Friday, February 27, 2015

Five Favorites: Birthday Edition!

Blindfolded at my 21st Birthday Party

I love my own birthday. I just do. I know that sometime after you turn twelve, this is supposed to subside. What can I say? I'm immature. 

Today, Karl and I are heading to Berlin to celebrate my birthday family-style. This evening we have tickets to see Igor Levit perform Beethoven's sonatas, and I am so excited! Levit is an incredibly talented, up-and-coming pianist and it's such a stroke of luck he's performing the day before I turn twenty-three! As for the rest of the weekend...I think Karl has a couple surprises up his sleeve (he's the worst secret keeper ever) and whatever we end up doing to celebrate, I'm happy to be spending this day with him and with my lovely family.

Now for my Five Favorite Birthday Things:

1. CAKE. My dad always makes me an amazingly decadent and buttery chocolate tart from the incomparable cookbook, From Simple to Spectacular. Yum!

2. PRESENTS. My style for the year is basically defined by what my fashion-guru of a younger sister gives me for Xmas and Bday. Thanks for that, Zelda! Sorry you had to explain what an ombre is to this trend-ignoramus sister of yours. And my Mom is a pretty amazing gift-giver as well.

3. REFLECTION.  I love looking back over the last year, like we do at New Years and on birthdays, and really taking stock of the grace and blessings in our lives. Too often our gratefulness gets swept away by life's many small frustrations like papercuts and annoying cell phone ringtones. I try to grab any opportunity to put those little things aside and embrace this time as it flies by!

4. FUN PARTIES. When we get back, you betcha we're having a big ol' blow out. Above is a pic from my twenty first, and yes, that's me blindfolded and on the way to god knows what. Whether it's a crazy party or a group of friends gathering for some food and conversation, we love having everyone over for a good time.

5. GETTING OLDER. Nope, it's not my favorite, but in an effort to stop hating it, I'm putting it on the list! I started having serious angst about my birthdays passing when I turned 10 (double digits!) and it hasn't ceased since. But as much as I mourn how fast the years are going by, I know it only feels like that because we are having so. much. fun. every step of the way. So I am going to love every blink of an eye that passes before this time of year rolls around again...each blink is an immeasurably precious gift.

Look up at the Sky!


Breakfast table decked for a birthday (dark because it's 6:00AM in northern Europe)

PS. Five Favorite Ways to Save, Romantic Movies, Parlour Games (some even work for parties!), and Five Favorite Destinations for 2015!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Super Quick and Easy (Microwaveable) Brownies

Ladies and Gentlemen, a confession. 

I am an absolute and unabashed chocoholic. The darker, the better, and I can never get enough. Today I'm sharing with you one of my favorite last-minute-must-get-out-the-door recipes. Its for those days you arrive home sweaty and frantic twenty minutes before a dinner you've been invited to...thirty minutes away. This is great for potlucks, hostess gifts, spontaneous gatherings and late night meltdowns.  I first got this recipe from my best friend Clara, a prodigious baker, who used it as a bakesale contribution in high school whenever she overslept.  Its incredibly easy to put together (in one bowl), uses ingredients we always have around the house, and best of all, it's practically fool-proof. Seriously. Even Karl made it (while I yelled instructions from the shower while simultaneously brushing my teeth and writing a card).


And did I mention you can bake it in an oven or a microwave? And that the later takes all of six minutes? Yeah. It's awesome. They also happen to taste pretty darn good.

Here's Clara's recipe for Super Quick and Easy

(Microwaveable) Brownies:


115 grams butter (1/2) cup

1 cup sugar 
2 eggs
200 gram dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 /2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda


If you have a pan or pot that is oven/microwave proof, great.  You'll be able to mix and bake this all in one go. If not, grab any old pan/pot and transfer your batter before you bake.

Melt butter on the stove. Turn heat to low and add sugar. MIX WELL about three or four minutes with a fork until mixture is fully emulsified. This is the only really important step. The batter will become thicker and paler and the sugar grains should all disappear. If you proceed too quickly, the brownies won't turn solid and will taste fatty.

1. Melt butter, 2. Add sugar, 3. Mix extensively until thick and pale, 4. Add eggs

Emulsified butter and sugar? Good. Now take off the heat and add half the chocolate, mixing until melted and integrated. Remember, the better the quality of the chocolate used, the better the brownies taste! A dash of coffee powder will sometimes help compensate for lower quality chocolate. When mixture is brown, add  eggs and and mix till combined. Add all the rest of the ingredients in one go.

For microwave:

Microwave your batter on high for one minute. Then, add the rest of the chopped chocolate and mix with a fork. Return to microwave for five minutes. If the brownies are unfinished, keep microwaving in 1 minute intervals till they are done. My microwave usually needs six minutes total to finish the job.

For oven:

Add the rest of the chopped chocolate and bake brownies in oven at 190°C (375°F) for twenty minutes. Voila!

Let brownies cool and enjoy! They're even better the next day....

Look up at the Sky!


PS. Tragically, no pictures of the finished got eaten too fast!

PPS. Try adding some chopped nuts sprinkled on top, its even more delicious.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Memories: Skiing in the Alps

Patrick, Frederika, and Karl with our epic snowman!
Just a short post today, because we are beyond the reach of reliable the Alps! I love it here. The mountains are majestic and the snow makes everything so serene and still.

Karl's family has a vacation place here and we come almost every year for some snow, sunshine, and skiing. Last year, we went with a couple of friends from medical school, Patrick and Frederika, but this years it's a romantic getaway à deux, which is lovely after the hustle and bustle of these busy winter months. 2015 is just flying by and I'm so happy to have a couple days of calm with my sweetheart to leave it all behind and just enjoy eachother's company (and some hot chocolate and good books too)!

Look up at the Sky (it's a fantastic night sky here)!


PS. More Monday Memories here, here, and here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Five Favorites: Ways to Save

Pete's Christmas gift currently graces our bathroom
This week's "five favorites" post stems from our very student-y budget constraints. Many of the things I love (great chocolate, fresh fruits and vegetables, organic meat, and most of all: trips) don't come cheap. Here are some tips Karl and I have gathered on how to make each Euro count!

1. DIY.  This is a "duh" suggestion that I never really took seriously until I started making my own bread (yum!) and realized how much dough we were saving (terrible pun intended). Now we're all about finding ways to add thoughtfulness and save pennies with DIY. We loved making 
homemade holiday cards out of scraps and our low-key  Valentine's Day fit right in with this new philosophy.

2. Turn that thermostat down! Last winter, during the coldest week of the year, our heating broke down. We froze for seven days before it got fixed.  After some bitter complaining and several evenings spent exclusively in bed (the only warmish place in the apartment) we actually kind used to it. To our surprise, we just sort of shifted from breakfast in PJs to breakfast in an Anorak. The couple seconds after a shower were hellish, but beyond that, we learned that when one is ensconced in fleece, cold is actually okay. Although we certainly cranked the heating up when it was finally fixed, we tend to keep the apartment about seven degrees colder than before...and now we save several hundred Euro a year, without minding at all!

3.Stay in! At the Sophie/Pete/Karl/Zanna house,
we LOVE games. We've found an evening of poker or a snuggly movie night on the sofa is just as awesome as a fancy dinner out--for a fraction of the price!

4. Meatless Mondays...and Tuesdays...and Wednesdays.  My roommate Sophie is a vegetarian, and though the rest of us identify as carnivores, we only eat meat about once or twice a week. I tend to insist on organic, local, and free-range (for various ethical and health-related reasons) and that's about as expensive as it gets! So we have some morally righteous meat every now and then and enjoy eggs and other protein-laden, purse-friendly alternatives the rest of the week.

5. Car sharing.  It took me a while to warm up to this one, but Karl insisted, and now we use it for every car trip and have never looked back. When we travel as a couple, there are two empty seats in the back and it can cover the entire cost of gas to rent those out! We use the two most popular sites here in Germany,
Mitfahrgelegenheit and Bla Bla Car, but we learned during our time in France and Switzerland that there are equivalent sites for most European countries. We're heading down south for some skiing this weekend, and the rides we have lined up will reimburse the whole car trip!

In addition to these tips, we also have a couple general rules, such as: no credit card debt, no bottled water, no magazine subscriptions, no take-out, no ATM-stops at non-affiliated banks, no brand-name products, ect.

One thing we NEVER agree on is handymen. Karl always thinks he can fix it, whatever "it" is, and I would rather just call an expert and not make it worse. We're still hashing that one out!

What about you? What are you favorite ways to save pennies and what's worth a splurge?

Look up at the Sky!


PS. Very first "Five Favorites" here!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Memories: "Who am I?"

One of the greatest blessings in life is family, and I am lucky enough to have two. I like to call them the bloody and the non-bloody families, because that's what they are: the one I am genetically related to and the one my parents built for me. 

In a way, I was born into both of them. I have my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins galore who all live far away. I also have an incredible, close-knit group of "aunts" and "uncles" right here in Berlin, friends of my parents who have known me from birth and whose kids, in turn, are like nieces and nephews to me. We all love hanging out together at our lakeside mini-cabins and we try to meet en masse as regularly as we can! Here is our annual Christmas Goose-Eating Event (held at a restaurant this year so no one spends four days cooking and no one cleans up!) We love Engelbecken in Berlin--they have the best Wiener Schnitzel around!

Zelda entertains the gang
Kiki, whose artistic talent graces many napkins at restaurants all over Berlin
Papa makes a point

 Sleepy Cousins
The restaurant empties around us
The evenings tend to get long, and the kids get antsy while the wine is still flowing freely on the adult side of the table. So this time, I took some decisive action in providing entertainment.

Multi-generational Who am I ?!

And it turned out amazing. So. Much. Fun!

Everyone, young and old, gets to write out a name for their neighbor. The not-yet-learned-to-write faction gets a little help.

We ended up with quite an eclectic cast of characters. 

Johnny Depp




David Cameron

Mika Häkkinen

Then, you go around the table and each person asks yes-or-no questions until they hit a no. Then it's the next person's turn. You go around till everybody has guessed who they are. Unsurprisingly, the kids did way better than the adults!

Richard Wagner was a tough one...

The five-year-old wins first place!
It was a wonderful evening and I'm missing the crew a lot right now! There's just nothing like spening a cold winter evening cozy inside, with a whole big bunch of family. 

Zelda holds Kiki and we all say goodbye
Look up at the Sky!


PS. These photos were taken as a group effort (ie. a camera was lying on the table and most everyone fiddled around with it for a while. Thanks, Team!)

PPS. Past Monday Memories: A Day in Lausanne

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lovey Dovey Day

Happy Valentine's Day!
My parents on a beach in Brazil. Married almost 25 years and celebrated Valentines Day in none of them.
I have to out myself: not the most important holiday in my calendar. Probably most of that is cultural, February 14th is a lot less hyped here in Europe, and though heart shaped chocolate boxes and long stemmed roses do start popping up in stores, that's about the extent of it for most people.

My first Valentines Day with Karl, we both forgot.  I went into an exam on Feb. 16th, wrote the date at the top and thought "Oops! Looks like we forgot something. Oh well."

The next year, Karl surprised me in the morning with this:

Valentine's Day unexpected surprise :)

And I have to say it meant so much to me, coming out of the blue like that. In some ways, not making a big deal of it takes all the pressure off and makes each unexpected gesture so much more meaningful!

"Ich liebe dich!"
This year, Karl has to work all day from very early to very late. He got up this morning and I rolled over and fell back asleep. But when I finally did get up (at 11:00, after a deliciously long lie-in) I found this surprise on our kitchen table!  My opposite-of-a-sweet-tooth, won't-eat-dessert-if-you-beg-him baby made chocolate cupcakes and frosted them all by himself, just for me!

Now I'm of two minds. We don't do fancy dinner reservations and we don't exchange gifts, and I've always been very happy as a non-valentiner. But now this thoughtful man of mine is going rogue and off-script, and I have to say, I kind of like it! There's something about walking into your kitchen and finding this sweet heart-shaped deliciousness that just makes my non-romantic heart leap. Maybe I'm a Valentine's Day gal after all?

Look up at the Sky!


PS. Favorite Five Romantic Movies!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Five Favorites: Romantic Movies

Here's the deal: I love movies. Not so much the cars-exploding-someone-gets-gruesomely-killed-every-five-seconds kind, but the rest of them. My favorite movie last year was Boyhood, and if you haven't found time to see it yet--understandable for a movie with a running time of almost three hours--you MUST see it! Sorry, I hate gratuitous CAPS too, but I feel strongly about this one (see above, re: love movies).

When I was a kid we went to the movies almost every weekend (sometimes even back-to-back if Mom was out of town and Papa was presiding) but unfortunately that intensity of movie fandom isn't compatible with a student's budget.  Yes, I know, Netflix and iTunes and so on but its just not the same when its not the big screen!

Still, today, in honor of Valentines Day (which I'm not big into, to be honest, but more on that tomorrow) I have collected my five favorite love-centered movies of all time! 

1. Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968). This film is  beautifully shot, and actually won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Zeffirelli's trademark crowd scenes contrast with the simple, intimate moments in the play which allows the incomparable langauge and dialogues to take center stage. Employing actors close to the actual age of the characters was an unusual choice at the time, and I must say Olivia Hussey's naive but passionate Juliet is my all-time favorite on stage and screen. A perfect Valentine Date classic!

2.When Harry Met Sally (1989).  The deli scene is hilarious to the millionth power. As someone whose orders at restaurants can tend towards the picky (understatement of the year) and whose relationship processed in fits and starts while circling eachother warily,  I find a lot to relate to in this timeless comedy.

3. Barefoot in the Park (1967).  Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.  Need I say more?! This is a must for anyone who has ever lived in a high-floor walkup or moved in a partner only to discover some unanticipated clash points. Some movies just don't seem to age!

4.Notting Hill (1999). I know, I know, it's sappy (well, this whole list is über saccharine) but this is one of my absolute favorite romcoms. Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant make an adorable pair and the roommate Spike makes for great comic relief!

5. Some Like it Hot (1959). I can't believe it took me all the way to full-on-adulthood to watch this movie! And I can't believe I barely kept control of my bladder when I finally did! This crazy, convoluted masterpiece actually takes place right after the St. Valentine's Day massacre, not a romantic association to be sure, but doesn't that make it all the more appropriate for this special occasion?! I tend to think so...


Karl has to work from dawn till dusk tomorrow so we'll be celebrating Sunday night and I still can't decide what film will be on the program...what are your favorites? Would love to get tips and discover some new classics!

Look up at the Sky!


PS. More Five Favorites here, here, and here
PPS. Five Favorites inaugural post here.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Costume Party!

The whole gang gets dressed up!

Every now and then, when the winter is long and the days get gloomy, you just gotta throw a dang party! And voila: just a few home-mixed cocktails, a whole lot of laughs, and a completely wrecked apartment later, you feel So. Much. Better!

We decided to celebrate in costume because, though the prep can be extensive, the result are often fantastically amusing. Opening the door when the buzzer goes becomes half the fun...especially when your friends start getting creative!  This is a shot of the living-room contingent (isn't it funny how every party seamlessly splits into 'Team Living Room' and 'Team Kitchen'--or is that just us?!) I loved my roommate Sophie's ladybug approach, but I have to say the astronaut, nun, television and tiger were also incredibly cool. 

What are your go-to costumes? All time favorites? 

4:00 AM
And (a question for the ages) clean up in the wee hours directly after the guests depart or leave it all for the next day?  I'd love to hear your takes!

Look up at the Sky!


Monday, February 9, 2015

Monday Memories: Lake Fun

The sleeping loft of our Laube (=hut)
Today I'm dreaming of summertime! The weather is drab and grey and I looked in the mirror this morning to see an exhausted vampire girly staring back. Seriously, I can't stand how white I get this time of year, I look transparent or ill or both! So this Monday I'm looking back on a beautiful July day last summer.

My parents have a small hut (German: Laube) at the Wannsee, one of the many spectacular lakes in southern Berlin. It's tiny, open-roofed, slightly nordic-looking, and adorable.  The primary use is to laze around near the lake on hot summer afternoons and sleep over when the city gets too grimy and hot to bear. 

Kiki horsing around in our hammock (yup, we have hammocks, and they're awesome!)
The best part is, all of our friends have huts nearby, so every summer evening becomes a big ol' party. The kids are all "cousins" and are communally and constantly covered in Popsicle gunk. Its a great big family and I miss them when I'm not home almost as much as I miss summertime!  

I can't wait for those long, lazy days when it's legitimate to wear a bathing suit and a sarong from morning till night, when ice cream becomes a primary food stuff and the ubiquitous sand mixes with random smears of sunscreen to create something disgusting between my toes.  Can't wait.

Here's to sunny memories getting us through these short, cold days. 

Look up at the Sky!


PS. More Monday Memories here, here and here
PPS. Inaugural Post here!

View of the Lake

Friday, February 6, 2015

Five Favorites: Parlour Games

"Set": one of my favorite games!
Yesterday, we spontaneously invited a couple friends over for dinner and ended up having a long and lovely evening with one of my all-time-favorite games: Set!  Playing together has such an invigorating effect on an evening...suddenly there is anticipatory tension in the air, regularly released by raucous laughter. The competitive juices start flowing and it's past midnight in the blink of an eye! I loved playing lots of board and car games with my family as a kid, and I'm so happy to continuing the tradition!

Here are my top five:

1. Set. Easy to set up, easy to learn, and easy to play with any number of players for any length of time.  This is the most versatile and fun game I've encountered in a long time. Its also great brain-training and far more aesthetically pleasing than most games I know (I'm looking at you, Candyland).

2. Apples to Apples. This is great for word-nerds like me! The only disadvantage is that all players must be native or almost-native speakers, which limits its use in our circle. This has always been one of my family's favorites, though. My sister Zelda even snuck our set away when she moved to Rotterdam, depriving us of one of our favorite games during the holiday season. I'm going to have to visit her soon to steal it back!

3. Monopoly. An oldie but goldie. I am incredibly bad at this game despite extensive strategizing. I can, however, hold on to cash for more than five minutes and balance a checkbook. Zelda almost always pulls off a win on the board but maxes out her account every month. Interesting, no?

4. Taboo. I love this because of the hilarious associations people have with random words. The best soliloquy yet has been an attempt by my dear friend Andrew to explain "Body Odor" by invoking Abe Lincoln (?!). Needless to say, nobody guessed it, but that might have been because we were all on the floor in stitches.

5. Charades. This is probably the game we play most often. It's super simple and best of all free! Just divide into two teams, grab a pen and paper, and start thinking of clues (the harder the better!). Things can get a bit racy if it's an all-adult game but lets be honest, that just adds to the fun. Hardest so far have been: 'infinity', 'Meryl Streep', and 'civil rights'.

What are some of your favorite games? I'd love some more recommendations!

Look up at the Sky!


PS. Karl loooooves Settlers of Catan, but I think its way to complicated!

PPS. More five favorites here and here and here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Monday Memories: A Day à deux in Lausanne

Morning walk with Karl to a hilltop in Lausanne
Last year, for various career-y and professional reasons, I was living in Paris while Karl was in Lausanne. This went on for about six months or so before we both elegantly bowed out of this unsatisfactory arrangement. Lessons learned: long distance sucks, skype does not suffice....but absence does make the heart grow fonder.  I remember those weekends together so much more vividly than the weeks apart.  We tried to spend every second weekend together and to alternate visits, so we got to explore both places pretty thoroughly (and yes, we got lucky that both are incredibly romantic, fascinating, and breathtakingly beautiful cities). Those weekends together, far away from family and friends, in a foreign country together, were so...well, for lack of a better word: intense. Not necessarily physically, more just a unique moment of being removed from the constant distractions of real life and focusing competently on one person for 48 uninterrupted hours. Just being me, being him, being us away from absolutely everything else. We talked a lot and we were silent a lot. In some ways we discovered who we really are as a couple. Maybe the fact that neither of us had cell phone service was a factor. I don't know exactly what cocktail of circumstances came together, but I remember discovering new places while re-discovering my beloved partner; I remember long, timeless days that went by in a blur; I remember great happiness, and more than that: great peace.  

Here are three snapshots of a day we spent in Lausanne, which is a wonderful city: quaint, lively, and perfectly situated on the shores of the lovely lake Geneva. Also, exorbitantly expensive, but lets focus on the positive.

Ending the day with a visit to the Olympic Museum and Headquarters
Look up at the Sky!


PS. More Monday Memories here, here, and here.

PPS. Who is Karl?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Five Favorites: My Christmas Presents!

Well, the holiday season has come and gone and I have finally gotten around to actually enjoying the wonderful gifts that were waiting under the tree! I know people usually post about gifts before the holidays  when the recommendations could actually help someone out. I personally am a great fan of Cup of Jo's Gift Guides, especially this bike bell with fun sound effects which I plan to get my sister Zelda for her birthday (to the eternal disservice of all pedestrians on the streets of Rotterdam). However, being more talented at the gift-receiving portion of the festivities, I thought I'd share my favorites now, in great gratitude to the givers and in the hope they may help you if you ever find yourself in need of present ideas for a twenty-two year old medical student who likes to cook, read, travel, and get gifts.

1. Cartoon-a-day, Medical Edition. Super funny and almost always right on the money. So many of these daily cartoons put a  hilarious spin on situations I experience with patients almost every day. Others are just cool in their random ridiculousness. These exist for lawyers, teachers, and several other professions as well, so whatever your loved one does from nine to five, this is a fun and easy way to brighten their workday.

 2. Citrus press. 
It seems Karl's Mom is attempting to increase our Vitamin C intake! No, in all seriousness, this was one of the sweetest presents we got. A couple months ago, we were having breakfast at my boyfriend's parents' house and I commented that their orange juice was just delicious. It turns out they fresh press oranges every morning with this easy machine.  I always thought juicers were complicated and messy and impossible to effectively clean so I was overjoyed with this thoughtful gift. It's easy to use (even for technologically challenged me) and rinses out in ten seconds flat. Plus you feel fancy having fresh juice for breakfast on a weekday.

Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz
3. Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz. This is a wonderful gift from my mother which I will treasure forever. It's a beautiful book, a pleasure to leaf through-- and its biographical essence adds profundity to its aesthetic character.  Leibovitz photographs places she visited on her own account, not on assignment, connected to people that interest or inspire her. She travels from Thoreau's Walden Pond to Old Faithful to Monticello, following the footsteps and stories of Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Annie Oakley and Ansel Adams among many others. She captures Virgina Woolf's writing desk and Sigmund Freud's couch, seamlessly connecting the banal beauty of the physical object and the enormous significance attached to it.  Liebovitz herself said of the project, " was an exercise in renewal. It taught me to see again." Believe me, once you buy this book you'll also start to see in a whole new way.

4. Awesome Pencil Sharpener Carrot Peeler. Adorable. 'Nough said.

5. You Come Too, by Robert Frost. This was a gift from Papa, who shares my poetic soul. A great find for all Frost fans, this is a collection of his poems selected and curated by the poet himself.  My favorite has always been "Acquainted with the Night" but I've been reading a poem before bed every evening and loved yesterday's ("The Birthplace"), he so eloquently evokes a sense of cozy homes and carefree childhoods. It's great to explore and be exposed to more work by one of my favorite authors. 

What was the best gift you got this year?! I'd love to hear your favorites!

Look up at the Sky!


PS. Five Things No One Knows About Me

PPS. More "Five Favorites" here, here, and here