Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Pork Knuckle

During one of the first few days of our German trip, in Cologne, Kevin almost accidentally ordered a pork knuckle.  He actually asked for the German word meaning "pork knuckle", not realizing it was pork knuckle, but quickly changed his order once our server clarified what Kevin had asked for.  To us, "pork knuckle" just doesn't sound appetizing, especially given that so many people think that it is the same as "pickled pigs feet," which it isn't.  It would really be more accurate to call a pork knuckle a "pork knee" or "pork elbow." Nevertheless, it still retained that aura for us.   Even with that, though, I chastised Kevin for changing his order.  "Who knows?" I exclaimed, "It could be delicious!  We should be adventurous!"

What I actually meant was, "I'm curious about pork knuckle, but I am too chicken to order it myself. You should get it so I can see what I think."

"You're right," he replied. "Darnit, I should've stayed with the pork knuckle.  The next time I see it, I'm going to order it!"

This sentiment was reaffirmed when his alternate order, a plate of pasty sausages and limp french fries appeared in front of him.

"I'm in Germany and I'm eating hot dogs and french fries!" he lamented, shaking his head.

So, after our very long day in Munich (which truly didn't seem so long until I wrote that last entry), we ended up at the Wirtshaus zur Brez'n in the Schwabing neighborhood.  This was a little by accident.  After riding the ChristkindlTram, we had checked out Munich's medieval Christmas market, where the food smelled delicious, but we weren't quite ready to eat.  So, we continued on to the Schwabing Christmas market, but by the time we got there, we were cold, tired, and slightly damp, so we decided to find a place to sit down and warm up before hitting the market.  Given that the tour books had described Schwabing as a bustling college neighborhood, we assumed this would be easy, but we circled the blocks by the subway station for 10-15 minutes before finally finding this promising-looking pub.

Our intention was to go in and have one beer, which we did, and watched as it began to snow outside.  How festive!  As we got up to brave the Christmas market and find some dinner there, we caught a whiff of something delicious.  We only briefly considered whether we would prefer to eat market food in a wet snow or stay inside this cozy pub.  Since we had already settled our tab and given up our seats at the bar, we approached the hostess for a table.  The place was pretty bustling now, so where did she end up escorting us?  Right back to the bar.  We felt like jerks, having not ordered food from our original bartender, and here we were, back at the bar.  I tried to hide my face, worried that he would take it personally.  "It's not you!" I wanted to say.  "We just changed our minds!"

As I scanned the menu, I tried to figure out what the delicious thing I smelled had been.  I could only come to one conclusion: the pork knuckle.

So, I ordered it.

This is not my pork knuckle.  I borrowed this image from

I have to confess.  When I hesitantly took the first bite of this creation, I believed in that moment that I was tasting the most delicious morsel to ever enter my mouth.  It was salty, flavorful, juicy, with just the right amount of crispy skin.  It was like heavenly bacon, but instead of just one little strip, it was the whole chunk of meat.  I gorged myself, carving around the bones, until I could eat no more.

This was a mistake.

Not only was I outrageously full that night, bloated and uncomfortable despite a long walk back to our hotel, but my stomach burned the entire following day.  What had made the pork knuckle so delectable, the salt and fat, had ravaged my stomach.  The only thing I wanted to eat that next day was fruits and vegetables - and good luck with that in Germany, especially in December.

So, my mouth remembers pork knuckle fondly.  My stomach - not so much.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Long Day in Munich is Long

When we checked into the Hilton Munich Park Hotel, overlooking the English Gardens, we were surprised by a swanky, newly-renovated room on the 14th floor, and this:

We still don't know if it was complimentary because Kevin is a Gold Member, or because he told them it was our honeymoon when he made the reservation, or if it was a gift from a mysterious benefactor.  We loved it.  After so much meat and starch, our digestive tracts appreciated some fresh fruit.

Also spectacular was the Hilton Honors Lounge.  No cans of soda and stale snack mix.  Instead, there were mini-sandwiches and appetizers or desserts, depending on the time of day, and free beer, wine, cocktails, and fancy coffee.  I actually accidentally ate dinner in the lounge one night.

We stayed the most days in Munich, but ended up feeling like we never really "got" the city.  Because of the dreary weather and multiple side trips, we never quite found the charm of the city, although we know it's one of the most popular in Germany.  I think we might also not have spent enough time finding the nooks that would've endeared it to us - we caught some touristy stuff, but truly spent more time using Munich as a jumping point for other destinations than exploring it fully.

Our first day, we made sure to catch the Glockenspiel, which was cool, but let's just say that I wouldn't try to set my watch by it.  It's quite a performance, though, and if you want to see it, be aware that it doesn't "perform" every hour, so check when it's scheduled, depending on the time of year.

The Rathaus.  In the center, framed in green, is the Glockenspiel.

 We then had coffee at the bustling Cafe Glockenspiel, where I drank a Cafe Glockenspiel, and it was delicious.  We wandered around the Christmas Markets around the Marienplatz (the main square in Munich), visited some historic churches, including Asamkirche, which was pretty fantastic inside:

You can see how fantastic I thought it was.
We also went by the Viktualienmarkt, a huge outdoor food market.  So many different foods to explore!  If it had only been a nicer day, we could have made a lovely picnic lunch.  As it was, we tucked ourselves in to the nearby cozy Cafe Rischart, where I had a deliciously unhealthy pretzel stuffed with cream cheese and chives.

There was no way we could forgo the Bier and Oktoberfest Museum - once we finally found it!  I found Munich to be a horrible city to navigate.  I know many old cities have winding, crooked streets that make no sense, but I think Munich was especially challenging because it is so big.  And the Bier and Oktoberfest Museum is tucked away in an alley with a tiny sign that I couldn't even see until we were right in front of it.  I didn't even want to follow Kevin up the alley it was on, because, to me, it clearly wasn't there.

The museum itself was pretty interesting - as much as we could get from the few English-translated signs.  The first part basically traces the development of the beer industry in Germany from each pub having it's own brew to more regional and national breweries.  As you might guess, the second part does the same for the famous Oktoberfest - how it started as an agricultural fair, got a few more fun attractions to honor the marriage of Prince Ludwig, and grew from there.  The museum is in a four or five level rowhouse (or whatever you call them in Germany) with stairwells seemingly in every corner.  Kevin and I got separated, and had such a hard time finding each other that he almost went back to the hotel - our agreement should either of us get so lost we couldn't find the other.

Then, we made our way to ride the ChristkindlTram , or Christmas Tram.

It's essentially just an old streetcar that's been decked out for the holidays, or, as our friend Darra put it, "It looks like Santa Claus vomited inside." We rode the ChristkindlTram on a very special day, though - December 6th - St. Nicholas Day!  Purely by accident, we rode the only day during the holiday season that St. Nicholas rode the Tram, as well.  We had a short chat with him, but I was so starstruck that I didn't ask him for a photo together.  So, here's a picture of St. Nicholas:

And here's a picture of us on the ChristkindlTram:

You'll just have to use your imagination to picture St. Nicholas there with us.  Did I mention there was gluhwein on the Tram?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Kissin' Cousins

Last weekend, Kevin's family visited so we could celebrate the "winter birthdays."  Kevin, his brother, and his mom all have birthdays in January and February, so we usually all get together sometime in February to celebrate all of them.  It was exciting to have them all down to our place.

The birthday kids.
Without a doubt, the most exciting thing about the weekend was my brother and sister-in-law's boxer, Stanley, meeting Snuffles.

This was Stanley last Christmas:

With Kevin's grandma, for scale:

This was Stanley last weekend:

And this is Snuffles:

Snuffles has had limited experience with dogs.  There was the one time when she about a year old, when Kevin and I said, "Hey!  Snuffles loves being outside, so let's take her to the park!"  This was not our best idea, ever.  We shoved her in her carrier (which she hates) and carried it about five blocks to one of the neighborhood parks, jostling her the whole way.  Once we got to the park, she didn't want to leave her carrier, she was so terrified of the new, big, strange place.  The icing on the cake was the slobbering dog that galloped towards us excitedly, sticking his nose between the bars of her carrier.  She yowled and hissed, and that was our last trip to the park.  Subsequent encounters with dogs had been at a distance, and if a dog is more than five or so feet from her, she hasn't really cared.

Stanley is not the type of dog to stay five or so feet away from anyone.  He really, really, really wanted Snuffles to be his friend.  I'm not sure what exactly he had in mind.  That they would snuggle together? (That's what I was wishing for) That she would play like a dog?  Most of the weekend went something like this:

1.  Snuffles is curled up somewhere.
2.  Stanley approaches cautiously, circling, sniffing.
3.  Stanley gets closer.
4.  Snuffles emits a low growl.
5.  Stanley somehow misinterprets this and sticks his nose in her face.
6.  Snuffles hisses.
7.  Snuffles swats, narrowly missing nose.
8.  Snuffles hides behind the couch.
9.  Stanley howls, sneezes, and yawns, distraught that his cousin will not play with him.

Here's a snippet:

I didn't capture the swat on video, but here is a brief clip that is clearly post-swat.  Watch as Snuffles daintily tucks her paw back underneath her, murder in her eyes:

The highlight, though, was early in the weekend when Snuffles thought that running away from this beast was her best course of action.  She only made this mistake once.  As soon as she started running, Stanley took off after her.  There was much skidding and scrambling of paws on the hardwood floors as Snuffles nimbly rounded the corners that she's used to, and Stanley struggled to keep his feet underneath him.  They circled around the main level twice (this may or may not be because we were laughing too hard during the first go-round) before Blair was able to catch Stanley, allowing Snuffles to make a getaway.

Disclaimer:  I do not believe in any way, shape, or form that Stanley would've hurt Snuffles at all.  If any thing, I think it would've been the other way around.  I think if he had caught her, he would've been completely bewildered.

I wish I conclude this post by posting a picture of the two beloved pets cuddling together, or at least sitting near each other with no drama, but the best I can say is that Snuffles did not slice Stanley's nose open, which is better than I had expected.

Epilogue:  As I transferred these videos onto the computer and watched them, Snuffles, who had been dozing on my lap, sat straight up, ears back, and looked around very carefully.  She's sleeping again now, so I think she's realized it's safe.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Perfect Prom Project

I realize I need to finish up our Germany trip (have I said that already?), but I found something today that I just really want to share.

Howard Community College is sponsoring a Perfect Prom Project, where we are collecting donations of gently-used formal attire, shoes, and accessories, then will open a "boutique" for high school girls that might not be able to afford prom-wear, otherwise.  It's a really nice project, and something I'm totally on board with because:
  1. It encourages reuse of what is usually a one-time item (prom dress), so it's environmentally friendly, too.  Although, do people ever actually throw out prom dresses?  Do prom dresses ever really die?  Mine is still hanging in my closet at my parent's house, and I can't imagine that it will ever get thrown away.  Maybe eventually donated to Goodwill and end up as someone's Halloween costume...
  2. I really love pretty dresses.  I would just collect them if that was a normal thing to do.  But that's a pretty impractical hobby, so this is a great way to get a fix.
 I'm part of a group that is helping with the collecting the dresses.  I had the idea to start a facebook campaign where everyone changes their profile picture to a prom (or other formal event) photo to promote the collection.  It remains to be seen whether any of my colleagues will jump on this bandwagon with me (AHEM), but I had a lot of fun perusing my old photographs.  Which needed to be REMOVED FROM A PHOTO ALBUM AND SCANNED.  This could be the start of a new (yay!) project!

I have two I'd like to share with you.

This one cracks me up.  My boyfriend at the time, Tim, had picked me up at my parents' house - well, I should say - Tim's mom had driven him by my parent's house to give the illusion of being picked up, but then we both sat in the back seat while she drove us (I think) back to his house.  He had, of course, presented me with my corsage (which still sits dried in a trunk at my parents' house)(unless it's reduced to dust by now, which is possible) when he had initially "picked me up."  Since his mother had missed this, we performed a dramatic recreation of the corsage presentation in his mom's living room.

If you look in the mirror above the couch, you can see how absolutely fake it looks.  Tim's dramatic presentation, my overly-gracious smile.

There's a lot going on in this next photo.

First, you might notice our friends Jeff and Adam in the background, circling the limo.  Look closer, and you'll see that the "spare tire" (I have my doubts that this is an actual spare tire) is leaning out from the trunk.  This is because our chauffeur had backed into a mailbox, and the guys were trying to decide if they could safely adjust it.  In a later photo, it is revealed that, in fact, they could.

You might also notice that while Beth and Lynn are grinning broadly, as girls in prom pictures usually do, I look sullen and near tearful.  It is not because I ripped my pantyhose or because my shoes are too tight, or because I'm annoyed I have to carry this damn corsage around all night while the other girls get to wear theirs. 

Our prom was aboard Majestic, a boat in the Gateway Clipper Fleet, sailing from downtown Pittsburgh.  Although I claim Pittsburgh as my hometown, we really lived about 45 minutes away.  I'm sure kids still travel to the prom this way.  Couples start at one of their two houses, and then a cluster of couples  converge at a final house to take a limo together.  So, Tim and I had been to my house, his house, and then finally Adam's house (I think), the closest to our final destination.

As we were taking pictures at our last stop, the stop the farthest away from Tim's house, the stop closest to the dock and our very prompt boarding time, Tim realized:

He did not have our prom tickets.

It had been stressed in school many times that we absolutely, postitively:

1.  Could not be late
2.  Must have our tickets

or we would not be able to board the boat.

The above photo was taken right after this news broke.  The probable reason that Tim is not examining the tire is because he was inside, frantically trying to get a hold of his mom, who was probably on her way home, in an age when most regular folks did not have cell phones.

This is the face of a 17-year-old girl, who, a year earlier, might have believed she'd never go to a prom, who, now, moments away from going to the prom, just found out that she might not go to the prom.

It is the face of barely-concealed hysteria.

Never fear, it all worked out in the end.  I don't remember quite how, just that we went ahead to the dock, and Tim disappeared for awhile to wait for his sister, who saved the day by delivering the tickets, and a good time was had by all. Phew.

When I told Kevin this story,  he fell silent.  I had expected him to make fun of Tim, tell me how lucky I was that I didn't end up with that dimwit.


Then, in my moment of realization, I said,

"Huh. I guess I sort of have a type, don't I?"  :-)

(but seriously, if you a dress you'd like to donate to the Perfect Prom Project, we're taking them until February 17th.  Leave me a comment and I'll get in touch with you.  Remember, it can be any formal dress - even a bridesmaid dress!)