It’s the end of 2015, the last day is almost over and, as I write these lines, pre-celebratory fireworks have already been going on for hours outside of my apartment. We may live in a quiet area of town, but people do know how to be loud here, which is also an indication of being alive, I guess.
I leave this year behind with mixed feelings, because some of it was pretty great. I ate myself through various European regions (Paris, the Dutch West Coast, Northern Italy, Munich and – of course – Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Lipsia, Stuttgart and Frankfurt). I drank red and white wine in the most wonderful of weathers and enjoyed the refreshing magic of cold sparkling and natural water everywhere I went. I learnt how to enjoy food on a whole different level this year, appreciating less as more. My taste definitely evolved and changed this year. I’m consistently shopping the periphery of the supermarkets and avoiding processed foods as much as possible, I’ve cut down on sugar quite a bit these past months, which is something I never thought I would ever accomplish.
I love how the following of this blog has grown throughout the past 365 days, both here on WordPress and also over on Facebook (where we hit 555 followers recently). A heart-felt thank you for this, because it’s incredibly motivating to know that someone reads the stuff I put out there, that the recipes are interesting and this so much, that some of you keep coming back to check up on what we’ve been up to and even take the time to like and comment the post. Thanks so much, I really appreciate each and every one of you and herewith send you a big virtual hug!
I’ve grown more confident in the kitchen, and even taught two gluten-free workshops to a total of roughly thirty people. When I went gluten-free, in April 2013, who’d have thunk that I’d ever make it that far? Certainly not me! Anyway, I really enjoyed this new phase of my culinary journey, which I continued by making bread from a gluten-free flour mix that I made myself (and for which I even ground most of the flour myself in my very own mill). Hopefully I can continue along these lines in 2016 and continue exploring new culinary horizons and learning new and complex techniques relevant to food-preparation.
This one has also been a year of loss, both positively and negatively. Some of it was pretty welcome and long-time coming, some of it was simply awful and really hard to accept. But such is life, it moves along, things happen, and not everything is going to please you. I leave this year with a massive feeling of gratefulness, for reasons so many they will overwhelm you if said out loud. I feel incredibly lucky for many opportunities I had and chances I was able to take in 2015 and for all the fun surprises, the music that came out of me, for joyful moments of pure happiness that I wish I could have bottled in order to save them for a rainy day. Above all though, I found shades of grey in places I never expected and learnt that the world is not black and white. Things aren’t simple. They can get pretty complicated. But, it’s cool, no reason to freak out, you’ll always find music to go along with your situation.
And it’s with this thought that I’d like to end this little retrospective, and delve back into one of my favorite food-related memories of 2015.
In early September, my friend Melisa, whom I have known since I was about fourteen from when we both lived in Turkey, visited Cologne. We’ve been staying in touch through Facebook for a couple of years now and when I learnt that she was here, we made plans to meet up. Turns out she was staying just down the street from my house. What a coincidence! Her friend Jessi, whom I’ve known since I was about sixteen, too, lives in the cutest apartment you could ever imagine (Mari Kondo would be inspired).
Anyway, we met up after I got off work on a sunny, but chilly Friday and sat on the newly built giant steps on the promenade of the Rhine (on the right side, right across from Cologne Cathedral). Melisa brought her husband Hussein and her three-year old son, Nino. We spent the next three hours catching up and by the time the sun was setting, I was positively starving. Jessi invited me to her place to have dinner, saying they would be cooking. I was hesitant, because trying to explain gluten-free vegetarian food to a novice is not always easy. I assumed my vegetarian and gluten-free requirements were too complicated to be accommodated and I didn’t want to be a bother, especially at such a short notice. But no, within four questions Jessi (who also lives on a vegetarian diet) had dinner figured out. We stopped by the supermarket to buy a few missing ingredients and then got chopping once we arrived home. And what can I say, hunger makes a pretty good cook and the best meals are often the simplest. Jessi had us chop zucchini, carrots and tomatoes. She threw them in a pan with a bit of rapeseed oil and then added salt, pepper and paprika to taste. We had a glass of red, basmati rice (which we had to rescue from a giant portion of salt by rinsing it out mid-steam) and salad along with it. It was excellent!
I really enjoyed myself during these brief hours, cooking and chatting with friends (even little Nino helped) just like when I was younger and would do this all the time. Being a cook, a photographer and a blogger can get pretty lonely. There’s lots of inspiration to be had from sharing food and thoughts about food with others. It’s something I strive to have more of in 2016.
I’ve made Jessi’s Vegetable Stir-Fry in my own version many, many times since that evening. It turned out to be my favorite new dish of 2015. I replaced the rapeseed oil for butter (because I’m a sucker for butter) and added a dash of truffle-scented olive oil that I brought back from vacation in Italy.
I eat this dish fresh, sometimes right out of the pan. I have eaten it cold, paired with quinoa, out of a glass, for lunch in an empty side-room at Frankfurt Fair, they day before a large fair opened. This dish is ready so quickly (it will take you longer to boil rice), it is incredibly versatile (try it with a couple of yesterday’s potatoes or fresh herbs or with cauliflower, a couple of pulses…!), and so easy to make. Above all, it’s healthy, bursting with color, full of complex flavor and spice and oh-so-tasty, it’s a wonderful little melody. May your 2016 be just like that – enjoy! Happy New Year, all! <3 🙂
Jessi’s Ratatouille-style Vegetable Stir-Fry
one medium-sized zucchini
two medium-sized carrots
200g tomatoes (I used three different colours, but this is not compulsory)
1 tsp butter
1 dash truffle-scented olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
red paprika powder
Wash all the vegetables. Halve the zucchini lengthwise twice and then proceed to cut into quartered slices. Slice the carrots finely. Halve or quarter the tomatoes, depending on their size.
Place a large pan on your stove, melt the butter in it. Add all the vegetable slices at a time and allow to fry on a higher heat level for about five minutes. Stir, add salt, pepper and the red pepper powder to taste and add a few tablespoons of water. Continue steaming until the vegetable slices are cooked, but still firm (if your zucchini are falling apart, you’ve turned the heat off too late). Add a few drops of truffle-scented olive oil, stir once more and then serve immediately (e.g. along with freshly steamed brown rice or quinoa). This dish also works really well with small pieces of potatoes, that you can add to the vegetables right from the beginning, provided they are already cooked. You can also halve a few extra tomatoes and add them, for decorative purposes and for a more exciting texture. 🙂