Friday, January 24, 2014

Book review: Life is a blender, by Yana Berlin

Call me unlucky or without a good choice in books, but all the parenting books I've read by now were too self-sufficient and extremely subjective, plus written on a lecturing tone that I don't fancy in any situations, but most specifically when it comes to parenting ideas. On the one hand, it makes sense to lecture, especially when your children are grown up and you can see already the achievements of your educational techniques. However, it may not work for everyone and the humble observation of this simple fact could be a beginning of a honest writing.
Despite my unfriendly observations, I enjoyed a couple of advices by Yana Berlin's Life is a blender. The most important is how to succeed in creating a family out of two different halves of other families. Without a proper balance and a lot of wisdom, the conflicts are predictable and the overall family ambiance can turn into a nightmare for all the members of the household. In her own words: 'A blended family requires a lot of work, patience, understanding, perseverance and open communication, but the first step is embracing the fact that all of you are one unit'. 

Do what's the best for you and the children

Another wise advise is to not insist to stay together while keeping repeating in denial that you do it 'for the sake of the children'. Sooner or later, the children will be the first victims of this situation. The family patterns are most likely transmitted from a generation to another and it is important to offer to the children a good and fair inspiration: 'Children are like sponges. They observe and learn from what they see happening around them'. And this is also true: 'There are no bad kids, but there are a lot of unfit parents out there'. I will not judge parenthood too harsh too, as each parent is special, as the children are too and learning how to deal and educate other persons is not something to judge in black and white.
I also agree with the general aim of her parenthood journey: 'raising your kids to be happy, honest and successful adults - adults who will want to continue the family bond throughout their lives'. After all, we all want this for our children, but our family, social and sometimes even political circumstances are openly preventing it from happening. 

Grounded in your corner? Not my cup of tea!

Berlin herself was born in the then Soviet Union, part of a Jewish family that was lucky to be allowed to escape the country to the Western world. The overall pedagogical knowledge in the old country is dramatically different to the ways in which the Western family patterns developed. Asking your child to time-out in a corner for a while as a punishment - in my old country, the custom was to ask the kid to stay on his/her knees on some nuts shells (sounds crazy but I saw kindergarden children being grounded like this) - sounds cruel or simply not outstandingly smart for a Western reader. Somehow, I bet the efficiency is almost nil. Most smart is to create weekly and daily habits when the family is gathering together - the Friday evening Shabbes meal is an example - and to share responsibilities between the members. 

'First parent, later friend'

I also agree with her three principles, even I would have expected more clarifications and advice about number one, for instance: '1. First parent, later friend; 2. Discipline; 3. Keep being consistent while reasonable and loving'.
As for the number one, a good friend of mine and an experienced therapist, told me the same, adding that: 'A child has only one mother, but can make many friends later'. I fully agree with the theories, but I am still looking how to find the right balance. 

The problematic professional directions

If till now I was relatively sympathetic and understood most part of the advices, the ideas about the professional orientation are, in my opinion, wrong for more than one reason. Yana Berlin says that the parents should decide mostly which school is the best for their children and to plan together the best financial coverage of the study years. True is that in the Western world, the issue of paying for the high education are bothering and a burden to be carried even for more than a decade after finishing the study years. 
'If your financial situation doesn't allow you to put your kids through school, help them make the right choices by choosing affordable yet credible school while borrowing as little money as possible'. What about delaying the entrance to the university and working for a while till you have enough funds to pay part of your studies? Or working during university? Or simply being bold and good enough to get a scholarship? 
On the other hand, one can be happy nowadays, without an academic education and there are many examples of people who didn't have one and still achieving social success.
There are many solutions and I think that this limited perspective doesn't help too much. 
Overall, it was an interesting lecture, but I still have so many questions non-answered that I will insist to search for a simple yet less lecturing type of parenting book.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Playing with sauces

The winter is having an ugly, cold and unexpected comeback and I don't dare to stay outside for too long. But that's all for the good, because I can finally test some ideas that I wanted to try for a long time. And this is how I open a new chapter of my cooking experience: sauces.

We have pasta very often, but from time to time we are having enough and an improvisation is necessary. As I recently read a whole book dedicated to sauces, by Peter Auer, I decided to use the knowledge not only for improving my German, but also for a different cooking experience. 
Predictably, my pasta needed a creative tomato sauce.
From a recipe shared on page 94 in the book, I created my own combination:
9 little tomatoes
7 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 slices of ginger, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder from a package generously offered by Spice Kitchen UK
1/4 veggie margarine
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 big spoon of oil with parsley

Add the tomatoes to boiling water and let them together for around 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add all the ingredients in a pan and mix them slowly. 
After 5 minutes only, the kitchen will smell beautifully and the appetite will increase accordingly.

Add the tomatoes and mix up for another 10 minutes.

It serves two hot portions.
Lesson learned: probably more water would have add more fluidity to the entire composition. But it tastes good and the result was highly appreciated. 
Tahini sauce is one of my obsessions after I ate to a good restaurant a proper fish soaked in a similar but even more delicious sauce. I carefully selected ingredients and check for recipes and I finally produced my own version:

juice from 1/2 lemon
1 slice ginger, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cumin from the package generously offered by Spice Kitchen UK
1 cup of tahini pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a pan at a maximum temperature, mix all the ingredients and stir slowly for around 10 minutes. 
It serves 2 and it more than delicious.
Lesson learned: as in the previous case, I felt the lack of water and probably a new version will be tested soon, as this is one of those recipes to fell in love to. 

Bon Appétit!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Baked polenta fries, Joy of Kosher style

I must confess that me and polenta we don't have too much in common. Or at least it's what I thought so for a couple of good years. We rarely eat polenta at home, as my mother always kept telling that 'we are not that poor' - as in the Eastern European countryside it used to be a replacement for bread. As for me, I was able to go beyond this stereotype, but was faced instead with my inability to create a good looking polenta. You know, this type of round compact mass of polenta that I jealously spotted on cookbooks. But, this time, something happened...
As usual when I am out of inspiration and feel not too skilful, Joy of Kosher is my reservoir of resources. This was my guarantee that I can have high chances to do produce some successful baked polenta fries.
I mixed in a bowl the following ingredients:
- 4 cups of water - the recipe says that milk can be good too
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 1 1/2 cup of polenta
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of za'atar
- 100 gr. grated cheese/parmesan
I stirred permanently for almost 30 minutes, at a 150C. 
The result was awesome: the best looking polenta ever. Couldn't stop taking pictures of it, but since then, I avoided to try a new one afraid of being disappointed. I also tasted a little piece and was pleased with the taste combination as well. 
I left it to rest for a little bit - around 20 minutes - and sliced it into smaller parts. Baked on all sides in a pan with olive oil at 250C for another 15-20 minutes. Compared to the original recipe, I did not want to bake it too deeply, as I was told not to use too much oil. However, the result was tasty, fit for salads and some fish meals. 
I did not cut it too finely, so I made around 20 sticks, some of them disappearing before being arranged for the photo opportunity. 

Bon Appétit!

Poppy seeds and pomegranate cake

It's one of those Fridays again. Challos are done and looking good, the rest of the meals for Shabbos are also ready, but I need a sweet touch to the menu. I need to use the available ingredients, and to do it fast, in less than 3 hours. What should I do? Just enjoy the pleasure of living in the 21st century and search the easiest recipe on the Internet.
I did find an interesting idea, an Apple Bourbon cake by Levana Kirschenbaum, but I don't have most of the ingredients. In such cases, my creating mind is working fast and well to find a solution.

The result was my following combination of ingredients:

- 4 big eggs
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 cup and 1/2 brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon saffron backing powder
- 3 cups flour, all-purpose
- 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
- 150 gr. poppy seeds
- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

While mixing the ingredients, one by one, I roasted some 150 gr. almonds for the cover.

Baked in the oven for around 1 hour, at 250C. Maybe the cover was a bit burned out, but loved the crunchy almonds and the crust so it was good for me.
To be served with coffee and tea. The quantity can hardly make happy 4 hungry citizens. 
The total preparation time is of maximum 1 hr. 15.

Bon Appétit!

Goat cheese salad with roasted pumpkin

It is morning and I am a little bit late, with quite a busy schedule for the next days. But breakfast is for me one of the most important meal of the day, and the only one when I can quietly enjoy every bit while checking e-mails, updating social media statuses or simply thinking about the rest of the day.
The usual breakfast menu should include coffee, some sandwiches and eventually some fruits or something sweet. Today, I have something else in mind, and I took the risk of a rush before my first assignment for preparing one of the recipes I had in my mind for at least 2 months.This time, I am ready with all the ingredients, and even something more.
I saw a variant of this salad to a 'green restaurant' around, and was dreaming since about preparing my own. 

The original variant included:
lettuce - I used instead lambs lettuce made in France, my latest addiction, because it is more delicate and have a better taste than the classical variant - 200 gr.
roasted pumpkin - this takes the longest part of the preparation - around 20 minutes. I roasted it first - 15 minutes maximum heat - on the heating machine, on a pan with olive oil, and kept it in the oven for another 5 minutes, at 250C. I used half of a relatively small Hokkaido sort
goat cheese, sliced - on taste

I added:
za'atar - 1 tablespoon
1/2 avocado, finely sliced
roasted almonds, mildly roasted in the pan for 5 minutes at maximum heat
6 medium sized tomatoes, sliced in quarters
pomegranate seeds, on taste

It serves around 3 big portions. 
You can add a slice of black bread toast too. 
It can be a side dish for lunch and supper too. The goat cheese is hard enough for me for leaving space for something else, so preferred to have it simple.  

Bon Appétit!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Time for a cup of tea - Rooibos Tea Sahne Karamell, by Rossmann

I am doing my best to understand and taste more teas, and for now, I am on the good way. At least once in a while I am testing a new sort trying to read the flavours and understand the pleasantness. 
A couple of weeks ago, I dared to have one, two, three times a special kind of Rooibos Tea: Sahne Karamell, available at the usual Rossmann drugstore. 
As usual, I did not add any sugar, even I am sure that a little bit of brown one doesn't hurt. I left the little bag for around 6 minutes. At the first gulp, it has a very rich taste that gets better and better till the end of the experience. 
One of the reasons why I usually avoid teas sometimes, is because I am easily disappointed when I see that it smells much stronger and better than it tastes. It is almost the same in this case, but somehow, good enough to reduce my disappointment by half.
It is preferably in the evening, with some biscuits for a change. 

Ready for Tu B'Shvat - and some funny decorations ideas

I love Tu B'Shvat because it announces the spring, my favourite season of the year. Although born on Purim and very happy to celebrate it each time, Tu B'Shvat, which starts tonight, is more a bit more far away of the Pesach cleaning.  
Usually, I don't cook too much on this day, either because we are always invited to some nice seder, or simply because I always prefer to enjoy more veggie and fruity meals. 
This time, I prepared a salad with few of the main ingredients requested for this holiday:

It has a very simple recipe: baby salad leaves, roasted almonds, pomegranate seeds, olive oil, tomatoes and cashew nuts. The preparation of the roasted almonds takes around 10 minutes, and the overall preparation maximum 15. I will continue with some special meals for tomorrow's lunch and will be back with more fancy recipes. 

Each year, we keep the tradition of buying new - and sometimes exotic fruits. As we already tried maybe too many special ones, we reached almost the limit of the choices in the old Europe. We spent the last Tu B'Shvat in London and went to Harrods for finding the unique fruits. This year we made some serious investigations at the Berlin equivalent - the glorious KDW - and ended up with some Latin American good looking fruits: mellow fruit (the yellow one) and tomate de arbol (a kind of tomato that grows in the tree). Will write more after we will taste it tonight. 
Our fruit basket looks like this:

We have there raisins, pears, dates, figs, apricots, kiwi, dried grapes.
As on the occasion of every holiday, I enjoy very much the family moments, not only when we cook and think together about the menu, but also the special gatherings when we try to make some decorations together. I did my best to calm the enthusiasm for too many of them, warning that we need more energy and ideas to be kept for Purim. 
However, we succeeded to have some colourful painted balloons, hanging some garlands over the living room table that usually is my little home office. Also, we decided to change completely a very modest basket, with some blue and red flowers adorned on all sides.
We bought the small pieces and the basket for less than 8 EUR, after a tour of the most convenient stores we found in Berlin: Strauss, Rossmann, McGeiz and Nanu Nana. It is the season of sales and thus we got some pretty good deals. 

The green wire used for attaching the flowers is both strong and looks good with the beige of the basket. With it, we hanged the flowers randomly around the edges. It was fun without taking too much precious time while giving me a relaxing time after relatively hectic last days.
The last but not least piece of decoration for this Tu B'Shvat is a colourful painting made by lovely S.: a free inspiration and cute combination of colours. 

Hag Sameach everyone!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Getting used with parsnips

I never had parsnips before, but the last week I decided to buy a couple of them and wait a little bit for some inspiration. When you never tasted something before and as I always prefer to rely on my own experiences, I did not know what to expect. I was rather thinking about something similar to potatoes, due to the frequency of recipes recommending parsnips chips as a favourite meal.
After some documentation and a couple of seconds of thinking, I decided to bake them.
I proceeded as follows:
Washed and cut the two ends of the parnsnips, and also grated a bit as the skin didn't look very cookable.
I spread on a pan an aluminium baking sheet.
Set the temperature of the oven at 250C and waited it to get warm for at least 5 minutes before starting the baking. 
Sliced the parsnips into little pieces.
Spread around 2 tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and washed a bit the parsnips on both sides.
Added also an impressive amount of za'atar. Instead one can also use oregano, Cayenne pepper, or only salt. 
I leaved it in the oven and checked for every 10 minutes turning the parsnips on all sides in order to be sure that all parts are baked properly.
After around 20 minutes, the parsnips were done, but couldn't resist to spread some grated cheese.
I would say that my first encounter with parsnips was encouraging: it tastes as a mild type of sweet potatoes, it gives the feeling of satiety (even though was thinking to match it with some tilapia fish left overs from Shabbes). 
The second batch is already done and would try to improve my experience in the coming months, for sure.

Bon Appétit!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Beauty corner: home made face mask

My mother rarely used expensive cosmetics, but her face looked till her early 60s without wrinkles and always fresh. She haven't been to beauty parlours either, but still, taking care of her face was her daily priority and she taught us from an early age that for a woman, the face is a precious asset that we should take care of. 
I haven't followed her advice too often and I rather prefer to book an hour or professional cosmetics than to look for my own tips. After all, I am working all round the year and at least once in a while I should offer myself little beauty presents.
However, in the last months, I got more interest in more healthy and beauty tips and I am right now in process of trying various masks and easy wellness ideas that can be prepared at home.
Part of my resolution, I discovered in the December issue of Women's Day an interesting and extremely easy recipe of face mask that answers many of the challenges of the winter time.

First, I started by cleaning the face with my Rival de Loop wet napkins and let my skin to relax till I added the ingredients, as follows:

1 tbsp. honey
Honey is a valuable ingredient for many face care products. Among others, it slows down the process of ageing, it moistures and brings glow to the skin while it also opens the pores.

1 tbsp. coconut water  
I don't like the taste of it, but it has several important benefits for the skin, such as anti-ageing, moisturising, improves the oxygen circulation, counter the oily skin and contributes to the treatment of acne and blemishes.

1 tbsp. liquid glycerine
As my pharmacist clarified, it is highly recommended for improving the skin hydration.

1 egg
Eggs are commonly used as ingredients of various face masks, mostly for their strong concentration of derivatives of vitamin B and its contribution to strengthening of the skin tissue.

I mixed all the ingredients for 1 minute and started to apply it on the skin and neck (a part that I often forget to include on the checking-beauty list). Waited for 20-25 minutes and after rinsed with water. Be careful with cleaning, as the honey may insist to stay longer on your face. 

After a couple of minutes, the skin looked shining and relaxed and very smooth and it continues to be so two days after applying it.

The costs of one time mask is ridiculously cheap, as the price for the entire basket of ingredients is less than 10 EUR and most probably I can use them every week for at least 2 months.  

It suits every type of skin and can offer equally a good summer skin protection. Given the fast and long standing effects, I expect to include this mask as part of my Friday fix from a good time from now.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Beauty testing: Hand care LeCorail from Guam

During the winter, I need extra hand cream protection. Especially if I travel, I may need to take a lot of pictures outdoors and I am not always prepared with the perfect gloves and thus, my hands are usually exposed to the cold.
For a couple of weeks already, I am constantly using LeCorail cream by GUAM and I am extremely pleased by the results. However, my first encounter haven't been unforgettable, as I did not like at all the smell, a bit too perfumed for my taste. But once I saw the effects on my skin, I try to ignore the smell and continue to use it. 
In addition, it not only moisturises, softens and protects the skin, but it also gives a certain shinning that I only have in the summer. This effect can be the result of having Corallina officinalis as one of the main ingredients. Corallina oficinalis is a calcareous red seaweed that helps to reinforce the moisture of the skin. Rich in carbonate and magnesium, it also protects the skin against the effects of the sun. 
There are long-term effects and thus, I don't need to use it more than once the day. 
It works for any skin type and for any age range. 
Lacote, the company that produces the cream and many other beauty care products, was created at the end of the 1980s. The main ingredient used is the seaweed, considered a very efficient natural base for many beauty and wellness recipes. 

Disclaimer: I was offered to test a hand cream by GUAM, but the opinions are, as usual, my own. 

Devil eggs for breakfast

I haven't eaten devil eggs for years, and never prepared them myself. This Monday, I had a look over various glossy reviews, not all of them with recipes, looking for some inspiration for various blog posts and stumbled upon a very easy recipe in Woman's Day
The next morning, after boiling 3 eggs the evening before, I was up early, with some ideas to prepare my own 'devils'.
It serves 3 hungry breakfasters. 
Preparation time: around 40 minutes. If you boiled the eggs before, around 15 minutes.
I cut the hard boiled eggs in half. Took away the yolks and mashed in a bowl. 
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoon cottage cheese
1 teaspoon za'atar 
1 teaspoon soy roasted beans
Mash together for another 3 minutes

Spoon the new mixture into the half of the egg. Add 1 leaf of parsley or coriander for more taste.

Bon Appétit!

Boiled chickpeas with spices

I was looking for an easy side dish and I realized that for a long I wanted to play with some chickpeas. As hummus is a well tried and relatively successful recipe, I wanted something a little bit different but still easy. What about some boiled chickpeas with spices, an idea I had in mind for a long time.

The first stage is the boiling of the chickpeas. 
For 3 persons, I boiled 200 gr. As usual, I added a 1/4 teaspoon of salt in the water. In addition, for taste, 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil. Let it boil for around 15 minutes. 
I left the chickpeas in the water for around 1 hour.

In a frying pan, I added:
1 teaspoon of Gran Masala
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon of olive oil

I mixed all for around 7 minutes at 150C. 
Add the soaked chickpeas and mix together for another 10 minutes.

The smell in the kitchen was as beautiful as an Oriental dream.

It can match a variety of meals, from salads, meat or fish.

Bon Appétit!

I was offered spices to test from Spice Kitchen UK, but the opinions are, as usual, my own. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Trending colours from Farrow & Ball

Spring is getting closer and many of us may think about changing something in their homes. As refurnishing an apartment, and even an entire house costs a lot, why not starting with something simpler and less expensive? For instance, repainting the rooms?
For Forrow and Ball the main four trending colour for 2014 are inspired by nature and the British landscape. At the first sight, they are not the usual choice you might have for your room, but in combination with the right furniture and a proper lightning system, one will not only get used with, but will definitely feel like in a completely new space.
The main trending colours are:

1. Cooking Apple Green 

Created from earth pigments, it is my favourite colour. It brings light and happiness and a light feeling of being. Its mysterious light can match any room, but I would prefer it in the living room, in combination with a light furniture. It is an adornment for any kind of habitation, from hotel rooms to cottage or loft. 

2. Stiffkey Blue

The name and texture of this unusual colour are inspired by the mud on a beach in Norfolk. It is very intense and you need a lot of open sources of natural and artificial light to bring more sweetness in the room. As a revolutionary mood, I will suggest it for a pop-art kind of furniture - red couch or yellow closet anyone ? - but also with light wooden or white furniture. A yellow or brown carpet can change completely the perspective. I will suggest it for the living room or even for the children's room. I will even dare to use it for some walls in the kitchen.

3. Purbeck Stone

What's so special with this colour, except the creative choice of the name? I asked myself too, but after a couple of minutes I realized that in fact it is about a certain creamy consistence and the feeling of being home. Remember the white walled little rooms from your aunt or if you were lucky enough to have one, of your grandparents? It is a natural milky colour, natural and matching any room or home. Hang your family pictures or some colourful landscapes on the wall, buy new white or creamy curtains and everything will look great without a huge investment. If you are unhappy with your old furniture, maybe you can try some DIY experiences and paint it anew. The more colourful, the better!

4. Mole's Breath

This is a relatively unusual colour, at least for my choices of paint and decorations, but it depends of the rest of the setting. For instance, if you bring some steel/metal/silver objects, lamps and even furniture, and light placed strategically on the corners of a room, the nuances and shades will melt in a completely different way. It suits a cottage room, filled with brown furniture, but also a yellowish or even red or white furniture for a children room. I will not use it for the sleeping room though, as I prefer the light, pistachio - light blue nuances. 

The pictures were taken from the website of Farrow & Ball.