Thursday, October 22, 2009

Berlin: eine angsteinflößende Stadt

Not a new expat sentiment, but holidays outside of the US (or wherever it is you call home) are not the easiest of times. Especially holidays that are totally ignored (or worse, incorrectly celebrated) by the rest of world. I will say that my neighborhood threw a pumpkin/squash festival (in German Kürbis is the word for both). It was fairly tame and not all that pumpkin- or squash-focused, although they were selling over-priced pumpkins and squash. My absolute favorite part was the kids running around in giant plastic bubbles. Alas, I didn't have my camera with me, but of course somebody else documented this bizarre activity at some other festival. I guess they are sort of pumpkin-shaped?

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday (after my birthday, which Germany has also yet to do justice to). So this year, I decided to take matters into my own hands and we threw a Halloween party (costumes mandatory). I have to say, I was really pleasantly shocked that almost all of our guests wore costumes (maybe the Germans take "mandatory" literally?). We had cowboys and indians, pirates and angels, Cruella DeVille, Karate Kids, James Bond, and some generally creepy-looking Krauts. And, to our great surprise, we even had a group of trick-or-treaters! They say Halloween is taking off here (and if you were a German kid, isn't it the holiday you'd want to copy?) - the costume store down the street had a line out the door for three days solid. Still, living in an apartment (as opposed to a freestanding house with a welcoming front porch light) a ways from the areas of Berlin known for high numbers of expats, we were were not prepared. We lamely offered them our bowl of unwrapped candy (gummy rats, bats, and cats) from our party buffet (it seemed like a safer choice than finger pretzels or lychee eyeballs). I think the American paranoia regarding tainted candy hasn't made it here yet and they seemed pretty excited that some fairly unimpressive costumes merits free candy.

ps. For those keeping count, my New York Times columnists in Berlin sightings count is up to three!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Himmel und Erde (mit Bäume)

We are still working our way through those Jüterbog apples (the pears having been mostly dealt with thanks to Susan's vanilla pear jam recipe and a somewhat disappointing pear & chocolate torte). If I were in possession of a freezer, I'd no doubt freeze a bunch of applesauce for applesauce cake and muffins in the coming months, but as I am not and the pantry is jam-packed (no pun intended! Could this be where this phrase comes from?!) with jars of jam already.... I decided to take advantage of the sale on Blutwurst (blood sausage) and have another go at traditional German food (which as previously mentioned, I seldom cook or even eat strange as it may sound, but I have important work to do here, like converting mein Mann to pimento cheese, which I made today for lunch).

Himmel und Erde or "Heaven and Earth" is, according to Wikipedia, a typical west German dish with a bunch of regional variations. Basically, it's mashed potatoes with applesauce or cooked apples mixed in. In some parts of Germany, potatoes are called Erdäpfel (earth apples) and thus the source of the dish's name: Heaven (from the tree apples) and Earth (from the earth apples). I associate it with Blutwurst (perhaps because the recipe in my mother-in-law's German cookbook says to serve them together), but after a bit of internet research, it turns out that this combination is the Cologner/Dusseldorfer way, whereas other towns pair it with regular old Bratwurst or the German equivalent of fried bologna. I'm sure other porky things have been known to make an appearance. Caramelized onions are a common topping.

Himmel and Erde was, if I do say so myself, delicious (if not particularly photogenic - sorry). I was a bit worried about the combination of cooked apples and potatoes ... it seemed a bit like a baby food experiment gone wrong, but it was creamy and tangy and we ate it all. I've had the good fortune of living in several blood sausage-loving countries so far and today's version is giving Spain a run for its money. I think if you ordered Himmel und Erde at a restaurant, you would be hard pressed to find anything green on your plate, but while I can put away blood sausage with the best of them, I do like a bit of veg to round out my plate. So the version of Himmel und Erde typical of my apartment has trees (Bäume), which seems like an obvious addition to heaven and earth if you ask me....

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Büffel-Besuch + Plünderung

We certainly ate our share of fresh mozzarella while we were in Campania, but somehow we didn't manage to hang out with any water buffaloes. Who knew that our chance would come in the 1,002-year-old town of Jüterbog (whose name is very fun), just south of Berlin? It wasn't the nicest of days, but we had wanted to visit Bobalis since returning from Italy and it's only open one Saturday a month. (Somehow, I who have plenty of days off, always ended up having to work on these Saturdays.) So we weren't going to let a bit of gray sky keep us away. The Buffaloes were extremely cute - there were lots of calves (waiting in line at the milk trough with the same patience found in human toddlers). I was a little disappointed that they weren't actually making cheese during the visiting hours and were only selling mozzarella that was already two days old. Am I wrong? Isn't "the fresher the better" the whole deal behind fresh mozzarella (although I will say that Provolone is pretty hard to find in the Fatherland). The cheese has a nice buffalo tang and I'm all for supporting a herd of happy German water buffalo, but ... it (along with the grey sky) does make a girl long for those days in Campania. Bobalis also butchers some of their buffalos and the sausages and liverwurst we brought home are delicious. I suppose it's not all that surprising that Germans would make better Wurst than delicate Italian cheese.

The town of Jüterbog is a collection of some really amazing very old buildings with the fairly depressing, shut-down vibe often found in Bradenburg/former East Germany as a backdrop. A rinky dink carnival set up in the lovely town square supposedly in honor of Oktoberfest didn't help matters. For some very unknown reason, Fläming, the region surrounding/including Jüterbog also boasts "Europe's first and largest skating path." I have no idea if or why in-line/rollerskating (skateboarding?) would be especially popular in this fairly out-of-the-way spot, but we biked around part of the 200-and-some-kilometer route and it is really very nice. To our delight, it's also full of fruit trees and once again we came home with saddlebags full of plums, pears, and apples (mein Mann has just discovered his love of scavenging/gathering and couldn't bear to leave any fruit behind). Our pantry is already very, very full of jam and chutney now and we are eating our weight in apple cake/tart on a daily basis. We're also developing somewhat of a reputation among our friends for being weird people who spend every weekend in the country in search of abandoned fruit trees.