Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Oh Christmas Tree

We have a huge amount of Christmas tree ornaments, which we have given to the children or each other for the holidays past. It's a tradition we all cherish. This year we had waited with the purchase of a tree for the return home of one of our kids from school to decorate and then one thing let to another, time passed and suddenly it was two days ago and no tree had been bought. Husband busy away on a business trip, me busy with everything else. Nobody seemed to miss anything.
Kid away at school and therefore kind of out of the house suggested skipping the tree. I called an emergency family meeting and husband declared to be indifferent. One kid almost in tears, myself crumbling by the sheer thought of Christmas without a tree. I have certain rationale, but that went too far. Yes we would be traveling and yes, we would not enjoy a tree very long. I suggested a faux tree.... One kid almost in tears again. Husband still on the edge. Kid home from school still fully committed to no tree. 
So I decided to branch out and get a tree. Alone if need be. Asked if kid in tears was ready to join, but got a no. The fun would only be had if we all would go. Oh, well. So off I drove alone, a tight knot in my throat, going to our traditional tree hunting place and in bitter cold wind made the tree guy unwrap tree after tree to get the right one. My eyes watered. Finally I decided on a lovely Fraser fir tree. Six feet, full and pretty to look at. Alone I went to pay and alone I helped the young man get the tree onto the roof of the car. Alone I put it in the garage and went inside, where husband read the papers. You've got a tree, he asked. Yep, I answered, it's in the garage.
Next afternoon he had carried the tree inside and I started the lights and ribbons. Slowly not so small kids trundled in and asked to help. Kid home from school found Christmas music on youtube and kid two delighted in memories with every unpacked ornament. The tree stood finally in all its glory and there was peaceful silence. Happy with the tree, I asked kid home from school. Sure, she answered, wouldn't be Christmas without it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What are you baking, Victoria?

The last few weeks have seen me more in the kitchen then usual for I have developed a liking - no - a heavy crush on baking with sourdough. After the first awkward trials I have found my recipe, which is a very satisfying organic spelt sourdough bread. I use the no-kneed method, explained in detail on the very helpful Breadtopia website. 
And low and behold I have become more expertly about the doughs. Lately I have also begun to make sourdough pancakes and rolls as well. I know, the possibilities are endless. In our case, we try to stick to low gluten or gluten free baking, which is occasionally a challenge, since most traditional recipes do not calculate for the different ingredients. So it's a lot of trial and error and a lot of fantastic searching online, where I have found many related blogs, sites and talented people, always willing to listen and to give advise.
It's a particular community of bread bakers out there and I feel a little related already.

The very first sourdough bread, still not properly risen due to the lack of a good baking vessel.
But tasty nevertheless.

After I had been given a starter from a friend, together we were off baking different combinations of grains, but I very quickly ended up with pure organic spelt sourdough. It is a mildly nutty tasting bread, enhanced through the sweet and sour taste of the wild yeast fermentation. 

Another trial in a Dutch oven. Better, but not perfect.

I have learned to deal with my mother starter, how to feed it before baking and it's dormant fridge stage. 

My Dutch oven, now used for the baked bread storage. (Ideal!)

Useful dough lifter

The flour I use the most.

I know how important room temperature and proofing times are and have become more adventurous. I also bought a Roemertopf, a German made clay pot with lid which has become my go to option for best bread baking results. Is is  the particular baking climate under the dome, which ensures a crusty outside with a wonderful moist inside.

I also use a proper proofing basket, which gives the flour pattern you can see. This one, bread #3 was the first really good one!

A yeast whole wheat bread baked for a friend in the Roemertopf.

Taking care of the starter is important, this guarantees the proper rising and end result!

As with any art, it gets better with practice...

Below is the starter out of the fridge. I removed about a quarter cup to remain as mother starter and then fed these ones with equal amounts of flour and water by weight. They became lively, grew and were bubbly the next morning. I baked my bread, prepared the dough for the rolls and used the leftovers in the pancakes.

And this is after, when I used the leftover starter to make sourdough pancakes, which are unbelievably tasty, savory enough to eat it with a spread of goat cheese, some fig jam or sweeter, with maple syrup and blueberries.

2 cups of sourdough starter, well fed and bubbly.

You can see the ingredients for the pancakes:  2 cups starter, 1egg, 1tsp baking powder, 2 tbsp coconut oil (or vegetable oil) , 2 tsp agave syrup (or other sweetener), 2 tbsp almond milk (or any other milk) a pinch of sea salt. Mix, let rest for a few minutes and bake on griddle or pan.

They freeze well. Let cool, separate with wax paper and freeze.
Take out as needed. They are great for a quick lunch.

Yesterday I ventured out into roll baking after I had found a recipe online here. I altered the combination of grains, using a ready made gluten free baking mix with spelt flour and proceeded without the fruit addition.
They turned out ok, not the expected color, but dense and after I cut one open, fully baked. The crust was a little thicker  on the bottom then I hoped for, but I will adjust the baking time and temperature. Little hick ups along the way....

After overnight resting in the fridge the dough needs quite long to develop.
After two hours of rising shaping of the rolls.... and then another 2 hour rising.

After they are wetted gently with water they are sprinkled with chia seeds.
15 min 480 F , 15 min 400F , this was a bit too much, I will lower the initial baking time as well as the second, might stick to the time.

They smell divine!

Bread and rolls need also time to rest after baking. So I usually resist the urge to cut right into it. Bread can sit to cool for at least 6 hour or longer and then stored in an airtight container. I do not wrap the bread in any foils, it  makes bread too soft and even might end up moldy. 
A great side to learn about starters and baking is here.

Today's bread.

Maybe I have indulged myself too much about my baking adventures, I apologize, but I cannot help myself.
I am ready to give tutorial to whomever needs help or wants to get started. Baking is such a sweet hobby and it fills a gap in the healthy foods I include in my wheat and dairy free diet. For me, as a German, living without bread is simply impossible!

Happy baking!

All images private. Do not use without permission.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Magic places

There are still magic places out there, half hidden and unsung of by the main stream
As a reader of Hudson Valley Happenings I am more and more drawn into the beautiful neighborhoods along the Hudson River, just beyond my doorstep. 
I am glad to be able to be so close to so many amazing places. 
One of them is this little gem: 

Rodger's Bookbarn in Hillsdale, NY is just the place I would regularly frequent, if only I lived a little closer. Being a hopeless bibliophile makes this just the destination to get lost in for hours.
I wonder if there is a reading nook....

And being so close to other lovely destinations like Hudson on Hudson, Hyde Park or Rhinebeck, this would be a fabulous day trip to explore. Maybe I throw in some apple picking...

Where to find it: 

Rodger's Bookbarn
467 Rodman Road
Hillsdale, NY 12529
(518) 325 3610

Images via Hudson Valley Happenings (FB) and google maps.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Nourishing body and mind on the road

I always love a good long road trip. The expectation of being out there on roads not taken before or using the familiar ones yet again to reach a beloved destination fills me with an unexplainable joy. Some yearning I fulfill in these moments, to feel being the stranger finding new shores, or a traveller on the brink of a wonderful discovery, may it be the bend in the road with a farm stand loaded with freshly picked apples or peaches, a fabulous view or the cutest village just somewhere unexpected...I am inspired.
It's the moment of being there, the knowledge that it will pass quickly that I absorb the flavors of these places.

Yet I have found traveling long distances on American highways can be extremely disappointing when it come to the food choices. Miles and miles of stretches without even the remotest possibility of a plain bathroom break, let alone a decent place to eat, unless you count McDonald's, Subway, Starbucks or any other cheap food chain into your options.

Rt. 222, diner near Ephrata, PA

Of course, I understand the American culture, the ways Americans at large like to eat when out there, often, I am sure, due to the lack of options and price considerations.
But I never really liked fast foods, their smells, taste and choice of ingredients.
It has become much harder since I became a rather picky eater, avoiding dairy, wheat and meat. 

When planing any trips I usually travel with my own pantry supplies, knowing that even simple soy milk for my coffee is hardly available at your typical road stop.
I'll stuff baskets with fruits, nuts, seeds, veggies, home made cookies or store bought raw bars, bring plenty of water and bottled home brewed tea. Unceremoniously I eat while driving or hand out little snacks. I perhaps stop for a cup fresh coffee.

But where to turn, once I arrive at my destination? Typical hotels have their classic breakfasts and I avoid them when I can.
So, while staying in Lancaster, PA two nights ago, to drop off my daughter at her friend's college for a visit, I was prepared. The breakfast menu at the hotel held no surprises. Nothing I would have wanted.

I had brought a small pack of plain almond milk, a tiny envelope with raw chia seeds, bananas and a few nuts. I had bought fresh Amish apples from a stand still open in town when we arrived. Before going to bed I prepared my  breakfast porridge. Mixing the chia seeds with the 'milk', I knew I would have a pudding-like refreshing food for breakfast next morning. All I would have to add were a fresh cut banana and some nuts.
After looking online a day prior to my arrival to find a vegetarian or vegan restaurant I was pleasantly surprised by a few good options. Not being very familiar with the town I had prepared myself to know where I would be going.

image via The Seed website
The Seed was my choice for a simple, but good dinner,
I had a gluten free wrap, filled with roasted sweet potatoes, crunchy lettuce and cabbage, topped with a spicy vegan mayonnaise. A side of vegan chili completed the meal. The place is a true alternative scene destination, political fliers, books and all. I felt right at home, remembering my own college days back in Germany! 
The girls cooking and serving were fun to talk to and they accommodated all my eccentric food whimsies. 

My daughter, being gone the second she met her friend, was at the mercy of the campus food options, something to talk about later, to be sure....


Next day, we headed for lunch at a small place downtown Lancaster, were we feasted on a very delicious vegetarian choice lunch! 'On Orange' is a place I do recommend!
I had an omelet, filled with a mix of arugula, fresh figs and goat cheese, additional some roasted potato/ tomato mix! I was great! The Swedish pancakes with buckwheat my daughter picked were equally lovely.

As we wandered the small and charming streets in Lancaster, PA I was reminded of many small towns I have visited over the last years living in America. There is something typical of small town American architecture, the compactness and the will to preserve.
The recent recession has left a mark on many small towns, boarded up homes and closed, vacant storefronts telling the story. And yet I find always the spirit of renewal, a small cafe, a brave little shop, trying to sell anything from soaps to home made cakes, the spirit of survival and perseverance. I love this about America. I support it too whenever I can.

image Central Market in Lancaster, PA

I love to talk to the people, the shop girls, the farmer with his young son by his side only yesterday in Lancaster at the Central Market. These are hard working people with a humble lifestyle, at a first glance they seem to have what they need.

Later we drove out to the Amish country, visiting the small villages of Bird in Hand, Leola, Smoketown. Only a few minutes away from main stream America a world is hidden, a delightful landscape unfolds. Rolling hills, horse and buggy on the road, the landscape is dotted with single farms. There are countless neat fields stretching to the horizon, clean, white painted houses, most of them with large orchards or gardens attached, filled with rows and rows of vegetables, waiting to be harvested. Strands of freshly laundered clothes, swinging in the late summer breeze.
Amish school

Amish markets are filled with traditional foods, delicious preserves, pickled vegetables, fried chicken, sausages and sauerkraut. 
They have their sweets, incredible fudge and shoofly pie.....


There is surely more, but this is what I remember. We picked a few things to bring home: Sugar free plum preserve, spicy dill pickles, sauerkraut.
I wondered afterwards, how healthy the Amish diet is, but given the fact that these humble folks raise their dairy cows, tend to grow most of their foods organic, work the gardens and orchards bring in the harvests of corn, potatoes and more, I concluded they lived with a reasonable healthy diet. Their physical hard work and general restrain is something most of their American contemporaries lack. 


My daughter and I talked about their lifestyle later on our drive home and we both thought it very hard to imagine to live without our daily conveniences. But there is something about the simple ways of living, the plain joys and the straight forwardness in the life the Amish lead, that intrigues me. I am again reminded of the principle values, which can hold a society peacefully together, which is growing in numbers. The Amish population has doubled over the last twenty years, to more then 280.000.

image source see below

There are a few things I will never fully understand about the motivations and reasons for their way of life, the lack of changing with the times and a certain assimilation I would expect from a growing society, but I respect it deeply. Perhaps there are changes, slower then I can see immediately. Given the fact that daily hundreds of people in their cars come to watch them, I admire their steadfastness.

horses and buggies via

I would not want to live my life this way, but I take away again the impression that we can exist so much simpler and still can be filled with wonderful enjoyments and delights. As I strive to live with less, I am reminded by my visit to the Amish how little material things we perhaps really need.

Coming back from this road trip I was grateful for the ease of transportation, our car taking us safely to and fro, having all the choices to reject some food in favor of others, seeing in one day a quite different culture and be able to share it with you all....

Images my own, unless indicated source.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Turmeric milk

One of the spices I discovered rather late in my cooking career was Turmeric. It is exotic and as a child, growing up in East Germany, I had never heard of it. Even later, when Indian food was known to me, I completely ignored it in my own meal preparations.
Only know, after I discovered healthier, often raw 'cooked' meals, made with many spices rather then just salt and pepper, after learning of the many benefits of herbs and spices in a preventive medicinal way, I found my way to Turmeric. It is also known as Goldenseal.


It is not to be missed: The deep golden yellow color and it's staining power make it surely memorably to deal with, from cooking utensils to fingertips all will be marked yellow. So be careful when you use it. An old t-shirt is preferred in the kitchen and stay away from white!
Bleach could become be your best friend...

turmeric rhizomes

I use turmeric mainly as an digestive aid. It is wonderful after any large meal, indulgence after rich deserts or cooked meals, which need a little help along the digestive tract. 
I found the turmeric root at Whole Foods on occasion and grate it raw into salads.
So far I mixed it also in warm drinks, but I learned of a better way to prepare it. 
This recipe combines the benefits of turmeric, ginger and raw honey.
I found it tasty, lightly spicy and yet sweet enough to easily drink as a tea. 
Since I am not using any dairy I substituted the milk with almond milk.
If you drink dairy, feel free to exchange the almond milk with regular cow's milk.

This spice is used as a tea in Ayurvedic practices for curcumin present in turmeric. It acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and remedies gastrointestinal discomfort associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other digestive disorders.
It also lowers cholesterol, reduces platelet aggregation, inhibits proliferation of cancer cells and improves digestion by improving the flow of bile from the gallbladder.
It also acts as an external antibiotic in preventing bacterial infection in wounds. (cuts, burns and bruises)

How to make it:

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 1/2 teaspoons of ginger powder and simmer for 10 min. 
Strain through a fine mesh into a large bottle, add 1 cup of milk. Mix it all up. After cooling enough to be just warm, add raw honey to your liking. 

I leave the honey until I am ready to drink the warm tea and then add about a large teaspoon per cup.


Images as indicated and by V.Zlotkowski

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

On writing

These are the most honest and helpful tips on being a writer. Stephen King nailed it!
I've got the reading down, I write, now off to kill the darlings.......


Be creative! Just do it!

Image via azevedosreviews.wordpress.com

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cleansing warming drink

This is a wonderfully cleansing, warming drink, feeling a cold coming on or simply to get warm inside. Just cleansing is a great reason too....

All you need:

4 freshly cut slices of ginger ca 1/8 inch thick 
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1-2 tbsp raw honey
1 pinch of cayenne powder

Pour hot water over the ginger, squeeze in lemon juice, and the cayenne.
Let steep for a few minutes, stir, add the raw honey when cool enough to drink! Add maybe a leave of mint or basil to decorate....

Drink 3, 4 times a day. 


Image my own.
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