After being quiet for a few weeks about the development of our settler house, we want to tell you now where we are at. To find a beginning, to tell about all these developments, is extremely hard. Compared to the progress in the beginning of the year, which was formed by the slowness of bureaucracy, now everything is evolving without any notion of calmness. After the last snow during Easter and a crystal cold week of even minus 18 degrees, nature exploded when it was touched by the rays of sunlight and the first warmth of spring. This was our call to come out of our house and into our garden. Our plans were big. In all various garden books it is to read that one should begin small. This is a matter of interpretation but that a vegetable garden of 75 square meter and a greenhouse of nearly 19 square meter is not a modest beginning leaves less room for interpretation. At last while you are doing the first cut of the spade you notice that your ideas were exaggerated. To transform an overgrown, wild area full of gardeners most beloved weed into a usable ground is clearly only a minor challenge. This will keep us working over the coming years! We were expecting a whole lot of work in the garden but reality even managed to outdo our, as we thought, pessimistic calculations. Quickly everything was overgrowing our heads. In the true sense of the word, as the idea that we would need a proper lawnmower for a 3000 square meter piece of land, never crossed our mind before. We thought that it might be beautiful to leave everything growing wildly apart of little ways to walk through the garden. Who is in possession of a big garden will laugh loudly about our naive way of thinking. Okay, this is another area of development. While we were digging day in and day out, nature was changing in the blink of an eye. Now the cherry and apple blossoms were opening, which we were waiting for in eager expectation, and now they were falling to the ground and now there are countless tiny fruits flourishing. Flowers are shooting out of the ground and are opening their fragrant blossoms.

After the lilac there were evolving wonderful peony and we are curious how our garden will continue to surprise us. The potato patch, having seven varieties, is now fully grown and all the other beds are filling up with our young plants. But even without our actions in nature, it brought  us enough to already bring it to our kitchen. We fermented the young sprouts of the pine tree in honey and cooked dandelion blossoms to a syrup. A huge sage bush is inviting to create mediterranean dishes. Its blossoms look delightful in a cold lemonade too. It is pure fun and joy to serve oneself in nature according to ones current whim.

Even if we spent more time outside than inside, our settler house developed further. Since three weeks we are living in an camping atmosphere, as our bathroom is getting completely renovated. The craftsman did an amazing work and it will not take long until everything will be in place. We cannot wait until we can see our chosen handmade tiles inside our bathroom. Or our self constructed fittings out of copper. An old trough, which we found inside the barn, will serve as our sink. We are deeply curious if all our ideas will form a harmonious picture in the end. Already now we would have loved to present you everything in the finished condition. But the walls are not even painted and we are still trying to find specific pieces of furniture. Further, we need to coordinate thousand of things which leads to various things being left behind. As not only for our bathroom we found the perfect craftsmen but as well for the core of our house, our kitchen, we were able to create a fantastic team. They are working already quite a while to build us a little cooking paradise. We would love to tell and to present you more about it in no time!

Traditions should be celebrated! How extensively Sicilians do that we could see at the 150 jubilee of Averna*. Within only three days, so many impressions rained down on us, flavours and smells, we are still overwhelmed. The hosts did everything imaginable to wrap Sicilian culture, hospitality, the love to their long-cherished traditions and pride of their a thousand years old home into an exciting program. Thus, we could experience the origin of Amaro Siciliano in a very special way. 

When we arrived in Palermo, the colourful, lively city, surrounded by mountains and the sea, fascinated us immediately. The air is scented lightly with lemon and Palermo’s inhabitants spread incredibly much vitality with their energy. This first impression lingered like a red thread during our time on the biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea. We started with harvesting lemons, which appealed to all our senses. Harvesting the untreated fruits with view of the sea and enjoying fresh lemonade and granite afterwards sharpened our senses for the Festa Siciliana. Set in the impressive atmosphere of Villa San Marco of the 17th century, regional dishes were served and traditional dances and music were presented. The love of the Sicilians towards their guests and the appreciation of good, authentic cuisine were pervasive at the festival. Handmade pasta, fresh, still warm ricotta, and pistachio pesto were our favourites that night.

Even though the first of three days started for us in the early morning hours and we stayed awake even a bit longer, our excitement for the next day wouldn’t let us sleep too long. Beside the festival, a fascinating program was waiting for us. Chef Filippo La Mantia showed us the streets of Palermo, small cafés, the famous Ballarò Market, and the best local products. It was like a carrousel ride: fast, colourfull, loud, and with a tickle in the stomach which got stronger during the ride with an icon of Italian culture, the Ape.

 

In this small, versatile vehicle we were chauffeured through bumpy alleys. It was driven by a sprited,  elderly Italian woman, who roared greetings and curses alike. You never quite knew without speaking Italian. It was wonderful!

Meo Fusciuni, an olfactory virtuoso and master of creating perfumes, guided us through the divinely beautiful, neoclassic botanic garden of Palermo and treated our noses with his essences and scents of herbs and flowers. And when we thought it could not get any better, we arrived at the almost imaginary location for the festival: the ruins of the city’s once biggest cathedral. Beautifully decorated, the majestic Chiesa di Santa Maria dello Spasimo was the perfect location for the big Festa. You don’t experience it that often to sit on a long table in such old masonry, see the birds fly high above and to get served dinner by Filippo La Mantia!

The flavour of the Amaro Averna with its bittersweet taste of lemons, bitter oranges, pomegranate and herbs was omnipresent. The bitter liquor is drank after a special ritual. Filled in bellied glasses, the Amaro is served on ice with fresh citrus fruits and herbs, and rolled so the flavours can unfold to their full extent. You can do this individually, just as you like.

Of course, we also got a glimpse on how the Averna is produced. 1868, Monks of the Abbey Santo Spirito gave this secret recipe as a special present and token of gratitude for the commitment to the local community to Salvatore Averna. All ingredients like essential oils of lemon and bitter orange zest, pomegranate, herbs and roots, are carefully selected, weighed, ground, blended and mixed with alcohol.  After a long period of infusion, the liquid is mixed with water to get the right alcohol concentration. After filtering, sugar, alcohol and water are added. The scent alone lets us travel back to the lemon plantation and the hustle and bustle of Palermo…

Who would have ever thought that we cook in a real restaurant one day? We definitely didn’t! When Alan Micks, head chef of the Michelberger Hotel’s restaurant, approached us for a mutual event we were pretty surprised, confused, unsure, but most of all honored. Were it not for Jonathan, a longtime friend and sous-chef since two years in that restaurant, and Zoe, who’s wedding we photographed as Paul liebt Paula last year and who plans events for the restaurant, we probably would not have gotten into this experience so fast and accepted the offer. To be surrounded by so many great people, it could only be great.

We followed Alan’s and his team’s actions in the kitchen for quite some time now, and we discovered similarities to our preferences. Similar thoughts, combinations of flavors or unusual ingredients which we discovered for ourselves. All just fit well together and you can only improve yourselves by trying something new. Together we decided to host a relaxed Sunday Lunch for which we created a menu of different components. The food should be served on dishes and plates, so everyone could help themselves how they pleased. On the menu we had: beetroot  hummus which you already know from our blog, glazed carrots with dukkah and naan from the tandori oven. To our favorite potatoes with polenta crust we served a salad of fennel, apples and radicchio, and black salsify with white beans. The recipe for this you find, in a different version with asparagus, in our app. As dessert, we served our crumble cheese cake, but matching the season with apples. For this version, you don’t need as much sugar in the filling and don’t need starch at all.

The day before our Lunch, we arrived with a small suitcase at the Michelberger, having our own knives with us and some sleeping clothes, as we were allowed to spend the night at the hotel. In the evening, we chowed straight through the dinner menu and enjoyed a extensive breakfast.

All in all, the event was incredibly easy going for us. We did not have to take of everything ourselves, for a change. Jonathan got the best ingredients for our recipes. The Michelberger cooks with high quality, organic and seasonal products anyway. Jonathan coordinated everything and gave us a great look behind the scenes of a professional kitchen. Zoe took care of the management. The flowery decoration was arranged by “Blumenmädchen” Claudia without us having to worry about it. Even the menu cards came out the way we would have done it. It is a great feeling to know you work with people who think similar as you do, when you can rely on them that everything turns out well, even if you don’t take over control.

Because so many people took part in this afternoon, we finally had more time to sit with our guests to talk and enjoy the whole thing without stress. Actually, this is the best part which often comes up short. Watching the guests while they eat; asking them afterwards what they liked; hearing that usually they don’t like fennel, but enjoyed it in this salad; answering curious questions about ingredients; talking about everything and anything…

For 4 Servings

Preheat the oven to 200°C (aircirculation). Halve the carrots. Mix honey, seabuckthorn juice, sunflower oil and salt to a dressing. Spread the carrots on the baking rack and mix with the dressing. Bake them for 20-25 minutes on the middle rack and turn them once in a while. For the dukkah, roughly chop the almonds and hazelnuts and roast in a pan without oil. Roughly pound the cumin and coriander seeds. Give them into the hot pan together with the other spices, mix and let it cool down. Sprinkle the carrots with seabuckthorn juice once again and add the spice blend as you wish.

For 5 servings

Cut the stems from the fennel and finely slice the fennel. Afterwards, roast in a pan with a bit of olive oil and salt. Core the apple and thinly slice it. Pluck the radicchio in bite size pieces. Roast the walnuts in a pan without oil and roughly chop them. Mix maple syrup, red wine vinegar, mustard, walnut oil and sea salt to a dressing. Mix all ingredients to a salad.

For 4 servings

Preheat the oven to 200°C (air circulation). Peel the potatoes, halve if necessary, and cook them for 10 minutes in saltwater. Drain the water and shake the potatoes in the closed pot so the polenta will stick better. Add olive oil and salt and mix with the potatoes. Roll in the polenta afterwards. Bake the potatoes for 15 minutes, turn, sprinkle again with oil and bake for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, split the onions. Pluck the sage from the stems and roughly chop the leaves. Fry the onions and sage until they are crisp. Eventually, add the pine nuts and season with salt. Sprinkle the potatoes with coarse sea salt before serving.

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