Monday, December 16, 2013

Tortino di polenta e ragù (baked polenta and ragù) or how to present leftovers in fancy disguise

Cooking can sometimes be deceptive.
You may spend hours in your kitchen making something (homemade cappelletti is one recipe that comes to mind) that gets eaten up in mere moments without much thought and then sometimes you make something of utmost simplicity that is received with grand applause.
In the kitchen, like in real life, sometimes looks count more than substance.

Like the slutty girl with the too-tight mini dress, the plastic boobs and lacking brilliant conversational skills that manages to turn every head in a one-mile radius, some dishes get all the attention without really deserving it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying these girls recipes aren't good, because they are, but they don't involve all the attention and expertise others do.
If you have leftover polenta and ragù (or some stew, or come to think of it any other type of leftover, because this girl gets around polenta goes with pretty much anything), it will literally take five minutes to prepare and a half hour tops to bake.
So I present to you the tart (no pun intended) of leftovers: the tortino di polenta e ragù, 'tortino' literally translating into 'little tart' in English.

When making polenta you can go two ways*: the real way, which involves lengthy stirring or electric devices you would only consider buying if you owned a ski pad in the Italian Alps, or the use of instant polenta. There is not doubt that the real deal is better, in flavor and texture, as all things made from scratch. But the difference is subtle enough, especially when baking or frying the polenta afterwards, to justify (unlike instant mashed potatoes) using the quick-cooking variety.

Whichever way you decide to make your polenta, you will most likely have some leftovers because polenta just happens to be one of those dishes people tend to make in large quantities. Ragu being another: I usually make it in large batches and tuck some away in my freezer for emergencies.

If you don't have any ragù, a whole list of delicious leftovers you can use come to mind: all kinds of vegetables (broccoli rabe sauteed with olive oil, garlic and anchovies anyone? or mushrooms with parsley and garlic), bits and pieces of leftover cheeses, any sort of fish cooked in sauce (codfish works wonderfully), mozzarella and ham... the list just goes on and on.
Parmesan cheese, grated
olive oil (optional)

1.1 lbs/500gr polenta
9 cups/2 l water
1 tbsp olive oil
To make the polenta (if starting from scratch) the old fashioned way, bring water to a boil, reduce heat and salt the water to taste. Add in a tablespoon of olive oil and then slowly pour in the polenta (to avoid lumps forming), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk until the polenta has thickened. This takes anywhere up to 45-60 minutes. If the polenta is getting too thick you can loosen it by adding some water as you go along. Mix in any ingredients (cheese, butter etc.) you intend to use and pour it out onto a smooth surface, like a cutting board, or into a bowl and let stand for a few minutes before serving. I usually keep mine a little runny because that is the way I prefer it and it makes it easier to work with leftovers.

If going instant, just read the instructions on the back of the package.

Pour the polenta (or spread leftovers with a spatula) into a greased baking pan. Spread over a layer of ragù or whatever else you are using. Sprinkle with some grated Parmesan cheese and keep layering until you have finished using up the leftovers. Sprinkle with a last dusting of grated Parmesan cheese, add a few flakes of butter and bake in a preheated oven (375°F/180°C) for about 30 minutes, until the top and sides turn golden and crusty and the filling is nicely heated.

Using a deep pastry ring (what they call a coppapasta in Italian), cut out circles from the pan and serve on small individual plates. Dust with Parmesan cheese, pepper and trickle of olive oil and serve.

*While writing this post I actually discovered there are other ways to make polenta from scratch that are much simpler. There is a 12-minute microwave version and another one involving a great amount of time (more than 3 hours) but very little stirring. Who knew? I intend to try them at some point and let you know.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Arrosto di lonza al latte - pork loin slow cooked in milk with apple and onion fall roast

I am mentally and physically gearing up for my daughter's sleepover party on Friday. Friday the 13th, might I add.
Not that I am superstitious or anything, but I really didn't need a bad omen hanging over my head on the night I will be having 6 girls sleep over at our apartment, plus baby brother, husband and myself.
We live in a charming apartment with hard wood floors, molding and bow windows in the center of a big city, the urban slang equivalent of small. I literally had to get out a measuring tape to make sure all the mattresses would fit, wedging them in like Tetris pieces (our Christmas tree is taking up additional vital space these days).
Next came the pillow issue. We have plenty of sheets and blankets (although sleeping bags were heartily suggested on the invitation), but who has 10 pillows in a city dwelling? I mean, let's face it, every pillow you are not using to sleep on takes up an approximate $500.00 real estate value for storage. Luckily the Martha Stewart in me partially solved that problem by having decorative pillows on my bed. Off come the fancy pillow cases, on go the Ikea mice in carrot race cars.
I've done my research and if there is one thing I have learned is that you need a plan, some structure to avoid things spiralling out of control. So we will start with an organized activity, we will progress with pizza, soda and birthday cake; pop corn, potato chips and a very girlie movie will follow. Then, hopefully, a lot of whispering and giggling in bed, some sleep, a big breakfast and a 10:00am pick up.
I learned a valuable tip from another mom: having them change into their pjs shortly after they arrive, so they feel like they are getting into the mood, while you are really aiming to get them changed before the sugar high hits.
Back to the activity, I am having them decorate Christmas cookies - that I will pre-bake - around the kitchen table. Each girl gets to take home a bag of cookies she decorated, solving the party favor issue too. Bingo!
I am secretely fantasizing about baking an extra batch of cookies and setting up a decorating sweat shop so I have them ready to bring to the Christmas school bake sale the following week. Dozens of nimble fingers will do that to an overworked mom just before the holidays.

This is the plan behind the scenes: F and I will keep the little guy busy with the precious help of Lightning Mc Queen. After watching a movie in our bed, he gets to fall asleep there, a rare and special treat. Once he is deep asleep (because sleeping in his room without his beloved sister could trigger all sorts of drama) we will carry him into his bed and hopefully, although not definitely, manage to sleep ourselves.
I will let you know how it goes, and if anyone has any suggestions they are more than welcome.
In the meantime, here is a dish you can easily make without the help of child labor.
A while back I told you about a pretty common method for preparing meat here in Italy: slow-cooking it in milk. I often make pork loin this way, because it is a cut that can turn out pretty dry when roasted. Also, you get the added bonus of a delicious sauce.


Pork loin
2 carrots, a few stalks of celery and 1 onion for 'soffritto' (see below) 
pork loin
2-3 cups milk
salt, pepper to taste
mixed herbs

The method is easy: you season the meat with salt, pepper and you preferred choice of herbs. Crushed fennel seeds work well, or a mixed herb rub or bay leaf directly in the milk. Sear the meat on all sides to lock in the juices and set aside. Next you prepare a soffritto by finely chopping carrots, celery and onion and then you fry them in olive oil until the carrots are slightly tender and the onion and celery are transluscent. This time I prepared my soffritto in the food processor so the result was almost a paste, which pleasantly tinged the milk during the cooking process as you can see below.
When the vegetables are yeilding put the meat back in the pot and then add about an inch or two of milk. Let the meat simmer, covered, for at least an hour (depending on size) on low heat, turning the meat a few times during the process. The milk will reduce and start curdling. Take out the meat and let it sit for a few minutes. In the meantime let the sauce reduce and mash the soffritto with a fork if the pieces are too big for your liking. Taste for seasoning. Thinly cut the roast and spoon the sauce over the meat.
Fall roast
2 apples
2 red onions
6-8 cloves garlic
a handful of pinoli
olive oil
aged balsamic vinegar

You can prepare this dish while the meat is cooking.
Pre-heat your oven to 220°C/440°F and line a baking sheet or pan with paper. Peel and chop 2 apples and 2 red onions into bitesize chunks. Throw in a few cloves of garlic, peel on, and a couple of branches of rosemary and a handful of pinoli. Toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar (if it is very liquid use very little or the vegetables/fruit will not roast), pepper and salt. Cook in oven for about 20-30 minutes stirring a few times so the apples and onions roast evenly.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Cappelletti and making fresh pasta

As so many of you already know from past posts, our family celebrates a mish-mash of American, German and Italian traditions. This makes for some very happy and fortunate children and some very busy and sometimes stressed out parents, especially when it comes to Christmas.

Our Christmas period officially begins with the ending of Thanksgiving (as is customary in the States), is reinforced with the German traditions of the four days of Advent, Advent calendars and Nikolaustag on the 6th of December (when the kids put their letter to Saint Nick in a boot on the balcony that he then fills with candy or a branch), followed by the Immacolata on the 8th of December, when Italians traditionally decorate their tree. We then enter the full swing of things by celebrating Christmas Eve with present-opening the German and Southern Italian way (and thank goodness F and I have that tradition in common), followed by stockings from Santa on Christmas morning like in the US. And finally we close the season on the 6th of January with the Epifania, affectionately called la Befana by the kids, when they get a stocking filled with candy or charcoal by the rag-wearing Italian witch. A lot of footwear involved in our holiday season, eh?

I guess I should consider myself lucky that my Jewish grandmother had a tree (although I apologize to all my Jewish readers on her behalf), because Hannukah presents and a Menorah on top of the rest would have probably caused a nervous breakdown. When we had our ten-year stint in Sweden, there was a risk of Santa Lucia entering our repertoire on December 13th and now that one grandmother lives in Spain, the Three Kings could have been tricky, but the Befana put a quick stop to that with her menacing broom. She was not willing to share her day with anyone else.

And did I mention (I am sure I do every year) my daughter's birthday is a couple of days before Christmas, adding to the - shall we say excitement - of the moment?

Now that you get the picture, just because I wasn't feeling frazzled enough wrapping, baking cookies for Christmas bakesales, organizing a birthday party, googling frosting recipes for cake and writing a million Christmas cards that most Italians don't really 'get' to begin with (but who cares, because we can't skip another one of those German/American  traditions, right?), I thought I would fill this month with yet another tradition. The tradition of handmaking a few hundred cappelletti, or tiny meat-filled tortellini to eat with homemade broth, a very traditional first course of Italian Christmas lunch.

I know what you are thinking, that this was my doing so I should just shut up and stop whining already; that it serves me right; that I never should have asked my mother in law to teach me. But I have my reasons...

...but F grew up eating these every Christmas for almost half a century

...but they are divine

...but somebody has to pass on the tradition

...but we can't expect my mother in law to keep doing all this work on her own for the next thirty years

...but I want my children to have memories of their nonna and mother sitting around the table in a cozy, warm kitchen making cappelletti, Christmas music playing softly in the background

So there goes. I made a wish and my wish was granted. Last week end my mother in law arrived at my house with a bag of flour, eggs, various cured meats and her pasta rolling machine.

At first she instructed, I took pictures. Then I shyly started making a few myself and by the end of the afternoon we were both sitting around the table rolling and pinching.

I wouldn't say I could manage it on my own just yet, but over the next few Christmases I hope to start making a noticeable dent in her work. And perhaps one day I will be able to serve her a bowl of hot, savory broth with cappelletti, while she sits back and rests for once.

Pasta, like so many Italian recipes, is made in as many different ways as there are mothers and grandmothers in this country. People use varying proportions of plain flour to semolina flour, some use eggs and egg yolks, some only use whole eggs. Some people use more eggs, some use less, some don't use any at all. Some use water, others add olive oil. Some fold it while rolling it out, others do not. Some add salt to the flour and eggs, others don't. Whatever way you do it, there will be someone out there telling you their way works better. My suggestion is keep experimenting and choose what works best for you. The same goes for making ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti etc. Choose whatever technique you find the easiest, because this is my mother in law's way, not the right way. What I can say, however, is that her way makes a pretty fine plate of cappelletti in brodo.

Please be warned that the measurements below are for a feast, they make about 1kg of cappelletti which will easily feed 10-15 people. The good news is that if you make them for a smaller crowd, you can freeze the excess for another meal.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Paccheri con ragù bianco di coniglio, or pasta with rabbit ragù

In my American genes it is not even Thanksgiving yet, but I seem to already be doing all things Christmas.
I spent last week end helping my kids make decorations to bring to school.
Which would be ok if:
a) the elementary school project didn't involve making three different decorations using the five senses as inspiration. Which makes it a bit more complicated than dumping a bunch of glitter glue, loose ends from last year's Christmas ribbons and some cardboard toilet paper rolls onto a table* and letting your kid "freely express her artistic inclinations" (although I will admit that the huge Christmas tree they decorate in the entrance with the kids' work gets me teary every year and I am proud of the school's amazing Parent Association that funds great projects with the money they make selling one of the three decorations each child makes); 
b) I didn't spend the whole time I am picking glue out of my pre-schooler's hair and wiping glitter off the floor (and chairs, and table and the rest of the house) thinking why the heck they don't make them do their artwork at school since they don't exactly spend their days reciting Homer and solving equations.
This week end I will be helping my mother in law make her famous tortellini for Christmas Eve. I cherish family traditions and have noticed that with the passing of time it is getting harder and harder for her to make the enormous quantities of food she has spoiled her family with for so many years. I want to be able to help her, take some of the weight off of her shoulders; and I want to hand this art down to my own children and their families. I know I will be getting a bag to stash away in my freezer for our Christmas celebration with my family this year. But what I and my children will really be getting out of it are precious memories of these Christmases together, memories they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I know I cherish the moments I spent with my grandmothers, even more so now that they are no longer here with me. 
I have been translating Christmas recipes for a website, sorting through hundreds of pictures of the kids for our Christmas cards and scouring the Internet for gifts because I swore to myself last year that I am never getting stuck in that last-minute shopping frenzy again.
But the truth is all I want to do is slow down and enjoy some turkey and cranberry sauce and think about all the things I have to be thankful for, because there are many. The first being my friend who is organizing a belated Thanksgiving get-together next week end for all us nostalgic expats.
Another one being all those things that make life easier. Like a recipe that can go two ways, depending what you are in the mood for. 
(If you were hoping for something a little more soppy, go here (I am also thankful my photography has improved a tad!) and here, to Thanksgivings past).
This is the "sliding doors" of recipes: a small twist of fate and you can get two entirely different meals out of it. A primo or a secondo as they would say here, a first course or a main course. I posted about the latter a couple of years ago. This time I took it a step further. 
If you follow the recipe until the meat is perfectly braised (in the link, I finish braising it in the oven, but the stove top will do fine. Just use less liquid for cooking) you will end up with a comforting dish of fall-of-the-bone tender rabbit meat to serve with polenta, mashed potatoes, rice or whatever other vehicle you have in mind to mop up every last drop of the sauce. If you read all the way to the end of the recipe, because like us, you cannot get through the week (or day) without a big plate of pasta, you will enjoy a delicate and delicious ragù. 
*Now I know that my grandmother's weren't just thrifty because of the Great Depression and the WW2... before being grandmas they were mothers of pre-schoolers and schoolers, which literally means hoarding every piece of crap a functioning person would normally throw away, because at some point you are going to need it for a school project.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Zuppa di pasta, ceci e cavolo nero or hearty chickpea stew with Tuscan kale and pasta

The recipe I am posting about today is my personal mishmash of two very traditional Italian recipes: pasta e ceci, a less-known version of the more internationally renowned pasta e fagioli, and minestra di ceci con cavolo nero, a soup that is often served with large, crusty slices of bread rubbed with garlic.
The chickpea, or garbanzo bean, is undeniably the star of the show here. This humble legume has been used by most cultures for millenia, the first discovered remains dating back to the Neolithic period. Thanks to the Greeks, the Etruscans and the Romans chickpeas became an integral part of Italian cooking. I admit I find it comforting to think of all the generations that prepared variations of this stew over the centuries. How many mothers and grandmothers served warm, filling bowls of chickpeas and black kale to their hardworking families, perhaps ladled over stale pieces of bread?
But back to our recipe.
The first, essential step in making both the abovementioned Italian classics is the same: you must remember to soak the chickpeas for at least 12 hours. If it weren't for that one little step, I would probably make this dish much more often that I actually do.  
After this, preparations vary. For pasta e ceci (or fagioli) you would normally prepare a soffritto (a mirepoix of carrots, celery and onion) and add some tomato in one form or another (paste, sauce, crushed). When making the soup, some opt for a soffritto, but in most versions the intent is to keep things very basic, letting the flavor of the legumes shine through. You just sautee the garlic (either whole or minced) in olive oil, add some finely chopped shallot or onion and a sprig of rosemary (if you are so inclined), tomatoes never making an appearance.
The pureed chickpeas and starch from the pasta guarantee an end result that is as comforting and creamy as any pasta and ceci should be. The wilted, dark and slightly bitter kale leaves however add some much-needed texture and contrast to a dish that is as delicious, soothing and - let's face it -boring as some of the best nursery suppers can be. A good glug of intensely green, fruity, peppery olive oil, lots of freshly ground black pepper and a hefty sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese will further convince you (if you are still in the least bit doubtful) that this is food fit for grown ups.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cottage (or shepherd's) pie with an Italian twist

This past Halloween turned out to be special in a very unexpected way. It also brought back yellow tinted* memories of a Halloween long ago, when I was a little girl.
But let me start from the beginning. You know how sometimes the strangest things happen, like when you bump into a person in a totally unexpected place, or when you find out that you and another person know somebody in common, the famous six degrees of separation?

I have had my fair share of these kinds of coincidences (the ones I know about, because I often wonder how many times I have crossed paths with people without even realizing it... but I digress).
Once, for example, when I travelled from Italy to Florida to visit my grandmother with a girlfriend. My boyfriend at the time was in London with his best friend staying at my sister's. On the spur of the moment, my friend and I decided to drive from Palm Beach to see some Italian friends staying in Fort Lauderdale. In the afternoon we were looking for a restaurant and got totally lost somewhere in the suburbs. We stopped at a strip mall to ask for directions and as I was getting out of our car I saw my boyfriend's father drive right by me... I was so surprised I literally jumped on the trunk of his car to stop him. He was in the States on business and had just visited a client. Needless to say, we were both speechless.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Braised red cabbage with pancetta, apples and balsamic vinegar, Jamie-style

Since I am on a roll about the kids these days (incidentally, since my post last week, my four-year old has been a sweetheart... maybe I should complain online more often) here is another thing I have noticed in my eight years of parenting.
A child's true development occurs in the bathroom.
First of all, it is uncanny how much time you spend sitting on bathroom tiles, on the toilet or on the rim of the tub as the parent of younger kids. You hear me, parents of the world, right?
Now, as a mother, you expect an in-depth analysis of all bodily-related matters in this scenario. You know you will find yourself discussing at length the size, differences, color, consistency of parts attached to, or recently detached from, your child's body. 
But that is not where it ends.
Children tend to be particularly loquacious whilst sitting on the porcelain throne.
Whether you like it or not, while they are taking a dump, you will get all the information about their day that they didn't volunteer earlier. When only a handful of hours before questions like "What did you do in school today?" or "What did you have for lunch today?" were met with silence or monosillabic answers like "Nothing/don't remember/know", in the bathroom they are suddenly all about communicating, sharing, extreme detail. 
What I however did not expect were the big questions, nonchalantly thrown in there between a gargle and a nail scrub.
A few recent examples:
"Mommy, what does I hate you mean?" (Your child has been having tantrums and telling you you are mean and that he hates you for the past two months and you have been trying not to take it too personally and then you suddenly realize that you do not have a clue about what really goes on in his head).
"Guess what so-and-so said yesterday? That he wants to go to whatshername's house and he wants to have sex with her". (SAY WHAAAAAAT??????? Sweetie, do you know what the word sex means? You do? HOW???? Can you tell me what you think it means? Yes, that is right to a degree. Honey, when your little brother goes to bed, you and I and Daddy will talk a little and you can ask us anything you don't understand or you are curious about).
Or the philosophical questions:
"Is there meat inside of us?"
"Can you touch darkness?"
(latest addition in Ikea bathroom over the week end)
"Are shadows boys or girls?"
"Shadows don't have eyes and a mouth, right? Just legs and arms...
Let's just say the bathroom has never been the same since I became a mom. 
But now, because I always tell my kids it is not ok to have bathroom-related talk at the table, let's change the subject.
You all know by now that I am not one of those super-organized bloggers who starts posting Thanksgiving menus in October and Christmas goodies throughout November and December.  I might throw in a recipe here and there, but usually, like today, it is just a happy coincidence.
So let's just say you got lucky today, because last week I happened to make a side dish I think would work wonderfully with turkey, ham, goose, duck or whatever it is you love to eat on the approaching holidays. You can keep it vegetarian by substituting the pancetta with toasted pinoli or by frying the onions until crispy (because it needs some crunch one way or another in my opinion). 
Recipe from Jamie Oliver

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Polpo con patate in umido (octopus and potato stew)

This is the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde... went a famous song in the early Eighties.
That is my story these days, the story of my blond-haired, blue-eyed baby who not-so-occasionally morphs into a little monster with tentacles, a spinning head and flying spittle.
I get that Terrible Twos sounds much more catching than Terrible Fours, but for me it has always been about the fours. And from what I hear and see around, it is not just me. So to hell with the Terrible Twos, let's get serious and discuss the Frightful Fours.

My daughter had a pretty bad case of them, much worse than my son's, but she had the partial excuse of a baby brother invading her territory at the time.

He, on the other hand, may be a little easier to handle (and I have a feeling this is partly because he is a boy, a more simple gender to deal with in general) but he has no such excuse.
Lately the constant "No"s and whining and defiant attitude have been eroding my soul like a slow yet steady trickle of water. I know this phase will pass, I know he is taking his first steps in becoming independent, I know deep, deep down inside he is still my sweet little boy. But let me tell you, he can be a real pain in the a** on the outside these days.

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do except breathe in and breathe out (after you have tried everything from ignoring to reasoning to time outs - because everything just makes it worse) until it passes.
So when it takes me 20 minutes to get his shoes on at pre-school because this involves ten minutes of cajoling on my part and crying and screaming on his just to get to him to his locker (the last time it was about me daring to kiss him on his ear when he ran into my arms minutes before), five minutes of him flinging said shoes off every time I get them on his kicking feet and another five of him opening and closing the velcro straps repeatedly because I did it wrong and I am mean... I breathe in and I breathe out.

When he constantly and very publicly refuses to sit near me anywhere, whether on a bus, a plane or in a restaurant, because he wants Daddy and only Daddy - even when it is logistically impossible... I breathe in and I breathe out.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Indian lentil and acorn squash curry (or soup)

If you have never heard of a What's App group chat then you also probably don't know how addictive it can get. The other day I decided to create one for my running group: the core group consists in myself, another girl and a guy, but we have had quite a few new entries lately so organizing our outings has become more engaging than before. We have been spending so much time texting and messaging on What's App individually to figure out who is coming and where to meet up that I thought it would be practical to create a What's App group chat. One of us writes, who wants to run answers and who doesn't abstains. Simple. Or so I thought.
Let's just say the group chat took on a life of its own.
Yesterday, the only guy of the group came out of an evening class to find 26 messages on his phone.

Quickly he checked his What's App account, wondering what had happened since he had confirmed his presence.

When he opened the messages to read them he was submerged by comments along the lines of*:

"It's supposed to be really cold tomorrow morning; I really need to get some new pants. The other day I stopped for a coffee after running and the guy who always serves me asked me why I was in my pjs"
"I am wearing running tights and a zip top; d'you think I should wear a tshirt under that or just a bra?"
"I'm not coming. I need some sleep. I know, I know, I am a lazy bum. I suck"
"You don't suck, you ran a marathon girl!"
"Yeah but you are incredibly consistent, unlike me"
"I know, isn't she? She never misses a day!"

"Yeah, but who's the one who managed to lose 10lbs???"

The poor guy didn't know what he was getting himself into when he accepted the invitation to our group chat, but he truly is a good sport and plays along. He is our guardian angel, always running back and forth to check on us in the pre-dawn darkness. 
Yup, it is dark now when we run. Fall is in the nippy air, dry leaves and those chestnut burrs I already mentioned recently crunch under our sneakers as we jog.
Autumn has come, with its lovely array of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Pumpkin is definitely a favorite of mine and I like it prepared in pretty much any manner. My daughter, however, has recently developed a dislike for it because she finds the sweetness overpowering, so I have been looking for ways to use it without its flavor being too overbearing because pumpkins and squash are so filled with antioxidants and vitamins.
This vegetarian (or actually vegan) curry is ideal: it is packed with flavor yet delicate, the pumpkin adding creamy texture, the perfect vehicle to absorb all the spices and heat. My daughter didn't even notice the pumpkin until, during her second helping,
 I admitted it was actually one of the main ingredients. She made a disgusted faced, then shrugged and went on eating.
The curry paste I used as a base is a loose adaptation of a Jamie Oliver korma paste recipe.
If, on the other hand, you like pumpkin as much as I do and want its flavor to really shine through, here are some links to other favorite recipes.



*This in not an exact transcript, forgive the poetic licence. I tried to catch the essence of endless texts into a few sentences. A few, however, are pretty accurate.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Blueberry muffin bread with cream cheese filling and fig muffins


My birthday came and went last week. I would have added quietly, but have you noticed how birthdays are on steroids since the advent of the book of faces? But hey, don't misundertstand me. I am grateful for each and every birthday wish I received. Especially the kind words from that girl I think I knew in nursery school; and from that friend of a friend of a friend that I have never met but that I know goes running three times a week, 8km each time, and whose heart - according to her status - is broken; she would willingly turn back time if only she could, if only he would let her.

But back to more important things. Me.
So, I am a year older and if truth be told, I feel better about myself and my life now than I did in my early twenties. Sure, this feeling of self assuredness comes with some usually-although-not-always well concealed grey hair, a wrinkle or two (thank goodness I can still use single digits for those) and a few extra pounds, but I am not complaining.

A birthday celebration these days no longer involves two hundred of my very best friends and drunken dancing.
It means meeting up for a quick, unplanned lunch with F and enjoying the guilty pleasure of sushi sans kids, a small beer during my lunch break, almost an hour of uninterrupted talk and holding hands every now and then without squealing and gagging sounds as accompaniment.
It means picking up my daughter, who may or may not have forgotten it was my birthday until way after she sulked because I did not agree to invite half of the class over for a playdate. But it doesn't matter, because when she finally did remember, I got a beautiful drawing that  I had watched her and her friends working on hidden behind a secretive wall of backpacks in the school square the day before.
It means a simple week night dinner at home, the usual racous, messy affair but the grand finale of a birthday cake complete with candles and presents.

This year, it was exactly what I wanted and all that I needed: an impromptu daytime date with my husband and a simple dinner at home with my family. A quiet, unnoticed affair... well, if it wasn't for FB, that is.
Since I didn't bake a cake for my birthday like I have in past years, the only baking that went on over the week end was for this blueberry muffin bread and simple muffins with a fresh fig topping. 
I first was inspired to make the blueberry bread when I saw a pin on Pinterest. However, when I was getting ready to make it I realized the recipe actually did not include cream cheese, although I thought it did for some reason when I pinned it. So I started looking up recipes on the Internet and to my surprise found what I was looking for on Anecdotes and Apple Cores, a blog I have been following for quite a few years now. I made some very minor adjustments and also ended up making an extra batch of the batter minus the cream cheese filling for the fig muffins*.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chewy cinnamon oatmeal cookies and musings

We have been blessed by a beautiful September. The sun has been shining almost every day and the kids have been spending the warm afternoons in the square by their school with their friends. They play ball and Chinese jump rope, they climb up the school fence and draw on the pavement with colored chalk. In the mornings and evenings, however, the air is undeniably chillier and on my way to work I have started noticing fallen leaves and open chestnut burrs on the bike lane.
Fall is in the air and as I start pulling out our duvets from their summer hiding places and sorting through the kids' winter clothers, I can't help but feel drawn towards the kitchen. I am craving all things autumn: warm oatmeal, cinnamon, apple pies and pumpkin soup.
Over the week end I baked my first batch of cookies in a while, and I have been bringing them to my kids as a snack everyday after school.
As I was mixing the ingredients I thought about some things I had heard over the week. Stories that once again made reminded me that there are extraordinary women and men everywhere, not just on the cover stories of magazines.
Perhaps I should rephrase that. There are ordinary people everywhere doing extraordinary things. Mothers and fathers who work, who lead hectic lives, yet still manage to make a difference; people who are quietly fighting demons, yet do their thing better and with more passion and energy than I have most of the time.
Like my friend who has two kids of her own and a job and will be welcoming a child from the highly contaminated areas around Chernobyl into her home for five weeks in October. These yearly visits help lower the radioactive levels in the childrens' bodies and the healthy and uncontaminated food they eat helps further boost their immune systems. The families participating in this project are lending a helping hand whilst offering their own children a unique opportunity of intercultural exchange.
Or the two families in my child's class who recently adopted siblings at an age when the large majority of couples would not take in a child, let alone two or three.
Or this other woman I know (but apparently less than I thought I did) who has a job, a husband who travels and a gaggle of noisy, cute children. I always marvel at her appearance, not because she is dressed up to the nines or perfectly coiffed and accessorized, but because she always smiles and is surrounded by a positive aura. If she feels tired or frustrated like I often do with my two kids, you certainly can't tell. Other moms are constantly asking her how she does it all and I have often wondered how long it would take for her to stop smiling and tell them to shut up. Then I found out (not from her, might I add) that she has been fighting harder battles than getting her toddler to wear the shirt she put out for him, which is probably why her smile is of the most genuine kind, because she appreciates life in its every nuance. Or maybe that is just the way she is, maybe she just has a solar personality. Who knows?
What do we really know about the many people we come across every day, in our ordinary dealings? Not much really. It is so easy to wait by the school entrance with a bunch of moms and dads and just make assumptions about them and their lives. Maybe a sentence you overheard out of context or something as silly as a pair of shoes or a necklace creates an image in your mind of a person or family you really know nothing about. What do we know about their true story?

But this is a whole new topic. Forgive me for taking you for a ride down my stream of consciousness. My point is, when we take the time to get to know people better, we not only become better people ourselves, we also learn that the extraordinary exists in the most ordinary places. So look around and let yourself be inspired daily. I know I am.