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Friday, August 31, 2018

My Local German Bakery

My local German Bäckerei-Konditorei (bakery-pastry shop) is the German equivalent of a British pub, but without the alcohol.  I’d guess half the community flows in and out on a typical morning.  All shapes and sizes and ages come in for a coffee, rolls, cakes, or breads.  Workmen in scuffed boots and paint-stained, white overalls order lunchtime sandwiches called Belegtes, made with one of the many types of German rolls (Bröchen or little bread) and filled with anything you can name. 

Office workers pick up armfuls of pre-ordered treats for their colleagues.

My favorites are the Laugen Eckers (three corner rolls, painted with an alkali solution to make the outsides crisply brown and the insides as flakey as a croissant.  Usually, I chose a filling of cheese, or soft cheese, or ham, all three with a smear of mayo and additions of lettuce and sliced tomato.

But, let’s stop there with descriptions of the baked goods.  That could go on forever and what I really want to talk about is the bakery as a taste of community.  Yes, folks, you can recapture the America of the 1950s right here in Germany!

I stroll through the countryside most mornings on my way for a coffee and roll.  My three faithful readers will know I’ve recently written about my morning stroll.  But, I can’t divulge their names for reasons of national insecurity.

I walk in and the clerks behind the counter give a short wave and call me by name, as does the manager, Stefen, who right away asks me what size and type of coffee I want this morning.  Unlike some of the regulars, I’m a fickle coffee drinker, jumping from Cappuccinos to milk coffees or tea.  “Anything to eat?” he asks.  Not this morning.  I’m trying to cut back on enjoyment.

The Boss at work

I sit down at one of the three tables, right next to Hubert, a retired gray beard who always drinks his coffee black, is hard of hearing and is always smiling.  You know when he chuckles he didn’t hear a thing.  We chat anyway.  Mostly he chuckles.

Then there’s Helmut, a retired German soldier and policeman.  Helmut lost a leg serving in Iraq.  Chopper pilot there, as he was with the police in Bavaria.  Huge guy.  Likes to wear a Stetson and offer loud baritone remarks as blue as the ocean, and just obtuse enough to not offend anyone in particular, but everyone in general.  “Wow, that looks good!  I may come back tomorrow and see if it’s still here.”  Every now and then one of the female clerks will call out, “Still trying after all these years!” or “You need to find another fishing spot.”
Helmut laughs and comes back with, “I may have a wooden leg, but the rest of me works.”

Marian, a beautiful, dark haired middle-aged clerk and often the cause of Helmut’s suggestive remarks, brings me my coffee with a smile.

“Where is your wife?” Marian asks.

“My wife?”  I give a perplexed look.

She puts her hands on her hips and says, “Yes!  Your wife!”

“I’d forgotten about her.”

Marian grimaces and waves a dismissive hand, as though speaking to a man who’s likeable enough, but an idiot.

Ditmar, the Postman comes in, dressed in uniform.  Big guy and friendly.  He’s not the guy who delivers to my house, that’s Ralph.  Ralph stopped me the other day and asked if I’d be home in half an hour.  Said he had a couple of packages for me.  I left the garage door open and he parked the packages there.

Ralph’s daughter works at the bakery on Sunday mornings.  Yes, she and I exchange German-English language conversations when she’s not too busy.  She’s as OCD as a computer doing calculations and may not notice me if there are rolls fresh from the oven to be put out, or a line of customers. When she sees me she always apologizes for not seeing me.

Another guy, Kareem comes in.  Kareem is from Eastern Turkey, but has lived in Germany for forty years, raised his many kids here, but goes back to visit his homeland about three times a year.  He and I always shake hands and often have jumbled, but understandable German conversations, usually influenced by heavy use of gestures and laughter.

I get another coffee from Stefen.  He’ll skate upstairs to his office presently, but Sabina, the assistant manager will be at the counter a while longer.  Management likes to stay tuned to the personal side of the business.  They know most people and greet everybody, even the odd Americans who come in to make pointy-talkie selections.  Stefen likes to tell me jokes that get lost in translation.  He laughs.  I laugh. It’s all good.

The Assistant Boss

This bakery is big business, supplying a half dozen outlets, as well as restaurants.

Besides Marian, two other clerks are working the counter this morning, Silka and Anna Marie.  Anna Marie told me she likes my house.  My first thought:  How does she know where I live?  It must have been the look on my face.  She goes on to say, yes, you live down this street and turn left and then turn right at the next street. She likes my house.  In America, the first thing on your mind might be STALKER!  But, no.  Anna Marie lives in the only high apartment in the town and she can see three quarters of everything from her balcony.  On inclement days I drive to the bakery, so she knows my car and she knows my wife.  And on that thought, I must make a note to be very careful.

Marian comes back and asks if I want something to eat.  I tell her I want a Käsestande, a long roll with a sprinkle of cheese on top.  She asks if I would like her to warm it.  I blow her a kiss.  She smiles a rueful smile and says, “Oh, Bill!”  In minutes she comes back with a nicely warmed roll.  Some language is universal.

The Boss' daughter

Over the course of an hour or so, mothers come in with their children and so do dads.  The children always get offered a treat.  One of the counter ladies will motion the little ones to follow and give them a small roll or a piece of soft candy.

Teenagers come in and get something to eat on the way to the bus stop.  Few German schools offer dedicated school buses.  Kids take the regular buses from the communal bus stops.

Time for me to slurp the last few drops of coffee and start the rest of my day. 

Silka rings up my damage.  I tell her two cups of a coffee, a Käsestande and two whiskeys.  She keeps a straight face and tells me, “I’ll have the whiskey delivered to your house.”

I wave to everyone and get a chorus of Ciao!, or Tschüss (like putting Ch and Use together).  Used to hear Auf Wiedersehen, but now you seldom hear it said by anyone younger than seventy.

Don't’ care how it’s said because it’s always said with a smile at my bakery and they know I’ll be back tomorrow, along with all their neighbors. And they know where I live.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Middle East Style Stuffed Eggplant

Middle East Style Stuffed Eggplant

You like eggplant?  Know anything about them, other than they’re almost black and very shiny.  Well, not all of them are dark and I think we’re the only country that calls them eggplants.  In France and Germany (slightly different spelling) and England, they’re known as aubergines.  Hey, we also use that word, but for us it’s the name for a dark purple color, not the name of the fruit.  Yes, eggplant, a member of the nightshade family (as is the tomato) is a fruit.  So what is a fruit?  Botanically speaking, a fruit develops from the ovary of a seed bearing plant, while a vegetable is another part of the plant such as roots (carrots), leaves (spinach), or stalks (celery and broccoli).

Ok, fine, but what is the nightshade family? You may ask, as you recall your teenage years and being mesmerized by the girl next door, undressing with the shade pulled down.  

The nightshade family or Solanaceae, features plants that grow on every continent except Antarctica.  Want some names:  tomato, tomatillo (oldest found was a fossil about 52 million years old), peppers, potatoes, and even tobacco.  Some, like the mandrake have psychoactive properties; others such as the Belladonna are deadly poisonous.

Hurry, hurry read all about them nightshades:

Eggplants come in so many colors and sizes.  Deep purple and globe shaped you’re familiar with, but how about light purple, striped, yellow, white, slender, round, curled?  Want to know more?  Check out this link and then let’s get down to some cookin’!

First step in preparing any dish is to open a bottle of wine.  In this case I chose a polite Riesling from the Mosel Valley.  I saw the wine prices in the States and was appalled!  Here in Germany, I buy very fine whites for the equivalent of six or seven dollars.  But, anyway, open the damn bottle!  Your hungry guests are waiting.

Middle Eastern Style Stuffed Eggplant

This recipe is made in four parts:  Spice Mix, Tahini Sauce, baked eggplant, and the meat stuffing.

Turn your oven to 400ºF and while it heats, we can put the spices together and make the sauce.

Spice Mix

Mix well (I used a small bowl):
1 teaspoon each, paprika, powdered coriander, and powdered cumin.
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon herbs de Provence

Set aside.

Tahini Sauce – get your blender or food processor ready

½ Cup Greek style Yogurt
2 Tablespoons well mixed tahini paste
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Juice from half a lemon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper (or more, you snarling beast!)
3 Tablespoons water

Stuff it all in your appliance and whiz it until it's thoroughly blended.  Should be the consistency of yogurt.

Time to get those eggplants in the oven.

Two Eggplants

Slice them in half, rub the flesh sides with olive oil and sprinkle generously with about 1/3 of the spice mixture.

Put some parchment paper on a broiling pan, lay on the eggplant halves and pop them in the oven for 25-30 minutes and check.  Mine cooked to the soft stage (just browning) in about 35 minutes.  All ovens are different.

While the eggplants roast, make the stuffing.


½  onion, peeled and diced
half cup of fresh mint leaves minced
3 Cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 ½  pounds ground beef
Handful of raisins
Fresh black pepper
Red pepper to taste
1 ½  Cups cooked rice
Handful of cherry tomatoes, chopped

Splash some olive oil in a large frying pan.  When the pan is medium hot, toss in the chopped onion and garlic.  Don't’ let the onions and garlic burn.  Add a little more oil if you need to.

When the onions/garlic are soft, toss in the meat and break it up as much as possible.  When the meat is no longer pink, toss in the cherry tomatoes, the rice, the black and red pepper, raisins, the mint, and the remainder of the spice mix. Stir well.  Add salt to taste.  Cook well. The stuffed eggplants are not going back in the oven.

If you timed it right, the eggplant halves are ready to come out.  Use a spoon to mash down the centers and mound the meat filling on top.  Drizzle on the tahini sauce. You may want to add some sliced green onions, chopped parsley, or sprinkle on some paprika for color.

Better open another bottle of wine.  Your guests might want some too.

By the way, I had both meat mixture and tahini mixture left over. With the leftovers I’ll make tacos, using lettuce leaves for the taco shells.
Bon Appétit!  Or in German:  Guter Appetit! Or in Amerkin:  Dig in!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

In Germany, everyone walks.  The young, the not so young, the ancients who remember Bismarck as a young whippersnapper with a distant dream.  Seasons don’t matter.  I’ve seen German octogenarians pushing aluminum walkers, trodding through boot-deep snow, their hands clinging to the metal, a blissful look that screams “Hey, look at me!.”

I’m a fair weather walker, although I give the Germans their due as they splash through puddles of rainwater and treat it as of no account, and the flow of droplets from their rain slickers and wind tossed umbrellas.

Nope.  Not for me.  Neither rain nor snow. But I aint’ no postman!  I prefer happy thoughts and creative thoughts, not the prelim to survival situations.  Precipitation of all sorts is what houses were built for.

As both my faithful readers might guess by now….snoozing already?  Wake up!  This is important.  I’m about to take you for a walk in the German woods near my house.  Usually, I walk blissfully for at least a half hour and sometimes up to an hour.  But don’t worry, this stroll won’t take more than five minutes.

Spring, summer, and even close to autumn is best for yours truly. The wind in the green bushy leaves of the forest.  Ducks on the partially hidden ponds.  People sitting and idly chatting on the weather beaten wooden benches.  The spots of sunshine breaking bright and golden through the trees.  If it’s rained recently, best to watch your step. Slugs the size of your middle finger are unwanted pedestrians on the paths that leads across walking bridges and around the still waters of dark ponds and trickling brooks.

Enough chatter from me.  Let me show you the scenes you’ll see and allow you to dream the dreams that float through your mind.  Unless you’re living in the concrete jungle or an urban eyesore or the spreading abomination of endless antbed neighborhoods, I know you’ll find your own place of solace to stretch your legs and lose yourself in thoughts you never have time to think and plans forever trapped in tomorrow.

For now, let’s abandon the to-do list of mundane chores.

Relax.  I’m not talking about starting the timer, or beating your best time for a hip-swinging Olympic level strut.  I’m talking about observing your surroundings and deep breaths and putting a smile on your face at the sight of ducks placidly swimming and songbirds singing and insects chirping.

Divorce yourselves for a few precious moments, from the screeching call of the dust and broom and piles of wash and the rattle of the washing machine and phone calls from work and stressful familial duties.

This is time for you to renew and mentally repair. What’s an hour from your day?  Deep refreshment, the return of joy, the soul quenching sense of self, reaffirmation of a life worth living is what it is.

Come on!  Let’s stroll!