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Friday, March 30, 2012

Down to the Bäckerei For a Morning Cup


300 Varieties of Bread

Looking from the inside out

One of the chain bakeries, Reichhart, has a small shop within walking distance.  Some mornings I get there for coffee and sometimes I linger to write, or finish reading a book.  Tough life. 

You can learn a lot idling over your caffeine fix.  For instance, Germans always greet each other on entering and leaving.  Used to be you’d hear “Guten tag” and “Weidersehen. “  Now you hear “Hallo” and “Tschüss.”  The later is pronounced ‘chew-ss’ and is more or less the German version of ‘ciao.’

Germany is one of those fabulous countries that sports two or three corner bakeries in every town.  Granted, most are owned and operated by big corporations. Private Bäckerei seem to be disappearing rapidly.  One statistical source shows a 40% decline since 1990.  Sound familiar?  We’re seen the same thing with cookie-cutter malls in the U.S.  All the big boys driving out the Main Street moms and pops.

In Germany it’s a bit different.  Even many of the chains are small bisto-style bakeries located on street corners in every village.   They bake their own bread and make their own pastries. Hours are usually 7 to 7, with perhaps a half-day on Sunday.  None of this 24/7 stuff that really puts Mom and Pop at a disadvantage.

A line forms as you step into a German bake shop.  When it’s your turn, the counter salesperson gives her undivided attention.  For that moment, she is there only to serve you.  Lots of eye contact.  Makes you feel special.  Thinking of sending my wife to bakery school.

There are so many varieties of bread, from Graubrot (crusty rye-wheat) to Vollkornbrötchen (whole-grain).  There were 300 types at last count and another 1,200 types of rolls and pastries, so it’s hard to choose. But one thing for sure, Germans go for extreme freshness and heavy, wholesome bread.  Goodness knows, they eat enough of it.  192 pounds per person each year.  Compare that to 121 pounds per person for the French, no slouches themselves in the bread department.  Taking bread and baking seriously extends to the employees.  By the time a salesperson gets behind the counter, she is well trained, sometimes working months or years to get to full time.

What about the bread itself?  Food laws specify what can and cannot be used in practically all food preparation.   These days most bakeries have gone a step further and sell Bio bread, which is organic to the max, including the seeds and nuts sprinkled on top.  Even the non-Bio bread has no preservatives or flavor additives.  Also, it’s uncut until you buy it.  “Schneiden?” the lady will ask, holding up your fresh purchase.  Do you want it sliced?

The only downside to ‘freshness first’ is that you have only a day or two to consume your purchase before it starts to become a laboratory experiment.  Ah, the price lazy appetites pay to eat healthy.
Lunch available, or maybe a more sustaining breakfast than sugary treats?  You bet.  Lots of brötchen (rolls) laden with slices of cheese, tomato, pickles, and eggs.

What about the coffee?  I love German coffee, most of which comes from automatic espresso machines.  Of course, not everyone agrees, but those are the poor souls who won’t drink any coffee that doesn’t rhyme with up-chucks. The German word for coffee is pretty much the same as ours, Kaffee.  Want café au lait, better ask for Milch Kaffee.  If you just want the counter help to add a bit of milk, order Kaffee mit Milch.  No big deal.  In most places you can simply order Kaffee and add the milk and sugar yourself.  Need it ‘To Go?”  Just say, zum Mitnehmen.  Often you can get a coffee and pastry at a special price, Angebot.

Getting to be a regular at a Bäckerei has its own rewards.  Now I get my coffee after I walk in the door, and if only for a moment, I have a smiling, special friend, who makes a lot of eye contact.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Home on the Range (Electric Range that is)

You don’t have to tell me there are lots of chili recipes and even more chili cooks.  I know the rules:  use only chunks of beef, cook the chili for hours, and don’t add beans, or onions.  Most of all, no tomatoes!   I say, take those rules and stuff ‘em where the steers don’t roam.

Sometimes, after a tough day of pilates and yoga classes, making cookies for the PTA, doing the laundry, and other testosterone reduction activities, I find myself wondering what’s for dinner?  Here’s the solution!  Strap on a manly apron, get the kitchen tidy, and know in your heart that quiche ain’t the correct answer and ain’t even on the same page as the correct answer.  Looking for something to help you get your swagger back!

It’s been a gut wrenching day and there’s no time left to tomahawk your own beef, rub sticks together for a wood fire, and tame that deep, hankering you have for the smooth, but fiery taste of the southwest’s gift to manly menus.  Have faith!  Lack of time doesn’t mean you can’t rustle up a noble substitute to smoky, hungry-dude, chuck wagon victuals.

First, grab yourself a brew that comes in a bottle, not some whimpy, thin aluminum container that changes colors to tell you when you beer is cold.  If you don’t know when your beer is cold, you shouldn’t be drinkin’ it! And, for goodness sakes, don’t pick a beer you’ve seen advertised on TV!  Time to puff up your chest!  Time to yell an obscenity or four, take a deep, deep swig, and move on to chili time!  If your wife is at home and objects, say the naughty-naughty words quietly, while smiling sweetly.  Then, forget this recipe and go whip up some quiche.  For the rest of you, let’s move on to some chili!

On to the Chili

2 lbs grass raised, natural ground beef  (If you want antibiotics and growth hormones, go hang with the med students.)
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 Tablespoons chili powder
1  cup beef stock
2 dried chipotle chilies
1 can diced tomatoes, with garlic, onion, oregano, and whatnot, undrained
1 can Mexican style stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 can pinto beans with jalapeños, undrained

Fry the hamburger in a stew pot, breaking it up as finely as possible.  When the pink is gone, add the garlic, onions, and chili powder.  Stir.  Cook for two minutes to let the flavors blend.  Remember, don’t drain any of the canned items.  Chop both cans of tomatoes in a blender until they’re in small chunks. Add them to the pot and mix well.  Now add the pinto beans, and then stir in the whole chipotles.  Cover and cook for 30 minutes over medium heat, careful not to let the chili boil dry.  If it gets too thick, add some more beef stock.

Serve with tortilla chips (if they’re not homemade, forget the chips), chopped raw onions, chopped cilantro, and chopped jalapeños.  Some people like to also add grated cheese.

Feeling more manly already, ain’t ya!  Time to open another bottle of brew, go into a back room and bellow like a steer who’s just found a new herd, and get ready for some chili!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Charleston Farmers' Market

Shrimp Po Boy Charleston Style

Charleston sur l'Atlantique

Fresh as Fresh can be

Georgia is the "Peach State," but SC has their share.

Europe is exciting, but in the U.S. there are also plenty of things to race your engine, whip your pony, and blow your hair back.  Some even come with a certain old world charm.  South Carolina, The Palmetto State, has its own slow, well-aged charm and for my money, the beating heart of that charm is Charleston.  No, it’s not the capitol, you idiot!  That’s Columbia, up I-26 for a couple of hours. When I'm in Charleston, one spot in particular draws me back time after time.

That spot is the Charleston Market.  I’m talkin’ cobblestone streets, women weaving sweetgrass baskets, people smiling and saying ‘y’all’ the way you’re supposed to say it.  On Saturday mornings (8 a.m. – 2 p.m.), from April 7 to December 23, I’m talking about an open air, stroll-through, genuine farmer’s market, where you can actually buy yourself a farmer farm fresh produce from small producers.  Tender okra.  Vine ripened tomatoes.  Shiny skinned onions.  In season, you’ll also find fruits and nuts straight from the green vines and tall, stately trees.  If you’re used to a watermelon picked before it’s time and shipped hundreds of miles, a vine-harvested melon, picked only a couple of hours before you eat it, is going to bring a smile to your face.

The open air market is located in historic Marion Square.  When you stroll the grounds, eyeing fantastic artwork, smelling pots of sweet herbs and oven fresh bread, and nibbling plates of all sorts of delectables, including Charleston’s most famous dish, shrimp and grits, take the time to glance around.  Marion Square was ceded to the then Colony of South Carolina in 1758.  The huge edifice to the north was for a time the colony’s arsenal, then from 1843 to 1922, it was The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, which has since moved to the west side of the city. A historic Baptist Church is right across the street.

The square is jointly owned by the Washington Light Infantry, a military and social organization formed in 1807 and the Sumter Guards, another private organization, and leased to the city.  Under the terms of the lease, the city must maintain Marion Square as a green area.

Right next to the square is St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, with it’s towering steeple.  Founded in 1840 for German speaking congregants, it’s been in it’s current location since 1872.  There’s too much to include about St. Matthew’s, traditionally known as St. Matthew’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church.  But a couple of highlights are that it’s founder, Johann Andreas Wagener would go on to become a general of the Confederate States of America and later a member of Congress.

Marion Square also hosts a statue of John C Calhoun, and an elegantly sparse and moving Holocaust Memorial.

So, while you’re eatin’ your shrimp and grits, lugging your pots of fresh herbs, gawking at the artwork, and picking up those fresh, jubilantly red tomatoes, gaze across Marion Square and soak in the layers of living history.  It’s all around you and one of the big reasons Charleston is such a special place.

The famous shrimp and grits BBQ Style

Monday, March 26, 2012

Apple Cake from the Lone Star State

Ready for coffee or a big glass of milk
Dough is stiffer than you're used to

Heaven in a bunt pan

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for healthy eating, as long as its done in moderation.  But, sometimes ya just gotta push those lily-livered, calorie countering, conscience messing, whiners away from your table.  Let ‘em take their guilt-troubled egos to the dry salad and celery stalk rabbit hutch, while you push your ponderous gut forward and gulp with all the gusto of a starving hog at the trough.

I’m talking fresh apple cake!  And plenty of it!  That’s the ticket.

What the hey!  Do apples even grow in Texas?  Hells, bells, ye of little faith and paucity of knowledge.  Pomaceous fruit grow all over the Lone Star State, although Texas can’t compete with Washington State, which produces 60% of the apples in the U.S.

For this particular apple cake, and generally for cooking with apples, the rule of my thumb is:  the more tart the better.  Tart apples have an intense flavor that overpowers their sweeter kin.  How many varieties of apple are there, anyway?  About 6000, counting hybrids and a few thousand non-commercial types.  Did you know apples are a member of the rose family?  I didn’t pick up on that in 9th grade biology either.

Let’s get on to some cookin’ and then on to some eatin’!

2 Cups Sugar
1 1/2 Cups vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons vanilla
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 a lemon
3 Cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons aluminum free baking soda
3 Green Apples, peeled, cored, and chopped

Heat the oven to 325ºF, or 165ºC

Oil and flour a bundt pan.

Put the sugar, oil, vanilla, and beaten eggs in a bowl and beat well.  Squeeze the lemon juice into the mix and beat again.

Ditch the electric beater and use a big wooden spoon to stir the flour mix into the bowl of sugar/oil. The dough will be stiff, but not to worry.  Now add the chopped apples and stir well.

Put the dough into the bundt pan and pop it in the oven.  Bake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.  When a knife comes out clean, the cake is ready.  Slip a knife around the inside of the pan, and then let the cake rest for about ten minutes.  Now invert the pan on a plate and the cake will come out cleanly.  The aroma is going to tantalize your nostrils and take your kitchen back to grandma’s glory days!

Time to brew some coffee, slice some cake and lock the door to keep out the nosey neighbors and those suddenly hungry health addicts who just raced back from the rabbit hutch.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jazz for a Lazy Sunday Afternoon

One of the finest jazz musicians ever, Benny Goodman's clarinet took jazz from the backstreet speakeasies to Carnegie Hall.  His 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, featuring his orchestra, trio, and quartet, is still hailed as the greatest jazz concert ever.

The Goodman Quartet featured Benny Goodman on clarinet, Gene Krupa on drums, Lionel Hampton on vibes, and my all time favorite jazz pianist, Teddy Wilson.

Goodman took the long way around to get to the top.  Born into an impoverished Russian, Jewish, immigrant family, Benny was the ninth of twelve children.  HIs got his first music lessons in a synagogue.  At the age of 16, he joined Ben Pollack's jazz orchestra.  Pollack's eye for talent led him to hire, in addition to Goodman, such future jazz greats as Jack Teagarden, Glen Miller, and Harry James, all of whom went on to form their own orchestras. 

The Goodman Quartet, featured on this recording, brought together Benny Goodman on clarinet, Gene Krupa on drums, Lionel Hampton on vibes, and my all time favorite jazz pianist, Teddy Wilson.  Very tough to beat that combo!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Paris All Day

The Symbol of Paris 

Our Lady

The Louve 

Strolling the left bank

Lots to see at Shakespeare & Co
Saying goodbye to the City of Lights

            No longer, as John Lennon wrote, do you have to be “Standing on the dock at Southampton, trying to get to Holland or France…” Now you can take a Day Trip to Paris by bullet train from London, or many other European locations, and be back at home that same night.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, but like any good traveler, I dig for deals.  A day trip to Paris can break the bank, or be no more expensive than a tank full of gas.   Hold on!  Maybe not THAT expensive.
We grabbed a train from the Kaiserslautern area at seven in the morning, stepped off the train in Paris two and a half hours later, spent the day, hopped another train from Paris at 7 that evening.
Even in Second Class seats, the ride is comfortable and FAST.  Second Class gets you there just as fast as First Class and you’re not sitting on benches, or giving up your cup of coffee, and view of the pastoral French countryside.  But, you have to look fast.  That countryside whizzes by faster than you can yell Lamborghini.   That’s 325 kilometers per hour, or a little over 200 miles per hour.
Trees sway and cattle panic, as you sip your coffee and plan your brief, but memorable Parisian vacation.  In a couple of words, here’s your plan:  Tour Bus.  For 29 Euros (approx $38), depending on the time of year, you can see Paris’ major attractions in two hours.  Even better, the tour buses are a hop-on, hop-off arrangement, with complimentary earphones that allow you to listen to a running commentary in English, or just about any other language.  I didn’t hear Swahili, but I may not have been on the right channel.
We abandoned the bus near Les Deux Magots, made famous by it’s many artistic patrons, such as André Gide, Picasso, Hemingway, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir,  and Stroud.  What does it cost to warm the seat these giants warmed?  More than the cost of the train ride.  For three continental breakfasts, we blew about $65.  So, if money means more to you than ego and bragging rights, you can forgo the $12 cups of coffee and grab a cup for $3 (that comes with a croissant!) at quaint places Hollywood never found.  Just in case you can’t resist, Les Deux Magots means the two figurines and they’re still there, high up on a wall.  So how in heaven’s long list of names do you pronounce Les Deux Magots?  Try this.  Grab the tip of your tongue, tug it with some strength and say, Lay-do-ma-go.  Now jump on one foot and whistle ‘La Marseillaise.’
Other stops included Napoleon’s tomb, the Army Museum, L’Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, a few department stores, Notre Dame, several coffee shops, and other places that generously offered to empty my wallet.  Too often I accepted their generosity.
Yes, dear hearts, Paris is expensive.  Feel like swilling down some $15 beers?  The ‘City of Lights’ is just the place.  But, Paris does not have to drain all your deposits.  After all, with a day trip you’ve saving the price of $200 hotel rooms.  Also, Paris abounds in reasonably priced museums, the most famous of which is Le Louve.  You know the one.  Mona Lisa – “Gosh, I thought it would be bigger.”  Winged Victory – “Momma, she ain’t got no HEAD!” Venus de Milo – “ Something’s missing here, but I just can’t get my arms around it.”

Another place I could not resist is Shakespeare & Company, at kilometer zero, the very heart of la rive gauche, the Seine’s left bank.  S & C was the first to publish James Joyce and many writers have virtually inhabited the place, although….big although, it is not in its original location.
For those of you that don’t know, Europe is now Euroland.  Border checkpoints are a thing of the past.  (Although as an American in Euroland, I always carry my passport.) Many of the old customs houses have been sold and are used as private homes.   The really nice thing about the European Union is, there’s no need to carry four or five different currencies in your wallet.  A Euro is a Euro and right now the Euro is running about one to $1.32.  Not bad, considering last year around this time it was up to $1.45.
There are some exceptions to the Euro.  Denmark. England. Finland. Norway. Sweden. Switzerland.
When it comes to Paris, there’s just too much to write.  Matter of fact, there’s too much to see and do in one day, but there’s also something irresistibly sophisticated and debonair about saying, “Mais oui, mon ami! Madame and I raced to Paris for the day.  I simply can’t eat croissants from anywhere else.”  Of course, you should be wearing a beret, a scarf, and a suitably relaxed expression of distain when you say this.   Also, one hand should be on your wallet.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Downhome Vegetarian - Cornbread and Collards

Cornbread Fixin's

Collard Makin's

Simple, but Country Elegant

All together now....slurrrrp!

I confess I’m a rib suckin’, barbequin’, unrepentant carnivore.  But, I have nice friends, including a close friend who’d rather jump on a live grenade than eat any part of anything that walks, crawls, flies, or swims.  I’ve been tempted to test that. 
When you cook for vegetarians, you start to be very inventive. No throwing juicy, delicious steaks on the barbe, peeing in the bushes, and clanging the dinner gong.  You pay more attention to flavors and color combinations, but most of all, everything you fix has to taste good and be filling. No fear. It can be done.
            Of course, there’s also the dainty, little finger in the air, ‘style-is-everything’ type of vegetarian,.  I avoid them. You probably know and despise one of your very own.  Lightly steamed breast of radish, with vinegar infused skirt of cabbage.  Served on a bed of thin sliced, gluten free, soy based, rabbit pellets.  I’d rather eat root veggies, still ripe with bovine droppings.
            I say, if you’re gonna do the dirty with the greens, grab some corn licker, bust a few brain cells, and make some stomach fillin’,  mouth-warterin’ victuals your gran-pappy would be proud to slap on his tin plate and drool down his chin.
            You know I’m talking about cornbread and collards.  Cornbread is one of the oldest American dishes.  Native Americans ground corn in the long ago, and passed the recipes on to southern colonists, who added some leavening agents and brought cornbread to such a high stage of the culinary art that even slayers of beasts will relish a tasty hunk.  Matter of fact, cornbread has been labeled one of the cornerstones of southern cuisine.  I’d vote for that, as long as you mention biscuits, barbeque, and rice.  Hold on a sec.  Gonna need more than four corners.  What about the greens?  Which brings up the savory subject of collards.  Collard is the colloquial form of the long-forgotten name “colewort,” and it comes from the same family as broccoli and cabbage.  Not a bad green gene pool.  Collards give you vitamin C, along with antibacterial, antiviral, and even anti-cancer properties.  Matter of fact, if you rub collards…..’nother story.  These days you don’t have to cut the leaves at exactly the right time and chop ‘em yourself.  That’s what the frozen section of the supermarket is for.
            Lets get cookin’!  We’ll do the collards first and let them stew while we make the cornbread.

Collards My Vegetarian Friend’s Way  (Look!  No bacon up my sleeve!)

            1  package (1 lb) frozen, chopped collard greens
1   medium onion
3   cloves garlic
1   carrot
3   tablespoons chopped jalapeños
32  ounces vegetable broth, about 4 1/2 cups
1   tablespoon salt (or to taste)
2   tablespoons vegetable oil (I use sunflower oil)

Finely chop the onion, garlic and carrot.  I use a food processor.  Heat the oil on medium-high, in a 2-3 quart pot, and add the chopped ingredients (except the collards).  Let them sweat until the onions are translucent, then add the vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil and add the collards, salt and jalapeños.  Simmer for at least 30 minutes or more.  The longer the better. Taste and add salt as necessary.  I’ve been known to splash in a little bit of vinegar and another bunch of chopped jalapeños at this point.

While the collards simmer, let’s make the cornbread. 

Cornbread  - the simple kind

2 cups yellow corn meal
1/4 cup sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
1 1/4 cups milk (I use skim)

Preheat the oven to 400ºF or 200ºC.  Add about 1/4 cup oil to a 8-9 inch cast iron skillet and put the skillet in the hot oven.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add the milk and mix.  Add the beaten egg.  The batter should move slowly around in the bowl, but not be watery.  If your batter is too thick, add a little more milk. If it’s too thin, add just a touch more corn meal.

Some people like to add all manner of things to the batter:  jalapeños, corn kernels, shredded cheese, crisp bacon, tongue of mother-in-law.   Do what the hell you want, but don’t ask me.  I’m making the simple kind.  ‘Course I’m the guy who likes plain vanilla ice cream and single malt with no ice, water, or vapid conversation.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour in the batter.  Put the skillet back in the oven and bake the cornbread for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is slightly brown and a knife comes out clean.

            By the time the cornbread comes out of the oven, the collards will be ready.  Give ‘em a taste and add salt or more jalapeños if you need to.   See how that works?  Almost as if I’d planned it.  Now, ask gran-pappy for another slug of that liquid corn, one of the other cornerstones of southern cookin’.  Just ask gran-mammy.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Another Gem from Derek Robinson - Piece of Cake

Hawker Hurricanes - the unsung hero of the Battle of Britain

Piece of Cake ranks right up there with Winds of War, and Catch 22. Wait a sec! Those two novels aren't anything alike. That's what makes Piece of Cake so different and wonderful. There's all the drama and hilarity of the other two, but tied into an incredible story that not only puts you in the cockpit, but in the midst of battle. Some would say P of C is a drama about the Battle of Britain. More than that. Much more. A fighter squadron is made up of people who think quite differently, about the world, about the war, and about staying alive. What are they fighting for? Themselves. Their buddies. Booze. Women. Pretty much in that order. King and country? Well, yeah, sort of.

Piece of Cake also has a history to tell and in the telling, lays low myths like a well sharpened scythe in a field of lilies. Gives you a new perspective on the war, but more than that, like any great novel, it works its way into your brain and into your guts enough to make you wonder what you know and what you think you know.

The characters stand out from the page, as if you'd just had one beer and they'd asked you to buy another round. Or, more likely, they'd held you upside down until all your money fell out and you had no choice but. These are men who live in the same small room as darkness and danger, but can still laugh about it. You'll meet quite a few of them and you'll be happy you did. I don't give one care if you don't like novels about flying and war and historical events. Doesn't matter a whit. You'll still love this book.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Lunch to Remember

St Étienne rises from the center of Metz
Inside the cathedral

A little Alsatian beer to whet the apetite

From inside Le Bouchon

Garlic butter at its best

A helpful staff member

In the confectioner's

Can't be lunch without dessert

I love Italian food, especially the cream dishes from the north.  Also fond of German, Japanese, Spanish, and … to save time, just glance at a map of the world.  But, as I’ve said before and will say again, until a court order shuts my blasphemous mouth, the French could teach anyone how to eat.
To make my point, I need only mention bread.  The baguette is so simple even a simpleton, or a vicious ex-wife could make it: flour, water, salt, yeast.  Lots of people, including the Germans, do a fair job.  But, for my taste buds, if it ain’t French, it ain’t a baguette. Nowhere else is the golden crust so wonderfully crunchy and the inside so delightfully chewy.
            After a tour of Saint ´Étienne, the Metz cathedral, it was time to put aside the political differences between the French and the rest of the world, break a couple of those baguettes, slosh some eau de grape, and spend what’s left of our shrinking American dollar. 
            What’s the difference between a bistro and a restaurant?  To my ever so humble eye, a restaurant is a self-contained, sit-down, eating establishment, while a bistro sells coffee in thimbles, and has a bar you can lean on when you see your bill.  Also a bistro’s the tables spill out onto the sidewalk like the pedals of a flower, where clusters of women in high heels and men with scarves gather to look down their Gallic noses at the rest of us.  Busy, obnoxiously well-groomed waiters flit about with martial like efficiency, delivering cream softened coffee, beer, wine, and full plates of things you can’t for the life of you find on the menu.  The beer in Alsace, by the way, is exceptional.
Bistros are quite the experience, but today we settled on Le Bouchon, a restaurant in every sense of the word, tucked into a corner of the bustling downtown.  Elegant tablecloths and napkins, glistening goblets, polished silverware, waitresses in black and white ensembles that make a man fidget and pray.  With my French pretty much limited to bonjour, au revoir and de la bière pour les chevaux, I had to be careful with the menu.  Once before, my arrogance led me to hastily call for rognon de veau, which turned out to be veal kidneys in a sauce far too mild to overcome my gag reflexes.
 This bright, sunny, hopeful day I went for the escargot, salade, entrecote avec béarnaise, pommes au gratin, and hericots vert.   For the uninitiated, or those who refuse to learn French because it makes you sound like you’ve got a serious sinus problem, I’ll offer a fighter pilot’s translation.  Snails, salad, rib steak, mayo with tarragon, toasted potatoes in a cream sauce and some green beans.  Again, it all sounds simple, but a French chef has that magic touch that channels the simple into the sublime.  Maybe it’s the creamy mixture for the potatoes combined with delicate browning, or the freshness of the eggs for the béarnaise.  Maybe it’s the rigid standards for culinary perfection in everything, from meat to the greens, to the politely wrinkled silk tablecloths?  Beats me, but it also beats most anything, anywhere outside of France.
The French do not eat, they dine, meaning unhurried conversation and unhurried consumption to the point of idle dawdling.  Dine we did, for the best part of two hours…actually the best part of any two hours you’d care to name.  I could go on about the food, the superb garlic butter on the escargot, the crisply tender green beans, potatoes that praised themselves, and the perfect doneness of that steak, but the photos do a better job.
After a meal like that, it was time for a short walk to a confectioner’s for coffee and dessert with the very young and beautiful.  Unfortunately, I stood out.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Saarburg A Quaint Little Venice

Saarburg and the castle

Little Venice

restaurants and shops in the heart of old town

the gorge and mill wheels

gotta have some weizenbier, wheat beer

rahm schnitzel

marsala wine - perfect ending

Old Bell Foundry

inside the foundry

view from the castle

What can you say about Saarburg without mentioning quaint, beautiful, interesting, old, ancient, castle, church, food, waterfall, gorge, and historic?  Turns out there’s a lot.
For one thing, Saarburg is sometimes called the little Venice.  Nope, no gondolas staffed by Italian gentlemen carrying poles and wearing funny hats.  But, the old town center is remarkable.  Beautifully arched bridges span the man-made tributary of the Saar River, diverted to power an old mill.  The mill ground many things, most notably grain until recently, when it was turned into a museum.  The water still flows, however, and the mill wheels still turn lazily.  Amble through town.  Take your time. Restaurants spread delightfully into the main plaza. Sip a beer or wine at an outdoor café, right next to a deep gorge and cascading stream.
You have to leave the heart of the town and stroll down a narrow cobblestone lane to find it, but don’t miss the old bell foundry that produced church bells for centuries, in fact until 2002.  As you walk, note the centuries-old, colorful fishermen’s homes on either side.  Coming out of the city proper, and after passing through another small plaza, you’ll see the foundry museum.  Some of the bells on display weight upwards of two and a half tons! Every wonder how bells were cast, or how church bells are consecrationed?  You’ve got your chance. The bell company still produces resonant tones from iron and brass, but in a more modern environment.
Saarburg is one of those jewel towns you can’t wait to take your friends to, so pick your friends carefully. The view from the castle is remarkable. Count Siegfried of Luxemburg, built the castle site in 964 and parts of the original works remain.  Take the winding stairs to the top for a splendid view of the Saar.
            Saarburg is what I call ‘low pressure’ touring.  Leisurely train ride.  Slow paced, quaint village.  Interesting museums you’ve never thought of.  Learning things you never knew you wanted to know.  In short, a delightful day with friends.