Tuna Noodle Casserole

I love tuna casserole. Unabashedly. My mom’s is stellar, but because she uses cream soups (that I can’t get here) and a special, frozen big thick noodle (which I’ve never seen ANYWHERE outside of Kansas City), I can’t really reproduce it. Every so often, I would trawl the internet for tuna casserole recipes with all ingredients that I could get here. Because it’s a holiday weekend and we’ve got the time, we embarked on a tuna adventure, only to be met with abject SUCCESS! It was stupid good. The original recipe is here, but I made some adjustments.

1 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
2 small cloves garlic, minced
3 celery stalks, small dice (about 2/3 cup)
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 small hot green chili, minced
1 t Old Bay Seasoning (I’ve never had this, so I made my own with this)
2 T flour
1 t salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
500 ml milk
50 g sour cream
1 T Dijon mustard
500 egg noodles (I used schwäbische Landnudeln because they looked pretty rough – they did not disappoint)
2 cans high-quality imported tuna packed in oil, drained and flaked
300 g coarsely grated aged cheddar cheese
2-3 T finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 t dried parsley
4 T french-fried onions (Röstzwiebeln)

  1. Heat oven to 350°F/175°C and butter a 9 x 13 baking dish.

  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm oil and butter. When butter foams, add garlic, celery, scallions and chili. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, then add seasoning, flour, salt and pepper. Stir until vegetables are coated and raw smell of flour is gone, then start pouring in milk, stirring all the while, making sure there are no lumps. After it simmers and thickens, remove it from the heat, stir in sour cream and mustard, and adjust seasonings if necessary.

  3. Cook the noodles in well-salted water to just over half of the package-directed cooking time. You want them pretty firm in the middle, as they will continue to cook in the oven. Drain and mix with the sauce, tuna and cheese until everything is well distributed. Pour into buttered casserole and spread evenly. In a small bowl, toss together Parmesan, parsley and onions. Sprinkle mixture over top of casserole. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

WEBMU 2014: Nürnberg!

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The votes are in and Nürnberg ended up running away with WEBMU 2014, but we still need to settle on a date. The dates that are best for the organizers (full disclosure: we’re a couple of the organizers) are up over in the forums now. Go take a look and choose the date or dates that are best for you and we can nail this thing down.

Need access to the forums? Let us know that you’re not a bot and we’ll take care of it. Have local Nürnberg knowledge that you’re just dying to share? Leave a comment and we’ll get you involved.

Bridge Update, End of March 2014

Big developments on the bridge this week! They’ve closed off the main archway, diverting all foot and bicycle traffic through the secondary arch leading past the entrance the UNESCO World Heritage vistors center and onto the stretch of auxiliary bridge. Scaffolding has replaced the side rails on the south stretch of the bridge. Only the middle section of the bridge and the ramp from there down to Müllerstraße, Alte Linde and the rest of the Oberer Wöhrd are available at the moment. Wonder when they’re finally going to re-open the north end (the Stadtamhof side)…it’s been inaccessible since they first started this project.

View South

View South

Main arch closed

Main arch closed

View North

View North

View West

View West

WEBMU 2014 Location Voting Open

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The nominations are in and it’s time to vote! There are a quite a few more cities and regions to choose from than last year, including a couple of repeats and one far-flung locale.

What is WEBMU you ask? Why, it’s the Whiny Expat Bloggers Meet Up. Click the link for a little history on the event.

Voting will close on March 31, 2014. That’s two whole weeks to see what’s on offer, find out more about the options, engage in some campaigning and debate and cruise the blogs of potential participants. To vote, go check out this thread in the Expat Bloggers in Germany Forums. Can’t access the forums? Let us know here or on Twitter (@ExpatBloggersDE) and we will get you taken care of.

Happy voting!

India, Part 4: Epilogue

We flew to India on a package tour in January 2014. It was our first time in that country; we hope it won’t be our last. This is the epilogue of the story. Catch up via Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3 if you need to.

Our trip through three big cities in India was fast and furious. So far we’ve blogged about the tourism destinations, but not a lot about the travel package itself, or the people we met, or life happening around us there.

The Package

We’d heard lots of neat stuff about taking the train and know people who’ve backpacked around India, but…to be honest, that didn’t really appeal. We knew we wanted to visit, but weren’t really sure where to start, or what to expect in terms of accommodations and transportation, so when we saw a package tour available which covered several big-name destinations, we jumped on it. The price was steeper up front than we normally pay for a week of vacation, and I’m sure we could have arranged many of the activities ourselves, but…

Meh. We jumped at the chance to let someone else do the hotel reservations, admissions to attractions, transportation, and many of the meals. Along with that convenience came a few activities we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves, however, and a “cooking class” was mentioned in the description we bought, which never materialized. As fans of cooking and fans of Indian cuisine, that omission left a bitter taste in our mouths.

The Hotels

We stayed in nice places.

  1. New Delhi Holiday Inn Mayur Vihar Noida
  2. Trident Agra
  3. Trident Jaipur
  4. Crowne Plaza Gurgaon

I would eat this every day for breakfast if I could.

I would eat this every day for breakfast if I could.

The rooms at the first and last one were the best of the bunch — modern and stylish. But the food at the Trident Agra was far and away the best (and the Trident Jaipur was no slouch either) quality and value. We particularly liked the set up and selection and staff at the Trident Agra: the head chef made us personal recommendations after we told him what we like (almost everything) to try local and regional specialties you’d probably never discover on your own.

The Bollywood Stuff

Included in our package were two theatrical performances: one in Agra, romanticizing the construction of the Taj Mahal, and another in Gurgaon, which was definitely much weirder. It was a kind of “Bye Bye Birdie” meets “The Wonder Years” if it had been set in South Asia. Lots of cultural references were lost on us there. It didn’t help that in both cases the performances were all in Hindi (not a big surprise) but with the spoken dialog piped in our ears in English through crappy radio-connected headphones. The signal strength, battery power and audio quality was just terrible at both theaters, rendering any attempt to absorb the details close to pointless.

The “Handicrafts”

Indian Art StatuesMaybe we should have seen this coming, especially after our Antalya vacation package in Turkey over Christmas 2009. The tour description we read mentioned trips to “local markets” and “handicraft” centers. We didn’t figure out until we arrived at one that this was code for the hard-sell high-end merchandise environment. To be fair, we didn’t feel overly pressured, and even made some purchases and collected some native Hindu sculpture ideas for a friend of ours at her request. But it still was kind of a disappointment to be dropped off in the care of the jeweler, purveyor of carpets and tapestries, Hindu sculptures, or textiles. Sort of like, “Oh. So that’s what’s happening here…” as the realization sets in that we’re part of someone else’s negotiations. We saw beautiful stuff — particularly the marble work — but we wouldn’t have chosen to spend our time and money that way. We bought a few items, but only because we wanted to, but only after someone took us there. So it wasn’t terrible.

Our Contacts

The Tour Agency

The assistant manager of the office contacted us before our trip via email and gave us some arrival email information and emergency contact numbers for his company’s offices and the hotels along the way. He was there waiting for us at the airport with our names on a sign (that was a neat feeling), gave us an overview of the whole itinerary, and introduced us to our driver.

Our Driver

Parveen and CliffThis guy was great. He was dedicated to us 24 hours a day for the whole length of our trip, whenever we were awake but not in the care of a tour guide. He coordinated the changes in schedule, weather and traffic, and handled all the other bumps, figurative and literal, in the road between Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. He was always exactly where and when he said he’d be when handing us over or dropping us off with the tour guides. Towards the end of the trip he gathered up the courage to ask me how old I am. “10 years younger, and so much white in your beard!” he joked.

In Delhi

She was our favorite guide. She gave us so much insight into the subtler aspects of ancient and modern local culture. She loved to talk, and was surprised that knew as much as we did (admittedly: not much, but we were able to retrieve a few nuggets when she quizzed us). Her English was easily the best of the bunch, in terms of vocabulary and our ease in understanding her. We loved that she took us to her family’s favorite restaurant in Dehli for Chana Masala when I asked for it at lunch and it wasn’t on offer, and was perfectly willing to answer our honest questions about her own family: arranged marriages, relationships between in-laws, regional animosities, and other potentially very personal stuff.

In Agra

Fatehpur sikriA very polite young man was our guide in Agra. He was passionate about the history and architecture, and that was obvious, but we felt bad for him, because he was obviously not feeling well, and still trying hard to give an excellent tour. At one point during an explanation of the resources put into the construction of the Taj Mahal, he burped a couple times and may have even barfed in his mouth a little bit. I offered him my still-sealed bottle of water, and he seemed embarrassed to take it. I hoped I had done the right thing, from an etiquette perspective.

In Jaipur

Our guide in Jaipur seemed like he didn’t really want to be there, or had a strict schedule to keep (as opposed to Mrs. Dehli, who explained that IST really stood for “Indian Stretchable Time”). In fact, almost everything about him seemed kind of strict, with a very stiff posture, clean, close haircut and an impeccably trimmed mustache. He guided us through the forts and palaces, and a stroll along one of the main drags in Jaipur where I bought some tea, but he didn’t seem very interested in the details. One exception to that: he sort of came alive, briefly, at Jai Singh’s observatory while he demonstrated the accuracy of the sundial.

Daily Life

Is that a pashmina?

Is that a pashmina?

I’m not sure how much of it came through our photographs. Our guides and the package definition were great for acquainting the visiting tourist with the attractions. Clearly there is a rich historical cultural tradition, and plenty of vibrant colors to catch your eye, despite the appalling polution, but socio-politically, there is a lot more going on than we had time to explore. Cows and pigs munching on garbage on the side of the road are a sad sight, but moreso is the heartbreaking poverty of the beggars and sellers of trinkets. Particularly the charming six-year-old salesman at 9:00 a.m. on a weekday, as we walked up from the bus parking towards the Fatehpur Sikri was a bittersweet reminder of how much potential India as the planet’s largest democracy has, and how much farther they have to go on the road out of the Thirld World.

Avgolemono (Greek Egg & Lemon Soup)

I got this one from here and it’s harder to explain than to make. It looks a little intimidating, what with the tempering, but it is quite simple. I suggest you have someone help you with the tempering, but it is possible to do it alone if you have a stick blender w/whisk attachment and a steady hand.

2 T olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 c chicken broth
1 c water
3/4 c rice
salt to taste
2 c chicken, cooked and chopped (I used a rotisserie chicken)
1 t black pepper, coarse grind
1 t dill, dried (or 2 t fresh)
3 eggs
1/2 c lemon juice

In a deep soup pot, heat oil over medium-low heat. Sauté onion and garlic until tender and slightly translucent, 3-5 minutes. Pour in chicken broth and water and turn heat to medium. Bring to a gentle boil and add rice. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add salt, chicken, pepper and dill and continue simmering 5 minutes.

While the broth is simmering, in a heatproof bowl (I used a large pyrex measuring cup) beat eggs while slowly pouring in lemon juice. Taste a grain of rice; when it’s almost completely cooked, it’s time to temper the eggs. Add hot broth by the ladle (3 will probably be enough) to the eggs while whisking. Once the eggs have warmed up, take the soup pot off the heat and stir the egg mixture into the soup until completely integrated. Serve immediately.

The Cook’s Dilemma

Non-stick cookware has been getting a bad rap for several years now. We finally took the plunge and got rid of our non-stick pots (non-stick coating was peeling away on all of them). We are looking into replacing them with stainless steel pieces. So now, I have a sauce-pan shaped hole in my life. So I’m reaching out to the collective wisdom of the Internet to plot my next move:

  1. Do I buy a new full set of pots and pans? If so, what brands are you into? Our last experience was with Berndes and it was not good, so I’ll be steering clear of them.
  2. Should I buy individual pots and pans, regardless of brand, getting what most specifically serves my needs?
  3. Some other kitchen stuff acquisition method of which I have not thought?

As of now, I’m leaning towards the second option, but I’m interested to see what others have done. I’m especially keen to hear your opinions (positive and negative) on pieces and brands that surprised you.

…what's happening on our side of the pond