Nikolaus Express

My boy is a boy. I tried to encourage a gender-neutral upbringing, but no dice. The boy loves his toy cars and trains. Friday morning was extra special. He got up early, and excitedly played with his Thomas and Friends locomotives.

Every year, the Deutsche Bahn with a group dedicated to train preservation organizes about four events a year with a DRB Steam Engine–the train drivers even wear engineer’s caps for authenticity. The events are mostly geared towards children, like the Nikolaus Express. Nikolaus is the original Santa Claus, who comes to Germany and gives candy to children on December 6. So of course I try to book tickets for us every year.

This year’s trip was once again filled with small freebies. This year we got a pocket storybook, a keychain, a re-usable bag, book markers, and of course, chocolate and candy. Aside from the sights of the countryside, it is quite interesting to see Dampflok afficionados throughout the route following and photographing the train as if it were a model.  It is very much worth the ticket price of 15 euros!

Tickets can be bought over this website. It is important to get the tickets at least two months in advance, since they sell out quite quickly!

Aside from the

*TBF

*Total Bread Failure

Ok. Strike two. My first attempt at sour dough bread was a failure, and now my second attempt has produced less than stellar results. See that picture up there? That is supposed to be a globe.

From what I read, I overproofed my dough and it has completely lost its structure. The other half is in my fridge, let’s see if it will fare better in a loaf pan.

I am starting to have a theory about rye-based sour dough. As I read in the book Cooked by Michael Pollan, it takes a special kind of obsessive personality to be a good baker. And if anything, Germans are anal. I can give you many anecdotes to prove this  theory  over a beer, but if my experience with sour dough bread is any indicator, the mere fact that Germans have perfected this type of bread is the best proof of their anal-ness.

The Mommy Files: Should I Live in A Commune?

No, I am not running away to India. Rather, I’ve been invited to join a group of like-minded people who are building a multi-generational Wohngemeinschaft (living community), one of the many alternative living projects that are popping up in Germany like mushrooms. I’ve been invited to join an e.V., and this organization’s project was to renovate a century-old brownstone building. Instead of keeping the layout of individual apartments, they decided to turn it into a giant shared apartment. The owners and tenants will not have individual apartments, but individual rooms. There are communal bathrooms on each floor, a common kitchen, a shared library, two balconies on each floor, and a common living room. So basically, if I move into this place, I’ll be living in a retirement home without retiring.

The thing is, I already turned them down once. However, one of the people backed out the last minute, because the community isn’t granola enough for them (really! They wanted everyone to eat meals at the same time!) They have asked me to reconsider, since they know me and they know my principles (if you read this blog, you know that I’m a bit crunchy). Today, they were enticing me to move in by showing me the kitchen equipment at my disposal if I do decide to live with them.

I’ve got until Tuesday to make my decision. Now here are the pros and cons of moving there.

PROS:

I know the people– The organizer of this project is a mom in my son’s kindergarten (in fact, that’s how we met). She is as granola as me: meaning, we live an alternative lifestyle but are aware that money is not the enemy. Two of the people who live there are from my community garden club, and I was responsible for hooking them up to this living community in the first place because I backed out. They’re all crunchy Catholic Bavarians, and I know that I will get along with them fine.

Saves babysitter money– There will be several children in the building: two of them go to my son’s kindergarten. He’ll never run out of playmates, basically re-creating my childhood in the Philippines growing up surrounded with children. As an only child, he constantly bugs me to play with him. Not a problem here. There will also be several other people who I trust who can watch over my kid.

Cheaper rent– ’nuff said.

Cooking will be more fun– it’s much more fun to cook for several people than cooking for yourself.

CONS:

Serious downgrade my life-mode– The reason the rent is cheap because as of now, there is only one available room, 16 square meters. This means I’ll have to downgrade my life to 2006 levels, when my life fit in one suitcase.Then wait until a room frees up.

Shared kitchenOne of the many things that foreigners notice about Germany is that they are attached to their kitchens. They are so attached to it that when they move house, they take the whole kit and kaboodle, along with the lighting fixtures. Seriously, the only thing left are the shower, toilet and sink. I didn’t get it until I started cooking. I love my kitchen so much that it was seriously the only thing I missed about Germany when I spent a month in Manila. The first thing I did when I got home was take pictures of it and uploaded them to Facebook to show my brother what my kitchen looked like. A shared kitchen for me is actually worse than a shared bathroom. I notice that the older I get, the less compromising I become

Job Situation– I am looking for a job, and I don’t really want to relocate twice in case I have to move to a different state.

I have tonight to sleep over my decision. Wish me luck!

 

Christmas Baking Frenzy

xmas cookies

1- Lengua de Gato, 2-Chocolate Chip, 3- Chocolate Crinkles, 4-Really Chocolate Chip, 5- Vanille Kipferl, 6&7-Black and White Cookies

 

The first advent week means a massive spike in the electricity consumption of German households. No, not because of Christmas lights that can be seen from the moon (although my neighbor is an exception), but because German women, like their mothers before them, go into a cookie baking frenzy. They fill tiny plastic bags with cookies, wrap it up in nice ribbon and trade them with each other, like kids do with trading cards. A completely pointless and cute tradition, something that is repeated in summer, but with jam jars.

I really enjoy baking Christmas cookies every year. Due to time constraints, (my kid), I haven’t been able to get to it until the last week of advent. But better late than never! It took me five evenings to bake the cookies, baking one kind of cookie at a time. This year’s cookies are a mix of Filipino/Hispanic, German, and American cookies, a reflection of my life so far. I could never really get the cookies to the tiny, bite-sized Plätzchen that the Germans trade with each other, since calculating how much the cookies spread had never been my specialty, though I got really close this year!

Lengua de Gato, or Cat’s Tongue cookies, are European in origin. They are however beloved in the Philippines, where I had my first taste of these thin butter cookies. I am pleased with this year’s batch. They look very good, but I would definitely work more on it to get the consistency I like. I’ll keep you posted when I come up with my definitive version!

This year’s Chocolate Chip and Totally Chocolate Chip cookies have also a Philippine component to it, as I used Philippine Muscovado sugar instead of soft brown sugar. A gift of walnuts from this fall meant that these were filled with walnuts instead of the traditional pecans.

Chocolate crinkles are traditionally American, but are also very popular in the Philippines. Even the corner bakery where you get your pan de sal have these now, although most of them are baked rock hard. I am very happy with how the crinkles turned out this year! They are very airy and chewy, just how they are supposed to be.

Vanille Kipferl are traditional German Christmas butter cookies made with flour and ground hazelnut or peanut, powdered with confectioner’s and vanilla sugar.

Black and white cookies are also German butter cookies. The dark parts are colored with cocoa, and are usually baked in different patterns. This year my chessboard pattern didn”t really work, and turned into spotted cow flecks. Not bad!

I’ve filled four tins full of cookies. If you send me postage I can send you some, or better yet, bake your own!

 

 

The Mommy Files: Well-Played, Peking

As I have mentioned, I am always on the lookout for amenities for families with young children. Peking Airport has really done well in this aspect! There are several “parents only” restrooms with a changing table for babies, and a fully-equipped playground (Made in Germany).

Flying to Manila from Frankfurt via Air China means a six-hour stopover in Peking. Passengers can nap on lounge chairs in a remote corner of the airport, not so far from where this playpen is located. It does face the sun, however, so be prepared for a tan afterwards.

Families, if they request for it early enough, can get a room in the airport hotel/lounge and sleep there for a few hours. The room is tiny, and there is a lot left to be desired, hygiene-wise, but after a long flight, a bed–any bed–seems like sweet relief.

So in total, I give Peking Airport an A-.