Thursday, March 31, 2016

March Highs and Lows 2016

March is a pretty blah month, but April brings the promise of spring, and this post means April is about to begin. From the weather reports, today is supposed to be the warmest, nicest day so far, and in the near future.


  • every day teaching my students at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg continues to be a high!

  • two riding lessons on the darling Mallory, who has moved into a new flat (stall) with an outside view. Apparently not everyone likes to ride her because she's SO fast - she's often "auf der Flucht" (fleeing), as the instructor says. But I feel like I know her pretty well by now, and I do really enjoy riding her.

  • our Denglisch Kochkurs at Straub's Krone with two other Stuttgart expat bloggers, Traveling Hopefully and Kaffee und Kuchen. I think we learned even more this time than usual, and definitely prepared more dishes that we can and will do ourselves at home. In fact, we've already done a few of them! 

  • trying (and succeeding at) these two dishes we learned about at the Kochkurs:
Kässpätzle (with bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin)

Apfelküchle mit Hausgemachter Vanillesoße
  • making a beef roast (cooked for 3 hours in a bath of wine and broth) on Sunday because we needed some meat to accompany our leftover Spätzle - fried the second day in a pan with butter.
  • attending a Lenten church service because I learned that one of my students would be singing and then speaking to the congregation. He had asked me for help writing out what he wanted to say to them, and I wanted to go to support him. (ähm...I haven't been to church in quite a while...) He sang two hymns in Arabic - a capella - and he has a beautiful voice! The songs were very mystical and melodious. I could have listened for hours. The worshippers applauded him warmly for his words of thanks to the community at the end of the service, and one of the woman invited him to come to choir practice! On Easter Monday he and another of my students sang with the choir during a service.

  • trying my grandmother's coffee cake recipe a second time (see "lows" for the first attempt) with M's help on a weekend and not completely failing.

  • attending a Lichtstubenabend in our neighboring town to learn about the various Denkmäler such as Feldkreuze and other monuments in and around the town.

  • making Maultaschen with M - and succeeding! We made everything from scratch, including the pasta dough, which we rolled out with our new pasta press.

The pasta needs to be thin enough so one can read a newspaper through it.

  • Easter dinner! M and I were alone this year because my Schwiegermutter went up North to spend the week with M's sister and family, but we M still made a delicious meal. Lammkeule (leg of lamb), roast potatoes, and Kohlrabi französisch. This is why we don't go out to eat a lot (other than to Straub's Krone) - because the meals we make at home are our favorites and we enjoy cooking together!


  • In the Landtagswahl for Baden-Württemberg, the third most popular party (of the 10-12 viable parties) was the AfD. This is not quite the nazi party (NPD), but they are extreme right-wingers who, if living in the U.S., would probably be voting for Trump. It makes me extremely sad that even in our little village of 2200 residents - where I feel happy, comfortable and safe - the third most voted-for party was the AfD, who are vehemently anti-refugee and anti-foreigner. Actually they're probably not against all foreigners - just those who look and sound like foreigners.

  • trying my grandmother's coffee cake recipe for the first time and failing miserably. The dough went into the trash instead of into the oven.

  • Donald  Trump, and everything about him, especially the people who are cheering for and following him.

  • reading about the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act passed this month in the House Judiciary Committee. "Despicable and cowardly" one politician against the act called it. I agree. If this passes and becomes law, I will be ashamed. The "home of the brave" will then be a complete farce.

  • saying "auf Wiedersehen" to my Syrian and Eritrean students, as their class ended today. Even if I teach again when the next round of classes starts again, I am sure I will never have another group of students like this one. They made such an impression on me, I learned so much from them (even if I still cannot confidently say "the United States of America" in Arabic despite their repeated attempts to teach me!), and I will miss them immensely. I do have a way to contact them each through email or Facebook, and I hope we can meet occasionally.

I wish you all a happy start to April!!

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Tools of Cooking

Amazon always knows when we've attended a Kochkurs, because M's shopping cart fills up with gadgets and utensils we can no longer live without. Ever since our first Kochkurs back in 2013, we have been buying things for our kitchen that Martin S. (the Chefkoch) demonstrates or has us use - not because he encourages us to do so or is advertising these products in any way, but because we see the value of having a well-fitted-out kitchen rather than making do with what we had before we knew better.

Our next Kochkurs is scheduled with our neighbors in early April. Cooking is something we truly enjoy doing together, and we are humble enough to admit that we have a lot to learn - especially from a pro!

The other day I decided to gather as many things together as I could think of that we have either bought because of the Kochkurse or that we happened to already have but used in a Kochkurs. I probably forgot a few things, such as the Fleischwolf (meat grinder), which just arrived last week, but since we haven't used it yet and it was too large for the photo, I'll save that for a future edition of this post.

1. Pasta Press

Our pasta press is only about two weeks old. We bought it for making Maultaschen after our recent Schwäbischer Kochkurs, and it's brilliant! We were able to get our dough thin enough, which was one of my problems both of the other times I tried to do Maultaschen. Just today we also made homemade noodles to serve with Gulasch, and they were fabulous - and easy! It may have been psychological, but they tasted better than dried noodles from the bag.

2. Thermomix

Ok, this baby is great, but holy-hell expensive (and not serviced or sold in the U.S.). We've used it for a bunch of things and had a healthy mixture of successes and failures - the applesauce is to die for and the smoothies are really good, too. Steamed potatoes and a fish dish, not so much. Despite several failures, we are still glad we bought this thing.

3. Mörser / Mortar (and Pestle)

Ok, in fairness, M has had this huge and heavy thing for years, but Martin S. confirmed this is the one to have. If you ever want to buy one of these to grind your own spices, get the heavy mother. The little ones - which fit better in the cupboard and won't break your tile floor if you drop it - are not worth the few Euro they cost.

4. Silpat Mat

We used this in the Asiatischer Kochkurs for a carmalized crispy thing to garnish our dessert. I have to admit we haven't used it yet at home, but I keep intending to. The little garnish was so easy, and delicious! I'm sure the mat can be used for lots of other fancy things - more research needed.

5. Kochpinzette / Kitchen Tongs

We hardly ever use our pinchers with the big fat hand-like ends any more. If I need to give a gift to someone who is starting outfitting a kitchen, I would give this. It works for pretty much everything from noodles to meat. You just have to be careful not to poke any meat you're flipping because you don't want the juices to escape. Don't go for the cheap Pinzette; get a good one.

6, 7, & 8. Langer Pfeffer (Long Pepper), weißer Pfeffer (White Pepper) and Sternanis

Maybe the rest of you knew about these spices before, but I didn't! Langer Pfeffer is a stronger, hotter version of pepper, especially useful in Indian dishes. Weißer Pfeffer is good for cooking because it doesn't look like little dark flecks or bugs in the final dish. Regular black pepper is only for the grinder on the table because people want to see the pepper they sprinkle on their food. Sternanis tastes and smells like black licorice, so it needs to be used carefully. It's fun to experiment with spices we haven't used before.

9. Vanilleschoten / Vanilla Beans

I'd never used vanilla beans before moving to Germany, and most American recipes call for vanilla extract anyway (which isn't available in Germany that I've seen). Holy cats, though! Baking with real vanilla is so much better anyway. The more we learn, the more we cook with real and fresh ingredients rather than just the flavors.

10. Spätzlebrett / Spätzle board

We've been doing our own Spätzle (homemade Swabian noodles) for decades, but recently we've taken to using new-fangled contraptions to make the job easier and the Spätzle more uniform in size. The traditional way to make Spätzle, though, is to scrape the dough from the wooden board into the simmering water. After our last Kochkurs I dug my Spätzlebrett out of the "kitchen extras" box in the basement, and now it has its proper place in our kitchen!

11. Zester Reibe / Zest Grater

This little bugger is sharp and dangerous as hell, but it works best for grating lemon or lime peels, and especially ginger. We had been using our multipurpose grater until we saw how much finer the zest was with this tool. We bought one and store it in its protective sheath!

What tools and gadgets do you have in your kitchen that you have recently discovered or couldn't live without?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in Wisconsin...

This link to a story in the Milwaukee Journal came across my radar the other day. GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin have proposed and will be deciding (or perhaps have decided by now) on whether to put in place a preventative ban on potential future restrictions on the use of plastic bags. That's right - at the final meeting of the year for the state senate, among the bills being discussed was a bill to ban the banning of plastic bag use. There are no current proposals to ban or restrict the use of plastic bags - which are harmful to the environment and wildlife, whether people choose to believe it or not - in Wisconsin, but some of the lawmakers want to make sure nobody gets the bright idea to do so any time in the future.

Update: The bill passed.

Can you imagine what would happen if Wisconsin store owners - like store owners in some other states - were no longer allowed to offer plastic bags to their customers? What on earth would people do?? Would they be expected to bring their own used bags from home (Ewwww!), or canvas tote bags - or, heaven forfend, a granny basket - for a short drive to the grocery store? Could consumers be charged 5 or 10 cents for each plastic bag they need at stores to transport their cartfuls of groceries, clothing, and paper products to their SUVs because they couldn't remember to bring along their own bags from home? My dear Lord, the horror!

I love my granny basket! I use it every time I go to the store.

The poor cashiers at Piggly Wiggly (that's a grocery store, for my non-Wisconsin readers) would have to re-train themselves not to ask "[Would you like to contribute to the world's pollution problem with] paper or plastic?"

Bravo, lads and ladies! You successfully banned bans on what hasn't been banned yet, so we don't have to face the inconvenience of doing one tiny thing for the benefit of our environment! There will be no future lawmakers stomping on our freedom to pollute our rivers, lakes, and seas, strangle wild water fowl and adorn farmers' fields and parks with plastic sacks we no longer need or that blow away on a windy day.

Germans take it as a matter of course that they need to bring their own baskets, bags, or crates to the grocery store or pay for bags at the store. Most retail stores in Germany offer bags for free, but they ask first if the customer needs one. Most often we consumers have a bag or purse large enough to stuff whatever we bought into it rather than taking a new bag. If you live here long enough you get used to sticking an extra small canvas bag or two into your purse or backpack for incidental purchases. It's just not a big problem in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, I could have ironed them, but then you wouldn't see
how well-used they are.

Why it is these Wisconsin lawmakers feel the urge to pronounce loudly and clearly that they (and therefore supposedly the people of Wisconsin they represent?) don't give a hoot about the environment - and certainly not at the expense of personal convenience - will remain a mystery to me. Proposing, discussing and passing a law to prevent potential future laws from encouraging consumers to use less plastic was apparently important enough to use up some of the "11 hours the state senate spent working yesterday during the last day of the season."

Well, good work, folks. I thought the GOP wanted less government regulation, not more. But the proposal is to prevent communities from deciding themselves whether plastic bag use should be limited? The only arguments I've seen for this ban on future restrictions is that it would be inconvenient for consumers and expensive for businesses (it would be expensive for businesses to stop providing free plastic bags??). Screw the environment - each of us only needs it to serve us for about 85 years anyway - screw marine life (a study by the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the world's oceans than fish), and screw the notion of trying to cut down on the tremendous amount of waste that is dumped daily into landfills in the U.S..

I'm not an active environmentalist, but I am willing to bring my own bags or basket when shopping, and I think lots of other Americans would do the same without grumbling more than a few months about it.

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
How about the Great Lakes Garbage Patch, discovered in 2012?

Researchers are not making this stuff up, folks. And yes, one person does make a difference, however small. Bring your own bag(s) when you go shopping, or at the very least, reuse the bags you bring home as many times as you can. Use paper bags to cover textbooks or wrap presents. Use plastic for garbage can liners or pet poop picker-uppers. They'll still end up in the landfills, but at least they were used more than once.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

das Sprachcafe

Once a week I go to the community center in Horb where volunteers have organized a Sprachcafe, Everyone is invited, and the focus is to bring community members and Flüchtlinge (refugees) together for Kaffee, Kuchen, und Konversation. It is really well-attended, and sometimes so crowded it's hard to hear each other! It's a lively and friendly group, and each week there are new guests. The volunteers do a lovely job of providing refreshments, organizing the room, and cleaning up afterwards! Conversation tends to be in German, Arabic, English, Denglisch, and Deurabisch (Deutsch-Arabisch).

Forgive the quality of the photo - I forgot my camera,
so I could only use my Handy!
This is an article with photo about this Sprachcafe, and the reason I'm sharing that is because of the grinning chap in the front of the photo. His name is Omran, and he is as friendly as he looks.

Last Friday in our local paper I saw a letter to the editor written by him. I am so happy I saw this letter, because moments earlier I had read an article that surely gave any of its readers misgivings. That article reminded me that I don't really know my students or their pasts (though the same was true of my teenage students in the U.S.). Omran's letter reminded me to trust my gut and the good souls I see in front of me.

Here is his letter in German, followed by my English translation.

Liebe Deutsche,

Ich bin ein syrischer Flüchtling. Meine Worte und Gedanken - wie ich mich manchmal fühle - sind: Wir fühlen uns, als kämen wir von einem anderen Stern. Denn oft, zum Beispiel im Zug, blicken die Deutschen auf uns von oben herab und sind sehr distanziert zu uns. Wir haben im Krieg sehr viel gelitten, viel Schlimmes erlebt und durchgemacht. Wir sind nicht freiwillig hierher gekommen, sondern aus Not. Denn es ist so: Wenn wir in Syrien geblieben wären, hätten wir nur die Wahl gehabt, getötet zu werden oder selber zu töten. Was mich persönlich betrifft: Ich bin genau aus diesem Grund aus Syrien weggegangen.

Einige Leute in Horb haben uns sehr geholfen und haben uns die Sorgen ein wenig vergessen lassen. Obwohl Deutschland ein freies, friedliches und sicheres Land ist, fühlen wir uns hier nicht glücklich, weil wir fern von unseren Familien und von denen, die uns nah stehen, sind.

Nicht alle Syrer sind schlecht! Ein einziger, der sich schlecht verhält, genügt, um den Ruf aller zu schädigen. Dazu kommt noch, dass viele von sich behaupten, aus Syrien zu stammen oder mit einem gefälschten Pass, den man sich leicht besorgen kann, als angebliche Syrer unterwegs sind. Wir alle bemühen uns, hier in Deutschland alles richtig zu machen. Wir lernen fleißig Deutsch und können unterwegs und auf den Ämtern nicht immer, aber meistens ganz gut zurecht kommen.

Wir wurden ein Volk, das seine Träume verloren hat und wir wurden zu einem Volk, das nur noch einen Traum hat: die Rückkehr, nach Kriegsende.

Wir danken dem deutschen Volk und Frau Merkel.

Omran, Horb

Dear German People,

I am a Syrian refugee. My words and thoughts - how I feel sometimes - are: We feel like we've come from another planet. Often, for instance on the train, Germans look down on us and keep their distance from us. We have suffered a lot, experienced and been through terrible things. We didn't come here by choice, but rather by necessity. The truth is, if we had stayed in Syria we would have been forced to kill or been killed ourselves. Personally for me: this is precisely the reason I left Syria.

Some people in Horb have helped us a lot and have allowed us to forget our concerns just a bit. Although Germany is a free, peaceful, and safe country, we do not feel happy here because we are far from our families and those who are dear to us.

Not all Syrians are bad! A single one who behaves badly is enough to damage the reputation of everyone. In addition to that, many claim to come from Syria or travel with a fake Syrian passport, which is easy to get. We are all trying to do everything right here in Germany. We are working hard to learn German and can manage in town and at public offices - not always, but usually.

We became a people who lost their dreams and we have become a people with only one dream left: to return home, after the war.

We thank the German people and Mrs. Merkel.

Omran, Horb


I had sat with him for a bit at last week's cafe, and I had my notebook with me as usual. He took the notebook and wrote a few lines in German and asked me if they were correct. From what he wrote I know he is sad because his life is not here in Germany. He studied four years in Damaskus to be a math teacher - and I'll bet he will make a good one. A math teacher needs to smile a lot, I think, and he does - despite his sadness. He has a large family, including eight siblings, and he misses them.

I hope the war will end someday and Omran will be able to return to his home and his family. I hope until then he will be able to keep his spirits up and have more contact with helpful and open people than the other kind.