Thursday 31 December 2009

Tirami Su for Dummies :-)

Some of you know that I am rarely to be found in the kitchen; cooking and baking are none of my hobbies. But I do like my food, and there are a few things I can make which always turn out really well.

One of those is Tirami Su, and I have made one today for tomorrow's New Year's Day dinner at a friend's house.
The recipe is my ex-sister-in-law's; sometimes it does pay off that I used to be part of a Sicilian family for ten years!
Tirami Su is a dessert liked by almost everyone. It is very easy to make, but because it needs to sit in the fridge over night, you can not use it as a last-minute thing for a spontaneous invitation.

Right, shall we get started?

What you need:
An oblong plate or tray to put the Tirami Su on; a sip or two or amaretto, cocoa powder (real one, please; unsweetened), 200 g sugar, 500 g mascarpone, 3 eggs (I know - there are 6 on the picture, never mind that!), and the bisquits.

First things first - make a cup of espresso or very strong coffee; do not sweeten it. If you do not own an espresso machine or a proper coffee machine, you can make do with instant coffee - just make sure it is really strong. And, of course, for the real thing, real espresso is obligatory :-)

Spread the bisquits in one even layer on the plate or tray. They should be firmly in place and not able to slide about.

Add a sip or two of amaretto to the coffee. Consider who is going to eat the Tirami Su; if there are children, go easy on the amaretto, and in case you have to totally avoid alcohol for yourself or your guests, simply go without (it won't have the real Tirami Su taste then, but it will still be a very nice dessert).

With a teaspoon, put some of the amaretto-coffee-mixture on the bisquits. One spoonful on each bisquit is plenty; you do not want to drown the poor little bisquits, do you?

Now get a large bowl and measure 200 g sugar in it.

Add the mascarpone and the egg yolks; put the egg whites in a separate bowl.

A word of advice: Please do not be tight with the sugar! I know some people who regularly use only half of the sugar stated in cake or dessert recipes, because they are counting calories. But - Tirami Su is fattening, and it is supposed to be sweet! That's what a dessert is for, isn't it?
No-one will like a Tirami Su that tastes more of cheese (mascarpone) or of the bitter coffee and amaretto than what it should be like - creamy and sweet.
Beat the egg whites until stiff (in German, this is called egg snow - I don't know whether that is a proper expression in English, but I find it quite fitting), and mix the sugar-mascarpone-egg yolk well until it is smooth.

Put the egg snow on top of the mascarpone cream.

Take a large spoon (NOT an electric mixer this time!) and gently mix the egg snow into the mascarpone cream. Do not go hasty about this; if you stir too fast, the fluffy egg snow will go liquid and the whole cream will become too runny. When you're done, it should all be one colour without any white discernible, but it should look more like a fluff than a cream.

Get the tray with the bisquits and distribute half of the cream on top. If you put big blobs of cream there at regular intervals, it will be a lot easier to spread it evenly. Use the back of a large spoon or a broad cake knife or something like that.

Right, put the next layer of bisquits on top of the cream. Do not press them on, simply place them there. Make sure they lay right on top of the first layer, it will make cutting and serving easier, apart from looking a lot nicer.

Again, put coffee-amaretto-mixture on the bisquits, and then the rest of the mascarpone cream.

Almost there!

Put a bit of cocoa powder in a sieve, and dust the Tirami Su with it.

It is now ready to go in the fridge and sit there until tomorrow!
Let me know how you and your guests liked it :-)

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Piece of Art - or Piece of...?

Last week, I went to the Neue Kunstmuseum in Stuttgart:

The building is a glass cube with a restaurant on the top floor and the exhibition / gallery rooms on three or four floors. I had been inside once before, but only to go to the top and have a look at Königstraße (our version of Kings Road) from a different perspective.
(Which reminds me - there is another blog entry brewing in my mind about different perspectives)

My approach to modern art is a cautious one; I can be quite conservative when it comes to modern paintings, music, sculptures, ballet or theatre productions.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Neue Kunstmuseum shows quite a variety of paintings and sculptures, some of which are (at least in Germany) really famous, like the paintings by Otto Dix.
On their website, they state that they have, with 250 works, the most important collection of Dix paintings world wide.
And that room with the Elger Esser pictures of the Sea and waves and rocks was truly overwhelming! You could almost feel the cold foam of the Atlantic on your skin, hear the crashing sound of the waves throwing themselves against the rocks, smell the salty air and hear the seagulls above!

But I digress.

Downstairs, they show a collection of... objects. One of them is a crumpled up ball of white paper.
Exactly what my cat loves to play with when I throw it around for her in the flat.
The crumpled up paper is supposed to be art.

I am sorry and probably this is entirely due to a severe lack of sophistication on my part - but to me, it is not art.
To me, it is a piss-take.

I do not mean any offence to the artist... but it does not take an artist to crumple up a piece of paper. Even my cat can do that. Maybe I should start make her earn her food and shelter and clean toilet by selling her art.

Do you really see art in everything that is officially declared as such?
Can we still call it art if it has to be explained to us that it is art?

I would quite like to start off a controversial discussion here, so don't be afraid to voice your opinion :-)

Monday 28 December 2009

I liked the idea...

...when I read about it on Nan's blog, and so, after asking her permission to nick it, I am going to do the same:
Post the first line of each month's post over the past year and see what it tells me about my blogging year.
Right, let's go:

January and February I wasn't here yet, so my 2009 starts with
My friend and I go back a long, long way.

When the train came to a halt, she opened her eyes again, half-smiled in the direction of the man opposite her and, with a visible effort, got up from the seat.

Heavy and weighed down was how she felt that morning.

As of late, I can not help having the impression that I must be going through a rather boring period.

A few nights ago, I have finished reading "The Human Animal", written by Desmond Morris.

Of all the people you walk or drive past, stand or sit next to each and every day while you travel to and from work or go about your daily tasks, some of them could be your friends... if only you knew them.

Today, I did not have an adventure, although there was one practically offering itself to me on a silver plate.

That is what I am telling myself when, as it happens occasionally, I feel sadness trying to overwhelm me: it's just some chemicals in your brain reacting in a certain way.

Today was wet and windy - so windy, in fact, that I was in two minds about taking my umbrella when I left the house in the morning.

Why is it, I wonder, that our attention is best held by morsels of information, snippets of a story, parts of a picture?

I think it is easy enough to tell from the first lines of each entry which ones are short stories and which ones are simply musings and rambling on about some topic or other.
My most "productive" months were April and September; in November, I only wrote one entry - of course, without knowing that my husband was going to die the very next day and I would have neither time nor energy or the inclination to write for some weeks.
Two of the entries in my blog were not written by myself but by my "co-author" on (so far) two stories which we have written together on a different platform.
"How the cat lost its thumbs" is based on an idea that my sister had years ago; I have merely elaborated on her initial manuscript and translated it into (hopefully understandable) English.

2009 was, for me, a year full of changes - some very welcome and deliberate, some less so and totally unexpected.
2010 will be good to me. I think I have every reason to be optimistic.


Why is it, I wonder, that our attention is best held by morsels of information, snippets of a story, parts of a picture?
And those morsels have to be, it seems, distributed in a certain rhythm: wait too long, and people lose interest; give them too many installments in a given space of time, and after a short and intense hype, things will peter out.

Our minds are able to process a lot of input amazingly fast, but for some reason, we do not always want to know the whole story or see the full picture at once. Instead, we prefer being fed morsels.
Or how else is the success of seemingly eternal sitcoms and soap operas explainable, of series of books that go on for volumes and volumes about the same characters?

Whether this has to do with the biochemical structure of our brains or with the way the average human psyche works (one to a certain extend conditioning the other), I do not know.
But it is a topic I find intriguing, and it concerns me in quite a personal way.

Every now and then, I make the acquaintance of someone new; be it at work, in one of the online communities I am part of, in the neighbourhood or anywhere else.
Sometimes, I take an instant liking to the new person, and I have a tendency to flood the poor recipient of my attention with a lot of information about myself, to the point of probably overwhelming them with my (rather naive) openness.

Having made this experience several times in the past, I thought I'd learnt my lesson and have become more cautious in my approach, parsimoniously talking about my own background, my job, my interests and opinions.
And yet, I still seem to be too outgoing and too generous towards some of my acquaintances, not getting much (if any) response anymore after a while.

It would be a lie to say it does not hurt when that happens, because it does.
But I only have myself to blame.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Deceptive Appearances

It is nothing new: appearances can be deceptive.
Self-perception and how others perceive us is a topic I find fascinating - not so much the actual perception but how one differs from the other.

There is, of course, a lot going on in our lives other people don't know about, and mostly it is impossible for them to perceive much from just looking at us.

For example, when my husband died and I went to work again a few days later, I walked the same road to the station, I took the same train as usual, and saw a lot of the same people I see almost every day on my way there.

To them, most likely I appeared exactly the same as always, wearing the same coat, carrying the same old handbag. I looked at them and thought, they have no idea.

And just like they had no way of knowing what went on in my life, I had no idea about theirs. What did I know of their sorrows and pains, pleasures and joys? Nothing.

It is entirely possible that some of them were in a similar situation to mine; recently widowed but getting on with their lives as best as they could.

What made me want to write about this topic now, and another example of this difference in self-perception and how others might see us, was my visit to a painter's study tonight, where I was to sit for him.

So there I was, walking along the road in the cold and dark, and to anyone passing me on the way, I looked just like the average middle-aged woman, shapeless in her big padded winter coat, in a hurry to get out of the cold or to complete some errand.

They did not know that this woman was about to have pictures of herself drawn for the very first time in her life, and that she was looking forward to finding out more about the painter, his art, how he worked and what it was going to be like to sit for him.

And of course, I didn't know where those walking past me were coming from, and where they were headed. What adventures did life have in store for them tonight? Where they dreading the next few hours or looking forward to them? Had they had a good day or had it been one of those days that are best forgotten as soon as they end?

The artist, by the way, patiently answered all my questions, and I sat for him for about 2 hours. He made 4 drawings of me and wants to continue working with me soon. He even gave me one of the drawings, and I am looking forward to going back to the study in January.

Saturday 5 December 2009


This afternoon, I am going to see friends who live about 1 hour's train ride away. It being December, by the time I'll get back, it will be pitch black dark outside, although I am not planning on staying out late.
When we set up our appointment for today, I felt somewhat apprehensive about having to travel back on my own in the dark. And earlier this morning, while I was doing the cleaning, I began to wonder why - there is hardly any difference between leaving work at 6.30 in the evening, when it has been dark for almost two hours already, and taking the train back home on a Saturday night.

It is dark when I get up, and it is dark when I come home, so what's the big deal? Why would I be apprehensive about this train trip and not about the daily one after work?
Admittedly, the general crowd out there tends to be a bit on the rowdy side on a Saturday night, as opposed to any night during the week. But I am not scared of those kids and usually I am invisible to them anyway, being middle-aged, of average-to-ugly looks and keeping quietly to myself.

Why does darkness feel different at, say, 10.00 pm than at 5.00 pm? And different again at 3.00 am?
It is always the same darkness - never really dark here anyway, what with me living in one of the most densely populated areas of Germany, city lights and all.
And yet there is something about our inner clock, I assume, that makes us feel different about being out on our own at different times of the day and night, and year; while I feel a sense of adventure rising in me when I am out during the night in summer, that changes into a sense of danger in winter, and I don't think this is only because of the temperature.

Does that stem from some very realistic sense of danger that our ancestors had, when they were still roaming the savannahs and the sabre tooth tigers would be on the prowl mainly from dusk till dawn?

Or is it to do with our general rhythm of life, active during the day, supposed to be sleeping during the night? And of course, that rhythm must have already been in place quite firmly back then in the savannah, or wasn't it?

Me not being an expert in the evolution of humanoids, I can only speculate.
Maybe one of my precious few readers can enlighten me.