Friday, June 24, 2011

Those are not nachos

It's almost a tradition of sorts that I get ice cream with the kids if we walk to the garden in the afternoon. Everyone is tired, needs a bit of sugar, and some delicious ice cream is just the right thing to get at the halfway point of the trip. This time I spotted a very special item at the store, and Kid 1 was also very enthused to try these delicious things. To me, these are tacos, but some confused soul at the Gut & Günstig company (Good-n-cheap is how I'd translate that, though a marketing manager may not like that translation because günstig isn't just cheap, it's a good deal...) named these tasty treats "Nacho". If I'm not mistaken, a nacho is actually a tortilla or taco chip served together with various fantastic toppings and sauces, often with melted cheese on top. This in no way resembles a nacho, not even a desert nacho. These scrumptious snacks are most definitely ice cream tacos, a taco being a tortilla shell folded around the filling. Nachos are not folded. Their origin is also from a tortilla, but a tortilla cut into triangles, making it too small to fold around anything.

I was hungry for some salty comfort food on this particular trip to the store, so instead of snacking on false nachos, I hit the chip aisle. I considered getting actual nacho chips, but much to my delight, I found something that not only looks, but also tastes like Sun Chips! Sun Chips are mouth watering whole grain chips. I've always been puzzled about the lack of Sun Chips here in Germany, because this seems to be such a whole grain loving place. But maybe the whole grain lovers are not so much the chip lovers...
Anyway, on my junk food shopping spree I almost lost my appetite, because I could just feel the other shoppers' eyes burning holes of disdain into my back. The English-speaking fat American is plying her kids with junk food one hour before dinner time! Little did they know, we'd already walked about a kilometer and a half with another kilometer and a half to go. Rather than feel too guilty, I paid and promptly tore open the false nachos gave each kid one right there in the entryway of the supermarket. Take that.

And yet, despite all the "fat American" jokes that course the streets, there's one sinful treat that you can get here that I've never seen in my home country: that would be sweetened condensed milk in a tube. For what reason do you need sweetened condensed milk in a tube? Let me tell you, gentle readers. Not for baking, not for your coffee, no, a can of sweetened condensed milk is good enough for that. This is for the kids huddled on street corners like crack addicts who suck the stuff straight from the tube. Yes, I've seen it with my own eyes. Children and grown ups alike, sucking sweetened condensed milk straight from the tube. At least I have the self-respect to eat the stuff from a spoon behind closed doors!

Sunday, June 19, 2011


This weekend was the BRN, the Bunte Republik Neustadt festival, here in my neighborhood. I've been away from Dresden on the BRN weekend for the last 5 years due to other commitments, but this year I stayed on board and even took on a fun project: I organized a stand for the non-profit organization that sponsors our Kinderhaus, cocolores e.V. Now, all of you know how I love our Kinderhaus, so it was a pleasure for me to do this very big job.

Here's a picture from behind the scenes at our stand: you can see the table, the coffee, the delicious cake and the happy visitors!

Here's a view down the street where we had our stand, Talstrasse. Talstr. is known as being the children's street of the BRN, but I like it there the best because it has the neatest stands. It's not only stuff for kids, but also creative cooks who only take donations for their food, people with vegan sushi like the guys next to us, and the physicist Rocket Ulf who shoots empty pop bottles, rolls of toilet paper and other objects high into the air. We were lucky to have a roof over our heads, because Rocket Ulf's rockets kept coming down right on us. A friend of mine even set up a table on this street with an "Unprofessional Tailor Shop": an iron, a sewing machine, some fabric and buttons and sewed things on people's clothes like flowers, buttons, pockets, whatever they desired for free! That's the spirit!

Here are the guys at our stand building a giant marble run...or as one viewer of this picture said, "There's the engineer solving world hunger while the two managers drink coffee". The marble run was definitely a favorite for the crowd, the kids and adults loved it. One kid even showed up with a giant tin of marbles and just went nuts. My kid also lost it when he saw the giant marble run. I think somebody at my house might get a room-size marble run for their next birthday...

Like I said, it's been a while since I've been at a BRN. It's something I have mixed feelings about anyway. The first time I heard of it, it sounded great, almost like a giant, quirky, neighborhood flea market, with the people in the neighborhood coming out of their apartments, bringing tables and chairs out onto the street, eating and drinking and doing fun projects together. But when I saw it, it didn't look so much like this, except on Talstrasse and a few other little corners and alleys. To me the rest of the BRN looked like any other street festival: loud music, food stands, stands selling t-shirts, clothes, jewelry, and of course, beer. Oh, yeah, and aggressive neo-Nazis and anti-fascists and police in riot gear. Nothing too surprising, nothing horrifying, but certainly not at all like the warm, fuzzy, artsy event that had been described to me. This year was at least peaceful. There were still loads of police everywhere, but not in riot gear. You could talk to them like normal people, I had to ask about driving in on Saturday morning to haul the tables and stuff for the stand. They weren't weird like they had been in earlier years, and they had normal uniforms on. They also weren't so militant about searching every bag, pocket and crevice that entered the festival area for glass bottles as they had been in earlier years. I think this led to a more relaxed atmosphere. I didn't hear about any riots and there were no helicopters hovering overhead constantly, even on Saturday night. Late Saturday night the most annoying things were the mingling stench of urine and the aroma of the food stands along with all the staggering drunks on the streets.

Most of the live music on offer didn't really tickle my fancy, some of the DJs were playing tunes that I like, but dancing isn't so much my thing. My favorite spectacle from Saturday night was "Balkon Rap", some guys rapping from a balcony. These guys were obviously having a lot of fun, they had a giant crowd, and rapping from a balcony has this weird reference to political leaders giving propaganda speeches from their little balconies and yet, it's rap! That has a flair that I like. It was cool.

So, in the end, what it comes down to is that the BRN once again didn't change my life with its more or less nonexistant warm-and-fuzziness, it wasn't horrible, our stand was great, and I really liked Talstrasse as I always do. There were some very neat ideas and activities on offer, and masses and masses of lame, run-of-the-mill stuff. So I guess there was something for everyone. But I'll do it again next year, because it was fun to see the twinkle in older people's eyes when they saw our potato printing project, I loved watching the kids just go crazy for the marble run, giving people cake always makes my day (especially when repeat customers gobble up an entire batch of real American brownies still warm from the oven in 15 minutes!!!), and I'll take any chance I get to tell people how great the Kinderhaus is in a heartbeat.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Food, food and more food

I'm up to my ears in herbs, strawberries and lettuce!

Not that I'm complaining about getting a heaping bowl of delicious strawberries every day I go to the garden. Certain kids in my household are also not too disturbed by this. One of them will only eat butter at present, the other could most likely fuel himself solely on strawberries. As quickly as I can pick them, the strawberry eater eats them! Plain, with cream and sugar, straight from the plant still sprinkled with dirt, it doesn't matter! They are delicious!

The cress was ready a couple weeks ago so I harvested it, this is only a fraction of the total amount. I made soup:

This was a nice cream soup with some crunchy homemade croutons. I also made cress pesto, very tasty on bread with cream cheese or pasta. The final product that we ate two days in a row and that was my favorite cress dish of all was salad, featuring cress, roquefort cheese, pear, white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
And then there was the spinach:

This is also just a mere fraction of the piles and piles of spinach that I had. The most delicious way of eating this was washing the daylights out of it to get the sand off and cooking it for a maximum of 3 minutes and just chowing down. Yum. I also made spinach lasagna with a significant portion of it, which is a tried and true favorite. There's another spinach recipe that I was too lazy to try, because it involved a few steps after the 3 minutes of cooking and I was hungry. It's a Turkish creamed spinach dish with dill, which would have been possible, because I am also practically swimming in dill. Dill quark, dill cream cheese, dill everything! One of these days, I will make the dill spinach, maybe even tomorrow. The fridge, freezer and windowsill are brimming with dill!

Today I had massive amounts of basil at my disposal, so I whipped up some pesto this evening. For that I threw some basil, olive oil, salt, pepper, almonds and a few garlic cloves into the blender, blended the heck out of it, and yummy green pesto came out. I can't wait for lunch tomorrow! I'll probably have it for breakfast, too :-)

Our lettuce is also getting ready to harvest, in fact, we harvested one head of butterhead lettuce today. It may be bibb lettuce, but I'm not up to speed on the specific types of lettuce. Anyway, my German chef simply tore it up, squeezed on some lemon and sprinkled in a bit of sugar, and voila! A tasty salad was made. The only thing that slightly freaked me out was that it was a bit crunchy, and I couldn't discern if the crunching was the sugar or sand. Unidentifiable crunching in my food really freaks me out, call it oversensitivity or a sensory processing disorder, it has seriously disturbed me since I was a kid.

But now, the real work comes in. I have to start learning some new tricks, because the above mentioned foods are all things I have some measure of experience with. What do I do with the other herbs like melissa? I know I can make tea out of it, is there anything else? How do I store it? What about lavender? Can I make soap? Should I make sachets? How in the world do I store oregano, thyme, rosemary, savory, marjoram...? Freeze or dry? In talks with more experienced gardeners, I was advised today to definitely dry the marjoram and thyme.

The herbs are harmless and take up little space. What in the hell are we going to do with all of the potatoes? We have a giant field of potatoes. Who's going to cook all of the tomatoes into tomato sauce? We'll need another freezer if we're going to make that much sauce. Not to mention the countless varieties of peppers, yellow, normal, hot...

In other news, our little tarpaper shack got a new roof this past week. It looks fancy! I was distressed last weekend when the boys went to town tearing off the old roof, and could walk through the door and look up and see nothing but sky. This week a certain someone worked from dawn to dusk, all alone except the last 2 days when we also had some most excellent helpers, and put on a beautiful new roof.

That's all from the garden front. This thing that was a hairbrained scheme in March has turned into an all-consuming epic. Maybe in the fall or winter I'll write about something else again :-) Or maybe next weekend, who knows.