Inane Whittering #Eleventy-Twelve: Kitchens and Bump

Before you begin to read this and find yourself thinking “dear Lord, here we go again with either cats, knitting or whinging”, I’d like to warn you that this entry has been lovingly handcrafted by the spellbinding combination of what I can only describe as pregnancy rage; a healthy dose of frustration and a dollop of cultural perplexity.

First the elephants in the room:

Yes I’m having a baby.  Surprised me too, funnily enough.  Yes I’m doing this on my own.  Little wriggler is due to make his first on-stage appearance in the summer.  So that means a sober birthday in addition to Christmas just gone.  The size of that first gin and tonic will be a whopper, I’m telling you.

Next surprise: I’m back in the land of beer and salami.  Neither of which I’m supposed to consume, given current circumstances.  This time, I’m in the West dealing with corporate types as opposed to the Bildungselite in the East like the last time.

Right, on to the topic that’s driven me to type this afternoon whilst my inhabitant decides to do his afternoon yoga and test whether my organs make for good cushions: Germans and their bizarre kitchen fascination.

As it currently stands, I sub-let a room in a flat share until the end of April; this was agreed from the word go when I originally moved in.  This deadline was always on the horizon; then came the revelation that I will soon have a human kitten and the search for a new place to live in became that little more complex.

I should add that personal circumstances are incredibly fluid in nature at the best of times, and things haven’t always been quite this…precarious, as it may come across.  Sometimes you genuinely cannot foresee the things that are thrown at you.

So here I am, looking for a flat (and a midwife, and a hospital, and childcare) in the Frankfurt area, and for those of you vaguely familiar with the city will already be spitting out your tea/coffee/gin as this is quite the mountain to climb.

The rental market here is, quite simply put, ludicrous.  The little that is on the market is priced extortionately, and is snapped up before you can say “bugger me”.  Secondly, the moment you look like you’re expecting and appear to be on your own, be prepared to be rejected – cue baggy jumpers and coats with strategically placed scarves and pray he doesn’t start a yoga routine mid-viewing.

And this is where the kitchens come in.  In the UK, it is quite common to move into an unfurnished flat and to have to provide maybe the fridge, or the cooker and the washing machine.  Dishwasher too, if you’re feeling flush.

The Germans appear to be quite attached to their kitchens, and take the damn things with them when they move out.

All of it.  Cupboards, work surfaces, appliances, sinks, the lot.

So not only do you have to consider the deposit, and the fact that you will have to pay more than the rent advertised as it won’t include bills, you also have to mentally brace yourself for the installation of a darn kitchen should you not have one spare.

Out of fairness, there are the odd instances where tenants quite understandably do the normal sensible thing and leave the kitchen behind in exchange for a price; these offers however are not particularly commonplace, nor do they hang around for long.

I do not have a car here, so need to be close to public transport for work; close enough to a hospital that’ll take me so I can get myself there when my little dude decides he’s ready; and it needs to be affordable with the maternity pay* that’s available: these criteria restrict things somewhat.  Throw in the soon to be not-so-secret baby and the required childcare and you can imagine the fun we’re having with the search.

It’s enough to make you question the logic of staying in a country that technically is foreign to me – even if my employer were accepting and supportive of the development, and Brexit wasn’t on the horizon, this would still be a challenge; I am not about to lie to myself on the challenges of motherhood.

Brexit may seem a weird one to throw in seemingly without reason, but based on current work permit frameworks, these are fairly easy to obtain if you earn over a threshold of ca. 48,000 EUR per annum.  Needless to say I do not meet that threshold.

It’s almost enough to drive you spare.

Sadly I have no immediate solutions to any of this, save for continuing to spam every estate agent and flat advert I can find and going to viewings.

Despite all of this, I would make the same decision again, given the chance.  Whilst he’s currently dancing away and practising his kung fu with his umbilical cord, my tiny dancer and I have already experienced quite a bit.  Little does he know.

Right, time to go munch something before I start getting complaints.  Then it’s on to complete the best dinosaur jacket you’ve ever seen.

Oh, and German obstetricians are an experience and a half.  Mine is an absolute Powerfrau and a diamond.  More on that later.

*I should add here that I am aware that German law is incredibly comprehensive and the support offered to single parents is, based on what I have read, very well thought-out; there are safeguards in place to ensure that one parent does not leave the other without.  However I need to be realistic whilst the paperwork is sorted out and I am absolutely certain that there will be unexpected costs that I will need to be able to cover, thus the worst-case scenario planning.

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Returns, dinosaurs and cat flaps.

Tach, Possums!

I shall refrain from writing another apology and yet another promise that I shall post more regularly.  It seems that every time I write such a thing, the exact opposite happens.  I was in Germany for a terrific 9 months and met some of the most fantastic people.  I also had hardly any internet, thus the radio silence.  Until I moved back to the UK nearly 2 months ago.

ANYWAY.  My new excuse is dinosaurs.  A friend of mine is expecting her first child at the end of the year, and naturally I’ve gotten *slightly* carried away knitting for the poor thing.  In addition to a bear and a starry cardigan, I’ve started on a dinosaur.  Because who doesn’t want a brightly coloured dinosaur?  He’s part-way through construction, has been a joy to knit, and will no doubt inspire a few sibling dinosaurs in time.

knitted dinosaur with legs
HE HAS LEGS

In addition to knitting, my furry adopted little sister had a slight disaster, and ended up spending a week at the vet’s.  I think that in pulling through the ordeal, she may well have used up one of her nine lives.  We suspect the cause was an injury acquired in a cat fight, but because it had healed over before any of the symptoms appeared, we can only speculate.  In short, she was lethargic, off her food, withdrawn and short of breath.  It turns out it was a pyrothorax; a build-up of fluid, in this case caused by an infection, in the chest cavity.  The vets drained 350ml of what I can only politely describe as goop, and she was on IV antibiotics for a week.  Last October she weighed 4.1kg, just to give you an idea of the proportion of fluid drained in relation to her weight.  (For the Imperialists among you, that’s nearly a pint of fluid.)

RIght, so now that we have a partially shaved feline back home, we decided that perhaps we ought to install a microchip-activated cat flap.  I take my hat off to the people who wrote this manual.  Sureflap, kudos to you.  You clearly know what it’s like to be a feline’s chosen human.

The first thing that struck me about the manual was the helpful information for cats on how to use the cat flap:

Not suitable for fancy dress.
Not suitable for fancy dress.  Keep away from kittens.

Now, for those of you wondering why one would splash out on the kind of cat flap that has diagrams of use for your cats in its manual, then you probably don’t have cats at home.  For those interested in the rationalisation, here’s an excerpt:

“This cat flap has been designed […] allowing access to your pet whilst keeping out animal intruders.”

Oops.

But this isn’t just any cat flap, oh no.  This cat flap learns.  But a word to aspiring crazy cat people (it’s not always us women): you can only register 32 cats.  I find this a shame.  Any fool knows that the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42 and for us cat-crazed individuals, cats are that meaning in life, ergo one should be able to have 42 cats, register them all, have one’s cake and be able to eat it, cat fur and all.

But the highlight of the manual for me has to be the advice aimed at the human side of this human-feline partnership under the section on how to get the cat flap to register your cat’s microchip. This point is of such importance, that it even has an exclamation mark in a warning triangle next to it:

“In order to learn a cat’s microchip number, a sensor located in the tunnel must detect a cat’s presence to trigger the microchip reader.  Therefore it is important to ensure that your cat either puts its head into the tunnel or passes through the flap.  No amount of waving your cat in front of the flap will have an effect.”

Whoever wrote that last line clearly has a wealth of experience either dealing with scratched, disgruntled customers phoning customer support, or of having personally tried “waving” a cat in front of anything.

I also suspect that there were a few felines who managed to get their paws on the manual, as in the troubleshooting section on how to get your cat acclimatised to the new cat flap, the author notes that “strategic positioning of food inside/outside the house can also help encourage the initial use of the flap.”

All I can say is that our resident feline would never allow herself to be waved in front of anything, and aside from presently snoring softly on a bean bag whilst I write this, the cat treats have so far been successfully retrieved without the cat flap successfully learning her chip.  This one has cunning.

Damn straight.
Damn straight.

Inane Whittering #21

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So… I HAS A HAT.

More to the point, I knitted it myself. It’s my first ever hat, so please forgive the slight over-excitement. But it’s big, it’s slouchy and it’s oh so warm. Which in this weather, is exactly what I need. Oh, and the pattern’s reversable, so it doesn’t matter if I accidentally end up wearing it inside-out. SCORE.

Anywho, here’s a bit of early afternoon madness:

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In other news, I’m still working on the script for Herr and Frau Streipze’s debut, but it has to be finished this week, so you should see it soon. Oh, and here’s a glimpse of one of the many Christmas presents I’ve been working on:

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I have to say I’m very slightly jealous of the recipient, purely because I love these colours waaay too much.

Travellings: Deutschland #21/Inane Whittering #14

Apologies for the radio silence – and for the fact that I will probably end up posting a series of posts of various episodes from Roo’s adventures abroad (I’ve just made that name up, but it already sounds far more interesting than Year Abroad) and then may well end up with another dry spell – I will try to avoid it, but I do need a break from being witty from time to time…

The first blindingly obvious observation I would like to make is how sodding cold it’s gotten. During the day here in the rather bemusing Bavarian Beer Monster, it’s around -15 degrees at the minute. At night it drops between -20-25 degrees. Friday night dropped down to -27, apparently.

It’s enough to give you goosebumps on your goosebumps.

As a result, I now resemble an onion in terms of the number of layers I’m wearing; I’ve had to break out my Matrix coat (it’s woollen, floor-length and black) and I’ve been knitting all kinds of weird and wonderful things for my wardrobe.

So far, I’ve made neckwarmers, scarves and wristwarmers. My current project is a pair of thigh-high legwarmers.

Now there’s a mental image for you.

Pictures will follow.

(Of the finished products, of course – not random pictures of my thighs. That would just be weird. Anyway, on to saner ground…)

My other recent habit is baking. Now, this happened when I was feeling a bit blue and was in one of my moods where I just wanted to go home and curl up on the sofa with the cat. Now, seeing as that wasn’t possible, and I don’t have a cat, I decided that some comfort food was in order.

But what? I already have huge quantities of teabags stashed in my room (I kid you not, my current total is around 5 kilos of the stuff) and I have marmite for my usual marmite on toast pick-me-up. But for some reason, it just wasn’t enough. No amount of B vitamins and caffine were going to pick me up out of this particular rut.

The much-needed solution?

Scones.

Up until now, I have never made them. 2 minutes of googling revealed that they’re suprisingly quick and (theoretically) easy to make.

Explaing to my flatmate what a scone is, however, proved to be rather more challenging. Needless to say, there is no German equivalent for scones. The dialogue resembled something like this:

(rough English translation of the actual German conversation)

Becca: I’m going to bake scones.
Cathrin: Scones? What are scones?
B: *looks shocked* What do you mean, “what are scones”?
C: *blank look*
B: *with a look of disbelief* You’ve never eaten scones before?
C: *shakes head*
B: *somewhat agitated* B-but, you’ve not lived!
C: *bewildered and somewhat frightened look*
B: Okay, um, they’re about this big *gestures with hands*, and can be eaten sweet or savoury. Traditionally, you eat them with *upper class accent* “Afternoon Tea” and you generally make them with sultanas.
C: *look of utter disgust*
B: …or not. The sultanas are optional.
C: *look of relief* How do you make them?
B: Well, you kind of make a dough-
C: So they’re cakes, then?
B: Well, not exactly…
C: Ah, so more like bread then?
B: Umm, more of a cross between the two.
C: I get it – like Brioche.
B: No, no – nearly the opposite of Brioche. Scones are heavier and denser.
C: So they’re cakes then.
B: *noise of protest swiftly followed by resignation* N-yes, I guess you could say they’re like cakes.
C: So, what do you eat them with?
B: Traditionally, clotted cream and jam.
C: What’s clotted cream?
B: …you don’t have clotted cream here?
C: …I don’t think so.
B: ah. Think of double cream but thicker.
C: Double cream? You mean Schlagsahne?
B: *head in hands* …probably, yes.
C: So, you only eat them in the afternoon?
B: Traditionally, yes. But I some people who munch them for breakfast too.
C: *absolute bewilderment* You people eat cake for breakfast?
B: No, I didn’t say that, they’re not really cak-
C: You eat cake for breakfast. God you English are weird.

So, in a bid to demonstrate to my flatmate that 1) they are not cakes and 2) us English aren’t that weird, I had a go.

My first attempt looked like this:

scones with jam
My children, my beautiful NON-CAKE-like children.

Whilst being far from perfect, it’ll do. For those interested, the recipe is as follows:

For glazing
1 egg beaten with a little milk added

The dough
55g of cold butter
(a generous) 150ml cold milk
225g (2 cups) self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Optional
50g (1/4 cup) sultanas

Because you can’t seem to buy SR flour here in Munich, I used the following substitute (and didn’t add any extra salt as stated above): for each cup of flour, I added 1/4tsp of salt, 1tsp of baking powder and 1/4tsp of baking soda (Natron auf Deutsch).

On a important note, it’s best to have the ingredients as cold as possible – and it’s also better to have cold hands; you want to avoid melting the butter.

The first thing is to sieve the flour into the mixing bowl – you will need a big one for this. If you’ve not had to recreate your own SR flour, then add the salt and baking powder now. Then add the cold butter.

Come to think of it, this recipe can get rather messy, so maybe implementing the use of little people here would be a good idea.

You need to stick your hands in and combine the butter and the flour so that its consistency resembles that of breadcrumbs.

Yes, it will stick to your hands and get under your nails. The things we do for food, eh?

Once you have a lovely floury buttery mess, it’s time for perhaps my favourite part. You know when you have bangers and mash as a kid and you used to make a well in the potato and then pour gravy into it and create your own mashed potato and gravy volcano?

That’s exactly what you do here. Create a well in the flour and pour in the milk, brave the sludgy feeling and stick your hands in to combine it all into a smooth dough.

DO NOT overwork the dough.
Or they won’t rise :(

Once you’ve combined everything, roll the dough out on a floured surface so that it’s around 2cm thick, and then cut them out. I don’t have a rolling pin so have to use my hands and I don’t have any cutters, so I use a glass tumbler.

Then place your beautious creations on to a greased baking tray, glaze them with the egg/milk mixture and bung in a hot oven (preferably near the top) at around 180 degrees C for 5-10 minutes.

It will depend on your oven, but Holger (our oven) seems to enjoy burning things to a cinder.

Et voilà! You have scones. Eat with with jam etc and enjoy.

Except don’t be surprised, if, like me, you decide to snaffle several for breakfast/afternoon snack/out of boredom and then discover that your trousers no longer fit.

I learnt the hard way :(