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The Hi/Lo Book Club

This month, book club read Jen Lancaster’s My Fair Lazy.   For the un-jenitiated, JenLan writes humorous memoirs about her various projects. One book follows her quest to lose weight, one follows her self exploration after the dot-com bust, and this one follows her self-assigned directive to get some culture into her reality television saturated life.  She goes to the ballet, she eats good food, she attends the theater, she reads classic literature, and so on.

from the author’s website

Group opinion of the book varied: “Liked her at first, liked her less as she got cultured,” “Disliked her at first, liked her once she got cultured,” “Laughed all the way through,” “Stopped after two chapters,” “Barnes & Noble didn’t have it so I’m just here for the food.”

Speaking of the food, nobody debated about that point. Every month we choose a food theme, and this month we challenged ourselves to create dishes combining high and low cuisine elements to honor JenLan and her dichotomous personality. 

Feast your eyes on this.

I made bacon and cheese spirals. Hi: Artisan raspberry cheese. Lo: Pastry from a tube and microwave bacon. .

Sandy, our resident healthy person, brought vegan chili mac. Hi: Uh, vegan everything. Lo: Technically chili. And mac. But no cheese.

Sara brought a charcuterie plate. Hi: Fancy cheese and sweet relish pickles. Lo: Slim Jims, pork rinds, and Vienna sausages. (I didn’t see anything like these when I was in Austria, FYI.)

Sandy also made the 90s classic, fruit pizza. Hi: Farmer’s Market fresh fruits. Lo: It is fruit masquerading as pizza.

Madelines went more gourmet with Lemon and Ricotta Spread on toast. Hi: Lemon and Ricotta. Lo: I suppose the honey on top, which was squeezed from a bear, but I think Madeline mostly ignored the directive because she’s baller like that.

Laura brought boxed brownies with fresh raspberries. Hi: Rasberries. Lo: Boxed brownies, though we all agreed that homemade brownies really don’t taste any better, so what’s the point of that?

Not pictured: Heather’s fancy ice cream dessert– your choice of salted caramel gelato or sherbet push pop.

Next month we read Farenheit 451 to honor Ray Bradbury, but we’re eating at a restaurant because we can.

Strawberry Fields Forever

My friend N e-mailed me on Friday and proposed that we go strawberry picking and make jelly this weekend.  N considers herself domestic when she adds siracha sauce to her mayonnaise and she only bakes things that come in a tube, so the situation seemed ripe for hilarity.  I agreed without blinking.  My grandfather used to run a farm and worked insane hours so that his children and grandchildren would not have to pick their own food for a living. The irony of picking my own food for recreation is not lost on me.

Saturday morning bloomed spectacularly with the kind of blue skies that you usually only see in crayon boxes, and the temperature never rose above a breezy 73 degrees. In short, it was the Holy Grail of Georgia Summer Days. After a few minutes cruising down some rural roads and a few speculations that N might not be the best navigator, we arrived at Warbington Farms.  The staff there advised us it would be the last day of the strawberry season and we might have trouble filling a full gallon pail.  We decided to take our chances. We are, after all, special unicorns.

If you’ve never done it, I highly suggest strawberry picking– it’s extraordinarily satisfying.   You crouch down among these green plants and push leaves to the side and there’s a magic red strawberry, just laying there bright and happy as if waiting for you to find it and take it home.  Every time you swipe aside a tangle of green and find a little splash of red, a little whoosh goes through your heart. It’s like being in sixth grade and seeing your crush from a distance at the mall.  In the end, we were champion pickers and easily filled the small plastic containers given to us by the staff.  N was named MVP for her overflowing containers until her husband pointed out she was also picking the muchy berries and disqualified her.

N’s husband B ambled down a row and commented he could get a job doing this. I bit my tongue, but it wasn’t that hard to repress my natural inclination to snark. When you’re under a wide blue sky and you’re breathing fresh air and you’re doing something productive that isn’t back-breaking with people that you genuinely like, it’s hard to work up to sarcasm.   Like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day.

Pleased with our haul, we started back toward the city, but we stumbled across a roadside produce stand.  Still high on sourcing and picking our own fresh food, we threw a bit of business at this nice local guy.   I felt like a character in a tv show or a movie– like the kind of person who lives in the world and not in an air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted, hermetically sealed box.

We returned to the interstate with the sun roof and windows open and 90s music blasting through the stereo. With our cache of Micheal Pollan-approved produce and the glow of accomplishment about us, we flew home in the kind of bubble of happiness that doesn’t come along often in adulthood.  I don’t know if they actually spray those strawberry fields with ecstasy, but something calm and light seemed to follow us back to Atlanta.

In the end, N chickened out on the jelly, which is really too bad because I promise everyone would have been really amused by that story. I ended up using my strawberries to make a recipe I found a year ago on Smitten Kitchen for Summer Strawberry Cake.  Absolutely delicious- highly suggest it with whipped cream. As I baked it, I fancied myself to be Sarah Michelle Gellar in that otherwise awful movie where she is a chef that bakes her feelings.  I wanted this cake to taste happy, and it did.

Before

After

And yes, the strawberries were delicious, which almost seems beside the point, doesn’t it?

Last Call in Germany

Note: If you’re here everyday, you’re probably tired of me saying this. I’m not actually in Germany any more, but I’m writing on delay thanks to some connectivity issues while I was there. Just be cool. 

The last day of vacation is always bittersweet. You’re still there, but you can already see this trip getting smaller, further away.

I’ll be honest with you, that last insight is paraphrased slightly from a line in Dawson’s Creek.   That doesn’t make it less true, though.  I mostly remember my last day in Germany in impressions and flashes.

I’m thinking of a dark-paneled biergarten with actual foliage hanging from the ceiling, and I’m thinking of the two much older men sharing our table there who commented that I eat my food like an American because I eat with  a hand in my lap. It sounds dirty when I re-tell it now, which is probably how they meant it at the time but I was too excited about my food to care.

The plants look kind of like alien life forms here, no?

And what food was that?  Spaetzle. This is like mac and cheese on steroids. They put some anemic cucumbers and tomatoes on the side of the plate as if that might some how balance a bowl of cheese and noodles bigger than my face.

Oh, and there are fried onions on top, just in case you thought this wasn’t going to really sit like a brick in your stomach. 

I’m also thinking of European breakfasts, which always feel like an event.  Bread, eggs, jelly, cold meats, cheeses, yogurt, sugary black coffee… breakfast feels more like a leisurely stroll through all the best foods.  You can’t leave Europe without having Nutella for breakfast. Unless you are having off-brand organic Nutella. That will also work in a pinch.

It’s worth noting that I have more pictures of my food from this trip than of myself. 

 

And you always think about the things you didn’t do and you think, “oh, next time,” even though you know there probably won’t be a next time because there are so many other place to visit.  Like, I didn’t go to this famously huge biergarten called Hofbrauhaus, which is really touristy but well known. I don’t feel particularly bereft, but it’s still an unturned stone.

I saw it, but I didn’t drink a Radler there. What a waste. 

I spent much of my last day shopping for souvenirs with my friend Anne (not pictured, which is a shame because you would like her). Anne towed me around the Old City and enthusiastically pointed at things that I should embrace as quintessentially German.  Naturally, the thing that really excited me was German editions of The Hunger Games. 

Look! The title has “Panem” in it!

We looked for suitable gifts for my three year old nephew.  Anne encouraged sweet children’s books and wooden toys. I found the perfect thing but I couldn’t fit in my suitcase.  When in doubt, always go with sharks.

Also, this picture is really not flattering. I’m growling, but I look like I’m smiling for the dentist. 

I also snuck in one last tourist thing: I watched the glockenspiel.  I informed Anne we would need to watch this at 5 PM in the square and she was bemused. She was kind of like, “You mean you don’t have medieval clocks with mechanical dancers that move in time with chiming bells thanks to meticulous clockwork?”  And I was like, “Amerian, remember?”

Schpielin’ like a glocken. 

 

Then I met Jenny for dinner at the kind of Italian restaurant where the wait staff just recites the nightly specials for you rather than giving you a menu. It’s like paying someone to eat in their kitchen with a few other strangers. Also, they had an enviable refrigerator.

I WANT ONE. 

It seems like one should drink beer in one’s last night in Germany, but I’m really just a wino at heart. Prost, Deutschland. It was fun.

It’s not a plastic cup. It only looks like one. 

Even though this is the end of my travel diary, this isn’t the end of my German inspired posts.  We haven’t even scratched the surface with Mad King Ludwig II, and there’s an overflowing bag of candy just begging to be taste tested for blog purposes only. In the meantime, I’m still slightly jetlagged and would like some sleep. Excuse me while I curl up with my furry little German dog.

You know, I didn’t see a single German schnauzer while I was there. 

The Gratuitous Food Post

Okay, I’ll let you in on a secret- I actually got home from Germany yesterday.  Yup, a secret among you, me, and anyone who can find me on the Internet.  Due to problems with wifi and some timing issues, I’m not actually done chronicling my journey.  I’m planning to get through a few posts this weekend to make up for that.

Today, thanks to my general jet lag and malaise,  I present: food porn!  Mom, this is a term I did not actually make up. This is an accepted term for gratuitous food pictures.

First sausage of the trip! Get your head out of the gutter, friends.

 

Fresh veggies at the market. Bonus points for albino carrots.

 

Spragel! (I think it is spelled that way?) Anyway, there it is!

 

Rhubarb, which my dad says can kill you.

 

Wine and cheese is always very good looking.

 

Homemade asparagus and avocado pasta, made by Jenny WITH LOVE.

 

Pretzels. Jenny says they don’t count because we ate them in Austria instead of Bavaria.

 

Gelato tastes good in any language.

 

European breakfast: cappuccino and carbs.

 

When was the last time you ate an egg with a yolk this orange? Never.

 

I like that Austrian restaurants assume 2 people can eat 5 pieces of bread.

 

Fancy butters to go with fancy breads. Europe is the best.

 

Are you sensing a theme with asparagus on this trip?

 

Fresh fruit and coffee for breakfast, bread on the side.

 

Nothing says food porn like your first diet coke in days.

 

Mushrooms and some kind of fried gnocchi with ricotta cubes. It was mediocre but looked nice.

 

Spaetzle- German for mac and cheese.

 

More coffee, more cake.

 

You know you’re vacationing with Jenny when you have have vegetarian Italian for dinner. 

 

Good mozzarella and tomato salad? Or best mozzarella and cheese tomato salad?

 

Nothing says food love like a Bloody Mary.

 

You can’t go to Europe without eating knock off Nutella?

 

The trip started with a sausage and ended with it. Gutten appetite!

 

 

 

The Rick Steves Walking Tour

Today we caught the train from Munich to Salzburg, which was really only interesting when an undercover cop blatantly racially profiled a guy next to us.

Rather than hit every museum in town, we opted to spend the pleasant afternoon strolling through the Old Town. Luckily my old steady Rick Steves has a walking tour for the city. Here are the highlights.

We started at a statue of Mozart that was completely unremarkable. Thanks, Rick. We went on to discover this Italian fountain right in the middle of an Austrian square. I wonder if Bernini knows he got ripped off?

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We moved on to the first of many churches, Salzburg Cathedral. Catchy name, eh? There’s a neat sculpture of Mary in the square right in front of it, and if you stand in a certain spot, the angels on the church facade appear to be crowning her.

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Inside, the church is about what you expect: dreary paintings of the suffering of Christ, swirling Rococo stone work, confessionals that look more like playhouses, and a dome that could be heaven itself.

But this church had a dark underbelly– a secluded crypt area featuring some strange modern art. Jenny and I walked into a cave-like room and recoiled when we noticed a strange shadow moving across the wall.

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Turns out it was a projection in an art installation. Maybe depicting the journey to hell? I don’t know, but we got outta there fast.

Outside the church, we were some what surprised to find a Ringwraith in an alcove. (It’s from Lord of the Rings, Mom. Kind of like a dementor in Harry Potter.)

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The Ringwraith seemed to be looking on in judgement of this courtyard in which a guy is standing on top of a golden ball. No picture here because the sculpture was lame.

Also in the courtyard, another statue of Triton looking really pissed off about not being in Rome. He was accompanied by this creature with questionable genitals and a hamburger.

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Hiding behind the courtyard, we found this ridiculously lovely cemetery in which each plot is a sweet little garden.

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We also noticed this odd door in the middle of a rock face. We decided this is where Sirius Black was hiding. Okay, I decided that. Jenny just said she wandered about the rent there.

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And then we ate an enormous chocolate covered pretzel on the street and we did not regret it.

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My arms look enormous. Nothing but ex lax and water until prom. (Don’t worry– that’s just a quote from Never Been Kissed. I completely ate an apple strudel today and my arms look nice enough,)

Rick’s tour concluded on a busy shopping street, but we decided to ditch his schedule and find a Biergarten. You can only see so many churches and birthplaces of famous composers before you’re like, “Whatver, Europe is old, we get it.”

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We did find something curious on our way to dinner: this bridge covered in locks. Our best guess is that married couples write their names on the locks and then leave on the bridge for good luck. No reason given for why this bridge.

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Dinner was from a food truck. I know– how hipster of us. Jenny went for weinerschnitzel, and I got dangerous with a mystery meat sandwich.

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Jenny knows the name of this sandwich, but she’s asleep right now. Let’s just assume it starts with an “L” and has too many consonants.

It actually wasn’t bad. Kind of like a strange ham sandwich bathed in mustard.

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With solid food in our stomachs, we scurried into a street wine festival that popped up outside the concert venue for our evening’s entertainment. Random wine is preferable to planned wine any day.

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Check it- fizzy strawberry wine! We are like a country song!

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The drinks led to our play date in the Mirabell gardens which you can see here.

We ended our night with a string quarter concert in Mirabell Palace, the former Salzburg home of some drooling Hapsburgs. We didn’t take pictures there, but we met a pack of older women traveling together who called themselves “The Traveling Grannies.” They were quite posh and seemed utterly shocked by our Americanness. I couldn’t tell you much about the music except that I knew two of the songs because my employer uses them as hold music.

Tomorrow it will supposedly storm, so we’re cooking up some alternate plans. Stay tuned!

My Plane Did Not Crash!

Guten Tag! Apologies for weird formatting and spelling errors. Blogging from the iPad is proving a challenge because it keeps autocorrecting me.

I am here and quite jet lagged! The flight was unremarkable. Watched Batman, ate pasta, goggled at drunk ladies next to me who had a Bridesmaids moment when the flight attendant wouldn’t let them use the first class bathroom… the usual.

I’m a bit too brain dead to provide much commentary today, so here are some snapshots from our afternoon of sightseeing. Jenny took me for a stroll around downtown Munich, also known as Altstadt, to help familiarize me with the area.

We started at Viktualienmarkt. This is German for open air market stuffed with local cheese, produce, and food stands. If I lived here, I might be more likely to eat veggies all the time. They all look delectable.

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Jenny then directed me toward the sausage stand. This town is a sausage fest in a good way. We had bratwurst semmel, which is essentially pork sausage in a bun. This is a great way to eat hot dogs for lunch and feel fancy.

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After fortification, we set off for typical tourist stuff: old buildings, clock towers, manicured gardens that used to be the king’s backyard and so on. I was most impressed by this church, Theatiner Kirche. My travel boyfriend Rick Steves doesn’t even mention it, but I thought it striking. I might be breaking up with Rick over this. And would you look at that sky?

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After walking forever and ever until I felt like I might just walk back to the US and crawl into my soft bed, we made it to the English Gardens, which is like Central Park but with more nude sunbathers and patches of daisies. You know what you don’t think you will find in an English Garden in Germany?

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A Chinese pagoda. Jenny says the Chinese gifted it to the Germans. No one does this anymore, and it’s a shame. World Peace might be easier if we were all still donating buildings and oversized statues. Anyway, the pagoda stands over the Chinese Biergarten, and this is where Jenny made me drink a beverage the size of my head. I suppose I didn’t exactly fight her on that point. We drank Radler, light beers with lemon soda. This is an excellent way to make your jet lag seem funny.

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This is Jenny with our empty mugs. She’s quite small, so you can assume she did not drink both.

We also saw these lions that are allegedly good luck if you rub them as you walk past. I’ll let you know if I meet a modest German heir with a killer smile and a reading habit who falls in love with my awkward post-airplane hair and whisks me off to his chateau in Bavaria.

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We are now cooking dinner. To be fair, Jenny is cooking dinner and I am helpfully choosing songs on my iPod that fit the mood while drinking white wine and snacking on bits of real German Gouda. We will be trying Spargel, white asparagus that make the Germans crazy this time of year.

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They look like fingers in that picture. Hopefully, they don’t taste like fingers.

Tomorrow we head to Salzburg where I will hopefully be better rested and more interesting in my prose. Now excuse me, I need to choose a broody song to match the feeling of the chard pasta Jenny is sautéing.

Auf Wiedersehen

My German odyssey begins tomorrow, and I’ve spent much of tonight making final preparations.  Here are some last minute things I did:

Last American Meal for Nine Days:  bbq pork taco with queso dip

Well, it’s technically Tex-Mex, but close enough.

Last Minute Baked Goods for Hosts: Unicorn Poop Cookies. Assuming German Customs allows this in the country, I’m giving my hosts techni-color sparkly sugar cookies in thanks for their hospitality. There’s enough food dye and edible glitter in these to make my holistic-medicine-loving cousin lose her marbles.  You might think this an odd choice, but my friend Jenny enjoys unicorns and I enjoy a good baking challenge.  Recipe here.

I captured a unicorn! At last!

Last Picture of Loyal Schnauzer: My neighbor and friend N will dog-sit for Heidi in my absence. N encouraged me to take my little monster with me so she can see her “Mother Land.”  We tried to ask Siri of the iPhone if schnauzers are common in Germany and Siri told us she can’t  look for things in Germany.  I think Siri is way more helpful to Zooey Deschanel and Samuel Jackson in those commercials  than she will ever be to me.

She is stalking my luggage, looking for the opportune moment to stow away.

Last minute panic attack:  Do I have three copies of my passport? Is three enough?  Did I write down Jenny’s phone number?  AM I SURE?  What if someone steals my laptop while I’m gone? Should I leave it at N’s house? What if the whole building burns down? Is it too late to get an external drive and then take all my files with me? Probably too late, right?  What if my plane crashes and I lived my last day at work at my job instead of spending time with family like I always say when people play the “Last Day on Earth” game? What if my parents fight with N about who will get custody of my dog if I die? What if that weird thing in Heidi’s mouth explodes while I’m gone?  Did I remember to put her flea meds on her? Did I count my pills to make sure I have enough? Is my jacket heavy enough? I should bring a sweater, right? Why do my sweaters  smell strange? DO I HAVE BLACK MOLD?

You can see that I desperately need a vacation.    Good thing I leave tomorrow. Next stop: airport!