Sunday, September 10, 2017
With fall comes one of my favorite times of the year: apple picking. I got there on the first day when self picking opened and a batch of Paulareds is waiting for apple cake, apple cider and and just apple eating. I debated if I should continue on to Belfast or New Balance, since New Balance had a 40% off sale. Left turn or right turn? not that I need anymore shoes.. I decided to the take the backroads of Maine, following my trusty, yet slightly outdated car navigation system to guide me to Skowhegan.
I find it fun to travel the backroads of Maine, far off the beaten path from tourist through roads, which are wider and with better pavement. The backroads are crooked, curvy and winding and remind me of streets in Europe. Beautiful farmhouses are hidden there along the backroads, wide grounds around the houses, manicured with tractor lawn mowers, definitely not push lawn mowers, people not wanting to be found and not caring to be public. I followed along the private roads, and ending up on a main road again, right into Skowhegan. I got some fantastically fitting running shoes, and called it good. I was hungry at this point, and for the first time, just stopped there, in Skowhegan, stepping in this peculiar bar that hangs right over the big towering dam like structure that seems to dominate Skowhegan. There must have been must industry once that needed so much power, but these days the only interesting thing seemed to be the New Balance Factory and outlet that brought me back.
I sat there, hanging precariously about 60 ft above the waters, with a crowd of other bar goers on a Saturday evening, and it was not half bad. The backroads can take you to interesting places, not just in Maine, in life, too.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
We made it past July 4th, and that means we definitely enter summer territory. It’s been a wet and rather cold summer so far but the next two months might bring the endless sunshine and beach weather everyone has been waiting for.
The other day I finally found a recipe for elderflower syrup that has all the details right. It was just in the nick of time since my elderberry tree started to bloom. I had tried my hands on elderflower syrup before but with less than convincing results. The syrup had no taste and was on the bitter side. I think I skimped on the citric acid and the massive amounts of sugar. This recipe, however, had the all important little detail of “cut off all the stems, really close to the flowers”. Yeah, no stems. Not even tiny ones. I also added the citric acid, which gives it a nice zing, plenty of sugar, since it is a syrup after all. The syrup is the best I’ve ever had. Elderflower Syrup Heaven!
Mixing a tablespoon of syrup with 100ml of Pinot Grigio and a can of Perrier makes for a very refreshing summer drink!
- 3 cups organic granulated sugar
- 1 3/4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons food-grade citric acid
- 15 big elderflower heads, just all blossom opened, and no brown edges yet
- Remove any insects or debris from the elderflower blossoms. Just shake them out. Do not wash them, as they will lose a lot of flavor.
- Combine sugar, water, and the citric acid in a saucepan and stir until the sugar has dissolved. There is no need to bring it to a boil, it won’t even need to heat very much. Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
- Trim the stems away from the elderflower blossoms and discard. Try to remove as much of the stems as you can.
- Add the blossoms to a large glass jar.
- Pour the cool syrup into the jar with the elderflower blossoms. Make sure that the blossoms are immersed in the syrup. Cover the jar with a lid and let it steep in the fridge for 48 hours, stirring the syrup once daily.
- Strain the syrup through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean jar or bottle. Store the syrup in a cool place for up to one year. Once opened, store the bottle in the fridge.
Saturday, May 27, 2017
It’s the Memorial day weekend, a usual jump off into summer, even here in Maine, but not this year. It seems like a flash back to winter, with a gray sky and chilly temperatures. The snow came late this winter, the winter cleared out at the end of April, and it seems like no surprise that summer is also taking its time.
I linger at home, and read. There is nothing this weekend that would be pulling me to a coastal town. Instead I watch the 3rd season of Bloodline with its wonderful Florida Keys beach scenery. With all the twist and turns only question remains: will they get away with it?
For all the BBQs that are rained out, and the campers wrapped in a down blankets in their beach chairs, drinking hot tea and eating charcoaled marshmallows, there must be sun somewhere this weekend.
Monday, May 15, 2017
The weather is gray, and still rainy. It had let up for the graduating students and family photos. It still feels like winter, interrupted by the odd sunny, warm day. But it is about to change.
Every year when the parameters change, from school year to summer break, my whole outlook also makes a 180 turn. If you are a parent, imagine yourself on a 2-week kid-free, adults only cruise. Or imagine, you won the lottery. Or you are a kid in the candy store with a credit card. Typically, I would do the obvious. Say ‘yeeha!’ and jump right in, savor it to the last drop. But it’s not the best attitude. It often makes me nervous and dart around, from one cool place to the next and buy all kinds of things I don’t need. I make many memories, but I find no peace.
This year, I try a different strategy. My self talk is the following: “This is summer.” “All is possible.” “But, what is right for me, personally? what do I personally prefer, today?” This narrows down the frantic running around with the objective to experience as much as possible and a good dose of FOMO to a few selective, personal choices. There is a lot of stuff that seems attractive and cool, but it is not really the right thing, for me, right now. I would not be sorry if I missed out on it. Because, you can’t miss out on things, you don’t really want. Your friends might want them, your neighbor, your kids, your spouse, your mom. But not you. So, what’s right for you?
I already feel more relaxed and content. This seems more doable. No big plans necessary to make sure to maximize my summer. What I really want, each summer, is to just sit put on a chaise longue in my garden, and read and forget the world. Maybe, this year, I will.
Saturday, May 6, 2017
The only plan today was to sleep in and do nothing of particular importance. To take a day off from all responsibility to life, and instead just read a book. I am run down from work and too many things going on, too little sleep and crouching towards the weekend. The plan is to start out the day with a hot bath, coffee and then put on some stretchy lululemon and move on to the couch, with a cat delighted that her mom can be cozied up to for an entire day. No need for cuddles, just hanging out, stretching out, purring. Being. Cats have this down pat.
I came across this article this morning, fittingly. “Who killed the weekend?”, an account of why there is a tendency to just stuff too many things in the weekend, when maybe all we need is to not do anything particular at all.
It rains today. Even more reason to hang out on the couch and not miss a thing.
Friday, April 28, 2017
From one weekend to the next, suddenly all lawns are green. The trees are just cusping with reddish fur, but it won’t be long until they spread their wings and connect with a pea green canopy. My blogging has recently come to a standstill when I had problems with Open Live Writer; it just would not update to the blog and I was getting tired of figuring out for the x-th time. Writing directly to Blogger was not appealing. There was also too much going on at work. Now the end of the school year is near, my house plants are on the deck and summer in Maine can’t be far.
Last Black Friday, I went in on the deal with the Instant Pot. Over the last month, I’ve use it to make a killer tomato sauce, and it only takes 20 minutes and it tastes like it has been slow-cooking for hours. My current favorite is a combination of a large can of fire roasted tomatoes, a small can of tomato paste, a bay leaf, some fresh rosemary, sautéed onions and garlic, a 1/2 teaspoon of bouillon and a cup of Giant White Beans (I got mine on Amazon, they are imported from Greece). I set it to manual and cook it for 35 minutes, and let it release steam on its own, so it cooks at least a half hour longer. The giant white beans have just the perfect bite with the juicy, garlicky sauce. Definitely a staple recipe.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
But for a while, we do believe it. Social media, media, books, movies, society seem to reinforce it: others get there, look at their houses, bodies, glamorous lives, cute kids and hunky husbands, I want this, too! Yes, social media seems to reinforce it, but in the end, it is me who chooses to believe it, to reinforce my own beliefs and 'dreams'. So, I keep chasing, set new goals, and desire new experiences.
It can take a very long time to debunk the myth. Because first we have to 'get there'. Then we can figure out, well, it's not what I thought what it would be. Often, the happiness we do feel is more one of relief when we cross the finish line. The relief of being done with a potentially exhausting, painful experience, but we rewrite the feeling as "accomplishment", we say "hey, I did this!". Relief can feel almost like joy.
But the feeling is short lived and soon, when the party has cleared and the confetti has been swept, and the rush is over, everything feels just like before. It can even feel worse as Andie Mitchell describes vividly in her memoir "It was me all along": she felt as unhappy if not more after she lost over hundred pounds. She was even more depressed than before because her carrot was gone.
We can get addicted to this feeling, of setting a goal, busying ourselves to achieve it, and give ourselves a high five. We can easily spend 20-30 years chasing various things, age appropriate, that we think will make us happy, only to wake up to the realization "but it is never enough, I constantly need to repeat it or find a new destination."
It reminds me of this scene in the movie "Eat, pray, love", when Julia Roberts sits in an Italian hairdresser shop, and two Italian men discuss the cultural differences between Americans and Italians. They assess that Americans worship work and chasing dreams, maybe, the American Dream, while Italians worship living. That Italians feel entitled to a 'break', and copiously enjoy the Dolce Far Niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. Or better, the sweetness of not accomplishing, needing or chasing anything.
Wise words. This brings me back to the original blog post. Of the woman who says "But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted? Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?"
"What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up—beyond mom and sister and wife?"
"What if I don’t want to write a cookbook or build a six figure business or speak before thousands? But I write because I have something to say and I invest in a small community of women I care about and encourage them to love and care for themselves well."
"What if I just accept this mediocre body of mine that is neither big nor small? Just in between. And I embrace that I have no desire to work for rock hard abs or 18% body fat. And I make peace with it and decide that when I lie on my deathbed I will never regret having just been me. Take me or leave me."
"What if I am not cut out for the frantic pace of this society and cannot even begin to keep up? And see so many others with what appears to be boundless energy and stamina but know that I need tons of solitude and calm, an abundance of rest, and swaths of unscheduled time in order to be healthy. Body, spirit, soul healthy. Am I enough?"
I believe that yes, she is enough, that her life is enough. My own life is enough, the here and now, the today, the who I am, my own life. Because, that is all there is, all there ever will be for me. All that really matters. And that all happiness is contained in it. But also, that it is normal and human to experience bumps in the road. That is just part of the human experience.
However, there are way too many images around today. We start comparing, and our life seems to come up 'short'. We don't explain to ourselves of how these images (or today reality tv) are created. We subconsciously react to the flawless face of Khloe Kardashian (and don't see that all Kardashian sit in hair and makeup for hours for a shoot). We see their vast houses, groomed gardens, large pools shot in a panoramic view (and don't see they spend plenty of disposal income on cleaning personnel, and gardeners to set this up for a shoot). We see perfectly plated dishes (and don't realize it is done by a professional food stylist). This is fake, this is not everyday life, this is a movie set. Still, we might assume that our lives should be similarly 'perfect'. If not, we must be doing something wrong. Depending on our psychological make-up, we might feel defeated, or blame someone, or hate on the things we see or scurry like a rabbit to recreate it.
So, yes, it seems we can't really keep up. But keeping up with what, exactly? A movie set?
We don't get to see smelly diapers, although there are plenty of young children, or sleepless nights and bags under the eyes, or dirty clothes piles, or even an interaction with a house cleaner. It is all carefully edited out. There is not a lot of reality in this reality tv. Or instagram feed.
In the end, we only have one thing: our own life, and it is enough, it likely is enough, if we stop comparing it with movie sets, carefully groomed blogs or instagram feeds. If we stop making "wish lists", because wish lists make us focus on what is not there, instead of the things we have.
If we just tap into the fullness of our own lives, right here, right now, right in front of us.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
So, it was time for a warm, smooth, spicy and filling soup. I whipped up another batch of this red lentil soup that needs little preparation and cooks fast. A few Indian spices add a unique character, and the late-stage added kale rounds it out.
I had to search for my notes again for this soup recipe so I am putting it in the place where I most likely find it again, my own blog. Note, that I write this down with as much detail as I can for myself; feel free to use other ingredients (e.g. regular olive oil or grapeseed oil, etc.)
Red Lentil Soup with Kale(makes 3 larger servings)
- 1 cup dry red lentils
- 4-5 cups of water (or broth)
- 1 teaspoon blood orange olive oil (or plain olive oil, or grapeseed oil)
- 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 inch-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into tiny dices
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- 0.5 teaspoon turmeric
- 0.5 teaspoon ground fenugreek
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1-2 tiny hot dry (pequin) chilies (depending on taste) (or tiny bit of cayenne)
- 1-2 teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder (if using water)
- 2 handfuls of kale, torn up
- In a non-stick pot, heat the olive oil, add the onion and raw ginger. Once the onion is sauteed and see-through, add the garlic and saute the mix for another minute.
- Add the lentils, water, and the spices. Close the lid, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer with closed lid for 30min.
- Use an immersion blender, and puree the hot soup (or let cool down, and use a blender, but no hot soup in the blender)
- Put the soup back on the stove, add the bouillon and the kale.
- Heat soup again, and let the kale wilt down to preferred consistency (still crunchy or buttery soft).
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
The other day I made a Dark Rye breadmix from King Arthur Flour. I poured the mix into the bowl of a stand mixer with the kneading hook attached, mixed the dry ingredients with the yeast, and added the water and a dash of olive oil, and let the machine do the work. It came together in no time, and I padded down the loaf in a little bread basket to rise. It would only rise when I placed it next to the woodstove oven, where it was cozy warm, not Maine winter kitchen cold. I flipped it on a sheet, and baked for 45min. Rye bread perfection. (The mixes are not expensive and 20% off this week. That made $3.96 for a loaf of rye bread).
Saturday, January 28, 2017
There is a cat snuggled up to me under the covers. It is her favorite place to snooze in the morning, warm, cozy, and big mama is close, protecting her. She stretches, and has not a worry in the world. A wintertime ritual.
January is almost over, and it was mild this year. We were unprepared. Last year we were told it is an El Nino year, with that, a milder winter on the East coast was expected. This year it was supposed to be normal again, but winter seems even milder than last year. But, what’s really normal these days.
Nevertheless, the month has come and gone, and we are on the verge of February. There is another serious chance for deep snow, freezing temperature and plentiful skiing but the 10 day forecast gives nothing away of a potential winter encore. The semester has started and we are settling into a new rhythm of classes and homework, and juggling more balls. Life feels like swinging on a swing on the weekends, and then get back to juggling some tasks during the work week. Time advances and suddenly we’ll feel ourselves propelled into summer again. Just like that.
I am in love with this beautiful picture of the vegan lentil meatballs. It’s a picture I took myself years ago, and it inspired me to make this dish again. A true vegan classic.
Vegan lentil ‘meat balls’ with marinara
Preparation of lentils:
- 1/2 cup beluga/French lentils (they are small and green/black)
- 1/4 cup red lentils
- 1/4 cup chickpeas
- 1 1/2 quarts water
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 2 garlic cloves
Wash and rinse the lentils and chickpeas, and place in a pot with the water, the bay leaf and garlic. Bring to a boll, and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours on low (simmer only for 30 min if you soaked the lentils and chickpeas for 12h), or for 25 min in an Instant Pot. There is likely little water left, but if there is then drain it. It should make about 2 1/2 cups of cooked lentils.
Lentil walnut porcini meatballs:
- 2 cups cooked beluga and red lentils and chickpeas
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 medium sweet onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 garlic clove, microplaned
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or dried)
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 2 TB tomato paste
- 1 TB red pepper spread I used Trader Joes red pepper eggplant spread) – if you don’t have any, use a pinch of paprika and 1 teaspoon agave nectar
- 1 oz dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
- 1 oz dried porcini mushroom, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
- 2 TB BBQ sauce
- 4 TB ground flax seed, 1/4 cup of water (mix to make 2 flax eggs)
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 3 TB finely chopped walnuts
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a large baking sheet with some olive oil so that the meatballs won’t stick. Set aside.
- Prepare the flax eggs by combining the ground flax seeds with hot water, and set aside. The mix will gel.
- Add the olive oil to a frying pan and sauté the onions, chopped carrots, minced garlic, thyme and reconstituted mushrooms over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5-7 min.
- Add the tomato paste and red pepper paste and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, until all the ingredients are mixed well and the liquid is absorbed.
- Transfer the mixture to a food processor, and let cool in the food processor for about 5 min.
- Add about 75% of the cooked, and slightly cooled lentils/chickpeas to the vegetables in the food processor, and chop coarsely until all the ingredients are well combined. (It will be quite mushy, that makes the lentil balls even more sticky and hold together).
- Add the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
- Add the flax egg, regular bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, chopped walnuts, BBQ sauce and the salt to the pureed mix as well as the non-pureed cooked lentil mix. Mix with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.
- Let sit for about 10 min (for the bread crumbs to soak up the liquid and bind the meatballs).
- Use a small ice cream scoop and scoop out ping pong ball sized meatballs. Place the lentil balls in the prepared baking sheet, allowing 1/4 inch of space between the balls and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid.
- Bake the meatballs at 400F for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.
Serve with spaghetti and marinara sauce.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
I am not sure if it’s a real trend, but in the last winters, maybe the last 5, there has been a noticeable trend towards warmer winters here in the coastal areas of Maine. It is as if the cold front band is pushed farther north from the jet stream, and we are now in some rain/sleet zone instead of a snow zone. My friends up North still have plenty of snow this winter, but here it comes and goes: Snow, and rain, and snow again.
It has been rather frustrating because instead of crisp powder and blue skies to whisk through the forests on skis, I now see dripping gutters and soggy streets. But a new feeling starts to set in, a realization that January and February might just be normal life with normal temperatures and normal shoes, and the existential bracing for arctic survival mode is no longer necessary.
I must admit I have not been much in cooking mood lately. However, on Black Friday I snagged an Instant Pot for around $60 on Amazon (the regular price is around $100), and it has been a really good buy. It is a multifunction pot, but I bought it for the electric pressure cooker function. Now, I can make cooked beans or chickpeas from dry, unsoaked beans in about 30min. Or deeply flavorful broth in 30min. Or cook spaghetti squash really fast.
I read somewhere that chicken wings are the best starter for chicken broth, because of them being mostly bones and fat, which is essential for good stock flavor.
The instant pot has a broil function, although it takes a while to heat up, it works rather well (and no need to clean up another pot). I sauteed the wings first, with some onions and olive oil.
Once they were browned, I added carrots, celery and a bay leaf.
I filled the instant pot to the max line with cold water, and set it to soup/stew, closed the lid and it is doing the rest of the magic on its own.
I typically let the pot sit after it is done, and it keeps hot for a while and therefore, slowly simmering. There is a little vent that shows if there is still pressure in the pot or if it has dissipated and the lid can be opened.
Voila, chicken stock!