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I am pleased to inform you that my book The Many Witches Pension was published in 2016 th of December. The cover page designed by the very talented Belgian illustrator Alain Poncelet!
The plot is about The Robusto family who owns a restaurant with a farm (with animals, merry park, hotel, ateliérs etc.) and it is located in a middle of an enchanted forest in Bavaria /Germany. The Robusto family have just moved there in order to start a HORECA (hotel-restaurant and café) business.
In the first chapter we are in June, and the restaurant owners are about celebrating Midsummer’s night since the male owner is an ancestor of a famous viking tribe the Sigurds and in Scandinavia Midsummer is like Christmas. For that reason they invited many performers from all over the world so as to throw a fantastic show. Everything goes well until midnight. But when Robusto El Rustico put a bonfire in the middle of the agriculture field with his wife (Graciella Fragile) trolls, witches, elves, owls, swan princesses, nymphs, weather wane witches appear from the bushes in order to give their bless for a good harvest. The magic has begun but they can enjoy the moment until a Turkish magician flies there on a drone and enchants the audience with his flying water pipe! Who sips from the pipe and inhale the liquid however their bodies remain human but their head change into an animal head (donkey, wolf, the Indian magician Ganesh transforms itself an elephant, the Mexican Luis becomes a wolf). Everyone’s head except the owners, Graciella, Robusto and their two daughters Bijou and Zizou, and Bijou’s daughter, Ella-Luna, (a 4 years old cutie) who just figure out that they have some special power to make themselves invisible for a while, thanks to a magic seed of a flower.
Zizou and Graciella try to follow Ganesh, the Indian magician, who heads to a shrine in the hope that with a pray he can regain his handsome face. Following him to the shrine they find a huge Buddha statue who pips up and says to Zizou that she must climb up to a ginko tree to fetch the antidote. She finds a potion in a middle of the ginko fruit, let Ganesh to drink and he will be himself again…(there are of course more events and happenings in the novel).
In the 2d story: we are in July when Graciella (who is by the way a caterer and chef of the Many witches pension) in the company of her female relatives and her best friend, Beltane, who is a professional witch (she can swallow fire, she can walk with wooden legs), First they visit a cloister and school-both are ruled by the Flower fairies in order to fetch some special ingredients for an upcoming wedding. In the cloister there is a Brasserie where the cook is a certain Mathew who is actually an incarnation of a Hungarian king. (Mathew whose heraldic animal was a raven, carrying a golden ring in its beck)…
In the 3d story: August has set in, and the family goes to a wedding to give a catering service. It is held in Belgium, in the Red Abbey. The ceremony and everything go smoothly with some funny interruptions. For instance from the nearby cave a bat flies into the hall and lands on the top of the wedding cake. The Robusto family not only provide of the food but also help in a special theater performance, flash mob etc. The play is about a city of the frogs since the bride loves frogs. (I was inspired by a legend of the frogs in Büdingen/ Germany)
In the 4th story: it is already September, when the Robusto family enters the Empire of the Red Owls. They ask help of the Red Owls detectives, because one morning when Robusto wanted to go to the city market by car he found out that his car would not start. Later on he figures out that a wire of the engine is eaten up by a marten so he decides to ask the Red Owls private eyes to hunt them and punish them because they caused a lot of damages and troubles in many cars in the adjacent villages as well. The whole family decides to join by bike during the night. At the border there is a custom control, and since Ella (who is the daughter of Bijou) has a curly, red hair, one owl likes her very much and after asking a permission of her mother it takes Ella to the police station/cave. The other guys ride by their bikes.The Bubo detective promises to solve the problem as soon as it can.
The 5th story: we are in October. This is the most lyrical story among the novels. In the middle of the night Ella Luna is waken up by the Moon. She got hungry and she goes to fetch some food from the fridge. But on the kitchen’s wall there is a clock and in the place of each number there are photos of some family members. Among one of them there is Graciella’s late uncle who can get rid of his „picture prison” when it is Full Moon. What a coincidence that that day is his 115th birthday and he wants to celebrate with Ella, who doesn’t know yet but she has a magic gloria/crown and if she puts on her head then she is able to fly! They find the crown in a huge Xmas music box, Ella puts it on her head and she can fly like a stork, and the uncle like a crane. They fly to Rome where they meet Luna the goddess of the Moon and they celebrate the uncle’s birthday together with centaurs, fauns, nymphs. The Goddess loves very much Ella therefore she wants to take her to the Moon but the uncle rescues her just in time with spreading poppy seeds into the eyes of Luna! At the end of the story they fly back to the „Many Witches Pension”. Ella puts her crown back to the music box and falls asleep. The uncle shedding back into a photo!
The 6th story begins in November when Graciella gets a letter from the marten who chewed the wire of Robusto’s car and it reveals in its letter that it was captured by a trapper/woodsman who has a salt mine in a certain Green island which is located near the Adriatic sea. So the family decides to rescue it. They travel to the Green island where a woman, her name is Absintintrigue, rules with her hubby Calamare, who is actually the brother of Graciella! For their luck the Witch Society provides of a guide, that is a blue vulture bird! The Green woman who has many spies on the island discovers them and cagily she invites the family for a dinner. But she is a very mean person and she puts them asleep with some drugs and when they wake up they find themselves in the salt mine as prisoners. Luckily the vulture arrives to help them. It chews through the ropes in what they are tied up, and rescues them as well as the failing marten with the help of its vulture army.
The 7th story we are in December. The story begins with All Saints day when the women family members go the the Market of the Senses, but Robusto goes hunting with his hunting ferret! He has 4 good friends who make fun of him in the forest and they hide some legendary creatures in bushes or in the field which is known by the name Wolpertingers (Swiss-Aleman magic creatures). Later on he founds out that it was a joke (he was ripped of) and as a birthday present he sails with the four fellows to the Italian taxidermist, Ferruccio, who creates and sells those animals.
The 8th story is about the Mud Elves, who according to the local legend live under the root of the 1000 years old trees. They are the forest guards, they give golden leaves for the nice tourists but they punish the bad ones with a whiplash. They come out from the roots of the trees exactly 12 days before Christmas and move to the houses of the nice people and give warmness with their lamps, and lanternas.
The 9th story. January 6th is the day of Befana (the day of Epiphania) when the Italian witch rewards good kids with chocolate and the bad ones with garlic and a piece of coal in the village. Ella and her mum are invited for Befana’s famous Chocolate Cave and they accept that and go to make Ginger bread house or the House of Hans and Greta. Ella also enters with a special key to the Chocolate Empire, she plays on the chocolate slide, because in the cave everything is made of chocolate. There is a chocolate Zoo and the guide is the French Chocolate maker: Roger etc.
The 10th story. In February, Ella Luna has to perform in the carnival of the Sloe Fairy School and she needs to make two butterfly wings for her role in a theatre piece. Her mum and grandma Graciella confer magical power so she can fly with the wings. It’s very funny when she pokes at fun of her daddy, Simon, who goes to work by bike but Ella flies over his head much faster with her wings and poke out her tongue on him. In the Midsummer Night’s Dream theater piece her performance will be magical as well!
Chapter 11. It is already at the end of April and 1st of May and the Many Witches Pension has to participate on the yearly celebration of Walpurgis night. It is held in a peaky mountain, where the Robusto family travel by caravans to. They pitch their tents and watch the grandious muster, parade of witches, devils, swamp hags, who arrive by broom or drone. When they gather, the Mountain Spirit opens the festival with his lover the allegorical figures of the Hungarian Fata Morgana. Goats, rabbits, witches dance like crazy…
Chapter 12. We are in June again, we are back to the school of the Flower fairies. The school year ends with a fancy fair and with a Great Contest called Total Genious. It takes place in the arena of the school and two girls who are the best win the competition. The Juror is Carradora, the Romain Goddess and two fairies. At the end of the competition the roof of the arena opens and color patrons fall out the audience. The book and the school year is over.
Ingredients: 3/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, 2 large eggs, 4 egg yolks, 2 cups milk, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract to serve: 200 ml whipped cream, vanilla pasta (Taylor & Colledge) fresh Sharon or mango
Directions: Whisk together first 5 ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 8 to 10 minutes or until it reaches the thickness of chilled pudding. (Mixture will just begin to bubble and will be thick enough to hold soft peaks when whisk is lifted.) Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Use it immediately. Decorate with whipped cream, fresh fruit and vanilla paste.
The World’s 50 Best list is famously known for the rises and falls of restaurants. In 2014 my favorite restaurant was the “In De Wulf” (At the Wolf) and it didn’t surprise me when I’d learned that it was at number 61 among the top 100 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. But in the 2015 edition the In De Wulf was, however no longer on the list. I did not have time to check the restaurant in that year but at the end of 2016 I decided to go there and try to reveal what ‘d happened to it.
So at the end of December I arrived in the village Dranouter/ near Ypres, where the In De Wulf was located, (here took place some of the bloodiest battles during the Great War WW1). Before entering the restaurant I refreshed my memory what I liked in the past here and that was how Kobe Desramaults-the owner and the master chef-blended the traditional with the out of the box; in the “stoemp”, the snail dish and specially the beef tartare,- they were both fabulously done. Since I’d made the reservation well advanced I was led to a cosy table, and when I ordered the menu I was told that the restaurant would be closed down by January 2017! I was sad to hear that but I could understand why Kobe Desramaults felt that the time was ripe for starting a new project (he will open a bakery in Bokrijk and he has been running two restaurants since couple of years in Ghent De Vitrine and De Superette), now that he is at an age (35 years old) which combines energy and experience! But it’s pity while the food what he created in his magic kitchen was unbelievable!
17 small dishes
I have to say in advance that the 17 small unbelievable dishes were very natural but full of flavor, and on the top of that every single plate looked like a piece of art.
The lunch started with five appetizers. There was a delicious flash-grilled spring onion (coated with a thin and crisp batter), dipped in a thick and creamy ramson vinaigrette and coated with cabbage flowers.
This was followed by “Mille Couleurs”, a plate with fresh and crunchy vegetables, like young broad beans, grilled green asparagus, pickled kohlrabi with young spruce tops, and a Japanese style (nuka) dry-fermented beetroot,- the latter having lovely sour and salty flavors and great crunch.
Next up was a whelk, served cold, and successively dipped in soy bean miso and a whelk mayo (made with whelk juices).
Then there was some heavenly, moist mackerel, flash-grilled skin side and the smoked over dried curry plant. Best of all though, was an egg shell, filled with egg custard, followed by shrimp miso, some turbot roe, mixed with sour cream and finished with a few drops of hazelnut oil. Exquisite flavors, with a divine creaminess from the custard and the sour cream delivered a nice sharp contrast.
The sourdough (24 hour fermentation) talked to itself (that was the next). It was house-baked in a wood-fired oven, and served with homemade butter and first cold pressed rape seed oil from Hof ter Vrijlegem in Asse (near Brussels).
Then the tasting menu was a dogfish with crème fraîche served on crisp rye toast, served with a green asparagus puree, a lovage-celery sauce and garnished with a few tubereous nasturium leaves. Excellent piece of off-raw dogfish with a wonderful soft texture, and the rye toast added flavor and crunch. The asparagus puree, lightly seasoned with angelica, had beautiful clean, grassy flavors, but its smooth texture also made it nice and creamy. Loved the intensity of the lovage sauce, which complemented the dogfish perfectly.
Second course was a freshly picked Northsea crab, lightly dressed with yoghurt and accompanied by a cauliflower and rhubarb parfait, decorated with fragile white radish flowers. Well-made parfait with balanced flavors: first the tangy rhubarb hits you, quickly followed by the nutty and creamy cauliflower. An elegantly presented dish with a fantastic interplay between the crab and the parfait. Equally successful was a ring of charcoal-grilled ribbons of white asparagus with a steamed and lightly smoked yolk in the middle, topped with a miso foam and finished with a Geuze reduction.
Fabulous, bittersweet asparagus, the grilling adding a nice extra flavor dimension, and the creamy and soft yolk delivered a wonderful warm contrast, both in texture and flavor.
And I had also room for a simply poached lobster (from Audresselles, France), coated with a lobster head sauce enriched with butter, and finished with some coral powder. An outstandingly pure dish with exceptional lobster flavours, particularly the sauce which had great complexity.
The fifth course was “Zurkel stoemp”. Stoemp is a traditional Belgian dish of mashed/crushed potatoes mixed with vegetables, such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrot; The “Zurkel” part refers to sorrel. The three components of the Zurkelstoemp were served separately, and the idea was to mix them together yourself. There was a plate with sorrel and wild spinach, some whipped hogweed butter and a salt crust baked potato. The outcome was a gorgeous flavor combination of warm and comforting flavors, with the sorrel and butter offering a lovely touch of sourness, each mouthful wonderfully satisfying.
On to the sixth course, a marvelous piece of turbot (first grilled, then finished in the oven), accompanied by overwintered leek (leek that has been kept in the ground over winter), covered with a green leek-top powder and garnished with chive flowers. The over wintering had given the leek a lovely earthy, less sharp flavor. Also on the plate was some aged preserved cucumber juice (aged for a year, then fermented with lactose), resulting in a terrific sauce with a great depth of flavor, as well as a hint of cucumber crispness.
Next up were snails (from Comines), cooked in garlic butter for an hour, then briefly grilled and served on a skewer. With the snails came a sharp ramson vinaigrette with spring onions and mustard leaves. An inspired take on the snails-garlic-herbs combination, the snails being wonderfully tender and with a pleasant garlicky edge, and the pungent vinaigrette delivered a nice brisk contrast.
Eighth course was roughly cut Holstein beef tartare covered with a raw chard leaf and perfectly arranged poppy petals. The tartare had been deliciously seasoned with miso, chard and blackthorn (sloe), an imaginative choice of seasoning. But it wasn’t just the seasoning that left a lasting impression. Poppies have become the symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died during wartime and the use of poppy petals in this dish is an incredibly thoughtful and moving touch.
The menu continued with a crisp flax seed (len) cup with a soft filling of pork cheeks, neck and brains, covered with a thin layer of pork jelly. A fantastic bite with real powerhouse pork flavors. Some delicious house-baked flatbread followed, topped here with a sharp goat’s cheese, onions and horseradish.
The next course was a light and refreshing cheese course of goat’s curd (aludt tej), young spruce tops and verbena.
This was shortly after followed by a gorgeous dessert of mountain ash ice cream, pumpkin seed ice and plump and juicy halved cherries. The second dessert was a meringue shell filled with rhubarb compote, sorrel ice cream and pineapple vinaigrette; a delightful combination with just the right balance between sweetness and tartness. The real showstopper, however, was a superb hazelnut mille-feuille. Sublime pastry cream flavored with hazelnut, créme fraîche and chicory, sandwiched between layers of fabulously crisp and darkly caramelized pastry (made with smoked butter).
It was my last meal in the “In De Wulf” but I promised to Kobe Desramaults that I will visit him in Bokrijk and in Ghent next time for a food orgia!
I wish to everyone a prosperous, healthy and lucky 2017th!
Tomorrow is 6th of January and we have a holiday! Because in Germany we celebrate the Three Kings’s day when children caroling from door to door, dressed up as the Three Kings (Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar). Meanwhile this tradition commemorating the visit of baby Jesus (by the three kings) the kids come to greet the new year and wish good luck and happiness. In Europe it is quite common to give them some gifts or money. At the end of the day it’s time to dismantle the Christmas tree which means that the festive season is officially over!
But what can bring luck? Many things! It depends on where do you live, what do you believe in etc. because luck is symbolized by a wide array of objects, numbers, symbols, plant and animal life which vary significantly in different cultures globally. The significance of each symbol is rooted in either folklore, mythology, esotericism, religion, tradition, necessity or a combination thereof. This is a list of lucky symbols, signs and charms:
Numbers: 7 for the Christians, 8 for the Chinese, for the latter it sounds like the Chinese word for „fortune”.
Animals: Albatross which is considered a sign of good luck if seen by sailors.
Ladybugs or ladybirds: In Germany, in Italy, In Russia, in Turkey, and in Serbia the bug brings luck. There is an old children’s song in Serbia “Fly, fly, ladybug, bring me the happiness” meaning “Let, let, bubamaro”. In Serbian “sreća” meaning “good chances” as in a lottery or “happiness”, but this is about emotions.
Fish: Chinese, Hebrew, Ancient Egyptian, Tunisian, Indian, Japanese lucky charm
Pig: brings luck in China, and in Germany
Sarimanok: is a legendary bird in Philippines (Maranao), more precisely is a fowl with colorful wings which brings luck.
White elephant: Burmese, Thai lucky charm.
Vegetable: Fly agaric (amanita muscaria mushroom) The weird thing is that it is the most poisonous mushroom! But in Germany called Glückspilz brings luck!
Bamboo: means a lot for the Chinese
Four-leaf clover: very important for the Irish and for the Celts
Barn star: in the United States
Horseshoe: English and several other European ethnicities. Horseshoes are considered lucky when turned upwards but unlucky when turned downwards, although some people believe the opposite
Rabbit’s foot can be worn as a charm.
Jade: in China means a lot.
Maneki-neko in Japan and China. Often mistakes as a Chinese symbol due to its usage in Chinese communities but the maneki-neko is Japanese.
Wishbone: In Europe and North America
Dreamcatcher: Native American (Ojibwe)
Human: Chimney sweep: many parts of the world, it is said to bring good luck when being touched, especially on New Year and on weddings
Spirit: Aitvaras: it is a goblin in the Lithuanian mythology
Since my family lives in Belgium I visit them regularly. And each time when we take a walk to the Grand Place, I come across with the new food and gastro trends. I’m sure everyone knows that the Belgian chocolate has an excellent reputation but at this Christmas time I realized that now lots of chocolate owners have transformed their shops to sell waffles. Okay waffles are eaten throughout the world, but in Belgium has over a dozen regional varieties, such as:
The Bruxelles waffles which are prepared with an egg-white-leavened or yeast-leavened batter, traditionally an ale yeast; occasionally both types of leavening are used together. They are lighter, crisper and have larger pockets compared to other European waffle varieties, and are easy to differentiate from Liège Waffles by their rectangular sides. In Belgium, most waffles are served warm by street vendors and dusted with confectioner’s sugar, though in tourist areas they might be topped with whipped cream, soft fruit or chocolate spread. Variants of the Brussels waffles – with whipped and folded egg whites cooked in large rectangular forms – date from the 18th century. However, the oldest recognized reference to “Gaufres de Bruxelles” by name is attributed from 1842/43 to Florian Dacher, a Swiss baker in Ghent, Belgium, who had previously worked under pastry chefs in central Brussels. Philippe Cauderlier would later publish Dacher’s recipe in the 1874 edition of his recipe book “La Pâtisserie et la Confiture”. Maximilien Consael, another Ghent chef, had claimed to have invented the waffles in 1839, though there’s no written record of him either naming or selling the waffles until his participation in the 1856 Brussels Fair. It should be noted that neither man created the recipe; they simply popularized and formalized an existing recipe as the Brussels waffle.
The Liège waffle is a richer, denser, sweeter, and chewier waffle. Native to the greater Wallonia region of Eastern Belgium – and alternately known as gaufres de chasse (hunting waffles) – they’re an adaptation of brioche bread dough, featuring chunks of pearl sugar which caramelize on the outside of the waffle when baked. It is the most common type of waffle available in Belgium and prepared in plain, vanilla and cinnamon varieties by street vendors across the nation.
How to make it?
The waffle is a leavened batter or dough cooked between two plates, patterned to give a characteristic size, shape and surface impression. There are many variations based on the type of waffle iron and recipe used.
Waffle physical composition is a result of the interaction of ingredients to form structure and texture. Each ingredient has its own unique physical properties that when combined or heated, lead to various chemical reactions that turn liquid waffle batter into the golden brown crispy breakfast delight that is called an American waffle. A common waffle recipe is listed as follows:
1 ¾ cups of milk, 2 eggs, ½ cup of oil, 2 cups of flour, 1 tsp of baking soda, 4 tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp salt, ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
Each ingredient contributes to waffle texture and quality.
Waffles are made using high moisture mix with medium gluten. Waffles are made from fluid batters with about a 1:1 ratio of milk to flour. Since waffles contain baking soda and baking powder, the batter should not be beaten or mixed extensively or else gas bubbles will form prematurely. At high temperatures (baking temperatures) protein bonds can be broken and cause free amino acids to combine with other molecules present like sugar. Proteins are important for Maillard or non-enzymatic browning in foods because they combine with sugars in different ways to make certain aromatic flavor compounds. A more liquid batter can reduce starch swelling during the mixing process. Sugar granulation influences solubility in the batter and the final waffle texture.
I served this parsnip soup as a first course for my family on 24th of December.
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons butter, 1 medium onion, chopped, 1 pound parsnips, peeled and cubed, 1 clove garlic, finely chopped, 1 tablespoon thyme, 1 cube chicken bouillon, 3 1/4 cups boiling water, 1/2 cup cooking cream, salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Fry the onion in butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the parsnips, garlic and thyme, and fry for a couple of minutes to release the flavors. Mix the bouillon cube into the boiling water, and pour into the saucepan. Stir to remove any bits of vegetable from the bottom of the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes or until parsnips are soft and easy to break with a wooden spoon.
Remove from the heat, and blend with a hand mixer or immersion blender. Stir in the cream, and heat through. Do not boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with soy germs or water horseradish.
On the 25th of December I prepared that delicious dish
Ingredients for the main course: 1 quail breast for each persons, washed, dried with paper towel, 1 small lemon, cut into eighths 40g (2 tablespoons) butter, cubed, 3 garlic cloves, peeled, bruised 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves picked 200 ml bouillon, 60mls (1/4 cup) Porto wine, Salt & ground black pepper, to taste,
Steamed waxy potatoes, 60g (3 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped 2 large garlic cloves, crushed, salt & ground black pepper, to taste
Directions: Preheat oven to 200°C (180°C fan-forced). To make the herb butter, place the butter, thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix well to combine. Use your fingers to carefully loosen the skin over the quail breasts. Spread herb butter over the breasts and then re-cover with the skin.
Divide the lemon, butter, garlic, thyme and rosemary among the cavities of the quail. Place the quail in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Roast in preheated oven for 35 minutes or until the juices are pale pink when a fine skewer is inserted into the thigh. Remove the quail from the roasting pan and place on a large plate. Cover loosely with foil and stand for 10 minutes to rest. Meanwhile, place roasting pan over medium heat. Add the stock and Porto wine and cook for 1 minute, scraping with a wooden spoon to dislodge any residue left on the base of the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes or until reduced by 1/2. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Ingredients for the endives: 1 endive for each person, 2 bay leaves, 200 ml Porto wine, curry, salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, butter or oil to fry
Prepare endives: cut into half, remove the bitter parts of them. Heat some butter and roast endive chunks for two minutes. Add bay leave and onion, salt and pepper, 1 tbsp of sugar and the 1 teaspoon of curry. Pour over Porto wine and some water (later) cook endives until tender (this is my recipe, and believe me it’s divine).
Ingredients for the home made cranberry jam: 200 gr cranberries, 1 tbsp of cinnamon, 50 gr sugar, lemon and orange juice, 1 teaspoon cloves, cardamom, 1 star anise, fresh ginger, 100 ml water
Combine all of the ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, until thick about 20 minutes. Pulse jam in a food processor or blender.
Serve the quail with its juice, rosemary potatoes, endives and with the lukewarm cranberry jam.