Monday, 31 December 2012

Indulge one last time: German nut triangles

The year 2012 is coming to an end and I have many many many resolutions for 2013, in fact too many and  am sure that half will be cancelled from my list my January 3rd. One of the biggies on my agenda is: TA-DAAA weight loss. Who would have thought?! So, I indulge one last time today and will end the year 2012 with German nut triangles - a yummy winter treat. I guarantee that this delicious pastry will be the first to disappear at any new year's party. And here is what you need:

For a baking sheet: (40x30cm or 16x12 inches)
sunflower oil to grease baking sheet

For the pastry:
225 g  or 2 1/4 cups plain four
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g or 1/2 cups brown sugar
4 drops vanilla essence
1 egg
1 egg yolk
100 g or 3/8 cups butter (softened) 

For the topping: 
2 tablespoons of apricot marmalade
150 g or 3/4 cups brown sugar
150 g or 3/4 cups butter
8 drops vanilla essence
3 tablespoons of water
200 g or 7 ounces flaked hazelnut kernels
100 g or 3 1/2 ground hazelnut kernels

For the coating:
200 g or 7 ounces of milk chocolate

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius/350 degrees fahrenheit.
  • Mix flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl and add all remaining ingredients, work first with kneading hook, then stir with electrical mixer (highest setting) until the dough is smooth, roll it out on the greased baking sheet.
  • spread the jam on the dough, in a pot melt butter and with sugar, vanilla essence and water, stir it well. Add the hazelnut mix and stir again. Let is cool down for a few minutes and spread it evenly on the dough.
  • Bake everything for about 25 minutes.
  • Let the pastry cool down for at least one hour otherwise you cannot cut it well, the pasty will break and all your work is lost in crumbles.
  • Once cooled down, cut the pastry into squares (circa 4 cm or 2 1/2 inches wide) and then diagonally into triangles.

  • Chop the chocolate and melt it in bain-marie. Make sure you have the stove on low heat only, otherwise the chocolate will burn. Stir continuously. 
  • Dip the corners of the nut triangles into the chocolate and let cool again. 
Don't worry if the chocolate corners are irregular, the taste is so delicious that nobody will care about the look. 

This German treat was the highlight of an Italian family dinner we had a few weeks ago, and I am sure it will have the same wow-effect at our party tonight. 

Happy New Year!!!!!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Crunchy carrots

Toss veggies in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and green onion.

There is nothing healthier than vegetables - and luckily I love them. I prepare them in many different ways, but one of my favourite methods is to grill them in the oven. I made carrots today, however, you can use all kinds of different veggies, just make sure you cut them all about the same width and length. I often use zucchini and carrots together, they make a delicious and colourful combination.

You will need
veggies (about 800 grams, serves 2 as a main dish and 4 as a side dish)
half green onion
one clove of garlic
two teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil (chili flakes and sesame seeds are optional)

Place the carrots on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Here is what you do:
  • Preheat the oven to the highest temperature possible if you want to eat right away. If you have some time on your hands, prepare everything and let it sit for 30 minutes before turning on the oven.
  • Wash and cut the veggies (I peel the carrots but not the zucchinis), make sure all vegetable sticks have about the same thickness and length
  • Finely chop the garlic and green onion.
  • Place everything in a large bowl.
  • Add about 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil. Go easy on the oil, you won't need much.
  • Add salt and pepper and maybe some chili flakes. I also added sesame seeds, but I recommend. you leave it at salt and pepper for the first time, the taste of the vegetables will amaze you
  • Toss everything really well and if you are not in a rush, cover the bowl and let it sit for about 30 to 45 minutes, this will bring out the flavours even more. 
  • Place the veggies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Put your oven on the grill function and cook for 10 minutes, then turn the veggies and grill for another 10 minutes the most.
The veggies will be crunchy and very tasty. We often times have just the veggies for dinner, maybe with a slice of bread, however, it also makes a great side dish that goes well with any kind of fish or meat.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A desperate painter

Maybe it was not a clever idea to start renovating just before this year's Holiday Season. Since I have some time on my hands I decided to paint the walls. I had planned to be done by December 2nd, however, I must have been delusional. As of yesterday, I finished painting and cleaning three rooms and the hallway. I left the living room for last and if everything goes as planned, I might be able to put up my Christmas decoration by Sunday, fingers crossed.
Yes, I am a DIY project enthusiast, but I am not a very efficient one. I am not really in a position to give you a hands on advice on painting that anyone might not already know. All I can suggest is to avoid the same mistakes I made. Here is my personal list of things to remember when painting the walls in the future:
  • choose quality paint, it will prevent you from having to put on too many layers
  • preparation is the key; make sure you tape all corners, borders, window sills, power outlets etc.
  • push all furniture to the middle of the room and place plastic foil over them if you cannot take them   completely out of the room (which is what I would suggest, but unfortunately could not do)
  • start to paint from top to bottom, in case some paint will run (and it will, trust me!)
  • if you need to mix paint or thin it with water, make sure you stir with a flat stick (not a round one), otherwise the paint will take forever to blend.
  • being a perfectionist like me often times is not an advantage in life, however, when it comes to painting, it can be quite beneficial
  • and last but not least: be patient! You will get the job done, eventually... at least, I still hope so.

Less mess, less cleaning; being a perfectionist can be advantageous when it comes to paining. 

Friday, 30 November 2012

Advent calendar for everyone

Details of the advent calendar.

Advent calendars belong to December like the tree belongs to Christmas. My Mom made one every year when my sister and I were little. This creative calendar with 24 doors for every day of December until Christmas is supposed to make the wait for the big day easier on children, however, I find that especially adults need advent calendar during the busy month of December - not only to be reminded of how many (or few) days are left until Christmas, but also to start every morning with a little pleasure: a piece of chocolate, a cream from the drugstore or a bag of tea. This year, not only V. gets one, but also my sister in Germany who very much needs to relax from her busy job and hopefully will enjoy a little surprise every day.
You do not need much, just 24 little surprises (chocolates, drug store articles, teas etc. - of course I cannot write what's in the one I made, otherwise my sister won't be surprised). I chose various kinds of wrapping and scratch book paper. Make sure they match and make sure they fit into the home of the person you make the calendar for. Handwritten numbers can look nice. I chose to print a lovely flower pattern I found on the internet (I searched for "free printable patterns") and simply wrote numbers 1 to 24 in photoshop (I chose a pretty handwriting font). I tied the packages with twine, but you could use any kind of ribbon. I originally wanted to hang the 24 gifts on a piece of driftwood, but since I needed to ship everything from Italy to Germany, I just left it as it is.
Today is November 30th and your advent calendar should either be in the making or finished by now.... and if not, just look in your cupboards and drawers, maybe you can make a last minute advent calendar for a loved one. Even if it's ready on the 2nd or the 3rd of December, the joy will still be the same!

And off to Germany!
 Everything arrived on time and my sister was very happily surprised.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Chocolate chip cookie day

Do you ever wake up and think: "Today is chocolate chip cookie day!"? Well, I do sometimes. Today was such a day. Whenever I feel like making good old chocolate chip cookies I automatically think one or two swearwords. That's because I live in Italy and cannot get any Hershey's here. Well, yes. European chocolate is creamier, but when it comes to chocolate chip cookies, those Hershey's are just the best. Sometimes, I treat a chocolate bar with mortar and pestle, but today the flat European chocolate chips from the baking isle that were sitting in my pantry just worked well. I have tried lots and lots of those cookie recipes: This one is a combination of many and it always works for me.

3/4 cup (170 g) butter
1 cup (200 g) brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 g) white sugar
1 package of vanilla powder or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups (280 g) of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 1/2 cups (270 g) of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C
Beat sugars and butter in a large bowl until fluffy.
Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract (if you use powder, mix in with the flour in the next step). The texture needs to like a cream.
In another bowl mix together the flour with the baking soda and salt (and vanilla powder). Spoon in chocolate chips and leave some aside for later. Place your dough on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Wet your fingers with cold water and shape the cookies. Sprinkle with the left over chocolate chips.
Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until light brown. Let cool completely.
This makes a lot of cookies, but no worries, they will not go to waste! At least in my house they don't.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Something yellow, something blue

In order to get enough energy on a rainy November day, I count on colours and let smoothies wake me up in the morning. I usually punch together whatever I have left in the kitchen and never follow any recipes for my smoothies. However, today's creation was just so delicious, that I will need to remember it for the future. Here is how I made the yummy blueberry-pineapple smoothie:

- one large handful of freshly cut pineapple
- one handful of fresh blueberries
- half a banana (for sweetness)
- circa 150-200 ml of soy milk (I use the one with added calcium)
Throw everything in the blender and... yummy!

Fore more texture you could add some rolled oats or oat bran. I didn't feel for it today.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

First peek: MJ's outfits

Here is a first peek into my Italianized closet. This might seem like a summer outfit to you, but I wore this a few days ago... one advantage living in Italy and not Germany or Canada.
I am wearing a neon orange scarf that I found in a local boutique. It had no label on it. I love it! The top is a plain H&M undershirt in a neutral colour. I find neutrals work best with coloured pants. The yellow faded jeans are made by Mötivi, an Italian clothing chain operated by Miroglio Group. My shoes are from Café Noir's 2012 summer collection. They have a brown, 12 centimeter heel that cannot be seen in this picture. The purse is from this year's Liu Jo collection. I love the nude colour. It goes with everything!

MJ's roadmap to fashion

At first, I wasn't sure if I should even blog about fashion, but living in Italy, there is no way, I cannot write about it. My fashion history has been influenced by a multitude of countries, styles and comfort levels. In order to understand my approach to fashion, here is what you need to know about my past clothing habits:
Barbie doll (ages of 14 to 20): Living in rural northern Germany, big city fashion such as leather mini skirts, high heels, ponchos and full make-up just weren't the style. Nirvana ruled my school and thus the fashion that came along with the grunge era was mainstream back then: who wore torn blue jeans, worn-out converse all-stars and t-shirts portraying late Kurt Cobain was cool; MJ in her tight skirts and pantyhose was not so cool. However, it was my conscious choice to wear these Parisian inspired outfits and I refused to conform to the mainstream look. The "Barbie doll" comments in the hallway of my school did not want to make me change my look.
New World meets Old World (ages 20-24): I lived in Florida for one year when I was 20 years old, then moved back to my home town. I was torn between laid-back Floridian casual wear made by Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger and pretty items floating around in my closet from back in the days. My style during my early twenties could be described as: no style at all.
Canadian student, eh? (ages 24-30): My non-existent fashion would soon be changed into Canadian university style when I studied in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Sweat pants, sweat shirts, Ugg boots and thick winter jackets were part of my wardrobe. The key fashion rules were: comfy, comfy, comfy and as many layers as possible for the below-30-something-winter on the Canadian East Coast.
Old World meets New World (ages 30-33): From Canada I moved to Munich, Germany. A city known for somewhat conservative somewhat trendy women with an expensive taste. My Ugg boots still worked well for a while, but the sweat pants could not even be worn to the supermarket around the corner. There was no dress code at the editorial office I worked at, so again, my style during my early thirties could be described as: no style at all.
Italian fashionista (ages 33 to present): Apart from my lululemon yoga outfits that I will never ban from of my closet the rest of my wardrobe has become very much Italian. Still, I might never become a true Italian fashionista but the influence in the land of "moda" has already out-razed the mix of rural German, chic Parisian, casual Floridian and comfy Canadian in me.

Friday, 16 November 2012

in italiano, please

notte (l., sostantivo) night; "buonanotte" means "good night", very important to know. Italians use this  phrase just the same, thus, when going to bed.  Prior to this you would say "buonasera" which means "good evening".

Monday, 12 November 2012

old style, great taste: hand brewed coffee for a change

If you have never tasted Tim Horton's coffee, you cannot possibly know what I am about to write here. No, don't stop reading though, I'll try to explain to you in a few words what this is all about: Tim Horton's is a coffee chain from Canada with more than 3000 stores nationwide. Canadians stop by and have a "large single single" or a "large triple milk" to indicate their preference of size and amounts of sugar and cream. First comes the size, then the sugar (single) and then the cream (single). Ordering at Tim Horton's is just as confusing as ordering at Starbucks if you do not have a preference yet, afterwards, it's very easy.

Thousands of Canadians get their cup of "Tims" on a daily basis. I would suggest not drinking more than one large cup a day, because the amount of caffeine is extremely high, thus, not good for your health. Alternatively you can order steeped tea (also fabulous) or a decaf.
Since coffee habits are quite different in Italy (I have already written a bit about it), Tim Horton's coffee is nowhere to be found around here. Thank goodness, my friends from across the pond send me cans of Tims on a regular basis. About once a week I enjoy a small pot of Tim Horton's coffee - and I always brew by hand.

To handbrew your cup of delicious coffee, you do not need to travel to Canada, almost any kind of coffee works, I do recommend, however, not to use the fine grind. Real Italian espresso coffee is not as tasty brewed by hand. The rule is: the coarser, the better.
Since filtered or drip brewed coffee is not as stylish these days and those who do drink it, usually prepare it with the help of electric coffee makers, I would like to explain to you how to make a lovely brewed filter coffee. Here is what you do:

- boil water in a kettle
- place a paper coffee filter in a manual drip coffee filter (mine is a ceramic one)
- spoon in the coffee (I always use one spoonful more than the amount of cups I get)
- once the water is boiling, take it off the stove and wait two minutes, never use the boiling water    
  as it will burn the coffee
- now slowly pour water over the coffee in circling motions, fill the ceramic filter to the top
- wait until all the water has dripped
- pour water over the coffee, again do it in circling motions, make sure the water pushes down
  most of coffee from the edges of the filter
- when all the water has dripped through and your can is full, your coffee is done.

Put your caramel cappuccino and vanilla soy chai latte apart for a moment and try a hand brewed coffee for a different taste... oh, and don't forget to let me know what you think!

in italiano, please

melograno (m., sostantivo; pl. melograni or less frequently meligrani) - pomegranate; the Latin word for pomegranate is punica granatum. I post this translation here, because apart from blackberries, pomegranates belong to my favourite foods of all time. I enjoy them in the morning with my muesli or mixed in with a salad. It was in Israel where I saw a pomegranate tree for the first time of my life. Little did I know back then that I would live in a place where pomegranate trees are as common as apple trees in Germany. There is one pomegranate tree just 20 meters away from my house. How tempting...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Home is where the bread is

Pizza, pasta and parmesan are amongst the reasons why Italy is known to be the country of the most delicious foods, but as an expat German there is one food, that I will always miss whenever I leave my native land: bread.
According to me, and the majority of my fellow citizens certainly agrees, when you grow up with German bread, nothing else can satisfy you. During my time in the US, in Canada and now in Italy I bought the most expensive types of bread labelled "contains European ingredients", "super crunchy" or "original German recipe",  however, whenever I took the first bite, my disappointment was guaranteed. That's how I started to experiment making my own bread. Years of practice, recipe variations, baking time adjustments and oven changes lead to ever the same outcome: not-so-German-tasting bread. Ironically, it was an Italian lady, my hopefully-soon-to-be-mother-in-law, who provided me with a basic recipe that always works for white bread. Using this as a basis, you can never go wrong. Trust me. I make the most delicious loaves and hardly ever buy bread at the store or the bakery anymore. For the recipe that follows I personally use a bread machine, but you can also bake the loaf in your oven (instructions to follow). So, let's start with the basic recipe that always works; variations will follow.

Ingredients for one loaf of bread:

610 grams of flour (you can always change the kind of flour you use, but not matter what you do,
                                 always make it 610 grams)
1 package of active dry yeast 
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of oil (I usually use olive oil, but you can also use sunflower seed oil or rapeseed oil)
1 pinch of salt
375 ml (12.68 oz or 1 1/2 cups) skim or low-fat milk

Mix the active dry yeast really well with the four, sugar and salt, add oil and milk. I never trust my bread maker, so I mix everything really well before putting it in there. Since I am always in a rush and bread runs out last minute I use the express mode of my bread machine (baking time 1 hour and 20 minutes). Works perfectly fine for me!

If you do not have such a fabulous tool simply use your oven. Make sure you proof the yeast for at least 30 minutes (better 1 hour) in a warm place. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees celsius (482 degrees fahrenheit) and bake for 30 minutes, then 180 degrees celsius (356 degrees fahrenheit) for another 30 minutes.

Whether you are German or not, I am sure this loaf will not go stale in your house!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

in italiano, please

Ognissanti or Tutti i Santi (m., sostantivo; invariabile) All Saints' Day; this holiday honours all saints, known or unknown, on November 1st. Halloween, the night before All Saints' Day is not a common celebration in Italy. Each year stores offer more and more Halloween decorations, but children do not go trick-or-treating. On All Saints' Day Italians remember their loved ones who passed away and visit the cemetery. Graves are decorated with candles and flowers.

in italiano, please

giacca (f., sostantivo; pl. giacche) - jacket; the use of the word is similar to the use of the English word, the only difference: Italian "giacche" are often more fashionable than "jackets".

Friday, 26 October 2012

in italiano, please

casa (f, sostantivo, pl. case) - house and home; when an Italian talks about "la casa" he may refer to his house or his apartment, the place where he currently lives. "Casa mia", however,  usually refers to the parents' house even if an Italian has his own house with his wife and kids. Often times "casa" is more than just the house or the apartment, but "essere a casa" means being at home.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

one lulu girl amongst many

The the first lululemon item I have ever owned. I still use it once in a while.   (maryjanawege via instagram)
Really? No way! I had to read the newsfeed twice on the lululemon facebook page before it registered and even now 30 minutes later I still cannot believe what I discovered: my favourite brand of all times will launch a European website in a few weeks time; all prices in euros and free shipping guaranteed! Where is the huge smilie button with an open mouth laughter when I need it?

Lululemon Athletica has been my favourite brand for many years. I saw the little omega logo for the first time when I was a student at Dalhousie University on Canada's east coast. Only the girls from the big T.O. or from out west wore these amazing jogging pants that seemed sporty, yet super-trendy and so comfy at the same time. The pants would hang really low on the waistline of the Torontonian girls. In the back, just above their bums, there it always emerged: the mysterious omega sign. I felt too uncool to want to ask what brand that was and despite my journalistic skills no google search could solve the mystery of this cool logo that all the stylish girls obviously knew about - but me. Until one day while I went shopping in a little boutique called Wildflower in downtown Halifax, just off Spring Garden Road, when I saw the logo on a little red and white clutch. There was the word "lululemon athletica" written on one side and on the other "friends are more important than money".  I paid 48,00 Canadian dollars for the wallet, way more than I could afford at the time.

Years and many, many, many shipments later, my closet is full of lululemon gear. Not sure if that little Wildflower boutique still exists, but after I had moved back to Germany a large lulu store opened right on Spring Garden Road in Halifax. I am convinced that there are no better clothes for yogis. Not a day goes by I don't wish I could wear lululemon to work. That way, I would never have to dress in anything else since I already have on my lulu hoodies when I go grocery shopping, when we go drink prosecco at a local bar and when we have friends over.

With lululemon launching the European website, the novelty will be gone soon. This is kind of what happened with Abercrombie & Fitch. I bought my first A&F jeans and shirts in 1997 when I lived in Florida and when I moved back to Germany one year later nobody even knew what that brand was let alone that I spent half of my paycheck on a tank top. When Germans started noticing the brand years later, they had to order jeans and hoodies in the States to get them. Not only did they have to pay a fortune for a t-shirt bearing two letters and an ampersand but also did they have to pay international shipping fees as well as local taxes. However, the more European Ebay shops specialized on Abercrombie gear the more its wearers lost their cool.

Is that what will happen to me wearing my lulu hoodies in a year from now? No more strange looks from girls trying to figure out what the omega sign above the ankle stands for but instead I will spy more and more girls with lulu tea cozies and yoga mats?

I could be sad about the fact that I'll be loosing my niche status as a lulu girl here in Europe but the truth is, I am happy that I will have easier access to the fabulous clothes I love. The launch of the lulu online shop might even give yoga a boost in Italy, since it is not a common activity here, yet.

To say the truth, I cannot wait for the launch and I for sure will be amongst the first loyal clients to order off the new site. And since I have known for many years, thank to my lulu clutch, that "friends are more important than money", I might even spend a fortune!

If friends are more important than money: shop on, girl!   (maryjanawege via instagram)

pomegranate power smoothie

"An early... what?" asks my brain. No, I am certainly not an early bird. My body starts functioning at around 10.30 a.m. - not a minute sooner. I have tried and tried and tried. It's true that sunrises are pretty, but sunsets are just as lovely.

The problem being a night owl is not having an appetite in the morning. In fact, I hate breakfast (if I am supposed to have it before 10.30 a.m.). I find it hard to swallow anything since my body is telling me "Hey, why are you eating, you should be sleeping! Go back to bed!"
However, I am forcing myself to get up at a decent hour even on the days I don't have to go to work and I have discovered that smoothies are just my way to start the day. As with all my cooking, I hardly follow recipes, but mix together whatever  I find in my fruit bowl or the fridge.

This morning I made a smoothie consisting of my favourite fruits: pomegranate and blackberries.
It is difficult to say the exact measurements, but I eyeballed  the quantities for you. Here we go:


1 small, ripe pomegranate
1 handfull of fresh blackberries
1/4 cup of rolled oats
1/4 (60) cup of almond milk
2/3 (150 ml) cup of skimmed milk (or a little less)

Cut the pomegranate in half, then break it open and peel off the seeds. Throw away all of the yellow tissue, it's very bitter. Put the seeds in the blender. Wash the blackberries and add them as well as the rolled oats to the seeds. Pour in the milk and the almond milk (the one I buy is very sweet, so no need for sugar). You can play with the quantities of your milk. Add a little less if you like a thick smootie (I do.) Put the lid on and press: on. I love the purplish colour! Now, that's a breakfast I enjoy. Hope you do, too! Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

in italiano, please: bacio

bacio (m, sostantivo, pl. baci) - kiss; this should have been the first Italian word to post here, because what could be more important than a kiss? "Bacio" is not only used as a closing phrases for a text message or an e-mail but Italians also say "bacio" when talking to a family member on the phone or at the end on a conversation with a close friend. B-A-C-I-O... what word could sound more Italian?

Monday, 22 October 2012

in italiano, please: ombrellone

ombrellone (sostantivo, m.) - parasol (by Italians often translated as "beach umbrella"); most of Italy's beaches are equipped with parasols. It is an Italian tradition to rent your parasol, often times the same position such as first row, third one from the right) at the nearest beach to you.  Italians rent day by day or seasonally. Each rental includes two beach beds or decker chairs. Renting an "ombrellone" can be quite pricy, but it is still the thing to do and very practical in the summer since you do not want to get burned by the sun. Plus there are always bathrooms and a beach bar near by. However, I am happy once the season is over and the parasols are taken to the storage for the winter. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

in italiano, please: eccomi

eccomi (avverbio + pronome personale) - here I am or I am here; can be used as a response when someone is calling you: "MJ?", "Eccomi." Often also used as "eccomi qua" with the emphasis on "qua" = "here". I hear people use "eccomi" when they enter a room instead of saying "buongiorno", as if someone was waiting for them. That's kind of rude, I think.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

in italiano, please: spazzolino

spazzolino da denti (m, pl. spazzolini da denti) - toothbrush; can also simply be called "spazzolino". Just be careful: do not call for a "spazzolone" when you are about to start your dental hygiene as this is a larger type of brush such as a broom or a toilet brush.  

simply caprese

Can you imagine how intimidated I as when I cooked the first meal for my Italian/Greek boyfriend? Me? Being German I belong to a people who is thought to live off Sauerkraut an Würstel. (I get this stereotype all the time, no matter where I am. I do not remember my Mama ever making supper consisting of Sauerkraut and Würstel. Who knows where this is coming from?) So what I did I do? I consulted my favourite Italian cook book, the one written by a famous British chef and hoped for the best.
Jamie Oliver calls for buffalo mozzarella and he is right on. For Italians this is by the way the one and only kind of mozzarella to use in a caprese, no compromise. Ever. The chef explains in "Jamie's Italy" how important it is to use fresh ingredients and suggests mixed ripe tomatoes which I used for the first version. Over the years, however, and I came to find that the tomatoes we like the best are "pomodori cuore di bue" or "beefsteak tomatoes". They have a funny shape. If you find them at your local market get them and when they are fresh, you will love the taste and use them all the time.
I pretty much followed Jamie Oliver's recipe, but when it came to adding the vinegar I realized that I had run out! From that day on, our caprese is served without vinegar, we hardly ever use it on other dishes, because we find it upsets the stomach and overshadows the taste of the good-quality olive oil. And this, I would say, is the key to a great caprese or any salad you ever make: it's the olive oil, Baby. We are fortunate enough to always have a supply of fresh olive oil from V.'s Greek family's own olive orchard in Peloponnese. If you don't have access to your own olive trees I would suggest you spend a bit more and check the colour (the greener the better I find) and smell or even sample taste it. Hmmmm.
One other thing I now change about Jamie's caprese is the onion. Instead of using the white of a green onion, I use a tiny bit of a red onion, about one spoonful, very finely chopped. Very very finely.

serves 2

2 x balls of buffalo mozzarella (150 grams each)
3 ripe tomatoes or two large beefsteak tomatoes
one spoonful of very finely chopped red onion
extra virgin olive oil of the best quality
a large handful of fresh basil
sea salt and pepper

For the dressing chop most of the basil and smash it together with olive oil, salt and pepper. You could use mortar and pestle or just a small bowl and a fork.
Tear the mozzarella apart and cut the tomatoes into various sized chunks. Place in a bowl and add the finely chopped onions. Toss with olive oil. Add the dressing, toss again. Add remaining basil leaves. I let everything rest for about 30 minutes, so that the tomatoes and mozzarella have room temperature and the flavours mix well. Yum.

Anxiously I was looking at V. when he took the first bite. Irritated himself that he was being observed, he stopped chewing. "Do you like it?" I asked and he answered "This is the best caprese I ever ate." Thank you Jamie!!!

Friday, 19 October 2012


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in italiano, please: brioche

brioche (f, pl. brioche) - type of bread or pastry in various shapes that is usually eaten for breakfast. A typical Italian would have breakfast at a bar and order a "cappuccino con brioche". In the region where I live, a brioche is mostly a croissant that is either plain or filled with jam, cream, chocolate, nutella or almond paste. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

in italiano, please: accappatoio

accappatoio (m, pl. accappatoi) bathrobe (difficult to pronounce; this was one of the first words I learned in Italian and thought "when will I ever use this word?" The answer is: many many times. Italians love their "accappatoio").

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

a hippo dancing zumba

The last row is where I choose to be in Zumba class.

V. and I are back from the most wonderful vacation in Greece. We managed to see all of V.'s Greek family and still had lots of time for ourselves to relax by the ocean, play golf, sunbathe and, well, eat! Tzatziki, feta cheese, whole fat yoghurt with honey, moussaka and the famous short-bread "kourabiedes" put an extra layer of fat on my hips and belly, thus, V. and I are on a strict diet consisting of smoothies, caprese, minestra and salads. No snacks allowed.

Of course I came back with a few recipes from some of V.'s aunts, but since my knowledge of Greek can be summed up in four words: oreo=beautiful, kala=good/well, siga-siga=slowly and daxi=okay  I'm not sure I got everything down right and need to make these dishes before publishing them on here and that will have to wait also because my filled-up-to-the-top fat cells need to be emptied first. Eating only healthy food might not do the trick, an exercise plan needs to be established. So why not try what has been advertized on facebook, TV and in magazines for months: the magical ZUMBA.
Up and down: the feet of the Zumba instructor know where to step next.
Everyone says it's more like a party rather than a workout when you dance and build muscles to latin rhythms. According to Wikipedia there are 12 million people in more than 126 countries participating in this Columbian dance fitness program that includes elements of salsa, hip-hop, soca, merengue, mambo and belly dance.There must be some Zumba fans who are just like me and have less sense of coordination than the leaves of a poplar in the wind. If 12 million people like to work out this way surely would I, right?
So I fish my long unused gym bag from underneath the bed, put my Lululemon yoga pants and a baggy, long-sleeve shirt that covers my belly roll and off I go... when I see that it is pouring outside. The perfect excuse to stop my adventure right here and then. Too bad that I promised my friend and co-worker Teresa to be there tonight. She is not just another Zumba fanatic, she is also the instructor herself. Shoot. I grab the umbrella, a hoodie, my bag and run to the car.
Other than one girl who is definitely in her teens and a lady in her 60s I seem to fit right into the group of mid-thirties Zumba women at the local gym. Of course, a towel would have been nice, all the girls got one except me. Should have thought about this. A good reason to leave and never try this out, I am thinking when I hear Teresa welcoming the group with a cheerful "Allora ragazze," and I know there is no escape.
Drum music resounds from the stereo's speakers and 15 women move in sync, just I remain a statue and observe. Left, right, left right - seems fairly easy. I start moving. "And the hips," shouts Teresa. I move the hips in a circle-like motion and lose my step right away. What are the others doing? Okay, once again: left right, left right. Got it. This is not too shabby. "Now the arms," calls my dancer friend and all the ladies move their arms and do fancy movements with their hands and fingers, too. I try to mimic them as good as I can and lose my step again. I am not even thinking of the hips. Okay, slowly MJ. I concentrate hard and then I got it, but what is that? Everyone is moving to the right "And now to the left," cheers Teresa. Her arms sway yet differently than before: up, down, up down, up up. Jeee... "Is this your first time at Zumba?" asks the woman next to me with a smile on her face. "Well, isn't that obvious," I want to grunt back at the fairly big boned woman who manages to move like a ballerina despite her extra kilos. "Aha."I nod instead and realize that I stopped swinging all together. Talking and dancing at the same time, no way! While I am standing firmly in the middle of the dancing crowd and still try to figure out which foot to move where exactly, the music stops and clapping and cheering fill the dancing hall. Although Teresa has her back turned towards me, her eyes hit mine through the wall-length mirror in front of her. "For everyone who is new," she says and I know she is talking specifically to me, "Here is what you do with your arms." Okay now, when someone explains this slowly and my body can adjust little by little, this is not too bad.
Gracefully dancing Zumba ladies.
In the course of the 90 minute class various songs require different steps; arm, hand and hip movements to follow. Every time when I feel like I finally get the leg part right and try to involve my arms Teresa is either onto another step or the song has ended, everyone cheers and yet another drum beat starts.
The last five minutes are the stretching part. I rock that one due to my yoga skills. While the big boned ballerina lady has difficulty touching the ground bending forward, I stick my head through my legs and smile. No one sees me though due to my wisely chosen last row position.
"Grazie ragazze," cheers Teresa and the ladies vanish one after the other. Well, that's done. My first Zumba class is over and I am somehow still alive.
One day later I acknowledge some otherwise inactive muscles in my arms and the hip region, but they do not hurt much. Anyways, pain or no pain, I already promised my friend to join the Zumba gang  once a week from now on even if, time and time again, I will surly feel like a hippo auditioning for "Dancing with the stars" while the others are having a Latin music workout party.

Monday, 8 October 2012

wow donut!

I didn't really want to post anything from my vacation in Greece, but hey! That was a different kind of donut the one served in Nea Makri near Athens, Greece! Wow! I would go back there any time just for this warm donut that's crunchy on the outside and fluffy inside. It comes on a sauce of honey and cinnamon! To die for! More to come once V. and I will be back. Bye now!

Friday, 5 October 2012

late night packing

Just before midnight seems to be my time of the day. We're heading to the Venice Airport early this morning to catch a plane to first Rome and then Athens. The long-awaited vacation will finally start in a few hours.
I don't know how many suitcases I have packed in my life. Too many as far as I am concerned. I am only in my mid 30s and sometimes I feel like I am too old to travel. I might have just had too much of it at an early age: Italy, France, Spain, back and forth between the US, Europe and Canada. Not even regarding trips to Australia, Mexico and Israel, I must say, that I have had my fair share of travelling. One thing I will never be good at though is packing. My boyfriend V. is talking just his carry-on luggage, some boxers, socks, a pair of jeans, two pairs of shorts, seven shirts, his glove and golf shoes - basta. There is still some space in his tiny suitcase. I am struggling to stay within 20 kilograms of my check-in luggage. I need a city outfit, beach wear, golf clothes, a dinner dress and the right style when meeting more of V.'s relatives. What shoes go with which outfit? Impossible to bring less than 40 pounds... and why am I always late, late, late when it comes to packing? It's 23.39. Still lots to do. Better get going... need to weigh my bags once again hoping in the last 30 minutes a change in gravity has occurred.

no chance for pumpkin spice latte

Without vanilla, cinnamon and caramel topping, this is an Italian "caffè macchiato caldo".

You just love to start your day ordering a "Tall Half Sweet Peppermint Latte with Caramel Topping" at your local coffee shop and you cannot wait to hang onto that "Grande Iced White Chocolate Mocha" after a busy day at the office? If you are looking for your beloved fancy coffee, Italy is the place to go you think? Well, think twice. The truth is: You can probably buy Starbucks' so-called classic signature blend "Italian Roast Coffee" at any of the 19,972 stores located in 60 various countries around the globe such as Kuweit, Indonesia, Guatemala and Egypt (source: wikipedia), however, you will stand no chance buying any Starbucks coffee Italy. At all. Nowhere. Yes, that's right, there is no Starbucks in Italy. In fact, most Italians are oblivious to the trademark name, the logo and the fact that the coffee chain company has generated a revenue of $11,7 billion in the year 2011. "What's that?" is the usual question I get when an Italian sees me for the first time walking around with one of my Starbucks mugs in hand. "That's green tea in there", is my regular answer before I hear the Italian's guaranteed follow-up question "And what's with the giant cup?". "I got that at Starbucks in L.A. but the first one just like that I bought in 1997 and since then, I have been walking around with my coffee mug everywhere I go, just so that you know", I'ld say and usually look into a face expressing a mixture of curiosity, disbelief and total disgust. After a short pause I'ld hear: "Ahhh. What do Americans know about coffee?" And that's the end of the conversation about coffee mugs and Starbucks. Those kind of conversations come up about at least once very two months around here. 99 per cent of the time occur exactly as mentioned. Once, I remember, a co-worker added: "How gross! How can Americans drink half a liter of coffee a day?" My answer to that? Speechlessness. having lived in Italy for more than two years now, I am under the impression that the Starbucks heads might be intimidated by those kind of conversations with Italians. A rather cosmopolitain woman like me living in Italy has no other choice than to adapt not only to language, fashion, food, customs and traditions but also to the Italian coffee culture. I thought about  two years ago it being a shame that my beloved coffee chain company avoids opening franchises in the country I live in, I am now certain that they have more than good reasons not to start a venture in the land of ice cream, pizza, pasta and, after all, coffee. As far as I am concerned, the Starbucks board of directors can stop investing in researching the market's readiness for a first shop in Italy. It simply would not generate any profits. I am convinced that it is more likely a Starbucks will open in Antarctica before anyone can order a "Pumpkin Spice Latte" in Rome. Too bad for me, I really do miss my "Grande Soy Chai Latte Half Sweet To Go" and no matter what kind of fancy chai tea bags, powders and syrups I use, the home-made stuff just isn't the same. We were at a café earlier today, V. and I. We ordered each a caffè macchiato. It was good - but it would have been so much better topped with sweetened whipped cream, caramel sauce and a hint of cinnamon...  Italians! Really! Come on! Do you all know, what you miss out on?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

a kitchen full of secrets

Cook books from the US, Canada, Australia, Italy and Germany; language-wise this shelf is very chaotic. 

I admit: I am a cook book addict. Colourful hard-cover and paperbacks in English, German and Italian language as well as notebooks full of handwritten recipes, secretly scribbled down during long phone conversations with my Oma in Germany while she was explaining how to create the perfect cabbage roll, are all lined up on a shelf in my kitchen. I love reading the recipes of the most famous chefs of our time such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Curtis Stone, Donna Hay, Rachel Ray and some German TV celebrity chefs such as  Tim Mälzer, Christian Rach and Cornelia Poletto. Number one on my list, however, is Canada's best known chef: Michael Smith who created my fabulous 22nd birthday dinner in a tiny little kitchen on Victoria Road in Halifax Nova Scotia. How come? This is worth another entry. Stay tuned for the full story.
So, I don't just buy the cook books, I also read them. I really do. One thing I never do though is follow the recipes. I am either lacking an ingredient here or don't have time to make the perfect "soffritto" in 25 minutes before starting to make the actual risotto. I am sure Gordon would show an expression of disgust on his face should he ever actually observe what I do to his recipes. I often times imagine him standing right behind me and I suddenly feel guilty. Those are the secrets of a woman working in the kitchen. My self blame vanishes as soon as I see V.'s sparkling eyes when he looks at the plate full of wonderful creations. And when he mumbles "hmmmm", no Gordon Ramsay could ever be disappointed, right?!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

no deadline, no outcome

Hello to the world,

after a full week of layout work, figuring out and playing around with Photoshop after years of abstinence, I am proud to finally write my first post today. Writing a blog is my attempt to get order and discipline into my life. Yes, you did read right: despite all stereotypes I am an example of a German who is lacking discipline - big time, I should add. Having worked as a journalist for a daily newspaper for many years, I am programmed the following way: no deadline no outcome.
I seem to need pressure in order to get things done. I need to hear the clock go tick-tack, tick-tack, tick-tack and the feeling of panic must possess me. Once it's almost impossible to get things done in time, that's when I wake up, roll up the sleeves, start hitting my fingertips with the speed of light onto the keyboard and perform to my fullest potential. Otherwise, laziness possesses me and I manage to steep four bags of herbal tea, make one pot of coffee and bake two loaves of bread in less than an hour, open the fridge ten times in five minutes, check the window in case a neighbour might show up and get lost in my thoughts of wanna-be-doing. However, procrastination belongs to the past, discipline is the key to success and the motor of my existence as a blogger.
My vision is to showcase bits and pieces of my new life in Italy, share my every day adventures in discipline building with my readers while doing what makes me happy: to write. Further I am hoping to acquire new skills as a photographer little by little trough editing and blogging photos of my every day life. Okay, this vision statement would not have been worth an A+ in my management classes at university, but I will see it as a beginning to change. A friend told me after he had known me for less than two days: "We are different. You are a dreamer, I am a doer." Now, ten years later, I want to prove him wrong and show to myself and my readers that I have been and am indeed a doer, a last-minute-doer, but a doer.
It is now 23:58 and my goal to publish the first post on October 3rd 2012 has been accomplished. Good night, MJ