Touring Strasbourg: Stinky Cheese and Sauteed Mushrooms

Our final full day in France has brought me to a bit of reflection: If there is one thing we learned during this journey, it’s how to eat.
You guessed it, "yaourt" is "yogurt"!

(If there are two things we learned, the second is that if there is ever a time in your life where cheese will be forced upon you every day for nearly 90 days, just let it happen, man. Just let it happen.)

After a light breakfast at Sarah’s home, we set out for the Strasbourg Saturday Market in the center of town. Not to be waylaid by the antiques, art, and general knickknackery, we went straight for the food stalls.

There is a time, you might remember, when our lady France unfolded her typically-crossed arms, considered something in the palm of her hand, and slowly, cautiously, held out a guarded secret to the chowgypsy. The secret was cepes, or fresh porcini mushrooms. And now that I was in on this secret, these beautiful rarities were not to cross my path again unnoticed. So it was that a sort of internal alarm went off as I saw what I very much imagined fresh, whole porcinis would look like…and that’s precisely what they were. Within five minutes, with one paper bag full of porcinis, and another with white and golden chanterelles, we had decided we wouldn’t be going out to dinner that night.
fresh chanterelle mushrooms
Porcinis are a game-changer. Respect.
italian market strasbourg
I want to go to sleep on this.
don't judge me.
italian food strasbourg
With good reason, the Italian delicatessen Spagna doesn't carry Epoisses. But yowza look at that parmigiano reggiano!
Now that I had found what I didn’t realize I had been searching for, it was time to find something I that had set out to find upon our return to France: Epoisses.  We found this second essential at the boutique of La Cloche a Fromage.
La Cloche a Fromage
Hey info tidbit: The orange color of washed-rind cheeses is a result of a specific bacteria
 that also happens to cause these cheeses to reek
Leading me out of the bleak world in which only cheddar, Swiss, gouda, and parmesan exist (not that they are necessarily bad company), Matt Caputo, from Caputo’s Market in Salt Lake City, UT, introduced me to Epoisses.

In fact, I can credit Matt for introducing me to the whole world of cheese. He was the keymaster. He gave me the confidence to take all those hours I’d spent nerding out to cheese and general food non-fiction (who does that??) and proudly go forth with the fact that I am freakishly excited about food. Perhaps his tutelage is one of the reasons I am on this overseas exploration today.
La Cloche a Fromage
Hey dad, can I have $1,000?
At any rate, with our precious cargo in tow, we stopped for lunch at Sarah’s favorite pizza place: Come a Roma, where (are you ready for this?) you can buy your pizza buy the gram. Ahhh, such beauty. Choose from their 15+ topping options and they'll cut off a piece according to your size request with special pizza-cutting scissors (!!). You can buy as many two-bite pieces as you like. But don’t actually do that.
pizza in strasbourg
Go ahead, be that person who takes little pieces of
every flavor.
Do you really expect me to think rationally and
not buy at least five things?
We strolled around a bit after lunch, stopped at Litzler-Vogel Patisserie and bought way too much 
chocolate (in a good way). For the full account of our Strasbourg Tourism day, see this post. After a beer on the square, we headed back to Sarah’s house, where I was itching to break into our cheese appetizers and then prepare our beautiful beautiful mushrooms. 
If you don't say it, I will. We are so cute.
strasbourg market
Let's just hope that somebody  wants a pretzel today
sheep cheese france
Ossau Iraty and French fig jam. Need I say more?
I can't because I'm too busy eating.
stinky cheese
doesn't she look beautif...er...I guess not.
  
When Matt introduced me to Epoisses, I recall him saying something about stinky socks and fireworks…and that alone is great way to describe this cheese. And it really does stink. It reeks. If you don't go home and put it in the bottom drawer of your fridge directly after purchasing it, you might end up on a warm boat tour of the canal city you happen to be visiting, worrying about when the people around you will begin to notice that something from the general vicinity of where you’re sitting is emitting the smell of what would waft from a dumpster inhabited by a family of obese cats that feed off of rotten curry and onions and bed upon Paula Deen’s used underwear.
epoisses and bread
Yup, it smells so bad it gets its own plate.
And yet it tastes so. damn. good. I don’t know how it’s possible. I don’t question it. See my cheese page for the full review.

If I accidentally managed to turn you off to our dear Epoisses, you can count on Ossau Iraty ("oh-so ee-rah-tee," pictured above left) to pick up the slack. 

Onward to the mushrooms.
fresh chanterelle mushrooms
How does something that looks so delicate have such a strong impact on my belly?

Not wanting to drown their fresh flavor of the porcinis and white and golden chanterelles out in any way, I simply threw a tablespoon (or two?) of butter on medium heat, let it heat up, added some chopped garlic, then added my mushrooms about a minute later (which had been cleaned and cut into relatively similar two-ish inch pieces). In an ideal world, I would have worked in batches (since mushrooms have a high water content, if you throw them in a pan together, all that escaping water will cause the ‘shrooms to steam each other instead of browning), but excitement got in the way. Throw on a pinch of salt and pepper. Toward the end, add your chopped flatleaf (maybe 1 tbsp per every cup mushrooms). Sautee them for 5-10 minutes, or until they darken and take on that luscious meaty look. Taste along the way, be not afraid.
sauteed mushrooms
chanterelle mushrooms
With the mushrooms ready, we pulled out some leftover Pad Thai from the night before and went to chow town.
authentic pad thai
So it's not the most French thing we could've eaten, but I like going out with a little rebellion.
We closed out the night with desserts. Yup, plural. Macaroons, éclairs, dark chocolate mousse tortes...for the record, most were miniature versions, but what they lacked in individual size, they made up for in collective bulk. They really made up for it.

What a perfect way to say goodbye to France.

TomorrowIsrael!

Touring Strasbourg...Wait, How Did We End Up in France Again??

I’ll admit it, there has been some hardcore relaxing going on here at our cabin in Hayingen.
Achieving master status at relaxation

beer and cigar
Yes, that's a cigar in one hand and a beer in the other...
Even the moon is peeking out in jealousy.
But all good things must come to an end, and sometimes they have to be replaced by other things that are good things.

elaine kaiser
Readers, meet Sarash (right). Sarah, readers.
Mom and dad have a part-time neighbor, Sarah, who spends most of her life in Strasbourg, France with her two children Alena and Julian. I suppose that some combination of her warmth, hard-work, and intelligence have guided her up the ladder to become an accomplished international diplomat of sorts, and to therefore have what I consider to be a really, really cool life. To put it in a very small nutshell, she travels around helping other countries understand and adapt the European Union's position on human rights. Frequent travel and cultural barriers must abound, and I can only imagine that the nuances within that job description take a very special and steely type of person.

Nevertheless, as she was only a couple hours' drive from Hayingen, she found time in her busy schedule to host all four of us Friday and Saturday night, and to furthermore take us around the city to give us the insider’s look at Strasbourg.
strasbourg architecture
Sarah's street. Go ahead, call it cute. It's cute.
strasbourg tourism
A little Strasbourg square in sight of the cathedral spire
It looked nice, to say the least. It almost made me think that John and I should’ve spent more time in France. Almost, but not quite. I’m movin’ on, Francie baby (as in, we’re going to Israel in two days!).

It was funny—going back to France after having been gone for only about two weeks, I felt some odd sense of confidence—as though I was a sophomore this time around, and before I had been a pimply, stuttering freshman. Foolish, I know, because I still hardly speak the language and I’m still woefully far from fully meshing with the French culture. But nonetheless, after visiting two new countries in which I was again a freshman, it was nice being back to a place with which I was mildly familiar.

How to even begin to explain all that we managed to do with only one full day I’m not sure, so let’s just take a visual journey. We’re going on a journey! Doesn’t that sound fun?
strasbourg river
You know, I was going to wait for that old lady to get out of this shot, but then I decided that she makes it better because I'm pretty sure she's actually a model. Amiright?
Is that man grabbing his own butt!?
A view of the Notre Dame Cathedral
The Saturday Market--more on that later ;)
This city almost takes it too far with the cuteness.
A view from our boat tour, where I was conspiciously trying to cover the stench of a certain cheese sitting beside me
strasbourg notre dame
Inside the Strasbourg Notre Dame, which underwent constuction in the late 1100s. At top left, you can see the humongous 14th century organ across from some of the cathedral's 4,600 stained glass window panels.
strasbourg cathedral
The "Pillar of Angels," which represents the Last Judgment. Behind it you see an astronomical clock which dates back to 1842 and shows zodiac time, lunar position, ecclesiastical calendar and, of course, the time.
As we neared the church I heard an angelic voice coming from the courtyard and wondered 
what woman could be totally intimidating me with her vocal abilities. And to my surprise, 
we found a very non-woman sitting in front of the cathedral, letting loose as a one-man band. 
Simply chilling. See more on his Myspace page.

You'll notice I didn’t mention anything about what we ate. Who cares? 


Just kidding. That was a joke. Ha.ha. The food of Strasbourg shall get its own post. Stay tuned (to be notified of new posts in your inbox--click here!)

German Hikes with a Side of Sausage

It's grill time, meine freunde.

Six german sausages, one bowl of sauerkraut, one bowl of red cabbage, eggplant, and plum tart with nutella spread all over it (I mean, maybe it's just spread all over my own piece…).
german sausage
What? How did this happen? I don't even think that's sanitary you freaks.
Germany will treat you well, but just make sure you’re around people with whom you’re comfortable if you’re gonna be eating things like this, or else you should probably seclude yourself after dinner.
german sausage
Men and their grills.
grilled sausage
You think we don't know how to randomly crowd a grill? Oh, we know.
And for the record, those white veal sausages (weisswurst)  are the closest thing to culinary velvet I've ever tasted.
And for another record, culinary velvet is nothing like velvet clothing and/or cape material. It tastes much, much better.
And luckily, after three months of my being around new friends, strangers, and cultures, there are no three people with whom I could imagine being more comfortable than my mom, dad, and John.
black forest sunset
Looks like somebody's ready for dinner...
germany vacation
Body language tells me that this is an intense moment
filled with surprise, strength, courage, and maybe tears
germany vacation
I wonder what dad and I are looking at?
  
I loved France—don’t mistake it—but thirteen beds and over 2,100 miles in such a short time is exhausting, to say the least. By the end you just want a little bit of home.
jumping photo
What vacation wouldn't be complete without  at
least one jumping photo? (Answer: no vacation)

With my parents around, I can imagine that I’m home again, even if we’re in an isolated cabin in the middle-of-nowhere Germany (that's Hayingen, since I’m sure you’re planning on visiting).

germany hike
This is where I took a self-timed photo and almost lost my
mom's camera in the creek
















Now that we’ve gotten most of our tourism out of the way (castles! black forests!), we’re free to spend a couple of days just hiking and eating. Doesn’t sound like much, huh?

Things couldn’t get any better.

wimsen cave
We vetured deep into the depths of Wimsen Cave, the only boat-accessible cave in Germany! It's a cute little ride, about 15 minutes, and there are even some kitschy (but genuine, I'm sure), cave-elves adorning the rock walls!
The entrance through which our tiny,
15-person boat will pass
The Black forest region has lots of random religious
relics popping up in various places

family hike
On our epic journey to the cave. You always have to wear
hats on epic jorneys, John. 





















Soon we set off for a brief return to France (!?) before John and I move to Israel for the next six months.

And with that looming on the horizon, I felt like our sausage days are numbered...
cherry custard
And what cave-seeking expidition would be complete without
a piece of cherry custard pie at the nearby tourist restaurant?

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Germany Tourism, Day Four: Disney Castles and Mushrooms

We set out after the best breakfast ever (this isn’t open for discussion) to visit the very castle after which the Walt Disney modeled the Disney World castle.
Neuschwanstein castle
So this is somebody else's picture of the castle that we were supposed to see...                    Photo cred: 2.bp.blogspot.com

My time is coming
How exciting! I was going to get to go inside a real-life castle set on a rugged mountainside in Bavaria! Doesn’t it feel magical just reading that? Am I going to see a unicorn!? 

In 1869, King Ludwig II began construction on this romanticized medieval-throwback after his father died and freed up some excessive amounts of money. Oddly, he built it not a mile away from his father’s castle, where he spent his summers as a child. Called Neuschwanstein (meaning New Swan Stone), it is inspired by Richard Wagner’s medieval-themed operas.

A quick glance will explain why Ludwig II is often referred to as “The Fairy Tale King;” his eccentric desire for an authentic medieval castle led to an architectural feat that was almost flamboyant in its expression of all things fantastical and medieval. In fact, it was not an architect that designed the castle, but a theatre designer! So perfect did everything have to be that it took 17 years to complete the damn thing. Additionally, the man thoroughly ran himself into the ground with debt, simply to possess something that looked like the castles from 400 years before his own time. Who did he think he was? A king or something?

german caslte
So, um...this is what we ended up seeing of the castle.
Yes, this is a picture of a poster.
And then, by some cruel twist of fate, Ludwig mysteriously drowned less than a year after moving in.

Visit this page for a pictorial tour of the inside, and this one for general information about the castle.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes, when things are built over 100 years ago, they eventually need reconstruction. So where we expected to see a breathtaking castle, we instead saw opaque scaffolding around something that was very big…presumably the castle we had just driven three hours to visit.

Oh, and the waiting time to take the tour inside the castle? A sun-drenched four hours.

Why, Gods of Tourism? Why?

(Implicit lesson: ALWAYS call ahead to make sure the piece of history you're visiting will actually be visible, and check on the typical wait time)

With thin smiles, we decided to visit his dad’s castle, which had a waiting time of only an hour. Ugh. His dad’s castle? Is this gonna be like comparing black and white television to color? Tapes to cds? Faxes to e-mails!?
german castle
Looking up at Hoheenschmangau, Ludwig's dad's castle
bavarian castle
Hohenschwangau, you're cool too. Don't let them tell you otherwise.
Well, yes. Yes, I suppose it kind of is. No offense, dads. But even a castle that is completely outshined by the cooler, younger castle a mile away from it is a cool enough castle in my book.

Hohenschwangau (meaning High Country of Swans), was built in 1833 in neo-gothic style by Ludwig II’s father, King Maximilian II. While it’s no Disney castle, he certainly made a good choice on location.

Visit this page for an inside-look at the castle, as pictures are not allowed to be taken by the public.

And buy your tour tickets ahead of time to avoid the absurd lines...and the heartache. Alas!
bavaria tourism
Despite a minor setback, it was a wonderful day. It’s hard to feel disappointed for long when you’re nestled in a historic Bavarian stronghold (the secluded location is mostly why it was unharmed during World War II!) and you’re surrounded by mountains that remind you of home and a crystal clear lake and…hey, enough talking. Let’s have a beer and go swimming before heading home.
To swim or not to swim?
This is what it looks like when John tries to drown me
Germany, you would have hauses of Jager
I think I'll put my castle riiiight here. Is
everybody ok with that? Just kidding, I don't
 care because I'm the king.
Oh, and did I tell you that it’s chanterelle season?
chanterelle recipe
Hey, um...you come here often?
After a long drive home, we picked up some local chanterelles cooked them in a brown butter and garlic sauce over pasta.

Mushroom, Salami, and Brown Butter Sauce (quick style, use quantities to taste)
Saute mushrooms and a chopped dry salami of choice in oil, remove from pan once cooked. To the pan, add butter (about 4-8oz per pound of pasta, supplement less butter with cooked pasta water or broth—added at the end— for a healthier option). When butter begins to brown, add chopped garlic and saute for about a minute. Add mushrooms. Garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley and parmesan and you’re golden. Serve immediately over pasta.
garlic sauce
Cooking the butter, garlic, and seasonings before adding the chanterelles and dry salami
chanterelle recipe


Voilà! 

Chowtime.


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