Drowning in Plums

Sooooo….I have discovered the motherlode of plum trees in Erfurt, not far from where I work. Like a whole grove of plum and apple trees, with nobody paying attention to them! My son and I picked a bucket full of plums last weekend. They are what Germans call Zwetschge, a variety of plum that is deep purple, slim, and long-ish. We got a total of three kilos!  After the initial frenzy of ALL THOSE PLUMS wore off, I kinda scratched my head and asked myself what the hell was I gonna do with all those plums?

So I made Pflaumenmus, what should be translated as plum jam, but it is more of a plum puree. Three kilos fortunately fit into my six quart dutch oven, which proved itself once again as an excellent investment! I filled four large jars with the stuff. I don’t even like Pflaumenmus, so I’m gonna learn how to like it These next couple of months. Or maybe use them to fill jelly donuts?

So far I have baked three batches of plum coffee cakes, with streusel so they would keep better in the freezer. I’ve been giving them away like mad and I don’t think I’ll be picking any more plums this season!

 

Challah for Schabbos

I am a person that is generally fond of religious rituals. I like the steady, practiced rythym of their execution, the prayers passed down through centuries. So I was really excited to finally participate in this year’s Yiddish Summer Weimar, a yearly series of musical events to celebrate Yiddish culture and language, after work commitments kept me busy the past years.

And I was even more excited to participate in a Yiddish cooking class. Since yesterday was a Friday, the class prepared meals for Schabbos or Schabes, which is Yiddish for the Sabbath. I didn’t really do much except practice my onion-cutting skills, but it was interesting to learn different cooking techniques and ways to prepare food.

We Gentiles learned that baking Challah is an essential part of the Schabbos. Challah is basically a sweet braided loaf of bread, without milk and butter. And they need to bake at least two loaves. I’m so impressed with our multilingual instructor Paulette Bielasiak who gave instructions in French, German, Yiddish, and English without missing a beat! This is her recipe.

Dissolve a packet (42 g) of active dry yeast in 360 ml of lukewarm water, and add into a kilogram of flour. Mix thoroughly either by hand or bread machine, and add two eggs, 100 ml oil (something neutral-tasting, like sunflower or canola), and 100 grams of sugar (can be less, this is a matter of taste). Add half a tablespoon of salt, and knead until it forms a coherent ball. Add flour if needed. Cover the bowl and let it rise in a warm spot until the dough has doubled in bulk (about 45 minutes to an hour. This process will be faster if using fresh yeast.)

After proofing the bread, divide into six equal parts, and roll them until they are about an inch thick and a foot long. Take three ropes, press them together at one end, tuck it under, and proceed to braid. Press the ends of the braid again together and tuck underneath the loaf. Let the loaves rise again for thirty minutes by leaving them in a warm (50°C) oven.

When they have risen sufficiently, take them out of the oven. Turn the heat up to 170° C. Beat an egg with a tablespoon of sugar and glaze the loaves with a brush, and bake for 25 minutes.

We also had Latkes, Choulent, Gefilte Fish, and a salad comprised of mashed hard-boiled eggs mixed with spring onions. The kilo and a half of onion that I chopped went into a side dish that involved caramelizing an onion in some oil and a knob (about a tablespoon) of butter for thirty minutes, then adding five beaten eggs into the pot. I don’t know what it’s called, but it was really tasty.

Yiddish food is really heavy, I guess it has to be if one can’t cook for a whole day!

Plum Season

What I like about living in Europe is that you can still pick fresh fruits for free, even in urban areas. All you need to have is an attentive eye for splattered, rotting fruit underfoot and you begin to notice which fruits are in season.

I was going about my normal jogging route when I noticed black fruit flies congregating on sticky-looking mush on the pavement. I looked up and saw a tree laden with huge yellow egg plums! They deserve the name, it really are as huge as small eggs. I returned with a net and a basket after my jog and hauled a total of five kilos of fruit. My basket was only a fourth full!

The plums were tart with their skins, but they were super sweet with the skins peeled off. And the seed just separated itself so easily, which is a big advantage for fruit. I baked a plum cake, and I still had a kilo left over. Unfortunately, plums don’t keep well, so I had to throw the rest away, despite snacking on them non-stop since last weekend. The cake is safely stored in the freezer, and I now have cake to feed unexpected guests with.

Plum and mirabelle season is  in full swing in Europe, so I reckon you should get out there and pick them plums!

Burger Cravings–Faust Food, Erfurt

I sometimes get these unbelievably intense munchies for meat. Like caveman cravings. Like I could eat a whole plate of ribs in one sitting. And when I do there is one place I go to where I could reliably get a good plate of ribs: Faust Food (in English, Fist Food, a play on Fast Food. No it doesn’t translate well does it?).

It is located in a 400-year old former warehouse, spartanly (manly?) decorations, kind of on the hipster side. It is not easy to find, but I swear it is worth it. The grill is located by the door, and grill everything in front of you. They do mostly American fare, but they also have steak, and Thuringian Bratwurst. They do uncomplicated, real food, manly food.Me likey. And with late opening times, it is perfect for pre-gaming meals before hitting the town. So for your protein munchie needs, I can heartily recommend this place.

Faustfood

Waagegasse 1

Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 11 pm

Sunday 11 am to 7 pm.

faustfood.de

 

Orchid Babies!

Orchid babies! My orchids just had babies! And I am on a steep learning curve on taking care of them.

I was at my Hardware store of choice last winter when I spotted this Dendrobium orchid on sale, from 16 to 12 euros. It was still pricey for an orchid, but I couldn’t resist its wonderful yellow flowers, and so splurged.

I was soon disappointed when not more than three weeks after purchase, the flowers began to fall off, and the orchid seemed to wilt. I was almost ready to throw them out, when I noticed that it was growing new leaves, or flowers, I wasn’t so certain back then.

So while waiting it out, more leaves began to sprout. Then roots. Ta-DAA! New orchids! I was so excited when it sprouted four babies!

So far I’ve made the mistake of using the wrong potting mix. I chose the cheapest one, which was a few cents less expensive than the top of the line one. It consisted of sawdust with a few pine chips here and there. Big mistake! Two of the babies started getting water rot from the base, I hope I was able to save them in time, but I am not so sure. One keiki is still attached to the mother, and another one is sprouting from the Dendrobium cane.

orchidAll in all, this is a very good year for orchids. Since last year I have finally found the “sweet spot” for the orchids in my apartment where the orchids do very well. As you could see in this picture, my Phalenopsis orchid has sprouted new flowers, after three years of dormancy. They used to be in the living room, but they prefer the bright afternoon light offered by the playroom.

That’s the thing with house plants. The place where you want them to be isn’t necessarily the place they want to be. And boy, they will make it known. Leaves start to fall off, they won’t flower, that kind of stuff.  So move around your house plants, and wait for them to tell you they like it where they are

Cherry Cupcakes!

Another recipe from North & South are these fabulous cherry cupcakes that you really just have to try!

240 g unsalted butter                                   210 g self-raising flour

200 g caster sugar                                      90 g plain flour

3 large eggs                                                 36 or more fresh cherries, stoned, halved and                                                                        de-stemmed

Zest of half an orange                                  12 fresh cherries, stoned, with stems intact

 

Line a muffin tray with cupcake inserts. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until white and fluffy. Add eggs and orange zest, mix well. Fold in the flours gently, then add the cherries. DO NOT OVERSTIR! It’s ok if there are still patches of flour here and there, overmixing will make your cupcakes dry!

Divide the mixture  among the hollows in the cupcake tray, placing a cherry on top of each cupcake just before baking. Bake at 200°C or 180°C on fan bake for about 10-15 minutes or until a skewer comes clean. Allow to cool and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

While the recipe says it is enough for 12 cupcakes, I was able to bake 16 cupcakes total. The cupcakes do not keep well, so consume within 48 hours. I haven’t tried refrigerating them but the article warned against it. 

Necessity is the Mother of Invention: Cherry Salsa/Chutney

 I had never really thought of cherries as a savory food, but after harvesting a bucket full of cherries and already filled three and a half jars full of jam, I was kind of under pressure be creative.

The thing is that cherries tend to attract insects and their offspring while on the tree. While swallowing a maggot or two never harmed anybody, I didn’t fancy getting a belly full of maggots. That, and cherries tend to mold quickly so that you had a three day time window to consume them. The secret is to not wash the cherries until just about the point that you are to consume or use them!

I spotted a recipe from a colleague’s North & South, a monthly magazine from New Zealand, in their February 2008 issue.  It featured a family’s cherry farm, and also shared some recipes of their own, which included a cherry salsa

All you need to do is to mix together 36 stoned and diced fresh cherries, ½ diced red onion, 174 handful flat-leaf parsley, Zest of half a lemon, 100 ml olive oil, 25 ml vincotta, Sea salt, and cracked pepper.

Because I didn’t have vincotta, a sauce made from sticky grape extract, I decided to play around this recipe a bit and made a chutney instead, using the pan drippings from the accompanying beef steak that night.

So I sautéed the onions in low heat, added the cherries, added all the seasonings and sprinkled the parsley just before serving. It tasted great and was a good contrast to the salty beef steak. A great way to use cherries!

Thoughts on International Parenting

Bi-national and expatriate families, by default, are always straddling three cultures—the parents’, the host country, and the children who live in both worlds—hence the term “third culture kid,” which is a reality for many people who live in this global world.
What I find curious is that I am a completely different parent to my child when in Manila and when I am in Germany. It is a given that a complete lifestyle change occurs when moving to a new country, that the rhymes and rituals that were well-established in the old are chucked for new ones. It mostly depends on the climate and the pace of life in the new place. The host culture also dictates a huge part of how a child is raised.
Germans, for the most (not all) part, have strict rules when it comes to children: Children are meant to be seen, not heard. Let’s take bedtime for example. Children watch Sandman at 6:30, have dinner, read a bedtime story, and are sent to their own bed promptly at 8 pm. I am not generalizing here, since rules differ from household to household, but in an idealized German household, children are to be held to a schedule. “Kinder brauchen Regeln,” and one would be hard-pressed to find children out and about during normal weekday evenings by nightfall.
In the Philippines, children are much, much more involved in family activities, especially during social events. I remember my last night in Manila: We went to a karaoke bar and sang our hearts out until 1 am. There were four children under the age of 5 in our group on a school night! While normal in the Philippines, this is completely taboo in Germany.
This has of course created a hybrid in how I raise my child. I am too strict by Filipino standards, while I am too lax for Germans. I find that in Manila, I expect my child to act more “Filipino,” in that I expect independence in the form of playing with his cousins. In Germany, I don’t have the heart to force my child to sleep in his own bed, because sleeping next to your children is normal in the Philippines.

In another vein, how I parent also changes where I am. I find myself to be a more “top-down” parent in Manila, while in Germany, I spend more time with my son. I guess this is because much of the grunt work is taken from me by the household help.

Has your parenting style changed after an international move? I would welcome answers!

Cherry, Cherry Cherries!

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This year is turning out to be a good year for fruits. It’s not so hot, not so dry, and the rains have come at the right time. And because of the hot spring/cool summer we are having in Germany this year, the sweet cherry and sour cherry varieties arrived almost at the same time, instead of the sour varieties coming in this July. This may differ from region to region, so I cannot speak for the whole country.

So I have a bucket full of cherries. The darker ones are sour cherries from the backyard, while the lighter ones are from the tree I spoke of last year. I believe the tree is a Royal Ann cherry, but I am not sure what kind of cherry is the one from our backyard. It is not really sour, it’s more tart-sweetish, and quite juicy.

I’ve made three jars of jam, and one wonderful cherry chutney so far. I hope to make cherry cupcakes today, and maybe freeze the rest, if I am not able to harvest any more this weekend.

What amazes me is the difference of the cherries from the backyard tree from this year and last year. It was pruned this spring, and the cherries are huge and juicy! I wish I could learn more about tree pruning, but I guess that is for when I have more time.

 

 

The Balcony is A- bloomin’

Summer is finally here, and I am so glad I was able to organize the balcony using little pockets of time here and there. I think this year, my seventh in tiny balcony gardening, has shown that my collected experience  has finally paid off. The time used from planning until implementation has definitely improved, and spent less money than I have in the previous years, since I already have most of what I need, using seeds from previous years.

 

I mean, look at this strawberry, one from the several plants growing in little boxes on the railing. It is hard to believe that I scraped the seed of this plant from the chopping board two years ago after making jam!

This year would be a special test on my tiny gardening skills, as I have tomatoes, eggplant, and a potato plant all on my balcony. It is generally not recommended to plant nightshade relatives all close to each other, but I couldn’t resist experimenting if I could really grow potato out of a grow bag, and the eggplant unexpectedly grew from seed this year, after three years of trying and failing. I have tried to situate the eggplant and potato in such a way that they are closed from three sides, and only the side where they get sunlight remained open, to minimize possible cross infection of blight, if it does occur.

The onions are doing very well, and I guess i will never be able to grow ramsons in a box. Fourth year in a row that they haven’t bloomed. But otherwise this promises to be a great harvest year