where lemons grow

The Swedish national anthem ends with the lines - In thee I'll live, in thee I'll die, thou North Land. The content of these lyrics reached me years before I learned the words. Although I am not overly fond of subzero temperatures or winters that always outnumber summers when it comes to length, for a long time I internalized these lyrics. I grew up in Canada. My childhood years in Ottawa taught me the importance of long underwear and what kind of snow makes the best snowballs. My years in Montreal taught me that if a coat isn't floor length and down-filled then it just isn't a winter coat. 

After a spell in Southern France I somehow became accustomed to moving North. From Montreal I moved to Copenhagen, to Berlin, then back to Montreal and then to Sweden. When I went to Mumbai for a few months in the fall I was patting myself on the back for breaking the spell. I was somewhere warm! Hot, even. But then I came back to Germany. However, I am still kind of proud of myself for living in South Germany just because for me it is kind of South (although come winter I am proven wrong). 

All of this is a recipe for an infatuation with all things further south - particularly what grows south that can't grow north. I remember when I first saw fresh bananas on a tree on a trip to Mexico years ago. Bananas on a tree! I still can't get over it. Locals roll their eyes as I go camera and food crazy over seeing a familiar fruit in an unfamiliar context:  growing. In nature. Not at a market or for sale. The same thing happened last week when I was in Campania, Italy. The Amalfi Coast is particularly known for its lemons. This dramatic coastline is home to Monti Lattari which translates as Milk Mountains. The name at first might sound a little silly, but it pretty much describes the region. It is impossibly fertile. On exaggerated cliffs and hills one finds endless amounts of wild rosemary and wild wheat. Lemons and grapes grow side by side. I was stunned and overwhelmed and helplessly charmed. 

It is no secret that I love lemons. From lemon curd generously spread on a piece of toasted sourdough or added as a layer to cake to preserved lemons finely diced and thrown into a vinaigrette and from lemon zest added to roasted asparagus to a yogurt cake with lemon (that is really too good to share), I am quite certain that lemons make pretty much everything better. You'll never see my kitchen without lemons. 

And along the Amalfi Coast we encountered lemons everywhere - from trees to roadside stands. A hike up the hills brought us to a monastery and inside the chapel was a basket full of lemons and a few bottles of water next to a donation box. We made a donation, took a lemon and then hiked up to the plateau where we met the monastery's own tiny lemon field. 

I am sure that it is obvious that it was love at first sight between me and the Amalfi Coast and Campania in general. The lemons alone charmed me, but then the Coast got fresh by offering me wild rosemary and then by interrupting a coastal drive with a herd of goats. And that was just the Amalfi Coast. I want to tell you about the pizza in Napoli and a visit to the buffalo out on the plains to eat freshly made mozzarella and gelato made with buffalo milk. Oh and the yogurt. I also want to tell you about the lemon granita I ate on the streets of Napoli and the edible souvenirs that I filled my suitcase with. 

But I am on the road again. Tomorrow I fly to Sweden for two weeks and then I am sneaking back to Southern Italy for a weekend in Bari. I am sure that there is going to be heaps more that I'll want to tell you about - perhaps about the rhubarb and wheat beer jam that is on my stove top or some of the breakfasts I ate in May, or about visiting my old roommate in Gothenburg who taught me to eat polenta for breakfast and who keeps a stash in her cupboard of dried figs from her grandmother's garden in Bosnia. For now I'll leave you with lemons.


emergency survival granola

 I've made it. I'm done. My thesis is handed in, my applications are in the mail and my suitcase is packed. Shortly I'll be headed to the Munich airport to catch a flight to Naples. 

And this is where things get tougher and a little more emotional. Complicated, even. I live in Munich. If you know anyone who watches football (or soccer depending on your geography and word preference) or if you read the news, you probably know that Munich hosted the Champions League Final on Saturday night. It was red against blue, Bayern Munich against Chelsea. Every year the final is held in a different European city as no one can ever predict which two teams will make it to the end. Games before Bayern Munich had even made it to the finales everyone knew that the final would be played in their stadium, in their city. The prize was big. And so were the incentives. 

If you follow sports or have read the news, then you know how the story ends. Tragic for the reds and glorious for the blues. There was a goal in the 83rd  minute. Munich, myself included, was ready to take to the streets and celebrate. But minutes before the game was up there was an equalizer. there there was overtime, a penalty shot and then a save. There was more overtime. Then, finally, there was a shoot-out.

I guess my confession is clear by now. I am a football fan. A heartbroken one. I am a Bayern Munich fan. Years ago I could have never predicted this. I was just a regular Canadian. I played hockey. I casually followed the local team (Ottawa and then Toronto and then, at last, Montreal) as I moved from one Canadian city to another. However, my interest in hockey faded throughout the years. The highest point was probably when I was about 9 and the captain of a girl's hockey team in the suburbs of Ottawa.

Then I became a Francophile and I was slowly en route to becoming a football fan. Allez les bleus! This was my first exposure to the world's most popular sport. I watch the World Cup in 2002 for the first time and I have memories of Koreans driving around Toronto in the back of pick-up trucks with large flags and loud horns. And then Little Portugal went mad when Brazil won and every second person in the west end of Toronto suddenly seemed to own a Brazil t-shirt, headband, or pair of flip-flops. Then there are the memories of the 2004 Eurocup when Greece beat Portugal in the final. Once again Little Portugal went mad, but this time because Greek fans were leaving the Danforth (Toronto's Greek town) to literally beat up the Portuguese (and vice versa). I spent the summer of 2006 in Germany - the same summer that Germany hosted the World Cup. I was a goner. Through watching the national games, I began to pick up on who plays for which club, who has a rivalry against who, who has a reputation for diving and how Zizou shoots the ball when he is nervous and the pressure is high (bottom left). I also developed a crush on the captain of the German national team and that summer my interest in football when from French to German.

Anyone can play football. It is the world's most accessible sport. Even the United Nations wishes that it could be more like the World Cup. See what Kofin Annan says about it. Only a ball is needed. Two nets help, but anything can mark a net (branches, empty bottles, anything). A field is nice, but a semi-quiet street will do or a parking lot. Most weather conditions welcome the game (other than extreme temperatures of course) and the objective is simple: get the ball in the net. But after than anything can happen and how complicated and dramatic it can get! We are taught that the best team should win, but this doesn't always happen. Sometimes fouls happen. Players collect yellow cards or a red one and referees suddenly have a say in how the game goes. Sometimes players just get nervous. Out of nowhere the dynamic of the game can change. And then the teams we don't expect to win become the best teams. It is confusing. It is complicated. It is unpredictable. Most of all, it shows how arbitrary adjectives like "best" are. Even a simple sport (and by simple I mean one that has rules understandable by all - hint, hint cricket) is full of grey zones and blind spots. But nonetheless, there is something magical about watching a game with millions of other fans and believing in a team. It is contagious. When the team wins you have new neighbours to celebrate with and when they lose you and your post-game-depression are never alone. It all comes down to 90 minutes, but luckily there are always more games to play and new seasons ahead. 

Okay, now you deserve some really good granola for having listened to me confess my love for football. This post isn't just about football, or winning or losing; it is about how we get through things. It is about pick-me-ups and what we turn to when we are short on time or short on energy or even hope. I have posted a recipe for granola before - one that skips the butter or oil of any sorts and goes straight for the maple syrup and a few spices. Emergency Survival Granola is a different type of granola. I admit that the name may sound a tad dramatic, but I also admit that this granola is really good. Always. It is made with a generous amount of coconut oil and maple syrup. It has pistachios and dried apricots. Pistachios and apricots are quite the match and together they make pretty much everything better - even post-game-depression. It also has cashews just because. 

In fact, I am proud of myself for not eating this granola three times a day. Okay, so I have eaten it three times a day, but only a few times. I swear. And it was never instead of meals. I swear it was just seconds or thirds for breakfast one time and then multiple snacks another. But the point is that I have resisted the temptation of only eating granola and nothing else because that temptation does exist. It is a strong one. Also, this granola is always reliable. It will take the edge off when you need a snack and are pressed for time, or when you just need to nibble on something delicious, comforting and homemade. Thomas Mueller, feel free to drop by for some granola anytime. I'll even make some homemade yogurt . You are welcome to bring Alaba and Badstuber. And maybe even Gomez (although the person I share this apartment and my granola with might not agree).
Emergency Survival Granola

(Coconut-Maple Granola with Pistachios and Apricots)

makes about 9 cups


4 cup rolled oats (not instant)
5 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup pistachios, hulled
1 1/2 cups coconut flakes
a pinch of sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 300F / 150C / gas mark 2.

In a large bowl mix together the rolled oats, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, coconut flakes and cashews. Feel free to chop the nuts, but I prefer to keep them whole so that the granola has diverse textures. Add the salt, cinnamon and cardamom. 

In a small saucepan mix together the coconut oil and maple syrup over medium-low heat. Once the coconut oil is melted and the two are combined add to the bowl of oats. Mix well to combine.

Line a baking sheet with baking paper and spread the mixture on the baking sheet. When baking, remove every ten minutes to stir. Bake until well toasted and golden brown (about 35-45 minutes). Transfer the granola to a bowl and stir in the chopped apricots. 

Store in an airtight glass container.


und mia san mia auf jeden Fall!


breakfast lately

Spring here in Munich has been dramatically fluctuating between autumn chills and summer heat. Naturally, my breakfasts as of late have followed suit and have gone from fruit salads to French toast and from asparagus to millet. And although to me a poached egg represents breakfast perfection, my sweet tooth has been making an appearance lately at the first meal of the day. 

Breakfast lately

chocolate chia pudding with cashew milk & strawberries

French toast made from homemade sourdough with maple syrup and raspberries

walnut, chocolate and butter bread

homemade sourdough

roasted asparagus with a poached egg and 

millet, dried figs and hazelnuts

a fruit salad of apple, kiwi, raspberries and fresh mint
Dutch baby pancake with lemon juice, strawberries, icing sugar and a side of bacon

* * * *

And a pistachio lemon pound cake.

It was my birthday last week and birthdays are certainly the best excuse that I know of to eat cake for breakfast. Since that opportunity only comes once a year I took full advantage by baking a lemon pistachio pound cake the day before and icing it the morning of. It had a few healthy intentions sneaking into its batter as I used olive oil instead of butter and spelt flour. It also had lots of lemon zest and juice and chopped pistachios. The icing I made with confectioners sugar, coconut milk and lemon zest. 

When you wake up to cake on your birthday it is easy to forget that birthdays are supposed to mark growing older. I am  usually too distracted by the food to think about age. 

Other than food, birthdays are of course about celebrating and next week I'll be doing exactly that by heading down to the Amalfi Coast. My thesis is due the day I depart for Naples so it will be a celebratory week indeed. I imagine that it will be a trip filled with limoncello, pizza, and frantic runs through fields of lemon trees. I can't wait. I'll try to say hello before leaving, perhaps with a recipe or some more breakfast inspiration, but if the time escapes me expect lemons to invade this blog very soon.

Happy weekend. 


peanut butter cookies

I am not a big cookie person. Growing up with my mom I don't recall many homemade cookies and from visits to my Dad's I have memories of only a bag of President's Choice chocolate chip cookies that he would keep on top of the fridge. I was never really tempted by that bag. Dinners with my Nana and Poppy would often end with a bowl of sorbet and some shortbread cookies, but those were fancy English cookies that came in a nice tin. I have lots of memories of homemade pies and cakes, but less of cookies.

They say that all cooks should have a really great chocolate chip cookie recipe in their repertoire. Unfortunately, I was always more into the dough than into the cookies and have never really found a recipe that I like as much baked as I like it raw. Call it one of my food dirty secrets if you like. 

On Paper Doll Parade I have written about cookies once and those were Heidi Swanson's Carrot Oatmeal Cookies. I do like cookies but not necessarily chocolate chip cookies. I like cookies of the nuttier and saltier varieties. Also, I don't have too many cravings to eat them or urges to make them, but when I do I normally find myself over at 101 Cookbooks. But, after making Heidi's healthier interpretation of a classic peanut butter cookie I am feeling more like a cookie person. Or, at least a peanut butter cookie person.

These are really good cookies. I wish I had saved a few so I could be eating one right now, but I was greedy. And so was someone else in this apartment. We both could not resist. Simple trips to the kitchen to get a glass of water or to throw something in the trash would end with one of us leaning against the counter with a full mouth and half a cookie in hand. These cookies are also the type where you can hear someone eating one from the next room so the other one would hear this blissful chewing in the kitchen and join in by eating a cookie or three. They also leave crumbs. Crumbs so good that you end up eating them, even the smallest ones, right off the counter or wherever else they may fall. No, these cookies did not last very long. 

I want to make these again and again, but I am not going to lie. These are rather expensive cookies. Although they require few ingredients, natural peanut butter and maple syrup start to add up (especially in Europe). You can always make peanut butter, but sometimes even I want to just open up a jar and be done with it. Nonetheless, the whole ingredients, although expensive, are what make these cookies just so good.

Peanut Butter Cookies

from 101 Cookbooks

makes 2-3 dozen cookies


2 cups flour (i used spelt, but feel free to use whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose)
1 tsp baking soda
a large pinch of sea salt
1 cup natural chunky peanut butter
1 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 vanilla bean, scraped

a few shavings of dark chocolate, optional 
 sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350F / 180C / Gas mark 4. Line a large baking sheet or a few smaller ones with parchment paper.

In a bowl mix together the flour, baking soda and sea salt. In another bowl mix together the peanut butter, maple syrup, olive oil, and scraped vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and stir until just combined. Put the mixture in the freezer for 5-10 minutes so it chills slightly and is easier to work with. 

Using a teaspoon, drop heaping spoonfuls of batter on the parchment-lined cookie sheet making sure to leave a generous amount of room between cookies. Press down on each cookie with the back of a fork. If the batter has been chilled and isn't too loose, then repeat to get a criss-cross. (With my second batch I even kept the batter in the fridge over night so that I could have more freshly baked cookies the next day - do as you wish). Sprinkle each cookie with some sea salt and, if you wish, some shavings of dark chocolate (I added chocolate to half).

Bake for 10-13 minutes until cookies are set, but make sure not to over bake or else they will be dry. Let sit for five minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. 



Südtirol + grapefruit and porcini risotto

At some point when I was growing up I caught the travel bug. Just like that. It was almost out of nowhere. Neither of my parents are big travelers. Family vacations never required passports and were always planned around activities other than sightseeing (skiing here and camping there). 

My first trip to Europe was when I was 11. I was lucky and was invited by my Babchai, my aunt and my uncle on a trip to explore "the old country". We spent two weeks in Poland taking pictures of old buildings, tracking down relatives that we had never met, and trying our best to avoid the tripe that waited for us in the bottom of our soup bowls. I am tempted to say that something clicked during that trip, but I don't think it did. I was still too young and it felt less like traveling and more like meeting the country that you are culturally connected to but know very little about.

The travel bug came on quite strong a few years later when my aunt took me to Mexico. I was in high school and felt beyond lucky to take a week off school (so long math class!) to hang out with my aunt on the beach in Playa Del Carmen. It was already around ten years ago, but I remember a very strong feeling that came from trying freshly made tortilla chips for the first time. It might sound kind of silly, but with a few crunchy bites topped with fresh salsa I realized that there was a whole world out there that I did not know. Tortilla chips were the only chips I was allowed to eat as a child so naturally chips and salsa make me terribly nostalgic. It is like being a kid again and watching 'Wayne's World' with the whole family on a Friday night. And then in Mexico I tasted a tortilla chip that was nothing like the ones I knew. So I guess that eating fresh tortilla chips in Mexico was the gateway drug for me. I was hooked. I felt the need to travel. Everywhere. Always. 

Last weekend we were in Italy. A perk of living in South Germany is that Italy is only a three hour drive away and that drive includes a chunk of the Austrian Alps. Coming from Canada, Europe still feels magically small to me no matter how long I live here. I am too North American to not be charmed by living in Germany and being able to drive to Italy for a weekend.

But the part of Italy we were in was the German speaking part: Südtirol in German and Alto Adige in Italian. It was a fascinating mix of languages, cultures and food. I had heard that its food is something special. Mix my chronic case of the travel bug with my obsession with food and I am pretty much willing to go anywhere to eat (and sight-see, of course). I am also a pretty loyal drinker of the region's cocktail: Hugo. A Hugo is prosecco, a few sprigs of fresh mint, and elderflower syrup. Sometimes it has mineral or soda water and a squeeze of fresh lime. With or without the water and lime, it is good. Really good. The Hugo alone had me dreaming of a trip to Südtirol.

And the trip did not disappoint. There was Südtiroler Speck (a dry-cured ham), Shüttelbrot (a flatbread similar to knäckebrot made with dried fennel - it is ideal for hiking trips or just long train rides) and Käseknödel (a bread dumpling made with cheese). There was also a magical wedding in a castle as well as a feast and bottles and bottles of local wine to go along. 

Before coming back to Munich we spent a day in Bozen/Bolzano. There we heard plenty more Italian which made the weekend trip to Italy actually feel like it was in Italy. We also took advantage of the Italian grocery stores and filled our small suitcase with some edible souvenirs. We brought back some of the regional specialties as described above as well as a few staple ingredients for risotto.

The risotto part of this recipe was inspired by Südtirol and the grapefruit and porcini part was inspired by my lovely friend Shirin. She is quite the cook and the two of us are completely on the same page when it comes to food. This means that our visits are always delicious. Very delicious. A few weeks ago we went to Little Otik in Berlin. They serve the type of food I could eat everyday. They use local organic ingredients and they put so much love into their menu that it is easy to become obsessed. It only took one meal to give me buckets of inspiration. That and a (intense) craving for icecream sandwiches with mint icecream and homemade cookies. 

Shirin told me about a risotto she had at Little Otik that was made with grapefruit and porcini mushrooms. She had recreated a version at home with blood oranges (Shirin, am I getting this right or am I confused? Was it grapefruit at Little Otik and blood orange chez toi or the other way around?). My memory is a strange thing. The times table has no chance with me, but good food combinations are a different story (hopefully the brackets above don't suggest otherwise).

There was another source of inspiration that went into this recipe. My friend Leanne recently wrote about a cabbage and sausage risotto. Boy, was this post a lesson for me. One of her risotto secrets is to use vialone nano or carnaroli rice. She clarified something important. As she writes, all non-Italians think that arborio rice is the risotto rice; however, she has been told emphatically that arborio is not the right rice. I repeat: no arborio.  

Last year I posted a recipe for risotto. It is a simple risotto with some vegetables and roasted pine nuts. This risotto with grapefruit and porcini mushrooms is a bit more adventurous. It is a bit sexier. Nonetheless, the recipes are pretty identical minus the stars of the show - grapefruit and porcini - and the staple: the type of rice. 

Grapefruit and Porcini Mushroom Risotto

serves 2


15 grams dried porcini mushrooms
olive oil
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 cup rice (vialone nano or carnaroli, or arborio if you are in a grind)
4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup grated pamigiano-reggiano
salt and pepper to taste
2 red grapefruits, peeled with the membrane removed
fresh mint for garnish 

Bring some water to boil in a kettle and then soak the dried porcini mushrooms in hot water for half an hour. Once soaked, drain the mushrooms but reserve the soaking liquid. Squeeze out any access water the mushrooms may be holding. 

Heat the vegetable broth in a pot and bring to a simmer.

In another pot heat the olive oil over medium heat and then add the onion. Let soften for about 2 minutes and then add the rice. Stir well so the rice is coated with the olive oil and onion. Add the white wine and stir until the rice absorbs the wine. Once absorbed, add a ladle of the hot broth. Repeat until the rice is al dente. Add the soaking water from the mushrooms and the mushrooms and stir until absorbed.

Turn off the heat and add the pamigiano-reggiano. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the grapefruit, garnish with fresh mint and serve right away. 




Spring is cherry blossoms. Spring is roasting asparagus for breakfast and sneaking rhubarb into daal. And. of course, it is baking rhubarb until it melts into desserts.

Spring is wild garlic and wild leeks. It is fresh mint, patios, and the comeback of denim cut-offs.

Spring is driving with the windows down and planning summer road trips. It is breakfast on balconies and attempts to turn an apartment into a greenhouse. 

Spring is forgetting fall and winter and the big life plans that are supposed to go with them. It is chilled white wine, bare feet, and scarves that double as picnic blankets.

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