Archive for November 2013

old soul

Since I arrived in Germany, nearly every German I've spoken to has asked me why - but why? - I would ever want to come here, of all places. What could possibly be appealing about Germany? The people are unfriendly* (as I have been amiably told on multiple occasions), the scenery for the most part is dull, and the food isn't even particularly remarkable, right? It's a mystery.

But then an old middle school friend of mine, in recounting to me how she once got stranded in Mainz, said to me, "I love Germany - good for people who are elderly at heart - and if not there's always Berlin!"

Which got me thinking, maybe that's why I've always been so fascinated by Germany. I am regularly told by everyone else I've ever met that I am an old soul, and it's true - after all, I would almost always rather stay in than go out and I listen to jazz and drink tea on the weekends - and yeah, Germans like beer maybe a little too much (I hear alcoholism is pretty prevalent here), but... who doesn't?

But anyways, as I may have mentioned, this past weekend my cousin C flew in from London and, after subjecting her to a full day of turkey and pie and dishes on Saturday I felt it was only fair if we took Sunday off to explore the city. Where, it being Sunday and Germany, everything was of course closed. But the decorations have started to go up! I foresee Glühwein hangovers in my future.

*since I've gotten a couple comments on it, I feel I should clarify: it's the Germans themselves that keep telling me they're unfriendly, although I wouldn't entirely disagree. However, it's important to make the distinction between friendly and nice - Germans are not very friendly, but if you strike up an interaction with them they're nearly always very nice. Unless they work in customer service, in which case they are usually inexplicably terribly grumpy.

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early thanksgiving, & on international tastebuds

So... we pulled it off, many thanks to my beautiful cousin C who flew in from London to spend her Saturday slaving away over the stove and sink. There was a bit of a cultural miscommunication - I scheduled the meal for 2, by which I meant I was hoping to have it ready for 4, but of course all the Germans took that to mean that the meal would be on the table at 2 pm sharp which was most certainly not the case.

But this was my second Thanksgiving hosted in a foreign country (although last year, the Brazilians all arrived punctually late-ish), and what is most interesting to me is which flavors seemed to appeal to each group the most. Last year, the Brazilians went batsh*t - batsh*t - for the pumpkin pie, which was unexpected as pumpkin, much less cinnamon-nutmeg-ginger-clove pumpkin, is not terribly common in Brazilian cuisine. Here, however, the pumpkin pie was graciously accepted but quietly left uneaten on several plates - curious when you consider how much pumpkin is floating around in Germans' soups - but the stuffing was a huuuuuge hit, as was the apple pie.* In Argentina on varying occasions I have attempted both carrot cake and gingerbread and both were rebuffed. The one time I brought a (Swiss) friend along to Thailand with me, he adored all the savory food but just couldn't seem to wrap his tongue around the desserts.

I guess all I'm saying is, it's interesting how the flavors we grow up with shape our tastes. If you think about a bit deeper it probably really applies to everything about our cultures. Tastebuds are just closer to the surface. But in honor of Thanksgiving, I guess I should mention how thankful I am to have been able to experience so many flavors and people and places.

P.S. Everything else was eaten before I got the chance to take pictures, but... turkey, right?!
P.P.S. I would be interested to discover what new flavors any of you may have encountered along your travels and which you found both most delightful and most offensive.

*even though it couldn't hold a candle to my dad's.

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Mainzer Dom

I'm not hesitant to confess I still haven't figured out how to use my Canon 60D in the dark yet other than ramping up the ISO (hence the excess of grain in the first photo), but practice makes perfect, right? And it was a beautiful sunny day when I took these, so I figured I'd never have more natural light to work in than then. I wish I knew how to take photos that could do this cathedral half the justice it deserves.

Whatever - I'm sure anyone who's ever been to Europe knows what a cathedral looks like. I, though, much to the bane of any European that should ever happen to walk through a European city with me, never get tired of them. There's something so romantic about the history in these places and the mystery and romanticism that lingers in them that never gets old. The Mainzer Dom is 1000 years old - 1000! - and I could probably spend hours in there trying to imagine the lives behind the hands that constructed those pillars and the thousands more that have experienced the shadows that move across them in the afternoon.

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thanksgiving freak-out
(or Maybe I Am Being Too Ambitious Again This Year)

I've officially compiled my Thanksgiving menu, and just in time too because I'll be having one Singaporean cousin in from London and 10 Hungry Germans to impress with my fabulous smorgasbord of American Food That Isn't A Hamburger. I've got until Saturday to prepare (when I have arbitrarily decided to hold Thanksgiving, since no one will get Thursday off here because there were no pilgrims to celebrate not starving) but I still don't have a comprehensive grocery list together and our kitchen's so lacking in basic essentials we haven't even got flour or nutmeg. Or a grater for the carrot salad. Or enough hands to simultaneously roll the pie dough and rub the turkey in a delicious mix of spices OH MY GOD WHAT AM I GOING TO DO.

I kid. It'll be fine (I'm making the roomie do the turkey). Except when I told the Germans 2 for lunch, really I meant 4. So when they all show up at 2 o'clock sharp, I guess the game plan is to throw some more flour in my hair and look too haggard for them to be annoyed that I've invited them over and am somehow late with my meal. Backup plan is give them more beeeeeeeeeer.

But recipes!

1 Rosemary Mashed Potatoes There's no real recipe for this one, but I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that they're inspired by the newest addition to our cosy windowsill family, Arni the Rosemary Plant. But just mash potatoes the way you usually do, except with fresh rosemary à l'Arni. Photo Credit
2 Classic Eggnog Because who isn't a fan of this stuff? Until you see how many eggs are in it, that is. I've got an unsourced recipe of my own that is scrumptious at worst, but if you don't this one seems pretty comparable.
3 Carottes Râpées (French Carrot Salad) One of my favorite easy recipes to make year-round, and if anyone ever tries to tell you everything David Lebovitz makes isn't delicious, you should write them off immediately because they're clearly an idiot.
4 Butternut Squash Chips For those impatient Germans to nosh on whilst they're waiting for the real meal.
5 Simple Sage Stuffing I made a similar recipe last year and it was the most delicious thing on the table. But I am also a female who loves carbs, and stuffing's always been my Thanksgiving favorite.
6 PIE Last but not least (never least!), dessert! I like to wing my pie fillings, but for the pumpkin I generally at least vaguely follow the classic Libby's recipe (but with real pumpkin purée, of course), and apple I just mix in some sugar and butter and cinnamon and throw some more of the same on top. The enthusiastic pie link will, however, lead you to a very delicious homemade pie crust, because you can't build a great pie on a sub-par foundation. Be warned, though, it does require some chill time.

Back to the topic at hand, though, really: what is it with this impeccable German timing? (Begin Observation on Germany #3:) When people told me Germans were pünktlich, I thought that they meant that when someone says the party starts at 7, you should arrive at 7:30 instead of 9. But actually it means you should arrive no later than 7:05, which means I almost always arrive (just barely at 7:15) looking the aforementioned level of haggard. I think living in South America mellowed me out too much for this clock-centered culture. That or I need to finally get myself that watch for Christmas.

P.S. If you need more Thanksgiving foodspo, check out last year's Thanksgiving Lineup of Very Delicious Things.
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It's probably safe to say now that we are officially transitioning out of fall and into winter... by which I mean, brr. The motivation to head out and explore has been mostly eradicated on cloudy days, hence how I found myself the last day and a half biting my nails (sorry Mom!) through the Hunger Games trilogy, an easy but engrossing read. I do find it as ever a little strange, though, that the poor heroine seems to be expected to choose a life partner at the ripe young age of... seventeen.

On the other hand, though, it's good to know I can tear myself away from the internet long enough to read a book. A Hundred Years of Solitude had me practically convinced that maybe I do have ADHD, but the real problem was probably - as Jen so succinctly put it - that "you need 100 years and a whooole lot of solitude to get through that book!"

The cold is proving very difficult for me after 5 consecutive summers flying back and forth between the hemispheres, but luckily I've got some chunky, cosy knits so I can curl up on the couch with my book in style. Between that and the addition of a working stove to our humble abode (HOT FOOD), maybe there's hope I'll be able to make it at least through the end of November.

Now excuse me while take a break from my whining so I can coat my nails in something shiny to avoid any further damage.

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new in bare nails

This week's digits - I've been experimenting a whole bunch over the last couple of months with partially bare nails. As evidenced by my instagram, if you weren't paying attention.

But today's more exciting/important news is that, as of yesterday, WE OFFICIALLY HAVE INTERNET IN OUR APARTMENT. Which I set up all by myself! In German! I had to look up literally every single verb in the instructions, but I'm still counting it as a milestone accomplishment: 11 November 2013 - set up wireless internet in German. BOO-YA.

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Aaaand the answer is...

Goslar! The city (if it is even big enough to be called one) has an amazingly rich history and remarkably beautiful houses. It was a mine for over a thousand years, and now it's just a pretty little town with an uncanny number of adorable old couples holding hands as they teeter across the cobblestone* and UNESCO World Heritage Sites at every turn. I also got a very cosy pair of hand-knit wool Omasocken ("grandma-socks") from Friend's grandmother, which both I and my toes are very pleased about.

In other news, the Ritter Sport was on sale the other day for only €0,59 so there's a stack of 'em in every color about the height of a Pomeranian on our new kitchen countertop. As it turns out, Germany is not the place to try to play down a chocolate addiction.

*das Kopfsteinpflaster ("cobblestone" or, more literally, "head-stone-paving")is my big new vocabulary word of the week. Not to be confused with Steinkopfpflaster ("stone-head-paving", anyone?), which doesn't actually exist but finds its way out of my mouth about 50% of the time anyways.

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guessing games

Friend and I went on another road trip last week to a beautiful little town in Lower Saxony to visit the Friend's grand-'rents and pick up our kitchen (because that's a thing you have to do here... apartments, as it turns out, DO NOT COME WITH KITCHENS. So NO FRIDGE FOR YOU unless you get your own!)... and it made me realize how perfectly roadtrip-able Germany is. The scenery is always picturesque, the destinations are close together and the architecture is always amazing.

But anyways, 5 points to anyone who can guess where we went! My point system is, of course, arbitrary, but you can at least feel good about yourself!

If not, though, the pictures will come tomorrow. :)

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Schloss Benrath

I may have neglected to mention this during my woe-betide-Halloween-less-meeee rant, but it should be noted that Düsseldorf is actually a hotspot for Asian goodies! Hence the mochi in frame 7. But seriously, if you're ever in Germany and just reeeeeeally craving some genuine ramen, that's probably the place to get it!

But also, if you're ever in Düsseldorf in the fall (or probably even spring or summer), head out a little to the beautiful Schloss Benrath so you can lose your breath among a wonderland of light and shadows and color and birdsong. Do I sound like Pocahontas' theme song-writer? Maybe. But I really felt like the frickin' queen of the heavens here. Methinks a fitting way to start your November.

Plus there were swans.

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