Jul 272013
Jul 212013
A long and winding dinner

A long and winding dinner

We are having a heat wave- and a pretty serious one for Europe.  Hundreds of deaths have been attributed to the heat in recent days.  Most of them are in England, which seems to be really, really unprepared for the sun.  But Germany is suffering, too.  As Californians, we usually scoff at heat that may drive locals to distraction.  But, not today.  Today it was 36C/97F.  That is uncomfortable by just about any standards.  And, if you add in the fact that most of Europe doesn’t have AC, you start to understand the amount of stinky, sweaty folks wandering around town eating ice cream or hiding at home in front of fans.

My favorite people-watch of the day was a duo of burly German men wearing nothing but swim trunks and sandals (no socks, though that is way more common than you might expect).  One gentleman had apparently visited the ubiquitous tanning salons that exist in every town.  He was uniformly bronzed.  His friend, however, was white in the eye-assualting shade that only Germans and Englanders can achieve.  They screeched up to a halt in front of a bank like Ghostbusters arriving at a scene of ectoplasmic activity.  Then, they jumped out of their jeep, beers in hand (totally legal here), and tromped with a swaggered determination up to the indoor ATM.  It was a split second tableau, but it made me smile for the rest of the day.

Given all the heat, I discovered that I just wanted to have a nice, easy fruit-based dinner.  Unfortunately, while we had berries in the fridge, there really wasn’t much to eat with them.  I started thinking of home and pound cake.  The thought became a craving and the craving became a resolution.  Heat be damned, time to bake some cake.  I followed an Alton Brown recipe that seemed to have promise, popped two pound cakes in the oven, opened the kitchen window and closed the kitchen door.  There, that should do it!  Heat in the kitchen and not the rest of the house.  And Cake in an hour!  WOOT!

Scary Pound Cake

Scary Pound Cake

But, something went a little wrong.  The first clue was the batter crawling out of the bread pan.  The next was the very odd consistency of the finished product.  This was, well, something.  But it wasn’t cake.  WTF?  I looked back over the recipe ready to complain on the web site when I spotted my problem.  I had correctly read “15 ounces of flour (3 cups)”, but when I read “15 ounces of sugar” I also read “(3 cups)”.  Since sugar is a lot more dense than flour, 15 ounces is actually only 2 cups.  Whoops!  I should be better at these cooking conversions by now, but not today, I guess!  Oh well!  It may not be cake, but it is certainly a sweet, cookie-like mess.  I could still work with this…..

scary pound cake mush

Even scarier… but Yummy!

Unfortunately, if pound cake was borderline for a dinner item, this (now with 50% more sugar!) was almost certainly off the list…. Unless I balanced it out with a bunch of healthier stuff.. Hmm… Well, maybe I could add something eggish.  With fruit and eggs, a small slice of cake-like substance would make for a Sometimes Food sort of breakfast, right?  Breakfast for dinner is just fine in this household. And, eggs have the benefit of not needing too much heat to cook.

So, back to the fridge I went to discover my next challenge…. only 4 eggs left.  For four people.  An omelet?  I have cheese and Serrano ham.  Erm.  Ok.  DD probably won’t eat it, but she can nom on some yogurt and tofu or something…. The kitchen was too warm to stand and cook in with the oven exuding heat from the cake-bake.  So…. Hey!  Oven is still hot.  I will make a frittata.  Creative Thinking FTW!

Fluffy Eggs with Serrano ham and cheddar

Fluffy Eggs with Serrano ham and cheddar

I guess it had been a while since I made a frittata.  And by “a while” I mean that no one in the family had ANY clue what I had made for them!
“What is that weird alien thing?” DH teased.
“What are we having?!” DS asked in his I-am-trying-not-to-panic voice.
“It’s like an open faced omelet,” I explained.
“Really?  hmmmm”

Ok, then.  Well, if they don’t like it they can scrounge like DD.

So, I cut the “cake” into serving hunks, whipped up some cream, washed the berries and served up the eggs.  I can’t really claim it was a good meal, but it was a meal dang it.  And it was still effing hot.  DD poked idly at her egg and ate the berries off the top of the cake thing.  DH diplomatically complimented the berries (I rinsed them off with all the skills I posses!) And DS… Wait, what?!

As I watched, with my jaw dropping, DS pulls out a package of ham from the corner under his seat!

My eyebrows sprang immediately toward the crest of my skull.  Caught in the act, DS turned several shades of pink and laughed until he cried.  “I wasn’t sure I would like the eggs,” he admitted sheepishly, “and I didn’t want to hurt your feelings!”

You will need to get a LOT sneakier if you want to avoid my noticing an entire packet of lunch meat coming out at the dinner table, my son!  I grabbed my nearby camera and took the money shot.  I consider it proof positive that DS is becoming assimilated in our new land.  When faced by the likelihood of unresolved hunger, the young man instinctively turned to pork products for his salvation!  I cannot imagine a truer German impulse for a boy of 13….


DS and the Corner Ham

DS and the Corner Ham

Jul 202013

Germans are a very clean people.  No, they are a borderline insanely clean people.  We regularly see folks out scrubbing their front steps with a bucket and a scrub brush.  I once saw a woman sweeping hail off her front patio during a hail storm! Shop keepers get out wet brooms and scrub down the outside walls of their businesses.  And, yes, I will admit that I find all of this a wee bit intimidating! So I have decided to cope with my own ineptitude through good-natured-finger pointing.  In support of this attempt at regaining my sense of superiority, I am beginning a new series documenting some of the excesses of German Cleanliness.  First up, I present to you: The Pavers Project.

The parking lot of our apartment building is not asphalt, as it would be in the US.  It is made of individual decorative pavers.  Nice-looking, eco-friendly, long-wearing.  And, I think, particularly lovely when small grasses and moss grows up in the spaces between the bricks. If you have ever had un-mortared stones or bricks lying around you will realize  that nature has a way of happening whether you want it to or not, so the pavers frequently have a little greenery hanging out between them.  The passage of cars over the little plants tends to keep growth down to a low-level, but it doesn’t discourage it entirely.  That is where the curved knifes come in.

Once or twice a year someone from the apartment goes out and meticulously scrapes each and every paver stone free of moss, lichen, grass and other growths.  In the states someone might spray the whole zone with an industrial jug of Weed-B-Gone, but that is not the German way.  No chemicals are used in the process here- just a couple of women with aching thighs and backs, and the drive to get the job done.

Paver Cleaners

Paver Cleaners

Each morning in the cool of the day, these two women go out and work for a couple hours.  You can easily see the difference between the areas they have cleaned and the ones they haven’t gotten to, yet.  Notice the old-timey stick broom that is resting against the wheelbarrow?  That is the type of broom favored for outdoor jobs.  Cheap, disposable, environmentally friendly and easy to use.

Scraping the paversAfter the ladies have had their fill of stooping, they will have a full wheelbarrow piled with yard waste. You think a 30 minute Step-aerobics class gives you some burn?  Imagine 2 hours of straight squats!  Yipes! So, the ladies will put the job aside until the next day.  (And, yes, I have to admit that our apartment cleaner lady has a figure to rival Helen Mirren’s!)  Mind you, this parking lot is about 3 meters wide by 150 meters long stretched around the apartment building.  That is a lot of area to clear with a couple little knives!  It will take them several weeks to get the whole area finished. But, that is apparently the only way to get it German Clean!

Jul 162013
Jul 162013

Soy Pork Sausage

Yes, that is a Soy Sausage.  In fact, it is a Soy Pork Sausage because, come on, even if you are a lactose intolerant vegetarian, this is still Germany!

Jul 162013

For the past several weeks there has been a notice posted on the apartment’s front door explaining that someone from the water and power company would need access to our water meters.  Fine and well enough, the meters are in the basement!  No trouble.

Except.  Not all the meters are in the basement apparently.  Who knew?  No one has been by to check on anything at any other time.  But, it turns out that this area of Germany has remote controlled individual water meters in several strategic locations in each apartment.  Thursday afternoon, when I was luckily not feeling too put out from the chemo, a small greying man with a lot of boxes showed up on our doorstep and indicated that he needed to come in.  Doh.  The house wasn’t really expecting visitor.  Especially not German visitors.  Our housekeeping at its best is rarely up to German standards, I know.  But, I swallowed my embarrassment and stepped aside to let the gentleman do his work.  He scowled a little, but dragged in his boxes and showed us what he needed.  I was extremely grateful that they are home for the summer.  DS in particular was a huge help with his language skills.

The hallway access panel minus the dust bunnies

The hallway access panel minus the dust bunnies

The first panel the gentleman needed was behind our broken hall coat rack.  The kids scurried around pulling things out of the way.  “DS,” I said, noting the large accumulation of dust bunnies, “be sure to vacuum that when he is done”.  The man took a look at the set up and asked for “ein Besen“.  DS thought for a second and scurried off to grab a bucket.  Whoops.  What the man really wanted was a broom!  Double embarrassment for DS and me.  He blew his language guess and I blushed at the fact that the man couldn’t tolerate the dustiness of our hallway corner.  DOH!  DS quickly helped sweep up and then stood out of the way while the man began the process of replacing several pieces of hardware behind the panel.  You can see the main piece to the right with all the wires coming out of it.

Next up the man wanted to go into the main bathroom.  I scooped up my jammies and DS did a quick sweeping before the gentleman moved in.  He thanked us and I smiled what I hoped was a self-effacing grin. The man had to work behind the toilet, so I was glad that at least the commode had had a recent scrubbing.  I crossed fingers that my bald head got us some distance from the “filthy immigrants” stereotype that I just knew we fell into on this day.  I am sure there HAVE to be Germans who don’t mop their front stoops and pry the lichen from between the cobblestones in their driveway, but if so I haven’t come across any yet.

bathroom meters

Does this really look like a place that a random workman would stop by to check out?

The whole ordeal only took about 20 minutes.  And, I got the impression that by the time the gentleman left he was feeling more kindly towards us.  I found myself wondering whether other apartment dwellers, who had presumably better understood the door-notice, had taken the day off work to deal with this switch-over.  What would happen if no one was home when he arrived?  I am pretty sure Germany would break.