Friday, June 7, 2013

Punny Eggsperiment

Friends, I have some news that may scramble your brains: not all eggs are created equally.

I realize that this is not a food blog and the topic may not a-peel to you. However, it is my blog and I love food so.. eggs are relevant, right?


(Unfortunately for you, I also like puns... and I'm a little bored.)        

For a while now, friends of mine here have noted how much "better" die deutschen Eier (translation: German eggs) are than those purchased at the commissary. Better how? They couldn't eggsplain.

So I decided to try an eggsperiment! (ohh... you are so in for a pun ride!)

Left: German egg; Right: Commissary egg

I picked up some brown Freiland (free range) eggs at the farmer's market and some white free range eggs, which technically come from Denmark, at the commissary. If the whole farmer's market vs. grocery bit doesn't go over easy with you, most German stores I've seen do not refrigerate their eggs anyway. I assume means they're pretty fresh, so I didn't think the difference would be too eggstreme. Plus, I was headed there anyway and didn't want to make two trips.

Immediate differences to note were that the German eggs all appeared a little rounder and felt a little... heavier? sturdier? thicker? Something along those lines. Otherwise, they were both eggs.

I put both packs into the fridge overnight. The next morning, I pulled one egg from each crate to boil.

Left: German egg; Right: Commissary egg
I cooked them together so they boiled for the exact same amount of time and cooled them in the same fashion. Upon peeling, it just looked like the commissary egg had a bit more of a gas bubble or something that caused it to take on a funny shape. The yolk was slightly more visible through the white, as well.

Next, I sliced them in half.

Left: German egg; Right: Commissary egg
Wow! There's a difference! Now I'm no eggspert, so I used Chef John's method for how to make perfect hard boiled eggs. Yet I still managed to get the beginning of that gray coating on the commissary yolk! Look how vibrant the German yolk is, though. Yum!

Left: German egg; Right: Commissary egg
Is it just me, or is the white of the German egg a little whiter, too? (Aryan eggs?)

Anyway, the difference was not just in the coloration. The flavor of the German egg was also much richer. The yolk was nice and creamy and the white was perfectly chewy. Did my eyes trick my taste buds into that notion? I'm not sure.. but the formerly perfectly fine commissary eggs just felt a little lacking.

So, in short... myth cracked: German eggs are better.

Sorry to all of you who cannot eggsperience their awesomeness.

But look on the sunny side up... 

at least the puns are done. ;)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pets vs. Kids

When you meet new people in the military community, there is a bucket of general questions people usually draw from to quickly find some common ground. One of the first few questions is inevitably: Do you have any kids?!

It’s understandable – most military families do. In fact, most military families have lots of them! Which is why people ask… and why they are stumped for further conversation when hubby and I say, “Nope!”

Sometimes this leads to more awkward questions such as, “Why not?” or “Do you plan to?” in an attempt find a relatable point of view. Most often, questions like this lead to some awkwardness and an eventual parting of ways. Occasionally you find those who successfully navigate the conversation, who I find are actually worth keeping around. And every so often, you get the people with Mommy/Daddy Brain who react as if you've just told them your hobbies are mountain biking, crocheting, and dicing up the homeless to sell as meat on the black market. 

(Mommy/Daddy Brain: A medical condition in which some parents completely forget how to relate to adults without children.)

After several awkward moments and many failed attempts at conversation, I adopted a new response.

This opened me up to a whole new world of people who treated their pets like their children. I even discovered that some people who I thought had children had actually been talking about their pets the whole time!!  

Young couples without children, older couples who had kids that had already left the nest, and others in between who had gotten sick of explaining their choice to not have children – many of them were using their pets as baby decoys! It was brilliant!! Most times if you had already bonded over a story with someone, they didn’t seem to care that your story was about a furry baby instead of a human one. The point was simply having something in common.

So when I started answering, “No, but I have a cat!” I found myself among several pet owners (both with and without human kiddos) who appeared thrilled to confess the love of their own little furry babies. And should the conversation ever skip the standard questions about kids and home life, you could often pick up context clues to determine whether someone was telling a story about a pet or child.

Some clues were more obvious than others, since most people don’t name their human children “Muffin” or “Killer”; but you can apply the general idea that if the name is one not often heard, a person may be talking about a pet (especially if the name ends in an "ee" sound). Also, kids aren’t normally described as ‘begging’ for treats or getting out of their ‘leash’. A more subtle clue, however, might be agelessness. Parents tend to make reference to their offspring's age, even if indirectly ("The joys of having a toddler..", "My 3 yr old..", "After her birthday.."); whereas pets will remain ageless and descriptor neutral ("My little one.."; no concrete descriptors such as son/daughter/toddler). 

Clearly it is a fine line, though, since pet owners and parents can often hold meaningful conversations about their children without disclosing if they’re of the fuzzy or human variety.

This pet/kid tactic came in very handy for me when I was volunteering at our last duty station. Interactions were often brief, spontaneous, and informal with service and Family members who visited the office. A quick point of common ground went a long way toward making someone feel welcome. But I found it was also a great way to break the ice with newer office mates! Often when someone new would show up, it would be kind of awkward until you found a point of shared interest. More often than not, this new tactic provided an immediate commonality!

Shortly after the holidays we got a new volunteer. This was an easier time of year to get to know someone because you could ask questions about their holiday experiences. Normally if kids or pets were a factor, they would get mentioned in this discussion anyway – avoiding the awkward scenario of asking. So when we met, I chose the safe route!

I have heard tons of stories about dogs reacting to new types of weather (especially snow) since military families have a tendency to move from one extreme climate to the next. It never gets old. Like children, every pup has it's own unique personality that adds something to the stories.

Anyway - Perfect! I thought. She’s a pet person, like me. We are going to work so well together!! 

Then I made one...

First-time Kid/Pet Conversation Rule: Never get too specific. In a world of paranoia and obsession, you never know when you may accidentally strike a nerve or open Pandora ’s Box. 

Questions that get into details too soon could put you on a parent’s watch list or open you to an earful on how someone dared to disqualify Mittens at last year’s cat show! Or, perhaps even worse, this could happen:

This realization was only made worse by the fact that she just happens to be Native American. For a few moments I found myself sweating bullets, trying to think of an explanation for what I'd said. Of all the things you could have asked, Alex, why that?! Could that be misconstrued as some kind of horrible racist comment?! OMG She must think I'm awful!!

Fortunately, she turned out to have a great sense of humor and we both burst into laughter over my mistake. A few weeks later I actually had the privilege of meeting little (very human) Bailey, who was absolutely adorable.

After that little incident, I decided not to play pet roulette anymore. I still tell people that I have a cat when they ask about children, but I don’t play guessing games when people talk about their own little loved ones. Four-legged or two, doesn’t matter to me. And I certainly don’t ask anything too specific…

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Toilet Trauma

So I realize I’ve talked a lot about our travels, which is an excellent benefit to being stationed where we are; but I’ve said very little about the rest of life with the military and marriage. Both of these things have the extreme potential to put you in the loony bin or drive you to murder if you take them too seriously. The trick, in my opinion, is humor. It’s the only way to survive – especially if you’re dealing with both of these afflictions (marriage and mustard gas). Sometimes you may have to really search for the humor in something, other times it just happens naturally.

Today, it was a natural occurrence for me.

I went in for a long overdue trim of the hair hesitant of every step. Since we moved here, my hair cutting experiences have always left me with a sore scalp. I often feel as though I'll have no hair left to cut by the time they finish brushing it. In the States, it can feel as though you’ve gone in for a head massage and makeover rather than to trim off some split ends. In Deutschland, it can feel like you've accidentally signed up for torture survival training!

Today, however, I was relieved to find someone who treated my scalp as if it were actually attached to a living thing. She spoke English, as well, so we got to chat a bit. Normally I’m quiet when I’m in the chair – a combination of my introverted tendencies and not wanting to distract the person holding sharp scissors close to my face. But with the pleasant surprise of comfort, I found myself fairly conversational.

The normal questions came up, of course – How long have you lived here? Do you plan to travel? Do you live nearby? So it wasn’t long before we discovered that we’re actually neighbors! She lives in the building across from mine, so we empathized over the things we like and dislike about stairwell living. (For those of you who have never lived in overseas military family housing, ‘stairwells’ is the common term for the apartment-like structures we often live in. A stairwell is exactly what it sounds like – an indoor flight of stairs. In this case, however, it also refers to the group of apartments that reside off that particular stairwell, and sometimes the families that live there. It might sound silly – but most of us are just glad it isn’t an acronym!) Our most emphatic sympathies came over the subject of all the noise in the stairwells: dogs, people talking, children, soccer games, doors slamming, etc.

To properly understand the noise issue, you have to understand our stairwells. First of all, you can hear just about everything that happens in the stairwell itself because of the echo created by the concrete walls that enclose it. When someone enters, assuming it’s a quiet afternoon, you can usually hear every step they take on the way to their apartment. Secondly, the closer they get to your front door, the louder their steps are.

The next thing you must understand is the layout of our particular apartments, most notably the proximity of the bathroom to the front door. Not all units are created equally, so I’ve drawn a diagram of our own unit:

The funny thing about the sound issue is that if you’re in the bathroom, you can’t hear it if someone is shouting to you from the doggie tap dancing arena (also known as the living room); but you can hear conversations being held in the stairwell crystal clear.

This, of course, opens you up to a myriad of concerns stemming from the main question: If I can hear them... can they hear me?

For most of us, the bathroom is a private place. When we go in and close the door, we like to imagine that all sounds are blocked to outside ears, all smells are contained, and pretty much that what happens in the bathroom… stays in the bathroom. We may know better, but that doesn't stop us from pretending. Even if someone hears something, smells something... whatever. It's family! 

But with this setup, who knows?! 

Could someone walking by hear that occasionally audible ‘plunk’ as you drop the kids off at the pool? Do your neighbors get to boogie to your morning shower tunes? Exactly how many listened last fall as you lost your fest food and sang your praises to the porcelain throne after that one last pint of ale?

For some this could be more embarrassing than others.

But the one fear that I thought I was alone on, until confiding in my oh-so-gentle hair tamer, was the one I get when I’m on the toilet and can hear someone coming up the stairs...

They’re coming for me!

…well. Not exactly for me, but it’s more the idea that they’re going to accidentally walk in my door thinking it’s their own.

This thought is equally adrenaline-inducing whether you pee with your door open or shut, we agreed. Why? Because many of us have the desire to use the facilities as soon as we get home, and it’s all the more convenient when the front door leads right to the bathroom door! There wouldn’t be enough scenery between the two to indicate to someone ‘wrong house!’ before things were seen that could not be unseen.

Even if someone came in and it wasn’t their first instinct to use the restroom, I think it would still be awkward knowing that some stranger was in your home while you were taking care of business.

Now, I’m sure many of you are thinking, ‘Don’t you lock your door?

Well the answer is yes! Yes, I do. But our locks are funny and outdated. They have three modes, dependent upon how far you turn your key:

        (1) Death Trap – the door is locked and you must use a key to get in or out of your own home.  
             (Very reassuring with how often our fire alarms go off, I must say.)
        (2) Hotel House – the door is locked to the outside. You can open it from the inside, no problem;
             but if it shuts behind you? You need the key to get back in.
        (3) Free for All! – the door can be opened from the inside or outside, no key necessary; it is
             simply unlocked.

That’s right. One click to the left too many and the community is free to roam your quarters! We don’t have a convenient little turny-knob on the inside that we can easily twist to lock the door after letting ourselves in. Others do, but for some reason our building does not. We have to use the key again. Now, after lugging up a few armfuls of groceries, you might well imagine how one might forget to re-lock the door.

When broaching this fear to my combed companion, I was hoping she wouldn’t think I was entirely crazy. I certainly never expected her to share this toilet trauma. So when she did, I think we both died laughing out of relief! Someone else shares my irrational fear! It was truly a bonding experience.

My husband thinks I’m crazy!’ she strained between bouts of giggles, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. But we knew better.

When I got home, I realized that I’d had a survival moment. Marriage can be stressful and infuriating at times. The military tends to make a habit out of pissing you off. Surviving the combination of these two things means you’re more rare than a millionaire but receive much less comfort and stability. It can be hard to laugh sometimes… but it’s so essential.

And sometimes, you just have to laugh about the things that literally scare the crap out of you!

(To those grammar-sensitive individuals out there, I fully realize that 'more rare' should probably be 'rarer'. It's driving me nuts, too! But it just doesn't have the same ring, does it?)