When Life Hands you Zucchini, Make: Zucchini Bread

Zucchini bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Autumn is to fall as aubergine is to eggplant. One pair of words shares the sensual, multi-syllabic softness of that open “ah” that gently rounds into a hum. The other is flat and thudding, like a Dufflepud bouncing his single foot again and again into the sand. Autumn/aubergine is cashmere sweaters in jewel-toned hues, pumpkin soup with crème fraîche in your grandmother’s antique china, and a watercolor of dusky-colored leaves. Fall/eggplant is leggings stitched with candy corn, hayrides with hot apple cider waiting at the end, and hand-turkeys drawn in crayon.

Both have their merits, but one is just so much sexier than the other.

Pile of zucchini (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Zucchini bread batter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Shredded zucchini for zucchini bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Be that as it may, I’ve always been a fan of fall. It feels right somehow. This is the season where things “fall” into place: Growing up, that meant the school year began with new books and clothes and a trapper keeper full of blue-lined loose leaf. The temperatures “fall” – cooler weather brings boots and scarves and pleasantly clear heads. And in this season more than any other, when you’re biking down the street, there’s an awful lot of stuff that “falls” into your eyes, leaf and tree bits leaving their trunks and whisking from the wind like magnets to your corneas.

The work space (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But this year, fall is also feeling very personal. If you read about my plane ticket disaster, you know that I’ve temporarily “fallen” on hard times – luckily, I’ve also discovered the “windfall” that is buying fruits and vegetables from the Turkish market just before it’s about to close. Last Saturday, my brother and I split a case of about fifty sweet potatoes, a case of tomatoes, three heads of broccoli, and two giant heads of lettuce for six euros – total.

A few days before, Ben had shown up at the apartment with an armload of of zucchini from his market buy the week before. » Continue reading this post…

An Idiot’s Guide to Missing a Flight: Favosalata

Favosalata (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s a feeling on late summer evenings where the air is like silk or a warm, salty pool of water, and you can’t tell where your skin ends and everything else begins. It’s especially lovely slicing through the city on my little red Hercules bike, the whipping wind more like a caress against bare skin. It’s the feeling of absolute freedom, a briefly endless moment where nothing matters but sensation.

I’d give anything for that feeling now. But I’m in an airplane, just jutting over a cusp of land and leaving Germany behind. The air has that strange quality of being both clammy and dry, singing my nose as I breathe it in. But it’s more than the air, it’s how I feel – shoulders tensed, brain a whirl of jostling pulses. I’m not sure which hysteria to tip into – should I cry or laugh – at the absurdity of the situation I find myself in.

For the first time, I’ve missed a flight. An international one, no less. But what a surreal experience, without frantic or rush – until the fateful moment when my brain clicked and realized what it had done.

Wine, garlic, and yellow split peas (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Spilled split peas (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As a meticulous planner, I checked my ticket – multiple times – checked my passport, checked my route to the airport. I wrote out a list: when to set my alarm, when to to leave the apartment, when I’d arrive at the airport. And yet, while my brain registered that my flight took off at 7 a.m., my brain also registered that I had to be at the airport at 7 a.m. Clearly, two completely contradictory pieces of information – that my brain held in tandem, without realizing how impossible it was.

So I missed my flight and am on a new flight trying to start my now significantly more expensive trip. » Continue reading this post…

On Home and Other Gifts: A Visit to the Mercouri Estate

Mercouri Estate, Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Mainland Greece is dusty, like a sucked out sponge bristled with underbrush and spindly trees. There’s the whirr of cicadas screeching a constant soundtrack and the hot sun that broils the land and people on it with impunity. Olive groves shudder up from their sun-soaked torpor with the shake of an invisible breeze. Their silvery leaves are thick and strong, like hammered metal sheened in blowsy earth. Grape vines slither up stalks, their leaves looking wilted in this heat – but the clusters of grapes are crowded and plump like overperfect plastic fruit.

We are boat people, spilling out the mouths of our luxury cruise liners and crowding the tiny port towns for mere hours. We breeze along the rows of shops, buying linens and gold jewelry to take home as proof of our having been away. When you’re a boat person, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be on the other side. All you know is the heat and press of people, the frantic crush to buy a few souvenirs and snap pictures of the shattered vases in the local archaeology museum. But I remember what it was like to be in Stavanger, Norway when the boat people came. All week, the town felt sleepy and small, lethargic with its slowly chugging ferries and stone-paved streets arbored with flowers. One morning, there they were, Germans mostly, flocked into the little shops and even smaller streets. It felt like another city, a many-headed hydra roused and ready to devour you in any of its maws.

Sneaking cat (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Grecian grapes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Olive tree in Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Mercouri family house, Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here in Greece, we don’t know any better, so we just do the best we can. We try not to shove and we wait our turn in line to photograph the shards of vases and buy our linens and shrink-wrapped bags of olives and souvlaki spice. » Continue reading this post…

One Night in Venice

Sunset in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Venice is a sinking city. Its buildings slowly groan into the ground some one to two millimeters per year, the dark water lapping up lower staircases and sidewalks, consuming the city from the bottom up. “How many basements have water in them?” we ask our gondolier. “All of them,” he replies.

But Venice is also a city which begs you to sink into imagination. It’s not hard to picture it the way it was hundreds of years ago, full of merchants and nobles, beggars and peasants, reeking of silky sewage and stink. You can imagine the jostling crowds rummaging for room on the narrow paths, ducking beneath an archway where a dreamy girl looks out for her Casanova – or, more likely, chucks dishwater onto the street below.

Blue doorway in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Venetian canal (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Doorbells in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Doorbells, detail (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The city was once a world power – a hub of commerce and conquerors. It was the birthplace of many great minds and, through the years, a rite of passage for many others: Goethe, Mozart, Vivaldi, Marco Polo, and Thomas Mann all lived and worked within whispering distance of the dark green waterways.

Today, it seems to be a rite of passage only for the tourists, brandishing selfie sticks and Bermuda shorts and shopping bags full of leather-bound journals, carnival masks, and everything made of Murano glass. There are 60,000 people living in the historic city of Venice, but some 50,000 tourists thronging there per day. Walking along the winding streets, there are so many glossy glass windows filled to the brim with Murano glass, it makes you start to feel that you should decorate your whole house with it.

Pizza shop in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
House in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
View from a gondola (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Gondola ride in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Even the famous gondolas are now reserved for strictly charged and strictly timed pleasure rides. And the gondoliers no longer sing, though they still wear striped shirts and pole those long, flat-bottomed boats through the shallow canals like slithering eels. » Continue reading this post…

Market Day: Roasted Beet Salad with Gorgonzola and Balsamic

Roasted beet salad with beet greens (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The Winterfeldt Market is a circus of color and noise. On Saturday mornings, it’s filled with people shopping for fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and baked goods of every hue. There are buckets of olives and pastes made with roasted eggplant, arugula, paprika, garlic, or chives. There are barrels of blooming flowers bursting with pops of purple, yellow, and pink. Trucks sell swirls of fresh pasta and raviolis alongside plastic tubs of pesto and long glasses of olive oil. One stand sells grilled fish, skin charred over an open flame – another sells raclette, silky with pungent cheese and brightened with fresh parsley and red chili flakes.

The market is walking distance from my apartment, at the end of a route that feels accustomed to my feet. Wherever I live, I find myself tracing familiar routes for as long as I can, before my destination chooses my route for me. If I were a river, I’d carve canyons along these trusted paths. Fanning like a star from my apartment, there’s the road that leads to the train station and the road to the park where I do my morning run, scattering rabbits breeding like clichés. The road that leads to work snakes through back alleys, through a school playground where I have to dismount my bike and walk between the shouting, shifting kids, up and around a grungy park, over a stretch of cobbled street and unpaved road that spills out onto the main thoroughfare. And then there’s the road that leads everywhere else: Out the door, a right, a right, and a left to Hauptstraße – Main Street.

Market day snack (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Greens and raw garlic (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I pass the Baptist bookstore on the corner where they sometimes put out piles of free books. Dan Browns and romance novels, 90s teen fiction with faded purple covers and curly script. There’s a second-hand shop around the next corner, and I always glance in the big glass windows. » Continue reading this post…

In the Land of the Midnight Sun

Window to another world (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I spent the week reading Murakami. It was a little joke, to read Norwegian Wood in the Norwegian woods. But a fitting one – Murakami’s dreamlike writing, a story within a story within a story, was like a murky mirror to the feeling that I myself had been dropped into another world, off the grid and off the beaten path. Living another life in another story I could tell myself later on.

I woke in the mornings to the persistent, endless sun streaming through the cracked slat of the wooden tipi’s window. I’d nestle deeper into the stack of reindeer hides that was my bed, the gentle tickle of soft fur brushing my skin. Eyes open, I rested, feeling the cool breeze from outside across my face, breathing in the scent of ashes and wood smoke lingering from last night’s fire.

Grazing sheep (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Coffee and a homemade granola bar (Eat Me. Drink me.)
Farmhouse and sheep (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

90s album cover with sheep (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I took my time getting ready. Brushing my teeth with water from a bottle, scattering spit foam in the gravel stones outside my hut. I’d walk to the spigot down the road and bathe in the ice cold water, splashing it first on my face to shock the sleep out of it. I’d dry off briskly with a towel, the cool morning wind sweeping like silk over my clean-scrubbed arms. I’d dress in the hut, make up my bed, and tidy my things, then step out for a day in the bright and green Norwegian woods.

There were two paths up to the farmhouse café – one through the woods, up a dirt and stone trail lined with thick green undergrowth and shaded by tall trees, the other along the gravel road, where sheep grazed nimbly, bells clanging around their necks, baas distinct enough to recognize them all by sound by the time the week was through. There were sheep everywhere it seemed, the mothers newly slim with bleating babes still suckling fiercely at their teats. » Continue reading this post…

Sweet and Sour Summer: Som Tum (Green Papaya Salad)

Som Tum (Green Papaya Salad) (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When warm weather hits, there’s nothing I want more than Southeast Asian food. I want all the chili, all the lime juice, cilantro, Thai basil and green onion, palm sugar, brown sugar, fish sauce, peanuts, shrimp. I don’t care where in Southeast Asia my meal is from, nor do I care whether it’s stuffed inside translucent tacky skins of rice paper, flash blazed in a hot wok, or served cold with crunchy cabbage leaves. I want it all, insatiably, want my kitchen littered with red onion skins, my fingers rank with garlic’s stink. I want take-out pork grilled so that it’s sour and sweet and above all hot with tiny half moons of chili that sear the tender skin beneath my nose.

Crushing green beans (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Tomatoes, garlic, and green beans (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Not far from where we live, there’s a park whose real name no one really knows – we all just call it Thai Park. On weekends when the weather is nice, women and men set up small stands and cook. They sit on the ground or in low chairs with their makeshift hot plates and equipment, sauces lined up in plastic bottles, pre-made noodles and curries quickly heated in oil and a hot skillet. There’s crispy-fried fish, eyes crusty with panko, there are summer rolls and fresh dumplings, steamed buns, wok-shook vegetables with peanut sauce, pork belly fried with a toothy crunch of cartilage, spicy soups and salads quickly tossed together, dressed with liquid from those mysterious unmarked plastic bottles.

There’s tapioca pudding cool with coconut, milky Thai iced teas and coffee, steamed sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves and slices of sugared mango and mint.

Som Tum Thai Papaya Salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Green papaya (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

You see? It’s all I can think about, these flavors that heat you up and cool you down, that fill you up and keep you wanting more.

What started this season’s obsession was nothing more than a routine trip to the Asian grocery store to pick up a new bottle of fish sauce and some tahini paste. » Continue reading this post…

On Lost Knowledge

Homemade bread and strawberry-rhubarb jam (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Not long ago, while visiting family down south in the lush, low mountains of Germany, I spotted a cluster of sweet woodruff in the woods. The ground was covered with it, bright green fans of star-shaped leaves bursting with clusters of tiny white flowers. I plucked a leaf and crushed it between my fingers, inhaling its herbal scent, then snapped it up between my teeth, surprised by the tingly punch of cinnamon that pricked my tongue. It was then I remembered something about woodruff’s toxicity – the coumarin that lends it its sweet, grassy fragrance is also moderately toxic to the liver and kidneys. And I couldn’t quite remember if fresh woodruff was one of those things you weren’t supposed to eat. So I spat out the remnants of crushed leaves, still feeling the warm prickle on my tongue. Mother, I promise someday to stop putting unidentified foods from the woods in my mouth.

Processing pine shoots to make honey (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making "Tannenspitzenhonig" (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sweet woodruff – or Waldmeister, as it is known in Germany – had been on my mind since sampling a craft-brewed Berliner Weisse topped off with a cap of woodruff syrup the marshy color of a toad’s back.

A sour, cloudy white beer, Berliner Weisse is mainly a summer beverage, and people in Berlin drink it doused with a too-generous shot of garish-colored syrup. Red is for raspberry and green is for Waldmeister, but both taste the same – loud, sugary, and thick. The drink has fallen out of favor, especially with the younger generation. It’s too artificial for our coolly understated tastes. And so I was surprised – but maybe not too surprised – to find a stand at a local craft spirits festival serving the “real” stuff: Brewbaker Berliner Weisse with home-brewed sweet woodruff syrup.

It was nothing like its neon twin – a backwoods relative who scoops the potato salad out by hand at the family picnic. » Continue reading this post…