Sunday, February 27, 2011

By the spoonful

 How's this for embarrassing...

Husband and I went to a birthday party for one of his coworkers last night, and me and my two fantastic girlfriends, Lisa and Jennifer, ate platefuls of what we thought was macaroni and cheese at speeds even Superman would envy. At one point I considered using the pan as a personal trough.

Later in the evening I told the host (the birthday boy's wife) how we just loved the dish. Her response? "Oh, you mean the artichoke dip?"

Ate it by the spoonful.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Happy Friday!

Well, Happy Friday everyone! 

After much consideration I have concluded I would be a very bad hausfrau indeed if didn't find time to blog about my wifely duties. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. 

That's what you do when you discuss cooking, right? Wink and nudge? Feels right to me. Anyway, despite my lack of training, inattention to detail and penchant toward over-seasoning (last week we threw away a whole pan of unreasonably salted oven fries), I have vowed to cook a real dinner for Husband every week night. After all, what else am I doing?
To chronicle my various successes and FAILURES in the kitchen, I'm going to recap the weekly menu here with The Good, The Bad and The Edible. Here goes...

(Ok, so actually I made these last week, but as this is the first Allie in an Apron, I'll let it slide. How kind of me.)

The dish was PHENOMENAL. Husband even deemed it, "better than restaurant quality," which is an actual miracle coming from the guy whose range of food evaluation starts at nausea, and abruptly ends around "It's ok."

I made only two modifications from the original recipe just because I couldn't find the ingredients. I used a jar of canned green chile peppers instead of the Anaheim, and I used Sharp Cheddar cheese instead of the Cotija...whatever that is...and found the sharp cheddar to be a delicious contrast to the spicy beef and the sweetness of the sweet potato. I did end up liberally re-seasoning after I shredded the beef and returned it to the liquid in the pot because it just wasn't spicy enough (I used equal parts chili powder and ground red pepper), and I sprinkled some sugar on the sweet potato cubes to bring out the sweetness. Seriously, perfection.

So, besides the cooking instructions for the orzo, I didn't really follow any sort of recipe for this one. I just kind of threw in whatever spare fiber I had laying around the kitchen- ala frozen peas and carrots and a can of mushrooms. Once everything was all warm and fuzzy...or just warm...I grated in a load of fresh parmesean cheese- after all, what DOESN'T taste better with parmesan? Ice cream? No. Melon? No. Pie? No. See, nothing. Nothing doesn't taste better with parm.


I'm trying to distract you from my foul cooking with poor syntax.

Back to the foul cooking. The side, while colorful and consisting of multiple food groups, was absolutely tasteless. So we salted and peppered and parm'ed some more- to no avail! The dish was hopeless. I want to speak to the chef.

Alright, I know what you are thinking. When is a brownie with frosting merely "edible?" I'll tell you. (Because this is a blog and it would defeat the purpose not to.) A brownie with frosting is merely edible when 3,626 people have reviewed the recipe and rated it BETTER THAN ALAN RICKMAN WHISPERING YOUR NAME WHILE RECITING SHAKESPEARE. I had high expectations for these brownies, and they were good. But come on. A brownie recipe with 3,626 positive reviews should leave you gasping for breath and clutching your chest, not just reaching for another one. 

The frosting didn't disappoint though! But it would be hard to make a mixture of cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla taste bad. These are a few of my favorite things. 
So in all, dessert was good, but I didn't feel the earth move.

And that's what was cooking this week.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


I LOVE discussing hair.

My family is very hair centric (mom, twin sister, little sister- between us we have enough hair to make a lion mane jealous), a trait I wish to pass down to my future twin baby know, when I eventually have them. Many years from now. In the future. The distant future. Husband grew up in a family of all boys, so I "tease" him about having twins, or as I usually say: TwinBabyGirls!!! He just loves it (read: develops hives).

But hair care is no matter to take lightly! Had I been more properly schooled on the topic as a tween I would not have made the nightmarish and uproariously ill-advised decision to shear off what I believed to be an insufferably frizzy mess of thick blonde hair into the "half step better than a bowl cut" man-style that I sported with varying degrees of fashion success throughout most of my adolescence. Don't be fooled into thinking I'm just being self-deprecating- this happened about 5 years before the Pixie Cut gained popularity when boy-short hair meant either you had just delivered your third child and were surrendering your feminity in exchange for relaxed fit pleated jeans and celibacy, or you were moonlighting as a Drag King. A notably odd style choice for a high school freshman. Short hairstyles have come a long way since then.

During that ill-fated cut, as the first chunk of hair fell fatally to the floor of the salon, and what was left sprung up in a perfect bouncy spiral, I realized- a moment too late!- that my hair was not an insufferably frizzy mess, but was, instead, curly. I just needed some gel! For the love of hairdos man, WHY! For the next 6 to 8 years I lived in constant fear that one day I would flip open the pages of a Style magazine and see my image spackled firmly under the "Don't" section with a little black bar over my know, to protect my identity. Not that it would do much good as surely I was the only 16 year-old girl on the planet with a Billy Idol cut. The jig would be up.

But that was many many years ago and I've since grown things out a bit. And the other day Good Friend Julia- you know the one who owns the neverending pooping dog- gave me a rocking hair cut with cutsey little bangs that I LOVE. Check it out:

What am I looking at?

I just love the little bang-ettes!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In case you didn't know...

I have a new favorite word.

I used it in my previous post regarding our German adventures in recycling (a.k.a. Avoiding a bloody and untimely death at the hands of our otherwise pleasant apartment caretaker) after reading it in one of my all time favorite blogs, The Underwear Drawer. My delightful friend Sara, who has a fantastic cooking blog herself, pointed me toward The Underwear Drawer lo, these many years ago, and ever since I've been saving it in my bookmarks as other names, lest anyone get the wrong idea of the types of sites I patronize.

Anyway, the new favorite word is "miasma" (how great is that! The word alone is a masterpiece of modern linguistics. Meee-aaazzzzz-maaa. It could be its own sentence.), and can really best be described visually.

Miasma: A heavy vaporous emanation or atmosphere OR a poisonous vapor or mist with particles from decomposed matter that cause illness and which is identified by its foul smell.

I should say that the second definition is linked to an outdated scientific theory that the miasma described was the basis for illness- a notion that has been replaced by the current, and presumably more accurate, theory that disease is caused by germs. Personally, I like the second definition better and can just imagine scientists of yore on the constant lookout for green swirling clouds of putrid decay waiting to infect their bodies with whatever form of horror the particles harbor. Scientifically valid or not, if I ever encounter a waft of odor so foul that it is actually visible, you can bet I will make haste to the nearest Bath and Body Works to bathe myself in antibacterial sanitizing gel.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Papers and plastics and glass- oh my!

The power is yours.

Anyone recognize that line? Think early to mid 90's Saturday morning cartoon lineup. I'll give you a hint: Looting and polluting is not the way. That's right, now you've got it. Hear what Captain Planet has to say.

What a dumb premise for a cartoon. But then again, aren't they all? Looking back in the midst of talking pastel stuffed bears and insufferable feeble minded mechanical detectives, the idea of a super hero saving the planet from environmental disaster wasn't too far off. Seemed to really catch on in Germany at least. One of the things Husband and I are still getting used to, besides not having a garbage disposal, is the mandatory recycling. While I've never made a point to vigorously recycle in the past as it was seldom free and never convenient, here we don't have much of a choice unless we want to haul bags of our own sticking refuse from our apartment onto base where we can inconspicuously deposit our unsorted trash in the dumpsters. Unfortunately that requires the unsavory task of driving around with bags full of garbage in the trunk of the car. The other day one was leaking, so you can imagine how fun it is.

For the record, and I'm sure you saw this coming, I'm not inherently opposed to recycling, and I'm happy to recycle if the ability is offered with some measure of convenience. Luckily, here at homestead Guten Strudel it is, as there are dumpsters in the communal garage for regular trash, newspaper, other paper and (from the smell of things) food scraps. I can't confirm the later, though, as I haven't yet mustered up the gumption to open the lid on what I suspect to be the compost bin. The visible cloud of miasma is off-puting. I'm kind of surprised that there isn't a place for plastics and glass, but having not yet mastered the command of the German language I'm not sure how to inquire about the other recyclable goods...nor do I really care to. 

I was a bit concerned when our landlord, upon our first meeting, mentioned at least 7 times that we must recycle our trash or bear the wrath of the cantankerous old caretaker who daily inspects the contents of the dumpster to insure tenant compliance with the mandatory recycling. However, I was really alarmed when I met said caretaker, who actually turned out to be quite affable despite the language barrier, and he gave a hearty guffaw and vigorously nodded in agreement when I mimed slitting my throat if we didn't properly recycle as we passed by the trash bins on the apartment tour. He seemed to really like the idea. Point taken.

So now we recycle! Imagine that. We've been doing pretty good, and have yet to receive even one threat of physical violence, so I guess we've got the gist. Just to be on the safe side, though, I'm still throwing my trash out in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Washing Woes

My pants don't fit anymore.

Never fear! This is not the first step toward a transition to a diet blog. In fact, my ill fitting pants are now so loose and baggy that I fear that without the helpful and necessary addition of a belt they may just tire of their modesty and fashion function altogether and fall right off. Turns out I'm suffering from a case of the stretch-outs. You know, the "I've been cycling through my jeans at such a pace that no one pair is particularly dirty, but no one pair fits like a glove either" problem. And it's all because of a good deal on a washing machine.

Have I explained the laundry situation yet? The thing I absolutely loved about my last apartment in the States was the undersized yet blissfully convenient washer and dryer right inside the unit, not in the creepy basement where bugs and dust and debris gather in the corner waiting to run out from their shadowy perch and positively coat your wet clothing in various and sundry detritus the minute you let a sock slip out of your grasp and hit the floor as you transfer your load from the washer to the dryer. Well, imagine my surprise when I found out that here in beautiful Deustchland, apartment dwellers typically buy their own washer and dryer (yay!) but then they put them all in a common room in the basement of the building (boo!). After all, who DOESN'T want to lug piles of worn unmentionables through the common areas of your building while averting your eyes when you pass by the prudish neighbor upstairs who probably washes all her underwear in her sink to avoid this very situation. I for one, protest. But as my apartment does not have a washer or dryer hook up, and the creepy basement where bugs and dust and debris gather in the shadowy corners does, I guess I'm not left with many options.

So on we go with life and adjusting our expectations and whatnot- at least this is a social custom we are familiar with in the United States even if it is undesirable. On the positive site (that's right, glass is half full folks!) there is no need to lug 35 pounds of small change to the laundry room to make use of the machines as each person hooks their own appliances to their own water and electricity meters. And, I suppose, we won't ever have to plan vindictive yet passive revenge scenarios that will never come to fruition on the jerk who threw our dry clothes on the floor because we were a minute and a half late to retrieve our belongings from the only working dryer on the premises. So there is some merit to ownership in a common room...I guess.

In our particular situation, Husband, who can't sleep at night unless he feels he got a "good deal," found such a deal on an American-style washing machine some guy was trying to unload before he moved back to the U.S. Perfect! We purchased the appliance and marveled over its enormous washing capacity, familiar settings and top-loading magnificence. That is, until I pointed out that we now have nowhere to house our dryer as each tenant in the building is given 1 (one) spot to hook up their laundry machines, ergo to fit both a washer and a dryer both machines need to be stackable. And by stackable, I mean NOT a top-loading washer. Duh.

So that was Challenge Number One, which we quickly overcame by putting our dryer in our enormous storage unit just across the hall from the laundry room. Given the extra privacy for the leisurely folding of our garments, this turned out to be not such a bad idea after all, stackable washer or not. Challenge Number Two, we found out soon thereafter, had at its root the other major difference between German and American washers (the first difference being that most German washers ARE stackable)- the hot water situation. Perhaps intended to save the user money on the gas bill to heat hot water, German washers only have a cold-water input hose and then the unit itself has the mechanics to heat the water to the appropraite wash temperature. Brilliant, I'm sure. However, if you've ever taken a peek at the back of an American washer, you'll know there is both a hot AND cold water hook up that just proportionally dumps each temperature of water into the unit as needed. So....we don't have any hot water to wash our clothes.

Off it was, then, to the store for some Cold Water Tide! See- nothing is insurmountable. Well, nothing would have been insurmountable has we stopped at Challenge Number 2, and not moved on to Challenge Number 3. Sigh. It all started when we did our first gloriously enormous load of darks. As a side note, have I mentioned that German washers are not only front loading and internally heating, but they also hold only about half the capacity of a good-sized American washer? Hence the excitement over the size. Husband and I stood in the basement with the washer as it started doing its thing, you know, to make sure it knew it was supported in its new environment and to make sure it was feeling up to the task and all. Once we deemed the washer suitably well functioning, we retired to our apartment to continue with Sunday chores.

This was a bad idea.

Turns out, our little American washer has a bit of an incontinence problem, as 40 minutes later when I went to get our clothes, I found what had to be gallons and gallons of water on the floor. Super. So I did what any normal American woman would do- I got my husband. Together we stood there in the laundry room staring at the mess in utter disbelief, paralayzed with annoyance. And then the spell broke as we simotaneously realized we didn't want our German neighbors to walk into the common room to discover the new Americans just flooded the place. So I (thankfully!) found a squeegee and started frantically coaxing the water toward the drain while husband inspected the hook up to discover the flaw.

But there was no flaw! We ran the water through again and everything held. After an hour of so of inspection, husband determined that none of our pipes were leaking and the machine itself was also in fine condition. The culprit, we suspect, is the building's output pipe (does that have an actual name? I don't's the pipe that all the washing machines feed into to take the used water away.). We suspect, but can not confirm, that the output pipe is simply not equipped to handle the much larger flow of water when the basin empties from our gigantic washer, and what couldn't go down, just came back up...and out. We will have to get a new washer.

But at least we got one load of clothes clean (see- glass is half full!), but unfortunately that load did not contain any of my baggy, sagging jeans. So I'll just let people think I'm losing weight.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Manly Man

Have I mentioned I'm married to the manliest man alive?

No? How strange I would have forgotten that. Hmm. Well, he's really quite good at doing things men should be able to do- like changing tires and talking sports and leaving dirty cereal bowls sitting on the coffee table. A little more estrogen on that last item there wouldn't be unwelcome, but I guess if I must sacrifice some elbow grease to get the spackled-on dredges of Frosted Flakes off the inside of the bowl after it's been sitting out for hours for an unending supply of tool wielding and computer fixing, then hand me the scrubber and some Dawn, because I'm sold. Yes, yes I will get in the kitchen for that.

We ordered a German refrigerator for our fridge-less apartment a few weeks ago, and when it arrived we were delighted to see it was just as big and beautiful as an American model. Oh, and the freezer is on the bottom, which I love, and instead of being a standard wide open frosty cavity,  it is made up of 3 bins in which to store your frozen goods. The bins were aptly named BIG BOX via static sticker that I think was intended to be removed, but I rather like the name and think it adds that little bit of spunk that other freezers seem to be lacking.

The lovely delivery people from our local German MediMax brought our fridge by and despite not speaking a lick of English managed to convey at least 6 times in perfectly fluent mother-tongue not to plug it in for 12 hours. Ok. No problem. I can wait to refrigerate. In the mean time, husband and I decided that if we were going to have a positive kitchen experience we would need to switch the doors so that instead of opening on the left and swinging immediately into our silverware drawer, it would really need to open on the right and violently hit the wood paneled window each time instead. At least the window has no real kitchen-essential purpose other than being an unobstructed view into the living room, but we may want to simultaneously open both the fridge and the silverware drawer at some point.

So the decision was made! We whipped out the easy-to-read instruction manual and took a look. Turns out, the instruction manual was easy to read because...there were no words! Just a minuscule diagram of the appliance and a series intersecting numbered arrows and what must have been hyroglphics. Ah. Right. So husband, with testosterone practically bubbling out through his nose, marches confidently to the spare room to retrieve an extensive set of tools, a pair of pince-nez and a magnifying glass, and we set to work concurrently dismantling our newest electronic good and destroying our eyesight deciphering the tiny diagram.

Husband immediately got to screwing and unscrewing and pulling this and josteling that and consulting the diagram and scratching his head and kind of violently shaking the door in a way I don't think the instructions were prompting, and ultimately got the whole thing off the hinge. Huzzah! I knew he could do it. I, on the other hand, stood there salivating over not only the man I love, but the man I love wielding TOOLS with SKILL and STRENGTH and (perhaps sexiest of all) FIXING MY KITCHEN! You can imagine what a state I was in. But then I had to help, and all that salivating kind of just dried up as I was pinned between the cooling grates and our wall with the bottom of the fridge balanced on my foot so I could tilt the whole thing at such an impossible angle that Husband could remove the bottom hinge, which convienetly enough, was screwed in about 5 inches under the unit. Who designed that?

But after my expert fridge-tilting, husband finished up the door replacement with a flourish of sweat and screws and then we stood back with our hands on our hips, nodding our heads approvingly, wishing there was a nice cold Diet Coke in the newly reassembled fridge. But there wasn't. Because we still had 3 hours to go until we could plug it in.

To continue with the whole "Manly Husband" theme, we also had a slight hiccup with our vehicle inspection. Turns out, any amount of grease residue on the underside of the car is synonymous with a MAJOR OIL LEAK, resulting in an ENVIRONMENTAL MASSACRE, even when the technician unwaveringly admits it appears to actually be just the firmly crusted spillover from an oil change. Ugh. Husband was moderately hesitant (read: absolutely unwilling) to pay anyone to clean the underside of the car with a pressure washer, and thus decided we could clean the oil up on our own. So, on the coldest day of the year we find a high curb outside our apartment and park with two tires up so husband can lay smack-dab down on the road and shimmy underneath the car to get to the engine. Who needs a jack, right?  I bring out a leaking bucket of near-boiling soapy water and a sponge, and after the blisters on both our hands cool, Husband starts going to town scrubbing away the offending oil while I stood there salivating not only over the man I love, but the man I love on the GROUND under a CAR where he knows how to find all the PARTS, and, best of all, he's not making me do it. Ahem, not that he would. So you can imagine what kind of state I was in. But that was quickly dissipated when he emerged from under the car with a shiny patina of oil coating the entirety of his upper body, and dirty soapy water running down his face and clothes. He looked like a grease monster. Add to that, the skin on my fingers was still sloughing off due to the uncommonly hot tap water used to make the soapy mixture. So, that was that.

But the car passed inspection (!), and Husband reaffirmed his status as Manly Man. Not, of course, that it was ever in question.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Warm and Walkable

And it goes on and on and on and on.

I'm still waiting for the "champion" part. German life is still fun (!), but besides the ceaseless unpacking, nothing explicitly German has been happening, so I've been struggling to find something to share. Husband and I haven't taken any trips lately, so we are getting a little stir crazy thinking that it has been a whole month since we've stepped foot in a different country (Gasp! How does life go on?). I think we will head to France soon, as the boarder is a scant hour and a half drive away and there are some good restaurants right on the border to try.

The weather here has been wonderful. Oh, look at me, talking about the weather. But truly, it has! While my family in the U.S. is digging their way out of ice and snow storms, Husband and I took a delightful 3 hour walk this weekend while the sun shone brightly on our faces and the mid-50's temperature tempted our coats right off. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. I'm so glad we moved to Germany to escape the harsh U.S. winters.

By the way, our little town, Sindelfingen, is an absolute delight. We live right in the center, so we can easily walk to shops, restaurants, several grocery stores, the local Ikea and a decent sized mall. On Saturdays there is a large farmers market on the town square- about a three minute walk from our front door. I think we've got it made. Oh, not to mention the McDonnalds, Burger King and KFC are all walkable, which means very little to us as we would rather eat sodden cardboard cooked over a trash fire and seasoned with mold, but there you have it. If only we had a Starbucks to complete the American Set.