Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yogurt!

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Lest people think all I eat is ice cream, pancakes, and hot dogs, let's talk yogurt today.  I eat plain 1.5% fat yogurt with breakfast pretty much every day.  It took a lot of experimenting with different brands to find one that I really liked.  For a while I ate Landliebe because I knew I liked it, but while paying better attention one day I noticed it costs quite a bit more than a lot of the other yogurts, so I started trying a bunch of others.  Several - the Rewe, Alnatura, and Lidl house brands - all seemed too sour to me.  The Edeka house brand is pretty mild, though, and super-cheap. I like that one. However, I landed on a huge favorite one day - the Bighurt from Schwarzwaldmilch.


I honestly don't entirely know what Bighurt is. I tried looking it up and it sounds like it has live cultures in it, which I thought all yogurt had, but apparently that's not necessarily true. So, live culture bonus.  It's mild, so that's nice.  Seventy-five cents for 500g isn't the cheapest out there, but it's a good price.  Most awesomely, it has a semi-solid texture that is really somehow more satisfying in a breakfast context than the usual more runny yogurts.  For savory recipes, though, I buy runnier, more sour yogurt.  This doesn't really work for stuff like that.  I love it for breakfast though, and get all nervous when they run out or run low at the store, worried that they're about to stop carrying it or something!

I know dairy products are regional, but for those of you living in Germany - or heck, even in the US - what's your favorite plain yogurt?  How do you use it?  What does it cost for 500 grams?

PS: No, this is not an ad; I do not do ads on my blog.  I am really just lame enough to want to blog about my favorite yogurt.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Heidelberg Fall Watch #10

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It's been misty here the last few days, so the pictures aren't great. The trees are making progress toward winter, but I'm not making any progress in figuring out what that splotch on the lens is. It's supposed to freeze on Friday.

But even more importantly in "brace yourself" news:


THE WALL IS UP ON THE THEODOR-HEUSS-BRÜCKE.

Winter is truly nigh.
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American-ish Restaurants in Heidelberg

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Over the last few months, a string of ostensibly American-style food places have opened in Heidelberg. With the kind of trepidation that anyone trying their own country's food in a foreign land might have, we tried a couple of them. Here are our thoughts.  

Joe Molese
On the Steingasse (the little street between the Heiliggeistkirche & the Alte Brücke)
http://joemolese.com/index.html

If you go to the site there's this nice little story about how "Joe Molese" is a New Jersey boy who landed in Germany and is bringing us a great deli now. I don't know if this is based on reality or just a nice story. The owner does have an Italian name, but it's not Joe Molese. The reviews online are good.

Walking past one evening, we noticed there was a sign saying they had bagels. A good bagel is hard - okay, pretty much impossible - to find around here. Noting the deli leanings the place says it has, we thought they might actually be decent and came back the next Saturday morning for bagels with cream cheese (called "Philadelphia" here). They came with an incredibly thin layer of unfortunately non-fluffy cream cheese. The consistency was that of a regular old white brötchen, very dry and with the outside chipping off. I'm not Jewish or from New York so I'm not a bagel expert, but I've definitely eaten a fair number of bagels I thought were excellent in my lifetime, and this was very much not one of them. Maybe it was just a bad day?  Has anyone else who is from the US had a good bagel there?

We went back to give them another chance, though. The online reviews of their burgers sounded really good, and a truly great burger is also hard to find 'round these parts. (Burgers that are just "fine" abound, so it's not really dire, but still.) The bun disintegrated when I picked it up, before I'd even taken a bite. Sigh. Thankfully that was the same day I found out we'd be going to The Bird in Berlin which sort of made up for it. 

Poppin' Pancakes
Pancakes w/ maple syrup
In Das Carré across from Rewe, where the crappy bookstore used to be
http://www.poppin-pancakes.de/

This one just opened a week or two ago.  I don't know what its deal is - it looks like a chain or something but I can't find any others online, so maybe it's not.  I didn't know American-style pancakes were a thing here or anywhere right now, so thought it sounded interesting.  After stopping at Rewe one day I picked up their brochure, which seems to indicate it's German-owned.  For example, they offer milkshakes in the following flavors: woodruff (Waldmeister), caramel, banana, and vanilla.  No chocolate or strawberry - two of the big three shake flavors!!  They sell pancakes, burgers, and hot dogs, not a combination I would really expect. They also have oddities like a Hawaii dog (with pineapple and "cocktailsauce" on it) and put a lot of weird stuff on pancakes like ham and cheese or chocolate sauce and brickle bits.  Of course, they might be doing that now in the US, too, but I wouldn't know.  (Anyone?)
Mexican dog

We stopped for lunch on Saturday and tried both the hot dogs and the pancakes.  The people working there were still all bright, fresh, and chipper, which was so pleasant that I feel bad that I'm about to say the food wasn't awesome.  I had the Mexican dog, which said it comes with chili and tortillas.  That sounded interesting!  Turns out by tortillas they meant (stale) tortilla chips!  At least they were plain and not flavored, but overall the hot dog experience was blah.  The hot dogs are boiled or steamed and not grilled, which I would have preferred.  My husband liked his chili dog, though.   We split a small order of pancakes with maple syrup and butter.  (In the photo you see cream too, which they included by accident, but it doesn't have to come with that.)  They were the right size and shape and came with the right amount of syrup. Unfortunately, though, they were kind of gummy and had too much flavoring added.  This might be a result of direct substitution of German baking powder/flavorings in a recipe written for American ingredients, or it might just be the way someone likes it, but we both prefer the ones we make it home.

It was worth a shot, anyway!  Maybe we'll try their burgers sometime later since they are so conveniently located.

Princess Cupcakes
On the outside of the Das Carré on the parking lot side
http://princess-cupcakes.de/index.htm

Now that the US cupcake trend has been beaten to a pulp and is pretty much over, it has finally arrived in Heidelberg!  This place opened over the summer.  Alas, I keep forgetting it's there and haven't tried it yet.  I was nervous they'd have gross frosting because you never find German cakes with buttercream on them - but someone on Toytown confirmed it's buttercream on the cupcakes, so I should get over there and try one.  Reviews on Toytown were mediocre. 

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It's not new, but the old American restaurant standby in Heidelberg is Mandy's Diner.  I have actually never been there.  Shortly after we moved here we heard bad reviews of it and just never bothered to go.  Every time we're in that area - which isn't often - we end up getting Thai food at Sunisa's instead (because it's delicious).

Have you been to any of these places?  What did you think?
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Heidelberg Fall Watch #9

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What's going on with these 70'F temps!?  It's so gorgeous it's almost suspicious.
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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pretty Great Britain

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Last weekend we took a quick three-day trip to the UK!  It was pretty last-minute so not a lot of fun to book, but in the end everything went relatively smoothly.  We got to see friends, get a quick dose of London (always good for the small-towner), and check out a couple of new places!

Due to the last-minuteness, we ended up having to connect in Zürich on the way to London.  (It's not on the way!)  Although kinda sucky because I like to minimize my airport time, on the way to Zürich we actually flew - in a small plane, so kinda low - right over Mannheim, Ludwigshafen, and Speyer!  That was fun, and as another bonus we got to use up some Swiss Francs we had leftover from a long-ago trip - so our airport dinner was actually paid for a few years ago. ;)

We also had the rare privilege of flying into London City Airport - 2 years to the day after our first flight there!  Our landing wasn't as dramatic this time but it's still so nice to fly into such a tiny airport right on transit.  It was an easy ride on the DLR & Jubilee line to our accomodations at 274 Suites, right near a friend's place in West Hampstead.  Not sure I'd recommend the place, but it was the perfect location for us.

We spent Saturday in London with friends - the first half with the family of one of my oldest friends, and the second half with an old Boston friend who now lives in Norwich.  It's kind of crazy how many people we know who've moved to the UK.  For dinner we went to Dumplings' Legend in Chinatown - I had this craving for dumplings of any kind (not even necessarily Chinese) and it seemed to fit the bill.  The shrimp dumplings were amazing; everything else was fine.  Then we went pudding-crazy at some touristy English restaurant and I finally had the infamous spotted dick.  It's kind of boring as English puddings go.

Since most of our London time was just catching up with friends, I didn't get many photos, but there are a few here:
London Okt 12

On Sunday we picked up a rental car at  Heathrow and started heading up toward Birmingham, where my husband had some sciencey stuff to do on Monday.  Oxford is on the way and we decided to stop there for lunch and to look around.  Signs warned us to use a Park & Ride instead of driving into town and we ignored them.  That was dumb.  The route to park in the center is extremely circuitous and then parking costs almost four pounds per hour and the machines give no change.  Oops.  We ended up having lunch near the parking lot because we only had enough change for one hour and needed more from lunch to feed the machine for enough time to sightsee.  The town was very busy with shoppers and tourists but we really liked what we saw - I'd love to go back for longer sometime to spend more time looking at the buildings and go into some museums!
Oxford Okt 12

Sunday night we had curry in Birmingham with some science people.  It all tasted good to me, but I've probably lost my ability to assess Indian food since it's all either mediocre & expensive or cheap & terrible in Heidelberg. I hope the British know how good they have it! ;)  This was followed by a drink at The Fighting Cocks, where, shock of shocks, they actually have more ciders on offer than just Magner's or Strongbow!  Hurrah!

On Monday while my husband was sciencing I went to downtown Birmingham to look around.  I never really had a chance to do any research on what I might find there so there was mostly just wandering and luckily managing to find some of the main attractions that way: the canals, around which everything has been converted and updated in the last 20 years, the Back to Backs, which were unfortunately closed, Victoria Square, and the Bullring.  (See the photos!)  My impression of Birmingham was that it was more a place to live than a place to visit.  Almost everything marked on the plentiful wayposts throughout town was shopping and pseudo-upmarket restaurants.  Shopping, shopping, shopping, and ads, ads, ads, all broken up by big roads in awkward places.  In other words - it would make a very beautiful American city!  The canals were definitely a highlight - especially all the black-and-white bridges - and although there are plenty of places to eat and walk near them, they didn't feel well-knit into the rest of the town, which was kind of a shame.  But, that's just not the way Birmingham developed, I suppose.  The canal boats are really long and narrow with all kinds of colorful designs painted on them.  I didn't bother figuring out how I might get to ride on one but if I ever find myself there again I think that would be interesting!
Birmingham Okt 12

Our flight was out of Heathrow Tuesday morning so we left Birmingham Monday night at rush hour to stay in a B&B in High Wycombe - close enough to Heathrow to make it easy to get there in the morning, but far enough out to not have to deal with absurd prices.  We picked a place that was easy to access from the motorway, but ended up missing our one important turn and getting totally lost in town for - seriously - about an hour.  Finally, hoping to chill at a nice pub within walking distance (hating the shitty rental car at this point), it turned out the only places to eat in walking distance were a curry place, a TGIFriday's, and a Frankie and Benny's (a US-style UK chain).  Bummer.  We weren't in a curry mood so we ended up at Frankie and Benny's, which was sort of a sad end to the trip.  At least they did play good music - it was totally KIOA. :)

Tuesday we flew out and thankfully had a direct flight to Frankfurt.  Woo!  Security got me repeatedly on this trip.  On the way out my bra set off the metal detector and I got a disturbingly thorough frisking as a result.  Maybe I need to start traveling in a sports bra.  My backpack also seemed suspicious so it got taken to a special room to be swabbed for explosives.  I feel bad for whoever has that job.  It sounds really boring to swab completely safe bags all day for something that none of them are going to have - and this boring result is the hoped-for result.  Anyway, on the way back my bra made it through with no stir but both my purse and backpack got set aside as suspicious and needed a full rifle-through and swabbing by some poor guy who has to do this to a zillion bags, and then try to stuff all the things back in.  My purse has a tricky zipper and he seemed so relieved when I told him I'd put it back together and he didn't have to.

My first experience back in Germany was to get pushed on the train by someone behind me in the aisle.  And, being in Germany, that felt totally normal.  Welcome back.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Heidelberg Fall Watch #8

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I was away over the weekend, hence the gap.  The fall colors were gorgeous from the plane!
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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Heidelberg Fall Watch #7

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I didn't get a picture on the 6th.  Good progress after a cold snap this weekend, I think!



In other news, shown here is the entire contents of our mailbox today. No need to open them to know they are requests for donations.  Are the universities getting hard up or what?  Also of note, check out the postmarks - neither is from the US.  Do they send big boxes of Europe-addressed letters to some European office where people then stamp and send them for somewhat more local rates?
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Monday, October 08, 2012

A Tale of Two Weinwanderungen

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This fall we've had the great pleasure of attending not one but two walk-in-the-vineyard-style wine fests featuring delicious, delicious neuer Wein (aka Federweisser & other regional names)!
"One drinks it now or never: fresh new wine!" Untrue - there's always next year.
The first, in late September, was the Freinsheim Kulinarische Weinwanderung which we attend every year.  This year we had the pleasure of the Regensbloggers' company which made it all the better. The second was new to us - the Oppenheim Schlemmerwanderung on October 3 (a Wednesday holiday, Tag der Deutschen Einheit).  I was so excited to finally have an excuse to visit Oppenheim.  On my many commutes to Mainz back in my Master's student days, I passed Oppenheim on the train every day and it looked so beautiful in the morning light, with a big pink church on a hill surrounded by vineyards. 

The two festivals definitely felt very different from each other despite having the same premise and not even being very far apart (Freinsheim in the Pfalz and Oppenheim in Rheinhessen, which border each other).

Crowds: The Freinsheim fest is a huge event and seems to get more crowded each year.  Extra trains are added to the schedule to deal with the crowds. I can be pretty crowd-intolerant at times, but the accessibility of open fields all around really makes it feel like no big deal to me. Having gotten used to that, imagine our surprise when we got off the train at Oppenheim and only about 6 other people did!  I don't think they were even all going to the festival.  The Oppenheim festival is newer and was far less crowded.  Seating was indeed still hard to come by at the food stands but there was far less of it in the first place.

Vineyards: The walk through Freinsheim's vineyards is nearly flat.  The view is of gently rolling vineyards in all directions, bordered in the distance by industry on the Rhine in one direction and the wooded hills of the Pfälzer Wald in the other.  Oppenheim's vineyards are on a slope rising up from the Rhine plain.  It's not steep at all (very easy walking) but high enough to get amazing views over the valley and especially of Oppenheim with its pink steeples.  Unfortunately, though, Oppenheim's vineyards offered little in the way of goodies like Freinsheim's Jesus Shovel, Deidesheim's mysterious chapelesque thing or stairs-in-walls, or Bensheim's numerous adorable sheds and gates - and these things are my favorite part of exploring vineyards so that was kind of a downer. 

Food: Both fests advertise food as part of the attraction.  The Freinsheim fest has a greater variety of food and seems to be a bit more organized in this regard - they only run out toward the end.  The Oppenheim fest had mostly meat-with-roll options although there were a couple of stands with other offerings.  Unfortunately, though, by three hours after the fest started the stand where we planned to eat had already run completely out of food.  An hour later we ran across another one that had no food at all left.  I think it's just that this festival is a lot younger and hasn't quite figured out the necessary supply - or maybe this year was a lot busier than previous years.  Hopefully it will improve with time. :)

Mood: Jovial all around.  This year's Freinsheim fest was actually a less friendly experience for us than usual.  I don't know if it was because I, not thinking much about it, wore a shirt that blatantly advertised my Americanness (not that I ever hide it, but maybe the shirt seemed obnoxious), or if it was just bad luck, or if the sheer crowdedness of the fest is starting to wear on people.  Still, the general mood in Freinsheim still felt jolly.  In Oppenheim we shared a table with a fun crowd who recognized us again later at a cafe in town (screaming across the street...).  Everyone was really nice, except the poor stressed teenage workers at one of the stands that ran out of food.  Poor things.

Glasses: In Freinsheim you just pay a Pfand (deposit) on your glass and you can take it back to any stand to get your money back. In Oppenheim you have to buy the glass (about the same price as a Pfand) and can't return it.  It's a little annoying since the last thing we need is more weird-shaped glasses, but it's not a big cost so not a big deal.

I'd do both again!  And again!  And again!

Visual aids!:
Freinsheim Sep 12
Oppenheim Okt 12

Read the Regensbloggers' account of the Freinsheim fest here!

Previous years:
Freinsheim Weinwanderung 2011
Apparently I never blogged it in 2010..
Freinsheim Weinwanderung 2009
Freinsheim Weinwanderung 2007
Freinsheim Weinwanderung 2006
Also, here's German Gems' account of last year's Oppenheim Schlemmerwanderung

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Heidelberg Fall Watch #6

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Yeah, fall is cloudy here. :)  I have my sweaters and boots out.  They're selling firewood alongside grilling supplies at the store.  The ice cream stand in the side of the Heiliggeistkirche has turned into a coffee stand.  And it's getting dark way too early.
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Monday, October 01, 2012

Berlin, Take 5!

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The first weekend in September saw us make our fifth trip to Berlin - this time for the yearly WEBMU (expat blogger meetup)!

After six hours on the Deutsche Bahn we dropped off our crap at an awesome cheap Friedrichshain apartment we shared with the Regensbloggers (found by them)...but only after making an unexpected donut stop at one of the stops along the way!  Why don't we have Dunkin' Donuts in the south?  (I never thought I'd be pining for Dunkin' but years without local cake donut availability do things to you.)

There had already been several meet-up events prior to our arrival, but for us the first destination was The Bird, an American-owned burger joint in Prenzlauer Berg. Having just had yet another mediocre Heidelberg burger with a dry bun that fell apart immediately (so THAT'S why so many Germans eat them with a fork...), I was pretty excited about the possibility that this place would actually manage to not fuck it up.  And...they managed.  Definitely the best burger I've had in Germany.  The way they get around the bun problem without having to set up their own bakery is to serve them on English muffins, which is pretty brilliant. (Yes, this is sometimes done in the US, but here it's more than just a style choice - it's a way around a big problem!) We've already done it at home ourselves since then.  And, the price was high by Berlin standards but no higher than a burger at O'Reilly's or Joe Molese in Heidelberg.  After dinner we enjoyed some drinks and expat bonding at a nearby pub, answering important questions like, "Which is sweeter: Magner's or Strongbow?"

On Saturday, walking tours of Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain were scheduled, but we'd been eyeing some of the events from the Thursday/Friday schedule that we'd missed - particularly the Stasi Museum and burritos at Dolores.  After considerable debate we skipped the tours and made our own itinerary: morning at the Stasi Museum, followed by lunch at Dolores and the afternoon at the Hamburger Bahnhof modern art museum.  All were fantastic.  Ever focusing on the food - the burrito I had at Dolores was delicious and only 5 Euro!!  Please come to Heidelberg, Dolores!  Although we've gotten quite good at making Mexican food at home, we don't have the equipment to pull off burrito-sized flour tortillas and could really use a local big-as-your-head burrito joint.  Both museums were excellent and well worth the price and time (Stasi Museum 5 Euro/person, Hamburger Bahnhof ~8 Euro/person).  The Stasi museum includes everything from DDR propaganda to retro furniture and decor to spy devices.  Check out my photo album for more details on what's in the museums!

Berlin Sep 12

We met up with the group again for dinner at I Due Forni, where my husband couldn't resist trying one of the horse pizza varieties.  Then drinks and more drinks. 

Sunday morning - hangover time at Frida Kahlo, where brunch was only 8 Euro or something and full of all kinds of options like the usual cold cuts/bread, cereal (Nougat Bits, heck yeah), rice pudding, some kind of incredible lasagne with spinach noodles...the only brunch in Heidelberg that comes close to that variety and quality costs 17 Euro.  So, it was with great reluctance that we boarded the train back to Heidelberg that afternoon after a quick stop at Mauerpark, having just gotten started on all that Berlin has to offer.

We love you, Berlin!

Big thanks to this year's meetup organizers, Snooker/Sweet No and Mandi.  They did a wonderful job - read more about this year's meetup (including, on Snooker's blog, some fun behind-the-scenes info!) at the links below!
Snooker in Berlin - Bag Lady Extraordinaire - WEBMU 2012 Berlin
Snooker in Berlin - WEBMU 2012 - Berlin - WHEW!
Regensblog - Stasi Museum via WEBMU 2012 in Berlin
No Apathy Allowed - Berlin WEBMU 2012: The Report
Sarah Staebler - WEBMU & My Trip to the Embassy
Doin' Time on the Donau - Another Weekend in Berlin
Geek Maedel - WEBMU Invades Berlin

Previous Berlin posts:
Berlin: Third Time's a Charm! (2008)
Berlin: the Return (2008)
Guest Blog: I Sausage Berlin (2008)
Finally Berlin! (2007)
Our last trip to Berlin was in 2010, but I never blogged about it.
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Look what came in the mail today!

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Our ballots!!! So excited!

My vote may not matter because it's not in a swing state, but I kind of don't care.  I love voting anyway.
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Heidelberg Fall Watch #5

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You no longer need to enlarge the pictures in order to see that red vine turning on the front of the castle wall! Alas it was a bit hazy today so the camera didn't really capture how bright that yellow tree right of the castle is getting.  The weather has been so gorgeous...the only downside is that it's a little too conducive to sleeping in!
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