This Tender Story is Damp and Chicken-Flecked

Last night, in Hamburg, the German and I invited our new friend Enno over for dinner. He said yes, we said great, and then we looked at the clock and thought ‘I hope he really likes peanut butter and honey on frozen tortillas, because that’s what he’s getting.’ I made a run downstairs to the corner store to find a banana to put on the peanut mantequilla-dilla, and found, to my utter surprise, that the corner store/greengrocer has a tiny little meat counter in the back room! The meat counter sold lamb, lamb, and chicken*. I bought some rosemary, some fresh garlic, a few lemons, artichokes, a huge sweet potato, and a small leg of lamb that turned out to be a shoulder. Hurrah, late night greengrocer/corner store! If you sell me these items at 7:30 Saturday evening, maybe I should quit bitching about how you’re not open on Sunday!
For dinner, we had:
Steamed artichokes, to tide us over until the real food,
Roasted limb of lamb with salt/pepper/rosemary crust,
Two heads fresh garlic and one head dried, baked in olive oil until dark gold (the dried garlic was better – sweeter, but I got the fresh garlic to stand up to lamb,)
Sweet potato mashed with butter, dried ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, lots of black pepper and some lemon juice (I was trying to go for North African flavors here in case the lamb was really strong, to make it seem as if the extra-muttony flavor was on purpose,)
Finely chopped parsley mixed with lemon zest for sprinkling on the lamb if it was too lamby.

I was obviously concerned about gaminess, thinking that the lamb may have taken a few wrong turns before ending up as back-room corner store surprise-butcher-counter lamb, but I needn’t have been: it was flavorful without being goaty, and relatively tender even though I roasted it at a hunger-induced 400 degrees. The other reason that I shouldn’t have worried: the German and Enno (also German,) were talking about strong cheeses while the lamb was in the oven. The German said that he liked cheeses that had a stink, and Enno agreed, saying that stinky cheese was better than boring cheese just like muttony lamb was better than bland.
I don’t know that I agree with either of them, but I appreciate their perspective. Note to self – don’t ask if the stronger-is-better concept translates to fish…

*the meat counter also sold chicken, but the system for paying for it involves passing money over the gore-speckled counter to the butcher, who makes change out of a relatively bloody cash register. Chicken isn’t that good to begin with; limp, chicken-smelling money puts me off the concept entirely.

Sometimes I miss Whole Foods, and sometimes I definitely don’t. My groceries, including back room lamb shoulder, cost eleven Euro and fed three hungry people. Check out this entry from the Whole Foods blog, where they describe flying food from Iceland to the US and call it sustainable. It’s called ‘The Tender Story of Icelandic Lamb.‘ I haven’t been able to stop laughing long enough to watch the attendant video, but let me know, won’t you, which of the following it inspired?
Today’s Game: This Video Makes Me Want to _______, Tenderly
how to play: watch the Tender Lamb video (above), then pick one or more of the following options as your response.
a.) watch the video again, but with Icelandic death metal drowning out the narration,
b.) Google pictures of lottery winners, compare their faces to those of the lamb farmers,
c.) slap someone in the face with wet chicken money,
d.) pay $18.99 per pound for lamb.

What’s a Handgepäck?

Absurd Items I Have Packed in My Checked Baggage:
• Prescription glasses
• House keys
• German cell phone
• Contact lens solution
• Two jars of green Chile sauce; insufficiently wrapped
• Electric converters; US–>German and German–>US
• Work camera, microphone, headset for VOIP communications

So here I am in the Zurich airport, one eye swollen nearly shut in protest after it was abortively stabbed with a slightly crispy contact lens (the solution drained out of the lens case during the overnight flight, rendering my toothbrush plump and presumably disinfected but leaving husks where contact lenses used to be,) squinting at the Departure/Customs/Toiletten/Lounge signs which are trying to tell me to rush to gate A64 to wait for another delayed flight. When I arrive at the Hamburg airport, I will take a taxi to my locked apartment, where I will patiently wait in the stairwell for the German to get home and let me in. He will wonder why I haven’t called (cell phone in luggage in Switzerland) or texted (too cheap to use the American cell phone I have with me,) or emailed (battery dead on my US computer.) I will then attempt to join an important conference call without the benefit of devices to help me hear, speak, or be seen. I will watch my co-workers gesture on my computer screen through my one good eye, wondering when my suitcase, filled with green Chile-contact lens solution-electronics-house key-glasses soup, will arrive.

For the record, I do have the following with me:
• Stubs of boarding passes for the last umpteen flights, crushed together into one overflowing jacket pocket,
• Fake German passport (surprise! It’s a cleverly disguised notebook. So handy!)
• Single serving Metamucil packets, orange flavor, leaking grit slowly into the corners of my purse,
• One pen, devoid of ink,
• Six tubes of lip stuff,
• Several kinds of bizarrely flavored gum (rhubarb, cassis mint, etc.)
• Passport, cash, credit card, and a few other things (e.g. very adult-looking beige scarf,) meant to reassure me (and customs agents,) that I am responsible enough to travel by myself.

After Eight Mints on the Night Flight, I am…

It’s foggy out, or maybe just grey, and I’m in a deserted airport lounge where the kind but formal staff, it seems, can literally speak any language they are presented with. I’ve missed my connection (or it missed me,) and I have three hours to kill before the next flight to Hamburg. Let’s play
Where’s the Betster?
How to play: I will tell you the food items that I see around me. You tell me where the hell I am.
• Bowl of fruit. No exotic fruit, just the usual selection of banana/apple/tangerine, but they are remarkably fresh-looking and ripe.
• Impeccably shiny DIY espresso machine – the one where you use the touch-screen to order a cappuccino, put your cup under the spout and think, ‘this better be better than gas station coffee,’ before realizing that the coffee smells delicious. The cappuccino comes out in a glorious cloud of steam, and its perfect head of foam seems to warrant using a saucer and tiny spoon.
• After saucering and spooning my coffee, I look over to the right and see two options for the little packaged treat that is served with espresso drinks in [the continent where I am right now]. The two options: mini kägi-fretli (a chocolate wafer cookie,) and mini toblerone (pretty much the cutest little do-right chocolate pyramid ever. How can something so small and chocolaty take itself so seriously? Mini toblerone must be the official chocolate of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – it has just the same red in the lettering, and, like the Mounties, seems to value good manners, correct posture, and rule-following in equal measure.)
• There is a wall of bottles of liquor, two types of red wine, one chilled white and one sparkling wine. These are all self-serve; the size of the available glassware suggests that restraint is absolutely expected.
• The juice options are: grapefruit, or a pre-mixed 60% apple/40% sparkling water.
• There are three kinds of bottled water available: still, mineral, and soda water. The only other patron here just took a really long time deliberating over these options.
• There are SIX kinds of little packaged cheese triangles – like laughing cow, but a local brand. The one I ate had ham pieces in it, which is the best idea ever: ham and cheese sandwich without the boring dry bread, packaged so that I can covertly grab a handful to put in my pocket for later? Yes, please!
• Three kinds of yoghurt are available, and four flavors of muesli. I haven’t tried any yet, but they appear to be of the you-can-eat-all-the-chocolate-you-want-once-you-choke-down-this-healthy-shit variety.
• Oh! The fancy espresso machine just went on a self-cleaning cycle. It’s like a steam monster!
• There are three kinds of butter for the yawn-flavored bread.
OK, did you get it? A place where butter and water options are deliberated, and where the chocolate takes itself seriously? Where even the coffee machine adheres to a precise schedule? I would tell you that there are teeny-tiny bowls here next to a large jar of gummi bears, but that seems like a red herring*. This game would be a lot easier if I could find some cheese here with holes in it. Let’s drop this subject, and move on to helping me figure out how I’m going to explain to my German dry cleaner the ham-and-cheesy mess I’ve just found in my pockets…

*if, like me, this made you imagine a herring-flavored gummi bear, and a red one at that, I’m sorry. Baking soda toothpaste partially removed this image for me; I trust that time will take care of the rest. Godspeed.

What John Said That One Time: A Family Friend Says Something Hilarious

There used to be a great, classic bar/diner in Montrose, Colorado called the Stockman’s. It was chock full of John Wayne memorabilia from the filming of True Grit in neighboring Ridgway, CO – apparently the Duke used to come eat at the Stockman’s when he was in town.
We went there a lot when I was in middle and high school. The fam and friends would pile into a couple of cars (or into one car when Deano had the awesome six-door Lincoln,) for the big trip to Montrose 10 miles away, we would eat green chile cheeseburgers and chile rellenos and bull fries and regular fries, the adults would have mugs of Bud and the waitress would offer refills of soda to the kids, who would be too tweaked from the first glass to concentrate on answering.
The men’s room had a condom machine that we all pretended was linked to the kitchen’s ‘food’s ready’ buzzer: our whole table would turn and stare at the first person coming out of the pisser after the buzzer went off. Hilarious.
We kept going to the Stockman’s during college, and so it was that Brad arrived at the Stockman’s after meeting my sister back East. He was doing a good-humored job of acclimating, and had been in Colorado for a good part of the week when a group of us went to the Stockman’s. Mom, Dad, George, Nan, Deano, John H., Helen, the whole crew. Brad ordered a large combination (chile relleno, enchilada, taco, tostada, rice, beans, and sopapilla,) which was kind of normal for the crowd, but then he ordered a Diet Coke.
This is when John H. had one of those moments of brilliance where differences are highlighted in a way that lets someone know that they’re accepted as part of the pack even though they’re kind of a weirdo: John looked over Brad’s large combination and said,

“Diet Coke?! You’re gonna winterkill, boy.”

And we laughed and we laughed.

It makes me really happy that Deano reads this sometimes, because he was always a part of those you’re-okay-even-though-you’re-weird moments that made adolescence and high school bearable for the freak that I was. Thanks, Deano. I feel about you the way that the Stockman’s felt about John Wayne, so I made the following sign-in so that you could leave comments:
Username is ‘Deano’ and the password is ‘Duke’.
If, in the style of John Wayne, that feels a little too mushy to you, you can always change it to Six Door Lincoln.

The Future

You know how there’s the old question about which superpower you’d rather have – invisibility or flying – and how each choice means something important and embarrassing about your personality? In part because I can’t remember what wanting to fly invisibly says about me, I suggest that we change the game to something a little more realistic: the power to predict the future!
Today’s Game: Prediction or Predilection?
How to play: Think about a favorite food in Austin, Texas, and then let’s see if I eat it when I’m there this weekend! You…could…predict…the…future!
Here is my wish list Here are my predictions:
• Queso. Duh. This is like predicting that the sun will come up tomorrow.
• Margaritas. Duh again. This is like predicting that the lineup for the next South by Southwest will be met with ecstatic groans from thousands of hipsters.
• Pork Green Chile Breakfast Tacos. C’mon. This is like predicting that Rick Perry will mischievously half-deny running for President at his next book tour event. Easy.
• Barbeque. This is the equivalent of looking into the future and seeing that a really drunk sorority girl will cry by the end of the night. No brainer. Sheesh.
• Chips and some kick-ass Salsa. This is like saying that the next time you go to the grocery store at 9am on Thanksgiving it will be so trying as to drain the marrow from your bones.
• Beer in a themed bottle or can marketed exclusively to Texans. This is like throwing a brick at a bank window and saying, ‘that’s plexiglass. It’ll bounce right off.’ Happens every time.
• Huevos Rancheros. Seriously? Why not predict that there might be some shakes when the sun comes up in the drunk tank? Or that the Cleveland Browns will lose at least one game in their 2011 season opener? Or that Serena Williams will wear a wildly tennis-inappropriate outfit at the next Grand Slam event? Or that my brother, father, mother and sister will all still beat me at arm-wrestling even though I’ve been trying really trying to do a pull-up for over a year?
We’ve gotten a little off-track here, so I want to bring us back to this, my last prediction: I will eat all of the above this weekend, at the same meal.The gauntlet has been thrown, Future Betsy. Don’t let us down.

Donde Estan Las Bomberas?

After I realized that I didn’t know how to buy bandaids in Germany, much less ask for a defibrillator or file for survivorship benefits, I struck out to gather information to populate my personal emergency management/disaster recovery/business continuation plan.
I was keenly pleased to find, while I was searching for a cheesecake specialty shop I’d read about online, the local volunteer fire station:

Are you wondering if their fire truck is always dressed up as a parade float? Me, too.

Are you wondering if their fire truck is always dressed up as a parade float? Me, too.

But wait, I still don’t know what to do in the event of fire! What do I say, and how do I say it?

OK. Thanks. Got it.

OK. Thanks. Got it.

So that’s a relief, and now I can turn my attention back to criticizing the gender and racial messaging in public pictorial signage. (Skype me if you want to chat about what the three different nose styles on the firemen MEANS in the context of their Crayola-flesh-toned faces.)

Shout Out

You know how sometimes a turn of phrase just kills you, and every time you think of it you get a rush of fondness for the person who said it and a little lonesome for the time/place that inspired it? Well, of all of them, this one’s my favorite:
We used to play in a soccer tournament in the Spring in San Antonio at some hardscrabble fields just off I-35, and every year the wind would blow our whole world sideways. We couldn’t see for the grit, and we’d usually get our asses kicked by at least a couple of teams, and we’d pile into hotel rooms where the little fridge wasn’t enough for the warm beer we’d brought. At the end of the weekend, we’d be tired and dusty and hungover. During one of the trips home, Kristy was driving and even she was dragging ass – a surprise, since she is the most fun, positive person I know – and started pulling off towards a convenience store. She then said the truest thing:

“You know what sounds good? A nice fresh Coke.”

I’d never heard the words strung together like that, but by god it worked: we got our fountain drinks and felt like the luckiest people on earth when we took the first icy, bubbly sips. Thanks, Kristy, for saving us, for driving us, and for being the kind of healthy person who makes the world a better place through humor, patience and kindness, but who will take advantage of the healing properties of a nice fresh Coke when needed.

A Nerd Sandwich on Engineer Bread

A friend and co-worker of the German’s came to town for a visit on Sunday, and while the three of us were walking in the park we had a fascinating (to us) conversation about the similarities and differences between quality assurance, failure modeling/testing, and disaster recovery planning. So we were chatting happily away, and then the boys went off for a two-day engineering meeting in Bremerhaven, and I realized the following:
-I don’t know if we have a fire extinguisher in the flat, and we live on the fifth floor with only one escape route.
-I don’t know if the lady who lives across the hall has a fire extinguisher, either, but she totally should because she smokes.
-I have never met the lady across the hall, so I probably shouldn’t count on her as my translator/ride/nurse in the event of emergency. Especially when I’m so judgey about the smoking.
-I don’t think we have a first aid kit, or a list of emergency numbers, or a tourniquet, or an epi-pen, or copies of important documents, or even any aspirin.
-If there was an emergency, all I would really be good for is the making-tea part that comes much, much later than the call-for-help, apply-pressure, stop-drop-roll part.

I should probably at least check to see if dialing 911 works here…

Brunchin’, Lunchin’, Cold Munchin’

It is Monday morning, early, so the contents in this post have yet to be verified. Just in case, today’s game is called
Sunday Breakfast, Monday Yak-fest: a Root Cause Analysis
Imagine that you invite three friends over for Sunday brunch, and that on Monday afternoon you recieve the first of three carefully-worded thank you emails that say things like, ‘I hope you’re well. I seem to have caught the flu,’ and, ‘Sorry this is late, I’ve been at the doctor’s,’ and, ‘Your brunch made me really sick.’ In the game, you can be any of the characters:
Scary Root Cause Detective, or the German, or Me.
Let’s begin…

Scary Root Cause Detective: Let’s start with the meat. You say the brunch location was Hamburg, Germany. Did you have cold cuts, smoked fish, and a few meat spreads?
Me: No, we had some Mexican chorizo.
SRC Detective: Interesting. Where did you get this ‘Mexican’ ‘chorizo’?
Me: I made it.
SRCD: Interesting. May I see the recipe?
Me: Um, I looked at a couple but I forgot that I could’ve used fresh coriander root (which I had leftover from the cilantro in the guacamole because I got the cilantro at the Asian food store and it comes with the roots on) instead of ground coriander, which all of the recipes called for, so I just made up my own recipe pretty much.
SRCD: Interesting. Did it have any ingredients that may have caused stomach upset?
Me: Vinegar and chile powder.
SRCD: Chile powder? How much?
Me (relieved to not have to explain that I smuggled in the chile powder in addition to three other things for breakfast that we hadn’t even started on yet): About a small handful of chile powder.
SRDC: Interesting. How big are your hands?
Me: Very.
Me (sweating): I used caraway instead of cumin in guacamole because the label on the bag said ‘Kumin’, and then I tried to cover up the bread/sourkraut taste of caraway by adding lethal amounts of cilantro to the guacamole.
Scary Root Cause Detective: This is not an intervention.
Me: Let’s cut to the chase. The German made a mascarpone cream that had raw eggs in it! It was him! Not me!
Scary Root Cause Detective: Don’t be ridiculous. This is Europe. Eggs don’t even need refrigeration here.
Me (to the German): I’m sorry I ratted you out. The mascarpone cream was delicious with those raspberries even though it was our third fruit course.
SRCD: Three fruit courses?!?
Me: Well, it’s January, so people need vitamins, and we put wrinkly purple passionfruit in egg cups with tiny little demitasse spoons, which was just hysterical, and I always want to eat more of the little orange ball fruit, what are they called?
The German: Physalis.
Me: Thanks, hon. So we had a fruit salad with those and some surprisingly good mango and pineapple and kiwi. And he wanted to make the mascarpone/salmonella sauce but I didn’t want to change the menu, so yeah, we had three fruit courses I guess.
Scary Root Cause Detective: Case closed. See you next cherry season!

This may be painfully obvious, but you have won the game if you decided to play as the German. Not only do you whip up amazing trifles and sauces while I am in the shower scrubbing chile powder residue off my hands, but you wear sweaters beautifully and your hair always smells good. You win.

The Closest I’ll Get to ‘Sleepless in Seattle’

…as it relates to having great fondness for someone that I have not yet met, is in my budding relationship with the German’s aunt. She is the sister of his mother and has lived in London for 30+ years.
She is a potter, which I always find endearing. We have a number of her pieces in the flat, and I love living with every one of them: smooth soapstone lamps, heavy vases that are always cool to the touch, things in the kind of dove greys and brown blacks that seem warm and sophisticated at the same time.
She writes humourous letters to Tobias, half in English, where she makes fun of herself for being old and plays the kind of little word games that would be intimidating if they were intended for an audience larger than two.
Her husband, now dead, was a psychologist. I think that this encourages either self actualization or patchy hair loss; she seems to have gone with the former.
She sent us tiny mince tarts for Christmas, along with a little bottle of port and a wedge of excellent Stilton. They tasted like maybe she’s fond of me, too.