Sunday, July 31, 2011

Berlin, part I.

After our damp train trip from Much, Sam and I headed Northeast to met our friends John, Lauren, Will and Carmen in Berlin for a week in the city. The entire European vacation came together based on one inebriated and spontaneous evening with these four last October.

We were at a charity event in town, eating and drinking and gawking at all of the socialites with the means to attend galas like this on their own dime (each of us had scored complimentary tickets in one way or another). Well, a few glasses of wine later we were feeling like socialites and started bidding on the silent auction. Seriously, when you bid in a silent auction, you are about 98% certain you will never win. And the wine and the foie gras from the evening had a feeling a little bit daring, so for a cheap thrill, down went our name to bid on a one week stay in Berlin, followed by a drunken pinkie swear we would all be in if we won. An hour later, much to our disbelief, we won. And that, my friends, is how we ended up in Berlin together in a lovely apartment overlooking the Berlin Zoo and the Tiergarten.

The city was incredibly interesting, if a bit more cosmopolitan and urban that one imagines when they think of old Europe. It only makes sense. After all, Berlin was basically leveled after the war, and built back up in two competing movements - a Western capitalist effort and a Communist socialist effort. The history of the city captivated throughout our visit, from it's days as an old European power, to the Nazi rise and occupation, through the Cold War and The Wall, to today.

That photo that led off the post is the group of us jumping in front of the Reichstag, Germany's Parliament building. Of course, since the photo is minus the photographer, me, I took a lone version too. We wanted to climb the glass dome to the top, but we saved this for our last day only to learn (unmentioned in all of our guidebooks) that we needed to make an appointment 3 days in advance. Blast. So instead we took silly photos outside.

The glass addition to the German History Museum was designed by I.M. Pei, the same architect that designed the glass pyramid in Paris' Louvre. The museum was full of historical artifacts and the story of Germany from the Germanic tribes through today.

Have you ever had a Kinder chocolate. I am sure in German Kinder is some sort of low-brow candy, but to our American palates it tasted like heaven. The many varieties of candy use hazelnut and chocolate and crispies and yogurt and sugar to make addicting treats. Plus, these Kinder Joy eggs came with a prize. I brought home an appalling amount of Kinder treats as souvenirs for friends and coworkers.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe sits in the center of Berlin. It is a very modern and conceptual large-scale sculpture that visitors can walk through and interact with. There are multi-height coffin shaped stones that lead into a maze of stone, and it is designed in a way so that any direction you walk, it always looks as if the exit is uphill. Attached to the memorial is a very moving museum with photos and correspondences tracking the stories of holocaust victims alongside the history.

I am pretty sure we were not using German correctly, but we started calling sitting "platzing", and we took every opportunity possible to platz - on the lawn, on a bench, in the U-Bahn (subway) - basically anywhere that would rest our weary feet. It turns out that in addition to regular exercise, a European vacation requires an aggressive regime of standing practice in advance of the trip. Our tired feet required more platzing than expected.

The apartment we stayed in was lovely, like an Ikea poster child. We were on the eighths floor with floor to ceiling windows in the living area, and two terraces with sweeping views of West Berlin. Plus, we overlooked the Therman Day Spa, full of naked people swimming all day and all night. It's true, we drank cocktails and ogled the nudists. We even saw an old man do naked calisthenics on the lawn. After all, we are American prudes and it was a cultural experience.


Sam and I spent three lovely days in Munich from 7/17 - 7/19 2011. If it looks like all we did is eat, that's pretty accurate. We ate, and we walked, then we would eat, then we would walk around some more. Munich is a lovely city full of beer halls and crowded pedestrian malls and parks. The entire city was leveled during WWII, so much of Munich is new construction designed to replicate the older city before the war. It gives the place a crazy feel of old world Europe with newer plumbing and niceties. The beer was delicious, and it was pleasant to be in a place dominated by outdoor socializing as opposed to tons of museums and formal sightseeing.

The Marienplatz, or old town square, has a life sized glockenspiel that tells a story in motion at the top of some hours. I imagine in the days before electricity, this would have been an utter marvel.

After a long nap on our first day in town, we hit the Hofbräuhaus for an introduction into beer hall culture. Complete with an Oom-pah band and locals in lederhosen, we drank away several liters of beer and ate some sausage with sauerkraut.

We visited the BMW Welt Museum and showroom to admire the modern innovations of luxury car manufacturer, as well as a bunch of art cars painted by famous artists, such as this Andy Warhol BMW.

Pretzels and beer in the Chinese Garden in Munich English Garden.

A snack of bratwurst and beer, mid afternoon. I don't know how those German's stay on there feet with all that beer. They pack in those liters like they're nothing but water.

The view from the top of the glockenspiel. It's hard to believe that just 65 years ago the entire city was in rubble after the bombings. Today it is a mix of new designed to follow the grid and architecture of the old.

On our last night we dined in the Augustine Beer Garden with about 1,200 happy locals. I enjoyed potato salad, pork knuckle, and roasted chicken along with a pretzel with cheese spread and a huge beer. This place pours their beer from wooden kegs, and you can hear them tapping a new one every 10 minutes or so. Shortly after finishing our beers, we were caught in the most torrential downpour I have ever experienced, soaking us from head to toe (along with the other 1,200 jovial beer garden patrons) just in time for our 10 hour train trip to Berlin!

We took an overnight train from Munich to Berlin, paying a hefty price for the private coach. We anticipated traveling in luxury. While it was very comfortable, the entire space was about 17 square feet total, including the bed, which meant for cramped quarters in our sopping wet clothes. It was a funny experience. Plus, they served us potted liver mousse for breakfast!

So the jet lagged make pretzels.

Returning from Europe has given me a bit of jet lag. We arrived Friday night at midnight after 20 long hours of travel, but I still woke up at 7:30 a.m. Saturday. This morning, I woke up at 4 a.m., went back to sleep for a bit, then woke up again at 6:30. I figured hey, if I'm up then I'm up, why not do something fun? So in memory of the trip to Germany, I mixed up Alton Brown's soft pretzel recipe. Then I began sorting Germany pictures while the dough rose.

By the end of the morning I will have photos of the trip posted to the blog, plus the smell of baking soft pretzels throughout the house to add ambiance to the effort. And if I am extra lucky, tonight my husband and I will break out our souvenir 1 liter beer mugs from the Hofbräuhaus and sip on some suds while we snack on pretzels and reminisce. As they say in Germany, "Guten Appetit.'

Homemade Soft Pretzels
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer Swimming.

On our last visit to Colorado, Anne and Blake took us swimming in Eldorado Canyon's spring fed swimming pool. It was lovely. As my sister Anne said, "The water feels wetter here." The pool, originally built in 1905, boasts a long, metal, barely-safe slide and beautiful views of the mountains.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The (fishy) fruits of our labor.

Sam and I went home to Colorado for the 4th of July. Among the many fabulous events of the long weekend - barhopping downtown, dinner at the back patio, a fiesta party with old family friends, swimming in the spring fed pool, patriotic music on a picnic blanket - we also took our first successful fishing excursion as a family. And we caught fish. Lots of fish.

Which we then ate.

We had fish prepared three ways: with lemon and herbs, cooked on blanked cedar, and stuffed with bacon pieces. While they were all delicious, stuffed with bacon was the best! What is it about bacon that makes things taste so good. We ate all ten fish sitting together on the patio, enjoying the cool Colorado summer nights. It was so good, and it almost seemed unfair because it was so easy to catch those darn fish.

It was easy because we cheated a little bit, and we went to a stocked trout pond near Mt. Evans to do our fishing. You see, my parents were feeling upset that they had never taken us fishing. They kept saying "One of our great regrets is that we never took you girls to catch fish." Honestly, if not catching fish with your daughters is one of your only regrets, I think you are living a pretty great life. But who wants to live with any regret? So we went fishing and it was fun.

The scenery was lovely, and the place rented fishing poles, stocked bait, and basically guaranteed as many fish as you could catch. Not more than 90 seconds after the first cast, we were already reeling in the fish. They even gutted and cleaned the fish for you when you were finished (unless you're Blake, in which case you gut and clean your own fish).

I am not going to lie, there was a bit of guilt involved in catching the fish. It is sad to pull a lovely living thing out of its habitat and let it suffocate at your own hands. And pulling that hook out of the throat was a bit gross and a lot painful on my sense of kindness. But eating that fish, and feeling that sense of satisfaction for having caught my dinner, quickly erased the gross parts of fishing. Plus, it's good to wipe a regret off the list.

Anne casts her line.

Blake shows off is catch.

Removing the hook.

Kate's trouble casting.

Three cheers for fishing success - thanks Ellen and Dad.

A true father daughter moment as I learn how to hook my fish on the line.

Mom and Ellen scoop one out of the water.

Fishy kisses Annie.

Blake guts his own fish.

Sam displays the trophies.

The Rawley crew after a successful trout fishing adventure.