For the last three years I have shared My Favorite Books. Last year I read over 258 novels. This year I read 240 books. It seems like many of you enjoy the posts and read some of the books I list.
Not all books were published in 2020 but all are books that made me want to prop my eyelids open so I could keep reading. Most are books that made me sigh, made me laugh, and caused a few tears. I did not include any picture books – that would be a real struggle. Look for me on Goodreads if you want to view all the the books I read.
One of the most appealing Italian cultures that have evolved historically on the boot is that of the Etruscans. What better than visiting the artifacts of their existence in a museum inside an historic building, the Renaissance Villa Giulia that sits on the northern edge of the Borghese Gardens in Rome?
The villa was built for Pope Julius III, for whom it was named. It remained in papal property until 1870, when, in the wake of the Risorgimento and the demise of the Papal States, it became the property of the Kingdom of Italy. The museum was founded in 1889 as part of the same nationalistic movement, with the aim of collecting together all the pre-Roman antiquities of Latium, southern Etruria and Umbria belonging to the Etruscan and Faliscan civilizations, and has been housed in the villa since the beginning of the 20th century. — National Etruscan Museum
Constructed by Pope Julius III, Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte, between 1550 and 1555, Villa Giulia is a stunning Renaissance villa featuring a landscaped garden with terraces connected by spectacular stairways, nymphaea and fountains. — The ETRU Spaces.
The museum complex also includes the Temple of Alatri, a reproduction of an Etrusco-Italic temple from the 3rd-4th century B.C. and the Villa Poniatowski, which became the museum’s second branch in 2012. Its rooms feature exhibits from Latium Vetus and Umbria. There is also a restaurant and bookshop.
To the south of the main structure, there is “il Ninfeo e la Neviera di papa Giulio III”. Neve is snow in Italian. So a series of caves was excavated in the tuff hill, given some stucco and grotesque decorations, and became a cool place, even in summer. So cool it could hold collected show from wells of higher mountain villages of Lazio which was eventually transported to Rome so that the landed gentry could have their sorbets and ice creams. Cool indeed.
The villa represents the boundary of the city and countryside, and you’ll find an exquisite peace within the grounds, and quite likely tourist mayhem inside where the exhibits lie.
And the mayhem is justified. The art created so many years ago is mind boggling. Let’s take a look at the not to miss exhibits.
The Terracotta Sarcophagus of the Spouses
The two figures are represented in a tender embrace as they prepare to drink some wine together, a beautiful moment from everyday life that the artist wished to extend even into the afterlife. It is a scene of life and at the same time intimacy depicted on a sarcophagus that contained the remains of the deceased, who are portrayed as though they had never died. — Sarcophagus of the Spouses
What gives the ancient Etruscans that “oh, so modern” appeal? It’s not only the joy of life depicted in the art, or even in death, but this:
Among the Etruscans, it was normal for women to participate in the banquet as equals of their male counterparts in terms of rights and dignity, something which was not permissible among the Greeks.
Three very important gold “tablets” advance our knowledge of languages in the Mediterranean. Two are written in the Etruscan language, and the other in Phoenician, the language of Carthage. They are dated to 2500 years ago. Gold lasts.
The Pyrgi Relief
The Pyrgi pediment is a work of great importance, both in terms of the place where it was found (the sanctuary at the port of Cerveteri) and its subject matter. It is made of painted terracotta.
The scenes depicted are exceptionally lively and also violent. They are connected to the story of two brothers who fought over the throne of the important Greek city of Thebes, each brother assisted by his own band of followers. Yet neither will be victorious, and they will end up killing each other. — The Pyrgi Relief
At time of writing, the museum is closed due to COVID-19 and expected to open at the end of April, 2021. See the official site for current information on re-opening.
This fall, many teachers (across the country and the world) will be asked to teach online--something most teachers have never done before. To assist with that transition, the Stanford Online High School and Stanford Continuing Studies have teamed up to offer a free online course called Teaching Your Class Online: The Essentials. Taught by veteran instructors at Stanford Online High School (OHS), this course "will help middle and high school instructors move from general concepts for teaching online to the practical details of adapting your class for your students." The course is free and runs from 1-3 pm California time, July 13 - 17. You can sign up here.
For anyone interested, Stanford will also offer additional courses that give teachers the chance to practice teaching their material online and get feedback from Stanford Online High School instructors. Offered from July 20 - July 24, those courses cost $95. Click to this page, and scroll down to enroll.
You have probably never really wondered what might come from a team-up of one of the biggest names in gaming with the all-time winningest player on Jeopardy, but just in case you did, wonder no more: the answer is Half Truth, a trivia party game with a unique mechanic.
Half Truth is a game for 2-6 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. The game can be purchased from Amazon for $35.00 or your local retailer (and please support your local retailer.)
50 Victory Point tokens (20 x 1s, 15 x 5s, 15 x 10s)
36 Colored Answer Chips (6 in each of 6 colors)
6 Player Pawns
1 Custom Die
I’ll start with the board, because it has a couple of the nicest design choices. It’s an odd shape: something that is sort of trying to be a circle, but with what basically look like bites taken out below. The top third or so is a very nice light green that simply says “Question”. Below that is a space for the current question card to rest.
The bottom portion of the board is divided into six segments radiating out from the card spot, each indicating one of the first six letters of the alphabet, and each ending in one of the aforementioned “bites”. And in the top left, at about the 10 o’clock position, there’s a tab sticking out that represents the “zero” spot on the round tracker.
The cards all follow a simple yet clear format. There’s a category at the top, and then six possible answers below, split into two columns of three rows each. That layout is important, since each answer lines up perfectly with the corresponding segment on the board. This is another really great design choice, because it freed the designers up from cluttering the cards with the letters, and it eliminates any potential confusion when determining which player guessed correctly.
The back of the card shows the answers, highlighting the correct ones in green. Again, because these line up with the segments on the board, everyone can see at a glance whether or not they were right.
The game also includes a Deck Cover Card, so while you’re playing you can keep that on top of the deck and not allow anyone to cheat by seeing and thinking about the next question.
The cards–500 of them–are split into 5 decks of 100 cards each. Mostly I think this was done to allow the box to be a bit smaller, but it also allows you to keep track of how many of the questions you’ve gone through. Not that that is much of a concern, though. In a typical game, you’re likely to only get through 10-12 questions, so it’l be a long, long time before we run out. It’s also worth noting that unlike the vast majority of games, these cards are all nicely packaged in their own slip boxes, so storage isn’t a concern.
The Round Trackers are relatively simple pieces that line up the board’s starting point tab and revolve around the top of the board. The game is played in three rounds, and so the game needs two trackers, with one showing round 1 on one side and round 2 on the other, and then the second just showing round 3. The circles on the tracker are the spaces each pawn moves. The numbers indicate the number of points scorced at the end of the round. Strangely, the game includes a third round tracker, which is an exact copy of the round 1/round 2 marker. I have not been able to figure out why this exists.
A very big change from the prototype I reviewed earlier is how victory points are tracked though the game. The prototype included a separate board, the Victory Point Tracker, which was a circular piece with spaces 0-9 around the outer edge, and then 10, 20, and 30 markers in the middle to designate when a player has lapped out the outer board. This allowed everyone to see where everyone else was, but required two additional pawns for each color.
In the final game, the Tracker and additional pawns have been ditched in favor of a more traditional approach: the game now has a set of 50 tokens in 1, 5, and 10 denominations. When players score victory points, they simply get these tokens, making change as needed. At the end of the game, it’s a simple matter of everyone adding up their points. While it’s not quite as easy to see where you are in relation to other players with this new system, overall we found that it greatly simplified score keeping.
The custom dice is a normal 6-sided affair, but has a special 1+ side and a ¡2! on another, replacing the 5 and 6. The custom dice is very nice, with big clear red numbers for 1, 2, 3 and 4 and green symbols for the other two sides. (Game nerds might be interested to note that opposing sides on this dice add up to 5, not 7, with the two special sides opposite each other.)
The Answer Chips were one of the nicest surprises in this edition of the game. They are heavy-duty plastic chips slightly bigger than a poker chip. I was surprised when my copy arrived at how heavy the box was, and while most of that weight is the cards, these chips definitely contribute their share.
How to Play Half Truth
The goal of the game is to end up, after three rounds, with the most Victory Points.
Setup is very easy. Simply place the board on the table with the Round One tracker on top of it. Have each player choose a color and take matching Answer Chips. They will then place their Player Pawn on the zero spot on the board.
Open one of the decks and take the cards out. Place the deck face-up (with the questions showing) on the table and place the Deck Cover Card on top of it, and you’re all set. Play is simultaneous so no need to pick a starting player, but someone needs to be designated to roll the dice, and someone else will draw the cards.
Whomever got selected to roll the dice does so. This will indicate how many spaces players will move if they get the question right.
The top card of the deck is revealed and the category and six possible answers are read out loud. The card is then placed it on the designated spot on the board, making sure to line the answers up with the lettered segments.
All players then take all six of their Answer tokens into their hands and secretly select one, two, or three of them.
Let me pause here and explain the cards, since this is the important part of the game’s mechanic (and the reason for its name.) Each card has a category at the top, like “Bounty Hunters in the Star Wars Movies” card shown above. It then lists six answers, but exactly three of them are correct and three are wrong. The Bounty Hunters card’s answers are Bossk, Nawawe, Zaytoven, KJ-52, IG-88, and Zam Wesell.
When choosing their answer tokens, players need to find one of the correct answers and select that matching token. So if you were pretty certain that IG-88 was a bounty hunter (duh), you would select your “E” token as that answer matches up to the “E” segment on the board.
However, if you know a bit more about Star Wars and were also sure that Bossk was correct, you could try to Double Up by selecting both the “A” and the “E” tokens. And if you’re really into Star Wars and of course know that Zam Wesell was the Clawdite bounty hunter killed in the beginning of Attack of the Clones, you would Go All In and select the “A”, “E”, and “D” tokens. However, all of this selecting of tokens–including the number you are selecting–is kept hidden from the other players.
Once all players have made their selections, everyone revelas them at the same time and places them in the “bites” on the board that match the selected letter. Once everyone has their guessed placed, the card is flipped over, which shows the correct answers highlighted in green.
All players who were 100% correct move their pawn up on the Round Tracker the number of spaces indicated on the dice.
However, players who gambled a bit and placed two Answer tokens now also get a bonus Victory Point. (Note here that the player does not move up further on the Round Tracker, but rather, gets a VP token.)
If a player correctly guessed all three answers, they get two bonus Victory points.
However, anyone who guessed wrong simply does nothing–they don’t move up on the Round Tracker and they get no bonus points. But it’s important to note that if a player guessed two or three answers, they must be completely right. If they miss even one answer, they get nothing for that turn. In the image above, the green player would get nothing because they got one of the three guesses wrong. (I mean, we all knew of course that KJ-52 is a rapper, right?)
Roughly 2/3 of the time, the dice wil be on one of the numbers and players simply move their pawns. However, when the dice rolls on the 1+ side, everyone who gets an answer correct will move one space on the Round Tracker, But, if they also double their Victory Point bonuses. So someone who placed two tokens and got both right would get two Victory Points, while someone who went All In would get four points, but only as long as they got all three answers correct. As always, if even one of the answers is wrong, they get no points and do not move their pawn.
The ¡2! side is where things get interesting. As you might guess, anyone who is right moves 2 spaces on the Round Tracker. However, when this side of the dice comes up, everyone will try to guess incorrect answers this round. In fact, the only way to score at all is to be wrong–one correct answer will mean you get nothing.
Each round ends as soon as someone hits (or exceeds) the final spot on the Round Tracker. This triggers a brief End of Round phase. Players get points for the scoring space they are on or have passed. This is another important, and positive, change from the prototype, where players only scored if they were on a point space. This created some weird strategic moves where if you were on a scoring space and it looked like someone was going to go out on this round, you might intentionally try to miss the question so as not to move. While that was a decent strategy, it goes against the spirit of a trivia game, so I for one am glad they changed it so that the space you passed most recently is the one you score with.
Then, there’s a quick reset: after round 1, the Round Tracker is flipped to round 2 (although I guess you could choose to use the other one, just so that it has some purpose). After round 2, the Round 3 Tracker is placed on the board. Everyone’s tokens go back to the zero marker, the dice is rolled, a card is read, and the game continues.
The game ends after the turn in which someone reaches the final space on the Round 3 Tracker. This triggers a normal phase of scorekeeping. Everyone then adds up their victory points and the person with the highest total wins. In case of a tie, the player whose pawn was furthest along the Round 3 Tracker wins.
Why You Should Play Half Truth
Trivia games have been a staple of the party game segment for decades, but most remain solidly as roll-and-move games, determined solely by the luck of getting a question you know the answer to. But Half Truth actually manages to add a bit of gaming strategy to the mix.
The main strategy is deciding when and if you are going to press your luck by doubling down or going all in. Since both are all-or-nothing propositions, you either win big or lose big. But, the more interesting element is that neither allows you to move on the Round Track. They give you end-of-game bonuses, but not mid-round bonuses. And that changes things, quite a bit, as you are also trying to move along the tracker to score those points.
The other great thing about the game is that it isn’t based entirely on how much esoteric knowledge is locked away in your head. The multiple-choice nature of the game always gives you a shot at being right–no one in my family, for instance, had any clue at all about “The actual names of the Three Wise Monkeys”, but given the six choices (Sukanko, Iwazaru, ichimaru, Kikazaru, Saru Saru, and Mizaru) we all felt that blind guessing at least have us a shot at the answer. (More than once, someone had absolutely no clue as the answer, and just fanned out their chips and picked one at random, because why not?)
The game is also instructional. The wrong answers explain a bit as to what they really are, and more than one card has sparked my kids asking questions about the topic to further their knowledge.
We all had a lot of fun playing the game. There is a ton of laughter each time we play, and everyone in the family enjoys it. The prototype only had 20 questions, so we only played part of one game. But since we have received the final version, we’ve played it over and over again, and the game is definitely going to be a consideration for gifts for family and friends. Our family loves this game, which is why I’m making Half Truth GeekDad Approved.
Stage 1: you will be angry and it is unfair. Move through this stage as quickly as possible. Vent the anger and frustration. Smash a ball against a wall. Choose the right play-lists. Run. Write pen on paper until you can write no more. Stage 2: you now have something precious: time on your hands. Of course it’s scary as cash-flow may be zero to negligible. But use that time. Stay well: MEDS (meditation-exercise-diet-sleep. More here). Stage 3: get a job. Yes you need money but more importantly, you need purpose. It’s our greatest motivator: everybody needs to feel they have a place on the planet. Get a job and don’t be fussy. You can be fussy later.
Stage 4: as some sectors collapse and/or shrink, others expand. Seek the latter. Be polite and persistent and get that interview. At the interview be polite and enthusiastic. Get the job.
Stgae 5: do the job. Sure you are now only filling shelves whereas once you used to be Intergalatic Sales Director, but do the job you have and do it brilliantly.
Stage 6: relish rhythm and purpose. And some cash. And once again you are managing your destiny. You are not your job title, you are your contribution.
Stage 7: let your anger go and the universe will guide you. Opportunities will arise. There are still beaches to walk, forests to explore and classics to read.
Thirty U.S. states have already legalized cannabis in some form, turning marijuana into what The New York Times calls the “fastest-growing industry in America.”
That’s why People magazine is writing stories about “Marijuana Millionaires”…
And that’s why USA Today is calling this a “gold rush.”
But we believe the growth we’ve seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg…
We believe this sector is about to explode.
You see, a few days ago, a major milestone took place — and for investors like you, it could lead to a tidal wave of life-changing profits.
A Major Roadblock Has Been Holding Weed Back
The legal cannabis market has been growing steadily for the past few years.
It’s now a $7 billion market in the U.S., and by 2020, it’s estimated to reach $22 billion.
But the fact is a major roadblock has been hindering its growth…
The federal government has made it nearly impossible for cannabis-related businesses to get access to basic financial services!
For example, cannabis companies are legally prohibited from opening a bank account, and they can’t accept credit cards at their dispensaries or websites.
This creates major challenges for businesses and consumers, dramatically limits sales growth and exposes dispensaries to sky-high security costs and the constant threat of theft.
But now, finally, things are changing…
The Federal Reserve Gets Involved
The U.S. Federal Reserve was established by Congress in 1913.
It’s been the foundation of our country’s banking system for more than 100 years — and when it starts changing its tune, it pays to take notice.
That’s why just weeks ago, we were so excited to read the following in TheWall Street Journal: “A Federal Reserve bank has given conditional approval to a Colorado credit union to serve marijuana-linked businesses…”
This is a big deal. In fact, many experts believe it’s the beginning of a profound shift for legal cannabis at the federal level:
For example, Julie Hill, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law and expert on the Federal Reserve, noted that this change makes it easier for other Fed banks to follow suit.
As she said, “They like to have consistency to the extent that they can.”
This move is also highly significant for another reason.
It proves that U.S. federal entities are willing to push forward with a pro-cannabis agenda even without the support of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Bottom line: For investors like you, the legal cannabis market is gearing up to deliver huge profits.
An Exciting Investment Sector
Cannabis is one of the most exciting — and potentially one of the most profitable — investment sectors we’ve ever seen.
As you might know, marijuana stocks have shown tremendous gains over the past few years…
For example, look at CV Sciences Inc. (OTCBB: CVSI):
CVSI focuses on developing synthetic versions of cannabidiol (CBD) — that’s the chemical in marijuana known for its medicinal properties.
In a couple of years, CVSI went from $2 to $147, so investors who timed it right took home gains of more than 7,000%. That’s like turning $10,000 into over $700,000!
Or look at 22nd Century Group (NYSE: XXII):
XXII focuses on creating cannabis-based products for health and wellness.
This stock took off like a rocket, quickly rising from just $0.20 to $5.13 per share.
That’s a gain of 2,500% — enough to turn $1,000 into over $25,000.
This helps explain why we’re so excited about this sector:
The cannabis industry is presenting an opportunity for ordinary investors like you to become wealthy in a very short period of time.
Given the profit potential, you might be tempted to start buying up shares in pot stocks right now.
But here’s the thing that most people don’t understand:
Investing in pot stocks is not the best way to make money in the marijuana market…
The Secret to Becoming a “Marijuana Millionaire”
Sure, if you know exactly how to analyze these companies — and if you know exactly how to time your trades perfectly — you could potentially make a great deal of money in pot stocks.
But those are a couple of big “ifs”…
The fact is if you look at the vast majority of folks who are getting rich from the marijuana market, you’ll see that none of them has made their fortunes from pot stocks.
To get rich, they all used a completely different type of marijuana investment…
In fact, this single investment is responsible for creating more “Marijuana Millionaires” than any other investment we’ve ever seen.
Take Brooke G., for example…
Brooke is from a small town in Colorado, and she spent most of her career working at a local bank.
Sure, she earned a steady living there, but she was far from wealthy.
What is maker? The term “maker movement” firmly entrenched itself in my parenting and educator lexicon over the last week. While at BETT 2018 with the LEGO Education crew, who invited me as their guest, I felt excited but also curious. The idea of the maker movement felt both natural and logical to me, but it also felt a bit out of my wheelhouse.
Great, so what does this have to do with education, right? To prepare the children of today for the workplace of tomorrow, parents and educators need to start instilling this collaboratively creative mindset from a young age. In other words, incorporating the maker mentality in children will allow them to adapt so they can be future leaders.
How do we create a maker mindset?
One thing I learned this week is that all kids are born with maker mindsets. We don’t need to create that mentality in children; we just need to foster it.
Think about little kids on a playground. How often have kids taken sticks and turned them into swords? That’s the maker mentality. Think about how little kids on a playground walk up to one another and suddenly create a new game out of the sandbox, sand toys, and rocks. That’s the maker mindset at work.
Little kids are born with maker mindsets. All people are born with inherent creative and collaborative skills. The question parents and educators need to ask themselves is, “what happens that makes them abandon this over time?”
How is the maker mindset different from the growth mindset?
This question better responds to the problems inherent in modern education. From the moment our kids enter schools, they become cogs in the education machinery. Looking at articles about the education’s impact on kids, we see that the current model defines children by achievement and metrics. Even Dweck’s “growth mindset,” much touted by educators, focuses on “achievement.”
Shrinking from challenges and being willing to take supported risks, as discussed by Dweck, do matter. Arguing that there’s a difference between fostering a maker mindset and a growth mindset doesn’t discount the value of being willing to fail. In fact, the new LEGO Education maker products intend to allow supported failure.
The Build a Duck exercise demonstrates how different people approach a simple task. Each duck may be different, and some people may feel their duck isn’t “the best.” Learning how to take a chance and rebuild better the next time supports the growth mindset.
More importantly, though, the maker mindset focuses on discussion and collaboration to combine with individual expression. This self-expression often gets lost as educators, parents, and administrators rush to help children achieve—get the best grades and scores—in a competitive environment.
Why is the maker mindset more important than the growth mindset?
This past week, LEGO Education taught me the power of creativity and curiosity. Sitting in the LEGO Education maker space pop-up at BETT, I watched children meander into the area because they saw toys and glitter. They were allowed to create with LEGO bricks but also to personalize the creations with stickers and googly eyes. (Come on, you know no one can resist googly eyes!)
Watching children interact creatively rather than mechanically awed me, as it usually does. However, more importantly, in a vast convention space focused on education technology, this small area gave kids a space to be creative and learn organically.
For a long time, I’ve said you can tell a lot about a child by how they use LEGO sets. Some kids like to build according to the directions, similar to solving a jigsaw puzzle. Some kids prefer to build their own creations. Some, like my kid, prefer to play with the completed sets and create new minifigure characters so they can tell stories. The maker movement and the LEGO Education sets involved help foster this individualized learning and expression.
What is the LEGO Maker program?
Last week, LEGO Education announced their Maker Lesson Plans. Full disclosure moment here: they paid for me to attend their event in London. However, as a parent and educator, I’d have covered this anyway.
The LEGO Maker Lesson Plans give adults the tools necessary for kickstarting their maker programs. As discussed back when the LEGO Education released their Preschool STEAM Park, all the lessons are core curriculum aligned. LEGO Education worked with teachers and education experts to develop programs based on pedagogical theory.
Going to the “Make a Dancing Robot” lesson, for example, the page lists the following educational objectives:
Science and Engineering Practices
3-5-ETS1.1, 3-5-ETS1-2, 3-5-ETS1-3
Common Core State Standards
RI.5.1, RI.5.7, W.5.8
With this resource, teachers can see how to incorporate the LEGO Education lessons meaningfully so that their students can find the overlaps between Math and ELA/Literacy.
As a college instructor, I view this overlap between math and language arts as more important than any achievement metric. Teaching college first-years, with a focus on engineers, I hear so often that students feel they are either good writers or good at math/science. My engineering students often approach writing as a necessary evil, a core requirement hurdle acting as a barrier to their science-based future.
Unfortunately, the education system has created this dichotomous mentality. As far back as Sherri Turkle’s 1984 publication The Second Self, students in science and math career trajectories acknowledge feeling separated from the arts and language. However, looking to artists like Calder, whose mobiles incorporate both sides of the divide, we can see the value to society of combining these skills.
The LEGO Maker Lessons help teachers and home-schooling parents to bring together math/science and ELA/Literacy in new ways.
Moreover, these lessons also include links to a student self-assessment sheet. Part of the maker mentality that helps reinforce the growth mindset is bringing students into the discussion. So many students arrive in my courses relying on only my feedback. They want me to tell them their strengths and weaknesses. As adults know, preparing for the real world means being able to assess our weaknesses before a boss or supervisor does. People need to be able to self-assess so they can evolve. Only adapting when others tell you that you are failing leads to a never-ending cycle of intellectual weakness and frustration.
The alignment to core standards helps educators, but the self-assessments help students. The LEGO Education Maker Lessons do integrate not only valuable classroom lessons but also critical personal lessons. In fact, as an educator in a different space, understanding how LEGO Education has created these lessons purposefully reinforces some of the self-assessment work I’m making my students do in my classes.
The Value of the Maker Movement
Reflecting on this last week with a core group of LEGO Education makers, I realize that this movement acts as a formalization of all the values I’ve held in my heart for years. As a parent, teacher, knitter, musician, and writer, I’ve felt the failure that comes from making mistakes when trying to solve a problem. Anyone who’s ever tried to knit a lace pattern or tried to reach a student or tried to write an article or tried to raise a child knows that we inevitably make mistakes as adults. We inevitably tap into our creativity. We inevitably take everyday items and use them for new purposes. Let’s be honest, lying to my kid that a chocolate peanut butter Luna Bar is a candy bar? That’s a maker moment right there. Using thread to hold up pants when you have no belt? Maker moment.
We have maker moments every day. LEGO Education is just making it easier for our children to engage in it meaningfully rather than accidentally.
Luisa Weiss is a Berlin-born, American-Italian food writer who grew up eating warm Streuselschnecken on her way to school and believes dark winter days are best enjoyed whilst sharing Lebkuchen and Zimtsterne with family and friends. Luisa is the creator of the blog The Wednesday Chef and author of the lauded memoir, My Berlin Kitchen. Her work has been featured on Design*Sponge and National Public Radio and in Food&Wine, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and Harper’s Bazaar Germany, among many others. Her latest book, Classic German Baking, is now available. She lives in Berlin with her husband and son.
Think of the archetypes of German food and you’ll probably come up with sausages and sauerkraut, potato salad and pretzels. And it’s true that all of those items, and their regional variations, are much beloved here in Germany. But classic German dishes also include things like potato pancakes with apple sauce (Kartoffelpuffer mit Apfelmus); veal Schnitzel (which is actually Austrian in origin); the original hamburger, namely pan-fried ground meat patties (depending on their geography, they’re known as Frikadellen, Fleischpflanzerl or Buletten); boiled eggs napped in a creamy mustard sauce and served with potatoes (Senfeier); and other iconic dishes like Sauerbraten (vinegar-marinated beef) and Spätzle, little Swabian noodles served sauced with melted butter and sautéed onions, or copious amounts of melted Alpine cheese, or a rich, brown gravy.
Traditional German home-cooked dishes are called Hausmannskost, which translates literally to “man of the house food,” but in the meantime has come to signify a certain kind of traditional comfort food. These dishes feature often in school and office canteens, but are made no less often at home. They are rib-sticking and hearty, perfectly suited to the long winters of northern and central Europe.
One of my favorite German dishes is Erbsensuppe, a thick and stewy soup made with dried green peas, diced potatoes, aromatic broth, and always served with Würstchen (little sausages). In fact, I adore the whole category of these thick, main-course soups, called Eintöpfe in German. German potato soup, green bean soup, and lentil soup, for example, all follow the same formula, producing thick soups that are warming to body and soul through the darkest winter months.
While Germany’s most famous food comes from the south of the country, each region has its own standard-bearers. Königsberger Klopse, small veal meatballs flavored with anchovies and napped in a creamy caper sauce, are a famous dish from what used to be East Prussia (Königsberg is now Kaliningrad) and is these days mostly served in Berlin and the surrounding areas. Königsberger Klopse are always accompanied by mashed or boiled potatoes and a small pile of pickled sliced beets. People tend to be of two minds about Königsberger Klopse largely due to the capers in the sauce (you either love ’em or hate ’em), but when they’re well made, they’re absolutely delicious.
School cafeteria food has a bad rap in the U.S., but my school lunches in Germany were so good that they still loom large in my mind. One of my favorite dishes from those years are stuffed cabbage rolls, known as Kohlrouladen. The filling is made with savory ground meat, which is then wrapped in blanched cabbage leaves (for a slightly fresher, greener variation, Savoy cabbage leaves can be used) and rolled up. The rolls are braised until soft and tender, and served with potatoes, all the better to soak up the rich, dark gravy.
A Swabian delicacy that has, in the meantime, won the hearts of many Germans are Maultaschen, which are large, square ravioli of sorts. They are most traditionally stuffed with a filling of ground meat and spinach that’s flavored lightly with nutmeg and, once cooked, served bobbing in a bowl of incredibly flavorful beef broth. But leftover Maultaschen can also be sliced and fried with caramelized onions until brown and crisp. Besides being served in broth, Maultaschen are also traditionally eaten alongside a big pile of vinegary Swabian potato salad.
Austria is Germany’s neighbor to the south and shares more than just a common language with Germany. Its cuisine, generally considered more refined than its German counterpart, shares many similarities in terms of ingredients and flavoring with traditional German cooking. And in the meantime, some of its most famous and beloved dishes, like Schnitzel or Tafelspitz, have been lovingly adopted as favorites by Germany, too. One of my personal favorites are Kaspressknödel, dumplings made of cubed bread and aromatic Alpine cheese, best served in clear beef broth dotted with snipped chives. (Alternatively, they can be pan-fried and served as a main course, often with a side of Sauerkraut.) They are gooey and toothsome and an absolute must in winter months, especially for lunch on the slopes.
Another Austrian favorite that is actually Hungarian in origin, but just as adored in Germany, is Gulasch, a thick meat stew flavored with long-cooked onions and ground paprika, and almost always served with buttered noodles. There are countless variations on Gulasch in Germany and Austria – potato Gulasch, sausage Gulasch, pepper Gulasch – but the traditional beef recipe, rich and saucy, is the clear favorite.
A little-known fact about German (and Austrian) food culture is that sweet dishes are sometimes served in place of savory ones, rather than as dessert. A big bowl of warm Milchreis (rice pudding) or Griessbrei (semolina pudding) is a typical sweet main course that will usually be served with a compote of preserved sour cherries (or a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar). In Austria, classic sweet dishes include Kaiserschmarrn, which is a puffy skillet pancake dotted with raisins and almonds, then torn into pieces, sautéed in butter and served dusted with confectioners’ sugar and a cooling spoonful of stewed plums. And then there are Germknödel, huge steamed dumplings stuffed with dark plum butter and served in a pool of vanilla crème anglaise and topped with poppy seeds.
But my very favorite German sweet dish is one that is only ever meant to be eaten for dessert, Rote Grütze mit Vanillesoße (the literal translation is “red grits with vanilla sauce”). Rote Grütze is a sweet-sour pudding made with fresh berries, sour cherries, and a base of plum juice thickened with the tiniest bit of cornstarch, and served with vanilla crème anglaise. It is refreshing, satisfying, never too sweet, and always a delight.