Monday, March 27, 2017

What you can do with sea buckthorn?

One of the many advantages of being very often on the road in Germany, especially in places off the beaten path, is to get in touch with local realities and discover many handmade traditional products. Germany is traditionally the place where the rich natural flora was skilfully used as the basis for a century based knowledge for both medical and cosmetic benefits. The homeopathy, was invented here, in the South of the country, blessed with a diverse nature.
Although I am extremely reserved when it comes to using 'natural' substitutes for serious medical treatments, I might have some respect for the beauty products using exclusively natural ingredients.
During my trip to Ludwigslust a couple of weeks ago I was introduced to the variety of products based on sea buckthorn, or sanddorn in German. The yellowish-orange small berries - out of which there are at least 8 separate species -  are growing up in the mountains or costal areas, usually the ones with cold temperatures, and are a valuable natural commodity in this part of Germany, Mecklenburg Vorpommern. Its Latin name is hippophae rhamnoides, meaning the tree that makes the horse shine, a reference probably to the rich Omega content - 3, 6, 9 and 9. 
Its use is extremely diverse, from fizz, oil and vinegar (with a pinch of rosemary, if possible) to soap and handcreams or shampoos. The strong Omega concentration helps the products made of sea buckthorn to smoothen the skin, offering a wellbeing feeling. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

My Indian food experience tour: patra

Genuine Indian restaurants outside India, serving more than curries and samosas, are quite a rarity in Germany, maybe because the need to adapt to the local tastes. Besides the knowledge of people bred and growing up there, there is also a chance to have a taste of special Indian foods through the special stores delivering original dishes, even though only in a box. At the recommendation of my friend, one of the many boxes purchased the last time was also the mysterious - for me - patra that I was courageous enough to finally try a couple of days ago.
Patra, patrode or alu vadi is a vegetarian dish specific to Maharashtra, India. Patra means leaf in several Indian dialects. It is made of colocasia or banana leaves stuffed with rice flours and various flavourings such as spices and tamarind. In the box, it is stored as a long roll batch that I cut into small buns.
The recommendation is to fry it in coconut oil or ghee - in both cases I still haven't give them a try - but I preferred to used some thymian oil. My patra has the following composition: aloo leaves, chickpea flour, green chilli, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, nutmeg, mustard seeds, coriander, turmeric, coconad shreds. I fried in the oven at 250C for around 10 minutes.
My first bit of patra was a real explosion for my palate. Such a diverse full of contrasts mixture was an extraordinary encounter, hard to describe. My first slice was consumed without any side dish as I was not sure what to expect. The sweetness and perfumed notes - added by the nutmeg, for instance - melts into the chilli notes, but what you feel at the end is just a strong spicy taste, I personally never experienced before. A couple of slices later, I still did not know how to match it, and didn't want to alter the original taste either, but most probably some simple sticky rice or some fresh tomato and cucumber slices would have been a good choice for the second bit after the patra.
I am happy to have tried this dish: it created a special food experience and brought new tastes and spices to my palate. One day, maybe I will be able to prepare my own, preferably in India.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Trying Dates Rice Pudding

Puddings are such a delicious treat but my skills are not very advanced in this respect. Therefore, I am trying intensively to improve, including by introducing new tastes to my palate. As a couple of months ago I made a very interesting trip to an Indian store with my friend acknowledgeable in everything meaning Oriental spices and taste matches, I brought home, among many other treats I will feature in my next posts, a mixture of Dates Rice Pudding. Initially, I wanted to try it for Tu B'Shvat, but took over by the preparations fever I completely forgot about, until a couple of days after.
But it is never too late for a Kheer pudding, so I prepared it the last week.
Inside the colourful box, there was a small plastic bag - 155 gr. - of the mixture made of sugar, treated rice - which looks like small salty crumbs - dried dates, pistacchio and cardamom. The kitchen was instantly invaded by the pleasant cardamom smell, which seems to be the strongest ingredients, which gives the special smell and taste to the composition.
In addition, you also need 1 liter of milk. I added the mixture to the milk, at moderate cooking temperature and slowly mix together for 15-20 minutes. If you are familiar with oriental foods - rice, for instance - you may already know that one of its specific features is the careful (read OCD-like) attention to stirring over and over again. This time, I got easily distracted by the strong sweet spices aroma which made the chores much much easier. 
After the pudding was ready, I poured the composition into a bowl and waited for another couple of hours until was ready. Actually, to be honest, I had a little bit to be sure that everything is fine, and was instantly charmed by the aromated, rich and pleasant taste and a fine, silky texture. Usually, it can serve four, but in this case, I wanted to keep it all mine. For foodie blogging reasons, of course. The next stop will be to learn how to do it myself...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Visiting the Schmuckplatz Pforzheim

As a visitor at the famous Goldencity of Pforzheim, besides the Jewellery Museum introducing unique and timeless pieces there was another destination in my to-do-list for my short visit: The historical 'Schmuck' - jewellery, in Germany - store in Leopoldplatz, considered the biggest place in Europe to buy and, if your savings fail, just see watches and jewellery.
The store - at the time a market to display works of gold craft manufactured in the town - was inaugurated at the beginning of the 20th century, a place where the jewellery manufacturers were presenting their fine works. The business house was named at the time Hansahaus, being besides its trade functions, also a professional meeting place in this part of Germany and even Europe. Through the wars - WWI and WWII - the building witnessed different political and economic changes and pressures, being destroyed during the massive bombing of the city on 23 February 1945. From the 1970s on, as the industry itself was recovering, the Schmuckplatz started to develop slowly but steadly nowadays being not only a recommended shopping destination in town, but also a market to present German products and designer works. 
As expected, gold is playing a big role here. As I showed in a previous post a couple of years go, it can be not only a fashion item, but also a table companion. Here, you can start with a bubbling 22 Karat Gold glass of Cuvee, that can be purchased for less than 20 EUR. 
There are many things that you can buy here, from high-end jewellery, to affordable pieces for teenagers and low budgets. Besides, there are also intersting sections dedicated to the history of goldsmithing and jewellery industry in Pforzheim and Germany in general. At the last floor, one can admire special precious stones, as well as have a look through a small peephole at the Sparkasse Gold Vault, including the Golden Bars.
The section dedicated to the fine works of jewellery by German artists remains the most interesting though. Many companies displayed are family owned and with a tradition from the end of the 19th century. If you are interested to find out more about high-end German brands, this is for sure the place to improve your knowledge. 
Interestingly, in Europe the watches production is usually branded as Made in Switzerland, but once you have a look at the fine and elegant watches you may change your mind. For instance, after discovering the ones made by Mitschele watch factory, based in Pforzheim. Each of the sections of this special shop has specialized customer service employees, ready to help in finding the right item within the desired price range. 
Another aspect I was not aware of any German designers working with pearls, but my visit at the Schmuckplatz was enough to correct this ignorance. Huhn Pearls, for instance, another local company, creates elegant accessories in different shapes and for different occasions. Another noteworthy finds were the fine handwork items created by Bossert und Kast, or the colourful decorative jewellery by d'Herion
Overall, this visit was a very interesting opportunity not only to please my eyes with interesting works of jewellery, but also to find out more about the different faces of German gold industry. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Foodie book review: The Bloody Mary, by Brian Bartels

I still remember my first Bloody Mary. I wasn't impressed as this is my usual attitude when it comes to anything that has vodka as a main ingredient, but I was relatively intrigued by the combination. Maybe at the time I was working with too many people coping with various alcohol additictions, and vodka was always on the table and combined with everything - especially wine and beer - and therefore, anyone pouring it to tomato sauce was immediately labeled.
The Bloody Mary by Brian Bartels makes justice to this drink, especially among skeptical snobbish people like me. Based on the author's direct experience as bartender, whose first cocktail he learned to prepare was the Mary, the book offers an extensive biography of the drink, starting with its controversial history and a long list of recipes and ingredients that can be matched. 'Cocktail fashions come and go, but the nourishing charm of a Bloody Mary endures' and the presence of this drink in the respectable menus of famous restaurants and bars from all over the world proves this. As a cocktail that 'commands patience', it offers a very large spectrum of combination for the ingredients. The basic remains always: tomato juice, vodka, spices and seasonings. The adds are: Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, black pepper, celery, salt and...everything else you think it could match. One of my favorite recipes is called umami mary and has miso instead of Worcestershire and using shiitake infused vodka. 
Besides the beautiful and mouth watering pictures, the book is written in a personal and joyous style which keeps you curious and entertained for just another unique recipe or some stories shared from the exclusive world of bartenders.
A good reading recommendation for any foodie, even though you were, as I was, skeptical and unfriendly to the idea of the Bloody Mary. After all, smart people keep always changing. 

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The new collection by Swarovski

With a tradition starting in 1895, Swarovski keeps inventing and creating new collections, always a challenge not only for the fashion driven people, but for anyone interesting to bring more beauty into the everyday life. The high-quality crystal products are always offering out of time inspiration and notes of elegance whose common feature is the love for quality and good taste.
For this season, Swarovski brings a hollistic, nature-inspired collection, focused around the concept of 'balance of nature'. The colours as well as the jewellery design is organised on the four basic principles: earth, water, fire, air. It is a well-tempered mixture of Classic, Romantic, Progressive bold and Glamourous style. 
The various items - that can be purchased at moderate to high-end prices - can be easily matched together, for an unique effect. The sparkling yellow and green stones of the earrings can match the graphite decorated watches or rings. The discrete elegance can be well added to any kind of outfit, from the high elegance of a special dinner out to the casual office serious suits. The natural flows of earth are there to remind you what really matters and how to easily reconnect with nature. 
Overall, a very interesting visual and aesthetic experience, strongly recommended to any woman ready for a dramatic style challenge or just interested in trying something new and stylish this season.