Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Weed or Not? Dandelion Jelly and Bruschetta.

It was my day off today.  I slept until 8:30, which is sleeping in for me.  I had no plans.  But somehow, as I was lying in bed, I remembered that I have heard of people cooking with dandelions.  I also remembered that dandelions are very healthy.  And I also remembered seeing an abundance of dandelions growing along the edges of the apple orchards when I went for a run yesterday.  So this led to me looking through recipe and mouthwatering recipe for braised dandelion greens, dandelion bruschetta, dandelion pesto, and finally, dandelion jelly.  These recipes were enough to force me out of the warm depths of my bed to go on a dandelion hunt.  I donned my rubber boots, for it was lightly drizzling outside, grabbed a couple buckets, stopped my the kitchen where I work for some advice from one of the chefs, and then started the short walk to the apple orchards.  I have never felt more natural, organic, peaceful, and 'at one with the earth' before.  By the way, because of my sarcastic nature and my opposition to anything so called cheesy, I never use the phrase 'at one with the earth' without a heavily sarcastic tone.  But I did feel very relaxed and calm.
After filling one plastic bucket with dandelion greens and one with the sunny flowers, I walked back, making a quick stop at the organic foods store near my flat to pick up an orange and a lemon for my jelly.  Now it was time to begin.  I am not including the recipes for the jelly or the bruschetta here because neither one turned out ideal, but I still plan to play around with them, so if I figure out the perfect way, I'll be sure to let you know.  So for now, this post is just a story of my day.
A cup of my favorite tea was the best companion...
 First I started with the flowers.  To make the jelly, you must remove all the petals, but be careful not to include any of the green parts, as they are very bitter.  It took a bit for me to get the hang of it and to figure out the best way to do that.  It was rather relaxing, though, to stand at my kitchen counter, watch the rain fall on the cherry trees below, and hear nothing but my thoughts and the rain...oh and the pounding of the workers on the roof next door to me.

 I boiled about a liter of water and then added the petals and slices of orange and lemon.

After this cooked for about 10 minutes, I took it from the heat, strained it through a towel, and cooled it in the sink with cold water.

Then I returned it to the heat and added a bit of vanilla and the sugar and pectin mix that you can buy here in Germany.  This is where I believe I messed up with the jelly.  I added enough to make it the correct sweetness, but I guess it was not enough to make it jell properly.  So now my jelly looks wonderful, but is more like a thick syrup. But it tastes pretty darn delicious!  Maybe I'll have to try it on pancakes!  I did still pour it into four jars and seal them by putting the lid on immediately and then putting them upside down to cool.
Here are a couple abnormal dandelions... The bottom one has one stem, but 9 flowers!

After I had finished with the jelly, cleaned the kitchen, and done all the dishes, I was more than a little hungry for lunch.  So I washed all of the greens and trimmed off the stems.  Then I steamed them for a couple minutes to soften them a bit.  I cooked one small onion and a bit of garlic in a pan with some olive oil until they were a bit brown and then added the greens.  I seasoned them with a bit of salt and pepper and squeezed a bit of lemon juice over the top.  I tasted it at this point and they were still quite bitter, so I sprinkled in a tiny bit of sugar and a small drizzle of red wine vinegar.  This truly improved the flavor.  I had gotten some whole wheat bread from the freezer, so I toasted up a few thin slices of it.  Then I chopped some fresh tomato and put this on the toast with a crumble of parmesan cheese.  Finally I added the cooked greens.  They turned out very yummy, but very difficult to eat.  The green were still quite tough, so I think when I try it next time, I will cut them up a bit more and maybe steam them longer.  I ended up having to take huge bites because I could not bite through the greens!  But the flavor was top notch so I will be trying it again.  I imagine a goat cheese would taste wonderful with the dandelion greens also.  All in all, a successful day...

Liechtenstein: the Real-Life Fairyland.

Again it has been pretty long since I've posted anything, but instead of apologizing and feeling bad like I have previously, I'm just going to say that I've been having to much fun in the real world to bother with the virtual one.  But now I have something to share and the time to do so...
Well, my story starts a couple months back when I had a friend tell me that he was in Liechtenstein, and like you may be thinking, I went, "Wow, where is that again?"  So I pulled up Google maps and discovered that it is not horribly far from where I am living.  Here's a map that shows it's location in case you're wondering:
After realizing the country's close proximity to me, I started looking into how long it would take to get there. It was just an idea in the back of my head, though, until I mentioned it to a friend and coworker of mine.  He thought it was a brilliant idea and started looking more seriously at trains.  He found that it would be 45 euro roundtrip for each of us, which is a little bit pricey for us a daytrip.  Then I realized that it might be cheaper to rent a car for a day.  So we looked at car companies and found that you can rent a Smart car for a day for only 70 euro, so when we split that it, was much cheaper.  Also the first 300 kilometers are free, so we decided to not just stop at Liechtenstein but to continue on to St. Gallen, Switzerland and Konstance, Germany.
So we decided to just go for it and picked April 21st (last Saturday) for our mini adventure.  Even though the weather report for all of the Bodensee region was for rain, we ended up having brilliantly beautiful sunshine that hit all of the snowy peaks of the Alps.  We set out at about 9 a.m. and returned at about 730 p.m. with several stops along the way.  
Liechtenstein is the second richest country per capita in the world, so it turned out to be a country that had a very dream-like feel to it.  The birds were singing, the sun was shining, the flowers were blooming, and all seemed right with the world.  Because of the country's excess of wealth, all of the streets, houses, and gardens were impeccably well kept.  Most of the cars that drove past were Audi's, BMW's, Mercedes, and Jaguar, with the occasional 'normal' car.  It seems nothing bad every happens there...  
I've included some of the best photos from our trip so maybe you can enjoy a bit of our trip too.
Bocksberg, Austria - I hiked this mountain a couple of weeks ago.


The Austria-Liechtenstein border

First picture in Liechtenstein

Like I said, sun shining, birds singing, flowers blooming, etc.

View from the front of a church, Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein Castle - You cannot tour it, as the prince still lives there.

Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Snow blowing off the mountains

On the red carpet in St. Gallen, Switzerland

St. Gallen, Switzerland

The Bodensee, Konstance, Germany

Michi and I before we left.  Oh, and they were out of Smart cars, so we got a Ford Fiesta.
It turned out to be loads of fun, and we had no problems whatsoever.  Now I can officially say I have been to another country!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Something to think over.

I just want to quickly share with you all something I jut read, literally about two minute ago. It is so profound and heartbreaking, that it makes me want to spring into action.
The following paragraph is from Phillip Yancey's book, What's So Amazing About Grace. This story came from a friend of his who worked in Chicago.

A prostitute cam to see me in wretched atraits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter - two years old! - to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable - I'm required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to day to this woman.
At last, I asked if she ever thought of going to church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. "Church!" she cried. "Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They'd just make me feel worse."

So what are we going to do? Pray for people like this? Hand them a Bible? What if instead, when we saw people who are alone, hungry, cold, sick, or suffering, we stopped and took time from our day to buy them food or socks or a blanket or maybe just talk to them and show that we care? Just a thought... Now what will we do?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Let's Just Graze All Day.

...And I am a foodaholic.  It is official.  I am hooked on food.  Sometimes I dream about it at night...or during the day...or not just sometimes but all the time.  Because I work around food, I often am sparked with new ideas for recipes, sauces, desserts, etc. while I am working, and then I have to try them as soon as I get done with work.  Therefore people call me crazy because I even spend my free time cooking or baking.  Ok, I am getting a bit off track.  My point is that I really, truly love food and I am very thankful that I have some self-control or I would easily be well over 600 pounds.

Anyways, for the last week I have been confined to my apartment because of some nasty virus that picked my as it's victim.  I didn't eat much for the first few days, but as soon as my fever was gone, I became quite hungry, and since I had nothing else to do, I took to looking at recipes and pictures of mouth-watering dishes on Pinterest.  And as soon as I was able to do more than stumble to the kitchen for some toast and a banana, I started using what small amounts of food I had in my kitchen in an attempt to re-create the wonderful world that I saw on my laptop.  I made some tasty Oowy Gooey 1 Minute Vegan Chocolate Cake, 5 Minute Microwave Cornbread, (note the common theme: easy, fast, and oh, easy), pasta with tomato sauce, and some killer oatmeal.  Oh feel free to follow me on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/littlebird32/.

To sum up, now that I am feeling up to more time and labor intensive cooking tasks, I decided to buy some fresh, organic spinach from a little health food store in my neighborhood.  I washed the crisp, dark green leaves and mixed a strawberry vinaigrette of strawberry jam, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and some spices.  I topped off my salad with some slivered almonds.  Let's just put it this way: it was fantastic.

Before I made my salad, though, I decided that I needed to make some granola.  I normally make granola bars, since they are easier to grab when I run out the door for work at a painfully early hour of the morning.  During my state of delirium in bed (maybe I'm exaggerating just the tiniest bit), I found I was suddenly craving a good, solid, crunchy, nut-filled granola.  And since it turned out pretty darn good, I'm just going to share the recipe with you.  I am really happy with how it turned out.  I wanted something with lots of big nuts to add a strong texture, so I left the almonds and hazelnuts pretty big.  The banana adds a good kick of sweetness and just a smallest hint of banana without being overwhelming.  I threw in sunflower seeds, coconut, and the chopped hazelnuts just because I wanted to used up the small amounts I had.  So you could easily leave them out or substitute other nuts and seeds in their place.  Feel free to be creative!  Oh and I never measure when I'm making granola, so the amounts are a bit estimated.

Crunch-Crunch-Yum Granola

1 ripe banana
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 Tbsp bran
1 Tbsp ground flaxseed
1 Tbsp sunflower seeds
2 Tbsp finely chopped hazelnuts
1 Tbsp unsweetened coconut
1-2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup almonds, halved
1/4 cup whole hazelnuts

1.  Preheat oven to 200 C (about 380 F).
2.  Mash banana until smooth in large bowl.  Add all other wet ingredients and mix well.
3.  Add all dry ingredients and mix well.
4.  Pour granola on large baking sheet covered with baking paper or Silpat and spread out evenly.
5.  Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and stir.
6.  Return to oven and bake for another 5 minutes, but watch it as it can burn easily.
7.  Enjoy with milk or yogurt and fruit.

Ok, that's all for now, my friends!  Adieu! 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Here's to you...

This one's for you, Daniel, so you had better read this...

So I am still getting used to this no-Facebook thing, but thus far, I am truly liking it.  Already a few times a day, I have thought to myself, "Oh maybe I should make ___ my Facebook status!"  Then I remember I no longer have a Facebook to update my status on, so therefore I must share my thoughts with real people in the real world.  It has been very enlightening so far and has actually shown me a bit of my own character...

In other news, I am currently stretching after the run that begins my 9 months of training for my marathon.  It just happens to be a simply beautiful day here in Germany and has warmed up a bit so I was able to shed some of the layers I have been forced to run with for the last few weeks.  The sunshine was a huge bonus because after a very short night (especially for a sleep-lover like myself), I was feeling slightly worn out after work.  But still I laced up my trusty Nike running shoes and hit the streets.  Fortunately, it was not very long before I was feeling fantastic and enjoying the view (after a tough uphill run) of the sun-drenched  Bodensee and the Alps beyond.  Now I am enjoying the wonderful feeling of stretching out my tired limbs and am actually looking forward to my day of cross-training tomorrow!

One other semi-major change in my life will happen in 2 short days, on February 22nd.  As many of you know, that is the first day of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday.  Many people give up something, such as sweets, bread, music, etc. as a sacrifice to remember Jesus' ultimate sacrifice of death for us all (meaning EVERYONE, no just Christians, Jews, etc.).  I have never given anything up for Lent before, but when one of my friends told me what they were doing, I considered it.  They told me about an organization called Blood: Water Mission.  This organization is helping to provide clean water to people in Africa.  So their idea is to give up all drinks except water and save all the money you would have spent on coffee, wine, tea, beer, and any other drinks besides water, for forty days.  Then at the end of the forty days, you donate all the money you saved to Africa for clean water, and you also get to enjoy a hot cup of Joe (or hot drink of your choice) on Easter morning.  I think it is pretty brilliant because it is a good sacrifice for me and gives to a very good cause.  I'd love it you would think about it, and if you want more info, go to www.bloodwatermission.com/40days.

The last thing that I must share for the benefit of a friend of mine named Daniel Paul.  This 26 year old man is from Manitoba, Canada, and insisted that I inform you all of a new nickname of mine: Robin's Egg Blue.  Embarrassing as it is to admit, I actually responded to it the other day... Depressing.

Well I have a lovely little bowl of raspberries with milk awaiting me, so I will sign off...  Adieu.