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Monday, December 23

Cookie Experiments

I’ve been on a cookie baking kick for the past couple weeks. I want to bake and share the goodies with the husband’s coworkers, for no reason at all. For someone that hates taking food to work, he has been patient about the cookie experiments.

Though I will be the first to write, some cookies haven’t been as successful as others. For instance, I tried theseblack and white cookies. My cookies were cakey and I wasn’t impressed. (A learning experience in this experiment is red food coloring; it is hard to find the “typical coloring” here in Nurnberg. I’ve bought from multiple shops and the bright, Christmasy hue of red that is expected isn’t there.

However I am happy to say this one is a keeper. Some of my friends and adamant blog followers (all 2 of you) will recognize this cookie as the Alfajores (best known from Spain and South American cultures). But there are some differences in the recipe; I did not use dulce de leche as the filler and no eggs in the cookie dough. They look like Alfajores but I call mine Hazelnut & Caramel cookies. And they are perfect for Christmas. Bake few and share some, your spouse’s coworkers will thank you.

Hazelnut & Caramel Cookies
Makes 24

220 grams or 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
80 grams or 1/2 cup ground hazelnut flour
60 grams or 1/3 cup brown sugar
210 grams or 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C

Put hazelnuts on a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place in the preheated oven. Toast for about 10 minutes, stirring halfway. Be careful not to burn them.

Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, grind nuts in a food processor for about 20 seconds.

In the same processor, combine ground nuts, flour, and brown sugar. Add butter and process until mixture just starts to form dough. As the dough forms into a ball in the processor, it will move away from the edge. Remove from the processor and form into a cohesive round ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Remove dough from the fridge and let it come to room temperature for 5 minutes.

Sprinkle a little flour on the counter surface. Flatten the dough and using a rolling pin roll to 1/4” thick round. With a round cookie cutter, cut out the shape and place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. If there is leftover dough from the cutouts, re-roll the dough into 1/4" and cut more rounds. Place the pan with the cut-out cookies in the fridge for 20- 30 minutes. (The re-refrigerating helps the cookies keep their shape. )

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden.

Let the cookies rest in the pan for 2-4 minutes and then carefully place them on a cooling rack.

For caramel sauce, use this recipe from SimplyRecipes; for detail description with photos, be sure to follow her instructions. They are spot-on! I halved the caramel recipe for the cookies.

Place 1 tablespoon of caramel sauce on the bottom side of one cookie. Place another cookie (of approximate same size) on top. Make sure you have two bottoms facing each other when making a cookie sandwich. Finish with the other cookies.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have made an uneven number and can snack on 1 or 3.

Tuesday, December 17


In late September we attended a wedding on Chiemsee, Bavaria’s largest lake. The wedding was of an American to a German. The ceremony was mostly German but we understood when they were married, especially when they kissed.

On other days we explored on our own and visited one of King Ludwig’s castle, Herrenchiemsee. Ludwig built the palace as a replica to Versailles Palace. He was obsessed with admired Louis XIV and built the castle in his honor. Unfortunately Ludwig didn’t enjoy his masterpiece because he died (drowned/committed suicide/never came back from his lake trip, his death is questionable) before the castle was completed.

And the boat cruise around the lake is fun, on a nice (clear) day. If you have a spare weekend and happen to find yourself in the area, Chiemsee deserves a visit.

We loved seeing this grandma and granddaughter by the horses. I was especially amazed to see both women in their traditional clothes. We have learned from speaking with others, in parts of Southern Bavaria individuals wear dirndl or lederhosen on a whim, without a particular reason. Sometimes a beautiful day is a great reason to dress up.

Thursday, December 12

Apotheke is a what?

One of the first things we do with guests is a walking tour of the old city, inside the walls, Altstadt. And each time, we fall in love with Nürnberg all over again. There’s a new hidden gem that I haven’t seen or discovered before. We both are lucky to have the opportunity to live here and call it home.

In addition to the gems, the city is massed with Apothekes. Apotheke is a drug store in the traditional sense, a pharmacy. They sell over-the-counter medication as well as the doctor’s prescriptions. There are cough drops, runny nose soothers, headache tablets, dry-skin lotion, dandruff shampoo, heavy duty stomach bug relievers and much more. So it’s an American drug store (imagine CVS) as well as the behind the counter pharmacy rolled into one. (without the diapers and hair curlers, there’s DM and Mueller for that.)

What I like about the German Apotheke is a common cold does not require a trip to the doctor’s office because the pharmacists are able to prescribe something that sooths the ailment. One time when I was refilling my prescription a family of four (they looked like tourists with their maps in hand) asked for an ointment for the younger kid that had scraped up his knee. The pharmacist made a recommendation based on what she saw. This is logical because it’s a recommendation from a professional and prevents a trip to the doctor’s office. Another time, I was recovering from a cold that refused to go away and when I went back the second time she recommended a pill in powder form. Once I bought it, she gave me a glass full of water to take my initial dose.

Apothekes prevents self-prescribing; unlike in America where individuals think they know the problem and buy over the counter pills. Also, pharmacists at Apotheke do not fill prescription without a doctor’s note or prescribe hard drugs without prescription so one can’t walk in and ask. In simple words, German culture disproves using prescriptions for simple problems. This is a welcome change from what we’re used to in America where all ailments have one solution, drugs.

A drawback is a doctor would thoroughly check the ailment in an appointment where a pharmacist does not. The other drawback is this reinforces policing the population. Although I don’t like “the idea” of the government or Big Brother telling me what I should and shouldn’t take, I have grown to like it because people can’t self prescribe medications.

What we haven’t figured out is why there are so many Apothekes in such close proximity. There are 4 in walking distance from our apartment. (And those are ones near us.) I joke that although Germans are cautious in taking medicine for simple colds, they must love knowing that a pharmacy is around the corner when that emergency arises.

The idea of pharmacy and prescribing medicine has been around for long time and we learned in a Pharmacy Museum in Heidelberg that many Germans chose Pharmacy as profession pre war era. Due to the conditions of the country post war, there were fewer pharmacists until recently.

Saturday, December 7

Tuscany- Part II

About that trip I was telling you about.

The next morning we drove to Gaiole for few more tastings. The first stop was Barone Ricasoli. The history at Ricasoli is interesting, being the oldest winery in Tuscany and Barone Ricasoli was the first to write the Chianti recipe and marketing to importers in the 1800s thus putting the region on the wine map. Additionally, parts of the castle are preserved with artifacts from Barone Ricasoli’s era. The brief castle tour is worthy.

The Enoteca at the bottom of the hill hosts tastings. It is a fancier environment with modern décor. Post tasting, we went to the town of Gaiole for lunch and little sightseeing. Unfortunately, there was a bike expo that day so the town was filled with bike stalls and full of bicyclists. We found a lunch spot on the fly at i galletto briaco Ristorante Pizzeria. As soon as we sat down, the host announced,” no pizza!” Instead we ordered Ribollita (typical Tuscan soup with kale and white beans), penne with tomato sauce, ravioli with sage and butter sauce and mozzarella sticks. The sticks were a disappointment, not surprisingly; the nonna in the kitchen probably rarely fries up breaded mozzarella unlike chain restaurants in America. My ribollita was perfect and exactly what I was craving. I tasted a lot of onion and carrots as the base for flavoring. The husband’s ravioli was rich and creamy and our friend said the tomato sauce with penne had good flavor.

Castello D'Albola was the next planned winery. They offer tours and tastings for free and both were worth the visit. This was the first tour I learned about the grapes grown on site, and wine production.

And to finish off, we went to Poggio Alloro for tour, tasting and dinner. This place has been around since the 1970s and started by 3 brothers who wanted to produce wine and a farm to grow olives, saffron and vegetables. As of recent, the farm raises cows for meat. We learned of the struggles the brothers faced to start this vineyard. Notably, we saw one of the brothers working at his age on the farm. Followed by the tour, we sat outside and watched the sunset and the city of San Gimignano in distance with our wine tastings, olives, bread and cured meats.

Dinner started promptly at 8 and again it was communal. This time, the room was much larger, the guest list longer, the options diverse and proportions large. There were many things we ate that night; to name the outstanding ones were an appetizer with baked polenta topped with ragu and a frittata. The risotto was a little under done but cooking for a large group, daily can have possible mishaps. The main course was turkey with veggies and though it was good, I was sad we weren’t eating the steak from the cows. We finished with a Panna cotta. There were unlimited breads, cured meats, olives, water and house wine. You can’t go wrong with a place that lets you eat like a king.
Walking away from dinner, one distinctive quality of Poggio Alloro is their customer service. Everyone was extremely friendly, willing to answer any of our questions and very accommodating. I highly, highly recommend Poggio Alloro for a tour, tasting and dinner. If not all, at least the dinner. Reserve for Saturday’s communal dinner to have the steak.

The next day was rainy and cold so we toured San Gimignano. With interesting history, this town is medieval, walled-in, and has 14 towers still standing that encompass the old town. This should be on everyone’s list to visit because of its small town charm. We ate Gelato in a shop that has won “best gelato award” for few years. The artisan that makes the gelato is well recognized in Italy and sought after.

As a total surprise, my husband and the other husband planned a cooking class for us. I had no idea what was going on when the two women showed up and said “We’re here for the cooking class.” It was a delightful surprise. With the help of the cooks, we cooked Bruschetta with Raddichio and Cheese, Squash Blossom Zeppole (Italian fritters), stuffed Veal (stuffed with prosciutto, sautéed zucchini, and omelet), Pici (local pasta) with tomato sauce and basil, and Flortentine cake. Phew. We were thrilled to learn to make simple (eggless) pasta and stuffed Veal. Overall this was a magnificent experience.

Tuscany is exactly as I had imagined but so much more when experiencing it in person. Everywhere we looked there are rolling hills covered in vine groves and dotted with cypress trees. It is scenic. Chianti wine is fruity and pleasant with a meal or on its own. We learned of a new white grape grown only in the region of San Gimignano, Veranacci, it subtly tastes like Sauvignon Blanc which we are not fans of. The local cheese is Pecorino and if the local producer is selling it, stock up. We bought 1.5 kilos (we drove to Tuscany to bring back wine and cheese) from a cheese shop that produces pecorino, ricotta and few other cheeses.

October is one of the better times to visit; it’s the beginning of harvest season so the vines were full of grapes, ready to be picked. Unfortunately that also means many wineries do not offer tours or tastings however we found enough that offered tours and/or tastings. And this trip was extra fun because of our friends. Eating typical Tuscan food, drinking wine and sharing laughs will make this as an unforgettable trip.

Sunday, December 1

Tuscany- Part I

After Dublin Ireland, this was our 2nd trip, traveling with friends. Although we’ve traveled with family this year, we wanted to make this trip with some friends. When they suggested a trip to the Tuscany region of Italy for wine and food, we agreed, of course.

There was weeks of planning that went into this trip. We were going with someone that’s a planner, like myself. We had 2 days of wine tastings planned, 1 daytrip to a city and another day to relax and take-in Tuscany.

After arriving on Wednesday evening, we had 20 minutes to unload our car and drive to dinner. We asked our Villa host directions to the restaurant and she said, in broken English, at the end of the road, turn left. Of course our GPS gave us an alternate route. Relying too much on technology, we followed the GPS and were completely lost. Thankfully with a phone call to the restaurant and directions, we got there 10 minutes after 8pm.

We ate at Agriturismo Il Vecchio Maneggi, communal style with 10 other guests. The host is a nonna that loves to feed her guests until we can’t eat anymore. We had multiple courses of cured meats, Farro soup, gnocchi, pork with saffron laced potatoes and salad, local (pecorino) cheeses and dessert. Our favorite were the farro soup, mashed potatoes with saffron and the cheeses with honey. There was always a full bottle of house wine on the table so unlimited wine was a bonus. The price is reasonable and the meal is worth the trek out to this agriturismo. During dinner, we learned they have few rooms for guests to stay and offer cooking classes. And if all that weren’t enough, they sell housemade wine, honey and oil on site.

The next day we left early and headed to Greve for wine tastings. First was Castello di Verrazzano for a beautiful view of the heart of Tuscany. The tour was engaging, especially the cellar with their iced grapes for dessert wine and displaying barrels of chianti.

Next was Castello Vicchiomaggio, down the street and across the hilltop from the first. We had the opportunity to try their wine at the shop and then walk around the winery’s garden, church and premises. For good views, both of these wineries in Greve are the place to visit on a beautiful, sunny day. For lunch in Greve, we stopped in at Enoteca Fuoripiazza in the smaller square. I recommend this for a quick lunch amidst wine tastings. It doesn’t offer gastronomic treasure of Tuscan specialties however the pasta and the meat dishes were fair. The restaurant host suggested we walk to the main square in Greve. The square is small and charming with a bread shop, butcher shop and a city building.

While driving to the next winery the husband pulled into an unassuming winery with a “We sell wine” sign. We rang the cowbell hanging on the door and within minutes pulled up a woman in her car. We tried their house wine as well as olive oils to buy. The husband and I were impressed with both. It was one of the most inexpensive wines we’d bought on the entire trip, costing 6-7 Euros/bottle.

Another winery we visited was Fattoria le Fonti which is impossible to find in the hilly town of Panzano. Although there are signs, we were going in circles trying to find the place. At last, we did find it and had a brief tasting. The woman that was doing the tasting was from Germany and interning for a short time. It was fun to speak German with her. She explained the owner is German who quit his job and bought the winery and works there full time. What a dream come true.

Dinner was at Taverna Bibbiano. That particular evening was Latin night with karaoke music and buffet. We opted out of that option and ordered a la carte from the menu. Instead of ordering by courses, we ordered an appetizer, a meat dish, and pasta, all to share. Our friends ordered three pastas to share. Our wild boar (chiangale) ragu with polenta was good however the polenta was cold, disappointing. And our friends said their risotto wasn’t very good. Other dishes were fine; the dinner was average. Although the meal wasn’t memorable, the evening was. When we were almost finished with our meal, we saw people run after something with big sticks. With the help of another restaurant guest, we learned there was a thief and they were chasing him off property. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen or heard of someone running after a thief with a wooden stick.

Monday, November 25

Apple Cake

It may seem that there isn’t much cooking or eating around here of recent but everyone’s got to eat, especially the husband.

Actually there has been a lot cooking. The food business is busier and I am enjoying it. Without boring with too much detail, I am happy to say I’ve taught few cooking classes. Mostly it’s on Indian food but few other ethnic cuisines have also been requested.

On eating at home, I have been inspired to try new recipes from our travels as well as comfort foods. The Tuscan trip (write up coming up) inspired me to try Ribollita, a hearty Tuscan soup with beans and greens. Although my recipe wasn’t authentic, the winter will be the perfect reason season to modify. And comfort foods like gujarati shaak (vegetable) with roti and Punjabi style Kidney beans.

And on a completely different note, here’s a dessert. See you next time

Apple Cake
Adapted from David Lebovits who borrowed it from Doire Greenspan’s Around my French Table

3/4 cup or 110 grams all purpose flour flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon pinch of salt
4 large apples (sweet and sour variety)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (or 120 grams) sugar
5 tablespoons dark rum, divided
7 tablespoons (or 100 grams) butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven. Butter an 8- or 9-inch (20-23cm) springform pan and place it on a baking sheet.

Peel and core the apples, then dice them into 1-inch (3cm) pieces.

In a large nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter on medium high heat. Add apples and cook on for 3- 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove and add 2 tablespoons of rum. Place the pan back on the stove and cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and let the apples cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy then stir in the sugar, and then rum. Whisk in half of the flour mixture, then gently stir in half of the melted butter

Stir in the remaining flour mixture, then the rest of the butter.

Fold in the apple cubes until they’re well-coated with the batter and scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top a little with a spatula.

Bake the cake for 50 minute to 1 hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake from the pan and carefully remove the sides of the cake pan, making sure no apples are stuck to it.

Serve slices of the cake by itself, topped with powdered sugar, or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

(This is good for someone that loves desserts as well as someone that doesn’t like sweet tasting things. The Husband.)

Tuesday, November 19

mysteries of living in Bavaria, Germany

Whenever I ask a German person if they speak English, the best answer I get is “a little bit” and most often it’s “no”. In those difficult situations when I don’t know the German words, I continue in English, upon hearing their response, I am baffled they say “a little bit.” Because the younger generation speaks much better English than they give themselves credit for. Sadly the older generation refuses to speak English, most of the time. Although I don’t know the precise reasons for this I do have a theory.

In general Germans are perfectionists (throw in efficient in there too since that’s the stereotype). And whether young or old, if asked to speak a language they aren’t fluent in, they don’t feel comfortable. That makes sense however I find it very challenging for someone like myself that doesn’t speak German fluently to be able to communicate with the locals. Although I speak conversational German and am able to get by in most simple conversations, at times, I have questions in English that I want to get answers for (also) in English. Unfortunately for me Germans are also impatient. When I try speaking German, sometimes they lose their patience and I can see it in their body language.

This is a conundrum because they say they only speak a “little bit” of English however I am not perfect in my German so that’s also not good enough, for them. Perfectionism and Impatience do not make for a good combination.

One other thing, Germans are very proud of their culture and people (including language) so they may be apprehensive to speak English; if they agreed to speak anything other than German, they may lose their roots.

When I figure out the best solution, I’ll let you know.

Thursday, August 22

Pisa and Firenze

Amongst other planning, I got to work and started making a list of all the restaurants I wanted to try and the sights we would want to see.  Of course we had to try all the delicious gelato and eat the fresh pasta.  And more importantly drink fantastic Tuscan wine.  Oh the sights- there were some of those as well.

When my brother in law and sister in law (his wife) booked their tickets, we were startled.  These are the same people that have promised a visit to US for the last 6 years and it has yet to happen.  Obviously right now, that’s impossible since we aren’t in US but we were hopeful.  When the tickets were bought, we were both excited.  We’ve only had the chance to host the husband’s parents and the two kids in our home (that was in US) so this was a new opportunity to host others.  Immediately we said we’d visit Pisa and Florence (Firenze) with them, a place we had not yet seen ourselves.  
We flew to Pisa with Ryanair, it was our first time.  Although we’d heard horror stories with luggage limits and seating, we escaped without a hitch.  There is a reason for inexpensive tickets, 19 euros one way to certain cities, it is a basic no frills airline.  You don’t get assigned seating.  When you add extras like check in luggage and overweight luggage, the total quickly adds up.   Unless you’ve paid for priority boarding, customers have to line up for seating and run to the plane once the gates open.  We had competitive brothers that wanted the best seats so we were fortunate enough to be second in line and get good seats.  My brother in law joked he’d knock someone out for a good seat.  

After 2 hours on the plane, we arrived in Pisa.  Our bed and breakfast was a basic place, step above a hostel and by no means a bed and breakfast but it was good for one night.  The breakfast was continental.  That morning we walked into the downtown where the tourists come in hoards.  

Pisa has the world famous Leaning Tower.  Near the Tower are the cathedral and baptistery, all made from the same material as the Tower.  We paid for a tour in Pisa and that was well worth the money.  It’s sponsored by the city and the fees are minimal.  The tour guide was well informed and shared extensive information about the Tower and its neighboring sights.  We learned that the ground soil the structures were built on is uneven and decay in the soil forced the structures to tilt.  We looked closely and noticed the Cathedral is also tilting, even though the Tower gets all the attention. I highly recommend a tour otherwise the self guided walk will take 22 minutes.  Interestingly enough, because the tower started leaning after the foundation and the first few levels were set, no architecture has come forward to claim their work.  (They were worried their life would be in jeopardy admitting to a building a tilting tower.)  

We ate lunch at Enoteca il Toscana, nearby.  We tried pasta with Tartuffo (truffels), pizza, and Pappardelle pomodoro with pancetta.  Everything had attention to detail on flavor.  Even the family enjoyed the pasta dishes. 

After lunch we headed to Firenze on the train, a short ride away from Pisa.  After arriving we rested in our out-of-the-way but charming bed and breakfast.  I highly recommend a stay here if you plan a visit to Firenze.  The beds and rooms are spacious (by European standards), the breakfast is assortment of fruits and pastries and Deborah (the owner or host) is a valuable resource.  

That evening, our goal was to sightsee briefly before drinking few glasses of wine.  We visited the Piazza della Signoria and sights around it.  It was bustling with tourists and locals; and impressive to see it in person.  Walking around the square and enjoying the surroundings is the key to this sight.  Walking back to our Bed & Breakfast, we found a restaurant for dinner, Osteria del Cocotrippone.  We shared stuffed cannelloni (covered in white cheese sauce and baked), chicken with roasted potatoes, and fusilli with vegetables.  Everything we ordered that night was delectable.  We walked away delighted with our first dinner in Firenze.  Although Firenze is famous for its Florentine Steak, we didn’t try it on this trip. 

The next day we toured the other parts of the city.  Florence is gorgeous to see by foot.  The famed bridges and the Duomo are two that are memorable.  The bridges have homes and buildings dotting the river, at a quick glance, artistic.  The Duomo towers the old city and unlike any other we’ve seen thus far in Western Europe; its exterior’s vibrant colors reminisce of bright colors in mosques.
With the nerds brothers a trip to Firenze would be incomplete without a trip to the Galileo museum.   We were all happily surprised at the collection pieces, especially the Physics professor in the group.  He was a kid in a candy store. Having little interest in the subject, I wasn't sure how it would be but I was surprised; if you like science even in the slightest and want a museum trip, I highly recommend it.  

We ate gelato few times that weekend because it was enticing each time.  If nothing else, gelato must be eaten daily while visiting Firenze Italy.  

We wrapped up the day with a stroll through old town.  Dinner was at a pizza place next to a large hotel, on the river.  The restaurant was overrun by tourists staying at the hotel and therefore yielded average food and unpleasant prices.  I can’t remember the name of this place or the large hotel next door but that’s good for everyone.   I’ve believed if the language mostly spoken when walking into a restaurant is English (where it should be the local language), walk out.  Unfortunately we were all too tired and starved to bother with anything else.  

With comfortable night’s sleep at the bed & breakfast and short bus ride back to Pisa, we were on our way home.  Overall this trip was meaningful because Firenze is a romantic city and a window into Tuscany.  Also it was a bonding experience for the 4 of us which we rarely get. After this trip, I am convinced my brother in law thinks I am a nut for planning my trips based on restaurants and going from one place to another for food.   

On an entirely different matter, I bought canned tomatoes in Firenze to bring back home for paella (in a cooking class in Spain in March, I learned an incredible recipe for Paella that used sofrito of onions and tomatoes; I wanted to remake the recipe for family on Sunday (a day everything is closed in Nuremberg).)  At the airport in Pisa, the TSA person made me throw away my canned tomatoes (!!!!) because it exceeded 3 ounce limit.  I was saddened; I will forever hold a grudge against the Pisa airport and RyanAir for idiotic rules.  (Why am I telling you this? Because I am still upset.) 

Thursday, July 18

dreams comes true in Switzerland

Visiting Switzerland has been a dream of my mother’s. It is one of those she thinks is magical. When my parents planned to visit in April (they were one of the guests in the midst of all the visitors), we agreed to visit Switzerland. My dad wanted to see the day to day European life and visit Italy but with a trip to Switzerland, Italy couldn’t be planned. Plus we had just visited Firenze and Pisa with other guests before my parents arrived.

With Indian (& some German) junk food on hand and playing cards packed, we drove. With couple mini breaks, we arrived in Interlaken that afternoon. The clouds were moving in with predicted storms but we trekked to the city to wonder around and eat dinner. Having had a long day in the car, we ate early and headed back to our Inn. We played cards for couple hours while it rained outside. Traveling or at home, we often played cards with the guests and it made all their visits fun.

The next morning the weather was better, especially on the peaks. We drove to couple waterfalls and learned because Interlaken and surrounding villages are in the Alps, there are plenty of waterfalls due to the melting snow. In the afternoon, we headed to Lauterbrunnen, a tiny village near Interlaken, to take the funicular to the top. Instead of Jungfrau, we chose Schilthorn because of its proximity. There are multiple changes on the funicular before arriving. Like true Indians, we brought food to eat at the top. For April, there were few visitors. To say the views were spectacular would be an understatement. No words can describe the scenery better than being there in person. More than any one of us, my mom was delighted. There is one café and one fancy restaurant but we opted to eat the food we brought. There were couple tables and chairs in café/souvenir shop and asked the woman behind the counter if we could eat our own food. Typical Indians. She was very nice and permitted; she suggested we buy drinks which we did. Indian food, beer and coffee and the Alps surrounding us was remarkable.

We took the funicular until Mürren and walked around the village. It was Sunday so everything was closed. I still loved photographing the homes and shops.

For dinner we ate a pizza restaurant in Interlaken, suggested by our Inn owner. As we walked around the city for the 2nd time, we noticed the surprisingly high number of Indian restaurants and Indian visitors. Having lived in Europe for 2 years now, I was not expecting to see so many Indians. We asked the restaurant owner (Sri Lankan) why there were so many brown people. And he explained since many Bollywood movies (especially in the 90s) were shot in Switzerland, some Swiss cities have developed partnership with Indian tour agencies to increase tourism. It makes sense; my mom fascination with Switzerland stems from seeing the Bollywood movies. Like my mom, these Indians were fulfilling their dream. There are also tons of watch stores selling Swiss watches and shops selling chocolates.

We left Interlaken the next morning and stopped at Lake Brienz for an hour. It’s a gorgeous lake divided in two. We didn’t walk around the lake but it seems possible. Heading to Lake Constance, Bodensee, on the back roads we saw signs for cheese and braked at one. When we pulled up, a man in overalls waved us in. We asked if he was selling cheese and he greeted us with a big smile. We entered a small room in the farm house where he told us to wait. He brought his young toddler and offered us cheeses to try. Having tried various aged cheese, we bought half kilo of the cheeses. We loved seeing the young toddler plead for more cheese. In Europe, they start eating delectable food young! Then he offered to try Apple schnapps which we did and after the first tasting we declined. It was too early to keep drinking shots of schnapps. If you ever see an Alpkäse sign, stop and buy some cheese. It is worth it!

We arrived to Lake Constance where we stayed at a unique bed and breakfast near the lake. The Romantik Hotel die Krone (in Gottlieben) is a restored and modernized to fit today’s wishes. It even boasts a small theater room. And the rooms are named after European kings and royalty, clever. For lunch we ate at the restaurant in the B&B. The selection consisted of local meats, fish from the lake with sides of seasonal vegetables. The wine options include local and international wine.

We dedicated half day to Lake Constance and the city, which is adequate to see the sights and walk in old town. It’s a university town with some sights. There are Roman ruins near the Constance Cathedral. To our surprise, we were yelled at by an older woman in the Cathedral's square. The husband was looking for a restaurant for dinner and an older woman approached us and lectured us for using our phone in an historic area of the city. She said she was offended we were being rude and didn’t appreciate the city and its history. It makes sense (if you're living in 19th century) but we laughed it off when she left. We found a fantastic Italian restaurant nearby, thank you technology. Pinocchio serves pizza and pasta and we all opted for the pasta.  Simple and tasty. 

We stopped at a busy chocolatier shop in the city to buy chocolates. Both mom and I were happy to have chocolates for the road.

When we were walking around Constance, we saw information for Burg Meersburg (Alte Burg) so of course we had to go! Before heading home, I was happy to make the trek to Meersburg because we found a wine store in the city that makes its own wine in a vineyard nearby. The day we went, the castle was closed to tours so we walked around the gardens. And the view of the lake from the castle grounds was spectacular, even with the clouds.

Swizterland is exactly as we imagined; beautiful rolling hills with manicured grass and waterfalls in the foreground and the snow covered Alps in the back. Jersey cows and sheep grazing. This was a picture perfect trip with many memories.

Monday, July 8

Budapest, Hungary

I’ve long waited to write this post. I contemplated skipping it all together but that didn’t seem fair. I didn’t want to write it because the night before we left, I was sick. Stomach bug or ill and I had to go to the bathroom every couple hours. We chose to rent a car for this journey, a 7 hour car ride. Imagine the horror on my face that morning when I didn’t know if I could sit for more than 2 hours at a time without using the bathroom. Instead of 7 hours, it was closer to 8.5 hours with multiple breaks.

So here it is, one of the first trips we took after moving to Germany.
Budapest is divided by the Danube. Budapest is two cities: Buda and Pest. Buda is quieter and residential while Pest is the busy, party area of the town. We are no party animals but we stayed in Pest and found it very convenient. There are bars on the river boardwalk that were crowded in the evenings, sadly we didn’t make it out to hang with the cool kids.

The most impressive sight is the parliament. They offer tours in Hungarian and English but be prepared to wait in long lines. We arrived early for the 10am tour, not early enough, because that tour was booked; the security told us to keep waiting. An hour later we were. The waiting que and admittance is haphazard, some individuals were allowed to enter for unknown reasons and some were sent to the back of the line. (Obviously, people in group tours with prepaid tickets were admitted first.) The building is something of a monstrosity from inside and out. Since it is the 3rd largest parliament building in Europe, the tour covers only 10% of the interiors. The rooms and furniture are preserved with the country’s history in mind. The tour was 30- 45 minutes and worth the price.
I highly recommend a boat cruise on the Danube; seeing many of the city’s sights from the water is breathtaking. The hike up to Castle Hill in Buda is rewarding with spectacular views of the parliament and city of Pest. Same can be said for the steps to the top of St. Peter’s basilica.

Budapest is like a forgotten stepchild of the European uncle. A city once suppressed and the voices of its people silenced, Budapest is suspended in pre-iron curtain days and trying to recover. It is part of the European Union but the needs time to repair. It has more graffiti than we had ever seen in public space. (That opinion is altered because we’ve visited other European cities.)

Although we drove we used public transportation around the city. Some street trams were dated while few were modernized. The wires on the older tram lines had electric sparks, a sign of much needed upgrade. When we tried to buy tickets for the tram, the dated machine took our money and didn’t print a ticket. There are certainly signs of the city’s resiliency and of people ready to embrace the modern times.

Speaking of people, they are some of the nicest people we encountered. For instance, when we asked for clarification on various Hungarian paprika sold in the Central Market, the vendors were eager to answer our queries. One morning we ate Langos for breakfast at the Market and the locals eating at the same stall were generous and friendly. The vendor explained in her broken English what toppings are preferred by Hungarians. Langos is deep fried bread dough topped with sour cream and cheese. It is the perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack! Having traveled in Europe, we’ve experienced snooty Western European cities (and people) while Budapest (and Prague) offered memorable hospitality and customer service.

At the market, we bought 1/2 kilo each of Hungarian sweet paprika and smoked paprika. They made great gifts. And on shopping, everything was much cheaper comparatively to Germany. I don’t know the reason, but we were delighted with the low prices on food, shopping and hotels.

However I was disappointed in a restaurant recommendation from a taxi driver. The restaurant was upscale and geared to the high spending tourists especially because the food was average. There we tried Goulash. I was equipped with a list of places the locals frequent but it didn’t work in our favor to try any of them.

I am glad that we went to Budapest; it is a true eastern European city. If we had more time here, I would go back to try the amazing food it has to offer. And hopefully the 2nd time around, I won’t be sick.

Tuesday, July 2

Salzburg, Austria

The last few months have been a little bit insane, a little bit overwhelming and a whole lot of fun. We had a long line of guests from March until June. In addition to hosting and entertaining, we also traveled with the guests. There are so many wonderful trips I plan to write about.

After my parents in law left in June, we visited Salzburg Austria. It was a city high on our list because of its closeness and charm.

We used a Bayern ticket to get to Salzburg; the city is one stop after crossing the (German) border. That is normally how it is supposed to be. The Friday we visited, it was a different story. Few stops before the border, the train conductor announced everyone depart the train at the next stop. Puzzled, we asked another passenger for clarification and she confirmed our suspicions. At the station, we, along with all the other passengers, boarded busses. For the next 40 minutes, we traveled through small towns and villages on the German back roads. With clouds moving through the sky and the sun setting, it was a scenic drive, even in a packed bus. Arriving in Freilassing, we were herded off the bus and told to wait for a train. After 25 minutes of waiting, everyone boarded the train to Salzburg. And 7 minutes later, we arrived at our station, Salzburg Hauptbahnhof. Why such a hassle for a trip that normally takes 4- 5 hours on a train? Our trip was after the rainostrophe of Europe which caused the floodcalypse. Parts of Eastern Europe and some Southeastern German towns were flooded and the rail tracks were under water.

Saturday was packed with sightseeing and a tour. We visited some key sights on our own in the morning. At noon, we joined a English city tour. The best part was we were the only visitors in the group so we had a private tour. The guide was born and brought up in Salzburg so we couldn’t have had a more knowledgeable guide. He was smug about being an Austrian but it was entertaining. For instance we asked him why many women were dressed in their dirndls and the men in their lederhosen, inquiring if there was a festival we should know about? And his answer was simple, “because the weather is nice people are dressed up in their traditional clothes”. Puzzled, we said, we live in Nürnberg and have yet to see people dressed up on beautiful summer days. His response, we’re not in Germany, we are in Austria.” Well that cleared up that. We walked by the oldest restaurant in Europe. He didn’t seem thrilled about the place so we didn’t bother trying the food. We learned about Mozart’s history and impact on Salzburg. The guide recommended Mozart’s home but we chose not to, because there were a long line of tourists. Japanese tourists, apparently Japanese tourists are big Mozart, Wagner and other European composers’ fans. Another fact was Mozart was his sister. She was a remarkable musician, but overshadowed by her brother’s accomplishments. She has a memorial in Salzburg.

On Sunday we did the Sound of Music tour on bicycles. It was neat to see the sights that were part of the movie and hear the history. We both learned that Sound of Music was loosely based on a true story of Maria von Trapp and the family. Remarkably the family toured as musical acts before they were known as the Von Trapp family from Sound of Music. Sadly, Maria accepted a contract with the Hollywood producer that compensated very little in royalties for selling her story. Hollywood selling out families for entertainment, of course. Our bicycle tour guide was okay but we both enjoyed the 4 hour ride. There is one steep hill to climb but otherwise the ride is comfortable and moderately-paced.

My favorite visit was to the Fortress, better known as Festung Hohensalzburg. To reach the fortress, you can hike up or take the funicular for 9.80 euros. The ticket includes admission to the museum and audio guide inside the fortress. The history is impressive; construction was first started in 11th century and has been expanded and restored since. The views of the city and the mountains surrounding are breathtaking. The guide at the fortress was an Ohioan temporarily living in Salzburg. He was so excited to meet us, he took a photo with us to show his Austrian friends that we Ohioans do exist.

The meals were acceptable. Saturday’s lunch was at a spot recommended by the guide and it was German food. Dinner was at Augustiner Bräu with a liter of beer and half chicken and some sausages. It is local brew (not connected to the Munich Augustiner) in a spacious beer garden. We wanted to try a highly raved restaurant on Sunday but it was closed. It was German fare in Austria. I was hoping to try something new but didn’t see something non-German.

The return trip was also tricky because of the flooding. We departed Salzburg hauptbahnhof and arrived at Landschut, Germany for a train transfer. Instead of taking another German train, we took a Czech train towards Prague. I must say how superbly nice the train personnel were on the Czech train. Before boarding the train, we asked if we could board with German Bayer ticket and the woman approved. She explained due to the floods they weren’t checking tickets and allowing exceptions. Once on the train, she reseated us to train cars that were heading in the direction we needed to go. Had she not done this, we probably would’ve ended up elsewhere. We enjoyed few, very inexpensive Czech, beers in the dining car until our next and final transfer station, Schwandorf. From there we took a German train home. Although confusing and very uninteresting, it was nice to arrive at a reasonable hour.

Wednesday, April 17

Hazelnut Squares

Time’s been flying by here. Probably around where you are too. I can’t believe it’s already mid April! I welcome it, with the sun and warm temperatures.

In early March, a certain bff came for a brief visit before we traveled to Spain for a grand celebration. And days after returning we hosted family from India. And it’s not over yet. My parents arrive for a visit at the end of this week.

To welcome the guests, I've kept sweet somethings on hand.  I made these for the first guest.  They’re called mocha cuts, but I would call them hazelnut squares with mocha topping.

And I am really excited about finding a food blog in Germany. The author makes amazing food and photographs it, almost daily! I highly recommend browsing through the site and try it without your mouth watering.(There's an English translation option.)

Hazelnut Squares
Yield- 35 pieces

100 grams of butter, room temperature
100 grams of brown sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon Rum
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
60 grams hazelnuts ground medium fine
50 grams dark chocolate (68% or darker), grated
125 grams all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons brewed coffee, cooled
200 grams of powdered sugar

Line a 12 x 9 inch (30 x 24 cm) jelly roll pan with baking paper. Butter the paper to prevent sticking.

Preheat oven to 350°F or 175°C.

Whisk the butter and sugar with a hand mixer. Stir in the egg, then rum. Then stir in spices and nuts. Stir in grated chocolate. In a separate bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder. With a spatula, stir in the flour mixture into the butter & sugar. Do not overmix.

Mold the dough evenly in the pan. Place the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and immediately cut into 1 1/2 inch or 4cm squares. (Using a rule helps immensely.)

Combine the coffee and powdered sugar in a bowl. Pour the topping over the warm squares, making sure to cover most of the surface area. Top with grated chocolate.