Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

It’s a German Thing: Glühwein

Homemade Glühwein and Zimtsterne (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Every country that suffers from a dearth of winter daylight and an overabundance of ice has a favorite hot and alcoholic drink to get its residents through to warmer months. The Swedish have Glogg, the English mulled wine, and I’m sure somebody else has something (who gets the hot toddy?). In Germany, no December is complete without a few too many mugs of Glühwein clutched in a gloved hand and tightly held against the jostle of the Christmas market crowd.

On that note, no December in Berlin is complete without multiple visits to each of the different markets, effused with the scent of candied almonds and grilled bratwursts spitting fat. Each has its own character – Gendarmenmarkt is always overly packed, but you’ve got that post-Christmas-shopping vibe inspiring you to purchase just another bag of Baumkuchen bites. The market at Schloss Charlottenburg is expansive and twisting, filled with people selling suckling pig and potato pancakes, custom jewelry and chocolate-covered fruit. There, the Glühwein bar is a giant wooden windmill, one of those classic German Christmas decorations where the heat of candles sends the manger scene spinning.

Rixdorf feels like a neighborhood market where your friends are selling arts and crafts, while the market at Alexanderplatz is full of bored-looking vendors pouring just another glass of swill to the tourists who’ll be charmed by anything. This year, I even made it to the market in Braunschweig, where the Glühwein is served with a shot of Mumme, a thick malt extract that tempers the sugar.

Christmas tree (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Orange slices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Christmas amaryllis (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Gingersnaps (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Glühwein accoutrements (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This year, I made Glühwein at home for the first time – and wondered why I’d never done it before. There’s something so wonderful about a pot of hot beverage perfuming the kitchen with spice while you stand at the counter rolling out dough for Zimtsterne – German Christmas cookies rich with cinnamon and almond and glazed with meringue – then taking your Glühwein to the living room and stretching out on the carpet in front of the little, live tree to write Christmas cards, even though you said you weren’t going to write any this year. » Continue reading this post…

On Lost Knowledge

Homemade bread and strawberry-rhubarb jam (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Not long ago, while visiting family down south in the lush, low mountains of Germany, I spotted a cluster of sweet woodruff in the woods. The ground was covered with it, bright green fans of star-shaped leaves bursting with clusters of tiny white flowers. I plucked a leaf and crushed it between my fingers, inhaling its herbal scent, then snapped it up between my teeth, surprised by the tingly punch of cinnamon that pricked my tongue. It was then I remembered something about woodruff’s toxicity – the coumarin that lends it its sweet, grassy fragrance is also moderately toxic to the liver and kidneys. And I couldn’t quite remember if fresh woodruff was one of those things you weren’t supposed to eat. So I spat out the remnants of crushed leaves, still feeling the warm prickle on my tongue. Mother, I promise someday to stop putting unidentified foods from the woods in my mouth.

Processing pine shoots to make honey (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making "Tannenspitzenhonig" (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sweet woodruff – or Waldmeister, as it is known in Germany – had been on my mind since sampling a craft-brewed Berliner Weisse topped off with a cap of woodruff syrup the marshy color of a toad’s back.

A sour, cloudy white beer, Berliner Weisse is mainly a summer beverage, and people in Berlin drink it doused with a too-generous shot of garish-colored syrup. Red is for raspberry and green is for Waldmeister, but both taste the same – loud, sugary, and thick. The drink has fallen out of favor, especially with the younger generation. It’s too artificial for our coolly understated tastes. And so I was surprised – but maybe not too surprised – to find a stand at a local craft spirits festival serving the “real” stuff: Brewbaker Berliner Weisse with home-brewed sweet woodruff syrup.

It was nothing like its neon twin – a backwoods relative who scoops the potato salad out by hand at the family picnic. » Continue reading this post…

On a German Christmas Market

Christmas market in Braunschweig (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There is little quite so lovely as wandering beneath boughs of evergreen with a sack full of chestnuts warming your hand as the smell of powdered sugar and melted butter mingles with pine sap and spice.

The Christmas market is a beautiful thing, a little glow of warmth and good cheer in the bleak midwinter. The crowd jostles along, surprisingly friendly in the crush. It must be the Glühwein – warm wine mulled with citrus and spice – that everyone drinks from tiny, commemorative mugs. Each stand has its own – a little brown boot, a red mug tiered like a whirling advent tower – that people love to pocket at the end of the night, considering the transaction paid for with their two euro deposit.

Spanferkel in a Mumme-roll (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Evergreen huts at the Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Mumme-Glühwein (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here in Braunschweig, they serve a special kind of Glühwein laced with Mumme, a malty extract that started its life as a sailor’s beer but today is mostly non-alcoholic in its uses. A shot added to Glühwein deepens the fruity sweetness with aroma, an invigoratingly dark swirl of flavor and warmth.

At the Mumme stand, they also serve Mumme beer and Mumme-baked rolls heaped with freshly-sliced Spanferkel – suckling pig slowly roasted until the meat is juicy and tender with fat that melts on your tongue like caramels and crisp, salty crackling. We top it off with Mumme-honey mustard and eat it standing up at packed wooden tables, where we wipe our grease-slicked mouths with paper napkins and wash all that goodness down with slugs of hot Glühwein that burns our tongues.

A German Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Christmas sausages (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But there’s more to the market than Mumme. There are tiny poffertjes, buttery, puffy pancakes made with buckwheat and yeast and sprinkled with powdered sugar. There’s a stand selling Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce and rosemary-roasted new potatoes. » Continue reading this post…

How to Make Your Own Oktoberfest, and a Recipe for: Obatzda

Make your own Oktoberfest (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

While Munich’s Oktoberfest days are drawing to a close, there’s no one to tell you, in whatever corner of the world you find yourself, that you can’t keep the dream alive. Here’s how to make your own Oktoberfest, in 10 easy steps.

What you’ll need:

1. Bavarian blue and white
Everywhere in Munich, and especially at this time of year, the city is decked out in blue and white checkers (officially, the pattern is called lozenge, but who knew lozenges were anything other than cough drops?). The Bavarian flag is hung with pride from shop windows and buildings; it adorns tablecloths, t-shirts, take-home trinkets, napkins, and nearly everything else you can stamp with a pattern.

Freshly-baked pretzels (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

2. Communal tables
For your backyard Oktoberfest, set up long, communal tables to recreate the feeling of being in one of the tents on the Wies’n. People are continually coming and going from the beer gardens and tents, which are always packed. You’re lucky to find a seat at all, so when you do, you don’t waste any time cozying up to your neighbors. The real bonds are forged over table-wide toasts and loud sing-alongs to everyone’s favorite Schlager hits.

3. Schlager pop
Speaking of music: Your Oktoberfest playlist should start with some soft brass oom-pa-pa and slowly move into the best of German schlager pop with a little John Denver thrown in for good measure. Helene Fischer’s “Atemlos durch die Nacht” is a must, but that’s not to say that last year’s German summer hit “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” isn’t a perfectly good follow up.

Stack of pretzels (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Oktoberfest breakfast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

4. Weißwurst
Ok. Here comes the good stuff: the food. Weißwurst, literally “white sausage” is… wait for it… a white sausage made from minced veal and porkback bacon flavored with parsley, lemon, mace, onions, ginger, and cardamom. » Continue reading this post…

How to Be a German-American

Toast with leberwurst (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Tacos (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For lunch, make slices of toast from dark bread crunchy with seeds and grains then top it with fresh leberwurst and thin slips of yellow onion, cracked black pepper and coarse salt. For lunch the next day, make tacos on corn tortillas loaded up with limey guacamole, habanero, red onion and corn salsa, sour cream and ripe, red tomatoes.

Never lean too much one way or too much the other. Love butter with cheese. Love brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts.

Live in both lands and languages, never mind being better at one or the other.

Know how to whip up the dough for spätzle and how to press it into boiling water, waiting for the little gnarled noodles to bob up to the surface. Sweep them out with a slotted spoon. Know that the secret to spätzle is to fry them up in a buttered pan with cheese until the knobs sport caramel-colored scabs that crunch between your teeth. Know the warmth of eating at on old wooden table with a knit beige cloth and chipped, flower-printed plates. » Continue reading this post…

My Mother and I Bake Christmas Cookies and Eat Them All: Springerle

Springerle (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

“Does the recipe say to knead that? Don’t need knead that,” says my mom as I stand at the kitchen counter, kneading. We are baking Christmas cookies.

“Oh, and spread flour on the bottom of that baking sheet or else the Springerle will stick. The recipe doesn’t mention that.” I wonder what we’re using the recipe for.

My mother is one of the best cooks I know, and every year at Christmas, she makes mounds of delicious cookies we nibble on for days. Each time we make a new batch, she opens up a butter and molasses spackled cook book, gritty with years of sugar, and though we look at the recipe, it seems to be more of a token, or a spirit guide, than rules we need to follow.

Springerle blocks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Basket of flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My favorite cookies are the chewy gingersnaps dunked in glasses full of cold milk, but there are also dark, spicy Lebkuchen, crumbly vanilla half-moons and anise-flavored Springerle.

Without a milk bath, Springerle are very hard cookies. When I was younger, I used to pretend it was hard tack and that I was a sailor or an early settler, trekking through snow to find winter berries and herbs for my sparse country kitchen. I didn’t actually like the taste of Springerle – less sugary than the other Christmas cookies and with a funny licorice taste. Springerle have a very grownup flavor profile, and as an adult, I’ve come to love the soft anise aroma and slight sweetness. » Continue reading this post…

Frühstück and Vespern: Friedel’s Fleischsalat

Laugenbretzel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My verbal skills are now thoroughly mangled. I’m thinking in three languages, navigating through two cultures, and working my way through something like six time zones. So I’m confused, mostly. All I can say for certain is that my family is keeping me regularly caffeinated and fed (and caffeinated) and that they forgive me for whatever errors my German may contain.

Since joining up with them in the rural south of Germany, I’ve been playing a fun game called, “Can I Say This in Schwäbisch,” in which I say a sentence out loud and then in my head try to sound it out in the garbled southern dialect (the aforementioned third language) my family speaks. Say: Meine Sprache ist ganz durch einander. Think: Moi Sprach ist hey. The result is that I speak a very strange German: either correct, crisp high-German pronunciation with a rolling Southern inflection or the reverse – as if an inhabitant from the Pacific northwest were to cleanly articulate the sentence, “That ain’t nohow the way to go ‘bout it.”

As I speak and eat my way through the week, I’m working out a theory that culturally, the difference between Americans and Germans is a principle of curves and edges. Lets assume that we evolve angularly against our environments in order to navigate them, that in the yin-yang of the universe, there must always be a balance between curves and lines. In this sense, the Americans are outwardly round and inwardly straight and the Germans are outwardly straight and inwardly round.

Pretend I’m not totally jet-lagged and work with me. American culture is loud and big and comfortable. Americans are easy to get to know, are chatty and open. Advertising is seductive and billboards are filled with colors, scripted font, pictures, and sequins. Yet Americans themselves are inwardly direct and goal-oriented, good at general friendships but wary of vulnerability, in relationships less earnest than flippant. » Continue reading this post…

Eating in German: Schwabian Potato Salad

Opa on the Eichland (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I grew up speaking in German, and I grew up eating anything but. Schnitzel, sauerkraut, bratwurst? Never. If it was puddled in butter, wrapped in gravy, or leaking grease, my mother did not make it. I remember her once exclaiming about German food, “It’s all so heavy! They even cook the peas in cream!” So I grew up eating couscous and bulgur, slow-cooked stews, stir-fry, and salmon. But not a single Spätzle graced our table.

This was all ok with me. My father is from Germany, so my rare cravings for Würstchen and Läberkäs were satisfied on our trips to the country every two years or so. And while my brothers seemed never to get enough schnitzel (seriously, never enough), I was maxed out on potatoes by day three.

Still, some of my strongest (and fondest) childhood memories center around German food. My grandfather owns a piece of property on the Schwäbische Alb, a low mountain range in the South of Germany comparable to the weathered Appalachians. Every available Pfister would gather, and we’d have a bonfire and roast as many types of wurst as Aldi and Lidl had on sale.

There would be loaves of fresh, crusty bread, potato salad done in the German style with vinegar, oil, salt, Kräutersalz, and onion, Fleishsalat (strips of bologna mixed with mayonnaise, gouda, eggs, and pickle), cucumber salad, and beer – lots of beer. For the kids, there was süsser Sprudel and gelber Sprudel, both sweetened types of seltzer water.

Eichland Eating (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The grown ups would sit around the fire and gossip, while we cousins ran around the woods building houses out of bark, moss, and small stones for elves or catching crickets in the sunny neighboring field. Bocce ball was popular with everyone, and for some inexplicable reason, the kids fought over the right to mow the lawn with a rickety, unmotorized push-mower with scissoring blades. » Continue reading this post…

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