Monday, November 26, 2012

Mix-Up Monday: Grades

There are many similarities and differences between the education systems in Germany and the United States. This is just one small example.
Everyone knows that feeling of doing really well on an exam or paper. There is something in your stomach connected to getting a good or bad grade. The funny thing is that just changing what this grade is called can really change how you feel about how you did.

Germany uses the basic grading system of 1-6 (best to worst). Getting a 1 is amazing and 5 and 6 are usually considered unsatisfactory and do not meet the requirements for passing. Students can get stages between these grades, listed as + or -, or as a decimal (e.g., 1.3).

In America, basic grading is a little more complicated. A-F (without an E). A is amazing and F is a complete fail. In many cases, D is also considered failing. To calculate the Grade Point Average (GPA) each letter grade must be changed into a number (A=4, B=3, C=2. D=1. F=0). Some schools have different scores for plus and minus, others say that it does not matter if someone has a B- or a B+, it is all worth 3 points.

When grades are transferred from one system to the other, it must be decided what is considered "equal." Typically, grading rules say that an average grade in Germany is harder to get than an average grade in America. For this reason a German 2 is usually transferred into a A-/B+, a 3 is a B/B-, and a 4 is an American C.

When she studied in Germany she found it hard to get excited about "good grades." A 1 or 2 just did not sound very exciting when she grew up striving to get As. It was also a little strange to have to explain to people that a 3.66 GPA meant that you did very well, not that you were close to failing!

Funny how you can get such an emotional attachment to a few words and their meanings :)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chicken Piccata

We like lemon, we like chicken, we liked this chicken piccata.

Two servings:

2 boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup flour
1 lemon
2 tbs oil
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tbs capers
1 1/2 tbs butter
1 tbs fresh parsley, micned
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 F (95 C), adjusting the oven rack to the middle and placing a heatproof plate inside.

Cut the lemon in half (longways). Juice one half (about 2 Tbs). Cut the ends off each side of the other half. Slice into thin slices (crosswise). Set both the juice and slices aside.

Slice each chicken breast (crosswise) through the middle. This should give you four thin chicken slices.

Sprinkle each side of the chicken with salt and pepper.

Pour the flour into a shallow bowl dip each side of the chicken slices in the flour. Shake to remove excess.

Heat the oil on the stove over medium. Once it is very hot (check with a very few drops of water), cook the chicken. Each side should be nice and brown (about 2-2 1/2 minutes on the first side and 1-1 1/2 minutes on the second). Remove from the pan and put on the hot plate in the oven.

Keep the pan on the stove and add the finely diced garlic. Cook for about 15 seconds.

Add the chicken broth and lemon slices. Increase the heat to high and use a spatula to scrape the bottom to get all the browned bits up.

Simmer until the liquid reduces to about 3 Tbs. This may take up to 2 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and capers and continue to simmer until back to about 3 Tbs.

~We might have been impatient and didn't wait until it fully reduced :) ~

Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter. Swirl until the butter melts and then mix in the parsley (we used dried, not the best choice but worked okay).

Spoon the sauce over the chicken from the oven and serve. We ate our chicken piccata with rice. 

This recipe was adapted from Cook's Illustrated (April 23, 2007)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mix-Up Monday: Complaining
Sorry to say this, but Germans love to complain. At first it is not very noticable, but if you spend enough time here you realize that complaining takes place all around, all the time. Of course, everyone has good reason to complain every now and again, but that is not what we are talking about. People here seem to complain about everything! The weather, the train, the color of this, the size of that, too loud, too soft. The list goes on and on...

Complaining is definitely a pretty big mix-up we have had with each other. Many times she has "complained" to him that he complains too much. Even when everything is going right somehow he still finds something to complain about. To him it was no big deal, complaining is normal, but with her cultural background, the idea that someone complains so much makes her crazy!

At least in comparison to Germany, America is a very indirect country. Often, when you want something changed or fixed you hint to it by complaining. If done correctly, the other person should pick up on what you want. Sensible? Perhaps not, but that is just how the US does it. We covered this general idea in Mix-Up Monday: Commands.

When Germans complain, for the most part, they are just filling the time. They do not necessarily care if anything is changed or feel very strongly about their complaints. For us, this meant he was complaining to just complain and she thought he was unhappy and wanted everything fixed. Can you see how this could lead to a big problem?

We don't want you to think all he does is sit around and complain. It is not like that at all! Actually, in comparison to many people we have met in Germany he is very low on the complaining scale :). The other day he actually came home and said, "Wow, you know what? Germans complain A LOT!"

This is EXACTLY what she has been trying to tell him for months! Apparently, it is not just us who think this. Article after article can be found online about this very topic.

Luckily, we now know that complaining about Germans complaining is normal and she knows better than to complain so much about his complaining :P

If you want to read more on the subject. We suggest this short, but funny, Spiegel article (in English): The German National Pastime: Whining, Bitching and Moaning.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Apple Torte (AKA German Apple Pie)

Apple torte is as close as Germany gets to pie. Americans are probably rolling their eyes at this. Clearly it is called torte because it is NOT pie, but tasty desserts are tasty desserts so who really cares?!?

We had a craving for something sweet one night and were surprised by how quick and easy this recipe was to whip up. It is delicious and even comes out quite pretty if you take the few extra minutes to distribute the apples nicely.

One torte:

125 g margarine
150 g sugar
200 g flour
3 eggs
3 EL (Tbs) milk
1 package of vanilla sugar*
1/2 package of baking powder**
1 pinch salt
4 apples

We apologizes for these being in metric. This is when it is good to have a kitchen scale that can be switched between measuring systems :)

* We are unsure if vanilla sugar is sold in the USA. If not just use about a tsp or so of vanilla extract.
** One package in Germany is 15 g, so you will need about 8 g.

Preheat the oven to 175 C (350 F)

Soften the margarine (either over hot water, leaving it out for a bit, or by using the microwave).

While the butter softens, separate the eggs. 

Mix the egg yolks, softened margarine, sugar, flour, baking powder, vanilla sugar, milk, and pinch of salt together.

Once everything is mixed well, gently fold in the egg whites.

The dough will be pretty wet, don't worry.

Peel and cut the apples.

Unless you have an apple corer, the easiest way is to cut each apple in half,

scoop out the middle,

and slice thinly.


Using a springform pan (26 cm is the best size but you can make anything work), press the dough along the bottom and one third up the sides.

Spread the apples along the bottom of the pan. If you take a few minutes you can make a very nice pattern. When finished, press the apples into the dough.

Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until nice and brown.

Let cool a very minutes before trying to release from the pan.

Serve alone or (his favorite) with ice cream.

This recipe was adapted from Muzel

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pancake Soup (Flädlesuppe)

Without fail, whenever we make crepes we have leftovers. Usually, the leftover is the first crepe made. Neither of us want to eat it because one, we are already stuffed by the time we get to the bottom of the pile, and two, for some reason the first crepe never comes out as well as the others. Instead of throwing this crepe away, however, we keep it and make pancake soup.

This soup is as easy as warming up soup from a can. All you need is broth (we use either chicken or vegetable broth) and the leftover crepes.

If after reading this you have a major craving for crepes you can get our recipe here.

We made this pancake soup the day after we made savory crepes filled with a mix of vegetables. To add to the flavor, we mixed herbs into the crepe batter. This just made the pancake soup even tastier.

We suggest one crepe is good for 500 ml (2 cups) of soup. Realistically, it doesn't matter if you are heavier on the broth or the crepe.

All you have to do is heat up your broth (we used bullion cubes).


While your broth is heating, cut your crepe into strips.


Once the broth is hot, remove from the heat and add the crepe strips.


Serve immediately. The crepe strips are best once they have sat for a minute or two, but letting them sit too long just makes them soggy.

Easy but delicious - our favorite type of dish.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mix-Up Monday: The EMAs and English

Living in a country outside the USA really puts into perspective how few people in the United States know a second language. We aren't talking about making it through two years of high school Spanish, we mean really KNOW a second (or third or fourth) language.

We got inspired for this post last night while watching the European Music Awards. Put on by MTV, the EMAs are held in a different European city each year. This year they were held right here in Frankfurt.

We flipped on the television and she said something about it being annoying to hear some of the English and then also hear someone translating the German over the English (this is common when international guests appear on talk shows in Germany). He said that there would be no German, for live international events the entire show is in English and left that way.

He was right. The entire thing was in English and no translation took place. She realized that this has been true for other events such as the Oscars. People in Germany are expected to be able to understand or just not watch. This would never happen in the USA. The idea of something being in another language, even Spanish, which is becoming more and more popular, would be unheard of. People in the United States aren't expected to know a language other than English.

Germany is no different than the rest of Europe when it comes to knowing multiple languages (with the exception of the UK and Ireland which might be just as bad as the US). Children begin learning English in the kindergarten and many young children do mini presentations in English during elementary school. When she worked with fifth grade students (about age 10) here in Germany, she was amazed to discover that they could follow what she said in English as long as she spoke slowly and did not get too complicated.

We don't want to go into details about the differences in the school systems, we will save that for another entry, but we do want to say that in Germany, almost everyone (especially in the younger generation) is at least decent in English and most often also is pretty good at French or Spanish. Part of the reason is because it is needed here, countries are close and if you want to travel and do business outside of Germany, Austria, or Switzerland you need to speak the other country's language (or at least the common language of English). The other reason is because in Germany it is almost expected that you can understand English.

People in Germany are overall much more exposed to languages other than German on a regular basis. At least 90% of songs on the radio are in English, many television shows are dubbed, but some are left in English with German subtitles. Before computers and the Internet became as huge as they are today, software and programs were only in English. You had to figure it out if you wanted to participate and understand. On top of that, live shows, such as the Oscars and EMAs, are left in English without any dubbing or subtitles. You either learn English or miss out.

Of course, German is the most important and common language in Germany. She respects that and will sit through countless hours of dubbed television, but sometimes it is nice to hear a program in its original language and she was happily entertained by the EMAs being in English :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Potato, Red Pepper, and Feta Frittata

What do you do with a bunch of eggs about to expire? Well, typically she would make a big cake or eat breakfast for dinner, but we are trying to not have so many sweets in the house and he is not a fan of American-style breakfast (Yes, she agrees, what is wrong with him???).

Her solution was to make a frittata. Filling enough for dinner, more solid than just eggs, and uses a whole bunch of them up.

You can basically put anything into a frittata. We stuck with red peppers, potatoes, and feta this time. It gives it a bit more of a...hmmm...sophisticated taste (if a frittata can be sophisticated) and leaving out meat cuts down on the number of calories.

One large frittata (feeds three):

6 eggs
6-8 small potatoes (about 12 ounces)
2 red peppers
1 large onion
4 ounces feta
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or a little less if fresh)
Olive oil
Salt (pepper if desired)

Dice the onion and bell peppers. Slice the potatoes into thin slices (not super thin, but quite thin). Lightly beat the eggs.

~Ok, here is where it can get complicated. If you are going to make a frittata you *should* have a skillet that can go on the stove and in the oven. Unfortunately, we don't. Therefore,  we made our frittata in a giant sauce pan. It actually worked really well and although the potatoes seemed to take forever to cook, we don't think it was due to our choice in cookware. ~

Preheat the oven to 400 F (205 C)

Heat your pan, whatever you chose, on medium. Cover the bottom with olive oil. Cook the onions with a dash of salt until glossy. Remove from pan.

Next, cook the potatoes with a pinch of salt. Let cook until soft through, moving around every so often.

Our potatoes took almost 20 minutes. We don't know if that is normal or not.

Once the potatoes are almost finished add the already cooked onions, the red pepper, and the thyme (plus any other seasonings you might want). If you do not like your red peppers a bit crunchy add them in earlier.

Once everything is cooked to your liking add the eggs. Make sure to poor the eggs evenly over the vegetables. Cook WITHOUT STIRRING for 3-5 minutes, or until the eggs begin to set on the bottom and sides but not in the middle.

Sprinkle the crumbled feta on top and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until the eggs are completely set and have started to pull away from the sides.

~This is why you must first cook the frittata in a pan that can go into the oven.~

Let sit for a few minutes before trying to cut and serve.

Serve with crunchy bread and a salad. The leftovers are really delicious hot or cold, especially when eaten as a sandwich.

This recipe was adapted from theKitchn.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Semmelknödel (Bread Dumplings)

Knödel are a traditional German side dish. They are also popular in other European countries but go by other names. Knödel can be made out of bread or potato. We are bigger fans of Semmelknödel (bread dumplings), so that is what we chose to make.

Knödel are delicious and although a bit time consuming, quite easy to make. This recipe is like biting into  delicious giant balls of stuffing. She is tempted to make them as a Thanksgiving side dish this year.

10 medium Knödel:

250 g hard rolls (using leftover or day old bread is best)
250 ml milk
2 eggs
1 Tbs (EL) butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 Tbs (EL) parsley, chopped
salt, pepper, nutmeg

Rip or cut up the rolls. They should be in small pieces, but not crumbs.

Mix the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, parsley,  and a dash of nutmeg together.


Add the bread and mix well (you need to get your hands dirty for this part). Let sit 20 minutes.

While the bread mixture sits, dice the onion and cook in the butter medium heat. Cook the onions until they are glassy looking.

After the bread has sat for 20 minutes, add the butter/onion mixture. Mix well.

Form balls out of the mixture. They should be solid but not so squeezed that they are super dense. Being too dense will keep them from cooking through as well.

Depending on size, you should get 8-10 Knödel.

Put the bread balls in a steam cooker (we used the steamer we cook veggies in). Steam for 30 minutes.

Serve as is or with gravy and a meat dish. After just the first bite you will find yourself wishing you had bread laying around to make more.