Foreign Food Friday – FIFA World Cup Edition

Hello to anyone still checking this stagnant blog! Apologies for the long blog hibernation. No excuses, I just fell off the technology wagon for various reasons and now I’m attempting to claw my way back into my old social media habits once again.

I’ve never lived in a foreign country during World Cup season before. I knew that the rest of the world was passionate about the tournament in a way that we in America just never seemed to understand. I saw some coverage of the last World Cup, but mostly remember only the vuvuzela horns in South Africa more than which nations’ teams were in the top rankings.

Well, all that’s changed. Here in Germany, there is supreme national pride visible everywhere, from the flags and streamers on the cars driving by to the lowliest products on supermarket shelves. I’ve never seen so much branding, not even for the Superbowl or the Olympics. Here’s a sampling of what I saw today while shopping for my family’s groceries.

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Yogurt with flavors for the top teams (Spanish orange, Italian panna cotta, German rhubarb, and Brazilian lime).

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Potato salad sporting a patriotic image.

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Pringles have jumped on the “themed flavors for different nationalities” bandwagon.

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The frozen food aisle offers Brazilian-themed quick meals to serve at your World Cup party.

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German flag toothbrushes!

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Brazilian-scented shower soap (whatever that means).

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Tiny soccer ball gummies in tropical flavors (for Brazil) and sour gummy German flags.

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Tissue boxes must come in a Brazilian-print, obviously.

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And one’s candy dish must only sport M&Ms in patriotic colors.

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And last of all, a life-size soccer ball made out of chocolate. Because your kids ate the chocolate Easter bunny you gave them last month and now they need MORE sweets.

It’s fun to discover what the marketing teams can come up with. And I’m very glad to have experienced the FIFA World Cup hoopla at least once in my life.

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Foreign food Friday

Only in Germany…

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I never expected to be confronted at the grocery store by gummy candy “Asses with ears”. Bizarre.  Oh, Haribo, what are you thinking?

der Weihnachtsmarkt – the Christmas market

Christmas in Bavaria is very familiar to American Christmas, yet the focus is slightly different. We are delighting in the sights, sounds, and smells that we encounter at every outing. The holiday season still abounds with commercial marketing ploys, yet it also seems easier to focus on the other aspects of the season, such as traditional family foods, gathering together with friends, and reflecting on one’s religious beliefs and charitable aspirations.

Central to each large town in southern Germany is the Christmas market. Many tourists come each year to tour through all of the various cities, but with our two young kids in tow we only managed to visit the one in our hometown.

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The town square (the Münsterplatz, in our case) gets taken over with wooden stalls which sell decorations, gifts, and delicious food.

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After dark, it’s especially magical, with holiday lights twinkling everywhere. And a mug of delicious Glühwein (mulled wine) or Feuerzangenbowle always helps to ward off the cold and uplift one’s Christmas spirit.

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By daylight, there are plenty of fun carnival rides and activities to keep the kids entertained. They had miniature scenes from many Germanic fairy tales and legends. Above, Sam is standing inside a set of the “Bremen Town Musicians”.

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I even got to try my first taste of “chestnuts roast[ed] on an open fire” (heisse Maroni auf Deutsch).

We also tasted lots of sausages, schupfnudeln (large noodles with sauerkraut and bacon), candied nuts, and apple fritters.

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On December 6th (der Nikolaustag), I even spotted St. Nicholas. My apologies for the lack of photography skills. But you can just make out his helper, Knecht Ruprecht, dressed in black and holding the back of goodies. Legend has it that Sankt Nikolaus brings the good children apples, nuts, mandarins, and chocolates, while Knecht Ruprecht gives the bad children a spanking and a lump of coal.

Supposedly, there are also appearances by Krampus on December 5th, but I didn’t make it to the market on that day to check.

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My kids may be naughty at times, but at least they don’t have to worry about visits from such scary creatures!

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Check out this mistletoe! I’ve never seen more than a sprig before.

And watch for the last two riders on the train!

Happy holidays to all our dear family and friends! We may be separated by many miles, but you are always in our thoughts.

Foreign food Friday – holiday edition

In honor of all the Christmas festivities in our household and around the world, I’d like to spread some holiday cheer.

Something red:

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Kangaroo steaks? Don’t think I’ve seen these in the US yet. Bison, yes. Emu, sometimes. Even alligator, if you’re in certain regions or at a county fair. Must be the cuddly association we have with them as being sweet animals (like Kanga and Roo from Winnie the Pooh), although the truth is certainly quite different for Australians.

And something green:

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Yikes! I’m sure that this pesto cheese tastes scrumptious. But I don’t think I could get over it’s vibrant hue if I were confronted by it on a cheese plate.

Happy holidays to all! Hope you’re staying sane in the crunch time of last-minute holiday preparations.

Foreign food Friday – instant noodles

It’s been awhile, so I feel the need to post some more grocery store finds.

Both kids have been sick all week, and Joe had his flu vaccine so he’s suffering from a combo of those symptoms and the onset of catching whatever the kids have.  I ran to the store to stock up on some soup for my crew and found a couple new ones to try.

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How about curry-flavored Cup Noodles?

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And this Top Ramen is “spiced duck” flavor. Had to try that one!

I know these instant noodles are terrible for you, but when you’re dealing with grumpy family members who won’t settle for anything else, you’ve got to compromise sometimes.

Hope everyone reading this is healthy!

Baking in Germany

When I found out I’d be a stay-at-home mom here in Germany, I imagined myself having time to do more baking. Homemade muffins and healthy after-school snacks? Sure, you bet!

The reality turned out to be quite different. We’re much busier than I thought we’d be with just the basic cooking, cleaning, errands, and childcare.  I have so far managed to make one batch of muffins (so-so) and one apple cake (tasty but not the right texture).

Today, I attempted some American-style chewy chocolate chip cookies.

First baking conundrum: the flour. German flour is labelled by the grain used (spelt and rye flours are more readily available) and by how finely ground and refined it is. #1600 flour is whole grain, and the lower the number the less of the bran remains. Some internet searching helped me to understand that the most commonly used flour (labelled as #450) is similar to American cake flour. The flour I used was #550. Also, you must sift the heck out of it. I sifted once before measuring, and once after.

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Then there’s the issue of leavening agents.  Here are my options:

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German baking powder (on the left) is single-acting, rather than double-acting like we have in America. Thanks to Mom’s visit, I have a can of American double-acting baking powder as well. But my cookie recipe asks for baking soda. Arm & Hammer uses 100% sodium bicarbonate. That’s not available in Germany, but we do have a similar product called Natron. It’s only 17% pure baking soda, but apparently can be subsituted for many of baking soda’s purposes. We’ll see how it turns out.

Then comes the math. I had to pull out my calculator to figure out how much 1 cup of butter equals in grams (it’s 227, by the way). German butter comes in 250g rectangles, so I did my best guess to measure the right amount.

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Also, salted butter is rare in Germany. They categorize the butter as Süßrahmbutter (literally “sweet cream butter”) or Mildgesäuerte Butter (cultured, slightly tangy butter). I use the sweet cream one for baking.

Granulated white sugar is called Fein Zucker here. I had heard that brown sugar wasn’t available, but when I saw this package, I took a chance and bought some.

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Looks promising, right? The contents weren’t the moist, caramelly-flavor that I was hoping for however. Seems like Brauner Zucker is a bit more like a dark version of Demerara or raw sugar.

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So here’s how to make American-style brown sugar:

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White sugar and molasses. Who knew? Well, probably many people, but I sure never knew before.

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Dollop some of the molasses onto the white sugar and then stir to blend. It seems like about 1 tablespoon for every 1/2 cup of sugar is about right, but it’s pretty easy to add a little more molasses or sugar if it seems to be either too light or dark.

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At first it seems like it’ll never come together, but just keep mixing.

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Ta da! Pretty good substitute for dark brown sugar. I’m not sure how to make light brown sugar, however. Maybe substitute some agave syrup or honey along with the molasses. Anyone know the answer to this one? I’d love some baking help in the comments.

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Luckily I was smart and packed some Imperial measuring cups and spoons in my suitcase. I don’t want to have to buy a kitchen scale or convert everything to mL and grams.

And Mom brought me some American chocolate chips in her suitcase. Thanks, Mom!

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Here’s what chocolate chips look like in Germany (fork included for scale):

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One box costs €2, and holds very little. The container at right is filled with 3 boxes. They have a very mild milk chocolate flavor. When I tried to put some in my muffins, we could hardly taste them. Some expat blogs recommend buying a better quality chocolate bar and chopping it yourself, but thanks to Mom’s care package, I didn’t have to try that this time.

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Looks promising…

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Yum!

It’s nice to have a taste of home, sometimes.

Foreign food Friday – the dairy case

In German grocery stores, the dairy section is usually quite enormous. There are shelves and shelves of cheese, although Cheddar is very difficult to find. This is the land of Gouda, Edam, and soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert. Many varieties of milk are not refrigerated, having been heat-processed to be shelf stable. In fact, many items found in cold storage in American grocery stores are left at room temperature here, such as margarine, cans of whipped cream, and sometimes even fresh eggs.

The yogurt section is a sight to behold. Although there are much fewer milk-alternative yogurts than I used to be able to find easily in the US (soy, coconut, goat milk). The Germans like their yogurt, flavored quark, and buttermilk yogurt in a wide variety of flavors.

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A bit hard to see, but this brand offers “Afrika” yogurt with orange and red tea flavors and “Asien” yogurt with pineapple and dragon fruit.

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There’s even alcoholic yogurt! Think rum, champagne, bourbon… That’s one way to start your morning, I suppose, in a land that often serves beer with breakfast.

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And my favorite find in the dairy case: pre-dyed hard boiled eggs. Why do we Americans only dye our eggs at Easter? And why go to all the trouble of boiling and dying them ourselves. Genius!