Category Archives: culture

Recipe: Thai-Style Peanut Sauce

I thought F and had a pretty good Asian-style peanut sauce recipe for use on soba noodle salads and the like. Then I discovered this recipe from Cupful of Kale: we’ve already made the sweet potato and cauliflower lettuce wraps twice this winter, but the peanut sauce has featured even more frequently.

Compared to my old recipe, this peanut sauce has a shorter ingredient list, is extra creamy thanks to coconut milk, and has a good kick from Thai red curry paste. It is so good. As the Germans might say, einfach geil. I feel like this is the only peanut sauce I ever need to make again!

I’ve made a few tweaks to the original recipe and am quite flexible with my measurements, so feel free to add or subtract from the amounts to balance the flavors to your liking. If you want a thinner sauce, add some water. If you want more tang, increase the lime and/or rice vinegar. If you want more coconut flavor and creaminess, add more coconut milk. Increase or decrease the curry paste amount to adjust the level of spice. However you do it, it will be delicious!

Thai-Style Peanut Sauce (recipe adapted from Cupful of Kale; makes 3-4 generously drizzled servings)

Ingredients

  • 2 generous tbsp natural peanut butter (ideally just roasted peanuts, with/without salt is okay)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 2-3 tsp Thai red curry paste
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 tsp rice vinegar

Procedure

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small food processor and blend until smooth. (You could also use a hand mixer to bring everything together.) Use as dressing for a soba noodle salad or drizzle over crispy tofu and roasted vegetables.

Year in Review: 2019

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

I know I’m a bit late with this, but give me a break – I had a baby less than eight weeks ago! As we settle into 2020 and a new decade (!), here are some reflections on my 2019.

Running and fitness in 2019:

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2019 I ran 530.4km =  329.58mi, which is less than half of my 2018 distance, but considering I was pregnant for 9.5 months of 2019, I think that’s not too bad.
  • I had a really good start to the running year, with a solid Fred Hughes 10 Mile time and one of my best XC races in recent years. I snuck in a casual but swift-ish 5-mile intra-club race in March in Finsbury Park. Due to pregnancy, I consciously slowed down and cut out speedwork by April-May, so ran a steady Crouch End 10k with Jo (at around 11 weeks pregnant) in May. That was also a bittersweet final road race in London before moving to Germany.
  • I ran 12 parkruns from January through May, including a course PB at Finsbury parkrun in February.
  • Distance cycled: 1,527.9km = 949.39mi of commuting in London and then Münster, with a few fitness rides thrown in on Cape Cod. I was happy to be able to cycle (in flat Münster on an upright, Dutch-style bike) throughout my entire pregnancy.

Favorite books read in 2019:

  • In 2019 I read 24 books. Here are some I enjoyed the most:
  • Deborah Frances-White, The Guilty Feminist. I discovered DFW’s “The Guilty Feminist” podcast in late 2018 or early 2019. It’s a hilarious comedy podcast with appropriate serious moments covering a range of topics relevant to feminism and broader equality today. The podcast let me to DFW’s book of the same name, which was fun and insightful to read. Highly recommended for anyone who calls themselves a feminist or believes in gender/person equality.
  • Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind is a fun bit of fantasy; I read the first two books in this trilogy and then ran out of steam, as the second book got a little repetitive. Some good unrequited love and magic, though!
  • Speaking of magic, F, my parents, and I all read the first trilogy of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series (first book: The Final Empire). They feature a fascinating and unique magic system as well as a strong female lead and a good amount of political and philosophical musing. Would recommend.
  • Yes, I was an English major. No, I hadn’t read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale until late last year. I was finally motivated to pick it up by the press and awards Atwood got around the publication of its sequel, The Testaments. I read both and they were equal parts fascinating and terrifying. The writing is also much more accessible than I anticipated it would be.
  • Jo recommended I read Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky and it was excellent. I love historical fiction, as you may know, and I also learned a lot about World War II in Italy.

Other highlights of 2019, in no particular order:

  • If you know me and/or follow this blog, you’ll know that 2019 was a big year for F and me:
    • We decided to move to Münster, Germany after 6.5 years in London.
    • We got pregnant (March) and had a baby (December)!
    • The above events included a new job for F – working remotely – and me going freelance as an English teacher in Münster. New work arrangements for both of us and so far going well (although I’m currently on a break from work given the second point above).
  • I passed a German exam to gain my B2 Goethe-Zertifikat. Next up: C1!
  • We spent a lovely two weeks with my parents in August on Cape Cod.
  • We celebrated Thanksgiving in Münster by sharing all the best desserts with friends here and making a two-person feast for ourselves.
  • I’ve continued to cook and bake loads, which is fun in our new larger kitchen in Münster. I had 6 weeks (that turned into almost 8 weeks) off before baby E was born, so I filled my time with many projects in the kitchen. F and I are still being mindful of how much meat we eat and where we get it. We’re eating a lot more vegetarian now and have added some new recipes to our rotation from Bon Appétit magazine and Priya Krishna’s Indian-ish cookbook as well as the ever-present NYT Cooking website/app.

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intentions for 2020 are to live as much in the moment as possible, enjoy baby E’s growth and development, get back into decent running shape, and figure out how I want to work as a freelancer going forward.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2019:

  1. Lemon, Ginger, & Turmeric Infusion with Cloves & Honey – still my number-one viewed post! A delicious, warming, healing infusion
  2. A New Favorite (& possibly the BEST) Pancake Recipe – this remains our go-to pancake recipe and we’ve made it for and passed the recipe on to multiple friends in Germany
  3. Baked Scallops in White Wine Cream Sauce – a creamy, slightly fancy scallop bake nice on a cold winter’s day
  4. Issues in Modern Culture – overview of my MA program(me). Already 6-7 years ago!
  5. Smitten Kitchen’s Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – just the best classic oatmeal-raisin cookies
  6. Kale Sautéed in Olive Oil and Garlic – my favorite way to cook and eat kale. Works well with chard, too
  7. Käsekuchen (German cheesecake) – F’s favorite. Takes a bit of work but is totally worth it
  8. English Grammar Workshop: Prepositions – should I write more English teaching content?Comment if yes!
  9. Roasted Eggplant with Crispy Chickpeas, Lamb Meatballs, & Yogurt-Tahini Sauce – 4 recipes in one! Choose a couple or make them all
  10. Rhabarberkuchen mit Quarkcreme und Streuseln (Rhubarb Cake) – another classic German cake of many layered components. Make it in spring/early summer when the rhubarb is fresh!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2020.

Recipe: Sausage Rolls

Some time last year, F and I got into the habit of treating ourselves to a sausage roll – a classic British hand-held snack – from Dunn’s Bakery in Crouch End after doing our weekly fruit and vegetable shopping across the street. F remarked at one point that sausage rolls must not be that hard to make at home, so he embarked on a recipe search and turned out some beauties based on this video.

Fast forward to a year later and we’re now in Germany without easy access to bakery-bought sausage rolls (the horror!). So with gray, wintery weather setting in, we thought we’d make them again ourselves while waiting for our tiny human to appear. This time, we tried our hand at homemade rough puff pastry, which turned out pretty well, with a little bit of lamination. You can definitely use store-bought puff pastry, though, to simplify and speed up the process.

Sausage rolls are easy to make: add fresh herbs to pork mince (ground pork, for US readers; Schweinehack for Germans!); make a log of meat (sounds appealing, I know) on top of the puff pastry; seal closed; egg wash and garnish with salt and fennel; bake; eat! Don’t skip the fennel and sea salt on the crust – they really bring it all together.

Sausage Rolls (recipe adapted from here; makes 10-14 sausage rolls, depending on how you slice)

Ingredients

  • 1 pack/batch of puff pastry (store bought is fine; we’ve used that as well as this homemade rough puff from Joy the Baker)
  • 1kg/2.2lbs pork mince (ground pork)
  • 1 medium bunch each of fresh sage, thyme, & chives, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • to taste: salt & pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten (for egg wash)
  • 1-2 large pinches of coarse sea salt flakes
  • 1-2 large pinches of fennel seeds

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F (convection setting).
  2. Chop the herbs and mix them into the pork mince along with the bread crumbs and salt & pepper.
  3. Lay/roll out the puff pastry and arrange the mince on top in a log shape, a few centimeters from one long edge.
  4. Lightly egg wash the long edge that the meat is closest to, then fold the pastry over the meat and seal to the egg washed bit by crimping with a fork.
  5. Trim any excess pastry edge from the crimped side but make sure there is still a centimeter or so of sealed bit.
  6. Egg wash the top of the long log, then sprinkle on sea salt and fennel seeds.
  7. Cut the log into roll-sized pieces of your choice (you should get 10-14 individual sausage rolls) and arrange the pieces on a parchment-lined baking tray.
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the pastry is golden-brown and the meat is cooked through (71C/160F).
  9. Let the sausage rolls cool for 15-20 minutes, then enjoy warm. You can store extras in the fridge and eat them cold or reheat them for 2-3 minutes in the microwave.

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.


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Traditional Challah

Welcome back to my (very) casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Maternity leave (pre-baby, of course) is allowing me more time to explore breads of the world in the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. Last time, I made paratha, a rich, buttery flatbread from South Asia. This week, I delved into Jewish cuisine to try my hand at an enriched, yeasted bread: challah. Read on for the experience…

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #10: Traditional Challah

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Challah and Beyond: Enriched Breads, Rolls and Buns”; my first attempt at a bread from this chapter. The section’s introduction explains challah‘s significance in Jewish history, cuisine and culture, as well as enumerating the different types of challah made around the world. The book also mentions the importance of challah’s braided shape: “A braid, with all of its arms intertwined, is said to represent love” (p171). I can get on board with that!

Hallo, challah!

I decided to start my enriched bread adventures (“breadventures,” if you will) with the chapter’s first recipe, for traditional (Ashkenazi) challah. This required a bit of planning ahead, as I had to make pâte fermentée the day before. That done, on Monday morning I fired up the stand mixer to combine/knead the pâte fermentée with the rest of the dough ingredients: flour (I didn’t have bread flour so used all purpose/plain), sugar, salt, yeast, egg yolks, honey, and water.

After an hour’s rise, I wasn’t sure if the dough had actually risen enough – I feared our kitchen’s “room temperature” may have been lower than Hot Bread Kitchen’s – but went ahead with the rolling and braiding anyway.

The dough was relatively easy to work with, although it took me a while to create ropes that were long enough to make into two-strand braided loaves. Even so, the loaves looked pretty small. But I continued with the steps and let the braided and egg-washed loaves proof/prove for another hour. I gave them a second egg wash then popped them into the oven, where after 45 minutes they had developed a beautiful, shiny, mahogany crust.

Upon handling and tasting the cooled challah, it became clear that they weren’t quite right: too dense (under-proved, I think, and/or maybe because of using plain rather than bread flour) and too salty, even though I reduced the amount of salt because kosher salt is hard to find here. Despite the less-than-stellar outcome, the challah-making process was fun and straightforward, and I’ve learned a few lessons for next time.

Would I make this again? Yes, but with proper bread flour, less salt, and longer proving times.

Have you ever made challah? What are your tips and tricks for getting a light, fluffy loaf?

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Paratha

Welcome back to my (very) casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” It has been exactly two years since my last post in this series, but I’m on maternity leave now and hope to delve further into the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook before our mini human arrives. Last time in this series, I made tortillas de tiesto, feta-filled flatbreads from Latin America. Today I also went for a flatbread: paratha, a classic from South Asia. Read on for the experience…

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #9: Paratha

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Primordial Breads: Unleavened Flatbreads”. From this section, we’re already explored m’smen and chapati. Paratha is a rich, layered flatbread from the Indian subcontinent that Wikipedia tells us is traditionally served with breakfast. The cookbook says that “depending on the region, shapes and fillings can vary greatly.” These are a basic, layered-but-not-stuffed version of paratha.

Paratha

The paratha recipe has a short ingredients list; I decided to make half a recipe (8 instead of 16 flatbreads) for just F and me. Rice flour was the most out-of-the-ordinary ingredient but was easy to find at our local BioMarkt (organic supermarket). I wasn’t bothered to look for ghee in the international supermarket (full disclosure: I only thought of that just now, while writing!), so I used regular unsalted butter, which seemed to work fine.

The paratha dough came together quickly in our newly-acquired stand mixer and, thanks to the addition of butter, it was soft, pliable, and easy to work with. After a couple of 30-minute resting periods, I commenced rolling, buttering, and folding each individual dough ball to build up the layers. (If anyone can advise me on how to roll a triangular piece of dough into a circle, I’d be much obliged. My paratha shapes were not particularly round or consistent.)

Grilling the paratha in a non-stick skillet – with more butter, of course! – was time consuming but not difficult. F and I tried a fresh one and declared them delicious. I loved the nutty flavor imparted by the whole wheat (wholemeal, for UK readers) flour. They tasted like a less dense but richer chapati. When asked to describe the paratha using three adjectives, F summed them up as “buttery, succulent, crisp.” I’d call that a success! The paratha are best eaten warm, although they developed a nice crispiness by the time we had them alongside chicken korma and roasted cauliflower for lunch.

Would I make these again? Absolutely.

Have you ever made paratha? What’s your favorite way to stuff and/or eat them?

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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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At the National Theatre: “Hadestown”

Back in November, my parents flew over to London for the long Thanksgiving weekend. They were keen to go see a show while in town, and Monday night was the most convenient for going out. A musical called Hadestown was on at the National Theatre and it sounded quirky: jazz-folk music, based on two Greek myths, written and directed by women. As both shows F and I have seen at the National Theatre were excellent, I thought we’d give it a go!

“Hadestown” set at the National Theatre

And we were glad we did.

Intertwining the Orpheus/Eurydice and Hades/Persephone myths, Hadestown brings us to the modern-day industrial in what could be a southern railway town / New Orleans piano bar. In addition to the four protagonists, other characters from Greek myth are in attendance: Hermes, messenger god, narrates much of the story; and the Fates ever weave around the characters, cajoling and tempting them.

Speaking of the Fates, I think they get some of the best music in the show, with hints of Bossa Nova and tight, edgy but round harmonies. Check this one out:

In other music, the song “Why We Build The Wall,” set as a kind of call-and-response reminiscent of the Old South, is powerful and chillingly relevant to today’s politics. Eva Noblezada, as Eurydice, has a great voice. I was less impressed by Orpheus’ solos, but I think that’s because the character’s musical style is quite different from the rest of the show. It’s more folksy, and reminds me of the music from Once, contrasting – probably on purpose – with the jazzier ensemble pieces.

Final verdict: Hadestown, while sometimes jumpy in narrative, is a fantastic show. The music is jazzy, bluesy, folksy, and above all, catchy. Some tunes and themes resonate heavily with today’s political environment. It was also great to see such a diverse cast, with plenty of talent to go around. Highly recommended!

Of course, an evening out on the Southbank isn’t complete without taking in the London lights from Waterloo Bridge. London really is a magical place.

 


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.

USA Trip 2018: Nevada City & Sacramento Valley

Greetings! This is the fourth and final post in my mini “USA Trip 2018” series, documenting the two-week vacation (holiday, in UK-speak) that F and I took this August. After a weekend in NYCa few days in San Francisco, and time exploring the Point Reyes National Seashore, we journeyed to the foothills of the Sierras then into the Sacramento Valley for the remainder of our trip. Read on to see what we got up to. (NB: none of this is sponsored – all of the following are my personal opinions and I write for fun!)

Day 1: Sunday

Out of the fog and into the heat: that sums up the drive from Point Reyes across the Sacramento Valley and into the Sierra foothills. Not complete without a stop at California institution In-N-Out Burger, of course!

Upon arrival in Nevada City, we strolled through the cute, hippie, old west town center before splashing in the Outside Inn pool and relaxing in the heat with the New York Times. We had a delicious dinner at the New Moon Cafe (recommended by J&E) then called it an early night.

Day 2: Monday

I knew nothing about Nevada City before this trip. Why did we choose it? Well, we had originally considered Lake Tahoe but then realized it would be jammed with tourists and vacationers in August. As an alternative, a number of friends had recommended a stop in Nevada City, one of the first Gold Rush towns in the Sierra foothills.

Monday was a kind of rest day for us. We slept in then had a delicious brunch at Ike’s Quarter Cafe (thanks for the recommendation, Liv!) and lounged around in the 90F+ heat. Later, we roused ourselves enough to drive to Edward’s Crossing and take a dip in the Yuba River (another spot-on recommendation from Liv). The sun was hot, the water was cool, all was well. And luckily we didn’t come across any rattlesnakes. Smoothies and wraps from Fudenjüce (good tip from B) rounded off the day.

Day 3: Tuesday

We spent a leisurely morning writing postcards, then made our way out of the foothills and into the Sacramento Valley. First stop: Folsom, home of the eponymous Folsom Prison made famous by a Johnny Cash song, but also home to family friends (and avid athletes) J&E, who generously hosted us for two nights. After we arrived and admired their fleet of bikes and rowing shells, E took F and me on an easy 8-mile cycle on the paved “Johnny Cash Trail” to stretch our legs before dinner. It was also a test-ride on their “guest fleet” bikes for the next day’s adventure…

Day 4: Wednesday

…a 30-mile cycle from Folsom to Old Sacramento, almost all on paved paths along the American River and including a mini pace line to help the miles pass. It was fantastic to ride so far and not encounter any cars. We enjoyed lunch on the classic Delta King riverboat and then strolled through Old Sac before taking the light rail back to Folsom.

Cycling to Old Sac. Photo by E.

Day 5: Thursday

E took F out for a final cycle – faster this time, since I wasn’t there to hold them back – while I went for a run. We all met at Karen’s Bakery for a post-workout coffee. It was a nice end our stay with J&E – they treated us well and E was an excellent cycle tour guide! In the early afternoon we drove to my grandmother’s house in Roseville, where we caught up on the family news, showed off our holiday photos, and met Uncle K for dinner.

Day 6: Friday

F and I got up early with Grandma; she did her regular 2-mile walk and we went for a short run. After breakfast, we drove back to San Francisco, returned the rental car, and flew back to London and reality. We had an amazing trip. I enjoyed introducing F to the west coast while revisiting some of my favorite places and sharing many new experiences with him. We’ll be back, California!


USA Trip 2018: Point Reyes National Seashore

Greetings! This is the third post in my mini “USA Trip 2018” series, documenting the two-week vacation (holiday, in UK-speak) that F and I took this August. After a weekend in NYC and a few days in San Francisco, we drove across the foggy Golden Gate Bridge to the Point Reyes National Seashore. Read on to see what we got up to. (NB: none of this is sponsored – all of the following are my personal opinions and I write for fun!)

Do you associate smells with places? I have two strong smell-place associations: the damp sea air of Cape Cod, and the dry, earthy, eucalyptus-tinged smell of golden northern California. The latter is what Point Reyes smelled like and it was glorious.

Smells aside, you’ve probably gathered that the next stage of our USA trip was on the Point Reyes National Seashore. We had found a cute-looking AirBnB in Point Reyes Station to set up our base for the next few days and planned to see some big trees, walk/hike, and relax. (The “tiny house” AirBnB was perfect: comfortable bed, great outdoor shower, porch, fridge, and coffee maker. I’d stay there again.)

Day 1: Thursday

After renting a car from SFO, we drove back up through the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping at the vista point for some great views of the fog rolling over the San Francisco Bay. Another hour or so in the car brought us to the cute little town of Point Reyes Station. We spent part of the afternoon exploring the town and bought two delicious cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery, which at least four people had recommended to us! I wanted to go for a run, so F suggested we drive 10 minutes to the Bear Valley Trail parking area and get in a short jog before dinner. We ran a 5km out-and-back on a sneakily uphill trail to the Divide Valley. It was beautiful and peaceful.

Day 2: Friday

Muir Woods was a non-negotiable activity on this trip; it’s one of my favorite places from childhood and F loves trees, so I knew he’d enjoy it. Luckily, a few people had tipped us off to the fact that you now have to book tickets and parking in advance, so we reserved the earliest possible parking spot for Friday morning. We rolled out of bed at 6:20am, made coffee and PB&Js in our tiny house, and drove down to Muir Woods via foggy Highway 1. We got there at 8:20am and it was really peaceful in the woods until about 9:45, at which point we were on the way out anyway. It was totally worth going early to beat the crowds and enjoy the redwoods in their natural, peaceful magnificence.

On the way back to Point Reyes Station, we stopped at Stinson Beach; it was still a grayish day but there were plenty of people out. We cooled – more like chilled! – our toes in the Pacific waters and enjoyed a beach walk before grabbing hot dogs for lunch. Back in town, we browsed in Point Reyes Books and then drove up the road to Inverness for a delicious dinner of fish tacos and sweet potato fries at The Tap Room. Fast and fresh!

Day 3: Saturday

Our main activity for this day was to hike the Tomales Point Trail, a 10-mile out-and-back hike to the end of Tomales Point, promising to feature Tule Elk and other wildlife. We made a leisurely start and got to the trailhead around 10am. It was cool and breezy when we set off, but we warmed up fast in the bright sunshine. The hike was 2/3 easy walking on well-trodden dirt trails, and 1/3 on loose sand. It was a beautiful hike, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and Tomales Bay on the other. The Tule Elk were out in force and many California Condors were circling overhead. Stunning.

Day 4: Sunday

Before checking out of our AirBnB, we drove to the Bear Valley Trail area again and did the same out-and-back run that we did the first night. It was good to shake out the legs before we got in the car to drive to our next stop: Nevada City.