During the several years that I’d been preparing for my nearly concluded journey, people who know me made a connection to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Certainly our mutual love of good food, Italy, yoga, and Life made for some similarities. So it is that this week I’ve “riffed” on her title as my mantra, or prayer, for all the great food and wine I’ve enjoyed, especially now back here in Germany. “Love it. Eat it. Let it go.”
For three glorious months I’ve delighted and savoured food and wine that is locally produced, seasonally eaten, and simply, yet exquisitely prepared. I’ve learned that “slow food” is simply the way of life in Europe. Here in Waldkirch, recently designated as a “Slow City” and even in Italy, where the movement was founded in 1986 to counter the arrival of McDonald’s, people find the notion of slow food somewhat absurd because it’s the way they’ve always lived and eaten.
A week ago, I sat in the Rome Airport Hilton dining room and reminisced over my most memorable meals in Italy. Today, I chronicle the fantastic food I’ve shared with friends and family, during this week. A microcosm of cuisine dear to the hearts of people in “Schwarzwald.”.
Tuesday evening, “BellaThea” took me to another of those amazing local “gasthaus” situated “off the beaten path” in the valleys and hillsides of the Black Forest. People walking the numerous and well-marked paths often stop at these family-owned cafes for a little “imbiss,” “kuchen und kaffee,” or full meal. We dined on the house salad: a plate with a tablespoon each of cool curried rice and grated carrots and kohlrabi (a mild turnip-like vegetable, delicious steamed with carrots and tossed with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper), fresh butter lettuce, all dressed with a light hand of oil and seasoned, slightly sweet vinegar. Then house specialties: mine, the wild rabbit with “spaetzle” and a creamed mushroom sauce, and hers, a beef steak au jus smothered in fried onions with “rosti” (a potato pancake). I’m thankful for the foresight to have packed up half of my dinner as dessert featured the now in season fresh strawberries, marinated in schnapps and served over vanilla ice cream. Oh yes, with a dollop of “sahne” on top.
Wednesday I cooked a light dinner of the aforementioned steamed kohlrabi and carrots along side some leftover cheese and bread, as I knew we’d been invited to the home of “BellaThea’s” friend for that after dinner “imbiss,” wine and conversation I mentioned last time.
Thursday we were treated to dinner at another of one of my parents’ friends. A much anticipated invitation, as our travel schedules were at odds, I was touched by how she “fussed” to create a perfect ambiance for her deliciously prepared food. Sitting outside on the terrace surrounded by magenta azalea bushes, we sipped the celebratory French crémant with her homemade cheese crisps, and watched the sun set over the hills.
Inside around her table, artfully set in blues and whites, we again enjoyed the season’s specialty, “spargle” or white asparagus, this time prepared poached and cooled, with a light vinaigrette, topped with chopped chives and hard-cooked eggs. Then capelli pasta with homemade basil pesto. For dessert, fresh strawberries sauced with cointreau and whipped cream, followed by espresso, thankfully decaf.
Friday evening, one of “BellaThea’s” pharmaceutical reps hosted a dinner for her staff at the Hotel-Restaurant Hirschenstube in Waldkirch-Bucholz. Together with the award-winning chef, “BellaThea” planned a menu that again featured the season’s best and local specialties, while saluting the coming of summer: aperol spritz aperitifs; a magnificently plated salad of mixed greens, with Belgian endive leafs holding remoulade and curry sauces for the giant grilled prawns; poached “spargle” with hollandaise, cured and smoked ham slices, and “kartoffeln” (the torn savory pancakes); perfectly grilled medallions of beef filet; marinated strawberries with vanilla ice cream and frozen yogurt; coffees. Of course, a perfectly balanced white wine from the Bucholz vineyards.
Saturday we opted for a quiet day at home instead of a car trip to Basel. I helped “BellaThea” design her wardrobe and pack for her three-week vacation to Canada. Because I had yet to taste a piece of the famous Black Forest torte, we took a short late afternoon drive half way up the local mountain, the Kandel, to sample the region’s best at the Hotel-Waldgasthof-Café Altersbach. Several layers high with feather light chocolate cake, each smothered in kirshwasser-flavoured whipped cream and local, naturally canned whole cherries (watch out for the pits!), dusted with chocolate shavings. Wunderbar and my belated happy birthday cake!!
Sunday, we were escorted to Alsace, that region throughout history sometimes French, sometimes German, and always known for its particularly superb wine, food, and unique wooden beamed and plaster architecture. Other of my father’s childhood friends were our hosts, he who enjoys good food and was the local butcher, and she who loves Alsace and in particular this vineyard, distillery, hotel, and restaurant, Le Bollenberg. In operation since 1887, every member of the Meyer family specializes in a certain area, and together excel in creating a culinary experience amidst beautifully decorated historic buildings, rich with regional antiques and character.
I sampled their renowned “foie de gras” on brioche and then, with “BellaThea,” partook of their five-course menu consisting of food and wines all grown, harvested and prepared on the premises:
- Rhubarb crémant with savory “mille feuille” crisps
- Terrine with onion confit and marinated grapes, accompanied by a side salad of curly endive
- The most sublime palate-cleansing sorbet, flavoured with the essence of fresh peppermint
- Roasted wild boar with wine sauce emboldened by the blood of the boar
- Steamed broccoli and onion, pureed carrots, vanilla and cinnamon flavoured red cabbage and butter spaetzle
- An assortment of Alsatian cheeses and apple jelly
- Chocolate ice cream and milk chocolate mousse with praline
- Espresso with cookies
Oh my goodness! And today is the birthday celebration of another one of my father’s friends. He is eighty-five and hosting a celebratory open house beginning at 11:00 am. I’m going to take as an answered prayer, the rainbow over the terrace after Sunday’s return from Alsace!