Saturday, December 31, 2011

Food on Friday: belated

So, I will warn you now that this, my friends, is another soup recipe.  Yes, I know.  I am a soup-a-holic.  But if you lived somewhere that was desperately dark and dreary in the winter, you would understand.  (And those of you who do live someplace equally as dark and dreary, you definitely know what I am talking about.)  Some days, only a good soup and a pot of tea can warm up your cold bones.

And this soup is gooooood.  So good, in fact, that I would eat it everyday for the rest of my life...if I didn't contain enough butter to kill me within a week.  Rich and hearty, this soup is a tomato, basil and Parmesan delight!  Next time the wind rages, the snow falls and you think you might freeze to death, make this soup.  You will feel better, I promise.


Tomato, Basil and Parmesan Soup
from 365 Days of Slow Cooking

Makes about 2 quarts

2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, with juice
1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup finely diced carrots
1 cup finely diced onions
1 tsp dried oregano or 1 T fresh oregano
1 T dried basil or 1/4 cup fresh basil
4 cups chicken broth
½ bay leaf
½ cup flour
1 cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup butter
2 cups half and half, warmed
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper

1.  Add tomatoes, celery, carrots, chicken broth, onions, oregano, basil, and bay leaf to a large slow cooker.
2.  Cover and cook on LOW for 5-7 hours, until flavors are blended and vegetables are soft.
3.  About 30 minutes before serving prepare a roux. Melt butter over low heat in a skillet and add flour. Stir constantly with a whisk for 5-7 minutes. Slowly stir in 1 cup hot soup. Add another 3 cups and stir until smooth. Add all back into the slow cooker. Stir and add the Parmesan cheese, warmed half and half, salt and pepper.  Add additional basil and oregano if needed (the slow cooker does a number on spices and they get bland over time, so don't be afraid to always season to taste at the end).
4.  Cover and cook on LOW for another 30 minutes or so until ready to serve.


I don't have a crock pot, so I adapted this recipe a bit to work on the stove top.  Instead of putting the tomato, celery, carrots etc into a crock pot, I sauteed the carrots, celery and onion first in a little olive oil.  When they were soft, I added in the tomatoes, chicken broth and the rest of the ingredients from step 1.  I let this cook for about 30 minutes until everything was soft and then started with step 3.  I used 1% milk instead of half and half because I couldn't imagine adding more fat after seeing all the butter go in.  (I wasn't worried about calories so much as my poor, post-Christmas stomach...he's been feelings a little rumbley and tumbley lately.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Follow me on Bloglovin'!

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Hey guys, why not follow me on Bloglovin?!  It's a cool site that gives you a little news feed of all your favorite blog.  Now, you will never forget to look at your favorite blogs again!  Yay!
You know how much I love soup!  Nothing better on a cold night at the end of December!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cute and easy living room ideas

I love this living room, don't you?  There are a couple of ideas here I just love.  The first is the pin board above the fireplace.  What a great idea for a piece of art that you can change every season, month, week or day if you want to.  Paint the frame golden yellow and you are good to go.  I also love the stacked frames in the fireplace (which is great if yours in unusable or for summer) and the heavy, natural looking table.  This must be a small room but the couch works because it almost looks built in and all the girly pillows keep it from looking too big box-store.  This is so comfortable and happy.  I will take some of these ideas to my new place!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gray walls?

What do you think about them?  I have been thinking about painting the walls of my new apartment you have any advice?  I have seen cozy rooms with gray walls and rooms that look as depressing as the German sky in January.  Has anyone done it?  Which shade of gray?  I would love to hear from you!  These are a few of my inspiration pics:

From Pinterest.
Love the gold and grey. From The Decorista
Carrie's bedroom from Sex and the City.  I wrote about it here

Gray walls and a rattan chair.  Not really sure where I got this picture as it was long, long ago, but possibly Heart Home Magazine

Possibly one of the most adorable bedrooms I have ever seen and one that I think the BF would be okay with...not too girly at all! Love the striped duvet.  From Deisgn Sponge.

Movin' on south

Nuremberg in winter, from Wikipedia.
Exciting news here today friends! I have been waiting for weeks to tell you all that in the middle of January (only 2.5 weeks away!) Peter and I will be moving to Nuremberg, Germany, about an hour away from our current home in northern Bavaria. 

The decision was made in the middle of October.  In the fall, I was going back and forth a lot about what I wanted for my future, where I wanted to live and what I wanted to do.  I thought about moving back to the States and about all my options here.  Then, one day, it hit me like a lightening bolt that my best choice would be to stay here a little longer and move to Nuremberg, where Peter works. 
Nuremberg in late summer/early autumn, from
As of now, he is only home about 4 days a week and has an hour and a half commute on the days he does have to go to work in Nuremberg.  (He works on the opposite side of Nuremberg and has to go through the city traffic to get to work.)  It has exhausted him and me and we are really looking forward to seeing each other every evening and to being in the big city.  Plus, there are so many more opportunities for me as a foreigner there.  We can't wait. 

Now maybe all of my ooey-gooey love posts of late make a little more sense.  Also, perhaps my devotion to Christmas there year seems a little more clear: because I wasn't here for Christmas last year, this was our first and our last Christmas together in this first apartment of ours.  It has been so bittersweet.

I love this place.  I really, really love everything about my apartment (aside from the fact that I cannot stand up while taking a shower).  It is making me so sad to have to say goodbye to it.  But, I am also super excited about our beautiful new place.  Here is some information about it:

- It's on the top floor
- It's got two floors: a bathroom, office, kitchen and living room on the first floor and a bedroom on the second
-It has walk-in closets! 
-It also has a dishwasher
-It's within a 10-15 minute walk of the old town and just a few bus stops away.
-It's near the river!

And some pictures (the people before us really did NOT have a sense of style, so you have to imagine it empty and with my stuff in it ;-)

New bathroom (with a shower where you can stand).

What we will use as a living room, with slanted ceilings, too, of course!

Kitchen with a breakfast bar.  It's a little modern for my taste, but I will make it cute.  And look at all that storage!

What we will use as a bedroom.  With slanted ceilings and built in cabinets along the entire length of the right wall.  

I am going to share all the work, ideas, progress and problems along the way!  I hope you will join me (and give me advice)! 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

3 days of Christmas

Christmas is officially over here in Germany.  We had three wonderful days of fun, family and love! There was plenty of laughter, food and sparkling wine.  It couldn't have been better.

Christmas for me started on Friday the 23rd, with another one of my and Peter's new Christmas traditions.  Every year on the 23rd of December, we have a special dinner together, just the two of us.  Sometimes we go out, sometimes we stay in and make a special dinner.  It's a great start to the holidays.  This year, Peter wanted Thanksgiving dinner because he hadn't gotten to enjoy it with us in November.  We spent the evening cooking together and then had a relaxed and festive dinner.  We went to the Christmas market after that.

The table set for Christmas Eve Eve dinner. 
At the Christmas market with our good friend Nico!
In Germany, the 23rd always feels like Christmas Eve to me.  I get really confused here.  They celebrate the 24th as the big, important day of Christmas, as it is the first of the 3 Christmas holidays.  So, our little dinner on the 23rd always feels like a Christmas Eve dinner to me.  When Peter went to bed that night, I sneaked around and filled his stocking.  When we got up on the 24th, we sat by the Christmas tree with big cups of coffee and opened presents, before getting ourselves ready to go to his parents' house.  It was such a great experience to have Christmas morning just the two of us.  Of course, I missed my family dearly.

Christmas Eve morning at our house, with Peter's stocking filled in the background.
Cozy morning!
Peter excited about the calendar I made him of pictures from our travels together; me excited about everything I got; peter unwrapping something from my mom; lots of presents; white lights; all the stuff we took over to the in-laws.
At Peter's parents house on Christmas Eve, we did all of our usual (Finnish) Christmas traditions.  We decorated the Christmas tree, opened gifts at nightfall, ate a traditional Finnish Christmas dinner and played board games by the fire.  It was a truly magical day and we had all had a great time.  We didn't have any Christmas snow this year, but we enjoyed spending the day all cozy inside, enjoying the Christmas lights, a fire and plenty of candles. 

We spent the night at the in-laws that night and woke up there for breakfast.  On Christmas Day, I had Peter's family over for chili and cornbread and to watch all of the NBA basketball games. 
On Christmas Eve, a sleepy cat behind us.
The Christmas tree; my plethora of gifts; Peter and I (in my PJs); and a glass of bubbly. 
On the morning of the 26th, we woke up late and had pumpkin french toast (adapted from this recipe) for breakfast.  Then we headed up to the mountains near us for a winter hike.  It was a perfect end to the three-day holiday--so nice to see snow and get outdoors. 

Pumpkin french toast; me cooking in my new PJ's (from Victoria's Secret and so comfy--unfortunately, they are out of this color!)

Peter, in the woods during a snowy and foggy hike.
A babbling brook; a pond in black and white; Peter; and a solitary mountain trail.

Really excited to see snow!

All in all, it was a fantastic Christmas.  I am just so sad to see it go.  At least we still have a week of festivities coming up.  :-)  I hope everyone else had a great Christmas and got to spend some quality quiet time with the people they love.  After all, that is what it is all about! 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas light walks

My sister (on the left) and I (on the right--as if you couldn't tell--all bundled up for a Christmas light walk.
So, we have talked a little here about some of our Christmas traditions and I thought I would share one of my childhood favorites with you.  My dad started this tradition, which he called "Christmas light walks" when we were just babies.  And, honestly, I remember going on a few Christmas light walks as late as high school.

Just after dinner, my dad would bundle my sister and I up in plenty of jackets, scarves, hats, gloves and blankets--okay, it was California, we didn't need that many--and put us in our double stroller or the bicycle carriage.  Then he would take us around the neighborhood looking at all the Christmas lights and always going past the best houses.  Sometimes we sang carols along the way, sometimes we were quiet.  Sometimes the houses were really good and sometimes they weren't.  But, always, always we had a great time together.

My dad always made our everyday lives special, he always found ways to get us excited and enchanted and he always went out of his way to make us feel loved.  The Christmas light walks did all three of those things.  Those memories are priceless and I am forever grateful for them.  I can't wait to take my children on Christmas light walks someday.  Hopefully, when that time comes, my dad will still be able to hitch a carriage to the back of his bike and take the little kiddos around the block to see the lights himself.

I love you, dad.  More than you know.  Merry Christmas.

Pecan Puffs and Aunt Alta's Toffee Bars

I was busy in the kitchen all morning today, baking lots of tasty cookies to take to work and to give to family and friends.  Although I didn't have as much time as I wanted to have, I had about 3 hours, so the entire process was pretty relaxed and really left me feeling all Christmassy.  I listened to Christmas music, drank tea and got my hands dirty mixing the dough by hand.  (There is really no better moisturizer/exfoliator combo than creamed butter and brown sugar.) 

These are not German cookies, no sirree.  These are delicious, rich, nostalgia-inducing cookies from my grandma's old recipes.  In fact, I made them from copies of her old, handwritten recipes.  My mom had her mom's handwritten copies laminated and preserved years ago and sent me copies of the recipes last year.  Every time I use them and read them, I feel so close to her, like she is right there, guiding my hand through the process.  She died when I was really young and, sadly, I don't remember too much about her.  But, I love how familiar and nearby she feels when I make these cookies.  There's a lot of love in them!

I put them in a pretty canister and tied a ribbon around them to take to work today.  I used one of my mom's beautiful handmade Santa Claus gift tags and I thought they looked marvelous.  It is a great idea to put holiday cookies in a reusable glass canister.  The recipient can use it later to hold coffee or other pantry items and it makes even basic cookies look more fancy. 

I also took  a couple more little packages in clear bags, wrapped with ribbon and also tied with pretty tags.  Clear bags are my other favorite way to give holiday treats (and small gifts and ESPECIALLY hostess gifts).

Here is the recipe for the pecan puffs!  The recipe for Aunt Alta's Toffee Bars coming tomorrow!  (They're my favorites!) is something we should all read.  Really, I highly recommend it.  I wrote it last year, apparently during a rare moment of clarity and gratefulness.  I have to say that I have not adhered to my own advice this year and it makes me a little sad.  I mean, I am certainly trying to savor Christmas and all of the small details of it--the smell of my favorite candle burning, my Christmas tree, a night out at the Christmas market with people I love--but, I have definitely gone overboard with the present this year.  I really should have taken my own advice a little sooner.  This is definitely something good to keep in mind as you start celebrating the next few days.  :-) 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Your guide to gift wrapping

Only three days left until Christmas if you are celebrating it primarily on the 24th like me.  That doesn't leave a lot of time for getting everything done.  Getting distracted on Pinterest doesn't help, either.

But never fear: at least when it comes to wrapping gifts, I've got you covered. 

I have to say, I am pretty good at wrapping presents.  I always get the paper pulled really tightly and put together cute ribbons to finish the gift off.  I took step-by-step pictures of myself wrapping a Christmas gift to give you a little tutorial on wrapping.  I hope you enjoy!


You need: 

Wrapping paper (currently, I like paper with graphic, highly repetitive prints on it, like the snowflake papers seen below)
A pair of sharp scissors
A lot of ribbon
Gift tags
A large, flat surface (I like the floor) 


 Lay the item upside-down in the middle of a piece of paper that is big enough to completely cover the item.  Make sure the item is straight on the paper by aligning it with some part of the pattern.  Fold one side of the paper halfway over the box.  (In this case, I had to go more than halfway because I used real gifts of mine.  I had to make sure no one looking at this blog could see what it was.) 
When pulling the paper over the box, be sure to pull it really tightly.  Tape it down with at least one piece of tape in the middle. 
 Turn the box around and fold over the other side (as seen above).  Be sure to pull it even tighter, but pull gently, as wrapping paper tends to tear.  If it doesn't pull tightly enough for me, I lift the box up so that the paper hangs down on one side and pull it around again, this time trying harder to keep the wrapping paper as close to the box as possible. 
 When you get it right, fold the edge to even it out and tape it with three small pieces of tape: one on the left side, one in the middle and one on the right. 
 This is where it gets a little tricky.  I always stand my box on it's side.  It crushes the paper on the bottom, but if you follow these steps, that should be invisible in the end-result.  Once the box or package is on its side, as shown above, fold down ONLY the two small strips of paper on the left and right as shown below. 
Once you have these two small side pieces folded towards the middle of the package, the rest is quite easy. 
 Fold the side with the seam on it (from where you secured the paper in the back) up as shown above and tape it into place with one piece of tape.  If it is too long to cleanly fold into this little space, carefully cut the paper down all the way around the item.  Next, fold the top flap (open above) down.  Fold the paper to even out the edge and secure with two pieces of tape.  Turn the package over and do the same to the opposite side. 
When I give someone more than one thing, I really like to layer my packages on top of each other.  I think it add a little something extra, especially if you use two different but complimentary papers.  

Now comes the big trick for a beautifully wrapped package:  use at least TWO different types of ribbon on it, and vary the textures, sizes and colors.  I chose a kind of silk crepe ribbon and a green satin ribbon.  The silk crepe ribbon is cream colored, extra thick and has a rough texture.  As a contrast, the green satin ribbon is thin, satiny and (obviously) colored.  

First, tie the ribbon around the package, either length-wise or both length and width-wise.  Then tie a small knot in the first ribbon.  (As shown above.)

Add the second ribbon and tie that.  Here you could add one more knot in the bottom ribbon that covers up the knot in the top ribbon.

Add a cute gift tag, preferably with a third kind of ribbon. 

 Here I chose black and red snowflake paper from Ikea.  For the gift on the right, I added a silk crepe ribbon, a satin green ribbon and a Santa tag.  For the gift on the right, I used red velvet ribbon, green raffia and a "Frohe Weihnachten" gift tag from my mom. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

New traditions

It may sound like an oxymoron, but "new traditions" are real, my friends.  They are traditions that you have recently created but think of as traditions and intend to repeat year after year until the day you die (or at least for a while).  Over the course of the week, I am going to share a few of ours with you.

The first--and my favorite--is a tradition I started last year and fully intend to repeat as long as I possibly can (forever?!).  Every year, I collect a bunch of little things that I think Peter will like (or that I already know he likes) and fill his stocking.  Last year, he was really into spelt and pretzels so I gave him a bag of spelt pretzels.  I got him his favorite deo spray, his favorite face wash and face cream (yes, my boyfriend wears face cream) and some candy.  And, in Germany, you can't forget your Glücksschwein, or good-luck pig.

This year...well, I can't tell you what I am getting him this year, because he reads this blog (sometimes, when I ask him to).   But it will be good and it will be a great continuation of the tradition!

I love this, maybe because my mom always made a big deal out of our stockings.  It was always one of my favorite parts of Christmas.  Stocking aren't a huge thing here, so it feels like bringing one of my traditions to our German Christmas.  And, it reminds me of home.  

 The pictures here are Christmas greeting cards from our town.  Aren't they adorable? 

Erfurt Christmas market and a little accident

Sorry about my absence yesterday.  I uploaded all these pictures and then had a crisis with my Christmas tree--it's dying! :-(  Somehow it isn't drinking any of the water I've given it.  You all know how much this tree means to me, so to say I was disappointed would be an understatement.  Yeah, I cried a bit.  Does anyone have any tips for reviving trees? At the moment, I am simply trying not to touch it so that the needles don't fall off. 

Today, I thought I would post some pictures that we took last week in Erfurt at the Christmas market.  We went on Monday last week and had a heck of an adventure on the way back (more about that later).  The market itself is wonderful, at the base of the cathedral and second church right next to it.  The way the churches loom over the market is quite awe-inspiring.  Plus, there are so many freaking lights there.  The Christmas market just glows!  And, Erfurt is just one of my favorite little German towns.

With all that beauty, it was a fantastic day...until the drive home.

That's when our fun day hit a little--let's say a really big--roadblock.  Literally.   There was a sofa in the middle of the German Autobahn.  Yes, a sofa.  And we blew right through it.  It exploded into a million little pieces, shut down the Autobahn for 10 or 15 minutes and made the local papers. 

I say it lightly now, but it was actually one of the scariest moments of my entire life.  For the split second that I realized what was going to happen, I thought it might be the end. (In the darkness, it was hard to tell what it was and I thought it might be a piece of concrete divider.)  Luckily, we are both okay.  I was a little shaken up but neither of us had any injuries to speak of.  I cried a little on the side of the Autobahn, in the rain and the blue light of emergency vehicles.  But, Peter?  He handled it like a pro.

The car, unfortunately, did not fare so well.  It isn't totaled but it has been in the shop for more than a week and they are basically replacing the entire outside of it.   We are hoping to get it back by Christmas.  I hadn't ever been really fond of the car but I will never say anything bad about it saved our lives.  The whole thing was our own little Christmas miracle. 

I had my posts for the first 3 days of last week all lined up, which is why there was no interruption in the posting.  Our lives were pretty hectic and overturned last week, so there would have been.  Luckily, things are completely back to normal this week and I finally have my appetite back!

I am so happy that it all worked out okay.  I am so happy that we are both happy and healthy.  These are life's little lessons that teach you not to take anything for granted and to make each moment count. 

Anyway, enjoy the pictures of beautiful Erfurt.  Don't you kind of want to spend Christmas there?  I certainly do!  Savor the last few days before Christmas and don't forget to relax a little and enjoy the time you have with the people you love.