Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

may days, green days

Our May has been cool. After a very mild winter, where tulips and daffodils began their journey to the skies in January, since the beginning of May the blooms have been set to 'pause'. Only the herbs are growing like crazy under the damp, grey sky.

Our rocky flower bed, in front of our small front entrance is an unruly mess of thriving green. Herbs like marjoram, basil, parsley, mint, and oregano share space (some, the way an elephant shares space in an elevator) with chives, lavender, a rose bush or two, and a host of pale blue and white hydrangeas (my favourite). This, here, is one of my lieblingsplätze. And learning how the Germans have, for centuries, used and cooked with herbs has been so much fun since moving here.

A new luscious taste I was exposed to recently is from bärlauch (wild or bear garlic). It has a hint of garlic coming from its long, narrow leaves and is widely used in pestos and dips. A friend of mine brought me a jar of homemade bärlauch pesto which his landlady makes in her kitchen and sells only to 'special' people.

And the herbal guru herself, Hildegard von Bingen, created remedies, potions, soups and sauces using only the wild herbs growing around her my home. Possibly that's I've been feeling such a herbal connection since moving here. It's in the soil! One of Hildegard's concoctions is the recipe for petersilien wein (parsley wine). Apparently it's an elixir created from wine, honey, vinegar and parsley. I'm not sure if you're supposed to drink, pour on something, or take a bath with it. I need to do more research.

In choir practice on Monday evening, the talk was maibowle (may punch). We had been asked to bring sekt (poor man's champagne) or some snacks - I, of course, opted for drinks! After some time spent singing, while outside of the windows, birds trilled along (I swear), we gathered the chairs around the long table and waited.

One of the ladies finally came out of the kitchen carrying a glass pitcher filled with a clear, pale yellow fluid reminding me of something quite different; except for the soft bubbles humming like the wings of a hummingbird you know is there, but can't see.

Maibowle is made by steeping a satchel of Waldmeister (Sweet Woodruff), adding lemon and possibly sugar, in wine overnight, then adding sekt. Waldmeister is a creeping herb found mostly in the northern forests of Germany. The drink was fragrant; tasting unlike lemonade, more herbal tea, but with a wild and unrefined aftertaste. Sitting around the table and sharing this experience with lovely, laughing, wrinkled people was a treat...not just because there were bubbles.

Last but not least, my may tour of herbs has ended with Green Sauce. Another popular use of 7 locally growing herbs this very traditional sauce goes great with grilled meat or roasts. I had heard about Green Sauce often; Goethe loved it and in Frankfurt you will find the original Green Sauce on every hearty restaurant's menu. So, as the herbs in my garden started to wake up, I decided to look into this Green Sauce.

Low and behold, in the produce sections beginning around Easter, you can find the seven herbs, long and aromatic, wrapped in paper, ready for home. How praktisch!

I looked through recipe books, researched on the internet, and created a simple meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and Green Sauce. Chop, chop, schnippel, schnippel. The chopping did take quite a while. Herbs, many I had never heard of before: parsley, common sorrel, borage, chervil, bittercress, pimpinella, tarragon, were hacked into huge green piles. You can also use many other seasonal varieties for Green Sauce. I would just throw in any herbs you have in the garden and see what happens. I'm sure Hildegard started that way.

Add onions, white wine vinegar, sunflower oil, créme fraiche and yogurt, a sprinkle of sugar, salt and pfeffer. Voilá - Grüne Soße! And, believe me, it is green.

And, now I leave you with a touch of green, great guy and I came upon on one of our hikes above the Rhein. Weird, decorated statue #31.

 Happy may days to you!


Thursday, May 1, 2014

colours of london.

Never do I drink as much tea as I do when I’m in London. Surely it must be the best here, so why would I drink anything else. And tea with hob nobs (Thank you, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel!) is now one of my favourite things. I only allow myself to indulge when I’m actually in London. Cause you know, when in Rome…

Often when I travel, I like to buy one special little thing to take home to remind me of the experience I had. From Paris I brought back a small box of macarons from Ladurée; in Amsterdam I picked up a shirt (that I knew wouldn’t fit me) from one of the happiest and longest fleamarkets I have ever seen; from Weimar I have a scarf with a pattern similar to the walls of the Rococo Hall in the unforgettable Library there, and so on. So, in London, I wanted to buy one, perfectly fine, tea cup.

As I walk down Portobello Road, which runs the length of Notting Hill, admiring the pastels and whites, bold blues and yellows, I see a shop overflowing with porcelain. I pop my head into the very crowded-with-cups store and am greeted by a tall, dark and handsome. Long and slim with shoulder-length, wavy Clooney-grey hair, he flashes me a smile as I say hi in return, and quickly turn to face the wall ‘o cups. My search for the perfect cup doesn’t take long; it was sitting there waiting for me like a faithful dog who knew I’d come. 

Since I didn’t want to leave the store just yet, I looked around a bit more. As I did, I overheard tall, dark, handsome talking to a scruffy neighbour. They were discussing the bothersome noise caused by the renovations that the two lead actors from Slumdog Millionaire were doing on the new house they just bought up the street. Hmmm, there seem to be a few reasons why Notting Hill wouldn’t be the worst place to live. P.S. He was filling in for his mama, who has owned this porcelain shop for over fifty years. So sweet.

What once was a bustling fruit and vegetable market, Covent Garden is now a slick hang-out for cool urbanites and, of course, tourists. Once upon a time the ground that this former market sits on was farmed by Westminster Abbey and known as the ‘Garden of the Abbey and Convent’.

High-end boutiques, high-end buskers, along with artisans and tea shops, now make their home among the former veggie and fruit stalls. But the market rules still hang on the wall: No purloining of fruit or throwing of root vegetables. Even if you don’t like the music.

Keep calm and eat pie. Ahh pie. Bangers and mash. Bubble and squeak. Spotted Dick. Singing hinnies. Angels on horseback. I love British food. The first time I traveled through the U.K. in 1999 I spent a lot of time eating in pubs in large and small towns; the food was always hearty and good, with a great name. More than anything, I love the atmosphere in the British pubs. Like their food, the pubs are warm with good cheer; hearty with dense wooden textures; rich in colours of coffee, chocolate and mud; and they have the greatest names.

I experienced colours of London that I wasn't necessarily expecting to see as I was shopping. Happily finding a selection (a selection!) of tall stores, I popped in and out of the cool boutiques off of Oxford Street. In one particular store, I made my way through the narrow showrooms, hopefully scanning racks and looking for the shoe section. As I headed down a steep stairway and turned the corner, I almost bumped straight into a group of three wom…well, men. They were dressed casually; long skirts, decent jewellery, kitten-heel pumps. But, that I could look them all in the eye was a bigger giveaway. I never see gaggles of women my height, except when the brave crash a men’s basketball team (what fun!). Since one of the banes of my existence is that often people mistake me for a man (arrrgggh), let me just say I was less than impressed that men were shopping in ‘my’ tall store. After spending a few moments looking at the shoe selection and overhearing their remarks about how well this fits, but not this, and how does it look? I noticed that one of them had the same exact boots as I do! I realized that being here will do nothing for my self-image and so I left. But at least in London everyone has a selection…silver linings!

In every meaning of the word ‘circus’ except without the animals, Piccadilly Circus is noise, excitement, all shapes and sizes of people, familiar and strange smells, souvenirs, and theatre; pure entertainment. Almost two hundred years old, the Circus (‘circle’ in Latin) has become a must-see place to experience when you’re visiting London. Go at night…it is beauty (with noise).

And, of course the Thames. Colours of grey in water and often in sky, the river path cuts through London like a writhe snake. Legends and folklore play on its banks and bridges, making a riverboat tour a great afternoon outing. Did you know that women completed the Waterloo Bridge during WWII, deciding not to wait for the men to return? A river is the lifeblood of a city; the Thames is one of the most impressive.

Now if only I had some hobnobs...I need to christen my new cup.

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