Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ringing in the New Year

The chimney sweep is a symbol of good luck here in Germany and you will find such a one on top of bars or counters in Gasthäuser and in private homes at New Year's.  It is also good luck to touch a real-life chimney sweep at any time. They still dress in the traditional way, similar as shown at left.

Our New Year's Eve and Day celebrations were spent at home as in the past few years.  Food, of course, was the big part of those special days as has always been the case.

We had spent a quiet Christmas week.  By New Year's Eve, we were ready for something special and a little different.  We decided to have several small first courses, with no main course.  Wine would accompany each course.  We had enjoyed that several years earlier, so out came my food journal to see just what we had had and when.  We had celebrated the same way in 1997, 2001 and 2002.  It was time to do so once again.  It meant no cooking, as all the dishes were cold ones.

Hans prepared each dish, covered them (12 in all or six each) and set them aside in late afternoon.

Around 7 p.m. we watched the annual "Dinner for One" on TV, along with millions of Germans and Europeans.  Forty-two years ago the TV station NDR, in northern Germany, presented it for the first time.  It is in English.  For many years only Germany saw this program; now it is shown in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.  I wrote about it in my Sylvester blog post of January 2, 2011.

On the right, the two stars:  Freddy Frinton and May Warden in the final scene.

After the show, at around 7:30 p.m., we sat down at the table to enjoy our assortment of courses.
 1st course:  Lachs, with an onion mixture Hans made, plus capers.  With it, we had toast points and Sekt, Champagne equivalent. Onions:  Hans mixed some finely chopped onions with a little olive oil, Balsamico vinegar and a touch of salt and pepper. Excellent with the cold salmon and with another course later.

To begin our 1st course, we had a Kardinal Rohan Riesling Extra Trocken Baden Sekt (the bottle at far right).  We also had a Schnaps glass of Acquavit with the Lachs.

2nd course:  Feldsalat with croutons and dressing.  The dressing was from Waltraud, the Wirtin at the Gasthaus Linde in Wallburg where I go for chicken most weeks.  She now sells it at the Edeka supermarket in Ettenheim and it is selling well.  No wonder, it is excellent.

3rd course: Smoked Trout filet with horseradish cream and a sprinkling of capers. With it, Weissherbst, a type of rose wine.
4th course:  Caviar over ice with toast points.  Hans ordered this especially for the evening.  It cost EU 1,000 a kilo.  He bought 50 grams, still expensive at EU 50, but worth the money for the taste and pleasure it added to our meal.

The wine:  Sekt/Champagne.

 With the caviar, we continued with the Kardinal Rohan Riesling Extra Trocken and then opened the Fürst von Metternich Riesling Sekt Trocken.  (For those not familiar with German wine labels, trocken means dry.)

5th course:  Duck pate with parsley, Hans' onion mixture, toast points and French bread.

Wine with the pate:  2012 L'aubiniere Muscadet Sevre & Maine Sur Lie (a Muscat wine)

6th course: Thinly sliced Proscuito ham (Spain), with slices of melon.  Hans had prepared this, but we had had more to eat than one thinks.  It had been filling.  Instead, we had it a day later.  We had also had much more wine than usual.  Hans suffered the next day!  Wine:  Riesling Sekt Extra Trocken. 

I had made chocolate mousse for dessert, but that would have to wait.  We could not eat anything more.

New Year's Dinner
We always have a nice meal on the 1st of January.  I did as a child and I made sure as a mother that my children did.  When I was a young girl in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, for Christmas it was goose at my grandmother's table.  New Year's meant turkey at our house, with our grandparents, Dad's mother and father, joining us for dinner, which was always around 1 p.m.  That is still the case for most German families as Mittags is the traditional dinner hour here.

I was glad that turkey was not being cooked this New Year's as we were both suffering from overindulgence on Sylvester, the 31st.  We had had a lovely dinner planned.  However, as we did not feel at our best, we postponed our New year's dinner until the 2nd.  Neither of us was up to cooking, setting the table or cleaning up afterwards.  Needless to say, it was a quiet day.

For dinner on January 2nd, Hans cooked a stuffed filet of pork loin.  With it, we had green beans, sauteed brown champignons (sauteed in butter) and whipped potatoes (lots of butter and cream).  He made a wonderful sauce, which I call a sauce as it was more than just a gravy.

Hans' Mushroom Sauce:  He had 1 package of dried Pfifferlinge (chanterelles) and 2 packages of Knorr or Maggi mushroom gravy powder mix.  (He usually starts with a package of gravy mix as that means some of the flavour is already there and no thickening will be necessary.)  He soaked the dried chanterelles for 1 hour in cold water (according to directions) and then simmered them for at least 1/2 hour (also according to package directions).

Into a small pot, he placed the dried mushroom gravy mix.  Into a 2-cup measure, he added the liquid from the simmered chanterelles and enough water to make about 500mL, or 2 cups of liquid.  (Usually 250mL--1 cup--of water or liquid is used for 1 package of mix.)  He then added the liquid and the chanterelles to the mushroom gravy mix in the pot, stirring it in well over low to medium heat.  He then covered the pot and allowed it to simmer for a good 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  It can be simmered a bit longer if wished.

Hans then removed the pot from the heat.  He stirred into the sauce some heavy cream, 1 tablespoon of Cognac, pepper (always after the sauce has simmered and not before) and some Creme fraiche.  The cream and creme fraiche he added according to his taste and the thickness of the sauce.

Pour the hot sauce into a gravy boat and serve it at the table along with the meat and vegetables.  
The picture on the left shows the meal without sauce.  The one on the right, with the sauce.

With dinner, we had a 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape and we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was already palatable--and very nice.  Usually, a Chateauneuf-du-Pape should be kept for at least 6 years before opening.  At least, that is what we were told in that small famous wine town when we visited it several years ago and had a wine tasting.  We bought several bottles to take home.  We had tried one as soon as we got home that year and found it harsh and hard on the stomach. We then kept the rest for about 7 or 8 years and they were excellent.  In fact, we had one of them 15 years later and it was still in top condition.  Forget all that nonsense about bad corks.  We speak from experience.  A good wine only benefits from a good quality cork closure.  In our opinion and the opinion of many others, screw tops are for soft drinks, not for wine. 

For dessert, we had the chocolate mousse, awaiting us from the freezer.  It is one of the specialties I have made many times over the years for quiet dinners at home and for dinners with guests.  I gave a recipe for another chocolate mousse recipe in my New Year's blog post of 2 January 2011.  It did not call for it to be frozen, although I always froze any leftover mousse.  This time it is the one I have made the most often and it is a frozen one.  That means you can make it well ahead, put it into the freezer and it is all ready to go at serving time.

This recipe came from one of my favourite food writers, Mary Moore, published in the Regina Leader Post in 1972.  I have changed the recipe somewhat over the years.  I also changed its name from Chocolate Velvet Parfait to Frozen Chocolate Mousse.

Below, from the pot into the crystal bowl

Frozen Chocolate Mousse - Serves 4 to 6
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2/3 cup corn syrup
1 tablespoon butter
2 beaten egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla (I often use Grand Marnier instead)
1-1/4 cups whipping cream
Whipping cream for topping (my addition)
Creme de Cacao, optional (I use Cassis instead, optional)

Note 1:  Use good quality chocolate.  (I used 3 squares; I have used semi-sweet on occasion.)
I use less corn syrup, about 1/2 cup.  The recipe didn't call for the extra whipped cream, but we think it adds to it. We also find that the Cassis adds contrast.

Note 2:  Normally I discard the egg whites.  This time I didn't.  If using them, add 3 squares of chocolate to the pot instead of 2 squares.

Method:  In the top of a double boiler, over simmering--not boiling--water, heat together the chocolate, corn syrup and butter, stirring until well blended.  In a small bowl, beat egg yolks (I have them ready before I need them).  Stir about 2 to 3 spoonfuls of the hot chocolate mixture into the beaten eggs and then pour the egg and chocolate mixture into the hot chocolate in the double boiler; cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes over simmering water.  Remove from the heat and set it aside to cool.  (I usually put the pot in cold water in the sink to help it along.)

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whip the egg whites (if using them), until stiff, along with a teaspoon or so of sugar.  In another bowl, whip the 1-1/4 cups of cream until stiff (no sugar is added).  Then, add the salt and vanilla or Grand Marnier to the cooled chocolate mixture.  Stir it in well.

Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture (if using them).  Then fold the whipped cream into the chocolate.  I find this better than folding the chocolate into the cream as Mary Moore called for.  Either way is fine.

Pour the mixture of chocolate and whipped cream (and egg white) into a crystal or nice glass bowl.  I always use a crystal bowl as it presents the dessert so nicely.  Cover it well with plastic wrap and then with foil and place it in the freezer.  Mary Moore called for pouring the mixture into a refrigerator tray and freezing it.  I have never used a tray.

Remove the frozen mousse from the freezer a good half hour or more before serving.  Mary Moore suggested a splash of creme de cacao on the bottom and on top of the mousse when serving it.  Instead, we pour some Cassis over the mousse and if we have guests, we pass a small crystal pitcher for each to pour their own.  Top with whipped cream, which we also pass around the table in a small crystal dish.  You can serve the Cassis as a liqueur alongside the mousse instead, something we have done on occasion.

Drei Könige or Three Kings' Day
The 6th of January is a religious holiday here in Germany and ends the traditional Christmas season that began on 1st Advent.  It is also the Orthodox Christmas.  Every year, a day or so before the 6th, young children or teens (as this year) walk from door to door collecting money for poor children in the world.  They dress in "kingly fashion" as might have been the dress when Jesus was born.  Each house offers them not only some money but also some cookies or sweets for themselves.  The "Kings" then mark, with white chalk, the date in Roman numerals above or beside the house door.

Happy New Year, ein Gutes Neues Jahr, une Bonne Annee!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

So Many Beautiful Cats: Please Give Us a Home!

At the end of September, just a few days before I returned to Germany from Nova Scotia, my sister Paula and I visited a wonderful animal shelter for abandoned cats and dogs in the Annapolis Valley.  It was about a half hour from Bridgetown, in a small community overlooking the Bay of Fundy.  It is a foster care home situated in a beautiful spot surrounded by meadows and trees, where those animals find love, warmth, food and protection.  The animals remain there until some generous and loving person wants to bring one into their own home and family.  It is an amazing place!
The organization is called "Companion Animal Protection Society of Annapolis County, Nova Scotia" or CAPS.

All the little kittens shown here had just arrived at the shelter and were in quarantine in the separate building where brand new residents stay for a short period of time before joining the cat community.

Below is Julia, an older tabby cat who had also just arrived and was in quarantine.  She looks just like two of our own cats, Brownie and Annabelle.  Brownie was a stray that we took in last winter and Annabelle was a feral kitten whose mother Daisy, a stray or perhaps also a feral cat, introduced to us 13 years ago. Annabelle is still with us as is Brownie.
The abandoned animals arrive from the Municipal Pound.  In the past eight years, according to the CAPS newsletter, they received 172 dogs and well over 1100 cats.  Pound animals are taken to a local vet clinic by the Annapolis County Animal Control Officer where they receive preliminary health testing.  In the case of cats, they receive a combo feline leukemia/FIV test and if negative, the cat is then released into CAPS care.  New cats are kept separately from the established animals in the shelter for about two weeks before being introduced to the community of felines.

Anna, at left, and her husband, Alf, have a large house and next to it her husband built two small cottages for cats.  They decided to do this after retiring and to dedicate their lives to looking after abandoned cats and dogs.  She told us that as long as they are alive and well, they will continue to do so.  They no longer travel because of the animals, but Anna told us that she had travelled the world and had seen much.  She had been a teacher.   She still is, but now it is teaching animals how to behave and live harmoniously.

Anna's foster home is the largest in Annapolis County, but there are ten other active or respite foster homes that handle up to 12 cats and kittens.  The smaller foster homes handle around five cats.

Volunteers are, of course, indispensable; they are always looking for others to help out.  Anna told me they do about 50 to 55 loads of laundry a week, so helping hands are needed to not only fold towels but to help keep the place clean, to feed the animals and to play with them.  I really don't know how they do it as all the animals seemed happy and interactive with one another and all seemed to get along.  I wish I could say the same for our own!  Anna called them all by name which is quite a feat with so many of them.

Below: the two cottages for the cats, a veranda on one where they can sit in the sun.

When Paula and I visited, CAPS shelter had 120 cats, although I'm not sure if all 120 were in Anna's foster care home or if that was the total in foster care homes in Annapolis County.  Anna has had a number of dogs as well, but there was just one on that day.  She had a fairly large pen and dog house in which to live.  They or one of the volunteers walked her every day, a chap who came especially to do that.  They were also doing politeness training with her.  They had initially thought she was aggressive with other animals, but after a lot of work with her, found that not to be so.  She just needed guidance.  For some reason, I neglected to take any pictures of the dog or the pen.

A group get-together

There were so many beautiful and sweet cats that it is hard to decide which ones to show you.  Both cottages were spotless inside with little beds, tables with pillows, cat doors into each little room, ledges and shelves.  Shoes had to be removed when entering, with slippers offered.  One isn't allowed to go too close to those in quarantine so we looked at them from a distance.

The shelter appreciates any donations of money, food, blankets, equipment.  Both of us have donated to this important cause.  Paula has brought cat food and a friend, John, has as well.  Two volunteer women arrived at Anna's as we were leaving.  It is a little ways from the main road so for some it is difficult to get there, although for most that isn't a problem at all.  It is a lovely drive up the North Mountain to Margaretsville, on the Bay of Fundy, where they are located.

The perfect bedroom for a cat or a child!  And a view besides of a red building.

CAPS is always in need of more foster care homes as the foster parents are one of the most valued parts of their organization.  CAPS provides them all with food, litter, carrying crates, food bowls, blankets, toys and so on.  As well, CAPS pays for all veterinary care and medications.  In their words:  "All we ask is that you love them and make their lives special while they are with you."  CAPS is a totally volunteer society.  Those volunteers also help with their many fund-raising events.

Here are a few of the many other cats we saw that day.  The pictures also show the facility as well as all that is offered to their little guests.

The sunroom

My sister Paula loves cats as do my other two sisters.  I was the last sister to succumb to small felines.  Paula has an old and unwell dog so she isn't able to take any cats.  They did have one for many years though, a large grey one called Duke.

This is Tilly on the left.  She had shown up at Paula's door last winter and was expecting kittens.  Paula made a warm place for her in the shed to await the big event.  Six healthy kittens were born.  After that, she and her six kittens and her daughter from an earlier pregnancy (they were living in a barn in the neighbourhood) were picked up by the Control Officer and eventually they arrived at Anna's shelter.

The kittens and the year old cat were adopted quickly.  Tilly is still there, but she is safe and warm.  She is sweet, but adult cats are not as sought after unfortunately.  They can make wonderful pets, though, for any family.  We have taken in several stray cats over the years here in Germany, three of them being a year old or a few years older. 

 I love the rocking chairs; the windows, too; the cupboard at left with a warm cover and even a cradle.  Lucky cats!  I know they won't all find homes, but if they don't, here they will stay and it doesn't come much better than this.  They are all loved.

Two sweet residents awaiting a family of their own.

This old cat below may not be the prettiest there, but she or he is gentle and wants a home. The little one underneath in the box is sound asleep.

 Two beauties!

 Ready for a nap.  Please do not disturb me!

 I think the cat on the pink pillow followed us!

Making sure it will be mine for my afternoon sleep

The sign at left was being sold to raise money for the shelter.  Paula and I both bought one.  I brought mine back to Germany with me.  Paula put hers on her lawn to raise awareness.  Or, maybe she thought he'd make a great Premier!

We have just celebrated the New Year and winter is in the air.  Here in southwestern Germany it is mild.  In Nova Scotia, it is snowy and colder, a time to think of animals that have no home in which to curl up beside a heater or on a soft pillow.  Perhaps, if you love animals, you might consider taking one into your home and heart.  We know from experience how rewarding it is to take in a cat that has no home, as all of our cats over the years were strays or feral except for one.

If you long for a cat, please adopt one from a shelter as those animals will love you for it.  And you will love them!  Or, take in a lonely stray that comes to your door as you will be rewarded with devotion and affection.

Before Paula and I visited Anna we phoned to ask if it was okay to visit as it isn't always convenient for them.  Anna is a very busy person and is on the go from morning to night.  Their email address is as follows:  You can also find it on the internet. See the website above on the sign.

I am watching for my new family to arrive any minute.  I hope so, anyway!