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It’s cake time…

December 3, 2015
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It’s December and in this house that means planning the birthday cake.  Of course B doesn’t remember her 1st and 2nd birthday cakes, and she’s too polite to tell me if she doesn’t remember last year’s but this year she will be 4 and she’s very excitedly asked me for a Princess Cake (much to my dismay), and so the planning begins. But first a look back on the last birthday cakes, and whether i’m learning!

_MG_6007Birthday number 1 – The Owl Cake.

This cake was loosely designed around some wallstickers she had in her bedroom. It was a plain sponge cake with jam and buttercream, covered with ready-made,  fondants. I bought a packet of pre-coloured fondant. It was my first ever attempt and actually I was quite pleased it didn’t turn out too badly. My name piping definitely had room for improvement but as a first go, not so bad.

 


Monkey cakeBirthday Cake number 2
– The Monkey
By Age 2 Bella was very attached to her Monkey soft toy, having taken it to nursery with her every day since starting there at 1 year. Monkey was her best friend and so I decided a monkey cake it will be. Instead of going down the fondant approach I decided to make this an all chocolate affair. I used a cake recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery book – the most choclatey cake I found(!), and added two cupcakes for ears. I practised the cake beforehand, though on the day the ganache didn’t quite go to plan and was lumpy. So another attempt it was and here is the result..

 

Island Tea PartyAnd so the 3rd birthday – The Animal Cake

This was trickier as we were planning to move to Germany and so I wanted to throw B a party before we went – and so this meant a cake in October and another in December. By then I’d been inspired by colleagues at work and also by the local cake shop and decided to invest a bit more time.
The cake needed to link with a party theme and the bouncy castle was an underwater scene, so I changed the theme to just animals – any sort to include the jungle animals I wanted to use. I bought white sugarpaste and coloured it myself for this cake, except for the blue sea fondant and the picnic table cloth which the lady in the shop sold to me for a good price.

I used Mexican modelling clay to build the characters and the picnic set and whatever tools I had to hand – playdough tools, a sharp knife and the flower cutter I bought when doing cake 1 – it’s amazing how a petal can be shaped for ears or plates.

I made the lion, elephant and monkey, before my daughter insisted she also wanted a horse and so I had to add a fourth character. I left these to dry in a cardboard box. I then made the cake- again chocolate. I used the base of my Lazy Susan to have a swivelling stand I could use when decorating. I used the yellow coloured fondant first to make the sandy island and then the blue fondant around the sides. I learnt quickly that I should have done the yellow all the way as it became a bit stressful trying to have no gaps between the two – admittedly there was a “patch job” on the side. I positioned the characters and the picnic blanket, and then made all the cups, saucers and cake – a fiddly but fun job. For the fish I had a mould and for the dolphins my child’s playdough cutter. I used silver balls for bubbles and added smarties around the bottom like underwater pretty stones. I just use water and a fine paintbrush for sticking the bits onto the cake and this worked fine. I also used a bit of water to help smooth any lines when smoothing the surface. When it came to piping B’s name, I decided I could make some driftwood, pipe it onto that and then if it was okay I would use it and if not I could try again. Actually I managed it okay the first time and so I could stick the driftwood on too.

I learnt a lot making this cake – it was a big job but I was very happy with it. Still room for improvement though.

 

TPolar Bear Cakehe other 3 cake – the Polar Bear

This was probably my neatest looking cake – see, I’m learning! After embarking upon a challenge for the one in October I wanted to keep it simple. When we first visited Munich, the zoo had two polar bear cubs that entranced me. B and I would visit the zoo often after the move whatever the weather and I would always love to watch the cubs springing into the water and playing rough and tumble with each other. Such a delight. I thought immediately of these as I also realised I hadn’t yet checked out cake decorating supplies. I had some of that gorgeous blue sugarpaste left from the last cake and knew I could buy white at the local supermarket. I again modelled the bears and left them to dry.I bought a ribbon from the Christmas markets and my piping again had improved. I was very happy with this cake, as was my little girl.

However, now she is 4, B is much more involved in choosing the theme and so of course princesses it will be… I have a plan, I have ordered the sugarpaste online and watch this space… each year what really goes through my mind is whether it will be worthy of the Cake Wrecks site (http://www.cakewrecks.com/) or whether I will pull of something my girl can be proud of.

 

 

 

 

Stein’s Fish & Chips

November 5, 2015
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  • Plain flour 240g
  • Baking powder3 1/2 tsp
  • Ice-cold water270ml
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • Cod fillets
  • Potatoes

Chip potatoes and put into a small bit of hot fat in the oven for about 35 mins at 210degrees.

Mix the ingredients for the batter and put in fridge for no longer than 20minutes. Dip fish in flour and fry in deep fat (160degrees) separately for about 7 mins each, depending on size.

Add tartare sauce, ketchup and peas.

Eat!

Link here

To be proud

October 22, 2015
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Whilst becoming a “proud parent” is said to happen at the birth of one’s child, I was thinking of the things that make me really proud of my little girl. Sure I am proud of the fact that she’s smart: she could count to 20 in two languages before her peers in her class could manage counting in their mother-tongue, proud of the fact she knew her alphabet at 2, and of her inquisitive mind and constant desire to play with numbers, making up sums from everyday things and some not small numbers either, and the fact that she’s so interested in books. However there is one event that happened recently that I am most proud and every time I replay it in my mind it really makes me that kind of proud that feels like you’re glowing.

Since moving to Germany, the culture transition has been hard for Isabella. Here turn-taking in playgrounds and queuing isn’t really a thing. It’s all part of learning social skills and holding your own in the playground, learning how to stand up to others and join in with the other kids in a more rough-and-tumble way. Some would argue that this approach isn’t so great, but there are benefits as sometimes in life you do need to stand up for yourself, push yourself to the forefront and learn how to deal with all sorts of personalities. And so, I have taken the view that it’s important skill-building for a successful life in Germany; admittedly, more difficult when you are thrown into it without any understanding of the language and what the other children are saying. And of course I am also proud of Isabella for taking this on too. But that’s not it.

We were at Oktoberfest waiting for a “turn” on the high swings. Each time it stopped, B and I raced up the steps to grab a swing, and each time we were pushed and shoved out of the way (by parents too might I add) and back down the steps we descended with our disappointed faces. This must’ve happened about 3 or 4 times and I was getting a bit angry myself, though Isabella not so. I thought as a parent I should explain to her what was happening and as I told her that people were pushing us out of the way as that’s what they do here in Germany, and sometimes people aren’t so nice to each other, she simply explained to me “Mummy we want to be nice so we won’t do that,” and then it dawned on me what a beautiful girl I had before me.

Whilst there are skills to be learned in the playground, I am not going to teach my child to be pushy and rude to get what she wants. She may not get everything she wants this way, but she will have a life full of friends and happiness, and all the success that follows.

Three is definitely the age where you really begin to be proud of who your children are becoming as they start to share their own thoughts and show their true selves, rather than imitating the world around. I look forward to finding out so much more about who Isabella is.

It’s Ada Lovelace Day

October 13, 2015
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It’s Ada Lovelace day again today and what I only just realised is that my daughter shares the same birthday as Ada, albeit 194 years apart. Still, I like that fact. It somehow gives me hope for her.

Hope? I hear you wonder – what are you talking about – women are equal to men nowadays. Well, thats not necessarily the case. We all know that around the world the view of women does differ radically, and that in the West we are the lucky ones. But even in the Western world where we expect equality this is not the case and it’s not necessarily men who are being sexist. So many times I hear parents including mothers telling their children what is for boys and what is for girls, reinforcing the gender stereotypes. And the effect? Each year the percentage of females in the technology workforce is declining, yet plenty of women who at school are great mathematicians.

I’m shocked that here in Bavaria women are expected to choose between career and childbirth. Women who go back to work full-time are frowned upon. I really hope by the time Bella is grown up this view is changing and I for one am going to try to teach her she can be and do anything. She already has a good head for numbers.

It’ll be no surprise to most people who know me that I made sure Bella had cars and building blocks, train sets and books on diggers and fire engines all through her life. What’s actually more surprising to me is that apart from her beloved cars – she is also obsessed with her dolls and princesses and has the pinkest room I’ve ever seen (much to my dismay!) But thats not a bad thing either – I said I wanted her to be anything she wants to be – perhaps one day she is a Princess but the next she’s lining up her cars in a traffic jam (thats what growing up near the M25 does). She tells me she wants to be a Doctor (only because she heard bus drivers don’t get paid as well – there’s that numbers head of hers) and I really hope she has the freedom and courage to follow her dream whatever that may be.

You can read about Ada Lovelace here

Oktoberfest 2015

1 year on: HIgh swings or the rollercoaster?

October 4, 2015
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Tomorrow will be our 1st year anniversary of our time here in Germany. It’s been a roller coaster ride so far and talking to other ex-pat mums here that’s how life can be when you don’t speak the language and you spend a lot of time communicating mostly with a 3 year old. But there’s that famous quote I like so much:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s a quote that I think a lot about because I am the only one that can make my rollercoaster ride more of a High Swing Ride. Tomorrow I’m back to school to start my B1 course of German as a foreign language and I am applying to jobs that I like the sound of. I know it will be hard giving up the time I have with my daughter currently – it’s such a luxury to be able to pick her up and take her swimming or watch her at her Bavarian dancing class – but as well as the financial benefit working will provide for our family there is the sanity of my mind and also the positive role model that I want to be for my daughter. I’m told that here in Bavaria a lot of mums don’t ever go back to work – I guess its hard when the school day finishes at lunchtime at most schools here – but if we want to stay here then it’s something I must do.

And that’s the million dollar question – do we want to stay here in Germany? One year in and my answer would be a resounding YES. I loved my life in Hertfordshire, and most certainly believed it was a great place to raise my child. However, now we are here I love the beauty of this country – the wide open spaces, the forests, the mountains and the lakes. I love that the children don their waterproof trousers and jackets and get outdoors whatever the weather. I love that it feels safe. I love that when my husband left his passport, kindle, iPad and wallet in a bag on a train the whole lot was returned to him. There’s lots to love. Yes, there are things that I don’t love. I don’t love that women seem to be expected to stay at home – but then again there is a great sense of community here and always lots going on, something that becomes more difficult when everybody works. I don’t love the fact that communicating can be difficult, but then I need to learn the language in order to make this better. I don’t love that they don’t teach any curriculum at kindergarten, but that’s just a different approach to education, focussing on play until the child is 6. It doesn’t worry me very much as I can supplement this and teach Bella myself how to read and write – something I’d have to do for her English anyway, and as she’s bright I’m not concerned.  My husband is enjoying his job and asks me where else can you take your team 30 minutes away from work on a team bonding day and find yourself at the top of a mountain looking down on beautiful turquoise lakes? He’s right and so it’s up to me to make this work for me and my family.

Step one of our move is complete – Bella is happy at kindergarten, having made friends and is well on the way to speaking German fluently. We all have friends here and are enjoying our new life. Step two will be a new challenge – my re-entering the workforce, the challenge of childcare and becoming fluent in the German language. Bring it on! Prost!

mountains

Eins, zwei, drei, tanz!

July 17, 2015
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I thought it was time to write an update about how we are adjusting to life in Germany, specifically Bavaria. We’ve been here now for 9 months yet it still feels like we’re new here. I guess thats partly because we still have the language barrier. I’ve been going to school to learn German for 3 and a half months now and I certainly have learnt a lot, but its a complex language and doing an intensive course is very rushed from one new grammatical rule to another. Just when you think you have the hang of it, they throw another rule in – its a very complicated language. Still, its enjoyable learning and feels very satisfying when I manage to use it in real life.

Bella’s settled into her new kindergarten well and I had her first review a few weeks ago – in German might I add – somehow between me and her teachers (who don’t speak much English) we managed to communicate for a full 45 minutes – we were all very happy about that. Their view is that she’s very good with her head – memory and telling the time (although only hours) already, but needs more confidence with her peers. That I would agree with. I think life in Germany is very different to England in terms of social behaviour. In England, we tend to step back more rather than push ourselves to the front naturally. We always knew that this was something we wanted her to learn to do here. Outside of Kindergarten, we have done many things. We used to do some classes at Gymboree, – one was an action class and the other a art class. Bella became too old for that. We then tried swimming but they don’t really teach swimming until age 4 and Bella has already become quite confident in the water so I ensure I take her myself every week. Now its summer this is great as there are fantastic lakeside swimming areas. Last weekend we went to Lake Starnberg and all swam in the lake then had a lovely picnic – no scotch eggs or sausage rolls I’m afraid but we did have some yummy salmon quiches.

IMG_7896

Bella also takes part in Bavarian dancing and has performed already at two occasions. Her first event at Baierbrunn Dorfest (village festival). I really didn’t think she would do it but she loved it and has been dancing ever since – in the lounge, in the bathroom, in the garden, etc. The next week she danced at Johannisfeur – a festival to celebrate Midsummer. After the dancing, the children all carried flame torches to light the bonfire. It was such a lovely occasion attended by all from Baierbrunn and Buchenhain.

IMG_7769Fire

If you ask Bella where she prefers she will say Germany. She remembers England and some things from her life there – she of course misses her friends there, but she has new friends and more space to run and play. She has her new pedal bike and family and friends often visit. She is happy. That makes me happy.

Now she’s settled and happy, I’d like to go back to work and have something for myself. That is our next challenge and possibly one that will determine whether we stay here in Germany or whether we look to move back to the UK (or somewhere else) in the future.

Fasching - Mittenwald

Our first Fasching

February 25, 2015
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Fasching happens every year in Germany and it’s a pre-Lent celebration lasting over a month. The grand celebrations usually take place before Ash Wednesday (start of Lent) and includes numerous fancy-dress balls and parties, processions, parades and dancing, but whatever the celebration it most certainly includes dressing up.

In Munich there is the famous Dance of the Marketwomen at the Viktualienmarkt – unfortunately we didn’t manage to go to this as Bella was having her own Fasching Party at Kindergarten where she dressed up as Tinkerbell.

In the afternoon, we travelled to Mittenwald, a picturesque village at the foot of the Alps and were lucky to see their Fasching celebrations. Mittenwald is known for it’s beautiful painted buildings and also its history in making violins.

There were lots of people dressed up, an unusual band playing music including a man on stilts at a gigantic piano and a man in drag throwing ladies underwear at the man at the piano, characters with sweeties on fishing lines for children to catch and sausages barbecuing on an open fire  – a carnival feast for the eyes.

I wondered if Bella would be very frightened by some of the ghoulish costumes but she sat on her daddy’s shoulders with jaws dropped in amazement, and she even braved trying to catch some sweeties with the other children.

My Simple (German) Beef in Gravy (with hidden carrot)

February 9, 2015
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When making a Coconut Beef Madras for us, I wanted to make Bella something less spicy that she could eat with us that looked similar so I made simply beef in gravy but added carrots into the sauce as she won’t eat carrots usually. It’s a trick I learned from Annabel Karmel to get other vegetables into her and I now do this frequently with bolognese, lasagnas, shepherd pies etc. Of course you can do this with other vegetables too.

Bella rating – 4/5Sauce Zu Braten

  • 1 to 2 tbsp Oil
  • Diced Beef – 80-100g (or as much as your child eats)
  • 1/4 small onion
  • 1 small carrot, grated
  • Sauce zu braten (Rein Pflanzlich)
  1. Using a little of the oil, brown the beef in a frying pan. When browned, place on a plate to rest.
  2. Fry the onion and grated carrot together in the rest of the oil (I did this in the pan that I’d been frying onion, ginger and garlic in for our dinner)
  3. Boil the kettle and dissolve 2 heaped teaspoons of sauce zu braten into boiling water and stir.
  4. When soft, place in a food mixer and blend until smooth – you may need to add a little of the gravy mixture to help blend it.
  5. Add all the gravy mixture to the blended paste and mix/blend well.
  6. Place Beef into a small oven proof dish, cover with gravy mixture and cover with the lid or foil if there is no lid.
  7. Place in oven at about 160 degrees for an hour or so or until tender.

I served this with rice (to look like our curry), peas and sweetcorn but of course it can be served with anything you like.   Lo and behold our curry wasn’t that spicy after all and she enjoyed that too! But still – I have a new meal to give Bella that she enjoyed.

Snow, snow and more snow

February 3, 2015
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Well it’s definitely a proper winter here in Germany – we’ve had lots of snow – in fact its been snowing for at least a week solid – I even am now the proud owner of a snow shovel! As a German citizen (burger) it’s your responsibility to make sure your path is snow-free for the postman each morning so its another item on the morning to-do list once I’ve persuaded Bella that kindergarten takes precedent over playing with her cars at home, and cleared the car of snow.

In England a “snow day” meant staying at home and avoiding any reason to drive or take public transport – I even remember one snow day in London where everyone was sent home from work and we spent the afternoon in the local pub all cosy and warm. Here the snow ploughs are out and about before 7am clearing the roads and paths – even the cycle paths – the cars all have snow tyres on and the trains are (usually) still running on-time. There’s no excuse for the city to stop.

You can ski only a half hour away from here too so you see people with skis with them on the train. In fact, we’re hoping to do that too, and especially to see what Bella makes of it. So far she’s loving the snow. Afternoon fun usually includes sledging at least once a week – this is the first real snow Bella will remember and remember it I think she will as she spends almost every day playing in it.

 

DSCN6630

And for me, as well as the fun that Bella and I have in the snow together,  it really is truly beautiful, especially the days with a pure blue sky, the sun shining on the new fresh snow and the trees are laden with white.

Indepedence

Watching your child can be the hardest thing of all

January 22, 2015
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When we decided to move to Germany we were planning to make this a forever move – unless of course things didn’t work out in which case we would “cross that bridge when we come to it” as my mother always said.  That is, we were jumping in with all our 6 feet. That’s why we considered a fully German kindergarten for Bella in order that she fully integrates and learns German as fast as she can. That way when it comes to schooling we had both the options of International School where she would be taught in English or the German schools which may stand her in better stead for a German university. After all, she will have lived most of her life here and want to stay here forever.

We went to see an International Pre-school locally too which was great. The children were encouraged to speak English and in many ways it seemed just like a very much smaller version of the nursery Bella attended at home. In fact, she was so comfortable she went off to play with the children immediately and didn’t want to leave.  It was a hard decision for us, as sending her here would have been the easiest thing all round. In the long run though, with 2 non-German speaking parents, I’m not sure it would have helped her integration. Her English was already more advanced than the other children who were mostly English as a 2nd language and just learning colours, etc. so we didn’t feel that it would have helped her English either.

And so a couple of weeks ago Bella started her German kindergarten. Everyone says how easy children adjust – especially at that age – but I don’t think they realise quite how stressful it is for them too. Yes, I’m absolutely sure we chose the right kindergarten and that Bella will adjust to her new German life – but this will take time. Right now Bella is lost without being able to talk to the other children yet she is a child who seeks company and yearns to communicate with others. She’s lonely, desperate to play with the others and get involved. This means she does try to play with the other children and on the outside she looks like she’s adjusting well, but in her head there is a lot going on. For us, we have moved country – for Bella her whole world has been replaced by a new one, just as she was making sense of the old one. As a parent this makes me sad – how do you explain to a 3 year old that this will be a good thing for her future when all she cares about is NOW. At a time when she’s also exerting her independence it’s hard for a mum to watch and allow space for the child to work things out too. Of course all I can do is be here for her and help her in her difficult journey –her new life. Thinking about that makes me realise that actually that’s what being a Mum is all about. That’s what my mum (still) does for me – sometimes when you feel helpless its just about being there.

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