Thursday, February 23, 2012

Karneval in Karlsruhe!

We've been very busy lately, but like everyone else in Karlsruhe, we had to take a vacation day on Tuesday.  It was Fat Tuesday, and like many cities and towns in southern Germany (which is largely Catholic and Protestant), Karlsruhe celebrates with a parade.  Not just some anemic, half-hour affair with a couple of drum and bugle corps, plus a beauty queen and decorated tricycles.  This was a two-hour parade along the city's major streets, attended by children in full costume and many others wearing at least a funny wig.  There were marching bands, and "floats" (these were trucks with partial roofs) blasting jolly German festival music.  Civic groups, many of whom must have spent the last year devising their outlandish outfits and planning entertainments for the crowds,  sauntered, rolled and marched past tossing candy, confetti, and pocket-packages of tissues.  Groups all wore pretty much identical costumes, mostly revolving around the endlessly-variable themes of fools and witches.  Here's a sample group of witches marching past us.  They were pretty scary!

Some groups relished interacting with the crowd pressing along the route.  Our tiny friend D., enthralled and taking photos in the front row, found herself captured, and lain in the group's cart while they made threatening poses for her to photograph.

Lucky for her, she wasn't seized by one of the traveling witch jails!  We were positioned fairly early along the parade route, and this one was pretty full of captives by the time it passed by us.

The street was quite a mess by the time the parade ended, between candy wrappers and confetti.  But this is Germany!  The final group in the parade were the street sweepers, who wasted no time at all but followed the marchers with trucks and leaf-blowers.

We didn't go home with bulging bags of candy as the children in attendance did, but we had our pockets full of coupons, little toys, and kleenex.  Most of our German friends are pretty tired of the "Fasching" parade and had left town beforehand, so we were glad to have our friends D. and her husband Z. (also a professor on sabbatical, but from the other university in Cambridge MA) to enjoy the occasion.  Oh!  And I got a fresh flower from one of the groups!  A good time was had by all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thinking Globally, Eating Locally

Ever since we arrived a week ago, we've been thinking about food more as Germans than as Americans. Partly, we choose this because we love the German way of life so much, and partly it is forced on us because we are here. Bread, for instance, is a much bigger part of German life than it is of American. Well, a wider variety of freshly-baked breads seem essential here. There are little bakeries every 10 steps in shopping areas, on every neighborhood corner, and there was even a little bakery (for emergency snacking) at the big Home-Depot-type store we visited last week.

The first bakery item I had to eat after we'd arrived was a butter-brezel. This is a large, salted preztel, with one large soft section and the rest thinner and crispier. Butter-brezeln have been sliced through the soft section and carefully,
evenly spread with butter. They are a much beloved snack for all the reasons we loved bread-and-butter as children, but with added salt and
textural interest. The huge variety of breads and
rolls draws me to visit a bakery pretty much
every day, so we can have some for breakfast, snacks, and sandwiches.

I've also been cooking local
products every night, in part because I can so easily buy them and they all look so good.
One of the first meals I made was soup with Maultauschen, which are a regional specialty a little like ravioli, made with a huge va
riety of fillings. I made a broth with beef bones and vegetables, and simmered the Maultauschen until, like ravioli, they rose to the surface and were tender. These, I think, were filled with minced pork and herbs.

Pork, of course, is the meat of choice here. Beef and lamb are available (chicken and turkey are
too, but aren't considered exactly a meat), but pork, like bread, comes in stunning variety. I purchased these pork "steaks" pre-marinated in an herb sauce, pan-seared them and served
them with potatoes accented with onions and, of course, bacon.

There are far more sausages than I could begin to describe. Among my favorites is Nurnberger Rost-Bratwurst, which look like little breakfast links but taste much better. I browned them in my frying pan and served them with salad, potatoes with onions and bacon again, and a
gourmet vegetable blendof slivered fennel and sauerkraut. I found the recipe for the latter in "Trinken und Essen", a gorgeous German version of Gourmet and gave it a try to experience something new involving sauerkraut (which
proved to be just an accent to all the other flavors). I'll be happy to sketch out how to make it.

Some other day I'll devote an entire post to spaetzle, the simple German form
of pasta. I make my own back home with a spaetzle-maker which forms soft, flattened pea
-sized bits which I serve with parsley, chives and butter. Spaetzle can be bought here both dried and fresh, and I haven't had a bad version of it yet. I've now experienced spaetzle made with potatoes, which give the dish a firmer and more substantive texture.

This plate was lunch from a dazzling buffet at a huge downtown department store (like Jordan Marsh in the olden days) and the potato-spaetzle looks like little, pan-browned logs, here mixed with sauerkraut.

My main question at this point is, why aren't Germans hugely obese?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Little Trip to France

We have been here one week and have already been on an excursion! While we still had the rental car, we wanted to stock up on essentials. This meant to us, making a drive over to France to visit a hypermarket!

We first encountered hypermarkets 20 years ago when we spent a year in England and traveled through France over the Christmas vacation. The French hypermarkets combine a Walmart-type discount department store with the largest supermarket for groceries. We still need some cheap household goods (like bed pillows that don't drive us crazy) and the hypermarket seemed like the best option for these.

We drove across the Rhine on a lovely sunny day and south (altogether less than an hour from Karlsruhe) to Strasbourg, France. After circling the inner city completely lost for a while, we parked near the center, had a little lunch, and bought a printer at an electronics store. Here you see Place Kleber with some half-timbered buildings and some modern additions.

I was entranced by this half-timbered
building with
a very modern shop on the ground floor.

Our little lunch featured half-chickens so small they might have been Cornish Game Hens. Strasbourg is in Alsace-Lorraine, a region which was traded back and forth between Germany and France for generations, and so it shares some culinary traditions with south-western Germany. This plate features the local version of
spaetzle, pan-fried and topped with a deeply savory chicken gravy.

Once out of the city, we soon found a hypermarket. Saturday evening
must be a big shopping time in France because the place was packed.

The cheese aisle took a lot of our time.

The place was huge. The other shoppers couldn't imagine what we thought was photo-worthy. We found pretty much everything we were looking for--French cheese! Cheap French wine! and functioning pillows!-- but we were exhausted by the time we were done.

Friday, February 3, 2012

At Home in Karlsruhe

My inexperience as a blogger has caused this post to be kind of upside-down! The first part I wrote is now at the end, and I can't figure out how to edit this. I guess from now on I'll just have to write backwards. Not a problem.

In this view you can see the street we live on, looking away from the center of the city and down into the university campus (we live on the "South" campus and my Dear Husband works on the "North" campus, half an hour away by bus). Some buildings are quite old survivors of World War II, but Karlsruhe is not that old by European standards. Margrave Karl built the palace (and designed the city like the spokes of a wheel) for his R&R almost 300 years ago. The sprinkling of snow is very unusual for this sunny town and evidences the extremely cold weather we're suffering at present. Normally a dusting like this wouldn't last a day.

This view shows the street outside our building ("gastdozentenhaus" if you speak any German) looking towards the Schloss ("palace"). You can see a portion of the Schloss at the end of the street. Beyond the building on the right hand side of the street and the Schloss, half of downtown Karlsruhe is composed of extensive and lovely parks with greenhouses and exercise opportunities. With the sub-zero weather currently, we have not yet started exploring the parks.

This is how the kitchen looks when I am preparing a meal in it. Note how the dish drainer has been stood on its end to make maximum space for food prep. What looks like sliced onions is actually shallots to give you an idea of scale. The first dinner prepared in this kitchen was Hungarian Goulash-style pork, spaetzle (store-bought and warmed up) and brussels sprouts with walnuts and walnut oil (an old favorite). By dint of continual clean-up, it's just barely possible to cook for two in this space.

This is the most adorable little kitchen ever. Sink, counter, stove. Microwave, but no oven. No dishwasher (except me). The coffeemaker must be stashed when not in use or there's no space to do anything else! Just beyond the kitchen is the bathroom--literally, just for bathing since we have a separate toilet room on the other side of the entrance hall. The tub is of generous depth and length and has a lovely shower attachment as well.

Above is our soothingly uncluttered bedroom. Note the down comforter, lack of top sheets, and attractive but uncooperative down pillow. As soon as your head meets this pillow, all the feathers escape from under your head. I have developed a containment strategy for the down involving folding and kneading techniques I learned from making bread.

Happy to say our trip went smoothly. We are ensconced in our little flat on the metro-university campus a stone's throw from the palace at the center of Karlsruhe, and we are conquering jetlag. Shown to the left is our living/dining room before we've had time to mess it up. We have already rearranged the furniture. The dining table unfolds and we are permanently keeping it expanded so that I can use it as a desk when we're not dining.