Sunday, 14 October 2012

Puff the Magic Dragon

lives by the sea, and frolics in the Autumn mist in a land called Essen-Kettwig (or something like that!) well we - 'Puff's Power Girls' frolicked alongside the Ruhr yesterday afternoon and partook of a Dragonboat Regatta.

Well we all showed up - 10 rowers paddlers, and one drummer girl so that was an achievement in the first place.  We were all appropriately clad in the PPG get up - pink hair, pink hoodie, tutu.... you get the picture!  And we were ready to rock (the boat) and roll (following a fortifying glass of bubbles!)

Eleven eccentrically clad expat ladies had entered a team in the local regatta - quite what we were thinking I'm not entirely sure.....  Five of us had managed to attend our one and only training session (so that left half the team sitting in a dragonboat for the first time yesterday) but we were all more than willing and so  buoyed up buy the Adrenalin and high spirits from the over-excited squeakiness that only 11 girls in pink can manage (and the bubbles of course!) we traipsed through town and down to the river - I'm not quite sure what the locals made of us - but we were very chatty with them en route....

How did we come to be in this predicament... well we have to thank Kettwigefrau and Lipstick&Laptop for their (drunken) suggestion that we ladies should mount a team (our own I mean here and not one of the Lycra clad real rowers......) and participate in the annual local regatta.  Having seen the flyer, we noticed the encouragement of fancy dress ( and indeed a prize for the most original) and of course most of our focus was on that and not the rowing.  We might have won the prize for the costumes (YAY!!!!) but for course we hadn't taken the racing seriously enough by half (this is Germany....) and of course we came last - 20 out of 20.  We were most disgruntled to have to race back to back for the booby prize as that meant we were somewhat delayed in reaching the beer tent......

But, do you know what - despite the ridiculous outfits and the shockingly poor paddling performance, we had an absolute ball!  We were out there - pink and proud and chatting away to all and sundry and I think we embodied the 'it's not the winning but the taking part' mantra!  We had a great deal of very welcome support from (some very embarrassed) friends and family  - Thank You All!

And so what next - well next year's regatta is already in the diary - but we're thinking a 20 man mixed team would be the way forward - but we need a good costume idea for the boys...... not sure pink and tutus is quite their thing!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

October in Germany.....must be Oktoberfest

Now, I'm nowhere near Munich, or even Bavaria for that matter, but that doesn't stop the local (and not so local) businesses trying to cash in on what must be Germany's best known 'fest'.

Yes, down in sunny Bayern (Bavaria to you and me) and in M√ľnchen (or Munich) to be more precise, in September each year, the spectacle that is the Oktoberfest takes place.  This fortnight long (approximately, depending on when the first Sunday in October lands) beer fest was started in 1810 to commemorate the Royal Wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Theresa.  The fields where the first festival were held were called the Theresienwiese in her honour but this has been shortened by the locals to the "Wies'n" and this is the location of the Oktoberfest beer tents and fairground. And yes, it's not actually in October - it runs for the 16 days prior to the first Sunday in October - but let's not split hairs on this - some of it will be in October!

Some more interesting facts and figures from Wikipedia.

Well, the whole of Germany seems to sit up and want to join the party during the Oktoberfest.  Here, in my little corner of Nord-Rhein Westfalen, almost every restaurant or brewery seems to be having an 'Oktoberfest Woche' a week where there are themed menus and special beers, even the school canteen is offering Bavarian specialities this week - much to #1son's chagrin! 

The supermarkets too cash in on this feverishness during the run up to the Fest, there are often special offers on all things Bayrisch from Breze (pretzels) to beer - and all things in between.  You see the classic blue and white checked symbol of Bavaria on all manner of items, not just those which may be in any small way related to the fest - indeed today at a local shop I came across Oktoberfest themed nappies - I did actually buy them as they were a 'special edition' of my usual buy - they are quite sweet though!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

And breathe......

Well we've managed to survive IT - hurrah!  The 'it' in question is the long-awaited sleepover birthday party requested by #1son.

OK - so it's only been about 6 weeks since his birthday - so not too bad (one friend has managed to postpone a party from January - that takes some respect - my defences would have been well and truly worn down by that point!).  Yesterday lunchtime we had 4 8-year-old boys added to our own three Kindling for a whole 24hours!

Unbirthday boy had been super excited for days - and of course that doesn't translate well to the actual thing as it's never quite what you wanted and the over-excitement is not a good recipe for a fun time for everyone - cue dictatorial direction of what people could/couldn't do or play with - where they could/couldn't go - who could sit next to him and so forth.

We took the boys to see Madagascar 3 at the cinema (in German of course) as the birthday treat - which apparently was very good - so says A as he got to see it, I was entertaining a 2-year-old during this (we tried to go shopping but although she was remarkably compliant there were too many people and I had lost the ability to shop yesterday.....that's another story in itself!)

So home post cinema, takeaway pizza ordered, delivered, eaten (wine for mummy and daddy - a fruity little Muscadet if you're interested!) and  the world was almost a better place!  Cake....(yay) of course was then required - it was a birthday celebration after all.....!

#1 son had requested 'The Titanic' as the theme for his cake - he's been somewhat obsessed with it this year due to the coverage of the centenary anniversary - don't get me (or rather him) started on the topic as he's very interested in the minutiae and specifics (in a way only 8-year-old boys can be) and I really don't know/don't care/can't be bothered to find out how many life jackets they had on board and how  effective they were.....

Anyway, I digress - a Titanic cake - why do I let myself in for these things - surely a clock would be so much better and easier...... Well after some deliberation, I felt a sinking scene would be easier to achieve than the boat itself and so here you have it....

What I did was to bake a square sponge and cut a decent sized corner off, this corner was then trimmed down to make a 'bow of a boat' shape and then fixed mid-sink to the middle of the remained of the square piece.  I then constructed an iceberg from mini-marshmallows, glued together with buttercream icing.... I built the iceberg up a bit more from that in the picture as the consensus was that it needed to be more imposing (if a marshmallow tower can indeed be imposing at all!)

So candles out, cake eaten, beds arranged around the bedroom, children in pj's and then we have some 'quieten down time' (ha, ha, ha) with a bit of Scooby Doo and then glow sticks provided and off to bed at a reasonable time - later than usual but not so late that we can't have our supper in peace. 

Now, I'm not naive enough to think they'd go to sleep anytime soon - but  hadn't banked on me needing to go to sleep before they did - chattering boys combined with wakeful 2-year-old do not make for a happy mummy!!  Still, the boys seemed to have a good night - and despite the last one not going to sleep until just before 1am, they were all bright and breezy when they were up at 7am this morning.....

Which is more than can be said for me!

So I think we've survived IT - just a few more minutes before they're due to be collected and everyone seems happy.  Will we do it again........that remains to be seen!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Wine of the Month - October 2012

We're all off to sunny Spain, E Viva Espania!

And so we are... heading to sunny Spain for October's recommendations.  Notice the plural there - yes I have two delights for you this month.

Firstly, one of my favourite aperitifs.  Sherry - Jerez - Xeres however you want to write it.  I know it conjures up spinsters and schooners of sweet sherry after church, but if you pick the right one for the right occasion, sherry can be a real surprise.

I like a very dry, well chilled sherry as an aperitif, or as an accompaniment to tapas-y type nibbles (olives, marinaded white anchovies, salty nuts etc etc).  My sherry of choice is usually a Fino - dry, crisp and always very very cold - even over ice on occasion.

If you're after a bit more information - the wheres, whys, hows of Sherry - then look here

My tip for the month is a good old favourite - Tio Pepe - and specifically a Palomino Fino as also recommended by Susy Atkins in the Telegraph.  

I can find it for about 7EUR in my local supermarket - but it's often hidden amongst the white wine - we don't want too many people to find it you see!! 

Try it - I'm sure that you'll be another convert and slowly but surely we can dispel the fusty image that Sherry still has in the UK.  Harvey's Bristol Cream has an awful lot to answer for (and no I wouldn't touch the stuff with a barge-pole!)

I promised you two treats this month - and here's my second tip. 


Ye- what?  I hear you cry - well it's another Spanish wine region, a well kept secret in my opinion - under rated and not well known.  It's a DOC/AOC area of South Eastern Spain - near to Murcia - and other wine producing gems such as Jumilla.

It predominantly produces reds with the Monastrell grape as their base.  Though these are often blended to make lovely, full-bodied, easy drinking wines.  Furthermore, as it's not that well known an area, the wines are often very good value too.

I've blogged before about our favourite online Spanish wine store and we keep going back to them for reds - the wines they supply suit our preferred style of wine - big robust reds full of peasants feet and sunshine!!

The Yecla we've most recently tried - and boy was it yummy (and less than 5EUR a bottle) was Nembus - highly recommended if you find it!

So there you have it - crisp dry aperitif courtesy of Tio Pepe and then hearty reds to follow with the typical rich food of the season - stews, roasts, oh and a good bit of cheese too!!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Birthday Bonanza

We're well into birthday season here in the Expatemma household.  It runs from late August through til the beginning of November - but October is the real bonanza month - I think there are eight this month.  Now of course, birthdays mean lots of things - but here, there's a lot of importance placed on cake.....  yup you guessed it, more baking fun!!

Well celebrating a 65th birthday this year, you do really need to pull out all the stops - and this included a surprise weekend away for the birthday boy who was lucky enough to share this milestone with his family all together in Deutschland.

Cake wise, I'd been inspired by tinnedtomatoes when I saw this fantastic After Eight cake on her blog - and it was yummy....  a moist, tower of a concoction with peppermint buttercream, chocolate buttercream - and topped off with after eights..... yummy!

You can find the recipe here it's very easy to do and you get a fantastically light and moist cake from the very runny batter you end up with - it does work so although it looks far too runny to be a cake keep with it!

I split the said batter into three tins and we went from this:

to this:

The buttercream is my usual 1:2 recipe - 250g butter well whipped on its own with 500g icing sugar - followed by whatever flavourings you fancy - in this case a few drops of peppermint essence in the white icing and a very generous shake or three of cocoa powder for the chocolate.

The resulting cake was a tower of lusciousness, very moist yet light and airy - and lots and lots of icing - just right to celebrate with some well chilled Sekt!

More cake to be constructed later in the week too as we are finally (only about 6 weeks after the event - well I suppose we can't be accused of binging bad luck on him by doing it early...) holding Son#1's birthday party - his requested 'sinking of the Titanic' might be a bit beyond me but no doubt something suitably nautical will be produced..... fingers crossed it meets with approval!  Watch this space....