Monthly Archives: July 2010

Good Eats: German style

With Italian, Mexican and Chinese restaurants populating nearly every town in America, most people know what kind of food to expect in those respective countries.

Germany is another story. Although German cuisine has influenced a lot of American cooking (Hamburg is to thank for hamburgers), it is not as widely recognized.

I wasn’t even sure what to expect before coming to Germany, apart from schnitzel and strudel.

As a vegetarian, I knew my challenge would be particularly hard. But, to my delight, the food offerings have been quite a bit more (and, I’m sure, quite a bit better) than simply wurst and Leberkäse.

Gemüse Strudel

My introduction to real German cuisine started off on a high note with this Gemüse Strudel in Berlin. It was a lot like the chicken pot pie I used to love, minus the chicken and plus a bit more flavor.

The crust was browned and just barely thick enough to contain all the vegetables. It set a pretty high standard for all the food to follow…

Schupfnudel

My first weekend back in Holzkirchen, I was invited to go hiking with Rebecca and her host-family. We worked up a good sweat and even better appetite during our trek, so stopping at the restaurants at the base was a must.

I wasn’t sure what to order when looking at the menu, but Rebecca’s host-mom encouraged me to try Schupfnudel, which is basically German-style gnocchi.

The Schupfnudel rested atop a bed of sauerkraut, which was actually my first time to try. The whole dish tasted like a good version of French fries, with just the right amount of saltiness from the sauerkraut.

Dampfnudeln

Rebecca and I had the foresight to split the Schupfnudel so that we could also try some dessert. I am a sucker for apple strudel, but I was in the mood to try something different, so I went for dampfnudeln.

It tasted just like the elephant ears from festivals should. In this case, though, I wasn’t disappointed.

It wasn’t healthy by any stretch of the imagination, with white flour, butter, sugar, cream and a little bit of fried-action. But, darn it, it was good.

Vegetarisch Salat

Just as I expected, some restaurants had very slim-pickings on the vegetarian front. Fortunately, most of them offered meat-less salads.

This one was probably the highlight of the trip. It was loaded with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and mushrooms. Although I like to show equal levels of love to all my veggies, I was really loving the mushrooms.

While in America mushrooms are most often the low-on-flavor button tops, there is a great amount of variety in the German mushrooms. Some are woodier, some are sweet, some are meaty… It all makes for a really pleasant balance.

Spaghetti Eis

My sister’s visit was great for many reasons, and not least among them was that it gave me the excuse to split a Spaghetti Eis with someone.

Eis, similar to Italian gelato, is really popular in Germany. Even on the chilly days we were in Berlin and Köln, there were always people walking around with ice cream cones. I thought they were out of their minds, until I actually tried it and realized how tasty it is.

The “Spaghetti Eis” concept is also really popular. It is made by pressing the Eis through a little spaghetti machine, and then topped with a sauce and sprinkle of chocolate. The traditional Spaghetti Eis is with vanilla and strawberries, so it actually looks a lot like pasta. But, I’m never one to forego chocolate, so I chose the double chocolate version, with absolutely no regrets.

Bretz’n

It is virtually impossible to walk down the street without passing a bakery or Imbiss that sells freshly made pretzels. Although I’ve always been a big fan of pretzels (there was a time when I ate nothing but Jumbo Soft Pretzels for about two months), I never had anything quite as delicious as real Bavarian Bretz’n.

In the north, pretzels are often topped with sunflower or sesame seeds. Bavarian pretzels are just salt, or in the case of real ambition, a little bit of butter.

I’m sure I’ve averaged at least a pretzel a day, and that’s probably the main cause of my shrinking pants. Oh well.

(Thanks to Skye for modeling the Bretz’n for me!)

Kaiserschmarrn

After spending two great days hiking in the Alps, I was happy, but about to eat my arm off. We stopped for lunch at the “Panoramic Restaurant,” which overlooked miles and miles of countryside.

I didn’t spend too much time gawking at the scenery, though. My food was just as much of a masterpiece.

My professor made the suggestion that we try “Kaiserschmarrn,” which is a unique Bavarian delicacy. I would liken it to a sugared-up hybrid of pancakes and French Toast. It came with a side of applesauce and cranberries, for good measure.

I was in Heaven, but I didn’t want to eat any sugar for about three days afterward.

Kombucha

Ok, so this one is a bit misleading, since it is neither German nor food. But, it was just too good to leave off this list.

I’ve actually heard about Kombucha, a fermented tea drink, for a while now. I was just always too cheap or too hesitant to actually try it.

However, in Austria, the company that makes Red Bull (which I am proud to say I’ve never tried) also makes “Carpe Diem,” a Kombucha drink. Since it was local, it was really pretty cheap. With no excuses left, I decided to give it a shot.

With one sip, I was hooked. It has the sweetness of tea, but with a slight wine undertone. It wasn’t something to gulp down, but it was wonderfully refreshing on a really hot day.

Vitality Teller

Once again, this is a little misleading, considering I had it while in Austria. But, since it was the best breakfast of my life, it was just too good to leave out.

On the last day of my long-weekend in Austria, Rebecca’s friend took us to breakfast at her favorite place in town. I was immediately impressed by all the dishes I saw people eating: Warm bread, fresh fruit, cool yogurt. I knew it was going to be good…

I had a hard time choosing something off the expansive menu, but ultimately settled on the “Vitality Teller” (translation: vitality plate). This gave me the best of all worlds with a sample of coffee, fruit salad, an olive tapanade with whole-grain bread and a shot of vegetable juice. Star of the show was the maple-glazed tofu and apple compote.

I would have licked the plate clean, if only that was socially acceptable.

Whew. What a lot of highlights… I’m definitely going to return home with a long list of must-recreates. That’s ok, though. I’m looking forward to some good time in the kitchen. Anyone up for taste testing?

Question: Which of these dishes looks best to you? Do you have a favorite German dish?

Advertisements

The manys faces of Mimi

Throughout the course of a day, I usually go through a variety of emotions. Therefore, I also go through a variety of faces.

Here’s a sampling of today’s display.

My "Ugh, sometimes it's annoying just how crazy I am" face.

By 6:20 this morning, I was out the door and ready to meet Rebecca for a run. As could be predicted, since yesterday was a good run, today was pretty bad.

Why does it always seem to go like that?

Fortunately, Rebecca seemed to share my pain. We both opted to cut the run down and do an extended Pilates session.

I felt good for having done something, but still wished it was a little better.

Fortunately, there is nothing like a good breakfast to cheer me up.

My "Banana split for breakfast? Don't mind if I do..." face.

Even though I broke the rule twice this week, it was still a “chocolate for breakfast Friday.” Apparently I was so excited about my creation that I couldn’t keep the camera still…

I topped my banana with three little scoops of plain oatmeal, then covered that with spoonfuls of peanut butter, jelly and Nutella. I used a sprinkling of chocolate muesli to top it all off.

After breakfast, my day took a little downhill dive, by way of school.

My "Classes during the summer is really a bad idea" face.

Fortunately, I only had to make it through three-hours of class this morning until I was free for the weekend.

I went along for the traditional Friday lunch at “La Tosta,” a local Italian restaurant. I ordered the same veggie pizza as last week, but to my delight, this one came with even more veggies.

I guess the plus side of a lot of veggies comes with the downside of a soggy center. I ended up eating all the veggies off and the picking at some of the outside crust. Not the best ever, but enough to fill me up.

Really though, it would have taken quite a bit to upset me by that point, because…

My "I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it" face.

I’m going to Switzerland!

I have my bags packed and a sack-dinner set aside, because tonight Rebecca and I are catching a train to Switzerland. It’s going to be a whirlwind weekend, but when an opportunity like “swinging through Switzerland” comes along, I’m not going to pass it up.

I’ll be away from the Internet for a few days, but be sure to check back tomorrow for the highlights of food in Germany.

Question: What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done on the weekend?


Save beer, drink water

I don’t know whether it was more natural curiosity or greediness (I beg curiosity), but I always wanted to try my parents food and drinks when I was growing up.

Generally they were pretty accommodating, particularly since I was a picky eater and my mom was always looking for new foods to add to my “OK’d” list.

One day, when I was six or seven, my dad was sipping on a cold drink. I didn’t know what it was, but if he liked it, then I wanted to try it

To my surprise, my dad said I couldn’t drink any. He explained that it was a bottle of beer and contained alcohol.

I still struggling to see the problem with this, so my dad offered to let me dip my finger in and have a small taste.

“Eww,” I thought, as my face surely scrunched up. From that moment on, I never had any desire to drink beer.

Fast forward to now. Over the course of the last six weeks, I’ve gone on both wine-tasting and schnapps-tastings field trips. I’ve also been to innumerable “Biergartens.”

Although I would rather spend my days hiking in the Alps or shopping around Munich, I’ve still made an attempt to appreciate the alcohol lessons.

Last night was the final of our guide-led tours, with a visit to “Brauerei Aying.”

Even with a limited interest in beer, I was still interested to learn the process behind making it.

Our guide was a fifth-generation brewer, so it was nice to see someone with as strong of a passion for drink as I have for food.

Near the end of our tour through the factory, we all got to sample some unfiltered beer, fresh off the line.

For the sake of jumping on the bandwagon, I had three-or-so sips.

After that, we wrapped up the tour with a trippy 3D movie and then progressed on to the main event: Beer sampling.

I was feeling pretty content with the three sips I had earlier, so I was pleased to learn that Ayinger also bottles lemonade drinks. Now that is more my style.

While most of the other students “tested out” all the different varieties of beer, I was content to sip on my “Orangen Limonade.”

Plus, my “main event” still waited: Dinner at “Liebhard’s,” the official Biergarten of Aringer.

I’ve heard the logic that beer is simply “liquid bread.” If that’s the case, I’ll gladly bypass it for the real, chewy edible kind of bread.

Since I hear that living solely on pretzels isn’t a socially appropriate thing to do, I opted to get a veggie omelette with a side-salad.

After the two-hour tour of the factory, it was nice to sit down, relax and sip on an Apfelschorle.

All in all, I think I will go back to America with a greater appreciation for the art of beer making. But, I’ll also be glad to get back to my plain ol’ tap water.

Question: What is your drink of choice?

I really like the sugar-free lemonade or tea packets that can be added to bottled water. I’ve found that’s the best way for me to actually stay hydrated.


Happiness vs. Ego

The sun was shining again this morning. That´s two days in a row.

What old lady did I help across the street to earn that kind of luck?

With the thought of a pleasant run (as opposed to a run that leaves me looking like a drowned rat), I was extra motivated to get out of bed. By 6:30 I was at Rebecca´s house and we were ready to hit my favorite trail.

Four-ish miles later, my legs weren´t exactly loving me, but I certainly felt accomplished. Plus, breakfast always seems a little better after working out.

Today´s reward of choice was oats ‘n’ sauce.

I smothered my plain-cooked oats with applesauce, a dollop of PB and a sprinkling of dried-fruit muesli. I think that letting the oats cool a bit before adding the chilled applesauce makes it extra refreshing.

While sipping on my complementing cup of coffee, I tried to work on a homework assignment for my film class. I say “tried,” because I truly wanted to find the motivation to get it done. But, despite myself, I kept getting frustrated.

Usually, I´m a pretty big fan of school. I look forward to each class as an opportunity to learn something new and helpful. I even accept the title of “nerd” and pretend it isn´t a bad thing

However, for as easily as the English language seems to come to me, I have always struggled with German.

Sure, being in Germany has done much more for me than five years in American classrooms ever did. Still, I am put to shame by many of my near-fluent classmates.

For the first time in a while, I feel really academically intimidated. I’m surrounded by a bunch of mathematicians, engineers and politicians (why is it that science-minded people always seem better with languages?).

By comparison, journalism just sounds (quote, unquote) “easy.”

Of course I know that is not the case. Journalism challenges my people-skills, my writing abilities, my critical thinking, etc.

But all that work goes on behind the scenes. Then all I have to show for my efforts is a 30-second TV spot or 500-word article. That just seems so simple…

Sometimes these thoughts and my ego get to me.

I would say that I blame my parents for failing to pass on any science or math savvy. I would also say that maybe I could suck it up and actually commit myself to German, chemistry or aeronautical engineering.

Then I realize that the title of my job isn´t going to matter at the end of the day. What does matter is doing something I love… and I know I am more happy, fulfilled and enthusiastic about writing than I could ever be about math or physics.

Besides, if I did everything just because it looks “cool,” then I’d never end up doing things like this…

Whew, enough of that. Now, I’m on to a whirlwind of classes, a movie and a field trip to a local brewery.

Yeah, my life is really tough.

Question: What was your main consideration in choosing what to study?


Cooking, not cakes

I think I did this whole “teenager” thing a little wrong.

For example, when I was nine-years-old, I used to sleep until noon whenever I had the chance.

Now, as most of my friends are in full-nocturnal swing, I have trouble staying in bed past 8 a.m.

I can’t really be blamed, though, considering what I have waiting for me when I wake up.

My morning was off to a good start with a slightly intense circuit workout. Nothing like getting the heart pumping to rev up the ol’ appetite. Luckily, I had the perfect fix for my hunger waiting at home, à la oat-parfait.

Today’s treat breakfast consisted of luscious layers of oats, PB, jelly and bananas. I topped it all off with a healthy scoop of chocolate muesli, officially breaking my no chocolate-breakfasts-during-the-week rule two days in a row.

It actually wasn’t monsooning as I walked to school, so that gave me a little more enthusiasm. The fact that it was a short day at school and I’d be done at noon also helped up my morale.

School was followed up with the standard lunch in the Mensa (translation: cafeteria). To the surprise of no one, I opted for a big salad. I rounded out the meal with 2/3 of another stowaway granola bar.

I took advantage of my free time by walking around town, trying to soak it all in before next week. I made a quick stop by the Bäckerei (translation: bakery) and considered staying for some coffee and quality reading time. However, the skies were graying and I was wearing a white shirt, so I decided to play it safe and head home.

First, though, I made a quick stop at the local jewelry store to get a charm I’d been eying for a few weeks.

I started collecting charms for a bracelet back in 2001 and it’s slowly grown since then. Now it’s barely practical, as it’s weighed down with a good number of charms. Still, I can’t stand the thought of retiring any of them… they all have unique memories.

Today’s addition was a little Bavarian Bretz’n (translation: pretzel). It was an easy and appropriate choice over the lederhosen and beer-mug charms.

Unlike the usual trend, I actually go back to my house right when it started to rain (as opposed to being 10 steps out the door when the skies open up). Suddenly, the hunger that I was missing during lunch came back with a vengeance.

I dug into the hazelnut yogurt I’d been waiting to have. It was topped with (what else) chocolate muesli and Nutella.

As if that wasn’t dessert enough, I already had more plans in the mix.

After my inspiring cookie bake the other day, I was eager to go at it again. Rebecca came over and we mixed up what I like to call…

Trail Mix Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 C peanut butter
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg white
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 1/4 C rolled oats
  • 1/2 C dark chocolate chunks
  • 1/2 C raisins
  • 1/2 C chopped almonds

Directions:

  • Mix together first five ingredients (PB through salt) in a medium-sized bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  • Refrigerate dough for 10 minutes. Warm oven up to approx. 350 degrees (note: I used 180 degrees Celsius).
  • Place tablespoon-sized dollops of dough on greased baking sheet.
  • Bake for 9-11 minutes, until no longer doughy in center. Allow to cool.

Since cookies are a fairly foreign concept in Germany (They have Leberkäse but not cookies? Explain that one to me…), I’ve been seriously missing them the past few weeks. Between my last batch and this new creation, I’ve definitely made up for lost time.

A couple cookies hours later, it was time for dinner. My host-mom was out of the house tonight, which automatically meant we were going out to eat.

I drove over to Bad Tölz with my host-father, -sister and -brother to go to dinner at “Papas Kesselhaus.” It was an eclectic, funky and delicious place with tons of vegetarian options.

Despite all the complaining I’ve done about the salads I’ve been eating, there is no denying it: I really do love a good salad.

Tonight that was exactly what I was craving, so when I saw a salad featuring both corn (hello, Nebraska) and sunflower seeds (nice to see you again, Kansas), I knew what I was getting…

I didn’t know the salad would be accompanied with mozzarella sticks, but I ended up tearing the fried-crust off two of them and eating the cheese. When in Rome Germany, I suppose.

It was nice to get out and spend some time with my host-family. I feel truly blessed to have been given such a generous and kind family to live with for six weeks.

With my host-sister.

There may have been a few communication barriers along the way (just to clarify, I like “cooking,” not “cakes.” Although I guess I like those, too…). But that’s just been part of the experience.

Question: Have you ever been to a foreign language-speaking country? Was it difficult to adjust?


Fill-in-blank kind of day

Some mornings I’m pretty sure that 6:10 comes earlier than on other days. Today was one of those days that my alarm was blaring particularly loud. It was also an…

“I could use an extra five minutes in bed” kind of day.

Despite my strong inclination to stay nestled in the warmth of my covers, I had a workout date with Rebecca.

The skies were gray when I headed out the door, but confident in my speed, I figured I could squeeze in a good run.

I guess I think too highly of myself, because it began to downpour right when I rounded the first corner.

Good morning, Sunshine... Sunshine?

By the time I got to Rebecca’s and was adequately drenched, I had lost most of my enthusiasm for an outdoor run. Instead we opted for a good “living room boot camp” session.

I swam ran back home, took a “legitimate” shower and got ready for the day, which just so happened to be an…

“Two cups of coffee plus a bowl of chocolatey oats” kind of day.

Generally I try not to have chocolate in my breakfasts until Friday. That way, the little extra sweetness is something to look forward to. But, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

I went for the money shot with oats, Nutella, chocolate granola and a blob of jelly (for good measure, of course).

With oats in my belly, I dragged myself went to school. My umbrella was too small. I wasn’t so happy about a soaked backpack.

Starting my day off with a little roller coaster of emotions wasn’t exactly good for the ol’ patience. Therefore, it was an…

“I’m present in class, but not really” kind of day.

I did manage to get some good multitasking in, by simultaneously learning about German literature and writing a couple of post-cards.

After a while, though, my post-card stash ran out, so I had no choice but focus all my attention on class. Suffice it to say, it was an…

“I’m not too hungry, but I’m ready for a lunch break” kind of day.

Although I enjoyed my standard salad, I wasn’t particularly feeling the tortellini option. I ended up digging into my stowaway PB&J Larabar.

I’d been toting that sucker around Germany for the past six weeks, just waiting for the perfect opportunity. Generally I like the cheaper option of homemade bars, but today my $2 Larabar was well worth the price.

After lunch I had to head back to school for an afternoon film class. The good news was that the film, “Die Leben der Anderen,” is very well-made and interesting. The bad news was that there were no German subtitles and it was more than two-hours long.

Then sun still hadn’t made an appearance, so after class I did what any logical person would do and crawled back into bed for a while.

When I woke up, my appetite was raging (that always seems to happen after naps). I was chilly, a bit moody and tired, so it happened to be an…

“Give me comfort food” kind of day.

I was really feeling something warm and a little sweet. With a fresh apple sitting on my counter and a fresh jar of PB, I could feel my No-Bake Apple Crisp calling to me.

After satisfying my stomach, I was able to concentrate on homework for a little while and start on a new book. Then, before I knew it, is was dinner time.

I’ve been fortunate that my family is pretty healthy and very accommodating for me as a vegetarian. Still, dinner is the one meal that I usually have no control over. Today just so happened to be an…

“This is cheesy, dense and OMGoodness-delicious” kind of day.

We had a pasta-bake with a cream sauce, cheese topping and broccoli. I’m not much of a fan of cheesy pasta dishes, but today it really hit the spot. Plus, it’s hard to go wrong with broccoli.

Now, I’m going to wrap up this post. It’s definitely an…

“I’m going back for dessert” kind of day.

Question: What kind of day are you having?


Travel Log: Holzkirchen, Part I

At what point does a place stop being a vacation-destination and turn into a temporary-home?

I’m sure the answer varies, depending on the situation. But, in this situation, I am pretty sure I’ve passed that mark…

For the past five weeks, I’ve called Holzkirchen, Bayern, my home. Those 30-odd some days may not seem like a whole lot. But, they have been. Trust me.

Thinking about where to start on with my reflections on Holzkirchen somewhat overwhelming. It’s easier to think of the day-to-day monotony than the grand-scale of all I’ve actually experience.

I suppose it’s best to start from the beginning…

After a day filled with travel and anticipation, we arrived in Holzkirchen on a Thursday night.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from my family. There was a mom, dad, son and daughter. Basically, a nuclear family, if there ever was one. I also knew this was their 20th year with an exchange student, so it be hard to throw them any curve balls. They even knew I was vegetarian, and were willing to deal with that.

That night, we had a good dinner and appropriately awkward conversation. Then they allowed me to settle in my room and prepare for the weeks still ahead…

Little rest for the weary, as the next morning I was up bright and early for the first day of school.

The next highlight came night. All of the students, professors and host-families met at the school for “Kennen Lernen,” or a meet-and-greet. There was beer and bretz’n and a burning desire to get out of the school building and see what Bayern really had to offer.

Fortunately, that chance came soon enough, as it happened to be the celebration for summer solstice. A lot of the nearby towns were hosting traditional bonfires, and my host-sister invited me and a few other students along.

It was a fun opportunity to unwind a bit, while still engaging in something uniquely German.

That Saturday passed without much incident. A good run occurred, from what I can remember.

The next day, I was invited to join my friend Rebecca and her family for a hike. We drove to the “Vor Alps” region, in nearby Tegernsee.

After a good hour-long climb up, we reached my first good Bavarian viewpoint. I figured I could get used to things like that…

Fortunately, the next day I was offered the chance, as my class took a trip out to Tegernsee. We did a little, less strenuous hiking, but no complaints there, because it offered a good view of the lake.

The next day was far-and-away one of the high lights of the trip. My sister and aunt were on their way to Italy and were able to make a detour through Germany.

I got to spend the afternoon with my beautiful sister, in a beautiful country, speaking about beautiful things…

My time with my sister offered me a bittersweet taste of home. It was wonderful to say hello and hard to say goodbye…

I didn’t have much of a problem with finding my enthusiasm again. That Thursday my class went to Munich for the first time.

It didn’t take much for me to fall in love…

Actually, while that little glimpse of sweetness sealed the deal, I was already quite enthralled with Munich. Unlike the cities of the north, Munich has a unique Bavarian charm about it.

Those first few days settled my qualms about my family, my food and my potential for exercise. I knew I could get along just fine. Fortunately, it all turned out to be a little better than “fine.”

Part II to follow…