Saturday 31 December 2016

What a Year!

What a year 2016 has been! So much has happened in it that it would be enough for two or three years. Was it really only 365 days? On the other hand, wasn't it only the other day we were getting ready for New Year's Eve? Time is strange; it can whoosh past before we know it and yet there are "times" that seem to last forever.

Fountains Abbey, December 2016. Photo by George Pickles.

Full moon, December 14, as seen from my kitchen window.

I won't go into an overall 2016 review. Other and much more competent bloggers have been doing that already. You all know the most crucial and life-changing (often enough life-ending) events of the past 12 months anyway, no need to repeat them here.

My personal review of this almost past year is much more positive - I live in a happy little bubble and have so much to be grateful for it is hard to decide where to begin, what to mention. There are the basics such as being healthy and having a good job that pays enough to live comfortably, a wardrobe filled with nice clothes, a well-stocked fridge, a flat just the right size and location for my needs, central heating, electricity and hot water whenever I want it.
On top of that, I have both my parents and my sister living within walking distance, so that we can see each other often without getting under each other's feet.
I have a good circle of friends and acquaintances, and although I have reasons to complain about my neighbours (noise and smoke), I know it could be much worse.
Where I live, I do not need to fear being persecuted for my gender, my beliefs or my political views. I can read, write and say what I want without risking jail or worse. 
To complete my happiness, there is someone to love in my life. What more could I wish for?

Nothing, really, which is why I do not make any New Year resolutions. As far as I'm concernced, life can pretty much stay as it is. Yes, that's extremely selfish of me, but I do not apologize for being happy. I just wish the same could be said about all of you. My contribution to World Peace? None... unless you count NOT contributing to warfare, and not making anyone deliberately unhappy in my personal sphere of influence.

Happy New Year to all of you!

Saturday 24 December 2016

(Sort of) Guest Post: Merry Christmas from Ripon!

Those of you who were already around my tiny part of the blogosphere last year may remember that I posted pictures of New Year's Eve in Ripon and an interview with George Pickles, the former Hornblower.

During the course of this year, we have regularly been in touch via email, and when my sister and I were in Ripon in the summer for our annual Yorkshire holiday, we met up with George and Lilian.
Since then, more emails have been going back and forth, as have been Christmas cards.

In his last email before Christmas, George sent me this picture of what Ripon's market square looks like these days. Let me use it to wish all of you Merry Christmas!

Not only because of the "guest" picture have I labeled this post a guest post. I also want to share a story George told me from his Hornblower days:

Me and Hugh Ripley
as told by George Pickles, former Honblower of Ripon

Legend has it that the ghost of Hugh Ripley, who was the last Wakeman and first Mayor of Ripon. frequents the Wakeman's House which overlooks the obelisk on the square where the Setting of the Watch takes place. It is said that if the horn is not blown to his satisfaction, his ghostly face will appear in the attic window and a pestilence will descend upon the City.

On January 2nd 2011 I was on holiday, in fact on a cruise. At that time I had no regular deputy support and I had left my duties in the hands of a novice deputy, thinking all would be well as it is a very quiet time of the years for visitors.
I caught the news on the ship's TV about an earthquake in Ripon, which had happened at 2 minutes past 9 pm, while we were in the Atlantic. When we reached land I phoned the deputy on the land line knowing there could be a link, judging by the time of the event.
He told me that it was a very cold and frosty night, and as he was not very proficient at blowing the horn anyway, the frost making it hard to breathe and his lips stick to the mouth piece of the horn made it worse. He said the first three notes were just about passable, but the last note was little more than a squeak!
No sooner had he blown this excuse for a blast of the horn, he said he was sure Hugh Ripley's face appeared in the attic window, and then all the city shook!!!
This was kept between me and the deputy for quite a while before I started relating what had happened. It is agreed by us both that the deputy will remain anonymous.
You can see from the picture that the ghost has always a good view of what goes on at 9 pm.
- - - End of guest post - - -
What do you say? Isn't this an intriguing story?

For the coming days, I will be travelling back and forth between my and O.K.'s place a few times, with little or no occasion to comment on your blogs or post. But you can be sure I shall read your posts as well as the comments you so kindly leave on my blog. Full service will be resumed after the holidays :-)
Until then, I'll say good-bye for now, and once again best wishes for the holidays, with this picture showing me and a new friend I've made Thursday night at the shopping mall.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Cooking With Friends

On the 8th of November, a group of friends and acquaintances and I - nine of us altogether - met at a cooking school that has opened a bit more than a year ago in my home town.
The building used to be a car dealer's and is therefore very spacious - large enough to hold several kitchen islands and a row of industrial kitchen appliances at the back wall, plus tables and chairs enough for everyone to enjoy the result of their lessons.

I took the photos with my phone; it was darkish except for the lamps right above the islands, and everyone was moving around; that explains the quality (or lack thereof)! Don't I always have a good excuse for producing less than perfect pictures? :-)

The table was already laid for us, but we had plenty to do before we would be sitting down to eat!

We were split into groups to make starters (salad and a soup), the main course (two different kinds of Maultaschen - google it if you don't know what this Swabian specialty is) with two different sauces, and dessert.

Everything was prepared at our stations, and our host - the cook - and his assistant told us what to do. They supervised our work and showed us, when necessary, how to go about it exactly.

Soon, one of the sauces was bubbling away and filling the room with the delicious smell of curry, cream, herbs and fresh mushrooms.

The salad did not take long to make, of course, and the soup was ready to be eaten after a while.

Then it was "hands on" for nearly everybody to create the two types of Maultaschen with their filling (minced meat and vegetarian):

Only after we had eaten ourselves through two large Maultaschen each, we started on the dessert, which was rather unusual for most of us in that it was baked in paper.

First of all, we peeled and sliced oranges and then sprinkled them with a mix of cinammon, crushed amarettini biscuits and a little amaretto.

Then the slices of one orange each was wrapped in a neat little parcel of special kitchen paper - not the same kind of paper you'd use to line a baking tray with, but easier to fold.

The parcels were then baked in the oven for a while, untied and eaten.

I liked everything we made well enough but am simply not a fan of hot fruit, no matter in what shape it comes or how it is prepared. Therefore, I was happy when I was given some chocolates at the end of the meal :-)

We had a lot of fun, but everything took a lot longer than anticipated - mainly because our host, in spite of having hosted similar events many times before, seemed to lack coordination and organizational skills. It was his own kitchen, and yet he kept looking for things and needed to be reminded that something or other was finished. 
What really made me decide not to book any of his events again, though, was the fact that he gave us old, limp chives for the salad at first. Only when I asked to have a fresh bundle did he get rid of the old one. At the price he was asking - 50 € per person! - one could duly expect everything to be top notch, I think.
It was interesting and I enjoyed being with the group, but I won't do it again; at least not at this particular school.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Read in 2016 - 45: What Happens At Christmas

While I have recently been reading a handful of ebooks for my seasonal reading (i.e. with a Christmas theme), none of them was long or impressive enough for me to warrant a review. It was more like reading Christmas features in a paper or magazine; I do not review that, either.

But "What Happens At Christmas" by Victoria Alexander was a full-length book, and an enjoyable one at that.

The time is the late 1800s, the place is an English country estate, Millworth Manor.
30-year-old wealthy widow Camille has set her eyes on a handsome prince from some obscure middle-European country, and to ensure his proposal, she wants to give him what he's dreaming of: A proper English Christmas.
There is just one little problem: She does not deem her own family proper enough to present them to a member of Royalty.
She comes up with an idea that seems brilliant at first: Simply hire a family - have a troupe of actors pretend to be her mother, sisters and staff at the manor.
Of course all sorts of mishaps ensue, rather entertaining for the observer but not quite as much for those involved.
To complicate matters, the man she loved when they were both young chooses to return now of all times - 11 years after they last saw each other.

There are few surprises in the story, but it is still fun to watch the events unfold. Some people other than the actors turn out not be quite who or what they claim to be, and it does take a few twists and turns before hero and heroine can finally sink in each other's arms.
If you know Georgette Heyer, you get a pretty good idea of what this story is like. It's all there - the cast of characters, some of them rather quirky; the manor; the intelligent and headstrong heroine; the dashing but not always very nice hero, and most of all, the humour.
One thing you will never find in Heyer's books, though, is the relatively steamy sex scene (there really is just the one). Nothing out of the ordinary and not vulgar; not strictly necessary, either.

The Christmas theme is not only present in the festive decoration of the manor and other preparations, but also in the way friendship, love, family and forgiveness (quite a lot of that) are part of the story.

I'd not heard of the author before, but she has written a whole "Millworth Manor" series.
Victoria Alexander's homepage is here.

Friday 16 December 2016

More Wintery Things

This week has been rather mild, weather-wise, and often overcast. We did see a very impressive full moon for the last two nights, though, and it was still very big and very much there at 8:00 in the morning. I took photos of the night sky but they are still on my camera and will have to wait for another post on another day.

After work today, I will be travelling to O.K.'s for the weekend. Before I leave, here are a few wintery pictures I took earlier this month:

This one was on the 7th, some time between 9:00 and 10:00 in the morning:

What a difference the next morning!

And since i have been travelling back and forth several times this month already, with about 15 minutes to spare between trains, I took pictures of the Christmas decorations at the train stations:

I really don't know why the one with the tree (taken at Karlsruhe main station) is so blurry - I used the camera on my mobile phone, which is now a newer model than my former phone and I know it can do better than that. The one at Stuttgart main station was also taken with my phone, amidst a bustling crowd with very little time and space to stop.

The last pictures are from my uncle again, I found them too beautiful to keep them to myself:

A wonderful weekend to all of you! Don't let the pre-Christmas madness get to you; remember: it's the same every year, and it will be here regardless of what you have prepared (or not) :-)

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Read in 2016 - 44: Deer Season

A while ago, I read and reviewed Aaron Stander's "Color Tour" (CT), which was my first encounter with Sherrif Ray Elkins and the area of woods and lakes in Michigan.
"Deer Season" (DS) picks up some months after the end of CT, but can be read as a stand-alone mystery.

Since I really liked the characters and the writing style of the previous book in the series, I was very much looking forward to reading more of the same.
I was not disappointed.

Ray Elkins is still the kind of credible, down-to-earth likeable person he comes across as in CT. Everything he does and says (or thinks) in DS ties in with what the reader has learnt about him in CT; he is a well-rounded character, neither flat and two-dimensional nor larger than life.
Several of the cast of CT reappear, and it is a bit like greeting old acquaintances.

The story takes place over a short period of time (around Thanksgiving), and all outdoor scenes are full of snow and ice, wind and dwindling daylight, as it would be that time of year in this particular region.

While Ray is still recovering - physically and emotionally - from the effects of what happened in CT, he has to handle a new murder investigation:
A TV presenter, mother of two little girls and married to a man in Ray's department, is shot in front of her house.
Collecting evidence seems nearly impossible in the averse weather conditions, made even more difficult by a snow plough having gone over the scene soon afterwards.
But although the connections between family members, colleagues and others are more complex than what at first appears, Ray manages to unravel the mystery with the help of his trusted assistant.
Some of his friends outside work also contribute with important information, and the drama culminates in a shoot-out on a snow-covered, wind-whipped island in the lake.

Although there are some very dramatic happenings in this book, somehow Aaron Standers has managed to convey the quiet atmosphere of snowy woods and deserted summer houses by the lake, with only the occasional gunshot from a deer hunter and the distant motor of a snow mobile breaking the silence.

Much of CT's appeal for me was in the description of the seemingly mundane, the everyday things such as choosing a particular cheese at the food store for a lone evening meal at home.
This was once again the case in DS, and there are enough loose ends in the sherriff's personal life to make the reader think about how certain story lines could play out in the next book.
Which I hope I will get to read sooner rather than later.

Monday 12 December 2016

Guest Post by my Mum: Favourite Kitchen Oldies

A while ago, my Mum asked me whether I thought this topic would be good for a guest post of hers. There has not been a topic NOT good for a guest post, and hers are the most popular ones of my blog - more popular than many of my own :-)

Here goes:

My Favourite Kitchen Oldies
When I did my Christmas baking such as cookies, ginger bread and so on, I realized that I use several utensils from the past, inherited from my mother or even grandmother. 
I won't do without them, and I would not like to exchange them for modern household objects, because I am used to them. I confess it is also a bit out of nostalgy and for sentimental reasons. Most of these items I already used when I was a little girl and helped mum baking.

So have a look:
This enamel measuring jug is used really every day, very often, to pour water for a sauce, or measure for tea, measure milk for baking, to refill the water tank of my (modern!) coffee machine.

This wooden rolling pin is very old, I suppose, from my grandmother, because I didn' see it at my mother's, she had a more modern one. But I love it, it works the dough so fine.

And this set is from an aunt of my husband, when she died we got it, nobody else wanted it. Of course I do not preserve noodles in it ("Nudeln" means noodles), but the tablets for the dishwasher. In the "Salz" container there really is salt, and because of the wooden lid, it never gets damp. "Nelken" means cloves, but I put this wooden lemon juicer from the French Provence in it. My cloves are kept in a glass with screw lid.
Also my wooden spoons are old, but great for pots and pans with teflon or similar coating. 

The potholders are hand-crocheted by an old lady, pure cotton, very thick. This lady never in her life did any crafting, she was very rich and even when she had to sew on a button, she had somebody for doing it. The more I appreciate it that when she was old and sick, she made these potholders for me. I think she practiced a long time until they became as pretty as they are. I do love them.
And last but not least I want to show you my husband's very favorite little knife. He got it when his mother died (rather young) in the 1970s, and it was already old and used back then. In the meantime the blade has become very thin from being sharpened so often, but it is "sacred" to him, he says he cannot make a good potato salad without it.
[I was allowed to post my Dad's recipe for spuds salad on my blog in 2012 - you can find it here, if you like.]
- - - - -
Of course I have known these utensils from my parents' kitchen all my life, and knew some - but not all - the stories behind them. I myself use many things from the past every day, for instance my everyday plates (I don't have any others) are cream porcelain with a gold rim - they were my grandparents' "for best", bought when they married in 1935.

Much as I like shiny new stuff, I really am attached to things that have been in the family for a long time, and do not get rid of them just because they are old, if otherwise they are still good for use.

Saturday 10 December 2016

Amarettini Cupcakes

In my recent post about the annual Schrottwichteln with my friends, I mentioned that I had spent Thursday evening baking, and also said that I was going to show you what in another post.

I made cupcakes of my own creation, combining amarettini (the small almondy biscuits), amaretto (the almond liqueur) and dark chocolate.
The recipe I used as a base is this one, but I changed it in several ways.

Here are the ingredients:

I checked the weight of the dark chocolate and the amarettini and used less flour and sugar for the dough accordingly.

The biscuits and chocolate I put in a zip-up plastic bag and smashed them to (not too small) crumbles with a rolling pin.

At first, I found the dough was still a bit too liquid, so I added a little more flour until it looked and felt right.

Then I filled the cups about 2/3 and put it in the oven.

They looked ready to me!

There was enough dough for a second tray; all in all, I made 20 cupcakes.

For the frosting (or topping), I used only half the amount from the original recipe, as I remembered how it seemed to never end. I do not own a piping (or icing) bag, but the creamy frosting can be just as easily applied using a tea spoon. Each cupcake was topped with an amarettino.
(There was a tablespoon of amaretto in the frosting as well as in the dough.)

My friends seemed to like them well enough. I served them with vanilla ice cream shaped like stars, on a dark chocolate base and dusted with cinammon - of course bought, not home-made. You can see the star-shaped ice cream here if you like.

Since there had been only six of us on Friday, I still had cupcakes left for Sunday, when O.K. and I had invited my parents and sister over for coffee and cake. And there were still two or three left after that, which I gave to my favourite neighbour, the elderly lady whose garden I see from my kitchen window.

Last night, I made another batch of cupcakes. These will be taken to O.K.'s today on the train, so that we can eat them with the family on Sunday. Again, they are different; this time, there is dairy milk chocolate with pistachios inside, and the frosting is with cinnamon and cocoa, a nice chocolaty brown. I hope they have turned out alright - I didn't try them!