Jan 272013
 
A German Sausage

A German Sausage
For lack of a better place to put it,
this is your Weird German Food of the Day

We try.  We try so hard.  Every day we learn a little more German.  Every day we get a new glimpse of German culture.  And some days we even allow ourselves to imagine that we are becoming functional members of German society.  We work, pay taxes, sort our trash, educate our children, feed ourselves and even make the effort to share our German knowledge with other newcomers and curious onlookers!  But, every once in a while we just get little reminders of how far we have yet to go.

Errand Day.  Ugh, the dreaded Saturday.  In the US everyone LIVES for Saturday, right?  Get off work, party or relax Friday evening, rest and recover Saturday, maybe do a few chores, but- Hey, no biggie, you have Sunday, too!  But, here, Sunday is actually designated as a day of REST.  It is a “quiet” day, which means your neighbors will actually complain if you run your vacuum cleaner on Sunday.  This is socially enforced resting.  All the stores are closed.  So, no shopping.  In fact, really the only things open on Sunday are museums and movie theaters.  Well, ok Turkish Döner Kebab Pizza places are open.  But, yeah.  NOT a day for *doing* things.  Which means, if you are a working person, Saturday is THE ONLY day you can get your errands done.

Thus, yesterday we decided to run a few errands.  First we went to the Hardware store to get some anti-mildew cleaning fluid and a roll of electrical tape.  That took 20 minutes.  Try reading Mildew Removal labels in a foreign language.  (Incidentally, German friends, How the heck do you beat back Mildew without using chlorine bleach? I like green and all.  But, none of these eco-friendly products actually seem to work!  I have 5 dehumidifiers set up around the house, but we still seem to live in a giant mildew soaked sponge)  In any case, we were chugging along, so next we stopped by the Pet store.  These are some of our favorite stores because they are two of the only places in towns with their own, free, dedicated parking lots!  Woot!  Even the facade of convenience lures us in like moths to a blowtorch.  Besides, the pet store has cute little furry things to look at.  Always a positive in my book!

Two down, so far so good.  Next up we decided to wash the car.  German cars are pretty clean as a general rule, and with all the snow and mud lately, we looked like we had been in a road rally.  Not wanting to further the stereotype of the ‘unclean foreigners’, we decided we would try out the snazzy new carwash they just put in behind the Pet Store.  We usually use the scuzzy one behind the Turkish Pizza place, but it is sort of tucked away and doesn’t always seem to give the full amount of time for your coins. So, why not try the new joint?  At first I thought maybe we could use the little drive-in full service wash hut they had.  But, the place was overrun.  We were obviously not the only ones keen on getting the salt and mud off our VW’s.  Instead, we opted to wait in line for one of the Do It Yourself hose-wash stations.  We have used these successfully in the past.  There is one behind our local pizza place and they are just like the ones in the States- coin-op.  You put in your money, turn the dial to the setting you want (rinse, foam, wash, polish, etc) and then feed in more cash when the timer runs out.  We waited patiently as the man in front of us finished his session and the line behind us began to grow.

Eventually it was our turn to hop up and spray off the car.  Since I rather like the process, I offered to take the lead and stepped over confidently to the machine.  I put in my coin and…. the machine spit it out.  I tried again.  Nope.  Um, David, is there something on these signs that I am missing?  No, no no.  It must just still have time on it from the last guy!  Oh.  Ok.

So, I try again.  I squeeze the trigger on the hose.  A little dribble comes out.  I can see the next man in line trying not to stare at me.  I try to put the coin in.  Again, it spits it out.  Um, David?  I think maybe it needs tokens?  No no!  At this point David stepped querulously from his seat.  “Fine, you go sit down.  I will do it!”

Ooook.

30 seconds later a fuming husband stalked back to the car.  “It needs effing tokens!”  We beat a hasty retreat, tails tucked firmly between our legs, faces covered in egg, German-failing minds in embarrassed confusion. Car washing will have to wait.

As we were leaving we saw a little sign pointing to the hut we had rejected as too crowded early on.  “Wasche Wertmarke –>  ”

We looked it up.  Sure enough.  “Wash Tokens”.  DOH!

Later that day we washed our car at the place behind the Turkish pizza joint.  No line.  No one watching us.  And, they are kind enough to ausslanders to take normal old German coins.

Next Up it was Food Shopping time.  Most of the shopping is pretty routine these days.  We have learned to navigate the coin-operated shopping carts.  We know how to load our food back into the cart as it is being rung up so as not to stop the flow of traffic.  We know to hand our credit card to the attendant instead of putting it into the machine ourselves.  We know to keep a large assortment of bags in the car to load our groceries into as we go home.

Veggie ScaleBut, the one place we still sometimes get stuck is the Fruits and Vegetable aisle.  In Germany every item in the produce section might be sold one of two ways.  Per Stück, which means per piece.  Or by weight.  When it is sold by weight, you as the customer must weigh it.  You take it to the scale provided and either type in the code located near the display where the fruit or vegetable is found.  OR, you find the picture that matches the item you are holding and press that on the scale.  Either way, the scale weighs the item and then spits out a little sticker that says how much you need to pay.  You put this either right on the item, or on the bag you have the item in.  And the cashier scans it in at the check out stand.

Kaufland, where we shopped yesterday, uses the picture system.  Only, what do you do when you aren’t sure what the heck you are buying?

For instance, yesterday we bought this:

White Pear

We would call it a White Asian Pear.  So, when looking at the picture guide, we picked the photo of a pear, birnen.  WRONG.  That dear friends is a Nachtbirne!  A Night Pear!  And, apparently it had its own photo somewhere on the list.  We don’t know where.  The poor cashiers had quite a little conference over our faux pas.  Eventually, they decided that since pears and night pears cost the same, we were in the clear.  But, there was a stressful moment in there when the Orderliness expected of a German check out line was definitely in danger!

As we were leaving we made up a little rhyme about our run in with the Pear Police:

Were you aware that is not a pear?

I was not aware, but I don’t really care!

Every once in a while our bad attitudes sneak in… just a little.

Jan 272013
 

 Snape

Ah, more to our Snape Saga

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that DD has an especially difficult teacher whom we have nick-named Snape.  He is an exceptionally prim francophone, looks a bit like the actor Damian Lewis, and clearly values his sense of OCD-fueled dignity far more than we Americans are willing to tolerate.  I am sure, like most teachers, he means well.  DD finds him fascinating and vacillates between bemused amusement and horror in their dealings.  But, in the end, his particular brand of crazy does not co-exist well with DD’s brand of crazy.  The result is occasional fireworks in the classroom and an uncomfortable situation for all concerned.  Early in the year we had a conference with him.  I can’t say it really went well.  But, after that, things went into a quiet simmer.  A ceasefire of sorts was holding, and we had begun to have hopes that the rest of the year might leak by without further parental involvement.  Alas, it was too good to last.

A couple weeks ago DD and Snape had a run in.  Apparently at the beginning of class he just went off on her.  She was boggled.  He got in her face and she giggled nervously and he shouted “Shut UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! Is that proper English! ?” at her and made a very nice, shy boy walk her to the surveillant’s office (surveillant = supervisor, think yard duty/hall monitor).  There she sat and answered questions about English for the French Speaking surveillant , who wanted to tell a boy that he had a “unique” hair cut.

On the way home that day we noticed one of DD’s friends needed a ride.  As we drove, I listened to the two of them sit and giggle and try to figure out why Snape had gotten so angry.  They formed several possible scenarios.  But, it was obvious to me that neither of them had a clue.  The incident seemed to blow over and the next class, however.  DD and Snape even had some positive interactions; he was pleasantly surprised at her ability to explain tidal movements and other scientific aspects of geography.  After asking around DD learned that some of the kids guessed Snape thought DD had been mocking him the day before.  It seems she had chuckled when he used an incorrect English phrase “Today we are going to make some History!”  (she had thought Make History is a fun, punny phrase!)  Still, she was unsure if that was what set him off, and since it had blown over she thought it bet to let it go.

So then fast forward to Thursday.  DD’s group went immediately from English to Snape’s history class.  The students were still interested in their reading (To Kill a Mockingbird) so Snape was out of sorts.  He stalked around the room ripping books from kids’ hands and railing against them for not being ready for History.  When he he got to DD, she turned to put her book away, but he didn’t like that.  He demanded to know why she wasn’t paying attention to History.  Being DD, she replied truthfully “well, it isn’t very interesting”.   DOH!  That sent him into a rage.  He took her to the assistant principal’s office and, by all accounts, threw a huge ragey hissy-fit.

I got a nastygram  from the assistant principal that mentioned both incidents, and DD gets detention.  But the odd thing is that the nastygram is almost entirely about how DD doesn’t want to learn French!  Er, What?  1) it isn’t true and 2) we have asked for extra help for her in French all year long and gotten no response!  The school habitually offers extra help to students who need to learn English, but the non-French speakers are on their own this year.  SO, I sent back a letter to that effect.  ‘Yes, no problem on the detention, she shouldn’t be rude in class, but, can we get a little help up here with the French?  Also, can you say Personaility Conflict Boyz and Girlz?’  (yeah, ok, I was a bit more professional, but that was the gist).  Sigh.  So far, no response.  But, I guess time will tell.

The third in command at the school is Mr. L (We haven’t figured out a Harry Potter nickname for him, yet).  He usually deals with the surveillants and discipline issues.  Later that day he sought DD out.  “What did you actually say to Snape, he was REALLY angry!”  DD told him.  He shrugged, sighed and said “mmmmm yeah.  Ok.”  Mr. L has a pretty good sense of perspective.  He gets that kids hitting each other and stealing is a big deal.  Kids sitting in the wrong hallway because it is cold and/or making the occasional saucy remark to a teacher, just not worth all the bother.  I don’t know what he made of this situation, but we rather like Mr. L!

Later in the day, when we went over the situation with DD I told her “DD, you *know* not to antagonize the man.  You really don’t need to be the one taking the brunt of his wrath!” She responded with “Yeah, but I can certainly take it better than some of the  other kids he picks on”.  I quizzed her a bit. Apparently, she feels that he is sometimes a terrible bully who gets in the face of some of the most vulnerable kids in class.  She figures if she can occasionally deflect his ire, she is doing a service.  I know a little about the histories of some of the kids she named.   She is right, *they* certainly don’t need this crap, either.  I am not sure whether to be proud or aghast.  So, I will settle for both.

AND as a slice of life in our household: smack in the middle of this animated conversation about all of this on the way home, Dear Son suddenly breaks into a gap in the talking with “OH!  I figured out that X-ray vision is just light refracted through panes of glass!”  Um First, DS,  NO.  Second WTF?   “Sorry,” he said sheepishly, “I meant to wait 10 seconds but it just popped out!”

Facepalm!

Um, yeah.  Life with the American Paris Family.

Jan 132013
 
Jan 132013
 
Jan 122013
 

Jodsalz inside

OK, so by now you have probably figured out that I am a big old Cooking Geek.  And, as any foody worth her salt knows, salt is actually a pretty fun ingredient to play with!  In the States gourmet salts can be extremely expensive.  But, here I have found all sorts of wonderful salts available at every grocery for surprisingly small amounts of money.

I think part of it is simply that we are closer to the source.  Fleur de Sel from France doesn’t have to travel far to get here.  And, while the Himalayas are still a ways off, apparently it doesn’t take as much to get those lovely salmon colored Himalaya salts in Germany as it does in the US. There are typically 2-3 brands available for just a couple Euros per 500 gram container.  So, today I bought some of my favorite salts and thought I would share them with you.  Interestingly, the salt that I have the most trouble finding here is what we would call “kosher salt”.  I don’t really care about the kosher part since I, well, don’t keep kosher.  But, the coarseness is pleasant to work with for certain recipes.  I have happened upon salts with the texture of kosher salt from time to time.  But, I didn’t find any today when I was looking.  I plan to add to the list as I find and try new salts that I can share (descriptions are in the captions) :

 

Jan 122013
 

 

Buhl Flags

Fasent! Fasnet! Karneval!  Fastelabend! Fassenacht! Fasching! Fastnacht! Fasnacht! 

 

In these parts it is the “5th season”, and we say “Fastnacht”, but any or all of those terms might be used for the same thing.   It is the Carnival Season- leading up to Mardi Gras and then, Lent.  Basically, around here it is cold, dark and dreary.  And, right around the corner, you have Lent, when people will focus on cleansing and sacrifice.  So, how better to shake off the winter blues and get all that leftover wickedness out of your system than to engage in a month or two of Roleplay and Partying!?

The season is really just getting started.  So far on the list in the newspaper for this week we see local towns hosting:

Fasent Schedule

Fasent Schedule

  • Hoist Guild Banners
  • Demon Night
  • Foolswood Setup
  • A musical Night Parade
  • A Witches and Foolsguild ball
  • A comically-named Witch’s festival (it doesn’t translate but it has a lot of ö’s in it.)
  • Fool’s Baptism and Fastnachts Opening
  • Meet the 2013 Fools
  • a second Foolswood Setup in a different dorf
  • and an Animal Mask Meeting

 

 

As you can gather, the main characters in Fastnacht celebrations are Witches, Demons and Fools.  Witches are invariably played by large, burly men.  But the other roles seem universal.  Various guilds are in charge of their local festivities.  Parades and masked balls are common and at the end there is a huge bonfire.  Last year I enjoyed the season, though watching the long Offenburg parade during -4 degree weather was a bit exhausting.  This year I hope to see a few more events.  So far, though, all we have seen are the decorations and a couple tell-tale seasonal foods.  My favorites are these (This also counts as your Weird German Food of the Week):

Fasching Frittelle

Fritelle Yum

They are wonderful!  Think of them like German/French/Italian buñuelos – thin, short, deep fried sugary goodness!

Oh, a note about the decorations- every town has different ones.  At the top of the page I have a photo of Bühl dorf- our most local village.  1 km to the west is Weier, which has a completely different set of banners:

Weier Flags

Kind of nifty seeing how each town goes about its celebrations.  So, Stay tuned to learn more about Fastnacht as the season progresses!

Jan 082013
 

Limited Edition TP

Apparently it’s a Thing.

I sort of understood it when they came out with the special Christmas Scented papers for the holidays.  I mean, who doesn’t want their bathroom smelling like Advent, right?  But, now, this month, this appeared.  Do you think it affects sales, much?  Would you have bought the other brand if these folks didn’t have the nifty Zodiac Theme going?  Will you buy an extra bag just to display on a shelf somewhere?  Are Astrology Fans likely to buy extra TP just so they can read the stars in the comfort of their own bathrooms?  I am really stretching to understand the marketing thought that went into this…..

Or maybe it is all about the internal machinations of a toilet paper plant.  Does the staff have an altogether better morale if they have lovely new projects to look forward to?  Do the Graphic Artists get bored if they don’t have seasonal projects?  I imagine there must be political and monetary ramifications within the corporate structure.  I am picturing heated debates over which department gets funding.  The R&D  group needs cash, but Shipping and Receiving is run by the plant manager’s daughter-in-law.  But, wait!  The President is an Astrology buff.   The head of R&D sells him on fabulous Limited Edition Zodiac papers, but, he will need to increase their funding to make sure that all the images are accurate.  Woot!  Corporate Coup!  A feather in the cap of the head of R&D!

 

Jan 012013
 
Perfect Bagels

Perfect Bagels should be slightly crisp, chewy and soft.

Ok, my German Friends.  You know those little hockey pucks they sell in the pre-cooked breads aisle at Kaufland?  Those are *not* bagels.  I do not know what they are, but seriously, just use them to prop your doors open and be done with it.  Likewise those weird seed-filled things they make into terrible sandwiches in France are not bagels.  Those are just dry, nasty, challenging, grainy rolls.

FluffyInside

Notice, they are Fluffy and soft inside!

Real bagels are sort of like a sweeter version of the best fresh brezel you have ever had, but thick enough to top with whatever you like.  They should be slightly crisp and chewy on the outside and moistly fluffy inside.  They may be served toasted or plain, warm or room temperature.  They may have a topping of sesame or poppy seeds, they may even be topped with onions if you must.  And, if you have a lot of time you can make an extra batch with chocolate chips in it.  But, really, the joy of a fresh, plain bagel is bliss itself.  So, here is a quick how-to.  I adapted these from the Baking With Julia recipe.  Metric conversions were done using The Metric Kitchen.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cup tepid water (540 mL)
  • 1 packet dry yeast
  • 2 TBS sugar (25 grams) (or DIASTATIC MALT POWDER- available mail order)
  • 3 TBS shortening (36 grams)
  • 1 TBS salt (20 grams)
  • about 6 cups high gluten (550) flour (about 720 grams)
  • baking soda, salt, malt powder or sugar for boiling

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the yeast, a pinch of sugar and 1/4 cup of tepid water.  Allow to rest until the yeast is dissolved and creamy.  Add in the rest of the water,  sugar (or diastatic malt powder), and the shortening.  With the mixer on dough setting, gradually add in the flour until a slightly sticky dough forms.  The dough should just barely clean the sides of the bowl and may not clean the bottom.  Knead for another 6 minutes until smooth and very elastic.  Add a little more flour as it works if it is too sticky to touch.  (NOTE: If you happen to have a little wheat gluten around for bread making, this is a great recipe to use it in.  Bagel dough really wants to be stretchy!)

Oil a large bowl.  Form the dough into a ball and allow to rise in the greased bowl covered with a towel until doubled, about an hour.  Deflate the dough.  At this point you may refrigerate it for up to 2 days if desired.

When you are ready to make the bagels, preheat oven to 500 F (260 C).  Fill a large pot with water and set it to boil.  Then, form the bagels.  Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces and form each piece into a tight ball.  Pinch the ball in the very center to form a hole.  With your thumb and forefinger, gradually stretch out the hole until it is about 2 inches (5 cm) across.  You want a stretched out donut shape.  Allow the shaped bagels to rest on a baking sheet with a couple inches space between them for 20 minutes or so, while the water comes to a full boil.

For the boiling:

Bagel Bath

Bagel Bath

To the boiling water add 1/4 cup sugar (or malt powder), and 1 TBS baking soda (not baking powder!  In Germany or France you can get this at the pharmacy, I am told.  In a pinch, just use salt).  The things you add to the water are what will give the bagels their shiny, flavorful crusts.  Drop the dough gently into the water in batches.  The bagels will sink at first and then float.  Once they are floating continue to boil 2 minutes or so, turning over once or twice.  Remove with a skimmer and place onto parchment or silicone lined baking sheets with the smoothest side up.

At this stage you can brush lightly with an egg glaze and top with course salt, seeds, onion, garlic, etc.  Plain is just how we roll!

For the Baking:

Prebaking

Before Baking- Sad, wet bagels

Spray the oven quickly with water and put the bagels in. Turn the oven down to 400 F (200) and bake for about 25-30 minutes.  Allow to cool on racks.

Enjoy with cream cheese, lachs, butter, jam, or whatever strikes your fancy!

 

Bagel with Cream Cheese and Strawberry Jam

Bagel with Cream Cheese and Strawberry Jam, My FAVE

Jan 012013
 

IMG_0893New Years Eve in Germany seems to be about three things: Shopping, Drinking and Fireworks.  “OK,” I can hear you thinking, “I get the Shopping– but Drinking and Fireworks?”  …Nah, its the other way around, yes?  What is the deal with the shopping?  Well, for that you have to understand the proclivity of Europe, especially Small Town Europe, to close down at the drop of a hat.  People don’t generally work in shifts, so every business takes at least an hour to close down for lunch- including many restaurants.  For the same reason, many businesses will also shut down for weeks on end for vacations.  Once for the winter holidays, and then often again for a summer break.  This includes doctor’s offices, restaurants, and small department stores.  Grocers don’t usually do this, but they still have very limited hours by US standards.  Everything is closed Sundays, of course.  And National Holidays often result in extended shut downs.  For example, I mentioned before that the stores were closed from Sunday through Wednesday this year for Christmas.  Sunday because it was Sunday, Monday because it was Christmas Eve, Tuesday was Christmas, and then Wednesday was Boxing Day.  Thursday, Friday and Saturday everyone went to the malls to exchange things, get missing items, etc.  Then another shutdown Sunday.  Which brings us to New Years Eve.

Since, of course, everyone was having a party, that meant that New Years Eve was THE DAY to go to the Supermarket.  But, the markets were only open 1/2 day (since the employees want to party, too!)  You know how you have to drive around Mall Parking lots for a couple weeks before Christmas in the States?  Grocery stores were like that yesterday.  And the lines inside went 1/2 way through the market itself.  It reminded me of old propaganda photos of Soviet Russia during the cold war.  Everyone lined up in their winter clothes waiting stoically to get through to buy their stuff.  Only, perhaps a little different than those photos, 2/3 of the people there were only buying booze and fireworks!  LOTS of booze and fireworks.

And since the kids are out for the holidays, the store was also full of small German People being cute and really bored with the lines.  As David noted “Booze, Fireworks and Kids- what could go wrong?”

PARTY TIME

This year David and I were fortunate enough to get invited to a New Years Eve party with some of his co-workers.  It was taking place at a Geek House inhabited by several Black Forest coworkers and aptly named The Pink Castle.  It is a huge old ornate Victorian with turrets and 3.5 stories.  The Black Forest gang has the top two.  I could tell we were at the right house because I spotted Emily’s Canadian flag in her window :)  BUT, that didn’t mean we had any clue how to get in.  The lower story was clearly inhabited by a family, and we didn’t wish to disturb them.  However, neither of the entrances we discovered seemed to connect up.  Having been to a couple German homes with odd entrances, I started into the dark back yard to investigate.  “Where are you going!” David asked alarmed!  I acquiesced.  But, soon it became clear that around back was pretty much our only remaining option.  So, crunching along gravely dirt, we felt our way to the rear of the house and encountered this:

Stairs Looking Up

Ummm… that couldn’t be right, could it?  Still, it did lead up.  David gamely made the climb, and discovered our friends up top!  Any easier way up?  Well, they admitted, there is an elevator, but it requires a key…. Blessing my choice not to wear stiletto heels, I followed.

And we had a lovely time!  (I apologize for missing some folks with my photos, the low-light meant I came out with more blur than I would have hoped)

Around 11, David and I ditched out to spend the actual Countdown time with the kids.  Did I mention that we also had to climb DOWN those stairs?  We hadn’t been drinking, but I rather worried about those who would be leaving later!  One thing I will note, though.  Midnight in winter in Germany, outdoors metal staircases get COLD.

Stairs looking Down

We managed the final challenge fine and were home to share some Prosecco  and watch the amazing fireworks.

But, really you need to understand how amazingly universal the fireworks are here.  Here is a video from our balcony to give you an idea:

For about an hour the sky is just crackling.  No matter where you are, you are literally surrounded by celebration!  Then, everyone migrates back inside for bed or more partying.  And New Years Day is very very quiet :)

Hoping you and yours have a loving, healthy, prosperous, wonder-filled 2013!