Oktoberfest

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I like feasts and I am crazy about the colorful, breezy, unpredictable month of October, adding those two things together equals Oktoberfest!
On october 5th the Pop-up Restaurant Amsterdam, which is my excuse for creating a food party and getting to know lots of new people, is presenting my version of Oktoberfest. Of course this event is somewhat inspired by the big october happening in Munich and although we’ll be brewing several sorts of beers for this occasion, making our own sauerkraut and mustard as well providing an appropriate dosage of Ompaah Blasmusik our Oktoberfest is not necessarily about the beer or about Germany, but about celebrating the fall, life and enjoying delicious vegan foods with new and old friends.

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On this edition of Pop-up Restaurant Amsterdam I will be working with my friend and wonderful vegan chef Alexander Gershberg

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Cyrille van Poucke will be in charge of the brewing as well as the music.

Our location is the Museum Kromhout in Amsterdam, a charming, industrial location in the center of the city, which has proven to lend itself perfectly for Pop-up Restaurant Amsterdam events.

I hope to see those of you who happen to be hanging out in Amsterdam or surroundings around that time and that you can come celebrate with us.

The Cooking Angels

Sometimes one just has to let someone else do the cooking. Maybe that someone cooks so well that if one insists in doing all the cooking one would be terribly missing out on some major yumminess, or maybe the others are really good at preparing quick lunches with the ingredients that are around at moments when one has to spend hours at the computer preparing lesson plans for the impending and fast approaching school year. I will be starting a new job at a Waldorf School teaching English as a foreign language, and although I am really looking forward to it, in combination with my cooking activities it will be quite a handful. So I am very relieved to be able to count on these cooking angles with whom I share a home, to regularly lavish me with delicious wholesome treats and wonderful meals.

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Yesterday my husband made a wonderful rice dish for lunch, with fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market. He made it in such a way that the vegetables remained colourful and vibrant, but at the same time were cooked long enough to impart loads of flavour to the dish; specially the whole cherry tomatoes were a special surprise.

Farmer’s Market Veggie Rice
about 3 cups of cooked brown rice(left over is perfect)
1 or 2 onions cubed
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 large carrot cut in small pieces
1 red bell pepper cubed small
1 cup of brad beans
1 leek cut fine
about a cup of cherry tomatoes
a bunch of black olive
sea salt
pepper
paprika
2 tbs.tamari
2 tbs. mirin

-sauté the onions and garlic in a broad cooking pan with a bit of olive oil(about 2 tbs) and a pinch of salt
-add the veggies one group at the time starting with the carrots
-add the red bell peppers, the broad beans and leeks and stir a bit
-add the paprika powder and the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and cook a bit, stirring but don’t bruise the tomatoes
-add the olives and the rice, stir a bit and add the mirin and tamari
-cook at low and medium fire stirring to make it cook evenly and prevent burning
-after about 10 minutes turn off the fire and served garnished with spring

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Chocolate Banana Nutcase
210 gram mixed ground nuts (about 3 cups)
1 small cup fine polenta
1 cup cacao powder
1 3/4 cup palm sugar
2 tablespoons maca
3 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 bananas well mashed
3 tablespoons coconut butter melted
1 1/2 tablespoon butter(substitute for melted coconut oil)
1/4 cup coconut milk
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoon grated ginger

-combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl
-in another bowl combine all the wet ingredients including the banana
-mix the wet and dry
-prepare an oven try by covering it with baking paper
-spread the batter evenly on the tray and bake it for about 15 minutes at 180* C

My oldest daughter Ella took care of dessert today. She is a fantastic cook and great at just whipping something up out of thin air. Ella made some seriously rhapsodic brownie like things, that made us all desperate for a second piece and in some cases a third.
I got to finish my lesson plans and have a great dinner, as well as figure out what to put in my and my 12 year old daughter Anna’s lunch lunchbox, since we both have our first school day tomorrow albeit in different roles. While others were taking care of dinner I put a dish in the oven filled with sliced zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and bell pepper, with a drizzle of olive oil and salt. I let them roast and tomorrow I will drizzle the veggies with a bit of balsamic vinegar, minced basil and some pine nuts to make delicious sandwiches.

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From Bach to Vegan Mozzarella

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Last night I saw my life as a collage, you know like those of Picasso or Braque, with bits of newspapers, musical instruments, funny faces etc. Maybe the awareness came as a result of the realisation that life is a collage. Our lives are canvasses where the bits and pieces are glued on, usually with a basic theme connecting them, overlapping, sometimes making lot of sense, sometimes seemingly arbitrary, but all in all they create some sort of cohesive and even beautiful whole.
I made dinner for a couple of friends, Claire from my time in Boston, where we played Brahms clarinet quintet together, before we had partners, children, work, vegan cooking obsessions and a whole bunch of other things. The other friend was her partner Valentina, who lives in the Netherlands and with whom I coincidentally share the vegan cooking bug.
The conversation went from Bach to vegan mozzarella(which Valentina had deliciously made) and back. We enjoyed a dinner of fried polenta with what I now call a Mushroom Nightshade Fantasy(Shady Sauce for short)as well as braised carrots, blanched spinach with pine nuts, Valentina’s mozzarella with tomato and basil and a funky dessert with smoked chipotle! I often couldn’t quite figure out where I was since I was experiencing people and things from different periods of my life in my kitchen in the Netherlands. It all became even more wacky when my now grown up cellist daughter played two movements of Bach fourth cello suite for our visitors (which I also played for my conservatory exam for my Bachelors diploma). Throughout the whole evening food was the glue for this collage; or was it music?

Shady Sauce
8 tomatoes cut in half
2 eggplants cut in small cubes and sprinkled with salt to release the water
about 6 cups of different sorts of mushrooms sliced
6 cloves of chopped garlic
olive oil
sea salt
1 tbs of Vitamix mushroom paste(or a vegetable bouillon cube)
1tbs balsamic vinegar

-first cook the tomatoes in a pan with 4 tbs. olive oil, with the cut down facing down, sprinkle with a bit of chopped garlic
-cook the tomatoes until they begin to darken and the liquid starts to get syrupy
-in a separate pan cook the eggplant in 4 tbs olive oil until they are completely soft and cooked
-in a separate pan sauté the mushrooms in 2 tbs oil and a bit of crushed garlic, until they loose their liquid
-when the vegetables are all cooked mix them in the pan with the tomato, add a bit more crushed garlic and sea salt and the tablespoon of the mushroom paste or bouillon cube. Cook until the paste is integrated into the sauce and add the balsamic vinegar
-serve warm with the polenta or rice or put on bread or on pasta or…….

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In the morning I made almond milk and saved the pulp, for which I didn’t have any particular plan. However before starting dinner I got the idea of making some kind of flat bread with it, as a sort of appetizer. It turned out really well, although if I made it again as an appetizer I would put half of the sweetener.

Almond Pulp Spelt Flat Bread
-mix the dry ingredients
-mix wet ingredients
-combine wet ingredients with the almond pulp
-combine almond pulp mixture with wet ingredients and add seeds or nuts of choice, I chose hemp seeds this time, but you can also add anise seeds
-mix well and pat it down evenly on a cookie sheet that has been covered with wax paper
-bake for about 15 min. in a preheated oven at 180* C

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Mango Coconut Chia Pudding with Smoked Chipotle
11/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup almond milk
2 mangoes cut in small pieces
juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup chia seeds
liquid sweetener to taste(I use honey)
cardamon, cinnamon to taste
1 tsp turmeric
a tiny bit smoked chipotle (or chilli pepper)
tomato jam (or any other jam you have around)
minced mint

-blend the milks with the mango and orange juice
-add the spices and sweetener and blend again(I used a hand blender)
-add the chia seeds and mix well
-add the chipotle
-put into 6 individual serving cups and place a tsp of tomato jam on top of each pudding cup
-garnish wit freshly minced mint
-put it in the freezer for about one hour
-serve

Carrot Cake Pudding with Ginger Syrup

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My oldest son plays the piano. He is not just a pianist, but a wonderful pianist, possibly one of the best of the younger generation in the Netherlands and tomorrow he is presenting his first cd, which of course is a festive occasion for our whole family. In the spirit of this festive occasion part of our family decided to spend some time in the kitchen, of course! My munchkin Anna and I decided to do some baking and Cyrille(husband) made a fantastic mushroom risotto for dinner. I will concentrate on my contribution since Anna baked amazing chocolate chip cookies from a Mooswood dessert cookbook and Cyrille doesn’t ever measure any ingredient so it is practically impossible to reproduce anything he makes and share it on a blog.

My cake came about as a result of my desire to create a carrot cake which would focus on the intensity and yumminess of the carrots rather than on the cakekiness of the cake, if you get what I am saying! One of the things I like about carrot cake is its moist comforting quality, which I wanted to emphasize by making my dessert more like a pudding than a cake; I don’t mean a cake that failed as a cake and resigned to being a pudding(we’ve all had some of those), but an elegant mixture of the two, cake and pudding.

At the moment I am also a bit taken by the wheat controversy and the possible negative effects that many seem to attribute to it(just read the book Wheat Belly and I am trying to process the information in it). So I was inspired to make a cake without wheat and with as little flour as possible, for which I think carrots lend themselves quite well. Besides the the fact that I didn’t use much flour(one cup of spelt) the other unusual things in this cake/pudding is the use of corn flour, coconut milk and thickly grated carrot as opposed to finely grated. But the funniest thing of all is that when I was making this dessert I forgot to add a sweetener to the batter, which I realized when the cake was already in the oven. At that point I decided to solve the problem with a ginger syrup which would go on the cake after it came out of the oven, this worked out great, in fact it seems like the perfect way to sweeten this dessert. Everyone at home loved the result including guests who are not used to putting up with my experiments, so I am confident that you will love it too!

Carrot Cake Pudding with Ginger Syrup

3 cups medium grated carrots
2 grated apples
1 1/4 cups ground almonds
1/2 cup corn flour
1 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup light olive oil
1 cup coconut milk
the juice of one orange
the peel of one orange
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
2 tbs flaxseeds
1 tbs chia seeds
a handful of raisins
2 tbs. baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamon
1/2 tsp clove powder

-put the grated carrots and grated apples in a large bowl
-in another bowl mix all the dry ingredients
-in a third bowl mix all the wet ingredients
-mix the wet ingredients with the grated ingredients and add the dry ingredients, mix well
-prepare a cake pan covering the bottom with wax paper and greasing the sides with oil
-pour the batter in the cake pan and bake at 180* C for about 30 minutes
-pour the ginger syrup evenly on top of the cake before taking it out of the cake pan and whilenit is still hot
-let the cake cool off a bit without cutting

Ginger Syrup

slices of fresh ginger(about 2 tablespoons)
1 cup rice syrup

-put everything in a pan and cook it for about 10 minutes until the ginger flavour is absorbed in the rice syrup
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Yum, Yum, Yum

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It feels like the summer is coming to an end, at least here in Amsterdam, where the gray days have started, the wind feels cooler and the fall jackets are starting to come out of the closets. I know it’s early but that is the nature of the this beast called the Netherlands. The weather may not be spectacular, but many other things are pretty wonderful here. Today I read a quote somewhere on FB which reminded me of the give and takes of life, which in the Netherlands you can interpret pretty literally: “If you want the rainbows, you’ve got to put up with the rain.” I am willing to embrace the rain in exchange for the beautiful canals, the mix and match of people and styles, the variety of foods and the typical down to earth Dutch attitude of which they seem so proud.
Yesterday in an attempt to hold on to the summer vegetables and dishes I came up with a delicious gazpacho which I have to share with you. Have you ever thought of combining roasted red peppers and a very ripe mango? Well it seems like a marriage made in heaven! The sweetness of the roasted peppers and the mango really complement each other, neither sticks out or tries to control the other, and even the colors don’t cancel each other out, they create a beautifully intense shade of orange. By the way orange is the national Dutch color and since I seem to be ranting on about the qualities of this adoptive country of mine, the color of this soup seems like a funny and appropriate bonus.
The basil pesto with roasted almonds adds that extra texture which makes this soup a notch chiquer. The super bonus is how easy it is to put together this bomb of color, texture and taste.

Roasted Red Pepper-Mango Gazpacho
5 roasted red bell peppers(I roasted the peppers in the oven until they turned pretty black, it took about 15 minutes, then I peeled and seeded them)
1 large mango peeled and cut in chuncks
1/2 -1 cup water
1/2 tsp sea salt

-put all the ingredients in the blender and blend until the mixture is smooth and uniform

Roasted Almond Basil Pesto
a handful of basil leaves
1 clove of garlic crushed and minced
about 3 tbs roasted almonds
1/4 cup great quality olive oil
sea salt to taste
1 tsp of sumac (optional)

-make the pesto by hand with a mortar and pestle
-first crush the basil, garlic, oil and salt then add the almonds
-crush until you get a unified consistency, but the almonds still feel crunchy
-sprinkle with sumac if desired, for a tangy taste and mix well

Spoon the pesto in the individual soup servings

Veggie Pie with Sumac

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Early this morning my oldest daughter was laying on the kitchen floor quietly doing Alexander Technique exercises while listening to the string trio version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. If something is going to put me in a peaceful, creative mood is that piece. I had bought a bunch of zucchini thinking about continuing my experiments with jams and canning, but I woke up with the pie bug and got excited about making a savoury one which would taste fresh and not too baked(whatever that means!).
I hope that you all are aware of how easy it is to make a pie, because it really is! Once you have the basic measurements for a dough the rest is play, and if you turn on the Goldberg Variations, or any other Bach, ideas and inner peace will come your way while you cook. You can use the basic measurements and ingredients in this pie crust for all sorts of pies, sweet or savoury.You can add nuts, sweeteners, seeds, herbs, spices or pretty much whatever tickles your fancy, and it will work. This time I wanted a pie in which the vegetables would still feel alive and crunchy to counter balance the “bakiness” of the crust, unlike most quiches.

The combination of the fresh vegetables and the baked “buttery” crust was really sexy. The only vegetables I briefly sautéd were the zucchini and red bell peppers, the rest was all raw. I used agar to make it all hold together, which I have never used in savoury dishes, except long ago for an aspic which nobody liked including myself. After the pie was done for some reason I felt a bit insecure about what the rest of crew would think of it, so I didn’t advertise it at all, just left it there on the kitchen counter , but within less than a half an hour it was completely gone. I think that this combination of a semi raw vegetable pie is something I will be playing with again, since I really love pies, but often consider them on the heavy, overly cooked, greasy, not fresh side, this way however I feel that I can have my pie and eat it.

Crust:
2 cups spelt flour
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup cold water

Filling:
2 zucchinis cut in smallish cubes
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 red bell pepper cut in cubes
3 cloves of garlic crushed and minced
a bunch of chives
a couple of oregano sprigs
a couple of basil leaves
2 cups of cashew milk(it can be any other milk)
a couple of drops of lemon juice
a pinch of saffron
1 tbs agar agar
3 tbs chia seeds
2 tomatoes seeded and cubed
a handful of spinach roughly minced

Crust:
-make the crust, mix the flour and salt and add the coconut oil
-work with a fork until it looks like wet sand the add the water and form a ball
-wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 10 minutes
-stretch out the dough on a sheet of baking paper with the help of a rolling pin
-transfer to a pie dish and bake for about 15 minutes in a. Preheated oven at 180* c

Filling:
-in a wide pan sauté garlic and add zucchini and a pinch of salt
-add red peppers and stir
-add some of the oregano and basil and stir

-in a sauce pan heat up the milk and add a pinch of salt and a couple of drops of lemon juice
-add the saffron and a minced garlic clove
-when is very hot add the agar powder and stir well, turn off fire when it begins to thicken

Putting it Together:
-when the crust is done fill with the cooked zucchini and add the tomatoes and spinach as well as the rest of the herbs and the chia seeds
-pour the agar milk on the veggies and sprinkle with sumac
-wait until it sets a bit before cutting

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Black Bean Brownies

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On this lazy Sunday after making breakfast, doing some cleaning around the house and preparing my lesson plans for my ESL classes(I teach ESL to Dutch high school kids) I decided to play a game: make the first vegan recipe that would come up on Google. Luckily I bumped into this good looking black bean brownies, they are not only vegan but also gluten free! And, sooo easy! And, I had leftover cooked black beans from yesterday’s dinner!

I took them out of oven a bit soon, but because they contain no flour, eggs or other ingredients that need to be baked it wasn’t such a problem, they were just perfectly gooey.

The recipe is from the blog Minimalist Baker

Ingredients
1 15 oz. can (~ 1 3/4 cups) black beans, well rinsed and drained
2 large flax eggs (2.5 T flaxseed meal + 6 T water)
3 T coconut oil, melted (or sub other oil of choice)
3/4 cup cocoa powder (the higher quality the better)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
heaping 1/2 cup raw sugar, slightly ground or pulsed in a food processor or coffee grinder for refined texture(I used sucanat)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
Optional toppings: crush walnuts, pecans or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease a 12-slot standard size muffin pan (not mini).
Prepare flax egg by combining flax and water in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse a couple times and then let rest for a few minutes.
Add remaining ingredients (besides walnuts or other toppings) and puree – about 3 minutes – scraping down sides as needed. You want it pretty smooth.
If the batter appears too thick, add a Tbsp or two of water and pulse again. It should be slightly less thick than chocolate frosting but nowhere close to runny.
Evenly distribute the batter into the muffin tin and smooth the tops with a spoon or your finger.
Optional: Sprinkle with crushed walnuts, pecans or chocolate chips.
Bake for 20-26 minutes or until the tops are dry and the edges start to pull away from the sides. I found mine took about 25.
Remove from oven and let cool for 30 minutes before removing from pan. They will be tender, so remove gently with a fork. The insides are meant to be very fudgy, so don’t be concerned if they seem too moist – that’s the point. Plus, they’re vegan so it doesn’t really matter.
Store in an airtight container for up to a few days. Refrigerate to keep longer
(From Minimalist Baker)

The Cycle of Jam

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Today while shopping with my daughter for school supplies in Amsterdam I caught myself regularly looking at my reflection on store windows, or inadvertently staring into every mirror I came across. This masochistic behaviour is not something I have indulged in for the last 32 years(yes I am 50), but somehow it popped up again, and I wondered why.
Having two teenage daughters with beautiful figures, who look great on anything they wear is of course no great confidence booster for my 50 year old ego, although I am extremely pleased to see how lovely they have turned out. When I looked for my reflection on those shop windows I was also looking for that teenager of 32 years ago, but what was the teenager looking for way back then anyway, when she repeatedly looked at her reflection on the store windows?

That search for perfection! Funny enough art is much kinder; perfection often lies in the beauty of the imperfect. Although creating art is more often than not a painstaking process, the product mostly has the ease of something that has always existed, something that couldn’t and shouldn’t be any other way. The artist often uses his skill to portray perfection and beauty in the imperfection and vulnerability of life. When we look at the curves in those plump Botticelli women or at the dark, wrinkled images of the characters in Rembrandt’s paintings, we don’t turn away thinking that those women really should have been thinner or less wrinkled, on the contrary we look into their souls and embrace the beauty, pain, and life that they portray.

We people are also works of art, and if I remind myself to look at my window reflection with the same wonder for life that I look at Rembrandt’s characters, the ones looking back at me from the walls of the Rijksmuseum I will see myself in all my perfectly imperfect glory and enjoy!

The food I love is also not about perfection. I love to cook foods that don’t look perfect, foods that happen from the messy interaction with life. I love foods that cook in one large pan, in which ingredients are measured by handfuls or pinches and not by grams. I don’t feel tempted by those large plates with a couple of creamy drops of something in the centre. I love the beauty of the big pot with stuff in it.

Today I made a big pot of tomato jam, and it was fun to go from the plump juicy tomatoes to the concentrated, reduced, sweet, spicy gooey jam; a whole cycle in 11/2 hour.

Tomato Jam
about 2.5 kilo of tomatoes
11/2 cups honey
1 cup of sucanat(granulated cane juice)
the juice of one lemon
the peel of 1/2 lemon
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp clove powder
4 cardamon pods
a pinch of salt

-cut the tomatoes in medium size pieces(I cut them in pieces of 4)
-put all the ingredients in a large pan and let them cook until the whole thing becomes jam, about an hour and a half
-stir occasionally, and don’t let it get super thick since it will thicken when it cools off
-when the jam is done put it in glass jars, let it cool off and refrigerated for up to a couple of weeks.
-you can also can it in sterilized jars(which is what I did this time, since I want to practice to get really good at canning and preserving), in this case you can store your jam outside the fridge for several months.

if you want to can your jam:
-have a large pan of boiling water where you can boil your already cleaned jars and lids(use new lids, since they are safer against bacteria) while the jam is cooking
-when the jam is almost ready boil the empty jars and lids
-take them out after they have boiled for about 10 minutes, use kitchen tangs to get them out, and place the jars and lids on a clean kitchen towel
-fill the jars with jam, but leave a bit of a space on top, and wipe the jars well with a clean towel
-close the jars well and put them in the pan with boiling water again to boil for about 10 minutes, make sure that the pots are completely under water
-take the jam pots out carefully and place them on a kitchen towel and let them cool off
-you know that your pots are properly sealed when you push the center of the lid and the lid doesn’t bounce back. The lids should be flat, rather sinking than bulging.
-if the pots are not well sealed put them in the refrigerator to avoid spoilage

BTW Tomato Jam is delicious!

Seafood Spelt Pasta

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Since coming back from Italy I have been screaming about how fed up I am with pasta, but here I am again with yet another pasta recipe. This one however doesn’t use refined wheat pasta, which is what totally got to me during the holidays. Spelt is an old grain similar to wheat which fortunately hasn’t been ruined by the agricultural business. Just like wheat spelt contains gluten, but because the inherent make-up of spelt remains intact, many people who have develop intolerances for wheat can tolerate spelt. Those people don’t have celiac but have an intolerance to the product that has resulted from the agribusiness’s tampering with wheat in an attempt to creat a higher-yielding crop.
It is really too bad that wheat, a product which is such an integral part of the Western cooking tradition has been ruined to the extent that it has, and that it makes so many people very sick, sometimes without them even knowing that wheat is the culprit.

Ever since I became aware of the power of modern wheat to cause so many health problems, our family changed from wheat to spelt for most of our baking and pastas. Even though we are not completely wheat free, these changes seem to have helped us tremendously.

This pasta recipe was the result of having to make a quick early dinner for my two youngest, not seaweed loving kids, with the few ingredients I had around and no time to go to the shop. The dish has a subtle fresh fish taste, in the direction of mussels(for those of you who would consider this a plus). This may be a good way of using all that dry seaweed you have sitting around your pantry without offending anybody.

a package of spelt pasta
1 1/2 zucchini cut in medium dice
5 medium tomatoes peeled and roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper diced
4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
a handful of dried hiziki
3 tbs dried instant wakame
2 tbs olive oil
a big handful of leaf parsley
2 tbs of chipotle in adobo
2 extra cloves of garlic
1 tbs olive oil extra
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

-cook the spelt pasta
-soak the hiziki and the wakame separately
-in a broad pan heat the olive oil and add the zucchini
-stir a bit and add a pinch of salt
-after 5 minutes add the red pepper and stir
-add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid begins to thicken and then add the garlic and the sea vegetables
-cook a bit longer, about 5 minutes
-in the mean time put the extra garlic, extra olive oil, chipotle and parsley in a mortar and stamp it a bit(it doesn’t need to be a paste, just enough to blend the flavors
-add pasta to the cooked veggies and give it a good stir, then add parsley mixture
-after 1 or 2 minutes turn of fire
-drizzle with balsamic vinegar
-serve

Polenta with Porcini

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Today is our last full day in Italy, we visited Ferrara, a city not so far from Venice which according to some was the birth place of the Italian Renaissance. Just like all the other places we have visited on this trip a place of beauty and history. Apparently Ferrara and Venice were rivals way back then, although to my eyes the magic of Venice is incomparable to any other city I have ever seen, maybe with the exception of Amsterdam. Art in these Italian cities is (almost) everywhere, which makes me wonder what has happened in our development as human beings. I don’t just mean art as in “high art”, but the art which takes place in a setting where beautiful buildings, paintings colours and melodic sounds adorn the everyday life, art as a state of mind.
When and why did we collectively decided that it was okay to build ugly buildings of cheap and often unhealthy materials, which probably will not survive the test of time, or to not wear beautifully simple elegant clothing on a daily basis, or eat lunch from a paper or plastic container while walking hurriedly to work? And, what are we glorifying with our present art anyway?

This afternoon at one of the many museums in Ferrara I saw a Renaissance painting of the Virgin Mary with her baby, there are probably thousands of those just here in Italy, but this particular one attracted my attention because it showed Mary with one naked breast which her baby was touching, just like all breastfed babies have always done. This painting made me wonder when and why did it become ugly, unacceptable and even illegal to openly breastfeed a baby in some places in the world?

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I see a direct correlation between an artistic approach to life, which is our birth right and our approach to cooking delicious nourishing meals. Italy is not utopia or unique in this respect, all cultures have created beautiful and meaningful art, and it’s up to us to live our lives in a way which honours the artist in each of us with our daily creations and actions. Maybe that appreciation for beauty and tradition which still seems to be an integral part of Italy is what so many find so magnetising, it is a a place with a living legacy which speaks to us at a very deep level.

On a more down to earth note, I managed to make a nice Polenta on our primitive camping kitchen which I want to share with you.

Polenta with Porcini

6 cups water
1 bouillon cube
1/2 cup dry porcini mushrooms
sea salt
1 1/2 cup polenta

Mushroom Tomato Topping
2 tbs olive oil
4 cups of champignons sliced
4 cloves of garlic crushed
3 large tomatoes roughly chopped in medium sizes pieces
sea salt

-in a deep heavy pan bring water to the boiling point
-add the bouillon cube and the dry porcini, cook until the bouillon is dissolved and the porcini is soft
-add the polenta little by little in a continuos stream while stirring to prevent lumps
-add salt and stir regularly
-cook for about 40 minutes at low fire(using a flame deflector) and keep stirring regularly with a wooden spoon
-when the polenta is nice and creamy turn off the fire and let it sit
-in a wider pan warm the olive oil and add the mushrooms and a bit of salt
-stir and cooking until the mushrooms have lost all their water and are tasty and fragrant
-add the tomatoes and stir in a pinch of salt
-add the garlic
-again cook stirring until the juices of the tomatoes are diminished
-check for salt
-serve polenta in a soup plate topped with the mushroom tomatoes topping
-garnish with chopped flat leave parsley

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