirlslearn.peacecorps.gov

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Year in Review: 2014

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

I can hardly believe it’s already 2015, can you? 2014 was quite a year, I hardly know how to sum it up. For brevity’s sake, let’s go with some good ol’ bullet points.

2014 by the numbers:

  • blog posts published: 92 or so
  • books read: too many to count — some for fun and lots for my MA course
  • miles run: 549 (quite a lot less than last year, due to hip/knee issues)
  • miles cycled: 2,028.65 (mostly commuting in London, but a decent amount of road cycling in the first half of the year)
  • courses completed: 2 (1 MA in English & 1 DELTA course)
  • countries been in: England, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Germany, USA
  • weddings attended: 2

Looking back on my intentions for 2014, I more or less achieved most of them, although things like improving my German and staying in better touch with friends and family could always be worked on. My main intention for 2015 is to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and my other hobbies like cooking. That comes with some sub-intentions, like building up my running mileage and speed without getting injured.

In some blog-related reflecting, here are two listicles of my top posts — via views and via my opinion — from 2014:

The 10 most popular posts in 2014 (your favorites?):

My 10 favorite posts/moments in 2014 (in no particular order):

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2015

Recipe: Cranberry-Orange Buns

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The first time I saw the recipe, I knew I had to make them. As may be apparent from previous recipes, I have a soft spot for cranberries…obviously I was excited to add these to my arsenal. These are like cinnamon buns but with cranberries and orange.

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And oh man are they good. They certainly lived up to expectations. A rich, moist, orangey dough binds together tart-sweet cranberries for a mouthful of deliciousness. Although I know smitten kitchen recipes turn out perfectly if made as written, I took a risk and doubled the amount of cranberries while cutting down a bit on the brown sugar for the filling. It worked — and they don’t even need frosting (although feel free to prepare some if you want).

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These may become a holiday staple, great for a weekend brunch as you can prepare them the day before and bake them from the fridge in the morning (or at noon, as it was by the time I got back from my long run). Don’t be daunted by the prep time — it’s really quite a simple process, and you won’t regret the results.

ready to roll

ready to roll

Cranberry-Orange Buns (adapted from smitten kitchen; makes 12 buns — just halve the recipe for fewer)

Ingredients

  • Dough:
    • 4 egg yolks
    • 1 whole egg
    • 50g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
    • 85g (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted (+ a little more, to grease pan)
    • 175mL (3/4 cup) buttermilk
    • zest of 3/4 orange
    • 470g (3.75 cups) plain/AP flour (+ more for dusting counter)
    • 7g (2.25 tsp) instant dry yeast
    • 1.25 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp sunflower oil (for bowl)
  • Filling:
    • 20g (1.5 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
    • 175g (3/4 cup) brown sugar, packed (I used dark; feel free to use light)
    • ~250g (2-2.5 cups) fresh cranberries
    • zest of 1/4 orange

Procedure

  • Make the dough: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, melted butter, buttermilk, & 3/4 orange zest (you can do this in a stand mixer if you have one — I don’t). Add the yeast, salt, & 2 cups of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Add the rest of the flour & mix until the dough comes together, then turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead (or run the mixer with a dough hook) for 5 minutes . Don’t add more flour, as it will toughen the dough. Oil a large bowl and place the dough in it — cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 2-2.5 hours or until the dough has doubled.
  • Once the dough has risen, prepare the filling: Melt the butter and set aside. Put the cranberries in a food processor and pulse until they’re in quite small chunks but not totally pureed. Set aside.
  • Butter a 9×13-inch (23×33-cm) baking dish.
  • Assemble the buns: Flour a countertop and turn the dough out onto it. Roll the dough into a rectangle that’s about 18×12 inches (45×30.5 cm), with the long side closest to you. Brush the dough with the melted butter, then sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over it — go as close to the edges as you dare. Scatter the ground cranberries evenly over the sugar, then sprinkle the rest of the orange zest over everything.
  • Gently roll the dough into a long log, keeping it as tight as you can. Use a serrated knife to very gently saw the log into 12 sections, each of about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). Arrange the buns in the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 16 hours.
  • In the morning, bake the buns: take the dish out of the fridge about half an hour before you want to bake the buns. Heat the oven to 175C (350F), then bake the buns for 25-30 minutes, until they’re golden and puffed up, with an internal temperature of about 85C (190F). (You may have to cover them with foil for the last 10 minutes so they don’t burn on top) Serve warm.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Dianne’s Cranberry Cake

For me, Thanksgiving is not complete without something cranberry-ey, and all the better if cranberries appear in multiple guises: in my family, they usually appear in cranberry sauce, a surprisingly delicious jello “salad,” and this incredible cranberry upside-down cake.

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Ever since I can remember, my mom has made this cranberry cake for Thanksgiving — and often for Christmas, too, on my request. For me, it is an inseparable part of Thanksgiving and of the wintry holiday season in general. There’s something about that combination of whole cranberries baked into an orangey cake batter and topped with homemade whipped cream that puts a smile on everyone’s face.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it’s one of the things I miss most about not living closer to home. Since Thanksgiving’s not celebrated in the UK, it’s hard to take off that random week in November. Last year, we had a lovely Thanksgiving celebration with Sarah and Joe, but alas they’re back in the US of A now (miss you guys!). F and I were going to try and host our own Thanksgiving this year, but my all-consuming DELTA course and various other scheduling conflicts mean it probably won’t happen.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t make some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes! With the holiday coming up on Thursday and the DELTA course starting to taper off (less than 2 weeks & 3 assignments to go…), I decided to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon in the warm kitchen making cranberry cake.

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The cake is pretty easy to put together: pour some cranberries into a well-buttered cake pan, whip up the thick batter, spread it over the cranberries and bake! With luck, you’ll be able to invert your cake without incident and spread it with some warm jam for a finishing touch. Mine turned out a bit on the rustic side, as I used a springform cake pan which is a little bigger than your standard round cake tin — the cake was thus a bit thinner and stickier. I probably could’ve baked it for a little less time, but it still turned out deliciously and tasted exactly like it should. Go make it and you’ll know what I mean.

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Dianne’s Cranberry (Upside-Down) Cake (my mom’s recipe, adapted years ago from a Gourmet magazine; makes 1 cake)

Ingredients

  • Cranberries:
    • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1lb/16oz/500g fresh (or frozen) whole cranberries, rinsed, picked over & dried
  • Cake batter:
    • 1.25 cups all purpose (plain) flour
    • 1.5 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • zest of 1 orange
    • 1/2 cup milk (I used semi-skimmed)
  • Topping (optional):
    • 1/3 cup currant or other closely-related jam/jelly (I used F’s mom’s black currant jam, as that’s what we had)

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).
  • Butter a round cake pan with the 3 tbsp butter. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup of sugar evenly over the butter, and pour in the rinsed and dried cranberries.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and orange until well-combined.
  • Alternate adding the 1/2 cup milk and flour mixture to the butter-egg mixture, beating until well-combined. The batter will be quite thick.
  • Spread the batter over the cranberries, sealing the edges and smoothing the top.
  • Bake for 1 hour, until the top is well-browned. Let cool for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a platter.
  • Heat the jam (if using) in a saucepan, then brush it over the top of the cake. Top with homemade whipped cream, if desired (plain yogurt is also nice, for the more health-conscious out there), and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

At the Royal Opera House: Puccini’s “La bohème”

For my birthday this year, F surprised me with tickets to see Puccini’s La bohème at the Royal Opera House in London. (He’s the best.) This July at the ROH, John Copley directs seven performances of his iconic production of La bohème — set in 19th-century Paris — that is 40 years old this year. The staging is quite magical, thanks in part to great sets designed by Julia Trevelyan Oman. There are a few different casts for this revival; we saw the first one, featuring Ermonela Jaho as Mimi and Charles Castronovo as Rodolfo.

Entering the Royal Opera House, located in one corner of London’s Covent Garden, feels like entering a different world. Not an elite one, as you may think, but an old-fashioned one where people mingle with drinks and time slows down for a little while. The theatre itself may have something to do with that: dating from the late 19th-century, it’s sea of red velvet and gold ornament, complete with candelabras around the edges that you can imagine once held real candles.

inside the Royal Opera House

inside the Royal Opera House

The opera itself was great. Having seen a couple of Puccini operas in the past (Turandot at the Met and Madame Butterfly at the Kyiv Opera in Ukraine), I knew what to expect in terms of continuous music and general tragedy. I was particularly looking forward to La bohème because the musical Rent — based on Puccini’s opera — is one of my favorites. The ROH did not disappoint. Cornelius Meister led the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a lush, Romantic rendition of the score and despite a few points when the orchestra overpowered the tenors, I hardly noticed the orchestra at all (which I think is how it should be in opera). Though the large ensemble scenes — particularly Act II — are somewhat hard to follow in La bohème, the arias are gorgeous.

In terms of the singing, Ermonela Jaho as Mimi stole the show. I’d never heard of her and was at first a little disappointed not to be seeing one of the bigger names (Anna Netrebko and Angela Gheorghiu will appear in the role for subsequent performances), but now I can confidently say that I didn’t miss the big names one bit. Jaho has lovely tone and an exquisite pianissimo on her high notes — her Si, mi chiamano Mimi gave me chills. She was believable as the shy seamstress and played the tragic heroine without melodrama. Castronovo (Rodolfo) had a lovely tenor and paired well with Jaho, though his swelling climaxes were often drowned out by the orchestra (not sure if that was because of where we were sitting or a genuine orchestra-voice balance issue). The other vocal standout was Jongmin Park as Colline, whose ‘overcoat aria’ in Act IV was beautiful and moving. Simona Mihai played a fine Musetta and the other supporting singers were strong.

Overall, I really enjoyed my first outing to the Royal Opera House (and who knows when the next one will be? Holy ticket prices!). Copley’s La bohème production is fantastic and magical, and the ROH delivers a great experience (though I do agree with the Guardian reviewer that it could do without the second interval). If you can get tickets, go.

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Recipe: Scandinavian Almond Cake

 

Holy moly is this cake good. It’s moist (F said “mega-moist!”), buttery, not too dense, and just sweet enough. Cardamom adds a pleasing depth of flavor. It gets half a point for health, too, because there’s no flour — just ground almonds. I’d been wanting to make an almond cake for a while, and my birthday provided a good excuse to get in touch with my Scandinavian roots and make this delectable cake. I cut mine into squares and passed it around the office at work — it sure disappeared quickly! Guess I better make another one…

Update, 1 Oct 2017: I’ve made this cake repeatedly over the past few years, and it has gotten rave reviews from colleagues, friends, and fellow runners. I’ll definitely keep it in my rotation.

Scandinavian Almond Cake (adapted from Outside Oslo; makes 8 generous wedges or 12-16 squares)

Ingredients

  • 115g unsalted butter, softened
  • just under 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 250g (~2.5 cups) ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp ground cardamom, or 5-6 pods’ worth of seeds, ground with a mortar & pestle
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Optional: powdered/icing sugar for sprinkling

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 175C (350F) and grease a springform cake pan.
  • In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the almonds, baking powder, ground cardamom, and salt.
  • Fold the dry into the wet ingredients and stir until combined.
  • Spread the batter (it will be quite thick) into the cake pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and an inserted knife comes out clean. Let cool and, if you want, sprinkle powdered sugar (icing sugar) over the top.

Enjoy!

Xeraco & Valencia, Spain

A few weeks ago F and I ventured to southeastern Spain for some R&R in the midst of an already-busy summer. We had been invited to S&I’s wedding — hence the location — so decided to make a proper vacation out of it. The vacationness was enhanced by the fact that we stayed in a beautiful flat on Xeraco (say “Sheráko”) Playa that overlooked the beach. Xeraco is a town about 60km south of Valencia; we spent most of our time on the flat’s terrace, reading and enjoying the sea breezes. We dipped in the water when it was hot (watch out for jellyfish — I got stung in the warm Mediterranean) and walked on the beach’s soft sand in the cooler evenings.

The day before the wedding, we took the train an hour into Valencia to explore the old city center. It is beautiful, with lots of Arabic/Gothic/Moorish architecture dating from the 15th century or so. It was really warm — 34C — the day we were there, so we strolled slowly around the city center, through the cute winding streets and into the beautiful cathedral and a couple of galleries. We particularly enjoyed walking through the huge indoor Mercado Central (central market) while gazing at the huge jamón hocks, colorful vegetables, and super fresh seafood.

The market made us hungry, so we found our way back to a cute little square and sat outside in the shade at Bar & Kitchen/Mercat de Tapineria. There we enjoyed a light lunch, with the highlight being a delicious beet and tofu gazpacho: cool, refreshing, and a little bit sweet-sour.

Well-fortified, we made our way across the center to the Valencia Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia), which had free entry. It was nice to spend an hour or so inside during the hottest part of the day, and we discovered a remarkable artist whom neither of us had ever heard of: Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) was from Valencia but traveled a lot around Europe and won many art prizes for his portrait paintings. Upon his death, he bequeathed most of his works to the Fine Arts Museum in Valencia (which may explain why few have heard of him). His portraits, mostly of regular Spanish people, are remarkably realistic and impressionistic — just beautiful.

Sorolla’s “Academic study from life” (1887)

The museum pretty much concluded our Valencia visit. After resting in some gardens, we made our way back through the city center and took the train back to peaceful Xeraco. We spent another day relaxing until the 9pm-4am (!) Spanish wedding, which was beautiful and a lot of fun (congratulations, S&I!).

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Birthday Wisdom 2014

Another year gone by…this one has certainly flown. My 26th year (yes, I turn 26 today but — as my dad has pointed out — it’s actually a celebration of living through my 26th year) has been a busy one and filled with new experiences and people.

the most recent picture of me (taken last week by Sarah)

the most recent picture of me (taken last week by Sarah)

Over the past year I’ve settled into my London life with F; having more “productive” things to do has helped. Gosh, how to begin without dissolving into lists? I’ll try to hit on the highlights and leave you with my family’s traditional Birthday Wisdom at the end.

The big event in my 26th year has been working on my MA in English here in London. It has been challenging to re-enter academia after three years out of formal education, but after the first term I started feeling more comfortable and have met and begun socializing with some great people from my program. It has also been great to work two part-time jobs in different areas of EFL/ESOL teaching/tutoring — I’ve built my own skills and have worked with some really inspiring people. That has led me to realize that — at least for the foreseeable future — I would rather teach English as a language (as opposed to literature). In the athletics arena, I’ve run twelve races over my 26th year. Half of those were cross-country, another fun new experience for me. All those races probably caused me to get injured, though, and I am slowly working my way back to peak running form while enjoying more swimming and cycling. I’ve also joined an incredible chorus and love having a musical outlet again.

All in all, it has been a busy and eventful year — I’ve been challenged mentally, physically, musically, and socially, and feel that I have grown in all of those areas while integrating further into my little corner of London and starting to feel like part of the Crouch End-area community. My Birthday Wisdom this year comes from the always-inspiring (and recently-deceased) Maya Angelou, who has said:

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all.”

I wish you all another year of challenging yourself and belonging in all places.

Recipe: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

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On a quiet weekend a few weeks ago, F and I teamed up to make this chocolate peanut butter cheesecake from smitten kitchen. It was a fun project to do together. I won’t reproduce the recipe here because we did exactly as Deb said. The only differences were that we used a combination of “plain” and extra-dark chocolate, our crust used chocolate digestive biscuits half-covered in chocolate (no plain chocolate wafers here), and we didn’t make the extra ganache for the top.

The cheesecake turned out just as Deb described it. She does warn that it’s rich — F and I agreed that everything together was a bit much. So delicious, but a few bites are enough to saturate. He loved the chocolate crust with bottom fudge layer on its own, and I loved the peanut butter cheesecake filling on its own. That worked out well! If I made this again, I’d either leave out the fudge layer or make a crust from plain (non-chocolate) wafer cookies.

Recipe: Buckwheat Crepes

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In college, a friend and I used to get together periodically for crepe-making and tea. Crepes have been on my mind (and “to make” list) for a while. Recent build-up to Pancake Day — what UK-ers (UK-ites?) call Shrove Tuesday — finally motivated me to whip up a batch for Sunday brunch (not that I celebrate such a holiday, but any excuse to make pancakes is a good one in my book!).

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These crepes are adapted from smitten kitchen — all I did was substitute some buckwheat flour for some of the plain flour. They turned out really well. F and I enjoyed them with combinations of caramelized bananas, peanut butter, chocolate, and maple syrup. Next time we might go savory, with smoked salmon and dill or eggs and cheese. The crepes themselves aren’t sweet or salty, so you can go either way with the fillings. Get creative!

Buckwheat Crepes (adapted from smitten kitchen; makes 10-12 crepes, enough for 2-4 people)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1/4 cup buckwheat flour OR whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk (I used semi-skimmed)
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted & cooled

Procedure

  • Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk vigorously or blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Cover the bowl and pop it in the fridge for at least an hour and up to two days.
  • Take the batter out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you’re ready to make the crepes.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and grease it with a little bit of butter.
  • Pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet, swirling it around until the batter covers most of the pan’s surface evenly. Cook for about 1 minute, then ease a spatula under the edge of the crepe and flip, cooking for another 20-30 seconds. Repeat until the batter is gone (no need to re-grease the skillet).
  • Serve crepes with your favorite sweet or savory fillings.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting

**updated 25 Jan 2015 — now includes beet cream cheese frosting!**

Yes, I’m behind on the Valentine’s Day dessert bandwagon. But F and I are neutral on the holiday — why do you have to wait for a special day to celebrate each other and those you love? So I didn’t actually make this cake because it was Valentine’s weekend. But Sarah had given me extra beets that she wasn’t going to use before traveling, which made this a great opportunity to try her recipe for chocolate beet cake (originally from BBC Good Food). Plus, S & I were coming for dinner, and it’s always better to have more people to help devour dangerously delicious baked goods! IMG_5297 You might be thinking, “Beets? In cake?” I was skeptical, too, but Sarah assured me that you don’t taste the beets at all, and she was right. They add sweetness and keep the cake moist (and help you pretend it’s sort of healthy). S & I seemed to enjoy it, and F gave it an “amazing!” rating.

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This cake is so chocolatey and delicious.  I used a little less sugar than Sarah’s recipe called for and it didn’t seem to make a difference. I’d recommend erring towards the shorter cooking time, as the cake may get dry if you leave it in for the full time. The pink cream cheese frosting, from Joy the Baker, is completely optional but if you choose to go for it you won’t be disappointed.

Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting (cake adapted from Sarah & frosting adapted from Joy the Baker; serves 7-9)

Ingredients

  • Cake:
    • 185-200g beet(root) (~3 small beets), cooked, peeled, & roughly chopped
    • 200g plain flour
    • 100g cocoa powder
    • 1 tbsp baking powder
    • 240g golden caster sugar (I’m sure granulated sugar would work just as well)
    • 3 eggs
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 200ml sunflower oil
    • 100g dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • Frosting (optional):
    • 115g (1/2 cup or 4oz) unsalted butter, softened
    • 115g (1/2 cup or 4oz) cream cheese, softened
    • 2-3 cups powdered sugar, sifted/whisked
    • 2 tbsp cooked beets, finely grated & mashed
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • .5-1 tsp milk (more for thinner consistency)
    • small squeeze of fresh lemon juice
    • pinch of salt

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 170C (fan).
  • Put the beets in a food processor and blend until they’re finely chopped.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
  • Add the chopped beets, eggs, and vanilla to the dry ingredients and whisk to break up the eggs. Pour in the sunflower oil and stir vigorously until fully mixed. The batter will be thick and fudgy.
  • Stir the chopped chocolate into the batter, then pour everything into a loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes (OR use a round cake pan and bake 40-50 minutes— you make need to cover the cake with foil partway through baking if it gets too dark on top. (If the cake seems underdone when you take it out, bear in mind that it will set as it cools.)
  • While the cake is cooling, make frosting (optional): put cream cheese in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 30 seconds or until soft and smooth. Add the butter and beat for 30 seconds or until well combined. Add the beets and beat for another few seconds. Pour in the powdered sugar, vanilla, milk, lemon juice, and salt, then beat on medium until the frosting is smooth. Let the frosting chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge before frosting the cake.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Brussels Sprout & Tomato Salad with Lemon-Dijon Dressing

For Thanksgiving every year my mom makes a really good cold Brussels sprout salad with tomatoes and a zingy dressing. I recently picked up some Brussels sprouts and didn’t feel like roasting them so thought I’d throw together a similar salad — not only for Thanksgiving — with some tomatoes we had lying around and one of my favorite dressings: lemon-dijon.

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This is a tasty and healthy salad that acts as a great side dish for any meat or vegetarian main you’ve prepared. (Mashed potatoes are particularly good for mopping up extra dressing.) Serve it at room temperature or straight from the fridge. Feel free to add some minced scallions/green onions or any other things you think might work well with the earthy Brussels sprouts, fresh tomatoes, and zingy dressing. Toss the leftovers with some couscous or rice for a nice next-day lunch.

Brussels Sprout & Tomato Salad with Lemon-Dijon Dressing (serves 3-5)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb (200-300g) Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 1/2 lb (200-300g) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Lemon-dijon dressing

Procedure

  • Bring a pot of water to boil, then throw in the Brussels sprouts and cook for 15 minutes or until they are firm-soft.
  • Meanwhile, whisk up the dressing in the bottom of your salad bowl and add the halved tomatoes.
  • When the Brussels sprouts are cooked, drain and rinse them in cold water. Slice them in half, add to the tomato and dressing, and toss. Serve at room temperature or chill for at least 1 hour.

Enjoy!

Weihnachten und Silvester in Deutschland / Christmas and New Year’s in Germany

It’s always fun and interesting to experience holiday traditions in different countries/cultures. I became familiar with most of the major Ukrainian holiday celebrations during my two years there, and my family is often invited to celebrate Norwegian Christmas Eve with friends. This year I had the chance to celebrate my first Christmas and New Year’s in Germany, with F’s family and friends. Here are a short list and a few pictures of my experiences:

  • Weihnachtsmarkt in Bonn: Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, where many people go in the evenings to meet friends, drink a warm mug of Glühwein (mulled wine), and shop for handcrafts, candied almonds (Mandeln), and Lebkuchen hearts.
  • Like many other Europeans, Germans celebrate Christmas on 24 December, what we call Christmas Eve and what they call heilige Abend. Highlights of heilige Abend include:
    • Decorating the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) with lights, red and gold ornaments, and red candles (which may or may not get lit).
    • Enjoying a big supper with some kind of roast meat (F’s family makes Sauerbraten, a beef roast pickled/marinated for seven days beforehand), bread dumplings (Semmelknödel), and lots of gravy-like sauce.
    • Present-opening after dinner.
  • What we call Christmas Day is called “the first Christmas (holi)day,” and 26 December (Boxing Day in the UK) is called “the second Christmas (holi)day.” Both days are free days in Germany, when families can relax and enjoy each other. We had delicious kohlrouladen (cabbage rolls) for lunch one day. They’re not unlike Ukrainian holubtsi, but the German version is only ground meat wrapped in cabbage, rather than rice + meat that Ukrainians use. We also went to watch the Bonn professional basketball team play.

F and I celebrated New Year’s (Silvester) in Münster, where F studied and where most of his friends still live. Activities included:

  • (Another!) Christmas dinner with nine friends. Everyone contributed something, potluck-style. I made my mom’s sweet potato casserole and F made a delicious pot roast as the meal’s centerpiece.
  • One evening, we enjoyed grünkohl (kale cooked for ages with sausages and pork, a typical dish in Westphalia) at F’s friend’s parents’.
  • New Year’s Eve is traditionally celebrated with friends, like in many places all over the world. We gathered at F&M’s place for raclette and then fireworks (Feuerwerke). Interestingly, Germans are only allowed to buy fireworks for the couple of days leading up to New Year’s Eve. That means Silvester has tons of people setting off their own fireworks at midnight. We walked down to the Aasee and had a great view of ours and others’ fireworks around the lake.

How does your family celebrate Christmas and/or New Year’s?