Copyright

All original content © 2011-2014. Photos and Text, unless otherwise stated, are by the author of Pork Bier Belly. If you want to use images or writing, please ask for permission prior to using.

Monday, November 21

The Mömax Guy

Spoiler alert- we have a couch.

Here’s how it started. When we were on the market for a couch (and a TV, guest bedroom furniture and many other things) we mostly looked at three furniture stores. Massive, retail Lazy Boy type of shops. Germans love paying top dollar euro for high end furniture and there are plenty of shops that cater to that market. We are not that market. We are Ikea folk. The last home we had, we bought nice furniture for our living, dining and master bedrooms. Guest bedrooms? They had Ikea furniture. And although it isn’t bad or won’t fall apart when someone’s sleeping, it isn’t the highest quality of furniture. Knowing that this Germany stint is temporary, for now, we had the same goals as the last time. Get decent furniture for decent price.

The three shops we looked at were Ikea, Mömax and XXX Lutz. (Everytime I read XXX Lutz or see a sign for it, it makes me think it’s a porn shop.) And to make things even more comical, Mömax is owned by XXX Lutz or vise versa. XXX is the higher end of the two.

We saw a couch we liked at Mömax and asked one of the retail guys for more information about material (leather or pleather), cost, delivery and etc. After getting the answers from him, we told him we’d wait a day or two to think things over. As we were leaving, another guy approached us. He said, “I saw that you were thinking about buying that couch.” Do you have any more questions about it? We answered, “No, we just need time to think about it.” He then said, “If you buy it now, I will give you the couch and the matching ottoman for a discount.” Our eyes and ears perked up so we asked about the percentage of discount. As he was walking to his desk to look at the numbers, we followed him. He sat down so we sat down. Then he gave us the discount rate which we were happy with but we wanted to know if we could come back couple days later to make the purchase. He, of course, sternly said, “NO! It’s a onetime offer and he wouldn’t offer it again later.” So then the husband asked about cancellation, “Could we cancel the order if needed?” (The reason for this question was so we could check the living room dimensions with the couch’s and make sure it fits. Reasonable, right?) He, of course, again said no to that also. But he insisted it would be fine and that we should buy the couch. (Imagine an American car salesman trying to meet his numbers and get the commission). After few minutes of discussing (in our language), we decided to decline the offer. And that’s when the man got really angry, really fast. He threw his hands up and said in English “I don’t understand you. You want this couch and I put in all the information in the computer and now you don’t want it.” We tried to explain to him, calmly, we needed time to think about it. And he repeated 3-4 times, very heatedly, “I don’t understand you!” Then he got up, pointed to the door and told us he wasn’t helping us. As he is walking away from the desk, he nodded his head and continued to repeat “I don’t understand this!”

We left, shocked and confused. We couldn’t understand why he was so angry but we conclude that because he looked up the discount rate and delivery information he may have expected us to buy the couch. And of course the language barrier had something to do with it but we can’t confirm anything.

Regardless, we didn’t get that couch. We went to XXX and bought one that we’re thoroughly happy with.

We’ve been back to the store to look for other things since then and anytime we see him, we say “there’s the Mömax guy.”

Thursday, November 17

Let's eat Potatoes and Meat

Last night's dinner was Shrimp Curry that’s really Shrimp Masala. We had an attempt at shrimp curry few weeks ago and that wasn’t successful, actually let’s just call it a failure. So I had to try it again and this time around, it was a huge hit.

But this post isn’t about my cooking. It’s about the German food/cooking.

What we notice regularly is the obsession with potatoes. We know Germans enjoy pork and sauerkraut but they also relish their potatoes. There are potato salads, potato dumplings (Knödel), pancakes and fries. Oh the Germans love fries. When we go to a German restaurant often we see neighboring tables eating French Fries with their meals. Grown adults ordering French Fries. Hopefully after this I won’t be on the French Fry Federation’s hit list because I love French Fries too, not with bratwursts and sauerbraten.

And then the love of potatoes goes beyond that. We’ve had meals come with Knödel and roasted potatoes. So it’s a main meal with a side of potatoes and another side of potatoes.

This isn’t reflective of the German eating habits, it’s mostly how our food consumption has evolved after moving here. Prior to the move we consumed meat 4 times a week, sometimes more and sometimes less. Here we’re finding ourselves eating meat twice a week or less. Although Germans love their pork and eat it very regularly; we, on the other hand, now have a bigger preference for vegetarian meals. The meat we buy is from poultry farmers that have a chicken(Hähnchen), turkey(Pute or Putenfleisch), goose(Gans) and duck(Ente) farm. And our butcher (Metzgerei) has fresh pork, beef and some lamb products. The meat is more expensive here than in the US. I believe the higher costs are reflective of the land that the animals graze on and their feed. (And of course the dollar to euro conversion also makes a difference.) So we’ve accepted our meat comes from a good place and consume less of it.

Monday, October 31

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

This is so much the Halloween recipe that I waited to post it, on October 31. In fact, tonight’s dinner is chicken chili but I want to share this today because the soup is loaded with garlic. And you know garlic keeps the vampires away. Sometimes, it's easier and fun to be silly.

And though it doesn’t feel like Halloween in the old city here in Germany, I am still playing along.
Grilled Cheese

4- 6 ounces Emmentaler (swiss) cheese, grated

6 slices sandwich bread, sliced 1/4 inch thick (I bought a bread that was part sourdough and part wheat bread from my Bäckerei and it worked)

2 tablespoons butter or clarified butter, softened

Heat a cast iron skillet or a heavy 12-inch skillet over low to medium heat. Meanwhile, brush the outsides of the bread with softened butter. Layer one slice with 1/3 of the cheese and top with the 2nd layer of bread.

Put each sandwich in the skillet. Put another heavy skillet or pan on top for weight. Cook until crisp and deep golden brown, 3 minutes then flip the sandwich, carefully (we had trouble with this because the cheese stuck to the cast iron skillet), and continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Serve immediately with hot tomato soup.

Tomato Soup

5 vine ripe tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tablespoon clarified butter
1 small onion, sliced or chopped
small Parmigiano-Reggiano rind*, optional
1 cup water
1/4 cream or whole milk

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place whole tomatoes and unpeeled garlic cloves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast tomatoes and garlic until skins are wrinkled, 30- 40 minutes. (My garlic became too brown, but I don’t mind so watch the garlic).

Heat clarified butter in medium pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the cheese rind if using. Peel tomatoes and garlic once cooled. Stir in tomatoes, garlic, salt and black pepper to the pot with onions. Add water and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until soup thickens, 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

When slightly cool, remove the cheese rind with a slotted spoon. Blend the soup with a hand blender or a food processor. Pour the soup back into the pot and stir in whole milk. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Serve immediately with cheese sprinkled on top and grilled cheese sandwich.

*Note- when I’ve grated all the cheese from Parmigiano-Reggiano, I save the rind (it is edible) for soups and stews. I add the rind after the onions/garlic/celery/carrots are finished sautéing. The rind releases its flavors while the soup cooks. Then when the soup’s ready, discard the rind. It’s safe to eat but no one wants to get a big piece of semi melted cheese block in a bite. I learned this rind trick from Lidia Bastianich.

(I know many cheeses are naturally aged and have edible rinds but some do not like Gouda. If you decide to add a rind other than Parmigiano- Reggiano, make sure it’s one that is edible otherwise you’ll end up with melted plastic soup.)

Monday, October 24

Greek Baked Beans

This was inspired from our dinner at Meteora Taverna. The beans and lamb were so good, I wanted nothing but to try this at home. I looked up many recipes online and created my own from the various versions. The key was to braise the meat with the beans. The other thing were the herbs, dill and oregano were repeated in almost all the recipes. Parsley was also an important element but I don’t remember parsley in the dish we ate at Meteroa so I omitted it. That and Parsley and I don’t get on so swell. It’s not you Parsley, it’s me. However I can say I’ve given Parsley a chance here in Deutschland and it’s worked so far, I added it to a soup and I didn’t mind its forthright taste. Who knows, this may be the place I find Parsley’s flavor appealing. The recipe implies baked beans but I, on the other hand, did not bake ours. This is why I call it my own recipe.


Gigantes Plaki (Greek Baked Beans) and Chicken

1 1/2 cup dried gigantes (or lima beans)
4 bone-on chicken pieces, (dark meat is preferred because of the long braising time)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic
4 cups water (stock would be better)
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 medium tomatoes, diced
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the beans in water overnight.

Heat oil in a 5 quart dutch oven. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces on both sides. Add the seasoned chicken to the dutch oven with hot oil. Cook on the first side for 8 minutes, or until the chicken is ready to turn. If the meat is sticking to the pan, let it continue to cook on the first side. Turn and cook for 6 minutes. Remove the chicken from the dutch oven to a plate. Add bay leaves and garlic and let them cook for 20- 30 seconds. Then immediately add the drained beans. Stir in dill, oregano, salt and pepper. Add 1/2 cup of the water. With a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits from the pan. Increase the heat, add the chicken and the other 3 1/2 cups of water. (The water should be half way to the chicken.) When liquid is boiling, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

After the first hour, stir in the tomato paste and diced tomatoes and continue to cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Then remove the chicken and continue cooking the beans, uncovered, 20 more minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Serve warm with chicken and crust bread.

Yields 4 servings

Thursday, October 20

unusual

In all of my young-adult and adult life, I’ve always had a car. Even while living closer to Washington DC for college my parents gave me a car (mostly so I would come home in the weekends and not go to DC.) Same goes for him. All of his young-adult and adult years had some mode of transportation that he called his own. Briefly when he first arrived in United States for graduate school he did not have a car but that didn’t last long. When family visited from India he bought a car to travel with them. So the unusualness is this is the first time in our lives neither of us has a car. Thankful to a very well built public transportation infrastructure, we haven’t had a need for a car. Once in a while, when we need to buy a large piece of furniture we wish for one but other than those times we love not having one (and its maintenance). Which leads me to walking. Walking a lot and often. We walk everywhere. And we enjoy it. Not only is this good for the environment, it’s great for our waist lines. Together, we’ve lost 30 pounds or 14 kilograms since moving to Germany. This is also unusual because in United States I paid gym membership for years to go regularly and never saw weight loss results. So this walking thing has multiple benefits.

Then the other unusual thing, when we lived in United States, I didn’t care much for wings. They were fine, once in a blue moon but I never had the craving for them. The husband on the other hand was a complete different scenario. There was a wing place close to work and often he and his coworkers went there for happy hour and “dinner”. I never understood how wings can be sufficient for dinner, maybe having many wings and a lot of beer makes a complete meal? I digress. So never having a craving for wimpy piece of meat I was surprised to learn there isn’t one restaurant in town that serves tasty wings. What’s the saying about ‘you always want what you can’t have?’ That was me few days ago, I was craving wings, especially since I knew I couldn’t have them. I asked few vendors at the farmers market and found them.

So I made this recipe with some adaptations and I am renaming it “so good we don’t have time to take pictures wings

1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns, crushed and chopped finely
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 chicken wings, split into drummettes and wingettes
2 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, grated or finely minced
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons Sriracha

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a small container, combine Sichuan peppercorns and salt. Sprinkle over both sides of the chicken wings. On a foil-lined, greased baking sheet, add chicken wings. Place in the oven for 10 minutes, turn and bake for 10 more minutes or until almost cooked-through.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add minced garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar and Sriracha. Whisk well to combine. Cook for 1 more minute and then remove the pan from heat.

Transfer chicken wings and Sriracha-butter mixture into a bowl. Using tongs, mix together until wings are liberally covered with sauce. Return coated wings to the foil-lined baking sheet and place in the oven for 6- 8 minutes or until browned.

Serve immediately

As soon as the wings came out of the oven, we gobbled them up. I asked for feedback for future attempts and he said “I love them”. I’ve tried my hand at wings couple times but this is the first time they were this good.

And finally dessert. I rarely bake. Because I despise measuring ingredients and baking food at a specific temperature. I am a chef that cooks with my eyes, nose, ears and hands (obviously, but I like to feel how much salt or spices to add in a dish with my fingers rather than measuring.) So baked desserts are a rare form in my house. Fortunately this dessert is exactly how I like to cook, add ingredients to feel and bake for 30 minutes.

Pear Crumble
2 ripe pears
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons almonds, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Streusel Topping:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup milk, may not use it all
Butter, at room temperature for the baking dish

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Butter a baking dish. Slice the pears and put them in a large bowl. Sprinkle over the brown sugar, flour, almonds and nutmeg and toss to coat the pears with nutmeg. Spread the pears up in a buttered baking dish.

In the same bowl, mash together the butter, brown sugar, flour, and salt with your hands. Stir in milk, a little at a time. The mixture should be sticky and crumbly. Evenly spread the mixture over the pears in the baking dish and bake until the topping is crunchy and browned and the pears are very tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

This dessert was unusually good.

(The dessert can be baked after the wings are done.)

Tuesday, October 18

Internet Saga IV

After many weeks of stress and waiting, I am happy to report we are finally connected to the Internet!

Late last week Kabel Deutschland technician came to look at the main cable box in the basement neighbor’s apartment. Fortunately they both arrived at the same time and all the “checking” was completed in 15 minutes. The conclusion? Kabel Deutschland must install a new cable box in an open area (as opposed to in someone’s apartment- duh Einstein! and it took 8+ weeks to figure that out?). The technician had the new box with him but unfortunately did not have the correct parts and tools to install the box. It’s like a carpenter brings timber to make a table and chair but doesn't bring a saw or axe.

Since he didn’t have the parts, we’ll have to wait 2 weeks for it.

But more importantly, earlier in the day Deutsch Telekom came to “turn on” the Internet for Alice. (It was the same guy that stormed out on me the first day this started.) He was nicer this time. I thanked him for his work and he was on his way. The comical part? As he was leaving he says (in German) “this process took a long time.” Since I didn’t understand him the first time, I asked him to repeat it and he said it, louder. I love how people think if they scream the sentence the second (and third) time, we’ll understand. It doesn’t work like that; it’s more annoying because I still don’t understand you and now you hurt my ears.

Regardless, the husband came home that night and fidgeted with the phone and the computer. Unfortunately he had no clue what the prompts were on the phone so he gave up after 30 tries. We called Alice for help but they weren’t helpful either. Then the next day at work, the husband found a website that explained the process of turning Internet and phone on at home. That evening he followed those instructions and WE WERE ON! The phone is still not working (Alice sent an incorrect modem for phone line). However we aren’t too pressed about the phone right now, we’re just happy to have net.

So that's THE END to the Internet saga stories.

Monday, October 17

Meteora Taverna

We recently went to the north, 3 kilometers north, so not a far distance for a party. After leaving, we both realized we were starving and wanted to stop somewhere for a bite. We were thinking of eating somewhere closer to home in the Altstadt but once we saw few restaurants on the walk back we changed our mind and wanted to try a new restaurant. As we walked passed Meteora Taverna, it was buzzing with people. For a late summer, cool evening all the outside tables were taken. We peaked inside and saw only one table occupied.

We decided to stay solely based upon the outside tables. And boy are we glad we did. We ordered 2 glasses of wine, lamb with beans and lamb with orzo. Before our food came out, the server offered us Greek water. Greek Water? Sure we’ll take it. It was ouzo, anise flavored liquor; good thing he offered it because it was very clean and refreshing.

My dish was braised lamb shank with gigantes (large beans) in tomato sauce and his was braised lamb shank with olive oil drizzled orzo. The portions were hefty but perfect for two very hungry people. Both of our meals were lovely. The braised lamb was delectable, especially mine which was braised in tomatoes. The beans were cooked just right, soft and creamy on the inside but yet still held their shape in the braising. His orzo was especially tasty because of the herb and olive oil flavor.

Although I previously said Delphi was a wonderful Greek place, and it is, I think we’ve found another favorite. This is off the beaten path, away from the city crowd, a family operation (we think) and overall offers great food and service.

Sunday, October 16

Black bean and Roasted Butternut Squash Soup to embrace the cold


We just returned from a trip to Italy. Italy was magnificent, distinctive, tasteful everything great that is associated with Italy. And we were fortunate enough to have temperatures in the 70s and 80s for 85% of our trip. When we arrived it was sunny and warm and the same the day we left. There were couple days towards the end when we were in Venice that it rained and was cloudy but other than those two days, we thoroughly enjoyed the weather. We returned on Sunday afternoon. What did we find? Cold. I was sad it was a drastic temperature shock.

While driving home we caught a glimpse of the Swiss Alps covered in snow.  And if that wasn't enough, upon returning we saw this beautiful color on the trees from our living room window.  This scenery makes it official that it’ll be cold and the days will be dreary in the upcoming months.


We’re trying to embrace the cold and accept the fall and winter months but it’s taking some adjusting especially because we walk everywhere. None the less, one area that will keep us warm is the aromas from the kitchen with homemade meals especially soups and stews.  

Black bean and Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 dried chiles de árbol, dried & left whole
1/2 teaspoon epazote
2 tomatoes in juice, roasted and chopped
1 pound butternut squash, halved, seeded, roasted and chopped
1 20-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained (or dried beans, soaked overnight and cooked in a pressure cooker for 3 whistles or in the slow cooker for 4 hours on low)
1 teaspoon Salt

Preheat oven to 400°F

Slice butternut squash in half, oil the cut side, wrap in foil and roast in the oven for 45 minutes. Leave tomatoes whole and add them to the pan with the squash 20 minutes after squash has been in the oven.

Heat oil in heavy 5-quart dutch oven or a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, chiles, epazote, salt and stir. Cook until the spices release their aroma, 1 minute. Peel and chop the tomatoes and add them with juices to the pot.

When the squash is cool to touch, peel and discard the skin. Chop the squash in large chunks and add to the pot. Stir in the black beans, water and bring to boil. Taste for seasoning, add salt accordingly. (If the beans are canned, reduce the amount of salt that’s added.) Reduce heat and simmer on low for 15 minutes. Taste and season if necessary.

Friday, October 14

Internet Saga, III

So the last time we spoke, I left you wondering whether we got Internet because it has been two weeks.

The appointment with Kabel Deutstchand was for weeknight evening between 4- 6pm. Since the main cable box is in a neighbor’s apartment/storage in the basement, we scheduled an appointment for him to come at the same time.

The husband came home early, 3:45 precisely, to get this show on the road. At 4pm he looks out the living room window and sees a Kabel Deutschland truck. He ecstatically says to me, “he’s here!” So we wait for the technician to ring the bell. No ring. Then he pulls away we presume to search for parking. 30 minutes later while we’re wondering about the technician our neighbor with the basement apartment knocks on our door and hands us a note. It says (in German) “We tried to call you and ring your bell, you were not home. Please call us to reschedule your appointment.”

Confused, the husband asks the neighbor where he found the note and he tells us it was hanging on our name in the front door when he walked. What!?!? We have been home this whole time. We are enraged which triggers serious swearing, so much so the sailors would feel uncomfortable.

We call Kabel Deutschland to find out what happened and the lady on the phone says she will have to call back with details. 3 minutes later we get a call from the same lady and she tells us exactly what the note said. “The technician tried to ring your bell and call you but you didn’t answer.” The husband says to her, “you just called me so my phone works.” She had nothing to say but offer another appointment couple days later. See what I mean about service?

And we know for sure our bell works we even tested it after this debacle.

We are still shocked this technician downright lied about ringing our bell and calling us. This brings this Internet Saga to a brand new low.

Week 10 and still no Internet.

Wednesday, October 12

Service

Service is defined very differently here in Deutschland. I can go as far as saying it’s still the one area that needs some work, actually it completely lacks compared to other countries I’ve visited.

Restaurant service works on a different model than in America. In America, hosts greet customers as soon as they enter and take them to the seats. In Deutschland there are no hosts; customers seat themselves, generally. If a restaurant is really busy then a server helps to find the next available seat. Then a server comes to take drink orders and generally brings glasses of water for the table, in America. Here, they take the drink orders but also ask for water orders. Water isn’t free so the question is stilles or gas? (Still or Natural- both bottled.) Once the server brings out the drinks, customers order their dinner, as is the case in America.

Here’s the major difference between restaurant services in the two countries. Here once the dinner order is placed, the server is rarely seen or asks for anything else. If drinks are finished, it is the customer’s responsibility to flag down the server to let them know. Once the food comes out (sometimes with the server, sometimes with a food-runner) and if there is a problem, again the customer has to flag down the server for attention. This is especially trying when the entire restaurant is packed. The same rule applies for checks. Once the dinner plates are cleared, the server is still buzzing around the restaurant taking care of other tables. In Germany (and possibly all of Europe) it is considered rude and hurried for a server to bring customers’ checks to their table soon after dinner/dessert is finished. Also important to note is dining- out, like coffee breaks, is special; customers dine for hours and hours and don’t want to be interrupted when enjoying the company of their friends and family. And the other side of the coin is the server wages. Wages here are much better than in America for servers therefore the need to be overly friendly and turnover tables quickly doesn’t exist. Servers work on a decent wage therefore their isn’t the need to get more and more customers on their tables in one night. Coming from a food industry, I do like this about the German system. I appreciate that German servers get good wages and aren’t having to work extra hard and be extra nice for their tips. I must add, customers tip about 5- 10% at the end of the meal for extraordinary service. Otherwise, customers round up their bill to the next whole number.

And although I understand the restaurant server system, I can’t say I agree with it completely. I like that the servers aren’t working on below minimum wage, like in America, but I would also appreciate some attention to the customers since we are paying for the meal. More than me, I am married to someone that is very impatient so this concept of flagging down a server for another drink or waiting for a check is beyond tolerable.

Moving away from restaurants customer service, in general, is unresponsive. Having lived in America and India and knowing the Indian culture, the customer service in Deutschland doesn’t come close to anything we’ve experienced in either countries. Here, when a company makes a mistake they don’t apologize or try to fix the problem, instead they offer another product or appointment time to make it better. We’ve experienced this couple times, say Internet Saga and Part II. Neither of the companies we are currently working with have apologized that it’s taken this long to get Internet or as much as try to find the problem and fix it. It’s startling to us both that one company went as far as saying that we had to find the main cable box ourselves if we wanted Internet.

It is often said, Germans very rarely apologize for a mistake. The idea is if they apologize then that’s admitting they have done wrong and *gasp* one cannot admit they are wrong. Which leads to accountability; there isn’t any of it. People generally pass the blame on anyone and anything to save themselves from the blame. So the bottom line is if they don’t apologize then they are not admitting to being at fault which means they aren’t wrong, someone else is.

Like when we ordered our kitchen. We talked to 5 different people in the course of 24 hours to figure out what the problem was with the scheduled delivery date and each person blamed the previous person we talked to. Finally the last guy said it was the sales associate, Viktor, we ordered the kitchen from who made a mistake. We never talked to Viktor to find out the truth to that but it was so easy to blame him since he wouldn’t to be able to defend himself on that phone call.

So the least I can say is although Germany has done some things right, customer service isn’t one of them. That’s an area that needs many, many more years of improvement before it can compare to other countries.

Friday, October 7

Making it a home

I've been cooking like a mad person in our "new" kitchen. After some of the experiences (finding an apartment after seeing 16, not getting internet and still not having internet, washer isn't delivered on time), I've been inspired to release my creative juices in the kitchen. Comforting meals is just what we need. Cornmeal slow cooking in a saucepan while the meat braises in a skillet is the ultimate comfort food.

I always knew that stone ground grits could be interchanged with polenta and vise versa. (Polenta is the name of an Italian dish made of cornmeal.)

Last year when a friend returned from her North Carolina trip with a pound of stone ground grits, I was thoroughly content. We made shrimp and grits few times while living in the US, however I never remembered to use the grits in place of polenta, until Germany. Moving to Germany changed many things but one thing I recalled (learning in culinary school) was stone ground grits can be used to make polenta.

So here is a simple recipe for Polenta using stone ground grits and instead of shrimp, I made it with braised chicken, just as good.


Leeky Grits (No pun intended)

1 tablespoon butter
1 leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced, cleaned*
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/2 cup stone ground grits
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, and cook for 3 minutes, while stirring constantly. Add garlic and jalapeno pepper and continue to cook for 1 more minute. Add water and milk and bring the liquid to boil. Gradually whisk in grits. Add salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until mixture is thick and creamy, stirring often. Add more water if necessary for thinning. Cook the grits, covered for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

*Leeks have a lot of dirt inside them. My best technique is to slice them thinly and soaking them in a bowl of water. Remove the leeks from the bowl with your hands by picking them up out of the water; don’t dump the water out with the leeks in a colander, the dirt will come out with the leeks. Repeat until the water is clear and no dirt or sand is settling at the bottom of the bowl.

Braised Chicken with Polenta or Grits

2 pieces of bone-in, dark chicken, (leg and thigh bone jointed)
1 tablespoon clarified butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
Salt & Pepper to taste

Season chicken with salt and pepper, on both sides.

Heat clarified butter in a medium skillet on medium heat, add the chicken, skin side down and brown on each side for 3-4 minutes. While the chicken is still in the pan, add the garlic and jalapeno pepper. Cook for 1 minute, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn.

Add wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the salt and pepper, tomatoes, lower the heat and cover the skillet with the lid. Cook the chicken in the simmering liquid, basting every 5 minutes. Cook until the thighs are tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook for 5-8 more minutes. Sprinkle with parsley (I was heavy handed on the parsley; use only 2 teaspoons). Serve over cooked grits. This is also great with egg noodles or pasta.

Thursday, October 6

Lamb with Vegetables and Stuffed Tomatoes

The weather is getting cooler and I am looking forward to making roasts and stews. As a nod to the start of cooler season, I made this roasted lamb and vegetable dish. Since I knew that wouldn’t be enough food to feed us a healthy dinner, I made stuffed tomatoes as the 2nd side. Both the Lamb and Stuffed Tomatoes were inspired by Mark Bittman.

Roasted Lamb with Garlic and Parsley
Adapted from How to Cook Everything

1 (300 gram) boneless lamb shoulder, in one piece
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons minced garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and black pepper
2 cups carrots, celery root, parsley root, onions (potatoes would work fine too)

Mince parsley and garlic with salt until fine. Use a thin-bladed knife to cut small slits in the lamb and push pinches of parsley-garlic mixture into them; rub the lamb all over with parsley/garlic remains and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Grind fresh black pepper on the lamb.

Roll the lamb shoulder onto itself and tie it with a twine. This will help keep the moisture inside the meat and prevent the meat from drying out while roasting. Allow the meat to marinate for 1 hour, up to 24 hours. (If marinating for more than 1 hour, refrigerate)

While the meat is marinating, chop carrots, celery root, parsley root and onions in large dices. (Free form is fine, just make sure all the pieces are the same size so they all cook evenly).

Preheat oven to 400°F

20 minutes before roasting, remove the meat from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.

Put the vegetables in a roasting pan, season with salt, black pepper, and olive oil. Put the roasting pan with the vegetables in the oven for 15 minutes.

Carefully add the wrapped lamb onto the roasting pan with the veggies. Cook for 15- 17 minutes for medium. Transfer the shoulder to a cutting board to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Slice the shoulder and serve hot or warm with roasted vegetables.

Stuffed Tomatoes with Rice and Sausage
Adapted from How to Cook Everything

4 firm ripe tomatoes
4 ounces fresh sausage, removed from the casings if necessary (I used 1 link of Nürnberg Wurst)
1/2 cup cooked basmati rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Combine cooked rice, sausage meat, salt, pepper, and parsley.

Cut a 1/4-inch slice from the smooth end of each tomato (the stem end is typically flatter and makes for a more stable base). Reserve these slices. Use a spoon to scoop out all of the insides of the tomatoes, leaving a wall about 1/4 inch thick.

Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with salt and pepper, stuff them with the sausage and rice mixture, and replace the top slices. Spread half the olive oil in a shallow roasting pan that will allow for a little room between the tomatoes and put them in the pan. Sprinkle all with salt and pepper and put the roasting pan in the oven.

Roast the tomatoes for 20 minutes, until they are shriveled and the sausage is cooked through. Take a peek into the middle of one of the tomatoes; if the sausage is still pink, continue cooking. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

This couldn’t have been a more perfect meal for a chilly Fall evening. It was very garlicky and full of vitamins from the vegetables. We both enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 4

Coffee Machines

Germans are serious about their coffee machines, Kaffeemaschine. I may say all Europeans are serious about their coffee and coffee machines in a week but for now familiarity tells me Germans don’t mess around when it comes to the machines. (Although rumor has it that Germans are the last (and least) of the European countries to ask about coffee because they don’t brew good coffee.)

As far as taste, it tastes 100 times better here than it does in America or India. (India knows how to do tea but not coffee, sorry people). I’ve never drank so much coffee in my life but I am thoroughly enjoying it. And not only is the taste good but drinking coffee is an experience. There is no such thing as “coffee on the go” or “to go cups”. It is order by the cup at the coffee shop or at home, sip and enjoy.

All this coffee drinking and café hopping has got us inspired to buy our own Kaffeemaschine. At the end of a day, a cappuccino is just perfect especially for the cold, winter days that are around the corner. For a machine, we’ve looked on Amazon as well as Saturn, the local appliance store. A good machine costs as much as 500 Euros, on the lower end. We’ve seen some machines that cost up to 3000 Euros. I think if I pay that much for a machine, it better wake me up in the morning, grind the beans, make the coffee, clean itself and make breakfast while I am busy doing other things.

As of today, we’ve agreed upon one on Amazon that is well within our budget and should be delivered soon if things go well. Soon is relative in Deutschland so as long as we get the machine, we’ll be happy.

I am hoping not only will it grind the beans, make the coffee, but clean itself when I am watching TV. That’s not too much, right?

Sunday, October 2

Washing machine

In Germany, washing machines don’t fit into a spare bedroom or coat closet, they sit in the kitchen or bathroom. This is because of the water connection; most apartments are set up to have a washing machine only in the kitchen or bathroom. Since our bathroom is big enough for one person to brush their teeth, shower and take a shit, we knew we’d have to install ours in the kitchen. After having our kitchen installed, we measured the space left for a machine, 58cm. Yes, that small. Everything is small here, you know this already.

On the other side of the machine, we put a cart that we brought from America that I would like to use. The cart is 60cm. We decided to buy a machine that is 50cm, smaller than normal. Normal is 60cm. And although 50cm is not regularly available it is likely to find one. We searched high and low, at Saturn (Germany’s version of Best buy), Amazon.de and local papers. Finally he saw an ad in the paper for a 50cm machine at a local store, Poco. He went to the store the day the machine was on sale to order and the associate tells him they’re out of stock. 2 hours after the store opens and they’re out of stock of the one machine we wanted? Clearly, the demand for smaller sized washing machines is big.

Later that day he finds out another Poco has some in stock. Upon arriving at the store, he asks the associate for details; price, delivery charge, installation charge, size, etc. Everything is fine until the associate says 60cm for its size. Surprised, the husband points to the ad in the paper that advertises 50cm. And the associate’s response: “Printing typo, we don’t have a 50cm machine. Never did”

What a disappointment.

After this debacle, we decide it would be best to get a 60cm machine since it seems impossible to find the smaller one. And I would replace the cart with a smaller cart. No matter what, we need a machine, as soon as possible. It’s becoming annoying to have to carry weeks of laundry to the Laundromat. Finally, we order a machine from Amazon.de and request delivery for Wednesday 14/9/11. On the scheduled date, we find out the machine won’t be delivered. It won’t be delivered until 28/9/11. They decided this on their own without asking us. Neither of us still know why this was the case but we're happy that the machine did deliver on 28/9/11.

We've done a load of laundry and it works like new. Now it’s onto finding and buying a dryer. Wish us luck….

Saturday, October 1

Internet Saga, II

If you aren’t up to date on our Internet saga, read this first.

So after all this happens with Alice, we decide we want to have Kabel Deutschland provide Internet service to us. Another expat couple that’s also here with work told us that Kabel provides free calls to America in their package, more the incentive to go with this company. Their system works on cables and not the telephone wiring. The husband calls Kabel Deutschland and starts a new contract with them to provide service, in the meantime we still have an outstanding contract with Alice. They are much faster and schedule a date 2 weeks from the phone call.

When the technician arrives, he looks around the apartment and the basement to see the connection. He says he can’t find the main cable box so therefore will need to come back. Again this exchange is all in German, broken German at best for me. I quickly call the husband and ask him to speak with the technician. They agree that he will continue to look for it in the building with my help and the husband will come home early from German class. We search around some more and even ask our 1st floor neighbor if she knows the whereabouts of the main cable box and since she has no idea we continue to search. Finally the husband comes home and I halt the search and let the men figure it out. After 1 hour of searching the entire building, they turn up with no answers. Both of them agree, the main box is in someone’s apartment but neither the technician nor the husband know which apartment. Before the technician leaves he tells us it is our responsibility to find the main cable box if we want to have internet from Kabel. This is when we both look at him, laugh and say “are you kidding me?” He didn’t think that was too funny because he repeated "if you don’t find the box then no internet."

After much begging, a Kabel technician came out to our apartment recently to help us find the main box. With his help, we've figured out that the main cable box is indeed in a basement apartment. Unfortunately for us the tenant uses the apartment for storage. And since he isn’t ever there, we scheduled a new meeting with both the tenant and Kabel Deutschland technician on the same date, hoping to turn on the internet in the next couple weeks.

Where are we? We have 2 open contracts with 2 companies and after having lived in this apartment for 8 weeks we still don’t have internet. Thankfully, Kabel technicians and customer service has been very helpful and friendly while Alice and Deutsch Telekom customer service and technicians are rude. Last week, Alice sent Deutsch Telecom technician to look at the wiring one more time and the technician called that morning to say he wasn't coming. No explained reason, he just wasn't coming. At this rate, we'll schedule any one to come over that will give us internet service, even America. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? We joke that we’ll be lucky if we have internet in the next 6 months.

On another note, I am happy to report that 2 weeks ago the husband figured out a way to use internet at home for free, sort of. We connect our iphones to the laptops for wifi. This is at no extra charge on our cell phone bills and works efficiently thus far. The only problem with this is we can’t skype with family and friends because of the low bandwidth. Hopefully once we have real internet, we’ll be back in business. Let’s hope.

Friday, September 30

Kitchen Delivery

We moved into our apartment on August 1st and ordered our kitchen. As I previously mentioned, kitchens don’t come equipped. Fortunately for us our kitchen came with a stove/oven, dishwasher/sink, and fridge. It also had the basic countertop with drawers and another set of drawers on the wall. For initial and brief use, this is a nice set up but definitely not enough for a full time chef. Soon after moving in, we ordered our kitchen and were expecting delivery on August 28th.

On August 25th, I called the store to find out the status of our kitchen’s delivery. They said they scheduled a delivery for September 29th because the sales associate that placed our order wrote an incorrect date. I was irritated and angry and I made it very clear that I wanted a refund or discount for their mistake. Upon asking for a discount, the associate put me on hold and lo and behold found a date that fits in their schedule to deliver, August 29th. Fortunately for us, they delivered on the scheduled date and we got our kitchen installed.

The installation was quick and painless. The two men that came to install were very nice and helpful. One guy even installed an extra shelf (for cutting boards) that wasn't originally in the layout.

What better way to celebrate than to cook in our new kitchen? We made soup.


Black Eyed Peas with Wursts

1 tablespoon clarified butter
2 Nürnberg Bratwursts, chopped (Italian sausage would work as well)
1/2 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/4 celeriac, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 cup black eyed peas, cooked
1 tablespoon celeriac greens (tops), chopped
1 tablespoon Parsley, chopped
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Add clarified butter to a saucepot or 3-quart dutch oven on medium heat. When butter is melted, add bratwurst and cook for 2- 4 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium high, add onions and cook for 2 minutes. Add carrots and celeriac and cook for another 2 minutes. Add salt and garlic and continue to cook for 1 more minute. Add paprika, red chili flakes, black pepper and cook for 30 seconds. Add black eyed peas with liquid. Add salt, black pepper and make sure liquid covers the peas, wurst and veggies. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 30 minutes. Add liquid, if necessary for soup consistency. We like it thicker (more on the stew side). Add chopped celeriac greens and parsley and cook for 5 minutes. Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot with bread.

Serves 2

Thursday, September 29

Internet Saga

So let me explain the dilemma we’re having with our Internet, or lack thereof. When we moved into our apartment, we called Alice (one of the telephone based internet providers in the city). They had the best catch for us: month to month contract. Once we agreed to their terms they sent us a wireless router in the mail. And few days later, we received the password to use for the internet. A week after receiving the mail, we received a call from Alice to schedule an appointment with a technician to “turn on” our Internet. This meant, they would physically come to our home and “turn on” our internet. The date was 4 weeks from the date of the phone call. We were both shocked but obliged at their mercy. 4 weeks later, as scheduled, a technician came to our apartment to “turn on” the internet. He looked at the wiring in our apartment, went to the basement to see the connection, came back upstairs to look at the wiring at our apartment. Then this happens… (This exchange happens in full German for the technician and broken German for me.)

He says to me “Do you have “something” from your landlord?”
My response is I am not sure what you’re asking for. I don’t know what it is that I need from my landlord.
He repeats, louder this time, “Do you have “something” from your landlord?”
And I respond “I don’t think so.”
I finish with, “let me call my husband to figure out what it is you need.”
And before I could finish that sentence, he was out the door, down the stairs, and in his car, gone. Within matter of seconds, he was gone. I had no explanation to what was going on and whether our internet would be “turned on”.

I called Alice to find out. In the first call, I asked the woman if she spoke English because I am not sure of what just happened in my apartment. She said no and hangs up on me. Then I call back and the second woman says she doesn’t speak English but will try to help me as best as she could. (That’s better, I think). However she explains the situation to me, in German, which doesn’t help because I have no idea of what’s going on.

Then, I call the husband and ask him to call Alice. With the help of some of his coworkers we find out the technician was asking if I had “permission” from my landlord to install a new wire. I also find out that the technician works for Deutsch Telecom and not Alice. Here’s a side note that’s important to know. The way the system works here is until few years ago Deutsch Telecom provided all the internet services to the customers. That changed when the government permitted competition to exist. So Alice, Vodafone, T-Mobile and others were in the market to create competition. Unfortunately, although other companies provide Internet service, the physical (wiring) infrastructure is still owned by Deutsch Telecom which means each time someone needs internet, a Deutsch Telecom technician “turns on” the internet for the company in the customers’ home.

But in our case, the problem wasn’t any of that; it was that the previous tenant’s service provider was not Alice. According to the technician’s report and Alice, previous tenant had Vodafone which wasn’t turned off and therefore a new service provider couldn’t provide internet to us.

Confused yet? My head’s spinning just thinking about it. Future post about our next steps in this saga.

Monday, July 25

Photographs


After hearing from friends their rave reviews of Flickr, we decided to host all of our European travel pictures there. Right now, it has couple sets from recent travels and we'll continue to update the album as time passes.

I hope to display many pictures publicly to get feedback on the photographs. On that note, due to the public nature of these albums, we're keeping pictures of ourselves private. If you have flickr, email us and I'll add you to our "family or friends" list so you can view private pictures.

Thursday, July 21

Bamberg, Germany

Rathaus
Bamberg is another one of those Unesco World Heritage sites that was saved from the terror of the war. Its buildings are intact and in great shape. It is a city rich in history but also rich in breweries, there are 8 breweries and 1 brewpub in the area.

Like Regensburg, we bought a Bayern pass for the day and headed to Bamberg at 10am. After arriving, we saw the Cathedral, the Rathaus, and Rosengarten.
Rauchbier
Then it was a pit stop for bier and lunch. We first had Rauchbier (smoke bier) that Bamberg is known for. Then it was off to Ambräusianum (the only brewpub) for food and more bier. The food was good, Putenfleisch (turkey) mit Kartoffel Knödel (potato dumpling) und Gemüse (vegetable). The turkey was a tad overdone for our taste but still good with gravy/sauce. The Kartoffel Knödel was well seasoned but very gummy and the Gemüse was cream of broccoli and out of this world.

On we went to see the Altenburg castle at the top of the hill. What we learned was the hill wasn’t a mini hill or a short hike, it was a full fledged “you better be ready for an uphill work out”. (There’s a reason, they call it Bamberg, berg meaning hill/mountain.) The hike was unplanned but well worth the views of the city. After hanging out in the cool air, we returned back down to the city and walked to Michelsberg Abbey.
Michelsberg Abbey

We finished our day with bier from Brauerei Spezial and Brauerei Fässla. Spezial‘s interiors has the old world charm like it was in 1536! We also ate dinner at Brauerei Fässla. I ordered schnitzel mit Kartoffel Salat (potato salad) und Gemüse Salat (vegetable salad). He had Brathähnchen mit Kartoffel Salat und Gemüse Salat. Our main dish (meat) was superb. Potato salads are usally tangy and that's a hit or miss for us; unless they're exceptionally outstanding, we generally agree they taste okay. Like the one here. Germans are crazy for potatoes and bread.
Inside Michelsberg Abbey
Each bier was very unique and delightful. My favorite was Weisse Bier from Spezial Brauerei and Helles and Hefeweizen from Ambräusianum. In addition to those, he also enjoyed the Fässla from Brauerei Fässla. The Rauchbier from Schlenkerla was our least favorite. It tasted like the bier had sat in cigarette smoke for few days. We knew this but when in Rome…

Bamberg is an amazing city and we’re both glad to have visited it in peak summer weather. With few more breweries to check off our list Bamberg will be seeing us soon. Until then, we are looking forward to having the bier in our apartment for these warm summer nights.

Tuesday, July 19

Television

Watching TV here is pretty ridiculous. Most of the time it’s Scrubs, wrestling (WWE and WWF), American movies that have 1 star ratings, and Soccer (Fubball), to name a few. There are more news channels then there is to report- BBC, RT, French news, Spanish news, Turkish news, and German news. I appreciate the diversity and the attempt to reach the global audience but I wouldn’t mind bad TV in other languages. My least favorite thing is the dubbing; almost everything that’s in foreign language is dubbed.

Once we get our apartment, we’ll get a larger variety of channels. I hope. What we’re looking forward to is the American/English channels with German subtitles. That’ll help us learn the language tremendously.
There’s a government license fee for all residents that use internet, radio and/or TV to pay 18 Euros/month. The Gebühreneinzugszentrale or the GEZ collects the funds. This finances the public broadcasting system and instead of waiting for contributions they make everyone pay. I’ve also read if you don’t pay, someone comes to your door to collect the money. No joke.

And Hasselhoff? I haven’t seen the guy on TV, yet; that could change after we get cable.

Sunday, July 17

Regensburg, Germany

Our first trip out of town was to a town called Regensburg, an hour away. The best part about traveling within Germany is the Bahn. It’s called Deutsch bahn or DB. Within Bavaria (the state we live in) we can buy a Bayern pass for 29 Euros. That means 1 and up to 4 adults or children can travel within the state (round trip) for 29 Euros. The only catch to this is the pass is valid for one day only. This is perfect for day trips to Regensburg and other small to medium sized cities in the state. (We visited Munich and learned a day trip there wasn’t enough time. We will be going back.)

We left at 8:30am and arrived in Regensburg at 10am. Upon exiting the Hauptbahnhof (main rail station), we spotted a large crowd gathering in the city center, 200 meters away. The crowd was because of the flea market that takes place in the beginning of summer in Regensburg. In the entire day of strolling and sightseeing we probably saw 200+ vendors selling antiques and trinkets.

The city had military connections before the war and it is close in proximity to other cities bombed in Bavaria however, thankfully, Regensburg had little damage to its buildings and the city’s livelihood after the war. Due to this Regensburg is listed as UNESCO World Heritage site. There are some magnificent buildings still standing from before the war that are refreshing to see. The Dom being one of them. The Dom (also known as Regensburg Cathedral or Kathedrale St. Peter) was completed in 17th century and is reminiscent of gothic architecture of its time. The Steinerne Brücke (stone bridge) was built in the 12th century and it connects the two parts of the city over the Danube river.

Our only meal in Regensburg was an Indian lunch. (A side note, we don’t normally seek out Indian restaurants while traveling.) When we arrived at the train station, there was a large banner for Indian lunch buffet at a restaurant nearby. After seeing the church and browsing the flea market vendor tables, we went to Ganesha for lunch. The buffet had fish curry, pork vindaloo, chicken kheema, rice and daal. Everything was surprisingly good and authentic; I specially liked the pork vindaloo and chicken kheema. The service was also impeccable. We ate a large lunch that would hold us over until the evening and it did just that. The dinner was ice cream (Eis) in Nürnberg.

Regensburg was the perfect day trip for a beautiful Saturday.

Friday, July 8

Busier these days...

I haven't forgotten about Pork Bier Belly; we're just busier these last couple weeks due to multiple things. None of which includes travel but we hope that changes soon.

One thing that has engulfed our lives is the apartment hunt. When he isn't at work and when I have time we're constantly searching for apartments online, scheduling appointments (in our broken German) and visiting to see the apartments themselves. As you can imagine, it's twice the work because of the language. At times we find a place but it doesn't have a fitted kitchen or a balcony or an elevator (things that aren't posted online so we find out when we get there.) Google translate is our new best friend.

And the other thing that's kept me busy is language classes. I am taking German 4 days a week, 3.5 hours each day. It's been wonderful learning the language and meeting other individuals that are on the same level as myself. I've learned many verbs, nouns, and am able to speak in basic conversations with strangers. I am escatic to be able to go the farmers market and ask questions. Ist das gemüse aus Bavaria? (Is this vegtable from Bavaria?) Inlined with my local eating. The verb to cook is kochen- Ich koche Kohl mit Karotte.

He takes a class with a tutor that teaches him conversations and business language. And although his classes aren't as regular, he is also learning from coworkers and at meetings.

And I am also researching ways to post our photos online; I've looked at Flickr and Shutterfly. I am looking for something that doesn't have to have a log in to view the album, unlimited picture upload and zero cost would be great but it's not crucial. Any of you have suggestions?

And on the travel front, I can happily report that we're planning a trip to Prague in few weeks. I have also started researching Spain and Italy for weekend trips but nothing solid on that front, first that apartment!

Das ist alles.
That's all.

Monday, June 27

Day to day life observances

Germany is a dog friendly country. Many people running errands, taking walks or going out to eat have dogs with them.  With that, the restaurant owners have also adapted to the dog friendly culture.  Many places we’ve been to in the past 4 weeks we’ve noticed dogs in the restaurant patio with its owners as well as inside the restaurant.  It’s very common for guests that are dining in the restaurant to bring their dog inside.

Lucy the dog
After few biers so it's blurry
Another note about dogs here in Germany that’s different is most dogs aren’t on a leash.  There’s a sense of independence for dogs and the owners don’t feel it necessary to have them on a leash.  It makes me wonder if the dog will run away but then I realize dogs are very loyal and if they’ve been unleashed their entire life they’re trained this way.

I am sure the misbehaved dogs would try to run away and those select few are on a leash but most are not.

Also on the pet subject, there aren’t any outdoor cats.  Cats may not be of peak interest for pet owners here or if they are they’re indoor cats.

Speaking of independence, this also applies to children.  The other day when we were on the tram I saw a young girl, maybe 9, going somewhere alone.  The husband says that he regularly sees children as young as 7 years old on the tram by themselves or with few friends.   This illustrates that German parents have a hands off approach to parenting, in some ways.  This also teaches the kids how to be independent and responsible at a young age.  I know there may be parents like this in America as well as India, but majority of people would not feel comfortable sending their kid to school or the store alone on a tram or train.  The contrast is there’s the constant fear in America for something to go wrong where Germans don't live in fear in that regard.

And moving onto something that’s very unusual for Americans but common in India.  Staring.  Germans stare at people as much as Indians, I think they’d give Indians a run for their money.   So in that sense this makes me feel right at my Indian home.   However, having lived in America for so many years, it does feel uncomfortable.  The husband doesn’t mind and carries on but I find it intrusive.   People watching is very common here; this is what sidewalk cafes and biergartens are for- you drink, you socialize, you stare, and you drink some more.  I understand for us it may be a combination of factors: Nürnberg is a smaller city with less ethnic diversity (it’s a city of 500,000 people so not a small village), we are brown people that speak English and another foreign language, Gujarati, and we are not just doing the touristy things, we’re at a store or buying produce at the farmers markets so obviously we’re staying.

To give an example, we went to a Bierfest and a group of girls in their 20s stared at us the whole time we were in one spot.  So I stared at them back; that taught them a lesson, then they only stared at us when we were looking in the other direction.  I probably wouldn’t do that again because eventually I’ll get used to people staring at us. 

Wednesday, June 22

Hauptmarkt and a Meal

The Hauptmarkt is where all the farmers line up to sell fresh vegetables and fruits for the day. We learned that by the end of the day, they have many things that are half off because of low shelf life of fresh produce.

Here’s a before and after of the Hauptmarkt. On Sundays and holidays the entire city shuts down, including the farmers market; this is due to Nürnberg and most of Germany being very catholic. There are laws prohibiting vendors from operating on church day. So here’s how the Hauptmarkt looks on a Sunday.


And here’s how it looks on any other day.
Our first “homemade” meal had almost 100% of its ingredients from the farmers market.  We bought olive oil from a local vendor that sources all his oils from Italy and Spain.  He talks to his vendors in those countries regularly so although he isn’t growing the olives himself for making the olive oil, he’s very informed on how the olive oil is produced.   Everything except the red chili flakes (from America) are from the farmers market. 


Pasta with Garlic and Spinach

Ingredients
250 grams freshly-made-dried noodles (These were made in the last 2 weeks and dried)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 cup spinach, washed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Directions
In a large pot, bring water to boil, stir in salt. Add pasta and cook about 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain pasta in a colander and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.  The reserved pasta water will help create the sauce.

In a large sauté pan on medium heat, add olive oil.  Then add the garlic and sauté until light brown and fragrant.  Don’t let the garlic burn otherwise it will taste bitter and bad.  Add the chopped spinach and red pepper flakes and sauté for 1 minute. Add the cooked pasta to the pan and mix until pasta is combined with spinach and garlic.  Add 1/4 cup (more if you want it saucy) of reserved pasta water and stir to combine. 

We bought 10 eggs (farmers markets and grocery stores sell eggs in 10 as opposed to a dozen) so the only thing missing from this meal is a fried egg.  I’ll be making this meal tonight with an addition of an egg. 

Sunday, June 19

The trials of apartment hunting... or Apartment Hunting Trials

We expected apartment hunting to be tough here but we didn’t realize how tough until now that we’re experiencing it. There are all sorts of barriers to getting a good apartment of your choice. Before we moved here we told our agent what we were looking for- unfurnished apartment with balcony, in or close to the city center and public transportation. Simple enough, right? Wrong! Unfurnished means, everything is removed from the home, including all personal furniture but especially kitchen cabinets and appliances. Those things are considered part of the tenant’s belongings so off they go with the tenant and everything else they owned. Same with closets and bathroom cabinets. Basically, an apartment includes the four walls (with rooms and a bathroom or two) to live in; everything else we have to provide until we’re ready to move and then we’d take it with us too.

So now we’re looking for unfurnished apartment with fitted kitchen. Then there’s the older building without lifts. This was to be expected for us and isn’t a big concern for myself or him however our parents would not appreciate 4 flights of stairs. In which case, they would never leave the apartment.

One of the biggest barriers to apartment search? Language. When the landlord or their agent sees that we aren’t native Germans or German speakers, they aren’t interested. Thanks to all those Americans that rented temporarily. Actually we’ll be one of them. When Germans move into a home, it’s permanent. Not 1 year or 3 years permanent, 15- 20 years permanent or even life permanent. While speaking with our agent she told us stories about grandparents renting from a landlord and passing the apartment down to their children and grandchildren when they’re adults. That’s the other big barrier to getting an apartment we want. We know we’ll be here for 3 years definitely but beyond that is anyone’s guess. Therefore landlords are hesitant about renting to us because we aren’t “permanent”.

A little about the tenant selection process; when apartments go on market for new renters, the potential tenants do a viewing with an agent present. If interested, the potential tenant completes a form that includes salary and job information and planned length of stay. Based on those answers, the landlord picks a tenant.

For example, we saw an apartment we loved that came with fitted kitchen, extra closet space, across from our (already) favorite Greek place, Delphi, in the city center and most importantly, the rent was remarkable. We didn’t get it because the landlord picked a local that didn’t work for Siemens. We saw another apartment that I would do anything for last night but it already looks like we won’t get it because of all the previously mentioned factors.

Obviously we haven’t been lucky enough be picked in the two apartments we’ve bid for; the second one is still a potential but from the sounds of it we better start looking for something else. And even though two apartments doesn’t seem like a lot, I'll put it in perspective; it’s rare that an apartment that meets our criteria goes on the market, according to our agent. That and we've been been here for 2 weeks, and if we sign the lease now we will move in August but the longer this takes, the longer we’re stuck in a hotel apartment. So the rental market for new tenants is a tough game here.

Of course there are plenty of apartments that have lifts, fitted kitchens and landlords that are ready for us to move in tomorrow, unfortunately those are not our top choice either because of the area or their surroundings or the lack of surroundings.

The good thing is…. Americans think space is a factor; there isn’t much space in Europe and everything’s tiny. Some of that is true however to our surprise when we asked for 85- 100 square meters, we’ve gotten in that range and every single apartment we’ve seen felt spacious. Ironic?

My favorite thing about apartment hunting so far has been a naked woman sighting through a balcony. We were looking at a decent sized apartment that had ton of space and a balcony the size of a small living room. As we were looking at the view from the balcony we spotted a woman on her terrace, gardening in the nude. Nudity is very common in Europe, which I am prepared for, I just wasn’t expecting to see it on a terrace, gardening. The downfall to that apartment was a very small kitchen; a kitchen big enough for 1 person to stand. Cooking being a passion of mine, that wasn’t a sacrifice I was willing to make. And a naked gardener wouldn’t be pleasing to our guests either.

Friday, June 17

The Nürnberg Castle


Entrance to the Castle


Part of the Castle wall
A very important monument in the city is of course the castle and its walls. The castle consists of three parts; Wikipedia
explains it really well. We took a tour and were amazed to see how well it’s been restored on the inside even after all the bombings from WWII. Nürnberg was rally grounds during Nazi Era; due to its geographic central location in Germany Hitler and the Nazis chose Nürnberg as one of the cities to host annual conventions. Because of that Nürnberg was heavily bombed and much of the city was destroyed due to the war. One of our big requests, before moving, was to have an apartment in a building that was built before the war; and now we’ve changed that requirement because it’s almost impossible to find a building from before the war that is open for rent. (Usually those apartments are snatched up within hours.)

View of the city
Of course it isn’t as elegant and grand as it would’ve been in its peak times but it’s still captivating to see a structure that was rebuilt to its original form from the 13th century.

While it’s hard to photograph the entire castle in one photograph, here are some pictures that were taken of the castle, its walls and views from the top.
Looking down onto houses from the Castle

Saturday, June 11

Day to day Observations

Few observations that I’ve made here since coming to Germany.
1. Many people smoke. 2. Many people sport a tattoo. What I consider to be an alternative lifestyle in America isn’t so unusual here. Nürnberg is perfect for people watching so anywhere we go there is something new to see. However after 13 days, smoking and tattooing seems to be the trend amongst many people, no matter age or nationality. And I write this because this isn’t something we experience in America so it'll take getting used to. With the smoking bans in many states or the warnings of health risks that are associated with smoking, Americans smoke less than Germans (or possibly Europeans, in general). 


I support the freedom of choice to do what one wants to their own body, we just aren't used to seeing a large population with a cigarette in their hand and/or ink on their body. (one isn’t mutually connected to the other; I am just lumping them together.)

3. Deutsch Bank doesn’t accept traveler’s checks. If you’re planning to visit us or visit Germany in general, don’t bring traveler’s checks with you. We brought some in hopes of converting them to euros. After opening our bank account with the bank we learned they don’t accept them. I don’t know why they don’t, but they don’t. We were shocked as well. 

4. Movie theater requires reservations. Like some restaurants in America, we have to reserve seats at the movie theater. We went to see Hangover 2 (in English) and had to make reservations the day before. According to the ticket booth office, if it’s a movie they expect a large turnout everyone must book their tickets.  There is even assigned seating. If you get there in advance, you can pick which seats you want but if it’s last minute, you’ll be sitting in the first row or in a bad seat.  We made reservations the previous day so we chose our seats.  Movie was good, but first one was better because of its originality, like Ocean's 11.  

These are all things we aren't used to from America and a learning curve. 

Wednesday, June 8

Thai, Mexican and Falafel

We ate dinner at Thai food 2 last Friday.  It is 4 blocks from our hotel and one of the highly reviewed and recommended Thai places in town.  It’s an unassuming little restaurant on the corner of a street (Straße, pronounced straase).  When we walked in, we didn’t know what to do; the story of our lives right now.  We’ve learned one thing as far as restaurants; in most German restaurants you seat yourselves.  If there’s an open table, it’s yours.  So at this restaurant we sat ourselves, outside and waited and waited for the server to take our order.  And then we realized this is the kind of restaurant where we order at the counter and then seat ourselves for the food to arrive.  We looked silly, I am sure, but it’s all a learning lesson.  I am sure we’re breaking all kinds of social rules these days, but the best part is we both just laugh at each other.  It’s fun discovering all this together. 

Onto the food.  I ordered Green Curry with Vegetables (Grün Curry mit Gemüse) and he ordered Panang Curry with Chicken (I can’t remember the name for Panang curry).   We ordered our 2 main entrees and a bottle of hefeweizen (to share) and the total was 20 Euros, reasonable price.  Within 5 minutes after seating our food was brought to us.  Both curries were served with white rice.  The first thing we both noted was the spice level, it was high!  In America, the server or host asks for a spice level on a scale of  1- 5 or 1- 10; here there wasn’t a scale and we thought it tasted like a 7 or 8.  It was delicious!  The green curry was gingery with coconut milk base and had peppers, carrots, and zucchini.  His panang curry was really good as well, the only vegetables he got with his chicken were red bell peppers and red chilies (that he decided to skip since the curry was already hot). 

As we were walking home, we concluded that they don’t ask for a number on a scale for heat because they probably serve it like it would be in Thailand.  I can safely say we’ve found a Thai place we will be going back to often. 

I went to Hot Taco for lunch, alone.  It’s in the Altstadt (old city) and close to all the shopping areas and touristy streets.  I found it online because I was searching for fast food that wasn’t KFC, Burger King or McDonald’s.  I had a hard time finding it because it’s a street that I haven’t ventured out to.  I went in, ordered a Putenfleisch (bird meat, I believe this can be either chicken or turkey) Taco.  I waited by the counter for my food until the cook said to me, “have a seat I’ll bring it to you” in Deutch.  I sat down on the bar stool nearest to the kitchen counter so I could watch him make my taco.  He made it rather quickly and how he assembled it was new to me.  He filled a flour tortilla with meat and cheese and grilled it for 3 minutes, then filled it with the extras: corn, lettuce, salsa, sour cream.  I tasted it without the habanero sacue and thought it was okay.  I added the habanero sauce and still thought it was okay.  I am just not a fan of flour tortillas so I guess that was the pitfall of this taco.  I noticed they make burritos from the same flour tortilla.  Hot Taco serves food on the go but I don’t think it’s my go-to place. 

After walking around the castle and being a tourist for 3 hours, we were starving for a late lunch on Saturday.  We’ve been to this Döner Kebab place for their Putenfleisch Döner.  And it's conveniently located in the Altstadt.  However, this time he suggested getting a Falafel to try something new.  The falafel is made to order, so we watched the cook fry the falafels, heat the pita, and fill it with lettuce, tomato, and chili sauce.  Their falafels are made with cilantro and chickpea base.  It was hot when we were eating it but tasted really delicious and it was just the right late lunch snack.   We had to eat it quickly before U1 arrived (No Food in the Train!).  I’ll be looking for the perfect falafel but for now this fills the falafel niche. 

About the restaurant names, Germans restaurant owners aren’t very creative when it comes to naming their place.  There is a Thai Food, Thai Food 2 and Thai food 3; it won’t be long before Thai food 4 comes along.  There’s also Stockholm that serves Swedish food.  Or remember, Kartofell?  My favorite name so far is Dim Sum and it serves Dim Sum.  (We haven’t tried Dim Sum yet but plan to sometime this week).