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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cut Your Own

Sunflowers are about 80 cents each

None Fresher

The fields are so beautiful you almost hate to cut!

In Germany, from the middle of the summer to the middle of September, you find open fields of ‘cut your own’ flowers.  Don’t know if there is anything like this in the states, but my suspicious mind doubts it.  These roadside businesses run themselves, completely dependent on the civility and honesty of the public.

Nobody watches you cut.  Nobody checks to see if you pay, or hears the clink of coins falling into the box.  A sign gives you instructions, prices, and tools.  Often you're alone in the field.  You wander, pick, cut, pay, and leave.  Simple as that.

I’ve never heard of one of these flower fields being vandalized, or the cash box being broken into.  For an American, this is an amazement that ranks with the invention of Saran Wrap, the power of faith healers, and David Copperfield’s vanishing elephants.

There’s gotta be a trick!  No trick.   The flowers are wonderful; after all, you cut exactly the ones you want.  They’re in their prime and last a week or more, and best of all, they’re an inexpensive way to bring a bit of nature’s beauty into your home, tent, and/or cell.  Also, wink-wink, they’re a real wife, girlfriend, or loved one pleaser.  At these prices, you can even perform reckless acts of unappreciated kindness.  Don’t tell anyone about that last observation.  I have a reputation for villainy to protect.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bio-Fest In Bruchmühlbach

All items made from recycled plastic bags

Local juices and honeys, and honeys

Adding seeds and nuts is a nice, crunchy touch.

Sauerbraten and warm potato salad

Germany is a green country in more ways than one.  First, sprawling verdant fields and forests cover the landscape.  You never run out of forest here.  Also, Germany is a bio-first green nation.  Recycling is a passion and if you don’t feel passionate, too bad, it’s the law.  In our house, we have five trash containers.  One is for plastics and assorted light metal, another for paper, another for food scraps, another for glass, and yet another for anything that doesn’t fit in the first four categories.  Want to dispose of yard trimmings?  There’s a specific site to dump those, or there are a few pickups a year.  Likewise for big metal items, or old furniture.  It’s fair to say, if you use it, there’s a place to recycle it.

Some things would drive an American crazy.  No washing cars in your driveway, or anywhere else except a commercial car wash.  Why?  I’ve been told the reasoning is that runoff from washing a car contains contaminants, and the water must be cleaned and recycled.  Guess it never occurred to anyone that rain doesn’t give a damn.  Makes me feel like a real outlaw every time it rains.  I use my windshield wipers, honk my horn and dare someone to arrest me for unlawful runoff.

Let’s move on to food.   Although the European Union food standards are very strict, even that isn’t good enough for the Euro-purists.  Bio products are labeled and sold in practically every food market.  Germany is also awash in what we would call ‘Health Food Stores,’ but Germans call Bio-stores.  Every bakery offers Bio-bread of a dozen types.

Not that I’m complaining.  If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I’m an eat-clean kinda guy.  When I can, I buy organic, or free range, or grass fed, or natural, or whatever label you can find that describes pure food, non-genetically altered food, and animals not raised in cages.  Did you know genetically altered crops are not allowed in the E.U.?
However, the use of growth hormones is an ongoing battle.  The World Health Organization ruled circa 2008 that growth hormones in cattle feed and the like, pose no health risk.  The E.U. appealed.  Nothing is certain, but my understanding is that any use of growth hormones, or antibiotics for the E.U. food industry is carefully regulated.  What does that mean?  Beats me.  Specific enough to sound safe, general enough to mean anything.

This was the first Bio-fest I’ve been to.  Very friendly folk, lot of information and lots of good food and beer.   The vegetables-salads were all strictly organic, the meat and wurst all bio-pure.  Forgive me for sounding like a member of the lunatic fringe, but I think the food tastes better without additives and I think I know why.  You can’t add preservatives and chemicals and/or allow something to sit on a shelf for months and then expect it to taste the same.  All world-class restaurants and most wannabe world-class restaurants use fresh and unadulterated ingredients to the extreme.  Had lunch in a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan a few years back and the sign over the door left an impression:  ‘Our kitchen has never seen a can.’  Food was impressive, too.

So, I went to the fest.  Had a great time.  Drank beer that’s German-Law-pure, no matter where you drink it, ate some tasty food, learned about plants I want for my garden, tasted juices and waters that are supposed to clean out the pipes and allow the ol body to last a while longer.  In this case, forget about the details, Bio meant interesting, tasty, and filling.

Homemade brats right off the grill!

The sign on the bottom left means:  A future for Man and Nature.

The Germans celebrate the beauty of nature every singe day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Epiphany At An Italian Wine Fest – In GERMANY!

Be sure to scroll down for more delicious photos!

Every day of the year, the moderately sized town of Homburg Saar is hopping.  Markets, fests, rock n roll on Friday nights, jazz on Saturdays, and giant town square TV screens blaring all the big sporting events.  The town government knows that the key to keeping merchants happy and the money flowing is to lure shoppers, music lovers, wine addicts, sports enthusiasts, and the tired and hungry into the town center.  The lures are many. I’ve barely scratched the surface.  Old, classic car clubs hold rallies here.  Motorcycle clubs, too.  There’s a tiny cheese shop on a side street that surpasses most big food chains.  There’s Chili Coffee that breaks out on the old market square and serves as a local hangout and superb meeting point.  Restaurants?  Homburg’s got ‘ a profusion, and especially of the Italian variety, but also fish, Spanish, brew-pubs, Chinese, Asian fusion, etc.

The town’s many Italian restaurants sponsor an Italian Fest each year.  And, suddenly the new market square comes alive with long, red and white tents, a raised stage the size of most high school gyms, beer stands, balloon sellers, and the tantalizing aromas of basil, garlic, and fresh, stone-oven pizza.  The long tents are dotted with attractive stand-up tables and the walls lined with restaurant booths serving your Italian favorites, your Italian new favorites, and an almost bewildering array of wine by the glass, bottle, and case.  You’ll see shrimp as big as bananas, desserts that stagger your taste buds’ imagination, and pasta tossed in huge rounds of Parmesan that will make you long for a bigger stomach.  Hey, you DO have a bigger stomach!  Diet starts tomorrow.  Meanwhile, slosh down some more wine!  Order up!  The fest sprawls out onto side streets and down alleys.

The photos show a sparse crowd.  That’s because I crept into the new market square mid-morning.  In the evenings of this weeklong event, it’s shoulder to shoulder.  But, as always, the crowds are friendly and forgiving of shoulder bumping, hip bumping, and light toe stepping.  They draw the line at groping and fondling.  Wine spilling lingers in that gray area.

We watched some magnificent opera one evening.  The orchestra was a big one, forty to fifty pieces, with a large string section.  Three singers, one woman and two men, took turns belting out the opera world’s favorite arias.  The crowd cheered, whistled and stamped its feet.  Although my knowledge of opera extends only to the brief, but poignant scenes from Cher and Nicolas Cage in ‘Moonstruck,’ after several flagons of wine, the Homburg highlights were some of the most beautiful and inspiring music I have ever heard.  I found my Italian surprisingly improved and I could even sing along, or at least keep the beat with my tongue.

On another day, I listened to some Italian pop music, and on the final morning, as you can see in the photo, an American Air Force combo provided some vintage rock n roll.

Not all the music reached the pinnacles of rapture and in brief moments I relearned a valuable lesson.  In the dark of evening, my buddy and I strolled onto the square, where on stage was an Italian pop band, with a male lead singer and a gorgeous dark haired beauty supplying the doo-wahs.  We ambled over.  I whispered to my buddy, “I want to get to know her and I want her to follow me home.”  As we got closer, this gorgeous creature opened her mouth and out came the most discordant sounds I’ve heard since the braying of my grandfather’s mule.  Even a wailing guitar couldn’t silence her and the drummer couldn’t beat it out of her.

My buddy asked if I were sure I wanted her to follow me home.  Visions of waking up and hearing the croaking of the Wicked Witch of the West flitted across my mind, along with waves of unmitigated nausea.  Then the band stopped playing and my former dream woman stepped off stage and walked by.  Stumbled by was more like it.  She had the grace of a freelance bull, hired to wreck china shops.  “Cancel that order, God! I really want to go home to my loving wife!”  Once again, my prayers were answered and a sinner was saved.

But, enough about me.  Although I do hate to change the subject.  Why so many Italian restaurants in a medium sized German town?  As a personal observation, between when I lived in Germany in the early 80s and now, there have been bursts of ethnic restaurants coming on the scene.  Nothing new with that.  I can remember in the U.S. when you had to go to Texas or points west to get Mexican food.  Now Chinese, Mexican, Thai, even Japanese are pervasive from the small town South to the Midwest and beyond.  Sushi is openly and without shame now a part of the average college food court.

Back to the Italians in Germany and around the world.  In the U.S. there are 18 million of Italian extraction, but countries of South America have even more.  Argentina citizenry is of predominately Italian background, with over 25 million, or about 55% of the population.  It’s the only country outside of Italy that is mostly Italian.  Brazil also has about 25 million people with Italian DNA.  The list goes on and on.  As a matter of fact, there are about 130 million folks of Italian lineage on earth.  Only 60 and a half million of them live in Italy.

Germany has about 700,000 people of Italian ancestry and Switzerland has 800,000.  With the advent of the European Union, of which Switzerland is not a part, people are free to migrate and work wherever they wish, within the Union. Germany and Switzerland are both prosperous and don’t forget Switzerland is tri-lingual, and Italian is one of those languages.

People don’t migrate to less prosperity and Germany’s standard of living is high.  Drive from Germany into France, or Spain, or Italy and you’ll rapidly get a visual on ‘lower standard of living.’  Doesn’t mean any of those places are bad places to live, they’re just not great places if you’re starting a business and looking for patrons who are wealthy enough to help you grow.  Germans have money.  They spend it.

Those are generalizations.  Specifics?  Germans who live in and near Homburg have money.  They spend it.  Lots of Italian restaurants and one of the very best ethnic fests around is the weeklong Italian Fest in Homburg. Mark your calendar for next year, and just remember that not everyone on stage is cute or can sing.  I shudder.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Doughnut Peaches

Doughnut peaches on the top, doughnut nectarines below

You can tell it’s doughnut peach season.  You’ve seen them in supermarkets.  Have you tried one?  The open minded, even slightly adventurous will say yum-yum.  Those timid, obedient souls who still only eat what their mommas told them to eat…well, you get the picture.

Doughnut peaches, otherwise known as donut peaches, saucer peaches, Saturn peaches, and flat peaches are originally from China, as are all peach varieties.  Wonder of wonders.  Another wonder is that doughnut peaches are an actual species of peach, not the project of genetic engineering.  Same may be said of the smooth skinned nectarine, which I was always erroneously taught was a cross between a peach and a plum.

Peaches and nectarines are both members of the rose family.  So, The Bard was not entirely correct.  A rose by another name may well lack thorns and taste delicious, although it would still smell as sweet.

China is still the world’s greatest peach producer and the only place where ‘wild peaches’ grow.  The wild ones are barely edible, or so I’m told.  Biggest producer in Europe is Italy.  In the United States, although Georgia is the Peach State, most peaches are grown in California, which sports so many varieties it’s hard to keep track. Overall, the U.S. supplies 25% of the world’s peaches.

But, back to those funny looking flat peaches.  I love ‘em.  My favorite variety, by far.  Why?  Sweet, melt in your mouth delicious.  Less fuzz on the skin.  Only about 37 calories.  They come in both white and yellow flesh varieties.  I like them both, but prefer the white.

Here’s an interesting question:  What is the world’s most popular fruit?  Trick question.  Tomato.  If you answered correctly, give yourself a pat on the back and don’t let me interrupt you from memorizing worthless facts.  If you’re a high school biology teacher and put that kind of question on an exam, don’t expect to ever see another apple on your desk.  I’d also check my seat before I sat down.  Tomatoes stain.

I know the next question.  What’s in second and third place?  Mango. Banana. In the U.S. the most popular fruits, in order, are apples, oranges, bananas, pears, and peaches.

It’s time to go have another doughnut…peach that is.  Join me for a little bit of sweet and fuzzy?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Farmers' Fest in Lambsborn

Hq for garden gnomes

Potato Schnaps

All hand made

Hey, buddy, you're eatin' pork, right?

(After this riveting narrative, be sure to scroll down for more exquisite, mouth watering  photos!)

From now through October is prime fest-time in Germany.  Everybody knows about Munich’s Oktoberfest, which actually occurs in September, but that’s only one of the headliners.  Out in the country, where the real folks live, you can drive yourself crazy deciding which fest NOT to go to.  Wine fests.  Bier fests.  Walking fests.  Pumpkin fests.  Music fests.  Harvest fests.  Seems like every little town and village has something the citizens want to scream to the world about.  For Lambsborn, the pride is in their farmers. The good folks of this rural village know how to show it, complete with a yearly festival to celebrate the fecund fields and the hard work of those who till them, meaning beer, wine and other stuff.

German festivals, at least in the small towns, are joyous affairs.  Friendly crowds.  Lots of smiles. Live music. Vendors flock, bearing everything from ice cream to antiques, top hats to garden supplies.  You’d think in such a slightly populated area of rolling hills and open pastures, you’d begin to see the same vendors at each little fest that pops up.  Not so.  Never know what you’ll find, or who’ll be selling what.  Mirabella plums are in season and at the Lambsborn Farmers’ Fest we found some delightful Mirabella liquor, sold by a guy in a top hat, turning the handle on a street organ.  Here’s a question to ponder over a six-pack, if the man who plays the organ is called an organ grinder, why isn’t the big music box with a crank called a grinder organ?

Besides the wooden spoon sellers, knife sellers, hat sellers, and soft ice cream stands, there was a big field featuring industrial farm machinery, and long open barns where you could pet the cows, goats, and pigs.  Odors de jour.

I think I’m ready to market a line of men’s care products called ‘Excusables.’  When a husband gets home late, or disappears for a Saturday of fishing, or watching sports at a buddy’s house, he only needs to spray on Pig ‘n Trough, Essence of Goat, or Motor Grease-Me.  When he gets the frosty stare from she-who-must-be-obeyed, he can claim, I had to help Elmer squeeze goat udders, or Whizzey change the oil.  Perfect excuses, with scents to seal the deal.  How ‘bout the flat tire excuse?  Try, It Was The Asphalt.

By the time we’d trod through the vendors and the odiferous barn, I began to wonder where all the people were.  I mean, yes, there was a light crowd, but this was supposed to be a once-a-year fest!

Then I got to the beer barn and the spreading cobblestone square, with tents and spigots, and cute little beer maids all in a row.  My worries lofted away on the cow-scented breeze.  Beer.  Check.  Wurst.  Check.  Hellovafest!

Steak with grilled onions, warm potato salad, and noodles

Curry wurst and fries

Grapes in véraison

No snake oil, just delicious Mirabella schnaps

A pleasant ride home.

Monday, August 20, 2012

No Sugar, Gingered Chicken Wings

Browned and ready

Peach Sauce

I’m not a great fan of chicken wings, although I don’t avoid them.  Maybe it’s my aversion to sticky fingers and the rings they leave around your nostrils.  But, I eat ribs, the mess of messes.

A more likely reason for my aversion are the many chicken wing recipes made so spicy hot you can’t taste the chicken, or laced with so much sugar the wings are more like a high protein candy.  A big thumbs down and disgusting sneeze to both of those.  This recipe is a bit different.  Spices are the supporting actors that highlight the taste of the chicken.  And, no sugar.

Recently, I read a short article on body types.  Turns out I'm a hunter, which came as a shock since I’m so mild mannered, shy, and non-aggressive.  I generally don’t hunt until the garden critters begin to make my mouth water.

Hunters, those charming individuals who tend to store fat around their waist, need to avoid grains, and most of all, refined carbs.   Sugars (fructose, sucrose, any kind of -ose) are the elephants of the refined carb group.

If you’re not a hunter, you’re probably a farmer, meaning you store fat around your hips and thighs.  You’ll want to avoid runaway tractors, animal fats, and fried foods.

If you’re a woman, neither of these types and store your fat around your chest, please call me.

Where do I get all these fabulously useful facts?  In this case my expert is Details Magazine, that noted medical journal that will also give you hints on how to look good if you’re under 25, have a 28 inch waist and plenty of money.  Also, you might check out which seven hundred dollar sports coat looks best with your three hundred dollar jeans.

Back to the body type.   I’ve always pictured myself as a woodsman, or some might say a ‘lumbering oaf.’  But, I bow to the experts who seem to be able to check out a startlingly masculine individual and say, “Yep, definitely a hunter.  Give that man a spear and keep him the hell away from cupcakes and spotted dick!”  Hey, spotted dick is a very English dessert, so clean up your mind and move on to the recipe.

No Sugar, Gingered Chicken Wings

2 pounds chicken wings, washed, disjointed, tips discarded or for another use
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
Juice from one fresh lime
4 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
3 inches ginger root, chopped 
2 medium peaches, or one large (I used two donut peaches)
1 dried hot pepper, stem removed, seeds and skin chopped, or use 1 Tablespoon pepper flakes  (Tobasco has a distinct flavor and I don’t use it in this recipe.)  Use more red pepper if your taste buds are wilted from hours of drinking, or you want all the wings to yourself..

Put everything in a blender and blend well.

Put the chicken wings in a sealable plastic bag and pour the marinade over them.  Best if marinated overnight.

Shake off any excess marinate and place all remaining marinade in a saucepan.  Cook to boiling, then turn it off.

Place the chicken wings either six inches above the heat, or on the side of the grill for indirect heat.  Grill approximately 25 minutes, turning once.  They should turn a nice, welcoming brown.

Serve with the cooked marinade, either brushed on, or as a dipping sauce.

This recipe is not for everyone.  Some will say, “It’s not sweet enough.”  Oh, really?  Does the title of the recipe give you a clue?  No salt either.  Add some if you want.

I know what you’re thinking.  Peaches have sugar in the form of fructose, right?  Yep, but only 8.4 grams per 100 grams of fruit.  As a comparison, sweet corn has 6.2 grams.  A sweet onion has 7.6 grams, and a sweet potato has 20 grams.

Here’s a tip on trying to avoid sugar.  Don’t guess.  Read the label.  Probably the worst type of sugar is high fructose corn syrup.  It’s so pervasive it’s difficult to avoid.  Most common bottled sauces, like Heinz 57, and catsup have it.  Even hamburger and hot dog buns have it.  Many, many processed foods have it.

So, can I really avoid sugar?  Not all of it.  But, hey, I’m a hunter.  Stalking grizzlies and wild boars, with nothing but a spear and raw courage.  Sugar avoidance?  Piece of cake.