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.