This morning, Scott and I are in Heidelberg, Germany, and have set out on a design-your-own food tour. I couldn’t find a food tour for us anywhere. Note to Heidelberg entrepreneurs: um… seriously? I tried to find something, but besides a beer tour, and a tour that is only available two days a month (not this week) – there’s nothing. Weirdness.
So, anway, I decided to take the places that were recommended on all kinds of travel blogs and ratings websites, and create my own food tour for us. Each meal of the day, we will eat at at least two places, two different courses. Plan accordingly.
So, we are seated at our first stop. So far, I’m a little disappointed (though that changes as the meal progresses) because I was expecting more of a view. We’ve placed our orders, and our server comes back with a small, rolled-down, paper bag with bread in it. Several pieces are this dark brown bread with chopped nuts through it, and several pieces are what appears to be a sliced french bread.
My husband being my husband, he smells the dark bread. He smells his food a lot. I used to think it was weird, but I’ve gotten used to it. He insists it’s because his parents used to try to sneak onions past him in food, but I think it’s just part of the food experience for him now. And in his defense, he has super-sensitive olfactory and taste senses. He’s one of those guys who can taste a wine and start rattling off “leather, smoke, raspberries, a little honey…” and all that stuff. Once he says it, I can usually taste it, but without his guidance I know I wouldn’t. So I let him sniff the food and wait for his observations.
Then the white bread, and he says, “I expected the dark bread to smell rich and nutty, and it does. But then when I smell the white bread, it’s so yeasty. Really amazing in comparison.”
So, I pick them up, and I smell. As soon as I smell the french bread, I close my eyes and I am in my grandmother’s kitchen, with the rolls that my grandfather used to pick up from across the street. From the town butcher, who stocked fresh rolls along with the usual meats and all.
I mean, I can picture the round, 1970s kitchen table that everyone seemed to have. The TV in the corner, on a rolling TV cart with magazines stacked on a shelf underneath. The single strip of upper and lower cabinetry along one wall, with the sink in the middle, and the little alcove with the stove, refrigerator and pantry tucked in it. One kitchen wall had exposed bricks, the ones that Grandma would challenge herself to reach just one brick higher each day when she was doing physical therapy after her breast cancer surgery.
There are assorted family around the little table. Someone digging into the fridge, asking for the milk that was always left out on the counter and not in the fridge, while the butter was always put right back in the fridge making it hard and impossible to spread. Someone is standing at the sink, already done with their meal and cleaning dishes while some of us are just getting up and started. I’ve slipped into the kitchen to listen to the voices overlapping each other and grab some breakfast.
Gadgie had gone across the street and picked up fresh baked rolls from the butcher shop. The same butcher who would, without a word, supply the family with sandwich and deli trays for so many meals after my grandfather’s death, because he wasn’t just Joe the butcher, he was a family friend. The family had been nearly daily customers for over 40 years.
I rip open the roll. The outside is crisp and crunchy, leaving crumbs on the table. But the inside is soft, chewy, and yeasty. Grandma always keeps “sweet” butter, the unsalted stuff, and grandma’s house is the only time I get to have it.
My dad is, good-naturedly, calling grandma his ‘witchy mother-in-law,’ and she’s laughing and smacking him in the head with a dish towel telling him ‘Oh, you shaddaaap!” as the voices grow in volume and stories are told and retold.
After holding on to that feeling as long as I can, I open my eyes, and that dated kitchen in New Jersey falls away. I’m back in a little cafe in Heidelberg, Germany. My husband sits across from me. It’s a little jarring, and bittersweet.
I try to sniff the roll again, and a shadow of the memory is there, but it’s not the same. It’s quickly dissipating. It’s the clearest I’ve remembered them in quite some time, and I’m glad for it. I’m trying to hold on to the feel of it, the feel of their kitchen. The kitchen in the house that was sold, divided into apartments, and then knocked down.
Scott is watching me with an amused look on his face, because, honestly, I’m enjoying this bread a little to much. I smile back at my husband of 21 years. This man who never got to meet Gadgie, and only knew Grandma the last couple years of her life. He never sat in that kitchen. So I begin:
“When I was a kid we would go visit Grandma and Gadgie. In the mornings, Gadgie would buy these rolls from the Joe, the butcher across the street…”