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The main course of our French feast à la the Smythe-Subers

Time and money are scarce in our household right now. Oh, we have plenty of money to buy groceries, heat our house, pay the bills. We are surely blessed. But there’s not a lot of excess. We’re not scheduling any jet-setting to Paris in the near future.

Shannon works her magic

So, you can imagine our excitement when we were invited over to our friends’ house in Trenton, New Jersey to experience a homemade meal. My friend Shannon is an excellent cook … always. But she was trying out recipes from a new cookbook (which is now on my Christmas wish list, by the way). It’s Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.

I’d heard an interview about the cookbook on NPR, which had already piqued my curiosity. And Shannon had thoroughly planned our menu–planning is one of Shannon’s specialties–course by course.

(I just noticed that there are several recipes available on NPR’s website, if you’d like to try them out: we had this, but this cake is different than the one we devoured.)

We also got to visit their new third-floor apartment in a huge, old house in Trenton. They’d done a great job working with the space. (We’d last seen it filled with boxes on their rainy move-in day.) Their decor, along with the unique molding over the doors and the lovely wood floors, only added to the appeal of the whole dinner.

We started with drinks and homemade cheese crackers. Delicious.

Just look at this set up:

Salad, crackers, lentils

Next came a salad. I can’t remember exactly, but I believe there were mixed greens, a vinaigrette, goat cheese, and roasted beets (yum!). I loved the salad. How can you go wrong with beets and goat cheese? I wager that you can’t.

The heart-shaped cracker accompanies the salad

We had a soup course, too, which was deliciously warm and rich. I think it was cauliflower. My recollection is imprecise. I think I had a haze of food-joy going on! Aren’t the table linens great, too? :)

Soup and salad

Look at that! Was the soup garnished with bacon? I think so. No wonder I blissed out.

Shannon served lentils with the stuffed pumpkin dish. The pumpkin was rich, but you felt justified in downing massive amounts of cheese because the pumpkin was a healthy, piping hot medium for the cheese.

The main course itself, pumpkin and lentils

I was so glad I had a backstage pass, though, because the pumpkin was cool to see fresh from the oven. It actually deflated a little bit after sitting out, but rest assured: the deliciousness was unabated.

The cooked, stuffed pumpkin, fresh from the oven

Did I mention that we were entertained all the while by THIS character?

Next came the cheese course. I felt transported back to my only trip to Paris back in 2001. I was in college and had never before heard of a cheese course. Ahh, but I learned quickly to appreciate it.

Shannon picked these cheeses out at the Trenton Farmer's Market. It is a treasure. And each cheese was so distinctively good.

I can't believe this is the best picture I got of the cake! It was sooo delicious!

Finally, we had the dessert course and coffee. Can you believe we still had room? The dessert was a delicious apple cake. It was rustic and so French. I can’t quite explain why. It reminded me of something you’d buy in a French bakery. (Or a German bakery, like many I’ve been to, that has many, many French items.) You’d cherish its moist density, alternating bites and swigs of dark, bitter coffee. Shannon served the cake with vanilla ice cream from Halo Farm (another Trenton treasure).

The dinner was delicious. The company was wonderful and fun. The dog was adorable (I’ll close with a picture of him). And I was reminded that my mouth and senses can travel a long way … without booking a plane ticket. A fabulous cookbook, a well-selected menu, and an adventurous (and skilled, in Shannon’s case) cook can really transport you to another world! I know that the menu was a splurge. But the cost pales in comparison to a trip to France. And although we definitely hope to visit there (among a host of other places), this tastebud-trip was wonderful in and of itself.

Cooking at home isn’t a consolation prize, it makes travel a real, thoroughgoing lifestyle. It’s even more fun to share the food journey with friends. Weren’t we lucky? I loved this meal. Merci, Shannon and Kevin. C’est magnifique!

Linus dressed for dinner. Dapper gent!

Guest Blog Post at “The Daily Conundrum”

Hi! My husband and I just got back from a 9-day trip in Eastern North America. I can’t wait to post some fun stuff from our journey.

In the meantime, it’s been more than a week since it went up, but I did a guest blog at The Daily Conundrum called “(Return?) Trip.” When given the opportunity to write a post on my brother’s would-you-rather blog, I just had to do something about traveling, of course. :) Go weigh in … or be stumped like me!

National Geographic Traveler–a seriously great magazine–has an awesome blog, which I read very regularly. I’ve mentioned as much before and even before that. (I even participated in their first Peeps photo contest! My photo did not stand a chance against the fabulous competition. ‘Twas only a slightly tragic defeat.)

A few weeks ago, they launched a new magazine feature, “Ask a Park Ranger,” and invited questions on the blog.

Because (1) my husband and I had just eked out some time in September to finally have a real “summer” vacation, and because (2) Acadia National Park in Mount Desert, Maine was first on our planned route, and because (3) I love getting advice from experts, locals, and all-manner of opinionated souls, I shot off a question about a two-day itinerary.

And, today, Park Ranger Wanda Moran answered me.

Which is perfect, because we leave on Sunday. (So, we won’t be there for her suggested Night Sky Festival, but will stick that on the “sometime in the future” radar.) And, to express a worry that’s on my mind presently, I hope that Hurricane Earl won’t cause us (or them, mostly!) any trouble.

I am thrilled to have had my question answered. Thrilled to have such great and knowledgeable advice. And thrilled to get to see the first National Park east of the Mississippi!

Having my question answered on their official blog might just have been the added boost I needed to get my real work done, then get my camping preparations in gear. Yes, I think it was. :)

Expect to hear more about this and the other e-x-c-i-t-i-n-g stops on our trip.

Here’s a hint: There might be some of this beauty in our post-Acadia/pre-return future!

Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!

Charlie at the subway entrance to the Museum of Natural History

I’ve been pressed for blogging time. That is, the time I formerly stole from my dissertation and used for blogging has been returned to dissertation-matters for the time being.

But my husband and I took a little jaunt to the Natural History Museum in New York City this past Friday.

[We used a Museum Pass from our local library. We got in free! Maybe a library near you has a similar program.]

It was wonderful, educational, everything a museum should be. (Except that art museums are my very favorite.)

Dinosaur fossils in foyer (which is under construction)

Afterward, we went quite a ways out of our way to go to Hanco‘s in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Now, their Yelp! reviews are great, but I might not have gone out of my way just for that.

[It was actually an easy subway trip on the B train downtown, switching at Rockefeller Center to the F train to Brooklyn. Having our iPhones handy certainly doesn’t hurt. Especially since the NYC metro transit system does not seem as user-friendly to me as others (London, Berlin, D.C.) do.]

Instead, I heard about Hanco’s from a recent episode of the best radio show ever, This American Life. (My husband and I are regular supporters of the program, which is saying something on a tight budget. I promise you, NEVER have I wanted to do housework more than when I have an not-yet-listened-to podcast of the show waiting on my iPod.)  Their episode called “Million Dollar Idea” starts with a story about Hanco’s.

Unassuming store front, Hanco's of Cobble Hill

There’s another location in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which I know to be a nice area. I’m not really sure how the locations compare. This was a small restaurant. A lot of their business is either take away or delivery, I’m pretty sure. If I lived in the area, it would be hard not to order from Hanco’s very frequently … or hourly. There were two other tables occupied during our time there, and several people were in and out over the duration. But the restaurant definitely wasn’t busy like it reportedly can be during lunch hour.

Inside Hanco's, looking at the entrance

I am quite a fan of Vietnamese food as it is. I love their cold, summer rolls (with shrimp and peanut/hoisin dipping sauce). I am a big fan of the vermicelli that mixes sweet and savory, cooked and raw, soft and crunchy.

So, it’s no surprise that I should love Vietnamese sandwiches. But until hearing about Hanco’s, I had no idea that Vietnamese sandwiches even existed! Now, I shall never forget:

Please witness the unmitigated deliciousness of the Hanco's original sandwich.

Patrons can pick the sandwich they desire based on their contents, which can be pork, chicken, or tofu, at least. Variations in spiciness are the second attribute one must choose. I went with “medium.” It was spicy, but a just right kind of spicy. The texture and flavor variations that I love in vermicelli were also packed into the sandwich, encased in a crunchy pressed roll.

Crunchy? Soft? Tender? Yes.

The other attraction at Hanco’s is the bubble tea. Unfortunately, they were out of tapioca (bubbles) the day we visited. Tapioca is, by far, my favorite way to have bubble tea. But we could choose between lychee jelly and mango jelly. I chose the former, Charlie the latter. We both got our “bubbles” with a coconut flavored milk concoction that may have included green tea. I’m not quite sure.

Lychee Jelly Bubble Milk

Again, the play with textures is just part of what makes bubble tea so much fun. I’ll have to try them again, since the jellies just can’t compete with tapioca in my book. The coconut flavor was very fresh and cool, perfect for a beautiful August day in the City.

So, Hanco’s, until we meet again …

Okay. I know that you, whomever you are who may read this beyond some of my friends and family, probably don’t want to read the innerworkings of my brain. You want to see food and read about food. Understandable!

WELL, SKIP OVER THIS:

I thought I was missing German food. And I was, in a way. Okay, I’ll admit it: When I tasted my Wurst, my eyes might have rolled back in my head a little bit. When I tried my German potato salad, I may have had to tone down my shriek of “Oh! This tastes just like the Kartoffelsalat I had at the Schwarzwaldstuben!” But I think, honestly, what I was and am missing is my time in Germany. I was there (alone, not counting when Charlie came to visit at the end) for two months last summer and it was a total learning experience of the grandest sort.

Me in front of Berlin's Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)

There are lots of things I don’t miss:

1) Being away from Charlie.

2) Being away from Charlie.

3)      “          “         “          “     [repeat]

29) No free refills on drinks and having to buy water at restaurants.

30) Meeting no one who understands what on earth I do professionally.

But I suspect I miss the adventurous feeling, wherein every day held something new. I miss speaking German out of necessity, not just as a novelty. I love that language. I miss the strange array of people, architecture, and foods that make Berlin such an amazing global city. I miss having a singular focus into which all of my activities (leisure, classroom, study, sight-seeing) fit in some aspect: learning German. I miss the amazingly comprehensive public transportation.

Adventures like that most likely live on as a golden-hued chapter in our memories precisely because they are short-lived. My scholarship didn’t go on forever. I am a wife and Ph.D. student and I couldn’t stay away from my husband and study a field (German) only tangentially related to mine (New Testament). And I didn’t want to.

But in retrospect, what I remember isn’t the heartsickness for my beloved husband nor the loneliness of being in a new place where I knew not a soul. I don’t remember the times when I embarrassed myself terribly by calling something by the wrong name or committing some social faux pas (like sniffing repeatedly or putting a hand in my lap at the dinner table). Instead I remember the joy of discovering new things, new foods, unique places, hidden alleyways, city quirks, local haunts, new worlds of history in unequaled museums, new stories on walking tours with Berliner guides, cultural particulars both of Germans and other nationalities in my class, and the sheer loveliness of the German language (NO naysayers allowed. I adore German!).

On a fantastic walking tour (Spaziergang) of Berlin's Mitte

So, I shouldn’t have expected a restaurant featuring the cuisines of the countries of the Alps (Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, namely) to have been the balm to cure  all of my wistful feelings regarding Berlin. First of all, Berlin is nowhere near the Alps. Second, a Berliner is much, much more likely to be found munching on an organic salad topped with sprouts and flaxseed, or eating a Turkish kebab on the run, or snacking on tapas and drinking wine for hours and hours in an outdoor cafe than they are to be eating anything we Americans would classify as “German cuisine.” In fact, many “German” restaurants in Germany are geared toward tourists. And, third, what I hadn’t considered, but really should have known is that no one in Allentown, NJ would be speaking German at a German restaurant. In fact, they’d be butchering it (in speech or, a couple times, on the menu) to a degree that would make me cringe. And I’m an American, not a German! This lack of German conversation should have been a given, but it took me by subconscious-surprise and made it impossible for me to even pretend that I was in Deutschland. So, that was a bummer that shouldn’t have bummed me out, but did anyway.

START BACK HERE, O FOOD-CENTRIC READER:

The Alps Bistro opened on Allentown, NJ’s picturesque, historic Main Street (the perfectness of which, for me, makes it the standard by which any small town American main street will henceforth be judged) on July 6, 2010. So, it had not even been open a month when Charlie and I decided to check it out. I, see previous post, felt compelled to have some German food, so we made reservations. The restaurant is open for lunch most days and dinner only on Friday and Saturday. The dining room is also quite small, so reservations are recommended.

The Alps Bistro

It was full when we got there. As many nice NJ restaurants are, The Alps is a BYOB place, although they have sodas, coffee, and water at least. We just had water, but folks around us had brought along wine. I thought it was kind of cool that the local liquor store had suggested some wine and beer pairings that would go well with German food (they were German, mostly). This, along with other signals like the small lace table adornments, showed me that the management is really trying for authenticity. I appreciated that.

* I apologize that the food photos that follow are really quite grainy. I tried to use my iPhone for subtlety, but I’ve learned my lesson. These photos do not really do the food justice. I apologize. *

Charlie's salad (It came with a three-bean salad, too)

The mood of the restaurant was upbeat. Owners, employees, customers were excited about the new business. They were excited to try something new or, for the many people of German descent in the area, they were excited for a taste of the familiar or nostalgic.

We had printed out a coupon (good until August 31) for a free appetizer when you purchase a dinner entrée over $11. This was not, given the menu, a hard amount to top. The restaurant’s menu incorporated German titles, always with translation, and was very focused. That is, they’re not attempting to offer everything under the sun. There were two soup choices, for instance, and about five options for appetizers. There’s a daily menu and the schnitzel changes daily, as well as the options for wursts.

Soup (Suppe)

I started with the Alsatian Sauerkraut soup, which wasn’t “sauer” at all, but faintly sweet. It was brothy and just perfectly flavored to be a light starter. Charlie had a salad which came with a 3-bean salad and blanched carrots, in addition to a more traditional green lettuce salad.

Other people seemed to get a bread basket, but we didn’t. I’m not sure whether I observed this incorrectly, or if there was some reason why we didn’t qualify. I would have liked to compare The Alps Bistro’s breads to German Brot, since breadmaking is one of the areas in which Germans are vast culinary superiors to Americans. German breads are not only staple of their daily meals, but are always fresh, artisanal, with many whole grain varieties to choose from. Wonder Bread is not an option in Deutschland. But bakeries (Bäckerei/Konditorei) are on every corner, offering full loaves, sweet and savory pastries, desserts, and vast varieties of flavorful sandwiches, fresh every day.

Pierogies

Venturing outside of Deutschland for our appetizer, we selected potato pierogies. The Alps Bistro’s self-diagnosis of their gastronomical territory is as follows: “Join us for a culinary adventure through the Alps region of Europe–feature the foods of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France. We’ll even make stops to Poland, Hungary, and Russia to tempt your tastebuds.” So, we figured we’d allow them to take us to Poland with a pierogie. Since we’d only eaten ice cream in that nation (when we barely crossed the border last July) it seemed fitting to try something a little more Polish when we had the opportunity.

The appetizer plate came with three potato pierogies, hot and sprinkled with bacon and onions (which had clearly been cooked with the bacon). Delicious! We definitely ate every last morsel.

Pork Schnitzel

Charlie had chosen the day’s Schnitzel as his meal. It was a pork schnitzel in a dark gravy with mushrooms. He asked for Spätzle as his side and, in addition, it came with carrots. Everything was well-cooked and not overdone. The Schnitzel was really tender, flavorful, and lightly breaded. It certainly rivaled any Schnitzel we had in Europe. Charlie was wholly satisfied.

Being a bit of a Wurst-fan myself (and not being tempted at all by anything with a “Leber” in it—that means “liver”), I ordered the three-Wurst platter. It came with German potato salad and sauerkraut (this was actually sour, not sweet like the soup with the same label). The smaller Wurstchen were the tastiest.

Lots of Wurst

Apfelstrudel

I was too full by the end of the meal to want a dessert, but Charlie thought an Apfelstrudel was in order. I was afraid to chance tarnishing my active memory of amazing Strudel. But I agreed to have a couple bites. The apple strudels are made on-site and it was, itself, quite tasty. One fun ingredient was chopped nuts (maybe walnuts?), which I don’t think I’d had in any of my German or Viennese strudels. As I predicted, I didn’t think it lived up to my memory, but that just means it didn’t ascend to demigod status. So, it was good. I’d recommend it.

All in all, I’m impressed at the new restaurant in town. People are clearly trying hard for Alpine authenticity. It’s a quaint place for a meal and a good alternative to the sea of Italian restaurants that are [Kara scans the horizon] just about all that is available around here. I do want to do a German spell-check of their menu, but Charlie told me to hold off with the red pen until after we’d eaten. Sigh.

True confession: I expected more than a single restaurant could ever truly provide—more than anything short of a plane ticket, Bahn pass, and a fistful of Euros could offer—but I still greatly enjoyed my meal and hope to return.

Peeking into a shop filled with spices in the Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

Although I like to think of myself as unique and, therefore, exceedingly special person, I am glad to be part of a much larger trend in this case:

Americans have become exponentially more adventurous eaters since the 1970s. As I was born in 1980, I certainly must be part of that trend. I should write more about this another time, how my family fostered flavor-curiosity, sampled different ethnic cuisines whenever we could, and–basically–didn’t accept “I don’t like that” as an answer.

THIS July 30, 2010 story from NPR (always better heard than read, by the way) talks about the various ways in which Americans have become more diverse, both demographically and in all things culinary. One way in which this is manifest is we buy more and more varieties of spices.

All of the talk of spices in the radio story made me think of the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul; hence the opening blog-post-picture. I really must go back, mustn’t I? But until I do, it’s good that my palate can wander right here at home.

Avocados (not local, but delicious)

It’s summer. It’s warm and sunny. The fresh, local produce in New Jersey is hard to beat.

Right down the road, there’s a stand that sells the produce they grow in their back yard. So far I’ve had their tomatoes (bucket loads of them), grape tomatoes, corn, summer squash, zucchini, onions, and one peach. All delicious. As I was recently saying to Charlie, I don’t know how I’ll ever be satisfied with store-bought tomatoes again. These just have so much more flavor.

That’s not even to mention the other farms and farmers markets very near me (Russo’s Farm, Trenton Farmers Market, the once-a-week Farmers Market in Hightstown, etc.), where I’ve gotten locally-grown delights.

And, ever since I heard from the Nutrition Diva (whose podcasts I love) that eating two whole tomatoes a day wasn’t being a glutton (I submitted my question via Facebook), I have been trying to turn into a tomato this summer!

Not to mention, there are perfectly ripened avocados that I can find in Whole Foods for $5 a bag. Although they aren’t local, they taste perfect. Until we live in an avocado-growing locale again, I think this is the best I can hope for.

Summertime meals center around fresh produce and, often, consist of that produce either washed and sliced or slightly doctored up:

Our Wednesday (and then also Thursday) night dinner

The above dinner was photographed only on my iPhone (like the avocado above) and in a rather poorly lighted area, which accounts for its poorer quality. I don’t always think to photograph our meals at home, although when I’m particularly proud I do.

This one consisted of a recipe from the Everyday Food magazine, which I love. It was the Spring-Vegetable Couscous with Chicken. I wish I’d made it when we had local asparagus, but we were just moving then and I couldn’t get myself in gear. Another change I made to the recipe was due to the fact that I discovered while making the recipe that I didn’t have any regular couscous (the recipe called for 1 cup). I had about 2/3 a cup Israeli couscous (larger size) left in a container, but that’s all. Hmmm … I decided to add bulgur wheat to fill out the 1-cup measure, so the amount would be similar to what the recipe called for. It worked! So, we got a little more whole grain than the recipe might have intended.

The star of the meal, although the tomato is always a star in my book, was the stuffed squash. I followed a recipe I found for Stuffed Summer Squash. If you scroll to the bottom of the linked blog entry, there’s the recipe. I followed it pretty thoroughly, except I didn’t have any of the recommended cheeses, so I shredded some Fontina we had. The only other “unhealthiness” added were bread crumbs I made from some whole wheat we had on hand and the 2 Tbsp of olive oil used to make the 4 servings of the side dish. Most of the contents of the stuffing were onions and squash guts (technical term, I’m sure). All in all, it was a pretty good-for-you way to dress up this plentiful summertime vegetable. It was quite tasty and you didn’t lose the squash among the other flavors. Baked summer squash is QUITE delicious.

A bad shot of good corn

So, with all these delicious and healthy summer options at my fingertips, WHY did I make reservations tonight for a new German/Swiss/Austrian restaurant that opened up in a small town near us?

Because I’ve been blogging and blogging and blogging about some of the Euro-cuisine I sampled last summer and it’s got me craving the stuff.

Do doughy dumplings and hot, saucy meats sound particularly summery? No.

Is this the stuff real Germans (etc.) eat day-in-day-out during hot summer weather? As far as I observed, no.

Should I eat Wursts just because I can? No.

Am I still looking forward to it nonetheless? Yes!

So, soon I’ll be posting a review of this newly-opened restaurant. I hope it serves good enough food to satiate my nostalgia-craving for awhile. Then I can get back to the very, very good foods that await me at my local farmers markets (and there are many more than I’ve already tried this year).

Right before I went to Germany for two months, I was chatting with a professor of mine. She mentioned that one of her favorite places in Berlin was Einstein Café on the broad thoroughfare Unter den Linden, and she recommended the Apple Strudel. I tucked away that advice and, although I don’t typically pick apple desserts when given other options (like chocolate-anything), I planned to get the stereotypically Austrian/German sweet pastry.

Apfelstrudel in Vanilla sauce (from Einstein)

Thus began my love affair with Apfelstrudeln (apple strudels). A particular German song, which I happen to love, seems apt:

“Lass Mich Nie Mehr Los” by Sportfreunde Stiller

[Note: Below are only two verses and the chorus, the song continues further.]

Wie New York ohne Sinatra
Wie Wien ohne den Prater
Wie ein Herzschlag ohne Blut
Wie Lindenberg ohne Hut
Wie ’ne Eiszeit ohne Schnee
England ohne Tee
So als ob bei Steve McQueen die ganze Coolheit fehlt

Jeder Boxer braucht ’ne Linke,
Kiss braucht viermal Schminke
Tonic braucht Gin.
Wie wär ein Leben ohne Sinn?
Wie ein leeres Paket
Wie ein Rad das sich nicht dreht
So als ob anstatt ’nem Sturm nur ein leichter Wind weht,

So bin ich ohne dich
Du hältst mich; mir fehlt nichts.
Lass mich nie mehr los.
Lass mich, lass mich nie mehr los
Lass mich nie mehr los.
Lass mich, lass mich nie mehr los

English Translation by Kara (it rhymes nicely in the German, not in my translation, though):

Like New York without Sinatra, Like Vienna without the Prater, Like a heartbeat without blood, Like Lindenberg without a hat, Like an Ice Age without snow, England without tea, Like if Steve McQueen existed but without any coolness …

Every boxer needs a left, Kiss needs four times the makeup, Tonic needs gin, How’d life be without meaning? Like an empty package, A bike you don’t pedal, Like if there was a storm but only a faint wind blew …

Chorus – That’s how I am without you. When you hold me, nothing’s missing. Never let me go. Never, never let me go. Never let me go. Never, never let me go.

Romantic black & white photo of APFELSTRUDEL (notice the edge blur? Oh yeah!)

I propose a new lyric that I think would fit perfectly in my food experience: “Wie Deutschland ohne Apfelstrudeln” (“Like Germany without apple strudels”). Germany without my beloved strudel? It’s inconceivable. Such an idea goes against all that is good, right, and real in the world. It cannot be! Like the band Kiss requires makeup and a heartbeat intrinsically requires blood, that’s how German food would feel to me without the sweet Nachspeise of Apfelstrudel. It’s totally love-song-worthy.

(Isn’t that sweet German love song? You’ve got to hear it. So lovely.)

Einstein menu

That's me, all by my lonesome, at Einstein in Berlin

I had a lovely first taste of the dessert at the recommended locale: Einstein Café on the wide boulevard that leads to the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden. I sat outside, enjoying the sun (like a good German would, I’ve observed). The prices were pushing my budget, for sure. But this is a famous café and, after all my wanderings in Berlin, finding a table gave my feet a chance to relax.

Einstein menu

I had a “Braune” coffee, which meant that along with my dark coffee, I was served a small, warm pitcher of steamed milk to mix as I saw fit.

Kaffee

And I had a piece of Apfelstrudel in vanilla sauce.

My table at Einstein

Mmmm. I ate it slowly to savor the perfectly cooked apples in the crisp, yet buttery, pastry. The creamy sauce added to the sweetness. Heavenly.

The next time I had Apfelstrudel was as a dessert at a dinner in celebration of a fellow student’s birthday. We’d gathered at a somewhat grungy pub, Tiergarten-Quelle, located directly under the Tiergarten S-Bahn station.

Tiergarten-Quelle entrance

The dinner was delicious and I insisted that I couldn’t eat another bite. Until a friend suggested splitting an Apfelstrudel with me. Why not twist my arm a little? Of course, I said yes. And I’m so glad I did.

THE BEST Apfelstrudel (... at least that I tasted)

Tiergarten-Quelle has the best Apfelstrudel I’ve ever stuffed in my mouth. It was piping hot, topped with ice cream and whipped cream, dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

Oh gracious! If I hadn’t been so full, I might have resorted to wicked tricks to steal the other half from my friend. But I knew this dessert was not just a line Maria von Trapp/Julie Andrews sings from “My Favorite Things.” This was one of my favorite things!

Charlie's enthusiasm is rightly invested in this dessert

As it turns out, once my husband met up with me in Berlin, this was the first (and then third) Apfelstrudel he tasted. It was, thus, my second, third, and fifth.

So, from whence came the elusive fourth (or Charlie’s second) Apfelstrudel? Where else but in Wien (Vienna, Austria), its purported birthplace!

We had visited a strangely wonderful architectural experiment called Hundertwasser in Wien.

The colorful architecture of Hundertwasser Village

But we were getting hungry and cranky. Charlie was hungry and saw several eating establishments that could easily fit the bill. But we didn’t have much time in Vienna and I didn’t want to waste a dinner at any ol’ place. We noticed a café at the entrance to the village and walked up the stairs to get there. I am so glad we did.

Cafe in Hundertwasser Village

What we had for dinner has since left my memory. But we had, on our last night in Wien, a trinity of strudels as our shared dessert splurge. I can’t remember with precision their contents, but …

The three strudels

I know one was apple (that is, Apfel).

Apfelstrudel

One was custardy.

Filled with a custard of sorts

And one involved berries of some sort.

Berry?

It was all kinds of YUM. And quite fun to try different breeds within the Strudel species.

Variety is the strudel of life

So, in conclusion, here is my Ode to the Strudel:

Ach, Du schöne Apfelstrudel,

Viel besser als einige Nudel,

Wieviel süßer, und leckerer,

Und schneller gegessen.

Ich ess’ Dich am besten.

Speaking of quickly eaten ... Charlie and I must have been racing!

Warning: I’m sure poetry in honor of food should never be written by a non-native speaker, if at all. But here’s my translation:

Oh, you pretty Apple Strudel,

So much better than any noodle,

How much more tasty and sweetened,

And more quickly eaten,

You’re my very favorite to eat.

Sticking with the East Berlin theme of my previous post – which hearkens back to a city very near and dear to my heart, where I spent 2 months in the summer of 2009 – I have fond, nostalgic feelings for a particular restaurant that provided me my first tastes of Southern German or, more particularly, Swabian cuisine (Schwäbische Küche).

Schwarzwaldstuben - Mitte, Berlin

Fond nostalgia is the feel Schwarzwaldstuben (translation: Black Forest Lounge) is going for anyway. They have kitschy-cool décor and the food is German-ala-nostalgia in many ways.

A look toward the bar at Schwarzwaldstuben

My German teacher at the Goethe Institut, Detlef, was the one who recommended this place as his favorite for German specialties in Berlin. He seemed to waffle on whether it was truly Schwäbisch or had some other regional loyalties (due to a Fußball jersey he saw hanging there). I, however, have found several online sites calling it either Swabian (the Anglicized name of the German region) or Southern German. So, there you go. I’ll just play the “dumb American” card if I get called on an inaccuracy here.

Menus

Schwarzwaldstuben is quite hip and if you go at the right/wrong times, there can be a wait. There are tables, a bar, and even a nice sofa and stuffed chair section.

Comfy seating available

The place and menu is such that you could order a little pot of coffee (their coffee is quite tasty) and sit and read for awhile (although probably not at dinner time when space is at a premium). But if you’re going there, though, why not make a meal of it?

Meine Kaffee mit Milch

The first time I went, I had Maultaschen (Pronounced: MOWL-tah-shin), large German-raviolis of sorts. The Maultaschen were served with an amazing German potato salad (if I recall correctly) and the flavors were a perfect match.

Maultaschen with potatoes and a great salad

The meal was a-m-a-z-i-n-g! You can’t get Maultaschen just anywhere, so I highly recommend this place. Charlie had them at another restaurant and they were quite different (more fried, I’d say).

Bionade (a naturally carbonated beverage)

I also had Bionade (Pronounced: BEE-oh-nada) to drink, which I recommend for the non-beer inclined (but the beer is reportedly a draw there, too, it’s Rothaus … as the signs outside make abundantly clear).

Schwarzwaldstuben from the outside (the beer-type is advertized more than the restaurant's name!)

I went with a group from my class at lunchtime. There was space for us, but I believe Detlef had called ahead. We sat at a big ol’ booth by the mural. I must report that not all nationalities find Schwäbische Küche as tasty as I did!

Zhishu waves hello

The next (and last – so far) time I went, I decided to try another delectable Southern German dish, Käsespätzle (translation: Cheese Spätzle). Now, I think it cannot be disputed that I like cheese. I really do! This cheese-centric dish was really, really tasty, but almost too greasy even for the most wicked of caloric sinners. The cheeses were of good quality, but there was so much, I lost the Spätzle in the mix.

Käsespätzle (and a listing of what was showing in Berlin outdoor theaters I was flipping through)

For those who are unfamiliar with this classic German side dish (although when combined with cheese, for instance, it can become a centerpiece), Spätzle (Pronounced: SHHPETS-leh) consists of miniature dumplings. Or, like what would happen if a dumpling and a pasta noodle had a baby. They are irregular in shape.

Closer up on the Käsespätzle. The bonus was that it was a big enough serving to make two filling meals.

Another valid reason to visit this restaurant if you’re ever in Berlin is the surrounding neighborhood. It’s in Mitte (City Center), but the streets immediately around Schwarzwaldstuben are very cool and have a different feel from those as you get closer to Museuminsel (Museum Island) further downtown. If you want a walk past some historic locales (and want to peek into a few picturesque Hinterhöfe [courtyards common to Berliner architecture]), take a walk down Auguststraße, for example, which is just a few blocks from the corner of Linienstraße and Tucholskystraße, where Schwarzwaldstuben is located.

A view of the corner

Okay, I’m working on another post of a different European cuisine for which I’m nostalgic.

In the meantime, here’s a photo quiz for you:

You’re crossing the street. You see this …

Hmmm, where could this be?

Where are you?

Maybe, instead, you see this and you pause (choosing not to get run down) …

Don't walk!

Any idea where you are now?

Be as specific as you can. Post your guesses in the comments section. I’m predicting it won’t take long for someone to guess correctly.


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