Monday, September 23, 2013

Food Inspiration to Influence a Novel

Bonn Germany - A city of inspirational food and music

Over the summer, I put a post on noveltravelist describing the trip that inspired my latest novel, Words In The Windowsill. I noted in that post, that writing the novel afforded me the opportunity to revisit my old journals and photos from that trip. Looking back, I quickly realized that along with the history and music which propels the plot of my story, so much of what inspired me had to do with foods of the regions we visited.

So I’d like to share a bit more with you today about Bonn, Germany along with some inspirational foods I ate while there. Some I even tried for the first time on that inspirational journey.

In some cases, connections were made! For instance, my novel takes place in Europe, in countries that have borders that are really close. It was amazing to see similarities to the recipes of my Italian heritage. Although the countries are different and the people speak different languages, some of the recipes are incredibly similar. I am including recipes for some of these as well. They are seriously worth trying!
Beethoven's House

Bonn, Germany was the capitol of Western Germany until 1990. It is the home to major universities and museums as well as Beethoven Haus, the birthplace of master composer, Beethoven. I reference this home quite a bit in my novel. In Bonn, there is a lot to see and do, even if you are not a music buff, as I am.

When I arrived in Germany, I was so bent on
Beethoven's personal pianos!
Oh, the music that emerged from these.
seeing the home of Beethoven I didn’t realize what more there could be to do. I reference Beethoven’s home quite a bit in my novel. The photo to the right, shows two of Beethoven’s piano’s from inside the home. The Beethoven Haus property also features gardens as well as a concert hall. It is glorious! 

Another aspect of Germany which meant a lot to me was the preponderance of musicians and artists in the towns. There were artists painting and selling their work along the streets. 

Street musicians

But while in Bonn, it is also worth noting a small eatery we visited, where rice pudding was served in a little cup with every meal ordered. I wish I could remember the name of the establishment, as I would love to know if it is still in existence.

Anyway, their homemade rice pudding was very creamy and not baked. It reminded me of the rice pudding my Italian Great Aunt Connie made. Growing up, I just assumed that hers was Italian Rice Pudding, but perhaps a better way to refer to it would be European Rice Pudding.

When I returned home, I asked my mother about Aunt Connie’s rice pudding recipe. With the exception of egg, the recipe below is very similar to the one from my family heritage. 
Aunt Connie's Rice Pudding Recipe
And below, is the German one:

Milchreis (German Rice Pudding)


1 cup short grain white rice
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups milk
1 cup cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 inches piece vanilla beans, split open ( or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Directions :
-Mix the rice, sugar and salt in a large saucepan. 

-Stir in the milk and cream, and add the whole piece of vanilla bean. 
-Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring often.
-Reduce heat and simmer the rice for 30 minutes, or until soft and milk/cream mixture becomes thick. 
-Stir often.
-Scratch out vanilla seeds and stir into pudding. Discard vanilla bean pod.
-Serve warm with cinnamon and sugar or fruit compote, or both.

My travel journal with great food notes and restaurant names

Another restaurant we visited in Germany was called “Caroline And Hans”. Here is what I wrote in my journal:

“Today we had some free time in Germany. Jenny and I had lunch at the cutest restaurant called Christine and Hans. The owners were the cooks and servers, and kept bringing out everything on the menu. We had a caraway soup, and zucchini soup, along with several different salads, and a plate of meats and cheeses.”

The service they gave us made a serious impression on me. The foods were absolutely delicious, and served up in a very homey atmosphere with special attention to detail. Christine and Hans were there to cook and serve the food. I got the feeling that the service we received was typical of their everyday business. Christine came out of the kitchen to seat us, and told us about everything on their menu. She told us how everything was prepared. Here are a few recipes that remind me of the foods I ate during my visit to the restaurant.

When writing Words In The Windowsill, I took my experience at Christine and Hans and molded it to create a fictitious youth hostel where the foods are laid out in a comforting way and remind my main character (also named Hans-strictly a coincidence!) of his past.

Try some of these recipes, similar to the ones served up by Christine and Hans:

Caraway Sour Cream Soup (Courtesy Taste Of Home)

8 Servings, Prep/Total Time: 20 min.
2 medium onions, diced
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1/2 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste 

-In a large saucepan, saute onions, celery, carrots and caraway in butter until vegetables are tender. 
-Remove from the heat; stir in flour until well blended. Gradually stir in broth. 
-Return to the heat; bring to a boil. 
-Cook and stir for 2 minutes. 
-Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes. 
-Combine sour cream and milk; add about 1 cup broth mixture. Return all to the pan; heat through (do not boil).
Season with salt and pepper. Yield: 6-8 servings.

German Zucchini Soup (Courtesy of
Serves 3 - 4 


1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. butter
2 onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt or 1/4 tsp. regular salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. black pepper, to taste
2 1/4 c. zucchini, shredded
2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 c. white wine
1/2 c. plain yogurt, preferably high fat
fresh basil, chopped

-Heat thick saucepan over medium-low heat. 
-Melt butter and olive oil in pan. 
-Add onion and sauté. 
-Turn heat down to cook slowly. 
-After 5 minutes, throw in the garlic, salt and pepper. 
-Fry until onion is almost transparent, about 10 minutes. The onion will glisten and look almost soupy.
-Add zucchini and stock. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 12 minutes, uncovered.
-Stir in the wine. 
-Whir it all together with an immersion blender or regular blender until it’s creamy. 
-Return to heat. 
-Stir in yogurt and about half of the basil. 
-Heat gently, but don’t let it boil, for fear it will curdle.

Ladle into serving bowls. Place a few bits of basil on top. Serve.

It has been years since I took that trip. As I was writing Words In The Windowsill, my impressions from that trip came through in the prose. My familial connection to the rice pudding, and the service and homey atmosphere of Christine and Hans show up as I describe the fabled youth hostel and Fiddler’s Inn of my novel’s portrayal of 1820’s Vienna.

My next post will include more connections and findings, but from Vienna, Austria.

I would love to hear from you! How have you been inspired by experiences abroad? How might you use those experiences to craft a novel or story?

Contributor Susan Nystoriak is a music educator and writer from Upstate New York, and is a travel enthusiast. When not teaching her students, she spends time with her family and working on her writing projects. Connect with her on Twitter @smnystoriak, or on the web at


  1. Hi Susan,

    I really love the idea of using regional foods to inspire parts of a novel. Do any of these dishes play a role in your book?

    1. In a manner of speaking, yes. It was the overall feel of Christine and Hans' restaurant that made such a big impression on me, and I tried to capture that feel. At their restaurant, they were all about sharing all of their food with strangers, and my character, Hans is a stranger in a strange land. The inn where he stays in Europe is his "Christine and Hans".