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Friday, December 26, 2014

Pfeffernüsse: A Christmas Scourge

(Photo source + recipe: La Fuji Mama)

Long ago, in what feels like another life, my sister Pickles was the family Germanophile. Her high school German teacher, Frau B., (who was later my high school German teacher at a different school) made a big deal out of Christmas. I experienced Frau B.'s yuletide verve for myself a bit down the road: the annual in-class, Gingerbread house contest, memorizing German carols for extra credit points ("Kling Glöckchen, klingelingeling..." and so forth), and the baking of Pfeffernüsse... also for extra credit. 

Frau B. – who I thought retired this year, but turns out she only semi-retired... because, of course, she can't stay away from teaching – is basically the best teacher ever. She explained German adjective endings in a way that I will never forget (RESE NESE MRMN SR SR, pronounced "Reesee Neesee Mr. Man Sir Sir") and every year for St. Nikolaus, she let us take a nap on our desks, while she distributed candy in festive "shoes" crafted from construction paper. The best.

But before she was my German teacher, she was my sister's German teacher. Pickles brought home the Pfeffernüsse recipe and tried it out immediately. It quickly became a family hit, with my father requesting every year that Pickles bake up "More of those Fahrvergnügen thingies".

Aside from Vanillekipferle (vanilla crescents), Pfeffernüsse long held a place in my heart at the top of my Favorite Christmas Treat list. Not an official list... but you know how Germans go crazy with the cookies and there's always a mixed bag? Ok, if you don't know... then I'm telling you that's how it is. The US equivalent is something like making Chex Mix for the holidays. And then you eat all the Chex first until there's, like, stupid pretzels and that pumpernickel bullshit at the end.

Vanillekipferle are still #1 in my Christmas heart. Right up there with the Rice Krispie treats in the Christmas colors (take note, people, this is the stuff that will make me love you forever).

Pfeffernüsse, on the other hand, have fallen from grace... never to return. It's really quite sad.

On this day, eight years ago, I'd been back in Germany. I moved back in the summer and was deep in the throes of The Great Immigration Bullshit of 2006. That Christmas, I celebrated at Schmiddy's shared apartment with other holiday orphans... except we weren't quite orphans. Mostly because we all still had our parents (at the time), also because Papa Schmidt came up from Dortmund. Also, I debuted another sister's prized guacamole recipe (which I've since improved upon ten-thousand fold *natch*).

At some point, between our Christmas tacos, watching The Life of Brian, and drinking Brinkhoff's – typical Christmas tradition – I started munching from a plate of Pfeffernüsse. I remember thinking that they were much crunchier than I recalled, when – CRUNCH! – the worst of the worst had happened.

Slowly, I realized with every additional chomp... this was not holiday goodness, but rather bits of tooth.

The sound of your own tooth crunching in your own mouth is the stuff of nightmares. Once, I made the realization. I got up and went to the bathroom to survey the damage. I won't lie; some of the tooth was swallowed. There was a sizable chunk of a left-side molar missing. It didn't hurt; it was just gone. I didn't want to upset the gathering, so I just went back to finish watching the movie...

Always look on the briiiiiight side of liiiiiife...

Eventually, I got the tooth filled. Thank you, German medical system.

My mom, rest her soul, had a significant portion of her dental work – before my brother became a dentist – done in Trinidad. Their solution was always extraction, which is why my mom had a 3x3 partial denture set for her back three molars on each side. Also, because she didn't give a fuck and it was more comfortable for eating, she would routinely remove said partial. Allllso, because of her accent – and because "shame" was not a word in her vocabulary – she referred to this partial as her "teets". As in, "Oh, gotta take mah teets out."

Believe you me... hilarity always ensued. We laughed; she laughed.

My dad... my dad had snaggly teeth. Eventually, he had to go with a full denture set... because his teeth were just full on crap. My mom... beautiful straight teeth that kinda turned out to be soft much later. As genetics go, I'd say that I'm also a pretty good mix of my parents. Straight teeth, but they kinda have their own will. I remember visiting Trinidad and my older brother teaching me to shuck sugar cane with my teeth. And thinking now like, "!"

This morning, even though I knew I had plenty of Christmas leftovers, I decided to bake a frozen pizza for breakfast. Despite the fact that pizza is totally not one of my favorite foods. I just didn't want to be bothered with reheating leftovers.

Pizza done; munching happily... until CRUNCH! The same Pfeffernüsse tooth decides to give up the ghost.

It was a clean break. The mega-filling popped right out. Except now, left behind, was the perfectly drilled shell of my molar. Perfect for trapping bits of food... and exposing enough of the root to be uncomfortable. Looking at the calendar, I realized that if I did nothing... I'd have to do it for 3 days.

So, I looked up the emergency dentists open today. I wasn't in pain, but I know how quickly these things can change. I went to the nearest open dentist... and it was utterly packed.

I've never been to a dentist that packed... but I knew I didn't want to go to the army hospital (Bundeswehrkrankenhaus, for you Germies), which is the late-night emergency dentistry and about which I've heard a lot of nasty stories.

I knew I was in a better state than most of the people visiting. There was a little kid, no more than five years old, who looked in utter agony. I just wanted a temp filling.

Still, I wondered at the sheer number of people in the practice... waiting...

And I couldn't help to think that Pfeffernüsse were to blame...

Those Christmas bastards...

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