Monday, 8 July 2013

Baby you're a firework (or something like that)

Yes, it was our American expat friend's annual 4th July party at the weekend - and we all rocked up to help them celebrate casting off the shackles of British oppression all those years ago (or something like that!)
4th July Celebration Cake

So, happy to join in the fun, despite the colonials having unceremoniously kicked us Brits out,  we donned our red, white and blue (H in his subversive Union Jack pants!) and mucked in.

As ever, the dilemma of what to take arose - all we seem to do is eat and drink at every event we go to (but it's not all that bad!) and, as ever the tables were groaning under the offerings of all the guests. The main event, the barbecue was being taken care of by our hosts - and the lovely Global Attitude had provided a range of American treats, from home cooked beans, to chocolate chip cookies and brownies, to lemon pie and jello shots (laced with a slug of vodka for the grown ups) Kettwigefrau provided the British classic of sausage rolls - in a wonderfully ironic Union Jack tin (just to wind the Americans up of course!).  That left me then - so I thought I'd push the boat out a bit and aim for a surprise 4th July cake - a centrepiece for the table.

An afternoon browsing the web threw up a number of ideas - but in the end I plumped for a hidden flag cake.  The theory being that you make a red, white and blue sponge and layer/cut to resemble the US flag upon cutting the cake.  So, a rather large batch of sponge cake was prepared using the usual 2:2:2 per egg ratio - and then split and coloured - roughly 2/5 each of red and plain and 1/5 blue and baked in sandwich tins. I think I ended up with 7 individual cakes (3 red, 3 plain and one blue).

I then layered the first pair of red and white tiers (sandwiching with buttercream - that's a 2:1 sugar:butter recipe).  Then, having sought a suitable size cutter - in this case a cappuccino mug, I cut a circle out of my blue cake - and matching circles from the final red/white cakes - which were then placed inside the circle cut out of the blue cake to form the top layer.

So far so good, it was built and holding up!  The trouble being of course is that you can't check what the inside looks like until the big reveal so I was a little apprehensive as to whether I'd got the levels right.  A coating of plain white fondant icing on top and no-one would know  about the flag inside until it was cut(well no-one would have known if I hadn't got a bit tiddly at book group the night before and spilt the beans - ho hum!)

A plain white cake was however, a little dull - so over a few glasses of rose the night before the girls and I had decided to add bunting and sparklers (pretty much the only fireworks you can get away with without a permit here I think).  So, slightly overhung the next morning, I set about making some bunting from the fondant icing I had - but forgot to put the sparklers on...... oh well, you win some you lose some!

Anyway, by all accounts it went down well - the big reveal was a lovely surprise for our hostess and the cake seemed to be well received both visually and more importantly in terms of taste!!
The stripes could have been a bit more even, but as a first attempt at creating a 'surprise picture' inside a cake, I'm pretty pleased at how it turned out.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A taste of home...

If you're a regular reader, you'll know that my life here seems to be one social whirl of parties and associated baking!! With the odd bit of culture thrown in - oh and perhaps some wine (more of that later I'm sure!)

Not to disappoint, here's another post covered in chocolate, as I was when baking for a friend's recent housewarming party.

This friend - a fellow expat - hails originally from Scotland and so, to make her feel right at home in her new corner of the Fatherland, I decided to attempt a Scottish tea-time treat - the Tunnock's Tea Cake.  It is a thing of great beauty - crisp biscuit base, soft, gooey marshmallow centre, all lusciously draped in thick milk chocolate.

Now I had googled extensively (as one does) and came across the GBBO version - which was a bit ambitious for my liking and too perfectly round.  I'm not known for my attention to detail - nor my artistic abilities so steered well clear of that one!  Anyway, it turns out that a morning lost on Pinterest came up trumps and I found a few ideas of how to proceed.
Biscuit base

I came across a recipe on this blog, which seemed to work for me in terms of what was in the cake and how to make it - although I did need to put out an emergency call to the expat ladies as I'd run out of golden syrup.  Cue another big UK/US debate about what it is and what is not substitutable - anyway a UK friend kindly lent me some in return for being a taste guinea pig at Mahjong the next day.

Anyway - as usual I digress......  The biscuit recipe was straightforward enough - but I think next time I'd make one sheet of biscuit then use a cutter to make smaller, mouthful size bites.

Marshmallow mix over bain marie
The marshmallow mix was a bit of a leap of faith for me - I'm used to meringues and whisked egg whites hold no fear for me, but the marshmallow is only lightly cooked over a bain-marie and so knowing when it's done enough was a bit of a stab in the dark - but I think I got it right.  It held its shape on the biscuit and (as far as I know) I didn't poison anyone!!

So two of three components ready - and assembled - no problem!  Now, I just need to cover them in chocolate - well, I was covered - the kitchen too - and then the phone goes..... oh well in for a penny in for a pound, that too was lightly coated.  In fact so many other things than the tea cakes got a covering that I ran out of chocolate!

Pre Chocolate Coating
Anyway, they turned out OK in my opinion and were not as tricky as I'd expected - so would definitely do them again.  The proof is in the eating as they say, well I didn't have one (or even lick those chocolate covered hands) as I'm lo-carbing.  But they went fairly quickly at the party and I like to think they were a wee taste of Scotland for the Hostess - oh and of course the other present - a bottle of the 'Rusty Stuff' - Irn Bru - a Scottish soft drink. It was apparently good for clearing the hangover the next day!
Homemade Chocolate Teacakes!

We had a great afternoon (and evening once we'd sent the menfolk home with the children) and lots of Sekt was consumed...... Oops!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Smashing Time!

Last weekend saw us in a flurry of social engagements - so much so that I had to (very reluctantly) miss Bookgroup (sorry Ladies!) Mr EE had been in the States all week, flew back Friday and that evening we'd been invited by our next-door-but-one neighbours to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of their son at a Polterabend.

Before the Storm
These neighbours love to throw a party - we frequently have cars parked all along the street for their events - every Christmas they invite the whole street (and half the surrounding streets!) to a Weihnachtsmarkt they hold in their garden.  Anyway, I  digress a little, so the week before the Polterabend, we have a knock on the door and are informally invited to the shindig, are given a huge bar of chocolate for the Kindling and are asked if we mind if they close off half the street for the evening. No problem we say.....

Well, the day of the party dawns and as I'm doing the morning school run notice that they've hired in Dixi-Klo (Portaloos) which gets me thinking about just how big this party might be!  Then, when I come back after shopping, the beerwaggon is there - you know a full on pumps and all type job..... When we're back finally from the to-ing and fro-ing of school and husband collection, there are balloons showing the way from the edge of the village, the sawhorses are out and the road is blocked and a merry gathering is beginning to form.

At this point, we're still not quite sure what a Polterabend actually is - I was under the impression it was some sort of Stag-Do type affair - but it's not really that.

As we're getting ready to join in the fun, we start to hear the sound of smashing plates - followed by lots of whooping and clapping - okaaaay we say - what on earth  is going on.  So, it turns out that the main idea behind a Polterabend is the smashing of porcelain to bring the happy couple luck in their marriage.  Everyone is supposed to turn up with china to smash which after it has been broken the Bride and Groom must sweep up together to symbolise working as a team in the marriage.
Smashed Plates in front of padlocked skip

We noticed that the skip they were tidying into was padlocked shut when they weren't sweeping up - we assumed that this was something to do with the regulations about what was allowed to be put into it.....well it is  Germany!  But no, on asking it's because there is a tendency as the night goes on for the more jovial revellers to try to empty it out again - therefore making the wedding pair clean up again.... oh it's all good clean fun!

So, beer (and Aperol Spritz) flowing nicely, Bratwurst on the grill, Ice cream in a mini-freezer hired in from the local Eis Café, live music and lots of very friendly folk - we had a smashing time! 
L & I dancing to the band!

The weekend continued on Saturday (as weekends tend to do...) with a trip to the Variety theatre GOP with fellow Expat friends, Kettwigefrau and her husband.  We were taking advantage of some birthday and long-service pressies and had a fabulous night out which started off with a ride around Essen (oh the glamour!) in a stretched Limousine.... (definitely, but in a slightly trashy way, glamourous!)  The variety show was fantastic - contortionists, bicycle fun....culminating in bicycle trampolining (yes I kid you not!) all washed down with a bottle (or three) of bubbles.  A real treat of a weekend!
Mr EE and I heading out in the Limo!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Big Bad Wolf

.....otherwise titled "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down" - or knock it down with a wrecking ball and throw up some cubist monstrosity.  Well that's what the current state of the property market seems to be like around here to me.

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you may be aware that since early 2011 we've been looking for a house to buy (to buy or not to buy).  This search has been long and hard and not without it's curiosities and problems along the way.

  • I've been astounded at the number of swimming pools houses in my neck of the woods seem to have - lots of them outside and it's not as if the weather here is that spectacular that you need to cool off every now and then. 

  • I've been gobsmacked by Makler (estate agents) telling me that houses with four bedrooms all together just don't exist.... It seems that the trend is to have a separate 'Elternschlaftract' which is a parents suite - and this is often on a different floor to the other rooms.  Great when your kids are older and more self sufficient, but with three children under 10, it's not the best of set-ups.
  • I'm beginning to get my head round the kitchen sizes - or lack of...... An eat-in kitchen - or at least a kitchen big enough for a bit of social chatter whilst cooking was one of my top wants.
  • However, the main one I've really struggled with is the propensity there seems to be in this area to buy a house, knock it down and build again. Now, undoubtedly some of these houses are in need of significant renovations, conversion work, decorating and the like, but with some there is really nothing wrong - certainly in our eyes.

If you read my post Wobble Wobble you'll know we went to view a (very nice) house near the Boys' school.  There was nothing specifically wrong with the house - other than a noisy road at the back of the plot.  It gave me the wobbles (which fortunately I seem to have stilled for now) and we didn't buy.  Driving past it last week however, we were surprised to see it had been knocked down and a new modern house was being built.

Now apart from the noise (which rebuilding isn't going to address!) there was nothing wrong with the house.  It was a 1950s villa - with a fantastic staircase, beautiful original features such as some stained glass windows, solid oak front door, fabulous 50s bathroom suite - overall, in very good condition and a house which had obviously been cherished as someone's family home.  Now it wasn't right for us - but to completely demolish it and start again - with something which is not at all in keeping with the surrounding properties - it all seems a bit weird to me, and surely not in line with German eco-sensibilities.

Roll on 9 months and just before Easter we finally found the house for us - yes a 1950s villa, four bedrooms all on the same floor and gas in the (albeit small - but extendable) kitchen.  Now, we seem as far as we know to be the only people to actually want to buy the house - despite 20 odd viewings in the first week it was marketed - the only conclusion we can come to about this is, that the plot doesn't lend itself to demolishing and rebuilding (fortunately for us!). 

So it's taken us the best part of three years to find our new home - and naturally the course of property purchase never did run smooth - but we're hoping to have contracts signed in the next couple of weeks and then to move in the early Autumn.  So all fingers and toes are crossed here and we're 'druckening our Daumen' too.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Wine of the Month - April 2013

Feeling rather sheepish as I write today - been very neglectful of the blog these past few weeks, life had simply got in the way!  Anyway, I will try harder...... so here we are with another wine recommendation - and a revamp of the blog. 

Spring has, I hope, finally sprung and boy has it been a long time coming - the clocks changing, a few warmer days (though it was sleeting here again today and we've still some lingering piles of snow....eek!), and lighter evenings and my thoughts turn to crisp, dry, cold whites.....
 Well, my latest recommendation is a somewhat overlooked wine in my opinion - the humble Muscadet. It hails from the Loire region of France, and in keeping with most of the whites from that area is a reliable dry, crisp, light wine - very easy drinking!I have recently stumbled across a very reasonably supermarket available Muscadet (NB do not with Muscat which produces a very sweet wine).

La Cheteau Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie - to give it its full name ( Sevre et Maine is the part of the Loire Valley it hails from and sur Lie means it has been left in contact with the 'Lees' after fermentation).  It retails in Germany for about EUR4.50 a bottle (and UK readers you can get it in Asda for £6.00).

It is a very light, fruity (but not overtly so) subtle wine, which works well on its own as an aperitif, or with lighter dishes - fish, seafood - that sort of thing.  Highly gluggable and well worth a try!

Bottoms Up!

Monday, 4 March 2013


Why, why, why????  It's all I seem to hear at the moment from L - who's almost 3. It was the same with the Boys, so I wasn't expecting any different with the Wee Girlie - how else is a toddler to learn without questioning everything they come across?

What other 'question' words should my toddler be using?  Well, it depends very much on where you're from it would seem.  As an English mummy 'Why?' is the word I expect most - probably closely followed by 'How?'.  Not so in Germany it would seem.

Last week we were at the Kinderarzt for the U7a the 34-36month developmental check-up (more on 'U-Appointments') and had the usual forms to fill in on what your child can do.  At the 2 and 3 year checks, this is concentrated on speech and social skills - so which words they use independently from a long list (not what they'd parrot after you) and how they interact with others / in certain situations - i.e. if a stranger approached them.

One of the speech parts of the questionnaire this time concerned what question words your three year old uses.  Did they use the following words:

  • Wie? - how?
  • Was? - what?
  • Wo? - where?
  • Wohin? - where to?
I was very surprised to see that Why? (Warum?) didn't feature on the list. Now my three year old chatterbox uses all of the above - but her top word is most definitely WHY? repeated a myriad of times over the most mundane of things.... the temptation to say 'because I said so' is very difficult to resist!!

So do German children not ask Why? - is it a cultural thing that they are not encouraged to question the way things are?  If you ask Herr EE, from his experience in the work place he would say yes - there seems to be no questioning of 'why' things are being done just a propensity to say 'no I'm not going to do it'.....!

Is it so expected that Why? is the question word of choice that it's not even worth asking about it - I have my doubts here given the German propensity to double check everything.... their thoroughness would not allow them to miss out something so important as 'Why?' nor indeed to make the assumption that everyone uses it.

Of course, I forgot to ask the Kinderarzt why (!) it wasn't on the list - I'm certainly always querying why he does certain things - what the need for them is and I get the impression that it is not the norm among his patients - but what that is down to of course is still up for debate.

So 'Why?'  Do / did your children use it incessantly, is it an Anglophone thing, or are your experiences of other cultures such that the use of 'Why?' is common to all childrens' development? 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The House on the Hill

On a hillside promontory, overlooking the Baldeneysee on the southern outskirts of Essen stands a house on a hill.  It's rolling park-like gardens and wooded glades give it a very rural and peaceful air - you wouldn't know you were in the (in)famous German industrial heartland of the Ruhrgebiet - nor would you suspect you were standing at the front door of the former seat of one of Germany's great industrial families - the Krupps.

So it came to be that yesterday I was standing there - with about 25 other ladies (mainly Americans but with a couple of subversive Brits thrown in to liven the mix!) - waiting for our guided tour of Villa Hügel (literally the Hill Villa).  It had been arranged by the American Women's Club of Düsseldorf and I had been invited along by a friend who was involved in arranging the excursion.
The back of Villa Hügel showing the main house on the left, a corner of the 'little house' on the right and a linking building with arched windows in the centre.

Now I had seen Villa Hügel from the lake below whilst boating around it with the In-Law's last summer, and had passed through it's (very own) railway station en route to Essen centre.  I'd seen books about it and watched a historical drama about the Krupps which featured the house - so I knew a bit about it before going.  I'm also a veteran of the National Trust in the UK - so have a bit of experience of the odd country house (or three) and not to forget I'm a complete expert on all matters upstairs/downstairs having seen Downton Abbey - so I was most definitely prepared for the visit.

Grand Hall with domed glass ceiling
Villa Hügel didn't disappoint - although it's not like it was in it's heyday of course due to continued modernisation over the years, but there was still an air of grandeur, some fabulous chandeliers and tapestries and a sense of awe at the scale of the house.  It was built in about 1873 by Alfreid Krupp - he designed it himself and used a large proportion of Krupp produced materials to build it (a steel frame for example and a steel staircase) - he was apparently paranoid of the house burning down and so wanted to use as little flammable material as possible....
Room in the 'Linking Building'
Dining Room in main house
As befit one of the leading industrialists of his time, Krupp's seat was impressive - some 269 rooms consisting of over 8000sqm of usable floor space - a pretty impressive house by all measures.  It was a very extensive estate and at it's peak there were over 700 staff manning the house, gardens, home farm etc.  Villa Hügel also paid host to a constant stream of important visitors - all of whom had the red carpet treatment in an attempt to further the Krupp business.  These included various Emperors (of Germany and abroad), Kings, Statesmen and so on - not all of them were enthusiastically received however, Hitler being one of these - whilst Krupp needed the work from the war effort - and Hitler needed Krupp's steel there was a big social divide - one which the Lady of the House was not willing to cross.

Villa Hügel remained the family seat until the end of WWII when it was appropriated by the Allies used in that capacity until it was returned to Krupp in the early 1950s.  It was however not used as a family house again.  It was opened to the public for use as a cultural centre - and still houses exhibitions today.  It is also home to the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung (Krupp Foundation) a not-for-profit organisation who were passed the Alfried Krupp's estate on his death.

It is a beautiful house and well worth a visit if you are in Essen.  The grounds are beautifully kept and there are apparently lots of things to look at / explore within them - unfortunately, we didn't have time for that yesterday - so another visit is most definitely called for!

(Thanks to Kettwigefrau for the pictures)

Monday, 18 February 2013

Wine of the Month - February 2013

Herr Expat knows I enjoy my wine and so my usual Valentine's treat is a nice bottle - and he didn't disappoint this year.

February's recommendation comes from South Africa, from the Stellenbosch region, well known for its sumptuous reds.  We tried a Jacobsdal Pinotage 2010. Now it retails at a bit more than my usual bargain finds (about 12Eur according to Mr. E - and he found it in Edeka which seems to have a rather good wine selection if you can find a big enough branch - rather like the Co-op used to have in the UK - but I digress.....)

So to the vineyard.  This pinotage hails from Jacobsdal - a family run wine estate in the Stellenbosch which has specialised in the production of Pinotage wines - almost exclusively - until the introduction of a Cabernet Sauvignon in 2004.  And I must say that they do pinotage very, very well.  This wine was bursting with berry flavours, soft, full and rounded on the palate - a shame we only had the one bottle to drink.....

I think Pinotage has to rate highly as one of my favourite reds, this wine and another SA stunner the Delheim (funnily enough that hails from another Valentine's day post....) are two that I can really recommend - but of course, the downside being that they come with a heftier price tag - worth it I'd say.


Monday, 4 February 2013

Wine of the Month - January 2013

Yes, Yes, I know it's February - but I bought and fully intended on drinking and talking about this wine in January - but I've been laid low by the lurgy for two weeks and until yesterday had not touched a drop of wine..... I must have been very ill.......

I have some very fond memories of Sardinia, we spent our honeymoon there and it holds a special place in my heart.  Alghero, on the North West corner is my particular favourite - known for its winding alleys, fantastic Lobster and some incredible wine.

When we were there, we stayed in this amazing Hotel, once a holiday home of Itallian Royalty, it sits on its own little rocky outcrop, surrounded by gardens just outside of the centre of Alghero.

Anyway, I digress, back to the point in hand, or rather glass in hand...and a Sardinian Red to be precise.  Today's recommendation is a Cannonau di Sardegna.  Now you may well not have heard of Cannonau, but you will no doubt have tasted it somewhere.... for Cannonau is actually Grenache  - where in Sardinia it is one of the principal varieties used in red production.

This wine is a beautiful plummy colour - almost damson-like, a rich, deep, purple.  It just invites you to get stuck in.  On the palate it is full, rounded and smooth and bursting with the fruitiness it's colour suggests - a real find for Eur5.99 in my local Edeka.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Phone Phobic

I don't like using the phone - well that's not entirely true.... I don't mind chatting on the phone (for hours and hours actually) to friends and family - or even the bank etc as long as I can do it in English.


That is the thing you see, I can do phone calls in German - book appointments, arrange play dates, change all these arrangements most apologetically and so on, but I don't like to.  Being able to converse confidently on the phone in another language is quite a skill.  Indeed, being able to do so in your own language can be tricky - you see, when we talk on the phone, so many of the other communication tools and clues we rely on in everyday life are missing and that makes it very difficult.

In my native language, I'm confident in judging by tone and tempo how a phone conversation is going and what the subtexts of the conversation are - I just can't do that in German.  Indeed, I rely heavily on gesture when I speak German as mine is really not that good and I obviously can't do it on the phone.

According to this some researchers have put non-verbal communication as forming up to 80% of communication - with this comprising body language, gesture, posturing, eye-contact, clothing etc all of which give the participants a myriad of clues as to what is going on - and of course, all of this is absent in a a phone call.

So added to the fact that you miss a lot by relying solely on the verbal, and that my German skills still leave a lot to be desired talking on the phone can be a bit of a trial.  I plan in my head as far as possible what I want to say - but am often thrown by a response which I either mishear / don't fully understand / wasn't expecting - and then try to bluff my way onwards which as I usually rely heavily on hand gestures can be an interesting experience in murdering a language! I generally succeed in getting my point across and booking that appointment.....but I sometimes come away from the phone call not being 100% sure I've done what I set out to do - oh and did I get the time right..... half past and half to is just another one of those things designed to throw me!

So often, I chicken out and pop into wherever it is I need to call and have the conversation in person, I find it easier that way.....

Friday, 25 January 2013

Five on Friday.......

......the last five books I've read.

I'm a bit of a bookworm, I love my library - frequently read books more than once and haven't quite got used to the Kindle yet.....prefer real pages!  So along with a bit more time to myself (now the Kindling are all out during the day), an English-speaking bookgroup and my love of all things literary, I'm getting through quite a few books now.

Here are the last five I've read, with varying degrees of success/enjoyment

1) Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

A book group choice (mine actually I think).  I have really enjoyed this, it combines a family saga from Turkey to the US with a coming of age type novel with some medical curiosities thrown in.  This is my type of book, I love that history of a family through several generations type novel - seeing how people live and change as the world changes.  Throw in a family secret or two just to add a little twist and it's certainly gripping stuff! Definitely worth a read.

2) Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

When I say 'have read' I mean .....still struggling through - manfully!  I am enjoying this although it is a bit heavy going at times - one of those books you really need to concentrate on or you'll completely lose who's speaking / what's going on.  I started reading it due to the publicity around it and because I was watching the delicious Johnathon Rhys Myers in the excellent TV series The Tudors so it all fit in together.  Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII and it is interesting, but I need 'time off' now again with something a little easier going!  I will finish it though - it's not often I'm defeated by a book!

3) Fall of Giants - Ken Follett

Loved, loved, loved it.  I was captivated by Ken Follett's other series (Pillars of the Earth/World without End) and couldn't wait to read this opener to his new Century Series.  It's set in the first quarter of the 20th Century, detailing the Russian Revolution, World War I, Prohibition and the way in which certain families lives are intertwined between these events and between Russia, America and England.   It's one of those unputdownable reads - which as it comes in at a whopping 864 pages is some going - but as it ends, you're left feeling desperate for more...... good job there's a sequal!

4) The Hare with the Amber Eyes - Edmund de Waal

This is a non-fiction book about the author's attempts to try to trace his family from fin de siècle Paris through to the modern day.  The Hare in the title is a 'Netsuke' an ivory carving which is intrinsic to the family history.  Again, this one is a little slow going - and it still on the go, but it's fascinating stuff - I love the intimate glances you get of a family's life over the years and how you can see the actions of the previous generations influencing and affecting the subsequent ones.  

5) Jack in the Box - Hanna Allen

I read this on the Kindle - it was a free download from - now I'm not as I said above completely sold on the kindle yet - for one thing the page size is too small and so I'm forever turning the page....interrupts the flow of the book for me.  Anyway, I digress, Jack in the Box is a typical police whodunit.  It's set in London so for me has some familiar backdrops which made it a bit more interesting.  I enjoy this genre of book and it makes good escapist, easy reading thrown in amonsgt some of the more heavy going books I choose.  What can I say - yes, a good story, fairly formulaic as these types of books often are - but with a nifty little twist at the end.  Not bad for a freebie!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Five on Friday......

......foodstuffs I miss most from the UK.

Well, another Christmas over and I'm sure the supermarkets in England are proudly displaying the Easter Eggs already, which is a good thing as I, for one, can't get enough of that loveliness that is a Cadbury's Creme Egg.

I have a secret stash here in my cellar as you cannot buy them in Germany so I rely on visiting Englanders to keep me supplied.  I now only have one left........ but I'm not going into panic mode just yet as I have visitors coming in a couple of weeks to top up the contraband!

However, the diminishing supplies got me thinking - what are the foodie bits I miss most from back home?  I know I could probably get most of them here if I really tried - but it's not quite the same as popping into Sainsburys.

So here you have it - my 'Friday Five' - those things I can't do without.....

5)Bacon - in the land where pork is almost raised to a godlike state, the state of bacon is, suffice it to say, absolutely shocking. Fine if you want lardons to start of a stew or soup, and fine if you want very thin strips of streaky to wrap around things - but if you're after a bacon sarnie or bacon and eggs for breakfast, then it's disappointing.  All that seems to be on offer is very, very thin, small rashers of streaky bacon.  On the very odd occasion I see back bacon in the shops (it's marketed as 'English Bacon') you only seem to get 4 rashers to a pack so you'd have to empty the store if you wanted to make the family bacon butties for breakfast.  Good smoked back bacon is another of those foodstuffs I make sure I fill up on when home, and ask those coming over to smuggle with them, sometimes only a bacon sarnie will do to start the day!

4) Self Raising Flour, yes, I know you can make your own but I never, and I mean never, manage to get it just right.  As a result, some of my baking has become quite interesting - in a not very appetising way. And yes, you can find it in 'Ethnic Supermarkets' (though not in the Turkish ones I've been to) but that requires finding the right sort of shop and making a special trip, instead I come back with kilo's of it from the UK!

3) Crisps - proper ones that is - not the pale imitations you find here - pappy, paprika flavour.... nope - I want a burn your mouth salt and vinegar, a scrumptious prawn cocktail, even a ready salted kettle chip.  Now yes, you can get some of these here, but - and it's a big BUT, paying 3Eur plus a pack for kettle chips - no siree, and the salt and 'vinegar' flavour you can get here doesn't deserve the name.  So I always need to stock up when home. Actually, you could also add here twiglets (see no1 for the real reason!) and Bombay Mix which I've not seen anywhere here.

2) Cadbury's Chocolate - Creme Eggs, Dairy Milk, Crunchies...... I'm not that fussy when it comes to the purple stuff!

1) Marmite - food of the Gods - need I say more?


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Sparkling Sylvester

A very belated Happy New Year!!

Girls in their finest
We saw the old one out and the new one in in style this year - I'd planned a black-tie (we don't get much opportunity to parade our best frocks so need to make the most of any that arise!) and cocktail party to ring in the new, but for a number of reasons, it didn't pan out quite as planned.  Thankfully, a fellow Expat, who conveniently lives staggering distance away, offered us the use of her 'Partyzimmer' and co-hosted with me.

Feuerzangenbowle at Lipstickandlaptop's Christmas Party.
Now Sylvester is one of the few times the Germans really, and I mean really, let their hair down! New Year's Eve in Germany is inextricably linked with fireworks - yup come midnight - actually for quite a bit beforehand too - it's like world war three has started.  The bangs are almost more important than the sparkles....  There is a great article on the Telegraph Expat site about Germans and their love of all things fire related - be it fireworks, feuerzangenbowle, barbecuing or even just their continued addiction to the humble cigarette.......

I digress, back to the party.....  Glad rags on, Partyzimmer suitably decorated, drinks bought, canapes made.... we were ready to rock and roll!  And we had a great night - despite illness (Mr. Expat Emma) and bad weather (raining - thankfully the wind had dropped - that would have made the fireworks even more fun...) we managed to see 2013 in in style - think glamourous frocks, champagne cup, delicate canapes - you're about on the right lines (at least that's how I'm picturing it in my minds eye.....)

Enjoying the Champagne Cup!
The champagne cup - a mix of a Blanc des Blancs, Pomegranate Juice and Seeds, sugar syrup and white rum, went down rather too well but was balanced out by a 'mocktail' for those not partaking of the hard stuff - this was a concoction of grapefruit lemonade with a tropical lime/coconut juice (think Malibu without the alcohol!)  Apparently very subtle and sophisticated - but not having tried it I'll have to take that on trust!

The canape table groaned with samosas (unusually done in a 'fladenbrot' a flat Turkish loaf as there was a lack of pastry it seems in Dortmund that day - actually supplies were running low in Kettwig too...); blinis with smoked salmon and dill creme fraiche; sun dried tomato hummus; a plethora of other chips and dips and then (more) mince pies and Christmas cake! 

Ready for the Fireworks

Then as the clock hit midnight - I'm not sure how we checked this as we didn't have Big Ben bonging in the background, we all toasted the New Year with a glass of Sekt and headed outside for the fireworks.  The rain didn't deter us or dent our spirits at all - nor did it adversely affect the display - or the bangs!  What is really lovely is that the whole community are out on the streets at this point, each doing their own small display but what you end up with is an ongoing, much bigger firework show than you'd have managed on your own.  

Seeing 2013 in with a bang!