Eating Berlin Part 2: Owning It

Burgers from Schiller Burger (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My mom always told me that Hasenheide was a dangerous place. And it can be. Like many parks in Berlin, there’s an active, obvious drug trade that’s only a little annoying by day, but a little frightening at night. (It’s kind of like taking candy from strangers, isn’t it?) So for a long time, I didn’t go there. It didn’t help, of course, that when I moved to Berlin, the nearest entrance to the Hasenheide was along a rather desolate stretch of street that made the park seem doubly foreboding. I lived in Berlin for two whole years before stepping foot inside the park, I tell Jordi, as we walk through it, and as someone offers to sell us pot.

Today is a rather grim day, the sun hiding behind rain-heavy clouds, though we’re just nearing lunch time, and even in winter Berlin, the sun hasn’t set yet. The sloping hills of Hasenheide and its hidden green inlets are visible between the stark trunks of stripped trees. We’ve cut through the park because it’s the fastest way to get from Soluna Brot und Öl in Kreuzberg, the last stop on our Berlin food tour, to Schiller Burger in Neukölln, the next. We’re finding the park surprisingly big, but also beautiful in its slick bleak wetness.

I’m thinking about how places become yours in cities, as we walk through a park that’s bordered two of my past neighborhoods without ever becoming mine. You discover some places by accident, others are recommended by friends. Some places you really like, you never return to. Others you didn’t feel much for at first, you find yourself in again and again.

Schiller Burger was a staple of my life in Neukölln, especially on lazy weekends, when David and I would interrupt a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathon only to walk up the hill from Rathaus Neukölln past Spätis and junk shops and old German dive bars with lace curtains on the windows like someone’s dark, faded living room. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Berlin Part 1: Rise & Shine

Eating Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Perhaps we were overly ambitious. Jordi and I met on the Bernauer Straße platform at 7:00 a.m., groggy, sleep-wrecked, and hungry. So hungry, I, at least, was on the verge of hangry. I should have known better than to skip breakfast before embarking on a journey from Schöneberg at the southern end of the ring to Prenzlauer Berg in the north, even if our plan was to spend the day running around the city eating.

But we went ahead and shot a few scenes in the bluish early-morning light. We had some time before Bonanza, the first stop on our tour, opened at 8:00 a.m. By the time we walked the length of Bernauer Straße, past the Mauerpark flea market and clusters of iron poles marking where the Wall once stood, we were both so excited for coffee.

Bonanza was suspiciously dark. At first, we chalked it up to Berlin’s lackadaisical approach to opening hours. Upon closer inspection, we realized that it didn’t open until 10:00 a.m. on Saturdays. Feeling the tired pull a lack of caffeine can have on a serious addict, and by this time both pretty hangry, we called it quits, took the train up to Osloer Straße and had breakfast in Jordi’s apartment: croissants from the little bakery downstairs, thick slices of soft, mild cheese and coffee boiled on the stovetop moka. At 10:00 a.m., we took the train back down to Bernauer Straße and started over again. As if 7:00 a.m. had never happened.

Subway stairs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There was a lot going on behind-the-scenes in the making of this little film. Mainly because, have you ever tried talking to a camera all day? It is hard.

You’re so preoccupied with trying to sound smart, funny, and natural all at the same time, that you end up sounding like a parody of yourself – which is, of course neither smart nor funny nor natural. » Continue reading this post…

Around the World in… As Many Days as it Takes

Jordi on the streets of Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

An Interview with Jordi Garcia Rodriguez, founder of No Solo Travel Chronicles

I’ve met so many interesting people in Berlin whose projects I admire and whose creativity inspires me. My friend Jordi is one of them. We met a little over two years ago, probably at the Späti, right when David and I first started dating. That summer, every weekend began at the Späti. It’s nothing special – a convenience store, a bodega selling drinks and candy and tobacco. There’s a Späti on every other corner in Berlin. But this one captured our attention, perhaps because it was centrally located on Maybachufer, close to bars where we could dance. Perhaps because there was a small wooden table outside where we could sit or a bathroom inside to use. For whatever reason, those summer weekends always started at the Späti with cold bottles of Tyskie and the dusky smell of hand-rolled cigarettes.

We were a diverse and international crew. Usually there were at least three languages bouncing back and forth across the table, and everybody’s interests were varied. But that kept things exciting.

Jordi’s project was to travel around the world on his motorcycle. He’d just made it official: No Solo Travel Chronicles, a type of personalized, interactive journalism. You could ask him to find something from another country for you or document an experience you’d love to have but couldn’t for whatever reason. Along the way, he’d film his travels and write about the people he met and experiences he had, creating an interconnected global network.

The summer ended, as all things do, and Jordi left for Turkey, the first stop on his around-the-world journey. Even the next summer, we didn’t go back to the Späti again, as if its whole magic had been used up in those months.

When Jordi came back to Berlin to earn some more money before starting the next leg of his journey, we met in different places and started talking about collaborating on joint projects. » Continue reading this post…

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…