Category Archives: Germany

World Cup recap – bonding over balls and beer

Are you a soccer fan? Prior to the recent World Cup tournament, I certainly wouldn’t have declared myself to be one. When I answered Matt Baumgartner’s call for temporary employees to assist during the tournament, I was responding as a worker, not a soccer fanatic. But, something has definitely changed. This whole soccer thing? I think I like it.

Although two of my boys play soccer, I’ve avoided the moniker “soccer mom” with the skill of a teenager ducking household chores. Not me, no way. I attend games and cheer enthusiastically from the sidelines, but I certainly have no interest in driving around in a minivan with a soccer ball decal stuck to the back window. You know me, I’m not much of a joiner or follower.

The first match I worked was Team USA vs Portugal. The crowd at Wolff’s Biergarten was tremendous – pumped up and loud, but in no way aggressive or obnoxious. I loved their enthusiasm and the excitement was contagious. This was definitely going to be fun.

As “our” team advanced, along with Team Germany, the team of my maternal side of the family, I realized that my soccer playing middle son needed to be part of the scene. I arranged to bring him and a couple of his friends down to check out a match. They were awesome! In a crowd of hundreds, they hung out, clad in red, white and blue, mesmerized by the game and the other spectators. I was impressed by their poise and comfort and knew that Griffin and I would become regulars for the duration of the tournament.

As the matches came fast and furious, so did the communication between my family and me – emails, Facebook messages and status updates. Knowing that my family in Germany were occupied watching the same event as we were, was intensely comforting. Who knew that a ball game could make the world seem so small? I absolutely loved it.

When Team USA was eliminated, we placed our energy into cheering on the motherland, Deutschland. Our German flag accompanied us to the subsequent matches and I cherished the opportunity to be proud of being German in a world that doesn’t always perceive us as being worthy of admiration. The hefeweizen flowed and steins were raised amidst shouts of Prost! and Griffin and I hung out, side by side, united in our interest for 90+ minutes.

Photo: Wolff's Biergarten

Photo: Wolff’s Biergarten

Four years from now, my son will be 19, perhaps not as inclined to hang out in a sports bar with his mom as he was this year. I’d like to think, though, that he’ll someday tell his own children about the times he and I spent together watching the World Cup. If he doesn’t, believe me, I will.

More pictures from the tournament here.

http://www.timesunion.com/seen-events/slideshow/SEEN-U-S-A-vs-Belgium-World-Cup-at-Wolff-s-88979.php

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Filed under Albany, beer, Boys, Events, family, Germany, soccer, Summer, television

Summer solstice

It isn’t often that I have a day when nothing displeases me. When such a day as this occurs on the absolutely longest day of the year, it makes for an incredibly satisfying day. That is precisely what I had yesterday.

flowers

baby’s breath, peonies, roses

The day began with flowers as I cut a bouquet of the beautiful roses and peonies which are currently blooming in my garden, as well as in my neighbor’s backyard. Jeter and I followed breakfast with an early morning visit to the dog park where he played with a lovely dog who had recently been rescued from NYC. I resisted the urge to immediately adopt the sweet young dog, but I do hope she finds her forever home soon.

berries

a berry warm from the sun is one of nature’s ultimate delights

My middle son’s mid morning haircut appointment went well and I left the salon with plenty of time to get home, swap boys and head to Altamont Orchards to pick some strawberries. It took less than 25 minutes to pick 3 quarts of sweet and juicy berries. On our way home we stopped at the Guilderland location of Fin where Quinn got an apple juice and an already prepped meal of seasoned swordfish with corn salsa.

I made an easy caprese salad for lunch, with my own basil, and reveled in the simple delight of summer eating. I followed my meal by folding a couple of loads of laundry while watching the first half of the Germany-Ghana match with Griffin, my source for soccer commentary. Germany looked good, especially their keeper (holy hotness!), and I decided it was a fine time to make my way to a joint high school/elementary graduation party in Delmar. Since the day was supremely beautiful, I chose to ride my new bike and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

The party was lovely and my initial impression about not knowing anyone was rapidly put aside as I enjoyed meeting and talking with some really nice people. Seems I was wrong about not knowing anyone as connections were quickly made. Yes, it is a small world. Griffin kept me abreast of the match via text and I loved knowing that my son and my family in Germany were simultaneously taking in the same event – more connections.

sword

swordfish steak, corn salsa, steamed spinach

I rode home and made a simple and delicious dinner while taking care of our bounty of strawberries. It was strip steak and corn on the cob for the guys and grilled swordfish with a side of steamed local spinach for me. So delicious! After cleaning up the kitchen, I prepped about half of our strawberries for the freezer already anticipating their eventual use in smoothies. I should have picked more!

Jeter and I returned to the dog park for round two but ended up home again after a short while since it is never really fun to be the only dog at the dog park. While playing fetch in the yard, I got to witness the reaction of two teenaged girls to my son’s haircut (“Oh my God, you cut your hair!” exclaimed in a shriek.) which is still making me laugh.

I changed into running clothes and hit the streets for a fast (for me) 5 miles, luxuriating in the extended twilight on this, the longest day of the year. There were only pleasant aromas tickling my nose and I realized that there hadn’t been a single affront to my senses all day long. The temperature, the smells in the air, everything I had eaten, the conversations shared, the view along the drive to the berry patch, the birds at the feeder…every single thing had given me pleasure. It was the beginning of a new season. Life is good.

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Filed under Albany, beauty, biking, Boys, Delaware Avenue, Dinner, Exercise, family, favorites, Flowers, friends, Germany, Local, Observations, running, Summer

Rise up

DSC_0015Last year, I was blessed to spend Easter in the Black Forest.  There was a dusting of new snow that morning and I attended mass alone in a beautiful church where the only word I truly understood was “Amen.”  It was perfect.    In the little town of Neustadt, thousands of miles from “home,” I had a deep sense of belonging to something larger than the daily world I have made for myself and my children.  I loved that holiday.

7lbs of bone-in prime rib

7lbs of bone-in prime rib

This year, the boys and I enjoyed a special dinner on Holy Saturday.  I jumped off the meatless Lent train a day early and we feasted on prime rib and grilled asparagus.  I opened a fine bottle of Bordeaux which, after our meal was consumed and cleaned up, I brought to the neighbors’ to share.  There were more bottles of wine uncorked and I enjoyed a relaxed spring evening.  It was lovely.

DSC_0025 This morning, I mastered the lamb cake mold my family had mailed from Germany a few weeks back.  It took three attempts to nail it.  The first try was a disaster – the pan fell over in the (newly cleaned) oven making an impressive mess as the batter flowed into the most impossible to clean crevices.  Take two involved an unfortunate premature slide of the cake from the perfectly buttered and floured mold as the poor lamb lost its head.  Literally.  Toothpicks put things back in place, but I decided to give it one final shot this morning and I found success.

These different experiences from last year to now, offer a wonderful perspective, for me, about life and living.  Home is where we feel loved.  Friends are family.  Sometimes we need to keep trying to get something right.  And, finally, we all need to rise up and live the life we have been given.  Happy Easter.

DSC_0040

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Filed under baking, family, friends, Germany, holidays, Observations, Spring

Giving up

You may not know this, but both of my parents came from large Catholic families.  Is that redundant?  I actually have an aunt and two deceased great aunts, who became nuns, for real.  I grew up hearing about how my mother’s family went to morning mass every day, staying for a marathon mass on Sundays.  It was kind of our family’s version of “I walked to school, uphill and in the snow…”  You get it.

Believe it or not, my mother somehow managed to have her two illegitimate children baptized in the mid-60s.  I can’t imagine that was an easy task.  Growing up, my brother and I made Holy Communion, but did not, other than on Christmas Eve, attend mass with our mother.  She was done.  I remember the challenge of being still and quiet for an hour, while outside the stained glass window summer’s blue sky beckoned.  It was harder than those wooden pews.  As I grew older, I developed more of an appreciation for the ritual – the readings, the up, down, kneel, the music and faces which grew familiar over the years.  And the sooty smoke wafting from those brass orbs dangling from the altar boys’ hands?  I loved it

Eventually, though, I really started listening to gospel, to the word, and some of what I heard I didn’t like.  I was in disagreement about gays and euthanasia and punishment for mistakes made.  I pictured a more benevolent god, sort of a cross between George Burns and John Denver.  I met with a priest at the Cathedral downtown and we talked and I explained my inability to own only part of my religion.  If I couldn’t believe in the whole thing, how could I practice?  Wasn’t it wrong to turn a blind eye to the tenets I found it impossible to embrace?  He echoed what I had been previously told by my Uncle Eamon, “Take what you believe in and leave off the rest.”  I walked away, sad, but committed to no longer feeling partially invested.  I left all of it.

On days, though, like today, I miss it.  The crossed ashes on my forehead, the quiet of the altar and the echo of feet on the stone floors, the honor of sacrifice… I think I’m going to mark Lent this year by exploring churches, be they literal or figurative.  A cathedral, a ski slope, a path through the woods, can’t they all be considered churches?  I’m hoping to hit each of those places within the next 40 days.  If you see me at any of those places, be sure to say hello.  Just don’t ask me join you for Burger Night at the Capital City Gastropub.  I gave up meat.

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Filed under aging, family, Germany, girlhood, holidays, Irish, musings

Home

20130717-101428.jpgOr maybe I should just say “I’m back” seeing as how many meanings that word home can have.

It’s an odd thing sometimes being first generation American, especially with a mother who wants nothing to do with her family and a father you never met. I met my first relative when I was 22, an age when I was living alone in a city I had chosen to reside in, not merely a place I had landed in haphazardly. I had purposefully chosen an apartment, my nicest one ever, and was making a place for myself away from anyone I knew and finally going to college. I was home.

The sense of being wanted by, and belonging, to a family was new to me and very much welcomed. I’d never before heard stories of my father, of his childhood and his many brothers and sisters, and I cherished each word. These kind and thoughtful Uncles and Aunts invited me into their homes and gave me the sense of being a part of something I had never known before. I was home.

I made contact and visited with my Mother’s family in Germany. I first met them when I was nearly the same age my mother had been when she last saw them. I was taken to her childhood home, where my Opa still lived, and embraced by her brothers and sisters. My joy in meeting them was reflected back to me in the warmth and interest I saw in their eyes. I was home.

For only the second time in my life, I’ve had the chance to see both sides of my family in the same year and it has been a powerful experience. We’ve shared meals and stories and memories. During my time in the countries where my parents were born, I’ve felt a connection – to my relatives, of course, but also to the air, the sky and the earth. It was almost organic. I was home.

What does home really mean? For me, it means being in a place where I want to be and knowing that I am loved and wanted. Home is everywhere.

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Filed under Europe, family, Germany, Ireland, musings, relationships, travel

Frühstück

DSC_0013We’ve all heard of, and perhaps even experienced, the “Continental Breakfast.” On occasion, I’ve encountered it in hotels and it has generally left me unimpressed with its often dried out bread items and unimaginative accompaniments. If I were from “the Continent” and was presented with one of those bastardized versions of what should be the most simple and satisfying meal of the day, I suspect I would be inclined to drop the uber-American phrase “Have a nice day!” liberally, and with increasing sarcasm, throughout the day.  You see, bad food makes me cranky.

During our visit with family last month we were spoiled by a version of the Continental breakfast.  It began with a trip to the bakery in town where we pointed, with increasingly difficult to maintain restraint, at the array of baked goods in the glass case.  Our chosen items were placed in a large, low-sided wicker basket to make keeping track of our selections easier. Personal favorites were the pumpkin seed topped rolls and the pretzel bread.  It ain’t all pumpernickel and rye, my friend.

DSC_0012Once back at home, the breads were placed on the table along with a dazzling array of meats and cheeses.  The meat selection included a smoky Black Forest cured bacon, ham, pâté, pimento studded bologna, and liverwurst.  Basically, more German cold cuts than can be found in any single Capital Region locale other than Rolf’s.  Also on the table were some cheeses, although these were primarily French except for a semi-firm Black Forest cheese which was pleasantly mild with a thick thread of smoke in the center.  I need to talk to the Cheese Traveler about that one.  The other cheeses were a St. Andre triple cream, a bleu and a camembert, each beautifully spreadable and delicious.DSC_0011

To round things out (my stomach, more specifically), there was some fantastic yogurt with way less sugar than its American counterpart, cereal, fruit and some sweet cherry tomatoes from Spain.  This type of breakfast is leisurely – one has a small plate and fills it maybe a couple of times.  The coffee is strong, with a nice crema layer on top, and each cup is brewed to order.  It all has a very Continental feel to it and I think it buries the French petite de jeuner.  Frühstück – it’s breakfast.

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Filed under breakfast, Eating, family, Food, Germany, travel, vacation

Feasting my way around Freiburg

My flammkuchen

My flammkuchen

A big part of traveling, for me at least,  is the food.  I’ve seen some stuff written recently about Michelin starred restaurants in Germany, but that wasn’t what this trip was about.  No, this time with family was more focused on home-style cooking a la Deutschland.

Wandering around Freiburg’s Munsterplatz earned us a delicious sausage sandwich from Meister’s food truck.  Topped with beautifully browned onions and a dab of mustard, it was the perfect snack to tide us over until dinner.  Next time I’m in Germany I hope to schedule an entire day in Freiburg eating, beginning with strong coffee and pretzel rolls smeared with unsalted butter.  I hope to make lunch a leisurely enough event that it will effortlessly flow into the evening’s repast.  I think the best way to accomplish this lofty goal would be to begin at the Munsterplatz’s food trucks with some version of wurst, washed down, naturally, with a fine hefeweizen or two.

For dinner, I plan to wander down to the Markthalle (food court) and sample as many different offerings as humanly possible.  “Food court” is a bit of a misnomer because this place is nothing like what you might find at Crossgates.

If the broom is out, they're open!

If the broom is out, they’re open!

It’s more like a German version of the restaurants at Eataly except the individual kiosks are each independent and devoted to an eclectic array of international cuisines.  There are tables and central gathering spots where one can enjoy a bite to eat and/or a drink and there is a bustling sense of activity akin to that of a bee hive. That’s where I want to be.

Unless, of course, I’ve got wheels and get a little outside of the city and find a Straussen or Broom restaurant.  We hit one of these last month in the Markgrafler wine region and thoroughly enjoyed the meal, the local wine and the cozy makeshift dining room in the winery’s tasting room.  I had the Flammkuchen and it was delicious – and perfect with the local wine!  Flammkuchen, or fire cake, is sort of like a pizza, but instead of tomato sauce, the top is spread with some sort of creamy yumminess.  I had mine with diced veggies and it was a satisfying yet not too heavy dinner.

All this food talk and I still haven’t shared any images of our traditional Black Forest breakfasts…until I get to it, imagine plates holding meats and cheeses accompanied by a basket of freshly baked breads and rolls.  Yes, save that thought and trust me, morning was definitely not anything to dread.

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Filed under beer, Eating, Europe, family, Food, Germany, Recommendations, travel, vacation, Wine