Friday, November 25, 2011

Café Au Lait, Hurrayyyyy !

This is my friend, Denise. Her family owns a coffee shop, the Karma Café. She's smart. She knows coffee. I'll be the first to admit, that I don't really understand much about coffee. I didn't drink it prior to age 50 and then I only consumed the occasional cup of instant. That has changed somewhat in recent years.

My friend not only knows what cappuccino, macchiato, latte, espresso and frappuccino are, but she knows how to make these fancy concoctions and more. She sells fair trade coffee. It smells great and comes in biodegradable, compostable bags...unless of course you order a cup of java in which case....well, you know.

Did I mention that Denise also works at a full time career while doing all this in her "spare time"?  One day, she mentioned that she wouldn't mind some help with store decor, specifically shelf and window displays for Christmas. I enjoy doing jobs like that but had never seen the coffee shop, so I was a bit concerned about what might be required and how it would turn out. Nonetheless, it sounded like fun so I sought out some potential ornaments and loaded up several bags with a large variety of seasonal items.

My other friend Mona and I happened to be in the city for a Christmas show last weekend. Afterward, we stopped in to decorate the café. As soon as we arrived, Denise offered us coffee. "What kind would you like?" she asked. Mona responded, "a cappucino please".

"I'll have the same." I said. We each received a lovely huge cup of cappuccino with a fancy design atop. Fantastic. Our engines were revved and we were ready to work.

Two hours later, here is what we had done.
Shelving displaying giftware

Window display with red Christmas balls, red & green sinamay,
coffee bags, gifts and of course, Santa
Showing how one might personalize labels for gift giving....recognize anyone?

  And the final words are....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tante's Torte

My tante is a fantastic cook and baker. Everything she makes looks professional and delicious. The only thing she lacks is confidence. She doesn't believe that hers looks as good or could possibly taste as good as the one in the recipe. Don't take my word for it. I'll let you choose. One of these tortes is the one she made. The other is a photo in a book. Don't cheat and try to look at details. Just do a quick scan of each and decide.

Torte #1

Torte #2

Ok, clearly the first one is hers. You can't miss all the crumbs left on the platter. People had devoured several slices before I even had a chance to get a photo. Yummy. I suppose I'm biased but the second cake looks as if someone's tried too hard. Besides, it's lopsided. Seems more like one of my efforts.

So here's the recipe. It looks easy, but.....'s in German. I tried to figure it out and post it in English, but the internet translator kept giving me the same words back. As far as I know, there's no word "einrieseln" in English.

 I can struggle through the recipe if I desperately want to attempt this magnificent torte one day. Or perhaps I'll just go back to Germany and enjoy tante's.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

1000 Uses for Kale

Hubby has often talked about a certain meal he once ate in Bremen. In fact, he said he consumed the same dish many times, on an overseas vacation prior to our marriage. "Kale and pinkelwurst" to some, is a highly coveted delicacy.

I often searched for a recipe and tried to figure out what form of sausage "pinkelwurst" would be. It just didn't exist in the world as I knew it. No amount of description or babelfish translation helped me. I returned from my recent trip armed with some new information. Firstly, I found out that the German version of is I also learned that kale is "kohl". After only a bit of searching, I found the recipe. Unfortunately, it's quite complex and will require more lessons from the local library's "German for Dummies" before I can figure it out...should I even want to that is.
Photo borrowed from Menschenkind24 and
Grünkohl mit Pinkel nach Bremer Art

I do sometimes eat kale. It lowers cholesterol. It reduces the risk of certain cancers including bladder, breast, colon, bowel and prostate. It provides us with vitamins, nutrients and fibre. It contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory qualities. And as if that weren't enough, Dr. Oz says to eat it.

There are as many kale recipes as there are leaves on the plant, perhaps more. When I look at some of them, I wonder whether cooks are at a loss for what to do with this vegetable and are simply attempting to be creative. Here are some examples, "lemon kale with chickpeas"," gemelli with kale, sage and potatoes",  "squash and kale phyllo pie" and "kale and olive stew".

I have found a recipe that I quite enjoy. It is for kale chips. It's a particular favourite of mine because it has the right number of ingredients...three, just three. It's as simple as washing and drying the kale, removing the spine and breaking the rest into bite sized pieces, drizzling it with 1 tsp. olive oil, sprinkling with 1 tsp. salt (or substitute) and baking on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes until the edges are brown. They taste like potato chips with fewer calories, no bad fats and tons of nutrition.

Last Saturday, hubby announced he was going to the farmers' market to buy a bit of kale. He wanted to try his hand at cooking some kale and sausage similar to the recipe from Bremen. Kale is in season now so he bought a small bunch.

Does anyone have another 999 uses for kale?

Monday, November 14, 2011


I was thinking it had blog potential

As we stood outside an aviary in a park in Germany, one of my cousins asked, "Why are you taking that photo? It's just a plain yellow bird. There are prettier ones on the other side."

"I'm taking it because it reminds me of the canary I killed when I was little."

"What! You killed a canary?" my cousin reacted in shock.

"Yes, but I was little, only three and it was an accident. We had a pet canary and I wanted to hold it. I took it out of the cage and accidentally squished it." I responded.

"What? You killed a bird?" she asked, incredulous, as if she hadn't totally internalized the first response.

"Yes, but I was little, only three."

I stood there feeling a little like Hannibal Lecter as one of my other cousins chimed in. "Don't worry about it. She doesn't understand. She's never had children."

That comment seemed to act as an explanation that appeased everyone including my distressed eldest cousin.

Would that it had been that simple during my childhood. I could have been saved a lot of guilt and embarassment. On the other hand, the experience has become part of who I am today...a person with an evil and secret past...a bird murderer.

I heard the sad tale of our dead bird several times a year, every year as I was growing up. My mom used to sigh, then show the blurry black and white photo of me sitting beside the little cage. This always prompted people to ask, "Where is the bird?" The story of the canary's tragic demise was recounted to family, friends and strangers. It was one of those traumatic events that psychologists claim we easily remember from our formative years.

We lived in a mining town in northern Ontario. I have no idea why we had a canary, where it came from or what his name was. I could probably remember with some psychological counselling or perhaps under hypnosis, but to be honest, I don't really care.

I used to watch mom clean the bird cage and take out the canary. I was fascinated and envious. Often, I'd ask, "May I hold him?"

The answer was always the same. "No."

Children don't understand that response. Children require reasonable explanations even at age three. I was no exception. In fairness however, my parents were practically children themselves. They did the best they could with what they knew. They hadn't heard of Dr. Spock or Dr. Seuss or Dr. Phil. Of course, neither had most of the rest of the world. 

One day, I inquired about holding the bird and received no answer. My mom always used to say, "Keine antwort ist auch eine antwort." (No answer is also an answer). I reached into the cage and removed the feathery creature just as my mom yelled, "No! Don't touch that bird. Besides, he'll fly away."

Thinking back on it now, I'm fairly confident that my terror upon hearing those shrieking words caused a reflexive jolt that ended with this sad statement. "No, look how nice and still he's laying on my hand."

After hearing the story of how I squeezed the life out of that little canary with my bare hands, everyone was appropriately disgusted and gave their deepest sympathy and regrets to my parents...either for the loss of the bird, or for having such a deviant child, I'm not certain which.

I am fairly sure though, that I have since, repaid my debt to bird society. I've hatched and raised dozens of chickens and ducks. I've nursed injured sparrows and robins back to health. I've fed bread to swans, geese and other wildlife. I've allowed birds to build nests under, and subsequently poop all over my deck. I've hung feeders outside in the winter. But just in case there's something more I can do....if perhaps this bird in an aviary in Germany is a distant relative of our long deceased pet, I am taking a picture. Perhaps I'll even place it in an album next to the old black and white photo of a 3 year old me sitting beside the cage, staring longingly at the canary inside. Or maybe, I'll just write a blog.

Wild child eyeing her unsuspecting potential victim

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Waddling In Weinheim

I've noticed that some heavier, older women walk in a certain way. It looks like more of a sideways rather than forward motion. In fact, I recently commented that one of my favourite actors, Kathy Bates walks in a similar fashion. Sadly, I recently developed this same gait.

After only a few days in Germany, my legs became swollen and the thickness of my calves stretched to my feet. I had pain everywhere, even in the spaces between my toes. The word "cankles" developed new meaning. The bottoms of my feet felt as though they'd been etched by a cookie cutter. My feet ached, my legs waddled, my shoes barely closed. At first, I thought it was caused by all the walking that I'd done since my arrival. I had been covering about 10 km a day. Then I noticed a large number of  "technische orthopadie" foot, leg, brace, cane and walker specialty stores within close proximity of each other. I soon realized there was more to the problem than the distances I was covering. Clearly, there was also a regional issue which provided business for all these stores.        

The obvious and immediately discernable issue was the walking surface....cobblestones. The soles of my most comfortable shoes were too thin to protect my feet from these ancient instruments of torture. Horseshoes would have been a better option and once were...just not on humans. I finally purchased a pair of senior specials, shoes I swore I would never wear. They didn't help.
Lumpy, bumpy with ankle twisting cracks
As I thought about what else could be the cause of my physical discomfort, I realized that the food and drink were clearly culprits. I had noted that the meals had often been fried and quite salty. Although I had the occasional salad, vegetables were rarely served. Meals consisted of meat, potatoes, bread and gravy. My body couldn't adjust and my legs were the first to demonstrate evidence of retained fluid. Cold cuts with sodium and nitrites were also served at least once a day. When water was requested in a restaurant, we were presented with sprudel, with kohlensaure (carbonated), similar to soda water. Medical experts have always made it clear that besides consuming vegetables, it is necessary to drink plenty of plain water to help the body release excessive toxins and avoid fluid retention.

So, the more swollen my legs became, the more difficult it was to walk, hence, the waddle. In a matter of days, my feet began to burn and my knees ached. The flight home caused even more agony. I could no longer do up my shoes as my feet spilled over the top...frightening. I had visions of having to live with this condition and became extremely frightened.

I have been home for one week. It has taken this long for some recovery to occur. Besides consuming large amounts of water and tea, I have used no salt and have limited my consumption of unhealthy foods. My legs are starting to return to their shapely former selves. I have had several tub soaks. My feet still hurt. Today, I walked. My knees are returning to normal.

 I have learned that when I travel in the future, I need to be more cognizant and selective about my activities, realistic about my age and limitations and careful about the food and drinks that I put into my body. This was an experience too scary to repeat.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Older and Hangin' In

I'd like to say that it's hard to believe that I was born 62 years ago today, but really, it's not. Sometimes I think back over my life and all the things I've squeezed into it and I'm actually amazed. For some of what I've done, I have to say, I'm lucky I survived. For other things, I'm proud and satisfied. I have no regrets and I still look forward to future experiences.

The key for me used to be to "learn or do at least one new thing each day". Now, I try to learn or do something new each week. After all, I've slowed down, and I'm retired.

I look in the mirror and I still see me. It's an older, well ok, much older version of me, but still me. My body has received a few bumps, bruises and scars along the way. It's added some pounds and some "freckles". My knees are achey and my 20/10 vision left me around the time they started making the print in phone books smaller. By the way, does anyone use phone books anymore?

My hearing is still good, although I am now limited to listening to one conversation at a time at a crowded table. I am also still adept at "selective hearing". This skill was once particularly useful when trying to get 5 year olds to raise their hands rather than shout out in class. If it became intolerable, I would simply look them in the eye, put one finger on my lip and raise the other hand in the air to demonstrate what they ought to do. Wouldn't it be great if this would work with polititians?

My teeth are my teeth although the fillings keep getting larger. I still have a few hairs on my head and I'm stubbornly keeping the "mature" colour hidden as much as possible. Not that there's anything wrong with the colour gray, it's just that I'm a "spring" in the seasonal colour palette and gray just doesn't look that great with those warm shades. Besides, I'd have to get a whole new wardrobe to match...hmmmm.

I consume a couple of drugs a day but am relieved that I do not yet need one of those giant plastic containers with compartments that say, Monday, Tuesday etc. or, as I like to call it a "pill suitcase". Besides my multivitamin, I take one pill for blood pressure and one for heart burn. The inhaler is not compulsory, but it's nice to have whenever I have difficulty and feel the need to breathe.

I think that my IQ is still at a reasonable standard although I'm sure I've lost a few points over the years. Crossword puzzles are often nothing more than printing exercises without much challenge. I love language, literature, poetry, music and art. Science and technology fascinate me. I am in awe of the wonders of nature and the world around me. History has developed new meaning especially since I am now part of it. Money and the economy are and will remain mysteries.

So as they say, "this is the first day of the rest of my life". I am realistic. I have sometimes glanced at the obituaries and have been amazed at how many people have died at an age much younger than my current 62 years. I have been very lucky. I think I have a lot of life left in me and a lot of goals and dreams to live out. I'm hoping for many more birthdays and will consider myself fortunate should I be given the ultimate gift...that of more, healthy years. We shall see.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Penguins & Paparazzi

I've always had a fascination for penguins. Not only are these birds durable, surviving the harshest of conditions in the southern hemisphere, but they're entertaining and cute.

While admiring an assortment of plants and animals in a lovely park in Mannheim, Germany, I came across a small enclosure containing penguins. I was fascinated and of course, took several photos. I believe they were African penguins also called black footed penguins, cute little guys who normally live off the southern African waters. As I watched them, I thought to myself that I could stare at these entertaining, waddling birds for hours.

I was part way around the world, observing these penguins, yet, a controversy about the same species was brewing back home. News reports surfaced about a "couple" of penguins at the Metro Toronto Zoo. Nothing unusual about that except that the penguins, Pedro and Buddy, both males, were described as inseparable and as having "pair bonded".

Apparently, Buddy and Pedro became friends as part of a male group at their former zoo in Toledo, Ohio and have remained close after being moved to the Toronto zoo. Since they have particularly good genes and because the species is expected to die out by the end of the century, it has been determined that Buddy and Pedro need to spend time with female penguins rather than with each other. The Metro Toronto Zoo is one of forty zoos involved in breeding programmes. For this reason, the penguin pals will soon be separated.

Public outcry since this announcement has been widespread. Facebook and twitter are all abuzz with talk of these penguins. There are accusations of homophobia. Gay penguin rights groups have formed. Jokes have been made on late night television. Zoo officials admit there will be separation anxiety. Scientists suggest that one or both of the animals could suffer serious depression from being torn away from each other.   

Tom Mason, the zoo's curator of birds says, “But in the long run they’re more important to the population as a whole … these animals are very important to the survival of the species in North America.”

If you believe that an individual penguin's rights supercede what's best for the species, you would probably suggest this pair be left alone. If on the other hand, you feel that it's important to keep these particular penguins from becoming extinct, you probably agree with zoo officials that they should be separated and paired with female penguins. What are your thoughts on this sensitive issue?
Photos taken in Luisenpark, Mannheim, Germany

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In Search of Halloween

"Do they have Halloween here in Germany?" I asked. Then I held my breath remembering that I had packed my "Happy Halloween" shirt and witchy nail stickers.

"Yes, they seem to have adopted yet another piece of foolishness from America. It's been growing in acceptance and has been here for about two years." replied my cousin.

With that information in hand, I set out in search of Halloween in Germany. Here are some of the things I found.

A store window contained a pumpkin and a number of chickens. Nothing says Halloween like chickens.

This restaurant owner made certain all the bases were covered... signs in several languages, orange-ish table cloths and a Jack-o-Lantern. 

Interesting menu choices on a pumpkin shape. Yum...pumpkin chili.

                 Unusual Halloween baking...punschdessert.

And finally, there was the definitive bearded witch.

As much as I tried, I really didn't find a lot of evidence of Halloween. What I found, was something quite different. It was something that I didn't expect. It was something I didn't see, but rather, heard. I heard church bells. Services were being held all over Germany in honour of something more important than Halloween. It was Reformation Day. Yes, I saw a sprinkling of trick or treaters. Yes, there were those individuals who sat at home. There were also many, many people, walking toward churches to celebrate. It was at church on the evening of October 31st that voices joined together and loudly sang, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God". That was how large numbers of people spent Halloween in Germany.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Daring to Make Dampfnudeln

I remember several meals that my family ate when I was young. My parents didn't have a lot of money, so some of our dinners consisted of cream of wheat and fruit; boiled potatoes and cottage cheese; rice and canned meatballs; salad, eggs and pan fried potatoes; pasta and weinschaum; soup and bread and finally, dampfnudeln with sauce. Sometimes, meals were variations or combinations of the above. Dampfnudeln with weinschaum (wine sauce) were by far my favourite.

"Dampfnudel" (pl. dumpfnudeln) is translated literally as "steamed noodle". It is not a noodle, but rather a type of white bun with a crusty bottom, eaten as a meal or as a dessert in southern Germany. It is cooked in a pan using steam on top of the stove. Then, it is supposed to look like this...with emphasis on "supposed to". These photos were taken at a German bakery just before I consumed their potato soup, dampfnudel and wine special of the day.


Mom did not make the dampfnudeln often. Once or twice a year when she did, they were a special treat. I got the impression that they were a lot of effort, because there seemed to be frequent moans eminating from the kitchen. Besides that, when mom would appear, dampfnudeln in hand, her hair was always curlier than usual and beads of perspiration were visible on her forehead. I learned to cook many things from mom, but I never learned to make dampfnudeln.

While in Germany, I had the opportunity to spend some time with my Tante, mom's sister. I asked her to show me. I wanted to learn how to make both dampfnudeln and the wine sauce although, as an adult, I can't imagine why anyone would want to eat those things together.

It took me half a day to make dampfnudeln. Now I realize why my mother made them infrequently. In fact, she made them about once or twice a year more often than I probably would have. It has also become more clear why she didn't seem interested in teaching me.

First, I needed to translate Tante's recipe from ye olde German. Fortunately, she was able to tell me everything and I wrote down steps in English. I also photographed the stages.  Although the ingredients are few, it all required much patience, separate bowls, yeast rising moments, helpful hints and stressful anticipation. When we finally completed the shaped dampfnudeln, they were placed on a floured pan. Then, they were covered yet again and left to rise before putting them in a large pot with some oil, some salt and some water, covered with a lid and left to their own devices for a full 30 minutes.

Several people have told me that the most difficult part is to resist the temptation to lift the lid before the time is up. I was not tempted because by this time, Tante had moved on to demonstrating Weinschaum or as we used to call it "Woi soß ". When she insisted that she did not need my help with this sauce, I began to develop some concern about my dampfnudel making efforts. Oh well, they looked good to me thus far. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Tante made the wine sauce, cornstarch, sugar, wine, cooked until thickened. Put in bowl, mix in two egg yolks. Egg whites whipped until stiff peaks formed then added to and stirred into wine mixture. It was finished in no time. Yummy. Perhaps I should have started with something this?

It was finally time. Thirty minutes were up. The grand unveiling of my dumpfnudeln. Despite the fact that making these had never been added to my bucket list, I was excited. I now had another thing to add to my life's accomplishments. I could now brag to my family and friends that I know how to make this delicacy. In fact, I could go back home and make dampfnudeln for company. Yes friends, I did it. Here are my dampfnudeln. I'm proud to say that they look almost exactly like the bakery dampfnudel photos above. Well, almost.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Challenge of Süssli Technology

Cyclamate and saccharin, a lethal combo or so we're told. I was recently in Germany. There was no sucralose or stevia to be found. Many kinds of sugar, everything from natural, to cubes, to raw, and kandis.  For sweetener, however, I seemed to have one option. This option.

For only a couple of euros, I purchased the container so that I'd have sweetener. I peeled off the blue plastic sealing ring. I tugged, twisted and turned the blue lid. Nothing happened. I was stumped. Despite the fear of splitting my finger nails, I pryed. Still no luck.

I looked at the bottom of the container, imagining some kind of secret. Yes, "Secret", the stick deodorant that you push up from the bottom is what came to mind when I espied some kind of scaffolding underneath the container. Do I push it up? I tried. I pushed. Still no luck.

Push? Push? Could it be? Such a high level of technology on a sweetener cylinder?

I started at square one and tried the obvious. I pressed down on the blue lid. Success! My tea would be tart no more. The tiny tablet popped out of the bottom of the sweetener container. I pressed again, then 3 more times. After all, there were 1200 stück in the container. What could a few or even a few dozen experimental presses matter?

I find it amazing when I think about the mass production and the minimal price of such a thing. I could have pressed the top and watch those little saccharins fall out the bottom all day long. Isn't it great have this much fun with such simple technology? Oh...and yes, I did manage to use a few.