I dream of Italy. That’s right. I’m back from my vacation and have returned to the grind of daily routine. Before you ask: it was marvelous! I seriously contemplated staying in Bella Italia Senza Glutine forever and building a new life as a writer/photographer/cookbook author/artist at life and never ever picking up pace on the northern side of the Alps again. You know, where the weather is cold and the people are grumpy – and they don’t have the universe’s best gluten-free pizza.
But of course, they wouldn’t let me stay for free. I didn’t even bother asking. So, after waking up one last morning at Hotel Gallo and having breakfast in company of a breathtaking view over Lake Garda, I packed my suitcase, stepped into the car, sat down next to my husband and like the responsible adult that I have become, drove back to Cologne and into the cold. Sure, I would have missed him, had he left me there, but he could have visited often and eventually moved there, too, vero?
Anyway, if you can’t tell: we had a great time, and throughout our stay I felt so blessed and grateful for having the opportunity and means to go on this vacation. For one, we cannot leave Yoshi alone for such long periods of time. I am so happy my in-laws take time out of their lives each year to sit him. We drive away and know he has it even better than with us. Then, in this work-world full of unstable structures and unpredictable contract situations, with populations on the run from violence and their own governments and with millions of members of our younger generations looking into a bleak future, I just feel very, very lucky to be able to indulge in a luxury that is a vacation. I know not everyone can and while I definitely worked and saved for this, I know I could just as well be working and not be able to save or need to save longer and that is also something to appreciate.
Then, there’s the beauty of the landscape and the wonderful weather in the area of Lake Garda and the feeling of it spread out in front of you like a treasure chest, waiting to be opened and discovered, bit by bit. There is so much to do and so many places to go, you will never run out of activities or be bored. Oh, and the food! I stuffed my face. I ate like there was no tomorrow and didn’t care about calories, carbohydrates, sugar-intake or about balanced, healthy meal-compositions. Every other day I ate gluten-free pizza, fresh out of a wood-fed brick-oven. The cheese would still throwing bubbles when it reached my table and I ate it, dumbfounded that this was in fact gluten-free pizza, because, wow, it tasted just like the real thing. By the time I left, gluten-free pizza and gelato in a gluten-free cone was coming out of my ears. I had wine in the evenings and cappuccino for breakfast, spent most of my time outdoors and walking steep hills, my face, arms and legs covered in sunscreen, my hair in tangles from all the warm wind. We would wake early in the morning and fall asleep late at night, exhausted. We would be tired in the afternoons and plug on still, because we had plans. By the end of our stay, we compared summer skins and my eyes and limbs were heavy, my mind was overwhelmed with all the amazing impressions collected and my nose was full of the scent of jasmine bushes, hibiscus trees, lavender fields and all the bright colors of summer filled my soul with joy. The storage space on the memory cards was running low and my heart was happy and care-free.
In this perfection, dark thoughts started to appear. All of this – the landscape, the people, the weather – was all too good to be true, too beautiful and too pristine, too ideal and pretty to the point of eerie. Then it hit me: Lake Garda is a well-suited backdrop for a thriller or crime series. At which point I came up with a heroine (Madeleine Madsen) and a plot (body afloat, what else?!) I would crawl into the details of the story at night and freak myself out.
Back in Cologne, I’m living through a bad case of post-vacation blues, but thinking of Madeleine and her quest for justice and remembering all memorable details is a lovely exercise for the creative mind and visual muscle. Lucky for me (and you!), there is also another way to bring Italy to Germany: serve it hot for dinner! How about rustic celery-potato mash with lemon & rosemary and a basil-crusted soy steak? Ah, you should totally try this just for the sake of culinary adventure.Basil, the most Italian of all the herbs. The city of Limone lies on the west coast of Lake Garda. Its name may be derived from the Latin word for border Limes, but in marketing it’s all about yellow and lemons. So how can you not serve a dish with lemon juice & zest? Rosmary and its refreshing qualities are intrinsically intertwined with summer and Italian cuisine and it pairs well with lemon. Luckily I have two small rosemary bushes on my terrace.
Think of it as mashed potatoes in a their summer clothes. To me, mashed potatoes relate to autumn and winter, but the combination with lemon and rosemary will teach you a lesson in refuting old clichés. I love the combination of celery and potatoes, and I love the creaminess of mashed potatoes, and the buttery undertone and that celery are a bit easier on the hips.This recipe is a lemony zing on your tongue, and a cheeky rosemary salute. The creamy and buttery flavor of the mashed potatoes come out, no worries, but way later in the game. And they feel much more lush and delicious – yum!
Rustic Celery Potato Mash with Rosemary & Lemon
Five medium potatoes
half a medium celery root
50ml gluten-free vegetable broth
one generous chunk of butter (for a vegan version, use margarine or olive oil)
one generous chug of milk (for a vegan version use either rice milk or water)
juice & zest from one fresh organic lemon
2 fresh rosemary stalks
fleur de sel and pepper (to taste)
Peel the celery root and chop it, too.
Place the celery and potatoes into a pot of salty water (or broth) and bring to a boil. Cook the potato and celery pieces for about ten to twelve minutes and then drain the water. The potatoes should be tender, but more on the firm side. Using a potato ricer, mash about half the potato and celery pieces. Add the butter, the vegetable broth, the chug of milk and the lemon zest & juice and blend all ingredients into the potato-celery mash using a large wooden spoon or a spatula. Wash the rosemary stalks, and remove the leaves from the stems. Chop up the rosemary leaves very finely and add them to the potato-celery mash. Heat the potato-celery mash and season to taste with salt and pepper. You may need to add a bit more lemon juice, depending on the lemon.
Soy Steak with a Basil Crust
2 Soy Steaks (e.g. from Vantastic Foods), prepped like this
4 sprigs fresh (or two tablespoons frozen) basil