Archives for posts with tag: cooking


I guess it was bound to happen, sooner or later…..

We’ve lived in Berlin for almost 6 years now. I guess it was only a matter of time before we became “German.” We eat the food; we buy the clothes; we live the life. Kinda like a married couple starting to look alike after they’ve been married awhile. We took a trip to Spain and Portugal. We went into a restaurant in Cascais, Portugal –a very “touristy” town – and the waiter automatically handed us a German menu. I wonder – was it that we were wearing socks with our sandals, or that we had on neck scarves? [Because, at least in Berlin, you’ll see folks wearing scarves around their necks all year long; it may be 85 degrees F, and they may have on short-shorts and no shirt, but they’ll have on a scarf.] Or maybe (at least for me) the genes on my Daddy’s side of the family were showing.

And, after we got back home to Berlin, I saw an article with a headline something like “Why Germany will never lead Europe” and I felt insulted. Alas, the one way I would most like to be German is to have a better command of the language. Sigh…..

Strange hankerin’s

Folks often ask us what we miss about our lives in the US, and, first and foremost, it’s the friends and family we left behind and, for the most part, have to interact with via e-mail or Facebook, given the time difference. We sometimes call, because our calling plan gives us unlimited calling to 29 other countries, but by the time folks on the other side of the Atlantic are waking up, we’re starting to wind down. Aside from the folks, there are some foods we miss. And today I got a strong hankerin’ for a pimento cheese sandwich. Sometimes you can put together familiar foods yourself because you can get the ingredients here – such as a hamburger. Ground meat, lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayo, cheese, bacon, and onions are certainly available here and it’s no problem to put a burger together. You can even find tortillas so you can cobble together a few Mexican dishes. But sometimes you can’t even find the ingredients, like cheddar cheese and pimentos for that pedestrian pimento cheese sandwich. Occasionally you can find cheddar cheese, but I’ve not been able to find pimentos. The sad thing is that some grocery stores have “American” sections, but tend to waste shelf space on things like Pop Tarts! PU-LEEZE!!!! And, boy, do I miss seafood!!! Having grown up on the Gulf Coast of southeast Texas, where crawfish grow in your front yard and you can catch your own crabs if you have the time and patience, we were sure spoiled. You can find some seafood here, but it’s incredibly pricey (e.g., just catfish costs about $12 a pound – CATFISH!! And shrimp – last time I dared to look – was about $25 a pound) and often inadequate. (What they call “shrimp” here, we would have called “bait.”) Sigh! But, still, getting to see our son and his family on a regular basis trumps all that.

Being half-deaf has its advantages

My inadequate hearing has given rise to any number of hysterically funny exchanges. So, in addition to not being troubled as much by other folks by things like street noise, I get a few belly laughs that I might not have otherwise had if my hearing were perfect. Like on our trip to Portugal with my cousins, we had a particularly amusing exchange. While living in Singapore, my cousin had adopted a dog from an animal shelter. When they returned to the US, they wanted to take the dog home with them. As it turns out, the airline wouldn’t let them take this particular type of dog on the airplane. Now this dog isn’t any bigger than a minute, and certainly wouldn’t be a threat to anyone on the plane. I heard my cousin say that it was because flying causes breeding problems for this particular type of dog – a Lhaso Apso. I, of course, wondered how flying on an airplane could affect a dog’s breeding capabilities, because I couldn’t imagine why anyone would try to breed their dogs while in flight. Surely dogs had no interest in joining the “Mile High Club.” Well, turns out that what he actually SAID was “breathing problems” (and, since this breed is very expensive, the airlines weren’t the least bit interested in being held liable for its health issues). That certainly cleared things up! By the way, an ingenious solution to the problem of getting the dog on the plane was to go back to the vet and get the dog’s records changed from Lhaso Apsoto “long-haired Chihuahua.” Imagine the intrigue of faking a dog’s passport!

The only logical answer…..

I was caring for our 3-year-old grandson recently. He’s a big fan of vehicles, of every sort and size. (He recently developed a strong attraction to the Lexus and now has his very own.) He had put one of his Lego people on a bus and was moving it along somewhere. I asked him where the Lego man was going and he gave me this incredulous look, as if he couldn’t believe that I didn’t already know where Lego man was going, and said, “Lego Land.” Well, of course! And I’m sure if he were acquainted with the concept of “Duh!” he would have said that, too!

Inarticulate in two languages….

I accept the fact that there are things here in Germany that I don’t have the German word for. But it increasingly comes to my attention that there are things that I don’t have the English word for, either. For example, today I had a physical therapy appointment. In the US, this would have taken place in a huge room, much like a sports club/gym with several folks working with their respective physical therapists. Here, there’s still a largish room (not huge – about as big as 2 average living rooms) but different areas are separated from one another by curtains, and each patient works with a therapist in their own individual area. Of course, this might imply greater privacy, except that you can hear everything everyone else is saying and, from time to time, someone in the adjoining area might actually bump into you through the curtain. The folks who work here call each area a “Kabine” – but wanted to know what the word would be in English. Well, I haven’t the vaguest idea! We wouldn’t really call it a “stall” because that implies something with walls (even if the walls don’t go all the way to the floor or to the ceiling). We might not call it a cubical because that also implies walls (limited though they may be). So, here I am, clearly inarticulate in German (which isn’t surprising) but now also inarticulate in English, which is a horrid realization for someone who spent decades earning a living by writing. Sigh….

No smokers…

Many places have “No Smoking” signs, but Portugal takes it a bit further. Apparently you don’t have to be actually smoking at the time to be denied access to places, such as elevators. Nope! You don’t have to be smoking at the moment; just the fact that you are a smoker means you can’t get on the elevator. The signs say, “No Smokers.”

Surely you jest….

During her last illness, the recently departed Dowager Ms. Electra, our 15-year-old, 8-pound, partially bald Devon Rex kitty, had developed a cough and had trouble keeping her food down, all of which occasioned a trip to the vet. He gave me some pills for each problem. But it appears to be the habit here to give animals human meds, which is cheaper than getting the pet variety. That may seem to be a good idea, except when you have to cut the pills into pieces to get the proper dosage. Cutting a tablet into 2 pieces (especially when it’s designed for that) isn’t a problem. However, to get it into an Electra-sized dosage, the vet told me to cut it into 8ths!!! Imagine trying to cut something the size of a baby aspirin into 8 pieces! So, of course, some of the pieces simply turn to powder and are unusable. At some point, it is NOT cheaper to use human meds because you have to throw so much away. Sigh….

Living well…

The lady in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store was on the far side of 90 (or, at least, I hope so, because if she was indeed much younger, it would be sad). But she undoubtedly has a zest for life! The only things she was buying were chocolate and champagne. I hope she has someone to share them with, but even if she doesn’t, I’ve gotta give her props for enjoying life!

Tree lovers

I love trees as much – if not more than – the next person. But my love of trees can’t hold a candle to that of the Germans. Berlin is a city of about 3.5 million people, but it’s hard to imagine that it’s that populous because there are so many green spaces. For one thing, if you’re not in walking distance of a park, then it just means that you’re not ambulatory at all. An aerial view of Berlin will show an enormous proportion of green space. I supposed I could get actual statistics on this, but I’m lazy so I’ll just guess that at least half of it is green space of some sort. Most streets are lined with trees. A street may be solid apartment buildings, one connected to another, but it will still have trees on both sides of the street. And they take care of their trees. Certainly the trees lining the streets – in public areas – are even numbered, and periodically you’ll see some official “Tree Police” examining the trees and carefully making notes on their health (e.g., Wartenburgstrasse Tree #69 has dead limbs that need to be removed). When trees eventually die, they are replaced. All this is good stuff, but I am continually puzzled for their love of lining streets with fruit-bearing trees. In particular, our old street was lined with Gingko trees, which are, admittedly, lovely trees. The problem, however, is that their fruit smells like vomited-up dog crap. So the fruit falls on the sidewalk and you have no option except to walk on it, or pull your grocery cart through it, so you have to clean up before you enter your apartment building because you surely don’t want to bring that crap inside. Nonetheless, since most folks don’t have air conditioning, much of the time your windows will be open, allowing the stench of smushed Gingko fruits to invade your flat. Now in the case of these trees, there are both male trees (which don’t bear fruit) and female trees (which do). So, if they wanted to plant Gingko trees, why did they have to plant female trees? Thankfully, we have no Gingko trees in our new neighborhood! The horse chestnut is another tree that is a popular choice for planting along streets, so the sidewalks are often lined with chestnuts, but these aren’t the edible kind. Admittedly, the flowers are lovely in the spring and the chestnuts don’t stink. Further, they provide endless fun for kids, who like to collect them and throw them at each other.

Now here’s something Americans don’t see every day…

A young boy carrying a cricket bat. We picked up our grandkids at school today and one of the students had a cricket bat! And, no, I don’t think that cricket is a German thing. However, the kids’ school is a bi-lingual English-German school, where “English” means “British.” Interestingly enough, many of the folks here – German as well as non-German – look down their noses at American English. However, the “English” teachers at this school are not only British, but also Scottish, Irish, and Australian. Add our American English to the mix (and their own German accent) and it will be truly interesting to see how our grandkids speak English.

What’s in a name….

What would you say if I invited you to our place to share a nice bottle of Burgerspital? It’s pretty pricey, too. Not quite your cup of tea?


A conundrum…

My grandkids wanted me to bake them a Kitty Litter cake for their respective birthdays. It’s a cake made of chocolate cake, white cake, vanilla pudding, and crushed vanilla wafers, garnished with partly melted Tootsie Rolls to look like, well, there’s no delicate way to put this —- cat turds. Not having seen Tootsie Rolls here, I brought them back with me on a recent trip to the US. The rest of the ingredients are readily available here in Berlin. There’s one minor problem, though — the recipe calls for a cake mix for “German Chocolate Cake.” Just wonder what such a thing is called here in Germany, though, because, actually, pretty much ALL the chocolate cakes here are “German chocolate.” Not sure what I would even ask for to get what the recipe specifies, which is why I’ve settled for just any ol’ chocolate cake mix.


2015-12-05_Noe's kitty litter BD cake





Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 42: February 11, 2013


Like fish and chips? Well, try this – instead of the normal white fish (such as cod), how about fresh salmon?  And instead of Idaho potatoes, how about sweet potatoes?  If you’d like to try these, go to the Luise-Dahlem biergarten then:

FEBRUARY 6, 2013

Today is William, the Wonder Cat’s 2nd birthday.  To celebrate, I plan to feed him every time he begs for food.  I fear that by the end of the day I shall have developed repetitive motion injury in the arm I use to feed him with.


I understand gravity, at least in a general sense.  I don’t understand the underlying physics, but I do understand that if I have something in my hand and I let go of it, there’s a pretty high statistical probability that it will end up on the floor (or at least it will fall down, rather than up or sideways).  But there appear to be some qualities of gravity that apply to me in an atypical manner, at least when I’m eating.  Under these circumstances, sometimes food substances – particularly those that have the potential to create stains – seem to be drawn towards my body (rather than towards the floor), particularly when I’m wearing something nice.  I go through stain removers (which, in some cases work less well than others) at roughly the same rate that I go through laundry detergent.  So, I encourage you to invest in a company that makes stain removers (and, upon my death, promptly divest yourself of these investments, as the stock price will most surely plummet).


You know those trash bins that you see around renovation sites?  Well, there’s one company that provides them around Berlin.  The name of the company is “Sisyphus.”   Pretty much nails it, don’t you think?  Whenever you empty a trash bin, that just encourages folks to fill it right up again, doesn’t it?


When you can tell what color polish you have on your toenails without taking off your socks, it’s probably time to buy new socks.


Yep – it’s not a typo.  I dropped a kernel of corn on the floor in the kitchen, and William the Wonder Cat was all over it like white on rice, which makes him, of course, a cornivore, doesn’t it?


William the Wonder Cat - 26 (Cornivore)


You may recall a while back when I mentioned the name of a popular snack – Maiswürmer (which translates literally as “Corn Worms”)?  Well, they’ve “enhanced” this product – now you can get chocolate-covered corn worms (as well as caramel-covered corn worms).  Bet you can’t wait to try these!!

Chocolate Covered Corn Worms


You heard it here first, unless, of course, you also subscribe to this newsletter:

sugarhigh <>

Meat is having a moment. As far as food trends go, offal is one of the most unlikely stars there ever was. And yet ever since the wild, unlikely success of British chef Fergus Henderson’s groundbreaking cookbook “The Whole Beast,” first published in 2004, the most deep-down, weird, and visceral inner bits of cow, pig, and sheep have shot up in culinary status and so-called “nose to tail” cuisine has taken the foodie world by storm. After all, as Henderson says, “If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing.”

Gain a new appreciation for the culinary potential of the whole hog with this Sunday’s “Schlachtfest” dinner at Mitte’s Pauly Saal restaurant. Chef, trained butcher, and pork aficionado Wolfgang Müller will be taking over the kitchen to prepare a lavish pig-themed dinner from his celebrated cookbook “Schwein,” planning a six-course menu that moves from a Blutwurstpizza amuse-bouche to horseradish-spiked tongue pralines, quiveringly tender pork belly, Bratwurst with a twist, and pig tail croquettes. Rest assured that the dessert course takes only inspiration—and not actual ingredients—from the pig.

Well, that last bit is a comforting thought, isn’t it?!! 


How does $3,500 sound?  For a single toy.  Plastic (mostly).  Well, apparently that’s what we pay for our cat toys.  William the Wonder Cat was caught with Harvey’s digital hearing aid yesterday.  Hard to guess who was in more trouble – William for playing with it or Harvey for leaving it somewhere that William could get to.


It is sooo exasperating, seeing something that desperately needs to be done, yet no one will step up to the plate and do it!  That must have been what was running through William’s mind the other day.  He finally realized that, not only was I not going to open a drawer in the kitchen and toss all my kitchen towels onto the floor, but it was likely that I didn’t have the slightest notion that this needed to be done.  So, selfless feline that he is, he took it upon himself to do it for me!  This, despite the fact that he has no thumbs and therefore the job was much more difficult for him than it would have been for me.  Nonetheless, he was sufficiently resourceful and determined to take care of this chore completely on his own.  I wonder if, having demonstrated what needs to be done, he will now expect me to get the message and take care of it the next time it needs doing (whenever that might be).   LATER:  Apparently this is something that requires being done at least once a day.  Or, alternatively, it went without doing for so long that, in order to make up for this, it has to be done on a daily basis for awhile to catch up.


Ms. Electra is almost 13 years old, or 69 in people years.  She has always been quite precise in her dining requirements; specifically, she demands her breakfast at 6 a.m. and her dinner at 6 pm.  Intermittent feedings are, of course, permitted.  Nonetheless, even if one of those impromptu feedings occurs at 5:59 (a.m. or p.m.), this does not alter her 6:00 expectations.  She has several techniques for reminding us what time it is.  If one of us is sitting at the computer, we can expect one (if not both) of these things to occur:  (1) She will climb up on a lap and fidget and fuss until we get her message; (2) she will climb onto the top of the printer, above which is hanging one of our masks – this one of South Pacific origin, trimmed in something that approaches hair – and proceed to make every effort to snatch it bald.  But one of her most favorite tactics is to make herself barf – even on an empty tummy, she can hack up an amazing amount of slime.  She prefers to barf on the carpets (because she just hates that splash-back when she barfs on hard surfaces).  Sometimes she deigns to barf on the hardwood floor, which, under other circumstances, we would prefer.  However, the hardwood floors in our 150+ year-old flat are composed of planks about a foot wide but with ¼-inch spaces separating them.  This, of course, means that we have the opportunity to try to coax cat barf from between the boards if she targets the floors.  Well, this is all to lay the groundwork for new behavior.  She has taken her barfing repertoire to a new level, as it were.  This morning I discovered barf on top of the china closet (the top of which is about 4 feet high), and subsequently discovered even more on the floor in front of the china closet.  So, between William knocking everything off the top and Electra selecting it as a barfing platform, it would be unwise for us to continue it as a surface on which to display our various treasures (or rather, those that William hasn’t already destroyed).  Sigh….


You would think that creatures who spend at least 80% of their lives napping (reserving the remaining 20% for eating, grooming, visiting the litter box, and, of course, finding the perfect position for napping) would not need a lot of variety in their lives.  But you’d be wrong about that.  Apparently they DO need variety.  Evidence to this was presented to us this morning.  Electra normally naps on the green blanket on the left end of the sofa, while William prefers the burgundy blanket on the right end of the sofa.  Imagine our surprise to find that they had traded places!  Since they’re unconscious during this time, I’m at a loss to understand how this could possibly matter to either of them.  But, apparently, it does.

[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 40:  January 14, 2013


 There is a shop in Berlin that sells only one item – the ‘One Piece’ – a piece of clothing that covers your entire body.  It’s more or less like feety-pajamas, except without the feet but with a hood.  You can get these things in various weights, and the heavy-weight version is especially handy when it’s really, really cold.  The unfortunate thing is that, if you’re trying to stay warm, the utility of this garment is limited to males, because the only way females can access the toilet is to essentially remove the whole thing.  And if it’s cold enough to wear this thing in the first place, the LAST thing you want to do in the middle of the night is to completely disrobe.  Here’s what it looks like normally.

 2012-12-26-Harvey - 01

And, if you’re feeling a bit chilly, you can put on the hood.

2012-12-26-Harvey - 02


AND, if you’re really, REALLY cold, you can completely cover your head.

2012-12-26-Harvey - 03


AND, just in case you are unable to successfully deduce on your own that there are certain hazards with zipping the hood completely up, there’s a warning for you.



There’s no other way to describe January 5, 2013, for me.  Here’s the drill:

3:00 am – Wake up because husband is kicking the immortal crap out of me.  He’s had a bad dream and is merely trying to protect himself from the evil-doers who are out to get him.

6:00 am – Half-bald, bat-eared, rat-tailed cat projectile vomits all over the sofa.  This is not the merely disgusting “I-ate-too-much-so-I’m-barfing-up-the excess” kind that simply smells like cat food, but the “This-crap-has-been-in-my-belly-since-6pm-last-night-and-includes-nasty-gastric –juices-and-is-half-digested” kind that’s beyond disgusting.  And, of course, I wake up a bit later with a slightly queasy stomach,

9:30 am – The vet’s open between 10 and 12 on Saturdays, so I put Ms. Electra in her carrier, hop on my bike, and ride through the slightly rainy, 45 F weather to the vet.

10:45 am – Finally my turn to see the vet (as this is Saturday, after the holidays, there were several folks waiting to see her).  Ms. Electra is on her worst behavior.  The vet has to give her an anti-throw-up shot and then gives her sub-cutaneous saline solution so she’s not dehydrated.  And, of course, as this is a Saturday, the vet’s assistant isn’t there so I have to help the vet with a cat who is really not on board with having needles stuck in her.  The sub-cutaneous infusion means that you have to hold the cat still, while there’s a needle under her skin and saline solution flows just under her skin, to be absorbed by her body.  This isn’t short, like a shot, but rather takes about 5 minutes of keeping the cat calm and still (which is approximately 4 minutes and 59 seconds more than she’s willing to tolerate).

11:00 am – While doing the infusion, and holding a very scared, angry cat (who apparently has a very fully bladder) close to my body, said cat treats me to the ‘Golden Rain’ experience.  Although some folks may find this erotic, I’m pretty sure that the typical scenario does not include a cat, nor does involve a telephone in one’s pocket.  Oh, yes – a brand new (Christmas present), expensive, latest-and-greatest phone, now filled with cat piss.  Plus, of course, the roughly $100 bill for the vet (a very nice lady who actually took my phone apart and tried to dry out the cat piss – no extra charge for that).

11:45 am – After riding home with cat-piss-soaked pants, in 45 degree, slightly rainy weather, arrive home to husband who has been dealing with the cat vomit clean-up for a couple of hours and is less than enthusiastic about my request that he take the phone directly to the phone store, in case something is salvageable.

12:00 noon – Pissed-on wife takes a shower.

1:00 – pm – Take a break for breakfast, which neither of us has had yet.

1:45 pm – Said slightly pissed off husband heads out to phone store while previously pissed-on wife heads to the grocery store (because nothing is open on Sundays, so MUST get what we need on Saturday or do without until Monday).  [My father-in-law always said it was better to be pissed off than to be pissed on, so, at least according to him, the husband fared better in this than the wife.]

3:30 pm – Slightly more calm husband returns from phone store, with instructions on how to get a replacement phone.  This involves finding a security number for the warranty (and the wife-who’s-had-about-all-she-can-take is unable to remember where she put it).  Eventually the number is found and gentle husband calls the folks (and, of course, all this happens in German, with which we are both still struggling) to find out that:  (1)  They have to receive the phone before they will send a replacement; (2) In addition to the 99 Euros which I paid for the warranty, they have to receive a payment of 75 Euros for handling, before they will ship the replacement.  And, of course, by the time we figure out all the stuff we have to do to ship it back, the Post Office is closed and we can’t put it in the mail until Monday, further adding to the delay of getting a working phone.

On the bright side, I have every confidence that we have given the customer service reps at the T-mobile store on the KuDam a serious leg up on the competition for the Weirdest Customer Story.  No doubt the story about the cat pissing on the Samsung Galaxy III will be shared far and wide across the customer service community.  [And now you know why those of us who have worked in the customer service field call it “Customer Circus” among ourselves.]


As you no doubt know, Germans are rather fond of their sausage/wurst and there are all sorts of wurst.  As you may know, the German word for ‘German’ is ‘Deutsch’.  You may even know that the German word for ‘thick’ is ‘dick.’   Today I saw a glass jar of wursts.  Each wurst was about 6 inches long and a bit over an inch in diameter, so they were thick sausages, and they were German.  The label on the jar said “Deutsch Dicke” (and some words in German form the plural by adding ‘e’).  Really.


 Admittedly, I am easily amused, although I like to think of myself as simply more receptive to the truly funny things the world has to offer.  And I’m pretty sure most folks wouldn’t be able to look in the index of a cookbook and find anything to laugh about.  I have one cookbook that I bought when I graduated from college in 1967.  I figured I might be wanting to eat something besides scrambled eggs and sandwiches after I got out on my own.  It’s “Cooking for American Homemakers:  An Edition of Encyclopedic Cookbook” – how’s that for a mouthful?  One thing I came across in the index was “Opossum” – and you can roast it, or, for a special treat, you can fix stuffing for it.  This cookbook also has several recipes for preparing tripe (which, in case you didn’t know, is the stomach tissue of a ruminant, such as an ox or cow)—you can fix fried pickled tripe, boiled trip, tripe patties, baked tripe with bacon, or tripe fritters.  It actually has a black-and-white photo of battered and fried tripe, with this caption:  “Cut up the tripe, dip in batter, and brown in a skillet is you want something really good and unusual.”   Well, I’m pretty much there with the “unusual”, but maybe not so much with the “really good.”  Well, OK –  this cookbook was first published in 1950, so maybe it’s not that far removed from the frontier.  In fact, there are some interesting pointers for the American Homemaker, where you can go to:

  • Father Carves the Fowl to get directions on carving turkey, rib roast, or any other major cut of meat
  • Starting the Pressure Cooker to get instructions on using your pressure cooker and make some delicious dishes such as Liver Dumpling Soup
  • The Woman’s Club Bake Sale to get recipes for cakes that will impress all those other American Homemakers

Really, the fun never ends!  Even my 1972 edition of “The Joy of Cooking” (first published in 1931) offers directions of cleaning and cooking various game dishes, to include rabbit, squirrel, opossum, bear, raccoon, woodchuck, beaver, peccary, wild boar, venison, moose, and elk.  My favorite part about this section is the drawing showing you how to skin a squirrel.  Notice the shoes – wonder if those are special, squirrel-skinning shoes?  And by the way, you should try to get grey squirrels, rather than red ones; apparently, the red ones are a bit gamey!

skinning a squirrel

Next time your Internet connection is down for several days, your TV is in the shop, your kids and grandkids are out of town, you’re an ocean away from 99% of your friends, and every store in town is closed for the holidays, maybe you, too, can try amusing yourself by looking – really looking – at your cookbooks.

[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 31:  July 13, 2012


Well, you can always buy wine by the bottle, or when you’re in a restaurant, you can also buy it by the glass.  And when you’re in the grocery store, you can buy it in a box.  But now there’s a new way – you can buy wine by the glass in a box.  Yep!  You know how sometimes the airlines serve you fruit juice in a plastic container with a little peel-off lid?  Well, this wine by the glass in a box comes in its very own plastic wine glass, with a little peel-off lid.  And you can buy them four to a box in the grocery store.  Nope!  Not making this up!!  It’s apparently of either UK or American origin, too, as the box is printed in English.  I am curious about one thing, though.  It’s hard enough to remove those peel-off lids from those little fruit juice glasses without spilling the juice; I’m pretty sure that peeling the lids off a thin plastic, stemmed glass will be an even greater challenge.  See? I’m not making this up!


Having had 3 monthly fare cards stolen, I’m now in the business of having to buy fare cards for individual trips.  So, yesterday, when I reached into the tray to retrieve my fare cards (if you buy 4 at a time, you get a little price break), what did I find?  An origami swan!  I rather like the idea of somebody just making these things and putting them in odd places, imagining the smiles finding them will elicit!  Of course, it could just be BVG’s way of saying, “Sorry about that policy of not replacing fare cards when they’re stolen—even when you have a police report of the theft—but here’s this little origami swan.  We hope that makes things better.”


Saw a guy on his bike and it sure looked like he had a shower cap coming out of his butt, with it flapping in the breeze (well, it was the shower cap that was flapping in the breeze, not his butt).  Upon further reflection, it was most likely a cover for a bike seat.  It’s not terribly pleasant, nor very cool, to hop onto a wet bike seat.  Extravagant folks pay about 20 Euros (something between $25 and $30 US) for what looks like a shower cap but is actually a cover for a bike seat.  This guy apparently has his affixed to the seat of his bike so that when he pulls it off to get on his bike, it somehow stays attached to the bike.  Most of the rest of us just use plastic bags, given that they’re readily available, cost only about 25 cents, and the real ones are likely to get stolen.


Over the past couple of days, whenever I’ve tried to speak German, folks have asked me if I’m Dutch.  Alas, being compared to a Dutchman by a German is actually an insult.  However, at least they don’t immediately peg me as an American, which is certainly a step in the right direction.  I wonder if the miraculous improvement in my linguistic abilities has anything to do with my having been severely congested over these few days as the result of the near-lethal levels of pollen?  [Oh, and by the way, the German word for a person from Holland is ‘Nederlander’ – I wonder if having gone to high school in Nederland, Texas, makes me a ‘Nederlander.’]


Just as English often has two (or more) words for the same thing, so does German.  For example, in English, ‘skunk’ and ‘polecat’ mean the same thing.  German also has two words for this animal.  It’s not surprising that one of those words is ‘Skunk’ but I like the other word better because it’s so descriptive—‘Stinktier’ – which translates literally as ‘stink animal’.  How cool is that?  Certainly makes more sense than ‘polecat’, doesn’t it?


 Today I saw another one of those things that makes you go ‘Hmmm….’  It had apparently once been a Christmas tree, judging by its shape and size.  Through some odd set of events, its dry, dead corpse currently finds itself affixed to the top of a light pole, hanging upside down.  One can only begin to imagine the offense it committed to warrant this punishment.  Having invented the Christmas tree, perhaps Germans hold their trees to higher standards that the rest of us and maybe this one just didn’t quite cut it, and was set out to serve as a warning to the others.


Have you ever watched your pet, or your kid, do something [or happen upon evidence of them having done something] that makes you scratch your head and wonder WHY they’d do something like that?  Well, maybe there’s an explanation for all of William’s shenanigans, and perhaps Anna Johnson, Evie Fullingim’s  granddaughter, has figured it out.  Maybe he wants to win some sort of a prize and, in William Logic Land, doing these things will help him accomplish his objective.  It’s as good an explanation as any other!



 I cooked for the first 20 years of our marriage, and then I got tired of it and Harvey more or less took over.  Now it’s my turn again.  I actually love to cook; I just didn’t have the time/energy/interest after working all day.  Now, of course, we’re retired and even though we stay pretty busy (making me wonder how we ever managed to fit in working for all those years), we have much more flexibility in how we manage our time (except for certain bursts of exceptional activity).  Consequently, I’ve gotten interested in cooking again.  More often than not, we have some delightful meals.  The sad part about some of the dishes I cook, however, is that we’ll never be able to have those exact same dishes again because I’ve started to cook pretty much like my Grandmother did – take some of this, stir it in with some of that, add a bit of milk until it looks right, add some more of this until it tastes right, cook it a bit, and serve it with whatever else you have around the house or are in the mood to eat.  So we came up with an idea for an exclusive dining experience.  I could have folks fill out a form where they’re required to tell me:

  • Any food allergies they have
  • Foods they absolutely hate
  • Foods they absolutely love
  • Spices they hate
  • Spices they love

 Then I fix them a surprise dinner within those parameters.  For example, the other night I had these things available:  fish, eggplant, rice, avocados, coriander, olives, lettuce, tomatoes (fresh) and pizza tomatoes (canned – which are fantastic to always have on hand, since they’re chopped, cooked, and have some herbs in them), tortillas, various oils (olive, pumpkin seed), and various spices (in this case, coriander, cumino, turmeric, and chilli pepper).  So I made fish and eggplant burritos!  Even if I make them again, they won’t be the same because I didn’t keep track of the proportions of the ingredients.

 So, welcome to Chez West, where tonight I’ll be serving Jaton’ Surprise #4,913!



[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

Getting Old:  This really sucks—although it certainly provides amusement sometimes.  For example, electricity is monstrously expensive in Europe.  Consequently, we’re doing everything in our energy-wasting little American hearts to use only what we need.  Among other things, that means unplugging appliances when you’re not using them.  [This is made a bit easier than in the U.S. because Germans don’t feel the need to put a clock on every single appliance, so we can unplug the microwave without worrying about a clock.  I think it’s because Germans have an internal clock, which makes having the trains run so precisely on time an easy trick for them.]  We’ve not gone totally nuts (e.g., pulling out the book-case to unplug the lamp or moving the stove to unplug it when we’re not using it).  However, if something is easily reached, we do our best to unplug it.  The toaster and the electric tea kettle are right next to one another on the kitchen counter top.  Their plugs look exactly alike.  On more than one occasion, I’ve plugged in what I thought was the tea kettle and flipped the switch to heat water for tea, only to come back later to discover that the water I’ve poured into my mug is NOT hot because I’ve plugged in the toaster instead.  In an effort to guard against this, I wrote ‘Toaster’ and ‘Water’ in eensie weensie letters on itty-bitty pieces of paper and taped these labels to the fronts of their respective plugs.  Well, guess what?  To fit on the plug, I had to make the letters too small to read easily, making their utility somewhat limited.  NOW I’ve made 2 new labels with big letters – ‘T’ and ‘W’ – and taped them to the plugs.  (However more often than not, I plug in the water kettle to make tea, so I can only hope that I don’t get confused and think that ‘T’ means ‘Tea’ rather than ‘Toaster.’)

Adventures in Cooking:  Many and varied are the challenges to cooking in a foreign country.  Most of my cooking life (50 years, since I consider my first 15 years as my ‘non-cooking’ life), I’ve had electric stoves.  However, in our last house in the States, I had a gas stove and really enjoyed that convenient feature that gas offers – when you turn it on, it’s on immediately; when you turn it off, it’s off immediately.  So, just after I spent 6 years getting used to a gas stove, now I get to unlearn all that stuff and re-learn how to cook with an electric stove.  That challenge is nothing unique to the move to Germany, of course.  What IS a challenge is doing the metric conversion on the oven.  As a consequence, some of our meals have been a tad crunchier than I would have wished.  For example, 250° doesn’t seem so high, does it?  Except, of course, that the formula for conversion is:  [Fahrenheit – 32] X 5/9.  So, 200°  C is equal to about 482° F.  [NOTE TO SELF:  If 250 is the highest temperature on the dial, maybe it’s really, really hot.]

Then, of course, there’s figuring out what stuff is called.  For example, ‘cinnamon’ is ‘Zimt.’  If you’re looking for ‘cinnamon’ alphabetically, it’s really not going to be where you’d expect it to be.  ‘Nutmeg’ is ‘Musskatnuss’ and ‘cloves’ is ‘Nelken.’  And don’t go thinking you’re all that smart and that simply translating something is going to help.  You know the word for ‘blue’ (blau) and you know the word for ‘berry’ (Beeren) so you’re thinking if you ask someone for ‘Blaubeeren’ they’re gonna know that you want blueberries.  WRONG!  It’s ‘Heidelbeeren.’  And, as in the case of ‘Nelken’, don’t go thinking you can look it up in the dictionary (even if you have more than ONE dictionary), because under ‘cloves’ you’ll find a word that describes ‘clove’ as ‘clove of garlic.’

And then comes the challenge of figuring out where to find what you’re looking for.  For example, ‘baking soda.’  Pretty basic ingredient, right?   Germans bake a lot, right?  There’s a little bakery on almost every block.  So, you look for it in the section where all the baking ingredients are.  There’s plenty of ‘Backpulver’ (baking powder) but no ‘Backsoda.’  And you’re not gonna find it.  Know why?  Because you must go to the Apoteke (pharmacy) and ask for ‘sodium bicarbonate’ –  NaHCO.  So give me a break!  I didn’t even take chemistry (but I’ll bet even if I had, I’d never have looked for baking soda at the Apoteke).

And, of course, there’s the ever-popular pseudo-cognate problem.  Yes, they have brown sugar (braun Zucker), but, no, it’s not what Americans think of as brown sugar.  Rather, German brown sugar is like the raw sugar you can get at Starbucks.  What Americans think of as ‘brown sugar’ isn’t to be had in Berlin (or at least, I’ve yet to find it).  So, the price of a night at our flat in Kreuzberg is a box of brown sugar, or even a can of Eagle Brand Evaporated low-fat milk. [BUT I’ve now solved the regular evaporated milk puzzle!  There are lots of Turks in Berlin – more than there are in Istanbul – and Turks use it.  So, now I can get it at the Turkish grocery store.  And I’ve found that Turks eat rice like folks from Southeast Texas eat rice – almost every meal.  So you can get a HUGE bag of rice really cheap at the Turkish grocery store.  God, I love the Turks!!]

I also cracked another code – corn starch – and it’s NOT Maisstarke (word-for-word translation).  It’s Sossbinder (as in ‘Soss’ = ‘sauce’ and ‘binder’ = ‘bind’).  Gotta admit that, in terms of what corn starch does, the Germans have a more descriptive word – it’s something that binds (i.e., thickens) sauce.  And I find it a tad ironic that that the German word for ‘corn’ is ‘Mais’, which is closer to what the folks who first cultivated it call it than what those of us who actually live(d) in the land where it originated call it.  And, interestingly enough, in German ‘Korn’ means ‘grain’ – closer to our word ‘kernel’ (in the sense that both words refer to a more general category of thing (grain) rather than a specific thing (corn).

To further complicate things, directions on packages give some proportions in volume and others in weight, e.g., Use 50 grams of X and .5 liter of milk.  Well, I can handle the ‘.5 liter of milk’ – my good ol’ Pyrex measuring cup has both ounce and liter markings.  But grams???  A gram of rice doesn’t have the same volume as a gram of flour, so how do I know what a gram of each of them looks like?  ARRGGHH!!!

Needless to say, I’ve served some interesting dishes since we’ve been here (not one of which my grandkids will even touch).

Kitchen Aerobics:  We have a typical German kitchen, which is small, with very little room for cabinets.  Specifically, we have 3 long cabinets, 2 short ones (e.g., over the fridge), and 1 drawer.  If you count our island, we have an additional 2 long cabinets and 3 drawers.  [Compare that to our kitchen in Vienna – a pantry, plus 12 long cabinets, 4 short ones, and 8 drawers.]  However, it’s certainly bigger than the kitchen in my very first apartment, when I was making all of $350 a month before taxes ($125 of which was going to rent).  As my lovely daughter-in-law would say, “Es is nicht so schlemm!’  (It is not so bad.)  And, actually, the good folks at Ikea offer some excellent products for making the most of the limited space.

  • The good news is that there’s a huge window at the end of the kitchen and 2 of the 3 kitchen cabinets have glass doors, which increases the visual space.  The bad news is that the window is big enough to fall through and there’s the possibility of banging something against the glass cabinet doors, especially when I’m reaching for something in the back of the cabinet.
  • The good news is that the shelves are deep.  The bad news is that it’s awkward to get to the stuff stored in the back.
  • The good news is that the ceilings are high (13 feet) so there’s lots of vertical space.  The bad news is that, with 13-foot ceilings, even I have to use a small ladder to reach to higher shelves.  I’m continually taking the ladder out (stowed between the sink and the window), and climbing up to get something.
  • The good news is that we also have a large island with a lot of storage underneath.  The bad news is that I have to get down on my hands and knees to reach the things stored in the back of the island. (But first I have to put the ladder up – no room for the ladder when I’m on all fours!)

All this is compounded by the fact that I still have to try to remember where I put stuff.  It’s rarely in the first place I look.  I always have a good reason for deciding where something belongs; it’s just that I don’t always remember that logic when it comes time to use the thing, and so I still have to hunt for it.  Consequently, cooking is an aerobic experience for me—

  • Retrieve the ladder-2-3-4
  • Climb up the ladder-2-3-4
  • Reach for what you want-2-3-4
  • Put it on the counter-2-3-4
  • Climb down the ladder 2-3-4
  • Fold the ladder-2-3-4
  • Stow the ladder-2-3-4
  • Stoop-2-3-4
  • Reach what you want-2-3-4
  • Put it on the counter-2-3-4
  • Repeat ad infinitum.

So I’ve decided to make a video on kitchen aerobics.  Only the music wouldn’t be brisk and perky.  That would be dangerous because I am clumsy and must be very careful and slow, lest I break the glass in the cabinet door and slice off a limb or fall out the window about 13 feet to the concrete in the courtyard (known as the ‘Hof’).   And cutting myself on the glass cabinet door would inevitably cause me to fall out the window.  Therefore, something slow and ponderous would be more appropriate to the glacial speed with which I navigate the kitchen.  I think maybe ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ – which is played at high school graduations everywhere – would be appropriate.   Or maybe Henry Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary in D Major (also known as ‘The Prince of Denmark’s March’) [],  which we used at our wedding instead of the more traditional ‘Wedding March’ from A Midsummer’s Night Dream (aka, ‘Here Comes the Bride’).  I might add that Princess Dianna and Prince Charles also used the Trumpet Voluntary at their wedding (but WE used it FIRST and our union has been a tad more successful than theirs).


How to amaze your grandkids:  Everyone knows kids are brutally honest.  Recently Noe (now 2 weeks shy of 5 years old) had to go to the bathroom while we were in a department store.  Never missing the chance to keep my bladder empty, I decided to use the toilet after he did.  He looked at me in total awe as he said, ‘Grandma, your butt is bigger than the toilet.’  Sad but true……

Fall (or Herbst):  It’s truly lovely.  Our street is lined with ginkgo trees, and they have now turned a gorgeous shade of yellow (or maybe it’s really a golden-rod color), with a hint of chartreuse, or maybe it’s really a light lime-green) – Hell!  I can’t describe it; besides, it changes every day, and is different in the morning than it is in the afternoon.  Just go out looking for a ginkgo tree in the fall and watch it in the morning and afternoon for several days and you’ll know what I mean.

Where AM I and what TIME is it, please??  We recently went back to the States for 13 days.  We could not possibly have chosen a worst time to travel between Europe and the US.  Germany goes off daylight savings time a week before the US does.  So here’s how that worked for our trip.

  • Sunday before we leave:  Germany goes off daylight savings time, so we fall back 1 hour.
  • Three days later, arrive in Houston:  Ordinarily we would have had to fall back 7 hours, but since we had already fallen back 1 hour and the US was still on daylight savings time, we fall back 6 hours.
  • Four days later after we get to Houston:  US goes off daylight savings time, so we fall back another hour.
  • The next day we leave for Portland, OR:  So we fall back 2 more hours.
  • The next day we leave Portland, OR, to come back to Houston:  We had intended to visit my sister and her husband; alas, a few hours before we arrived, they had been transported to a nursing home in Dallas (long story…) so we go forward 2 hours.
  • The next day we drive to Dallas:  Where we managed to track down the runaways and got to spend more time with them than we would have been able to in Oregon.   Blessed Mother of God, NO TIME CHANGE in that trip!
  • 8 days later (and after having returned to Houston yet again):  We finally adapt to Texas time.
  • The next day:  Leave for Berlin (aka, Home, Sweet Home!) and go forward 6 hours.

So you can see why I have no idea what time it is!

Texas remains Unbelievable:  Unless you’ve actually been to Texas, you would think that the things I’m about to list are figments of my imagination.  Indeed I admit to being able to conjure up funny stuff from thin air, but nothing I can dream up comes anywhere near the reality of Texas.  For example:

  • A sign for ‘Fresh Dead Shrimp’ – now that sounds really tasty, doesn’t it?  I mean, shrimp are typically dead when we buy them and when we eat them, but there’s something a bit off‑putting about stating the obvious in this case.  And then there’s the mental contradiction between ‘fresh’ and ‘dead.’
  • Tires for Rent:  Why would you rent tires?  Are you going to get your car inspected and you think the tires won’t pass so you just rent some tires for the inspection?  Maybe you’re going on a long trip and you think your old tires might not make it, so you just want the new tires for the trip?  Maybe your grandkids are coming and you want to make a tire swing for them?  But, wait!  One sign at a tire rental place said, ‘Rent to own.’  Now there’s a thought.  You don’t have the money to buy tires; your credit is no good.  So, you can rent the tires and if you can’t pay them off, you just return them without the stigma of having them repossessed.  (But, wait – if your credit is bad anyway, why do you care?  And why would any business want to take back used tires?)  But apparently there is money to be had in that business because I saw 3 of these places in Houston, and I only went to 2 neighborhoods in Houston (where you can drive 100 miles from one place to another without once leaving the city).
  • 1-800-Lawsuit:  Yep!  Just want to sue somebody but don’t know who or for what?  Just give these folks a call and they’ll give you some ideas to get you started.  Before you know it, you’re suing Jimmy Jack because you had a hangover from the beer he bought for you when the two of you were out drinking and talking nasty last week.
  • Mother Truckers:  Similar to a business in Virginia – Two Guys and a Truck.
  • 1-713-RU HAIRY:  Are you disgustingly hirsute?  Call this number and they’ll point their laser at those nasty hairs for ya!
  • Earthman Resthaven Cemetery:  Fer real!!  Kinda like Amigone Funeral Home in Buffalo, NY.
  • Peckerwood Garden:  Really?  Really?  I don’t know about anywhere else, but in Texas if you call someone a ‘peckerwood’ you’re probably going to have to out-fight him or out-run him.  Is this garden named after a person?  How would someone come to have such a last name in the first place, and if he did, why wouldn’t he change it?  Is it named after a town?  But I went to the URL ( and discovered a possible reason – the creator of the garden is a guy by the name of John Gaston Fairey, so maybe he had something a little different in mind.  Check it out yourself – I’m NOT making this up!
  • Fried pickles:  On a menu at a truck stop on I-45.  Here’s the description:  Pickle chips hand-battered, golden-fried, and served with Ranch dressing or Cajun horseradish sauce for dipping.  Didn’t make this up either.  I wish I had been there when somebody got THAT idea! Imagine being in the room with this guy as he’s sharing his recipe with Julia Child (and it’s gotta be a guy who thought this up; a woman would have served it with a nice honey mustard sauce).  [I have since learned from connoisseurs of fried pickles that they can be scrumptious!!  However, there was some disagreement with respect to whether they are better as chips or spears.  Imagine how that would look in an obituary:  Mrs. Jaton’ West, 113, ailurophile and connoisseur of fried pickles, passed away in her sleep after having realized her lifelong goal of soundly defeating Michael the Scrabble Meister 301 to 300.
  • Restrooms that would make your Mom smile:  Yessiree!  That’s a sign for Buckee’s on I-45 between Dallas and Houston, near Madisonville, TX.  Buckee’s claims to have the best jerky in Texas (whereas Woody’s – also on I-45—claims to be the Jerky Capital of the World).  If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’, when I went into the ladies room at Buckee’s, there was an employee down on her knees scrubbing the floor!  I don’t know if it was coincidence or whether they just hire someone to be on their hands and knees in the restrooms at all times.  And the restrooms were indeed clean.  Further, they had artwork exhibited in them, for sale.  I wonder what criteria they used to decide which pieces went in the ladies room and which went in the men’s room?  Who’s got the job of being the curator for the artwork in the restrooms at Buckee’s?  In addition to jerky, one of the things you can buy at Buckee’s is a Turducken.  That’s a chicken, shoved up into a duck, shoved up into a turkey.  Nope!  Not making this up, either.  Maybe someone will decide to add an ostrich into the mix and call it Osturducken.  It could happen.  Surely somebody in Texas has an oven big enough to accommodate a whole ostrich.
  • Spearmint Rhino:  I came across this website recently.  It was advertised as a ‘gentlemen’s club.’  Who came up with that name?  And how did he come up with it?  What’s it supposed to mean?  Really, if someone just walked up to you and said the words ‘spearmint rhino’ what image would jump into your mind?  Do they have a ‘gentlewomen’s club’ called the Peppermint Python?

 I also saw a few surrealistic things on that long, straight, flat, stretch of road between Houston and Dallas, where there’s more nothing than most folks have ever seen in one place (except for the stretch of road between San Benito, TX, [the southernmost tip of Texas] and Houston, or maybe between anywhere and Amarillo, TX).  One was an armadillo-shaped cloud.  And on at least three occasions I saw trucks with ‘Hamburg Sud’ painted on them.  Indeed there is a ‘Hamburg Sud – North America.’  For a brief moment I thought I was on the Autobahn.

Then the final piece of trivia – on the last stop on our trip, we stayed with friends in Houston, Jan and Hanne.  Hanne had been raised in Berlin, but now lives in Houston.  Harvey and I had been raised near Houston (well, in Texas, within 100 miles is considered ‘near’), but now live in Berlin.  As our friend Jan would say, ‘Don’t it be a wonder?’