Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Five Pictures

The first Advent Sunday is already over. I have spent it at O.K.'s, and although the first snow was forecast for Sunday, it never appeared. Instead, after a rainy morning, the sun came out early afternoon, just in time for us to go for a walk before sitting down with O.K.'s family for coffee, cake and Christmas cookies.

Three years ago, O.K. gave me the biggest Advent calendar I have ever had - an entire village! It first appeared on my blog here, and ever since, we have been exchanging it between the two of us from one year to the next. This year, it is O.K.'s turn, and he has set it up on the stairs in his cottage. I think it looks really pretty there, and hope he will like the sweets and small presents I have filled the little houses with.

The weekend before last, my parents, my sister and I went to a garden center where an Advent exhibition was held. Of course, it was not just an exhibition - everything was for sale, and our intention was to buy our Advent wreaths from there. The family who run the center also had set up tables and benches, there was hot food and drinks, coffee and cake, and a brass band were playing Christmas songs. It was all very festive and nice, and I came home with this small wreath - a bit different from what I usually have, but I really like it on my coffee table.

Yesterday, Monday, I had to be in Stuttgart early for my regular eye checkup. A big scan of the retina and the optical nerve was also scheduled, which means I get drops in my eyes that affect my sight for several hours. As the train was nearing Stuttgart, it was announced that it would end one stop before the one I actually needed to get off, and as I did not want to lose time trying to find another train, I simply walked all the way. It took me about 25 minutes, and as it was still early, the Christmas market was not yet open and I was able to get through the pedestrian area quickly. Just as I was walking by the bandstand (already or still lit up?), a flock of pigeons rose.

Examinations and waiting in between meant I was at the surgery for about 1 1/2 hours, and by the time I was home, my sight was still not fully back to allow for work, so I did a few household tasks and then went to meet my family at our Christmas market mid-afternoon.

It was not as crowded at this time of day as it is when I usually get to the market after work, and there was still daylight. In the pictures above you can see the two churches facing each other across Ludwigsburg's market square. The one with the two spires is the Protestant, the other one the Catholic church. 

Last year, we went to the Christmas market shortly after my Dad had come home from hospital. It had been our first outing as a family since then, and was very special. This year, we were glad to be able to stroll across the marekt together again; we had food and mulled wine and bought a few items.

I hope you are enjoying the weeks leading up to Christmas, without getting into too much of a rush.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Read in 2019 - 28, 29

# 28: The Wedding Wager
by Regina Duke 

Another light read that I enjoyed, mainly because after a while, I cared for the heroine:

Megan's parents are missionaries, working and living somewhere in South America. She has been fending for herself for many years, and is used to a frugal lifestyle. When she is on her way to Chicago where she is supposed not only to start a new job but also a new life, a car crash makes her not only end up in hospital for half a year but also means an end to her dreams of a new life; the job goes to someone else, Megan has no place to live, and to top it all, is saddled with huge medical bills she fears will make her be in debt for many years.

Kevin comes from a very rich but dysfunctional family. His parents live separate lives, and his father threatens to take away his mother's part of the fortune; there is only one condition that can make Kevin inherit the estate and secure the financial future of his mother and his two younger siblings: He has to be legally married before his 25th birthday.
With only a few weeks left until that day, and no prospective bride in sight, Kevin takes desperate measures to find a suitable woman by placing a job advert in the paper.

Megan responds to the advert without really knowing what she is getting herself into, and the stage is set...

The outcome is not difficult to guess, but of course there are obstacles to be overcome, last but not least by the feelings Megan and Kevin quickly develop for each other. As I said, a light, easy read, just right for those train trips to and from work. 

# 29: Skinny Dipping
by Alicia M. Kaye

We're staying with nice and easy, only that this time the setting is not Chicago and rural Colorado, but London and the world of advertising: glitzy and glamorous on the surface, but a pool of sharks underneath.

Combine a hard-working expert in advertising who has a water phobia with a client who wants his swimming centres made more popular; a woman who has just been left by her long-term boyfriend because she works too much and a man who has lost the love of his life almost two years ago, and add to that a cast of secondary (but interesting) figures such as the parents, friends and colleagues of the heroine.

You get a mix that makes for an undemanding, relaxing read, which was just what I wanted. It was no surprise who got together with whom in the end - actually, it was clear from the very first moment both characters were introduced. But I suppose that is part of the charm of such "chick lit" novels; no nasty surprises lurking for the reader (only every now and then for the characters, to spice things up a bit).

The writing was not brilliant, but alright; proof-reading could have been better but was not so bad as to distract from the story.

Both these books were of course free on Amazon's kindle shop.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

A True First

After writing in my previous post about how I was going through a series of "first of last" things happening this year, today I can happily report a true first for this year: The first stroll across our beautiful Christmas Market!

You have been seeing pictures of the market on my blog year after year; sometimes they were better than this year (I apologise for the blurry ones which I took with my mobile without really pausing for them, or while being in the middle of a crowd). Some were taken by my sister who patiently waited along with me for our first Holzofen-Dinnede (our favourite Christmas Market food) of the year.

The market opened last night with the usual ceremony: A musical introduction - this time like last year a set of Advent and Christmas songs/hymns/carols, very beautifully sung by an all-male choir from Stuttgart, followed by a short speech from Ludwigsburg's principal Mayor (we have several "minor" mayors, but this one is the most important head of town) and then a quick performance by a group of people dressed up as King Friedrich, his wife Charlotte-Mathilde, a handful of courtiers and some soldiers or guards. The King was played by a different man this year, an actor with a very good speaking voice. In former years, the King never said anything, simply waved gracefully to his subjects, but this year he addressed the people of Ludwigsburg, the merchants coming from far and wide to sell their goods at the market and all the visitors.
Also, the Mayor is new - we only elected him this summer, and he took up his position in September. He is much younger than his predecessor and - unlike him - comes from our town. The speech was unremarkable in that it went along without a hitch (in contrast, the former Mayor involuntarily performed a small stand-up comedy on stage last year).

We enjoyed it all - the lights, the food (and drink), the choir and having a quick look at some of the stalls. I only bought two packs of Christmas cards and will certainly return for a more thorough browse.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

The First of The Last

The time has begun when certain things are being done, places visited and people met for the last time this year. This was particularly poignant this past Tuesday, when my team met for the last pub quiz of 2019. 
Our local Irish Pub is situated on a corner of the market square, and the host breaks up the weekly quiz nights twice a year, for July/August and from the opening of the Christmas Market until a week into the New Year.

When we said our good-byes on Tuesday, we knew most of us were not going to see each other again this year, unless we'd happen to run into each other by coincidence in town. Most of my team, I do not see outside our quiz nights, and in all the 11 or so years we've been playing, I have not once met them by chance in a shop or restaurant in town. So, yes, we wished each other Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year already. After all, there aren't that many weeks left to 2019, are there!

When I was thinking about this post, it occurred to me that this was actually not the true "first of the last". On the 10th of October, I walked home from work (that is, I got off the train one stop before my actual stop and walked the 5 km or so from there) for the last time this year. After that, it was either already dark by the time I left the office, or I was carrying my heavy notebook or was pressed for time. It will be several months before I'll feel like walking home again; it is not much fun in the dark.

Next Tuesday, our Christmas Market will open. In September, we elected a new Mayor, and it will his the first time giving the opening speech. I shall of course attend, and am looking forward to my first stroll across the market, re-visiting favourite stalls and seeing what (if anything) is new this year, and I'll certainly have something to eat and a hot drink from my favourite food and drink stalls.

This Tuesday, the huts and stalls were already set up and the large tree in front of the church erected, but nothing was yet decorated, and everything was dark and silent - a very strange atmosphere, in stark contrast to what it is usually like when I go there after work.

There will be another four and a half very intense working weeks before I can say that it is my last day at the office in 2019. Plenty to do until then, so I better get started!

Monday, 18 November 2019

A Weekend in the Kitchen

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I live on my own during the week but spend the weekends with the man I love, either at his place or at mine. You also know that I hardly ever cook for myself, having a cooked lunch on workdays at my clients' canteens or being happy with a sandwich or a salad when working from home.

All the more do I enjoy thinking about what I could make for the two of us on the weekend and then making whatever I have come up with.

Last weekend was mostly grey and cold, with some drizzle to make it even more November-ish - just perfect for spending more time than usual in my warm kitchen, and that's exactly what I did.

On Friday night, I made tomato soup from scratch. It looked nice with a dollop of cream on top and a sprig of Italian parsley (the variety that is not "curly") from the pot on my windowsill. What with O.K.'s arrival, making G&Ts for starters and then wanting to serve the hot soup quickly, I didn't take a picture. But it was as nice as I had hoped it would be, and I think I will make it again.

Saturday, we slept in (my biggest luxury on weekends and one I hate to give up when we have to be somewhere early) and then went for a leisurely run. It was cold, but with the right clothing, we weren't really feeling cold; breathing was not so good with the chilly air, though.

Back home, it was still breakfast time for us even though it was around 1:00 pm. We had fresh fruit (bananas and apples chopped up and topped with blueberries) with yoghurt and cream. By the time we were ready to leave again for a walk, it was close to sunset, which we caught the last beautiful bits of before reaching the fields where we walked for an hour or so in the dusk and then dark. I was amazed at how many other people we encountered there on the unlit fields; a few dog walkers (one dog was wearing a collar with lights), some people on bikes and others on foot.

We had reserved a table at a nearby Italian restaurant that has changed hands about a month ago, so there was no cooking that night. The food was good, service friendly, but there were hardly any other guests at the restaurant. I do hope business will pick up for them.

On Sunday morning, I finally did what I had wanted to do for weeks: Make Swedish cinammon buns! Monica (you may know her from her own blog) kindly gave me her recipe when I asked her for it. For the dough, I only made about half her original recipe (I knew that would be more than enough for us) but when I made only half the amount of filling, I found out I actually needed the entire recipe for the filling, not just half.

Without O.K.'s help, I don't know how my "snails" would have turned out - he made the second batch while I was in the bath. Actually, all I did was heat the oven, make the dough and the filling.

For the dough, I did not stick entirely to Monica's recipe, but used the tested and trusted one I showed you here, without the raisins.

For the filling, I mixed 100 g of soft butter with four tablespoons of sugar and three teaspoons of cinnamon. 

One half of the dough that I rolled out - not the perfect shape to make into a roll...
...but O.K. still managed to create the desired shapes.
Eight minutes in the oven at 225 C (fan on) was all it took.
The second batch - O.K. is a lot better at this than I am!

That's what I wanted them to look like!

Once the buns were baked and cooled off a little, I put them in a box and we took them to my parents', where we had invited ourselves for coffee. My Mum had made a delicious soft cake with apples and bananas, the cinnamon buns were our contribution.

Afterwards, O.K. and I walked for another hour or so (in the dark) to get some exercise and fresh air. For our evening meal, I made mixed vegetables in the oven. We were both still full from yesterday's evening at the Italian restaurant and from coffee and cake that it was all we needed - plus some Ben & Jerry's cookie dough ice cream for dessert.
Missing on the photo is the large yellow pepper that I added to the mix.
Salt, pepper, ground ginger and thyme, plus olive oil.
Now we won't be seeing each other for two weeks, as O.K. will be busy with band practise all weekend, preparing for the annual concert.

By the way, my kitchen still smells of cinnamon - in spite of having had the window open for hours! But I don't mind that; it just reminds me of a cosy weekend with plenty of comfort food.

Friday, 15 November 2019

On the First of November

Phew! I finally seem to be catching up with posts. Today is exactly the middle of this month, and I have at last arrived at posting about the first of November.

Here in Germany, that is a holiday - everything is closed. It is "Allerheiligen", All Saints, and many Catholics visit the graves of their loved ones and light candles.

Admittedly, for O.K. and myself such a holiday on a Friday means we have more time together than on a regular weekend, and I took the train to Offenburg in the early afternoon.

The day wasn't as bright and sunny as much of October had been, but with the bright yellow leaves of the mulberry tree in front of my bedroom window, it appeared as if the sun was looking in.

It was still dry by the time I walked to the station, but overcast. On the platform where my train was due (the first of three different ones I had to take), a historic steam railway was waiting. I've seen this train a few times before; it sometimes runs on Sundays and holidays, and is rather popular. More often than I've seen it, I have heard it - the train station is near enough my house for me to hear the steamwhistle!
The locomotive is called "Feuriger Elias", fiery Elias. The carriages are not quite as old, but I am old enough to remember the look and feel of them from my earliest childhood - long before the newer and faster trains with many new stops in the Stuttgart area were created in 1977, when I was 9 years old.

The conductor and other staff were in uniforms from those times, too; I thought they looked much better and more elegant than today's polyester suits. I didn't want to take photos of the people but couldn't avoid them altogether; after all, they were in a public place.

The last picture is of sunrise seen from my kitchen window on the 4th of November. We've had many more as beautiful as that - I could almost show you one every day.

And now, as I said, we're already in the middle of the month! In less than a fortnight, our Christmas Market will start. Guess who will be going to the opening :-)

Monday, 11 November 2019

October Sun

At the end of my next-to-last post, I mentioned that we went for another walk later the same day. It was an hour or so before sunset, and we wanted to make the most of the beautiful light that time of day and year, and since we had an errand to do nearby anyway, we drove into Gengenbach after we had finished our errand, parked the car at the bottom of the hill and walked up into the vineyards.

I first showed you Gengenbach here; since then, I have been back several times. It is always worth a visit, but that Sunday in October, we weren't there for the picturesque historic old town.

Let's start right at the parking lot where we got off the car. See those berries? I don't know their German name, but from Kay's blog, I know they are called Beautyberry. See here - it's the same plant (the third picture from the top on her post), and if the colour on my picture looks different from Kay's photo, it is simply the light; the berries really were just like that.

On the hills around Gengenbach, several paths meander between orchards, vineyards and woods. The views across the Kinzig valley were beautiful; I am not a fan of artificially straightened rivers such as the Kinzig is at this point, but the area is nonetheless beautiful.

You can tell the light was dwindling fast; by the time we walked back down the hill and reached the car, the sun had completely disappeared behind the horizon. And now that it is almost mid-November, it is dark when I leave the office around 5:00 pm. But it's only another 5 1/2 weeks or so until winter solstice!