Lazy Days: General Tso’s Chicken

General Tso's Chicken (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I can’t remember the last time I had nothing really pressing to do on a weekend. It certainly wasn’t this year. That’s why I loved every second of this past weekend. David and I spent Saturday at the spa, sitting thigh to thigh with naked Germans in the sauna, brunching on omelets and fruit juices, reading novels in the sun-soaked relaxation room. On Sunday, we lounged about in the apartment, reading, watching episode after guilt-free episode of TV on our laptops, and dancing around the kitchen to Taylor Swift’s new pop pleasure album and cooking General Tso’s chicken. Happy days indeed.

I’ve had a hankering to make General Tso’s for a while now. I don’t eat much Chinese food, or crave it, as a general rule, but once a year, I long for the super buffet. I want rows of sticky, saucy bins filled with deep fried meat and soggy, soy-sauced vegetables. I want crisp, oily egg rolls dipped in questionably orange sauce, sweet, dark ribs stuck with white rice, and slick, salty lo mein. I want an enigmatic fortune delivered inside a thin vanilla cookie folded like a love note and won ton soup.

Fried chicken for General Tso's (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Green onions (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Chinese food in Germany is different. The sauces aren’t as sweet. The soy sauce ratio is wrong. I hardly dare say it’s inauthentic – like much of the Chinese food on American buffets, the dishes weren’t invented in China, but in other countries where diners had preconceived taste preferences and limited ingredient availability. General Tso’s chicken, for instance, was inspired by the Hunanese kitchen, but only introduced to China after émigré chefs returned back home from America.

Sunday was a crave the buffet day. And surprisingly enough, the ingredients for General Tso’s chicken were for the most part staple pantry supplies I always have on hand – cornstarch, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, eggs… I’d just never thought of making it on my own. » Continue reading this post…

Fancy Meeting You Here: Earl Grey French Toast with Blood Orange Syrup

Earl Grey French toast with Blood Orange Syrup (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A few weeks ago, I was having brunch at Le Bon, one of those airy, sparsely-decorated-perfectly-curated cafés in Kreuzberg, when I had a vision. My eye had lingered on the menu’s French toast made with brioche, and I was thinking of soft, pillowy piles of bread, sweet and eggy, crisp and caramel brown from a buttered skillet – as I read through the selection of teas. In another life, I lived on cups of Teavana’s Earl Grey Creme, its gnarly dark leaves peppered with pretty dried blue petals. For some reason, I thought of this tea while reading the menu, remembering its hint of vanilla. And for an even odder reason, those thoughts mingled with my French toast thoughts, and I thought – why not – make French toast sopped up in eggy Earl Grey-infused cream?

Earl Grey-infused cream (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Blood oranges and brioche (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Blood oranges (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s sometimes a strange set of circumstances that makes things click. I’ve been having a lot of experiences like that lately. Off-the-cuff conversations leading to inspired partnerships, loose-end dreams taking shape over milky lattes and cake.

How does anyone ever meet someone? You know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy. I met Aaron that way, and now here we are, standing in my kitchen, debating whether the French toast batter needs two eggs or three. Three we say, why not?

Blood orange syrup recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

French toast breakfast (Eat Me Drink Me.)

Like so many things, our getting to know each other was a carefully orchestrated happenstance by that guy who knows a guy (who’s really a gal, technicalities). But we share a lot in common, a St. Louis genealogy (though my Collinsville roots are a few generations removed, I’ll accept that Jello is a salad), the liberal arts thing, a history of singing in college a cappella groups – and most importantly, a passion for eating and talking about eating and helping ourselves to seconds. » Continue reading this post…

Queens and Virgins: Caraway-Flax Crackers & Moscow Mules

Moscow mules (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

If I were to write a composite film based on the trending topics in this year’s Berlinale, it would be about a virgin queen who wears too little clothing in the snow, gets pregnant, murders a homeless man, and all of the characters would be played by James Franco.

I’m living in movie purgatory. We (being our four-person office and a plus one) average around four films a day, which is moderate compared to some of the true punishers who squash in up to seven, starting with a 9:30 breakfast pic. I’ve seen 22 films so far, from the truly baffling (Dyke Hard) to the surprisingly fantastic (How to Win at Checkers, Virgin Mountain) to the very, very nude (Out of Nature).

Ellen slices cucumbers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

German shot glasses (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Ice cubes in the glass (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It sounds fun, like having a sick day without being sick. But it’s exhausting, running around Berlin from theater to theater, waking up at 5:30 every morning to wait in the ticket line, gobbling a fast McDonald’s Egg McMuffin before pushing through a mass of people at the theater to snag a seat at least a few rows back from the front. Why do we put ourselves through this drama for ten whole days, when let’s be honest, we were just in it to see the world premiere of Fifty Shades of Grey?

Cucumber slices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Cucumber garnish (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Squeezing lime juice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Cutting limes for Moscow Mules (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Because, as I can attest from having been-there-done-that at the Berlinale last year, it’s incredibly satisfying to have seen the films people will be talking about next year long before they’re famous. It may be emotionally and physically exhausting, but it’s also magical, overloading on all these movies. It gives you the chance to compare totally different stories and storytelling styles and helps you pinpoint just what makes a movie great. It’s a chance to see movies you never would otherwise. True, sometimes you’re stuck with “I’m too smart for my own good” nonsense, but sometimes you discover a true gem from a young director deserving of more exposure. » Continue reading this post…

The Best Laid Plans

Poached eggs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Thank you today, for being February. Thank you, burdensome bane of January for being past. Where did the time go slash why was that such a long month? And why is it that when I really want to make some resolutions and see them through to eternal happiness and a realm of well-manicured calm, the universe decides that those were foolish plans? The to-do list seems hopeless, the meetings unmanageable, the zombie-apocalypse dreams are really getting old.

In other news, I’ve been learning how to poach eggs.

Learning How to Poach Eggs is part of a larger project called Self-Improvement, with subcategories like Keeping Your Plants Alive, Understanding Social Media and Your Place in It, and Buying Chairs for the Apartment You’ve Been Living in for 1 Year. Please see the optimistic post from two weeks ago about New Year’s resolutions for all my hopelessly quaint ideas on How to be a Better Me. (January Seminar: Soothing Your Inner Cynic.)

In any case, here’s what makes poaching eggs so hard. Every egg, like a precious snowflake, is different. New eggs poach better than old eggs (though old eggs peel better than new), but apart from that – who knows what trouble lurks beneath those smooth, impassive shells. Some eggs, no matter how gently I’d slip them into my carefully vortexed and vinegared water, would explode on contact and feather out in sad, fannish strands. I’d poach an almost perfect egg – and then, when I’d try to replicate it, not to mention improve upon it, I’d end up with sticky yolk running over gummy, wet albumen. It can be heartbreaking, learning how to poach an egg.

Eggs in the shell (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So no, I still don’t have a fool-proof method for poaching eggs. I’m still synthesizing Jamie and Julia and whatever other Food Network star has something to say on the topic. » Continue reading this post…

Resolutions, if I Have to: Kale Chips

Kale chips (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’ve never been much for making resolutions in January. I find the beginning of October a much more invigorating time for making grand gestures. January may have a new four-digit number after it, but really, what’s motivating about January besides that? The weather is still stuck in a perpetual slump, and me, I’m usually caught in some jetlag horror that pushes sleep way up to the top of the life goal list. This year, a lingering illness and late start back to work made my early January a less-than-inspiring start to 2015.

But for all that, I’ve really managed to make a lot of resolutions this year. And just as I type that, I swear to you, the gray clouds are breaking up and a bright blue sky is swinging into view. So maybe that’s a sign. (On a side note, the plus side to never seeing sun is that you never really know how dirty your windows truly are. Maybe I should add Windexing to the resolution list…

Dinosaur kale (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Raw kale (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So here are my 2015/rest of my life resolutions:

Live more unplugged – or, live plugged in, but conscientiously
During the second month I lived in Berlin, I spilled a drink into my laptop and broke it. I was living in a new city, I knew almost no one. The internet was my crutch. I panicked until I realized this was probably the perfect opportunity to really do the things I’d moved to Berlin to do – read, write, and cook. Computers are totally great, but they make us approach multitasking in the worst possible way. A computer allows you to work in multiple windows at the same time. You can check email, write a blog post, nose around on Facebook, listen to iTunes and edit photos all at the same time. » Continue reading this post…

Always

At Epcot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The hardest things to write are the ones that matter most. For three weeks, I haven’t written anything, not a poem, a post or even a journal entry. And it’s not because there hasn’t been anything to write about, but because the one thing I really wanted to write was impossible for me to process. My grandmother, my namesake, champion, and friend, passed away on December 18th, peacefully and surrounded by family.

But even a good death isn’t easy for the ones you leave behind. What a bizarre contrast, to feel the love and joy of Christmas, and yet mourn an irreplaceable loss. A heavy heart can still smile, but its weight throws you off-kilter, turning a laugh just as quickly into a sob.

She was a woman larger than life, filling a room with her presence, her conversation. Even her clothes were loud – bright purples and blues and reds, preferably accented with sequins or feathers or fur. And for the grandchildren, she was like a magnet. She demanded hugs, kisses, snuggles – and we gave them freely, instinctively.

A ready hug (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

She spoiled all of us. I remember as a child, when she came to town, she’d cook an entire pack of bacon just for me, and she made it just right – soft and wriggly so you could taste all the flavor of fat. And she’d make me an egg-in-toast. I’d stand by the stove, eyes barely high enough to peek over the counter, as she cut a round out of the buttered bread. I loved the sizzle of egg as it hit the hot skillet smack in the center of the hole. To me, it was culinary magic. They were special meals, the only time besides holidays when breakfast was a big deal.

With as much vivid clarity, I remember her singing me to sleep. » Continue reading this post…

A Christmas Market

Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Berlin has a rich and varied Christmas market tradition to distract its residents from winter’s misery. (I’m getting banal, aren’t I? Weather, weather, weather.) But truly, when there’s very little else to get people out of the house than the promise of a steaming mug of mulled wine and a hot bratwurst poking out either end of a round white roll, you appreciate what a good Christmas market can do.

A trip to the Christmas market begins with Glühwein, Germany’s take on mulled wine. This serves two purposes. The first is to help you get into the mood. In the same way a bite of bread pudding always takes me back to the Old Country Buffet, a very rural American buffet chain with surprisingly good fried chicken and hot ham sunbathing under a heat lamp, or the way my mother’s apple pie always feels like fall – you can’t really be at a Christmas market unless you’ve had a mug of Glühwein.

Glühwein and hot chocolate (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Poffertjes with powdered sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Baked camembert at the Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The second reason is much less romantic. By the time you’ve left the subway station and made it to the market, your feet are already frozen and you’ve got the shoulder shimmy shakes. A little hot drink made of a little hot alcohol goes a long way in warming you up.

The next thing you do at a Christmas market is walk. Each market is set up in its own little maze of tents and shacks selling sweets and toys, Christmas gifts, decorations, and other useless bits and bobs. Glühwein in hand, you wander from stand to stand picking up stocking stuffers and baubles for the tree.

Baked camembert (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making poffertjes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Camembert with red berries and aioli (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Soon it’s time for a refill on that empty mug. This time, you’ll nestle up to a spot around a tall, standing-room only table and send someone off to buy sausages – classic bratwurst or the special kind from Thüringen, whose flavor hints at caraway, marjoram, and garlic. » Continue reading this post…

Oh Tannenbaum

Räuchermann (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This morning I woke up and bought a Christmas tree. Berlin, as usual these days, was a mottled, cotton-ball gray and drizzly. But I had plaited my hair for the occasion, and we all know that there’s nothing more festive than a Christmas plait.

The walk to Südkreuz from Schöneberg isn’t a particularly pretty one. It’s not a far walk, but the Sachsendamm is a wide, industrial stretch of road, along which you pass the giant furniture warehouse with its America-sized parking lot, a long, low sports center, and the car-crammed entrance to the highway. But I’m especially good at pretending during Christmastime, and as I walked, I imagined myself in a dark green forest, surrounded by tall pines and lightly falling snow. I saw my future self lugging my little tree up the apartment stairs and decorating it as I sang along to Perry Como and sipped on hot chocolate swizzled with a candy cane.

I love the romance of Christmas – its clichéd images of rosy-cheeked children and sugar cookies, Santa hats and snowball fights, warm and cozy comfort foods. Though truthfully, I can’t remember the last Christmas I had that fit into such a glittering, glistening box. I haven’t had a white Christmas in years, so there’s been no sledding, no snowball fights, no bowls of homemade snow ice cream – the stuff my childhood holidays were made of. Most of my Christmas shopping involves feeding my credit card number to the internet and every time I try to listen to Christmas music I have to navigate a sea of bad Wham.

But I’m changing all that with this Christmas tree. » Continue reading this post…