Monday, December 25, 2023

State of the Me: 2023-2024

I guess my overview for this year is that I've made good progress, but long-term goals remain... long-term goals!

So let's dig into my usual set of goals and where I'm at with them!

Job and Career-Related Projects:

Regarding my job, the company I work for has had some significant issues over the past year that have shown up in the news! The CEO/founder actually resigned after The New Yorker wrote a (rather negative) profile of him!!

So, since this blog is technically public, I don't want to say anything at all about it. Anyway, there are a lot of things still up in the air -- hopefully there will be some positive resolutions to write about in next year's state-of-the-me!

That said, I'm proud of my progress in career development projects outside of my immediate job:

I'm in the process of upgrading my hobby-server projects!! I have some virtual machines in the cloud that I set up years ago with a bunch of fun applications: blogs, minecraft, version-control, etc. And this past fall I finally started upgrading them to running on kubernetes!!

I hadn't started on this upgrade earlier because there were a handful of issues that I needed to resolve in order to make them work. The good news is that the solutions I've found will provide some new content for my professional blog!! Getting everything up and running on kubernetes -- and reviving my tech blog with this new material -- is my big career goal for 2024.

Creative Projects and Processes:

I got a Windows laptop as one of my two big birthday presents (along with an awesome trip to London for me & Léo in which we finally got to attend an in-person Pokémon event -- so much fun!!!)

If you know me, you know I'm a server-side engineer and hard-core command-line Linux user, so Windows is naturally an anathema to me! But... my kids are both programming video games, so if I want to be able to collaborate with them, I needed a Windows machine.

Some game and content-creation software can technically be installed on Linux but doesn't really work on Linux, in particular: Unity and DaVinci Resolve. Installing them on my Windows machine made all the difference.

Regarding Unity, my kids and I were all able to install the Unity version control system, and hence I was able to run one of Nico's projects on my own machine! so we're set up to collaborate, and I look forward to some collaborative projects in 2024. Naturally, I'm hoping we'll make some sort of multi-player project so that I can focus on the server-side myself. :D

Regarding DaVinci Resolve, I'm thrilled to announce that I'm finally learning to edit videos!! This has been on my list of goals for some time. I'm really glad Nico has taken the initiative to direct some more Totally Normal Town videos so we can practice and improve our craft. Here's the latest -- and, yes, we demolished our Lego town again!

For our next incarnation of Totally Normal Town, I've already set up the street layout, and -- as I'd been planning for some time -- I've narrowed the roads make this a walking-biking-public-transit urban paradise!!!

So, in 2024, I'm planning to sink my teeth into some great video and video game projects with my kids!!

One final project wrap-up from 2023: I finally did a complete print run of my comic book in both English and French. As I mentioned last year, I had completed the illustrations (and did one small English-language print run), but there were some non-trivial corrections and improvements to do before doing the real print run. And I didn't get started until Summer -- for reasons I'll describe below. Now I have a beautiful set of complete prints of the first volume that I'm very proud of.

Creative + Social:

Remember last year when I said I was planning to join the local English-speaking theater club? Well, that has turned out to be everything I was hoping for and more!! Nico and I have been participating actively, and it has been a fantastic framework for meeting and spending time with fun, creative people -- locally, in person!

In the beginning of the year, I volunteered to be head of costumes for the production of "Steel Magnolias". The production was a huge success!! For me, it was a lot of stress and responsibility which ate up essentially all of my free time for the first half of the year -- but it was absolutely worth it!!

We've also been regularly participating in the monthly improv, and Nico and I also volunteered to be on the stage crew for their November production of "The Lieutenant of Inishmore". Léo and Emmanuel also joined the club and have participated a bit, but not as much as Nico and I have.

Now that my kids are in their early 20's, I'm just so pleased with how all of our family relationships have developed and deepened. I'm glad that I have fun leisure activities that I share with each of them so that I get to spend extensive one-on-one time with each of them. Léo plays along with me and my Pokémon Go addiction -- we have so much fun going all over town together curating our awesome collections of rare Pokémons! Sharing the theater club activities with Nico has been equally fantastic, and all three of us have had a great time working together on Totally Normal Town!!

With my adorable husband Emmanuel, I have various shared interests, especially travel and entertaining. We love throwing parties for our friends, with all of the entertaining conversation that entails! Currently we're getting ready for our big family trip to Japan that is planned for spring of 2025. This trip is something Emmanuel has been talking about for years, and we're all psyched to make it a reality!

This is the thing I've been most grateful for in 2023: my wonderful family!

The four of us have shared fantastic projects and adventures, and I feel like our mutual bonds of love and respect have only gotten deeper. I feel lucky to have this family because these types of bonds are the most important things in life. And I'm looking forward to things just getting better in the years to come!

Other Odds and Ends:

Since I had so much fun with my garden this past Summer, I'm planning to grow some seedlings this year starting in February. I haven't done indoor seedlings in a while -- in 2023 in particular, my Spring was entirely taken up by "Steel Magnolias" -- but I'm ready to try again!

Regarding Schweizerdeutsch, I really like the book I mentioned last year ("Züritüütsch isch aifach schön"), and I'm slowly learning from it, but with all my other projects, I haven't really had time to focus on it as much as I'd like...


There's never enough time to do everything I want to do, but I will continue plugging along for as long as I can -- and enjoying the journey with loved ones all the way!!

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Goodbye again, Totally Normal Town!!


Sorry for the lack of "spoiler alert", but -- as you might guess! -- in the next episode of Totally Normal Town, the town gets demolished again!!!

(You'll have to watch "A Totally Normal Christmas Carol" to find out how and by whom.)

But, before destroying the town, as usual, I took some pictures so that I could tell the tales of the various builds in the city.

In its most recent incarnation, Totally Normal Town has been a Christmas village for about a year. Last year we re-built all of our Christmas sets and then made last year's Christmas special: "A Very Special Totally Normal Christmas... Special"

(We're not planning any more Christmas specials after this year's -- since Totally Normal Town isn't a Christmas village anymore...)

But why did we build it as a Christmas village in the first place?


There's a simple reason for this choice: Lego's "Creator: Winter Village" set is the best set of the year every year.

You're probably aware that Lego makes various series marketed to adults that aren't compatible with their iconic mini-figures and cities: huge, elaborate models of various things done in Legos. Those series don't interest me in the slightest.

When I make things out of Legos, I want to build a city with lots of interesting buildings -- using their various little pieces in creative ways to build all of the miniature details. That's why all of my favorite sets are from the "Creator" series.

(Note: this is not a paid ad for Lego, I'm just a fan.)

The "Winter Village" sub-series is the best "Creator" category because it's clearly designed for my exact demographic: families where the parents and (older) kids build cities together.

The intention is clearly that the set either appeals to the parent, so they buy it for the kids for Christmas, or the kids (probably with the help of the other parent) buy the set as a fun Christmas gift for their Lego-loving parent(s).

The latter is essentially the situation at my house. Naturally, I'm hesitant about so much plastic being created, but I do love these little cities as a guilty pleasure!

The designers pull out all the stops to make a clever set full of interesting design ideas for this special yearly gift.

So this Christmas village is an incarnation of Totally Normal Town in which everything is a purchased set, and (almost) nothing is an original build. Contrast this with Totally Normal Town of 2022 which was almost entirely original builds. That's what I'm planning for the next one.

And now that this one is destroyed, I'll tell you a bit about all of the various buildings.

The one pictured here is the 2022 "Holiday Main Street." This one has some great details -- I love the irregular patterns of the collected snow on the roofs.

(Note that my kids added a bunch of characters and items that are not part of the original set.)

As you can see from the little trolley in front, this is one of the few Lego sets that includes urban public transit. As a passionate urbanist, I was thrilled when my kids got me this one.

In the next incarnation of Totally Normal Town, I'm planning to narrow the streets and have them be exclusively bike, pedestrian, and public transit (plus some emergency and delivery vehicles) because I want my little city-under-the-stairs to be a wonderful place to live.

This little blue house is my newest set. It's the 2021 "Santa's Visit" set. My kids got it for me for my birthday this year because they saw it in the store, and we didn't have it yet.

This set is a fun one because it's got some really nice interior details like the open-plan house with a long dining table set with a red tablecloth for Christmas dinner.

Since it's "Santa's Visit" the chimney is designed to be wide enough for the Santa mini-fig to slide down.

This one is the "Winter Village Fire Station" from 2018. It has some very nice design elements such as the irregular grey brick on the lower level as well as the decorative windows and trim.

This one is the absolutely adorable "Gingerbread House" from 2019.

I love how they took simple pieces and put them together to look like gingerbread decorated with candy and frosting!

Even the interior is candy -- you can see that the bed appears to be a bar of white chocolate!

Next we have "Santa's Workshop" (2014) and the "Elf Clubhouse" (2020). I love how both of these use ordinary Lego pieces to create the illusion of strings of Christmas lights (they don't light up, of course).

Also pictured we have the "Christmas Tree" -- which is not a "Creator" set, but it fits. The funny thing is that I told my son that we need a big Christmas tree as a centerpiece of our Christmas village, and there just happened to be one at the Lego store that was the perfect size!

The other builds here are a set of the book "A Christmas Carol" -- which is such a specialty set that I can't even find it on the Lego website to link to -- and "the gates of heaven" with Jesus. The latter is an original build by my kids because Jesus was a character in our Christmas special.

"Santa's Workshop" has some really fun interior details like a workbench, a toy-manufacturing machine with a conveyor belt, and a 80's/90's computer.

Please note that all three of these are constructed from generic pieces. I sometimes hear people complain that Lego used to be for imaginative building, but now they just make complete molded-plastic toys like Playmobile.

I would argue that Lego has simply expanded its collection in both directions: The "snap-together toys" exist (witness the reindeer in the foreground of this photo), but the range of possibilities for making anything you can imagine out of generic tiny pieces has also expanded dramatically. If the latter is what you're looking for, then stick to the "Creator" sets.

It's a similar story for the interior of the "Elf Clubhouse". This one features some clever mechanical builds like the cute mechanism that drops waffles into a pan and a clock that (when turned) makes the elves drop out of their bunk beds and get to work!

(I guess the fact that the elves are slaves and/or in a cult is part of the clubhouse fun...)

Next we have Hogwarts! This set is the "Hogwarts Clock Tower" from a number of years ago. It's not a "Creator" set, but it includes a mechanism for the Yule Ball, so -- with some additional Christmas decorations -- it fits into our Christmas village.

Hogwarts has been an important component of the story of Totally Normal Town from the beginning -- it's where the kids go to school, and it was Professor Trelawney who saw "the Grim" and thus predicted the first destruction of the town.

So, while Hogwarts is grandfathered-in as a permanent fixture of Totally Normal Town, it's with my apologies to the trans community. I'm absolutely disgusted that the author of the series has chosen to use her gigantic platform to act as the world's spokesperson for anti-trans hate.

This little Hogwarts annex includes the only original architectural build in the Christmas village.

The lower floor is the "Hogwarts Polyjuice Potion Mistake" set, which is a very simple rectangular room that looks like it's designed to be modular -- that is, you could combine a bunch of similar rooms by stacking them or connecting them alongside one another. I guess it's an expander set for some other Hogwarts sets.

Since the little polyjuice bathroom is in the same style as our other Hogwarts set, I wanted to include it as part of the Hogwarts castle. But it looked weird without a roof, so I threw together a little under-roof room in a similar style to serve as as a topper.

Next we have Elsa's castle. This was another present to me from my kids from a few years ago. This set is more for little kids than the others -- yet it still contains interesting mechanics like the way to open the big doors. It's a fun set, and it naturally fits the winter theme of the town.

I think it may be our only set that includes the "mini-dolls" from the Lego "Friends" series in place of the standard mini-figures. (We have a few others from the Lego Movie 2 sets.)

Then we're back to some more "Creator: Winter Village" sets: The "Winter Village Station" from 2017 and the "Winter Holiday Train" from 2016.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I didn't actually buy the "Winter Holiday Train" -- I just happened to have all of the pieces from other train sets, and I built it from the instructions that I found online.

The acronym you see on our train system is "Société municipale des chemins de plastique de Totally Normal Town."

And that's it for our adorable little Christmas village-under-the-stairs! Be sure to tune in for our Christmas special in which it gets demolished and stay tuned for the next incarnation of Totally Normal Town!!

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Gardening Survival of the Fittest!


This year I was feeling lazy with respect to gardening, so I didn't plant any seedlings indoors in February to prepare for my garden.

Then, when mid-May rolled around (time to plant stuff outside!), I was still feeling a little lazy. So -- aside from my usual ten tomato plants for the year -- I didn't buy any new plants.

Instead I thought it would be fun to play "survival of the fittest"!!

Basically, I decided to just plant all of my expired seeds -- without any regard for following the planting instructions -- and see who wins!

And I learned a number of interesting lessons that I will apply to next year's garden!

I'll go through them pot-by-pot, starting from the shady side of the garden. This balcony faces due west, so the shady side is to the south. As you can see from the photo above, the wall of the neighbor's apartment casts a shadow on the south side of the balcony whenever the sun appears to the south of us (which is most of the time).

Against the south wall, we have the mints. The mints have already won the "survival of the fittest" challenge years ago, so nothing new was added to that pot this round.

This pot is the only one of the long trough pots that I haven't ever dumped to chop up and rotate the dirt. I just planted some mint plants once, and they thrive every year. I just remove the old stalks, occasionally add some more dirt and fertilizer, and they're good to go.

I feel like I might need to change their dirt at some point or maybe add some worms since the soil must be really compacted by now. But the plants are still thriving, and I'm not planning any intervention until they show signs of distress.

The small pots in the foreground are various herbs (mostly perennials) that I've bought over the past few weeks.

The first pot in the row of pots was also excluded from the "survival of the fittest" experiment. This pot had been used for raspberries since the beginning of this garden.

My parents had a shady raspberry patch for the 25-or-so years that they owned their house in Edina (and it was probably there long before and after), so I decided to plant raspberries in this shady pot.

The raspberries were very successful for many years. I had a number of real bumper crops, and they reseeded themselves for years (they're biennials).

But the past few years they'd been doing increasingly poorly. I bought supplemental raspberry plants and added them to the pot for the past two years, but they all died out. This year, no new plants grew, and the ones from last year (that are supposed to grow the berries) were all dead.

I just left the pot alone in mid-May to see if anything would recover, but they didn't. I figured that probably this dirt is just done growing raspberries, and I'm kind of bored of them as well. So last week I dumped out the dirt and chopped it up and put it back to start over.

I looked up possible shade plants to put in this pot, and I hit upon "Alpine Strawberries". Since we're near the Alps, that seemed like a good, local choice. So I bought some strawberry plants that I think are Alpine strawberries (I didn't really check), and planted them in this pot. So far they are doing well.

I finished off the pot with basil and cilantro/coriander (purchased plants) because those also like shade.

My plans for this pot for next year: Fill it completely with Alpine strawberries.

The next pot was the first one to get random seeds.

In this one I planted seeds of tomatoes and parsley. And what came up?

Mostly weeds. There's one particular plant that is very aggressive and ugly and unuseful. I don't think it's a native plant, but either way, it's not welcome in my garden because it keeps crowding out all the other plants.

I waited until the plants had all grown a number of leaves to confirm that it wasn't the parsley before pulling up the weeds, and I think some of the plants I planted got off to a slow start due to competition with these weeds. But after weeding, the plants have been fairly successful. Here's what grew:

Of the five tall plants against the railing, three of them are tomatoes. This impressed me because these started from seeds on May 15th, and they're already growing flowers. They won't grow as many tomatoes as the tomato plants in the other pot, but we'll see some.

Additionally some parsley grew (I've never had a lot of luck with parsley), plus a lot of clover (not sure what to do with that), and a single stray basil plant. I later added two (purchased) hot-pepper plants (they're plants #1 and #4 from the left), and bunch of dill because there were some yellow swallowtail caterpillars in this pot. One of them is currently a pupa attached to the left side of this pot (not visible in the photo).

My plans for this pot for next year: I would like this pot to be my caterpillar sanctuary. So this pot will be full of parsley and dill. I'll try again to grow them from seeds. Plus I'll put a row of hot pepper plants (the caterpillars don't eat them, but the caterpillars do like the shade). But for the hot-pepper plants, I'll grow some from seedlings starting in February because the shops didn't have a good selection of hot-pepper plants this year.

In this pot, I planted lettuce and pumpkins and tomatoes. The lettuce came up immediately and drowned out everything else.

Two pumpkin plants have bravely poked up leaves in this sea of lettuce, but I don't have much hope for them. (I think you can't even see them in the picture.)

What I learned from this is the following: Don't try to plant any other seeds at the same time as lettuce. The lettuce will win. There were probably some of those weeds trying to grow in this pot, but the lettuce grew thick and fast and drowned almost everything else out.

The most surprising thing is that I've seen pots of this same lettuce for sale at the plant nursery. Considering how fast this stuff grows from seeds, I'm not sure why one would buy it already grown.

The other lesson I learned was to only grow one pot of lettuce. Even eating salads as often as we can, this pot is growing way more lettuce than we can possibly eat. I don't know if you can see from the picture, but we've already chopped bunches and bunches of the lettuce out to eat.

(Also note that there's a butterfly pupa on this pot as well. You can kind of see it in the photo -- it's the dark spot on the right-hand side near the bottom.)

My plans for this pot for next year: Plant all of the different varieties of lettuce seeds and let them duke it out amongst themselves.

On either side of the lettuce pot are my two apple trees. This year has been their worst year yet as they did not even begin to grow a single apple between the two of them. Usually they grow at least a few, and one time they grew enough to make an apple pie without any supplemental purchased apples.

I'm not sure what went wrong this year. They only grew a few flowers -- which were covered with ants -- and didn't produce any fruits.

Maybe I need to fertilize them more or add some worms to break up the soil in their pots. Maybe the marjoram that has decided to grow as a ground-cover in their pots is taking up resources...? Maybe I should poison the ants...?

Or maybe it's just a fluke and they'll be fine next year...?

Next we have my prized tomatoes! Growing beautifully as always! Covered with flowers and ripening tomatoes.

I bought these 10 plants from Migros. They had a good selection this year, so I actually got 6 different varieties.

I planted some basil seeds in the pots with them, but the basil hasn't done great. I think planting basil seeds in the pots with already-mature tomato plants blocked the basil's sunlight too much.

My plans for these pots for next year: Plant the basil seeds earlier so they have a bit of a head start. Plant tomato seedlings in February instead of buying the plants in May.

In this pot we have the star winner of the "survival of the fittest" challenge: the peas!

I had planted peas earlier (last year?) according to the instructions and got only one or two sad little pea stalks. So I intended to give up on peas. But I still had the rest of the packet of pea seeds, so I thought I'd give them another shot.

This time I dug a trench along the west side of the pot and just poured the whole packet of pea seeds in. And boy did they grow! And they're covered with pods of delicious, sweet peas! (I harvested them a few days ago, so you might get a wrong impression from the photo of how many peas there are.)

The peas were the only seeds that were able to hold their own against the lettuce seeds. They had a bit of an advantage since they had the whole row along the sunny side of the pot.

As you can see, I also planted lettuce in this pot -- a different kind than in the other pot -- but it also came in thick and fast!

The other plants you see pictured are ones that I purchased and added later. The one with a little vine growing along the ground is a plant of mini-cucumbers and the one with the larger leaves is some kind of round, yellow zucchini. They're both making some progress towards growing some fruits. (or vegetables, I guess...? But I think that botanically it's the fruit of the plant...?)

I wanted to grow some ground-vine plants in the two northern-most pots because I had good luck with that strategy last year, growing some melons. There's more room and more sun in that part of the balcony, so one way to take advantage of it is to grow plants that will grow vines along the floor of the balcony.

The yellow zucchinis are not making any such vines, so I'll probably skip them for next year. We'll see how the mini-cucumbers do.

My plans for this pot for next year: Peas again!! Plus I'll grow some melon plants from seeds in February since I couldn't find any melon plants for purchase this year. Maybe also mini-cucumbers, depending on how they do.

Then, as a ground-cover for the rest of the pot, maybe some annual herbs like cilantro and basil.

The last pot is the pot that had the most adventures.

I filled it with seeds of dill and hot-pepper plants. The problem is that I didn't know what the hot-pepper plants were supposed to look like when they're small, so a whole field of this one week grew thick and fast -- and I assumed it was the peppers, so I let it grow.

This weed is very similar to the weed in the other pot (identical tiny flowers), but it has a different leaf configuration than the other one, so I didn't recognize it until the mass of weeds was practically a bush. (I later also planted the same cucumber and zucchini plants in this pot as in the adjacent pot.)

So I had a bush of this weed battling it out with some brave dill. Then a yellow swallowtail butterfly (at least one) spotted the dill and decided that it was a good place to lay her eggs. At least 5 eggs were laid (one of them was probably laid in another pot).

The caterpillars hatched and made short work of the dill. I recognized them as butterfly caterpillars (we'd caught one on our dill a few years ago and brought it in), so I bought a butterfly/caterpillar cage and another pot of dill to put in the cage and brought three caterpillars inside.

While the three caterpillars in the cage were busy eating and sleeping and digesting and pooping and growing, etc., I noticed there were two more caterpillars still outside. I decided to just leave those two outside and see what happens. (They both successfully transformed into pupae, as mentioned above -- the first three are currently pupae in the cage on my shelf.)

Anyway, around this same time, I wised up and figured out that the bushy plants weren't hot-chili plants, and were, in fact, a variety of the same weed that had been choking out my parsley in the other pot. So I yanked them all out. There were two tiny hot-pepper plants, but I don't think they'll grow big enough to grow any chilis this year.

Once I noticed the remaining caterpillar, I planted another few pots of dill in the pot for it, but without the weeds, the pot was too sunny. So the caterpillar made a long trek along the edge of the balcony and joined its sibling in the second pot from the end. (These two became the outdoor pupae.)

Since I was at the plant store, I also bought a pot plant out of curiosity and planted it in the right-hand corner. Now I'm regretting it a bit, though, because I have a strict policy against planting perennials (other than mints) in these long trough planters because it's a huge pain to dig them out if they get big and don't work out. I think I will dig this plant back out while it's still small and plant it in an individual pot. I think I'll need to buy a new pot for it.

My plans for this pot for next year: Along the west side, I'll probably grow either peas or hot peppers or maybe something else. I'll probably fill it with ground vines and some small herbal ground-cover plant like the adjacent pot.

In conclusion: my early-year laziness inspired an experiment that was interesting enough to re-energize my interest in my garden! I'm looking forward to some beautiful fruits, vegetables, herbs, and butterflies this year and next!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The best "use-stuff-up" recipe ever: Knödel (dumplings) in veggie-cream-stew!!

This is my favorite recipe, mostly just because it's delicious -- but it's also great for fighting food waste!

This recipe is especially for using up bread that has gone stale, and it's also a delicious way to use fresh vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms that maybe you don't have a specific use for.

I will start by writing out the complete recipe, then follow with tips, explanations, and variations.

Knödel (dumplings) in veggie-cream-stew

Ingredients for the Knödel:

  • 250 g. stale bread
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • some chopped fresh herbs (e.g. parsley, rosemary)
  • oil for cooking
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 dl. milk or beer
  • 80-160 g. lardons (Speckwürfeli) (optional)

Ingredients for the veggie-cream stew:

  • 1 onion (or bunch of green onions), chopped
  • 1 small hot chili pepper, chopped very small (optional)
  • 500 g. chopped vegetables and mushrooms
  • some chopped fresh herbs (e.g. thyme, wild garlic)
  • oil for cooking
  • 1 dl. broth
  • 200 g. crème fraîche

In a large pot, cook the onion, garlic, lardons, & herbs in a bit of cooking oil until the onion bits are translucent. Set this aside to cool a bit while you slice the stale bread very thin and put the slices in a large mixing bowl. Mix together the eggs, milk or beer, and nutmeg, then pour this mixture over the bread. Then add the earlier cooked ingredients (including the oil).

Knead the mixture thoroughly with your hands until there are no dry bread chunks left, and then form the mixture into 6-8 balls.

In the same pot as before, cook the second set of ingredients as follows:

Add some more cooking oil and cook the onion, hot pepper, and herbs until the onion bits are translucent. Then add the vegetables, mushrooms, and broth, starting with whichever vegetables need to be cooked the longest. Bring it to a boil, then add the crème fraîche and bring it to a boil again, then reduce the heat to a simmer.

Place the dumplings on top of the vegetable stew and cover the pot. Simmer covered for 20 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

This recipe is a combination of two different recipes I found in some local cookbooks -- with my own modifications based on the experience of making it all the time. The recipes are "Semmelknödel auf Rahm-Kürbis", p.25 of Martina Kittler's "Kürbis: Das Best vom Herbst" (GU Küchenratgeber, 2013), and "Brot-Knödel auf Rahm-Gemüse", p. 68 of "Resten Los Geniessen" (Betty Bossi, 2018).

I love making this recipe because I love to mix-and-match flavors! And I love to try out different seasonal vegetables! You can use essentially any vegetable that you might normally use in a soup or stir-fry.

Naturally you can use "Kürbis" (pumpkin/squash), broccoli, spinach, zucchini (though that one gets a little mushy), bok choi, green beans, snap peas, etc., etc. In this instance I used carrots, brussel sprouts, and kale.

You can even use protein chunks such as meat or tempeh in place of part of the vegetables.

Ideally, you can make this recipe with just ingredients that you already have in your kitchen -- so it's cozy comfort food for a lazy day when you weren't planning to go out. And since you can substitute your own favorite ingredients at every step, your version will taste better to you than mine would!

Unless you specifically dislike mushrooms, I would recommend not skipping the mushrooms as part of your 500 grams of vegetables and mushrooms. They really affect the flavor.

This time there were some fresh local mushrooms in the shop, so I bought them specifically for this recipe.

However, even when I use fresh mushrooms (and especially when I don't have any on hand), I generally add some dried mushrooms as well. They impact the flavor even more than the fresh ones do, so it's a good idea to keep some dried mushrooms in your cupboard for such occasions.

If you're using dried mushrooms, start by re-hydrating them since it takes about 20 minutes. They'll be ready by the time you need them.

In this picture you can also see the fresh herbs I picked from my balcony garden (thyme, rosemary, and sage). This January heat wave we're having is kinda scary, but I guess I have fresh herbs year-round, so yay...?

You can use your own favorite herbs from your own garden -- or maybe you or someone else in your household bought some fresh herbs for a recipe and didn't use them up -- feel free to try them out in this!

If you don't have any fresh herbs, naturally you can use dried herbs instead.

I normally divide the herbs so that I'm using some for the knödel and then different ones for the stew so that the components will have different flavors.

When sautéing the onions for the dumplings, I generally use the same pan I'm planning to cook the whole lot in later. Naturally you can use a different pan if you like, but then you have to wash two pans.

I had thought that pine nuts might make a good vegetarian alternative to using lardons in the dumplings, but they didn't really work because the flavor was too subtle.

So in this picture I'm using vegan faux-lardons from Outlawz Food. These worked really well and were quite delicious, so I'm definitely using them again.

For the bread, one recipe recommends Ciabatta (which works well), and the other lists various breads. I usually use butterzopf (which is like brioche) because my kids like it for sandwiches, and (if not eaten) it gets hard/stale by the next day.

More or less any bread will work as long as it's at least a bit stale/hard so that the liquid of the recipe can penetrate it. Both recipes say to use bread from the previous day, but I've found that bread that's up to 4 days old works just fine. Just keep in mind that the harder it is, the smaller the pieces you need to cut it into (and obviously don't use bread that's moldy, etc.).

For the liquid, both recipes say to use milk (one says milk or water), but I like to use beer instead.

This is because one time I started making this recipe and realized that we didn't have any milk (since we don't use milk that often), so I had to find a substitute. I'd heard that beer can sometimes be used as a substitute for milk in recipes (and we definitely have that), so I decided to try it out -- and it works great!

An extra advantage of using beer is that it's not sold in 1 dl portions (that's just a 10th of a liter), so you can open a bottle, set aside 1 dl of beer, and drink the rest while making this recipe!

Naturally the eggs can also be replaced with vegan egg-substitutes.

Forming the dumplings is quite simple. Just squeeze everything together with your hands until everything is mixed and there are no lumps of dry bread. Then form the balls with your hands.

I usually make six of them to make it easy to divide this into three portions, but you can also make eight for four portions.

Then set this aside and start on the vegetables.

I usually add a hot pepper here because I like the flavor combination of spicy and creamy. Neither recipe includes this (not even as a suggestion), so feel free to leave it out if you don't like spicy food.

In this case, I had preserved some hot chilis from my balcony garden in olive oil, so I used some of that for both the chili and part of the cooking oil.

(You can see my little jar of hot chilis on the right-had side of the picture of bowls of ingredients above.)

The biggest difference between my recipe and the ones in the books is the amount of broth. One calls for adding 1 dl of broth, and the other none at all. So why do I recommend half a liter of broth?

Since a bouillon cube makes half a liter of broth, I initially used to make the 5 dl and then only use 1 dl. But I found that -- depending on the vegetables you're using -- it's easier to cook them down without burning them (and simmer 20 minutes!) if you use more liquid. And since I already had more broth right there, I started using more and more of it until I ended up using all of it every time.

As you might guess, this changes the character of the recipe entirely. Both of the initial recipes are for dumplings that can be served on a plate with a vegetable cream sauce over them. My version is more of a soup or stew (hence the title) that's served in a bowl.

If you'd prefer a creamy sauce rather than a creamy stew, you can easily achieve this by using 1 dl of broth rather than 5. But, personally, I love soups and stews! So that's how I make this recipe.

If you make it as a stew, the cream actually becomes optional. If you prefer a transparent brothy soup rather than a creamy soup, you can leave out the cream entirely.

If you don't have any crème fraîche, you can substitute heavy cream. I've done this, and it works fine.

If you'd like to substitute lower-fat dairy products (like yoghurt or sour cream), the one thing to be aware of is that they can curdle when cooking them. So if you're using a substitute here, just be sure to pick something that is made to be cooked.

Then -- after a quick 20-minute simmer in their own soup or sauce -- you have delicious knödels! Made with your own favorite ingredients!