I think, it’s Like, I mean, Wow

hamburg Just returned from a long weekend to Hamburg, by way of a very narrow escape from both the British Airways strike and the ash cloud. Our guardian angel now deserves a little rest, but hopefully won’t desert us all together. Fortunately, we didn’t know of the latest airspace closure while we were out and only learned of it hours prior to our return, so we could enjoy an unworried weekend with our friends in Hamburg. (More photos will be coming up soon.)

We had always thought Paris, Sydney and London make the perfect blend for the perfect city: cosmopolitanism, water and weather from Sydney, all things food from Paris, and London for everything else. Must now throw a good pinch of Hamburg into the mix.

First of all, for its cleanness. After living in London, which is nothing but a giant rubbish dumb in many streets and public places, it’s just nice to be in a place where city and most people make an effort to keep the place tidy.

Second, and most of all, for the public transport system.

It’s inexpensive, thus attractive: €9.20 for an all-day ticket serving up to five adults travelling in a group, valid for the whole of greater Hamburg – I think, it’s like, I mean, wow!

It’s fast and efficient, thus attractive: Suburbia to the very city centre in less than 15 minutes, with waiting times in the 5 minutes or less range, and connecting trains and busses being ‘just there,’ because the try to run in synch between the different lines and services – I think, it’s like, I mean, wow!

It’s accurate, thus attractive: the platform display says “next train in three minutes," and when they say three, they mean three – I think, it’s like, I mean, wow!

Wow is all I can say. Oh, and dead jealous, and take an example at that.


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Last-minute Shopping

endive We made some last minute shopping back home, just a quick trip into town and to the local farmers’ market on the Saturday morning to buy two large heads of curly Endive. Interesting to read-up on Endive in my new copy of the great Larousse Gastronomique (Thanks to Santa!), which explains the relation between Endive, Frisee and Chicorée, and explains that what is Endive to some (Britain, Italy, Germany) is Chicorée (or Chicory) to some others (France, USA). There’s also Radicchio from the same family, and Red Chicorée (whose strength is chiefly in being decorative rather than tasty).

No wonder there is confusion in all this. This is no excuse for not growing or for not selling curly Endive, as depicted here (whatever you might prefer to call it) on my local market in W7.  No excuse at all.

I saw seeds on sale in the local garden centre some while back. Once our building work is done and our garden has been restored to a new and better place, I’ll have to start another battle against the slugs when trying to grow my own.

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Choucroute de la Mer

ChoucrouteDeMerGermany is Sauerkraut country as everyone knows, so for a German, this might sound a bit like Mission Impossible: Fish and Langoustine, served on a bed of creamy Sauerkraut. Fish and kraut don't go together and neither do cream and kraut, but… You'd be surprised. We ate this in Brittany and I cooked it twice since, with pretty good ratings from the various diners. Here goes, for four portions:

Gently fry up some diced bacon and a diced half onion. When the bacon gets crisp and the onion glassy, add 1 bay leaf, 8 slightly crushed juniper berries and 750g Sauerkraut. If the bacon is too lean, add a walnut-sized amount of cooking fat. Keep the heat very low, and time won't be an issue. Turn occasionally.

Prepare a nice potato gratin to go along with it. For a lighter option, use fresh white bread, but the gratin really did the trick.

Finally, heat up one walnut sized piece of butter and an equal amount of olive oil, and gently fry some pieces of slightly smoked salmon fillets (125g per person). Smoked haddock, as shown here, also works well (adjust amounts as necessary). Season with black pepper. In a second pan, heat a generous amount of olive oil with crushed chillies, fresh hot red chilly peppers and 2..3 cloves of garlic, and quickly fry some Langoustines or King Prawns from both sides.

Season the kraut with a pinch of salt, half a teaspoon of nutmeg and 75ml thick cream.

Serve fish on kraut, gratin aside, and you won't hear a word until it's all eaten.

P.S. Some French lady claimed this wasn't French at all, but quand vous googlez pour Choucroute de la mer ou Choucroute aux Fruits de Mer, you'll find plenty of evidence that I wasn't lying to you.

The Cold War and I

sailing1982Cilento Did you know that I am a victim of the Cold War? Or, I think I am (and it hasn’t done me any harm).

I didn’t know myself, until I realized this not too long ago: one of my favourite childhood (and adulthood) dishes is a very simply stew made from tender meat and green beans, served with steamed potatoes.

Nowadays, I use slow-cooked lamb.

Back in the distant past, my mother used a particular type of canned beef. This meant the whole dish could be prepared from scratch in under half an hour – ideal for a weekday lunch with school children and mother working in the mornings. This particular brand of canned beef was sold dead cheap by a body called EVSt. I remember clearly, and always knew, that this acronym stood for Einfuhr- und Vorratsstelle (Import and Provisioning Agency), but it took until recently to make Click! in my head.

This must have been some provisioning and stockpiling agency that sold stock off the rota to refill their shelves with fresh stock; the government’s larder in case the Communists were to hold siege on Germany, no? Yes?


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Beibehaltungsgenehmigungsinformation, Jawohl!

NeuScharfeneck After years of sporadically following the rumors and occasional queries, I can now confirm that Germany does indeed support dual citizenship. This could enable us to seek British citizenship while maintaining our German citizenship, thus accessing our few assets in Germany and remaining fully enabled to return to Germany if we ever wished to, while being able to vote and participate in the political life where we spend our money.

Whether we go for it is an other question. Must think about it. Doesn’t seem like we’d risk losing much more than a few fees.

The official word from the Embassy (which, it must be said, was very helpful and forthcoming with my recent email inquiry), is that dual citizenship is in fact not possible according to §25 StaG, but one may apply for leave to continue maintaining the German citizenship in case another citizenship.

To me, this translates into de-facto dual citizenship, subject to certain conditions, and subject to grant of permission with the wonderful name Beibehaltungsgenehmigung.

Sonorant Mob?

I love those wacky London tube maps. For example, have a look at the geographical tube map, the Tate Modern Tube Map, or just browse the history over at the London Tube Map Archives. The Anagram Map is pretty nice, or the Sponsored Tube Map, and so is Time Travel. Mappers’ Delight seems to hold the largest collection of links to serious and silly maps, but geofftech.co.uk has by far the best comment on the copyright dispute with London Transport…

Myrtle‘s What if Germany Had Won The War map has recently been mentioned on Annie Mole’s site, so I took my red pen and had a look.

I’d be the last one to wish that Germany had indeed won the war, but if it had, Myrtle’s German would probably be better. Too bad this nice idea looks like an automated Google Translate job. Turns out that Horst Prillinger had the same clever idea, and made a much nicer job of it.

Which is your favourite?

Late Show

Ask a German a question,
they say, and you get a dissertation.

During a business trip round several places in Germany last week, I found this confirmed and learnt a lot about the value of concise answers. I also found further evidence of the talkative German nature:

While flicking through the thirty cable TV channels in the hotel room late at night, I found about a quarter offering dubbed dramas and series, another quarter offering cheap and cheesy game shows, and approximately every second channel offering a late-night talk show. Most of them were serious about politics, economy and (some) about art. Only one was meant to be funny.

Germany’s light-hearted nature is very well hidden indeed.

Lacking Basic Skills

London is lacking skilled staff. Signed, approved, agreed. The amount of plonkers I have seen is unbearable, both in the traditional trade (builders patching-up instead of repairing, etc) as well as in white-collar professions (alleged "engineers" barely having a clue about anything).

I have often thought that one should set up a company but use craftsmen from the skilled trades and master craftsmen, only. With London prices for a plumber or an electrician, one should be able to employ a German craftsman with a good salary plus return trips to Germany. Why German craftsmen, I hear you ask?

Because they learn their job: anyone wishing to take up a skilled craft must go through a 2..3 1/2 year apprenticeship, depending on the profession. It takes, for example, 3 years to train as a carpenter. This is training on the job with a master craftsman, and attending a specialist school for about 1/5 of the time. There is a half-way examination and a final examination, both theory (held by the school) and practise (held by the guilt). Once passed, you become a skilled craftsman and you are legally allowed to work, calling yourself a carpenter. You are not yet allowed to teach others or set up your own business, but you may now seek employment with a master craftsman of your trade.

For setting up your own business or training others, you must become a master craftsman yourself. That requires that you work at least 3 years in your trained craft as a skilled craftsman first, then attend another school in practise and theory (about one year, I believe, varying with the profession), and pass the examination in both theory and practise.

Then, and only then, you are a master craftsman and may start setting up a business.

The German system is widely acknowledged as the best system in training experienced skilled craftsmen, but in fact the only German invention in this is the addition of a specialist craftsmen school, one day each week during apprenticeship. The basic system of a master’s apprentice, skilled master’s assistant, and master craftsman goes back to medieval times. It’s not Germany’s invention, it is anybody elses loss.

Too bad no one seems to take it up again.

Sausage Delight

Whenever we return from a visit to our home town in Germany, or whenever we receive visitors from there, we always enjoy the traditional sausages from home. I miss those sausages as much as I miss the forest, and I miss the forest a lot.

We typically prefer the wind-dried, spicy, chewy, Bratwurst type, something that really is quite unique and not just yet another type of Salami-type sausage. Without preservatives or colouring, no soy extract, rusk, or similar nonsense, but maximum flavour.

I cannot yet report results but promise I will: At Kitchen Ideas in Ealing, I found a sausage filler add-on for my mincer, and I ordered 50 yards of hog casings from sausagemaking.org. All I need now is pork meat and fat, spices, and a bit of time.

Anyone wishing to contribute recipes, or wishing to volunteer for help or sampling, please let me know.

Sliced Bread

Sliced breadOK, let’s stay with this week’s culinary theme once more: We all know sliced bread is supposed to be one of the greatest inventions mankind made in recent history, but what the heck was before?
Prior to the wide availability of baking powder and factory-made sliced bread, what was bread in Britain like?

I will not assume the British Isles were an Eldorado for lovers of fresh, fragrant, crispy bread like the French Baguette or the Italian Chapatti, and neither will I assume Britain used to produce the hearty, grainy, dark variety popular in Germany and many Scandinavian countries. But surely there were Bakers, right? Using yeast or sourdough, making fresh bread every day before dawn? Not?

Any readers of this blog over 70 years old, or anybody otherwise in the know, please let us know.
Thank you.

England beats Germany

Gary RhodesThis week’s Der Spiegel (also available in English on line) reports under the "Das riecht ja wieder wunderbar!" headline how TV cooks become increasingly popular in Germany, able to occupy prime time on prime TV channels. Apparently, a new phenomenon.

It is only fair to say the British have beaten the Germans in this by a whole number of years, but the symptoms are the same: cooking programs are increasingly popular while less and less people actually cook meals regularly, and from scratch. Some argue that cooking programmes are popular because of the home cooking decline, making it less of an everyday chores and more of an extravagant entertainment subject.

Britain might also be further ahead in this particular game in that long-standing broadcasters such as Delia slowly but surely make more and more people take on the idea of cooking again, and enjoy exploring new, and freshly prepared, home-cooked food.

I wonder who Germany’s Delia will be?

Harvest Season

Grapes (Trauben)
Back home in Germany (click for map), the vine harvest has begun. Since we are now far away, it is easy to get a bit emotional over memories. As schoolchildren, we used to earn some money as harvest helpers.

Fact is, I used to hate it: sticky, dried-up, juice everywhere, fog and drizzle in the morning, boots weight down with mud, cold fingers and quite hard work on top of it. Plus, I wasn’t allowed to drive the tractor.

I have fond memories on hearty food served in the vineyard for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea, though. This would be the very hearty typical food of my home county, including Leberknödel (Liver dumplings), Saumagen (the Palatinate’s way of saying "Haggis" – please note this recipe makes a meal for  24 adults and 22 children…), Leberwurst and Blutwurst (Liver Pate and Black Pudding), but also including sweet things like Quetschekuche (Plum cake).

I look forward to a long weekend visit back home next weekend, just in time for the harvest season and the most beautiful light you can imagine, especially at the border of the forest. Real forest, that is, stretching over thousands of square miles. If asked what I am missing most here in London, the vineyards and the forest always come top of my list.

You see? The harvest season is closing in on me already, emotionally.