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Wednesday, May 28

Parents love Biscotti

I often have a fantastic time when my mom visits us. Not only does she stay for extended time, she always comes with plans to cook all kinds of food I don’t normally make. Last time she visited she taught me how to make khaman or tried. I have attempted khaman on my own but they aren’t as good as when she is here; there’s a reason I learn new recipes from her!

In addition to making Indian food few days, she wanted to learn to make ethnic recipes. One was a recipe for chicken in pumpkin seed sauce (reminiscent of Mexican cuisine). I have made green sauce in US using tomatillos (that green fruit originated in Mexico look like tomatoes but come in skins known as husks, sticky on the peel and taste tart). Since Tomatillos aren’t available here in Germany so I have been making the green sauce without them. Blending pumpkin seeds, garlic, Serrano peppers, spices and cilantro into a smooth paste makes for a great sauce.

The recipe I am sharing today is one of her and my dad’s favorites. The one requested item that they ask me to bring is biscotti. So I thought I’d show her how to make it and take some for home.

I had been using another recipe in the past but when I stumbled upon the NPR recipe. After trying this recipe I can attest it is a keeper! I slightly modified the recipe.

Traditional Italian Almond Biscotti
Makes about 36 biscotti (3/4-inch-wide cookies)

3 cups unsalted whole almonds
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

In a large bowl, hand mix toasted almonds, sugars, cinnamon, baking powder and flour.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Add the vanilla and whisk until well blended. Add to the flour mixture. Stir a few times. Work the batter together with lightly floured hands. The mixture will be sticky, but persevere. Keep squeezing the batter with your hands until a dough starts to form. Once the dough is firm, form a ball. Divide the ball into 4 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, place 1 piece of dough, and using your hands, roll into a log shape that is approximately 8 inches long, 2 inches wide and 3/4 of an inch high. If it's sticky, simply dust your palms with more flour. Repeat with remaining 3 pieces of dough. Place 2 logs per baking sheet.

Bake for 40 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, or until the tops of the loaves are shiny and deep golden. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes before slicing.

Place a loaf on a cutting board. Using a large serrated knife, cut 3/4-inch-thick slices, either straight or on the diagonal. Use a back and forth motion to prevent crumbling. Each loaf should yield 9 to 11 cookies. If the cookie is crumbling, then let it cool a few more minutes. Don't let it rest too long, however, or it could become too hard to slice.

Place slices on their sides back on the baking sheets. Place in the still warm oven with the temperature off and the door closed for 30 to 60 minutes. The longer they stay in the oven, the harder they will become. Remove from oven and cool completely before storing in an airtight container, preferably a tin, which helps keep them crisp. Stored properly, biscotti will last up to a month.

These did not last a month, more like 1 week, a testament to the taste.

Thursday, May 22

Castles worth visiting

In every guidebook and on every travel website one sight that is recommended for American visitors is Schloss Neuschwanstein also known as the Disney Castle. When a friend visited she wanted to go to this castle. And then again when family visited recently, “seeing German castles” was on the list.

The brief history is King Ludwig (the crazy one that splurged on castles) built this as a vacation home. If time permits, also tour Schloss Hohenschwangau, where King Ludwig spent his childhood summers. Due to Neuschwanstein’s high percentage of visitors each year reserve tickets in advance or you will find yourself waiting in long lines, especially in warmer weather.

When I went with my friend on a winter weekday, we took the train using the Bayern pass. And we learned Bayern pass can only be used after 9am on weekdays and anytime on weekends. We had multiple transfers. 2 stops before our first transfer the ticket checker explained the pass rules and asked to deboard the train at the next stop. The next train arrived after 9 and we boarded. Few transfers and a short bus ride from Hohenschwangau’s main station to the castle’s ticket office, we arrived. Smooth sailing, right? Wrong. We bought our tickets and walked to Hohenschwangau Castle for the first tour. The tour is brief and in it includes royalty’s bedrooms, living/dining quarters. In my opinion, the best part of this tour is the view of Schloss Neuschwanstein. Check in advance or contact the castle because English tours aren’t offered daily. Then we hiked up the hill in snow to the Neuschwanstein’s entrance. By 2pm, we were cold, starved and almost ready to go home. The tour details the king’s life and his mysterious death. The chandelier in the dining room is elegant. The castle is large however only few rooms are open for visits making this also a short tour.

For GPS directions, both castles are in the town of Hohenschwangau. Park the car in one of the lots and claim the reserved tickets at the office. There are three options: walk up (the hill) to Neuschwanstein, take the horse carriage for small fee or take the bus for even a smaller fee. The bus is only available in late Spring, Summer and early Fall. My mom, sister and nephew horse rode the carriage while the husband and I hiked up on foot.

Even walking down the stairs inside the castle to exit on that cold day was so bone chillingly cold and our toes felt like they would fall off. The walk down was worse due to the snow. At the bus stop we learned the bus had departed and the next would arrive in 30 minutes. Instead of waiting we started walking to the main train station. On our way a car stopped to ask where we were going. The man and woman offered to drive us the short distance. Without thinking twice we both hopped in and were grateful for the kindness of strangers. Thank you! (Normally I say don’t get in cars with strangers but not that day!)

The Winter visit was a very different experience than the Spring; don’t make our mistakes and visit in cold months. If using the Bayern pass depart after 9am. More importantly plan ahead and book advance tickets. Traveling by car is more convenient and with the Alps as the backdrop a visit is a must on a clear day.

Wednesday, May 14

Tulips in Netherlands

We are here to make dreams come true, at least for my mom. My mom is a fanatic for gardens, flowers and all things nature. Since her trip was planned very last minute, we decided to drive to Netherlands for few days. Our time there coincided with the Tulip growing season.

On Friday we drove to Kleve Germany; we decided it would be best to spend the nights in Kleve due to its proximity to Netherlands. Bed and Breakfast Rebeige is outside the heart of town and isolated. With proper directions from the owner, we reached at 9pm, after a brief stop at a rest stop with our homemade Indian meal. It was my mom’s wish to eat homemade food on Friday since we’d eat out the other days so we were happy to oblige. The owner showed us to our rooms and explained the TV/DVD details. The room was spacious and moderately decorated with IKEA pieces. The bathroom is spacious with a walk in shower. Signs are everywhere of the home’s goal to be environmentally friendly; solar roof panels, asking to turn off all lights upon leaving, the rainwater is stored in tanks and used for shower and toilets.

The morning’s breakfast was a large spread with deli meats, fresh fruits, homemade bread, yogurt and freshly brewed coffee. The owner even offered to help us plan our car route from Haarlem to Leiden with few stops, one included Keukenhof. The drive from Kleve was a short one of 2 hours. Haarlem is a small town with few main squares (an Amsterdam suburb feel but yet with a charm of a small town). We drove through the town to proceed to the flower garden at Keukenhof. Allocate 2 hours minimum because it has greenhouses and outdoor gardens full of flowers (mostly tulips).

After strolling through the gardens we drove to the open tulip fields. This was the dream my mom had of seeing tulips, endless rows of flowers.

This is also where parts of the bollywood (Hollywood + Bombay) movie Silsila was filmed. In addition to Keukenhof, the field of tulips was a charming experience.

We proceeded to drive to Leiden but without luck of finding tulip fields on either side of the road. Having a shorter day than planned we drove to Gouda for a quick stop. Unfortunately by 4:30-5pm on Saturday, most of the down was winding up for the day. Other than few restaurants preparing for dinner, both the farmer’s market and boutique shops were closing. We were hoping to buy some Gouda cheese but weren’t lucky. Walking up and down the small streets, the city felt reminiscent of Amsterdam. Like it’s older sister, Gouda sits on canals with row houses and constructed precisely like Amsterdam.

We ate dinner at Akropolis, a Greek restaurant, in Kleve. The multiple dining rooms are large spaces for parties. The restaurant serves many meals efficiently and the service is generous. The food is good and may offer best selection in the area.

On Sunday we drove back home using the back roads of Germany, stopping in small towns for pictures and snacks.

The tulips were the prefect reason to see the quieter parts of Netherlands & Germany. Tip- Late March to early May is the best time to visit for peak bloom, check google for details before planning your trip.