Archive for January, 2007

January 30, 2007

Karottensalat


Food presentation is an interesting phenomenon. Not the fact that one can have a career in making food look pretty (which is admittedly impressive), but the fact that we have the need for making food look pretty in the first place. No matter what our first-grade teachers told us about finding the beauty of a person on the inside, humans seem to be, by nature, obsessed with looks. Looking at it this way, it doesn’t seem surprising that we would also let aesthetics influence our taste long before we’ve taken a bite.

Children will much more readily eat sliced apples than grab the whole apples sitting on the counter. I experienced this first hand while at a choir retreat with fifth and sixth-grade children last fall: we had apples, bananas, and oranges sitting out all weekend and no one ate them. I recalled one of the cooks at the International Language Camp mention this phenomenon, that sliced fruits and vegetables are more likely to be eaten, and decided to give it a shot. It worked like magic: in the last afternoon, thirty children ate upwards of five kilograms of apples (sliced and unpeeled), three bunches of bananas (chopped into thirds but not peeled), and three kilos of mandarins (peeled and wedges separated). The Germans even have a word for food served in smaller pieces: mundgerecht (literally: suitable for the mouth).

It doesn’t seem to affect choice in general if fruit pieces are peeled or unpeeled, as long as they’re not brown with age. A couple bananas were left over before rehearsal started, and after an hour and a half of singing, no one wanted to touch the slightly browned, though otherwise perfectly fine, pieces anymore. Some people may say slices are more often eaten with other sauces and dips (such as caramel cream dips sold in produce sections of American grocery stores), but in my opinion that’s not necessary either. None of these fruits were served with dips, and they were eaten just the same. My theory is: if the kids don’t know the option is there, they won’t ask for it.

This makes me wonder if the evolution of salads comes from this tendency to want to chop things up and make them easier to eat. Continuing my postings on salads (we’ve had cucumber salad before and I promised more to come) I thought I’d post about the wonderfully tasty carrot salad. Carrots in general seem to be difficult for us as a society to eat plain (in the US as well as Germany): usually when we eat a raw carrot we eat carrot sticks, and in Germany people still chop their carrots up every morning for their snacks. American capitalism, in contrast, has picked up on carrot sticks and produced ready-to-eat flavorless mini carrots in smaller portions, so we don’t have to chomp down on a large, vitamin and flavor-rich root. Even the organic industry has jumped on this bandwagon, with disappointingly little or no taste difference that I can tell. We have been carrot brainwashed to the point that we have all forgotten how a real carrot should taste. And what a surprise it was for me when I bit into a real carrot here in Germany for the first time in years and realized: carrots taste really good! So next time you’re in the grocery store, resist your human instincts for having things mundgerecht: don’t buy the processed minis – reach for the real thing. This won’t only save your taste buds, but it will save your wallet and the environment as well (just think of the waste factories produce in chopping and shaving all those carrots).

Karottensalat (German Carrot Salad)

375 g shredded carrots (about three “real” large carrots)
10 Tbsp vegetable oil (you can try this with olive, but it will give a different flavor)
4 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp mirin (this is a sweet rice wine, you can substitute in sugar, but start with only one teaspoon, as it’s much stronger)

I like to make this recipe with organic carrots, because then I only have to wash them rigorously before shredding them. This saves all the vitamins that are just under the skin. Mix the dressing and pour it over the carrots. Taste the salad for flavor, adjust as desired/necessary. You can also add a shredded apple if you like (Granny Smith is good) or a handful of sunflower seeds for a twist in flavor and texture. Let the salad steep and serve at room temperature. I like to serve this alongside a green salad to make it a bit fancier. Cucumber salad can also be served with these.

January 23, 2007

Illegal Coffee (WWF Report)

The World Wildlife Fund published a report last week that illegally-grown coffee in the world heritage site and Indonesian national forest of Bukit Barisan Selatan (BBS) is destroying up to 30% of the forest, which is home to animals such as tigers, elephants, and rhinos (some of which are on the endangered list). This illegal coffee is mixed into legally-grown coffee and exported to big international trade companies, including Kraft, Nestle, and the Hamburg Coffee Company. WWF acknowledges that many of these companies aren’t aware that they are buying this illegal coffee. WWF has contacted the companies, but reactions have been mixed. Some of the companies have agreed to enter talks with WWF on how to improve the situation, other companies have denied the use of illegal coffee outright.

Cordury Orange
has posted an excellent, thorough review of the report. He urges us all to let these companies know we don’t approve of destroying the BBS, and other, natural forests for agriculture. While it is easy to contact Kraft (simply fill out this form) and Nestle (using this form), contacting the Hamburg Coffee Company is a bit more difficult, as their website www.hacofco.de is down. Their address and phone, however, are:

Hamburg Coffee Company Hacofco GmbH
Zippelhaus 5
20457 Hamburg

Tel. 040 / 30 96 16-0
Fax 040 / 33 82 00

Photo from: www.brainfuel.tv

January 21, 2007

Crème de Marron

Roasted chestnuts are a staple of German Christmas markets. I know what you’re thinking: “Why are you writing about Christmas markets again? It’s January for goodness’ sakes!” Well, my answer to you my dear reader, is I’m not writing about Christmas markets. I’m writing about chestnuts. Of course, this does remind me of the time I was at the Christmas market with my brother in law and we were walking through the stands on some secret mission or other, discussing in English what perfect present it was we were looking for. There was a man standing next to his barrel of chestnuts roasting on an open fire calling out “Heiße Maroni! Heiße Maroni!” He noticed we were speaking English and so he cried out, with a beautiful German/British accent, “Hot Maronis! Hot Maronis!” Unfortunately, neither of us really liked chestnuts, so we passed the stand with a smile and good cheer.

Years later, I was in Paris with my friend Kait (which is why I’m posting this now, since this was almost exactly two years ago, on her birthday which was just last week). It was a wonderful whirlwind weekend tour (like the alliteration?), and on our last evening, Kait insisted we eat crêpes. So we found ourselves in a crêpe restaurant and ate savory crêpes that were simply divine. For dessert, we passed a crêpe stand on our way to the train station (I was taking the night train with my friend Briana back to Hamburg). Although we were stuffed, we still bought some of the divine sweet confections. For some reason my French skills failed me in the moment and I thought that crème de marron meant crème d’amande. I was excited when I ordered what I thought would be a marzipan crêpe. Kait was surprised [and made some comment, for the sake of the story she said this, which is a lie because she really likes them:] – “I don’t like chestnuts” she said as we watched my precious marzipan crêpe was smeared with chestnuts, rolled into a cone, and filled with incredibly fluffy pastry cream. That’s when my heart sunk and I realized what I’d ordered. I wanted to say “Neither do I, I want a different one” and then I thought the better of it (why make yourself sound more stupid than you have to?) Instead, I swallowed and said “Well, I thought I’d give it a try – I can’t get this in Germany.” Very diplomatic, yes, that’s me.

After one bite I knew this was the right purchase – it was delicious. I was so surprised. The chestnut cream was far from being grainy, mealy, or bitter, all reasons I don’t like chestnuts. The pastry cream was just the right sweetness paired with the chestnuts, and I ate the whole confection without even thinking it was something I didn’t like. “Perhaps,” I thought, “I just haven’t found the right kind of chestnuts. Maybe the quality in German Christmas markets is just bad.”

Thus, upon discovering chestnuts in grocery stores this winter, I decided to take it upon myself to recreate my Parisian experience. By this point I’d completely forgotten the pastry cream: I was obsessed with finding good quality chestnuts to turn into a cream. I studied many different recipes, and came up with one I thought might work. I had it all planned, the only missing link was the chestnuts. And then I found them. My mom and I spent a week with my aunt Inge in Berlin in early January, and on our last day we decided to visit a farmer’s market where one of Inge’s friend’s brothers sold cheese and cured meats. The market was amazing – the whole time I couldn’t help but wish that this was in Dresden. I am still determined to find something similar here, but have yet been unsuccessful. There were stands and stands of fresh produce, most of it sold by farmers from just outside Berlin (not distributors like at the Radeberg market). This is where I found these beautiful chestnuts and decided that my time had come.

At home the next weekend, my friend Heather came over. It was the first time in almost a month that we’d seen each other, as she’d been in the States for the holidays. I was so excited to see her, and I decided to make crêpes for brunch for the two of us. I started out with savory crêpes with a zucchini-champignon filling, which I’d sautéed in olive oil until the juices had almost cooked off and then seasoned with salt and pepper. The crêpes themselves proved a bit more difficult to make, but about halfway through the batter I’d gotten the hang of it. Of course, by this time, Heather had already been sitting in my Amelie kitchen for an hour – my timing was way off. Nevertheless, we were very happy to catch up with each other dipping little Nüssli biscuits from Switzerland (grâce à Inge) into cups of cinnamon coffee. We discussed everything from her trip to Washington D.C. to Bush’s recent address on Iraq, and how he said that if we pull out now it would turn into a disaster. … uh, turn into one?

After the chestnuts had soaked, roasted, been peeled, and cooked in milk for half an hour, it was time to purée them. I took my woosh-woosh thingy and began. I had to keep adding milk and more milk because the starch kept sticking to the blades. Finally, I got a creamy consistency, sifted some powdered sugar in to taste, and folded some whipped cream in to make it fluffy. I proudly placed the cream on the table with the left-over whipped cream as filling, and we dug in.

At first, we both said “Mmm, it’s not bad.” One of us may have even said “Quite good!” However, neither of us attacked these crêpes the way we had the savory ones. The cream wasn’t very smooth, it tasted a bit mealy, and definitely had a slightly bitter flavor. What had gone wrong? Probably everything, but in retrospect I think the main problem was a lack of sugar. I’m almost positive the crème de marron I had in Paris was loaded with sugar (and most likely other nasty preservatives and chemicals), and with the pastry crème on top it naturally would have been difficult to taste the flavors of the chestnuts. My heart sank as I realized that perhaps I really didn’t like these precious, optically beautiful nuts.

In the end, as Heather and I were cleaning up the kitchen, I debated whether or not to save the crème. I finally decided to scrape it into a plastic container. “Perhaps I can save this disaster,” I said, “Of course, we all know what happens if someone tries to save disasters…” Heather looked at me, “Did you just compare your crème de marron to the Iraq War?” I looked back at her and smiled, “I think I did…” We had a good laugh as I stuck the container in the fridge and we started attacking the dishes.

A week later the container is still in the fridge, and I haven’t touched it. I haven’t come up with any brilliant ideas to save the cream. It’s hard for me to bring myself to throw away such beautiful treasures, but I should be an example for our dear president and let go of my failed brainchild.

Crêpes

1 cup cold water
1 cup cold milk
4 eggs
½ tsp salt
2 cups flour
¼ cup (½ stick) melted butter

Blend the wet ingredients in a blender, or with a wire whisk, and then slowly add the dry ingredients. In a nonstick pan of desired size (8”-10” is ideal), pour a small bit in. The batter should immediately begin to set and steam. This will take some time and practice to get it right. When the crêpe has become golden brown on the bottom, you may choose to deftly flip the crêpe in the air, or use a spatula to turn it over. Brown on the other side, then place on an oven-proof plate, cover with aluminum foil, and keep warm in an oven until the rest of the crêpes are done. Serve sweet or savory. A traditional, and in my opinion very tasty, sweet method is lemon juice and sugar. Other options are nutella, apple sauce, cinnamon and sugar, or even liqueurs (such as Baileys or a vanilla or chocolate liqueur). Savory options include spinach, lightly cooked tomatoes with herbs and garlic, asparagus, etc…

January 16, 2007

Radeberger Exportbierbrauerei

I seem to live in cities here in Germany that are closely tied to food and drink: having lived in Hamburg, I would call myself a “Hamburger.” The double meaning in this is obvious. Similarly, I live in Radeberg, where one could call its inhabitants “Radeberger.” However, most Germans will know that this really refers to its most famous export: Beer. That’s right, this small town of 18,000 is famous Germany-wide for its pilsner.

Pilsner (also known as Pils) is a type of beer. It distinguishes itself from Hefeweizen in that it ferments from the bottom up (Hefeweizen ferments from the top down). Thus, although Radeberger does sell a Zwickelbier that looks like a Hefeweizen, its brewing process has undergone a completely different process and is really a Pilsner. The Zwickelbier is only available at the brewery, in the brewery’s restaurant/hotel down the street, and on the Brühlsche Terrasse in Dresden. This is because, unlike the Pilsner which travels very well, the Zwickelbier has a very short life and must be drunk fresh, as it’s the unfiltered Pilsner.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself! While my parents were here on a visit last fall, we decided to take a tour of the brewery. My mom loves going to factories and seeing how things work (she’s always wanted to see how the postal system works, and loves going to the Tillamook cheese factory in Oregon). So we walked over to the brewery, with its imposing presence at the end of the Bahnhofstraße. For anyone coming from the train station going into town, this is pretty much the first thing s/he sees.

The tour itself was guided by a woman who had obviously memorized a script, down to her feeble attempts at making jokes. Despite her monotonous tone, we did learn a lot about the brewery. Of course, I’ve forgotten all the facts since then. However, upon some research, I discovered that they produce about 2 million hectoliters of beer a year (that’s about 53 million gallons). That’s a lot of beer. I do remember her saying that in one hour, they can bottle 40,000 bottles of beer (each 0.3 liters). Here is a video of the bottles, you can see them on their way to be filled and labeled towards the top of the screen, and then on the bottom they come out filled and covered in shiny gold foil, on their way to be sorted into cases.

The brewery claims to be Germany’s first Pilsner brewery (of its kind), after adopting Czech brewing techniques. During the GDR it was very difficult for East Germans to get their hands on the beer, as it was chiefly an export beer. Only those with contacts on the inside were able to drink it. Today, although the brewery has kept its name as export brewery, the beer is chiefly drunk in Germany; however, it’s exported to, among others, the US still. I think the guide said you can find it in Boston and Philadelphia, but I’m not sure anymore.

One other thing I remember from the tour is the control room, where the brew masters keep tabs on the huge brewing vats. I have to say my trekkie days came back to haunt me, because I thought the console looked straight out of the original Star Trek!

There’s a lot more to know about beer: its history, how it’s brewed, how it tastes best. It’s enough to devote an entire thesis on. Nevertheless, here’s my sum-up: when possible, drink beer on tap. It always tastes better. If you do find a bottled Radeberger near you, drink it of course! Just remember, you don’t like it, it may not be the beer. Our tour guide said that many things can effect the taste of beer: for example, if it’s left outside in the sun or if it was shaken around too much during transport. One thing you can do to ensure the best taste once it’s in your home is not to stick it in the freezer to cool it quickly. Temperature shocks like that exert negative effects on any alcoholic beverage. Plan ahead, and make sure you have enough beer in the fridge for you and your friends to enjoy (responsibly of course!).

Finally, when you take that first sip, make sure to toast to your friends’ health and say “Zum Wohl!” while looking in their eyes. No matter how tempting it is, toasting while looking at the glasses that are touching, or worse looking away, is not only considered rude but is “known” to be bad in other aspects of your life as well… *hem* *hem*

The Radeberger Exportbierbrauerei is located on Dresdner Str. 2, 01454 Radeberg, Germany. Tours should be scheduled, by telephone, in advance. Tel. 03528 / 4540, Fax 03528 / 454321.

January 11, 2007

Catch-Up Follow-Up

After posting this yesterday and musing about it, I figured more explanation is in order. After all, Garrison Keillor deserves a complete post, not just a sidenote! [Jan. 12, 2007 ~KM]

Due to copyright reasons I have removed the ketchup photo until further notice. [Jan. 25, 2007 ~KM]

Garrison Keillor, host of the 35-year-old radio show A Prairie Home Companion produced by American Public Media, is someone whose voice I knew long before I knew his name – and whose name I knew long before I knew what he looked like (in fact, I saw my first picture of him yesterday). In this day and age that is a rare but welcomed occurrence. It gives me the chance to use my imagination and create a person in my mind’s eye that matches up with the voice I am hearing.

A Prairie Home Companion is a show that airs from St. Paul, Minnesota (though he does travel) and is broadcast on many National Public Radio stations throughout the nation (NPR is the nation’s only public radio broadcasting company). A Prairie Home Companion is a variety show from the days of yore. His most famous series is Tales of Lake Woebegone. It’s a cult thing. I remember my grandparents visiting from upstate New York when I was young. Of these visits, when my parents would graciously move out of their bedroom into the basement, I vividly remember being in their bedroom with my grandfather (who is now 92 and still tunes in every week!), who always had lemon drops or Wherther’s caramels and listened to A Prairie Home Companion seemingly constantly. Now of course, this can’t be, as it’s a show that only airs once a week, but in my mind, this is the way it was: Grandpa with enough candy and Garrison Keillor to go around.

The fact that this memory is so prominent will probably give you the hint that my own immediate family didn’t listen to him so regularly. But I do distinctly remember listening to Lake Woebegone with my sister Hanna and my parents, all sitting in the livingroom laughing at the generational conflicts Garrison Keillor so eloquently, wittyingly, and smoothly speaks of. While I associate Garrison Keillor with these comforting memories, it is also his gentle (some, who don’t appreciate him, say monotonous) voice that makes the show particularly catching. So I don’t know whether it’s the voice that makes the memories comforting, or the memories that makes the voice comforting. Either way, although I admit I’ve never listened to an entire show (maybe my attention span isn’t long enough – it’s a two-hour show), it’s wonderful how calming listening to A Prairie Home Companion is.

And this calming aspect brings me to the purpose of this post. Garrison Keillor does regular notices from The Ketchup Advisory Board. This fictional board claims ketchup has “mellowing agents that help you accept your life choices, and move on with a positive outlook.” David’s father mentioned this to me, and I found myself laughing out loud while listening to these two particular clips.

Christmastime (December 27, 2003)
College Roommates (June 3, 2006)

Do you have a favorite Prairie Home Companion clip? Post the link in the comments section!