I Was Like a Fox in the Henhouse…

Today I took a day off of any duties and works and I went for a walk in the forest, with my camera. And right at the edge of the forest, I got distracted.

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I had planned a long picture-taking walk, about five-six kilometers. I had drink and snacks packed, an audiobook prepared, and just in case I find some mushrooms, I had two cloth shopping bags in my backpack. I thought maybe I find enough for a dinner.

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Boletes are growing in huge numbers. I did not even get to the best places and I filled both shopping bags before venturing so much as twenty-thirty meters into the forest. They weighed about five kilos each, here you can see them after I took a hefty portion off the top to give to my neighbor, who likes them, but, like my parents, is too old to go collecting herself.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

My tiny kitchen counter was covered in mushrooms. It took me about six hours to clean all these and cut them. Most were cut to slices to dry, but some were too soft and spongy (and there were some blushers in there too) and had to be cooked right away.  And even though there was a lot of waste, I still filled the whole vegetable dryer and a table with drying, and my biggest pot with cooking. There are good ten-twenty meals in the pot, so after it all cools down, they will be divided and packed into small portions and frozen.

I must apologize, I did not make any pretty pictures for you today. But I am really tired, despite my walk being only about one-fifth of the length I planned.

Oh My Potato!

There is a lot of talk about sustainability and growing your own food etcetera. So I wish to share this year’s results of our efforts in this regard, specifically potatoes.

In the spring we bought 20 kg of potatoes for about 40 € including shipping. We planted them to a patch approximately 40-50 square meters and now my father has great fun harvesting them.

Typical potatoes, ones that go into the cellar for storage look like this.

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Then there is also a lot of “beads” which are very small potatoes, and a lot of potatoes that are damaged by weeds, slugs, bugs etc. Those need to be consumed first. But this year it looks like we do get reasonable amount of big potatoes in good condition. And whilst the saying in Czech goes “Čím hloupější sedlák, tím větší brambory” (“The dafter the peasant, the bigger his potatoes”), I think that saying just reflects the enviousness in human nature. Because getting reasonably big potatoes, regularly, is not easy.

The main problem with potatoes is that they need light, humous soil, and the soil in our garden is more like heavy clay. In the vegetable patch, it is a lot better, because that soil is a result of careful cultivation over several decades of tilling the clay with compost, manure, wood ash, and fertilizer. Still, it is far from ideal and way too sticky. So this year I have tried to improve the soil further by adding a lot of organic material directly around the potatoes during planting, specifically crushed reed stalks from my sewage water treatment facility. It seems to have helped – a few plants were planted without the reed stalks and their potatoes were visibly smaller. Also, the soil with the crushed reed is easier to tilt and falls easier apart. So it seems I have a use for the reed stalks, which until now were a waste-product.

But even without those, each year when we grow potatoes, there are outliers like this ca. 500 g (>1 pound) specimen.

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Pieces like these bring great joy to my father, who currently really has fun with garden fork tilling the patch and getting the potatoes out. We have a small tractor, but my mother has urged me not to use it and leave my father to do the work manually – he needs the exercise and enjoys doing it. And although he impales some potatoes on the fork, the damage is smaller than the plow would do. For example, this 950 g specimen got impaled and needs to be eaten asap, but a plow would probably just cut it in half.

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Well, that one is really an outlier. It can feed the whole family for a day. It would be great if they were all like that, but that is alas unattainable.

Ok, enough bragging and back to the sustainability issue and soil care a bit.

We have planted circa 200 plants. We get at least 120 kg of potatoes from it, so on average 600 g from each plant. That means we could, theoretically, set aside 20 kg for next year and still have 100 kg to eat. So how does that help us re: self-sustainability? It is just about 600 g of potatoes per week per person in our household, so two-three servings. That is a lot, being a significant money saver. But it still does not bring us anywhere near to being self-reliant.

The first obstacle to that is of course the sheer amount of land needed for true self-reliance. I almost have the land, but the soil quality on most of it is very poor and it would take years of back-breaking work to bring it up to scratch with the vegetable patch.*

The second obstacle are nutrients. Potatoes have about the highest yield per area of all crops that I can grow here, but they also deplete the soil of nutrients really, really fast, and can destroy it. I do not need to go too far to see a real-life example of this – my neighbor does not make compost, does not take care of her vegetable patch the way we do, and she did grow potatoes always in the same spot for many years. The soil got sour, and the potatoes were getting so small it was not worth the effort anymore.

The third obstacle is pests and diseases. We solve this problem by twofold approach – we spray the potatoes against mold and beetles, and we only grow them every second year. It seems to work out well, but should we try to be self-reliant, it would double the needed land again. We alternate them with onions, pumpkins, and legumes, which also produce reasonable harvests, but nowhere near to be significant on the same amount of land. Alternating the crops also reduces the amount of pesticides we use, since onions and legumes do not need to be treated.

The fourth obstacle is the sheer amount of work needed. My father does most of it, with me only doing the most difficult parts like plowing, and it takes a lot of time and effort throughout the year. To feed all three of us that effort would be tenfold.

This makes me highly skeptical about growing your food on the windowsill or front porch. But even so, I think it is a great idea to plant some vegetables in pots on your windowsill or front porch if you can, just do not expect any wonders regarding the amount you will get.

What you can expect though, is great taste. Supermarket bought vegetables cannot hold a candle to anything you grow by yourself.

  • The poor soil quality around here is one of the main reasons why many fields were converted to pastures and meadows after the Iron Curtain has fallen.

Tummy Thursday: Tahin Caramel Shortbread

As mentioned before, our holiday plans this year is meeting in each other’s gardens, so this Sunday we went to our friends’ place (their pool is already filled and delightful) and I made some shortbread for the coffee table. Because maybe the most German food tradition is “Kaffee und Kuchen”, coffee and cake, in the afternoon.

I started out with Yotam Ottolenghi’s Oriental Millionaire’s Shortbread and adapted it for my needs.


  • 40 g icing sugar
  • 35 g cornstarch
  • 40 g sugar
  • 175 g molten but almost cooled butter
  • vanilla
  • 250 g flour
  • a pinch of salt plus some fleur de sel

Mix sugars and starch in your kitchen machine, add butter and vanilla while it’s running, turn to slow, add flour and just mix until it’s blended. That’s what I like about shortbread: it’s quick and easy.

Prepare a 20 X 20 cm baking tray (as per recipe) or use a 12″ round one as I did, heat oven to 200°C. Bake until golden brown. The original recipe said 25 Min, but mine was much thinner and baked in 10. Let cool completely.

The original recipe says to add a layer of crushed halva, but I didn’t have halva at home for the simple reason of being really allergic to peanuts, which is often a main ingredient in commercially available halva, so I simply moved on to the caramel.

  • 200 g sugar
  • 120 ml water

Boil until dark copper brown, remove from heat

  • 80 g cream
  • 100 g butter

Add to the caramel. I hope you used a pot that’s got some space because it bubbles up and splashes at this point. When it’s a nice homogenous mass, add

  • a generous spoon of tahin

Pour the slightly cooled caramel on top of your shortbread and sprinkle with some more fleur de sel.

I finally added a very thin layer of dark chocolate. Cut into pieces and enjoy. It’s really sweet but damn delicious.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved


Tummy Thursday: You Gotta Eat it All

Yes, I know, that’s similar to the post in October about the little one’s cake, but we are in for another Pokémon themed cake. It was #1’s birthday on Sunday and she wanted a Zorua cake. Well, actually she wanted a Reshiram cake, but I balked at the idea of trying to make one. There’s being ambitious and there’s being stupid. I think it was my most complicated motive cake so far as it does not have a simple geometric form as a basis but the cut out of the Pokémon and the decoration took me almost three hours.

The cake is vanilla and cherries, the filing is German mango buttercream and roasted almonds. I then covered everything with Italian buttercream and added several layers of fondant. It was delicious and pretty.

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Cooking with Escher: A Practical Solution to a Geometric Problem

This is from my own Facebook post from a few years ago, during the winter holidays, when I had a boatload of gingerbread cookie dough to go through. I’m not always a fan of baking, but I don’t mind the meditative aspects once the kids have gotten over their helping phase (they do fine, it’s just not very relaxing).

Anyway I had some thoughts about women’s work and its devaluation and how simple actions that we learn to do can have complicated underlying rules. I’d either recently bought or recently read a book on Escher with the kids, and so I imagined a book that took the idea of tiling and applied it to baking – a book that analyzes the concepts of positive and negative space and their optimization to get a maximum yield of cookies, given a plane with defined boundaries, and also a known quantity of cookie dough.

Of course, you have to calculate the rate of expansion during the actual baking, because while ordinary problems of tiling require the entire surface to be covered, you don’t want one large mass of cookie (generally speaking – of course there are exceptions). I wrote a short summary for the book jacket:

An exercise in the ancient question of tiling a regular surface with irregular shapes in order to produce a maximum yield with a minimum of fuss, “Cooking with Escher” examines several distinct categories of shapes. Inspired by the enigmatic mathematical genius, this is a purely practical analysis of the unique challenges presented by each individual shape. The categories explored in this edition are: basica, exoticb, roboticc, patrioticd and erotice. Final results are not available due to extreme consumption.

Citos vārdos, dziļi matemātiska nodarbe ar noslieci uz ģeometriju. (In other words, a deeply mathematical activity with an inclination towards geometry.)

I still imagine what this book could be, with diagrams and arrows and lots of calculus formulas.

a – Basic shapes adhere more-or-less to regular geometric shapes, in this case, a square.
© rq, all rights reserved

c – Robotic shapes are defined by their resemblance to anthropomorphic appearance and yes I know it’s a snowman.
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e – Erotic shapes in this case are defined by the jargon term for female genitalia, i.e. squirrel.
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d – Patriotic shape, self-explanatory.
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b – Exotic shapes are tropical animals not usually met in the wilds of the northern hemisphere.
© rq, all rights reserved

This is my idea of a fun quiet time with myself.

Tummy Thursday: About that Allspice…

As I mentioned, I needed allspice to make Jamaican jerk, only of course that’s just a vague description of what I actually made. For one thing, jerk is more like a marinade. We don’t eat much meat, but have ample use for all kinds of sauces and condiments, so I made something more like a steak sauce.

I started out with the Jamaican jerk recipe CD gave me some years back: allspice, garlic, soy sauce, only no soy sauce because I’m allergic to soy, molasses, only no molasses because you cannot get it here but boiled down sugar beet syrup, cinnamon, spring onions, only I skipped them because I later added onions, nutmeg, dried fruit like cranberries, only that I used fresh nectarines and chillis, thyme, all blended together.

Yep, that’s me. If the survival of planet earth hinged on my ability to follow a recipe you’d better start packing. For the chillis I bought some Habaneros and I wanted to throw one into the blender, but then thought that it was prudent to start with half a Habanero because you can always add more. Good decision. It instantly went to the level of hot I like (which is probably too much for the rest of the family) and it’s got such am agreeable hotness. I don’t know if I’m explaining this well, but sometimes chillis have this hotness that lingers for ages. Your mouth keeps burning even if it wasn’t that hot in the first place until you have some milk and this detracts from the actual taste of the food. These are hot, but 10 seconds later it’s gone. I actually kept spooning it into my mouth to see if the taste needed refinement without actually adding anything in between…

To turn it into a sauce I peeled and deseeded a pound of tomatoes, lightly fried onions in olive oil, added the tomatoes and let it stir for a while. Then I partly strained the jerk so there wouldn’t be too many coarse particles and let everything simmer for about half an hour. Interesting things happened. For one, the jerk turned very dark. That happened almost instantly, probably because the air boiled out. After about 10 minutes my disappointing nectarines picked up and gave some real fruity aromas to the whole thing. After 20 minutes the tomatoes vanished completely. I’m sure they’re adding taste and structure, but you would never guess it has tomatoes in it. Finally, the hotness was greatly reduced. Maybe Mr could eat some now. All in all I have two glasses of sauce now and I tried it on some vegan burgers yesterday and it’s just all I ever wanted.

©Giliell, all rights reserved


And because the light and the bubbles in the pot were just too pretty, here#s a video:

On the Fiction that is Capitalist Pricing

Companies want to sell you things. And of course, to run a business that isn’t money laundering, what you get from your customers needs to be more than what you pay for goods and services yourself. But of course they don’t just want to make some profit, they want to make as much profit as they want to and that’s where brands come into play, where they tell you stories to justify a much higher price, where a certain label means the shirt costs 150 bucks while still being made in the same sweat shop by the same people who make the 15 bucks shirts. Another trick is evoking that something is rare and exotic and therefore expensive.

Yesterday we went to the wholesale supermarket and one thing I needed was allspice. I absolutely love allspice, I was running low on allspice and I wanted to make some Jamaican jerk anyway, so I went to the spice section where I was presented with two options: the normal supermarket size packet with 19g of allspice, which would probably have been enough to make a small batch of jerk, and the restaurant wholesale packet, by the same company, with 500g.

The price difference? 2.80 vs 7.50. That’s a difference of 15 vs 150 € per kilogram for the same fucking allspice.

I think we’ll have a lot of Jamaican jerk this summer…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Tummy Thursday: Zucchini Cake

When we went to the wholesale supermarket I bought a whole crate of zucchini, which means we’ve been using them in a whole lot of dishes, and since they are true neutral, I also decided to make zucchini cake. It turned out really, really nice and it would be a shame not to share.

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Uhm, yeah. our easter brunch…

For the cake you need:

  • 500g zucchini
  • 250 ml oil. I used butter, though, because I only have olive oil at home
  • 5 eggs
  • 350g flour
  • 1 packet of baking powder
  • 250g sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 200g grounded hazelnuts (I used almonds)
  • spices (I used a bit of cinnamon and allspice and vanilla extract)

Grate the zucchini, mix wet ingredients (including the zucchini), mix dry ingredients, combine, bake a 160° with ventilation.

One thing that made me wonder about the recipe was that they told you to bake it in a 26cm (10″) round tin. Every experienced baker can see from the amount of ingredients that this is way too much and I’m sorry for the inexperienced bakers who flooded their ovens with cake batter. I baked it in a tray for about 30 minutes.

Another thing is that there’s really little sugar in the recipe. This means that it’s perfect for a sweet topping. The original recipe had a chocolate ganache, but I went for lime and cream cheese with fresh strawberries on top and it was just perfect. If you don’t want to add a topping I’d recommend adding something like another 100g of brown sugar for extra flavour and sweetness. Or you leave out the sugar completely, add more salt and grated parmesan, which should work as well.

Tummy Thursday: Go Frothy and Multiply

Yes, I know, but what are days of the week anyway…

One of the things people have been hoarding/panic buying is yeast. I speculate that lots of it is rotting in fridges, since bakeries and supermarkets are indeed still open, though others will use the time for baking, as does yours truly. Part of it stems from my inability to plan for bread. Usually we eat pretty little bread so i buy like a pound of bread that lasts for the week. Now we need bread every single day, so different forms of frybread have been our new best friend. And who doesn’t love fresh frybread? Some days I use baking powder, but i also like yeast bread, and I was running low on yeast.


Thankfully, as long as you have some yeast and a freezer, you can be helped. Simply mix your fresh yeast, lukewarm water, a tablespoon of sugar and a cup of flour and let it rest for 15 minutes. Fill into ice cube trays (or mini muffin trays or whatever, I used my French canéles silicone tray) and quickly freeze. Put something frozen on top and don’t overfill the tray.

Freeze solid and ta-daa: lots of readily frozen yeast.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Working with this yeast means means you need more time, but that makes a yeast dough all the better anyway.

And to prove the concept that “you can multiply yeast indefinitely”, I washed down the sides of the mixing bowl and started a sweet yeast dough. I let it rest in the cool hall over night and let it catch up speed again this morning.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

He is risen.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Nobody in my family ever said no to cinnamon rolls.

And did I mention that I’m bad with “how  much bread do we need” and the days of the week? Well, I’d forgotten that today is a holiday and no bakery van will come, so I took some of my frozen yeast and made naan. You could cook it in a hot pan, but I prefer the pizza stone in the oven. I also need to increase the amount we pay for electricity or there will be lots of crying come January (we pay an estimated amount for water and electricity each months and then get the detailed bill in January. Usually it’s “we ow you 20 bucks / you owe us 20 bucks, but we’re home a lot more, won’t go on holiday and keep baking)

Look at this:

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That’s what the kids left us. Because fresh naan, who doesn’t like it? BTW, if you ever try to make frybread, regardless of what your raising agent, put away that rolling pin. Just gently stretch it over your hands or you’ll press out all that nice air your raising agent worked so hard to put into your dough.

Musical Cheese

This story has aged well in my archives, like a good, sharp cheddar (or perhaps flat?).

Last September, Swiss cheesemaker Beat Wampfler and a team of researchers from the Bern University of Arts placed nine 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese in individual wooden crates in Wampfler’s cheese cellar. Then, for the next six months each cheese was exposed to an endless, 24-hour loop of one song using a mini-transducer, which directed the sound waves directly into the cheese wheels.

So, what kind of music does cheese enjoy?

The “classical” cheese mellowed to the sounds of Mozart’s The Magic FluteThe “rock” cheese listened to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” An ambient cheese listened to Yello’s “Monolith,” the hip-hop cheese was exposed to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and the techno fromage raved to Vril’s “UV.” A control cheese aged in silence, while three other wheels were exposed to simple high, medium and low frequency tones.

Well, that’s not a huge range of choices, plus six months of the same song, over and over? It’s enough to curdle the blood in my musical ear, that’s for sure.

Ah, you say – cheese doesn’t have ears! True. This issue was resolved by applying music directly to cheese:

The wheels were stored in wooden crates and played 24 consecutive hours of either classical, hip-hop, techno, ambient, or rock and roll. Rather than speakers, the researchers attached small transmitters to the wheels to relay the sound waves directly into the cheese.

Bern University of the Arts

I have my doubts, of course, but until I have my own dairy farm and cheese making equipment to attempt a reproduction of this experimental method, it sounds pretty good to me.

In anticipation of the annual celebration of, among other things, cheese, here’s an indirectly thematic song:

Tummy Thursday: Tamales

I promised a more in depth thread on the tamales we had for New Year’s Eve. I’ve been wanting to make them for a while, since they a re one of my favourite Latin American street food, and just in time I found an online shop specialised in Mexican food where I could get the most unusual (for Western Europeans) ingredient: dried corn husks. I also go some quality corn flour and frijoles negros (which are from Canada…) so I could also make refritos (fried mushed beans).

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I chose a recipe with chicken filling, so I started by cooking the chicken. Well, actually it was the second step if you count soaking the corn husks. I thought it was daring from the people who wrote the recipe to tell folks to cook the chicken in liquid and later mention chicken stock but not to mention that of course you just made the world’s best chicken stock. Once I had that it was time to cream the butter for the batter. The original recipe called for lard, but the local Aldi doesn’t stock any lard any I won’t set food into the megamarkets before/during the holidays. You are supposed to add some of the stock and I swear this was the first time I made chicken buttercream. I then added the flour, more stock, salt and seasoning and let it rest for a while. The batter is quite fluffy at this point.

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I used the resting time to prepare the filling. I deboned my chicken and minced it a little. I then prepared salsa with onions, garlic, tomatoes and seasoning and added the chicken. The filling needs to be well flavoured or it will be lost in the batter.

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Yes, I’m a messy cook, why do you ask?

Then it’s time for preparing the tamales. You use your soaked corn husks and spread some batter onto them. You add a spoonful of filling, close the batter around it and then wrap the corn husk like it’s a burrito.

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You then put them into a pot with a steamer and steam. The recipe calls for two hours, but my pot and steamer don’t actually fit one another so I cannot close them properly. The test run was therefore a bit soggy and for the New Year’s Eve dinner I probably steamed them for 4-5 hours. Looks like another piece of kitchen equipment that I need to upgrade.

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They were yummy with that particular flavour of actual corn flour and so savoury that the dog begged for the leftovers.

Gingerbreads of 2019 – Part 5

Even more Easter Eggs. The last batch from Easter, next will be Christmas.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full