Friday, December 31, 2010

End of Year Blues

It's been a while since I have posted a family photo on my blog. Dwelling too much on the past can sometimes really bring you down, you know. So I stopped for a while. But I thought I'd share this wonderful oldie with you. In this picture you can see 5 German fellows in their World War I uniforms. The tall guy, in the top row on the far left side, is my grandpa Emil Seckler. What an odd picture. Five guys practically hugging a mortar shell. In front of the big phallus shaped bomb is a German sign. In the English translation it reads: Who knows if we shall see each other again. This picture was sent as a postcard (Feldpostkarte) to the family at home from the scene of the action.

I honestly thought about sending it out as a Christmas card to my family this year. Why? I have not been back to the Vaterland for over 5 years - since I went back to bury my dad. The family is getting a bit tired of my excuses. Mostly it's the money thing...We just have not been able to save the $10,000 it would cost to fly our little family over to Europe. What? That much? Yup the car rental, tickets, hotels and this and that for a family of four. Who can afford it in times like this? So here I am again at the end of 2010 making excuses to my family back home.

New Year resolutions seem so silly. What is a New Year's resolution anyways? I guess I did have some at the end of last year. Ahem, like "must visit family in Germany" this year. Another one of them was to get physically fitter, go exercise at least three times a week. I suppose I succeeded in that respect. I worked out hard each week, except for the month when I broke my butt and had to go bury another family member, in the US this time. Definitely not a highlight of my year. All the other resolutions sort of fell by the wayside. I can barely remember what they were. I guess I could check on my blog here, where I made a list with of them. LOL

Forget it! There are quite a few things I want to improve and change in my life. But maybe instead of making huge plans and having a list of resolutions it would be better to just take things on one day at a time. Maybe it's better to work on the small things that need improvement - one thing at a time than to have these huge goals that seem so far out of reach.

Germany I am saving my pennies! I swear I will make it home in 2011!

Happy New Year to all of you lovely people who have followed my blog, customers, friends, Etsy teammates, and random strangers who have dropped in to read and comment on my immigrant journey! Thanks for laughing and crying with me in 2010! Hope to see you here in 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Healthy Salad...

I don't know about you, but over here it's about high time to lay off the sugar and get the family back on the right track after all the Christmas snacking and unhealthy eating that comes with the season. New Year is coming and with it the resolutions - plans to lose those extra pounds we put on... So if you need a recipe that is both healthy and loved by children try this one:

You need only a few items:

  • carrots
  • apples
  • raisins
  • chopped nuts or almonds
  • lemon juice
  • honey
  • apple cider vinegar
  • vegetable oil
  • pepper and salt

I am not giving any measurements here. Our kids love this salad which is commonly known as a "Rohkostsalat" = in translation raw foods salad - in Germany. They make it on their own by just throwing the above ingredients together as they please...

Of course, the apples and carrots need to be washed, peeled, and grated. But once that is done, it's just up to the chef to add other things. Throw in a couple of handfuls of chopped nuts. If you love raisins, like we do, put in a few tablespoons of those. Add a bit of lemon juice to keep the apples from turning brown and some honey for sweetening.

This salad makes a lovely snack or refreshing side dish for any occasion! Best of all: you can tell the kids to make it on their own! That is, if they are old enough to use a peeler and grating tool!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christstollen Part II

Are your READY? First you may want to ask yourself: Do I really have time for this project, in the midst of the Christmas insanity, in the middle of writing & mailing out cards, buying & wrapping gifts, taking your kids to Christmas concerts and Nutcracker performances? Are you sure about this?

Well, if your answer is "Yes", you should start shopping for these items now! Might take you a while to scout for the ingredients:

For >>the<< recipe you need:

  • 1 kg flour

  • 450 g butter

  • 1/2 liter warm milk

  • 200 g sugar

  • 100 g of fresh yeast (ca. 5 tsp of dry yeast)

  • 10 g salt

  • spices: 1 tsp each of ginger powder, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg

  • pinch of ground cloves

  • zest of one lemon

  • 100 ml rum (whenever I am not looking my husband adds more to the bowl...)

  • 500 g raisins

  • 150 g corinths (small kind of raisins, I found them at Sprouts)

  • 200 g almond flour

  • 150 g candied lemon peel

  • 150 g candied orange peel

  • logs of marzipan, if you are feeling rich buy 2-3 (You know they keep that stuff hidden in the baking section at the grocery store, I swear. Usually I find it behind a display of some sort on the bottom of some shelves...Make sure you squeeze the package to ensure its freshness. If the paste inside the cardboard and wrapper are rock hard and won't give, don't purchase! Grab the next package and repeat till you find one that is squeezable. Sorry, but I came home many a time with old marzipan. I guess not too many people buy that stuff)

  • 100 g butter

  • powdered sugar

  • Vanilla sugar ( impossible to find in this nation - find a long lost relative in Germany and have them mail it to you!)

Step 1 Put raisins, corinths, chopped candied citrus fruit peel, almond flour, rum, lemon zest in a bowl and soak over night or for a longer time in the refrigerator. Monitor husband and bottle of rum closely!

Step 2 Make the pre-dough. put flour in a bowl and make a little well. In the well put a few tablespoons of lukewarm milk mixed with the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Stir taking small amounts of the flour from the side of your well. Cover with a dusting of flour, put a towel over the bowl, and let it rest in a warm non-drafty place ( are you kiddin' me? there is no non-drafty place when you live in an old house ) for 45 minutes. During that time you can work on those last Christmas cards for the uncle and aunt in Germany you forgot...

Step 3 Go back to your dough and see if any rising action took place. If not, write more cards or wrap another gift. Maybe you could mail that last package to a customer. By now the lines at the post office might be too long.But you got time! If the dough has risen, once you return from your errant, add the rest of the warm milk, spices, butter, sugar, and mix all of in with the flour. You know the real German Hausfrau has big arms from doing this. It's hard labor to move these mountains of stuff and kneed them together. Luckily I own a kitchen aid. My scrawny arms could never manage this. So hopefully you have one of those miracle tools, too! Once everything is nicely mixed together into a sticky ball of dough, let it sit and rise for another hour. During that time you could run out and buy another gift for your husband. If he is deserving...

Step 4 Hopefully you have removed the soaking fruits from the refrigerator - so the warm yeasty dough doesn't suffer too much of a shock from the cold fruit mixture! Your bowl is probably too full already. But you can take out batches of the dough and kneed in the fruit mixture by hand. I like to do it that way because you get a feel for how sticky the dough is. Maybe you want to add some more flour...

Step 5 Make loaves. Split the dough into parts, depending on how many loaves you want to make. I usually make one larger loaf and two small ones. But you can do whatever you want. Roll out the first batch of dough flat. Take the marzipan log out of its package, sprinkle some powdered sugar on your workspace and roll out the marzipan as flat as you can. Move the marzipan over on top of your rolled out yeasty dough pieces and roll the two layers together. Sort of like making a jelly roll. Shape the roll into a nice loaf and place onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Start working on the next loaf. You can bake more than one loaf on a cookie sheet! Put towel over the finished loaves and set them in warm place to rise again! Is it Christmas yet? =)

Step 6 I promise you are almost there...Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit while the loaves are rising once again. Bake them until they are cooked all the way through. Now this is the tricky part. In case you thought the rest was hard... Maybe it's living at high altitude that messes me up each year. Sometime I end up with loaves that are way too dry. Other times they are still sticky despite the fact that I stuck in a knitting needle and tested them. It's really kind of hit or miss. I have baked them for 35 -45 minutes. But I am hoping some day mine will turn out as perfect as my mother's. Sigh!

Step 7 It's the last one I promise, honestly! As soon as the loaves come out of the oven brush the hot loaves with melted butter and sprinkle with vanilla and powdered sugar. Does it look like baby Jesus in his swaddling cloths? Good job! Once they have cooled down wrap the precious loaves tightly, put a bow on them, and give them to a person who has been good to you all year. Or feed them to the family right then! They are probably tired of waiting around for you since you spent most of the day in the kitchen...

So sorry for another long post. But I warned you, right!

If you really should endeavor to make some Stollen, please, let me know how they turned out! I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christstollen - The Oldest German Christmas Delicacy!

Ever heard of Christstollen? It's only the oldest German Christmas sweet around. What is it?
Here is a quote from Wikipedia. In case you ever wondered why reformation was inevitable. You know it was not about religion - but about butter, really! =)

"The old name Striezel came from Strüzel or Stroczel, "awaken" (Old Prussian: troskeilis), which came to mean "early-baked loaf of bread". The shape of the cake was originally meant to represent the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes.[6]

The early Stollen was a different pastry, the ingredients were very different - flour, oats and water.[7]

As a Christmas pastry, Stollen was baked for the first time at the Saxon Royal Court in 1427,[8] and was made with flour, yeast, oil and water.

The Advent season was a time of fasting, and bakers were not allowed to use butter, only oil, and the cake was tasteless and hard.[4]

In the 15th century, in medieval Saxony (a region in the eastern part of Germany, north of Bavaria and south of Brandenburg), the Prince Elector Ernst (1441 - 1486) and his brother Duke Albrecht (1443 –1500) decided to remedy this by writing to the Pope in Rome. The Saxon bakers needed to use butter, as oil in Saxony was expensive and hard to come by, and had to be made from turnips, which was unhealthy.

Pope Nicholas V (1397 – 1455), in 1450 denied the first appeal. Five popes died until finally, Pope Innocent VIII, (1432 – 1492) [8] in 1490 sent a letter to the Prince, known as the "Butter-Letter" which granted the use of butter (without having to pay a fine) - but only for the Prince-Elector and his family and household.

Others were also permitted to use butter, but with the condition of having to pay annually 1/20th of a gold Gulden to support the building of the Freiburg Minster. The ban on butter was removed when Saxony became Protestant.

Over the centuries, the cake changed from being a simple, fairly tasteless "bread" to a sweeter cake with richer ingredients, such as marzipan, although the traditional Stollen is not as sweet, light and airy as the copies made around the world."

During Advent I like to bake a few batches of Stollen loaves to give to some special people who have made my life better over the year.

It usually takes me a whole day to bake a couple of loaves, since there are so many steps involved. As we say in German: Gut' Ding will Weile haben!" In translation: All good things take time. Stollen are made with yeast. Yeast means rising time. Rising means waiting. It's a good way to celebrate Advent. After all it's about waiting, right? There are so many different steps involved. I was going to post a recipe here. But since this post is so lengthy already I shall have to make you wait. It's Advent after all! LOL

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Artfire - I don't get it...

Okay, so I have been on Artfire since October this year. I mean seriously, that's when I opened a Pro account. Before that I had a regular account but never visited much. There was all the hype about locking into the $5.95 deal back then. Now I have been there as a pro for almost 3 months.
How in the world does one get sales on that site? I just can't figure it out.

1. I transfered all - or most of my Etsy items there
2. I offered them for less money than on my Etsy site
3. I checked in daily
4. I tweeted and facebooked about it
5. I kept getting featured in tons of collections, heck I even made it to the frontpage one day.

Still NADA. What is the secrete of that site? I just don't get it.
Meanwhile I have sales on Etsy every day....I should be happy. Looks like my eggs will have to remain in that one "etsybasket" ... I'd be glad for any advice...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Of Unsung Heroes...

Sorry for not being around much lately! It's the time of year when all of us can hardly get a breather. Who has the time to write and read blogs anyways? Between making and shipping last orders for my doll shop, I had to run my daughter to The Nutcracker dress rehearsals and performances.

I am exhausted. The late nights have taken a toll on the whole family. We are all kind of grumpy around here... Well, we did it again: We survived another Nutcracker! By "we" I mean us moms. We are kind of the unsung heroes of that show. I'm not certain how many hours of woman power go into driving the kids around, waiting for them at practice, shopping for beauty supplies and those pesky pink tights that always appear to get holes at the most inconvenient time, braiding hair, doing the job of a professional make-up artists, providing drinks, snacks, and wholesome meals on the run, keeping the little divas entertained and in line while waiting to go on stage...

Each year the questions pertains: How and why do we do this?


Because it's so amazing when we get to see our kids' happy glowing faces before they go on stage each night. Because we love to soak in the sparkling beauty of the over 100 dancers from our community in their bright colored costumes. Because we feel that maybe part of that applause we can hear, back behind the scenes, is meant for us. Because, despite the unseasonable warm weather and the missing snow, we feel like Christmas is finally here!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Impressions from the 36th German Songfest At Our Savior's Lutheran Church

Christmas is all about tradition. Germans in the Old and New World love traditions. So today I am sharing with you some impressions from the the 36th German Songfest hosted by our church family each year in early December. Our family has attended Our Savior's Lutheran Church for 8 years. In fact, it was this celebration, in part, that brought me to this church. Over a 100 people of German heritage come from far and near each year to eat German Kuchen, listen to German music, and sing Christmas carols in the German language.

Going to the songfest is a bittersweet event for me. It's encouraging to me, as a modern day German immigrant, to find that even after living here for many generations, people still celebrate and cherish their German roots.

Yet being there, makes me miss Germany as intensely as ever. It's almost as if this little taste of what used to be, makes me yearn for the real thing: The German Christkindl'markets, Lebkuchen, the language, and of course, most of all my family, and the people I have not seen in 5 years. It's hard to believe, but it's been over 5 years since I last went back to Germany.

The cakes made by the old church ladies are as sweet and as good as any German grandma's. But I've never had the heart to tell people at my church that Germans serve Christmas cookies and Christstollen around this time of year...

The little band made up of two accordions and a dulcimer was awesome. What seems missing is the children singing, doing solos on recorders, and reciting poetry, and the standard visit of Saint Nikolaus at such Christmas celebrations in Germany...While the songfest went on, most of the kids had Sunday school. Only a few stragglers, including my kids and the youth group, serving the cake, attended the German fest. Is it mostly a party for old people? A party for the nostalgic? The oldest person was 95.

This year our church had a speaker who came dressed up as Martin Luther. Quoting from Luther sermons, he warned us about the dangers of gluttony - eating and drinking too much around this time of year. Ah, some lessons though hundreds of years past - never get old!

Don't get me wrong! I love my little family, and I really appreciate my American church family. I find the rituals comforting and soothing to the soul. But with each year that passes, I also realize the things I have lost. Is that how this tradition got started maybe? As a way to remember things lost.

Such is the plight of the German immigrant old and new. So I keep saving my pennies in the hope that maybe next year I'll be able to celebrate Christmas in Germany once more.