postcards from moscow

Don't be tempted to see these black and white postcards as representative of the colour palette of Moscow. The Russian capital was anything but shades of Soviet grey. So although these postcards are the best ones I found, they are misleading.

Moscow was full of pastel greens and pale yellows. Its temperatures were freezing (down to -8C), but its sky was sunny and bright. And the food was just as bright. More on that soon, but first I'll be back with a recipe that I could cook every night. 


edible souvenirs: the canada edition

Just as I'm packing my suitcase to fly to Moscow, a city that I've never been to and am very eager to get to know, I realized that it was just a few weeks ago that I was unpacking my suitcase after visiting a city that I know very well.

We all know that when you travel to Italy you bring home espresso, pecorino and good olive oil. When you travel to France you pick up raw butter, creamy cheese and pastries. And, if I wasn't already living in Germany, I would bring home a loaf of dark sourdough bread, Lebkuchen and Quark. But what culinary souvenirs does one bring back from Canada, other than maple syrup of course? 

Well let's start with mustard. It might seem unnecessary and even silly to lug mustard all the way from Canada to Germany, but Kozlik's is so good that I would even risk paying (and probably pay) the overweight baggage fee for this mustard. The maple mustard is my personal favourite, but they also produce other sexy flavours, such as balsamic fig & dates, and lime and honey. This family-run, Toronto-based company has been making mustard since 1948. 

Another Toronto gem is Delight, a chocolate shop based in the Junction. Once again, it might seem counter-intuitive to bring chocolate back to Europe, but have you ever seen a Quebec blue cheese (or any blue cheese) chocolate truffle in Europe? Exactly. 

I filled the rest of my suitcase with sea salt from Vancouver Island, Raincoast Crisps - the best crackers I know, pickled fiddleheads, ginger syrup for making lots of ginger ale and, of course, more maple syrup.


plums, effort and giving thanks

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving. Although I do have pumpkin roasting in my oven, I want to talk about plums. The first of the pumpkins may be showing off at markets these days, but I'm still trying to get my fill of the last of the plums. 

I made a simple plum cake last week and I hope to make it again this week. It takes only a couple of minutes to mix everything together and with Italian prune plums and olive oil instead of butter, it is incredibly moist, but still with a little bit of crunch. It is the type of cake that you are tempted to eat for breakfast and could easily commit to as your number one afternoon pick-me-up.

I listened to the instructions and managed to resist cutting into it until the day after I had baked it. Because I miraculously didn't sneak a slice the day of, I cannot say how the day after compares. However, I can say that the cake lived up to all of its praise on Lottie and Doof, Smitten Kitchen and Bon Appetempt.  

What I like most about this recipe is that it could not be easier. It takes very little effort, labour and time, yet what it yields is excellent. It is the type of cake that you think about when you are waiting for the bus and thinking about what to eat when you get home. I also like its history: the New York Times published this recipe every September from 1982 to 1989! I like that this encourage repetition, the establishment of a ritual and I will do my best to bake this cake every year when summer turns to fall. 

The recipe calls for a spring form pan which, alas, I do not have. I used a regular cake pan and it worked out fine. Depending on the size of the plums, you might need more or less. The recipe calls for 12, but mine were on the smaller side so I ended up using 14. Also, if your plums are very ripe and already quite sweet, cut back on the amount of sugar. 

On a different note, if you haven't already I highly recommend reading this article about a woman who decides to stop cooking and how cooking for others can be selfish. Cooking can be a chore, a resented obligation, a means of getting people to like you (which connects thematically to the excellent article "Learning to Love Criticism") and, for some like myself, a source of pleasure. Just because I enthusiastically derive joy from the act of cooking, doesn't make cooking any less complicated for me. This is because I'm acutely aware of the issues that it ties into and how it connects to politics, gender and society. That said, I'm thankful that I am in the position to enjoy cooking even though I am in no way obligated to.

So, if you are like me and enjoy the heat of the kitchen, make this plum torte and dig into these two articles. And if you use your oven to store books and sweaters, go buy yourself a piece of cake to keep you company while reading. 

Plum Torte

adapted from the New York Times

serves 8


125 grams (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
5 grams baking powder
large pinch of salt
200 grams (1 cup) unrefined sugar + 1 tbsp for sprinkling
67 grams (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp) virgin olive oil + a knob more to grease the pan
2 organic eggs
 12-14 small Italian prune plums, pitted and cut in half
1 tsp cinnamon 
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 F / 190 C / gas mark 4.

Grease a cake pan with olive oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another medium bowl, stir together the sugar and olive oil and then add the eggs, one egg at a time. Add the flour mixture to the olive oil and sugar mixture and stir until combined.

Pour the batter into the cake pan and give the pan a little shake, side to side, to make sure the batter is evenly distrubuted. Arrange the plums on top of the batter, with the skin side facing down. Sprinkle with cinnamon, 1 tbsp of sugar and lemon juice.

Bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the batter (and not a plum!) come out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool before serving. 



the bread exchange

First in Sweden, then the rest of Europe and, as of today, North America - The Bread Exchange has been released! 

Malin bakes bread and travels the world trading her sourdough for anything other than money. By doing so, she collects stories and her first book puts that collection on display. From growing a sourdough starter in the Sinai desert to borrowing an oven from a star chef in New York and from the rituals of community baking in Afghanistan to winter soups in Poland, Malin's book is a collection of recipes and stories that are equally delicious.

I leave the bread baking up to Malin but to those curious about baking with sourdough, the book includes her signature recipe, plus some adaptations including a loaf with goji berries and rosemary. 
The subsequent chapters feature recipes from her trades and travels and I had the absolute honour of contributing two recipes for winter jams (not with plum, but one is with blood orange and the other pear), which you can read a bit more about here

In addition to the usual suspects and (hopefully) your local bookstore, you can also order the book on her website.

Good bread and good stories seem like the right essentials to prioritize and the Bread Exchange celebrates both. 


not quite ready: grilled zucchini and halloumi salad

I was at the post office the other day to mail some letters when the women at the desk picked up one of my envelopes and asked "Wohin?" To which country she wanted to know and I realized that I had forgotten to write Canada. I suppose that it hadn't quite hit me that I had left, that I was somewhere else again.

Leaving gets harder as I get older. The hugs that I give my grandparents have gotten longer. I fall in love all over again with friends that I see way too seldom, making time apart feel slower. I was in Canada for five weeks and yet it wasn't enough. I wasn't quite ready to leave and I think this is exactly why it still feels so much like home. 

So here I am, slowly catching up with where I am and what time of year it is.

It turns out that it is the time of year that isn't quite ready to bid farewell to one season as it turns into the next. Between mornings of grey and chilly evenings, Munich has had a couple of afternoons that easily make you forget that it is fall and no longer summer. 

Before I went to Canada I made this salad on my balcony. It is a warm salad, one that is a meal in itself. I grilled slices of yellow zucchini and chunks of salty halloumi cheese. I added some chickpeas and tossed everything with fresh mint, zesty za'atar and enough olive oil and lemon juice to make a dressing. On the scale of hearty and fresh, the salad balances between the two. The chickpeas and halloumi make it into a meal and yet the za'atar and mint make it taste light. It is exactly what I want to eat when the seasons and I are both making up our minds about where we are and what time of year it is.

If you've already put away your grill, just roast the zucchini in the oven and fry the halloumi in a pan.  

Grilled Zucchini and Halloumi Salad
inspired by Chatelaine
serves 2
1 large zucchini (I used a yellow one)
1 pack (150g) halloumi
1/4 cup loosely packed mint, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked (or canned) chickpeas
2 tbsp za'atar
sea salt
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
a neutral oil for grilling, such as grapeseed

Preheat barbecue to medium. While the grill heats up, cut the zucchini into medium-thick slices, place in a bowl and toss with some oil and coarse salt to prepare them for the grill. Cut the halloumi into chunks and also toss it with some oil (skip the salt as halloumi is already quite salty).

Place the zucchini and halloumi on the grill, or one first and then the other depending on the size, and barbecue until the zucchini is tender and the halloumi has grill marks, about 3 minutes per side for the zucchini and 3 minutes per side for the halloumi.

In a bowl, toss together the zucchini, and halloumi with the chickpeas, mint, za'atar, salt and pepper to taste, olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste. Serve either warm or at room temperature.


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