Baking Challenge – European Style

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A St. Honoré by Ladurée.

One of my favourite things to do when travelling? Sampling food that is unique to the country/city/region. Top on my list are pastries, especially sweet ones. Have I travelled to every country yet? No. Will I ever be likely to? No. Would I still like to taste what delicacies they have to offer? YES! How can we make that happen? A country-based baking challenge, I’d say. Yeah! Since the whole world seems to be a bit much to take on, I’ve decided to start with Europe. In order to make it more manageable, I’ve selected 16 random countries out of the 56 European countries and territories. Here’s the list:

    • Austria
    • France
    • Spain
    • Italy
    • Greece
    • Turkey
  • Netherlands
  • Denmark
  • Sweden
  • Norway
  • Czech Republic
  • Hungary
  • Eastland
  • Ireland
  • Iceland
  • Croatia

The rules of the Baking Challenge – European Style: 16 countries – 16 weeks One baked good – either sweet or savoury I will select a country and recipe every Monday and will post the results every Thursday. Feel free to join in the fun! It would be awesome to see pictures of what you are baking. Or if you are from one of the countries listed above, please leave a suggestions what cake/roll/pie etc. I should select. Thanks!

What to wear, what to wear… Wedding Season is here!

The month of May brings us wonderful things: sunny days, blooming flowers, longer evenings… but also the start of the wedding season – at least in my part of the world. We only have one wedding to go to this year, but still the questions arises: what to wear???

I do have a lot of clothes, but when you have a party to go to it’s always a good excuse to buy something new. 😉 So, I headed over to Stylefruits and put together two outfits:

Partyoutfit - Hochzeitsparty 2015
Partyoutfit – Hochzeitsparty 2015 von Sandy D. mit Artikeln von Buffalo, zusammengestellt bei stylefruits.de

What do you think? What’s your go-to wedding party outfit?

Currently reading… Colm Tóibin’s “Brooklyn”

Hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking, Colm Tóibín’s sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself. (Goodreads)

I agree 100% with this Goodreads review. First off, when I picked this book up in the library, I was a bit reluctant and suspicious, because I was looking for something easy to read and this book had a “2009 Costa Award Winner” sticker on it. So naturally – at least for me – I thought it must be tough reading. But I picked it up anyway, because the description resonated with me: a young girl leaving behind her Irish home to make a new life for herself in the USA. So I took it home with me and let it lie on my bedside table for weeks… Finally when I picked it up to read, I basically went straight through it.

The story as well as the characters have something very tangible. Although set in the 1950s it’s a story almost everyone having lived/worked in a foreign country can relate to. The overwhelming newness of things, the home sickness, the loneliness and the feeling of not belonging but also the fun, the adventure and the excitement of everything. I felt with Eilis – the main character. I felt her sadness, her excitement, her inner turmoil. And I felt angry and frustrated about her final decision. I almost cried for her. And this is when I know I’m reading a good book – when I truly feel with and for the characters.

So this is two thumbs up. If you are into “hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking” storys, you should definitely go and pick up Colm Tóibin’s Brooklyn.

It’s Rhubarb Time

The Rhubarb season is here and what better way to celebrate it than to make something rhubarby?! I decided for a rhubarb cake with streusels. Actually it’s pretty much the same recipe I’ve used to make the poppyseed cake some months ago. However this time around I’ve saved myself some time and pots and just used the streusel dough for bottom and top. So here goes:

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Ready to eat! Yummy 🙂

For the dough (bottom and streusels):

375 grams – flour

225 grams – sugar

225 grams – butter (straight out of the fridge)

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This is what the dough should look like. Crumbly…

Preheat oven to 180° Celsius (or 360° fahrenheit). Mix together the flour and sugar. Cut up the butter in small pieces and add one at the time. Hand knead everything together until you have a crumbly looking dough.

Wash the rhubarb, cut off some of the bottom and top (peel it*) and cut it up into bite sized pieces.

Take a square cake pan (about 10×10) and firmly press a little bit more than have the dough into it for the bottom layer. Put the rhubarb on top and add the streusels. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until lightly brown. Enjoy!

Of course there are a ton of other recipes out there. My mum used to make rhubarb compote and served it with cream. Kind of like a soup. Delicious!

Also The Guardian has published The 10 best rhubarb recipes. Some of them sound kind of exotic. But maybe they are worth a try?!

Whatever your preference, you should take full advantage of rhubarb season, because rhubarb provides a lot of minerals and vitamins, such as several B-complex vitamins and vitamin K. And prepared in the right way it’s simply delicious.

* In case you are wondering: I don’t exactly peel my rhubarb. But I cut some of the top and bottom off and when I do that some “strings” usually come off which can easily be peeled away the whole length of the stem. This is what I take off. I don’t peel it otherwise. However, rhubarb contains oxalic acid which is mainly contained in the skin. So if you are sensitive to this you should peel it more thoroughly.

Paris – Mon Amour

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View of the Eiffel Tower from Jardin du Trocadero.

We visited Paris in February and we were lucky. The weather was beautiful and we had an awesome time. This was my fourth time in Paris and probably the best one yet. My husband and I fell in love with the city when we first went there together about two years ago. We fell in love with the cute cafés, the small streets, whacky thrift stores and delicous food. Just to name a few. Of course there are a lot of places where it’s very touristy and major sights are packed but there are also many places not a lot of tourists know or rather care about. Did you know that there is a vineyard at the center of Montmatre? Or have you ever heard of the Allée des Cygnes?

Of course it’s awesome to see the Eiffel Tower, take a boat tour on the Seine, visit the Louvre and to do all those other major attractions in Paris. But it’s also awesome to just walk the streets, to find hidden spaces and places that are beautiful and almost empty. This may sound like I’m a Paris pro, but I’m most definetely not. Actually I’m more a traveller on a budget and I guess this makes you kind of creative – in a good way. So here are my tipps, travel highlights and recommendations.

WHERE TO STAY

First of all, I’d recommend staying in a real Parisian hotel. This might not be for everybody because it usually means it’s rather old and very likely a little dingy and tiny. The first time we went to Paris we stayed at the Hotel Stanislas, which is a very old hotel with a very friendly front desk manager in Montparnasse. It’s clean and has all the amenities you need for a city trip, ie. a bed, a shower/sink/toilet and a relative quietness. It’s also close to two metro stations and some sights can even be conquered on foot.

The second time around we stayed at the Grand Hotel de Clermont which is situated in a quiet street in Montmatre just a short walk away from the infamous Moulin Rouge and beautiful Sacre Coeur. The hotel was cheap, clean and we had a little kitchenette which was perfect for storing and preparing some food. However the bathroom was tiny. My husband barely fit in there. And although it’s in a quiet street, I wouldn’t recommend it in summertime when you have to have the windows open because there is a bar which is famous for having had Edith Piaf as one of its patrons but is also very noisy because people like to sit and smoke outside.

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Just one of the many bakerys in Paris.

WHERE TO EAT

Secondly, when you are on a budget, you might want to avoid going to restaurants all the time. The good thing is – you don’t have to in order to enjoy delicious food! There are plenty of bakerys, little hole-in-the-wall take outs and grocery stores that offer awesome food on a reasonable price. Most of the bakerys or take out places have something that’s called formule, especially for breaktfast/lunch time. It means that you get a beverage, sandwich, dessert or some other combination for a good price like 4-5 Euros. Also supermarket chains such as Monoprix (Monop or Monop Daily) or Carrefour usually have a section with a selection of take out food, ie various salads, desserts, sandwiches, cakes, etc. However if you want to splurge on a restaurant you might like www.lafourchette.com. It’s all in French and you have to register (at no cost) but you can book dinner at certain restaurants (really good ones too!) at 20-50% off. If you’re able to read a little bit in French it’s definitely worth checking it out.

WHAT TO DO

Of course there are a million things to do in Paris. Top of the list is probably the Eiffel Tower. I have to admit, I’ve never been on the top. Two reasons: I’m afraid of heights and there is always a line that’s sooooo long you get tired even looking at it. And in my humble opinion you see everything you need to see of the Eiffel Tower walking around it, under it and admiring it from afar. And if it’s about the view – there are several places around the city that afford a good view and are for free. There is a wonderful place across the Seine – Jardins du Trocadero – and also from the bridge Bir-Hakeim where you have a picture perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. However if you absolutely want to go, buy a ticket in advance.

Speaking of – if you want to visit the Louvre same thing applies. The lines at the pyramid entrance are loooooooooong. So if you do not intend on visiting the museum on the first Sunday of a month when admission is free (only October-March), then go ahead and buy online. Or use the second, less known, entrance at Porte de Lyons. It’s said to be less frequented. Aside from that the Louvre is absolutely worth a visit. Depending on how much you are into art, history or museums in general you should plan your stay accordingly. If you are just going for some main attractions, like the Mona Lisa, you might get through in 2-3 hours. I strongly advise to plan ahead what you absolutely want to see. The space is vast. There is no way you can see everything in a day. And it’s confusing in addition – even with the map that you can get at the entrance. The good thing is that they have plenty of seats throughout the museum so you can have a rest whenever you feel like it.

There are a lot of other major sites you can read all about in your guidebook. So I won’t bother listing them all here. My best advise is to to walk. Walk as much as you can. Because this will take you to places you won’t find otherwise. I absolutely loved walking from the Jardins du Trocadero (or rather the Metro station Trocadero) along the Boulevard Kleber to the Arc de Triomphe. Also a must is walking through Montmatre – don’t be afraid getting off the beaten tracks there and discover less popular streets!

FOR FREE

  • Go up to the Galerie Lafayette rooftop. You will have a perfect view all over the city.
  • Visit the parks – or jardins as they are called here. Usually they are for free and beautifully maintained with art sculptures and quiet spaces.
  • Walk along the Seine – for free and an absolute must.
  • Another great place to walk around although a little bizarr are the cemeteries. Probably the best one is Pere Lachaise although the Montparnasse and Montmatre Cemeteries are equally popular. They are places of tranquillity and quiet. But be aware that most of the close at 5.30-6pm.
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    Pere Lachaise Cemetery

  • Also most of the churches are free to visit – this includes famous Notre Dame and beautiful Sacre Coeur.
  • If you’re up for a musical, opera, comedy, concert or some other kind of entertainment be sure to visit www.billetreduc.com. They sell tickets to a lot of different shows for a reduced price. Only hitch – it’s all in French. But even with basic knowledge you should be able to navigate.
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View from Galerie Lafayette rooftop.

SOME PRACTICAL ADVISE

If you don’t want to walk too much. Take the Metro. They have tourist passes called Paris Visite which allow you to travel on public transport as much as you like for a certain number of days and also include discounts on certain attractions. But if they are a good value highly depends on how long you are staying and how often you plan on taking the Metro/bus/etc. We find that we always walk more than we actually thought, because getting in and out of the metro stations can be a real pain and walking is often much faster and more interesting to boot. Visit the official public transport website to plan ahead. Metro tickets are easily bought in every station. You can choose from several languages at the ticket machines.

There is also a Paris Museum Pass. We never bought it but if you are into museums then this might be a good purchase for you.

As in every major tourist city there are con artists and thieves. We didn’t have any problems but when you visit major sights like Sacre Coeur there are men who want to tie a little string aroung your wrist. We never let them but they can be very persistent. The ultimate goal is to bully tourists into paying 10 or more Euro. So just push ahead and don’t stop just to be nice.

And the last and best advise? ENJOY your stay. Have fun!

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Beautiful Sacre Coeur.

Some Nostalgia

Aaah! The good old times… I’m not so old myself, however lately I feel like I’m getting to this stage in life where you look at certain things and say: “Remember, when this and that used to be …”. It makes you feel old. And it makes you think – at least in my case.

Just a couple of days ago when walking to work I noticed an old phone booth. I probably passed this thing about a hundred times already, but this was the first time I’d really noticed it. It’s an old yellow phone booth (they are yellow in Germany – at least they used to be). It sat there all run down, wrecked, robbed of its phone – a sad, broken and empty shell of what it once used to be, all forgotten. And somehow  this made me sad.

Abandoned phone booth

Abandoned phone booth

It made me think back. I’ve already been around when this phone booth was THE form of communication when you were out and about. This was a time before mobile phones. And I can still remember that. And I can still remember hunting for change to use the phone and not having any when I desperately needed to make a call. I’d probably be thrilled to know that in the future not too far away I could always make a call from wherever I happened to be without searching for a booth or change.

Progress has its pros and cons. I cherish my mobile phone and the ability to call whomever, whenever, wherever. It’s great that things change and get better or improve our lives. But I also dislike the constant availability. The expectation to respond immediately and the urge to be “on top” of everything, everywhere, all the time. And I hate that it makes me feel old. Because I can remember times when things were different.