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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Frosty Day in Germany, Eisiger Tag in Deutschland

Frosty Day in Germany, Eisiger Tag in Deutschland

If you live in a warm clime, you may only remember the icy pains of winter, the car that won’t start, the secret prayer for a snow day, and forgetting the beauty of glass-like icicles, or the delicious crunch of frost under your winter boots, and fields so bright with snow you have to shade your eyes.  Maybe you’ve lost the childhood wonder that makes you stomp frost until you can’t find anymore, or the startling crack of icicles when you snap them off the eaves.  Pity you! 

I still have clear memories of playing hockey on dark and icy streets, or fighting through the rough brush of a forest to find ‘Secret Lake,’ for more hockey.  Then there were the early morning stomps through knee deep snow to deliver newspapers.  Too much snow and ice?  Hell, no! Winter was an adventure, a calling, a private place where no adults dared to go.

But, why keep these long held memories of pleasure to myself?

Let me return you to the frosty days of your youth, with fields that beg for a sled and crisp mornings of frosty breath, when your mother dressed you in enough sweaters, jackets and gloves to equip the Russian army.  Have even a vague memory of rosy cheeks, and begging to stay outside with night falling like a dark curtain?  Remember those skate edges you kept sharp as razors?

I don’t care if you call me child-like, or make fun of the Christmas sweater my mommywife made me wear.  My tears will dry…or freeze. 

Nope, don’t have a sled, but when I see frost or snow, I grab my camera, skip breakfast and stroll until my icy toes beg to go home, and my cheeks share the carmine glow of a matron’s rouge. 

I happily snap away….only photos this time, not icicles.  And night is a time for sleeping, but still, I have that child-like yearning for just one more frosty day…

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Metz, France Christmas Markets, Marché de Noël

 Metz, France Christmas Markets, Marché de Noël

Photo by Jan Stroud

Photo by Jan Stroud

To get in the swing of Metz at Christmas time, you must get to the Christmas markets…yes, that’s plural, and you also have to understand this ancient city is French to its core, offering an air of exuberance, from the elegance of it’s famous St Étienne (Saint Stephen) Cathedral, to the lively Marché Couvert, to the winding cobblestone streets and outdoor cafes.  Metz is a feast for the senses.   The streets are alive with a joie de vie, that rivals anything in Paris.  Even so, the Christmas markets bring new and colorful life to the old city.

Most towns in Germany are satisfied with a single market, but Metz has five or six or seven.  Every time you wander down a new street there’s a new market.  But, even the streets themselves are dressed up for Santa’s arrival.  Even the square by the cathedral has its own market, with a lofty Ferris Wheel. 

But Christmas is over, right? When it comes to Metz the answer is yes and no. I’m writing this on the day after Christmas, but Metz’s multitude of Marché de Noël will continue until 30 December.

We arrived in the afternoon and began our feast near two o’clock, stopping into a bistro for quiche Lorraine and a glass of Alsatian white wine.

No need to speak French, except for smiles and the mandatory Bonjour!  This simple greeting opens the door to polite service, and conversation in French or English or German or any combination.   Maybe you’d like to know the correct way to pronounce Bonjour?  Your friendly guide to fun is here to help!  Check the greeting in both the English and French pronunciations:

In the late afternoon, the drizzle abated and dusk approached.  Time to stroll the well lit streets and get to the markets.  

You may notice, France is all about the three F’s…..hey, this ain’t Hollywood, so get your mind strait.  The three F’s are:  French language, French food, and French fashion.  The French, as a rule, like to look classy.  A young man may wear a sweatshirt, but with a flare for color and often a scarf, his hair immaculately scuffed de la mode.  The young ladies, even if they’re dressed down, wear jeans as tight as a second skin and with high heels, jewelry, and hair and makeup in the movie star class.  If there’s a party on, the young women dress like fashion models.

If you aim to follow the French fashion, it helps to be as slim as a willow, both men and women.

As you adventurously browse the Christmas kiosks, you’ll find everything your taste buds could ever dream about.  Pasties direct from the heavens above, cheeses of every description, sausages tame and wild, crepes of course, but also a variety of mulled wines. 

While the Germans may offer white or red Glühwein, the French will ask which Vin Chaud you prefer and when you answer either white or red, further questions follow.  White? Yes, but which white? The Riesling? The Mirabella?  The Chenin Blanc?

My fellow traveler opt for warm and fruity Mirabella and I succumbed to an Irish Coffee, topped with sweetened whip cream.

Then we followed up with Churros fresh from the grease, with enough powdered sugar to challenge our insulin level.

But, there is more to the markets than sugary food.  Hats and scarfs galore.  Freshly shucked oysters, snails in a rich buttered wine sauce. Christmas ornaments.  Submarine buns overflowing with deliciously melted local cheeses, whole candied fruits, and chocolates enough to astound Willy Wonka.  Wine and champagne by the glass or bottle, shops and department stores open well past the edge of darkness, and restaurants and bars overflowing.

Shucking Oysters

Christmas in Metz expresses exuberance of every sort. If you really want to feel the mood, get a hotel room and bring your party spirit.  We kept pace until we couldn’t, then paused to wander one more market before drifting back to our hotel, stopping to visit a wine shop and a kitchen shop and a shoe shop on the way.

And, of course, there’s always room for one more vin chaud!  Why not?  It’s Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2018

German Faces in Market Places, PART II

German Faces in Market Places, PART II

….so, where was I?  Oh, yeah.  In Part I gave you a glance at some vendors and told you how to make mulled wine, Glühwein.  But, there is always more than just vendors at a German Christmas Market, Weihnactsmarkt.  Romance is in the air and parents with cute kids and people looking for romance and those who have unhappily found it and found that romance is a toxic mix of “I love you and I hate you and what was your name again?”

Then there are the happy folk who are just there for a drink and shopping and the sheer enjoyment of celebrating the season, with and without loved ones.  Take a glance at some more photos and try to tell me who is who. I always get confused.

But stick with me.  After the photos I'm going show you how to make your German Christmas perfect with a Stollen recipe.  Stollen?  Yep, Christmas Raisin Cake.

Now for the Stollen - Easy to put together. Takes about 2 hours and another hour to bake

4 Cups flour
1 Cup milk, warmed to at least room temp
1  Cup (2 sticks) of softened butter
1 Package yeast
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
1 Teaspoon powdered cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon each of cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg
3/4 Cup sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons salt
1/2 Cup chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts)
1 1/2 Cups raisins
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Melted butter for painting the top of the Stollen
Powdered sugar for dusting the top of the baked Stollen

OPTIONAL:  1/2 Cup Rum (I didn't add Rum)

Mix rum (optional), lemon zest, lemon, and raisins.  Add a little bit of water and heat.  When the liquid is hot, remove the mixture and allow the raisins to plump.

Put the yeast in some milk and allow to sit about 15 minutes.

Put the flour and spices in a large bowl and mix well.  Drain the raisins/zest and add it. Then, add the yeast and the rest of the milk, plus the butter and nuts.

Knead until you have a smooth dough.  I mixed and kneaded by hand.  As you knead, add more flour to keep the dough dense.  Knead time should be about ten minutes.

Adding more flour and extended kneading does two things:  Allows the loaf to hold its shape better while baking and keeps the loaf from being too crumbly after it's baked.

Dust the loaf (or separate into two small loaves) with flour, cover and let rise until it has doubled, about 2 hours.  I put mine in a cold oven and turned on the oven light.

Heat oven to 350ºF

Place the loaf (or two small loaves) in the oven and bake for an hour or until a knife jabbed into the center comes out clean.  Ovens vary, so check the loaf a couple of times, before and after the hour.  Mine took 50 minutes to bake.

When the loaf comes out, paint on the butter and dust well with powdered sugar.

Pour yourself a Glüwein and settle down in front of the roaring fire!