I now know why Germans make all those high-performance cars: they drive fast. The average highway speed seems to be 150 kph, aka 93 mph. It took me a couple days to adjust, at first barely accelerating past the recommended 130; at this, 80 mph, I felt like an old lady on her way to church. When I eventually settled on 155--pretty arbitrarily--I was still being passed willy-nilly, and these passers weren't merely inching by me. And when Germans are not on highways, they're on hilly, winding, insanely narrow roads--old horse paths, now paved. On either type, they need good cars. What I no longer understand is why people buy them in the U.S., where, let's face it, these cars really don't do much good.
Other things I learned over our week-long Christmas-break trip:
- The people who work in hotels and restaurants in Germany are extravagantly nice. If I were working at the desk, and I saw my family arrive with our mountain of luggage and our unruly little boys and what has become the shaggiest dog in Europe, I think I might say, "Sorry, no record of your reservation, we're fully booked." But everyone welcomed not only the children but also the dog warmly. In Munich, the woman who served breakfast greeted Sam with a long, tight, surreal hug. And then brought hot chocolate. And then handed out candy. All the while prattling in German, cheerfully unfazed by our total lack of response or comprehension. Plus, no one batted an eye when we walked into restaurants with Charlie. In fact, it would have seemed silly to even ask permission; hunds are clearly expected.
- The restaurants were fantastic, especially in Munich: the Osterwaldgarten, across the street from our hotel in the Park Slope-y neighborhood of Schwabing, where the goulash was rich and spicy, the schnitzel light and crunchy, the room convivial, the clientele chic; and Spatenhaus an der Oper, facing the opera house, in of course the ritzy part of town where the opera house always is, where they served a fantastic house beer and an equally fantastic sauerbraten with horseradish cream; and Augustiner Großgaststätten in the pedestrian zone, for cakes and a drink at a site where monks started brewing beer in the 14th century, and which now seats up to 1,000 people. When we walked in after the boys' first-ever ice-skating attempt in the Karlsplatz, at 4:00 in the afternoon, almost every seat was taken. Perfect.
- The downside to German dining was that the only green thing at almost every meal was a sprinkling of parsley; I heretofore did not know that I could ever want a salad so badly.
- Two of the most beautiful places I've ever seen were were a medieval walled village called Rothenberg ob-der-Tauber, and a small city called Bamberg. Both spectacular. And before this trip, I'd heard of neither.
a recipe: schnitzel
When Sam will agree to eat any type of protein, a certain gauntlet is laid down, because that kid would happily subsist on a diet of exclusively plain, unadorned noodles. With maybe an occasional plate of spaetzle (or, as he calls it, "speckles"). So it was with a combination of surprise, delight, and trepidation that I heard him ask for seconds of Anne's schintzel, at her house in Munich. The trepidation is because I've had problems with sautéing breaded things here; I'm still not used to the electric cooktop, so there's more burning going on than I'd like to admit. But with fresh advice from an experienced schnitzel-maker--thin thin thin cutlets, plus clarified butter--and my own realization that I should just try a lower temp, I've gone at it again, a few times. Not only because I myself love a good schnitzel, but because I really want to keep Sam alive. And now I've come to the right formula:
veal scallopine or pork medallions, pounded uniformly thin (I use a rolling pin)
salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon heavy cream
lemon wedges, for serving
First, clarify butter: put a stick of it in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, and melt it, skimming any foam from the surface. Turn off the heat and let the melted butter sit for a couple minutes, and the solids will sink to the bottom. Before the butter recongeals, slowly and carefully pour off the melted butter from the top, leaving the solids at the bottom; discard the solids. You now have 3/4 stick of clarified butter. Heat a couple tablespoons of it in a skillet over medium flame.
Season the meat with salt and pepper. In 3 shallow bowls, put (1) some flour, (2) the eggs beaten with the cream, and (3) breadcrumbs. Dip each veal slice in the flour, then the egg, and finally the breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess of each coating. Place the coated veal in the hot butter, and cook for a couple minutes per side, until golden. This will probably have to be done in batches: pounded cutlets take up a lot of surface area in the pan. So replenish the butter as needed, between batches, and wipe out the pan of any fallen-off coating, which will burn if left in there; make sure the new butter you add gets hot before adding new cutlets. Keep the finished cutlets warm in a low oven while you finish the others. Serve with lemon wedges.