Monday, February 22, 2010

Abendessen (Dinner)

In the entire time Thomas and I have been together, he has cooked for me exactly once. Pasta Aglio E Olio. Combined total of four ingredients (if you count the parsley garnish). Total time of twenty minutes start to finish. Thomas has no interest in cooking. Nada. Zilch. Null. None. Before we started dating, his meal repertoire consisted of the following:
  1. Wasa crisps with cream cheese
  2. Cereal
  3. Spaghetti with ketchup
  4. Hot dogs - and I had to explain that he really should not eat them cold right from the package.
I knew I was in trouble the first time I opened the pantry in Thomas' apartment. He'd converted it into a closet for his PUMA collection. But here's the kicker. He ACTUALLY, REALLY, TRULY thought that the closet was supposed to be for shoes because the shelves were the perfect size. He could not even fathom that anyone would need that much space for food in their home. Wasn't that what the cabinets in the kitchen were for? The cabinets that housed his 12 boxes of cereal (hello Seinfeld) and his three pots?

Fast forward five years. For Valentine's Day this year I wanted only one thing. I wanted us to cook a meal together. Garlic, wine, good music, candles. I was psyched. Thomas was willing. But reluctant. Oh so very reluctant. But willing.

To celebrate passing my German test last week, I bought my first cookbook in German. The Real German Kitchen. Traditional meals from all the various regions in Germany.
The plan was that we would each select three appetizers, main courses and desserts that we wanted to try. Then we'd compare lists, see where we matched and that's what we'd cook. It went without saying that all choices would exclude anything with ingredients such as: pig's lung, calf liver, intestines, stomach, neck. That knocked about 50% of the book right off the list. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration but, as in many cultures, one man's delicacy is another man's gag reflex.

We settled on Kartoffelsuppe (potato soup) from the Saxen region where Thomas was born and Rahmgulasch with Kloße (potato dumplings) from the Bayern region. We cheated slightly on the dessert since we had left-over lemon meringue pie from the day before. Now I have a dozen eggs left in the fridge from the forsaken Eierschecke. Next week.

I'm pleased to say the whole thing went off without a hitch and we had a really nice afternoon together. The only time Thomas cried was when he was chopping the onions. Everything was sehr, sehr lecker. How could it not be with an ingredient list that included: butter, heavy cream, creme fraiche, bacon, potatoes, more potatoes and salt? I think we consumed a week's worth of calories in one sitting. And then, in keeping with the potato theme, we retired to the couch where we spent the rest of the evening watching the Olympics. Pretty much a perfect day in my book.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kuchen Wear

So, back when I was working for BMW I was responsible for, and I quote, sourcing private-label apparel, accessories, timepieces and gift items for distribution in BMW and MINI dealerships as well as providing creative direction to designers and suppliers ensuring that all products are premium and brand relevant, end quote.

As a subsidiary, we had to get everything we produced locally for the US market approved by HQ in Germany. Let's just say there were differences of opinion regarding what was "brand relevant." I spent way too much time creating PowerPoint presentations for local product approvals and way too much time discussing what was and was not "brand appropriate," or "brand damaging." We felt that Germany was too restrictive. They felt that we didn't protect the brand values. For example, we offered adorable baby onesies and bibs that were good sellers. We had to stop selling them because what if a baby actually spit up on the logo? That, my friends, would be "brand damaging." I'm really not making this stuff up. We'd make a pink polo shirt and Germany would tell us that pink was not a "brand appropriate" color. Six months later, they'd come out with a light pink polo and we'd say, "I thought pink was verboten??" and they'd say, "It's not pink. It's blush white." So, as long as you don't actually call it pink it's not pink, right? Well, this isn't a baby bib, it's a miniature floor mat. Now can we sell them again? And so on.

A couple of weeks ago, Thomas brought me one of his BMW shirts that was on it's last legs. The cuffs were starting to fray and it was destined for the Goodwill box. I had it lying around for a few days thinking I'd clean out some stuff from my closet too when I remembered a tutorial I'd seen a while ago on the Internet. It was for ways to re-purpose a man's shirt and one of them was an apron. I got right on it. And this, Damen und Herren, is my "kitchen appropriate" creation. Of course, I had to incorporate pink somehow because I am small, and bitter, and jaded and just evil like that. And what about the sacred logo you ask? What if I do something incredibly "brand damaging" like splatter some sauerbraten sauce on it? No worries CI police, I would NEVER want to damage the brand so I just covered that bad boy with some pink rickrack. Like I said, evil.

My new apron debuted just in time for a special meal. But more on that on Sunday...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Big doings in Bavaria. Today was Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Faschingsdienstag the last day to let off steam before Lent begins. Quite a few people take the day or afternoon off from work to party auf dem Viktualienmarkt. Thomas had more than one meeting where the participant count was well below par. One meeting, at which eight people were expected, two people showed. The rest were presumably donning dayglo wigs and rummaging in their wife's lingerie drawer for costume inspiration.

Now, I've been to Carnival in Brazil and Fasching in Munich is nothing like it. Not even close. Here are some key differences:

  1. The weather. Carnival in Brazil is hot. Do you hear the chorus of Hot, Hot, Hot drumming in your head? Fasching in Munich is NOT. It was 20 degrees yesterday. So no matter how much Germans love throwing a couple of nekkid breasts into every newspaper, magazine or TV show there was no headlight action yesterday. In contrast, Brazil is one giant homage to the Nancys. To summarize: Germany - Jack Wolfskin parkas; Brazil - pasties and thongs.
  2. The floats. Floats are a matter of national pride in Brazil. Starting with the music/band to the fresh flowers to the glitter which accounts for 75% of the gross domestic product. It takes months to build and decorate a float. In Germany, it looked as though they pulled out the hot-glue gun at midnight after consuming a case of Edelstoff. By tomorrow the "floats" will once again be assigned to hauling cows to the high pastures.
  3. The atmosphere. In Brazil, the mood is sexy even slightly dangerous. In Germany, the mood is silly. The closest thing you'll find to sexy are the transvestites working a pair of five inch stilettos. Fasching is more like Halloween except instead of kids with bags of candy it's adults with cases of beer.
  4. The dancing. Brazil - samba, samba, samba. Elaborate headdresses and masks, glistening, nearly naked bodies gyrating nay THROBBING with sexual tension. And in Munich? The middle-aged Market Women, dressed in dirndls and wearing fruit and flower laden straw hats, dance around the Maypole. Who knows? Maybe they're wearing Agent Provocateur corsets under their dirndls.
  5. The music. Brazil - live bands all day and night. Even in the small towns. Munich - your choice of Lady GaGa, Katy Perry and DJ Ötzi piped in from a local radio station or traditional Bavarian music fresh out of the 8-track player- think Perry Como in Lederhosen with a cow bell.
  6. The food. We've been here before right? I should say that caipis were being served which I thought was a generous nod to fellow revelers in Brazil. But beyond that we're right back to the Bratwurst and Bier. Oh, and the Krapfen - basically a jelly donut. They are everywhere during the Fasching season and so very, very hard to resist.
I admit that I was not decked out in a costume so perhaps I didn't experience the full effect. But I have to say, the idea of standing in the freezing cold, drinking beer that in approximately 10 minutes I will have to evacuate but not before standing in an outside line for 30 minutes doing the hoppy dance is not something I put in the "good times" category. But I have the feeling that if I'd just had 4-5 beers, I would have had a GREAT time and might even have intuitively learned all the words to Ich bin ein Döner. And, and, AND if I'd worn a really unflattering costume - say a cow costume - I could wear lots and lots of warm layers underneath while at the same time avoiding the whole bathroom scenario with a double stack of Depends. I am so ready for next year.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Deutsch Zertifikat für Zuwanderer. Fertig!

German Certificate for Foreigners. Done!

I took my big German test today. Big sigh of relief. I'm sure I passed but I have to wait three weeks for the official results. This basically means I have achieved a B1 level in German. I think that equates to about fifth grade by our standards but considering that I started at a Kindergarten level, I've come pretty far in six months. Not far enough to actually have a full on conversation in German mind you. But getting there. Not good enough to understand 100% of what is being said around me but I think I'm at the 60% range depending on the topic.

I still panic whenever I have to speak to someone. I rehearse even the most simple request endlessly. Having to go to the bank to ask for a roll of Euros so I can do the wash is akin to asking a boss for a raise. It's that bad. And forget it when someone speaks to me out of the blue which, for some reason, happens to me a lot. I'll be standing waiting for the train, or in line at the supermarket and someone will just start talking to me. I immediately panic. Eyes widen in fear. Stomach drops. I smile. Give an awkward chuckle while searching for ONE word that I understand. Then I usually pretend to drop something and have to busy myself with that because I have NO CLUE what is happening.

The other day I was in the supermarket in the baking section and some guy came up to me and asked me something. An awkward pause ensued while I look around praying that he was talking to someone else; no such luck. I take a deep breath. Wie bitte? Wissen Sie, wo das Salz ist? Salt! Salt! I know that word. And not only do I know that word. I know where the salt is! So I said, auf Deutsch, the salt is next to the Butcher counter. However, judging from the way he looked at me, I think what I really said was "the salt is on top of the meat." Whatever, he got that it was in the area of the meat. Welcome to my world where I have to rely on one word and a mixture of trial and error to navigate through so many situations. The man reappeared a few minutes later waving the salt happily so it all worked out in the end. Does that count as an actual conversation? Maybe I exaggerate the fifth grade level thing. Maybe we're really talking first-grader peeking out from behind her Momma's skirt level. But I take comfort that I am not as bad as some. Take, for example, my partner for the spoken portion of the German exam.

The DZZ test consists of four parts: listening, reading, writing and speaking. Each section is about an hour in duration except for the spoken which is shorter. Typically, you can select your own speaking partner from someone in your current class. I was originally scheduled to take the test in November but had to fly to the states at the last minute because of my Mom. So, being that I was not actively enrolled in a class, I was assigned a partner. Now, someone could be partner-less because of a situation like mine or they could be partner-less because no one in their current class wants to partner with them. I got a piece of paper with a name. Female. Russian sounding.

First up - listening. You get to hear each recorded bit once and then have to answer a question on the content. No major problems except the idiot who kept asking the teacher to replay the piece because he couldn't "hear" it aka didn't understand it. On to reading comprehension. When the time was up for the reading portion of the test, the teacher went from desk to desk collecting the papers. A few people hadn't finished but reluctantly gave up their answer sheets. Except for one women. She pulled the paper back when the teacher tried to take it. He tried to take it again. She pulled it back saying "Nein, nein." He explained that it had to be fair for everyone. She shooed him off to the other people in her row. He collected their papers. He came back for hers. She wouldn't give it up. At that point, I knew, just knew, that she was my partner. And she was.

The speaking portion consists of three parts. First, you have to introduce yourself, where you are from, where you live, family, why you are in Germany and so on. Second, you have to describe a picture that they show you. Third, you and your partner have to have a conversation on a given topic.

Introductions aside. Fairly basic. Svetlana, my partner, now has to describe the picture the teacher is holding up in front of her. It is a picture of a little boy with a bowl of apples in front of him. Their condensed conversation goes something like this:

Teacher: What do you see?
Svetlana: A boy at a table. And an apple.
T: What else?
S: Two apples.
T: Can you say anything else about the picture?
Hemming, hawing. The teacher tries another tactic.
T: What kind of fruit do you like to eat?
S: Apples.
T: Anything else?
S: Vegetables.
T: Let's say you are going to the store tonight. What kind of fruit or vegetables will you buy?
Now at this point I am screaming inside my head Bananen, Orangen! Good God please anything but...
S: Apples
So the teacher asks her if she thinks nutrition is important which is obviously the theme and she says...
S: Yes, very important.
And it goes on like that. Now it is my turn and the teacher holds up my picture to describe. It is a picture of a little girl sitting at a table with a bowl of fruit in front of her: grapes and APPLES!

There was no way I could avoid saying it. Although we did manage to move past apples and have a conversation about nutrition in schools. For our last bit we had to come up with a plan to help a co-worker who was sick: doctor recommendation, medicine, how to help at home, how to help at the office. I can't say it was pretty. Svetlana was by now a nervous wreck which was making me a nervous wreck so I was just babbling away trying to fill the dead air space with no regard for grammar, adjective endings, case and other such painful (yet important) things. All I can say it is is done. And the best part is that they refund you the 20 Euro you paid to reserve your spot which means you can get a bottle of Tequila on the way home and forget the whole thing.

Here is my recipe for the best-tasting, pain-eliminating, memory-reducing margarita ever.

1 part fresh squeezed lime juice
1 part silver tequila (or your preference)
1 part Grand Marnier

Shake. Pour. Enjoy. Forget.