Saturday, 24 April 2010

Sheepish Saturdays

I live in a flat where everything, from the most basic porridge to the finest homemade four-course extravanganza, frequently but sporadically comes with a generous sprinkling of no, not love, but cat hair. Mind you, I do add a whole lot of love, too, and I love the little nipper who is sharing her hair so generously: but the split second when you realise that you have feline coiffe on your tongue, that cough that you stop immediately because it is just too eery, like coughing up a hair ball, so you swallow and feel a bit queasy and the dire need for another beverage, make it a strong one... it does make you wonder whether animals and food really go together. I never thought I'd have to contemplate this thought, given that I am a vegetarian.

The question of compatibility is less dicey in the case of animals and crime: cue Akif Pirincci's famous Felidae series with its boisterous tomcat detective (which I will resist from discussing, not least because I have not read it), and the delightful Glennkill (English title: Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story), by Leonie Swann. (Is animal sleuthing a German thing? Better not ask...).

George Glenn, shepherd in the Irish village Glennkill, is dead, cruelly stabbed through the chest with a spade. You'd think he'd see it coming, living in a place with such an unfortunate yet apt name, but he was too drunk to notice, living life on the edge (of his flock), and now his sheep face either a merger with a particular unpleasant neighbouring flock or an unmentionable trip in a lorry, ending in, um, food. There's Cloud, the woolly one; Miss Maple, the wisest of the sheep; Heather, a lamb who cannot forget what the shepherd did to her tail after she was born and is therefore not so sorry that he's dead; Othello, the black sheep; and a clover connoisseur who fancies himself a philosopher, too. The sheep decide to find the murderer: think stealthy tip-hoofing into the village, balancing on top of each other to peek through windows, and pretend-grazing to overhear conversations. This book may not be the best ever written, nor is it a classic. But it is good fun. The perfect read for a trip, whether to Ireland or not; and for meals featuring cat hair and feline company.

Feta tarte

Talking about sheep: this is my version of tarte flambee, featuring tomatoes and feta. It's like a pizza with shortcrust pastry instead of a bready base. Nom, nom.

Make a savoury shortcrust pastry out of the following ingredients:
  • 1 cup flour (all wholemeal, or mixed with some plain)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika powder
  • some cold water
Chill in the fridge, and in the meantime, make a thick sauce out of
  • diced onion
  • garlic
  • a little olive oil to fry the same in
  • fresh and/or tinned tomatoes
  • pickled green pepper
...and anything else that looks good in the fridge: peppers are a good addition; mushrooms work too, though I'd add them raw rather than frying them with the onion.

Roll out the shortcrust pastry, making sure the shape of the resulting thin base represents your mood. If you feel OCD, by all means, make it round/square and smooth around the edges; but I prefer a blob similar to the woolly torso of a sheep.

Distribute the sauce on top, then sprinkle with
  • feta to your taste
Bake at medium heat (whatever that is on your oven) until the aromas waft through your kitchen and your cat starts drooling. Cat hair on top optional. Serve with a glass of red and some salad.

* * *

Note: you may be wondering about my haphazard approach to cooking - most of the time I don't even measure, but more on that in another post. These recipes are for experienced everyday cooks who do not need to know how big the onion is to be diced, or how many grams of cheese go on top. The point is experimentation (more on alchemy in yet another post): go ahead, make onion rings instead of cubes; put mustard powder into the base; add some cat hair! This recipe is very forgiving. Guten Appetit!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Of Detectives and Comfort Cake

Have you ever noticed that food features a lot in children's books? Literary theory has it that these scrumptious picnics, midnight feasts and other culinary excesses are like scenes (of, ahem, a different nature) that make adults go 'yum' when they read their novels.

This somewhat-baked theory came to mind when I was recently reminded of Erich Kaestner's novels for children, which had ten-year-old me galloping along with boys and girls around my grandparents' Berlin while I was really tucking into a piece of Sunday cake (an appropriate action of gobbling, as you will soon see).

Picture the scene: it is some time in the 1920s, and provincial but feisty boy Emil boards a train to Berlin. His father is dead and his mother a self-employed hairdresser, so that Emil has the important task to deliver some money to his grandmother in Berlin - money he guards with much care, checking every so often that it is still pinned to his jacket's pocket. But when he wakes up from a brief nap, his money is gone, and he has a suspicion whodunnit.

The remainder of the book parades a very distinctive post-WWI Berlin, introduces the merits of having a telephone for detective work, and creates a mob of children detectives who eventually force the guilty thief into the hands of the police in a rather satisfying manner: imagine rounding up all your friends to drive those who harm you into a corner! Honking a horn!

Finally, Emil meets the book's author, Kaestner, who appears in the character of a journalist interested in Emil's story. And before they go off writing it out, they go celebrating with cake and whipped cream.  Cake, detectives, and a classic tale: who could ask for anything more?

Oh, yes, cake: here's the recipe for a classic. It is also the first cake I made on my own, age ca. 6. If you do not have a child at hand to do the baking or to lick the bowl, you will enjoy this all the same (licking allowed).

German Marble Cake

This cake is a lighter version of pound cake. It keeps well, can be frozen, and can be customised with a dash of rum, raisins, almonds or other ingredients added to the basic dough. But why mess with something perfect?


200g butter (yes, butter - margarine is vile!)
100g sugar
4 eggs
some vanilla (from a pod if available)
some cinnamon
250g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
some milk
ca. 3 tbsp cocoa (the raw stuff, best if not Dutch processed)
a little milk

Cream together butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time and scrape in the vanilla and cinnamon to taste. Add the flour (mixed with the baking powder) gradually, perhaps adding a splash of milk as you go along, until you have a thick, creamy dough.

Put 2/3 of this into a cake tin.

Add the cocoa and a little more milk to the remainder of the dough, whisking madly until fully combined, then distribute evenly on top of the light dough.

Now take a fork and dip it horizontally into the cake, and move it along the form in a wide spiral, thus swirling the dark and the light dough around each other once. Lick the bowl.

Bake the cake in an oven at medium heat (ca. 180C/gas mark 4 - but you know your oven better than I do) for ca. 1 hour.

Let cool a little, place onto cake stand, cut, marvel, take a piece and a cup of freshly brewed coffee, take a book, go to your room, close the door, and dive into a different world!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

A Day In Spring

"There are too many blogs. So does the world need yet another one?" I kept asking myself before taking fingers to keypad and starting this latest experiment of mine. But then I realised that thoughts are funny, unruly little creatures: they whirl around in your head, screaming to be let out and get a spin around someone else's brain. So on this present, fine day in spring I took heart, and here we are.

A Pinch of Arsenic in a nutshell

Who? Paracelsa, a historian of alchemy with a penchant for mystery novels, cooking and writing

Why? Because I feel like it - no hidden agenda

When? Whenever the spirit takes me

What? Posts about all my favourite things, and other thoughts that want out

For whom? Anyone who enjoys reading this

Famous first words? Welcome!

Cheesy? Perhaps, but I am only just starting...