October 14, 2014

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival

Pumpkins and a palace? Here, in Germany!? When I found out about this fest last week, I was determined to make the trip. Happy to say, yesterday, we visited Ludwigsburg Palace for the largest pumpkin festival in the world.  With over 400,000 pumpkins ranging from blue banana pumpkins and red kuri squash, to everything in between (nearly 450 varieties), we had a fantastic day exploring the elegant palace grounds for this year's theme "Royal".
 In addition to  thousands of gourds for sale, the palace gardens are full of pumpkin sculptures, and NONE of the pumpkins are painted. Did you know that there really are white, gray, and black pumpkins? I had no idea!

Pumpkins are shipped from countries all over the world for the fest, and pumpkin products of every sort are sold (such as pumpkin ketchup, pumpkin pesto, pumpkin chutney, and more). I so badly wanted pumpkin soup, but the rain came and we hopped in a restaurant to wait out the rain and ate from the menu there which did not have any pumpkin. A few minutes after leaving the restaurant to continue our adventure through the gardens, smells of pumpkin soup, pumpkin spaghetti, and more flooded my nose. Shoot! We missed a giant fest tent with a menu of nothing but awesome pumpkin concoctions that smelled so delicious I contemplated eating again.

The largest pumpkins in the world are also at this fest, some with weights over 2000 pounds! Can you imagine?

Aside from all the pumpkins, the palace grounds have a wonderul playground for kids, a boat ride, and a large fairy tale village complete with a maze at the end. The kids never wanted to leave. Neither did we!

For me, these little gourd people scenes they had set up were my favorite. Too cute. Can you believe those hands and arms? They are made from gourd stems! 

Tonight I do believe we'll be having some butternut squash soup and decorating our pumpkins we bought from the fest.

October 10, 2014

Friday I'm in Love

Hello! Friday at last, and it's a three day weekend! What are your plans? Anyone taking trips?

We've decided to hit the road after work today and head to the Stuttgart area for sightseeing, shopping, climbing (of course), and a pumpkin festival! Every year, thousands of visitors go to Ludwigsburg for a pumpkin festival where statues and scenes all around the castle gardens are made using thousands of gourds. You can buy/eat pumpkin beers, soups, jellies, jams, candy, and everything in between. I'm excited. This will be our first time and the theme this year is Royal Pumpkins. Should be interesting.

And here are this week's interesting finds:

October 8, 2014

Lillian and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Some days are just like that, even in Germany...

Well, not really. Lily somehow just manages to be grumpy when I'm taking photos these days. If I ask her to smile, it is a crooked mouth, eyes closed, goofy face. If I keep taking them, then she gives me the grump face and turns away from me. I still can't resist to keep taking them though, especially when she looks so cute in a dress, stockings and pink boots (all her own choices for a hike on a muddy trail).

 Waiting for me in this picture above to come help her jump off the log. In the next three pictures, as long as she doesn't see me taking the pictures, I can capture her in thought. Wouldn't you love to know what their little minds are thinking about all the time?
As for this big guy? He doesn't stand still long enough to capture him in thought. I was racing to keep up with him on the trail on his bike. 

 Gotta love these fall days. Perfect days for hiking in the woods and balancing on logs. And for capturing the personalities of my little ones.

October 7, 2014

O' zapft is!

As I've written about before (for instance here and here), living in Germany, we get to experience first hand some interesting cultural differences. This past weekend was one of those experiences. An Oktoberfest Festival at our children's kindergarten complete with keg, beer, rides, sausages and accordion music, plus adorable little kids putting on a show for us.

I'm not sure what the funniest part of the day was... watching Lily walk around as a sausage, or watching her four year old friend tapping the keg and yelling O' Zapft is (it's tapped) at the top of his lungs to start the party.

 Lily didn't think being a wiener was near as funny as I did, crying as they put it on her. Cooper on the other hand proudly wore his dog costume and yelled out his lines when it was his turn on the stage. We let his curls grow out this huge as part of the costume... no not really, I'm just a slacker.
No Oktoberfest is complete without Gingerbread cookies. They always look so tasty, but really, they taste like cardboard. Cooper wanted to make sure first hand and finished half.

And the requisite face paintings.

Oh isn't she just so kissable in her little pink and green dirndl! Living in Germany does have some awesome perks. Festivals are one of the many.

October 6, 2014

The Best Caramel Apples

Oh yum!  Caramel apples are my favorite treats this time of year! And now they are my kids favorite. What fun we had making these together this week! I think we'll come up with some more toppings next time, but for this round, we did sprinkles, M&Ms and pecans. Plus, some chocolate drizzled over a few.  So good. We made these to sell at an Oktoberfest party at Cooper and Lily's Kindergarten, but kept a few for ourselves. 


 I decided to make the caramel from scratch this time around, and used chopsticks and lollipop sticks I had on hand for the sticks. I tried out two recipes and made two batches of caramel. Below is my favorite of the two. Trust me, the homemade version is sooooo much better than the wrapped caramels. 

What you'll need:
  • 10-12  Granny Smith Apples (the sour in these apples helps even out the sweet of the caramel).
  • Wooden sticks (chopsticks worked for me)
  •  Wax paper
  •  Candy thermometer
  •  Ingredients for the Caramel (see below)
  •  Toppings: chopped pecans, toffee chips, chocolate chips, M&Ms, etc.

1. Wash the apples in cold water with dish soap to remove the wax and rinse completely.
 2. Insert wooden sticks in each apple and place in fridge to chill while prepping and making the caramel.
3. Prepare all toppings in individual bowls.
4. Line your counter with wax paper to set caramel dipped apples on.

Ingredients for Caramel:
• 2 cups brown sugar packed
• 2 sticks unsalted butter
• 1 14oz. can sweetened condensed milk (you can use cream instead if needed)
• 1 cup dark Karo corn syrup
• 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
• 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 1/4 tsp. salt

Making Caramel:
1. Combine all ingredients in a large deep pot (this makes a lot of caramel) on medium low. Stir with wooden spoon, scraping sides for about 15 minutes.
2. Attach a clip-on candy thermometer to side of pot.  Increase heat to medium. Cook caramel at a rolling boil until thermometer reaches 245°F (soft ball stage).  This takes about 30 minutes. Be patient and don't turn the burner higher to decrease the time.
3. Once the caramel reaches 245 to 250 F,  pour it into a deep small bowl that makes dipping the apple easier.
4. Holding the stick, dip 1 apple at a time submerging it completely until the entire apple is covered.  Spin a couple times in the caramel and lift out allowing the excess caramel to drip off. 
5. Once all 12 apples are dipped, the first apples you dipped should be ready to add toppings.  Dip the bottom of the apple half way into the toppings (I like pecans best).
6. Place in fridge to set the caramel before it all drips off.
7. Melt milk chocolate chips in a bowl in the microwave in small increments of time.  Once melted pour into a small ziplock bag and cut a tiny slice in the corner of the bag to drizzle over the apple.
8. Return the caramel apples to the fridge until ready to serve.
9. Enjoy!