Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bill's favorite Christmas gift...

Bill and I had a quiet Christmas holiday this year.  After an enjoyable Friday night repast with the Mad Scientist (at Agais in Entringen), we spent the weekend mostly watching movies, drinking wine, and enjoying each other's company.  I'm actually suffering quite a bit from cabin fever lately, so I'm hoping we can get back to going out to eat and taking trips soon.  We may be getting away for MLK weekend if Bill can arrange for an extra day off and I can find suitable accommodations for us and the dogs.

I normally wouldn't write about something like this on my travel/food blog, but I notice I have many military readers, some of whom may be "housespouses" like me.  I used to do a fair amount of cooking when I first got married, but now Bill does a lot of it.  I'm always on the lookout for appliances that will make his job quicker and easier.  

My local friend Grace, a busy mother of three young kids, recently posted on Facebook about how much she was loving her Instant Pot.  She raved about being able to boil down bones into savory broths with little to no effort.  I had not heard of the Instant Pot until I saw Grace's Facebook post, so off I went to Amazon.de to check it out.  Turns out this appliance is a bit of a wunderkind for the kitchen.  It has seven functions that do everything from making rice to yogurt.  It's also a pressure cooker, a food warmer, and a slow cooker.

I bought Bill a Crock Pot last year, which he's loved using.  I think the Instant Pot has the Crock Pot beat.  Last night, he used a pork and beef mixture he got at our local Metzgerei and made a delicious stew with a minimum of fuss.  He said clean up was ridiculously painless, too.  The cooking pot is very efficient and dishwasher safe.  Speaking of safety, the Instant Pot also has several safety mechanisms that make it safer to use than a traditional pressure cooker (although you still have to be careful when you release the steam).  

We haven't yet had the chance to try out all the functions of our new Instant Pot, but I have a feeling that new gadget is going to get a lot of use in our house.  An added bonus is that it does a lot, but only takes up the space of one appliance.  

We got the local version, which runs on 220 current and comes with both EU and UK plugs.  I see there's also a US version available.  If this post inspires you to pick one up, I recommend getting a cookbook to go with it, although Bill has found many blog posts about the Instant Pot and how awesome it is.

I have a feeling this new toy will get lots of use in our house...

I also have another high tech gadget still enroute that Bill will probably love.  If he loves it, I'll write about it.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Yet another Christmas in Germany!

Merry Christmas to all my readers who celebrate today.  Germany is a lovely place to be at Christmas time, though this year we didn't manage to hit any of the markets.

We usually have breakfast before we open gifts, but this year we decided to "cut to the chase" early.  I'm glad we did.  Bill got things off to a good start with the very first gift, a bottle of my favorite champagne (Taittinger).  I bought him an Instant Pot, which I had seen a fellow Stuttgart wife singing the praises of recently.  I got him a book to go with the new appliance, as well as a large box of wine glasses, because Bill is forever breaking them!  I probably should have bought him a sippy cup for his wine.

We also got a spiffy new coffee carafe.  We had one for several years that we bought the first time we lived here, but it started to wear out.  We got another one when we moved back, but the quality wasn't as good.  It has a big dent in it that makes it rock back and forth when you set it on a table.  So I sprang for a nice new carafe that will make sure our Peet's is at the right temperature.

Thanks, Amazon.de...  the first time we lived here, we bought glasses at Bruenigerland.  I think having them delivered to your doorstep is better.

I told Bill I like jewel tones, so he bought me a pretty rainbow colored wrap.  As I pulled it out of the wrapping paper, I quipped that I like my "gay pride" wrap!  It really is pretty, even if I'm not wearing makeup.  He also bought me blue topaz earrings and a Time Capsule for my computer.

Sorry I'm not done up for this picture.

I thought I bought Bill a flannel shirt, but it turned out I got him pajamas.  He doesn't usually wear pajamas, but I have to admit they look really snuggly.  I might have to get him to put them on later while we sit around, enjoy wine, and watch bad TV.  That's what we usually do on Christmas.

(Edited to add...  It turns out LL Bean screwed up.  I had ordered Bill a flannel lined outerwear shirt and they sent us pajamas, which were in the same pattern as a flannel shirt I bought him last year.  He tried them on and likes them, but they're a bit too long for him.)

He likes them, though, so he's going to keep them and get them altered.

There are still a few gifts in transit, so I guess the exchange will continue into the new year or beyond, given how APO has been lately.

All in all, it's been a peaceful morning so far.  Time for breakfast now!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Travel privileges...

I made choices that led me to this rainbow in Scotland...

This morning, while prowling Facebook mere minutes after I opened my eyes for the first time today, I read an article entitled Let's Stop Pretending Travel is Accessible to Everyone.  Written by Sian Ferguson for the Matador Network, the article was intended to remind people of the reasons why travel is not feasible for everyone.  Ferguson's lead paragraph is one that many people have heard from their well-traveled friends:

“JUST QUIT YOUR JOB and go traveling. You have nothing to be scared of,” a friend posted on Facebook on returning from a year abroad. Another traveler friend shared a popular quote from St Augustine: “The world is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page.”

Ferguson's initial response to this comment is annoyance.  There was a time in my life when I would wholeheartedly agree that assuming people can just pick up and travel is crazy.  I was working hard to pay my bills and stay afloat and it was hard to conceive of being able to go anywhere exotic.  As I've later found out, though, time has a way of changing things.  I've traveled a lot more than the average American has.  

Although there have been times in my life when I have been too broke to even consider traveling across town, I have been extraordinarily lucky in my life.  I've lived abroad four times so far, mostly at government expense.  Maybe I should take the hint and just stay abroad.

On the other hand, there have been times when I couldn't conceive of being able to go anywhere.  And I realize I write this as someone who comes from a place of relative privilege.  

My ability to travel was hampered mainly by a lack of money and time off from a job, not because I feared for my personal safety or mental health.  I am also lucky enough to be reasonably healthy and, while I would love to lose lots of weight, my size doesn't prevent me from going places.

Ferguson makes some interesting points in her article that I had not really considered.  For instance, while I can certainly see why someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, or transgendered might not feel comfortable traveling to certain areas, it's not something I thought about before I read Ferguson's article.  While I have suffered from anxiety and depression, I've never been in a situation where I felt like I couldn't travel due to my mental health.  On the contrary, I was experiencing those conditions in full force during my big train trip in 1997, which I took on the way home from my Peace Corps assignment.  I spent a month traveling by Eurail through eight countries, not enjoying myself as much as I should have because I was a bit mental at the time... and broke.

But what do I know about the plight of someone who struggles to earn enough money keep the lights on and the kids fed?  There have been a couple of times when I've actually gone hungry and sat in the dark, but those times were when I was in the Peace Corps.  The lights were out because they were out for everyone.  I was hungry because I ran out of money, but it was only for a couple of days... and I had ways of getting food if I really needed it.  I was also only feeding myself, rather than a family.

Even as I write these things, though, there was something about Ferguson's article that kind of set me off a bit.  I'm not generally a fan of people who preach and I think that article came across as a bit preachy to me.  Yes, it's nice to be aware of other people's situations.  Empathy is a good thing and more people should stop and think before they open their mouths or type on their keyboards.  But I like to think that most people don't communicate strictly to be offensive.  It's nice to have a broad perspective, but that goes both ways.  Moreover, I have found that in many (but not all) cases, where there is a serious will, there really is a way.  Sometimes making the choice to do what you want means making difficult choices that not everyone will appreciate or understand.       

For instance, had I not married Bill, I probably would not be writing about my travels.  In fact, if I were writing anything, it would probably be grant proposals or process recordings.  When Bill and I met, I was planning to become a public health social worker.  I meant to put down roots somewhere, probably in the southern United States, and become gainfully employed to the point at which I could finally pay all of my own bills.  I can't be sure that would have worked out for me, but I was well on the way to that goal when Bill proposed.  

Having been the daughter of an Air Force retiree, I must have known on some level that being married to a guy in the military would mean frequent moves.  But since my dad retired when I was really young, I didn't actually experience that globe trotting lifestyle when I was a child.  My sisters moved a lot because they were born closer to the beginning of my dad's career.  I, on the other hand, mostly grew up in one place, albeit one that is saturated with military folks.  So when Bill proposed, I figured I'd still be able to do what I'd gone to graduate school to do.  Reality kicked in when I realized that even if I did find work related to my training, I would constantly be moving to other places and starting over.  

It was hard to accept that I pretty much went to graduate school for nothing, but that realization led to something else.  I eventually decided to do what I'd always wanted to do, which is write.  I have actually made money as a writer.  In fact, every cent I've earned since I finished school has been from writing.  However, if I weren't Bill's wife, I probably wouldn't have the privilege of simply writing blogs for money.  I would have to have a more lucrative job or move to a place where life is cheaper.  

I don't have children.  Bill's children are grown and haven't spoken to him since 2004.  I do have a mother, but she's fiercely independent and takes care of herself.  My dad died two years ago and Bill's parents are also self-sufficient at this point.  I do have dogs, but they are good travelers and get along fine when we take them to the pet resort.  I realize that not everyone is in a position of having no one depend on them.  I'm lucky in that respect, although I always did want to have kids and wouldn't mind assisting family if they needed my help.  But I don't have to worry about having a child with medical problems or saving up for college tuition.  If I did, I probably wouldn't travel much because other things would take a higher priority. 

So yes, I get that I'm privileged and extremely fortunate and not everyone has it as good as I do.  However, I also think that most people who truly want to travel can take steps to make it happen.  The choices may not be easy, but many times, they can be made if it really comes down to it.  Maybe it will mean not having children or not helping family and friends in need.  Maybe it will mean a change in careers.  Maybe it will mean changing priorities so that financial security takes a backseat to having money to go places.  Maybe it means always renting rather than buying a home.  

It could even mean screwing over a supposed loved one...  Bill's ex stepson pretended to be interested in staying in touch with Bill solely so Bill would pay him child support and he could save up for a trip to China.  Fortunately, we figured out what he was doing, but not before he'd stockpiled a pile of cash (that he didn't use to pay his personal debts).  He got his trip to China, but it cost him a lot more than he probably realizes.  But that's a story for my other blog.  ;-)

I made choices that led me to this view in Charlotte St. Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Christmas in Herrenberg...

Bill decided to drag me out of the house by my hair this afternoon.  Since it was somewhat early in the day, we were even in time to visit the Holzapfel cheese store, where we proceeded to purchase several cheeses and a few bottles of wine...

There was a large crowd in the store today...  I talked Bill into buying some of the green cheese anyway (pesto Gouda), as well as Gruyeres, and some other Swiss cheese I'll never eat.

Lots of vinegars, oils, and marinades...

The Holzapfel closes at 2:00 on Saturdays, so we hurried into their wine room and loaded up on some nice dry Italian wines.  The store also has a cafe where you can have coffee or prosecco.  I definitely need to spend more time in this store.  They had lots of chocolate, pasta, sauces, and other gourmet stuff for the discerning eater.  

Vino!  We bought three bottles, then went across the street to the Alte Brennerei, where we REALLY stocked up.  As we were checking out, the cashier handed me what appeared to be a nougat.  I tried it later and that's what I think it was...  very tasty and maybe even homemade.

This was the whisky of the week.  Yes, we bought a bottle.  

Mr. Bill whips out his credit card for two bottles of wine and a bottle each of rum, whisky, and gin.  They let us try the rum and whisky.  I hadn't been planning to get any rum today, but we found an excellent 20 year old bottle from Costa Rica.  Thank God for credit cards.

We really need to spend more time in Herrenberg.  There are some great stores there, as well as some good restaurants.  And we live only about ten or fifteen minutes away.

If you're in Herrenberg and like wine and cheese, stop in at the Holzapfel.

And the Alte Brennerei, where good things come in small packages.

I could be sorely tempted to stop in at this store and pick up some cute stuff for the house.

We decided to have lunch at Herrenberg's Osteria da Gino.  It wasn't very crowded today.  I normally like to go to new places so I can write a fresh review, but today we decided to stop in and have some pizza and pasta.

Festive table.  The bartender raised his eyebrows when we ordered a bottle of wine.

This was our first time sitting in the bar area.  It's very inviting.

Mr. Bill tries the Montepulciano.  The waiter actually had me taste it first, which is a rarity.

Good stuff!  And yes, we finished it before the staffers got their pause.

I had tortellini alla panna.  This was good, but a little rich.  The tortellinis were full of cheese and served with ham.  I managed half.

Bill had a Rustica pizza... sardines, ham, capers, and zucchini.  I tried it and the crust was excellent, but I wasn't all that keen on the sardines on pizza.  Bill liked it, though, especially with the very spicy pepper oil they brought out.  It's made with habineros.  

After we were kind of shooed out at 2:20 or so, we went across the street to Bonilla, a sweet/coffee shop and picked up macaroons and chocolates.  The lady who looked after us was very helpful and spoke English.  We weren't buying gifts, so that made things easier for her.  She put our stuff in a bag and sent us on our way.

Bonilla: a nice sweet shop in Herrenberg.

So we were out for about three hours... maybe this weekend's lunch date wasn't as decadent as last week's, but we had a nice time.  And now we're at home, enjoying the cloudy weather and the wine we will soon be opening.  We really need to go to Ludwigsburg and dump some beer bottles, but I didn't want to deal with the traffic or parking.  Maybe in a couple of weeks, when Christmas is over, we'll work out way up there for a beer run.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fearing your local German grocery store? Here's some food for thought...

I usually try to keep things light on this particular blog.  If I want to vent about something, I'll often do it on my main blog, where I feel freer about swearing and sharing my opinions about religion and politics.  However, since many people reading this blog are regular commissary patrons and I know for a fact that people in the Stuttgart area have had their issues with the commissary, I've decided to write my commissary vent on my travel/food blog.


Bill bought this cream at the commissary because we needed half and half...  The commissary didn't have any, either.

Interestingly enough, I see it comes from China!  Why the hell are we here in Germany, land of Milch Tankstellen, getting dairy products from China in our commissaries?

I went to pour this into my coffee and noticed nothing would come out.  In fact, the inside of the box of cream appeared to be solidified.  Perhaps it had turned into butter?  Or something else?

And... produced in February 2016, but expired last month.  No wonder.

I couldn't take advantage of the nutrition in this box of cream because it wouldn't pour into my coffee cup.  However, it did give me a reason to start the day off fortified with Bailey's Irish Cream.

We usually try to buy most perishable stuff at our local grocery store.  We find that the quality is almost always better and the prices aren't prohibitive.  But Bill was in a hurry and, actually, when he can find American half and half, I kind of like it (as long as it isn't spoiled).  This experience gives me pause, though, and makes me think we need to stick to stuff with a very long shelf life.

This isn't the first time I've had a commissary vent, by the way.  When we lived in San Antonio the year before we moved back to Germany, we used to use the Randolph Air Force Base commissary a lot.  One time while we were shopping, I ran across this.

This is supposed to be pepperoni.  Scary, isn't it?

Bill took it to an employee who kind of cringed, then shrugged and took it away.  

These kinds of issues certainly make a good case for patronizing grocery stores on the economy.  I've been eating commissary food for most of my life, but the quality does seem to have taken a downturn in recent years.  What a shame.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A lovely lunch in the garden...

I've been a bit cooped up for the past few weeks, stewing over my dog, Zane.  The truth is, Zane is not really very sick, but I happen to be coping with traumatic memories of a few years ago when his former beagle brother, MacGregor, was dealing with an inoperable spinal tumor.  We lost him the week before Christmas 2012.  For that reason, Zane's bout with a mast cell tumor and what I think may be a resurgence of a tickborne illness has me a bit wrecked and I've been staying in more than usual.

Bill insisted that we go out today, though, because I have been spending way too much time hidden away in my little German house.  So we decided to go to Tuebingen...

Little did we know that Tuebingen would be a freakin' madhouse today.  There was no parking to be found!  Moreover, there were annoying construction projects that conspired to  block us from parking at our usual go to parking area.  After hearing Bill swear more than once over the situation, I suggested that we go to Im Gärtle, a lovely little restaurant/art museum in Ammerbuch-Entringen.  We last visited there on Valentine's Day evening this year.

I mainly decided to go to this restaurant because they are on OpenTable.de and it's super easy to make a reservation online.  I also remembered how much we enjoyed our dinner there last February, even if it did lead to my being blocked by someone on Stuttgart Friends 2.0.

We arrived at the restaurant about ten minutes ahead of our reservation.  Our table was ready for us, complete with a sign and two fuzzy blankets to protect against the non-existent draft.

For those interested in the art museum...

And the outdoor menu...

The table was all ready for us.

We walked in, wished the waitress a good day and told her of our reservation.  She showed us to the table.  She was very patient with our German skills as we decided what we'd be having for lunch.  The restaurant offers a weekly special menu, a regular menu, and what appeared to be some kind of brunch.  They also had lots of salads.  Im Gärtle also runs without a pause, so you can go there and enjoy a late afternoon repast without fear of evil stares from the wait staff.  There's plenty of free parking and, at least today, no obnoxious crowds!

Dorky obligatory pictures of my husband, Bill.

Bill went with the set menu for the week, which offered three courses with two choices for each course except dessert.  I went with the main menu.  We each had three courses.

I started with a delicious pumpkin soup garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds and cream.

Bill had a delicious roasted red pepper soup.  If I'm honest, I liked his soup better than mine...  but both were velvety smooth and delicious.  I love a good soup this time of year.

We moved on to second courses.  I had salmon with an herb and Parmesan crust.  It was served with a potato salad with cucumbers that were just slightly pickled.  

Bill had the sea bass, served with gray risotto and vegetables.  Both dishes were delicious and came with sauces on the side.

This was our second round of wine.  Instead of ordering a bottle, this time Bill got glasses of white from local sources.  Both were very satisfactory dry whites, although I liked my Gruener Veltliner more than I liked Bill's white.

But obviously Bill was enjoying it...

I was bound and determined to save room for dessert.  I'm so glad I did...

Bill's fixed menu choice came with apple strudel with vanilla ice cream.  I love this particular interpretation, which is basically just lightly fried apples with sugar and cinnamon...  It was soooo good!

I had a very lovely panna cotta with orange marmalade and honey, along with delightful crispy balls on top.  :D  I liked Bill's dessert better for this time of year, but the panna cotta was very good!  The honey was a very nice touch.

For our two hour lunch, we spent 71 euros before tip.  The service was friendly and gracious, even though I could see the lady taking care of us was taking care of everybody.  It was very relaxing and pleasant and I was happy to get out of the house for a nice meal out.  Someday, we need to actually look at the art museum, too. 

We came home to find the house and dogs intact, as well as a funny note from the DHL person, who obviously knows we aren't German...

I liked the crude map!  Now our dogs have plenty of food for the next couple of months.

If you happen to be down in the Ammerbuch-Entrigen area, I would highly recommend a visit to Im Gärtle.  It made for a nice stop today after disappointment in crowded Tuebingen.  I still can't believe that we used to live just a few miles from this restaurant the first time we lived in Germany and we never found it.  It's a real gem!  And for you antique hunters out there, I can tell you that there's a great antique shop very close to this restaurant, which makes the excursion even more worthwhile.

By the way... this was our second visit and the second time we saw the proprietor of the place... an elderly gentleman who wished us a Gruess Gott (I know it's misspelled... I need a German keyboard).

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Vegan chocolate... and more coffee from Peet's!

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about the high cost of importing coffee to Germany due to the Kaffeesteuer.  That particular post was very popular.  Despite my assurances that I don't really like most of the German brands of coffee I've tried, many readers tried to sway me to another brand.  I really don't mind paying a little more to get my Peet's.  I wrote that post for people like me, who are missing a certain brand of coffee from the States.

Well, on November 23 of this year, I decided to order more coffee.  It was shipped on November 26th and arrived today.  Bill and I were pleasantly surprised by how quickly our package got through customs.  I was very surprised when we got our coffee today.  Because this shipment was a bit more expensive than the last one, I was expecting more customs fees and taxes.  To my great surprise, the "zoll" was significantly less today-- 28,58 as opposed to the over 40 euros we paid last time.  I think it's because this time, the package came through Saarbrücken instead of Stuttgart.  It looked to me like we weren't charged the 19% value added tax.

We probably won't need more coffee until the spring, but it's interesting to note that the taxes and fees can be different according to who processes the package.  I'm looking forward to trying the new flavors as well as my old favorites that I ordered this time.

Speaking of new flavors, Bill went to the Real today to pick up a few things.  He brought home a couple of vegan Ritter Sport bars for me to try.  Since I've been slacking on the blog lately, I thought I'd write a post about these new products.  The Ritter Sports we got today are pictured below.

Ritter Sport vegan dark chocolate.  The purple one includes hazelnuts and amaranth.  The green packaged one includes quinoa and almonds.

I don't usually eat vegan stuff, especially when it comes to chocolate.  I like milk in my chocolate!  But for the sake of a blog post, I'll give these a try...

First, the hazelnut and amaranth...

Notice the dark color...

And the amaranth and hazelnuts.

The dark chocolate, hazelnut, and amaranth variety is very tasty.  The chocolate is rich and semi-sweet, but not bitter.  The amaranth provides a nice crispy texture that plays nicely with the hazelnuts.  It doesn't make me stop missing milk chocolate, but this is a very nice treat!  I don't usually like hazelnuts that much, either!

Next, the almonds and quinoa...

Looks pretty similar to the other bar.  This ought to be interesting, since quinoa has kind of a bitter aftertaste to me.

Here goes...

Again, the chocolate is rich, smooth, and semi-sweet.  I prefer almonds to hazelnuts, so I like the satisfying crunch and toasty flavor of the nuts.  The quinoa seems to provide a crispy quality, but otherwise doesn't seem to provide a lot of flavor.  Again, a nice treat.  

I think I like the almonds and quinoa better than the hazelnuts and amaranth.  Both of these bars are nice for your discerning vegan friends.  I recommend them, but still prefer a plain old Alpine milk chocolate bar!  Look for these new chocolate bars at your favorite vendor.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Finally went out last night...

But it was to have dinner with Bill's co-workers.  We drove to Sindelfingen and enjoyed a very pleasant evening with Bill's bosses.

It was nice to get out of the house.  I have been pretty much cooped up at home since we got back from Ireland.  Most of the reason I haven't gone out is because I've been really upset about my dog, Zane.  Our local vet diagnosed him with a mast cell tumor.  The tumor was removed, but I've found other suspicious bumps on Zane.  Also, upon doing research, I determined that some of the other symptoms he's had lately can be explained by mast cell disease.

This doesn't have a whole lot to do with traveling or visiting restaurants.  Maybe I'm just writing about this because it seems like there's such a difference between German veterinary care and American veterinary care.  Our vets here seem to have a different attitude about providing care.  In the States, it seemed like we were always getting reminders to get vaccines and wellness checks.  Here, it seems like the emphasis is less on preventive care.

Of course, there is a school of thought that Americans vaccinate their pets too much.  I'm inclined to agree with that assessment, actually.  I'm not anti-vaccine, but I do think it can get to be excessive.  Also, American veterinary care seems to be a lot more about business than German care does.

I'm not sure what we're going to do about Zane... or even if those other lumps I found are mast cell tumors.  I have a feeling they probably are, but I don't know for sure.  I've found that I have to ask for things here more than I did in the States.  Like, today, when I take Zane to the vet to have his ears checked, I will probably have to specifically ask for an aspirate, whereas an American vet would probably suggest it before I ask.  In fact, both of my dogs have had tumors removed here that I identified.

Anyway... my last three dogs died of devastating diseases.  One had a mycobacterial infection.  The other two had severe cancers-- prostate and spinal.  Mast cell disease is not necessarily a death sentence.  It can kill, but it doesn't always kill.  I've been giving Zane Tagamet and Benadryl and it does seem to be helping him feel better.  I'm not sure if the vet will approve, but at this point, I figure it's better than simply watching and waiting.  I've noticed Zane isn't as itchy, gassy, or sluggish as he was before I started giving him the medicines.

Tomorrow, I will get out again.  We'll be going to a company Christmas party, where I'll get to socialize some more.  Maybe we'll even manage to make it to a new restaurant, too.  I need to stop brooding about Zane and get on with enjoying Germany.

Zane and his buddy, Arran... enjoying the sun yesterday.