Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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Briefly Resurfacing

… to say that one of my posts has been nominated as blog post of the year on Expatica Germany. Click here to see more, and please vote if you feel moved to do so.

In other news, I broke my eight-month drought of not leaving the Rhein-Neckar Kreis by heading to Paris on the TGV with my Mama this weekend. We made three important pilgrimages:

  • Laduree, for macaroons, specifically the salted butter caramel
  • Berthillon, for ice-cream, where the salted butter caramel beat my usual favourite, pistachio, into righteous submission
  • Shakespeare & Co, where we dreamed among the bookshelves and bought some books

Otherwise, we shopped, drank champagne at inappropriate times of the day, hopped on and off buses like Parisiennes, saw the Manet exhibition, visited Monet’s waterlilies at the Orangerie, strolled through the Marais, bought a painting in Place des Vosges and watched the herds of joggers storm the Luxembourg Gardens on Sunday morning.

We stayed in a small but perfectly formed little hotel on the Place de Sorbonne, a small but sparkling square with shushing fountains, a few restaurants and, essentially, a Gap. It was glorious. I love, love, love Paris.

Ditto macaroons.

Ditto ice-cream.

Ditto my Mama.

Ditto Germany’s Top Husband who kept Germany’s Top Kids fed, watered and entertained while we were gone.

Now I’m off again, but I plan to be back on the other side of the Easter weekend. Wishing you chocolate of the highest quality and a weekend of the very best kind of sunshine.


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How to Go On Holiday and Gain (X) Kilograms

First, go to France. Go directly to France. France is the land of flaky delicious pastries, and little flans, and yummy custard things adorned with fruit, and tartes, and all number of things you don’t know the name of but at which you very successfully point. France is also the land of baguette filled with cheese, sundried tomatoes and the world’s best salami. It’s the place where you stand drooling in the yogurt aisle of the supermarket, trying to make a decision about whether you should have coconut or lemon yogurt for your mid-morning snack. It’s the land where you eat moules mariniere within sight of the blue sea, bobbing white yachts and dark green pine trees. The land where you eat a herb omelette served with green beans and artichokes on top of a mountain, while smelling the perfume of rose and lavender. The land where you lick at a cone filled with purplish fig ice-cream while you traverse the alleyways of a famous yellow fishing village. The land of ice-cold pink rose, of nougat and black olive tapenade with its sinewy undertow of anchovy.

Then, you should be lucky enough to have the world’s kindest hosts, who are not only interesting, well-travelled, charming, open-minded and welcoming to you and your large family, but who can cook superbly. We ate duck breast with hasselback potatoes, and slow-cooked Easter lamb with root vegetables, followed by an enormous Pavlova adorned with strawberries, mango and kiwi-fruit. Thanks to Sig, Tittin and the three princes for opening their hearts and their home to us, as well as introducing us to their beautiful corner of France. It was wonderful meeting you at last.

Then you should conjoin two families of five for the Easter weekend, and ensure that the mothers don’t talk in advance about the amount of chocolate both are buying, so that the Easter lapin (Tittin and one of the princes) had an enormous sack of chocolat to distribute under the lavender bushes and lemon trees. Have one mother seduced by SIZE of chocolate rabbits and the other mother seduced by VOLUME of chocolate ladybirds so that the combined AMOUNT of chocolate is enough to keep small children – and their mother, freshly out of chocolate rehab – bouncing off the walls for some days.

Bid farewell to your lovely friends and repair to a beach resort where there are three beach restaurants offering pizzas, pastas and numerous tempting desserts in easy walking distance. Actually, make that easy crawling distance, if you have drunk too much rose while watching your children cavort outside your beach hut. Make sure that these are casual places where you can eat barefoot and where your small, squeaking children are welcome to be as small and squeak as much as they want to.

Then, bring on the bad weather. Closet yourself in a beach hut the size of one of your bedrooms at home with your children and the remains of the chocolate stash. Finish the chocolate stash, firstly ably assisted by your kids and later, by your husband and a bottle of rose, once the babes are sleeping.

All this eating, and the sudden onset of summer here in Germany (30° today) has made me self-conscious about the need to lose some weight. It was a lot of fun putting it on, but now it, and the remainder of the Christmas speck which doesn’t seem to have got the message yet, has to go. Lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables are on the menu chez Charlotte’s Web from here on.

While we were admiring the crowds of Saturday shoppers in Antibes, where human X-rays were buying huge custard-filled tartes and legs of ham to take home to their no doubt enormously fat husbands, Lily made a lovely remark. She said, “I am looking at all these ladies, and they are not very pretty. Not one of them is as pretty as my Mummy.”

Kids. You have them for a reason, you know.


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I Bid You Adieu

I have been to collect a daughter from a birthday party where I was offered – and gratefully received – a glass of Sekt. I don’t usually have a drink until my children are in bed and dreaming, so tonight it was strange doing our nighttime routine with a little alcohol buzzing in my veins. Somehow, it was rather … pleasant, went very … quickly, without the attendant Mama Bear grumpiness that happens to me after long hard day with my beloveds. I remember a friend once saying to me that she always had a glass of wine while her kids had supper, because it “took the edge off things”. I’m not sure if I want the edge taken off every single night, but tonight it was appropriate.

The feeling of Sekt buzzing in my veins is a great metaphor for the feeling of knowing that I am about to go on holiday. Tomorrow we pack our team in the Familiewagon and head for the South of France. We’re hoping for warm weather so that we can take them to the beach, and allow them to build housing developments in the sand while we work our way through many glasses of wine big piles of books.

We had to come up with a quick rationalisation of how the Easter Bunny would know that the Otter family are not in Germany, but in France on Sunday. While I was still stumbling through an explanation that didn’t sound rational even to Ollie, Lily explained that there is an Easter Bunny for each country and that the German Hase has probably already communicated with the French lapin, who knows to expect three chocolate-loving Otter children in Antibes on Sunday. I’d better warn the lapin to make sure there is extra chocolate for Mama Otter, who will be allowing herself sugar again. And Papa Otter could do with some fine red wines when he breaks his alcohol fast. I guess we’ll be hitting a French supermarche with a large trolley at some point on Thursday. Doing our bit for the global economy.

The bunny stuff reminds me of a story another friend of mine tells. Her husband’s family tended to spend all their holidays at the game reserve and one year their mother forgot to pack the Easter eggs. Instead of fashioning faux eggs from elephant dung and decorating them with red dye sourced from beetle’s wings, as any normal mother would, she just told them that lions had eaten the Easter bunny. The children were apparently traumatised for years.

I hope to return in 12 days’ time with untraumatised children, a slight tan and a couple of extra kilograms from eating chocolate and lovely French food. I plan to take a blogging break, so will see you all then. Bidding you adieu, and I hope that the Easter Bunny arrives intact at all your homes, bearing shed-loads of your favourite chocolate.


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My Favourite Drug

I have given up sugar for Lent. I think the goal for Lent is to give up the sin you love the most, so, as I am a dull, nearly middle-aged German Hausfrau and don’t have any sins apart from reading in the bath at 3am so I wake up the next day crabby and use my outside voice with my children (bad), nearly knocking over cycling German pensioners who I forget have right of way over me, my car, any pedestrians or passing ants (worse) or indulging in a high-octave gossip session with one of my South African girlfriends (about a two on the scale of nought to sinful), I’ve had to resort to giving up my favourite drug. Oh I love sugar, I just love, love, love sugar.

At the same time, I have taken up my favourite weight-loss regime, the Shangri-La Diet, in order to shed the avoirdupois which I have gained in the Season from October to now. (Avoirdupois sounds so elegant, rather like “Won’t you have some more peas?” or “Avril du Pois was a lovely girl”, so you can almost forget you’re talking about fat and imagine you’re talking about something glamorous and otherworldly and French. Germans call the extra kilograms that creep on in the Christmas months Winterspek (winter bacon) which is whole lot more basic and frank, and not quite as charming.)

So, in order to separate myself from my winter bacon, I am back on the Shangri-La, which involves drinking a tablespoon of sugar in a litre of water twice a day. Contradictory? At odds with my Lenten fast? No. Let me tell you how.

First of all, I always give up sugar for Lent. It’s tradition: my husband gives up alcohol, I give up sugar and we spend a few weeks staring soberly and sadly at each other. When the deprivation gets too bad, I have a glass of red wine for him and he snarfs a chocolate bar on my behalf. This is a chance for us to show our love for each other. We do it well.

Secondly, the Lenten fast is a test of my moral fibre. Can I resist chocolate, ice-cream, cake, biscuits, yogurt, cereal, random sweets, delicious German bakery products? Can I resist them for weeks on end? Can I bake for my kids and not eat one drop of the cookie mixture nor sample one crumb? Can I resist them without turning into Deprived Sugar Junkie, shouting for the finest cakes known to humanity and mugging little old ladies so I can ravage their handbags for their secret peppermint stash? You betcha.

Thirdly, at the end of every fast comes the inevitable reward. How apt that at the end of my sugar fast comes Easter, the festival of chocolate and hot-cross buns and marzipan and Simnel cake and tiny little adorable pastel sugar eggs that are so cute you want to kiss their dimpled little shells before you inhale them and Nusszopf and other delicacies. Easter Sunday is possibly my favourite day of the year. And if anyone feels the urge to send me some See’s chocolates with which to end my fast, then give in to that urge … you, and I, will feel so much better if you do.

It’s also a chance for me to reveal my backbone. I may be a dull, nearly middle-aged, German Hausfrau with three kids, a washing mountain, and a dangerously addictive blogging habit, but I am Made. Of. Steel. If you put me in the jungle with no rations and a bush tucker challenge consisting only of toad’s eyes, maggots and the roe of the deadly piranha fish, I would voluntarily starve to death. That’s how strong I am.

Tradition, love, moral fibre and backbone are all very well, but fade in consequence when compared to the state of my Winterspek. It has to go, and as a veteran of almost every diet known to humankind, from WeightWatchers to the colic diet to that weird one where you eat beetroot and cheese for three days, I can honestly say that the Shangri-La Diet is the easiest, most effective and sustainable diet I have ever attempted. Best of all, it removes nothing from your diet, only adds a couple of tablespoons of sugar. Yummy, delicious, pure, white, granulated sugar, which you add to water and sip slowly over a couple of hours, with the delightful after-effect that your appetite goes away. So I am drinking sugar in order to not eat sugar, and it is going very very well. Really I can recommend it. It’s the way forward. By the time Easter comes, I’ll have no appetite left and won’t be able to eat those chocolates you sent me.

P.S. I had some of my husband’s favourite drug tonight – can you tell?