Archive for the 'rants' Category

Regretful

There’s something tragic about a child’s first haircut. Cutting those soft, downy tendrils which grow according to nature’s whim, imposing adult styles dictated by the dual bondage of fashion and social convention. I resisted cutting Rose’s as long as possible, which turned out to be almost three years. She wore clips (remember?) but Theodore can’t do that, unless I want him taken for a girl.

The time had come. Food was perpetually stuck in the foremost strands, clashing with his thick, dark eyelashes. In haste I took my sewing scissors and made a few deft snips. And behold

I gave him a mullet.

* Photo by my friend Chris Luttenberger

Tillari Trotters

Once upon a time I blogged about the very cheap pork neck fillets we were enjoying in Germany. For shame! I’m not sure when the penny dropped, but the reason the meat was so cheap was of course the dreadful way in which the animals were farmed, and I’m sad to say it’s no better in Australia. That pork you find on the meat shelves in Woolies? Someone pays the true price of that meat, but it surely isn’t us. After having this revelation we became quasi-vegetarians, owing mostly to the cost and scarcity of meat produced in an animal-friendly way. We continued our adventures in vegetarianism until recently when a certain member of our family joined us at the dinner table. As many of you well know, this little person is not much of a sleeper, and anything we can do to boost the iron in his diet (read: anything we can do to get him sleeping better at night) is currently top priority.

Second to cuddles (and breastfeeds, ahem) this man likes a sausage in hand.

So you’ll imagine how delighted I was to find Tillari Trotters (aka ‘the cuddly pig lady’). The first things one notices when visiting the market stall are large photos of a lady cuddling her pigs, the very same lady who now stands before you. She and her family farm rare breed Tamworth pigs and Persian sheep, humanely treated and much loved. Our favourite products so far are the loin bacon (salt-cured, nitrate free) and “Crap-free sausages”.

If you live nearby may I suggest you take a moment to order your Christmas ham? I guarantee it will come from the happiest pigs in Australia.

In case you’re interested, Tillari also sell live piglets. Hmm, about that back fence…

Reverse culture shock, or rockin’ the suburbs

I’m struggling quite a bit with the new life lately. To quote a blogging friend of mine, I have a Leipzig-shaped “hole in my heart”. I know I complained quite a bit about the language barrier, the climate, the homesickness and the lack of Tim Tams, but in truth there was much about life in Germany that has spoiled me. I’ve been doing lots of thinking and I’ve decided my maladjustment has less to do with moving from Germany to Australia and more with moving from city to suburbs. 

Leipzig is a city in the truest sense. Apart from the lovely streets lined with Gründerzeit buildings, the first thing I noticed was how compact it is. One can drive across the city in a matter of minutes, no suburbs clamoring around it, no feeling of endless sprawl. Living in a proper city was a whole new experience for me. I could walk to the city center, enjoy its markets, museums and wonderfully inexpensive cafes. Living in a small flat (like everyone else), we by necessity had less stuff. A car was unnecessary thanks to public transport that would make any Sydneysider sigh, but whether you’re eight weeks or eighty years old, the way to travel in Leipzig is by bike. Another aspect of city life I loved was parks. Not CBD parks, where joggers and businessmen mingle, or suburban parks where a few kids play on the Astroturf. I mean parks that are the garden of the city. On a warm day in summer, everyone is there. Communal spaces are necessary when everyone lives in a flat.

Coming back to suburban Australia has been just a little deflating. It seems a strange, unnatural life. Firstly, there’s the temptation to have stuff. Suburbia is perfectly designed to turn us all into little consumers. We don’t share things. Instead, we all buy our own. We are left to imagine what life is like on the other side of the fence and we try to keep up with the Jones’. We drive to get around. We commute to work.  We love the idea of farmers’ markets and local economies, but the capitalist system drives us towards the cheapest option: the shopping centers and supermarkets.

Suburbia can be a very lonely place for full time mum in a new town. While I do love the freedom of a patch of grass to play on and a Hills Hoist in the sun, the price can seem quite high, sometimes. Of course, the answer lies in finding ways around the isolating, consumer-oriented ways of the suburbs. Stay tuned.

An open letter to the German weather

Dear German weather,

I want us to be friends. I know we’ve had our differences, our share of ups and downs. I wont pretend I wasn’t angry after some of the things you did last winter. But I feel I owe you an apology. I may have been a little harsh, a little too quick to judge. I didn’t realise what you were planning, in fact, I’d forgotten what you were capable of. Spring was some of your finest work. May was nothing short of a masterpiece. I was sorry I ever doubted you. But see, I’d hate for things to go backwards again. And now, while Americans complain of the “heatwave”, German friends tell me they’ve never had a July like this.

So, I ask you, where is the sunshine? Where are the balmy evenings? It’s been weeks. You’ve had your fun. But please, enough is enough. There’s still time for August. I believe you can do hot, even here. So let’s see it.

Deal?

ps Thanks all for the birthday cards and Tim Tams, 28 isn’t so bad.

pps Yes I did knit that. Ravelry notes here.

ppps Apologies for the gratuitous polaroids. The app makes a cute sound.

Donna Hay and Käsekuchen

There are many reasons why a girl decides to make a cheesecake. A beloved sister flies home to Australia, the weather turns decidedly chilly, or perhaps one’s church is hosting a Pudding Club. Though my recipe collection now languishes back in Australia, I have one from its number committed firmly to memory – a Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake. Donna Hay is not my favourite celebrity chef. How many times can one wrap a chicken breast in prosciutto and call it a recipe? Her team of stylists and photographers do make every page a wonder; I’m not above enjoying my mother’s copies even as she tries indignantly to protect them from the scathe of a cynical daughter. And I’d have to admit that if ever there’s a need to be a little impressive in the kitchen, the Blueberry Swirl is pretty hard to beat. Here are my tips for making it look (almost) as impossible as Donna’s:

Don’t even consider making this without a springform baking tin. Nope.

When drizzling your fruit use a piping bag or something with a narrow pouring lip. Drizzle in thin parallel lines. Less is more – you want plenty of white space. I’ve been known to “bury” half the fruit mixture in the cake before adding the drizzles.

Keep your knife at a ninety degree angle to the cake (very important). Drag it slowly through the lines  in a perpendicular direction. You’ll be having lots of fun, but stop before you go overboard.

Don’t be tempted to exceed the 50-60 minute oven time. The cake should should still wobble when it comes out. Overbaking produces an unglamorous brown colour and grainy texture. Covering the tin with foil helps.

Leave it in the fridge for as long as you can, overnight if possible. Your wobbly cake will become firm and solid. Slice it carefully with a chilled knife. Oh, and if Martha Stewart drops in for a chat, give her my number.

The German renting experience part II: Ikea

There’s no way to avoid it. If you’re in need of homewares, fittings or furniture in any urgent or economical way, you will end up at Ikea. This is especially true in Germany where an apartment is truly an empty shell; every light fitting, blind and ounce of storage space must be self-supplied. It’s not hard to see how Ikea established this global juggernaut. From the blue and yellow banners that flag you down on the highway to the one Euro hot dogs that send you off, the experience is perfectly packaged and skilfully executed. Resistance seems futile. My issues with Ikea all came to a head this week after our need for a sofa became a matter of urgency. We had investigated every second hand sofa within 100km of Leipzig and concluded that Germany has a very strange take on lounging. A superficial search on Ebay will confirm that most sofas look either like this

 

or this

 

Boxy and/or incredibly uncomfortable seem to be in vogue. Enter Ikea. We eventually admitted that the only comfy and reasonably priced sofa available in Germany seems to be the Ektorp. With our bodies sore and our behinds numb we headed off to Ikea Halle to commit the deed as quickly as possible. As we walked through rows of LIDAN and LILLHOLMEN, I felt my inner anti-capitalist die a little with every step. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the experience: eyes darting frantically around and mind racing. Do we really need SÄV? Would a MOLGE fit in our bathroom? Knowing a credit card would be useless even in Ikea (this is Germany after all), we checked with the nearest yellow-shirted body that a geldautomat would be available. A small marathon and two schnitzels later, we arrived at the checkout only to discover that the geldautomat was down and indeed, a card was unacceptable. We drove home empty-handed in disgust and drank a cup of tea on the living room floor.

Several days later we tried again, this time asking a German friend for help. Chris is our new hero. After ordering our Ektorp from the sofa desk and confirming a trailer was available to hire (free for three hours), we made it through the maze with only a modest collection of HEMMA and BESKADA. The rear end of Ikea is a different place entirely. Tired looking slaves shout three digit numbers to a mournful crowd, most of whom are probably regretting at least 50% of their purchase. Fresh faced couples shacking up, pregnant women loading boxes into car boots, men downing the last of their second hot dog.

Meanwhile the trouble started, no trailor was available. The keys were lost, apparently. A van was available at a cost of thirty Euros. Chris argued our case with passion, but procured only a fifteen Euro discount. We should be grateful for that, we were told. Since the offending van only had only three seats, Chris was obliged to drive Rose and myself home and enlist a flatmate to unload our Ektorp, leaving Tony to wander among the IVARS and KIVIKS. To my relief Chris seemed completely unphased and drove happily out the gates like any boy in a large vehicle. A few minutes later, the troubles started again. No headlights. Rather than risk a U-turn Chris drove us bravely home, explaining to concerned fellow motorists that our lights were kaput. After his removalist duties were done, Chris again took up our case with Ikea. No refund on the hire fee. Hot dog, anyone?

Though it relieves me to have this vent (what are blogs for anyway?) it’s a pretty minor thorn in the grand scheme of things. When it comes to Ikea there are much bigger issues at stake. How is it that one company making mass-produced homewares has come to dominate bathrooms, bedrooms and living rooms around the globe? How can this cause anything but the wholesale loss of stylistic diversity and an ever-increasing pile of discarded junk? How did they delude us into believing that a SKOJIG here or a MALM there would transform our homes from a frumpy collection of mismatched junk to a haven of order and minimalist chic? Even more worrying, consider Tony’s reflections after his hour of Ikea hostage: with the population of Germany falling not rising, and if people require roughly the same amount of furniture from generation to generation, then the rate at which flat-packed boxes pour out the rear end of Ikea is roughly the same rate at which stuff is dumped into landfill elsewhere in Germany, and everywhere else on earth.

This may sound rich coming from someone sitting on an Ektorp, its box and plastic wrapping still lying on the floor. I can only promise that every other item in our new home (save the light fittings and curtain rails) has/will come from second hand or handmade sources. In fact, I’ve got some pretty big plans for furnishing our home with the recycled and the handmade, replacing things that would otherwise have ended up on our Ikea bill that day. Who knows, maybe my inner anti-capitalist can be revived. At least my bottom will be comfortable while I plot my anarchist course.

ps The lovely cushions were made from antique patchwork squares given to me by a friend. Thanks Jean!

pps In the first photo you can see the rug I bought in Strasbourg

 

 


About Me

A girl with a camera, a toddler and a sewing machine. Making sense of Germany... and life in general.

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