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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wendelinus Market

Candied almonds, cookies, candy

Italian cookies

The master peeler shows his wares and his skills

Flammkucken, the German version of thin crust pizza

Fresh, herbed focaccia

Ok, fess up.  While you Protestants finish your sodoku, or stare out the window, can any of you Catholics tell me who Wendelin was?  All you backsliders give up?  St Wendelin is the patron saint of plague.  I know.  It was right on the tip of your ecclesiastical tongue, right?

St Wendelin’s history is shaded in the lore and scraps of history from the middle of the first century after Christ.  Apparently, the son of a Scottish king, he embarked on a pilgrimage to Rome.  On his way back, he stopped off in Trier and became a hermit.  Criticized for just hanging out, he took up sheep herding and along the way acquired a heavy rep for curing animals.  When a pestilence hit cattle of the area in the 14th Century, his intercession was credited with saving the herds.  There’s even a city in Germany named for him, St Wendel.

Way back at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, when local cattle were threatened with disease, one German town held a festival in St Wendelin’s honor.  Services, I’m told, were a relay situation, lasting twelve hours, with participation by several priests.  That was back in 1710.  After enthusiasm died out for twelve hour sermons, not to mention all the wars and pestilence St Wendelin couldn’t handle, the custom gradually withered.

Flash forward to 1986, when the merchants of Ramstein saw a golden opportunity to combine a market day, tradition, religion, and the heartwarming cacophony of cash registers.   Wendelinus Market lives again on Saturday and Sunday of the last weekend in October!

But, even with commercial interests in the fore, at least some remnants of religion and tradition remain.  You can still bring your animals to be blessed.

This year’s festival featured African foods and articles, as well as twenty French stands selling everything from soap to cheese to sausages.

Like any good fest in a German town or village, there was plenty to eat and drink.  The fragrance of hot wine and roasting meat wandered with the crowds down the narrow streets and into the open air of the old market place. With the advent of much lower temperatures, Glüwein was once again in evidence, but also the obligatory wines and beers and schnapps, wursts and potatoes.

Once you go to a German village fest, stroll with a Brat in your fist and a warm Glüwein in your other fist, you’re addicted.  The air is always frosty and clean.  The crowds are always friendly.  St Wendelin would be proud.

A woodturner at work...

...and some of his work

Amazing what you can do with paper and light.

Ribbons for her hair...

Neatest fried potatoes I've seen...and delicious.

Very nice, but at 147 Euros or $195, pretty pricy for a wreath.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Good Day For Fish Soup - Flatter's

There’s a chill in the air.  Leaves are turning.   After a hard morning of shopping (flowers, plants, wine, cheese), thoughts turn to a bright luncheon that fills the gaps, but doesn’t carry the weight of refined carbs and slabs of beef.

When we’re in Homburg, the choices are vast.  For a smallish city, this one steps up a platform or two and caters to those who drive flashy convertibles and drape themselves in Italian wool and sheer silk.  Well, at least the wives and significant others do.  Can’t picture myself in silk, unless it’s tied in a Windsor and fits under a collar.

You can go Asian, with the flare of crunchy Thai or Vietnamese spring rolls, or polish off an elegant schnitzel in a cozy bier stube.  Italian offers the options of lobster filled, hand-rolled ravioli, or stone oven pizza.  But, one thing you’d best not overlook, especially on a chilly day in Homburg, is the heartwarming solace of fish soup.

Flatter’s fish restaurant is as trendy as they come, but not at all pricy.  A big bowl of delicious, chunky, house-made fish soup will run you under ten bucks.  You can also go smaller and cheaper.  Flatter’s rendition reminds me of bouillabaisse, but not quite as heavy.  Matter of fact I’d call Flatter’s version a redolent blend of fish and vegetable soup. 

There are two dining rooms, as well as fresh air seating, and believe it or else, Germans often sit outside, even when the snow is falling and the wind is whistling.  They will never have to fight me for an al fresco seat when the temp can’t make up it’s mind to simply numb your thoughts, or go for the whole body bone chill.  Call me a wimp, but gloves and a scarf will never be necessary at my table.

Germans love the outdoors more than any people I know.  In the dead of winter’s snows, I’ve seen ancient matriarchs pushing their walkers with sure, steady steps, as the drifts swirl.  I’ve seen them from the comfort of the heated seats in my car, I might add.

When we’re at Flatter’s, we prefer to sit at a table in the sunny entry.  Doesn’t sound warm, but with the open kitchen barely ten feet away, it is.   Great view of passing pedestrians and the bustle of the city.

Inside, right by our table, the chef and sous-chef busy themselves, while clerks cater to clientele purchasing both fresh and prepared seafood.  Yes, Flatter’s is also a tidy little fish market.

Back to fish soup.  Lunch is an event in every European restaurant I’ve ever been to.  None of this rush in and rush out.  The feeling is, if you don’t have time to dine, don’t go.

The waitress approaches and takes our order.  We go for a pleasant Pinot Blanc.  Something to tickle the taste buds, but not overpower the delicate flavors of the sea.  She comes back with wine, and afterwards with a basket of freshly cut baguette, and a dish of herbed mayo spread.

I can go either way with the spreads.  Bread over here is spine-tingling delicious.  The aroma wafts past the nostrils before you take a crunchy bite that ends with a smooth soft finish.  It’s the way bread is supposed to be, and today it don’t need no stinking spread.  My wife feels differently and of course, gentleman that I am, I simply snicker, without coming right out with a well justified criticism.  One secret of marital bliss is to avoid eye contact when you snicker.  Plausible denial.

We sit comfortably, sip, chew the bread, and watch pitiful shoppers brave the cold.  Then, our soup arrives and our thoughts channel to the heavenly aroma and exquisite taste.  Fish soup can be overpoweringly fishy, or so bland you wonder what you’re eating.  Flotter’s fish soup is neither.  It carries the breath of the sea, with an abundant taste that lets you know you’re eating fresh catch.  Just spicy enough, and with the surrounding vegetable broth, the flavors accomplish all you’d hoped they would.

The soup comes with crunchy croutons and a slightly spicy cream sauce.  Both add to the enjoyment!

We while away an hour or more, enjoying the wine, the atmosphere, and each other’s company, and chat about the things she wants to chat about.  Another secret to marital bliss.  Come on guys, put your mind in gear.  As long as you’ve got a nice wine in front of you, you can do it!  “Waitress, another over here, please!”

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I sat in my favorite coffee shop, sipping a Milch-Kaffee, nibbling a pumpkin-seed-encrusted croissant, and reading a mystery novel on my Kindle.

The shop is actually a thriving bakery, with only three tables for sipping and nibbling.  It was a nicely chilled autumn morning, so I’d walked, listening to a German lesson or two on my iPod.  See the logic there?  Walking, but using my time wisely to prep myself for German, which would be spoken shortly.  Wouldn’t it be nice if language lessons and reality matched up like that?

Takes me back to my high school French class and “La plume de ma tante est sur la table.”  In the decades since I committed that useful phrase to memory, I have never once been asked where my aunt’s pen is.  However, I was once asked in a French cheese shop if I spoke French.  I was immediately able to adjust the phrase to “La fromage de my tante est sur la table,” both impressing my friends and confusing the woman behind the counter, who didn’t know my aunt and couldn’t have cared less where she kept her cheese.

German lessons work the same way.  On this particular morning, unlike the thrilling voice on the iPod, I had not gotten off an airplane, nor taken a train, nor did I need to know where I could locate the American Embassy to schedule a haircut appointment for my aunt.  I was going to a bakery, where I would be devoid of useful words and phrases and subject to the distain shown a Neanderthal whose native language consisted of pointing and grunting, and causing innocent children to cling to their moms’ skirts.

Fortunately, coffee is pretty much the same word in any language and Milch is close enough to milk.  Croissant the same.  Spoken with a tone of desperation, it’ll get you what you want.  So, I sat down, sipped, put away the iPod and started on the Kindle.

As the coffee and croissant disappeared, I paused to look around me.   Nothing in particular.  The world in general.  Oh how the world has changed since I took French.

Right in front of me were an iPod, and a Kindle.  I was enjoying a cup of coffee from a magic coffee machine that hadn’t been invented, in a bakery shop that hadn’t existed.  On my wrist was a battery-powered watch.  I had a cell phone in my pocket.  I’d pay my bill in Euros, not Deutschmarks. If I wanted, I could drive to France with no one checking my passport, because there is no protected border, and even in France I’d still pay in Euros.

Not only that, but there had been no Super Bowl to look forward to and the NFL only had about half the number of teams.  On the sad side, there had been no Vietnam War, and JFK, MLK, and RFK were still kicking.

Heading to the slopes, I’d have found no snowboards, but I’d have seen skis longer than a grammar lesson. 

The world keeps on changing, and except for the events that eventually wind up in a history book, we barely notice.

Even so, some things remain the same.  I still enjoy coffee and croissants.  The sun still rises and sets, fall follows summer, and I still wear Levis.  Oh, yeah, my aunt’s pen is still right where she left it, right there on the table.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chestnut Festival in the Ancient Village of Annweiler

Wine Country

The man has a thirst.

Looking for a date?

A village of canals

Yes, we went to another fest, this one celebrating chestnuts.  And yes, I’m a fan.  I like them roasted by an open fire, etc. Feel free to join in.   Also like them in cookies, cakes, and as I found out….beer.  Also, wurst.  Once you turn cooks, brewers, and eaters loose on an ingredient, there’s no stopping them.

But, you really don’t need an excuse to spend an hour or three in Annweiler, a medieval town of half-timbered houses, canals, water wheels, and interesting shops and restaurants.  When you step into this sleepy village, you can’t help saying:  This place is really cute!  I mean that in the truest sense.  Just like seeing a baby, or fragrant flower, Annweiler brings a smile and a happy sigh.

With waterpower at hand, this ancient spot developed as a tanning center and remained so for hundreds of years.  Annweiler weathered The Thirty Years War, The French Revolution, and a host of sieges.  They all took their toll in taxes and seizures, until the tanning industry finally left the town completely in 1903.  Commercial evidence remains.  There are the large water wheels on each end of town and an amazing village of stone homes, narrow, cobblestone streets, and lazy, meandering canals in between.  The only tanned goods you’ll see, however, are imported.

Must have been sad days to see family owned businesses, centuries old, wither and die.  What the last owners must have felt as generations of work and wealth slipped through their fingers, with only the sketches of history and memory remaining.

But, for Annweiler, spring has come again.  It’s a tourist center, although you’d never know it.  Through careful preservation and avoidance of modern trappings, the city fathers have carefully maintained the spirit of old Annweiler.  It’s a wonderful place to idle away an afternoon, explore the nooks, and soak in the atmosphere.

On a mountain over looking the town, Triels Castle stands proudly, as it has since the 11th Century.  It’s been restored and holds replicas of dynastic jewels from The Holy Roman Empire.

Hey, the festival wasn’t bad either!  Lots of different wursts, including many made from wild game.  Local cheeses, breads, and wines.  Plus the local brewery served a very tasty chestnut ale.  Would you expect anything less at a German festival?

Chestnut beer, locally brewed!

Sometimes when you're drinking beer with your buddies, you need a little privacy.

I think the woman in the lavender dress found one!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Autumn's Not Just For Kids - Pumpkin Soup

Here’s some trivia:

Is pumpkin a gourd?


Is pumpkin a vegetable?


Is pumpkin a squash?

Starting to get the idea?

Pumpkin is also a harbinger of autumn, and the favorite of Halloween ghouls and goblins.   But, Halloween’s kid stuff.  Want to go trick-or-treating when you’re graying and short of breath?  Throw in fear of arrest and you'll know you need another way to celebrate.

Pumpkin season is eating-season and I’m not talking about pumpkin pie, usually made with canned this and overly sweetened that.  Let’s have some gourmet thoughts about this most popular of the gourd-squash family.  By the way, pumpkins aren’t always referred to as pumpkins, even in the English-speaking world (and that includes parts of California).  In Australia, they’re known as winter squash.

Pumpkins are also chock full of vitamins and minerals.

Biggest pumpkin producers in the world?  China, India, Russia, U.S. and Egypt.  (    In the U.S., which state produces the most?  Illinois.

But, let’s forget the trivia and bar bets for a moment and get back to eating.  As soon as you stop looking at pumpkins as big orange jack-o-lanterns and start wrapping your mind around pumpkins as delicious squash….you ready for this pseudo-psycho speak???…. your paradigm will shift and you’re on your way to some tongue-wagging goodness.

Pumpkin Soup

Serves 6

5 cups of cooked pumpkin (a five pound pumpkin ought to do it)
3 1/2 Cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 Cups heavy cream, plus a half cup more for whipping
1/2 medium onion, minced
2 Tablespoons butter
Pumpkin oil
Pumpkin seeds, toasted

1) Cut out the stem of the pumpkin, leaving a hole large enough to scrape out the seeds
2) Put the pumpkin in a 350ºF ª (180ºC) oven.  Bake for one hour.  Let cool.
3) Cut the cooked pumpkin into a few pieces. Scrape the pumpkin flesh off the shell and discard the shell
4) Put the butter in a pan and add the onion.  Careful to let the minced onion wilt, not brown 
5) Put broth, wilted onions, cream, and pumpkin flesh in a food processor and blend well.   If it’s too thick, add a little more broth
6) Put the soup in a sauce pan and cook on medium/low until it is well heated.  Do not boil.
7) Serve the soup in individual bowls.  Drizzle half a teaspoon of pumpkin oil into each bowl of soup and use a spoon to give it a swirl.
8) Top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream and some toasted pumpkin seeds

About toasting pumpkin seeds:  Put the seeds in a pan, without oil or butter.  Turn the heat to medium and watch the seeds like a hawk after a mouse!  The seeds will go from raw to toasted in a hurry.  Give 'em a stir. When you start to see them bulge and pop, give them another quick stir or two.  Most will get a little brown, some will not.  Careful not to let them blacken.

Sweetest soup you’ll ever eat, without even a speck of sugar added.  No salt either.  By the way, it’s also one of the BEST soups you’ll ever eat.  Just another reason, after football, snuggling under a blanket, leaves changing colors, and weinfests,  that I love autumn.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Federweißer und Zwiebelkuchen

German mornings are chilled and raw these days.  Rain is not unknown.   Forests and open fields billow with fog, as if they’re on fire. 

Faded leaves have lost their verdant colors and those that fall, dance across the road like tiny, brown elves. High up on the hills, smudges of gold and red dot the horizon.  Yes, fall, winter’s stepchild, has taken away our splendid, carefree summer.

But, some remnants of fun remain.  After all, this is Germany, the land of seasonal celebrations and glorious libations.  Bierfests, of course, but also Weinfests, including the once a year appearance of Federweißer, or new wine.  Actually, it’s not quite wine yet, but its journey has begun.  Comes in red or white, capped with foil, but never corked because this new wine still bubbles with fermentation.

Ok, time for a quick German language lesson.  First thing to remember:  all German nouns are capitalized.   Number two:  that funny looking letter that looks as if someone got drunk in the middle of the word….ß…is pronounced like a double s.  So if I wanted to pander to my fellow Americans, I could write Federweißer as Federweisser.

Number three:  W is pronounced as a V.  V is pronounced as an F.  Wine is pronounced with a smile.

Number four:  If i comes before e in a word, then ignore the i and pronounce the e as a long e, but if the e comes before i, then ignore the e and pronounce i as a long i.  So, Federweißer is pronounced Fed-er-vice-er.

Got all that?  Grand!  You’re on your way to fluency and debauchery.

Fragrant and sweeter than apple juice, Federweißer (often also called Neuer Wein) signals the coming of autumn as surely as the leaves on the trees, and the sweater on your back.  Unlike other wines, Feder is cloudy and suits the taste buds best if it’s chilled.  Alcohol content is so low and the sugar content so high, you’ll manage a raging case of diabetes well before you get drunk.

This time of year, Federweißer is sold along the roadsides, in grocery stores, and at nearly every German style restaurant.  No home should be without a bottle or two and mine is no exception.

But Germans seldom just drink, unless it’s beer.  With Federweißer comes Ziebelkuchen (Zwebel-kook-en), an onion cake much like the famous quiche from across the nearby border.  Onion cake?  Really?  Yep and you may rest assured that with it’s salty custard flavor, sweetened only by the natural sweetness of onions, it’s a perfect accompaniment to your glass of Federweißer.

I don’t make Ziebelkuchen for the simple reason that an excellent bakery is only a few steps from my house.  For those unfortunates who don’t have a German bakery right down the street and won’t part with the money to fly to Germany for lunch, you can give onion cake a try in your own kitchen.

And, if you can’t find Federweißer sub a sweet Riesling.