Not long ago, following an exhausting and not-prosperous work trip, my flight home from Bilbao was delayed seven hours by a terrible wind storm that shut down several European airports. I spent five of those seven hours stuck in a line of hundreds, while two overwhelmed workers at the Lufthansa desk ever-so-slowly attempted to reroute 300-plus passengers. As the line trudged forward, I watched the board helplessly as flights departed, one by one, to Paris, to London, to Madrid, to Lisbon, all connections that would have gotten me home. I had an important meeting in the morning, and then my son’s first soccer game, which I’d committed to coach. As the hours passed, I knew I would miss both. By the time I reached the front of the line, there was no way across the Atlantic until the next day, and I was assigned an evening flight to Frankfurt. I was given a handwritten voucher for a hotel, and another voucher for a free dinner.
When I arrived, it was dark and rainy, and a taxi took me to a hotel in the middle of an industrial park in a suburb called Mörfelden. After checking in and explaining to my son that I would not be home in time, and hearing my boss’ dismay at my absence, I slumped down to the hotel’s overlit restaurant and grabbed a menu. I was a wreck. My career had suffered some recent blows and this trip was supposed to help turn things around; but it hadn’t. In any case, I badly needed some comfort food, and the first item that called out to me was wiener schnitzel. “Yes, please, may I have some wiener schnitzel,” I said, and presented my voucher. The stern waiter sneered and pointed over to a pathetic buffet: some stale rolls, a congealed soup, and a platter of rubbery chicken that had been sitting out for hours. This, apparently, was the Lufthansa Stranded Passenger Special that my voucher covered.
I’m coming up on a milestone birthday (it rhymes with shmenty-five) and I’ve been doing some deep thinking and metaphor-exploring about this decade in a person’s life.
If the college years were a plastic bottle of Vladimir—painful but functional—then I’d say the mid-twenties have improved a little to Absolut. Specifically, though, they’re the last ounce left of a bottle of marshmallow-flavored Absolut in my old freezer. My roommate and I have no idea where it came from, or to what particular gathering it was towed, by whom. Nor do we quite like the flavor. But hey, it’s free, I guess. MORE
There are a lot of things no one warns you about before you graduate college. For example, you probably won’t find a job unless you double majored in physiomolecular engineering and Mandarin. And you will really miss being able to sneak all your clothes through the athletics department’s laundry.
One of the most staggering pangs of truth is that all of your friends will move away, leaving you on a sad, remote island where there used to be an archipelago of BFFs dotting your hallway.
Worse, once new post-grad digs are acquired, you will be invited to all your friends’ housewarming parties and conversely be obligated to host your own. Having people over is an art oft neglected during the dorm days. You get a keg, humans accumulate in its vicinity, and you feel just like Martha. But not anymore. When you’re a grownup, you must welcome folks into your home with warmth and well-crafted snacks. What?! MORE
Packing up and moving a kitchen is a pain. But realizing, as you close the sole box that your own equipment fills, that all the good stuff actually belonged to your roommate — now that’s a tragedy.
As I recently mulled whether to move for a new job or stay put, the kitchen was not a factor. Unlike many people my age, I am not a natural born itinerant. I don’t get a thrill from accumulating new zip codes like beads on a key chain I’m a foot-dragger, big time.
So as I started to empty the cardboard boxes and fill my new home, I expected to shed a poignant tear or two about a farewell to a city, or the end of an era, or something. Not about an appliance.
I looked at the stuff my two new roommates had furnished. A set of dishes! Good, I don’t have those. Silverware! Great, don’t have that either. Damn, I thought, as I placed my five reusable grocery sacks, three spatulas, and two animal-shaped dish scrubbers in the cabinet. I am useless.
The list of things I thought I had, but really don’t, began to grow. A loaf pan. A cast-iron skillet. A wire whisk, for goodness’ sake.
Those were replaced quickly. But the number one roommate-owned kitchen object that I miss dearly? Immersion blender. MORE
I hope the giddiness I get from not following the rules anymore never fades as I go further into adulthood.
For example, I slept perpendicular-ly on the bed last night. Why? (Well, partially because I’m pretty short). BECAUSE I CAN. Deal with it.
This may be most exciting with food choices. Want to have Nutella for (not with) lunch? You’re allowed. And even if your idiosyncratic cravings don’t flout nutritional wisdom, it’s liberating just to know that nobody’s watching what you do anymore. (Things I have eaten as meals in the past month include: a chicken finger wrapped in a slice of plastic American cheese; a tub of hummus; a batch of miniature donuts; a carrot; wine; a jar of sun-dried tomatoes I got free from work; and a bag of popcorn drizzled with hot sauce.) Again, deal with it. MORE
Butter, I’m happy to say, is back in style.
In the 90s, America panicked when we found out that butter’s high saturated fat and cholesterol content could be doing a number on our hearts. Many switched to margarine, a man-made, vegetable oil-based substitute. Sadly, margarine doesn’t work nearly as well for baking: cookies get burned, muffins go flat.
So imagine the collective joy when the nutrition world announces that margarine has its evils, too, namely lots of trans fats, which can mess with human cholesterol levels more than actual cholesterol.
Butter might never be called a “health food,” but it’s not such a public sin to use it anymore. In fact, compared to processed sugar or high-fructose anything, it’s downright en vogue.
Bratwurst. Spätzle. Sauerkraut. Weisswurst. Schnitzel. These are the classic German foods we can all readily identify. But there’s more to the cuisine than the traditional hearty, meaty dishes that we’ve been conditioned to expect.
Consider the pilzstrudel — a strudel stuffed with wild mushrooms and smoked barley — which is entirely vegetarian-friendly and served with roasted carrots. Yes, you read that correctly: a completely meatless German dish devoid of any sauerkraut on the side. Or how about a fresh salad with forelle (smoked trout), asparagus, and radishes tossed in a horseradish dressing? While it might sound a bit farm-to-table, German cuisine is no stranger to seafood or salads.
“First you add the crushed fenugreek seeds,”
I crinkled my eyebrows and frowned, clueless.
“What?” I asked. My mother pointed at a small tin cup filled with the seeds. She pinched a few and I heard the crackling and popping of the oil as she threw them in the pan. The long process that is dinner in my home had begun.