Big Fish

Far be it from me to change my mind about a food that I’d like to eat. Some friends were coming over on Sunday to make and eat tapas, and I was at the Spanish import store to purchase 250 grams of bacalao (salted, dried cod) for a half-recipe of cod cakes. Tobias and I had agreed ahead of time that we would make sensibly small portions of each of the dishes we were planning, noting that if everyone made dinner-sized portions for six, we would have six times as much food as we needed. Imagine my quandry, then, when the resident Spaniard at the Spanish import shop informed me that bacalao was sold only in whole pieces. Thrilled to be speaking a language in which I am fluent, I responded no problemo, I’d like a whole piece weighing 250 grams, por favor. He laughed and pointed to the stacked bacalao. I said, ‘Aha’ and came home with this piece:

One Whole Piece of Salt Cod, in Pieces













If the fish above is lying on, for example, two squares of toilet paper, we should be fine.


It’s not.



That Was a Big Fish

A little perspective: the fish weighed 1,500 grams. Granted, that’s 6 times more fish than I wanted but it’s not THAT much: tiny baby Frida, pictured above, weighs over ten thousand grams! 11,065 as of last Wednesday, to be precise. Imagine how much salt cod we’d be eating if I’d gone for the Frida-sized peice rather than the smaller, only-looks-like-it’s-Frida-sized piece.

It’s Monday morning now, and we’ve eaten a fifth of it. We’ll eat another portion tonight in fritter form, then freeze the rest and tackle it when! my! parents! come! in! two! weeks!! Until then, I am reassured that a Google search of ‘salt cod recipes’ returns 17,600,000 pages. We only have enough bacalao for a small portion of those!

Trash Can Fan

There is a man in Gunnison, Colorado, who was born into the wrong century. He is a huge bear of a man, made larger by his cowboy hat and boots. He prefers horseback to the confines of a car, he is continually horrified by what he hears on the news, he has straightforward 19th-century morals and a handlebar mustache to match. He is a part-time hunting guide (a good fit, allowing him to spend lots of time in the wilderness doing man stuff with other like-minded men,) and a full-time county sheriff in a touristy ski town known for its dope-smoking trustafarians (not a good fit. Facial piercings? Cars more expensive than houses crashed into snowbanks by spaced-out 17 year olds? No, not a good fit.) He is a good man, I think, but continually disappointed by humanity and by his inability to live a simple cowboy life where a day of hard work makes a warm fire perfectly satisfying.

I’m thinking of this man as I realize how lucky I am to be living in a time of affordable air travel, astonishing availability of food ingredients, Skype, and the right to vote. What a dynamite combination for a woman like me! I feel so lucky to be living during the window of time that encompasses both daily flights from Hamburg to pretty much anywhere AND relatively good air quality. I’m not kidding myself – I know that this lifestyle is temporary – and I try not to take too much advantage of the environment-raping global commerce practices that make Brazilian mangoes and New Zealand kiwis available in January in Germany.

I wonder how little Frida will fit into her time and place? She, like other kids-these-days, is terrifically interested in electronics despite our best efforts to limit screen time to ‘never’ or ‘not until you’re 5’ or ‘not unless there’s a really terrible flight delay and we’ve been travelling for more than 12 hours and even then you can only watch Paul Simon music videos from his seminal album Graceland’, depending on our mood. She seems strong-willed and physical, which could be a huge waste given the lack of opportunities for female gladiators these days. She likes books, turning the pages as you read them to her or cooing over them herself during quiet time, which as we all know is a total loss given the state of print media. She’s a good eater, she likes to swim, she loves to reorganize the contents of drawers (including but not limited to putting dirty laundry neatly into the bookcase.) Whatever she ends up doing with her life, it will be no surprise if it somehow involves waste management. This morning, Frida discovered that the trash can lid is the portal to heaven: I heard a rustling behind me as I stirred our breakfast oats on the stove, and turned around to find Frida absolutely covered with the remnants of last night’s homemade chocolate pudding, which I had piously disposed of after realizing that when one’s husband is on a business trip to Moscow one is not allowed to completely finish his serving after consuming one’s own. Frida was unsurprised by my reaction (‘Aack, you little raccoon, let’s wash those hands!’), knowing that the garbage is a ‘Nein, nein, nein’ zone, but was noticeably less keen on her oatmeal after the garbage-tastes-like-chocolate discovery.

Perhaps it’s not too much to ask that , in addition to living in the time of GoogleTranslate (it’s life-changing, it really is,) I also be allowed a 21st century solution to the problem of toddler refuse access? A floating trash can that hovers a meter from the floor? A garbage chute that automatically rejects precious objects (and which proffers tiny tupperware rather than allowing me to throw away four spoonfuls of chocolate pudding)? A countertop incinerator? Help me, future! Your time is now!


The Belly, It’s a Big One

Today, after two and a half years in Hamburg, I realized that I heard a car honk its horn and didn’t immediately assume that I had inadvertently done something wrong. Hurrah, assimilation! Maybe that’s why I look so happy:

Frida's Laughing, I'm Laughing

Laughing because we’re defying gravity!

Looking Happy, a.k.a Slightly Crazed











But wait, there’s more!

Ass Capable of Counterbalancing That Mass: Not Pictured.















Now that I see what the postman, the baker, the neighbors, the person standing next to me on the bus, the lady at the flower shop, the construction worker across the street, and Bruno-from-Bruno’s-cheese-shop can see, I realize why they are all compelled to comment on how much babies I have right now. Frida in her loud, cute, super-social little-big-girl 13-month-old stage PLUS nigh on 3 kilos of inner child. Yup, that’s a lot of kinder. Tack on a puffy winter maternity jacket, and you can imagine why the lady at the Chinese restaurant today asked about twins (my response, thought of only just now: ‘No, Frida was born a year ago and the next one isn’t due for another seven weeks. They’re not twins.’)

Seven more weeks of gestational growth. Wish me luck.

Another view:

The Home Office, Complete With Little Helper

Cultural Differences: Oprah Edition

I know that the courtship was relatively brief – Tobias and I got married a year and a half after we met, and at that point we’d already made a move across the Atlantic, been cohabitating for a year, been through an IVF cycle, and were five months pregnant. With all that packed into the first 18 months, I guess it makes sense that now, after 3+ years together, there are still some things that we haven’t gotten around to finding out about each other: he likes the name Felix for a boy-child, I look funny with long hair, that sort of thing. I did not expect to discover, though, that the man I married had no idea who Oprah is. Oprah Winfrey. OPRAH. Oprah.

This came to light last night as we were discussing Lance Armstrong’s coming clean about being dirty, and I’m afraid that today dear Tobias isn’t much closer to understanding all that is Oprah. I spluttered something about daytime television, Tom Cruise couch-jumping, and being on the cover of every issue before letting Wikipedia explain for me that Oprah is the most famous woman in the world. Turns out, explaining that so-and-so is the most famous woman in the world is not compelling to someone who hasn’t heard of her. Saying, ‘Dude, seriously? She’s Oprah!’ over and over didn’t really effectively encapsulate her winning combination of broad appeal and business acumen, either, so let’s see if I can do a little better at explaining…

A Quick Spinach Trick!

You know how recipes for cooked spinach have you blanch spinach in a pot of boiling water, or saute it, then drain it, then squeeze it out? Here’s a shortcut: put the fresh spinach in a colander in the sink, heat up your tea kettle, and pour boiling water over it. One kettle’s usually enough to wilt the spinach but keep it relatively green; a second is useful for older spinach or a more cooked final product. You can press the spinach against the sides of the colander to squeeze it dry, and you can run a little cold water over it first if you don’t want to burn your hands. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s quicker than the other method and makes for fewer dishes.

I think a third topic today might be difficult to smoothly incorporate, so I will leave you with the simple yet satisfying combination of spinach and Oprah.



The Land of the Switzer

The Zurich airport was recently awarded some award having to do with “best airport ever”. Upon our arrival in Zurich on Wednesday, Tobias and I were especially alert for amenities that other airports were lacking. We found some gems:

Trains: It is remarkably easy to take the train from the airport to pretty much anywhere. Tobias explained that we were going to take the train to Andermatt, and that in fact we were going to take the airport train plus three additional trains to Andermatt because there was no direct train. I explained that he was fucking crazy, pointing to the mountain of kid-related luggage upon which Tobias` skis were balancing precariously. Tobias explained that it was Switzerland, and he was Tobias, so I shouldn`t worry. Tobias was right – the connections were intuitive, the conductors helpful, and Tobias can take two graceful trips up and down the train station stairs with luggage in the time that I can waddle down once.

Groceries: There is a pretty darned good grocery just past the airport baggage claim. It had a wide selection of prepared foods, a generous produce selection, and a dynamite location on the way to the commuter trains.

Imminent Disaster: Next to the grocery, there is a dry cleaner`s. Smart, right? There are lots of business travelers, presumably busy business travelers, who wear dry-clean-only ties and suits and scarves. But who wants to worry about a delayed flight making you too late for fresh suit pick-up? Not the Swiss, that`s who: the dry cleaner`s has a 24-hour automated kiosk. You scan your ticket, and the racks start whirring and deliver your cleaned clothes through a fancy electronic closet. My first thought was a kind one for the harried late-night travelers who had to watch the automated machine eat their ticket or deliver the wrong clothing or who had to retrieve their clothes by wading through the small lake of homeless person urine that surrounds 24-hour anythings, and then I remembered that it`s Switzerland. Malfunction is not permitted, and it`s way too expensive to be homeless here.

Things that are funny this week:

  • The on-train magazine explains that blah blah the train tracks are almost 100 years old, blah blah panoramic carraiges, and ends by saying, “when it comes to Glacier Express trains, you will find no hospitality infrastructure lacking.” The message: True? Yes. Sexy? Ah, no.
  • I remember someone, sometime, saying that a marketable idea was one that created its own product demand. With that in mind, I give you the tagline of my new footwear line: “Socks That Fit”.  Soon after reading that, you will find that you notice your current socks bunch uncomfortably in the toe, that the heel gets dragged underfoot more often than you would like, that your feet are itchy from your quite-possibly-too-tight socks. You want, no, you need, some Socks That Fit!
  • I ate cheese six meals in a row and was then surprised to find my guts turned to stone. What was I expecting, exactly?
  • Freaky Frida can walk up stairs. This is funny because she is so like her maternal grandfather in her approach: she watches other people do it while clearly taking notes on their form, she applies the best elements to her own form (like reaching ahead to the next rail before taking a step,) she is thrilled when she masters each skill, and she practices over and over until she is shaking with exhaustion. Yes, I think it`s funny when my one-year-old starts shaking her head and hanging onto the railing when I explain that I can see her legs shaking and it`s time to take a break. I love that little weirdo.
  • I have discovered that there is no need to even begin to try to zip up snowpants over a huge belly if said snowpants have stretchy suspenders. Big-bellied men the world over have known this fashion secret for years, but it is new, I think, to the maternity crowd. So, ladies, get some suspenders, ignore that zipper completely, and wear whatever pants you want!! Note: depending on the angle of the breeze, I would recommend a veeery long tucked-in shirt.
Things That I Have Yet To Come Up With A Rejoinder To Unless You Count Saying “Wow, Huh! Congratulations?”
  • The proprietress of the bed and breakfast where we are staying is roughly 72 years old. She told me this morning that every day upon waking she goes out to the porch and takes a bath in the snow, and that she has never had a cold or the flu.
  • Yesterday she reported that she fell down while shoveling the driveway, so she had to come inside to change from sneakers into boots with spikes.
  • She and many, many other locals in Andermatt, upon inquiring into Frida’s age (1 year and 1 week) and my due date (March 9) and doing some quick math (14 months apart), rush to tell us about the quadruplets born in a neighboring town last year. Most of these stories involve the retrieval of a newspaper clipping of the babies’ recent birthday.

Pictures pending…

Fish Tuesday

The Christmas Eve tradition in Tobias’ family is to have matjes herring: lightly pickled herring mixed with cold sour cream, chopped apples, and chopped onions, and served over hot boiled potatoes. It is followed on Christmas Day (which they call First Christmas, with Boxing Day being Second Christmas, to which I say how many times can our lord and saviour be born?)…ahem, followed on Christmas Day by a simple dish of game; this year we had grilled deer steaks.

Wild game is sold commercially here, which makes for a very practical solution to problems with wild boar and deer overpopulation. The high human population density, though, combined with the unwillingness of game wardens to expose passersby to stray bullets, means that when you’re out for a walk through the fields you’ll see a deer blind every two hundred yards or so. Behind Tobias’ mother’s house, there are lovely woods and fields and vineyards. At one point during a recent walk through them, I stopped and counted the deer blinds. I could see 8 from where I stood, with three more just out of view behind a hill. Although I (and, I’m sure, the deer and boar,) appreciate a clean, quick shot from nearly directly overhead rather than a messy, inaccurate shot from too far away, the overall effect is a bit creepy. There, I said it. Wooden boxes, mounted on poles, designed to provide someone with a gun a better vantage point from which to shoot something on the ground, are creepy. Especially when you’re on the ground. And if you’ve ever seen that part of Shawshank Redemption where the good-guy prisoner gets lured out to the fence and the bad-guy prison wardens shoot at him from the guard’s stations. Luckily, the German deer probably missed that part.


Last night, on New Year’s Eve, we had a few people over to eat make-your-own sushi and to watch the fireworks. The sushi was tons of fun, and would have been totally easy if we hadn’t gone a little nutso on the topping options. We had raw tuna and salmon, avocado, cucumbers, and barely-cooked carrot matchsticks. From the Japanese specialty store with the delightfully excitable proprietor, who can sell me anything when he rubs his hands together and tells me his favorite recipe in detail, we had flying fish roe, a very good frozen marinated eel that just needed a few minutes under the broiler, and miso soup with dashi, soft tofu, and seaweed. We made sesame spinach because we couldn’t remember if all of the guests ate fish. We steamed baby octopus and scallops for tako poke  (a marinated Hawaiin seafood salad, tako poke is made with octopus and ahi poke is made with tuna,) and spicy scallop rolls. We poached tuna and salmon for spicy salmon rolls and ahi poke. We bought some shrimp and left it in the fridge, forgotten, until this morning. It was tons of fun, and there were a few standouts: the ahi poke and the spicy scallops. The recipe for ahi poke is at the end of this post; the recipe for the spicy scallops is totally dependant on getting your hands on good Japanese mayonnaise, Sriracha, and real flying fish roe, and if you can do that you can surely mix them together to taste and stir in some scallops.

Here’s a terrible picture of the New Year’s guests but a pretty cute picture of Frida:

Wearing her sleep suit but not quite ready for bed.

And here’s a quick video that gives you some sense of the fireworks madness that is Germany at 12:01 on the first day of the year. Sadly, this video was taken well after the peak of the fireworks; happily, it is proof that we now know how to use the camera to take a video and that it took us less than 24 hours to figure it out.

Fireworks for iphone

Small Fireworks

Ahi Poke (Hawaiian Tuna)

Mix together:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds (white are fine but toasted black sesame seeds are delicious here)
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 pound raw tuna in large dice (pregnancy-friendly variation: lightly poach the tuna chunks in simmering water to which you’ve added a splash of white wine, a few peppercorns, and a bay leaf)

Chill for an hour or two. Serve alone or with avocado as an appetizer, or as a light meal on top of rice, or, as brother George recommends, as a delicious filling for sushi rolls. You can add raw sweet onion, cucumber, avocado, macadamia nuts, chopped chilis, etc. to the mixture but I think it’s pretty dynamite as is. Because not evey day provides an opportunity to slap your fishmonger in the face by dropping his beautiful, precious, sashimi-grade tuna into boiling water, I will be trying this with canned tuna in the near future and will report back!