The Early Days

Spending many summers visiting my Grandparents in a small village outside of Heidelberg, Germany, I was frequently sent to the backyard to get the freshly laid eggs from the chicken coop, pull up a few carrots from the ground, snap some beans and pluck the ripened strawberries along with a stalk of rhubarb for a tart that would later be served with the afternoon coffee. I headed down to the cellar, to grab a few potatoes and onions along with a jar of preserves and a bottle of wine. If my grandparents were not growing something in their small backyard, one of their neighbors was. Everyone shared what they had, and nothing went to waste. They were organic early co-ops so to speak without the label. There was a bakery a few blocks away that actually delivered fresh rolls and bread every morning to our door in a reusable fabric sack. The butcher was even closer. The schnapps distillery was right next door, adjacent to the candy store that I frequented to get some “real” licorice and chocolate. It seemed like the village would gather just about every month on the river banks and celebrate something. Be it a Chicken Fest, Fish Fest, Apple Fest or a Pig Fest, music played, the villagers ate, drank, clinked their glasses and steins, danced, and united. Back in the “Garden State”, otherwise known as New Jersey, my entrepreneurial and culinary senses were developing. I emptied my princess jewelry box and turned it into a cash box to set up shop on my front lawn to sell our home grown tomatoes, fresh cut flowers and whatever else I could harvest. I was so proud to be in business and making so many people smile at the ripe age of 10. Little did I know it was probably my pricing of a nickel a tomato and 25 cents for a bouquet of flowers that created those smiles. One of my chores was to set the table. For some unknown reason I started folding napkins, rolling the bologna and salami made fresh from our local German butcher, fanning the cheese, coordinating the rolls amongst the bread and strategically positioning the dishes along with freshly cut flowers from our yard. I very quickly realized that a meal is intended to be a feast for the eyes before it ever reaches the palate. I especially loved gatherings because we got to toast. It didn’t matter if we were toasting to an occasion, or just to life, health and happiness. For just a brief moment, everyone seemed to pause, clink their glasses and were united in a similar thought. I started raising my glass to just about anything and soon begged my mother to drink my milk or juice from a wine glass because it was just so much more fun.