It was dark when I woke up in a puddle of sweat. For a moment I believed that I had been overwhelmed very suddenly by that second female affliction, menopause. But then a sound penetrated my sleepy brain, a constant, low hum, like air being forced through a vent. The central heating had kicked in sometime before my moist awakening and somehow missed its deadline for shutoff. It ran. And ran. And ran. Certainly, it was cold outside (so cold, in fact, that today school is cancelled. Again. I’m writing this with a sneer of disdain) but the temperature had been set at a comfortable 70 F for about ever without causing me nightsweats. I decided to check on the rabbit room, where keeping the right temperature for the nagetiers is tricky business. As soon as I entered the kitchen, where the floor is criss-crossed by heating pipes, I became suspicious. Pushing the door open to the laundry room/hallway, I was nearly knocked on my behind by an escaping rush of desert wind. Clearly, the house was being unreasonable in its heating attempts! Having turned the temp down a degree, I lay on the couch trying to go back to sleep when it occurred to me that heating is one of those things Germans do better (depending on architecture, actually).
In the day of Mini Me – Mini being my nickname given to me, lore has it, by my sister- the typical German house had radiators in every room. To prevent the heat escaping through the window, a practical ledge divided the space between window and wall. Our were usually covered with jungle-like arrays of various plants. The advantage of this kind of heating system is fairly obvious: you need only heat those rooms which you want warm, and temperatures are easily and individually adjustable. Central heating is one of those pervasive concepts whose logic escapes me, particularly in a house designed like ours, where the thermostat is near the cathedral-like living room which takes half the day to warm up to the same degree as the rest of the rooms, anyway.
It wasn’t only the heat, however, that kept me from catching much-needed zzzs last night. Having shared dinner with DH at a new restaurant the evening before, I was experiencing some physical discomfort. You see, despite the fact that to the best of my recollection I was never nagged with claims like “Starving people in Africa would be glad to have this! Now finish your food!” as a child, in a social setting I have a hard time reminding myself that I don’t need to finish my food, especially dessert. We had split a lovely black bean dip and enjoyed our reasonably sized entrees when disaster struck: our waitress apologized while informing us that our chosen dessert, apple pie, was out. Then she apologized three hundred times more before offering us the other menu selection, DeBrand’s raspberry truffle torte. DeBrand’s is the local chocolatier, much praised (and prized) around these parts, and the combination of chocolate and raspberry sounded tasty, so we went for it. What we got was a large slice of fluffy cake dyed pink, covered in marshmallow-like cream and a layer of fudge, crowned with an ice-cold (and hence rock-hard) truffle and surrounded by copious amounts of whipped cream. The whole concoction was so sweet, it was sickening. DH literally tossed down his fork in disgust after having eaten less than his share. I, however, stuck with a companion cup of coffee, found myself unable to do the same. And thus I ended up with aforementioned discomfort and the realization that Germans do dessert better. Why?
Firstly, it appears unavoidable altogether to get any kind of dessert here that does not include whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Some come with both. It’s uncreative, predictable and incredibly boring, not to mention that simply slapping an extra milk product onto a plate does nothing for presentation. Secondly, although there are restaurants that offer bite-sized desserts now, the majority banks on quantity. Even if the rest of your meal was just the right amount, the minute you give in to your poor waitperson looking at you with those pleading eyes that subtly remind you that they have a student loan to pay off and very much require you to eat dessert so the tip will be larger, you’ll be saddled with some monstrosity that will do little to satisfy that tiny craving for sweets you had and go far to keep you from getting a good night’s rest. Just as DH is weaning himself off large (= bucket-sized) beers, I am going to wean myself off those fatty globs of sugar.
Which leads me to the third thing Germans do better, and that is coffee. Yes, still. Since my first visit to the US in 1989, gastronomy has undergone a renaissance as far as coffee goes; most places will serve something far better than the ol’ cup of Maxwell House kept on the warming plate all day. Then again, simply besting Maxwell House is not in itself a mark of distinction. In Hoosierville, the average cup of coffee will set you back about $2. Admittedly, there are free refills until you are ready to spend the rest of the day in the bathroom or your heart gives out, but why would you want to drink slop until you get there? Even restaurants like the one we went to last night, where the food is nothing short of excellent (as long as you ignore the dessert menu), the coffee was, at best, meh. Also, coffee is all you get. That is, a mug with something caffeinated in it. Forget about espresso, latte, cappuccino. Even Italian-inspired places would rather spend their money on near-identical decoration than a decent espresso machine. And that is just sad.
Lest you think I am dissatisfied with our current lifestyle in Hoosierville, I promise to present you with some things that are actually better than in Germany soon. Meanwhile, enjoy your weekend!