Bielefeld – Former Catholic Church

Even though we’ve got our hands full with our own church conversion, I still think it’s fun to look at other redundant churches that are on the market. Exercising the imagination by considering the possibilities these other buildings offer is inspiring for our own project.

Here’s one in near Bielefeld in north-central Germany. It is the former Catholic church in Altenhagen. It seems that the building was deconsecrated a couple of years ago, and all the contents shipped off to L’viv. It’s my impression that the Catholics are a bit picky about what they’ll allow in their former churches. In this case conversion to living space seems to be ok with them, but any kind of commercial use is not.

Main entrance to former church. Cool rose window, tower, and mature tree! Facade needs a refresh, though.

Read the rest of this entry »


Another Church Conversion: Dorset Methodist Chapel

I’ve needed to put the blog on an extended hiatus due to non-conversion activities taking up way more of my energy than they had right to. I’ll be slowly getting back into the swing of things. Our bathroom is long done, we’re almost done with the office, and we’re gearing up to tackle our main worship hall.

Meanwhile, I spotted this lovely conversion of a former Methodist chapel on the border of Wiltshire and Dorset on another site, and I’m reblogging it here. The design is due to Gary Tam, and the property is for sale (for quite a lot of dough – one can dream, no?).

Exterior of former Methodist Chapel on Dorset/Wiltshire border.

The interior is done in a very organic Danish/Scandinavian mid-century modern style. I’m in love with so many details, and with the feel of the place. Click the links above for more.

I love the very organic color scheme. There's the 1960s-era "gyrofocus" fireplace by focus that seems to be popping up everywhere in design blogs lately.

I love the interplay of textures - the stone floor, the (Koziol?) lamps, and that beautiful oak herringbone floor.

Chair love!


Garden planting: The Shade Corner

One of my biggest tasks this summer has been the renovation of the front garden. Bed by bed, I’ve been planning and ripping out aged plants and weeds and planting. Some plantings have been successful, a few not so much. but that’s how it works with gardening.  I thought I’d go through the various beds and show how they’re shaping up.

The shady north corner of the house is the first bed that I put together, way back in April. When we bought the place, this bed was stuffed to overflowing with a mature Leyland cypress that had not been trimmed for years. It was way too big, way too tall. Leylands tend to have shallow root systems, so I feared that a good gale would send it toppling over. They’re pretty trees for a big wide open field, but just sooo inappropriate for a tiny front garden. I thought we’d trim it at least, and then see later what to do. I sent TheHighPriest out, armed with a power hedge clipper, and after one careless slip of the blade, there was a huge vertical gash in the crown of the tree. “It’ll grow back, it’s just a tree!” Well, no, actually it won’t, since you cut the green parts of the branches completely off. And thus the poor thing was doomed.

The poor doomed Leyland cypress, standing right near the house.

We grit our teeth and cut it down – it pains me to chop down trees! We mulched the branches, cut the stem for firewood. Then, I set about removing the stump using a pair of secateurs, a spoon, and a hose. It worked, took a bunch of effort and hand strength. Damned thing got its revenge on me though, since I’m pretty sure this triggered the carpal tunnel issues I’ve been struggling with this summer.

The vanquished stump.

Read the rest of this entry »


Jugendraum Conversion, part 2: Building the Walls

The next steps in building our new shower room upstairs involved putting in place the structure of the bathroom. We installed a new vapor barrier, had a window put in, and built the partition walls. We even did some of these things two or three times because it was so much fun the first time around because we made mistakes.
Read the rest of this entry »


Garden Cuisine: Berry ice creams

Our weedy little berry bushes keep producing, and this time I include a couple of recipes for the berries I featured in my last post on food from the garden.

I’ve had a compressor ice cream maker languishing on my wish list for years now. Most of the models I’ve seen were so expensive (and our bottoms big enough already) that we couldn’t really justify the purchase, no matter how we tried. But when one model went on sale at the local warehouse club at a price less than half of the cheapest price we had seen until then, we just couldn’t help ourselves. What’s wrong with a round bottom?

I’ve made about 6 batches of ice cream with the machine, and the results have so far been excellent – creamy smooth, with no crunchy or buttery bits. This is much much better than what came from my previous machine. My old machine (which goes to the first commenter who wants to pick it up or pay for shipping) consists of a double-walled bowl filled with saline and a motorized mixing arm. You stick the bowl in the freezer, then take it out, put your ice cream base in, and start it mixing. Unfortunately, this results in a less than optimal temperature curve, too cold at the beginning, not cold enough at the end of the process. But it does still work, and we did have some reasonable batches out of it.

The new machine has inspired me to try a whole bunch of different flavors. Here are two that use the berries. The Bramble frozen yogurt turned out pretty well as far as the flavoring goes, but I admit the recipe still needs some tweaking. I’d consider going with a purer frozen yogurt recipe by dropping the eggs. The wild strawberry, on the other hand, is wonderful, and if you have the ingredients, you really should try it.

Two berry ice creams: Bramble-licorice frozen yogurt and Fraises-des-bois and Black Pepper-Rose Geranium ice cream

Read the rest of this entry »


Inspiration: Clerestory windows

Since we decided that we’d like some light exchange between the new bathroom and the office, I’ve been collecting photos of clerestory and transom windows that I’ve found around the ‘net.

First a gallery of photos from Houzz (sorry about the annoying Ken Burns panning, I don’t have control over that).

Clerestory” originally referred to a particular kind of window in Gothic and Romanesque sacred architecture, but nowadays it’s pretty much any window that’s above eye level. Most of the examples I could find were for windows on outside walls, not between two rooms as what we plan. A “transom” in US usage is a window that is above a door. Some of the examples below blur the lines between a clerestory and a transom.

Clerestory ideabook from Houzz.com

We like how this one is flush with the wall, though we'd prefer a higher, more traditional placement. Found on alboplan.ch.

Via Filipineses.

Via Fliesenleger-VM.de

Inside some some church in Columbus, Indiana. Via Carrie Schomig.

Inside Frank Lloyd Wright's Bernard Schwartz House. Photo source unknown.

Via Elle Decor.

Unsure of source, my note says "BOENZDEPULVERTEICH", but that doesn't make sense. If this belongs to you, please let me know so I can link and attribute it correctly.


Jugendraum conversion, part 1: Destruction

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been busy with building the new bathroom upstairs in the former Jugendraum, and renovating the rest of the room itself. Our initial plans can be found in this older post. We’ve had lots of new experiences, partially since we, the neophytes, decided to do some of the work ourselves. It’s been quite tiring and a little boring, and didn’t really inspire me to write posts here. But I’ve gotten requests, so here goes.

We planned that we would take on the tasks of preparing the room for the plumbers, tilers, and parquet layers, and building the drywall walls. We wanted the experience, and felt it good to have some of your own sweat in your home. These tasks are “easy”. We couldn’t screw them up too badly (right? right?). I didn’t plan that we would save money, and we probably didn’t considering that we needed to do some of these tasks 2 or 3 times because we fouled things up one way or another.

Here’s a view again of the original state of the room, and in particular, the corner which will be the new bathroom.

The Jugendraum corner which will be a bathroom.

In which we hire a stripper…

The first task of destruction was to remove the carpet. Read the rest of this entry »


Garden Cuisine: Eating the fruits of weeds

This post is more about enjoying simple pleasures and playing with the camera than gardening or cooking.

One of the first tasks we undertook outside was the careful kärchering and weed eradication on our parking lot. The lot had, according to the neighbors, never been power cleaned in its history. We squirted up a very large amount of dodgy dirt and little plants from between the pavers. One plant, however, got special dispensation: a fraises-des-bois.

Probably planted in this strange spot by the birds, the little strawberry plant is positively thriving on our parking lot.

These wild strawberries are something that I’d heard about, but never tried until moving away from the US. The fruits are small and a bit dry, but have an incredibly intense aroma of strawberries that’s a little deeper and less astringent smelling than the usual garden ones have.

These seem to produce fruit continuously through the summer. I'm thinking of planting a few of the fruit to have enough for a basket, if we can keep ourselves from eating them all.

The neighbors with the chickens don’t really take care of the land where their flock roams, so there are brambles that keep invading from over the fence. I was so busy with reshaping the front yard that I did’t notice how big and established the brambles got until they were heavy with flowers. Since there was such an enticing promise of fruit, I left them, and I’ll try to control the invasive tendencies in the fall.

The brambles are just starting to ripen.

A nice little harvest.

What better way to enjoy these lovely weed-fruits than on fresh plain full-fat yogurt, with a little maple syrup for sweetness. I added some store-bought blueberries since our plant is still too young to produce any.


Garden Cuisine: Red Currant, Sage, and Lavender Pork on Paper-thin Zucchini

Happy pigs

I wasn’t a huge fan of pork.

We have a preference for free-range meat, but neither do the local supermarkets carry any, nor have I spotted any promising local butchers. I don’t think I can be accused of being a “bunny hugger”, it’s simply that meat from conventional intensive meat production, with the animals fed odd things and kept in cramped, filthy, sickly quarters, tastes funny and seems dirtier than roadkill. I can’t consider food the flesh from an animal raised in quarters whose stench can be smelled kilometers before you zip past on the autobahn.

I looked around online to see if any of the local farms might do things a bit differently.  We found one, a pork and egg producer, in a neighboring town that operates under Neuland (link in German) certification, a scheme that focuses on animal welfare. There’s a fascinating EU case study of Neuland’s structure and practices in English here. We ordered 10 kg (the minimum order) a few months back. When we drove the meat bin back to the farm, we saw how the pigs are kept. They live in a barn blanketed with clean straw, with free access to an outside corral and a grassy area, all with plenty of room to move around and act like pigs.

Satisfied with what we saw, we now get about 10 kilos of various cuts of pork every few months.  The quality and flavor  of the meat is excellent, and I’ve been won over to pork. Of course, now that we have a freezer full of pork, I have to come up with a bunch of new ways to use it. I’ve had some success with most of the cuts that we’ve gotten, though if anyone has some good ideas for raw (not pickled ) pig knuckle or for ground pork, I’d love to hear them. I can’t find saltpeter, so pickling the knuckle in the traditional way isn’t possible.

Garden produce

I was very happy to find, nestled in among the weeds and mystery shrubs surrounding the parking lot, two red currant bushes. One has already produced a small early crop of large red berries. The other seems to be a later sort. This recipe takes advantage of that early crop. Meanwhile, our two zucchini plants have just started producing as only zucchini plants can. The sage and lavender were impulse buys at a local do-it-yourself big box store. The honey is courtesy of our bee-keeping auntie.

Some things from the garden, and a bottle of pumpkin seed oil.

Red Currant, Sage, and Lavender Pork on Paper-thin Zucchini

Serves 2. Pork can be replaced with game hen, chicken, turkey, portabella mushroom or (if you can handle soy) well marinated tofu. If substituting the protein, reduce the honey a little. Read the rest of this entry »


Solar Thermal Collectors

Why Solar?

Because we have to install a hot water system in the church where there was none before, we could consider quite a few different options.  After a little deliberation and consultation with acquaintances about their experiences, we decided to have solar heat collectors installed. We chose a system that is scaled to provide warm water and also contribute to heating the house.

The panels are being lifted onto the roof while I type this, though rain threatens to interfere yet again. We probably won’t be able to try the system out for another couple of weeks. Our new bathroom needs to be tiled first, and just when the system goes on line, the temperature is forecast to finally reach summer levels. We won’t know if the investment was a good one for a good few more years.

The heating system of this house when we purchased it consisted of an oil-fired burner that warmed radiators. The oil tanks are huge – maybe 7000 or 8000 liters total. The church left us a bit of oil in the tanks, so thankfully, we didn’t need to purchase any this early spring — but they’re emptying quickly. We’ve been watching the price of heating oil, hoping to find a good moment to replenish our supplies, but the price has been hovering around the eye-wateringly high rate of € 0.85 / 1 liter.

We could have just hooked up the burner to a potable water heating system, but I’m one of those who likes to hedge her bets. I am convinced oil prices are will not fall significantly thanks to dwindling supply, and especially to increased demand from rapidly developing large societies like China and India. Gas isn’t cheaper than oil, and like oil, is supplied by countries whose politics I find extremely distasteful and whose leaders I do not wish to subsidize. Pellet heating, where the fuel consists of normed compressed pellets of wood produced in Germany, consumes a lot of space we don’t have — we don’t want to take out the oil heating since it is perfectly serviceable. My research never led me to any clear conclusion about the economic benefits of pellet heating. Electricity in this country is expensive, so any electrical heating was right out. This left us with solar.

We have a great expanse of south-facing roof at just the right angle for solar thermal collectors. After the initial investment, the running costs of solar are small (there’s an electric pump that runs fluid up to the roof). Solar doesn’t support regimes I don’t like, probably won’t be taxed, and won’t suddenly go up in price for me just because some idiot political leader somewhere starts an ill-considered war.

We asked for offers from 6 local firms. The prices were very very similar, and each firm offered a system from a different European manufactured brand. We couldn’t find any advice on differences between brands, so we concluded that there was none, and made our choice using different criteria.

One aspect that we did need to decide: should the area of the collectors be sufficient only for hot water, or should it also be large enough so that heating can be supported as well? As luck would have it, the BAFA the German Federal Office for Economics and Export Control, instituted a new subsidy for heat-supporting solar collectors on existing building in the month our work would be carried out. This made our decision for us – the subsidy takes the form of a rebate of an amount one typically does not find lying around on the sidewalk. The cost of such a system seems in line with filling up the oil tanks 1 or 2 times (depending on the price of oil). The rule of thumb we’ve heard from several sources, including here, is that the collectors pay for themselves in about 10 years.

Our particular system

Our system uses a so-called tank-in-tank system. Below is a diagram from this solar energy information site:

The labels should be self-explanatory. If not, feed the words into http://translate.google.com

I’ll close with some pictures of our installation as it is today. Renovation is ongoing, so some of the pictures will seem kind of messy with construction debris and whatnot. Read the rest of this entry »


Garden Cuisine: Lemon Balm-Asparagus Risotto

As a long time committed city-mouse, I didn’t put much weight on large gardens when we were looking for properties. We wound up with a little bit of garden space. I’ve planted a bunch of stuff, and much to my delight, most of it isn’t dead yet. Actually, a lot of it is producing very nicely so far. I’ve yet to spot signs of a slug, and the soil is light, sandy, well draining, and moderately fertile.

Lemon balm, and a few sprigs of lemon thyme.

The garden is naturally having an effect on what goes into my cooking pot – I’m coming up with dishes that are a little different in style than what I used to cook in the city. I thought I’d do a little series of posts containing recipes based on stuff from the garden (or from nearby farms). All recipes that I will post will be gluten-free and soy-free. The first one happens to be vegetarian as well.

Lemon Balm-Asparagus Risotto


Lemon Balm-Asparagus Risotto

This recipe is the great great grand nephew of the recipe Risotto Di Scampi Agli Asparagi from the website of the Accademia Italiana Della Cucina — which is to say that maybe there is some vague resemblance around the eyes…… The fresh herbs in the recipe come from the hanging baskets I planted up a couple of months ago. The borage leaves and flowers are optional to the recipe, but they do give a nice fresh cucumbery counterweight to the rich and creamy rest. The asparagus is from a local farmer who comes around in a truck with his wares, reminding me of the ice cream man of my youth. The addition of mascarpone is referred to around our home as “Juliette’s trick”, in honor of it’s source.

Feeds 2 very hungry people, or up to 4 with more dainty appetites.

Some of the ingredients. The lilies broke off a plant I bought, and begged to be in the picture too. (i.e. they're not food)

Read the rest of this entry »


YouCapture: Flowers

I’ve been having a bit of trouble with taking pictures of lobelias and other intensely blue flowers. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong, or if the chip in my camera isn’t up to snuff any more, but the very blue wavelengths just aren’t picked up properly. The lobelia photos I took all look purple, almost magenta, instead of the electric ultramarine of the living flowers. Post-processing the photos to adjust the color was hopeless. I tried in gimp, photoshop, lightroom and got bizarrely unnatural looking shots.

This afternoon I thought I’d have another go with the addition of my polarizing filter. The results were a little better – at least I could post-process them to some vaguely realistic looking point.

As it happens, this week’s YouCapture photo challenge topic is Flowers. I thought I’d take this opportunity to participate. YouCapture is the idea of Beth of I Should Be Folding Laundry. Each week, she posts a topic for photographs, and bloggers interested in participating take photos, and post links at her blog. Click on the YouCapture logo above to see links to all participating blogs this week.

Lobelias. The butterflies weren't cooperating, so it isn't the most interesting of shots. But with the polarizing filter, I could get the color to approach reality. Well, at least on my screen.

For some reason, the delphiniums are more cooperative with the camera.

I could get these delphiniums to look ok without the filter, but the filter certainly improves matters.

The butterflies may not have cooperated, but the bumble bees were very happy to be photographed.

So fuzzy.

Lucky shot.


Fragrant Roses and Times Past


The air was foggy and smoggy and rather colder than I expected for this part of the world. My mind was still slow both from jet lag and the abbreviated night of sleep.  I leaned my forehead against the  cold smooth glass of our crazy multi-colored hippie tourist minibus with the carved teak interior in a vain attempt to wake myself up properly, and watched the first stirring people and crumbling edifices of modern Varanasi slip by. The van stopped. We were going to have to go on foot to our destination from that point, since winding, trash-strew cobbled lanes in the most ancient part of the city couldn’t accommodate cars. We were to greet the dawn at one of the ghats that have lined the shore of the Ganges here since time immemorial.

As we trudged along, the usual ancient city smells of trash and water and cows and shit and people and breakfast and exhaust and monkeys were gradually joined by the sweet, indolic,  unmistakable perfume of roses. But there were no open shops (the hour was way too early), or perfumed ladies (just some grungy-looking western male scientists), and no part of my well paved-over surrounding looked like they could support a plant of any kind.

With each step we took approaching the ghat, and each moment closer to the rising of the sun, the activity around us increased. Several street children, delighted at their luck spotting a bunch of groggy and clueless westerners, hurried to us hoping to sell deep for an especially good price: plastic bowls holding a votive candle surrounded by flowers. I chose one filled with marigolds and a simple pink wild rose. As I held this thing before me, the smell of rose perfume had much the same effect that the cup of coffee I didn’t have that morning would. And I realized that this modest spot of pink among gaudy golden marigolds was the real rose of poetry and song, and not the perfectly long stemmed, perfectly red, perfectly plastic wrapped, and perfectly sterile perfections that I knew from home. I was very pleased to make my acquaintance with this modest pink regal bloom. And by the shore of the Ganges, I lit the candle next to her, made a wish, and bid her fair journey.

Deep (Flower-lamp offerings) One traditionally buys flowers, marigolds and strongly fragrant roses, with a candle from street children to give to the river as offerings. The wish one makes as one sets the flowers in the water is meant to come true. These are ours - they did not seem to want to flow away, but hugged the shore instead.

Old Garden Roses

The scent of that little pink rose has haunted me. Back in Europe, I sniff at every rose bush I see (much to my husband’s annoyance). Most of them disappoint. Once I’d determined that our front border has the right conditions for rose bushes, I set about looking for some cultivars that could possibly offer at least a tenth of the scent of that little Indian rose.

The perfume production variety that grows in Bulgaria’s Valley of the Roses is some sort of Damask rose, so I began my search with those. Damask roses are but one family of roses that fall under the umbrella of “Old Garden Roses”. These are classes  of roses that were bred before 1867, the date of the emergence of the first modern hybrid tea rose, when appearance and longevity as a cut flower became more dominant attributes for selection than scent.

There are numerous families of roses that fall under the Old Garden Rose umbrella. Many, but not all, of these families are highly scented. Some families tend to bloom only once in June,  others bloom continuously through the fall (perpetuals), still others have one main flush of blooms in June followed by smaller secondary flushes through the summer.

Since I don’t have a huge amount of space for roses, I opted for repeat-flowering roses. And of course intense fragrance was a must. I am drawn particularly to the Portland roses. These roses inherit an intense perfume from their Damask parentage, and their repeat blooming habit from their China rose progenitors. As plants they also tend to stay relatively small.

I picked two. One, Mme Boll, has very full pink flowers, and a very strong scent of rose of the sort of great grandmother’s perfume. It was bred by Boll/Boyan in 1850. It’s often confused with roses Mme Knorr and Comte de Chambord which some sources say are the same, and others say are merely related. One way or another, it’s a lovely old fashioned sort.

Rose "Mme Boll"

My other selection was Rose de Rescht. This is a rose that is sometimes classified as a Damask rose, and othertimes as a Portland rose because of its repeat blooming habit. It is a very old sort that originates in Persia, and was brought to Europe relatively recently (either 1890 or 1950, depending on the source). Rescht’s fragrance is a hair stronger than Mme Boll’s, and a little more indolic and sweet. It is the sort of scent that makes me think of rose lokum or sticky rose water infused baklava sitting on a metal platter on a sweltering evening.

Rose de Rescht

After picking which ones I wanted from descriptions on the internet, I happened upon Mme Boll in a local garden center. I ordered Rose de Rescht from Eggert Baumschulen, who delivered very quickly and offered a good price, and whom I’d recommend.






The State and Floorplans at Purchase: The Garden/Parking Lot

The past few weeks the weather has been beautiful, so I’ve been very busy doing rather than writing about doing. Today rain is falling in buckets, so I’ll try to catch up with writing about all the things I’ve been up to.

This pictorial tour is primarily meant for me to keep track of the plants that were here when we purchased the place and a reminder of the initial state of the yard.

Rhododendrons and the Front Yard

Directly next to the front of the house grows a lovely mature rhododendron hedge. As things stood at the outset, this hedge is the jewel of the garden. Unfortunately, the rhododendrons had a rather bad case of bud blast, and have gotten too tall and leggy. The best solution to these problems seems to be some strong pruning over the course of a few years. This will reduce the number of blooms for a couple of years, but hopefully will rejuvenate the hedge in the end.

Another peculiarity of the rhododendron hedge – the first bush on the left is a different cultivar from the rest. It blooms a few weeks earlier, and in a somewhat bluer purplish pink than the rest.

The rhododendrons in May. The left-most oddball rhododendron is already done blooming. The bush in the front is a Japanese spindle.

Read the rest of this entry »


How to Get Permission to Convert a Former Sacred Building to a Home in Germany

A few days ago we finally got our planning permission. Now we are confident to continue with some of the more serious part of the conversion. Hooray! I’ll decorate this post with some non-standard buildings that are for sale in Germany today, because looking at possibilities is always exciting and fun. Click on the pictures to see the respective ads with more photos.

Sweet 14th-century gothic chapel in Baden-Württemberg.

Through all of our searches online, we never managed to find a “how-to” for converting a building to residential use here in Germany. There’s no information regarding this sort of case on the various Bauamt (Building Inspector’s Office) websites around, since it’s a too rare an occurrence for any Beamter (bureaucrat) to bother writing any. What follows are the steps we had to take. Since our building isn’t listed as a historical building, we have no experience with Denkmalschutz. Read the rest of this entry »


The Provisional Kitchen

Relatives have been expressing curiosity about our kitchen arrangement. So, as promised, here are a few photos of where we cook now. We still don’t have warm water outside the cellar, and the spot where we will ultimately install a proper kitchen is still buried under a pile of boxes, and this isn’t likely to change for another few months.

We have to cook somewhere, so we’ve put together a makeshift cooking area in the former Garderobe of the church. We chose that room since it has a stone floor (not carpet),  is next door to the toilet block where there’s water, and features firmly installed hat racks on the walls which can serve as shelves.  We re-purposed an Ikea sideboard that used to be in our Vienna hallway as dish storage. A newly purchased Ikea glass-topped garden table provides the work surface.

The garden table was the first thing we purchased on the night we moved in to the church. Ikea closed for the night as we walked the trolley with the 50kg garden table to the car. After much heaving and huffing and puffing, we conceded that the box was just a couple of cm too big to fit in the car, no matter the orientation. We were left with not much of a choice: TheHighPriest drove the car home, and I took off on foot down the bike path into the cold dark night with the table and trolley.  My long walk was uneventful, save for the rather puzzled look I got from a passing cyclist. (We did return the trolley the next morning). The frosted glass of the table is turning out to be a pretty good work surface – it’s relatively tough and quite easy to clean. We’re even considering something similar for our “real” kitchen in the future.

With the hotchpotch of different furniture and supplies, together with the open shelving, our little temporary kitchen isn’t exactly stylish, or even particularly neat, but it will do. In particular, the hat racks and the stained glass of the windows really clash. I’ve tried to pull the look together by emphasizing colors that match the hat racks. The space isn’t easy to photograph since there’s so much going on, but hopefully these images will give some sense of how we have improvised.

View from the entrance to the "kitchen".

Spice jars.

Coffee is important.

We cook using two cheap induction hot plates. They've got marks for variable size, but alas, those seem to be just decoration. The plates do their induction thing on only a narrow diameter.

Another view of this side of the "kitchen".

The other side of the "kitchen".

The other side of the kitchen, from another vantage point.

What follows are random detail shots of stuff in the kitchen that I took mostly for photography practice.

Vase full of lemon balm clipped from the baskets I planted a few weeks ago.

This lemon balm, she is an attention seeker! A portrait in the style of a fun fair photo booth.

To keep this post classy, here's some beer. The repeating lines caught my eye.

Still life with broccoli I

Still life with broccoli II


The Benefits of Trimming an Overgrown Hazelnut Tree

The garden around our church looked neat enough to us when we bought the place, but we are slowly noticing minor signs of the five years of… well, not neglect exactly, but perhaps a lack of attentive care. This was particularly evident in the case of the contorted hazelnut tree in the front yard.

A picture of the hazelnut from our first viewing of the property. The contorted part peeks out from behind the conifer, on the right. The straight vertical branches at the top of the picture? Those aren't supposed to be there.

I didn’t notice the problem at first. Of course, one can see the curly branches and twigs of the contorted filbert when you stand on the lawn, but the filbert’s branches are dense and brillo-pad like, and obscure the trunk. Until I got a good look, I thought the tall branches belonged to a different tree, one growing behind the filbert.

Contorted filberts sometimes produce nuts themselves, but they’re not always viable, and even if they are, they tend to produce normal straight-branched hazel trees. Contorted filberts are propagated by cuttings which are grafted onto common hazel rootstock. The rootstock has a tendency of sprouting branches from its base in the early spring. These need to be removed to keep the tree focused on growing a vital and vigorous curly moptop. Obviously, this trimming task was not done for some time.

We obtained a small saw, and I set about cutting off these branches by hand. This was a lot of work: I needed about four afternoons to get all of the branches off. The fattest branches were rather fatter than my rather chubby forearm. They were also about 4 meters tall. We didn’t have a ladder yet, and there was no way to stand it near the tree in any case. I threaded myself between the branches of the contorted filbert, and got to work. The filbert kept sticking it’s curly fingers into my bun or ponytail, and after a while the tree would get quite entangled in my ‘do.

There, that's better! The hazelnut tree after I got done with it.

Benefit #1: Hazelnut sap smells heavenly and so will you.

Hazel sap and wood has a bitter green herbal aroma with a fresh hazelnut undertone. The sap gets on you and in your hair and is hard to wash off. For days after a bout in the garden with the tree, I smelled faintly as if wearing Méchant Loup.

Benefit #2: Make your new neighbor happy.

One afternoon while I was fighting the tree, the neighbor pulled up into his driveway. At that particular moment, I was well tangled up in the tree, hair and all, and swearing profusely at one of the thicker branches. I suspended the blue streak when I noticed him, and sheepishly sent a “Guten Tag!” in his direction. We hadn’t met yet, and now chatted briefly. The neighbor mentioned that he was glad the tree was finally being trimmed, since it was obscuring his view from the driveway. Good relations are important.

Benefit #3: Hazelnut wood is excellent for smoking.

We wound up with quite a lot of wood through my efforts. The bases of the branches mostly showed 5 rings, so this was really the result of five years worth of growth. We put most of the branches through a chipper (save the very thickest bits), and now we have probably 10 years worth of smoking wood.

I close with a step-by-step recipe from my first smoking project. This recipe is loosely based on this recipe. “Loosely based” means I read that recipe (which does look quite good), but did my own thing, as below.

Hazelnut-smoked Cured Goose Breast


2 goose breasts

150g white sugar
300g sea salt

voantsy wild pepper (or a mix of black and white pepper)
juniper berries
bay leaf
fresh thyme sprigs
coriander seeds
ginger powder
mugwort (=Beifuß. Or use a dash of chervil or tarragon and a dash of sage)


First, collect your spices. I’m not putting in amounts, since I think this is a matter of taste. Just add some and use your nose to balance. I got fancy and decided to use a special wild pepper I found in Paris, but the recipe doesn’t hang on this -use a mixture of black and white peppers in a 2:1 ratio instead if the rare pepper isn’t available.

Some of my spice jars. Juniper berries, Voantsy Madagascar wild pepper, and Mace

From other sources on the web, it seems that the thyme should be fresh since the fresh leaves have some antibacterial properties that help with keeping the curing process safe.

An idea of the proportions of spices I used.

Grind the spices that need grinding, and blend them together with the salt and sugar. Set aside

The ground spices on top of the sugar and salt, about to be blended together.

Now, prepare your goose breast. I couldn’t find fresh around here (I suppose it isn’t really goose season right now), so I bought a whole frozen one.

A whole frozen goose breast which was defrosted in the fridge.

Wash and carefully dry the breasts. Because mine was whole and bone-in, I had to do a little butchering with a filet knife.

A washed and dried breast awaiting preparation.

The bone gets wrapped for the stock-bone collection in the freezer, and I’m left with two breast filets.

The goose bone and meat.

Combine the breasts with the spice-salt mixture in a plastic or glass container. Make sure all surfaces of the breasts are covered in salt.

Breasts in salt, ready for their three day vacation.

Cover the breasts, and put them in the refrigerator for three days. Move them and flip them each day to make sure they’re always covered in salt. On the third day, the breasts will be in a strong sludgy brine, and the meat will have changed color.

The breasts after three days in the fridge in salt. The curing mixture has turned sludgy.

Out of the brine, rinsed and dried.

Remove the breasts. Wash and carefully dry them. I got the idea to use mugwort rather late (it’s traditional on goose in Germany), so instead of adding it to the brine, I rubbed the mugwort into the skin before wrapping up the breasts for drying.

The mugwort rub was a late inspiration. Mugwort is mildly antiseptic, and very traditional in conjunction with goose. The scent is a bit sage and a bit tarragon to my nose.

Wrap them in muslin (I couldn’t find mine, so I used a clean, relatively thin tea towel), and hang in a cellar or similar cool, moderately humid spot for 5 days, so they can dry.

The breasts all wrapped up in tea towels, hanging in the cold dark cellar.

Once dried, cold smoke over hazelnut wood smoke for 1 to 2 hours. Make sure the temperature while smoking doesn’t exceed about 80°C, since otherwise you’ll lose the nice fat under the skin of the goose breast.

Slice thinly to serve.  We’ll have it as tapas or in salad.

Thinly sliced smoked goose breast.


Bad-planning: Arranging the upstairs wet room

I’ve not been particularly consistent with posting thanks to all the excitement of moving in, getting our stuff, taking care of the myriad formalities (about which I’ll write later – there’s no “how to convert a former sacred building in Germany” on the web right now). We’ve been particularly busy with planning the upstairs wet room.

We’re both very impatient to finally be able to take a warm shower with water that comes out of a shower head! So far, bathing in this house has meant standing in an unheated cellar room with a drain in the floor, with a 40 liter plastic Ikea document storage box holding about 10 liters of warm water (the amount the tiny old electric boiler can produce at a go), and pouring said water over one’s self with a plastic Ikea measuring cup. (Some Ikea hack, eh?) Obviously, this shower situation is getting old fast.

We’ve had six plumbing-and-heating guys through the place in order to get offers. The offers themselves have been slooooowly trickling in (only three so far). Meanwhile, I’ve been busying myself with planning the details of this little bathroom. Since it’s being shoehorned into such a tight space, I have quite a challenge to make sure everything fits in and looks ok. We’ve had long debates on the merits of various solutions.

The space itself is 211 cm x 150 cm, with a somewhat annoying 60° sloped wall. This means many off-the-shelf things just don’t fit. It also didn’t help that I mismeasured the space by 25cm, and so had to do part of this planning twice (Bad-planung indeed). I did at least do all the trigonometry right the first time around, further showing that it’s always reality that gives me problems.

How the new bathroom and closet fit in the room. Click to enlarge.

I mentioned in a previous post the fittings we plan on adding. The drawings I’m putting in are to scale, and include diagrams of those fittings. The bathroom is a very small space indeed. We’ve taken some inspiration from the lilliputian bathrooms we’ve encountered at various hotels in Brussels over the years. The Belgian bath designers can fit a whole bathroom into the tiniest spaces. Ours will be about 3 m2, which is far from the smallest of the Brussels bathrooms. A Belgian would probably think we have plenty of room for a tub too.

Read the rest of this entry »


Adventures in Brown-Thumb Gardening: Strawberry-Herb Hanging Baskets

I have a brown thumb. This has been well demonstrated to me by numerous crunchy brown houseplants. Any plant under my control generally looks vibrant and happy for a few months, and then suddenly dies. Then I give up on plants.  I tend to forget about my ineptness if I haven’t had to care for a plant for a while. I plant new plants, they look robust and bloom wildly, I start to tentatively think I’m actually not that bad at this after all. Then my plants get sick and die. The cycle begins anew.

A few weeks back, Lidl had a special on strawberry plants of four different varieties, in packs of 6. The plants looked healthy enough, too. Tempted by this, TheHighPriest and I thought it would be nice to have our own strawberry plants and a good selection of fresh herbs. Maybe we could learn from past experiences, and be successful this time? I’d tried to grow strawberries in our garden when we lived in the UK. This adventure resulted in a slimy horde of obese slugs, and some vaguely green strings coming out of the ground roughly in the spots where I’d planted the strawberries. This time, we’d try something a little different to outsmart those squishy beasts: hanging baskets.

Newly planted strawberry baskets.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bad-planning: Small gray bathroom inspiration

Our all-consuming task in the past few weeks has been arranging for hot water and a shower. Getting all our ducks in a row for the installation of all the parts necessary for attaining non-smelliness is taking a bit more time than we expected, so this post is going to focus on a bit of frivolity.

We want the bathroom to be neutral colored, but not just all white and boring.  After looking at the wares in tile shops, gray seemed to be the neutral that spoke to us the most. Pretty much any color looks great with gray, including the white of the ceramic ware (which is not the case with, say, cream). Using the right accessories, one can change the look of a gray bathroom with no effort. The water here is super hard, so that rules out black and any dark colors. We hope that a light to medium gray will hide the inevitable limescale. I realize that gray is a huge trend right now, and in ten years, it’ll look soooo 2011 (or 2009…). On the other hand, I did like gray in certain contexts long before this fashion started, so why not run with it?

The first image inspired our choice of a boxy toilet and sink.

dorit sela modern powder room

Both the first and second image here take their wall color from concrete. In the second image, the designers actually manage to make the room look warm, despite the exposed concrete.
Read the rest of this entry »

Older posts «