Fire! Fire! Fire!

Frida’s Oma got an iPad for Christmas, and Frida’s Papa got a new camera (and some child laborers in China got some work in an electronics factory,) so pictorial posts will be the feature of the week. First though, something I need to put on the table.

We have a good relationship with Frida’s pediatrician. He gives reasonable, well-explained arguments for the timing of vaccines. He strikes a good balance between assuaging worry and providing treatment. He is a likable guy, and Frida adores him. When I tell you, then, that the celebration of Christmas in his office involved  lit advent candles (emphasis on the LIT, not the ADVENT,) you will understand why I am torn about terminating our relationship. I thought that he had Frida’s best interests at heart before I saw that the nurse’s station was practically on fire. Who lets children within 25 feet of open flame? With only their primary caretakers and a handful of pediatric professionals between them and certain death (or a moderately uncomfortable wax burn?) At least the candles were at a height that was difficult for most children to reach, the lit advent candles at my obstetrician’s office were on a medium-low desk, within the reach of curious fingers and just at big-belly-grazing height. It’s a little Christmas miracle that we’re still here to tell you about them.

I still get a kick out of my knee-jerk reactions to the overall indifference with which Germany approaches its responsibility to save me from me. Candles! Lit! In a pediatrician’s office! Shocking. See also: unregulated speed on the autobahn, no enforced bar closing times, and the availability of mayonnaise on french fries.

We’re Back!

Want to know how to get on your web host’s shit list? Link to a video, don’t update your spam filters, sit back, and let the chaos rain down. Sorry about the solid week of ‘server not responding’ messages. Guess this won’t be turning into a LIVE VIDEO ONLINE NOW website anytime soon. Too bad; I’m sure you would love to witness firsthand my method for cleaning under Frida’s high chair while heavily pregnant (hint: it involves fruit flies and letting nature take its course.)

Here are the week’s updates, in no particular order.

  • The farmer’s market butcher who was carving up a wild boar last week was just slicing into an incredibly fresh calf’s liver when I happened by this week. His timing predicts my pregnancy cravings so remarkably well that we’re naming the baby after him (if his name happens to be Otto.)
  • Circumcision is again legal in Germany! Hurrah, right? Right? Anyone want to weigh in on this? Or on the wisdom of naming one’s firstborn son a word popularized in the common lexicon by one of The Simpson’s less responsible characters?
  • The holiday season is well underway in Germany, which means that you are wished Merry Christmas by everything from the ATM machine to the subway system’s train announcements to the accordion cases of the street buskers. Real live Germans, known for their precision, wish you a ‘Happy Third Advent’ this week.
  • Tobias and I miss the mountains and the sun and have scheduled a vacation to Switzerland in January. I’ll be 33 weeks pregnant by then, so this trip increases my chances of accidentally giving birth to a Swiss person by 9,327%. Imagine  the fallout – I’d spend the rest of my life explaining the problems with the flat tax while trying to find bottled water that meets the kid’s standards. Oh, dear.
  • We’re heading to comparatively balmy southern Germany this weekend to spend Christmas (and fourth advent, let’s not forget!) with Tobias’ mother. En route, we will try to find the source for the wonderful carved wooden interlocking snails that T’s mother bought years ago. She said she found them at a Christmas market that featured the artwork of prison inmates who had gained woodworking skills while incarcerated. So far, google has given me fuck all in response to my queries about ‘inmate woodworking cherrywood snail Christmas market’, but Tobias seems to be confident that he can find it.

Happy third advent to all, and to all a good night.


p.s. As you may have guessed, I have no idea what the advent(s?) are, and I’m not likely to find out anytime soon. I’m too busy searching for ‘German prisoner great gift for kids’ and ‘snail wood jail craftsman open weekends?’

Candy and Not Candy

It being winter in a foggy clime, all of Frida’s little buddies are sick. We usually meet up with some other kids at least a few times per week; this week and last, all of our playdates have been cancelled due to viruses. This leaves me a little more time than usual in the kitchen, which has put an astonishing dent in my white chocolate supply. I’ve been making some easy holiday candies, I have six kinds of cookie dough stashed in the freezer, and I’ve been getting a little crazy with the complexity of Frida’s lunches. We have a great little Beaba-brand food cooker that is a combination baby-sized steamer/processor, so it’s easy to make purees out of whatever’s on hand. This means that Sunday’s roast vegetables get easily turned into Monday’s lunch with the addition of a little cheese and rice, but sometimes things get a little… busier:

The scene: a haggard-looking woman scowls into a refrigerator crammed with Korean dinner party leftovers while a baby toddles into the room.

Betsy: Frida! You’re up!

Frida: (waves with both hands)

Betsy: Are you hungry? Do you want some food? (exaggeratedly points to her mouth over and over)

Frida: (pushes the kitchen stools around, opens the under-oven drawer, pulls out hot pads, bangs on the dishwasher, picks up a pair of shoes from the hall…)

Betsy: OK, I’ll make you some food.

Muttering to herself, the woman takes various bowls from the fridge and empties them into the steamer.

Frida: (walks over to her high chair and puts her arms up for a pick up)

Betsy: Smells good, right? (gagging slightly) It’s roast lamb with apple! And steamed broccoli and pineapple on the side! And I added a half a persimmon to the lamb mixture, too! And some crunchy old rice! And a little bit of kale from that big bag in the freezer! And some sweet potato and spicy tofu from yesterday’s banchan! And about two bites of dry-looking brown avocado from God knows when! The lamb is special because it was marinated. Can you say mar-in-a-ted? No? Can you say mama? You know what? Don’t say mama right now; I don’t think I want credit for this meal. Nutritious, yes, but it smells like a freaking barnyard.


The lesson learned here? Don’t add persimmon to lamb, especially if you’re going to blend that beautiful sesame-and-soy-marinated, roasted, thinly-sliced, pink-in-the-center, succulent lamb into steamed mush. It will turn it into slightly sweet, slightly lamb-y mush. Ick.

Also, keep track of your avocados.

I have given myself license to stop labeling the kid-food leftovers as I stash them in the freezer. Beaba makes a smart little silicone mold for freezing individual portions. Once the leftovers are frozen, they’re easy to pop out of the mold into a larger storage bag for defrosting as needed. I used to painstakingly label each bag with the full list of ingredients, but now I just tumble them all together. We tend to defrost a meal’s worth by just grabbing a couple of portions from different places on the color wheel: green and orange, or beet-red and lentil-yellow. The persimmon-lamb mess is freezing into an unappetizing grayish-pink-ish taupe, although I think it will look very chic matched with something in a blueberry…


Good work slogging through that mess. Here’s your reward! A couple of quick, three-ingredient candy recipes! I’m on my second batch of each already, and I have yet to share: they’re both delicious.

Peppermint Bark

Melt 1 pound white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water.

Mix in 1/2 teaspoon peppermint oil and

4-7 crushed candy canes*

Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. When hardened (this takes about an hour in a warm room,) break into pieces and eat!

*I think that the easiest way to do this is to bash them repeatedly with the back of a heavy knife while they’re still in their wrappers.


Spanish Turron de Yema (Almond Nougat)

  • 300 grams (3 cups) ground almonds or hazelnuts
  • 375 grams (1 and 7/8 cups) sugar plus some for topping
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 120 ml (1/2 cup) water
The process:
Cook the sugar and water together over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it reaches 250 degrees F/120 degrees C.
Have egg yolks ready in another pan. Add the boiling sugar syrup to the yolks very gradually, stirring constantly.
Stir the ground nuts into the egg yolk mixture, and return to medium heat for two minutes, stirring, until it begins to smell good.
Turn into a parchment-lined pan, press into the corners and smooth the top.
Refrigerate until firm.
Turn out onto foil-lined baking sheet, sprinkle heavily with sugar.
Toast sugar until mostly burned, under a 400 F/220 C degree broiler or using a flamethrower.
Slice and eat!
I ripped this recipe off from this YouTube video. I have done you the favor of translating it from Spanish and testing, then documenting, the temperature at which the sugar syrup is the appropriate consistency. As the women in the video uses her fingers to test the boiling sugar syrup, I think it’s fair to say you owe me one.

Piggy at the Market

Last week, I came home from the excellent farmer’s market, unpacked my groceries, and started cleaning produce. I removed green beans from their environmentally- and also bean-friendly paper cone, noticed that each bean was facing the same fucking direction, every last one of them, and I thought, ‘I don’t belong here.’

It was a rough week on the Betsy vs. Germany front.

This week, though, the market redeemed itself with a display choreagraphed to let me know that northern Germany, even in the dark doldrums of winter, wants me here. To wit:

  • the excellent spice stand had just received, in addition to boughs of laurel with cascades of fragrant bay leaves and cleverly braided rosemary wreathes, entire branches of pink peppercorns. I brought home one branch with approximately three hundred peppercorns on it. They are pretty to look at and fiery hot. I think I will pack some in brine for holiday presents. Right now they are in a big vase with last month’s 100+ bay leaves. Beautiful.
  • although most of the stalls at the market feature produce, meat, seafood, and cheese for consumption at home, there are a few stands that function as open-air cafes. My favorite is a stall that makes fresh juice and hot or cold soups. Their borscht is excellent, as is their tomato soup. When you order a juice, they ask if you want small or large, and they squeeze it fresh for you, but there is no decision to be made about the contents. You will be getting a carrot, apple, beet, ginger, and lemon mixture, and it is perfect. Although I typically bristle at the creativity-thwarting predetermination of life in Germany, this juice is the bomba and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
  • and speaking of bristles, there’s a great little brushmaker that has beautiful little nail brushes and hair brushes and shoe brushes made out of boar bristles. I got some for Tobias for Xmas (shhhh!), and I love that they’re so grandfatherly. They will go well with his astonishingly fresh-smelling aftershave. (Sidenote – I sleep later than Tobias, who is often at work before I wake up. His morning ablutions are thorough, and often coincide with Frida’s first waking. He attends to her needs, then deposits her in bed with me until real morning starts around 9:00. When Frida and I get up, the top of her head often smells like his aftershave because she rests her head on his chin during their morning snuggle. Awww. When she was tiny, she used to sleep with her head in my armpit, which produced a somewhat similar effect. Somewhat similar. Somewhat.)
  • and speaking of boars, one of the butcher stands at the market featured a real live butcher cutting up a whole wild boar. It had been skinned and gutted, and he was just removing the first shoulder when I happened by. He cut some bones and stew meat from the neck for the man in front of me, halved the shoulder for me, and told another customer to come back in 10 minutes for some ribs. He asked if we were going to use the meat over the weekend, offering to vaccuum-seal it on the spot if so. He was clearly professional (butcher-while-you-wait service, in clear view of the German populace, is NOT the time for Amateur Night,) and made clean cuts without thinking twice about where joints were. For his knowledge of anatomy, for the sharpness of his knife, and for the finished product, I give him an A+. For infection control, I give him a D: he cut the shoulder up as requested, put it in a plastic bag, handed me the bag, took my money, gave me change, and started to cut the ribs. What’s grosser, meat hands on your money or money hands on your meat?
  • The butcher always wants to give Frida a little sausage to munch on as we shop, the lady at our favorite veggie stand gives her a fresh carrot, the sweet man who works at the French deli always gives her a beautiful little brioche, and the ladies at the handmade candy shop put an extra licorice in the bag for her. I don’t let her eat any of these items (choking hazards, egg-white allergens, nitrites, and tooth decay, oh, my!), which brings me my commuppance:

I shouldn’t be so easily offended by how aggressively well-organized my produce is. I have some control issues, too. I’m just very lucky to be able to allocate my time to washing my hands and preventing Frida from choking and exposure to egg whites/nitrites/sugar rather than to lining up individual green beans.

As if Hamburg is saying ‘good job, grasshopper, you have realized your nature and are now at peace with your world,’ it has been snowing heavily for the last hour and has turned dark, gloomy winter into sparkly, fun winter. Hurrah!

Amended to add: I just realized that the image I had of someone arranging green beans is all wrong. The beans didn’t need arranging; they were probably never out of order in the first place! Growing to harvesting to market to me, they all lined up perfectly until I dumped them in the sink!

Anarchist Turkey

Leave it to the Canadians to throw a Thanksgiving party on December 1st. Leave it to the German man who runs the poultry-and-wild-things shop to be completely unfazed at my request for an 18-person turkey the week after a holiday that is not celebrated in Germany.

Maybe I told you this last year, but it is again relevant: you do not earn a world-wide reputation for efficiency through leaving choices up to the individual. The German approach to standardization applies even to the home cook’s oven. Last year, I requested the largest turkey the butcher had, and he said ‘Oh, you have an oven that is not the standard oven? The standard German oven accomodates an 8-kilo turkey;  larger turkeys require a non-standard oven.’ I said ‘Excuse me. 8 kilos, please’ over the raised eyebrows of my fellow patrons and the furious scratching in the notepads of the Observers. This year, I requested an 8-kilo turkey like a good little cog in the machine and, lo, the process was so easy and the line at the butcher moved so quickly and the trains really are always on time.

(Oh, Germany, you know I love you. Not your weather or your accent or your rigidity, but I do love the fact that you provide access to health care, job training, child care, education, and the arts for your entire populace, and although your puns tend to be terrible I appreciate the effort.)

Speaking of bucking the system, guess what we’re doing tomorrow? Why, we’re going to a kid-friendly open house at the anarchist-occupied building accross the street! The open house will feature children’s games, a vegan cooking demonstration, a leatherworking demonstration, and a no-money-allowed swap meet. The anarchists printed lovely little flyers about the event and distributed them to all of the neighbors. The flyers encouraged attendance and the bringing of baked goods. I am going to make some vegan red-beet chocolate cupcakes and also some fancy little walnut fudge bars in specially-purchased disposable gold foil candy cups (see what I did there? I’m getting all consumer capitalist on the anarchist baked goods. God, I slay me.) The open house is from 1:00-4:00 tomorrow afternoon, and I will be arriving, with family in tow and wearing my best black hooded sweatshirt with the pro-choice slogan, promptly at 1:00 because very little is funnier to me than how punctual our local anarchists are: their demonstrations are well advertised, well controlled by the riot police, very well attended, and they start absolutely on time. It is clear already from the open house prep that they have held some serious committee meetings:

Open House Preparation Committee Meeting, November 15, 2012

Members Present: Wolf, Hans, Anna, Olga, Jörg, Hans, Sven, Katja, and that guy with the neck tattoos who refuses to admit that his mother calls him Peter and who is trying to get us to refer to him with only a fist in the air gesture.

10:00 Call to order

10:01 Brainstorm booth ideas for upcoming open house

10:15 Vote on children’s booth, vegan cooking booth, and leatherworking demonstration

10:16 Vegan cook lodges formal complaint about the inclusion of the leatherworking demonstration

10:20 Discussion ensues

10:45 Vote is recounted, all origional booths are re-approved

10:59 Meeting adjourned

Next meeting, November 16, 2012. Agenda to include assignment of location of vegan cookery and leatherworking booths, factoring in wind direction and the use of children’s entertainment booth as neutral territory.

Smart Cards

Today’s choice of bulky grey hooded sweatshirt, barely stretched over my drum of a belly, as function-over-form running attire, combined with the lumbering pace at which I ran, and the horn-like swirls of hair that are the product of my recent ‘let’s try to grow it out’ haircut, made it look like a water buffalo was pushing the jogging stroller around the lake today. Still, momentum won out over gravity for six glorious kilometers and I am pleased. Pleased not to have peed myself. Also pleased not to have been stopped and scolded by well-intentioned but concerned passersby. A few curious looks, yes, but I think that’s normal when most of the other stroller-pushing women on the path around the lake were wearing lavishly soft scarves, chicly belted overcoats, and expensive-looking leather boots, while I was essentially wearing a ‘Pregnant Boxer’ Halloween costume a month out of season. (Also, there’s not really Halloween in Germany.)

Tobias had a somewhat different workout experience today. This morning’s orientation to the gym at his office featured:

  • A personalized fitness test that included blood pressure, BMI, body fat, and flexibility tests
  • A questionairre about percieved stress levels and fitness goals
  • A personalized membership card (not impressed? just wait…)
  • A lesson on how to use the fitness machines. You just insert your membership card and the machine automatically calibrates the resistance levels to your specific settings, based on your fitness profile as measured during orientation and during ongoing consultations with the in-house trainers.
  • Tobias also explained something kind of interesting about how the machines have resistance in each direction, but I can’t remember the details because I was too busy thinking about how much data his employer is collecting through its in-house gym. Ever wonder how much your VP of Finance can bench press? Why not wonder how much they actually benched pressed last Wednesday morning, and how much time it took them to recover before the next set of reps, and whether they’re neglecting their leg muscles in favor of triceps/biceps on your fancy schmancy bi-directional-resistance machines? The mind reels.
  • Also, his gym has individual shower stalls. Remarkable.

His gym does accept outside applicants for membership, but I don’t think the gym and I are quite ready for each other. I just keep imagining that the gym mirrors are one-way glass with the firm’s security team sitting behind them, and I’m not ready to give up my grey hoodie for whatever it is you wear to a gym with workout machines that are smarter than airport check-in kiosks.