Monthly Archives: July 2013

Attack Of The 12oz Pug And Struggly Ducklings

On Monday’s family outing to Landsberg, we spotted this two month old pug.

Here she is with my mum

Here she is with my mum

Now she’s wandering over in my direction, all unassuming and a bit coy…

...and the madness starts!

…and the madness starts! She’s just about the length of my hand, and my hands are tiny.

Pug

Teeth like needles this one!

Teeth like needles this one!

There was another funny animal-related incident in Landsberg, involving a family of ducks. You can just about make them out in the river, on the bottom right:

Lech

Mother duck was trying to teach her offspring to scale up the cascading water. The four almost grown ones managed to remain steadfast the current, but the smallest one couldn’t even keep his feet in contact with the slippery ground. He was paddling on all cylinders just to remain in the same spot, and he kept drifting back down the river again and again.

Here they all are, mum in front, four nearly grown ducks in the middle and the runtling struggling to keep up on the left

And she’s lost him again!

The mother eventually leapt up the first shelf, but none of the others followed, despite her best efforts to entice them. My mum, my brother and I kept cheering them on from the sidelines… to no avail. In the end, mother duck had to abort the exercise and return to less troubled waters.

The Stunning Buildings Of Landsberg

Yesterday, my mum and I bullied my brother into a family excursion. Being a kind soul, he drove us to Landsberg am Lech, a town about a thirty minutes away from The Village. It’s a beautiful, typically Bavarian town, with many medieval buildings still intact.

It’s probably worth mentioning that Landsberg is noted for one rather unfortunate thing: Hitler wrote Mein Kampf there. But rather than dwelling on that, let’s gawp at some of the town’s magnificent buildings instead.

One of the old town gates

One of the old town gates

Landsberg town gate towerLandsberg House

Landsberg Haus

Town centre buildings

A hilltop view

Another view of the river Lech

Another view of the river Lech

Church Tower

Landsberg tower

Flying the Bavarian flag

The town Museum

The town Museum

A modern-ish building - but still very fancy

A modern-ish building – but still very fancy

Hell, even the birds have fancy houses in this town!

Hell, even the birds have fancy houses in this town!

What The World Has Been Waiting For: Naked Pictures Of Me!

It was too hot to go out yesterday, so I went through old family photo albums with my brother instead. Excuse the poor quality, they are photos of fuzzy 1970s photos.

I do look a bit apprehensive on my grandad's shoulders. He was a very nice man.

I do look a bit apprehensive on my grandad’s shoulders. But he was a very nice man.

With my dad

I’m a lot happier with my dad

Not so much with my granny… I don’t think it’s her … what I must be pissed off about is this totally ridiculous outfit!

With my mum in my grandparents' garden

With my mum in my grandparents’ garden

As promised...

As promised…

Swing set antics

I was a sprightly four-year-old.

This ultra-short haircut may look quite cute, but it’s the tear-blighted result of my first hair-related tragedy. My dad had made a real botch-job of cutting it, and this is the best the hairdresser could do to save my dignity.

These are chocolate bears. Right in front of me. What do you think will happen next...?

These are chocolate bears. Right in front of me. What do you think will happen next…?

What else?!?

What else?!? Whoever’s hand that was, it just wasn’t fast enough to save them.

The last three are of my brother and I, taken in the early 80s. (He’s ten years younger than me.)

He was always easy to please ;-)

He was always easy to please 😉

Rose garden

I did want to kill him back then. Now I’m glad I resisted the urge

Mum’s Kitchen: Damson Dumplings

The recipe for “Zwetschgenknödel”, as they are called, came from my father’s mum. It’s not a traditional Bavarian dish, but a Silesian one. My mum makes them with plums rather than damsons, same difference.

This may not be one of the most photogenic dishes in the world, but it’s my uncontested favourite. Why? Because it’s essentially… like CAKE!

It all starts with yeast, flour and water to make a big lump of dough.

Yeast Dough

Then you shape it into palm-sized balls, stuffing them with plum or damson slices. Peaches might work just as well, I guess.

Yeast dough balls

Next, you drop the dumplings into boiling water and leave them to simmer for about15 minutes.

Boiling Knödel

And hey presto!

Zwetschgenknödel

Served with a heavy dusting of sugar and cinnamon, and browned butter poured over the top. I added some blueberries for good measure.

And yes, I ate all three of them. Without even struggling.

Annual Return Of The Expat: Enter ‘The Village’

Every summer, I migrate back to my point of origin for the duration of around 10 days. This is the optimum time span (and it took me almost a decade to figure this out) to enjoy gorging myself on ice cream servings whose dimensions are roughly equal to a child’s tricycle and gaze at panoramic mountain views without wanting to throw myself under a tractor. Once, I did a three-week-stint… bad mistake. I won’t elaborate.

Anyway, yesterday, after an 11 hour schlepp (lots of waiting time due to inopportune connections), I had made my way ‘home’. The airport put on a five-star welcoming ceremony:

Welcome to Bavaria

Below, I give you a first glimpse of The Village at dusk:

View from my mum’s balcony – yes, there’s a maypole and, to the left of it, you can see my granny’s little yellow house

As you’ll have tweaked by now, The Village and I have a fraught relationship. It sure was great while I was a kid. My friends and I roamed the fields and meadows and we ruled the farmers’ barns – nothing more fun than climbing high up onto the rafters and leaping off into a fresh pile of fragrant hey, petting new born calves’ slimy pink noses and being chased up plum trees by vicious gaggles of geese.  OK, the latter wasn’t all that much fun, but you get the picture.

As a teenager, though, being trapped in The Village was hell. Its not much more than a hamlet, really, home to just over 600 souls. NOTHING to do, a bus every couple of hours until the lock-down at 7pm…

In order to stay vaguely sane, I read a couple of thousand books until, aged 19, my escape plan came to fruition and I leapt onto a plane bound for London. I didn’t return to The Village for three years. We needed a stand off.

My friends have heard me talk about The Village, and finally, courtesy of this blogging shenanigans, they’ll get the chance to see it for themselves.

Apart from being so very small, it’s a typical Bavarian village – not of spectacular bucolic beauty, but not terribly ugly either. I just want all of you to bear in mind that, no matter what you see in the pictures I’ll be uploading over the coming days, somewhere in my heart, it actually looks like this:

Dungeon

[This is a ‘real’ dungeon in Toledo 🙂 No longer in operation, though.]

If you’d like to see some more photos from The Village, click here.

Friday Frolics: Toledo’s Beautiful Buildings

This will be my last Toledo-themed post for about a couple of weeks. I’m setting off this morning for my annual family visit, so the blog will be running a German theme for a change. ….IF my mum’s internet is working… I won’t know until I get there.

This former church is right next to my building. Nowadays, it functions as a bar and concert venue in the evenings and as a café in the mornings. Good, cheap breakfasts 🙂

University building entrance. I go in there for my monthly book club meetings. They've also got a canteen serving a good quality, budget priced lunch.

University building entrance. I go in there for my monthly book club meetings. They’ve also got a canteen that serves a perfectly good quality, budget priced, three course lunch.

Teatro de Rojas - a theatre, would you have guessed! They also hold the weekly cine club in there, where you can watch prize winning films from all over the world for just €3. The films are shown in the original version with Spanish subtitles, which is so much better than the horrid dubbing.

Teatro de Rojas – a theatre, would you have guessed! They also hold the weekly cinema club in there, where they let you watch prize winning films from all over the world for just €3. The films are shown in the original version with Spanish subtitles, which is so much better than the horrid dubbing.

You may remember that I posted some photos of the theatre at the beginning of the week, because they had been using the facade to pull off an amazing light show over the weekend. If you’ve missed it, just click here.

Is There Anything Wrong With White Bread?

As I trawl my way through the food industry news every week (wanna know why? click here), I sometimes come across items of such mind-numbing stupidity that, in order not to explode, I just need to sound off. And no better place for it than right here.

So, on July 5th I read, that the (UK) Federation of Bakers (FOB), was not a happy bun(ny). The reason? UK bread consumption has been declining around 2% each year for the past few years. The worst affected category, to the organisation’s horror, was white bread (which, however, still accounts for the vast bulk of UK bread sales).

This heinous revelation made the FOB’s director Gordon Polson wail, “We’ve been too successful in saying wholemeal is good for you. What we forgot to say is that white bread is good for you, too. It’s our fault for promoting wholemeal!“.

Oh dear. What were they expecting? That people would start eating wholegrain bread in addition to white bread rather than instead of? And yes, having been exposed to food industry logic for over two decades, I have absolutely no doubt that this is exactly what they were expecting. The food industry routinely offers us ‘healthier’ options on the bizarre premise that sales of the standard stuff will not be negatively affected. If those sales do fall, they complain. If they remain stable, but the healthier version doesn’t fly off the shelves fast enough for their liking, they also complain.

But I digress. Anyway, in response to the FOB’s woes, nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton was duly interviewed on the bread issue, and she dared to venture the professional opinion that, although white bread was marginally better than sweets, there was really no point in eating it at all, from a nutritional perspective.

Well, the FOB did not want to hear THAT. Oh no. According to them, “there are no negatives to eating white bread. It’s not unhealthy, just different“. And besides, they hastened to point out, it was fortified with calcium and other good things.

It is true that white flour in the UK (and in many other countries) is fortified with a small number of vitamins and minerals. In the UK it’s calcium, iron, vitamins B1 (thiamin) and B3 (niacin) – this is a legal requirement. But why is there a law in the first place? Let me explain…

The milling process strips the grain of all its nutrients, except for the dead pile of starch you’re left with at the end, which serves as an energy source for the body, but nothing more. In fact, in order for the body to process and metabolise this depleted flour, several vitamins and minerals are required, which it now has to find elsewhere.

Let me introduce you to a British institution: The crisp sarnie - a sandwich filled with potato chips.

A British institution: The crisp sarnie – a sandwich filled with potato chips.

The flour fortification law was passed precisely because white bread is a public health concern, and not to add a little bit of extra nutrition for good measure. Bread is a staple food in the UK, and this means that it might make up a significant proportion of someone’s daily food intake, particularly among less well off socio-economic groups.

Nobody is going to develop a deficiency from tossing a poached egg on a couple of slices of white toast in the morning, but if all you can afford to eat, day in, day out, is flabby white bread crisp sandwiches, don’t expect to have any of your own teeth left by the time you hit 38.

So, does the addition of a handful of minerals and vitamins make white bread whole again? Not on your nelly. Only a tiny proportion of the vitamins, minerals and trace elements removed during milling are added back in. What about zinc? What about magnesium? What about fibre? What about folic acid and all the other B-vitamins contained in the grain, which, after all, is a seed containing the living embryo of a plant. For it to sprout and start growing, the grain needs a full complement of nutrients.

The pitiful, legally required effort of flour fortification is like knocking down Buckingham Palace and putting up a tent, and then saying to the Queen, “at least it’ll keep the rain off your head”.