31 October 2010

What I am reading: October 2010

  1. Blameless by Gail Carriger: The third in Carriger's Steampunk paranormal series (others reviewed here). Alexia has been cast aside by her husband, as he believes her unfaithful.However, others may not agree and may find the child of a werewolf and a soulless to be of frightening concern. We get a real look into life outside the progressive area (where paranormals are accepted and have legal rights) and see how Italy and the Templars might have worked within the framework of "soul" and its abundance or lack thereof allowing the cheating of death (and G-d's will) through becoming paranormal.(DT)
  2. Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews: As I mentioned last time I talked about Ilona Andrews' books, I enjoy her (their: husband and wife writing team) more each time I read another book: their writing never disappoints. This is the second in the The Edge series and I liked the characters and the world just as much.(DT)
  3. Scrub-a-Dub Dead by Barbara Colley: I've been reading this mystery series on and off for years through my mother's loans and I think they have been getting better: the writing that is. The protagonist is Charlotte, the older single mom of a 40 year old doctor. She runs a cleaning service in the Garden District area of New Orleans, where she and her family have always lived. This one takes place after Katrina, and there are mentions of the trauma and the damage, but it's basically a genre mystery.(DT)
  4. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (DT) This is a re-read. Sometimes, when I feel myself confronting my own mortality and that of those I care for, it is calming to read through someone else's progression through survival.
  5. Frostbitten by Kelley Armstrong: I'm pulling HC books out of the shelves to pack away for more space: never an easy project. So I too the opportunity to reread this. It's an adventure of Elena Michaels, first seen in Bitten, and her husband Clay. The other regular characters make brief appearances (although I would have enjoyed more time with their unusually precocious twins) but the book concentrates on exploring their relationship and a deeper understanding of their past while being action oriented and using the medium of a hunt for Mutts (unaffiliated werewolves) in Alaska as the vehicle. (DT)
  6. Death by the Light of the Moon (1992 #7)
  7. Poisoned Pins (1993 #8)
  8. The Goodbye Body (2005 #15)
  9. Damsels in Distress (2007 #16)by Joan Hess: I avoided Joan Hess for years because I had tried her Maggody series and didn't enjoy it. However, while I was rereading the Teagarden books (below), Aurora kept mentioning Hess (they both live in Arkansas- I'd guess they are friends in real life). Serendipitously, the last box of my mother's mysteries that I sent to myself included these 4 books and I liked them very much. I always enjoy books with booksellers as protagonists and when I was younger often dreamed of living a subsistence existence (but enjoying myself) as a book store owner (I think the Internet has really destroyed that dream). Claire Malloy is a bit tougher emotionally than I am, but considering she is a widow (and how she was widowed) and supporting a sarcastic teenager as a bookseller, perhaps that's understandable. And we seem to have sarcasm and some reading tastes in common:). I was particularly amused by DiD and its biting portrayal of the SCA (here, as ARSE). I'll be asking Mom if she has the others in stock as it looks like Claire will finally be getting married, after all these years procrastinating, and what could be better than a honeymoon in Egypt? (DTM)
  10. Feint of Art by Hailey Lind: Annie Kincaid is a talented artist. Unfortunately a grandfather who is a famous forger, and who "brought her" publicly, into the business when she was a child (unknown to her parents) had destroyed her promising career and she has been reduced to a faux finish business. Interesting story, sets up a love triangle with her new landlord (who has a security business specializing in art) and a man who seems to be an art thief. Fun read. (DTM)
  11. Three Bedrooms, One Corpse (Aurora Teagarden #3)
  12. Last Scene Alive (Aurora Teagarden #7)by Charlaine Harris: After reading the last Sookie Stackhouse I remembered how much more I liked Hariss' other books. If mom doesn't have the others, I'll buy these (again) on Kindle to reread the story of a librarian and her quite interesting experiences (love those bookseller/librarian/publisher mysteries).(DTM)
  13. Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold: I bought this as soon as it was available, read it and greatly enjoyed it. Is this the end of the Vorkosigan saga? I very much hope not. I've followed Miles since his "birth" and the stages of life and traumas that he has gone through have always, in a strange way, resonated. Let's put that to Bujold's wonderful writing.(B)
  14. Whack 'n' Roll by Gail Oust: The start of a new series about a group of (mostly retired, mostly over 60) women who live in a planned active retirement community in South Carolina. They seem pretty happy, (unlike my friend who does not enjoy her S.C. life and is waiting for her oldest to graduate HS before fleeing back North) and are joined by a love of either golf or bunco, a dice game. The protagonist, Kate McCall, is extremely nosy and enamored of CSI and such shows, so when a body part turns up on the golf course, she can't leave it to the sheriff. The next one will be out soon and I'll probably borrow it from mom: it's a bit weak but I can see it might develop well. (DTM)

The (M) stands for Mobipocket (the generic form of the file that Kindle Reads) as well as AZW and PRC, the other forms readable by Kindle. Let's leave DT as Dead Tree books. (And perhaps I should add M for books borrowed from my mother:).)I think it's clear what percentage of my reading is becoming e-format. The vast majority are also free, either as public domain or as promotional offers through Amazon and the other online sources I frequent. B stands for Baen, the best of the on-line stores by so many orders of magnitude there is no comparison.

What I've been doing for the last month:Halloween

The holiday that we miss the most is Halloween.

Halloween in our old home is one of T1's favorite memories: our small area was a mecca for trick or treaters, with a large number of the people in our neighborhood putting time and attention into Halloween decorations, themes and motifs— even more than for Christmas. Here in Berlin we have tried trick-or-treating in Zehlendorf (the kids found the sheer density, as every Berliner with an interest descended upon this once American area, overwhelming), a private party (nice, but too old and thus too frightening for them), and this time we tried going to the Botanical Gardens.

This was quite a lot of fun and I think would be even more so as the children get older. T1 still reminisced over the trick-or-treating and especially our neighbor J's fabulous Halloween party, but they also had a lot of fun.

I met the family there after a class and the girls had already had their faces painted and done some crafts. Then we wandered over to a hay meadow and spent quite a lot of time throwing straw at each other (I think they enjoyed it more than I did). We did some walking around and enjoyed the grounds and then we bought the children each a small pumpkin, rented a sharp knife and a spoon and the children drew the faces and we carved the pumpkins for them.
Some more playing and some tree climbing and we went home, put tea lights in the jack-o-lanterns, and displayed them in the window.
(T1 wanted to pose with hers after her bath- please excuse my boxes- they are on their way to the cellar for winter storage.)

28 October 2010

What I've been doing for the last month: Color Fields at the Deutsche Guggenheim

(to the left the iconic Frank Stella painting,below our very interesting guide with "Wheelbarrow by Gene Davis)

Since my B1 class ended, I have started to take advantage of the many interesting opportunities Berlin gives, in conjunction with different groups and vereins.

My women's group offered a guided tour in the Deutsche Guggenheim of their latest exhibit, with a lunch afterward. It sounded interesting and it was. (This is a standard offering of the DG, just in this case reserved for my group.)

Color Fields art is a style that I found annoyingly navel-gazing. In a period when vastly exciting and world altering events were taken place, artists (the vast majority white males who could afford their self referential lives) played with color. In many ways, this is the type of art that people are speaking about when they say their 3 year old could produce the same art. Methods included the famous flinging paint at a canvas and holding a coffee can full of paint, with a hole in the bottom, over canvas.

Some of it is very pretty to look at (I particularly liked the two above), but others are not. Even those that are attractive can now be made easily with the aid of computers. So it's clever stuff, but not, I find, moving. And I think art should indeed be moving, or it's actually graphic design.

The guide was extremely knowledgeable, the food was lovely, as was the conversation at table. After visiting Peggy Guggenheim's home in Venice last year, I had been meaning to visit this affiliated space (they are both affiliated with the NY Guggenheim) and I am glad to have done so. The space is interesting: it's in the older section of the old Deutsche Bank, to which the Bank returned after the fall of the wall. Deutsche Bank is famous for its art collection (and its practice of "lending" it's art out to its offices and employees throughout the world) and I hope to get back for the guided tour through the offices themselves and the opportunity to see the artworks on display in the upper levels. There are also other intriguing activities available for both adults and children, so I expect I'll be visiting again.

27 October 2010

What I've been doing for the last month: Spiced Applesauce Cake

I read a lot of food porn- although less than I used to. One of my favorite blogs is Smitten Kitchen.

On the 25th, Deb wrote about this spiced applesauce cake and, as it happened, I had not only all the ingredients sitting in my fridge, but also a relatively spanking new, happy anniversary Artisan stand mixer sitting on my counter. So, Dear Readers, I baked it.

And it was delicious. The first day I thought that I would have preferred more spices, but the second and third days the cake just got better and better as the spices and ingredients melded. It was too spicy for my children's German palates, but the German husband loved it.

Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted, barely, from Gourmet.com by Deb,then adapted a bit more by me from Deb

For cake

2 cups (8 3/4 ounces or 250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
3/4 teaspoon (2 grams) cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 stick (4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (7 3/4 ounces or 218 grams) packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoon (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (about 13 ounces or 365 grams) unsweetened applesauce

For frosting
5 ounces (142 grams) cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces or 42 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (4 ounces or 120 grams) confectioners sugar (I used less to taste)
1/2 (1 teaspoon) teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 175C/350°F with rack in middle. Thickly butter an 8- or 9-inch square cake pan.


Measure flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices into one bowl.

Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Reinvert cake onto a rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese frosting:

Beat frosting ingredients together and spread over top of cooled cake.


I've been looking for a good recipe for tabbouleh for ages. Friends have sent me several and I haven't been happy with any of them. At the end of my last German class we had the usual party and a classmate brought some tabbouleh with her and I remembered how much I missed it, so I thought I would start again.

This recipe worked very well and I expect that I will be making it again today.

  • 1/2 c. fine or medium bulgur (next time I move this up to 1 c.)
  • 1/3 c. evoo
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice (I'll add a bit more- this was 1.5 lemons for me)
  • 2 c. parsley leaves (only small stems)
  • 1 c. chopped mint leaves (I left this out)
  • 1/2 c. chopped scallion
  • 4 medium tomatoes (seeded, cored, chopped- I only chopped them)
Soak the bulgur in hot water 1-30 minutes until tender. Then drain (I squeezed in a clean cloth) and toss with the oil and lemon juice, add salt and pepper.
Add all the other ingredients before serving and toss. Use fresh- more than a day is pushing it.

Based on Mark Bittman's recipe


I had hoped to make a garbage cake, but the recipe I wanted to use needed Oreos, and the kids had eaten them all.

So then I tried for a grass with worms cake, but when I mixed the green and the blue frosting powder, it came out a bit more mucky. So I crumbled a bit of the chocolate cake over the frosting and added (halal- so no pig) gummi worms and went as a garbage-type of cake.

The kids love it. Although T1 wanted more frosting and T2 scraped the frosting off!

24 October 2010


Mom's Pancake recipe (which I think may derive from an old Betty Crocker cookbook):
1 egg
1 C all purpose flour (I have always used Gold Medal)
3/4 C milk
2 T shortening, melted or veg. oil (I prefer either Crisco solid, whisked well in the bowl or softened butter)
1 T sugar
3 tsp baking powder(I use 2 with no problem)
1/2 tsp salt
Beat egg with hand beater until fluffy (I just use a fork); beat in remaining ingredients just until smooth. For thinner pancakes, beat in another 1/4 milk. (Let it rest until it bubbles- perhaps 5-10 minutes.)
To test griddle, sprinkle on a few drops of water. If bubbles skitter, heat is just right.
Using a 4 or more cup measuring cup with lip, pour about 3 T onto hot griddle.(I just pour some from a tablesppon- that makes silver dollar size).
Cook until puffed and dry around edges (look for the bubbles in the batter). Turn and cook until golden brown.(It's very quick.)
For blueberry pancakes: stir in 1/2 C of fresh blueberries, washed and patted dry.

Served with Vermont maple syrup (B grade to my preference) and the kids are wild for it (as is the German).

I've been making this recipe at least once a week since begging my mom to send it to me. Next up is asking what needs to be changed to use it in the waffle iron. As easy as pie (easier), and the kids are wild for it. Last week I used chocolate chips, but although the German loved that, the kids seem to be purists. Putting the recipe together takes less time than waiting for my frying pan to heat and for two kids under 8 and two adults a double recipe is better than a single- today I wound up having cottage cheese instead of pancakes when we ran out.

23 October 2010

Broadening horizons.

Back in August, I dragged the German off to Discworld Con. He enjoyed it, although not quite as much as I did. I was lucky enough to be able to participate in a Kaffeeklatch (as I did in San Antonio, although whether at Nasfic in '87 or Worldcon in '97 I have no idea!).

As I mentioned, the con was giving away a large number of Sir Terry's books and the ones we kept were those in German (there were no English editions available). The German has been in a relatively non-reading frame of mind for years (magazines, business books, an occasional novel) so I have been flabbergasted to see him working his way through Die Farben der Magie, Das Licht der Phantasie, Das Erbe des Zauberers, Gevatter Tod, and MacBest. Those are pretty strange for me to look at in German, but are a darned good start to reading through the oeuvre.

After reading Gevatter Tod, the German was pretty upset to realize that although we still had 9 more German books (and I have 6 others in English here) the others are not in order. So I gave him MacBest, which is in the Witches cycle and we tried to decide the best way to handle the problem. It's obviously not cost effective for me to fly back to the US and get my Pratchett books out of storage and send them over here. Even if I were in my storage unit, it would take an entire vacation to dig back through it and go through the 100+ boxes of books until I found the right one. It's really quite shocking to look at the cost of replacing quite a lot of books that one already owns, even in paperback. I took a look at buying the e-books and it might be possible to do so with a British residence— or while in the UK— but he'd rather not read on his phone or even another reader.

However, although I never saw the multi-book collections in the US, in the UK the books were reprinted in 2 to three novel groupings. So I ordered the next grouping for him (along with a copy of the Malory Towers collection for Thing1) for him, delivered to a co-worker in Wales and hopefully in his hands at work on Monday. The price, divided over the three books, and even including the cost of shipping (not free because through a third party used) is still a lot lower than buying them here in Germany. I am looking forward to being able to reread these myself and I'm really curious to see how the German feels the difference between the translator and the original works: he thinks the translation was great but now he'll really get a chance to see.

There are 35+ (and counting) for the German to enjoy, but after that, I wonder where we will go? Shall I try him on Patricia Briggs or move into CJ Cherryh? Or Lawrence Watt-Evans, who has the type of whimsy that Pratchett so exemplifies?

It's fun to have something to read together.

13 October 2010

While I was doing yet another load of laundry, I took a look at the German's shirt and thought, "Do I want my husband to walk around in a 10 year old, washed out, dingy shirt with a hole in it?". Into the trash it went.

My favorite German product

Even though I went to University in the Fingerlakes, the closest I could get to Federweiser at home was to buy carboys of unpasteurised grape juice and let it ferment in my basement: nowhere as convenient and quickly tasty as this. Running a few weeks behind schedule, but hopefully will be available a little bit longer.

(The brown sugar is for chocolate chip cookies, brought back from the US. Anyone know where I can buy the real moist and molassesy stuff here?)

11 October 2010

What I've been doing for the last month: A-ha and Amsterdam

Actually, I've done a few other things in that time as well. I'll try to get those posted as well.

We went to Amsterdam for the weekend because, after I procrastinated for so long, the cost of driving to Amsterdam was cheaper than me buying a train ticket, even with a 50% discount on DB. Since we were driving, we brought the children along. Luckily, the German had some points that brought us into free nights at the Hotel Pulitzer in Amsterdam. This was just as charming and quirky as one might expect from the description: multiple 18th century townhouses merged into a charming hotel. We had a room looking into the garden (no canal view:() but directly facing on a play set. This was important because we later discovered that Amsterdam has a sad paucity of playgrounds: the major one in Vondel Park, the largest park in Amsterdam, couldn't hold a candle to any of my 5 local playgrounds here in Berlin. They still enjoyed playing there, though.
T1 kept asking to be in T2's stroller and we were a bit intolerant (she's heavy!) considering how much walking around we did and that she wound up being sick the following week, but we still enjoyed ourselves. We spent the whole weekend walking around enjoying the blue sky and the wonderful weather and looking at things (with an tram ride and 1 boat trip). I love Amsterdam and I love the architecture there.
We had rijstaafl one evening which was lost on the girls— we wound up buying them a bowl of rice each to make up for all the items they didn't like.

The actual reason for me going to Amsterdam was to meet up with a friend who was there after doing an Art residency so deep in Ireland that I couldn't meet her there: 12+ hours travel time to reach a village in Ireland just wasn't manageable (and that would be plane to train to bus to walking or taxi the last thirty miles!). I had the chance to grab some tickets to A-ha's final tour the weekend she would be in Amsterdam and I thought it would be amusing to do that.

As it turned out, J was ill the evening we were to go and the German and I wound up getting a babysitter through the hotel (he had expected to watch the kids that evening). The sitter was lovely, fully multilingual and the cost was the same as a babysitter in Berlin, so we were very happy.

The tickets were supposed to be special, and after a bit of confusion at the Heinekin Arena box-office, we discovered why: we were directed to the VIP entrance. There we were given colored arm bands, offered a free check for our packs and coats, and shown to box seats where there was a free bar. If we'd known that was what "special" meant, we would have shown up earlier!

The concert was fun, even though I really didn't remember very many A-ha songs beside the most famous iconic MTV videos. But there was a lot of energy and a lot of dancing and it was nice to be out with the spouse.

This was the encore and we really enjoyed it:
(it's not my video, our view would have been from the upper right when facing the stage)

03 October 2010

Blueberry Picking

On a charming farm, not too far from the center of Berlin. (Where we had earlier picked strawberries.)
We looked at the deer in their enclosure, puzzled out the naturalist information, clambered through the wildschwein areas, were totally bummed that T2 was too small for the climbing park (not cheap, but takes up to 2.5 hours to go through), picked kilos of blueberries (even though it was a week later than the close of the season— which was extended because the previous weekend was rained out).

Then we looked at the Kurbisfest, did some bungee jumping, ate an ice (or, for the adults, had a coffee), bought some pumpkins (to eventually make into jack o'lanterns, and I hope a pie or two).
(Kurbisfest/Apple pressings)

We watched apple juice being pressed (and pasteurized) and discovered that, as I had thought, there is no non-alcoholic cider here. I would mke it myself, but the juice is pasteurized as soon as pressed: I need to call the firm to discover how to buy must unpasteurized.

A lovely day.

02 October 2010

Ever wondered why

certain areas of Berlin are overwhelmingly Turkish and poor? I didn't know that "temporary workers had been required to settle only in certain areas.
Another wall has risen

Over 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, an invisible partition still divides the city, observes La Stampa: "South of the Bernauer Strasse begins the Mitte district with its health food shops and bobo cafés. To the north are Wedding and Brunnenviertel with their record unemployment levels and council housing inhabited by Turkish and Arab families.” So despite all the outraged reactions to Thilo Sarrazin’s incendiary remarks, the myth of multiculti Berlin is crumbling, revealing a reality of failed integration and ghettoisation. The authorities, who had hoped the “guest workers” would not remain for a long time in Germany, only allowed them to settle in certain neighbourhoods, such as Kreuzberg and Neukölln. "The result is that nowadays there are several areas where you can go shopping or go to the doctor’s without speaking a word of German.”

Unbelievably easy and moist Chocolate cake.

Recently this has been my go to cake.The original recipe is a little tetchy, but I don't go to that trouble (and my mixer is from heck, spraying me with ingredients when I don't hold a towel across the top of any bowl). I usually make a simple buttercream type frosting (shown below. The best tip I've had recently is that I can substitute some of the confectioner's sugar with flour, which gives me the volume of dry ingredients I need while cutting the sweetness which I have always found overpowering. I made this for the girls' birthday party and no one seemed to notice any difference in the frosting so I will continue to make this substitution going forward and be grateful. With thses changes, neither the cake nor the frosting are too sweet. If you prefer even less sweetness, sprinkle the top of the cake with confectioner's sugar, perhaps in a stencil, and hve a not too sweet, not too rich, easy to make in a few minutes chocolate cake: what could be better?
  • 1 cup boiling water (really. Use your water cooker.)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used DP because I had it on hand and it was great)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I used 3+)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup/ 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 (175 grams)cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 (160 grams) cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs


Preheat oven to 350°F (175C). Butter 3 (8- by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottoms of each with rounds of wax or parchment paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.I use a 13x9.

Whisk together boiling water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in milk and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.(I never sift.)

Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy , then add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in flour and cocoa mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture (batter may look curdled). (totally don't have the patience— I just start a bit,then add eggs to help bind, then start adding dry and liquid alternately and beat until it looks mixed.)

Pour in pan, put in oven. In mine at 175, takes between 25 and 30 minutes. Cupcakes (24) take 20-25 as well, when I tried them. Check early because this is a wonderfully moist cake. Bundt would take a little longer.
Simplified from the below recipe.


Buttercream Frosting

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine softened
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1+ tablespoons milk

Makes: About about 1 1/2 cups of icing.
(Medium Consistency)

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.

For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using. Add more milk for liquid consistency.

altered from http://www.wilton.com/recipe/Buttercream-Icing