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…

The Turkey (a Thanksgiving Poem)

Turkey ready to roast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Slowly roasting in the oven
are the chestnuts for the stuffing
and the bread whose top is crusting,
while the pies that line the counter –
lemon, mince and plum and apple –
share a gleaming spot of sunlight
with a heaping of delightful
green beans, relish, candied yams;
stacked high ladles, pots, and pans
fill the sink to overflowing,
as the cooks keep stirring dishes
and dear uncle Albert minces
with the cold, hard slicing
of the knife, knife, knife.

Aunt Belinda in the kitchen
is in charge of all the mixing,
the potatoes and the gravy,
the green salad, peas, and pastry.
What’s leftover goes to Mother
with her pantry prowess bared.
She’s been up since seven thirty
basting thick the frozen turkey
while her darling husband relishes
the TV’s golden glow
and the giant bird is soaking
in the juices all its own.
Aunt Belinda shouting orders
fills the kitchen with her roar
while involuntary winces
lurk in mother’s charming smile.
Still dear Uncle Albert minces
with the cold, hard slicing
of the knife, knife, knife. » Continue reading this post…

Roasting Peacocks: Pumpkin-Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Fresh eggs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Yes, it’s true, my childhood self expected to be reprising Cats on Broadway long ago. And yes, another self believed I’d at least be poet laureate by now. And yes, there’s still a part of me that thinks, every time, that the pretty piece of coal-colored licorice is going to taste so good.

But anticipation is hardly a guarantee for what ends up happening.

On a bed of peacocks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Ground spices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Peacock decorations (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For instance, I’ve been thinking about making these cupcakes for weeks. I’ve been dreaming up the most festive, holiday-heralding recipe to showcase the fantastic vintage turkey toppers I found at a flea market during the summer. The summer! And I’ve been saving them for months to use right before Thanksgiving, my very favorite holiday.

This morning, I’d planned to start baking after a leisurely breakfast, and I was more excited than a kid on Christmas to pair each perfect cupcake with its own little turkey.

Sugar and butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Batter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Imagine my surprise when I opened the package and discovered that my turkeys were actually peacocks. Who’s ever heard of a Thanksgiving peacock? » Continue reading this post…

The Cure-All: Bourbon Hot Toddy

Bourbon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This post is going to turn out to be quite different than the one I was expecting to write. That’s because a friend stopped by this afternoon, and while I fed him toddy, he fed me stories of New York.

Lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We’d spent some time discussing the city before he left Berlin for a furlough there. It couldn’t have been so long ago, just under a year, perhaps, when we were chatting in a wintry Berlin about New York, the city of my dreams, so vibrant and gritty and full of life. I recalled, with vivid detail, my morning walk down Starr St., the gum-pocked sidewalk, the stooped apartments and fenced-in trash yards of Bushwick, the cluster of cat-calling mechanics, the descent down the subway stairs. I could still taste warm sesame bagels piled up with cream cheese, paired with a cup of coffee. Or freshly pressed tortillas, loaded with marinated grilled meats, hot sauces and lime, all washed down with sugary-sweet Jarritos in the dim neon of the tortilleria. I remembered the panicked press of Broadway giving way to secret side streets in NoLita, my Brooklyn grocery stores, bins piled high with packages of baccalau.

ginger (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Bourbon for the cold (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Yet that New York is no longer mine, and when I think about the city now, I see it in postcard stills, cool, matte hues like snapshots from someone else’s life.

It’s a homeless sort of feeling, not to feel New York in my bones anymore. » Continue reading this post…

All Hail Halloween

Under the mask (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’ve never really gotten into Halloween. The last year I ever went trick-or-treating, I felt anxiety-ridden about being too old to go. What if I saw my friends from school handing out candy instead of walking around in costume? The shame! But my younger brothers were so excited, and my mom kept telling me to go just one more year… So I stuck some blankets under a big t-shirt and called myself The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. As if with a half-assed costume, I could blame being out trick-or-treating on “my mom made me do it.”

Anyway, my sweet tooth has never been particularly developed.

Halloween buffet (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lavender-tarragon cocktails (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I enjoyed Halloween more as I got older and cared less what people thought. Maybe a little part of that was also that I found the costume of my dreams, a little dinosaur suit made for a four-year-old that I snipped up and wore as a t-shirt for the next five Halloweens in a row. Or that my friends were really into themed parties, and enthusiasm is infectious. And in New York – well, no one cares what you look like on any given day. Halloween was just a little – extra.

But this Halloween, I think I really got it the moment my boss threw a handful of dry ice (safety precautions be damned) into the punch bowl and the sangria started wafting smoke like a witch’s cauldron. I’m into that.

Wine bottles (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Which wolf? (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At work, our extra-curricular conversations the last few weeks have been revolving around few themes: Halloween, Once Upon a Time (yes, that cringe-worthy ABC family drama), protein-shakes, and which Tatiana Maslany is the best clone.

There are three of us in the office, and we’re all holiday-minded people. Though Halloween has never been high up on my list (Thanksgiving taking the place of honor there), my two compatriots feel strongly about things like costumes and candy corn. » Continue reading this post…

Fall Pleasures: Savory Fig and Rosemary Galette

Savory fig galette (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

On my way home from work, I pass by a little shop, a grocery where they sell fresh fruits and vegetables from a farm in Werder. The produce is seasonal, and there’s no telling what they’ll have from one day to the next. They’re always friendly, throwing in extra tomatoes when the batch is about to bruise or adding a lonely apple to your order of plums. The fruit is weighed and wrapped up in brown paper bags, and the price rounded down with a wink. It’s all very quaint, somehow, and odd in today’s Berlin landscape where the grocery store is efficiently impersonal and the weekend markets are luxuriously hip.

This ugly, un-hip nook nestled on one of Berlin’s less remarkable streets feels like a remnant of another time, when you knew your neighborhood grocers and special requests were run of the mill. It feels like an impossible venture.

Figs in a paper bag (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A few nights ago, on our way home from work, Ellen and I picked up pumpkins we’d special-ordered. We’ve gone into a bit of a Halloween craze at work, planning a costume party, figuring out where to buy candy corn, ordering dry ice for spooky cocktails… and buying all the pumpkins, of course, to carve, cook, eat, and decorate. And while our office has been pleasantly orange-hued for some time, we hadn’t had a chance to take the Halloween home.

Hollowed pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pumpkin flesh (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As we waited for the grocer to get our pumpkins from the back of the shop, I noticed a box of figs, plump and just soft, skin purplish-black and velvety. He sold them to me for a song.

Fresh figs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Cutting figs for a galette (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A halved fig (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Tell me a better way to spend your Saturday afternoon than sitting in the kitchen carving a pumpkin, drinking chilled prosecco, and baking a fig galette, and I will pack up my bags and move to Antarctica to eat only the slowly melting polar ice caps. » Continue reading this post…

Back-to-School Weather: Roasted Quince and Pumpkin Soup

Roasted quince and pumpkin soup (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fall weather motivates me like nothing else can. When everyone else is complaining about how gray and mucky it is outside, how depressing the drizzle, how dour the cold, I’m making plans.

I’ve never put much stock in New Year’s resolutions – I seem to make all mine in the fall. Fall feels like the start of something new. Everything about it is crisp – the scent of dried-out leaves, their crackle under your brand-new boots, the brisk wind brushing your cheek.

Maybe fall feels so fresh to me because I associate it with the start of school, a time I always loved and which is full of new things. New classes, new wardrobes, new shrink-wrapped blocks of college-ruled paper. Everything is so full of potential.

Roasting pumpkin and quince (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For me, fall couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I’ve just spent three weeks traveling, being a total lazy bum on vacation, letting other people cook for me and ignoring the steadily growing pile of emails in all of my inboxes. (Why do we all have so many email accounts?)

Now that I’m back in Berlin, fall has shocked me into motivation. While it’s a little melancholy to think that there are no more hazy summer afternoons on picnic blankets to tempt me away from my work, it’s invigorating to wrap up in blankets at the desk (um, the heater’s not so great) and feel a surge of focused, creative energy that comes along with the cold.

Fall is also the season where I’m most motivated to cook and create new dishes. I love pumpkins and dark leafy greens, slow-simmered sauces and jeweled pomegranate berries. I love rich sweet potatoes and freshly plucked apples from a gnarled tree, earthy mushrooms and tart quince.

Quince (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Quince slices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Quince is a new addition to my fall repertoire. It’s hard to find in the States, and most people wouldn’t know what to do with one if it hit them in the head. » Continue reading this post…