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!