Almondy Cookies

Fairly often when I pick up my son from Waldorf kindergarten, there’s some little treat they’ve made that Frau F. insists I try. I’m not one to ever turn down a treat. Once not too long ago there were these tiny almond-meal cookies that I just couldn’t stop thinking about later. Such great texture, not too sweet, perfect. When I asked for the recipe, though, Frau F. said it was something her daughter had made up and she didn’t really have a recipe. Rats!

I kept obsessing and finally found this recipe, then altered it to suit me. In Germany, there seem to be a lot of tiny cookie cutters, which I just love. I mean, sometimes you only want a little bite, right? Or a bunch of little bites. The cookies just seem better that way. Unfortunately we don’t have but a couple itty bitty cutters, since the kitchen store was nearly sold out last time I looked, but I’ll try again.

Yeah, I know this is kind of a Christmas post in January, but who says you can’t make cookies now? Who?

The cookies turned out really well. Very tender and great flavor, though they don’t look like anything special at first glance. They were all gone in a flash.

ALMONDY COOKIES  (heavily adapted from cooks.com)

250 grams butter (2 sticks plus 1 1/2 TB or so)

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1/4 tsp. almond extract

1 1/2 cups almond meal

1 cup  all purpose flour

2 cups spelt flour (did I use white or whole grain? I can’t remember but either is fine)

pinch of salt

Cream together butter, sugar, egg, and almond extract. Beat in flour, almond meal, and salt.

Make a ball and flatten it, wrap in wax paper and place in the fridge for an hour or a day.

Preheat oven to 325°, roll out dough, and use cutters to cut shapes. Ours were a little thicker—in the 1/4 inch range but you could go thinner, depending on how crispy or chewy you want yours. Just watch the time—you definitely don’t want to overcook them.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. They should be very lightly browned.

**

The words on the cookies is an inside joke. Santa brought a nifty contraption that allows you to print words on your cookies. Little Miss wanted to print everyone’s names, but the letters are really too fiddly and tiny to do that much work. I told her to pick one word we could print on lots of cookies. She came up with “Leibniz,” which is the cookie brand of Hannover’s famous Bahlsen factory. This cracked me up, as it’s like printing “Keebler” on your homemade cookies.

Leibniz, the father of calculus, was from Hannover, and they love to name things after him here. So awesome.

Oh, we also tried these Swedish Rye Cookies from 101 cookbooks. They rocked.

Happy New Year, a Little Late

I’m baaa-aaack. We had a long and lazy Christmas and New Year’s break, including a wonderful visit from family  (thank you, family, for visiting us in northern Germany in winter—-you’re very brave).

The picture above was taken on New Year’s Eve when the whole neighborhood was having a fireworks battle in the streets. The normally orderly Germans kind of go nuts on Silvester, as they call it, and make a huge racket with fireworks for hours. The air is thick with smoke, and the sidewalks in the morning are filled with trash. For more info on Silvester in Germany, check out this article.

Did I finish the sweater? Alas, no. A cold slowed me down, and a wrong turn made for a pitiful first sleeve, but the good news is I think I’ve found a way to fix it, and the other sleeve is finished. It’s been a learning process. Chug, chug, chug.

I’ve been re-reading the first Mason-Dixon knitting book (blog link here). It’s so funny. I love that conversational kind of craft book that is really more about getting you inspired than about specific projects (though it has those, too). I tend to like reading about knitting even better than knitting because I knit so slowly. I’ve got to learn the Continental method—-did you know Germans have a slightly different way of knitting that is much faster? Whenever I knit in public here I always get weird looks.

Anyway, I’m back in the swing, with all kind of things to share and all sorts of plans and ideas. I’ve got two writing projects going at the moment, the YA novel and a nonfiction project, and those are taking up the majority of my work time. The good news is they seem to be going somewhere, so I’m all juiced up.

 I’ll be back soon with more. Crafts! Food! Interviews with writers and creatives! Thrift store finds! German architecture! Can you tell I had a little much caffeine today? Let me know if there’s anything you’d especially like to see more of.

See you soon!

Merry Christmas/ Froehe Weihnachten

and Happy Chanukah, too!

Things are slowing down here at the Pearce household as we finish up our gift buying and attend numerous school events.

I’m still working on that sweater. Who knows if it will make it under the tree or not, but if it does, it will most certainly be in pieces. I’ve run into a conundrum with the sleeve length after thinking I had finished one sleeve. Hard to explain, but if I can make two matching sleeves that fit, it’ll be a Christmas miracle. The good news is, the color combo is working, and one of my two expert family knitters will be visiting soon.

The picture above is from the main Christmas market here in Hannover. I really wish there were such a thing in the States. They beat the mall up and down the block. It’s like a temporary wooden village built in the pedestrian zones, where they sell gift items, fun snacks, and gluehwein (a hot alcoholic drink). I am so going to miss the Christmas markets next year after we’ve moved back.

I hope to see you again soon, but it may not be until after the New Year, so until then, cheers!

Thrift Haul

I lucked out on a recent thrifting trip.

I’d been looking for awhile for something cool to add to the hall art gallery. Our apartment has a long, long, bowling-alley-like hallway that is just begging for more artwork. Since it’s a hall, you can’t help but stand fairly near the walls, so it’s a good place for groups of smaller pieces that need a more intimate setting.

I found the birds and flowers at thrift shop #1. I love the way the black backgrounds make the colors pop. Somehow it makes them look more modern to me, too. I’ve considered painting the frames aqua or something like that. What do you think?

I found the little house piece at thrift shop #2. There’s just something about it that’s so sweet but not sugary.

Actually I don’t know if I’ll ever get to hang them because the kids want two for their own (girl wants birds, boy wants house). I’m stuck on the hallway idea, though, so we’re kind of in a deadlock over it.

Here’s a detail on the birds. The handwork is really impressive.

Next up: a platter, a Christmas tablecloth, and two skeins of cotton yarn.

I’d been looking for a platter like this for a long time to go with but not match our china (see it here). This one is perfect except I wish it were a little bigger.

The yarn is for our little weaver, and the Santa cloth—-well, I just couldn’t resist. It’s kind of a funny size, but I figure we can use it as a runner or as reuseable gift wrap.

All this loot for 7 euros 50 cents!

Weaving Fever

Here’s another reason why I love living in the city center. Right in our neighborhood is a yarn shop with not only gorgeous skeins and buttons but also a big mama loom where the shop proprietor/ artist-in-residence sits at the window and weaves.

The weaver is very friendly and enjoys having the children come in to watch. When I say “big mama” I mean the loom is the size of a four-shelf bookcase attached to my dining room table.

My seven-year-old daughter decided she wanted to weave something herself, and luckily the Waldorf kindergarten (where my son goes) had a loom for her.

My daughter, the chattiest of Cathies, will actually sit quiet and weave for 45 minutes at a time. It’s pretty astounding. Hasn’t she done a beautiful job?

Speaking of the Waldorf kindergarten, check out this wheelbarrow my son was playing with the other day:

Even the wheel is made out of wood. I think if I’d handcarved this puppy I’d have it on a display shelf somewhere, but my lucky little guy gets to put dirt and grass in it and wheel it around.

This week he’s been completely gaga over the simple bows and (blunt-end) arrows they’ve been making with string and green twigs. His first one broke, but I’ll try to get a pic of the next one.

In other news, I’ve been trying to focus on my revision, which is why you haven’t seen me here much this week. Speaking of which, I should get back to work! Have a great weekend.

The Drunken Bricks of Lueneburg

At first glance, you may think the bricklayers of Lüneburg knocked back a few too many lagers before work. Many of the multi-colored brick buildings lean and sway, and some turrets are bent like trees in a hurricane.

It’s not the fault of the bricklayers but of the shifting ground in this former salt-mining town. The mining caused the ground to sink in different areas, resulting in the kooky dips in the streets and buildings. The buildings of Lüneburg are stunning examples of Hanseatic architecture, known for its intricate brickwork.

Over the course of my two-day visit there, I was so enthralled with the town that I must’ve taken 200 photos. I never knew bricks could have this much personality.

As usual these days, I’ve got patchwork on the brain when I look at anything. Like this:

Fodder for a quilt?

The contraption below seems to be for lifting items to the top floor. Note the curled brick on the right.

There were a lot of aqua doors, which I loved against the red brick. I’m into any variation of blue-ish with orange-ish.

Here below you can really see the bending. Note the rounded brick used in the little columns and arches.

I loved this sign: 

And a special surprise: I stumbled upon a church sign (St. Michaelis) saying J.S. Bach had sung here for two years as a boy. Bach is my favorite composer, so this totally made my day.

Lüneburg is not far from Hannover—about an hour by car or by train. I can’t believe it took me this long to check it out, but I hope to go again soon.

For another great short trip from Hannover, check out Celle.

*Information for this post was gathered from wikipedia.

Author on Assignment: Traveling Back in Time to the GDR

Joyce Moyer Hostetter, friend and fellow children’s author, is currently writing a novel taking place in communist-era East Germany. She recently spent time researching on location. I asked her to share with us a little about her process and about how her research shaped her trip.

Thank you, Emily, for inviting me to chat about how research affected my visit to Germany. My goal was to learn as much as I could about the history of the Berlin Wall and about life in eastern Germany during the communist era. As you can imagine, this narrowed my options a bit. I love visiting castles, cathedrals, and museums but, if they weren’t directly related to my work-in-progress, I pretty much ignored those things in favor of museums and historical landmarks that were important to my character.

There is the Brandenburg Door, of course! It definitely figures into my story!

And also the remnants of Anhalter Station which I didn’t even know existed until we passed it on the way to our hotel.  I knew immedediately that this place would have significance for my character.  I can’t wait to find out how it plays into the story.

At museums that tied into my story, I had to keep my focus. I couldn’t soak up every little thing – just those items that related to my subject. Time was of the essence so my camera became my note taker. I snapped pictures of everything! Information signs, artifacts, and primary documents.

I visited specific spots where my characters spent time.

Of course the landscape has changed tremendously in the decades since my story takes place but still it was important to me to walk the cobblestone streets, see certain landscapes at sunset or midday,

 and take in the details of buildings, and the environment in general.

Knowing which trees are native to my setting and seeing them in bloom is important to me. I’m fairly certain my character would take note of such things.

So maybe you, or one of your readers, can tell me what this tree is.

 And is it the same as this one with white blossoms?

I chose not to go to some places (big heartbreak). I wanted to visit the oldest carousel in the world near Frankfurt am Main since it is (or could be) connected to my story. But since I wasn’t sure about that, and it would have cut into our time and our money, I reluctantly let it go.

We spent less than a week in Berlin and several weeks in Halle.  I’d expected my character to live in Leipzig and did some important research there as well.  But after only a few days in Halle I realized how perfect it was as a setting for my story. For one thing it’s where we’d made plans to live for the bulk of our trip (in connection with my husband’s sabbatical).

We walked along the River Saale. We explored the various sections of the town.  I discovered where my character would live and visited historic sites nearby.

Of course Halle looked different during the communist era. This city, rich with history and culture, lost much of its beauty during those years. 

But Halle’s beauty is back!

One of my big goals for the trip was to meet people who lived through communism and who remembered Halle during the GDR days. One woman, Diana, met me in a café, armed with memorabilia.

These are Diana’s merit badges from her days as a Young Pioneer, an organization designed to prepare kids for Socialist Party loyalty.

This and other classbooks from Diana’s school showed daily and yearly schedules, grades, class sizes, and also subjects studied.  Woo hoo!  I am going to need this info so I took pics of various pages.

Diana, who teaches English, also connected me with students in an English conversational group. I was a bit startled at first to realize these folks were at my disposal, so to speak – ready to answer any questions I threw at them. They gave me insights and details I would never have imagined otherwise – experiences and emotions I can give to my character and also information about street names that have changed, how the town looked back in the day, etc.

I asked about this flame I’d seen on a walk about town.  They seemed confused at first until someone realized I was referring to the flag!  Yes, that flag, the red flag of communism.  Just one example of how my character and I could see the same place with a totally different look!

I met other people who gladly shared their experiences with me. I feel that I made friends in Germany who I can call on again – to answer questions about their personal experiences, help with research, answer language questions, and maybe even authenticate my manuscript someday.

On our last day in Halle some of our new friends took us to the Halloren Shokoladen Fabrik, Germany’s oldest chocolate factory.  It was the sweetest possible way to end our time there – with a few good friends and bags of German chocolate to go.

Their exhibits included so much more than chocolate. These mannequins dressed as Young Pioneers were one of several communist era displays.  And the following is a glimpse into part of the WWII era on exhibit there.

During the Nazi era, factory changed its name from David to Mignon so it would not sound Jewish.

I don’t know for sure how this information fits into my story but it just might! After all, the history of the chocolate factory or any other part of Halle is in some small way, my character’s history too. I tried to soak up as much as I could of the place, the people, and their backstory in hopes that the essentials ooze their way into my writing.

I learned a lot while I was in Germany. But I wasn’t even back on American soil when I realized I’d missed some spots altogether. I’m pretty sure this means I have to to go back!  Maybe I will even get to see the oldest carousel in the world.

Thanks so much for sharing, Joyce!  And I do hope someone can identify that tree, because we have them here in Hannover, and I’ve been trying to identify them for a long time now.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter is the author of Blue, Comfort, Healing Water, and Best Friends Forever. Find out more about her at www.joycemoyerhostetter.com and www.joycemoyerhostetter.blogspot.com.

That Berlin Buzz

What a hip, creative vibe Berlin has. Like a really smooth espresso—cranks you up but doesn’t make you jumpy.

I was there in July and wished I could bottle the buzz and take it with me. It made me want to write, paint, photograph, disco!

Twenty years after the reunion of East and West Germany, Berlin is still re-inventing itself. It’s bustling with construction: here’s a photo taken from the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), with a view of all the cranes going outside it:

One of my favorite spots this visit was the dome of the Reichstag, the home of the German parliament (the first shot above is looking up through the open dome).

The original dome, which was destroyed during World War II, was also glass and steel (see below), but the current one (below the original) looks like something from The Phantom Menace.

File:Reichstagsgebaeude.jpg

File:Berlin reichstag west panorama 2.jpg

Look inside the dome in the next photo. It’s actually open to the elements, so snow and rain enter the center column (the part that looks like a mirrored tornado) and get recycled.

The glass dome is meant to be symbolic of transparency in the present-day German government. But it also struck me as such a symbol of the city and of modern Germany itself. The über-eco space-age cupola joined with the damaged historic building feels like what Berlin is all about.

The New York Times had a debate recently about where young Hemingway would go to live in 2011. Paris again? London? Two debaters (of five or so) voted for Berlin, and I’d cast my vote for Berlin, too. It’s a magnet for creatives these days in part because it’s much more affordable than other big cities.

Holly Becker of decor8 recently wrote a post about creatives living in Berlin. She highlights a German website, Freunde von Freunden that gives sneak peeks into artists’ homes.

For some fascinating photography of historic Berlin (and other European) sites, check out this post by annekata post here. She highlights the work of two photographers who specialize in merging war-time and modern photographs. The effect is mind-blowing.

(Sadly, annekata is no longer blogging, but she’s left up her posts, which are chock-full of inspiration).

Below is a shot from an East Berlin neighborhood where we visited an old family friend. The whole place was hopping with energy and a sense of humor.

For everyone who’s been wondering where I’ve been, I’m back. We’ve done lots of traveling this summer, and I hope to share some more about that soon. The kids are both back in school as of today.

If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about my travels within Germany, check out these posts:

Chillin’ at the North Sea

Castle Storming in the Mosel Valley

Christmas Magic at Bueckeburg Castle

Day Trip from Hannover: Celle

For other travels in Europe, click on the “Travel” category.

*The two photos of the exterior of the Reichstag are from wikipedia.

Danish and German Flea Market Finds

I could just about feel the flea market in Copenhagen pulling me across the street. Come look! Cool bargains you won’t find anywhere else! Luckily, the family obliged for a few minutes, while I gasped over the budget prices for vintage Danish ceramics.

If you’ve ever been in Copenhagen, you know it’s not really a place for bargain shopping. So I was excited to find the blue Mother’s Day and the black/ white Bjørn Wiinblad plates. Just a few euros a piece for perfect souvenirs.

I’ve been interested in Bjørn Wiinblad since discovering his work in the pages of Holly Becker’s new book, Decorate. Jonathan Adler, whose home is featured in the book, collects Wiinblad, and I just love the zany, humorous figures. BTW, if you want some totally awesome inspiration for your home, get Holly’s book. I’m thinking about just setting up camp in its pages.

The Wiinblad plates are from a 12-month series. I got October and December.

The blue Mother’s Day plates, which are about dessert size but designed for hanging, are Royal Copenhagen from the 70’s. They made one of these plates for each year between 1971 and 1982.

The other two plates (playing children/ animals) I bought at a charity shop here in Hannover. They’re children’s china, something you find a lot more of here because children are expected to use “real” plates, not plastic, as well as real silverware and glass glasses. I just couldn’t resist the one with the children playing. So cute.

The animal plate cracks me up because the wolf is smoking a pipe—-such a taboo nowadays, especially on a product for children. This plate was made in East Germany. I’m not too worried about it turning my son into a delinquent.

The kids love their plates, and I’ve planned a spot on the wall for the Bjørn Wiinblad ones. I’m still looking for a home on the wall for the Mother’s Day plates.

The SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Summer Solstice Scrawl Crawl was a lot of fun. This was an event blog where SCBWI members across Europe sketched and wrote all day on Tuesday and shared their creations on the same blog. Here’s my entry here, but make sure to check out the others. It’s really interesting to see where people were all across the continent.

I’ve been missing NPR lately and listening to a bunch of old Fresh Air interviews over the web. Favorites: Jason Schwartzman, Chloe Sevigny, Jason Segel, and Ted Danson. I guess I’m feeling like listening to actors. We’ve been watching HBO’s Bored to Death on DVD (with Schwartzman and Danson). It’s always surprising to hear about an actor’s real life—-like, not the tabloid stuff but the nitty gritty, their insecurities. A lot of those in my list have other legit creative pursuits besides acting, too (writing, fashion, music), which I find fascinating.

Hope to see you again soon. School is almost out for us, which means posts may be a bit more scattered, but I’ll be here as much as I can.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out this other one about thrifting here in Germany.

Lost-in-Translation Strawberry Jam

When berry picking last weekend, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. With our overstock of berries, I decided to make strawberry jam for the first time.

One problem. They don’t sell pectin by itself here in German grocery stores. It comes mixed with sugar, so none of my American cookbooks would help me much.

Another problem. The recipes on the back of the sugar/ pectin packages required a metric scale, which I didn’t feel like buying. Problem #3 since the pectin and sugar are mixed together in a proportion I couldn’t decipher, I couldn’t very well figure out how to control the sweetness factor, which is a big thing for me. Too much sugar drowns the flavor, I think.

And finally, I have no canner or Mason jars, no space to store them, and even if I did, they don’t sell them here. Or so I’ve heard.

So, I decided to wing it with my own made up version of freezer jam, tasting and hoping it would all turn out.

Luckily it seems to have worked. Sorry I can’t share a recipe, since I didn’t measure anything. It involved berries, sugar/pectin, lemon zest, and lemon juice.

In other news, I did a double-take when I encountered this under my computer desk:

Aaagh! Then I realized it was just a scrap from a current sewing project. It’s almost like I did it on purpose, right?

Tomorrow the European chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is doing a cool bloggy thing. Members across Europe (including me) have signed up here, where we’ll be sharing sketches and scribbles all day. It’s called the Summer Solstice Scrawl Crawl. Check it out.

Also, check out this totally simple but genius craft (below) at Holly Ramer’s stitch/craft. Perfect for keeping the kids entertained while traveling this summer. Why didn’t I think of this?