A Colombian Lunch in Two Parts

Mazorca in Colombia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Part I

When we pulled into the parking lot, the place was already swarming. It was a Sunday, and it seemed as if half the city had flocked to the northern outskirts to eat themselves into a gut-busting stupor. We wound through the open-air building, packed with rickety wooden tables and plastic chairs, all full of families grabbing food off large silver trays piled with glistening cuts of meat and puffed up whorls of chicharrón, potatoes and flat white mounds of yuca. A happy clamor drifted across the simple concrete floor and low walls, mingling with the smoky scent of barbequing beef.

Once we’d snagged a table nestled in the very back of the long hall, we divided – half our group to hold our spot, the other to order food and wrestle the trays through the crowd. The wait seemed everlasting. It was already edging past 3 p.m., and my stomach was growling, the morning’s arepa and scrambled eggs feeling frighteningly distant. I worried the salt shaker between my fingers, wondering if a few grains might sharpen or dull the pangs, when David’s dad swooped to the table bearing a basket of grilled corn on the cob, thick yellow pearls scrubbed with black char, butter, and salt. Mazorca. The kernels were sweet and slightly powdery, almost popcorn-like. He also set down a pitcher of refajo, a mix of pale Aguila beer with sweet Colombiana soda, and we poured a round into our small plastic cups.

Colombian picada (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Arepas de choclo (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And then, like an answered prayer, the food was there. Soup, slightly thickened and a little bitter with herbs, with tender strands of chicken and a few vegetables – just enough to whet your appetite for the giant tray heaped with fist-sized cuts of beef, charred from an open flame and dripping with juices. » Continue reading this post…

How to Take Yourself on a Date

The Danube in Belgrade (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

1. Be surprised. Ideally, you’ll wake up one morning to an innocuous-looking email from Air Serbia informing you that your itinerary has been changed. You will skim it, expecting to see a flight number switched or a terminal swapped out. And instead, you will realize that your flight has been cancelled, and that your new flight leaves a whole day later than the flight you were supposed to take. And even though you will call Air Serbia and mention the unacceptability of the entire situation, you will hear their shoulders shrug on the other end of the shabby connection as they tell you there’s really nothing they can do, and you will say, “Well, I guess I’m going to Belgrade.”

2. Leave no stone unturned. Insist on being put up in a nice hotel that’s walking distance from the city and has a complimentary airport shuttle. And when you get to the hotel, open all the tiny bottles on the bathroom counter – the shampoo and conditioner, the body wash and lotion, the shower cap and lavender-scented pillow spray – and claim them as yours, as payment for accrued inconveniences.

3. Be brave. Don’t linger over the soaps. Leave. Sling your backpack over your shoulder and grab a map (yes, a paper map because chances are very good that your phone will be about to die) from the front desk along with verbal directions into the city. Listen and nod and understand the uselessness of this endeavor because you are already well-acquainted with your inability to hold more than two directional instructions in your head at one time.

Step through the revolving doors. You are responsible for you and only you. What is it that brings you joy? To pause on a bridge over the Danube, feeling the tenderness of the setting sun on your skin, the cool breeze of early spring with its promise of softer days? » Continue reading this post…

Reward

A street in Jerusalem (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I realized with some chagrin that I had forgotten to pack sunscreen, as we marched along a long, hot Israeli highway, our feet seeming to sink slightly into the melting asphalt as cars charged past. I held David’s windbreaker like a tarp above my head, hoping this half-hearted tenting would spare my milky Berlin winter skin the raw, red slap of a burn. I tried to remember which suffering Biblical figure it was who had been stuck wandering in the Galilean wilderness, because I now understood the tribulation conjured by the phrase – though then there was surely less traffic and more scrubby date palms to rest beneath.

I was the one who had so desperately wanted to see the Sea of Galilee, to give the stories I’d grown up hearing sustenance. David wanted to go camping. So we decided to camp at the Jordan River Park, just north of the Sea of Galilee. But now it seemed it might have been too ambitious to combine a camping trip and a brush with ancient civilization. Because no matter how far we wandered, big backpack roped up with a tent and stuffed with sleeping bags and food, we never got closer to the lake. It started to feel almost mythical. A mirage we’d never reach.

David and the dusty road (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We’d arrived at Jordan River Park just as the midday sun was swinging its last long punches. The bus had belched us out on a dusty, desolate stretch of highway, no sign of life except for the lone bus station and miles of long road reaching out. No one else got off the bus, and for a moment, I thought the driver might playing a trick on us as he sped off and left us alone on the road. But David’s phone said the park was straight ahead, and so we set off at a good pace, feeling optimistic. » Continue reading this post…

Going German: Eierkuchen with Speck

Eierkuchen recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I realized recently with some surprise that I’ve been living in Germany for nearly six years. The time has manifested itself in subtle ways. I’ve gotten accustomed to long meals with infrequent attention from waitstaff, come to enjoy waiting for the light to turn green before crossing the street. I’ve gotten less good at small talk, more good at getting to the point (but clearly, not better at speaking English…). I’ve gotten used to just buying food for one meal at a time, since my fridge is too small to support much more than that. And I’ve gotten very good at packing up my groceries in record speed as the cashier’s speedy swiping slings them precipitously towards the counter’s edge.

My speaking skills certainly haven’t escaped unscathed. I find myself forgetting words, or grabbing for something in German that feels so much more specific. Like the other night, when I was telling a story about the sink my neighbors were throwing out, and I couldn’t just call it a “sink,” because it was more than a “sink” or even a “kitchen sink.” It was the kitchen sink with all its accoutrements and pipes and cabinet system – a Spüle in German. So many words in English. In German, just the one.

I’ve also gotten into the habit of ending my sentences with “or?” – a direct translation of the German “oder?,” which functions like “you know?” or “right?” but is certainly not something we say. And yet, it has ceased to sound odd to me.

Eierkuchen recipe in English (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Eierkuchen pancakes in a stack (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

German has a reputation for being an ugly, angry-sounding language. And it’s not entirely inaccurate. There was that meme that went around some time ago with words in different languages… butterflypapillonmariposaSchmetterling. But some German words are better than their English counterparts. » Continue reading this post…

Many Movies Means More Movie Snacks: Nori & Sesame Buttered Popcorn

Popcorn snack for the movies (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

How can I describe the way it feels when this movie marathon comes to an end, the way my fingers linger over the last ritual unpacking of the bag, the flinging of ticket stubs and loose papers onto the desk. The slow, deep gulps of water salving a week’s worth of harried dehydration, and how I sink down onto the couch to tally up the week’s report of good, bad, and indifferent.

It’s especially as the Berlinale whirls to its inevitable conclusion that I feel that I myself am in a film. I see with a cinematic eye. Even now, as I hunch over my desk to quickly jot this paragraph down, I see how the camera pans in on my fingers, the gentle, white glow of the laptop screen in the dark, the soft tap-tap-tap of my pointer finger on the keys as I think of what to write next. I bite my lip self-consciously to show the audience that I am thinking. The camera picks up the sound of the children in the adjacent apartment, laughing, and the clink of dinner dishes. The scene is set.

Nori Popcorn (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Popcorn for the Berlinale (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The feeling is especially strong as I walk from place to place, which, in the past week and a half, has meant: from theater to theater. Then, my mind’s-eye-camera zooms out across Berlin’s blocky, boxy rows of apartment buildings, streets lined with naked trees rattling twiggy fingers in the wind. I hear the click of my boots on the concrete, catch the flick of my eyes upwards as I wait for the traffic signal to change. I reach into my bag and pull out my wallet, slipping the fat wad of tickets between my fingers to check where I’m going next and what time I need to be there. When you’re watching up to five films a day, it’s easy to lose track. » Continue reading this post…

Lunch Club: Mango Red Curry with Tofu and Squash

Squash and mango curry (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The first rule of Lunch Club is: You don’t talk about Lunch Club. The second rule of Lunch Club is: Ignore the first rule and tell everyone you know about how great Lunch Club is because it’s really pretty awesome.

Lunch Club is what we’ve come to call lunch hour at the subtitling and translation company where I spend three days per week slinging snappy two-liners up on a screen. Everyone at the office is responsible for cooking lunch for the rest of the office once a week. It’s a tradition started long ago when there were only two of us, and has continued to this day, when sometimes, there are four or five of us busily typing away as we slurp up cup after cup of French press.

Tableaux with black futsu pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Red onions (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Black Futsu pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We each have our gold standards – meals we like to keep on regular rotation and meals that continually get requests. One of my favorites is a Syrian fattoush – a softly warm salad of roasted eggplant, parsley, pomegranate, garlic, and cherry tomatoes served with buttery toasted pita chips. But when winter hits, Shaun puts in his request for hearty bowls of gumbo with chicken, shrimp, and okra I have to scrounge out of the deep-freeze bin at the Asian grocery store. Germany is not an okra-eating nation.

Won-ton soup is another of our favorites, a dish whose parts we often divvy up. Shaun makes the broth, clear and flavorful and dotted with mushrooms, julienned carrots, and baby bok choy. I make the won-tons stuffed with pork and scallions, and seasoned with dark soy sauce and brown sugar.

Quartered red onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Black futsu pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At one point during a summer in which we were obsessed with low-carb lunches, we even invented oat-crust pizza. We ground oats into a fine flour, mixed it with a little water and salt, spread it out on a baking tray, and baked it into a crisp crust, then topped it with tomato sauce, cheese, arugula, bacon, and peppers. » Continue reading this post…

Like Eating Clouds: Hummus Tehina

Hummus tahina recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

All I can think about is the next time I will be in Tel Aviv, how I will walk along the hot stone streets where discount boutiques spill hangers of fur vests and dresses and leather onto the cracked asphalt, and how I will walk until my feet are sore and I can smell the salt in the air, the crackled breath of exhaling fish and sea scum, almost hear the bustle of the Port of Jaffa just around an invisible bend, and I will wait at the little window of the hummuseria, hands palming the worn counter, until a short, bald man pauses in between tying up plastic bags of hummus tubs and shouting orders and talking to a regular leaning in the doorway. I will order musabaha and take it down to the sunny bench in the roundabout, and as cars whisk past, unpack my plastic bag and lay its contents out like offerings on an altar: musabaha, green chilies in lemon juice and water, two warm, plush pitas scarred with char, raw white onion quartered and beading in the sun, a film of paper-thin skin clinging to its curve. And then I will eat. I will streak tears of pita through the silky mass of tahini, lemon, garlic, and chickpea, catching drops of golden olive oil and spice, flecks of flat-leaf parsley and paprika, and whole chickpeas. And then I will chase it all with a crunch of raw onion I know I will regret a few hours later, when my tongue is swollen and my mouth tight and stale.

But it won’t be in a few hours, it will be now, and I won’t care about consequences, just the gentle swipe of pita, the feel of satin in my mouth. Like eating clouds, said the friend of a friend who said Abu Hassan was the place to go. » Continue reading this post…

Year of the: Chengdu ZaJiang Noodles

Chengdu ZaJiang Noodles (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

While having lunch with a dear friend back home over the holidays, we were talking about New Year’s resolutions and life plans, dreams both big and small, when she told me about how she’d given 2015 a theme. It had been an excellent year, she said, the year of getting back to basics. Somehow, having that overarching theme had helped give structure to plans that may otherwise have felt scattered or piecemeal. It had been motivation and goal. So when 2016 rolled around, she figured the year didn’t need a theme – after 2015, things were already on the right track. And, well, we all know how 2016 turned out.

Now, I’m not saying my friend is to blame for all of 2016. But maybe if she’d just given the year a theme, it wouldn’t have been such a heroic mess. So to help salvage 2017, I’m doing my part to bring some focus to the year ahead.

Sichuan peppercorns (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Chilies in oil (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My theme for this year is balance. For me, what that mostly means is working less and living more. I have a tendency to feel like I’ll never get enough done, and so as soon as I wake up, I answer emails, tackle some items on the list. Then I go to work, I come home, I keep working, I binge a few episodes of TV, I sleep, I wake up, I do it again. Soon enough, even my social life starts to revolve around meetings. It makes me a miser of my free time, which I hoard like a pot of precious jewels, and wonder why I end up feeling starved for human interaction.

Ingredients for making noodles (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This year, there will be a strict moratorium on work. My morning routine has become elaborate, expansive. I do yoga and go to the gym, I take my time getting ready and investing in throwing on more than leggings and a lumpy sweater. » Continue reading this post…