Thursday, April 30, 2009

I just signed my life away!! With special SWINE FLU bonus!

...well, 50% of it, anyway. For the next eight months. I'll be working again in the same place I worked previously, half-time because the position can only be full-time if I have a yet higher degree.

Jobs are very strictly defined here, I find. Certain job titles can only be given to people with a certain degree - full stop. No amount of prior experience in the field, no amount of proven intelligence or ability to be trained, nothing can substitute for that degree. I was talking to a German friend about the work I did when I lived in the US. Job titles there are all over the map (within a company, or especially within the government, perhaps rigid, but on a grand scale, wide open to interpretation). My job title there was analyst, the day-to-day work of which she thought made it a match to the German position known as Wissenschaftler(in) - scientist. So she couldn't conceive how it was possible that I worked my analyst position in the US - with job duties similar to a scientist position here - without having had a degree higher and more specific than bachelor's. Here, that just couldn't be done, no matter one's previous experience, without the right degree. It's interesting. Most jobs in the US will require a certain degree, but it can be substituted with years of experience (often much more useful than the degree anyway). Also, I find they're often willing to work with you if you appear to be someone who will learn quickly and can be trained or went to a good university.

Now I am qualified to be hired as a scientist in Germany, which I wasn't before. The bonus of such a position, which falls into a special group called "highly qualified", is that a non-German, non-EU person can be hired for it without the position having to go through a long wait/review by a special German work board that decides if the job should/could go instead to a German or EU citizen. So, I got to go to the Auslaenderamt for my work visa just yesterday and skate right through with no wait, sign the contract today, and start work Monday. Nice!! Also, now that we've been here more than two years, I can be here on my husband's visa and, with the permissions I got there yesterday, work any job. No need for an extra sticker in my passport saying I can't work any job except for the one specific one noted on the sticker. I'm glad for this since I'm running really low on passport pages!! (I will need a page refill before the year is out. I heard Frankfurt is not a nice place to go for this service? Anyone?)

I look forward to the income and having continuously career-related stuff on my resume. But otherwise, meh. I am quite worried that the half-time hours are going to turn into full-time hours with half-time pay. Few things infuriate me more than working over what one is paid for - in my world, everyone would be paid hourly. Of course the US only moves ever more toward salaried workers.


In other news, Mary asked:
As a capstone to your MS, how about a post on swine flu. Is this really something to be worried about? I can't tell if it's a serious disease, or just a widespread one.
I don't think I can really add much valuable to what's already in the news. I don't think there's enough data yet to know how serious it is as far as the mortality rate. We know there were a lot of deaths in Mexico, but how many unreported cases that didn't end in death? Ben Goldacre over at Bad Science had a very good post about the portrayal in the media and the fact that it's really not known what will happen.

I would just encourage you to follow the link but I'm afraid no one will, so here are a few snippets. It's better if you go there and read it all. Some context: Goldacre's job is usually to write about how poorly and inaccurately science is portrayed in a sensationalist media - so he's a very good person to be commenting on the matter.

. . . I have been genuinely weirded out by the number of people inviting me to be a naysayer on the aporkalypse. I’m not, it’s a genuine risk. . . .

First it was the emails, and the tweets. This is all nonsense about the aporkalypse, surely? Just like with Sars, and bird flu, and MMR, is this all hype? The answer is no, but more interesting is this: for so many people, their very first assumption on the story is that the media are lying. It is the story of the boy who cried wolf. . . .

. . . All people have done is raise the possibility of things really kicking off, and they are right to do so, but we don’t have brilliantly accurate information. Someone has said that up to 40% of the world could be infected. Is that scaremongering? Well it’s high, and I’m sure it’s a bit of a guess, but maybe up to 40% could be. Annoying, isn’t it, not to know.

Someone has said 120 million could die. Well I suppose they could: I’m sure it was done on the back of an envelope, by guessing how many would be infected, and what proportion would die, but I don’t think anyone’s pretending otherwise.

. . . Everyone is just saying: we don’t know, it could be bad, and the newspapers are reporting that. Sure there’s a bit of vaudeville in the headlines, but they’re not saying things that are wrong, and do you really know actual, real people, normally pretty solid, who are suddenly now panicking?

By Tuesday, pundit-seekers from the media were suddenly contacting me, a massive nobody, to say that swine flu is all nonsense and hype, like some kind of blind, automated naysaying device. . . .

I assumed they were adhering, robotically, to the “balance” template, but no: he kept at it, even when I protested and explained. “Yeah, but you know, it could be like Sars and bird flu, they didn’t materialise, they were hype.” Simon Jenkins suggested the same thing. It’s not true, I said. They were risks, risks that didn’t materialise, but they were still risks. That’s what a risk is. I’ve never been hit by a car, but it’s not idiotic to think about it. Simon Jenkins won’t be right if nobody dies, he’ll be lucky, like the rest of us. . . .

I just think it’s interesting: because not only have the public lost all faith in the media; not only do so many people assume, now, that they are being misled; but more than that, the media themselves have lost all confidence in their own ability to give us the facts.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Assorted Recent Happenings

  • On Friday I passed my defense and oral exam, finally putting all the torture of my master's degree behind me. I was tired and distracted and don't remember much about the experience, honestly. My mark was a clear pass, but I thought it should have been higher. I think my bad week and my lack of familiarity with the exam format did me no favors. I was not interested in arguing about it because I just wanted it to be over and besides, does it really matter if the mark reflects how well I know the material? I am confident in my knowledge. However, today when I ran into my past and future boss and had to tell him my mark in person, I was kind of wishing I had argued. His surprise and disappointment were apparent.
  • On Friday night, some friends and I celebrated at Merlin. They have some pretty good specials, including salads for only 6 EUR on Fridays from mid-afternoon until 7pm. My salad was pretty good, and our waitress was so friendly I actually suspect she was American. My mojito was more on the limey side, when I prefer it more on the minty side, but it still did the job so that's not really a complaint. ;) I also had a white russian, and this was the first time I've seen one served layered in a martini glass with no ice! (Also with some of those ubiquitous cape gooseberry things stuck on top.) I've been thinking about doing a short run-down of all the places we've eaten/drank in Heidelberg sometime...but we'll see.
  • On Saturday, we met with the lovely people behind SoJo at Cafe Burkhardt. It was fun...and if you get the table in the back left of the room, try checking the drawer. ;) The service there is totally average, but they have a great wine list and I think the booths are really cute. They also have a little courtyard in the back. It was kind of cool so we didn't sit back there, but it looked oddly peaceful when I took a look out the window at it after sunset. (Oddly, because it was in spite of all the noise coming from the Untere Strasse!)
  • On Sunday, we decided to take advantage of the continued great weather to bike out into the fields west of Heidelberg. From the train you can always see people biking and walking along these trails through the fields and it looks so idyllic. We've been out there before but wanted to go more in the direction of Schwetzingen this time. We have a bike map from ADFC which turned out to conflict with posted bike route signs and we didn't exactly get lost, but we had a lot of trouble and ended up not going where we had really been hoping. Still, we had a nice ride. Tons of people were out. This time of year is just really beautiful here. Just stepping outside the door, you can smell flowers in the air even when there aren't any nearby. Everything is blooming! Also, out along the Neckar near Wieblingen we heard the bird that says, "Cuckoo!" (Is it just called a Cuckoo?) It sounds just like the clocks. ;)

  • Last night we went with a couple of friends to see a documentary playing in the Cine Latino film festival at Karlstor. The documentary, Mi Vida Dentro, is in English and Spanish (subtitles in one and speaking in the other, alternating), and covers the trial of an illegal Mexican immigrant charged with murdering a boy she was babysitting in Austin, TX. It's not clear from what is shown whether she was guilty as charged or not, but parts of it are pretty painful to watch. Not least was the scene where the state prosecutor, who is totally grating every time she appears, questions one of the witnesses and asks, "Is it true that even though she comes from Mexico, the defendant is very intelligent?" Anyone still want to claim that Germany is more racist than the United States?
  • Today at the grocery store the woman in line two people ahead of me was a pain in the ass. She was bagging up her groceries slowly and the checker was already checking through the next guy's stuff (the guy ahead of me). Then she decided she wanted to pack the rest of her stuff directly into her bike basket, so she left to go unlock her bike and roll it over to pack the rest of the stuff in it!! She still had her shopping basket and could have put the stuff in there and taken it to her bike, but no! By the time she was back and packing up the rest, the guy ahead of me was trying to pack up his stuff too and it was my turn. The checker started tossing my stuff through and it got mixed in with his. I only realized later he made off with my can of tomatoes!! I'm sure it was an accident, but grr! I only noticed when it was too late! All because of the bike lady...please people, be considerate of each other at the grocery store.
  • Upcoming stuff you might want to know about if you live in the area: this Saturday, May 2, is Heidelberg's Lange Nacht des Einkaufens, long night of shopping, where stores will be open until midnight (later?)! This is super-luxurious since everything usually closes at 8pm. Plus there's usually a Feuerwurst stand in the Bismarckplatz - yum. Friday, May 1, is the wine walk in the Hessische Bergstrasse, which we did two years ago and hope to do again this year if the weather cooperates (so far it looks like it will). You can start the trail in Heppenheim or Zwingenberg or pick it up somewhere in between. Also, the night before May 1 there's usually a ginormous party on top of the Heiligenberg at the Thingstaette. I can't say I've ever been up there for it, but if you go take a flashlight or something. I heard it's hella dark.

Monday, April 27, 2009

AmiExpat's Spargel mit Kratzete (White Asparagus with Pancake Bits) Challenge!

AmiExpat has been challenging other bloggers to a weekly session of German cooking from recipes she has translated herself out of an old cookbook. Since Spargelzeit is upon us, this week's chosen recipe was Spargel mit Kratzete, or white asparagus with torn up pancake bits!

Most of the asparagus sold here is grown in nearby Schwetzingen. We didn't make it out in time to go to the market, so we first checked Rewe. They were all out of it, though they had plenty of the green kind left. Then we checked the nearby Turkish market, and they had a nice supply. It's not cheap - the price for what we got was 8.50 EUR per kg. I guess this is because it's rather labor-intensive to grow. To keep the asparagus from turning green, it must be protected from the sun, so it's buried in dirt/manure/tarp then dug out later.

Peeling it is a pain, but I find I don't really like green asparagus that isn't peeled either (I like the older stuff rather than the younger, skinny ones), so nothing new there. It doesn't peel off nicely like carrots, but is stringy and curls up, gets caught in the peeler, etc. Persevere!

We tied the Spargel up in bundles and put it in the water. We decided to halve the recipe because it said it was four servings, and there were just the two of us, and it didn't look like something that would reheat well. (We don't have a microwave so all reheating is done on the stove or in the oven.) We ended up buying .8 kg of Spargel and tied it into two nice little bundles before dropping it in the boiling water. It juuuuust fit in our pot.

The recipe for the pancakes called for 5 eggs and when halving it we went with 3. Beating the whites without a mixer was a bit of work, but they looked nice when it was accomplished.

We made one giant pancake at a time, then broke it up with a fork in the pan as directed by the recipe. We also followed the suggestion to keep the broken bits in the oven while making the rest of the pancakes. This recipe made a lot of pancake.

Since there were just two of us we didn't arrange the ham (we got Schwarzwaelder Schinken, Black Forest ham) on a serving dish or anything, just put some on our individual plates, then divvied up the asparagus and took a big pile of pancakes. You can see the enormous pile in this photo of my plate. Even with all that, we had another serving of pancake bits left over. It was then quite clear why the estimated calories for this dish are 900 per serving! It is a huge meal. I think the original recipe would easily serve six instead of just four. Also, for the non-pork-eaters out there, the ham is not part of the actual recipe at all, it's just eaten on the side. So, it would be very easy to cut it entirely or substitute any sort of other smoked sliced meat. To cut the calorie content, use skim milk for the pancakes. Also, you don't really need as much butter as it calls for on the asparagus, we found. We only needed about half that.

It turned out really well and I would recommend it to all you asparagus fans! :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Distance doesn't really make the heart grow fonder

From an email conversation with my husband today:

Can't we move to Canada???? Our kids will never know their grandparents if we stay over here!!!
I'm also worried that our kids won't know their grandparents. That's really been my main concern all along about staying here, and it really weighs on me. (That and us not being close to our parents--they were such a part of our lives for so many years. It sucks to be so far away and so estranged from them.) I have nothing personal really against Canada, but the problem as I see it is a lack of money for science. Unfortunately, I'm sort of a slave to the system if I stay in academic science, which sort of limits our options on where to live, and the US and Germany are much better bets for funding for basic science research.
I'll keep my eyes open for job postings. However, in the short term, it might be better to get a position and establish myself here while there's still money (before the recession really hits). I'm sort of up in the air about this, actually, since it could mean a big move with a family. I don't know, really, what to do.

Yeah, for some reason I only remember and flip out about it when something bad happens.
Dammit, I wish we could have been born somewhere cool so we wouldn't have to deal with this.* I don't want to go back to the US or even really Canada although that would be better. They're all new, and ugly, and spread out. FUCKING HELL!!! But at least Canada gets health care and vacation I guess. :/

Yeah, I know what you mean. I imagine it's worse for you since you grew up next door to your grandparents. Anyways, if people really meant what they said when they elected Obama, then maybe the US will get better soon (livability-wise, there's really nothing you can do about it being ugly and spread out)? Then, one option is to wait it out here until things improve. It sounds like the coward's way out (why not go back and fight to make it a better place), but the truth is that I'm more concerned about my family's comfort and security than making a stand. And to be honest, are WE more important to our children than our parents? We would really have more time for them here--I don't know about Canada, but maybe it's the case there, too. I'm concerned about us spending more time with our parents, but I don't think our kids will really miss it if that's what they're used to.

The US has so much else to worry about and any steps to improve the quality of life could be likened to socialism, so I don't know if things are going to improve, even if people were gung-ho about Obama. While we wait here for the US to become a place that might be a better environment for our kids, our parents are getting older fast. And even if they don't know what they're missing by not really knowing our parents, I know what they are missing, and since our parents are generally awesome, they are missing a lot. :( It would not be easy to get past it. It's not easy to get past the downsides of life in the US either. Freaking hell. I wish I truly believed the US was objectively a better place to live.
I've never really made a good argument on this blog as to why the quality of life in Germany may be better than in the US. Partly I haven't gotten around to it. Partly I'm worried that it would turn too political for my taste and I don't know how to get around that. This isn't a political blog and I don't want it to be. I consider myself an independent.

I've never believed that distance made the heart grow fonder. Time spent apart from friends actually seems to just make things worse. You start to have less to share with each other, and you realize you don't really need them as much as you thought you did before. You still love them, but it isn't the same as when you're around them every day. Sometimes, the more difficult things about your relationship with them become all the more clear when you're not constantly reminded of their positive aspects by seeing them all the time.

Such has been my relationship with the United States. I love it, I miss it. Some of the positive things about it have become more clear since I moved to Germany. But more so have some of the negatives. I feel the quality of life in Germany is simply better. The draw of my family, especially when I think about my potential future children, and the draw of my native language are very strong. But they are balanced exactly by the improvements in the quality of life here - better and simpler health coverage, more vacation time, less sprawl and more transportation options, slower pace of life and better work/life balance.

I don't know what to think or do, although the doing part is actually not all that much under our control. On most days, being away from my family is a bummer constantly buzzing in the background, though I can remind myself I didn't see them that much when I lived in Boston, either. But at a time like this, being away from my family is utter misery, just unbearable. And when I think about my relationship with my grandparents, and how much I love my parents and my sisters, I don't know what the hell we could possibly be thinking staying over here!! It's completely insane to deprive ourselves and our children of time with our parents and our siblings!

Then I remember - two weeks' vacation, difficulty making ends meet after retirement or feeling one can never retire, insane insurance system that may cover less or may cover more than here depending on the sheer luck of where we work, consumerism ratcheted up about 50 notches, living in a suburb and commuting 3 hours to work in our two different cars.... please, I invite you to convince me that the quality of life in the United States is objectively better! I wish I believed it was. I really want to want to go back. Maybe someone who has been here and moved back can tell me that they felt the same way, and when they got back to the US it wasn't really as bad as they were imagining?

Sometimes I wish we'd never have come here so I wouldn't have truly known what I was missing. Now, will any place feel like the right choice?

*Yeah, I realize I sound like an idiot here. I would still appreciate if people would refrain from kicking me while I'm down, but since this is the internet, I am not counting on that.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Heidelberg Spring Watch #14


It's overcast today. The weather seems fitting to me. My super-awesome grandpa passed away yesterday while he was having some cake. As my defense is now only a week away, and I start a new job in two weeks that is contingent on a successful defense, and for some other reasons, it is not very likely that the trip home will happen. If any of this sounds familiar, it's because something very similar already happened before, about two months ago.

This was probably 5-6 years ago. These two people were amazing, and like Super Grover, they're cute, too - so I had to share a photo. I am so lucky they were my grandparents.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gelatin Leaves!

1 comment
After I bought the Dickmilch a few days back just for the lulz, I had to think of some way to actually use it. I googled for a recipe and found one here (it's in German) that looked pretty alright. But, it calls for gelatin leaves! I had never heard of or seen these before. I think in the US gelatin is generally only powdered. We found some gelatin leaves quite easily though, in the baking section at our little Rewe. I expected them to look sort of like a sheet of pressed powder, probably because my brain is still stuck on the powdered gelatin idea. But when I pulled them out to have a look last night, I discovered that they actually look like beautiful old windows! Check it out!

Alas, the strawberries we bought for this purpose a couple of days earlier met a white fuzzy end sooner than we expected, so we still didn't get a chance to make the recipe and see if this Dickmilch stuff is any good. Maybe tonight.

And I hate to brag, but it's freaking gorgeous again in Heidelberg today.

(Not that I'm out enjoying it... I'm staring at binders full of information that might be on my final exam, wondering how the hell an oral exam on shit I learned and was already tested on over a year ago is at all relevant to the way things work in the real world. Oh wait....I've been in the real world, and it's not at all how the real world works.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Heidelberg Spring Watch #12

It actually rained a little bit today, but now it's sunny again, and it's been warm the whole time. Even our little cavelike apartment, which remains pretty cool, has started to warm up now.

In case anyone's been wondering what the other side of the river looks like, here's a photo of it which we took yesterday!
Other photos from yesterday:


Monday, April 13, 2009

AmiExpat's Harzer Lamm (Harzer Lamb) Challenge!

AmiExpat has been challenging other bloggers to a weekly session of German cooking from recipes she has translated herself out of an old cookbook. For Easter, she chose a lamb recipe, Harzer Lamm in Buttermilch. The side was to be a variety of potato dumplings called Thueringer Kloesse, but they looked really complicated and we were having guests at this meal, so we wanted to stick with something we felt a little more confident about. So, we decided to make the Schneebaellchen again.

We didn't have to order the leg of lamb ahead of time, we just found it on the shelf at the grocery store. Whew! We probably couldn't have gotten it in time if we ordered it, because we decided kind of late to go ahead with this project. On Friday, we started marinating it in the buttermilk. Somehow, it's a total gross-out to do this. Looking at it we also realized this may be the least kosher recipe in the history of mankind. (But, frankly, because I have never had to follow these rules, I don't know very much about how the not "seething a kid in its mother's milk" rule is interpreted.)

On Sunday afternoon, we took the lamb out of the marinade, dried it with paper towels, and browned it in butter and oil. This recipe is fairly simple compared to earlier ones we've done: there were no root vegetables to chop up or anything. The lamb is put in the oven with only the drippings from browning it, some diluted wine, and a layer of bacon on the top. Twice during the cooking we basted it with the wine.

In the meanwhile, we did the potato dumplings, which turned out differently this time than last time. It was harder to get them to the right consistency. This could be due to some difference in the potatoes, or the fact that we made the dough ahead of time and kept it in the fridge for a little while instead of making the dumplings immediately. A lot more flour was needed this time and they tasted very different from the first time too: still great though!

When the lamb was done we threw together the drippings with lemon zest, parsley, garlic, and creme fraiche mixed with flour. We actually used Mondamin, a sauce thickening flour, instead of regular flour. The sauce never really thickened though. We weren't sure how thick it's actually supposed to be so we didn't make any changes. Maybe we should have used regular flour or added more. Or maybe it is supposed to be a very thin sauce.

As a vegetable I made the same carrots my mom always made when I was growing up, with butter and brown sugar. Not the recommended side for this dish, I guess, but it looked very pretty on the plates.

One of our guests arrived early and we got really busy, so I forgot to get a photo of the lamb when it came out of the oven. I only got one after Damon had carved it up. Then we forgot to get a photo of a plate of the food until after we already started eating, so what you see here is my plate after I've already tucked into it!

Everything turned out great! I haven't really eaten lamb that often so I'm not sure how it compares to a typical lamb recipe, but the texture was great and the sauce went especially well with it - it tasted really fresh! Everyone seemed to like it - they ate everything and one went back for more dumplings. Yay! The recipe was just the right size for six people as it says. All of the lamb was finished. We also went through about four and a half bottles of wine and talked about countries and attitudes all night with three people from the American continent and three from the Asian continent who all live in Europe. If you are ever in search of perspective, try this.

Spring watch! Only a few brown patches left!:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Heidelberg Spring Watch #10

Leave a Comment

Frohe Ostern / Happy Easter! Another nice day, and things are looking seriously green! This was our first Easter in Heidelberg, actually. Two years ago we spent it in Luebeck, and last year we were in Wien! We had friends over for dinner, which you'll hear all about tomorrow, since the recipe we made was part of AmiExpat's German cuisine challenge.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Facebook says: On the inside, I'm really a German.

I took a silly Facebook quiz today that one of my other friends had taken. It was to find out what your inner nationality is. My friend got American and that's what I expected to get, too. I spend a lot of time here witnessing my Americanness in contrast with German society, so it's always on my mind. Instead, I got German! Have I been assimilated? :D

This beautiful weather has come with a price: allergies!! I dug out my stash of soft American tissues. This was a mistake - now the German tissues feel rougher than ever!

Note the boat in the foreground of the photo - you can rent either a pedalboat or a little motorized boat near the bridge that crosses the river near the Bismarckplatz, on the Neuenheim side. It looks like they have more motorboats this year than before, for everyone who's already experienced a pedalboat and knows that it's hell. :)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Heidelberg Spring Watch #8


Another lovely day, and it's a holiday here in Germany, as is Monday! It's started to get humid again, as you can tell by the haze that's reappeared in the photo but was gone in the previous few days.

I should note that this particular hill maybe wasn't the best choice because it's north-facing and gets the least sun of any in Heidelberg. It's also sadly lacking in flowering trees. Still, it's hard to resist picking the hill with the castle on it. :)

This morning we got together with Ann on a Moose and her husband for brunch, who were coming through on their way to visit Dilsberg! It was really great and we even found out we had our college major in common!

Speaking of meeting cool fellow bloggers, a location has been chosen for the next expat blogger meet-up: Munich! Come by the forum if you're a fellow English-speaking blogger in Germany and register to join. We're currently voting on dates to hold the meet-up so don't miss out!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Heidelberg Spring Watch #7

1 comment

Another incredible day here. Un-freaking-glaublich. Keep it up, HD!!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Food Writing Can Be So Lame

I was digging through our giant stash of clipped recipes the other day and came upon this bit o' lameness from a recipe for "Bistro Pizza" from Veggie Life magazine (it's true, I was a vegetarian for a while):

"If you've ordered a pizza in Europe, you were probably startled when it came to the table with a whole egg plopped right in the center. After the initial shock, you probably also came to admire the downright perkiness of it, as well as the flavor."

Huh? I've ordered plenty of pizzas in Europe (you's all the same....Lithuania, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Germany, Sweden, Serbia....), and it only had an egg on it if I intentionally ordered a pizza that comes with egg on it. (In my case, Capricciosa pizza in Italy.) So, no extreme shock to overcome. And it was actually half a hard-boiled egg, not a whole egg plopped in the center. Also, an egg cannot be "perky" unless it's been painted with something perky on it. So if you ever wonder why my food posts are not very interesting, it's because I can't deal with the pretension of what's considered good food writing.

By the way, it's still spring!:

I'm going to put all the Spring Watch photos in this album too, if you want to look through them more easily:
Heidelberg Spring Watch Apr 09

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Heidelberg Spring Watch #5


Another beautiful day here - partly cloudy, but warm!

I met a friend mid-afternoon at Schafheutle. Their seasonal ice cream treat this week is the lovely strawberry-rhubarb concoction above!! Yum, and yay spring!

Monday, April 06, 2009

AmiExpat's Kalbshaxn (Veal Knuckle) Challenge!

AmiExpat has been challenging other bloggers to a weekly session of German cooking from recipes she has translated herself out of an old cookbook. This week's recipe, Kalbshaxn, was chosen by Damon himself, so anyone who didn't like this recipe can blame him. :)

This adventure started last Monday with the ordering of the knuckle, which isn't something you can always just find sitting on the meat shelf at the supermarket. They said Thursday was too soon for them to get it in. On Fridays during Lent, they have no meat delivery at all. So, we ordered it to pick up on Saturday.

We were busy on Saturday so we made it yesterday. As it turns out, it was another warm, sunny, gorgeous day here in Heidelberg, and hanging out in our gross little cave-kitchen didn't seem like the best way to spend it, but we were committed to the challenge. ;)

All the usual suspects - carrots, celery root, etc - were chopped up. I used a red onion because we had a couple left over from a project earlier this week. The big hunk o' meat was seared on all sides on the stove. The veggies were fried up in some butter, beef stock was added (thanks, Knorr). You can see all this in the photos. In the third photo, Damon's demonstrating how his mom taught him to get rid of the extra oil/grease - suck it up with paper towels. At this point, the recipe calls for the whole mess to be moved from the stove to the oven in the same dish. We don't have any dishes that are appropriate for both the stovetop and the oven, so we had to just dump everything onto something else. Yes, onto, not into. We don't have any sort of large roasting dish, actually, so we cooked the knuckle on one of the shelf-pan things that came with our oven.

This actually worked out okay, though it wasn't the best. Because it was so wide, the stock and veggies were spread thin and some of them got a little burned. We ended up making another half-liter or so of stock over what the recipe called for to make the gravy, because so much of it sort of dried up on the big old shelf. The recipe called for all the veggies, after being roasted with the knuckle, to be pureed into gravy. We don't have any devices for pureeing, so we decided to leave it chunky. I actually really liked this idea because I usually prefer chunks to anything with too uniform a texture. Before putting the gravy together we picked a few charred veggies out and tossed them.

Christina suggested Semmelknoedel as a side for this dish. Although we have a great Semmelknoedel recipe that we like to make - courtesy of the German goverment, in fact (I don't see it anymore, but it was on that site) - the knuckle was enough to worry about on such a nice day, so we cheated and got the kind of Semmelknoedel you can buy in a box at the store. :)

Verdict: Good! The meat turned out well. The gravy had a little too much flavor-o'-Knorr (the powder you make stock out of) if you ask me, so maybe next time I'd go with the effort to make real beef stock. Maybe. Damon said the gravy was a lot better than he expected - no burn flavor despite a few charred veggies probably sneaking in. Naturally we'd have used a better pan if we could have and would still recommend doing that, but it can be done the way we did and still be great!

In other news, it's another unbelievably gorgeous day in Heidelberg again. Look at that green spread!!

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Yesterday we went to Karlsruhe! It's only about 45 minutes away by S-Bahn (the slower, regional train), but we've only really been there for layovers at the train station on our way to points further south. We and a friend wanted to see Slumdog Millionaire in English, but couldn't find any English viewings in Heidelberg or Mannheim. (Key to help you find one: "OV" next to the listing means Original Verfassung/Originalfassung - the original version, in the original language of the movie. "OmU" is Original mit Untertiteln, original with German subtitles.) We ended up using to find one, and the closest were in Karlsruhe and Frankfurt. We decided to go to Karlsruhe a little early to look around.

Karlsruhe is a little smaller than Mannheim and has a university. There's a castle of the sprawling-with-garden variety, and the roads fan out with the castle as a central point. The city is almost entirely modern, with wide roads and sidewalks, fountains, flower beds, and enormous pedestrian areas. The weather was beautiful and everyone was out walking around! Click the cherry blossoms for more photos:

Karlsruhe Apr 09

We had just made it from the train station to the castle when we realized we were getting a little short on time and weren't completely sure whether to trust Google Maps on the location of the theater, so we set out for it, with an ice cream stop on the way. :D

The theater was indeed where Google said it was so we were a little early and checked out all the posters outside. Today they're showing Baraka, a great movie from the 90s showing various scenes from around the world. It looks like a pretty cool place. Only about five other people showed up for the movie with us - I guess because of the great weather, or maybe people just prefer to see their movies dubbed into German rather than subtitled. Some of the movie is actually in Hindi and then subtitled into English so at points there was a little confusion with English and German subtitles all over the screen! Still, I was happy to get to see it in the original language. After the movie we wandered around, mysteriously (or not-so) in the mood for Indian food, but unable to find any in the vicinity of the theater. We decided the general direction of the university may be the way to go for that, and found some!!

We headed back to Heidelberg on the 8:30 S-Bahn. It was packed to the rafters with people coming to Heidelberg and Mannheim to party! There was definitely a summery feel on the hot, standing-only party train. ;)

And now: today's Heidelberg Spring Watch!There's green above the line of the castle now!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Heidelberg Spring Watch #2

1 comment
Well, I had to take it at a bad time today because of my schedule. Also, it was hazy again. So it's hard to see much color, but here it is anyway! :)


Friday, April 03, 2009


This whole week we've been having beautiful, warm, sunny weather. The birds are going nuts, there are flowers all over the place, and you can see buds and leaves forming on the trees. Yeah! Unfortunately my second stage of pre-graduation (I hope) hibernation is about to begin as time is very short before my thesis defense and final exam. When I come back out, spring will be all over!

This weather was a special bonus for us Wednesday, as Damon took the day off for his birthday. We did whatever he wanted to do, starting with lunch at a new falafel place near the Jesuitenkirche. It's right where there used to be a sex shop, which was kind of a landmark because, well, it was an interesting contrast with the church. The place was doing great business, really friendly, and has free tea for everybody! He wanted a new wallet and jeans for his birthday, so we went shopping for those. We never ventured into the men's jeans section at Galeria Kaufhof before. It was funny to see brands like Lee and Wrangler priced at 80 EUR a pop. Let this serve as a reminder that European things sold in the US are not expensive because they are fancy, they are expensive because they are imported. The way this works the other way around makes that clear! I also got a laugh out of a men's shirt i saw on the sale rack that said in giant, bold letters, BLOCK OF THE ROCK. hehe, what!? We also got ice cream and had dinner at Dorfschaenke in Neuenheim, which I've already gone on about here a few times. Yum!

So, I'm hoping to do a sort of Heidelberg spring watch by taking almost-daily pictures from about the same spot showing the hills turning green! They're still brown at the moment:

Those trees across the river on the right look a little green, though! It's misty here a lot but hopefully we'll be able to see the change anyway.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Embarrassing Purchase Mistakes

I just found Ger-sey Girl's blog recently so I've been catching up. In one post, she admits to mistaking vinegar for vegetable oil, and even cooking with it a few times before realizing her mistake!

When we first moved here, we only had a few weeks of evening German classes under our belts and knew very little. Pictures and packaging were more important than ever in trying to figure out what we were buying! "This bottle is shaped like a conditioner bottle....hmm....well, hopefully it's conditioner." "Is this laundry detergent? Well, in the diagrams on the back, it looks like they're putting it in a washing machine. So....maybe?"

Amazingly, no mistakes were made during this period! We managed to buy the right things and soon learned all the words so that wasn't a problem anymore. No, my big embarrassing mistake was just based on laziness - I was in a hurry, they were next to what I really did want, and I didn't read the package - and wasn't very long ago. Hopefully the cashier assumed I was buying the incontinence pads for someone else. Gah!!!

Anyone else?