Tag Archives: Germany

Year in Review: 2017

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

I haven’t written a “year in review” since the end of 2014, but this year I felt the desire to do so as 2017 becomes 2018. While there are plenty of awful things that happened globally in 2017 – politically, environmentally, etc. – I would like to focus on the more personal positives in this post.

Running and fitness in 2017:

On the way to a 5-mile PB at the Perivale 5, Dec 2017. Photo credit: Bespoke Photos.

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2017 I ran 973.1km =  604.66mi. This is about 39 more miles than in 2016, so I’ll take that as a slight improvement.
  • The first half of the running year wasn’t great, as I had a really nasty virus over the Christmas holidays so had a slow return to fitness in early 2017. I had a brief return to the track in the summer before developing some plantar fasciitis. Since then, I’ve focused on building up my fitness base with tempo work and longer runs. That has seemed to work, as in fall/winter I ran my fastest 10k since 2015 and a 5-mile PR/PB!
  • In 2017 I discovered how much I love trail running/racing. Now that I have invested in trail shoes, I hope to do more trail running in 2018. I ran in Trent Park for the first time and loved it.
  • Racing (running):
  • Distance cycled: 2,760.3km = 1,715.17mi of commuting to/from work in London. About 200km/124mi more than in 2016.

Favorite books read in 2017:

  • In 2017 I read about 21 books. I didn’t love everything I read but here are some books that have stuck with me after finishing them:
  • Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard. I’ve loved Chevalier’s writing ever since reading Girl with a Pearl Earring as a teenager. Chevalier also happens to be an Oberlin graduate and I was fortunate to see her speak when I was in college. At the Edge of the Orchard is a historical novel of migration to the American West during the Gold Rush in the 1840s and ’50s. The human characters are interesting but much of the novel is actually about trees: apple orchards and then California’s redwoods and giant sequoias. It has really stuck with me and I’ve recommended it to a number of people.
    • I also read Chevalier’s newest novel, New Boy, this year. It’s a chilling retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello set on a school playground and I’d recommend it to any English teachers for their students to read alongside the original play.
  • Somehow in all my study of English literature, I had never read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. My parents recommended it to me after reading it for their book club a couple of years ago, and I was impressed with this early detective novel. It has all the good stuff – missed messages, mistaken identities, charming villains – while remaining accessible even for those who aren’t used to reading 19th-century novels.
  • I absolutely love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series (the first one is called The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) and this year I read the seventh and eighth books back to back. Every time I open a Russell-Holmes novel, it feels like coming home. Something about King’s writing style just sits well with me. The novels are at once historically dense, character-driven, and detailed but not slow-moving. My dad first got hooked on the series years ago, and I would recommend it to anyone who, to use Netflix-speak, enjoys “historical novels with a strong female lead”. There’s also plenty of mystery and detective work involved!
  • I loved Robin Hobb’s 4-book series, The Rain Wild Chronicles, recommended by a fellow choir singer. Hobb creates a fascinating and robust fantasy world – realist but with touches of the magic and mythical – and tells a good story.
  • Rachel Sieffert, A Boy in Winter. A poignant WWII novel set in a small Ukrainian town. Sad but beautifully written and worth reading for a slightly different perspective.
  • Darragh McKeon, All that is Solid Melts into Air. Wow was this good. A close family friend – my Belgian “aunt” – recommended it and I loved it. It’s set in Soviet Ukraine/Russia/Belarus in the late 1980s around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The shifting perspectives never felt jarring and it’s quite timely, despite being a historical novel. Highly recommended.
  • F and I finished reading Walter Moers’ Die 13 1/2 Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär, an epic fantasy-type novel that we took turns reading aloud. It helped my German a lot and was good fun! I also finished a book of short stories in German – Karen Köhler’s Wir Haben Raketen Geangelt – that were almost all depressing but I loved the writing style and it was accessible enough for me to understand most of what was going on.

Other highlights & achievements, in no particular order:

  • Singing Bach’s St John Passion in English with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and Bach Camerata at St John Smith’s Square in central London.
  • Visiting my close friend Hannah in Bulgaria, where she’s working as a Fulbright ETA.
  • Spending a lovely long weekend with F in Bath.
  • Family and friends descending on London for our post-wedding celebration in July. It was lovely to have a casual party in a local pub and that so many people made the effort to come from near and far.
  • Spending a week walking in the Cotswolds with F. We stayed in a little AirBnB in the village of Longborough and spent each day walking a different loop, stopping for pub lunches and enjoying our escape from big city life.
  • After three years teaching ESOL to migrant women at a charity in Tower Hamlets, I got a new job at a charity in Hackney. I’m still teaching ESOL mainly in Tower Hamlets but also learning about and sharpening my skills in project management and partnerships. It was hard to leave my old team – a close-knit group of amazing women – but it was the right move to make and I’m enjoying my new role. It’s also interesting to see how two charities in the same sector operate quite differently.

Cotswolds walking

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intention for 2018 is, as usual, to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and other things. We hope to travel a bit more this year and I’d like to build up my running mileage to 10-mile or even half marathon fitness.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2017:

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2018


Year in Review: 2014

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

I can hardly believe it’s already 2015, can you? 2014 was quite a year, I hardly know how to sum it up. For brevity’s sake, let’s go with some good ol’ bullet points.

2014 by the numbers:

  • blog posts published: 92 or so
  • books read: too many to count — some for fun and lots for my MA course
  • miles run: 549 (quite a lot less than last year, due to hip/knee issues)
  • miles cycled: 2,028.65 (mostly commuting in London, but a decent amount of road cycling in the first half of the year)
  • courses completed: 2 (1 MA in English & 1 DELTA course)
  • countries been in: England, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Germany, USA
  • weddings attended: 2

Looking back on my intentions for 2014, I more or less achieved most of them, although things like improving my German and staying in better touch with friends and family could always be worked on. My main intention for 2015 is to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and my other hobbies like cooking. That comes with some sub-intentions, like building up my running mileage and speed without getting injured.

In some blog-related reflecting, here are two listicles of my top posts — via views and via my opinion — from 2014:

The 10 most popular posts in 2014 (your favorites?):

My 10 favorite posts/moments in 2014 (in no particular order):

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2015

Recipe: Rhabarberkuchen mit Quarkcreme und Streuseln (Rhubarb Cake)

Let me just say that the Germans know how to do cake. They unapologetically make moist, delicious creations and don’t shy away from using lots of butter and sugar. Once in a while, I am totally okay with that. F had been telling me about his Rhabarbarkuchen (rhubarb cake) for ages; finally, in the height of the season a month or so ago, we bought some rhubarb, stocked up on Quark, and spent an evening making the cake.


Ohmygoodness is this a good cake (see first two sentences, above). A moist and flavorful revelation in my mouth. There’s a cake layer, a pudding-like layer (that’s the Quarkcreme part), lots of rhubarb, and a sweet-buttery-crunchy streusel topping. Just wow. This cake is totally worth the effort it takes to whip up three different layers. Be patient while it bakes and you’ll be rewarded. It’s great as an afternoon snack with coffee or tea and is also totally okay to eat for breakfast or brunch — just add a dollop of yogurt.

on goes the streusel

on goes the streusel

Rhabarberkuchen mit Quarkcreme und Streuseln (Rhubarb Cake) (adapted/translated from Chefkoch.de; makes a huge sheet cake, enough to feed a small army)


  • 1.3kg (4-6 stalks) rhubarb, cut into 2cm/1in chunks
  • Quarkcreme/Pudding layer:
    • 500g low-fat quark (try Greek yogurt if you can’t find quark in your supermarket)
    • 300g whipping cream
    • 1.5 packs vanilla instant pudding powder
    • zest of 1 lemon
    • 75g sugar (granulated or caster)
  • Streusel:
    • 125g sugar
    • 150g not-super-cold-but-firmer-than-room-temperature butter, cut into small cubes
    • 200g white flour
  • Cake layer:
    • 250g white flour
    • 2 tsp baking powder
    • 200g sugar
    • 200g butter
    • 4 eggs


  • Preheat the oven to 150C.
  • Wash and cut the rhubarb into 2cm/1in chunks. Set aside.
  • Make the Quarkcreme: Put all the necessary ingredients (see above) in a large bowl and whisk or beat with an electric mixer to combine.
  • Make the streusel: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and sugar together. Work in the butter with your hands or a pastry cutter, until everything is well-combined and only a little crumbly.
  • Make the cake batter: In a large bowl, whisk the baking powder and flour together. Add the sugar and butter and beat with an electric mixer until evenly distributed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. The batter will be thick and almost more like dough.
  • Assemble cake: Press the batter/dough into the bottom of a large sheet pan. Spread the Quarkcreme evenly on top. Distribute the rhubarb pieces evenly over the top, then sprinkle the streusel over everything.
  • Bake the cake for 45-55 minutes or until the streusel turns golden and the Quarkcreme seems set (you may have to cover it with foil partway through). Let cool for an hour or two before serving.

Guten Appetit!

Weihnachten und Silvester in Deutschland / Christmas and New Year’s in Germany

It’s always fun and interesting to experience holiday traditions in different countries/cultures. I became familiar with most of the major Ukrainian holiday celebrations during my two years there, and my family is often invited to celebrate Norwegian Christmas Eve with friends. This year I had the chance to celebrate my first Christmas and New Year’s in Germany, with F’s family and friends. Here are a short list and a few pictures of my experiences:

  • Weihnachtsmarkt in Bonn: Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, where many people go in the evenings to meet friends, drink a warm mug of Glühwein (mulled wine), and shop for handcrafts, candied almonds (Mandeln), and Lebkuchen hearts.
  • Like many other Europeans, Germans celebrate Christmas on 24 December, what we call Christmas Eve and what they call heilige Abend. Highlights of heilige Abend include:
    • Decorating the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) with lights, red and gold ornaments, and red candles (which may or may not get lit).
    • Enjoying a big supper with some kind of roast meat (F’s family makes Sauerbraten, a beef roast pickled/marinated for seven days beforehand), bread dumplings (Semmelknödel), and lots of gravy-like sauce.
    • Present-opening after dinner.
  • What we call Christmas Day is called “the first Christmas (holi)day,” and 26 December (Boxing Day in the UK) is called “the second Christmas (holi)day.” Both days are free days in Germany, when families can relax and enjoy each other. We had delicious kohlrouladen (cabbage rolls) for lunch one day. They’re not unlike Ukrainian holubtsi, but the German version is only ground meat wrapped in cabbage, rather than rice + meat that Ukrainians use. We also went to watch the Bonn professional basketball team play.

F and I celebrated New Year’s (Silvester) in Münster, where F studied and where most of his friends still live. Activities included:

  • (Another!) Christmas dinner with nine friends. Everyone contributed something, potluck-style. I made my mom’s sweet potato casserole and F made a delicious pot roast as the meal’s centerpiece.
  • One evening, we enjoyed grünkohl (kale cooked for ages with sausages and pork, a typical dish in Westphalia) at F’s friend’s parents’.
  • New Year’s Eve is traditionally celebrated with friends, like in many places all over the world. We gathered at F&M’s place for raclette and then fireworks (Feuerwerke). Interestingly, Germans are only allowed to buy fireworks for the couple of days leading up to New Year’s Eve. That means Silvester has tons of people setting off their own fireworks at midnight. We walked down to the Aasee and had a great view of ours and others’ fireworks around the lake.

How does your family celebrate Christmas and/or New Year’s?

Soccer/Football: England vs. Germany at Wembley Stadium


Just to shake things up amidst the pumpkin recipe craziness, here’s a little something different for your weekend reading:

On Tuesday evening, F and I joined C and J at the England vs. Germany International Friendly soccer (football, here/anywhere but the USA) match at Wembley Stadium. Neither F nor I follow football closely, but I always enjoy watching the EuroCup and World Cup. Plus, since Germany was playing in the match we were sold on going. Wembley is also such an iconic stadium — apparently the second biggest in Europe, holding 90,000 people (though “only” 85,000-something attended this match).

After huddling around in the brisk temperatures for a drink and some chips (fries) outside the stadium, we climbed up to Row 30 of Block 504. Despite being six rows from the top of the stadium, the view was actually really good. I had anticipated the players looking like ants, but we could see the whole field, the players, and the ball quite well. There doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in Wembley, in part because the seating is so steeply pitched that you can see over everyone in front of you.


The match itself was not thrilling, though F and I were happy Germany won, 1-0 (we had to cheer quietly, since we were sitting in the English section). Overall the play was a bit slow and Germany was definitely playing most of their second team, though their passing was still amazingly quick and accurate — one of my favorite parts of the game. One long cross by a German player landed perfectly at his teammate’s feet without the teammate having moved a step…wow. Neither team had a sense of urgency, though, maybe because it was a “friendly” and so the result didn’t really matter (except for “national pride,” as J pointed out).


The Guardian published an accurate match report that I’ll let you read for the details. It was fun to escape routine on a Tuesday night! It took us ages to get home with the other 85,000 people, but it was worth it for the adventure and the company.


Recipe: Tomato, Avocado, & Roasted Carrot Salad with Fresh Croutons

Disclaimer: This recipe was not actually made in Ukraine. It was made in Germany at my boyfriend’s WG, which has a working oven. So maybe it’s cheating a little but it was so delicious that I had to share it.

This summer salad is a combination of two smitten kitchen recipes: this one and this one. Both looked so good to my boyfriend and me that we thought about how the flavors would go together, decided they would work well, and so we combined the two recipes into one delicious dish. Despite having to roast the carrots and make the croutons, overall it is a pretty quick and hands-off recipe.

Tomato, Avocado, & Roasted Carrot Salad with Fresh Croutons


  • 1 baguette (a day or two old is okay), torn/chopped into small cubes
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb (500g) carrots, chopped into 1-inch rounds
  • 750g cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 avocado
  • Olive oil (a generous amount)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (finely grated works best)
  • Juice of 1-2 limes
  • To taste: salt, pepper, & freshly-ground cumin


  • Preheat the oven to 200C ~ 400F.
  • While the oven heats, chop the carrots and mix them with olive oil, salt, and freshly-ground cumin and pepper. Bake in the oven for 20-30′ or until the carrots are soft but not mushy.
  • Cube the baguette and put the cubes in a large bowl. Add the minced onion and garlic. Use your hands to mix in a generous amount of olive oil along with the parmesan, salt, and pepper. Spread the bread cubes on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for about 15′ or until they are golden-brown and crispy to your taste.
  • The croutons will finish baking before the carrots. When the croutons are done, take them out and turn up the oven to ~230C for an extra 10-15′ for the carrots.
  • While the croutons and carrots are baking, cut up the tomatoes and avocado and mix them with olive oil, lime juice, and some extra cumin, pepper, and salt in an large bowl. When the baked items are finished, add them to the bowl. Toss and serve warm or at room temperature.

Смачного / Guten Appetit!