Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Schönbuch

Behind our town, there is a large forested park that we've mentioned in some earlier posts, called the Schönbuch. We can be in that forest in less than five minutes from our house. There are scores of biking, hiking and walking trails that crisscross the park. We often take Gizmo for a walk along a path that's between our town and the forest.  It winds along the edge of a shallow valley just before the start of the park where a small creek runs through it.  

While walking along that path, we've seen foxes, hedgehogs, hawks, woodpeckers, colorful song birds, goats, apple trees, plumb trees, name-your-berry trees/bushes, as well as wildflowers we've never seen before.  We've maybe explored 5% of the park, so we have our work cut out for us.  

The picture immediately below shows Lori walking her bike up the opposite side of the valley with our town in the background.  The hill was much steeper than the picture depicts.  We were on our way to a biergarten, one of several that are in the Schönbuch.  People walk, hike, ride their bikes and drive to this biergarten.  The second picture shows us eating at the place and enjoying some nice beer.  It's a pretty big seating area, all shaded and deep within the woods.  It's a very family friendly place, complete with a big playground even.  So, German families come there and spend their afternoon eating cheaply and drinking good beer.



Lori's eating curry wurst.
 
The path near our home; early morning.


The valley with the the Schonbuch just beyond

Just after sunrise

The last part of most of our walks: steep stairs up the hill behind our house

The south side (opposite end from us) of the Schonbuch.  Sitting at a converted castle enjoying drinks

Took with my Iphone.  Random patch of sunflowers

Stairs into the valley

Wildflowers with our town in the background

Red Slug (Arion rufus)

More wildflowers.  The creek is behind the trees on the right

Beautiful flowering tree



Saturday, August 18, 2012

My German Kitchen


I love food.  I love to eat it, read about it, talk about it, smell it, watch TV about it and most of all, cook it.  I’m getting used to my German kitchen, but it definitely took some adjusting.  This is what my oven control looks like.  Google translate wasn’t much help here, but I think I've kind of got it figured out! 

  
One of my favorite things about traveling is trying and being inspired by different kinds of food.  It has also been a lot of fun trying out new things from the German grocery stores.  I can pretty much tell what most of the stuff is, but being able to read labels and nutrition information is a luxury at the commissary! 

We’ve been here in Germany now almost four months.  (One of those months was spent in a hotel room and eating out!)  People have asked me what I’ve been up to while Kyle’s at work.  (I’m not going to be a bum forever; I’m just enjoying my summer!  Teachers get used to those summers!)  I’ve been our own personal travel agent.  Right now I’m planning for our Mediterranean cruise that leaves in just over a week!  I’ve been a handy woman spiffing up our house.  I’ve been a gardener taking care of our yard that was forsaken for probably many years before we came to its rescue.  I’m a very good personal shopper, making sure we fit in with the Germans.  I'm Gizmo's dog-walker.   My favorite job (I guess hobby is more like it) that I’ve had this summer is cooking.

I did plenty of cooking back in Maryland.  We had a homemade dinner and leftovers to take to work for lunch everyday.  However, while you’re working full time with a 30-45 minute commute, you don’t always have the time or energy to create what you’re capable of.  Time has been on my side this summer in the cooking department.  I’ve loved having the time to browse my cooking magazines and old cookbooks, foodie blogs, Pinterest, and my favorite cooking websites for ideas and inspiration.  Here are some of the things I’ve cooked this past week. 

Ratatouille is a delicious and nutritious way to enjoy fresh summer vegetables.  You can pretty much use whatever vegetables you have on hand.  It sounds kind of fancy, but it’s super easy.  We ate it over zucchini cakes and with some fresh bruschetta over toasted bread cubes.  It makes a lot, but if you have tons left over, throw it in a blender to make pasta sauce for tomorrow night’s dinner.

Ratatouille

 This dinner was inspired by my Kona Brewery Koko Brown beer that I’ve been craving all summer and found in London.  I was saving the beer to drink with the perfect, grilled, summer meal and I was not disappointed.  We had hickory smoked chimichurri pork chops with grilled butternut squash, skewered pineapple and onions, and steamed broccoli.  I’m now obsessed with chimichurri.  If you’re tired of pesto, try chimichurri instead!  (Just make sure your significant other eats it also-TONS of garlic!)

Chimichurri chops

 Chana masala is an Indian dish that is savory and smells amazing when it’s simmering with all of the different spices.  It’s kind of like chicken tikka masala using chick peas instead of chicken.  The sauce is tomato based and is a bit lighter and fresher than chicken tikka.  We ate ours over cous cous with roasted vegetables.  (I love roasted vegetables.  Name a vegetable and tell me that it doesn’t taste better roasted.)

Chana Masala

This chicken is about as easy as it gets.  It's called "Please Your Man Chicken" and I found it on Pinterest. It would be great for an easy weeknight dinner.  It’s boneless, skinless, chicken thighs baked in Dijon mustard, maple syrup, and a little vinegar topped with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand.  It’s really delicious and sooooo easy.  Alongside the chicken we had sautéed zucchini and sweet potato cakes.  I was tired of the usual ways that we eat sweet potatoes so I came up with the cakes.  Just bake the potatoes, peel and mash them, add some flour, butter and an egg and whatever seasonings you like.  (I used a little brown sugar, cinnamon, ground chipotle, and a sprinkle of salt.)  Then throw them in a skillet just like you would a pancake.  They would also be good as breakfast pancakes with maple syrup, raisins, and toasted pecans (minus the chipotle of course).  

Please Your Man Chicken.  It did please my man, and me!

  Sometimes you just want old fashioned American cook out food.  I saw a TV program on Netflix that showed the best sandwiches in America.  One of the sandwiches was a burger from Atlanta that I couldn’t stop thinking about.  That means it’s time to get out the charcoal!  I cooked the whole meal outside on the grill with a cold beer in my hand.  (I love summer!)  With our burgers we had potato and onion packets and corn on the cob.  Simple, delicious, comfort food.

That is a tasty burger!
German "American" Buns

If you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself.  That’s definitely true when it comes to Mexican food in Germany.  When I have a craving, it usually has something to do with Mexican food.  The Mexican food we’ve had here is not up to par, so I make it myself.   Last week I made shredded pork tacos with rice and Mexican street corn, so our fix for this week was chicken tortilla soup.  (I know, it’s probably more Tex-Mex, but it’s still sooo good!)  Half of the goodness of chicken tortilla soup is all of the toppings- cheese, avocado, sour cream, tortilla strips, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.  I can’t have avocados, lime, and cilantro in the house without making fresh guacamole, so it went right along with the soup.  Mmmmm mmmmm good.  

Chicken Tortilla Soup

 If you’ve made it this far you must be a fellow foodie!  Let me know if you want any of the recipes.  Thanks for reading.  Happy eating!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stuttgart's World War II Legacy

Stuttgart's city center destroyed by Allied bombs (http://www.macalester.edu)
                                    


You can't be in Germany and not think about the effect the war had on this country and its people.  It seems to me that the German people still very much have a suffocating guilt that they are still dealing with.  Very few people are alive today that had anything to do with the war, but one's parents' or grandparents' generation is not that far off.

When doing our various tours around Germany, we see countless memorials and, let's call them "caveats."  What I mean by that is, we'll walk through a beautifully historic town center that begs one to believe that you're taking an authentic glimpse into the deep past and what you're seeing is quite similar to what people saw hundreds of years ago.  The truth is, nearly every medium-to-large city in Germany was severely damaged, if not completely annihilated, by the war.  Thus, much of what tourists see are carefully rebuilt replicas of what city centers used to look like, pre-war.

Some cities, like Frankfurt, decided to "embrace the future" and build modern.  Others decided to harken back to a better and more romantic time and thus rebuilt their cities in the medieval, Gothic or baroque styles.  However, this is not to say that 100% of Germany was destroyed.  Thousands of historic sites escaped the war unscathed, specifically castles, because they're often found on remote hillsides and were never actively targeted by the Allies.

As for Stuttgart, there was no such luck for it's residents.  The city experienced 53 air raids culminating in 142,000 air-dropped bombs, 4,590 deaths with15 million cubic meters of rubble left in their wake.  Something that most people may not think about is, what did they do with all that rubble and debris?  Well, Lori and I saw Stuttgart's solution to that problem today: they created a gigantic man-made hill.  The tallest point in Stuttgart is a hill largely made of rubble, piled up from the city below.  The original hill grew by 40 meters (131 feet) from the debris.  Today, it's a park that you can walk up, which offers some of the best views of the city.  Crowning the peak is a steel cross with large pieces of building facades surrounding it.  It's quite eerie and felt very solemn.  There's a plaque attached to one piece of rubble (picture below) which roughly translates as "this mountain piled up after World War II from the rubble of the city stands as a memorial to the victims and a warning to the living."  

Almost to the top; the steel memorial cross

Pieces of building facades

A warning and a memorial

More rubble

Whole columns, decorative facades and the like

Steel beams form a cross atop the hill

Outstretched wings mimic the cross

Nearly half of Stuttgart was completely destroyed



On a more cheery note, we ventured over to a large city park that simply blew us away.  It had all the elements of a perfect city gathering place.  Amazing playgrounds and a petting zoo, complete with llamas, pigs, goats, ponies, and donkeys.  Meanwhile, several large ponds/lakes had a wide array of ducks, geese and even flamingos!  Germany definitely knows how to do parks!

Little train making its way through a park paradise


Pretty flowers and a pretty lady!

I guess I like taking bee pictures now

Espresso with a view

A climbable tower in the park

Flamingos in a city park!

Stretching the wings

There were several flower gardens throughout the park

Shy donkey




Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Little Eden

A few days ago, Lori and I visited the small village of Bebenhausen (population 347) located in the middle of the Schönbuch forest--no more than 15 minutes from our house.  It was founded in 1183 and served as the home for William II of Württemberg, who died in 1927. 

Lori and I couldn't believe people actually live there.  It's essentially a  large residential garden-paradise surrounded by beautiful, tall, mature trees (Schönbuch forest).  The prominent feature of the village is the former Bebenhausen Abbey, a Cistercian monastery built the same year the village was founded.  It appears to be a museum now (we didn't pay to go in).

View of the village, with the  Bebenhausen Abbey and Castle rising above the trees

Inside a courtyard of the castle/abbey


An apple tree and castle tower

As we walked around the village we were dumbfounded by the beautiful quaintness of the mini-gardens, stone streets, and the calm, quiet atmosphere.

Perfectly manicured yards surrounded by pastoral fields and forest



They're growing GRAPES on their house...amazing!

An Eden within an Eden

That archway is almost certainly older than the United States



We took a path away from the village and crossed into a "wildlife zone" whereby they have fenced significant acreage within the forest to serve as a protected area for animals.  Here's the gate:


Finally, we decided to drive to one of the lakes within the Schönbuch.  After passing through another beautiful town, we parked and walked on a makeshift path along the Neckar River until we got to the lake.  People were out fishing and swimming--it was a perfect weather.

Gizmo leads the way on the path to the lake

The Neckar River.  Do you see the two swans?

An old man, wearing nice clothes, fishing in an alcove that we stumbled upon.

While walking back through the tree lined path along the lake, we had a very strong reminder that we indeed are not in the USA.  The path was very narrow and somewhat muddy, thus if someone on a bike came, you had to step aside to let them pass.  Well, a bicyclist was approaching so I told Lori "head's up," and I'm sorry I did, because the guy was completely nude.  The smiling, naked man said, "Danke!" as he rode by Lori, Gizmo and I; our jaws dropped.  We got a good laugh out of that...  But we also learned to never borrow a German's bicycle.