Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas Celebrations

The Christmas season was unusually warm this year with temperatures in the mid to high teens.  That didn't take any of the Christmas atmosphere away as Christmas lights shone in all the towns.  People celebrated the season in the Gasthäuser and with friends at their homes.  As did we.


As mentioned in my previous blog, in every town centre or beside the church and perhaps outside a Gasthaus, one will see lighted Christmas trees at night.  Here are two:  one in Münchweier outside the Gasthaus Rebstock and the other in Ettenheimmünster beside the church.
Our Advent wreath on 4th Advent Sunday

Most Gasthäuser have an Advent wreath throughout Advent and Christmas.  Few, though, have ones hanging from the ceiling.  The one below, at the Schwarzer Adler, is a particularly lovely one.

One of our special evenings during December was at the Hotel-Restaurant Schwarzer Adler in Oberbergen in the Kaiserstuhl, about an hour's drive south of Lahr and about 35 minutes from us.  We spent four hours eating, enjoying wine and the wonderful Christmas and old-world atmosphere.  All the tables but one were taken.  We were there early but within 15 minutes others arrived.

One of the beautiful rooms and where we dined
Our table below with special butter types served with varieties of bread (on the house) before the meal.  We had ordered the Feinschmecker-Menu of 5 courses, plus it included a couple specialties "on the house."

This former family Gasthaus--and now a Michelin one-star restaurant--has been in the same family for many years. 

Some of the courses we enjoyed: 

Atlantic scallops with radish and a mustard sauce. These were served before the main dinner.

The main dish:  Medaillons of veal with a red wine sauce along with sauteed red beets and spinach

Our dessert:  Exotic snowmen with cocoa parfait, passion fruit sorbet and litchi jelly:  All edible and delicious.
 Petit Fours and on the house
A picture of Hans and I on this special occasion

During Advent and the pre-Christmas season, we had two invitations to the homes of friends, the first at Ursula and Ludwig's for a superb Mittagessen.  I grew up having the main meal at noon, as did Hans, and many Germans still do.  We don't ourselves now although it is always special with friends.

Three of our hosts' special Christmas scenes above and below.

Ursula served duck, mushrooms in a wonderful sauce along with white asparagus.  The latter, of course, is no longer in season but frozen ones and canned ones are available and are very good.

 Carved duck with mushrooms and Spargel

 Salmon, below, for Adolf, the other guest, who could not eat duck
 Ursula's dessert was a marvelous Dresdner Stollen, a recipe from Ludwig's mother.

The above Stollen Hans bought on the Internet. It is from Dresden where Stollen originated. The Stollen from this baker has been named best in Germany.

Below, another locally bought Stollen.

Lebkuchen is a traditional Eastern Germany specialty at Christmas. 

We were happy to have another special cake, a Canadian fruit cake that our friend Jean in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, gave me last fall to take back to Germany just shortly after she had made it.  The picture below shows that it is almost gone!  It is moist and full of flavour:  Excellent!

The other special celebration before Christmas was at the home of Sylvi and Hans, German friends whom we have known here the longest.  He and Hans worked at Log Branch HQ, Canadian Forces Europe, during the 1980s; we have been friends since about 1984.  Both Sylvi and Hans spent a couple of days with me in Nova Scotia last summer.

Sylvi did all the decorating as well as all the baking for this occasion.  Hans did the honours with drinks.  Good food and good friends are perfect companions for a great day.

Their tree

Sylvi had five cakes she had made that day (not all shown).  She is a superb baker.

First, a raspberry and cream cake.  My favourite!

An apple cake and delicious.

Rum spice cake

Linzer Torte, traditional at Christmas

An hour or so after coffee and cake, two or three types of Schinken and platters of cheese were served along with various types of bread.  Throughout, wine and beer were poured.

Sylvi on the right ready to serve the ladies Eier Liqueur

Hans and I

Our own celebration of Christmas was as always, as we believe Christmas means tradition.  We might change a meal slightly, but we will pretty much stay with our traditional food.  This year I decided not to make Coquilles St Jacques for Christmas Eve supper, something I have made every Christmas Eve since the mid 1960s.  I thought a change would be nice.  We didn't stray far, though, as we still had scallops.  This time, though, Hans prepared them, not I.

He gently sauteed the scallops (huge ones) in butter until lightly browned but not overcooked (scallops should never be cooked long).  He spooned a lemon, wine, tarragon sauce over them. The sauce was his own creation and I can still taste it!  Along with fresh French baguette, it was superb.

We did have his traditional potato salad as well, along with first class German wieners, but they came after the scallops.

After our meal, it was time to light the wax candles on our Black Forest Christmas tree, listen to the beautiful Christmas music and open our few gifts.

Two of our cats who slept while we enjoyed our meal.

Whitey, below, arrived at our door just before Christmas in December 2012.  She was a year old as we later found out via the tattoo in her ear.  Her owner did not want her, happy to leave her with us. People can be cruel. 

Brownie, above right, arrived at the door two months later. He was a bit older but not by much.  Both are sweet cats and, like all cats, are spoiled.  They sleep and play together.  We find it very sad and inhumane that anyone would just let pets go and not care about their well being.

Our Christmas dinner was also a bit of a change but still much as every year.  Instead of a large, whole goose we had a large goose breast, one that was German bred.  Hans watched a TV program this year showing that many Polish and Hungarian geese are treated inhumanely.  Not to say, of course, that some farmer there doesn't treat them humanely, but most of the large farms/factories apparently do not according to the program Hans watched.  So from now on, we shall buy only a German goose from a small farming producer.

We decided on a breast of goose rather than a whole one as we find it is far too much for us as we end up putting the remainder in the freezer, sometimes not to be eaten again.  Other than that, our dinner was traditional, with Hans' red cabbage made from scratch.  He always buys a fresh cabbage at Christmas time, although he occasionally makes it from red cabbage bottled in glass jars at other times of the year.  Both are very good but the fresh is, of course, the better.  

Along with the red cabbage, we had as usual my pureed potatoes (lots of butter, cream, some garlic, salt, pepper and a sprinkling of nutmeg) as well as my traditional stuffing and, of course the mandatory goose gravy.

We enjoyed a bottle of Cote du Rhone red wine with our dinner.  A bit later, a bottle of Italian red that was also very nice. We had enough wine left in both bottles to go with our dinner on Boxing Day.

All our cats enjoyed the holiday with special food.  Lily, below, is part Maine Coon and is our only Canadian cat, one Hans adopted in Nova Scotia.  Lily loves small places, going into paper bags and sitting amongst the groceries as seen here.

Annabelle is our oldest at age 15.  She is also the smallest.  She was just 8 weeks old when she arrived with her mother and sister at our door here in Germany.  She was a feral kitten and is still afraid of new people and unexpected loud noise.  She is a loveable little cat.

So from our felines and from us:

Prosit to you all and to a great 2016!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Celebrating Christmas

The Christmas season in Germany begins on 1st Advent and ends after Drei Könige, the 6th of January.  Throughout the first four weeks are the many Weihnachts Märkte where one can buy wreaths, fresh spruce boughs, Christmas cookies, handmade gifts, bottles of Schnaps and wine, homemade bread and, to warm up, a mug of hot mulled wine.  On a cold day, the mug is a place to warm one's hands.  

The  wooden figures are from the former East Germany and grace the table of good friends of ours.

As one drives through the villages and towns at night the lighted Christmas trees decorated with soft lights glow in the darkness.  Every town will have one in the centre of town or beside the church.

We attended just one Christmas market this year--one of our favourites--out in the country at Fischer's, the well-known clothing store that specializes in German traditional dress.  No town or village is in sight, just the huge store, their cafe and their Christmas market that is always held on 2nd Advent weekend.
Schnaps: below right.  Centre below: cheese booth 

Naturally, food is offered as well, so perhaps one will opt for Curry Wurst and Pommes Frites.  (We did!)

Curry Wurst booth with Hans at left

Curry Wurst are made from freshly fried Bratwurst, sliced into pieces and covered with a curry/tomato sauce.  (Easy to do at home.)

The gentleman below has been playing his Christmas music and singing at the market for many years.  Last year he wasn't there and we wondered why.  He had been in Canada at that time visiting friends in the Kitchener area he told us.

Although we didn't attend any other markets this year, we did celebrate at various Gasthäuser and at the homes of friends throughout the season.  

Herr Brucker presenting the platter of roast pork
Our first Christmas party was held at the Bruckerhof in Reichenbach in early December where we and other Canadian and German friends gathered for a superb noon dinner.  Herr Brucker is a great cook and, as always, served us a wonderful meal.  This year:  a roast of pork with at least five freshly cooked vegetables, potato croquettes and Spätzle--a specialty of Baden-Württemberg.  As well, Feld Salat, which is in season from late fall until almost spring.

Two views of the room with Jürgen, Gertrud and Monika in the first picture; Sylvi and Hans below.

Our earliest Christmas outing was at the Kleiner Meierhof in Ettenheimweiler for wild boar on 1st Advent weekend.  Erich and his son, Patrick, are avid hunters and in late fall and winter Erich and Sylvia have special Wildschwein evenings at their Gasthaus.  

Below, wild boar, Spätzle, a pear filled with cranberry sauce and Semmelknödel.

 Some of the guests at our table.

Hans and I made the rounds of our favourite Gasthäuser, meeting with another group at the Deutscher Hof in Biederbach on the Monday before Christmas.  I had brought some of my Christmas baking and Ruth, the Wirtin, had fresh Brötchen (rolls) plus a drink on the house for all of us.

At the Stammtisch (the locals' table or regular guests)
Hans is raising his glass of beer in toast!

Ruth behind the bar and I seated in front



We had two special invitations to friends and one special Gasthaus evening that I shall write about in my next blog post.  And, as well, our Christmas Eve celebration.  Until then, enjoy this special Christmas week.