Monthly Archives: April 2010


Oh dear, I seem to have missed almost a whole week of posting here. I’m not going to gnash my teeth and feel too guilty, though – it’s been a horrendously busy week and I’m just pleased to have reached the end of it still standing.

The semester began and brought a larger than usual flood of last-minute e-mails, phone calls and door knocks from desperate students wanting into this, that or the other class (and not even just my classes, either), and on top of that, I picked up a cold that has not impacted on my work particularly but has left me feeling rather drained.

In somewhat lesser concerns, I was feeling a little sad that the tulip season seemed to be drawing to an end – I’ve managed to have fresh tulips in the flat constantly since the beginning of their availability in the shops in early spring and seem to have gone through the entire palette of colours. However, today there were gerberas, a type of flower whose shape seems to take us so much closer to summer. I now have a yellow bunch on the living room window sill (as pictured) and a vase of gorgeous burnt orange ones in my orange and green hideyhole-cum-work-area upstairs (I must take some pictures of those tomorrow when daylight is back).

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Crème caramel

Well, I don’t think I’ll be winning any prizes for food photography with this shot, but this is last night’s dessert, crème caramel. It was ever so good.

No one made any snide comments about the choice of a French dessert to follow my very British main course (which went down extremely well, by the way) – maybe people don’t think of it as being French but rather a fairly international dessert.

It’s a type of baked custard.

When I hear the word custard, I certainly think of hot vanilla-flavoured sauce poured over some very British dessert: apple crumble, spotted dick, treacle pudding… The French serve it cold and call it crème anglaise (which the Germans took over as Englische Creme, so they must have thought of it as typically British/English at some point, though I can’t find any more comment on the etymology of this.

The term custard has a wider meaning of course, ranging through various kinds of egg-thickened milk or cream concoctions, whether used for filling eclairs (as confectioner’s custard) or quiches (a savoury form). Many of these forms date back to the Middle Ages, when egg and milk mixtures were popular for filling flans and tarts – in fact the word “custard” is a corruption of crustade, an old word for a pie or pie crust (cf. French croustade). Classic French cuisine, meanwhile, has no specific word for custard, using the more general term crème instead. Maybe it was conceptually more important to the British, since they at least had a word for it.

Europeans took a wealth of custard recipes with them to the New World, though sometime in the nineteenth century the terms “custard” and “pudding” became confused in the United States, so that to this day “pudding” in American English denotes a set milk pudding. This new meaning of the word came back over the Atlantic and settled in German as Pudding. Cue confusion and strange looks when, as a Brit, you start talking to people in this country about Christmas pudding, steak and kidney pudding or black pudding, or even if you simply ask “What’s for pudding?”…


Filed under Food, History, Intercultural & interlinguistic

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Tomorrow I will be making another step in  my so far successful quest to convince German friends that British food goes beyond fish and chips, haggis, baked beans and spongy square white sliced bread (“untoasted toast” as one student once put it – I guess you have to have lived in Germany to get that one) and is actually rather good.

The main attraction is going to be beef and Guinness casserole with herb dumplings. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – a very quaint English-sounding mixture to those of us who grew up with the song “Scarborough Fair” and were aware that it was not written by a couple of folk-rock dudes from New York.

The line is a recurring refrain throughout the song, which in its simplest form is the lament of someone who has been left by his lover and imagines a string of impossible-sounding feats that will win her back. The herbs mantra seems at first sight (or hearing) not to make much sense, but centuries-old knowledge about the medicinal properties of these four herbs can be tied in to give a somewhat clearer allegorical meaning.

  • Parsley is well known as an aid to digestion (remember Peter Rabbit?) and as a herb to counteract bitterness or acrid tastes (garlic might fall into the latter category). The jilted lover in the song presumably hopes to overcome his own feelings of bitterness.
  • Sage, whose Latin name salvia comes from the verb meaning “to heal” or “to be / feel well”, is symbolic of strength – it is no coincidence that even today it is used as a herbal remedy for excessive sweating, as a means to “strengthen” the stomach following e.g. a course of antibiotics, and as a more general boost to the immune system thanks to its antioxidant properties. An old rhyming aphorism tells us “He that would live for aye / Must eat sage in May”. The “I” of the song thus wishes for strength to overcome his adversity and recover. In German folk tradition, sage was also used to prepare love potions.
  • The herb rosemary represents loyalty and constancy (maybe partly because it is evergreen), love and remembrance (Nicholas Culpeper noted that “It helps a weak memory” and that it is good for “all the diseases of the head and brain”), qualities the singer of the song has not been receiving too much of recently, but precisely those qualities and feelings he hopes to rekindle in his beloved lady.
  • Thyme also contains potent essential oils (the name derives from the Greek verb thyo, “to perfume”) and symbolizes courage. Culpeper said that wild thyme was “excellent for nervous disorders” and that it was “a certain remedy for that troublesome complaint, the night-mare”. The Ancient Greeks believed it strengthened certain masculine characteristics (it does have proven aphrodisiac qualities, apparently), and in the Middle Ages knights often had thyme painted on their shields as proof of their mettle. Today, apart from its continued use in cooking, it has largely been relegated to a remedy for coughs, sadly distant from its rather grander reputation in older thymes …. err, times. However, the protagonist in the song was probably not thinking about his bronchial health.

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Filed under Food, History, Intercultural & interlinguistic

Hacked off

No, it’s not me that’s hacked off today, but rather one of the apple trees I was taking pictures of the other day.

I’ve taken pictures of tree stumps and the grain of natural chunks of tree on many occasions before (see here, here and here for some of the better examples), and my motivation and focus have always been colour, texture, form.

This time it was different, though: it struck me that there was more of a story to be told in a shot of this tree stump. It’s not any beauty of the grain that attracted me, nor particular colours, shapes, or light, nor the challenge of trying to capture in visual terms that resinous scent of sap that freshly cut wood exudes.

Here the sawn-off point where there was once a branch struck me so much more strongly as an injury, an amputation, the image of something cut short in its prime. It’s the context that enables me to attempt to show that here: I started by shooting from another angle where the light fell more flatteringly, artistically. But then it was just another tree stump, a rather unattractive one at that. Only after I moved around and changed the background to juxtapose it with its obviously fertile, beautiful, infinitely more eyecatching neighbour could it actually tell its story.

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Filed under Out & about, Photography


It was a pretty tiring day at work, with lots of small frustrations that were, individually, not really that problematic but which have, collectively, continued to occupy me late into the evening. Grr!

I’m lucky, though, and when I read about other things that have been going on in my circle of friends and acquaintances today, I realize how small these niggles are and how I have a bad habit of letting them consume me.

Now it’s time for some relaxing TV before bed. No picture for today, I’m afraid – please all just imagine the most calming shapes you can against a background of your favourite colour 🙂


Filed under Up close and personal

What a difference two weeks makes

The last couple of times we did the stretch from Breisach to Bötzingen along the south side of the Kaiserstuhl there was little in bloom other than cherry trees and forsythia.

That was impressive enough – the contrasting tones of pink and yellow – but by today, although the cherry trees have finished blossoming, the apple trees were in bloom. And there are a LOT of them in this area. And there were other blossoms – bright red, other white varieties, pink and more yellow.

On the ground the dandelions seen on previous occasions had been joined by daisies, birdseye, heartsease, celandines, milkmaids and wood anemones (those being just the ones I could identify).

And in other news, the geese by Umkirch now have goslings!

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Filed under Out & about, Photography

What I loved (in the last week)

Today has been a bit frustrating – nothing major but lots of small niggles here and there, mainly at work. I was at a loss for something to write about, so today’s post is brought to you via inspiration from my lovely friend Diana and her weekly “Things I Love Thursday”.

It’s all too easy to moan, so let’s celebrate a random five things that were good, very good, in the last week. I’ve tried to choose from different categories…

Food and drink: French cheese – On our trip to Neuf-Brisach we promised ourselves we’d stop off at a French supermarket to get some really good cheese. We ended up with Camembert (from unpasteurised milk), Mimolette (which I discovered only a few years ago and is really hard to get here, especially the mature varieties) and Rocquefort.

Achievements: Getting to the top of the rock face – I am definitely the least experienced in the group of four that went climbing on Saturday. This is good on the one hand as it means I can rely on the experience of the others, but not always good in the sense that I don’t get as far or manage such challenging routes as the others. However, I made it without too much complaint, and I made it back down again (the beginning of the coming down was VERY scary, I have to say – leaning backwards over a precipice and trusting the rope is no mean feat).

Places: My creative corner – I must post a picture of this when it is a bit tidier. I have converted a corner of the landing into a secluded area for sitting and reading (there’s a big skylight and a comfy sofa) or pootling away on the computer (as is the case now). Soon there’ll be a bigger monitor up here so that the area can be used for watching films and editing photos.

Growth: New plants – Managed to grow some wisteria from seeds found on the street, and got a date palm cutting from friends. The wisteria is growing scarily fast and needs to be repotted in the next few days. A trip to the garden centre last week ensured that all the necessary bits and bobs are ready to go.

Accessories: Yellow glasses – My partner in climb(ing) and other things often wears yellow tinted (sun)glasses. I borrowed these the other day and WOW does the world look different through them. The mountain landscape immediately became magically golden and light, the rocks almost luminous. I almost expected to see a unicorn emerge from behind the next tree. Possibly a very good antidepressant accessory, I suspect.

There are actually many more things that I could have included here, so it’s been a good reminder that things have been really pretty good the last week.

Here’s a picture of me in said glasses (and wearing all the clothes I had with me (and some more) – at least five layers – as it was rather cold up the mountain.


Filed under Memes & blogging challenges, Up close and personal