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Germany, Part II: Worship

11/13/09 | by Jen [mail] | Categories: Food, MUSINGS, Family History, Travel
Beautiful architecture of Fulda cathedral

Along with the protective medieval walls that surrounded homes and towns of Germany, we found elements of Christianity everywhere we went. I have great affection for the long and complicated history of this religion, and it was a fascinating experience to view some very old artifacts of Christianity close up.

As in Italy, there was a stunning array of statues as well as representations of the crucifix everywhere we went.

Shadowed crucifix

This one appeared in the small cemetery in Bad Neustadt an der Saale. Unlike so many neatly-mowed cemeteries in America, this beautiful little cemetery featured tiny, unique garden plots on each grave site. Many had small glass-covered candles sitting among the plants, and every single one looked like it received regular, loving care from family members:

Beautiful garden graves in Bad Neustadt cemetery

One day we drove up to Fulda to see the beautiful cathedral. While the Fulda monastery originated in the 8th century, the cathedral was built in 1704 and was modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome.

Brooding magnificence of Fulda cathedral

I expected a grand interior, but I was pleasantly surprised at the lovely pale shades of white and pastel colors that graced the inside of the cathedral. It was a welcome and refreshing change from the bold colors and gold ornamentation that make so many churches hurt the eyes with their overwhelming magnificence. The interior of Fulda cathedral was soft and welcoming.

Reaching for glory: interior of Fulda cathedral dome

Down in the basement of the cathedral, the tomb of patron Saint Boniface appears ready to open any moment. Martyred by some grumpy Frisians in the 8th century who were unhappy about his destruction of their pagan shrines, Boniface’s body now rests in this beautifully-carved marble tomb. (As for the Frisians, they were unfortunately subjected to the hearty forced-conversion efforts of Karl der Grosse/Charlemagne after Boniface’s death.)

Tomb of St. Boniface: restless Archbishop ready to rise

There were many lovely representations of Mary both in the cathedral and across the countryside, as well as some dramatic scenes of the Passion of Christ. Some representations of the Holy Family and saints were beautifully lifelike, and some (below) were more primitive and dour, but all were quite beautiful.

Grim St. Killian guards walkway to Kreuzberg monastery

While in cities like Fulda there were plenty of wealthy patrons to support religious establishments, out in the country monks often developed their own ways to earn a living while supporting the spiritual life of rural communities. The Kreuzberg monastery is an excellent example of this rural lifestyle. Hidden atop one of the Rhön mountains in southern Germany (and less than an hour from Bad Neustadt), the monastery’s current buildings have sheltered monks and their visitors since around the time the Fulda Dom was built (very early 18th century). The monks made fantastic brown beer and delicious cheese there - - and they still do, though now with the help of lay folk.

We spent one afternoon visiting the old monastery at Kreuzberg high up on the lonely mountain. There were several cozy dining rooms filled to the brim with hikers and cyclers merrily sharing steins of beer and large plates brimming over with delicate grey Bockwurst, rye bread, slabs of cheese, and the best juniper-berry-dotted kraut I have ever had (except Soupski’s). After a half litre of beer, I grew to have enormous respect for the cyclers who pedaled all the way up the mountain - - and pedaled back down again after downing a litre (or more) of this potent brew.

Metzgerei: sacred temple of meat

All that touring was definitely hunger-inducing work, and of course there were two places I searched out in every town: the Bäckerei and the Metzgerei. With plenty of fresh pastry in the morning and a paper-wrapped selection of fresh sausage and cheese, I am invincible.

Or maybe I am just a pleasure-seeking heathen.

Naughty Pan sits in ivy-covered grotto outside Bad Neustadt an der Saale

Whether the motivation is to nourish the body to support the soul or to voluptuously enjoy earthly pleasures, the food in Germany was enough to satisfy. We had some delicious lunches of thin Wieners with hearty meat-dotted potato salad - -

A perfect lunch - Es schmeckt sehr gut!

- - and amazing selections of meats:

Beautiful display of local Wurst

Dinners were equally hearty, and we enjoyed seasonal, regional specialties like pan-seared trout - -

Delicious fresh Forelle (trout)

- - and thick venison stew on buttery beds of spatzle. Seasonal pears filled with tart berries provided the perfect foil for the meat.

Hearty Hirsch (venison) ragout and the local version of Spatzle (buttery egg noodles)

Pfifferlinge (Chanterelle mushrooms) were also in season, and I was lucky enough to enjoy a whole dish of them with my venison one lovely evening. Their delicate, earthy taste was out of this world, and as with all mushrooms they really are very best when they are freshly-picked. There was so much to choose from that the local chickens escaped my plate, but not my notice. Many of the hens I saw in the villages appeared to be some European relative of a Leghorn-Red cross:

Village chickens

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The history of the Christian Church is an interesting and complex intertwining of religion, spirituality, politics, violence, and the humbleness of daily life. Standing in a small medieval German village is like viewing a microcosm of this greater history: in the center of town is the church; down the street (or UP the street, depending on the personal power of the family) is the castle home of the local lord; fanning out for several blocks in each direction are streets for craftsmen and business folk, and if times were tough a high wall surrounded all and hopefully kept the enemy at bay. Bad Neustadt was an excellent example of this way of life, and across the country the tiny town of Beilstein was another . . .

Beilstein view of the hilltop church through old glass

To be continued . . .

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Germany, Part I: Walls

10/15/09 | by Jen [mail] | Categories: Background, Chickens, Food, Family History, Travel
Schloss Unsleben

Miss Pat, BD Soupski and I have returned stateside, and as I take time to pore through photos and reflect on our trip to the Old World, several things stand out in my mind.

One is the contrast between the homes and castles built in less secure ages and the modern, open, vulnerable ones in my own city. Our first part of the trip was spent in the tiny German town of Unsleben, northeast of Frankfurt and very near the city of Bad Neustadt an der Saale. We stayed in Schloss Unsleben, a walled and moated castle that has been the home of a noble family for many centuries. The current count and countess still reside in the castle, and they rent out portions of the castle to visitors.

Schloss Unsleben: view of tower and moat from the living room window

The castle, like many old homes of this size, has been expanded and changed over the years, and you can clearly see several very different (and interesting) building styles in its mix of towers and living wings. Some of the buildings dated to the 14th century! The castle lies, as many do, at the center of town directly down the street from the church. Its security lies in its fortress-like walls coupled with a wide moat. As I sat in my little tower room I wondered what sort of lives the many generations of this family had experienced. Could I even imagine what it was like to see enemy armies from the high windows? It had happened on occasion. What was it like to know your very life depended on your ability to defend the house in which you lived?

There is another very interesting wall surrounding the town of Bad Neustadt an der Saale. It is said Karl der Grosse himself (Charlemagne) had the wall built in the 8th century, and if you view it from above you find it to be in the anatomically-correct shape of a human heart. Fortunately the wall still stands, and we took a morning to walk part of its perimeter when we searched for Soupski’s old house.

While I am sure that at one time the area outside the city wall was clear of growth, we found a lovely path lined with plum trees burdened with fruit, chestnut trees full of nuts, and gardens still blessed with the last of the early autumn vegetables. Miss Pat wisely brought printouts of old photos so we could locate areas that would have changed since Soupski’s last visit, and eventually we found his old house. A few more blocks of strolling outside the city wall brought us to a place familiar to me through old family photos: the Bad Neustadt city gate.

It was around 60 years ago that little Soupski stood outside this very gate.

Bad Neustadt city gate ca. 1948 - - could that be little Soupski?

City gate, Bad Neustadt an der Saale

For me it was somewhat surreal to stand there with him again all these years later. What on earth could have gone through his mind in those moments? Did the years rush through his head like a torrent, friends and brother and sister and Mama Ski and mysterious adventures with Opa Ski; returning to the states and trying to resume American high school; military, marriage and children and retirement and suddenly, suddenly right back in this place and - - well, I guess we’ll never really know what happened at that moment, as BD Soupski, like so many other men, spoke very little of what he was feeling.

He did, however, enlighten us to the details of one of his German adventures. It was a well-known family story that as a child Soupski had once snuck into an old castle near Bad Neustadt. While exploring, he met up with the duke who still resided in that castle. The old gentleman kindly showed little Soupski around the castle, even letting him explore the old dungeons below. After spending a friendly afternoon there, Soupski hustled home before Mama Ski began looking for him.

Now, Soupski has a lot of stories. Good ones. It is one thing to hear them, and quite another to encounter proof. The proof began as we made a short hike through the forest outside Bad Neustadt. As we reached the top of the hill, we saw the grey stones of the old Salzburg castle through the trees.

Salzburg castle peeks through the trees like a hidden fairytale fortress. Is there a sleeping princess within?

The castle is surrounded by imposing walls at the top of a considerable slope, making access to the castle difficult - - especially for enemy soldiers.

Crenelated walls of Salzburg castle above town of Bad Neustadt an der Saale

However, a small boy with proper motivation and little supervision could theoretically crawl through one of these small holes at the bottom of the outside wall:

Tiny hidden passages, bottom right, lead the bold (and limber) through the castle wall

Crawling up through the hole and climbing into a small chamber built into the wall might also lead here, to the castle courtyard.

The other end of the hidden entrance to Salzburg castle’s courtyard

And to prevent further (theoretical) invasions by tiny Americans, the small doorway is now sealed with a large iron lock.

Old residence at Salzburg castle

There is so much to see and tell of our trip to Germany. It would take many more days to process the experience, and to put into perspective the places and people we met along the way. It is difficult for New World folks to understand the incredible history of Europe. While somewhat old as far as historical settlements, my town was not incorporated until the 1980s. The city of Bad Neustadt was “incorporated” in the 780s. I cannot begin to calculate all the differences in psyche a person growing up in that history must have from my own world view!

I will explore more of this trip and post a few of the hundreds of photos I took in two subsequent blog posts. As with my trip to Italy, and perhaps even more so, my visit to Germany was beautiful and life-altering. Walking along the walls of cities built in ages long past changed me and widened my view of this incredible world in which I am privileged to move.

Peaceful place: old chestnut tree and bench outside wall of Schloss Unsleben
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Fair Day

08/24/09 | by Jen [mail] | Categories: Food, Tennessee, Glorious Reds, Wine
Love that fair food

It’s Fair time again, and we just cannot miss our Wilson County Fair. Can we still be modest and claim to have one of the best fairs in the state? Well, it’s true. I have been to many county and state fairs across the country, and I must say that the Wilson County Fair truly captures the essence of a traditional, old-timey fair. It has a fantastic array of competitions in all the traditional skills and crafts, well-turned-out livestock shows - -

Young contestant receives some guidance from the judge

- - and even a re-created, fully-populated settlers village called Fiddlers Grove.

General Store at the entrance to Fiddlers Grove

The village features lots of period-dressed folks showing traditional crafts, such as the weavers.

Miss Pat dreaming of hand-knit socks

There are also blacksmiths, soap makers, quilters, and lots of whooping and gunpowder smells coming from the mock battles that periodically erupt in the center of the village.

The WilCo Fair also has all the games and rides, music and fair food you could imagine. It is the one time of year many of us indulge in that good old fried, fried, fried and more fried stuff.

You can finish off your lunch of fried with some horse-made ice cream - -

Horse made ice cream

- - and wander back through Fiddlers Grove to see a Civil War encampment, or even a long hunter’s camp. The long hunters of Tennessee were wild gents who made long-term, often solitary expeditions into the frontier during the 18th century. They were expert survivalists, brave explorers and knew a great deal about the flora and fauna of the Tennessee wilderness. The information they brought back to the colonies was essential to the eventual settlement of the state.

Long hunter shows spectators an old musket

There are also plenty of demonstrations of early food production techniques, as with this sorghum molasses maker - -

Making sorghum the old way

And as older folks here know, sorghum is an absolutely essential topping on hot biscuits!

.

Another more modern Tennessee essential is a good tractor. The Fair had these in spades: I have an unexplainable desire for a nice, big tractor, and I have never seen so many in one place! There must have been hundreds.

Tractor heaven

There were also plenty of animals on display, including a much more recent Tennessee phenomenon, the alpaca:

Alpaca receives grooming from his assistant

But for home-grown fun, who doesn’t want to see the pig races? Come on, is there anything funnier than little pigs running really fast??

Pig races: just good stuff

After several hours of the Fair, it was time to go home and relax. However, once I noticed the fresh wild mushrooms in my kitchen (courtesy of my local market), I felt compelled to make some sort of wild mushroom tart that would satisfy the craving I had been experiencing ever since I first saw the trays of little forest beauties at the market. I did not work from a recipe, so I have nothing to share except the glorious recollection of the taste of that magical tart.

I gently sauteed the mushrooms in a bit of butter, and I added a pinch of fresh thyme and tarragon from the garden. I added a little cream, and then I figured it needed one more thing: a taste of cheese. Just not too much, or it would ruin the delicate taste of my mushrooms. What to use? Well, in one of those nicer touches of fate, I happened to have one precious sliver of Umbrian truffle cheese in the fridge. I grated the pungent sliver into the simmering, creamy mushrooms, and suddenly - - voila! I had the most incredible, perfumed delight you could imagine. I reverently poured the mixture into a waiting tart pan layered with puff pastry, cut a few more triangles of pastry for the top, placed it in the oven, and out came the most delicious mushroom tart I have ever tasted.

Despite the horrid condition of my kitchen “post-tart,” I quickly called Miss Pat to come over and share my delightful invention. When she heard “food” and “wine,” I don’t even think she remembered to bring her purse when she hopped in the car.

The shameful truth about my cooking

We sat on the patio and enjoyed a lovely French wine that, in another blessing of fate, just happened to be the perfect foil for the delicately-perfumed mushrooms. I love it when a day works out like this.

Wild mushroom tart, beautiful French wine on a hand-woven cloth from the Wilson County Fair

What will happen later in my stomach when the morning’s fried-fried-fried dukes it out with the mushrooms and wine is a story for another day.

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Shameless

08/10/09 | by Jen [mail] | Categories: Chickens, Critters
Louis XIV and Miss Olivia Peeper enjoying the morning sun

My little banties are growing up, and I spent some time with them snapping pictures to capture their last fleeting moments of babyness before they grow up and go off to college. Seriously though, these little chicks have been such fun to raise. Bantams have personality galore, they come in a thousand shapes and colors, and they are just adorable. Let’s indulge in some shameless cuteness!

Louis XIV and Miss Olivia Peeper (above) are growing into lovely young Belgian booted bantams. While Louis is a beautiful creamy color, Miss Olivia came out a rather washed-out mixed shade of dishwater. I will never be a successful breeder, as I cannot bring myself to get rid of such a sweet young lady. I will not hatch any of her eggs when she’s grown, but she’ll always have a place with me.

Sweet Miss Olivia Peeper

Miss Olivia loves to ride on my shoulder and softly chit-chat about whatever strikes her fancy. She is the sweetest, gentlest, and most shy little bird. I hated trimming their glorious foot feathers, but since they are spending their days scratching around like wild chickens instead of caged show birds, I thought it best.

Pippin and Robin are bantam Ameraucanas in slightly non-standard colors. They are sweet girls who look like tiny juvenile hawks. They have been carefully bred for several generations by a chicken buddy of mine who is selecting for a lovely blue egg color. I can’t wait to see the eggs they lay!

Pippin and Robin the Ameraucanas

Robin and Xiu Xiu

As you can see behind Robin, there is an unusual lady in the bunch. Xiu Xiu is a Silkie, a Chinese breed whose feathers lack the barbicels that hold their shape and rigidity. Their feathers feel like soft downy fur. They are very shy and gentle, and they are very good mothers.

Xiu Xiu: there are eyes in there somewhere

Xiu Xiu is not a show quality Silkie, but she is very sweet and will do a fine job of hatching eggs for me in the spring.

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Probably the most unusual of the bantam chicks are Schmoo Belle and Betty Boop, my bantam Araucanas. Araucanas originated in South America, and they are a rumpless breed. While they look very odd, these two ladies are among the sweetest little birds you’ll find! Their color is called “splash,” which is made of blue-black splashes on a white background.

Betty Boop the Araucana: where’s the rest of her??

Betty Boop is considered “clean faced,” and Schmoo Belle has ear tufts - - curled feathers growing near each ear. Schmoo Belle likes to jump up on my shoulder and whisper the latest gossip. She also likes to come over and boss things when I am working in the coop.

Nosy Schmoo Belle always has to know what’s going on

The bantam cochins are doing well, although they sure have been broody this year! Penny Pretty is still broody and did not emerge for the photo session, but Dolly the Frizzle cochin obliged me:

Curly Dolly eyes me suspiciously

Her feathers have continued to emerge nice and curled, and she is just adorable. Cochins are another Chinese breed with good mothering instincts, and I love their low, wide bodies and their acres of fluff. And then there are the cochin bottoms - - oh dear Lord save me from the irresistible cuteness of cochin butts!

Fluffy cochin butts

I could spend all day watching the banties scratch and peck around their pen. They are like a beautiful, colorful bouquet of flowers.

The standard size birds do not particularly appreciate my interest in the smaller birds, however. Even chickens experience jealousy. My poor, bald Baby Mija never likes the attention I pay to other chickens, and when I walk over to the banty coop she always tries to get my attention by coyly walking in circles in front of me:

Poor bald Baby Mija tries to be coy

Her pitiful bald head is just starting to grow feathers back, but right now that baldness really makes her blind eye more obvious.

Dear, clumsy Baby Mija

While she will never win any beauty contests, Baby sure does lay the biggest eggs of the bunch!

It’s probably time to go, anyhow. Louis has grown tired of all the attention - - and he signals this by standing very upright and giving me the fisheye.

OK, Louis. See you later!

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Prima

07/20/09 | by Jen [mail] | Categories: Chickens, Eggs, Critters

True to her name, young Prima was the first of my spring chicks to lay an egg. This pretty little Black Copper Marans hen is one of the sweetest little ladies, and I thought it might be fun to revisit her brief life “from egg to egg.”

It seems like just yesterday that little Prima Georgiana Darcy was just a tapping sound coming from the inside of her dark brown egg. (Oh you laugh, but giving hens silly, prissy names is one of the great joys of keeping chickens.)

She emerged from her shell first on that cold February 26 and sprawled on the floor of the warm incubator, exhausted from the ultimate challenge of pecking her way out of the hard shell.

When she was finally rested, she set about helping her two brothers out of their shells. She pecked and pulled bits of shell to help them breathe, she peeped to encourage them, and when they finally broke from their shells she spread her fluffy little body out beside them while they rested from their effort. I have never before or since seen a chick appear to help other chicks hatch!

Two days later Prima appeared in a photo for this blog, perched quietly in RT’s enormous hands. While many black-colored chicks have white down, the light fluff is shed as they grow and they emerge as black adults.

Prima had distinctive markings around her eyes, but she also carried herself differently from the others and was much more placid by nature. The boys were sweet, but just a little more naughty and rambunctious.

Below we have Prima in our Easter Sunday photo session, then at 17 days of age. Female chicks will generally have smaller combs, even at a young age, and they will remain yellowish in color until they are nearly mature. The ladies will also have tiny or nonexistent wattles, the red flaps of skin that grow beneath the chin. Boys will have more prominent, reddish combs, and the wattles will begin to grow earlier. This little face is all girl:

My Black Copper Marans were the sweetest and most interactive of the chicks. They grew into an extremely awkward but very dear bobble-headed vulture phase that was precious! Below, Prima displays another “tell” of her gender: she tends to crouch instead of standing very proud and upright, especially in new situations.

And at last by around ten weeks my little vultures had grown into their first set of feathers. Here is young Prima (below, left) with her brother, enjoying a nice May afternoon outside with the other teenage chicks. Brother has already grown some of his copper coloring, and by this time the comb and wattle differences are very prominent. Prima would grow several more weeks until her head coppering would become noticeable.

And finally, just a week shy of five months old, Prima laid her first nice brown egg. It was a bit more speckled than the one from which she came, and it was about the size of a bantam egg. In the coming weeks the eggs will become larger and the color will even out.

And while the lovely poetic story of a hen from egg to egg is nice to share, I also have some comparative egg photos for those more scientific by nature. Here is Prima’s first egg compared to Dame Edna’s grown-up egg:

And another of Edna (top) and Prima (middle) eggs with a bantam egg (bottom) from Penny Pretty the bantam cochin:

Watching a tiny chick emerge from an egg - - or watching any creature being born - - is an awe-inspiring miracle to witness. Enjoying the privilege of caring for my little charges as they grow and mature has been a challenging, joyful, and humanizing adventure that is adding something to my life I had not anticipated. These little feathered friends provide me with great joy even as they provide food for our table on a daily basis. I would be hard-pressed to find a better or more useful pet for my suburban home.

Little Prima has grown from a tiny handful of fluff into a beautiful, copper-touched beauty with almond-shaped eyes right in front of us. I do not think I could ever lay my hands on another store carton of eggs, because now the story behind the egg is more important to me than ever before.

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