Tuesday, November 29, 2005

come any closer and I will squash you like a grape

Yesterday I was in a mood that can only be described as fierce. The house was an absolute mess and the morning started off well with me taking 20 minutes to dig through the mountains of clean but crumpled laundry to find a pair of underwear for Boy12. All my socks seemed to have disappeared so I had to wear some of Mr. M's, and Boy9 stepped in doggy doo on his way home from school. Lots of fun scraping it off his winter boots with a stick. Oh yeah, and just before I left to go to the post office to send back the parcel I couldn't send back on Saturday, I found that I had lost the return receipt thingie I needed to get stamped. Then of course there were the awful cramps, a follow up to the previous two weeks of PMS. Bleh. Not my day at all.

See? My life isn't all banana bread and Advent wreaths.

Much of Lower Saxony is still covered in snow and without power but we are sitting here in the rain waiting for a little holiday cheer to come along. And in exactly 17 minutes I have to leave for the library to teach my English class. This afternoon two more students are coming for tutoring as well as one tomorrow and I'm not really in the mood. Oh well. Better go put on some lipstick so I don't frighten the natives.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

hope, love, joy and peace

Today is the first day of Advent, the countdown to Christmas. Advent starts between November 27th and December 3rd each year and ends on December 24th. Most Germans, religious or not, will have an Advent wreath in their homes at this time of year. Pre-Christian Germanic peoples were thought to have gathered wreaths of evergreen and lit fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light. The custom was kept alive by Christians, and by the 16th century the Advent wreath had been adopted by both Catholics and Protestants, its use gradually spreading from Germany to other parts of the Christian world.

Traditionally the wreath is decorated with three violet candles and one rose-coloured one, these colours having religious significance. There seem to be many interpretations of the symbolism of the Advent wreath flying around, but the ones I like best are that the wreath, green and circular, represents eternal life, and that the candles are symbols of hope, love, joy and peace.

Nowadays Advent candles can be any colour under the sun and people often design their wreaths to match their home decor. That's what I did, and I decided to go natural this year using cinnamon sticks, star anise and dried orange slices as decorations. Smells great and matches our living room!

I was very naughty and lit all four candles to show you what it looks like. You're really only supposed to light the first candle today, the first and second candles next Sunday, three candles on the third Sunday and so on until all four are lit on the fourth Advent Sunday.

This is a traditional German children's Advent rhyme. By counting the lit candles on the wreath, the children can tell how long it will be until they get their presents, traditionally brought by the Christ Child in Germany, although in most regions the job has since been taken over by the Weihnachstmann (Santa Claus).

Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt.
Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier,
dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür

(Advent, Advent, a little light is burning
First one, then two, then three, then four
Then the Christ Child stands outside the door.)

Seeing that the first Advent fell in November this year, crafty retailers used a loophole in the Ladenschlußgesetz (roughly the 'shop opening hours act') and opened stores today from 1-6 p.m. for Sunday shopping. For the most part, Sunday shopping is strictly verboten in Germany, retailers being allowed to choose only four Sundays a year to allow the public to shop, but never, ever a Sunday in December. But, ho ho ho, it's still November, right? In Hannover this was the first Sunday opening during Advent for the past 50 years and around 250,000 people were expected to storm into the city to shop, much to the chagrin of certain members of the Protestant church who don't seem to understand that it's all about choice.

OK, I'll admit it - we went downtown too, but really only to go to the Weihnachtsmarkt - the Christmas market (OK, and to buy winter jackets for the boys). It was lovely, as usual, with many stands featuring pretty decorations and hand-made items along with tons of delicious food. I avoided the Glühwein this time.

One thing I particularily like is the small Finnish Christmas market that takes place alongside the German market. We enjoyed an unusual reindeer sausage (yes, I ate a reindeer!) and the salmon being cooked on cedar planks over an open fire looked wonderful. Our town also has an Adventsmarkt every year, but by the time we got back from town, we were too tired to go! Not much of a loss though, since it's been exactly the same for the past 10 years. I doubt we missed much.

Tomorrow I plan to get the door wreath up and continue sorting out the other decorations. I may even attempt to clean the house as well if the mood strikes me!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

may contain nuts

Darn, our snow only lasted a day. Since then it's been cold and crisp and the stars are out tonight. Other parts of Lower Saxony got absolutely covered in snow and there were car accidents, power outages and many delays. More of the white stuff expected on Monday.

I woke up with a raging headache this morning and decided that taking a brisk walk down to the post office to drop off a parcel might do me some good. Unfortunately, the post office closed half an hour earlier than I thought it did so when I got there just after 12:30, everything was locked up tight. The parcel will have to wait until Monday.

After that, in the spirit of Nachbarschaftspflege ('cultivating that neighbourly feeling' would be a rough translation) we hopped over the fence and had a couple of mugs Glühwein (pronounced 'glue-vine') with our neighbours. Glühwein in our area is made from red wine simmered with cinnamon, cloves and lemon peel and served hot. Too much of it can really go to your head. Just go to the German Christmas markets and you'll see what I mean.

Much to my surprise, instead of getting worse, my headache actually improved and I spent the afternoon digging out Christmas decorations and decorating our Advent wreath which will go on the table tomorrow. I was also in the mood to do some baking and needed to use up a couple of ripe bananas so I made this banana, cranberry and walnut quick bread and had to restrain myself from eating the whole loaf.

Banana, Cranberry and Walnut Bread - makes 1 loaf

Preheat oven to 350F (180C)

1 1/4 cups flour (not self-rising)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen

In large bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. In separate bowl, mix eggs, oil, sugar, mashed bananas and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients, stirring until blended. Stir in nuts (if using) and cranberries. Turn into greased and floured loaf pan and bake at 350F (180C) for about 1 hour or until wooden skewer stuck into centre of loaf comes out clean (I had to bake mine quite a bit longer). Let cool on rack before removing from pan.

Oh, and before I go, here, direct from our living room, is a bit of pre-Christmas kitsch just for J.

Friday, November 25, 2005

soggy mittens

Meteorological update:

Please send mukluks.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

and I thought they were born cranky!

I've lived here for over 15 years and I find that I STILL don't understand the Germans sometimes. I'm not talking about the language part, of course - I understand that just fine - It's the other cultural/social things that still get to me and make life as a foreigner difficult at times.

It looks like I'm not the only one who has had this problem and now I've learned that there are concrete reasons for (many) Germans being the way they are.

The other day Andrew Hammel from German Joys had an interesting post on impolite or indifferent German sales clerks and the background behind this phenomenon. I'll be interested to see if the Academy of Friendliness bears fruit.

Nate over at Chillmost is currently reading a book that piqued my interest: Germany - Unraveling an Enigma. The introductory pages at Amazon.com are very interesting, as is the synopsis for the book at Amazon.de: (emphasis mine)

The Germans are an enigma not only to the rest of the world but also to themselves. As it turns out, Germans spend great amounts of time discussing their puzzling heritage and culture; in fact, discussing almost anything is one of their favourite pastimes. Greg Nees offers an insider's perspective on what it means to be German. He starts with a review of modern German history, and then turns his attention to the major German cultural themes: order, insider/outsider perception, clarity of thought and expression, private versus public spheres, friendship, rationality and the sense of duty and obligation. Germany's social market is also discussed, as is the German need for order, desire for security and sense of responsibility.

Wow. I will buy the book and prepare myself for enlightenment!

Happy Thanksgiving...

...to U.S. bloggers and readers everywhere!

We already celebrated back in October, so no turkey for us today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I really should be doing something else

Oh all right, since I'm wasting time anyway, I guess I'll do this meme where you're supposed to find and post Google images for the following things.

1. The name of the town where you were born
2. The name of the town where you live now
3. Your name
4. Your grandmother’s name (just pick one)
5. Your favourite food
6. Your favourite drink
7. Your favourite song
8. Your favourite smell

You're meant to use the first picture that comes up, but I cheated big time and used the ones I liked best. So sue me.

(All images are property of their respective owners, or whatever)

1. Vancouver, B.C., Canada

2. Dullsville, Germany (well, at least the church is nice)

Gahhh! (this was the picture where she was wearing the most clothes)

4. Self explanatory

5. Yum!

6. I'm so boring

7. "Ice Cream" - Sarah McLachlan
(don't really have a favourite song but I like this one)

8. Mmm...honey!

Monday, November 21, 2005

vive la France, and what Germans eat for dinner

(Just as and aside: our friends were in an especially good mood on Friday night because their daughter had been able to change schools immediately and will make fresh start tomorrow. The bullying situation, which included physical and verbal attacks, also involved the destruction of one teacher's personal property, damage to school property and an internet "hit list" of names. For some of the studenst it just became too much to bear and another girl also left the school. Now the guilty parties and their parents are going to be brought to justice and hopefully things will settle down. I don't envy teenagers at all these days.)

I was my usual layabout self this weekend, while Mr. M was kept busy putting winter tires on my car, his parents' car AND our neighbour's car. Why does he always have to do it? Because he can. Ha ha.

He took my car (Renault Twingo) to work on Friday so he could put the tires on more easily (they have a body shop there), change the oil and fiddle around a bit.

When he got home, hilarity ensued:

Mr: Your new tires are fine, and I changed the oil. But you'll never guess what I found stuck behind your left headlight!

Me: Do tell.

Mr: Half a baguette.

Me: Half a WHAT?

Mr: A baguette. All nice and dry and wedged in tightly.

Me: Ha ha! Looks like our friend the marten has been rooting around in the garbage and thought he'd stock up for winter.

Mr: Either that or Jean-Pierre at the Renault factory in France forgot his lunch in there while they were putting your car together!

(as always, click to enlarge)

Concerned that he would starve after all that tire-changing work, Mr. M's parents brought him a special treat on Saturday. They're convinced that I don't feed him enough, and tend make sure that he has a steady supply of fatty, possibly carcinogenic smoked meats on hand to remind him of how good he had it when he was living at home.

This, ladies and gentleman, is a Wurstplatte - a sausage platter, and it's meant for ONE person, to be eaten with bread and beer.

And what IS all that stuff, you're asking yourself? Let's start at the bottom and move clockwise, shall we? First we have some delicious headcheese (jellied pork). Then we move on to to veal liverwurst, blood sausage, and more liverwurst, this time coarse and fine and containing pork. The flat slices on the right are pork belly and the mass in the middle is Mett - raw, seasoned ground pork with onions, similar to steak tartare.

Mmm...I bet you're hungry now. Actually, a lot of it isn't half bad, but I told Mr. M that he'd used up his meat/fat ration for the entire month by eating it. Poor guy, he never gets a break.

Friday, November 18, 2005

now where did I put my hostess apron?

We have our good friends coming for dinner tonight and since it's been so cold out lately, I'm making soup, soup, and more soup. Hippo and Tat (I think?) have both been talking about leek and potato, so I've been inspired to make that, along with a curried carrot soup and maybe a cream of tomato, depending on my mood and how fast I can get this dump tidied up.

This past Monday I had to be down at Boy9's school at 8 a.m. (geez, practically the middle of the night for me) to help cut up fruit and vegetables and make sandwiches for the gesundes Frühstück - a healthy breakfast put on by the mothers who volunteer at the library. The library had organized two German children's authors to come and read excerpts from their latest books, and local merchants donated the food so we could offer the kids a nutritious snack during their mid-morning break. It was a big hit, but there were just tons of carrots left over. I had two 1 kg bags (just over 4 lbs total) thrust upon me to take home. Some mums took four bags, however my kids don't like carrots all that much, either raw or cooked, so they're going into the soup tonight. The carrots, not the kids. Waste not, want not.

Must get chopping...

I'm sorry but I will NOT be making these

SPAM™ Cupcakes

Mrs. Bun: Have you got anything without SPAM?

Waitress: Well, there's SPAM, egg, sausage and SPAM. That's not got much SPAM in it.

**update** In case you didn't spend your childhood eating fried SPAM™, here's some vital information:

SPAM™ Fact Sheet

Get a load of those crazy Hawaiians, eh?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

who's Al Dente?

(yes, I'm still cooking)

We ate the leftovers of this dish for lunch today and it was just as good as it was last night. Mr. M had brought home a kind of strange vacuum-packed beef carpaccio as an appetizer and I needed something to have after it so I decided on pasta. The carpaccio was pretty meh, but the pasta was great.

Before I came to Germany, I hadn't had much to do with arugula (also known as rocket, roquette, rugula or rucola, as it's called in Germany) and thought it was only for salads, but I found out that it's also wonderful just slightly cooked, as in this recipe. Nice and spicy and full of vitamins. If you don't have access to arugula, you can substitute endive, Swiss chard or fresh spinach leaves.

Penne with Tomatoes and Arugula - makes 4 to 6 servings (this is very optimistic!)

1 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
pinch hot red pepper flakes
1 28-oz./796 mL tin plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
(1 1/2 cups/375 mL)
2 bunches arugula, trimmed and chopped
(4 cups/1 L)
3/4 lb (375g) penne
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large deep, non-stick skillet. Add garlic and the hot red pepper flakes and cook gently for a few minutes but do not brown.

Add tomatoes to skillet. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes.

Add arugula and cook just until it wilts.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add penne and cook until tender but firm (al dente!). Drain well and add to skillet with sauce. Toss gently over low heat until everything is hot and sauce clings to noodles. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

(from More Heart Smart Cooking with Bonnie Stern)

pucker up

As the weather gets cooler and the skies cloud over more often than not, I'm feeling the urge to stay inside and bake up a storm.

Yesterday I baked these lemon squares and if you love lemony goodness the way I do, I'm sure you'd enjoy them. Tart and sweet at the same time - a little bit of sunshine in every bite. Just right along with a nice cup of tea. And making them is as easy as...uh...pie!

Luscious Lemon Bars - makes 16 bars (theoretically!)

Preheat oven to 350F (180C)

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar (divided into 1/4 and 3/4 cups)
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
icing (confectioner's) sugar

In a medium bowl, blend together first 1 1/3 cups flour, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and butter until mixture is crumbly. Press into bottom of 8 in. (2 L) square baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

In small bowl beat together remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar, eggs, 2 Tbsp flour, baking powder, and lemon zest and juice. Pour over hot crust. Bake for 15 minutes more or until filling is set. Cool in pan on wire rack. Sprinkle with icing sugar and cut into bars.

(taken from Dietitians of Canada Cook Great Food)

Most of the recipes from this cookbook are low-fat, high fibre, high nutrition etc but they made an exception for this one saying:

" ...a little indulgence practiced in moderation is still an important part of healthy eating."

Amen to that, brother!

There's also another version of this over at I was really just very hungry using more sugar and an extra egg in the filling. I have yet to try it but it might well be even better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

repeat after me

Lately when I've checked my stats I've noticed several people searching for "how to pronounce mausi" or "translation of mausi" so I thought I'd put you all out of your misery.

Mausi is pronounced the way you would pronounce 'wow-zee' in English. Easy, huh? And as for the translation, it's just a diminutive form of the German Maus, meaning mouse, and is used as a pet name.

I saw a thing on the news last week where they did a poll on German pet names. Apparently 50% of Germans have pet names for their partners, and the top 5 were
  1. Schatz (dear or treasure)
  2. Schatzi (same as above but cuter)
  3. Liebling (darling)
  4. Hase (bunny)
  5. Bärchen (little bear)

Hmmph. So Mausi didn't even make the list, although it's the name Mr. M and I call each other. Yes, I call a 6'4", 220 lb man Mausi and he doesn't mind a bit. No idea how it started, but it seems to have stuck.

For as long as I can remember, my parents have referred to each other as 'ducky' and 'bunny'. Can you feel the syrupy sweetness?

So what do you call YOUR significant other?


My choice of outerwear for today:

Weather forecast for the rest of the week: sleet, sleet and more sleet with snow at higher elevations. Thank you SO much.

Actually it's only partly cloudy right now, but that could change any second. I can't believe I was still wearing flip-flops and a t-shirt in October!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

trivial pursuit

Not much time to blog today so here's a meme I got from J's blog.

1. What's for breakfast?

- müsli with apples and milk, coffee (an exception)

2. Do you read a newspaper daily?

- yes, the Hannoversche Allgemeine

3. What do you do when you can't sleep?

- get up and read for a couple of hours

4. Say a word that sums up your mood.

- anxious

5. Do you remember your dreams?

- most of the time

6. Name something from your dream last night?

- other bloggers

7. Name a food that describes you.

- umm...chocolate pudding?

8. Today you are wearing...

- yoga pants!

9. What's in your pockets?

- yoga pants don't have pockets, silly

10.Did you sing in the shower today?

- sure, Limp Bizkit's cover version of "Behind Blue Eyes"

11.What's the last song you heard?

- "White Flag" by Dido

12.Looking forward to the holidays?

- Christmas, no. Summer, YES!

13. Where do you want to be this instant?

- Vancouver or somewhere else on the West Coast

14.What's for lunch?

- macaroni and cheese and carrot sticks are looking like a distinct possibility

15. What's something you would like to do soon?

- win the lottery and move

16. Reading anything now? What is it?

- just finished "Snow Falling on Cedars"

17. What's for dinner?

- oven-roasted salmon with new potatoes, green beans and a tomato and mozarella salad.

18. A Favorite part of the day is...

- 7:30 a.m. when everyone but me is out of the house

19.Are you happy?

- not really, but I'm working on that every day...

20. Will your friends do this meme?

- I have no idea.

Monday, November 14, 2005

when good pumpkins go bad

pumpkin retirement home (aka the compost heap)

Shortly after this picture was taken I was witness to a rather unfortunate incident involving a father with no sense at all, two small boys and a machete. Yes, a machete. What? You don't have one of those?

The pumpkins are now resting in peace pieces, bless their moldy little hearts.


  • Only 5 kids came to our door on Friday night. I was sort of disappointed, even though that Matten, matten song does tend to get on your nerves after you've listened to it 37 times in a row. Oh well, more candy for us.
  • Saturday we attended our friend (better half of the friends we see on Fridays) K.'s birthday party. She had invited the usual suspects - we were 9 adults all together and it was a very pleasant evening. The boys stayed home alone watching movies and didn't kill each other.
  • One thing you have to get used to when you live in Germany is having to throw your own birthday party. No one else is going to do it for you. You're expected to bake your own cake(s) and have things ready for anyone who chooses to drop by, at home or at work. You can run, but you can't hide.
  • According to my mum, my brother had a lousy birthday. My parents took the whole family out to their favourite Chinese restaurant, which is usually a big hit, but M was sick as a dog with a terrible cold and his new girlfriend, who is a vegetarian, almost had a fit when confronted with the sweet and sour pork. Poor Dad was eating Chinese leftovers for a week.
  • We found out on Saturday evening that our friend's 15 yr old daughter has been having such a rough time in her 8th grade class that she's decided to switch schools. There are huge discipline problems at the school she's at even though it has (or had, now) a very good reputation. So much ganging up on both students and teachers going on that she can't stand the stress any more. We knew it was bad, but not how bad.
  • Sunday we had lunch at the in-laws; roast goose, red cabbage and potato dumplings, called Knödel in the south and Klöße in northern Germany. It was quite a heavy meal and I am trying to get my stomach back to normal with a good dose of chamomile tea (worked for Peter Rabbit!)
  • I bought a pair of yoga pants last week and oh my lord, are they comfortable. I may never leave the house again.
  • My mother (a very sprightly 69) is having her knee operated on on Nov. 22. She's been waiting for ages in terrible pain. Originally the wonderful Canadian health care system had told her it could take up to 9 months to get an operation date so she's really grateful it's happening so soon. I wish I could be there to look after her while she's recovering.
  • We booked our flight to Vancouver for next summer! And it's only going to cost us our life savings! Whee!!! July 20 to Aug. 27, 2006 - just over 5 weeks of paradise. I CAN'T WAIT.

Friday, November 11, 2005

the loot

Boy12, Boy9 and a few of their friends went out singing for candy for about 3 hours this afternoon.

Just look what my two arrived home with.

Who in the world is going to help them eat it all?

ship of fools

(What? MORE stuff happens on November 11? I know. It's exhausting, isn't it? Bear with me.)

On November 11 at precisely 11:11 a.m. (am elften elften um elf Uhr elf as the Germans would say) the carnival season in Germany begins and continues on until Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Depending on where you live, your celebrations might be called Karneval, Fasching or Fastnacht. Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz are some of the strongholds of Karneval, so if you're in those cities you're bound to get an eyeful. There are costume parties, parades and conventions all over the place at this time of year.

I had always assumed that the word Karneval originated with the Latin 'carne vale' - bidding adieu to meat , but I found that this hasn't been proven to be entirely correct. There was also the term 'carnelevale (or levare)', used in the Middle Ages to mean 'a taking away of the flesh' or literally dispensing with worldly, bodily concerns and focusing on the spiritual during Lent. And last but not least, Karneval may possibly have its origins in the 'carrus navalis', a Roman, pre-Christian ship on wheels used during the festival of Saturnalia.

The carnival season is often referred to as die neckische or närrische Zeit - the playful, whimsical, foolish time, or die fünfte Jahreszeit - the fifth season, a time to celebrate, get dressed up in costume and be someone else for a while.

And boy, do the Germans do this well. In fact, I think a lot of them use this as yet another opportunity (see also Schützenfest and Oktoberfest) to get really drunk, disguise themselves and exchange bodily fluids with perfect strangers. Things don't get that wild where we live, but if you watch the carnival in Cologne on TV you'll see what I mean.

So that's enough about November 11 in Germany. In early spring when Karneval is almost over, I'll be telling you about a day when it's perfectly acceptable for a women to cut off a man's necktie. Really.

What a crazy country. Don't you wish you lived here?

St. Martin's Day

November 11 is a day of celebrations in Germany.

Today is Martinstag - St. Martin's Day or the Feast of St. Martin, honouring Martin of Tours (317 A.D. - 397 A.D.) one of the most well-known saints in the Catholic church.

Martinstag is all about giving to others and shedding light in the darkness. Like so many other Christian celebrations, the festivities coincide with pagan rituals from the pre-Christian era, falling at the same time as the early winter festivities of light and fertility celebrated by the pagans.

One of the legends surrounding St. Martin, a simple man who started out as a Roman soldier and later became Bishop of Tours, is that coming upon a beggar on a cold winter night, Martin immediately cut his military cloak through the middle with his sword and offered half of it to the poor man to keep him from freezing to death. Later that night, Jesus Christ was said to have appeared to him in a dream, wearing the half-cloak and commanding Martin to have himself baptized.

The second legend tell us the origin of the Martinsgans - the roast goose that is traditionally eaten around this time of year. Apparently Martin was a bit reluctant to become a bishop and as the day of his appointment approached, he hid in a barn, hoping that no one would find him. A gaggle of geese, however, gave him away with their loud chattering, and were punished by being slaughtered and roasted.

To honour St. Martin and the the festival of light, German children often go out at night in November carrying homemade paper lanterns and singing traditional songs.

In our town, the kindergarten organizes a Laternenumzug- the lantern procession - every year. Accompanied by the volunteer fire department marching band, the children and their parents walk up and down the streets of the town for an hour or two, often ending up at one of the two churches afterwards to get a traditional Martinshörnchen (a cresent roll), Martinsbrezel (a pretzel) or a Weckmann (a small man made out of yeast dough), as they are called where we live.

The Weckmann is significant because the clay pipe in his mouth symbolizes an upturned bishop's staff - a reminder of St. Martin.

Here's are a traditional Martinstag song that I like:

Ich gehe mit meiner Laterne und meine Laterne mit mir
(I go with my lantern, and my lantern goes with me)
Dort oben leuchten die Sterne und unten da leuchten wir.
(The stars are alight up there, and we are alight down here)

Der Hahn, der kräht, die Katz' miaut,
(the cock crows, the cat meows)
rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.

Mein Licht is aus, ich gehe nach Haus'
(my light is out, I'm going home)
rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.

Another tradition that in our area is carried out separately to the lantern procession is called matten, matten, meeren. The children go from door to door on the afternoon of November 11 singing this song and getting candy in return:

Matten, matten, meeren.
(no translation but I'm assuming 'matten'= Martin)
Die Äpfel und die Beeren.
(apples and berries)
Lasst uns nicht zu lange stehn,
(don't make us stand around too long)
Wir Wir wollen noch nach Bremen gehn.
(we still want to go to Bremen)
Bremen ist 'ne schöne Stadt,
(Bremen is a nice town)
Da geben alle Leute was!
(everyone there is generous)

More celebrations to come in the next post...

Remembrance Day

Canadians observe Remembrance Day today.

We wear the poppy, lest we forget...

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

- John McCrae, 1915

Thursday, November 10, 2005

don't try this at home, eh?

I bought a set of these placecard holders yesterday for two reasons: one, because they made me laugh, and two, because they kind of reminded me of the Great White North.

On the box it says Elch-Kartenhalter, elk placecard holders and as I look at my purchase again I'm thinkin' to myself, "Hey...these aren't elk, they're moose!" And then I start wondering just exactly how one would tell the difference between a elk and a moose, because there is one very important difference that I'll get to later.

Three cheers for the internet! I now know that what is referred to as an elk in Europe really isn't an elk at all but a close relative of what North Americans would call a moose. Ah ha! There you are. But that doesn't solve the elk/moose problem completely, does it? More research ensues.

This is a moose

this is an elk

See the difference? Neither do I. No, actually when I'm sitting here in front of my computer monitor it's obvious that these are two separate animals, but I'm not sure if I'd be able to tell what was what if one of these beasties came charging at me out of the bushes at 50 mph.

So how DO they differ? Well, the moose (Alces alces) is the largest member of the deer family. It is found in northern North America from Alaska to Newfoundland and Maine and in northern Europe. Besides its size - adult males of larger species can be up to 7 ft tall and weigh 1400 lbs. - other identifying feature of the moose are a long, horse-like muzzle and the flap of skin, known as the bell, hanging from its throat. The fur may be anything from dark brown to black in colour. The antlers of the bull moose are massive and flattened. Moose can be unpredictable and dangerous, especially during mating season.

The American elk (Cervus elaphus ), also sometimes called a wapiti (a Shawnee Indian name meaning 'white rump'), is smaller than the moose, with brown fur and a tan-coloured rump. Now mainly restricted to western North America, elk once roamed over a much wider area. An elk has thin legs, six-pointed antlers and a long and shaggy mane. Elk are more social animals and communicate to other members of their species by 'bugling' - a sort of whistling noise.

So why in the world would we need to know all this? Well, if you ever visit British Columbia, recognizing the difference between an elk and a moose just might come in handy.

I subscribe to British Columbia Magazine (you know, just to torture myself) and in the fall issue there was a blurb about research being done on visitor safety (remember the bears?) in B.C.'s provincial parks. After extensive empirical studies, park rangers came to the conclusion that one of the best ways to repel a rogue elk is to hold a hockey stick (you do carry a hockey stick around with you at all times, don't you?) above your head and wave it around. The elk then thinks your 'antlers' are bigger than his and leaves you alone. Wow - antler envy.

However the rangers also warn that this manoeuvre is not as easy as it sounds, and while it would probably work in an emergency it should really only be attempted by experienced park staff.

And how do they suggest repelling a charging moose? They don't. They highly discourage it, in fact, and stress that a moose will NOT be impressed with your big hockey stick and that if you see one of these animals, you should RUN as fast as you can in the other direction. If I recall correctly, the last line of the magazine article was, "If he's mad enough, a moose will take on a locomotive."


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

chicken - the good, the bad and the downright disgusting

(So, the first part of this post may make you hungry, whereas the last part will probably make you gag, so I don't really have any recommendations on whether to read it before or after eating. The choice is yours.)


When we were on holiday in Vancouver many years ago, my mother gave me this stoneware cooking pot as a gift.

I think it's so pretty - it was handmade in a pottery studio in B.C. by a couple of potters who will make you just about anything in any colour you desire. They run a great business and Mum has crossed their palms with silver many, many times.
The design is based on the steaming pots created in the Yunnan province in China and can apparently be used in a variety of ways. Once upon a time I even had a little photocopied recipe/instruction booklet that came with the pot, but don't ask me where that disappeared to.

The hollow funnel in the middle of the pot allows the steam to rise and cook food very gently without it being exposed to direct heat. I have to admit that the only thing I've used the pot for so far is cooking vegetables, but the other day I got the urge to try something new and turned to the internet for ideas. Much to my surprise, there weren't very many, but I did manage to come up with a recipe (OK, it was really a couple of recipes that I combined to suit my needs) that turned out very well - chicken soup Chinese style. And we're using the term 'Chinese' very loosely here because I have no idea how authentic this soup would be.

Chinese Chicken Soup

1 whole chicken, about 3 - 3 1/2 lbs, washed and cut in 8-10 pieces
8 Chinese or Japanese shiitake mushrooms, rinsed and soaked in 1 cup hot water for 20 -30 minutes, or until soft (reserve soaking liquid)
5 green onions cut into two inch lengths
5 thin slices fresh ginger, peeled
1 cup chicken broth
1 T soy sauce (or to taste)

Squeeze soaked mushrooms dry and cut into quarters, discarding tough stems. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanche chicken pieces for one minute. Remove with slotted spoon and place in Yunnan cooker, sprinkling mushrooms, scallions and ginger over top of chicken. Combine strained mushroom soaking liquid, chicken broth, 1 cup water and soy sauce and poor over chicken. Cover pot tightly and place over a large saucepan of boiling water. Steam for about 2 hours at medium heat, replenishing water when necessary.

When chicken is tender, remove it from the pot and discard the skin along with ginger. At this point you can either return the chicken to the soup or serve it separately with a dipping sauce. Because the soup is steamed or 'double boiled', it's clearer and has a much fresher flavour than a soup that been cooked in pot directly on the stove.

This was really, really good. I didn't want to use a whole chicken, so I used some cut up legs and a couple of breasts. Next time I think I'm going to use bone-in thighs only, because they tasted the best and were the most tender. The chicken isn't very pretty to look at , but the flavour is wonderful, and the soup will make you sing. Sliced Chinese cabbage and a bit of rice wine can be added to the dish before cooking if desired. You can also do this by placing a regular pot on a rack in a larger pot of boiling water and cooking on top of the stove in the same way.


So, speaking of chicken, here's the disgusting part. Along with mad cow disease, swine fever and bird flu, Germany has recently had its share of other Fleischskandale - meat scandals that you might not have heard about because they try to keep a lid on these things.

Earlier this year it was discovered that a large, well-known supermarket had been repackaging meat, especially ground meat, which is so succeptable to spoilage, and selling it way past its use by date. Uck.

Then there was the thing a month or so ago where Fleischabfällen - literally 'garbage meat' as in "not fit for human consumption" was re-labeled and sold to various companies who unknowingly used as a filling for ravioli, tortellini and the like. Eeew.

And this week it's all about the chickens. Some crazy company has reportedly been repeatedly freezing and thawing close-to-rotten chicken parts and attempting to sell them as fresh meat with a huge health danger to the consumer. Tests showed that much of the poultry that was confiscated and tested was contaminated. Mmm...salmonella anyone? The factory doing this has now been shut down, but a lot of chicken had already gone into circulation, mostly in Berlin and Saxony, and was used for making liverwurst and Putendöner - a turkey/chicken sandwich commonly served at Turkish snack bars. Gahhh.

I saw a guy being interviewed on TV who said that hygeine standards and food inspection rules for meat processing plants haven't changed in Germany since the 50's and that this kind of thing is rampant. Living here really freaks me out sometimes. You just NEVER know what you're eating and no one seems to care as long as someone makes a buck. Horrifying if you ask me.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

today is tomorrow's yesterday. or something

I've been subscribing to an article a day from the DailyOM site. The authors manage to combine the metaphysical stuff I enjoy so much with a good dose of common sense. That really appeals to me. Most of the time I can find a message in there somewhere and I particularily liked yesterday's article because it's something I often have trouble with.

There Is Only Now

It can be easy for us to walk through the world and our lives without really being present. While dwelling on the past and living for the future are common pastimes, it is physically impossible to live anywhere but the present moment. We cannot step out our front door and take a left turn to May of last year any more than we can take a right turn to December 2010. Nevertheless, we can easily miss the future we are waiting for as it becomes the now we are too busy to pay attention to. We then spend the rest of our time playing "catch up" to the moment that we just let pass by. During moments like these, it is important to remember that there is only Now.

Well, yeah.

Monday, November 07, 2005

my husband steals vegetables

Mr. M didn't have to work last week and one morning decided to go for a long walk with our dear neighbour who has been walking 3-4 hours per day in an effort to keep fit since an arm injury forced him to take early retirement several years ago.

Their walk this time took them across the fields to the neighbouring town, around a small mountain and back again and just imagine my surprise when Mr. M arrived home with a fine, fresh cauliflower, a green cabbage and a lovely head of lettuce. I gathered that the neighbour had brought back the same, with a red cabbage thrown in for good measure.

We live in a sort of rural area with fields all around and about 3 km between each small town. Just a few blocks from our house there's a pasture full of sheep (and a brothel disguised as a hotel, but that's another story) and it's not unusual to get stuck behind a tractor on any given day.

After the fields are harvested in the fall, any vegetables that are left behind just get tilled under (or whatever the agricultural term is - I am not a farmer's wife) and become one with the soil again. Before this happens, clever people like our neighbour steal help themselves to the green stuff. Carrots, cabbage, lettuce, potatoes, cauliflower- it's all out there just waiting to be gathered up. No one seems to mind and I've never heard of anyone getting in trouble for it, so I suppose it's all right.

So there we were, stuck with yet another cauliflower. Yawn. Cauliflower is my husband's favourite vegetable. He loves it plain with a little salt and butter. The rest of us like it all right, just not too often. I have to admit I find it quite blah and lacking in character, even with cheese sauce. Which is why I often make this Much More Exciting Sauce to go on mine.

Cauliflower (or Potatoes) with Paprika Garlic Sauce

1 medium cauliflower (preferably stolen from a field near you)
1 T olive oil
3 med. cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1 T sweet paprika
2 T red wine or sherry vinegar (depening on the acidity of your vinegar, I would start out with less and add more to taste)

Steam cauliflower pieces over boiling water until tender. Cover and set aside to keep warm, reserving cooking water for later use. Heat oil in skillet, add garlic and cook, turning often, for several minutes until lightly browned. Turn off heat and leave oil in skillet. Put garlic cloves in mortar and pound with half of parsley and several pinches of salt, forming a coarse paste. Place drained cauliflower on platter. Return skillet to low heat and stir in paprika, vinegar, 1/4 c. cauliflower cooking water and the garlic-parsley paste. Cook, stirring gently to combine ingredients and thicken sauce slightly. Pour sauce over cauliflower and garnish with remaining parsley. Enjoy with a guilty conscience.

Friday, November 04, 2005

he's not so little any more

As you may recall, I have two younger brothers. The middle one, M, is celebrating (or more likely trying to ignore) his 39th birthday today. I remember this picture of my brother and me being taken by a family friend, but I can't recall how old we were at the time.

Outwardly, M has changed considerably since then - a lot more nose and much less hair, for example. He's also several inches taller than I am, and twice as wide (which is saying something!). But that still doesn't stop me from thinking of him as my 'little' brother.

Happy Birthday, M!

the calm before the storm

Thursday, November 03, 2005

anger management

See this furry little creature?


He's a Steinmarder or beech marten - a small doglike nocturnal animal related to the weasel, mink, badger and otter. Being omnivorous, he'll chow down on just about anything: other smaller mammals, earth worms, birds, eggs, fruit, and...get this...my car. My ignition cable, to be exact. He chewed his way right through it and even took a chunk with him as a memento. Last week was the second time this year.

A new cable was procured in no time through Mr. M's secret underground sources, but I now live in fear of this happening on a continuing basis because it's not at all unusual in our area. I hadn't given it much thought before, assuming that the marten must be just another animal with a rubber fetish and that my particular ignition cable had something the others didn't have.

After doing a bit of research, however, I found out that martens are very territorial critters and that chewing through cables is their way of warning enemy martens to stay off their turf. It usually starts with a resident marten climbing up into a still-warm car motor for a little nap. So local marten A leaves his mark there and goes about his business. Visiting Marten B comes by and also leaves his mark. Marten A comes back to 'his' car, gets wind of marten B, and the biting frenzy starts. Makes sense, huh?

The internet is full of various methods designed to repel agressive martens, including dog hair, dog urine and those things you throw into your toilet bowl to keep it smelling lemon-fresh. We've yet to try any of those, but have now put a big piece of chicken wire under my car to keep the little...uh...weasel, from crawling up into the engine in the first place.

So far it seems to be working.

baaaaaaaad marten!

Copyright © 2005-2012 by 'Mausi'. All rights reserved. It's not nice to steal.