Death by Dessert, or How to Watch the World Cup On the Border

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We became pretty solid soccer fans while living in Germany, especially around World Cup time, so on our recent return trip, we were psyched to watch games with our German friends.

For the U.S. v. Germany game, though, we were on our own in France. We planned the whole evening around the game, which aired at 6 p.m. in that time zone.

It was also the only night we could eat at the local Michelin-starred restaurant—and the night they serve a very reasonable prix-fixe menu. So we made a late reservation to fit in both, planning to watch the game at our B & B.

Gourmet Salad

We’d biked 15 miles that day (a lot for us), and I planned to take a shower during half time.

One big problem. After the pre-game commentator chatter, the screen went blank with a message that said something like: “This game is not authorized to be shown in this region.” We flipped around, hoping another station would carry it, but the only game on was the other World Cup match happening at the same time.

Luckily, we were staying right near the German border, so I took a 3 minute shower, hopped into a dress, and we loaded up and drove to the ferry to cross the Rhine. On the other side, my husband knocked on restaurant doors until we found one with public viewing in its little bar area.

The one long table was full of retiree-aged tennis table club members, and the only free seats were at the front with a mustachioed man who’d already had a few too many beers.

He was friendly, though, and when he found out we were American, he told us over and over how much he loved Americans and how the best possible outcome for the game would be a 1-1 tie. He reminded us many times (a few too many) that the German coach and the American team coach (also German) were best friends and how they would both want this.

If you were watching, too, you know the Americans actually lost 0-1. We were disappointed, but after the game, everyone (except the kids) was treated to house-made pear Schnapps while the table tennis team sang the German victory song (is there a name for this?). Everyone was very friendly, and when it was over, we thanked our hosts and dashed back across the river to make our 8:30 reservation.

The restaurant was lovely, with a view to a garden and a stream. The noise level was nearly silent, but our kids were completely awesome and went with the flow.

We opted for the prix-fixe menu and added on the “Festival of Desserts,” which sounded perfect. We envisioned a dessert sampler.

First course (salad above) was great, second course (some kind of meat pie) was amazing. Meanwhile the service was first-rate. Our hostess made sure to graciously inform us when we were missing something, i.e. “You can actually eat those flowers,” and, “Those table decorations are actually pretzels” (in the first photo, the rock-looking things behind the ceramic elves).

Here’s the cheese table, from which we could choose what we liked.

Cheese Course

And then the desserts started. First, a platter of teeny tiny cookies of many kinds. Then, a pastry with gelato. Another pastry with gelato. Another….we were losing count.

French dessert

Surely the cookies had counted as dessert #1. There were supposed to be five desserts in total. Surely the gelato counted for one and the pastry counted for another, right? Wrong. The desserts kept coming, and we slowed down so much that we started getting two at once. The cookies hadn’t even counted as part of the five.

Gourmet dessert

Not only that, but the kids had gotten (included) a dessert of their own, so they couldn’t help us out so much. Still, we were determined to do our duty and eat every bite. On top of the five desserts + cookies + cheese course, there was a tiny truffle course where we could choose our own adventure. How could we say no?

At one point I said, “If they bring another dessert, I’m going to cry,” and we all started laughing, on the verge of breaking the Code of Near-Silence.

Finally we ate our way through the last plate, now having finished enough dessert for about ten people. The last plate was probably my favorite, some kind of cherry cake (pictured above). We rolled out, giggling to ourselves.

My son said the other day, “Let’s never take the circus of desserts next time.” Amen. Maybe just 1/10 of it.

Below is a picture of one of the children’s desserts.

Ice Cream Rabbit

And in case you’re wondering yes, I threw the whole gluten-free eating thing out the window that week. I paid for it the next week, but it was well worth it!

 

 

Cycling in Alsace

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Since we were already in Germany visiting friends in June, we decided we might as well stay a little longer and do some exploring. Yep, I know we are incredibly lucky to be able to do it, and I’m very grateful.

The theme to this side-trip was something like “Easy Biking and Eating in a Pretty Place within Driving Distance from Hannover.” I had this dream of one of those tours where they move your luggage from spot to spot, but none of those were really very kid-friendly. The Alsace region of France fit the bill for a DIY version. My French is completely rustig, so it was very nice to be able to speak German. (Sorry France, I do love French—I just need a refresher course!). Alsace is that part of France that was once part of Germany, then France, then Germany, now France.

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Since it had to be easy biking, I went for the flattest part of Alsace, which happens to be right next to the Rhine river, just at the border to Germany. I found a family apartment near Rhinau, and we could borrow adult bikes for free. Kid bikes we rented from the nearby tourist office. I have to say France does a great job with its tourist offices—-very handily placed and staffed.

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Oh, btw, in case you didn’t know, that is NOT the Rhine in the above picture. That would be a canal.

Not having a bike rack made for some logistical challenges, but still, we managed to get in a couple of days of nice long (for us) rides in between the eating and the castle-viewing. We stayed in the same spot each night and just turned around when we’d had enough.

We may also have been dragged to  taken a day to visit Europa Park, an amusement park everyone kept talking up to our kids, despite our gestures to keep mum (thanks a lot, folks!).

Picnicking on bike rides was a highlight, though we could rarely manage to get very far without eating everything up. The kids did great, though.

Another highlight: riding the ferry (free to all) back and forth over the Rhine.

Rhine Ferry Crossing

I’d love to do a longer (mile-wise) trip sometime and cover more ground. I like being able to ride from town to town—-something so cool about that. Speaking of which, there are plans in the works for a cross-town urban bike trail (including joining up some existing trails) in the Charlotte area, and I couldn’t be more excited.

In case you missed the bit about the first part of this trip, click here.

Currently reading: Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? She has such a fabulous voice.

What about you? What have you been up to? We were just visiting with family (in the U.S.) and are now home again.

Oaxaca, Mexico: Architecture

Oaxaca street

So, in my last post I showed you some food from our trip to Oaxaca, and here I wanted to show you a little of the town and surroundings. Excuse me if I’m a little picture happy. It was hard to choose.

Above is a street in Oaxaca, to give you an idea of the town. This street happens to be a pedestrian only zone, though I guess bench-sitters get a pass, too. Hey, if I could sit on a comfy pink bench on this street right now, I would.

Below is the Santo Domingo church. Georgeous. Love the landscaping out front, too.

Santo Domingo church, Oaxaca

And I’ve fallen hard for the church’s stone walls. The subtle color variations (and size variations, which you can see less well) are making me so, so happy. I think I’m going to have to use that colorway and grid pattern somewhere.

Stone Block Wall

Up next, a convent-turned-hotel. The walls are literally three feet thick. It’s a total dream. I have a thing for thick walls and courtyard gardens.

Convent hotel

Here and there, on the former convent walls, you’ll see little bits of painting:

Floral border

Wall painting

Rose painting

And lastly, just outside Oaxaca are the pyramids of Monte Alban. From the top, the view of the area is breathtaking.

Monte Alban

Monte Alban dandelions

I’d love to show you some of the handicrafts Oaxaca is famous for, but I think I’ll have to show you after Christmas, since several that I bought are gifts for others.

Up next, hopefully I’ll have time to post a few Christmas-themed items. I’ve been trying to be really nose-to-the-grindstone on my writing projects. Back to work for me! Be well.

Oaxaca, Mexico: Food

Ancho Chile Relleno

So, the secret destination I mentioned earlier was Oaxaca (say “wah-HOCK-ah”), Mexico. I love this city! I had visited once 15 years ago and always dreamed of going back.

The capital city of the state of Oaxaca, it’s like a jewel-box deep in heart of the southern mountains of Mexico, full of stunning architecture, intricate handicrafts, and oh yes, fantastic food.

The top photo was my first meal there, an ancho chile relleno next to plaintain mash with Oaxacan cheese. Surprisingly, it was actually a lot prettier than it was flavorful, but I enjoyed trying it anyway.

Below are the appetizers from that night, including, from the back of the slate platter, cheese, guacamole, and chapulinas. Chapulinas are a Oaxacan specialty—roasted grasshoppers!

Chapulinas

Our Mexican friends told us that if you eat one, it means you get to come back to Oaxaca. It would be a lie to say they’re my favorite dish, but I was super glad I DID eat one 15 years ago. So glad, in fact, that I ate several more, hoping I will for sure get to visit again.

Below you see chiles drying at a restaurant where we ate lunch. The set up was unusual—you walk through the kitchen area up to the roof to eat. Sadly I didn’t take pics of the wonderful chicken red mole enchiladas I had.

Mole is a type of sauce involving many ingredients, including cocoa, which was first cultivated in ancient Mesoamerica. There are many different kinds of mole, and they’re not at all sweet, so don’t worry, it’s not at all like eating candy on your meat.

From the rooftop of the lunch restaurant, there’s a view of the historic Santo Domingo church, and we had great seats to see a traditional wedding celebration going out of the church, complete with dancers, costumes, and these enormous puppets that lead the way to the reception.

Chiles

Lastly, here’s a photo (from the same location) of Caldo de Piedra, or “Stone Soup.” I couldn’t actually eat it, since I can’t do shellfish, but it was fascinating to watch our chef cook it, tableside.

The rocks were heated to such a high degree that when they were placed in the bowls of raw food (shellfish and broth, veggies), the liquid immediately boiled like mad. After a few moments, the liquid cooled a bit, and the chef removed the first stones and added a second hot stone to each bowl.

Caldo de Piedra

If you look closely, you can see the beautiful handcarving on the bowls, which are made of what I gather is a kind of gourd.

Delicious foods not pictured: duck tacos, Oaxacan tamales (wrapped in banana leaves), hot chocolate, and eggs smothered in fantastic sauces. Breakfast was not to be missed.

More on Oaxaca to come. Hope you have a great weekend. It’s like 75 degrees here today. I can’t believe it’s December!

Vintage Vacation Postcards

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Above is a little summary of our New England vacation. A little Cape, a lot of New Hampshire, including a hike through the Flume Gorge, which I had never seen before. I was tickled to find these in a little shop in Bethlehem, NH. I love when old postcards come with messages on them. The bottom one was written by someone whose vacation mirrored ours, fifty some years ago.

I have lots to share, including some digital paintings I did while we were away. I finally finished Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re an introvert or have a loved one who is. There are lots of us, so you probably do! I learned a lot.

Hubs and I enjoyed listening to Rob Lowe’s memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends on our car trip (read by Lowe), and we’ve almost finished listening to Yes, Chef, a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson. Really fascinating and read by Samuelsson himself in his fabulous scratchy voice. His story begins in Ethiopia, then goes on to Sweden, throughout Europe, and on to New York City as he follows his dream of becoming a master chef.

Loved this post of fun summer things to do with your kids, by Blair Stocker of wisecraft. Also, this spaghetti monsters post over at elsiemarley made me smile—it’s part cooking, part craft, and all silly fun.

What have you been up to?

Luebeck, Germany: Queen of the Hanse

I’d been wanting to go to Lübeck for a long time, ever since I read that it’s the former capital of the Hanseatic League, a city-state trade alliance existing during the 13th-17th centuries. More about the Hanseatic League here. I’d love to read more about the league, so if you know any good books about it, give me a shout.

Lübeck is such a quiet, relaxed place now, it’s hard to imagine it as the center of trade in this part of Europe. One of our favorite parts about the city is its canal encircling the Altstadt (old town). Hannover used to have one of these, too, but it’s long since been filled in.

Above is a photo of the Holstentor, which is the city gate and a famous German landmark. Below you see the entrance to the puppet museum, which, sadly, we didn’t have the chance to visit. Love the little guy, though.

Below is a glimpse of Lübeck’s “crown.” When you see all the city’s lovely pointy towers and steeples together, they look like a crown. The white building is the Rathaus or city hall.

My favorite feature is the round holes.

In addition to its history and the distinctive brickwork, Lübeck is known for its Gänge (walkways) and Höfe (courtyards). According to Lonely Planet, during the Middle Ages there was a lack of housing for the many artisans and craftspeople in Lübeck. So rows of smaller homes were built for them behind existing homes. Walkways were built to connect them to the street. People still live in these areas, and you can peek in to get a glimpse.

Here’s one of the courtyards:

And one of the walkways from the street:

You can easily miss the entrances if you don’t look carefully.

Lastly, a yellow building I loved—-I guess they couldn’t agree on which yellow to use.

Lübeck is also known for its marzipan, which comes in every shape imaginable. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to show you of it, but do be sure to try some if you go.

I’m quickly getting sucked into the vortex that is the overseas move. Hopefully I can make some more posts in our last weeks, but we’ll have to see. I have so much to share if I can just find the time. Have a great weekend!

Inspired by Granada

Granada really captured my imagination, and I’m not the first. The city’s ancient Moorish palace, the Alhambra, was brought to worldwide attention by American author Washington Irving, who stayed there briefly in 1829. Yes, that’s Washington Irving of Sleepy Hollow fame. Read more about the Alhambra’s history, starting in the 9th century, here.

After his visit to Granada, Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra, which sparked interest in the beautiful, crumbling building complex. Fifty years later (it wasn’t the age of the internet, after all), the movement to restore the Alhambra had begun.

Nice to hear about an American writer doing something good abroad!

It’s easy to see why he was so inspired. I found myself wanting to move into the Alhambra. While the castles in northern Europe are impressive in their own right, the Moorish palace made me want to hang out on a chaise lounge, write a novel, and throw a party when the sun went down.

A good spot for a window seat, no?

This was one of my favorite views of the Alhambra (there in the distance). This tower in the foreground, we discovered, is an 11th century minaret, the only remains of a mosque that was destroyed after Isabella and Ferdinand’s army conquered Granada. As in many places, a church was built right where the mosque stood.

It seems to be fairly common that one minaret was left when a mosque was destroyed (for instance, you see it also at Seville’s cathedral). If anyone knows more about the story behind that, I’d be interested to know.

As one of the last holdouts of the Moors, the whole city of Granada has a very strong Moorish influence. The ancient Muslim Albayzin quarter is particularly fascinating, with its maze-like cobbled paths and tangle of ancient white-stone buildings. And as I mentioned before, the food was great!

I threw some more Spain pictures up on my flickr gallery, so hop over there if you like. I went gaga over the tilework at the Alhambra and at the palace in Seville, the Alcazar. Sooo gorgeous! And I kept thinking: quilts, quilts, quilts!  So many ideas, so little time.

Travel Tip: if you’re interested in seeing the Alhambra, make sure you book tickets well in advance via the Alhambra website. We did book ahead but we still had some difficulty getting them—-luckily my husband’s Spanish saved us, but the process needs some working out of kinks. Also, take your smart phone—there’s a free app you can download on site. We didn’t bring ours so didn’t get to try it.

Next up you’ll be hearing from author Louise Hawes about using dreams in your writing. Can’t wait!