Sunday, 30 December 2012

Wine of the Month - December 2012

Just!

This month's tip is a D-I-Y affair - yup, into the kitchen to whip up a homemade batch of 'Irish Cream Liqueur'.

It's ever-so-simple, and ever-so-yummy.... your equipment consists of a whist and a can opener... and you'll need the following:

1 x Can of condensed milk (I use Carnation)

1 x Can of Evaporated milk (ditto)

2 x Tsps Glycerine (from the baking aisle - gives it a lovely consistency)

1 x Small strong Espresso style coffee (or as much/little as you like)

Whisky to taste......

Empty all the ingredients into a bowl and whisk thoroughly, I think it's best to use an electric whisk for this, but you can do it by hand.  Then decant to a suitable storing and pouring vessel.

It's best from the fridge and over ice!!








Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Poptastic Parties

Saturday saw the first of the parties of the season for us here.  A fellow expat blogger (Kettwigefrau) hosted her annual 'Christmas Cocktails' do last weekend - and we trudged out through the snow to attend - wouldn't have missed it for the world.  In fact, come to think of it, the last couple of times we've attended it's been snowy....perhaps we should take heed for next year?!

It was a very convivial affair - as one would expect from some expert Party Planners - plenty to eat and drink, fabulous company, children spirited away - what more could we ask for?  It was an opportunity to catch up with the Girls from the London weekend - and yes, we're all still talking - in fact, I think for most of us last week was quite quiet and if they were anything like me, they probably felt a little adrift, missing the laughs and inane chat!!

Halloween Cake Pops courtesy of Mature Student Musings
Naturally, heading off to a party one asks one's hostess what can be done to help, what should one bring?  And so I decided on something sweet and Christmassy.  Having smuggled a Marks and Spencers Christmas Pudding through Gatwick the weekend before (only just as I'd forgotten all about it on the Saturday Sainsburys Excursion - thank goodness for Sunday Shopping and M&S!) I was all set to have a go at the current trend of cake pops.

Having seen a fabulous Halloween Number - I thought I'd try a Christmas take - and do a Christmas Pudding Cake Pop!

I blitzed a 1lb Christmas pudding in the food processor and mixed it with about 250g of meted dark chocolate.  This was then moulded into ball shapes and I stuck a lolly stick in at this point, the pops were then refrigerated for a couple of hours.

Christmas Pudding Pops
Secondly, I slightly reshaped the almost set pops to be rounder (the tops had flattened in the fridge!) and then coated them in melted dark chocolate.  Once this had set, I added a drizzle of melted white chocolate and and couple of dots of red icing for that festive touch!  Apparently they were very rich, but very yummy - I don't eat Christmas pud (anything with dried fruit in is a waste of good grapes in my book....but that's another story) but have it on good authority that they were a hit - needless to say they didn't last long!!



Back to the party - Hugo's all around ( a mix of Prosecco and elderflower cordial) and a fabulous spread and great company - what more could you ask for?  We certainly had a great time, even H(5) perked up in the end - surrounded by a gaggle of girls who couldn't?  We're very much looking forward to next year's bash!!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Five go mad(der) in London

Last weekend was THE BIG ONE......  yup, five slightly mad Expat ladies headed off to the big smoke sans husbands and children for a 'girlie weekend'.  Not that we'd been counting down the minutes or anything, but you could say we got a wee bit excited about the whole thing - and fortunately, it pretty much lived up to expectations.

My fellow Expat Kettwigefrau gives a pretty good run down on how we came to be heading off to London for a carefree weekend in her Blog - so I won't go into much detail, save to say it included a fair bit of wine....  Anyway, tickets bought, bags packed, husbands almost all home (more of that later!), children farmed out and we are ready - London Town here we come!

The first hurdle was to make sure we actually could all make it.  One husband was due to fly in on Friday lunchtime from the US, one wasn't due to arrive until Friday night from China, one was due to pick the children up at 5pm (and had us on tenterhooks just as we were waiting to board as he'd not arrived by then).. Fortunately, everything worked just fine and we could all get away!

Ready for Take Off
I'm not quite sure Dusseldorf Airport was ready for a gaggle of giggling girlies on Friday afternoon - which is what we had morphed into - perhaps marginally over-excited (but who cares!) - and there were some decidedly odd glances at check-in - poor souls praying they weren't on the same flight and even more worryingly in the sixth seat in the row!  KM who'd booked the tickets for us (saving up for a big air miles trip home....) had very kindly pre-booked our seats on the way out and lucky old us - we were in Row 1. Cue much commentary on the crew - the co-pilot who was very young, and our steward Alex - who was 25 if you were even minutely interested, but we managed to find that out - and in 'Lucky Seat F' was Paul (35) from Sussex - I could probably give you a run down of his full life history and vital statistics seeing that post a couple of glasses of wine, KP who was sitting next to him was unstoppable!

So we make Gatwick unscathed - even immigration was remarkably straight forward - the Americans in our party waltzed through with no trouble at all - although I was slightly dubious of the answer to the "what are you coming to England for?" question given by KM "to go shopping and drinking" - and well wouldn't you know she was the first one through!!  Bags collected we traipsed to find our onward connection via the lottery that is the UK rail network, but even that was running smoothly, on time, not overcrowded and even a clean train (wonders will never cease).  And then there we were - London (well Clapham but we won't split hairs over which side of the river counts...) Well for 2 of our party it was the first time in the UK, and London didn't disappoint - black cabs, double deckers, men in shorts - all good for first impressions!!

Coffee and Cake in the V&A Courtyard
Friday night passed in a haze of red and prosecco - quicker for some of us than others - I understand the hardcore were up well past the witching hour!  Saturday - our only full day here - and boy did we have plans.  We may have been up bright and early, but we didn't really get out till getting on for lunchtime - partly due to too much chit chat and partly due to the magnificent Full English Breakfast provided by our hosts - top stuff thank you!  So full of bacon, sausage, egg, beans etc, etc, we hit Sainsburys (an English supermarket) and Oh My God - you've never seen anything like it - D who came with us as unpaid Sherpa/pack horse didn't know which way to look, apparently, our eyes lit up and then we ladies scattered..... Now some of us know Sainsburys and had come with very specific lists, but for our New (to) England(ers!) it was a novel experience - and a proper supermarket not like what you find here.  So about three quarters of an hour later (I only went in for three things....) and with D very laden, we head off for the rest of the day, with strict instructions of where to meet and when.  The 2 Vs and KM headed to the Kings Road for some shopping fun and KP and I hotfooted it to the V&A to indulge in some cultural highlights. We had tickets for the Ballgowns Exhibition which was beautiful and we also managed to see the jewellery, some fabulous stained glass and have coffee and cake outside in the courtyard!

At 'The Club'
We then head up to Covent Garden for a sneaky bit of shopping (us being the non-shoppers) before we all met to go to H's club the Crazy Bear, for some well earned liquid refreshment.  Mine was very definitely earned as KP had insisted we walk up the stairs at Covent Garden tube station (about 10 storeys.....).  We weren't there long (about two bottles worth!) before we were off again for a quick change and dine at the flat as we had tickets for the cabaret.  Us Englanders had been looking forward to dinner - takeaway curry - delivered too - a real treat!  Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to our expectations - the curry itself was pretty good, but the Naan and the Bhajis really didn't make the grade - in fact when we asked D the next morning if he'd enjoyed  his Bhajis (he'd eaten after us once we'd left - sensible chap!) he said we'd not left him any - but that the dumpling things were alright!

So semi sated we head back to the bus for our evening's entertainment - the Crazy Horse cabaret - this didn't get off to a good start as the wine was shocking.... most of us managed to sip it a bit before casually putting the glass down somewhere and sauntering off. For us, not to finish a glass of wine (given that we'd been on the bubbles most of the afternoon) is quite something!  So the cabaret starts and it's all legs and boobs - now, I was expecting a significant amount of nudity - but I was rather expecting a bit more variety in the show rather than just dancing.  I noticed several people around us leave at the interval - and ironically they then missed the only other act which was a fabulous drum/tap number (the applause for that sketch was more than for the whole show at the end.).  Needless to say we were a bit underwhelmed.  What the show lacked in entertainment though, the group of drunk, bra-less, middle-aged women in front of us made up for and gave us all something to laugh about for the rest of the evening - thank you ladies!



Homeward Bound
On Sunday we had the morning to fill and managed a lovely brunch in Clapham at All Bar One (more prosecco and bloody marys) - and even some shopping (on a Sunday!) we popped into M&S for some forgotten essentials and some sausage rolls for KP (had to be M&S - nothing else would cut the mustard!) before heading back to Gatwick and back to Germany.  Now, all I need is to catch up on some sleep and give my liver a rest!  A top weekend, lots of fun and laughter and I can't wait to do it again - where next I wonder?


Sunday, 25 November 2012

All the fun of the Fair

Yesterday saw G's school's Christmas Fair.  Still being relatively new to the school, we of course decided that we must go and support the Fair as much as we could.  Whilst this time we were unable to give our time - we've had visitors this weekend, I did bake for the cake stand, and we turned up and participated in the activities and spent our 'wertmarken' on various goodies there. 


The week beforehand, we had been asked to buy activities cards for the children (5Eur each) which would allow them to participate in various craft activities, these included fabric bag/wallet painting; candle making; orange and clove pomander making; biscuit decorating; face painting and an activity organised by a group of Japanese parents at the school which involved sticks and elastic bands (more of this later!)

I was pleasantly surprised at how busy the school was when we arrived, it seemed like a good turn-out, and of course the money we are all contributing is going towards the school and so will benefit the children so you don't mind too much the additional spending! There was a busy 'Christmas Market' zone in the main hall, at which some commercial traders had set out their wares - decorative items, calendars and the like.  I have to admit to whizzing round for a cursory look before heading down to the children's activity zone and the cake/beer/grill tents!!

It seems from our experiences at Kindergarten, Football Club and now school that you can't use cash at these events where they sell food and drink.  Instead, you need to buy 'Wertmarken', I'm  not sure if this is just to make life easier for those on the stalls or to get round some sort of tax/licensing requirements.  Anyway, I had my strips of tickets to exchange for goodies at school.

G wasn't up for taking part in any of the activities when we arrived, but once he saw H and L joining in he did decide that it was perhaps not such a bad idea after all.  He'd had his eyes on the bamboo stick activity - this involved a convoluted contraption, constructed from bamboo sticks and elastic bands - this eventually turned into a functioning, elastic-band shooting gun - all of the children had done this activity and were careering around the playground shooting each other - absolute chaos - but out from under our hair!!


L and H were a bit more sedate, and decorated their canvass purses, studded oranges with cloves (oh how the smell makes me feel Christmassy!), H went for the face-painting and L got carried away with the biscuit decorating - this involved lots and lots of little sugar balls, very sticky fingers..... and a massive grin on her face! (thankfully I wasn't on tidying up duty afterwards - lots of excited children, and bowls of small sugar decorations - hundreds & thousands, silver balls and so on make for a large amount of debris under the table!)

Obviously an event like this wouldn't be complete without the obligatory bratwurst (or 2!) and a small beer to wash it down with!  I've had it on good authority that the bratties were of top quality - and can vouch for the restorative powers of the beer myself! There was also a superbly well stocked cake stand with everything from baked cheesecake, to chocolate brownies, to flapjacks (mine!) to cupcakes and everything else in between!

All in all our first visit to the Christmas Fair seemed to be a great success, next year I will try to be more involved and help out - but well done St George's a resounding triumph!


Friday, 23 November 2012

Wine of the Month - November 2012

It's coming up to the party season and so thoughts are turning to celebratory drink (as if we need a reason!) and I want to point you in the direction of a sparkling-wine based cocktail to try, if you've not already.

Aperol seems to be on the rise here in Germany - and Aperol Spritzers are becoming very popular.

So what is Aperol then - the new Campari?  It's an Italian bitter-orange flavoured aperitif, but who knew it also contains Gentian and Rhubarb?!   Indeed, a quick browse on the interweb tells us that Aperol is indeed owned by Campari now and the main difference between the two seems only to be the alcohol content - with Campari being twice the strength of Aperol.

Now, the Aperol Spritz, a somewhat trendy beverage for me to be indulging in, but is actually very drinkable - perhaps a little too so!!  You need a sparkling wine - I suppose seeing as it's an Italian drink, Prosecco should be called for, but any fizz will do.  Then a good splash of Aperol, and then topped off with sparkling water - and there you have it, a lovely vibrantly orange coloured aperitif, ideally suited to Christmas parties (as you can drink a fair few and still be standing.....) or to summer lazing - and we need to look forward to the long warm summer evenings as it's dark and miserable now!  Apreol spritzers will brighten any occasion!!

This being the land of the discount 'super'market, you can of course buy a variety of un-branded variations on the Aperol theme.  The real thing will set you back about 10Eur a bottle here in Germany, but of course if you're somewhat miserly (like me) you'll want to shop for a bargain.  I have to say, that the version I tried from Lidl is indeed a passable alternative - and at half the price would make a good option for a party drink!  There you have it then - Bitterol the recommendation for November....
Salute! 

Monday, 19 November 2012

In der Weihnachtsbäckerei - Plätzchenzeit

Schönes Leckerei
"In der Weihnachtsbäckerei
gibt es manche Leckerei
Zwischen Mehl und Milch
macht so mancher Knilch
eine riesengroße Kleckerei.
In der Weihnachtsbäckerei

In der Weihnachtsbäckerei"


This time of year, just before Advent is 'Plätzchenzeit' - the time in which the baking of Advent and Christmas biscuits is undertaken, the cookery magazines are full of recipes for the varying types of Plätzchen and the ingredients are often on special offer in the shops - or at the very least grouped into a seasonal display along with biscuit cutters, special baking trays and all the other accessories and implements one might need to bake these delicacies with.

A & H hard at work in the Weihnachtsbäckerei
The words above, come from a traditional children's song and it's title translates as "In the Christmas Bakery", each year, as I read the recipes for these biscuits, or see them in the shops, I can't help but start humming the song to myself - it's one of the sure-fire signs that Christmas is on the way - and I love it!

So, what of the biscuits themselves?  This year, A has been busy biscuit baking for us, we've had Vanillekipferl, a crumbly almond and vanilla biscuit shaped as a half moon; coconut macaroons - very yummy and moreish, and I'm not even a big fan of coconut and finally, black & white cookies - a chocolate/vanilla swirled cookie.

Schwarzweiß Gebäck / Black & White Biscuits
Coconut Macaroons
These biscuits are very traditional to Germany at Christmas time, although the style and flavourings are anything but.  Of course, there are the traditional Kipferl or Lebkuchen recipes, but a quick look on one of the German recipe sites Chef Koch brings up almost 5000 different 'Weihnacht Plätzchen' recipes - there's certainly no shortage of choice on shape, flavour, ingredients and so forth. There are variations from plain butter biscuits, to poppyseed or marzipan or nuts or dried fruits or rosehip paste.  The shapes and decorations are endless - and what's more, in my experience they all taste pretty yummy too!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Crock-pot Cock-up

Never one to shy away from experimentation in the kitchen, I've naturally had my ups and downs.  Fortunately, there have been more ups than downs, but this week saw an epic fail on my part.

It's not often I have to throw something away - and yes, this week I had to throw (most of) a whole dish out it was so revolting.

The story starts with me getting the slow cooker (Crock pot if you're from 'over the pond') out from it's summer hibernation and starting to get back in the swing of slow, languorous cooking resulting in melt-in-the-mouth moist stews; thick, hearty warming soups or slow roast pieces of brisket and the like.  So  slow cooker installed on the worktop, I decide that a risotto must be doable in the slow cooker - and therefore bung in the ingredients, onion, garlic, herbs (thyme and oregano), chicken, stock and rice and pop it on and away I go.


So far so good - well I say that but it didn't look overly appetising at this point, but such is the art of a slow cooker that sometimes things which look the most unappealing and unassuming turn into things of great joy over the hours - this time it was not to be.

When I came home from the school run, the house is suffused with a wonderful smell of cooking chicken and aromatic herbs - at this point I'm quite hopeful for a good supper - then I get to the pot.  I look inside.  Somehow, all those lovely ingredients and that wonderful smell looks like something the cat threw up (if indeed I had a cat - that is what I would assume it to look like).  I taste it - oh my, it is so utterly revoltingly pappy that I cannot bring myself to eat it myself, let alone serve it to the family.  There's only one thing for it - rescue remedy.

I carefully pick out the pieces of chicken and rinse them under the hot tap - thinking I can transform the cooked chicken into another dish easily enough.  The wallpaper paste pot of rice is unceremoniously dumped into the bin.  The chicken was added to a tomato ragu and served with pasta and passable enough so not all was lost - thankfully.

I remain convinced that a risotto is slow-cooker friendly and am not entirely sure what went wrong with mine - perhaps I ought to look at a recipe -or measure some ingredients - you never know that might help!

Never one to be put off, I try the slow cooker again the following night - this time a somewhat 'out-there' recipe which involves cooking a ham joint on a bed of sugar.  And well, it was a triumph!  No messy burnt on sugar to deal with, just melt in the mouth Kassler with a sumptuously sticky sauce - perhaps only to be improved upon with a slug of rum next time, or some Chinese spices - I was hoping for leftovers for sandwiches for lunch - but no such luck.

The recipe I read called for 400g of dark brown sugar (not very easy to get hold of in Germany) - I only had 250g of light muscavado sugar so used that instead - and a ham joint - I used a peice of Kassler which is a smoked, cured pork from Germany, and that was it.  The recipe calls for 10 hours on low - but I only put it in at 1.30 so it had 4 hours on high then the leftover bit went on low for a couple more hours once the children had had their share!




The moral of the story - try, try and try again - never let a culinary disaster deter you from your dishes!

Laterne, Laterne, Sonne Mond und Sterne...

Yesterday at Kindergarten we celebrated the story of St Martin in a traditional way with a lantern parade. The official saint's day for St Martin is 11 November and as that was a Sunday this year, we celebrated on the next closest day.

The story is that of St Martin of Tours, who as a Roman Soldier gave away half his cloak to a beggar who turned out to be Jesus - see here for more information about St. Martin.

At this time of year, Kindergarten swings into full Blue Peter mode with the building of lanterns which we parade around the village on a light stick.  This year, having 2 children at Kindergarten, I had the joy of two lanterns.  Fortunately, the wee girle's one was simple as she's only 2, but they get progressively more intricate as the years progress, we have done all manner of designs from simple glowing balls to sheep, crows and witches! So, about 2 weeks ago, we met at school for a 'bastel-abend' an afternoon of cutting, sticking, drawing etc - I think I was more covered in glue than the lantern but then I'm not known for my crafting abilities!  All this is of course accomplished with much chat, coffee and biscuits!  After we had all finished the lanterns, there was a wee practise of the 'Martinslieder' the special songs we sing whilst parading (today's title is a line from one of the songs).



So roll on to last night's parade.  We all meet in the dark at the appointed time at Kindergarten and form a parade to walk around the block next to the Kindergarten - for this we have a procession starting with the village policeman, then St. Martin on his horse, then the Maltesers (not the confectionery, but a First Aid organisation), then the Vorschulekinder (these are the biggest Kindergartners so aged 5/6), then a brass band to provide the music for our singing and finally the rest of the rabble of Kindergartners ranging from 2 - 4 with associated parents, grandparents and siblings - quite a feat for a small village Kindergarten - and all for a walk of about 500m!

Having paraded and sung, we then congregate on the football pitch next to the Kindergarten where there is a bonfire roaring in order to watch a small piece depicting St Martin sharing his cloak with the beggarman.

Having sung and paraded, it's then back inside to continue with another tradition of the day, the Weckmann which is a gingerbreadman shaped cake made from a sweet yeast dough and tradionally has raisins for eyes and a clay pipe.  These are handed out to all of the children at the Fest.  We used to then celebrate with Bratwurst und Glühwein, but after an unfortunate minesweeping incident at last year's Sommerfest, we are now 'dry' for Kindergaten events - which does make them that bit more difficult to get through!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Schularzt Untersuchung

And so back to the fun and games that is German bureaucracy.....

H (5) is in the last year of Kindergarten and next year becomes 'Schulpflichtig' meaning that he is required by law to attend school, no not be educated / learn  etc but actually, physically go to a school and be taught there - you are not allowed to home school in Germany (in fact one German family was granted asylum in the USA as their human rights had been infringed by not being allowed to home school - but that's a whole other kettle of fish). As part of the preparation for entry into Primary School or Grundschule, each 5 year old is required to attend a pre-school medical.

This appointment is generated automatically and you are required to attend the regional health department to see the civil service doctors for a series of tests and examinations to ensure that the child is ready to go to school and that it can enter mainstream schooling without any problems.  We did this today, and H is not due (by German standards) to go to school until August when the next academic year starts, although we have chosen to opt out of the German state system and enter the International school system here instead and he will start after Christmas (this is a bit of a fudge of the two systems, UK and German - H would have started Reception in the UK last year but in the German system wouldn't start until next year - so he's going into Year 1 in January hopefully early enough not to have missed too much in the UK system, but with long enough in a German speaking Kindergarten to get the language well grounded).

We arrive a bit before the duly appointed time - and fortunately, they're running early (hurrah!) so H gets taken in to an office for a hearing and sight check whilst I have to grapple with some German forms about his behaviour and social skills (I can't help but think if I'd been in the UK that the form would have been provided in my own language to make it all a bit easier) I wasn't sure I'd completely grasped the right way to answer the questions but on further discussion with the doctor's assistant it seemed I had, thank goodness!  H then had to answer a series of basic questions based upon counting and colours etc as well as some simple drawing/copying tasks.  He accomplished all this without problem fortunately.

His 'Red Book' or baby record was checked for immunisation details, birth details, weights and measurements - and this always causes debate as the UK and Germany don't share the same immunisation schedules, the same system of developmental checks, even the same basic recording of birth data - so we muddle through and understand that some information is not available - cue much huffing and puffing - and that yes, I do know we haven't had X jab or done Y check - in this case, Hepatitis B being the immunisation - not regularly done in the UK, part of the standard baby jabs in Germany and also no significant baby development checks - done  very regularly in Germany and not at all in the UK (see my post on the U Appointments for more on these checks).  Anyway we beg to differ, but all is well.

We then have to wait to see the real doctor - and after a while are called through and some of the same checks are repeated, followed by some more complex drawing and describing exercises - well all going well here until H is asked to repeat something which he'd already said - and down comes the wall and he's not playing ball anymore - had enough of doing and saying and following instruction.  Now I'm sure this is all part and parcel of ensuring they are ready for school, but H is a very stubborn fellow and an immovable force - thank goodness after much cajoling, threatening and stern talking to he finally went back to finish most of the exercises and we have our signed piece of paper to say we are ready for school - not that it actually matters as he has his place for January anyway, but these hoops are here to jump through.  The threat that he'd have to come back and go through the whole thing again was too much to contemplate for him and me and fortunately he saw sense and got back to it.

Of course, once we'd left the building the little darling was full of all the answers to the questions asked of him, and could I shut the bugger up!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Dressed to Impress....


the table that is - not me!  Last night we played hosts to some friends for dinner and I'd decided to push the boat out somewhat and step up from last time's curry banquet!

After much deliberation I'd narrowed down the menu to - something cheesy to start with, followed by lamb (my absolute favourite meat - and not the easiest to get hold of here in Germany - you can really only get frozen New Zealand imports unless it's Easter) and then I thought something chocolaty for pudding.

So far so good - but the loose airy ideas needed focusing into dinner.  Well, being Autumn, we needed something warming and hearty - and that didn't require too much last minute attention - after all who wants to leave their guests to don a pinny and faff in the kitchen - not me, that's for sure!  I therefore plumped for braised lamb shanks - something I could get going and then forget about.  After much perusal of recipe books and the interweb, I came across this Lorraine Pascale recipe on the BBC Good Food website and felt it was just what I was looking for, strong robust flavours which had mellowed over the 5hours I cooked it for.

Main course sorted I then went to work on the starter.  I'd fancied something cheesy and was erring on the goats cheese/red onion combo which I know works well, but then thought I'd try something slightly different and I decided to add beetroot to the mix - so I was after a beetroot chutney/relish type recipe.  Despite copious amounts of googling, I couldn't find a recipe I was happy with - so had a go at throwing something of my own together and came up with my own beetroot relish recipe.



 500g Beetroot
1 bulb Garlic
1 Red Onion
Thyme
Sugar
Red Wine Vinegar




I roasted the beetroot and garlic till soft (wrapped each piece in foil) then fried the chopped red onion in olive oil and added the soft roasted garlic and some thyme and fried a bit more.  The I added the roasted beetroot which I'd diced.  Briefly mixed together, I then added about 3 tablespoons of sugar and about 150-200ml of red wine vinegar (just guessing here as I didn't measure it).  I left this to boil on the hob until it had acquired a deep purple colour and a jam-like consistency - and voila!



I made some shortcrust pasty tartlet shells and put the relish in the cooked tarts and topped each one with a generous slice of a Camembert style cows cheese and grilled it before serving with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

We paired the Cheese Tartlets and the Lamb Shanks with the Nembus wine - which was wine of the month in October - and it definitely hit the right notes with both dishes - suitably robust to cut through the Camembert and the richness of the lamb, but not so much to overpower either dish.




And so to pudding....... well chocolate was definitely order of the day - and I pulled out all the stops and attempted this Moelleux au Chocolat  which was actually a remarkably easy pud to make - it didn't need quite so much cooking as suggested on the recipe but was still moist and very, very moreish!  The pudding is a butter-free recipe ( so almost diet food!!)  The melted chocolate and cream ganache was mixed with egg yolks, ground almonds and a tablespoon of flour,  then a meringue mixture was folded in, the resulting batter baked for 30 minutes to give a moist, sunken cake - which I think could probably be slightly improved upon with a generous slug of Cointreau or Armagnac or the like - will have to remember that next time I try!  Served with cream it was actually a lot lighter than I thought it might be and so finished the meal off perfectly.




Mmmmmm Lecker!
 


Sunday, 14 October 2012

Puff the Magic Dragon

lives by the sea, and frolics in the Autumn mist in a land called Essen-Kettwig (or something like that!) well we - 'Puff's Power Girls' frolicked alongside the Ruhr yesterday afternoon and partook of a Dragonboat Regatta.

Well we all showed up - 10 rowers paddlers, and one drummer girl so that was an achievement in the first place.  We were all appropriately clad in the PPG get up - pink hair, pink hoodie, tutu.... you get the picture!  And we were ready to rock (the boat) and roll (following a fortifying glass of bubbles!)



Eleven eccentrically clad expat ladies had entered a team in the local regatta - quite what we were thinking I'm not entirely sure.....  Five of us had managed to attend our one and only training session (so that left half the team sitting in a dragonboat for the first time yesterday) but we were all more than willing and so  buoyed up buy the Adrenalin and high spirits from the over-excited squeakiness that only 11 girls in pink can manage (and the bubbles of course!) we traipsed through town and down to the river - I'm not quite sure what the locals made of us - but we were very chatty with them en route....

How did we come to be in this predicament... well we have to thank Kettwigefrau and Lipstick&Laptop for their (drunken) suggestion that we ladies should mount a team (our own I mean here and not one of the Lycra clad real rowers......) and participate in the annual local regatta.  Having seen the flyer, we noticed the encouragement of fancy dress ( and indeed a prize for the most original) and of course most of our focus was on that and not the rowing.  We might have won the prize for the costumes (YAY!!!!) but for course we hadn't taken the racing seriously enough by half (this is Germany....) and of course we came last - 20 out of 20.  We were most disgruntled to have to race back to back for the booby prize as that meant we were somewhat delayed in reaching the beer tent......

But, do you know what - despite the ridiculous outfits and the shockingly poor paddling performance, we had an absolute ball!  We were out there - pink and proud and chatting away to all and sundry and I think we embodied the 'it's not the winning but the taking part' mantra!  We had a great deal of very welcome support from (some very embarrassed) friends and family  - Thank You All!



And so what next - well next year's regatta is already in the diary - but we're thinking a 20 man mixed team would be the way forward - but we need a good costume idea for the boys...... not sure pink and tutus is quite their thing!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

October in Germany.....must be Oktoberfest

Now, I'm nowhere near Munich, or even Bavaria for that matter, but that doesn't stop the local (and not so local) businesses trying to cash in on what must be Germany's best known 'fest'.

Yes, down in sunny Bayern (Bavaria to you and me) and in München (or Munich) to be more precise, in September each year, the spectacle that is the Oktoberfest takes place.  This fortnight long (approximately, depending on when the first Sunday in October lands) beer fest was started in 1810 to commemorate the Royal Wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Theresa.  The fields where the first festival were held were called the Theresienwiese in her honour but this has been shortened by the locals to the "Wies'n" and this is the location of the Oktoberfest beer tents and fairground. And yes, it's not actually in October - it runs for the 16 days prior to the first Sunday in October - but let's not split hairs on this - some of it will be in October!

Some more interesting facts and figures from Wikipedia.

Well, the whole of Germany seems to sit up and want to join the party during the Oktoberfest.  Here, in my little corner of Nord-Rhein Westfalen, almost every restaurant or brewery seems to be having an 'Oktoberfest Woche' a week where there are themed menus and special beers, even the school canteen is offering Bavarian specialities this week - much to #1son's chagrin! 

The supermarkets too cash in on this feverishness during the run up to the Fest, there are often special offers on all things Bayrisch from Breze (pretzels) to beer - and all things in between.  You see the classic blue and white checked symbol of Bavaria on all manner of items, not just those which may be in any small way related to the fest - indeed today at a local shop I came across Oktoberfest themed nappies - I did actually buy them as they were a 'special edition' of my usual buy - they are quite sweet though!







Sunday, 7 October 2012

And breathe......

Well we've managed to survive IT - hurrah!  The 'it' in question is the long-awaited sleepover birthday party requested by #1son.

OK - so it's only been about 6 weeks since his birthday - so not too bad (one friend has managed to postpone a party from January - that takes some respect - my defences would have been well and truly worn down by that point!).  Yesterday lunchtime we had 4 8-year-old boys added to our own three Kindling for a whole 24hours!

Unbirthday boy had been super excited for days - and of course that doesn't translate well to the actual thing as it's never quite what you wanted and the over-excitement is not a good recipe for a fun time for everyone - cue dictatorial direction of what people could/couldn't do or play with - where they could/couldn't go - who could sit next to him and so forth.

We took the boys to see Madagascar 3 at the cinema (in German of course) as the birthday treat - which apparently was very good - so says A as he got to see it, I was entertaining a 2-year-old during this (we tried to go shopping but although she was remarkably compliant there were too many people and I had lost the ability to shop yesterday.....that's another story in itself!)

So home post cinema, takeaway pizza ordered, delivered, eaten (wine for mummy and daddy - a fruity little Muscadet if you're interested!) and  the world was almost a better place!  Cake....(yay) of course was then required - it was a birthday celebration after all.....!

#1 son had requested 'The Titanic' as the theme for his cake - he's been somewhat obsessed with it this year due to the coverage of the centenary anniversary - don't get me (or rather him) started on the topic as he's very interested in the minutiae and specifics (in a way only 8-year-old boys can be) and I really don't know/don't care/can't be bothered to find out how many life jackets they had on board and how  effective they were.....

Anyway, I digress - a Titanic cake - why do I let myself in for these things - surely a clock would be so much better and easier...... Well after some deliberation, I felt a sinking scene would be easier to achieve than the boat itself and so here you have it....



What I did was to bake a square sponge and cut a decent sized corner off, this corner was then trimmed down to make a 'bow of a boat' shape and then fixed mid-sink to the middle of the remained of the square piece.  I then constructed an iceberg from mini-marshmallows, glued together with buttercream icing.... I built the iceberg up a bit more from that in the picture as the consensus was that it needed to be more imposing (if a marshmallow tower can indeed be imposing at all!)

So candles out, cake eaten, beds arranged around the bedroom, children in pj's and then we have some 'quieten down time' (ha, ha, ha) with a bit of Scooby Doo and then glow sticks provided and off to bed at a reasonable time - later than usual but not so late that we can't have our supper in peace. 

Now, I'm not naive enough to think they'd go to sleep anytime soon - but  hadn't banked on me needing to go to sleep before they did - chattering boys combined with wakeful 2-year-old do not make for a happy mummy!!  Still, the boys seemed to have a good night - and despite the last one not going to sleep until just before 1am, they were all bright and breezy when they were up at 7am this morning.....

Which is more than can be said for me!

So I think we've survived IT - just a few more minutes before they're due to be collected and everyone seems happy.  Will we do it again........that remains to be seen!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Wine of the Month - October 2012

We're all off to sunny Spain, E Viva Espania!

And so we are... heading to sunny Spain for October's recommendations.  Notice the plural there - yes I have two delights for you this month.

Firstly, one of my favourite aperitifs.  Sherry - Jerez - Xeres however you want to write it.  I know it conjures up spinsters and schooners of sweet sherry after church, but if you pick the right one for the right occasion, sherry can be a real surprise.

I like a very dry, well chilled sherry as an aperitif, or as an accompaniment to tapas-y type nibbles (olives, marinaded white anchovies, salty nuts etc etc).  My sherry of choice is usually a Fino - dry, crisp and always very very cold - even over ice on occasion.

If you're after a bit more information - the wheres, whys, hows of Sherry - then look here

My tip for the month is a good old favourite - Tio Pepe - and specifically a Palomino Fino as also recommended by Susy Atkins in the Telegraph.  

I can find it for about 7EUR in my local supermarket - but it's often hidden amongst the white wine - we don't want too many people to find it you see!! 

Try it - I'm sure that you'll be another convert and slowly but surely we can dispel the fusty image that Sherry still has in the UK.  Harvey's Bristol Cream has an awful lot to answer for (and no I wouldn't touch the stuff with a barge-pole!)

I promised you two treats this month - and here's my second tip. 

Yecla.

Ye- what?  I hear you cry - well it's another Spanish wine region, a well kept secret in my opinion - under rated and not well known.  It's a DOC/AOC area of South Eastern Spain - near to Murcia - and other wine producing gems such as Jumilla.

It predominantly produces reds with the Monastrell grape as their base.  Though these are often blended to make lovely, full-bodied, easy drinking wines.  Furthermore, as it's not that well known an area, the wines are often very good value too.

I've blogged before about our favourite online Spanish wine store and we keep going back to them for reds - the wines they supply suit our preferred style of wine - big robust reds full of peasants feet and sunshine!!

The Yecla we've most recently tried - and boy was it yummy (and less than 5EUR a bottle) was Nembus - highly recommended if you find it!

So there you have it - crisp dry aperitif courtesy of Tio Pepe and then hearty reds to follow with the typical rich food of the season - stews, roasts, oh and a good bit of cheese too!!



Monday, 1 October 2012

Birthday Bonanza

We're well into birthday season here in the Expatemma household.  It runs from late August through til the beginning of November - but October is the real bonanza month - I think there are eight this month.  Now of course, birthdays mean lots of things - but here, there's a lot of importance placed on cake.....  yup you guessed it, more baking fun!!

Well celebrating a 65th birthday this year, you do really need to pull out all the stops - and this included a surprise weekend away for the birthday boy who was lucky enough to share this milestone with his family all together in Deutschland.

Cake wise, I'd been inspired by tinnedtomatoes when I saw this fantastic After Eight cake on her blog - and it was yummy....  a moist, tower of a concoction with peppermint buttercream, chocolate buttercream - and topped off with after eights..... yummy!

You can find the recipe here it's very easy to do and you get a fantastically light and moist cake from the very runny batter you end up with - it does work so although it looks far too runny to be a cake keep with it!

I split the said batter into three tins and we went from this:


















to this:



The buttercream is my usual 1:2 recipe - 250g butter well whipped on its own with 500g icing sugar - followed by whatever flavourings you fancy - in this case a few drops of peppermint essence in the white icing and a very generous shake or three of cocoa powder for the chocolate.

The resulting cake was a tower of lusciousness, very moist yet light and airy - and lots and lots of icing - just right to celebrate with some well chilled Sekt!

More cake to be constructed later in the week too as we are finally (only about 6 weeks after the event - well I suppose we can't be accused of binging bad luck on him by doing it early...) holding Son#1's birthday party - his requested 'sinking of the Titanic' might be a bit beyond me but no doubt something suitably nautical will be produced..... fingers crossed it meets with approval!  Watch this space....





Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Leftover Lunches #1

I'm not really a recipe cook - not by a longshot.  Yes I may have many, many well-thumbed cookbooks - but they're more for food porn -lusting over the lovely glossies - and general inspiration.

A, on the other hand is a confirmed recipe cook (he can't abide Nigel Slater for his vagueness of recipe for example) and whilst he does enjoy cooking, it is very much to the letter.

I am often left therefore with a random assortment of half-used items in the fridge - think half-tins of random ingredients (artichokes/roasted peppers/exotic spice mixes) or half used vegetables etc.  This is where the inspiration for today's post has come from - and I hope for it to become an ongoing theme on my blog.

Leftover Lunches.  Pretty much what it says - I only need to cook for me at lunchtime as the Kindling and A are taken care of elsewhere - so here's today's offering:

I found - two marinated artichoke hearts, a couple of spoonfuls of creme fraiche (at the bottom of a pot!), some small strips of filo pastry and half a pack of feta.

Added to that with some store cupboard faithfuls (frozen spinach* and oregano - my most favouritist herb) and we have: Feta, artichoke and spinach parcels.



What I did: mix a small bowl of chopped defrosted spinach with the artichoke and creme fraiche, place a generous spoonful (or 2) in the middle of a cross of filo (4 strips in total 2 on top of the other) and then add some crumbed feta on top and a good sprinkle of oregano.  Fold the strips in to make parcels, then brush with olive oil and baked till golden.

*Frozen spinach as it's generally quite difficult to source fresh spinach here. No popping to the supermarket and being certain of there being a bag of baby spinach in the salad section - oh no - it's a real buy it when you see it type of thing here as you can never be sure when the fresh stuff will be next available.  

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Oops - what have I let myself in for?

Now, I'm fairly generous with my time and have a habit of volunteering.  I don't work (well - not for money in a real job or anything....am a stay-at-home mummy which in itself is a full time occupation and then some) so don't mind signing up or things, joining things or generally helping out when I can or when someone asks.

One of my expat friends here - Kettwigefrau - had this idea (not sure if it was inspired or completely crazy but that's another debate) that we expat ladies should gather a team together to enter the Dragonboat racing section of our local regatta which is held in the middle of October.  Well, swept along by a wave of  (quite probably drunken) enthusiasm, we've a team - and a boat - and are entered to take part.... yikes!

Now of course, this isn't being taken tooooo seriously, we're out to have a good time, winning of course preferred too!  And as you would expect, a great deal (and I mean GREAT deal) of debate and planning has gone into our team name (Puff's Power Girls - from 'Puff the Magic Dragon' - geddit?) and of course our team strip (no we're not stripping.....but have a fabulous outfit dahhlings) so we're dayglo pink wigs, tutus over thermal leggings (well this is water, in October, in Germany) and a logo'd hoodie - we will be some sight to behold I imagine - never ones to blend into the background.

Whilst we're not taking this as seriously as we are probably expected to, it has been suggested to us that we ought really to do at least some training - given that none of us have actually Dragon-boated before it's probably a very valid point.  This brings us to today and at 2pm, Puff's Power Girls (and associated spouses, children, animals and various other hangers-on) will convene somewhere on the Ruhr near Mulheim to have a trial.  Now there are some slight issues here - of course not everyone can make it (par for the course) and we're training in a 20man boat whereas we'll be racing as a 10(wo)man crew - so we've had to borrow some extra rowers (think Husbands) so who knows how it will translate into the real thing..... but at least we'll vaguely know what we're meant to be doing - in theory anyway!

Very generously, another fellow rower has opened her house for us to convene at afterwards for the post-training debrief.....I mean drinks/food/chat on the understanding that we all bring something for the Tisch

Oh - look the blog's, morphed into food again....

My contribution for this is a Peach and Marsala Meringue Pie.  Loosely based on Delia's pile-it-high-orange-and-rhubarb-meringue-pie (from her Summer Collection recipe book) - I had some peaches left over and thought it would be a lovely end of summer dish.... let's hope the weather holds for us today.

I took Delia's recipe but made the following alterations:

Crust: - I used wholemeal flour, all butter and added a tablespoon of sugar.

Filling: peaches with a couple of tablespoons of Marsala and a shake of icing sugar.  No oranges - and made the custard from the peach/Marsala juice with some extra apple juice for volume.  Only used about 3tsps of cornflour and used 4egg yolks.


And the proof is in the eating as they say - so we'll find out later!


Friday, 21 September 2012

Can you ever have too many books?

I often think that when you go into a house and you can't see any books that there's something wrong with those that live there - how can there be no books?  In my experience, you just need to let a couple into your life and before you know it, you're over-run with books, on shelves, windowsills, the stairs, in piles all over.

Now I admit - I'm an incurable bookworm.  That coupled with my hoarding instincts mean that I (almost) never get rid of a book - I frequently reread my collection - I love those familiar friends that favourite books become - almost like a member of the family.  I often feel quite bereft when I come to the end of a good book and wait with baited breath for the next instalment.

My book collection is fairly eclectic and all encompassing, from Kipling to Jilly Cooper, Homer to Jeffrey Deaver - there's something for everyone and every occasion there.  But my two big passions book-wise are trashy thrillers (think Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs and Jeffrey Deaver) and Cookbooks (of which I must have over 150 - possibly too many if you can indeed have too many books....).

Living in Germany, it's not quite as easy to pick up good reads as in the UK.  Yes, the big bookstores do all have a selection of English books -in English, and of course you can order online.  But books bought here in Germany are a lot more expensive than in the UK - and of course when ordered online you have to wait for delivery.  I'm not a very patient person and whilst delivery times are generally not too bad you can guarantee the one time you want something like yesterday it takes eons to arrive!

The Kindle has come to Germany too.  We've had ours for a few years now and I have to admit to not being it's biggest fan.  First off we had trouble linking accounts and couldn't buy from Amazon.co.uk due to our geographical location - so have to buy via the states which meant paying in dollars which meant paying commission etc.  Now we're linked to Amazon.de as that's our 'local shop' so to speak which is fine, but again the price differential between the UK and here is quite surprising.  Whilst I am using the Kindle more, it won't ever take over from the real thing for me - something about the way a book sits in your hand, how an old book smells - or it's pages and spine are worn speaks to me so much more than a machine does - and quite frankly the page size on the Kindle is not big enough so I seem to  be forever turning pages..... it does not make for a happy reading experience.  And I daren't take it into the bath with me - and as that's where I do a fair amount of reading - well a real book is still the one I want.

Now, what I have found here in Germany is a great little English language book-exchange site where you can list your unwanted books, and earn tokens to swap for other books on the same site (they don't have to be listed by the person who wanted your old books.)  This site - Bookswapper - is worth a look for those readers living in Germany and wanting English books.  I just love the idea of a book that I no longer want (which I'll admit are not many) going to another good home, rather than just cluttering up my limited bookshelves.

The other great thing about books is reading something so completely outside of your comfort zone -  and enjoying it, thus opening up a whole new section of literature that you'd never come across before.  I belong to an English Book Club (well it's more of a wine club but that's a whole other post....) and through them I've found Ken Follett who's Pillars of the Earth series I  loved (his next series is on my Christmas wish-list!) and even tried (and failed with) Terry Pratchett - someone who I'd never have spontaneously read at all.   Talking about our recent reads and hearing how other people have visualised and interpreted a book just broadens the enjoyment of the book for me - it's a shame we only meet once a month!

So can you ever have too many books?  I think not (even if you only use them as doorstops....!).  Passing on my love of reading to my children is I think one of the greatest gifts I can give them and I do hope they inherit the bookworm gene (otherwise goodness only knows what will happen to all the books we have here....)






Thursday, 20 September 2012

Speedy Chocolate Sauce

I'm somewhat in a rut pudding-wise for the Kindling - lots of fromage frais, Kinder Pingui, sponge and custard.... (preferably chocolate sponge with peppermint custard as requested by #1 son 8) so today we tried something new.

Now, my criteria for a weekday pudding at 'children's tea' is that it shouldn't be tooooooo bad for you and should preferably contain milk in someway to aid good sleep.  My three are not good fruit eaters so suggesting they help themselves from the fruit bowl isn't greeted particularly positively.

So today, I had some waffles left over from the post-school-in-the-car-snack, only #1 son had partaken, #2 son said he "only eats waffles with icing sugar on" and the wee girlie was just grumpy!  Well, left over waffles, yes I know it's probably quite a difficult concept to get one's head around - I was certainly surprised as it is a highly unusual occurrence here too.

Anyhoo - the leftover waffles formed the basis for tonight's pud.  Waffles with warm chocolate sauce.

Did I say earlier on that another vital criteria for weekday puddings is that they should take no time at all to make/assemble/put before the gannets.....

So I google 'quick chocolate sauce' and there's chat about cocoa, butter, sugar, vanilla - well not really the sort of thing I had in mind - so I persevered down the first couple of pages and came across an Australian site and they had just the thing I was after.  Two ingredients, two minutes in the microwave - you can't go wrong with that - so here it is:

100g dark chocolate (I used milk as that's what I had to hand)
1/4cup thickened cream (I used a generous slug from the bottle of 'schlagsahne')

Now they suggest adding Kahlua too - and I'm sure it would make for a fab pudding - but probably not best at nursery tea!!

Method:

Break the chocolate into squares, add to cream in a microwave proof jug, and blitz on full power for 2 mins - stirring after each minute. 

Done and dusted - a smooth and creamy super-quick sauce..... and it went down a treat with my not-easily-pleased tasting panel!







Tuesday, 18 September 2012

I saw a mouse....Where?

There - on the stair, where on the stair, right there - a little mouse with clogs on......




Well at least that's what I've had going round my head for days, ever since H has been practising for the Blotschentanz - his Kindergarten were performing a clog dance at out village fest this weekend.

The third weekend in September - always good weather thankfully - is the Isenbuegel Blotschenball.  This is our village fest which starts on a Friday night with music and dancing in a marquee on the village car park - complete with beer wagon and sausage stall and culminates on Sunday morning with the 'Blotschenball' a traditional clog dance.

I could go into the history of it - this year was the 208th - but I'm not really sure of how and why it started, only that it has evolved over the last few years so that there is now no proper 'Ball' (oh yes, it was all black-tie and long-frocks once upon a time - how the clogs get in there I've no idea!) but the Kindergarten and village primary school perform a couple of dances instead and then there is a general 'tea-dance' type of affair with a local couple murdering the music - still we all go, every year!

This year, we started on the Friday evening with friends for a quick dinner then off to the Festzelt to see a Bon Jovi tribute band called Bounce - and though we missed the start - thinking foolishly that the headliners wouldn't be on at the beginning - we had a thoroughly good time - bouncing up and down to some classic numbers and shouting till we were hoarse.  Possibly a little exuberantly for the German crowd (but us Expat's now how to boogie.......!!)

The Saturday sees a children's sponsored run - we tend to give that a miss....

But the grand finale, Sunday's Blotschenball we had to attend this year.  H (no.2 son) was performing - and they've been practising for ages at Kindergarten - with the clogs too!





There are food and drink stalls, games for the children to play - and even a climbing wall (think of the health and safety hoops you'd have to jump through in the UK for that at a village fair....)  All in all, it's a lovely family afternoon, made all the more special watching your own little ones perform!  Oh and the fun of everyone else having a go in the clogs as the afternoon wears on - the climax of 'New York, New York' whilst dancing in clogs is quite something to behold - I tell you!  Roll on 2013!


Saturday, 15 September 2012

In the Kurhaus

Yesterday A had a day off, so once the Kinder were all safely in school and kindergarten we had a very precious three hours to ourselves - so it was off to the local Kurhaus for a mornings rest and relaxation.

The concept of a Kurhaus is not something we really have in England - you can loosely translate the term as 'Health Resort' or spa, but that doesn't really work.  Yes, you can have a 'Kur' hotel - and even be prescribed a residential Kur by your doctor (I'm working on that one as a week's stay at a Spa type place would be just what the doctor ordered.....but I'm sure some of the treatments required might be a bit more hardcore than I'd want).

You could also think of a Kurhaus in terms of a thermal baths - and that's almost what we went to yesterday.  However, there was just the one salt pool - lovely and warm and outside in the grey - but we did have the benefit of a 'Saunalandschaft' a Sauna Landscape.  Yup - three hours at the sauna it was utter bliss (apart from the tutting because we were talking too much and ruining the calming atmosphere.....).

In Essen, at the Gruga Park, there is a Kurhaus which has a series of increasingly hot saunas - each with a different purpose - light therapy, special 'aufguss' which are aromatherapy based, salt crystals - for you to enjoy at your leisure.  This is combined with an outdoor saltwater pool and indoor swimming pool and various indoor and outdoor resting areas - all very civilised.

Now of course, this being a German sauna you are required to leave your clothes at the door - that's right - completely naked in the sauna itself, but of course with a giant towel to sit and lie on (heaven forbid you should let the wood get sweaty...).  Out in the other areas, you do of course need footwear at the very least and that's as far as most of the visitors went yesterday.  There's something quite liberating about everyone bimbling about in their birthday suits - but I know it's not something for everyone.

We're (the Boden Breakfast Club) trying to arrange a girls' spa day  but it's proving quite tricky to find the right establishment to fit all out foibles - I don't think yesterdays venue would suit us - for the primary reason that you can't gossip and giggle all day which would be our main purpose - and I don't think we're all ready to share our bumps and lumps just yet.  Nudity in front of total strangers is actually quite easy - with all your girlfriends - another matter entirely!!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Sorry if your smalls are sandy

It's not my fault - honest!  I know I should have checked H's pockets before I put his shorts in the washing, but I didn't expect them to be full of sand and therefore I didn't expect them to empty themselves of sand all over the clean washing as I folded them. 

So if your pants are a bit itchy, I do apologise.

Now perhaps I ought to have expected it - as he'd been playing outside at kindergarten as the weather has been nice.  The playground at kindergarten is full of sand, as indeed are all playgrounds here.  It is the ground covering of choice for all children's playgrounds - from the small swings and slide get-up that you find outside apartment blocks to the full-on adventure playgrounds found in larger parks (such as the wonderful Gruga Park near here in Essen).  I'm sure it has been evaluated to be the safest type of playground surface - given the German propensity for that type of thing - and to be fair it is a good covering as it's soft and malleable when you fall on to it - and of course all you need is a bucket and spade for hours of fun.....

I don't recall there being much sand in the playgrounds back in the UK - when I think about where we take the Kindling when we're back visiting it seems to be either bark chippings or that bouncy covering - but I can't off hand think of any sand at all. 

But - I HATE sand....  It gets everywhere.  Given that we don't live near a beach, or have a sandpit of our own, the amount of sand in my house on any given day - and in the Kindling's shoes when they come home from kindergarten - is astounding.  Perhaps I should start to collect it all up and create my own play-area - I'd certainly have enough for a substantial sandpit without having to buy any.....

So back to the laundry - well my laundry room floor is now somewhat crunchy underfoot, and I find no amount of brushing or vacuuming gets it all up, so there's always sand underfoot, and just when I think I'm winning the battle against the encroaching dunes, another pocketful deposits itself on the floor.... or as in yesterday's case, in the basket and over the clean laundry. I suppose at least it was dry and so brushed off easily....

Friday, 7 September 2012

Wine of the Month - September 2012

This month, we're off to Italy for a recommendation of a special occasion wine.  September marks the beginning of the birthday season in our family (well it actually kicks off in the last week of August) which runs through until the middle of January - oh and let's not forget Christmas in between.

So as the nights are beginning to draw in, the weather turns a bit cooler (well usually - we've 28c forecast for the weekend which will be lovely!) my thoughts turn back to red wines.  Something to sip and savour with stews and log fires  - that type of thing!!

This month then, I want to introduce you to a little known Italian gem -  Brunello di Montalcino.  It's a wine made from Sangiovese grapes (it's the main component in most Chianti and Montepulciano wines).  The Brunello though is much more than your usual pizza/pasta wine.  It's a more complex wine, often verging on the vegetal - think a slightly composty smell and brown tinges around the edge when you look at the glass against a light - now you may not think I'm selling it very well - but it really is very good. So good in fact that it is one of Italy's most expensive wines - most people would suggest Barolo as an example of a top Italian wine but in my opinion, Brunello is much nicer.  One left to breathe, it is a wonderfully rounded, full, fruity wine which could accompany the strongest cheeses and well-hung game with ease.




There is however a catch - and this is why, for us, Brunello remains a special occasion choice - you'd be hard pushed to find it for under Eur20 a bottle, but it is very definitely worth it's hefty price tag so you may just have to invent an occasion to give it a whirl!

We have one bottle left of this wine - ours is a 2000 vintage - which we've been saving for a special occasion, but which probably needs drinking sooner rather than later. Fortunately, we have just the occasion coming up to partake of this wonderful wine - Andy's birthday at the weekend - so raise a glass to him on Sunday - we certainly will!

As an aside, if you have a wine you're not sure about - when to drink it, what it should be like and so on there is a great site at cellartracker.com which you can put your wine's details into for some tasting notes and dates.  The link will take you to what it says about our Brunello as an example - and we need to drink it now..... Cheers!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Swap-shop slapstick

So today was my first dress-swapping experience.  L a fellow expat had invited me to a party she was holding in her bar (yup - she owns a bar just the right sort of friend to have!!) the premise of the party being that you bring 20 or so items from your wardrobe you want to swap, oh and you need to bring something for the brunch buffet.....

Well, important things first... I volunteered to bring something sweet for the brunch - so after looking in my (reasonably) well-stocked larder, I decided on Chelsea Buns - a good English offering.  So a sweet bread dough was duly made, raised and lovingly kneaded - something very therapeutic about kneading dough.

Then the fruits and spices were added - which left my house smelling very chrismassy yesterday - lovely!  And voila - a batch of sticky sumptuous homemade Chelsea buns to take to the expats.



So far, so good - I even managed to look out a few pieces from my wardrobe to take to swap - a bag I'd never used, a lovely cloche-style hat (I have 2 and one was slightly too big), various pairs of trousers which were way too small.  I felt I had a reasonable offering to make. 

We (a friend from the village and I) set off in good time to get to the venue - and park, having to drop off a friend's son on the way through.  Well - we were still going fine at this point, but then it all started to come undone.  After dropping off said son, we were just round the corner from a fellow swappers house (well I'd assumed she was coming too... that may have been my first mistake) so I suggested we ring her and ask if she wanted a lift to the swapshop - well she was in the middle of her German lesson and insisted that we had the wrong week, no definitely Monday 10 - she double checked her email for us.  Oh well, so my friend and I were both independently wrong.....

Laughing it off we turn around and go home, and friend and I sat and chatted in her (very nice - and with gas oh the luxury...) kitchen, putting the world to rights for an hour or so.  Then off I tootle home and check my facebook messages - and there it is "see you tomorrow" from L the party host - oh no so it was today....  well back on the phone to my friend to ask if she still wants to go and off we head again - behind all the Sunday drivers....  Well we get there (eventually) and have a great time, both of us picking up a couple of bits for the coming season.

Of course, the girls at the party had tried to call us - but me being me had left my phone in the car and so couldn't answer (goodness only knows what would have happened if it had been the school calling.....) and we didn't hear the other mobile ring.....such is life. Next time, we'll be more organised, try to keep our phones on us and stick to our guns... oh - and never take Mrs E's word for it again!!

Friday, 31 August 2012

It's oh so quiet.....

Birthdays, baking and back to school - here we are back in the school routine (at last - it's been a very long holiday) and all the associated ups and downs that brings.

Birthday boy G (8 today) has started his new school following the bankruptcy / closure / uncertainties of the last term at his previous one.  We're on day 2 and all seems to be going well so far - he's particularly enamoured with the canteen and his new uniform - so far so good (wait until he loses his payment card for lunch then it'll be a whole new ballgame!)  But he seems content to go and was so very excited yesterday about the first day back - as he's been on holiday since the end of June, I think and he recognises that he needs the routine and structure a school day brings - and I need to get him off the computer on which he seems to have spent most of the summer ensconsed in a darkened room. And only just 8 - you'd have thought he was a teenager with that sort of activity......

Kindergarten started back almost a month ago so H has been happily tootling along every morning for a while now - he's now a Lowenkind - which is the pre-school year.  He's already 5 and so would be going into year 1 in the UK, but still gets to play for another year here - quite how we'll transition him over to the International System next year I'm not quite sure, but I need to get cracking on that to make sure he's as prepared as he can be - they don't 'teach' anything in Kindergarten here so I think it's going to be 'School of Mummy' at home for the foreseeable future.

L started kindergarten this term - she's lucky to have secured a 2-year-old spot as there is apparently a great shortage of them in the region.  She has however taken to the change in routine remarkably well and is very much enjoying herself and finding her feet there (well I say finding her feet - more throwing her weight around and generally being very loud - that's my girl!)

So what does this mean for me?  As of yesterday I am officially home alone (in the mornings at least) - yesterday, after the school run and shopping had been done that left me with a whole 30mins to myself - so no I didn't achieve anything.  I've made quite a list of projects to be getting on with in my 'me-time' not least of which is a promise to myself (and Andy!) to get on top of the house...which has been somewhat neglected of late.  Then there's the eBay plans, the family tree to be going on with, the family recipe books to transcribe, german lessons, exercise plans, etc etc - not to mention breakfast with the girls and reading for bookgroup.  It seems I'll be even busier than before!!

So I mention baking above - well there's always something in the oven here - yesterday was After Eight cupcakes to take to school to celebrate G's birthday - and today is another suprise birthday cake - but not the Titanic sinking recreation I have been asked for......  Just a plain sponge with homemade raspberry jam, buttercream and a marshmallow fondant covering - there may well be pictures later (if I can get the camera working as we managed to break it on holiday!) but here's a cupcake to keep you going!!