Sunday, November 29, 2015

Decking the Halls this December!!

Hi Everyone,

Happy Holiday Season!!!

I don't know about all of you (I know this tends to be a love it or hate it topic) but I LOVE Christmas.  I love snow, blanketing the trees, turning them into lace a glittery white.  I love twinkling lights, roaring fires and glowing Christmas trees.  All the additionally special sweet things to eat around this time of year (though, I always adore sweet treats), mmmmmmm, the best.  I love searching for personal gifts to give to those I love, which will make them feel treasured.  I love sitting down and hand writing each Christmas card, spilling sentiments I might otherwise not but because I am infused with the holiday spirit, I find myself expressing.

This month, LOTS of fun activities are on the on the bill.  Holiday excitement and entertainment is filling my schedule!!!  LOVING this.

Heidelberg Christmas Market (spending all of  Saturday the 19th into Sunday the 20th here with a great friend!!!)

Freiberg Christmas market with another wonderful friend, a newbie in terms of Christmas markets for me.  I am super excited for this.  Freiberg is supposed to be gorgeous.

On the evening of December 4, I am nearly quivering with excitement thinking about the boys choir whom I will watch sing carols in the Dom Romer cathedral (with another stellar friend).  I have no doubt this will be celestial and utterly magical.
For a taste of what this will sound like, look no further (click here for celestial voices).  
That clip is one of my favorite boys choirs singing my absolute most loved carol ever.  Oh my gosh, it gives me chills every time I hear it.

The Frankfurt Christmas market, of course.  In fact, I can stroll through this market every evening, if my heart so desired.  I just love the atmosphere this creates.  The air smells of spiced wine...sweet dough...cinnamon...and snow.  The lights giving the stalls an inviting and cozy glow.  Cheerful chatter heard all around and loads of people just meandering, eating, drinking and exploring.

I will spend a number of evenings baking delicious sweets for my local loved ones, as well as afternoons cuddled inside cafes penning Christmas cards to all of my loved ones (both near and far).  Always love doing both of these activities.

An evening out for drinks with friends (Christmas Cocktails ;-)) is definitely on the plan.

And then the rest of my schedule is just packed tight with seeing my friends nearly every after work, hitting the gym, reading, writing and preparing for....drumroll if you please...

My trip home to the USA!!!!!!!!!!!  For the first time in TWO years!!!!!!  I am literally just brimming with thrill and anticipation over this.  I am counting down every single day in wait for the evening that I will be in that plane and taking off!!  December 23 through January 2.  Just 3.5 weeks away!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The hosting of my FIRST dinner party, totally solo!!!

Hi All,

I had a pretty wonderful experience this past weekend.  Happy Thanksgiving (to all my American loved ones especially :-)) this week, by the way.

Throughout my life up until this point, whenever I have thrown or hosted a party, I have always had a co-host (usually whomever I have been in a relationship with at that time).  I have never hosted a party by myself before.  Therefore, despite the longings I was feeling to host a Thanksgiving dinner party sometime in the next couple of weeks, I found myself hesitating nervously.  Host it alone???  So much pressure!!!  I would feel worried about everyone enjoying themselves and clicking well, I would worry about all the food I make coming out well, that everyone feels comfortable and about being a good host!  I would worry that everything turns out alright and that the party is a success in general.  If it wasn't up to par, people likely wouldn't want to come to future parties I might throw!!!  Each time I considered the idea, my stomach fluttered with nerves.

However, ultimately I decided, pffffft, screw that, of course I am going to host a dinner party solo.  Why on earth do I need someone by my side in order to host a party!?  No way.  I can absolutely handle this myself.  Even if the idea cares the crap out of me.  All the more reason to do so and challenge myself.  So, the invitations went out.

I went a step further and was even slightly more daring.  Instead of inviting my usual crowd of friends, I invited a totally new mixture of people.  Some new friends along with some longtime ones.

And finally, at the last minute, one of the new friends I had invited told me that her sister had booked a flight from London to Frankfurt to visit her that very weekend, and might I mind if her sister joined?  ALONG with a friend whom her sister would also have in tow?

Coupled with my ultra tiny kitchen (literally, nine people was going to be a massive squeeze. I had originally capped my invitation list at just 7 friends, making it very difficult to pick and choose), along with the fact that I didn't know these two people, this added yet another wild card to the upcoming dinner.  What if these two women were totally weird?  Or awkward and antisocial?  Who knew what could transpire.

However, I decided it was going to be an awesome night and pushed my worries aside, instead allowing myself to feel excited anticipation and joy (yes, still coupled with my fluttering nerves).

On the invitation, I made the dinner a Thanksgiving Potluck, inviting everyone to bring the dish of their choice (whether it be drinks, a side dish, dessert, etc).  An unfortunate development occurred the week before my dinner which involved my discovery of having to work THE day of my dinner party.  My school was having what is called an "open day", during which people can pop in to take a look inside the school, anyone from the community, just to check it out.  This would take place from 11am-2:30pm.  Therefore, I informed my guests that my previous plan of making a turkey sadly wouldn't be realized, as I now wouldn't have the time.  But reassured them that I would still make something delicious.

That was when Judith, one of my closest friends here in Frankfurt, stepped up to the plate and offered casually "I will make the turkey."  Whaaaaaaaaat???  Not only was she offering to put in the hours required to make a turkey (her FIRST time ever), but she was also somehow going to transport this to my apartment!!!  Literally across the city.  I was shell shocked.  How incredibly awesome of her.  I assured Judith excitedly that she would have an honorary seat at the Thanksgiving table, no doubt.  And that she was absolutely marvelous for even attempting this, regardless of the result.  What a way cool woman.

Judith, and her method of transportation for the turkey.  Creative ;-) I like it.

The evening before the party, I baked from 8pm until 11pm.  A homemade-totally-from-scratch pumpkin pie with a shortbread crust, and brownies swirled with pumpkin cream cheese as well as Oreos.

The next day, I put my time in at work, counting the minutes until I could leave so as to finish my party preparations.  Upon the clock striking 2:30pm, I raced into the city, picking up a few last minute items I needed.  Upon arriving home, I sat on my bed stuffing the little gift bags I had purchased and wanted to put together for each guest.  Inside each bag were Christmas tree shaped marshmallows, chocolate truffles, marzipan balls, a cookie cutter and a delicious Swiss cookie with chocolate on top-yum.  I wrote out a little card to each person, listing the things about them personally that I was thankful for,

I decorated the table and baked my Moms recipe for homemade macaroni and cheese, a dish that has always been an all time favorite of mine since I was a child.

And then I awaited my guests.

Judith and Bhakti arrived closely together, Judith with the turkey in tow!!!  She carried it in a large copper pot!!!  Hahaha, hilarious, loved this.  We reheated it in the oven, and it came out delicious!!!  Moist and yummy.  Everyone was commenting on it.  Bhakti supplied our dinner with lots of accompanying garlic bread.

Bhakti and me.

Harry and Lucy, along with her sister, Laura and Laura's friend, Hannah showed up with an ultra cheesy cauliflower dish as well as a delicious sweet potato, spinach and cheese dish in tow.  Travis came loaded with drinks, numerous varieties of wine as well as some juices and sodas filling his arms.  Somayeh came armed with a fresh and tasty salad.  I laid out chips and salsa, along with my pumpkin pie, brownies and homemade macaroni and cheese.

Upon everyone's arrival, the kitchen grew bustling, lively, cozy and loud right away.  People were chatting warmly and getting to know one another.  I bumped into a cabinet sending two bowls full of my flatmates breakfast for the next morning (a mixture of seeds and the like) crashing to the floor.  This started the party off with a bang, that's for sure!!!  Travis and Judith rushed to help me clean it up, all of us laughing about it.

Before we sat down to the meal, someone made the comment "Oh man, nine names to remember, that's a lot!!"  I laughed out loud and responded, "well actually, it isn't just nine.  Everyone will have two names tonight...via a game we will be playing" as I chuckled sneakily and smiled at everyone.  I took out the name tags I had prepared prior with a smattering of names listing famous people, characters, etc.  One name was written on each name tag.  The list included: Albert Einstein, Johnny Depp, Santa Claus, Darth Vader, Michael Jackson, The Joker, Abraham Lincoln, etc.  I placed a name-tag at random on each persons upper shoulder so that they couldn't see it, yet the rest of us all could.

I explained to everyone "so, as we go about our normal, getting to know one another, talking about whatever, dinner conversation...if the opportunity presents itself for you to make a fitting comment in relation to the name-tag that person is wearing, please, do so.  This will create a sort of fun, witty, silly conversation and banter thrown into our already normal chatter.  And whomever guesses their character or person first is basically just awesome."  Everyone buzzed with excitement and energy over this as the conversation began.

This game resulted in SO MUCH laughter!!!  We did go about the normal chatting of getting to know one another, but when moments presented themselves, we threw in sly comments alluding to whatever each persons "alter ego" was, listed on their name tag.  For example, when my friend Somayeh said something polite and warm to another party goer, I looked at her pointedly and commented, "Isn't that a little polite and kind for you?  I am pretty sure you would just kill them straight off instead," looking pointedly at her "Darth Vader" name tag and smiling mischievously.

When Lucy made a comment about something related to children or alluding to a younger spirit, one of us piped up "ahhh yes, you would say that, wouldn't you?" chuckling as we all glanced at her name-tag listing the name "Michael Jackson."  So, this game was just a blast, resulting in lots of laughter and fun.

In fact, people liked it so much that once we finished, they chorused in unison "lets play it again!!!"  Everyone ripped off their name tags, scribbling a new name of their choice onto the tag and then sticking it on the person sitting across from them (without that person having seen it).  This resulted in another lively, entertaining round full of howling laughter.

Our two guests whom I had never met before, Laura and Hannah, were fantastic.  Laura was so incredibly animated, witty, silly and did some of the best character impersonations and voices I have ever seen in my life in a person!!!  She was such fun, warm, talkative, really engaging and just really a blast to have at the table.  Hannah was slightly more subdued but was equally lovely and a welcome addition to the party.  She too was warm, talkative, engaging, friendly and funny.  I am so glad I was able to meet both of them and that they could join us.  They were wonderful additions to the party.

At the end of the dinner (as we came to about the four hour mark :-D), someone came up with the idea that we each go around the table and mention something we are thankful for.  I was touched and impressed when Hannah mentioned "I am thankful because I grew up with a mother who had zero body image issues, so I have no concern for slightly wobbly bits or trying to look perfect."  Wow, how awesome.  We need more women like this around us as role models.

Other people mentioned being thankful for their parents, their friends, cheese, books, coffee and their health.

Everyone departed around 11pm with smiles, thank yous and hugs.

I am SO glad I could conjure up the guts to throw this party.  It was such an outstanding evening, just great fun.  I will absolutely do something like it again, no question.  The only way it could have been more perfect would have been if my best friends from the US could have been there too.

This was another important learning moment for me, as well as a confidence building moment and just a joyful experience in general.  I was able to push myself to do this on my own, and it turned out wonderfully.  Though of course, this wouldn't have been so without ALL of the stellar people I invited.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Wintery Reads to Curl Up With...

Hi All!!

I don't know about you guys, but for me late fall into early winter conjures up images of curling up alongside a roaring fire with a great book.  Quintessential winter activity.  Or of hunkering down in a cozy cafe with a gripping read.  Really, any time, day or year to me is "the time" to read great books.  But something about this time of year, the dip in temperature outside, the barren, spindly trees, the biting winds and the increasingly ever-so-enticing indoors beckons, along with a great book.

Therefore, I've come up with a list of those which I would label as especially fitting wintry reads:

Empire Falls:  The perfect small town story.  Not only is this story gripping and entails a slight bit of mystery and suspense, but the small town feel of the book is incredibly cozy.

The Big Stone Gap:  Another great small town tale, super charming, lovely, relatable and inviting to curl up under a cozy blanket with.  And when you get hooked, don't despair.  Its a series!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:  A classic, lyrically written, charming coming of age story about the Nolan family growing up entrenched in poverty and thrown amidst numerous life obstacles, narrated by the wise, romantic, wise-beyond-her-years, poetic Francie Nolan.  I cannot recommend this book enough.  Its incredibly written and a wonderful read.

M Train.  Fans, get excited.  This is Patti's follow up to Just Kids (her phenomenal winner of the national book award first memoir and hands down, one of the best books I have ever read in my life).  Crack open this encore to her first for more of Patti's philosophical, poetic musings. 

The Harry Potter series.  Is there ever a bad time to read this series???  I will answer this one for you.  No :-)

Where She Went (Sequel to If I Stay).  Yes, its a "young adult" story, but the plot-line is unique and captivating.  The first one is about Mia who, thrust into a coma after a devastating car crash with her family, is able to hear those around her while immersed in her comatose state.  She must decided after having lost her entire family in the crash whether to "go" or whether to stay, meaning, return to her life on earth but now, without her family.  "Where She Went" is the romantic and magical sequel.

The Night Circus: This story contains the illusions of Harry Potter but the magical scenes are even more visually stunning, captivating and spellbinding.  The story is romantic, thrilling and dark.  This is a book that really intrigues the senses of the reader and swirls to life ones imagination.  This tale truly beckons.  

The Secret Keeper:  I really loved this one.  A suspense story right up until the very end, giving its big reveal only upon its conclusion, the build up is a slow burning, mesmerizing unraveling of an intriguing mystery as well as a heart rendering love story.  

A Dangerous Fortune:  This book endures as one of my all time favorites.  The book starts off at an all-boys school among four close friends, young teenagers.  One boy murders another while the four are cooling off, escaping the summer heat in the respite of a quarry.  This book spans over decades and takes us from the glitziest ballrooms to the grittiest brothels, following one family and the lengths they will go to in order to keep this secret covered up.  The story grabs a hold of you.  The characters are complex and fascinating.  The villains are awesome and sinister.  I've read it many times and will continue to read it sporadically throughout my life.  Its that good.  

Its Just a F*cking Date:  This is a fun one!  By the authors of "Hes Just Not That Into You" (though I wasn't a big fan of that one.  Merely scanned that one, didn't bother to read it.  But thought the writing was kind of lackluster and dull).  This one is witty and insightful.  

The Goldfinch.  As I have said before, this will always be on every one of my book lists :-D.  One of my favorites ever.  Magnificent.  Mind-blowing.  Totally enrapturing and captivating.  Enough said.

The Secret History.  This is a dark one.  By the same author as The Goldfinch (though the Goldfinch is better by leaps and bounds).  This story takes place tucked within the mountains of a New England college, focusing on five young college students who form a secret society of sorts.  This book is about the sinister...terrifying...malevolent side of human nature, as well as is just plain creepy in general.  Certainly an intriguing read, I plowed through it pretty quickly.

White Oleander: I read this one years and years ago, though remember loving it, the story really striking a chord with me.  I suspect will say this one better then I could (it having been so long since I read it), so here is their synopsis:

Astrid is the only child of a single mother, Ingrid, a brilliant, obsessed poet who wields her luminous beauty to intimidate and manipulate men. Astrid worships her mother and cherishes their private world full of ritual and mystery - but their idyll is shattered when Astrid's mother falls apart over a lover. Deranged by rejection, Ingrid murders the man, and is sentenced to life in prison. White Oleander is the unforgettable story of Astrid's journey through a series of foster homes and her efforts to find a place for herself in impossible circumstances. Each home is its own universe, with a new set of laws and lessons to be learned. With determination and humor, Astrid confronts the challenges of loneliness and poverty, and strives to learn who a motherless child in an indifferent world can become. Oprah Winfrey enjoyed this gripping first novel so much that she not only made it her book club pick, she asked if she could narrate the audio release.

Sherlock Holmes:  Classic stories and there is a valid reason for this,  Enthralling, fascinating and superbly written.  Sherlock Holmes stories are must reads.  They are lots of fun to try and unravel the mystery by oneself before Sherlock reveals it for us.

Tuesdays with Morrie:  This is another one that will always remain one of my favorites.  A true story, about a teacher to the author of the book.  Morrie was always the authors favorite teachers in school.  Morrie is one of those teachers who moves their students deeply, one of the few people who truly takes time to listen to others, who values and cares for people very much.  One day, Mitch (the author) finds out that Morrie has a terminal illness, so he pays a visit to his old teacher.  This starts a weekly routine during which the two of them meet.  To talk, reminisce, but mostly for Morrie to tell Mitch what he feels have been the most important lessons of his life.  What follows is a deeply emotional, insightful, moving book chalk full of life lessons that are thought provoking and deep.

Dear John:  This is a great Nicholas Sparks story.  John, an angry, rebellious teenager, has no clue what to do with his life so he enlists in the army.  Then he meets Savannah, a woman he falls deeply in love with.  While off fulfilling his duty, the two correspond through love letters, and during the times he can get away, they spend time together.  However, upon the occurrence of 9/11, John feels he must re-enlist.  They initially try to make it work but eventually, John receives a heart crushing letter from Savannah, telling him she has fallen in love with someone else.  Upon returning home from duty, he must face with the fact that she is still his greatest life love, but is married to another person...
Warning: this is a tear jerker.

How to Win Friends and Influence People:  One of the best non-fiction books I have ever read.  The synopsis follows the theme of its namesake, giving one the tools and ideas in order to win friends, communicate well with people, influence others and how to be likable in general.  An easy, relatable read, this is definitely worth reading.  In fact, I would argue that it should be required reading in all high schools.  I suspect we would have a lot more happy, socially adept people if we did!

Mating in Captivity:  This is one of the top non fiction, relationship/sex books I have ever read.  I highly, highly recommend this for all (as with the previous book, How to Win Friends..).  Another book that, if it were required reading, I suspect we would have greater romantic relationship success as a collective whole.  Really readable, interesting, insightful and thought provoking.  It will cause you to consider your long-term relationships in a much different light.

Here is the synopsis from

One of the world’s most respected voices on erotic intelligence, Esther Perel offers a bold, provocative new take on intimacy and sex. Mating in Captivity invites us to explore the paradoxical union of domesticity and sexual desire, and explains what it takes to bring lust home.
Drawing on more than twenty years of experience as a couples therapist, Perel examines the complexities of sustaining desire. Through case studies and lively discussion, Perel demonstrates how more exciting, playful, and even poetic sex is possible in long-term relationships. Wise, witty, and as revelatory as it is straightforward, Mating in Captivity is a sensational book that will transform the way you live and love.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Something Sweet to Eat and Reads to Curl Up With!

One of the best bakeries in Frankfurt.  A little hole in the wall, totally cute and charming place with absolutely phenomenal, homemade cakes.  A gift from me to you, for those of you who live in Frankfurt.  Thank me after you've gone there and tried the cakes and other goodies ;-p

(Hi all, I was attempting to connect my cell phone to my laptop in order to upload photos from my week for this entry, but it wouldn't work!!!  I tried for over 30 minutes and had to give up.  Instead though, an AWESOME cold weather, impending weekend, recipe.  I highly recommend one of these with either a huge glass of milk or a warm mug of tea).

Super quick, easy and totally satisfying recipe of the week:


For pumpkin swirl filling:
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 large egg
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
For brownies:
1 (18 oz.) box brownie mix (I used Betty Crocker Fudge Brownies)
Oil, water and eggs as called for on box


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl, beat all filling ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, mix brownie batter, oil, water and eggs as called for on box. Pour 3/4 of the batter into prepared pan. Pour pumpkin swirl filling evenly over batter. Pour remaining brownie batter evenly over filling. Swirl through batter several times with a knife for a marbled effect.
4. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Cool completely before cutting into 16 squares. Store covered in refrigerator up to 4 days.
5. Enjoy!

The two books I am reading right now...:-D

(and I absolutely recommend both.  Those for the top one, M Train, I DEFINITELY recommend reading her first book before this one.  Hands down one of the best books I have ever read in my entire life.  I've already read it twice and will certainly read it again.  And I had zero interest in Patti Smith when I picked it up.  The story is gripping, totally moving and beautifully written, and the writing itself is fantastic).

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Countdown Has Begun. 5.5 Weeks...

Hi All,

Yes, you read that right.  In just 5.5 weeks, I will be in the USA visiting for the first time in TWO years!!!!  It both feels as though its been long (too long) and yet, it doesn't feel as though its been that long since I have seen the people I love, as I am still just as emotionally close with nearly all of them.  Now its merely a matter of counting down the days.

I literally could not be more thrilled!!!!!!  Its going to be a blast, without question.  I am so anticipating sitting with my mom, brother and sister in front of a roaring fire, lounging comfortably on the couch with a book.  Playing Just Dance in the cozy living room together, laughing and having lots of fun.  Seeing my brother again, whom I haven't seen in a few years now (as he will be visiting my Mom during that time too, flying over from Michigan to be there at the same time!), seeing my best friends (with whom I have remained in close touch) once more finally in PERSON again, and of course, last but not least, chowing down on some majorly delicious and totally American foods that I have been missing!!!!

As of now, here is whats on the itinerary:

Boston!!!!!!!!!!!!!  One of my very favorite cities in the world.  And the city I lived in for 5 years prior to moving over to Europe.

REAL American Burgers at one of the best places I've ever had them, Boston Burger Company.  My god, my mouth is already watering ;-p

Cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory!!!!!  (Because, sorry Europe, but cheesecake over here is but a hollow shell of what one is used to after having had American cheesecake, which is richer and much denser than cheesecake in Europe).  An absolute haven and heaven for a die-hard cheesecake fan like myself.

Galleria Umberto in the North End, Boston.  These guys are the real deal.  A few Sicilian dudes own this place and spend every weekday at lunchtime serving up thick slabs of cheesy authentic Sicilian pizza.  They open at 11am and close once they run out.  There are always, always, always lines out the door.

Georgetown Cupcake on Newbury Street in Boston.  This is an instance of killing two birds with one stone.  I get to stroll the ultra charming, ultra trendy Newbury Street in Boston while eating some BOMB cupcakes, with rich decadent frosting and moist cakey cupcakes.  Mmmmmm.

Harvard Square!!!  Always one of my favorite hangouts just outside of the city :-D

And Crema Cafe!!!  They serve up delicious grilled sandwiches here, really tasty desserts and the atmosphere is cozy and inviting.  This became a traditional meeting spot I had with a special someone over the time during which we became close friends, so I know this place will be on the list for us to visit when I am in town :-)

Skiing at Gunstock Mountain with my Mom and Sister up in New Hampshire!!!  We have always gone skiing here together throughout the years.  I am so looking forward to this!!!

And finally, just gorgeous New Hampshire during the winter.  My fingers are crossed, I am really hoping to see it like this... <3

And of course, seeing all of these people!!!!!  (There are a couple more people whom I don't have any recent photos of but who I am really hoping to see!  As well as a couple more I just haven't pictured here.  But these are most of them :-D).