tally-ho

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so we arrived back in Mainz. after the bit of travelling in Cologne we took the Christmas time easy and lazy, visited, exchanged gifts, had some delicious meals, went to church as I mentioned, and watched the movie Die Feuerzangenbowle.

Feuerzangenbowle itself is actually a holiday tradition where a bowl of punch or spiced wine is set out, and a lump of sugar over top the bowl is soaked with high proof rum. The sugar is lit on fire and thus melts into the punchbowl. The movie is quite cute, shot during WWII in Europe. It’s kind of a Billy Madison story, where a doctor goes back in time to experience school day pranks he missed out on because he was home schooled. Filming of the movie was drawn out in order to save the actors from going to the front lines to aid the German war effort.

On boxing day we got on a plane for Berlin. when we arrived I had a bit of trouble getting a cab with a baby seat, but with luck there were a couple other parents in the same situation who were from Berlin, so they called us a cab and we were on our way! as we drove to our hotel it started to sink in where we were, just how much history and change the city has gone through over it’s 775 years. our hotel was terrific, centrally located, very reasonable rates, and had everything we needed – dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer, fridge, stove, oven. absolutely perfect for our small family.

over the next few days we tackled the subway system and started to figure our way around. at some point both zippers on my jacket broke and I bought a cheap replacement at H&M for 25 Euro. My wife became a fan of the Ampelmännchen – a traffic light figure only found in East Berlin. She even made up an Ampelmann song at one point.

this trip we didn’t lug a big camera and gear along, we just brought our iPhones. in addition to always having a camera on-hand, we were able to very quickly share photos from our trip with people back home, which was pretty cool.

Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market Berlin

Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market Berlin

We also got out to enjoy the berlin sea life center and aquadome (world’s largest cylindrical aquarium), the berlin zoo, yet another christmas market, checkpoint charlie, and madam tussaud’s wax museum. I have always had reservations about going to tussaud’s (find it a little creepy) but we had a blast there! it is so touristy to take goofy posed pictures with wax celebrities but fun nonetheless.

At Madam Tussauds in Berlin

At Madam Tussauds in Berlin

throughout our excursions our son was strapped to me (as pictured above) or my wife with a ergobaby baby carrier. though we might end the days a little sore, having him travel in such a way that we could have our hands free, where he was warm and cozy and often lulled to sleep by the movement, and not needing to lug a stroller with us was amazing. we did bring an umbrella stroller along but  honestly it could have stayed at home.

at the end of our three days in berlin we both were in agreement we could have stayed longer. as the taxi driver taking us back to the airport confirmed – “I have lived in Berlin 15 years and don’t imagine I have begun to see and know of all the things to do here”. Berlin is a city that will draw us back without a doubt.

As we reached security at the airport for our flight to Stockholm, Sweden, the security agent asked if we were all set to enjoy our new year’s eve in Paris. I answered that we were headed to Stockholm, not Paris. “Paris would be a lot more fun though, no?”

I guess I will have to do more traveling and find out for myself 🙂

a trip of contrasts

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it was really difficult to gather thoughts on this trip when we arrived home to tell people something.. it went by so quickly –  a week ago seemed like months ago. two weeks ago seemed like last year.

I think that was partly due to the travelling days. all told this trip comprised seven flights and two train trips plus a number of car trips as well. Then add to that a baby that wakes you up half a dozen times a night loudly crying and the whole trip kind of takes a cloudy surrealistic haze.

one thing that stood out was the weather – several days of double digit temperatures made traveling and exploring much easier, especially when things like the christmas markets and zoo are  entirely outdoors.  Barely above freezing temperatures and rain is understandably annoying for a country that gets it nearly every year, but for me, at least, I didn’t miss the snow and cold of home. Checking the weather forecast back home was good for at least a daily grin.

like every previous trip to Germany I endeavored to speak German often. and very happily the trend of improving every trip has continued. I have put a lot of time into the effort and it would be very discouraging if I wasn’t getting better.

one of the ways I notice improvement is the length of time the conversation lasts in german before somebody switches to English. I have no illusions of fluency so if there’s something important that needs to be communicated and there is a chance I will be misunderstood I will use English – in most of those cases it is with someone in the service industry and their English will without doubt be better than my German.

there were moments of personal wins – when I noticed I wasn’t having to translate word for word but instead simply understanding the sentence as a whole. Or when asking for directions, understanding movies and media, a church service, translating signs and other written material, and ordering meals happened without having to resort to English as often or at all. I had conversations without being immediately marked as a foreigner – which tells me pronunciation, grammar, and word choice has improved. I was also very proud to have shared some conversations with C&E at their home in Mainz largely in German.

There were occurrences to the contrary – when C&E’s parents came to visit on Christmas day, for example. It could have been any number of things – the speed, the dialect, number of conversations taking place at once, or different vocabulary used – but that was definitely a moment when I realized I have a long way to go yet. Words I could pick out and understand were far and few between with 6 native speakers talking. And then there was a coffee break at Berlin where the food and drink ordering went smoothly, but when the waitress came back to explain why our food was slow to arrive, I was completely lost. The explanation in German about why the food was late was long, but when she had to switch to English she simply said ‘Your food will be coming soon’.  No doubt I missed out on something there, even if it was trivial. Maybe a trained schnitzel thief took my meal, or the cook had to leave to save a neighbor from a burning building. Now I will never know.

On the whole though, it is improving, and I know what I need to focus on to continue improving.

Having a baby along made a difference on this trip, not only in the speed of travelling and amount of planning required, but in how people approached you. Our son made us a magnet for kid friendly strangers or a target for eye rolls or grimaces from those not so keen on babies. Discussions definitely trended towards topics around children. It was simultaneously hilarious and embarrassing to have him in church on Christmas day constantly blowing raspberries, staring at people, sticking out and flicking his tongue at people, or yammering at the top of his lungs.  I still hope we have the opportunity to do more travelling together as a family or as father and son. It strikes me as important to expose him to other perspectives and cultures and ways of life.

families that fly together

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this year’s christmas festivities were a little different. we left canada for germany december 17th. we were a little worried how our 7 month old would take to travelling..everyone always seems to ask first about how he travelled, so..

ok, he got bored during the longer flights and there was a bit of pacing up and down the plane with him, there were some problems sleeping, and our agenda obviously had to be modified to suit our new family status. but for the most part he was a delight.

the first few days we stayed with our friends in Mainz, and they were super accommodating and hospitable, cooking us all sorts of tasty foods including chicken tikka massala with hand made naan bread, beef rouladen, pork with sauerkraut…

they also introduced us to Raclette, a Swiss treat.

Everyone at the table shares a large cooking element (pictured above) that cooks from top and bottom, and each person has their own small square cast iron cooking pan. Then like fondue you simply lay out a bunch of fresh ingredients like veggies, potatoes, and meats and everyone is free to combine any bizarre combination of ingredients in their personal cooking pan to create what they want. The only rule is cheese must cover the top, or so we were told 🙂

We also visited both the Mainz and Wiesbaden Christmas Markets during the first few days. The Christmas markets were something I was really looking forward to. Usually, but not always, the market takes over the pedestrian only square in the center of the old part of the city. They are always outdoors and consist of several stalls selling food, drink, and christmas related knickknacks.

The feel is delightfully more of tradition than mass consumerism. The smell as you enter is enticing – you have your staple foods like gingerbread and sausage (‘christmas’ sausage was available at Cologne’s main market – had bits of green apple and red onion in it).

Hot Chocolate

Then there’s your drinks – hot chocolate (pictured above, chocolate is on a stick and melted into steamed milk), punch, and glühwein. Glühwein is basically hot wine with spices added into it. I am not a wine drinker by any means, so my first mug was my last. I also tried Glühbier at Cologne’s harbour market. I’ll just say hot beer with spices in it must be an especially acquired taste…

koelsch

After a few days in Mainz we took a train to Cologne. Cologne is a favorite city of ours partly due to the local beer, Kölsch.(pictured above) From our previous trip we have a some great memories of pub hopping. Of course this trip was a little different with our little one along but I did get an evening to myself to go visit a few pubs and imbibe.

During the time in Cologne we noticed one day our son’s lips were red, and a quick look into his mouth, yes, two bottom teeth were breaking through! So maybe that explains the waking up several times a night – in addition to constantly being moved around and being in new surroundings with new people..

While there we also took the opportunity to visit several of Cologne’s Christmas markets. While the markets have a lot in common, regional differences allowed for different tasty snacking options when comparing Mainz vs Cologne vs Berlin.

Our last night in Cologne we tried to make it to the Haxehaus (pork knuckle is a favorite of ours) but alas, it was full. Luckily enough we got persuaded to come into a Argentinian steak house nearby and enjoyed a good meal, which our son slept through. Adult time at a nice restaurant was well appreciated!

dom

One of the last things we did was to visit the inside of the Cologne cathedral – or Dom. One of my favorite things about walking around Cologne is that feeling of being awestruck when you first see the Dom jutting into the skyline. Built over a period of several hundred years, it is a totally imposing structure that succeeds at making you feel small. It houses (supposedly) the bones of the three magi as well as other Catholic relics and is a worthwhile visit.

With our short trip to Cologne finished, we headed back on the train to Mainz to spend Christmas with our friends..

To be continued…

These are the sauces I know I know

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I have been on a hot sauce kick for a little while and thought I would write about some of my trials. As of yet I am far from a ghost pepper ingesting, iron stomached, brass balled chilli head, and there are many milder scale sauces that would have me running for the milk.

That having been said, I do enjoy a well rounded burn and the endorphin rush that comes with it. Most important for me though, is what the sauce does or doesn’t do for food. The heat of a sauce is secondary. I want things to taste good and have a depth to them. Following are a sampling of the sauces I like or have endured to date, for the sake of my obsessive complusive nature.

 

Blair’s Original Death Hot Sauce

Habeneros, Vinegar, Cayenne, Garlic, Chipotle, Lime Juice, Cilantro, Spices.

Fairly mild heat. There are lots of reviewers that love this as an condiment for everything but I won’t be buying it again. Garlic is about the only flavor that stands out for me. Decent thick consistency though.

 

Marie Sharp’s Mild Habanero Hot Sauce
Marie Sharp’s Fiery Hot – Hot Sauce
Marie Sharp’s Belizean Heat Hot Sauce (These are in order of heat.)

Red habanero peppers, fresh carrots, onions, key lime juice, vinegar, garlic and salt. Belizean adds capsicum oil and some different spices to get the heat level up.

The mild is the thickest and towards Belizean end the sauce gets pretty runny. All three of these are fantastic, I have had them on chicken nuggets, pork chops, stir fries, pizza, potatoes, mexican, and eggs. The sauces complimented and added great flavor and heat to ALL OF THEM. All the ingredients are fresh grown on Marie’s farm in Belize, and you can taste it.

One of the coolest things is the carrots – they compliment and present the real habenero taste – which has a surprising initial fruity sweetness to it. They most of all lack that vinegar punch I think hides or obliterates the great pepper flavor in other sauces.

I have a small gripe with the Fiery Hot though. While it is my favorite sauce of all time it also has 210mg of sodium per Tablespoon, compared to 11mg in Belizean and 45mg in the Mild variety. Given a healthy daily sodium intake is max 1500mg this sauce is clearly overly salty. Given the flavor of it’s brethern it doesn’t need to be, though, which is a bit disppointing!

 

Sensations Pineapple Cayenne Hot Sauce

Pineapple, Cayenne Peppers, Lemon & Lime Juice, Honey, Salt and Cane Juice, Carrot Juice, Shallots, Garlic, Onion.

No real heat to speak of but wow is it thick and tasty! If you ever had a dish that needed a little tart pineapple sweetness, or forgot to put the pineapples on your pizza you can douse it with this stuff. It’s even quite nice on ice cream!

 

Iguana Mean Green Jalapeno Pepper Hot Sauce

Jalapeno peppers, carrots, onions & garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt and corn starch, with ascorbic acid & .1% sodium benzoate as preservative.

Very mild sauce with just a touch of flavor. It is a bit runny in consistency and has lots of spices and other stuff floating in it. I have had it on eggs, pizza, chicken fingers, and mexi fries and it just doesn’t wow me. It has an internet reputation for being very flavorful but to me it’s pretty hum drum.

 

Blair’s Jalapeno Death Hot Sauce

Fresh Jalapeno Chilies, Vinegar, Tomatillos, Fresh Garlic, Key Lime Juice, Shallots, Olive Oil, Sea Salt, Cilantro, Cane Sugar, Onions, Tequila, Spices, Xanthan Gum

This one is difficult. Nicely chunky in consistency, it has a small touch of heat. Unfortunately the vinegar and cilantro throw me for a loop. The Cilantro can either be nicely muted from shake to shake or really punch you in the throat, and believe me I shake my sauces well before pouring. Combined with Marie Sharp’s Exotic sauce on burritos it was almost mouth porn, but by itself on potatoes and chicken nuggets it’s kind of lackluster. Might buy again for a change from all the habenero sauces.

 

Dave’s Crazy Caribbean Hot Sauce

carrots, rican red habaneros, lime juice, cane vinegar, red chiles, onion, garlic, water, salt, ascorbic acid.

I bought this one having read positive reviews and thinking it would be quite simular in taste to Marie Sharp’s stuff given the ingredient list. It’s not. It’s runny and doesn’t add much in flavor or heat to anything. I believe it will be relegated to the fridge at work as a ‘just in case’

 

Droolin’ Devil Garlic Chili Sauce

Fresh Red Peppers, Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Garlic and Sea Salt

Not really a hot sauce, given the pepper variety that’s not suprising. It will definately handle your garlic cravings with ease, but it’s probably too much garlic for daily use. Haven’t tried it as a grilling or BBQ replacement yet, but am planning to this summer.

 

Marie Sharp’s Exotic Sauce

green mangoes, tamarind, raisins, ginger, sugar, vinegar, onions, garlic, habanero peppers, spices.

Big time raisin and then mango flavor. Again, a great sauce for pork chops, chicken, or stir fries that need that extra sweetness. It doesn’t have HOT in the name, so don’t expect any heat from this one, although you do taste the habenero’s sweet side a bit.

 

Lottie’s Traditional Barbados Yellow Hot Sauce

Scotch bonnet peppers, mustard, vinegar, onions, sugar, salt and garlic

A bit different than the rest. It’s almost more of a hot mustard than a hot sauce. The scotch bonnets, while in the same family as a habenero, are just completely different in flavor. The fruitiness and punch of the pepper is just somehow different. There’s no mistaking the healthy heat kick in this sauce.

I am absolutely disgusted by mustard so that part of the flavor profile turns me off but I have to say it brings a pork chop with sauerkraut to an entirely different level. In a good way.

 

Marie Sharp’s Orange Pulp Habanero Pepper Sauce

yellow habanero peppers, orange pulp, onions, key lime juice, vinegar, garlic and salt.

Another odd duck, the citrus flavor is unmistakable in this sauce, and it also has a touch of heat to go with it. Tasted on it’s own my initial reaction was to want to throw it out, but I am glad I held on to it. On breaded tilapia, and a couple other pieces of fish I have tried it was a great flavor punch. In a mongolian beef stir fry the citrus was a nice touch.

 

Droolin’ Devil Chipotle Hot Sauce

tomatoes, smoked Jalapeno peppers, roasted yellow peppers, green Jalapenos, cilantro, vinegar, cane sugar, sea salt and ‘Heavenly Herbs and Sinful Spices’

Droolin’ Devil hails from Saskatchewan and this sauce won a scovie award in 2008 in the mild sauces category. I think the only sauce I’ve had with tomatoes in it. It is a nice smoky thick additive to pizza with a respectable bit of heat.

 

Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce

Water, vinegar (white and apple), sugar, peppers (Chipotle, Guajillo, Arbol & Pequin), salt, natural flavor, and spices.

All of Cholula’s sauces add a nice flavor to anything you can add them to. They seem really nicely suited to mexican and pizza slices. My wife adds this or Cholula Garlic to every pizza slice she eats!

Not a big punch of vinegar, and really no heat to speak of either. Has an even nicer smokier sweeter flavor than the Droolin’ Devil Chipotle in my opinion. Unfortunately with all the water and vinegar it’s nearly the consistency of water. I like a bit of substance and heat in my sauces so I’ve graduated from Cholula.

 

Dan T’s Smoked Chipotle Grilling Sauce

Cayenne pepper sauce(aged cayenne, white vinegar, salt, xantham and guar gums), water, soy sauce(water, wheat, soybeans, salt, sodium benzoate), brown sugar, tomato paste, spices, modified corn starch, chipotle pepper, concentrated lemon juice, natural smoke flavour.

A bit heavy on the ingredient side, but it is what it claims to be – a nice chipotle grilling sauce. We used it on a big bacon wrapped beef tenderloin and it came out really nice. It’s hard to beat sweet smokey heat on a huge chunk of meat. I’d say only use it in grilling applications as it’s quite strong on it’s own.

 

Droolin’ Devil Gourmet Hot Sauce

Habanero, Piquin, Cayenne, Ring of Fire, Peri Peri, Tepin, Jalapeno Peppers, Garlic, Vinegar, Ginger, Evil Spices, Sea Salt, Lemon, Lime and Orange Juice.

I bought this without checking the ingredient list. Note the first 7 ingredients are peppers. What I thought would be a cadillac of hot sauces was just a load of different peppers tossed into the same sauce. That makes for a nice burn, I’d say it’s the hottest sauce I own.

The nice thing about the variety of peppers is the totality of burn you get off it. Within a few drops you’re sweating, your tongue and lips are tingling, the back of your throat is tight, and your nose and eyes are watering! Some of the heat is instant and some of is slow and builds, some lingers and some heat is in and out before you know it.

The bad side is the Cayenne and Peri Peri take over. I would describe the flavor of this sauce akin to chewing on a whole peppercorn. There’s no depth and it’s not enjoyable. Suggested use would be to add to a big pot of chilli or something to add a little heat.

 

Cholula Chili Garlic Hot Sauce

Water, Salt, Dried Peppers (Arbol & Piquin), Vinegar, Garlic, Spices, Natural Flavors, Xanthan Gum, dried Garlic.

Like the other Cholula sauce, great flavor, barely detectable heat, and runny as water. Good garlic punch, but not overdone.

 

 

El Yucateco Chili Habanero Hot Sauce

Green habanero pepper, water, salt, garlic, spices, acetic acid, FD&C yellow #5, FD&C blue #1, 0.1% sodium benzoate

Love the bright jade green color of this sauce. You can’t hide this shit on your food, that’s for sure! It also provides a decent punch of habenero heat with a little bit of hab flavor. It’s basically a simply made mexican made sauce that’s best paired with mexican food.

mit der maus

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this week in german class our teacher started us out with a novel exercise. we were paired up and a cartoon was shown on a projector screen. one of the pair had to close their eyes while the other was to describe in german what was going on in the video as it played.

here is the cartoon, there’s actually no speaking in it so anybody can understand it: http://www.wdrmaus.de/lachgeschichten/geschichten/video.php5?id=2593

I was paired with likely the slowest of the class – he got out a couple nouns at best and I had NO clue what was going on in the video. I fared better but this video is the kind of silliness it’s hard even to describe in English in real time.

heute

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today in german class we watched the movie “Das Leben der Anderen” – or “The Life of Others”. It’s on Netflix and though it’s in German it is subtitled and I highly recommend it.

last week in german class an older classmate exploded after a particularly difficult exercise in listening comprehension. It was a recording of a reporter in Berlin on the night the wall fell, interviewing those who were coming from the East through the border crossings to the West, and asking those people how they felt. the classmate said he liked our text and workbooks just fine, but the audio CD had to go – it was too fast, too hard to understand, etc

my teacher kind of ranted at him and pointed out he’s been in german classes nearly 10 years now.. that he doesn’t ask when he doesn’t understand things..

if I was still in ‘beginner’ after 10 years, I’d feel frustrated, too.  not that I’m trying to feel superior or claim I’m better – but I feel as though we could be challenged a bit more. I know it’s difficult to teach a class with widely varying levels of student, so I can’t blame my teacher. It wouldn’t hurt us to feel dumb a little bit of the time, make some mistakes, be forced to ask questions, and do a little work on our own. I get the feeling some of the older people in the class are just doing this as their evening out of the week.

when I’m independently wealthy…

Some more

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I would really like to do some traveling, but it’s not in the cards right now. With jbeans new job we’ll just have to wait. So Xmas in Europe 2012 (hoping)..

I am thinking it would be cool to do a bit of touring in germany first, from early to mid-December. I have always wanted to visit a Weihnachtsmarkt (christmas market) in Germany….

I remember encountering a lot of pedestrian only areas in the cities and towns I visited in the UK and Europe and thinking how cool they were with their little shops and stands filled with regional fare. They were such relaxed, cozy, and welcoming areas…. Take that area, decorate it, and stuff it with traditional christmas presents and foods, and you have a Weihnachtsmarkt.

It sure beats the cement unfeeling jungle we have here during xmas season, with all our big box stores… So much traffic… and everyone shopping is just pissed off and trying to get things done at the expense of anyone else who may be in their way.

Anyways, after bumming around (German also has a verb bummeln! – same meaning haha) we’d
meet up with our friends in Mainz, and continue on to Sweden with them to spend the rest of the holidays with M & R near Stockholm. Mats says Sweden is lacking in culture but I’m still curious as to how the Swedes spend Christmas – no less a mixed group of Germans, a swede, and a Dutch girl.. Lots of traditions mixed in, no doubt.

I hope it all works out. It’s a long ways away but I’m sure another year will have come and gone before we know it

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