“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, …” Dean Martin’s Christmas carol could be the title song for my idea of winter. I expect snow every day from the beginning of December. This years’ unmotivated, tiny flakes do not count for me. No no no! My imagination is filled with pictures of thick, heavy flakes falling silently on frozen ground and form a magically sparkling carpet of snow.
Unfortunately, my dream of a white sugared landscape does not come true since a couple of years. Well, that is not too bad (after all, I’m not five years old anymore and have also accepted that Santa is not real). Nevertheless, my wish remains, especially for a white Christmas, and becomes stronger with each snowless year. At some point I will actively do something about it and escape the climate change-troubled south. One or two winter months in the north should be enough to satisfy my yearning for several years. If you are a little bit snowsick, too, and would like to distract yourself with something joyful, then join me on my little journey through the winter of Germany and Tennessee. As I already did in fall, I prepared a small preview and retrospective for the cold season. This time there is more to read about me and my family, which I have peppered with all sorts of interesting things that are coming up like celebrations, activities, dishes and seasonal peculiarities. Come follow me and let me amaze you with my small overview of the months of December, January and February.
In December, especially before the winter solstice on the 21st of December, the nights are long and on some of the days you might have the feeling that it has just been five minutes of daylight. The darkness and cold are a wonderful excuse to spend the evenings on the couch. The temptation to surrender to the beguiling call of your own pyjamas is immense. However, there is still the Christmas or year-end celebration in the office on Thursday and the party with friends on Friday and and and … December is a month you will hardly have the chance to settle in the comforting idleness as everyone wants to celebrate the findings of the past year with you.
Anyone whose days are not planned out to the fullest in December and want to keep it that way, may turn off their mobile phone and pull the plug of their landline (if you still have one). Those who, like me, cannot get enough of the pre-Christmas time, should download the ringtone “Last Christmas” and put on their most beautiful reindeer sweater. After all, in addition to all the parties, we want to go to one, two, …, six Christmas markets, bake five different kinds of cookies, make wreaths for every door in our home, buy a Christmas tree and decorate it nicely! Thanks to my joyful anticipation and the associated hormones of happiness I survive this never-ending series of activities and festivities and am finally able to celebrate my personal highlight of the year: Christmas Eve. The fondness for this feast seems to be genetically determined in my family. We behave relatively quiet and normal throughout the year. As soon as Thanksgiving is over, our Christmas gene is somehow activated abruptly. During one of our countless phone calls (grandma – mom, mom – uncle, uncle – grandma, mom – me, brotherheart – me, …) we discuss the festivity for weeks, consider it back and forth, run through various scenarios and decide, no later than mid-December, what will happen when and how on Christmas Eve. Good thing is, we have some basics that are indispensable and that we use as a base, which in return makes all the planning a lot easier. The opening act for an amazing Christmas Eve is always a beautiful to weird singing performed by the family choir ahead of the grand distribution of all the wonderful presents. Afterwards, we hug and everybody gets an awesome gift. Once the family has unpacked and admired the magnificent treasures in detail and has played with it, we have some delicious Christmas food. This specific order of events is not only requested by us children (even at the age of 29 and 31, my brother and I still count as such), but also from uncle and grandma.
As befits Germany, we celebrate Christmas on December 24th. Mentioning this in Tennessee, I confuse a lot of my lovely American friends. This is their Christmas Eve and is not celebrated further. Although the kids hang up their stockings, the actual distribution of gifts (in the stockings) as well as the food takes place on the 25th of December. The American Christmas Dinner is very similar to the one on Thanksgiving. The feast on the fourth Thursday in November has, as I have learned, a similar status for Americans as Christmas has for Germans. That is completely contrary to the German traditions with which I grew up. For us, nothing is better than Christmas (especially in my family). The house I grew up in is where usually the dinner is a dream come true! My mum and my uncle prepare a delicious two course meal with a main course and dessert! This year, it was supplemented with a nice lambs lettuce with tangerines. The small-leaved, slightly nutty-tasting winter salad is hard to find in Tennessee which makes it all the more seductive to me during our stay in Germany.
With rabbit, lamb or game as the star of the main course we have something very special (being non-vegetarian or vegan). Nevertheless, the side dishes are just as important as the meat. My mother is the queen of baked Semmelknödel (yes, I said baked). The dough for this traditional dish is made with cut rolls, milk and egg, however they are not simmered as round balls in water, but baked in a cake pan in the oven. My husband claims that this is the wrong way of preparing it and as such does not deserve the name Semmelknödel. Whatever – I prefer the fancy yet non-traditional form of preparation, because, for me, it tastes so much better. Red cabbage (which I made for the first time this year: exciting!), lingonberries (a great alternative would be my Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce) and a dark, creamy gravy complete our Christmas menu. If you still need inspiration for this years (or next years) Christmas dinner, check out my Pinterest board “COOKING Christmas Dinner“. That is where I have collected various appetizers, main courses, side dishes and beverage suggestions as inspiration and would love to share them with you.
After the joyfully hustling and bustling Christmas time you do not really have time to catch your breath. New Year’s Eve is just around the corner and wants to be celebrated with all his might. Ever since we moved to Tennessee, we withdraw completely. I do not need this celebration on the last day of the year anymore, and also have to confess: I have been a New Year’s Eve grouch for the last two years. I really do not understand myself when it comes to this. I love to celebrate almost everything, with enthusiasm and till I drop, be it my birthday, Carnival, a Tuesday, … I usually agree with the saying: Christmas comes but once a year. My inexplicable aversion to the New Year’s Eve party confuses me deeply. Maybe it is because I have already celebrated so much during the holidays? I really do not know why I do not like it.
Actually, I used to be a big fan of New Year’s Eve. We always met with friends, started with a glass of punch into the evening and had either (when I was little) raclette or fondue (sorry, Switzerland – I only like the broth-style fondue). The latter would be a great reason to celebrate New Year’s Eve again. I always liked to fill my skewer with the many prepared delicacies. We had beef and pork, shrimp, cubes of vegetables and so much more. As a side, baskets of airy baguette for dipping in various sauces, such as homemade aioli were passed. After eating too much, there were games, table fires, or just some sitting around and chatting. Around 11.30PM the ants in our pants won and everyone gathered shoes, jackets and the obligatory bottle of sparkling wine. We ran out into the street and set up the fireworks and kept the sparklers at hand. And then everybody would go 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1: Cheers to the New Year!!! Maybe I should reconsider my attitude, it was always super nice. Would it not be an idea to change the protocol a little, what do you think? Every now and then it probably just needs one or two new aspects and most likely I am back on board. Perhaps I will start small and just eat the traditional food like sauerkraut (that is supposed to bring money in our strange German superstition) or I will try to bake some New Year’s Pretzel on the first of January. Anyway, I will think about this possibility over the course of next year.
In the first two weeks of January, most of us feel a bit slow and sluggish, whether you have celebrated or not. Everyone is gathering strength for the upcoming twelve months and thinking about an improved, healthier self for the new year. It is the time of motivated resolutions. Due to the food coma over Christmas and the gluttony before, many sign up for the gym to bring their weak body back to life. Others choose to temporary give up cherished behaviors such as watching television in the evening, wearing pyjamas after work, and the like. My experience with all those great ideas is that after some time they are forgotten as quickly as they were initiated. The inner couch potato wins and pulls one heavily back on the sofa or beckons demonically with a checkered piece of cloth shaped like pyjama bottoms. Let us be honest: in December, we had no time to be at home, dressing comfortably and binge-watching Netflix. We just would be not fair with our self, so why should we not treat ourselves? The art of laziness will eventually be perfected.
If that’s too boring for you, I recommend trying some of the wonderful recipes that are perfect for the cold season. That is not a lot of work but a lot of fun. Of course, cooking is not relaxing for everyone, however, for me it is the best way to shut my brain off completely. When cutting vegetables for a hearty goulash or beating Spätzle dough (one kind of German noodles) I forget all my worries. The great thing about cooking is that not only the preparation does make me happy, but also the result. It is always wonderful when the family finds the time to sit at the dining table, talking and enjoying something delicious we just made together.
In February, the lazy times are over once and for all. Especially in the southern and western parts of Germany, the fifth season is at its peak and in the south of the United States Mardi Gras is just around the corner. I really like the idea behind the whole thing: to expel evil spirits by wearing evil masks. You all know this already from Halloween, where the evil souls of the deceased are kept away from our homes with eerie masks and spooky pumpkins. On Fasching, Carnival and Mardi Gras fun and whimsical disguises chase away the evil spirits of winter, so that they can make room for the good spirits of spring.
In former times the Kreppel* (round pieces of dough fried in fat and filled with jam or pudding topped with powdered sugar) was available in Germany only at that special time, because the nutritious but low-cost pastry brought energy for the upcoming weeks of Lent. Today, you can find this delicacy throughout the year. Personally, I enjoy to eat certain foods at their certain and special time. That is why I have gotten into the habit of savoring one single Kreppel filled with vanilla cream per year, and that happens exactly on Carnivals Tuesday. Whereby I just remember that I did not even have one in 2017: Where is the next bakery?!
As a girl from Lower Franconian, raised catholic, I grew up with the fact that the five Carnival days are fully enjoyed and celebrated in order to actually fast for 40 days afterwards. Luckily my mother was never super strict with the family. What we have done is best described as fasting light and referred to a lesser Gameboy consumption, no sweets or going to bed early, which was quite bearable.
On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, though, my mother was somewhat stricter and we were not allowed, according to tradition, to eat any meat. For me that was less of a challenge, however, every year my brother enjoyed hiding a salami or something like that for eating it secretly. As you know, everything that is forbidden tastes three times better. For the rest of us, who did not spoil their appetite with salami, there were good alternatives like herring salad with potatoes. Since I moved out, I no longer stick to the outdated dietary restrictions and eat what I want on Ash Wednesday. I did stick to the herring salad recipe, though, and enjoy the creamy, smooth salad with the delicious salted fish (and apple slices and pickled cucumbers) and that is why we have it every now and then, not only in winter time but also in spring, summer and fall. Many use the time of Lent (actively fasting or not) to fulfill my winter dream for a short time: they are driving to areas with a lot of snow. Places in the high and low mountain ranges of Europe and America lure with activities such as skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, tobogganing and so forth. My parents used to travel with us to my grandparents’ cottage in Austria every year. My dad taught me how to ski (or at least tried it) and we had wild snowball fights with friends. That was a wonderful time, not only due to the fantastic food that you could and still can get in the restaurants in and around the cottages town Krumbach in Austria (Kaiserschmarrn, Germknödel, …). If you cannot make it to the mountains but would like to console yourself with a bit of ice in your own hometown, I recommend a visit to the local ice stadium or the rinks that are being built in many cities during Christmas time. In Knoxville, ice skating is actually possible in the middle of the marketplace during the cold months. Although it is a bit strange standing on ice skates with over 50°F most of the times, with all the beautiful Christmas lights, it has its own charm.
Winter time entertains us just as well as the warmer seasons. December keeps us busy with the pre- and Christmas time, January already starts with a big bang and in February Fasching, Carnival or Mardi Gras carry a lot of us away. Needless to say, I really suggest to enjoy the cold and darkness in whichever way as long and whenever it is possible. As soon as spring is back, we have to leave the comfy house again to catch some fresh air. With this proposal, I remain and I wish you all a belated Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year 2018 and Hellau and Alaaf!
PS: Find more winter impressions and some ideas for seasonal fruits and vegetables on my pinterest board “SEASON winter“.
*or Krapfen or Berliner or Pfannkuchen