Could get a little bumpy here on the Regensblog

Short technical note here, folks: I’m trying out a new hosting service. Things seem to be working OK, but I’m tweaking stuff in the background and I guess something could fall down go boom — though I’m trying to minimize that, of course.

If you want the technical details, I can post (some of) them here, or if you prefer to keep your geekery slightly less public, email me. I use gmail and my username is the same as the author of this post. Aside: I probably won’t respond to random visitors via email.

We finally know how the sausage is made!!

A few months back, we decided to take the plunge and buy the KitchenAid stand mixer over which we’ve been salivating for years now. There was a good sale at Amazon and we could get it with the European plug, so the timing was right. Plus, we were able to buy the meat grinding attachment & sausage-filling horn from the U.S. for quite a bit cheaper than it would have been here. Then a couple of months later, after much searching, I found a place that would sell us casings in a relatively small package.

With all of these tasks accomplished, there was only one part left: the actual making of the sausage.

The ‘small’ package of casings contained about 20 meters (60 feet!). It might not seem like much for a butcher shop, but for a private citizen with very limited refrigeration facilities, that’s nearly too much to contemplate. Because I wasn’t too bright about it (or in shock at having purchased so much pig intestine), I chucked the whole mess in the freezer when I got it home. Therefore, we had to defrost the entire amount in order to get any off of the wad. So we’ll need to make more in a couple of days, or else forfeit everything we haven’t yet filled (i.e., a LOT). Next time, we’ll divide up the pack before freezing. No reason one package shouldn’t yield a year’s worth of meat-candy.

After getting the salt-preserved casings soaked, pliable and rinsed, it was time to grind and season the meat. We bought about 3.5 kilos of pork (not shoulder like we were instructed – there was none to be had, so we went with thigh cuts), Cliff trimmed the skin and cut it all into grinder-friendly strips, and we ended up with an impressive heap o’ meat.

Next, we divided the ground meat into halves and commenced seasoning. One was destined for Sicilian style sausage and the other for Spanish chorizo. The filling was a bit of an adventure, as I was in charge of filling the meat tray and Cliff was handling the casing. That might not have been the smartest division of labor, as I could have really used his eight inch height advantage to actually see what I was doing. Although, you can see that we worked through it and it turned out pretty well.

Scammers in travel planning

We’ve never come too close to getting travel-scammed. At least, the ones that have come close to us were actively after us – they initiated contact. Upon browsing the New York Times Travel section today, I discovered there are more passive types of scammers lurking in the travel listings, just waiting for you to take the bait. The story is about a vacation rental in London that wasn’t (you might have to log in to read it – it’s worth it, as they never spam), but the guy didn’t figure it out until he’d already paid.

What really stuck with me about this article is two-fold:

1) I already exhaustively research places we’re thinking about staying, and adding scam-proofing to my repetoire might be getting into crazy-making territory.

2) The author points out that always insisting on paying with a credit card is a good way to insulate yourself from scammers. I have two problems with this; I love to pay by bank transfer and many of the loveliest places in which we’ve had the pleasure of staying don’t accept credit cards! I realize that this article is aimed at Americans, for whom bank transfer payments are out of the ordinary.

There are a couple, more specific irks that I noticed in the article, but read it for yourself and do the me kindness of telling me whether I’m getting too worked up over this. Have you ever stumbled upon lurking scammers when trying to plan travel? How did you end up working around it? How do you insulate yourself from people out to separate you from your money?

We now resume the regularly scheduled winter

It got wintry again right after everything got all warm and moist. The transition period looked a little weird.

The river is behaving normally again; all the emergency barricades are hidden away. The water is still higher than normal and moving fast, but not alarmingly so. Cresting last week on the left, receding this week on the right:





Six Meters and Falling*

view from the Steinerne Brücke North -- P1151436We’ve seen some high water around here, but never like this. The last time it got this high was in 1988.

SDC10363

Rettungsdienst Swimmers - PC181339Rettungsdienst Swimmers - PC181343

Here’s what it looked like about a week ago. This is high; normally the lower pylon platform is exposed, such that the Rettungsdienst swimmer dudes can set up their annual Weihnachtsbaum on it. But it’s not really unusual for it to be that high.

P1151443High is when the upper level of the pylon is nearly submerged.

P1151433Practically overnight temporary barriers popped up all over the place. I guess they work; look at the foot traffic just on the other side of them. These people are not walking on the path: they’re walking through the bushes alongside the path. The path is on the otherside of the wall from them.

For comparison’s sake:

Before This Week
Sorat Hotel view November 2009 Sorat Hotel on Friday
Jahninsel in November 2009. Whatinsel?
Mild flooding Anything but
South Bank path Wait, there’s supposed to be a path there?


Here’s the slideshow, with more images.

*But six meters above what? Measured from where? I haven’t been able to find this crucial piece of information yet. Apparently it crested last night around 18:00 at 6.27m. Whoever made the 6.30m prediction is kicking himself for sure.

United Airlines, why do you hurt me?

All I want to do is go visit my family.

I haven’t been back in my hometown since at least last January, probably before (suffering from a case of oldbrain right now). So I’ve been planning a trip to coincide with the wedding of one of my cousins. We’ve been hashing out our travel plans for the first half of 2011, and the rest of the planning (a short trip to Spain and our annual visit to Mexico) went along very smoothly. I had every expectation that this trip would follow suit, so I started searching for fares and schedules and what I found set my teeth on edge.

United was the carrier offering the best price/schedule.

We’ve had issues with United before. Not earth-shattering, trip-ruining issues; mostly, it’s unprofessionalism, disorganization or a combination of the two. Examples include lost luggage, delayed flights resulting from shoddy maintenance and causing missed connections and a general lack of patience and maturity in the desk staff. This time, they managed to be frustrating while trying to book the flight.

Let me clarify that: I wanted to give them money and they didn’t make it as simple as possible for me to do so.

I don’t blame the automated phone system that I tried to use, nor the customer service agent with whom I ended up speaking. I wanted to do the whole thing online and that wasn’t an option because they don’t allow for purchases without a U.S. based billing address. We don’t live in the U.S. and neither of us want to use our families as a dummy address for a U.S. based card. I know that people do it, but I’m just totally uncomfortable with that. Too much potential for something to go wrong. And I imagine that it’s against the T&C of most credit card companies.

USAirways allows a foreign billing address. So do AA, Delta and Continental. And these are specifically their U.S. based websites. Even North-America-only carriers like Southwest and JetBlue accept credit card payment from outside of North America.

And when I went to the German site for United, they didn’t offer the same schedule and the prices were much, MUCH higher – to the tune of 200€ more.

You run up against this problem of businesses not wanting your money from time to time. I usually deal with it when attempting to buy goods from the U.S. because the businesses there often don’t want to deal with foreign shipping and customs weirdness. It makes me mad, but I get why they do it: the manpower and time that they don’t dedicate to more complicated tasks saves them more money than they would potentially make on foreign customers.

But the very nature of travel is different. It seems like one would have to have a wider scope of who the customer is and where they are. And if ALL of your competitors are willing to serve this market segment, what possible benefit is there to blowing us off?

And with that, we close out Christmas here in Bavaria

OK, today’s the Feast of the Epiphany. Start concentrating on Spring.

Here’s a little something to pass the time if you’re not in Bavaria and have to work today (and your employer doesn’t block your access to youtube).

Props:
I heard about this version of this song from the Coverville podcast. Check it out if you like exploring cover versions of popular music.

On curds and whey

Here’s the version I remember from my childhood:

Little Miss Muffett
sat on her tuffet,
eating her cottage cheese.
Along came a spider
who sat down beside her
and asked “Can I have some please?”

(I knew what cottage cheese was pretty early on…curds and whey were a much more recent learning experience.)

In that spirit of sharing, my parents got us a home cheesemaking kit for Christmas from cheesemaking.com. I guess we must have been bemoaning the lack of France in our lives lately (we haven’t been to Provence since…*gasp*…summer 2009!). The kit came with a recipe book and some essential ingredients for ricotta and mozzarella and a thermometer and an instructional DVD to whet your appetite. It worked. Soon after unwrapping the present, we started stockpiling milk. Note: supermarket milk is just fine for these recipes, as long as it’s not ultra-pasteurized (H-Milch ist verboten).

Ricotta

We started off with (what seemed to us to be) the simpler of the two varieties our kit supported: ricotta. Taken literally, you’re supposed to make ricotta from the left-overs of other cheesemaking exploits (ricotta means “recooked” in Italian). But you can also start with milk, provided you have a stainless steel pan and a skimmer (not hard to find) and about an hour to kill experimenting with hot milk. The kit says these recipes take half an hour, and maybe they will, once we’ve practiced this more.

First curds 3 Our ricotta curds are just starting to come together.

Ready to drain 2A little firmer now.

The ricotta was a good beginner cheese to make. I really have never liked it straight, and usually just tolerate it in lasagna, but this batch tasted good to me — probably appreciation borne out of our emotional investment in this cheese. And the lasagna it went into (including our homemade Hot Italian Sausage) was top notch. Sadly, no evidence remains of it whatsoever.

PC281381I love English Muffins. I practically wept for joy when I saw that one of the recommended uses of leftover whey from the ricotta recipe was making loaves of English Muffin bread. We had enough whey leftover for four loaves. I tried to cram all that into our three loaf pans and wound up with a comb-over on one of them. Oops. Still tasted good though.

After our ricotta success story, we watched the mozzarella segment on the video a couple more times, went over the recipe in the book, and practically memorized the recipe from the included booklet, only to find that all three recipes differ from each other somewhat. Well, OK. I guess artisanal cheesemaking means you have to experiment and fine-tune your own methods over time. Which is great, because I am looking forward to doing this again and again, and there are enough supplies in our kit to keep us going for quite some time.

Mozzarella

P1021400One of the first steps is making sure you’ve got enough curd density after separation from the whey. You can see Sarah’s able to press into the soft cushiony curds and make them start to flip away from the side of the pot. It took us a little longer to get to this stage than we expected; something like eleven minutes instead of just five.

P1021403Once you get there, though, you’ve got to slice up those thickened curds in three dimensions.

P1021404Reminds me of ice along the shore of Lake Ontario. After you’ve cut your curds on three axes, they go back on the heat for a few minutes to allow more cheesey magic to happen.

P1021406Then drain out as much whey as you can without damaging those curd structures. I’m keeping our whey intending to use it in pizza dough sometime very soon. Then we’ll take this mozzarella out for a test drive, too.

P1021407Nuke it for a minute, season with some salt, and get stretching.

P1021409Re-nuke a few more times. When it stretches like taffy without breaking, it’s ready. Quickly form it into a ball, braid, log, or little bite-sized lumps while it’s still too hot to properly handle. It’s ready to eat now, so why not enjoy?

P1021412If you’re not going to consume it warm, dunk it in ice water for a while (how long? one recipe said a few minutes, and another said thirty — and these were all from the same company!) to preserve the texture. OK, we’re going to have to work on our mozza-balling.

P1031414We gave the whey bread a few more chances today. This is what the English Muffin bread is supposed to look like.

P1031415Whey also makes for a swell pizza crust. It was smooth and elastic and very easy to work with, once you’ve kneaded enough flour into it (thank you KitchenAid dough hook!). I’m excited to use it in other places (soups and broths come to mind), since there’s so much of it left over from a batch of cheese.

P1031416Aww, yeah. This kicked European Pizza butt. The better part of a gallon of milk is represented here between the homemade mozz (about half of our mozz batch is on the pizza) and whey in the dough. Plus Sarah’s pizza sauce. Some homemade Hot Italian Sausage would have been great here, but I’d just made some the other day to go into the lasagna mentioned above, so we opted for a simple salami. I’m hoping the next experimental kitchen adventures will involve sausage stuffing and I don’t want to blow my Wurst wad.

APB: DVDs!

We can’t keep track of our stuff. We’re too quick to loan things out and not organized enough to keep careful track of who has what. Then we make the mistake of promising things to people that we no longer have in our possession and have lost track of who currently has it.

That’s a long-winded way of asking you all: do any of you guys have our stuff? Particularly our ‘Mad Men’ season 2 and our ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ seasons 1-4 DVD sets? Or, if you have these and know they’re borrowed (but not sure whose they are), please contact us, whether by e-mail or in the comments.

Thanks!

Baked Eggs

I got the inspiration for this recipe from my nifty iPod touch app “How to Cook Everything — On The Go.” I’m not crazy about his desserts so far, but this was great for brunch — exactly what I’d hoped: easy, fast, and flexible.

Baked EggsI’m really looking forward to making use of the biggest advantage here: you can bake as many of these as you want and you’re limited only by the number of ramekins at your disposal. It’s hard to serve eight eggs for breakfast simultaneously, but if you bake them, you can do it. Continue reading Baked Eggs