Kuchen With Souzz

This week I decided to change things up a bit and do a German themed dinner at home that included käsekuchen (German cheesecake), homemade sauerkraut, and kasseler rippchen. Kasseler is pork that has been smoked and ripened in salt brine, and rippchen basically means a chop (it’s almost like German is another language).

Kasseler dates back to the 1880s and it remains a very popular dish throughout Germany. It’s also quite popular among the many descendants of German immigrants now living in Buffalo, New York–including Souzz’s mom, whose family was originally from Alsace-Lorraine. Kasseler rippchen was a favorite dish of Souzz’s late father, affectionately known as “TL,” who would cook it up on the outdoor grill in any kind of weather (and once even in the fireplace, but that’s another story).

  1999 12 Christmas in Buffalo

You can find kasseler at just about any butcher in Buffalo, but it proved harder to find here in Virginia. A series of phone calls pointed me first to a place called Binkerts in Baltimore and then to The German Gourmet in nearby Falls Church. I always thought “gourmet” was a French word, but there’s a TripAdvisor page about the best schnitzel in Paris so I guess all bets are off on that one.

The German Gourmet is in a nondescript little storefront stashed between a shopping center and a dry cleaners, and I’d literally driven by it a hundred times without noticing it. The dated exterior doesn’t promise much of an experience…but walking inside was like stepping into another country.

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The place was teeming with people, seemingly regulars, and there were a handful of folks IMG_5377speaking in German to a butcher standing behind a case packed with classic German cuts. Across from the meat counter there were multiple aisles of German foods as well as a big section for beer and wine. It was early in the day, but I caught myself staring hypnotically at the beer aisle (hey, it was 5pm in Frankfurt).

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When I asked if they had smoked pork chops, the butcher responded “you GermanGpicture6-11 copymean kasseler? We’ve got a whole case of it right here.” With kasseler in hand, I also picked up a box of Käsekuchen (cheesecake) mix as well as German potato salad, cheese spread with Schnittlauch (chives), and a six pack of Kellerbier.

The majority of the food labels in the store were in German, which seemingly turned an ordinary shopping trip into a jaunt to Europe. When I got back to the USA ten minutes later, I discovered a new challenge: the directions for Käsekuchen included sentences like “drei eier, quark und joghurt hinufugen.” Thankfully my good friend Reto responded to my frantic emails from his native Switzerland and was able to walk me through my first multi-national cake mix.

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In the end, everything came out just fine, although I overcooked the kasseler a bit. If TL DSC_0886had been with us, it would have been grilled to perfection and he would have declared it the best ever–as he always did. TL’s favorite drink was scotch, so after dinner we raised a glass in his honor (Scotland is a German territory, right?).

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An ever-patient Souzz does a blind taste test: home-made sauerkraut (ten days in the making) versus store bought sauerkraut. Thankfully, the home-made version won.

I’m not exactly sure what appeals to me about niche businesses like The German Gourmet; maybe I just enjoy discovering new things in old places. In any case, dinner menus that feature käsekuchen, kasseler rippchen, and Kellerbier are fun…even if they do wear out the “k“ on one’s keyboard. And now that I know how close I live to Europe, I’ll most certainly be back. I just wish I could bring TL along with me.

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Grishgroom

Another weekend, another PATC cabin visit–or so it seems. And while that may look like a pattern of sorts, it’s really not—as each of the PATC cabins are so incredibly different. This weekend’s destination is Olive Green Cabin in Cunningham Falls State Park near Thurmont, Maryland.

DSC_0752Olive Green cabin is named after its last resident, Olive Green (duh!), whose father built the cabin in 1871. There is a ton of history here, with a rusted old car and a bunch of stone fence lines that hint at stories of days gone by. Olive lived in this simple two story 15×15 structure until 1986, when she was 83 years old. She raised eight kids here, despite no sink, no counters, no power, no water–and not much insulation, as I soon learned.

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As for the present day, the cabin is very well maintained and much appreciated by its visitors. Its guest book is also full of references to strange noises in the dark of night, which most of the prior guests credit to Olive and say that they find comforting. With Souzz out of town, I am flying solo tonight, so I’m not interested in a lot of company.

DSC_0763In any case, there are a lot of reminders around the cabin about Olive, including notes from relatives that still visit regularly. Olive sounds like she was an amazing woman, and she was apparently a gracious host that always fed her guests with a home cooked meal. I hope she’d be pleased with my menu: antipasta, spaghetti and meatballs, brownies, and grishgroom.

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Aaah, so what is grishgroom, you might ask? (ok, so you probably wouldn’t ask, but let’s play along.)

So here’s the backstory. When I was a kid in Rapid City, South Dakota, my tv trayenterprising older sister and my two older brothers had a favorite dessert: ice cream with chocolate sauce. It was generally served in a bowl on a TV tray while watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or Mannix on a Zenith black and white TV that took about two minutes to warm up. The chocolate sauce recipe was one that my mom basically made up (marshmallows, chocolate chips, evaporated milk, and a dab of peanut butter).

As older siblings sometimes do, my sister and my brothers convinced me that this dessert wasn’t called “ice cream with chocolate sauce” but instead was called “grishgroom,” and that word then entered my ever-expanding vocabulary. My sister told me later that she just made it up  (shocking, I know).

1968 Rapid City Arroyo Drive  before church 1      That’s me in the stylish shorts, thinking about grishgroom, no doubt.

 

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Me and my sister, perhaps as she sells me on another lark…

Some time later, when I was about five years old, we were enjoying a rare dinner out as a family. After the meal, my sister and brothers made a recommendation for my dessert order as they pointed to a menu that I couldn’t yet read. To this day, I’m not sure what is more memorable: my parents’ confused stares, the blank expression of our server, or the belly-laughing convulsions of my siblings. If the fist bump had been invented by then, I’m pretty sure that my sister and brothers would have had to ice their hands on the way home.

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DSC_8240Last year over the holidays, I shared the story of grishgroom with my nieces on Souzz’s side of the family. As you might expect, they enjoy any story that makes their uncle look like a dork (time is of course the limiting factor here). Armed with their new vocabulary, they marched into the living room and announced to their parents that they were going to serve themselves up some grishgroom. That led to a few confused nods from the adults, and then the nieces returned with giant bowls of ice cream–not exactly what a parent wants to happen after dessert at 10:30 pm on Christmas Eve.

It’s fair to say that my in-laws weren’t as amused as my siblings about grishgroom. Somewhere out there is a retired server nodding in agreement.

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 My sister still has the original grishgroom bowl (but thankfully, no sign of the tv trays).