Today, we had breakfast buffet with food from around the world in an Arabian palace...
...lunch in France (Fauchon, best delicatessen in Paris)...
...and dinner in the United States (Red Lobster).
And, we did not leave Dubai on our culinary travels. One can find almost every cuisine and culture in this bit of (former) desert.
On my first trip to Italy, I learned the word retardo. On my second trip, I learned how to make vinaigrette.
These memories came to mind as I made my dinner last night. I wanted to write that I learned to make vinaigrette on my first trip, but careful consideration proved that to be false.
My first trip was by military aircraft to Vicenza Airbase. Because neither Switzerland nor Austria permitted US military aircraft to pass through their airspace, a roughly one hour flight took three hours. We were forced to fly around the Alps, but at least the French let us in. Vicenza offered no appeal, so we decided to take a train to Venice. I learned that all Italian trains run late, but at least the country has passenger trains.
My second trip was also by airplane, but it was with Lufthansa. This was my daughter’s first trip, first time in an airplane, and first time in Italy. (It must have made a lasting impression, because she married an Italian.) I recall watching the waiter at the small hotel beside Lago Maggiore whip up a vinaigrette in a shallow plate with a fork. He dissolved salt and pepper in white wine vinegar and then drizzled in olive oil while constantly whisking. Fantastic. I follow the same method, but have yet to equal the taste. Still, this is far superior to any bottled variety.
The photo shows the view from the hotel where I learned to make vinaigrette. Of course, it was taken at breakfast on our terrace, one floor above the dining room.
One of the news feeds provided me with yet another reason to avoid visiting the United States. I read that the FDA will ban trans fats. One of the few reasons to visit the Land of Freedom Illusion and the Home of the Barely Making Ends Meet was the flavor of many tasty foods, such as ice cream or cinnamon rolls, to name only two. Why travel so far, when one can find similar tastes closer to home?
Today is a holiday in Germany: Reunification Day, to commemorate the joining of “communist” East Germany with “democratic” West Germany. This basically meant that citizens of the former West Germany took over paying for their poor “relatives” from the east...and are still paying today.
As on most holidays, there are festivals up and down the country all competing for visitors and their pocket money. Even I managed to leave my lair and venture out to a festival in the old part of town, partly because the weather was so nice...and my wife dragged me.
The main attraction of these festivals is food and drink. This one had a “foreign” flair, offering French stuff. Flammkuchen is a favorite in Alsace, which now belongs to France, despite often being German (check history for yourself). This is not unlike pizza, since it is unleavened bread (kuchen) with toppings heated over a fire (flamm), except that some have sweet toppings (apple and cinnamon is tasty). This was probably introduced into the region by Roman soldiers on their march north along the Rhine River.
Local fare was also available. Being Autumn, people could bring apples from their yard and have them pressed into cider. Or they could buy some.
Despite the foreign words, neither is the Word of the Day. That honor falls to a fish. The word for trout is Forelle.
This word has significance for me due a minor incident in the past. I spent my 21st birthday alone in Fussen, Germany. I had traveled there with a Eurail Pass to visit Neuschwanstein Castle and was spending the night in a cheap pension (I was a poor student!). For my birthday dinner, I decided upon the brewery restaurant, having heard that they always had good food. I wanted to have trout...but did not know the word and no one spoke English. I ended up pointing to the word goulash on the menu, that being the only dish I recognized. This was very different from the dish my mother prepared, but I recall that it was tasty. Still, it was not trout, so my birthday was not great. Now that I know the word, I am no longer interested in eating this fish.
I am not a fan of Jamie Oliver, the English “celebrity chef”, but he does stir things up in the field of media attention to food and eating habits. He tried to improve school lunches in Britain and was ruthlessly attacked. It seems that mothers would rather bow to children’s desire to eat unhealthy food.
I bring up his name, because I noticed a headline in which he stirs another kettle and emotions, cooking up only controversy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that his latest salvo hits a target. Photos or video footage of poor people’s homes always reveal the presence of modern electronic amidst the squalor. During riots, looters always seem to hit the electronics shops, not the grocery stores.
My conclusion is that he is correct. Numbing the brain (have you scanned programs currently available on television?) has priority over filling bellies with healthy fare. High levels of sugar, salt, and fat in cheap food is enough to dull both hunger and thought. Sadly, Mr. Oliver is again cooking up only a furor in which few will be interested and nothing will change.
Being our wedding anniversary, we drove to the location of our daughter's wedding (because they have a gourmet restaurant and a nice setting above the Rhine River).
The menu was a bit overwhelming with the choice two set menus, one with a choice of four to six course and one with the choice of six to nine courses. Of course, we took the larger one, but "settled" for seven courses. On top of that, there were two surprise dishes from the chef and a plate to choke a horse of chocolates and pastries with coffee. Needless to say, we did not leave hungry.
I have eaten in many fine restaurants around the world, but I had a few surprises. Fortunately, they were all good (unlike the time I tried sea anemone in Barcelona). The first was a lobster course in which the bisque portion came in the shape of a praline. (See below) I have no idea how this was achieved. The green bit is lettuce, which has been frozen and then put in a blender to make granita.
I am not a big fan of chocolate (perhaps the only human that is not), but I will eat it if forced. One course, shown below, was various varieties of chocolate in different shapes and combinations. The white shape in the middle is white chocolate filled with berries, created like the lobster bit. Very tasty...and surprising.
I thought that the chocolate course was dessert, but I was wrong (poor memory made me forget what was on the menu and what we ordered). The dessert...or second dessert, was "fruit salad?, in a shape I have yet to encounter, with sherbets.
Each course had a different wine. The restaurant is surrounded by vineyards, which stretch for as far as the eye can see. This region is Germany's premiere wine growing region, but we also enjoyed wines from other regions and from France (German red wines are crap).
The setting above the Rhine River added to the experience. One reflect--if knowledgeable of history and so inclined==on Roman soldiers lugging vines from Italy over two centuries ago to make it possible for us to enjoy in this day and age.
This poor photo gives an impression of the view. The Rhine is difficult to spot (a bit of blue in the center). On the far horizon, the highest point is the Donnersberg, which sits to the east of Ramstein, the last remaining US Air Force base in Germany. Long before the NSA scandal broke, those in the know were aware of large military communications installations atop this piece of real estate. Vintners in Rhinehessen, to the east, know of its effect on vintages, because it affects the flow of the prevailing winds and rainfall/
I recall a meal in a small town just over the Swiss-Italian border, south of Ascona. The best part was a cold soup made from ripe cantaloup melon. Last week, I enjoyed a watermelon soup at a gourmet restaurant.
Both these memories caused me to try my hand at melon soup. This is one of the easier menu items I have ever attempted...
NB. The green bit is mint, not a week growing from a crack in the plate.
Supposedly, variety is the spice of life. Actually, this is one of my favorite spices. Most I avoid.
The below photo illustrates a case in point. Yesterday, we enjoyed a fine lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant. The meal could not have been better; the setting was refined.
Today, we had “lunch” at the Saturday farmers’ market. As the photo proves, we ate at the other end of the culinary spectrum. In spite of its meager appearance, the food and drink served their purposes: they filled my stomach and provided nourishment. Of course, German sausages tend to be rather tasty...
My grandmother told stories about my grandfather, who died when I was two. He would rise early to fish at his "secret" fishing hole to catch his breakfast. The location of his favorite spot accompanied him to his grave, but I have no need for the knowledge. I live too far away and do not eat fish for breakfast.
Times have changed, since American ate hearty breakfasts. No one goes fishing to catch his or her breakfast. (In his day, men fished, but emancipation has conquered America.) People now eat sweetened cereal or pop tarts, which are not much sweeter. And, little fresh water fish is even available for other meals, thanks to pollution and politicians.
Which brings me to my point...
Today, I enjoyed fresh perch from Lake Como, sitting in a restaurant beside the very water from which my lunch was caught. There might be a spot, but I know of no lake in the United States from which one can have a meal.
I cannot think of a spot on this planet where I would rather be...
This is about contrasts. Some might call this a story of gluttony vs. starvation, but I prefer to see this as a change of pace, a bit of variety, or a touch of moderation.
Last night, I enjoyed an excellent meal at one of the world’s best three star restaurants. The food was plentiful and included taste sensations that are difficult to produce. Anyone not understanding costs of the best ingredients or cooking processes would not understand the price of such a meal. I found the cost to be reasonable, considering the ambience, service, and...well, every aspect of the experience.
Tonight, on the other hand, I enjoyed a meal fit for a...peasant (one with good taste). I sliced a tomato, sprinkled it with Fleur de sel, the best salt you can use, and added mayonnaise--not the product of a chemical plant, but the French variety with a touch of Dijon mustard added. With that, I had baguette and butter from Bretagne. Heaven, as simple often can be.
Many years ago, we ate at a one star restaurant in France. I was surprised to be served a sliced tomato with mayonnaise...until I ate it. One expects elaborate creations from starred restaurants, but Nouvelle Cuisine dictates simplicity...as long as that simplicity is the best you can serve. That meals taught me to enjoy simple, like I did tonight.
Both meals were excellent, but each required a suitable setting and state of mind. That’s what makes food so great: variety and contrasts.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.