Dixie Peach: July 2008

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

There's Always More Good Than Bad

It's still hot here. We seem to swing between sorta-hot-and-humid and hot-as-hell-but-dry. Friday is supposed to be the combo of hot-as-hell-and-humid and boy oh boy won't I just be the picture of joy!

Ice water and iced tea and ice cream are helpful - and by "helpful" I mean "they keep me from weeping". I've curbed most of my optional activities which means most non-essential housekeeping duties have been put on hold. If I can't wear you, eat you or you're not a part of my bathroom, I'm having as little to do with you as possible. I've done very little knitting because the heat makes me so sluggish and sleepy that I end up messing up more than I create. Reading, however, has not been curtailed in the least. I could be on the surface of the sun and still manage to read a good book.

Nights are bad. I have the windows open and a fan on but it doesn't stop the pillow from becoming a scratchy, sweaty, uncomfortable trap for my head. Turning it doesn't help. The chirping of the crickets outside my window remind me of how hot it remains overnight. If one truly can tell the temperature by how often a cricket chirps then these crickets are telling me the outside temperature is somewhere between misery and mouth-of-Hell.

I wash my hair a lot. I can't bear for my hair to be all sweaty so I wash it, dry it and then put it into a long braid. I hate to just braid my fresh, clean hair but if hair touches my bare skin - say on my sweat-slicked arms, I will go berserk. It skeeves me out completely.

And despite it all, things aren't so bad. I don't have to go sit in a hot, stuffy office all day. I can nap when the heat becomes unbearable. And tomorrow is our wedding anniversary - our ninth. My darling husband has promised me lovely gifts that will be delivered tomorrow. And best of all, when it's blistering hot, we'll sit in front of the fan and eat ice cream and remember how lovely our wedding day was and how we'd do it all again if we could.


Monday, July 28, 2008


It's about 11:20pm here and in my living room it's 86°F. I can barely wrap my head around that but I blame the massive sweating dainty and ladylike glow of perspiration.

Maybe tomorrow we'll talk about ice cream. And frozen yogurt. And popsicles. And lemonade. Right now my wrists are too hot to allow me to type.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Shuffle - The Edible (and Inedible) Edition

The other day Rachel commented on one of my posts that she would have a hard time living in Germany because she's not a fan of German food. And you know what? I had the same thought when I moved here. I never thought I could adapt to German foods but after 10 1/2 years of eating it, I've learned to manage. Even learned to love some of it.

The first thing I ever ate in Germany was potato salad and Wienerwürstchen, which is like a long, thin hot dog. I despise hot dogs - they're disgustingly mushy - but I loved Wienerwürstchen...mostly because it's not mushy at all. And over the ensuing weeks I tried other German dishes - some hits, and some horrifying misses.

What's Good
~ Bratwurst. I will eat a variety of bratwursts but the best is the Thüringer style. Particularly fabulous if it's grilled and the skin has gotten a bit black and wrinkly. Unfortunately to the chagrin of my husband, I eat my bratwurst with ketchup.

~ Currywurst. While it can be bought all over Germany, it's a speciality of Berlin. It's a bratwurst that has a ketchup based sauce over it that's been spiced by curry powder. Particuarly wonderful with fries that you can dip into the curry-ketchup sauce.

~ French Fries. I know they originated in Belgium, but fries in Germany are wonderful too. I'm guessing they're also great in Holland. It's just because potatoes in Europe have a better flavor than the bland, flavorless Russett potatoes you find in America. I've seldom had crappy fries in Germany. My sister, who normally isn't a French fry eater, dreams of them and orders them at every opportunity when she visits me.

~ Wienerschnitzel. Technically not German either - it originated in Vienna, Austria (which is why it's Wienerschnitzel...Wien is the German name for Vienna) and I don't eat genuine Wienerschnitzel either since the genuine type is made with veal and I opt for pork schnitzel. Either way, it's lovely. When the meat is really thin and tender and the breading is crispy and flavorful it's heavenly. Know what? Goes great with fries.

~ Döner Kebap. Again, not originally German - it comes from Turkey - but it was adapted to suit German tastes. The döner you find in Turkey is different, unless you're in an area that caters to German tourists. My favorite way to eat it isn't in the more common flat bread but instead on a plate with the meat, salad, sauces and - yes! - French fries all piled together. Get a bit of each thing on your fork, pop it in your mouth and proceed to have your eyes roll back into your head.

~Grillhänchen. This is a rotisserie grilled chicken spiced with a rub made of salt, pepper and paprika. These are sold at stands everywhere and regardless of where you buy it, they all taste the same - fantastic.

What's Bad
~ Harzer Käse. This is a cheese made in the region of the Harz mountains. It also looks and smells like what you'd get if you had a pedicure, took the scrapings from the callouses on the bottom of your feet and compressed them together into a log shape.

~ Teewurst. One of the many sorts of spreadable wursts you can buy. I'm especially grossed out by the "grob" style, which means the bits of meat are not finely ground and so you can really see and taste the chunks of fat in it.

~ Weisswurst. This is a sausage that's boiled. It's rather soft and you eat it by dipping it in a sweetish mustard (that right there makes it a big no for me), putting the end into your mouth and then squishing a bit of the wurst out of the casing into your mouth.

~ Sauerbraten. We're not even going to get into how genuine Sauerbraten is made with horse meat. Most people, however, usually make it from pork or beef. It's soaked in a marinade and I swear, by the time it's ready to be cooked, it's gray.

And the nastiest of all?

~ Losewurst. This is ground pork mixed with a lot of spices and then is cooked in pig's blood and is usually served over boiled potatoes. Pig's blood. Who in the hell dreamed that up?. The pig's blood still has to be warm when you begin to cook it. It doesn't smell bad - actually it smells nice and peppery when it's cooking - but it looks like an autopsy. When B was a chef he had to cook this dish fairly often which disgusted him no end. My MIL, however, loves it and every time I see her eat it I become nauseated. Which I supposed is only fair since she is completely disgusted by all poultry and B and I eat a lot of chicken. To each his own.

Y'all need to get that nasty, nasty image out of your heads, right? Just think of the cakes in Germany. They make delicous, delicious cakes in German. And maybe a shuffle will help.

Hit it.
  1. Follow That Sound - Sharon Little
  2. Feelin' Alright? - Traffic (So kind of Bixente the iPod to be concerned over your wellbeing)
  3. How She Could Sing The Wildwood Flower - Emmylou Harris
  4. Stand And Deliver - Adam Ant
  5. The Way That He Sings - My Morning Jacket
  6. 25 Or 6 To 4 - Chicago
  7. Still The Night - BoDeans
  8. Meeting Place - The Last Shadow Puppets
  9. Chasing Pavements - Adele
  10. Communication Breakdown - Led Zeppelin

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Because She Wants To Know

Lisa, who I always call "Sugar Fluff" - I am not allowed to call anyone else that! - is a dear friend of mine. Some of what I really love about her is that she loves to just chat with no agenda in mind - we just talk about whatever comes up and our conversations always come from the heart. Often Lisa and I discuss how we'd love to be in her kitchen or mine having coffee (or tea, in my case), eating cream horns and just talking to hear each others voice.

So I really had to smile when today I got this email from Lisa:

Hey Dix,

I got up early and was thinking about you today and missing you. I thought....if I were sitting next to you, what would I be asking you? So, I thought since I can't sit next to you, then I'll just email it. You can answer on your blog or just in an email or however you want to.

I love and adore you.


So here are her questions and how I answered them:

What would I have seen, heard, eaten and experienced if I would have eaten at your dinner table when you were 13 years old?

Yikes. Probably nothing good. My sister wouldn't have been there - she was away at college. My oldest brother may or may not have been there - he was very unfocused and jumped from one thing to another at that time. Funny to think now he has a PhD. Back then he couldn't set a goal to do nearly anything. My other brother would have been there eating anything that wasn't nailed down - he would have been 16 years old then. I'd have definitely been trying to fly under my dad's radar - we did not get along with each other then at all. But the food would have been great. I can imagine us having fried chicken or steak or ham. Fresh vegetables from the garden. Lots of iced tea. Peach cobbler for dessert. If no one was fussing about anything my mother would have been quite charming. If not, forget it. Someone's meltdown would be imminent.

When did you absolutely know you were going to be with B for the duration? Was there anything that made you think, "Ok, now I know for sure."?

It was when I saw him for the first time after spending a year talking with him online and on the phone. I don't know if I can describe the look on his face but it was a mix of sheer joy and a look in his eyes that said "I am completely yours. I'm trusting you with my whole life.". The feeling it gave me felt so right. I knew it was the way I was supposed to feel with someone I was in love with. And when I still felt that way after seeing first hand what it took to care for him, I knew that we really did belong together.

What is the first three things you're going to do when you get to heaven?

1. Be overwhelmed by the feeling of love and contentment and the feeling of really belonging. I know heaven is the one place where everyone there is absolutely wanted and loved.

2. Find my father and tell him I'm sorry. And tell him that now I understand a lot of what I could never understand about him when he was alive.

3. Find Heather [Lisa's niece]. Laugh about the whole hiding-the-Christmas-tree thing. Find a good spot to sit. Eat cream horns and red velvet cupcakes until you and Darling Mollie get there.

What are 3 things that make absolutely no sense to you?

Let me first say that just because something makes no sense to me it doesn't mean that I don't like it. It is simply something I don't understand.

1. Ice hockey. I don't get the rules. It's too fast. I know there's strategy involved but it only looks like skating, bumping into others and chasing a puck around.

2. The universe. I don't get how there's no end to it. I don't get how we see light that's an almost unbelievable distance away - so distant that its source may not even exist any longer. How the universe constantly expands but if it's expanding then what is it expanding into? Doesn't that mean it has an edge? I look up at a star filled sky and contemplate these things and become nauseated by the sheer complexity of it all.

3. Why anyone would rather be famous even after having never accomplished anything of any consequence rather than do something that enlightens or inspires or makes others better or makes our world better even if their name remains obscure. Why being known is better than being accomplished?

Why are you always so surprised when we make such a fuss over you at the Peach Pilgrimages?

For the unenlightened, the Peach Pilgrimages are what we call the get-togethers I have with my friends when I get back to the US for a visit. We meet up for a weekend, talk, laugh, eat, and in general just love on each other. Lisa's the one who dubbed it The Peach Pilgrimage.

I think I get so surprised when y'all make such a fuss over me because I feel unworthy. I think most of my life I've struggled with idea that I feel left out and I've always wanted to feel as though I fit in and belong. I struggle with the idea of rejection and really, really wanting to be liked by people I like. I get together with y'all and I have to keep pinching myself to believe it's all real. That y'all uproot yourselves for a weekend, travel hundreds of miles and then proceed to spoil me like crazy. I can't get over that people whom I'm not related to by blood or marriage would really do that for me. I have to say though that the last Pilgrimage reinforced the idea that:

A. I really am loved by y'all.
B. You wouldn't do it if you didn't really want to.
C. Y'all enjoy it when I'm enjoying it.

Y'all love it best when I relax and just enjoy so I'm working on putting away the hang ups and just getting in to the bliss.

Describe Darling Mollie in 5 words.
Darling Mollie is my best friend, fellow Peach Pilgrim and also a dear friend of Lisa's. We just adore her. And if I have to limit myself to five words for Darling Mollie, they'd be these:

1. Gorgeous. This isn't an exaggeration. Mollie is so, so beautiful. The sort of beautiful where she walks through a room and all heads turn to look at her. And she always knows the right thing to wear and has incredible taste in fashions and decor.

2. Faithful. Mollie is so strong and sure of her faith that I can feel it strengthening my own.

3. Witty. Darling Mollie has a great sense of humor but it goes beyond that. Her humor is smart and witty and she has such an great turn of phrase. I could be in the black hole of depression and Mollie could get me to laugh. She's humor with a brain.

4. Smart. And she's always eager to learn more. Mollie's always curious and enjoys searching out answers. She's a joy to talk with because she's well beyond talking about mundane, forgettable crap.

5. Reliable. If I needed Mollie - I mean really needed her, she'd move a mountain to get to me. Literally. Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train? I'd call Mollie. Dead body in my trunk and I didn't put it there? I'd call Mollie. By coincidence sit next to Nikki Sixx on an airplane and don't know what to say to him? I'd call Mollie. If I need cheering up or advice or comforting, I know I can call Mollie at any time and she'll be there for me, no question about it. She's one of the very few people I would trust not only my life with but my husband's life - and when it comes to him that sort of trust is very rare.

That was fun. Thanks you, lil Sugar Fluff. I love you. And the cream horns are on me.


Monday, July 21, 2008

All I Could Want

I once saw an article about what families around the world spend on food. In the article was shown photos of families from the places where they took their survey and showed the families with the food they would normally buy for one month and I was not surprised in the least that the German family that was shown had in their photo a whole lot of dairy products.

I have no scientific proof of this but based upon what I personally know of the eating habits of Germans and judging by what sorts of things are on sale in their supermarkets, Germans are some dairy product eating fools. When I lived in the US I used to shop in a pretty big chain supermarket and the dairy section of the supermarket I shop with in Germany puts their US brothers to shame. You know how in the US there are dozens of different types and brands of breakfast cereals? Think of the same happening in Germany except replace "breakfast cereal" with "dairy products". It goes beyond just milk, cream, cheese (of which there are dozens of varieties and brands) and butter. There's Germany love affair with pudding. My supermarket sells at least five different brands of ready-to-eat pudding that I know of and then each brand has a wide variety of styles and flavors. Then there's quark - both flavored and unflavored. Milk rice. Mousse. Flavored milks. Flavored whey drinks. Sour cream. Smetana. Crème fraîche.

And then there's yogurt. I love yogurt and have eaten it daily since I was a teenager. During the first week I moved to Germany I asked my now MIL to buy me some yogurt. Since I wasn't specific with what I wanted (I was just thinking she's bring home a couple cups of peach or strawberry fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt), she came in with a sack full. Once I went to the supermarket myself I could see why she came home with so much. The supermarket where I shop has two aisles about twelve feet long each devoted to yogurt only. There's plain, fruit-on-the-bottom, fruit puree on the top, lowfat, regular fat, Rahmjoghurt (literally "cream yogurt") that has 10% fat, Greek style (fabulously creamy!), yogurt with fruit, candy or cereal on the side to stir in, and yogurts that are dessert style that have bits of cake in them. There's strawberry, honey, vanilla, chocolate chip, pear, apricot, peach, kiwi, raspberry, banana, blueberry, lemon, hazelnut, rhubarb, orange, blackberry, plum, and lime flavors - and likely more that I can't even think of. There's yogurt that will help you out if you're constipated and some of it has grain in it so that if the bacteria doesn't help move you, the fiber will.

It's a good thing I married a German so I could live where a food I love is so popular. I'd be sorta screwed if I fell in love with a Frenchman or an Italian. I don't do cheese and wine very well.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Shuffle - Pastel Sweets Edition

I finished these last weekend and waited until I had nothing to write for just the right moment to show them to you.

Hey look! It's the right moment!


Yarny talk:

Pattern: Spring Forward
Needles: 2.5mm double pointed needles
Yarn: Austermann Step
Colorway: 0010

I've been trying to connect my July blog posts to the subject of food so what do these hand knit socks have to do with food? The muted, semi-pastel colors of the socks remind me of the colors you find in a roll of Necco Wafers. I never was a fan of Necco Wafers (few things are worse than the black licorice flavored ones) but at one time they were quite useful when my friends and I found that we could trip the toll booths around Richmond by flipping in a Necco Wafer instead of an actual coin.

Let's shuffle.
  1. Someone Like You - I Am Kloot
  2. Mrs. Robinson - The Lemonheads
  3. Call It Love - Poco
  4. This Is How I Know - Ron Sexsmith
  5. Wooden Heart (Muss I Denn) - Elvis Presley
  6. Here Comes The Rain - The Mavericks
  7. All Over You - Live
  8. Your Own Worst Enemy - Bruce Springsteen
  9. Long Cool Woman - The Hollies
  10. Vince The Loveable Stoner - The Fratellis

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nourishment of a Different Sort

I was thinking that five years ago today I was in the hospital, fresh from having surgery.

Know what the worst part of it was? It wasn't being away from my husband. It wasn't being in a room with four other women and no privacy (here's a trick - snore extremely loud and they'll move you off by yourself). It wasn't being stuck in an un-air conditioned hospital during a 95+°F heat wave. It wasn't, during said heatwave, having to wear thick, tight, hot, anti-thrombosis stockings that went from my toes to my upper thighs. It wasn't the burning and painful anti-thrombosis injections I had to have in my leg each day of my two week stay there at the no privacy, no air conditioning hospital. And even though it's a close second, it wasn't even the surgery where my abdomen was sliced open from navel to the beginning of happy land so parts that I was fond of and to this day miss could be removed.

The worst part was the vile swill served to us three times a day that they laughingly called food.

I'd alway heard stories of hospital food but since the last time I had been hospitalized was when Lyndon Johnson was president and most of my nutrition came out of a bottle, I wasn't familiar with it first hand. At first it didn't seem so bad. On the day I was admitted I had eaten breakfast at home and my lunch was some sort of macaroni in cheese sauce fare that wasn't so bad. I was denied food for days after that because of tests I had to have and because of my surgery so it wasn't until days later that I found out how terrible hospital food really is.

Sometimes the flavor was so terrible I couldn't determine whether they were feeding me a meal or simply trying to get rid of medical waste. I recall a meal of goulash that had the same flavor that I would expect to find if I licked my bathmat. On a Sunday we had a "fancy" dinner of pork roast in gravy and I'm fairly certain the gravy had a previous life as rinse water in the laundry. Other times the food wasn't bad tasting at all. It wasn't good tasting either. It simply had no flavor whatsoever. Now I understand that hospital food has to be cooked with little or no salt and whatnot but the food itself should have a flavor of its own. It was so disappointing to be served a dish that in appearace looked fine but when put in one's mouth it was like eating hot nothing. I was often given yogurt and fresh fruit as part of my meals and damn if even they were flavorless. Bland, runny yogurt, half-ripe, tasteless pears, mealy apples devoid of any aroma at all. Mealtimes were an exercise in disappointment. Is there any wonder I lost twenty pounds in two weeks while I was there?

Luckily I had my friend, Kirsten. Kirsten is anorexic but damn if she doesn't know what's good. She'd visit me every couple days and would always sneak in a treat or two for me. Once she came to visit me and before coming by dropped by a bakery to get me something. Many bakeries here sell finished sandwiches and Kirsten brought me one, apologizing as she gave it to me because it was late in the day and the sandwich had probably had a couple hours age on it. I remember that sandwich vividly. Whole grain bread with boiled egg, tomatoes, cucumber and remoulade sauce. Just as she gave it to me one of the nurses came in to give me some medicine or to stab me with something or whatever so I quickly put the sandwich in my bedside table drawer. After Kirsten left and I had eaten yet another disappointing dinner and I knew the nurses wouldn't be in to check on me for a couple more hours I pulled the sandwich out. Despite being wrapped in plastic the crusts of the bread were dry and the remoulade had gotten the bread slightly soggy. I'm also not a big fan of boiled eggs. I like boiled egg whites but if I can taste the yolk I get a little wiggy. But so intense was my desperation that still I gleefully bit into the sandwich. And it was lovely. The remoulade hid the taste of the egg yolk and the cucumber and tomato wasn't even watery and bland. I quickly gulped down the sandwich, leaving the dry crusts behind and then slowly shuffled all hunchbacked into the bathroom (it was still less than a week after my surgery) where a large trashcan was that would enable me to hide the crusts from the prying eyes of the nurses.

I still had over a week to go before I would be released from the hospital but that one sandwich made me feel so wonderful. It made me feel that even though I was away having surgery in a strange place with strange people, I wasn't forgotten and I was still loved. A dear friend threw me a lifeline and it was in the shape of a boiled egg sandwich.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Brutal Honesty

Darling Mollie wanted me to knit some baby socks to give as a gift to a family member who's expecting a baby. She asked me about it last night when she called me.

"Do you know how to knit baby socks?"

"Sure. It's like knitting big people socks but you don't knit them as big. Basically the same structure though."

"Can you make green and yellow ones?"

"If I can get some yellow and green yarn."

"Can I get you the yarn?"

"Just go to the yarn shop and tell the sales lady what you want - sock yarn for baby socks. She'll get you the right stuff."

"Okay. So do you need me to send you anything else? Are you out of Hellmann's? Do you need me to send you Hellmanns?"

"Oh boy, I've been out of Hellmann's since February!"

"Okay. Do you want to try that new olive oil Hellmann's?"

Time to make a snap decision. I know I probably should be eating the olive oil stuff because it would be healthier for me to eat - if the word "healthy" could be attached to whipped oil and eggs anyway - but I've never before eaten it.

This is how it sounded in my head:

"Hmmm....ewww...olive oil. Maybe it's good though. Maybe it tastes the same. Maybe it's a little different. Olive oil tastes different. Remember the time you accidentally got too much olive oil in the Spanish rice? It was gross. Maybe it's gross. What if it's gross? I can't have Mollie send me Hellmann's and then me not eat it because it's gross! Maybe it would only be gross if I had it on a sandwich but not so gross if it's in potato salad. Is it worth it to try it? It could be very good. I thought I read someone say it was good. Mollie wouldn't know because she hates mayonnaise so I can't ask her. Perhaps I should have her send just a tiny jar of it but that's stupid because if I hate it, any of it is a waste. If I say I don't want it am I going to look like a pig? Maybe I should get it and learn to like it. Maybe all I need to do is try it. It would be better for me than regular mayonnaise. But that light mayonnaise would be better for me too and that stuff is vile. This stuff could be vile. Should I try it? Maybe I'll try it."

What Darling Mollie heard:


Mollie howled laughing and she said "I knew you'd give me an honest answer! Someone at work was asking me if I had someone in my life that I could be absolutely up-front with and who would always give me the absolute truth back and I told her it was you. You won't even mislead me about mayonnaise!".

And that's true. If you've got a friend who won't even bullshit you about something relatively unimportant (I say "relatively" because while mayonnaise is important to me it's not quite in the same catagory as "Should I marry this guy?"), you can trust them to tell you the truth when it comes to something crucial. Things like "Should I get the Chanel bag or the Louis Vuitton?".

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Shuffle - Needed Treats Edition

I am a creature of habit and some habits are unbreakable. Since I was a child I've taken comfort in chocolate and little trinket-type toys. One or the other is generally a sure-fire way to lure me out of a funk. If I can have them together, so much the better.

Today was one of those touch-it-an-it-turns-to-crap days so I was rather delighted when, while reorganizing my pantry, I came across some Kinder Surprise Eggs that I'd purchased about six weeks ago, put away and promptly forgot about. Actually they're Kinder Joy eggs because Kinder Joy is what's sold here once warm weather sets in. Chocolate and toys in one fell swoop - yay! I could feel my mood lightening already.

And here's what was in two of the eggs. As ever, roll your cursor over the photo to make it change.

Chocolate, toys and Daffy and Sylvester. The third thing that's guaranteed to cheer me up.

The fourth thing that cheers me up? Bixente the iPod. Let's shuffle.
  1. Captain Jack - Billy Joel
  2. At Seventeen - Janis Ian
  3. One And The Same - Audioslave
  4. Summers End - Foo Fighters
  5. Take Me To The Pilot - Elton John
  6. Shoot The Poets - The Cribs
  7. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa - Vampire Weekend
  8. Hello In There - Bette Midler
  9. Photograph - Ringo Starr
  10. Raise The Barn - Keith Urban

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sharing the Good Stuff

Many Southern women claim that they learned to cook at the feet of their mothers and grandmothers. In a sense that's true for me as well - my mother taught me a great deal about cooking - but her knowledge did not come from her own mother. In a round about way it came from my paternal grandmother - the one who died in 1931 a few months before my mother was born.

My maternal grandmother was not a great cook. She wasn't terrible but cooking wasn't one of her talents. My mother readily attests to this. I remember her being pretty good with baking pies and cakes and she was pretty good with canning but as for regular meals, she just didn't have it. I haven't eaten anything cooked by my grandmother since - well, probably since I was in college - and I remember her cooking always being sort of mushy and somehow never tasting quite right. When we visited my grandparents I mostly remember my grandmother doing prep work but the real cooking was done by my mother and her sisters. At the time I'm sure I thought it was just them pitching in to help but now I think it was their way of making sure my grandmother didn't make anything funky tasting. It's not her fault though. My grandmother was six years old when her mother died and she evidently just didn't have anyone to really show her the Southern cooking ropes.

When my mother married my father she wasn't much of a cook either and so she ended up learning to cook from one of my father's much-older sisters, Irene. My paternal grandmother died when she gave birth to my Aunt Cora and since Irene was nearly grown she and one of the other older sisters helped raise both my father and Aunt Cora. Aunt Irene claimed that my grandmother was a fabulous cook and she learned from her and then passed it on to my mother and Aunt Cora and Aunt Irene's daughter, Wanda. It's no wonder that to me their cooking tasted an awful lot alike, although I have to say Aunt Cora could always beat my mother at baking biscuits.

What I love about families is the tradition of teaching younger generations how to cook and sharing recipes. Some of my favorite recipes are ones that came from my mother or my aunts or cousins. I learned some of my Southern cooking skills from Southern Living and church cookbooks but the best ones are the ones passed down to me from my kin and now I'll pass one on to you. This is the recipe for my cousin Wanda's chocolate meringue pie. Everyone in my family loves Wanda's chocolate pie. We all love her chocolate pie so much that when we speak of her we always say "She made the best chocolate pie!".


2 cups milk
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Warm milk in a saucepan. Combine dry ingredients in bowl. Add enough of the warm milk to the dry ingredients to moisten them and pour all back into saucepan with rest of milk and stir well (I like to use a wire whisk). Heat mixture until begins to thicken. Add some of the hot mixture to egg yolks and stir well. Pour yolk mixture into saucepan mixture and cook until becomes a pudding consistency. Add butter and vanilla and stir. Pour into a browned pie shell and cover with meringue (Click here if you need to know how to make meringue) . Bake at 400°F until meringue is golden. Let cool completely before serving.

As much as our family loves Wanda's chocolate pie, this pie has been the cause of some family strife. Once my sister made a chocolate pie and she, my BIL and my nephew ate about half of it. The next day she had a horrible day at work and she couldn't wait to get home because she knew a piece of Wanda's glorious chocolate pie would improve her dark mood. Sister arrived home to see my BIL eating the last piece of the chocolate pie. My brother had come by earlier and ate about half of the leftovers and my BIL went ahead and polished off the rest. Bad move because a cranky woman cheated out of chocolate pie is a formidable foe. She freaked out for hours over it. About six months later when my sister and BIL were in Germany visiting me my BIL inadvertently mentioned the chocolate pie incident and she went into orbit all over again as if it has just happened. But it's cured my BIL for good. If it were to save his life, he still wouldn't take the last piece of chocolate pie without express permission from Sister.

Enjoy. And share the last piece with your family.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Good Timing on My Part

The fall of the Berlin Wall is what enabled me to meet and marry my husband. And the fall of the Berlin Wall is what enabled me to survive living in Germany because had there been a way for me to meet and marry my husband before the demise of East Germany, there's no way I could have coped. The whole food thing in East Germany would be just too much for me to handle.

My husband, who was born and raised and lived the first thirty years of his life in the former East Germany will be the first to say that he did not starve while growing up. He and his family - a regular working class East Germany family...maybe a bit better off because my FIL always worked an enormous amount of overtime to enable the family to have a bit more - always had enough to eat, even if what they had to eat wasn't gourmet fare. Here's a bit of how food was back in East Germany.

This would have perhaps been my biggest nightmare. Grocery stores were open until 6pm and one store in town was open until about 8:30pm. As for weekend shopping, grocery stores were open every other Saturday until about noon. I assume this meant that you either got out of work and rushed to the shops before closing time or you did like my MIL did and shop on your lunch hour (most women in East Germany had jobs outside the home). Which store you shopped at was generally a matter of convenience and perhaps a bit of who-you-know. Prices were the same in every store, country-wide. It's a good thing that people were spared from scouting for the best price because you were going to need that time to stand in line. Not just lines to check out but even long lines to buy hard-to-find products. There's an old joke that if East Germans saw a line somewhere, they'd automatically go stand in it without even knowing why people were lining up. That may be an exaggeration but it's not much of one.

The real key to living well and getting what you needed in East Germany was the network of people one would spend years carefully building. My MIL was (and still is) a master at this. A bone of contention in the family is the hard feelings created between my MIL and her SIL over the SIL taking advantage of and embarrassing my MIL with the network of merchants my MIL had. A network of merchants would not get you better prices - God forbid the government be cheated out of one Pfennig - but it could get you products that were notorously hard to find. Say you needed to get things for Christmas or a birthday celebration. You're going to need things like liquor, better cuts of meat, snack foods and perhaps fruits. If you'd made friends with the butcher and the grocer and had started preparations well in advance, you could have those things set aside for you by the merchants so you could buy them instead of having them available to the general public. In turn you could perhaps help them get things they needed or maybe you'd just do something nice for them like bring them cake or flowers (cut flowers were not always readily available back then so they were a much appreciated gift). Treat your network of merchants well and you'd be sure to be able to pull off a special event with the things you really needed.

In Germany - east or west - pork is the most popular meat. One could generally find most cuts of pork available in East Germany but cuts like fillet were rare. If you'd arranged it with the butcher in your network of merchants, you could get it set aside for you...but it was crazy expensive. Beef was less popular and not as available. Grilled chicken was (and still is) popular and was easily bought at sale stands everywhere. Wursts and Aufschnitt (cold cuts) were also easy to buy. Not every sort of meat was available all the time but there was always some sort of meat to eat.

Virtually all dairy products - milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, quark and condensed milk - were readily available. The one exception was whipping cream. Spray whipped cream didn't exist and sometimes cream to whip up yourself wasn't available. If you didn't have cream to whip then cooks would use milk and butter and whip the hell out of them together until it turned into whipped cream.

Fruits and vegetables that were most common were things that were grown in East Germany. Potatoes were most popular and were always available but when it got to be late winter and the new potatoes hadn't yet been harvested you may be pulling your potatoes out of a slimy pile. Kohlrabi, asparagus, carrots, cabbage, beets, green beans and peas, tomatoes, bell peppers, leeks - all were available but only in season...out of season canned vegetable were eaten - frozen veggies weren't all that common. Fruits like apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries and strawberries were available in season and citrus fruits like oranges and tangerines were available around the Christmas holiday season - and one should be prepared to stand in a long line to get them. My husband recalls bananas being available fairly often but many times they were pretty sorry bananas. He said the times the best bananas were available were at Christmas and when West Germany markets bought too many bananas and to get rid of them quickly they'd sell them to the East German government.

Sweets and Snacks
Chocolate was available but it wasn't a great quality. B reports that it tasted gritty. A finer grade of chocolate was available but it was also five times more expensive than the regular stuff. Potato chips and popcorn weren't available. A common snack item would be pretzels and they were not always available so plan ahead if you're throwing a party! Soft drinks were easy to get but there was no Coke or Pepsi. The East German brands were Vita-Cola or Club Cola. Vita-Cola is still sold and I've drank it a couple times. I'll stick with Coke, thanks.

Hard or Impossible to Buy Things
The things that I would take for granted - sauce mixes and pre-packed frozen meals - really didn't exist. Virtually all cooking was done from scratch. There were some exceptions. There was a pasta sauce called Carnito - one variety with ground meat and one with meat balls. It is still sold and to me tastes like the vile sauce in Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee canned pasta. And there's a sauce made of strips of red bell peppers with tomato sauce called Letscho that is also still sold - very tasty! Other sauces and gravies - Hollandaise, brown sauce, fish sauces, cream sauces, mushroom gravies - all were made from scratch.

Coffee was easy to buy but extremely expensive - so expensive that it would be considered wasteful to throw out any undrunk coffee. There was a time when it was hard to get and a story my MIL always tell is how she and B's dad scrimped and saved to buy a little packet of coffee for Christmas - enough for one pot only because that's all they could get. Two of B's uncles, who were drunk, dropped in on them, walked into the kitchen, found the coffee, brewed it and drank it up themselves and left my in-laws with no coffee for Christmas.

Mustard and mayonnaise were easy to buy but ketchup was a luxury. If there was any for sale, count on standing in a long line to get it. Twice a year in Leipzig there was a convention of merchants from around the world and regular East Germans could go there and buy many items that were nearly impossible to get otherwise. B remembers going there with his parents and one of his assigned duties was to stand in line for hours to buy a couple bottles of ketchup.

Tomorrow I'll go grocery shopping and with driving there, buying what I need, loading it in the car, driving home and getting inside I'll use about an hour - and to me that's an big chunk of my time. An hour and I'll have virtually everything I want and have food that comes from all around the world. All that hour would get me on an East German shopping trip is maybe halfway though the line to get a kilo of oranges. Good thing that Berlin Wall is down. I don't have any extra time to spare.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Getting the Nudge

I've been feeling utterly uninspired lately. I haven't been out to do anything worth blogging about (Hey folks! Wanna hear about how I walked to the mailbox today? Great!) and I don't want to turn this blog into a laundry list of complaints (Hey folks! It's hot here today! Again! Wanna hear me bitch about it? Great!). I write less which makes me even less inspired which makes me write less which further dampens inspiration and no blogging gets done (Hey folks! Wanna me to skip another day of blogging? Great!).

In an effort to find some sort of inspiration I've turned to NaBloPoMo. While I normally only do the write-a-blog-entry-every-day thing in the traditional NaBloPoMo month of November, NaBloPoMo now runs year 'round and they have monthly themes to help folks keep up with their daily writing. July's theme is food. This is great! I eat food. I cook it. I buy it. I grew up on Southern cuisine and now live with German cuisine! I won't be blogging every day this month but I could certainly get back to a regular writing routine if I write about food! And pictures! Food is a natural for pictures!

I'm so giddy about my new found inspiration I may need to have an ice cream sandwich.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

It's All In How You Say It.

One of my favorite lines in literature comes from To Kill a Mockingbird. It's at the beginning of the book where Harper Lee writes in the voice of the main character, Scout, of how hot Alabama summers were when Scout was growing up. Scout describes how "Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.".

And that's what I love about literature. Of how it can describe a situation we're all too familiar with and make it sound so much more elegant and dainty than it may actually be.

So when you think of me now during this brief but intense heatwave I've been living with for the past three days, think of me as a soft teacake. It sounds so much better than "perspiration filmed skin and drenched-with-sweat hair".

I gotta turn off this computer that's roasting my wrists and have me a popsicle. And bring on the thunderstorms!