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Monday, June 1, 2020



There are times, when I’m cooking a meal, that I think of my mom and how we’d work side-by-side in the kitchen, preparing a meal. I guess you could say I was a prep cook because my tasks fell to making salads, slicing bread, peeling potatoes, cutting them into big chunks and boiling them. Leftover potatoes were then sliced the next day and fried with onions to accompany whatever meat my mother prepared. I could make cookies and cakes from scratch, although I admit the first cake I baked and iced was a disaster and for some now unfathomable reason I hid under my bed, instead of throwing it out. Perhaps because it was a sin to waste food? I was successful at making biscuits and bread and became an expert at preparing salads and vegetables, but I never graduated to cooking meat.

You see, meat was expensive and too precious to risk being ruined by an inexperienced cook—me. Thus, when I became a new bride, I no doubt learned how to cook meat by trial and error. Hubby was wise enough to never complain about my cooking experiments, but he did suggest that I never make fish stew again. I had tried out a recipe and had bought cardboard containers to make portions for the freezer. Uh, they never made it that far. <grin>

One disaster that still makes me cringe was cooking my first beef roast. Relatives, who were to come for afternoon tea, phoned to say they’d have to postpone, so without thinking, I invited them for dinner (supper) instead.  This on very short notice. Now, Mom’s cousin was a very fussy eater and his wife was an excellent cook. I seared the roast like I’d seen mother do and put it in the oven, then fretted that it wouldn’t be cooked in time. Silly me, I cranked the temperature up to 400F to speed up the process. Let’s just say I should have stuck with serving the chocolate cake as I’d originally planned. But my mashed potatoes were excellent!

Another first was Christmas turkey. It was a small little fella, since there was only hubby and myself. I hauled out my home economics text I still had from junior high home-economics class (I didn’t have any cookbooks) and read one should baste a turkey every twenty minutes. Right. Meanwhile, the oven cooled and the bird cooled every twenty minutes while I basted. That poor bird took a long time to cook. But we’re still alive.

Our second Christmas was celebrated in Germany. To this day I shudder remembering standing on the curb, with my shopping cart full of paper bags, in the drizzle, getting my heavy pile Borg coat wet while hoping for a taxi. I had visions of the bags dissolving into sodden tatters and all my groceries rolling into the gutter. I vowed to never go grocery shopping unless hubby was available to drive me.
I made duck for Christmas Eve because mother had always made duck or goose for Christmas, never turkey.

I didn’t know ducks were so oily or that they had so many pin feathers I had to pluck with a tweezer. It took forever, and I’ve never made duck since. However, over the years I’ve gotten a good handle on roasting a 22+ pound turkey. The other thing I didn’t like about duck or goose was carefully picking out the nuggets of buckshot from the meat so I wouldn’t break a tooth. My step-dad used his shotgun to bring down the fowl.

One of my favorite memories of German food is bratwurst, currywurst and pommes frites. There was a food wagon that served these bites of goodness up to ten o’clock at night.  Sometimes hubby and I would have a late-night craving for those succulent sausages. It was my introduction to French fries (my mom never made them) and in Germany they were served with mayonnaise. They made the best fries ever and to this day that’s the only way I eat fries. Or perhaps with gravy.

I remember the first Kermis (fair) we attended in Soest where we were living. The last week of October the downtown area was blocked off and every type of merchandise was available, food booths and colorful rides, including a merry-go-round. At one booth we were tempted to try crispy, crunchy fish in a crusty oval  brotchen. It was the best fish I’ve ever had. We tried to find it the next year but never did experience that delicious treat again.

The German hausfrau goes out every day, beautifully dressed, and coifed, satchel over her arm, to shop for the evening meal. The daily shopping was the norm because many homes either didn’t have a refrigerator or it was not bigger than a small  child. On the farm, before we had electricity, we’d go into town on Saturday and take the week’s supply of frozen food from our locker and store it in a bucket lowered into the cistern to keep cool, along with  the milk, butter and cottage cheese.That cistern scared me and fascinated me and I’d make it echo my voice.

Although we had our own Canex shopping center, I liked to shop in the German stores, too, but never thought of bringing along a shopping bag. This one time hubby was with me (remember my vow not to shop without wheels). The clerks were not used to customers shopping in volume. My trip was a payday grocery shopping trip. The clerk’s eyes widened when I began unloading my cart and she called for help. They scrambled to find shopping bags. They only carried little bags with handles, like our gift bags that would hold a book. By the time she and her helper finished, there was a horde of twenty or more little bags lined up like paper soldiers. The staff no doubt appreciated our business but probably muttered about us crazy Canadians. Most of the time we shopped in our own military Canex, but dang, there was such good food in those German shops.

A short walk away from our place were some stores, including a pastry shop that would deliver brotchen (buns) for breakfast. Amongst other delicious goodies that they sold, by the slice, we fell in love with cheese cake. So did their other customers as sometimes, to our disappointment, they were sold out of this specialty. Now this was no ordinary cheese cake and I have looked in dozens of cookbooks to try to find a similar recipe and failed. It was tall, like an angel food cake, and had raisins in it and looked like it had been brushed with egg yolk, perhaps, when baking. So good, So missed all these years later. And don’t get me started on the cake of all cakes—Black Forest chocolate cake layered with heavy whipped cream, cerise and chocolate flakes.

Another German food we fell in love with was Zigeuner Schnitzel—breaded veal cutlet smothered with sliced red peppers, mushrooms and onions, served either with fried potatoes or spaetzle (noodles).  I don’t know why we called it Gypsy Spears; perhaps that was the name on the jar I could only get from our local German bakery until they stopped importing the delicious bottled sauce from Germany.

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.

It was love at first bite when we first ate it in a small restaurant on the way home from a day trip to the Möhnesee Reservoir, a popular tourist attraction. The Möhnesee is a long artificial lake created by damming  up two rivers and their basins to provide millions of cubic water for the densely-populated valley that it served, particularly the huge industrial city of Essen. 

The film, The Dambusters, was made in the ‘50s telling of the bombing of the dam by British pilots in WWII. The deluge of water flooded the factories in the Ruhr valley, paralyzing the German war operations. We went there many times and I have lots of pictures that have to be scanned into my computer.

An incident that we can laugh about now but at the time was most embarrassing for me happened when we dined at the Wienerwald in Stuttgart, (a huge broiled chicken franchise in Germany much like the Swiss Chalet chicken chain here). One walked down this long hallway that was lined with butter-basted, golden, glistening chickens turning on spits. You could literally select which one you wanted, if you so chose. Everyone at our table ate with their fingers, as was the custom… except me. I used my knife and fork (that’s how I was raised) until somehow, while trying to slice off a  drumstick, the entire chicken flipped into my lap. Everyone laughed…and I switched to using my fingers. That was my first taste of spit-roasted chicken and hubby and I were hooked.

The biggest strawberries I’ve ever seen (and not since) was during a trip to Holland. There are many roadside stands that offer tulips when in season and fresh fruit and vegetables. I remember gaping and I probably began to salivate when I saw the strawberries, my favorite fruit  I kid you not, one berry literally filled my hand. Sweet and juicy, too and no need for sugar and cream.

Another memorable dining experience occurred in Venice, the last stop on our Italian holiday. I craved to taste genuine Italian spaghetti. We always ate in our trailer to save money for souvenirs (and car repairs), but for a treat, we dined in an open-air restaurant on one of the canals. We ordered our food and while waiting for it to come, we chatted and occasionally heard odd plopping sounds. Well, we soon discovered the source. When a bottle of wine was finished, it was tossed into the canal.
Finally, our waiter arrived with our food. I stared at my mound of white spaghetti. Where was the sauce? Where were the meatballs? We learned you have to order individually what you want. You ask for spaghetti, and that’s what you get—plain pasta. Needless to say, I thumbed through my English/Italian dictionary frequently. And we did get the fixings and it was delicious.

While on the subject of Italy, I cannot end this blog without sharing two amazing memories of Rome. We’d been plagued with car issues ever since we started ascending the Austrian Alps. In retrospect, we should have stopped to check it out in Austria where we could converse in the same language, but then magically the issues stopped and we continued on to Italy. To our consternation, we ended up spending many hours in several garages and spent even more lira fixing everything under the hood except the kitchen sink.

I had planned that we arrive in Rome early in the day when traffic is reasonably lighter. Instead, we spent the entire afternoon in a Fina service station on the outskirts of the city because we arrived there just before one and everything shuts down for the Italian siesta from 1-4 p.m. Therefore, the mechanic couldn’t get the parts delivered from the Ford dealership until after 4 p.m.

Finally, after 6 p.m. we pull out and lose the trailer. It had been unhitched to put the car up on tracks. I don’t recall if the hitch coupling wasn’t properly secured, but in any case, something was missed and all the electrical wiring was yanked out of the trailer. By the time that was fixed, it was well after seven when we headed into the city, hubby driving and me reading the map. Can I say I’m not a good map reader? That I have to turn it upside down to follow the directions because I’m directionally-challenged?

On the map our campsite destination looked easy to reach. Just follow the route. The reality of seven roads fanning out in front of us isn’t. Which road to take? Millions of drivers impatiently honking behind us; hubby yelling, “Which one?” I’m convinced Italians drive with one hand on the stick shift and the other on the horn. Flustered, I blindly point to one street and hubby shoots for it, hoping we don’t lose the trailer in the melee. We continue on the road which doesn’t seem to be in the direction we need. I see a sentry outside an official-looking building that reminds me of a prison. Dictionary in one hand and map in the other, I ask for directions to Monte Antenna, our destination.

A barrage of unintelligible words accompany the sentry’s hand signals, fingers clenching and unclenching to indicate traffic lights, etc., etc. We nod our thanks and go blindly forth. Of course, we didn’t find the flashing traffic lights, but far too soon the road narrowed and it looked like we were heading away from the city rather than to the thick of it. I’m now in tears, hubby is clamping his lips, and my mother wakes from her Gravol-induced daze and cheerily asks if we’re there yet. A tavern appears ahead and I plead with hubby to stop. Muttering, my usually pleasant hubby stomps inside, returning about fifteen minutes later with two men, one tall, in his fifties and a short, portly man well into his eighties. The younger man walks to an old Mercedes sedan while I climb into the back with my mother and the old gentleman gets in beside Doug. We’re off, following the Mercedes and praying we don’t get cut off by a speeding Fiat or moped.

Again, with the aid of my trusty little dictionary and gesticulating like born-again Italians, we learn our passenger is a retired policemen. Somehow police in any language and murdered accents is understood. He smiles and nods, understanding my hubby is a military policeman. Eventually our fearless leader pulls over at the side of the road and points up a steep, winding road. Monte Antenna, the road sign displays.

He shows us on the map where we’d first met and where we were now and we realize he’d taken us halfway across Rome, far, far from the tavern. We thank them profusely, offer them money; smiling, they refuse. We then offer them a bottle of Chianti in a woven basket, a souvenir  we’d purchased in Pisa. Again, they smile and refuse. The old policeman gives us a salute and they climb into their vehicle. Still amazed by their generosity, we head up the hill. For the entire four days we stayed in Rome, we never moved our car, just took the tour buses that drove up to the campsite to pick up tourists.

Our departure from Rome was equally memorable. We had no sooner left and started climbing on our route north to Venice when our car started up the now-familiar stuttering and spluttering. Our stomachs clench. We look at each other in despair. By now we’d spent a small down payment on an Italian villa replacing car parts throughout Italy and the car still behaved like a petulant child. Mother, being married to a farmer who tinkered on his tractors, coaxing them to one more trip around the field, felt it had something to do with the fuel line. She’d stated that more than once.

Stopping at another Fina service station, we tried to explain to an attendant what we wanted him to do. He shook his head and gesticulated. A lovely young Italian woman saw our “discussion” and in beautiful English asked if she could help. I could have hugged her! We explained and she told the young man. A heated discussion ensued between them, complete with raised voices and hand gestures. Finally, he sulkily complied, and shaking his head, proceeded to remove the gas tank, which on our Ford Taunus was removable without exploratory surgery. He poured the gas into a pail and lo and behold, a chunk of metal plunked onto the sieve. The mechanic looked sheepish, my mother and the Italian lady triumphant, and hubby and I were just darn relieved.

The farmer’s wife was right! Solder had broken lose inside the tank where  the two halves were soldered together. Every time we had begun ascending a mountain, the chunk of solder slid forward and partially blocked gas from fueling the car. When we went downhill, the solder slid away from the hole and we once again continued on our merry way. Can I say we never had any more car issues?

I smile as I’ve relived memories while typing this. So many more beautiful experiences are still stored in my mind and in boxes of photographs. We both wish we could go back to revisit the places we remember and savor once more unique foods and chat with the wonderful people who were so kind to strangers.

I wish I had written down some of my mothers recipes…like her mile-high rum torte (eight thin layers of goodness with rum-flavored cream filling, or her Hungarian creamed chicken paprika that when I make the latter, with home-made spaetzle, never tastes like hers. The only food of hers that I hated was cabbage rolls with sauerkraut. She’d make a huge roaster full and we’d eat it for a week, reheating what we needed for each supper. My step-dad said the flavor intensified with each day. Yeah, and I lost fivc pounds or more because that was one dish I could not abide. One ate what was served at the table or starved, no mollycoddling. I wasn’t a finicky eater—I just hated sauerkraut and there were no tomatoes in the cabbage rolls. Hubby loves them, but horrid brat that I am, I never make it. Once in a while I buy some for him alone from the deli. Mother’s fried chicken, however, is still my favorite food and hers was awesome. 

What are some of your favorite foods and/or trip experiences that make you smile…or cringe?
In keeping with my food topic, here is an excerpt from Beneath A Horse Thief Moon where my three U.S. marshal heroes are reunited at Sara’s ranch. It’s one of my favorite scenes.

Dismounting, Josh removed his Stetson, revealing rumpled black hair, and stuck out his free hand. He smiled when Sara hesitantly took it. He deftly lifted it to his lips and gave her a courtly kiss. Her eyes widened.
“I am Joshua Hunter, at your service. My friends call me Josh. And this big galoot behind me is Michael J. Sutton. Everyone calls him Mike… amongst other things.”
Mike whipped off his brown hat, revealing a long rope of wavy golden hair tied back with a piece of rawhide. He leaned down from his horse and swallowed up Sara's small hand in his big one and in a voice that rumbled like distant thunder, said, “I'm Mike, Miz Sara. And you can call me anythin' you want just as long as you call me for supper.” His huge grin could swallow Texas.
Sara laughed, surprised that she liked Mike instantly and was not intimidated by his size.”
“Can you forget about your gut for once?” Josh teased.
Mike grinned. “I try, but it keeps growlin' at me.” The blond giant dismounted and stood a head taller than his friends.
Sara looked up, a long way up. “Oh, my, your mama must have fed you real good.”
“Yup, she surely did, and twice on Sundays.” Everyone laughed. “All funnin' aside, Miz Sara,” Mike said. “We're here to help. We don't expect no pay from you, nor would we take it. Not even from this big jackass.” He playfully slapped Chase on the back, nearly bringing Chase to his knees.
“That goes for me, too,” Josh added, nodding.
“Won't you come in and have a cup of coffee and some pie I just made today?” Sara said.
“Pie! Now that's the best offer I've had in a month of Sundays,” Mike rumbled and smacked his lips in anticipation. “She a good cook, Chase?”
“Wait till you taste her stew.”
For such big men, their footsteps were quiet as they filed in after Sara. Mike sniffed loudly. “Son of a bitch, somethin' smells good.”
“That's why it's called sonofabitch stew,” Chase said.
“I think I'm in love.” Mike gave Sara a smile that could make an angel give up her wings. “That smells mighty good, Miz Sara.”
“If you hold your mouth just right you might even get some for supper.” Chase released a silent sigh. Everything was going to be fine now that his two friends had arrived.

Link for Diamond Jack’s Angel/Hot Western Nights Anthology

Beneath A Horse Thief Moon:


  1. Oh, you made me laugh so much. We all have those disasters when we start out. Loved it.

  2. I'm glad my blog made you laugh. That was the sole intent. Thanks for stopping by, Christine.

  3. My stomach and tongue were craving some of those 'foreign' foods. What memories. Doris

  4. I don't blame you, Doris, because my mouth was watering at the thought of having Zigeuner schnitzel again.I should look on line to see if I can find the sauce.

  5. I can certainly relate to your memories of food disasters. Kinda been there, too. I do like the tender memories of you and your mom working side by side preparing meals in the kitchen. That was so sweet.
    I never gave thought to paper bags filled with groceries in the pouring rain possibly melting away. YIKES!
    I loved your blog, Elizabeth. It was personal and funny and I liked that. I apologize for being so tardy getting here to read it. I am way behind on things.
    I wish you all the best.

    1. I'm glad I popped back and so relieved you enjoyed my blog. I was smiling as I wrote the blog, reliving pleasant, homey memories. And that anecdote with the wet grocery bags was very traumatic. The direct line for a cab wasn't working in the store so I just had to "try" my luck. Luckily another shopper was ably to get me a cab. You are always so kind, Sarah. I truly appreciate you stopping by. Hugs.