Aachen means christmas to me

A visit to the Christmas market In Aachen, Germany.

Lebkuchen heart, similar to gingerbread

I went on a day trip to Aachen with my parents, just like we always did when I was growing up.
It was one of the highlights of the year for me when I was a child, I clearly remember sitting in the pushing chair covered with one of those big plastic covers feeling cold but enjoying the christmas lights in the dark.
I recall the cold, my frozen feet and my hands being warmed by a little leftover glühwein my parents allowed me to have. When I started to walk, I remember the large people surrounding me, stepping on my new little boots, and the lebküchen heart I was looking forward to picking out. 
Aachen means christmas to me. The scent of spices and chocolate from fresh lebküchen and the smell of anise from the artisan candy maker. Not a year went by that we didn't visit Aachen in the last two weeks before christmas. It just didn't feel like christmas without it.
My parents always tell me a story of them losing me in a shop and eventually finding me staring at the huge christmas tree in the middle of the store trying to get out one of the balls.

I loved the lights, the cosy feeling of going to the christmas market with my parents and the food.
Oh yes, the food.
When I was five or six I was allowed more sips of the glühwein to keep me warm and had Reibekuchen to warm my hands. I remember my face and hands being all greasy by eating those hashbrown like potato cakes, and sticking my hands in the air so my mother could take the grease away. I was well trained, no way was I going to clean my hands on my new wintercoat!
This year all those memories from my childhood came back to me, my mum and dad indulged me by eating Flammenkuchen for lunch, Lebkuchen whilst walking around Aachen and Reibekuchen after we strolled around the christmas market.
My parents asked me if we needed to go and look for my candied apple and even stopped and offered to buy me a Lebkuchen heart, on days like these I feel that they completely understand my love for food.
Mum and dad smiled all day, even though it was raining all the time. I think they were thinking about our trips to Aachen from the past 20 years too.

When we were leaving the market, I stopped to look at a little girl who was sitting in her pushing chair, protected from the rain by a plastic cover, being fed little pieces of Reibekuchen by her parents. She was sitting cosy but cold enjoying the christmas lights and perhaps she will be allowed a little sip of warming glühwein too.

Reibekuchen, delicious with apple sauce

Fagliolini al Fiasco, beans cooked in a bottle

I'm already dreaming of travelling to Tuscany again...

On our first evening in Tuscany I ate a dish with beans. A friend of our hostess told me that dish was named  "Fagliolini al Fiasco" "beans, cooked in a wine bottle".
He told me this is a dish often sold by bakeries who used the leftover warmth of the bread oven to cook the beans in old Chianty bottles. 
The technique was quite simple, the dried beans are dropped in through the narrow neck of the bottle and just barely covered with water, herbs and olive oil. 
In the old days, the bottle was sealed with a wad of muslin and set in a corner of the fireplace onto the smoldering ashes. While everyone in the house was asleep, the beans cooked. Imagine waking up to that.

This dish is also one of the classic "pane e companatico" which means "Bread and something to go with the bread". That something in was very often these beans.

Traditional little cookies: kruidnoten

The feast of 'Sinterklaas' on December 6

'Sinterklaas' is a traditional Winter holiday figure still celebrated today in Belgium and the Netherlands.
He is an elderly man wit a long full white beard. He carries a big book that tells whether each child has been good or naughty in the past year. He traditionally rides a white gray and delivers the gifts to the children by riding his horse over the rooftops assisted by his helper 'Zwarte Piet' (black Pete)
Parallels have been drawn between the legend of 'Sinterklaas' and the figure of Odin, an important god to the Germanic people and worshiped in North and Western Europe prior to Christianization. 

For Belgian and Dutch children, it is customary to put one shoe in front of the fireplace on the 5th of december. The evening is called ‘Sinterklaasavond’ or ‘Pakjesavond’ (boxing evening).
Carrots, turnips or apples are put in the shoe as a treat for 'Sinterklaas' horse. The next morning the carrot would be gone and the children may find candy or a small present in their shoes.
When I was a child I used to go and choose the best looking carrot and turnip at the market. I always made sure there was a bottle of beer for 'Sinterklaas' helper 'Zwarte Piet'. The next morning, there were chunks bitten out of the carrot and turnip and the beer bottle was empty. How magical!
We all knew there was no Santa but we were firm believers of 'Sinterklaas'. I remember the disappointment I felt when I found out 'Sinterklaas' didn’t exist. I was in bed, trying to stay awake so I could see 'Zwarte Piet' as he came down our chimney. I didn’t see him, I heard my parents whispering about my present and where they were going to put it this year. I was so sad! I didn’t tell my parents "I knew" until the next year when they told me themselves.
In Belgium they say finding out that 'Sinterklaas' doesn't exist is the first disappointment you have in life. After that, you are a big girl or boy.