Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adventures in Food

Part of the fun of being an expat is exploring different kinds of food... but it's not without its rough spots.  Here, especially, there seem to be so many foods that I've never seen or heard of, or which look the same as at home but aren't.  At all.

Like the time I bought what I thought was bacon.  It looked just like it, only thicker, but when I cooked it, it shriveled up and turned gray.  It was disgusting, tough, practically inedible.  Yuck.  The kids were so disappointed.  (For your reference, it was lard maigre.  I still don't know what you're supposed to do with it, but don't fry it like bacon!)

And then there's the yogurt.  The dairy aisles here are overwhelming!  At home I used to make my own yogurt because I didn't like all the sugary, gelatin-filled options available.  Here, no way.  The yogurt is amazing!

And then there's the stuff that looks like yogurt but isn't:  fromage frais, something I'd never heard of at home.  It's delicious -- very thick and creamy (and probably full of fat, but who cares?  It's worth it!).

It confused me at first.  Remember this?

And this?

I finally asked someone at a grocery store what that Stoffi was and it turns out it's another kind of fromage frais, made in Luxembourg and very high quality, according to the woman I asked.  Plus, she said, you can get money back for recycling the glass jar which you can't for the other stuff.

Speaking of which, I'm getting very brave about asking random shoppers (who can ever find a store employee when you need one?  Plus, in my experience, they're not too friendly.) about mysterious food items.  Without exception, I've gotten a friendly, detailed explanation of the item.  I love it!  It makes grocery shopping so much more fun if I can learn something useful!  I've found French people give the best explanations.  They really know what they're talking about and they seem to love sharing their knowledge.

So it's my new mission to ask about one mysterious grocery item every shopping trip.  Today it was this, galette des rois.  I've noticed they're all over the stores now.  I thought it must be some kind of cake for New Year's, but it's not.  It's for the 6th of January, Epiphany, the day the three wise men (kings?) brought gifts to the baby Jesus.

Oh, the things you learn living in such a Catholic country.  The woman I asked was really surprised I didn't know about it.  "Aren't there Catholics in the U.S.?," she asked.  Sure, but I don't think I've ever seen one of these cakes there.  Have you?

Here's what ours looks like:
We're not Catholic.  We'll be eating this on New Year's.  It'll be stale by Jan. 6!

There were two flavors, frangipane, which I had to ask about (almond powder, mixed with cream and sugar) and apple.  We went for the apple.

Anyway, there's a little object (the one she showed me was a baby) hidden in the cake and whoever gets it in their slice becomes the king or queen and wears the crown.  Sounds like long as you don't choke or break a tooth.

On second thought, I think I know why I've never seen one of these cakes in the U.S.

Since there are dozens of unfamiliar foods, I often end up googling my purchases.  Next on my google list:  

 Unfortunately for me, everything's on this one's written in German, which may as well be Greek to me.  So off to Google I go.  I'm sure hoping this is chicken stock because jarred or canned broth isn't available here.  Everyone uses bouillon cubes or these little gelatin things that you mix with water.  They're delicious but not very convenient when you just need a cup of broth.

Oh, and these things:

I'm not sure what they are (parsnips?) but I put them in a chicken pot pie last night and they were pretty good.

And then there's our New Year's Day meal.  Since Roger's from Texas, I usually make the traditional southern meal, ham, greens and black eyed peas, all foods supposed to bring good luck in the new year.

Fortunately, I was able to find all these things here in Luxembourg... or at least I think I did.

Do these look like greens of some kind to you?

Whatever they are, I'm planning on chopping them up and cooking them with some lardons, one of my favorite discoveries here.

And this.  I'm pretty sure it's ham, I know it's pork, let's just hope I'll be able to figure out how to cook it. I really hope it's not a huge hunk of lard maigre.  I need to google this one right away.

The black-eyed peas were no problem.  Those I found.  Since I didn't see any friendly shoppers to ask about these other things, I'm just going to experiment and hope for the best.

I'll let you know how it turns out!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Où sont les pelles à neige?

That's a question I've perfected over the last couple of weeks.

What's a pelle à neige, you ask?

Not one to be found in the whole city of Luxembourg!!

And I really need one!  The never-ending snow we've had over the past few weeks means a lot of sidewalk to be cleared.  By law, residents have to clear the sidewalk in front of their houses by 7 a.m. or they risk being fined.  I've also heard you can be liable if someone falls and is injured but I'm not sure if that's true.  So there I am each morning with my rake and broom trying to clear a path for pedestrians.  Not too bad if the snow is light and powdery, but if someone's walked on it -- and they usually have -- it's packed down and frozen solid, pretty much impossible to remove with a plastic rake and a broom.

So I need a snow shovel!  But every store I've visited (five at last count) has been sold out with no delivery date in sight.

Will someone please send some snow shovels to Luxembourg right now?  We really need them!  And maybe some salt too.  They don't have that either.

Being a California girl, all this is new to me.  In fact, I was surprised to learn that dumping salt on icy steps removes the ice and makes them safe to walk on.  Who knew? (I know, everyone but me).    I guess I should've paid better attention in chemistry class.  They probably told us the effect salt has on ice.

Anyway, it doesn't matter because there's no salt in Luxembourg either.  I did figure out, though, that the salt you have to dump in your dishwasher (this stuff) works pretty well on icy steps.

In the meantime, as I scrape the ice away with my plastic rake, cursing winter under my breath, I'll keep repeating to myself... Only three more months till spring, three more months till spring...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Heidelberg, part two

The next morning we had some excitement.  Will lost his first tooth!

It happened in the breakfast room at our hotel, and the very nice German family having breakfast at the next table even applauded for Will.  He was very excited.

After breakfast we headed up to Heidelberg Castle.

It was beautiful!
 I thought this would be a great setting for a Christmassy photo with the kids.  Unfortunately, my husband stood 200 feet away and doesn't know how to use the zoom.

 But I got a good one of the kids.  I just had to remind them that Santa Claus is more likely to bring presents to kids who cooperate with their picture-happy mothers.  I'm going to miss that when Christmas is over!

 The castle was beautiful but the view -- breathtaking!

My newly gap-toothed boy:

Kate and Daddy: 

Here's Will plotting to throw snowballs at people below.  I didn't let him.

Aww, c'mon, Mom.  Please! Look how big my snowball is!!

Heidelberg is also home to the world's biggest wine vat.  I think it holds 228,000 liters.  Or something like that.  

Will was really impressed.

After the castle, we headed back to the Christmas market to do some ice skating.  

Will's first time on skates!

He did great!

Or at least Will went skating.  Kate spent that time posing with all the cute polar bears surrounding the rink. 

See the castle in the background?

We decided to leave Heidelberg early because we'd heard a huge storm was on the way and we didn't want to get stuck.  Good thing we did!  It took nearly five hours to get home and the drive was terrifying:  heavy snow on unplowed roads.  But we made it...

Heidelberg -- Christmas Market

This past weekend we went to Heidelberg to see the Christmas market, which we'd heard was wonderful.  It was!  It was our first trip to the city too, and we loved it.  Such a beautiful place and less than three hours from home.

The Christmas Market was fabulous.  Lots of cute, Christmassy things to buy, good German food (sausages, potato pancakes with apple sauce), hot chocolate and gluhwein (mulled wine).

It was snowing gently, which just added to the Christmassy atmosphere.  Not that I could get a decent picture of the kids.  So uncooperative.

 There were even some rides for the kids.  Again, no good pictures.  I think there's something wrong with my camera.  All the photos look like this:

Couldn't be the photographer I'm sure.  Maybe Santa will bring me a new camera for Christmas?

For some reason, there were even donkeys to pet and feed -- for the small price of 1.50 Euros.  Kate wanted to do it but then she wasn't so sure.

He looked like a gentle donkey to me.  But maybe from Kate's perspective...
 ...he was a little scarier.

She eventually gave him the carrot, no fingers lost.

 Will was too busy dancing around on the spotlights surrounding the square's fountains.  Apparently, they were really slippery.  All the little boys were enthralled with this activity.

He was so busy dancing he barely even noticed I snapped his picture.  Ha!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fun in the snow!

It has been snowing here and snowing and snowing.  Since the kids are out of school for the holidays, that means lots of time to build snowmen, have snowball fights and just generally play around in the snow.  The kids are in heaven.  Well, Will is.  Kate doesn't enjoy it quite so much.  Here's why:

The snow was so deep she kept sinking in up to her waist so she couldn't walk!

This allowed her brother...

Little stinker pelt her mercilessly with snowballs from his perch up high, while she lay helpless, mired in the snow.

I did step in eventually and put a stop to it.  But not right away.  It was kind of funny.

Kate soon regained her good humor and let us bury her in the snow.  I tried pretending we were on a warm beach, burying her in sand but it didn't really work.  My toes were too numb.

The more it snows the more I'm plotting our return to Tunisia (or some other beautiful, warm place with gorgeous beaches).

This is where I want to be!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kate in her Christmas Concert makeup

My little doll

Kate loved rehearsing for this play.  I've been hearing Christmas songs for weeks.  During the performance, though, she mostly had this frozen, deer-in-the-headlights look.  Most of the littlest ones did.  But isn't she cute?

Time for another dose of humiliation

I was just thinking the other day that I hadn't had any humiliating stories to tell lately.  I should've known better, because now I've got a good one.

I took the car to the gas station yesterday and -- listening to my bickering children -- was a little distracted as I fueled up.  The pump clicked off, I put the nozzle back and realized, with a sudden chill of horror, that I had just put GAS in my car.  My DIESEL car.  Merde.

I don't know much about cars, but I know that isn't good.  So I had to go back in to the gas station and explain to the attendants what I'd done.  They were very nice.  They helped me call the local auto club (thank goodness I joined!), pushed my car to the parking lot, and gave my children lollipops while we waited.

Kate had had her Christmas play that afternoon and was in full makeup (she was a doll).  In trying to explain the makeup, I inadvertently told the attendant  Kate had had cancer that morning.  Christmas cancer, to be exact.  In my defense, concert and cancer sound really similar in French.  Maybe that's why they got lollipops?  No, I think I clarified.  More humiliation...

The auto club towed my car to the local Toyota dealership and left it there to be repaired in the morning.   The kids and I took the bus to school this morning, a friend drove me to the airport to rent a car (got one of the last ones in Luxembourg!), and we hope to have our car back tomorrow.  Let's just not think about how much this little error will cost.

Of course, there is some good news:
•  I will be extra, extra careful to choose the right fuel from now on
• We now know how to take the bus to school
• I am perfectly proficient at explaining that I am an idiot in two languages!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Four seasons in Luxembourg

As seen from our backyard.



Late summer



Thursday, December 9, 2010

Magical snowfall...

... or a blizzard, depending on who you ask.

Me, I had nothing to do and -- since schools were closed because of the heavy snowfall -- nowhere to go, so I was perfectly happy with the outcome of last night's huge storm.

Can you believe how beautiful that is?

Everything looked like it had been dipped in white velvet.

And then the sun came out...


I know, it's just snow.  But you have to remember, I'm a California girl!  These things are very exciting to me.

Naturally, the kids spent the day playing in the snow, having snowball fights and building a big snowman.   This was our first ever snow day, and I have to say, I hope we have a few more!