Archive for September, 2006

September 29, 2006

Spätzle and Kitchen Knives

I promised to write an entry on spätzle (see previous post), so here it is.I managed to flatten my spätzlebrett, which I then took to Dresden last weekend where some of my fellow Fulbrighters and I made Kässpätzle, spätzle baked with cheese and topped with caramelized onions.I also had promised them the recipe for spätzle, which I had forgotten until last night when I was celebrating the purchase of my very own knives with a spätzle dinner.

Buying kitchen knives has been a difficult process and has taken me over a month and a half.It has been so tempting to reach for the 100+ Euro knife sets that were on sale by Zwilling and Henkel and WMF (a German knife and kitchen supply company that makes my mouth drool).I have decided that if I win a million dollars, I would first put aside enough money to put a WMF-outfitted kitchen in my dream home, and then give the rest to charity.I’m not exactly sure what my dream kitchen would look like, but I know it would have every utensil and appliance I would ever need (within reason of course), including – but not limited to: a food processor, a kitchen aid, a stove (preferably with oven!), and a “woosh-woosh thingy” (those blender sticks that are so handy for soups, milkshakes, frozen juice concentrate, and anything else that needs a quick “woosh-wooshing”).And, of course, my kitchen would have the ultimate: a tool whose only purpose is to scrape off dough that is stuck on the counter after kneading it.That, my dear friends, is a priceless tool.No knife can come near its efficiency in scraping dried dough and flour mixtures off of granite or linoleum!

However, I am getting off topic:the knives.It hurt very much to go to Karstadt, Germany’s biggest department store chain, and pass all the beautiful shiny knife sets to go to the hidden “Back Shelf of Shame” and buy the cheap non-brand-name knives.Of course, it’s just not practical to be buying the shiny amazing knife sets because I have no idea when I will stop moving around and be in one place for a long period of time.And it really is silly to be carrying around a knife block that weighs half as much as my baggage allowance on international flights.So, I picked out three rather nice-looking knives: a large chopping knife, a smaller chopping knife, and (I just couldn’t resist) a small serrated knife for tomatoes from WMF’s beginner’s line.

All three proved to be decent knives last night when I got to work peeling, chopping, and cutting mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and more for my dinner.As I sat down to eat dinner, including my first green salad since I got here (I have resisted buying a salad spinner, without which I find it very difficult to make salad – but that’s an entry for another day!) I began to think of all the food I can make now in my Amelie Kitchen.Being able to julienne opens up so many possibilities!

Spätzle

Note: this is a very difficult recipe to understand without having actually seen someone “scrape spätzle.” I am attempting to describe the process here, but I will continue to think of ways to improve this recipe and would welcome your advice as well!

Serves 4

500grams Flour
4 Eggs
½ tsp Salt
Water

Crack eggs into bowl, add a dash of water, flour and salt.Beat violently (yes, violently!) with a wooden spoon.When the dough forms bubbles on its own when you stop beating it is ready.

Bring a full pot of saltwater to the boil.Make the spätzlebrett wet with cold water and place a spoonful of spätzle on top.Dip knife into boiling water and then scrape off the spätzle dough in small, thin pieces into the water.After scraping off all the dough from the board, let the spätzle float at the top and then take out with a sieve and place in a casserole dish or an oven-proof bowl.Continue scraping the rest of the spätzle dough in portions, keeping the finished spätzle in a warm oven.

Serving options:

Kässpätzle: sprinkle cheese (Swiss, cheddar, or any other favorite cheese, preferably a sharper, aged cheese) into the spätzle.Caramelize some onion rings and top the cheese/spätzle with them.Place in 350۫ F oven until cheese is melted and as crispy as you like.This is a quick and yummy option, especially for singles on a tight budget and time-crunch (once you get the hand of making spätzle of course!).

Spätzle are very tasty, and fancier, served with any roast and topped with a gravy made from the roast’s drippings.

Spätzle can also, as in the photograph, be made with pork chops: brown pork chops on both sides in a pan with olive oil.Remove and keep warm in an oven.In the same pan with the drippings, sauté finely-chopped onions for 2-3 minutes, until clear.Add your favorite mushrooms, sliced, and continue to sauté until the mushrooms’ resulting juices have almost cooked off.Add a dash of white wine, and broth or water (optional), about a teaspoon or two of tomato paste, and seasonings to taste.Allow the alcohol to simmer off, then return the pork chops into the sauce (with the juices that have formed from them) and simmer until done (if the chops are thin, which is recommended, this shouldn’t take long).Serve hot with spätzle and a green salad.

September 27, 2006

Bureaucracy


Last fall for a German composition class I wrote a stylistic essay on Germany’s bureaucracy. It became quite Kafkaesque and was about someone who went to an office and stood in a long line waiting only to find out that s/he was in the wrong place and had to go somewhere else to find the right document. While I had had my share of experiences of Germany’s infamous (dis)organized system, I think I at least doubled them since coming here on the Fulbright. Fulbright warned us: they gave us a “bureaucracy checklist” and on each step of the way wrote things like “Don’t forget to smile!” What dark humore the Fulbright commission has…

One nice thing about living in a small town is that it reduces some of the pains of bureaucracy. Or perhaps at least the standing in line part. My first trip was to the Einwohnemeldeamt to register my residence in my apartment in Radeberg. I wandered over to the city hall (Rathaus) and walked right into the correct office. I would find out later that I got lucky. A very nice lady helped fill everything out and then explained how to get to Kamenz, the main city of the county, to register for my Aufenthaltsgenehmigung. This long word describes the visa I have to get retroactively to continue studying and working here as an American. Unfortunately she explained quite vaguely, and looking back she really didn’t explain very well at all. Luckily I had called ahead at the office before going, so they expected me. I took my massive folder (see picture) that has every official document in it that I hopefully will ever need this year, and headed off for Kamenz.

Upon arrival I asked the first person I saw at the train station how to get to the Landradsamt which housed the Ausländerbehörde, the Foreigner’s Office. The lady looked at me blankly. “Which one? There’s this one and that one…” and she began listing off names of offices I never knew existed. She was, however, able to give me clear directions upon clarification and I finally found the right building. I walked up the steps to the building the big front door automatically swung open as I approached, as if God or some invisible person were standing waiting for me to come. A bit creepy if you ask me. I asked at the front desk for the right office, as there wasn’t much written on signs, and she told me to walk to the end of the hall. I did.

At the end of the hall there was still no sign that I was in the right place, only a group of chairs set up in the hall in front of four identical-looking doors. A woman and her young son were sitting there waiting. Another woman came out of a room that was labeled simply Akten (Files) and I asked her if I was in the right place. She said yes. I asked if I should take a number, and she said “No, just knock” and rushed off to a different door, unlocked it, and slipped in.

Which door do I knock on?

I hestitantly tapped on a door that an Asian man had just went into. Two women were in there as well, and both called out “Wait outside!” So I did. The Asian man finally came out, and I knocked again and went in. “So you need a picture?” one woman asked. “Um, I’m not sure. I need an Aufenthaltsgenehmigung.” “Oh that doesn’t exist anymore.” “It doesn’t?” “No.” Pause, while I expected her to give me more help. Did she expect me to go away happy with that answer? No, she needed prompting: “Well, what do I need if I’m an American here for the year?” “In that case you need an Aufenthaltsbewilligung.” “Oh.” “And besides, you’re not in the right place at all! You have to knock on room E85. This is E89!” “Oh, I’m sorry.”

By this time two other men of Middle Eastern decent were waiting outside. I asked them if they were waiting for the same room as me and they nodded. However, they went into E86. So when they came out, and there had been no activity around E85, I knocked on E86. Now, in the meantime, many people had followed the file lady’s suit, and had slipped in and out of these locked doors with their handy dandy keys. So as I went into E86, the same lady in the photo room was in there and cried out “No, no! You can’t come in here. You need E85! E85! Right there. They don’t want you here!” Ah. I see. But the doors look exactly the same! I wanted to say, but instead I simply knocked on E85 and opened the door a crack, beginning to really become afraid of this knocking business. By that time an Indian man had entered E85 and the two ladies in there called out the usual “Wait outside!” I sighed, sat down, and pulled out Siddhartha from Hermann Hesse. Perhaps a little Buddhism would remind me that this would all pass and is inconsequential in the long run.

The Indian man finally came out of E85 and I went in. The ladies remembered that I had been the “Ami” who had called earlier. They asked me for all of my papers and documents, my passport, and then said “Go over to E89 to get your picture taken. Then wait outside and we’ll try to get this done today.”

Done today? It was already four fifteen in the afternoon! Impossible! It’s supposed to take weeks!

I shyly knocked on E89 and opened the door. The lady seemed exasperated to see me at first, but I said with a smile (remembering Fulbright’s advice) “Now I need your assistance and would like a picture.” Unbelievably, I accomplished a miracle that afternoon, and within two hours of being in the Ausländerbehörde I walked out with my visa. And by the way, it says Aufenthaltstitel.

September 21, 2006

The Living Room

As promised, some more pictures of the apartment. Here the living room.

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September 21, 2006

My Amelie Kitchen


My Amelie Kitchen

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September 19, 2006

The First Documentation of the Fruits from My Amelie Kitchen

I’ve been very active in my kitchen lately. While I still have to make culinary contacts in the area, I am well on my way to experimenting with some traditional German recipes. I call it my Amelie Kitchen, because I found her kitchen in the movie to express so many of her deepest emotions: from love to loneliness, from camaraderie with the old Renoir painter to working out her plots to brighten other people’s lives. She doesn’t only cook in it, she lets down her mask and lives in it. This is what I find most appealing about cooking: not only the cooking itself, but also the humanity that results from mixing various ingredients together.

When my parents came to visit me last week, my mother gave me a cookbook with traditional Schwäbisch recipes in it. Schwabenland is where my mother grew up, and where I have spent most of my time in Germany. I was very excited to find beautiful pictures and very clear directions of dishes that I grew up with but have no idea how to cook on my own. Traditionally such cookbooks assume you already know how to cook the dishes and just need a reminder that you have to add “some flour” to the noodle dough. While my way of cooking from a book is rather liberal, I was very happy to have detailed descriptions on how to prepare my favorite dishes.

Over the weekend I successfully attempted making spätzle, a traditional noodle/dumpling carbohydrate, with the special cutting board my father (expert spätzle maker) gave me the last time I was in Germany; however, I was disheartened to wake up yesterday morning to find my precious spätzlebrett sitting on the dish drain warped into a sad frowny-face. I’m working on re-shaping it, and therefore must postpone writing the spätzle entry for another day.

However, another carbohydrate, which doesn’t require the use of deformed wooden utensils, provided a tasty alternative for tonight’s menu. Schupfnudeln, thick noodles made from a potato dough, require some planning ahead and at least an hour or more of work before you want to put your food on the table, but are worth every bit of the gooey mess that is a common side-effect. They can be served sweet or savory. Originally I wanted to serve them with some sauerkraut, though unfortunately my kitchen went on strike again: I didn’t have a can-opener. So, the tin can was placed in the cupboard to wait with the spätzlebrett for another day and out came the reserve jar of apple sauce (unfortunately not homemade, but alas, I cannot have everything). Because, as my boyfriend will tell you, I cannot have only sweets for dinner, I made a delicious appetizer of zucchini soup as well. Overall it turned into a delightful meal, with plenty of leftovers for the fridge and freezer.

Schupfnudeln

Note: This recipe has been translated from German to English, but still remains (for the time being) in metric units. Recipe adapted from “Landfrauen-Rezepte aus Schwaben” by Claudia Daiber.

Serves 4

1kg cooked potatoes (to be cooked a day ahead and cooled completely)
150g flour
1-2 eggs
Salt
Butter or Sunflower Oil

Peel the cooled potatoes and mash or finely grate them. Knead in the flour, egg(s) and salt to form a dough. With plenty of flour in your hands, pinch off sections of the dough and roll into thin strips with pointy ends, about 1cm in thickness. Lay them on a floured surface. Place in batches into a pot of boiling water. When the noodles float at the top, remove them and place them in a dish. (Note: The noodles may stick together a bit, but the water from each batch will “loosen” them from each other enough until the next step). When all the noodles are cooked, melt the butter in a pan on med-high to high heat and sauté the noodles until they are crispy brown, 1-2 minutes, turning them once halfway.

Serve with warmed sauerkraut or fresh homemade applesauce. For a non-vegetarian option, cooked pieces of bacon can be mixed in with the sauerkraut. Schupfnudeln freeze very well. First freeze them flat on cookie sheets and then put them into freezer bags. This will prevent them from sticking to each other.