Jul 302011

A Birthday to Remember

Thursday was my birthday!  Hooray, and thank to all those who sent good wishes- and even moreso to those who sent presents!  😉 Woohoo!  In any case, David asked me what I wanted to do and I thought about it a bit. I decided that the best way to celebrate my first birthday in our new digs was to Eat.  :-)  I wanted to go to France and get chocolate and pastries and figure out something yummy for dinner.  Honestly, despite the amazing number of bakeries and the proliferation of everything Pork, I find getting food here to be a fair bit of work.  So, I wanted to go forth and be mellow and have fun and eat yummy delicious foods. 

David took the day off and after a few morning errands (ultrasound and our first in-person pass at Schiller Gymnasium see last post), and a brief nap (morning errands happened far too early!!) we headed out to France for a trip to The Chocolate Museum.  As usual, we got a little lost , but with an assist from the GPS, we managed to find our way.

It was good to be a returning god.

Ok, this place is fabulously cheesy.  Luckily cheese and chocolate go well together!  It starts you out with a promotional film in one of three languages telling you of the wonders of chocolate.  Ours was narrated by a somewhat fey British man who felt the need to moan when he discussed how scrumptious he was- because he was playing the “cocoa mass”, you see.  Yes, the film, much like a Saturday Morning cartoon break, was narrated by the object itself.

Next, you take an animatronic tour through the history of chocolate.  Around the first corner you are greeted by small Mexican zombie children, forced into the eternal labor of crushing cocoa beans with a pestle.  The vibe is creepy, but not quite as creepy as it gets when Cortez arrives and becomes gradually enthralled by the cocoa bean all the while not-so-gradually enslaving the indigenous population.  Oh, but, hey- one of the Popes (Yay! wish I could remember which one)  threatened to excommunicate any christian who practiced slavery, so suddenly the native slaves were engaged in a policy of “voluntary cooperation”, which, honestly, still looked a lot like slavery by another name.  Good Ol’ Chris Columbus, though, we are told, thought the chocolate stuff was just vile and never showed an interest.  Still, Chocolate did eventually make it to Europe, where, an enterprising young couple started their chocolate making business.  Oh, did I happen to mention that this couple made the brand of chocolates sold at this museum?  No?  Well, DUH!

The company sponsoring the museum is the Marquise de Sévingé Chocolates.  So, of course they had to have a room with their namesake. Upon entering her room you are greeted with a fashionably-dressed animatronic lady sporting a powdered wig and a rather sepulchral pallor.  She hums and whirs in an unsettling way as she sways back and forth at her ornate writing desk.  If you press a button, she begins narrating bits of letters that she wrote to her daughter.  The Marquise is famous not for chocolate, but for her witty, insightful letters about aristocratic life in the 17th century.  The only problem seems to be that most of her commentary on chocolate happened during a time when chocolates were going out of style in France. Her chocolate quotes are… well, an odd choice for this museum to say the least!  She describes that chocolate is getting blamed for all conceivable sorts of ills.  Among these every kind of sickness, foul tempers, loss of friendships, loss of complexion (from *making* not eating the chocolates!), and, of course, for giving birth to “a baby black as tar”!  The whole thing is wry and wonderful and hysterical.  But, not really in keeping with the rest of the museum.

The museum also has many artifacts of chocolate making, including molds and presses and grinders and such, a room with the scents of various ingredients often mixed with chocolate, and a demonstration room where a chef shows how to pour chocolate into molds.  When you get out you are given a bag of bonbons, hazelnut I think, and fed into (what else) their store!  We bought a couple bars of quite pleasant chocolates (David and I are digging the salted caramel one we got) and then skeedaddled in search of lunch. 

Rest of the Day

A few days back, the kids and I scouted out a mall in Strasbourg that seemed to have some cafes and restaurants with potential.  So, we headed back there and selected a pleasant Patisserie/Cafe called Paul where we could sit and actually have a waitress bring us food and everything!  We had a nice, though somewhat odd meal.  David got a traditional ham and cheese crepe- but it had a strange cream inside and also was served with a fried egg on top!  Mine was a Croque Monsieur, but it seemed to have balsamic vinegar mixed with the cheese and bechemel up top.  The kids just had ham and cheese sandwiches which were pretty normal.  I guess being so close to Germany, no one managed to escape the ham!  Our meal also came with two of the largest servings of creme broulée I have ever had.  Delicious!

Where’s the beef?

For dinner, I really wanted to satisfy my craving for beef.  Now you must understand, Germany is the land of the Pig.  Supermarket meat sections are easily 3/4 schwein and schwein products like schinken and speck and wurst.  There are usually a few chicken and turkey offerings, some ground pork mixed with beef, and, if you are lucky, some straight ground beef.  But, this time of year seems to be BBQ season, so I have started noticing pre-packaged, pre-marinated over-priced beef steaks.  I was hoping to find some that were un-marinated.  The best I found was something called a “Hüft”steak, which turns out to be “hip steak”.  Not something I am used to cooking, but what the heck.  Sort of flat, no fat, I guess it is related to sirloin, but cut oddly, and .. well, sigh.  This was not the meat I was looking for.  But, it *was* beef!  Amusingly, at first I thought it was called a “haft” steak, and in looking it up discovered that this means “imprisonment” steak.  The fact that I didn’t catch my mistake until the next day when a co-worker of David’s explained it to me pretty much tells you what I thought of that meat!  Still, beef, rice and roast broccoli made me a happy camper.  Add in chocolate for dessert, and life was good!

The day was topped of by the sound of dripping in the kitchen.  At first, we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.  We thought it might be the fridge, which has some icing problems, so we emptied that out and de-iced it.  Only to discover that the real problem was a split hot water pipe under the sink!  DOH! 

Ok, so Now what do we do?  after 10 PM on a Thursday and we can’t even seem to find the right kind of plumber online to solve this problem.  This is where you realize that moving to a new country really does take away your Grown-Up status!  Our initial attempts to turn off the water are failures, so we eventually email our landlord, hoping he will see it.  There are no lights on in his house, and we can’t figure out where the house master’s apartment is located. Water is now spraying out against the wall at an alarming rate.  I envision collapsed ceilings and torrents of water rushing over our downstairs neighbors!  Luckily, a while later we do manage to turn off the water using a different tool, so disaster averted for the time being.  Tomorrow will be a LONG DAY, though.  We already have an appointment with Durmstrang, a physio appointment, necessary shopping (TP!) and the company picnic.  Now we must also find a plumber.

Another LONG Day

Ok, so now we hit Day Two of our tale.  This day starts out with the story from my previous blog about the trip to the potential Durmstrang.  So, already off to a stressful start.  David had driven to Kehl once in the morning, but since I have a Physio appointment in the afternoon, I need the car.  I drive him back to Kehl and drop him off.  Then it is off to the bank and supermarket for the fore-mentioned necessary supplies and on home to make lunch for the kids and do some work.  At this point David is getting quite agitated about his inability to locate a plumber and the likely necessity of doing dishes in the bathtub for the next 3 days.  Still no word from our Landlord.

By now it is almost 2PM, and folks are getting peckish.  But, just as I am about to put noodles on for the kids and me, who should buzz but- The Local Plumber!  Hooray!  Our landlord must have sent him.  I actually like this guy a lot.  We have dealt with him before and I find him to be quite friendly and competent.  He is tall, probably in his late fifties, has a jaunty silver mustache and always seems to wear non-matching solid T-shirts with long shorts. Today he has a young man with him who is obviously his apprentice and perhaps his son.  They go right to work when I explain the problem and then tell me that our entire faucet needs to be replaced.  But, and this is nice, because we rent the kitchen the bill goes to Herr Sachs.  Double Yay!

By now I am getting perilously close to my appointment time, so I have David cancel that for me and let the plumbers finish their work.  Magical creatures these Plumb-ers.  Useful folks to have around.  The Master has his apprentice do most of the work and checks each step.  Then they clean up, give me a hearty goodbye and toodle off- leaving two rags, and a large metal shard in their wake.  Oh, well.  Apprentices make mistakes, too.  I would return them, but I don’t know where  since we still haven’t successfully identified where to find these talented creatures when we need them!  Either way, we have no leaks and a new faucet, so blessings to them and their families!

By now we barely have time to eat lunch before we need to make a 3rd trip to Kehl.  This time for….

The Spellbound Company Picnic

This was a fun event.  I mean, it was probably just an office party for most of the folks who attended, but for me it was a wonderland of English Speaking German-knowledgeable Humans!  Extremely therapeutic and hopeful.

This is already a little long, so let’s just do highlights:

  • I got to speak with other adult individuals who understood me!!  I did try out German and French with the appropriate people, but overall, it was just very pleasant to make small talk and chat.
  • I got to meet the owner of the company- she did not speak English and I really wish I had been better at coming up with the right things to say to her.  She mostly spent the whole party cooking and taking care of her son and dog.
  • A tablecloth caught fire- Always nice to have some excitement to break the ice
  • Lots and lots and lots of PORK.  These people BBQ thick slabs of fatty bacon, y’all!!  And they make Pork Kebabs.  Not beef or chicken or fish or lamb, just pork kebabs.  They did have a few (cringe) Hüft steaks and a couple chicken breasts- also something interesting called “grilled cheese” that turned out to be quite tasty indeed!
  • DS unexpectedly lost a baby tooth that wasn’t previously loose
  • Got to meet a lot of David’s co-workers.  Great to put names and faces together.  Nice folks!
  • Discovered a beer product I actually *like*.  It is called Radler and is a mixture of beer and lemonade.  I know, sounds gross, but it is light and refreshing and very drinkable, but not sweet.  Loved it.
  • The kids had a blast playing in the woods- finding mushrooms, rotting wood, and fresh apples from apple trees…..
  • Until people started going out there to PEE.  Doh!  DD says the first lady to do so was really funny, though.  She said the restrooms were closed and she needed to find a place to “hide”, then made small talk with the kids before finding a quiet spot to do her business.
  • Dogs!  There were 3 dogs there, including one adorable Pomeranian mix named Skip and an 8 month old white shepherd of some sort being trained as a rescue dog.  Gosh I miss having a canine family member.
  • Glass bottles of soda. Not sure why this is on the list, but DS insists it deserves to be here.

Ok, nuff talk.  I don’t have a lot of photos, because it seemed awkward to stop folks in the middle of conversations and demand a picture, but here are a few:

Just getting started.  They had the whole grill covered at some points.  Fun stuff!

That is Monica, the company owner to the left, and Sonya our German Fairy Godmother to the right

Unintended fire- a citronella candle sparked a napkin

5 legged spiderlike thing

Might want to be careful near this lake, it has a steep bank.

Grilled Cheese- literally.  Not sure what kind of cheese, but it was salty and good.

Yummy Stuff

Johan and Jacomi- they are from South Africa and it was nice to discuss our various aspects of culture shock.

      One Response to “Two Different Days”

    1. Looks like a fun picnic! That beer/lemonade concoction is called Shandy in London, and, I, too, loved it when I first tried it!

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