Welcome, February! Here in Cologne, this means: carnival! It translates into going to work and sharing the subway with superman, cats, cowboys, sexy devils, raunchy pilots and dirty hippies – while glancing down at your own costume or feeling awfully out of place, because you are wearing none! Everyone is either on their way to work or to one of the several areas around town, where the city has set up stages and other infrastructure to enable wild celebrations in the streets.
Whenever carnival comes to Cologne, I am reminded of my days as a student at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts. Students, who attend Clark University, call themselves Clarkies, and we have a thing called Spree Day. Spree Day always comes as a surprise (unless you know someone who works in Admissions. Then you know. Because they can tell you what day campus tours for potential freshmen are DEFINITELY not going taking place). Spree Day is always in the spring, classes are cancelled that day and campus turns into a giant playground. Instead of studying, you spend your time on rides, at concerts or other fun happenings around on the lawn, in the UC (University Center) and in the dorms or off-campus housing. Everyone and their friends spend the day being completely silly, mainly because drinking starts in the early a.m. and by noon everyone is completely smashed. Carnival is just like that, except it’s not just students and it doesn’t take place in a safe environment and with familiar faces. Carnival takes place on the streets here in Cologne (and in Düsseldorf and in other cities in the region), public transportation still runs (every year, I give thanks that I don’t work as a conductor and that there are hardly any accidents) and pretty much everyone from the high-level executive to staff in charge of cleaning the toilet, teenagers and the eldery dress up and get partying. Carnival is about sinning, and at the end, you burn the so-called Nubbel, who takes your sins with him and all is forgiven. Yeah, you guessed it. We are big on Catholicism here! I must admit though, there is a kind of magic pretending that you can just let go off everything, have no shame in being a glutton, lust on legs and an envious sloth for a total of five days and then continue living life as if nothing happened. Every year. I understand the appeal, even if I don’t need to abuse that type of system myself. I think, maybe, Germans have a history of being repressed as far as feelings and celebratory joy is concerned, so they resort to creating a culture of making being joyous and having fun mandatory. Go figure.
But, when you live in Cologne, there is only one solution: you get with the program. Or you leave town. Since I do love a good party, I go with option one. As always in early February, I’m busy thinking about what costume to wear in two weeks. And as always, I’m undecided. This year is particularly bad. I bought one costume downtown last week, then arrived home and didn’t like it any more. I then went online and ordered a second costume. All this time, I’ve been thinking I need to revamp my costume that I wore both last year and the year before. I washed it, and an essential component was suddenly gone, but nothing a little fabric and basic sewing skills couldn’t fix. I have no clue what I will wear, but chances are I will wear all three costumes and then some.
As far as my kitchen is concerned, I’ve been a less laborious than usual. And I’m loving it. Just a little. After having to take food to work for lunch all the time for so long, it’s a nice change of pace to do less cooking. While a great salad bar can get you pretty far, I find that I need a bit of substance to go along with all those raw vegetables. So I bring a slice of homemade gluten-free bread. Such as this tomato bread, that I made recently, in anticipation of a baking course I’ll be holding next weekend (yeah, I’m excited!). My first contact with this tomato bread occurred in October 2013, when I visited a gluten-free baking course held by a fellow celiac. At first, I was skeptical. Working with canned tomatoes? With frozen herbs? In bread? Really? But then, I had my first bite and then I was hooked. It’s a tiny whiff of summer in Tuscany. It’s rich in flavor, due to the canned tomatoes and the Italian herbs it has a distinct Mediterranean character, that you could expand with ingredients such as sundried tomato pieces and olives. This bread is more of a side to make during the barbeque season, but it can also spice up your grey winter days. And it’s cheap, it’s easily made and so quick! Tuscan summer can be yours in less than an afternoon. I love eating this with cream cheese, with ricotta or herbed butter. Or with humus. Lovely, lovely bread!
500g gluten-free flour mix (e.g. Bauckhof’s bread mix or Schaer Farine or a mix of both)
500 to 600g canned tomatoes (passata is best)
1 package active dried yeast
Italian herbs (e.g. right out of the freezer)
one dash of olive oil
optional: olives, sundried tomatoes
Place the flour in a bowl. Run a whisk through it (or your handheld mixer).
Place the yeast in a bowl together with a teaspoon of sugar and dissolve both in a bit of water (about 40ml). Add the canned tomatoes, and stir well. Season to taste with pepper (and chili flakes, if you are so inclined). Add a dash of olive oil, and the frozen Italian herb mix and stir. Add all of the flour using either a handheld mixer, your hands or your kitchen machine. Knead the ingredients into a lump-free mass. Grease a small, rectangular bread pan and place the tomato bread batter into it. Yeah, I know. The colour kind of reminds you of the raw insides of sausages! Not pretty!Even out the top of your loaf with the help of a knife that you have held under running water (you may have to repeat this process every few strokes). Cut a diagonal line into the top of the loaf. Cover your loaf with a kitchen towel that you have soaked in hot water and drained or a plastic foil. Let loaf rise for about an hour or two in a warm place (e.g. near your oven). Heat your oven to 250°C. Brush your tomato bread with olive oil or water (maybe draw the line across the top of the loaf of bread once more), and then place the loaf into the hot oven next to a heat-proof cup that you have filled with water. This will keep your gluten-free tomato bread moist! Bake your tomato bread for about thirty five minutes, then remove it from the pan, turn and bake it bottom-up for another fifteen minutes or until done. Serve warm. Or wait for it to cool, cut into slices. Then freeze and toast as required.