Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Another Cultural Revelation: Krystal Pups

The American South has quite a number of franchise eating establishments that are famous in their own right: Chik-Fil-A, Waffle House, Checkers, and Krystal, come to mind immediately. I love Chik-Fil-A's chicken sandwich, peppermint shakes at Christmas, and (did you know?) their chicken soup. Waffle House is unbeatable for pecan-laced waffles, hash browns (scattered, smothered, and covered), and the only grits I love to eat! Checkers has the best chili dogs and everything take-out. Krystal was the only one I had yet to try.

I had heard that Krystal had mini hot-dogs, something like sliders, but in hot dog format. Now, I love hot dogs, so I was eager to try these out. Yes, Checkers has the best chili dog, but . . . I could not resist the idea of three little hot dogs. So, today, I had the opportunity to finally visit Krystal and try the mini hot dogs, which are called "pups." They come in three's, nestled together in a little rectangular paper tray, cute as can be! You can get them plain, with cheese, chili, or both. And they were as delicious as they were cute! Three or four bites, and one was gone! What a brilliant idea, Krystal! I told the counter boy/teen that this was our first time to have them. He asked where we were from. "Illinois," I answered! He had no reply for that. Illinois is missing out on something. With a little research, I found that Krystal originated in Chattanooga, TN in the Depression and is a "Southern thing." A good one.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eavesdropping in America

Eavesdropping is something most people don't think about, even though they do it all the time. But, if you live in a foreign country and you don't speak or understand the language very well, you unlearn it. I lived for over twenty years in Germany and Italy and only had a little grasp of the two languages, even after taking courses and living there for so long. Never mind the reasons why, it just happens when you work and socialize with other Americans most of the time and your German and Italian friends happen to all speak perfect English! That's why they are your friends!

Anyway, you quickly stop even trying to eavesdrop, because it's all just blah, blah, blah or perhaps blacht, blacht, blacht or blimini, blimini, blimini! And I'm not kidding! Other people's conversations just become white noise when in restaurants, shops, or any public place where you hear these things.

Okay, so upon returning to the USA, where I actually speak and understand the language, I am a bit surprised to suddenly be able to hear and understand what used to be white noise. Throw in people talking in public on their cell phones, and it's a real circus! I think the ones I dislike the most are the ones with bluetooth devices who walk around talking to themselves.

Mostly, I'm surprised at the shallowness of the conversations, although I'm sure these things are really important to them. In my athletic club, there is a lot of social climbing and catty remarks by the younger women. They don't seem to have a lot of good things to say and even fewer important things. It's really small small-talk.

While I'm working out, there are always trainers working with people. Those are the funniest conversations. The older women, I swear, just have a trainer for someone to talk to. They do very little actually lifting or exercising and a lot of personal conversation with the trainer, usually a younger female. The men talk about girl/women troubles with their male trainers. The serious ones don't talk much at all. If there does happen to be an interesting conversation, I have to fight the urge to jump in . . . because I understand what they are saying about, say, Italy or education.

Just remember, we all can understand what you are saying! I kind of miss the days of blissful ignorance in Europe.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wo ist mein Schnitzel?

"If I want a good schnitzel, I go home and make one," said my hair stylist Soeren Loeffler, who is from Germany and not about to waste his time on bad food, wine, beer, or cars. We were bemoaning the lack of a good German restaurant in Atlanta or environs. Like me, he has been to Helen (aka as "the fake German town") in northern Georgia and found the food as laughable as the town itself. Chattahoocheestrasse? Half-timbered Dairy Queen and SunTrust Bank? Live tarantula gallery?

So, when a new German restaurant, Der Biergarten, opened recently in downtown Atlanta by the Aquarium, I was eager to try it out. So, my friend Elaine and my daughter Alison and I went for lunch on a recent Sunday. We thought it was a good sign that several German-speaking groups were leaving as we arrived. The outside terrace was also promising--authentic German fest tables, flags, and signs. However, it was too hot to sit outside and so we went on in . . . to find a very non-authentic (but air-conditioned!) restaurant that looked like it might have been a minimalist Asian sports bar. Although they were out of several items, the service was friendly and fast, the beer was good (real German beer in real German beer glasses), the food was not bad. Alison thought probably the only authentic German person in the place might be the chef. We had decent O'batza (cheese ball) for an appetizer, wurst, red cabbage, potato salad, jaeger-schnitzel (with mushroom gravy), and spaetzle which were all good. No chance for dessert; they were all sold out. Our recommendations for them:
  1. Get better outfits for the wait-staff than t-shirts and jeans.
  2. Get someone to work there who at least looks like they might be German.
  3. Teach them a few phrases in German or get someone who can speak it (we think they may bet a lot of German tourists).
  4. Have available what's on the menu.
  5. Get authentic beer coasters.
  6. Get some German decor! (I have enough in boxes to decorate the place!)
  7. Play oom-pah music instead of classical.
  8. Put EuroSport on the big screen televisions.
  9. Put the menu in both German and English with more explanation.
  10. Sell souvenirs.
  11. Hire Alison and/or me as a consultant.
So! (Popular German word!) Just one week later, I found myself going with my neighbor Patsy to a German Fest at her favorite local restaurant, Petite Auberge in our neighborhood. Although it has been there a million years and has a French name, it is owned by Germans and this fest was way better than Der Biergarten experience! It was jointly sponsored by the Atlanta German Cultural Center and they had games, decorations, German beer, great food (extensive menu), wonderful German band, a beer garden, souvenirs, and lots of people dressed in real German (Bavarian) clothing including lederhosen! It was wunderbar! Unfortunately, it lasts only two days in September each year, but they are hosting an Oktoberfest Buffet on October 23 ($35 for all you can eat, plus the band, cash for German beer and wine). It's got to be good if this night was any indication.

So, does Atlanta have a good German restaurant yet? No, but there is hope. One can always drive 130 miles to Augusta and eat at The Augsburg Haus. Now, there is real German food! They recently moved to a new location, so I don't know if it's as cute as the old one, but hopefully the food and beer are just as good. I've eaten there a couple of times and really love their Roulade (Beef steak roll stuffed with bacon, pickle, onion, and mustard and served with spaetzle and red cabbage).

Guten appetit! (Below, real Nuernberger bratwurt and kraut in Munich)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easter at the Monastery

I wanted to find a special place to attend Easter Mass when my daughter Alison came to visit last week. I found a cathedral, a basilica, a university chapel, and a Trappist monastery. Alison chose the monastery, and it turned out to be a wonderful experience for us.

Atlanta is, of course, in the Southern Bible Belt, so there are hundreds of varieties of Protestant churches around, predominantly Baptist. In fact, on our way to the monastery, which was about forty-five minutes away, we passed many other churches, one with its own traffic cop and traffic jam. Eventually, though, we arrived at the entrance to the monastery, way out in the country by the town of Conyers, Georgia.

This particular monastery, called the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, was founded by Trappist monks in 1944. How it came to be in this place with very little Catholic presence can be found on their website. Today, forty-some monks live, work, and pray here.

I didn't know anything about Trappist monks, so I did a little research. They are an offshoot of the Cisterians, and they follow the Rule of St. Benedict. There are are only 170 Trappist monasteries in the whole world and only fifteen in the United States! So, they are pretty rare breed of monks (about 2,100) and nuns (about 1,800). Their job is to pray and work. They pray a lot, beginning at 4:00 in the morning with vigils and then another four times during the day. They also talk very little. Idle talk is "strongly discouraged," they do not talk during meals (but rather listen to readings), and the Grand Silence begins at 8:00 P.M. for all, even visitors.

Like other monks, they "live by the work of their hands." This particular monastery operates a thriving retreat business. Also, "The monks of Holy Spirit manufacture and sell bonsai supplies either online or at their monastery bonsai garden store. They also operate a green cemetery located in a secluded section of the vast monastery property. Stained glass windows and doors are created onsite and sold online and the monastery also operates a fruitcake and fudge business. Their fruitcakes are sold both through their own religious store and also through Honeybaked Ham stores." You can see their website

Okay, so back to the Easter Mass . . . the 11:00 service was full but not crowded. People have to drive quite a distance to get there, but there were families and people of all kinds. We were allowed to sit in the actual monks' benches since they had sung at the 4:30 sunrise service. That was very cool, because I had only ever seen them, never sat in them for a service before. All of their many binders of music and readings were neatly laid open at each place. In fact, it was very AVIDY with all those binders, which kept them organized! (See photo below.)

At least twenty of the monks attended this Mass and sat up on the altar. It was amazing to hear them sing parts of the Mass. I would really like to come again and hear the entire group together. Everything was slow, peaceful, smooth, and spiritual, with lots of incense, singing, and reverence. No cell phones, no talking, no distractions. To us, this was the perfect Easter Mass in the perfect setting. Outside, the sun was shining and everything was in bloom. We left with a promise to return again another day.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Facebook Parents

There's a new fanpage on Facebook: I was gonna post a status, Then I remembered I have family on faceboook.

This is pretty amusing, because there are so many kids and parents on Facebook these days, and their interactions then become public! I saw two very funny ones last week between mothers and their kids at college.


College age son posts a photo of himself sitting in the snow in shorts and writes, "What to do with the whole campus to myself" or something similar.

Mom's response: "Okay, so why are you wearing shorts in the snow?"


College age daughter: " (Daughter) feels like death..waiting for cold medicine to work its magic!"

Mom's response: "Go to the doctor."

I can laugh at these things because my own kids are older now, but if they were still in college and I was on Facebook, I would most likely be like these parents! I can get away with an occasional comment or "LIKE" now, but they are 25 and 30 and not so bothered by it.

I've also seen some funny sibling exchanges like this one:

College age boy: "(Curse word) something . . . "

High school sister: "I'm going to tell dad!"

College age boy: "What's he gonna do? I'm here and he's there!"

Facebook is the ultimate reality show. You can peep in hundreds of people's lives including family members. No wonder it's so popular. I heard that Facebook has enough members to be the world's fourth largest country!

Kool Aid Shakes?

"1/2 PRICE Happy Hour Day & Night! All shakes & drinks weekdays 2-4 PM. And now 2-4 AM!" That's the latest on a page of coupons from Steak 'n Shake, a chain for which I used to have respect. But it goes on to advertise "New! Tropical Punch & Grape Kool-Aid Shakes" Can you think of anything worse than a Kool-Aid Shake? Does that in any way make you want to run to Steak n' Shake and get one?

It's not that I have anything against Kool-Aid. It was a perfectly fine child-drink for me, just like Tang (have you tasted that lately?). But then, we also ate Pixie Sticks, chewed plastic lips and mustaches, and ate the sugar buttons off the strips of paper. We even sold Kool-Aid on the sidewalk on hot days. Kool-Aid stands were the lemonade stands of rural Illinois in the 50s.

Back to shakes . . . isn't a shake made of ice cream and normal flavoring or maybe fruit? How does Kool-Aid, which is basically sugar and water and color, fit into that?

Perhaps worst of all, Steak 'n Shake is supposed to be an expert on real, creamy, hand-made shakes. It says right on their website: "Hand-dipped, real milk, and classic flavors, just like we've done it since 1934." By the way, Steak 'n Shake was founded in Normal, Illinois, just down the highway from my hometown!

In conclusion, a shake is a shake and Kool-Aid is Kool-Aid. You just cannot mix the two and expect people to like it. But if you do, go at 1/2 Price Happy Hour Day & Night!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Perfect Exercise

Swimming, I have decided, is the perfect form of exercise:

1. It is aerobic.
2. It stretches you all over.
3. It is relaxing (water therapy).
4. It strengthens almost every muscle in your body.
5. You come out cleaner than you went in.

When I moved here in the summer of 2009, I took up swimming for exercise. Our condo has a private pool that is hardly used and I had to give up a 28-year running habit due to bursitis in my hips and pelvis. So, when I started in June, I could barely swim a total of fifteen minutes. (If you haven't tried it, swimming is very physically demanding.) I gradually worked up my time to thirty minutes. When summer faded, I joined a nearby athletic club with a giant indoor heated pool just for lap swimming. Now I swim three times a week for about forty-five minutes, which is just over half a mile each time!

Now the best part of that is that my bursitis and occasional sciatica have virtually disappeared! I sleep better, have more energy, have more muscles, and am extremely clean with a hint of chlorine about me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Girl Scout Cookies

It's that time of year again! Who doesn't like Girl Scout cookies? Nobody, that's who. Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos, Lemon Chalet Creams, or Trefoils--there's something for everyone. My personal favorites are Thin Mints (kept in the freezer, of course--I ate a whole stack of them just the other day) and Samoas (at 75 calories a cookie), with the peanut butter Do-Si-Dos coming in a close third. You can Meet the Cookies at this link.

When I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout myself, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the cookies were sold for fifty cents a box. I believe we took orders and then delivered them in a little cardboard "suitcase" with a handle. In those days, you could go door-to-door in your neighborhood and be perfectly safe. It helped if your mom or dad could sell a few boxes at their workplace, too.

Overseas, it worked differently. Tons of cookies were delivered to the various bases and then distributed for sale, sold outside the commissary, and so on. As an adult Brownie leader and a teacher, I had cases and cases and cases of them in my classroom closet. I sold them at lunch from my doorway (I now find out you're not supposed to do that, but, hey . . . ). Teenage boys would buy four boxes (they were up to $2.50/box then) and eat all of them for lunch! Our troop sold SO many cookies, we paid for a fieldtrip by train to Nuernberg!

I was honored to be asked to serve on the European Council of Girl Scouts for a few years. We met several times a year, and COOKIES were always on the agenda! They are a big part of what makes the Girl Scouts run camps and have programs for girls and leaders. I like the idea of selling something that everyone wants and then using that money to fund the organization.

Two years ago, the Sigonella (Italy) girl scouts were selling cookies outside the commissary. They were asking people if they wanted to donate boxes to send to soldiers in Iraq. I did, but I also made my own personal soldier, my daughter Alison, very popular with her fellow soldiers by sending her several boxes directly to Baghdad, Iraq via APO. She was one of the first to get Girl Scout cookies that year.

The cookies have been around for eighty years, and it seems no end is in sight for this American institution. I think I'll have one (or two) right now . . . . they are in the freezer.

Friday, January 1, 2010

American Customer Service?

Ah, we used to long for it, especially when living in Germany, where customer service is "take it or leave it" for the most part. However, customer "service" has deteriorated here, and people are just accepting it without question. Several examples come to mind from just the past couple of weeks. Watch out, I say!

Example #1: My neighbor and I went to our favorite local restaurant, Shorty's, for supper and took seats at the bar instead of a table as we often do. The bartender was not there, but a cook from the kitchen was getting himself a soda. He said, "Chris (the bartender) is out back taking a personal phone call. He'll be here in little while." Then he went back to the kitchen. Patsy and I just looked dumbfounded and then started to laugh. Since when is it okay to be taking a personal phone call instead of waiting on customers? We don't think Shorty (if he exists) would like that.

Example #2: I flew on Delta Airlines from Atlanta to Orlando in December. It's a direct flight of about an hour and a half. As usual, it was completely full. I dozed off, and when I awoke, I asked my seatmates if they had come around with beverages. They said they hadn't. Then we began to descend for landing. An announcement came over the PA: "We are sorry that we were not able to offer you a beverage service on the flight. We hope you get one the next time you fly Delta." Like it's a lottery or something? This, by the way, after you have to check yourself in, print your own boarding pass, and carry your luggage to the screener. What next, bring your bag to the plane and throw it on?

Example #3: Very recently, my family and I stopped at a McDonald's for a quick lunch. We got four sandwiches, some fries to share, and four soft drinks. It was a self-service soft drink fountain. We quickly found out that the carbonation was not working for any of the soft drinks. An employee assured us that it was being fixed quickly. However, that did not happen (I think they had no re-fills of CO2), and we were eating lunch without any drinks while we had paid for four. Much to our surprise, the staff continued to sell soft drinks (or empty cups, anyway) in spite of the non-functioning machine. Apparently, people were just okay with drinking flat Cokes. My family discussed it. I thought that they should offer us another drink in place of the flat soda. My daughter said, "Go for it, mom!" I took their orders and went to the counter and said, "We've paid for four soft drinks and your soda machine isn't working. Would you be willing to substitute other drinks for us?" The manager quickly agreed and they gave us a shake, two iced mochas, and a hot chocolate. "But this is great service!" you might say. The point is, we were the only ones who received this, and only because I asked. The continued to sell flat sodas to everyone else without even a warning. Ha!

Watch out, I say. American service isn't what it used to be.