Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fasching and Fastnacht

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!

Above and below are some children who are part of the parade. 

Below are children watching the parade.

Below, another two groups in the parade.

After the parade, I tried walking up the main street.  It was almost impossible because of the crowds milling around, many getting a bite to eat at some of the various food booths--for such things as slices of Flammen Kuchen (pastry topped with sour cream and Schinken or fried bacon pieces), gulash soup, Broetchen (rolls) filled with various types of sausage-- or having a glass of hot Gluehwein to warm the hands and the insides on that chilly day.  Underneath, a group of youngsters enjoying some Wurst (sausages) in a Broetchen.

A food tent with our church partly shown at the back and the cafe in town doing some business during the parade and the aftermath. 

Some advertising of food offered at the various booths.

Below right, a view of our church, which is more than 350 years old, on the main street.  It is a pilgrimage church with one of the few Silbermann organs in the world.

I eventually gave up walking through town and headed back up the hill towards home.  As I approached our house, I caught up to our next-door neighbours, Robert and Hannelore.  He and I are often outside at the same time on Saturdays sweeping up before the weekend.  His remark to me was, "Janet, at least we don't have to do any sweeping today!" 

"Thank goodness!" was my reply.  The next morning there was confetti, straw and mess everywhere on the streets below us.  Unbelievable!  But by the end of that day, just about all of it was gone and by Tuesday, there wasn't a sign of what had been.  Some people had been sweeping outside their doors for several hours to get things neat and clean again.
Coming up is the final big week of Fastnacht, which I'll talk about at that time.  It begins with Schmutzigen Donnerstag on February 11th, ends with Fastnacht Tuesday on the 16th, to be followed by Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent on the 17th, the day now traditional for us women to be the guests of the men for lunch.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Wild Boar at the Gasthaus Kleiner Meierhof

Our evening began with a glass of Sekt on the house.  We had arrived at the Kleiner Meierhof in Ettenheimweiler at around 6:30 p.m., for dinner at 7 o'clock, greeted personally as always by Sylvia and Erich.  We settled in at our table in a corner, with a great view of the room.  We sipped on our "Champagne" while watching the other guests arrive, also being greeted by the Wirt (owner/host).  All the tables had been reserved and all of us were waiting with anticipation for the Wildschwein, which was the special offering that night.
Below, a wild boar mounted on a wall, though not at the Gasthaus Kleiner Meierhof.

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 Gasthaus Kleiner Meierhof has become known for special game evenings, including Reh (venison) and Wildschwein (boar), with Sylvia and Erich hosting several from November through March.  The guests don't come just from Ettenheimweiler, but from many towns in the area as well.  Erich is a hunter himself, though with a full-time day job and running the Gasthaus at night, he hasn't been hunting recently.  Every evening he is pouring beer and wine, serving meals, and talking to their guests.  Sylvia does the cooking but also socializes when she is free.

The business was started by Sylvia's grandfather and grandmother in 1951 by selling beer through one of the windows.  So many customers began sitting in the kitchen and everywhere else drinking the beer that her grandfather declared, "We should open a Gasthaus!" which is what they did on 24 August 1952.  They offered only a few cold dishes along with the beer.  In 1961, Sylvia's mother and father carried it on, doing a major renovation at that time.

Underneath:  on top, are Sylvia's grandparents;  below them, are her parents.

Sylvia and Erich took it over from her parents in 1993, opening it as a regular Gasthaus, with warm and cold meals and all customary beverages.  Sylvia had studied and learned cooking, administration and hotel management for five years at the Gasthaus-Restaurant Loewen on the Schoenberg, known as the oldest Gasthaus in Germany--dating back to 1250--earning a diploma as a Gesellin (a journeymanship).

So here we all were, enjoying that glass of Sekt as the evening got underway.  Then the dinner started:  salads were served to everyone and very quickly.  No one waited more than a few minutes; in other words, one isn't eating before everyone at that table is served, not always the case in every Gasthaus.

Sylvia's salad, we think, is the best!  On this occasion, it was Feldsalat, the specialty of the winter months.  Hans has asked and asked but, smilingly, she will not give out her recipe for the dressing.  He has figured out some of it:  mild vinegar (she did say she used Melfor), oil, a little sugar, a little mustard, Maggi--and a hidden ingredient.  Even their son, Patrick, who was helping to serve that night along with Erich, his father, said he knew the recipe but wouldn't dare give it!  (Perhaps he, some day, will be the cook!)  All we can say is that it is so good that you want to lift the dish for any remaining dressing!

Next, the main meal itself:  First though, heavy hot plates with candles beneath arrived to keep the dishes warm.  Hans was on a diet (unfortunately for him), so couldn't eat everything, so we asked for less food than usual.  Still, a lot was served, certainly more than enough.  On the hot plate came a platter of sliced wild boar, several pieces each, with half a pear filled with cranberry sauce for each of us.  Then, a platter with Spaetzle (a type of pasta)-- a Baden specialty--along with Kloesse (dumplings).  It is a custom for many in Germany to place a crouton in the centre of each dumpling.  Syliva does that as does Hans when he makes them.  To top it off, a gravy boat filled  with a delicious rich sauce.  For game, sauce is of the utmost importance; I think more so than even with ordinary meat dishes.  Sylvia's is excellent. Wild boar, by the way, is very lean with little fat, thus doesn't taste as gamey as many other animals from the wild.   A lot, too, depends on the way it is marinated and cooked;  also on how quickly the animal is cleaned and prepared after the hunt.
Erich and Patrick were always alert and watchful, so if a gravy boat was empty, it was soon re-filled, the same with the Spaetzle and even boar if wanted.  Hans and I could not eat more.  Everything was delicious and full of flavour.

Erich having a chat with us.

We have been going to Sylvia and Erich's Gasthaus for about 14 years, so we know both them and their two children well.  Both Patrick and Stephanie help out on occasion for special evenings.  Tonight, Stephanie was not there, but Patrick was--as was his girlfriend, who was helping out at the bar, pouring the beer and wine throughout the evening.

Wild Boar:  The boar meat (usually female boar) is marinated a couple of days in red wine vinegar, Wacholderbeeren (juniper berries, found in the supermarkets or health food stores in North America), bay leaves, peppercorns, a few cloves, onion, and various spices, before being cooked in the oven in a large casserole dish or pan.  Red wine is added to the meat before cooking for an hour or so.  Of course, there are various recipes and methods, but Hans has cooked ours much as above.

To serve:  Some serve, along with the boar, hot red cabbage.  We do the same ourselves.  Red cabbage is excellent with goose, rabbit, hare, deer or a rich beef as well.  Others serve Pfefferlingen (Chanterelles--or wild mushrooms) and, perhaps, apple sauce; some, pureed potatoes and Sauerkraut.  Others, like Sylvia, serve dumplings and pears filled with cranberry sauce (also delicious). 

The table just in front of ours with Erich in the distance, talking to some of the guests.
By 9:30 p.m. or so, everyone was finishing up their dinner and the noise level was starting to rise.  One chap at the table in front of us was full of good cheer and, throughout the evening, we and he and others at the table were "prosting" one another with our wine and beer.  Germans certainly know how to have a good time and anyone who says they have no sense of fun, doesn't know a German!  You'll never have a better time than at a German party or Fest and, when it is a specialty being served, it is hard to beat.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Soupe a' l'Oignon chez Paris

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. 

We quickly checked the menu outside for onion soup.  Yes, there it was!  The Brasserie was busy with an amazing number of customers for that time of night; however, being Paris, we took that as normal.  We ordered a glass of wine and a bowl of soup each and, while waiting, watched the people enjoy their own choices of food.  For me, to actually be in Paris at around midnight was a thrill.  The city had been, up to then, everything we had hoped for, and that included the ladies of the day or night in Montmarte.  It also included the wonderful church in that same area, Le Sacre Coeur.  And, of course, the cathedral of Notre Dame.
Tonight, though, was onion soup night.  A few minutes later the waiter arrived with two steaming bowls, topped with French bread covered in golden-brown melted cheese, long strands of it hanging over the sides of the bread.  Oh, it looked delicious!  But how would it taste?  After all, this was my first time to eat what I had been reading about for so long.  We dipped our spoons into the fragrant, hot soup and took a sip; then another and another.  The cheese was thick and ran off our spoons in long strands; the bread was crusty and crisp  below it.  Magnifique!  Each mouthful was better than the last it seemed.  My expectations had been high but they had certainly been met.  Perhaps it was because it was Paris or perhaps it was the anticipation that made it seem so perfect an evening.  It was all of that, of course, combined with a chef who knew how to cook that soup to perfection.

The search for a soup to match the one in Paris

We returned to Belgium a day later, but that previous evening began my search for an onion soup to compare with that Parisian memory.  I tried it at many restaurants in other places.  None compared.  I wondered if my standards were too high and would I ever find it again. It took me several years to find one that was almost as good. 

In the late 1960s I came across a recipe in The Canadian Magazine (now long gone) by Madame Benoit (also long gone, but one of my all-time favourite food writers and cooks).  I tried it.  Superb!  Almost like the one I remembered.  The secret was unsalted butter, cooking the onions very slowly and a good beef broth, all of which give the soup its rich flavour.  It was then topped with toasted French bread and Swiss cheese and broiled until golden brown.  For many years her recipe was the one I made whenever that Paris night crept into my mind.

The picture below is my onion soup ready to be eaten at home a few days ago. 

About twenty-five years later, here in Germany, I came across another recipe for onion soup in a German cookbook.  I made that recipe and loved it.  It was basically the same, but not quite.  First, a cup of white wine was added to the broth.  This recipe sauteed the French bread first in unsalted butter and then flamed it with Cognac!  It was then placed on top of the soup in bowls, lots of Emmental and Gruyere cheese sprinkled on top and placed under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes.  Wonderful!  Not exactly as the Parisian one, but it was superb.  Mme Benoit's was the classic soup as the classic does not call for wine. 

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.

Another of my cookbooks showing some typical products of France (the bread and wine), plus recipes from Germany and  around Europe.

Here is my version of onion soup--a combination of several.

French Onion Soup Chez Paris
To serve 2:  Slice thinly 4 to 5 medium to large onions.  Saute the onions in unsalted butter (no substitute acccording to Mme Benoit), along with a bay leaf, 2 cloves of garlic cut into halves and some salt.  Cook the mixture, stirring often, until golden brown and soft, about 45 minutes.  Don't let the onions burn.  I leave the pot uncovered for the first 20 to 25 minutes and then cover it for the last 20 minutes; watch and stir often.

When cooked, add a teaspoon of flour and stir a minute or so.  Add half a cup of dry white wine (I used a Weissburgunder wine this time; a Pinot Blanc), stirring another couple of minutes.  Stir in 2 cups of beef broth, 3/4 cup of water (or less water and more broth or a bit more wine) and some freshly ground black pepper.   Simmer, uncovered, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove the bay leaf and garlic.  Ladle some soup into two oven-proof bowls.

Place toasted French bread slices (about half an inch thick) on top of the soup in the bowls and then cover them liberally with a combination of Emmental and Gruyere cheese.  (Or try topping it with leftover fondue if you have it, as I did; just remember to thaw it out first!)  My fondue was quite thick, thus the reason it froze so well and was perfect on the French bread.  Broil in a very hot oven until the cheese is puffy and golden brown.

Light a candle or two and serve your onion soup along with a glass of the wine you used in cooking it and feel the spirit and romance of Paris on a spring night!

Our table later in the week for second-time arounds!  It is evening and dark outside, and with a nice bottle of wine, flowers and candles, the atmosphere, though not Paris, adds to our enjoyment.

Les Halles market is long gone but I'm sure many Parisians still remember those days.  That night in Paris was many years ago, but its memories, tastes and smells seeped into my senses and lingered for all these years.  What I've learned is that I'll never find that perfect soup again, not even in Paris in that cafe.  That was a particular moment and time in my life and became a cherished memory.  My search for it ended with some great substitutes that bring back those memories of a long-ago sojourn in Paris and the steaming bowl of "soupe a l'oignon," but it also has made new memories that will also linger in my mind and heart.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Remembering A Special Cat

We have had many cats over the years and all are, and have been, special to us.  Tammy was our first and was my sweet little cat.  I talked about her in one of my earlier posts.  Fritzie was our second, and he loved Hans as if Hans had been his father!  He loved me, too, but I was always second in his heart.  When he died, we were both pretty heartbroken as he was certainly a special--and quite different--small feline.  My story today is about him.  The picture at right was taken a year ago.
He came into our lives because Hans couldn't resist him in a pet store in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.  A farmer had taken a litter of kittens to them, all too young to have left their mother; Fritzie (my name for him) was one of them.  When Hans looked at them, he said that that little kitten, only about eight weeks old, came right to him and, full of personality and character, crept into Hans's heart there and then.  So home Fritzie came.  He remained a character throughout his life.  I resisted him initially but not for long.  I was concerned about now taking two cats across the Atlantic every year, but decided that we could manage that hurdle.  Little did I know that eventually we would be taking three with us every year!

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.

I know it's often hard for people who aren't cat or animal lovers to understand how anyone can love an animal so much.  Or to understand how much a pet can become part of the family or how they manage to wind themselves around your heart.  I think you need to go through such a time yourself to truly understand.  Daisy, Cleo, Annabelle and Lily are part of our household today and all have their own stories to tell.  So do Charlie and a few others, but those are for another time.

At left:  Two springs ago, a young deer came into our yard while Fritzie was sleeping on top of the sofa.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pretzels, Sekt, Fireworks and Church Bells


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. 

At right below is a view of the hot buffet, which included game, beef, pork, shrimp, various types of sausages, vegetables and so on.  The cold buffet table was just as large.

This year, however, we were on our own and at home.  We began at around 7 p.m. with "mousse au canard" (duck mousse or pate) with toast points and my homemade cranberry sauce.  With it, we had a superb bottle of 1993 Hasenberg Rulaender Auslese from Koenigschaffhausen in the Kaiserstuhl, an area about 30 minutes south of us.  This is a rich, heavy wine but it actually felt light on the tongue and palate.  Though heading into 17 years old, it was still perfect and was excellent with the duck pate.

Below left, the duck pate and wine at home;                                

We continued with that wine as we began our cheese fondue.  We had decided we didn't want to fuss this year, as before Christmas and the week heading into New Years we had been out often to Gasthauses and restaurants.  For the fondue we had the traditional French bread but also boiled potatoes (pre-cooked to just the right doneness to spear them easily), cauliflower and mushrooms.  All excellent and enjoyable.

Afterwards, we watched a wonderful two-hour Andre Rieu concert, one of our favourite personalities and performers.  We get many of his concerts throughout the year as he tours Germany often.  We are still trying to get tickets for one of them--hard to get as they sell out quickly.  As his concert ended, the German traditional short program called "Dinner for One" led us up to midnight.  That program is shown on every public TV station throughout the day and evening of the 31st, and we don't know anyone who doesn't watch it!  It has been playing every New Year's Eve for about 40 years and is the most repeated 10-minute play in the world.  It is hilarious and, by the way, it is in English only!  (All public television is commercial-free during the programs.) 

Today, New Year's Day, as every year, we watched the live Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra concert.  It is a superb event.  It started at 11:15 this morning and continued for two and a half hours.  It would likely be shown on public television in North America and perhaps not live, but recorded.  It is well worth watching if you love music and, in particular, music by Strauss (both father and son).  The last two orchestra renditions were "Die Blaue Donau" (the beloved "Blue Danube") and the "Radetzkey March," both of which brought down the house.

The source of the Danube (Donau in German) is just outside Donaueschingen, in Germany's Black Forest, about an hour and a half east of us.  What became a great river began very small, winding its way eventually through much of Europe.  From its source to the Black Sea it covers close to 3,000 kilometers.

Before the weekend began, we met with Canadian and German friends for lunch and to wish everyone a "guten Rutsch," a German saying that translates as "have a good jump into the new year!"  We met at the Krone in Allmannsweier, the local Gasthaus where the men meet each week.  A couple times of year, though, we women join them.  See a few of the group at left, including me.

Ellie and her husband, Peter, run the Gasthaus and she does all the cooking.  Ellie does not understand what "small" means!  You can ask for a small portion, but she doesn't hear!  It is always too much--at least for me and Hans.  Every week he takes half home.  This past Wednesday I ordered a Feldsalat and Camembert.  The latter was on the side and came with toast points and cranberry sauce.  Feldsalat is a specialty here in late fall and winter and my favourite all-time salad.  It reminds me a bit of baby spinach salad, though Feldsalat has small dark green leaves grouped together on one stem with many of these on the plate.  We have it at home occasionally and it takes quite a bit of cleaning to get the sand/soil out of it.  It grows throughout the winter out of doors.  If available in North America, I think it might be what is called lamb's lettuce.  The dressing for it is made from mild vinegar (one of best is Melfor Essig), good oil, salt, pepper, some chopped onions with croutons and often fried Schinken (bacon bits), or perhaps walnuts or other nuts sprinkled over top.

One of our friends takes Melfor vinegar to Canada with her every year when she goes to stay for a few weeks.  I remember taking a similar one--a case of it--to Canada in the mid 1970s when we were posted back to Winnipeg from Germany.  If you can't find mild vinegar, dilute the one you use with water.

Another specialty here, specifically at New Year's, is the pretzel--not the small, crisp sticks but the soft chewy large type.   Twice we have received one as a gift from Monika and Martin Grimm who run the Gasthaus Engel in Doerlinbach, along with his mother and brother, Ulrich.  Monika makes several pretzels every New Year's.  (The one below, a gift to us, is on a large baking pan and a good handful for one person to carry.)  They are meant to be eaten on New Year's Day. 

May we all have a happy and more peaceful 2010!