Monday, July 19, 2010

The Bag Lady

(The Railway Station, William Powell Frith, 1800's , Art

Okay, I'll admit it.

I'm deathly afraid that I am going to run out of food while I'm traveling in Europe.

I know these feelings are completely unreasonable.

But then again, the act of reason has very little to do with the development of feelings in the first place.

Gretch and I had bought hot chocolate and pastries at the train station in Innsbruck, Austria midmorning.

Just as expected, everything was superbly scrumptious.

While inhaling my chocolate croissant, I gazed down the station's corridor and saw the sparkle of lights and glistening glass windows.

I peered at this inviting scene more closely.

Boxes of every shape, size and color were sitting on shelves.

Jars and cans stood like soldiers at attention next to them.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing!

No, it wasn't a snack bar.

And it definitely wasn't a magazine shop.

I was staring at an honest to goodness grocery store right there in the middle of the train station!

I began running toward mecca as fast as my little legs could carry me.

I slowed to a comfortable trot as I entered the store.

My eagle eyes made a cursory examination of the aisles as my brain began to whirl with ideas.

I knew that our barely swallowed snack of five minutes ago would not sustain us past the next 15 minutes - tops.

That thought alone was enough to frighten the fat right off me.

But then I realized that we would be back on the train to Italy during the respectable hours - 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. - when lunch should rightly be consumed.

I clearly had no choice.

I would have to buy lunch in this grocery store palace!

I grabbed Gretch and we shot down the aisle toward the deli.

Sandwiches of every sort and variety were spread throughout the display case.

They seemed to be speaking to me:

"Choose me! Choose Me!"

Kind soul that I am, I didn't want to leave anyone out so I quickly selected five sandwiches - two tempting turkeys, one mouthwatering ham, one sturdy looking beef and one lonely all-by-itself chicken at the end of the row.

Delicate leaves of crisp green lettuce peeked out of the slices of bread.

Thick slices of juicy red tomato hung over the sides of the sandwiches.

Bottles of delectable dressings stood in a beautiful tray inside the display case - all ready to be called into action as condiments.

Four of us would be noshing on lunch.

But I had selected five sandwiches.

Oh, well - as my dad used to say - that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Next, we needed something to wash those tasty sandwiches down the old pipes.

Heading for the beverage aisle, I glanced quickly at the salad display.

I thought to myself, "How many vegetable servings is one person supposed to ingest in a day?"

The last time I checked, the revered American Food Pyramid had amped that figure up to 92 half cup servings per day - fresh vegetables only.

A person can squeeze by with just 46 servings if the vegetables are cooked.

That was good news.

Feeling unusually guilty, I said to myself: "I'd better pick up a few salads too."

Gretch and I sized up the libation offerings in the beverage aisle.

Things looked really promising, I have to say.

We chose a gallon of apple cider, three gigantic bottles of mineral water and a half gallon of chocolate milk to round things out.

(Most of the things that would be "rounding out," by the way, could be easily located on my body in a matter of hours.)

My mind began to wander to our upcoming train ride.

I said to Gretch: "I hope they provide catheters on the train because after I drink all of this fluid, that's going to be my only option!"

We giggled as we walked over to my favorite section of any grocery store - the cookie aisle.

I've had a love affair with cookies all of my life.

And I don't intend to break up with the little buggers anytime soon.

Our eyes focused on a veritable treasure trove of Austrian biscuits, cookies and pastries.

How was I going to choose from among them?

The answer to that question was incredibly obvious.

Pass any of them up?

Let's get serious here.

I promptly dropped 6 packages of cookies and two bags of mini- donuts into our basket.

I realized that I needed to be sensible.

We were leaving Austria within minutes.

Who knew if we would ever return?

I would regret it forever if I missed even one of those Austrian confections.

I dropped a package of apple strudel in my basket just as Bob reached my side.

I glanced up at him and said, "Have you been having fun in the train station, honey?"

His eyes dropped to my basket as he said, "Yes, I've been studying all of the historical markers and getting some exercise in too."

I wanted to slap him silly!

Maybe that would jolt all of that high minded discipline out of him.

Instead, I said, "Gretch and I have been having fun shopping for groceries."

Then he continued: "Do you really think we need all of that food?"

The hair on the back of my neck began to curl.

He had used the word "need" which automatically caused me to become hyper-vigilant.

"Well, no, we don't really NEED it but won't it be fun to sample these Austrian delicacies on the train?"

Wisely, he stepped away from me and headed for the check-out.

As Bob was gazing down the corridor, I tossed four chocolate bars - all proudly made in Austria - on the conveyor belt.

We walked out of the food palace with a plastic bag the size of New Zealand.

Seth, who had been computing in the train station, met us in the corridor.

His eyes fell on my plastic bag as he said, "Stocking up, are we?"

People stared at me as we walked through the train on our way to our compartment.

I thought to myself: "Oh, give it a rest, you nosy Nellies. I've picked up a few groceries. I haven't killed anyone.......yet."

I did not care if the entire world thought I was crazy to the core.

The only thing I cared about was finding a catheter.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Shrimp "Scampy"

(A Mouse in the Trap, Pietro Torrini, 1800's,

Soon after our arrival in London, Gretchen slid this piece of news into a perfectly pleasant conversation:

"We think we may have a mouse in the flat. I left a package of cookies on the kitchen counter the other night. When I was making breakfast the next morning I noticed that the edge of the plastic wrapper had been opened. The end cookie looked like it had been gnawed on."

I instinctively knew that no one or nothing with the ability to "gnaw" would ever be allowed within 467 feet of me.

So I jumped up, grabbed my cell and booked one of those " as-soon-as-you-can-get-me-there" flights back home.

I'm kidding, of course.

But not by much.

I thought to myself: "Great, good and wonderful. I'm living in a mouse house. And I'm going to be held captive by the whims of this monster who is going to make personal appearances in the flat whenever he feels like it."

Seth went to work setting traps with tempting delicacies like peanut butter and cheddar cheese.

Scampy - short for "scampered" or "scampering" - always managed to grab the goodies and then high tail it out of there.

This was no dumb mouse.

Several nights later, Bob saw a tiny brown blob scurry across the shadows of the living room floor.

I asked Bob: "You saw Scampy?"

Bob: "Yes, I did."

Merry: "What did he look like?"

Bob: "What do you think he looked like? It's a mouse."

Merry: "I mean did he have any identifying characteristics?"

Bob: "I think he was wearing a purple earring in his left ear. Are you happy?"

Obviously, I was not going to be getting any sympathy from Bob.

So I decided that my best plan of attack would be to forget that Scampy existed.

This strategy worked remarkably well until the week before we left for Italy.

We decided to hold a Family Council one evening after dinner.

The topic?

The once-and-for-all permanent end of Scampy.

We all agreed that our 10 day trip to Italy should give our dear Scampy enough time to "buy the farm."

Bob and Seth, our resident rodent warriors, moved into high gear.

The guys went to our quaint neighborhood hardware shop and purchased a boatload of traps and something else........

sticky paper.

We decided that this arsenal of weaponry would be set in several places around the flat just before we left for the airport.

Good-bye, Scampy!

There was just one more piece of business I needed to take care of.

I made Bob promise that if Scampy did "kick the bucket" while we were gone, he would quickly and quietly dispose of the remains with no graphic discussion of the details.

He promised.

Naturally, the other shoe dropped the night before we left for Italy.

I was lying in bed wondering how I was going to force my body to get off the mattress at 3 a.m. when I heard a distinct rustling sound in my wastebasket.

My heart nearly stopped beating.

Then I heard it again.

Earlier in the evening I had dumped an open bag of chocolates into the wastebasket because the date on the bag had expired.

I know what you're thinking.

Why would any decent, red-blooded American woman allow a bag of chocolates to expire?

The answer baffles me as well.

The rustling in the wicker wastebasket was revving up - crinkle, crackle, snap, pop.

The noises were making me nervous.

Minutes later - realizing that I was being ridiculous - I jumped out of bed and saw Scampy scoot under my door just as I turned the light on.

I thought to myself: "My stars! I've eaten shrimp larger than Scampy - he's tiny!"

I'm not proud of what I did next but here we have it:

I woke Bob up.

I said to him, "Scampy was in my wastebasket feasting on my chocolates a few seconds ago."

Bob opened one eye, looked at me and said, "Then he'll be fat and happy. Put the wastebasket out in the hall. Goodnight."

I immediately did what I was told.*

Returning to bed, I spent several minutes worrying that Scampy might return to the scene of his crime and scare the bejeebers out of me

I knew it was time for a one woman therapy session.

I said to myself, "This is silly. Scampy is more afraid of you than you are of him."

Feeling suddenly powerful, I turned the light off and went to sleep.

* This documented event is the one and only time I have "done what I was told."  May it ever be so.


Scampy did, indeed, move on to better things while we were in Italy. The powers that be informed us that it was the sticky paper that got him. Fortunately for Bob and Seth, Gretchen and I will never have first-hand knowledge of Scampy's sad demise.

(Peasants Meal, Cheltenham Museum, Cheltenham England)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pudding, Anyone?

(Still Life, Cornelius de Heem, 1600's, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio)

Recently, I have been fantasizing about the gastronomical delights we have enjoyed in Europe.

If you can't dredge up any other reason to go across the pond other than food, believe me, that's reason enough to go.

I could have taken a long, leisurely bath in the creme brulee we devoured in Paris.

Why shouldn't my bodily pores indulge themselves too?

There was the lighter-than-air chocolate mouse I yummed up at the Louvre.

Every single time we eat there I order it.

And every single time I enjoy it more than I ever have before.

I never think about the Louvre without coveting the divine cheese wedges that never fail to tickle my taste buds.

Not much on earth makes me forget about the glories of art.

But those cheese wedges have the power to do it!

The fresh spinach sauté in Milan?

Bring it on!

The shrimp scampi in Venice?

Simply the best I've ever tasted.

The fresh baked, moist and fluffy croissants in London of all places?

Oh, the wonder of it all as the flaky dough melts on my tongue!

The black pudding in Cheltenham?

Not so much.

First of all, who in their right mind would seriously label a pudding "black?"

I can think of a lot of things that should be labeled "black."

Things like ties, tar and, of course, the iconic "little black dress," for instance.

But pudding?

I don't think so.

On that beautiful morning in Cheltenham, Bob and I walked downstairs to breakfast in the posh dining room of our small hotel.

It had been a long time - that means never - since we had enjoyed breakfast in a room dripping with crystal chandeliers, sparkling goblets and white linen tablecloths.

Bob and I studied the menu and then decided on the "full traditional English breakfast."

This feast included an assortment of juices, scrambled eggs, ham, sausage, baked beans, freshly sliced tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, black pudding and toast with orange marmalade.

While waiting for this harvest of food to arrive, I gazed at my girth and then at the width of the dining room's entry door.

I simply wasn't sure if I would be able to crawl - I knew that walking would be out of the question - through that spacious opening after I had consumed this British breakfast.

But I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it!

A short while later, our server arrived with our breakfast plates laden upon her arms.

I asked the young woman to tell me the ingredients in the black pudding.

She sweetly ignored my request and urged me to try it.

In the spirit of preserving good international relations, I almost succumbed to her coy suggestion.

But then I vaguely remembered reading somewhere that black pudding was made from some sort of animal innards.

Please believe me when I tell you this - there was not going to be one chance in The Hot Place that I was going to let that stuff touch my lips let alone my precious stomach.

Just then "Bob The Brave" chomped down on a bite of his pudding.

I casually inquired, "How is it?"

He looked at me with his piercing blue eyes and said, "It's bad."

In Bob-ese, the word "bad" - when used in a food context - translates to "this is the most vile tasting stuff that's ever entered my mouth."

So my instincts had been right.

Later, we discovered that "black pudding" is just another term for "blood sausage."

Because I had not yet ingested enough fat, sugar and salt grams in my traditional English breakfast - minus the black pudding - I decided to order a cup of hot chocolate with cream.

While sipping my hot chocolate, I instructed Bob to go to the front desk and reserve an ambulance........

just in case the cream in my warm cocoa had put me over my day's fat gram limit and caused me to need an emergency quadruple by-pass.

In the meantime?

The creamy hot chocolate tasted sublime as it splashed on my tongue and trickled down my throat.

Some things in life are simply worth the risk.

Please note:

In the interest of maintaining the emotional health and gastro-intestinal welfare of my readers, all recipes for "black pudding" and "blood sausage" have been banished from this blog until life as we know it is over - perhaps longer.