In a Vase on Monday: The Second Breakfast

‘Das zweite Frühstück’ – the second breakfast – is something I think of as being very typically German… school begins at 8am here, and most people are in their offices by then too, so the tum starts to rumble at about 10 am! (I suppose the British equivalent would be ‘elevenses’.)

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I went to the baker’s this morning to fetch fresh pretzels (how German can you get?!). This one here is a speciality pretzel recently made popular by one particular bakery chain, but now available at local bakers too. ‘Bierbrezen’ are sprinkled not just with salt, but a spicy peppery seasoning that is quite delicious, especially if the pretzels are still warm from the oven! Perfect with that second cup of coffee.

But before sitting down to my second breakfast I took a walk around the garden, which is still partially white, but rather muddy as the snow slowly thaws. No new shoots yet, but I managed to find a few bits and pieces for a Monday vase, so I could join Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for her weekly meme.

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A few remaining grasses, some somewhat shabby Epimedium leaves, a sprig of reddish brown Mahonia (not flowering yet),  some Erica, a couple of sprigs of pine and some Silver Ragwort (Jacobaea maritima) that amazingly survived being in a (still) frozen pot all winter.

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I am so pleased I found something this week and am hopeful now that spring might not be too far off. If, like me, you are still looking for snowdrops in vain, go and visit Cathy and you will not be disapppointed!

😀

Freeze-Froze-Frozen

One of the major inland waterways for freight carried across Germany, the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, is currently closed to traffic…

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It has been below freezing point for several weeks now (apart from a couple of days around Christmas), at times reaching -17°C and frequently staying at around -9°C during the day. I have seen the canal freeze over once before, but it never freezes completely, being built into the bed of a slow-flowing river. Last Monday it was officially closed to traffic, as the locks froze up and no ice breakers could get through.

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The canal links up the North Sea (Rotterdam in the Netherlands) with the Black Sea, and millions of tonnes of heavy building materials, grain and coal are transported via this route on long deep barges each year. Passenger cruises also regularly use this route, the most popular trips being from Rotterdam or Nurenberg, down past us to the Danube, and then on to Vienna and even Budapest. This part of the canal near to us was the last section to be built, involving high costs to reduce the environmental impact and secure habitats for wildlife. The completed canal is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

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Today it is a balmy +1°C, with +3°C  forecast by the weekend. Still cold at night though, so it will take a while before we see boats coming this way again. In the meantime it is pleasantly quiet…

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Have you seen local waterways freeze this winter?

Stay safe and warm everyone!

Christmas Cashew Shortbread (Vegan)

I have been experimenting a bit with my Christmas cookie recipes again, and after discovering a bag of cashews were coming up to their  ‘use by’ date I decided to incorporate them into a cookie recipe instead of the more traditional almonds or hazelnuts.

They are just how shortbread should be – slightly salty, buttery, sugary and crunchy!

So if you are looking for a shortbread recipe with extra crispness and flavour this Christmas, here is my recipe.

Cashew Shortbread

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  • 115 g (1 stick) vegan butter
  • 75 g (2 1/2 oz) raw cashews, ground to a fine powdery ‘flour’
  • 125 g (1 cup) self-raising flour, sifted
  • zest of an orange
  • 2 tsps cardamom (optional as the flavour was sadly lost during baking)
  • 60 g (1/3 cup) soft brown sugar
  • a pinch of salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and work the butter into the mixture with your finger tips until it is nice and crumbly. Bring the dough together into a ball, adding a drop of non-dairy milk or water only if necessary to make it stick. Then wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180° C/350°F and line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper. Roll out your dough to about 4 or 5 mm (about 1/6th of an inch) and, using a very small cookie cutter (mine was 4 cm, or 1 1/2 inches), cut out your shapes. Place on the baking sheets and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Carefully move to a cooling rack and let them cool completely before storing.

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This is definitely my second favourite after my vanilla cookies. (By the way, I have updated my original recipe for the Vanillekipferl here, so they are also vegan now and just as good as ever too!)

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Are you doing any special baking this Christmas? What is your favourite sweet Christmas treat?

Germany’s ‘Flower of the Year’ 2017: the Field Poppy

Each autumn the Loki Schmidt Foundation in Germany announces the flower they have chosen as ‘Flower of the Year’. I was pleased to hear that for 2017 it will be Papaver rhoeas, the Common Poppy, or Field Poppy as I know it.

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We are fortunate to see it growing wild in corn fields and around the edges of agricultural land near us. But in some regions it has all but died out. The intense use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, along with other modern technology in farming methods, mean the conditions no longer exist in which this wild flower can colour our fields and roadsides.

A couple of years ago this was the view just beyond our garden gate.

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Not just poppies, but sweet peas, chamomile and cornflowers were mixed in with the crop.

And this summer several farmers started sowing strips of wild flowers along the edges of their crop fields to encourage wild bees and other pollinators, insects and wildlife. This is subsidized by the EU – I only wish they would offer subsidies for NOT deep plowing, fertilising, and spraying chemicals or slurry on the land year in year out!

The idea of this Flower of the Year campaign, called ‘Blume des Jahres’ in German, is to draw attention to the plight of certain flowers which are slowly becoming endangered in our countryside. I hope it helps with awareness, as it would be tragic to lose more of our beautiful wild flowers.

Which wild flower would you miss most of all? The poppy perhaps?

In a Vase on Monday: Rolling On

Another Monday rolls round and I am joining Cathy at Rambling in the Garden in her wonderful meme once again. My vase this week was inspired by a comment I wrote on Christina’s vase this morning, which ended with the words “Roll on spring!” (And my prop is a large marble which kept rolling around too!)

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The test tube vase is ideal for small flowers that need elevating a bit – particularly Hellebores. There are a mix of white, cream and pink ones, and a yellow one that refuses to open is in there somewhere too.

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The gorgeous crocuses have been shut tight the past few days, teasing me with their hint of colour. But within five minutes of being indoors they opened so wide – I could almost watch them. The snowdrops needed a bit longer but are now open completely too. I also put in a couple of purple primulas from my “Carnival” primula that has creamy white, yellow and purple flowers all on one plant. Strangely enough the yellow ones have all been nibbled by something, but the purple ones are intact… food for thought!

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I shall be glad when the light levels improve, as using the flash on my camera produces unreal images:

The crocus is so beautiful. I wonder how long it will last in a vase. I know the Hellebores usually flop within a couple of days too, but for the moment I shall enjoy them to the full. 🙂

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A note about my lovely green marble: chosen with great difficulty from an array of marbles in the little gift shop at a marble mill down in the mountains not far from Salzburg. There is a little information about it here in English if you are interested, or here (with a rather wobbly video!). Somewhere I would love to visit again one day, and walk the rocky path along the narrow gorge right up to the top… in warmer weather of course! 🙂

Roll on Spring!

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Sweet Flower Bread

Our Christmas cookies all disappeared pretty rapidly in December, so on Christmas Eve I made a sweet bread to go with our afternoon cup of tea – after all, the afternoon of Christmas Eve is traditionally a time for the festivities to begin here in Germany.

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It is easy to make and absolutely delicious!

Here is how I made it:

Sweet Flower Bread

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In a large bowl sieve together 300g (2 and 2/5 cups) strong flour, 100g (4/5 cup) plain flour, 100g (4/5 cup) wholemeal flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar and 1 packet instant dried yeast (2 tsps)

Stir in 325 ml (1 and 1/3 cups) lukewarm water and 2 tbsps olive oil and mix to form a ball.

Put on a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Now place the dough in a clean bowl, and coat in a little oil. Cover with a tea towel and leave it in a warm place  to rise – a couple of hours should be long enough.

While the dough is rising you can make the filling. I used 200g (7 oz or 1 and 1/3 cups) finely chopped mixed nuts, 50g (1/4 cup) golden caster sugar and 50g (1/4 cup) brown sugar, 75g (2/3 stick) margarine (or butter), the zest of an orange, a few glace cherries cut into small pieces, and some spices – 1tsp cardamom, 1tsp cinnamon and 1tsp allspice. But you can add chocolate chips or omit the spices, whatever you fancy! Mix the ingredients together so you have a thick paste.

When the dough has risen, punch it to remove the excess air (my favourite part!) and divide into three portions. Now is the also time to preheat your oven to 225° C/425°F. Roll out each piece of dough into a circle about 35cm/14in in diameter. One circle will be your base, so place the other two to one side and cover them for now. The base needs to be placed on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Now spread it with half of your filling. Put the second circle of dough on top and press down lightly. Spread the rest of the filling on top. Finally place the third disc on top and press down lightly.

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To make the flower pattern place a dish or large cup (about 10cm/4in diameter) in the centre but do not press it down! From the dish outwards you now slice the bread into 16 pieces, just as you would cut up a normal cake but obviously without the middle. Remove the dish.

Take two pieces/’slices’ in your hands and lift slightly. Twist the right-hand piece over to the right, TWICE, and the left-hand piece to the left, TWICE. It is easiest to do this with both hands at the same time. Then tuck the ends underneath to tidy it up a bit. Repeat with the other pieces. It really doesn’t matter if the filling spills out a bit as that makes it look so pretty when it is baked! Brush with a little soya cream or milk (optional), sprinkle a few sliced almonds on top and  place in the hot oven for approximately 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it and remove it when it is golden brown all over.

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Delicious served warm, warmish and cold too. This bread can be adapted for any occasion, and I have even made a savoury version before, using homemade tomato sauce and pesto for the filling. I am going to try it with just herbs and garlic soon. 🙂

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Enjoy!

Wild Flower of the Year 2016 (Germany)

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Every year the Loki Schmidt Foundation selects a wild flower to highlight as its “Wild Flower of the Year”. Loki Schmidt was a botanist and in her fortunate position as wife to one of our former Chancellors, Helmut Schmidt, (who sadly died just a few days ago) she was able to found this Hamburg-based charity. The Foundation promotes the maintaining of habitats for wildlife and works to protect endangered species through education. Amongst other projects, they have bought up small areas of land in the north of Germany where certain plants or animals are threatened.

For 2016 one of my favourite wild flowers (I do have many favourites!) has been chosen: the Cowslip, or Primula veris.

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In much of Germany this little flower is on the red list, as its preferred habitat – dry meadows on alkaline soil – is dwindling due to land development, agricultural use or the intensive use of fertilizers. In choosing this flower the Foundation also hopes to bring attention to the loss of such meadows and similar habitats. In the south of Germany we are more fortunate, and cowslips are still found in the wild fairly often, although not as frequently as I would like; coming across them down near our canal is like finding hidden treasure.

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Many years ago I remember being taken out by my mentor on a car ride in the south of Germany. I had no idea what the purpose of the trip was until we arrived and there they were – millions of cowslips filling a large meadow on a dry stony hillside. What a wonderful sight, and one I will possibly never see again.

Now I am cultivating a small area of our lawn where they have self-seeded…

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Each spring I wait eagerly to see them appear, and this area is not to be mown until they have safely spread their seeds again. This is where the strict farming regulations and nature reserve rules in our area assist in preserving wild flowers too – certain meadows should not be mown until June in order to ensure that some species recur naturally. I don’t think this is actually an enforcable law, as I do see farmers mowing too early sometimes, but I think subsidies must be an incentive for most to stick to the rules.

A Meadow in May

A Meadow in May

Primula veris is a sun-loving plant and in our climate usually flowers in April and May. It is a protected species, and may not be picked or dug up from the wild. However, a single plant can spread quickly into a bigger clump, seeding itself around profusely.

“Beneath the sun I dance and play

In April and in merry May”

(Cicely Mary Barker)

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The botanical name Primula means first and veris means spring. One of the common names in the German language is Himmelsschlüssel – meaning “heaven’s keys”; the legend goes that St Peter dropped his keys to the gates of heaven and the first cowslips grew up where the keys landed! I then looked up the English common names in Wikipedia –  a long list of them that I have never heard before, including herb peter, key flower, key of heaven, fairy cups, buckles, palsywort, plumrocks, and tittypines! Wikipedia claims that “In the Middle-Ages it was also known as St. Peter’s herb or Petrella and was very sought after by Florentine apothecaries.” In herbal medicine the extract of Primula veris is used in cold remedies to relieve coughs and bronchial symptoms.

Although it will be some time before we see the Cowslip flowering again here, a close relative has decided to flower for me in November…

Primula x pruhoniciana "Schneewittchen"

Primula x pruhoniciana “Schneewittchen”

Are you also having such a mild autumn?