Tuesday, December 25, 2007

merry merry

Here are my little elves taking a break from poking each other's eyes out. You never know when Santa might be watching.

Last night, Christmas Eve, we went to the in-laws for dinner and a grandparents-grandchildren gift exchange. I wore my 'Grin and Bear It' t-shirt, practiced acceptance and survived just fine. Sure made me miss spending Christmas with my other far-away family, though. Oh well.

Today we celebrated REAL Christmas with just the four of us. Boy11 couldn't stand the suspense and opened his big gift from Santa last night while Boy14 waited until this morning. Mr. M and I decided not to do presents this year, because, really, don't we have Enough Stuff already?

Obviously not, since I just had to buy myself this little Christmas pillow.

Makes me smile every time I look at it. In fact, I think I may leave it out all year.

A big thank you to Canada Santa for coming through with these two characters.

Their bellies were filled with waaaay too much pocket money for next summer's vacation.

Cookies were also in good supply.

Most German families who celebrate Christmas have one of these Lichterbogen in their window from the first day of Advent until around January 6. I love the way they light up the darkness. We leave ours on the most of the time.

The boys did a great job of decorating the tree. Here are a couple of my favourite ornaments. I made them when I first moved here and had a lot more time on my hands than I do now.

And this is our angel tree topper, also made by me many, many years ago. Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not, she's here to share the universal message of hope, peace, love and joy that we all deserve to have in our lives.

We're about to sit down to a delicious turkey dinner with all the trimmings - homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans wrapped in bacon etc. etc. etc. And despite the stuffing haters living in this house, I made stuffing this year, yes I did! Bread stuffing with celery, onions, pecans, dried apricots and cranberries and lots and lots of sage. And yes, thank you, I will be eating it all myself. They have no idea what they're missing. Stuffing, dressing, whatever you want to call it, December 25th just ain't the same without it.

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

everything's covered in powdered sugar!

No, I don't mean snow, unfortunately. Only a 5% chance of that happening for Christmas. But I've been doing more baking and have gone through more little boxes of powdered sugar than you can shake a stick at.

apricot pecan bread

rugelache at the back, vanilla crescents in the front (recipe for those in this post from last year), and the ones with the jam centres are Spitzbuben

One place we did see lots of snow was at the movies. Well, on the screen at least. I took Boy11 to see His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass on Sunday and we quite enjoyed it. Intriguing concepts, unanswered questions, a giant polar bear and a very, very skinny Nicole Kidman as one of the bad guys. I think we're going to have to read the trilogy to get the whole picture.

Oh yes, and we also scored another couple of bits of Christmas cheer.

It's just not Christmas without fresh cranberries. One bag says 'Product of Canada' on it, the other 'Product of U.S.A.' What's up with that? Are they carrying little passports? Different package designs too. I'm familiar with the top one, but the bottom one is new to me. Anyway, with these safely tucked away in the freezer I'll be able to make tons of cranberry sauce and muffins galore.

And you know those sugary red and white striped peppermint-flavoured treats that appear at Christmas time? You and I call them candy canes, right? Well, here they apparently have a different name.

Party sticks!! Yes, my kids went to town making jokes about these. I have trained them well.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

will bake for snow

I've been searching high and low for some Christmas mojo. Not much luck so far. Head colds (did you know that two Boy Colds equal a Man Cold?), the kids' cram-all the-tests-into-the-last-two weeks-of-school-before-the-holidays stress and the messiest, most cluttered house on the entire planet have kept me from getting into the full swing of things.

And where's the snow, anyway? A few flakes would be really nice right about now - these grey, rainy days haven't been much fun. I keep thinking that if I bake enough cookies, throwing a pinch of powdered sugar over my shoulder once in a while, maybe, just maybe, it'll snow for Christmas. But who am I kidding? We rarely get more than a dusting at this time of year. I'm keeping my hopes up, though, and will continue with the baking. You see, I don't make cookies because I have to, I make them because I want to, especially at this time of year. And I've got a few new recipes up my sleeve.

Here, have a peanut butter and chocolate sandwich cookie. Great with a glass of milk and a good book.

They look innocent enough, but, whoah, can you say meal replacement? That's how sweet and rich they are. The boys adore them (peanut butter lover's gene successfully passed on!), Mr. M, definitely not a fan of the nutty spread, thinks they are 'interesting'. He is just being polite while he waits for the real Christmas cookies to appear.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

feeling lonely?

If you use Blogger comment notification to keep track of your comments, you may think that your readers have abandoned you. That's not the case at all - it's just that the notification thingie has gone haywire. E mails are not getting through and people over at the Blogger Help Group are getting mighty testy. The brains at Google are apparently 'hard at work' trying to remedy the problem. Uh huh. Until then, check for comments directly on your blog and you'll most likely find that everyone still loves you.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

won't be long now

Little German children aren't going to get much sleep tonight. Sankt Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) makes his appearance later on, filling shoes, boots and stockings with sweet treats and small gifts. Also lovingly referred to around these parts as Nikolausi, Nikolaus is NOT the same guy as the Weihnachtsmann, the German equivalent of the North American Santa Claus. It's difficult keeping all these Christmas characters apart but what it really means is presents now and presents later. That can't be a bad thing, can it?

My big grown-up boys, still kids at heart, have already hung out their stockings on our humble fireplace.

Mr. M, who is off enjoying himself (NOT!) this evening at some jolly company festivities, will be getting a little something too.

And because a man needs more than cake on a special night like this, I may consider casting aside my ancient flannel Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas

in favour of my Santa suit

Just call me Nikomausi!

Advent is in full swing in Germany and Sunday December 2 was the day to light the first candle on the Advent wreath or arrangement. I did a sort of free-form thing this year. Every Sunday until Christmas we'll light another candle until all four are burning.

And I don't know what I've been doing all week, but I still haven't gotten around to any serious holiday baking. That's not to say that we haven't been doing any serious holiday cookie eating, though. That's what supermarkets are for. They're full of Christmas cookies starting in October.

These are some of our favourites

The dark chocolate covered ones in the back are Lebkuchen, soft gingerbread in the shape of hearts, stars and pretzels.

The small white ones are Pfeffernüsse, literally 'pepper nuts', also a type of gingerbread. These ones are spiced with cloves, cinnamon and anise.

Next we have the Dominosteine which are really more of a confection than a cookie. I've cut one open so you can see the layers. The bottom layer is gingerbread, followed by a fruit jelly, usually cherry or apple. The top layer is persipan, similar to marzipan (almond paste) but made from apricot kernels. These are very sweet and sticky.

The large round cookies are also a type of gingerbread baked on Oblaten, thin wafers. The most famous ones come from Nuremberg. Traditionally they may contain nuts and candied peel are made with Pottasche (potassium carbonate) and Hirshhornsalz (ammonium bicarbonate), leavening agents used before the development of baking powder and baking soda. Lebkuchengewürz (gingerbread spice) consisting of varying amounts of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and mace, is available in stores in case you want to try making your own.

In the centre we have the Spekulatius, a crisp cookie spiced with cinnamon. Mr. M would eat these all year round if he could - they're great with a cold glass of milk. The ones we buy have images stamped on them and I'm told they most often depict the story of St. Nicholas.

So if you're in Germany, be on the lookout for a guy in a red suit. You may just wake up to a nice suprise tomorrow morning.

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two down, ten to go!

My lunch today

That's all that's left of the honey-mustard chicken I made for dinner last night. That big ugly squeeze bottle and one smaller jar of mustard are now history. Whooo!

After reading through about 200 of the 351 mostly positive reviews on this dish, I decided to go on the advice of those who had already tried it out and made a few changes to the original ingredients and method. I used skinless drumsticks and thighs and used only half the amount of fat called for in the sauce, replacing the butter with olive oil. A tiny bit more mustard and a chopped garlic clove, along with a couple of dashes of hot sauce gave it a bit more body. I also placed the chicken pieces "sunny side down" in the roasting pan and covered the pan with foil for the first 30 minutes to allow the meat to absorb the flavours better and prevent the sauce from burning before the chicken was done. For the final 40 minutes I uncovered the pan, turned the pieces over and basted every 15 minutes until the sauce had reduced to a nice, spicy glaze. Yum.

We really enjoyed this. And now I know what to do with all that mustard!

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

proof positive that men don't listen

It's official. Mr. M doesn't listen to a word I say. Sound familiar? Girls, does your significant other only appear to be listening attentively when he is actually off in another world thinking about, oh, I don't know, maybe his bank balance/what's for dinner/girls stuck in the mud? Here's what happened to me last weekend.

Mr. M: I brought you a present!

Me: Oooh, thank you! What is it?

Mr. M: Here.

Me: Oh...it's a...jar of mustard.

Mr. M: Well, I know how much you like mustard. But you're not looking all that happy. Is something wrong?

Me: No, no, nothing wrong. It was very sweet of you, even if it's actually YOU who adores mustard. I like it just fine, though. It's just that I'm pretty sure we already have several jars in the fridge. Remember we talked at length about trying to go easy on the condiments because they take up so much room? Remember the Absolute Condiment Verbot?

Mr. M: Oh, um, yeah, I guess I forgot. Yeah, that's it. And besides, I really thought we were out of mustard. You sure we still have some?

Me: I'm positive.

Twelve containers of mustard. Twelve. Three squeeze bottles and nine jars. German, French, Swedish, Danish. Mild, spicy, grainy, herbed. A mustard for every possible occasion and taste.

I'm just hoping this condiment hoarding thing isn't hereditary.

On a brighter note: it's December and that means only one thing - cookies! You can NEVER have too many cookies. Stay tuned...

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let me hear you roar

Both Expat Travels and Fruits of My Mind very kindly passed on this purple award to me.

Here's the idea:

Those people given this award to are encouraged to post it on their own blogs; list three things they believe are necessary for good, powerful writing; and then pass the award on to the five blogs they want to honour, who in turn pass it on to five others, etc., etc. Let's send a roar through the blogsphere! The image at the top right can be copied and pasted onto other blogs. Also, a small size of the award for sidebars can be found over at the writing circle site.

Hmm, Let's see. For me, powerful blog writing includes:

1) Writing about what you know
2) Being yourself and letting your personality shine through your posts
3) Interacting with your readers on a personal level both on and off your blog

I started my blog to get in touch with other expats, tell them about my experiences and maybe offer a helping hand now and then. When I moved here there was no one to help me, I had to do it all myself and it was (and sometimes still is) a lonely road. Blogging has changed me in many ways.

I'm not keeping track of who has done this already so just off the top of my head I'm going to pass this on to:

1. Dixie Peach - for her unwavering optimism day in, day out. She may drop a stitch once in a while but she picks up right where she left off and moves on to get the job done.

2. Ginnie - for inspiring me on her blog AND in real life!

3. The Big Finn - for making me bust a gut when I read about his (mis)adventures in Switzerland.

4. The Xpat Files - for giving birth right in the middle of NaBloPoMo and STILL only missing two days. Incredible.

5. Woman Wandering - for delighting me with both her words and her pictures.

Of course that's not an exhaustive list. There are many, many more - you know who you are - who brighten my day and make things just a little easier sometimes.

Thanks you.


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