Sunday, January 26, 2014

Eating American

Yesterday was a cold and grey day but we had a good time.  First, we hung out and relaxed in our pj's and did not do much of anything in particular.  Then around 3:30p our friends the Wamberas came by and we followed them in our car south to a place called Bebenhausen.  No idea what this means.  Tried to Google Translate and came up with nothing.  We took about a 30 minute drive up and down and around windy roads through forest which was pretty and would be an extremely scenic drive if there had been sparkling snow or summery green.  When we arrived at our destination, we were the only ones there.  It is something of a nature park with hiking trails and the highlight - penned wild boars.  Apparently they are indigenous to this area and our friend Thomas said his father routinely shoots them near his home and gets them butchered for food.  (I politely declined offers to bring us wild boar meat on his next visit to his dad's.)  Our friends had brought bags of dried pasta which we threw into the muddy pen and had fun watching the boars snuffle, snort and crunch up the noodles.  Isabel said last time they brought old bread but the boars turned their noses up at it which is funny because they pretty much eat anything and everything.  They saw another person feeding them dried pasta to the boars' great delight so remembered that for this outing.  And while it was fun to see the boars up close, I would *not* want to have that fence disappear as they did scuffle and squeal and looked like they could be pretty ferocious.  We walked around a little bit (to say we actually hiked would be extreme since in addition to Peter, who was the most adventurous, we had an almost 2-year old and two 3-year olds) and enjoyed the pretty scenery and fresh air.

After our short jaunt we got back into our toasty cars and followed Thomas to a great treat... a little restaurant serving "American" food called Route 66.  I was highly skeptical I must say as so far most things proclaiming to be "American" here are SO not!  I was happily proven wrong.  The kitschy inside decor was mainly vintage looking Coca-Cola signs as well as signage for Budweiser and Miller beers, a map of Route 66 painted on a wall along with some wild west / cowboy paintings and one of Willie Nelson in his red/white/blue bandana.  Our table had a canister of forks and knives wrapped in red, white and blue paper napkins with the Statue of Liberty printed on them.  The wall on the far end of the small restaurant was a massive TV screen showing... European football (soccer to us Yanks).  Oh well.

Now to the best part... FOOD!  (Yes, it always seems to come down to food for me.)  There were burgers, burgers and more burgers.  And steaks.  Lots and lots of steaks to choose from.  And then potatoes in many different ways, "American"-style... not just french fries and no goopy German Kartoffelsalat (the delicious but over-served potato salad).  The kids got chicken schnitzel (a thin, large, flat breaded chicken breast patty... so basically a gigantic chicken nugget in the kids' eyes) and fries while Isabel got the biggest, juiciest looking burger with bacon and cheese and Thomas, Mike and I got amazing looking steaks.  I can *not* remember the last time I had a bonafide steak and this did not disappoint.  It was so, so, sooooo delicious!  (Think about Bill Murray in "What About Bob" making m-m-m-m noises while eating.)  I also had a wonderful baked potato with sour cream.  Might sound pretty bland or ordinary to you but buying US-grade steaks at the butcher over here is cost-prohibitive so this was a treat (at decent prices).  Mike got "home-fried" potato slices done to crispy perfection with his meal and Thomas got the biggest steak I have ever seen in my life.  Seriously, it looked like a hunk-o-cow sitting on his plate.  You'll see in the picts.  While the guys got pils (the good German kind, none of the watery American stuff), Isabel and I had Cokes in retro Coca-Cola glasses.  They had older (70's?) American hits playing and it was just a fun time relaxing with friends over a much-needed taste of home.  Doesn't have to be fancy to be good and it was fun eating "American" for a night.

Cover of the menu and a couple of inside pages.  These were the more tame illustrations of the ladies, seemingly all pinup girls.  I love on the menu cover, "an relaxed American atmosphere in typical US decoration."  Really?!

 Thomas' steak on left - as big as my head!  Mine with peppercorn sauce.  Picts don't look appetizing but it was all very delicious.  And in case one had doubts that you were eating in an "Amerikanische" restaurant, everyone had American flags plunked into their meals.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Christmas with the Badalaments

Here are some picts to give you an idea of our holiday here in Germy.  I think this is the first time we did not celebrate with family!  It was strange in the fact that there was no snow (while lots in Michigan) and almost spring-like temps, no having family over or running here and there.  Although, it was very relaxing for the most part and was nice not to have to run around and *especially* not having to do the big Christmas travel which, I hate to say, can be quite stressful.  The first week of vaca we all took turns with the 24-hour stomach flu.  Oh joy!  But none of us had it too bad.  We then took a couple of mini 2-day, 1-night trips close by which was nice.  I will put those in a different post.  We did a lot of hanging out in our pajamas, baking, eating and Mike got the boys out of my hair for a bit by taking them on some nice walks.  I think the boys missed Michigan a little bit but Santa came so all was good in their books!  Hope you like seeing a little peek into our Christmas holidays here. Sorry for some of the fuzzy picts.  Many were taken of things in motion or from quite a distance with my dinky phone.

Peter's class started off the holiday season with an Advent calendar.  This was a super cute idea one of the moms came up with.  Each number had a question for the class (i.e., What is snow?  What is your favorite book?  What do you eat when you celebrate?) and under each number a child's winter-themed drawing was revealed.  It was a super fun way to have a mini-class discussion and each child got to have their artwork shown to the class in a very special way.  Since the U.S. public schools highly frown upon anything like this, you could do a Winter Break Countdown calendar.

On 6 December, Sankt Nikolaus (Saint Nicholas) comes to visit the children at a special assembly which also includes skits put on by children in the fluent German class (Peter is in the beginner class).  From Wikipedia... "In Roman Catholic areas of Southern Germany, such as Bavaria, Sankt Nikolaus still comes as a bishop with flowing white beard and bishop's miter and staff."  Children leave a shoe or boot out the night before hoping that St. Nik fills it with goodies.  The kids at Peter's school left a shoe or boot out in the hallway which they found filled upon returning to class after the assembly (with some help from us Room Moms!).  They each received a clementine, some nuts in their shells and a small chocolate Santa.  Our neighbor, Frau Kühner - who is like a German grandmother to the boys (Großmutter) - left two stockings "from St. Nikolaus" up against the patio door for the boys to find when we opened our blinds.  It was filled with fresh fruits (apple, kiwi, clementine), nuts, lots of chocolates, a little stuffed Santa and a fresh sprig of pine.  They also each received a small Lego toy provided by *this* St. Nik!  Lucky boys!  ;)

Our little entrance to our "row" house decorated for Christmas.

We bought our very first family *real* tree at the lot just a few blocks down the street from us (the community pool parking lot in the summer).  Peter was *thrilled* to help pick it out and "strap it on top of the car"!  Later we decorated it.  You can see Marky mid-air, jumping up and down he is so excited to hang ornaments all by himself.  The tree lights are a major pain though.  For all the great engineers that come out of this country you think they could figure out how to make a decent strand of lights, eh?  No.  Long story short, they have no "end-to-end" connection so each strange strand must reach the outlet and plug in separately.  Crazy!  Good thing our American engineer figured out how to get all the strands while keeping his (most of) his sanity!

No tree is complete without a Polar Express train around it!  Unfortunately, ours pooped out despite putting in new batteries but the boys happily pushed it around using man power.  Since all of our holiday stuff is still home in Michigan we needed to buy a tree skirt.  Which, of course, silly me... no one really uses here and are extremely hard to find.  So I bought a holiday plaid tablecloth from IKEA and cut it and voila!  (Thank you Pinterest!)  I had fully intended to decorate the edges with beading or the like but as with most of my grand plans, it didn't happen.  Which turned out OK because the train track would have covered it!

On the last day of school before vacation we attended an assembly to celebrate the holidays.  There were many performances showcasing how some of the kids celebrate in their own respective countries.  There was an African song with drum accompaniment, a Swedish St. Lucia ceremony, an Indian dance number and a reading about Hanukkah among the presentations.  At the end, we all sang "We Wish You A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year" together.  It was so nice (as well as informative) to see how people from all over the world celebrate in their own special way.  It is interesting... here we are at a school with many diverse cultures and traditions and yet no one was offended if you said, "Merry Christmas".  It is just taken for what it is... a wish of good tidings.


As I said, all of our holiday decorations are back in Michigan so we were without stockings.  Again, hard to find!  I found some inexpensive cable knit stockings and made little tags for them.  Not as fancy as I was hoping to get but time constraints, laziness and lack of good craft items here (Michaels would be a wonderment here!) prevented me from making them any snazzier.  I made my train crazy boys tags that were along the lines of a train ticket.

Peter getting into the spirit by reading The Polar Express to Marky.

Holiday baking German style.  Many things, like butter, need to be weighed.  There are no handy little sticks with tablespoons measured out.  Also, they use Celsius and metric measures here.  I do a lot of converting when baking and cooking!  I do have a set of "American" measuring cups and spoons that come in handy when I can use them (like above).

Also, you can see how baking can be a pain without all the wonderful ingredients (and choices of those ingredients) we can buy easily at most stores in the U.S.  Chocolate chips as we know them are non-existent here.  Recently, tiny boxes of chocolate buttons appeared on the store shelves but they don't taste like good old Nestle Tollhouse and you need to buy a zillion boxes to make a batch of cookies.  I put some next to a standard fork for size.  Peanut butter is a *very* American item.  You can find it here but the above size is the only one available.  It is next to a 1 cup measuring cup so you can see the size.  When I find it (there is only one brand I like), I buy out at least half the stash (they usually have about 8 when fully stocked).  It's very funny that things considered "American" are almost always packaged with red, white and blue and stars and stripes.  My PB is Barney's Best imported from New Jersey!  The powder sugar comes in tiny boxes and is usually not very powdery.  There is no brown sugar, corn syrup, red hot hearts, etc.  The list could go on and on.


Bought a couple of gingerbread house kits at IKEA and the boys had a great time putting them together and decorating (or mostly eating the decorations as in Marky's case).


Peter loved getting Snoopy - his favorite gift - from Grandma B on Christmas Eve.  We did Face Time with the grandmas so they could see the boys open their gifts.  That was really nice.
Marky's favorite gift was a Bosch ("like Daddy!") car garage almost as tall as him!
And finally, the aftermath and getting all the trash sorted and squeezed into the correct tiny bins for our rare trash pickup.  Zoinks!

Our friends, the Wamberas, had us over during the break to check out their tree... with *real* candles!  I thought that was something people did before electricity but the tradition is alive and well here in Germany.  Maybe that's why they don't bother making good electric light strands?

People here traditionally put up their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve morning.  Then the Christkindl delivers presents to the children on Christmas Eve (while they are at church or in another room of the house).  Christkindl is Christ Child although he is more like a little boy angel.  (It's still confusing to me.  At first I was like, "Wait!  *Jesus* delivers presents?!"  No.)  Then the kids open their presents.  Peter wanted to know why the German kids got to open their presents on Christmas Eve and we had to wait for Christmas morning since we're not in America.  Obviously, he could care less about the different traditions... he just wanted his presents as early as he could get his mitts on them!  The trees are traditionally taken down on the Epiphany (or the day after).

Me and Peter on New Years Eve, his first time staying up until midnight!
It was quite uneventful (no ball drop on TV since we are 6 hours ahead of you) until midnight when it looked and sounded as if every German in Stuttgart were lighting fireworks.  Real fireworks.  In our tiny little row house yards and streets.  The air was completely smokey and smelled of sulfur.  We watched the craziness from our upper balcony (also, it was safer there under the awning).  I took lots of picts but none of them look like anything special.  Apparently fireworks are sold only 2 days before New Years Eve and are legal to light them on New Years Eve between certain hours.  Otherwise, it's illegal.  Check out this link and press play on the photo... it's only a few seconds long. It will give you a *slight* idea of the craziness!

One more tidbit and then you can get off this crazy train...
Holiday shopping was soooo very strange here.  The stores kept their normal wimpy business hours and were closed for many days over the holidays (including the grocery stores).  The mall down the road from us (about 15 minutes) did have extended hours... they opened at their normal 10:00a time but stayed open an extra 2 hours until 10:00p... for 4 whole days.  Whoopee Dee!  If you are a last-minute shopper you would not fare well here!

Well, a couple of more posts to come about our holidays but I promise they will not be as long.  We took two little day trips and I'll just post some pictures and a few tidbits about the trips.

Frohes Neues Jahr!