Bale Gardening Part #1 & Vanilla Chia Muesli

It’s time!
Bale Gardening Lesson #1!

Time to get our growing medium started, since it will have to be ready by May, or soon after the frosts stop.
Time to call the person you’ve decided on purchasing bales (hay or straw) from and get them delivered. Arrange them into position and start letting the weather do its thing. Rain, snow, frost, it’s all good, and will help in the decomposition process of the bales.

If they are not getting enough moisture, then hose them down liberally with water at least 2 times a week. Water, temperature changes, and sun will start those bales cooking… literally. After about a month of them being outside, stick your hand into the middle of a bale and feel the heat that is created through the composting process. Keep doing this at least once a week for the following weeks until they start to cool again (which means you won’t cook the roots of the seedlings that you will plant).

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Where should the bales be placed?
In the sun! The beauty of bale gardening, other than that you are avoiding mega amounts of work since you won’t be doing any tilling, hoeing, weeding, mixing compost, re-tilling and re-hoeing and re-weeding… is that they can be placed ANYWHERE that is in the sun, and has access to water. Gardens, driveways, rooftops, backs-of-the-shed, balconies, houseboats, … get the idea?

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Along a fence is always great because one can use the fence itself as a support system. That’s where we like to plant our climbing string beans.

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If the sun only shines on a narrow driveway, utilize it!

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Just remember that you need to be able to access them relatively easily in order to water them, and later to collect your bounty when it is ready.

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It really is as easy as it sounds, but you must be dedicated and see it through until the end because with regular rain and/or watering (but no hard labor), you will get so many vegetables that you will have to decide what to do with all the veggies you won’t be able to eat in time.  I have been getting into canning in a big way, but freezing is also a good option. You just have to be there to water them and harvest regularly in order to encourage more growth. Easy peasy gardening!

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If you place your bales on grassy lawn, as we have, you must create a barrier between the lawn and the bales so that the grass does not keep growing up through the bales. We have found that the best barrier is cardboard as it will also decompose over the summer and leave you with a nice grass-less patch of soil that can either be re-used for bales the following year, or tilled and worked for more root vegetables using old bales from prior years (more about that later).

In our next lesson I will write about what grows well in bales according to our own experiences and which plants can be started directly from the seed, and which are better off planted as seedlings; especially in regions where the growing season is not very long.

In the meantime, have some muesli. Oats should be cooked, or soaked, for better digestion and blending them with chia seeds adds extra nutrition and a pudding like texture. Vanilla and raisins sweeten this treat without any other added sugars. Eating small servings of this instead of heavy sweets helps ease the sugar cravings during dieting regimes… and it tastes so good! Muesli is made ahead of time so one week’s worth of breakfasts can be made in the time it takes to pound, or process, some nuts.

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Vanilla Chia Muesli
makes 4 – 6 servings

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4 cups milk of your choice (dairy, soy, almond, coconut, etc)
1 cup of oats
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/3 cup pounded hazelnuts
1/3 cup pounded almonds
1/4 coconut flakes
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla
fresh fruit slices

Blend the milk, oats, chia seeds, raisins, and coconut flakes in a bowl. With a mortar and pestle pound the hazelnuts and almonds until only a few larger chunks are left. I prefer the texture of nuts in muesli with this method because some of the more finely pounded nut pieces blend better with the muesli and the chia seeds, increasing their flavor and the overall texture.
Blend the pounded nuts with the oat/chia mix along with the vanilla.

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Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 5 hours. The chia seeds will absorb much of the liquid creating a uniquely creamy/crunchy texture, and the vanilla and raisins will add just the right amount of sweetness.
Serve with fresh fruit slices of your choice.

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Hot Thoughts & Chocolate Cake with Almond Cream Filling

I looked at the temperature recently and saw 1 degree Fahrenheit. That’s -17 Celsius for those of you not cozy with Fahrenheit. It doesn’t really matter which scientist your thermometer is named after; this is cold! The wind chill factor brought the temperature to -20 F ( -29C), or worse. The branches in the trees sounded like they would snap off any minute and spear you to the ground, and if you haven’t kept up with lip protection, you’re done.
Read a lot of books, be artistic in warm studios, bake goodies, and think about warmth and heat any way you can.

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Once I was in Morocco where it was lovely and warm. It was filled with oasis, and palm trees, and casbahs right out of 1001 Arabian Nights. We drank a lot of mint tea and kept a steady look-out for flying carpets.

Spices sold at Souk

Spices sold at Souk

I went there with two Greek friends because we wanted to see if one can drive right up to the dunes in the Saraha.  I had said probably not, thinking that a car would falter in the sand before one could see any dunes; whereas Nikos and Nikos said that no, one could drive right up to the edge of the desert. It had been quite the discussion.
“This I’d like to see.” I said.
“OK!” they answered.

This is a Citroen 2CV. It doesn't go very fast, but it gets there.

This is a Citroen 2CV. It doesn’t go very fast, but it gets there.

We loaded up an ancient, hot pink, Citroen CV2 with camping equipment, cooking equipment, snacks, and a lot of keftedes (Greek meat balls), and drove from Athens, Greece, all the way to the edge of the Sahara, circumventing the Mediterranean through Balkan countries, Austria (pit stop), Italy, France, Spain, crossing over to the African continent from Gibraltar.

Athens to Morocco route

Big Oasis

Big Oasis

Fossil Land

Fossil Land

This trip was very cool, but I want to tell you about the weirdest thing that happened there. It was one of those defining moments for tourism.

Arrival at the Dunes. Notice camel in background.

Arrival at the Dunes. Notice camel in background.

Picture our little tent set up next to miles and miles of sand dunes in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing around except the Sahara and a small rectangular cement structure the size of two large shipping containers. This is a cafe serving tea, tagine, couscous, and Coke . The cafe has a few low tables and three chairs. It also has a wide bench built along the interior walls which were often filled with sleeping Bedouins who were resting between trips to other cafes, or oasis, or wherever Bedouins go hang out. There was a smaller room sectioned off as the kitchen and there was an outhouse out back, which was the reason we set up camp in relative proximity to the Cafe Sahara. We were about a football field’s distance away from the cafe.

Escaping the sun in the Cafe Sahara

Escaping the sun in the Cafe Sahara

We spent many days there doing fun things like skiing down the dunes, lying on the sand while looking up, or just hanging out with the two dudes that ran the cafe. Either one of them would sometimes get on an ancient moped they had traded their camel in for, and drive off in a dusty cloud to bring supplies from a town two hours away. Sometimes they’d also leave to go hang out with the other cafe keepers a dozen miles further south in order to bring back news of relatively current events. Those cafe keepers further south apparently still had their camels because they invited to meet us at the local camel fair where my two friends were invited to trade me in for five healthy camels of mixed genders. This was meant as a great compliment to myself to be valued as much as five camels.

So there we were in our little tent, lying on our air mattresses early one morning. The sun still hadn’t risen, but I was awake and pondering my existence, when I felt a strange kind of vibration coming from the ground. It was not enough to make me nervous, but we had become so attuned to the prevailing sounds of wind or nothing, that this was unusual. I shook my friends awake, and they agreed that this vibration was weird. We crawled outside, got up, turned around, and looked at all horizons, but we saw nothing.

The silence was broken by the generator and lights going on over at the cafe. The vibrations we had felt were overwhelmed with those from the generator. The Cafe had never “opened” before dawn since we had arrived there and we wondered what was up. Both Ishim and Kaddah were up and about, busily loading trays from a box filled with stone fossils located just outside the cafe entrance. We had assumed that this was their own private fossil collection and had even added some that we had  found around where our tent was. The desert is full of them.

It was still dark as we sat down to make some tea and munch on some cookies. We watched our two friends look towards the still dark western horizon, then head in the opposite direction towards the growing light in the dunes; trays strapped in front of them much like cigarette girls used to have back in the 1950′s.

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Finally we saw two lights towards the west, growing from pin pricks to headlights blazing through clouds of sand and dust. The ground we were sitting on was really  rumbling now. It was a huge tour bus. Its windows were reflecting the growing light in the east as it slowed down to a stop not far from the cafe and the outhouse.
But it wasn’t alone. It had a huge trailer!
This trailer was just as high and as long and as wide as the bus. It had tiny windows along its sides, and it was bright red. It appeared as if the trailer provided some kind of sleeping accommodation for the bus passengers. It was the most bizarre thing we had ever seen and we were bit annoyed that it intruded on what we had adopted as our own vast desert privacy.
They are called Rotel Tours.

The doors of the bus opened and out ran a few dozen people with cameras hanging from their necks. Some ran very fast, while others tried to keep up at a brisk pace. They all headed straight for the dunes, slipping and sliding in the sand as they grappled over the dunes and tried to go deeper into the desert. They stopped when they reached one of the higher dunes, cameras poised towards the sunrise. We looked at this scene with our mouths hanging open in astonishment. Ishim and Kaddah could be seen weaving in and out amongst the tourists who in turn swatted them away like flies as they tried to capture their version of Dawn in the Sahara.

The sunrises were all breathtaking over the desert. It was as if the sun’s rays were like a paintbrush dipped in gold. I never did take  a picture because when I managed to be awake, I was too absorbed in the experience. I always vowed that I would do it the following day. To be honest, I prefer having this memory.

Once the sun had cleared the horizon, the tourists snapped the covers back on their lenses, and returned in single file back to the bus. No one stopped at the Cafe, but the boys did manage to sell a few fossils.  Before they all climbed back inside the bus, one of the tourists stopped, and briefly waved to us. We waved back. The bus started its engines, swung itself and its trailer around in a huge dusty arc, and headed back to the direction from whence it came, getting smaller and smaller before it completely disappeared. We then headed over to the cafe to go borrow the skis again.

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Skiing the dunes

Chocolate Cake with Almond Cream Filling
Adapted from a recipe in Sky High Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne

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This recipe makes one small 8″ round cake, which one can then slice into layers. It will serve 6 – 10 people. If you want a larger cake, double the recipe and divide the batter into three 8″ pans.

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3 ounces (about 100 grams) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup strongly brewed coffee
2/3 + 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2  stick unsalted butter (120 grams), room temperature
1/4 cup dark honey, preferably buckwheat or chestnut
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract (or 1 packet vanillin)
5 drops of natural almond extract
1/3 cup yogurt or buttermilk
Almond Cream Filling
1/2 cup apricot or seedless raspberry jam (I used apricot since I made some last summer, but the red raspberry would probably be more aesthetic on a Valentine’s Cake)
Bittersweet Frosting

Preheat oven to 350F (170C).
Butter the interior bottom and sides of your cake pan, then dust with flour.

Combine chocolate with half the sugar and the coffee in the top part of a double boiler, or in a glass or metal bowl placed over a saucepan of boiling water. Once the chocolate has melted, remove from heat and blend this mixture well until smooth. Set aside and allow to cool while you prepare the rest.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda. Set this aside as well.

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With your mixer, cream together the remaining sugar and the butter. Add the honey then the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and almond extracts.
On a lower speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients with the buttermilk. Lastly, add the melted chocolate mixture.
Pour into your prepared cake pan and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, or until a cake tester, or toothpick, comes out clean when stuck into the center. Let cake cool in its pan at least 10 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cooling for at least an hour.

Almond Cream Filling
(If you prefer a vanilla cream, omit the almond flavor in the recipe)

Makes a little over 1 1/2 cups

2 whole eggs, room temperature
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and the egg yolk until frothy.

In a heavy saucepan, mix the sugar and the flour. Add about half the milk and whisk until smooth. Add the eggs, blend, then the remainder of the milk. Over medium to low heat bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it starts to boil and thicken, keep stirring for another three minutes. Remove from heat, then add the vanilla and almond extracts.
Pour into a bowl, and cover with some plastic wrap over its surface as to avoid a skin forming as it cools. This will need to cool completely before we can use it, so you might want to make this a day ahead.

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Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

4 ounces (120 grams) of bittersweet chocolate
just under 1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 tablespoon coffee liquor

Coarsely chop the chocolate, then put it into a food processor.

In a heavy saucepan, scald the cream until little bubbles start to form around he edge. You do NOT want it to boil. Finely chop the chocolate in the food processor, then while it is running, drizzle in the hot cream through the feed tube. Process until the mixture is smooth then transfer into a small stainless steel bowl.

Whisk in the butter until melted and blended. Let this mixture cool slightly, then ad the rum and coffee liquor. Cover and refrigerate until the frosting starts to harden, then whisk it to get it fluffy and smooth. Alternatively, you can let it cool outside of the fridge until it has reached room temperature.

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Assembling the cake:

Slice your cake into either two, or three, layers.

Spread the cooled Almond Cream between the two layers, or divide it evenly in half to spread between three layers. When spreading the cream, don’t bring it all the way to the edge.

When the top layer is in place (smooth side up), heat the apricot or seedless raspberry jam until it bubbles, then spread evenly over the top of the cake, not quite reaching the edge.

Generously cover the sides of the cake with frosting, leaving a small amount to pipe a rim around the top of the cake. Pipe out a few small rosettes with any remaining frosting.

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Coming of Age & Viennese Apple Strudel

I just realized something the other day as I was looking at some of my framed family photographs. In a contemporary blonde wood frame, I have three little pictures; one is a small 1940′s portrait of my grandmother with my mother aged about six, a slightly scratched 1960′s Polaroid of my mother as a young woman and myself aged about four or five, and a third, pre-digital picture of myself  with my daughter who was about one year old.

This year we all three have milestone birthdays; Grandma Grossartig will be turning 75, Miss Wunderbar will celebrate her 21st, and I’ll be rounding it off by turning a gleaming 50.

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Next to this picture frame, is another one of myself and my sister, Ms Herrlich. She’s not having a milestone birthday this year, but she is included into my corner of the triangle by right of age, achievement, and because only a fool would ignore one’s sister.

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Ever get those aaahh moments when you realize something and make a particular cerebral connection?
The females of our family are now in a classic maiden/mother/crone constellation (three circles in a triangle shape according to some religions). I have often heard and read about this formation from various sources. It is allegedly the force of power between three generations of adult women. Be it through shared wisdom, viewpoints, or solidarity through accommodating for each others strengths and weaknesses; it is supposedly a force to be reckoned with.

Up’ til now, our common relationship would have been better described as a line, not a triangle. My mother – myself & sis – my daughter. Since the birth of my daughter, my sister and I have been at its center, the other two often pulling me (us) in either  or both directions; depending on whose need was the biggest, the situation at hand, or the strength of the one pulling.

That time is over. Done. Finito.

My daughter has become an adult and through that has attained her own corner of the triangle.
(angel choir in the background please)

The connection between maiden and crone now officially exists, sparkling and shining  in its newness.  I would like to look at our recent turmoils as the quake or settling in of this new formation. There will probably be more quakes, but we shall try to look at them with combined accumulated wisdom.

The future can be either faced together or separately, but our connection will exist no matter what we choose. We are as close to equal footing as the three of us will ever be. One makes up for the  strengths and weaknesses of others . What one lacks, the others make up for. In all respects. Or at least that’s how it should be.

Our milestone year is off to a rocky start, but I am enthusiastically optimistic… as usual.

Viennese Apple Strudel
Adapted from Albert Kofranek’s Die Gute Wiener Küche

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2 kg (4lbs) tart apples, like Granny Smiths
250 g  (1 1/2 cup) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
150 g (1/2 cup) butter
150 g (3/4 cup) bread crumbs
100 g (3/4 cup) raisins
100 g (3/4 cup) chopped walnuts – optional
1/2 cup extra melted butter for brushing
powdered sugar for sprinkling

Strudel dough:
300 g (2 cups) all purpose sifted flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
dash of fine salt
about a cup of lukewarm water

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First one must make the strudel dough.
Place the sifted four in a mound on a clean surface. With your fingers, dig a little hole,  and add salt and oil.

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While working the ingredients with one hand, drizzle with just enough warm water until one can form a not-too-dry dough. Knead vigorously.

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You’ve kneaded the dough enough  when it doesn’t stick to your hands or the work surface any more and it’s shiny in appearance.

Roll the dough into a ball, brush lightly with oil, and let it  rest in a warmed ceramic bowl, or pot, for at least a half hour, while you prepare the rest of the strudel ingredients.

Peel and thinly slice the apples. Toss in a bowl with the sugar, the cinnamon, and the raisins (and walnuts if you opt to add those – I prefer mine without). Set aside.

In a frying pan, melt a 1/2 cup of butter slowly so as not to burn it. Once melted, add the breadcrumbs and stir to make sure both ingredients are well blended. Keep stirring over a low heat until the breadcrumbs turn a bit darker, but be careful not to burn them. Your goal is fragrantly butter toasted breadcrumbs. Remove from heat and set aside.

Spread a large clean tablecloth or kitchen sheet on your work surface. Dust this with flour, to prevent dough from sticking.
Take your rested ball of Strudel dough and start to roll it out into a rectangular shape.

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Once the dough is as thin as you can get it with a rolling pin, place your hands underneath the dough palm side down, and with the back of your hand, gently pull the dough outwards to make it even thinner. This is also your classic filo pastry in eastern Mediterranean baking. Stretch it without tearing as thin as it can possibly go. The more practice you get, the thinner it will become.

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Once the dough is as thin as can be, cut off any thick edges, then brush the surface with melted butter.

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Spread the toasted bread crumbs over 2/3 of the butter covered dough.

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Spread the apple/sugar/raisin mix over the toasted breadcrumbs and fold the dough edges inwards on the left and right sides.

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Carefully pick up the edge of the tablecloth to help roll up the strudel, taking care that it is rolled evenly. A rolled strudel should ideally have at least two layers of dough around. The melted butter will aid is crispness, and the breadcrumbs will soak up the apple and sugar juices while baking.

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With the aid of the tablecloth, pick up the strudel and place it onto a buttered baking sheet or slightly twisted (as I have done), into a baking pan. Brush all sides of the strudel liberally with melted butter.

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Bake at 180C (370F), for approximately a half hour or until golden brown. Cool to room temperature and serve with powdered sugar and ever-so-slightly sweetened whipped cream. Guten Appetit!

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Anniversary & Melomakarona

Exactly four years ago tonight, I was a jittery and nervous wreck. I had menus to plan and food to shop for. I needed to figure out when I was going to make a mountain of variously filled crepes for a client, and I had to decide what I wanted to wear under my apron the following day. I was also hoping that he would like the Melomakarona I had made.
Mr. Fabelhaft was already on his way to Greece. To visit me.

We knew each other from high school. We were both on the stage crew, played Frisbee (because we came from the high school that invented Ultimate), and were very close friends. Pals, in fact. I thought he was gorgeous, but also that he was way too shy. He was the one I could pour my heart out to and he did the same to me when our burdens of being a teenager became too much. We went to epic concerts together and often went hiking and camping – once my mother got over her fear of letting me hang out with a bunch of boys as BFF’s.

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We even hitchhiked to Maine together (time you found out, mom), when our parents thought we were elsewhere. On that trip, Mr. F admitted to having entertained various erotic thoughts since we were sharing the same tent by the roadsides, but since they remained thoughts, nothing interrupted our platonic state of being. We were friends.
Then he graduated high school, moved away to college, and we lost touch.
30 years later he finds me on facebook. (“You are where? In Greece?!”)
Our correspondence continued where we had left off… filling in three decades worth of information in the form of emails spanning many months. We discovered many common and uncommon things as the tone between us changed. We added chats to our emails, and when they weren’t enough anymore, phone texts. We spent so many hours laughing at each others’ stories, and smiling into each others’ eyes, until we knew we had to meet again. So he said he would visit me for Christmas.

Tomorrow, four years ago exactly, he walked into my shop.


This man was not shy and he loved my Melomakarona.
This man is Mr. Fabelhaft and this date will always be our anniversary.

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Melomakarona

1 1/2 cups of olive oil
1 1/2 cups of butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup of cognac or brandy
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
10 – 12 cups flour

For topping:
4 cups of chopped walnuts  blended with 2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the syrup:
1 1/2 cups honey
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water

Preheat oven to 350F (170 – 180C)

Mix oil, butter, and sugar together until creamy. Mix in juice, cognac, and orange zest. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift & whisk together 10 cups of the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add oil/juice mixture and form a soft malleable dough. If the dough is too soft and cannot hold a shape, slowly add of the remaining flour, kneading in between.

Form into small patties, place on to parchment paper lined baking tray, and indent each patty with a fork in a criss-cross manner. This will help hold the syrup and the nuts to the pastry later.

Bake for aproximately 1/2 hour, or until golden brown. Cool.

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Make the syrup, by cooking the honey, sugar, and water together (in a large pot) until all the sugar is dissolved.
In batches, add enough cookies into the syrup, and carefully turn them on each side to maximize  syrup absorption. Leave them in the syrup at least 2 minutes.

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Drain with slotted spoon and place on tray in layers.  Have a coffee, or tea, since you might be standing there doing this for a  while.

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Before starting a new layer, generously sprinkle each layer with cinnamon/chopped walnut mix.

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This lovely pastry which will fill your home with wonderful aromas, is at its peak in flavor and texture at least one week after it is made. It will keep for many weeks and is therefore made in such large batches.

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It All Begins Again & Orange Cranberry Biscotti

Once upon a time, I became partner in a small and hip little cafe on a touristy little island in the Aegean. I cooked my butt off  and helped make many people happy when they ate at Orpheas Cafe and Winebar .

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Years later, in a different part of that same sunny country, I designed, and operated a much larger cafe/bistro in a new marina. Office space was converted into Skipper’s Cafe.  It had gorgeous views and looked out over the Messinian Bay. Unfortunately I had really crappy business partners that were also members of my former husband’s family and I got out of that mess as soon as the place became established.

Having the need to finally run the game on my own terms without constantly justifying myself to misunderstanding partners, I set up another shop. I sold homemade meals-to-go, soups, salads, and sweets, mainly to busy professionals who had no time, or desire, to cook nutritious meals for themselves. They were tired of only having fast food options when they wanted to just pick up a meal and eat at home. So my new establishment didn’t have a lot of seating available because I made Slow Food To-Go.

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It was an unusual concept, but it worked. I made a fresh soup, and two specials every day. One with meat, one vegetarian. Also available were various salads, and sweets, and everything was written daily on chalkboards. The menu always changed. What I cooked depended on what was in season, what I liked at the Market, or some new inspiration that I wanted to try. I was building up a great clientele who walked into my shop, took a deep breath of home cooked aromas,  and said, “Anke, what’s for dinner?”(in Greek of course).

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Then the Greek financial crisis hit big time. Within a month, my trusting clientele who came a few times a week, dwindled down to a few times a month as fear spread throughout the country and everyone’s financial situations became more and more fragile. It was sad and tragic and to be honest, when I arrived back  in the States after over 24 years in Greece, I believed I would never cook again professionally. When people asked me what I did, I replied that I was a retired chef.

Making mosaics helped heal the wound and I entertained ideas of supporting myself as a mosaic artist, but Rochester isn’t really the ideal place for this art form. I also found a great part time job.
But retired? Really?
Something started to nag my conscious every time I heard someone complain that they just didn’t have time to cook…

It turns out that that funky little kitchen in the sun was the forerunner to what I am starting now, in an entirely different part of the world, in a hip and foodie city called Rochester; Anke’s Kitchen Personal Chef Service! I will once again cook for busy professionals, who have no time or desire to cook nutritious meals – all in the safety of their own kitchens. I can custom tweak all menus right down to every clients’ tastes and needs – something I couldn’t do in the shop. Their kitchen will be my kitchen.

I have made new friends here who agree that I need to get back to feeding people and making them happy, so they are having me cater a very important event of theirs. They just moved into a gorgeous Victorian house in the city, and their new home needs a roaring Housewarming Party. Their practically adult children are also gathering from far and wide for the holidays, so it is an absolutely ideal time to celebrate and be festive. We have all come so far!

This will be the menu for approximately 50 people:

Carrot Cumin Soup*
Pumpkin/Feta/Mint Pastry

3 kinds of Cocktail Sandwiches:
Austrian Style Roasted Pork Belly and Horseradish Sauce
Sauteed Mixed Mushrooms and Herbs with Goat Cheese
Mediterranean Vegetable and Meatball with Mozzarella

4 kinds of Salads:
Fennel/Orange/Caper Salad
Coleslaw with Apples and Dried Fruit
Mom’s Russian Chicken Salad
Mixed Fresh Greens

5 kinds of Sweets:
Orange Cranberry Macadamia Biscotti*
Salted Triple Chocolate Pistachio Cookies*
Greek Melomakarona
Chocolate Fudge Cake
Holiday Nutcracker Cake

* recipes can be found here on the blog

Today I started to shop and cook for this event. I will begin with the Biscotti. They contain no fat, other than what is in the eggs, and they are perfect for dipping into wine, coffee, tea, or hot chocolate… even when you claim you can’t eat another bite.

Orange Cranberry Macadamia Biscotti

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Makes approximately 2 dozen medium sized Biscotti.

135gr (2/3 cup) sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoon orange extract
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
245 gr (1 3/4 cups) flour
1/2 cup macadamia nuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F (170C)

Prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper and set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the sugar and the eggs on high speed until thick, pale, and fluffy. Add the orange and almond extracts, plus the orange zest. Beat until well combined.
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and combine well. Fold in the whole nuts and cranberries.

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Dampen your hands with water (so the dough won’t stick to them), and form either one large log, or smaller logs (I find it easier to work with smaller sized because the dough is not very firm and quite sticky) and place them on the baking sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch and starting to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.

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Reduce oven temperature to 325F (165C).
Transfer the logs to a cutting board and cut diagonal slices about 1/2″  (1cm) thick. Place the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the slices over, then bake for another ten minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let them cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
(These make wonderful gifts!)

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Lovin’ My Silveryness & Avgolemono (Egg Lemon) Chicken Soup

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Our laptop sits on a table that, if it could talk, could make me blush. This table is next to an antique buffet with an inlaid mirror. On the surface of the buffet, against most of that mirror, is our cookbook collection. From where I sit at this silent table laden with memories, I can see myself in the bit of mirror that isn’t covered by the cookbooks, and I like what I see.
As I’ve gotten older my hair has changed. The dull mousy dirty blond that I used to enhance with expensive highlights, has become a shimmery pewter with ever increasing streaks of pure silver. It is still as long as it always was and it is soft and silky and falling just the right way.
I have a lot to be grateful for; I have become a multi-skilled and multi-lingual globe trotting fandango. I have friends all over the world who I am proud to be connected with, and done pretty amazing stuff with some of them. It’s a great feeling to know that to so many places I could travel to, there are people looking forward to seeing me again as much as I am them. My child is beautiful and talented, and I am forever grateful that Mr. Fabelhaft and I love each other since High School.
I was sick recently with a horrible nasty cold, but as you can all see I am well again, singing the tunes of happy livin’ infected by the spirit of this next week of Thanksgiving. I am ever so grateful for my life, my loves, my family, my hair, and possessing the knowledge of making delicious soup (figuratively, theoretically, and practically), out of the simplest ingredients . I learned much of that from my mom, a warrior maiden with even more silvery hair than myself.

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Soothing Avgolemono (Egg Lemon) Chicken Soup
(You’re going to love this either before or after big Holiday meals.)

1 whole chicken OR what’s left of a roasted chicken, or other fowl (like turkey?!), plus some of the left over meat
3 large carrots
1 onion
3 celery stalks, OR 1/2 lb (1/4 kilo) celery root, OR two handfuls of celery leaves
1 garlic toe
1/2 cup of round grain rice (the kind you use for risotto or rice pudding)
two eggs
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon of flour (or corn flour)
fresh chopped dill or parsley (optional)
salt/pepper

Place the chicken (or bones & stuff), onion, garlic, celery, and carrots into a large pot. Cover with water no more than 1/2 inch (2 cm). Bring to a rolling boil, then  lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the chicken starts to fall apart (about 1.5- 2  hours).
Place a colander, or large sieve, over another pot and carefully pour chicken, vegetables and stock into the sieve. Let the stock  drain into the other pot.
When chicken is cool enough to comfortably touch, carefully empty the colander or sieve it on to a large cutting board or platter.
Place the stock in the pot over a  flame and bring to a boil. Add rice, salt, and pepper, stir, then lower the heat bring the soup to a low simmer. Cover and stir from time to time.
Gently separate the cooked chicken meat from the bones and gristle, and place the meat on a plate. Place the cooked vegetables on another plate.
Run a knife through the boiled vegetables to cut them into small pieces (this will be easy since they will have almost disintegrated in the stock) and add them to the simmering soup.
Tear 1/3 of the cooked chicken meat into shreds and add to the soup. Pack the rest in the freezer to use at a later date for chicken salad, or a chicken pastry, or whatever else you would like to add some cooked chicken to.

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When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat under the soup.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs, the lemon juice, and the cornstarch or flour until well blended and there are no lumps.
While whisking with one hand, slowly ladle (drizzling!) the hot broth into the egg/lemon mix as slowly as possible, whisking all the while. You want the soup to bind into the egg/lemon mix without curdling it. Slowly add another ladle full of broth while whisking. Add a third and fourth ladle.
Finally, pour all the contents of the bowl back into the soup pot and turn on the heat again to bring the soup to a simmer once more. It should thicken a bit at that point. Leave to simmer for one minute, then turn it off again.
If the soup is too thick, add a bit of water and season accordingly.
Garnish with freshly chopped herbs and serve with bread.

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A Creepy Non Ghost Story & Salted Triple Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

“She really really wants to rent your house, Papa Giorgi”, my translator Yiannis said to the old, bearded priest as we walked briskly beside him towards his home in the center of town.
“No,” came his translated reply, “there’s no electricity. It’s not safe.”
“Tell him I don’t mind ” I told Yiannis. “Tell him I’ll have gas lights and don’t need a fridge, or anything that will need electricity, since I’ll only sleep there and it’s only for the summer”.
I waited until my answer was relayed but was disappointed when the old man raised his head up, closed his eyes, and made a “tsou” sound. It meant no.
“But why? I heard that he used to rent that house for the summer. Has he already rented it to someone else?”
“I don’t know,” said Yiannis. “He doesn’t say.”
It was two weeks before Easter on Mykonos, 1988, and I was looking for a place to live for the summer. By driving around on the island, I had found a lovely little single room house, high above  Agrari  Beach, looking out towards the sea and the island of Naxos. It looked like it had an attached bathroom, a water tank on the top of it and a donkey wildly braying in its front yard. Perfect. Since my working hours were so long and I spent so much time in the shop, I didn’t need more than a place to shower and sleep. I didn’t want to pay a fortune for this, so if there was no electricity, I knew it couldn’t be very expensive. Gas lights and camping gas burners for the odd coffee were all I needed. I had found out who owned it and hoped they would rent it to me for the summer, since there was definitely nobody living in it, even though it looked very well maintained. Apparently this was not going to be easy.

After spending the following week searching unsuccessfully for alternative accommodations, I went back to Papa Giorgis’ house and tried again. This time without a translator. I found him in his living room room sitting on a chair, surrounded by palm fronds, busily weaving something out of a single palm leaf. He waved me over as if he’d been expecting me and showed me what he was making. It was a cone shaped container made out of the interwoven leaves of the palm frond. He picked up a palm leaf off the floor and gave it to me, motioning for me to make another one. So I did. Many many more. Two hours later we were still sitting there in peaceful silence making these strange palm leaf vessels when a neighbor of his came by with a plate of food for the priest. He asked me in English what I was doing there, and I explained how I had ended up there and why.
“Dear girl, he’ll never rent you that house,” the neighbor explained. “Not any more. Not to anyone.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Do you remember last year when that monster was loose killing the girls?”
“Yes, very well. I had an escort to and from the shop every day during that time.”

One year prior, a convicted serial killer had been released early from a Dublin Prison, due to a fatal heart condition. But before he succumbed to the ailments of his heart, he succumbed to his sick mind by heading to southern Europe and continuing his cruel killing spree. His particularly horrid modus operandi quickly notified Interpol to his presence in Greece, where young women had started to disappear. Some from the island of Mykonos.  He was eventually found in Athens while trying to burn the car that he had used to incapacitate his victims with. He was brought back to Mykonos where he proceeded to show the police where he had buried some of the women. Afterwards, he was placed in a holding cell on the island of Syros where he was found hung the next morning.
One of the women had been buried on a property belonging to Papa Giorgis. The one with the house and the donkey that I wanted to rent.
“So you see, you will have to find another house to rent, ” the neighbor explained.

I tried. I really did. But that house and that sad story kept coming back until I finally drove out to the property again. I stood at the low wooden gate and called to the donkey I knew was there. He ran out of his stall but stopped when he saw me, braying so loud I was worried he would attract attention. I calmed him with some fruit I had brought, then I walked into the yard next to the house I liked so much. To the left of the house when looking out to the sea, was a rocky area. It was close to the road and leaning against one of these boulders, I saw an unmarked plain marble gravestone, hardly visible from a distance. I suddenly realized what I needed to do.

I returned to town, packed myself a sandwich, a bottle of wine, a bottle of water, a beach mat, and a sleeping bag, and returned to the house. The sun was just setting and the view was gloriously amazing as the sea reflected the colors of the setting sun. I threw the beach mat down near where the gravestone lay, unrolled my sleeping bag, and made myself comfortable against one of the larger stones. The donkey stood attentively nearby, happy after more apples, while I ate my sandwich. It was calm and peaceful. Every now and then, I heard a car drive by, but I was invisible where I sat and tried to see if I would sense any of the pain, despair, and fear that the unfortunate young woman must have suffered in her final hours. But I sensed nothing of the sort. I wanted to say to her, “I’m here, don’t be afraid, he’s gone forever”, but I didn’t feel a presence to say it to. I don’t know whether the alcohol had made me bolder or numb, but other than peace and quiet, and the donkey rustling in his stall, there was nothing. I stayed there many hours, then dragged my sleeping bag to the front inner yard of the house and slept.
The next morning I went back to town to find the neighbor and asked him to go with me to visit Papa Giorgis.
“Please tell him there are no ghosts. Please tell him what I did.” I said after we were standing again in Papa Giorgis’ living room. “Tell him he is not responsible.”
When the neighbor had finished, Papa Giorgis looked at me, then got up from where he was sitting to go into another room. He returned holding a key, which he softly folded my hand around.
“Ευχαριστώ (Thank you),” he said to me, then a few words of Greek to his neighbor.
I was told the ridiculously low amount of rent I would owe and that I had the responsibility of making sure that the donkey always had enough water.

Happy Halloween!

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Salted Triple Chocolate Pistachio Cookies
(this recipe originally appeared in Gourmet Magazine, May 1998, was adapted by Yvonne Ruperti, and posted to Serious Eats: Recipes, on February 29, 2012)

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Makes about 4 dozen 2″ (4cm) cookies.
Chocolate bars can be used instead of chocolate chips, just chop them into coarse chunks.
Avoid over baking to keep the chewy texture.

2 1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
20 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
coarse sea salt for final sprinkling

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Preheat oven to 350F (170C). Make sure your baking shelf is situated in the middle of the oven, not too high, not too low. Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter with sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla until well combined.

Slowly add dry ingredients until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary to incorporate ingredients evenly. Add all chocolate chips and pistachios until just combined.

Place heaping teaspoons about 3″ (6cm) apart on baking sheet. Lightly roll into balls and flatten them slightly. Sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt onto each cookie.

Bake until cookies have puffed and small cracks appear. About 12 minutes.  Immediately remove from oven and let cool on sheet 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire cooling rack.

The cookies pair fabulously with a Gewurztraminer or a port.  If you would rather not bake all the cookie dough right away, you can also, roll it into a log, wrap it in cellophane, and freeze it. Don’t forget to label what it is!

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