Scenes from the Christmas Markets

We’ve spent more time out and about among Regensburg’s Christmas markets, since we didn’t hightail it to Turkey, Mexico, Romania, Hamburg or London this year during Advent. If I had my druthers, we’d get the occasional dusting of snow to pretty up the atmosphere a little — years past have been more generous with the picturesque precipitation.

If it just gets too cold, head indoors. We discovered Café Lila, just off Haidplatz, has glorious Einspänner.

Raise a glass…or five

This past weekend we had a really nice time with some local pals at our place. We invited a mix of natives and transplants, but most of the natives already had other plans (note to selves: a mid-December gathering requires 4+ weeks lead time).

We told everyone we need help drinking all that wine we brought back from the Chianti and Veneto regions of Italy, but that was just a clever ruse to bring some friends together. Thankfully, no one brought wine, and our stock was reduced by about half.

Nikolaus brought me a new lens for my E-PL2 and the f/1.7 aperture was fast enough to mostly not need a flash. I’m kind of fascinated by the moody depth-of-field side effect, and from the looks of it, lots of attendees were.

Bacon Leek Risotto

We’ve been experimenting with risotto lately. Now that I’m an avowed maker of my own stocks, I occasionally have more than I can store and risotto is a great way to use up 4-6 cups at a time. Plus, the ritual of adding the broth and stirring is strangely relaxing. We stocked up on Arborio and Carnaroli rice on our road trip to Italy, so we’ve got plenty of risotto ingredients. This recipe from the (adorably named) blog Rootie Tootie Fresh & Foodie has been a go-to of ours for a while now.

5 c chicken broth
1 T olive oil
6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 leeks, sliced into rounds
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 c Arborio rice
3/4 c dry white wine
3 T chopped parsley (plus more for topping)
1 T butter
2 T parmesan cheese, grated (plus more for topping)

Bring broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan and cover to keep warm.

Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until edges are beginning to crisp. Remove bacon drippings except for 1 tablespoon and add leeks to skillet. Stir leeks frequently (if pan seems dry, add a little more olive oil) until beginning to soften. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 minutes.

Add rice to skillet, stir well until all grains are glossy, about 2 minutes. Add wine to skillet and stir until absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth (about 1 ladle-full) to skillet and stir constantly. When most of the broth is absorbed, add another 1/2 cup and repeat this process (always stirring) until rice is tender but firm to bite and sauce is creamy – about 20-25 minutes.

When you’re happy with the texture, add the parsley, butter and cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and remove from heat. Allow risotto to stand for 1-2 minutes before serving.

Regensburg Christmas Market Opening Hours 2011

Public Service Announcement: Regensburg Christmas Market Opening Hours 2011 are shorter than in previous years — don’t let this ruin your holiday evening plans!

  • The big market on Neupfarrplatz, closes at just 20:00 Sunday through Wednesday or 21:00 Thursday through Saturday until December 23.
  • The Lucreziamarkt, with its artisan goods and small musical stage split between Kohlenmarkt and Haidplatz, closes at just 20:00 every night until December 23.
  • At least the Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt on the local palace grounds is open later: until 22:00 Sunday through Wednesday and 23:00 Thursday through Saturday. Of course, you have to pay a fee to get in there, but it’s worth it in our opinion: they do a great job of setting the mood with old-fashioned food, drink, and music offerings. Our tip: visit the markets without admission fees first and stop by the palace for a romantischer visit after 20:00 (21:00 on Friday and Saturday), in which case the price of admission is drastically reduced.
  • The Katharinenspital market — not open every day! — mostly afternoons and evenings through December 23 — is still pretty new (this is only its second year). It’s normally a popular Biergarten on the North bank of the Danube, but there’s a small petting zoo there now along with the usual crafts and eats. Wednesday and Thursday: 16:00-22:00, Friday 14:00-22:00, Saturday 11:00-22:00, Sunday 11:00-20:00

If you can navigate the events calendar on, you might already know this. But we have a feeling lots of folks visiting this year will be caught by surprise having a nice long, warm, indoor restaurant meal and still expecting plenty of merriment outside with a little Glühwein dessert. We were dismayed to find it had all shut down by the time we were ready to roll!

Italian Road Trip: Part Six, Roncade and the drive back

This is the sixth and final part of our road trip through northern and central Italy in mid-November, 2011. See Parts One, Two, Three, Four and Five to catch up from the beginning.

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Arriving at Castello di Roncade was, thankfully, much easier than all the rest of the places we stayed combined, and multiplied by ten. Look how easy it was to park!

Sarah picked this place for us to stay because it was an apartment — not just a hotel room — in the right price range and the right part of the country. We’d changed plans with not much notice; the last leg of the trip was intended for the Cinque Terre region, but the floods there put us off that idea and so we ended up in Ravenna and Veneto on our last two days. Thus we didn’t know anything about this place upon arrival. For example, that

  • It’s a castle.
  • And a winery.
  • Owned by nobility.
  • It’s so darn pretty there.

When knocked on the door to the office to announce our presence, an older gentleman kind of abruptly showed us to our apartment, insisted we’d be staying more than just one night, until he asked us our name and checked his records and realized he’d confused us with someone else. Then he instructed us to go visit his wine shop. We started unpacking the car and saw him pedal off on a tiny bicycle in the direction of town.

Our curiosity piqued, we moseyed across the grounds from the apartments to the wine shop and learned a little about the history of the noble family, the castle, the vines from the salesman and suddenly realized that we’d been dealing with the Baron. Taking advantage of the slow season, we got as many details about the cultivation and production process of the wine as we wanted, all while sampling away. We resolved to purchase 3 different sorts of reds:

And our helpful, friendly wine guy then offered an impromptu (and free!) tour of the wine production center — the vineyards, fermentation vats, oak aging barrels, bottling machines, the works. We were wowed by the process, equipment, and history, and that put us in a hungry mood for our last evening meal in Italy on this trip.

Next time, I’d like to develop more language chops before we head off on a week’s journey through a region. We needed mostly no help, restaurant-wise, but even those situations weren’t fool Cliff-proof. On our last evening in Italy, we followed the our host the Baron’s recommendation for a stroll into Roncade’s center to eat at La Rocca. I decided, since I was hungry and it was our last night, to follow the Primi/Secondi dinner courses, and I saw an offering for local-style sausage and polenta…and [Italian word outside my limited vocabulary]. “Hmm,” I thought, “I don’t know what those are, but I know I’ll like the sausage and polenta, so why not? It’s probably some kind of grilled vegetable nicely complimenting the sausage, which is nice, because you don’t get a whole lot of vegetables when you order just primi (starches like pasta and rice) and secondi (meats).”

Those unknown menu items? They were ribs. I seem to recall from our road trip to Croatia and back through Udine that our pals at This International Life have a book specifically about Italian regional cuisine terms — would you guys care to share the title/author with us in the comments?

After a pleasant breakfast in the Castello’s kitchen the next morning, we bid the Baron and the winery staff arrivederci and set out on the road back to Regensburg. We were driving the toll roads, mostly, in order to get our rental car back on time. However, a secondary (secondo?!) objective (obiettivo?!) was to stop at an Iper or IperCoop or perhaps a CarreFour and stock up on groceries. But from the toll roads, this is not easy. You see a suitable market from the highway and then have to figure out how to get there on your own. Our GPS was worthless for seeking out supermarkets on the fly. After a couple attempts in different cities along route home, we nearly gave up, but the third time (near Vicenza) was a charm, and we put our cooler and ice packs (thanks to Castello’s apartment freezer) to good use keeping our newly acquired cheeses and a few meats cool until ready for our deep freezer. Those supermarkets also offer excellent, cheap lunch items: arancini, pizza, grilled vegetables and plenty of other prepared dishes to go or for consumption on premises.

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So, that was our Italian road trip. I’d say we enjoyed it much more than previous experiences would have led us to believe. Some bullet points:

    Favorite parts of the trip:

  • Driving through Chianti
  • Impromptu wine tasting (good thing we were done driving for the day…)
  • How kind and accommodating people were with our attempts at Italian
    Lessons learned:

  • Try not to blow fuses, but if you’re going to do it, do it where the staff is energetically helpful, like at La Reunion in Ravenna, and have that travel flashlight handy
  • the street signs don’t agree with directions don’t agree with maps — be prepared
  • ask hotels where to park before you get there, and don’t forget to bring all that helpful info you printed out to paper with you
    Stuff we’d do differently / on the list for next time:

  • Keep going further south, or maybe start with a flight in and drive from there (if we can bear to not schlep home a carfull of groceries, that is)
  • Bring friends
  • Make a mix CD, or make sure the rental car’ll take audio in out of an iPod