Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter and Spring in All Their Glory

Easter is late this year which means spring is further along than usual.  We have had an early spring here, so we have been enjoying the flowers and blooming bushes and trees for several weeks already.  Now it is the Easter weekend with signs of the Easter bunny, chickens and Easter eggs.  Churches, of course, will be celebrating after the long days of Lent, with familiar music and families gathering together before heading home for special dinners.

Many towns in our area decorate with flower arrangements, coloured eggs, wooden chickens and other signs of spring.  Munchweier, the next village to us, decorated their traffic circle at the edge of town in early April.

Every year at this time the town of Wittenweier decorates the centre of their town with hundreds of coloured eggs and various other decorations.  Here are some of them:

Spring flowers can be seen beside houses, churches and busy streets in all the towns.  The one below shows a beautiful display of daffodils and tulips in Meissenheim in early April, showcasing some of the half-timbered houses in the background.

 We were in the Alsace in France this week and a display in the supermarket in Plobsheim took my eye.

Most Gasthäuser also have various displays, the one below showing branches with coloured eggs hanging from the ceiling at the Gasthaus Linde in Wallburg, where I go for chicken most weeks.

Last evening we had our first Spargel Essen at the Engel in Dörlinbach.  The white asparagus is not always ready for Easter, but this year the Spargel was early and Easter, late.  The picture below shows torn up crepes, two types of ham, hollandaise sauce and the white asparagus.

At home, we have our own coloured Easter eggs to decorate the living room.

Our magnolia, shown below, in full bloom earlier in April

In Germany, this is a four-day weekend and everything is closed up tight on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, a lovely quiet time for all to enjoy.

May you all enjoy your own Easter eggs and hunts and special days this weekend.

Happy Easter to you all!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Celebrating Spring with Good Food and Good Friends

It is almost Easter and the countryside is ablaze in all its glory.  We have had an early and spectacular spring.  The wonderful scent of lilacs now greet us as we pass them by.  The iris is coming into bloom, and our peonies will not be far behind.  My favourite spring flower is the lilac, with the blossom on the left in bloom this week at the edge of our property, a bush we didn't know we had.  It was not there last year.  I am delighted. The white lilac on the right sits just behind the fence of the Gasthaus Kleiner Meierhof, one we frequent and where we sat outside last evening.  The iris is in our garden area.
The cherry trees, forsythia and other earlier blossoms are now gone, but those large, black cherries to come I can imagine eating soon, one after the other, until the bowl is empty.  Our tree has thousands of cherries now waiting to ripen--for us and the birds.  You can see the new cherries on the branches at left.  
The apple trees showcase their lovely pink blossoms, with their scent reminding me of my childhood in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and our apple trees in the back yard.  The yellow transparent apples ripened first and I ate many of them, but always when they were still slightly under-ripe (usually hiding that I was eating them as we weren't supposed to eat unripe apples!).  
The chestnut tree in full bloom just beyond our yard also reminds me of those in Charlottetown; they grew along the other side of our gangway and fence, in the neighbours' yard.  My sister Carol and I remember those two large trees that are no longer there, but back then I would look out our dining room window--almost on a level with the top of the trees, as we lived on the third floor of our grandfather's apartment house.  To see the chestnut blossoms emerging meant spring. 
We would watch the pigeons, too, which nested in the eaves of that house next door and gaze at the baby birds as they learned to fly.  I now see many birds--male and female, thrushes and finches--in our backyard here in Germany, looking for twigs to make nests for their babies to come.  A sign of spring that we always listen for is the call of the cuckoo.  This year, through the open bedroom window, early in the morning, I heard a cuckoo calling for a mate on Sunday, the 9th of April.
It is also Spargel time, that renowned and long-awaited white asparagus that people all over Germany celebrate.  We have seen fields and fields of them this year in our area, far more than in previous years.  All have been under plastic but now, the plastic off, they are being dug from the ground to head to the restaurants, Gasthäuser, supermarkets, roadside stands--and home kitchens.  We shall soon have our first "Spargel Essen," with Hans doing the cooking.  He serves one of the best white asparagus dinners I have ever had.  A great cook we knew, Herr Rosen, made wonderful Spargel dinners at his Gasthaus in the 1980s, ones we both still remember.  Hans organized many of those evenings for Canadians who were here with the military--as we were ourselves.

The display below was outside a Vesperstube we visited last week high in the hills. Many, including us, decorate branches with eggs for Easter.

For Easter Sunday, we shall have a special meal at home.  Hans plans to make Beef Wellington, perhaps not the usual Easter dinner, but one that is unbelievably good and fit for any occasion.  It is a lot of work, but, in the end, it is perhaps the most delicious meat dish we have been fortunate enough to enjoy.  That dinner, though, is still several days away, so I shall write about that later.

Burg Sponeck

These three pictures I took in January.

Just outside Jechtingen, down a narrow country road, lies the Burg Sponeck.  It dates back to 1285.  Many times we walked along the wooded area nearby and many times we walked up the short hill and road to the old fortress ruins.  The family lives behind the gates in the fortress today, having renovated it inside and out a few years ago, while being careful to retain its original architecture, as it is a historic and protected structure.

Jechtingen in the Kaiserstuhl and the Gasthaus-Winzerstube Sonne

Several times a year we pick up our two elderly lady friends in Freiburg and head to a Gasthaus known for its good cuisine.  One week after the first day of spring, at the end of March, we picked up our friend Lina, who is almost 95, and along with our friend Monika (younger than all of us), we went to a family-run Gasthaus in Jechtingen, about one kilometer from Burg Sponeck.  Anita, age 84, who usually comes as well, was unable to join us that day.
Hans and I know the Gasthaus Sonne-Winzerstube well, one we've gone to many times over the years.  Built in 1626, it is a typical family-run, Gutbürgerliches Gasthaus.  It is simply decorated but warm, with wooden floors, a supporting (tree) post that was added in 1819 in the centre of the room and deep-set windows (depicting the age of the Gasthaus) that are flanked by draperies.  Most often we stopped there to have a bottle of wine in the afternoon when out for a drive--always a Gewürtztraminer Spätlese or Auslese from that town--something we had done in January, after our visit to Burg Sponeck, as shown below.

Herr Gass is a chef and took it over from his parents some years ago.  His mother was always in the Gasthaus until she died at the age of 88 a year ago.  She would sit at the Stammtisch next to the Kachelofen greeting those who came in.  Now, Herr Gass and his wife work together in the kitchen.  During the quiet part of the day, one of them will be in the Gasthaus greeting and serving guests.  They have two teenage sons and are hoping one of them will be interested in taking it over from them someday.

Below is the Kachelofen, a glazed, tiled heating stove and the Stammtisch (the local's table) against it, with a bench along the oven.  The supporting tree post from 1819 can also be seen on the right side.  These last four pictures of the interior I took in January.

About twenty years ago we stopped at the Gasthaus for an evening meal.  We were driving a brand new Corvette that Hans parked just outside, near the door, and in we went.  We ordered dinner and wine, enjoying a lovely meal.  I now forget what we ate but I don't forget what happened next.  Herr Gass came over to the table and told Hans that he had left his park lights on in the car.  Hans thanked him, but replied that the car was new and therefore that should not be a problem.  About an hour later we said goodbye, got into this brand-new car and it refused to start!  So much for new cars and Hans' trust in them.  (Though, in all fairness, the car had probably sat out there for about four hours or so.)

The two pictures below were taken in 1989, shortly after buying the car.

As the Wirt was too busy just then to help jump-start the car, we decided the only alternative was to stay the night.  Luckily they had rooms and one was available.  I was not exactly pleased with this turn of events, but no doubt it was a good choice if for no other reason than that we had had a fair amount of wine over the course of the evening.  The following morning was a Sunday and after breakfast (included with the overnight stay), with Herr Gass' starter cables and his help, we headed for home.  Today it is a pleasant memory and a tale to relate.
Below, Lina at the back and Monika at left, along with me
On this Sunday noon hour with our friends we had wine for dinner, which wasn't Gewürtztraminer.  That particular wine goes beautifully with a goose or duck pate or with Münster Käse, for example, but not usually with a dinner.  Munster cheese in North America is not the same as that produced in Germany and Alsace, France.  We have bought ours a number of times direct  from a farmer in the Vosges mountains of Alsace and that is the best.  That is also where it is renowned and where Münster Käse originated.  It is made from raw cows' milk and has a soft orange rind and a very distinctive and strong odour.  (A cheese to keep well covered when not being eaten!)

Hans and I chose the same meal, sharing a platter of pork fillet with an herb and garlic sauce, potato croquettes and a platter of fresh vegetables topped with hollandaise sauce.  All of it superb.

Monika ordered wild boar steak with mushrooms, shown below (the mushrooms cover the wild boar).  She also opted for the potato croquettes and pronounced it all as being flavourful and delicious.

Lina ordered Reh with Pfifferlingen, which is venison with chanterelle mushrooms.  It looked delicious.  Lina, though, was not happy!  The reason Lina was so unhappy was because Schinken had been added to the Pfifferlingen.  That is the usual way to cook those mushrooms as nearly always will the slightly smoked-type, diced bacon be part of that dish.  She didn't eat another bite of the Pfifferlingen though she did eat her venison and said that it was excellent.  She told the young waiter that the menu should have stipulated that the mushroom dish included Schinken.  Each time he came to the table--a very personable young man and the nephew of the Wirt--she brought it up.  Lina always speaks her mind!  He humoured her and eventually she smiled and said little more about it.  We suggested that she should have asked if Schinken was part of the dish, as in the Schwarzwald that is the way it is usually served.  (The Kaiserstuhl, though not really in the Black Forest, is part of that culinary area.)  
Lina's venison, chanterelles and croquettes
Lina and I had dessert after dinner (both of us had ice cream, mine with a chocolate sauce and hers, scoops of different flavours). That helped to make up for the Pfifferlingen that she loves but didn't eat.  Hans ended up eating the mushrooms for her and enjoyed them immensely.  He did agree that perhaps there was a bit too much Schinken with them, but that they were excellent (though for Hans, who loves Schinken, it likely wasn't too much at all!)  Both Monika and Lina had salad before their meal; cranberry sauce accompanied both the wild boar and the venison. 

The drive through the countryside in the sun, back to Freiburg, took us through some lovely villages, which ended a very enjoyable afternoon--Pfifferlingen and Schinken or not!

Note:  As in most Gasthäuser and restaurants, meals are served from about 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. for Mittagessen (noon dinner) and between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. for Abendessen, the evening meal.  (Local Gasthäuser sometimes serve somewhat earlier in the evening, perhaps starting at about 5 p.m.)  More and more Gasthäuser are no longer open in the afternoons after the noon hour meal, but we have learned which ones are, so when out for a drive, we can always find a place in which to stop for a beer or a glass of wine.

Most Gasthäuser, if open during the afternoon, will usually offer some cold food, such as a cheese plate, a Schinken or ham plate (both with bread) and sometimes a warm egg dish or Bockwurst.  A few Gasthäuser serve warm food all day, but that is not usually the case.

The Gasthaus Sonne-Winzerstube in Jechtingen is open all day, except on Wednesdays, their weekly Ruhetag or day of rest.  It can be found on its website via "Google" by typing in the name of the Gasthaus, the town and region (Kaiserstuhl).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Special Food, Special Places

Throughout the year we go to special Gasthäuser for dinner knowing we shall have a delicious meal.   Recently we had two superb dinners celebrating our birthdays--nine days apart.  Hans had suggested cooking at home for one of them; I opted to go out on both days so that we could each enjoy our day without thinking about the meal to prepare.  So that is what we did.

Oberbergen in the Kaiserstuhl and the Gasthaus-Restaurant Schwarzer Adler

Hans' birthday came first and on that day we went to the Schwarzer Adler in Oberbergen.  I wrote about this Gasthaus last year as that is where we went on my birthday in 2010.  This year was Hans' turn.  That beautiful old Gasthaus is family-run and owned by the Familie Franz Keller.  Franz Keller's son, Fritz, along with his wife, took over the Gasthaus upon the death of his father a few years ago. 

As always, it was a superb evening. We--well, more I--watch what is going on at the other tables:  the food that is brought out; watching a beef fillet or a whole chicken being carved at the tables; wine being decanted; silver serving trays and sparkling glasses placed on side tables; silverware carefully placed and replaced after each course and, of course, our meal arriving at our table with the bottle of white wine placed in an ice bucket and the red wine decanted at  the small table beside us.

Hans at left reading the wine card and on the right, sampling the wine while the sommerlier awaits his verdict.  "Very nice," Hans says.
The wine was a 2008 Franz Keller Selection S. Spätburgunder Rotwein.  The Sommelier decanted it, more for the appearance than necessity--as the wine was young, there was no sediment.  A wine decanter, though, adds to the ambience of the setting.

We ordered the gourmet five-course "Feinschmeckermenü" as we usually do.  Veal with a Spätburgunder sauce was the main course.  (Spätburgunder is a type of red grape grown in our state of Baden-Württemberg.)  As Hans does not eat veal, he asked for steak instead, which also came with a sauce, but a different one than mine.  (We have found that most Gasthäuser and restaurants will offer something else other than what is on the menu if you ask them--as long as they have what you ask for of course.  That goes for local and smaller Gästhauser as well as the larger places.)

Once again, as last year, I forgot to take pictures of our main course, being in too great a hurry to taste the food placed in front of us!  So you can understand that we do look forward to our evening and the wonderful meal to come.

There were two small "on-the-house" offerings before our menu began, including Matjes, nestled in a frothy sauce.  Matjes (Holland's national seafood) is brine-cured fresh herring and I must say it was excellent, even though I am not a fan of brined fish.  Various types of bread were offered with each course other than the main one, although it was certainly available if wished.

The first course on the menu was Fenchel Gateau, which was fennel with smoked trout.  The second was Atlantic scallops Beurre Blanc with another frothy concoction that included truffles.  Both these courses were excellent, but the second, the scallops, was superb.

The smoked trout served on French bread with the fennel gateau topped with half a boiled egg.

Lightly sauteed large scallops in a superb truffel sauce shown at right.  (I wonder if the scallops came from Nova Scotia?  I have seen them at the supermarket in Strasbourg, and as Digby scallops are world renowned, it is possible.)

Dessert was a delicious--and rich--dark chocolate mousse with caramel, topped with a passion fruit sorbet.  Then, once again on the house, petits fours, shown in the picture at right.

At the end of our meal, the maitre d'hotel brought Hans a Kirschwasser on the house.  Herr Pfingsttag actually brought two  for him to try:  one of the restaurant's own (distilled on the premises) and the other, an Alsatian cherry Schnaps.  Hans preferred the Schwarzer Adler's.  I declined as I seldom drink Schnaps.  Many years ago I had my first one with friends who were visiting from Canada.  Jerry and Marina never let me forget that event as they said my eyes doubled in size as it was so strong and I was so surprised.  I am much more careful these days!

The restaurant was full that evening as it usually is, with guests from various places in Germany, the Alsace, Switzerland and the Netherlands and some, like us, from within a few kilometers.  That is part of the pleasure, that warm yet international flavour, thus contributing to another lovely evening to remember.


One of our favourite destinations for an afternoon drive is through the hills to Freiamt, a large region--partly on a plateau--with many small villages and no large towns or cities.  It is a beautiful area, with rolling hills, green meadows and narrow country roads.  It is anywhere from a 15-minute to a 35-minute car drive from where we live.  We know it well, along with many of its Gasthäuser.  The pictures above show that spring has arrived, with the dandelions and the apple trees in bloom.

Mussbach in Freiamt and the Gasthaus Zur Krone

On my birthday we chose a simpler place than on Hans' but nonetheless a lovely Gasthaus.  The food was superb!  One expects that at a Michelin one-star such as the Schwarzer Adler, but not necessarily at a country Gasthaus.  We had been to "Zur Krone" a few years earlier and many times for a drink on a Sunday afternoon.  We knew the food was good, but we had forgotten just how good it was.  Every single thing we ate had so much flavour that I am still thinking about that meal almost four weeks later!

The Gasthaus is owned and run by the Familie Manfred Kern, the son--a trained chef--having taken it over from his parents a few years ago.  His wife greets the guests and looks after the dining area--doing some of the serving as well, along with a female waitress.  Before the son took over the Gasthaus, his father--who farmed during the day--ran the Gasthaus in the evenings, his mother doing the cooking.  On Sundays they
were open all day. 

That is still the case:  open evenings only, except on Sundays.

On the right, a view of one end of the dining area.

We stopped here several times over the years on a Sunday afternoon for their dessert specialty of the house:  homemade meringues filled with their homemade ice cream and their own whipping cream.  That is when, of course, they had cows and had their own milk, cream and butter.  The father, Herr Kern, had also been known for his Bibiliskäs (the Allemannisch word for Quark, which is somewhat similar to cottage cheese), but when some bureaucrats decided that Gasthaus owners and others could not make their own to sell, he eventually had to stop serving his in the Gasthaus.  He was a rebel, however, and he did offer it for some time.  He and Hans had many conversations over that, with Hans being almost as annoyed as Herr Kern, who still lives in the house but no longer comes into the Gasthaus as he is now 85 and does not get around easily these days.
 Below, awaiting dinner over a glass of Weissherbst wine.
We ordered beef tornados with a Kräuter or herb sauce for dinner, which had been on the menu as Rind Geschnetzeltes (small slivered pieces of fillet steak in a sauce).  The Wirtin, Frau Kern, asked if we would prefer tornados, so that is what we ordered instead.  Along with it, came a wonderful assortment of fresh vegetables and Brägele (the Allemannisch word for Bratkartoffeln or pan-fried potatoes), all served in ceramic dishes and kept warm over a hot plate.

Those pan-fried potatoes were full of flavour and crisp on both sides, different than any we had ever had and some of the best I can remember--not Rösti, the Swiss pan-fried potato or potato pancakes, but they reminded me somewhat of both of them.  They had been fried in butter and perhaps a little oil and were perfectly seasoned.  The potatoes were all in one large joined piece, very thin and lacy and easily cut apart.  We shall have those potatoes there again! The steak was outstanding and so were the vegetables, everything beautifully seasoned and flavourful.

The wine we had was a 2008 Waldulmer Pfarrberg Spätburgunder Rotwein Kabinet.  That wine comes from the region outside Offenburg, just a little north of us.  Most German reds are not decanted, nor was this one.  It was not necessary to do so.  Wines are decanted because of the sediment that sits at the bottom of many bottles of older red wines, mostly French, Italian or Spanish wines.  We have not seen many old German wines, as most are drunk when quite young still.  If there is sediment in the bottle and then poured into the glass without decanting it first, that sediment will then end up in the glass along with the wine, thus tasting of the tannin and with a pelty feel to it, ruining the true taste of the wine.

This evening had been another memorable one and a Gasthaus we shall return to before too long I hope.  With all the many Gasthäuser, restaurants, Vesperstuben and Weinstuben from which to choose, it might be a while though.  But it will be on my mind until then!

Note:  The Schwarzer Adler is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  As it is a one-star Michelin restaurant, prices are accordingly higher.  The Gasthaus Winzerhaus Rebstock, across the street, also belongs to the Franz Keller family.  It serves regional food and is less expensive.  The Krone in Mussbach is also closed on Wednesdays.  Both Gasthäuser take annual holidays and will be closed at some point in the year, but not during the tourist season.  To access their web sites, go to "Google" and give the Gasthaus name, the name of the town and the region it is in.  (The region would be Kaiserstuhl or Freiamt, for example.)