Year of Grace, Day 156. Yesterday’s Grace

The honking of geese overhead at first light — a frightful cacophony to be roused by, but though muddled with sleep I manage a faint smile as I recognize the sound. They’re flying back home, I say to myself — winter is truly, definitely past.

The day turns out to be warmer than predicted – it is 20ºC and sunny. We take a slow stroll along the Rhine, relishing the unobstructed view of Petersburg up on the mountain and the castle on Drachenfels. I wish I’d brought my camera along.

There is a bikers’ path, and on this early summer’s day, flocks of cyclists make for unceasing traffic. An occasional rollerblader glides by, crouched low, almost as if skating on ice. I am glad to be out of their way on a separate path for walkers and hikers, higher up the bank.

Afterwards resting on a bench, we watch barges laden with containers headed downstream to Cologne and leisure cruisers bound upstream with daytrippers to Koblenz or Linz and the quaint green train to Bad Honnef on the track parallel to the Rhine. A couple in a boat energetically sculls as they chat, rather loudly as they cannot hear too well, being seated one behind the other; a cabin cruiser with a young family churns the water. Away from the river traffic, a cormorant dives repeatedly, surfacing further along. I try to catch a glimpse of fish in its mouth. How much fish does a cormorant eat? It doesn’t seem to stop. A lot, says M.

A goose, which we at first take for a duck because of its strikingly coloured feathers, is on its own on the edge of the water, calling out in that startling goose honk, like a donkey braying. Its feathers are a warm mix of amber and butterscotch, orange, and brown, with black edging. And its eyes are surrounded by a dark brown patch. Perhaps it’s looking for a mate? Or else it has lost its way, got left behind by its mates who’d flown by earlier? As we make our way back, the goose is on the bank, waddling back towards the river. Could it have a nest then somewhere in the thickets? Later I find out it is an Egyptian goose (click on link for images).

I am ever on the lookout for wildflowers or fungi on these walks. Little white daisies cover the grassy verges like galaxies of stars, and on one spot close to the outdoor swimming pool, already filled with water but no swimmers yet, there are wild geraniums with tiny pink flowers, a bit larger than Robert’s Geranium (also known as Herb Robert), and near them, some blooming white bladder campion.

Back home, I leisurely peel, core, and score apples for an apple cake from the book Backen Macht Freude (Baking Makes Joy). I adore cakes (and pies as well of course) made with fresh fruit, and my fanciful thoughts turn to Eve – our proverbial ancestress — as I prepare the apples. Would she have made cakes with this symbol of downfall – hers, Adam’s, ours? (Yes, I do have rather whimsical ideas. Often!)

Apple cake (Apfelkuchen)

Apple cake (Apfelkuchen)

A perfect tempura lunch is made by M – not classic prawn and little fish called kisu (pronounced ‘kiss’), but squid heads and tentacles, one large carrot cut into rings, and one Florence fennel bulb in vertical slices. We do have some authentic Japanese ingredients: mitsuba leaves that I’ve been growing since last spring — wide as shiso and that lend themselves to being fried to perfect crispness; Kikkoman soy sauce and the dashi for the dipping sauce. Tiny round red radishes sub for grated daikon: the red flecks of skin quite festive, even if not authentic and not as pungent as daikon, but the grated Thai ginger’s zing make up for it. The squid heads are ready to cook from a frozen pack bought at the Thai-Viet food shop in Old Town Bonn – certainly beats cleaning them from fresh. (I am glad to be spared the task as I cannot think of anything more unpleasant – I have done it countless times because I love cooking and eating squid.  Afterwards, replete (and no more room for rice), we have slices of our first watermelon this season: it is perfectly crisp and sweet.

At the close of day, as the sun makes its descent — swallows and swifts in pairs and alone, wheel and swoop with unfettered joy, soaring and gliding high up in the sky and then abruptly diving low and then back up again. It is definitely summer when the swallows and swifts are back.

That was my day yesterday — certainly a perfect day of grace. A heartfelt and deep thank You.


Apple and teff cake

I love having something sweet when I drink coffee, and I’m certain that so do many other people. And when I think of something sweet, it usually means cake or cookie. This is my biggest challenge when contemplating going completely 100% gluten-free and refined sugar-free. I experimented recently with teff (Eragrostis tef), also called tef, a grain originally from Ethiopia and Eritrea which goes to making the traditional flat bread called injera. Although teff is a cereal grain (among the smallest), it does not stimulate the same negative response in people with celiac disease, as found by Liesbeth Spaenij-Dekking and colleagues from Leiden University in the Netherlands (see Spaenij-Dekking L et al., 2005, The Ethiopian Cereal Tef in Celiac Disease, New England Journal of Medicine What this means is that although teff contains gluten, it is not the same kind as that found in wheat, barley, or oats. (Please note that my mentioning this does not constitute a recommendation to use teff for those who do have celiac disease.)  I do not have celiac disease, and am currently experimenting with  teff and other low-gluten or gluten-free ingredients, because of autoimmune issues from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. My immune system has been extremely vulnerable lately, and I’m hoping that following the Perfect Health Diet (PHD) and its suggestions to eliminate gluten and sugar may help.PHD APPLE TEFF CAKE WHOLE APPLES TEFF FLOUR PACK_8935

Teff flour is Teffmehl in German, and is available at some organic food stores (Bioladen). I found this in the organic shop near Bonn Central Station. It ranges in colour from white to dark brown: I used a beige-coloured one. PHD TEFF FLOUR_8954As refined sugar substitutes, I used honey and a Belgian fruit spread, called Delice de Liege, made from apples, pears, and dates. The fruit spread is not, however, entirely sugar-free: there is a small amount: how much, though, is unstated on the package. For every 100 grams of fruit spread, the product claims 180 g of pears, 160 g of apples, and 60 g of dates.BELGIAN FRUIT SPREAD

I am in gradual transition from my normal diet to the PHD, starting with eliminating wheat. At the same time I am also trying to reduce my refined sugar intake, by substituting honey or other products that do not contain sugar, and I must confess to not entirely succeeding, as I do love baking and eating pastry. Thus these experiments with suitable wheat-free and refined sugar-free alternatives.

This is a not-too-sweet cake that goes well with coffee, tea, or any hot drink and, may I add, also cool or cold milk.  It can be served with yogurt or cream, and goes perfectly well with vanilla ice cream (for those not eliminating refined sugar entirely from their diet): especially while the cake is still warm, making for a nice apple-teff cake à la mode. The teff and apples produce a moist crumb, so best to give the cake sufficient time to rest before slicing. If you wish to bake this in a different shaped pan, such as an 8- or 9-inch (20 – 22 cm) square or rectangular baking tray,  reduce baking time to 25 – 30 minutes.

Apple and Teff Cake


3 apples, peeled, cored, and diced

½ cup / 70 g sultanas or raisins

¼ tablespoon cinnamon

½ cup Belgian fruit spread, honey, or sugar-free jam

3 ½ tablespoons / 50 g melted butter

1 cup /140 g teff flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon vanilla essence

4 ½ tablespoons / 65 g butter, diced

2 tablespoons honey

1  egg, beaten

¼ cup milk or yogurt

2 tablespoons butter, diced (optional)



Butter a round cake pan, 8 in diameter x 4 in deep / 20 cm diameter x 9 cm deep, and dust the surface evenly with 1 – 2 teaspoons teff flour. Shake off the excess. Preheat oven to 325°F /165°C.

Prepare the fruit: in a bowl, combine the apples, sultanas, fruit spread, cinnamon, and butter. Set aside.

Prepare the dough. In a large bowl, mix well by rubbing with the fingers or in a food processor or mixer the teff, baking powder,  baking soda, salt, vanilla essence, butter, and honey. The resulting mixture will resemble coarse meal. Make a depression in the middle of the dough mixture and mix in gently the egg and milk until completely incorporated.

Mix two-thirds of the apple mixture with the dough and spoon the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Spread the remaining apple mixture on top. Dot with diced butter, if you wish.

Place in the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 45 – 55 minutes, or until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry. Leave the cake inside the turned-off oven with the door ajar, to rest and firm up for 30 to 45 minutes before slicing.

Bon(n) appetit!