River Cuisine: The Potomac Meets the Rhine
Against a background of gurgling water and the singing of birds, expert chefs grill Old World sausages to golden perfection.
My backyard is the Potomac River, and I have long fancied myself quite the backyard barbecue chef. Many times I’ve made my little fire on a gravel beach and threaded a hotdog on a stick, attempting to crisp its skin before the stick bursts into flames.
But recently, I learned a better way to dine on the river--thanks to a plan hatched by my wife Antje and her friend Maria, both teachers at Potomac’s German School. This is how we put it all together:
The menu: Tube steaks would still command the culinary center stage. From scores of traditional German favorites, Antje and Maria chose spicy little links called "Nürnberger Bratwurst" and their bigger, milder cousin, "weiße Bratwurst." Both came from a Baltimore butcher much beloved by the local German community. The third entry was a fine country sausage from the Amish market in Germantown, meaty and honest.
Sides would be carrot salad and coleslaw, both made the night before. French bread came from the supermarket along the way. Mustard rounded out the menu.
Drinks would be Spaten beer from Munich. There would be something else as well, lurking in the bottom of the cooler.
The locale: We would launch from Pennyfield Lock and paddle upstream to a gravel bar I knew of. There we would find shade, a very large log pile for firewood and some shallows where you can just sit and let the current run over your legs.
Maria and her husband Gerd, a World Bank forestry advisor, unloaded their kayaks from their car top. My canoe would carry our equipment and provisions: blankets and beach towels, cooler, a couple of beach chairs and a picnic set complete with plastic dishes, cutlery, stemmed wine glasses and checkered tablecloth.
The kitchen: We pulled up alongside the gravel bar and unloaded the canoe. I got busy making a simple wilderness fireplace--just a couple of stones lying parallel to each other, about 10 inches apart.
It would be an “Indian" fire, just big enough to do the job and easy to regulate. Nearby were the remains of a “white man’s" fire: the remains of beer bottles melted in the intense heat.
Antje gathered a little stack of kindling. She crumpled a piece of newspaper into a ball and covered it with a teepee of small sticks overlaid with larger ones. With one lighted match the fire came to life.
Gerd and Maria pulled a couple of fat limbs out of the log pile. These would burn down to coals for cooking.
The dining room. Then off went Gerd and Maria to re-examine the wood pile. They returned with a board, a sawn stump, an old tire and a plan. Faster than you can say "Ikea" these became a table. Antje laid out the checkered table cloth, plates and stemmed plastic glasses.
The fire burned down to embers. Maria and Antje arranged the sausages on the grill. As they sputtered and sizzled, little jets of flame shot up where the fat hit the coals.
When the sausages turned golden brown on one side, Maria flipped them over. And then over once again, into lightly toasted chunks of French bread.
Fine food, stunning décor, great company―even a tablecloth: It couldn’t get better than this.
But I was wrong. Out of the cooler Gerd extracted a bottle of Henkel Trocken, a classic German sparkling wine. With a pop, the cork sailed off in the direction of the log pile.
Our plastic stemmed glasses in hand, we raised a toast to the river.
“Wir erheben unser Glas und stossen an auf die Schönheit von Gottes Natur.”
It turned out this was the last straw for the blue heron eyeing us from a nearby rock. Off it flew, crying “krawk, kraaawk.”