Saturday, December 27, 2008

Adventures in Germany: Nuremberg

While in Nuremberg I got to the Albrecht-Dürer-Haus, which is on the opposite side of this square (the entrance to the Kaiserburg is to the left of this shot—I didn't get there this time, but I figure I'll be back!) I've loved Dürer's etchings since art history class in high school, and it was such a thrill to walk through the rooms he lived and worked in five hundred years ago.

I also visited the Nazi party rally grounds, which I may blog about later. But for now, a couple more shots of the Christkindlesmarkt (a view of the Lorenzkirche, and the awesome hard candy stall where I picked up some chili chocolate candies for Brendan).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cardamom gingersnaps

Merry Day After Christmas! I meant to post this beforehand, but you know how it is. This is my absolute favorite cookie recipe, spicy and festive but delicious at any time of year. (I baked a couple of batches for my launch party in July '07 and they went over very well.)

Slightly modified from a recipe in Sara Perry's Great Gingerbread:
1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
½ cup vegetable shortening
¾ cup white or brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup molasses
½ cup raw sugar
Sift the flour, baking soda, 3 teaspoons cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat butter, shortening, and white/brown sugar (using an electric mixer if available), until mixture is creamy. Beat in vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients alternately with the molasses until fully blended.

Lay out two pieces of plastic wrap, spoon half the dough onto each piece, roll into logs, and refrigerate for two hours. Pour raw sugar and last teaspoon of cardamom onto a plate and mix evenly. With oven preheated to 350ºF, pull off spoonfuls of chilled dough, form into slightly flattened balls, and roll edge along sugar/cardamom mixture on the plate. Place balls 1½" apart on greased cookie trays and bake for 12 minutes.

Yields approximately four dozen cookies.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Where My Books Go

All the words that I utter,
And all the words that I write,
Must spread out their wings untiring,
And never rest in their flight,
Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,
And sing to you in the night,
Beyond where the waters are moving,
Storm-darken'd or starry bright.

—William Butler Yeats

Monday, December 22, 2008

Adventures in Germany: Ottobeuren

My first stop in Bavaria was a little town called Ottobeuren, known for its huge Benedictine monastery. Here's an early-morning view of the basilica from my hotel window:

There are a couple reasons why I came here. I first heard about Ottobeuren while listening to A Spy at the Heart of the Third Reich: the most valuable Allied spy of World War II, Fritz Kolbe, stayed here for a few days and was able to photograph his documents in the perfect privacy of the monastery library. (The narrator pronounced it Ott-oh-byur-in, but the bus driver didn't understand me when I pronounced it that way. Apparently it's Ott-oh-bway-rin.)

Anyway, I was intrigued by the monastery's description in the book, and when I googled it, I found another item of interest in the basilica: the complete skeletons of four obscure saints reclining in glass coffins, plus a lot of skulls and other bones in smaller glass cases (the skull of Saint Apollonia, for instance, is crowned with a wreath of jewels). Check out what's left of Saint Maurus below:

I know, it's not a very detailed photograph, but I couldn't bring myself to take any pictures at close range. These glass coffins were horrifying and wonderful all at once. It made me wonder who had exhumed these early saints, wired their bones together, and dressed them in velvet so they could be displayed like this.

According to the website, the monastery library and museum should have been open, but the door was locked and I was too timid to ask the lady at the gift shop if she spoke English. The sign said both gift shop and museum were closed for lunch, but lunchtime was over by the time I visited. I really should have asked, so that at least I would have known for sure that the museum was closed for the winter (or perhaps because of the construction). This is something I struggle with when I travel—this ridiculous timidity. I've come all this way...why not stick out my neck just a little bit further?

Otherwise, Ottobeuren is a quiet, pleasant little town with a few spa-hotels. I was a bit taken aback when I checked my credit card bill to find my stay at the Hotel St. Ulrich was listed as "SANATORIUM OTTOBEUREN"! My room was adorable and cozy, and because I only really came to check out the church and monastery (and there wasn't much else to do anyway), I ended up spending quite a bit of time curled up with my laptop. It was a very productive trip.

Here's a little shrine to St. Ulrich on the path from the church to the hotel:

And here's Ottobeuren's Marketplatz by night:

My time here was wonderfully relaxing, and it was really neat to be able to walk the halls Fritz Kolbe walked sixty-odd years ago. I'm not sure yet how the visit will inform my fiction, but it certainly will somehow.

Next post: Nuremberg and more pictures of the Christkindlesmarkt!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Adventures in Germany: the Christkindlesmarkt

I'm back! And it was wonderful.

More to come over the weekend. Right now I got a novel to finish!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Adventures in Berlin: Potsdam

More info on Potsdam here. Top photo: the charming brick townhouses of the Dutch Quarter. The rest of the pictures are from Sanssouci—that's the 18th-century Chinesisches Teehaus (Chinese Tea House) in the second and third photos.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Adventures in Berlin: Where to Eat

I didn't have any trouble eating out in Germany as a vegetarian—even the restaurants in Wernigerode had surprisingly good veggie options. Here are a few recommendations (I dunno, maybe you can bookmark this post for when you plan your own trip to Berlin?)

If you happen to stay in Kreuzberg, try Amici Miei (Mehringdamm 40), a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria with very friendly service where we got this humongous (and delicious) spinach pie for €11.80 (cheap by Irish standards). Hard to believe, but we eventually polished it off.

But our favorite eatery (we ate there twice) was Malete, on Chausseestrasse 131 in the Mitte neighborhood. The Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern-inspired dishes there were absolutely to die for—even something as simple as fried eggs over sauteed veggies with a side of roasted potatoes. Or order anything with eggplant/aubergine in it. Our meals came with a basket of the tastiest fresh toasted bread spread lightly with a parmesan/red pesto sauce. Just writing about it now makes me want to scrap the Bavaria plan and return to Berlin instead!

The last spot to recommend is in Potsdam, where I happened upon a terrific little vegetarian café close to Sanssouci called Café KieselStein (Hegelallee 23). Roasted pumpkin stuffed with feta and veggies, Asian-inspired soups made with coconut milk, homemade berry pies, organic local beers...great all-around, though the service was a bit slow. There seemed to be a lot of cute restaurants in the Dutch quarter too, but KieselStein was perfect after a long stroll through the park.