Culture, Food

Weihnachtsmarkt / Christmas Market

The temperatures dropped suddenly this past week here in Pittsburgh, but the cold didn’t keep us from venturing out in the name of fun! On Saturday we bundled up and ventured to Harmony, a historic town founded by German settlers in 1804 for their German Christmas Market.

I enjoyed seeing German culture alive and well in the form of dress, music, food, and crafts. We saw several people in Trachten and they looked wonderful. My boys danced to traditional music and feasted on pretzels, and we saw wonderful handicrafts created by very talented people. Two large horses pulled a wagon up and down the street and the boys watched in amazement. A jolly Santa greeted our boys and asked what they wanted for Christmas. Finally, we waited in line for the most amazing cookies from The Two Fraus Bakery – their lebkuchen is SO GOOD!!!! I will definitely be returning to purchase more of their goodies.

One of my best memories of Germany is when my family visited the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt – it was simply magical, with amazing food and crafts. In the middle of it, huge snowflakes began to fall; the entire experience left quite an impression on us, especially my mom, who still raves about it. I hope to go back some day to share it with my boys!

 

Culture, Food

Spätzle

If you’ve never had freshly made Spätzle, you are really missing out. A common side dish in German cooking, these delightful little dumpling-like noodles are easier to make than one might think.  The key is to having a gadget that will save you a lot of time – my great grandma used to plonk her batter on a cutting board and then use a knife to cut each noodle into the water! Talk about hard work!!! Some recipes call for nutmeg, but I prefer to leave it out. The good basic recipe is to combine 4 eggs, 1/3 C milk, 2 tsp salt, and 2 C flour – then you drop it into a pot of boiling water and cook it until it floats to the top, sort of like gnocchi 😉 Don’t forget to slather it in butter.

I topped my spaetzle with slow-cooker pulled pork with apples, and it made the perfect dinner for a Fall evening 🙂

spaetzle
Mmm lecker!

Several German restaurants in Pittsburgh serve spaetzle, and the Hofbrauhaus has a decent version which I of course ate on the first day of their Oktoberfest celebration. Here I am with my girlfriends, and some of our hubbies. We had a lot of fun that night and drank some delicious beer!

Clothing, Culture, Food

Vorbereitungen für Oktoberfest / Getting Ready for Oktoberfest

We are heading into my favorite time of year – FALL! I am a fan of sweater weather, pumpkin foods, and the gorgeous Pennsylvania foliage.  Part of what makes this season so great is that it provides the perfect weather for Oktoberfest celebrations, and I am really looking forward to partying with my friends this weekend down at the Pittsburgh Hofbräuhaus.

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You don’t need to speak German or wear traditional clothing to enjoy Oktoberfest, but it sure doesn’t hurt! I am lucky to own a dirndl that I love and still fits me even after popping out twin boys, and I can’t wait to wear it. My loving husband does not currently own lederhosen, but he gets in the spirit by wearing a blue and white checkered shirt, reminiscent of the Bavarian flag.  Our boys have outgrown their lederhosen so I will be searching for replacements soon because they look so stinking cute in ones like these <3

I wish you all a very happy and healthy Oktoberfest, and make sure to keep well fed and hydrated in between Maß. PROST!!!

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Clothing, Culture

5 Things You Need to Know About TRACHTEN

1. The term “Tracht” refers to traditional garments worn in German-speaking countries. Every region has their own version of dress, and some occupations do as well (nurses, carpenters, religious orders).


2. Trachten is still worn and enjoyed by many people, especially in southern Germany (Bavaria) and Austria. 


3. People wear Trachten to religious celebrations, weddings, holidays, and any day the biergarten is open!


4. There is Trachten for every budget, and every occasion – some people even choose to be married in it <3


5. Wearing Trachten is a great way to celebrate your heritage and it looks great on every body type!



Culture

Dolls / Puppen

My Oma began a wonderful tradition with her grandchildren that my mother has chosen to carry on now with my boys.  Oma purchased a little Puppe (doll) at the birth of each of her grandchildren and kept the dolls in a large corner hutch in her kitchen. Each doll had a basket into which sweets were placed, so when we visited we always knew to check and see what our doll had for us! Being the first grandchild, my doll is the oldest and most interesting. His name is Robertle, and he was made by the famous Kaethe Kruse company. I love his delicate features and sweet outfit, but my husband finds him a bit creepy for some reason…not sure why as his mother collected many dolls from around the world! Now that I am grown, Robertle lives in our dining room hutch 🙂


When my boys go to my mom’s house, they visit their own matching dollies, in search of chocolate.

One of my favorite toys from my childhood is my American Girl doll. If you are lucky enough to have owned or played with one, you’ll know that these are very special dolls. Beautifully detailed and robustly built, the core collection of dolls all come with a back story and their own series of books. My maternal grandmother purchased the ‘Kirsten’ doll for me when I was born and saved her for me until I was old enough. Having a doll with the same rather uncommon name meant a lot to me growing up, but her origin story impacted me even more.


Kirsten Larson’s fictional journey as a Swedish immigrant to America taught me very real lessons. I came to recognize the courage and determination that my Oma needed when she came over from Germany at only 17. The power of friendship and the sorrow of loss were explained to me for the first time. And the strong work ethic and independence expected of the main character reflected the way I was raised by of my own family.

Did you have a special doll growing up? Have you ever been greated by a doll bearing sweets?

Food

Gurkensalat / Cucumber Salad

One of my favorite summertime foods is cucumber salad, or as the Germans call it, Gurkensalat. I learned to make the creamy version from my Oma Ellen and Tante Vivian. If you love dill, then this recipe is for you! It is best made with the fresh stuff, or frozen dill if you’ve got it.

  • 1 large cucumber (I used English), sliced
  • 1/4 cup Thinly sliced red onion (optional)
  • About 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 large sprigs dill, chopped
  • 1 to 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Sugar to taste
  • Salt – regular or kosher

The cucumber needs to give up some of its water, so after you slice it you’ll want to sprinkle it with a decent amount of salt and leave it to sit in a strainer over a bowl for at least an hour. Discard the water before mixing the cucumber with the sauce.


To do the sauce, combine the yogurt, dill, vinegar, and just a bit of sugar. Make sure you taste it and then let the flavors blend in the fridge while the cucumber sweats.


Combine and enjoy! This is best eaten day-of, and if you add onions make sure you eat it within 3 days. Because it is so refreshing, I like to pair it with a juicy, well-seasoned steak or spicy chicken.

Culture, Food

Trautes Heim, Glück allein / Home Sweet Home

We are back from our adventure! And while it was a fabulous visit filled with family, friends, and fun, I am glad to be sleeping in my own bed again.  And also the tiny twin beds of my boys, because travel means wacko sleep patterns and giving in to toddler demands that you snuggle with them until they (and oftentimes you) fall asleep.  I was actually awoken this morning at 2 am by the sensation of being gently crushed by my son’s 40 lb body after he snuck in and crawled in the middle to sleep.  It’s moments like this that are always more precious after the fact 😛

Highlights of our trip include:

  • Seeing Grandpa, Auntie and Uncle, Cousins, and Best Friend. In miraculously good weather!
  • Visiting many awesome playgrounds and Thomas Land, the most well-run and kid-friendly amusement park in all of history (probably)
  • Pigging out on fish and chips (french fries), cheddar and onion crisps (chips), M&S chocolate mini bites, and so. much. CAKE.
  • Drinking refreshing cider ON TAP and German coffee on the plane (I kid you not, it was GOOD)
  • Our stay at the Frankfurt Airport Hilton Hotel – so new, so clean, so modern.  I ordered Frankfurter sausages from room service and they were delicious!
  •  Introducing our kids to the strange realm that is England – they were so confused by driving on the “wrong side of the road” – kids’ words, not mine! lol
  • Watching the kids try real Brezeln for the first time (they loved them, of course!!)

 

Overall, our trip was successful, but there were some painful bits brought on by organizational incompetency. We flew directly from Pittsburgh to Frankfurt on Condor Airlines, the slightly disappointing younger sibling of Lufthansa. They began offering this flight two weeks ago, and while the food was great, service was friendly, and they even provided activities for the kids, they definitely were in “soft open” mode. Our flight over was delayed because they didn’t have the right paperwork, and our flight home left from Terminal C, which is truly the shittiest section of Frankfurt Airport. It is cut off from the larger, newer, and more interesting terminals – a fact which we didn’t realize until after we’d gone through security. We had promised the boys a playground, and not being able to provide one, we paid for it BIG TIME. If you don’t have kids, imagine trying to catch a crafty, small dog. On speed.

All said, I enjoyed our trip massively and feel so blessed to have been able to visit England and Germany, even if only for a bit 🙂

Culture

Wanderlust

A few nights ago I had a dream that I was traveling through Britain and Europe, exploring and having fun with my family – just before I woke up I saw a SPAR across the road and was very excited to go shopping!! lol

It makes sense that I am experiencing Wanderlust (a strong desire to travel) because we will soon be traveling to England to visit our British side of the family!!  I am really looking forward to taking the boys with us on this trip. Even though toddlers can make horrible travelers, I want to share this other world with them that I love so much.  Fish and chips, public transport, the English countryside, chocolate digestive biscuits!!! The British, like us Americans, are having a rough time right now, with political strife and hateful violent acts – so we are coming to spread the love with our adorable children in tow!

We will be passing through Frankfurt and have almost an entire day there on our return trip. Naturally I have already looked at what sorts of shops the airport has, and it looks like they have some great stuff (Birkenstock!). And plenty of playgrounds for the boys 😉

Sadly, there is no Trachten store in Frankfurt airport, but I found one called Lilo-Trachten that looks great and is only 15 minutes away by car…I hope a quick visit can happen, fingers crossed!

Growing up, my sister and I were very lucky to visit our relatives in Germany many times. Our travels sometimes involved running through airports, trying strange new foods, and learning what to do and what NOT to do – and it was all worth it, even the not-so-nice parts. Through exploring other countries we learned about ourselves and grew closer to one another by stepping outside our culture. Humility comes when you’re trying to communicate with a stranger, in German, or apologize to your host for blowing a fuse with your American hairdryer (mom did it!). I have never enjoyed food and drink more than after a long hike through the Schwartzwald or a swim in the Chiemsee.  Experiences that teach us new things about our world, our lives, and our loves are what make life worth living. And that is why, even though I will be trapped in an airplane with two toddlers for hours, I am still very excited for our trip 😀 Prayers for safe and sane travel are appreciated!

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Culture

Why German is the Best / Warum Deutsch ist die Beste

My brain prefers English and German over all other languages. If English is my mother tongue, then Deutsch is my best friend. Yes, the German language often trips me up or frustrates me – usually it’s something grammatical and irritating – but there is so much to love about German.  In addition to the many cognates that exist, some German words are cuter, sweeter, and funnier than their English translations.  “Hedgehog” becomes “Igel” which I feel better describes the animal’s adorableness. And naturally “gloves” are “handschuhe” – literally “hand shoes”! It just makes sense… 😉

In German, if something is little or cutesy you can add “-chen” on the end of it. A kitten is a “Kätzchen” or “little cat”.  One might call a sweet little kid a “Mäuschen”, or little mouse.

German also has it’s fair share of great onomatopoeia, like “Schluck” for sip, as in taking a drink. Instead of saying “shh” if you are trying to quite someone, Germans go for a harsher version that sounds like “bst”…makes me wonder if their librarians are more effective?

Finally, there are some words in every language that describe a human experience or worldly object for which there is no direct translation. My favorite German examples include: “Schadenfreude” – joy gained from other’s misery or misfortune; “genau” – a combination of concurring and correctness; and “Kuddelmuddel” – a mess, chaos, a nicer way of saying clusterf@$%.

If your German is rusty and you’d like some practice, there are a lot of great technologies available to help you practice and learn that go beyond the old audio tapes.  If you’d like to talk to a real person and get help along the way, WeSpeke is a great way to begin. Another fun app is Duolingo – both companies started here in Pittsburgh!!! Which just goes to show that us yinzers are proud of our multicultural heritage 😀

The final reason I love knowing German is because every time there’s a bad guy in a movie who is inevitably typecast to be German, I know what he or she is really saying. Often, the English translation is not spot-on and knowing that makes me feel smart!

Clothing

Dirndl bodice trial-run / Dirndl-Mieder-Testlauf

While I am not surprised that preparation of my dirndl pattern took me a long time, I must admit that I am getting nervous about the amount of work it is going to take before I have a completed dress! I have cut out the basic bodice pieces in plain white cotton in order to practice sewing them together and see how the fit feels before I take the plunge and cut up my good fabric.  Yes, this is an extra step that is taking up time, but I’m glad I’ve decided to do it because trouble has already arisen in the form of a princess seam.  You’re only trying to sew two very differently shaped pieces of fabric together to form a perfect 3D curve, why should that be hard? SMH well, it’s a good thing we have talented sewers in the family from whom I can get advice! I’ll share the solution with you once I know what it is…Here’s a pic of the front without the back sewn on yet – slow and steady wins the race, folks!

dirndl muslin pic

Something that made me smile today was when my man showed me this wonderful inflatable pretzel on sale now at Toys’R’Us…only $10! I feel an intense need to go buy one, and we don’t even own a pool!

inflatable pretzel