Happy birthday / solstice / advent


Yesterday marked my 43rd trip around the sun. We had a nice celebration. After a typical breakfast of fresh rolls, the kids were eager to give me their presents. Meg got me a spoon rest from Malta, and Spencer got me a nice black belt. Presents from Clare and my parents came later, including a pair of boots, and some new cymbals and cymbal stand for my drum set, which I have been really enjoying playing. The low-volume cymbals are designed to be just that – low-volume. They have a bunch of holes in them. I did a bunch of research on them, and decided to ask for the Millennium brand, which is an in-house brand of Thomann.de. They are not fancy, but they are indeed much lower volume, and they feel and sound very nice. I am really excited to do some low-volume drumming for the next six months in our apartment, until we move into our house and I play a bit more loudly.

Our friends Thomas and Ulli invited us to their garden house to celebrate with some Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and a little bonfire. Most of the Christmas markets are cancelled again this year because of COVID, so it was really nice to have some Glühwein. We made Grünkohl (kale soup), and had other goodies like cheese and crackers, cookies, and an Italian type of Christmas cake called Panettone. Clare recalls that I used to get annoyed by Christmas traditions spoiling my birthday, but I guess as I have aged, I have come to enjoy mixing them all together.

We decided to throw in some solstice celebration as well. We sang Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles, and the Holly and the Ivy. We called the four spirits of East, North, West, and South, and celebrated the fact that the sun is coming again. Then we wrote our intentions done on slips of paper, tied them to a wreath of holly, and burned them.

Burning solstice wreath

Thomas and Ulli got me a Spätzleblech for my birthday, which is a kind of metal grate which goes on top of a pot, which allows you to easy push the dumpling dough into the boiling water. We promptly put it to use for a different purpose, which was to douse a sugar cone in rum and light it on fire, allowing the caramelized, boozy sugar to drip into the pot of red wine. In German, this is called a Feuerzangenbowle. It was fun and delicious.


The birthday celebration continued on Sunday. We still had a whole second bag of kale, so we decided to cook it as well. This time we decided to make it without potatoes. It went really well with the rest of dinner – sour roast beef, potato dumplings, red cabbage, and kale. I didn’t used to be a big fan of kale, but I really like the German way of cooking it, which makes it less bitter. You need to make sure to sauté it with some onions until it becomes bright green, and then continue to cook it with some broth for at least 30 minutes. I like a little bit of white wine in it, along with some mustard, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. After it has cooked for quite some time it actually develops a bit of a sweet flavor. Most German recipes also call for bacon and sausage, but I made it vegetarian so that Meg could eat it as well. Other tips for good kale is to only pick it after the first frost. Clare bought it at the local farm stand, so it was hyper-local and fresh.



Alice is crazy about Christmas, reading books, watching movies, decorating the tree, and keeping us all in bright spirits during the dark days of December. She also really wanted to try making a gingerbread house again this year. Last year we made one, and I messed it up while trying to put it together, though Clare saved it from total catastrophe. This year we invited Alice’s friend Jana over to join in on the fun. Once again, when it came time to actually start constructing the house, I failed. But fortunately we had some extra dough, and had a second chance. Clare read on the interwebs about using canned goods to help prop up the gingerbread pieces while the frosting sets up, and that seemed to be the magical trick to keep everything from falling apart. Clare keeps saying that I did all the work while she only came in for 20 minutes, but it was a very important 20 minutes. All in all, a team effort.

We mostly followed the recipe from Alice’s favorite cookbook for girls that Grandma Fran bought her several years ago, other than the spices. It called for 2 tablespoons of ginger, and nothing else. We decided to do just 1 tablespoon of ginger, and also 1 tablespoon of Lebkuchengewürz, which is a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and anise.

St. Nicholas


We put out our shoes on the eve of the 5th, and sure enough, they were filled with goodies on the morning of the 6th, including some tasty candies, a holly tree, a glass Christmas tree, and a Feuerzangenbowle set. We spent most of the weekend baking Christmas cookies. We made our favorites – peppernuts, spritz cookies, sugar cookies, and chocolate mint delights. We put together a number of cookie plates, and shared them with neighbors and friends. The Germans really seem to like the “green cookies”. Spencer’s favorite are the chocolate mint delights, which seem to be the least favorite among the Germans.