Unique Chateau in Alsace, France

Near the Eastern France/Germany border, the region of Alsace is a unique mix of French and German culture. Over the region’s long and storied history, ownership of this region has passed back and forth between the two countries time and again, resulting in shared influences on the cuisine, language and culture of the area.

The Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg is perched on a mountain near the town of Orschwiller, and is a fascinating look into the region’s past. Originally built in the 12th century, the castle and grounds were intended as a fortress in a strategic location perfect for watching all the main roads in the area. Defensive structures were added when the castle was rebuilt after the original was destroyed in 1462. Unfortunately, the castle was again destroyed in 1633 and sat in ruins for two hundred years, until Germany took ownership of the region again and the town transferred the property to Kaiser Wilhelm II, who restored the castle to its former glory.

Since 1908, when restoration was completed, the Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg has looked down over the Alsace plain, first as an estate of the Kaiser, then as a French national historic site.

On the day we visited, the mountain was foggy, with snow in the air. We were practically the only visitors, and got to take in the unique perspective of the castle in winter. It was easy to imagine how isolated, and yet how cozy and secure this chateau would have been in the colder months of the year. As with any castle fortress, there is an exterior “village” area where the workers (blacksmiths, coopers, farriers, etc.) would have plied their trades, then an interior keep where the family would have had their living quarters. Drawbridges and heavy doors separate the interior living quarters from gardens, pens for animals and the like. A small chapel, an armory and a room full of hunting trophies are highlights of the grounds tour.

At the conclusion of the grounds tour, there is a restaurant featuring delicious local fare, such as quiche Lorraine and blueberry tarts. In addition, a gift shop offers souvenirs related to the castle and general historical items. I picked up a medieval cookery/receipt book and some souvenirs for the kids.

The Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg is convenient to other Alsatien towns. We stayed in Colmar, but Strasbourg is only about 50 minutes away if that’s your home base in Alsace. Our visit was in early November, which is a great time to visit and avoid the crowds if you don’t mind a little cold.

 

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Warming Winter Tea

This quick blend will transform your tea into a winter-spiced pot of comfort. Slice an orange in half and squeeze a bit of the juice into your teapot. Dice the remaining pieces and drop them into the pot. Add in two tablespoons of star anise, a couple of cinnamon sticks and two tablespoons of grated fresh ginger. Steep the mix along with a pot of black tea and enjoy this delicious, winter-spiced tea!

Slow Cooker Cuban Beef

The trick to this delicious dish is a quick sear on both sides of your beef roast. Paired with rice and black beans, it’s a hearty, cold weather meal the whole family will enjoy.

Sizzle some diced garlic in about a tablespoon of oil, then sear your beef roast on both sides for about five minutes a side. Next, drop it into your slow cooker and add 2 cans of tomato sauce, 1 medium diced green pepper, 1 medium diced onion, 1 small can chopped green chiles, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook on low for eight hours.

About thirty minutes before the meat is done cooking, you can start the rice. Next, heat a tablespoon of oil and saute a medium red onion and 4 cloves of diced garlic. Add in two cans of black beans and a cup of warm water and bring to a boil, then turn the heat back down to a simmer. Add your spices:  1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder. When you’re ready to serve, dice some cilantro to sprinkle over and slice some fresh limes to squeeze on top.

By now, your beef should be soft and tender. Shred it and serve the meat with the rice and beans. You can also do like I did and pack it for lunches for the week!

 

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Welcome 2018!

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

2017 ended with hosting a family holiday get-together in our new home, visiting my parents in their new home and watching the ball drop with our kids at home, ringing in 2018 with the people I love the most. 2017 was full of much transition – we moved into a new home, my oldest two kids left elementary school and moved on to middle school and my parents bought a new home. 2017 held much ugliness on the national stage. It beat down all of us who are dreamers and hopers and optimists. But the year ahead is a blank book waiting to be written, a plot of soil waiting to be planted.

In 2018, may we all sow seeds of all the things we’d like to see bloom in our world: love, compassion, empathy, diversity, knowledge. May we leave behind the ugliness and the division and the hate and the pessimism and bring our renewed hopes into this New Year.

This year, I will stand up for myself, for those I love, and for those who are marginalized. I will confront ignorance and hatred with as much grace as I can muster, and I will not be afraid to say no to things that do not serve my highest good. I will let go of those people and situations that need to be left behind. And I will be open to the magic of this world, and when I need to, I will create my own.

I wish you all a wonderful 2018.