Oh-three-oh-three-oh-three. That was the date I had had in my head for forty whole weeks. The date I had first heard spoken out loud by the doctor around eight months earlier. The day my first baby would arrive.
It seemed like magic from the start. As a child, I had mystic notions about the number three. I think I had read in a library book that it had magical properties. That was all I needed to begin a lifelong attachment to the number. And now, twenty-plus years later, on March 3rd 2003, here I was, due to have a magical “three” baby.
Or perhaps that should be a “drei” baby. My husband and I, recently married, were living and working in Germany. We both had well-paid “knowledge” jobs in the IT industry, a beautiful apartment in a leafy suburb of Heidelberg, one of Germany’s most gorgeous cities, and lots of free time to spend doing whatever the hell we liked.
And what do people in the Western world do when they have everything? They want more everything, of course. We wanted a baby.
All the books and websites said it can take up to a year to become pregnant. That sounds like a good time frame, we thought. Plenty of time to practise.
Four weeks later, said baby was on the way. Oh right, we thought. That didn’t take much practice at all.
My husband and I were academic types. I was one of those annoying students who always had their hand up in class and liked nothing better than a good long essay for homework. My husband was one of those even more annoying students who appeared to do no work whatsoever but still got straight As. We set to work on our latest assignment.
The beautiful apartment soon began to pile up with Babykram. Kram is a fantastic German word. It means “stuff”, but it sounds so much more like it actually means “stuff” than in English. Books, videos, sheets printed from the internet, the cot, the nappy changing unit, cushions in bizarre shapes – if it was Kram, and had anything to do with babies, we got it. We spent evenings with our noses buried in books and our fingers became deformed from over-use of Allen keys.
Then there was the birth preparation course. The course leader was an imposing, broad-shouldered midwife named Hannelore. The course was specifically for couples who were first-time parents and Hannelore was determined to disabuse us of our naive notions about childbirth.
Did I say dis-abuse? She declared in one of the first sessions that to create an idea of what the pain of labour would be like, each non-pregnant partner was to grab the groin muscle in their pregnant partner’s upper inside thigh between their finger and thumb, and pinch as hard as they could. Hannelore was unimpressed with the mild “ow”s that emanated from the pregnant women in the room. So she rolled up her metaphorical sleeves and went around and pinched us all herself. The pain was excruciating. There were actual screams coming from the room.
I limped out to the car afterwards beside my shell-shocked husband, feeling that not much magic remained in our baby journey.
The birth preparation course left my husband and me feeling not very prepared, and very slightly terrified. On the more positive side, the wonderful German healthcare system granted us monthly ultrasound scans, so we were able to closely follow our baby’s progress from tiny black blip to the ghostly but unmistakeable features of a perfect little face staring back at us, back to a black-and-white blur as the baby got bigger, and bigger.
And I got bigger, and bigger. I had expected this, of course, but I was concerned for my centre of gravity. Surely the laws of physics would work on the magnitude of my tummy to make me fall over? Apparently not. I managed to remain upright until the end.
Ah, the end. Oh-three-oh-three-oh-three finally arrived. But it turned out to be a big fat oh-no. Not even a magic wand was going to get our baby out that day. It took five more days, a nice walk and a Thai curry to kick things off.
To be continued…
I’ve recently become a little obsessed with rhubarb. How is it that such an unattractive-looking plant can yield, with the addition of sugar and spices, a flavour so surprisingly sublime?
(Some years ago, German friends of ours came to visit and were very taken with Actimel rhubarb yogurt. There is no such thing in Germany as rhubarb yogurt. I’m not sure if this says anything significant about the German nation.)
Back to the here and now. This year’s rhubarb season is over, but thanks to the recipe for Rhubarb Tea Cake on the Wise Words blog, I had some rhubarb cordial in the fridge, crying out to be used. The cordial is a by-product of the rhubarb roasting process, flavoured after roasting with crushed cardamom and vanilla pods, reduced to a syrup on the hob, and left to infuse overnight with the roasted rhubarb.
And what better way to use up rhubarb cordial than in a rhubarb whiskey cocktail? (The recipe I used is the one contained in the tea cake recipe above.)
So I took advantage of a surprise evening nap on the part of my obliging seven-month-old and got to work.
The first task, as with all cocktails, is assembling the ingredients. I love this part. It makes me feel like I have practically made the cocktail already:
Almost instantly, I made a mistake. In my enthusiasm to put my under-used ice crusher to work, I crushed the ice first. I then had to race through the rest of the process so the ice would not melt too much. So, crush the ice last, folks.
The Other Half wanted a cocktail, too, as Other Halves will. So I doubled all the quantities in Mona Wise‘s recipe. (Come to think of it, isn’t it strange that most cocktail recipes – the ones in my Mixology book, anyway – are for one drink only? Even if you’re on your own, you have two, right?)
I took the rhubarb cordial from the fridge with a graceful little skip of delight. (In my head, anyway.) It is almost viscous after the reduction process, flecked with dots of vanilla, cloudy with cardamom, and most deliciously of all, it is a seductive, flaming pink colour:
I got on with the work of juicing the oranges and lemons. Now for the mixing. In went the crushed ice (not too watery, luckily), citrus juices, rhubarb cordial (you get to drain the glass, woop!), whiskey, bitters, and sprigs of mint. Then a good mix. (I used the blade of the kitchen knife, slattern-fashion.)
I was out of ice at this point, so I couldn’t top up the glasses with crushed ice. The garnished results looked good, nonetheless:
And they tasted MMM.
PS. Picking up on the German theme from earlier, our Teutonic friends at Lidl are stocking rhubarb, with cheerful disregard for the season. If you can’t wait til next year, you have my blessing to go and get rhubarb from Lidl now. If anyone objects, tell them the internet said so.
Today I’m delighted to feature a guest post by Kalle Ryan, Waterford / Dublin performance poet, humourist, MC of The Brownbread Mixtape monthly cabaret in Dublin, and possessor of a host of other talents.
This article originally appeared in The Metro Herald, 17/11/2012.
These days when you think of Germany, you inevitably picture Angela Merkel’s Sauerkraut face and her corresponding punitive, penny-pinching proclamations. If you’re more of an old school German thinker, you may have thoughts of wicked World Wars and a land fabled for being humourless, yet funnily drawn to David Hasselhoff’s musical skills.
But those broad strokes are ultimately unfair to a country, that I believe, is home to some of the great unsung secrets and joys of Europe.
As a teenager I travelled the length of Germany in a camper van with my family. It was a remarkable holiday that left a deep impression that lingers to this day. What I encountered was a country of wonderful variety, breathtaking beauty, fantastic food and incredibly warm people (with mullets, a lot of mullets).
We entered the country from the northern city of Hamburg, with its eclectic mix of erotic shops and Liverpudlian musical history, and bombed down the Autobahn (poor choice of verb when talking about Germany, I know) towards the magical city of Berlin.
Berlin really felt like the New York of Europe to me, with its wonderful blend of fascinating German design, historical landmarks, reliable and punctual public services, delightful local beers, as well as cool, punk-influenced, left-leaning art on every other street corner. How could you not love a city that was run by punctual hippies?
Our next stop along the way was Frankfurt, where I had a semi-religious experience as I encountered Germany’s legendary “Currywurst”. A char-grilled, flavourful sausage, sliced into discs and covered in a blanket of curried ketchup, then lightly dusted with fragrant yellow curry-powder. You simply have not lived until you have eaten this triumphant, teutonic takeaway treat. It is said that the secret to Germany’s continued automobile engineering success is founded upon a steady, streamlined diet of these curried sausages.
Sweeping south we entered the city of Stuttgart, home to the legendary Irish footballing victory over England in Euro 88. As an Irishman, the Neckarstadion ranks up there as a historical landmark alongside the GPO and The Hill of Tara. Stuttgart – a compact, cool city – is also home to the culinary delight of Maultaschen (German ravioli invented by monks to conceal meat from the Lord on Fridays). I recall thinking at the time that, if there were a World Cup for food, Germany would probably win that 1-0 every time too.
After several days of driving through swathes of the brilliant black forest, home to the legendary, delicious, unpronounceable Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, we arrived in Munich. Located in the southern province of Bavaria (County Cork’s spiritual German sister), Munich is a wonderland of ornate buildings, sunlit plazas, moustachioed manly types, ample bosomed matronly types and crafted glasses of crisp, bubbly Hofbräuhaus beer. Basically, it is what Heaven would undoubtedly look like if it were run by Germany.
A short jaunt down the road, bordering Austria, was the charming town of Füssen, our final stop. Nestled up in the Alps above the town is crazy King Ludwig’s Schloss Neuschwanstein, widely known as the inspiration for the Disney castle, or, if you’re a Britpop fan, the cover photo of Blur’s ‘Country House’ single. Regardless of the imitators and appreciators, it’s a stunning sight and worth a visit, if only to sit down and eat some traditional Schnitzels in its shadow. This delicious, deep fried, breaded veal dish was invented by some genius from nearby Vienna, who should clearly have won the Nobel Prize.
While this might all sound like a food and drink travelogue / memoir, what it really amounts to is a love letter to a much maligned country that has levels of complexity and beauty far beyond simplistic jokes about the war or our present predicament. I have been back many times since and Germany continues to reward and reveal.
We are, of course, in a recession, so if you can’t afford to travel to Germany any time soon, then I strongly recommend that you stick on a Werner Herzog movie, crack open a cold German beer, pick up some authentic sausages from your local German supermarket and have a Currywurst party at home. Who knows, it may even make you feel more kindly toward Frau Merkel.
(c) Kalle Ryan 2012