Archive for October, 2006

October 31, 2006

Fall Break

Fall break has been a very busy time for me. Throughout my travels I have been accused several times of neglecting my blog by various different people, so here is another bit of opium to keep the masses happy*.

My friend Heather and I had been planning on going to Prague last weekend. We’d both been twice and wanted to do some off-the-beaten-track kind of tourism. However, neither of us knew where to go for such kind of sightseeing, and since we discovered too late that it would take us too long to actually get there by train, our plans sort of fizzled. Instead, we visited a couple of excellent gastronomic places in Dresden on Saturday and then spent the rest of the weekend preventing ourselves from getting sick, and then losing the battle and actually getting the colds we had feared. Our remedy was lots of tea, Tekrum Keksbruch, and an onion and honey cold remedy Heather’s host mother had given her.

Tekrum is a wonderful cookie and pastry company, according to some to be the best in Germany. Established in 1897, it has created such specialties as Mandelmakronen (almond macaroons), Nussecken (nut “squares”), and various other tasty treats. Besides my grandmother’s easy access to the Lake of Constance, she also has a mere 5-minute walk to Tekrum’s outlet store. There you can find all the rejected, though just as tasty, deformed versions of their cookies that don’t pass their strict quality control. The best part: they come in 1-kilo bags for only a couple Euro coins. They are fantastic in the afternoon with tea or coffee, as a dessert after a good evening meal, for breakfast**, or simply to pop in your mouth throughout the day. And they also make wonderful presents for others, as I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like them.

Afer the Tekrum stopped helping our colds, Heather decided to make some of the cold medicine her host mother had made her. It involves thinly sliced onions covered with honey. You let it sit overnight in the refrigerator to let the juices form, and take one tablespoon in the morning and again in the evening. Heather finds the taste leaves much to be desired; however, her host mother and I seem to like the not-so-delicate onion flavor mixed with honey. In any case, it works very well to battle sore throats and coughs. Apparently onions have a lot of healing qualities, and are filled with bacteria-fighting “quercetin”, but I haven’t had a chance to research this more thoroughly.

Well, that’s enough for today. Stay tuned for some Thai chicken recipes, and more tasty sweets.

*Religion not included.
**Not mother-approved

October 18, 2006

Butternut Squash and Gouda with Fusilli Noodles

My school is on fall break until November, which means that I have quite a bit of time now to travel and explore Germany. This means, however, that my posting is going to be much more sporadic than I would like. The main draw-back to vacation (is there such a thing??) is that despite Germany’s stereotype of being incredibly organized, they really aren’t. They decided not to coordinate the university schedule with the school schedule, which means that the two weeks of fall break at the Gymnasium are the second and third weeks of classes at the TU Dresden. So, I went to visit my parents this last weekend, but had to return to Radeberg by Tuesday to attend my two courses (one on second language acquisition and one on teaching German as a foreign language). Little did I know that both classes would be cancelled: the first permanently, due to lack of enrollment, and the second just for the day because technicians had to fix something in the room we were using. Lovely German university system!

So, my return to Dresden was a bit superfluous. However, on my way back to the train station from the university last night, I saw a sign at a restaurant advertising a pumpkin and gorgonzola sauce with sunflower seeds on fresh noodles. It sounded very good, and I remembered my mom’s butternut squash soup we had eaten that weekend. Coincidentally I had some butternut squash waiting for me in my fridge, left over from a soup I had made earlier, and thought to scrap the original dinner plans and try my own rendition.

I combined my mom’s recipe with the restaurant’s (well, I actually have no idea what the restaurant’s recipe was because I neither saw it nor ate the dish) and added a bit of my own flair. Since I didn’t have gorgonzola, and wasn’t entirely sure that I liked that combination, I substitutued Gouda cheese instead. While I didn’t put it into my sauce, or in the recipe, sautéing a bit of ginger with the squash would be a very tasty addition. It would also be, a bit thickened, a wonderful filling for fresh home-made ravioli, topped with a chanterelle-cream sauce. This ended up being a quick and tasty meal, perfect for a cold fall evening!

Butternut Squash and Gouda with Fusilli Noodles*

1 medium Onion, coarsely chopped
2-3 cups cubed Butternut Squash
2 tsp Curry (Caution! With each type of curry its strength will vary!)
½ cup Water
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1 ½ cups Gouda cheese, finely grated (or any other cheese, a sharp Cheddar would be
very tasty!)

Sauté the onions with the curry on medium-high heat until the onions are clear, then add the butternut squash. Continue to sauté for two more minutes, then add water and lower heat to simmer until squash is soft (about 5-10 minutes, depending on how small your cubes are). The squash should fall apart on its own, but use a woosh-woosh machine to purée the squash and onions into a nice, smooth sauce. Add salt and pepper and melt cheese into sauce. Serve on top of hot fusilli noodles and top with toasted seeds, such as pumpkin or sunflower.

* The portions here are eyeballed and I have not yet had a chance to verify the amounts. If you try this recipe, please tell me what worked/didn’t work and what portions you would suggest.

October 9, 2006

Quark

As the sun goes down I grow floppy ears and fur and turn into a cute little bunny rabbit in search of raw veggies. Okay, so perhaps I don’t actually transform, but lately I have begun eating a traditional German Abendbrot at dinnertime.

Abendbrot is a supper that centers itself around Germany’s excellent bread. Usually multi-grain, though ranging across the gamut of possibilities, it’s a very good, cold meal. Often times it will involve slices of deli meats, tasty cheeses from Germany and its neighboring countries (for example Switzerland, where each town has its own specialty cheese), as well as lots of fresh, chopped, raw vegetables.

I remember eating this at Oma and Opa’s house when I was little. Oma was always an incredibly good chef, and lunchtime was a feast every day. But in the evenings it was “simplified.” She would pull out various items from the fridge that she had purchased at the bakery, butcher’s, and grocery store. My sister and I would set the table, each person getting not a plate but a small cutting board for a place setting. We would chop fresh red bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and anything else that looked good, and Opa would thinly slice the “Opawurst,” a very tasty hard salami that only Opa could cut “just so.” We would place the Kräutersalz (salt flavored with Italian dried herbs such as oregano and marjoram) on the table and say Guten Apetit!

But lately my favorite was derived from a visitor I had for a week who stayed in the guest room attached to my Amelie kitchen. She had bought Kräuterquark (herbed quark – are you beginning to see a pattern?) and spread it on her bread in the evenings and topped it with sliced cucumbers. Quark is something uniquely German. It is somewhere between cream cheese, sour cream, and yogurt. It’s a cheese that, to explain simply, has aged only a couple days but has had the whey taken out of it. It can be used by Germans in just about every meal and is widely available in Germany, but more difficult to find in the States. There are, however, a few companies that are making it. While I was always under the impression it was only made by one cheese factory in Wisconsin, I couldn’t find which one that is. In my searches, however, I did find that the Vermont Butter & Cheese Company makes and sells Quark. I also found a recipe that explained how to make your own Quark, though I haven’t tried it yet.

Quark is what my mother uses to make cheesecake, and it can also be very tasty in dessert form with banana puree and a bit of sugar. But, Kräuterquark is what I have discovered recently. While it can be bought already made in just about any grocery store here, I like to make things from scratch better. So, while my first attempt had so much garlic in it that I was still tasting it after three tooth brushing sessions and almost twenty-four hours later, I think I have been able to alter the recipe enough to finally post it. Keep in mind that Kräuterquark is something that you can put just about any fresh herbs into, and can be spiced with paprika or cumin if you like. This is just a basic recipe that I have been using.

Kräuterquark

250g Quark
1 small clove Garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp chopped Green Onion
some Basil leaves, chopped
some Chives, chopped
Salt and Pepper

Mix everything together into a bowl and season to taste. Use as a spread on artisan bread and top with fresh raw vegetables. My favorite combination is with fresh tomatoes topped with buffalo mozzarella cheese and a sprinkle of Kräutersalz or plain salt. It can also be used as a healthy dip for carrot sticks, broccoli, and anything else you may dip into a ranch dressing. It should be consumed within a couple days to a week tops.

October 7, 2006

Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum


This weekend I went with my good friend Heather on a trip to Leipzig, Sachsen’s second-largest city, about an hour from Dresden. After a late start, we got into the city around one in the afternoon, and began being tourists. We wandered around the Nikolai Church, saw Auerbach’s Cellar (made famous in Goethe’s play Faust), and went to the market place (where it was market day and I wanted to buy up all the fresh fruit and veggies I saw). The highlights, however, involved two of my past-times: music and food. The first was that Leipzig is where J.S. Bach worked in the Thomaskirche for 25-odd years. The Thomanerchor, the still-active boy’s choir, is world famous and as we walked into the church we discovered that they were rehearsing. So we got to listen to their rehearsal for a good twenty minutes. It was beautiful to hear such an amazing choir sing Bach’s music and stand right next to his grave.

The second highlight is perhaps more appropriate for this blog. Leipzig has a large coffee scene and is home to one of Europe’s oldest coffee houses, “Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum” (transl: “To the Arabic Coffee Tree”). Ever since working in a coffeehouse and writing a term paper on Viennese coffeehouses at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries I have been fascinated and in love with the café scene. Heather, also being a fan of literature and coffee, was one hundred percent behind me and so we made our way to the café. When we arrived, the first thing we found was a case full of the various cakes and tarts they were offering that day. We chose which ones we wanted before even having found the café room (there were several different venues in the building, including a couple restaurants). We finally found the café, on the second floor of the building, and it was packed. There was an Arabic café room, a Viennese room, and a French room. We sat down at a table in the French room that had just cleared, and as we did so a group of two retired couples joined us, as there was no other table free. So we were six people around a teeny table.

The Kaffee und Kuchen arrived and filled up our small table completely. Needless to say, both were delicious. My pear cake was topped with caramel and had a layer of chocolate cake in the middle and was the perfect moisture and fluffiness a pear cake, or any cake, should have. The coffee was, to sum it up in one word, simplydivine. (I know, I cheated!)

At first Heather and I had our conversation and the two couples had theirs, but the more time we spent together at the table, the more we began being intrigued by each other. By the time we all left the café, Heather and I had been treated to our fabulous coffee and cakes by one of the couples, and were given an address and invitation to stay with the other couple in their home in Jena, a couple of hours from Leipzig. We were flying higher than a kite as we stepped back out into the drizzly afternoon and headed back toward the Thomaskirche in the gathering dusk for an organ concert. And as if that experience wasn’t enough, as we rounded the church towards the entrance, we heard, then saw, a violist playing a movement from one of Bach’s cello sonatas. It turned out to be one of our Fulbright friends who supplements his stipend, and makes many interesting friends, by playing on the weekends by the church. His music was beautiful and it was wonderful to see how the various Fulbrighters have started to find their own niches in Germany.

One of the men at the café had said not to forget our experience at the café, not only because he was very impressed to meet such “intelligent and open-minded American women,” but because it’s moments and experiences like this that can change your life. I fully agree with him and know that this afternoon is an afternoon I will treasure always.

Zum Coffe Baum is located on Kleine Fleischergasse 4, 04109 Leipzig. Tel. : (0341) 96 100 60/61 http://www.coffe-baum.de/

October 4, 2006

The Sächsische Schweiz

When German romantic artists discovered the sandstone cliff formations outside of Dresden in the 19th century it started a movement back toward nature at the dawn of the industrial revolution.Caspar David Friedrich is one of the many well-known artists who got their inspiration from the fairytale-like forests and viewpoints along the Elbe river.The story goes that some Swiss artists who were among the first to discover this area were so reminded of home that they dubbed the area the Sächsische Schweiz.

I was very happy to discover this area after I found out I would be living near Dresden this year, as hiking is something I really would like to do more often.A Fulbright friend of mine stationed in Hamburg, Andrew, was chatting with me on Friday and I told him about the area.He grew up in Minnesota and went to the University of Puget Sound in Washington, and because he missed hills and forests (Hamburg’s pretty much as flat as you can get), he decided to spontaneously come down for a visit.It was a great weekend, and included a fabulous hike.

We hopped on the regional train into Dresden from Radeberg, switched into an S-Bahn (commuter train) and were out in the Sächsische Schweiz within an hour.Having struggled through admissions at the Technische Universität Dresden I have finally received my Semester Ticket, which allows me to use all Dresden public transportation, including out to Radeberg and, amazingly, all the way to the Sächsische Schweiz.So, for a mere 73 Euros a semester, I have beautiful hiking, and all of Dresden, at my fingertips!

Andrew and I got off the S-Bahn in Wehlen, a sleepy town that is cut in half by the Elbe.The only way you can get across is by passenger ferry boat, and since the information office in the Rathaus was on the opposite side of the train station, we decided to hop on it.The river was actually very narrow, and Andrew pointed out that when the boat pointed its nose to the opposite riverbank to cross, it had already crossed a third of the river.Once we found the information office we bought a hiking map, bought some rolls at a bakery, and were off on our hike.After I navigated incorrectly and we had to ask a local for the right way, we finally found ourselves in the middle of a beautiful forest.

Throughout our walk, as we were engrossed in conversation, we would frequently stop and gasp at the amazing rock formations around us that seemed to grow, like the trees surrounding them, out of the earth.After about a two hour walk we arrived at the Bastei.We weren’t really sure what it was, but it appeared to be a major tourist attraction.There was a parking lot, which added to the amount tourism of course, a “Panorama Restaurant,” lots of kiosks, and some viewpoints that would have offered fantastic views (see picture), if the other tourists hadn’t been there to annoy us.It took us a good half hour of wandering around the tourist kitsch before we actually found the attraction:it turned out to be a bridge that spanned quite a few of the sandstone cliffs.It was built in the 19th century and was architecturally quite impressive, but again, the tourists distracted from the enjoyment factor.

We were both beginning to get hungry, so we decided to continue on our hike and go to the next town, Rathen (pronounced: Rah-ten), for dinner.Andrew claimed he hadn’t had a “traditional German” meal yet, and that’s almost blasphemy for me if you’ve lived in Germany two months already, so we picked the one that looked most traditional and tasty and went for it.It was incredibly good.He had a Bauernfrühstück (farmer’s breakfast), which was different from what I’d expected.It was basically an omelet, though it tasted pretty good.I ordered a wild game goulash with Knödel (dumplings) and a cranberry sauce.It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Neither of us had a watch, which was actually really nice as we could leisurely enjoy the area in a timeless fashion.It turned out we were quite early for dinner, but it worked out perfectly as we had a unhurried dinner and still had plenty of time to walk back to Wehlen along the riverfront before it got dark.

We boarded the passenger ferry once more, missed the S-Bahn by two minutes, and had to wait another half hour in the station for the next one.When we arrived home we were tired but refreshed and in good spirits.The day had been a bit misty and had drizzled every now and then, but we were lucky because Andrew left the next day in the pouring rain.My legs being (embarrassingly) a bit sore, it was nice to just curl up in my apartment with a hot pot of tea and Fabian by Erich Kästner and read the afternoon away.