One Woman's Kuchen Is Another's Strudel. Life is like bread dough. We can imagine the finished product but, even when we follow

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1 One Woman's Kuchen Is Another's Strudel 1 One Woman's Kuchen Is Another's Strudel Life is like bread dough. We can imagine the finished product but, even when we follow the recipe, sometimes a cold draft blows through and flattens it. The question in baking, and in life, then becomes whether or not a flattened lump of dough can serve any useful purpose. Since it will never match the original vision, some people just toss it into the trash. Others carefully examine it, maybe knead it a few times, and imagine it taking on a new purpose as the base for a great Swedish Tea Ring or maybe a pizza. I must admit, some of my most exciting meals have started out with a lump of plain, flat, bread dough. This theory comes from a story told to me decades ago, when I was only nineteen, by the mother of a friend of mine. Claus' mom was a short, stocky German woman. I guessed her to be maybe forty or forty-five years of age, although her flawless skin made it hard to tell. She and her husband had moved to Canada after World War 2, but had been living in Germany during the worst of those years. She loved to talk, and I loved to listen, so we spent many pleasant evenings together over coffee and chatter while the men were at work. One night when she had made an incredible kuchen, she called to invite me for a slice. Coffee was waiting, as usual, when I sat down. Elsa loved her coffee and was making up for any cups she might have missed during hard times by downing several pots a day. She also loved to prepare warm, sugary, baked goods. Kuchen was her speciality. She made the best, she would brag, in North America if not Germany itself. Did I ever tell you, she said, my kuchen story? I thought it over. Dog story. Apartment in Munich story, Sheets in the wind story. No, I

2 One Woman's Kuchen Is Another's Strudel 2 said. No kuchen story, So, I will then, she said with a brisk nod. After one of her brisk nods you knew, if you knew Elsa at all, that you had no choice but to listen. I was so young then, just married and left alone miles from my family because of the marriage. Herr Mister (she always called her husband Herr Mister, though she never explained why) had taken me to live in the city because of his work, but he had to leave and go off to war poor boy with no choices. Such a war pulling people apart and breaking their hearts. Elsa, I interrupted, knowing her tendency to stray from a topic, the kuchen. I was telling of kuchen, but I can't remember kuchen without remembering the rest. You were not there, not even born; you can't know. Sorry. Yeah, sure. So, on I go. Everything was rationed, and not always easy to get or affordable. Sugar, coffee hmm. I dreamed of my coffee more than of Herr Mister who was at war, more than... She blushed and stammered, and I knew she was trying to be Canadian for my benefit but couldn't say the word. Sex? I offered with a chuckle that deepened her blush. Yeah, sure, she agreed, her eyes to the wall. So, you see how precious it was. Convinced by her analogy of the seriousness of the shortage, I nodded. I was saying, she continued, there was no money for luxury, and I had not even tasted sugar in a very long time. I had, however, in an old can, a little money given at my wedding that I'd saved for a special treat. Life was made happier with planning how I would spend it over and over again in my mind. Sometimes, I thought of a beautiful piece of fabric

3 One Woman's Kuchen Is Another's Strudel 3 for maybe a blousey top, or maybe some marvellous scent from Cologne, or even a photograph to send to Herr Mister to remember me. So long I thought and planned. Then, one day when the peaches were ripe on the tree in the courtyard outside my window, the landlady came to my door. She said she had all she needed, and I could fill a small basket for myself if I picked one more for my neighbour who was confined to bed and maybe eighty years old if not ninety. She looked ninety stark, white hair, no teeth. She went silent for a moment then, lost in thought. So, you picked them? Yes, and they smelled so delicious that I knew them to be meant for a kuchen. I had been a long time without a good piece of kuchen. But, I was no cook back then; more than food I loved to sew and read when I was young and had left baking to my sister. But, I had a recipe given to me by my mother at my wedding, so I thought I could manage it. I had, though, no butter and no sugar, and those things could not be had on honest terms and cost much money. So, I put the peaches by the window to keep cool while I sorted my thoughts. All night I dreamed of kuchen. The next day, I paced about thinking of it. For two days, I dreamed and paced until, as my peaches grew so tempting and sweet, I knew where my wedding money would go. With the help of a friend, I ventured into the underworld of the black market where my carefully hoarded wealth bought only enough for a single pastry. At home with my treasure, I sliced the peaches carefully so as not to waste even a scrap of fruit. As I mixed the ingredients, I daydreamed of the perfect kuchen I would create and the admiration I would receive from my neighbours for, of course, they must sample. Perhaps, I thought, they would be so impressed that they would all want to hire me to bake for them. Then, I could

4 One Woman's Kuchen Is Another's Strudel 4 earn extra money and maybe save much while Herr Mister was at war. I would be Kuchen Queen, rich and famous in all Deutschland. Anyway, as I dreamed, I paid little attention to reality. Maybe too much milk, too little flour, cold draft. Who knows? In the end, it was no kuchen, just a useless, soggy lump of clay dough. Play dough, I corrected. Yeah, that! A useless lump that had cost all my savings and my dreams. I began to sob like you wouldn't believe. I grew more and more angry with myself and that useless lump. So mad I got that I took that lump to my window and I threw it, with good riddance, into the yard. The next morning my eyes still hurt from tears. I ate the peaches. Even coated with sugar they seemed tart. While I ate, a knock came to my door. It was the landlady, and she greeted me with a smile. Elsa, she said, a miracle has happened. You must come see. Although I was not up to witnessing another's miracle, she was so insistent that I followed her downstairs. Her apartment smelled wonderful, filled with fresh baking. My eyes rimmed again. Come, she urged as she placed a warm slice of strudel on a plate in front of me, sit and share this miracle. The strudel looked and smelled delicious. Thank you, I said, brightening at the gift she offered to me. Such an expensive treasure to share with someone you hardly know. So very generous. No cost to me, she winked. This is the miracle. Last night, as I went to take my laundry in from the line, I heard a noise and looked up when, from the sky, came a flying

5 One Woman's Kuchen Is Another's Strudel 5 object that landed in the peach tree. I was curious, so I removed it from the branch where it stuck. A little taste reminded me of a strudel dough, not quite the same, and it need much work, but I knew it was a gift from God on high who once made manna and was now trying his hand at strudel. She chuckled while explaining how she had refashioned the dough. I fought tears as I ate the strudel, then thanked her, and returned to my apartment a wiser human being. Because you had learned never to judge anything too hastily? I asked. What? No, she said, because I had learned to make strudel. Now eat! --The End--

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