The World is your Cloister

I had one more day in Germany before I head to Vienna to see Vipin. And I’d really really have liked to visit trappist monasteries. My urge to go to a trappist monastery came from way long ago when I first started drinking good beer (or beer, for that matter) in USA and a visit to the Peace Street beer store in Raleigh. I remember Matt telling me about Orval and shortly after, that spring break, he went to Belgium on holiday. He came back with a bunch of stories and no, he didn’t go to any trappist monasteries.

So, when I planned my trip to Belgium in 2012, I put trappist monasteries on my itinerary. I wasn’t able to them and moved them to my itinerary for 2014. But this time around, it seemed tough too. From all that I could find on the internet, I needed to be able to do one or more of the following:
– communicate in French
– have a valid driving license in Europe
– have a holiday budget that could allow me to rent a car and zip it around the European countryside
– be willing to wait long hours in non-English speaking villages between trains/buses
not miss any buses/trains

And I’m a little non-adventurous (chicken, perhaps!) in some ways. I’d rather play safe and deal with it if it goes down badly, than take the plunge and then regret what I did. For the most part, the EURail app was super helpful. I could use it offline as well and planned all of my train trips without wifi (while waiting for other trains or in bed or while drinking at a bar). I wasn’t going to be able to visit trappist monasteries, but I figured there were a few cloisters, closer to big cities, that would make for good half-day plans. So I put those on my itinerary instead. Those, and maybe a few brewery visits, if I could.

August 21st, back at the Munich station early morning, I bought my usual coffee and a bratwurst semmel (sausage sandwich, literally) this time (instead of a wrap or the Dean & David paninis I’d been having the past few days). I took a train out to Herrsching, thirty minutes from where is the Andechs Cloister.

I finished reading Inside of a Dog on my way to Herrsching, which, though not remotely related to the holiday, must be mentioned. It’s a wonderful book. It’s validated a bunch of doggy thoughts I’ve had while growing up and answered a horde of questions for me too. So, go read it, if you love canines. (Another review here, just in case.)

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And when I got to Herrsching, I found a bus that took me straight to Andechs waiting right there! It saved me an uphill (and pretty) walk through the villages and through a forest of sorts, to the Andechs Abbey. Another thing I noticed was that most German towns and cities have a Luitpold Strasse right next to the “bahnof” (railway station). Leopold Street? Like the MG Roads, here in India, perhaps?

Andechs Abbey is a Benedictine monastery that has been brewing beers since the 1500s. Trappist monasteries are a subclass of Benedictine monasteries (as this article on religious orders suggests). The entire area has a bunch of lakes – you can see a fair portion of Amersee (Lake Amer) on your train ride from Munich to Herrsching too! And then there’s Stranberger See and Wörthersee and Pilensee and Wesslinger See.

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I strolled around the cobbled paths that took me through the Andechs Abbey. It is open to visitors, for the most part and has a restaurant where you can drink the beers they brew and food prepared from produce they grow/rear at the Abbey. I’m not sure if it’s an active monastery any more, or maybe the religious folk usually shy away from public – again, something from the article I linked above. The parts that are open to public showcase some very modern cooking/brewing equipment and I snuck a few glances in at the stuff, between opening doors.

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The inside of the church at the cloister was ornate, quite unlike most churches I’ve seen (they’re usually dingy on the inside). This one was all white and gold with a bunch of paintings in colour and inscriptions just below them. There were several confession boxes all along the sides too – more than one would usually expect. Made me wonder whether beer drinkers are sinners. *grin*

I picked up a mixed pack of 4 beers for € 8, 40, which isn’t all that expensive, come to think of it. Their beers usually start at 6% abv, which is good, for some people. *sinner grin*

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I started off with their Special Ale (Spezial Hell) which was *strong*. It got me happy enough to not want to drink anything until I got to Vienna (for fear of missing trains or losing my way). While I’m not sure I remember when/where I drank the Weissbier, but I brought the Doppelbock Dunkel (yum!!! Double Bock PLUS Dunkel) and the Export Ale back to Bangalore. I should’ve been able to handle a 5.9% beer, but this one got me going! It had this great “bitter” about it and the fact that I was finally eating Schweinshaxe just made me all the more happy!

While I was looking up things to eat in Germany, I’d heard people rave about Schweinshaxe (Ham Hocks or Pork Knuckle). I’d also read that you’ve got to eat it at a cloister or any brewery that also has livestock – the pigs are usually fed the same hops that go into the beer and that makes their meat really tasty.

Pork is *so* good! My only gripe is that non-Indian cooking sometimes just ends up being fried meat and not enough seasoning. They were selling food by weight. And I don’t speak German and managed to sign-language for what I needed. For under € 7, I ended up getting 700 grams of pork knuckle (I could finish only half!) and some bread to go with.

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Andechs was a great half-day trip. It made me happy in the knowledge that I’ve picked places where you don’t bump into hordes of Indians (or Asians) on field-trips.

Back in Munich, I figured out my train bookings to and from Brussels for the following week and gathered my stuff from the hostel and headed off to Vienna.

And as I boarded the train to Vienna, a lousy joke came to my head.
Germany – Man Beer Pig (ref: here)
(mostly because of the horrendous ways in which Indian end up pronouncing a large, usually brown, furry mammal)


my go-to mutton curry

It’s been a little over 2 years since I moved to Bangalore. And for the longest time, I couldn’t seem to get my mutton curry right. It was ALWAYS chewy. I bought curry cuts of lamb. I bought curry cuts of goat. I bought just a lamb shank. And I just couldn’t get it right.

New Year’s Eve this time, I decided to give it another shot – probably in one of those do-or-die situations. Or the #AchievementUnlocked2014 spirit. It was originally meant to be a mutton sukka recipe based on something I saw on the internet. But I added a little bit of this and a litte bit of that and made it a curry. I’ve made it thrice since. So, yes. This is what my go-to mutton curry is.

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Ingredients:
500g of curry cuts of lamb (or goat, we’re flexible like that… though I will admit, I prefer lamb)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
4 bay leaves, broken into halves
Salt, to taste
A handful of grated coconut
Juice of half a lime
10-15 curry leaves
4-6 dried red chillies
1 large onion, chopped
5-6 garlic cloves
An inch of ginger
2 teaspoons garam masala
Water, to cook
Oil, to cook (I use just about a teaspoon of oil and rely on the fat of the lamb for most of the flavour)
1-2 sliced green chillies, optional

Method:
1. In a pressure cooker, put the mutton, bay leaves, salt and turmeric powder. Fill the cooker up with water until the mutton pieces are just covered. Pressure cook the meat on low flame for about 30 minutes.
2. Grind the onions, garlic, ginger and red chillies to a fine paste.
3. Heat some oil in a vessel. Add the curry leaves and green chillies and let them cook for a minute or so, until they begin to splutter.
4. Add the ginger-garlic-onion-chilli paste and cook until it is translucent.
5. Add the grated coconut and the garam masala and cook for a few more minutes.
6. Now add the mutton, along with the water and cook on high flame for 8-10 minutes. The meat should be cooked tender by now. If you think the meat needs more cooking, cook on a low flame, with the vessel covered, checking every 7-10 mins whether the meat is cooked or not. Over-cooked lamb tastes awful and you really don’t want to ruin a cook curry.
7. If you think the curry is too watery, set the mutton pieces aside, and boil the curry on high, until it reduces to a thick gravy. Add the lamb pieces back into the curry, when you’re done.
8. Serve with chapatis or steamed rice.

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Chocolate Truffles

Super easy and a super success with family and colleagues, alike!

Ingredients:
Cooking chocolate (I use 45% cocoa or 72% cocoa and I’ve once done a mix of both!)
A third the amount of cream as the chocolate you’re using
Cocoa powder, for rolling

Other (optional) ingredients:
Slivered almonds, for rolling
Caramel, for filling
Assorted nuts, for filling
Candied orange peel, for filling
Raisins (or rum soaked raisins!) for filling
Chilli flakes/powder, for rolling
Coffee powder, for rolling
Coloured sprinkles, for rolling

Method:
Making the ganache:
1. Melt the chocolate using a double boiler, or like I do – bring some water to boil in a pan. Take it off the heat. Place another smaller bowl with the chocolate inside the hot water and stir continuously until the chocolate melts.
2. For every cup of chocolate, add about 4 tablespoons of cream (or a fourth of a cup). This step might take some experimenting with. I don’t use a fixed recipe for the truffles I make. But a good way to do this would be to start by adding a fourth of the amount of cream. The mixture should be the consistency of a nice, thick batter.
3. Put this in the refrigerator for about an hour. When you take a look at it then and are able to easily scoop it out with your fingers or a spoon and it feels like sticky dough, you know you’re good.
4. If it’s too solid, you might need to go through the process of melting the mixture again and adding some more cream to it, another couple of tablespoons perhaps. However, if the mixture is too fluid, you know you added too much cream, and you might need to add a little more chocolate. I know that somewhere between a fourth and a third of cream works for me.

Making the truffles:
1. When the ganache is the right consistency, grease your palms with butter and set some cocoa powder out in a dish.
2. Scoop out a small amount of the ganache and dip it a little in the cocoa powder and roll it into a ball in your palms.
3. That’s plain truffles for you, right there! You can eat them right away or put them away to eat later. These stay good up to a few days, so you can make them a day ahead of a party, if you like.

Here are the mixes I do:
1. Coffee powder and slivered almonds – and then I roll the ganache in this mixture, instead of the cocoa powder.
2. I add a pinch of chilli powder to the ganache while I make it and then roll the ganache in cocoa powder and another pinch of chilli powder for chilli-chocolate truffles
3. I’ve used caramel that I’ve had left over from another dessert. I flatten the ganache out a little into a rough patty. Then add a tiny dollop of caramel and close the ganache over it and then proceed to roll it in cocoa powder. Caramel filled truffles are insanely awesome!
4. I’ve soaked raisins in rum one time, for a few hours. And put those inside of a ganache ball and rolled them in cocoa to finish up. These are like mini surprises because you’re all “Oh, truffle! Yum!” and then you bite into some strong rum and raisin and you’re all “Whoa!”
5. I made candied orange peel one time and used those inside the truffles too!

Another thing you could do is melt some chocolate on the side. Stick a toothpick into your ganache ball and dip it into the chocolate. So you end up with truffles that are crunchy on the outside and gooey, soft on the inside.

You could also use any other nuts or dried fruits of your choice either inside the truffle or to coat it.

Oh, I also got myself an Instagram account a few weeks ago. So there are some update there as well now, for those of you who’re interested.

Until more posts, happy eating!


Banoffee Pie

Happy New Year and all of that!

I’ve been very erratic with blog posts this past year and I hope I can change that this year. The one way I *can* do that is by keeping my posts short – especially the ones with recipes. So, here goes:

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Banoffee Pie:
Ingredients:
1 400g tin of condensed milk (I used MilkMaid)
3 ripe bananas
2 cups whipping cream (I used 1 packet of BlueBird Whipping Cream powder and followed instructions on the packet to make it)
1 pie crust (my go-to recipe here)
1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee powder

Method:
1. Let the (unopened) tin of condensed milk boil, on low flame, fully submerged in a vessel filled with water, for 3 – 3.5 hours. When you open the tin, it will be a delicious gooey brown toffee, just the kind you’d find inside a truffle. No kidding!
2. While your condensed milk in magically converting itself into toffee, you can make you pie crust. (or go for a movie or a dinner date!)
3. Let the toffee cool down to room temperature and make some whipped cream, in the meanwhile.
4. Chop some bananas just before you wish to assemble the pie and also make a quick mix with the cocoa powder and the coffee.
5. Layering the banoffee pie is easy – at the bottom of the pie crust goes the toffee. Then you layer it with sliced bananas. You top it off with whipped cream. And finally sprinkle a teaspoon of coffee and cocoa powder, for pretties.

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6. Chill for a couple of hours before serving.

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Notes:
1. I find this method of making toffee/caramel extremely easy, totally fool proof and absolutely amazing. I’ve bombed making caramel from sugar (and condensed milk!) ever so often that it’s such a relief this works so well for me.
2. I’m not particularly a fan of bananas or banoffee pie, I find the latter cloyingly sweet. But everybody who ate this had good things to say.

Among other things, I’m on Instagram. I hope to post mostly food pictures. Though I do I resolve to not stop blogging, for sure!


Candied Orange Peel

As it happened one afternoon, I was craving jujubes. I also had a couple of oranges sitting around at home from mulled wine cravings from a couple of days before that. I’m not a fruit person, really. So chances that I buy fruit and then I have to throw them away are high. It’s not that I don’t *like* fruit. It just never occurs to me to get enough of it/them into my daily routine (and diet).

So, I sat down, peeled a couple oranges and finished them. Because I had too. For the orange peel, if nothing else.

I looked up a recipe online and it seemed simple enough to get started on.

Ingredients:
1 cup orange peels, cut into pieces about an inch long and an eight of an inch wide
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar, for rolling

Method:
1. Bring the water to boil in a saucepan.
2. Add sugar to it and let it dissolve and let this cook on a low flame until it begins to simmer.
3. Let it simmer for another 8-10 minutes.
4. Add the orange peel and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, preferably on low heat, so that the mixture continues to simmer. Stirring a couple of times to make sure the orange peels are coated with the sugar syrup is good. But too much stirring may cause the sugar to crystallize around the peels, which is something you want to avoid.
5. Turn the heat off when the orange peels are translucent. Drain the liquid off and spread the peels out to dry for a few hours or overnight.
6. Roll in sugar and store in an airtight container.

Candied orange peels will stay good in your refrigerator for up to a few weeks, so you can make a batch and use them in dessert as and when you like!

http://www.brighteyedbaker.com/confessions101/diy-candied-orange-peel/


Cheese and Pomegranate Wheel

Some time in the first week of December, the internet was flooded with recipes for “cheese balls” and the one which first caught my attention was this one.

@shwetakapur and I ogled at this listicle shortly later.

And somewhere between those two, I made my own little cheese ball. Only thing, it looked more like a wheel, than a ball. So I’ll just call it a Pomegranate and Cheese Wheel.

Ingredients:
1 pomegranate, kernels only
1 500g container of yoghurt, hung for 3-4 hours (until the whey is completely drained)
1 cup any (hard) cheese of your choice, grated (I used a mix of some old cheddar and parmesan)
5-6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon crushed black pepper
1 teaspoon thyme (from a jar)
2 tablespoons melon seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon table butter, molten or softened

Method:
1. Mix the cheese, yoghurt, melon seeds, herbs, pepper, butter and garlic in a bowl and freeze for a couple of hours.
2. Grease your palms with a little butter and roll the set yoghurt mix into a ball (or a wheel!)
3. Gently roll the ball/wheel in a plate full of pomegranate kernels. You might have to press down into them just a little bit, so that they stick into the cheese ball.
4. Serve with crackers.

A badly lit picture, this one! But I hope to get around to uploading pictures from my camera soon enough. I bought a new phone a couple of weeks ago (a 13 megapixel camera) and my SLR seems to have gotten side-tracked. But I promise to put up better pictures from the SLR very soon!

Notes:
1. This will last for at least a couple of days. I ate some the evening I made it and the following evening again when we had friends over.
2. Very easy to make and quite fancy (and healthy, if I may add), like that. So win win.
3. Instead of crackers, you can just serve this with thinly sliced carrots, cucumber and radishes.
4. You can add just about anything to make a good cheese ball – there are so many ideas on the listicle I shared earlier. Or then you could just come up with something that you think might make an interesting cheeseball.


Come Sail Away

Kaivalya was at the station when the train arrived at Freiburg and we had an awkward moment where we weren’t sure if we should hug. We didn’t. And we clarified on the walk to her apartment about first hugs and no real intimacy at that point. Her room-mate Shobhika and she have over a hundred pairs of earrings – all on a wall near a long mirror. Kaiv’s room is filled with paintings – some straight, some upside down, an ethnic dupatta she’s re-fashioned as a curtain and all kinds of creative warmth. Their living room had four long sheets of pretty printed paper pinned up as four tall columns – some with post cards, some with pictures of everywhere they’ve been travelling.
I had some quinoa and wild rice with brinjal, that Kaiv had cooked up for dinner and yapped with them a little while before I crashed. She let me sleep in her bedroom, while she slept in the living room, which was awfully sweet of her! She’s going to be in Bangalore the weekend of January 9th and I hope she has a pleasant stay.

The following morning, we head out into town and one of the first things I noticed were the bächle – open-gutter like streams of water from the Dreisam river. There’s a special stream-cleaning squad, she said. And when Germany won the world cup earlier this year, the people had littered the town so bad in all of the happiness and alcohol and confetti that the cleaning squad had been utterly upset.

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There were little boats on sale – € 3,95 a piece, that kids were sailing in the bächle.

The town square had a farmers’ market – lots of flowers, lots of fresh produce and lots of sausages. We started off with a bratwurst and a bockwurst. The centre of town, as usual, was the cathedral – this one being different in the sense that it is made entirely out of red brick (unlike most others which are white) and was the only building standing after the World War II bombings when the town was razed to the ground. Across from the cathedral is the townhouse and a strange Buddhist looking building – bright red with green and yellow and white work on the roof – the one piece of architecture that didn’t quite fit in.

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We walked through quaint lanes with canopies of creepers, more bächle, cafes and cobblestone streets. There were large tiles with symbols outside most stores, which I learned were symbols of professions of the store-owners that worked there several hundred years ago. There were scissors for a barber, shoes for a shoesmith, pretzels for a bakery, a horshoe, and several more.

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Our aim for the afternoon was to visit some of her favourite pubs and chug a few beers and just talk – because we weren’t really that awkward around one another after all.

First stop – a beer garden on the hill up to Schlossberg with a quick glimpse of the Schlossberg Tower, mostly because I’d walked way more than my capacity the past 4 days. An Erdinger Dunkel, an Erdinger Urweiss (a dark variant of the Hefeweizen) and a Flammkuchen (flat bread with tomatoes and fresh cream) and lots of conversation.

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You can see a fairly large portion of the Black Forest from the beer garden. I didn’t know until that afternoon that The Black Forest is a man-made forest and has very few animals in it – mostly just deer and rabbits. The forest mostly has a bunch of trails which, again, are never more than about 12 km from any village or town, thus making it very difficult for people to get lost. A lot of people, therefore, don’t think the forest makes for adventurous hiking. Closer to the foothills of the forest are long stretches of vineyards that also have trails. There are trail symbols at regular locations and you can just pick a symbol and follow the trail! For instance, there’s a 40km stretch around Freiberg (and two other towns) with a wine trail which you can walk along – you can do wine tastings on the way and just take a train back from the last town, back to Freiburg when you’re done. I’d love to do that some day. I would. The one other thing I missed out on doing was a beer bike tour – something on the lines of this picture I found on the internet. Maybe I need company for something like that. It would be a little odd to sit on a beer bike thing with 7 people you don’t know and get drunk while cycling your way through a town, wouldn’t it?

Next stop – Schlappen – which means slipper or shoe. A pub that Kaiv really really likes. Mostly because of the kinky bathrooms. The ladies restrooms have metallic female bodies in the walls and you can do disgusting stuff like open the bum because it’s an ashtray and get an opportunity to peer into the next cubicle (I looked because I’m creepy and curious, like that). At least I had the good sense to not take pictures! The men’s loo apparently has a large penis in the middle of the floor. At Schlappen, I had this most delicious fried cheese that was served with an even more delicious berry sauce.

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What was funny was that they served New Castle Brown Ale. That’s a first. American beer in Europe. That’s like my excitement when I saw Kingfisher at the Indian store in North Carolina.

Dinner was another favourite hangout called Warsteiner (from the brand of beer they make/sell). I had a King Ludwig’s Dunkel there, which as mad as the name sounds (geddit?!), is a pretty damn good beer! I also ate a käsespätzle which is Germany’s answer to mac and cheese – gnocchi like noodles, lots of garlic and lots of cheese sauce. It was too heavy for me to finish it all in one go, so I doggie-bagged the leftovers and had them the following morning, on the train on my way to Konstanz.

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I took a train that follows The Black Forest Route. Tall trees, seemingly dense forests and no network coverage. The forests gradually reduced and gave way to vast meadows (and the odd DDLJ-esque cow).

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I arrived at Lake Konstanz around 2 pm and was quite hungry. The plan was to spend the next few hours walking around and probably even make a quick visit to the butterfly island of Mainau. Following that I’d take a katamaran (with a 50% discount because I had a Eurail pass) to Lindau from where I’d head back to Munich for my last night in Germany.

The lady at the visitors’ center said that Mainau would need at least a few hours. And given that a ticket into Mainau was €18, the desi in me wanted my money’s worth, if I really DID have plans to visit. She also said that the boat ride across the lake would be a good 2 hours – and that gave me only enough time for a good lunch and a few beers. The other thing that helped me scrap Mainau plans altogether was that I was carrying all of my luggage and was in no mood to walk around an island appreciating tropical foliage and butterflies, with it.

I ate my first Schnitzel. It’s a large think chunk of veal, deep-fried and served with fries and mustard (or ketchup). I won’t call it a Weiner Schnitzel because, well, I was still in Germany. I never got around to having any beer because the only brand I could see was Augustiner and I’d had my fair share of those snuggled under my sheet and catching up on email after I’d get back to the hostel every evening in Munich.

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Sunny and clear as the day might have been, the katamaran ride from Konstanz to Lindau was COLD. I got a bunch of reading done on the 2+ hour ride (and also a short nap). I saw zeppelins!!! I didn’t know they were a still a thing! And as I look up some more information about them online, I see that they’re used to ferry passengers (12 at a time).

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I’ll be honest, I was quite low when I got onto the train at Lindau. I was missing Suraj and was running low on phone balance and I think the cold just got to me. By the time I was back in Munich, I was back to my normal self (thankfully) and looking forward to my morning at the Andechs cloister.

Here’s something straight out of my notebook, about the general depressed state of mind that overcame me at the Lindau train station:

“So, here’s the thing. I’m actually having a bunch of fun travelling alone. But then, there are
these moments when I feel lonely and need Suraj and want to go back home. Is that what being homesick is? It’s not a feeling I’ve felt in my time in USA and my last couple of years in Bangalore. I spoke, both, to mum AND Suraj. I justified my sadness by saying that when the day is over and you’re on a train back home, you want to take your phone out and send a few whatsapp messages or check your twitter, perhaps. Without wifi/internet, it can be a bit of a bummer. And sometimes, the train makes all the difference. This one is small and the doors are creaky. Oh well…”


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