Fall Pleasures: Savory Fig and Rosemary Galette

Savory fig galette (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

On my way home from work, I pass by a little shop, a grocery where they sell fresh fruits and vegetables from a farm in Werder. The produce is seasonal, and there’s no telling what they’ll have from one day to the next. They’re always friendly, throwing in extra tomatoes when the batch is about to bruise or adding a lonely apple to your order of plums. The fruit is weighed and wrapped up in brown paper bags, and the price rounded down with a wink. It’s all very quaint, somehow, and odd in today’s Berlin landscape where the grocery store is efficiently impersonal and the weekend markets are luxuriously hip.

This ugly, un-hip nook nestled on one of Berlin’s less remarkable streets feels like a remnant of another time, when you knew your neighborhood grocers and special requests were run of the mill. It feels like an impossible venture.

Figs in a paper bag (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A few nights ago, on our way home from work, Ellen and I picked up pumpkins we’d special-ordered. We’ve gone into a bit of a Halloween craze at work, planning a costume party, figuring out where to buy candy corn, ordering dry ice for spooky cocktails… and buying all the pumpkins, of course, to carve, cook, eat, and decorate. And while our office has been pleasantly orange-hued for some time, we hadn’t had a chance to take the Halloween home.

Hollowed pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pumpkin flesh (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As we waited for the grocer to get our pumpkins from the back of the shop, I noticed a box of figs, plump and just soft, skin purplish-black and velvety. He sold them to me for a song.

Fresh figs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Cutting figs for a galette (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A halved fig (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Tell me a better way to spend your Saturday afternoon than sitting in the kitchen carving a pumpkin, drinking chilled prosecco, and baking a fig galette, and I will pack up my bags and move to Antarctica to eat only the slowly melting polar ice caps. » Continue reading this post…

Back-to-School Weather: Roasted Quince and Pumpkin Soup

Roasted quince and pumpkin soup (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fall weather motivates me like nothing else can. When everyone else is complaining about how gray and mucky it is outside, how depressing the drizzle, how dour the cold, I’m making plans.

I’ve never put much stock in New Year’s resolutions – I seem to make all mine in the fall. Fall feels like the start of something new. Everything about it is crisp – the scent of dried-out leaves, their crackle under your brand-new boots, the brisk wind brushing your cheek.

Maybe fall feels so fresh to me because I associate it with the start of school, a time I always loved and which is full of new things. New classes, new wardrobes, new shrink-wrapped blocks of college-ruled paper. Everything is so full of potential.

Roasting pumpkin and quince (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For me, fall couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I’ve just spent three weeks traveling, being a total lazy bum on vacation, letting other people cook for me and ignoring the steadily growing pile of emails in all of my inboxes. (Why do we all have so many email accounts?)

Now that I’m back in Berlin, fall has shocked me into motivation. While it’s a little melancholy to think that there are no more hazy summer afternoons on picnic blankets to tempt me away from my work, it’s invigorating to wrap up in blankets at the desk (um, the heater’s not so great) and feel a surge of focused, creative energy that comes along with the cold.

Fall is also the season where I’m most motivated to cook and create new dishes. I love pumpkins and dark leafy greens, slow-simmered sauces and jeweled pomegranate berries. I love rich sweet potatoes and freshly plucked apples from a gnarled tree, earthy mushrooms and tart quince.

Quince (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Quince slices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Quince is a new addition to my fall repertoire. It’s hard to find in the States, and most people wouldn’t know what to do with one if it hit them in the head. » Continue reading this post…

Bite the Piranha, Eat the Amazon

Green parrot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s a time and a place to drink gallingly black instant coffee from a plastic cup, and it’s here and now, at the Marasha Reserve, sitting on a wooden dock and looking out across the lake. The sun is just glimpsing over the tops of the tall, green trees, the breeze is still cool and causing the water to ripple like the skin of an octogenarian’s hand. Sharp, squawking parrots cut the morning’s silence, while fat red birds with pompous blue crests on their heads warble from branch to branch.

Carlos, our guide, has just speared a fish, and he holds it out for us to see. The prongs slit cleanly through its silvery side, and its useless, flapping gills are panting. Inside is ruffling the most gorgeous red. Soon, it will be deep fried and eaten for breakfast with crisp arepas, scrambled eggs and milky hot chocolate.

Anchors away! (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

No smoking in the boat (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Life jackets (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For weeks before my trip, people had been telling me how dangerous the Amazon was, and I’d been properly worried. There’d be mosquitoes carrying yellow fever and dengue, malarial and parasitic water, deadly frogs and spiders, poisonous trees and fruits, snakes that swallow you whole and alligators prepped to pounce.

Parrots (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A walkway in the Amazon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fried pirarucu with platanos, beans and rice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But the longer we spent in the Amazon, the less likely it seemed to kill me. In Leticia, Colombia’s main outpost before the wild, the city droned with beat-up motorcycles, a soothing hum in the relaxed, tropical atmosphere. The pastel streets were full of open storefronts selling neon plastic junk, beachwear, and souvenirs, and men and women manning little metal carts with kebabs and hot dogs, sweet fresh juices and fried empanadas for sale. Stray dogs lounged on every corner, and though they were mangy and beat-up-looking, they didn’t give a second glace as you stepped over or around them.

Stray dogs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Drying laundry (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As in much of Colombia, the restaurants all offered a daily plate lunch: Fried fish or grilled meat served with platanos, rice, beans, and yucca, and always accompanied by freshly pressed natural juice and a soup made with yesterday’s leftovers. » Continue reading this post…

Living Well(er): Bircher Müsli

Bircher Müsli (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m trying to be a better person. You know, helping little old ladies cross the street, paying my taxes on time, eating my Wheaties.

But at most turns, I find my ambitions thwarted. The little old ladies would sooner crush my toes with their orthopedic shoes than let me within arm’s reach of their white pearled handbags. I’ve taken so long to file my US taxes, I think I’m going to have to start sending fruit baskets. And I’m not really sure what a Wheatie is, much less where to find one in Germany.

So I’ve taken to tackling the littler things. Sending birthday cards to friends, remembering to call the bank and tell them I’m going on vacation, watering the plants on a semi-regular basis, and making my breakfasts better (Wheaties or no).

Oats in a beer stein (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Apple peel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I hadn’t ever cared much about breakfast before I moved to Berlin. I’d eat in front of my computer while reading emails or browsing the interwebs. My two-week rotation skipped from brown-sugar and cinnamon Pop-Tarts to toast with butter and honey to oatmeal, with random extras thrown into the mix every now and again: an egg-in-toast, cold pizza, last night’s take out, some of my roommate’s cereal (shhhhhhhh…).

But suddenly, upon moving to Berlin, I took my time with breakfast. I woke up earlier so I could sit and eat in leisure, reading a magazine, lolling over coffee. I’d spread the table with freshly sliced bread, different types of cheeses, hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, tomatoes, salamis, Nutella, honey, jams, and caviar crème – for just me! Every day! » Continue reading this post…

Some Kind of Beachside Romance: Colombian Shrimp Ceviche

Colombian ceviche (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In Colombia, David says, ceviche is an aphrodisiac. On the beaches of Santa Marta, dark, lanky young men walk up and down the shore bent over from the weight of Styrofoam coolers. Big straw hats protect them from the sun, which is powerful, especially around noon in this tropical city. They walk from beachside group to beachside group, offering to prepare ceviche for you towel-side. They flip open the lids of their coolers to scoop little pink shrimp into a paper cup. With quick-fire flips, they douse it with squirts of lime, garlic water, ketchup and mayonnaise, serving you the whole mess with a packet of Saltines.

Red onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Shrimp (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Chopped onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

They walk up and down the beach all day, opening and closing their coolers, scooping shrimp and squirting ketchup, while the hot sun just gets hotter. David wouldn’t let me try any of the beachside ceviche. Because in Colombia, ceviche also gives you food poisoning. Some aphrodisiac.

Camarones (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Ceviche with shrimp (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Colombian ceviche (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Limes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I had to wait another year and a half to try Colombian ceviche, when David offered to prepare it as an add-on to the Chopped competition turned epic feast we held during family vacation. » Continue reading this post…

The Element of Surprise: Moroccan-Style Burgers with Apple-Balsamic Reduction

Moroccan-style burgers with balsamic-apple reduction (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Cinnamon had been a rash last-minute decision. It settled on the mound of ground almonds and beef like a smug crop dusting. I looked at my hand in surprise. Who told you that was a good idea? my brain said to my hand. The body works in mysterious ways, my hand said to my brain. But by then there was nothing to do but move on with the bold decision, adjusting the plans accordingly.

In Chopped, it’s all about surprises anyway. It’s a game where you have to create an entire, cohesive dish from three disparate ingredients on the spot. There’s no time to research or prepare. You have nothing, and then suddenly, you have to have an idea. You’re already thinking creatively, open to the unexpected.

Whole almonds (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Almonds (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Chopped almonds (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When we made these burgers the first time for the family Chopped competition in Italy, the ground, toasted almonds mixed with minced garlic and onion piled on pillowy beef reminded me somehow of chicken bastilla, one of my favorite meals in the entire world. Bastilla is a Moroccan dish in which saffron chicken, egg, and toasted almonds are sweetened with orange water and cooked inside crispy, thin phyllo dough. Though it’s garnished with powdered sugar and cinnamon, the filling is a perfect blend of savory and sweet, crunchy and soft.

Ground beef (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Toasted almonds (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Ground beef and spices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Burger mash (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I don’t think my thought process at the time was as rational as all that, but adding the cinnamon to the burger mash felt right, even though my brain was surprised at quickness of my hand’s action. » Continue reading this post…

Tuscan Summer

Italian gelato (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Back when I used to lead backpacking trips, we had this saying: Finish with style. It meant ending the hike with as much aplomb as you had when you started. It meant neatly packing your bag on your last morning and calmly, strongly walking into the valley rather than slopping down the slope to civilization and a warm blueberry pie.

Let me tell you how our vacation ended, and you can tell me how much style we finished with: For lunch, we passed a yogurt bucket full of cold cooked chicken in tomato sauce around the car and piled it on Saltines with our fingers. The car was cramped, and at least one of us always had to sit in the so-called “dungeon” back seat, named for the lack of leg room and the pile of luggage towering up the left side. We were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for hours as the Alps softly unfolded outside the windows, and a drizzly rain sent slim sheets of mist through the crags. The dog, fur filled with nubby burrs, sent white and black hair tufting through the car.

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And here’s how we started the week: A rose and peach sun set over dusty olive trees and yellow sunflowers, heads heavy with seeds. The red sand city of Arezzo shimmering beyond the hills. Behind us, the villa cool and impassive; stones worn by 14th century nobles and servants scurrying with firewood and food, and later, the soft pad of praying nuns. For dinner that night, we walked down the gravel path to the nearby hilltop restaurant, where the only thing to think about was how many the grill platter should serve and when to uncork the wine already sitting on the table.

There was very little waiting to begin, as the waitress brought out platters of food. » Continue reading this post…

On a Sticky Summer Day: Coffee & Cocoa Chili Con Carne

Chili con carne (Eat Me. Drink Me.) I know it’s summer. I can feel the sweat dripping down my back, the wet air making my elbows peel from my desk as I type. My eyelids stick when I blink. And yet… Call me crazy, but I made chili for dinner. I thought about calling this breezy summer chili. Fresh, seasonal meat and beans magic? And then I realized that there was really no point in telling the story any other way than the way it was. It was too hot to make chili, and that’s exactly what I did. Stick, stick, says my elbow, letting me know I spent too long thinking about that last sentence. Chopped vegetables (Eat Me. Drink Me.) Diced garlic (Eat Me. Drink Me.) You know that feeling you get when you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown? That quiet, manic calm that feels watery and full of cracks? I feel a little bit that way. There’s too much to do. I’ve had to read piles of poetry for SAND, the literary journal where I work as the poetry editor. I’ve been working on a translation competition, getting my own poetry collection finished, visiting with family, keeping the apartment clean, working on home improvement projects and crafts, answering emails. It doesn’t even sound like much to write it out, and a lot of it is things I generally enjoy doing – but all those little things add up. And when I think about tackling just one of those things, I go… ah! GIFs on the internet!

Oregano (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Fresh vegetables for chile con carne (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Bacon! (Eat Me. Drink Me.) So logically, after a full day of work, I pedaled to the grocery store to pick up beef and peppers, coffee for breakfast tomorrow, bacon, sour cream and green onions. My project was herculean, considering the weather. Stand by the hot stove, sweat streaming, to slow-cook some chili. At least I remembered to pick up an icy Hefeweizen to take the edge off. » Continue reading this post…