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Tuesday, March 25


I’ve raved about our wonderfully warm February and March so when I saw the first of spring produce it was reassuring.

After moving here, during our first spring I saw plenty of Bärlauch at the farmer’s market. I inquired, smelled and even tasted the thing but couldn’t exactly place it. Thanks to Google, I found out Bärlauch is just ramps (in America). It is a spring herb that tastes like a cross between garlic and leeks. It’s garlicky in taste but mild like a leek. The best way to use it is pesto and in US I sautéed it with cooked pasta and topped it with cheese.

This past Saturday (my) farm stand had Bärlauch, the last of the day. It sells out quick especially because it’s in season for very short period (approximately 4 weeks)!

The pesto is so good, we’ve added it to many things (breakfast sandwich, lentil salad, homemade veggie burgers and on toast). I am planning to buy few more bunches this weekend to make pesto to freeze for later.

(Random note- speaking of veggie burger, any ideas or suggestions on making a good one? I’ve tried couple recipes and haven’t had success. The first one was with black beans and the second time was chickpeas with quinoa. Both were fine but tasted mushy and more like a lentil patty and less like a veggie burger. I am taking suggestions so feel free to let me know.)

Thursday, March 20

Karneval in Köln (Cologne)

Couple weekends ago we visited Köln (Cologne) for Karneval; something we wanted to do once. Why not experience the biggest parties thrown by a city and dress up in costume?

Karneval starts on November 11th each year and is celebrated through Ash Wednesday, before lent. The tradition started long time ago and includes costumes, parades, and parties the week before Ash Wednesday.

The husband has a colleague from Essen and he offered to take us to Köln because he and his girlfriend were going to Essen. After a 3.5 hour car ride, we arrived in the afternoon. Our hotel was Radisson Blu, few tram stops from the center of city. (When we booked our hotel in beginning of February, our options were very limited.)

0.2 beer glasses dispenser
The first evening we ventured to Päffgen for dinner and Kölsch beer. Kölsch is what the locals call their beer. (Each region has their particular beer and here is no exception.) The beer is light in taste. By the time we arrived, the entire restaurant was packed with people singing, dancing, and couple small rooms dedicated for dining. We managed to grab couple seats in the dining area. For dinner we ordered sauerbraten, and an appetizer portion of blood sausage with dark bread. The sauerbraten came with potato dumplings and apple sauce. The husband liked the dumplings and the apple sauce but unfortunately was not thrilled about the sauerbraten because it was slightly sweet and covered in a sweet berry sauce. The blood sausage was fine. We drank couple rounds of beer and then wandered the city for the public display of debauchery.

Later that night we took advantage of the spa in the hotel. The spa is in the basement adjoined by the fitness center. The spa was well equipped; there was a Finnish sauna, steam room, pool with extremely cold water, relaxing room, and showers. Additionally there’s a changing room. The idea is to spend 10- 15 minutes in the steam/sauna rooms, take a dip in the cold water and rotate again. The unusual rule (for us because we aren’t used to this custom) at German saunas is once inside the rooms all clothes must be removed. We spent 45 minutes in the spa area and were thoroughly relaxed. Although I am not a fan of franchise hotels, Radisson Blu was wonderful with friendly service and large rooms.

We made our way to Die Rösterei for breakfast. The restaurant is away from the main tourist attractions and was full of locals, a good sign. We ordered a broccoli and cheese quiche and he ordered the weekend special. His plate came with homemade bread, scrambled eggs, jam, butter and bacon. Bacon was the only reason he ordered this because bacon in a German restaurant is like having freshly baked preservative-free bread in America. He enjoyed all of the food except for the extra crusty homemade bread. The portion size of my quiche was extra large but it was light, fluffy and had the right amount of broccoli. I would order it again. Our cappuccinos were served with a small piece of fudge, a nice touch.

Walking back to the train station we saw hoards of people dressed up because of a parade; we watched the last end of a parade in procession. We changed into our costumes at the hotel and went back to Päffgen for beer. Sunday evening was no different than Saturday. We stood in one of the large rooms, and made friends with few locals. They bought us few rounds of beer and we bought them couple rounds. The restaurant plays Kölsch music on loud speakers (on repeat). Even though we didn’t understand most of the songs, the music is entertaining and everyone sings along. Drinking and dancing with friendly strangers was the most fun we’ve had in Germany. Period.

Monday is known as Rosenmontag (rose Monday) and the most well known to attract locals, tourists, old and young. The entire city is closed for holiday. According to Wiki, Rosenmontag is most celebrated in German speaking countries. We went back to Die Rösterei to find it closed but next door Café Bauturm was open and offered a simple menu. Everything is a la carte with breads, eggs, ham, and deli meats. There were some other items but the menu is limited.

We were warned by the locals the previous night to avoid the Hauptbanhhof (main city station) and Dom (Church) areas because they’d be full of tourists and overcrowded. Instead we found a spot near the breakfast place. Where we were standing, the parade was delayed in starting. There were local organization floats, high school bands, and company floats. Some floats we had no idea about and others were obvious. We had heard lots of candy is thrown off the floats to catch, unfortunately we weren’t told that the candy is flung. And when you aren’t watching, it whacks you on the head like a pellet of chocolate. (Though I rather have chocolate pellets hit me than anything else.) In anticipation for the candy I brought a bag, wise but not wise enough. We ended up giving most of the candy away to a young teen next to us who in return shared one of his large plastic bags with me for the candy we kept. The parade was worth the Karneval trip.

People kids screamed Kamelle (candy/chocolate) when the floats passed while the women screamed Struessjer (flowers). Also, people on the floats yell Kölle and we respond with Alaaf! We heard Kölle Alaaf repeatedly over the weekend. We thought the parade would be 3 hours long and learned later it's 5+ hours. After the 4th hour, we headed to dinner at Malzmühle at the Heumarkt tram stop. We wondered through the dining room and found the only available two seats at a large table with a group. They offered Karneval menu with soups and few main dishes. The husband ordered curry wurst with French fries (with local beer, grilled sausages and fries are the best!) and I ordered the green pea and ham hock soup. Both were heavy but flavorful. Obviously due to the Karneval crowd I suspect the restaurant makes most dishes in advance and for a soup that’s a good thing.

the loot chocolate
After our beers we headed to the main station for our train. Some stand outs from the weekend, the people in Köln are extremely friendly and know how to have a good time, even with tourists. The city’s architecture is modern and attractive. Prior to learning about Karneval we didn’t have Köln as one of the cities to visit but after our weekend I say everyone should go! We visited the Dom (third tallest church in the world) but due to Sunday service and overcrowding of tourists, it was a quick visit. Without the tourists, I believe you can easily spend an hour or two in the church. And the city’s public transportation is extensive and easy to navigate.

Tuesday, March 11


This month we are celebrating birthdays so this post is timely in sharing the German birthday tradition. In the US when it is someone’s birthday they get flowers, cake (cupcakes), gifts, drinks during happy hour and/or dinner from friends, family, and coworkers.

In the first few months we learned birthdays and work anniversaries have a special tradition.

The individual that’s celebrating must should bring in a treat to share with friends at work (or class). When I took German classes, each time it was someone’s birthday we brought something to share with everyone. The same applies at work. The treats can vary from freshly baked Breze (pretzels) to Kuchen (German form of cake or pie) to fresh breads with deli meats to what the individual wants to bring.

If the birthday person wants to have a dinner party at a restaurant or their home, they expense it themselves. The idea is celebrating the big day by inviting close friends and family to dinner. Speaking of dinner, last year I helped organize and cater a dinner party for one of our friends. They’re much, much, much older and have become like family. It was his 70th birthday (25, 30, 35, 40 and each decade thereafter are momentous) and the couple planned to have a dinner part in their home with 10- 15 of their friends, including the husband and I. There was an aperitif and appetizer course, main course, dessert course and lots of singing. The wife of the couple played the piano while others sang songs. Songs like Bella Marie. Special.

So today in celebrating the husband’s birthday I baked brownies, at his request. Those divine brownies.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag mein Mann!

Saturday, March 8


We took an overnight train from Munich to Paris on Thursday evening so it would give us all day Friday to sightsee. Unfortunately due to terrible storms in Germany, our train stopped (moving) in the middle of the night (while we were sleeping) and we didn’t arrive in Paris until 12 as opposed to the planned 9:15am. So having that delay threw us off a little but not enough to spoil the schedule.

It was my first time in the city and the husband’s second.

We took the metro to our AirBnB. The host had communicated the instructions on getting inside, precisely. The entry was simple but the climb up to the 6th floor was not. She had mentioned the apartment was on the top floor but did not state 6th floor. A mistake on our part for not asking. Once inside, we noticed the size of the apartment. Instead of the large, spacious photos of the room we saw online, the apartment was tiny. We wanted to shower before heading out for lunch and the water heater didn’t work so we contacted the host who said it would take 30- 45 minutes to heat the water. Unfortunate. Against our wishes, we left without showering to see the city. The Airbnb listed apartment is on Rue de Rochechouart, Paris, Île-de-France. Avoid it.

We were starved so we made a quick stop at a nearby bakery to get plain and chocolate croissants. When in Paris….

A note about our trip, a Francophile friend in Ohio recommended some restaurants and sights. Thank you!

We walked into Le Rubis and it was completely full but the host (an older man) directed us upstairs. Upon being seated, the server (an older lady) asked us for drinks and food order. This is when we realized we had to use the little French we knew (oui, vin, à la carte, eau). Good thing the server was extremely helpful and nice. We ordered half carafe vin (wine) and Formule. Many restaurants offer Formule or Menu d’Plat for lunch. Formule is main entrée with salad or dessert and Menu is main entrée with both salad and dessert. We both ordered a salad with a main entrée. The salad was simple and fresh and the entrees were tasty. The experience of the food and restaurant had a home cooked feel.

Then we strolled around the touristic areas. And since the weather was clear, we visited THE Eiffel Tower. What a magnificent beauty it is! I was thrilled when we approached it by the train. It definitely is worth the painstaking long lines and prices. Though I have to say, admiring the tower from the ground is a much better idea then the trip up. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes at me for saying this but I have seen my share of cities from the top (Prague to Budapest to Rome); the charm of Paris is magnified while sitting in the park, people watching, a glass of wine and looking at the tower.

For dinner the first night we attempted Frenchie. Friend recommended. She also suggested making reservations in advance, which we didn’t. What a nightmare. This restaurant has gotten media attention for its food and drinks. They have seats at the restaurant and the bar, which gets overcrowded after 6pm. The husband flirted with the host to see if we could snag a table at the restaurant and that unfortunately did not work. We put our name on the list for the bar and walked to Verjus (another restaurant recommended by the friend). The scene there was just as busy. (I don’t understand these crazy busy places; I suspect it is due to the hype.) Since we left the Frenchie bar (to walk over to Verjus), the bartender took our name off the list. When we returned, we were an hour late but not much higher on the list. We were finally seated 2.5 hours later. The husband was annoyed and I can understand why.

We sat at a table over from the kitchen window so we could observe the kitchen. It was neat to see the chefs work in a small space. We ordered a pulled pork sandwich, lamb with borlotti beans and harissa, and pappardelle with ragu. Portions are prepared in a way that can be shared. The lamb blew both of us away, especially with a hint of harissa. The ragu was good, but (having a culinary background, I am a harder critic of foods than average folks) it missed the oomph. Our least favorite was the pulled pork sandwich. Now I know not to order an American version of something in a country that specializes in game, seafood, and classical foods. We found Frenchie’s concept cool but the execution was scarce. I don’t think Frenchie (the bar) is worth the hype. The amount of people waiting in line for dinner service doesn’t justify for the food. Though I will say, next time I am back in the city I will make reservations for the actual restaurant offering prix fixe menu.

The next day we visited the Louvre. For the unfamiliar, it is one of the largest museums and houses art and objects from the world making it highly visited sight after the Eiffel Tower. One could easily spend multiple days viewing all the pieces. We did not have intent for that. We like visiting museums for few hours but beyond that everything starts to look the same. The best investments, FREE!!!, we made prior to visiting was download Rick Steves’ (public radio supporter nerd alert) guide to both the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay and the city of Paris. While other visitors were busy getting audio guides from the museum, we bought our tickets and walked in with our headphones and smart phones and started the tour on our own. The audio tour is thorough but light. We were thankful the podcast features the important pieces. Reviewing every single piece in the museum would be daunting and tiresome for everyone.

Cosi (friend recommended) was perfect for a mid day lunch. I got a veggie sandwich with brie, tomatoes and pesto while the husband got a fish sandwich. His fish was cold and we learned he doesn’t like cold fish sandwiches but that’s not Cosi’s problem. Both sandwiches were tasty. The chocolate cake was freshly made and rounded the meal perfectly.

At Musee d’Orsay we waited in a long line before entering. All these museums, including the Eiffel Tower, get many visitors so be prepared to wait. Paris is on everyone’s list and unless you visit in winter when there are fewer tourists waiting is a must.

Musee d’Orsay houses mostly French art over multiple floors. It has works by Jean-François Millet, Edgar Degas, and Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. We had Rick Steves’ podcast here as well and it made for a manageable visit. Even with all the crowds, it’s worth seeing the museums. Without the podcasts, the museums would’ve been tough. I don’t know how any one visits these large museums without a tour guide or audio guide.

If interested, the same friend highly recommends the Orangerie. I can’t speak for it since we didn’t have time to go.

Along the same premise we did a walking tour of the city with Rick Steves’ audio guide of Paris, starting at Notre Dame. It was unique because we walked around the city, listening to a professional explain the city’s history. On the way, we stopped at berthillon for ice cream. Funny thing, Rick mentions it on his guide also! The ice cream is worth the stop.

For dinner we walked to Les Papilles (friend recommended); it was packed when we walked in at 7:10. The host offered two seats at the bar, the only available seats she said. The husband looked at me and said let’s do it. We knew if we declined and walked somewhere else, it would be the same situation or worse, long waiting. So we sat and had a 4 course meal with wine. Les Papilles does prix fixe menu with two seatings- one at 7 and the next at 9:30.

We had cauliflower soup with bacon and croutons. The main was braised lamb shanks with summer vegetables. My lamb was a tad dry but the husband’s was perfectly cooked. The veggies were braised in the meat juices and made for a better accompaniment with lamb. Then there was blue cheese with prune jam and finally panna cotta as dessert. I was going crazy for the blue cheese and prune jam because it’s very French and it was very tasty. The dinner was a splurge because although the dinner was only 35/person, the bartender sold us an extraordinarily expensive bottle of wine. Before our first course, I enjoyed sipping the wine but it didn’t pair as well with our meal as it could have, especially with the price tag. These are just little quirks that aren’t important to most people but someone with a food background I am more critical. I must add Les Papilles doesn’t mess around with their portions. For a French restaurant in Paris, the food could’ve easily fed 3 adults or 2 adults and children. Of course there were only 2 lamb shanks but each big enough to share. All the courses were brilliantly made, and the food was presented timely. For not having reservations anywhere in the city on a Saturday night, it was worth the splurge. Reservations are a must.

One of my favorite things (about any city) is to visit the farmer’s market. And I couldn’t have been happier than to visit one on Sunday of our trip. It was brimming with happy vendors and customers, ready to take on the day. We walked around for a while, took photos, bought a baguette and some cheese. Then we ate delicious buckwheat crepes for breakfast and walked over to Montmartre. I wish I could’ve bought all the amazing food they sold at the market.

Montmartre is a beautiful neighborhood with Basilica of the Sacré Cœur at the center. Once there, walk to the square behind the Basilica and you’ll find plenty of artists, displaying their artwork and some selling it. It was cool to walk through the aisles of art and see the faces behind the work. And sitting on the Basilica steps, admiring Paris isn’t so bad either.

For late lunch we walked in Le Trumilou at 1:30 we were able to get a table amongst the locals. The place was buzzing with couples admiring each other while the families attended to their children. This is a true Bistro if you’re looking for one. We ordered half carafe with Formule; the food was fresh and delicious. For a simple but authentic bistro meal and service this is the place.

Each morning all I wanted was croissants and coffee for breakfast so that’s exactly what we got. They were worth it. On another food note, I was sad we didn’t eat more macaroons. After a lunch at Cosi, we passed Laduree Macaroons and bought some for walk. They were divine. I wished we were near P. Herme shops to try but time didn’t permit.

Near our AirBnB apartment I had spotted a cheese shop, Ferme Saint Hubert. I made it a point to go on Saturday to buy cheese for the train ride home. There are hundreds of cheeses and overwhelming is an understatement. Although we couldn’t understand the name and description on the cheeses, we tried some and bought couple. The people behind the counter were extremely friendly and very patient which made this experience unique. Although I still don’t know what cheeses we ate over the next few days after the trip, we enjoyed all with French wine we’d bought at the wine shop across from the cheese shop. If you want a locals-friendly cheese shop, visit Ferme Saint Hubert.

The three days in Paris were brief but wonderful. Paris indeed is a large city and gets many tourists but with a specific plan, a guide and a map, it can be special. And we didn’t let the cloudy and grey weather disrupt our plans. Sometimes you can’t get everything so I am glad we got 3 days in the city of lights.

If you have a free evening, grab a bottle of wine and go to the green space by the Eiffel Tower. There’s a brief light show at night that lights up the tower and the city. It’s romantic.