Josefi (Seasonal Celebrations)

This coming Tuesday, March 19th, is St Joseph’s Day; for many in Bavaria this means spring has arrived! Therefore I’m tying this post in to Donna’s “Seasonal Celebrations” meme at Gardens Eye View.

~~~

Euonymus2

Unless you live in one of the larger cities in Bavaria, such as Munich or Nuremberg, or even Regensburg, life is still very closely linked to the land, and the passing of seasons. The Catholic Church also plays a large role in rural Bavaria and thus a date that many of the older generation here in Bavaria remember well is Josefi, St Joseph’s Day, on 19th March. This day, considered to be the end of winter, used to be a holiday in Bavaria (until 1968), and several country proverbs revolve around it….

(I’ve translated them roughly into English here)

Ist’s Joseph klar, gibt’s ein gutes Honigjahr

If St Joseph’s Day is clear, it will be a fruitful year

Wenns erst einmal Josefi ist, so endet auch der Winter gewiss.

Only when Josefi’s passed, is the winter gone at last

The temperature will also often have risen by this date – with rain instead of snow – and, as another saying goes, only the laziest farmers will not be out in the fields!

The first spring flowers wake up around now. First the Liverwort…

Hepatica

Hepatica nobilis (16th March), in the woods nearby

And then the Pasque flowers…

Pulsatilla2

Pulsatilla vulgaris (16th March), on the chalky slopes overlooking our valley

Traditionally the Scillas (Alpine squill/Scilla bifolia) – a protected species – will be flowering in the woods; my German “Oma” used to call them Josefiblümerl (although this name is now often given to Hepaticas as well). They grow wild in Germany, as far north as the Danube and even near the Rhine, and are a pretty sight – although I haven’t seen any for a few years. But I do have the cultivated variety seen commonly in gardens here…

Scilla siberica

Scilla siberica (woodland squill), growing in my garden

A few markets or the first festivals of the year take place around St Joseph’s Day. Also, since Joseph is the patron saint of carpenters, in some regions in the south of Bavaria a special bread with raisins in it is baked in honour of those working with wood. A special beer may be brewed in some towns for this date, and beer gardens might  open if the weather permits!

Well, it may not be beer garden weather yet, despite a few very warm days in early March, but I’m certain spring has finally arrived once again – and am grateful for every single bloom it brings!

Golden Crocus

Creamy Carrot Soup and Tofu Croutons

If you’ve been yearning for spring foods and fresh flavours, but the weather’s still wintery (like here!), how about a light but warm and spicy soup? Sprinkle a little nutmeg on top, and then add some crispy tofu croutons to make this recipe even tastier!

Creamy Carrot Soup

Carrot soup1

Chop up 1 onion and sauté in a little olive oil. Add 3 cloves of crushed garlic, 3 carrots and 1 parsnip, also chopped. Season with salt and black pepper, 1/2 tsp ground coriander and 1/2 tsp ground ginger. Turn the heat down and put a lid on your pan. Leave to sweat for 10 minutes. Now add 250ml (1 cup) water, 75ml (1/3 cup) sweet sherry and 160ml (2/3 cup) coconut milk. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Puree with a hand blender and serve sprinkled with a little freshly ground nutmeg and some tofu croutons.

Tofu Croutons

Carrot soup3

Chop up half a block of firm tofu (about 100g/4oz) into very small squares – the size is entirely up to you and makes no difference at all. In a small dish mix 2 tsps cornflour with plenty of salt and black pepper, 1 tsp garlic granules, and 1-2 tsps of any herbs or spices you fancy. Coriander and ginger go well with this soup, dried Italian herbs go well with other soups… whatever! Coat the tofu with the cornflour/spice mixture. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and fry the croutons until they are nice and brown and start crisping up.

Serve warm with the soup. Great for snacking too! 😀

Carrot soup2

Tuesday at Two (March 12th)

After a week of being spoilt by unseasonal sunshine and warmth (18°C on one afternoon!), the weather has turned a lot cooler and damper… perfect for the garden but perhaps not so perfect for the gardener! 😉

TuesdayView12thMar

At the weekend some of the first flowers appeared, including a few crocus, and this…

Hepatica nobilis rosea

Hepatica Rosa

As much as I love the blue variety, I think this is my favourite spring flower this year, and rightly so. After all, Hepatica nobilis is Wildflower of the Year 2013 in Germany!

What is your favourite spring flower, and is it blooming yet?

Swedish Visiting Cake for Mother’s Day

HAPPY MOTHERING SUNDAY!

xxx

This for you Mum! 😀

SwedishCake5

A shame my Mum won’t get a slice of this. I just hope it’s a sunny day for her instead. 😀

~~~

When this cake came out of the oven it looked flat. Oh. Then the middle sank a little and it looked even flatter… Oh dear. Did I forget the baking powder? No! This is how it’s meant to be: no raising agents are used! And despite my initial doubts, after the first bite I was so glad I tried it. The consistency is dense, a little like a brownie, with that almost chewy texture. Its delicious almond and vanilla aroma fills the house with cosiness, and I admit that I rather fell for this little cake.

My recipe is an adapted version of the one I found on this website: http://dessertfirstgirl.com

The original recipe included almond extract, which I’m not keen on. Leaving it out and adding more vanilla and a hint of warm spices worked very well.

Swedish Visiting Cake

SwedishCake1

Preheat your oven to 175°C (350°F). Grease and flour a 23cm (9 inch) baking tin (loose-bottomed if you have one – I didn’t).

Whisk 200g sugar and 25g vanilla sugar (1 cup altogether) with 2 eggs until creamy. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract. Fold in 125g (1 cup) sifted flour, a pinch of salt, 1/4 tsp cardamom and 1/4 tsp cinnamon. Melt 110g (1 stick) butter and stir it into the batter. Pour into the baking tin and sprinkle with about 50g (2 oz) almond slices and 1 tbsp vanilla sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Leave to cool before removing from the tin, or serve warm – directly from the tin.

SwedishCake4

This recipe serves 6-8 and is delicious with a cup of coffee. Bake it for your Mum, or invite someone over, or take it with you next time you visit a friend… they’ll love you for it!  😉

Spinach and Gnocchi Bake (with Nutmeg)

Spinach, whether fresh or frozen, is full of goodness and flavour. And with some black pepper and nutmeg added to it, it tastes even better. I’ve been making this dish for around 18 years now, and it has changed over the years… less cheese, more spinach, and more pepper and nutmeg!

I finally got round to measuring the ingredients, so that I could post it here…

Spinach and Gnocchi Bake

SpinachGnocchi3

Sauté 1 onion in a little olive oil until soft. Add 1 tbsp tomato puree, 100g (1/2 cup) (low-fat) cream cheese, salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a good twist of nutmeg (1/2-1 tsp ground nutmeg). Stir and add 400g chopped spinach. (I use frozen quite often).

Preheat your grill (broiler) and warm up an oven-proof dish. Cook 500g potato gnocchi as directed on the packet. As soon as your spinach has wilted/defrosted and cooked through, mix in the well-drained gnocchi and transfer the mixture to the warm baking dish. Sprinkle a mix of 40g (1/2 cup) parmesan cheese and 15g (1 tbsp) wholemeal breadcrumbs on top and grill until golden brown and bubbling.

SpinachGnocchi1

Enjoy!

😀

Nutmeg

Nutmeg

I had a little nut tree,
Nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg
And a golden pear

Nutmeg is a fragrant, slightly sweet spice that has been used for hundreds of years in Britain and Western Europe, and was among those spices viciously fought over in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is in fact said that the Dutch made an exchange with England in the 1660s, trading Manhattan for the last nutmeg-producing island under British control, along with a sugar-producing territory in South America…

Myristica fragrans

Nutmeg Tree

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nutmeg and Mace both come from the nutmeg tree; nutmeg is the seed, while mace is the dried “lacy” reddish covering (the aril) of the seed. The word originates from the Old French “nois mugede” and medieval Latin “nux muscata”.

The fruit of the nutmeg tree looks like an apricot, and when ripe it splits to reveal the red aril encasing the shiny seed, or “nut”. The mace is removed and dried, as are the nutmegs – traditionally in the sun. The process is labour-intensive, since they need turning regularly for several weeks. At the end of the drying, the hard seed coat is split open to extract the kernels – what we know as nutmegs – which have shrunk and are loose in the shell.

Nutmeg Fruit

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The nutmeg tree is indigenous to the Spice Islands in Indonesia and the Caribbean. However, the Arabs who traded this spice in Venice did not reveal where it originated for many years, and were able to demand high prices for it. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Portuguese, and later the Dutch, became major traders in this and other spices, such as cloves. Wars were fought, and warehouses of nutmeg were burnt to keep prices artificially high; barely comprehensible to us in present times, yet simple spices which we take for granted nowadays played such a great role in the building of colonies and empires, and in our trading and shipping history.

NutmegBotanical

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

~

The king of Spain’s daughter
Came to visit me
All for the sake of
My little nut tree

It is said that the King of Spain’s daughter referred to here was Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife. So the rhyme goes back to the early 16th century.

~

Did you know “to nutmeg” is actually a verb?  I had no idea….

It means either: to flavour with nutmeg, as in She decided the eggnog was lacking in flavor, so she decided to nutmeg it heavily.

Or: in soccer, to play the ball between the legs of the opponent

~

I danced o’er the water,
I danced o’er the sea,
And all the birds in the air,
Couldn’t catch me.

~

Nutmeg

I have never used mace, but apparently it has a similar but superior flavour to nutmeg. For as long as I remember I have put a little nutmeg, freshly grated, in milk puddings, egg dishes, or with carrots and spinach. More recently I have used it in a zucchini cake, and in a curry! The uses are thus varied. I have also heard that consuming large quantities of it can lead to intoxication and hallucinations! (Read here)

Do you use nutmeg? And if so, what dishes do you add it to?

I’ll post a recipe I use it in very soon!

😀