Books, Bikes, and Food

Reviews, Recipes, Rides… and some other things, too.


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On meeting Taiye Selasi, stereotypes, and getting schooled

Almost two weeks ago, I went to a lecture by Taiye Selasi, the author of Ghana must go fame, and I was super excited to meet such a brilliant author in the flesh. I had many thoughts on her talk, which is why it’s taken me this long to write about it. I was prepared to fangirl all over her talk, so it took me some time to get over the conflicted feelings I came away with. She’s a great speaker and I’m full of admiration. But there were also some elements of her talk where I thought she might take things a bit further.

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Dinner for two: Empanadas with chimichurri de cilantro and salsa criolla

dinner42One of the things that my move thankfully and finally brought about is being much closer to Mr BBF. We now live less than two hours apart and it’s just amazing (it will be even more amazing once we actually live together again, one should hope, but in the meantime this will do). We can see each other every weekend now, unless one of us is travelling somewhere else.

When we were living five and a half hours apart and seeing each other only twice a month, we’d celebrate these weekends like mini holidays, complete with fancy dinners and all. If we kept up this rhythm on our new weekend schedule, we’d probably be quite broke rather quickly, so we’ve decided to do one thing a bit more that we both enjoy: cook together. This is how the idea for this new series was born. The thumbnail, by the way, is a photo of the sign hanging above the only table at an amazing bar in Donostia (San Sebastián), Néstor‘s. Néstor makes a delicious chuletón and the most amazing potato tomato salad ever to exist in this world. It’s the only place I’ve ever seen people eat their chuletón at the bar.

Yet the first edition of our new culinary adventures very nearly ended in what would’ve become known as the Great Empanada Disaster of 2014. But luckily, it seems that empanadas are a little more resilient than we thought to being mistreated by two inexpert empanada makers. We made two kinds of fillings for our empanadas, one with avocado and another one with minced meet (from here and here). We also made the empanada dough (original recipe here). This was where our problems began – the dough and the avocado filling didn’t have such a good time together. Whenever we lifted up one nicely stencilled out empanada disc, it’d begin to shrink. Pair that with our rather creamy avocado filling and you’ve got yourself a beautiful mess when trying to close the empanadas. So if you make this, you ought to mash the avocado a lot less than we did and you should be fine (or at least finer than we were). But even though our avocado-filled empanadas refused to stay shut and looked like delightful green little mussels that had opened up when they came out of the oven, they actually tasted better than the meat-filled ones. You’ll also notice that the avocado filling is basically almost a guacamole. We had some left over and it was delicious just by itself.

What we learned from this is that empanadas are definitely not the easiest thing to make for the first time, but perfection comes with practice, right? Oh, and we also made chimichurri de cilantro and salsa criolla. Fortunately, these were a cinch to make, so at least they didn’t mean more trouble in empanada land, just a lot of chopping.

Two final important notes: 1) we decided not to be purists and liberally combined empanada components from Argentina and Colombia, and 2) you can probably eat fewer empanadas than you think. This probably serves about 3-4 people with a normal appetite.

Recipes after the jump!

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Jenny Erpenbeck: Aller Tage Abend (2012)

Ger_Lit_Month_2014So far, things are going reasonably well for German Lit Month, I’m pleased to report. Halfway through, I’ve read just over a book and a half from my list, so that’s not too bad considering that I’ve also started a new job and so am a bit busy sorting out my new life.

Jenny Erpenbeck’s Aller Tage Abend (The End of Days) is one of those books I’ve heard mentioned here and there with respect ever since it came out, so my curiosity had been piqued. When I wanted to select some female writers for German Lit Month this year, it was a sort of natural choice.

erpenbeck-aller-TageHere’s a brief plot round-up, with brief being quite difficult because this novel – which isn’t even that thick – manages to pack quite a punch of a sweeping plot. It sets out in the late 19th Century in Galicia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and opens with the death of an eight month-old girl and the story of her parents afterwards. The girl’s father leaves the house in grief and never returns, emigrating to America like so many Central and Eastern Europeans of his period. The mother, left without resources, moves back in with her own mother and works in her shop, before she mistakes the advances of a military officer for real interest – while he just wants sex. This is the beginning of a spiral that eventually leads to her becoming a prostitute.

But what if the little girl had not died at eight months? The following parts of the novel play through different scenarios of how her life could have developed. What if she had survived and her parents had moved to Vienna? What if she had experienced the First World War and died shortly after? What if she had herself emigrated to Russia as a Communist and been arrested in one of Stalin’s purges? What if she had become a successful writer in the German Democratic Republic?

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Recipe: Beetroot Salad with Feta Cheese and Roasted Nuts

Last week, my parents came to stay for two days and help me with the final touches to my new flat. You know how it is when parents visit: you want everything to be just perfect and clean and also impress them with some tasty food that still leaves the kitchen in a presentable state post preparations. This beetroot salad recipe is absolutely delightful and has a pre-parental visit cheat shortcut: instead of roasting the beets myself, I bought them pre-cooked. It worked a charm (even though I forgot the thyme) and is incredibly easy to make. Served with fresh baguette or ciabatta, this salad works well on parents and other to-impress guests (just make sure your tablecloth isn’t white…).

Ingredients (serves 3 as a starter):

  • 500g of pre-cooked beets
  • 50g feta cheese
  • 1 small handful of nut mix (mine included almonds, cashews, walnuts and hazelnuts), roasted and roughly chopped
  • leaves from a sprig of fresh thyme (or not…)

For the vinaigrette:

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking all the ingredients together in a bowl. Cut the beets into thin slices. Place them in a large bowl and pour the vinaigrette over them. Mix carefully with your hand and cover the bowl to marinate the beets for about 30 minutes. Arrange them on a platter and crumble the feta cheese over them. Top with the nuts (and thyme for those of you with a good memory). Serve and enjoy!


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Mountain vs. Bike

Have I mentioned that there are a lot of hills, nay, mountains in my new home town? And that I live on top of one? Which is fantastic when considering the view out of my living room window (below), but not so much when it comes to cycling.

The benefits of living on a hill

I knew getting into town would be easy because it’s all downhill. I also had a feeling it would be much harder getting back home to my humble abode up Mount Doom. But isn’t one a power woman and stubborn to boot? There was no way I was admitting defeat without even having tried to cycle into town and back. So last week, I decided to test the waters while I was still on holiday. No work clothes, just a denim skirt, sweater, scarf, and jacket. Fabulous weather. Lots of time. I wanted to check out the local farmers’ market and run some other errands, so off I set. “Ha!”, I thought smugly as I zoomed downwards, “this isn’t even that steep! I’m gonna be fine!” It turned out I had quite a lot of shopping to do, involving heavy items such as juice, milk, wine, and potatoes, plus a few other things. This was my load, consisting of two shopping bags, my trusty cycling handbag, and a pack of, ehem, loo roll (don’t be confused by the mirror making it look like I had two of everything!).

Shopping load, magically doubled by my hallway mirror

What can I say? I got humiliated by my home mountain. I got… not even half way up before I had to get off and start pushing my bike. I got back on towards the end when things flattened out a bit, but I arrived home with the colour of my face matching the beets I’d just bought, sweating and panting like I’d finished a marathon. I’m a wuss, an #everydayonabike failure, because what I will most likely not be in this city is, well, every day on a bike. In Hamburg, which is flat as a tortilla, this kind of bike shopping wouldn’t even have been worth mentioning. I’ve been living in potential bike paradise, and I never appreciated it sufficiently. I salute all of you who regularly bike in mountainous cities. How do you do it?

Because I’m not about to lock my bike away and never look at it again. No way! I’ll find ways to make it work, so I appreciate any tips you guys might have. One option is to cycle in wearing my work clothes and then change into something more sporty before going back, and not do it every day. What do you think?


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German Literature Month 2014

Ger_Lit_Month_2014Thankfully, as in previous years, Lizzie of Lizzie’s Literary Life and Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat are hosting German Literature Month as of today. After dithering about whether to participate, what with the new job and all, I decided to do not only that, but to give it an additional touch by focussing on female authors. I’m trying to read more diversely, so both reading more German-language books and reading more books written by women fit in nicely with this. The “reading more German-language books” may come as a bit of a surprise – but with my living mostly in an English-language literary world (due in large parts to blogging) and my passion for Hispanic literature, I’ve found that my native language has been getting the shorter end of my reading stick. So I’m quite excited to do something about that. I’m also sneaking in one non-fiction title for good measure, even though it’s German Literature Month ;-).

Here’s what I’ve lined up:

  • Jenny Erpenbeck: Aller Tage Abend (The End of Days), 2012
  • Juli Zeh: Nullzeit (Decompression), 2012
  • Anne Wizorek: Weil ein #Aufschrei nicht reicht: Für einen Feminismus von heute (not translated; roughly “Because an #Outcry is not enough: for a contemporary Feminism), 2014

I’m already reading (and enjoying) Aller Tage Abend, and I’m looking forward to reading the other two!

I also have a backup just in case I find more reading time than anticipated, for which I’ve relaxed the gender criterion: Er ist wieder da (Look Who’s Back) by Timur Vermes.

Thanks to Lizzie and Caroline for the great work they do with this project every year!

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