inventive baking

Sarah’s taking the written part of her big German test as we speak (the oral part is next week). I wanted to bake something nice for her to express my pride in her having come this far with her German skills, but we’re low on groceries and we had agreed to meet up after her test for lunch and to do some grocery shopping. So it didn’t make sense for me go out shopping and come back, bake, and go out shopping again. So I took inventory.

  • all the flour and sugar we’d need
  • 5 or 6 eggs
  • half a box of frozen blueberries
  • almost no shortening left
  • absolutely no millk

So, I had to improvise. Blueberry muffins came to mind first, but those were kind of a pain last time. I’m no good at dumping batter into the muffin cups and **only** the muffin cups. But what was I to do without enough shortening or any milk?

I needed 1/2 cup of milk and I was about 20g short of … uh, shortening. I substituted in butter for the shortening and coffee cream for the milk, and I figured that since I’d be doing them in a bundt pan instead of muffin cups, I’d have to do bake the temperature off a bit and increase the baking time. I was right. It actually turned out to be pretty good:

title= cross-section

man, what a long day

I only worked a half-day today, but it was a duesy.

This morning the weather was not very conducive to easy commuting by bike into work. There had been substantial snowfall overnight. This wasn’t the stuff that melted as soon as it hit the streets like [the previous snowfall I reported]( “first snowfall of the season”), but rather the kind that stays in the form of real snow if it’s on grass or sludgy slush if too many cars run over it. Like a trooper, I stuck it out and left early and made it there a lot faster than most people who tried to arrive at work today in their cars. Traffic problems, accidents, and yes, even German drivers also appear to forget how to drive as soon as those soft, fluffy flakes start gently floating down from above.

I had to bawl out one of the guys on my team at work (let’s call him Mr. X) — whom I consider a service-provider — for (repeated) sloppy workmanship and an especially bad follow-up on root cause tracking yesterday, so I was already feeling a little gunshy when I got into work. However, I thought it couldn’t get worse today than it was yesterday, at the very least because today Sarah and I started our yoga course at the [*Volkshochschule*]( “what does that mean?”) with our good pal and esteemed doctoral physicist [Tammy]( “who’s that?”). Yeah, you read right. Our yoga instructor is an astrophysicist — how cool is that? Anyway, I’d asked my boss for the next 9 Friday afternoons or so off so that I could get make at least an honest attempt at keeping my overtime hours in check. That’s when Tammy’s course is offered, so it works out perfectly with my schedule.

Long story made short with regard to the office: one of the guys I work with, let’s call him Mr. W — whom I consider an internal customer of mine — has had it up to here with Mr. X. He dropped a nastygram on the whole team, but we really all knew for whom it was intended. The thing with my job is, I’m the glue that holds together the fragile relationship between my department and the IT department. My department hates to have to talk to IT (and indeed, when they do, stuff invariably goes wrong), and IT doesn’t really like to talk to everyone and their cousin from my department. They’d rather have one contact person (i.e., me). Mr. X and Mr. W have a rocky history between them, and it’s never been good, and every now and then it blows up completely, and they never really heal. Who has to play referee? Who has to go hold everyone’s hand and say “there, there, I know how you feel, with the big, bad, mean Mr. \[X|W\]. He’s just got to learn how to deal with people…” Yeah, that’s right — I get to do that. Whoopitydoo. Now I have meetings with Mr. X’s direct supervisor and that guy’s supervisor to try and do a post-mortem on the whole situation, although the whole situation is relatively clear. If Mr. X and Mr. W refuse to work together, that means we have to have a go-between who takes the specification from the customer and gives it to the engineer. Yeah, I’ve become that paranoid guy from Office Space.

So that whole thing had me in a crappy mood as I flew out of the office in a mad rush to make it all the way across town to get my our yoga class on time. The weather had improved, but the street conditions were actually worse than on the morning trip. But you know what? An hour and a half of controlled breathing and interesting stretches and a little meditation (or at least some quiet time alone with your thoughts) near the end of it really makes a big difference.

That, and [*Glühwein*]( “what’s that?”). The *Glühwein* (of which there are several interesting varieties) really help the mood a lot. Yesterday, the *Weihnachtsmarkt* (OK, I know you’re getting sick of looking up all those words — it’s the Christmas Market) got going into full swing. At night, the bigger town squares in Regensburg are positively packed with people until about 8 pm when most of the food/*Glühwein* stalls shut down. Here’s what it looks like when empty:

Regensburger Weihnachtsmarkt am Neupfarrplatz - after pretty much everything is shut down

After that, you go find a bar to hang out in. In our case, we met up with Tommy and Natasha and a couple other friends from the VHS (that’s the abbreviation for *Volkshochschule*, for future reference) and had a 1/2-meter sausage (mmm, in a nice crusty baguette with all the condiments you can think of on it, include horseradish), and a couple of mugs of *Glühwein*, before heading off to a little courtyard at [Haus Heuport]( “fancy-schmancy restaurant right across from the Regensburg Cathedral”) to continue the drinking and snacking. I had a crepe filled with Bailey’s Irish Cream. That was weird, but very good. Sarah described it as sort of a boozy pancake.

Right now, she’s snoring next to me pretty loudly. The poor thing is all worn out from speaking German all day today. That was part of her warm-up phase for the big test tomorrow. Ideally she should be speaking German all day to everyone everyday, but in most cases we’re just too lazy to do it at home, too.

I’m sure she’ll do fine on her test, but I know there is a fair amount of stress involved in it for her. Let’s all wish her [*viel Glück!*]( “what does that mean?”)

Cliff is one of the people in your Philberhood

Well, isn’t that nice? I got a nice write-up from good buddy Phil on his blog over at As you will read, Phil and I have been pals since freshman orientation at OU back in the day (circa July 1994).

Sarah I and were talking about long-term friendships and stuff last night, and we realized…wait for it…we’ve been shacking up for five whole years as of December 27! I bet my mom prefers to focus on the time period starting, oh, mid-February 2004 or so, but we keep different kinds of records between each other, like

  • when we first met online
  • when we first met in person
  • when we moved in together (remember that ordeal, Narg & Sara?)
  • when we got married
  • when we moved overseas

I guess that’s our most recent recurring celebration. What are yours?

Criminy, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet!

Last week on Friday we had some freaky weather — it was sunny, first of all (which was very weird since it feels like we haven’t seen the sun since October), and then dark and cloudy, then rainy, then came big fluffy snowflakes, and then rain again. Just my luck, I was on my bike headed to/from work during both rain sessions.

But I still wasn’t expecting full-on snowy rooves this weekend. I snapped these pictures a couple of minutes ago. I’m hopeful that all this stuff on the tops of the buildings isn’t indicative of the street conditions below. Slush makes for an unpleasant bike ride.

snowy construction site snowy Protestants

I guess we took a bath on this one…

…literally. We’ve been having a very occasional drip problem from the shower down into the master bedroom below. We could never force it to happen, though – it has always been at inopportune times. To date, it has only happened twice. I finally found some cracks in the grout in our shower and showed them to our landlady. She is certain that those are the source of the drips and wants to repair the grout. *A week from tomorrow.*

This might be more than you wanted to know about us, but then again probably not a big surprise. We are every-day showerers. I get the impression that that is not the case for most of the natives here — come visit some warm summer day and take a big whiff of the random person next to you on the bus or at the shopping mall.

Fortunately, we have a large bathtub in our bathroom for use during that time. I say this as though it’s a new development, but it’s been there the whole time we’ve lived here. I think Sarah’s used it twice since we moved here and I am sure I never have. We mostly use it as a laundry hamper or a place for storing the potted plants that were gifts from people who didn’t know that we can’t keep anything green alive for very long. So now for at least the next week, we are going to be bath people, or smelly people.

I guess I’d take a bath over grossing myself out, but just barely. How can anyone (and these people exist, we’ve done some checking) actually *prefer* to take a bath over shower? Or soak and scrub in the tub and then not rinse the “you stew” off under the shower? Maybe the hassle of taking a bath combined with the new-fangledness of showering is the reason that there seem to be a lot more people here who are oblivious to their own funk.

Email annoyances

Hi all,

Lately our hosting company for the domain has been having trouble with email. Messages sent to us at have been going missing – moreso even for Sarah than for me. If you need to reach us via email, please do so using the same addresses as before, just replacing the cliff1976.**com** part with cliff1976.**net**. Thanks in advance for the hassle of updating your address books. Or use our gmail addresses, if you know those. They work just fine.

Shout out to ol’ Phil

Long-time pal and former roommate [Phil]( “Phil – yeah, your old pal Phil from OU”) is looking for some help in choosing a song for his band [Just Off Turner]( to cover. There’s a [contest]( and everything. Though I suspect the satisfaction of having won is worth more than the prize itself (at current market value – maybe when they hit it big, eBay’ll offer a more attractive price).

Note: to post your suggestions, I mean contest entries, you’ll have to become a member. No big deal though – it’s free, and I’ve never received any spam from them that I know of.

Butter Cake with Fruit Sauce

We adapted this recipe from Honey’s Butter Cake and Fast Blueberry Sauce at This’ll work well with all kinds of fruity sauces. We like blueberry and strawberry, but have also tried making the blueberry sauce with raspberries, which was nice (but a little seedy).

2 1/2 cups (345 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (5 ml)
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
1 cup (219 g) butter, softened
2 cups (420 g) white sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (we use 200 g) sour cream

Blueberry Sauce:
1 1/2 cups blueberries
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Strawberry Sauce:
1 pt. fresh strawberries, hulled
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch cardamom powder

1. Preheat oven to 325°F (165°C). Grease and flour a 9 inch Bundt pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition, then stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream; beat well.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Blueberry Sauce:
To prepare the sauce, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix 1 1/2cups blueberries, honey and 1/4 cup orange juice. Bring to a boil. Mix remaining orange juice and cornstarch in a small bowl, and stir into the blueberry mixture. Stir constantly until thickened.

Strawberry Sauce:
Combine all ingredients in a 2 quart casserole; cover with wax paper. Stirring midway through cooking, microwave on high 4-6 minutes, or until the mixture boils and the berries begin to fall apart.

Pour the mixture into bowl of a food processor or blender, or force the berries through a sieve to puree. Chill until serving time.

Xiyan’s Beef & Broccoli

Xiyan served this to us recently at her house and we were so wowed by it that we just had to steal the recipe from her. Of course, she wanted our recipe for the Butter Cake we’d brought for dessert, so it was a fair trade.

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. beef sirloin sliced into thin strips
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 two-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 medium/large onion sliced into thin strips
2 red Thai chilis
1 lb. broccoli, chopped into florets
2 Tbsp. Sambal Oelek
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/8 tsp. hot Chinese chili powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/3 cup water

1. Steam broccoli for five minutes. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in pan or wok to high heat. Add beef and cornstarch and sear beef; remove from pan and set aside.
3. Turn heat down to med. high and add garlic, green onions, ginger, onions, and chilis and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add more oil if needed. While vegetables are cooking, add chili powder, salt and pepper. Stir well.
4. Add beef back in with Sambal Oelek, soy sauce, and water. Cook everything together 1-2 minutes until thick sauce forms. Add broccoli, stir to distribute, and serve over rice.