Gemutlichkeit and Thanksgiving

I don’t have the easiest relationship with the German language, but here is a word I love:  “Gemutlichkeit.”   It means coziness–friends, family, good food, the perfect atmosphere.  Cozy.  Is there anything better?

I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving holiday–whether or not you are American and given to celebrating with turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie tomorrow.   I wish you a cozy day to dwell on all you are thankful for.

I am thankful for a year that has brought excitement and un-ease all at the same time.  We’ve had a crazy rollercoaster ride with our move, and, while I tend to share the fun bits of our days in Germany, it’s still a struggle many days.  Last week was a doozy.  Monday night, one child was up late into the night having a meltdown–because that’s just what kids do sometimes.  The next night the other child was up until the wee hours, dreadfully homesick for the States.  After that, it didn’t take long for me to be bawling my eyes out–from exhaustion coupled with a dose of homesickness (who knew it was contagious?).   And by Thursday,  both kids came home early from school with a stomach bug.

No worries–they were happy and well by Friday.  But by that point, our dog had thrown her back out.

Today our dog is better, but another family member, in the States, is prepping for surgery.

We all have worries.  Every road is a bumpy road that’s worth travelling. I really believe that.  Some of the potholes I could certainly do without . . . but the views from the roughhewn paths are something special.

In the midst of the rough week, a friend invited us to his Jewish temple for a service and an early Thanksgiving meal with other Americans.  My husband and I dragged our tired, Protestant selves there–happy to be there, but exhausted nonetheless.  And it was such a beautiful night.  A soulful, but uptempo note in a downtempo week.   Suddenly the caucophany that had plagued us began to sound like a symphony.

And so, I am thankful.  For the fun and the difficult times, for the uptempo and downtempo.  For the opportunity to bawl my eyes out because the people I love are hurting or because the people I love are far away.  Because the people I love… that’s enough.  And, of course, I am thankful for the fun.  Bring on the fun and mischief!  (The people I love would want me to enjoy that, after all.)

Also, I should tell you that once I stopped feeling hysterical about this week, I began feeling a little historical.  I began thinking about the Mayflower and the Pilgrims, and, of course, the funny hats with belt buckles.  But mostly about the Pilgrims.  They weren’t the first English to plant a colony in the “New World.”  There was the Lost Colony at Roanoke first, and then the very successful colony at Jamestown.  And, anyhoo, these pilgrims on the Mayflower weren’t just religious pilgrims.  Some of the folk who took passage on the ship were, essentially, businessmen.  (Nathaniel Philbreck’s book Mayflower is a brilliant recounting of the history, if you want to brush up.)  The story isn’t a simple tale, nor is it a tale only  of success.

These pilgrims suffered huge losses before that first Thanksgiving, and trying times after, too.  I’m sure they were homesick and exhausted.  I’m sure they had bad nights and puffy-eyed mornings. . . and no food. . . and fleas.  No doubt, they would have felt singularly blessed if their loved ones had qualified doctors and surgeons to care for them!  But they didn’t.  Still, they set aside time for thanks and a harvest festival.  And it lasted for days.

And so Time sneezed, and here we are in 2014.  The stories are different. . .but not so different.

Winter is coming, and we celebrate the final harvest festivals, and we remember to be thankful.  Gemutlichkeit–coziness and happiness and gratitude.   Let’s wrap it around ourselves like a cloak to stave off the winter.

Some of the people I love, celebrating their thankful, happy hearts.  Ireland 2008.
Some of the people I love, celebrating their thankful, happy hearts. Ireland 2008.

von Trapp Tuesday

von trapp house 1I haven’t had time to write this week, but I’m looking forward to setting pen to paper someday and filling you all in on my recent trip to Salzburg.  (My new refrain = Salzburg uber alles.  Probably politically incorrect in some historical way, but I LOVE this city and its surroundings.)

Anyhoo, to tide me over–and share my enthusiasm with you until I can write–I offer up a photo of the actual von Trapp family home, now a magnificent bed and breakfast, where we stayed while in the city.



In the English Kitchen: Steak and Ale Pie

steak and ale collage

We lived in North Yorkshire for 4 years, and, despite what people like to say about British food, some of it is VERY good.  Granted, top of that list is the Indian food you get there.  But if you haven’t tried a really good sticky toffee pudding or a gourmet steak and ale pie, you’re missing out.  And even “tired old” mincemeat pies and Sunday roast can be a revelation with the right ingredients and in the right person’s artful hands!

Marks & Spencer Mince Pies
Marks & Spencer Mince Pies

I’m about to bring you a recipe that is divine–but first, a rudimentary primer on  food in England.

The Markets:   Here I speak for my old home town of Ripon, N. Yorkshire, especially.  I love the vibrant market squares and market days in British cities, towns, and villages.   I love walking home with baskets of fresh produce, hearing the fishmonger call out his wares, seeing what the pottery merchant has found to carry in on any given week (and hoping he’s stocking my favorite Blue Willow), and scanning the candy stall for my children’s favorite bits and bobs.

Nigella:    If you’ve never been a fan, open up one of her cookbooks and go for a leisurely read.  I’d start with Nigella Christmas–because it’s almost the season, it’s a good read, and it’s where I started.  If you’re not smitten with her prose, then whip up her Guinness Gingerbread.  If you’re still not besotted. . .I just can’t help you.

betty's teaTea:   If someone invites you over for tea, don’t imagine (as most Americans do) that you’ll be drinking Twinings at a table with Paddington Bear.   The invitation is likely for dinner, not a tea party.  “Cream Tea” often indicates tea and scones or sweet pastries in the afternoon, but “Tea” is dinner.

Pudding:  When we first moved to England (in 2005), we were amused at how often we were offered “pudding” in restaurants.  I mean, we like pudding, but couldn’t figure out what the national obsession with it was all about.  Turns out, “pudding” means dessert.  We quickly learned to say “Yes, please,” to any offer of pudding!

Meat Pies:  Today, I’m focused on a fabulous, piping hot Steak and Ale pie (recipe below).  But Brits also love cold meat pies.  A cold steak pie from a deli counter is doable for a quick lunch, but not great.  And pork pies?  Don’t get me started.  Okay, I don’t do pork, so this may be a little unfair, but cold, gelatinous meat in a cold, blah pastry case– I don’t get it.  Except in a Dickensian way–I mean, I suppose it has a certain bit of atmosphere:  a cold, tired chimney sweep might ‘ha a ‘litl bit o’ da pie fur lunch.   (Yes, I overindulged in  Mary Poppins as a kid.)  But, truth is, I have plenty of friends, and one husband, who seem to like a bit o’ the cold pie, so to each his own.

Let’s launch into the reason you are here: the world’s greatest Steak and Ale Pie recipe.  It comes from Williams-Sonoma.  (I know it should come from a British source, but this really is the best I’ve found. . .even if it is from California.)   And one more disclaimer–please listen, because this is important–this will take you most of the day.  Only start this on a rainy weekend day when you want to hang out at home for hours.  And, yes, you will begin cursing halfway through this and saying, “Never again!”  But then the pie will smell soooo delicious as it cooks that you’ll start to drool as it comes out of the oven.   You’ll dig into the flaky pastry and lift a fork to your mouth.

Angels will sing, devils will dance, and you’ll be in love.

Oh, you’ll make it again.  And again.    (Hint:  if you cook a very large recipe, you can freeze half of the filling and turn it into a pie at a later date with minimum effort.)

Here’s the recipe, also available at

This hearty beef stew is slowly simmered on the stovetop, then topped with Stilton pastry and finished in a hot oven.
*My note: I usually skip the Stilton pastry and use a puff pastry.  The Stilton is good, but very rich, and this is already a rich pie.
  • 7 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 lb. white button mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 1/2 lb. beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 cups Irish stout
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 lb. carrots, cut into chunks
  • 1 lb. red potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • One 16-inch round Stilton pastry (see recipe link below)
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water


In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms, onions, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Season the beef with salt and pepper. Dredge the beef in the flour, shaking off the excess. In the Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add one-third of the beef and brown on all sides, about 7 minutes total. Transfer to a separate bowl.
Add 1/2 cup water to the pot, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Pour the liquid into a separate bowl. Repeat the process 2 more times, using 2 Tbs. oil to brown each batch of beef and deglazing the pot with 1/2 cup water after each batch.
Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add the beef, stout, broth and reserved liquid, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, potatoes and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef and vegetables are tender, about 3 hours.
Preheat an oven to 400°F. Brush the rim of the pot with water. Lay the pastry round on top, allowing it to droop onto the filling. Trim the dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang, and crimp to seal. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture, then cut 4 slits in the top of the dough. Bake for 30 minutes. Let the potpie rest for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8 to 10.Stilton Pastry recipe can be accessed at||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-Feature_Recipe_Rule&cm_re=OnsiteSearch-_-SCHBillboard-_-SEARCH_FEATURELIST
Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Not just any old pub food!
Not just any old pub food!