Thursday, December 22, 2011

Operation Rolling Pin - Gingerbread

And yea verily, the gingerbread was made, and lo, Operation Rolling Pin is no more.

Lessons in cookie cutting optimisation were learnt:


I rolled the dough out a bit too thin, so my gingerbread is really more like ginger biscuits.

There were stars and trees and angels and santa shapes:


They cooked (perhaps a bit too long) and are indeed quite delicious - the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.


These will remain undecorated because I am a menace to society once I get my hands on royal icing and a piping bag.

Recipe: Gingerbread
Source: Martha Stewart

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Operation Rolling Pin - Cranberry Kipferln

This was the sight that I awoke to this morning.


After a bit of dancing around with excitement, I got down to business; Cranberry Kipferln - phase two of Operation Rolling Pin.

After my issues with the wet and sticky Linzer Sterne dough, these were a doddle. The dough comes together quickly and is rolled into a couple of long cylinders, wrapped in cling film and put in the fridge to cool for about an hour. My half moon shapes lack some consistency, but I can live with that.


After 12 minutes in the oven, the house smells divine and I have 60 or so cranberry kipferln to dust with icing sugar.


A perfect way to spend a snowy morning. What's going on at your place?


Recipe: Cranberry Kipferln
Yield: 45 (I must make them particularly small because I got about 60 from the recipe)

50g dried cranberries
200g light butter/margarine
3 packets vanilla sugar
70g sugar
2 egg yolks
280g plain flour
100g almond meal
icing sugar for dusting

Finely mince the cranberries (I put mine in the food processor and gave it a good whizz).

In a bowl, cream the sugar, vanilla sugar and butter/margarine.

Add eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition.

Add flour and almond meal and mix. At this stage you will have to knead the dough to bring it together. Add the finely chopped cranberries and knead them through the dough.

Form the dough into a couple of long, thin cylinders and wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 175 deg C (160 fan forced)

Cut 1cm thick slices from the cylinder and form into crescent shapes.

Place onto a prepared baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Once out of the oven, dust the kipferln with icing sugar and allow to cool thoroughly. Store in an airtight container.

So, there you have it. Snow + baking = WIN.

Up next....Gingerbread.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Operation Rolling Pin is GO

In an effort to induce an attack of Christmas Spirit ™ , I started Christmas baking yesterday - code name Operation Rolling Pin.

Christmas baking

So, I grabbed the biscuit cutters, a recipe for Linzer Sterne and cranked some seasonally appropriate music and I was off and running baking.

Linzer Sterne dough is wet and a bit of a challenge to work with, but with enough flour on the pin, it rolls out eventually.


A dollop of Rote Johannisbeere Gelle (red currant jelly/jam) and creative hole making with the apple corer and in the oven for 18 minutes.

A quick dusting of icing sugar, being careful to avoid the jam centres and you are DONE. Package nicely and give away.

Linzer Sterne

Recipe as follows:

Linzer Sterne

Yield: recipe says 75, but I only managed to get about 60

250g plain flour (plus extra for rolling out dough)
0.5 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
150g sugar
1 pinch of salt
lemon zest from 0.5 unprocessed/organic lemon
200g almond meal
1 tsp cinnamon
1 knife tip (ie less than a pinch) ground cloves
1 knife tip ground nutmeg
250g margarine
175g red currant jam
icing sugar for dusting

Mix flour and baking powder.

Add eggs, sugar, salt, lemon zest, almond meal, spices and margarine and mix to a smooth dough.

Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for an hour.

Heat the oven to 175 deg C (or 150 deg C fan forced)

Roll the dough out thinly on a WELL FLOURED surface. (This step may induce rage)

Cut star shapes. In half of the stars cut a hole in the centre (I used an apple corer). Dollop red current jam on the stars without holes and place the hole-y stars on the top and gently press the two stars together.

Place the stars on a prepared baking tray and put into the oven and bake for around 18 minutes.

Allow to cool and then dust with icing sugar (avoid the jam holes).


...up next: Cranberry Kipferln.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Poor Planning

After a flawless Halloween campaign which entailed dispensing chocolate bars to:
  • 4 witches
  • 2 vampires
  • 1 ghost
  • 1 generic superhero
I awake to find myself the victim of poor planning.

I should have twigged yesterday at the supermarket, where it seemed that the entire population of Mainz was shopping in preparation for the Apocalypse. I failed to take the step in logic that states: after All Hallows Eve, comes All Hallows Day (Allerheiligen) - which is a public holiday here in Rheinland Pfalz.

Luckily, I always have a few batches of soup or some such on hand in the freezer for times when housewifely ennui strikes and I'd rather poke myself in the eye with a fork than cook dinner. We are saved (by pea and ham soup). Huzzah!

Monday, October 31, 2011


Despite the fact that Halloween is not part of my cultural heritage, I thought I'd get into the spirit this year and carve a pumpkin lantern thingy. A couple of hours of scooping, scraping and cutting yielded fairly pleasing results.


Once illuminated with an old LED bike light it looks spookily festive. (I really need to work on my night photography skills.)
Halloween pumpkin

Fingers crossed that I get some small people in costumes trick-or-treating this evening, as I have an unseemly amount of chocolate to distribute.

On a side note - roasted pumpkin seeds are unexpectedly delicious!

Saturday, September 10, 2011


A little over a fortnight ago we had to make a trip to London for the heartbreaking task of organising a funeral and attending to the affairs of my beloved brother-in-law. As grief is not a spectator sport, I prefer not to write about it here, but I did want to say something about kindness.

Walking to St Paul's

During our two weeks in London, I was often overwhelmed by the kindness shown to us by virtual strangers – friends of my brother-in-law, who opened their homes to us and provided practical and emotional support during that confusing, sad and exhausting time. 

It is perhaps a reflection on the sort of person that he was, that his friends are such good people.  I am glad I got to meet so many of them and I will always be grateful for their kindness.

Be good to each other.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summer travels - part I, Zürich

It has been a summer of travelling here at heliospheric HQ.

First up was a lovely week in Zürich. The toll sticker was purchased and duly stuck on the windscreen and we were off, hurtling down the autobahn to Switzerland.

I played tourist, while R caught up with colleagues at ETH and enjoyed some well-lubricated scientific discourse (which sounds dodgy now that I've written it down). Moving right along...

Zürich riverside

Apart from an unfortunate and somewhat unsettling encounter with a random gentleman who thought it appropriate to slap me on the arse as I walked by, Zürich held true to its reputation for cleanliness, punctuality and high prices.

Random highlights of Zürich include:

Bürkliplatz Flohmarkt

Where else can you buy a chandelier, a cowbell and a ukulele all within a 5m radius (and possibly at the same stall)? This flea market is definitely not a bargain hunters paradise, but it has a great buzz and lots of fun things to look at. Those looking for a bargain should check out the Flohmarkt at Helvetiaplatz.

Bürkliplatz Flohmarkt - cows

Kunsthaus Zürich
Zürich even offered up a rainy day, so I could spend an entire day wandering around the gallery being astonished at the size and quality of the collection. It blew my mind.

Lake Zürich
Wandering around the shore of Lake Zürich is tres pleasant on a sunny day. Sailing boats, people swimming, swans swanning - what's not to like?

Swan on Lake Zürich

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One a penny, two a penny...

hot cross buns by heliospheric
hot cross buns, a photo by heliospheric on Flickr.

Hot Cross Buns!

Obviously, my cross piping skills need some work, but I can attest to their utter deliciousness.

It also pleases my inner pagan that they taste just as delicious sans croix. I had to eat one of each, you know, for science.

uncrossed buns

I used this recipe, with some modifications:

  • 4 teaspoons of mixed spice
  • 1 cup currants & 1 cup of sultanas
  • cooked in fan forced oven at 180 deg. C for 20 min.
  • glazed the buns with heated golden syrup instead of water/sugar combination suggested in the recipe. I love golden syrup.
  • made 16 smaller buns instead of 12.

I made my own mixed spice combo:

  • 1.5 teasp. ground cinnamon
  • 1.25 teasp. Lebkuchen gewürz
  • 0.75 teasp. allspice
  • 0.5 teasp. ground ginger
  • pinch of ground black pepper

There will be more of these in my future.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Almonds and modern medicine

I have my lovely husband to thank for my latest malady – Tonsillitis. He generously shared it with me before racking off to Vienna for a week, leaving me at home and unable to swallow without tears.

I knew he was sick when he willingly went to the doctors and camped out in the waiting room until they could fit him in. The doctor determined that his infection was bacterial in nature and he was sent on his merry way with a prescription for antibiotics and a list of ineffective homeopathic tonics that can only be procured at great cost from the chemist.

When my symptoms showed up, I took myself off to the doctor, armed with the appropriate vocabulary - Mandelentzündung. Yes, I was suffering from inflamed almonds - quite appropriate for this time of year, if the blossoms are to be believed. I can assure you that my blossoming almonds aren’t anywhere near as pretty. The doctor looked down my throat and “hmmmed” while I “ahhhed”. “I think it is viral”, she said. “No antibiotics for you”. She sent me on my way with a sympathetic smile and a list of ineffective homeopathic tonics that can only be procured at great cost from the chemist.

blossoms by heliospheric
blossoms, a photo by heliospheric on Flickr.

Feeling somewhat embittered by being let down by modern medicine, I turned to another doctor for help - Dr Oetker. Dr Oetker’s consulting rooms can be found in the “gelatinous aisle” of the supermarket. I have been self medicating with a combination of raspberry jelly and vanilla ice cream for the better part of a week. Recovery is slow, but steady.

Via Flickr:
Almond blossoms

Monday, March 21, 2011


The second knee surgery was just over 4 weeks ago and I've been busy recovering and rehabilitating.

I feel as though for the last 6 weeks, since my foray into the world of knee surgery, I have been constantly in either the surgeon's waiting room or the physiotherapist's treatment room being poked, prodded, stretched, pulled, pushed, massaged and Pilates-ed. Add to that some swimming and pool work as well as some low key cycling and that fairly well covers my life since mid February.

Of course, as fate would have it, R had planned a 4 week trip to Australia 4 days after the surgery, so I had to hobble around as best I could without him. I will admit to having a cheese sandwich for dinner on more than one occasion.

I've been pondering the idea of continuing with the Pilates portion of my rehab once the proscribed physiotherapy has finished. Lord knows, my 'core' could use some strengthening. I have flirted with Yoga over the years and I must admit, it is not for me. The only bit I liked was right at the end of the class with the meditation/nap.

Is Pilates basically Yoga in Lederhosen?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Did the earth move for you? - Valentine's Day

Magnitude 4.4.

Really, just a short jolt, but enough to make me get up and go outside and check things out. According to the people who know, this was the largest in a series of 4 tremors since yesterday.

There was another tremor just before Christmas (magnitude 3.5) which woke me up. I initially put this one down to a large slab of snow coming off the roof.

The last time I experienced an earthquake, I was thrown across the bathroom and nearly hit my head on the toilet. I had just gotten out of the shower and the only thing my self-obsessed 17 year-old self could think of at the time as the house juddered and shook, was the headline in the paper the next day "Naked Girl found Dead in Rubble".

Monday, February 07, 2011

Modern or Traditional?

Are you are modernist or a traditionalist when it comes to wedding anniversary gifts based on the number of years of marriage?

I used to be a traditionalist and followed the formula pretty closely:
  • Year 1 - Paper - Tickets to a classical music concert (I believe it was a Mahler symphony)
  • Year 2 - Cotton - Table cloth and table runner
  • Year 3 - Leather (ahem, let's not go there)
That is until we got to Year 4 - Fruits and Flowers.

In keeping with my habit of making inappropriate appointments for the day that marks our nuptials, I found myself sitting in the orthopaedic surgeon's office on our wedding anniversary discussing some long-running knee issues with the delightful surgeon. That evening, to cheer me up, my lovely husband took me out for a posh dinner.

So, I've gone thoroughly modern this year and ditched the Fruits and Flowers for knee surgery. Surely it is cheaper and less painful to just buy some diamonds.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mr DeMille, I'm ready for my close up

Dipping into the Family 8mm Film Archive again for some swimming related hilarity to celebrate my rekindled love of swimming.

By the time I came along in the early 1970s, Dad's enthusiasm for recording our lives on 8mm film had dwindled. I can hardly blame him - he now had 4 children and precious little time for such nonsense. The movie camera was retired to the back of the cupboard and life proceeded apace.

The upshot was that there was no footage of me and as a typical youngest child, I registered my displeasure at this grave injustice loudly and often. Eventually, I wore my parents down and a suitable opportunity presented itself in which I could be captured in celluloid glory - our cousins were visiting and I had mastered (in my mind) freestyle. We were off for a day at the pool!

I remember this day so clearly - the smell of chlorine and hot chips with vinegar, the sound of the water sloshing into the overflow drain as I held onto the side of the pool, spluttering after swallowing an unseemly amount of water, the baking feeling of lying on hot concrete with wet togs on; and the squirming as mum caked our faces in the dreaded zinc cream.

While Dad was on camera duty, it seems that Uncle Brian was on 'pulling my eldest sister, S, out of the pool on demand' duty. Everyone is playing true to character - all the mannerisms are there - S is still a good diver, my elder sister, B, is still a comedian, my brother, C, still has that fabulous smile, although not quite so much hair, and I still sit like that from time to time and grin like an idiot.

It is now clear to me why I could never swim in a straight line - I seem to be unaware that I have a right arm - it just kind of flails around not contributing to forward motion at all. I'm pleased to report that my style has improved over the years.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The displacement of water

It appears I have been using cheese as a replacement for cigarettes for the last 2 years. In retrospect, not such a cunning plan.

So, it is back to the pool for me. My motto for 2011 is "fight inertia" because I often find the hardest thing is to get started. This project is no exception. What I've been calling research and planning - which pool, should I buy a season pass/multi-pass/single-pass, flippers/no flippers, is actually inertia. Really, it isn't hard to squeeze into a pair of togs and get to the pool.

So, no more research and planning:
  • Swimmers (uncomfortably tight) - check
  • Goggles - check
  • Swimming cap - check
  • Swimming companions - check and check

After a modicum of pubic topiary, I'm all set to test Archimedes' principle.

I can't wait for that after swim buzz.

Monday, January 10, 2011

42 lines

After living in this fair city for over three years, it is a little embarrassing to admit that Saturday 8th January, 2011, was my first visit to the Gutenberg Museum. Visitors have such a lovely way of encouraging one to get out and about.

I had visited the print workshop for a language school excursion last year and had thoroughly enjoyed inking, rolling, rubbing, type-setting and pulling levers to transfer designs and words onto paper (see some of my handiwork below).

The museum is quite impressive - there were demonstrations of a Gutenberg-style press and an old school newspaper cylinder press, exhibits on books from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, printing presses throughout the ages and sections on paper making and book binding. The jewels, of course, are two copies of the Gutenberg Bible, (one complete copy and one old testament - vol. 1). These 42 line wonders of the 13th Century are quite beautiful works of art as well as a stunning technological advance.

So, thank you Herr Gensfleisch, I can't imagine a world without the printed word.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Zombie Blog

In a reckless and ill-considered act of necromancy (and let's face it, it rarely ends well), I've decided to dust off this blog and attempt to write something this year. Zombies are so 2010, aren't they? I wonder what will replace them in the zeitgeist of internetland in 2011?

Care to place a wager?

I've got an each way bet on something involving Kanye West's twitter feed, a small Marmoset and a controversial Disney remake of The Battleship Potemkin.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Family Treasures

I went home for 6 weeks last year. People, I can't tell you how necessary that was.

Ostensibly, the trip home was so I could attend the Big Kahuna's 80th birthday, but a lovely side effect was that I found my sense of humour.

Thanks to my sister's excellent organisational skills, the family 8mm movie and 35mm slide archives were digitised to mark the occasion. My Dad was a prolific, if not overly skilled, practitioner of the moving image and photographic arts.

I present a snippet for your viewing pleasure.

Happy 2011.