Year of Grace, Day 102. On fashion and guttation

I started my day reading Walden Pond; I awoke around 4 am. By rights I ought to say re-reading, but I read it for the first time so very long ago, and my memory is not what it was, that it was like a whole new discovery. I haven’t finished it yet, but I wish to share a few nuggets with you.

On fashion, Thoreau says: “I cannot believe that our factory system is the best mode by which men may get clothing. …as far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched.

“When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my tailoress tells me gravely, “They do not make them so now,” not emphasizing the “They” at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates, and I find it difficult to get made what I want, simply because she cannot believe that I mean what I say, that I am so rash. When I hear this oracular sentence, I am for a moment absorbed in thought, emphasizing to myself each word separately that I may come at the meaning of it, that I may find out by what degree of consanguinity They are related to me, and what authority they may have in an affair which affects me so nearly; and, finally, I am inclined to answer her with equal mystery, and without any more emphasis of the “they”—”It is true, they did not make them so recently, but they do now.” Of what use this measuring of me if she does not measure my character, but only the breadth of my shoulders, as it were a peg to bang the coat on? We worship not the Graces, nor the Parcae, but Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same. I sometimes despair of getting anything quite simple and honest done in this world by the help of men.”

I often feel the same. Long ago in my teens, way before off-the-peg clothing became the norm, I used to design my own clothes and a seamstress aunt made them for me. These days when I have an idea for something simple that I would like to wear, I do not find it.

I mourn the loss of some blouses bought in Tokyo of an ageless design: a simple collar, long sleeves, two pockets — the whole cut generously and it hang well. I haven’t found the like in all Bonn. Blouses nowadays have all sorts of frills and unnecessary details on them. Or, they come in only one colour. The colour of the year. And next year, if I were to hanker after last year’s colour, well, that’s just too bad!

I do believe the time has come, once more, for me to design my own clothes, but alas, my talented aunt has gone to where all happy seamstresses go. Perhaps it is time to learn to make my own clothes too.

For today’s thoughts, I am grateful to Maria Popova of Brain Pickings – a source of never-ending inspiration – for focusing on Thoreau, and for Thoreau himself, for thinking all these thoughts at less than half my age when he wrote them. And as well for Project Gutenberg for bringing Walden Pond and other books online.

As for Miss Amaryllis – her fourth bud now in bloom – she is at the peak of her glory, brightening up the sitting room. Thanks to her, as I came up really close this morning, I noticed a fascinating phenomenon. Plant physiologists would call it guttation. There were a few drops of moisture on one of her petals. I have only seen this natural wonder on the outer edges of leaves, such as on the hydrangeas. Never before on a flower. She has made my day!

Click to enlarge to see the glistening drops of guttation.

 

Year of Grace, Day 101. Hana yori dango

Yesterday, we had intended to go out for dinner, but M came back from shopping and announced cheerily – “We’re not going out tonight…”

“Oooh, what interesting stuff did you find?”

“Surprise…,” he said. And I was advised to stay out of the kitchen.

And this was M’s surprise Valentine’s dinner – fresh oysters, grilled prawn, and grilled dorade. Seafood is undoubtedly my favourite of all foods, and there is nowhere in Bonn to enjoy the kind of dinner that M had created. I love my seafood as simple as possible so as to focus on their exquisite flavour, texture, and colour. Preferably raw if absolutely fresh, or plain grilled with a sprinkling of salt (shioyaki).

The oyster was lovely with its briney juice, perked up with a squeeze of lemon juice and thin rings of sweet fresh onion. The prawn had been brushed with olive oil and a thin sprinkling of smokey paprika just around the coral. And the dorade (gilt-head bream), one of our preferred fishes, was also similarly brushed with olive oil and surrounded by sliced onions to bake until just done (no more than 20 minutes), so that its meaty flesh was superbly moist. Any longer, and its texture and taste are ruined.

PRAWN GRILLED_4880

DORADE ON PLATE_4881Upholding the mar i muntanya (Catalan, ‘sea and mountain’) or umi no sachi, yama no sachi theme (Japanese, ‘joys of the sea, joys of the mountain’) was mushroom takikomi gohan sprinkled with dried red cranberries as a nod to Valentine’s.

Takikomi gohan is Japan’s answer to paella or risotto – perhaps I ought to call it Arroz a la Japonesa? It is rice cooked with dashi (bonito and kelp stock) and additionally flavoured by whatever is in season. Unlike paella with its diverse ingredients and olive oil, or thick-soupy risotto with butter, classic takikomi gohan showcases just the one ingredient, usually at its peak of perfection. Mushrooms or shelled chestnuts in autumn and winter, new wild spring greens, such as croziers of edible ferns, freshly dug tender bamboo shoots –- the possibilities are infinite. In that sense, M’s takikomi was not classic as it combined the diversity of ingredients of paella, but without the resulting heaviness from olive oil. It was a vegetarian paella with restraint. The mushrooms were full of flavour and the cranberries shone like garnets. The saffron added a mysterious scent and subtle colour.

For dessert, M made a chocolate soufflé — with fresh blueberries and lashings of double cream. It was meant to be paired with Belgian chocolate ice cream, which I declined: it would’ve been gilding the lily. And to drink? We had lovely crisp dry Cava throughout.

Hana yori dango indeed. An ancient Japanese saying: food rather than flowers!

Thanks for preparing such an exquisite dinner, dearest M! A most memorable Valentine’s Day feast, indeed!

Today I am grateful for another brilliantly sunny day. On such a perfect early spring day, it was heavenly to be outdoors — cold at 5ºC but in the sun it was gorgeous. I spent a couple of happy hours pruning the roses, and cleared some dead leaves in the front garden.  Meanwhile M prepared shakshuka for brunch.  Fab!

 

Year of Grace, Day 100. Mind-full and heart-full

Over the past 100 days, I have recorded my thanks for all manner of things and events and places and people that have coloured my life and continue to do so, and made of it what it was, and what it is now. I write because I remember.  I write because I think — to twist a phrase from a famous philosopher — being fully aware that as I age, memory and contemplation are faculties that my mind cannot fully rely on.

What I have left undone and unsaid so far is to give thanks that, on this day and at my age, I have my mind (passably) intact – I am mindful and mind-full at this moment. I can think thoughts and treasure ideas or mull contrasting concepts over in my head. Or contemplate the wonders of this world – as for instance, the miracle of life itself – such as that from a seed, seemingly inert, springing into growth. And marvel with curiosity and awe at the intricate systems encoded within that minuscule entity, converting sunlight and minerals and air and water into energy and the creation of flowers and food.

Such a quotidian, unremarkable act is thinking, that we — or more precisely I — rarely give it a shred of thought (pardon the pun). Usually. And yet at any moment, illness or accident can take away that simple power that I take for granted, and I am no longer the person I once was. Or thought I was.

I am grateful that I can shape my thoughts into words. Another mundane act for most, and yet I am aware of dementia and that other spectre of old age – Alzheimers – that can deprive me of such facility. Or it could be aphasia or other injury to the brain or the heart, and the vital link between my thinking and my speaking or my writing is gone forever.

I am thankful too that I can weave in my own idiosyncratic way the eclectic thoughts that fill my mind into words with some sort of supple coherence. And I am grateful, deeply grateful, that others appreciate this crafting – whatever the quality of the result – and graciously and faithfully read my posts from day to day. My friends and family have told me that this crafting is a gift from Above. I accept and belatedly acknowledge this gift with all due modesty and humility, and I shall strive to steward it well. I realise that this may come across as somewhat conceited, but not to acknowledge or fully utilise such gifts with which we have been blessed I now realise to be a sacrilege. For the Supreme Creator’s continuing grace, I feel deeply privileged.

On this brilliantly sunny centennial day of my gratitude journal, I am heartened to look out onto the trees in the back garden and observe the promise of burgeoning buds. And later I shall go outside into the garden and greet the snowdrops and find out whether they are in bloom. Yesterday was the first day I have gardened outdoors in a long while, and I am glad that I have finally planted the bulbs received as a present at the start of my illness. The bulbs have begun to sprout and I hope they forgive my unintentional neglect.

I am exceedingly grateful to be able to enjoy these natural wonders at close range – to be able to sense them fully, to recognise them, remember them, and say their names – and to have them as highlights of my daily life. May I continue to be blessed with such grace.

To be alive and well on this lovely day in early spring, to be mentally and emotionally and spiritually engaged – to be mind-full and heart-full – and heartily crafting at this very moment are truly and most definitely things to be ever and enormously thankful for.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! And I share with you the joy of the first open snowdrop of the year! If you look closely, there is a heart (upside down) right at their very centre.

The first snowdrop this year

The first snowdrop this year

 

 

Year of Grace, Day 99. Sure signs of spring

Today I came upon the first open crocus in the front garden. What a wonderful surprise! And close by, the hellebores must have been blooming for some time, quite unnoticed, as they are hidden from view by overhanging bushes.

This year's first crocus

This year’s first crocus

Hellebores

Hellebores

Tulips are also starting into growth – the reddish tips of their leaves are out, and one of the hydrangeas – the one I’ve placed facing east —  has pale green crowns emerging from its base. Fat buds of new leaves are beginning to clothe  its bare branches. The rose bushes are also showing a flush of fresh growth, shiny and red-tipped against the dull green of last year’s stems. They will be needing pruning very soon.

In the back garden, the snowdrops are up —  thick clumps of their blue-green spikes are everywhere on the lawn, and a few buds have  slivers of white. They’re just biding their time – perhaps tomorrow I may see some in bloom.

It might still be winter to me, but to the plants in the garden, spring is just waiting in the wings. On this 99th day of my gratitude journal, I am much heartened and so grateful indeed to see these sure and unmistakeable signs of spring.

 

Year of Grace, Day 98. A citrusy corn cake: buckwheat experiment No. 2

The other day I had a hankering for cornbread. I hadn’t made it in a good while, and there was some polenta languishing neglected in the pantry. And I thought why not combine it with another delight that was due for some attention from me – an orange cake? Oranges and other citrus fruits are at their peak at this time of year, and on the kitchen table were bowls of them, just waiting to be creatively used.

In our previous place in Dottendorf, I was spoiled for choice with two outstanding patisserie shops. One was just a few minutes’ walk away — Huntens — and it specialised in baroque multi-layered tortes. The other, Das Kleine Caféhaus in nearby Kessenich, offered more homely ones with fruit. It was the latter’s simpler but no less delicious cakes that endeared them to me. In particular, an orange cake with a rather curious texture, one that was due, I suspect, to a mix of polenta and almond flour. (I did ask once, but was told it was a professional secret.) And so the search was on for a recipe.

David Lebovitz’s orange polenta cake was a candidate and so was another by Margo made with Meyer lemons. (The internet does make these searches so effortless, as opposed to… “now where did I file Sophie Grigson’s Orange Cake?” I couldn’t be bothered going through my clipped recipes just then.) As usual, I couldn’t resist adding a few flourishes of my own — switched the proportions of polenta and almond flour, as those quantities were what I had to hand, and substituted buckwheat for the wheat flour. I also added more lemon zest than called for. Yes –- I do love a pronounced citrus flavour! When it came time to whipping up the butter, the other recipe’s melted butter seemed more convenient, and so I ended up following that procedure. The eclectic mix ended up needing a longer baking time than either called for. I live and learn….

Lemon-Orange Drizzle Corn Cake

Lemon-Orange Drizzle Corn Cake

I must say I was really surprised that my rather breezy experiment didn’t end up a disaster. It was in fact so much better than I’d expected. I had created a lovely cornbread, or rather a corn cake, with a delicate lemony-orangey flavour, which was echoed by the orange glaze. Delicate? Yes, I know. And after I’d used twice the zest called for too! The next round definitely calls for more tweaking.

And the texture? Hmm… there was so little wheat flour in the original recipe that I can perhaps forego that. I have some more experimenting to do to get that open texture of the Kessenich bakery’s orange cake.

Today I give thanks for oranges and lemons and kumquats and calamansi and pomelo, and all others of the amazing citrus tribe. How wonderful that at this time of year when most of us are down with the colds or flu, these Vitamin C-filled fruits are at their most plentiful. Signs of the Supreme Creator’s far-seeing bounty and graciousness!

I am grateful that my rather haphazard experiment turned out well. I continue to learn, and my guideline is that as long as I follow the proportions of dry and liquid ingredients, I am assured of tolerable, if not downright successful, results. I am indebted to recipes, like David Lebovitz’s, that give measures by metric weight and not just in cups.

I also give thanks that my subconscious — which has held an English lemon-drizzle cake for some time — has come through and delivered such a cake as I wished, combined with a cake made of cornmeal.

If you’d like to have a go, here’s my recipe for a robust and unsophisticated but oh-so-eminently satisfying corn cake. It has a lovely citrus flavour that brings much-needed sunshine on a cold and dark  winter day, and is so good with coffee or tea or milk.

Lemon-Orange Drizzle Corn Cake

(Please note that the cup equivalents below, except for the glaze, are from original recipes by David Lebovitz and Margo at Perfectly Edible.  I have adapted the original ingredients and procedures accordingly.)

Prepare a 25 x 9 cm (10 x 8 in) glass baking dish — butter it and line with parchment paper.

Dry ingredients

215g (2 cups) polenta (not instant) or yellow cornmeal

140g (~3/4 cup) finely ground almonds

40g (~5 tablespoons) wheat flour or buckwheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

170g sugar

2.5 teaspoons baking powder

Liquid ingredients

3 large eggs, beaten

250 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

125 ml (1/2 cup, 1.5%) low-fat milk

125 ml (½ cup, 3.5 % fat) yogurt

zest of 1 lemon, grated

zest of 2 oranges, grated

Glaze

juice of 1 orange

250g (1 Foley cup holding 236.6 ml) powdered or confectioner’s sugar

mixed juices of lemon and orange, about 2-4 tablespoons

a scant teaspoon of orange liqueur (optional)

Procedure

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well.

In a medium bowl, combine the liquid ingredients with the zests and mix well.

Stir in the liquid ingredients into the dry, until just thoroughly incorporated. Do not mix too much (the original recipes stress that this leads to a tough cake).

Pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake in a preheated oven for 50 – 60 minutes at 160ºC (325ºF) with convection, 180ºC (350ºF) without convection, or until a tester comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.

(I left the cake in the turned-off oven with the door ajar for 15 more minutes, because my previous buckwheat experiments needed this.)

While the cake is still warm, prick the top all over with a toothpick or wooden skewer, and slowly trickle in orange juice (first ingredient in the glaze.)

Let the cake cool in the pan.

Meanwhile, prepare the drizzle with the remaining glaze ingredients.

In a small bowl, put the powdered sugar and add the citrus juice one tablespoon at a time to get a thick but drizzley consistency.

Adjust the consistency with a bit more juice or powdered sugar, as needed.

You may wish to give your glaze some oomph with orange liqueur or flavouring.

(I used my own orange flavouring – made from the thinly pared zest of oranges steeped in vodka over 3 months in a dark place.)

Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and leave to set.

Slice into pieces and serve.

 

Year of Grace, Day 97. Tea, anyone?

Today is the first day the temperature has risen to a double digit in ages!  Bright and sunny — at 10ºC it is almost spring!

On a lovely afternoon like this, a cup of Earl Grey tea, brewed from leaves, and a petit four sound marvelous!

Thanks to M for the petit fours!

PETIT FOURS TEA?

And an update on Miss Amaryllis: her second bud has opened! Glorious!

 

 

 

Year of Grace. Day 96. My mother’s gardens

My splendidly blooming amaryllis reminded me of one of my mother’s pot plants — pink lilies that she doted on and called Lirio (Sp. ‘lily’). They could have been pink belladonna amaryllis, but the belladonnas that I’ve seen have a different petal shape – they turn up their tips like sultan’s slippers, much like the sensuous curves on my amaryllis.

Amaryllis, three days after the first bud opened.

The amaryllis petal’s sensuous curves.

But the petal tips on my mother’s stately lily were different in  my memory. It’s a pity I never remembered to ask her, and now that she’s gone, it’s much too late to ask. Alas. Perhaps they were actually hippeastrums, and this one in the photo below has a familiar colour, though the petals are unlike my mother’s Lirio.

Hippeastrum ‘Candy Floss.’ Photo: Raul654, Wikipedia.

Each time the Lirio‘s spathe (the leaf-like blade that encloses the flower buds) opened, my mother would eagerly count the buds peeking from within. And unfailingly each year as if responding to her infectious delight, the lily’s flowers steadily increased, until one year there were twelve in one cluster! We feared the stem would collapse, but it didn’t. My mother was in such raptures!

Before that phenomenal flowering, she couldn’t bear to cut any of the lily’s flowers, but that time, she cut one and put it in a very curious vase – a vase like no other. A clear glass sphere, about 20 cm (about 10 inches) in diameter, which she filled with water. Then she placed one perfect lily upside down in it, clapped the lid over it, and up-ended the sphere so that it rested on its lid. Such a strange contraption – the water didn’t flow out from the bottom. I wonder if that unusual vase is still in the family home.

The other plant whose flowering gave my mother a lot of pleasure was an aster. It was not as imposing as the pink lily with its tiny narrow leaves on thin, wiry stems – quite unprepossessing. But in bloom — it was transformed into a cloud of filmy violet and greeny-yellow stars. Thus its name, aster. Or as my mother called it, Estrella (Sp. ‘star’).

I also have never seen this particular variety of aster anywhere else. In a temperate autumn which is when asters normally bloom, I am ever on the lookout to find the exact one that I remember from my childhood. But I have never found it, much as I have never come across a lily just like the one my mother grew. Or is it because my perception of them as a child is quite unlike what they were in actuality?

As well perhaps these modern flowers are so far removed from the type species. They’ve been bred for size and colour and pest resistance and who knows whatever else, such that the flowers that my mother grew and that I knew a very long time ago are probably only to be found in some long-forgotten garden. Or even perhaps in the wild. Somewhere….

It’s a pity I only became interested in gardening in my 30s. Living continents away, I had not had the pleasure, and more, the privilege, of learning directly about plants and gardening from my mother. When my parents were living in San Jose, California, I was surprised to find Dama de Noche (Cestrum nocturnum) thriving in their front garden.

I well remember as a teen in the Philippines, in the then capital Quezon City, coming home late at night and being greeted by the Dama de Noche and its pale green florets at the gate, its intoxicating perfume mingling with the refreshing coolness of dew. Its scent is only released at night, which is why it is called ‘Lady of the Night.’ How could a tropical plant survive in a sub-tropical environment, I wondered?

That taught me to try and see whether a plant that I liked could survive elsewhere other than what I regarded as its natural environment. I took some seeds from that Dama de Noche and planted them and they germinated and went on to bloom. And it is only now that I realize that I was then moving it from one Mediterranean-type climate to another. And one of my children has been enamoured of the Dama de Noche ever since. I had tried to find a source for it when we lived in the UK, and there are a few nurseries that grow it here in Germany. But Dama de Noche is meant to be grown in a conservatory or a greenhouse, not outdoors. Or if so, taken indoors before the frosts.

On this 96th day of my gratitude journal, I am grateful for the memories of my mother’s gardens and the plants that she adored. And I am ever so thankful that my mother planted the seeds for a love of flowers and gardens in me and my brothers and sister. My friend Gillian once said of me that I am happiest in a garden. Indeed I am.

Year of Grace, Day 95. Miss Amaryllis in all her glory

Over the past few days, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the unfolding of the amaryllis’s first bud. Throughout these dreary winter days, Miss Amaryllis has been a source of inspiration and wonder and awe. Here she is this morning by the window, the first of her sumptuous raiments finally revealed in their incomparable glory.

Consider the lilies of the field, they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet Solomon in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. –Matthew 6:28

Amaryllis, first bud fully open

The winter aspect of the back garden is normally bereft of bright colour, and relieved only by the cheering pale yellow of hazel catkins, blooming bravely in the bitter cold. Yesterday’s grey clouds made the outlook even more dreary. But the unfolding of the amaryllis’s first bud made up for such a gloomy view outdoors.

The unfolding of the amaryllis yesterday.

Yesterday evening

Yesterday evening

 

And here are more views of today’s glory!

Therefore …do not be anxious about your life…. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? — Matthew 6:25.

Year of Grace, Day 94. A morning moon and a sweet experiment with buckwheat

Three minutes to 8 this morning and, surprisingly, the moon still graced the sky, hanging rather low westwards. Twenty minutes later it had slid out of view behind the thicket beyond the garden. Meanwhile eastwards, the sun had yet to rise, though already sending subtle hints – the palest of pinks and yellows – that today it had every intention to do so. It is now a cheeringly bright sunny day, btw. I managed a few photos of the moon, though without a tripod. Thank you, dear morning moon, for such a rare start to my Saturday!

Yesterday I finally did what I’d been putting off for some days now – I made another batch of chocolate-caramel tartlets. (And I’m rather glad I did because although I wasn’t feeling okay when I began, I felt better once I’d finished. There must be something to the German cookbook title, Backen macht Freude — baking brings happiness, and of course happiness brings well-being and health.)

There are recipes – and more tellingly, their photos  – that are totally beguiling, and these tartlets from David Lebovitz most definitely are. They’re truly addictive. Deconstructed, it’s really rather simple: a chocolate crust, a caramel filling, and a chocolate topping. Nothing extraordinary, right? Ah… but, as they say, the devil is in the details. This is an adult’s chocolate fix; it is most likely not to appeal to a child, no matter how much he or she likes chocolate. It delivers such a wallop of chocolate, it is quite overpowering, and perhaps it is a blessing that it comes in small servings. Two at a time is my absolute limit. The strangest thing is that M, who does not really like chocolate, adores these!Gooey tartlet

So what is it that makes this tartlet my temptation of the montht? Its crust is deeply chocolatey, with a grainy crunchiness from the rice flour, tempered by a gooey fudge filling, and smoothed to a silky finish by creamy chocolate ganache. (Sounds almost like one of those Marks & Spencer commercials, doesn’t it?) The great thing about this is that it only needs 10 minutes of baking. You could make these within an hour. Nearly instant home-made chocolate fix!

I’ve made these now twice since New Year’s Day.  Yesterday, I thought of substituting the wheat flour with buckwheat (Buchweizen in German or soba in Japanese). Buckwheat is not related to wheat nor is it a cereal grain, which is why it is often suggested as a gluten-free substitute for flour. It grows well in cold, damp soils where wheat would not, and thus is a common staple in Russia, Brittany, and Japan. I’ve even had a buckwheat “porridge,” once a common dish in the snow-bound mountain villages of the Japanese Alps (Nagano Prefecture). An artist-neighbour in Mejiro, Tokyo once invited M and I to share with her this now forgotten traditional delicacy: raw soba flour mixed with water and salt.

I’ve been experimenting with buckwheat since reading the Perfect Health Diet. Gluten seems to affect many who have hypothyroid problems, and this experiment is part of my continuing quest towards well-being. I must say that buckwheat has worked rather well in this recipe. I have adapted David Lebovitz’s recipe by reducing the sugar to half (I don’t like my sweets too sweet) and the salt as well, increased the butter and cream just a tad, and used a different mixing method for the crust. I tried sprinkling a few tartlets with salt crystals or fleur de sel, as David Lebovitz does, but even without, they are divine. I also used butter fudge candies, as they were the closest to caramels that M could find in our nearest supermarket (Netto) in Bonn. If you wish to make David Lebovitz’s Chocolate-Caramel Tartlets, please click here. To make this adhere to the Perfect Health Diet, you’d have to use palm or other non-refined sugar. (I might experiment with that next time.) Chocolate above 70% and no more than 20g a day is okay in the Perfect Health Diet. (The only hitch is the refined sugar in the caramel candies.)

 

Chocolate-Butter Fudge Tartlets (Gluten-free )

Adapted from David Lebovitz, makes 24 tartlets

 Butter a mini-muffin tin with 24 holes and dust thinly with 1 tsp cocoa powder. Or, better still, fill with mini-muffin liners.

Prepare the cocoa crust.

 Cocoa crust

In a large bowl, mix well:

115g buckwheat/soba flour (or wheat flour if you’re not bothered about gluten)

35g rice flour (I used Indian puttu podhi flour; if you can’t find rice flour, use in all 150g buckwheat or wheat flour)

¼ tsp salt

50g (1/4 cup less 1 tablespoon) sugar

40g cocoa powder (unsweetened).

Rub in:

125g cold diced butter.

Combine:

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 large egg, beaten,

and mix with the butter-and-flour mixture to make a dough.

The dough will be slightly sticky. Cover the bowl with cling film or put the dough in a plastic bag and let rest 20 minutes in the refrigerator, or until firmed up.

The above steps can be done in a food processor, pulsing briefly, or just until the ingredients come together.

Shape the dough into small balls of about 18g each (about ¾ inch) and place in the prepared muffin tin.

Press the balls with your thumb to fit into the holes.

Don’t worry about smoothing the tops of the crusts – the charm of these tartlets for me lies in their slight ungainliness.

Bake in a preheated oven at 160ºC (325ºF, with convection; 180ºC or 350ºF without convection) for 8 – 10 minutes, or until firm. (I turned the pan around halfway for more even baking.)

Turn off the oven, remove the pan, and use the handle of a wooden spoon to press down gently on the puffed-up crusts.

Return the pan to the still warm oven with the door slightly ajar for 15 – 20 minutes. (I found that buckwheat needs this to firm up properly.)

Remove pan from the oven. Gently pry off the crusts and let them cool on a grid.

 

Caramel or Butter Fudge Cream

Meanwhile, prepare the cream filling by warming over very low heat in a small pan:

120g caramels or butter fudge candies

45 ml (3 tablespoons) whipping or double cream.

When the candies start to melt, stir to prevent them burning.

Continue to stir until the mixture is smooth.

If the mixture is too dense (i.e., to drop from a spoon), stir in a tablespoon more cream. I like the filling to be gooey and thus the added cream, but there’s no harm done if the filling turns out to be solid. It will still taste divine.)

Remove from the heat at once and spoon the cream into the crusts.

Chocolate ganache

Prepare the topping by warming over low heat in a small pan (I used the same pan as for the cream filling, unwashed but scraped up):

95 ml whipping or double cream.

When the cream is heated through, but before it starts to boil, turn off the heat and stir in until smooth:

150g bitter chocolate (at least 70% chocolate content, I used 81%), broken into pieces.

Spoon the ganache over the cream filling in the crusts.

Let cool completely at room temperature.

You may wish to sprinkle each tartlet with 3 – 4 crystals of fleur de sel, as the original recipe calls for.

Guten Appetit!

For culinary experiments that turn out well, I am thankful! And as well for my lovely amaryllis, whose slow, slow unfolding keeps me in a state of blissful anticipation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year of Grace, Day 93. On skinship and the laying of hands

In 1971, my first year as a student in Tokyo, I became aware of the plasticity of the Japanese language, in particular with its ingenious adoption and adaptation of foreign words. The neo-Japanese term sukinshippu (skinship)  officially made it to the Japan National Language Dictionary (Nihon Kokugo Daijiten) that year, though another dictionary claims it was actually introduced in the 50s directly from the USA (!).  Skinship appeared on trains –- on the ads and diverse announcements posted high above the handgrips and which served as practice for my newly acquired language. Media commentators and columnists relished using the term. This Japlish word subsequently crossed over to Korea.

So what exactly does skinship mean? Well, we’re familiar with the word skin and the final –ship from the words relationship, friendship, etc. Skinship means the physical closeness or intimacy between a mother and child, between family members, or between friends.

One of the things that struck me in Japan in the 70s was the way young children – from infants to toddlers – were carried on their mothers’ backs in well-designed baby carriers. Not the metal-framed back carriers then used in the US for toddlers, but the belted ones that hold a child very close to the mother’s body. (Baby trolleys only became available in a few exclusive stores in the early 80s in Tokyo and were not a common sight.) One particular poster that caught my eye back then was of a working man in a suit (a salary-man — another Japlish term) with a baby strapped on his back — a highly unlikely occurrence. (Btw, I am heartened that here in Bonn in the 21st century, this once-traditional way of carrying babies is very much in evidence, not only with mothers but fathers too!) The rest of the poster caption has escaped my memory after all these decades, but I haven’t forgotten that it included the then neologism skinship.

This roundabout introduction brings me to the laying of hands in Reiki. For the past couple of days, I’ve focused on the first three Reiki keys to health and happiness — be in the present, let go of anger, let go of worry. The next key is to be thankful, and since my daily gratitude journal has had me writing my thanks for the past 92 days, I hope you don’t mind my giving it a miss today. Instead I am sharing what thoughts I’ve been having on the laying of hands that is at the heart of Reiki.

Once we outgrow childhood, we lose the close, regular skin-on-skin connection (our skinship) with our mothers or other carers. As babies, we were bathed regularly, our bodies and limbs were touched daily. We were constantly carried around, hugged, cuddled. When colicky, our tummies were soothed, our backs were rubbed. Once we could fend for ourselves, we lost most of these baby perks. Unless we have a love or erotic relationship, we rarely get to touch or be touched by other people on such a regular basis. (And that is also no doubt why having a pet or grandchild is enormously beneficial to emotional well-being.)

And there I believe lies the significant beneficial effect of  Reiki’s  laying of hands, especially as it is combined with the practitioner’s therapeutic thoughts and the positive state of mind (induced by Reiki ideals) of the recipient. Massage in various forms (shiatsu and so on) provides similar soothing and therapeutic effects as well. However, I feel it is the combination of the Reiki ideals fostered in the mind and spirit of both practitioner and recipient that enhances the physical effect of the laying of hands on some (though apparently not all) who experience it.

For me at any rate, my mind and spirit need physical reinforcement. When I felt worry beginning to creep in this morning, I whispered the Reiki ideals and then laid my palms on my head, my throat, and over my heart, and I eventually managed to allay my fears.

For the continuing progress of self-healing I have found in Reiki, I am grateful. And additionally, I give thanks for the amaryllis, one of whose buds is on the way to being released, poised to unfold into bloom.

Amaryllis unfolding