The Trail Back Out is finished and available for purchase! In this collection of short stories, two strangers meet in the woods. Children wear masks. A gambler hides in the cellar during a Category Five hurricane. A wife considers a hit-man’s offer. Princess Rain Clouds searches for happiness. An entire village flees, a life is saved, and a tourist in Venice is melting. Everyone keeps trying to make sense of strange events far in the past or about to occur. Let these characters be your guides. Join them on the trail back out – to a familiar world, now unexpectedly changed.
Click here for my author page to learn more about me and order my books.
Tradition is a fine thing. I’ve hung on to Thanksgiving even though I live overseas. Actually, I hang onto the holiday probably because I live overseas. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas.
Our traditions include what I grandly call The Annual Eating of the Elk. The Germans involved in this ritual just refer to it as Elchessen, or the Elk Meal. Whatever.
For years, the Spousal Unit spent two weeks out of every single December, January, February and March up in northern Sweden. The Artic Circle in the dead of winter doesn’t offer much in the way of culinary pleasures. The highlights were these:
Going out for pizza in a pizza parlor run by two Iranian refugees who had fled SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, and ended up staying. The pizza was meh but every order came with a free dish of cabbage cole slaw. Because cole slaw is traditional? Because cole slaw is Italian? Because cole slaw provides a desperately needed source of Vitamin C?
Fresh reindeer blood, available by the vat in the local grocery store (say Yum everyone!)
White bread that is sweetened
Rumps of elk
It became tradition that my husband and his colleagues always packed German bread and bottles of whiskey in their suitcases before they flew north. Because alcohol is expensive in Sweden, and nights up there are reeeeeally long.
It became tradition that the engineers returned home with packages of elk roasts.
Thorsten, Spousal Unit, Konrad and Gerhard all used to work in Sweden. Only Gerhard still does that gig: he’s now responsible for bringing back the elk. Eventually, this evolved into an on-going 20+ year (!) tradition that Thorsten cooks an entire elk dinner for the engineers and their mates Bettina, Heike, and yours truly. *
It’s almost impossible to find a common weekend free when you’re trying to get a group of Germans together. Those 6 weeks of vacation time they’re famous for getting? Germans take every single minute of that time. Good luck coordinating 7 people’s schedules and pinning down a night when everyone’s available to meet for a dinner. We still talk about the year we ended up eating elk roast in August. It was the hottest day of the summer and over 90° in the apartment. (Thorsten’s kitchen had heated to way over 100°.) The heavy meal and accompanying heavy red wines were deadly.
But, Tradition muss sein.
Thorsten has it down to a culinary science, an art form. He marinates the elk in red wine and spices for days. Then he puts it in the oven to roast until it shrinks to about half the original size. Thorsten serves it with gravy, homemade Knödel and cooked red cabbage.
I asked Thorsten for his recipe and have translated it for you here, just in case you have 5 pounds of elk roast hanging around in your freezer.
20 Teile Baguette (ein Teil etwa so gross wie ein kleines Brötchen) abschneiden. Brot in kleine Würfel schneiden. In warmer Milch einweichen. 5 Eier dazugeben, ebenso 250 Gramm gewürfelten und angebratenen Speck. Ebenfalls 2 klein geschnittene und angebratene Zwiebeln dazugeben. 2 Bund Petersilie kleinschneiden und dazugeben, salzen und Muskatnuss reinreiben. Die Masse gut durchmengen bis ein homogener Teig entsteht. Falls die Masse zu trocken ist Milch dazugeben (Teig muss gut durchgezogen sein).
Tennisball grosse Knödel formen und 20 Minuten in Salzwasser ziehen lassen.
Wer keine Zeit hat kann die Petersilie schon fertig geschnitten aus der Tiefkühltruhe nehmen. Ich nehme immer 2 Becher a 40 Gramm.
20 Bread Dumplings
Cut about 20 small bread rolls into small pieces. Soak bread in warm milk. Add 5 eggs and 250 grams of diced, fried bacon. Add two small diced, sautéed onions. Add 2 bunches of chopped parsley, salt, and grated nutmeg. Mix the dough well; add more milk if too dry. Make 20 big dumplings the size of tennis balls and cook them in simmering saltwater for 20 minutes. If you don’t have the time or can’t find fresh parsley, use 2 packets of frozen parlsey.
2 kg Elch
2 Beutel Sauerbratengewürz anrösten und mit 2l Rotwein ablöschen. Kurz aufkochen lassen, Beize abkühlen lassen und Elch für 4 Tage einlegen.
Elch abtrocknen, salzen und von jeder Seite 1 Minute scharf anbraten. Fleisch aus Bräter herausnehmen. Wurzelgemüse und Tomatenmark im Bräter anrösten. Rotwein-Beize dazugeben und aufkochen lassen. 8 Teelöffel gekörnte Brühe dazugeben. Bräter in den auf 180 Grad vorgeheizten Backofen geben und Fleisch ca. 2 Stunden schmoren lassen. Fleisch herausnehmen, Flüssigkeit durch ein Sieb in einen Topf abgiessen. Sosse etwas einkochen lassen mit braunem Sossenbinder zur gewünschten Konsistenz abbinden. Zum Schluss 150 Gramm crème fraiche unterrühren.
4-5 Pound Elk Roast
Roast two packs of Sauerbraten spices and add 2 liters of red wine (a bottle of red wine is ¾ of a liter). Let the marinade cool and then marinate 4.5 – 5 pounds of elk in it for 4 days.
Remove and dry the meat, salt it all over, and sautée in oil 1 minute per side. Roast some root vegetables and tomato paste; add the marinade and let the mixture come to a boil. Add 8 tablespoons of broth concentrate. Place roasting pan with elk in sauce in a 180° C (375° Fahrenheit) oven and cook for 2 hours.
Remove the elk. Purée the sauce or pour it through a sieve. Cook down the sauce to your desired consistency; add corn starch if needed. Before serving, stir in 150 grams of crème fraiche.
If you make the same dish for the same people for enough decades, one of two things will happen. You become the Master of the Meal known as The Annual Eating of the Elk.
Or you order take-out pizza from the 2 Iranian guys.
If I had to pick a single season for produce (like, if you tied me down and told me I couldn’t eat another meal until I chose) I’d pick autumn. I’ve always liked the abundance of autumn, and the generosity. The neighbors suddenly show up at the door with armfuls of squash. “Want some of these? We’ve got more than we can use.” My mother-in-law grew zucchini. She gave me some that were the size of Little League bats.
Life in a small village in Germany makes harvesting more present somehow. I get my veggies from a family run green house a couple blocks away. They don’t have the space or money to do anything other than seasonal vegetables, and I’ve learned to appreciate what’s suddenly ready to be harvested.
I jones big time for fresh Swiss chard a lot of the year here. My parents grew it in their garden and I totally took it for granted. Seeing it here was like winning the culinary lottery. At the end of every summer I go in the store hoping I’ll spot a big white bucket filled with freshly picked rainbow chard. Not just normal wonderful green chard, but rainbow!!
“I’d like your Mangold,” I request when it’s my turn to be served.
“A bunch of it?” she asks.
“No…. I’d like your Mangold. All of it.” I make sure my tone of voice lets her know that I’m not joking. Screw the other customers, let them find their own source for rainbow chard!
In the fall she has big, juicy, imperfect tomatoes. I had an awkward morning once as I attempted to translate the term heirloom tomatoes into German.
Orange pumpkins are available in the fall, but I lived here for years and never saw a Hubbard squash. Or an acorn squash. Or spaghetti squash. You get the idea. I don’t when or why the region finally got hip to winter Kürbisse, but I used to go into the exquisite (and super-duper expensive) Stuttgarter Markthalle if I wanted to cook with them.
At the moment, Pfifferlinge – trumpet mushrooms – are being picked. They’ve got a short season, so I buy them by the bagful. We eat them in risotto, or sautéed with diced bacon for pasta, or in a cream sauce for chicken.
In the spring, white asparagus is a national delicacy. For about two months, restaurants have entire menus based on dishes with Spargel. Germans and French people go insane for this vegetable. The spears are thicker than regular asparagus (the green variety barely elicits a yawn here) and a pain in the ass to peel without breaking. A few years ago Uwe and I were shopping in a big grocery store, and in the frozen foods aisle I spotted big bags of already peeled, frozen Spargel.
“Hey! Wanna get this? We can eat Spargel all year round!”
Incredulous disbelief and revulsion chased each other across his face. Once he was sure what he’d heard, revulsion won. My husband looked at me as if I’d just suggested that we have sex with a puppy.
“No, I don’t want to buy frozen Spargel! Why would you possibly want to eat that??”
I set down the bag of frozen asparagus and carefully backed away. We go out to eat fresh Spargel each year, in the spring….
But, autumn. It’s time to go grocery shopping again. The first crop of apples have arrived!
I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother recently here in Stuttgart. I arrived early and sat awhile in the silent cemetery chapel. First, I lit a slim yellow taper in the entrance to the church.
The family is Greek Orthodox. I’ve lit candles in lots of Orthodox churches throughout Greece, and once went to a church service in a tiny church in Thessaloniki that stands on a spot where the Apostle Paul preached.
I’d never been to an Orthodox funeral. Huge wreathes of white flowers bought by the families of her children were arrayed to the left of the altar. Candles in red glasses flickered around a framed photograph of Olga on a small stand; a cake in a white box and a bottle each of wine and olive oil were placed beside the photo.
The priest prayed and sang in Greek; he lifted the icon set on the casket and kissed it. Believers in the chapel crossed themselves at the right places in the text. Later, it was time to bury Olga.
A man played horn music, the priest chanted as the coffin was lowered into the ground. He opened the bottle of wine and poured it, in the shape of a cross, in the grave. Next (after wrapping his long black robes between his knees to keep them from getting soiled) he poured olive oil in the shape of the cross. He took the white box of cake that my friend had carried out of the church with her and, cutting it, spooned some of the cake into the grave as well.
We approached the grave one by one. When it was my turn, I tossed in a blooming flower and then a spade of dirt onto the casket.
The musician started playing Amazing Grace, which almost put me in tears. Some pieces of music transcend time, and continents, and cultures. In any language, for any generation, they bring solace and peace.
Then we went to a restaurant for the Makaria, the “Meal of Mercy” that follows an Orthodox funeral. This one was a German/Greek hybrid of coffee, Butterbrezel (large buttered pretzels), cakes and Greek pastries. My friend went around the long table and spooned out some of that traditional funeral cake onto each of our plates. “My mother used to make this dish herself,” she said. “Koliva. It’s traditional; every Greek family has a recipe. I didn’t have time to make it myself, so I bought one at a Greek bakery.”
I ate the Koliva, a mix of sesame seeds, almonds, oats, ground walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, and anise amongst other ingredients…
Christmas is a tricky holiday for me. My family always celebrated this time of year with gusto, and my mom made it really special.  The first year I spent Christmas with my German husband’s family I was hit with a bout of longing for America, for my dead mother, for all things beloved and familiar.
“I’m really, really homesick. God, I miss home at Christmas time,” I confessed to my mother-in-law.
“Well, this year you’re with us. This is your home now.” Her mouth was pinched. I had just royally offended (to say nothing of hurting the feelings of) my new husband’s mom.
I was on the brink: I was going to start crying and not be able to stop. “I think I’ll go for a walk,” I said. I put on my boots and coat, fast. I walked by myself through the snowy dark streets. Of course, on Christmas Eve the roads were silent and totally empty; everyone was in the lit-up homes, celebrating the birth of Christ with their families. I walked for probably forty minutes, until I was worn out and too cold to remain outside any longer.
And then I went back to the house and smiled.
I still get homesick this time of year, but after being here so long Uwe and I have our own traditions. Putting up a tree and decorating it always helps. We used to just walk up the street to a yard that sold trees, select one, and carry it home between us. Now Uwe purchases the tree at a shopping center parking lot, and I trim it with all kinds of ornaments.
The former Eastern Germany is known for wooden ornaments. I bought three in Leipzig, for both my sisters and one for my own tree. I also hang special ornaments that remind me of where I grew up.
About twenty-three years ago we spent the holidays in Sofia, Bulgaria, where my sister Pam was teaching. I bought some insanely delicate glass ornaments there.
I’ve never seen anything like them, before or since. When I sat down to write this post, I googled Bulgarian ornaments, hoping to get some info on where they were made. But instead I was directed to cheesy sites selling images of Bulgaria, probably mass-produced in China….
So I have no idea if these quirky (and highly breakable) ornaments are still being made in Bulgaria. I get them out each year, though. Aside from the kitty-cat missing an ear, they’re all intact.
Wishing everyone the blessings of the holiday season. Do whatever you need to in order to make the occasion joyous. Happy holidays, and see you all in 2019.
The rest of us will be enjoying Schadenfreude, the fine art of taking pleasure in someone else’s humiliation.
Anyone who follows Game of Thrones (if you haven’t heard of it, you live in a cave somewhere) knows about the infamous Walk of Shame. Cersei was forced to parade naked through the streets while the locals –always happy to take part in a public spectacle – threw hard objects and body fluids at her.  We watched in horrified fascination!
I thought that was a great scene and a nicely creative bit of Schadenfreude script writing. It seemed like a new version of the old tradition of locking up criminals in stocks for public shaming. Until, in the space of 24 hours, I visited not one but two places where the Walk of Shame really did occur as official ‘justice’…
In the Pfalz region of Germany, history is writ large for the little town of Schifferstadt. Let’s start with the Bronze Age. In 1835, the amazing 3,400-year-old Golden Hat of Schifferstadt was found by a farmer named Josef Eckrich. 
This Golden Hat is the oldest Bronze Age magical headdress ever found and was worn around 1400-1300 BC. Only four Golden Hats are known to exist, and this one was deliberately buried.
Schifferstadt’s local church St. Jacobus is over a thousand years old, dating back to 1101. It’s an imposing Romanesque sandstone edifice with a lovely wooden ceiling.
It contains an unusual crucifix, displaying three figures rather than only Christ, and includes a woman in the depiction.
Schifferstadt’s Town Hall is sweet, charming and historic. It was built in 1558 and is one of the oldest and most beautiful Rathäuser in the Rheinpfalz region.
But don’t let the beauty fool you. The Town Hall could be the site of gruesome cruelty. It served as the court of justice and trials took place upstairs. Conveniently, the building also contained a prison; a pillory and working dungeon were utilized under the stairs.
Outside, the corner of this charming building was put to use for punishments of a more public nature. Once found guilty of a crime, you were paraded in disgrace through the streets. When you arrived at the Rathaus, you perched on the stone pediment/platform (ingeniously constructed right on the building) to endure the jeers and abuse of your fellow townspeople.
In my next post I’ll tell you about another glorious spot known for its Walk of Shame. God, I love history….
NOTES:  Body fluids. Yuck.  Josef Eckrich sold the Golden Hat for 570 Gulden. 120 of these Gulden were paid in a reward from König Ludwig I, who wanted it for his Staatssammlung (collection). For more information on these astonishing magical hats go to Jaunting Jen, Ancient History Et Cetera, or Wikipedia: Golden Hat
At the end of August I made a visit to the Pfalz region of Germany with friends. We went to visit friends of my friends (if you follow). The couple I’ll call Josef and Beate showed us around the historic city of Speyer. The Speyer Cathedral is the most important Romanesque church on the planet.
A bold boast, but true. For starters, it contains the world’s largest Romanesque crypt. The crypt has been described as ‘the most sublime monument on German ground.”  Speyer is the last resting place of both kings and emperors. The Pope had to crown a king (always men, natch) for him to be officially titled Holy Roman Emperor. Depending on political conditions, the Pope might – or might not – name the ruler “Imperator Romanum”.
The oldest grave belongs to Emperor Conrad II, who died in 1039. Take that date in for a moment. This church was consecrated almost a millenium ago. And it’s built on the site of an older church, founded hundreds of years earlier. Speyer is the heart of ancient Germany.
Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl came from the Pfalz and is memorialized with a plaque in front of the cathedral. Kohl was notorious for bringing dignitaries to admire the cathedral and then making them eat Saumagen for lunch. 
Speyer’s Cathedral was placed on the UNESCOWorld Heritage List in 1981. Yes, the breathtaking and harmonious proportions make this a site and sight to see. But what really blew my mind was the story of Josef, which he told me as he showed me around the cathedral and the crypt.
He spent much of his childhood in a boys’ home run by nuns, just around the corner from the church. The sisters had plans for him to become a priest. Each Sunday he served as altar boy, taking part in the church services.  Then he met Beate, the woman who has been his wife for 52 years, and that took care of that.
As we stood at the high altar Josef talked about the years after his mother died and he came to live as part of the religious community. I looked out over the vast interior of the Cathedral and almost felt dizzy. Yikes. This wasn’t some great monument for him. He wasn’t describing a thousand of years of history; he’s literally at home here. This grand space helped formed him as a human being. Josef, his story, and the soaring church are beautiful.
NOTES:  – German poet Reinhold Schneider.  Saumagen is the German version of Scottish haggis. Instead of suet and sausage in a sheep’s intestine, the Pfalz version uses pig’s stomach. I’ve tried it, and it’s not bad. Tasty, even.  Josef is 74 years old, so the services would have been conducted in Latin.
NOTE: I first published this post 5 years ago. I reprint it as a prayer for our world. —Jadi
The anniversary of 9/11 is just a few days away.
I was back in the States when the attack occurred. When I returned to Germany a few weeks later, I was in turmoil. I felt all the contradictions of my life. I’m a resident alien on another continent. I’ve been the target of instant hate when someone found out I’m American. This only has to happen once to convince you that prejudice is awful. What the hell was I doing so far away from my own country? What was going on in the world, and could anywhere feel safe? It seemed like everything was getting sucked into a swirling vortex. My identity as a US citizen, as a foreigner, as a human being, came crashing down.
A few months later my epidemiologist friend Elena came to Europe for a conference. I took an unplanned trip to Amsterdam with her. Maybe 2 days away would give me a break from how heavy life felt. Below is the account from those 2 days and how they affected me:
“I people-watch as we travel to Holland. On a German train near the border, the train car is full of local residents heading home. An African couple talk over their baby. Another young couple sit by me with their own child. The wife’s exquisite black scarf frames her face. Her husband reads from a small leather bound Koran. Both of them keep an eye on the baby carriage. The rest of the car is full with the usual students, professionals, commuters.
An old man goes into the WC. Later the door slides open without his realizing it. He stands helpless, then fumbles at the door. We all see the prosthetic leg strapped to his upper thigh. Everyone looks away. The door slides open again and he looks up, stricken. I rise and go to the door and close it. When the door inevitably opens again a few minutes later, the man with the Koran closes it for him.
A cell phone rings. The African man pulls out his phone and answers, then switches to English. I realize they’ve understood every word of the conversations Elena and I have been having about global health issues, world politics, and travel.
The woman in the headscarf looks at me steadily. When she finally catches my eye she holds me in a gaze of tenderness and our connectedness as human beings. We see one another for a few minutes, and then the train stops and they detrain.
The train reaches Amsterdam. I’ve been here before and always feel as if I’m coming home to an old friend. We walk along the canal streets, and brick building facades reflect in the Amstel as it flows under the bridges. The Egyptian bellhop at the hotel asks where we’re from. “I love this city! You meet people from all over the world,” he declares.
In 2 days Elena flies back to the US. Later that morning I stand waiting to catch the tram from our hotel. A dark-haired woman at the street bus stop carries a backpack. I offer her my tram pass; I won’t need it beyond the central train station. She thanks me, but says she’s heading home. She’s an Israeli airline stewardess, in Amsterdam for a few days’ holiday.
“I live in Tel Aviv, and I’m afraid to go out of my house,” she tells me. “Everyone is scared of more terrorist attacks there. The situation is out of control.” I listen to her and say, “The rest of the world says, ‘just make peace!’ If only it were so easy.”
Once I’m on board my train I read a Newsweek, then dive back into a novel. The quiet man next to me asks in English if this train stops at the Frankfurt airport. I offer him the magazine. We begin to talk: he is Iranian, in Germany for an international banking and finance conference. He lectures at the University of Cardiff. His wife is a dentist, he tells me. They live in Britain and go back to Iran, to their home in the northeast by the mountains at the Afghani border, each summer for vacation.
He lifts the suitcase at his feet and sets it on his lap. Opening it, he pulls out framed photographs of 2 smiling boys. “These are my children.” We discuss their names, their ages, their personalities. At the airport station he leaves for his flight, and I wish him a safe trip home.
The woman sitting across from us changes trains with me in Mannheim. We stand shivering in the evening air on the platform. She is a Dutch physical therapist, doing an apprenticeship in Munich. She asks what I think of Holland. We talk about the coffee shops. I mention the small scale that guides decision-making in her country. I give her my leftover Dutch coins and she buys the tram pass from me.
Late that night I finally arrive home. In the space of 48 hours I touched on what seemed to be the entire planet. And I didn’t learn the names of any of the people who talked to me.
Travel isn’t just seeing and exploring other countries and cultures or the threads that weave those peoples’ histories with the present. Travel is the journey we make every day into other people, other lives, other ways of being and thinking and feeling.
Travel is about the interconnectedness of us all. Each person with whom we interact leaves behind traces that can change the world. Travel is about holding onto hope.
A part of me remains in every place I’ve ever stood. My image was impressed in a snow angel I made up in the Arctic Circle, which vanished years ago. But who can say if some part of my spirit still wavers there like the Northern Lights? Or in my interactions with all those people on the trains between Stuttgart and Amsterdam? I don’t know…. but we should live as if every act matters, as if choosing to love and be open to the rest of the world and each other can transform us.”