Wednesday, September 26, 2007

well don't just stand there looking decorative

Temperatures have been plummeting lately (it's almost October, after all) but today I'm wearing my purple t-shirt, capri pants and flip flops, trying to pretend it's still summer. Brrr! I wonder how long I'll hold out.

The leaves are starting to drop from the trees and there are bursts of colour everywhere, including my garden where I've been busy organizing a few autumnal displays.

A few weekends ago Mr. M brought home some little ornamental cabbages from his secret source at the flea market. I had forgotten how much I love these pretty plants. Just look at the colours.

I stuck a couple in a pot with (clockwise from the back) coral bells, chrysanthemum and variegated sage. I think they make a pleasing arrangement.

And this is my wee owl-y friend nestled between his very own ornamental cabbages, heather and variegated ivy. I love variegation.

In the spring the kids planted a bunch of ornamental gourd seeds. But boys will be boys and after carefully tending to their seedlings for a week or two, both young men wandered off to do more important things and the plants were left to their own devices. One plant did actually survive, so I stuck it into our flower bed where it promptly went crazy and took over the joint.

There were tons of flowers on the vines at first, but only two developed into anything interesting. Are they not weird and wonderful? Eyeless, legless kiwi birds come to mind.

Here they are hanging out with a group of good lookin' friends from the farmers market. Those fine specimens in the back row are in for a BIG suprise come Thanksgiving and Halloween.

Although edible, ornamental cabbages and gourds are not all that tasty so now we'll move on to the more palatable part of fall's harvest.

Last year we took a cutting from our neighbour's thornless blackberry bush and were rewarded with a total of about twenty (count 'em!) blackberries this year. Whee. There is much room for improvement but we are optimistic. If you know blackberries, you'll know that blackberry season is long over, however in our garden they take ages to ripen so we enjoyed the last of them just this past weekend.

The tomatoes are still going strong

As are the miniature green peppers which will probably need to be brought inside soon.

I didn't grow the plant from seed and when got it there were several small yellow peppers on it. At the moment it's covered with green ones which show no sign of turning colour so I'll probably use them now rather than waiting for a miracle.

The secret flea market source also provided these two perky pepper plants.

Sold as ornamentals, these are edible in that they are not poisonous, but I did some reading and found that these decorative plants are often sprayed with a systemic insecticide and should probably not be consumed. BUT, and this is good news, one can save the seeds from the peppers and start a new, entirely edible crop next year.

Last but not least we have pretty, pretty apples from our old apple tree.

We're not actually sure of the tree's age. It was here when we moved into the house in 1995 and judging from its size we also assume it may already have been growing on the lot when the house was built in 1969.

For a long time we also had no idea what kind of apples these were until that fateful day when I presented a few to a neighbour. She told me they were Ingrid Marie apples, her favourite kind. We don't spray the tree at all and usually get a fair crop every two years.

Ingrid Marie apples were apparently first cultivated "by accident" in 1910 in Denmark. One of the parent trees is assumed to be the Cox Orange.

The apples have a really intense sweet and sour flavour that I find to be a bit overbearing when eaten out of hand. I've also made both apple cake and apple sauce with them and wasn't entirely satisfied with the results, but a several years ago we came across a good way to enjoy them: they make the most excellent dried apple rings.

Here you see our high-tech apple-drying facilities.

The apple slices on the top row had been on there for a few days before I filled the rest of the rack with fresh slices. Dipping them in a bowl of water with a bit of vitamin C powder dissolved in it helps to keep the apples from oxidizing and turning brown.

These slices have a ways to go before they're totally dry, but we've been sampling already.

These are a nice snack for kids. Even Boy11, a notorious fruit and vegetable hater will eat them. Sure, too many will make you fat and you'll still need to brush your teeth well when you're finished, for they are quite sticky and do of course contain fruit sugar. What they don't have are artificial flavours or colours and they're made without sulphur dioxide, a chemical often used in the production of dried fruit.

So this fall our garden offers something for the eye and something for the belly. And isn't that what gardening's all about?

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

doomed to a life of elastic waistbands, compact flash cards and stinky laundry

I know, I know, I've been a bad blogger lately. Seems like the less you blog, the harder it is to get back into it.

It's not that I haven't wanted to blog. The truth is I've been feeling kind of under the weather for the past while. Nothing serious, just one of those mysterious tropical viruses that treat you to aching joints, a queasy stomach and a week-long headache that stays with you morning, noon and night. Lots of fun.

Before I got struck down Mr. M and I had been making a concerted effort to go out for a walk after dinner every evening. We usually averaged 45 minutes to an hour so I was a pretty good workout. So what happens after a couple of weeks of striding through the fields breathing in all that fresh air? Mr M loses half a pound and I gain two. Hmphhh. I'm prepared to believe it's muscle instead of just too many dumplings.

Sometimes on the weekends we can persuade the kids to go on a family walk with us and one of our usual haunts is a recreational area a few towns over that offers hiking trails of different lengths and degrees of dificulty. It's not like there are any real mountains around here, but there sure are some hills that can get your heart beating fast.

the easy part

We usually choose a shortish hike, about 3 km each way and the boys like it because there's a reward at the end - the Wennigser Wasserräder, a series of colourful miniature water wheels powered by an underground spring.

halfway there

The 22 water wheels are only up from April to October and are maintained through public donations and the skill of 14 craftsmen who are dedicated to repairing and repainting them every year.

At the top of the trail there's also a display depicting the flora and fauna of 2007.

We discovered our own little bit of fauna on the way and although he (or she?) wasn't on the 2007 list, he was the highlight of our hike. Here you see him in Boy11's hands so you can imagine how tiny our little friend was.


Anyway, it was after that hike that things started to fall apart for me. Not only for me, for our camera as well. On one of our following other walks I decided to take the camera along and try to catch a few nice images, including what passes for a sunset around these parts. No such luck. Our memory card, which is (or was, I should say) one of those micro processor thingies, started acting up after about 18 months of constant use by the whole family, including Boy11 saving his his little movies on it. I did some research on the internet and found that the thing is prone to malfuntion and needs to be handled like a raw egg.


So we bought a giant compact flash card and things are wonderful again.

Or at least they could be wonderful if it weren't for my crappy state of health (no exercise = get out the stretch pants, please) and my weird, weird laundry.

You see, after Boy11 got home from summer camp in August, I noticed this strange chemical smell in some of our laundry. I wasn't sure if it was in the clothes he brought back or in something else, but it has lingered on and it's driving me crazy.

I'm really sensitive to smell and it's a biting odour that makes my eyes water and my lungs burn. It's not in every article of clothing and seems to come and go. and Washing the clothes over and over again doesn't seem to make any difference. I've let the washing machine run through a long hot cycle with bleach and we've inspected the dryer and still no solution. Advice and/or andecdotes are more than welcome.

Monday, September 10, 2007

take twenty pounds of pitted purple plums...

The big question in our local newspaper's Saturday gardening column Q&A was "Hey, what's with all the plums this year? I'm drowning in 'em!"

The answer from the experts is that the ideal spring weather had the plum trees blooming like crazy and producing hundreds of those little purple offspring. They're calling it the harvest of the century and I have first hand evidence of the phenomenon.

We have our own plum tree, but it's an early variety and has been rather sickly of late, so we didn't get much of a haul from there. My mother-in-law, however, has an ancient and very hardy tree in her allotment garden and can't keep up with the picking.

All those excess plums mean that we have been the on the receiving end of baskets, buckets and crates full of fruit over the past week or so. We've frozen several bags, the two vegetable crispers in our basement fridge are chock full and there's a huge box of the little devils outside on the terrace. I don't mind, really, but the question is what to do with all of them. I would make jam, but the mother-in-law has the monopoly on that and I wouldn't want to tip the delicate balance of in-law relations, you know?

Over the weekend I tried out a few recipes, some of which were new to me.

Here we have the ol' Zwetschgenknödel or plum dumplings. I also made these last year and there's a link to the recipe in this post if anyone wants it.

Next up was a kind of deep dish streusel cake. It was all right but I don't know that I'd make it again. I like this recipe from last year better, I think.

This is plum tea bread. Very tasty. Next time I'll use more plums.

And last but not least, a recipe called Plum Ketchup which is really more like a chutney or relish. It's spicy and delicious and, yes, I've been eating it with a spoon but it also goes wonderfully with chicken or pork or whatever you like. I'm going to make a whole bunch more.

So that's about five pounds of purple plums down and five zillion to go. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

let's be careful out there

Germany said Wednesday it had foiled a "massive" terrorist attack with the arrest of three Islamic extremists who were targeting airports, bars and discotheques used by Americans.

(click on text to read the whole news article)

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Monday, September 03, 2007

be there or be square

So, all you whiney expats, your minds have been made up for you and this year's Annual Whiney Expat Blogger in Germany Meet-Up will take place in the fascinating city of Dresden on the weekend of November 17 and 18, 2007. Please follow the link to J's blog to find out who'll be there and to add yourself to the list if you have decided to attend. Travel and accommodation details are still being discussed. If you have any questions, just post them in the comments at J's post or contact him directly. He's got the scoop on everything.

If you're new in town and still up in the air about coming along to meet a bunch of perfect strangers, wondering what in the world goes on at this type of event, rest assured that no one will make you go bowling, play strip poker or visit more than two museums.

I'm actually almost looking forward to the loooong train trip this time because as of September 1st, there is now NO smoking in any form of public transportation. Ahhhhh! Some smokers are taking it well, others (including Deutsche Bahn employees!) are putting up a bit of a fuss but I'm sure everything will work out just fine in the end. I do wonder how long it's going to take them to scrub that stale smoke smell out of the upholstery, though.

Hope to see you all in Dresden!

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