This month I’ve been featuring journal-style stories from our time visiting my mom in a small German village in Baden-Württemberg. The series is named after a post from 2014, before we moved here for nine months. We had to leave for 90 days over the winter though, and wanted to come back some day for Christmas.
With Christmas falling on a Monday and the shops closed here on Tuesday (and us not wanting to go near the stores Friday or Saturday), mom and I decided to do all our grocery shopping Thursday. There was the seafood gumbo, the tartiflette, the turkey and sides, the famous curried cauliflower soup, the vegetable oatmeal soup (not sexy, but clean and easy), staples like yogurt, toilet paper, beer, wine, chocolate…a side trip to the bakery to load up, to freeze what we could.
The checkers scanned our items and mom and I stood at the bottom of the conveyor belt as they launched jars and bottles downwards, then we bagged and wedged it all in the back of our car, came home to try to find room in mom’s refrigerator/freezer, artful ways to store the produce in the laundry area without the mice or rats interfering.
I’d gotten lucky with the two chicken dishes I cooked before—the chicken en cocotte, the coq au vin—but I knew I’d be tested with the turkey (how to rig a V-rack in the absence of one, as I did once before with something I found in mom’s barn, an old part from a broken appliance).
I did the coq au vin in a Dutch oven mom got from her friends Colin and Shirley, vegetarians who received the pot as a gift but had no use for it—it was on the top shelf with the hanging witches and ornamental bird cage from Morocco or France; mom had never used it and it was so big I had to put it over two burners but the butter/oil almost immediately burned, I filled the house with smoke, but managed to brown the chicken parts okay and then the leeks, which weren’t really leeks but scallions (mom and I got in a spat over that: she said they were out of leeks, but the person told her these were young leeks, which just isn’t true from a botanical perspective).
I put the chicken and juices back in, the wine and carrots, braised it, then added the boiled potatoes and fresh parsley, the crème fraîche, lemon…seasoned it with salt and pepper, let it sit.
The gumbo would be for Friday: Eberhard would try to come, and we’d make Glühwein from the leftover red we’d been saving in the fridge, a variety of bottles we abandoned for that purpose.
Mom was fussy about the gumbo though, didn’t like making it without the okra or spicy sausage, which are hard to find in Germany. I picked some Merguez sausage that looks like it’s from Libya or Spain, will brown that, hope for the best.
Mom’s cats are now more confident in the main living area, which includes the nearby temptation of the laundry room, its ancient cat flap and squeaky hinges, and today I opened the door so they could get in there and hunt. With the old cobwebs and leaning storage shelves it must be an amusement park for kittens (training wheels for how to hunt rodents, too).
We went to our last Christmas market, in Schwäbisch Hall, visited Eberhard’s mom for coffee and cake—but it was a constant, soft rain that kind of creeps up on you, gets you wetter than you’re aware…and the ride home was scary through the fog, the navigator wanting to take us back to the autobahn, though we preferred the calm of the country roads, the 14, to Backnang, Oppenweiler.
Eberhard bought the girls each a ring, Charlotte a cookie the size of her chest, and Lily, a chocolate-covered apple. Charlotte ate all of her cookie before we got back to the car, then wouldn’t stop talking the entire ride home (an hour) about the TV show Stranger Things, then all manner of sugar-high madness—and I medicated myself with a Jerry Garcia CD though I kept biting the hair on my lip—and when we got back we toasted to the solstice, played with the cats, said how glad we were, we didn’t have to go back out.