Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Freibadzeit is upon us.

Another week, another bank holiday or so it seems.  This time the weather was glorious so cue all good Germans (and us) running off to spend the day at the local Freibad

For the uninitiated among you, the Freibad is the outdoor pool (as opposed to the Hallenbad which is indoors).  Usually, come May, these open across Germany.  We're not talking a small open-air pool/lido affair here as you'd imagine in Blighty - oh no....  Here, the Freibad is not just a pool, but a complex of pools (children's/leisure/diving/serious swimming) set amongst rolling parkland - with trees, sun loungers, play park etc.  For what seems a remarkably good price - our Family ticket was less than EUR10 - you get a whole day out!

Of course, being a whole day affair, there are certain things which you need to get right.  Getting there early enough to secure your pitch for example.  We caused a bit of a hiatus with our group as we needed to be near the baby pool as L is only 2 and so needs the paddling pool.  Our friends had set up camp under the trees at the other end of the park - but were actually very accommodating in the end and moved down to the children's area - their children are all older with their respective youngest being the same age as my eldest.

So you've got the ideal spot - spread out your towels to make sure you stake a claim to as large an area as possible, you need then to turn your thoughts to provisions.  Well you should have done it at least the day before as you can't shop on a Bank Holiday to pick bits up on your way there - and 'picnic food' is not readily available to buy pre-prepared.

Now I have to admit I failed miserably in the planning stage here - we were meeting friends and their children at the pool and as I'd been somewhat busy organising the Eurovision Extravaganza, I was not very well prepared in the picnic stakes.  I managed a couple of bottles of water, some paprika crisps, some contraband cadburys fingers - oh and a couple of packs of raisins in the bottom of the changing bag!  What the hell I figured, there's always a Grillstand - or ice cream if we get desperate.

Of course we'd been there about 10 minutes when the Kindling decided they were hungry - they proceeded to snack all day so my meagre picnic supplied would never have been enough.  Our friends had provided home-made cake, home-made Frikadellen, fruit, biscuits etc etc.  So having been outdone on the picnic front, it was all we could do to get the Pommes und Wurst in.  Cue satisfied children at last - well at least temporarily until the badgering for an ice cream began - and seeing as this was probably the hottest day of the year the Schlange for the ice creams was snaking its way around the park.

We queued and queued and finally conquered the ice-cream stall.  By which time we were rapidly coming to the end of a lovely day - plenty of sun (too much for some unfortunately), a lovely relaxing time spent pootling in the water and warming in the sun, children running round entertaining themselves for the most part - and thankfully wearing themselves out.  So much so that we had to beat a hastey retreat at the end as the Kindling were overtired.  At least they slept well.

Hopefully, next week's bank holiday (did I mention there's another holiday and bridging day - so another 3 day week, life is hard!) will be equally as sunny as everyone has requested a return visit.  Definitely a success!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Eurovision Part Deux

So the big day has come and gone and I have to say (blowing my own trumpet a little here) that it went with a bang!  The Eurovision extravaganza party was great fun and a great success.  We managed to represent the following competitors:

Greece           Spain                     Norway          Great Britain
       Azerbaijan         Russia                                                               Ireland     
France                           Sweden                          Germany

There were varying degrees of costume (mostly eastern European hookers....) and pretty much only the gals - the menfolk tended the barbecue and chatted on the terrace as the ladies got louder and louder.

Now at this point I need to say a big thank you to the Kindling who were most oblivion and despite the shrieking, stomping, cackling, cheering and booing managed to stay asleep for the duration!  Hurrah hurrah - well done you (this made for a very happy mummy and some somewhat astonished guests...) although we could have done without the 6am wake up call Hippo!

A big thank you to for all the fantastic and varied dishes which appeared - we managed a very 'Eurovision' spread - from Baklava and Spanakopita - to Bailey's cheesecake, vodka/chocolate truffle cake via a significant amount of Nordic fishiness in between!

All in all a roaring success - the music was, as Eurovision always is, slightly off the beaten track but the Russian Grannies and Jedward's watersports were pure Eurovision gold.  And of course who could forget the highlight of the evening - The Voting!  We were pretty impressive at guessing who the top points would go to from every country - so despite the re-introduction of Jury voting, the scoring is no less partisan than it has ever been - and despite the usual outcry from the UK for political voting, it's part of what gives Eurovision it's charm - you know where you stand when Malta always give us 12 and so on!

Some of the real surprises of the night included how well Albania did, how well Mr. Spain pulled off his costume (the only man game enough to dress up), how badly Jedward did (pure Eurovision gold in my view...), that the Kindling didn't stir - oh and that Sweden was a runaway winner - I'd never have predicted that - but hey I love Eurovision- what do I know about music?!

Anyway - roll on Eurovision 2013 - Stockholm one presumes - and no doubt some Abba throwbacks - now if only it had been one year further on and it would have been a big anniversary for if I remember correctly, Abba won in 1974 with Waterloo.  So girls (and of course reluctant spouses) a date in the diary for next year???

Friday, 25 May 2012

Eurovision - part 1

I have to confess - I love that fantastic musical extravaganza that is Eurovision - I love the trashy-ness, the dubious outfits, the bad singing, the weird lyrics, Terry's commentary (sadly missed) I love the partisan voting and generally the whole over-the-top-ness.  I look forward to it each year and am secretly thrilled that out happy European family is now so big we need semi-finals - a whole week's worth of Eurovision - what fun!!

So as a result of this, and also of finding a couple of other Eurovision fans nearby - I will be holding a Eurovision party on Saturday - you understand with the sole intention of watching the 'Grand Prix' as I understand it's called here - doesn't that elevate it's status so much more!!

At 8pm (the concert starts at 9pm but we need to indukge in the build up too!) on Saturday therefore, 20 or so varied expats will collect chez-moi for what promises to be an evening of great laughs.  It is, in the spirit of Eurovision a slightly themed party - everyone coming needs to pick a participating country, come appropriately dressed (national dress/ iconic figure etc) and provide some food and drink which is traditional to the country - so we will have a bit of a random mix of things and I should imagine it promises to be quite messy.....

Now some of my guests have never experienced Eurovision before - oh the joy of initiating them into this annual fun fest - we've guests from the US and Singapore so understandably they've not heard of it before and I'm not sure have quite understood what it's all about and what it will be like.  In essence, I don't think they really know what they've let themselves in for!!

As for me - fortunately my country made it through the first semi-final.  I shall be channelling the Greek songstress and fervent European Nana Mouskouri - think big glasses, dark hair and beauty spot. Offering up filo parcels, olives, tzatziki and so forth.....oh and I'm sure a bottle of Ouzo will make an appearance at some point.

Just can't wait!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The innocence of a missing apostrophe!

When I returned to blogging at the beginning of May I noticed on my stats (not that I'm a complete reader junkie) that I had a comparatively large number of hits in Russia - this seemed a bit odd given that I blog about mundane mummyness in Germany.

Now it did strike me that there was probably a 'valid' reason for this eastern interest, indeed you may have noticed it yourself - I certainly have and it has caused amusement amongst my friends.

My innocently titled blog "Emma's Expat Adventures" translates in a url to "Emmasexpatadventures"  which, I noticed after I'd started blogging - and have had pointed out to me - reads more easily as "Emma sexpat adventures"!!

Now I'm not sure whether I'd qualify as a 'sexpat' if indeed I knew what one was!!  Well, of course, that mine of information that is Google has provided the answer - a sexpat is an expat who goes abroad with the prime intention of securing sex.  Now it all falls into place - why I was so popular with the Russians!

So am I indeed as self titled a 'sexpat' well sorry to disappoint but not really - three small children and a busy husband do not make it easy to be out on the look out the whole time.....

The question then needs to be asked - should I rename the blog?  Well you know what I'm not going to - I may have the dubious nickname amongst friends of 'sexpat' but so what a little bit of laughter and lighthearted joshing go a long way to keeping morale up.....

Now if only I could have my apostrophe in the url - I'd be home and dry - but it wouldn't be half as much fun!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

It doesn't rain but it pours.

Sometimes life really likes to throw the works at you - we seem to be in the middle of one of those time at the moment and boy are we getting wet.

Not only have I been having a wobble - for whatever reason, but we've just been landed with some big bills following car trouble and we're in the middle of a school crisis.  So a pretty full plate here. 

The car had been in for its service a couple of weeks ago and we highlighted a couple of intermittent faults which had been flashing up - cue car in the garage for a week, mechanics stumped and a 'repair' of something which they assured us solved the problem.  Firstly a week one car down was hard work.  Neither school not work is particularly public transport friendly - and our second car is a bit on the small side - we can't actually get three car seats across the back...

Anyway, we struggled on and got the car back eventually.  All fine until about 10 days later when the same fault flashes up......  well fortunately we'd not paid the bill for the first repair and I got A to take it back to the garage and shout at them - his language skills being far superior to mine - so with the bill still unpaid it's back in the shop for a bigger repair....  Will have to see if A can negotiate a reduction in the bill.....

Whilst the car issue has been irritating - it's not nearly as troubling as the school crisis we're experiencing at present.  No.1 Son is in the local International School (the reasons for this are a whole other post in themselves and perhaps to be told later) which was a big and difficult decision to make.  We'd read a number of negative reports about it - but felt backed into a corner so registered him there 2 years ago.  He's had 2 very successful and happy years there and it was definitely the right decision to make at the time despite our concerns about not doing the 'expat' thing properly.  However, in the last 6 months, the school seems to have lurched from one problem to the next and has been haemorrhaging staff and pupils like nobody's business.  It now appears the school is broke and it's unknown as to how much longer it will stagger on for.  We've sorted a new school for next year so only need five more weeks till term ends - but will we make it?

The question then arises that if the school closes before the end of the school year - what do we do next?  We wouldn't want to put him into a German school for a maximum of 4 weeks as the move to the new school is upheaval enough and we'd prefer to not pay at the new school for such a short time (given car problems above....) and in Germany homeschooling is not an option as it is not allowed.  But, as he is 7 he must attend school by law so we're really not sure where we stand and are hoping for the school to limp on for another month - failing that, it will be a very extended summer holiday.....perhaps I'll have to ship him back to Blighty for a while!

All in all it's a somewhat stressful time at the moment very definitely pouring not raining!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Wobble wobble

no not jelly on a plate - though that would probably fit well given my themes of late!  No here it's me who's wobbling and I'm not quite sure why.

There are probably several reasons for the current wobbliness (and I'm not talking tummies here - that's a whole other kettle of fish...) but I think I can narrow it down to one or two main issues.  Firstly, we've been looking for a house to buy - for over a year now - and on Friday saw another house - it was lovely, nothing particularly wrong with it, but just not the house for us.  On Saturday I was in the grumpiest mood ever and I think the house thing was the main catalyst for this.  I can't quite put my finger on why the house was wrong, I can be picky about minor details - which when you're buying the 'forever house' (how I hate that term - but for various reasons that's what we need to do here as there's no concept of property ladder to climb) you have to get it right!  So feeling that I'm being overly picky - slightly too small a kitchen, too busy a road, would be nice to have xyz has I think contributed to why I'm feeling odd, getting the sinking feeling that we'll never find The One.  Perhaps I need to reassess my wish list, but somethings would just be a compromise too far - so we're sticking with them.  I wonder if we'll end up having to build our own - now that would be a project to get stuck into!

Secondly, since we made the decision to look for a house to buy I've moved on in my mind from our current house.  So I'm living in a sort of state of limbo.  There are things I'd like to do (perhaps need to do) here which I've put off because 'we're going to move'. There seems little point in sorting the lighting / buying new garden furniture / redoing the veg patch and so forth.  I think I'm coming round to the idea that I can't carry on in this half hearted manner and actually, I do need to concentrate on the here and now and not the what if/when of the future.

There's little chance of us coming back to the UK - indeed we don't want to come back to the UK - our life is here now - even the children consider themselves partly German (at the very least!) so I don't think my wobbles have to do with missing 'the motherland' - although the  permanency of buying a house may have subconsciously triggered some thoughts in that direction, but there is a fairly well recognised Wall - especially amongst expats.  We've been here for four years now and whilst it does get easier, assimilating and integrating fully is difficult - and I'm not sure it's something that you ever truly achieve. So perhaps I've just hit my wall and need to struggle over / through it and coming out the other side will make me a stronger person?

So moving forward what I hope to try to do is:
  •  not pin so much on the future and the when we move it will all be great idea 
  • try to be more content with the here and  now and enjoy what I do have
  • to make the most of being overseas - try to improve my language skills and be more proactive in getting out into the local community.









Thursday, 17 May 2012

Bank Holiday Blues

Today is a Bank Holiday here in the god-fearing fatherland - Himmelfahrt (or Ascension to us Anglicans).  Nothing wrong with that I hear you shout - and indeed there isn't.  We love our bank holidays here -especially if, like today, they fall on a Thursday - as we tend to get the Friday as a Brucketag - or bridge day (think lovely long four day weekend!).  In a 'good' year the German economy actually does worse due to so many lost work days - however, in a bad year when holidays fall on a Saturday or Sunday, you're stuffed as they don't get bumped to the next working day.  2012 is a Good Year.

So a Bank Holiday - what does it mean for us, well you'd best make sure you stock up on everything you might need well in advance - there will be no shops open (bar the odd airport kiosk / petrol station) so no family trip to the DIY store (shame....).  The good German Hausfrau will have made sure she is well prepared - the supermarkets are ridiculously busy on the day before a bank holiday - how will we all survive when the shops are shut for a whole day...... Rest assured you can buy beer and wine at the petrol station - but only I think if you've driven there......

So if we can't shop on a  bank holiday - what other fun can we get up to.  Well traditional English pursuits of DIY, Gardening etc are very definitely not allowed (unless you live in a big detached house and are very quiet).  You see Bank Holidays, and Sundays for that matter for all this applies to Sundays too, are sacred beasts - and woe betide you if you disturb the peace and quiet of the day.  No mowing your lawn, no quick putting up of shelves, heck even hoovering is playing with fire.

So we are left with 'enforced family/leisure time' - in the regimented world that is Germany even this is factored in!  You'll probably see great swathes of appropriately clad cyclists out (all in very flash Lycra get-ups), family meet ups in the park - with a barbecue if the weather is good enough, family outings to Church too, oh and from where we are a great run to the Dutch border - for you can shop to your heart's content there on forbidden days.

All in all the quietness and family time of a Bank Holiday suits us well - especially with the Bridge day when we can get all manner of jobs done as it's technically a working day - not that we generally get up to much as the children are happy to play out and chill out and enjoy a day off with the whole family together.  Perhaps the UK has a thing or two to learn from the German model here - after all, do we really need 24/7 shopping  and the whole shebang?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Lo-carbing in the land of bread and cake

Never one to shy away from a faddy diet in the attempt to get rid of some of the excess poundage gained over the last xx years of indulgence, I have recently taken to the lo-carb way of eating - with something of a light bulb moment - this actually seems to work for me.  OK so the weight loss hasn't been as striking as it has for some of the others in my online support group - but for me the idea that I've pretty much stuck to something for four weeks, lost some weight, and some inches and haven't had to give up my beloved vino means it's got to be pretty good going.

However, much as I love meat, cheese, butter, cream and nuts - I'm finding two things a little bit tricky.  In my previous post I was extolling the virtues of the German Kaffee und Kuchen culture - now these fruit and sugar laden creations don't really fit when lo-carbing (although I have to admit to some cheating with birthday celebrations over the past couple of weeks) we're just coming into the summer and there are lots of rhubarb, strawberry and cherry creations around and I'm salivating at the thought of cake - when I know I should be abstaining.

The second area of difficulty is that of bread.  Now German bread is something marvellous - so many different types of grain to choose from, rolls with all manner of seeds on and in ranging from the dark and dense rye breads through multi-grain to light and fluffy rosinenbrot (raisin bread).  So over the past four weeks, not one ounce of bread has crossed my lips - I have stayed away from the B├Ąckerei as much as possible (not that easy when there are several on every high street, and always one at the entrance to every supermarket) but I'm now noticing as I pass that there is a 'new loaf in town' - the OK Brot.

OK Brot (we'll use this as a generic term as it's called different things in different places) is a bread which is very low in carbohydrate - typically less than 10g/100g (regular bread is generally over 50g/100g).  The emergence of these breads has come about as more people here are following the 'Schlank im Schlaf' principle which aims to regulate insulin production and aid weight loss.  The idea is that you have a very carb heavy breakfast a mixed lunch then a lo-carb supper - hence these new breads.  The German diet is based around a main meal at lunchtime then the so-called 'Abendbrot' evening meal - which is essentially a lighter meal, usually bread (!), meats, cheese - perhaps some soup.  So the lo-carb bread is needed to replace the normal bread for the evening meal.

What makes the OK Brot lo-carb?  It's basically made up of a large amount of seeds with a minimal amount of 'bread' holding it all together - some seed such as Flax have no carbs so are used to boost the protein count of such bread.  I love seeded bread.  However, I'm not sure that going down an 'OK Brot' route is actually the best thing for a lo-carber to do.  I've not had any bread for a month and actually feel a lot better for it - less bloated, no mid afternoon crash, and generally less sluggish and more with it.  So I will be holding out for now as I feel that once on the slippery slope back to bread I'll not be able to resist the calling of the B├Ąckerei......

Monday, 14 May 2012

Cake!

Following on from the birthday fun we've had here of late, I thought I'd add a word or two about cake.....

Now Germany has, rightly so, a really rather good reputation in the cake stakes.  Kaffee und Kuchen are practically a national institution - indeed I wouldn't be surprised to find out there was a law which stated that you must have cake at least once a day!

Particular favourites of mine include Streusel cakes - which are a sort of crumble topped cake and fruit affair, all very seasonal of course, so we're in the midst of rhubarb cake at the moment - yummy!  Also not to be missed are the classic Apfelkuchen and many of the baked cheesecakes.  I did also find a lovely rice-pudding cake which, too, was very moreish!

German cakes are generally big, often creamy and you do need to invest the time to enjoy them properly - none of this eating on the run....  Coffee, cake, copious amounts of whipped cream and there you have classic Kaffee und Kuchen.

Bavarian Kaffee und Kuchen


Now, if you've read any of my other postings, you'll be aware that I've begun to bake a bit more here than I perhaps did back in the UK, partly as I enjoy the actual baking and of course the end result - but also due to children's birthday parties and assorted events at Kindergarten, school and other clubs which require cake donations.

The cupcake bandwagon hasn't quite reached my part of Germany yet and so that is what I generally go for when asked to produce something for the cake sale.  As I've said before, obtaining baking supplies - both in terms of ingredients and decorating is somewhat awkward here.  I'm still experimenting with the best ratios of German baking powder to plain flour for my UK recipes which demand self-raising......with varying results!

Anyway, once said cakes are baked to my satisfaction, then I often tend to get carried away.  It seems a run of the mill butter cream icing is fairly unknown here so my creations often feature that with some sort of sweet/chocolate decoration on top.  Without fail at Kindergarten every time I've offered up my cupcakes I'm asked if they're 'cream cakes' as they can't seem to get to grips with a fluffy icing instead of a flat glace icing.



Birthday cake design is also that bit more tricky as you can't readily buy ready to roll icing - so I've had to make my own.  I found, with the help of several online fora, a recipe for marshmallow fondant - which I will share with you here - it's very easy to make and tastes much nicer than the usual roll out fondant.

450g Marshmallows
4 tbsp Water
1.25kg Icing sugar
Colour of choice.

  1. Melt the mallows and water in the microwave together for a couple of minutes
  2. Pop in food processor - add the sugar and blend till smooth and the right consistency  - you may need to adjust the sugar amount.
  3. Turn onto a greased surface and knead till smooth and pliable.

Now, bear in mind that the icing will be VERY VERY sticky.  I use solid coconut fat to grease the mixer and my hands /board /rolling pin as without it it will stick to everything.  (A pleasant side effect of this is that your hands feel super smooth after working the fondant)   The fondant keeps well in an airtight container - for several weeks and can also be frozen.

Mario mid construction


It works best with a layer of butter cream underneath to both smooth the cake and stick it down - oh and it tastes fairly decadent with both too....

I'm certainly enjoying sampling as many German cakes as I can (whilst not on my current diet fad...that's a whole other post) and also enjoying sharing my knowledge of English baking with our German friends - and of course cake can NEVER be a bad thing!


Super Mario Birthday Cake - the finished article.












Sunday, 6 May 2012

More Birthday Fun

So despite all the German misgivings our (2 days) early birthday party went off without a hitch (well almost!)

Ten 5-6 year old boys and the volume goes off the scale - but apart from the noise - and a meltdown by the (un)birthday boy when he didn't win the pass the parcel prize, it was a remarkably easy and unstressful afternoon.

Lots of playing - a very long time playing musical statues - which of course had the benefit of wearing the little darlings out - so much so that we ended up popping a DVD on for the last 20 minutes or so as they were all flaked out on the sofas!!


We managed to fill them with sugar at our 'retro English birthday tea' - Tunnocks Tea Cakes, Cadbury's Mini Rolls, Iced Gems (not as good as they used to be....), Cadbury's Fingers, Party Rings, cocktail sausages on sticks and cheese and pineapple on sticks.  All went down well - as did the jelly and cake!




All in all a great day and despite the minor hiccup over pass the parcel the Birthday Boy had a great day - and he gets to do it all again tomorrow on his actual birthday!


Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Social Minefield that is Birthday Parties.

Who'd have thought that the humble Birthday Party could be fraught with so many social pitfalls. If you thought it was turn up with a present, eat some cake, go home then you too may fall into some of the traps.   I seem to fallen into most of them over the four years or so of holding them for the Children here. So far I seem to have got the following 'wrong'....

* Date of party - well blow me if you can't hold it before the actual birthday as it is the worst bad luck in the world apparently. 

* Cake - so I've had all manner of trouble finding appropriate baking material here in Germany - from no self raising flour or fondant icing to type of cake and when it's offered.  So my lovely buttercream creations have not gone down well with the German children who've come to celebrate - and I think you're meant to start the party with the cake rather than have it as the finale to a birthday tea.  I've resorted to making my own marshmallow fondant to cover cakes - and actually this worked out well....but you have to get the marshmallows in the first place.......


Homemade Marshmallow Fondant Icing on a Little Einsteins Cake.

* Games - I'm not sure what constitutes a party game in Germany - I've not been witness to any at a children's party.  I was however a bit baffled to find I had to explain pass the parcel to a group of 4 and 5 year olds as they'd never seen it before.  Ditto musical statues.  Ditto dead lions..... I think perhaps a 'traditional birthday party' in the Anglo Saxon way I understand it is very definitely not the norm here and that a less structured (is this possible for the Germans?) playdate approach - or a themed party out somewhere seems more ordinary.

* Food - so sandwiches, cheese and pineapple sticks, crisps, jelly and ice cream - all harking back to my idyllic childhood parties of course again seems to be the wrong thing to provide here - not of course that the children complain about the vast amounts of sugar and junk offered - hey it is a party after all!  But when I question my boys as to what they get given at other parties - it's much more a proper cooked meal rather than a 'birthday tea'.  Last year I did admit defeat on this one and ordered in pizza which went down a treat.  This year however, due to timely supplies arriving from the Motherland - we will be going "English" again!

* Presents - I have to admit that here I think the German approach I've come across here to actually be better than the 'turn up with a piece of tat' approach that seems prevalent in the UK.  Instead of individual gifts the guests contribute a small amount - 5 Euros or so - so that the birthday child can get a larger present.  This is so much better in my view and it's the one custom I've wholeheartedly adopted!

Anyway I think that pretty much sums up the Birthday Party faux pas I've made - but you know what I don't actually care that "I'm doing it wrong".  I'll stick to what I know and do birthday parties the way I'm used to and introduce a bit of individuality to them here!


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Wine of the Month - May 2012

So back hopefully to blogging a bit more frequently - feeling very sheepish that I've been called a Blogger by friends when I've not actually blogged in almost a year (yikes!)

Anyway - wine again is today's theme.....slowly easing myself back into the blogging habit.

Summer is (hopefully) upon us so my thoughts are turning to white wine.  I know German whites are meant to be very good - but I've not come across the right ones for me yet - so I stick with some safe bets - NZ Marlboroughs / French Muscadet etc.  So here's my tip this month - Seagull Mountain NZ Sauvignon Blanc - a classic Marlborough and in the 4-5 Euro bracket a real find - perhaps that's why there's rarely more than a bottle left in my local supermarket? - and no, it's not because I've bought them all (if only I could!)






Eminently quaffable - with or without food - and just right for the 'Grill Saison' ahead!