Friday 30 October 2020

A Quick Food Post

Weeks (or months?) ago, I briefly mentioned that I was probably going to post about food again some time soon - maybe making a welcome change for my readers from the seemingly endless sunsets and sunrises and other sky pictures I have been posting this year.

Well, here it is. I do not have much time, as I want to start work early today, and there is really so much I could say or write about food. But for now, this will have to do, with a few pictures for garnish.

Since I have retreated to working almost exclusively from home again, most weeks I have managed to fit in one lunch break per week at my parents'. It is always good to see them, but we have to be cautious; my Dad especially is in the high risk group, and I have not hugged or kissed either of them since March. Usually, my parents have only coffee and a snack at lunch time, but for me, they often adapt their schedule so that we can have a full meal together. At other times, they keep me company (at a distance) while I am the only one to eat a cooked lunch, and they join in for the coffee afterwards, before I walk back to my place and resume work.

My own cooking habits have not changed - I still very, very rarely cook for myself. I often have a bowl of salad in the evenings, making it a full meal by adding all sorts of things such as diced feta or other cheese, a handful of almonds and cranberries, a chopped apple and so on - whatever takes my fancy and is at hand.

But when O.K. and I spend the weekend at my place, I enjoy thinking about what I could make for us, buying the ingredients and then cooking - I know the food will be shared with me and appreciated. When I have leftovers, either of the cooked meal or of the fresh groceries I bought, I use them up during the week; those are the only occasions when I cook for myself, and I so hate wasting food.

Here is a very small selection of meals I had lately. There were many, many more, of course, but I do not take pictures all the time, even though it may seem otherwise.

Sweet potatoes - so versatile!

I halved them and roasted them in the oven.

With a mix of sour cream and goats cheese with fresh herbs for topping, they made a nice meal for O.K. and myself one weekend earlier this year.

Caprese with yellow tomatoes, at my parents'.

Savoury pancakes with creamy mushrooms and salad, again at my parents'.

Fish & Chips at "my" Irish pub, with a refreshing glass of cider. It was a beautiful warm day at the end of August, perfect for sitting outside on the market square.

A small aubergine and two zucchini were left over after one weekend and needed using up. (I also made something with the Hokkaido pumpkin you can see in the background, see further down.)

I sliced the vegetables, sprinkled them with a bit of olive oil and salt and roasted them in the oven.

They made for very tasty roasted veggie burgers on crusty rolls from the bakery down the road, with leaves from the potted parsley on my window sill.

The Hokkaido pumpkin was chopped and boiled until soft, along with a few carrots. I mashed it all up and added coconut fat, salt, pepper and plenty of ground ginger.

Served with a dollop of cream, fresh parsley and a crusty roll, it made a nice lunch for O.K. and myself two Saturdays ago.

This weekend, O.K. will be here; I have a few ideas for our meals and hope my cooking will turn out how I want it (it doesn't always!).

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Read in 2020 - 23: The Enemy in Our Midst

The Enemy in Our Midst: A Lord Charles Stewart Mystery

by  John E. Conley

Published in 2015 but having the look and feel of a "Golden Age" classic mystery with all the ingredients you would expect from such a book: 

A cast of characters ranging from Lord Charles Stewart and his faithful, super capable manservant to the men and women gathering at a Colonel's country house where aggressive undercurrents and surprising allegiances reveal themselves to the more observant of the group, to a beautiful young shop owner from the village with a secret past, and a clever school teacher. Add to that the setting in Yorkshire which I know rather well - seaside towns such as Scarborough and Whitby are as much part of the story as the aforementioned country house and the moors.

The story is set in 1928 when a Colonel invites a group of men for a reunion who were under his service during the war that ended 10 years earlier and left the world forever a changed place. Lord Charles is also invited, but the private conversation he was supposed to have with the Colonel one evening never comes about. Instead, he finds the man stabbed to death in the library - the knife clearly belonging to one of the guests.

Charles is sure all is not what it seems, and although at least one of the invited ex-soldiers would have a motive for killing the victim, he believes the murder has nothing to do with the war. But how to prove it, especially when the inspector in charge starts to see Charles himself as a suspect?

I much enjoyed this book, its setting, its characters and the rather well-plotted mystery. The author is American, which sometimes shows in the language; a good editor would maybe have meted out those small hiccups. One example is the "den" the characters often retreat to for a smoke and a drink or to interview a suspect or witness. A den is a typical US-American term; for an English country house, you would talk of a snug (if the room were relatively small) or a drawing room (if large). What I found a little irritating was the frequent "grinning" of people at each other or at something someone said, when smiling would have been the more appropriate term. But it is just me being picky and does not really take away from the overall pleasure of this book.

I found it for free at the Kindle store a few years ago and can imagine looking for more of this series. Amazon says about the author: "John E. Conley (1952- ) was born in Pittsburgh, PA. His major literary influences have been Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. His Lord Charles Stewart mysteries are set in the UK during the late 1920s and early 1930s."

Thursday 22 October 2020

Autumn Woods

On Sunday, the 11th of October, we had a special hike or walk planned: A birthday gift for O.K.'s godson who had turned 15 not long ago. 

We started early enough in the morning for it to still be somewhat foggy, but it turned out to remain like that for most of the day. There was some rain towards the end of the hike, but it didn't matter, as we were well prepared.

From where O.K.'s godson lives to the parking lot where we wanted to begin our hike took us longer than expected; the distance is about 50 km, but some of the roads are narrow and curvy, leading far into the Black Forest.

We parked near the Allerheiligen Wasserfälle (All Saints' Waterfalls), and they were the first highlight of the day:

A bit further on are the ruins of an abbey, All Saints'. It has its own wikipedia entry here, if you are interested. Founded in 1192 - 60 years after Fountains Abbey, by the way -, it had a long and varied history before falling into disrepair after several fires, and finally was dissolved in 1802. We really only passed through the ruins and did not stop to explore, but I definitely want to go back there another time. 

This time, the idea was to walk to the top of the Schliffkopf, at 1,054 m not the highest mountain in the area, but one that - under favourable circumstances - should offer great views. Also, there is a hotel near the top, and we intended to have lunch there as part of the treat for O.K.'s godson.

The above picture is from near the (flat) top of the Schliffkopf - no great views for us today, but nonetheless a beautiful place, made all the more special with the mysterious atmosphere created by the fog.

It is a nature reserve, and visitors are not allowed to leave the designated paths, collect plants, make a fire or camp out there. The large hotel complex with spa and restaurant is off to one side and obviously not part of the nature reserve. We knew it was there but at first didn't see the building for all the fog, and took a path that was leading away from it. But once we realised our error, it didn't take us long to make it to the hotel, where we had a delicious lunch.

Out on the nature reserve again, the fog was not quite as dense anymore, but the views were still of clouds nestled into the wooded valleys - I really didn't mind, and we can always go back there on another day.

Eventually, our circuit took us back to the car. After coffee and cake with O.K.'s godson, we had a quiet and restful Sunday evening at home on our own, before it was time again to get up early on Monday morning to catch the commuter train back to Stuttgart.

I had enjoyed that hike in the autumn woods very, very much, and hope it was a good birthday present for the 15-year-old godson.

Wednesday 21 October 2020

October Musings

You know I am not in the habit of dwelling on the unpleasant and worrying aspects of life here on my blog, such as the corona pandemic. But last night I learned that it is now official - Ludwigsburg won't have a Christmas Market this year. The Horse Market, the Wine Fest and everything else in terms of festivities were already cancelled earlier this year, and now the Christmas Market won't be happening, either. For as long as I can remember, it has been an integral part of the weeks leading up to Christmas, and will be sorely missed this year. Of course, mine are purely egoistic reasons - what of the stall holders and their staff who depend on the income those four busy weeks usually generate? I can only hope the best for them, knowing there are government programs in place that offer financial help.

And I really have no reason to complain; on a personal level, I am doing very well. My work has never diminuished during all this time (rather the contrary), I can still see O.K. and our families (even though I have not hugged anyone since March apart from O.K.); we were even able to go on holiday, I am allowed to walk to my heart's content and there has never been a proper lock down here like in other countries - and most importantly, those nearest and dearest to me are relatively healthy.

Let's go back to the beginning of this month, to the period immediately after our holiday and the first 10 days of October.

Work started again for both of us on Monday, the 28th of September. It wasn't particularly warm, but mostly sunny, and I went for a walk as soon as I finished work. I came past this church on the outskirts of town; it has a clock like I've not seen on any other building:

On Tuesday, the 29th, I was again working from home, and spent my lunch break with my parents. I picked up freshly grilled chicken for the three of us at a nearby takeaway, a rare treat for us.

The last day of September saw me working at my client's office. Since July, I have been going there one day per week; that has been stopped again last week, when the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases made them close their doors to everyone whose personal presence is not absolutely necessary. Since I can do all my work for them from home, I won't be going there anytime soon by the looks of it.

On my way home from work that day, I got off the train in Kornwestheim and walked the rest of the way across the fields. There, I bumped into an old school friend who was out on her bike. We chatted for a while (at a distance, of course), and that was so nice and uplifting for both of us. We do not live far from each other but manage to see each other only rarely.

October 1st was a Thursday; I was working as usual and then had an appointment at my hairdresser's. Friday meant more work, a very quick walk to my parents' (delivering something my mother had asked me to get for her), and a quiet evening at home.

On Saturday, the 3rd, I took the usual string of trains to travel to O.K.'s. Late afternoon, we were celebrating his brother-in-law's 60th birthday. There were 17 of us in an extra room at a restaurant; it was nice to see the family, and the food, drink and service were really good - but the staff took the recommendations about airing their rooms very seriously, and so we were rather cold most of the time. Nonetheless, we were glad to be able to mark this special birthday in that way.

Sunday the 4th started sunny and windy with fast-moving clouds. O.K. and I decided to leave the car in the garage and walk to Ortenberg. You have seen Ortenberg castle a few times before on my blog; this time, we approached it from a different angle, without actually visiting the castle itself. Instead, we found a sheltered spot where we could eat the sandwiches and other nice things we had brought in our rucksacks, with nice views of the castle and surrounding vineyards.

Suddenly, we heard a bag pipe playing - there must have been an open air performance at the castle, carrying over to where we were sitting. Afterwards, we walked up the hill through beautiful autumn woods, and eventually back to the village. On the last half hour or so of our walk, the dark clouds finally caught up with us; good job we were wearing our rain jackets!

Like before, I went home from O.K.'s on the Monday morning; the commuter train has so far worked well for me, and did so again this time. On Tuesday, the 6th, I was working at my clients' office again. I took this picture from my kitchen window that morning:

And this one from my office in the afternoon, half an hour before leaving:

I didn't know then that I was not going to come back the following week - and who knows for how long that office will now remain empty.

Wednesday, the 7th, meant working from home again, and having lunch with my parents. My after-work-walk was cloudy and rainy, no photos taken.
On Thursday evening, I went for a run with my friend; the evening was unexpectedly mild, and it felt really good to be out. Our running together is just as much about the exercise as about catching up with each other's news.

I spent the Friday in Ulm at a conference with about 25 other data protection officers. Some of them I have known for years, and am always happy to see them; one of them had retired in September, and our meeting was his farewell, with speeches and a few rather emotional moments (yes, data protection officers are not all about rules and regulations all the time!).

On Saturday, the 10th, I was back at O.K.'s for the weekend. The second of two trains was late, making me miss my connection in Karlsruhe. I arrived at O.K.'s about half an our later than planned, but still in time for a (late-ish) lunch. We went for a sunset walk around the village, where I took the last two pictures of this post:

For the Sunday, we had a hike in the Black Forest planned - more about that in my next post.

Friday 16 October 2020

Read in 2020 - 22: At the Coalface

At the Coalface: The Memoir of a Pit Nurse

by Joan Hart with Veronica Clark

This was another free download from the kindle shop, part I of III. So far, I have not yet decided whether or not to buy the other two parts.

Joan Hart (the photo on the cover is really her as a young nurse) tells the reader about her life, very much in her own words - it is obvious she is not a writer by profession, and it feels more like listening to the reminiscing of an elderly aunt or good neighbour. The writing is unpretentious and genuine, with some down-to-earth humour thrown in.

She was born in South Yorkshire in 1932, and entered nursing training as soon as was legally possible, at the age of 16. Her work made her move to London, before she returned to her home county and became pit nurse at Brodsworth Colliery near Doncaster in the early 1970s. There, it took a while before the miners accepted her - a woman! -, but she persisted in her efforts just like she had always done more than what was expected, nursing being her true passion.

Having no children of her own, she kept working throughout her marriage, and maintaining a good, loving relationship with her husband was not always easy. After a period of separation, the two of them were closer than ever, and gave each other full backing and support in everything they did.

Reading about how the concept of what is good and necessary for patients - especially when they are children - has changed over the decades, and at the same time learning of the life and work circumstances and conditions of an average working class woman who made her dream come true against the odds, was really interesting. 

It is the real story of a real person, not a novel where you expect the heroine to encounter all sorts of obstacles, only to fall into her hero's arms at the end of the book. I might go and download the following two parts, after all.

Thursday 15 October 2020

Read in 2020 - 20, 21

# 20: Mayhem Mansion

A Kenneth Mayhew Mystery

by Melanie Jackson

This would have made a nice, cosy Christmas read, had I realised it was set around Christmas. Never mind, I still enjoyed it, in spite of it being September with warm, sunny days while I read it. 

Kenneth Mayhew usually is rather reluctant when it comes to returning to the family mansion for gatherings and festivities, but when his elderly aunt, whom he is very fond of, requests his help, he is soon on his way.

It turns out that someone or something is playing tricks at the big house, with some of the staff ready to quit for fear of the "ghost" they suspect being behind it all. Kenneth's aunt does not believe in anything supernatural going on, but she wants the house safe and quiet again for the upcoming Christmas celebrations, with friends and family expected to arrive any day.

With the help of his trusted manservant and one or two others, Kenneth solves the mystery, and finds romance along the way. Nobody comes to much harm, no blood is shed, and in the end everyone is ready to celebrate Christmas together.

It was a nice, cosy, relatively short read with a fun cast of characters, and there was suspense without turning to violence. It is # 1 in a series (and was a free download from the kindle shop), and should I happen to come across more of it, I will read it.

The author's website is here, if you are interested - she has written more than 100 books, but admittedly, I had never heard of her before.

# 21: Vanilla Bean Vengeance

Claire's Candles Cozy Mystery series

by Agatha Frost

The author's name was enough to make me download this free ebook some time ago - doesn't it instantly conjure up an evening spent in your favourite armchair, reading a cosy mystery while a mug of steaming hot tea is never far from you?

Claire has been living in the village of Northash all her life, and like almost everybody else, works at the local candle factory, while dreaming of one day opening her own shop, selling her own creations of scented candles.

Then the largely unloved owner of the factory is killed, setting in motion a chain of events that could leave the village without its main source of income - and Claire on the brink of either losing or winning it all.

With the help of her Dad, a retired detective, and a few close friends, Claire sets out to solve the crime, restore peace in the upset village again and maybe - just maybe - make her dream come true at the same time.

A really good read with enough twists and turns to keep the mind engaged without overwhelming it; credibly portrayed characters and an untypical heroine, plus the story being set in a Yorkshire village - what more could I want from a cosy read! As far as I can tell, there are four books in this series, but the author has written others that look like more of the same. A complete list can be found here.

Tuesday 13 October 2020

September Holiday: Day 8 and Departure

Tuesday, the 22nd of September, was our last full day in Balderschwang. The morning began with yesterday's clouds still very much present and making for particularly beautiful views from our hotel room:

An hour later, by the time we set off on our last hike here, the sun had won, and it was another day warm enough for t-shirt and shorts:

We chose a path along the stream at the bottom of the valley to Lenzen-Alpe, not because we were in need of any refreshments (the serving part was shut for the winter anyway), but because we had not yet been along that way. As soon as I saw the hearts on the fence, I said I wanted a picture for Kay:

A bit further up and into the woods:

As you can see, by that time the clouds were gathering again, getting ready for what was going to be a proper downpour from late afternoon all through the next day and beyond. The woods now had an autumn feel about them, and when we returned to the hotel after only about 10.5 km, we had soup instead of cake.

It was still early enough for us to put in a quick visit to the sauna, and even coffee and cake afterwards - wouldn't want to leave this place without! Later that afternoon, I was booked for another massage (which was really good, much better than the first one), and we rested in our room until dinner. 

The next morning, Wednesday (23.09.), we woke up to a grey sky and plenty of rain. It stopped kindly enough just when we loaded the car with our suitcases and said our good-byes.

Leaving Balderschwang at around 10:00, we stopped at a cheese maker's (Käserei Ofterschwang-Schweineberg) to buy some local cheese both for ourselves to eat at home and for our families, and then made our way back to Ludwigsburg on rather busy roads, arriving at about 2:20 pm - right on time for coffee.

I started the washing machine and went to buy some fresh groceries; the typical things you do when returning from a holiday. 

For the evening, we had arranged to go to my parents', picking up our previously ordered meals at the Indian restaurant half way between my house and theirs. The food was delicious, and it was good to see my Mum, Dad and sister again.

We stayed one more day at my place before driving to O.K.'s for the weekend on Friday. That Friday night, we enjoyed the cheese we had brought from Ofterschwang along with red wine for the first time in months; all of this summer, our choice of wine had been rosé. Now with cooler temperatures and earlier nights, the red held more appeal.

Saturday was again filled with the typical to-dos after a holiday, only at O.K.'s this time. It was cold and wet, but cleared up enough to allow for a quick walk around the village in the afternoon. 

On Sunday, we had booked a table at a restaurant in the next village (the "Salmen" in Zunsweier) for the two of us with O.K.'s parents. It is their family tradition to invite the parents for a meal after a holiday, thanking them for looking after things while away. The food was very nice, and the anti-Covid measures at the restaurants were reasonable and made us feel safe. 

The weather was better than the day before, and so the four of us went for a walk afterwards. With autumn now setting in properly, there were walnuts and apples on the ground everywhere. It seems a lot is just left there and not harvested anymore; many orchards are neglected, when their owners can't work them any longer and nobody else in their families can be bothered or has the time.

I took the train home on Monday morning, the 28th of September - the holiday was officially over, and there won't be another now until Christmas.

Thank you for bearing with me all through these posts of many many pictures of mountains and trees and skies!

Of course, the end of our holiday does not mean the end of our walks; as you know, we often go hiking in the Black Forest, and so you can expect proper autumn colours over the next few weeks.

PS: Two days after we left Balderschwang, they had their first snow there!