Tooooooooooooor!: The World Cup Cocktail

Lemon and melon cocktail (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Since the day I saw Robben superman dive a head ball into the net, I’ve been enamored with the World Cup.

No really, I promise it’s not the finely muscled men running around and showing off those fine muscles in skin-tight shirts. Or the slow motion shots of grimacing coaches flailing on the sidelines like birds stuck in pudding. Or even the drama – bites and broken backs, sneaky fouls and field-side shoves.

Ok, I lied. It’s all of that – but it’s also the beauty of the game.

Sliced lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sugar in a shot glass (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I didn’t grow up in a very sports-minded household. I neither understand, nor care about, most major sports. My family never hosted a Superbowl party, I never bothered about which team won, and the only reason I went to high school football games was because I was in the band. The closest I ever came to really caring was back at Davidson, when Stephen Curry led the team to the Elite Eight. Those games were fun to watch – cheering for people you knew with people you knew, while people you didn’t know across the country were cheering for them too. I still remember sitting in the dining hall, crammed shoulder to shoulder, trays of food clutched in our laps, sighing as one body to the big screen rolled down to project that final game.

Then I graduated, and poof, that was the last time I cared about sports.

So it’s surprised me how much I’ve loved watching these games, how passionately I care about my team (the Netherlands, of course. Hi, Robben.), how closely I follow their footwork and appreciate a good passing play. Granted, I still can’t comprehend off-sides, can’t remember for the life of me how many points each team has, or figure out when they call a corner kick, a penalty, or you know, that other one. » Continue reading this post…

On the Beaches of Barcelona

Raw oysters (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The best part of Vilassar de Mar was the blue. In the mornings, we woke to the bright glare of the ocean pinching sunlight from the sky and pitching it in through our window. The early hours were cool and dry, lulled by the soft crash of waves and shattered by the Renfe searing down the tracks with a load of commuters headed for the city center. In Barcelona, the merchants in La Boqueria would already be unrolling the shutters from their stands to reveal hanging hocks of jamón and stacked fruit, and the bleary-eyed tourists would be marching down Las Ramblas with bulky black Canons strapped to their chests. But in Vilassar de Mar, there was only ocean, a multi-hued blue dotted with sailboats and solitary paddle boarders cutting the surf.

Balcony, Villasar de Mar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What we couldn’t figure out in Vilassar de Mar was when things were open. On the day that we arrived, just after lunchtime, the little town was shuttered. We wandered uphill from the shore, the only direction to wander, and passed cafés and shops, all closed. Even the grocery store participated in the afternoon siesta hours, only opening again late in the evening. We were still hesitant of ourselves, the only tourists on the deserted streets, slow in our Spanish, when what we should really have been speaking was Catalan.

Fresh mussels (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Choosing somewhere to eat is hard when you’re so fresh to a new place, when you want so badly to make the best decision, but are too hungry to decide. At least there weren’t that many options. Halfway up the hill, we found a small bakery that was still open. One lazy couple sat beneath a yellow umbrella, slowly picking at fish bones. The tables were covered in clean white cloths and inside the windows, glazed pastries billowed beneath the glass. » Continue reading this post…

Currant Status: Ripe Red Currant Cake with Almond Meringue

Red Currant Cake with Almond Meringue (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I had approached the situation with misguided optimism. Upon waking this morning and like a sleep-stupored zombie wandering to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and some toast, I snipped open the brand new bag of grounds just as I saw the word “decaf.” Hoping for a placebo-like effect on my brain, I made a cup anyway, tossing grounds into the French press and dousing them with hot water. Mixing the strained coffee with a little fresh milk and sugar.

A sunshine of egg yolks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Oh, oh, oh what a horror. My eyes and my limbs lisping back into sleep. Heaviness settling into my bones. My fingers thudding on the keyboard as if there were little bricks attached to each one.

Oh, no, this would never do. Real coffee needed to be procured immediately. I grumbled my weary body onto my bike and slugged to the nearest grocery store to right the wrong.

Fresh red currants (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Home again, I said good riddance to the failed morning and lay back down in bed. I’d restart the day. And when I woke up, I’d make a cake.

Status: 15 minutes later

Coffee and baking (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Powdered sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Coffee and currants (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At least, we know that caffeine is real. I’m standing at the wooden bar in the kitchen, sipping a nice, strong (maybe overcompensatingly strong) cup of coffee and whipping up butter, powdered sugar, and an egg yolk into dough.

Butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Powdered sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Modern art (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Yesterday, as Germany faced Portugal in far-off Brazil and the canons began to sound not long after, I was in a garden in Schöneberg picking currants. The bushes were full of ripe little fruits, clustered like grapes, with thin translucent skin bursting red. I filled my bag with one bunch after the other and still found branch upon branch hiding jeweled bunches of berries.

The vuvuzelas blared out into the balmy Berlin evening.

Johannisbeeren (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Meringue (Eat Me. Drink Me.

I grew up calling red currants Johannisbeeren, which is what they’re called in German, and Germany being the only place I’d ever seen them. » Continue reading this post…

Berlin to Burladingen, and Back

Opa (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The weather was unseasonably warm on the Alb. While Berlin’s skies were overcast and gray, raindrops dripping from every balcony and eave, Stuttgart’s sun was shining. A filmy blue sky unrolled over deeply green hills as we drove away from the city and into the rural landscape of the Schwäbische Alb. It’s called the Swabian Jura in English, but that feels so wrong to say, I just won’t.

I forget how pretty the Alb is when I’m not there, especially in late spring and early summer, when the trees have bloomed and the fields sprout full of wild daisies, dandelions and purple wildflowers. I love the unreal color of green coating the grass, the way the landscape looks freshly dipped in dew.

Flowers on the Alb (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My brother and I are on our way to our grandfather’s house. My uncle is driving, we’re chatting about the upcoming world cup and which nations are the happiest on Earth. He outlines our program for the weekend. When you only fly south for a long weekend, your hours are tightly regulated. My aunt and uncle are coming for dinner, the next day, if the weather holds, we’ll go grilling on the Eichland. There’s talk of Eurovision.

Burladingen is all talk, it’s always all talk. By which I mean, we start a constant stream of visiting and chatting and catching up from the moment we set foot in my grandfather’s house to the moment we leave. And in the Southern Germany I know, there’s no talking without something tasty to go with it – creamy mushrooms wrapped up in crepes, Danishes and coffee, homemade pizza finished with a round of my grandfather’s bootleg raspberry liqueur, dark bread for breakfast with butter and jam, cake and cake and cake. “It’s not my fault if you go home hungry,” my grandfather says. » Continue reading this post…

Baking My Own Birthday Cake

Birthday party (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

One of my greatest fears in life has always been that no one will come to my birthday party. I’ll invite everyone I know. I’ll send out pretty invitations on cardstock with glitter ink. I’ll promise party favors and food and fun beverages loaded with crushed ice. I’ll promise home-baked cake. But on the day of my party, people will just trickle in and out, if they come at all, and stare sadly at the limp, swaying streamers.

There’s generally very little anyone can say to allay these fears. My boyfriend said, “Don’t be ridiculous.” My brother said the same thing. I’m just always afraid that something else will come up – an apocalypse, a Backstreet Boys reunion tour – and I’ll be left tearing through the sugared crumbs of cake and piles of party food like a lonely Godzilla.

Birthday guest (Eat me. Drink Me.)

Grilling in Tempelhof (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I celebrated my birthday last Saturday with a grill in Tempelhof, a shut-down airport featuring a runway-turned-park where Berlin’s citizens gather on sunny days to rollerblade and bike down the long runways, lie in the sun, and cook on small, portable grills that send up a haze of smoke.

That morning, I’d picked up one of my best and oldest friends from the airport, and like a tyrant, pushed her through her jet-lag by making her go to the market to buy fresh strawberries and herbs, cheeses, vegetables, dirt-crusted potatoes and stalks of bright red rhubarb. Then I made her help me cook. We made my family’s German potato salad, tabbouleh chock full of bright, sweet tomatoes and parsley, and a rhubarb frangipani tart baked on puff pastry.

Picnic potluck (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Sun in Tempelhof (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We were gathering together the ingredients for mojitos, packing paper plates and picnic blankets, when David asked me, “When did you tell people to meet us?”

“Three PM,” I said.

“So around four?” he said. » Continue reading this post…

Dear Diary: Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Ready to roll (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The last time I had summer rolls was for my birthday, which was 360 days ago, to be precise. It seems a sin not to have had summer rolls in the meantime. I’ve done so many other things, like move into a new apartment with my boyfriend, spend two months in the states going to weddings and being a summer bum, taking a cruise to Bermuda, starting a new job. And while all of that was going on, I couldn’t find a spare second to make summer rolls. It seems.

And what a loss, because summer rolls are one of the great belly gifts. Slick vermicelli noodles vie for position with carrot and cucumber slivers, shaved Napa cabbage and garlicky shrimp, flavorful herbs like sweet basil and mint, sweet hoisin sauce and garish red Sriracha. They press up against pliant, clear rice paper like strange alien life forms just waiting to burst free. Yet, the summer roll’s fate is a dunk in peanut sauce, sweet and limey with a hit of garlic and chili.

What could I possibly have been doing to keep me from making those more often?

Carrots (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Sweet basil (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Summer rolls (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m going to tell you a secret. I keep a journal. It’s embarrassing, isn’t it? It feels so Ramona, so pre-teen, so crush. But here’s why: I started doing it when I was 8 years old, and because I feel compelled to keep doing the things that I start until they’re done, I can’t stop journaling until I die. In the same vein, I also still keep a list of books that I’ve read, because in 4th grade, we had to keep a list in order to get Book-It Club pizza points. I have a list of every book I’ve read since 4th grade! Really! And no one’s giving me pizza anymore. » Continue reading this post…

Clap Along If You Know

Blooming tulips (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Homemade bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I know I’m hopping on this train way late (like, way way late), but I’ve been thinking a lot about that Pharell Williams song “Happy” lately. And as my boyfriend can tell you, thinking a lot about means listening a lot to. And since the walls of our apartment are thin, our neighbors could probably tell you that too.

What I love about this song (besides its catchy hook and the way it makes you want to bounce around your bedroom in socks) is its simplicity. “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. Clap along if you know what happiness is to you. Clap along if you feel like that’s what you want to do.”

Of course that’s what I want to do! Who doesn’t want to be happy? Yet too often, when people ask me how I’m doing, I’m stressed or tired, overwhelmed or just fine. I’m good. What a platitude.

The bedecked breakfast table (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I watched a weird documentary once that said consciously looking for positivity makes you a more positive person. Your mood is regulated by the way you view the world and things like that. Smiling when you’re angry makes you less angry. (Try it sometime. It works. Disgusting.) So to be happier people, we don’t need to wait for our life circumstances to change, we just need to identify the moments that make us happy and let them soak in.

So what is happiness to me?

Today, it was the loaf of bread I pulled out of the oven, the very first loaf of bread I’ve ever baked.

It was having breakfast with David in the morning. The ritual of setting out plates and coffee mugs, toasting bread, shaving slices of cheese, opening jars of honey and jam. » Continue reading this post…

It’s Spargelzeit!: White Asparagus with Honey-Dijon Sauce

White asparagus with bacon and honey-mustard dressing (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The asparagus are miniature trees, woody and white. Like baby birches tapering into golden spear-peaks. They fill the grocery’s bins, and roadside stands sell crates overflowing with ghostly stalks. Cooking magazines sport bundles on the cover; they’re in turn glistening with butter, flecked with green herbs, or soothed with a blanket of mustard sauce. On the streets, people whisper their favorite recipes to one another or debate proper preparation. When spring hits in Germany, you may as well shout it out: It’s Spargelzeit!

White asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Spargelzeit begins in mid-April and lasts until the 24th of June, the feast day of St. John the Baptist. In Germany, Spargel refers only to white asparagus. What Americans call “asparagus” earns its own differentiator here: “green asparagus.” Here, real asparagus is white – those skinny, little green fingers are an aberration.

Peeled white asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Asparagus peel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Yet, like dogs with chopped off tails, white asparagus isn’t a natural occurrence. It’s just another one of those ways in which we’ve altered nature for so long we’ve gotten used to it. White asparagus is cultivated by covering the shoots with soil as they grow (a process called hilling) to prevent exposure to sunlight. Without sun, the shoots never begin to photosynthesize, and remain white.

No matter the methods, people go nuts when Spargelzeit hits. The shops set up displays; there are special long pots for cooking Spargel, special ladles for fishing individual stalks from the boiling pot, special plates to set the Spargel on, not to mention myriads of Spargel peelers, all purporting to be the best.

Mustard in a measuring spoon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Long stalks of white asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But there might just be some grounds for the hysteria. White asparagus is milder and sweeter than its skinny cousin. The plump stalks are delicate and must be cooked gently to release their softly nutty flavor. Because the asparagus are so fragile, they must be quickly processed, sold, and eaten. » Continue reading this post…