The Antidote

We ate the last Christmas cookies yesterday, finished up the lone remaining mince pie today, and cannot possibly face any more goose/dumplings/gravy; the remaining portions went into the freezer. We needed an antidote to the holiday saturated fat overload, and this evening we found it: massive amounts of Korean food!
Here’s what we made, from least awesome to most awesome. (Note – the jasmine rice, though better than non-jasmine rice, does not rate on the awesome scale. It’s rice.)

• Cucumber pickle – just cukes and seasoned rice vinegar, this was pretty but boring
• Bean Sprouts – blanched bean sprouts with toasted sesame oil, good but not great
• Daikon Radish – slivered and mixed with garlic, rice vinegar, and hot pepper, this was crunchy and complex
• Sweet Potato – with sweet soy sauce and ginger, this was a crowd favorite. The recipe on this website is for squash, but sweet potato is a good substitute.
• Warm Tofu – cakes of soft tofu covered with a sauce made of garlic, soy, mirin, hot pepper flakes, sugar and sesame, this was terrifically flavorful but not overpowering. The news that the local Asian market has fresh soft tofu every day was not too exciting until we ate out first bites of this. I think that the quality of tofu makes a big difference, but I also think that I sound like a complete ponce when I say that so I take it back. Here’s the recipe. Try it!
Lamb Bulgogi with Asian Pear Dipping Sauce – the sauce is so good it’s like a joke. It being the dead of winter, I forwent the grill in favor of the broiler, and the pear I used was not even close to ripe. Even so, thin slices of marinated sweet/salty/spicy lamb wrapped in lettuce and dipped into a fruity/nutty/garlicky sauce was just what the doctor ordered. Fresh-tasting, interesting, and not at all heavy. The recipe makes the preparation sound like a complete pain in the ass, but it’s not – the marinade and the sauce have almost the same ingredients, and you don’t need to clean the food processor in between them.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I had two moments of brilliance in the menu planning. While at the Asian market, I picked up a carton of their homemade kimchi and one of their sea vegetable salad. First moment of brilliance: purchasing kimchi saved me about four months of prep work. Second moment of brilliance: serving something so deliberately nasty that the side dishes that I made would shine in comparison. The sea vegetable salad tastes like the shores of South Padre Island at the end of spring break. Unfortunately, I forgot that Hamburg is a port city, that one of the signature local dishes is a hash that uses pickled herring to cover up the taste of rotting beef, and that tonight’s other diners would have not just a tolerance but a fondness for the mild whiff of old fish that came along with the sea vegetable salad.

Long story short, if you need an Xmas food antidote I highly recommend the Warm Tofu. Yes, the recipe calls for nothing more than heating up some tofu in plain water and mixing together a sauce that took Herr R a whopping seven minutes to make, but it’s damn tasty and a great reminder that there is life beyond butter.

40 Weeks, 2 Days, 6 Banchan

40 Weeks, 2 Days, 6 Banchan

In case it’s not obvious, the Smidgen has yet to be born. If we go to the hospital tomorrow, please please please do not let me forget to take the trash out on the way – the combination of radish parings, trimmed-off lamb fat, and leftover sea vegetables melding in the trash can will not improve over time. Glack.

Still Pregnant

The Smidgen has had, and continues to have, ample opportunity to be born on a holiday, but Christmas Day is officially over in Germany and she’s still in there. Here’s what’s keeping her company…

Herr R cooked a 5-kilo goose today, complete with chestnut stuffing, potato dumplings, red cabbage, and two kinds of gravy. One of the gravies (we just don’t get to use that word ‘gravies’ often enough, do we?) was nothing more than the fat rendered from the goose as it cooked, heated to boiling, then spooned over the potato dumplings. Yes, it is delicious. And if I give birth anywhere close to tonight, I will write all up, down and around this internet about how 100% goose fat is gauranteed to bring on labor.
My advertising will be false, though, because my ‘Foods to Bring on Labor’ experiment is not well controlled. Here are other things I’ve eaten in the last 24 hours:
• Literally almost half of that goose. The two of us ate until we were stuffed, took a nap, then cleaned the kitchen. I deboned the goose, and the meat that was left over wasn’t more than two cups’ worth. Out of a 5-kilo goose!
• A tiny mince pie with hard sauce
• An unspecified quantity of a pretty reasonable knockoff of Central Market’s chewy chocolate pecan cookies (the kind that are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.)
• Excellent papaya salad and pho for lunch at the Vietnamese place that’s open on Xmas
• Half a pineapple, some kiwis, a grapefruit, an apple, two or three tangerines, and an unripe pear
• An unreasonable number of dried plums as I was searching for the chewy chocolate pecan cookie recipe online (my brain forgot to keep track of my hand and my mouth, and next thing I knew the bag was empty)
• Two servings of pretty good pork green chile stew that was just on this side of too spicy to eat.

I know you’re wondering, so I’ll tell you – no, I don’t have screaming angry diarrhea. And no, I don’t know why. Maybe the plums and the green chile cancel each other out?
Anway, thanks for asking. I’ll keep you posted.

p.s. labor is welcome to begin any time, we’re not in a huge rush, but it is a little disappointing to not be able to use our elaborate flowchart for Backup Plan 2011: Assignment of Responsibilities for the Goose If We Go to the Hospital Before It is Cooked and Eaten.

p.p.s. Thank you all for the lovely messages about Herr R’s father. They are appreciated very much!

German Baby Roulette

Hello! Today is Herr R’s father’s funeral, and I’m dilated to 2.5 centimeters (according to the nice ladies at the hospital last night, who said that getting to the 3-cm ‘official labor’ stage could take an hour or a week and that I was welcome to come back any time.) Let’s play:

What Are the Odds?

…seriously, though, what are the odds, exactly?

How to Play:
Pretend that you are me and/or Herr R, and choose from the following options:

a.) Herr R stays in Hamburg, missing the chance to put his father to rest, and watchs me for contractions all day… and the next and the next and maybe even the next.
b.) Herr R stays in Hamburg, Betsy goes into labor, we are both sad about him missing the opportunity to celebrate his father’s life surrounded by the people who knew him best.
c.) Herr R makes the 4.5 hour train trip to the funeral with plans to turn right around and come home again immediately afterwards. His exhausted 11:00 pm return coincides with his daughter’s arrival and his wife’s last moments of sanity, as holding it together while giving birth in Germany without the co-creator present (with his combined translation/emotional support/translation/birth coach/did-I-mention-translation duties) actually turned out to be an unreasonable expectation.
d.) Tobias attends the funeral, gets a little sleep on the train home; Betsy spends the day drinking tea with thoughtfully concerned friends and trying to figure out what to do with the 9 cups of mincemeat she made before she realized that the recipe for those charming mini mincemeat pies she was planning for the afternoon’s entertainment only calls for a teaspoon of filling per pie.

Did you choose D? Me, too! It’s 9:30 in the morning now. Herr R is probably just reaching his mother’s house, well in time for the funeral, and I’m thinking that a muffin-sized maxi-mini pie with a tiny little lattice crust could hold as much as a third of a cup of mincemeat. According to my calculations, Herr R shold be arriving home just in time for the 27th pie to come out of the oven. This assumes, of course, that standing on my head to avoid an untimely delivery does not preclude the weaving of lattice tops…

39 Weeks and Counting (to 40)

Bad News:
Herr R’s father is very, very sick in a hospital south of Frankfurt, 578 kilometers away from our home in Hamburg.

Good news:
United Airlines rocks my world. I called the special phone number that you have access to when you fly a gazillion miles a year, and explained the situation: we want Herr R to see his dad, but we also want him to be here to help his baby get born, and oh by the way it’s almost peak holiday travel time. Can you help him be in both places almost at once? On a partner airline? In another country? The United representative’s first question was how far we were from the airport: she could get him on a flight in 45 minutes, or one an hour after that, or an hour after that. And the open-ended round trip would cost some paltry number of frequent flyer miles and $91.30 in taxes, was that OK?
So we sent Herr R off to the airport, knowing that chances are that a first baby will be born after next week’s due date rather than before and secure in the knowledge that he can come back on any of the literally 15 daily direct flights between Frankfurt and Hamburg. He has my overnight bag with him in the car parked at the ariport in case we need to meet at the hospital, and I am very grateful that he’ll get at least a little visit with his dad, mom and brother during a very difficult time for the family.

The Other Good News:
My German must be getting better if I’m cool with going to the non-English-speaking hospital to give birth by myself! And by ‘cool’ I mean I know the words for C-Section, tachycardia, and hemorrhage, and I’m planning to save my freakout until I hear them.

Foods to Avoid in the Next 48 hours:
pineapple, especially the core
hot wings
castor oil

Websites to Avoid in the Next 48 Hours:
Any that allow comments like, “I drank canned pineapple juice every day for three weeks and then I had contractions and my baby came!! Try it!! It works!!!!!” Oh fucking really, lady? The rain dance works every time, too, as long as you don’t stop dancing before the rain comes.

Epilogue: The German, Sr. passed away late last night. I am grateful to have known him, and glad that his wife and sons were with him yesterday. Herr R is on his way home to Hamburg now, and I’ll be happy to have him back.

7 Degrees and Sunny!

Lovely things about Germany in the winter:
• Beautiful, historic Christmas markets with hot drinks, traditional gifts, and lots of good cheer,
• When you are 38 weeks pregnant and riding your bike in the freezing rain, you are not alone! After this week’s pregnancy yoga class let out, a fleet of us trudged through the sleet to our bikes, clambered on and cruised off.
• The word for ‘gums’ in German translates to ‘toothflesh’. Better yet, this applies year-round.
• When it’s sunny out, as it is right now, the populace is overjoyed.

Not so lovely things about Germany in the winter:
• Every single time I say ‘Happy Holidays!’, people look confused and then say, ‘Oh, do you mean Merry Christmas?’ and I have yet to come up with a suitable response besides a somewhat Grinch-y expression and a terse nod.*
• There are waaaay too many opportunities for riding bikes, strolling, or gazing out the window in/on the freezing rain.

Wondering about BabyWatch, 2011? We’re still at the ‘that belly cannot possibly get bigger, so the baby must come soon, right?’ stage, rather than the ‘we’re having reliable signs of impending labor, so the baby will come out soon’ stage.

*Herr R points out that my use of ‘Happy Holidays’ is especially confusing when I am saying it while handing out plates of Christmas cookies. I get it, I get it, but is that adorable snowman with the blue scarf and silver candy buttons not happiest about the chilly nights and near-freezing days that come along with the Winter Solstice? Surely snowmen are pagans at heart.

Hey, Sweets!

If the baby comes on Christmas day, maybe we will name her Jesus (pronounced the Spanish way: hay-SüSS) because süss means sweet in German. Oh, and we can use that crazy ‘ß’ letter in the German alphabet that means ‘double-s’: her name could be Jesüß
Let’s see, does it meet the criteria?
-easily pronounced in English, Spanish and German? check!
-pretty cute but kind of weird? check!
-will start a brouhaha with the German authorities? check! check!

Though it’s tempting, I don’t think we’ll go with Quintana for the middle name.

No no no no, but technically yes.

I know that it’s not uncommon for pregnant women to experience cravings. I’ve been asked often about what cravings I’m having. My routine answer is that I haven’t really had any except for an increased consumption of buttermilk over the summer. But what about ice cream? Well, not more than the usual. And pickles? Meh, not interested. So, no, I haven’t had cravings.

Except that I’ve read 6, count them, SIX Dick Francis books in the last two weeks, and when I went to the used bookstore today to replenish my stock and they were closed I almost started crying. Elizabeth George is just not the same.

So yes, I’ve had a craving. For fluffy crime novels about horseracing. If the baby’s born on Christmas she won’t be named Holly but she may well be named Kit

The Nanny State, soon with real live nannies!

In What the Fuck, Germany? news, I recently learned that:

• Many Northern Germans, when sitting down to the common winter meal of roasted potatoes, sausage, and stewed kale, use a spoon to sprinkle white table sugar on the kale before eating it.
• It is not uncommon for Germans living in Hamburg to express shock and outrage that I am 23 days from my due date and *gasp* still working. Reminder: my work involves sitting down, typing, and sometimes some talking. Three days per week. Often I do some ‘work’ while lying down. I was recently reminded that this isn’t just a bad idea, it is illegal: 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after delivery, work is prohibited under German law. Just to be clear, it is only illegal for the mother to work in the two months after the due date. Fathers do not have this restriction.
• The older the woman is, the more likely she is to appropriate my belly as her charge when I try to shoehorn myself into a bathroom. At a charming little café the other day, a charming little sophisticated-grandma type was washing her hands when I walked in. She caught the reflection of my huge belly in the mirror, started laughing, and turned around to get a better look. She then took the belly in her hands, opened the door to the toilet stall, and, using the belly like the handle of a shopping cart, turned me around, pushed me into the stall backwards, gave me a quarter turn to get the belly out of the way of the door, and closed it. (All of this without any verbal communication whatsoever.) When I came out of the stall and walked past her table she pointed me out to her friends, nodding with satisfaction. I have been using her backwards-landing approach to the tiny public toilet stalls ever since, and it works SO much better than the walk-in-and-pivot approach. Still, pretty weird to be grandma-handled without my consent.
• The only menorah I’ve seen in Hamburg was for sale for 380 Euros. There were no candles available to fit the odd-sized receptacles. The menorah was displayed in the ‘beautiful, heavy, expensive sculpture’ section of the store rather than the ‘season-appropriate religious object’ section (you know, the one with the blown glass tree ornaments and ridiculously over-engineered cookie cutters.)
• Rather than festive strings of multi-colored lights, the tradition in Herr R’s family is to light the tree with candles. It makes much more sense now that their trees are trimmed on Christmas Eve and removed from the house before the New Year. This seems like a lot of effort for such an abbreviated festive season (Christmas trees in my house have been known to remain in place until the last tinder-dry needle drops off,) but I guess pregnancy/delivery/parenting is kind of a lot of work for a measly 4-month maternity leave staycation, too.

We still haven’t decided on a name for the Smidgen yet, so please feel free to shout out any ideas you have. It should be easy to pronounce in English, German, Spanish, and (insert language of new global superpower.) Super bonus points if it is not currently on the list of approved names for girls in Germany but can be approved with some foot-stomping on my part. The idea of having to seek approval for a name is, for me, the perfect combination of ‘because I said so’ (German government) and ‘no, it’s because I said so’, (baby’s mother) and I think that the perfect time for this showdown is while breastfeeding. The basis of the German baby name restriction is that (1) it must reflect the sex of the child, and (2) it must not endanger the well-being of the child. I have some problems with issue #1’s use of ‘sex’ rather than ‘gender’, (and must her clothing reflect her sex as well? What about her choice of occupation? That, too?) and I honestly don’t think that a girl’s well-being is going to be endangered by calling her ‘Gert’ (a man’s name) or ‘Trout’ (not on the list; potentially embarrassing) that much more than the Standesamt-approved ‘Gertraut’.