Monday, December 28, 2015

Weihnachten in Wolfenbüttel

I managed to have myself a Merry Little Christmas here in Wolfenbüttel this year! A couple weeks ago I was introduced to Ute and Gottfried Etzold, a couple of retired academics that have lived in Wolfenbüttel for 30 years. The Etzold's often invite over the fellows who will be staying in Wolfenbüttel over the Christmas break, so they asked if I would like to join them for Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas. Though they speak little English, and I am still dubious about my German, I could not turn down an offer for company during Christmas! Plus, when Ute introduced herself, she told me that she is like my grandmother because she's 80 years old now-- Those of you who know me at all know that the fastest way to my heart is to be my Grandma.

Drs. Ute and Gottfried Etzold
The week before Christmas, Ute and Gottfried came to our daily coffee at the library to give me an "itinerary" for the Christmas festivities. It was even in a plastic presentation sleeve, so I was sold! My favorite part of the letter, which of course was in German was to wear "Zwiebelkleidung" - meaning onion clothes-- meaning layers. So now that's my new favorite German word.

So Christmas Eve finally came, and I met Frau Etzold in front of the library. We drove to their house here in Wolfenbüttel where Gottfried was already busy in the kitchen! We enjoyed a typical German tea with some cheese and bread underneath the large Advent wreath in the sun room of their home. We talked about where I am from, where I have been since coming to Germany, and what I am working on for my dissertation, and we did our best to all understand each other.

Another couple came over a little later to go to a Krippenspiel (Nativity play) in a nearby town called Gross Vahlberg. The Krippenspiel was in a quaint little church with a great altarpiece, and the kiddos did a great job! Afterward, we talked with some of Ute and Gottfried's friends and then went back to the house.

Krippenspiel in Gross Vahlberg

Gross Vahlberg
Gottfried had prepared dinner, being mindful of the fact that I am a vegetarian. Dinner was very nice, and so was the company!! We gathered in the sitting room with the Christmas tree for dessert and little gifts. Ute and Gottfried were super thoughtful and gave me a gift!! They found a book about the history of the library here, its collectors and collections, in English! Ute was very proud of the fact that they found a book in English for me. Gottfried surprised Ute with fancy garnet earrings, and the way they looked at each other while she petted his cheek and called him "Liebling" (darling) was beautiful.


Their Christmas tree was outstanding! It was not terribly large, but it was decorated with shiny ornaments, tinsel, and real candles! The little candle-holders were from Gottfried's tree when he was a child. Ute made and painted the Nativity that sat under the tree when she was young in Dresden.

Gottfried's Candle-Holders
Ute's Nativity
After such a lovely evening, I went to the late-night Christmas Eve service at the Hauptkirche. We sang carols, listened to the choir sing carols, and the Lutheran priest gave a brief sermon.

And when I got home I Skyped with my Schmoopie and my family in Texas! At first, Jeremy and I were Skyping while Pam wrapped presents, and then Bruce came home with Grandma in tow, and then Blaze even arrived! It was almost as good as being there!

Skyping with Grandma and looking at her festive Christmas sweater!
On Christmas Day, Jonathan and I cooked in the Anna-Vorwerk-Haus kitchen. Jonathan is a new friend here from Chicago who also could not go home for Christmas, so we decided to do something special! The Wednesday before Christmas, I went to the market and stocked up on the essential veggies (mostly potatoes) that one needs for a proper Christmas feast (without meat). I even found Pillsbury cinnamon rolls at the grocery store, which is a Christmas morning staple in my house! So Jonathan and I ate cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and snacked on cheese ball while cooking cheesy taters, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and waldorf salad! Of course we listened to all the Christmas classics while doing so-- Elvis, Charlie Brown, Rudolph ...

Green bean casserole, cheesy taters, waldorf salad, and sweet potatoes!
Master of the Christmas Kitchen!
The most important dish of Thanksgiving & Christmas: Sweet potatoes
After our nice lunch, we both went home to skype with America. I got to call Jeremy and my family while they were opening presents, and so we all opened together! I loved getting to see them all open the treasures I sent from Germany, and getting to tell them thank-you for all my great prizes too!! Fun was had by all. For not being able to be home on Christmas, the wonders of Skype really are the next best thing! Jeremy Skyped me again when they got to the big family Christmas party in Canyon with Grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, and kiddos. I got to see everyone and say Merry Christmas!

Would everyone just look at how beautiful and perfect my family is?  Imagine Uncle Baby, Aunt Cindy, Shane, Sarah, Kaelyn, Taylor, and Tyler are there too!
On the day after Christmas, Ute came to pick me up for lunch from the Feierabendhaus. She asked if Jonathan would join us, and I told her that he was working and needed to finish a chapter today. She demanded to know where he was so that she could tell him that he needed to come eat lunch! Needless to say, he gave in. How could you refuse such a beautiful soul ?! So Jonathan and I ate lunch with the Etzold's, and again it was great company and food. The Etzold's had us write in the guestbook that they always use when they have guests and fellows over to their home. I wrote my entry in English because my German is not good enough to really communicate how grateful I am that incredible people like the Etzold's exist.

That evening, I met the Etzold's at the Hauptkirche to see the choir and symphony perform excerpts from Johann Sebastian Bach's Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio). Once again, the music in the church was outstanding, and once again the Etzold's were tremendous people and friends. It was a beautiful way to cap off the Christmas season!

The Hauptkirche all dressed up for Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Miracle

I have gone back and forth between feeling okay about being here for Christmas and feeling homesick and sad that I won't be with my Schmoopie and my family.  (I may or may  not have cried while listening to Elvis sing "I'll be Home for Christmas" the other day...)  Generally, I stick to the notion that this is just one Christmas in the grand scheme of my life, that it will be different than my traditional Christmas, but that it will be a new and enriching experience.  But sometimes I get sentimental and nostalgic, and wonder how Christmas can possibly go on if I can't be in Texas with my loved ones.

Picture Perfect Christmas Morning
Today, I received two packages from home containing gifts and goodies from Pam, Bruce, and Blaze.  I was so excited!  I love getting mail-- and I knew that this was for Christmas!!  Pam informed me that I could go ahead and open the packages, because some of the contents were meant for immediate opening, and others were wrapped for Christmas and my birthday.  Upon opening the packages, I saw that she had thoughtfully and beautifully wrapped the contents, package-toppers and all.  Several items inside had a surprisingly profound effect on me.

My stocking.  This is my stocking.  For the past twenty-five Christmas mornings, I have excitedly dumped this stocking out on the living room floor.  It usually contains candy, walnuts, an orange, scented chapsticks, nail polishes, gift cards, and various other little trinkets.  It also always contains a special gift from Bruce: canned peaches or pineapples.  Bruce always puts a strange cured meat product in the stockings-- sardines, vienna sausages, deviled ham, etc.  But since my first vegetarian Christmas, he has given me a canned fruit instead.  He pretends he's tough, but little gestures like this are a subtle hint that he secretly thinks I'm the coolest person on the planet. ;)  Bruce is always the first to get his stocking from the mantle on Christmas morning, and he impatiently waits for everyone else to settle down so he can look inside.  So in case you were wondering, that's where I get my child-like love of Christmas!

This teddy-bear-in-a-stocking package-topper.  For the past twenty-five Christmas mornings, he has adorned one of my presents.  Until I was about fifteen or so, he even always appeared on matching teddy-bears-in-stockings wrapping paper.  Pam only wrapped the one present in that paper every year so that it would last as long as possible!  Since I was little, I can recall the excitement of seeing the bear on a present, because I knew that meant it was for me!  It seems like such a little thing, but I cried when I saw him in that package today.  He is such a traditional symbol of Christmas at Home.  And Pam said she cried when she packed him, but she just couldn't stand the idea of leaving him in the "bow box" this year.  It certainly can't be Christmas without him!!

A wrapped present from Blaze.  For the past twenty-five Christmas mornings, I have excitedly busted into Blaze's room to wake him up to open presents.  Some of you may not know that my brother is the most thoughtful and giving human on God's Green Earth.  I got a beautiful card from him, echoing my sentiments that Christmas apart would be weird.  (Blaze missed one Christmas while he was in the Marines in Iraq, and I had a really hard time with that.  Christmas has always been a time that the two of us ooze the Christmas spirit, conspire together to surprise my parents, and stay up late on Christmas Eve because I'm too excited to sleep!)  He wrote a note on the package that now we both had one of these items (I didn't know what it was yet) so it would be like we were all spending Christmas together.  Such a sweet notion.  I opened the package to find a large, loud, garish Elvis ornament that plays "Santa Claus is Back in Town" while the word "ELVIS" blinks in red lights behind the King.  I laughed through a few tears as I wondered how something could be so sentimental and ridiculous at the same time!

Today I also received a postcard from my Schmoopie.  This will be the fifth Christmas I have spent in love with Jeremy.  On the front of the card is Chip, the University of Colorado's ridiculous mascot that looks more like a chipmunk than a buffalo.  I am certain he chose this card because he knows how silly I think Chip is.  He wrote the entire note on the postcard in German (thanks to Google Translate, I'm sure) and drew a picture of himself, Eleanor, and Phoebe in the mountains, with a seagull flying in the clouds above.  I have world's most supportive husband of all time.  I won't be home for our first married Christmas, but he is rock solid in his support and love.  My favorite Christmas present this year is that he booked a flight to come see me in March!!!  I cannot wait to see his face and hug his neck and show him all around Germany!

Inspired by all the Christmas cheer I received from home today, I went out and bought a small Christmas tree.  I hadn't put up a tree yet, because I kept thinking it would be short-lived, impractical, and unnecessary.  But that goes against everything I, as a lover of Christmas, have ever believed in!  So I got a little potted evergreen down the street, picked up a few ornaments and lights, and headed home with all my new Christmas Joy!  Only bad news: no colored lights here.  I decided I'd have to make white lights work for the first (and only, I promise) time in my life.  As is tradition, I decorated the tree while listening to a variety of classic Christmas albums-- starting with Elvis, duh.

Christmas Eve will find me where the love light gleams. 
I'll be home for Christmas
if only in my dreams...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Walking Tour of Wolfenbüttel: Important Monuments

It is my great pleasure to introduce y'all to Wolfenbüttel!  I decided to photograph the various buildings and scenes that I walk past on a daily basis while going about my business.  So let's take a walk through the cobble-stoned paths of the Wolf's Butt together!

Wolfenbüttel is an extremely charming little town.  Since this winter has (so far) been much warmer than usual, I have done quite a bit of walking around town and exploring the scenery.  There are even some blooms still hanging on until the cold strikes!

Schloss Wolfenbüttel

The schloss (castle) here housed the dukes of Braunschweig-Lüneburg from 1283 until 1754.  The schloss was destroyed, rebuilt, and renovated several times, and the building we see here was primarily constructed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Today, the schloss houses a museum.  The schloss is located just across the street from the library and my office- I can even see it from my office window!

The Schloss from my office window
The Library

The Herzog August Bibliothek was established in 1572 from the collections of Duke Augustus.  The library now houses roughly 2,700 medieval manuscripts, 350,000 printed books from the fifteenth- through the eighteenth-centuries, as well as an amazing collection of secondary literature right up to the present day.

Bibliotheca Augusta

One of the main buildings, the Bibliotheca Augusta, was built late in the 19th century.  The books are divided between a few library buildings now, and the medieval manuscripts and early printed books are kept in the Augusta (pronounced ow-GOOS-tuh, not like English "August").  There is also a museum in the Augusta, which currently has a great exhibition about 15th-century manuscript illuminations!  I took a bunch of photos outside, but no photos are allowed inside exhibition-- so I pulled some images from the internet to illustrate the interior for you.

Little horse atop a strange monument in front of the Augusta


The Zeughaus (pronounced like "ZOYG-HOUSE") was built between 1613-1617 as an armory and barracks.  In 1947, the building became part of the library system, and it now contains the books published after 1900.  The Zeughaus has a quiet reading room, and this is the building where they keep most of the secondary literature that one needs.  The copy machine, scanners, catalogs, etc. are all in the Zeughaus.  Our offices are right across the street, and I look at the back of the Zeughaus from my office window.

Looking out my office window toward the Zeughaus

The Anna-Vorwerk-Haus was built in 1706.  Now it is named after women's rights advocate and educational reformer, Anna Vorwerk (1839-1900), who founded the schlossschule (palace school) and the girls' school in Wolfenbüttel.  Anna Vorwerk is also the person we have to thank for the Feierabendhaus (my dorm), because she had it built in 1896 to house retired women teachers from her schools!

Lots of important stuff happens in the Anna-Vorwerk-Haus.  Many of the administrators and secretaries for the library and the fellowship programs work here.  Every weekday at 1:30 we all gather for coffee in a large parlor in the Anna-Vorwerk-Haus.  There is a large community kitchen, where we can cook as a group or have events.  And it is also where our offices are located!  A bustling hot-spot for our little community, indeed!

My office is in the first two windows to the right of the center door

Many more Wolfenbüttel tours to come in the future, I'm sure!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Texan Bakes in Germany...

Over the past weeks, I have been on a steep learning curve about the many differences between American and German baking ingredients, measurements, and tastes.  You may think baking could be a simple, straightforward way to express hospitality, but you'd be wrong.  One has to navigate a complex sea of groceries, measurement conversions, and adequate ingredient substitutes.

We have had a number of parties and events around the library lately to celebrate Advent, people leaving or arriving, and Christmas.  I decided that I would make peanut brittle and fudge-- a couple classic Christmas staples in my family at the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  I set off to the Edeka (the grocery "supermarket") in town to gather my ingredients.


4 cups sugar for fudge, 1 cup for brittle
1 stick of butter for fudge, 1 tbsp for brittle
1 large can evaporated milk (not skim)
1 pint Kraft marshmallow cream
2 small (or 1 large) bag of chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract for fudge and 1 tsp for brittle
2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup peanuts
1/2 cup Karo light corn syrup
1 tsp baking soda

Zucker/Sugar-- The sugar in Germany is a little coarser than in the States, but overall that is not the main problem.  So I bought sugar as one normally would in the States.

Butter-- Butter comes in a different shape here.  A "stick" is not an actual measurement that means anything here.  Their butter is a rectangular block that weighs 250 grams.  I chose an amount of butter based on what I thought was the visual equivalent of a "stick" of butter and moved on.

Kondensmilch/Evaporated Milk-- This is one is tricky.  The word Kondensmilch looks like it should mean "condensed milk."  And I stood in the aisle and thought about it long and hard, and was pretty sure evaporated was not the same as condensed.  After going around in circles in my head, I made the wrong decision and chose "gezuckert kondensmilch" (sweetened condensed milk).  Wrong.  This will lead to a disaster later in our journey.

Marshmallow Cream-- I had a feeling this would be a difficult item to locate.  After basically giving up and starting to think about what I could use as a substitute, I accidentally stumbled upon "fluff" in the nutella/honey/jelly aisle.  When making fudge, the name brand actually does make a difference here, but I had no choice.  And how bad could it be?  The label claimed that "fluff" was "the delicious American marshmallow spread," and proudly displayed a recipe for fluffernutter sandwiches on the back.  You may not know this, but fluffernutters (peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwiches) are "the most popular sandwich in the USA" according to the label.  Yikes.

Special note on marshmallow cream:  I was saddened and dismayed to learn that many Germans find marshmallows disturbing in their processed nature and their intense sweetness.  But at least they know what marshmallows are.  The amount of people here that had never heard of or seen such an atrocity as marshmallow cream was shocking.

Zartbitter Schokolade/Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips-- Funny thing about the "bag" of chocolate chips measurement.  There are no chocolate chips in the German grocery store.  None.  Not a thing.  Instead, you buy this brick of chocolate, and have to cut it up yourself.  I googled how many grams of chocolate chips were in "small" and "large" bags of Hersheys chocolate chips, and bought the equivalent in chocolate bricks.

Vanille/Vanilla Extract-- Again, no such luck.  I did manage to find something labeled "Vanille Aroma" on a seasonal baking rack, and decided that was close enough.  On further inspection, Vanilla aroma is a clear, oily vanilla flavoring, seemingly very different from what I was expecting.  But I think it was a viable substitute.

Pecannüsse/Pecans-- Nope.  Another strike-out.  I have seen pecans in Germany, so I know they exist.  But my grocery store doesn't have them.  Luckily, Germans do love walnuts.  I figured walnuts are a perfectly acceptable substitute for pecans, so this wasn't a big deal.

Erdnüsse/Peanuts-- Also no.  Germany isn't a big peanut place.  I perused the nut selection at the store, and decided to get hazelnuts.  They are a similar size and shape to my desired peanuts, so I figured they would work.  Make it a German spin on peanut brittle-- hazelnut brittle, kind of festive right?

Karo syrup-- Not a chance.  Germany isn't into the whole corn syrup thing.  In fact, there are very few corn products here at all.  I was told that corn doesn't grow in Germany.  Instead, they use the sugar from sugar beets for many of their sweetening needs.  I had never heard of sugar beets until arriving in Germany, but it is quite common in this area.  I found sugar beet syrup, and decided this was as close as I was going to be able to get!  Turns out, it is thicker, darker, and a little less sweet than Karo.

Natron/Baking Soda-- This was tough, because even in America I get baking soda and baking powder mixed up.  I knew I wanted the stuff in the orange Arm & Hammer box, but that was little guidance here.  They actually sell baking powder and baking soda in small single-serve packets, rather than a box or cylindrical tub.  One is labeled Natron (what does that even mean?) and one was labeled Backpulver (literally, baking powder).  By process of elimination, I decided Natron must be the soda, since Backpulver was "powder."  Got lucky, and was right!


What should be very obvious by this point, is that most of the ingredients I needed were not easily accessible, and I made a lot of substitutions and converted a lot of measurements!  Germans mostly cook by weight, specifically grams.  I did a lot of "how many grams are in a "stick" of butter" type google searches to make these recipes German-kitchen-friendly.

First, I made the brittle.  This all seemed relatively simple once I converted measurements and figured out all of my substitutions.  It was a little thinner than I would've liked, but perhaps Natron is less pungent than good ol' American baking soda.  The good news is that it set up properly, and I was able to break it into pieces and it tasted pretty dang good to me!

Result:  Everyone really liked the brittle!  They were delighted by its salty-sweet-nuttiness, and it was devoured within two days.  This sure makes a girl feel good!  I must say, it did turn out delicious.  A little harder than American peanut brittle (I think the German Natron doesn't fill the brittle with as much air, so it isn't is airy and light).  The sugar beet syrup makes it a little darker in color and a little stickier, but otherwise doesn't have a negative effect on the taste.  The Germans helped me name this new creation Hasselnuss Krokant.

Then, it was time to face the fudge.  This was harder.  Here it is important to remember that German sugar is coarser and that I made the major mistake of buying sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk.  As I boiled the sugar, butter, and milk together, instead of getting meltier and smoother, it got thicker and grittier.  Not good.  I forged ahead and added the chocolate (now chunked up after much wrestling and knifing), walnuts, vanilla, and "fluff."  The mixture remained entirely too dark, gritty, thick, and sweet.  I spread it out on a cookie sheet and decided to wait and see....

Result: Not good.  This was basically a non-edible sugar block.  It was too dark, too gritty, too sweet, and totally wrong.  We managed to salvage some of it by adding it to a basic cake batter and baking it for a bit.  With the help of my brilliant parents, we named this cake "Fudge Miscake."  The result was actually not bad, and it did manage to get eaten throughout the week.

Attempt #2:

I made another batch of brittle, using even more Natron this time and it turned out PERFECT!  This batch was also consumed at record speed!  Success!

For Fudge 2.0, I went back to the store to analyze my mistakes.  This time, I bought a small carton labeled "Kondesmilch," but this time I did not get the "gezuckert" variety.  Better.  I also used an entire cup less sugar.  Still the marshmallow cream couldn't be stay-puff Kraft brand, but I don't think that was the main problem the first time.

I set up shop in my little dorm kitchen (Fudge 1.0 was prepared in the larger community kitchen at the library), hacked at the chocolate bricks, chopped the walnuts, and prepared my ingredients.

Problem: I do not have a large pot.  I started the sugar, butter, and evap milk to boil in the biggest pot I have, but it became obvious after about 2 minutes of boiling that this would not work.  I poured the mixture into a larger sauce pan for the last 5 minutes of boiling.  After adding chocolate, vanilla, walnuts, and "fluff," I was nearly overflowing this larger pan.  I managed to mix it all together, and pour it into the cookie sheet before spilling fudge all over my entire kitchen...  It seemed much better this time, so I set it in the windowsill to cool.

In the morning, I started cutting the fudge and realized it was a bit sticky and gooey still, so I cut up the squares and flipped them all over to try to dry out the bottom side.  This basically worked, and this batch of fudge was edible!  I think the glitch in my boiling process led to the sugar still being a bit gritty,but it was much better this time!  The main problem with Fudge 1.0 was the sweetened condensed milk.  I am proud to report that just three days after Fudge 2.0, it is all gone!  Success again!

I hope you all enjoyed this exhaustive review of my baking experiences with Texan recipes in Germany!  Guten Appetit!