The Frankfurt-Hahn Airport sits humbly in mild decrepitude in the German countryside, looking like an aging Cold Warrior, someone who was secretly important in the mid-sixties but has been slipping into oblivion for four decades, and now ekes out a living teaching Mandarin to American MBAs. We park in the short-term lot, along with no more than a dozen other cars, and walk past an inexplicably fallow 5 acres that separates the garage from the terminal. We climb steps to enter the terminal, further enhancing the convenience of the arrival experience, especially for anyone with strollers, or advanced age, or luggage. A blonde hustles up these steps in front of us, head to toe in black leather; she's not quite young enough to pull this off, but she looks correct here in the gray and drizzle of Rheinland-Pfalz.
It took ninety minutes to get to this airport from our apartment, half of it on winding two-lane roads in a thick blanket of fog, passing beside tight little villages with their houses huddling against the dense forests. Frankfurt-Hahn is not in Frankfurt the City You've Heard Of; it's about 120 kilometers from there, and the same distance from Luxembourg, or Bonn, or Saarbrucken. We are here because flying to Shannon, Ireland, from Luxembourg, whose brand-new luxurious airport is a mere 15 minutes from our apartment, would've been the most expensive flight I've ever taken. On the other hand, the Ryanair ticket for the first leg of our journey, from Hahn to London-Stansted, cost just shy of €20 before the taxes and fees. Which included:
- A fee for not checking in online, which you can do only if you're an EU passport holder, so we were essentially fined €10 apiece for not being European, at every check-in. Of which we had four in our round-trip, because Ryanair doesn't do transfers: if you need to transfer planes to get where you're going, as we do, you need to buy separate tickets, and check-in separately, and be on your separate own if there are any missed connections or such. But the good news about airport check-in is that we get to learn that the guy handing out thermal-paper boarding passes at ticketing will also become the guy collecting those same flimsy passes at the gate, a few hundred yards away.
- Another €10 apiece for "priority boarding." I had only the broadest idea what this meant when I was paying for it, but it sounded promising. Now I know it means you get to board the plane first, and, because there's no assigned seating, you then get to sit wherever you want. Unless you were really dense with the previous prerogative, you thus get to deplane first, shortening your trip by untold minutes, jostles, and annoyances. Worth every penny.
- As we exited a gate onto the tarmac, a flight attendant wearing a long blue overcoat over her long blue skirt was crossing the tarmac riding a bicycle.
- You're allowed to pretty much wander around the tarmac. At one airport, we realized we were being led to the plane by the passenger at the head of the queue, who was maybe eight years old.
- They pipe in advertisements to the cabin of things you can buy on the plane--not even water is free on a Ryanair flight--accompanied by a relentlessly upbeat pop tune that, two days later, is still torturing me from within. Some of these ads are for booze, which they sell in little metallic pouches such as enclose Wet-Naps, and--get this--all the liquor is "buy one, get one free."
- There are no pockets on seat-backs, which from my point of view, I missed. But from their point of view, I couldn't leave any garbage behind, so they don't have to clean their planes between flights. Also, they don't let you keep the in-flight magazine; the attendants collect the magazines before descent.
- If the plane lands on-time, the P.A. system pipes in a trumpet fanfare while you're still bouncing down the runway, and the announcer brags about "another on-time arrival," which Ryanair claims happens 90% of the time, the best record in Europe. We were on four flights, and heard only one fanfare; karmically, I guess we have a lot of on-time arrivals due to us, so we can consider flying Ryanair with the boys. This time, they were not with us: they stayed behind in Luxembourg, with Grandpa Cake, so we could fly to Shannon, have dinner with Brian and Amy at Dromoland Castle (pictured above), sleep, then turn around and come home.
I didn't have the energy to do my French devoirs Sunday night, so I stay behind to do them Monday morning while Madeline and Grandpa Cake take the boys to school. On her way out, Madeline announces that she's going to the market after drop-off, and asks if I want anything.
I've never really been able to plan nightly dinners in advance. I know many people can, and in a way their lives are probably better than mine. But unless it's for a special occasion, I just can't visualize tomorrow's dinner today; I often can't visualize today's dinner today, except when I'm in the market staring at vegetable bins. So when Madeline asks, I glance at a fruit bowl that includes a couple of over-ripe lemons. I panic, and the only thing I can think of involves these lemons. I ask for chicken breasts and capers.
When we get home at 5:00 from school followed by the bakery followed by the playground, and I start to cook, I realize that the jar of little green orbs that came home contains peppercorns, not capers. So this piccata is without capers, which no one misses a bit, and saves me the trouble of brushing them away from the boys' servings. If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that my children don't want capers. However, they do both enjoy squeezing lemon wedges onto pieces of baguette, and then sucking on the moistened bread, which I'd never have guessed.
Salt and pepper
Dry white wine
Chicken broth, optional
Juice of 2 lemons, plus lemon wedges
Capers, previously thought essential, now known to be optional
Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then coat in flour, shaking off any excess. Heat a slick of oil over high flame and add the chicken breasts; it's fine to do this in batches. Brown, flip, and brown the other side. Remove the browned chicken.
Pour in 3/4 cup white wine, scraping up the browned bits, and let bubble away for a couple of minutes. Pour in 1/2 cup of chicken broth, if you have it and want to; it'll make a smoother, richer sauce, while omitting it will make for a tarter, more lemon-y one. I skipped it this time. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Add a tablespoon of butter and the capers, and cook for a minute to combine; taste and season with salt and pepper. If your chicken isn't cooked through from the browning, add it to the pan and simmer in the sauce until finished; if it is cooked through, just keep reducing the sauce until nice and thick. During the final few seconds of cooking, add the last tablespoon of lemon juice, and serve with the wedges on the side.