When my son came out of his bedroom this morning wearing black sweatpants tucked into the tops of his yellow soccer socks and a red shirt to celebrate family heritage day at school, I knew I had to step up to the challenge—by making some German delicacy that kids and parents would actually eat and not just leave on their plates at the potluck.
I’ve come to hate potlucks. I have a busy life. I can’t spend all my time in the kitchen. But it goes against every moral fiber my mother sewed into me to show up at a potluck with food purchased from a store. I recall her dissing our relatives the first time they brought KFC instead of home-fried chicken to a family reunion. “Hmmmm, will you look at that?” she said.
Until I saw my little German flag walking around our house, I was prepared to go empty handed except for the sugar cookies I’d promised to bring. But those cookies weren’t German, and that little flag was waving a saucy corner at me, a silent Teutonic reminder to “play by the rules” and “make an effort.”
Four hours before the kids were scheduled to tell stories about their ancestors (1:30p.m.), I madly Googled “common German foods.”
Beer was a nonstarter.
Bratwurst was another nonstarter, due to marinating and cooking time and the gag factor for kids.
Sauerkraut? I could just hear the puking sounds in the classroom the minute I opened the container. Why can’t a common German food be strawberries and whipped cream?
Google Google Google. I stumbled upon a five-star kaesespaetzle ( kozze-shpet-zle??) recipe—advertised as the “German mac and cheese.” Kids would love it. My son would eat it. The foodies raved, said it was easy, came out great!
A spaetzle-making tool would be nice but not required. Other cooks had used a large-holed cheese grater or a pastry bag to squeeze out tubes of noodles. I had both in my kitchen. Plus, I had all the ingredients. Perfect!
10a.m. I assembled the ingredients and plugged in the KitchenAid. First mistake. Just like making mashed potatoes with a Cuisinart, making egg noodles with a KitchenAid at high speed turns them into glue. Still thinking they were salvageable, I added a bit more flour. Then I pressed handfuls of the sticky glop through the grater into a turbulent pot of boiling water. Lumpy noodles the size of small macaroni elbows floated to the top of the pot as they cooked. Once they were all afloat, I transferred the cooked noodles to a pan with butter. They didn’t look too bad.
But they were tough as lederhosen. To the compost! Schnell!!
11:15a.m. I find another mixing bowl, mixing spoon, and set of measuring cups and spoons because the others are all covered in glue that I don’t have time to strip.
I will mix this batch by hand since I’ve Googled another recipe that shows me how to do this. I am overjoyed. This one will turn out quite yummy from what all the reviewers say. I stir. The egg and flour come together into a paste, but perhaps a little too dry? I’m not able to mix it completely. The spoon cakes with dry flour. I add the milk. Things are getting lumpy. I am getting grumpy.
But I am German!! with a bit of Irish and French thrown in. I am determined. I cannot let this recipe get the best of me.
I stir and add a bit more flour, a bit more milk. And stir until I have something the consistency, once again, of glue. So I stop and let it rest for a bit. Although this recipe recommends a half hour, I can only afford 20 minutes. I rest, too, and look around the kitchen at the glue disaster area—including the lumps I’ve smashed into the tread of my shoes.
The pot of boiling water is churning away lustfully on the stove, begging me to throw it some more raw material. I wait no longer.
This time I pour the glue into a plastic bag to simulate the pastry bag I can’t find. It is not easy to pour glue into a plastic bag when you only have two hands. For a short moment, the bag and entire bowlful of mixture teeter precariously at the edge of the table, only to be saved from plunging into the abyss by my aproned stomach. Dodged that bullet.
I wipe the outside of the bag with my gluestick hands and cut a hole in the corner of the bag before heading to the pot-o-lust. I squeeze a stream of glue into the water and it immediately shreds into a zillion tiny blobs resembling couscous. Not enough flour!
I whip the bag over to the table and squeeze the remainder back into the bowl. Add flour. Grab new plastic bag. Pour a substance that now looks a little more like dough back into the bag. Drop a blob onto the floor. Step on blob. Slice the corner off the bag and head back to the pot. I will bend this amoebic slime to my will!!
I squeeze. Reasonable lengths of wide noodle dough give themselves up to the pot. But I get impatient with the slow extrusion rate. I squeeze harder. The corner slit bursts open wide. The rest of the dough falls into the water in a lump the size of a baseball, and my right hand drops into the pot of boiling water.
It must have been in the water for less than a second. I run to the sink and douse my steaming flesh, and the plastic bag it still holds, with cold water.
The noodles and glueball boil.
I curse the Germans and their common food. I curse the foodies who falsely raved at the no-brainer recipe. I curse myself for being German, for being my mother’s daughter, for being too proud—because as we all know, it goes before a scalding.
I curse because I have to take the noodles out before they overcook.
Cut to the chase. They were less chewy but still the consistency of mediocre gnocchi. And fairly bland even with a dousing of butter. So this is where the cheese comes in.
I will solve the problem with cheese.
12:30p.m. I open the refrigerator and discover that my husband has eaten all of the cheese (needed to turn these little lumpy memory foam pillows into something edible) while working late the night before. Off to the grocery store with my lobster claw still throbbing.
When I return, I mix the grated Gruyere and Grana into the noodles and settle them into the oven for a meltdown: the cheese and mine.
1:15p.m. But I pull it together, leave the katastrophe that is my kitchen, bemoan the unglyck of my spaetzle-making experience, and vow never to believe the Germans again. Yes, you!! who had the nerve to say these “’little sparrows’ were better than your Bavarian Oma ever made!!”
2:00p.m. After the kids’ presentations, we eat. The adults are kind and tell me the spaetzle are tasty. The kids avoid the “weird lumpy worms,” but I insist my son have a bite. He refuses and turns away.
And then my Teutonic blood boils. I grab his shoulder and hiss in his ear: “I made two batches because the first one would have worn out your jaws. I scalded my hand in the pot of boiling water while making the second batch. I will never get the glue off every exposed surface in my kitchen. You must take at least one bite.”
He looks thoughtful and then seesaws his hand like a seasoned reviewer. “It’s not very good. Well, it’s OK. I don’t want any more.”
“Thank you,” I say. “Thank you for taking a bite.”
“Mom, the kids want to know where the sugar cookies are.”