The grass grew fast after the last few days of rain, rising above the bottom step of the terrace. I stood on the porch and breathed the hot, pollen filled air before coughing…then sneezing. Just being out there made me tired. The only things growing faster than the grass were the weeds and my exhaustion. I still don’t have a handle on this whole caregiver thing. And though Gretel seems to be thrilled with every little thing I do for her, I can’t help but look around and see how incompetent I am compared to her herculean efforts in keeping our lives and home in order before she was sick. I suck at house work–always did, even when I was single.
Thank god I’m a decent cook. Her treatments had left her with little appetite and that was disconcerting as it had led to a drop in weight. I needed to get her fattened up before IV Chemo began–if pill chemo was already hampering her appetite, the IV chemo would be trouble. I had to find something she wanted to eat even when she wasn’t hungry…I had an idea.
The “Buttery Bitche” Omelet, Croissant Sandwich.
Start with the best Croissant available.
Dressed in 90’s era BDU camouflage (which raised a few eyebrows in transit) I stowed-away aboard a military transport bound for Germany. After hunkering down in a quiet corner of the C-17 Globemaster III, I planned my next steps. Getting onto the base and getting on the transport at Joint Base Andrews were hard enough, but once on base at Ramstein, sneaking off post would be more of a challenge–a challenge made greater by the attention I drew boarding in an outdated uniform (way to plan ahead, Shelton).
Alternately, Wholefoods makes a wonderful Butter Croissant that can be purchased individually or at a discount in a six Croissant container.
As I stepped off the transport upon arriving in Germany, Military Police were present to take me into custody. After explaining my reason for illegally hopping aboard the transport, they released me and were even kind enough to detail two very nice young sergeants in driving me to the French border. Whereupon, they slowed down enough for me to jump (or rather be pushed) to the side of the road. Grateful for the ride, I saluted them with a crisp, official looking snap of one finger–I’m not sure which finger, but it’ll come to me.
I continued into the French countryside to obtain the groceries I needed. I had a particular destination in mind–Bitche, France (yes, that’s a real place. Google it.)
Unable to tempt anyone driving a motorized vehicle to stop for a middle aged, unshaven, 90’s era battle dress uniform wearing hitchhiker, I eventually managed to flag down an elderly woman on a bicycle (I actually stood in the path of her travel and refused to move when she swore at me in French). When I had calmed her down, and picked her up from the pavement, I asked where she was headed. She replied, “Home, Bitche.”
I climbed on the back of her bicycle, balancing on the narrow rack there, and pushed off with my feet so as not to strain my driver’s legs too much as we were going up hill. On the way, she taught me some French (mostly profanity and mostly directed at me) but I was grateful for the lesson and the ride.
Once in Bitche, I located a bakery and easily procured the croissants. Payment was more than I had imagined and left me short of funds. Undissuaded, I carried on, out of the bakery, my sack of croissants gripped in my fist as I began seeking the other ingredients I needed.
Eggs; not regular eggs. I was seeking the rich, golden yellow yolks produced only by pastured chickens, fed on kitchen scraps, spring greens, fat juicy spring insects, and light on grain based feeds.
On the outskirts of town, I found a Bitche farmer happy to part with two eggs possessing the above mentioned qualities, in exchange for my 90’s era camouflaged jacket. I had become rather warm due to the ride to Bitche (not to complain about my ride, but I had to do a lot of pushing, particularly up the hills), so I gratefully accepted the deal and handed over my jacket. Before continuing, I asked if she had some pastured, lightly salted butter (another ingredient in my Gretel’s sandwich). She shook her head apologetically and pointed down the road. “Bitche Dairy,” she said.
I nodded and soldiered on. By that time, my feet were sore and my legs were cramping. I hadn’t hydrated properly and within just a few more miles, I was ready to sit. Luckily, I had arrived at the Bitche Dairy. I sat at the edge of a trough and began scooping cool, refreshing cow backwash into my mouth to sate my thirst. While I was slowly drowning my thirst with the salty (though cool and refreshing) cow water, I was approached by a milk maid. Imagine my shock and amusement to find a real live milk maid in this day and age. “Bitche Dairy?” I asked her.
She smiled and nodded, then took me by my hand leading me away from the trough. I was confused at first (not to mention still thirsty) but when she led me into the barn and sat me at a small table, I realized she was generously offering me a shady place to rest and some fresh, Bitche Dairy milk. I drank it, though slowly, as it was thick with cream and rather warm (fresh from the Bitche cow I would imagine).
When I’d had my fill, I asked if she had lightly salted butter. She nodded again and proceeded to scoop a generous portion from a churn, only recently stilled judging by the friction warmth of its handle. I must have interrupted her morning chores with my arrival.
I offered her money, but she shook her head, smiling. I found it odd she hadn’t spoken a word since I arrived and suddenly wondered if she were mute. Since the Bitche farmer had been interested in bartering the eggs for my camouflaged jacket, I wondered if the milk maid wanted something camouflaged as well. Having already parted with my jacket, my trousers were all that remained. As I unbuckled my belt to remove them for her, she stepped back abruptly, hands held forward in the universal sign of “whoa”!
I looked at her curiously, but then shrugged, rebuckling my belt. With the paper sack of butter firmly in hand, she shoved me toward the door of the barn and then tossed the bag at me. She was apparently gifting it to me–what a wonderful and generous country France is. I had grown quite fond of the Bitche residents.
I needed cheese next. But not just any sort of cheese; I needed Munster. Munster was by far the best cheese to produce the desired olfactory and gustatory results to benefit chemo patient eating habits. I had to go south because the only place you can get true Munster cheese is in the region of France between Alsace, Loraine and Franche-Comte.
I waved goodbye to the generous Bitche milk maid and began the next leg of my journey. I had heard during my previous adventures in France, that Mulhouse was the best place to get Munster cheese, so I thumbed a ride. I was lucky to catch a truck driver, delivering cows to Mulhouse. He offered me a ride in the back of his cattle truck for the 112 mile (180 kilometers) ride from Bitche to Mulhouse. The long, bumpy, though scenic route gave me time to reflect on how I might return home once my last ingredient was procured. It would be touchy getting back on base at Ramstein…I had already tipped my hand there.
Arriving in Mulhouse wasn’t pleasant. I had apparently dozed off, and sadly, the driver forgot I was in the back of the truck with his cattle. The nervous, skittish, Bitche cows ran out of the trailer as soon as the door was opened, pining me to the floor and walking across me like a was just another slip proof mat under their feet.
After I crawled out of the back of the truck, flopping to the street, I looked up. A local stood there, one eyebrow raised in confused amusement.
“Où puis-je trouver le fromage … Münster” I asked him, wondering where I might get my cheese–though more accurately, I had pronounced the question, “Wo puss jee troover la formooge Moonster.”
I discovered long ago, Americans attempting to imperfectly speak a foreign language to a native is considered a sweet gesture by everyone…except the French. He sneered at me and walked away without responding.
I stood and brushed myself off, and upon seeing my reflection in a cheese shop window, I saw why he had been standoffish…I was covered in cow manure. That’s when it dawned on me. “Oh! A cheese shop!”
Hope surged as I opened the door. But a plump, red-faced woman ran around the counter, shoving me back outside with both hands. As I fell backwards out the door, she shared a new French language lesson, repeating many of the same words the elderly biker had taught me–though, there were new additions, specifically the repeated words “salop” and “merde!“.
Standing on the corner, dried cow manure, flaking off and dropping to the sidewalk as I baked in the early morning sun, I pulled out my phone to look up the new words. I quickly discovered their significance. Salop is the masculine form of son of a bitch, and merde means shit… This was going to be a challenge.
I checked my location on google maps. “Whoa! Cool!” I realized Mulhouse was only 21 miles (34 kilometers) from Basel Switzerland. “I know someone in Basel Switzerland,” I muttered, then proceeded to call Maurice and Hulya.
Luckily, they were available to help. Upon arrival in Mulhouse, Hulya presented me with Swiss Chocolate (she’s very generous with her chocolate gifts) and Maurice gave me a change of clothes. Finally, flannel and jeans. I was happy.
Maurice went inside the cheese shop and yelled in French at the woman behind the counter for several minutes. Shit! That’s right. Maurice speaks French! When he exited, he had yet another paper bag–this one filled with Munster Cheese.
He shook his head as he handed me the bag. “Don’t you have grocery at home?”
I narrowed my eyes to slits and glared at him for a second. Hulya broke the tension by shoving a piece of chocolate each into both Maurice’s and my mouth. “Can you stay?” she asked.
I shook my head. “I have to make breakfast for Diane.”
She nodded, understanding. “Can we drop you somewhere?”
“Yes, please. Train station…I have to get back to Ramstein before the next C-17 leaves.”
She and he, lifted their eyebrows in unison, but granted me my request and delivered me to the train station.
Upon arriving back at Ramstein, I was promptly placed under arrest, my ingredients were confiscated and I was put in cuffs before being loaded on the C-17 headed back state side. I leaned toward the cute corporal they had sent to babysit me on my journey. “My food is in a cooler, right?” I asked.
She wouldn’t even look at me. “For the tenth time, yes, its in a cooler, in the refrigerator, ready for you to land at Andrews.”
She shook her head. “What is it that you think you’re doing?”
I explained the situation to her, about my wife on chemo and radiation, her loss of appetite and the need to bring her weight back up. The cute young corporal turned her head slowly toward me. I was expecting tears of sympathy or at the very least a smile of appreciation for the dedication I was showing my wife.
“You idiot,” she said. “Don’t they have grocery stores in Virginia?”
I sighed. Obviously most people just can’t understand.
When we were on approach to Joint Base Andrews, the cute corporal (Corporal Tanger), unlocked my cuffs and brought my food to me. As we touched down on the tarmac she said, “You’ll have to get across the field on your own, but all you have to do is follow the roach coach out to get off base.” She lowered the cargo ramp and I watched the white lines of the runway slip one after another past the opening–the plane was still moving.
“Go,” she said.
I looked up at her. “The plane is still moving.”
She shook her head and kicked me, sending me tumbling to the pavement. Thank god I remembered from my army days, Tuck and Roll. I tucked and rolled, right into the grassy strip between runways.
Following her instructions, I located a catering truck (the roach coach) and followed it through the gate. It was still dark here in the states, sunrise only an hour or so away. After getting through the gate, I hit the button on my key fob and was greeted by the orange flash from the lights on my Subaru–On time and in the right location. It’s nice when a plan comes together like that.
I drove home in early morning DC/Northern Virginia traffic and began making breakfast for my sweet wife.
She walked downstairs as the first buttery croissant half was lifted from the skillet.
She sniffed. “Oh, that smells, super good…did you go shopping this morning?”
In fact, I had left shortly after she fell asleep the night before, but I nodded. “Got up a little early to get a few things… sit, eat.”
I poured her latte, and set the plate down in front of her. She looked up and smiled. “Is that Munster?”
I nodded, grinning widely.
She tipped her head to the side. “Didn’t we have any provolone left?”
I chuckled as I moved her sandwich to my placesetting and began cooking a new one for her, less the Munster, plus the Provolone. I love her so much.
The sandwich isn’t the easiest to make, (The Bitche Sandwich), but it’s totally worth it, especially if you are madly in love with the recipient.
Step by step. The Buttery Bitche Omelet, Croissant Sandwich
2 Eggs. Pastured eggs are best as the yolks are rich, golden yellow, almost orange
2 Tablespoons of lightly salted butter. Again, pastured dairy is best in taste, but do the best you can.
1 Butter Croissant
1 Slice of Cheese, your choice, but seriously, Munster is the best for this dish.
In a small bowl, crack two eggs and whip with a fork until light and fluffy. DO NOT add milk. This creates a scrambled egg sandwich and is not nearly as satisfying.
Warm a skillet to low/medium low heat and pour the eggs into it. While they cook, spread one tablespoon full of butter on each half of the croissant. Once the egg begins to steam/smoke slightly, fold it in half and push it to the edge where is gets less heat, then place the two croissant halves, cut/buttered side down, in the skillet. let brown until golden. (You may have to check it a few times to get the timing right.)
Place slice of cheese on one half of the omelet, then fold again. Place immediately on croissant and plate.
NOTE: All ingredients mentioned above are available at Wholefoods.
S.L. Shelton is the author of an Amazon Bestselling Political Thriller/Action Espionage Series, (The Scott Wolfe Series). Follow him here on WordPress, on Twitter @SLSheltonAuthor or Facebook. His wife Diane suffers from an advanced cancer and is in aggressive treatment, consuming time, energy and resources. If you feel the desire to help, you can make a contribution to the GoFundMe that their daughter set up, or buy his books.