Comfort Me With Spaetzle

Comfort Me With Spaetzle

4:30 this morning, I wake to find S sitting on the edge of the bed, facing away from me.

-Is everything OK?

-His stomach hurts, he says.

I murmur something vaguely comforting and roll over, hoping to fall back asleep.

-No, it really hurts. Really.

We turn on lights. He paces in his Purchase t-shirt and boxer briefs, holding his belly.

-Is it a burning pain, or more of a pressure?

-It’s pressure, but not like gas. It’s higher up and huge, like a giant rock on top of his gut.

I don’t know what to make of this. He tries alka-seltzer. He calms momentarily, and then his entire body clenches in pain. His eyes squinch into slits. He’s having trouble breathing, the pain is so bad. It subsides, after a few moments of genuine terror. We try Rolaids. Another wave of agony, another respite. We try Gas-X. Same thing. (Now I can empathize with husbands whose wives are in labor.)

-Should I call an ambulance?

-No, that’s ridiculous. I’ll be fine.

For ten more minutes I watch him alternate between nearly unbearable pain and mild relief. He lies on his stomach. He lies on his back. He curls into a ball. It’s not getting better. Even the cats are afraid. Does he want tea? No, no tea. Finally, he agrees to go to the hospital, but no ambulance. Our car is still buried beneath three-foot mounds of snow so we take the L train to St. Vincent’s, in the Village. We arrive just after 6AM. Luckily, it’s a quiet night and there aren’t many people in the dingy, fluorescent-lit waiting room. The nurse calls him in for triage quickly, and I’m left to wait and read The New Yorker, and worry. Half an hour later my cell phone rings: it’s S, calling from the patients’ waiting room, where he still sits, unseen by a doctor. He’s feeling a bit better. Should he just walk out? We agree that he’ll wait until he talks to someone. Relieved, I try to doze sitting upright on the hard metal seats—in what must be intended to discourage homeless people from bedding down there, all the seats have straight-edged, unpadded arms. No comfort to be found in this waiting room, that’s for sure.

At 7:30 S emerges, clutching his backpack and a piece of paper with written instructions. Since the pain was mostly gone by the time a doctor reached him, they were unable to diagnose anything or determine what caused the pain. His instructions are to pay attention for future symptoms. It might be appendicitis. It might be gas. It might be a bleeding ulcer. Of course, I’m praying for gas.

We get some oatmeal at a nearby coffee shop (what a relief, to see him hungry), and I head for my freelance job—no point in going home, only to turn right back around again. On the way I read the Times’ food section, always my first look on Wednesdays. Mark Bittman’s got a piece on homemade pasta, with a side-note on spaetzle. Of course, spaetzle! S’s grandma, whose second husband is German, used to make it for him when he had an upset stomach. It’s the perfect thing. A hint of nutrition from the eggs, a tempting crispiness from the second-round fry in butter & oil, a perfectly mild, neutral taste.

When I get home I pull out S’s blue binder of family recipes, and together we make a lightened version of his grandma’s spaetzle (subbing egg whites for two whole eggs), trying out a couple of Bittman’s techniques: the spooning of the batter (his grandma would scrape it off a cutting board using the back of a butter knife), and scooping the boiled little dumplings into an ice-water bath before frying. While they’re frying, the spaetzle smells like scrambled eggs and looks like chicken skins.

S feels better.

[NOTE to Weight Watchers readers: This dish is most definitely NOT Core! Honestly, I didn’t even bother to calculate the points; I just ate about half as much of it as S did. It was kind of a rough day.]


Serves 2 if that’s all you’re eating

2 whole eggs

3 egg whites

½ cup milk, plus more as needed

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

1 t. salt

Hearty dash of pepper

2 T butter

2 T. olive oil

More salt & pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and pepper, and set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs, egg whites, and milk lightly. Whisk in flour mixture. Batter should be thickish, somewhere between cake and pancake batter—adjust with more milk or more flour, as necessary.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and add a generous amount of salt. Scrape about a third of the batter slowly out of the bowl into the water, using a spoon [we used a spoonula].

Stir to prevent sticking. Prepare a large bowl of ice water while the spaetzle is cooking. Cook 5 minutes, then scoop into the ice water. Repeat with remaining batter, until it’s all cooked. Drain well.

Heat butter and oil in your biggest frying pan. When butter has stopped foaming, add some spaetzle (don’t crowd the pan) and cook, flipping the pieces every few minutes, until golden brown and lightly crispy. Add more salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. When it’s nicely browned, remove from pan and repeat with additional batches of spaetzle. Add more oil & butter as needed.