Beautiful soup & bone broth

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,

Waiting in a hot tureen!….

Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

 Beautiful Soup!/ Who cares for fish, Game or any other dish?….

 Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland



I have no idea why the words “soup” and “broth” conjure up such homely comfort. Could it be because warm liquids —mother’s milk and other semi-liquid hot foods like porridge— constituted our first meals? Soup and broth bring to mind concentrated flavours of meat and aromatic vegetables, piping hot and steaming with wholesomeness. A bowl of bone broth twice or thrice weekly is Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminets’ recommendation for adequate intake of calcium, collagen, and magnesium. The fear of osteoporosis makes  high-dose calcium supplementation very attractive for older women, but rather than being beneficial, in many cases supplementation has increased rates of hip fractures and strokes,  as noted in their book, Perfect Health Diet (PHD). Other than that included in my multivitamins, I’ve never taken any additional calcium. I’ve stopped taking multivitamins since starting the PHD but do take 200 mg magnesium and 800 IU of Vit. D3. The benefits of collagen, particularly for back pain, which I have from time to time, convinced me to try the Jaminets’ grass-fed beef bone broth.

Where would I get grass-fed bones for broth in Bonn? Do I even know how to say that in German? I do now: “Gras gefüttert.” That makes for quite a mouthful: Gras gefütterten Rindsuppenknochen (grass-fed beef soup bones).  The supermarkets in my neighbourhood are quite basic, and though  the meat section in my local Edeka has ox tail and other slices of bone-in meat,  I’ve never seen any labelled specifically as “soup bones”  (Suppenknochen). The butcher shop on Bonner Talweg came immediately to mind, but unfortunately they had none. What they had was one meaty flatrib, which I was happy to take, as there was no other butcher shop in the vicinity, at least as far as I know.  “It’s more flavourful than just bones,” the woman cheerily assured me as she wrapped it up. Around the corner, Rewe turned out, on closer inspection, to have organic soup beef (Bio Rindsuppenfleisch). Funny that I missed seeing it when I checked earlier before going to the butcher. Alas, there was just one piece, so I added another non-organic pack.  Altogether the soup meat totalled about 1.17 kg (~2 lb). I shall have to investigate where in Bonn one can get grass-fed beef soup bones.

For some reason, the rib meat from the butcher was a bit whiffy and greyish-maroon so I rinsed it thoroughly in cold water. You can see the difference clearly in the photo above:  the butcher’s meat is on the bottom left.  I didn’t rinse the other pieces as they looked and smelled wholesome. I put all the meaty bones into a pressure cooker without the lid for this preparatory stage, added enough water to cover (about 2 liters or 2000 ml; 8 cups, with 1 cup = 250 ml), and brought all to a simmer. A bit of scum rose to the surface, and I lowered the heat further to encourage more scum to be exuded. This time a fair amount filled the surface: I raised the heat to quickly bring all to a boil and turned off the heat at once. I rinsed the parboiled bones to get rid of all blood and other residue. There was a lot of congealed brown residue at the bottom and sides of the pot, which needed a vigorous scrubbing. The liquid smelled good and meaty even at this point, and I was rather sorry to throw it out as I hate wasting food. I was tempted at first to just skim off the scum, as I have seen my mother do when she made beef soup. In the end, I decided to follow the Jaminets’ directions, threw out the parboiling liquid, and returned the rinsed meat into the pot.

 However, I departed from the Jaminets’ pure bone and water broth recipe by adding aromatics: leek and ginger. I didn’t peel the ginger — just cut it into three and pounded them with the flat side of a cleaver. As long as it’s been washed, there’s no need to peel ginger for stock or soup. I secured the lid of the pressure cooker, set the pressure to low, and turned the heat to medium. Once the steam started to hiss from the vents (signalling that the designated pressure has been reached), I reduced the heat to a minimum and let the pressure work its magic for an hour. (It’s a totally different pressure cooker from the one I had in the UK, so I’m still a bit wary of using it.)

The reason that the Jaminets do not add any flavouring vegetables to their broth is to make it keep longer under refrigeration. I’m following my taste buds: as the Jaminets themselves say, if it tastes good, it will also be good healthwise. As well, my “soup bones” were actually mostly meat with very few bones. The broth was indeed very tasty even without salt, and I also added it to other dishes during the week. It kept very well for 10 days in the fridge. It could probably have lasted longer, but M and I finished it all by then. The meat, despite the hour’s pressure cooking, retained plenty of flavour. As the Jaminets make as many as 3 batches of broth from the same bones, I froze the few bones from this batch and intend to reuse them when I can find more bones.

Fired concrete – a lost local building technique

The beginning of the year was marked by a visit to the Kolumba, a museum dedicated to ecclesiastical art, and the Bruder Klaus Chapel in Cologne, both designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.  Rather typical of us, it took  family visiting from London to introduce us to them. Of the two, the Chapel left a deeper impression, though at first it struck me as unappealing.  It  stood out from the surrounding   fields like a brand-new silo. As we walked towards it, I couldn’t help feeling that the Chapel seemed so out-of-place, like a supermodel stranded in a muddy bog. I’ve always warmed to rural buildings that harmonize with their natural setting: those that blend so seamlessly with the earth or woods around them that they appear an intrinsic component of the site itself.   Once I entered the Chapel, however, its seeming lack of relevance to its environment made sense to me. It is, after all, a sanctuary. And as such, deliberately intended as an otherworldly contrast to the  working farms within which it is set.

The Chapel is renowned for its unique finish and was built by volunteer local farmers using a traditional building technique. Apparently, concrete is laid over a teepee-like frame of over a hundred softwood logs. A smouldering fire is lit within that dries out the concrete over several weeks, charring and contracting the logs. Once the fire has died down and drying is completed, the logs are pried off, leaving their ridged imprint on the set concrete. The interior wall  is left deliberately unplastered, exposing the rough textures and colours created  during the construction process.  Candles illuminate the constrained space (only a few people can be accommodated within) and throw an eerie red-orange cast to the soot-stained and scorched walls. Natural light sparkles like countless stars through hundreds of perforations in the walls lined with handblown glass. The only other source of natural light is an overhead opening that also lets in the elements, leaving puddles from winter rains on the lead-tin alloy floor that looked to me like homely beaten earth.

Both structures are satisfyingly linked to the past and local materials and techniques. As well, both feature perforated walls that allow natural light to create dynamic patterns of light and shadow. The Kolumba Museum incorporates two historic structures beneath: the Romanesque Chapel of St. Columba and a 1950s-era chapel built over the Romanesque one that had been destroyed during WW2.  Wooden decking allows visitors to walk about and view the excavated ruins and the 1950s chapel. If you’re visiting in the winter, it’s best to keep your coat on in this section of the museum.

Who was St. Columba? The only one I have found so far is the Irish St. Columba who lived in the 6th century CE: an indefatigable missionary who converted Scotland to Christianity and also founded the Iona monastery, which in its heyday produced the famous illustrated Book of Kells. I am curious to know whether this is the same St. Columba of the ancient Romanesque Cologne Chapel and what the connection is. There is a Columba Altarpiece painted by Dutch artist Rogier van der Weyden in 1455, believed (though without historical foundation) to have once graced the St. Columba Chapel in Cologne; that is now on display at the Pinakothek Museum in Munich.

The Bruder Klaus Chapel is a private chapel dedicated to the patron saint of Switzerland, as well as of the Catholic Agricultural Youth Movement and the Catholic Rural People’s Movement. A local farmer, in gratitude for a blessed life, commissioned Zumthor after seeing the Kolumba.

The Kolumba is on Kolumbastraße 4, near the centre of Cologne. The Kolumba is closed Tuesdays. The Bruder Klaus Kapelle is just outside Cologne, in Iversheimer, Mechernich; it is closed Mondays (except on religious holidays).

The Kolumba:

Bruder Klaus Chapel:

The forbidden pleasure of Quarkbällchen

Recently I found myself succumbing to temptation, gustatory that is. There are certain pastries that I have such a weakness for, and one of them is vanilla cream-filled Quarkbällchen, of which I scoffed three pieces on Mardi Gras. Naughty me, but rather apropos for the day, don’t you think?  Some foods are simply irresistible. Quarkbällchen are like the  “holes” cut out of ring doughnuts.  However they resemble them only externally for they are made with Quark or sour cream and eggs, which give their insides a richer, more delectable texture and golden colour than the yeast dough used for standard doughnuts. They are a no-no for me for two reasons:  wheat flour and cream.  I am trying to eliminate wheat and other gluten-containing items  and cream, for lactose-intolerant me, requires that I take a lactase tablet. I probably caved in because it was mid-afternoon, when my blood sugar level is low.  I justified my downfall by the fact that these were my first and only taste of these since last year.

The only place in Bonn I’ve ever seen these heavenly balls filled with vanilla custard is at the bakery at Rewe Supermarket in Weberstrasse, and they’re only available during Carnival.  I wonder if they’re available elsewhere in Bonn? Perhaps I’d rather not know. My other excuse is that it was my first day to be well since getting the flu. In future, I shall try and stick to the permitted pleasure foods of the Perfect Health Diet (70% and above chocolate!).

Over a kilo of plant foods daily

NACHTIGALLEN FRUITS 25 FEB_3854In their eye-opening book, Perfect Health Diet (PHD), with its radical approach to a greater percentage calorie-wise of fat than carbohydrate or protein, Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet recommend a daily intake of about 1.4 kg (~3 lb) of plant foods and 1/4 to 1/2 kg (1/2 – 1 lb) of animal foods.

That seemed like an awful lot to me.  I began to weigh what I had in the house and was amazed that those pictured above already totalled over 1 kilo (2 lb). The PHD recommended intake is .45 kg (15 oz or almost 1 lb) of fruits per person per day.  I haven’t accounted for the peel or other discarded bits like seeds. (For instance, a 178-gram apple’s stalk and core can weigh 13 grams; for a 175-gram banana, the peel and stalk can equal 56 grams.) I must say though that this attention to meticulous weighing will only be in the beginning, as I certainly don’t see myself obsessively weighing every item as I journey towards health-conscious eating.

I do find it interesting that 5 portions of fruit (the UK-recommended daily allowance) can weigh over half a kilo (1 lb). I realize that not everyone will eat chico (the brown round fruits above, also known as naseberry, sawo, chico zapota, Manilkara zapota )  or other exotic fruit on a regular basis. It just so happens that M and I are always ready to try any food item that is out of the ordinary.  For a more typical year-round fruit, the handful of black grapes above, for instance, weighs about 100 g.  The banana is 126 g, the pear 130 g; half of the grapefruit 185 g; and the chico 61 g.  (Rough equivalents for non-metric readers are 100 g = 3.5 oz; 450 g = 16 oz or 1 lb; 1000 g or 1 kg = 2 lb.)

How am I doing for vegetables then? Those pictured below are  intended for curry for two.


They include 4 pieces of Chinese cabbage (also known as Chinese leaf) 256 g; 1 section of broccoli 138 g; 1 carrot 107 g; 3 stalks spring or green onions 45 g; 1 red pepper 236 g; and a handful of arugula (also called rucola or rocket) 30 g. I also added 8 cherry tomatoes 101 g. In total they came to 913 grams; thus one equal portion would be 456.5 grams, rounded up to 457 grams (roughly 1 lb). In reality, however, I consume much less than one half of any dish I make for M and me.

The total weight of fruits and vegetables above for one person came to 1,140 grams or roughly 2.5 lb. The actual consumed weight is less, as there was enough of the curry left over for my lunch, and to account for wastage during preparation. As for starchy plant foods, my average intake is 165 grams, consisting of 15 grams of rice crackers and 150 g of cooked short-grain rice or boiled potato. So altogether the above combination of plant foods for one person for one day would be 1,305 grams, just under the 1.4 kilos (~3 lb) recommended intake.

I’m quite heartened that I do manage an intake of 1.4 kilos of plant foods on average per day.  If anything, I perhaps eat well over the recommended intake, as I can very quickly gobble up 4 or 5 mandarin oranges at one sitting! Just for reference and then I shall shut up: one mandarin can weigh 100 grams. My objective now is to observe the proportions (calorie-wise, that is) of 55% fat, 30% carbohydrate, and 15% protein. But that’s for another day, dear reader.