Subtle Differences: Impulse Purchases

I daresay the Germany-based readers of this blog are probably tired of hearing/talking about the weather but….

sweet Mary Mother of God why the fuck has it been snowing every day this week?

Seriously. If I wanted to deal with nonsense like SNOW in April, I would have stayed in Wisconsin. Unacceptable.

To add insult to injury, Spring did tease us with a beautiful and warm(ish) few weeks before the weather took a turn towards Crazytown. And that’s when today’s post originated.

On a gorgeous, warm Wednesday about three weeks ago, BV and I decided to take a walk into town to get ourselves a pre-dinner ice cream (adulting!), and visit our kitchen-supply store to see about his mom’s birthday present. While we walked up the street, we both caught a very distinctive whiff of fish coming from near our Rathaus. Odd, as our village is fairly land-locked. Usually you catch a bit of pizza oven from a nearby restaurant, but fish?

We drew closer and could see that a small stand selling smoked fish had set up shop in the parking area. BV was basically already salivating, but I had ice cream on the brain so we didn’t investigate further. Instead we walked on, bought a new raclette grill for his mom, and enjoyed our first visit to the gelato shop for the year. The Marktplatz was already busy with other people pulling up chairs and benches to soak in the sun with their colorful cones, but BV had other things on his mind. Smokey, fishy things.

Walking home, we discussed our various options for dinner, but when we got closer to the Rathaus and the fish stand was still there all bets were off. BV saw the neat rows of Makrele lined up over the grill and dinner was sorted.

fishy1

Can I get a filet? No? Never?

Now, where I come from, an impulse purchase is a package of gum, or trashy celeb magazines that are strategically placed at the check-out line for this exact reason. NOT A FISH. I found the whole thing very funny.

When we got home the amusement continued. Followers on other social media may have noted an extra furry presence in my posts lately. No, we didn’t get another cat, but we did cat-sit for a friend for two weeks which was pretty fun. Part of that fun was watching BV try to cut up this fishy friend while literally being circled by cats. I tried to capture the moment but the cats were much too excited to hold still for pictures…

Soundtrack: meow. meow. meow.

Soundtrack: meow. meow. meow.

Mia (our visiting cat) was much more interested in sniffing at people food than eating it. We spent a lot of time kicking her off of the table while we were eating, and off the kitchen counters too. On the other hand, Marry usually leaves our food alone but absolutely chowed down on a bit of mackerel when it was offered, and probably would’ve eaten more if BV had let her.

Moral of the story: my German may be immune to the sweet, sweet, call of check-out candy, but his impulse purchases are much smellier. Beware the roaming fish-wagon!

 

Note: to any fish-phobic readers, sorry about the last few posts. I promise to find something less scaly to write about soon!

 

Franconian Fish Are Sexy

Today’s post is a bit of a public service announcement for any fish enthusiasts who might be swinging through Franconia before the end of the month. Why? Well, back in November I wrote a bit about some “rules” regarding Lebkuchen, in which I also mentioned a commonly accepted rule here about the eating of carp.

Carp is an extremely popular local specialty here in Franconia, but it can only be eaten in months with an ‘r’ in the name. Reasons for that are plentiful, mostly involving the intricacies of refrigeration “in former times,”* as well as allowing the fish to grow to maturity in the summer months. Thus, if you are in Franconia and want to try some fish, hop on your bike and pedal directly to your local Gasthof, Wirtschaft, or whatever they call it in your neck of the woods because April is almost over and time is a’ticking.

I’m not a carp eater** but BV is an enthusiastic one. Thus last week when we headed across the fields for dinner, he was happy to order one and even photograph it for me, much to the amusement of the old couple sitting at the table next to us. If you order a traditional Franconian carp, you typically receive half of a fish, and it’s priced by weight (hence the flag in the picture). BV asked for a smallish one, and this is what that looks like…

franconian carp

Smallish indeed. And if any nutritionists out there are concerned about the sorry “side salad” on the plate, have no fear. There was an enormous bowl of salad that came along with the carp, so BV had some balance to all that fried goodness.

The a fore-mentioned fried goodness at our local restaurant comes in two varieties, basic or beer breading. Naturally BV went with the beer, and he said it was great. The carp’s tail is curled, which is a good indication of freshness. How curly the fish is can vary greatly though. He has ordered carp before that has come out of the kitchen in a U-shape, which I assume means that the fish was fried alive or something. He tried to get a picture of how curled the fish was, but it’s not really that dramatic here.

franconian carp2

I highly recommend encouraging foreign visitors to eat carp though. The look on the face of a Costa Rican friend’s face when an enormous, curly, fried fish was brought to him one night in Nürnberg was pretty priceless.

There is one more thing I’d like to address in this post, and this was new information to me as of this weekend. When BV sent me the pictures that he took, he opened them up to show them to me again, and asked if I knew what the fried bits in the front of the fish’s head were. Usually I try to avoid eye contact with his dinner while he’s eating, so I had no idea what he was talking about until he pointed them out to me. So what are they?

Ingreisch, he said.

Okay… so no idea what that is, right? Although it does have ‘in’ in it, so perhaps something like innards? Well, yes. Innards in German are Innereien (easy enough) but when it comes to carp, the Franconians are referring to a very special section of the innards.*** This is another example of delightful local cuisine and dialect intersecting, as if you put ‘ingreisch’ into a translator, you get no help. So let me clarify.

Yes kids, those are the fish’s sexy bits. And natürlich they are very special, and not something that you get at every carp restaurant. BV speculated that this fish was a manly man fish but if he can actually see/smell/taste *shudders* a difference or was just dicking (pun intended) with me, I cannot say.

While I wholeheartedly encourage trying out the local specialties when you are in a new place, carp is something I just don’t dig. But if anyone else wants to give it a go, you enjoy! Just be warned, you may have a sexier dish than you anticipated…

 

* every German ever.

**See: the post about Lebkuchen for my true feelings on this fish.

***Or offal, as Wikipedia informs me.

A Meatless Miracle

Like many people, I always find January to be a little bit rough. The holidays are over, the nights are long, and the excesses of the holidays seem to be harder to shake off. This year though, BV and I wanted to think of a few possibilities to keep ourselves more proactive through these dull gray days.

When I first suggested going meatless and dry in January, I thought he’d laugh at me. And he did. But then we talked about it, and decided to give it a try. Now that the month is nearly over, I can say that the meat-free aspect of it was really no problem whatsoever. I don’t cook a ton of meat at home generally, and I had no problems making adjustments when I was out and about. BV struggled a bit more though, particularly when it came to lunchtime in his company canteen.

We decided it was best to be realistic, so when we discovered a package of smoked salmon with a just-reached sell-by date in the fridge that we had bought back in December, we ate it. Similarly, when we were headed down to the Villager’s house for a party, we figured if it was the standard ‘throw steaks on the grill night,’ that they usually do, we’d just go with it. (They actually served fish, which worked out well for us!) And when BV couldn’t face any of the vegetarian options in the canteen one day, I let one plate of Schinkennudeln slide. He did make sure to put one piece of the ham to the side, just to show his colleagues how seriously he was taking the veggie month, which I found amusing.

But the biggest test? That came last Sunday.

Every few weeks, we are usually invited over to BV’s dad for Sunday lunch. BV’s dad can make a mean Sauerbraten or Schäufele, which is to say that every meal at his house is a hearty, meaty, Franconian feast. So when BV got the call and set the date, my first question had to be, “soooo… did you tell him that we weren’t eating meat this month?”

Of course, he had, and I’ll award many points to his dad for not laughing (that much, at least). But the next question was harder to answer.

“And does your dad know how to cook anything that isn’t meat?”

That was the million dollar question. Of course vegetarians/vegans exist in Germany but when I just googled “German food pyramid,” I found this…

You are welcome. Oh, wait… I’m sorry… can you not read that clearly? I’ve got you covered…

Is this a total stereotype? Yes, yes it is. Are many stereotypes rooted in some sort of reality? Yes, yes they are.

What it boils down to though, is that the only veggies we usually see at BV’s dad’s house are in a cucumber salad, or occasionally arrive atop a pizza. It’s slim pickin’s for veggie lovers.

But whatever worries I had were quickly soothed when we opened the door to the smell of roasting onions on Sunday afternoon. BV’s mom had come to the rescue, and reminded his dad that BV is a big fan of Greek-style baked Feta and veggies. We sat down to a veritable feast of Feta baked with olive oil, onions, tomatoes and spices, (one whole piece per person, uff da!), a Greek salad (with Tuna, which we’ll slide through), and crostinis with garlic butter and tomato. It was delicious, and we were both very pleasantly surprised. Wine was already poured when we arrived, as BV hadn’t mentioned that we were also trying not to drink, which was probably for the best. If we had been vegetarian AND dry, his dad’s head might have exploded.

Do many Germans love the hell out of their meat? Yes. Is BV damn near ready to dive face-first into a pool of Schäufele sauce? Yeah, he might be getting there. It may seem like a small thing to a lot of people, to not eat meat, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that even here among the sometimes-unyielding Franconians, even the traditional Sunday lunch can surprise. And that’s encouraging, isn’t it?

Gingerbread Rules & German Tales

When  you live in Germany, you learn that they have a lot of rules. There are rules about recycling, and there are rules about driving. There are rules about being quiet, and not being quiet. There are rules about what you can eat and when you can eat it. For example in this area, a very common and well-known rule involves Carp, or as I like to call it “one of those gross, bottom-feeding fish.” Carp is extremely popular here in Franconia, but it can ONLY be consumed during months with an ‘r’ in the name. So if you like Carp, you better get your fill of it in April because you won’t find it in a restaurant again until September. Not happening.

As a non-German living in Germany, you have to take a lot of things on faith. This means that when someone tells me something that seems slightly odd, but says it’s a rule, I just go with it. Because who would tell me stories? That would be weird and pointless, right?

This brings us to gingerbread. In Nürnberg, it’s known as Lebkuchen and woo boy, is it big business this time of year. The city is famous for it, which means that once the Christmas market opens, you can’t swing a cat in this town without knocking over a display of it. Lebkuchen can of course be purchased all year round, and in fact, there was a whole Lebkuchen Week market set up in the middle of the city back in October. I thought that was a little strange, but BV assured me that it was mostly for the tourists.

Because you see, there was a rule about Lebkuchen.

For the three years that we’ve been dating, BV has been telling me that real Germans, and especially real Nürnbergers, don’t eat Lebkuchen until after St. Martin’s Day, or Martinstag, which is on November 11th. St. Martin’s Day also marks the beginning of the Carnival season, so it made total sense to me that the delicious gingerbread would be something you would eat at that time. But then… oh but then.

Kids… BV IS TELLING ME TALES.

That’s right, the war on cookies continues!

About two weeks ago in one of my classes, the topic of odd rules came up again. During the discussion, I mentioned something about the Lebkuchen rule, and was met with total blank stares. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. We went through a few other rules, which everyone agreed on, but not one had heard about anything involving gingerbread and St. Martin’s Day.

It could be a fluke, I thought, especially given that I wasn’t actually in Nürnberg that day. Perhaps outside of town it wasn’t given the correct amount of gravitas? Could be.

So I decided to take a survey. Since then, I have asked every single one of my students, and not a one… NOT A ONE knows about this “rule.” The age range of my students is from 20-65+, and they cover a significant part of Franconia when it comes to places they live/have lived before. And not a single, solitary one of them knows this rule.

When I confronted BV with this information, he did not believe me. He stuck to his guns, insisting that it was a rule and that my students must simply be confused. I’m not sure there’s a ton of room for confusion on this matter, but he didn’t budge. I posited that it was perhaps only a rule in his house, put forth by his  mother to keep the kids from eating too many sweets, but he brushed that off. It’s a rule and that is the end of the story.

Fine then honey, it’s a rule.

On St. Martin’s Day, I stopped into the store on my way home from work and purchased a small container of Lebkuchen. After dinner, I dramatically retrieved it, smacked it down on the coffee table and said, “and you shall not have any!”*

lebkuchen

But from now on, if I get the urge to indulge in a chocolaty, frosty, tasty piece of Lebkuchen and it’s “off-season,” fake rules be damned. I’m going for it.

 

Have you heard of this “rule”? Can you defend BV?

 

*That was mostly for dramatic effect. Don’t worry mom and dad, I shared.

Memorable Meals: Winkelkeller

Just a few minutes ago I was engaged in the tedious task of making copies for my class tomorrow. In between pushing the copy button every 30 seconds, and pushing aside the accumulated junk that is forever on our “desk,” my eyes wandered to the new corkboard that BV hung on the wall. It took a moment for me to recognize the pictures on the little card that was pinned there, but a second later I was transported back to one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had.

Back in May and after a day of hiking up and down the mountainsides that surrounded us, BV and I showered and walked our aching legs into Toblach in search of dinner. We were ravenous, and I was fairly set on trying the food at the Winkelkeller. We had actually tried to go there the first night we arrived, but although the bar was packed and music was playing, they weren’t fully open yet. That was only their opening party, and while we were welcome to have a drink, they couldn’t feed us then. BV wasn’t too sure about the place, but judging from the enthusiasm of the crowd, the ambiance, and the picked-clean plates of finger food that were lying about, I had a good feeling about it.

We arrived at the restaurant at about 7:30, slightly paranoid that they would either be 1) already full, or 2) completely reserved. Instead, it was nearly empty (though not for long), and we were quickly ushered to a table.

Side note: going from Germany to Italy, even predominantly German-speaking Italy like South Tyrol, is such a shock to the system. You mean we can eat past 8 pm? The kitchen doesn’t shut down at 10? We can arrive at 7:30 and basically be the early-bird special people? Woohoo!

In other words, we were ahead of the game. However, that gave us the opportunity to admire the cozy side room that we were seated in. When we tried coming the day before, we had sat ourselves on the other side of the restaurant, which was decorated in a very Alpine-style. Think lots of wood, red accents, and a big Kachelofen (see previous post) dominating the room. This time, our curved-ceiling room really put the Keller (cellar), in Winkelkeller, if your cellar is this nice, anyway…

winkelkeller1winkelkeller2

A basket of fresh bread arrived promptly, and the very young-looking owner* in Lederhosen came to take our drink orders. After a brief consultation with him, BV selected a bottle of Cabernet that was so good that it turned into two bottles.

winkelkeller3

Now that might sound like a lot, but apparently it was smart of us to get it while we could. BV has since tried to order more wine from the Alois Lageder vineyard, but out of the fifteen varieties of it listed on belvini.de, only one is available. We got two bottles with our last delivery, but we may have to make a pilgrimage to the winery and beat down the door to get more. It was fruity, velvety, and incredibly delicious. Plus, bio!

Perusing the menu, we both got a bit excited. Everything looked good and narrowing down our choice was not going to be an easy task. But since we decided to make this BV’s birthday dinner, we figured we’d go all out.

It was a bit chilly that day, so we both decided to start with a soup. Mine was (I think) a squash curry with apple, and skewers of shrimp. BV had a cheese/beer soup with croutons. Both were wonderfully flavorful, and an excellent way to start the meal.

 

While we ate our soup, the rest of our room filled around us. I was happy that I had taken a few photos beforehand, as there wasn’t an empty table for the rest of the night. Like us, every table was filled and every guest seemed content to enjoy a long meal, a few drinks, and the excellent service.

With the next bottle of wine, our main courses arrived. BV had selected lamb in hay, with sides of roasted potato and zucchini. I’m not a lamb-eater, but he assured me that it was the best lamb he had ever had. If his face while eating it was any indication, it was really that good.

winkelkeller7

For my main, I had selected black pasta stuffed with goat cheese. I had literally no idea what the hell “black pasta” meant, but here it was…

winkelkeller6

I have since learned that black pasta is usually made with squid ink, so I’m assuming that’s what this was. This is probably a case of “things I’m glad I didn’t know beforehand,” because I probably wouldn’t have ordered it and I am oh so glad that I did. These pockets of deliciousness were stuffed with goat cheese, and topped with tomatoes and arugula, as you can see. But the sauce was what made it something special. I would guess that there was some kind of liqueur, perhaps amaretto, involved, as it had a syrupy sweetness that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was amazing, and if we go back to the Winkelkeller and this is still on the menu, it’s going to be hard to try something different!

After a pause for digestion, we turned our attention to the dessert menu. Because, when in Italy, right? We selected a mixed plate, involving a wee chocolate cake, and magical triangles of tastiness… that’s all I can say five months later, sorry.

winkelkeller8

To be honest, I’m amazed I even got a picture of the dessert course considering at that point we were totally full but still wanted to eat all the things that came out of that kitchen. I do remember the berry sauce was almost enough to make us lick the plate. Almost.

Finally though, there was nothing left to eat and the wine was gone. We paid the bill while having a hay Schnapps at the bar, and embarked on the full-bellied walk home. A memorable meal indeed, and I do hope that we can get back there before too long. I guess what I’m saying is, if you are in Toblach/Dobbiaco, go here!

Winkelkeller**

Graf-Künigl-Straße/Via Graf Künigl 8,
39034 Toblach/Dobbiaco

*Our Airbnb host thought that the restaurant was under new ownership. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but the owner was our waiter, and the chef was at the bar at the end of the night. They both looked to be maybe 30, so if they just took over this place, good on them.

**Website only in German/Italian.

Sweet Spaghetti

Eating gelato is almost a given on any trip to Italy. And eating ice cream that’s made to look like spaghetti is almost a given (although only God knows how or why that whole thing got started) in Germany.

On our visit to South Tyrol, we found a cafe that took those things to a whole new level. We stopped for a drink and a scoop of ice cream at a cafe in Toblach, and while perusing the more than ten-page menu of ice cream options, we found this…

spaghetti eis

This was by far one of the most impressive selections of spaghetti Eis that I’ve seen yet. BV was sorely tempted by the hazelnut offering, whereas I was intrigued by the faux ‘Pesto’ featuring pistachio-flavored ice cream. Unfortunately neither of us was hungry enough to tackle an ice cream mountain that day. Perhaps on the next trip!

‘Schland + Spargel = Tru Luv 4Eva

Ah, spring… the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, the train drivers are striking, and you may want to bring a clothespin if you plan on using a public restroom around here. Why? Because it’s asparagus season, aka, Spargelzeit!

I’ve written about the German love of asparagus before, but since it’s been a while, I thought the time was ripe (vegetable jokes) to post about it again. In the last few weeks, I’ve eaten off of a few local asparagus menus, and seen piles of the white gold at all the markets.

spargel standSorry about the slight blurriness. There was a lot of activity around this stand in the Fürth market, and it was hard to get around all the people trying to get their Spargel fix while simultaneously trying not to drop my cappuccino. Priorities.

If you want more information about the German love of the asparagus, I recommend this excellent post over at Laptops and Lederhosen. After reading that, I realized that my life would not be complete until I have found and feasted upon asparagus ice cream. Who knew?

For my part though, I found the definitive proof that asparagus love is not only timeless, but something that merits being captured and preserved forever. Behold…

spargel portraitNow, some people might say that this is a still life with asparagus. I disagree. I say that this is a portrait of spring’s favorite vegetable.

Thanks to the artist, Carl Schuch, and the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, for making today’s post possible.

And now, I’m off to google recipes for the last thing I ate from the Spargel menu. If I can find it, I shall report back!

Weird and Wacky Wednesday: Mystery Solved

Spend any time in Germany, and you will surely see that many people here have a borderline obsession with coffee and cake. There are so many fantastic kinds of cakes to be found that when I first arrived I used to write a regular post just about eating them. Pass any cafe or restaurant in the afternoon, and you will see people of all ages happily tucking into a plate of something sweet, with the coffee close at hand.

Oddly, I have lots of pictures of coffee, and lots of pictures of cake, but none of the two together. Rest assured that I have enjoyed them both at the same time.

Since cake is almost always a good idea, it’s not too hard to figure out why it’s so popular, but a conversation in one of my classes today alerted me to the fact that there may be another reason for the obsession.

One of my students, P, was reluctantly admitting that he’ll celebrate his 40th birthday this year, and as is typical, he’ll be hosting a sizable party at his house. They’ve already rented a tent, and have also sorted out a party service to do the catering. He’s not sure exactly what they’ll eat yet, but said that of course, they would be having coffee and cake first. Because when people arrive at his house, they will want coffee and cake right away.

His office mate, W, who is a quick with a joke in any language, immediately jumped in on that one.

“Well, P, you know you will be 40 now. And coffee and cake are sex for old men!”

Whether or not this is a well-known theory I cannot say. But next time you’re walking by a cafe and see an older gent enjoying his cake, make sure you don’t stare, lest he be enjoying it too much…

 

Philosophical Tuesday Thoughts

Everyone knows the famous question that wonders: “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Today I was pondering a similar question, and perhaps some of the other English teachers out there can help me out with some answers. My question is: “if you teach lessons in the same room as other English teachers, but the filled up flip chart only has your writing on it, do the other teachers not write anything during their groups?”

I’m filling in for the next few weeks for another teacher while he’s on holiday, which means that I’m working almost full weeks for the first time in months. The first two days went pretty well, but it did leave me with the above question. I wasn’t sure before if this other teacher held classes in the same room that I used or not, and now that I know he does, I’m really confused about the lack of flip chart use. I’ve only been teaching in this company for a few months, and I’ve burned through a lot of empty pages. There’s no wipe board or anything else in the room so I find it all curious. Very curious.

I’ll spare you all pictures of flip charts, and instead leave you with this…

photo(1)

Every other blogger seems to have posts about Fasching/Carnival solidly covered, so I’ll leave you with this picture of my only Fasching-related activity this year. Yes, that’s a (slightly out of focus due to one-handing iPhone photos on a moving train) doughnut filled with Bailey’s. Which was my breakfast this Fat Tuesday morning, because I am a responsible adult.

Hey, fellow English teachers…. help me out with the flip chart question! What’s going on in those classes?