That’s All, Yolks!: Leche Flan

Leche flan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When life hands you a dozen egg yolks, you make flan, as the famous saying goes.

It’s a beautiful, lazy afternoon. The sun has decided to play along, and it flits in an out behind soft white clouds. The courtyard is looking particularly peach these days, instead of its ashen winter hue – the pinkish-gray of an undercooked shrimp

I’m in the mood for baking, a rarity as these things go, and I magically, miraculously have all the ingredients to make leche flan, a dense, rich and creamy take on flan made only with egg yolks and other ingredients to make your arteries groan in sadomasochistic delight.

Egg yolks and milk (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The garish sounds of some awful Colombian cartoon are playing in the background, and yet it feels strangely appropriate today. The sun, the oven set to preheat, the laugh track in another language – it feels like a charmed life. Except, of course, that I can’t get David to stop eating spoonfuls of sweetened condensed milk as I caramelize the sugar and simmer whole milk down to make evaporated milk.

Egg yolks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Caramelized sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Leche flan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
In the kitchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

With the weather finally warming up and the sun showing up for whole hours at a time, I’m realizing what a huge impact this dull, gray winter has had on me. All winter, I’ve felt dull and gray myself, wanting so hard to be productive and relaxed in appropriate measures, but simply feeling sluggish and beat – always – and always feeling like I wasn’t doing enough.

Leche flan recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The sunshine is like a balm. I’m making flan, and there’s nothing else I should be, or want to be doing.

Leche flan with caramel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Egg yolk-only flan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

By the time the flan is out of the oven, the apartment smells heavenly and rich. There’s a bit of tension for the flip, but the flan drops gracefully down on the plate as silky caramel puddles around the creamy line of flan. » Continue reading this post…

A Da(y)te with Myself

Loot from Winterfeldt Markt (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The apartment’s lights are turned low and only the candles’ soft, intimate glow falls across the table. Tonight’s dinner is wild mushroom gnocchi with pancetta, sage, and king oyster mushrooms sautéed in salted butter and garlic. The gnocchi are perfectly soft, creamy almost under the crunch of crisped sage, their richness tempered by peppery arugula salad freshened just with lemon and salt. The wine is a chilled pinot gris, purchased this morning from a Frenchman wearing a tailored gray suit in a small shop down the street. It’s a Saturday night, and the only person in the apartment is me. All this is just for me.

I woke up alone this morning, confused at first by the empty bed before remembering that David is in Munich for a conference, and that all week, I’ll be waking up early to the sun in our windows without his grumbly morning snores. It’s strange, when you live together with someone, to spend time in your shared apartment alone. I work from home two days each week, so during the daytime, I’m used to having the run of it and fully inhabiting our space – but not the nights or the mornings. It’s strange.

Blue and yellow flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A bundle of carrots (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But it’s still my first day alone, and it’s still novel. Too often, we’re afraid of spending time alone, afraid that it means we’re friendless, that we don’t have anything better to do. But I love keeping my own company. No pressure, just an easy pleasure in the smallest things – a new pop playlist, a room of dusted baseboards, time to write.

Slippers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This morning, I skipped around the house in slippered feet. I put a podcast on to play and ate a slow breakfast: hot coffee freshly French-pressed and granola with berries and amaranth. And while Friday night partiers were just slinking into bed, I left the apartment for the Winterfeldt Markt. » Continue reading this post…

Do the Bunny Hop: Bunny Butt Carrot Cake

Bunny butt carrot cake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My boss had been talking about Easter since the end of April. Last year. Since we’d been planning our evening of Easter crafts for almost an entire year, it’s no surprise we went a little bit overboard with the amount of projects we undertook to make.

At the office, we each have a favorite holiday, barring Christmas, of course, since everybody loves Christmas. Mine is Thanksgiving, Ellen’s is Halloween, and Shaun’s is Easter. So far, we’ve done a great job of celebrating them all – I hosted my traditional Thanksgiving potluck, and we even threw a Halloween party where all our guests had to dress up as fairy tale characters.

Bunny butt cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But Easter is something special for Shaun, partly because of a long-ago childhood trauma involving sugar eggs. Let’s go back in time to a sepia-colored San Francisco, where a little 5th grade Shaun is eagerly anticipating the day the entire class gets to make sugar eggs and sell them as a fundraiser. For years, he’s watched the older kids spin sugar and decorate their eggs with pretty pastel icing and sprinkles, for years he’s been looking forward to this moment. And he’s so excited when his teacher stands before the class to make the announcement that the time has come… to make pizzas.

What a betrayal. Our protagonist is crushed. But this Easter, we strove to give back what was taken from him so long ago: Crafts.

Though we don’t all suffer the same Easter trauma, we’d all been looking forward to our crafts night for weeks. One internet search turned up another, and by the time we were ready to start, our roster was pretty full:

Bunny butt carrot cake
Bunny butt cupcakes
Rainbow Jello eggs
Rainbow pastel meringues

Rainbow pastel meringues (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And on top of that, we decided to make traditional Easter enchiladas. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Berlin Part 3: Full Belly, Full Heart

Rain in Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I first moved to Berlin, I was convinced I wanted to live near Schlesisches Tor, or “Schlesi,” as Berliners refer to it, because let’s face it, “Schlesisches Tor” is just too damn hard to say. It reminded me of Brooklyn, with its graffiti-smeared walls, tufts of litter skipping the breeze, and pretty hipsters swathed in black. Like the first German settlers who saw in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania a home away from home, I was completing the circle. So to speak.

At first, all my favorite restaurants, bars, and clubs were here. When friends came to visit, I’d always take them across the iconic Oberbaum Bridge and along the East Side Gallery. In summer, I’d sit in Görlizter Park drinking cold Club-Mate and maybe grilling a brat or two.

But slowly, as these things happen, my circle of city widened, then shifted. Who I was in Brooklyn was no longer who I was here.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about cities and identities. We’re just finishing up production on Issue 11 of SAND, and many of the poems and stories explore the idea of identity – how its shaped and how we define it. Berlin plays a key role in the issue, and as I was writing the editor’s note, I thought about what makes Berlin Berlin and how much that’s come to influence who I am.

At the corner of Görlitzer Park, there’s a little stand called Hühnerhaus 36 that sells chickens and half chickens from a roasting spit where the seasoning-spiked grease from the top row of chickens drips down to the bottom. You can order a menu with fries or salad, but if you’re already getting a greasy half-chicken with perfect, crisp skin, you might as well go whole hog and order the fries dashed with seasoned salt and served with ketchup and mayonnaise. » Continue reading this post…

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…