Tummy Thursday: It’s Pokémon Birthday Cake Time

The kid’s birthday was already at the start of the month, but of course with my body being an asshole again I couldn’t make a cake for her actual party. Thank goodness teenagers mostly require insane amounts of food and not attention, so she could have her friends over for a small party.

Last weekend we celebrated with our friends and she got her cake for that day. She went for her favourite Eevilution, Leafeon.

©Giliell, all rights reserved      The eyes are not my best work.

©Giliell, all rights reserved Yes, that’s a ton of individually cut and applied grass blades

The inside of the cake is a standard vanilla cake with a cream cheese and cream filling. The filling was really easy and tasty: I used a packet of lemon flavour jello to mix with the cheese and the whipped cream, added some lime zest and cut canned peaches. The only problem that I had was cooling it down quickly enough for the jello to work so it wouldn’t run all out on me. I then covered the whole thing in a thin layer of buttercream before adding the fondant.

Because a German buttercream (butter with custard) has too much liquid for fondant and an Italian meringue buttercream (my usual go to buttercream) was too much work for the state of my recovery, I made an American buttercream. I usually consider American buttercream the symbol of everything that is wrong with American cake making: It’s just butter and sugar, too heavy and too sweet. I love watching cake videos, but quite often the American ones leave me a bit puzzled: Yes, this looks amazing, but all you have in there is cake and buttercream. Where’s the flavour? Do Americans really spend 200 bucks on a cake that looks great but doesn’t taste of anything but butter and sugar? Please do tell me.

It did work well here, btw, because it was only a small layer to get the surfaces even and it contrasted nicely with the tart lemony filling.

Garden Update: The Big Growing

The heavy rains with nice temperatures basically made the garden explode.

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What I thought was squash were actually the two courgette seeds I had planted. Turns out they are more resistant to frost. We’ll, have a lot of them over summer…

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One of the three sisters beds with the monster squash/pumpkin/whatever. I bought a small, withering plant for cheap and gave it soil and water and it is a very grateful plant.

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I planted two different breeds of corn and it’s very noticeable.

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Look at my tomatoes! By now I have to put in multiple sticks to support the whole plant. The first fruit are visible and they made it through both storm and rain alike.

 

Tummy Thursday: Making Saitan

I think I mentioned before that I’ve reduced our meat consumption drastically over the last year or so. I’m not trying to become vegan or vegetarian (and no, I don’t want to hear why I should or how I should. This is not your post. Go somewhere else), but I think that meat should be a special treat.This is also possible since meat replacements have become so good that the family will eat them, when a few years ago they still tasted like underseasoned cardboard. One problem remains, though, and that is that many alternatives are based on soy and I’m allergic to soy. But I can totally eat gluten, so I tried making saitan.

You can just buy gluten by the pound, but you can also make saitan from scratch. add one part water to two parts flour and knead for 5 minutes. Let it rest for 30 minutes and then wash out the starch, This is messy and will lose you most of your mass. There are apparently people who then try to recover the starch from the washwater but not me.

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This is the gluten left from 2 kgs of flour and yes, it looks like a pig’s stomach used for wrapping roasts. At this point you can add seasoning and some salt and then you have to cook it. It can be baked or steamed, but I like to cook it in a mason jar with spices in a salty brine.

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Each jar contains about 500 ml in total, so you see that it’s not much, but one is also a good size serving for us. It needs to cool completely to get to the meat like consistency. This time I made pinchos. They were nice, I just used a little too much salt.

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It is pretty neutral in taste, which is why it’s often compared to chicken, so you can season it to your heart’s desire. Enjoy your meal.

What do you mean, poor people should have tasty food?

Pretty regularly you get not poor people all over (social) media being upset at the idea that poor people might eat something other than oats. Like buying a birthday cake on food stamps or the whole rule where you cannot buy hot food on food stamps which is only good for punishing people who may not even have cooking facilities. Or the recent scandal in the UK where the families that qualify for free school lunch got food hampers instead of a voucher, because they might buy something the Tories don’t approve of. Basically the same people who will tell you that all Cubans receiving staples of rice and beans is a horrible sign of socialism will demand that poor people in capitalism never eat anything but staples.

 

But sometimes “the left” isn’t any better and all signs of people enjoying food is seen as decadence. Last summer somebody dared to post a picture of her lunch, doing basically the thing social media was invented for, and received hate and harsh criticism for, checks note, basically having an unconstructed sandwich for lunch. Now, the ultimate irony is of course that in France a charcuterie board is probably the most “paysanne”  (rural and down to earth) lunch ever and nobody in the country of foi gras would think it bourgeois, but I guess for some people anybody having food that is not shitty (and has been that shitty for at least three generations) must be condemned as a sign of being a member of the elites.

You think that’s funny? Here’s one even funnier: You take an item that used to be present in every kitchen like the good old cast iron skillet, but got often thrown away as “new” things like teflon coated frying pans came up (making their descendants have to buy them again, thank you, grandma…) and declare them to be bourgeois. I mean, unless you decide you need Le Creuset in your life, they are not even expensive new and you can get them second hand because they are practically indestructible (unlike the silly teflon coated ones).

Which gets me to a hypothesis: The people attacking others for enjoying food are simply bad cooks. They themselves have no idea about how to prepare a tasty meal, regardless of whether the ingredients are cheap or expensive (tonight’s dinner: griddle cakes. Most expensive item: an avocado as a side dish. Cost per person: 1.50, including the avocado). And because they can only get good food when eating out, they equate good food with luxury. They would totally buy a cast iron skillet just to let it rust  (and put it in the dishwasher occasionally because it looks icky), but then they get angry at not being able to use it, so they have to declare it a “hallmark of bourgeois life”.

 

So, what’s the food or cooking item you’ve been shamed for because it was deemed “too bourgeois” (for a commoner like you)?

Tummy Thursday: A Rainbow for the New Year

Usually we spend New Year’s Eve with our friends, and for the last years we always did a culinary world travel. Now, travelling has been banned, parties as well (for good reason), so we stayed at home, wondering what to eat. #1 gave me a challenge: A rainbow dinner! I accepted and delivered a three course meal:

Starter: Tomato coconut soup with a cheese stick, red and orange

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The soup was delicious, and dead easy: Pureed tomatoes, coconut cream, onions, garlic, molasses, spices, butter. We also used grandma’s good china.

Main course: Cornbread (savoury) and spinach (and some meat), yellow and green:

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The cornbread was  a little dry, sadly, but the lamb was not so I simply soaked up the juices with the cornbread.

Dessert: Petit Fours with cherry jelly and lemon curd, blue, indigo and purple:

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

Petit Fours are always sweet as hell, but the lemon curd balanced it nicely. Still nothing where grown ups will ask for a second piece. Teenagers otoh…

 

Tummy Thursday: Espeon for the Win

I recently read the following on Twitter:

My 2020 diet tip: If you want a snack, think about whether you’re really hungry, or whether you just want a snack to compensate for the horrors we live through. Then have a snack, it’s the only joy we have left.

And, yeah. We couldn’t celebrate the little one’s birthday as planned, but she got her cake nevertheless.

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Two layers of vanilla cake with added lime zest, a filling of lemon and lime curd in an Italian meringue buttercream ring with added blueberries. I can tell you, it’s a combination to die for. The sweet buttercream offsets the tartness of the curd, and the blueberries add flavour.

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If your husband tells you that this surface of the moon crater landscape of a cake looks perfect, he either:

a) loves you very much

b) has no clue about cakes

c) both

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With a fondant espeon, glitter, sugar pearls  and silver stars. I’m quite proud of my Pokemon cakes by now.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Shortbread:

  • 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.
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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.
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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.

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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…

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