The Sharing Economy

Chicken a la King

Something really cool happened to me last month.

I had leftover broccoli and a few potatoes and tomatoes from dinner the night before, so I decided to make an improvised Chicken a la King. I still had leftover whipping cream in the fridge that needed using, and some canned button mushrooms in the cupboard. I went to the supermarket and bought a 250 g pack of chicken breast, which I diced and boiled in three cups of salted water.

I melted three tablespoons of butter/clarified butter in a pan, added the vegetables. Drained the mushrooms, tossed them in. Added three tablespoons of flour and made a roux. Poured in the cream little by little, alternating with the chicken broth from the diced chicken. Added in the chicken pieces and let it simmer uncovered for five minutes. Then seasoned it with pepper and fish sauce (trust me, it tastes better).

It’s hard cooking in what is practically a single-person household. So here comes the best part. I posted the leftover of the leftover dinner on a food sharing Facebook group. A lady with a kid took the leftovers from my hands. And had a great dinner with her kid.

It felt so good that I ended up not eating the same thing three days in a row. Even better was that I got to help out another mom. I might be posting on that group more often!

Goin’ Nuts

It seems like fall has come all too soon in these parts, with the nights turning colder and the days shorter. Can it already be autumn at the beginning of September? And here I was, hoping for an Indian summer. But no matter, it is here, and I am glad.

Late summer is my favorite time of year. The gardening season is winding down, fruit falling off the trees, colors are starting to deepen. Apples are already making an appearance, pears are too. It’s time to make apple sauce. It’s time to assess what could be improved next year, ideas on what new herbs and plants should be planted next. The last time you could spend a warm summer night on the balcony, relaxing with a glass of wine.

I am still amazed how many fruit and nut trees grow in the streets of Erfurt. Just keep your eyes open, and things start revealing themselves. Walnuts have already started ripening and falling off trees, picking them from trees while when I go on walks. I’ve also discovered several hazelnut trees that I used to ignore until somebody pointed them out to me.  I’m currently looking for ways to use the hazelnuts. If anybody has got an idea, I’m all ears!

 

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!

 

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!

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!

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.

 

 

Bee Blues

The Garden has been discussing keeping bees, and I have expressed interest in becoming one of the garden’s beekeepers. One of our affiliated organizations, The Fuchsfarm, held an Open Day at their garden and let guests watch while they harvested the honey and filled them up in jars.

It was so interesting to find out how equipment and time-intensive beekeeping is, especially in the summer. Keeping bees are really like keeping pets!

bee1

So first, the beekeeper takes the honeycomb out of the wooden hive and sprays the bees away with a smoker. The cells are waxed shut by the bees when they are full, so, they won’t spill. They are then put in a bigger box, then taken inside.

With a small fine-toothed rake, pry off the wax covers on the cells on an easel that is propped over a tray.

bee2The combs are put into a steel drum, which has a crank that turns the frame that holds the wooden honeycombs. The centrifugal force flings the honey to the sides of the drum and drips down to the funneled bottom of the drum. The bottom of the drum has a tap, which is then flipped open and the honey trickles into a sieve-topped pail which catches the last bits of wax that is still in the honey.

bee3The pail itself has a tap at the bottom, and the honey is filled into glass jars that are sold on-site.

But of course, bee keeping is not without its risks. As I was taking off my protective gear in the shed, an unseen bee stung the palm of my hand! As they took out the stinger, I was given a homeompathic pellet to minimize the swelling, then another pressed a cold onion half-globe onto the swollen area.

A bit later I rubbed crushed Spitzwegerich on the area. It still smarts, but it feels much better now. I am still thinking if I should get into beekeeping, since I may not have the time to invest in it. But I would still like to try!

Pechay is a Winter Vegetable…Who Knew?!!

Germany is having some crazy climate change weather as of late. 2013 dumped a pile of snow on us until May, while this winter is waaay too warm=no snow. Not that I mind, but the grousing of worried Germans exclaiming WHERE’S OUR WINTER???? is quite loud.

So I got a surprise crop of pechay from stray seeds that scattered and sprouted spontaneously from last summer. I thought that they would freeze anyway, so I didn’t bother to pull them up. But the unusually mild winter meant that they thrived all though December. The cold weather also meant that it took them a longer time to sprout.

I bet that people living in a place with mild winters, like Italy or France, or even Hamburg, would be well supplied with pechay. No need for a greenhouse! I am very much encouraged by this discovery and have already turned that beautiful plant in the picture into Adobong Pechay.

Building a Neigborhood

Photo Renate L.

Anybody who has lived in Erfurt for years knows that Erfurt Nord is an industrial area. Forged by concrete and steel, it was known for prostitution and violence.

If you told anybody here that Metallstrasse was named the “Most Beautiful Street in Germany,” they would laugh their asses of. There is nothing beautiful about bricked over lovely art noveau buildings and brothels.

However, a group of people wanted to grow their own food, and live with nature, without necessarily having to leave the city. And found a place to do it, in cooperation with the industries in the area.

I am very grateful to have the Garden move where it is currently located. The Garden has become a place for people to gather and connect. It has begun revitalizing a once-dreaded neighborhood. Families are moving back here, partly because of the Garden. Old buildings are being renovated for residential purposes. Old people come and reminisce about the history of the Garden, what the place used to look like before, during, and after the war.

And because of this, the Intercultural Garden Erfurt is one of ten winners nationwide of “Die Schönste Straße Deutschlands,” the initiative of a local chain of hardware stores and Netzwerk Nachbarschaft. Kudos to Karin, the current president of this initiative, and for the current members who all lend a hand in the transformation of an impoverished district.

I am so very glad that this Garden exists, and that I am a part of it. It is certainly well-deserved!