About two weeks ago, we decided to take advantage of my "spouses ride free on weekends" bus pass and take the kids to the village of Wolbeck. It's really quiet, small and its main tourist draw is a cemetery. On the outskirts there are trails that take you through the woods, so we thought that we might do that.
Instead, we heard loud music, found a tent with smoke billowing out of it and dressed up drunks spilling everywhere. And so started off our introduction to Carnival Week in Germany, a pretty big deal and widely celebrated in this über Catholic region we're inhabiting. I'm so proud of myself for using the word über. Looks like my German lessons are paying off.
I wish I had a picture of the family of fish out of water.
For the next week, leading up to Lent, festivities were brought forth throughout the city. Ladies night on Thursday, a circus on Saturday and a parade on Monday, a self imposed Pancake Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Some Catholics faithfully celebrate until Thursday, when they/we become lapsed Catholics at best.
The circus was equal parts entertaining and sad. The acrobats were great, as well as the contortionists. They were the most handsome of the troupe and I couldn't help but think of all the weird circus sex they must get on the road. Seriously, they're contortionists.
The animals, on the other hand, were uncomfortable to watch. I remember as a child going to the circus once, and then never again. I think it was around that time that my Mom joined the World Wildlife Foundation and Greenpeace and Amnesty for the Misunderstood Cat Ladies of the World. I'm not sure if the first two are correct, actually. Anyway, yesterday Claudia whipped one of her toy puppies with a belt because she was playing "circus", which was equally uncomfortable to watch. They can wait until they have their own kids to go again.
No cameras allowed inside.
The parade on Monday was a freaking riot. The day is known as Rose Monday and it is the most special of the Carnival days. It's the German version of Mardi Gras, but instead of necklaces being thrown from the floats, you get shrink wrapped sausages. You know, to be safe.
I'm a sucker for a good marching band.
I think being drunk would have helped during the parade.
The slightest thing can send me into a tizzy. Like the fact that Münster, with all it's pancake variations, does NOT celebrate Fat Tuesday. Wasn't Fat Tuesday the best school day of the year? If you went to a separate school in a small town, it probably was. We would spend the morning at church and then lunch in the basement. Maybe we didn't even have to go to mass? I really just remember the long tables and maple syrup.
My Babcia always made Polish Pancakes (which are pretty much crepes) stuffed with homemade strawberry jam, so I did the same. I wasn't counting on the kids actually eating dinner that night, and in hindsight I should have made much more for it to be a true Fat Tuesday.
A spot finally opened up for Claudia to start Kindergarten, and had she been in school on Wednesday, she would have been initiated in the custom of having a cross drawn on your forehead with ashes. I think twitterer Jenny Johnson, explains Ash Wednesday best:
Happy Pretend Your Co-Workers Don't Look Creepy When They Come Back From Lunch With Black Shit Smeared Across Their Foreheads Day!!!!
So now we're into Lent and this city has shut down. Shirts are buttoned up again, people have stopped smiling at strangers, and there are no more sausages being thrown around. I think you're supposed to stop eating yummy food or something? (I had two slices of birthday cake for dinner tonight, btw.) Or are you supposed to stop having vices? I know someone who gives up sex. But she's almost 90 and her husband is dead. Which makes her really good at keeping her word. I'm glad I'm just a lapsed Catholic who is clearly just in it for the pancakes.
Aaron had an interview for a tenure track position at York University in Toronto. As gorgeous as living in Europe sounds, we miss our friends and family. As such, we were "saddened" at the news that the position had been offered to someone else.
If we were more organized people, we would have had an emergency stash of chocolate, or ice cream or something else equally comforting and bad for us. Instead, we had a leftover square of baker's chocolate, dregs of cream cheese in the fridge, and some off brand Nutella. The perfect ingredients to make a lovely batch of Nutella & Cream Cheese swirled blondies.
What I didn't account for is just how much emotion can alter one's approach to baking. The pan snarled at me, I snarled back and flung tablespoon dollops of hazelnut spread at it. I baked the shit out of it. And the result? An overcooked piece of cake with an edible topping, not even worthy of a plate.
Yup, those are teeth marks on the spoon. There was no decorum in the destruction of this failed dessert.
Now that that is over with, it's time to focus on the positive. Waiting for an answer from York was the hardest part, and now we can move on. This is our home now, for the foreseeable future at least, and I'll work harder at making it just so. Visitors are always welcome. I'll give you a comfy bed and something good to eat. Because despite appearances to the contrary, I can be a pretty good baker. Apparently only when I'm in the mood to do so.
I used to talk to Babcia every night before she went to bed. Daily ramblings, what we had for dinner, what Mrs. So-n-So said at Bingo, it's raining, it's sunny, it's snowing . . . the majority of the time our conversations went along those lines. And then, every blue moon, her mind would open up and the next thing you know she's telling you about a blue scarf she wore on her 13th birthday. And the thoughts keep coming. You don't even look at the clock until you've hung up and realize you've been talking for hours about the most beautiful, hilarious and sentimental things.
Tonight was one of those nights. Stealing sorrel leaves from a neighbours meadow when she was sixteen. Her friend Katie setting her up with a German soldier. "Tara, can you imagine if we were caught?? We would have been killed!"
And the first time she heard her husband sing. He came back to her village, in Marksteft, after the war was over. They went for a walk in a meadow. She said to me "It was a song about Katyusha, he sang it in Russian. All I can remember is a part about her being by the river. I think it was a love song."
And then, not two minutes later, I found the song and played it for her. It was a love song. And together, her and I listened. Her remembering her husband as he was 70 years ago, and me, thinking, this has got to be the best Valentine's Day I've ever had.
Apple and pear trees were blooming.
O'er the river the fog merrily rolled.
On the steep banks walked Katyusha,
On the high bank she slowly strode.
As she walked she sang a sweet song
Of her silver eagle of the steppe,
Of the one she loved she loved so dearly,
And the one whose letters she had kept
O you song! Little song of a young girl,
Fly over the river and in the sunlight go.
And fly to my hero far from me,
From his Katyusha bring him a sweet hello.
Will he remember this plain young girl,
And her sweet song like a dove,
As he stands guarding his proud nation,
So Katyusha will guard their love.
It may already be known, but it's been hella cold out here in Germany for about two weeks. The drizzle and grey have been replaced with glorious sunshine and air that stabs your skin. And no snow. It's bizarre, really.
I was reading up on this extreme Eastern cold front and stumbled upon an article about a Dutch man visiting the area, who fell through 10 cm of ice and is still MISSING. That's terrifying. So naturally, when Aaron said he wanted to take the girls "sliding" on the ice, I was really excited to have an hour of shopping to myself.
He decided that they would go to the old city moat, which is now a flooded ditch, a frozen flooded ditch. There were signs near the bridge that said you should not go on the ice, lest you slip to your cold, watery death, but Aaron was not to be dissuaded. In fact, an oft seen legless, homeless, wheel chaired Man with a litre and a half bottle of beer resting on his lap, assured Aaron that the sign was all nonsense. In German. (I do not speak German.)
So Aaron, being responsible, decided to heed the sign's advice and walk about 100 metres further, out of the sign's view, to where a bunch of teenagers were drinking and doing some sliding of their own.
At this point I left, because I'm anxious about such things and all my hovering was noticeably pissing my husband off. I got lost trying to find what I was looking for in town and when I turned a random corner, who is there but The Oft Seen Man. Seriously, this guy moves backwards. In his wheelchair, over cobblestones. I have no idea how I managed to run into him again, but I did and he offered me a ride on his lap. In German.
Taking this as a sure sign that the ice was cracking at that very moment, I ran back to the frozen ditch to find my family basking in the sunshine, as happy as can be. So I gave up my hesitation and joined them on the ice. Life was good, until I saw a fish swimming 10 cm under my feet, and then it was time TO GO.
Aaron is due to give a talk to the department in a weeks time, and it's customary to bring cake for the attendees. Which means, actually, that it's customary for the wife to make a cake for the husband to bring for the attendees. I don't know about men who bake, or men who aren't married, or women who are mathematicians, so we're leaving them out of this equation.
The first time he gave a talk, he only found out afterwards that he was expected to bring a treat. Man, was I scolded! (Not really, at all.) So this week, I've been testing out my baking skills as to not disappoint the department this time around.
Last night I made a Blood Orange Chocolate Ganache Tart, and I will not be serving it to the department. It is just too fucking special. It does take forever to prepare, but the reward is worth it. This is pure chocolate, tempered only with a cup of whipping cream and 4 tablespoons of orange syrup. If you don't like dark chocolate, or chocolate and orange, you're not going to like this. But if you do, oh goodness. Watch out.
After chopping up two bars of dark chocolate, I re-read the recipe and sent Aaron out for two more. Meanwhile, a sliced orange simmered in a simple syrup for over an hour, turning itself into the best candy ever. I've become more comfortable with pastry since making my Babcia's Cherry Tarts back in early fall, so the tart shell came together nicely and just silently waited to be filled.
I heated a pot of whipping cream to boiling and drowned my chocolate pieces in it, stirring to melt. I arranged the orange slices over the bottom of the tart shell, and added the left-over syrup to the chocolate ganache. Then it was a simple pour into the shell, topped with a candied orange slice. All that was left to do was exercise an exceeding amount of patience until the tart set up.
The recipe is from the Australian blog Jeroxie
I love the nights where I can sleep soundly, knowing that I've been both a good wife and a good mother. Like when I let Aaron nap after dinner, and orchestrated craft time with the girls. Total win, win, win.
Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1. Mix the ingredients until it looks like you can roll the mixture into little balls.
2. Make 24 of those little balls, put them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
3. Bake at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes
Done! Smug Mom transformation complete.
Claudia 2009, Claudia 2012. Some things never change, it seems.