Doing life right, at home and away

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Of secret missions being completed

My secret mission is complete. It has kept be so unbelievably busy, I haven’t had time for hobbies or blogging or really anything else. You can also look at some photos from my secret mission. 

Double height glass winter garden

So, more Chinese food and more local beers, in Leipzig.

This one here, is “industry beer”. I like the label with a hard-working man in his overalls, chucking one down. We were crossing Die Nonne and felt like we needed some liquid encouragement.

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loft apartments in leipzig

Of the first of many

I spent a week in Leipzig, on a secret mission.

Right now I’m a bit overwhelmed by all of it, so I’ll be just sharing too many photos, like a photo diary. I hope the pictures and impressions are worth the 1000 words they often are claimed to be. If it’s true, these pictures should be worth 74,000 words. That would be a lot of writing.

I have a funny tendency or a habit to visit places during the winter.

It means that all my travel photos are generally with grey skies and naked trees and muddy grass. People shivering with big scarves. Mushy, muddy, dark waters.

Even sunny days have this grim feel to them – with the blinding bright, almost violent sunshine, exposing every crack and trash on the streets and the tall skeletons of trees.

It lacks the softness of spring and summer – the warmth, the tenderness.

Some of the beauty of Leipzig and everything I saw probably won’t translate through the pictures, but I hope some of it will.

What an astonishing city it is.

Of techno parties and local beers

The title says it all. Some unexpected Finnish techno in Leipzig and a few new friends? Musti has a dog sitter and I’m ready to stay up past midnight.

Trying out a few local beers, too. Both recommended!

Don’t wait up!

local leipzig beers


Walking off the ferry

Of leaving the island (and crossing back to the continent)

Every adventure will eventually come to an end: from the Scotland back to Germany via Brighton and Dieppe, and whatever other places, again. Took trains, more trains and even more trains.

Went on the ferry, only got a little sea sick, traumatised the dog – the usual overland/water travel experience!

Dealing with more trains ahead, trains on trains, because we like trains so much, we got some trains in our trains.

Xhibit - yo dawg trains in trains

Feels weird going back, but it’s definitely time. I’m missing the cats like crazy.

Bills restaurant and bar in Brighton

Of short and sweet in Brighton

We only spent two days in total in Brighton but, as I had been yearning to visit the city for so long, we really tried to make the best of it in such a short time.

Shops at dusk in Brighton

Now, if you are staying in Brighton for longer, I’m sure you can explore some other locations, but for benefiting from the best in the centre, I think we did a pretty good job. I imagine the secret locations, hidden gems are a bit farther outside the centre. But on such a short notice, we had no chance to look into them. So if you’re looking to have it short and sweet in Brighton, then look no further!

We stayed at the Ibis Hotel at the train station (as they are very dog friendly!), which is right around the corner from The Lanes; a shopping, eating and drinking area well known for it’s narrow lanes and quirky offerings.

So here goes, Sara’s Top Whatever “less-than-24h-in-Brighton-or-maybe-48h-depends-on-how-you-count-it” tips to Brighton! (but actually mostly just The Lanes)

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Dieppe harbour by night

Of lovely Dieppe and hidden treasures

Dieppe, what a great little find!

We had the loveliest of accommodations: Le Grand Duquesne, a mini-hotel with only 12 cosy and adorable rooms. There is a bunch of these real big, resort-y sea side hotels on the shore, but we thought that this intimate and picturesque hotel right at the square would be more to our taste. The staff was incredibly friendly, flexible and accommodating and it was right at the heart of the town, next to the cathedral and the market place. Also, apparently their restaurant is great! We didn’t want to be those people who both stay & eat at their hotel, but quite frankly, I’m sure that would’ve been a great call. It was packed on both the nights that we stayed there.

Le Grand Duquesne in Dieppe

A harbour town for over a thousand years, regardless of its small size, Dieppe has been largely involved in European history, in both war and trade. It was also a trendy and a hip place in the 19th century as a seaside beach resort, before the “beaching industry” bloomed in the more bourgeois (and warmer) Deauville and Trouville. But what is especially appealing, is that Dieppe is a great place to eat sea food, all year round. For example, it’s the best place in France for fishing scallops!

Dieppe town centre

So sea food is Dieppe’s pride and on our way back, we ate at this spectacular yet simple restaurant La Cale, which was so good it deserved its own post. We were waivering between La Cale and a way fancier, better known and popular alternative, Comptoir à Huitres, but finally decided on the former. The sort of restaurants as Comptoir à Huitres tend to be great, but always risk the possibility of being also a little (or a lot) overrated and overpriced – even when they are really good. If me and W have a “restaurant type”, it’s the sweet spot between the high end of the low end, and the low end of the high end.

But okay, say you’re a twat who doesn’t like sea food – what does Dieppe have for you? CALVADOS, MY MAN – that’s what.

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chalkboard menu at le cale in dieppe

Of eating in La Cale

We spent some good time trying to pick a restaurant in Dieppe. There is plenty of choice and it’s a little challenging to find the optimal one. If you’re in Dieppe right now, you should also check my other tips for the town.  After careful research, we picked La Cale.

Interior of La Cale in Dieppe

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our sweet spot is at the low end of the high end and the high end of the low end.

Now, La Cale is a restaurant which celebrates seasonal, local ingredients and simplicity. That’s why the general layout of the food in the photos doesn’t look like much, but I can assure you it was absolutely fantastic – winter potatoes, sweet winter carrots and other root vegetable purees on the side. Nothing we ordered was out of season and the menu elaborated in detail most of the local suppliers and the waiters explained the rest. The food was very carefully flavoured – not over-spiced or over-garnished. Everything had this balance, bringing out the natural flavours of the ingredient in question. While I love complex and spicy foods, I appreciate this sort of approach. It’s sometimes the simplest things that work the best and I think it requires skill to recognise those situations.

Have you ever eaten in France in a good restaurant? Well, it’s often absolutely obligatory to reserve a table beforehand, if you don’t want to get hammered on apéritifs at the bar before dinner while waiting for a table. We did this faux pas : it was a Saturday and we had no reservation. We decided to go really early, right when it was opening to secure us a table.

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Of rough bus rides back to civilization

I often dream of living in a remote place. I’m sure I romanticise it quite a bit, especially given since I grew up in the city.

Today was a steady reminder of the bitchings and challenges of “living behind the God’s back”, as we say in Finland. This is the story of how we traveled South again with W & Musti.

We were supposed to head back to Inverness and South with the last train of the day at 15h (there are usually three trains in a day).  Unfortunately, the trains were cancelled between Thurso and Inverness because ScotRail didn’t have a driver for their train. Indeed, this particular line apparently has literally two drivers. If one of them is sick and the other one drunk, there is no-one to take you South.

When we arrived at the station, a small mini bus was waiting for us to hop on. Have you ever driven a vehicle in Caithness? In many places, the road infrastructure isn’t really made for efficient travel. Caithness has quite a minimalist approach to building roads – they build the least they can get away with (straight quote from W, btw). “Ok”, we thought with W after the initial exasperation had calmed down, “this probably won’t be so bad. We have loads of time – if we drive straight to Inverness we’ll get there with plenty of time to shop and spend a lovely evening”. Little did we know, there was just absolutely no chance of this happening.

Into the Caithness void

Into the Caithnesian void

The minibus driver sent to drive around fucking Caithness countryside in complete wilderness, was not just English – but also visiting Caithness and Thurso area for the first time. We didn’t really find out how he had gotten there in the first place.

So, once we got to the road, the driver spent a good amount of time calling both his minibus company and ScotRail about driving straight to Inverness. Turns out, they expected him to drive by every train station on the line to check if there are passengers.  Now, the people who decide on crap like this, are not Caithnesians – the ScotRail management he spoke to are probably based in Edinburgh. The whole bus full of Scots were enraged and one passenger at a time went to the front to tell him what a ludicrous plan it was. I actually felt quite bad for him, he obviously had agreed to do a job that he had no idea what it was going to entail and it was obviously a shit deal for him. Poor English dude with a bus full of angry Scots and one Finn. He said he’d have to follow the orders or he’d get into trouble. Oh well…

Our bus driver getting lost

Trying to navigate with a GPS in Nothingness

This idea of following the train track by car is so laughable it’s unbelievable, as the problem with this scenario is many fold:

  1. It takes twice??? as long to reach a train station by car – and that is if you know where you are going. We spent one hour going back and forth on this forgotten dirt road in the middle of a  field trying to find the right way to the station, asking for directions from random farmers who happened to be on a walk with their dog.
  2. There is no way to communicate to potential passengers on the stations that a minibus is coming to pick them up instead.
  3. If you’re waiting for the last train of the day and it doesn’t come and you don’t know a minibus is “on it’s way” you probably won’t stick around for an extra hour just for fun?
  4. There probably wouldn’t even be space for them as the minibus was already quite full when we left.
  5. At one point, it also started to chuck down rain and you could hardly see the road. So driving takes even longer. Also, not a likely weather for people to travel and definitely not likely for them to wait around for nothing.

Driving the wrong way through Caithness and Sutherland

Since it was a minibus and not a real bus, there was no bathroom. We had one bathroom break –  which was literally on a muddy road, next to a field and some farmhouse. Everyone had to crouch behind a bush or in a ditch and do their business in cold, wind and rain. The heater in the bus was broken somehow as the whole bus was freezing cold. The curly and bumpy roads were a bit much for us, but they were exceptionally much for Musti – he vomited in the bus, twice. It’s also worth noting that the Caithness countryside doesn’t boast very good mobile connections, if any. Most of the time we had absolutely no network to: call ScotRail again, load up Google maps, call a local, or even let our friend down in Inverness know we were going to be late.

Unhappy dog on a bus

Musti not being very happy about our arrangement

After the night fell and the heavy rainfall showed no signs of stopping, when we were already two hours late from the schedule and far away from even being half way to Inverness, in the pitch black Scottish January night, we happened to run into another minibus on one of the train stations. Luckily for us, this guy was local and told our driver that the instructions he had gotten were completely insane and made absolutely no sense. We wouldn’t be in Inverness before midnight, if even then, as the weather was so unpredictable.

We actually didn’t find out why this other minibus was just hanging out at this random station two hours after the official train time – I guess he was also a bit lost. His bus only had a couple of passengers and he said he had been instructed to drive straight to Inverness.

Going up a mountain in a minibus

The drivers negotiated so that all of our bus transferred into his and we were finally actually on our way to Inverness (instead of eternal perdition) and eventually we did arrive, though three hours later than was at any point necessary.

The fate of our English driver remains a mystery.

Of aching jaws and nuclear power

Man, I’ve seen some windy weather in my life. I have.

Me and Musti on a windy hillside

Me and Musti almost blowing away

Never have I seen windy weather like yesterday.

We had been putting off going on a hike for the last couple of days as the weather was so wild and unpredictable. The rain and the hailstone showers had stopped for the moment so we called up a friend of ours, Kenny – a local hike connoisseur, who’s always up for a good stroll.

Musti and Kenny at Sandside Harbour

Musti and Kenny at the harbour

We decided to go somewhere relatively close and easy access, so we headed towards Sandside – a small beach in the village of Reay, just across from the mainly decommissioned Dounreay nuclear site.

While the weather had calmed regarding hailstones, the wind had gotten worse. I’m not sure I can even explain it better than saying that “it was just really, really windy”. The sea was throwing itself in raging, periodic attacks on the cliffs and the slippery black shale rocks, almost as if trying to escape its own temper.

Half of the photos are so shaken up I can’t really use them!

A rather interesting curiosity is, that the rather lovely Sandside beach is in fact a radioactive beach. We have a friend who’s involved in the off-site radioactivity measurements though and she said that so far it’s all gravy.

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Some british cheddar

Of British food and unfortunate history

I actually don’t really understand why Britain has a reputation for not having good food. Traditional British food is wonderful!

I’m probably a bit biased, having a Scot as my lover, but I genuinely think that the “bad British food” rap is quite unfair and not even true. (I don’t mean to diss, but come on – Germany & the many variations of the dreadful Wurstsalat, the Swiss who mainly just melt cheese and the Dutch with – I don’t even know what any of that is)

In my opinion, if compared to France, nobody comes off too good in Central/Northern Europe. That is regarding contemporary cuisine – during Edwardian era Britain, gastronomy and the culinary arts, particularly amongst the upper class, were at an all time high. You might be familiar with this, if you’ve watched these guys eat & dine & drama all the livelong day:

The cast of Downton Abbey

What changed the course of British gastronomy were the World Wars. Accoring to Ivan Day, a British food historian who runs historic cooking classes (!!!), the cook books of the Edwardian era are high quality with stunning and complex recipes – for the middle- and upper-classes, of course.

My personal favourite being these “fancy ices” – as in ice cream cakes (???) in ludicrous forms, made with copper and pewter moulds, without any electric refrigeration.

Edwardian fancy ices

Ta-daa! I want the pineapple for my birthday. Picture courtesy of

Due to the strict British class society, much of the culinary mastery and special skills vanished already through the casualties of WWI. With lack of skill and shortages in imports and thus supplies (Britain is an island, after all), many of the lavish foods prepared just a couple of decades earlier throughout the country, disappeared completely from the tables of the British upper-class. And of course, rationing both during the war as well as during the aftermath for the whole of Europe and the US, shrunk the post-war menus even further. (buh-bye, sugar and cream!)

And although Britain was not the only country rationing during the wars, after the Second World War they kept rationing longer than most of continental Europe: the scheme was lifted slowly and gradually after the wars, finally ending entirely in 1954. (In France it ended a couple of years earlier and in Germany in year 1950 – naturally excluding the DDR, they kept on trucking with their rationing cards until 1958) 

Somehow, through earlier implications from the industrialisation, the wars and undoubtedly some series of unfortunate events, Britain did not really recover and regain the skill, flavour and complexity it had before – and the reputation of bad British food is actually a remnant of the bland and poor, austerity ridden post-WW era. If you want to read more about this, NPR interviewed Mr. Day in 2012 about this topic.

Beyond the aristocratic food bacchanals, a heart breaking example of the impact of the Wars in British food culture is the case of the British cheddar and artisanal cheese. The whole artisanal cheese scene was completely wiped out due to rationing: most of the milk produced was directed to making “Government Cheddar” (as ALL other cheese was banned between 1940-1954!!!), leaving Britain stranded in the 70s with only 33 farms making quality cheddar, down from a whopping 514 farms before the war. 

Anyway, today in Kirkwall, we ordered meals which incorporated two of the possibly most misunderstood staples of British cuisine: fish & chips and haggis (served as part of a chicken supreme, though). The actual haggis is even better, or deep fried as a drunken snack from a Glaswegian hole-in-the-wall and surprising as it may be, even the canned haggis we have back in Karlsruhe, isn’t half bad!

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beautiful colourful heather

Of Sunday hikes and sunsets

Caithness is breathtaking.

Sunset in Caithness

We were laughing yesterday that the Scotland map W has imprinted in my head is quite different from the map people generally have. Scotland is often reduced to the biggest, Southern cities: Glasgow and Edinburgh. Or even cities in general. However, I dare to say the best of Scotland is out in its nature and wilderness. I know this can be said about practically any place, but there is so much more to see and experience than the cities: the mountains, the fields, the hills of heather and ferns. The farm houses in the distance and fluffy sheep. The majestic cliffs, raging waves, silly little puffins. Fishing boats. Over 180° horizons. Windy, secluded towns, made of flagstone. Standing stones, cairns – almost mystical, inexplicable history. Castles, too. And VIKINGS.

The second time I was travelling to Scotland, almost four years ago in April, I took the Caledonian sleeper from London, and I was woken up by the sunrise peeking through the train curtains. The first sight of Scotland I had saw a bright purple, never-ending fields of wild heather, as far as I could see, on both sides of the train. I fell asleep again before the heather fields reached their end. So, let’s have a little reminder of Scottish geography:

map of scotland

There’s plenty North of Glasgow and Edinburgh. I also love Scotland in the winter. Generally not showcased as the best season to visit, I think it has a very particular feel to it during the winter. It emphasises the forces of nature, the wild weather and the wilderness. There’s the foggy darkness in the evening. There are no tourists, no attractions and many areas are just shut down and deserted. It’s windy and quiet. Near the sea, you only hear the sea and maybe the seagulls.

We went on a Sunday afternoon hike to Dorrery (according to Wikipedia, it’s a “small hamlet”) and Ben Dorrery hill.

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Dry stone wall in Thurso

Of Thurso: sea-sides and small-town boys

Thurso is a fascinating little town.

W is from Thurso – the Northernmost town of mainland Scotland. I actually challenge you to check on Google Maps where it is. Nah, nevermind, I’ll just add a link here.

Caithness coastline

I cannot get enough of these views, their majestic rawness, their almost inexplicable beauty. Brace yourselves – there will be plenty of adjectives in this post. There is something to the smell of the sea in the air, the distant yet distinguishable Orkney silhouette in the horizon, the wild grey sea and the overarching grey sky.

Drystone wall with lichens

Every time I walk out to the street from our friend’s place and get a view to the sea, I feel a sense of relief. I could live for these landscapes – maybe that’s why people stay here, or come back. Quite a few of W’s friends who left to big cities for university, eventually came back. Quite genuinely – I can understand why. How do you get used to not seeing this every day? Do you not feel completely suffocated in a land lock city?

Thurso beach

When we go for a walk closer to the shore, where the river meets the sea, it’s hard to tell exactly where the sky begins and the water ends.

I’m not gonna lie to you, there isn’t much to do or see in the traditional sense of touristic activities. But that’s sort of the beauty of it: you walk at the beach, you stare in the distance and breathe in the salty air, you have a pint or ten in the pub. You go home. Rinse and repeat. You can go to the movies though. And to the only night club in town. (they’ve got a wikkid  website, too) There are also quite a few standing stones you can visit.

I have a sense for rugged aesthetics. I choose a winter holiday in northern Scotland over a beach holiday in Southeast-Asia any day. At face value, Thurso is this grey, grim looking windy town made of  sandstone. But somehow, there is just so much more to it. Probably the best people I know come from Thurso. I often wonder, if the nature and our surroundings shape our characters.

So what should you do once in Thurso?

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Inverness near the castle

Of taking trains north (to Inverness)

We left Portsmouth with a Southwest train heading to London King’s Cross, with Inverness as our final destination.

We had gotten a fabulous deal with an early booking and travelled first class from London to Inverness. Though it’s perfectly okay travel in the standard class with a dog, we thought that investing in both our and other passenger’s comfort was well worth the extra 20 quid and it turned out to be an excellent decision when travelling with a woofer.

It also turned out to be generally the best and the smartest thing ever, as Network Rail had been working on the tracks over Christmas (when the railway is closed) but had not gotten it done on time. All trains from London to Scotland were cancelled on the 27th, meaning that nobody who had to go north that day was able to go north that day.

These rail work delays were actually anticipated beforehand, so for two days we stalked some wonderfully, painstakingly detailed train discussion forums to get some insight on whether we should even bother going to London. I mean, if there was a chance that our reservation wouldn’t be valid due to the cancellation.

seat reservation ticket

Well, everything turned out just fine, reservations were valid and all – though even first class was fully booked. I don’t want to know how it would have been in the standard class with a dog. Someone probably would’ve punched us in the face.

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truffle shavings

Of cooking with a truffle

As you might remember, I have transported a jar of rice (with a truffle in it) from Strasbourg to Karlsruhe to Portsmouth with me. W’s dad is so into cooking it has actually been a little hard to push for a meal WE can cook!

fresh truffle shavings

Today though, we managed to negotiate for a lunch spot, so it was obvious that we were going to finally use the truffle. I had spent a good deal of time figuring out what would be the best way to use it. I wanted something easy and simple, yet hearty as it was to feed five people. I also wanted it to be sort-of foolproof, without too many bells or whistles – as truffle on its own is already rather exotic – ideally something that doesn’t require acquired tastebuds. Compared to other truffle types, such as Black truffles (French Périgord) and White truffles (Italian Piémontese), which practically need to be consumed raw, Meuse truffle puts up well with heat and cooking. However, I wanted to rather enjoy the raw taste of the product.

I decided to go with a truffle risotto – by just topping the delicious risotto with thin shavings of raw truffle. Risotto is such a basic, beautiful thing, filling and hearty, yet serves as base for a variety of other complex flavours.

I was still a little worried about having stored the truffle in rice, but upon taking it out from the rice jar, the truffle seemed to be in perfect condition and was still strongly scented and very aromatic when I shaved off a sliver to taste it.

A simpler than simple risotto for showcasing the flavour/aroma of a Meuse truffle:

You need:

  • Risotto rice
  • Olive oil
  • Salty butter (50-70g)
  • Vermouth (preferably) or white wine
  • Finely diced onion (shallots or normal ones, 2-3 according to taste)
  • Finely chopped garlic (to taste)
  • Finely chopped celery (which we didn’t have as we forgot to buy some – but it belongs to the perfect basic risotto recipe)
  • Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 liter stock, approximately (chicken or vegetable, for example – though I would definitely recommend home made stock but sometimes you have to rely on stock cubes – like we did here)
  • Parmesan or other flavoursome hard cheese, plenty of it
  • Truffle (obviously)
  • Parsley to garnish

1. Heat the stock in a pot. In another pan, heat the olive oil and butter, add the onions, garlic and celery, and stir them until soft, careful to not let them brown or burn. Turn up the heat and add the rice.

2. This is when you can’t leave the stove for even a few seconds. Keep stirring the rice, so it doesn’t get any colour on it. Pretty soon the rice will start to look slightly translucent. This is your cue to throw in the vermouth or the white wine – all the while keeping the rice moving at all times. The rice will suck up the wine quite quickly – keep the rice moving and breathe in the wonderful aromas.

3. Once the rice has sucked up the liquid, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. The secret of good risotto is to keep it slowly simmering, so the rice cooks evenly throughout. If kept boiling on too much heat, the risotto will cook way too much from the outside, but the grains will have a hard core. So: turn down the heat to a simmer and keep slowly adding ladlefuls of stock. Stir and turn thoroughly, and allow all the liquid to be absorbed in the rice body before the next. After 15-20 minutes, check if the rice is cooked and if the seasoning is balanced. If not, keep adding the stock in the similar manner. When ready, the rice should be soft and lovely, but with a bite – we’re not trying to make porridge! Taste the rice — is it cooked? Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water.

4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and parmesan (or equivalent). Allow the risotto to sit under a lid for a couple of minutes. This will let all the liquid and flavours to really set and results in a wonderfully creamy, perfect risotto.

5. Eat.

For this truffle risotto and serving – we just shaved some thin truffle slices, chopped parsley and a pinch of black pepper on top of the risotto. Ta-daa!

It was delicious.

I also generally try to be economic in my cooking: as little leftovers as possible and maximise repurposing – be it boiling bones and vegetable cut offs for stocks, or making truffle oil with the leftover truffle! We chopped – extremely finely – the end of the truffle we could no longer use for the risotto and put it in a jar with extra virgin olive oil. It needs from a few days to a week to properly infuse it.  Works great with pasta and salads. Another possibility is making truffle salt: also chopping it fine and mixing it with rough sea salt, himalayan salt, etc. Seal it in a jar for some days so the truffle bits emit their remaining aromas in the salt. Enjoy with everything.

(A tip from a friend: for super fancy margaritas, use truffle salt to salt the rim of your margarita glass. I hear it’s insanely good.)

Of gingerbread, gingerbread

In Finland, it’s quite common to make your own gingerbread every Christmas, young and old alike. Somehow I’ve gotten the impression it’s not such a popular tradition elsewhere. That does not mean that it should not be endorsed, however.

gingerbread ingredients

I don’t like the readymade gingerbread cookies sold in shops. They are almost always sickly sweet and hardly taste of anything else than sugar. So, if you are like me but don’t know how to go about making your own gingerbread cookies, I can assure you my recipe is great, tried and tested!

I would point out that this recipe requires some knowledge of spices – the ingredient spreads are indicative. Apart from citrus zest and cinnamon and maybe black pepper, I think the spices should be of equal amounts so they don’t overpower each other. I would also be quite careful with the black pepper – while some like spicier cookies, the pepper should complement the treacle and the sweetness, not taste strong and hot. If you are unfamiliar with mixing the spices in question, I would recommend sticking to smaller amounts. If ,however, you are into some spicier gingerbread, they can quite well be adjusted to taste.


It’s not the world’s simplest recipe, but every step is very straightforward. The dough is mixed from four parts which are first assembled separately: the butter-sugar mix, the treacle-spices mix, the sour cream-bicarbonate mix and the egg-sugar mix.

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pickled herring from above

Of pickled herring

It had never occurred to me that pickled herring was somewhat of a thing of “an acquired taste” – until I well, met other people for the first time.

My family is very, very fond of pickled herring and I love them more than it is sane. It’s something about all the tastes meeting the right way: it’s always wonderfully salty but also sweet, it’s vinegary and tangy but smooth.

So anyway, pickled herring is also a Finnish Christmas classic. Some of my friends have eaten my herrings before and I know that at least a couple have grown equally fond of them. Without further ado, may I present: glassblower Tefke’s herring  – for my foreign friends!

Glassblower Tefke’s pickled herring

May I start by saying that when it comes to pickled herring – anticipation is a virtue. Gold. I almost never remember/bother to make the herrings properly in time. They are always all good and swell and tasty, but the leftovers eaten a couple of weeks after Christmas, are always the real-er deal, the way the herring is really, truly supposed to taste. So consider entertaining the idea of anticipation. Maybe YOU have got what it takes to make the herrings early enough? Maybe YOU won’t find excuses and procrastinate when it comes to pickling your herring? When the push comes to shove, can YOU grab the bull by its horns, and pickle your herring early?

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A view back to Brighton from the beach

Of ferry travel and Brighton beach

I’ve always wanted to visit Brighton – ever since I was 12 and laid my eyes on the glossy EF language course brochures for the first time, longingly flipping through the pages of smiling, laughing intercultural teenagers having the time of their lives in Great Britain. (My mother never let me go.) 

Your Practicalities author on Brighton beach

Through some series of unfortunate events – which now seem rather fortunate, I inadvertently got a chance to finally visit some Brighton. I did some research on the city quickly at the hotel: apparently some say Brighton is “a London suburb”, but others say it’s just really gay. Because there is a significantly present and visible gay culture and community and it’s Britain’s LGBT capital. Which sounds great.

So, it started as we took the infamous ferry to Newhaven from Dieppe: boy what a mess it was! This is kind of the first recollection of the many, many troubles we had when traveling.

While we’re very appreciative that DSDF carries pets over the canal, we got such uncoordinated customer service – even more so when coming back. Both DSDF website and customer service person over the phone told us to bring our own crate, which we did.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to travel with a crate for medium size dog? Albeit foldable, I can assure you it is big, bulky, rather heavy and overall annoying. But you know, you do what you gotta do.

We were told we need to be there strictly two hours beforehand and everything seemed somehow extremely complicated, like we would be denied boarding for the smallest of petty reasons.

We got to the port 1,5h beforehand – and I was stressing out that we were so late! – and turned out that we were there way, way too early. There was hardly even any staff to talk to, so we just put Musti in the crate, expecting for someone to arrive shortly and take the dog away to be loaded on board. When somebody finally came, we were told that the dog is actually loaded on board exactly the same time as we, people passengers, are. Oh and by the way, you needn’t bring your own crate, either! There’s a big one for doggies right here!

Internet said that there is wifi on board – which there of course wasn’t. Otherwise, I was quite impressed by the ferry itself, very big and fancy. The weather and the sea however, was outrageous – the trip took way longer than it was supposed to. I got very sea sick and threw up twice and it was horrible.

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Waking up in a hotel room

Of waking up in hotels

a tanka poem;

this morning, perfect

fresh sheets, entertaining feed

food network, great coffee

chinese leftover breakfast

the highlife, sweet sweet highlife, yes


Waking up in Brighton Ibis hotel

P.S. There’s a guide to Brighton beyond our hotel room too!

Cute old houses in France

Of Karlsruhe-Paris-Rouen-Dieppe

As you might know, I do not enjoy air travel. Never mind the environmental things, the actual process of flying is just utterly terrible!

So whenever I have the chance to take trains I jump at the opportunity. Luckily as new dog owners, the dog offers the perfect chaperone/security blanket/something so people don’t think we are completely insane.

While I could never call myself a “train enthusiast”, I do enjoy trains as machines, the whole history of the transport, their particular qualities.

We are spending Christmas in the UK with W’s family and decided also to go to Scotland to his hometown for the Hogamanay (that’s Gaelic for NYE). We decided to go by train. Soon emerged that also ferry is obligatory, as EuroStar doesn’t take pets.

Neither does almost anyone else and boy did we have trouble finding out who will. Our whole lofty plan almost got cancelled because it’s so damn hard to cross that petty little canal with a pet.

The train from Karlsruhe to Paris was simple as always: comfortable, quick and hassle-free. Amazingly enough, when crossing the border over to France, you do not need a dog ticket (???).

We arrived in Paris perfectly for breakfast time, and though there had been some showers earlier in the morning, the sun was shining like a bright, blinding spotlight. We walked all the way from Gare de l’Est to Gare d’Austerlitz and stopped in the middle for a sweet, French breakfast. While I do not miss Paris that much as a city – it has good sides and too many bad sides – visiting briefly and seeing some aspects of the culture that I miss so much in Germany (and actually, in most places), it made my heart ache a little.

From Paris we got on another train, with a stop-over in Rouen. Rouen was a picturesque, small northern town with a fantastic christmas market!

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Of storing truffles

I bought a Meuse truffle (also called Lorraine truffle, Mésentérique Truffle, or Bagnoli Truffle) from Strasbourg Christmas market. The Christmas market is so big, it has been spread across the city and the one in Place des meuniers is built around local products and delicacies. Oui.

So, I’m generally not the one to buy expensive or extravagant food items but when visiting a truffle region, it’s easy access and still (relatively, sort of) affordable. Also, even small amounts of truffle go a long way, so you don’t need to bust your budget to try it out.

I have only really eaten truffle once before and it was years ago. I think it was a Périgord style black truffle. I recall it being very tasty. So, I was quite intrigued by this Meuse truffle.

It has wonderfully strong though quite bizarre and peculiar smell: it’s intriguing and intoxicating, the kind you want to keep sniffing to figure it out and still can’t pinpoint exactly what it smells like. (I googled it though and it’s supposed to smell like “bitter almonds or apricot kernels”.)

A fresh, black truffle

Fresh truffles store for approximately one month if properly conserved in a cool environment. There are other ways to conserve them for longer, but they are the kind of special sorcery not featured here. However, storing truffles is a wonderful process to follow through in itself: the eggs, rice or salt used for conserving are flavoured by the truffle during the process and carry the rich aroma with them.

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