Friday, 30 December 2016

What I wish for year 2017?

If I could ask for anything for the New Year, it would be having faith in myself.

* * * 

Last year we rang in the New Year with Tzatziki Champion. Toasting with Champagne, wrapped in fur and wearing tiaras (well, how else?)

At midnight we kissed each other (no, no tongues) and spelled out our wishes for the year 2016. Tzatziki Champion wished to have someone else to kiss come next New Year celebrations. Mine was to find a job where I'd be appreciated. Oh, and love.

And love I got. During the first months of the year 2016 I got shit kicked out of me by love like nobody's business. I got to learn that even nearly a decade-long-wait does not make the other person any righter. And the fact that apparently there are several degrees of being married out there. Though, strangely enough, in the end they all mean the same. Being married. To someone who isn't you.

But then there was that Wednesdate in May that left me speechless. A person like this actually exists? And he's sitting here on a date with me?

Then a job found me, too. Round about the same time I got my first book deal. Dreams - some of which I had never even dared to dream of - started coming true. 

Lately I've been reading about an impostor syndrome - a condition I'm all too familiar with. It's chronic inability to have faith in yourself and to believe you deserve any of the good things that come your way - no matter how hard you've worked for them. 

When you just don't believe you're ever quite good enough.

The horrible thing about success (how ever you want to measure it) is the fact that it only makes an individual like myself doubt themselves even more. When the sense of inadequacy has stubbornly followed you from your childhood it is rather humiliating to realize it's become such an integral part of who you are.

Luck. Accident. Coincidence.

There are so many words impostor uses to explain themselves their success. None of which are good or correct.

Before Christmas I sat at doctor's office waiting to have a procedure on my shoulder. As I overheard the nurse call the doctor explaining there was a "37-year-old female waiting" I looked around, puzzled, until I realized she was talking about me. 37?

Christ! Someone that age should know better by now, right? 

But noooooo. 

Love is an equally challenging enterprise. When you've spent the past two decades (no wonder I'm exhausted!) dating people each more unsavoury than the next and invested so much time and effort into relationships that either robbed you of your dignity or money, you're left with some serious battle wounds. Pretty damn serious. At some point you actually start to believe you don't deserve any better. You know: because you're simply just not good enough. For anyone. 

A little part of me still has refused to be defeated and has persistenly believed that there might be something out there after all. Perhaps this time I'll find the one I've always thought I should be with. 

But in the end that small voice (no matter how stubborn) is always drowned out by all the other voices. The moment you allow yourself to trust and feel safe again, the ghosts of the relationships past came out to haunt you and destroy any little progress you might have made in letting someone close to you.

And with this it all comes down to the same thing: fear.

Fear of not being enough.

Fear of not being good enough.

Fear of not mattering to the other person. 

Fear of being ridiculed and humiliated.

Fear of rejection.

Fear of standing in front of the other person, so naked, exposed, raw and vulnerable with all those scars (in my case quite literally too: over the years my ways of punishing myself for my inferiority have taken on some seriously unhealthy forms) and have the other person walk away as they don't like what they see. 

Fear of absolutely fucking everything.

Love is a strange thing.

At the same time it gives you the kind of security nothing else in the world does, but it also makes you so freaking fragile. It's so damn difficult trying to find the balance between  fear and faith; trying to navigate the tricky territories of healthy sense of self-worth and the kind of excessive self preservation mode that only manages to keep everyone at bay.

37 years. According to my life expectancy I still have another 37 to go. Perhaps it's time I finally did something about it? I myself am so worn by the self doubt gnawing me on the inside that I honestly can't see why anybody else would choose to put up with me. 

And if I'm not good enough for mysel, how the hell can I ever be good enough in somebody else's eyes, either?

But how? How do you climb out of that pit with thighs that haven't seen the insides of a spinning class since 1997? How do you go about changing life-long destructive patterns that have weighed you down for that long? Beats me. 

Right now I'm drinking red wine and poring over travel agencies trying to find a last minute deal. Preferably to Congo or North Korea. After the next glass (or bottle - who am I kiddding?) I will without a doubt add Syria into my search preferences, too.

For someone like me blogging is just about the last thing I should be doing. It's continuously having to put yourself out there; endless competition and comparison. It's a strange parallel universe that exists on neurotically measuring page views and visitor statistics - a world where someone is always better than you.

I'm not always sure if I've opened up too much on the blog, but trust me when I tell you this. Based on your feedback, comments and messages I've apparently occasionally managed to offer you some peer support and consolation. I do wish you all knew just how much your support has carried me. 

What the next year has in store none of us knows. What I do know is that come March, my book will be out and hitting the shops. I try to remind myself of that and the fact that for some reason the biggest publishing house believes in me - even if I myself don't. But then, as I manage to sneak in a much-needed break from worrying, that little voice comes nagging back; pointing out how it's nothing compared to endeavours that genuinely try to make the world a better place. You know, like UN. 

But you know what? I've reached a point where I proudly give that voice a finger and point out that UN is a corrupt, inherently impotent agency that's had the worst year of its existence; a year that saw it become nothing more than a chew toy for countries which systematically defy the very founding principles that said agency vows to defend. 

Perhaps that's not such a bad first step? Or perhaps I'll find myself getting on the barricades, sleeping on the street as part of some bloody awareness-raising Occupy this-movement? Perhaps not. I like my own bed far too much. 

So, tomorrow, as the clock hits midnight I will welcome New Year locking lips with Tzatziki Champion. Again. This past year has somehow managed to be the best... and the worst of my life. I dread to even think about next year. 

But if I could ask for anything, I'd ask for courage. Belief in myself and in the fact that one day, somehow I might be good enough. Even if just for myself. 

And that is something I'd wish for all of us. 

I'm going to leave you with wise words from a little man with a big soul. Thank you all for being part of my this year. Perhaps we'll see next year, too?





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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Lyutenitsa - Bulgarian pepper, eggplant and tomato relish (gluten-free, vegan, kosher)

Lyutenitsa is Bulgaria's favourite treat. Not only is this pepper, eggplant and tomato relish versatile, it's also gluten-free, kosher and vegan!

* * * 

In addition to local specialties such as patatnik, Bulgaria is home to traditional dishes equally lovedall over the country, such as Bob Chorba, Bulgarian bean soup. The ultimate, hands down,all round-winner of this race would, however, have to be luytenitsa, a bulgarian spread/ relish made of roasted peppers, tomatos and eggplant.  You'll find it served as a starter, spooned over a splice of bread for a snack and accompanying meat or chicken. 

Towards the end of each summer Bulgarian homes still witness massive operations during which endless and endless jars of this are being prepared to see people through the winter.

While not technically demanding, it does take a bit of time, which is why people tend to make luytenitsa in bigger batches. I swear I kid you not when I tell you I've seen recipes that start with 15 kilos of peppers. Kid you not. True story.

In my tiny kitchen that would have turned out to be the end of not just all the storage space, also yours truly's psychological well-being, so here's a smaller recipe that yields about 6 dl of lyutenitsa. 

Lyut means spicy in Bulgarian,but that it really isn't. There are, of course, as many variations as there are cooks. Traditionally lyutenitsa contains (roasted) bell peppers, eggplant, tomato, onion and garlic, but the Macedonian version even has some carrots in it.

As the industrial manufacturing of lyutenitsa started in the 1950's, it was only allowed to contain pepper and tomato paste, onion, salt, sugar and oil. But, let's face it- that recipe is hardly the only thing that Bulgaria of the time got wrong. Eggplant for one lends the relish such sweet richness you'd be fool to forgo that. 

Luytenitsa has relatives all over the Balkans: you too might have heard of ajvar? Readers of this blog are, of course,  also familiar with some of its more distant cousins: Syrian muhammara and Spanish romesco

Lyutenitsa - Bulgarian pepper, eggplant and tomato relish:

1 large eggplant(450 gr)
4 large peppers (I used 2 red ones and 2 yellow ones), total weight 1 kg
1/2 kg tomatos
2 cloves ofgarlic, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 - 1 large red chilli, finely chopped
1/2 dl oil
3/4 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Prick the eggplant with a tooth pick. Place on a tray lined with tin foil and roast under the broiler for half an hour or so. Then add halved peppers and continue roasting for another 20 minutes or so, until the peppers' skins start to blacken and bubble. Remove from the oven, cover and leave to cool until cool enough to handle. 

Pull the peppers' skin off. Half the eggplant and spoon the insides into a food processor with the peppers. Blizz into a puré (doesn't have to be entirely smooth).

Blanch the tomatos by cutting a cross-like incision into the hard stem and then dropping them into a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes. Lift out of the water using a slotted spoon and leave to cool. Pull the skin off, halve, remove the hard bit and chope finely (with seeds and all).

Measure pepper and eggplant pure, chilli, onion, garlic and chopped-up tomatos into a pot and let simmer over medium heat, until liquid has almost entirely evaporated and the mixture has thickened (40-50 minutes).

Add oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Check the taste and season as needed (by adding either more salt, pepper and/ or sugar).

Let cool and place in jars. Lyutenitsa keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days. It can also be frozen. 

If you're making bigger batch, you could also preserve it by sterilizing the jars. This way it keeps for upto a year.

Sterilizing the lyutenitsa:

Spoon the lyutenitsa into small jars all the way to the top (oxygen is the enemy of any storing processs, remember!) and screw on the tops. Place the jars into a big pot and cover with water so it covers them by about 5 cms. 

Boil the jars (start counting from the moment water reaches boiling point) for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the water and make sure the centre of the top has snapped down on each one of the jars.

You ever heard of lyutenitsa? Of have you managed to try some of the other local delicacies such as patatnik or Bob Chorba?



 Bob Chorba_bulgarialainen papukeitto_vegaani_gluteeniton_kosher         


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Friday, 23 December 2016

Sourmilk bundt cake with dried fruit - a Christmas classic for a reason (vegan, kosher)

This moist sourmilk cake with dried fruit is a Christmas classic for a reason!

* * *

This year, too, the Cat Blogger's Christmas table will feature some unlikely traditions (tzatsiki, Nigerian stew and one Hanukkah menora-wielding food blogger for whom 2 kilos of shrimps has already been stashed away in the freezer!) along with some more classic treats. 

One of them is this moist sourmilk bundt cake, the family heirloom recipe of which has now been trusted with me, too.

The recipe is so old it actually gives the measurements in coffee cups and the final product is baked over camp fire wearing a loin cloth. 

Ok, I might have added that last bit for dramatic effect, but you get the idea. It's old. But, as the oldies often come, they're classics for a reason. 

My recipe's been converted into a bit more precise measurements (how oh, very 21st century!) seeing how I don't even drink coffee, let alone own a collection of coffee cups. As for the dried fruit, you can use just raisins, or add some dates and/or figs in the mix, too. I use them all as... well, it's Christmas.

While not normally a massive fan of bundt cakes (they tend to be served by dry old ladies and the cakes seem to be every bit as dry and old) I do love this one. Last Christmas I had two six slices (somehow trying to make sense of the fact that not celebrating Christmas in my case seems to mean celebrating at least two of them each year). 

The batter comes together in the time it takes to pre-heat the oven and I've just been revealed that the version I so happily wolfed down last year was actually vegan

So, here you go - both versions of the cake! 

Buttermilk bundt cake with dried fruit:

4,5 dl all purpose flour
1,5 dl sugar
1,5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
3 dl raisins (and/or dates and/ or figs (I use 1 dl of each)
1,5 dl syrup
2,25 dl buttermilk (or same amount of soy milk mixed with 1 tbsp of vinegar)
1 egg (or 2 tbsp of chia seeds mixed with 4 tbsp of water)
150 g butter (or margarin), melted


butter (or margarin) and bread crumbs for preparing the tin

Pre-heat the oven to 175°c  (in convection oven 150° should do). Grease and dust the tin. 

In case using dates and/ or figs, cut them into smaller pieces. 

Combine dry ingredients and fold in the dried fruit.

Beat syrup with buttermilk and egg. Add into the dry ingredients. Finally whisk in melted and slightly cooled butter.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake at the lower part of the oven for 40-50 minutes (depending on the oven) until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. 

Let cool in the tin and then turn it out onto a serving platter. Serve and be merry!

And along with this recipe the blog is going to bugger off for a short holiday. May you all have a wonderful Christmas/ Hanukkah/ Kwanzaa!

Meet you back here on December 27th, ok?  That's when I'll be presenting you last of the Bulgarian souvenirs!



   Valkosuklaa-vuohenjuustotäytteiset kerrospiparit      


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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Last minute edible gifts for holiday season

Check out these tips for last minute edible gifts - guaranteed to bring joy to the world!

* * * 

The holiday season is upon us. Again. And just like each year, it seems to have come as a surprise. Again. 

Sure, considering how it occurs pretty much regularly every 365 days or so, one would think there's a way to actually be prepared. But no. And I doubt I'm the only one...?

Next year I'll be prepared as hell, though: without a doubt everyone I know will receive a 200-page surprise with my name on the cover.

Edible gifts, however, are something that are as fun to make as they are to receive. It's a gift that's full of love and sustainable, too. It will save the receipients from having to spend the first post-holiday day at a queue with millions of others, trying to see if there's any way they could change those Garfield-print PJ's to something they might actually be able to live with (like, nail scissors) or in the search of nearest charity shop where to dump that 10-feet battery-operated Santa Claus that keeps belting Jingle Bells like there's no tomorrow.

(PS. In case you're reading this while standing in an endless queue with fellow last minute shoppers, clutching onto a life-size statue of a singing Santa, step away NOW. Walk away from the shop and never look back.)

Tastiest foodie gifts for holiday season

Some of you have already told me both your holiday feast and gift bags will feature this rustic pork terrine. Place it on a vintage tray (flea markets are the best places to find these!), wrap with cellofan and finish with those left over ribbons we all have lying around and you're so good to go. 

Jouluinen maalaisterriini possusta_pysty

And how about Mediterranean spreads? Delicious and guaranteed to delight even those with dietary restrictions. They also provide a convenient way to do something about those glass jars that keep piling up in the kitchen cabinets (surely I'm not the only one...?)

Some of my favourites are this wonderful eggplant dip..

... and muhammara, which will also be featured in my up and coming book!

Here you'll find a selection of different hummuses!

Don't forget the sweet varieties, either - who wouldn't love a jar of say, orange curd?

Give some bread!

In the Nordics Christmas just isn't Christmas without the dark, dense, sweet and malty archipelago bread.

Here's an even more Christmassy take on it with figs.

Crisp bread is a quick and easy way to bake and Christmassy cookie cutters give them a wonderfully festive shape!

Or you could pick up a nice pot or baking dish and fill with with either no-knead bread or these pretty barley rolls!

Sweet treats for everyone!

Anything sweet is guaranteed to be a hit this time of the year. Bake some cookies, stash them in a pretty paper bag and surprise your colleagues, neighours... or those unexpected visitors.

Biscuits don't get much easier, quicker to make or irresistible than these oat snaps and I can almost guarantee you already have the ingredients lying around. Mine get a little extra from cardamom and orange.

I have also yet to meet a person who wouldn't fall head over heels in love with these Italian cantuccini.

And hey - they're made with no fat!

And in case you really need to impress someone (mother-in-law, anyone?) these stained glass biscuits will do the trick.

In case the recipient isn't too keen on sweet stuff (say, whaat?), surprise them with this Spanish treat pan de higo, which could be served as an accompaniment for cheeses, too.

Chocolate galore!

I dread to think how much chocolate I, too, will be going through over the next week. Strangely enough, there always seems to be room for some more, so here goes!

How about surprising your loved ones with some home-made chocolate truffles?

Here you'll find my recipe for truffles with chocolate and port wine...

... while these babies combine roasted white chocolate and blueberries.

These chocolatey treats are ready in no time and they're fun to make even with little helpers. Sky's the limit when it comes to choosing what to have in yours!

And come on - who doesn't love Rocky Road?

You guys all set for the holidays? Any edible gifts in your stockings this year?





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Monday, 19 December 2016

Restaurant Kosmos in Sofia, Bulgaria won't let you down

For English please see here

* * * 

Restaurant Kosmos in Sofia was my favourite restaurant find in Bulgaria. This place delivers!

* * * 

While Secret by Chef Petrov did leave a little something to be desired for with its decor and ambiance, the same is not the case with Restaurant Kosmos. Here everything works.

After having stared at Bulgarian wine bottles and steel tanks for the past days I've learnt to decipher the names of different grape varieties in Cyrillic alphabet. On the third day I manage to navigate the street signs written in Cyrillic, too. My sense of direction doesn't seem to make the transition any better though: I pass Laveleye street at least twice before finally locating the restaurant. 

Though located in a slightly grubby looking neighbourhood, Kosmos wins me over straight away.

The fresh and contemporary feel is an artful combination of exposed brick walls, minimalist decor using pale wood and simple lines, design light fixtures quietly moving up and down along their steel wires and stylish background music. 

Everything tells me I've made a good choice. 

Here, like in majority of the Bugarian restaurants the menu peculiarly lists the portion sizes in grams. I happily choose to ignore them (oops) and keep getting giddier and giddier the more I study the concise list. 

Octopus! Veal brains! Beef tongue!

Starters seem more innovative, so I decided to start with 3 most intriguing ones. 

A couple of wines are also available by the glass, so I opt for a local rosé. Whose it is I will never know, but it was goooood.

Bulgarian rosé has turned out to be the biggest surprise during my tour of the wineries: quite possibly the best ones I've had outside Provence.

Apparently I'm every bit as inept with numbers, too, as I definitely did not envisage portions like this. 

Crispy veal brain (BGN 16,40 / roughly €8) comes with blackened local dark bread, curry mayo, miso and mustard dressing, yuzu and pickled cauliflower. Insanely pretty and insanely good.

Spicy beef tongue (BGN 18,20 / about €9) is accompanied with a bewildering array of everything. There's foie gras crème, pickled bean shoots, capers, harissa and herby mustard, yet it all comes together beautifully. None of the components (not even foie gras with its very particular flavour) dominate over the rest. A great dish. 

And hey - check out their crockery!

But damn, was I in for some more treats! 

Ropotamo octopus (BGN 28,90 / appr. €15 ) was another party in my mouth consisting of fish skin crisp, tomato, gherkin, carrot, peas and tobiko ( flying fish roe ).

Each spoonful provides an eclectic mix of flavours and textures. A wonderfully summery dish - creatively served in a cut wine bottle. 

As I've got an interview coming up, I sadly have to miss out on the mains. But I refulse to leave without a dessert, so I deem Biscuit cake with elderflower crème, lychee puree and lemon verbena base (BGN 7,90 / €4 )  will do the trick nicely.

Sure enough it did. And hey - if that dish does not warrant hashtags #foodporn or #gastroart, I don't know what does. 

The total for the lunch with 2 glasses of wine and an Espresso came to BGN 85; around €43. Well worth it - one of the definite highlights of the trip! 

* * * 
Ravintola Kosmos
ul. "Laveleye" 19, 1000 Sofia
tel. +359 88 820 0700

* * * 



Secret by Chef Petrov_ravintola_Sofia_Bulgaria_tasting menu        


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