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"To cook is to create. And to create well...
is an act of integrity, and faith."


Nothing bad could ever happen
to me in a café...



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Cafe Griensteidl, Vienna, 1890
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La Belle Cuisine


"Coffee falls into the stomach ... ideas begin to move, things
remembered arrive at full gallop ... the shafts of wit start up like
sharp-shooters, similes arise, the paper is covered with ink ...

~ Honore de Balzac


Nothing bad could ever happen to me in a café


Yes, that's what I said. Nothing bad could ever happen to me in a café.
And I do not mean the “Good Eats Café”, or even the home-cooking-type diner/cafe. I mean café as in Café, as in Kaffeehaus, that most venerable
and beloved European institution.

This thought came to me this morning as I was huddled under the covers, awaiting the passing of a typical summer-in-south-Louisiana thunderstorm. Came out of nowhere. Sudden and intense. Thunder cracking, booming, rolling, rambling. Rain pounding, gushing, torrential. (God is in charge.
All is well. And so it is!) “Wish I were in my favorite café,” I thought.
“Nothing bad could ever happen to me there…”

 “Balderdash!” you may be thinking. “Of course it could…” Doubt not, oh
ye of little faith. Enough. I will not hear of it. Naysayers are everywhere, a dime a dozen. There is always someone out there to drag you down when
you are flying high. Please do not bother, for your efforts will be in vain. I believe. I am convinced, I am persuaded. I know what I know.

 And just what is it about my conviction that is so compelling as to spit in
the face of logic? Simple. A café, a Kaffeehaus (let’s just stick with that appellation, shall we) is a haven. A place for relaxation, contemplation, rejuvenation, inspiration, consolation. A place for reading or writing, or
people-watching. Pleasant conversation perhaps, but only if you are so
inclined. A refuge, if you will.
A home away from home. In many ways it is better than home, for in
your favorite Kaffeehaus, the cares of home are left behind. The nagging worries of the mundane dissipate as you make your entrance into a more tranquil world.

This is freeing, of course. As well as intellectually stimulating and downright inspirational. Your now clutter-free mind can concentrate on things dear to
your heart. Great novels have been written in coffeehouses, operas and symphonies have been conceived; great works of art in all genres have been debated and nurtured into fruition. And yes. Revolutions have been plotted, dictators denounced, despots dethroned as well. Coffeehouses are reputed
to be fertile ground for the growth of things both artistic and radical. Thus it came to pass that coffee, coffee-drinkers and coffeehouses were considered subversive and therefore feared by the establishment. Mon dieu! Joie de
vivre and free thinking could lead to anything…

 And fear often leads to fanaticism. According to Claudia Roden’s

Coffee: a Connoisseur's Companion icon
(1994, Random House)


“ 'A Women’s Petition Against Coffee' was published in London in 1674, complaining that men were never to be found at home during times of
domestic crisis since they were always in the coffee houses, and that
the drink rendered them impotent.”

Whoa! And the trouble did not end there. Not only were coffeehouses
held responsible for the disruption of domestic tranquility, but also for
the ruffling of royal feathers:

 “Frederick the Great, annoyed with the great sums of money going to foreign
coffee merchants, issued the following declaration in 1777: ‘It is disgusting to
note the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects and the amount
of money that goes out of the country in consequence. If possible this must be prevented. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer.
And so were his officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer; and the king does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers
can be depended upon to endure hardships or to beat his enemies in case of
the occurrence of another war.’ "

But enough of politics. Back to the comfort zone... A Kaffeehaus is a welcoming place. It embraces you. (If you do not sense this, then you are simply in the wrong one. You have yet to find your Kaffeehaus. Just keep looking.) Over time, you will settle in. You will find your favorite table,
and it will become your Stammtisch, which is to say your regular table.
You will simply gravitate towards it. You will soon be addressing the staff
by name. And they you, of course, should you care to introduce yourself. They will admire your dog (of course dogs are allowed!) They will never,
ever rush you, no matter how long you choose to linger over your very
favorite newspaper (which the Kaffeehaus provides). If you are in a hurry,
then hie your way to a Steh-Café, an espresso-bar sort of place, get your
quick fix, and leave us in peace to create.

 Case in point: Bad Homburg, Germany. Café Eiding. My chosen Kaffeehaus. (Now there’s a thought – did I choose it, or did it choose me?) In any case, it became my refuge. Soothed my frazzled nerves on many a blessed occasion. Bad Homburg, of course, has many coffeehouses. Believe me, I tried them
all. None bad, each with its own particular charm. Croissants better at this
one, Broetchen better at that one. But for whatever esoteric reason, it was
Café Eiding that reached out and grabbed me. Embraced me. Enticed me.

As do many fine coffeehouses the world over, this one has laid claim
to a fine corner location. This particular corner has the added advantage
of being at least somewhat removed from the main flow of traffic and
general hustle-bustle. And in the summer, Herr Eiding opens the terrace,
where his guests are treated not only to Eiskaffee and all manner of
other ice cream treats (in addition to the usual bill of fare), but also to
a fantastic view of the Taunus Mountains. (Not the Alps, mind you,
but mountains just the same. Old mountains.)

 Some would say that I called Café Eiding my own simply because Herr
Eiding and staff make the best Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte on the planet
(that is to say Black Forest Cherry Cake, for those of you who have not
yet had the pleasure - a delectable combination of chocolate, dark cherries,
Kirschwasser and whipped cream). To die for. That in itself would have
been reason enough, this particular heavenly torte being, in my opinion,
the quintessential dessert. But somehow there was more. Cannot quite put
my finger on it. It just felt right. Cozy, warm, safe. Reassuring. Nurturing.
Nothing bad could ever happen to me there…

 Upon entering Café Eiding, you are greeted immediately by the pastry
display case, laden with all manner of baked delicacies beyond descrip-
tion. This, of course, in addition to the rich, heady aroma of freshly
brewed strong, rich coffee. Heaven. And you feel, perhaps, somewhat
akin to a child in a toy store. Such riches, such treasures! Where to begin? Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte for me. Goes without saying. (Herr Eiding
was already pulling it out of the case when he saw me coming.) But I do
manage to deviate now and again. Rich and creamy Frankfurter Kranz, perhaps. Or Bienenstich (Beesting), one of my all-time favorites. And
always a variety of things chocolaty, sometimes with hazelnuts or almonds.
Nusstorte. And something almost ethereal called Kaesesahnetorte. Not a cheesecake, but layers of génoise filled with a cheesecake-like filling, light
and creamy. And yes, there is a German version of cheesecake offered as
well, called Kaesekuchen. Denser than its American cousin. The infamous
Punschtorte (in which the sponge cake layers are heavily doused with rum
punch syrup). And if you are exceedingly fortunate, you may encounter a
delicacy called Eierliqueurtorte, such as the one served to me in another
life in the tiny village of Obermaiselstein nestled in the Allgaeuer Alps of southwestern Germany. Are you drooling yet?

 The offerings in coffeehouses vary to a degree with the seasons, as well
they should. Seems that Europeans in general are much more season
conscious than we, and therefore lead lives more in touch with seasonal changes. Makes sense, does it not?. You are sure to find Stollen in the
winter. What would the Christmas Season be without it? And Faschings-krapfen (Carnival Doughnuts) during the Carnival (Mardi Gras) season.
Does surprise you to know that Germany takes the Carnival season Very Seriously? Ja wohl! Fasching begins at precisely 11:11 on 11 November
and continues, of course, right up until the midnight separating Fat Tuesday from Ash Wednesday. Mainz and Cologne are very festive indeed, reveling
in tomfoolery. Gluehwein is served in coffeehouses at this time of year as
well as from small stands along Fasching parade routes. But I digress…

 Seasons. You can count on being offered either a yeast- or short-crust-dough based fruit Kuchen throughout the spring and summer, depending on what fruit is at its peak. Erdbeerkuchen and Erdbeersahnetorte when strawberries are at their sweetest and juiciest. Rhubarb. Cherries. Plums. And most coffeehouses and bakeries let their imaginations and artistic penchant run
wild with assortments of fruit atop a sponge base, lightly glazed, and topped with whipped cream when served. Beautiful, and mouthwateringly delicious.

 No way can I write about coffeehouses without including two more favorites. One because it epitomizes for me the typical, classic European Kaffeehaus. And the other because it was my very first Kaffeehaus love affair. We never forget our first, do we? Ah, yes, I remember it well... Café Dinges in Mainz.

This captivatingly beautiful, ancient city on the banks of the Rhine River is
a delight in itself, but that is another story. It has been one of my primary
haunts since I first discovered it in the early 70s. There are two cafés facing one another on Mainz’s primary gathering place – the Domplatz, or cathedral square. Both cafés are acceptable, of course, but not embracing. At least not
to me. But just around the corner, on a tiny square with a small fountain of
its own, was Café Dinges. I say was because, alas, it is no more. Well,
actually it is, but not really. It carries the same name, but the management
has changed, as has its engaging charm. Be that as it may, it was a haven
for us during the years our family lived in Jackson, MS and vacationed at
least once a year in Germany. It became a family joke, in fact, among my
in-laws, that if they were not quite sure where to find us on any given day,
all they had to do was head for Café Dinges. And yes, they did find us there
on many occasions, relaxing, resting our tired feet, admiring our purchases,
and indulging ourselves in the very best coffee and pastry in the Rhein-
Main area. That and basking in the glorious antiquity of this apparently indestructible city. Would you believe that Mainz has been around for
more than 2000 years? Of course it was called Mogutiacum then (38
B.C.), a Roman stronghold located at the confluence of the Rhine and
Main rivers. How’s that for old?

 Back to cafes, then. The other essential Kaffeehaus still vivid in my memory is located in Wiesbaden. Nearby, but oh so far. This elegant city, also on the banks of the Rhine, is a totally different experience. Although the two cities surely must have a great deal in common given their geographical proximity, Mainz and Wiesbaden are as different in personality as coffee and tea. As
are Café Dinges and Wiesbaden’s Café Maldaner. The Maldaner has come
to represent in my mind the classic European Kaffeehaus. It could just as
easily be located in Vienna as in Wiesbaden. As a matter of fact, in one of
my recent favorites, Rick Rodgers’
KaffeeHaus: Exquisite Desserts from
the Classic Cafes of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague
, there is a photograph
of the pastry display case at “K. u. K. Hofzuckerbaeckerei Demel,
Vienna” (“Imperial Sugar Bakery” - the doyenne of Vienna’s Kaffee-
haeuser, and one of the world’s foremost, to be sure) that could easily
be mistaken for that of Wiesbaden’s Café Maldaner.

 Would that I had a photograph to show you, as I do not have room here
for a thousand words. Just picture old-world elegance, if you will. The
atmosphere is dark and rich at the Maldaner. Perhaps even a tad heavy.
This lady has been around, you sense, but she has traveled well. The
rooms are paneled in rich, dark wood. High ceilings, muted colors. The
art adorning the walls is anything but modern. Tradition speaks loudly
here. The trappings are somewhat worn, but in an elegant way. Some of
the wait staff could be described in the same manner. And no, they are
not the friendliest, nor the most courteous I’ve encountered. They are
busy and efficient and not prone to nonsense. They have been there a
long, long time, and they might be just a wee bit weary. But somehow it
fits. You know beyond doubt that the Maldaner has an opulent history,
and that the story will continue. There is comfort in that knowledge.

 What if coffee does not happen to be your cup of tea? Not a problem.
You will be well cared for. You can depend on a good Kaffeehaus to
offer a large variety of thirst-quenching libations: Tea, hot chocolate,
mineral water, wine, beer, schnapps, liqueur, aperitif… Not to worry.
You’ll not go parched into that good night. Nor will you go hungry...

Chocolate Raspberry Dobostorte
Waldvierteler Mohntorte
Cafe Boulud's Sacher Torte
François Payard's Chocolate-Raspberry Cake
François Payard's Opera Cake

Be well, stay safe, enjoy yourselves.  Relax, and linger over your
favorite beverage. Unwind. Embrace life. Smell the coffee. And
until next time, remember,

"Coffee is the common man’s gold, and like gold, it brings
to every man the feeling of luxury and nobility."

~ Abd al-Kadir



"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."

~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating icon icon


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