Tuesday, January 30, 2007

ok, so raise your hand if you weren't at IKEA last Saturday

I know for a fact that Alison was there. And so was Mike.

We were there, too. For about the fourth time since a brand new store opened up very close to where we live last October. This time we went back to buy some kitchen lights that weren't in stock last month. Did I mention that our new kitchen is being installed on February 9th? Did I mention how excited I am? Maybe I should also mention that instead of sitting here blogging I really should be in my old kitchen right now cleaning out the cabinets. Don't tell.

Anyway, we went back to get the lights and guess what? They were still out of stock. Hmmmph. This forced us to splurge on two sets of three lights instead of the original one set of five that I had my heart set on, but I think my esthetic sensibilites will get over it. After all, who knows when they'll actually have the other ones in stock and I don't want to end up cooking in the dark.

We swore we were just going to run in and get the lights and be home in time for lunch, but you know how it is. You (or at least we) let your guard down and usually end up with one or two things you don't really need.

Meet our new houseguests. I'm just a sucker for plush, I guess.

mother and child

And in case the monkeys started to feel lonely we had to buy these

I think I feel a puppet show coming on.

But we did not, I repeat did NOT succumb to the cheap hot dogs or those deliciously crispy oatmeal cookies. And that's really an exercise in IKEA self-control.

Friday, January 26, 2007

look ma, no pork!

If you're the chief cook and bottle washer around your house you know how it is: your family expects three squares each and every day and it's up to you to come up with something different to break the "Oh no, not again, we just had this last week!" cycle.

I have never been a menu planner. Planning ahead (and not just in regards to food!) would make my life a whole lot easier, but I just can't seem to do it. I'm a spontaneous cook. I do try to make varied meals and have been trying to steer certain people away from wanting to eat pork day in day out. You know who you are. Be quiet and eat your vegetables.

Speaking of delicious, nutritious vegetables, this week our local supermarket had, oh wonder of wonders, fresh organic shiitake mushrooms on offer. Last night I decided to make a pseudo-Japanese meal using the mushrooms as a starting point. The original recipe found in one of my cookbooks involved stir-frying the sliced mushrooms and snow peas with soy sauce, rice wine and a bit of brown sugar. I really like those crunchy little pea pods, but the rest of the gourmands around here don't care for them so I substited green beans which were just as good, I thought. Along with marinated sesame-lime chicken and some noodles this made a light but satisfying meal.

Since I've been suffering from a severe lack of energy lately, I've also been trying to concentrate on eating healthful foods for breakfast and lunch instead of just eating whatever, whenever throughout the day. Grazing is not a good idea for someone like me. Again, the lack of planning takes its toll on my waistline and my energy levels. Bad, bad Mausi.

One recipe that I had kind of forgotten about but that I like very much is a simple spinach pie which is sort of a cross between a quiche and a spanakopita.

Spinach - you either love it or hate it. I love it any way it's served up. It's really hard to get fresh spinach, at least where I shop. Frozen spinach abounds, however, and is very popular. Germans often make a meal of creamed spinach with a fried egg on the top. I'm afraid that fried eggs give me the creeps so I put my eggs IN the spinach pie instead of on top.

This time around I made the recipe in a flan pan and was not all that happy with the results - a bit too thick for my liking. Next time I'll use the recommended pie plate again to get a thinner pie. A wedge of it with a salad and a whole grain bun makes a filling lunch. The pie can also be cut into smaller wedges (or sqares if you bake it in a square pan), and served slightly warm or at room temperature as an appetizer.

Vitamins! Minerals! Protein! Calcium!

Spinach Pie

(contributed by Joan Palmer to The Maplewood Farm Compendium of Down-Home Cooking)

1 10 oz. (300g) package frozen spinach or 1 bunch fresh
1 cup cottage cheese
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch nutmeg
3 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp butter or margerine

Cook and drain frozen spinach well, squeezing out excess water. If using fresh spinach, just wash and dry well and chop coarsely. Combine all ingredients except parmesan and butter and turn into a greased pie plate. Sprinkle with cheese, dot with butter and bake at 325°F (160°C) for 30 minutes. Serve with a tossed salad and crusty rolls. Serves 2.

We're having friends over for a casual dinner tonight. What am I serving? Bratwurst. Bratwurst made with...pork.

Oh well.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

blisters on my fingers, aloha in my heart

How long has it been since you picked up a musical instrument? The last time I played a note was when I was 12 years old. Guitar lessons at the YMCA. I wasn't that bad, but I wasn't good either. I did enjoy it though.

30-odd years later, inspired by a couple of very enthusiastic expat bloggers, I decided to challenge my questionable musical abilities once again and bought myself an interesting Christmas present. A ukulele. Yes, one of those little 4-stringed cuties that looks like a guitar that shrank in the wash. But don't be fooled. Once you pick up a ukulele, you'll never want to put it down.

Here's my new baby.

Can you tell it's a girl? Since I'm not yet sure how far I'm going to get in this new adventure, I mostly chose her for her looks. She was green (my favourite colour), cute, and cheap inexpensive. What more could you want? And what did I have to lose, anyway, besides (as I would find out later) a fingernail or two?

Of course every ukulele needs a name. After some consideration I decided to call mine...Patience. A nice, old fashioned name that reminds me to take my time and keep trying until I get it.

Because I'm not sure if I'm really getting it yet. My first reaction after playing for a few days was, "Wow, my fingers are hurting like crazy! I wonder if this pain is going to go away?"

Well, the pain eventually gave way to numbness. And callouses on my fingertips. Very UNladylike callouses. My Virtual Ukulele Instructress, a uke legend in her own time, informs me that those callouses are here to stay and that I should wear them proudly. OK, Pam, if you say so.

I've got a long, long way to go before I can produce anything anyone could recognize as a song with proper chord changes and rhythm and all that, but I sure am having fun trying to figure out this adorable instrument of mine. I love it. It's addictive.

And just looky here - former boy band Take That (who should probably now be called a slightly scruffy-looking middle-aged men band) custom-wrote this song just for my ukulele.

Oh, OK, the song has nothing at all to do with ukuleles, but I re-wrote the lyrics as an ode to my little Patience.

Go ahead, sing along, I know you want to.

Oh, my little Patience

I'm still hurting from a nail I lost
You're feeling my frustration
But any minute all the pain will stop
I'll hold you close inside my arms tonight
Don't be too hard on my manicure

'Cause I need time
Fingers are numb, they've no feeling
So while they're still healing
I'll try and have a little patience

I'm gonna have to start over again
I know you wanna be my salvation
The uke that I can always depend on

I'll try this next song
Believe me, I'm trying to move on
It's complicated but understand me

'Cause I need time
Fingers are numb, they've no feeling
So while they're still healing
I'll try and have a little patience, yeah

Oh, my little Patience, yeah

'Cause this uke was so cheap
It's been hard, but I have to believe

And have a little patience
Oh, my little Patience

Owww, 'cause I, I just need time
Fingers are numb, they've no feeling
So while they're still healing
I'll try and have a little patience

Have a little patience
Fingers are numb, they've no feeling
So while they're still healing
We'll try, oh, my little... Patience

bring your yoga pants

Jen is once again hosting a Girls Only Weekend at her place somewhere deep in the bowels of Germany. The weekend of March 16-18 is looking good for a few of us but nothing is written in stone yet. Go read Jen's post and if you're interested contact her for more details.

I attended last year along with a couple of other female bloggers and it was FUN. The cats were adorable, the food was delicious, Sparky/James was the perfect butler and as you can see, I did not get murdered.

Monday, January 22, 2007

how I spent my weekend

Geez. I knew I should have married one of those Chippendales guys while I had the chance. Much less ironing.

Half-finished piñata for a little friend's birthday party on Thursday. He'll be 4. Every 4-year-old needs a piñata.

In preparation for the renovations, Mr. M painted the radiator in the kitchen, almost killing me in the process with the fumes. Radiator paint is some nasty, nasty stuff.

(I think I'm now in the running for the 2007 Three Most Boring Blog Pictures in a Row Award)

Want more excitement? Well, part-time lumberjack and full-time husband had to go over to the neighbours' to cut down a tree that had been leaning at an unnatural angle ever since the storm on Thurdsay. Have chain saw, will travel. Another small storm, Lancelot, blew in yesterday, but was nowhere near as strong as Kyrill. It's gotten much, much colder though, and we may just get some snow after all.

And how about some small town intrigue? Amateur detectives were busy over the weekend trying to figure out The Mystery of the Disappearing Dullsville Post Office.

Unsuspecting Deutsche Post customers strolled on down to the local post office (located in a gift shop and run by the gift shop owner) on Friday only to find it locked up tight with a sign on the door saying they were closed 4-EVER. No advance notice, no nothin'. Boy were people mad.

In the newspaper on Saturday a Deutsche Post representative offered nothing more than a "We were forced to terminate the contract with the store owner". Said owner, a woman who has consistenly come in dead last in the Miss Congeniality Contest over the past 10 years or so, was not available for comment. Oooh, this should be good. Heads are going to roll for sure.

Aside from being very annoying, it's also a major inconvenience for those who don't own a car and can't get to the post office in a neighbouring town. Not to mention the customers who use the Post Bank, the bank operated by the Deutsche Post.

I really want to know what's going on. Where's Nancy Drew when you need her?

Friday, January 19, 2007

everyone knows it's windy

Oh my. That was interesting.

I haven't been outside yet today, but from what I can see out the window there hasn't been much damage to our neighbourhood other than a lot of stray tree branches lying around. We have electric blinds on the outside of our windows and glass doors so we sealed ourselves in tight last night and hoped for the best. The wind was still very unnerving. Wind makes me edgy at the best of times and knowing that a tree could come crashing down any minute didn't make it much fun.

Others don't seem to have been so lucky. In Hannover fire and rescue services were called out at least 400 times and the damage from fallen trees and roof tiles flying off houses is estimated to be in the millions. The Deutsche Bahn stopped all trains for the first time in the history of the company, and many were stranded in Hannover over night in makeshift accomodations. The main train station in Berlin had to be completely evacuated when a large chunk of metal was torn off the outside of the building. Trains are running again today, but not expected to be on schedule due to repairs to the tracks.

Tragically, a total of 29 people in Europe lost their lives in this storm, 10 of them in Germany. Even more tragically, one of the victims was an 18-month-old girl who was struck down by a terrace door that was blown off its hinges during the early evening. Very, very sad.

It's still quite windy out there however the worst seems to be over, for now at least. What's with this crazy weather anyway?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

batten down the hatches. again.

If you live in Lower Saxony or anywhere in Germany for that matter, especially on the coast, cancel all your plans for this afternoon and evening because a storm warning has been issued. Hurricane Kyrill is on his way and will hit the North Sea coast first and then travel east, reaching speeds of up to 150km an hour, 200km in mountainous areas. This type of storm is pretty unusual in our area and it's supposedly going to be the worst one since Hurrican Jeanette in 2002.

Oh oh. I don't know if we're ready. This ain't Florida, you know.

Funny thing is that we already had a smaller hurricane last week. Franz was his name and he ripped through Hannover on Thursday causing quite a bit of damage.

It's not too windy here yet, but I just had a call from Boy10 to say that the whole school is being let out early so the kids will be home by noon. That's a relief. And Mr. M wisely took his car to work today instead of riding his bike as he usually does. The route he rides is very windy even on a good day and I don't relish the thought of having to pick up a damaged husband somewhere along the road. Knowing him he doesn't have his cell phone with him either.

The weather office is advising people not to go out at all later on today unless absolutely necessary and not to park their cars under trees or by the ocean. In Bavaria meteorologists issued a statement saying that skiing and walks in the woods are "not a good idea". Duh. But you know how it is here - if it's not strictly verboten, someone's going to go and do it, getting themselves injured or killed in the process.

Let's just hope that everyone is actually sensible enough to heed the warnings and stay inside until this blows over.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

we'll get by with a little help from our friends

Oooog. Whatever I had last week has come back to haunt me this week and I'm feeling quite awful. That's why today I'm only going to post a couple of useful links so you can get your expat fix elsewhere.

Expat Women, a site providing assistance to women moving or already living overseas, has just been launched. You'll find me there as a volunteer mentor for women moving to my area of Germany. If you need help or information, I will mentor you 'til the cows come home. Also, if you, too, are of the female persuasion and would like your blog listed at Expat Woman, got to this page and contact the site owners.

Another site I have in my sidebar links is CanuckAbroad, of interest to Canadians living or traveling abroad.

And thanks to Ann Ona Moose for the link to a story that makes me think there's hope for my foggy brain after all - Being Bilingual Can Delay Onset of Dementia.

Whoo! Go sign up for those language courses before it's too late!

As for me, I think I need a nap.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

smiling quietly to myself

Last week was spent feeling somewhat tired and flu-ish but I did manage to squeeze in a little baking time and made these.

Every time I make these little guys I have to smile a bit because the official name of the recipe is Tasty Buns . I keep picturing John Wayne or some other cowboy-type person swaggering into my kitchen, trying one and saying, "You've got yourself some mighty tasty buns there, m'am." Yes, I do have a strange sense of humour.

Anyway, as well as being very tasty indeed, these buns are dead easy to make and have had rave reviews at Allrecipes, a great resource if you're looking for new things to try. Instructions are given for the "by hand" method, however I just throw all the ingredients into my bread machine and the dough comes out perfectly, ready to be shaped into hamburger, hot dog, or whatever shaped buns you prefer. My kids love these buns so much that we've never even gotten to the stage of cutting one open (a bun, not a kid) and putting something inside. They like to gobble them up as-is fresh from the oven.

Other things that made me smile:

- I got to spend the better part of Friday in Hannover with my dear friend Ginnie who is in town once again. As usual, we had a lovely time and got caught up on All The Important Stuff.

- New Zealander Antipo, South African Wendz and American Pam, all expats in France, took the plunge and did Lesley's accent meme. Go take a listen. I bet it'll put a smile on your face, too.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

all shall be revealed

If I hadn't been aimlessly surfing the internet last night I would never have known that this week is, once again, De-lurking Week in blogland. I know we did this one last year some time, but who can remember that far back?

My crystal ball, aka Site Meter, fills me in on who's reading, and I do "know" most of the people who check in on a regular basis. But there are a few of you who stop by daily and never comment. Now's your chance. Don't be afraid. I might even comment back!

Of course nothing's stopping the ol' faithfuls from commenting as well if they're feeling chatty. I need something to distract me from all these unmatched socks.

Edited to say: Thank you all so much for your comments! It's great to know who's out there reading and where they're from.

You may now resume lurking.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

sock blogging - it's all I got

Remember those beautiful socks my sweet friend Betty knit for me? Well, apparently Betty wanted to see not just a picture of the socks, but a picture of the the socks on my feet just to make sure I was actually wearing them and not using them as potholders or something.

Betty! Are you there? This one's for you.

See? A perfect fit.

Looks like it's going to be a slow, slow blogging week here at Mausi headquarters unless I finally get rid of the post-holiday blahs and find a bit of inspiration.

Stay tuned. There may be food.

Friday, January 05, 2007

slowly shifting out of first gear

Oh my, is it Friday already? This night owl needs to start getting to bed earlier. I've been up waaay past midnight every night since New Year's Eve and I have to get back on schedule soon and get a few things accomplished instead of schlepping around in my sweats all day in a zombie-like state. But I so enjoy the solitude after everyone else has retired to their beds. Silence is my very favourite sound, I think.

Even if I had managed to get to bed at a decent hour, there's still a problem. He Who Brings Home the Bacon has had a slight cold for about a week and that means only one thing: snoring. All. night. long. No amount of poking or prodding will get him to stop. I know he can't help it, poor guy, but boy is it annoying. The other night I was lying there wide awake, fists clenched, fantasizing about ear plugs or separate bedrooms or worse, when all of sudden the snoring actually did stop. So what did I do? Did I fluff up my pillow and happily drift off to sleep? Nope, I got all worried and poked him once more time to see if he was still among the living. He was, of course. And he rolled over and started snoring all over again.

When will I ever learn?

Anyway, lots of people have been making new year's resolutions. Not me. Don't like 'em, don't make 'em. I do, however, like to make a "wouldn't it be nice" list every few months. Things that I'd like, or prefer, to happen, but with no pressure and no time limit. If they happen, they happen. If they don't, that's OK too.

Right now I'd like to...

1. ...get some sleep, dammit!

2. ...be able to play the ukulele without making people's ears bleed

3. ...learn to compartmentalize and stop obsessing about things I don't have the power to change.

4. ...survive kitchen remodelling

5. ...make exercise seem as essential to survival as, oh, say, breathing or eating.

On the subject of exercise, I've been on a roll, and not just since the new year. The weather has been making it extremely difficult to get outside these days, but I've been giving it my all inside on the ol' elliptical trainer. I turn up my iPod, turn off my brain and go for a good 40 minutes.

There are a couple of things that make this exercise stuff easier.

Firstly, just look how nicely my iPod co-ordinates with my workout t-shirt

And secondly, I think this goes awfully well with both the iPod and the t-shirt. You know, for rehydration purposes after working up a sweat.


The boys go back to school on Monday and there's much to do before then. We've almost made it through the first week of 2007, we can make it through the rest, right?

Monday, January 01, 2007

2007: Day 1

Note to self: You are too old to stay up until 4 a.m. And lay off the cheese dip if you know what's good for you.

For what seems like ages, actually since after Boy10 was born, I think, we've been having our own little private New Year's Eve celebrations. Just the four of us - good food, a little TV, and the kids letting fireworks off at midnight. That suited us just fine. We're not really party animals.

This year our plans got turned around. Our good friends T and K, the ones who can often be found at our dinner table on Friday nights, had to forgo their usual winter vacation at a ski lodge in Austria this year and were at a loss at to what to do on Dec. 31st. "Hey, I know!" says T, " You're not doing anything, we'll come to YOUR house. But we'll have to bring S's Jamie with us because she's going out with her boyfriend."

S is their 16-year-old daughter, Jamie is her 3-month-old puppy.

Oh. OK.

Our German/Spanish connection is also in town on family businesss over the holidays. So our German friend Diego (who has lived in Spain for so long that they even gave him a Spanish name) says, "Hey, I know! We're having dinner with my mother on New Year's Eve, but afterwards we'll all come over to YOUR house."

All right then.

So a quiet evening for four turns into 6 adults, four children and a small dog. But no problem, it's all good.

We had our usual fondue with chicken, turkey, pork, beef and shrimp. We use broth instead of oil to cook the meat and quite like it that way.

fondue forks at the ready

Vegetarians avert your eyes

A dinner table in chaos - please note the plethora of condiments. Anyone who had been reading my blog for a while will know that this is the normal state of things.

But there was green stuff too! T and K brougt a salad and I made these marinated vegetables.

Turns out that only two of the Spanish contingent could make it. Diego showed up with his son C, while his daughter, who had had the stomach flu all week, stayed home with Mama at Diego's mother's apartment.

Diego and C arrived bearing dessert, as promised. They had made a wonderful custard dish called Tocino de Cielo which translates literally as "bacon from heaven". Mmmm! No bacon, but heavenly it was, all egg yolks and caramelized sugar syrup.

Jelly dougnuts were also the order of the day since no German New Year's celebration is complete without them.

The men folk, large and small, were in and out all evening letting off firecrackers in the yard and smoking their once-a-year cigars. We have a great view of the city from Boy10's bedroom window and the sky positively lights up at midnight on the 31st.

A good time was had by all and we ended up with a lot of empty plates and bottles, a big mess of firecracker wrappers on the lawn and one very sleepy little dog who got so spoiled that he said he wants to come back again really soon.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2007!

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