Forum Holitorium

Month: December, 2012

The solace of solstice

Tuscan bliss

At 12:12 PM Central European time, precisely as I was walking in the direction of home after completing my formal responsibilities for this calendar year, the winter solstice occurred. The sun was the lowest it had been in the sky at high – no, at solar noon since last year. The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin sol (=sun) and sistere (=to come to a stop, make stand still). Since the city was shrouded in its normal grey cloud of winter smog, I must confess I didn’t notice anything. Nonetheless, this pause has great ramifications. Starting tomorrow, the sun will appear to rise higher and higher in the sky, and the darkness which has gained the upper hand as of late will start to retreat. Back and forth, the cyclical flirtation of light and dark starts anew.

Color did break through the gradients of black and white in the mixture of almonds and candied cherries pictured above. Following my grandma’s recipe, I made a batch of decadent Tuscan bar cookies for a musical pre-Christmas gathering. Dinners in December have been very green too. Not because of an advent wreath (we have opted for the minimalist version of four beeswax candles on a dessert plate), but because TC and I have taken a fancy to devouring numerous baking sheets full of strips of kale drizzled with olive oil, salted, and baked for 10 minutes at 200° C /400° F until slightly browned.

Just call me Kale. Olive Kale.

Yes, this year could be described as the year of cruciferous vegetables, in which I learned how to esteem cabbage and its many kissing cousins. I embraced making homemade sauerkraut, prepared broccoli and cauliflower with more enthusiasm than ever before, and fell head over heels in love with kale. It was a year in which I started blogging again, and much to my surprise, my readership expanded from family and friends to include complete strangers from all around the world. Thank you, dear readers, for your interest!

This blog will be silent through the twelve days of Christmas, through the Rauhnächte (a good explanation of this and other New Year’s customs in the German-speaking world can be found here), as I embark upon a road trip and start dreaming about what I hope 2013 will bring. I will leave you with one more recipe to enjoy – perhaps it will warm you and someone you love on a cold and snowy day. This recipe grew out of a desire to make Mollie Katzen’s Cottage Cheese and Apple Pancakes recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook while avoiding any grill smell in the kitchen.

Apple Topfen Delight

Apple Topfen Delight

4 eggs

150 g / 5.5 oz. Topfen, cottage cheese, ricotta, or farmer’s cheese

1 or 2 grated apples

90 g / 3/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

3 Tbs raisins

2 Tbs butter

Melt the butter in a cast-iron skillet. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a bowl and pour into the skillet while the butter is still hot. Bake 20 minutes at 200° C / 400° F.

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Consider the Dormant Medlar

Rosenschnee

Like clockwork, the snow arrived with the new month. Just a dusting on the first, a reminder that the cycle of the seasons keeps on spinning, ready or not. That was the warm-up for the second, when snowfall instead of light greeted my eyes. Big wet fluffy flakes kept coming down and sticking.

Follow the road

What else could I do but take a walk? There was a freshness and stillness in the air that excited me terribly. Enter winter! I enjoy letting myself fall into a state of modified hibernation. Sleep is to be encouraged and savored, plans for the weekend kept to a minimum, quiet indoor pursuits preferred. It is time to pause, to listen, to find my own rhythm again.

Medlar in white

On the walk, I paid my regards to the medlar tree whose fruits we had gathered throughout November. There were still a few medlars dangling from the top branches, out of reach for short wingless beings like myself. A little over a week ago, TC had shook the tree and I had lunged to gather the fallen fruit. With bottles of medlar jam and chutney now keeping the other preserves on the shelves company, our harvesting work is done for this year.

The Medlars 5, up close and personal

Mespilus germanica originated in southwest Asia and southeast Europe. Once again, we have the Romans to thank for introducing it to points further north. Charlemagne includes the medlar in his list of plants to be grown on his estates. Like certain persimmon varieties, medlars need to undergo a fermentation process called bletting before they are comestible. As fermentation releases sugars, the hard fruit softens and sweetens. Medlars will do this on their own as temperatures drop, turning mushy inside after a hard frost.

Tenacious medlars against the sky

If you are an impatient forager, medlars can be picked while still hard and then stored until they ripen. Traditionally they were laid on beds of straw. The medlars in the bowl above were ready to eat after a little over a week at room temperature. We paired ours with slices of smoked scamorza, an Italian cow’s milk cheese similar to mozzarella, remembering too late that port wine is also supposed to go well with medlars. We’ve also been adding stewed medlars to oatmeal.

Weathered medlar tree

The slow-growing medlar tree with her hard wood has kept her promise to blossom, bear fruit, and shed her leaves; she can now enjoy the rest that winter imposes upon her. I, on the other hand, still have miles to go today before I can devote myself to quiet indoor pursuits. How I envy the orchard.

Orchard in repose