Sunday, 28 August 2016

Neustrelitz: Baroque Lakeside Gem

Neustrelitz is a serene town about 100 km north of Berlin in the Land of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which most people (even Berliners) have never heard about. But if you want a restful place to stroll around, or eat a meal beside a crystal clear lake, then I can thoroughly recommend Neustrelitz. If on the other hand you seek thrills or high-street shopping chains, then you might find it a bit empty.

Neustrelitz is called 'neu' (new) because the original town, first mentioned in 1278 and growing to be the seat of the duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, burnt down in 1712. The new town was built nearby in the baroque style fashionable at the time, which is why Neustrelitz has a consistency in its architecture unlike, say, the mish-mash of Berlin.

Neustrelitz is also 'neu' in that it has obviously had a lot of post-unification renovation money poured into it. We briefly visited Neustrelitz about five years ago, and a lot of the roads then were building sites. Now all the streets are cobbled, the pavements clean and freshly laid, and many of the buildings repaired and repainted. This does give the town the feel that it's newly out of its box or a film-set constructed just last week.

There also seems to be a distinct lack of people; you would think that a delightful town like this with peaceful gardens and elegant buildings and statues, set beside a picturesque lake and with a modern marina, would be packed with tourists on a sunny Saturday in late August. Not a bit of it. Good if you want to get away from the madding crowd, not so good if your idea of holiday relaxation is an ice-cream on a sun-lounger whilst the kids splash around on a pedalo, then a bit of retail therapy on the high-street, before heading to a Biergarten for evening entertainment. There's none of that. Well, not much, and if you go to a cafe for Kaffee und Kuchen then you may well be the only ones in the place.

Maybe it's a case of the town firming up its infrastructure and rebuilding the war-damaged and DDR-neglected buildings first. Then the tourist industry will develop, and pretty soon H&M and DM will come to the high-street, and a house in Neustrelitz will be changing hands for a million or so. In the meantime, a recommendation for chillaxing and enjoying the rolling landscape of Meck-Pomm. Not being big crowd-lovers, this is the way we roll so we fell in love with the place.

By the way, we got to Neustrelitz by catching the Stralsund train (the Rostock trains will also do) out of Berlin Hauptbahnhof or Gesundbrunnen which run every hour and take about 1hr 15mins to get to Neustrelitz. You can do the whole journey with up to five people for the same price with a Berlin Brandenburg ticket - even though Neustrelitz isn't actually in Brandenburg. Achtung! This train can get very busy in Summer with people taking it to get to Warnemünde and the coast.

Here are some photos I took of Neustelitz to give you an idea of the town:

Fisher on the Zierkersee

A handsome heron (der Reiher) spotted at the Hafen of Neustrelitz on the Zierkersee in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Hooray! Boris Has A Plan!

Boris Johnson reveals his plans for a trading partner for the UK post-Brexit.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Spicy Lentil and Carrot Pasties Recipe

Wonderful that the choice of food is in Germany, one thing that Deutsche Küche lacks is much by the way of pies and pasties. I guess I find this notable because British cooking has so many savoury pastry dishes: Cornish pasties, cheese and onion pasties, beef wellington, sausage rolls, Melton Mowbray pies, steak bakes, vol au vents, game pie ... the list goes on. Greggs the Bakers would not be profitable if they opened a branch in Berlin is all I'm saying.

It's not as if the ingredients for a good pastie are not hard to get. They even have ready-made puff pastry readily available in die Supermärkte, which is labelled as Blätterteig, but what the German cook uses it for I can't guess.

Anyway, as an exercise in cultural exchange, here's my easy recipe for spicy vegetarian lentil and carrot pasties. This recipe make four large pasties, usually with filling left over, or six smaller pasties.

First, get together your ingredients.

Then, take the chilled ready-made puff pastry from the fridge to let it come to room temperature. My pack has 275g of pastry in a single sheet. If you are a masochist with time on your hands, you can make your own puff pastry.

Next, put the following into a pot with a lid:
1/2 cup red lentils
1 cup water
1 tsp stock powder

Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer gently until the water has been almost absorbed, but the mixture is still wet and the lentils haven't entirely disintegrated. About 5 to 10 minutes maximum.

Meanwhile, peel, wash and dice:
1 medium onion (140g or so)
2 x carrots (~ 200g)
1 x potato (~ 140g)

And finely chop:
About a thumb of ginger

Soften the onions in about a tablespoon of olive oil in a thick-bottom pan. I add a teaspoon of black mustard seeds to the oil first, and when they start to pop, the oil is hot enough for the onions.
After a couple of minutes or so, add the ginger and continue to gently cook for another two minutes.

Next throw the diced carrots and potato into the pot, and let that saute for five minutes.

Then add your spices. Type and quantities involved here are up to you, but I am using:
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
I also add a good pinch of salt and a twist or two of black pepper.

Mix the spices over the softening vegetables to coat them, then stir in the lentil mixture. If your lentils and carrots have gone a bit anaemic, then squirt in a tablespoon of tomato puree to give them a bit of colour.

Let this simmer very gently for five minutes. Do not let it burn on the bottom of the pan. If it looks too dry, then loosen up with a splash or two of water. It should now look like this:

Take off the heat and put to one side to cool down. If you are in a hurry, place the pan into a washing-up bowl of cold water (obviously not letting the water get in the pan with the lentil/vegetable/spice mixture). What you shouldn't do is put piping hot mixture onto pastry or the pastry will melt and tear. Also, fingers will inevitably be involved, so you don't want to burn those either.

Now, turn the oven on and let it warm up to a medium heat - say about 190 degrees C.

Unroll your puff pastry on a floured worktop and give a gentle roll.

With a sharp knife, cut the rectangle of pastry in half, then quarters. You now have four rectangles of pastry, and each one will become a pastie.

Place a sheet of baking paper onto a baking tray, and onto that place a rectangle of puff pastry.

Now, spoon some of your cooled lentil mixture into one half of the rectangle only, with a 1cm margin between the mixture and the edge of the pastry. Moisten the edge of the pastry rectangle with a brush of water or a little milk. Then fold the pastry over the mixture and press down the edges to enclose the mixture in a neat little packet. If it's not so neat, then don't worry, the rustic artisan look is good too. Just make sure the edges are sealed so the mixture won't leak out during cooking.

Brush with milk, and cut a few slits into the top to let steam out. If you are feeling adventurous, sprinkle with sesame seeds, or poppy or nigella seeds.

Repeat three times, so that all the pastry rectangles have been made into proto-pasties.

Here is a piccy of what they might look like. Yours might well be neater.

Place on the middle shelf in the oven, and cook for 25-30 minutes.

Serve hot with the accompaniment of your choice. They go equally as well with salad as they do drizzled with brown onion gravy and served with peas and broccoli. They can also be left to go cold, and make a robust addition to a picnic.

Thank you, you're very welcome!

Friday, 17 June 2016

das Mohnfeld - the Poppy Field

Das Mohnfeld

Es war einmal, ich weiß nicht wann
Und weiß nicht wo. Vielleicht ein Traum.
Ich trat aus einem schwarzen Tann
An einen stillen Wiesensaum.

(Once upon a time, I know not when
And know not where. Perhaps a dream.
I stepped out of a black pine forest
Onto the fringe of a still meadow.)

Und auf der stillen Wiese stand
Rings Mohn bei Mohn und unbewegt,
Und war bis an den fernsten Rand
Der rote Teppich hingelegt.

(And standing around motionless on the quiet meadow, poppy upon poppy,
And up to the furthest edge the red carpet was laid).

Und auf dem roten Teppich lag,
Von tausend Blumen angeblickt,
Ein schöner, müder Sommertag,
Im ersten Schlummer eingenickt.

(And resting on the red carpet,
gazed upon by a thousand flowers,
A beautiful, sleepy Summer day,
Nodding off in the first slumber.)

Ein Hase kam im Sprung. Erschreckt
Hat er sich tief ins Kraut geduckt,
Bis an die Löffel zugedeckt,
Nur einer hat herausgeguckt.

(A hare came in a leap. Frightened
he ducked deep into the leaves,
covered up to the ears,
Only one peeped out.)

Kein Hauch. Kein Laut. Ein Vogelflug
Bewegte kaum die Abendluft.
Ich sah kaum, wie der Flügel schlug,
Ein schwarzer Strich im Dämmerduft.

(No breeze. Not a sound. A birdflight
Hardly moved the evening air.
I barely saw how the wings flapped,
A black streak in the twilight haze.)

Es war einmal, ich weiß nicht wo.
Ein Traum vielleicht. Lang ist es her.
Ich seh nur noch, und immer so,
Das stille, rote Blumenmeer.

(Once upon a time, I know not where.
A dream perhaps. A long time ago.
I saw only, and always,
The calm, red sea of flowers.)

Gustav Falke (1853-1916)
My translation, so don't take as gospel :)