Thursday, January 28, 2010
In several countries, including Germany, the weeks prior to Lent are for celebrating with parades, dances and joie de vivre! Our area of Germany, Baden-Wuerttemberg, celebrates it in fine style--letting loose and, in some instances, with no holds barred! In Germany's Rhineland, it is called Karneval, while here in Baden, in the south, we call it Fastnacht.
(A couple of well-known cities in the world, which also celebrate the pre-Lenten period, are Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they call it Karneval and New Orleans, Louisiana, in the U.S., where it is called Mardi Gras.)
Above is a typical group representing one of the towns that is taking part in the parade. This is near the end of our own street.
In Baden, the witch with a broom and special masks, some depicting animals, are emblems, as can be noise makers and various other things representing a particular town's Fastnacht custom. It is said that Fastnacht is the time in the year when the bad spirits of the cold winter months must be expelled, thus the broom-sweeping witches and the clacking of noise makers. It is also the time for eating, drinking and merriment before the fasting days of Lent. (Some witches shown below.)
It starts here officially on November 11th on the 11th minute of the 11th hour. That has been the case since the Middle Ages. (The same time as for our Remembrance Day ceremony and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI.) That evening of the 11th, small children, with their parents, parade through the towns holding lighted lanterns. It also is the day that the executive of the Fastnacht Vereins (organizations) must get to work planning the events to come, though they meet from time to time throughout the year as well. This year, about a week after New Year's, advertising started for various parades, with the hoisting of colourful cloths in the towns whose parades were coming up.
The picture on the right depicts one of the many bands taking part in the parade.
About six weeks before Lent the first parades begin and every weekend thereafter you'll find one somewhere or a special entertainment evening in a tent or hall. Fastnacht becomes serious on the Thursday before Lent, and from that night on until what we call pancake Tuesday and the Germans here call Fastnacht--the term also used for the entire pre-Lenten period--the streets and Gasthauses are filled with celebrating and band-playing locals We haven't gone out to any Fastnacht events at night for several years now, but we do still take in a parade or two.
One of the big ones this year was in our own village of Ettenheimmuenster. We were celebrating the town's 30-year Verein's Fastnacht participation, so it was an important event. I have never seen so many people in our town as on that day (Sunday, January 24th). Seventy-one Vereins from that many communities participated in the parade, with a total of 2,500 people walking and marching. The parade lasted for more than two hours; in fact, it was still winding its way all over the village after the last group passed me by.
The young and the old, mothers and fathers, babies in carriages and wagons were all part of the parade and all were in costume. Each town has their own unique dress and masks; the latter are carved by local carvers and can be expensive. A worthwhile museum in which to see many of these wonderful old masks is in Kenzingen, about 15 minutes south of us. The masks can be both beautiful and ugly at the same time!
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Wildschweine or wild boar are ferocious, but fortunately they aren't commonly seen as they forage for their food in the forest at night. They are abundant in the forest areas of Germany. Local Gasthauses advertise it on various weekends in late fall and winter, with reservations generally necessary. We hear the hunters near us on many weekends throughout the hunting season. For adult males and females the season is from mid June until the end of January; for young boar, it is all year. Wildschweine are prevalent everywhere, thus the reason for a long season.
Below, Erich and Sylvia shown behind the bar at the Gasthaus.
The table just in front of ours with Erich in the distance, talking to some of the guests.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Onion soup was on my mind when we started planning our trip to Paris many years ago. I had read much about Les Halles, the market in Paris where housewives and renowned chefs alike shopped for their food products, including fruit, vegetables, live chickens and much more. Les Halles is where "soupe a l'oignon" became famous. At the end of a night, still early morning and often before the sun came up, many shopping at the market, including the farmers themselves, would have that warming and filling dish of broth, onions, baguette and cheese.
The picture opposite is of a book I have had for several years, with Notre Dame cathedral in the background. It's a great book just for reading but also has some wonderful recipes in it.
We lived in Belgium at that time we were planning our trip, about 20 kilometers from where my husband was based with the RCAF at 1 Wing, Marville, France, about four hours from Paris. Our Belgian landlords offered to look after our two young children so that we could enjoy a Paris sojourn on our own.
We found a small hotel on rue Washington, about a block from the Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe. It couldn't have been a better place from which to sight-see the city. Our room was small, but we did have a small balcony, the typical kind you see in old movies of Paris: a door that opened to the street below, with iron bars half way up just outside it. I'd open that door and lean against the railing to watch the scene unfold below me. I'd pretend I was one of those artists who went off to Paris to live in a garret, eating only bread and soup, while writing famous books and painting masterpieces. For a moment I was part of all those books ever written!
We walked and walked and also used the subway. One night in Montparnasse we found ourselves stranded because the subway stopped at midnight, unbeknownst to us. Obviously I hadn't read everything I could about Paris! We didn't get to Les Halles, but we did find a Brasserie around 11 o'clock the next night.
The picture below is of the onion soup, topped with cheese, that I made this past week.
The picture below is my onion soup ready to be eaten at home a few days ago.
Another version I have came from Gourmet Magazine, a magazine I subscribed to from 1969/70 until they ceased printing in November 2009. I still have all of the magazines. All onion soup recipes are much the same with only a few differences. In theirs, they toasted the bread in the oven, turning it over once, until completely dry. They then said to add the bread to the soup in the bowl, topping it with Gruyere cheese and sprinkling over it all Parmigiano-Reggiano before broiling it. I decided to make the soup myself, but as I didn't happen to have any of the cheese called for, I topped mine with leftover cheese fondue from New Year's Eve that I had frozen! White wine and Kirchwasser had been in that cheese. My soup and topping were excellent.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Fritzie was a Maine Coon, but we didn't know that then. Neither did the farmer or the pet store. Here in Germany they cost about Euro 600 to Euro 800 ($900 to $1200); Hans paid $5--but not the reason he bought him. Fritzie had no papers so perhaps wasn't a full breed, but he did have all the signs of that breed. He grew larger and larger with a back that was very high and bony. His tail was full and long, with his knickerbocker hind legs getting more noticeable until one couldn't deny them (they looked as if he had leggings on half way up). He loved to curl up in small places and slept upside down often. He also had the unique sound of a Maine Coon, almost like a beep; he didn't have the typical meow of other cats.
For that first flight back to Germany a few weeks later, Hans carried him in a soft-sided bag which opened at the top. We had put a small body harness on him just in case he wanted to escape. Even before leaving the house--after Hans set the bag on the ground while storing luggage in the car--Fritzie saw his opportunity and took off like a shot (or as fast as his then small legs would take him), the bag trailing behind him and with Hans in hot pursuit. The writing was on the wall about that little cat's nature.
Halfway across the Atlantic that evening, a lady across the aisle tapped Hans on the shoulder and, pointing down, asked him if that was his cat. There, sitting in the middle of the aisle, was Fritzie, enjoying the goings-on around him. Luckily he still had his body harness on and was soon back by our feet.
He was full of himself as one of my sisters said. Perhaps he knew what his breed was! He did act as if he were a cut above other cats. He wouldn't take no for an answer and when he wanted attention, he demanded it. Whenever Hans sat or stretched out on the sofa, Fritzie wanted to wind himself around him. He would station himself on his chest and wrap his legs and paws around Hans's neck. He would look over to me now and again when I was sitting opposite and have a guilty look in his eyes, as if to say, "I'm sorry, but here is where I want to be!" Always, within a couple of minutes, over he would trot to me, sit on my chest and hug me--but only for about two minutes, before heading back to his surrogate father, his guilt now dissipated.
At night, he wrapped himself around Hans's head! And that's where he slept all night and was happiest. Luckily, Hans didn't mind! He swears Fritzie was a reincarnated human as he had so many human traits. One year, when Hans was in Nova Scotia and I was in Germany with the cats, Fritzie made me his surrogate mother. He then wanted to sleep around my neck but that didn't go over with me. So much to his annoyance, I insisted he could sleep near me, but not on my pillow and head. Every afternoon, after his daily sleep, he would demand attention and beep, beep at me (like a little alarm clock) until I picked him up for his hugging time. Similar to when your children are young and after their afternoon sleep. None of our other cats have ever done that, though they all want attention and love. Fritzie, though, wanted it most. And got it!
He could be a terror with the other cats and always wanted to be the master. They understood that, but over the years he became less aggressive and they became less concerned.
Fritzie became ill very quickly, almost overnight it seemed, though we had noticed some changes for a while. We had taken him to the vet who gave him an antibiotic and initially he seemed to be better. But, within a week or so, he wasn't okay. We did everything we could for him and so did our vet. But ten days later we lost him. He was nine years old.
We were both with him that early morning we took him in, after calling the vet at about 8 a.m., knowing we had no choice. The vet had warned us that the outcome might come to this. For several nights previously Hans had slept in the living room with him, as we didn't want Fritzie to be alone. The vet told us he was likely infectious, so we wanted to protect our other cats. (Now, however, we don't think he was, but it was better his being away from them regardless.)
Both of us and the vet had tears in our eyes that day. He told me when Hans went outside to get Fritzie's cage from the car (he had carried him inside without it), that he had gone through the same thing with his beloved cat the year before. We took Fritzie home with us and he now rests in the back garden beside our Tammy.
Friday, January 1, 2010
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
As I write, I am sipping on a glass of what we all call Champagne, but most of us generally drink something other than the real thing. Mine today is a German Sekt and it is excellent, a 2006 Fuerst von Metternich Riesling, Brut. See at left.
We opened the bottle last night on our balcony at midnight, poured two glasses and watched the fireworks light up the sky from all directions, while we listened to the church bells announcing the arrival of 2010. Church bells all over Germany ring out for a good ten minutes or longer every year right at the stroke of 12.
Today, our Sekt still has lots of fizz, as we closed it with one of our Sekt wine corks (made from heavy, pointed steel with a vinyl seal). Champagne, of course, is the name that can only be used by vintners in France who produce wine within the borders of Champagne--a limited area. In Germany, it is called Sekt; in Alsace (they have their own sparkling wine), it is called Cremant; in Spain, Cava; in Italy, Prosecco. Just recently, the Italian government made Prosecco a protected wine name; so, like Champagne, it cannot be used by any other area or country, other than the particular area in which it is produced in Italy.
We began our New Year's Eve simply. For the first time in a few years, we decided to celebrate at home. In the last few years we have gone to the Gasthaus Rebstock in the next village, for a fabulous evening which included a cold and hot buffet, Sekt on arrival and at midnight, live music and then fireworks directly outside the Gasthaus, in the heart of the town, as the clock struck 12. During some of those years, good friends from Canada, who were in Germany visiting, shared the evening as did Canadian friends from Brussels and Ramstein, Germany.