Monday 27 January 2020

Along the River

Last week saw some of the coldest temperatures we have so far experienced this winter - not extremely cold, but since we're not used to it anymore as much as in the past decades, those 5 Celsius below freezing felt face-crackingly cold. 
One morning it almost looked as if it had been snowing, but this was just frost, not snow, and gone an hour later:
View from my kitchen on Thursday morning, just before 8:00
Most days were beautiful and sunny, though, and the weekend was again were good for  walks.
I had been to a friend's birthday party (the fourth out of the five in my diary this month) on Friday evening and therefore travelled to O.K.'s only on the Saturday, arriving there just after lunch time.

We wanted to make the most of the daylight hours and headed out straight after a quick coffee and some (very delicious!) apple cake.

The milder days and weeks before were still obvious around us - look at how far birch and hazel trees and bushes already were!

On Sunday morning, we met with a group of friends for brunch at a village a 15 minute drive from O.K.'s. By the time we finished our leisurely meal, the sun had taken care of the dense fog, and we decided to walk along the Rhine, just outside this village (Ichenheim).

I'd not been to the river in about two years and enjoyed our walk a lot, even though it was relatively featureless and not as varied as the walks and hikes we normally take. The sun and fresh air felt good, and without having planned it, we ended up walking about 13.5 km.

The Pierre Pflimlin Bridge is a 957 m long motorway bridge over the river Rhine between Germany and France, south of Strasbourg/Kehl. It is named after a former French prime minister and was opened in 2002. It was funded by France, Germany and the European Union.
Right beside that bridge is a large modern building containing a café, shop, Japanese restaurant, architectural office and a theatre which puts plays on stage written by German and French authors of this particular border region (Alsace on the French side, Baden on the German side of the river). Most important for me that afternoon was that there are toilets in the building, accessible to all visitors without having to eat at the restaurant or buy anything from the shop.

On the map below you can see our starting point (bottom red blob/arrow) and where we turned round (top red blob/arrow); that stretch along the river is somewhere between 6 and 7 km. You can also see on the map how wide the river is there - it almost looks like a lake in some parts.

Walking back was towards the sun, and as we were getting closer to sunset (and to where we had parked the car), the light was even more beautiful.

We had a few more hours together at the cottage before O.K. took me to the train station. All went well with the three trains, and I arrived at my place just after 10:30 pm.

Friday 24 January 2020

Read in 2019 - 30, 31, 32

Once again, I am several reviews behind; there are actually five books I have finished reading but not yet written a review for, three of which were read before and around Christmas.

# 30: Nibsy's Christmas
by Jacob August Riis
First published 1893 

Sounds like a rather old-fashioned, maybe sickly sweet read, the way children's books in Victorian times often were, right? Wrong!

Nibsy is not a little boy or fairytale character such as a goblin or dwarf, starring in a Christmas tale aimed at three- to five-year-olds.
No, he is a poor boy selling papers for a living, at home in an overcrowded, dirty, bug-infested New York tenement typical for the time and place. He has a violent father and a suffering mother, barely able to keep her youngest baby alive.
Nibsy himself has not adopted his father's bad ways but somehow managed to keep a kind heart and good moral standards. When just before Christmas he has once more failed to sell all his papers and is threatened by his father, he leaves home to find a sheltered place for the cold winter night, not knowing that he will never come back.

There are several more such stories in the book, all of them sad, all of them describing the horrendous circumstances under which poor children were struggling to survive.
It was NOT a cosy Christmas read but actually rather depressing - and that was the author's intention. 

The unexpected direction of this book made me look him up. Wikipedia has a lot to say about him here. Jacob Riis was a social reformer, journalist and photographer, who used pen and camera to raise awareness of the terrible conditions under which the poor were living.
Himself not a stranger to poverty, he tried to initiate a change for the better by exposing the true face of the tenements.

# 31: The Lost Word A Christmas Legend of Long Ago
by Henry Van Dyke
First published in 1898

A complete change of tone and setting to my previous read, "The Lost Word" tells the story of Hermas, who has become one of the first Christians in what today is Turkey. He has a crisis of faith, and strikes an unusual deal to have his life revert back to its former luxuries and carefree state. But something is missing...

This was not a Christmas read in the traditional sense, but very religious - definitely not for everyone. I enjoyed the quality of the language more than the actual story, which was rather foreseeable.

Here is what Amazon says about the author: 
Henry Van Dyke was an American writer, lecturer, and clergyman. Educated at Princeton, he returned to the school after his graduation as a Professor of English Literature and became an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1913 he was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson, his former classmate, as the ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxembourg, a job that he maintained throughout the First World War.  After a lifetime of public service and religious leadership, Henry van Dyke died in 1933 at the age of 80.
More about the author can be found here.

# 32: Evenings at Donaldson Manor
or, The Christmas Guest
by Maria J. McIntosh
First published in 1850

This was the most "christmassy" of the three Christmas books I read. It is divided in chapters of individual stories, all within a frame: The setting is the country house of the Donaldson family, where the author is staying for Christmas and New Year along with several other guests, friends and relatives of the hosts.

Every evening, the group make their own entertainment by appointing someone to tell a (preferably true) story, or they arrange a costume play, show drawings or sing and play music.

Some of the stories are rather interesting. My favourite was the one where the narrator is a young man living in a remote part of the United States, where it is his pleasure in winter to skate on the frozen river by his log cabin. One night he is skating again under the moonlit sky, when a pair of wolves consider him as easy prey. The chase is on...

The description of the icy, snowy, moonlit landscape and how the young man feels when he realises that his life is truly at stake are so well described, I could easily picture it all in my mind.

Maria McIntosh lived from 1803 to 1875 and became a writer to support herself financially, after she lost her fortune in an economy crisis. Like most of her contemporaries, her stories were supposed to teach moral lessons. In my case, I don't know how much "better" a person I am for having read this - I simply enjoyed the book as an old-fashioned glimpse into what Christmas and New Year may have been like in a country house back then.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

A January Weekend

On some of the blogs I regularly read, I have come across something along the lines how there appears to be a widespread dislike of January as a month. I don't know about you, but I have never seen January much different from other months; mostly, it means a return to work (and resuming of normal, everyday life) after the break and celebrations of Christmas and New Year.
In my circle of friends and family, there are several birthdays to celebrate this month; I have been to three already, with two more before the month is over.

Weather-wise, we've had a mixed bag so far, with some unseasonably warm spring-like days, a bit of rain (nowhere near enough yet to replenish the low groundwater levels from the extremely dry summer of 2018) and just recently some frosty nights and sunny, but cold days.

I can never emphasize enough how important it is to make use of the precious little daylight we get on an average work day, and to get on our feet instead of just sitting around all day at a desk and then later at home in front of the TV or computer, tempted as we may be. Those times on the settee or on our comfortable computer chairs will feel all the better when we've been active first - always, of course, considering individual circumstances and abilities.

Here is a bit about last weekend - a typical January weekend, I'd say.

I arrived at O.K.'s on Friday evening after a rather adventurous train trip; mid-trip, I had to change my travel plan twice, and the train I had originally intended to take never made it to where it was supposed to go.

On Saturday morning, we were invited for a sumptuous breakfast to celebrate an 80th birthday in O.K.'s extended family. The location was a restaurant called "Ponyhof" (losely translated as pony stable), in the countryside just outside the historic town of Gengenbach:
The outbuildings of the former farm are mostly decorative and for storage these days.
In warmer weather, the patio is really inviting.
View from the Ponyhof towards the hill behind which is Gengenbach.

Having such a long, leisurely and sumptuous breakfast meant we did not need or want any lunch. Instead, we went for a walk in the afternoon, starting from O.K.'s cottage and walking between/around his and three neighbouring villages. 

The cloudy sky made for some beautiful light; my mobile phone's camera has tried hard, but did not fully do it justice.

On the fields between Niederschopfheim and Diersburg.

I loved it how the sun lit up patches of the fields, vineyards and orchards.
The road between Diersburg and Zunsweier.

We went on another walk on Sunday afternoon, but on the mostly flat area on the other side of the village. It felt good to have sun and wind on our faces, and even better to return to the warm cottage for coffee and cake!

My train trip home on Sunday night went without a hitch. Why can't our trains always be like that? Really, on Friday, I would have had trouble without my mobile phone. It allows me to find out about delays, cancellations and alternatives without depending on the sometimes late, incomplete or even wrong information on the train itself.

Monday 13 January 2020

Pesto Flower

For a change, no pictures of trees or sunlit clouds today, but a recipe.

O.K. and I celebrated New Year's Eve with my parents and my sister. We had a buffet meal with hot soup and most of the other items made or prepared by our Mum, but us guests also brought something along.

Our contribution was a "pesto flower", a kind of bread that was supposed to look pretty on the buffet and go well with most of the other things on offer. I found the recipe in a free booklet from Aldi's.

You need:
  • 600 g flour
  • 40 g yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 300 ml warm (not hot!) water
  • pesto
  • 1 egg

Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, oil and water and let the dough rest in a warm place for about an hour.

Separate the dough into 3 pieces and let them rest for about another 1/4 hour.
Roll out each piece to a circle about 2 mm thick.
Preheat the oven to 160 C (with air circulation) or 180 C (if your oven does not have circulation).

Spread your baking tray with baking paper and put the first circle on it.

Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of pesto on it. Don't worry, a thin spreading will do well - I went a bit over the top there!

Repeat with the second circle and cover with the third circle (no pesto on the top one).

Put a small round glass or cup as a place holder right in the middle of the three circles.
Cut from there in four equal parts, then each part into four narrower segments, so that it looks like a sun or flower.

Then take two segments or strips next to each other and twist against each other, pressing the ends firmly together. Repeat until all 16 strips are turned into 8 "petals" of your "flower".

Whisk one egg and spread on the flower.

Bake for about 25 minutes.

This was our first attempt, and next time, we'll know better how to twist the segments so that the flower will look more like the one in the original picture. 

Also, my dough did not rise as expected; I don't know whether it was the yeast (not fresh but powdered) or the resting place was not warm enough (O.K.'s theory).
Anyway, I probably would not have managed to get a reasonably good result without O.K.'s help.  

It was nice enough, and we can imagine this working well with other types of savoury spread, too. The recipe suggests to make a sweet variation of the dough and use a filling of nuts, sugar and cinnamon; I guess that would work well, too.

Friday 10 January 2020

First Hike in 2020

Usually, I do not count how many walks or hikes I undertake in one year, but I can safely say that on January 2, we went on our first hike of the year.

On New Year's Day, O.K. had driven us back to his place. His parents had invited the family for their traditional New Year's meal of Badische Schäufele and spuds salad, so we knew our dinner was sorted!

The next day was dry and cold, with misty clouds resting firmly in the lower parts of the area. We knew it had to be sunny higher up, and so we took a short drive to the starting point of a hike in the Black Forest, in an area where we'd last been 3 1/2 years ago. You can compare what the same places looked like in the summer if you click here to see my post from 2016.

Many people did not start work until the 7th this year, and so we weren't surprised to see many others walking or cycling the same path. Still, it wasn't too much, and we enjoyed the hike very much - especially once we had reached the tower. I am not very good with long stretches of uphill, and the first 5 km or so of our hike were nothing else - not steep, but seemingly endless, and I had to catch my breath a few times, with the excuse of stopping to take a photo.

Moosturm. You can read more about the place here on wikipedia.

Views from the tower:

It was very windy up there, so we didn't last long. 
We walked the short distance to Lothar monument. Lothar was a storm (sometimes even classified as a hurricane) that swept across our part of Germany on Boxing Day of 1999. Now, 20 years later, you can still see traces of the damage it did. 
The monument commemorates what was a life-changing event for many people in that area, and has changed the forest in its wake forever. Some say, for the better, because what used to be a strict monoculture of firs has grown to a more varied woodland, which is much healthier than any monoculture.

As you can see, the views were a beautiful combination of land- and sky-scape.

This was close to sunset, almost back at the car:

It was a wonderful start of another year of (hopefully) many more hikes and walks for us.