Vacancy *blink* Vacancy

If anyone is considering a European trip this year and you want to come see us, please let us know relatively soon. We already have one definite set of guests (hi Mom & Dad!) and two more tentative pairs of visitors. We don’t need your completed itinerary; just drop us an e-mail or comment here on the blog if you’ve considering coming to our neck of the woods. We like aiding in travel planning and having some kind of heads-up will allow us to get an idea of our schedule over the next few months.

Let the promoting begin.

rainbow of office flavors

I’ve hit that critical-mass 10-tie threshhold, thanks to a sale at Strauss.  I bought three more ties (the red one, the shiny taupey one, and the periwinkle one in honor of ex-coworker Jan) plus a nice navy blue shirt (oddly I didn’t have one already).  Here’s the kicker:  it’s an XL (only one ‘X’ there!).  And a European XL at that!

If you need casual wear, ties, or shirts, I recommend hitting Strauss ASAP.  I got two ties for €7,95 each (marked down from €15,90 each) and a tie-friendly work shirt (I hesitate to call it a dress shirt, but it’s really as close as I come) for a hair over €10 marked down from €29,90.

I would have gotten some sweet khaki cargo pants for about €7, but they didn’t have any in my size.

it’s 3:15 a.m. — do you know where your immune system is?

I’m really getting tired of work kicking my butt all over the place. Fortunately, it would appear that my massive overtime accumulation has attracted some attention — for better or for worse — and my boss is starting to realize just in how many different directions my choke chain gets yanked.

Unfortunately, working like a dog since…well, late December, I guess (by German standards at least) appears to have taken its toll on my immune system. All winter I haven’t even had a case of the sniffles, but these past two days something has gotten into me, and I don’t mean inspiration.

Vitamin C BombePrimary counter-measure: chug as much of the „Vitamin–C-Bombe“ as possible. We normally drink this (and other juices) as a Schorle, but lately we’ve both fallen off the wagon. Perhaps this is showing itself in my cold. Either way, when my lungs start rattling or that scratchy feeling in the back of my throat comes around, I go full-strength on this stuff at work, drinking it hot with a cinnamon stick or two in it. Half the fun is watching Germans watch me prepare it. Today (yesterday really) a secretary asked me, “Whoa — you can tolerate that undiluted? Stomach-wise, I mean?”

Well yeah; it’s just apple juice with acerola in it for the Vitamin C boost. What really gets them is my one gloved hand and giant cappucino mug coming down the hall out of our Teeküche. I need it hot, but I can’t carry it with bare skin at the necessary temperature.

solvin' your mucus since 1978!I’m also taking some Hustensaft (aside: Cough juice? At first that seemed totally oddball to me until I thought about what kind of pancakes would go with cough syrup) called “Mucosolvan“. It seems to be working. After crashing out this evening immediately upon arrival, I woke up coughing a couple of hours ago.

And now I’m hungry.

Political and Environmental Impact of Just Getting Around

I’ve been thinking about some stuff on the way to Frankfurt. I’m listening to “When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden,” an audio book by comedian Bill Maher. I’ll wager the guy makes some serious sense to you, no matter on which side of the aisle you feel more at home in Congress. Check it out.

Here are some points he makes on the first disc that hit home with me this morning:

  • Americans since WWII treat gasoline as if it were a life-sustaining element like air or water.
  • We throw a tantrum whenever even a small price increase happens on things for whch we already have a pretty good price (compared to the rest of the world) — he names postage as an example alongside the price of a gallon of gasoline.
  • Our standards are illogical. We get upset when we have to pay $2 a gallon to go 10 miles in “the Couchmobile” but tip the valet dude $5 for him to go 10 feet.
  • Conservation is the only short-term option, but it would help a lot. Overall fuel efficiency improvements to the tune of less than 3 mpg would completely eliminate our dependency on oil from the Persian Gulf.
  • What’s up with our car culture? He attributes this to Americans, but from my perspective it’s alive and well here in Germany as well. Why must every new car model be billed “a totally new driving experience?”

    “A totally new driving experience would be a car with wings. Otherwise everything is still basically a Chevy.”

    “Wouldn’t it be great to go to a PTA meeting in a TANK?”

  • Whose agenda are we really serving?

    “Being slaves to cheap oil has corrupted our politics, threatened our environment and funded our enemies and had us doing the dirty work for a lot of royalist dirtbags in the Middle East for a long time.”

This morning before getting on the train, I realized I’ve been traveling so much lately, a frequent-rider card for me would make sense for the company as well. Below are all the trips I have or will have taken by car or train that would have been conceivable by train and taxi in basically the last four months:

October 31: Frankfurt
November 2: Frankfurt
November 8: Frankfurt
November 9: Frankfurt
November 16: Frankfurt (except that I was out that week due to my gall bladder removal)
November 27: Würzburg (overnight stay)
November 28: Frankfurt
[Not sure what travel would have been required of me if I’d not been on vacation until December 18th]
December 19: Nuremberg
January 11: Ingolstadt
January 22: Nuremberg (workshop, overnight stay)
January 23: Nuremberg
January 25: Ingolstadt
February 1: Frankfurt
February 11: Nuremberg (except it got cancelled because someone got sick)
February 15: Frankfurt
February 25: Frankfurt

To be sure, I’ve got a lot of inter-regional travel going on here. I’ve had to miss at least one meeting in Hanover, too (I think I was on vacation or perhaps out during my surgery).

There’s a lot happening via various teleconferencing solutions. Those can be tricky when you’re network-hopping — which I will be doing a lot while network infrastructure issues as a result of the sale of my company from one corporate parent to another are sorted out. And where possible members on our team carpool on business trips. But even carpooling still means someone has to drive, and after a couple of road trips to and from Frankfurt up and down the A3 on Friday afternoons, you learn quickly: driving under those conditions is neither pleasant nor productive. At the smallest level, I’m the only person on my little team in Germany, and I’m the only person related to Purchasing Systems in Regensburg, so I am often traveling by myself. And let’s not forget: the train doesn’t drop you off at the office doorstep. You still have to get from a Hauptbahnhof to the office park or local HQ from the train station somehow. That usually means taking a taxi (not exactly cheap) in addition to the cost of the train ticket (even if it’s reduced by the frequent-rider card). From what I’ve heard, public transportation (bus, subway, or tram) to/from the train station at any of these office I’ll be visiting regularly is really only viable in Regensburg.

So, I’ve decided to ask my company to spring for a BahnCard 50 or at least 25 for me. I don’t really expect the number of road trips to be sustained over the next phase of our integration into the new corporate structure, but despite carpooling and virtual conferencing, I see more travel ahead for me. Our team assistant says 6 trips to Frankfurt and back per year are required before a BahnCard 50 pays for itself. I really should have asked for one of those right up front. But I don’t expect to stop traveling to these other locations altogether over the next year. And over the past 4 years here in Regensburg, along with repeated trips back to North America just to remind me, I’ve learned something important:

View from up in the village of Saint MayI like driving for pleasure on little country roads through places like Provence or Oberammergau or Brenner, but not really very much anywhere else. Anywhere else, it’s loud, a little scary, and generally stressier than I’d like to be.

rainstorm on the waySo here’s to improved emphasis on mass-transit. I can’t honestly say I moved to Germany to get away from driving my truck (and I do miss my Dad’s truck), but I can definitely say it’s one of the factors keeping me here.

Mint Chocolate Brownies — just one could be fatal

Super Bowl Week: Mint Chocolate Brownies – Slashfood

Well, we missed Super Bowl Week, but it’s not like I even knew who was playing or where (“I’ll take the…uh…Rangers by…uh…a wicket!”).  Fortunately, Sarah held onto this recipe and we had everything in the house necessary for this recipe except the semi-sweet chocolate bars.  We picked up some Sarotti high-cocoa content (76%!) from Edeka on Saturday and that appears to have done the trick.  Our don’t look nearly as nifty as Martha’s (linked to above), but the flavor is amazing.  I don’t see any risk of these becoming habit-forming because of their sheer potency.

mint brownies

Note: those gooey spots in the middle aren’t raw pockets of batter — that’s the layer of melted peppermint patties providing the minty goodness.

Mint Chocolate Brownies

8 tablespoons (1 stick, 100 g) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
8 ounces (226 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped (we used 76% cocoa Sarotti)
1 cup (210 g) sugar (we used a tiny bit less)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup (69 g) all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/4 cup (40 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
25 small (1 1/2 inch) peppermint patties ((known here as “Pfefferminztaler” — or 1 1/2 Ritter Sport Pfefferminz bricks works nicely here, too.))

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides; butter foil. Set aside.

Place chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of gently simmering water. Stir occasionally just until melted, 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove from heat. Whisk in sugar and salt until smooth; whisk in eggs. Gently whisk in flour and cocoa powder just until smooth (do not overmix).

Spread 1/3 of batter in prepared pan. Arrange peppermint patties on batter in a single layer, leaving a narrow border on all sides. Top with remaining batter, and smooth surface. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 45 to 55 minutes.

Cool completely in pan. Use foil to lift from pan; peel off foil and discard. Cut into 16 squares (4 rows by 4 rows).

trying new things, like making our own pizza

We got inspired on New Year’s Eve by Matthias’ awesome pizza. And I’ve been thinking about revamping our recipes as part of the blog. This might look weird at first, but if I can make it work to my satisfaction, I’ll migrate all our recipe posts into this format. The point is to use the blog for its blogging purposes and not misuse it for something else, and re-creating blog functionality inside the non-blog parts of it should we ever decide we wanted a blog after all. Confused? Try working in my office sometime.

We started with the Ultimate Pizza Sauce as a base for our sauce, but as predictable, there wasn’t enough garlic in the recipe. Here is our enhanced version:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 (70g) cans tomato paste (the little bitty ones)
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small bay leaf (we meant to put this in, honestly…just forgot it)
1 teaspoon celery seeds (it was supposed to be fennel, but we forgot)

1. In a large skillet, melt butter with the oil. Add the onion, celery and garlic and saute until soft and transparent.
2. Add tomato sauce and tomato paste and stir until smooth.
3. Add remaining ingredients and bring to slow simmer.
4. Simmer for 30-60 minutes (or not at all depending on your taste and time frame).
5. Remove the bay leaf and spread the sauce on your prepared pizza dough.

ALERT! snobbery limits exceeded

I had a grilled Chavroux sandwich for breakfast this morning.  It was awesome.  Sarah found that they sell it in slices now at some local grocery store.  Same great goat flavor, just easier to work with now.  My immediate thoughts as my  brain processed the delicate tang were

“I need to make a croque-monsieur with this stuff.”

Consider it my next mission. 

In other culinary delight news, we cracked open the Get Well Soon package from pal Sara from my surgery back in November and took the Roasterie‘s Holiday Blend for a spin.  Yummy.  And I don’t say that about many American coffees.  Seems the owner of the company is from the same neighborhood as Sarah — hard to get down-homier than that.  This was the grind intended for automatic drip makers, but it worked just fine in our French Press.  I might ask the in-laws to bring a few pounds with them later this spring if they can swing it in their luggage.

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ScribeFire 1.4.2

Careful, this is going to get geeky.  I’ll try to do something less so toward the end to round it out.

Been a long time since I sat down here to post. Works been beatin’ me up pretty hard. But I had a short chat with the new Bossmann today (don’t get those very often) and it was inspiring.

If anything can motivate me to post on my blog, however, it’s something geeky. Like ScribeFire. I was perusing Kimsal’s brother’s blog after coming home this evening from watching “Unsere Erde” at Cinemax this evening with Sarah & Tammy & Matthias.  I noticed a little “powered by ScribeFire” thingie in his post and was immediately intrigued.

So much so that I’m using ScribeFire to write this very post.  It appears to be a built-into-your-browser WYSIWYG (and plain text for those of us who do their own HTML) editor offering compatibility with different popular blog formats (WordPress, Blogger, etc.) through your blog’s API.  It’s got lots of integration with other web services out there, such as bookmarks and technorati tagging and neat stuff like that.  I don’t use those things too terribly much (but maybe I should).  I suppose its biggest perk is offering a standardized — and yet usable — GUI for me the writer, no matter how many different blogging services I use.  It’s true; I only have one, but I have hope that I’ll discover that this nifty Firefox add-on will let me skirt the awful comments form on Blogger-hosted blogs.  Those things are so awful.  I thought Google tried not to be evil — seems like they missed the boat there.

And now for the less geeky part…here’s one of the pro photos from my sister’s wedding in December.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of them.

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