terça-feira, 31 de agosto de 2010

In a Cathedral state of mind

Nidaros Domen, Trondheim's majestic cathedral. All the Norwegian kings are crowned in Nidaros Domen.

Maybe it is because we live in a town which is marked by the monumental presence of one of Europe oldest medieval cathedral or, maybe, it is just some kind of unconscious way of expressing my appreciation of the religious environment. I must confess that consciously speaking I don't miss any of the religious rituals forced into my life by family traditions which I left behind as soon as I could. Even if I am an atheist, I love cathedrals, their majestic presence, provocative language and powerful symbolism. But I can see through their powerful provocative language, what speaks to me are the amazing strength behind the human beings who gave their lives to design and construct those temples. In the pictures Nidaros Domen, here in Trondheim and two amazing French cathedrals we visited this rainy summer: Notre Dame de Reims or Our Lady of Reims and another Notre Dame, the Strasbourg Cathedral or Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg.

Notre Dame de Reims, the old Cathedral de Saint Remi is a beautiful cathedral, World heritage, but I fell for the Notre Dame in Strasbourg...

I was astonished by the adoration of this old sister in front of the huge cathedral. She sat there, and sat, and sat, for hours observing the grandeur of the medieval architecture. We walked around, got some info from the tourist office and she was still there observing, trying to find some answers, maybe.

The Cathedral of Strasbourg was really beautiful and looked more dramatic during those gray and rainy days of July. The weather didn't help the pictures but the entire visit was really amazing.

quinta-feira, 5 de agosto de 2010

A place called Niedermorschwihr...

There is a small village in France with a very strange name, in South Alsace, the region of the Upper Rhine, located 6km from Colmar and 373km from Paris, which hides a little factory of the most special jams. In this very small French village with the German name Niedermorschwihr is located Au Relais des Trois Epis the jam epicenter of Christine Ferber, France's number one jam master.

Around a corner in the Rue des Trois Epis is located la Maison Ferber a small factory where Christine Ferber produces her famous jams. From Niedermorschwihr her creations win the world in small and medium sized jars, decorated with white and red polka dots fabric, filled with artisanal deliciousness and loaded with France's most profitable creation: terroir.

The flavors of Madame Ferber's jams mix local Alsace fruits, tropical fruits, flowers (most rose and violet), herbs, spices of all sorts, nuts and chocolate. The storeAu Relais des Trois Epis (the only one in the village of Niedermorschwihr by the time I was there) is a mixture of bakery, delicatessen, bookstore and grocery market and it offers a little bit of everything, to please both the tourist and the locals of Niedermorschwihr: fruits, cakes, tarts, biscuits, cheese, charcuterie d'Alsace, bien sur, fresh fruits, Ferber's entire book collection, Alsatian pottery pots, detergents and commercial soap. The large selection of jams which fills the shelves which take an entire wall of the small shop is the main attraction to foreign visitors who come from everywhere in the world.

At a certain distance from the place we could already feel the strong aromas of jam in the making in the air. Per was the first to notice it. How much I wish my house could smell that way and I really wished I could master the art of jam making, just like Pete and Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. OK, my jams are pretty good, I must admit without embarrassment, but I must learn to experiment more, I need to learn some more about the chemistry of preserving, to be more aware of the limits of sugar, acid juices and pectin in the fruit soup. For that reason I pushed my Per Niedermorschwihr to visit Madame Ferber's relais.

I was not planning to leave the place empty handed and it would not have been possible at all. We bought five jars of jam, some bread and some meringue. We bought two jars to offer as gifts to my in laws: a seedless Raspberry jam (Framboise d'Alsace) and Black Cherry (Cerises Noir d'Alsace). I picked two for me: Strawberry and Mango (Fraises d'Alsace et mangues) and Rapsberry, green apples and pistachio (Framboises d'Alsace, Pommer Verts et Pistaches) and Per picked a jar for him: Blackcurrant, apple and violet (Cassis, pommes et violette). It was pretty difficult to choose the flavors and up to the last minute I was changing the flavors. I could have bought more jars but what I was looking for was some inspiration to work and create with my the fruits from my own garden this year.

The Strawberry and mango jam (Fraises D'Alsace et mangue) should have been called Mango and Strawberry jam as the mango is the dominant not only in flavor but in texture of the jam is that of the mango pulp. The flavor is perfect, intense, mild, perfect amount of sugar, not acid at all and the perfect presence of the strawberry on the back of the mixture. No seed, no pieces, no strings nothing to distract the most amazing taste. I would never have made jam with mango and strawberries as in Brazil, where I grew up, the season for best mangoes doesn't coincide with that for the best strawberries, which is concentrated in winter months. It is a foreigner thing though, when one is dealing with imported fresh or frozen mangoes one is able to create perfect mixtures using these adorable fruits and create amazing jams. Oh, how much I wish I had bought two jars of this jam instead...

As soon as I am able to put my hands on some well ripen mangoes, I will try to make my own version of this jam to which I hope will be adding some amazingly perfect Norwegian strawberries. However, if you have access to some good and ripe mangoes make your own version of this jam now, you won't regret this mixture. Don't forget to add some terroir (from your mangoes or your strawberries or even your sugar) to you jam too, the origin of the produce is definitely part of the magical result, don't you think?

If one of these days you find yourself wandering around Alsace, try to find the way that takes you to Niedermorschwihr and the Au Relais des Trois Epis, you won't regret...

Christine Ferber's Au Relais des Trois Epis

18, Rue des Trois Epis
68230 Niedermorschwihr

segunda-feira, 2 de agosto de 2010

A place called Hirtshals...

(The lighthouse, the trademark of Hirtshals, Jutland, North Denmark)

For our summer vacation this year Per and I decided to take a road trip into the European continent and the trip was totally amazing, exhausting, but really great. It was an adult trip and we were on our own for ten days, circulating around some very special corners of this old continent.

First I must confess that it was not easy to have fun without our kids, we missed them so much that I dare to say it is almost boring to live without the kids. For this adult trip we prioritized some small villages and towns of Central Europe and tried hard to keep the big towns at a good distance. We wanted peace and quite, what doesn't mean that we were able to keep ourselves completely away from the cities of Europe. Not at all! Specially because Amsterdam was an obligatory stop in our journey, the not so great part of the trip I must confess...

The highlights of our trip:

* The experience to travel with our own car to distant and different countries was amazing, it was all so comfortable and exciting, we loved it. It was an extra fun to put our car on ferries and boats to cross some seas around Europe.

* Arriving by land is just fantastic, it offers the traveler a totally different perspective of the place, the arrival takes place slowing and continuously while we can take our time to see whatever pleases us more, to find our own way into the country, to identify things and slowly connect with the place where we are. I just loved the whole driving experience...

* We traveled with Bob, our friend GPS without whom this car trip would not have been possible.

* We crossed six countries (Norway not included in this account) and we fell completely in love with Switzerland, specially the cantons of Fribourg, Neuchâtel and Bern. We drove thousands of kilometers to get to Switzerland where we had "deposit" our highest expectations in this trip and the country didn't disappoint. I definitely must come back with a post exclusively about Switzerland.

* But before that I want to write about something else. About my certainty that the best travels are made out of unexpected situations and this trip wasn't different. We didn't plan it but we ended our trip in Denmark. This country was not in our map this time and do you want know something ? We loved it...

(Beach in front of the camping site in Hirtshals, North of Jutland, Denmark)

* Hirtshals in Denmark was definitely an amazing surprise and it turned out to be one of our favorite places in this trip. It was a totally unexpected place. I am more, and more, convinced that some of the most amazing things happen when we lower our expectations or, better, when we are able to just go through life without any expectations at all. Let me explain.

* As I mentioned before, we did not plan to cross the entire Jylland in Norwegian or Jutland in English by car to get to Hirtshals. It all happened after Estela's arrival was delayed and we had to stay some extra days in Amsterdam. The unexpected delay forced us to change our trip plans since we would not have time enough to get the boat from Kiel (Germany) to Oslo, the boat we had booked and paid for some months in advance. Isn't it amazing how things happen?

(Per was really brave to step his feet in the cold waters of the North Sea!)

* Once we found ourselves "boatless", we were forced to find another route to get home from The Netherlands. We immediately rushed and booked places in the ferry between Hirtshals and Larvik, South of Oslo because it was the only boat with places available in the midst of the high summer season. It turned out that our new slightly longer trip became a more beautiful and pleasurable one, as we definitely enjoyed our days driving around the Jutland.

* Once we got to Hirtshals we immediately fell forthe place and its amazing camping site. Located in front of one of the most amazing sandy beach on the North Sea, the camping is located literally below the lighthouse, a trademark of the small village.

* The entire North coast of Denmark is surrounded by beautiful, endless sandy beaches which includes the coast of Hirtshals, Skagen and Frederikshavn, some of the Northernmost towns on the Danish territory.

(The delicious little museum where a visit offers you the chance to enjoy a fish meal served by voluntary senior citizens happy to receive their guests in the garden of the museum).

* Life in this small town goes around the port, the fishing industry and tourism. Who needs more? The front of the small museum exhibit a line of salted fish hanged there to dry on the wind, reminding the visitors where we are...

(Estela accompanied us the last days of our trip and I believe she had a lot of fun exploring the area outside the camping site in Hirtshals).
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