Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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Ten Foods I Couldn’t Live Without

You may or may not know this – hell, I do love to share – but I am a bit of a Paleo fan, having low-carbed it like the ancestors for the past two years. One of the Paleo bloggers I follow is Mark Sisson, whose every post makes so much sense that I leap into the air each time I read one, give a rebel yell, fall to the floor to do twenty swift push-ups and then run downstairs to eat my body weight in bacon.

I am stronger, fitter and better-tempered when I eat Paleo. I have no blood sugar spikes and I no longer ache for my post-lunch nap. I still break for cake, but I like to think that my cake moments grow fewer and farther between as the years go by. As another sugar-free blogger, David Gillespie says, sugar is just for parties. Anyway, Mark just posted his 10 Foods He Can’t Live Without, and, in the interests of maintaining the high levels of TMI around these parts, here are mine:

1. Bacon

So good it’s called Paleo sugar. Love it. And following swiftly behind it are:

2. Eggs

So many ways to eat them, so many ways to love them.

3. Spinach

Preferably tiny little fresh leaves, all mixed up with:

4. Walnuts

Hmm. My nut of choice.

5. Cream

Just a little in my coffee, slightly more over my:

6. Berries

Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries. You name them, I love them.

7. Lamb chops

Sorry, to all my very dear vegetarian friends, but the lamb chop is possibly the zenith of all eating experience – crunchy, juicy, sweet and naturally grass-fed.

8. Leaves

Leaves in all their forms, from lettuce to pak choi, form the basis of what I eat. I have a minimum of two leaf-based meals a day and have been known to eat yesterday’s salad for breakfast.

9. Coconut

Milk, shredded, in chunks. There’s nothing like the coconut for its high-fat, low-carb goodness.

10. Chicken

Is my friend, in so many ways. In a salad, on the barbeque, on the wing; it’s all good.

These foods now form the basis of what I eat, and will continue to do so henceforth. I barely eat grains, rice, pasta, bread, legumes, root vegetables – all the things that the dietary gurus of the past century told us were essential to life and healthy living. I am fitter and stronger as a result. I am more alert. I can do 20 push-ups, rest and do another 20, I can lift heavy things, I have the energy to play with my children and I run and sprint. I take no medications, no vitamins and very seldom visit the doctor.

I have no pretence at being a Paleo guru and I resist the temptation to try to convert others, but I’ve found a way of eating that makes me happy and I’m sticking with it.

What are ten foods you couldn’t live without?


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Season Your Reading

There are two things I love: books and food. I’m never happier than when I can combine the two.

In August I reviewed Rosy Thornton’s evocative and moving Tapestry of Love. It is set in the Cevennes valley in France and while it is a love story, it is deeply redolent of the landscape, weather, people and food of that area.  The paperback version of Tapestry of Love has been released and to celebrate Rosy is offering readers of Charlotte’s Web a series of recipes for the food that her characters cook and serve during the course of the novel. In the 15 pages of recipes, Rosy includes salads, aoili, stews and something I won’t be waiting for Christmas to make: Devils at Horses’ Heels.

As a taster, here is Rosy’s cevennol recipe for lovage soup: 

Potage à l’Herbe de Maggi  (Lovage Soup)

Serves 4

This thick green soup is served to Catherine at the al fresco meal shared by the inhabitants of La Grelaudiere in the Mériels’ orchard to celebrate the spring transhumance. It has the distinctive, astringent taste of lovage, a herb which in French is formally called ‘la liveche’ but which is known to many French people as ‘l’herbe de Maggi’ because it is a key ingredient in bottled stocks produced by the Maggi company since before the war.

If you do not have lovage in your garden (where I promise, once introduced, it will grow like a rampant triffid), then substituting parsley will make for a pleasant (though rather different) herb soup.

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

a good colander full of lovage leaves, rinsed and with any tough stalks removed

1½ pints of good chicken stock

1 oz butter

salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ pint cream (optional)

 Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the garlic, onion and potatoes and sweat, stirring, over a low heat until soft but not browned. Add the lovage and pour over the chicken stock, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until all the vegetables are soft, then blend in a food processor or with a hand-held blender. The soup should be smooth and quite thick, but if necessary it can be thinned a little with more stock, or with milk. If you like, you may add cream to make the soup richer – though that is not how Madame Mériel serves it!

Just mention in the comments if you would like the recipes and I will email them to you. You’ll be so glad you did!


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Awakening the Inner Cave-Dweller

We’re down to one car here at Fun Central. My 12-year-old Renault Scenic died unceremoniously a few weeks ago and we decided not to replace it, because we are good Germans and like to think about the environment. This does put some pressure on me and Germany’s Top Husband, though, in terms of negotiating who gets the car when. I was fondly imagining I’d go grocery shopping this morning until he pointed out that he had a suit day in Heidelberg and the car was his. Off  he went, leaving me staring into the empty fridge wondering what the hell I was going to have for breakfast.

Turns out, it was a peach. Not a peach that was lingering in the fruit-bowl, but a peach that I had to hunt down by foot and then drag home, skin and eat.

There is something intensely satisfying about bringing your food home on foot. Here’s what I managed to scavenge by going into the Burg’s thousand-year-old town centre and walking around the shops there, instead of driving to the supermarket outside town:

1. Butcher: Thuringer sausages, both plain and spicy; marinated lamb chops (got the fourth free just by chatting to the lovely lady – that wouldn’t have happened at the supermarket); free-range eggs.

2. Greengrocer: a butternut (never to be found in a German supermarket), peaches, apples, grapes, cucumber, red peppers, a tin of marinated giant beans, a lettuce.

3. Schlecker: muesli, cleaning cloths, bin bags, snacks for the kids.

4. Bakery: Brezeln, both plain and cheesy, and a free chat about Germany’s chances for Saturday.

Then I dragged the whole lot home and pounced on my peach.

I have become a fan of the caveman lifestyle idea. Those of you who have been with me a long time know that diets have come and gone. There was Shangri-La, there was low-carb and long, long ago in the mists of time, there was Weight-Watchers.

But the caveman diet, I’m telling you, is the way forward. It has various names and proponents (paleolithic, caveman, primal blueprint), but the basic idea is the same: eat the way our ancestors ate, move the way they moved, and rest the way they rested, thus becoming fitter, leaner and healthier. It makes a lot of sense to me. Without wanting to repeat what the experts say, I point you to the best blog I’ve found on the caveman lifestyle: Mark’s Daily Apple. Check out his About section for tons of useful background information.

I’ve been acting the cave-dweller for the month of June. I’ve lost kilograms and centimetres, which is always pleasing. I am also happier, better rested and far less grumpy. And right now, I’m off to the pool in my mammoth-skin bikini for some caveman-like romping.

Want to join me?


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Welcome to the Tea Party

I’ve decided that if I don’t crack it as a novelist, I’m going to offer my services as a professional tea party organiser. I love it all: the baking of delicious goodies, choosing and arranging flowers, sourcing decorations, using objects I already own to prettify the room and table. It’s a silly lot of fluff really, but a ridiculous amount of fun. The Headmistress of the young ladies’ college I once attended would have been proud that I am finally putting my skills to good use. (I actually considered creating a category called “Entertaining” to describe this post, but managed to restrain myself for fear of sounding too much like a Fifties housewife.)

So this weekend, I hosted a baby shower for a friend who happens to be having a baby boy. I once attended a baby shower where the mother-to-be had to “apple-dip” for a chocolate bar floating in a child’s potty full of orange juice while her arms were tied behind her back. With that horror in mind, I did some research as to the kinds of things people do at baby showers, and these were three suggestions that cropped up:

* Squash different kinds of chocolate bars into disposable nappies and then pass around the room for people to sniff and guess which nappy holds which chocolate bar. The winner is the one with the most correct answers.

* Each person gets a jar of baby food and a plastic spoon. The winner is the person who can eat their jar the fastest.

* Divide into two teams and equip each team with a roll of loo paper. See which team can construct a nappy on one lucky individual without using glue, tape or pins.

Having digested these, I decided a tea party was in order. Something dignified, pleasant, with good things to eat, champagne for those who could, punch for those who couldn’t, lots of tea and coffee. No apple dipping or chocolate bars in sight.

Instead, there was bunting:

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I am hysterical about bunting. I love it. I was quite sad when after a few days my family requested that I took the bunting down because it was “embarrassing”. I looked on Etsy and there are a few people making bunting, but there’s a big gap in the market for lots more of it. I would prefer to use it for children’s parties than the plastic rubbish I buy at the supermarket and then throw away after three hours.

Want a close-up? Here it is again:

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There was cake:

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Victoria sponge with lemon curd

Lots of it:

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Lemon cake

My personal favourite, carrot cake muffins with marscapone icing:

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Rose-scented macaroons:

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And champagne:

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There were also some savoury snacks brought by friends, because I like to focus on the sugar. However, when I have my fantasy tea-party company, there will also be cucumber sandwiches and very fine slices of rare roast beef.

Need any catering done?


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Just So Easy Afro-Teutonic Beer Bread

The lovely Jeanne has tagged me to take part in Breadline Africa’s Worldwide Blogger Bake-Off. According to Jeanne, Breadline Africa is a:

South African-based charity that is seeking to put a lasting end to poverty South Africa (and further afield in Africa) by breaking the cycle of poverty and helping comunities to achieve long-term self-sustainability. Breadline Africa was founded in 1993 when a group of community and social workers in South Africa (who had first-hand knowledge of the uniquely African problems that they faced) formed an alliance with like-minded colleagues in Europe (who were well-placed to source donations in valuable foreign currency). Armed with this unique combination of skills, Breadline Africa has been able to raise funds in Europe and use their local knowledge to identify which small, ground-level projects in Africa are most likely to succeed with a financial boost.

On Blog Action Day, Breadline Africa launched their Worldwide Blogger Bake-Off campaign. The aim is to raise $1 million in funds for a project to convert shipping containers into locations for food production and distribution in Africa. It is hoped that these sustainable community kitchens will not only provide food such as bread and soup to those in need, but also opportunities for skills development within poor communities.

So how does the Breadline Africa Worldwide Blogger Bake Off Campaign work?

Quite simply: bake bread, give dough. You can sign up for the campaign, make a donation, upload your bread recipes and document your culinary adventures in the media centre to spread the word. Bloggers can go even further by downloading the Blogger Bake-off widget and tagging five other bloggers to do the same – which I have done. My five tagged bloggers are:

1. Alida of Here We Go … Again

2. Helen of A Was Alarmed

3. The Very Wise Mandarine

4. Herschelian of The 3 Rs.

5. Tanya of Just Me

And now, to the bread …

The thing is, though I bake, I don’t make bread. Being good South Africans, we barbeque or braai, all the way through summer. I have a way with salads, and desserts, and Germany’s Top Husband does his thing at the grill, but our repertoire has never included bread. However, two summers ago, I borrowed a South African beer bread recipe from Jeanne because it was just so easy. The original recipe called for thyme and cheddar cheese, but since neither were available to me, I replaced them with rosemary and Emmenthaler, bringing a lovely German twist to a South African recipe. Unfortunately I have never photographed it, but I assure you it looks and smells as delicious as it tastes. There are never any leftovers, because everyone ADORES it. Try it, and preen at your new-found skills!

The Just So Easy Afro-Teutonic Beer Bread Recipe

Ingredients:

500g self-raising flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

125g Emmenthaler cubed

340ml beer

50ml water

1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary chopped

Maldon (or kosher) salt to sprinkle

Method:

Preheat oven to 180°.

Grease a small loaf tin.

Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl.

Stir in beer, cheese, water, rosemary.

Mix until all the flour is moistened the dough forms a consistent mass.

Transfer to loaf tin, sprinkle with salt and place in oven.

Test with skewer after one hour and if it comes clean, remove from the oven.

Eat with large slabs of butter and thank me. Oh, and Jeanne too.

(PS After an hour’s struggling, I am giving up trying to upload the widget. I will return when I have more strength. But in the meanwhile, please click, donate, bake bread, vote for my recipe or do something to help raise people out of poverty. Thank you.)


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From the Frontline

… of suburbia, here is my life today:

Having a slight hangover, after cooking dinner for five girlfriends last night. We ate guacamole, a butternut and feta gratin, green salad with asparagus, carrot and walnut muffins with marscapone orange cream. We drank some bottles of rose, my favourite summer drink.

Sniffling somewhat, from the hayfever that prevents me from enjoying early summer with my whole heart.

Worrying about how Chapter Six has gone all spongy in the middle and how I am going to give it its edge back.

Reading other writer’s blogs for tips and finding this from Scott of Poetic Chaos:

When I get stuck while I’m writing, it’s usually because I realize there’s a problem with one of the characters. I’m not ‘getting it’ where they’re concerned. One of the ways I try to work around that is free writing. I’ll just open a new window and start writing for ten or fifteen minutes. Sometimes, it turns into a two way conversation between the character and I. Other times, it’ll be a journal entry, or just free association.

If I really get stuck, I play around with scenes that I’ve already written, and try writing them from the ‘stuck’ character’s perspective. It lets me into their head a little more, and gets me in tune with the character.

And I think a lot of voice is like that. It’s about tuning in. Sometimes, you’ve just got the frequency off a little bit – if you jiggle the knob, you’re going to get that clear crystal picture.

Enjoying the sensation of worked-out muscles in the gluteus maximus from my run yesterday and aerobics class with the Tommy the Teletubby on Monday.

Wondering if I will ever lose the five kilograms I joined the gym five months ago to lose, and considering my friend G’s tip to go and have my thyroid tested, but fearing that my thyroid will be fine and that the way forward will be a sparrow’s diet.

Puzzling about how I have got myself into hosting a sleepover for four girls between the ages of six and eight this weekend, and steeling myself to be firm with the one invitee who knows no boundaries. The solution may be to tranquilise with DVDs and popcorn.

Dreaming of leaving for Berlin next Thursday for six whole days of aloneness and writing.

Missing my husband.

Feeling inspired by this piece of wisdom, collected at Pippa’s Porch this morning:

The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.

What’s happening in your world today?


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Things To Do Instead of Writing

You can spend time with friends, with old friends, who because you haven’t seen them for so long, seem like new friends, and with new friends, who because you feel so strangely at one with them, seem like old friends. You can drink wine with them in the afternoon, share your kids with them, wander new streets with them, and make extravagant promises to babysit their kids, once they have some.

You can spend an entire afternoon in Berlin looking for the perfect dress. You can look for something whimsical and floaty, with tea roses and cleavage, that looks like Jane Austen wore it to a party where there was croquet and Indian tea, but finally buy a twenty-first century dress, a little edgy, a little sharp, but with its curves in the right places. Also with cleavage.

You can drive long distances, to places you never dreamt of visiting, take trains where your children press their noses against the windows, ride bikes around the city of your dreams, bump into pedestrians and mutter sorry in two languages. You can float down a river, or down a leafy path in the Tiergarten and hear the white wolves howl at the daylight in the Zoo.

You can read A Quiet Flame and imagine the encroaching horror of Nazism in Thirties’ Berlin, and then read No one belongs here more than you and be swept away into an imagination and a sensibility that leaves you shell-shocked, war-wounded, but glad to be alive.

You can eat the best ice-cream outside of Elba in a glass palace of shops and elegance, merguez sausages and couscous in a leafy beer-garden, white asparagus with hollandaise sauce in an achingly hip urban square and the best rhubarb cake you can imagine in the courtyard of an Italian restaurant where you are introduced to the chef and the hostess by name.

You can climb with your children to the top of the Siegesauele, admire them hanging upside down and learning to swing and slide by themselves in playgrounds, watch them falling in love with your friends and weeping when they part, and see them take part in their lives with such spirit and joy that you want to shed tears of your own.

Instead of weeping, you shout, “Who loves Berlin?” and hear them yelling back, “Me Mummy! I love Berlin! I love it! I do!”