With all the excitement and emotions of last week’s trip back home to Austria I almost overlooked a near miracle.
I had a meal cooked for me. Which is not unusual, when visiting and staying over with friends. It’s just, that the person cooking it was Circumstance. In person, I mean.
We worked out the maths of the duration of our friendship last Saturday and came to 25 years. This is a quarter of a century, the first few years of which we lived close by after I had moved to her village from Graz. Food was had either over at their house, cooked by her husband. Or at my house, cooked by me. Else, we just went to some of the many Buschenschanks of the area, which are farms that prepare and sell their own produce for as long as stock lasts, then close again for the remainder of the year. To indicate, whether such a place is open for guests or not, the owners put up a bunch or tassock, made of twigs and small branches of greens bound with a colourful bow of cloth, at the road to their house. As long as the bundle is up, guest are welcome and food is served. These bunches are called “Buschen” in German, hence the name of this special variety of restaurant, where food is always homemade, simple, cheap and of the highest quality, to be had with self-produced wine of the farm. Or some schnaps. Or both.
A few years on, bliss in Southern Styria ended and I moved to Berlin. Routines changed to phone calls and e-mails, and later on, blogging was added, after Circumstance finally joined this peculiar universe of communication. But of course, there were frequent visits back and forth. I love staying with her and her family, it is so relaxing to be always welcomed into anything that goes on in their lives like there exists no distance at all. Driving into the small road approaching their house feels exactly like it was, when my own house was only a mile away and I just zipped over whenever I pleased. It feels like coming home. Household routines are unchanged, save for the addition of two teenagers now helping with daily chores like uploading the diswasher and the like.
In general, Circumstance is in charge of forever sorting and organising stuff, picking up after her family. She also tries to stay atop the laundry business. Which hasn’t gotten easier with two teenage girls and a VERY sportive husband, who sweats through three sets of clothing a day in addition to his business attire, which he has to wear for work ever since he became a school principal. Instead of just the sporting gear he used to put on, when he was a tennis coach and later a sports and geography teacher. She also shares the shopping-for-groceries and taxiing-the-kids job with her husband. At times, she tried herself on gardening, but I think, this stopped for good now, seeing that even her neighbours refer to their lot of land as “Urwald”, which means jungle. And she takes care of the family’s pets. This, of course, is just a small fraction of her part in family chores, that come to my mind and all is done on top of her working full time in academia and school.
But cooking was never her thing and as far as guest’s saturation was concerned, there was always the one hint: “The fridge is right there, just help yourself to anything you want.” Usually followed by a verbal listing of food items, she thought were in said fridge, as far as she could remember. Most of the time she was spot on. On special occasions, the containers with foods were placed on the table along with some bread and rolls. And of course, the coffee is always on the brew. But proper, cooked meals are done by her husband, who is an excellent cook. And very efficient about it. On Sunday, he fried the meats and onions, put them to simmer and left us with instructions as to when exactly to put the pasta to boil, then zipped out of the house for a half hour run. Came back, showered, made a delicious sauce and voila! there was a great meal for the five of us steaming on our plates. This is, how it usually happens, whenever I am there.
But this time over, when I arrived on Saturday around lunch time, something weird started. My friend set out a casserole and started to peel potatoes and carrots, dicing ham and collecting more ingredients from various cupboards. I automatically joined in with slicing the vegetables as asked. I should have noticed, at the very latest, as soon as her famous cook book came out, that she actually was in the process of cooking. She looked up the details for the potato bake, she was preparing. Just to make sure.
She whipped up the bechamel sauce as if it were nothing at all, stacked the potatoes and carrots and ham in, topped everything with grated cheese and the sauce and repeated the process until the dish was full. Into the oven it went, as if this were the most common activity on earth for her. All the while, our conversation never stopped. So the uniqueness of what was going on somehow just escaped my attention. One and a half hours later she pulled a perfect potato bake out of the oven. And it tasted delicious. I had to have seconds, because the bake was so perfect, with the golden, cheesy crust being the best part of it. And yet, the penny still hadn’t dropped in full. This actually was the first meal Circumstance cooked for me. I am so very honoured, as much as I am ashamed to not have duly praised this incident, right there and then. The only excuse I have, is that a.) I was so preoccupied with relating my family affairs to her and b.) the entire event was so alien, that it took a while to register with me.
But today, recapturing my trip home, and sifting through the memories attached, I just had to give it it’s due attention. 🙂