Archive for August, 2011

August 19, 2011

Pantry cleaning: Seeded granola

Seeded Granola

I am cleaning my pantry.

Here are some embarrassing items I have found – embarrassing because I’m not going to use them before I leave:

1) A can of sweetened adzuki beans, bought with some vague Japanese dessert plan, and who left me wondering why exactly can’t I make it from real adzuki in case I wanted to. I still don’t have an answer to that, and anyway the chances of me trying my hand at doing adzuki paste filled mochi are getting thinner by the hour.

2) A small sachet of powdered ‘latte macchiato’, a promotional gift from a pharmacy. There are a lot of pharmacies in Germany and they try to buy you out by giving you little presents – these particular powders were awful, and I’m not sure of why I kept them – or maybe they were not that awful, it is just that I’m not into powdered drinks. I preferred the pharmacy where they gave you little paper blocks.

3) A bag of kamut, the oldest item to date, bought a few days after I moved to Germany in a moment of enthusiasm for all the organic supermarkets: I did not like it, I found it bland when compared to spelt or barley, and it takes ages to cook.

4) Three packets of powdered sugar. When I think I have finished something, I keep on buying it until I have a huge supply. Three packets of breadcrumbs, same logic.

5) A bar of agar agar, bought before I found where they sell the powder here, and mother to more than one culinary disaster – I’d like to know what was in the head of the supermarket’s buyer when he decided to stock solid agar agar as opposed to powder.

6) Some Vietnamese rice paper, and with ‘some’ I mean something like two hundred leaves: considering that four are plenty for a meal, and that I make little rice paper rolls – very cute! – maybe every two months, I wonder how long this stock could last me.

But there is plenty of interesting stuff as well: Italian Venere rice, pitch black, still vacuum packed; my mother’s candied tomatoes and some Calabrese sun-dried tomatoes in oil, both extremely useful for I’m-too-tired-from-packing-to-cook type of dinners.  

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August 16, 2011

Ode to objects

Shallots and knife

I don’t think of myself as a particularly material person. I know money is important to make life easier, and to provide security, but I don’t like possession per se. I find objects burden me: move a couple of times and you’ll understand how literal this phrase is meant to be. I deeply dislike the process of ‘going shopping’. I do, on the other hand, develop an affection to some objects, a bit insane sometimes. (Let us agree that books, and especially cookbooks, don’t count as objects, right?). We have fixed our vacuum cleaner more times than I can remember. It is an old model and it is easy to dismantle, which means there are fewer parts that can break and  we are able to fix it by ourselves. I actually cried when we eventually had to give up our first, beloved car, a trustworthy companion of so many adventures throughout Europe and the first car I ever seriously drove.

Good objects, working objects, can make life so much easier: they can be trusted to be there for you when you need them. And when you think about it, there is such a high degree of intelligence in an object performing the purpose it was built for, and performing it gloriously.

When I moved to Germany I wanted to buy a knife. I was moving close to Solingen, where some of the best knifes in the world are forged.  It took me two years to win my shopping laziness and actually buy one. I regret each and every single day of me not possessing this knife. Before that, I owned a set of small serrated knives that were on my grandfather’s house, used by my parents as a spare set for the summer holidays. An Ikea bread knife, awful. A big white-handled cheap supermarket knife, bought on a hot day together with too big a slice of watermelon, in Trieste; light and unbalanced. A small, decent knife, not very expensive but still bought in a shop selling knives only, that fell and broke its tip after two days of using it. Not bad, but too small and without its most useful part.

Now I have this gorgeous, sharp, perfectly balanced piece of German steel. I have to recognize that Germans can make great products, an ability I find totally fascinating. I have a soft spot for the idea of manufacturing objects, putting research and passion and care in it. It is somehow opposed to the not-so-solid marketing babble we are constantly exposed to, dressing up most of the items we can actually buy. These are products so good, that they’d sell themselves: no need for advertisement.

Anyway, I did spend a relative high amount of money in this knife. Money well spent, every cent of it – and still cheap compared to some of the Japanese knives I’ve seen on sale in Düsseldorf . If I manage not to make it fall, I know this knife will last me a lifetime and then some more. I actually find myself looking forward to the opportunity to go and chop something. The first time I cut a tomato with it, I understood that so far I’ve just been smashing tomatoes, not cutting them.

No recipe today, but please, go and buy a good knife if you don’t have one. I wish I had given myself this piece of advice years ago. By the way, the shallots and mushrooms in the pictures were for a filling of cannelloni, together with some ricotta and spinach. Yummy!

The pictures are in black and white – still a total beginner with it, but Black and White Wednesdays is  tempting me week after week, and some of the work there is just amazing.
New knife, mushrooms

August 4, 2011

100th post: scones, and the next move

Brown butter scones

All this time I’ve been missing the sea, its smell, the way it reflects light. Some people tell you that if you are born by the sea, you can’t do without it. I wasn’t born by it, but I belong to the sea anyway, never had a doubt about it. I am a different person when I am close to the sea.

One of my last days in Wales I took a break from packing and went to a yoga class with my bike. As I was cycling back home, I stopped. I took that ride almost every day, apart from the darkest part of winter, to go to work. It went from my house down the hill, then  it ran through the heart of the forest. I’d check for mushrooms in autumn and bluebells in spring. The path then continued by the sea, between the city centre and the beach, until the office, some 3-4 miles further down. I had gorgeous summer days on that path. I had harsh days as well: when there had been a tempest the night before it would be covered with a thick layer of sand. With high tide some sprays would hit me. By the time I came to the office my heart was beating fast and I felt alive. I developed an addiction to weather forecast – I checked the excellent met office ones trying to guess if I was to have half an hour window without too much rain, or whether the wind gusts would just be too strong. Wind is the worst enemy when cycling by the sea, it can literally stop you if you are going against it. I learned not to mind rain that much, on the other hand. Like my landlord once said, while trying to unblock a pipe in our garden under a torrential rain: “It’s just water”. It is.

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August 1, 2011

La Jota


I think the best Italian food that never makes it abroad are the soups. I guess it must be because they don’t look glamorous enough to be included in Italian restaurants (and anyway, I still have to find an Italian restaurant abroad nearly as good as some restaurants in Italy), and they are that good because of difficult to source ingredients. If you have travelled in Tuscany and had a chance to eat any of the soups there, you know what I am talking about. They redefine the somewhat boring concept of soup: they rely on arrays of vegetables, herbs, heirloom pulses and grains, little bits of meat, and of course olive oil, to produce drop-dead-gorgeous flavours and textures. And it is not only Toscana of course, although my favourite ones are from there.

Last weekend I went to the local market with a fresh pair of eyes, determined to try something new. I have realized with a bit of a shock how lazy I have been in my food choices. I like carbs, vegetables and fruit. I’ve tried all the funny looking vegetables at the Vietnamese shop, always have at least three varieties of rice in my pantry, and have eaten all the types of organic, wood-oven bread they sell at the market. On the other hand, I don’t like meat, especially if I can’t identify what is in there, so I have left the huge selection of Wurst and Aufschnitt (cold cuts) largely unexplored. Also, I don’t like vinegary food very much, so no Gewuerzgurken (pickled cucumbers), Sauerkraut, and the endless ready-made salads on sale. But I know this is mainly laziness, cooking with what I’m comfortable with instead of pushing my boundaries a bit to discover new flavours.

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