Instagram holiday season

November 29, 2011

Every time I walk through our town's Christmas market, which has been open just a week now, I experience this feeling of giddiness that rises up in me and I must contain with a smile in the hopes the Germans don't think I'm crazy for literally laughing out loud with delight. I've become of those people revels outwardly at the changing of the seasons and most importantly, the start of my very favorite time of year: Christmas.

For those of you who think I'm just another crazy going off the Lorelai-Gilmore deep end of holiday-ness with an unhealthy obsession with something as simple as the first snow (which I am anxiously awaiting), in my defense, I come from the season-less, scaled-back, oh-so-PC land of California where any of the feelings of the Christmas season came mostly from inside our house (and no, Black Fridays where people pepper-spray each other don't count). Here, not only is there snow (again, I'm waiting...), but it's like all of Germany just goes Christmas crazy as soon as those leaves start hitting the ground - the street lights, the Markts, the window displays (the only half-decent ones in Europe all year!). Just think - another whole month to go...

(Forgive some of the image repetitiveness for those that follow my TwitPic feed - I couldn't help sharing them again! They really help me capture the old-timey, traditional holiday spirit I feel here.)

The city begins to celebrate the season (in mid-November)...

Somehow my weekly walking buddy looks even cuter when bundled up against the cold

Special eggnog latte (courtesy of trip to the military base) 
- 1st in two years!

Der Sternschnuppenmarkt beginnt!

An early Christmas present to myself - a super-warm, wooly hat that makes me feel like an Eskimo snow princess

The season of the Schokokuss

And since Christmas begins over here before the American holiday of Thanksgiving, here's a peek at our Thanksgiving celebration this past weekend...

New recipe of Herb Biscuits (sage & thyme) from Real Simple - amazing!

My Thanksgiving plate *stuffed*

...and the dessert spread: cherry, pumpkin & chocolate bourbon 
pecan pies + brownies and cinnamon cream

Here's to a glorious holiday season!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

The final colors of autumn

November 21, 2011

I had almost forgotten how fleeting autumn is here in Germany. It seems like as soon as the air turns crisp - and the leaves turn yellow, orange and red - it's time for Christmas and winter (unlike in California, where the brown, dead leaves piling up in our front yard seemed to last forever). As much as I love the holiday season, I really do wish fall and all its beautiful colors lasted a little bit longer.

In the past few weeks, we've been spending an increasing amount of time outdoors to enjoy the last bit of autumn. Sure, winter doesn't officially start for another month, but the start of the Christmas market here in town tomorrow and the weather say otherwise. So here's to all the beauty of autumn! Now onto Glühwein, Weihnachtsmärkte and Schnee - bring it on, winter!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Into the woods we go...

November 15, 2011

Bailey really couldn't care less about the beautiful autumn colors
- she was just antsy to run around and sniff things

In an attempt to catch some of the amazing autumn colors before they literally all fall away - and to walk off a bit of the amazing food we've been indulging in - we've been heading into the surrounding forests for frequent walks/hikes (which depends entirely on the incline and subsequent soreness). I'm not sure why it has taken us so long to get out into the wilderness that is literally a 15-minute walk from our doorstep, but I'm so glad we've started to make a habit of it. 

These are a few shots from weekend before last where we drove far into the countryside, until the colors got so beautiful we had to stop. Germans are such fanatics for walking and hiking, I can't believe I was surprised at how easy it was to find a spot to park the car and a path to start on, from seemingly the middle of nowhere. I had always wondered about the people I'd seen trekking out in the middle of fields from my lazy perch in the passenger seat of our car as we drove by - and now we were those people! 

So glad that almost two years into our expat life, we're still discovering new things all the time...

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Strick' Dir Deine Stadt!

November 13, 2011

Why yes, that sign pole is wearing a sweater!

Earlier this week as I headed into town, I was stopped in my tracks when I saw a utility box on the sidewalk covered in what looked like a made-to-order, colorful knitted sweater. 'Was this Wiesbaden's answer the to freezing weather on its way?' I thought. But then I looked up and saw the colorful knits covering everything in the Kochbrunnenplatz from tree trunks to handrails to planter boxes. Walking deeper into the city, I saw more and more of these funny little knits on everything from bike racks to sign posts. It was as if a band of crazy knitters went all over the city in the middle of the night, knitting everything they could get their hands on.

Uh, protecting the city's resources from frigid temps, maybe..?

A quick Google search when I got home brought up a Facebook group called Wiesbaden Knäuelt- Strick' Dir Deine Stadt, or 'knit your city', who called upon people to knit things to "prettify Wiesbaden" and celebrate the city being a social business city for one year. I'm not entirely sure what one has to do with the other - or what makes a city officially 'social' in the first place - and the people setting up this project look like they're straight out of downtown Santa Cruz or Golden Gate Park (i.e.- a little kooky), but the results certainly add a little something special around town. As the Weihnachtsmarkt is still setting up, the brightly-colored knitwear for the city is a nice preface to the holiday season to come.

As for the locals, I can't imagine what they think of crazy, colorful yarn all over their town. Being the sort who rarely don outerwear much more daring than olive green or navy blue, this much color on full display might cause some to have a heart attack. Me, I'm just enjoying the creativity. It's almost like a little taste of home (ahem, CA). ;) 

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere!

November 10, 2011

My pumpkin haul this week, after being hit with the frightening realization that pumpkin season does not last forever

My love affair with pumpkins has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The seasonal chill in the air that signals the introduction of pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin bread back into the day-to-day (at least in America) is my very favorite time of year for the snuggly sweaters and fabulous boots, but mostly for the food that is to come. Come to think of it, I've rather loved all things orange - carrots (so much so when I was a toddler that my mother had to inquire of my pediatrician why my hands and feet had turned orange), clementines, Fanta (OK, not-so-naturally orange) and of course - pumpkins. 

As I type, our apartment is filled with the smell of roasting pumpkins that I'm cultivating the flesh from in mass amounts (see photo above) to freeze and use throughout the holiday season. Pumpkin foods should not end with Halloween. There is still pumpkin pie (hello, Thanksgiving?!), pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin lattes... and the desire for which does not wane until long after that last leaf hits the ground. 

In an effort to keep the pumpkin love flowing, I'm including below a few of my recent favorite pumpkin recipes. The first of which I discovered in a friend's family cookbook and saw again on, originating from Cooking Light (the 'light' suggestions, needless to say, I disregard). I love this soup because while I often find that savory pumpkin dishes can feel a little heavy and stifling for my sweet-preferring taste buds, the orange and mango in the mix bring a nice lightness to the flavor. I also made a few alterations for my preferences and already converted for our metric uses over here, so here goes: 

Thai Pumpkin Soup - one of the latest staples of our autumn diet

Thai Pumpkin Soup
1 (16-ounce) can/ 475ml chicken broth (use more if you prefer lighter, less dense soup)
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin/ flesh from 2 med Hokkaidos, roasted & mashed/puréed
1 (12-ounce) can/ 355ml mango nectar
1/4 cup chunky peanut butter (use the good stuff, if you can get it)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons minced green onions (I'm generous with this amount)
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (I'm generous with this as well)
1 garlic clove, crushed
Sriracha sauce to taste
pumpkin seed oil, roasted pumpkin seeds & chopped green onions for garnish
Combine first four ingredients in a large Dutch oven and bring to a boil, whisking generously to mix. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in vinegar and next six ingredients, adjusting red pepper and Sriracha to desired spiciness; cook until thoroughly heated. 

Now, I tend to let this sit/simmer for a while to let the flavors really meld. It's always nice to get some more heat from the pepper flakes and Sriracha as the flavors come together. 

Perhaps the world's biggest single clove of garlic

I made some pumpkin pancakes last year, but honestly, wasn't blown away by the recipe. Realizing my affinity for baking things with buttermilk, this time around I actually searched 'buttermilk pumpkin pancakes' and came up with a part-time foodie and full-time lawyer's blog called Judicial Peach (he was born in Georgia - cute, right?) for a winning recipe. Needless to say, I'm sure I will be going back to Charles for some more food ideas! 

The perfect Buttermilk Pumpkin (& pecan!) Pancakes

Real Buttermilk Pumpkin Waffles
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (I used fresh grated)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 cup shaken buttermilk
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
*I added 1/3 cup chopped pecans to mine

Sift together the dry ingredients – the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices, in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, pumpkin, and butter, in a large mixing bowl, until smooth. Whisk in the dry ingredients, in batches, until well combined. Fold in pecans, if using. Cook in a non-stick (or greased) griddle over medium-low heat.

I found these to be light and fluffy, without letting the dense pumpkin overwhelm the texture of the pancake. These will definitely a weekend breakfast staple for the season (along with pumpkin lattes made with pumpkin syrup I make and keep in the fridge for a week's worth of coffees)!

I've also gotten some requests for the recipe to the Thin Mint cookies I made last month, and as much as I hate to give away my secret site of all things amazing, here goes: Ming Makes Cupcakes. I don't know who this girl is or what she does besides bake up some of the most amazing things ever and give the recipes away for free on this little site of hers, but I'd like to give her a big fat kiss. Everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - I've made from her site has knocked my socks off. I've made several of the cupcakes (including a savory one!) and two of the cookies already, but I'm determined to work my way through her entire catalog of treats. 

No more Girl Scout cookies for me (even if I could buy them here)!

Quick tip on the Thin Mints: I found refrigerating overnight - rather than just 2 hours - helps them to keep that perfect circular shape when slicing pieces to bake. The above photo was taken before this realization, hence the wobbly oval shape of an otherwise delicious cookie. Enjoy!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

(Belated) WEBMU - Expats across Germany unite!

November 09, 2011

Sunset over Köln

Admittedly, I was a little nervous about joining up with the WEBMU crowd. The name, after all, stands for Whiny Expat Bloggers Meet Up - and whining about things in Germany is the last thing I wanted to do. Whenever I meet expats who have been here longer than I have, I am eager to hear about their feelings and experiences making a new life here, as I hope to be here for the long haul myself. When said expats only have whining to do about Germany, it raises a flag for me and chips away at the naive hopefulness I still feel about how perfect life is here (OK, not entirely perfect, but perfect for me, for now). So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover these expats weren't whiny at all - in fact, they all seemed to be integrated into German life beautifully. Not to mention that they were just awesome people.

St. Ursula's Church, one of the afternoon's excursions

So a few weeks back (yes, I'm grossly behind on this post!), we packed up some snacks and one Frau Dietz in the car and headed up to Cologne for the once-a-year meet-up of fellow English-speaking bloggers around Germany. I had only met Resident on Earth in person before, but most of the others I had had interactions with via their blogs, Twitter or other online networking channels (what would we expats do without the internet?!). It was beyond great to not only put a face with a name, but also learn more about the people behind the blogs. 

St. Ursula's is all about the bones...

Yup, there's a skull inside her head too

I'd been to Cologne twice already, but only to visit the Dom on brief day-trips, so it was great to be able to walk the city with local Resident on Earth and see more of it. The afternoon was quite productive with stops at the Bone Church (St. Ursula's - more great photos via Frau Dietz here), a little cafe/cake shop, a walk along the Hohenzollern bridge with the amazing locks lining the tracks and a trip up the 28-storied KölnTriangle for a panoramic view of the city.
Just one of the amazing 360° views from the KölnTriangle's Panorama Platform, which notes all the city's sights on the glass

After touring around the city, we settled in for a very traditional beer hall meal, where we took up nearly half the room and solicited questioning glaces - and actual questions about who we all were - from neighboring tables. It was my first traditional Cologne experience with Kölsch, where they don't stop bringing the tiny, cold glasses of delicious beer until you cover your glass with your tally-marked coaster and make them stop. Quite the opposite of the usual leisurely European meal service!

Not even to a liter yet - a meager start by German standards

The waiter making the rounds in keeping everyone well on their way to drunkeness

The day chock full of excursions and getting-to-know-you chatter came to a close over the annual That Queer Expatriate's Queer Expedition, in which we all hung out at a gay bar in what is known as the Bermuda Triangle - Cologne's gay 'hood. If it weren't for our hour-and-a-half car ride back home (for most of which I was passed out in the front seat), that would have been the perfect way to conclude a great day meeting new friends. 

For a group I was a little unsure of joining in the first place, I now find I'm looking forward to next year's meet-up and hoping for the chance to tour through some of the other blogger's towns to see them again before a whole year is up. Big thanks to the local hosts for all their planning and to everyone who made the trek all the way there - bis nächsten Jahr!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische