I am an experience junkie. There, I said it, I feel better for having gotten that off my chest. I have ridden motorcycles through Vietnam, jumped out of airplanes, navigated the streets of Moscow alone, and eaten unknown substances like Korean mudfish, just to have done it. I’m obviously no Anthony Bourdain, but I do my best.
So when I found myself eye to eye with an Amish waitress at Boyd and Wurthmann in Berlin, Ohio, I couldn’t help feeling some amount of curiosity about her lifestyle. Has she ever canoed drunkenly down a river full of alligators? Has she ever touched a shark in a Tahitian lagoon? For that matter, has she ever been to college or even left Ohio?
While I sat speculating, the waitress placed our lunches on the counter: a bowl of chicken noodle soup for me, swimming with big chunks of tender breast meat, carrots and celery with just enough bite, and thin egg noodles in a deeply flavored stock. A large hunk of local swiss cheese sat on the side. Mr. ordered a roast beef sandwich, which turned out to contain a fist full of slow-braised meat that melted in our mouths without any need for chewing, and a side of hand-cut potato wedges with tangier-than-commercial house sour cream. No wonder the place is packed.
Plenty of times I’ve gone for ‘home cooking’ in a diner only to find the food has obviously been trucked in by Sysco, frozen, canned, certainly NOT made from scratch. Boyd & Wurthmann is the real deal, the thing you really want when you pay a restaurant to serve you up some comfort food.
We devoured our lunch, topped it off with pecan pie (him) and raspberry cream pie (me) and then wandered out into Holmes county on a sugar high. The car was slowed by horses and buggies carrying locals, as we passed homesteads containing neat rows of crops, community-raised barns, and houses big enough to hold several generations.
A stop at Lehman’s Store revealed a wonderland of cheesemaking supplies, ingenious electricity-free machines, locally crafted furniture, and highest quality pottery and kitchen ware. This is what a store should be—actual hand-made goods sold for a price that fairly reflects the work and resources that went into them. It’s a far cry from the mass production and artificially low pricing we have come to expect.
Then it occurs to me: isn’t this it? Community, craft, whole foods, simple living—aren’t these the trendy ideals that we aspire to in our alienated modern lives? Here are people (and let’s face it, far from what most of us would consider to be ‘cool’), who have been living these ideals for generations. Setting aside religious beliefs, the Amish are starting to look more interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to convert. I understand that while it’s easy to give lip service to a wholesome lifestyle, an agricultural existence represents an awful lot of hard work, the kind I’ve never experienced. It must also be incredibly difficult to live with such an outward expression of your difference from the rest of the world. Perhaps not so much as a small child when you don’t know any other way or as an adult when you have made your own choices in life, but as a young person it must take some coming to terms with.
Even still, over the course of a day I start to look at the anachronisms around me and I feel…envy. Maybe the waitress hasn’t travelled as much as I have, but she has something in this community that I lack. Everything is a trade-off, but it’s still worth recognising greatness when you see it. Here in Berlin, it’s in a bowl of ordinary chicken noodle soup.
Chicken Noodle Soup
2 boneless chicken breasts
2 pints chicken stock
1 T olive oil
1 medium carrot, diced
1 rib of celery, diced
80 g linguine pasta or flat egg noodles
salt and pepper
Poach the chicken in the stock for 15-20 minutes or until just cooked through, then remove the chicken to a cutting board and cut into 1/2 inch chunks. In a separate saucepan, heat the oil and saute the vegetables for 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken stock to this pan, and bring to a boil. Throw in the pasta and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, then add in the chicken, salt and pepper to taste, and you’re done. Simple stuff.