Dublin: City of Superlatives

The streets of Dublin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Everything in Dublin was simply the best, and I know this, because all the signs in Dublin told me so. There was the best Irish dancing at the best dinner show. The best deals on souvenirs, the best pub in which to drink Guinness, the best breakfast in all Ireland. There was the best walking tour and the best little shop for all your cake decorating needs. There was even the best poem about a cat in the best book written by monks in the early 9th century: “I and Pangur Bán my cat / ‘Tis a like task we are at…”

Though beset by a bad case of the bests, Dublin is a sweet little city – a street-smart ruffian with a heart of gold, all dressed up in a bright new suit. I imagine him as an impish fellow: a pint in one hand and a ready joke in the other. He reads poetry on the sly, but always has a dirty tale to tell his mates hanging around a table in the back corner of a smoky pub.

The Guinness bird (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A Dublin pub (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A little building in Dublin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Just another pub in Dublin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The city has a good energy, when you get away from the places where the tourists cluster like flocks of drunk ducks. (We paid Temple Bar homage, reluctantly, and briefly, and never again.) On Friday night, we joined an after work crowd at John Kehoe’s. Early in the evening, the pub was already packed with people sitting around tables and crowding into nooks to chat. The weather was holding steady, and the sidewalks were full of overflow from inside. As dusk dimmed into night, the conversations flowed, washed down with pints of dark and creamy Guinness and Smithwick’s Pale Ale. And the atmosphere stayed convivial.

Of course we made the round of pubs. We spent our last evening at The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub (another of those superlatives), built in 1198, but burned down and built up again who knows how many times. » Continue reading this post…

The Festival Season: Black Pepper Tofu

Black pepper tofu (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Life is slowly returning to normal post-supper club. The food-related nightmares have subsided, I can go grocery shopping without feeling panicked, and with the exception of the week I spent holed up in front of my laptop scavenging for stray commas and measuring margin sizes in the draft for the new issue of SAND that went to print on Monday, my to-do lists are feeling less pressing. Somehow, without my really having noticed it (I must have been buried in clauses), the tree in the courtyard exploded into bold green bedecked with conical rockets of white flowers.

Tofu (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Ground black pepper for black pepper tofu (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Shallots, ginger, garlic, and chili for black pepper sauce (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

May 1 came and went, and amidst the grumbles that no one is really protesting anything anymore these days, I gathered in Görlitzer Park with thousands of other Berliners soaking up the fresh spring sun like cats – protesting, for good or ill, nothing more than the warm beer being sold on street corners.

We’re entering the season of no work and all play. In just two weeks, there’ll be the Carnival of Cultures, a wild rumpus of color and sound, where the city celebrates the food, clothing, crafts, dance, and music of all its represented cultures. The streets are littered with crushed limes and plastic cups from Berlin’s favorite summer drink: the caipirinha – “caipi” for short – a mix of cachaça, cane sugar, and lime. Street vendors sell smoky jerk chicken and jollof rice. There’s kimchi and bratwurst, pierogis, falafel, empanadas, tacos, bulgogi… All the foods from all the places. The USA does soft-serve.

Diced ginger (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Blocks of tofu for black pepper tofu (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Shallots (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Festivals aside, the parks will be packed with sunbathers and kids flying kites. In Tempelhof, the cracking runways will be striped with rollerbladers and skateboarders zipping from end to end. Every table outside of every café will be crammed with people sipping coffees and reading the paper, their little dogs lolling beneath their chairs. » Continue reading this post…

The Wolf & Peter

The Wolf & Peter Supper Club (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

You know you’ve done a good thing when in the midst of that thing – that’s been driving you crazier than any other thing you’ve ever done – you think, I wonder if we could get that moonshine distillery to work with us for the next one.

Two weeks ago, my friend Anna and I co-hosted our first-ever supper club, a ten-course tasting menu featuring paired beers from Vagabund brewery. Twenty-five guests spent a dusky spring evening inside Berg Burg Studio, talking and laughing, feasting on a menu of Swedish fusion cuisine as the sun slowly set and the subway rumbled past the vast windows.

Setting up the structure (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Test tubes of salt and pepper (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Herbs in tubes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We’d tested our menu for weeks, getting together on weekends and evenings to cook through dish after dish: Swedish-style deviled eggs garnished with caviar alongside home-pickled herring and dill & caraway schnapps. Butter herbed with parsley, chive, and sage melting into warm seed and nut rolls. Baby spinach tossed with shaved fennel, orange, and pomegranate seeds with tart Dijon-citrus dressing. Lamb tacos with roasted sweet potatoes, caramelized onions, lemon-tahini dressing, and cinnamon-toasted pecans. Red beet and apple salad with parsley and mint. A duo of white chocolate bark with basil and lime and dark chocolate bark with pretzels, almonds, and sea salt served with vanilla schnapps. Sea salt and caraway crackers with sharp white cheddar and plumion (plum & red onion) jam. Juniper-infused moose meatballs with lingonberry sauce and fresh thyme. Spring rabbit braised in cherry beer with honey-lemon roasted carrots. And finally, after all the endless eating, crisp gingersnaps topped with a scoop of bourbon-vanilla ice cream and cardamom-raspberry coulis.

Anna in the kitchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Prep work (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But hosting a supper club is more than just cooking and eating your way through a mountain of moose someone’s uncle shot on a Swedish hunting weekend. Hosting a supper club comes along with a mire of marketing and logistics neither of us really knew we were signing up for. » Continue reading this post…

On a Lazy Saturday and the Start of Spring: Khinkali (Georgian Soup Dumplings)

Khinkali (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Spring is coming to Berlin, and the cold, wintry mountains of Georgia are starting to seem like a far-off memory. Of course, spring in Berlin is a relative thing. I’m still wearing my winter coat most days, and bright patches of hopeful blue have only pierced the overwhelming gray long enough to make me crave a picnic blanket in the sun decked with crustless sandwiches and glossy bunches of grapes.

Dough for making khinkali (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Onions (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

On the last of these pretty blue days, I woke early to the sun shining through the windows and felt inspired. I haven’t been feeling that way a lot lately. I’ve taken on too much, and even weekends, I wake up, drink my coffee, and wonder what to tackle next. It’s exhausting, to work in the mornings before going to my job, to work in the evenings when I come home, to keep working on the weekends. I miss doing things that have no ulterior motive or eke me closer to a goal.

It’s hard when my home is a hive of productivity. My computer, my papers, the broom and mop – all grin at me with sharp, consuming teeth.

Rounds of khinkali dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Filling for homemade khinkali (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Dough for homemade Georgian soup dumplings (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Stacks of dough for making dumplings (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What a blessing to wake up on Saturday morning and feel freed by the sunshine. I wanted nothing more than to wrap an apron around my waist and cook – preferably something new, preferably something time-consuming – just to flaunt how free I felt.

I put some podcasts on to play, and while David slept late into a lazy Saturday, I made dumplings.

Ground beef and pork mixture for khinkali (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Rolling out dumpling dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making khinkali (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

One of the best things we ate in Georgia were khinkali, stuffed soup dumplings. The classic dumplings are filled with minced meat like beef, pork, or lamb, herbs, and onion. Others are filled with potato or cheese. We even had tasty, tiny khinkali bursting with caramelized onion and mushroom at a dumpling house overlooking the Kura River and washed them down with crisp, golden pilsner. » Continue reading this post…

The Other Georgia, Part II: Stepantsminda

Stepantsminda, Georgia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The morning dawned weakly and dull the day we embarked for Stepantsminda – a village lying at the base of Mount Kazbek, the seventh-highest peak in the Caucuses. The riders in the subway were half asleep, and we ourselves only jerked awake outside the Didube station to the shouts of vendors hawking small lemons and nuts, hot khachapuri and coffee. Marshrutka drivers were looking for passengers to fill their vans. They shouted out destinations – Kakheti, Gori, Mtskheta – places we had seen the day before and places we had not.

A driver hustled our direction and asked where we were going. “Stepantsminda,” we replied, and he gestured toward his weathered red van. That was just the route he was taking, he said. “Are the roads safe?” I asked. It had been unseasonably warm in Tbilisi, but this was February after all, and there was no telling what conditions were like at higher altitudes. “I am from there,” he said. And while I couldn’t have known it at the time, I later found out that what he meant by this was, “No, but I’m used to it.”

We bought a quick breakfast from a nearby stand – crescent-shaped khachapuri stuffed with hard-boiled egg – and ate it as the van hobbled along the highway out of Tbilisi. We were tired and fell asleep, but soon woke to the jolt of the road, littered with potholes and dirty slush.

The road up the mountain, Georgia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Monastery on the road to Stepantsminda (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At a monastery, we scrambled out to take pictures. Snow patched the ground, and wet drizzle chilled my bare hands. Below us, the river sluggishly plowed along the banks, freezing in the shallows. The road continued to climb, and the next time we stopped, there were old women wrapped in headscarves and wool selling fruit leather and churchkhela hanging in long, burgundy rows. » Continue reading this post…

The Other Georgia, Part I: Tbilisi

Tbilisi, Georgia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Tbilisi is a city of crumble and construction. The gondola sways up over the river, over close, claustrophobic streets seeming to fold in on themselves. Here, dented tin and red-tiled roofs cover haphazard buildings slouching into gray courtyards. There, a stunning twist of ultramodern architecture sits wrapped in glass. Bruised and dented cars give guttural chugs around tight corners, slipping past pedestrians who hug the sides of buildings where there is no sidewalk.

Tbilisi, Georgia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

From above, it seems convoluted, but calm. A sleepy city, settling with dust. On street level, there’s clamor, construction sites and bridge beggars, vendors hawking homemade sour plum sauce and dark purple churchkhela – walnuts strung together and dipped in thickened grape paste. There are wine shops on every corner and little grocery stores with bins of fresh herbs, potatoes, and fruit.

But David and I are hungry. We curl down the twisted streets from our Airbnb apartment to the river and find a restaurant with big glass windows overlooking the water. It’s simple inside – rows of wooden tables and big picture menus, a TV playing an advertising reel in the corner, a case displaying sweets. But all around us, people are tucking into big plates of food – dumplings and stews, warm bread and parsley-laden salads.

Narikala Fortress, Tbilisi (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Flame-grilled kebab (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Cold stew with eggplant and potato (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We order khachapuri – hot, chewy bread baked with rich, slightly sour cheese. It’s still bubbling when it arrives. David orders fire-grilled pork kebabs covered in slivers of sweet raw onion, and for me there’s a cold stew of eggplant, potato, pepper, tomato, and herbs.

Reinvigorated, we explore the city from the top down. Narikala Fortress is a well-kept ruin stretching along a low-lying ridge. Weather-worn stone steps turn into scraggly gravel and rock, which we climb to get a better view. To our left, Mother Georgia – silent and strong. » Continue reading this post…

Eat Me. Drink Me. Goes to the Movies: Philly Roll

Philly Roll (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m never quite sure whether the Berlinale is pure torture or if that torture isn’t tempered with an edge of pleasure. I do always seem to miss it when it’s done. For a week and a half, we wake up at 5:30 in the morning, dragging our unkempt, sleep-deprived bodies through the chilly Berlin dark to spend hours waiting in line with other unkempt, sleep-deprived people. We pick up reams of tickets and spend the days sprinting through all the city’s theaters watching films – many bad, some bizarre, others baffling. It’s a rare film that has it all – a good story, believable acting, a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Of this year’s 22 films (a few shy of last year’s 28), four were good, four were bad, and the rest were middling, clunkers earnestly attempting to fly, good ideas with bad execution, stilted acting undercutting interesting stories, tired stories propped up by excellent acting. Of all the films I’ve seen so you don’t have to, War on Everyone and Alone in Berlin are at the top of the list. For a story whose real-life stakes were so incredibly high, Alone in Berlin manages to have none. By the time the couple is executed (surprise!), the only thing that moves you is how Daniel Brühl, a German, has managed to sound like an American speaking with a German accent for two whole hours. And War on Everyone, well, unless you enjoy watching people be offensive while suffering under the illusion that they’re being ironic, don’t waste your time.

Nori and sushi fillings (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But let’s not dwell in negativity. The two best films I saw this year were miles apart in theme and temperament. Goat is a frightening, dark, and layered look at brotherhood and belonging (set at an American college fraternity). » Continue reading this post…

It’s Not You, It’s Me. It’s Not Me, It’s Mercury: Vegetarian Chili Bowl

Vegetarian chili bowl (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have broken nearly everything I’ve touched this month. Not just dishes and glasses, but hard-to-break things, like nail polish bottles and candles encased in heavy, shatterproof glass. I broke the little porcelain pig that holds the toothpicks, the Bodum French press, the bottle of hot sauce, the glass of anchovies that then dripped salty fish oil all over the kitchen floor. When I was making this vegetarian chili bowl, I showered the room with little bits of TVP as the bag fumbled from my hands.

Is this just a serious case of butterfingers? Or is it something more? January has been a hard month for me. My body aches like an old tooth. I’m cranky and easy to displease. I’ve had trouble waking up in the mornings and little energy for work. All of these things have made me an incredibly pleasant person to be around.

TVP (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s especially frustrating because it’s exactly the opposite of what I want – not that anyone actively wants to be cranky and accident-prone. I’d set clear goals for myself for January, all of them designed to make me a more relaxed and easygoing individual. Read more books in the evenings, don’t use electronics before bed, don’t force yourself to keep working when the work day is done, make time for exercise, stretch in the mornings before work.

And this January, I’ve had about a 25% success rate for meeting my goals. When I manage to wake up without hitting the snooze button four times, I stretch – sometimes. When I don’t devolve into playing Hay Day on the couch at night, I read – sometimes. I’m more enticed by Facebook’s endless scroll than I’ve ever been, and the thought of addressing the email situation makes me feel like I’m willingly signing up to be Sisyphus. » Continue reading this post…