We are in the midst of Spargelzeit — asparagus season — here in Germany. This asparagus is not the slim green variety that one typically finds in the US, but rather plump stalks of white asparagus. White asparagus is the same species as green, but it is cultivated differently. Soil is piled over the young shoots as they grow, and opaque tarps ensure that no light reaches the asparagus . In the absence of sunlight, photosynthesis does not occur, and the stalks become etiolated — they remain white.
Fans of white asparagus (every German I know) claim that it is less bitter and more tender than its green counterpart. The stalks also tend to be thicker, because the asparagus is allowed to grow longer. The downside to white asparagus is that the thick skin has to be peeled before it can be eaten. The peeling can be done at home with a vegetable peeler, but for €1.00, our local grocer will send a kilo of asparagus through this peeling machine:
asparagus peeling machine
rollers and blades
I don’t think it took too many German machine engineers to come up with this contraption. It consists simply of pairs of rollers interspersed with fixed-blade vegetable peelers. Continue reading
Germany does Christmas well. Annette has tried her best over the years to transplant to New Hampshire a few of the Christmas traditions she most cherishes, such as Advent singing, Glühwein, and real candles on our Christmas tree. But it’s not the same as being here.
During the last weekend of November, Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) sprang up all over Berlin. In the simplest cases, these markets consist of a few huts where one can purchase mulled wine and warm snacks, with tall round tables around which to gather in the evening chill. However, most of Berlin’s Weihnachtsmärkte are much more elaborate. I noticed in early December that the local newspapers were running reviews of the dozen or so largest Weihnächtsmarkte in the city, rating them as best for kids, most romantic, best shopping opportunities, etc.
We went to our first Weihnachtsmarkt of the season a few weeks ago. It was set up at the Gendarmenmarkt plaza, where one also finds the Berlin Konzerthaus, the French Cathedral, and the German Cathedral. Annette was put off by our having to pay a €1 entrance fee (“I’ve never had to pay to get into a Weihnachtsmarkt!”), but the cost of admission turned out to be well worthwhile. The numerous huts were attractively constructed and decorated, the food and drinks were good, and there were lovely handcrafts for sale. On a central stage, six musicians dressed as angels performed Christmas instrumentals on dulcimers and harps. Unfortunately, I neglected to bring my camera.
Several nights ago I set out with Rani and Mamta to document for this blog the Berlin Weihnachtsmarkt experience. We considered going to the market at Potsdamer Platz, where we had seen sledding on an impressive man-made slope, and the huts were set up to mimic an aprés ski experience, but instead we decided to head for the market at Alexanderplatz. What we found there was not what I had expected.
I recently came across an article that likened certain sections of Berlin (“Berlyn”) to Brooklyn, NY. Apparently there is a good deal of cross-pollination occurring between these two urban hotspots. The other day I was invited by a friend to attend a coffee tasting in Penzlauer Berg, a neighborhood that has been compared to Brooklyn’s Park Slope. Or Williamsburg, I thought as I entered the shrine to coffee known as Cafe ck.
Barista in action
The coffee aroma in the cozy cafe was compelling. Soul music — Mavis Staples, James Brown — spun on a turntable tucked beneath the rear counter. A small shelf displayed trophies and plaques from various coffee-related competitions. The two bearded, twenty-something baristas behind the counter executed their work with earnest precision.
This was my first coffee tasting, or “cupping,” as I learned to call it. The eight participants included several other neophytes. We could tell the veteran cuppers: they had brought small notebooks in which to record their tasting notes.