A Visit to the Christmas Markets

I mentioned Christmas markets in some comments last week and several people asked me to share some photos. I do find it hard to take photos that capture the atmosphere, but here are a few snapshots.

All over Germany the Christmas markets open throughout Advent attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world. Some are spectacular, nestled into candlelit hillsides or in the parks of great houses and castles. Some are world-famous, like Nuremburg with the angel (Christkind) opening it in an age-old ceremony. Others are simpler, offering just the traditional well-known specialities and crafts. Whichever type you visit, you will be caught up by the magic of a Christmas tradition going back centuries. Surrounded by the soft babble and chatter of other visitors, the smell of fried food and cinnamon sweets, the glitter of decorations for sale, and the cheerful faces around you, it is hard not to smile or be a little frivolous, splashing out on an extravagant candle, a glass of punch, a bag of roasted almonds or a huge jam-filled steamed dumpling covered in vanilla sauce!

I visited two markets this year – first of all Ingolstadt, which is about an hour’s drive north of Munich.

With the New Castle in the background, a sprinkling of snow, and good company, the market has all you can wish for… the traditional wooden decorations and crib figures, food and drink, jewellery, warm socks, cookie cutters, candles, more food, more drink, more decorations ….!

This man has been selling his wares on this market here for at least the past 25 years.

A smaller area nearby offered a quieter repose for another glass of punch (non-alcoholic, I assure you!) and a chat with my friends. But it was very cold that day, with a north wind.

Some of the stall-holders looked frozen to the bone, despite being well wrapped up…

On another day last week I took myself off to Regensburg, a beautiful city on the Danube, and not far from the Bavarian Forest. I always walk over to the old stone bridge if I visit, and the River Danube looked particlularly cold (but blue!) on this occasion…

Despite some bright sunshine it was a chilly day again, but the markets are so enticing and I did all my Christmas shopping there. Take a stroll with me around the markets in Regensburg and see the traditional goods they offer. (Click on any image for a slideshow…)

 

The markets take on a different atmosphere at night, which I have never managed to capture in photos as there are always SO many people and it is hard to move! The thing I love about them most of all is the cheer and friendliness which is definitely lacking in the shopping centres and supermarkets at this time of year. And the food of course. This year I had my favourite warm snack – potato noodles with sauerkraut – as well as some roasted chestnuts, roasted almonds and pumpkin seeds and some delicious non-alcoholic fruit punch. It was nice to go into a cafe afterwards to warm up properly though! 😉

What is your favourite tradition in the run-up to Christmas?

 

 

Blueberry Pull-Apart Bread (Vegan)

After a few months with no food appearing on this blog I think it is time I share this amazing recipe with you. And just in time for Easter!

Sweet breads are popular here at any time of year, but especially around Eastertime, and this one beats cake as far as I am concerned. (Yes, it’s that good! 😉 )

You will need a 30 cm/12 inch loaf pan and, for the dough:

  • 500 g (4 cups) strong (bread) flour
  • 1 packet (1 tbsp) of instant yeast
  • 45 g (4 tbsps) sugar
  • 125 g (1 stick) margarine, cut into small pieces
  • 250 ml (1 cup) soya milk, warmed
  • pinch of salt

… and for the filling:

  • 75 g margarine (2/3 stick), melted (and a little extra for greasing your pan)
  • 125 g (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 200 g (2 cups) blueberries (I used frozen)

 Sift flour into a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the yeast, 1 teaspoon of the sugar and all the warmed soya milk and mix a little of the flour into the well. Leave to stand in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Now go back to your dough and add the rest of the sugar, the pinch of salt and the margarine. Now comes the fun part – mix with your hands until it all comes together into a nice soft dough. On a floured surface knead it for about 5 minutes. Then place in a clean bowl, cover, and leave it to rise in a warm spot for an hour or so.

In the meantime, scrape the seeds out of your vanilla bean and mix them with the 125 g sugar, grease your pan well, melt your margarine, and pre-heat your oven to 180°C/350°F.

When your dough has risen, punch it to release some of the air and then roll it out to about 40 x 35 cm (16 x 14 inches). Brush with almost all of the melted margarine. Sprinkle all but 2 tablespoons of the vanilla sugar evenly on top. Now cut into 8 x 10 cm (3 x 4 inch) squares and stack 4 or 5 of them at a time to make it easier to put them into your pan. Press a few blueberries in between each layer as you go, and then squash the layers up nicely in the pan. Finally, brush with the remaining margarine and sprinkle over the last of the vanilla sugar.

Bake for about 45 minutes. If it starts turning too brown during the end of the cooking time, cover with a bit of foil.

Leave to cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes before easing out and placing on a wire rack to cool completely.

My tip: this tastes wonderful served still slightly warm. 😉 Oh yummy!

I hope this has inspired you! Go on, try it!

Will you be baking anything for Easter?

In a Vase on Monday: Lemon Star

When I walked into my dining room this morning I knew something was not quite right. It was only later, while having breakfast, that I noticed that the first of my Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) to flower this winter was bent over at a dangerous angle threatening to uproot the bulb and put the second bud at risk. So I cut it immediately and put it in a tall vase. Then I realised it is not only Boxing Day, but also Monday – serendipity! I have a vase to share with you after all!

‘Lemon Star’

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A neighbour gave me this bunch of red Amaryllis which are also lovely and cheerful on my windowsill.

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Do take a look at some of the other festive vases posted for Cathy’s meme on Rambling in the Garden.

🙂

A Very Happy Christmas!

The beautiful countryside around us has been shrouded in thick fog and covered in layer upon layer of frost for most of December. When I heard the lovely carol “In the bleak mid-winter” the other day I found it quite apt to describe our surroundings here – the earth is hard as iron (although it has thawed a little in places in the last 24 hours) and the water in the bird bath is hard as stone again. But no snow still. (Sigh)

So I’m afraid I cannot post any pretty photos of frost covered pine trees, glittering in the sun with a blue sky beyond…. but I can offer a glimpse of our black and white world instead.

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And I can wish you all a very Happy Christmas too!

I hope you have the opportunity to relax over the holidays, spend time with loved ones, read a good book or just chill out in front of a warm fireplace with a hot mug of tea…

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Many warm wishes to you all!

😀

 

In a Vase on Monday: Sugar and Lemons

Tomorrow is Pancake Day in the UK, and although the tradition of eating thin crepe-style pancakes on Shrove Tuesday does not seem to exist anywhere else in the world I have always made them wherever I have been – even when I lived in Japan I had a pancake party!

The traditional topping for these pancakes is lemon juice and sugar. Yes, there are plenty of other things you can put on your pancake, but not on Pancake Day. You can have maple syrup, nutella, bananas, etc any time of year. But tomorrow it’s simply lemon juice and sugar; the inspiration for the title for my vase this week…

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Every Monday I join Cathy at Rambling in the Garden with her lovely meme where we are asked to find something from our garden and bring it indoors. Two days ago my first golden (lemony) crocus opened (Yippee!), so I knew I would have to bring some indoors.

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The tiniest ‘vase’ I could find was a miniature salt sellar, and since I had two I decided to pick a few (sugary) snowdrops too, which also immediately opened once brought into the warm house. There are only a few – most are still too small to pick.

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But these are not the only flowers I have this week. About three weeks ago I cut some Ribes sanguineum, remembering that when it is forced the normally deep pinky red flowers are white. In the course of the last week they have opened…

And another Amaryllis opened two days ago too – Amaryllis ‘Blossom Peacock’. A real beauty with a lovely straight stem.

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I shall do a round-up of all my Amaryllis/Hippeastrums once they have all flowered. So far I have had one or two flowering constantly since November. 🙂

Until Friday it had rained practically all week, so having flowers indoors is very cheering. I am looking forward to seeing a few more of my spring bulbs emerge this week, but first I am looking forward to my pancakes tomorrow. What will you have on yours? Sugar and lemon juice?

😉

Christmas Cookies: Linzer Cookies (Vegan)

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A novelty twice over for me – not only are they the first Linzer Cookies I have ever made, they are also my first vegan Christmas cookies – and I am absolutely delighted with the results!

I must give all the credit for the recipe to a wonderful vegan cook and baker, Stina Spiegelberg. Her blog Vegan Passion is also written partly in English, so please do go and visit her. Even better, if you know some German then buy one of her books. I bought her Vegan Xmas cookbook recently and have tried her delicious non-cheese “cheescake” (Zupfkuchen) already too.

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Stina, you have made my first vegan Christmas a delight!

Linzer Cookies

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  • 4-5cm round cookie cutter and small cookie cutters for the centres
  •  460g (3 and 3/4 cups) wholemeal (spelt) flour
  • 80g (1/2 cup) ground hazelnuts
  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 250g (about 2 sticks and 2 tbsps) vegan butter
  • 4 tbsps soya milk
  • 200g (7 oz) raspberry jam/jelly (I prefer the seedless jelly 😉 )

Mix all the ingredients together except for the jam. Add the soya milk at the end as you bring the dough together to form a smooth ball. Then chill it for at least 30 minutes, wrapped in clingfilm.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F and line large baking trays with greaseproof paper. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 3mm thickness. Cut out circles using a 4-5cm cookie cutter. In half of the circles cut out tiny hearts, stars etc from the centre. You are aiming to make about 50 cookies.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Don’t let them get too brown! Let them cool on a rack and then spread the jam over the bottom halves and gently press the top halves onto them. You need about a third to a half a teaspoon per cookie.

The jam filling does mean that they go a little soft after a day or two, but they still taste wonderful and can be kept for a couple of weeks in an airtight tin.

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Have you done any Christmas baking yet?

 

 

Reading the Signs: Verbascum thapsus

This summer was extremely hot and dry, and I found myself scouring various weather forecasts in my hope for a few drops of rain. Our weather forecasts are usually pretty accurate here, as we are quite far inland, and not directly near any mountain ranges. But long-term weather forecasting is trickier… unless you talk to Mr Sepp Haslinger, a pensioner from the south of Bavaria, who reads the signs of the Verbascum seedheads….

Verbascum

Native to Europe, commonly known in the UK as Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus can grow to up to 2 metres tall. The flowerheads start setting seed at the base, while the tops continue to grow and flower. By examining the development of these seadheads and flowers from the base upwards, Sepp Haslinger predicts the weather for the coming winter.

Mr Sepp Haslinger: “The man who knows what the winter will be like”

Königskerzen, Wetterkerze, Vorhersage, Schnee, Winter

The Verbascum is commonly called “King’s Candle” in German (Königskerze), but another common name here in Bavaria is “Weather Candle” (Wetterkerze) as it has been used for predicting the weather for centuries. Loose infloresences apparently indicate snow-free periods, while particularly long specimens with many flowers can suggest winters with a lot of snow.

Over the past four years Mr Haslinger’s forecasts have been accurate, and local snow clearing services rely on him for deciding on whether to set on extra employees or how much salt and grit to order for spreading on roads. This year they are doubling their orders, as Mr Haslinger has predicted a “winter of the century” with more snow than we have seen in a long time… the first snowfall is “definitely in mid-October”, and “abundant”!

(I’m glad I have got most of my bulbs planted – I must tie up the Miscanthus next in preparation!)

Here he is, reading his Verbascum on the Catholic holiday – the Feast of Assumption – in early August – I’m afraid there is no translation as his dialect is rather hard to understand even for me, but do take a look to get the general idea how he does it!

The 73-year-old weather prophet, who jokingly admits he would have been burnt at the stake as a witch a few centuries ago, says that it will not only be a very snowy winter this year, but also a very long one, with snow sticking around until Easter 2016. There will be periods inbetween with less or no snow, but Advent will be white – good news for the Christmas markets and the hot mulled wine stands – although Sepp warns them to strengthen the rooves of their booths! The winter equinox and Christmas will probably be milder, but in the New Year it will turn cold and snowy once again. All in all it will be “a hard winter”.

(Not really what I wanted to hear, but we will see!)

😉

Have you heard of any unusual ways of predicting weather?