Whether the Weather Be: Asian-Style Grilled Steak Salad with Peanut Dressing

Asian-style grilled steak salad with peanut dressing (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s been an uneasy summer, afraid to commit. Brilliant, glaring days are chased with sky-wracking thunderstorms that dissolve into cloudy cold and chill. The wind is a fierce prickle or a wet sigh, like hot breath fogging up a glass. We’re all wearing too many clothes or too few, and the city is like an endless striptease GIF. Now we’re dressed, now we’re not.

Yesterday, we rode our bikes down to the beer garden at Schlachtensee, a lake on the southern edge of the city. It was warm riding down on our bikes. There was a comfortable breeze, but the sun was shining, and as we moved, we peeled off sweaters and jackets and threw them in our baskets. By the edge of the lake, sitting at a table dappled with shade, it was almost too chilly. We guiltily slunk our sweaters and jackets back on as we gazed out at the sun paparazzi-popping over the waves.

Lettuce (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Salad components (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There are a few things summer is for me – or at least should be. There should be time spent reading in the sun, big glasses of milky iced coffee and cold beer dimpled with a lemon slice. There’s the smoky smell of a rack of ribs on the grill, soft grass beneath bare feet, ice cream melting down the side of a waffle cone.

When the weather is so indecisive about what season it wants to be, it’s hard to really get into the swing of summer. How to have a weekend cookout when it won’t stop raining? Why bother reading outside when it’s misty out and you’re wrapped up a few sweaters?

Summer is supposed to sweep you off your feet with its lethargic charms. Sometimes, I’ll wake up early to get work done so I can spend a lazy afternoon out in the park. » Continue reading this post…

Vintage Summer: Rosemary & Pistachio El Diablo

Rosemary & pistachio cocktail (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

“It felt very Mad Men,” I told my friend, “to come home from work and make myself a fancy cocktail, then sip it by the open French window with my feet propped up and a book in hand.

“I didn’t know you were watching Mad Men. How far along in the season are you?” he asked.

“Oh, I’ve seen the pilot,” I replied.

He raised an eyebrow, and I amended my comparison. “Fine. It was like an evening of living in Revolutionary Road, where everybody’s always swilling something and living out a sadly-thwarted version of the American dream. But like, in a good way.”

Rosemary and limes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Boston shaker full of ice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Rosemary, pistachio syrup, tequila (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For me, cocktails have always had a vintage charm. When I drink them, I want to be wearing pale lemon-colored nylon and chiffon, with a plate of shimmery canapés and pimiento-flecked olives close at hand.

But like most strange daydreams painted from a retro Hoover ad, this life is probably so fascinating to me because I don’t have to live it. I finished Revolutionary Road. I know how that story ends.

Bright greens: pistachio syrup, rosemary, lime (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Today, cocktail culture feels less about rubbing out the perfect pastel hues of a paperboard fairy tale (i.e., getting wasted), and more about experimenting with a rainbow of syrups, juices, herbs, bitters, and household shrubbery until each liquor’s notes have been expertly complemented (i.e., getting wasted).

Just kidding. While there are those cocktails whose sole purpose is to be drunk copiously at a beachside party out of plastic cups (I’m looking at you, Sex on the Beach), there are many others to make one feel just appropriately naughty enough.

Rosemary (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

El Diablo with pistachio and rosemary (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A few months ago, David and I did a cocktail making course hosted by a charming, almost Dickensian barkeep with a little ponytail and a tightly-fitted vest. In thick Berlinerisch, he walked us through muddling, measuring, and not spraying the contents of a Boston shaker over the entire room as we worked our way through five simple cocktails: Mai Thai, New York Sour, Moscow Mule, Park Lane, and a drink he’d named “El Pistacho,” a take on the El Diablo. » Continue reading this post…

Welcome to the Windy City: Girl & the Goat’s Magic Beans

Girl & the Goat green beans (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Chicago is the fittest city I’ve ever been to. Everyone’s always jogging around, decked out in fancy-pants sporting gear and neon sneakers or running shirtless along the beach. Which, by the way, I didn’t know Chicago had. I guess that’s what you get for growing up on the East Coast.

It’s amazing that everyone is so incredibly healthy, because Chicago also has incredible food. Maybe the Chicagoans have picked up on the trick of compensating for good eating with good workouts, a trick I seem to be unable to learn.

Chicago, reflected (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Good friends (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A melting city (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I went to Chicago to meet up with two old, fabulous friends. Emma, Amy, and I met in 2007 in Australia while studying abroad and somehow, somewhere down the line became traveling pals. We’ve been to St. Croix, Las Vegas, New York – and now Chicago, a place none of us lives in and that isn’t really close to anything. But as I was going to a wedding in Ann Arbor, Michigan anyway, and Chicago is just around the corner, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to explore a part of the country I’ve never been to before and reunite my favorite traveling trio.

For me, friendship has never been about how often you see people, but what it’s like when you do. When the three of us get together, it’s as if all the time that’s elapsed between our last visit and the present has consolidated, sucked into some black hole. We don’t waste time with small talk, but pick up the conversation right where it left off.

Chicago in the bean (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A view from the architectural boat tour (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Chicago from the river (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As much as we talked, we ate. We sampled extra tender pork loin with peppers and bone marrow salad at The Purple Pig, freshly-prepared sandwiches at Publican Quality Meats, and more donuts than I’d care to admit from Glazed & Infused. » Continue reading this post…

Go Big, Go Greek: Classic Greek Salad

Greek salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Michael, my youngest brother, has this fraternity shirt that reads “Go Big, Go Greek” in giant letters across the chest. He wore it all over Greece, which was rather amusing. Can you go any bigger than by going to Greece?

Everywhere we went in Greece, bouzouki players plucked out the same song, which my grandfather identified as the theme to Never on Sunday, a black and white 1960’s comedy flick starring Melina Mercouri as a free-spirited Greek prostitute. And everywhere we went in Greece, we found ourselves la-la-la-ing along. It’s a catchy song.

And everywhere we went, we were entertained by traditional Greek dancing. It’s an interesting kind of dance to be entertained with. It’s not particularly fast, and not particularly athletic, but it’s mesmerizing in its own way with its slowly repetitive steps that sometimes build and sometimes don’t. And sometimes there’s some quite athletic kicking, and sometimes everyone joins in the circle for a little swing step.

Ingredients for Greek salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Chopped veggies for Greek salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Greek salad dressing (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Red wine vinegar, lemon, oregano, olives (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But best of all, everywhere we went, there was Greek salad. I wasn’t always impressed with the food in Greece, but the salads were consistently good. Big, ripe hunks of tomato and cucumber, salty olives, sweet red onion, crisp green bell pepper and a feta quite unlike the kind we buy in Berlin. It was creamier – and later, I found out, made with part goat’s milk (I found this out by trying to feed it to David, who hates the taste of goat cheese. Now I have a brick-sized chunk of Greek feta I’m slowly trying to make disappear.).

Greek salad recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Tomatoes, green pepper, feta, cucumber, red onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I loved the simplicity of the dressing – a little more acidic than oily, a perfect fit for the ripe vegetables’ natural sweetness – and rife with dried oregano. It was so uncomplicated and so eminently eatable.

So when I think back on how to “go Greek,” I think of those three things: bouzouki music, dancing, and big plates of salad. » Continue reading this post…

Coming to Terms with History: A Trip to Greece

A view from Poros (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Your humble author, with ruins (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A boat on the Greek islands (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Family, sightseeing in Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Growing up in the US, you have no real concept of history. Old is Washington chopping down the cherry tree, and ancient is the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. In Greece, old is the founding of Western civilization and ancient is a Neolithic human making pottery some 8,000 years ago on a rocky outcrop by the sea. Take that, George.

At the site of ancient Corinth, a city famous for getting some letters, you see the layers of history. You can walk along the centuries-old road, slick with pinkish rocks from 2,000 years of sandaled feet scraping it smooth. There’s a Bronze Age grave and over that the Greek marketplace. The Romans built a fountain, and as BC chanced to AD, a little Byzantine church appeared. The city was razed a few times, and each time built back up again, always a little bit higher, the new burying the old.

Temple of Apollo in Corinth (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The ruins of Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sightseeing in Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Iced lemonade for hot days (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Today, the materials we use for construction are too lasting for this archaeological strata effect. Our new cities aren’t built on top of old ones, but integrated into them. Concrete has leveled out history. In Greece, too, it seems like history stops in ancient days. Unlike in Berlin, where the story starts with WWII and pummels into the East-West German divide, in Greece, the thread goes dark with the Byzantines. Yet somehow, somewhere along the line, modern Athens was born, as if a tired Zeus had spilled a shimmering pile of white Legos inside a ring of dusty green mountains.

Temple ruins in Athens (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Brother at the Acropolis (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
An ionic column (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
The Greek flag (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Modern-day Greece is not without its real problems. On the way home from our tour to Delphi, the bus driver asked us if we could skip the bathroom break and just head straight to Athens. There was a demonstration planned, and she wanted to get us back before the roads closed. » Continue reading this post…

Saving Grace

Bulgur salad with tomatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s been a while. I dove right into crazy town and am just now coming up for air. In the past three weeks, some things happened: Like fine balsamic, I aged another year. My mother, grandfather, and littlest brother came to visit Berlin for a time, and we smashed the town – boating down the Spree, petting the goats in the zoo, touring the hidden depths of the Bundestag, and eating and eating and eating. Of course I was deathly ill for a time, during which there were massive deadlines at work. And on the other hand, we finally got chairs for the apartment. They’re blue and beautiful and I love them. I went to Greece, I rode a donkey, I came home from Greece, and now I’m here at my desk, watching a quickly fading dusk shutter the daytime sky.

It’s both a blessing and a curse to be back in routine – well, ish, since the work week hasn’t really started yet, and I came home to David’s visiting friends on the couch and a spontaneous trip to Mauerpark to grill, which was rained out by thunderstorms, and today we had lunch in the TV tower like tourists in our own city. So there’s that. And then there’s the specter of responsibility that hovers here – I left my calendar and its to-do lists sitting on my desk, and they’ve greeted my homecoming with reproach for having neglected them for so long.

Chopped dill (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Quick bulgur salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Today, the only reasonable thing to do has been to keep ignoring them. Instead, I swept the floor a few times, which always just seems to shift the dust from one room to another. I lay in bed with an icepack on my head and moaned about my humidity headache, trying to nap and restlessly jumping up from bed again. » Continue reading this post…

Sanity Measures: Brownie Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting

brownie cupcakes with salted caramel frosting (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The insanity is about to begin.

Not long ago, like yesterday, I was looking through my calendar and realized that I don’t have a single second of down time until August. In case you do not have a calendar or are living with cave trolls somewhere in the mountains of Norway, it is currently May. Granted, the end of May, but that means there are still two solid, chunky months packed full of stuff.

All of it is good stuff. I’m taking a family trip to Greece, spending a whirlwind week shuttling between Chicago and Ann Arbor, whisking up to Norway for a weekend to tell the cave trolls what month it is, visiting family in the south of Germany, hosting visitors here. In fact, my first two visitors will be landing in Tegel in just two days (hi, Mom! Hi, Grandpa!).

chopped baker's chocolate (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

brownie cupcake batter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
cupcake therapy (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

a pan of brownie cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But even though it’s all good stuff coming up, it can be a little overwhelming for a workaholic like me to wonder when I’m going to be able to get some work done. It’s a little bit sad, isn’t it? That my biggest worry is not finding the time to check things off of my to-do list. Clearly I haven’t been doing a good job of keeping my New Year’s resolution to turn my computer off in the evenings, stepping away from work and being kind to myself.

I really should spend more time nurturing my sanity. I can always tell when I’m getting too stressed, because the number of to-do lists I have multiply. Sometimes, the lists start saying things like “spend one hour working on to-do list.” I’m not sure whether that’s meta or pathetic. Metathetic?

frosting cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

salted caramel frosting (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But I also start cooking more complicated things. It’s odd, I suppose, that the less time I feel like I have, the more time I spend in the kitchen throwing around mountains of puff pastry, teaching myself how to do things like poach eggs or make hollandaise, or pick the longest recipe with the most ingredients in whatever cookbook I happen to be obsessing over at the time. » Continue reading this post…

Spargel Fever: White Asparagus and Pancetta Pizza

white asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When spring finally hits Berlin, what people here are most excited for isn’t lush grass tickling along the banks of the Canal or bright bouquets of flowers filling every market stall, but the piles of white asparagus cropping up on grocery store shelves around the country. Spargelzeit is here.

I must admit, I’m not immune to the fever. Unlike the brisk, verdant crunch of green asparagus, white asparagus is surprisingly sweet and just this side of mellow – a perfect template for its traditional accompaniments of hollandaise or browned butter, salty prosciutto and creamy boiled new potatoes with parsley.

yeast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

pancetta and green onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

shaved asparagus peel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Last weekend, I took a stroll through our neighborhood Spargel Festival. It wasn’t much – just a few small stands set up around the fountain in the Rathaus Park. There were a few odd participants – a political cluster with competing parties and pamphlets, the boy scouts with their tipi set up on the lawn – but for the most part, it was full of typical German street festival fare: Thüringer Bratwurst and Knackerwurst, Flammkuchen (wood-fired flatbreads typically topped with crème fraîche, onions, and lardons), grilled pork steaks stuffed inside crusty bread rolls… and at the asparagus festival, of course, asparagus.

flour for pizza dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

salt (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pizza dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s something provincial about these neighborhood street fairs, even in a big city like Berlin. They’re different from the citywide festivals, like May 1st or the upcoming Carnival of Cultures, where there are rows upon rows of carts, stands, and foldable tables set up selling edibles of every kind on disposable plates. There might be a euro deposit on that caipirinha everyone seems to be carting around, but what’s one euro lost on a plastic cup when the crowd has carried you down the long, muggy line of revelry from one end to the other?

peeled white asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Spargel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At the Asparagus Festival, the asparagus tent served classically-prepared asparagus with accoutrements on real plates with real silverware. » Continue reading this post…