Well, hello friends! I’ve missed writing to you. I’ve missed my ritual of brainstorming recipes, shopping for ingredients, cooking, baking, shooting photos and then writing to you about it. We’ve been in Chicago a little over three weeks now and it still seems like yesterday that we said goodbye to our life in Germany and hello again to our friends and family here at home. We were living in an almost empty house surrounded by stacks of boxes, frantically selling everything we couldn’t take with, basically all of our furniture, appliances, and electronics… all the way down to (and including!) the kitchen sink.
We had such a long list of so many things we needed to take care of in preparation for our move back that it kept us constantly busy and tense, worried that something would be forgotten or go horribly wrong. Everything went as planned and we’re happy to be back near our family and friends but now we have this anxious feeling about starting our next “list”. Finding new jobs, a new apartment, opening a new bank account, locating a good vet, choosing a cell provider, etc… While unpacking my suitcase I found my little notebook with my notes from “A Trip to the Farmer’s Market”, a post I had been working on but never had the chance to share with you, and I thought that it’s still not too late. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. A day at the market – Esslingen Marktplatz
Life here in southern Germany is pleasantly simple. There is a rhythm to life that we never seemed to pick up on in Chicago. The Germans enjoy their routines, and today is one of the twice-weekly market days in Esslingen. I’m standing at the edge of the market square watching the women walk by with their wicker baskets ready to buy their eggs, cheese, meat and produce for the week. Shoppers hover over tables of produce, greeting their favorite sellers and standing shoulder to shoulder, leaving only tiny gaps between them which I squeeze through to grab a few sweet potatoes from a vendor who weighs them in an old copper pail. For a brief moment I’m sure this is all I want but I catch a glimpse of a large, perfectly green head of cabbage that I just can’t pass up, so I buy one. I pack the sweet potatoes and cabbage in my bag as a whiff of fresh bread wafting over from the next stall entices me…
A stop at the local bakery is the typical start to every German’s day. Every morning you can see people walking to their jobs carrying small paper sacks from the bakery, chewing on fresh baked pretzels, pastry, or croissants. Sounds a little weird I know, but I also have a weakness for warm, freshly baked bread. I always end up buying a loaf or two. There are so many kinds of bread here, light, dark, round, oval, long and skinny, short and fat. Baked from a dizzying variety of grains, some of the most popular breakfast breads have pumpkin and sunflower seeds baked in with still more seeds clinging to the crust. We never really settled on one favorite type but it didn’t matter, they were all good. Satisfying rustic loaves that are crunchy on the outside yet tender on the inside. As I grab a stone-oven baguette I gently squeeze the loaf and listen for the crunchy sound it makes. A fresh baguette with a still crunchy crust will have a soft pillow-like texture inside. A few hours after baking the crust absorbs moisture from the interior, giving both the crust and the center a chewy texture, still tasty but past its best. These two particular loaves have passed the test and it takes all I have not to break a piece off as I walk along. A few minutes later I realize I need something to eat with my new bread. Should I find a creamy spread, or some olive oil-soaked sun dried tomatoes, or a soft cheese and some fresh chives… or all the above?
After I buy everything I need, I head to the nearest bakery to grab a bite to eat because my morning at the market has made me hungry. I walk into a little bakery and now it’s decision time. The pastries here in Germany are not quite as sweet as the ones in the States but they are good in their own way. German bakeries take pride in their bread and pastries and sometimes you find a special old bakery where you can peek into the kitchen and see one or two bakers, one of which is probably the owner. The ladies working in the front are normally the wife and relatives of the baker. Admiring the baked goods on display I wonder if I should pick one of my favorites; a light and flaky apfeltasche (apple turnover), a sticky sweet rosinenschnecke (raisin snail!?), or a creamy quarktasche (something like a cottage cheese pocket). Today, the flaky layered croissants catch my eye. Resisting the urge to look up at the row of delicious breads straight ahead, I keep my head bowed and order a croissant and a small coffee because, well, you can never go wrong with a buttery croissant. The outside is golden and flaky, crunchy and tender. It’s wonderful just as I expected.
Sitting by a window I notice a woman across the street opening her shutters, latching them in place on either side of the window, just as she certainly does every morning. I couldn’t handle living that close to a bakery, I just wouldn’t be able to control myself especially in the early morning when the scent of freshly baked breads and pastries are wafting in through the open windows.
I start thinking again of how the pace of life here just makes sense, no hustle and bustle getting from here to there, nobody stressed about schedules and meetings, everyone seems to meander along the cobblestone streets, taking their time to get where they are going. In the afternoon there are families walking along, dad pushing the baby carriage while mom holds the hand of one or two small children while a three year old, fully independent, trails a few feet behind, no need for the plastic wrist leash that seem to be so common here in the States. Two old men are enjoying their lattes with soft pretzels while laughing and people watching. Just then, one of them finishes their latte, and with a long slender spoon scoops up the last of the frothy milk that is left in the bottom of the glass. The slow, leisurely pace of life here is satisfying. Every bit as fulfilling as the noisy life we knew in Chicago.