short story

A Tale of Three Dishes Part II

Isaiah and I were again tagging along on one of Owen’s business trips. This time he was visiting one of his company’s plants in the charming town of Bretten, Germany. Many of the his colleagues lived in or near town and coming here was a little like a business reunion. Isaiah and I were accustomed to camping out in our hotel room, frequenting nearby parks and strolling through town. Part of the routine often included Owen participating in business dinners with visiting customers, so we were comfortable fending for ourselves. At times reservations had been made before our trip began and we knew which nights Owen would be away, but lining up our evening wasn’t always easy, as many times there was no set plan of “when and where.” Since I didn’t have an international cell phone, the only way Owen could get in touch with me was to meet back at our hotel or call the room, but if Isaiah and I were out exploring we needed to be flexible with our dinner plans.

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Little park outside of the hotel

One afternoon the baby and I returned to the room for his nap. By the time he woke up I knew Owen would be coming back soon, so I didn’t want to head back out. To pass the time I took out the crayons and paper I had packed. There was a perfect little desk in the corner for coloring shapes and practicing our colors. Isaiah was sitting in a chair and completely content, so I thought it would be a good time to run to the restroom. I left the door open so I could hear him and dart out if he started to move, besides I just going to be a minute. Right as I was walking out, I saw him standing on the chair and losing his balance. I couldn’t get there fast enough and he came crashing down, catching the side of his face on the corner of the desk.

My heart sank as I rushed to comfort him and inspect his injury. All of the sudden I felt home sick and helpless. I had no idea where the nearest medical facility was located, and no car to get me there anyway. Thankfully there was no bleeding, and I was able to get a wash cloth of cold water to sooth his wound and help with the swelling. It didn’t take long to see he was going to have a black eye. By the time Owen called to say we had been invited to his co-worker’s home for the evening, I had calmed down a little. After explaining to him what had happened and expressing my concerns about being good company, Owen and his friend convinced me that going there was the best option since his home had a medicine cabinet and some basic supplies, not to mention he was an asset as a translator if need be.

Picture taken a few days later, sob.

Picture taken a few days later, sob.

When Owen picked us up from the hotel, Isaiah and I were doing better. Owen was quick to put my mind at ease, professing (as I think many dads do) “it’s not that bad.” We arrived at Martin’s home and were greeted by his welcoming family. It was their custom to eat a large lunch and not very much for dinner, but they did put out some homemade bread, cider, and jams, a slaw like salad made from their very own garden vegetables and a few kiwis. The night was very comforting after the upset we had in our hotel room. Martin’s wife practiced her English with me while his daughter played the piano for us and his son brought out a box of building blocks for Isaiah.

His wife and some of the homemade goodies.

His wife and some of the homemade goodies.

Isaiah taking a turn at the piano.

Isaiah taking a turn at the piano.

The night had been just what I needed and the next day I was again feeling relaxed about our stay (as opposed to trying to book the first flight home). I had even decided I would take Isaiah out for the afternoon. Owen had told me about a restaurant I should try at the square around the corner from our hotel. This was my favorite part of town. The brick paved thoroughfare was really for pedestrians only (although occasionally there would be a random car parked in front of a shop). The path was lined with quaint little stores, one sold chocolates, another sold kitchen wares, a couple sold clothing, etc. Owen had explained that a particular restaurant, the second one with outdoor seating on the north side of the road, had a pizza type dish that he thought was pretty good. Trusting his recommendation, I made it our quest of the day.

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What I am about to tell you next is as serious as I can be. I had never tasted anything like this before. One word, flammkuchen. It wasn’t really like a pizza or flat bread I’d eaten. It was amazing! It had a thin crispy crust, there was some sort of beautiful white sauce, the cheese was mild and flavorful, the onions were soft but firm and sweet, and the bacon, oh the bacon; it was perfectly salty, crispy and chewy all at the same time. Together the combination was out of this world. It’s not to say that I had tasted flammkuchen and had a standard to measure it by, but I’m pretty sure I hit the jackpot! Life changing. Honestly it’s worth booking a vacation over.

I posted this picture only because there are remnants of the flammkuchen on the table.

I posted this picture only because there are remnants of the flammkuchen on the table.

A Tale of Three Dishes Part I

Owen was pretty low on the corporate ladder back then. Isaiah, almost a year old, and I were tagging along on his business trip to the Czech Republic. For the first portion of our stay we were just going to make due with whatever arrangements the company had made for Owen in the town of Jihlava. During the second part of the trip we had extended the stay on our own dime to tour Prague. Being the dutiful man that he is, Owen had made this known to his company. After all it really changed nothing as I was willing to do all of the child care and touring my heart desired while he was fulfilling his commitments. Somewhere along the way however, word got out that Owen was bringing his family, and to accommodate our situation we were moved into an executive suite normally reserved as an apartment for executives with long term stays. The room was like a studio with a kitchenette, a large bed and an extremely large bathroom with a spacious walk-in shower unlike any European bath I had seen before. Thoughtfully management had even furnished the room with a crib for our son.

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Executive Suite

The first night of our stay was a difficult adjustment for the baby. He was still on our time schedule, which was about a six hour difference. Owen has a practice of trying to get on the schedule of where he is traveling right away, so he went to bed in the evening to be able to get up early in the morning to head off to the plant. To Isaiah it felt like lunch time, and he wasn’t sleepy at all. Since he and I could make our own schedule, I set up a play area away from the bed and tried to keep him as quiet as possible. When we had arrived the very nice woman behind the desk informed us that a complementary breakfast would be offered between the hours of like 6-9 am. Since the baby and I had finally gone to sleep around 2 am Czech time I had decided to sleep through breakfast, besides European cafes with fun pastries are one of my favorite things about Europe- so whenever we woke up I was confident we would be able to find something to eat.

Touring Jilhava with Owen

Touring Jilhava with Owen

Some time around 10 o’clock, the baby and I were still asleep when there was a knock on the door. I knew it wasn’t Owen, he had left a few hours ago, and he had a key. I got up and asked who was there. I recognized the voice of the nice woman who had checked us in the day before and opened the door. Much to my surprise she had three large trays full of food! She had noticed that we missed breakfast and wanted to make sure we had something to eat. There was a tray of sliced meats and cheeses, a tray of breads and pastries, and a tray of fresh fruit and two different yogurts. She had also brought orange juice, water and coffee. I felt like a queen! I didn’t have to wake the baby or go anywhere! Plus Isaiah had options when he did wake since he could easily eat a banana and yogurt.

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A view from town square in Jilhava, Czech Republic

It was a lovely start to the day to say the least. And I actually felt guilty that I couldn’t eat it all! (And I made it a point not to miss breakfast again). After we got dressed, we did a little exploration of the city. There were cute little boutiques hidden behind painted doors. There was hustling and bustling down narrow streets full of working people and little cars. Because the area we were in was very business like and everything looked the same (and because I instinctively have no sense of direction), I didn’t want to stray too far because we had gotten a late start and I knew Owen would be back from work soon. Not too long after we returned to the room and I had put Isaiah down for a nap, Owen walked through the door and informed me of where we were going to dinner.

Apparently the place we were staying also had a restaurant downstairs. I hadn’t even been able to see or hear it from the lobby, but all we had to do after we went down the three flights of stairs from the floor of our room, was take a different turn which landed us right in a unique type of dining hall. The walls were made of stones and the tables and chairs were dark wood. There was a fire burning in a fireplace that seemed to be in the middle of the room and a cooking fire in the corner. You could see pots hanging from an area that must have lead to the kitchen and the whole place was packed full of locals and business men and women that already knew about this hidden treasure. To say it was charming would be an understatement and I was completely delighted. The weather outside was chilly, somewhere between fall and winter, inside was warm and picturesque.

This picture does not do it justice! I took it during a breakfast with Isaiah. At night it is full of people. The fireplace in the corner is for cooking.

This picture does not do it justice! I took it during a breakfast with Isaiah. At night it is full of people. The fireplace in the corner is for cooking.

We were seated at a long table filled with executives; sellers and buyers. I was a part of the only family there and they had insisted that we come. Everyone greeted us warmly and commented on Owen as an appreciated employee and respected colleague. I felt their sincerity and I was proud of him. I think it was a nice change for everyone to have something a little more personal rather than all business as usual. After spending all day together at a plant resolving issues and talking numbers, I’m sure it was a nice diversion.

The restaurant was accustomed to international patrons and equipped with menus in English. As a starter I selected a soup I had never seen before or again. It was simply called Garlic Soup, and considering the weather outside, the warmth inside and my love of garlic it just seemed right. When they brought it to the table I didn’t really know what to expect. It was broth-y and mostly clear. It had a few little drops of oil that had collected at the top. I don’t remember seeing any pieces of garlic per say, only a couple of thinly sliced scallion rings. It was light and fulfilling at the same time. It was warm, satisfying and delicious. After that I really can’t recall any more of the soup or anything else I ate that evening, but I do know that I ordered it two more times before we left the city. I have researched recipes for Garlic Soup since, some were creamy and some were chunky; none were ever close to what I had at that quaint restaurant on the bottom floor of the of the executive apartments where I was treated like a queen.

Isaiah and I felt like royalty!

Isaiah and I felt like royalty!

Featured image taken in Prague, Czech Republic

Mortifying Mom

My mother is excellent at entertaining guests, a gifted decorator, talented painter and admirable piano player. She would have thrived in the Victorian era. True to that period, she is also very prim. And because she is ladylike, it makes it extra funny when she finds herself in awkward situations. For someone who doesn’t like to embarrass herself she finds herself in some real predicaments. Two little gems come to mind, that are too good not to share. (And thank you mom for granting permission.)

My mother was shopping at a department store to find a gift for a bridal shower. Of course, liking to purchase memorable keepsakes she was scouring the registry to see what she’d like to buy. She had decided to purchase a requested platter to match the china ware, when a sales clerk approached her asking her if she’d like some help. Without looking up, my mother found the name of the pattern to tell the woman what she was hoping to find. The sales clerk then lead her to the area of the specified dish as my mother read more information from the sheet out loud to search out the desired item. Next both of them were searching through boxes stacked with patterned dishes to obtain the right one, when the sales clerk found and began to retrieve the right platter. In my mother’s excitement she exclaimed “Good Eye!” and finally looked at the woman in the face to discover she only had one eye. And then, neither of them saying another word, my mother followed her to the checkout counter to pay for the dish.  After the transaction my mother mustered the courage to thank the sales clerk, and left with her purchase in total humiliation. Classic.

My mother’s parents spent the winter in Florida. So when they came home during the spring and summer months spending time with them was treasured. One of their simplest and favored pastimes was ‘garage-sale-ing.’ They enjoyed picking up some lunch and driving around the countryside to find independent sales to look for wares. One sunny afternoon my mother joined them on their excursion, and they found a garage sale with a lawn full of tables that seemed bustling; indicating that there were probably many and possibly good items to be had. To make for an easy exit, my grandfather parked on the other side of the street. My mother got out of the van on the passenger side and went around to the front of the vehicle to check for traffic before she crossed. She noticed that there were some cars coming in the distance but figured she had enough time to pass. As she darted out she caught her foot, tripped and fell flat on her stomach. Stunned but obviously aware of her surroundings she looked up again to gauge the approaching traffic. Determining she didn’t have the time to get up, she surmised that her only option was to roll. And so she rolled across the pavement and onto the lawn of the transpiring sale. Unable to express any embarrassment she began to browse the merchandise like nothing had happened. Priceless.