In the Kitchen

Holy moly! We only have two days left in Berlin! I knew it would fly by, but I can’t believe it’s the end. We leave for London on Thursday morning and from there head back to Chicago on Saturday. This has been a great experience, but I’m also ready to be to home.

I’ve been slacking a bit on writing with packing and other things, but there are still a few things I want to share with you before we head out.

I want to tell you a little bit about my experience cooking here in Berlin. Over the last few years I have really started to enjoy cooking. Partially because I like to have control over my food, so I can make sure it’s healthy. In Chicago we eat at home most weeknights and we tried to do the same here with pretty good success. I usually search for recipes or go through some of my favorites and menu plan for the week, but it was a little more difficult here. There are certain things that I use at home a lot that are not as available or are more expensive here. For example, tacos. In general Mexican food is hard to come by around here. I don’t think I’ve seen any corn tortillas and definitely no taco seasoning. Avocados are also a little more expensive here and rarely ever ripe. They do not sell lean ground beef, which meant I wasn’t buying it. After I got a better handle on what products I could typically find I was able to plan out our meals a little better.

The other challenge for me was letting go of following recipes step by step. I like rules. I like measuring things. This was a problem here. I could pretty easily convert measurements to the metric system with a little help from Google, but I could not for the life of me find measuring cups or spoons. I went into a kitchen store and the clerk there showed me a large liquid measuring cup and said that was all I had. She also could not make any suggestions as to where I might be able to find measuring cups and spoons. I was very surprised by this. I realize that a lot of cooks don’t measure exactly, but in baking you have to and they bake like crazy here. It made no sense to me, so I Googled. Do you know why they don’t have measuring cups here? They weight everything with a kitchen scale. I learned that this is actually a more exact method and it made sense, but it didn’t make sense for me to buy a kitchen scale. I learned to make due with guesstimating and using regular spoons.

All in all I think everything turned out pretty well and I think I’ve learned to ease up a bet on the exact measuring, as least for cooking. I even made a chicken one night with no recipe at all! Pretty easy I know, but not something I would usually do. (Side Note: This is what happens when you grow up with a mom who reads all posted rules out loud. Love you Mom!) I have also learned that fresh ingredients really do make a difference. Asha has been really into getting whole chickens here and I have yet to buy one that doesn’t have remnants of feathers. They have clearly never been frozen. We all agree that the chicken we have had here tastes even better than home.

I have definitely not abandoned recipes completely and thought I’d share a few that I have made while here and really enjoyed. None of them are German. Sorry. We are over German food for a while. We need a break from schnitzel and wursts!

Roasted Garlic Tomato Lentil Salad (I served this with crumbled feta)

One Skillet Tuscan Chicken

Spicy Thai Kohlrabi Salad (Kohlrabi is very easy to find here. If you can’t find it I think jicama would be a good substitute)

30 Minute Chicken and Cauliflower Curry

Cucumber Noodles, Feta, Arugula, & Onion Salad w/ Red Wine Oregano Vinaigrette

Damn Fine Chicken (I’ve used this with drumsticks, thighs, and a whole chicken)

I guess I should go pack some more. The clock’s tickin’!

Tchüss,

Karla

 

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Surrounded by History

This is not really so much about our experience being here in Germany, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I digress a bit.

I was looking online for a new park to take the girls to on Friday afternoon and came across a small park nearby. I was trying to determine if it had a playground and subsequently discovered a memorial there called “The Deserted Room.” It is a bronze table with two chairs, one lying on the ground. It symbolizes the round up of the Jews during the Nazi regimen.

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One day as we were going off on one of our adventures I noticed a memorial outside the train station, “Trains to Life, Trains to Death.” One side depicts children waiting to be taking to concentration camps and the other children leaving on the kindertransport, a rescue effort lead by England during WWII. I stopped in my tracks because I could not walk away without remembering all those innocent children. I stood there and cried for a minute thinking about it and how I was heading on a train to have fun.

Kindertransport

In Berlin the reality of what happens when people give into fear and allow hate to consume them can smack you in the face when you are least excepting it. It is part of this city. When you see these memorials, portions of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and look up information of a place you want to go and inevitably learn about it’s role during the Nazi regimen you can’t ignore it. In the US it’s something you read about and maybe watch a few videos on in history class. Sure you find it appalling, but it’s history and you move on to the next topic. We talk about slavery and the civil rights movement, but I don’t think we truly acknowledge the full extent of what happened. I don’t think we put it out there and ask citizens to remember.

We have to remember these dark, painful times in history. We have to acknowledge what happened on a regular basis. We have to feel some connection to it or we forgot. Then as they say “we are doomed to repeat.” I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t say what the future holds. What I do know is that I do not like what I’m hearing from people in the US. People in positions of power are saying hateful things about lesbians, transgender, gay, Muslims, and immigrants in general. They are trying to put the blame for “America’s” problems on them and fear mongering people to believe that some “group” is the problem. This is a very slippery slope. One that truly scares me. Now I know some will say that words are taken out of context or that’s not exactly what he/she meant, but it’s all there in one way or another. The hate and fear mongering is there. The question is are we willing to see it? Can we put our political agendas and partisanship aside and really examine what is being said? Are they words that blame others? Are they divisive? Are they words that tear others down?

If they are then I hope you will truly question the individual delivering the message. I hope that we can all look for words that promote love, peace, and hope. This does not mean the messenger is weak, but the exact opposite. Anyone can rally the angry mob to kill the beast, but it takes strength and courage to calm their fears and think of a better solution. Think of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. Far from weak.

Well I could go on and on, but I hope you get my point. I promise to be more light-hearted next time. It’s just impossible for me to be in this place and not remember what happened here.

I hope you’re all enjoying your Monday!

Tchüss,

Karla

Eis and Kuchen and Gebäck, Oh My!

In the words of my dad, you can’t sling a dead cat around here without hitting something sweet. In one block you will pass at least one bakery, bäckerei, three coffee shops with sweet cases, and one ice cream, Eis, stand. They will all also serve coffee, small coffee (I’m still not over it). In Italy it seemed to be more gelato everywhere than baked goods and Austria was pretty much the same as Germany.

Here in Germany there seem to be two types of bakeries, local and chain. Either can be hit or miss. Almost all of the bakeries also have different breads and of course pretzels. We have tried several of the chains Kamps, Steinecke, Ditsch, and Lila. The first three have been pretty good, but some of the best sweets we’ve had have been at cafes. Lila is just not good in my opinion. The bread is ok and the donuts not to bad, but everything else, yuck. There is one right by our house, so Asha asks to stop there sometimes after music class. The girls usually get donuts, but sometimes have veered to other items. Once Asha got a cookie. I tried a bite and actually had to spit it out. I think that was a first for me. If you find yourself in Germany craving something sweet and you see a Lila just keeping walking. A few meters more and you’re bound to find something better.

There are also ice cream stands everywhere. We took the girls for ice cream after dinner on Friday and first place we went to was very picked over. I think they must have been closing soon. No worries we just walked a couple more blocks and had or choice of two more. The ice cream was delicious. The girls had dark chocolate and it did not disappoint. What I love about the ice cream stands is that a small is truly a small. One scoop. Just enough indulgence. At least for me. Don’t worry you can get multiple scoops if you like. They also have frozen yogurt here. It is similar to the tart yogurt you would find at Pinkberry or other frozen yogurt chains, but a little sweeter. I actually prefer it what I’ve tasted in the US. Like in the US, at frozen yogurt shops you can pick toppings. I have only come across a few frozen yogurt shops. One is just a few blocks from our apartment.

What I found interesting is that cupcakes are not something easily found in Berlin. Asha wanted to get cupcakes for my birthday, so I did a little research and only found maybe five places in Berlin that made cupcakes. As I researched further I learned that cupcakes are definitely an American thing. Some people have tried to bring the idea here and a couple shops seem to be quite successful, but the idea has not really taken off like in the US. We found a nice cupcake bakery just a couple train stops from us and went there for Karina’s birthday. The cupcakes were very tasty and again to my delight all minis. We got a little assortment so we could try some different flavors.

I’ve tried not to indulge too much and I have to limit the kids because sometimes I think they could eat sweets all day long. The constant barrage of sugar has helped with my will power.

Now you probably want some chocolate or something, so go treat yourself! 🙂

Tchüss,

Karla

Another Weekend, Another City

This past Saturday we decided to take the train to Hamburg, Germany. Many of Sanjay’s German coworkers were talking it up. We arrived and walked around the warehouse district as this was the closest area to the train station. Hamburg is a major port city, so we were trying to make our way toward the harbor area. Along the way we passed the maritime museum and went in, for Sanjay. To be honest, so far I was not impressed with Hamburg. The harbor seemed ok, but I really wasn’t sure what we were going to do all day. To be fair, we were all suffering from some serious travel fatigue. We have really tried to take advantage of being here, but you can only do so much before it starts to lose its luster and you’re just tired. I know, I know. Boo hoo, poor Karla you have to travel around Europe. I realize this is a good problem to have and I’m very grateful for everything we have been able to do.

We decided to take a boat tour and then head back to Berlin on an earlier train. While walking toward the boat area we got to pass the “true” harbor area and it was pretty cool. If I was near by again, and sans kids, I think I’d give Hamburg another shot. The boat tour was nice and we got to see some cool military ships. Taking the earlier train was actually really great because it was around dinner time. We sat in the dining car so the kids could eat. Which means they were entertained for about half of the train ride. Otherwise we spend most of the time trying to find things to do, like walking up and down the train cars or going to the bathroom. It also meant no late night so the kids were less grouchy.

This was probably our last trip while we are here. There are still a few things here in Berlin that I would like to explore. On Sunday we checked one off my list, the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a portion of the Berlin wall that is still intact and has been turned into a mural wall. I really love how they took a symbol of oppression and a dark period and turned it into something beautiful. It’s a reminder of the past, but also hope for a better future. It demonstrates how something negative can be made positive. Here are just a few of the paintings.

This weekend we are planning to go to Tier Park, another zoo, to celebrate Karina’s 2nd birthday! I can’t believe she will be two!!

Tchüss,

Karla

At the Beach

After looking at the forecast earlier in the week we saw that Sunday was going to be quite warm, 85 degrees, so we decided to go to the lake. There are actually a few lakes not far from Berlin and we decided to go to the most popular Wannsee. It took us about an hour to get there via public transportation which wasn’t too bad. Asha was super excited. That girl loves the beach!

When we arrived there was a line to get in. You have to pay to go to the beach here, but it was very clean. The line moved quickly despite a few Germans cutting the line, as they often do. Asha grabbed the sand toys and Karina made a beeline for the water. Thankfully the water was not freezing cold and remained shallow for quite some distance which made it easy for the kids to play.

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You all may be wondering, was there a nude beach? The answer is yes. Here it is called the FKK Strand. FKK stands for Freikörperkultur, which translates to Free Body Culture. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Would we be walking around and bump into some butt naked dude drinking a beer? Turns out no. The FKK beach is clearly marked and there is a privacy fence, so they can be free from the judgy eyes of those in swimsuits. That is unless you are walking on the boardwalk trying to find a shower to clean the sand off your toddler. You see the boardwalk is slightly elevated and while I could not see much detail I saw enough. I can say the nude beach is not sexy. It is not Victoria Secret and Calvin Klein underwear models. Just everyday folks who want to let it all hang out. Now I have no issues with them going nude as long as we aren’t right next to each other, but I still don’t understand why for 2 reasons. 1. Sand. I mean I wear a swimsuit to the beach and I am covered in sand. How do you manage that whole situation? 2. Sun Burn. I hope those people are regularly lathering on the sun screen because ouch. Sun burn on my back and shoulders hurts bad enough. I can’t imagine “other” places.

While there were no nude adults next to us on the beach there were nude children. I wondered if this might happen as I had been warned that Germans let their kids play nude at the playground in the summer, but I didn’t know. There were several kids not more than 3 feet away from us with nothing on. Well one girl had floaties. It was very uncomfortable. I realize that they are just kids, probably about 4 or a little older, but it just felt wrong. I was also worried that Karina might get a little handsy and I really did not want to deal with that. I think it just felt strange because in the US to see a stranger’s child naked usually means you are engaging in inappropriate, likely perverse behavior. Here a naked body is not sexualized it’s just natural. Asha didn’t even seem to notice as she asked no questions about it and we weren’t going to bring it up. I did caution Sanjay to make sure he didn’t get any naked kids in his photos.

We headed home on the hot train then on to a hot tram back to our hot apartment. I know this is very American of me, but AC people please! Even with the windows open it was uncomfortably hot. Maybe that’s really why everyone is running around naked. We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the backyard drinking rosé while the kids played. It was a nice relaxing day after all the traveling we’ve been doing.

Hope it starting to get summer-like back home!

Tchüss,

Karla

Where Are Your Parents?

I think that some Americans would have a bit of a panic attack as they walked around Berlin and noticed all the children walking the streets or riding their bikes without their parents. I don’t mean the parents are a block behind them. I mean there is literally no one in sight that knows these children. This is German parenting, “free range” as we would label it in the US.

I mentioned in an earlier post that German parents do not hover over their children at the park. Well it doesn’t end there. German parents don’t hover as a general rule. Kids are allowed to walk or ride bikes to and from school, to the park, or to the store and no one bats an eye. They place a high value on learning to be independent and allowing children some freedom.

Today we were walking next to a girl maybe 8 years old who appeared to be walking from school. She was looking around and appeared aware of her surroundings. When she got to the street she came to a full stop and looked both ways before crossing the street. This is also an important part of German parenting. They teach their children early on how to be aware and safe, so that they can do things independently when they are older. I have noticed this when watching German parents with younger children. They allow them to ride bikes or walk beside them, but they make sure that they know to follow traffic signals, look for cars, and watch out for others on the side walk. They give them some freedom, but remain close enough to teach them the rules. Generally in the US when I see a child far from his/her parents riding a bike or scooter I cringe because I have been run into at least twice by said children only to have their parents laugh when they become aware of what happened. This has not happened once in Germany and anytime a child has a lapse in attention and blocks someones path the parents give a “schuldigen,” (excuse me) and remind the child to watch where he/she is going.

Now I don’t want to get into parenting philosophies. As long as you aren’t causing harm to your child or someone else, you do you. I think a big difference is freedom. I hypothesize that I’ve been run into by kids in Chicago because they are only getting small tastes of freedom and feel that they need to take full advantage of every opportunity they get. Which means riding that bike or scooter like a bat out of hell and paying no attention to anyone else. Obviously this is not the whole picture, but I think it is a piece. If you are regularly given freedom and independence then it doesn’t feel like a special privilege, it’s just natural. Now I do think that in order for this to work you do have to be diligent about teaching the “rules” and how to stay safe. You still have to parent.

I like to think that I am somewhere in between hovering and free range. Unfortunately, I tend to lean a little more toward hovering because I worry. I worry about things I can not and never will be able to control. Why? I’m afraid. I think that fear in a big problem in America. Fear mongering is everywhere. You turn on the news and every story is about something negative, you listen to politicians talk about which people pose the biggest threat, you travel to Europe and people ask if you are concerned about a terrorist attack, etc. The media has learned that fear sells and they keep pushing it and we seem to buy it. Myself included.

I want to try and be a little more “free range.” To not give in so much to fear because whether I like it or not things happen. My kids will fall and get hurt even if I am right there trying to prevent it and if I’m always right there I think I’m teaching them to be afraid. I want Asha and Karina to be strong and independent, but for them to get there they are going to have to fail and learn from their failures and mistakes. They need to take some risks and not live in fear. I hope that I can learn a little bit from the German parenting style. That I can give my kids a good foundation and then trust them to be independent, at least to a certain degree. My mom once told me that parenting is learning the art of letting go. It’s a difficult dance, but I really think she is right.

So I’ll be trying to “let go” a little more. Please don’t call DCFS on me! I promise I will do my due diligence before sending my kids off on their own.

Tchüss,

Karla

Budapest

I must admit I was a little reluctant to go to Budapest. It was never a place I had really thought about visiting when I thought of European cities, but I’m so glad we went. It is a beautiful city and the people are very friendly. It isn’t huge so you can see most everything in a couple days. If you want to go I would suggest adding a couple other nearby cities to round out your itinerary.

Anyway we took an early flight on Friday morning and had most of the day there. We decided to go to lunch at Great Market Hall. The first floor is all various produce, bakery, meat, and cheese stands and the second floor has some restaurants and souvenir type items. We had lunch upstairs and sampled some authentic Hungarian cuisine, which was delicious. I am not a huge sausage person, but I think both Sanjay and I agreed that the Hungarian sausages were the best we’ve had since being here. After lunch we went over to Buda. Side note: Budapest was once two cities, Buda and Pest. Buda is the hillier side and Pest is flat. They are separated by the Danube. Moving on. After doing a little research it seemed that we should go to the top of Gellert Hill to get the best view of the city. They fail to mention that it is quite a trek, particularly if you have a stroller, and there are stairs. We pressed on. Karina slept most of the way up and Asha was a real trooper. She climbed all the way up without being carried. She was rewarded with a popsicle at the top. The views were amazing, as promised, so it was worth the haul. Next we walked over to Castle Hill, which was a good 1.5 miles away and involved more stairs, but it was a lovely little area. It reminded me a little of a Tuscan hill town. This is where St. Matthais Church is located. It is a gorgeous church with a color titled roof. There are several buildings in Budapest with these colorful mosaic roofs and they are very pretty. We did get rained on while there, but we made the best of it. We walked back to our hotel and crossed Chain Bridge. We opted to take a cab to dinner after all that walking.

The next day we stayed on the Pest side. We started out at City Park where we had planned to see some of the famous Budapest baths, but as we were walking around we happened upon an old medieval castle that we did not realize was part of the park. There were some people dressed in period attire and some playing traditional folk music. It was very cool, but near the end of the little festival area there appeared to be a carnival, not wanted to get sucked in we quickly turned around. We made our way to the baths and looked around. It was interesting to see, but this particular bath did not seem all that impressive. It was like a giant pool and couple of hot tubs in a beautiful building. We also walked through Heroes Square which has some pretty impressive statues. Next we went to the House of Terror. No this is not a MGM ride. It is a museum showing Hungary’s role in WWII and their subsequent control by the Soviet Union. It was really quite interesting. It didn’t really mean much to the kids, but Sanjay and I enjoyed it. We then went back to our hotel for brunch. We had a reservation in the “Kid’s Corner”. This was the greatest brunch ever! The “Kid’s Corner” was not just activities for the kids, but supervised activities. I actually got to eat a meal and have a real conversation. Amazing! The food was really great too and all the drinks were included. I think it worked out to be about $40 per person and the kids were free! After taking full advantage of the 3 hr brunch, Asha did every single craft available, we went a boat tour. I spent most of the tour walking up and down the back of the boat with Karina, but it was beautiful. The Danube by Budapest is so nice and they have done a great job of building up the waterfront. Most of the well known buildings can all be seen from the river. When we got back we walked over to take a closer look at the parliament building and then went to a “ruin” bar for a quick dinner. We went back to the hotel and grabbed a little dessert in the executive lounge, mostly for the view. The lounge was almost on the top floor and had a large outdoor terrace with fantastic views of the city.

Again I’m very glad we decided to go. I think this goes without saying, but traveling with little kids is a whole different ballgame. These trips we’ve taken here have really been the first sightseeing type vacations we’ve taken with the girls. We have gone to the lake or the beach, but those are much more relaxed. These trips while fun are also tiring and not without tantrums and whining. I have missed the ability to go to a nice dinner and enjoy the nightlife a little, but Sanjay and I will just have to take some solo trips. There is also something to be said for experiencing these things with kids. They have so much excitement and they see things through different eyes. Also we are taking the adventure together, the good, beautiful, bad, and ugly. I know that they won’t really remember doing this, but I will. While I will remember some of the epic tantrums I’ll be able to laugh about them. Mostly I will think about all the time we got to spend together and the amazing things we saw. Even though they will not remember I think it will instill in them a desire to travel and take adventures. I know that having done all of these things we will be less apprehensive about traveling with them in the future. I believe this is the being of a lifetime of exploring the world together and making great memories.

As much fun as it’s been we are taking a little break this weekend because it is tiring. We’ll just be hanging out here in Berlin and taking it easy 😉

Tchüss,

Karla