Friday, December 11, 2015

On marshmallows

I can't help but roll my eyes when I read an article or blog post about making marshmallows and the author acts like store-bought, mass-produced marshmallows are the food of the devil or even the devil himself (or herself as the case may be), while home-made ones are the one true light - your express elevator to all things that are good and pure and morally right.

This misunderstands the two kinds of marshmallows.  Store-bought ones are not some sad-sack, evil-imbued version of homemade ones.  Homemade marshmallows are completely different from store-bought, and I think it would do us good to appreciate both. The former is better in flavor, and gives you the control in making them like whatever catches your fancy at the moment.  These are confections to be enjoyed on their own.  The latter is better in texture! It is perfect for baking and melting.  I've never had luck in using those small batch homemade marshmallows in goodies like crispy rice treats or smores.  And when one wants a small hit of deliciousness in candy form, a store-bought marshmallow generally isn't the way to go.

Unless you are my son.

Each year, I try to make a holiday batch of homemade marshmallows.  But that doesn't seem likely this year - I'm just not ready to tackle the fussiness of it all.  So I decided to kick of  this year's holiday goodie season with marshmallow pops using the store-bought kind - stick one on a stick, coat in chocolate, then roll in nuts, sprinkles or coconut for a hit of flavor.

When Max was informed of our afternoon plans of marshmallow pop assembling, Max was joyous.  He was so happy that marshmallows were involved!

But then he seemed a bit confused.  And intrigued.  What did it mean that we were doing something to the marshmallows? Then I realized -  to him, these puffy treats were actually perfect on their own. While turning them into dressed-up pops made for a nice afternoon, he could have done without it.  Apparently, he likes them for all the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

On icebox cakes

The allure of the ice box cake lies in its assembly.  It is more than the some of its parts.

It isn’t necessarily quick to put together.  And it sits overnight in the fridge to soften, so it isn’t something that can satisfy a sweet tooth instantly.

But once one gets into a rhythm - layering the cookies or crackers, spreading the cream, arranging the fruit, an inelegant flick of the wrist to drizzle on the chocolate, and then starting the whole thing again - the time can pass rather quickly (admonishments to Max to stop eating all the ingredients, not withstanding).   The cookies.  The cream.  The fruit.  The chocolate.  

And all that repetition lets your mind wander.  Back to those days when an icebox cake would sit in my mom’s fridge.

It was the kind of cake that necessitates sticking a fork right into the pan and taking a bite.  Just one.  And then enjoying that bite so very very much that you need another one.  And another.  Until you realize that you should have just cut a piece of it out, but really, this way feels so much naughtier.  Those surreptitious bites taken when no one was looking brought such joy. 

And eventually my reveries and my assembling come to an end.  Then the whole thing sits in the fridge and melds together into cake, it becomes so much more than the cookies, the cream, the fruit, and chocolate.  Try the ingredients on their own, and you may find the cookies to be not super flavorful, the cream perhaps too flavorful, and the fruit – well, you know fruit.  But together, they sing.

27 chocolate wafer cookies ( I made my own, but feel free to use store bought)

6 ounces blueberries
16 ounces strawberries
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon dried lavender buds

1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon heavy cream

8x8 pan

In a bowl, gently mix together the berries and lemon juice/zest.  Over gently heat, warm the 1 cup of cream with the lavender buds.  Once warm, take off heat and then refrigerate. Once that cream is nice and cold, whip that lavender cream with the remaining cup of cream, sugar, and vanilla until it holds together and is wonderfully fluffy.  With either a double boiler or carefully in a microwave, melt the chocolate with the 1 tablespoon of cream.  

Cover the bottom of the pan with cookies ( I got about 9 on each layer).  Then assemble - a layer of cream, then a generous sprinkle of berries, then a drizzling of chocolate.  Repeat until the pan can't hold anymore layers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

On gelatin

We sometimes get it in our heads that a certain once loved food is no longer fit for consumption.  Perhaps reminding us of finicky childish palettes that we want to appear to have outgrown, perhaps it falls too much under the rubric of "processed," a most vague word indeed, and as we all know now, we are supposed to embrace also-vague-descriptor of "natural." Perhaps it we truly devoured too much of it that we no longer can stomach the thought of eating it.  Perhaps we associate it with a bout of sickness.  Sometimes, sadly, our taste buds truly no longer welcome the taste. But I suspect this happens less often than the former scenarios.

I think jello fell under the first reason for me, I am ashamed to admit.  A food that was once beloved, relished for its fun shapes and molds, an edible expression of the love of my mom (and Grammy!), a festive treat to be fit and cast into any possible celebration. And I abandoned it under the guise of being too grown-up for it.

But eventually our cold hearts thaw.  A gap forms in the landscape of our food palates.  We acknowledge that we are missing out on one of life's precious gifts.

And so I found my way back to the patient, waiting, loving embrace of fruity gelatin.  Here I basically turned a fruit smoothie - with mangoes, strawberries, citrus, and either a banana or another mango, sweetened with just a bit of agave  - into a delight of my childhood.  it may have taken awhile to return, but I'm now here to stay.  A fact that pleases Max and Molly.

1 mango
1 cup strawberries
juice from 1 tangerine
juice from 2 small meyer lemons
1 large banana or second mango
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 packet unflavored gelatin

Remove flesh from mango and hull strawberries.  Blend the fruit and juices together with an immersion blender. Then bring to a gentle boil in small pot.

In medium bowl, sprinkle 1/2 cup cold water with a packet of unflavored gelatin.  set aside for 5 minutes.  Pour fruit mixture over.  Stir to dissolve.  Pour into 8x8 baking dish and refrigerate.  Cut into squares or get fancy with some cookie cutters!

Monday, November 30, 2015

On surprisingly delicious breakfasts

A few days ago I chose a Bauernbrot loaf of bread from the bakery.  Once the bread was purchased and placed into a bag and handed to me, I immediately began to regret the purchase.  I have never carried such a heavy loaf of bread home before.

But being that time travel machines don't actually exist (or - at least not that I know of), and therefore, going back in time and choosing a different loaf of bread was out of the question, I figured I would give this extremely dense bread a chance.

I plunked the loaf on a tray and placed it in a hot oven.  I gathered the butter dish and knives, a clementine, and made my coffee while the bread got nice and hot in the oven.

Once that brot was warm, I sliced it into a hunk so big and chunky that it can only rightfully be called a slab.  I smeared it generously with some butter and sprinkled a bit of salt.  Then I gathered my coffee and clementine, and slab of bread and headed a table to eat.

On the face of it, it sounds like a boring breakfast - perhaps veering into the austere side - and at best, unassuming.

But boring it was not.  In fact, it could even be considered transcendent.  That bread, that inelegant and heavy Bauernbrot, was actually so full of delicious sourdough flavor that I could feel my face pucker.  That sour flavor played so very very well with the sweet creamy butter and sprinkle of sea salt.  The clementine was one of those perfect ones - plump and juicy, with the right balance of sweet and sour.  The sweetness of that clementine was a beautiful antidote to the bitterness of the coffee and the sour of the bread.  All these flavor notes coming together in a joyous symphony of taste.  How could such a simple breakfast be so beautiful?

Somehow, I was able to experience a serendipitous coming together of the right food at the right time.  Perhaps, one day, I will even be able to recreate it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On spaghetti bolognese...part 2

A pot of bolognese had been simmering on the burner, when in walked Seth into the kitchen.  He was followed by Max.  I asked Seth to taste the sauce, to make sure it tasted the way it was supposed to. He happily obliged, as did the little guy.

Seth said that it was delicious, making me feel all proud and happy.  Then Max got a spoonful for himself and proclaimed that it was old food.

My mind produced a rapid series of emotions in such a fantastically short period of time - I didn't think this was made with old food - most of it was just purchased the day before! Do I regularly serve old food to my child? Of course not! Embarassment, indignation, then...agreement.

It was indeed "old food." 

Or food that was regularly made before we moved here to Germany.

It had been one of those dishes that don't have any specific or particular memories attached to them, but were a part of the dinner rotation, a part of our identity as "people who make and eat and love spaghetti bolognese."  And though we didn't have particular memories associated with bolognese, we did have strong feelings about the deliciousness of this dinner.  Yet, in all the excitement of the move and new baby, we hadn't had much of a chance to make it in our new new home.

But making these dishes helps us to remember that we existed before the move - that we have memories and identities that follow us here.  Revisiting these meals gives us a sense of who we were who we are and perhaps even who we will become.  We should all be happy to eat old food.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

On spaghetti bolognese

So often,  I rush through everything.   I have never been one of those people who are "mindful" and in the moment.  Instead of savoring and enjoying the present, I am checking off items off my to do list.  Sadly, this can even happen with food.  I will find myself quickly shoveling food into my mouth so that I can go on to the next task of doing to the dishes, as opposed to appreciating each delicious bite of the meal in front of me.  

Yet I am a different person when it comes to this dish.  I find myself lingering over this dinner. Each bite is enjoyed instead of hurried through.  

During the bustle and chaos of the day, I sadly find myself losing enthusiasm for food.  For trying new things, for making and creating exciting new meals to enjoy.  The rhythm of checking off things on the to-do list squeezes out that lust, I suppose.

But this dish - this is something special.

It is a dish to love and rather than getting though dinner so that I can clean it up, I go back to the pot for more - enjoying the sensation of dipping leftover noodles into the sauce and surreptitiously squirreling them away in my stomach.  

Ever since being pregnant with Molly, I have lost the desire to eat garlic and onion.  So I make this bolognese without them, a heresy to my former self.  Yet somehow it is flavorful enough that you don't notice the missing alliums.  Or at least I don't think you do.  Its meatiness makes up for it.

We have been enjoying this with spaghetti, as the long strands are caressed by the sauce and wrap themselves around whatever they can find - a mushroom piece, a spiced bit of meat slathered canoodling with a carrot - creating a delicious pasta cocoon for the sauce. and a restoration of my love for food and life.

olive oil
4 celery stalks, diced
2-3 carrots, diced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground dried porcini mushroom
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
salt and pepper
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
generous grating fresh nutmeg
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
6 ounces tomato paste
28 ounces crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup beef broth
1 cup red wine
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cover the bottom of a large pot or dutch oven with a coating olive oil.  add the celery and carrots.  Over low heat, allow them to soften - about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a skillet.  add the mushrooms.  Brown them, sprinkling them with the dried mushroom powder, salt, and pepper.  once brown, remove from heat and splash with the soy sauce.

Once the celery and carrots have softened, add the cinnamon, clove, bay leaves, italian seasoning, and nutmeg.  Stir.  add the meats and turn the heat to medium-high.  Once the meats have cooked stir in the tomato paste.  Add the crushed tomatoes, beef broth and red wine.  turn to high, and reduce.  Once the wine has reduced, simmer for 1-2 hours.  add cream and cheese then serve with spaghetti.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On cake pops

The world is chock full of stupid and/or nonsensical aphorisms and proverbs floating around.  For instance - "boys will be boys" or "you can't judge a book by its cover."  What does it even mean that "boys will be boys?"  I have no idea! And yes, while it isn't everything, you can indeed judge a book by its cover!  It usually tells you the author and the publisher - so there is some important information right there!  Do you like the graphics/pictures/fonts used on the front?  The book may actually appeal to you as well! But I digress.

I must, however, stand behind the good old nugget of wisdom "never say never."

A few years ago, when cake pops were EVERYWHERE, I took an anti-cake pop stance.  I told myself that I would never ever let these spheres of cake make their way into my home.

I don't actually know why I was so vehemently anti-cake-pop.  Perhaps they were just too fussy for my tastes, involving a surgical level of precision that I do not possess.  Or maybe they were, quite frankly, just too small of a serving size.  Maybe I harbor anti-stick sentiments as well.  Who knows! But the feelings were strong, a knee-jerk reaction to their omnipresence.

So of course, I am now the proud(??) owner of a cake pop maker and cake pop stand!  What changed?  Max found out about them! And I didn't have a good reason to say no to them.  Telling a four year old that "cake pops are just too trendy, small and fussy" doesn't really register as a great argument.  So here we are getting ready to break out the cake pop machine for the upcoming kiddo birthdays.  And I might even be looking forward to eating them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On high chairs

A few months ago, Seth and I picked out a charming high chair for Molly.  So bright and white and made out of wood, it was - at the time - a satisfying purchase.  A picturesque backdrop for making food memories with the little one.

Then we actually started using it.

It might be strange to name an inanimate object as one's enemy, but so it goes.  What makes the chair aesthetically pleasing has become its Achille's heel of function.  The white paint on the wood holds - nay, wears - all manner of food that finds it way to it like a coat of armor.  And all the food does find its way, of course.  The foods mix and mingle, residues and juices coming together to make a protective barrier on the chair.

A protective barrier from what?  Me, of course! Along with my weapons of cleaning bottles, rags, and sponges.  The high chair wants no part of these cleaning shenanigans.

Just when I think I have rubbed away all the filth and grime, a new nook or cranny (and this chair has a never-ending supply of these, it is as though the chair is an MC Escher drawing come to life) reveals itself, boastfully instigating a new battle.  We repeat these antics until I finally look at the time and realize that I have spend 45 minutes cleaning the chair! Just the chair - there are still dishes and floors to clean as well!  And it isn't finished.  Nor can it ever be truly finished.

So I admit defeat and tend to the dirty dishes and floor.  At least these make for an easier task.

The high chair may have won many, many battles.  But I have won the war.  For the chair has been made redundant by an ugly plastic chair from Ikea.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

On breakfast rice

What follows is a discussion of our breakfast rice.  Though we would eat it for lunch or dinner as well.  Perhaps it is better titled anytime rice?

There are supposedly two kinds of breakfasts - the every day kind and the kind you serve to guests.  I'm not exactly sure where this would fall.  We would most definitely serve this to guests.  But not just any kind of guest.  Those not-fussy kind of guests.  The kind we can be ourselves around.

Those guests who require us to be a different version of ourselves? A stiffer kind, a more pretentious kind, a kind that only obscures and obfuscates the feelings and emotions and thoughts simmering just below the surface?  For those people, a different breakfast will have to do.  And perhaps, a hotel room.

I suppose this feels like a major cop-out of a recipe.  Just rice with butter, nori goma furikake, soy sauce.  And some chile paste, if we are feeling fancy.  

So often rice is served as an afterthought, served on the side to round out a meal of stir fry or curry, used to plug in the gaps between bites filled with spices, herbs, proteins, and vegetables.  Or else it carries all these goodies as a whole dish, with the grains of rice acting as a vessel of conveyance, carrying the flavors of the dish upward and onward from fork to mouth.

But here we offer an alternative. We are championing rice, simplifying it.  Honoring it.  And urging everyone to embrace this grain as breakfast.  A relatively stripped down rice dish - an underlying hint of butter, with a generous drizzle of soy sauce, preferably the thick kind, to strike that umami note, a sprinkle of nori goma furikake to give a salty spark to it all.  And depending on the mood, some Sambal Oelek for sweet heat.  

In this breakfast rice, the rice is not an afterthought, but the raison d'etre.  The only thing that can possibly pull you out of bed on that bleak, dreary morning.  That morning when not enough sleep was had.  That morning that starts a day that holds nothing but stresses and problems, that morning when the body craves comfort and a warm a blanket for the soul.

I submit to you that this rice dish, a bowl of rice all piping hot and loaded up with these favored condiments, is a supremely superior warm breakfast when compared to oatmeal.  Nourishing, and warming to the body.  Stimulating the senses in order to embrace the coming day.

It isn't technically a complete meal.  There isn't any protein.  Nary a piece of produce in sight.  But it is a meal, nonetheless, and it is one of our favorite meals for breakfast.  It may not have all the food groups, but it hits all the right flavor notes.  And we will proudly serve this to those special people.  

Cooked calrose rice ( we use our rice cooker for this)
Unsalted butter
Nori goma furikake
Soy sauce, preferably thick
Sambal Oelek, optional
Sesame oil, optional

Scoop the cooked rice in a bowl.  Then have fun with the condiments.  Add a small pat of butter, sprinkle the nori, drizzle the soy sauce and sesame oil, scoop some Sambal Oelek.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On roasted broccoli

Oh broccoli.  You are such a tricky fellow.  When I bring you home, you look so magical and beautiful, sitting in the store like the proud, sturdy, green, tree-like vegetable that you are.  It is as though a wizard became angry one day came and shrank down an entire forest into 500 grams.  A portable forest to bring home and enjoy.   I always imagine that enchanted tiny forest creatures like foxes and owls are flitting through your florets, causing havoc amongst your leaves.

Your appearance makes it so that I can't help but sneak in a bite while prepping you.  I do this, even though disappointment is always experienced.  Despite your beauty, one finds nothing but cabbagey bitterness and florets that disintegrate weirdly in one's mouth.  And a practically inedible stalk.

But oh how things change when one puts this broccoli in the oven!  After a warm and cozy stint in under a high temperature, broccoli emerges darkened.  Which, as an already-dark vegetable, means it comes out a bit olive green, a bit charred, a bit brown.  Not the most appetizing array of colors.  And instead of being all proud and sturdy, it becomes limp and fragile.  The only forest that it resembles now is one that has experienced a wildfire.

But oh how appearances can deceive!  Once one takes a bite of these roasted brassicas, one rediscovers the magic!  Some sweetness, but without the cloying flavor of sweet potatoes or squash. And this soft sweetness is mixed with an edgy bitterness and then topped with hints of smoke.  One then takes another bite to experience that unique mix of tastes, and then suddenly one finds that the entire pan of broccoli (a pan meant to be the basis of dinner) is now gone.  And when that happens, one can only hope that a new dinner can magically appear on the table.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Nutella

I have come to the conclusion that we as a society are misusing Nutella.  A dizzying array of recipes that make use of this condiment can be found.  All sorts of cookies, cakes, brownies, morning pastries, quick breads, candies, drinks, ice creams, scones, waffles, are being stuffed or mixed with Nutella every day.  And I think it might be time to put an end to it.  I must, however, confess here that I too have done these exact things with Nutella in the past.  But it stops now

But not because I'm "over" Nutella.  Of course I am not "over" it, that would be insane!  Though I'm probably behind on my trendy candy-like condiments, as I'm under the impression that Biscoff is now the popular one.

But because Nutella isn't the extrovert that we make it out to be.  Being around others actually ennervates Nutella, making its deliciousness - that thick, rich, chocolatey hazelnutty goodness- less strong, less prominent - overall, less Nutella-y!

So how can we keep Nutella its wonderful Nutella self?  How do we make sure it keeps up its strength?  By letting it be the introvert that it is!  It needs some room, some space to breathe.  It doesn't want to feel smothered by a glut of ingredients. It doesn't want to make small talk with a bunch of strangers like flour, mascarpone, pistachio, and caramel in your latest incarnation of a poundcake.  Nutella is at its happiest when sitting atop a nice crusty bread (mayyybe buttered and with a little bit of salt) or served with some crepes, or maybe, just maybe, hanging out with some close friends like bananas or strawberries or a sprinkling of hazelnuts.  But that is it.  And to really let Nutella shine?  Just take a spoonful right from the jar :)

Monday, November 2, 2015

On liverwurst

On some days here in Hamburg, the clouds are so thick that they appear to be a suspended grey sea hovering over our heads.  One can't help but look up, nervously wondering when they will release their waters on the ground, necessitating the donning of a ridiculous but practical polka-dotted rain poncho to protect myself and the baby from becoming drenched.  A rain poncho, instead of a rain coat, because my adorable but large baby enjoys being worn instead of strolled and a poncho allows room for both of us.

And just when it doesn't seem possible that these dense, thick clouds can allow for the existence of a sun, a hole opens up and sunbeams announce their presence, and that threat of becoming a walking, talking polka-dotted Violet Beauregarde (after she becomes the blueberry) no longer seems so imminent.

Liverwurst is an unfortunately named food.  We don't often like to be reminded of vital internal organs and of their consumption.  In English, it is as though we are saying "worst."  So "worst liver" is right there in the name.  Its appearance generally ranges from a sickly pink to a sickly grey. Liverwurst does not give the best of impressions, to say the least.

However, liverwurst isn't the grey looming cloud of foods.  No no no.  It is the sunbeam.  just when you think the worst is going to happen, you realize that you were mistaken.  The sun is there, the clouds are actually passing overhead, rain is no longer imminent, the sky is actually quite beautiful with the contrast of the grey clouds and sun peeking through, you don't have to wear the rain poncho, and that the bite of liverwurst, the bite you had to brace yourself for by closing your eyes, you have taken is absolutely delicious.
It is so moody, so umami, with a taste of salt that your taste buds absolutely cannot get enough of.

To enjoy liverwurst to its fullest, we have taken to making breakfast tartines.  I know, I know, there should be a photo, but alas, the imagination will have to suffice.  A smear of butter on warm toast, followed by a generous spreading of liverwurst then with slices of cucumber topped with freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt and lemon zest.  One must be sure to use a bread that gets some crunch when toasted, something solid for your teeth to get through, as that contrast of the bread with the soft spread is important.  A bit of sun to start the day.

To make, you will need some
farmers bread
cucumber slices
lemon zest

Toast that bread, that butter it.  Spread on some liverwurst.  Add cucumber slices.  Sprinkle salt and pepper, then finish with some lemon zest.  Guten appetit!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

On apples

In this day and age, it still amazes me that the platonic ideal of apple is a red one.  Children's books abound with trees filled with red apples or a single red apple to represent this fruit.  These books are teaching our young ones that apples are red.  Or conversely, that one should categorize apples under the "things that are red" category.

No.  Just no.  I thought at this point, we were all aware that apples should be green.  Or rather, the only kind of apple that one should concern oneself with is the Granny Smith apple.

Yes yes, a Honeycrisp or Elstar apple is a nice change of pace.  But mostly, these apples serve as a reminder of the superiority of the Granny Smith.  One just wishes he or she had been eating the Granny Smith during their consumption.

This is a most refreshing fruit - so crisp, a bit juicy, and a bit sweet, and when you are lucky, a lot a bit sour.  It is somehow quenching, providing the same relief as taking a shower does when you have been unable to do so for a few days.  I, of course, wouldn't know anything about such questionable hygiene practices.  Haha, I just cracked myself up with this statement. I know this feeling much too well.

The Granny Smith is also substantial, giving one a satisfying toothsome bite- unlike something like the clementine, which is basically just an adorable naturally packed container of juice.  It is also substantial in that it actually can fill you up, especially paired with a nice knob of cheddar cheese. This is also unlike the clementine, which in my world, is unable to actually make me feel "not hungry."  And now it occurs to me that I just compared apples to oranges.  That was actually unintentional.

Oh Granny Smith apples, you and you alone, deserve to be the apple that is ingrained in one's mind as "apple."  The platonic ideal.  The granny smith apple is everything that an apple should be. And it deserves to be recognized.

On holidays

Here in Germany, we don't really celebrate the same holidays as the United States (of course there is overlap, oh hello Christmas!) - but those holidays that we grew up acknowledging are still ingrained in our beings and minds.  Our bodies still feel the calendar rhythms that we grew up with, and I find us wanting to celebrate those holidays for which we hadn't particularly liked or found meaning in previously - perhaps that is why a festive Halloween is happening this year.

But we don't just want to celebrate the holidays we had in the United States, we want to start new ones as well.  Special days and celebrations are the easier way to connect to our new home.  Their discreetness is what makes these so much easier to connect to - a celebration or holiday is easier to research, easier to ask others about.  How do you celebrate this day?  What is this day all about? 

The other stuff is what permeates the air.  And getting at what makes up that air is the harder part.  What does it mean to be German, and how does this change your mindset, your habits, your routines, your norms?   These are the questions that are harder for us to answer, despite their urgency.  How can we best make Molly and Max NOT feel like such outsiders?

But we keep plugging away, soaking up the culture and language.  Each time we learn something new about the culture it becomes a gemstone, and as we glean new information our gemstone gets shinier and more refined until finally we can string it up on our necklace.  And we proudly wear this necklace (our necklace that says WE ARE GERMAN-ING), but then when we look around at what others are wearing, our necklace looks off - a bit too big, seven years out of date in style, and looks like cheap costume jewelry. So we go back to each gemstone, trying to make each one better and better until finally our necklace will look like everyone else's. 

On November 5, Max's kita is doing Lanternelaufen.  Apparently, the kids go out in the evening, with homemade lanterns, and sing songs.  This is perhaps one of the most utterly charming scenarios can possibly imagine.  So here we are trying out this new tradition - our self-made lanternelaufen lantern.

To make it, we used a jar, aluminum foil, a sharp utensil, an led light, and some jute. Max poked holes in the aluminum foil, stuffed it inside the jar, and put the light in the middle. Then we tied the jute on the sides so that he can hold his lantern easily.

We are excited to try it out.  Though I'm sure it will end up looking awkward.  Alas, we keep trudging on. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

On the pleasures of eating a grapefruit

My sister has just learned that she does indeed enjoy grapefruit.  How exciting it is to stumble upon a new food! Though I suppose it is a bit of a bittersweet experience, as one is both happy to have a new food to love and sad that one has missed out on eating said food for so long!  So this post is in honor of her new discovery.

Amidst the interminable, dreary winter days, those days long after the fun and merriment of the holidays have passed by, citrus fruits are a bright and shining beacon of hope.  So vibrantly colored with the colors that get forgotten in the gray and white of winter – greens and oranges and yellows and pinks.  And so piercing on the tongue – each with a unique balance of sweet and sour and floral taste.

And while my heart overflows with affection for the entire citrus family, I would like to focus attention on the grapefruit.  Not much love is given to this most wonderful of fruits. 

It is easy to overlook – it isn’t as perky as those Valencia or navel oranges.  It isn’t as cute and practical as the clementines and the satsumas.  It has not the versatility of the citrus stalwarts - limes and lemons.  And adding insult to injury, it lacks the sexy cache of a blood orange or cara cara orange. 

Despite all this, there is much pleasure to be had in eating a grapefruit.  Nothing - ok, lots of things actually - but in terms of produce, nothing would bring as much happiness as a child as when my mom would inform me that she had picked up some grapefruits.  A most delicious addition to my morning meal. 

Eating a grapefruit is a happy ritual.  I would pluck a pink orb from the crisper drawer and slice it in half.  Then I would examine the fruit closely.  Are there two large segments right next to each other?  If yes, I would be an extremely excited person, as that is known as hitting the grapefruit jackpot – I would be able to start and end on a big delicious note. If the answer was no, I would just save the biggest segment for last.  Then I would run a knife around the edges of the half to loosen them.  Then I would run the knife around each individual segment (no fancy serrated spoons for us).  Then I would start digging those segments out.  Eating the flesh.  Using the spoon to get all that juice.  Working my way around the grapefruit, ending with another large segment.  Then a wave of sadness would wash over me, as my journey had ended.

Grapefruit – a fruit that not only brings me happiness now, but to the happiness I felt each time I ate one. And is a reminder of the warmth and happiness to come.  Which makes this the most perfect winter fruit.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

On waffle/wafer cookies

Molly is the queen of blowing raspberries.

Now, this isn't a unique-to-Molly sound, but this little loaf owns it.

Whenever a moment arises in which she feels she is not being properly stimulated, out comes the raspberry sound.  She feels this way quite often, despite all my attempts at dazzling her.
She really gives it her all, as though her birth was solely for the sharing of this sound with the world.

Until a few months ago, I had no idea "waffel mischung" existed.  My discovery has improved life immensely.  "Waffel Mischung" is a bag of mixed crispy wafer cookies.

There are various kinds of these cookies, but the best kind - the ones that we return to over and over - are the kind that come wrapped in cheap gaudy packaging and cost about one euro each.  The bag contains a mixture of cookies in different shapes and sizes - rolled up ones, squares, rectangles and varying combinations of chocolate, cream, chocolate coating, chocolate cream.  Indeed, a mischung.

The cookies are not the sophisticated kind, with "grown-up" flavors like salted caramel or pistachio.  Just the basics of chocolate and vanilla.  But they are sweet and fun and not-at-all stuffy and staid.  And great for alleviating the tedium of a boring, rainy afternoon.  In other words, the "raspberries"of the cookie world.  

Each time you grab a cookie from the bag, a surprise awaits - which kind is in your hand? Is it square with chocolate?  Or cylinder with creamy vanilla?  Oh the anticipation in the reveal! Unless you are the kind of person who must look over the selections carefully and pull your favorite one out - dear son, I'm looking at you.  

I suppose I should be attempting to make these bursts of delights in my own kitchen, but I feel that defeats their purpose and sounds tedious and expensive.  Their charm lies partly in their accessibility.  Instead, I continue to grab a bag at the grocery store, come home, and put on a pot of french press coffee, And enjoy the sounds of raspberries being blown.

On darkness and tea

I took the southern California seasons and sun for granted.  Of course there was a rhythm to the year, - some parts of the year had longer days, and other parts had shorter days.  But the rhythm was quiet and gentle.

Here in northern Germany, the seasonal changes are brash.  Bold.  Summer nights can go on and on until 10:30 pm, while the dark winter mornings can remain firmly in place until 8:30-9 am.

Instead of fearing the darkness, I'm learning to embrace it.  It can be quite a cozy place - stuffed up with sweaters and scarves, blankets and candles, and furry slippers.  But it isn't an easy place to be when trying to get oneself out of bed on those cool mornings.

So I've added a new tool to my "dealing with darkness" arsenal - tea.  And more specifically, an electric tea kettle, for the bedroom.  Though the kitchen is only steps away, nothing feels more luxurious than waking up and being able to quickly get a hot mug of tea in my hands. I've fashioned us a veritable miniature tea aisle in our nightstand drawer, and I choose a tea based on whatever sounds good at the moment.  Sometimes a soothing green tea, sometimes a vibrant chai. Then I can crawl back under the covers, sip my beverage, and daydream about those California beaches we left behind.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ahh, the inaugural post - on eating cereal for dinner!

A first post feels like an epic moment.  So I'm going to keep this post on a familiar topic - food.  But mundane, so that writing no longer feels like this GIANT THING THAT MUST BE PERFECT OR I WILL DIE, and instead becomes something more habitual as I stretch my writing muscles that have become weakened with continual sleep deprivation. So cereal, yes that grain-filled mixture that (most of the time) arrives to our homes in a rectangular box, seems like a good topic for this moment.

Breakfast for dinner has cachet - but only when it involves making eggs or pancakes or waffles. Cereal for dinner evokes images of sadness, despair, loneliness, a giving up on normal eating habits and instead eating while standing over the kitchen sink.  

This misunderstands cereal, and I firmly believe that cereal should have a place in the breakfast for dinner canon.  I refuse to call this meal "brinner," however.  I feel this is self-explanatory.

Cereal, instead of desolation and isolation, equals freedom.  Glorious freedom.  And both kinds of freedom - freedom from something and freedom to do something.  

Freedom from an inordinate amount of dishes.  Freedom from carefully planned dinners.  Freedom to indulge in the childlike wonder of the cereal and muesli aisles in the grocery store and pick the box that sounds the most fun, the most delicious, the most satisfying, and bring it home.  And then you take that carefully selected cereal and pour it in a giant bowl, cover it with milk and perhaps some fruit (if feeling healthful).  And then, dig your spoon in. After every last bite is gone, you can take stock of those minutes, those hours, that would have gone to meal preparation and planning and sit back and relax for a minute. Put those minutes to work and indulge in a hobby - knit a scarf, take a photograph, or even start a blog.