Italian recipe : Lasagna

For a quick, homemade lasagna you will need:

  • about 1 lb. of ground beef or fine strips of filet
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • garlic, peeled and minced
  • mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 1 cup of broth
  • 1 tsp. tomato paste
  • a dash of white wine (Italian Chardonnay)
  • fresh herbs and oregano, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • a heavy skillet
  • a large baking dish
  • 6 large lasagna noodles
  • frozen spinach, 6 large chunks or several small ones
  • 300 g Béchamel sauce
  • extra milk
  • grated cheese for the topping (optional)

In a heavy skillet heat the olive oil and add the onions and garlic. Cook a few moments, then add the ground beef. Cook until the beef is browned. Add the mushrooms before the meat is quite finished.

Add the salt and pepper, tomato paste, the wine and the broth. Cover the skillet and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Then add the finely chopped herbs and oregano to taste.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180° C. with the middle rack inside.

Prepare the large baking dish with Béchamel sauce spread over the bottom of the dish so the pasta doesn’t stick, add some milk if necessary. Place 3 large leaves of lasagna no-bake pasta side by side into the dish. Sprinkle with little chunks of frozen spinach and place into the oven for a few minutes to thaw. You can also use tomato slices or other cooked vegetables instead.

When the meat ragout is finished, spoon half of it on top of the vegetables. Place another three leaves of lasagna pasta on top. Spoon the other half of the ragout on the pasta. Top off the ragout with the remaining Béchamel sauce, adding milk if too dry. Sprinkle grated cheese over the sauce. Place carefully into the oven and bake for approx. 15-20 min. at 180°.

bake the lasagna until it is crispy on top

Enjoy with a nice Chianti from Italy and perhaps your favorite music!

City events: Nymphenburg and Kocherlball, Munich

This week I went to a wonderful concert in the Johannissaal in the Nymphenburger Schloss (castle). It was one of a series of “Liedkunst – Kunstlied” (The art of singing) featuring Angelika Huber (soprano) and Stephan Lin (tenorio), accompanied on the piano by Tung-Hsing Tsai. The room with very high ceilings has room for about 100 listeners, the adjoining concert room Hubertussaal is much larger, for about 220 people. Both grand rooms belong to the oldest part of the castle, the “Brunnturm” from the 18th century, which even today houses one of the oldest mechanical fountain pumps for the large central fountain outside. It was also the home of the elector’s well-servant (kurfürstlicher Brunnknecht) who checked the pump regularly. Both rooms can be booked for events, many good concerts are given on a regular basis.

The castle itself is worth visiting, there are guided tours for visitors. In another wing of the castle you will find the entrance to a great museum “Mensch und Natur”, all about evolution, dinosaurs and animals, birds and human beings all around the world. Entrance is 3,50 for adults, you can book a birthday party or special group tours for kids with specialized Museumspädagogen (educational personnel). There is a fun shop at the entrance with minerals, books, mugs. etc. Downstairs is a large room for school classes with lock-up boxes for their bags and jackets.

If you don’t feel like being indoors, the expansive park behind the castle is great for a nice brisk walk along the canals. In the fall there are the golden leaves, in the winter you may go skating on the canals (safety depth permitting). Some smaller pavilions are tucked into the corners of the park. The Palmengarten Café is not far off.

Around the corner you can enter the Botanical Garden with its lovely café and terrace. Try to be there in February/ March for the butterfly show!

On Sunday July 21, if you are an early bird, you can try out the “Kocherlball” (Cook’s Ball) in the Englischer Garten at 6.00 in the morning. This is a tradition going back to the 19th century when the cooks, gardeners and maids had to get back to the mansion when the rich masters arrived from morning mass. So they organized their ball plein air very early around the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) in the English Garden. Naturally, you will want to wear your best Lederhosen and Dirndl dresses to fit in while whirling around. And if you don’t know how to dance, the Hofbräuhaus organizes free dance lessons to learn all the important local dances. Join the 10,000 others having a ball!

City trip: Füssen, Allgäu – near Neuschwanstein

We took the regional train, a two-hour ride from Munich, on a fine morning to Füssen. Passing the ticket window for tickets to Neuschwanstein, it is only a 4 minute walk to the center. Our group met in front of the Tourist Info Point at the Kaiser-Maximilian Platz. In front of the Info Point there are seven steles or columns with a loose basalt stone on top that dances in circles when the water is turned on. From there we walked to the old part of the town center. There are many lovely little colorful shops. Unfortunately, city planners have evidently not found any solution to keep the loud rumbling through traffic out of the center of town.

Our first stop with the guide was at the town wall built of river gravel from the Lech and wooden beams, of which several parts are still standing. Then we proceeded to the city church St. Mang (Magnus) who slew a dragon (= the evil) as shown on all images and frescoes. St. Mang ostensibly came from Kempten together with St. Gallus. It is legend that his corpse was found in a perfect state of preservation. In Rosshaupten they still have many traditions with horses, where he passed through.

The church is painted white on the inside, with many lovely frescoes and niches depicting saints and Biblical scenes. It was built by Johann Jakob Herkomer after he had been to Rome and Venice in 1717. The stucco was was done by Dominik Zimmermann and the altar by Josef Obermüller where you can see twin portraits on either side of bishops.

In the center you will walk past many enticing shops with beer, wine, clothes, ice cream, bakery goods, market halls, everything. Check out the wheat and baker’s fountain with the bronze flour sacks to sit on.

The name Füssen probably does not originate from Füße (feet) but from fons (lat: fountain) or fauces (lat: gorge). The fountain shown below is the symbol of Füssen. The tourists staying overnight are about 1.3 million whereas the city’s population is about 13 000.

The Sebastiankirche ( St Sebastian’s church) was originally a plague church and built close to the town wall with the Old Cemetary on one side, where you can read interesting epitaphs.

The Holy-Ghost-Hospital Church was built in the 15th century in Gothic style, but burned down in the 18th c. It was later rebuilt in the Rococo style with colorful frescoes of the Holy Trinity. The tripartite window was an idea of J.J. Herkomer and his assistant Zimmermann. The frescoes on the inside show the seven Christian sacraments, in the four corners of the ceiling yoou can find the four (in those days) continents: Africa, Asia, America and Europe. You will also see the seven virtues such as Wisdom and Piety. Holy St. Catherine is the patron saint of the rafters.

Johann Jakob Herkomer was a master artisan of marble, especially the red kind. Marble is basically limestone, which was a long chapter of the town’s history, as can be seen in the old limestone factory with the gigantic smokestack amid all the cultural ‘pearls’. In 1861 the factory produced hemp and rope and twine, now called “Mechanische Seilerwarenfabrik Füssen” using the water power of the river Lech.

Within the Benedictine monastery there are beautiful library / refectory rooms, many lovely statues, a tower with a view and many great exhibits of building lutes and violins. Only the oldest son was permitted to become a lutist.

Our last stop was the castle with its painting galleries and tower with many steps. Take time to stop in the courtyard to look at the painted windows and turrets. If you need a refreshment, there are several great ice cream parlors with gelato e caffè!

Special exhibit : Utrecht, Caravaggio and Europe

We met in the somewhat cooler morning to see the special exhibit on Caravaggio in the Alte Pinakothek on Munich’s Museum Mile in Schwabing. The admission fee is at €12 with no reductions, but the works assembled are definitely worth it.

Caravaggio’s real name is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the place his parents were from. Living from 1571 – 1610 in Italy, he is one of the greatest masters of painting light and shadow. Quite often the source of light is a candle or lantern, covered by an arm or shoulder, and giving all the faces around a beautiful golden glow and intensifying facial expressions.

Below is a video detail of Christ’s entombment / Christi Grablegung. This large painting is only given out on loan for a maximum of four weeks. Caravaggio also excelled in painting the muscles of the human body, the difficulties of carrying the heavy corpse to the tomb, the pale tones of the dead, the soft hues of the robes and linen cloths.

The map is one of Rome in the 17th century, the place all aspiring young men wanted to go to. There they could meet and greet other artists and copy their works – a copy was considered an honor in those days, although of course the ensuing work would have its own details, such as in St Peter’s crucifixion where St. Peter lifts his head before hanging upside down, one worker crawling under the cross to lift it on his back, the end of the beam hidden in folds of cloth unlike the original.

Many paintings shown here are by contemporary artists such as Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerard van Honthorst, Dirck van Barburen, Jusepe de Ribera, Valentin de Boulogne and more.

Below are paintings of Jesus wearing his crown of thorns and the two men who are pushing the crown on with poles and gloves as if this was a regular job.

Above you can see Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple of merchants and money-lenders. Notice the grouping of the bad people to the left and Jesus’ heroic figure on the steps on the right.

Below you see a young lady or a gypsy with a young man, allegedly telling his fortune. Instead she is stroking his hand, a pleasant sensation, which will finally give her his ring off his finger.

The last paintings depict two young boys playing a flute. The right one is carefree with a recorder and loose-fitting clothes. The left one is seen from the back, anonymous, playing a transverse flute in the uniform of a soldier. These two paintings show a sharp contrast between the two situations, which is why the soldier boy is turned away. The flute player loved joyous music before, now he must play marches.

The Caravaggio exhibition really makes you look very much closer at all the details!

Weekend trip: Weltenburg monastery, Befreiungshalle, Donaudurchbruch

We set out early before the sun would get too hot and arrived in Kelheim at about 10.00. This town of 1600 has plenty of well-marked parking lots, n°5 Wöhrd (green) being the closest to the passenger ships with n°4 Donauvorland (red) a bit beyond and free of charge for longer stays. We checked the departure times of the ships and headed up the steep hill to the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), an elegant and high rotunda overlooking the town and the Danube Gorge.

The Bavarian King Ludwig I had this building erected from 1842-1863, first by Gärtner, then upon his death, by Leo von Klenze. It stands on top of the Michelsberg to commemorate the battle of Leipzig in 1813 against Napoleon’s troops. The different hues of yellow and cream are supposed to produce a certain color effect from the distance, much as an impressionist painting. The golden shields held by the 34 Victory angels created by Ludwig Schwanthaler are supposedly the melted bronze of the cannons.

You buy the tickets (€4,50) at the bottom, walk up the hill and steps and enter a turnstile. You can walk on the bottom floor, climb the 132 steps half way up or all the way up to the section that Leo von Klenze added.

After our visit of the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), we drove down to Kelheim and had an excellent lunch for about €12,- per person at the Weißes Lamm (White Lamb), fresh asparagus and Schnitzel. Then we bought tickets, €4,-, for the Archaeological Museum around the corner, formerly a grain silo.

After an hour or so in the museum, we were glad for some fresh air and wandered over to the landing of the five ships officially permitted to travel through the narrow gap, 80 m wide, between the chalk cliffs towering over the Danube. The little blue train takes tourists around town.

We paid about €12,- each for a return ticket and shoved our overnight cases on board. The crew serves delicious food, coffee and cake, beer and water and everything was very clean and shiny. You will hear a tape in English and German telling you that the current runs at 2.5m/sec, that the deepest spot is 20m down, that private craft may not go through certain parts, that one or another cliff is called “Napoleon’s suitcase” (left after the battle) or the “Virgin” or the three round boulders are the “Three Brothers”.

At the far end you can see the monastery Weltenburg, founded by St. Columbanus disciples as an Iro-Scottish cloister in the 7th century to be missionaries in Bavaria. The monks, currently 11, have changed to the rules of the Benedictine order. The Abbey grew to more prominence in the 18th century and a larger church dedicated to St. George was built by the famous brothers Asam (paintings al fresco and stucco) from 1716 to 1739. 1803 led to the secularization of the buildings which were reappropriated for the village, until King Ludwig I reinstated the monastery, which became independent in 1913.

Nowadays, after its big renovation, the Abbey invites backpackers, singles, seminars, families etc. to stay in its simply furnished, but comfortable rooms, dining area and cafeteria (€85,- for two). Among the weekend courses offered there is learning to paint al fresco and talking about Christian topics. And yes, there is internet!

You can also toss your cell aside and tarry in the church, stop in the shop for books and Weltenburg cookies, buy a ticket for €2,50 to see the historical exhibition including a 60-minute tour of the brewery, sit in the restaurant Klosterschenke (closes at 7 pm sharp when the ships have stopped running!) and enjoy a delicious Brotzeit with a Maß of beer (1 liter, the word derives from ‘measure’) or roast pork, a Bavarian specialty.

The Rose island at Feldafing, Starnberger See

We left at 9.00 in the morning to catch the cool air for hiking, as it was pretty humid and a hint of thunderstorms approaching from the west, i.e. France and the Atlantic, which is our usual weather direction in Central Europe, the others being the British Isles, Russia and even Sahara dust storms across the Mediterranean.

Taking the train S6 from any one of the central stations of the Stammstrecke, you are whisked down south to the Lake Starnberg. We got off at Possenhofen, next to the Sissi Museum. Sissi, the pet name of Elisabeth who married Emperor Franz from Austria, loved this area. She went for walks, horse riding, boating and other pastimes. You may know the movie with Romy Schneider, which consolidated her fame as an actress. There is also a Castle Possenhofen, but it is private property. You can peek into the garden and watch the fountain, but not visit.

We walked down the steep hill past the youth hostel to the expansive lake. Many are the spots that bathers use to climb into the cool water and swim among the fish. Some are grassy, some pebbly, some steep and some flat. In between you will see stand-up paddlers and farther on there are small and large marinas full of boats covered with tarpaulins.

After about half an hour we reached Feldafing (also a train station) and bought tickets for the ferry (€4). The tall, muscular young man pulled out the metal ramp, let us climb aboard and told us the history of the Rose Island. In prehistoric times there were Pfahlbauten, lake dwellings built upon stilts, dated to about 3700 B.C. Meanwhile they are covered by silt and mud, as are the ceramic jugs and other items. Signs and ropes indicate the area that must not be touched. They are now inscribed in the list of World Cultural Heritage Sites of the UNESCO.

King Maximilian II of Bavaria acquired the island and had Peter J. Lenné design the villa and the rose gardens in the 1850s. Later, his son Ludwig II would entertain his friends there such Empress Sissi of Austria, Richard Wagner and the Zarin Maria Alexandrowna. The single building on the tiny Rose island, the “Casino”, can only be visited with a tour guide, every hour on weekdays and every half an hour on weekends, beginning at 12.15 (€3,50). It is advisable to reserve your tickets beforehand, otherwise bus groups will have gotten ahead of you and you’d have to wait several hours or go back. Young couples make reservations for the Gartensaal for their wedding (max. 30 p.)

The gardener lives in another small house with a tiny museum. The roses, cultivated since the 1860s, have nice smells, many white and pink and red ones, with benches and trellises all around. June is the best time to visit. Some trees, beech and thuja, are extremely old and worth looking at.

When you arrive at the Glockensteg of the Lenné Park again, do stop in at the Strandbad restaurant and savor one of their home cooked meals with fresh potatoes from the farm. Then you can don your bathing suit and hop in the cool lake!