Friday, July 31, 2015

July Highs and Lows 2015

I've been sluggish with the blog this month, even though I'm behind in some things I want to write about. It was just too hot to think in the office, and I try to keep my laptop out of the living room. In the second last week of July it was really not as bad temperature-wise as in the first two weeks, but it's hot enough and I'm tired of sweating.* Our hedge is badly in need of trimming, but the mere thought of working outside is enough to give me a headache. In this one can tell that I'm not a true Swabian - our neighbors are outside working in their garden every day regardless of heat or humidity.

*I wrote that paragraph last week - now on the last day of the month I'm sitting here in a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and socks, and my feet are cold. After that heat wave, I'm not complaining, but rather enjoying the coolness!


  • spending a day in Strasbourg/Straßburg first visiting the EU Parliament, then having a tour through the old town followed by some free time and then dinner with the representative who invited us. A blog post about the day is still pending!

  • getting away for a weekend in Bamberg with M, where we stayed at a nice hotel (again - no air conditioning, but we had an excellent meal at their restaurant and a standing fan in the room), took a town tour, and hung out with our former exchange student and her boyfriend.

  • the arrival of our Thermomix, which we use often! We have made mashed potatoes, smoothies, chocolate mousse, vanilla pudding, seasoned paste (to use in place of vegetable bouillon cubes), kohlrabi-potato soup, boiled potatoes, and hard boiled eggs. Fruit sorbet or ice cream is coming up soon.

  • starting talks with a friend of mine* about a possible riding vacation next year in Scotland - as in a week-long vacation that centers on riding 5-6 hours a day in the Highlands.

    *Funnily, I consider her my friend and we have a fair bit in common, but we've never actually met. I know her kids, her husband, and his family, but she and I have only communicated via email and Facebook.

  • because of the possibility of the above trip, finally contacting a riding stable in the area and getting an answer from them - I will start riding again in August or September! I also bought a riding helmet and gloves last week (I already have the pants and boots).

  • visiting a farm with the Lebenshilfe kids where we could pet camels, llamas, ponies, a goat, several dogs, and a sheep. The kids learned how to groom the ponies, too. It's really neat to see kids with disabilities interact with animals. I totally adore the llama, but my family vetoed it when I used it as my Facebook profile picture for a few days.

  • my kids' birthdays! They turned 20 and 22 last week Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Kinder!

  • having our neighbors over for a grill party - finally! - and really enjoying the evening getting to know them. It was about time - we've been waving over the hedge for nearly three years already!

  • successfully driving to and from Esslingen and within and around Esslingen three times without getting killed or smashing into anything. This is huge, folks. I'm almost ready to say I can drive in Germany when I must.

  • the beginning of this summer's exchange between students from my hometown (Sheboygan, WI USA) and its sister city (Esslingen, Germany). Yesterday we took a day trip to Tübingen, where we climbed the church tower, which I'd never done before! On Monday we're off to Ulm.


  • sweating. Sweating through my BH, through several shirts a day, and in places that just shouldn't sweat. [I'm no expert, but climate change deniers can bite me.]

  • developing a cold after our day trip yesterday. Seriously? Nonstop sweat for the first three weeks of the month, and then a cold? What the heck?!

I have to love months in which I can come up with only two lows at most. :-)

I hope your month was good as well!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Typical American: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Important: I made a serious error on the original recipe, so if you made note of the measurements, please look again. This recipe calls for TWO and one-fourth cups of flour (2 1/4 cups)! The recipe below is now corrected.  (Thanks, Mom!)

Coming to Germany and don't know what to bring as a gift for your hosts? Visiting an American expat in Germany and want to bring a little taste of home? Are you an American expat and want to bring something typical American to a German party?

Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies, Baby!!

For whatever reason, Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels (chips) are not available in Germany. Ok, I found them on, but they are so expensive that I would have to be extremely desperate to order them. Instead, I stock up when I am in the States, and I ask any visitors coming from there to bring me more bags. There are chocolate chips in Germany, but don't use them. They're milk chocolate and too sweet for these cookies.

Of course I can get semi-sweet (halbbitter) chocolate here in the form of a candy bar, but then the pieces of chocolate won't hold their cute little signature chip shape.

I've been baking these tasty little buggers since I was old enough to turn the oven on by myself. Here in Germany by now when I bring them somewhere where I've brought them before, people say, "Oh my God, are these THE cookies?!"

In Germany cookies tend to be treats baked at Christmas time. In America, cookies are available all year round - chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, snickerdoodles, and of course all the processed pre-packaged ones like Oreos, Keebler Fudge Stripes, Windmill cookies, and hundreds of others.

But let's get back to home-baked Nestle Toll House cookies. I'm not going to worry about copyright infringement because in order to bake these you must buy the Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels, and the recipe is on the back of the package. I'll just include the German measurements as well.

Here's what you'll need:

  2 1/4 cup flour (ca. 300g - online conversion says 280g)
  1 teaspoon baking soda (Backnatron)
  1 teaspoon salt

  1 cup soft butter (227g)
  3/4 cup sugar (135g)
  3/4 cup brown sugar (132g)
  1 teaspoon vanilla (1 Röhrchen Butter-Vanille Aroma)
  2 eggs
  2 cups Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels (340g)
  1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (97g)*

*The nuts are optional. If you don't add them, though, you'll need to add more flour or the cookies will be paper thin with chocolate bulges. How much extra flour? I don't know because I haven't made them without nuts since I was a teenager. Probably 1/2 cup or a bit more.


  1. Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C Ober- und Unterhitze).
  2. Combine first three ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Mix together butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well.
  5. Gradually add dry ingredients, mixing well.
  6. Add chips and mix to evenly distribute. Use a wooden spoon - the dough is thick!
  7. Add nuts if desired, and mix well. 
  8. Drop small blobs of dough mixture onto a cookie sheet (Backblech lined with Backpapier*).
    *Backpapier is like parchment paper.
    If you keep them small enough you should be able to fit 20 blobs on one sheet.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown (I usually bake the first sheet for 11 minutes).
  10. Cool cookies on cooling rack.
The dough is distressingly delicious, but really bad for you (raw eggs and all).
Don't eat too much of it.

five rows of four dough blobs

first sheet done - do try one fresh out of the oven,
but careful not to burn yourself on the chocolate

Tips and tricks:

While one sheet is in the oven, tear off another sheet of Backpapier and drop 20 cookie dough blobs on it. When the first sheet is done, slide the Backpapier off the cookie sheet (Backblech) onto the counter, slide the next batch onto the hot cookie sheet, put it back in the oven, and start the timer again for 10 minutes. This saves time!
If you don't eat much or any of the raw dough and keep the blobs small, you can get 100 cookies out of one recipe!
If you're using the American measuring cups, use the same 3/4-cup measuring cup for the sugar, brown sugar, and flour to save on dishes to wash afterwards. 3/4 cup flour x 3 = 2 1/4 cups! I'm not sure how that dawned on me when I was young, because I've always sucked at math.
Don't store the cookies in an air-tight container or bag until a day or two after baking them. That makes them harder, but if they're stored uncovered, they stay softish. After a few days it doesn't seem to matter and you can put them in a plastic container or ziplock bag.
You can freeze extras! So, for instance, serve and eat half the batch, and put the rest in the freezer (after they're totally cooled). If you're lucky you'll forget about them, and then a month or more later you can thaw them and enjoy it again without the work of baking! Actually they're good straight out of the freezer as well.

Gluten-free Version

Use Buchweizenmehl (buckwheat flour) instead of regular flour. The taste is a bit different, but if you have to avoid gluten, this works!

Swabian Version

Re-use the Backpapier so that you're only using a total of two alternating sheets rather than a new sheet for each 20 cookies (five total!). I am not taking a cheap shot at the Swabians, whom I hope you know by now I adore! - I do this myself every time!!

Re-using my Backpapier - why wouldn't you?!?

A fun note about German and American recipes:
  In German recipes, TL means "Teelöffel", which means teaspoon.
  In German recipes, EL means "Esslöffel", which means "eating spoon" or tablespoon
  In American recipes, T means "tablespoon", which is an Esslöffel in German, but...
  In American recipes, t means "teaspoon", which is a Teelöffel.

My point is that in American recipes, the capitalization (or not) of the T makes a big difference. In German, all nouns (and tablespoon and teaspoon are both nouns) are capitalized.
I can't tell you how many times I've been using a German recipe, got to "TL", and added a tablespoon of the ingredient (salt, for instance) because of the capital T, when only a teaspoon was called for. Oops.

Anyway, have fun baking and enjoy the cookies!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

SURPRISE! Our Thermomix has arrived!

Disclaimer: This is not a sales pitch. I have nothing to do with the Thermomix or Vorwerk, the German company that sells it. 

I've written often enough that M and I enjoy cooking together. It's fair to say that he's the better and more confident cook, but we make a good team in the kitchen.

After M used the Thermomix at the three cooking classes we've participated in and after seeing it on just about every German cooking show we watch, we decided in early May to finally order one. We were told by the salesperson (they're only legally sold by consultants who come to your home - not in stores) that it would arrive sometime in September because the orders were so backed up. It arrived today!

You should have seen us - we were both more excited about this gadget than we were when his new Audi arrived in May.

The Thermomix is an amazing kitchen appliance that is hard for me to describe. Click here for a very dramatic marketing video that will make you think, "Wait, it's a mixer?"

Ah, but it's so much more than a mixer. It's a mixer, blender, food processor, scale, oven, stove, steamer, and chopper all in one. I was told by one woman I met who has one that she hardly ever uses her microwave anymore.  According to the instructions, the 12-in-one appliance weighs, mixes, chops, whips, kneads, blends, steams, cooks, beats, heats, grinds, stirs, and emulsifies. Note to self: look up "emulsify".

the accessories: a steamer basket with lid, spatula, mixer attachment,
and cooking insert

It's great for making Hollandaise sauce because you can set the temperature while mixing - and we have some weißer Spargel (white asparagus) waiting in the freezer for this occasion. It comes with a thick cookbook and several brochures full of tips and recipes, so this will be my reading material for the rest of this week.

The first thing we made in it was mashed potatoes to go with meatloaf for dinner tonight. It was so easy! We peeled and sliced the potatoes, put them in the Thermomix with milk and salt (later adding butter and nutmeg), and the machine did the work. No more peeling hot potatoes, and there's less to clean up afterwards.

The thing is idiot-proof. There are pre-programmed recipes, and it tells us what to do at each step (we can also do our own thing). We just have to play with the seasonings for each recipe, because the mashies were a bit bland. Wonderfully creamy consistency, though!

I have a to-make list started already after glancing through the cookbooks:
  hard-boiled eggs (I'm starting simply, folks)
  steamed vegetables
  Banana-Mango-Smoothie & tons of other smoothies
  Chocolate Mousse
  Kohlrabi-Potato Cream Soup
  Strawberry Milkshake
  Raspberry Ice Cream
  Salmon with Mushroom-Cream Sauce and Potatoes

Theoretically we will no longer (often) need our measuring cups, our many and various choppers, the stove for melting or heating, our kitchen scale, or the electric mixer.

There's one funny thing about the Thermomix TM5 - funny beacuse of the emphasis on "not in any way whatsoever"...

From the Users' Manual (Legal Regulations/Copyright, page 53):
"Please note: The Thermomix TM5 has neither been developed/designed for the US market, nor has it been approved for or released in the US market. Accordingly, the appliance is purposely not being sold or promoted in any way whatsoever by Vorwerk or any other authorised third party in the USA, and no customer service is being provided in relation to the appliance by Vorwerk or any authorised third party in the USA.

Vorwerk does not and will not accept any liability whatsoever (including...any damages in respect of damage, injury, or death) for any damages and/or losses whatsoever in any way arising from or in connection with, or caused by or as a result of the use of the appliance in the USA. Persons utilizing the appliance in the USA do so entirely at their own risk."

I'm not sure why that is the case, but I am assuming that the appliance can be dangerous if not used properly and according to the instructions, and the manufacturer knows how lawsuit-happy Americans tend to be. Since they did not engrave "Caution: Do not stick your hand into the appliance while the sharp blade is spinning" onto the side of the mixing bowl, they probably feel it's best to just avoid the American market altogether.

Update: The Thermomix IS now available and serviced in the U.S.. (See comments section.)

But that's all for now. Dinner has almost settled, and it's time to make the chocolate mousse!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Driving in Germany 10: Checklist update

I tackled a big hurdle this week. I drove alone to and from Esslingen for an evening meeting. This was the first time I have driven that far (75 km or 46 miles one way) without M in the car with me as a nervous passenger with his phantom brake and a firm clutch on the door handle. The drive should take an hour, but I left home more than 3 hours before the meeting knowing I could hang out at my Schwiegermutter's place until the meeting we'd both be attending. It's a good thing I left early because the drive there was basically a game of connect-the-Staus (traffic jams), and it took 2 hours and 15 minutes. John Denver kept me cheerful during the longest of the the Staus. Thanks, John!

The good thing about getting stuck in traffic jams is that other drivers' reckless speed is not a problem. I just remained in my lane, stayed a safe distance from the guy in front of me, and kept an eye out for the crazies.

The drive home was partly after dark but pretty uneventful. There was one Stau, but it didn't last too long. I saw no wild pigs dashing about on the Autobahn, so that was good, too. I did hear on the Verkehrsfunk that drivers needed to be careful on another Autobahn because there was a Schrank lying on the road. That's a cabinet, folks. There was a cabinet lying on the freeway.

I actually checked off several items from my driving to-do list:

   Driving back from Esslingen
   Driving to or and from Esslingen on a week day
   Driving into and parking in a parking garage
   Driving out of a parking garage
   Driving to and from a place other than Esslingen
   Driving in a big city (Esslingen has only 90,000 inhabitants)
   Driving with the radio on or a passenger talking
   Overtaking a slow car on a two-lane road (I have already overtaken a tractor and a bicycle…)

I did overtake cars on the Autobahn, but that wasn't on my list. The fastest I drove was 130 km/h  (80 mph), but that was only briefly. Even on the Autobahn, I just don't see any reason for me to drive faster than 120 (74.5 mph). I mean, there could be a cabinet lying on the freeway, and I have a better chance of avoiding slamming into it if I'm not driving faster than my eyes can focus. And yes, German readers, I stay in the right lane except when overtaking.

Yeah, that's a little bit what it feels like. It only took me two years, nine months, two weeks, and five days to gather the nerve to drive 46 miles from home. And back.  Boo YAH!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

In the Eye of the Beholder

M and I were watching TV tonight, and the following commercial came on, which we watched in silence.

*Note: Philips is one of my husband's biggest clients, and he's been extensively exposed to their marketing materials.

Afterwards the following conversation ensued:

  me: "Ich liebe Dich."
  M:   "I love you, too. Do I need to shave?"
  me: "Uh...not if you don't want to. What does shaving have to do with I love you?
  M:   "Because you said it right after that commercial."
  me: "That commercial was about shaving?"
  M:   "Well, about hair removal, yes."
  me: "Huh. All I saw was a woman who is thinner and sexier than I am, and I was wishing I looked more like that."
  M:  "And what I was thinking was, 'I wonder if that's a Philips Lighting or Philips Consumer Lifestyle product."

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Life without Air Conditioning

I feel like writing, but there's nothing to write about besides how hot it is. And we're among the lucky ones - here in our yard it only reached 34° (93 °F) today according to the thermometer I've begun to hate. A thunderstorm blew through a few days ago which did nothing more than raise the humidity to 94%, because the heat wasn't miserable enough. Another one is expected tonight or tomorrow. Yay.

Our roses are burning...

our chives have thrown up the sponge...

"Three days ago we were thriving happily in the grocery store produce section.
Thanks, Bitch."
and our raspberries are threatening to turn into biblical burning bushes.

M and I went for a 30-minute drive today just so we could sit in the air conditioned car. Back inside - and it's 8:30pm - it hurts to blink because my eye sockets are burning.

In Wisconsin it gets HOT. Hot hot hot and humid. It can be miserable. But there is no indoor place - house, store, library, movie theater, restaurant - that is not icy cold air conditioned. In fact most places set their thermostats so low that even when it's sweltering outside, I never go anywhere without a sweatshirt if I'm going to be inside.

In contrast, air conditioning is not common in Germany. Surely not in homes or apartments, but not even in grocery store produce sections. When it's hot outside, it's hot inside. There is nowhere to go to get relief (except the car). Some train cars are air conditioned, and most buses - but you can't even be sure of that when you travel. I've taken to bringing a wash cloth with me wherever I go so I can at least mop the sweat off my forehead and neck.

There are two newish shopping malls in Stuttgart, and in the paper the other day I read that Stuttgarters are retreating there, because there IS air conditioning in these new buildings. They're closed today, though, because it's Sunday.

Gosh, and I almost forgot - the speed limit on several Autobahnen has been reduced to 80 km/h (50 mph) due to the possibility of Autobahn blowups. When an Autobahn is made of concrete, it is possible in heat like this that the cement will actually blow up, and if you hit a spot like that going 136 mph, you're likely to get killed.

Germans are convinced that it is unhealthy to have a dramatic contrast between inside and outside temperature (and I neither agree nor disagree with them). In a heat wave like this I'm sure few would grumble about having some relief in the way of central air that removes the humidity and lowers the temperature by a few degrees, at least for sleeping. But setting the house temperature to below 70°F when it's nearing 100° outside is just not a good idea. I call it environmentally irresponsible to chill a place that much, but I don't know many Americans personally who put the environment above their own comfort or convenience.

We are sweltering here, and I have little desire to do anything but sit on the living room floor in front of the fan. Someone once told me that if you put a glass of ice water right in front of the fan, it's like air conditioning. I might try that (though ice cubes are also rare in Germany, M makes them when it's this hot).

So if you are sitting in your home and not sweating, do me a favor and appreciate that. Don't take it for granted. I'm headed for a cold shower.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

It is as hot as the flaming bowels of hell here with no end in sight according to, and I think I'm slowly losing the will to live. Once the concrete walls of our house finish absorbing the heat, the only place that will be almost tolerable is the cobweb jungle of the basement with the carcasses of forty big formerly furry black spiders I decided not to sweep up earlier. At least the beer is down there.

I've put a ban on hugging - one of my favorite things! - until this heat wave is over, I'm not using the oven, and I'm keeping the Rolladen (rolling shutters) down during daylight hours and living in relative darkness. Since the shutters are down anyway I would just stay naked in the house, but I don't want to sweat on the furniture. I can totally handle a few days of scorching heat, but two weeks or more is a bit much. Thank God the car has air conditioning. I might try driving again.

Meredith from Kaffee und Kuchen (a Stuttgart-based expat blog) nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Blogger Award last month - thank you, Meredith! I do enjoy these types of posts where I get a closer look at the personalities of the bloggers I like to read. I'm going to take this opportunity to take my mind off the heat by finally responding to the nomination!

For the Sisterhood award fellow bloggers answer questions about their preferences, personalities, and lives, nominate other bloggers, and pose ten new questions.

The rules are:
  1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and share a link to her/his/their blog in your post.
  2. Answer the ten questions you've been sent.
  3. Write ten questions of your own.
  4. Spread the love and nominate up to ten bloggers!
Here are the ten questions Meredith sent, along with my answers:

1. What do you mostly blog about?

I mainly write about everyday life in southern Germany. I originally aimed at an American audience and described how life here differs from that in the Midwest of the US. I think that got dull quickly for everyone but my parents and my daughter, who loves Germany almost as much as I do, and now my readers are mainly expats and Germans. I've been told often by Germans that they are surprised how many things I find that are interesting enough to write about that are just normal for them.

2. What is the best city you have travelled to and what are your recommended "must sees" in that city?

I'm finding it more and more difficult to rank things, but I'll say Wien/Vienna. As far as "must sees," it depends on the traveler's interests! I was fascinated by the 10 or so churches my Schwiegermutter and I visited - each one is so different! The Hofburg Palace was a highlight, as well as the Kapuzinergruft with the tomb of Sisi and Kaiser Franz-Josef. An extensive, self-guided walking tour is always a must for me no matter where I go.
Stephansdom, Wien

3. What three items do you always pack on a trip?

A book, both of my cameras, and an umbrella.

4. What is the best meal you've ever had and where did you have it?

Any meal that induces what my husband calls "food noises" could be considered a best, and I've had many of those. Pretty much every meal I've eaten at Straub's Krone right in our tiny little village ranks as the best. At home I'd have to say it's my husband's grilled beef tenderloin. This is a recipe - or rather a technique - handed down from my grandfather, and there's nothing better on the grill.
Cheeks of a calf in cream sauce

Bambi (seriously - fawn) with parsnips and chestnut potatoes

5. Which destination is on your "must see" list? Why?

Scotland - as much of it as possible. I am intrigued by its rich history, the wild beauty of the highlands, the remote life on the islands, its music, and its spirit. We've vacationed in Scotland several times, mainly on the Isle of Mull, but there is much more to see!

6. What's your favorite way to spend a free weekend afternoon?

Napping, I'm afraid (what a waste of time!). Or going for a long walk with M.

7. Whom would you pick to go on a cross-country road trip with you? Why?

My daughter. We are so much alike and have similar desires and habits when we travel. We could care less about the bar scene or night life of a city and prefer to retire early so we can get up and go the next morning. She's willing to walk all day and agrees that you get to know a city best on foot. Neither of us is interested in art museums, and we both like history and learning. She is also very frugal. Neither of us enjoys shopping! I would not enjoy travelling with someone who wants to go into clothing, jewelry, or shoe shops.
mother-daughter trip to Rome, December 2014

8. What are your blogging goals for the coming year?

Oops. We're supposed to have goals? I never thought about it. I guess I would just like to write interesting and fun posts.

9. What's your favorite blog post that you've written? Please share the link!

This question held me up for a while. This one about Fasnet was awfully fun to write, and this advice to my kids on the more serious side.

10. What's a new blogging skill that you've learned recently?

Oh dear. The most recent was probably a year ago when I added a table on a page for my "Frequently Used Terms." I'd like to learn how to create and insert a photo caroussel, but I don't think that's possible within Blogger. 

Now for my questions and nominees!

  1. Would you like to be famous? If so, in what way?
  2. Would you like to know the date of your death? Why or why not?
  3. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  4. Have you ever heard a false rumor that was spread about you? How did you react?
  5. If you were given €500,000 but could not spend it on yourself, what would you do with the money?
  6. Where in the world do you not want to travel to?
  7. What is your favorite meal to prepare?
  8. What do you fear most?
  9. What would you name as your all-time favorite movie (or book, or both - your choice)?
 10. What is a movie soundtrack that you really, really like?

My nominees, if they so choose to participate, are:

  Around the Wherever
  Speaking Denglish
  Starting over in Stuttgart
  A Different Piece of Sky
  Traveling Hopefully
  World Traveler in Training
  Razorbacks and Bratwurst