Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wine-tasting at Nauerth-Gnägy

Six hours before the final showdown between Germany and Argentina begins (los gehts, Deustchland!!!), The Husband and I decided to bundle up our little rug-rats and head to the Pfalz, where our friend Michelle was working at a 'hoffest' at a local winery this weekend.

The historic Deustches Weintor
Entrance to the winery
Nauerth-Gnägy (or simply known as ng.) is a family-run vineyard located at one end of the historic Deustches Weinstrasse (German Wine Route), which is the oldest of Germany's wine trails, in Schweigen-Rechtenbach. The day was rainy and grey, but I found myself cheering up the closer we got to the Pfalz (as I almost, always do), and acres of beautiful vineyards came into view.

Food and wine galore
We found the vineyard after a little trial and error and were greeted with many people already seated at the entrance, inside and towards the back of the winery, indulging in some fine food and wine. The Husband took our older child for a walk around the vineyard, while I headed straight to the tasting room with Nolan sleeping in his stroller, to see what ng. had to offer.

The tasting commences
I didn't manage to taste all the wines, because you know, it was 3pm and I do want to see Germany become World Champion for the fourth time in history, but I tried to pick out the wines that sounded interesting to me - and worked my way from the whites to the seccos and ended with some rather memorable reds.

It was wonderful to see so many people trying and enjoying the different wines. Some were like me, taking notes, swirling, spitting, carefully examining each glass before moving on to the next. Others were more relaxed, and enjoyed hefty pourings as they chatted around with family and friends. I also loved how casual and familiar it felt, with none of the stuffiness you feel in some wineries. These were people who didn't take themselves too seriously, and enjoyed wine - and all its pleasures - for what it was, using the hoffest as an opportunity to taste the many different wines and finding ones that they liked. 

No one even blinked an eye that I was pushing a stroller around the crowded tasting room in one hand, and swirling and sipping with the other, while balancing my notes on top of the stroller. (I have been to other tastings where bringing a child would certainly be frowned upon.) Instead, most of them smiled at my baby, got out of the stroller's way, and if I got a few stares, I reckon it might have more to do with the fact that I was the only Asian in the whole place. =)

A wonderful opportunity to try all the wines the winery has to offer
A vineyard is a place of adventure!
The 2013 Auxerrois trocken was a new one for me, and reminded me a little of a Pinot Gris - dry, citrusy with a hint of minerals. It was fresh and rather zesty, and would make a lovely pairing with some creamy camembert cheese. I also enjoyed the 2013 Gewurtztraminer, which smelled of lychees and pears, was silky smooth on the tongue and had a lovely, sweet aftertaste that I reckon would go well with many Asian dishes. The Pinot Secco Rose was also lovely - a little different from the traditional, and often forgettable, German Sekts - with a fullness and softness on the palate that I particularly enjoyed. 

My favorite of the afternoon were the 2010 Spatburgunder Sonnenberg trocken, and the 2010/2011 Pinot Noir Herrenwingert trocken - both of which were well-balanced, medium-bodied wines with great texture, a good level of acidity and the wonderful earthiness and elegant complexity that I so love from Pinot Noir grapes. 

Our spoils
Due to my limited German, I wasn't able to learn as much about the winery as I hoped to, even though I had the pleasure of meeting the very pleasant winemaker Michael Gnägy in person. Overall, ng. wines tastes/feels a lot younger than some of the more traditional German wines out there. Most of the bottles are ready to drink now - young, vibrant and lively. The winery itself seems modern, fresh and beautiful, and this spirit seems reflected in the wines they make. 

If we weren't moving to New Zealand within the next year or two, I'd love to put some of their bigger-bodied wines aside for a few years to see how they develop and grow. But as it is, I'm simply happy to have had the chance to taste so many different varieties of wine grown so close to where I live. For wine-lovers, the Pfalz is something special indeed.

D-76889 Schweigen-Rechtenbach
Müllerstraße 5
Tel: 06342 - 919042

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ham, Cheese and Mushroom Muffins

Liam has been doing so well with eating lately. From a child who once gagged at anything that wasn't pureed to a smooth, silky consistency, these days he will try anything and everything. He doesn't necessarily eat it all and is still having trouble using his molars to chew, but he will put any food into his mouth and give it a shot. In fact, he throws a mighty tantrum if he sees us eating something and not offering him a bite!

It's still a challenge for me/us to figure out what to cook/make for him that will have enough nutrients and yet be easy enough for him to eat and actually swallow. He can't manage pieces of meat as that requires proper chewing, but we're trying to slowly get away from purees and mashed up food. 

Liam loves muffins and cakes, so this morning, I decided to try baking a savory muffin where I can put in some protein and vegetables which is easy for him to eat and digest. I looked in my fridge and decided to use the ingredients I have - some leftover ham, carrots, mushrooms and cheese. I didn't know what to expect, but as it turns out - the little man loved it, and ate a whole muffin, carrots and all, after having already finished his breakfast.

Savoury muffins FTW!

Ham, Cheese and Mushroom Muffins (loosely adapted from One Handed Cooks)

Ingredients

2 cups wholemeal self-raising flour (I didn't have self-raising flour so used normal flour and added a full teaspoon of baking powder)
1/4 cup finely chopped mushrooms
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 finely grated medium carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped ham
a pinch of salt
a pinch of thyme and rosemary seasoning
2 tbsp coconut oil (or butter/olive oil), 
1 and 1/4 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees. 
2) Combine ham, mushrooms, cheese, carrots and seasonings in a bowl. 
3) Mix oil, eggs and milk together and then stir it into the dry ingredients until just combined. 
4) Divide batter into muffin tin (makes 12 muffins).  
5) Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown (I took it out at 10 minutes and added more grated cheese on top and then bake for another 5 minutes). 
6) Leave to cool. 

(Leftovers can be stored in fridge or wrapped separately and freeze for up to 3 months)

*This recipe can be easily tweaked based on what you have in the fridge. If you don't have ham, replace it with other meats. Or add in more vegetables like carrots, grated zucchini, or even finely chopped tomatoes. 
** I made this with only a pinch of salt, as it was intended for Liam, so it's a little bland compared to savory muffins you might find in a cafe. Simply add more salt if you need to, or any other seasoning e.g. paprika.  
*** The consistency is a little denser than your regular muffin, and will probably change according to the ingredients you add. Some experimentation may be needed here to find a version you like!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My Pursuit of Happiness

I can't remember how or when, but I stumbled upon Gretchen Rubin's book 'The Happiness Project' on Amazon, read some reviews, and on an impulse (looking back now it was probably meant to happen) bought it and left it on my pile-of-books-to-read sitting on the bookshelf.

One particularly difficult day a month ago, when The Husband and I had been up all night arguing, I was surviving on no sleep, short-tempered, exhausted, ill with a hacking cough and seriously considering catching the next flight to somewhere, anywhere, and leaving my family behind, I decided to open the book.

I read one line. Then another. I found myself nodding. Thinking. Nodding again. Smiling. Thinking more. And as I read, I dug deep. I saw parts of myself in the writer, doing the same things, creating the same habits, without really paying attention to how it was affecting my life, and the life of those around me.

It really wasn't new information. A lot of it was common sense. But in that moment, when I couldn't have felt any lower, it was like an epiphany. Suddenly I saw, really saw, who I was and had become. Motherhood, marriage, expat life, it had all changed me, and not necessarily for the better. I wasn't happy. I hadn't been happy in a long time and rarely liked who I saw staring back at me in the mirror. But suddenly I understood how I got there. How I'd been in a spiral of negativity and bad habits and unhealthy emotions, which only brought on more of all three.

I had to change. I wanted to change. And for me, the best part of 'The Happiness Project' was that it actually helped me to do so. By breaking my life down into manageable goals and priorities. By reminding me of what's important. By stating, without any excuses, that I'm the only one who can create the kind of life I want to live. I am the only one who determines who I am, how I feel, who I become. In short, whether or not I'm happy, is entirely up to me.

I won't go into too much detail on the many lessons I've learned from this book, which I will no doubt be re-reading over and over again. Suffice to say it's already changed my life. In the months since I've read the book, I've started a running program, decided to extend my stay in Malaysia at the end of the year for an extra six week without my husband so the boys and I can spend some quality time with my family and friends there, and will soon be re-applying for New Zealand Residency, so we can kickstart our move back to the country in my heart and dreams.

I've also started reading wine articles and books again, and will be starting a wine certification course (which I've been wanting to do for years!) in September, which will hopefully take me all the way up to having a Diploma in Wine and Spirits. Even though I'm not currently a working professional in the Wine industry, there's nothing stopping me (or should stop me) from learning, immersing and educating myself on one of my passions. In the book, Rubin highlights 'an atmosphere of growth' as one of the key aspects to happiness. As humans, we need to constantly grow, improve, and learn, to be happy. And that was one aspect of my life that has been sorely lacking since the birth of Liam.

I'm not saying that there won't be difficult days, or days where I won't feel low or down. Having a depressive disorder means I'm constantly battling the Big Black Dog on some level. It is also difficult to constantly be so aware of my thoughts, to make a conscious effort to do/say certain things, to change my mood when I'm feeling down so I don't drag other people down with me, or to stay upbeat when people around me are dragging me down with negative emotions.

But the point is to realize that many things are in your control. From the words you choose to say. The attention you give to certain people. The smile you greet your husband with when he walks through the door no matter how awful the day has been. The annoyances you choose to let go. The battles you choose to fight, or not. Choosing to say 'I love you' at the end of every night. Choosing to 'let it go'. They all make up your day, your happiness, your life. My life. And you're the only one with the power to make it happen.

So this is me. Living life to the fullest, despite challenges and difficulties and children and Germany and special needs and moments where I feel like I'm failing myself and the people around me.

This is my pursuit of happiness. Because, why would you live any other way?

On my fridge


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Weinstube Brennofen

It was a drizzly afternoon that saw our little family heading to the Pfalz to meet up with a couple of friends at the Weinstube Brennofen for a late lunch/early dinner (or 'linner', as my friend Michelle kindly puts it).

The Husband had received a birthday gift voucher for the restaurant from them nearly a year ago, but we'd never found the right time, what with me being pregnant shortly after for the following nine months, until today. And boy am I glad that we made the effort to go (because truthfully, going anywhere with a toddler and a ten-week-old is an effort).

Quirky sign to the restaurant
The welcoming entrance
The restaurant/vinothek is located in the Pfalz (the Palatinate to us English-speakers), one of the greatest wine-producing regions in Germany and also part of the historic Deutsche Weinstrasse (German Wine Route). 

As we drove from Karlsruhe and the view outside the car window started to slowly transform itself from grey and brown buildings, constructions sites and motorways to corn fields, medieval frame houses and finally - rows and rows of vines as far as the eye can see, I felt my heart getting lighter and my spirit lifting. Instantly, my day became better.

The Weinstube is spacious, bright and elegant
The Weinstube did not disappoint. We were greeted with a lovely entrance where the tables are made from wine barrels, a makeshift roof is covered with grapevines, and lovely little water fountains bubble happily.

Inside, it is spacious, bright, and elegant without being stuffy, with my favorite detail being the floor to ceiling windows letting in plenty of natural light, and allowing diners inside to also enjoy the view of the beautiful garden seating outside.

View of the garden seating from the patio
Can you spot Liam?
The food menu is seasonal and the wine menu, extensive and exciting. I'm usually a pretty decisive person when it comes to ordering food and wine, but it took me a good twenty minutes to deliberate - there were just so many mouth-watering options!

I finally settled on a 2013 Schwarzriesling Trocken followed by a 2013 Gelber Muskateller. The Riesling was beautifully balanced and round, with a lovely golden colour and medium body. It tasted fresh, herby and slightly steely, which I was informed is because of the chalky soil from which it is grown. The Muskateller on the other hand, was elegant and crisp, with a fruity aroma and a hint of pear and lychee flavors on the palate that reminded me a little of a Gewurtztraminer. 

Plenty of delicious wine to try!
Rumpsteak and potatoes
The Husband's steak arrived looking deceptively simple, with only some caramelized onions as a garnish and some roasted potatoes on the side - but it was so tender and tasted ah-ma-zing! Each mouthful was a burst of juicy, wonderful, savory flavours, and even the plain-looking potatoes were cooked to perfection.

Tagliatelle in Basilikum-Pesto
I had the Salmon Tagliatelle cooked in a lovely Basil Pesto sauce, topped with plenty of pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Again, the ingredients were simple, but it was wholesome and utterly delicious. The sauce was generous and complemented the finely breaded salmon well, without either overpowering the other. Needless to say, it was also a wonderful pairing with my riesling and I enjoyed every mouthful.

I also had the chance to try our dining companions dishes and they were equally tasty and appetite-inducing. Each dish was generous in portion and tasted fresh and flavorful. The menu isn't extensive, but in the case of Weinstube Brennofen, this simply means that each dish is carefully thought of and prepared with only seasonal and local ingredients - a real winning combination!

What dining with two children looks like
When it comes to dining, an important aspect for me these days is of course, how family-friendly the establishment is, and I'm happy to report that the restaurant excelled here too. There is plenty of space for strollers, high-chairs, and also a changing table in the bathroom. 

The garden is big and wonderful for older kids who want to run around, and the staff didn't even flinch (or perhaps they were just being polite - and if so, kudos to them!) when Liam started fussing and finally crawling around the entire dining area. They even bent down and started playing with him! 

We didn't leave empty-handed!
All in all, we had a really good time in every aspect, which means so much as it takes a lot of planning and effort to head anywhere with two little kids who do not always allow for a relaxing experience. 

I don't normally rate places, but I'd give this place a 9/10 if I did (not a 10, just because there's always room for improvement!) and we'll definitely go back very soon for more excellent food and yummy wines!

Wildgasse 5
76831 Ilbesheim
(06341)-32215


Sunday, June 15, 2014

What does Williams Syndrome mean to me

The month of May was Williams Syndrome awareness month, but with a certain little someone (I won't mention names) keeping me up at all hours and being severely sleep-deprived, I wasn't able to do much to raise awareness this year aside from sharing a few links on Liam's Journey. However, I had this post written, and today I'd like to share with you what Williams Syndrome means to me.

To me, Williams Syndrome is doctor appointments. A LOT of doctor appointments, check-ups and developmental assessments by a lot of different people who don't necessarily know more than you do about this rare genetic disorder.

It is having a son who has already seen more doctors in his two short years on this earth than most people see in their entire life. It is managing medical appointments and schedules and constantly trying to remember when his last/next appointment is for a blood test, ECG, eye check-up, calcium test and more.

It is constantly explaining to people what Williams Syndrome is, and threading the fine line between raising awareness and wanting people to know and understand, while not wanting it to be all they see when they look at your child. 

It is working with a group of doctors and therapists who bring up your child along with you. 

It is knowing words like hypotonia, hypercalcemia, Ventricular Septal Defects, Pulmonary Stenosis, and not blinking an eyelid (anymore) when someone mentions Open Heart surgery.

It is having your child being classed 'Disabled'.

It is feeding/speech therapy, physiotherapy, ergo therapy (occupational therapy), hippo therapy, and realizing you see his therapist(s) more consistently and frequently than you do your friends and family.

It is watching people watch your child while he rocks side to side for three hours on a plane, or scream inconsolably the minute he enters a restaurant, and trying not to let it bother you that people are watching. 

It is thinking three steps ahead whenever you go somewhere to ensure it's not going to be too loud/too crowded/too stimulating, and that your child will still be able to adhere to his strict routine no matter where you are because that keeps him from having a sensory meltdown.

It is trying to explain to other parents why he's nearly two and a half and still not talking or walking. 

It is hoping everyday that THIS is the day he'll start walking or talking.

It is watching him take his first step at 21-months-old after months of physiotherapy, and nearly bursting with pride and joy.

It is appreciating every little progress, every achievement, every new sound, every new food he swallows, every milestone, and celebrating each little triumph and never taking a single one for granted. 

It is having a child who has no fear of strangers, whose heart is open and kind, who'll give anyone a big smile, hug or a cuddle,

It is having a child who has no fear of strangers. 

It is the feeling of utter relief after each visit with the Cardiologist knowing that his heart is still stable, still able to handle his growing body, still not requiring medical intervention or surgery. It is knowing all of that can change in (quite literally) a heartbeat.

It is wondering how he will feel when his younger sibling catches up to him, and then surpasses him in what he can and cannot do.

It is wondering how our younger child will feel having an older brother that he'll likely need to take care of when that happens. 

It is worrying how the younger child’s personality will be effected by the attention, both positive and negative, that the older child constantly receives, and hoping with all your heart that your younger child will grow up with a deep sense of compassion for all of humanity. That he will be braver, stronger, kinder and more loving, for having grown up with such a special sibling.

It is spending your free time reading medical research and pouring through blogs, online articles and support groups to find new ways to help your child to communicate.

It is constantly dealing with behavior problems, and never knowing how much of it is a result of his personality or how much is the result of a missing gene. It is worrying over finding the balance between what you can do to help, versus what cannot be changed.

It is being patient beyond your ability to be patient, every single day.

It is watching the younger children at his daycare running around and playing appropriately with each other, and trying not to hurt.

It is being thankful that he has been accepted into a kindergarden for special needs children next year, knowing he wouldn't cope in a typical kindergarden.

It is not always being able to relate to parents with 'typical' children. And trying not to cringe when they say things like 'My child was a late talker too', or 'It'll happen when it happens', or 'Don't children grow so fast?'. 

It is putting on a mask more often than you want, so your 'situation' doesn't make others uncomfortable.

It is watching family, friends and sometimes, people you don't even know come together to support your child.

It is being so grateful to those who genuinely accept, care for and love your child.

It is being keenly aware of how unkind, ignorant and cruel some people can be, and wondering how life will be like for your trusting, kind and gentle son, who has nothing but love for people. 

It is also seeing how much good there is in the world.

It is dealing with the constant roller coaster of emotions - of feeling both joy and pride for your child, while simultaneously grieving the reality that your child will never have a chance at a "normal" life.

It is learning to accept and embrace a disorder that has turned your life upside down, even though sometimes you wished you'd never heard of the two words - Williams Syndrome.

To me, to us, Williams Syndrome is equal parts pain and joy. Challenging and extraordinary. Beautiful and terrible. Laughter, and so much tears.

Williams Syndrome does not define our son, but it is a big part of who he is and of our everyday life. As a result, it is a big part of who we are as a family.

We are weaker and stronger because of it. We fight more due to the constant stress in our life, but we love harder. We cry often, but we learn to find joy in the smallest achievement.

There are many things I still do not know about Williams Syndrome. Many challenges ahead. Many obstacles yet to overcome. 

But what I do know is, Liam has Williams Syndrome. And he is the most beautiful child I know.








Friday, June 13, 2014

Liam - 27 months

Liam's been a big brother for eight weeks now, and for the most part, he's handled the change in our family dynamic pretty well. He's curious about his baby brother, but after the initial weeks when he would cry and throw a tantrum whenever he saw me feeding Nolan, he's pretty chilled out now, and generally leaves his brother alone except during tummy time - when he likes to lie next to Nolan and hold his hand or stroke his hair. 

                


Next to my not-so-newborn, my 27-month-old is looking more and more like a little boy and less like a baby everyday. He loves being outside, picking at leaves, dirt, grass, insects, crawling around and making a mess - just like any other two-year-old boy.


He loves to try food, even though he's still struggling with chewing them, and will in fact throw quite a tantrum if he sees us (or anyone) eating something without offering him a bite. This makes going to a restaurant quite a challenge. He gets extremely anxious whenever we walk into a dining establishment and he sees other people eating. We're not quite sure if this anxiety regarding food will get better or worse as he gets older, but for now we handle it by constantly having some biscuits on hand, which pacifies him until our order reaches the table.


Liam continues to surprise us with how much he learns and understands. Even though he still cannot vocalise his needs or wants, he finds other ways to communicate his desires to us, which unfortunately often involves a lot of crying and looking in the direction of whatever it is he wants. He has difficulties with gesturing and using his fingers to point, and there are days where it is a real test of patience on all of us as we struggle to communicate - but having a strict feeding, napping, sleeping and bath routine for the past two years have helped greatly to minimize uncertainties on both our paths.


He is an extremely sociable boy, and there is not a person he doesn't immediately take to or try to play with. He will give anyone a hug, cuddle or a smile, says 'Ah' loudly to every stranger who makes eye contact (his way of greeting or saying 'hi') and even though he doesn't do it often, his laughter is so infectious you can't help but laugh out loud along with him. 





Monday, June 9, 2014

Baked eggs in prosciutto-filled mushroom caps


Did you know that you can bake eggs in a mushroom cap? No, well neither did I. And then I stumbled across this recipe, which looked so easy and delicious that I wondered why in 31 years I've never thought of making eggs this way. It's a little challenging because depending on the size/shape of the mushroom, you could have a case of 'runaway egg', but scoop out the insides of the mushroom so it's deep enough and the rest is easy.

Baked Eggs in Mushroom Caps

Ingredients

Eggs
Large Mushroom Caps (Portobello works well)
Slices of Prosciutto
Black Pepper
Fresh Herbs (Chives, Parsley or Thyme)
Olive Oil

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C)
2) Clean the mushroom caps with a damp cloth, remove the stem and scrape out the gills so you have a well deep enough for the egg.
3) Rub a little bit of olive oil on the outside of the mushroom to help it cook and keep it from sticking to the pan. Arrange the caps on a baking sheet.
4) Place one slice of prosciutto inside the mushroom cap.
5) Crack each egg into a small bowl and then carefully slide it onto a prosciutto-filled mushroom cap.
6) Sprinkle with black pepper and fresh herbs of choice – I used chives here.
7) Place the baking tray into oven and bake for 20-30 minutes. The amount of time required depends on how thick your mushrooms are and how done you like your eggs.
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