A Hidden Treasure in Franconia: the Altes Gewürzamt

Today started off a bit rough.  The clouds blanketed the sky in that way they do when they let you know that summer is over, and I could have slept another hour, but my body had other plans.  Even after my favorite cup of coffee I couldn’t naturally put a smile on my face.

Weeks ago we had planned on taking a day of our vacation to follow a dream of my husband’s and visit his favorite spice producer.  Years ago he fell in love with the herbs and spices of Ingo Holland, and always dreamed of visiting the small town and shop that gives life to so many of our dishes.  And, as luck would have it, today was the day.  I wanted to go in a better mood, but I just couldn’t wing it.  My husband even asked me if I was sure we should go today, but, as this is not the first time in my life that I have woken up on the wrong side of the bed, I told him that the trip would do me good and that sitting at home on our couch definitely wouldn’t make it better.  With that, we were off.

We decided to go by train since the trip to Klingenberg, where the Altes Gewürzamt calls home, is over 3 hours away from us on the Bavarian boarder with Hessen and Baden-Würtemburg.  This way we could have a “mobile couch day” on the train and sink into the books we are reading.

We exited our last train, stopped at a small bakery for a snack, and where directed by a friendly lady to find our destination.  Not that Klingenberg is large – not at all – it is just a maze of many old houses.

Because we arrived during the Altes Gewürzamt‘s lunch break, we walked around the town before heading to the store.  We walked through one alley after another of 400+ year-old houses, and even found ourselves on a bridge hovering over a small canyon running through this really small and inconspicuous place.  We found a path leading into the canyon, and walked through it.  What a surprise and a hidden treasure.

We made our way back to the heart of town – passing by a few wine cellars built into the hill that the town sat at the foot of.  Finally it was time.

We opened the door to the Altes Gewürzamt and were quickly encompassed by the warm smells of wood and spices.  By the time the door closed behind me, I had a smile on my face.

For a moment, I stood in the first room and just looked around.  We were greeted by two very friendly employees, and I tried to decide where to start.  I decided to walk around the store, and then walk around it a second time to gain focus.  Finally, I was in my element.  Food is just my world.

After I mentioned to my husband that I was going to smell every spice in the shop before we left (they have one open container per spice), one of the lady’s who worked there turned to me with a lovely smile and asked if I would like to set my backpack down by the register because it would take a while to discover them all and I would be more comfortable that way.  I took her offer, and started traveling the world through my nose.

Some smells were new, some were invigorating, others nose tickling, and yet others brought back fond childhood memories. I smelled in the container with chives at least three times – they smelled so buttery.  Since when do chives smell buttery?  I smelled into a container of Timut pepper that smelled like spicy grapefruit.  I tasted Danish Jozo Salt that grows in exquisitely thin little square flakes and crunches like chips.  I smelled the mind-blowing floral explosion of Iranian Safran.  I smelled a spiced-wine spice mix laced with roses and lemon grass. I could go on and on. What an experience.  Oh, and did I mention that they also have different types of vegan gummy bears??  I am moving in.

Two hours later, we were at the register and ready to take our bounty home.  It doesn’t look like a lot, but we already own quite a few that we order through their online shop.

We walked out the door, and as I closed the old wooden door behind me I felt like I had spent the whole day in a spa.  Aroma therapy does wonders.  I had such a great time, and had such a huge smile on my face as we walked back to the train station that my husband said that he thinks I had more fun than he did, and it was his dream we were full filling.  And that, lady’s and gentlemen, is why even when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you should always decide to get up and go do something great rather than hang out on your couch all day.

Besides, I had enough “mobile couch” time today.  We spent a total of 6 and a half hours on different trains going back and forth for a less than 3 hour visit.  It was totally worth it.  What a great memory this place has made.

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Strawberry Paradise 

Summer is finally here and I am fully in jelly-making-mode.  I want to preserve all the delicious flavors of summer in a hundred different ways.


Recently, I’ve been busy with rhubarb and elder flowers, and now strawberry is where it’s at.  This Spring I preemptively prepared a strong tee made from freshly picked sweet woodruff on one of my hikes bc it pairs wonderfully with strawberry.


Yesterday we drove out to the small town of Wolkersdorf where there is a strawberry plantation, and we picked 9 pounds of tiny super intensely flavored strawberries.


It’s hard work picking strawberries, and I have really soar thighs today from crouching through strawberry patches for 2 hours.  It was well worth it however!  Ironically, there were so many people who passed by us and we continuously heard “there are no more strawberries left to pick”.  I guess they don’t know that you really have to get down on your hands and knees to find them hiding in the shade of their own leaves.


As you can see from our bounty, we picked quite a few white-tipped strawberries.  We did this on purpose since partially ripe berries have a stronger more intense flavor, and when made into jams and jellies the flavor come out better.

I spent an hour plucking off the green tops, but it was well worth it – the smaller the berry the more flavor that is jam-packed inside.  And, of the nine pounds of berries I made strawberry jam, strawberry-sweet woodruff jam, strawberry-tarragon jam, strawberry-kiwi jam, and strawberry-chocolte-mint jam.  A little goes a long way and there are so many combinations.  Another favorite of mine is strawberry-pineapple jam.

No matter what combination of fruit I use, I always use a 3:1 ratio of fruit to sugar, and top off each boiling pot with the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon.  Get out and get jamming to preserve the flavors of summer!

Elder Flower Syrup

People, it is elder flower season and that means that it’s time for make elder flower syrup!

If you’re unfamiliar with the elderberry tress it can seem like every other green tree, but when the first warm days of late Spring and early summer roll around, you just can’t miss them.  Elderberry trees grow like weeds here in Germany.  Everywhere I have been in the last few weeks I have seen at least one. They grow on the sides of roads, at thw edge of rivers, in the midst of forest, along sidewalks, in the middle of farm fields…the list goes on.  They can be spotted by their large white flower clusters, and when you get close by their intensely sweet floral scent.


Making a syrup with the flowers is pretty easy and not very labor intensive.  And, afterwards you are rewarded withe a unique syrup for making your own sodas and cocktails year round.  My favorite combination is elder flower syrup topped off with spritzy water with a squirt of fresh lemon juice and Granada-Mint leaves muddled it – and served super cold of course!


For the syrup you will need:

20 Elder Flower clusters, debugged

400g Sugar

500ml Water

1 organic Lemon, cut into rounds

To prepare:

Place all your cleaned elder flower clusters in a large wide-mouthed jar or a bowl (if you use a bowl you may need more lemon rounds).

In a saucepan, heat water and sugar over high heat, stiring frequently, until all sugar is dissolved and the mixture has reached 80C.  Pour the simple syrup over the flowers while it is still hot.

Using the lemon rounds, layer them above the flowers the keep the flowers submerged beneath the syrup.  Let the syrup sit in a cool dark place – unrefridgerated – for 24 hours.

Strain syrup through a fine sieve and discard the flowers and lemons.  Place thw syrup in a sauce pan and heat it to 80C before pouring it into prepared jars for canning.  Pour into the jars and close with a lid and allow to sit on your counter, undisturbed for 24 hours.  Alternatively, you can leave you syrup uncanned and can use it immediately.  Once opened, keep refrigerated.

Makes about 1 Liter.

Hikers Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 6

The first thought I had this morning, after a wonderful 10 hour sleep (!!!), is if the farmer sold his rooster.  I didn’t hear him this morning – just the faint calls of the neighbor roosters.  A few minutes later I was relieved to hear that he was still there…I might just have been too tired from yesterday’s hike to hear him.

It is late in the morning, and we enjoyed our breakfast of fruit and cereal grains with a hot cup of coffee while looking out over the ocean.  For the fourth time in the last few days, I watched a small speed boat head out south/south-west.  Where are they headed? …there is nothing out there.

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After breakfast, we headed out to Los Llanos.  We parked our car and asked an old white-haired lady with a cane if she could point us in the direction of the farmer’s market.  She consulted with two other ladies that just happened to be passing by, and the consensus is that we need to go 2 street over and walk straight down hill for 5 minutes until we run into the market.  The directions are right on, and we meander down yet another town of perfectly clean roads, quaint colorful houses, and gardens full of trees and flowers.

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We find the market at the end of the pedestrian zone, and walk through once before deciding to buy anything.  We return to the stands where we saw things that peaked our curiosity, and walked away with sweet-sour grapes, sweet tomatoes, huge red onions, pimentos del Padron, and a bag full of tangy tree tomatoes – all for a steel: 7,80€!!!

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We walk back to our car, purposely winding through tiny roads with more colorful houses – some just taller than I at the entrance.  We then quickly make our way home and make lunch – a skillet dish of potatoes, carrots, pimentos del Padron, onions, olives, tree tomatoes, and a hint of oregano.  Wow – the tree tomatoes are a tangy explosion of sweetly citrusy tomato softened potatoes in every bite.  Fantastic!

After lunch, we head off to the beach in El Remo – the salty smell in the air calms me and I am flooded with joyful feelings of my childhood.  I have not been on a beach in 8 years.  And, I have never seen a black sanded beach.

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We reach the beach – it is relatively small for a beach, but perfectly nudged in between volcanic rocks – like everything else around here.  The sand is hot – really hot.  We lay down on our mats and our towels, and still feel the burning heat soaked in by the island on our bodies.  The beach is pretty empty at 5:00pm.  The life guards have the red flag hanging high, forbidding everyone from swimming, it is high tide and there are strong rip currents.  An hour later, the yellow flags go up, the tide begins to subside, swimmers enter the lively waters, and the life guards stand directly on the beach to keep a close eye.  It is still not 100% safe, but the beach is starting to fill.  The sun is still high enough in the sky, and it will soon entertain everyone with a spectacular sunset.  As the tide falls, we walk to the water and cool our feet in the cold waves.  Every time a wave subsides back into the ocean, it reveals the end of the island…it just drops off a few meters in front of us.  How beautiful and scary at the same time.

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We make our way back home and rid ourselves of the cakey-feeling of sunscreen under the shower, and make our way off to dinner.  On our way we met our hostess, Karen, a really nice German lady who speaks with her hands like a true Spaniard.  She convinces us to change the restaurant we want to visit because they have a larger vegan selection.

We drive to Franchipani, and are seated in a small room with 3 large tall wooden tables.  The service is spectacular, and our waitress speaks German and Spanish.  We were delighted throughout the night with the service of a 1-star restaurant, but, unfortunately, the food was not as impressive.  The thought behind each dish was creative and well meant, but not well executed, and I left with indigestion from overly oiled food and a yogurt sauce that accidentally ended up on my vegan dish.  Such a shame…it was very promising.  I think I will move here one day and open a vacation rental complex with a restaurant down bellow.  I can definitely do better than this.

A beautiful stone house with red tile roof, reminiscent of the traditional Canary-style architecture of ages ago…with small apartments on either side of the house to rent.  In the middle is a restaurant that spills into a patio in a large garden where we will harvest the ingredients for the dishes we will prepare.  After a day’s work, I will sit out on my patio – all lights turned off on the property – and watch the amazing view of the stars and planets in the night’s sky.  This place is perfect.

Savory Tofu Breakfast Scramble

I have to admit that I loved scrambled eggs.  After making the leap, a few years ago, into the vegan life, I sporadically – especially on Sunday mornings – would reminisce of this soft, savory, fluffy dish.  But, I chalked it off as a dish of my past life, since I am not a big fan of eating industrial vegan copies of non-vegan foods.

A few months ago, I kept coming across quite a few tofu scramble posts, but tofu is a delicate ingredients that I rarely use in my kitchen.  If it isn’t prepared properly, it can be pretty yucky, but as nagging ideas go, my curiosity won, and I have to say that I’m pretty glad that it did!

As with most recipes I get my hands on, I can’t keep from tweaking them, and this recipe from hot for food is no exception.  I have made a few of their recipes in the past, and knew that this would be a good recipes to use as a starting point.  The original recipe calls for turmeric, which I replaced with a smaller amount of Ingo Holland’s (my favorite spice expert!) fruity Mango Curry mixture (limited edition).  And, I  replaced the paprika with his smoked Pimenton dela Vera (smoked Spanish paprika), as well as leaving out the plant based milk and using firm silken tofu instead – which has an almost identical consistency to fluffy scrambled eggs.

Now, with all the added flavor this does not taste directly like eggs – it tastes like a deliciously savory scramble, and the consistency reminds you of eating eggs.  It definitely makes a great festive vegan breakfast for a special occasion!


Savory Tofu Breakfast Scramble

Makes 1 large portion / Prep time 5 min / Total time 15 minutes

Ingredients:
2t Coconut Oil
1 Green Onion, minced – whites and greens separated
1 block (400g) firm Silken Tofu
2T Nutritional Yeast
1/8t Ingo Holland’s Mango Curry (or Turmeric)
1/2t smoked Pimenton de la Vera (or Paprika)
1/4t Salt

Directions:
In a small bowl, mix together the nutritional yeast, mango curry, smoked
paprika, and salt. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over high heat, and add coconut oil and white parts
of green onions. Stir shortly, and, using your hand, squish in chunks
of silken tofu. Give the mixture a good stir so that the tofu is coated
in oil. Mix in the spice mixture and stir until well combined.

At this point, allow tofu to slightly brown in pan to round out the
flavors of the spices – about 5 minutes – stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and serve – top with remaining green onion halves.

Serve with your favorite breakfast accompaniments.

Dreamy Pecan Brioche Braid

Let’s just say that the last few weeks have been a bit crazy.  A few days ago, I was finally able to pull the plug and just relax – no more 10 people talking to me at once, no homework, no events to run around to, just pure 100% unadulterated relaxation.  And, finally the time I often crave to concentrate on what I love doing – creating with food.

A few weeks ago I got my hands on a vegan raspberry yeast bread recipe that got my gears turning.  It was missing something – it was too airy and missing some sweetness.  And, as the story often goes, once I have have nagging feeling of how I could tweak a recipe to make it better, it doesn’t leave me alone until I am satisfied.

So, my husband and I rolled up our sleeves and whipped together this caramely, yeasty, soft, chewy, fluffy, delicious vegan pecan brioche.  When it came out of the oven we were both grinning.  We managed to let it cool for 5 minutes before slowly cutting it open and taking the first bites.  However, after sitting on the counter overnight, it developed a wonderful crumb like that found in a German Hefezopf, and every day it sat, the more the flavors developed.

Today we gobbled up the last bits, and my thoughts have turned to a chocolate version of this recipe….the gears are turning.

This is a great recipe for any time of the year, just tweak the flavor of the filling.  Add up to 3 teaspoons of cinnamon and it will taste cinnamon bun-y, add ground ginger and cloves to the cinnamon and it will take a turn for Christmas, add a guava paste filling and take a turn into the tropics.  The possibilities are endless!

Pecan Brioche Braid, vegan

Makes 1 Loaf with 24 slices / Prep Time 35 min / Total Time 2 hours

Ingredients:

Dough:
300mL Water
1 cube (42g) fresh Yeast or 14g dry Yeast
50g Alsan (Coconut Margarine), melted
600g Spelt Flour
150g Sugar
2t Salt

Filling:
150g Brown Sugar
30g Flour
1 pinch Vanilla Salt (or regular Salt)
1t Cinnamon
100g Alsan, room temperature
2C finely chopped Pecans

Brushing:
1/4C Almond Milk
1T Agave Syrup

Directions:
For the dough, pour warm water, yeast,
and a pinch of sugar into an electric mixing bowl. Stir shortly,
and allow to sit and foam for 10 minutes. Stir in melted Alsan.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt.
Combine all ingredients in your electric mixer fitted with a
dough hook until well combined.

Remove from mixer, cover bowl with a damp cloth, and allow to rise
for 45 minutes in a warm spot until doubled in size.

In the mean time, prepare the filling by combining all ingredients by
hand and massaging them together. Set aside.

Mix together brushing ingredients, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 180°C, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Once dough is ready, dust a large surface with flour and scrape out
dough – also dust with flour. Roll out into a large rectangle with
a rolling pin.

Using an angled cake spatula, spread filling from end to end of the
dough, leaving a 1″ lip at the top. Brush this lip with the brushing
mixture. Roll dough together tightly and seal. Roll dough onto
a baking sheet.

Using a sharp knife, cut the dough from end to end along the length of
the dough, leaving 2″ on one end attached. Separate the dough halves
and braid over each other, making the filling visible. Tuck ends in
to prevent them from burning, and push the braid together by hand to
make it “fatter”. Brush entire loaf with brushing mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from oven and allow to cool slightly
before cutting.

Store at room temperature, uncovered, for up to 5 days (should it last
that long!).

Frühjahrslust – Spring Garden Festival @ Wolfgangshof


Wolfgangshof is one of my favorite places to visit – it’s like traveling back in time.  Luckily, there are festivals heald on this private country estate a few times a year that are open to the public – and they are always great!  I always feel swept away by the rustic charm surrounding me.


A few months back we visited a rustic Christmas market held here, and now that Spring has come into bloom, the Frühjahrslust has come (and saddly gone) in one weekend.  It was such comfortable sunny weather.  After walking around all the garden stands and “acquiring” a decent amount of organic herbs to plant in my balcony garden, we sat by a stone fountain, listened to giggling children, sipped espresso, and soaked in some rays.

I was really excited to find out that this great event comes twice a year – the second event is in September and is called Grüne Lust. Even if I don’t need any new plants for my garden, it is still so much fun to visit for the day and eat yummy food!


For lunch I had a vegan Spaghetti Bolognese with Carrot-Sunflower seed Pesto and a lemon-mint soda from a local restaurant catering at the festival.  Not to mention that I also thoroughly enjoyed freshly fried handmade potato chips and an vegan orange gelato….ahhh vegan food love!

Homemade Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie is a very special part of our Thanksgiving traditions.  If we could only pick one dish to prepare that represents this sacred family event for us, Pumpkin Pie would win.

It’s so very special to us that we start making it in late summer by harvesting Red Kuri Squash (Hokkaidokürbis) at the end of September and processing them into pumpkin purée that we make our filling with.


Pumpkin Purée

Makes 450g / Prep Time 20 min / Total Time 45 min

600g Red Kuri Squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped
Water to cover
1 teaspoon Sunflower Oil

Directions:
Place squash in a large pot and cover with water.  Add oil.
Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer on medium-low
heat for 15-20 minutes, or until pumpkin is soft.
Drain off liquid, purée, and let cool.  It can either be used right away,
or frozen in portions for future use.

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Vegan Pumpkin Pie:

Serves 8 – 12 / Prep Time 15 min / Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes

1 Pie Dough Round
1T Flax Seed Flour
110mL Water
150g Sugar
1/2t Salt
1t Cinnamon
1/2t ground Ginger
1/4t ground Cloves
450g Pumpkin Purée
340g Almond Milk

Directions:
Preheat oven to 218°C.
Prepare your pie dough in a pie dish and place in the refrigerator.

In a tall measuring cup, purée flax seed flour and water with a wand mixer
until smooth. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin purée and flax seed mixture.
Whisk in sugar mixture and then almond milk until smooth.

Pour into prepared pie shell, cover dough edges with a pie crust shield,
and bake for 15 minutes.
Reduce temperature to 177°C, and continue to bake for 70 minutes,
or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Remove from oven, and allow to cool for 12 hours before serving.

Simple Breakfast Guacamole

On Sundays we go all out and have a nice big breakfast.  Usually it involves lots of bread from our favorite local baker – Bäckerei Wein Mühle, a colorful mixture of the hundreds of homemade jams that we have in our pantry, and a delicious vegan dark chocolate spread from dm.  However, every once in a while, I just don’t want to have a sweet breakfast, and crave the flavors of my childhood – creamy avocados and tangy citrus.

I grill my bread (Carrot-Pumpkin Seed Whole Wheat Bread) over an open flame on the stove top to give it a nice roasted flavor.  Then, I whip up a quick and simple guacamole that I like to top off with some freshly sliced tomatoes.  A delicious vegan breakfast with complex flavors that help start off a nice weekend morning.

30520648255_7e0d6a39d9_oGuacamole
Serves 1-2 / Prep Time 5 min / Total Time 5 min

Ingredients:
1 Avocado
juice of 1/2 Lime (or Lemon)
1 big pinch of Salt
1 big pinch Garlic Powder
1 dash of ground Jalapeño

Directions:
Mash avocado with a fork and mix in all other ingredients.  Taste and adjust flavors – every avocado is different!

Spread on freshly roasted bread and top with tomato slices seasoned with pepper, or with your favorite vegetables: cucumber slices, alfalfa sprouts, radishes….

Simple Tomato Pastries

I rarely watch tv…I mean really rarely.  Every once in a while I enjoy watching a documentary, and recently discovered Chef’s Table.  I love watching the well thought out moves of the kitchen staff, and find the presentation of the different style fascinating: the delicate moves, the precision of every wielded knife, the vibrant colors of fresh ingredients…I love it.  I have worked in a few kitchens in my life…but none as nice and the ones in the show.
So, when I watched Alain Passard from L’Arpège (in Paris) roll out a homemade sheet of puff pastry, lightly brush it in butter, and cover it in a colorful mixture of thick-sliced heirloom tomatoes – my mouth began to water.  He has such an amazing garden that produces fresh fruits and vegetables for his kitchen – a dream.  One day I will get around to making my own puff pastry…it’s been on my bucket list for years, but will have to stay there a little longer.  Luckily, my local grocery store sells vegan puff pastry, so I picked up some San Marzano tomatoes from my local farmer’s market and got right to it.
This is a really simple recipe, and my kids love eating these delicious crunchy pillows.  The lightly caramelized tomato gives this savory snack a silky sweetness.
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Simple Tomato Pastries

Serves 4 (Snack) – 12 (Amuse bouche) / Prep Time 5 min / Total Time 25 min
Ingredients:
1 sheet vegan Puff Pastry, cut into 12 rectangles
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/8 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/8 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 teaspoon Fleur de Sel
6 San Marzano Tomatoes (can substitute with Roma), halved
1 pinch of Sugar
1 pinch of table Salt
1 hand full fresh Basil, chopped
Directions:
Preheat oven to 200°C.
Remove the wire rack from your oven and line it with parchment paper.  Place the rectangles of puff pastry on the parchment paper, making sure that they are not touching each other.
In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, and fleur de sel.  Brush each piece of pastry with the mixture, and place a tomato half on each piece of pastry – cut-side up.  Larger tomato halves can be cut again in half to help them bake more evenly.
Brush the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil on the
tomatoes, and sprinkle each tomato with a small amount of sugar and salt.
Place the wire rack on the very bottom of your oven and bake for 10 minutes.  The, set the wire rack in the center of the oven and continue to bake for another 10 minutes.  Baking the pastries at the bottom of the oven allows the bottom of the pastry to become really crunchy.  If we had a pizza oven, we could skip this step.  Take care not to leave the pastries in for too long as the puff pastry goes from golden-baked to charcoal-black rather quickly.
Once done, remove immediately from oven and allow to cool slightly before sprinkling with fresh basil.
The pastries can be stored for 2 days at (cool) room temperature and still taste great.  These guys always taste great…breakfast..lunch…dinner…or in between meals.