Quick and healthy: asparagus with potatoes and ham

Here in Central Europe May is the month of asparagus and strawberries and rhubarb! In France they tend to eat more of the green kind that is only peeled at the bottom end. Here in Germany both kinds are sold, but the fat, white stalks are the most common, from Pörnbach, Abensberg or Schrobenhausen, although they are also sent up from Greece. The first ones arrive in April and the last harvest is traditionally towards the 24th June, Johannistag (St. John’s).

One kilogram usually costs about €12. I’d suggest buying about 5-6 stalks per person. I use a special peeler (cf. photo) and peel first the ends, then the top end while staying away from the shoot which doesn’t necessitate anything. The yellowish in-between layer must also be peeled away. Then the bottom end is cut off, a little more if the end is tough.

My asparagus are cooked in a large skillet, but professionals use special cylindrical pots so the bottom is cooked longer than the bud. I cook mine for approximately 10-11 minutes in salted water, some people add in a bit of sugar, some like them more al dente and cook them a minute less.

Meanwhile wash some potatoes with flaky skin and cooked them in salt water for about 20 minutes depending on their size. I poke them after 18 minutes or so to check the degree of softness.

You can make your own sauce hollandaise out of butter, shallots, egg yolks, vinegar, salt & pepper, whisked creamy in a bain-marie. Or you simply buy a packet of sauce hollandaise, also as fat-reduced, and heat it along with the asparagus, adding a splash of lemon.

Delicious accompaniments are cooked honey, smoked, lemon-pepper or serrano ham, also small veal scallops or beef tournedos.

Strawberry-rhubarb delight

This cake is light and refreshing, just the thing for a warm summer day. You will need some time in between the different steps of making it, but you can space it out and do other things, as each step is fairly quick. Here in Germany the strawberry and rhubarb season is from May to June 24th, St. John’s Day or summer solstice. After that you should no longer cut the rhubarb stalks.

If I am hard pressed for time, I buy a Biskuitboden at the supermarket. You can also bake the cake layer:

  • beat 3 eggs light and fluffy
  • slowly add 125 g sugar until the batter stiffens
  • carefully fold in 125 g flour, 75 g starch and 1 tsp. baking powder
  • bake at 175°C on the 2nd lowest rack for about 18-22 minutes

Meanwhile peel 3-4 rhubarb stalks, cut off the ends, cut into pieces and gently heat them with the juice of half a lemon and 150 g sugar for about 8 minutes until tender.

Pull the pot from the stove and add in 500 g strawberries, washed and without leaves, cut in half if you wish.

Take a packet of gelatine which has soaked for ten minutes in 3-4 Tbsp. of water or juice and stir the gelatine into the warm (not hot!) fruit. Let the fruit and gelatine cool until almost cold and not quite jellied.

Whip 300-400 ml heavy cream, add in some sugar if you wish. Fold the whipped cream into the cold fruit. Pour the fruit and cream onto the cake layer with a cake ring placed firmly on top. Put the cake into the fridge and let the fruit topping set over night.

Enjoy with hot coffee or iced tea!

A walk along lake Starnberg : from Tutzing to Seeshaupt

We set out with about 40 participants to walk approx. 12 km (7.5 miles) around Lake Starnberg near the German Alps. The reason there are so many lakes at the foot of the Alps is because the glaciers moved down and ground out many depressions and moraines which gradually filled up with water, rocks and pebbles. (Anecdote: when Napoleon and Montgelas came to Munich, they would have liked to clear the pebbles out of the river Isar, only they couldn’t, as they continually wash down from the Alps.)

Our walk started in Tutzing, down to the swimming areas, on a path winding past houses and through high hedges, sometimes along the main road. The famous Buchheim Museum is here at the water’s edge, with interesting modern art and sculptures.

Most often we walked through lovely parks like the Bernrieder Park with blooming meadows, very old oak trees, a babbling brook, at times a wooden bench near a path leading down to the water.

Wilhelmina Busch-Woods, an heiress of a brewery (Anheuser) in St. Louis, Mississippi, bought large parts of Baron von Wendland’s property near Bernried. She and her first husband owned two large farms with horses, she had her own ship and finally furnished a small castle with antiques in Höhenried. Oh, not to forget, she accumulated three husbands as well. She later created a Foundation to allow the general public to walk through her Bernrieder park after her death in 1952.

When we finally reached Seeshaupt at the south end after three hours of walking, we were quite happy to enter the restaurant for a very good lunch. I had a look at the small church nearby with its light yellow and white hues.

We then drove on to Gut Kerschlach, a very large farm with many horses, dog training, horse carriage rides, meadows, gardens, an empty specialty shop, sausage production, a bakery and a large café. As we were tired from our long walk, we were especially glad of the coffee and cakes on offer!

Chinese Tea Ceremony in a Plantation, Jiujiang

One of the highlights of our trip to China was the visit to the tea plantation, the guided tour of how tea is picked and dried and finally the tea ceremony with different cups and kinds of tea. This plantation belongs to the Institute of Tea that studies and documents the different stages of processing tea.

The first thing offered to us were these giant straw hats to put on our heads and walk through the rows of low bushes with shiny green leaves. The pickers pick them by hand. The leaves are washed and sorted, then dried in small ovens and left to ferment in woven baskets. This process is repeated several times.

In the tea ceremony room we were seated around long tables. The teapots are preheates with hot water and the tea is carefully poured, stirred and poured again. The picture with the “brick” shows the most expensive variant, the highly fermented tea which is very appreciated among the connoisseurs. Our European taste is more for the young, fresh tea leaves however.

In the adjoining shop all kinds of tea in all sorts of sizes are on offer, as well as wall hangings, teapots and cup sets, tile placemats, figurines, vases and so forth. Many tourists take advantage of the offer and buy tea for themselves and their friends. Most shops will have the larger items sent to your home abroad should you wish to acquire a souvenir, statue or furniture.

Shanghai – downtown and Yuyuan Garden

Right in the center of Shanghai, between modern shop fronts and high rise buildings you can walk through a gate and find a beautiful garden : the Yuyuan Garden. Winding pathways lead you past little pagodas, ponds, flowering shrubs and walkways decorated with banners of golden Chinese letters. In between you can rest your weary feet on roofed benches inside shady and artfully carved wooden frames. This is one place you shouldn’t miss. It is a real oasis within a busy city.

After enjoying ourselves among the shady fronds and Chinese pointed pagodas, we decided to have some nice tea and look out over the rooftops of the city, where a cool breeze dried our damp forehead.

China – The Dazu Rock Carvings of Mount Beishan

The Dazu Rock Carvings are actually about 75 sites scattered throughout the steep hills. This World Heritage Site depicts Buddhas and gods with Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist influences. They are in the Dazu District about 2 hours away from the large city Chongqing.

Some carvings are shrines but by far the largest part are carved into the open rock face. What is unique is their exceptional coloring which has often been preserved. The biggest site is on Mount Beishan. The oldest carvings are from the mid 7th century in the Tang dynasty.

It is a refreshing walk through green trees and bushes to see the outdoor carvings of Buddhas.

Beijing – The Forbidden City

Many, many, many people, mostly Chinese stood in line on the Tiananmen Square outside the walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing (Peking). Luckily, our Chinese guide “Joseph” who spoke excellent German, had already organized the tickets and the wait was not quite that long. Meanwhile, we were often asked by Chinese tourists whether we would stand with their group for a photo and would grab any one of our group by the sleeve. They were always smiling and very pleasant and well-mannered.

The Forbidden City served as Imperial Residence for the Ming through the Qing Dynasty (1420-1912). For 500 years it was the center of political power. It is not far away from downtown Beijing. It is entirely surrounded by walls with the Palace (now a museum) in the center and the women’s quarters on the edge. The women have a beautiful rock garden near their building, one part of which is now a souvenir shop with lovely silk items. Many of the former concubines lived in comparative solitude we were told. The complex is now a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site of oldest wooden structures.

As you can see, red and gold are the predominant colors, blue represents the sky. The pointed roofs ward off evil spirits. The large metal bowls filled with water are a symbol of eternity. The steps and decorations are carved in white marble.

At times the crowd was so thick you could only see inside a temple using your camera and a selfie stick to reach over other people’s heads and look inside the room. Note also how many people used parasols, as the sun was very hot. Several hours are a minimum to see all the artefacts and wonders of this Palace!