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!

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!

Ugly Beautiful: Peach Cobbler

When you arrive late for a party, as I did last Sunday, and your dish was wiped out an hour after your arrival, it’s a good sign that you have a WINNER.

As I discovered after bringing peach cobbler to a potluck party. Peach cobbler is as close as I’ll get to hate-eating. It looks so ugly but it smells and tastes so good!

The source of the pears last week also gave me their bumper crop of peaches from their garden, and so like any rational person, I ate most of it, and turned what was left into peach cobbler.

The peaches were not the biggest or the sweetest (The photo in the header will attest to that), but they had complex flavors. The skin was bitter-ish, and the flesh was sweet. Perfect for cobbler.

I’ve tried several recipes from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. They turned out great, but this is one recipe that will be part of my repertoire.

Here is the recipe if you need it, I’ve tweaked it and used soft brown sugar for the topping, and sprinkled it with vanilla sugar and cinammon after baking. I would also reduce the baking time from 30-40 minutes in 180°C to 20-30 minutes. Or maybe my oven is just too hot.

Erntedankfest

It’s time to wind down this year’s farming season with an harvest festival. Although this year I am quite glad that I am not dependent on my garden for sustenance. This year’s tomatoes are quite good, but this year’s potatoes, apples, pears, pumpkins did not quite make it due to the weird weather this year.

.erntedankfest Despite that, a year of hard work and cameraderie is always a cause for celebration. The Pear Cake made a debut, along with a batch of Taboule. The pears were a gift from a tree, and the veggies and herbs in the salad came from my balcony and the garden. Along with home-made elderberry soda, it was a great way to use what grew this year.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay so long. It was great to meet the new people in our ever growing community garden, and I’m looking forward to enjoying the fruits of the summer this fall and winter.

Updates from the Community Garden

Potato plants

The community garden is doing well and going strong. This year’s crops include: onions, potatoes, zucchini, and garlic! Leeks from last year have re-sprouted, and a new potato bed is going strong. I am really happy with the work that we do, even if all I do is water plants and weed.

On my balcony, the strawberries are still in their baby stages, but the pechay (tatsoi) is doing very well, and have all bolted because of the very hot weather we’ve been having lately. I’ve got zucchini growing out of a pot, as well as two varieties of tomatoes and some onion, as well as my usual herbs. My dill hasn’t been doing so well, I think it has a bug infestation, or it doesn’t like the onion next to it. This weird wet/hot/humid weather is making my balcony plants act irrationally. My Thai basil for example have stunted growth and bleached leaves  because of the long cold, then the intense heat of the past few days.

All in all, I am looking forward to a bountiful harvest. I’ve already helped myself to the red beets from last winter. See you at the garden!

Elderberry Jelly

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wasn’t able to make elderberry products until June because of the prolonged winter this year. I was eager to make elderberry jelly last year, but alas, the flowering season was over by the time I got my hands on a recipe. I tweaked with the recipe this year, and although my jelly is more watery to the satisfaction of some, I prefer my jelly to have less structure for easier spreadability.

elderberry jellyMy first attempt did not turn out so well, and ended up having to make it twice this year. oh well, practice makes perfect!

Ingredients: 1.5 liters water, mixed with the juice of two lemons, a packet of jam sugar, 3:1 proportions (can only be found in Germany), and 30 flower heads of elderberry, and 100 ml of organic apple juice.

Snip the flowers off the stems, and cut away the parts with insects. In a large pot, pour in the water at room temperature and add the juice of two lemons. Very important! The water should not fill more than half the pot!

Place the flowers in the pot and let it steep for one to two days. Remove the flowers, and add apple juice to the mix. Add the jelly sugar and mix until it boils. This is critical since the sugar mixture may overflow in case the heat is too high! Once it has started to boil, turn off the heat (electric, lower the heat if gas) and mix for four minutes. Take off the heat and fill the jelly into warm sterilized jars with pop-up lids. Turn them upside down and wait for it to cool!

I’ll try to replace half a liter of water with apple juice next year, but I’m not sure if that is the solution for a more solid jelly, since the sweeter the mix, the less stable the jelly is. If anyone has time to make another batch before the season is over, let me know!

 

Using Cloth Diapers

When I was pregnant, I was determined to use cotton diapers at home. I couldn’t really tell you why I wanted to go cloth, but I think it had a lot to do with my growing environmental consciousness at the time.

I wasn’t a complete tree hugger though. I compromised a bit by using disposables when we went out and at bedtime, and made sure that they were the eco-friendly sort in which 60 percent of it fully decomposed. A pack of 30 diapers were on average 2 euros more expensive than the non-biodegradable sort, but because they eased my guilty conscience, they were worth it.

I bought a used set of 10 cotton diapers, and bought about 12 more. Diaper liners made solid waste disposal easy. Since they were biodegradable and flushable, they were easy to dispose in the toilet. A kitchen towel folded in half would do in a pinch, as I discovered during a trip to the US.  Soiled diapers went immediately in an IKEA Garbage can, and I had enough diapers that I only did diaper laundry once a week. I soaked them in wash soda overnight in the can, wrung them out, flushed the water into the toilet, and washed with soap nuts.

Since safetey pins scared me, I used a Snappi Diaper Fastener. What was problematic for me was finding the right waterproof diaper covers. Those made in the Philippines were not sturdy enough to withstand the tougher laundry cycles of German washing machines. Fuzzibunz were great, but expensive. I would definitely invest in similar covers and inserts if I ever have a second kid.

I was surprised at myself for being so adamant about it, and actually following through before my son expressed to me at his seventh month that he did not want to wear cloth diapers by pointedly removing them every time I put them on him. He was fully potty trained by the time he was 2 and a half, and was dry during the nights two months after that. His early (for Western standards) potty training could have resulted from a combination of the cloth diapering and the reward/motivation-based system that I used, as was suggested to me by a friend’s mom.

Reflecting on my parenting style, I’ve discovered that my grandmothers had a huge influence on my mothering. Both my grandmothers were ahead of their time since I never called them Grandma, but “Mommy” on my mother’s side, and “Nanay” on my father’s side. Both grew up in the provinces during the war, both experienced poverty and hardship.

It was no surprise to me to discover that my paternal grandmother thought nothing of nursing a baby openly in a jeepneý, after reprimanding my cousin for using a nursing cover-up. She is a very natural, maternal sort, and no-nonsense. She is a very neat person, and hates it when things go to waste.

My maternal grandmother was very much into herbs and fruits and nature. She had a green thumb, and we always had fruit trees in our yard. She also liked to cook, and had a taste for the finer things in life, and learned how to make fantastic meals from simple ingredients from her.

Although I started using disposables exclusively by his 8th month, it didn’t mean that his cloth diapers were no longer used. They made for excellent burp cloths, emergency blankets, sun shade, picnic blanket. They don’t get much milage from me now, and I am still reluctant to re-purpose them as rags. Who knows? I might need them again in a year or two.

Jein.

Jein is one of my favorite German words. It starts with a soft “y”, and with the sharpness of the  “ein,” at the end, makes it sound like an ache you cried out.

It is a combination of the words for yes, “ja,” and no, “nein.” The closest English equivalent is “yeahbut…”

I’ve been thinking about the move. If the commune were willing to give me the space in the attic, then I would definitely say JA. But the thought of downgrading my life to 16 square meters is  exhausting, especially with everything that has been going on in my life right now. A kitchen of my own, I’m sorry to say after self-examination, is a non-negotiable. I really searched within myself if I were willing to share a bathroom with somebody not in my immediate household. Yes, and I’ve done it before. Not having even a teeny-tiny tea kitchen? No.

The space in the attic, they said, will be used as a common space, and they don’t have the money to build it anyway. If I were able to come up with the financing and be a member of the e.V. and not just be a renter, that would solve that.

The biggest equation in the “yeahbbut” debate was my current job situation. I am willing to move to other parts of Germany, and overseas, if need be. That would make the whole commune living argument moot. In fact, that makes even moving to a different part of Erfurt, which my father-in-law has been asking, and I have been resisting for different reasons, moot.

The Mommy Files: Should I Live in A Commune?

No, I am not running away to India. Rather, I’ve been invited to join a group of like-minded people who are building a multi-generational Wohngemeinschaft (living community), one of the many alternative living projects that are popping up in Germany like mushrooms. I’ve been invited to join an e.V., and this organization’s project was to renovate a century-old brownstone building. Instead of keeping the layout of individual apartments, they decided to turn it into a giant shared apartment. The owners and tenants will not have individual apartments, but individual rooms. There are communal bathrooms on each floor, a common kitchen, a shared library, two balconies on each floor, and a common living room. So basically, if I move into this place, I’ll be living in a retirement home without retiring.

The thing is, I already turned them down once. However, one of the people backed out the last minute, because the community isn’t granola enough for them (really! They wanted everyone to eat meals at the same time!) They have asked me to reconsider, since they know me and they know my principles (if you read this blog, you know that I’m a bit crunchy). Today, they were enticing me to move in by showing me the kitchen equipment at my disposal if I do decide to live with them.

I’ve got until Tuesday to make my decision. Now here are the pros and cons of moving there.

PROS:

I know the people– The organizer of this project is a mom in my son’s kindergarten (in fact, that’s how we met). She is as granola as me: meaning, we live an alternative lifestyle but are aware that money is not the enemy. Two of the people who live there are from my community garden club, and I was responsible for hooking them up to this living community in the first place because I backed out. They’re all crunchy Catholic Bavarians, and I know that I will get along with them fine.

Saves babysitter money– There will be several children in the building: two of them go to my son’s kindergarten. He’ll never run out of playmates, basically re-creating my childhood in the Philippines growing up surrounded with children. As an only child, he constantly bugs me to play with him. Not a problem here. There will also be several other people who I trust who can watch over my kid.

Cheaper rent– ’nuff said.

Cooking will be more fun– it’s much more fun to cook for several people than cooking for yourself.

CONS:

Serious downgrade my life-mode– The reason the rent is cheap because as of now, there is only one available room, 16 square meters. This means I’ll have to downgrade my life to 2006 levels, when my life fit in one suitcase.Then wait until a room frees up.

Shared kitchenOne of the many things that foreigners notice about Germany is that they are attached to their kitchens. They are so attached to it that when they move house, they take the whole kit and kaboodle, along with the lighting fixtures. Seriously, the only thing left are the shower, toilet and sink. I didn’t get it until I started cooking. I love my kitchen so much that it was seriously the only thing I missed about Germany when I spent a month in Manila. The first thing I did when I got home was take pictures of it and uploaded them to Facebook to show my brother what my kitchen looked like. A shared kitchen for me is actually worse than a shared bathroom. I notice that the older I get, the less compromising I become

Job Situation– I am looking for a job, and I don’t really want to relocate twice in case I have to move to a different state.

I have tonight to sleep over my decision. Wish me luck!

 

“Solange die Fahne Weht”–Backstube Erfurt

Fresh, artisanal bread is one of the best things to eat in the morning. No matter if it’s Filipino pan de sal or German bread rolls, nothing beats the simplicity of melting butter on warm baked goods.

When I could, I try to patronize Backstube. It is a bakery that I discovered last summer, near the playground I took  my son to behind the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt. Germans hate the fluffy, airy pan Americano style, and are proud of their bread–coarse on the outside, dense yet pliable on the inside. These things are heavy. You could actually take these loaves to demonstrations and throw them at policemen. Maybe they’ll thank you for it.

They use organic flour from the region, and do not use preservatives on their bread. I am not a strict granola mom, but I am a big fan of buying local. The loaves are pricy, 3 euros for a 500g loaf, and 40 cents for a roll.  They would cost half of that at another bakery, but I am more than happy to spend that money on a quality product. they have rye bread, wheat bread, and a mixture of both flours, known here as Mischbrot. Not a lot to offer, but they are really good at what they do. They also have Spanish wheat bread, since one of the owners is Spanish.

They are part of the growing food culture here in Thüringia, and I am very happy to be part of that!

They don’t really have regular hours. But if you see the flag up, you know they’re there!

Backstube Erfurt

Kreuzgasse 2, 99084 Erfurt

Open from Tuesday to Saturday, 9 am to 6 pm.