Monday, November 30, 2009

The Berlin Secret Restaurant Series: Cookies Cream

Berlin, Germany

So by now you may have heard of the secret restaurant trend in Europe – Berlin, London (watch this space for what may become one in Hamburg). This article in the NYT documents the author’s experience in a few of the better-known secrets (as someone put it, "how 'secret' can they be if they are in the New York Times?’ Point well taken.). With only 36 hours on a quick trip to Berlin at the end of October, I decided that this was the place to start.

I had first heard about Cookies Cream from my friend Eva who was invited to a dinner there for the premier of Tilda Swinton’s film, Julia, at the 2007 Berlinale film festival. She raved about the amazing vegetarian food served in this strange back-alley hidden restaurant, and about Tilda’s hot young lover. Anyway, I was intrigued – was it something that was set up especially for the evening, a one-time deal catered by the Westin Grand, the hotel whose dumpsters you have to walk past to get up the back staircase? Turns out, no. In fact, when I spoke to my neighbors, Berlin transplants in Hamburg, about my „secret“ dinners, they were rather unimpressed that Cookies Cream was considered a secret.

We had an 8 o’clock reservation. Everything about the place said clandestine, from the obscure entrance, to the very unfinished look of the bathroom, to the open kitchen.

Walk past the Westin Grand main entrance and take a right into the first alleyway.

Presumably the Westin Grand's garbage. You are in the right place. Keep going.

Ah, chandelier-lit dumpsters. So romantic. Pass underneath the chandelier and up the stairs to the right. The Cookies Cream placard is there on the wall. Ring the bell, someone will buzz you in.

Up the backstairs to the dining room...and you enter into a large divide space. The open kitchen is to the left and the dining area is to the right. White brick walls, white tablecloths, a large painting of square pastels with the word "fick" (f*ck) printed square in the center. The ceilings were high and lofty, the place was unfinished and polished at the same time. The details were purposefully makeshift - the sink in the bathroom designed to give the impression that the water would spill onto the floor, the seemingly random hole in the countertop were printed receipts sprouted. Somewhat contrived, but went with the theme.

The menu was vegetarian, not vegan, and looked ambitious. We opted for the 3-gang / three course and the "house" drink, a rubarb vodka cocktail. Again, dining companions are for sharing and so my fellow diner Lowri and I passed the plates between us.

Above, the Tete de Moine on a spinach tartlet, smoked topinambursalad with black nuts, sauce cumberland.

The Tete de Moine is a velvety swath of cheese swiveled off a large round mold. It sat atop a palak-like creamy spinach on what I can only describe as a cracker and next to a smoky sauerkraut (the topinambursalad – I am still not sure what this is). The black nut shaving was very earthy, like a ground nut but not as bitter, and the cumberland sauce was a sweet preserve. All together complementary, the smoothness and sharpenss of the cheese, creamy spinach and rough and smoky kraut worked well together.

But we really liked the stuffed brioche.

Presenting the stuffed brioche with quail egg, truffled foam of potatoes, red wine shallot.

The egg was silky and the potato foam hinted at celery, very faintly. The carmelized shallots were rich and sweet and tangy and the brioche wore them well.

As for the mains, we were tempted by the pine nut potato roll with beetroot carpaccio, marsalla lack, horseradish, coloured beetroot cooked in sea salt and the puree and grilled hokkaido pumpkin with gnocchi of chive, gelly of balsamico, red wine sauce and wild herbs. However, we settled on the parmesan dumplings with cilantro carrots and Amalifi lemon sauce and the tomato tandoori risotto with backed praline of goat cheese, chickweed and tomato fumet.

The tomato tandoori risotto defined fusion. You expected something a little more... Italian. But the spices were Indian, tumeric, cardamom, and the heat of the chillies. The goat cheese praline was an unexpected twist and lent the missing creaminess to the rice. A winner.

The parmesan dumpling with cilantro carrots and Amalifi lemon sauce. Dumplings in my book are the ultimate comfort food. What could be better and more threatening to south beachers than a big ball of warm dough. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. The parmesan made it salty, savory, and the rest of it did't make that much of an impression because I was so overfocused on the dumpling itself, with a nutty pesto like mixture on top. It was perfect.

Dessert, parfait of haselnuts, fruit salad. The salad was light, cleansing and the parfait surprisingly was too, even though it was richer. An appropriate ending to a meal whose main course was cheesy dough balls.

Overall a lovely evening, an inspired meat-free menu and intrigue.

Next stop: Tausend's backroom Cantina... I am still dreaming about it. O. Ma. Gah.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday Snapshot: Sunday Market, Mexico

Yes, you are looking at a box full of live baby chicks and ducks. The less fortunate have had their downy feathers dyed to match a bag of Skittles, and if that wasn’t enough animal cruelty to endure in their first few days of life, they are being forced to show their holiday spirit or patriotism with either a Santa cap or a Mexico baseball hat glued to their heads. This is not the work of photoshop, this is the work of a cracked-out elf after too much eggnog.

Without the pesky buffer of Halloween and Thanksgiving, Christmas starts very early in Mexico. Like, September early. Mexicans love Christmas and they do it well. Heck, they spend a quarter of the year decking the halls. So with Thanksgiving practically out of the way, nothing says Merry Christmas like a baby chick dipped in the acid Kool-Aid.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Mosel: teil Zwei/Part two

Look! There are gnomes in the vines! Or maybe those were just the grape pickers. It was hard to say for sure as we spent all day Saturday - of our wine country getaway weekend - cruising the Mosel.

First stop, Bernkastel Kues, a short 10 minute drive downriver from our base in Müllheim, a sweet medevil town on the river enclosed by vineyards. What you don't see in this photo are the tourist buses parked in the bottom left hand corner. There were no hidden gems in the Mosel.. at least that we discovered. The towns worth visiting, i.e. picturesque in setting, beautifully restored architecture, cobbled pedestrian areas and vineyards offering tastings and local specialties, were worth a visit for these reasons. And were no secret.

The stops in between, where the roads were too narrow for parking buses, were empty. I don't know if its a chicken-or-egg question but we stopped in a few of these towns in my quest for the
real Mosel, the off-the-beaten-path Mosel, the "Hey Hans, where do you buy your lederhosen?" Mosel. But alas, we did not find it. At least not in the random villages that we picked. The aging slate houses advertising tastings were locked up, the backroads led us to Brunhilda's unterhosen hanging out on the laundry line, and Brunhilda and her neighbor's all wore the same expression that nearly audibly wondered, "What the hell are they doing here?"

Burg Eltz, a dreamy medevil fort in the middle of noooowhere. A brisk hike into the valley and gravity coupled with
federweisser made for a slow haul back up the hill.

This photo illustrates two things: that grape pickers in the Mosel valley must have an extremely nuanced sense of balance and that my husband has poor taste in winter hats.

This is Beilstein - a little village that we found by chance when we pulled over to look at the map and realized we were sitting in front of a car ferry dock. We drove on and wound up here... and I will just let the Mosel Tourism website do the talking (this is the site's English translation, presumably taken from babblesfish or some other online word-for-word translation service):

"The fascinating nice small town hatchet stone lies with one of the most impressive Moselle loops, at the exit of a narrow brook valley, embedded between vineyards and Moselle valley; not free of charge it is called the Sleeping Beauty of the Moselle.

Worth seeing in this romantic Moselle place appear the picturesque market with the unique tenth house and the former parish church Saint Christopherus, the cloister stair which leads to the Carmelite's cloister with the black Madonna, the showpiece of the baroque minster.

Also the knight's hall and many homely half-timbered houses, lanes and corners are visits-worth. Already with the first stroll one understands that hatchet stone often enough served as a romantic film scenery."

And let that be a lesson to anyone considering using free online translation services.

On the aforementioned cloister stair...

Climbing flights of cloister stairs should always be followed by tasting flights of wine. We ducked into this cavern where groups of tasters were taking their task very seriously. The owner informed us that if we did a tasting, we were obligated to buy at least one bottle of one of the wines. We opted for a simple federweisser instead, no strings attached.

A little wary and none the federweisser (ha!), we headed back to the hotel for dinner at the Culinarium R Restaurant, saving the best for last. There were four different four - five course menus and it was understood that we would not be getting the same one. The advantage of having a dining companion in my opinion is not only avoiding the pitying glances of other diners, it is a free pass to taste different menus. They all looked amazing: however, the vegetarian option sounded a little mundane next to its meaty opponents. The fish menu, while tempting, was still slightly lackluster when compared to the "Menü Cluinarium R" and the "Menü Decouvert" - Ingo opted for the former, I choose the latter. And the competition was ON.

Ingo's Tortchen von Gänseleber und Spanferkelbäckchen eingelegt Quitten und Winterpostelein

How do I explain this - it was like a cake - like baumkuchen for those of you who know the German Christmas treat - but replace the chocolate with goose liver and pork cheek - accompanied by quince preserve and field greens. The cake was going to float off the plate but the goose liver gave it gravity. The greens were fresh and the quince cleansing. A winner.


Jiff's Feines von der Wachtel Terrine-geräucherte Brust -Essenz
Quail terrine, smoked breast - essence

I guess I am not a terrine fan - it's like an opaque jello, a firm and flavorless custard, dried Elmer's glue. Obviously it depends on the terrine but I find them slightly bland and the texture rather unappetizing. The smoked quail breast was sweet and smokey, the jus was subtle and the greens were laced with speck. I am afraid the first round of this meal went to Ingo's liver cake, however.

Jakobsmuscheln mit pikanten Brotchips, Kichererbsen und Felsenblümchen-Wildkräuterpesto
Scallops with spicy bread chips, chick peas and field flower-wild herb pesto

I love any and all scallops. Love. I love the texture, I love how they fall apart in your mouth, melt into little flakes of subtle fishy goodness. Aside from the scallops, the bread chips were a bit odd, I am not a fan of chickpeas unless they are mashed into hummus and the pesto was out of place here. Then again, I love scallops.

Geschäumtes Kartoffelsüppchen Kräutersaitlinge und Ochsenschwanzpraline
Foamy little potato soup, big meaty mushroom and ox tail praline

I was a bit skeptical of the potato soup but once again it was a light foamy frothy creamy bowl of comfort and the the meaty mushroom gave it texture and omigod that ox tail praline - a breaded and fried meatball mash was sooooo good, it reminded me of all the croquets we ate in Groningen after visiting one of the ahem coffee shops. It was so flavorful and sooooo delicious - I could have eaten a bowl full of the pralines. I won this one, sorry scallops.

Hirschkalbsrücken in Vakuum gegart würziges Burgunderkraut und Maronen-Brotsoufflé
Baby dear back in vacuum sealed herbed burgunderkraut and chestnut bread soufflé

I know deer are cute and I loved the movie Bambi as much as anyone but, ooooooh venison is sooooooooo good. This was a rather large piece of the little guy and the bread soufflé was like throwing a warm sweater on him. The vacuum sealed kraut was flighty and mysterious, experimental and strange in a good way that contrasted with the masculinity of this dish.

Ballottine vom Kalbsfilet mit Trüffel sautierter Spitzkohl und Steckrüben-Mousseline
Ballotine of veal with truffel sautéed sweetheart cabbage and rutabega mouse

I will be honest, I immediately honed in on this dish because I remember quizzing Smash about her studies at the California Culinary Academy and when I asked her about the most difficult thing that she can make she said rabbit ballotine and I remember thinking 'what the hell is ballottine?', sounded like guillotine - cannot be good for the poor bunny but I bet it's tasty. So, ballotine it was but not of rabbit, of veal. The meat was wrapped in "sweetheart cabbage", the dark green variety that has the texture of a crumpled piece of paper. I think I wept a few small tears when I tasted the the truffel sauce. The rutabaga mouse was a bit bland but that is ok because I poured truffel sauce all over it mwahahaha (insert evil laugh track here). Once again, I take this round of the menu showdown. No contest.

Pudding von Dörrobst Rotwein-Butter-Eis und Mandelsahne
Dried fruit pudding with red wine-butter ice cream and almond cream

It was a lovely fall dessert, the pudding was the variety that 'sticks to your ribs' as my mother would say. The warmth and weight of the pudding complimented the light cream and was cooled by the ice cream.

Unfortunately I have forgotten precisely what this gorgeously plated dessert consisted of exactly. It included a cannolli, a parfait pyramid, a pumpkin cream and a pumpkin ice cream which I took one bite of and promptly proceeded to dance indetectably in my chair.

At the end of the evening, the Decouvre had amassed the requisite number of points to win the competition but we still felt as though we had both done well.

Mosel, thank you for a lovely kid-free weekend (although the gnomes helped remind us of the children), for feeding us well and entertaining us thoroughly. We will be back!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday Snapshot: Salar di Uyuni, Bolivia

I believe I have already disclosed to the readers of this blog my obsession with salt (licking bouillon cubes as a child, it runs deep). So you can imagine how excited I was to get to the Salar di Uyuni in western Bolivia. Uyuni, the largest salt flat on the planet at 10,582 square kilometers and 3,656 meters above sea level, is a sight to behold. And we weren't the only ones to behold it as tourists traversed the hypnotizing landscape in 4 x 4s, with pit stops at the controversial salt hotel, Incahuasi island and a salt mining depot - where I licked piles of salt before selecting one to bag and bring home. I think I went through the one-kilo bag in less than two months. Obsessed, I tell you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday Snapshot: Day of the Dead

Myself, and possibly 100 million other tourists headed to Pátzcuaro for the Day of the Dead celebration. If your thing is gaily dressed skeletons, sugar skulls stacked in teetering displays, decorating graves and spending time with spirits wandering through the night—the villages around Lago de Pátzcuaro is where you want to be, and November 1st is when you want to be there.

The Day of the Dead is when the souls of the dead return home to spend time with their remaining loved ones. Grave sites are cleaned and decorated, sometimes weeks in advance. In honor of the deceased, wheelbarrows full of marigolds and other flowers are carted into cemeteries, elaborate arches are built and offerings of food and libations are left out to satiate the weary traveling souls. On the big night, candles are lit and placed on the graves in order to guide the souls home; families and friends gather amoung the tombstones until dawn. This tradition, deeply rooted in the beliefs of the indigenous people of Latin America is still alive and vigilantly celebrated.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reunited and it feels so good!

20 years ago tonight, the Berlin Wall came down. I am sitting here watching documentary footage of the events that lead to that moment when the masses at the border crossings finally convinced confused east German guards to peacefully open the gates and let them through. After that, there was no stopping the flood of people that gushed from one side to the other.

To commemorate the events of November 9, 2009, huge wall-like dominoes have been set up in Berlin where the wall once stood. I am slightly emotional watching them fall, (then again, I cry every time I see this German telecom ad, every time I watch an Olympic sporting event, every time one of my kids says a new word...).

Suddenly they stop. The wall stopped falling on the anniversary of the fall of the wall! Shit! Someone push! Hello throng of cheering onlookers - do something! Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. The fall of the wall was purposely paused - so that Bon Jovi could do a musical tribute. Nothing like a little Jon Bon Jovi to commemorate a historical moment, I say.

I chose to commemorate the evening another way: with Berliners. Not the super cool ultra hip people from the German capital-Berliners. The jelly doughnut-Berliners, made famous by Kennedy's poor German grammar. Tonight, my kids got a history lesson in the form of one vanilla and one plum-filled jelly doughnut. Ich bin ein Berliner! Happy Anniversary Berlin!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Incredible Edible Smut!

Guadalajara, Mexico

Slow down… Gawk for a lingering second… Pick up the pace… There is nothing to see here. That was my stand-offish, fear-filled reaction towards the piles of huitlacoche I would let intimidate me last year. Well, not this year! The rainy season has come and gone, and I can proudly say that I gave huitlacoche a solid go…..and liked it.

Huitlacoche is a type of corn smut, ustilago maydis. Sometimes called corn fungus, it grows on corn cobs underneath the husk during the rainy season. It is a prized delicacy in Mexico and is used in traditional cooking as well as in the emerging nouveau-Mexican cuisine. There are over 500 different types of smut in the world and the variety that grows on corn is one of the only edible ones. Too bad, we could be experimenting with 500 different types of edible smuts; oh, life is so unfair! I have heard it referred to as Mexican truffles, but that is pure blasphemy and anyone who makes such a misguided comparison should be sent to culinary hell and be only allowed to eat liver and white pepper for the rest of eternity.

Upon close inspection I was surprised to see that the loose nuggets of huitlacoche were firm and bulbous with a soft pearly-white flesh. I was expecting a gory spore-like mass emitting an unearthly stench. The farmer selling them had separated the more ripe ones from the less ripe. The more mature smuts were turning black and were a bit mushier in texture, leaving adeep black ink on my fingers when I touched them. I carefully filled a bag full of the pretty silvery ones, some squash blossoms and a few poblano peppers and the wheels started turning. What should I do with them?

For some reason I associated huitlacoche with mushrooms and was therefore expecting an earthy flavor. After removing the corn silks that were left behind and cleaning them with a mushroom brush, I sautéed them in a pan with garlic and onion and added chopped squash blossoms and roasted poblano strips and served it over a creamy, cheesy polenta. It was very good, but I was expecting something along the lines of a rare wild mushroom, tasting remotely of a mossy tree trunk and my taste-buds were confused if not a bit disappointed. The huitlacoche had a fresh springy flavor that I could not really put my finger on.

In search of the words to describe this now very un-scary and intriguing smut, I sought to get to the bottom of the flavor by making a soup. A singular concentration of flavor would certainly demystify my curious subject. This time I selected more mature huitlachoche, thinking that the more ripened smut would have more depth of flavor. I must say the soup was fantastic and the taste very surprising. Huitlacoche tastes very much like fresh pea shoots or mung bean sprouts. It has a bright, mild, young flavor. I cooked them through, but perhaps could have cooked them longer, as even after aggressively pureeing them, a crunch something like that of a water chestnut lingered.

I am pleased with my initial investigation, and I am already scheming about what I will do with them once they reappear next rainy season. I am thinking I will sauté them with pea sprouts, fresh peas, zucchini, squash blossom flowers, and corn served with an herby-lemony roasted chicken. Bring on the smut!

Huitlacoche Soup

2 T butter
1 white onion, med chop
2 clove garlic, fine chop
3 cups fresh huitlacoche*, med chop
½ cup cream
4 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
2 dried chile arbol
5 sprigs fresh thyme
crème fraise

1. Melt the butter in a sauté pan, over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Stir occasionally until onion is translucent, or about 5 minutes.

2. Add huitlacoche, chilies and bay leaf and cook until the huitlacoche are tender, retaining some moisture, but not soft and mushy, about 10 minutes. Season with salt.

3. Add cream and thyme and cook until cream is 80% reduced, about 4 minutes.

4. Remove chiles and bay leaf and pour mixture into a blender or kitchen-aid. Add a cup or two of the vegetable stock and woosh until very very smooth. You may need to do this in two batches. It is very important for the texture of the soup that you let the machine spin for at least 5 minutes.

5. Pour the soup into a pot. Let the soup simmer until you have the desired consistency- this should not take very long. Serve the soup hot with a garnish of crème fraise if desired.

*Apparently, huitlacoche is starting to show up in select farmer’s markets in the States. There is the option of using canned huitlacoche, which is easily found in Mexican grocery stores, but I cannot attest to the flavor.

Huitlacoche on Foodista

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wednesday Snapshot: Kabul

I was in Afghanistan working on the 2005 Parliamentary and Provincial Council elections and took this photograph - a woman who had just voted and lifted her burka to shyly display her inked finger - at one of the polling centers in Kabul.

This past Sunday, President Hamid Karzai's challenger Abdullah Abdullah announced his withdrawal from the presidential race, handing Karzai a victory by default just a week before the constitutionally mandated run-off, thereby further delegitimizing an already flawed and fraudulent election and the resulting administration. The only side rightfully claiming victory is the Taliban. Afghan citizens like this woman, who risked their lives to participate in the democratic process, are left wondering what the future holds. At this point, it's anyone's guess.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

German Wine Country: Culture and Cuisine sans Kids

Mülheim, Mosel River Valley, Germany

Ahhhh, a weekend in wine country.. why? Because it’s harvest season! Because we had two willing babysitters (suckas!)! Because you can drink effervescent two-day old wine with grape pickers in ancient caves while surrounded by hundreds of plastic gnomes! And Napa is seriously lacking in the gnome department.

Welcome to the Moselle (Mosel), Germany's picturesque wine producing area in the southwest of the country between Trier and Koblenz. The Mosel valley boasts the steepest vineyard on record worldwide and is the third largest wine producer in Germany famous for its riesling which makes up 90% of its overall production.

After depositing the kids into the capable hands of the in-laws, we roll south along the Rhine until we enter the Mosel river valley. One kitchy sign after the next beckons us to stop at one of the many straußwirtschafts and having no idea what the hell a strauswirtschaft is, but intrigued by the aesthetic of their advertising, I am keen to stop at the one with the most gnomes out in front as well as the poster of the 1992-94 wine princess Ms. Melanie I (that's Melanie, the first), and see what the fuss is all about.

The straußwirtschaft used to be sort of the equivalent of an apres ski-like gathering for grape pickers. At the end of a long day of picking, some of the vineyards would set up a makeshift café, serving a light meal and drinks such as federweisser - a grape juice that is 2-3 days into the fermentation process making it relatively low in alcohol content and slightly effervescent. Federweisse is only served at harvest time because it cannot be bottled and shipped - in the early stage of the fermentation process, bottling is too premature - basically it is impossible to cork - because of the building pressure the bottle would explode.

Pickers fashioned bouquets out of vines and hung them outside of the straußwirtschaft - usually located in a wine cellar or a garden - to let others know that this was the spot. These days strauswirtschaften draw tourists and other customers as well as the harvest crew. We stopped and had a glass of federweisser - typically served in these thick green stemmed chalises - and zwiebel kuchen, literally 'onion cake', an onion quiche with a thick focaccia like crust.

I dig it.

Our hotel, the Richtershof, was something that I had found in the travel section of the New York Times. The writer was so taken with the hotel that by the end of the article so was I. In fact, it is part of the reason that we wound up in the Mosel – that and the fact that it is only an hour and a half from my in-laws and free babysitting.

The hotel opened less than a decade ago but the winery that is its foundation is more than 300 years old. On Friday evening, we toured their wine cellar and did a tasting of local wines led in two parts by Hans, an elder gentleman who has worked at the winery since the 1950s and recited poetry that he wrote about his homeland – the Mosel – while a prisoner of war in Britain; and Herr Bauer, the vintner from the winery around the corner.

Ninety percent of the wine produced in the Mosel is riesling, contributing to the fact that riesling is Germany’s leading grape variety. The grapes are primarily picked - or read (trauben lesen) as Germans say - from late September to late November, though some stay on the vines as late as January. These overripe and slightly frozen grapes make eiswein, ice wine, a sweet and pricey – the latter due to the limited amount that is produced – dessert wine.

Eeeeuwwww, sweet wines, I hate sweet wines, you're thinking. Please don’t mistake all rieslings for dessert wines, however. While low temperatures in the fall and winter months in the Mosel used to halt fermentation, thereby producing wines high in natural sugars and low in alcohol content, technology now proffers a controlled environment so that vintners are no longer slaves to the weather – at least on the production side. Sugar levels at the time of harvest are crucial in wine production and the sweetness of the wine is measured by what is called prädikat levels. Rieslings are catagorized as trocken – dry, halbtrocken – slightly dry with a sweet finish, and beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese – sweet and even sweeter, respectively.

German riesling is usually solely riesling, i.e. it is not blended with other types of grapes. It uses own yeast rather than added commercial yeast and it is uncommon to find it fermenting in oak barrels – though we did see this at one winery. For more information on the technical science of wine making and riesling varietals I suggest you speak with someone in the business. For more insight on how the wine tastes with delicious dishes made with locally produced ingredients, stick with me.

After the tasting, we needed a meal to wash down our wine, or so. Dinner at the Wintergarten Baldachin looked something like this:

The 'amuse geule' or grüß aus der Kuche, greeting from the kitchen as German chefs call it: a leek foam, tomato essence pyramid and pesto. Our geules were extremely amused.

A fine garlic soup with sauteed shrimp: and fiiiine it was. A cappucino-frothy, light but creamy, garlicy-without-being-overpowering soup with a scrumpcious little shrimp swimming in the middle. Divine.

Grilled zander fillet with bean pits and fried potatoes in balsamic jus.

Someone recently asked me what my least favorite food and I blanked. I consider myself a lover of all and hater of none but then I saw the above photo and thought – it's not true. With advance apologies to my lentil loving friends: I am a bean basher. I blame my mother for not letting me leave the table until I ate every last one of those damn kidney beans in my chilli – those little sacks of sawdust were tasteless, dry and meally. I would sneak them into my napkin and then excuse myself from the table claiming a weak bladder where I would flush the little bean bomb down the toilet. Lentils, black beans, cannolini beans, black eyed peas, garbonzo beans – no thank you. I admit, I make exceptions for lentil soup and occassionaly daal but otherwise – don’t bother. I can think of 1,000 other ways to get my starches.

Reeling in this rant – a mixture of beans, combined with potatoes – another starchy vegetable that I usually only eat if I am still hungry at the end of the meal – and you lost me at hello. This fish was delish and the balsamic reduction was devine but I did without the rest.

Apricot sour cream tarte with Johannisbeer sorbet. Ingo went for the tarte which I thought was a bit too sweet – as I mentioned before, I mourn the loss of my sweet tooth but THANK GOD I don’t suffer from the most vile plague of recent times – lactose intolerance. Hence, the cheese plate please.
A brie, a goat, a blue, some local, some French, all creamy or pungent or sly or sassy. I was punched in the nose between each contender by the sinus clearing spoonful of fig mustard. Whoa!

The amount of delicious food, effervescent wine, plastic gnomes, poetry reciting vintnors, breathtaking scenery and eerily empty wine-tasting towns on this trip necessitate two separate posts.

Part two to follow shortly: driving through the Mosel and dinner at Culinarium R.