Sunday, February 26, 2012

Citrus Tart.

I know, I know. More sweet baking!
And I also know citrus season is soon coming to a close. You are looking forward to Spring, all excited about the first strawberries and, if you are lucky (= if you aren't me), access to the first rhubarb.
But here we are, late February and oranges, grapefruits and my new favorite pomelo are still there waiting to be dealt with.

Also, what I am presenting you today could be indefinitely adaptable throughout the year!
(I am thinking with strawberries or other berries in early summer or nectarines and peaches later on. But then, of course, omitting the zest in the tart shell or swapping lemon zest!)

Citrus Tart.

In early January, that's how long it's been, I bought a couple of magazines on a whim. One of them was Martha Stewart Living. I had never bought it and until then didn't even know it was available in Jordan.
It will probably be the last time I have bought it though - even though the citrus tart I made from it was delicious.
When I think of Martha Stewart I think about crafting, homemade things from scratch, organizing tips and the like - that's what I get daily in my inbox from her. So although the pictures were all lovely, the magazines didn't have all the crafting I was hoping for and more: buy this to achieve that.

Anyway, back to cake.
In the headnote of this recipe it says "This tart blends textures and flavors: Crunchy pastry crust, a cool creamy center, and bright citrus on top." Although I loved all this, exactly like this, very much I found the recipe incredible fussy. With steps I didn't find particularly necessary.

Plus, the pâte sucrée shrunk on me in the oven although I chilled it at all the required stages and even used pie weights (which weren't advised in the recipe). On another note, I don't like recipes that make me mix up ingredients I would normally not use, like cake flour (which, basically is all purpose flour and cornstarch mixed together). I know, I know you can buy cake flour and it can be done easily at home (add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch to a measuring cup then add the flour to the same cup = 1 cup cake flour).
Next time I make this I would use half of this recipe or this very reliable recipe.
Despite my complaints, maybe you are more lucky, I am giving you the full recipe here, with my adaptions.

Citrus Tart
adapted from Martha Stewart Living

For the pâte sucrée
1 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
6 tablespoons (3oz., 90grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon (40grams) confectioners sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon orange zest (from about half an orange)

For the pastry cream
1 cup (250ml) whole milk
1/4 vanilla bean, seeds scraped (MM: Didn't use any. But the cream was still tasty)
4 tablespoons (50grams) sugar - divided
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon (15grams) butter

For the assembly
7 to 8 (depending on the size and your preferences) citrus fruits, separated into segments and drained in a colander
1/4 cup heavy cream

1. Start by making the pâte sucrée: Cream butter and sugar in a mixer on medium speed until pale. With the machine running, add the egg and beat until fully incorporated. Add the orange zest beating low and the flour with a pinch of salt. Beat until only just combined. Wrap in plastic and chill for an hour.

2. Make the pastry cream by combining the milk, vanilla bean (pod and seeds) if using, and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl. Add 1/3 cup of the hot milk to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Add the egg-milk back to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and beat in the butter until combined and the cream has cooled. Strain into a bowl (to remove any bits of cooked eggs), cover the surface directly with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours.

3. Make the tart by buttering a 9-inch tart pan and roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10-inch round with 1/4 inch thickness. Transfer to the tart pan and fit it into the pan and up the sides. Trim away any excess, prick all over with a fork and freeze for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and bake the crust for about 30 minutes until golden brown and firm (alternatively, line the crust with aluminum foil, add beans or pie weights and bake for 20minutes, then remove the weights and foil and bake another 10 minutes).  Let cool completely.

4. To assemble beat the chilled pastry cream until smooth. Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form and carefully fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream. Spread the cream on the tart shell and arrange the citrus fruits in any pattern you like. Serve cold.

Each part of the tart can be made in advance (up to three days), once assembled the tart should be eaten the day it's been made.

Citrus Tart.

P.S.: And just like that I realized only now that is my 251st post. I find that, personally, pretty impressive. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake.

Just some days ago I told you about the struggles we are facing with continuous weight gain of my stepdaughter, and here I am, telling you about a cake.

But this is not an ordinary cake. It's a snacking cake. And it contains whole wheat flour (in part), all brown sugar and some tang from buttermilk (or yogurt).

Last week to the day I found a new to me blog (it went like this: Molly of Orangette wrote a post and linked to all sorts of new places including this apple cake and as this happened to be at a point where I had some time to spare I started to read this new blog whose author has a compelling habit of linking back to posts of the past (she is also a very talented photographer and I really loved her style of writing).
And this is how I landed on a post from July last year.
The very next day (weekends here are Fridays and Saturdays), after breakfast, my husband asked for something sweet on the weekend. I remembered this, I had everything on hand, I made a cake. We ate it. And loved it. The end.

I made only the smallest changes which is why I won't write the recipe down. Although it's quite heavy (I think) on the butter for a not very big cake (2/3 cup, 150 grams), it didn't taste heavy or too rich. The cinnamon flavor is warm and not overpowering and the yogurt/milk lends some moisture. I also loved the nuttiness of the whole wheat flour. We ate it with some whipped cream. Jam would be great too or even pure and unadorned. The original is already linked to above. I didn't use the full amount of vanilla because seriously a tablespoon? I like vanilla (like not love) but this was a cinnamon cake not a vanilla cake. I used dark brown sugar (which was a suggested alternative) (the whole amount and it wasn't too sweet) and half yogurt half milk as buttermilk isn't available here. I also baked part of it in a mini loaf pan to share with my mother in law. It made my cakes bake for a shorter period of time but I didn't write down how long. The tester inserted in the center and your gut feeling are your best bet here.

Whole wheat cinnamon snacking cake.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

On cruel children, individuality and craftiness.

Two days ago, on Tuesday at around noon right after I had finished my food and children and struggle post, I received a forwarded message.
It was a reminder from my stepdaughters school and while I wanted to spend some time scratching my brain what I had missed that this was a reminder and not just some announcement, my mind got too busy with the content of the message.

Character-for-a-Day was coming. "(…) select a book character that they have encountered through reading and dress as that character. Costumes should be simple, creative and homemade."
By the time I had less than 48 hours time to come up with something (after asking my stepdaughter who was still in school) because yes, Character for a day is today.
Talk about advance notice.
But nothing I could do about that. Just move on and hope the girl didn't want to be something as boring as a princess.
I have a deep rooted dislike against little girls dressed in generic pink dresses and calling it any random princess. It's cheap, not very creative and - 90% percent of the time - not homemade. It also fosters stereotypical thinking and promotes the wrong values (this is going into a fun direction, no?! I didn't know where all that feminism is coming from suddenly.). I grew up with Brothers Grimm fairytales too but that doesn't mean I find them aspiring or educational. On the contrary. Yesterday for story time before bed the kids and I read Rumpelstilskin together. I found it repulsive (from an educational and feminist point of view).*

Anyway. Enough with the fairytales.
Last week when the school asked to bring in the kids favorite story, my stepdaughter brought in a Dr. Seuss book we've been reading (it's been love at first sight between Dr. Seuss and us for half a year now and all started with the Arabic translation of "The Lorax" which is such a smart story. Her favorite story, though, was "I wish I had duck feet" which is about a boy coming up with the following features he would love to have:
- duck feet,
- antler,
- a trunk,
- a tail and
- a whale spout.
He dismisses each one for different reasons, considers having all of them at once and, in the end, decided he would rather be himself. It would be the best thing.
Talk about moral.

Loving how much my stepdaughter loves this character to choose it as her costume character for a day because it isn't some pink princess but how am I supposed to make antlers? And a spout? Let alone duck feet?!
(Here is a visual for you to imagine what the challenge was I hoped to be faced with.)

My stepdaughter immediately jumped to this story (I was unbiased aside from the fact that I insisted it wouldn't matter if the story was about a boy). So for the better part of yesterday, I sat on the couch, sewed a tail out of a cheetah print pillow case I never knew why I kept it (and stuffed cotton balls into it), stuffed a pantyhose with cotton balls and sewed grey felt around it (and wore it for a trial) and helped my stepdaughter make antlers out of a headband, aluminum and brown crepe paper.
And while I did this, my husband bought diving fins in her size and spray painted them yellow.

I was mighty pleased with myself and our effort. Our costume was simple, homemade and creative. At the same time, I spent most of last night laying awake worrying. What if the girls are all store brought princesses? What if someone makes fun of her because she isn't like the others? What if no one understands her costume? What if it alienates her from the little pink brats?

And while my stepdaughter loved her costume at home, that is exactly what happened. Half the girls were generic pink princesses or witches (is that the yuppy women's way of "recycling" Halloween costumes?!) while a lot of boys were football players - which story could that be?
In class she was greeted with countless "What are you?!", frowned brows and a mocking tone in her classmates voices and by the time I left her, unable to do anything about it or helping her, she was taking off her tail saying she hated her costume.
My husband to the rescue! He called the school, complained about the amount of unspecific Halloween costumes and explained my stepdaughters trouble. It worked he was told. They read part of the story, she was happy.

I hope this episode hasn't but a hold on her love for Dr. Seuss. I am not ready to go back to the fairytales.
It is hard to be different and unique especially when you're six going on seven in a society that only knows two ways: You're either in or you're out and there is no in-between.
Which is why I was so proud of her. I just hope she feels a little bit like that too.

*If you don't know Rumpelstilskin: A miller boasts about his daughters spinning skills saying she can make straw into gold. The king hears of it and tries her. She is desperate, clueless and doesn't want her father punished (who'd deserve it for lying and putting her in this position), but receives help from a little man for two nights in a row in return for all her jewelry. The greedy king wants more and more and, during the third and hopefully last night, Rumpelstilskin demands the girls firstborn in exchange for his help. She agrees in despair and he makes gold bundles happening again. Finally, the kings' greed is satisfied and he - ever so generous - offers the girl his hand in marriage (the nerve!). She accepts (why! Slave driver!) and soon the now-Queen gives birth to a boy. She's forgotten Rumpelstilskin but he comes and claims his promise. She begs. His offer: Guess my name in three days and you can keep your boy. She tries everything and every name but has no clue. On the last day she sends out her hunter who finds Rumpelstilskin dancing around a fire, saying his own name over and over again. In the third night, the queen reveals his name and Rumpelstilskin gets angry like only short men can get angry and is swallowed by the earth. The End.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Children, food and struggles.

It's been a while.
I don't really know what happened.
One day I was happily writing away about the books I have read, the next I was gone for half of February. (I have been reading more books though. And am halfway through book no. 5 of this year...!)
I am not really sure what happened. I have started a couple of drafts but a lack of energy and a focus on other things have prevented me from typing them to a finished post.

And now I just deleted a whole paragraph in which I ranted about my husbands ex-wife. But this really isn't the place or the time to talk about her (there never will be really). I try not to spend too much energy thinking of her. It sucks all energy out of me.

We need to talk about food and children for a moment.
You might think that the "struggles" in the title has to do with picky eaters. I wish that was our issue.

The point is, we spent all January without my stepchildren around because they stayed with their mother. When they came back each of them had gained a kilo. A kilo. In one month. They are only 5 and almost 7.
We are on a serious mission now. You know that every child reacts differently to divorce and the issues that follow it? Well, I am afraid in our case, the kids have been compensating with food. Add to that old fashioned statements like "Finish your plate!" (and the fatal "You can watch TV if you eat this now!" (we've been working on our verbal attacks)) and a grandmother who misunderstands happy children with overweight children and you have trouble.
This is nothing new to us and we have been monitoring their food intake for the past six months. But it wasn't enough.
Especially my stepdaughter kept gaining weight. Looking at the lists of weigh-ins throughout last year she roughly gained a kilo every two months. It's outrageous.

Sometimes I wish my stepchildren were more like most of their cousins: Overly picky eaters who have to be coaxed into eating. Sure there are foods they don't like but they are generally great eaters who eat most fruits and vegetables.
After they returned from their mother and had gained a kilo in just about a month we sat down and, finally, looked at some figures asking questions like: What should a six (almost seven) year old girl weigh at her height? The answer: Much less. Seven kilos or more less.
When January came to a close this first grader started taking gymnastics classes at her school. She is the heaviest kid of her group, the least active, the fastest exhausted. It is no wonder. I wouldn't be able to hold myself up in a handstand if I weighed what she weighs equivalently.
So we've been going to the pool once a week, she has her gymnastic classes, we try limiting her TV consumption so that she moves around more in the afternoon (or plays Kinect games) and have been limiting their food intake.

I have been busy scratching my head how to get those two kids to move more (but outdoor activities are pretty much off until it gets warmer. Children of the desert are not meant to play outside in the "winter."), how to approach food better (reducing portion sizes, reducing calorie laden foods, providing child friendly vegetable laden foods and keeping them happy at the same time) and how to generally stir clear from connecting foods with punishments or rewards. We've fallen into that trap before (it really is hard not to).

What has been a real struggle on the adult side (first and foremost for my mother in law) was to stop forcing food into the kids when they aren't hungry. I am sure this is a big portion (ha!) of our problem. They kids are so used to having foods put in front of them that they aren't thinking about "Am I hungry?"(this is so dangerous. And can cause so much damage.) My mother in law used to ignore the fact that they go to school with lunch boxes packed with sandwiches, fruits and vegetables (I told you they're very tolerant eaters) and fed them amounts as if they didn't eat anything since breakfast. While my husband insisted on a big bowl of fruits in the afternoon two hours before dinner.
There is salad only during lunch now (or no lunch or only some yogurt if they're with me all afternoon and aren't hungry), no more fruits in the afternoon (they get their five-a-day easily!), salad before dinner and much smaller portions.
I am not sure what to expect when I weigh them nowadays. I wish for a change to see that the efforts are paying off but at the same time should they just stay at their weight and grow it out? Should they drop some?

I never thought I would be in a position like this.
I also never realized how chubby and unmotivated my stepdaughter was until I took her to her gymnastics class one weekend.
I don't like how I obsess over food nowadays and I wish it was easier: more activities, more burnt calories, less fretting about food. It's an ugly cycle. I wish I could do more afternoon activities with them but that compromises homework time and because we don't have them during the weekend (and I don't  trust that woman) homework needs to be done on the spot. And besides Amman sucks for kids - indoor playgrounds? Playgrounds in the neighborhood? A decent park for bicycling? Nope.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Books of 2011: Part II: The highlights.

I loved quite a few books this year and maybe you'd love them too.
At the top of my list is Anna Gavalda's "Hunting and Gathering" which I read in German (and initially thought it hadn't been translated into English yet) and I have yet to see the movie starring Audrey Tatou. This book is mostly about its people less about plotting. It's about the personal growth of each character, about their fears and shortcomings, each told in their own language and their own words. Gavalda writes very detailed yet simple at the same time. This is not a book for everyone, though. It might be lacking action and could be too predictable at times.

Then there was "The Angel's Game" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I had never heard of the book or its author before I borrowed this from a friend whose taste I trust. Apparently Zafon has written more books intertwining with this one without being sequels or prequels just more picture to the puzzle (there is quite a controversy of love and hate going on about this one on amazon reviews. But I cannot judge.). Although I normally don't go for gothic novels I found this book very enjoyable and its language sucked me in as well as the drama that Zafon is able to build up.

I read two food related memoirs last year, one being Julia Child's "My life in Paris" in which she retells her experiences in post-World War Paris, France and later Oslo and Bonn and also her process of writing the book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" which still accounts as one of the standard books for French cooking. The other is "A Homemade Life" by Molly Wizenberg, one of my favorite food bloggers, in which she spins memories together with favorite recipes, not much unlike her blog. 

If you have some time, find the books by Zeruya Shalev. According to they are a little difficult to track down (I read mine in German which was much easier to find) but her trilogy (Husband and Wife; A love life; Late family) is beautiful. She has an engaging way of writing, I love how she develops her characters and she has a great sense for description. I read "Late family" last year (I think that might be the English translation but I am not sure, I couldn't find it). The story of Ella and Amnon and the end of their marriage  takes you through all stages of separation from the desire for freedom to self doubt, despair and healing. Next time I am in Berlin I will pick up other books she has written. 

There have been more books. Like "Such a long journey" by Rohinton Mistry which I picked up because I loved "A fine balance" which I had read some years ago. I wanted to like it as much as his later work but the characters are drawn rather simple and the story isn't always cohesive. It was, in the actual sense, a rather long journey and a bit bumpy too. 
To my great disappointment I didn't really like "Bossypants" by Tina Fey. The whole internet seemed to go on and on about the book beginning of last year and although I haven't seen much by Tina Fey I really liked what I had seen but this book just wasn't meant for me. I wasn't a fan of her writing and as Holly (the one with the book post from way up) pointed out it felt sort of random. I can't put my finger on it or explain it better, it's just that.

This has been quite a post. Actually two. Maybe a little two long. I need to work on editing myself better. I don't think I will tell you every month but maybe every second month which books I have read recently. My plan is to read two books per month (or more). 

Do you have any books you loved recently? Tell me so! I always look for the new!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Books of 2011: Part I: The duds.

It's about time we talk about books.
Like I mentioned right at the beginning of the new year. And here we are, one month already over.

I have been hiding behind a mountain of tissue papers and a pot of tea for the past couple of days as I am sick again. This is my third cold since the beginning of the colder season in Jordan (I don't want to call that outside autumn or winter or anything, it would just not feel right). I am pretty fed up with it (it being sick) as, just last week before I was watching myself slowing getting sick, I was determined to get back to the gym or at least get out more whatever comes first.

I was inspired to keep better track of my readings by this post. And I also would like to read at least half the books Holly has read last year most of which I have never heard of before. As soon as I found "Room" by Emma Donoghue at my local bookshop I took it home with me and finished it within a week.

Anyway. Last year.
Last year I read 16 1/2 books. This is not as bad as my first count from memory (which says a lot about the impact of some of these books no?) where I could only remember 10 and got quite upset. I love books, it's a rather depressing number. I mean, a book a month? (Really, that's what it is as three of those books I read were only as thick as brochures. Which makes it a little more depressing.)
To my defense, I also started three books I never finished which, in a way could count as an excuse for not reading more given that I was occupied with books I didn't really care about.
Back in July I already told you about two of the books I never finished (It's "My life" by Bill Clinton and "Everything is illuminated" by J.S. Foer).

Let's not get into the details of every book I read last year.
Let's start with the duds.
Like "Girls of Riyadh" by Rajaa Alsanea about which TIME wrote "Imagine Sex and the City if the city in question is Riyadh." All those girls want is getting married - I don't read a lot of SATC in that. The characters never come alive, the story is full of stereotypes and all in all it's pretty tedious. There might be some truth to it but it feels shallow and the English translation isn't to its favor.
There was also "Lipstick in Afghanistan" by Roberta Gately which I picked up because in 2010 I enjoyed the "Bookseller of Kabul" by Asne Seierstad. One has nothing to do with the other (read the bookseller if you have a chance!). Even though Gately could have an interesting story (despite careless and egoistic towards other peoples safety if true as written) that doesn't mean she writes in an engaging way. I was troubled by the main characters naivety, her thoughtlessness and that the other characters (and there are loads) are all black and white, good or bad.
The last book of duds I care to talk about is "After Dark" by Haruki Murakami. I know, I know. Acclaimed writer and well loved by a lot of people. But I just can't get behind his writing. I am sure part of it has to do with the translation from Japanese. There was a lack of flow of words and, again as with the other books, a disconnect with the characters. They didn't feel real. And the story is rather flat and shallow. This is the second book I read by him, and it's probably the last. (The first one I read was "Wind up Bird" and although it was highly praised I couldn't get behind it either. Maybe because I am not much into fantasy stories?! All possible.)

Tomorrow I will tell you all about the books I did like. Apparently I feel very strongly about the books I read - both positive and negative - and if you don't mind me telling you, I will do just that. I pick and choose books by recommendation - all the time. (And if I don't and pick up something from the bookstore because of the title (and forego the reading of the first two pages to determine if I like the style) I end up with books about lipstick and Riyadh.