Weihnachstmarkt/Christmas market in Germany/Best place to be this time of year


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IMG_1021Today November 24 marked the start of the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in Wolfenbüttel, Germany. Kids and adults alike enjoyed train rides, the merry-go-round, a temporary Christmas village complete with Christmas saloons selling a little something called Glühwein or mulled wine. I haven’t had the pleasure yet, but hear it’s hot and sweet and tastes like Christmas. Bring it on.

The most impressive display of Christmas combined with wine appeared in the form of a more than life-size Christmas windmill. I have one of these table ornaments at home from my first trip to Germany many moons ago. So sweet it is with two little figures holding candles. The flames from the candles make the windmill spin around. Well, color me impressed when I saw my little toy all grown up here at the Weihnachtsmarkt. And naturally, you can buy Glühwein at the base of the windmill. Sure, why not?



All Glühwein shops had little standing cocktail tables next to their stand/shop. Some tables had little Santas, other tables looked like wooden Christmas trees.

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Here's where to buy your sweetheart a <3.

Here’s where to buy your sweetheart a <3.

Talking over Cake


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The thing about spending time in a foreign country doing research is, well, typically on weekends you don’t get to see or speak with a single person. I’m so grateful that this particular weekend, a colleague and I had already made plans to visit a few museums. I really didn’t want to go through the entire weekend without actually discussing what happened in Paris. It would be so easy for me to sit in front of the laptop and read headline after headline, tweet after tweet about any new findings in Paris. But fortunately (and this would be the only time I say this), the internet crawled this weekend, and even slower than usual. And so, silver lining and all, I didn’t look at the onslaught of headlines. Instead, I ventured into the rain and went to museums.

After the first gallery tour of rare albums and prints at the Herzog August Bibliothek, it was time for cappuccino and cake. Let me just say, anytime there’s a choice between raspberry torte and a poppy seed cake with marzipan, take the poppy seed cake with marzipan. At Café am Stadtmarkt in my little adopted town of Wolfenbüttel, Germany, the poppy seed/marzipan creation was super light, nuanced, and beautifully presented. It was helpful to just sit and chat over coffee and cake. We talked about our experiences in Paris, the politics of the situation, how the people of Paris must feel right now, and the response from surrounding European countries, especially in light of the Syrian refugees. The combination of frank discussion, cappuccino and cake helped me work through some of my frustrations and fears. I highly recommend it.

At the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, we saw a lovely exhibition of drawings and prints. I discovered a beautiful etching of The Drunken Silenus (1628) by Jusepe de Ribera, a Spanish artist who worked not only in the medium of painting but also in prints. One of the best moments of going through an exhibition with a broad theme, in this case “autumnal,” is finding artists from different centuries addressing the same theme. Alongside German and Dutch prints of autumn (Jost Amman and Sebastian Vranx, for example) was a woodblock print from the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai from the series “One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets” with its gentle landscape and three figures who appear to be returning to a village from the harvest. What caught my eye was the woven pattern on the baskets strapped to the figures, and the various types of leaves—seemingly individually cut out—on two different sets of trees. So inspired was I by these patterns that I made my own leaf prints at the museum’s print shop. It was likely intended for families with children, but it definitely helped me this weekend.

Coping by Cooking




All I can think about today is the terrorist attack in Paris last night. I’m stricken with sadness, anger, questions of “Why???” Like everyone else in different parts of the world with friends in Paris, I was on social media trying to reach them. Viber, Facebook, whatever. When I finally got through, oh my God, so much relief. Waves of relief washed over me that I was crying while texting. The panic I felt while waiting for word from friends threw me back to the time when the U.S. was attacked by terrorists. I was in Philadelphia at the time, running around trying to get out of the city. The transportation rail SEPTA was shut down, and so everyone was running around with their cell phones trying to reach their loved ones and trying to figure out the different ways to exit the city. Oh God, how I hated that feeling. Scared, panicked, but I didn’t actually cry at all until I spoke with my parents, and my dad said something like, “You don’t need to worry, everything will be okay.” Now of course, that’s when I got scared.

Today, I’ve been trying to avoid social media to avoid breaking down. Figure I would cook some comfort food — a pot of spaghetti bolognese and a side dish of eggplant because that’s all I had in the fridge. The act of chopping vegetables helped. The nice solid crunch of the vegetable, the sound of the knife hitting the cutting board, and the look of diced onions, eggplant cubes, and wedges of tomatoes when I was done, well… it was something at least, and it did make me feel better having done so much chopping. Add chili peppers to the eggplant? Sure why not? It didn’t matter as long as I was creating something on the stove.

Turns out I still need time to grieve. I just peeked at facebook, and the news headlines alone spurned another wave of tears. The headlines and the tears, I realize, cannot be avoided too much longer. Peace for Paris.


Art-full weekend in Berlin


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Living in northern Germany for the time being, I thought, “Hey, why not do my birthday in Berlin?” Why the hell not, right? It was impromptu and perfect, consisting of museums and food. Since I haven’t written about art in a while, my post here is on the state museums of Berlin.

I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, dropped my bags off, and went straight to the Bode Museum for architecture, medieval altarpieces, and sculptures. Here I saw some of the most fascinating altarpieces and small carved ivories. I was floored by the room with a mosaic apse from Ravenna. I’m not sure if the mosaic is from the Basilica of San Vitale where one of the most famous mosaics of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora reside, so if anyone knows, please chime in. I think this is what’s great about art and art history: you think you know the art object, but you still have many, many questions.

Mosaic apse from Ravenna, Italy, year 545.

Mosaic apse from Ravenna, Italy, year 545.

Ivory panel, looks like The Last Judgment.

Ivory panel, possibly representing The Last Judgment.

Bird (peacock?) made with gold and a bezoar stone. Kunstkammer-worthy!

Bird made from a bezoar stone set in gold. Kunstkammer-worthy.

On Sunday, I visited the Brandenburger Tor, the Pergamon Museum, and the Gemäldegalerie (Painting Gallery). So many great monuments and paintings seen. Since I can’t write about them all, I want to focus on the biggest surprise for me, which was the Pergamon Museum.

First thing’s first. It’s called the Pergamon Museum because it houses the 2nd century B.C.E. Pergamon Altar from Hellenistic Greece. Unfortunately, the museum is under construction and the altar itself is not on view, and won’t be on display again until 2019.

But that’s okay, because I still was able to see and experience the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from BABYLON, the roman Market Gate of Miletus, and best of all, the intricate Umayyad Mshatta Façade possibly from the palace of caliph Al Walid II (8th century). (Museum link for photos.)

I felt as if I was in some sort of historical stroll through different lands and time periods, when giant lions forewarned foreign visitors the strength of their city. Think Midnight in Paris, but much earlier and less of Owen Wilson griping about how he just wants to disappear into the 1920s. When I came face to face with the Ishtar Gate and walked along the length of the Processional Way, I was bowled over by the enormity and ferocity of the architecture. We talk about architecture today, but I think sometimes we may forget that architecture guides us with its physical structure as well as its images. In this case, the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way still embody strength and power, and one can see how they demanded, from visiting dignitaries to the ancient city of Babylon, respect and acquiescence.

IMG_9005 IMG_9013 IMG_9028 From ancient Babylon to ancient Rome…

Heads contemplating in the Market of Miletus.

Heads contemplating in the Market of Miletus.

“Omg, she’s touching the ancient marbles!”

My final moments at the Pergamon Museum were spent in the Islamic art and architecture area looking at, among other objects, a mihrab (prayer niche) of beautiful faience mosaics, calligraphic script and patterns from the Beyhekim Mosque (13th century)…and an intricate wooden cupola from Palacio del Partal of Alhambra, Spain.

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The pièce de résistance of the entire museum whirlwind weekend, from my perspective, was the Mshatta Facade. I’ve only seen and studied the facade in art history survey books and google images, so it was astounding to see this Umayyad creation in person. You have to look at it from afar first to see its grand size, but then must come close to the wall to see the detailed stone carving. Yes, likely a team of artists and artisans used tools to create mystical animals and luscious vegetal motif in a stone wall.


So grand. Here I am, happy as can be on my birthday weekend.


It’s the Wurst


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I’ve recently experienced what it means to eat wurst in Germany. Wurst comes in many different forms. There’s bratwurst (which we’re mostly familiar with in the U.S.) or some variation of bratwurst; there’s currywurst, which you can get at take-away stands in Germany, especially in cities like Berlin; and there’s the wurst you eat raw. Which I did tonight, though not realizing it until too late. And then I immediately had doubts about my ability to understand German, as I thought the butcher behind the counter said in Deutsch, “Do not cook, just slice and eat. Just don’t eat the plastic casing,” or something like that. I asked at least three times in my broken German, “Okay, nicht kochen? Ja, okay.” And so, I expected a wurst similar to a salami or some kind of cured meat. Nein.


I took the wurst out, sliced it like the butcher said, and put a piece in my mouth. “Hmmm, it’s soft.” Okay, so the light in my apartment isn’t great and I had no idea I was eating raw meat, probably pork mixed with other meats. Honestly, it tasted very fresh but growing up in the U.S., one is basically trained to not eat raw pork. I had to cook it, and just hoped that I wouldn’t need to visit the hospital that evening.

I sliced off a few more pieces and threw them into a skillet with olive oil, and cooked them until the meat wasn’t raw-looking anymore. Took another bite, and strangely, the uncooked version tasted better.

I have heard of Mett, minced raw pork eaten for breakfast in Germany. After swearing I would never eat Mett when I learned about it last week, I surprised myself by accidentally having it for dinner. When I showed my German friends the picture of the raw wurst, and asked if it was okay to eat it uncooked, they nodded their heads and essentially said, “Ja, what’s the problem?” Ah, German sushi (as the husband called it).

German adventures


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My office/library.

Zeughaus library at Wolfenbüttel.

I’ve just begun my research year abroad in Germany. It’s been about a week and a half, and it’s been a period of mostly highs and…well, not exactly lows, but let’s just say humbling experiences.

My German speaking and German hearing are far from awesome. In fact, I always warn Germans I encounter with my standard opening line, “Entschuldigen, mein Deutsch-sprechen ist nicht so gut,” which translates to “Excuse me/I’m sorry, my German speaking is not so good.” They always say, “Nein, es ist gut!” They’re very kind and I don’t believe them, of course. The folks I’ve met at the library and in the town of Wolfenbüttel in the Lower Saxony region have been super helpful and, oddly enough, quite funny. I think jokes about German humor are definitely not applicable here, because I’ve had a laugh with almost every single local I’ve met. One thing though, I’m hesitant to pet their dogs. Do Germans care if strangers come running up to their puppies? I have no idea, but I’m tempted every time I see a dog.

About those humbling experiences… two days ago I did laundry. Yes, seemingly an easy thing to do with a washer and dryer. Well, not so easy when you don’t have the full capacity of the language. Now I understand how my mom feels in America. I had to look up the words imprinted on the washer to determine which was the most appropriate cycle. For instance, the word “Fein/Wolle” is simple enough — “fine/wool,” but I couldn’t even begin to guess the meaning of the word “Pflegeleicht”. Even after I punched it into my App on the iPhone (“oh, it means ‘easy-care’, okay”), I’m still left wondering, “Wait, does that mean I can combine jeans and knits together? What does Schnell/Mixt mean? How do I wash only in cold?” So confusing. So basically I stared at the washer, willing it to give me answers for a good twenty minutes, hoping somebody would wander by to help me.

Everyday comes with a challenge. But once I’m able to overcome a few more challenges, I’ll really be ready to do some washing!

Of course I’ve found some good food. What’s the point of traveling when you don’t eat well? Even in the small town of Wolfenbüttel, there are some very good Italian (Sicilian to be exact) cucina. It’s so good that I went to the same Italian restaurant twice in one week, and ate enough burrata for the month.




Mezzaluna (crescent-shaped homemade pasta) with tuna inside.

Capellini with prawns.

Capellini with prawns.

Cassata gelato

Cassata gelato



Pottery Times




Every week I look forward to Tuesday because that’s when I get to play with clay. There’s something about making a thing with your hands that’s not only satisfying but also relaxing. It took a long time for me to throw clay properly on a pottery wheel. My first bowls looked so alien—“Hey, they’re abstract! Hey, it’s art! Oh hey, now it’s a planter.” I watched numerous videos on wheel throwing, shaping, growing the bowl or cylinder, but of course videos don’t give you the feel of clay, how thin or thick it should be, how your hands just know when the clay is centered properly and when it’s not. When I’m at the wheel, every thought zeroes in on the mound of clay in front of me. The lump of clay that will soon become a thing. It’s almost like yoga. I’m in my own world, working muscles that I usually don’t use as the arm strength needed to keep clay steady and centered is surprisingly high. At the end of a couple of classes, I’ve made a bowl. And let myself not think for a few hours a week. It’s all good. 

Pulled Pork


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 Pulled pork, I hear, is one of the easiest dishes to make in a slow cooker. I hadn’t found the right rub until now. It’s only when you don’t have all the ingredients on hand for a recipe does the magic happen. At least for me. When I follow instructions too closely, the end result is typically disappointing. That’s probably the mantra for my own life.

Alora, good thing I didn’t have chili powder or cumin for CHOW’s recipe. Instead, I used red pepper flakes (maybe a smidge less than the recommended 1TBSP for chili powder) and smoked paprika for cumin. I added slightly more kosher salt than the recipe asked for, and reduced the amount of brown sugar by half. After combining all the spices in a small bowl, I rubbed the mixture all over the pork. Then I placed the big hunk of meat gingerly on top of the sliced onions, garlic, and chicken broth already in the slow cooker. 

I think the key to slow cooker cooking is knowing if your slow cooker is accurate or not. Mine cooks faster than it should (something I’ve learned the hard way) so I always adjust for a longer cooking time. Here, I set the time at 8 hours, checked it at 6-1/2 hours, and it was perfect. 

When I came home, upon opening the door, the tantalizing smell of pork simmering in its own juices with cooked onions and garlic welcomed me back. Oh, it was so good. I daresay it was one of my best efforts with the slow cooker. 

Now is pulled pork part of my diet plan? It may not be the healthiest thing I’ve eaten this week, but hey, I cut out some of the brown sugar so that’s got to count, I think. All I know is that this pulled pork is delicious. Another mantra for me this week is: take it easy on yourself.

Back on Track with Broiled Salmon 


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I knew I had to do something other than chicken for my getting-back-on-the-wagon meal. Tonight’s healthy dinner offering is salmon marinated in soy sauce and lemon juice with a splash of olive oil and Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (the one with the rooster on the label).

This dish was the first home-cooked dinner for the then-boyfriend, now husband. It’s super easy and super quick. Cooking by taste, without any strict recipe, remains my motto here.

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl —approximately 1/4-1/2 cup soy sauce, juice of 1 lemon, small splash of olive oil, and a tsp of the chili garlic sauce. Place the salmon in a larger bowl, flesh side down especially if skin is still on, and then pour the marinade on top. The fleshy part of the salmon should be covered with the marinade. If not, add some water to the bowl to bring the marinade level up. Swirl the bowl around a bit to mix. Marinade in the fridge for 15-20 minutes minimum. Set your oven on broil.

After the marinade time, place the salmon on a cookie sheet and put the cookie sheet into the broiler. Broil for 7-8 minutes. Remove salmon and check for doneness. I like my salmon cooked to almost done, with the thicker areas on the medium-rare side. Remember the salmon will continue cooking while resting on the cookie sheet outside of the oven. If you need to send the salmon back into the broiler, do it at 1-minute intervals to prevent overcooking. 

The husband just told me he never orders salmon out because he knows my salmon trumps all. Well how about that!


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