I Can See Dead People – For Now

Can I rant about German law for a minute? So I have written about my parents before. Both are deceased, my dad passed in 1982, and my mom followed him in 1998, 20 years back. Which is why I just got mail from the cemetery management of the small town where my parents‘ burial place is located, saying that I have until the end of the year to have the tomb removed. Apparently, in German cemeteries, you only rent the gravesite, for a limited period of time, and my parents‘ has expired 20 years after my mom passed away, no extensions permissible. Am I the only one to find that macabre? I mean, the whole ritual that we do with with the funeral, and the speeches, and the flowers is designed to find closure, and it works a charm of course. But for a lot of people (me included) it doesn’t really stop there. They go and visit the graves of their loved ones, just to go see them, talk to them, connect with them, bring them flowers – whatever. I don’t know how many times I’ve read that topos in a book or seen it in a movie. I have certainly done it myself.

Since I live hundreds of miles away from that place, I don’t get to go there often. But I do feel a connection to that cemetery, and I especially love my parents‘ headstone. It’s a simple, undressed stone, and the epitaph simply says their names and the respective birthdays and days of death. The last time I was there, I saw that some moss had started growing in the crevices of the rough surface, and it made me smile, and think: Look, life goes on, even in a cemetery. So I don’t go a lot, but were I to live closer, I’m quite certain I would. It had (until I received the letter from the authorities) a certain permanence if you will, it was a place I knew would always be there. It was, after all, my parents‘ final place of rest.

Not all that final, evidently. Granted, I wasn’t the person to make the arrangements. That was my mom, when my dad passed away. She must have been told about the legal situation, not that she was probably listening, grief-stricken and in shock as she was at the time. And it never came up when she died and was buried in the same place 16 years later (well before the 20 years mark), and the management probably thought I knew. Well, I didn’t.

And now, I’m supposed to renounce this place I had wrongly assumed was mine, to make room for other dead people, and for their bereft. I guess it makes sense in a way, what with the overpopulated, aging society we live in. If you’re aware of these things in advance, you’d be well advised to not put any deep emotional roots down there, to spare yourself additional grief.

But as a migrant who has no ties to her place of birth, no childhood home I could return to and (duh!) no parents left, I can’t help but feel, once again, discarded. Also, whacked over the head, once again, with the realization that nothing in this life last forever, evidently not even a f…ing grave.

Educating myself on the web, I found it’s common procedure to either recycle the headstones (stonemasons who are contracted to remove the tombstones either remove the epitaphs from the stones and give them away to poorer families for free, or smash it to gravel that is frequently used for road-building (in which case you get a discount on their fee for removing the whole shebang) … I mean, WTF, that is just appaling, right?

Nope, not going to allow my parents‘ memory to become a piece of turnpike. I can see myself standing on some autobahn bridge or other, staring at a strip of road … I always wondered what it was people were doing who stand up there, and hoped they weren’t going to jump; maybe they weren’t crazy, but simply paying their respects to Aunt Edna or Uncle Joseph?

I’m not saying this country hasn’t, all things considered, been good to my family. In fact, most of the time, I’m happy enough in Germany. A stable democracy is nothing you can take for granted in this day and age, and I appreciate many, many things about living here. I married a German man, I have two beautiful kids, and I adore my friends.

But right now, my inner child can’t help feeling betrayed and cheated out of a thing I held very dear. Mad world …

Mad World Cover by Gary Jules

 

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Luxury Problem

IMG_6672I _almost_ feel bad because of what I’m about to do: lament the summer vacation’s being over. Gone are the days of daily swimming, crafting whenever I felt like it, no parents rep responsibilities, actually no responsibilities period, beyond being with the kids and catering to everybody’s culinary and recreational whims. Sigh.

It sounds like a lazy time, reading through that first paragraph, and some days were certainly slow-paced enough to call them lazy. Not that we actually did _nothing_ that much. There was swimming, playing, reading, cooking and baking, and I actually managed to finish sweet A.’s sheets, check ‚em out: IMG_6659Doing the math makes me realize what took so long. I was going to have the project finished by mid July, and I was done with the crochet part by then. But: Darning in threads in 60 crochet flowers (4 apiece) takes time, and is extremely tedious work. I was done with that by early August. Then there was the color sequence to figure out. Thankfully, I had help with that:IMG_6638Once that was done, the flowers pinned to the sheets, there was the step I dreaded even more than darning in threads: stitching the flowers to the bedsheets.IMG_6691I don’t know why I don’t mind knitting or crocheting for hours but find sewing so painful – but it is what it is. Some days, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I guess that qualifies as lazy all right ;-)). But in the end, the flowers were in place and the pins back in their glass jar, so. IMG_6731Now all I need to do is pack up the sheets and send them on their way so A. and her husband can have sweet dreams in them :-).

I saw less of some friends over the vacation weeks than I would have liked, and more of others than I would have thought, and, oddly, I did not miss the city one bit. I’ve been back for a couple days now, and although I appreciate the restaurant and organic foods situation, as well as being able to hit the stores for my kids who managed to grow over the six weeks like you wouldn’t believe, I can’t help wishing I was back at the cottage and packing up the swimming gear,IMG_6676goofing around with my baby girl

or baking with my boy

Instead, this morning my husband took the red-eye, the kids trotted off to school heaving long-suffering sighs at having to be up at the ungodly hour of 7 a m, and I have a translation to sink my teeth back into. I also am really and truly all by myself for the first time in weeks.

Although the heat called for a lot of fruit and salad, cooking did occur. For instance, I made a somewhat unorthodox quiche-like affair with store-bought puff-pastry dough:IMG_6441Leeks, chanterelle mushrooms, cashews, cheese, eggs and cream, and no crust to prepare – that was one easy dinner right there.

My new favorite salad is this:
IMG_4868It’s boiled green beans, blanched and seeded tomatoes (great for using up tasty, over-ripe ones that have become too squishy for regular salad), a chopped shallot and olive oil. Salt and pepper. Lovely as a side dish for barbecuing, or with a pasta dish, or all on its own.

Also worth mentioning because it’s such an old favorite of mine I had all but forgotten about: the Taco Salad :-). Our friendship stems from my healthy-diet-be-damned, happy-hour-after-work-heavy advertising days in the Nineties. Every once in a while, it’s a very happy Tex-Mex indulgence, even though I wash it down with iced tea instead of Margaritas, these days.IMG_6207.JPGIt’s easy enough to make, if you want to try.

Tempting Taco Salad

1 head iceberg lettuce, cut into strips

5 tomatoes, cubed

1 can chili beans

1 can corn

1 store-bought salsa

1 bag corn chips

large handful of grated cheese

1 container sour cream

200 g ground beef, browned in olive oil with a chopped shallot, a handful chopped cilantro, seasoned with chili flakes, cinnamon, cumin, salt, sugar and pepper

After browning and seasoning the meat, layer (in a glass bowl for a better visual, if you have one) from bottom to top:

shredded lettuce

meat

chili beans

corn

salsa

sour cream

tomatoes

cheese

one half of the chips, crumbled

Decorate with a row of whole tortilla chips all around the rim of the bowl and sprinkle with pepper. Serve with extra chips & salsa, queso if you’re so inclined, and guac.

There. Now my lunch-break is officially over, and I’m hungry. Go figure!

Have a great week everyone, and smile at a picture my kids took after I failed to clean up after myself like I usually scold them for doing:IMG_6671No worries though, my legs are still their regular shape :-).IMG_E6727To Berlin-based readers, happy first day of school, and to everyone, enjoy another week of this spectacular late summer.

 

The Way They Were

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First, I have a question for you: Do birthdays make you all nostalgic? Do you feel like looking back and remembering, whenever someone turns a year older? Or do you wake up in the morning all eager for anything the new day/year may bring? Maybe birthdays are just like any other day to you?

For me, birthdays tend to be busy (baking, cooking, organizing parties). The days after the fact, however, are often filled with quiet reflection, and this year is no exception.

My birthday last week was a sunny, summery day spent swimming in the lake, barbecuing things and hanging out with friends on the shady lawn after. I got wonderful, thoughtful presents, I felt loved and cherished, and I had a really good time. Since it was a Sunday, we started around noon and people went home early because they needed to work the next day. Lawn and kitchen were cleaned up by 10 p.m., and the day ended in the hammock with my teenager, and a little substance abuse. That was memorable in and of itself obviously, but the conversation was even more so. You know the rambling way people talk when under the influence, which can feel so profound but actually is mainly losing your filters. So we had a fascinating chat about sex, and love, and the way this new generation’s approach to both is somewhat different from my own generation’s.

As much as I commend the way they’re open to experimenting, I’m also a little bit weirded out by the cavalier attitude towards what I consider to be intimacy (‚for science‘, as he put it). Well, I guess as long as you talk in advance and make sure everyone’s on the same page. I know I always preached to be open about things, and not have any hang-ups, so I guess this is what the outcome is :-).

It was all very interesting, and it’s certainly remarkable how these experiments went on without my husband and me even realizing. I guess we must be very trusting individuals. Which is actually what I’m applying as a strategy for bringing up my teenager: Trust in him (thank you so much, Jesper Juul!), and get him to talk (figured that out all by myself). Thank God we don’t really need weed for that!

I made no grand speeches, I hope, but I did point out the importance of making sure nobody gets hurt (you may feel all casual about messing around with someone, but he or she may have feelings for you, so you better be sure it’s the same empirical interest (read horniness and curiosity) driving both partners before you engage in anything). I also said sex with a person you’re actually in love with is a whole different ballgame, and there’s still a lot to discover (or scientifically research) when that is the case. He’ll get what I was talking about when that happens, right? For now, it’s safe to say we’re not in Kansas anymore. Evidently, my son is a sexual being, bizarre as it may be to me as a parent. Who knew?IMG_E6368Thoughtfully leaving this place today without even mentioning food or crafts, sorry not sorry :-).

Those of you who have older children, talk to me about this stuff, for right now, I’m just flying by the seat of my pants. I’m sure I’d benefit from some, well, experience.

Summer Appreciation Post

IMG_6363Welcome to serenity;-).

This is what I see when I spread out my blanket at ‚our‘ spot by the lake. Isn’t it beautiful? I’m always astonished at how few people come here, but of course I’m not complaining. To the contrary, I’m deeply thankful we get to have this place to ourselves more often than not.IMG_2394As you can guess, we have moved our life out to the country cottage for the next few weeks, and so far it’s been pretty chill. We’ve done the things we usually do when we’re here: Walk in the forest, swim in the lake, find mushrooms, cook, grill, sleep in, play games, sit by a fire, gaze at the stars at night. Our lazy routine is punctuated by the kids‘ sudden cravings for favorite foods, or certain things that need to be eaten because nature or the garden supply them.

When we found chanterelle mushrooms after the rain last week, we made the best fanfuckingtastic grilled cheese from them, see above. Pimped with green onions and fresh rosemary, yum.

The above are plum dumplings, one of my childhood favorites. I learned how to make them at an early age, since they were one of my Dad’s specialties. It’s not difficult, albeit a messy process. Consisting of a mashed potato, flour and egg gnocchi dough wrapped around a plum and boiled in salt water, they’re breaded in buttered breadcrumbs and eaten with a bit of sugar. The kids just like to roll ‚em in the stuff as you can see above, and depending on the type of plum you use, it may be necessary too.

Other Parents Have Time to Cook foods are: lasagna, pancakes for breakfast, as well as, notably, my husband’s Jewish pizza topped with chanterelle mushrooms, what a treat that was! I was going to take a picture but the pizza was gone so fast I didn’t have a chance. So sorry, maybe next time. But you get the idea – thin, crisp pizza dough topped with sour cream, onions, mushrooms and cheese – very good stuff.

IMG_E6285The above was my adaptation of a classic Arabic basbousa cake; I was inspired to make one myself when I read about it on Cleobuttera’s blog. Her recipe sounds very good, but that particular day I was dying to know whether it isn’t possible to add dark chocolate to the orange flavor, and use spelt semolina instead of the called for wheat. And what can I say? It was certainly a worth-while experiment.

As of late, I’ve become quite the home-made syrup buff, check out the flavors we made for the school fair in June (yellow is elder flower, red is raspberry), so the orange syrup part didn’t scare me.IMG_5955We ended up with a lovely melt-in-mouth dark chocolat-ey concoction soaked in sticky orange bliss. Nice with a glass of milk, black coffee, and (I was told) with a glass of fruity champagne. Not drinking much myself, these days, as my body does not appreciate it anymore. Who knew I’d end up becoming such a health nut??

We have a sweet four-legged visitor for a couple days who is making puppy dog eyes at me, urging me to leave the hammock I’ve been typing away in and take him for his midday run:IMG_6375Cooper is an Australian Shepherd, and he’s a very cute bundle of activity, this one. Since we also brought the cat, it’s an interesting experiment. So far, they’ve been giving each other the evil eye, and the kitty needs to be coaxed to come out of the house at all:

IMG_6369That hammock has become a favorite place to do favorite things in, here’s my new couch blanket coming along nicely, on DC row at a time.IMG_6297Have a beautiful summer, wherever you are and whatever your favorite seasonal activity may be. I’m off to the woods with a strapping, woofing young fellow now.

Detachment Part Two, and More Heat Eats

IMG_6111When I stumbled across this piece by André Aciman in the New York Times a while ago, it resonated with me, not only because of the example he gives (his boys have moved out…), but because it made me realize that I, too, tend to try and anticipate what bad things are going to feel like so I’ll be prepared when they happen. But while this type of emotional rehearsal may seem like a valid strategy to any constructive pessimist, it may ultimately prove futile. For despite all anticipation, there will always be stuff you hadn’t reckoned with: Life can and will whack you over the head with Unexpected Things.

Mr. Aciman advises to be thankful and enjoy the good things as they happen. It’s sound advice, too, for these precious moments of joy are the piggy-bank for coping with the times life will give you lemons and throw you curve-balls. img_2907.jpgRemember your first heartbreak? I’m sure you do. One moment you feel loved and happy and secure, and the next you get dumped, and realize that the person you cherished, relied on, and trusted in is yours no more. Long story short, apparently my son’s ex-girlfriend (bizarre consecutive words right there!) has fallen out of love with him over the course of her 3-month exchange in the UK, and ended their 2 1/2 year relationship. He didn’t see it coming, all seemed fine when he went to visit her over Easter, but that’s how it goes with still waters. I also remember how much can change over the course of such a long time. She’s made her decision, and he needs to accept that.

But boy, do I feel for my boy. He’s being very mature about it, for now. He says he’s sad, he certainly seems subdued, but he doesn’t want to talk about it much, not to me anyway. There’s a solid support system of friends. Maybe he talks to them, or he simply lets them take his mind off things. They got him to join a gym, which we support, and of course we also have his back. His baby sister makes him laugh, his cool daddy took him to the Long Night of the Sciences, and we’re going to have more mom and son dates again. Yesterday we cooked, and watched 2 episodes of vintage television, Deep Space Nine, which I can only hope he didn’t just do for my sake. He seemed to enjoy it.

Also, we’ve begun checking out our boxed up old vinyls, and of course I have a back story to each and every one! (The Cure’s Head on the Door album (went to see them live on stage for that tour, and Robert Smith said nothing at all to the audience other than hello, good night, and announcing one song with the words ‚this is the Kyoto Song, I’m sure you wouldn’t understand‘ ;-))! What do you think? Was he always like that on stage, or was he in a particularly weird mood that night? We found The Sonics‘ first album that opened my mind to garage rock with an unforgettable BANG, just listen to this: Psycho; and of course, courtesy of my music lover of a daddy, this hauntingly beautiful Étude by Alexander Scriabin. In the YouTube link, Vladimir Horowitz is playing – the recording my dad had was by Svjatoslav Richter, different but equally sublime. I could go on and on, but I’ll save that walk down memory lane for RL, I think.

So, the detachment business. Here’s what I’m doing right now:

a) Allow my boy to be in pain – I’ve passed on Prof. Pearlman’s advice from ‚Call Me By Your Name‘ (don’t snuff it out, let yourself feel it); who knew I’d need to quote this to my own kid so soon? And what a good thing I just read that wonderful book …

b) Get used to not having sweet St. around any longer, friend-zone or no friend-zone, things are probably going to be awkward for a while now.

c) Trust my son to cope with this by himself, and with a little help from his friends.

I don’t know if it’s even possible for a parent not to grieve by proxy, I don’t know how not to anyway. I know my son will be miserable for a while, but I also know he’ll learn something from this. And of course there will be quite a few who’ll happily console him if he lets them!

And since even heartbroken people need to eat, especially when they’re 16, how about a little comfort food that’s heat wave compatible? Have some

IMG_6121

Gigantes Bean Salad

Usually, I would use a can of tuna for this, but since I had run out and it was the weekend, here’s what I used instead. Sun-dried tomatoes, lemon stuffed Spanish olives and because this is me, capers;-), make for a lovely Mediterranean combination. Olive oil, dash of lemon juice, oregano and black pepper – and you’re done. No cooking required, always a plus when its more than 30 °C.

You will need:

Canned Gigantes beans, cooked

1 small shallot or onion, sliced or chopped

Handful of sun-dried tomatoes, cut into strips

Handful of green olives, lemon stuffed and sliced

2 TBSP capers (recipe also works without these if you dislike the taste)

3 TBSP olive oil

A few squeezes of lemon juice, to taste

Very little salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 TBSP oregano, dried

Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl, season and let steep for a bit. Enjoy with or without crusty bread – from a nutritional point of view, it’s certainly unnecessary, but if it makes you happy, by all means, have some.

Thank you for reading, everyone, and have a good week!

Heat Wave Eats, Part Two

After two days of massive rain showers, temperatures have evened out to a pleasant 25 °C, and it felt like all living creatures breathed a sigh of relief. One definite upside of the heat last week was that it left the most perfect water temperatures at my favorite lake behind. Usually, I’m kind of squeamish when getting in there for the first time after the winter, but yesterday it was a real treat. Cool but not too cold, clear water, dragonflies buzzing lazily, and the lushest shades of green all over the foresty lakeshore (and since I couldn’t possibly not think about this wonderful summer song as I was typing this particular word, enjoy that: Lakeshore Drive).IMG_E6043And while husband and kids can handle solid food even when it’s 30 °C, I personally had little else but fruit, salad and yogurt over the past week. IMG_6008What you can see above is one of my secret weapons whenever the heat makes it unfathomable for me to even be in the kitchen with a lit stove. The white stuff is a sweet concoction based on our German cream cheese variety, which goes by the odd name of Quark; it’s not as solid as cream cheese, and when whipped up with an electric blender with some whipping cream, it can become as fluffy as a mousse.

Favorite Summer Dessert for Finicky Eaters

500 g Quark (cream cheese would work too if you can’t get it in your neck of the woods. 400 g cream cheese and 100 ml yogurt, in that case)

100 ml whipping cream

3 TBSP sugar (substitute with maple syrup or even Stevia or another sweetener to taste, if you prefer)

Bit of vanilla

Juice of 2 lemons

Bit of lemon zest to taste

Fresh berries of your choice

Put all ingredients (other than the berries) in a bowl and beat them into fluffiness using an electric blender. Put in the fridge for min. 1 hour – this is infinitely better when thoroughly chilled.

Wash berries and serve on the side in deference to particular eaters. Naming no names, there are some at our house who need all foods to be very clearly discernible from each other, and would refuse to eat this lovely dish if I were to add, say, blueberries right away…IMG_6004So while one person might have this, IMG_6007there are some who’d rather decide by the spoonful what they garnish their food with:IMG_6009Be that as it may, this Quark has proven to be a crowd pleaser many times over (it used to be a signature dish of mine when parent-cooking for the kindergarten), and it’s still a family favorite today.

There’s also a nice winter variety that I like to use freshly squeezed orange juice and orange fillets for, also quite good with cubed fresh mango as a topping.

Sorry I didn’t get around to do a write-up of this before. My Friday afternoon was all about new sensations, which I will probably be experiencing on the regular as of this month. It seems, dear friends, that the fates (and my daughter) have chosen to make me a HOCKEY MOM… IMG_6030That was me putting on a brave face of acceptance, sitting in front of the club house, nursing a diet soda and feeling like an impostor. Also a wee bit annoyed by the regulars, some of whom were drinking beers at 4 in the afternoon, I kid you not!, while unabashedly checking out the fresh meat. Ugh! Luckily, I had brought my crochet:IMG_6031Guess I showed them :-))!

Upside is they have WiFi, so this week, I’ll just bring my computer to the bleachers and do some work while the newest hockey enthusiast is having her fun (I’m so glad she chose a sport by herself, actually, and not something I made her try. A very good thing!)

Have a lovely week, everyone!

Heat Wave Eats, Part One

In Berlin, we’re experiencing very high temperatures for end of May. It’s gone up to 32 °C today and the brief mini storm only added humidity to the heat, sigh. My son took his beloved electric fan to school with him this morning because their classroom heats up so badly in the afternoons. He’s going to be one popular boy today ;-)).

Dishes best served cold are the go-to culinary strategy for this kind of weather, and there’s a few that I’d like to suggest, for enjoyable eats that won’t put you in a food coma as soon as you’ve swallowed the last bite.

The first thing that comes to mind is Gazpacho. I always have a craving for it in the summer, and I love how it’s filling but not heavy, in a wholesome, happy-making way, much like a salad. Come to think of it, it is a bit like a pureed salad! Here’s my version of this iconic Spanish veggie soup:

Cool as a Cucumber Gazpacho

1 red pepper, seeded

1 yellow pepper, seeded

1 cucumber, seeded

2 green onions

1 can tomato passata

6 TBSP tomato paste

500 ml tomato juice

1 stalk celery

1 lemon, squeezed

1 piece of chili

1 small clove garlic

8 TBSP olive oil

Salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, pinch of sugar

Peel, chop and place in a bowl the vegetables, tomato juice, paste and passata, olive oil, lemon juice and spices. Puree with a stick blender, thoroughly. Don’t forget to wear an apron, the stuff will spit.

Add more seasoning, lemon and oil to taste. Cover and place in the refrigerator for min. 2 hours.IMG_5999Make croutons from any leftover bread of your choice: Cube and fry in a pan in olive oil with a crushed clove of garlic until browned. Sprinkle with a bit of salt.

Serve gazpacho with a cold drink and more bread if you’re so inclined, or if you’re in a hurry, just pour a glass and enjoy like a smoothie. Consistency should be about the same.IMG_6002I’ll continue with cold food tomorrow. Dropping out of here again with a quick wave and some pics of my old lady of a cat and her own, very wise strategy for the heat: Do not move unless absolutely necessary.