Forum Holitorium

Category: Recipe

Collective Contagion

Like peace, the birds have been elusive this week. I thought I had captured one in the picture above. Wrong. As my country of birth abandons public health measures in the name of making money and spirals into Civil War 2.0, my country of residence remains fixated on getting people to go out, spend money, and worship the sacred cow of summer holidays – no worries about a second wave of COVID-19 as long as the coffers of the tourism industry fill up. The air in Vienna is progressively more polluted, the noise of everyday life is drowning out the birds, and little seems to have changed. Was I naive to hope that things would be different?

Since reading the news too long inevitably leads to tears, all I can do is attempt to remain calm and carry on with my quiet life, being as respectful and kind as I can. Maybe that’s the course of action we need to navigate through the Scylla and Charybdis that is 2020: collective calm, quiet, respect, and kindness. No need to worry if that becomes contagious.

All week I promised KA cake. All week I remained engrossed in work until the cake hour had passed. Yesterday I finally conjured up a strawberry pound cake, inspired by this great post analyzing the ingredients in pound cake. My recipe:

Mix 4 eggs with 190 g sugar until well blended. Add 90 g ricotta, 40 g water, 80 g olive oil, and 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract. Mix in 230 g whole wheat spelt four and 11 g baking powder. Stir in 200 g sliced strawberries. Pour in a loaf pan and bake 50-60 minutes at 170°C.

Last summer I knit an asymmetrical linen shawl with a sage green gradient yarn. When I tried it on right after binding off, I realized I would never wear it because it didn’t fit right. Discouraged, I cast it aside to deal with at a later date. Last week I started over again with the yarn. Just one more handle to go and then I’ll have a new bag for summer adventures.

A ray of light in a dark week: this radio interview with Dr. George Archibald, the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The cranes of the world are mostly doing well thanks to his decades of advocacy and education in countries all around the world. There are no breeding pairs of cranes in Austria, but other species such as the Northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) and the Eurasian thick-knees (Burhinus oedicnemus) have benefited from the collective pause in human activity these past months. Though the ibis received no help in breeding this year due to coronavirus restrictions, it successfully nested in Salzburg on its own. I’ve seen them near the Konrad Lorenz Research Institute in Austria’s Almtal. With a beak reminiscent of the plague doctor’s mask, the ibis reminds me how birds are related to dinosaurs. The endangered Eurasian thick-knee has made headlines by breeding in an area that should be traversed by a highway east of Vienna. In February a court recently (and surprisingly) decided that the highway can’t be built because it would disrupt its breeding grounds.

Other rays of light reflect off these vegetables – ratatouille time is approaching.

May you be infected with calm, quiet, respect, and kindness!

Seams Nice

A flash of red out the window is one of the great spotted woodpeckers, which soon moves on to the next tree to search for something tasty.

Soon after, the yaffler arrives. There must be something about that tree because it gets a visit too.

There has been a lot in the news about the spread of COVID-19 at meat packing plants in the U.S. and Germany. In Austria, there has been spread among agricultural laborers from Eastern Europe who have been flown into the country despite COVID-19 because they will work for lower wages than Austrians would. Why is our system built on exploitation? How can we change it? What can you eat with a good conscience? Woodpeckers have it a lot easier than we do.

When I shop for strawberries, I only buy Austrian strawberries in season because they taste better and they come from nearby so have fewer food miles. This was easier when I lived in Graz because I only ever bought fruit at the farmers’ markets. In Vienna, I go to the supermarket because there are no farmers’ markets nearby. One supermarket carries Austrian strawberries in season and Spanish strawberries the rest of the year. I don’t know who picks the Austrian strawberries, but the supermarket strawberries grown in Spain are definitely picked by underpaid migrants. Since there were no Austrian strawberries available this week and KA didn’t want to come home empty-handed, he bought Spanish-grown strawberries. Their smell was aggressively in your face strawberry, and their texture was not that of a proper ripe berry. So I did something I rarely do: bake with strawberries.

Strawberry crisp: Slice 500g/1 pound strawberries and put in a baking dish. Mix 1 cup of rolled oats with 1/2 cup of ground almonds. Rub in 2 Tbsp butter and enjoy the even texture you get working with your hands. Cover the strawberries with the topping and bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 170°C/340°F or until fruit bubbles at the sides and the crisp is as golden brown as you like it.

Back in February, I finished knitting the pieces of a cardigan with an unusual construction. Last weekend, the spirit finally moved me to block and seam it. I took my time and am pretty satisfied with the seams. The merino-alpaca blend is so slinky that the cardigan refused to remain on a hanger for a picture. Wearing it feels like being wrapped in a soft blanket. It’s too warm now, but come fall it will keep me cozy. Certain Ravelers were unhappy with where the seams fall, and I get it. If I don’t tug the seams up onto my shoulders, the arms are too long and it feels odd. If I wear it out of the house, I will most likely need a pin to secure the generous collar together. I’m not sure I would recommend the pattern because of possible issues with fit, but it made for a pleasant knitting experience. It had been on my to knit list for years. Plus it was fun to knit something other than a top-down raglan; I proved to myself that I am capable of seaming sweaters and needn’t shy away from patterns with set in sleeves.

May you have a pleasant experience when trying something new!

And may someone please help me identify the tree in the picture above!

COVID Chronicles 8: Corona Buns

Just after the last blog post was published, a new bird came to visit: a common redstart (Gartenrotschwanz). I know very little about Phoenicurus phoenicurus and haven’t seen him since, but I was pleased that he posed so nicely for the camera. A part of me is sad about shops opening up and more people going back to work because I have enjoyed the more frequent and varied wildlife sightings. Yet last week I read an email from a friend that echoed my sentiments: She wishes she could just go shopping to look around and see what was there – not buy anything, not worry about covering up, just take a look. Unfortunately, it will still be a while before we can do that.

Reining in daydreams of browsing through stores with yarn and books, I pulled out some yeast and made panini di ramerino, rosemary raisin buns made in Tuscany on Holy Thursday. My original plan was to bake these on Easter Sunday, but at the last minute I decided I wanted a real holiday – even from baking or cooking – so Easter was a celebration of leftover (resurrected?) pizza. Ramerino is the Tuscan word for rosemary. In the spirit of avoiding food waste, I used some bought-fresh-but-dried-up-while-ignored sprigs that have been lying around for weeks. The dough rose beautifully. When I pulled the tray out of the oven, it struck me that with all those raisins poking out, each bun resembled a coronavirus. Let’s hope this delicious offering will appease the COVID-19 gods. The buns were so good I may bake them again as an excuse to use up the remaining desiccated rosemary.

Rosemary-raisin buns (from Heike Kügler-Anger’s Cucina vegana)

In a small bowl, crumble 42 g fresh yeast and mix with 1 Tbsp sugar and 50 ml lukewarm water until dissolved. Add 6 Tbsp flour. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, soak 150 g raisins in water. Mix together 500 g flour (a third of which is whole wheat flour), 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1 tsp dried rosemary. Add yeast mixture to the dough plus 200 ml lukewarm water and mix together. Drain the raisins well, add to the dough, and knead it until smooth. Let the dough rise 90 minutes.

Shape the dough into 8 round buns. Place on a baking sheet and let them rise 20 minutes. Bake 20 minutes at 180°C.

Taste tests in this apartment have indicated that the buns are good 1) alone 2) with white bean spread 3) with honey 4) with jam.

May you take something tasty out of your oven!

COVID Chronicles 7: Baking Alchemy

Maybe it’s easier to stay at home if you frame it as baking bread. For the recipe to turn out delicious, the dough must rest. But it’s not really resting. Critical chemical processes are at work below the surface. Bubbles form and burst, nudging the dough to grow and expand until it doubles in size. The ancient alchemists sought to transform “base” metals like lead into “noble” metals like gold. Modern cooks seek to change basic staples into tasty concoctions: flour, water, and salt into bread; flour, sugar, water, eggs, butter, raisins, and cherries into cake. After it emerges from the crucible of the oven, the end product is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

Commonly grown in Austria and Germany, spelt (Triticum spelta) is an ancient form of wheat derived from emmer and goat grass that is higher in protein than wheat. Its flour is readily available in supermarkets here, and many claim it is easier to digest than standard wheat. The raisin-cherry Gugelhupf above is made with wholemeal spelt flour, as is the loaf below. Paging through my kitchen notebook, I found a spelt loaf recipe that I made a few times and liked. The recipe does not call for 100% wholegrain flour, but that is what I used, upping the amount of water by 30 ml. The loaf turned out moist, dense, and rich in flavor. I have been toasting it and slathering it with white bean spread for breakfast. I’ll also use it to make Welsh rarebit (cheddar and beer sauce).

Simple Dinkelbrot: Dissolve 1 package of dry yeast or one cube of fresh yeast (42 grams) in 300 ml lukewarm water. Stir in 500 grams spelt flour. Let it rise one hour. Knead briefly and put in a baking tin or loaf pan. Let it rise one more hour. Preheat the oven to 170° C/340° F. Bake 40 minutes.

Two more chapters to go, then I will have reached the end of my journey through Germany from 1919 to 1939. I have my neighborhood bookseller to thank for the discovery of Julia Boyd’s enthralling Travellers in the Third Reich. It chronologically pieces together descriptions of the Germans and Germany found in the letters, diaries, and other writings of English-speaking foreigners who spent time in Germany between the first and second world wars. Samuel Beckett and Virigina Woolf were there, as were Charles Lindbergh, W.E.B. Du Bois, Diana and Unity Mitford (Check out The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovellfor another good read that encompasses all the political turmoil of the first half of the twentieth century and then some within one family.), and many others. Boyd has also written books on Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a degree from a medical college; the expat community in Beijing at the beginning of the 20th century; and Hannah Riddell, an Englishwoman who went to Japan as a missionary and became an advocate for lepers at the end of the 19th century. They all sound interesting and have been added to my booklist.

There have been two failed attempts to pick up the stitches around the v-neck of the cranberry pullover – apparently it’s not the right moment yet. The pigeon blue linen v-neck continues to grow. It is delightful to see the yarn coming out of the felted project bag I made while stashbusting last year.

May you experience an alchemical transformation while staying in place!

COVID Chronicles 5: Hoard of Lemons

Like the woodpecker, I turned my back on many an email and focused on getting through a busy work week. By Friday evening, I couldn’t stand the thought of looking at a screen anymore. My vertebrae were screaming for movement and rest. It was time to get busy in the kitchen.

Since reading 356 days’s post in February, I had wanted to try Claudia Roden’s recipe for orange and almond cake. It uses an unorthodox technique in that the orange is boiled for over hour until soft. Who would ever think of boiling a citrus fruit whole? The idea intrigued me. The (organic) lemons I hoarded a week or so ago needed attention, so I decided to halve the recipe and substitute two small lemons for one orange. It turned out amazing and moist. KA said it was the best cake he had had in awhile. What is an interesting coincidence: Roden’s cake is apparently a Sephardic recipe served at Passover, and Passover happens to start this week. Do any readers know more about orange cake as a Passover tradition? Jewish culinary traditions are not at all my area of expertise.

Last week was week three of our stay at home order. The good news is that it is working: today was the first day that there were more people in Austria who were considered cured of COVID-19 (new recoveries) than people who contracted the disease (new cases)! The bad news was that we started to tire of spaghetti with feta and garlic for lunch. The lemons came to the rescue and now we have a new fresh and tangy yet satisfying pasta dish on rotation. My version for two uses less fat and basil. And the rock hard end of a loaf of rye bread that had been on the kitchen counter for weeks finally disappeared: it landed in the food processor and became breadcrumbs.

Lemon spaghetti with breadcrumbs

Prepare 200g spaghetti or spaghettini following the instructions on the package. While the pasta cooks, dry roast 20g bread crumbs in a cast iron skillet until brown. Grate the zest from half a lemon and press out 2 tbsp lemon juice (half a lemon). When the pasta is done, mix it together with the lemon juice, lemon zest, and 2 tbsp olive oil. Top with bread crumbs and torn basil leaves. Salt and pepper to taste.

For a vegetarian instead of vegan meal, add some grated pecorino and/or a fried egg with a sprinkle of paprika.

Three and a half lemons to go. That sounds like a week of lemon pasta for lunch, plus another cake or cookies. Any recipe suggestions?

Wishing you a week of tasty lunches and the flattening of your national curve!

COVID Chronicles 3: Keep Pecking Away

The sky might appear ominous, but the sun is still shining. Sometimes beyond the clouds, sometimes in the opposite direction.

If you look hard enough, you just might see a great spotted woodpecker. And if you can’t see it, you can probably hear it as the noise of the industrialized world subsides. Dendrocopos major is the most common woodpecker in Austria. At a rate of 10 to 15 strikes per second, it is the fastest drummer. The ones that visit the tree outside my window are oblivious to humanity’s drama and continue about their routines.

My current routine starts with breakfast of white bean spread on toast, two Brazil nuts, and two dates, eaten while checking emails and catching up on the latest news. We all know we shouldn’t eat at our computers, but aren’t we humans good at knowing better and doing it anyway? Don’t we each think that we are the exception to the rule? Could that be part of how we have ended up in this predicament?

In the morning, the sourdough starter gets a stir and is fed a tablespoon of whole wheat flour. I have decided to build it up before embarking on baking bread. Every other day, I pour off half the starter and make sourdough pancakes for dinner. Then I replenish the starter by adding a cup of water and a cup of flour and stirring it again.

Lunch is either spaghetti with feta cheese, raw garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes or spiced red lentils and rice plus salad. After lunch I tend to knit a bit, and then it is back to the computer screen. At some point during the day, I take stock of what food should be used up next since avoiding food waste is actually one of the top actions we can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And these days we are all trying to avoid shopping any more than we need to for good reason.

Yesterday I made “healthy Nutella” out of a package of hazelnuts whose best by date is tomorrow: Put 150 grams/5 ounces hazelnuts in a food processor and blend several minutes until buttery. Add 3 pitted dates and 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder and continue to blend until smooth. No palm oil, no added sugar, and it tastes great on sourdough pancakes.

Other routine activities that don’t happen at the same time: qi gong, breathing exercises, skyping, cleaning, watching Dr. John Campbell’s latest YouTube video on COVID-19, taking a walk. At some point my mind will settle down enough that I can pick up a book again.

Good luck settling into a new routine!

And to repeat Dr. John Campbell: Two meters distance determines our existence!

COV Chronicles 2: Things I Am Thankful For

The view out the living room window. Our building is set back from the street, which isn’t very busy. We have a good view of the sidewalk and S-Bahn tracks so we can watch the world go by, but more importantly there are bushes already in bloom and trees. The longer we have to shelter in place, the greener the view will become.

The birds singing in the trees. This small group of trees attracts a wide variety of birds. Tuesday I heard the first blackbird song of the year – can you find it in the trees above? I couldn’t. One of my goals for the next few months is to learn to identify more birds by their calls.

The resident green woodpecker (Grünspecht). Unlike most woodpeckers, Picus viridis doesn’t mainly drum into tree trunks. Instead, it feeds on the ground using its 10cm/4 inch long tongue (which when not in use is wrapped around its head – I kid you not) to bore into the earth and catch unsuspecting ants. My rooks may be gone, but now I can listen to the green woodpecker yaffle throughout the day. Isn’t the English language amazing? I was delighted to find out that there is a specific word for the loud, laughing cry of the green woodpecker: yaffle. The yaffler above is a female. A male would have red on its cheeks instead of just black.

The shrivelled up white beans past their expiration date. I challenge all readers to find something that has been languishing in your pantry, make something delicious, and leave a comment about your culinary project. I soaked them over 24 hours and cooked them in the pressure cooker. They turned out perfectly creamy – a pleasant surprise. For two jars of bean spread (one of which can go in the freezer), blend together 4 cups cooked white beans with 2 cloves garlic, the juice of 1 lemon, 1 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, and 1/2 tsp. salt. It goes well on toast but also works as a pasta sauce as a change from tomato sauce.

Being an early bird. I ventured out to the supermarket today for the first time since last Friday. The early bird indeed catches the worm – but not tomato sauce. I was one of just three people waiting to get in when the doors opened at 7:15. I found everything on my list but noticed the shelves with processed tomato products were completely empty. I guess it’s not just toilet paper, pasta, and flour that some people are hoarding.

That I am gradually reading less news and knitting more. This past week I have spent too much time on the computer – getting in touch with family and friends, which was positive, and consuming an inordinate amount of information on COVID-19 and its spread, which was negative. As I picked up my knitting yesterday and got going again, a calmness and sense of purpose returned with every row I knit. The red linen v-neck is finally starting to look like a shirt. There is still a ways to go, but I have navigated the continguous increases and it should be smooth sailing from now on.

May you eat something delicious with ingredients rescued from the depths of your pantry!

Don’t Be Sour

KA and I welcomed this basil plant into our kitchen this week. It was time for another supermarket herb plant in my life. I have good luck with basil. But since I end up abandoning it for weeks at a time when I go to the U.S. and have no one with a green thumb to take care of it while I am away, this has meant the six month survival rate of kitchen herbs is null. Still, the life expectancy of these supermarket plants is short to begin with; in most cases, a basil plant doesn’t survive one pesto genovese, so I like to think this one is getting a better deal.

We’ve watched a few documentaries on bread and rolls and mass production of baked goods this past week. I have decided to make sourdough bread again. Yesterday I consulted Sandor Katz’s classic Wild Fermentation and then mixed together 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of water to prep the sourdough starter. I stir it whenever I happen to think of it. There should be bubbles in a few days. If you try this yourself, make sure the water is not heavily chlorinated and use a whole grain flour where the whole grain part has not been removed and then reintroduced to white flour (i.e. like much flour sold as whole wheat in the U.S.). The yeast is in the air and in your kitchen, so you don’t need to add it yourself. Here’s to our friends, the microorganisms: There would be no bread, no cheese, no sauerkraut without them.

It surprised me how blue I felt when Elizabeth Warren bowed out of the presidential race last week. Blue as in down, not Democrat. Sad that it will be at least four more years before it is possible for a woman to take over at the rudder and right the course. To deal with this surprise grief, I baked a sour cherry and cocoa cake. I am still tinkering with the basic recipe I mentioned a few weeks ago. This one had more flavor than the last but needs a bit more tweaking before I am completely satisfied. KA gave it the thumbs up, so I guess it is good enough to dedicate to Kamala, Amy, and Elizabeth. Thanks to your efforts, we are getting closer.

In knitting news, I am finally authorized to share a picture of the pullover I test knit in February: Hedgewood. It was my first test knit and I thoroughly enjoyed the process. It did me good to funnel all my knitting energy into just one project at a time. But towards the end, I vowed that my next project would involve zero cables. The pieces of the cardigan below are cable-free and just need blocking and sewing.

Wishing you peaceful coexistence with the microorganisms around you!

Spot the Rook

The tree outside the living room window is losing leaves quickly. In another week, it will no longer be possible to play spot the rook. The branches will be bare and there will be no place to hide. Each gust of wind on this blustery day releases more leaves, but it is time. What a beautiful golden autumn it has been!

Belated birthday gifts are a real treat, especially when they bring color and blossoms into the household. Even though it happens every year, the continual disappearance of daylight comes as a shock. The darkness brings a reprieve from everything but knitting socks. This top-down pair repurposes wool from Pomeranian Coarsewool sheep scavenged from a cardigan no longer worn. The pattern is Elizabeth Zimmermann’s classic Woodsman’s Socks.

I do not have a pronounced sweet tooth, and when I do crave junk food, it is usually of the salted potato variety. But I follow through on intuitions and inspirations, and this year I have the urge to bake. Come 3 or 4 PM, it is Kaffee und Kuchen time. In my book, drinking coffee this late in the day is a recipe for disaster, and I marvel at people whose sleep is unaffected by such behavior. But a little bit of sweetness to tide you over until dinner is a welcome way of dealing with the precocious nights of November. I started with a specific recipe but unintentionally flubbed the order in which the ingredients were supposed to be added. I also decided to forgo separating the eggs and adding even more dishes to the dirty dish pile. Despite the improvising, it turned out tasty (if a bit too sweet). Next time I would use less sugar and increase the amount of buckwheat flour in the flour mix.

Thursday Apple-Buckwheat Cake (to use up butter, eggs, and sorghum)

Beat 90 grams sugar, 80 grams sorghum (substitute honey or molasses), and 150 grams melted butter. Add 2 eggs. Mix in 150 grams all-purpose wheat flour, 50 grams of buckwheat flour, and 1 teaspoon baking powder. Stir in two diced apples. Add 50 ml water to make up for the third egg in the original recipe that you don’t have but really need to thin the batter. Pour in a greased baking dish. Decorate with another sliced apple. Bake at 180°C for 45 minutes.

Enjoy modifying a recipe so it matches what’s in your pantry and happy birdspotting!

Runs on Chestnuts

The past few weeks my body has been craving chestnuts. This might be a sign that I need more B vitamins; chestnuts are rich in thiamin (B1), pyridoxine (B6), niacin (B3), and riboflavin (B2). They are also quite high in vitamin C. Since the chestnut flour I normally buy from an Austrian store will no longer be restocked, I bought the last four packages at one of their branches, starting my own chestnut flour stockpile so I can regularly eat castagnaccio for breakfast. My version for one small cake: Mix 85 grams chestnut flour with enough water to create a somewhat thin batter. Add 25 grams each raisins and pine nuts. Pour in a small baking form greased with olive oil and sprinkle with dried rosemary. Bake in the oven 30-40 minutes until the top of the cake has cracked open. Savor each bite. Mean to share then succumb and eat it all up yourself.

The indigo pullover is coming along nicely. My goal is to finish it by the end of next week. Other projects have been laid aside so I can concentrate my entire knitting energy on it. I enjoyed rolling a second center pull yarn ball with the assistance of two pens. It turned out rounder and more professional looking than last week’s teal ball. This tickled me so much that I even dreamed that I was in a yarn store and stopped the clerk from winding a skein I was buying because I wanted the pleasure of preparing my own ball. So there: sometimes it’s the simple things in life that make you happy.

In real life, I was in a yarn store too, and discounted yarn struck again. I picked up enough of a discontinued merino/cashmere blend to make a beret and scarf set. I’ve made mitts and a scarf with this yarn before and couldn’t pass it up. A part of me likes the idea of buying what is on the sales rack, the idea of using up what has been ignored or rejected or isn’t deemed as valuable as it once was, of making use of what is already here. Like cotton, cashmere is wonderful to wear but its production comes at a high ecological cost. I feel like the discussion in the online knitting/crocheting community hasn’t quite gotten going yet about the true cost of producing yarn. It is going to come up sooner or later. As for me, I’ve decided to continue to work with cashmere in the sales bin but not to buy cashmere new.

Indulge in any seasonal food cravings and feel no guilt about not sharing!