Saturday, 25 June 2016

Hooray! Boris Has A Plan!

Boris Johnson reveals his plans for a trading partner for the UK post-Brexit.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Spicy Lentil and Carrot Pasties Recipe

Wonderful that the choice of food is in Germany, one thing that Deutsche Küche lacks is much by the way of pies and pasties. I guess I find this notable because British cooking has so many savoury pastry dishes: Cornish pasties, cheese and onion pasties, beef wellington, sausage rolls, Melton Mowbray pies, steak bakes, vol au vents, game pie ... the list goes on. Greggs the Bakers would not be profitable if they opened a branch in Berlin is all I'm saying.

It's not as if the ingredients for a good pastie are not hard to get. They even have ready-made puff pastry readily available in die Supermärkte, which is labelled as Blätterteig, but what the German cook uses it for I can't guess.

Anyway, as an exercise in cultural exchange, here's my easy recipe for spicy vegetarian lentil and carrot pasties. This recipe make four large pasties, usually with filling left over, or six smaller pasties.

First, get together your ingredients.

Then, take the chilled ready-made puff pastry from the fridge to let it come to room temperature. My pack has 275g of pastry in a single sheet. If you are a masochist with time on your hands, you can make your own puff pastry.

Next, put the following into a pot with a lid:
1/2 cup red lentils
1 cup water
1 tsp stock powder

Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer gently until the water has been almost absorbed, but the mixture is still wet and the lentils haven't entirely disintegrated. About 5 to 10 minutes maximum.

Meanwhile, peel, wash and dice:
1 medium onion (140g or so)
2 x carrots (~ 200g)
1 x potato (~ 140g)

And finely chop:
About a thumb of ginger

Soften the onions in about a tablespoon of olive oil in a thick-bottom pan. I add a teaspoon of black mustard seeds to the oil first, and when they start to pop, the oil is hot enough for the onions.
After a couple of minutes or so, add the ginger and continue to gently cook for another two minutes.

Next throw the diced carrots and potato into the pot, and let that saute for five minutes.

Then add your spices. Type and quantities involved here are up to you, but I am using:
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
I also add a good pinch of salt and a twist or two of black pepper.

Mix the spices over the softening vegetables to coat them, then stir in the lentil mixture. If your lentils and carrots have gone a bit anaemic, then squirt in a tablespoon of tomato puree to give them a bit of colour.

Let this simmer very gently for five minutes. Do not let it burn on the bottom of the pan. If it looks too dry, then loosen up with a splash or two of water. It should now look like this:

Take off the heat and put to one side to cool down. If you are in a hurry, place the pan into a washing-up bowl of cold water (obviously not letting the water get in the pan with the lentil/vegetable/spice mixture). What you shouldn't do is put piping hot mixture onto pastry or the pastry will melt and tear. Also, fingers will inevitably be involved, so you don't want to burn those either.

Now, turn the oven on and let it warm up to a medium heat - say about 190 degrees C.

Unroll your puff pastry on a floured worktop and give a gentle roll.

With a sharp knife, cut the rectangle of pastry in half, then quarters. You now have four rectangles of pastry, and each one will become a pastie.

Place a sheet of baking paper onto a baking tray, and onto that place a rectangle of puff pastry.

Now, spoon some of your cooled lentil mixture into one half of the rectangle only, with a 1cm margin between the mixture and the edge of the pastry. Moisten the edge of the pastry rectangle with a brush of water or a little milk. Then fold the pastry over the mixture and press down the edges to enclose the mixture in a neat little packet. If it's not so neat, then don't worry, the rustic artisan look is good too. Just make sure the edges are sealed so the mixture won't leak out during cooking.

Brush with milk, and cut a few slits into the top to let steam out. If you are feeling adventurous, sprinkle with sesame seeds, or poppy or nigella seeds.

Repeat three times, so that all the pastry rectangles have been made into proto-pasties.

Here is a piccy of what they might look like. Yours might well be neater.

Place on the middle shelf in the oven, and cook for 25-30 minutes.

Serve hot with the accompaniment of your choice. They go equally as well with salad as they do drizzled with brown onion gravy and served with peas and broccoli. They can also be left to go cold, and make a robust addition to a picnic.

Thank you, you're very welcome!

Friday, 17 June 2016

das Mohnfeld - the Poppy Field

Das Mohnfeld

Es war einmal, ich weiß nicht wann
Und weiß nicht wo. Vielleicht ein Traum.
Ich trat aus einem schwarzen Tann
An einen stillen Wiesensaum.

(Once upon a time, I know not when
And know not where. Perhaps a dream.
I stepped out of a black pine forest
Onto the fringe of a still meadow.)

Und auf der stillen Wiese stand
Rings Mohn bei Mohn und unbewegt,
Und war bis an den fernsten Rand
Der rote Teppich hingelegt.

(And standing around motionless on the quiet meadow, poppy upon poppy,
And up to the furthest edge the red carpet was laid).

Und auf dem roten Teppich lag,
Von tausend Blumen angeblickt,
Ein schöner, müder Sommertag,
Im ersten Schlummer eingenickt.

(And resting on the red carpet,
gazed upon by a thousand flowers,
A beautiful, sleepy Summer day,
Nodding off in the first slumber.)

Ein Hase kam im Sprung. Erschreckt
Hat er sich tief ins Kraut geduckt,
Bis an die Löffel zugedeckt,
Nur einer hat herausgeguckt.

(A hare came in a leap. Frightened
he ducked deep into the leaves,
covered up to the ears,
Only one peeped out.)

Kein Hauch. Kein Laut. Ein Vogelflug
Bewegte kaum die Abendluft.
Ich sah kaum, wie der Flügel schlug,
Ein schwarzer Strich im Dämmerduft.

(No breeze. Not a sound. A birdflight
Hardly moved the evening air.
I barely saw how the wings flapped,
A black streak in the twilight haze.)

Es war einmal, ich weiß nicht wo.
Ein Traum vielleicht. Lang ist es her.
Ich seh nur noch, und immer so,
Das stille, rote Blumenmeer.

(Once upon a time, I know not where.
A dream perhaps. A long time ago.
I saw only, and always,
The calm, red sea of flowers.)

Gustav Falke (1853-1916)
My translation, so don't take as gospel :)

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Something Unexpected In The Garden Centre

Moving aside a plant-pot in the local Basdorf garden centre, I came across a mother thrush with at least one tiny fledgling. 'Was guckst du?' she seemed to be thinking.

I quickly and gently put the plant back in place, and left Familie Vogel in peace (after quickly taking a snap of course).

Mmmmm Hummus!

Berlin is no stranger to culinary specialities from around the world, many of which we have sampled with gusto. But whilst Mongolian, Ethiopian, Mexican, or Croatian restaurants are not that hard to find, dishes from the eastern end of the Mediterranean is as popular in Berlin as Italian and Thai. Which is good news for us as there is nothing we love more than falafel and halloumi 'im brötchen', or a spicy chickpea tagine and couscous, with a side order of  tabbouleh salad. And all of which can be enhanced with a dollop of tangy, creamy, garlicy hummus.

Hummus is a wonder food that is as nutritious as it is 'lecker', and it is so simple and cheap to make for yourself that you wonder how back in the UK the likes of Sainsburys supermarket have the audacity to sell small plastic tubs of the stuff at inflated prices.

There are as many different recipes for hummus as there are countries that feature it in their cuisine. Indeed, it is almost a cultural definer that can blindfold test a meal prepared by an Egyptian, a Turkish, an Israeli, or a Syrian cook. Here's my preferred hummus recipe for you to try, with the caveat that it is by no means definitive. Indeed, I strongly encourage you to experiment. Add roasted cumin seeds if you want, or double the amount of garlic, or whizz in some roasted red peppers, or go mad and use broad-beans instead of chick-peas.

For my hummus I would gather together the following:

If you can't read the German labels or make a good guess, what I have here are:

1 x can of chickpeas. (or more usually we would have soaked a 500g bag of dried chickpeas overnight, given them a half hour simmer the next day, drained them and bagged them up for the freezer. But if you've used up all your chickpeas making falafel, again!, a can will do).

4 tablespoons of delicious tahini, which is a sesame paste you can buy in any Turkish Supermarkt or Asia Store.

4 cloves of garlic, peeled, crushed, and then chopped.

The juice of one lemon. I sometimes also scrape off the zest if it's a nice, unwaxed, organic lemon.

4 tablespoons of olive oil. Keep the bottle handy for drizzling later.

A good pinch of salt

1 x food processor or blender

Drain the liquid off of the chickpeas into a jug and keep handy. It's also traditional to retain a few chickpeas to add as garnish

Put the chickpeas into the food processor.

Add the garlic and blitz until you've got something like breadcrumbs.

Next, add the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt to the chickpeas and garlic in the food processor.

Give it all another good whizz in the food processor until it is a smooth paste.
If the mixture is too thick, add the retained liquid from the can, or a glug more olive oil.

Taste. Yummy, yes? If not perfectly to your taste, feel free to add a spoonful more tahini, or lemon juice, or salt.

Turn out into a serving dish, drizzle a bit of olive oil onto it, top with the retained chickpeas, and garnish if you want with a few coriander leaves or a sprinkling of sumak.

Eat as a dip with flat-bread, or in a falafel sandwich, or as a salad dressing, or spread on toast, or scoop up with a stick of celery, or just dip your fingers in and lick them clean!

Afiyet olsun! בְּתֵאָבוֹן! Guten appetit! وجبة شهية. !

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Chamomile - Kamille

One of my most favorite wild-flowers of early Summer is undoubtedly chamomile, with its sweet, distinctive scent that puts me in mind of a cup of soothing camomile tea.

I didn't realise that there are two varieties of commonly cultivated chamomile; Chamaemelum nobile or Roman or English chamomile, and Matricaria chamomilla, aka Chamomilla recutita, or German chamomile. I guess that by its name, the flower filling the cornfields around us is the German one. Whatever, it smells divine and gladdens the eye!

As a blonde-haired person, it also reminds me of rinsing my hair in an infusion of dried chamomile petals then letting it dry in the Summer sun. Nowadays my hair is getting more white than yellow, but the scent brought back a warm Proustian Madeleine remembrance of things past.

Let me share with you some photos of chamomile, taken on a cycle through Brandenburg on a lovely Summer's day.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Watch Out for Trees Crossing!

I love this German road-sign. Not sure if it's an instruction or not. It reminds me of the joke
Q: Why do some Brandenburger trees have white painted on them?
A: So you know which ones haven't been crashed into yet.

Friday, 3 June 2016

To Brexit or Bremain?

We have our ballot papers through for voting in the UK referendum on whether the country should remain in the EU, or say So long, and thanks for all the fish (quotas).

Back in the Motherland, both sides of the divide appear to have taken a step through the looking glass, with the most bizarre scenarios being posited whether the UK brexits or bremains. On the one hand, if the UK leaves the EU then the country will go into an economic meltdown, resulting in falling house prices (always a big worry to middle-Englanders), escalating energy costs, and the Sangatte refugee camp swamped with migrants fleeing the UK on a fleet of makeshift boats not seen since the evacuation of Dunkirk. And on the other hand, remaining in the EU would result in faceless bureaucrats having first-dibs on all newborn Brits, the Queen forced to lick Angela Merkel's boots, and the islands over-run by Transylvanian vampires allowed free access to the NHS's blood-banks. If I heard that the zombie apocalypse would ensue the decision of the vote, I would be hard-pressed to say which side I thought had announced it.

Personally, I think the EU is in principle a very good thing. For a continent that since Roman times has been ravaged by one country or another warring with the rest for whatever reason, the period of peace here these last few decades has been astonishing. Finally, european countries seem to have realised that pooling their resources, distributing wealth more equally, and coming to an agreement on collective human and worker's rights results in everyone getting along better without a covetous eye on the neighbour's ox. Yes, the EU has a lot of inefficiencies and no doubt more than its share of free-loaders and people working the system for their own greed. But, in principle I say, it is going in the right direction. I believe that only by working together can Europe show a united front in tacking terrorist and environmental issues, and face up to the rapacious free-market capitalist corporations of China and the United States.

On a more selfish level, I totally enjoy the free movement that the EU has allowed me to come and live and work in another member country. I love the fact that I can hop on a train and visit Poland, Spain, Italy, France and not need a passport. I am also pleased I can use the same currency when I travel, but that of course is not up for negotiation when the UK still have nostalgia for pre-decimalisation. If the UK leaves the EU, then our position as suddenly becoming non-EU citizens becomes rather precarious. Would we still be entitled to live here? What would happen to our pension contributions? Would we be eligible for health-care insurance?

The brexit argument seems to be that the money sent to fund the EU would be better spent at home, or that the free-movement of people across the EU results in the UK's infrastructure and job-market being inundated by a flood of economic migrants. The 'better off alone' view is I think rather an arrogant one, and not a realistic one in the face of global climate change as one example. The UK has already pissed off a lot of other EU countries with their 'special arrangement' over what they are required to contribute to the EU, and if they were to flounce off, I think the country would become the Billy No-mates of Europe.

So in conclusion, I am pretty convinced that the UK would be better off staying in the tent pissing out (as the metaphor goes), rather than on the outside pissing in. Though I am equally not convinced that leaving the EU would result in WWIII and nuclear Armageddon.

Whatever, let's hope the people of the UK make the right decision. And if they don't even vote, then they at least can't complain that they weren't asked!

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Marmalade Ice-cream

My Beloved made some absolutely delicious orange marmalade ice-cream today.

Teddy especially loved it. Paddington would have been sooo envious!