Brezel or Pretzel? I will take two!

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would have fallen in love with Germany. It truly was never on my radar of must see places. So, why is that? I truly have no idea but thank goodness I have always been up for an adventure and ready to travel to any new destination. The recommendation actually came from a Dublin tour guide at Trinity College giving us an inside look at the Book of Kells. She raved about her Rhine Getaway on a Viking River Cruise. Immediately, I looked them up and began planning our next adventure. We traveled from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland along the enchanted Rhine. I was excited and eager to see the new sites but truly had no inkling how beautiful and mesmerizing Germany would be.

We had many stops along our journey throughout the cruise but I fell in love with Heidelberg. We went in late November (our anniversary time) and the Christmas markets where in every little town. I absolutely loved it. I mean it is like the Kentucky State Fair and Ham Festival (my home town festival), food, and crafts all in the spirit of good ole’ St. Nick or for some Grumpus. The smells of fresh bretzels (pretzels – I just taught you some German) Bratwurst, Kolch bier (beer – German Kolch has four ingredients only water, yeast, hops and barley), Gluhwein (spiced wine), and other delicacies were this country girls dream.

We started this day’s adventure docking in Heidelberg. It is a beautiful city along the river with its iconic red sandstone. The Old Town of Heidelberg starts from Sophienstrasse Street and brings you to Heidelberg castle. In the middle there is the Heidelberg University (the oldest university in Germany), the main shopping street (Hauptstrasse – this is where all the vendors were located at and the main Christmas decorations) and it includes to famous Karl-Theodor-Bridge|the Old bridge|the baboon bridge.

Several folks know of my love for National Lampoons Vacation with Chevy Chase. Do you remember in the Christmas vacation movie, Clark is drinking eggnog from his moose cups with Cousin Eddy? Now focus on the Christmas decorations – the windmill, wooden thing sitting on the sofa table. Eddy in all his glory attempts to spin the windmill and all of the wooden pieces fall down. Well did you know it is actually one of the first types of Christmas trees. This type of pyramid shape with the windmill on top was for a purpose. They would decorate the five levels with small wooden figurines and place candles on the outside. The smoke (rising heat) from the candles would cause the windmill to spin giving a carousel type of feel to the tree. When we saw this in Old Town Heidelberg, I immediately thought of Cousin Eddy and did not get too close to it for fear of destroying it..

We toured Heidelberg Castle which was nice and was even visited by our very own Mark Twain many years ago. The gardens were immaculate and the views over the city were breathtaking but what I loved most was the world’s largest vat of wine. Yes, the world’s largest at the castle nonetheless. Once, we went to Henry VIII’s Hampton Castle and I thought there was some cool wine storage areas there and of course Henry’s fountain of wine but nothing on this one! The Heidelberg Tun holds over 58,000 gallons of wine – 58,000! I got to sample some wonderful red wine from the Baden wine region. And chocolate too – heaven!

To bring a little bit of Germany here to Kentucky (cause we can’t be doing that) during our extended Covid-19 isolation, the girls and I used my sourdough starter to make pretzels. If you do not have a starter, you can create your own, buy a starter kit for as little as $8.95 on Amazon, or find a friend who will share 1 cup with you.

Viking Bragi – Our wonderful waiter bringing me an entire stand of pretzels!!!!

Sourdough Pretzels from A Chick in Her Garden is the perfect way to capitalize on the starter and to have loads of fun with your kiddos. So check out her website!

Sourdough Pretzels from A Chick in Her Garden

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 4-5 cups flour (I use unbleached, all-purpose)
  • 1 Tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • Sea/Kosher Salt for sprinkling
  1. Melt and dissolve butter and sugar with hot water in a mixing bowl. 
  2. When the butter and sugar are dissolved, add your sourdough starter.
  3. Gradually mix in 3-4 cups of flour.
  4. Turn out onto a well floured surface.
  5. Knead in the flour and continue adding flour until you have a firm ball of dough.
  6. Place the dough in a well greased bowl.
  7. Put the bowl in a warm place and allow it to rise for 2 hours.
  8. After the dough has risen, punch the dough down and turn it back out onto a floured surface.
  9. Knead a few times, (punch it too for good measure) and roll out into a log.
  10. Cut into 16 equal pieces.
  11. Roll each piece out (“like playdough snakes”) and tie into a pretzel shape.
  12. Boil a pot of water and add remaining sugar and baking soda.
  13. Poach each pretzel for about 1 minute. I was able to fit 3-4 in the pot at a time.
  14. Remove from the water to a wire rack to drain.
  15. Brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with salt.

Preheat the oven to 450°F

  1. Bake for 15 minutes.
  2. Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice.

This was a huge success and the girls loved it! They especially liked playing in the flour and then eating the pretzels! This made quite a bit so we laid the cooked pretzel on a flat tray in the freezer for about 30 minutes, then I placed them in a freezer bag for another day! Hope you enjoy our adventure to Heidelberg, Germany and some fresh bretzels from our kitchen to yours.

If you haven’t liked the blog, please do so for the latest travel and cooking adventures. Farewell or Abscheid!

No place like home for the holidays – Maw’s classic Sweet potato casserole

December 27th was my grandmother’s birthday. We affectionately called her Maw primarily because my brother (the oldest) named her that. My paternal grandmother was my only living grandparent and I was blessed to have her in my life. Now let me tell you about my not so typical grandmother. I use to dream of a grandmother who would bake you cookies, have sleep overs, and essentially spoil you rotten. I was completely envious of friends and cousins whose grandmother did those things. However, in my forties and especially today, I see what she did leave me and the rest of her grandchildren. GRIT. Pure 100% determination to survive. You see my grandmother was born in 1932 during the great depression. Her father lived in a community called Golden Pond, Kentucky. Golden Pond is one of those communities that unfortunately no longer exist. A piece of land between the Cumberland and Tennessee River, Golden Pond was a hot spot for government, electricity, and moonshine. Even Al Capone liked my hometown’s moonshine. When the Tennessee Valley Authority came into western Kentucky to build a dam for rural electrification, thousands of people lost their home to the construction and modernization. Jolly Jones, my great grandfather and many others, were forced to leave and create a new home. Growing up during the depression, my grandmother was resourceful. She could cook, sew, can vegetables, and loved taking care of animals. Her life was not easy.

Golden Pond, Kentucky
My aunt and grandmother

She fell in love with a man who was older, divorced, and had a child. In 1950, falling in love and marrying a man that was 12 years older than you was the talk of the town. She shouldered the stigma and married the talented, musician. My grandfather could build anything, in fact I got married in the chapel that he had built. He could play any instrument and had an ear for music. He played with the famous, Boots Randolph (also from my hometown). Boots was known for playing the saxophone and trombone. I am guessing some of you are wondering if you have ever heard of his work. I bet you have in fact, I bet you heard it recently. Rocking around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee or Turn on your Love Light by Jerry Lee Lewis? Maybe, you’ve heard of ELVIS!! Look him up – trust me. My grandfather would play with him but his love of alcohol killed any dreams he had of being in the spotlight. My grandmother keep things going by working at the sowing factory or any where she could while starting their family. They had four children (two red-heads) and battled poverty and alcoholism. They moved to Texas for a new start and yet alcohol still found them, so they moved back. One son was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A cattle stealing ring was going on throughout Kentucky and Tennessee. My uncle was squirrel hunting and ran up on the incident. He was shot and died at the age of 12. My grandfather hit the bottle even harder coping with the loss of his youngest boy. And in the early 1970’s, he came home yet again drunk, angry, and with a gun for the final time. My grandmother suffered, lost more than I can imagine, and yet continued. Maw persevered and started going to school at night while the youngest (my aunt) was still at home and in high school. She worked weekends at a local nursing home to make ends meet but finally received her LPN degree. She worked hard and became a nurse at the penitentiary. Yes, you heard me – my grandmother was a nurse with the worst kind of criminals. She retired from the state penitentiary after working over two decades there. So no, she did not bake cookies nor knit me a sweater. She did not coddle me in fact she was tough on me.

My brother’s wedding 1996

So on her birthday, I want to pass on to my girls grit, perseverance, and pure determination. Life is tough. It does not always deal you the best hand. Get up. Keep trying. Never let someone tell you no. If you have a will there is a way. She worked – she did not let folks give her a handout and do nothing. She fought for her kids. We not only share a middle name but she gave me the resiliency to never give up. For that, I am eternally grateful. Happy Heavenly Birthday Maw – I love you.

One dish she made year after year for the holidays was sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. My absolute favorite. You can add nuts, slice and dice but to me – sweet potato casserole must have roasted marshmallows or it’s an imposter.

Sweet Potato Casserole

4-6 medium sized sweet potatoes, washed, peeled, and sliced

1/2 stick of butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla (pure)

2 Tbsp sweet condensed milk

1 Tsp cinnamon

1 bag of medium size marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray non-stick cooking spray in a 9×13 dish. Wash, peel, and slice or cube your potatoes. Boil your potatoes until fork tender. Add butter, sugar, vanilla, condensed milk and cinnamon. Mash or use an emulsifier to puree the mixture. Place the mashed potatoes in the 9×13 dish and top with marshmallows. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. If you like a like bit more roasting, quickly broil on high for 1 minute. This will yield a bit of summer burnt marshmallow for you!!!

Sweet potato casserole

As I close on what would have been my grandmother’s 87th birthday, I leave you with not only my favorite dish of hers but more. I ask that you see people for more than just their clothes and money. See her. See what she survived, what she did, and the difference she made. Her story is worth telling. Her story made me me. Eat, live, and fight for the life you desire. Never let circumstances dictate you. Cheers to a New Year!

Happy Holidays to you!