Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A Few Berlin Oddities

The weird thing about moving to a new country is how certain things, which you’d expect to be easy, can become quite complicated. It’s all part of the experience, but it’s one of those things that can really lead to culture shock. I still remember how excited I was when I finally found a mall in Cambridge, because I could finally find stores to purchase the things I needed. I was so used to the big box store takeover in Canada, coupled with living in big cities like Toronto & Edmonton where I could almost always find exactly what I needed, that the first few months in Cambridge were a bit of a shopping shock.

We’ve had interesting experiences in Berlin with the following:

A Lamp: I would’ve thought that finding a lamp in our neighbourhood would be easy. Most of the grocery stores sell household items and there is a store in the mall called Real, which appears to be like a German Walmart (clothing, household items, groceries, etc). Apparently this was assuming too much. Every store we went into sold lightbulbs, toasters, kettles, and CD players but no lamps.

In a fit of desperation we decided to walk to what appeared to be a string of box stores. When we got there we found out that it was an yet another mall, just across from ours, but it was a very strange one. It was mostly deserted and it was really difficult to get into. There was one discount grocery on the outside, but you couldn’t access the rest of the stores through it. You needed to walk into the underground parking and find the sole entrance. Inside were more discount stores and another grocery store. It was eerily quiet inside, as most people choose to do their shopping at Gesundbrunnen Centre across the street. David and I are both convinced that it is a Commie Ghost Mall (it is really close to where the wall was) filled with the ghosts of old East Berliners. We got stuck in the grocery store, because a lot of them have a stupid anti-shoplifting barrier that means once you're in it's not easy to leave unless you pass through a checkout till, so that was mildly terrifying. And then we bought some food there, but ensured Walter didn't eat anything on the premises, because we knew from Spirited Away that he might be our only ticket out of the haunted shopping center.

We did end up finding a lamp in the end, in the Saturn store. David and I were pleased, since it had taken about two hours to locate one, but Walter seemed rather disappointed. I think with his general hatred of lamps he’d been hoping that we’d never locate one.

Blank Cards: I really like having nice stationary and try to keep a supply of pretty blank cards on hand. I also have a fair number of thank-you cards that still need to be written for various gifts that Walter’s received, so I thought it would be a simple task of buying another box of blank cards to write in. It may just be my neighbourhood, or it may be that I’m looking in the wrong stores, but I’ve been unable to locate nice blank cards anywhere. The stationary sections in all the stores I’ve been in, including paper & card stores, simply holds journals, place cards and single cards. Eventually I ended up at “Preis Pirat” where, in the kid’s arts & crafts section, I located some stickers and metallic cards for decorating. This was a full day’s quest.

Can Openers: I thought that the can-opener was fairly universal, at least in the West, but apparently I was wrong. Our flat came with a really archaic “lever can-opener” which neither David nor myself could figure out how to use on our can of sweetcorn, even after watching an instructional video on Youtube. I figured that this was just a leftover from times gone by, since as we’ve taken a holiday sublet it’s unlikely that our landlord wants to furnish it with the best and newest equipment. Well, I was wrong. When I went to the grocery store to get a new can opener they had a whole rack of lever can openers. To get a proper can opener cost €3 more... 

These are the biggest three oddities that I can think of, although on a daily basis we come across many more. Shopping in a foreign country is always an adventure. Celery seems to be a specialty item in my neighbourhood, and the only barley I could find for the soup I was making was ground up. It's really difficult to get fresh white bread from the neighbourhood bakeries, and bacon also seems to be in low demand as I've only been able to find one brand of it (and it's paper thin). David has been craving an English fry-up, so we're going to try to figure out how to make that German-style. I really miss Canadian breakfasts tho, and think I need to go out for a breakfast skillet when I'm home.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Eleven Questions

I was tagged in an eleven-question meme by one of the blogs I follow. The rules are: 

1.  Each person tagged must post 11 things about themselves.
2.  They must also answer the 11 questions the “tagger” has set for them.
3.  They must create 11 more questions to ask bloggers they have decided to tag.
4.  They must then choose 11 bloggers and tag them in their post.
5.  These “lucky” bloggers must then be told.
6.  No tag backs.

But I’m not going to follow the rules, because I think there are only ten people who follow this blog anyway and the last meme I send out tags for (a cooking one, via email) got horribly rejected and it was all quite a bit of faff. So if you want to answer my questions, I’ll post ‘em at the end and you can answer them in your own blogs, or in the comments section. Otherwise you can just enjoy reading my answers :)

So, eleven things about me -- I'm 29 years old (1), happily married (2), and really enjoying being a mum (3). I really wish I had a cat as well (4), and also would like to be somewhat settled down (5) although I feel it will be hard to commit to staying in one city for a long time since we've moved so frequently (6). My favorite thing to do is listen to folk music while reading a good novel (7), and if you bring by some champagne, fancy truffles, and then something horribly carb-and-fat laden to eat (8) I'd  probably think I was in heaven. I love to cook (9) but I get really stressed out when I have to bake (10). Thinking up lunches to make is the one thing I really dislike about keeping my family fed (11).   

The questions I must answer:

1) What was the last book you read? Adam Nicolson’s Gentry: 600 Years of a Peculiarly English Class. When Dave & I popped into Heffers to buy German dictionaries it turned out that the dictionaries were part of a 3-for-2 deal, so David found this book and we brought it to Berlin. It helps with the adjustment to leaving Cambridge and with my inability to get Downtown Abbey right now. It’s also a fun read, like an Edward Rutherford novel but using real people.   

2) If you could visit one country right now, which would it be? This is hard to answer, since we’re currently visiting a new country. I’m probably going to surprise everyone by saying America. I love visiting the US, because it’s different but not too different. I like the food, the people are friendly, the prices are low... And it’s one of the places where I don’t have any responsibility or obligations. I can usually just cut loose and relax when I’m there. That said, I think if I were living in Canada my answer would be somewhere on the European side of the globe.

3) If you could be adopted by another culture, which would you feel most at home in? I think Scotland. Scotland itself always reminds me of Canada, and the people are friendly & thrifty and seem fairly unpretentious. Out of all the places I’ve visited it’s one where I feel that I could happily live in.

4) How do you pronounce “lieutenant”? I pronounce it “lewtenant” although I know that’s wrong. Words which I read, but rarely pronounce, I often mispronounce in my reading—quay & draught are two other examples.

5) Do you speak or read any other languages? At some point in time I was granted various degrees that suggest I can read Latin, but my skills are diminishing with time since I don’t keep it up like I should. I can speak a little German, but not much. The linguist really is David, and I’m just along for the ride.

6) What is your favourite costume you’ve ever worn? Mighty Mouse, when I was 5 or 6 years old. It’s one of the few costumes that I remember turning out the way I wanted it to. My mum even borrowed my cousin Tara’s mouse ears from Disney Land so that I could have the proper head attire.

7) What is one of your favourite quotations? A small piece of Ovid, ostensibly from the Metamorphoses: “Vita est flumen; tempora nostra non incipiunt et nova sunt semper.” I came across it out of context, in a Latin exercise book, and I’ve always liked the idea of time changing, and us changing with it, just like the course of a river – sometimes fast and furious, sometimes slow & meandering. If you take it in context with the Metamormophses the meaning I suppose if I ever use it as my motto on a coat of arms in future years to come people will be swearing that I believed in reincarnation or some such!

8) Favourite flower? Most often roses, especially big tea roses, but I also like carnations for sentimental reasons (my dad always buys them for my mum, and has done so for as long as I can remember. Every two weeks without fail!)

9) Do you prefer heat or the cold? The cold, because one can always put on more layers. With the heat you eventually realise that you’re naked, there’s nothing more to take off, and you’re still uncomfortable.
10) Preferred birthday cake? Chocolate with a rich, crunchy chocolate frosting and some nuts thrown in. OR my mum’s cherry cheesecake.
11) Do you like muffins? Not particularly, or at least not the ones you can buy in shops or coffee places. The only muffin I really like is a health muffin, so bran with nuts or oatmeal or something like that. Otherwise they’re too cakey and sweet, in which case I’d rather just have some cake.
Now, my eleven questions:

1)      What is the best book that you’ve read this year?
2)      What is your favourite mealtime (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) to eat out, and why?
3)      Out of all the places you’ve lived, and I’m assuming most people reading this have at least lived in two, which place feels most like home?
4)      Describe your faith, and how you came to it. Or if you believe in nothing, why?
5)      Are you a cat person or a dog person?
6)      What is one thing you’d like to do before you die?
7)      Favourite pizza toppings?
8)      Best childhood memory?
9)      What do you like most about Christmas?
10)  Where is the farthest that you’ve traveled?
11)  What is your favourite old hymn, and why?

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Frugal Cooking: Two Excellent Meals

I'm trying to save money and be a little better with managing kitchen waste, so I'm taking our sojourn in Berlin as a good opportunity to try out my skills. I've been indulging in cooking as a hobby for about seven years now, so if I can't put those skills to good use when I need them it is sort of a massive waste. 

I was going to blog meal plans, but part of the current frugality thing is to use leftovers up as suppers instead of lunches, so the whole meal plan thing gets boring quickly. On the plus side it is so nice to have leftovers to either reheat or recycle into new meals, since it is one less thing to worry about on days when Walter doesn't want to co-operate with my plans for the day.

Last week I did manage to turn out two meals which were a good use of leftovers. The first was a delicious pork stroganoff, which I made using the leftovers from Sunday's roast. I'd spent a stupid amount of money on the roast, because I bought it at the butcher's counter and my math was off, so I needed to get two meals out of it in order to justify the money spent. The problem was the it would only comfortably serve three people and I needed to stretch it to four servings. Solution, stolen from careful British housewives, is to take the scraps of meat and round them out in a veggie laden sauce. I don't normally like stroganoff, but I found a basic recipe (I only needed to buy mushrooms & paprika) and adjust it to my tastes. It was delicious! It is as follows:

Leftover Roast-Pork Stroganoff
1 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, finely sliced
225g/8oz white mushrooms, quartered
leftover pork roast (enough for 1-2 servings), roughly cut into bite-sized pieces
1 heaping tsp of paprika
50mls gravy
70mls soured cream
1/2 tbsp lemon juice

Sautee the onion in the butter. When the onion is nearly cooked, add the pork and mushrooms and continue sauteeing until the onions are done. Stir in the paprika, as well as salt & pepper to taste (good to add enough pepper to put some bite in the sauce). Add lemon juice, sour cream, and gravy. Reduce heat and stir occasionally until heated through. Serves two.
The other win for the week was a bean goulash I made in order to use up the remainder of a package of haricot beans. I can't claim any credit for this recipe -- I got it from Rose Elliot's Bean Book, which is one of the cookbooks any kitchen concerned with either vegetarianism OR saving money should have. I don't even like eating beans, but her recipes are so good and her tip of cooking beans in low-sodium vegetable stock has really raised the humble bean to gourmet heights. It is quite cold in Berlin, with the nighttime temperature getting below zero, so a warming stew that also fulfilled our Friday obligation was just the ticket. Take-and-bake buns are easy to get in Berlin, so even our bread was nice and warm. And there is just something so perfectly homely and comforting about a pot of beans simmering away on the stove...

Beany Goulash
250g haricot beans, soaked overnight & then cooked for 1hr until tender
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 lb onions, peeled and sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
2 large green peppers, deseeded and sliced
2 x 14 oz cans of whole tomatoes
4 tbsp tomato purée
4 tsp paprika
salt, sugar, & pepper
soured cream

Saute the onion & garlic in the oil for about ten minutes, until the onion is tender. Then add the green pepper slices and saute for another five minutes or so. By this point everything should be smelling delicious. Next, stir in the spices & tomato puree (paste to you Canadians). Salt, sugar, & pepper should be added in whatever quantity you like -- I went heavy on the pepper. Then add the beans. Finally, stir in  the tomatoes, with their juice, and break them into hearty chunks using a wooden spoon. Bring everything up to a boil and then simmer, uncovered, for fifteen minutes. Serve with a nice dollop of sour cream.