Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On par with Fahrtgasse

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Yeah, we've been feeling a little juvenile lately. Hee hee hee.
I bought this just to get a photo so now I have to figure out what to do with it. I found a recipe online that involves fresh fruit and gelatin leaves, whatever those are. Not sure if any appropriate fruits are in season at the moment but I'll have to check it out! Or if you have some ideas of what to do with it, let me know. I read that it can be eaten like yogurt but I think I'll pass on that.



Yes, those special American hot-dog-bun traditions...:D
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Monday, March 30, 2009

AmiExpat's Pharisaeer Challenge!

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This week Christina at AmiExpat gave us a super-easy challenge as a break between last week's super-intense Sauerbraten and next week's crazy Kalbshaxn (requested by my own husband, so we have to do it...thanks a lot, dear!!).

Essentially, the Pharisaeer is just coffee with rum, cream, and sugar to taste. It comes from the cold North Sea region. We have no mixer so the cream had to be whipped by hand, which was the only really crappy part. We made them Saturday afternoon after coming in from grocery shopping.

I actually don't drink coffee at all, so we made mine with black tea, and that was just fine too. Damon liked his so much he had another one on Sunday afternoon. I felt a little off on Saturday night* and thought it might be due to the tea (I usually only drink herbal tea, no caffeine) so instead, I had hot lime with rum (lime + water + sugar + rum) on Sunday. :)

*This may also be due to a little incident on Wednesday evening wherein I mistakenly downed a gulp or two of dilute hydrogen peroxide - looks and smells juuuust like water. The worst effects were over by the next day, but I've been feeling a little ill here and there since then too. Maybe it's related.
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Saturday, March 28, 2009

They fixed our Rewe!

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Our closest "large" (read: not that large) grocery store, the Rewe in Das Carre in the Adenauerplatz, closed down for renovations about a month ago. This sucked. There are an Aldi, Lidl, and Penny conveniently located, and there are some small grocery stores in the Altstadt and a small one in the basement of Galeria Kaufhof in the Bismarckplatz, but most of these have shorter hours and more limited selections. Actually, our Rewe wasn't that great either. Most Rewes, like the one I always went to near class in Mainz or the one in Handschuhsheim that everyone's always recommending to us, are pretty alright. This one was kind of a crowded dump.

We have the same problem with grocery stores here that we had in Boston: namely, for the carless, it's not easy to get to one with a really big selection. We pretty much always need to shop in multiple locations. Here there's the additional problem that the produce at grocery stores doesn't seem to be that good. What you can get at the market is great, but that is only twice per week. Sometimes smaller produce stores have better stuff and bigger varieties. I can't think of a single store where we can get every food item we usually need. People are always telling us "oh, you can get X at ___(insert name of store here that requires a bus/Strassenbahn/bike trip to get to)___". This was always a problem in Boston too. And Chicago, come to think of it. It's nice to have a good store you can just run to when you think of a meal plan later in the day - trips out to the outskirts to the Giant Kaufland require planning. Unfortunately, planning is not my forte, heh.

Anyway, our Rewe reopened a couple of days ago and it's much nicer now! The selection is still not exactly amazing (can anyone tell me, is frozen corn sold in Germany? It isn't at that Rewe), but if nothing else, it's at least more well-organized, easier to get around with better traffic patterns, and the checkout is bigger. I think the produce section grew, too. They added a frozen section where the food is on shelves instead of in those trunk-like freezers - much easier to find things. Now let's just hope they improved in the meat section and manage to keep enough chicken breasts in stock (always a problem for some reason)! There have been other changes in Das Carre, too. The Italian restaurant/Eis joint that was next to Rewe is gone, with a bakery/cafe sort of thing in its place. The clothing store that used to be across from the Eis place is also gone, and the Turkish market next to it has expanded into that space. The Thai restaurant in there has cleaned up a bit too, with new furniture and signs, but the food still isn't that great. (It always smells freaking awesome, though.)

Now they just need to fix the intersection outside Das Carre, what a disaster that thing is....
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Meeting People from the Internet

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The topic of meeting people from the internet recently came up in a conversation. There's still some stigma on this - some of it rightly so. Of course a person could be totally misrepresenting themselves on a chat board or forum. Common sense, which I don't need to explain the details of here, should always prevail.

The nature of bloggers, though, is to usually be what we say we are. There are so many people on the internet now, too, that to be "from the internet" means very little and covers a huge segment of the population. It's not really very different from meeting people anywhere else. If anything, you know a little more about them before you even meet. It can be hard to meet new people as an adult. You spend the first part of adulthood thinking that the friends you already have are enough, and that anyone who is looking for friends must have something wrong with them to not have any already (sort of the "any club that would want me is not worth joining" idea). Then life changes, you move around, it gets harder to see your older friends. All of this is multiplied many times for someone who leaves their own country and finds a culture where you don't meet friends at work and struggle with the language. The internet is actually not a really bad place overall to meet people.

I was pretty reluctant about it at first and certainly have NEVER set out on the internet with the intention of meeting anyone. I have a "from the internet" story that would make your hair curl, but it's not my own story so I won't share it publicly. I have a personal one too; it's not as bad, but it could certainly put people off the concept. The first year I was here I skipped expat blogger meet-ups. The second year we decided to go as an excuse to hit Dresden, which we wanted to see anyway. And hey! Guess what? They were normal. (Okay, not boring normal, but not scary or creepy.) And easy to talk to, and funny. And if they weren't, the worst that could happen is that we broke off from the group and had a nice time in Dresden on our own. Same for any meet-up. Meet for coffee. If it sucks, it only lasted an hour and you never have to meet again.

Now there's been no turning back. Last year's meet-up in Bremen really solidified it for me: people from the internet, like people at large, are pretty damn cool, and I've almost completely forgotten that it can be a bad experience too. Bremen was a great time and we've met up with some of the same people again since then. Meeting up with a local blogger recently turned out to be fun, too. Now I'm starting to feel more awkward about not meeting people than meeting them!

All that to say: if you're an expat blogger in Germany, how about joining our meetup this year? The second round of voting on a location has begun, and it's come down to Munich, Berlin, and - gasp! - Heidelberg. Click the link - all you need to register and have a say is to be a blogger here. Who knows, you might meet a few people you really get along with, and if nothing else, you'll be able to commiserate with them on the ups and downs of life in Germany.
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Sunday, March 22, 2009

AmiExpat's Sauerbraten challenge!

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AmiExpat has been challenging other bloggers to a weekly session of German cooking from recipes she has translated herself out of an old cookbook. This week's recipes were Sauerbraten and Schneebaellchen ("little snowballs" - potato dumplings). I actually don't usually care for either thing that much, which is strange because I love most food. But, they looked like an interesting thing to attempt so we decided to do it anyway.

We had to start on Thursday by marinating the big hunk of meat. The marinade involves boiling red wine vinegar (photo at left). I knew right away why I never liked Sauerbraten. Vinegar reeks! Our apartment smelled for about a day like vinegar despite trying to air it out. We don't have a mortar and pestle so we crushed up the pepper and stuff under the handle of a garlic press (see right). (Actually, we do have a mortar and pestle. In a box in Damon's parents' basement in the US.) The roast started out nice and red, but turned sort of gray in the marinade (see below)!

Collecting the ingredients was interesting. We found some kind of sugar syrup stuff. The package says it's for spreading on bread. But we couldn't find the Saucenlebkuchen and in fact got the "crazy foreigner doesn't know what the ass they're talking about" look at the store when asking about it. At a party last night we brought it up and none of the Germans there had ever heard of it either. Maybe it's a regional thing? Having not even seen Saucenlebkuchen before, and having no luck searching for pictures on the internet, we didn't even know if they were actually baked-up cookies, some kind of ground thing, or what! We ended up substituting with the closest-looking thing to Lebkuchen that's available at this time of year: some kind of cinnamon cookies.

The recipe seems to be written for people who have made this before. At points it wasn't entirely clear to us what we were supposed to do. We render the bacon, then do we take out the bits or leave them in? (We assumed we should take them out.) Are the cookies layered whole on top of the meat? (We did that - see picture at right.) It sounds like it, but that's kind of strange. Then the recipe brings up "the warmed red wine" as if it had already been referenced, which it hadn't. We didn't warm it, though. It was such a small volume we figured that having it at room temperature wasn't going to cool down the meat very much. What is "a piece" of celery root? I figured it must be about the same size as what you see in a package of soup greens (see photo at left - at the top is the size of celery root we used), since a whole root is really big. But, I wouldn't have been able to guess that if I hadn't lived here in Germany and seen soup greens sold like that. So, it's definitely a grandma, someone-who-already-knows kind of recipe, leaving us wondering pretty often if we were doing it right!! The dumpling recipe was no problem to understand, though, and very easy! We thought we had marjoram on hand and it turned out we didn't. Since it's Sunday in Germany, we were SOL and subbed in thyme (a smaller amount) instead. We have no potato-mashing tools so we just boiled them really well and Damon mushed them all up with a wooden spatula.

As it cooked, the cookies got all swelled up and we couldn't really baste with the wine but just sort of poured it over everything. It was getting late so we took it out about 15 minutes short of two hours. We didn't bother with the sieve (we don't have a good one - here - anyway, only a pasta pot insert) and just scooped out all the vegetables and cookies with a slotted spoon. The cookies looked really gross. All that out of the way, we reduced the leftover liquid (there wasn't much), added the raisins, and tested it. We did add pepper and about two spoons of the sugar syrup, but it didn't seem to need salt. Then it was time to eat!!


So, after all our feeling like novices and troubleshooting and vinegar stench and my preconception that I wasn't all that into Sauerbraten...it was really good. The meat was perfect, the dumplings weren't too gummy, the sauce had a good flavor.... I would definitely try making it again!! (But it does require planning! And our kitchen is a disaster right now - too small for big projects.) I can't believe how well it came out even without the correct ingredents or knowing if we interpreted it right. Very good recipe!
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

We haven't had Tidbits in a while!

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So here are some.

* Normally there would soon be narcissus blooming all over the north bank of the Neckar across from the Altstadt. But, this year that area is all torn up while they put in some new bench-like things on the slope between the road and the water. Previously it was just a grassy (and sometimes flowery) slope, with the path at the waterside and some normal benches places sporadically along the path. These new ones look very corporate-plaza-in-downtown-Anylifelesscity-USA to me. I'm not sure why they chose this style as it's not in line with its surroundings. It would fit in near Neuenheimer Feld, where things are more modern, but they clash with the Old Bridge and the Altstadt.

* The 21st (this Saturday) is the Lange Nacht der Museen (long night of the museums) here in Heidelberg, Mannheim, and Ludwigshafen. You can buy tickets at participating museums (basically, any museum in these towns). We're going to miss it this year because of a conflicting party, but it's fun so you should try it if you haven't before!

* Last week I met up with Mom in High Heels for lunch! She is really awesome and full of goood stories about her son, her various stints here in Germany, and life here from the military perspective, which until recently I haven't known very much about. We are the only two Americans in Germany that I know of who think corn on pizza and corn on salad are great ideas. Also, she was so sweet and brought us goodies from the commissary, including Oreos and brownie mix!! That stuff is sold there at American prices, if you can believe it. (I don't know how, since it does have to be imported.)

* Tonight we prepared the marinade for AmiExpat's Sauerbraten challenge for next Monday. People, it's RANK in here.

* I've recently become aware that there are some fellow bird nerds in the readership. :) Did you know the government needs some help putting bird migration data into a database? You can volunteer to do it yourself at home, much like all the people running SETI searches from their computers at home. The possibility for data entry errors with all those volunteers makes my data geek head spin, but it's certainly better than the data never getting into a database at all.

* New Dan Deacon is coming out on March 24! Come on, I know someone out there cares. The first song's been floating around out there, here you can hear it on YouTube:
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

German and American Handwriting

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This blog post is handwritten. If you have trouble reading it (it would be better if I had a scanner, eh?) click on the pictures to see a large size.








This is the French recipe I mentioned. I think the problem is that the small p and l look the same! (See apricot & blancs.)



This is my grandma's handwriting. Looks like she learned something Zaner-Bloser-esque long ago! Look at the dramatic small p!


Some links:
Suetterlin at Omniglot.com - This is the version I used (scroll down a bit).
There's a slightly different version at Wikipedia.
You can type in your name in Suetterlin here.
German Kurrentschrift - Suetterlin was a late, nicely stylized form of this.
Here's the Zaner-Bloser alphabet that I learned in second grade.
I think they later switched to D'Nealian which is ever-so-slightly simpler.
My German friend learned this one while I was learning ball-and-stick writing. She learned something like ball-and-stick while I was learning Zaner-Bloser, I guess.
She says they developed this more modern one in the 70s, but it apparently hadn't spread to her school!
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Obama Fingers!?

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I think it's worth checking out the Obama fingers which have been featured recently on AmiExpat and Germany Doesn't Suck. You can read about them in Spiegel, too. I'd say: not really a direction you want to go with the Obama-love, folks. It's just kind of creepy! But we're all getting a laugh out of it, so carry on...
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Heppenheim!

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Lately we haven't gone to too many new cute little towns like we used to. Mostly it's because we've been focusing more on trips further away, or re-visiting tried and true places with our guests. As it turns out, it wasn't all bad to have a little break from it. This weekend we went up to Heppenheim, on the Bergstrasse north of Heidelberg, and I think after the break we were able to appreciate its quaintness all the more!

Heppenheim Mar 09

We've been wanting to visit Heppenheim since passing by it during a wine fest in the Bergstrasse about two years ago. The route went up the hill above Heppenheim and it looked really cute from up there! We took the train up to get there this weekend - it's about a 30-40 minute journey on the Regional Bahn. There was a map of town outside the train station so we just took a look at it and walked toward the Altstadt.

As you can see in the pictures, the town is filled with lots of half-timber cuteness. It also feels genuine. There weren't many tourists milling around and there are signs that it's very lived-in, like the fact that the Platz in front of the church was being used as a parking lot. Not pretty, but practical. It was full of all the neat little nooks and crannies that make going to an old town so fun. We had lunch at a so-called "tapas" restaurant, where the lunch specials happened to be Schnitzel, Gulasch, and Haxe! I had an enchilada, but it was more like a big burrito with Emmentaler on it. We had a great seat in the window with a view over the Marktplatz and Rathaus and I had a really nice Rose wine (from Heppenheim!). See the pictures for all the little interesting corners we saw.

We skipped town just as it was starting to pour. Come on, spring! :)
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Monday, March 09, 2009

Bedandbreakfast.com is lame

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The place we wanted to stay in Edinburgh turns out to have no room. I guess I waited a little too long - but didn't want to let concerns about how long we wanted to stay etc. get me all distracted from my thesis. So, I turned to bedandbreakfast.com and did a search. Am I missing something, or is this search a completely useless piece of crap? I got search results here - there are three with "detailed" information that come up on the first page. These "details" do not include anything about where the place is actually located. So it could be right in the city center or 15 miles out in the country for all I know. Not. Helpful. But hey, that's better than the rest of the search results, which are merely a list of the name and city of all the other B&Bs that didn't get to be on the three-B&B "detailed" list. Wow!! The name tells me so much! How about price? Location? Price and location? Almost the two only things that really matter? Also, I can't find any place to sort them by nearness to center or price. I can sort them by name though! Oh boy! If I already knew the name of the place where I wanted to stay, I wouldn't be using a B&B search engine.

Pointless.

Please, if you can recommend a good place to search for a B&B in Edinburgh - or even better, if you can personally recommend a cheap, well-located one - please let me know!
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Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Few Adventures in Our Own Backyard

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A few weeks ago, our friends Mike and Jason came through Heidelberg on another of their whirlwind European trips - this one a sort of Benelux package going through Amsterdam, Brussels, and Luxembourg. It's hard to follow all that up, especially since they've been to Heidelberg before, but we managed to have a few experiences worth commenting on here! (If I can remember them after the thesis brain drain.)

The first night, they wanted to have the requisite cheap Schnitzel. The Schnitzelbank is a little pricey and the Schnookeloch was closed for some reason. So, we ended up on the Marktplatz at Hahn im Korb, a pretty nondescript diner-like place Damon and I have been a few times. They also have Berliner Weiss there, which Jason was talking about having.

The place was pretty dead and we sat in a booth in the corner. While we were there a lone guy arrived at some point and took the booth catty-corner from us, way across all the empty tables of the restaurant. He kept staring in our direction, and at some point I ended up looking back at him. As if he'd been waiting for that moment, he yelled, "STUPID!" Lovely. After observing a few more of his behaviors we ended up at the conclusion that he actually was probably not actually all there. Of course this is kind of a relief, but didn't stop the experience from making me feel sort of unwelcome.

The following day we were wandering around looking for some Nougat Pillows for them to take back to the US when we happened upon the Zuckerladen (Sugar Shop). We had heard about this place several times but never actually went there - so we decided to all go in. It's tiny and smells like sugar - because it's completely packed with it. There are tons of old-fashioned candies in jars with prices per piece (10 cents for this, 25 cents for that, etc.). They also have some imported goodies including root beer, peanut butter cups, and Reese's Pieces! Damon and I decided to buy some delicious ropes (watermelon and raspberry). Buying is when things really get interesting. The owner was engaging the customers before us in some kind of dice game, and got Damon to play along. They won their choice of taffies. Then it was our turn, and he got all four of us playing the game. We had to guess whether two of three dice would show the same side. (Of course this is not that quick. A girl in line behind us cheerily commented, "One cannot say 'I'm just going quickly to the Zuckerladen.'" He did this two times, and the majority of us got it right both times (yes, then no), and we won our choice of little candies from a display box set up in front. Then he KEPT chatting us up, in a very non-condescending combination of German and English. When we commented on the root beer, he was quick to tell us it was at import prices, not American prices. Hardly surprising of course, but I guess he must get a lot of customers who forget that when you buy European goods in the US, they're not expensive because they're fancy, they're expensive because they've been shipped so far. So it applies in both directions! Then he told us that he got a shipment of his favorite American snack just for himself, not for sale. He disappeared into an office and came back out with a big box of Crunch 'n' Munch to show off - as well as some minty Lifesavers for us to take! I'd forgotten that Lifesavers even existed. Jason told him that he might write an article about his visit and he gave us all business cards and a goofy write-up about the shop from a university newspaper. It was all pretty cool. Now I know where to get some root beer if we're in a pinch.

That night we ate at the Dorfschaenke near the Marktplatz in Neuenheim. I mentioned this place in my previous post and I'm pretty sure it's our favorite restaurant now that we've been twice and know that the excellent food we had the first time wasn't just a fluke. Everything we've had or tried of somone else's plate there has been amazing. This time we had the Flammkuchen. They also have a big wine selection (Anon, you'll be chuffed to hear we had the Clauer) and it's fun trying to decipher the handwritten menu! I definitely recommend it.

.... Damon just found 2001: A Space Odyssey playing on TV. Digging the crazy music. Within a few minutes I'll be subjected to the horror of that creepy space fetus at the end. AUGH!

20 minutes later edit: AUGH SPACE FETUS NOOOOOOO
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Friday, March 06, 2009

Target....*sigh*

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Last night I dreamed that Target opened in Germany.
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Monday, March 02, 2009

AmiExpat's Kaesespaetzle (cheese Spaetzle) challenge!

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AmiExpat has been challenging other bloggers to a weekly session of German cooking from recipes she has translated herself out of an old cookbook. This week the recipe of choice was Kaesespaetzle so we had to get on board for it. We are big Spaetzle junkies and have been making it since living in Boston. But, we hadn't really mastered the art of adding cheese to the whole mix, so this was a great thing for us to try!

So, a couple of nights ago we got to work. Well, who am I kidding? Damon got to work. I only grated cheese and a couple of other small steps and spent most of the time in front of the computer fixing a big fat mistake I found in one of my final tables for my thesis. Thrilling!

Here is the recipe. First, the dough. Pretty much the same as in past recipes we used, but this recipe needed more water! So, he added more until the consistency looked right. I don't know if the recipe is always short on water or if it's just the dry winter weather and it could work in the summer. I guess you just have to play with it. The consistency you want in Spaetzle dough is such that it would not run right through the holes of a Spaetzle maker (think of holes the size of the large side of a grater), but would start to push through the holes slightly just from gravity. (So, it also shouldn't be so dry it just sits in a ball on top.)

Next, cheese grating and onion frying. I went with the small side of the grater. During all this the water was already on the stove heating up.

Then, the making of the Spaetzle. We have a Spaetzle maker since we make it so often. I wish I'd gotten a picture of it myself, but here's one from the intarwebs. It's not cheap but it makes this job very easy compared to cutting by hand (did that at Dad's house once!). You just set the dough (in portions of course, not all at once) on top and push it through the holes with the plastic thing directly into the water. In Boston, we used a food mill with big holes for this process which works about as well.

It floats quickly after being put in the water - and when it floats, it's cooked! So, we skimmed them off, layered them with cheese and pepper, and kept them warm in the oven while making the next batch. After all this, we just threw on the onions and more cheese and stuck it in the oven. After 5 minutes it was ready, and dressed up with a little more cheese.

YUM!

I thought it was really good. The flavors mixed very well. I think we would crisp up the onions a little more next time (either in the frying step or the oven step). I don't like Emmentaler cheese that much, but it does seem to be the standard for Kaesespaetzle, so I'm not sure if I'd change it. Also, AmiExpat mentioned hers were too heavy. I'm not sure if ours were or not - they were a bit heavy, but not more so than our usual recipes, and this is how we like them!! If they are too fluffy they seem insubstantial and not quite as flavorful.

I think the Spaetzle we (or Damon, heh) make at home - including this recipe - is my favorite I've had, with one exception. I had something amazing called hazelnut Spaetzle at the Dorfschaenke in Neuenheim. If anyone knows how to make that, clue me in!
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