Soup days

It’s that time of year again, when warm liquid food starts sounding really good. Our neighbor keeps saying what a nice November it’s been, and I can only inwardly sigh and feel sorry for the Germans, who have a very strange sense of what ‘good’ weather constitutes. We’ve been having lots of cold and fog. So much fog that the skyscrapers of Frankfurt can’t be seen for days on end. Add to that a few sprinkles of rain, and you can understand why I dream of an escape to Arizona.

'Good' November weather

‘Good’ November weather

Instead, and in preparation of Roo’s coming, I decided to mass produce several liters of soup for our freezer. We now have potato soup, carrot soup, and creamy pea soup ready to go!

soup days

Ingredients for a warm winter

Winter, do your worst! Roo, please be gentle :)

 

Soccer, pretzels, and Leberkäse

As a lucky twist of fate would have it, Toby’s birthday and the quarter-finale for the Champions League (soccer) landed on the same day. A perfect excuse for a party on an otherwise normal Tuesday! Because FC Bayern München was playing Olympique de Marseille, we hosted a Bavarian-themed party replete with Toby’s favorite Bavarian beer and typical beer garden eats. The evening went splendidly!

The creation of our menu items was a full day of adventures in the kitchen for me.

First up was a trip to the bakery to buy pretzels and rolls. Note – Bavarian pretzels disappear in Düsseldorf very quickly; they must be acquired first thing in the morning. With my baked goods safely stashed away, I could concentrate on the other tasks at hand – Emmentaler squares, Obatzda, potato salad, accordion-cut Radi, and other simpler but important accoutrements such as mustard (store-bought, I’m not that ambitious), little tomatoes, and radishes. The crowning Leberkäse was brought from the butcher by Toby.

I started with the easiest thing – Emmentaler squares. It’s all about building on the small successes, right? Emmentaler is a slightly nutty cheese with holes in it (think Swiss cheese). At the beer garden and Oktoberfest it comes served in cubes, salted and peppered. A delight with a fresh pretzel!

Next up – Obatzda. This is a very traditional Bavarian spread made of Camembert cheese, cream cheese, and butter flavored with finely cut white onions, sweet paprika, caraway, salt, and pepper. The mashing of the Camembert with a fork is a heck of a workout (note – it goes much easier if you leave it out for an hour or so), but the effort is worth it. Obatzda makes the perfect beer-soaker-upper.

The potato salad was a special request from Toby – “the kind with pickles and an oil and vinegar dressing.” Fortunately it’s an easy request to fill – cook and peel potatoes, cut into small pieces, add diced pickles, add diced red onions cooked in vegetable bouillon. Oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper come right before you serve your bowl o’ potato salad. A perfect companion for your cheese and pretzels!

The most adventurous task of the day, by far, was the cutting of the Radi (a long root, with a flavor like a radish). It’s usually served in a very thinly sliced spiral. But, because you need a special machine to do this, I voted to try the accordion-cut version (I could have cheated with regular thin slices, but where’s the fun in that?). All I can say is, You Tube rules. I won’t bore you with the details, but it requires a great deal of concentration, limb control, and the exact knife angle. Once you have your accordion, you salt the crap out of it – the Radi’s flavor comes out when you make it “cry.”

The anchor for the meal was Leberkäse, something like a Bavarian meatloaf that you eat with sweet mustard on a white Kaiser roll. While Toby and I aren’t big meat eaters, this was to complete the menu for our guests. And they ate it up, literally!

Wash everything down with Hefeweizen (wheat beer) and Pils (Pilsener) for the boys and white wine for the girls – a raving success!

The German nut

Hee hee. This title makes me giggle. I love it for what it could imply. Sadly though, I am not writing about the crazy Germans. I’m still collecting material for that topic. No, I’m writing about nuts. The kind you mix into granola and cookies, serve at parties in funny little bowls, and eat for their high protein content.

I’ve discovered that the nut situation here is not what it is in the US. First of all, there was the seemingly endless search for pure and simple peanut butter. Then there was the sad realization that nuts and dried fruit are an undesired combination in the granola/cereal aisle. Now it’s starting to dawn on me that the hazelnut is to Germans what the peanut is to Americans – anything that has “nuts” in it will almost certainly have hazelnuts. While I wasn’t ever so crazy about peanuts that I kept them around the house for snacking on (I’m more of an almond girl), I really can’t seem to fall in love with the hazelnut.

To me, it’s flavor is a bit too violent in the mouth. It starts with a hint of sweet but ends on a bitter note (I think that thin dark skin is to blame). And as far as mouth feel goes, it seems to be a very dry nut, kind of sticky once you get chewing.

Don’t get me wrong though. I love hazelnuts inside of things – finely ground into Christmas cookies, ribboned into chocolatey spreads, blended into ice cream. The problem with these things is that they kind of defeat the healthy purpose of the nut.

In an attempt to appreciate the ‘German peanut,’ I’ve decided to learn a little more about the hazelnut. Shells of hazelnuts dating back to 7000 BC were found on a Scottish island. Most of the hazelnuts eaten in Germany (and the world) now come from Turkey. The hazelnut is an actual nut; it’s the kernel of the seed of the hazel tree. (In contrast, peanuts are legumes – they grow underground.) Hazelnuts are, of course, rich in protein and unsaturated fat (like most nuts), but they also have high levels of vitamin E, thiamine, and vitamin B6. Did you know there is a Hazelnut Marketing Board, established in 1949 to help with the hazelnut’s popularity in the US? I didn’t either.

I’m not sold yet, and my love of peanut butter isn’t changing anytime soon. Cool factoid of the day – peanut butter was used to keep people alive on expeditions to the South Pole. I knew there was a good reason for it being my power food of choice!

Hot magic

Some of you will be surprised to hear this, but I actually skipped an opportunity to go to the gym last night. My excuse – it was raining snow. I don’t know what the official term is, but for a few minutes in the middle of a crazy rain storm yesterday afternoon, there was white stuff falling out of the very dark sky. I said to myself, no way am I going out in that. Rain? Ok. Snow rain? No way. I have my limits, people.

Fine. I guess it’s time to face the cold, hard, inevitable reality of winter. Noooo (she says, kicking and screaming on the floor)!

The one good thing about the onset of winter is that with it comes Christmas, and with that comes a whole bunch of fun stuff. The store windows are filled with Christmas decorations. Although I must happily say that either I’m going to the wrong places, or Christmas music is not as prevalent here because I haven’t been annoyed once yet by a Mariah Carey Christmas song. We have an advent calendar from Toby’s mom hanging in the apartment that provides a daily dose of chocolate. I’ve been busy gathering the perfect Christmas presents. And Toby and I are making sure to enjoy the local Christmas markets.

German Christmas markets are famous the world over. Along with stands selling Nutella crêpes, Dutch french fries, and Christmas tree ornaments is the beloved Glühwein – probably the best reason to visit a Christmas market.

Glühwein is the German’s answer to a cold winter evening. I don’t actually know who invented the stuff, but it’s pretty awesome. It’s essentially just spiced red wine served hot, but it has magical powers, I tell you. It brings the people out in droves, despite the cold. Even I don’t mind a nippy walk to sink myself into the warm mass of fellow Glühwein drinkers. There really is no better way to spend a cold pre-Christmas evening – with friends and good conversation over a steaming mug (or two) of Glühwein.

Cheers!

The breakfast dilemma

Initially, my biggest food-related goal was to find peanut butter, the kind that’s just made out of peanuts, pure and simple. No added oils, sugars, or salt.  I yearned for a spoonful of peanut butter on a cracker – just a hint of salt from the cracker, the feeling that you’re doing something good for yourself, and the satisfying smack of licking it from the roof of your mouth for the next 5 minutes. I think I might have even started dreaming about it. I wouldn’t let myself buy the obvious substitute – Nutella. I know I said that all the walking helps with a few extra calories, but me with a jar of Nutella and not much else to do is just too dangerous. And then I found it, at the organic foods store. It’s called Erdnussmus, like apple sauce (Apfelmus), but with peanuts instead of apples. No wonder! In any case, I finally have my favorite protein-packed power snack back.

You know what else I miss, besides consistent sunshine and the freedom to wear tank tops? Trader Joe’s granola in the blue box, with just the right balance of dried fruits and nuts and oh so versatile – yummy with milk and even better sprinkled (heavily) over Breyers natural vanilla ice cream.

It’s funny how we can get used to things – the same noodles, salsa, toilet paper. I didn’t know you could get into a granola rut, but I definitely was in one. In those first few weeks after moving, I often found myself standing in the cereal aisle of the grocery store trying to commit to a new combination of grains with nuts or grains with dried fruit, preferably in a crunchy version (there’s nothing like a good crunch to get your brain going in the morning!). Because I couldn’t find a crunchy granola offering both nuts and dried fruit, I just didn’t eat granola. Breakfast sucked for a while – remember, I also didn’t have peanut butter – but I’ve slowly been opening my horizons and taking risks. My newest breakfast concoction has me feeling slightly witch-y. It’s basically yogurt with some not-so-crunchy granola in it, but it requires the careful mixing of several key ingredients to get it to the right consistency, flavor, and added health benefits. Now it’s my new power breakfast!

I guess that’s what a change of scenery does – it has ripple effects all the way down to your first meal of the day. So now I’m on the lookout for the perfect stand-ins (or upgrades?) in other areas, and I’m certain that with a little sleuthing and exploring I’ll find them!