Saturday, May 29, 2010

Our gite' near Vichy, France

Massif Central lives in the heart of France. Though not many people pick this as a tourist destination, is has claimed its name to many famous products. It is the home of Michelin, Perrier, Opinel knives, Charroux's fine mustard made by crushing seeds with a stone mill, stone quarries, lots of cheese and even a lace school.

We were early in the travel season and we could see immediately that this region is not used to many tourists. Nonetheless, we made our way through this beautiful part of France and enjoyed it very much.

We found a gite' on the Internet and booked it through the owner who lives in England. You can go here to see more details on the home we rented for a week. The photo below shows the house. We rented the entire downstairs which will be in the photos.

This was the first television we had seen in over a week. Also during that time, we had no access to newspapers, so we were anxious to catch up on the world news. Luckily, we also had a satellite connected to TV from England which made things a lot easier for us. On a side note, it was fun watching "House" on French TV. I hope the French do not think that all American doctors are like him!

The galley kitchen worked, but we quickly found out that the Trout and I both could not be in the kitchen at the same time. When we come to Europe, we change our habits. We adjust quickly to the 6 hour time change, and our eating habits also change.
No longer do I have my typical bowl of cereal for breakfast. We either drive or walk, depending upon the distance, to the nearest Boulangerie. We buy a bagette for the day and a croissant (plain or chocolate).
I brew a pot of "Carte Noire" my favorite coffee that I have found in France, and we have our breakfast. Depending on what is available, we might have cold cuts and cheese with the bagette, or a wonderful jam or jelly. In Germany, we had a soft-boiled egg each morning.
We then start driving in the direction of the towns for the day. After visiting a town, a church or another attraction, the time is nearing 12 noon. Restaurants only serve lunch between noon and 2 p.m., so you must be watching the clock. We usually have picked the restaurant in advance through reading about it while at home. Our noon dinner usually takes two hours, so after that we start touring again.
It is pretty typical that we get back to our gite' around 5 p.m. The Trout should be commended because he does the travel planning. He finds us a place to stay that is central to where we want to tour and then plans the directions we want to go and still be able to find lunch somewhere and get back home before 6 p.m.
We then relax with a glass of wine and prepare our evening meal which is usually cold cuts, cheese, bread and a bottle of wine. We tend to eat a heavy meal at noon with just a simple glass of wine. French driving laws have no tolerance to driving under the influence. This way, we can eat our evening meal when we want to (before 8 pm.) eat lighter and still enjoy a bottle of wine with no concerns. Sometimes during the day we come upon a market where we can buy a special treat for the evening meal.
Out the window of our gite' we kept seeing these little glass houses with roofs. One evening we walked over to find out that we were looking at the roofs of enclosure over graves in a cemetery. We had never seen anything quite like this and decided it must be a regional tradition.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dining in Alsace

A street like this one, with narrow lanes and a house in the middle makes me love Europe more and more each time. This is so unexpected and so beautiful. Can't you just imagine people walking these streets hundreds of years ago? I can.

But then, this is what the streets look like today and I am sure, a couple of hundred years ago, they also looked like this. Ladies, wear your comfort shoes. No fancy shoes on this street.

Our dear hostess, Lily, prepared us dinner one night and we were impressed. As is typical in France, dinner hour is 8 p.m. Okay, I will admit it....I am usually relaxing and getting ready for bed at this hour of the night. But, when in Rome, or France.... We started with Cremant, an Alsatian sparking wine and warm pretzels out of the oven. Then, one hour later, after chatting with our hosts and the other guests staying in the B and B, we had a lovely lettuce salad and Zwiebel kuchen (onion tart) hot out of the oven. Oh, Yum!!

Then came the main course. Roasted duck breast with pinot noir sauce, haricot verts wrapped in bacon and steamed, half a tomato topped with bread crumbs and herbs and broiled in the oven and gratin potatoes. Everything tasted wonderful, but it was too much food. After all, by this time, we were close to 10 p.m. The 6 of us guests drank two bottles of pinot noir with the meal. Then came the cheese course. Six different cheeses to eat with sliced bagette. We tried a local muenster cheese on which you spooned caraway seeds. Very nice. By the way, these caraway seeds tasted like none I have ever had before. They were vibrant and strong and very, very good.
Then came a pause, a slight pause. Then we were presented with a rhubarb pie with a crisp shell and a light custard on the rhubarb and a beautiful meringue. We finally left the table shortly after 11 p.m. It was so good, but as Americans, we are not used to eating so late in the evening and then...simply going to bed. We were not hungry at breakfast. I wonder why?

But, when I saw this Kugelhopf for breakfast, I could hardly wait to cut into it. In fact, it was still hot out of the oven. So good, so light and the crunchy almonds on the bottom. Yes, I certainly forgot that I was not hungry. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

We are now in Alsace!

This lovely home and our bed and breakfast for three days is in the Alsace region of France. It is named Le Jardin De L'll and is located in Huttenheim. It turned out to be a very delightful experience. Lily, her husband and daughter greeted us and made us feel welcome in their home immediately. Lily speaks a little English and her German is perfect, so we got along just fine.

The picture below shows the entry into the home and peering into the kitchen. I loved it immediately. Lily loves to shop the antique stores and has furnished her home with many finds of the Alsace region of France. See the hearts? I LOVE hearts!! This is why this place grabbed my heart immediately.

The sitting/living home was a delightful gathering place as we awaited breakfast or dinner. Yes, for a price, she cooks a fantastic French dinner for her guests. The Trout and I were enjoying an aperitif of a sparkling wine, Cremant d'Alsace. You know, it is not champagne unless the grapes are grown in the Champagne region of France.

The beautiful old wood furniture, here housing the dishes and glasses for breakfast and dinner. Everything absolutely, perfectly sitting in the right place.

And a picture of the breakfast table. Breads and jams and jellies (notice the 8 jars in the bottom of the picture showing Lilly's homemade jams.) Always something warm from the oven, wonderful coffee in over-sized cups.

We would highly recommend this bed and breakfast for anyone wishing to travel to the Alsace region of France. The hosts are wonderful, the accommodations perfect and the location was good for our travels around the area.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Some thoughts as we leave Germany

Imagine being greeted by this basket of breads for breakfast every morning while in Germany. Those slices of bread in the middle of the basket are rye bread that had just come out of the wood oven. I truly ate more bread in the almost 3 weeks in Europe than I have in the last year. Three times a least!! It was that good.

One afternoon we came back to the farm a little early. Elfriede was a little embarrassed. She was entertaining a group of hikers who had passed through the farm and had reserved with her a little snack for their stop. Little snack was not the wording I would use. It was a downright feast of cold cuts, pickles, breads and beer and schnapps.
She said she usually does not entertain the guests staying with her, only those passing through. But, she invited us in and we quickly downed a kirschwasser (cherry brandy) that is so prevalent in the Black Forest. She then went into her Germanized Minnie Pearl skit. She spoke in rhyme about a country girl going to the big city. It was hilarious but it certainly lost something in the translation. The Trout did not understand it, but was entertained at how heartily everyone was laughing at the entertainment.

This is a very sad statue sitting in the courtyard of the church in Gutach, Germany. The lady is dressed in traditional folk garb and she is mourning the men who died in World War I and II. Most every town has a memorial to the fallen. This one was very striking.

So, one last glass of Riesling wine before we leave Germany.

And, of course, a large beer. We had a wonderful visit with our old friends, ate well, toured well and would highly recommend staying at Joklisbauernhof in Gutach, Germany.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Some folk dancing and some glass blowing

May 1 was a holiday in Germany. We walked to a nearby gathering where the children dressed in costumes danced the local folk dances for us. This precious girl, who had tons of blond curls under that hat, and her mother posed for me. Regretfully, I did not learn her name.

Here is the group of children dancing. It was so cute as they danced to an accordion playing. Notice the little boy on the left with the glasses. He was the show stealer and we quickly found out his name. "Otto" was constantly being reminded by his mother to behave.

Okay, so don't laugh but I was able to scratch something off my bucket list. I have always wanted to get involved in glass blowing. Little did we know as we walked into this glass blowing business, that I would be able to do just that.

Of course, this dear artisan did 98% of the work, but I was able to help shape the glass vase with his guidance. Luckily, I knew enough German to participate.

And here I am, with such a cheeky look on my face, holding my vase (not vaaase) with my certificate. Nothing special, but I did enjoy it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

So what should I eat in Germany?

Oh yes, this picture above is one of the reason we love to travel in Europe in May. White asparagus!!! We walked to our local restaurant in town, "Zum Krone" and ordered the asparagus. We also got two pieces of perfectly cooked pork tenderloin, boiled potatoes and the fresh white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce. A little pricey at 17 euros each, but the time to eat these beautiful spears is short and every restaurant cooks them in every way possible.

These asparagus differ from what we know in America as green asparagus. Why our ancestors did not bring this tradition with them is unknown to me. They are grown differently. You see fields of peaked rows, probably up to 12 inches tall. The asparagus never sees daylight, totally grown underground. Though the spears need peeling before cooking, they are very tender, very sweet and very fabulous. I could eat these every day of my trip and in the past, I almost have. There is a small town near Heidelberg, Germany, where they actually have a festival week where the precious white asparagus is honored. "Spargelfest".

I love the simple salads. Here you see fresh leaf lettuce from the garden, carrots and white radishes, all napped with a pleasant, light vinaigrette.

But, of course, I needed at least one schnitzel dinner. This was served with fried potatoes...very golden potatoes. The potatoes in Germany are also very different than ours. Finally, with the availability of Yukon Gold potatoes, we are getting close to a good flavored potatoes like you find in Europe.

This meal was for two, our friends Dieter and Heidi. A little of everything. Spaetzle, salad, pomme frites, carrots and peas, two fried eggs, potato croquettes (the oval shaped items) and two sausages, two pieces of ham and two pieces of steak. They ate it all and proclaimed how great it was.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Not just an ordinary bed

People sleep differently throughout the world. When in Europe, I tend to always take pictures of beds. The pillows are usually square, very different from American pillows. It has been many years since I have slept under such a deep feather bed. Actually, it is a down comforter. The feather bed is something you lie upon. This bed was in the same B and B I talked about yesterday. The comforter had to be at least 24 inches deep. I felt like a little duck, all tucked in. Only a bottom sheet on the mattress which was comfortable, but very hard. One King sized headboard and two twin mattresses side-by-side.
I was all tucked in, feeling rather ducky and cozy. It only took about 3 hours and I woke up and the only words coming to mind were, "the goose is cooked!" I was near explosion stage, so warm. So, I opened up my down nest and immediately became cold. And so it was for the rest of the night.
We lived on the economy in 1968-69 in Germany. That means, the American government was not housing us, we were renting from German civilians. Our bedroom did not have any heat, just a bed similar to this. During that cold German winter, I never complained about how warm the down was. Getting up in the morning was another problem though.
This bed above was in the B and B in Alsace, France that we rented. I will write more about this delightful place later. Believe me, you will also want to visit this one. No down here, but a very heavy, thick comforter. Again, the square pillows.

I have slept on these sheets before. In 2005, we stayed in this B and B/gite in Burgundy, France. Veronique, our hostess, told us she had special ordered these sheets from Paris. Since these are colors I love, would you believe I have been surfacing the Internet for the last 5 years, searching for these sheets? No luck. We spent one night here again and I was actually checking the labels on the sheets again. No clues.

So, this was a quick visit through the bedrooms of Europe. The comforters are usually hung out the windows in the morning and then replaced on the beds later in the day. Since there are no screens on the windows, this is an easy way to freshen the bed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It is bread baking day in the Black Forest

We are in Joklisbauern Hof in Gutach, Germany. This is at the edge of the Black Forest, near the French border. We were fortunate to stay in this farm B and B on bread baking day. Not really keeping count, they said they bake over 100 loaves of white and rye bread every Friday.

The town folk can see the smoke from the wood oven and several hours later, the bread smell starts wafting into town.

At 6 a.m. the first batch is started in the kitchen. A large professional mixer is rolled into the center of the kitchen. It does the mixing and the kneading. After enough proofing time, loaves are formed and left to rest on long boards in the kitchen.

During this time, Martin has built a wood fire in the oven where his father and grandfather also baked bread. The coals are then moved to each side of the large oven, excess is scraped out and the stove is brushed clean with a large, wet brush. The water also helps to provide steam which makes a crackly crust.

This is definitely a two man (woman) job. Martin and Elfriede carry the loaves out of the house and into the small oven room. Notice, Elfriede is smiling. She smiles constantly.
Metal pegs protrude out of the stone wall in the oven room where the heavy bread laden boards are laid. Can you see some of the loaves just drooping off the board?

Elfiede gives each loaf a gentle pat and reshaping as Martin shoves the loaves to the back of the oven. He uses a thermometer which he holds to the opening of the oven and gets an immediate 184 degrees C. "Perfect" he says. That is approximately 365 degrees F. Every 15 minutes thereafter, he turns each loaf to let it bake evenly, otherwise one side will blacken too much. The loaves bake for one hour. They bake three batches like this every Friday.

He bakes 1 kg loaves which he sells for 1.8 euro. The 2 kg loaves sell for 2.5 euro. All day, cars arrive to buy the bread. Just guess who was first at the breakfast table when the warm loaves came out of the oven. "Perfect", I say, "perfect." The rich farm butter just slid off the crusty bread.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A friendship is reunited again!

Our friends Dieter and Heidi from Germany
left to right-- Susan, Dieter, Heidi and The Trout
In 1978, we were living in Coldwater, Michigan. We had a Sister city program with Soltau, Germany. We got involved immediately. After living in Heidelberg, Germany, 1968-1969, we had developed a real love for the people of Germany. The fact that I learned to speak German before English was just an added bonus.

In 1978, we hosted Dieter and Heidemarie in our home when Soltau came to the USA. We had lots of fun and we started a good relationship. In 1979, The Trout and I traveled to Germany and stayed in Dieter and Heidi's home. There were several more visits back and forth and phone calls on birthdays and always, always, a call from Germany at 5 p.m. Christmas Eve.

Though Dieter does not have a great love for the Internet, we do correspond this way and Skype each other also. It is still easier for them to phone us. This past Christmas Eve, we told them about our plans to spend 3 days in the Black Forest of Germany. Immediately they responded that they would like to meet us there. And so the plans began.

We found a bed and breakfast in Gutach, Germany, in the Black Forest, named Joklisbauren Hof. I will speak of this wonderful place in my next blog.

The Trout and I landed in Paris, went through customs and caught the TGV, the bullet train, right at Charles de Gaulle airport and headed for Strasbourg, France. There we rented a car and drove for just a few hours and arrived at the farm where we were staying for 3 fun days. Ten minutes later, our friends from northern Germany arrived by car. It was quite the reunion, blessed with a toast of beer which was very appreciated for our parched throats. We caught up right where we left off after seeing them the last time in 2001.

We had 3 days of sightseeing and eating meals together. My talks with Heidi revealed how much we had matured since our first meeting 32 years ago. We have two daughters and they have a son and our children are all married now. We compared those growing up years, retirement, and just living each day with fun and laughter.

Of all the great experiences in this world, my favorite, by far, will always be reunions. I love meeting with old friends and reconnecting. Tomorrow I will tell you about some of good things that happened while in the Black Forest.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The search is over for now!

We are back in the states after an interesting trip. One of my greatest thrills was finding the door knocker I was looking for. It is not exactly what I wanted, but the price was right and I am liking it more and more.

We were driving through a little town in France, St. Jean d'Heurs, when we saw lots of crowds gathering. We knew right away it was an outdoor flea market. We parked the car and decided to take a chance. After a long walk, we arrived at tables set up selling everything from old shoes to fine crystal and furniture. Believe me, for a moment I forgot that I was flying home and could not possibly take all I wanted with me.

We had just decided to give up looking when we took one more turn and there they were, two of these door knockers. One was very, very old, very heavy and corroded with black and slightly damaged. It had a big price tag of 160 euros. Next to it lay this delicate hand. It was certainly not as old, but I thought it was lovely. The price was 35 euros and we bought it for 28.

We kept looking everywhere we went, but did not find anymore. I decided I will not stop looking. This just might be the start of a collection. I have plans to mount it on a piece of wood to hang in our home.

We hand carried it home and it caused security at the airport to open our luggage twice to see what we were carrying. I suppose on x-ray, it looked like a hand grenade. One security agent actually admired it.

As the volcano in Iceland is starting to erupt again, I am glad we are back in the states. I have many stories and so many pictures. I will need to get organized and put our adventures into type.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bon Jour

All is well in France. Weather has been cold and lots of rain. Even had some snow yesterday. Better today. Food is wonderful and have many stories to tell. Until later....