Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Leftover Lunches #1

I'm not really a recipe cook - not by a longshot.  Yes I may have many, many well-thumbed cookbooks - but they're more for food porn -lusting over the lovely glossies - and general inspiration.

A, on the other hand is a confirmed recipe cook (he can't abide Nigel Slater for his vagueness of recipe for example) and whilst he does enjoy cooking, it is very much to the letter.

I am often left therefore with a random assortment of half-used items in the fridge - think half-tins of random ingredients (artichokes/roasted peppers/exotic spice mixes) or half used vegetables etc.  This is where the inspiration for today's post has come from - and I hope for it to become an ongoing theme on my blog.

Leftover Lunches.  Pretty much what it says - I only need to cook for me at lunchtime as the Kindling and A are taken care of elsewhere - so here's today's offering:

I found - two marinated artichoke hearts, a couple of spoonfuls of creme fraiche (at the bottom of a pot!), some small strips of filo pastry and half a pack of feta.

Added to that with some store cupboard faithfuls (frozen spinach* and oregano - my most favouritist herb) and we have: Feta, artichoke and spinach parcels.

What I did: mix a small bowl of chopped defrosted spinach with the artichoke and creme fraiche, place a generous spoonful (or 2) in the middle of a cross of filo (4 strips in total 2 on top of the other) and then add some crumbed feta on top and a good sprinkle of oregano.  Fold the strips in to make parcels, then brush with olive oil and baked till golden.

*Frozen spinach as it's generally quite difficult to source fresh spinach here. No popping to the supermarket and being certain of there being a bag of baby spinach in the salad section - oh no - it's a real buy it when you see it type of thing here as you can never be sure when the fresh stuff will be next available.  

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Oops - what have I let myself in for?

Now, I'm fairly generous with my time and have a habit of volunteering.  I don't work (well - not for money in a real job or anything....am a stay-at-home mummy which in itself is a full time occupation and then some) so don't mind signing up or things, joining things or generally helping out when I can or when someone asks.

One of my expat friends here - Kettwigefrau - had this idea (not sure if it was inspired or completely crazy but that's another debate) that we expat ladies should gather a team together to enter the Dragonboat racing section of our local regatta which is held in the middle of October.  Well, swept along by a wave of  (quite probably drunken) enthusiasm, we've a team - and a boat - and are entered to take part.... yikes!

Now of course, this isn't being taken tooooo seriously, we're out to have a good time, winning of course preferred too!  And as you would expect, a great deal (and I mean GREAT deal) of debate and planning has gone into our team name (Puff's Power Girls - from 'Puff the Magic Dragon' - geddit?) and of course our team strip (no we're not stripping.....but have a fabulous outfit dahhlings) so we're dayglo pink wigs, tutus over thermal leggings (well this is water, in October, in Germany) and a logo'd hoodie - we will be some sight to behold I imagine - never ones to blend into the background.

Whilst we're not taking this as seriously as we are probably expected to, it has been suggested to us that we ought really to do at least some training - given that none of us have actually Dragon-boated before it's probably a very valid point.  This brings us to today and at 2pm, Puff's Power Girls (and associated spouses, children, animals and various other hangers-on) will convene somewhere on the Ruhr near Mulheim to have a trial.  Now there are some slight issues here - of course not everyone can make it (par for the course) and we're training in a 20man boat whereas we'll be racing as a 10(wo)man crew - so we've had to borrow some extra rowers (think Husbands) so who knows how it will translate into the real thing..... but at least we'll vaguely know what we're meant to be doing - in theory anyway!

Very generously, another fellow rower has opened her house for us to convene at afterwards for the post-training debrief.....I mean drinks/food/chat on the understanding that we all bring something for the Tisch

Oh - look the blog's, morphed into food again....

My contribution for this is a Peach and Marsala Meringue Pie.  Loosely based on Delia's pile-it-high-orange-and-rhubarb-meringue-pie (from her Summer Collection recipe book) - I had some peaches left over and thought it would be a lovely end of summer dish.... let's hope the weather holds for us today.

I took Delia's recipe but made the following alterations:

Crust: - I used wholemeal flour, all butter and added a tablespoon of sugar.

Filling: peaches with a couple of tablespoons of Marsala and a shake of icing sugar.  No oranges - and made the custard from the peach/Marsala juice with some extra apple juice for volume.  Only used about 3tsps of cornflour and used 4egg yolks.

And the proof is in the eating as they say - so we'll find out later!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Can you ever have too many books?

I often think that when you go into a house and you can't see any books that there's something wrong with those that live there - how can there be no books?  In my experience, you just need to let a couple into your life and before you know it, you're over-run with books, on shelves, windowsills, the stairs, in piles all over.

Now I admit - I'm an incurable bookworm.  That coupled with my hoarding instincts mean that I (almost) never get rid of a book - I frequently reread my collection - I love those familiar friends that favourite books become - almost like a member of the family.  I often feel quite bereft when I come to the end of a good book and wait with baited breath for the next instalment.

My book collection is fairly eclectic and all encompassing, from Kipling to Jilly Cooper, Homer to Jeffrey Deaver - there's something for everyone and every occasion there.  But my two big passions book-wise are trashy thrillers (think Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs and Jeffrey Deaver) and Cookbooks (of which I must have over 150 - possibly too many if you can indeed have too many books....).

Living in Germany, it's not quite as easy to pick up good reads as in the UK.  Yes, the big bookstores do all have a selection of English books -in English, and of course you can order online.  But books bought here in Germany are a lot more expensive than in the UK - and of course when ordered online you have to wait for delivery.  I'm not a very patient person and whilst delivery times are generally not too bad you can guarantee the one time you want something like yesterday it takes eons to arrive!

The Kindle has come to Germany too.  We've had ours for a few years now and I have to admit to not being it's biggest fan.  First off we had trouble linking accounts and couldn't buy from Amazon.co.uk due to our geographical location - so have to buy via the states which meant paying in dollars which meant paying commission etc.  Now we're linked to Amazon.de as that's our 'local shop' so to speak which is fine, but again the price differential between the UK and here is quite surprising.  Whilst I am using the Kindle more, it won't ever take over from the real thing for me - something about the way a book sits in your hand, how an old book smells - or it's pages and spine are worn speaks to me so much more than a machine does - and quite frankly the page size on the Kindle is not big enough so I seem to  be forever turning pages..... it does not make for a happy reading experience.  And I daren't take it into the bath with me - and as that's where I do a fair amount of reading - well a real book is still the one I want.

Now, what I have found here in Germany is a great little English language book-exchange site where you can list your unwanted books, and earn tokens to swap for other books on the same site (they don't have to be listed by the person who wanted your old books.)  This site - Bookswapper - is worth a look for those readers living in Germany and wanting English books.  I just love the idea of a book that I no longer want (which I'll admit are not many) going to another good home, rather than just cluttering up my limited bookshelves.

The other great thing about books is reading something so completely outside of your comfort zone -  and enjoying it, thus opening up a whole new section of literature that you'd never come across before.  I belong to an English Book Club (well it's more of a wine club but that's a whole other post....) and through them I've found Ken Follett who's Pillars of the Earth series I  loved (his next series is on my Christmas wish-list!) and even tried (and failed with) Terry Pratchett - someone who I'd never have spontaneously read at all.   Talking about our recent reads and hearing how other people have visualised and interpreted a book just broadens the enjoyment of the book for me - it's a shame we only meet once a month!

So can you ever have too many books?  I think not (even if you only use them as doorstops....!).  Passing on my love of reading to my children is I think one of the greatest gifts I can give them and I do hope they inherit the bookworm gene (otherwise goodness only knows what will happen to all the books we have here....)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Speedy Chocolate Sauce

I'm somewhat in a rut pudding-wise for the Kindling - lots of fromage frais, Kinder Pingui, sponge and custard.... (preferably chocolate sponge with peppermint custard as requested by #1 son 8) so today we tried something new.

Now, my criteria for a weekday pudding at 'children's tea' is that it shouldn't be tooooooo bad for you and should preferably contain milk in someway to aid good sleep.  My three are not good fruit eaters so suggesting they help themselves from the fruit bowl isn't greeted particularly positively.

So today, I had some waffles left over from the post-school-in-the-car-snack, only #1 son had partaken, #2 son said he "only eats waffles with icing sugar on" and the wee girlie was just grumpy!  Well, left over waffles, yes I know it's probably quite a difficult concept to get one's head around - I was certainly surprised as it is a highly unusual occurrence here too.

Anyhoo - the leftover waffles formed the basis for tonight's pud.  Waffles with warm chocolate sauce.

Did I say earlier on that another vital criteria for weekday puddings is that they should take no time at all to make/assemble/put before the gannets.....

So I google 'quick chocolate sauce' and there's chat about cocoa, butter, sugar, vanilla - well not really the sort of thing I had in mind - so I persevered down the first couple of pages and came across an Australian site and they had just the thing I was after.  Two ingredients, two minutes in the microwave - you can't go wrong with that - so here it is:

100g dark chocolate (I used milk as that's what I had to hand)
1/4cup thickened cream (I used a generous slug from the bottle of 'schlagsahne')

Now they suggest adding Kahlua too - and I'm sure it would make for a fab pudding - but probably not best at nursery tea!!


Break the chocolate into squares, add to cream in a microwave proof jug, and blitz on full power for 2 mins - stirring after each minute. 

Done and dusted - a smooth and creamy super-quick sauce..... and it went down a treat with my not-easily-pleased tasting panel!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

I saw a mouse....Where?

There - on the stair, where on the stair, right there - a little mouse with clogs on......

Well at least that's what I've had going round my head for days, ever since H has been practising for the Blotschentanz - his Kindergarten were performing a clog dance at out village fest this weekend.

The third weekend in September - always good weather thankfully - is the Isenbuegel Blotschenball.  This is our village fest which starts on a Friday night with music and dancing in a marquee on the village car park - complete with beer wagon and sausage stall and culminates on Sunday morning with the 'Blotschenball' a traditional clog dance.

I could go into the history of it - this year was the 208th - but I'm not really sure of how and why it started, only that it has evolved over the last few years so that there is now no proper 'Ball' (oh yes, it was all black-tie and long-frocks once upon a time - how the clogs get in there I've no idea!) but the Kindergarten and village primary school perform a couple of dances instead and then there is a general 'tea-dance' type of affair with a local couple murdering the music - still we all go, every year!

This year, we started on the Friday evening with friends for a quick dinner then off to the Festzelt to see a Bon Jovi tribute band called Bounce - and though we missed the start - thinking foolishly that the headliners wouldn't be on at the beginning - we had a thoroughly good time - bouncing up and down to some classic numbers and shouting till we were hoarse.  Possibly a little exuberantly for the German crowd (but us Expat's now how to boogie.......!!)

The Saturday sees a children's sponsored run - we tend to give that a miss....

But the grand finale, Sunday's Blotschenball we had to attend this year.  H (no.2 son) was performing - and they've been practising for ages at Kindergarten - with the clogs too!

There are food and drink stalls, games for the children to play - and even a climbing wall (think of the health and safety hoops you'd have to jump through in the UK for that at a village fair....)  All in all, it's a lovely family afternoon, made all the more special watching your own little ones perform!  Oh and the fun of everyone else having a go in the clogs as the afternoon wears on - the climax of 'New York, New York' whilst dancing in clogs is quite something to behold - I tell you!  Roll on 2013!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

In the Kurhaus

Yesterday A had a day off, so once the Kinder were all safely in school and kindergarten we had a very precious three hours to ourselves - so it was off to the local Kurhaus for a mornings rest and relaxation.

The concept of a Kurhaus is not something we really have in England - you can loosely translate the term as 'Health Resort' or spa, but that doesn't really work.  Yes, you can have a 'Kur' hotel - and even be prescribed a residential Kur by your doctor (I'm working on that one as a week's stay at a Spa type place would be just what the doctor ordered.....but I'm sure some of the treatments required might be a bit more hardcore than I'd want).

You could also think of a Kurhaus in terms of a thermal baths - and that's almost what we went to yesterday.  However, there was just the one salt pool - lovely and warm and outside in the grey - but we did have the benefit of a 'Saunalandschaft' a Sauna Landscape.  Yup - three hours at the sauna it was utter bliss (apart from the tutting because we were talking too much and ruining the calming atmosphere.....).

In Essen, at the Gruga Park, there is a Kurhaus which has a series of increasingly hot saunas - each with a different purpose - light therapy, special 'aufguss' which are aromatherapy based, salt crystals - for you to enjoy at your leisure.  This is combined with an outdoor saltwater pool and indoor swimming pool and various indoor and outdoor resting areas - all very civilised.

Now of course, this being a German sauna you are required to leave your clothes at the door - that's right - completely naked in the sauna itself, but of course with a giant towel to sit and lie on (heaven forbid you should let the wood get sweaty...).  Out in the other areas, you do of course need footwear at the very least and that's as far as most of the visitors went yesterday.  There's something quite liberating about everyone bimbling about in their birthday suits - but I know it's not something for everyone.

We're (the Boden Breakfast Club) trying to arrange a girls' spa day  but it's proving quite tricky to find the right establishment to fit all out foibles - I don't think yesterdays venue would suit us - for the primary reason that you can't gossip and giggle all day which would be our main purpose - and I don't think we're all ready to share our bumps and lumps just yet.  Nudity in front of total strangers is actually quite easy - with all your girlfriends - another matter entirely!!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Sorry if your smalls are sandy

It's not my fault - honest!  I know I should have checked H's pockets before I put his shorts in the washing, but I didn't expect them to be full of sand and therefore I didn't expect them to empty themselves of sand all over the clean washing as I folded them. 

So if your pants are a bit itchy, I do apologise.

Now perhaps I ought to have expected it - as he'd been playing outside at kindergarten as the weather has been nice.  The playground at kindergarten is full of sand, as indeed are all playgrounds here.  It is the ground covering of choice for all children's playgrounds - from the small swings and slide get-up that you find outside apartment blocks to the full-on adventure playgrounds found in larger parks (such as the wonderful Gruga Park near here in Essen).  I'm sure it has been evaluated to be the safest type of playground surface - given the German propensity for that type of thing - and to be fair it is a good covering as it's soft and malleable when you fall on to it - and of course all you need is a bucket and spade for hours of fun.....

I don't recall there being much sand in the playgrounds back in the UK - when I think about where we take the Kindling when we're back visiting it seems to be either bark chippings or that bouncy covering - but I can't off hand think of any sand at all. 

But - I HATE sand....  It gets everywhere.  Given that we don't live near a beach, or have a sandpit of our own, the amount of sand in my house on any given day - and in the Kindling's shoes when they come home from kindergarten - is astounding.  Perhaps I should start to collect it all up and create my own play-area - I'd certainly have enough for a substantial sandpit without having to buy any.....

So back to the laundry - well my laundry room floor is now somewhat crunchy underfoot, and I find no amount of brushing or vacuuming gets it all up, so there's always sand underfoot, and just when I think I'm winning the battle against the encroaching dunes, another pocketful deposits itself on the floor.... or as in yesterday's case, in the basket and over the clean laundry. I suppose at least it was dry and so brushed off easily....

Friday, 7 September 2012

Wine of the Month - September 2012

This month, we're off to Italy for a recommendation of a special occasion wine.  September marks the beginning of the birthday season in our family (well it actually kicks off in the last week of August) which runs through until the middle of January - oh and let's not forget Christmas in between.

So as the nights are beginning to draw in, the weather turns a bit cooler (well usually - we've 28c forecast for the weekend which will be lovely!) my thoughts turn back to red wines.  Something to sip and savour with stews and log fires  - that type of thing!!

This month then, I want to introduce you to a little known Italian gem -  Brunello di Montalcino.  It's a wine made from Sangiovese grapes (it's the main component in most Chianti and Montepulciano wines).  The Brunello though is much more than your usual pizza/pasta wine.  It's a more complex wine, often verging on the vegetal - think a slightly composty smell and brown tinges around the edge when you look at the glass against a light - now you may not think I'm selling it very well - but it really is very good. So good in fact that it is one of Italy's most expensive wines - most people would suggest Barolo as an example of a top Italian wine but in my opinion, Brunello is much nicer.  One left to breathe, it is a wonderfully rounded, full, fruity wine which could accompany the strongest cheeses and well-hung game with ease.

There is however a catch - and this is why, for us, Brunello remains a special occasion choice - you'd be hard pushed to find it for under Eur20 a bottle, but it is very definitely worth it's hefty price tag so you may just have to invent an occasion to give it a whirl!

We have one bottle left of this wine - ours is a 2000 vintage - which we've been saving for a special occasion, but which probably needs drinking sooner rather than later. Fortunately, we have just the occasion coming up to partake of this wonderful wine - Andy's birthday at the weekend - so raise a glass to him on Sunday - we certainly will!

As an aside, if you have a wine you're not sure about - when to drink it, what it should be like and so on there is a great site at cellartracker.com which you can put your wine's details into for some tasting notes and dates.  The link will take you to what it says about our Brunello as an example - and we need to drink it now..... Cheers!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Swap-shop slapstick

So today was my first dress-swapping experience.  L a fellow expat had invited me to a party she was holding in her bar (yup - she owns a bar just the right sort of friend to have!!) the premise of the party being that you bring 20 or so items from your wardrobe you want to swap, oh and you need to bring something for the brunch buffet.....

Well, important things first... I volunteered to bring something sweet for the brunch - so after looking in my (reasonably) well-stocked larder, I decided on Chelsea Buns - a good English offering.  So a sweet bread dough was duly made, raised and lovingly kneaded - something very therapeutic about kneading dough.

Then the fruits and spices were added - which left my house smelling very chrismassy yesterday - lovely!  And voila - a batch of sticky sumptuous homemade Chelsea buns to take to the expats.

So far, so good - I even managed to look out a few pieces from my wardrobe to take to swap - a bag I'd never used, a lovely cloche-style hat (I have 2 and one was slightly too big), various pairs of trousers which were way too small.  I felt I had a reasonable offering to make. 

We (a friend from the village and I) set off in good time to get to the venue - and park, having to drop off a friend's son on the way through.  Well - we were still going fine at this point, but then it all started to come undone.  After dropping off said son, we were just round the corner from a fellow swappers house (well I'd assumed she was coming too... that may have been my first mistake) so I suggested we ring her and ask if she wanted a lift to the swapshop - well she was in the middle of her German lesson and insisted that we had the wrong week, no definitely Monday 10 - she double checked her email for us.  Oh well, so my friend and I were both independently wrong.....

Laughing it off we turn around and go home, and friend and I sat and chatted in her (very nice - and with gas oh the luxury...) kitchen, putting the world to rights for an hour or so.  Then off I tootle home and check my facebook messages - and there it is "see you tomorrow" from L the party host - oh no so it was today....  well back on the phone to my friend to ask if she still wants to go and off we head again - behind all the Sunday drivers....  Well we get there (eventually) and have a great time, both of us picking up a couple of bits for the coming season.

Of course, the girls at the party had tried to call us - but me being me had left my phone in the car and so couldn't answer (goodness only knows what would have happened if it had been the school calling.....) and we didn't hear the other mobile ring.....such is life. Next time, we'll be more organised, try to keep our phones on us and stick to our guns... oh - and never take Mrs E's word for it again!!