Considering that this was the last Monday before Christmas break, I had thought to myself, the day had been a rather ordinary one. Snow fell in spurts and drifted through the town, and my lesson on stereotypes had begun with me asking if anyone in the class knew of stereotypes and had ended with a female student timidly raising her hand and answering, “Black guys have big penises.”
I stood outside in the hallway while the teacher shouted threats and hurled tirades at her students. Thirty minutes later, both parties emerged from the classroom as the bell rang overhead: one giggled, the other fumed.
“Hans, I am so sorry for that,” Angelika apologized and held her head with both hands. I reassured her that it wasn’t anything to apologize about and that I had dealt with much worse at my old job.
“Besides, it could’ve been … I don’t know, lost in translation?”
Angelika scoffed humorlessly at my suggestion. A heavyset woman in her late fifties, she waddled when happy and pounded the floor with her feet when upset or in a hurry. I felt the tremors beneath my feet as we gingerly paced down the main hallway to the teachers’ lounge. When we entered the packed room, Angelika told the others what had transpired in her class. I met the other teachers’ raucous laughter with a sheepish grin, and Angelika lamented the lack of focus the students displayed every year when Christmas break approached.
“Speaking of Christmas, have we told you about the Christmas party we’re having here at the HTL?” Angelika asked me. I shook my head, to which Angelika chided the other teachers for not having invited me to it.
“This is why our assistants keep leaving – because none of you know how to show hospitality!”
“Au contrare, Angelika.” George the informatics teacher retorted. “Our last assistant left precisely because he showed too much of his ‘hospitality.’” The lounge broke out into laughter again.
“Please don’t mind those clods, Hans. Anyway, you’re invited, and it’s taking place this Thursday at eight p.m. There’ll be food, drinks, and less-than-stellar company.”
I thanked Angelika for the invitation and thought for a few seconds before asking whether or not I could bring something to the party.
“Our family has an eggnog recipe that my great grandfather passed down to us and that we make every Christmas. I wouldn’t mind making some and bringing it to the party if people are interested – it’s a holiday drink made from eggs, and very tasty.”
“A drink made from eggs?” George interrupted in a pessimistic tone. “Why would we want to drink eggs? That just sounds like you’re asking for salmonella.” The polite but trepid silence of the room communicated the reluctance of the rest of the teachers to my idea.
“It’s also an alcoholic drink, if that changes anything.”
“A-ha! Well why didn’t you tell us that in the first place!” Exclaimed George, and the teachers all breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes, yes, sounds like a fantastic idea, doesn’t it, everyone?” The teachers all bobbled their heads in agreement.
“Is there any way we can help?” Suzanne the math teacher piped up. “We would be more than happy to get the ingredients and anything else you need to make the eggnog.”
I pulled out my cell phone and read aloud the PDF file titled, “Jim Turner’s Eggnog Recipe (revised 2011)”:
- 6 eggs, separated
- ½ cup sugar (Splenda works as well as sugar and I can’t tell the difference, except there are far fewer calories!
- 1 cup liquor (whiskey, rum, brandy, or combination)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 pints heavy cream, whipped smooth
- 2 cups milk or half-and-half
Beat egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer until light and smooth. Add liquor and vanilla. (Or don’t add the liquor, and let the individuals add their own. Typically, a shot per 8 oz. glass works. But if you are Jim Turner, or are in his tradition, you can add as much Everclear as you want. Just don’t drive for the next couple of days.) Beat until smooth. Add milk or half-and-half.
Beat egg whites stiff but not dry. Fold in whipped cream and egg whites and refrigerate 2 hours until well-chilled. (If you don’t have time to chill, add ice cream to chill. Again, in terms of calories and taste, no-sugar ice cream works just as well in this concoction.)
If desired, thin with cold milk, and sprinkle lightly with grated nutmeg.
After I had finished reading, Joseph, whose English was by far the best out of all the teachers at the HTL and traveled to Ireland every year to get his fix of Guinness, walked over to where I stood and traced his stubby finger along the word Everclear on my phone screen.
“What’s this?” He asked.
“It’s a kind of grain alcohol. Fairly strong.” George chimed in to ask how strong it was.
“What are we talking? 60, 70%? We’re Austrians, you know, we drink our fair share of…”
“Jesus Christ!” Joseph and George both gasped. “That’s the kind of alcohol I use to treat wounds, not to drink. Who was this recipe made by, an alcoholic?” Jim Turner was, in fact, a raging alcoholic in a family tree full of heavy boozers and dysfunctional drunks. Family legend has it that the Everclear was thrown into the eggnog to “cook the eggs,” which went on to show that rampant alcoholism was regarded as less of a health concern than crippling alcoholism within the Davidson-Turner clan.
“We can substitute it for something lighter, like whiskey. Besides, I’ll just make the eggnog non-alcoholic, and people can add however much liquor they want to it on their own.”
The teachers gleefully clapped their hands like eager schoolchildren being promised ice cream for dessert, and later in the afternoon Angelika and Suzanne had brought me all the materials necessary for me to make the eggnog. Due to the lack of a kitchen or a refrigerator in my room, I concocted the punch in the teachers’ lounge that evening and placed both bowls – one for the eggnog, the other for the cream – into the fridge. The next couple of days the bowl of eggnog was greeted with smacking lips and a rubbing of hands by whoever opened the refrigerator during the school day.
Thursday evening I headed up to the conference room with my bowl of eggnog to where the party was taking place. Four tables worth of food had been set up in the middle of the room, and against the wall were either too many bottles of beer and wine – or just enough, depending on whom you asked. The faculty walked around or sat down in a circle and chatted, mouths full of food and hands full of glasses. I navigated through the sea of people, found a spot to place the bowl, and stood for a few minutes to act as a guide to anyone who wanted to try the eggnog.
I spotted Joseph among the crowd, and he walked over to me to take a look at the eggnog. I asked him if I could serve him a glass, to which he heartily consented, and I dropped a dollop of eggnog and whipped cream into a mug nearby. Joseph took the mug, raised it to his mouth, and drank half of it in one gulp.
“Hm. Yes, yes.” Joseph pondered for a handful of seconds, set it down, and turned to me with a smile. “Fantastic stuff. But you know what? We can make it much better.”
He then bade me to go downstairs to the teachers’ lounge with him. Seconds later, Joseph was skipping down the staircase and through the empty hallways, and I was following closely behind him. Once inside the lounge, Joseph flicked on the lights and threw open the doors to the cabinets full of binders and folders. As Joseph sifted through the cabinet mumbling to himself in a heavy Burgenland accent, the door behind us opened, and George entered the room. He looked unsurprised to see Joseph rummaging through the cabinet and tossing out various binders onto the floor. I, on the other hand, had no clue what Joseph was doing looking through his cabinet, until a half minute later when Joseph held in hands a bottle of rum.
“Here she is, gentlemen – Chattanooga ‘58.” Beaming radiantly, Joseph held it above his face for us to see. “I couldn’t remember whether I had placed it behind the 3rd form English binders or the 1st form German binders.”
I looked over at George, who had been busy on his knees and ripping something out from under the kitchen sink. After some grunting and cursing and a tossing of duct tape onto the floor of the lounge, George held in his palms eight shot-sized bottles of whiskey and grinned.
“I got this idea after watching the Godfather – you know, that one scene where they hide the gun in the bathroom?” George proudly told me. “American culture isn’t always so bad, oder?”
We headed back up to the conference room, during which I asked whether or not the teachers were allowed to keep alcohol on the school premises. Joseph looked at me incredulously.
“What?! Do they allow that kind of unprofessional behavior in the United States?”