Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Impressions

Greetings to all my lovely friends out there reading this, and a Happy Easter to you all! This year the holiday is somewhat low key in my household, but I at least wanted to show off a few new acquisitions:

(1) an vase that appropriately resembles a dyed Easter egg (filled with blossoming forsythias)

(2) a cheerful wreath for my feathered friends

(3) a thrifted mug stamped with a reminder of nature's beauty

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Getting my bobbins in order

Fall is a time of rich colors and of preparation for the winter.

In the spirit of both, I recently reorganized my sewing supplies. There's something satisfying about seeing a jumble of colors slowly transform into an orderly rainbow.

As they say, joy shared is joy multiplied, so enjoy these snapshots from my project.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Secrets of the scarlet runner bean

During a trip to Salzburg in the summer of 2012, I acquired a taste for an Austrian delicacy known as Käferbohnensalat: boiled scarlet runner beans with fresh onion served with a dressing made of salt, pepper, apple cider vinegar, and oil made from the the seeds of naked-seeded pumpkins (Kürbiskernöl). What a treat!

While Austrians may call these delicious legumes Käferbohnen (literally "beetle beans"), Germans call them either Feuerbohnen ("fire beans") or bunte Riesenbohnen ("colorful giant beans"). The Latin name is Phaseolus coccineus.

The English term, scarlet runner bean, describes both the unforgettable color of the blossoms—favored by hummingbirds—and the plant's penchant for climbing up high.

For recipes that call for scarlet runner beans, this ingredient can't be easily replaced by other varieties as the flavorful beans themselves impart a unique taste of chestnut to whatever dish they're added to.
Unfortunately, though, these beans are hard to get in large quantities in the United States. Most are sold in small packages for planting but in Germany and Austria they're plentiful. My last time in Germany I brought back some packages of dried beans bought at a Reformhaus and an organic grocery store (Bioladen).

Austrian purists swear by the pre-cooked canned variety, but by soaking the dried beans for a full day  and cooking them with a little salt in a pressure cooker, you can achieve an even more delicious result.

You can eliminate some of the complex sugars with…um…odor-producing effects by such a long soak and changing the water afterwards. The Austrians may be famous for their music, but let's make sure it's for the likes of Mozart and Haydn.
 This summer I decided to grow some myself. The beans came from Thomas Jefferson's estate Monticello. (Check out their fantastic seed options while you're there). The picture at the top of this post shows the fantastic variation in colors that the beans go through as they mature.

Next time you or someone you know decides to grow scarlet runner beans, remember that these plants aren't only valuable as ornaments but also offer a delectable fall treat!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter is better with miniature eggs...

Happy Easter, everybody!

I've been enjoying the lovely spring weather, especially the fresh breezes and bright sunshine.

Traditionally my family would dye eggs the day before Easter Sunday. Today I introduced a little twist to the usual by dying the tiny eggs my birds laid over the past year. What do you think?

(Pssst — don't miss the bonus pictures at the end of this post!)

They sure turned out well! Hopefully they'll last a couple years, because I'm trying not to let my birds nest anymore since it's hard on their little bodies.

And here are the bonus posts. First a chocolate bar I picked up from my latest trip to eastern Germany:

And finally some gorgeous vintage reproduction salt and pepper shakers in the form of white rabbits:

My sincerest wishes for a happy holiday to you all!

Monday, February 3, 2014

February greetings

Happy February, dear readers! Just wanted say that I look forward to posting more frequently in the future once my schedule opens up. Keep the comments coming in the meantime!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Recipe: Candy Bar Breakfast Müesli

Ever wanted to eat a candy bar for breakfast? Here's the next best thing: healthy morning müesli inspired by Almond Joy or Bounty candy bars. Kickstart your day with a cereal bursting with whole grains and flavor!

(1) Start with a good müesli basis. I like Bob's Red Mill, but you can make one yourself by combining rolled oats, raisins, flax seed, and sunflower seed.

(2) Add almonds (sliced, halved, whole...), coconut flakes, and chocolate chips to taste.

(3) Add milk. You can make this vegan by using a plant milk (soy, almond, flax, hemp, oat, etc.) and vegan chocolate chips.

(4) Enjoy!

Like this recipe? Leave a comment below!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

No bees in this bonnet

 When the temperature drops I instinctively gravitate towards household appliances that create warmth, like my oven, slow cooker, and—of course—hair dryer.

I do my hair regularly with wet sets to get a nice head of curls in the early evening. My hair is dry by the morning, but a few minutes of blow drying using a soft bonnet dryer makes the curls last even longer.

Except for us retro gals, most women are shying away from hairstyles requiring curlers, so I frequently see bonnet dryers in thrift stores. In Germany I bought two with the aim of comparing an older model from Krups and a newer model from Braun. Both have long cords and portable drying units so you can walk around while drying your 'do.

Krups Solitair 466

Pros: Looks. Detachable drying unit.

Cons: Loud and stinky.

Even I, the vintage fanatic, could not bear to use this Krups Solitair more than a couple times. The dryer's motor almost made me go deaf, and the plastic hood emitted smelly fumes when heated. Too bad, but this handsome unit is going back to the donation pile.

Still, here are some pictures to enjoy, since its packaging is lovely:

The Germans have a lovely name for soft bonnet dryers: "Schwebehaube," which means "floating hood."

Purchased March 2, 1981 at 3:14 pm!

Instruction Booklet (1)
Instruction Booklet (2)

Braun HLH 18 Classic

Pros: Small, silent, and effective. Lighter than the Krups. Relatively odorless.

Cons: Boring look

If you want something reliable to get the job done, this is the dryer for you.

My favorite travel bonnet dryer

This simple and inexpensive black nylon bonnet dryer hood attaches to your handheld hair dryer. The results I've gotten with it have been consistently good. The nylon fabric won't tear as easily as plastic, and it takes up little space, so it's a great travel accessory. You can buy one here for around $9.

Bonus! Krups Appliance Catalog

This appliance catalog came with my Krups hair dryer. Take a look at the "newest" offerings from the early 80s...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pour me some Podpiwek

For a little something different, I would like to post about my newest hobby: homebrewing. Initially my inspiration came from Sandor Elias Katz's eloquent and exhaustive book The Art of Fermentation. (When you see this book, the word "tome" comes to mind...). So far I've brewed various sweet wines, two types of mead, hard cider, and birch beer (nonalcoholic), and I've even started to make my own vinegar!

Some experiments have been successes, and some spectacular failures. Much has been written on brewing typical beers and wines, but here I want to introduce you to a more unusual beverage, podpiwek.

Do you know something about podpiwek? Do you or did you drink it? Know someone who brews it?

Leave a comment below!

What is Podpiwek?

Podpiwek is a weak sour beer from Polish cuisine. It is related to kvass, a barely alcoholic, rye-based sour beer drunk during the hot summer months in the Ukraine and Russia. This Polish variation is sour like its eastern counterpart, but it includes some extra ingredients as well. The ready-made mix I used, made by the company Kujawski, includes grain, beetroot,

My understanding is that the sourness of kvass comes from the sourness of rye bread, which is leavened using sourdough starter, which imparts an acidic taste that is the byproduct of lactobacillus bacteria that help the bread rise along with yeast. My mixture contains citric acid to achieve this same effect.

Not much has been written on podpiwek in English, but if you're looking for more information, try these sites:

Beersmith Home Brewing Forum: Thread on podpiwek
Flatbush Brewing Project Blog: Post entitled "What do you know about podpiwek?"
A Facebook page on Polish Cuisine

Ingredients and Equipment

If you're working with the packaged product like I was, you should have the following items ready:

• Podpiwek mix; mine contains beetroot, barley, chicory, sugar, hop, sodium biphosphorate, and citric acid.
• water
• a large pot for boiling the mixture in the water
• a funnel and cheesecloth/coffee filter
• a carboy or other suitable container for fermenting (if you don't mind plastic, you can use a clean soda bottle)
• a little plastic wrap
• a different container for storing
• a couple of raisins


The directions delightful box are written in Polish, but someone on a brewing forum came up with the following translation:

To make the full amount of 10 L, follow the information on the package. This English translation is courtesy of the BeerSmith Homebrewing Forum participant brewing-in-chandler:

Dissolve 1 packet [= 100 g] of Podpiwek in 10 liters of boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes. Sieve the liquid through a piece of cloth (filter paper should be fine). Mix 5 grams of yeast (best fresh) in 1/2 glass of this liquid. Then add this mixture to the rest of the liquid. Add 500-600 grams of sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Fill up the bottles with the screw cap and put away in winter for 5 days (summer for 3 days). The first day should be in a warm place and the rest in a cooler place.

I scaled this down for a 1.5 L batch, which means I used 15 g of the Podpiwek mixture, 75 g (brown) sugar, and 1/2 g yeast.
Here's how to brew your Podpiwek:

(1) Put the water in a pot

(2) Add the Podpiwek mixture

(3) Boil for 10 minutes

(4) Using a funnel and cheesecloth/coffee filter to filter the mixture so only the liquid remains. Compost the rest.

(5) Let cool to around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 24 to 27 degrees Celsius). Too hot and the yeast you're about to add will die.

(6) Add yeast. I used Red Star bread yeast, but you can also use a dedicated beer yeast if you prefer.
(7) Cover the bottle loosely with plastic wrap so nothing wanders in but so gasses can escape. Alternately you can try putting the lid on your container very loosely.
(8) Let sit for a day in a slightly warmer spot of your home.

Here's what my liquid looked like at this point:

(9 in summer) Let sit for 2 more days in a slightly cooler spot.
(9 in winter) Let sit for 4 more days in a slightly cooler spot

(10) (Optional) Pour into different bottles. At this point the dead and dormant yeast will have collected at the bottom of your fermenting vessel. I preferred a "cleaner" look for my finished product.

(11) Add a few raisins to the bottles, maybe 2-4 per bottle. (I added too many in the picture above.) This gives the remaining yeast a little something to snack on, which creates carbon dioxide for the carbonation process. Katz writes in his book The Art of Fermentation that you can tell kvass (and therefore Podpiwek) is carbonated  by when the raisins start to float, but in my experience the raisins will bloat and rise even in uncarbonated kvass/podpiwek!

(12) Close and let carbonate. BE VERY CAREFUL if you are using glass bottles as they may explode if the pressure inside becomes too great. I prefer glass over plastic because of the potential for leaked chemicals with some plastics, but if this does not concern for you, it is easier to gauge carbonation in a plastic bottle. You can also put a portion in a small plastic bottle to help gauge how much pressure has built up.

(13) Place in your refrigerator after the desired level of carbonation has been reached.

(14) Enjoy cold.

What does it taste like?

Well, it tastes like a young, sour, weak, bready coffee-flavored beer. Some say kvass and podpiwek are acquired tastes. They're right. (Did you enjoy coffee or regular beer the first time you had them?) I could only drink the stuff chilled, which is how it is supposed to be served anyway. The first and second glasses I had were a struggle to get down. The third and fourth ones were better, and I could eventually grow to enjoy a cool glass on a hot summer day. This drink has only 1% to 2% alcohol by volume, so you cannot easily get drunk from it.

So have any of you readers tried homebrewing yet? Tell me about your successes and failures!