Thursday, January 3, 2013

Special Meals and Special Days

2013 has arrived!
The Winzergenossenschaft serving Münchweier, Wallburg and Schmieheim--three small wine towns in our area--distributed this calendar to the stores in those towns that carried their co-op wine.  I received it (gratis) at the wine store in Münchweier.  Ettenheimmünster is not a wine town but we are right next door.  The clock shown is the largest cuckoo clock in the world.  Summer won't be here for a while as shown on the cover of the calendar but the year has begun!

Prost to the New Year!
New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve was mild at around 10C during the day. We stayed at home and enjoyed the same meal we had had last year: Heisse Stein. The various sauces are on the plate, shown in the picture on the right, one of which I made (forefront); the ingredients included mayonnaise, chives, garlic, salt and curry. The others we bought and they were also excellent.

We cooked our meat and vegetables on the hot stone at the table enjoying it all for five hours! We still can't believe we sat there that long, but we did. The wine was the culprit! We had with dinner two bottles of Sekt (more than usual!) and an excellent bottle of red (we drank only half) and a couple more part bottles of wine. We finished the evening on our patio watching the fireworks and listening to the bells ringing in the New Year.  It was now 2013!

The red wine shown above in the wine glass and below was a 1997 Chateau Arnauld from the Haut Medoc, Bordeaux and still excellent after all these years in our cellar.

Some of the wines we had that night:
On the left: A 2010 Durbacher Sekt Riesling extra trocken (dry) below forefront; the glasses contain Oberkircher Weissherbst, the bottle in the background (part of a bottle that had already been opened, but still fresh) and a bottle of Chardonay (centre; also part only).  The Durbacher Sekt was one of the best we've had in a long time.  It was outstanding as it is unusual for Sekt or Champagne to have such a wonderful full-bodied flavour.  We plan to buy more.  Durbach, a well known wine village, is about 45 to 50 minutes north of us.

Below, a Russian red Sekt, label below left and bottle at the right.  It was also very good but not quite up to the Durbacher. We perhaps had it in our cellar too long.  We did enjoy it nevertheless.

New Year's Day arrived early! Or so it seemed. I think we both felt better than expected. It was a quiet day but with a lovely dinner that lasted not for five hours but for our usual one and a half to two. Beef filet that we hadn't cooked for our Heisse Stein, Hans pan-fried with green peppercorns and butter and flamed it with brandy. He also made a wonderful cognac cream sauce.   I think this was one of the best meals we've had in a long time. Everything was superb from the steak to the sauce and the vegetables. I wanted to run my finger around the steak pan afterwards as it was so delicious. I didn't, but I thought about it!

December 24th this year was the warmest Christmas Eve here since Germany began registering temperatures. It was 19C (67F) in Freiburg and 18C here. It was a beautiful sunny day. Neither of us really missed snow although a few flakes at Christmas is always lovely.

In the picture below, at dusk, the candles are alight on our tree.  As they are real, they can only be placed on branches that are clear of other boughs, thus you can see a space or two without a candle.  We also have electric candles and they are turned on after we tamp out the flames.  Never leave a Christmas tree with live candles unattended. One rarely hears of  a Christmas tree fire in Germany for that reason.

Heiligenabend or Christmas Eve is, I think, the most important and waited-for day in the year by all those who celebrate it--especially the children.  But I love it, too, and look forward to it every year.  I have always thought of it as a magical day.  When I was a child my parents decorated our tree (always a large, bushy one) at night after we children were in bed.  We, of course, thought it was Santa.  Dad always put the lights on the tree a couple of days ahead and we did see that, but not the decorated tree until early Christmas morning.  And it was always very early!  What excitement!  I can feel it still.

 My earliest Christmas memory is from about the age of 3.  That year I got up ahead of everyone and tiptoed into the living room.  We had a French door from the dining room--through which I had to go--into the living room.  I quickly turned on the light switch beside the door. There, in all its glory, was our tree, gleaming with silver, gold, coloured balls and with toys beneath it!  Santa had come! 

Then, footsteps!  I could hear my mother and father.  I quickly turned out the lights and hid behind the sofa.  They, of course, found me and talked me into going back to bed.  Years later they said they should have let me stay up.  But I'm not so sure.  Perhaps I would not have remembered it so well if they had.  It couldn't have been more than 3 o'clock in the morning and they had likely just gotten to bed after preparing everything for us children.

I don't have that excitement today, of course, but I still love Christmas Eve.  In Germany, the 24th is the day almost everything happens.  As is the custom here, when children are in the house, the little ones are usually taken out for a walk or a visit by an older sibling or grandparent while the tree is being decorated.  The room is then closed until after supper, which is always a simple meal.  Usually at seven o'clock (7 p.m.),  the door to the living room opens and the glittering tree is there with all the gifts beneath it.

Hans and I put up our tree on the morning of the 23rd, one Hans had gotten at our usual tree farm in the hills a couple of days beforehand.  On the 24th, in mid afternoon, we had a glass of Christmas Cheer at one of our favourite Gasthäuser, the Kleiner Meierhof in Ettenheimweiler, to wish them a Merry Christmas. During the rest of the day, we relaxed at home, listening to Christmas carols while doing the things one does on that day:  wrapping last-minute presents to each other, taking Christmas cookies and small gifts to our neighbours on each side and doing whatever else needed doing before our evening meal.  We each had prepared our special dishes the day before so we had no cooking to do that day.  All we would do before supper is set the table with our Alsatian dishes and put the Coquilles into the oven.

We had our traditional meal, the same for many years now.  First, my Coquilles St. Jacques, which were superb this year:  the scallops were large and tender; the wine and cream sauce delicious and the topping of Mozzarella and Emmental cheese, crisp at the edges and delicious.  With them, we had a bottle of German Sekt, the perfect accompaniment.  It was a Geldermann Sekt Carte Bleue, over 165 years a tradition in that firm.  A good Riesling wine also goes well with this dish; I did use one for the wine and cream sauce.
After we finished the Coquilles and relaxed a while with our glasses of Sekt, we then had Hans's specialty:  potato salad (made with vinegar, oil and broth--not mayonnaise) along with his German Wieners. This has been the tradition in his family as long as he can remember.
I know, it sounds unusual, but the only odd thing is the combination of two such different food choices:  mine and Hans's.  Wieners and potato salad are common on Christmas eve in Germany, especially in northern and eastern Germany.   It is a simple meal, easy for mothers to put on the table and for children who are almost too excited to eat.  (Not common in Germany are Coquilles St. Jacques.  I gave my recipe for these in my blog post of 2 January 2011.)  

After Christmas Eve supper, it was time to light the candles on the tree, listen to carols while watching the glittering flames and then, after tamping them out, opening a few gifts.  We watched a wonderful music show on TV which lasted for almost three hours.  It had outstanding Christmas-themed sets and included such renowned entertainers as Andre Rieu, Roger Whittaker and David Garret (a violinist par excellence).  We went to bed late, knowing the next day would be a busy one.  It was.

Christmas Day was also mild, about 17C.  Much of it was spent getting dinner ready as is the case everywhere.  This year we had turkey for the first time in years.  We have nearly always had goose and we did miss it; however, the turkey, which was about 10 pounds, was excellent: moist on the inside and crisp on the outside.  Perfectly done.

It was the turkey this year that reminded me of Christmas 1988, which was also another warm day.  The turkey that year was the star and is now remembered as "the day we buried the turkey"!  Hans had gone down to the basement to take it out of the freezer on Christmas Eve day.  He found it on the floor instead.  He had taken something out of the freezer earlier on (about a week earlier on!), removed the turkey and forgot to put it back!

Hans in the yard with the turkey on that early Christmas morning

So what to do for Christmas dinner?  No stores were open.  Well, first things first:  bury the bird in the yard!  Then, as it was a beautiful day on the 25th, we went for a drive and wandered around Waldkirch, checking out Gasthäuser.  All were busy and full!  So home we returned.  Hans found a large filet steak in the freezer, thawed it out and along with all the traditional turkey accompaniments (including dressing), we had a wonderful "steak" dinner and a relaxing day! This was an unplanned plan B!

This year, the turkey went into the oven as it should, went down the hatch as we sometimes say and not down to the yard, accompanied by all the dishes we had enjoyed almost 30 years ago.


With it, we had two bottles of wine, both gifts from Hans' son and his family. They had a case sent from Partenheim for us, a town we've been to many times to buy wine over the years, as that is Hans' family name (his name has an "er" added to the end). Partenheim is not far from Mainz and is about two hours or so north of us. We had a 2009 Dornfelder trocken (a red) and a 2009 Würzer Spätlese (white), both very nice wines--with a little left over for the next day.

Thus ended an enjoyable Christmas weekend with good food and good wine.

After the New Year arrived with fireworks lighting up the sky and churchbells ringing, the quieter and less hectic days are here--with less food and wine as well. Fastnacht, though, about a month-long celebration which heralds the fasting season, is just around the corner, as that begins in two weeks.


We wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous and peaceful New Year!