Sep 27, 2015

Chase in pig country

A decade ago, I traveled through Europe between my sophomore and junior year in college with an old high school friend, Chase. Since, we have been in touch on again and off again. One day, Chase messages me that he is considering moving to Amsterdam for work and had I been there. I was, in fact, sitting in a canal house in the Jordaan, vacationing there with Tay and Saori. I told him truthfully that it was a hipsters paradise, and that totally, he should go. So he did. He has considerable travel experience and lived in Shanghai before, so the expat thing was not so intimidating.  His girlfriend, Whitney, also decided to come as well, although she had never before been out of the country.

Anyway, they popped over for the weekend to say hello and to visit Stuttgart's Oktoberfest. Their door to door time was under three hours. After we welcomed them to our place with guac and chips, we took them to Zum Paulner for dinner and more drinks. Saori took me there my first night in town.

Afterwards, we went to another bar, Akermann's, near our flat, and had another drink before heading back to the apartment where Saori had prepared towels, sheets, and bound everything with paper twine and welcome tags.

Saturday morning I woke up with a crushing hangover headache but felt well enough to whip up a batch of banana pancakes for the group before the really bad nausea hit.

I had three (3) drinks the night before. A half liter beer with chips and salsa, a half liter at the restaurant with dinner, and a half liter at the bar, all of these spaced out over about three to four hours.

I was sick for about six hours, where I was so ill I could only hold down water. This is not the first time that this has happened either. Nobody else was remotely ill which makes me think that I might be developing a gastric sensitivity to beer. Or alcohol. I should test this with tequila.

Anyway, I was so miserable, I couldn't of course be a great host or guide, so Saori told our guests how to get to the adorable village of Tübingen for the day while shouted a feeble farewell from the bedroom.

After some enjoyable hours playing `can I hold this down?´ and `bathroom biology´ my system finally righted itself with copious quantities of coconut water. It was a surprisingly fast recovery once begun, so I was able to meet Chase and Whitney at Wasen in the late afternoon. Saori joked her amazement that I could be in the searching  in the AM for a suitable pot for the bedside, and in the PM, a suitable hat for a drinking festival.

It would have been unthinkable that I would ever touch beer again four hours prior, but at Oktoberfest, I downed no less than five liters of beer and passed out facedown on beer-soaked asphalt. Actually, I had a scant half liter total, guessing I was probably pushing it with that. It was still a good time. We walked through what must have been the least terrifying haunted houses ever, rode a few rides, played some carnival games (I insisted on the bb rifle and I am a crack shot at blank range), and fought our way into one of the big tents.

Many Germans older and younger, reserve tables months in advance in large to medium groups and so get advance tickets so walk in at set times. The rabble who lack either forward-thinking friends or this level of preparation for drinking festivals, are punished by forming a mob at the front behind barricades while bouncers/hosts handpick groups frantically waving their hands showign the number people in thier party. We opted for the American style three fingers istead of the German thumb-plus-two in the hopes that it would make us stand out as Interesting People Who Would Bring Diversity to the tent. Which is important in a heavy drinking environment where the main concern is not inadvertantly uninating all over your own lederhosen.

We fought hard for this. Actually, I thought Whitney was going to get in a fistfight with a bitch who cut us in the scrum to the front. But, haleluja, we were finally picked out from the crowd and led inside ... to stand at a large wooden high top at the back of the tent. We could order beers, but no food, evidently. So we nursed our beers, stamped our feet and swung our half liter glasses with the live band playing Prosit, Prosit every ten minutes, and marveled at the massive wooden trays covered with a dozen steaming plates each containing a half chicken and a loaf of bread, or a mamoth pretzel on a mountain of potato salad. No food for you!

We abandoned our designated floor place and wandered through, deeper into into the tent where the people with reservations had places, complete with bench dancing, beer stein swinging, and ducking to avoid the giant wood boards flying by with food.

I actually really enjoy these festivals. They are totally kitschy, and most of the people who go are 20something guys in identical cheap lederhosen and shirts. But its undeniably fun. I was excited to step on the train and see a car full of people wearing traditional Bavarian and Schwabish costumes, especially the older people and the families who obviously spent some serious cash on their clothing. The festival itself is basically a state fair of beer, except all the beer is the same, but it is a tradition. There is not even the pretense of say, thanksgiving or Christmas, to remember a particular event (although it was started as a commemorative event originally). Even if an inherantly meaningless and vapid one, traditional events strenghten the bonds between people and places. It's a memory shared by the people of the city involving a particular place in the city. It is a part of the city identity, like the architecture or urban organization.

For Thursday please hand in your summaries from Scheer's Form Code and Spectacle by Bruce Mau.

Anyway, we walked over to the Schweinmuseum for dinner since they have a nice restaurant downstairs. Saori joined us and most of us ate dishes from the seasonal mushrooms which turned out to be wonderful while Chase worked his way through a massive schweinhaxle (deep fried joint of pork) with beer sauce.

After dinner, we enjoyed a last round of drinks at my new favorite bar in town, unlikely enough, a cellar pool hall and whisky bar. Old overstuffed leather couches, blackout red lighting, and a bar specializing in whisky and gin cocktails or bottled belgain and french beers. Where I also stuck to soft drinks.

Sunday morning, I made what we call Lumen Breakfast, which is basically an open faced fried egg sandwich with toasted local bread, bergkase cheese, and cured meat, although I swapped in fried bacon today and topped with some chives.

Afterwards, we walked through a short nature trail to see and feed the wild (tame?) boars in the nearby woods. Then it was time to put Chase and Whitney back on the train to the airport. It was a good visit, and now we need to also find a weekend to pop up to Amsterdam and visit them too.

Sep 22, 2015

short stories

I started running again. Not much, still only 30-40 minutes, but in Stuttgart it doesn't take long until you're climbing hills or stairs. The trick is to find the gentlest routes up and down. Half the time a rusty bolt, the other half, Usain Bolt.

Saori went to the late yoga session monday night and I went for a run. Afterwards, I was just tired and wanted some easy to make dinner. Frozen pizza would have done it. But we don't even have so much as a box of mac n cheese or a can of chili to dump in the microwave. It's something that's gone from our lifestyle living here- less from a consciencious decision as much as the fact that the frozen pizzas are terrible. Actually I don't know why we eat so little prepared food- Dr.Oetiker brand is owned by the richest family in Germany- but its probaby because we just aren't used to it.
So I set a bag of dried spätzle to boil, minced an onion and started carmelizing it in a pan, and shedded a block of spanish manchego to make kase spätzle. Saori pointed out that it would have been easier to just make ramen but Id forgotten about it.

Fall hit Stuttgart when the last date in August touched the ground. The weather dropped ten degrees celcius overnight. Now, well into scarves and jacket weather, we are facing a cold and rainy week.

Fun fact about Stuttgart- it's actually the hometown of Roland Emmerich, director best known for a bunch of big budget disaster movies like Independance Day, The Patriot, and The Day After Tomorrow. I can feel a strange sort of connection between these films, which are popcorn fluffed, bloodless, children's fantasies and the easy and sometimes sterile environment of Stuttgart. In many ways, Stuttgart is high density suburbia: affluence and listlessness, a bedroom community which happens to be located in a giant industrial and economic powerhouse. The reason you keep running into people you know is that the city doesn't really have that many compelling places to go.

Sep 20, 2015

pho weekend

Friday, I left the office early and went home to wait for Saori who went to yoga after work. We strolled to dinner at a vietnamese restaurant for some Pho, which turned out to be not bad- the soup base was really good and the meat cuts were good, but for the price and the lack of the usual add-ons, I was not so impressed.

Walking back, we came across Feuersee Fest, a small neighborhood party around the old church with lots of little crafts and clothing, a small stage, a few food stalls, and of course, a few stalls selling beers and wine. Whenever we come back to the US, I am going to seriously agitate to loosen these antiquated and puritanical open container laws.

Saori bought a pair of earrings, and we both plugged our ears to escape the attrocious live electro-pop or whatever it was claiming to be.

Saturday I made fried eggs with my salsa and we got out into town early. We had a long list of groceries and things to buy, so we hit the markthalle where I reloaded the pozole essentials (dried mexican chiles, hominy) and then we browsed a bit of this and that in the stores around the city center before getting down to business at the big grocery store.

This big new grocery store carries a lot of really nice things. This trip, we ended up picking up two small plants for the kitchen, a 30 inch tall little palm tree and a similar height banana tree.

We also picked up some fresh mussels from Belgium, and some other necessities. Hauling everything back home, we refreshed ourselves, and headed out again since Saori was looking for some pots for the new plants. We split after the city center and I headed back to our neighborhood to pick up some ingrediants for Pho at the asian corner store.

Saori ended up getting stuck for a bit because the police basically barricaded the city center and diverted a ton of traffic and mass transit due to a large protest of mostly turks protesting the Turkish government. It was quite interesting to see in this orderly city, a mass of chanting people not protesting the train station, but also the hundreds of police in full riot gear. Stuttgart tends to over-react to protests in terms at least of presence.

Anyway, the moulles, being an unexpected score (they were about 7 dollars for the package) required eating that night, so I whipped us up some moules mariniere with the leftover bread and white wine I had.

Sunday I made pear and walnut pancakes for breakfast. I got this great recipe from Jamie Oliver which is really quite good. One egg, one cup self-raising flour, one cup milk, one fruit (grated pear, smashed banana, cup of berries, whatever). Mix well and cook in pan with melted butter.

Today was also the big fall flohmarkt (flea market) where the three biggest plazas in the city center and all the streets joining them fill with stalls and people selling everything in a massive garage sale. Prices are dirt cheap as everyone wants to get rid of everything. I ended up buying a solid pewter beer mug with the crest of one of the city brewers on it.

Afterwards, we got maultauschen from a food truck and then pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks.

Saori went to work to teach a coworker Nadine how to use Rhino and I went home to work on the beef soup stock for the Pho. It was exciting to make, and good, at the end, but a big greasy mess since all the gristle and fat renders in the pressure cooker. Also delicious.

Letting the stock cool, I joined Saori at Nadines rooftop flat and she served us up some homemade chocolate pound cake and tea. Do not let that description mislead you- Nadine is a really interesting and cool girl. She is a landcape architect who is obsessed with the band Social Distortion, California living, palm tree varieties, and tattoos, in that order.

So tonight I made pho from scratch for the first time. The beef bone and oxtail stock with star anise and cinnamon and fish sauce, bean sprouts, cilantro and mint, habernero chiles, squirt of lime. Rice noodles. Really really good. I need to up the star anise a bit though.

Sep 6, 2015

Birthday

Friday, I turned 31.

I am the fourth oldeset person in my office, including the principal, JW. At least I am not an intern.

I brought brownies to the office. Authentic American imported Betty Crocker box mix brownies. To my credit, I did also throw in a bunch of macadamia nuts and Austrian white chocolate. Yummy. And people liked them. We had a bunch of deadlines in the office so I decided to skip the usual everyone sits down in the conference room and makes small talk event and just set out the brownies in the kitchen, in easy reach of the coffee machine.

The other coworkers did surprise me as I was setting up a meeting room. They filed in and gave me a card and a wrapped traditional book on architecture. They also sang, which was something new since they were prompted by Tania, the Mexican intern who thought it odd we never sang in the office for people's birthdays. Sandro, the intern who was sick for a month, made the card, and everyone signed it. The book was a really nice Phaidon about Alvar Aalto, who is The Beatles of architecture.

Benni and I were the last to leave the office since we had  a late meeting with JW over the latest competition. We headed straight to Mezcal hoch Zwei and were the first there, although Saori showed up right after. We spent about four hours there, drinking great Mezcal palomas and micheladas and shots of Mezcal along with munching on a bunch of red and black mole tostadas. Good times. From my office there was Benni, Xi Wu the new Chinese intern, Tania, and Lukas. Saori also invited her coworkers Martin, his girlfriend, and Nadine, all of them charmingly eccentric. Martin's girlfriend was probably a classmate of Tay's back in Abu Dhabi. Rafa was also there (actually, he moonlights there) and Apo came for a drink as well.

Saori took a half day off and spent it running around the city hunting down the ingredients, (mostly exotic forms of sugar) for my cake, a wonderful sticky toffee pudding. The restaurant dimmed the lights and put on "las mananitas" as she brought out my cake with candles. The video is on facebook. The STP was delicious. I was transported instantly to the old pubs in the Surrey countryside.

After Mezcal, we all trooped over to our neighborhood and had one more round of beers at Akermanns, a traditional but open local bar with a pretty good selection of German beer.

Saori and I were both starting to pass out from the combined impact of a long week, a long day, nearly five alcoholic beverages in as many hours, and being over 30 years old, so we apologized to everyone for leaving early and staggered home to drink equivilant quantities of water to the alcohol we had consumed.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...