Fingers Crossed: Candied Lemon Cake

Candied Lemon Cake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Today is the day. Election day. I am too terrified to look and yet I can’t look away.

Elections have always been bitter things. Nasty words are said. Lines drawn. But this election cycle more than any other, I feel like a tiny car stuck between two trucks in bumper-to-bumper traffic. We’re in what feels like a country-wide gridlock that won’t loosen up even after all of today’s votes are tallied.

Both sides stand on their soap boxes, shouting past each other, words ricocheting like rubber balls in a glass squash court. But neither side takes a moment to listen – because the other is already wrong on principle. What is there to debate when we know all the answers already?

Lemon slices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We live in an age where we can tailor our news to fit our views. We can hand-pick our propaganda, read articles that support our opinion, watch only our favorite news channels, listen to reinforcing podcasts. And Facebook fools us into believing the whole world thinks like we do – a “customized” news feed sweeps us up in information our like-minded friends share – and anything that doesn’t fit the mold, well, there are always a few bad eggs in the bunch.

So we isolate ourselves behind party lines. We hear only the “truths” we want. And truth itself has become a nebulous phrase. Though facts are now easier to check than ever, we seem to care less and less about them. The other day I was listening to a podcast discussing this discarding of fact. When Rush Limbaugh says, “This fact-check technique is the latest,” it ties my stomach up in knots. Shouldn’t this be concerning for both liberals and conservatives alike? Because if you can’t check the facts, what’s left?

Not that rewriting history is anything new. We’ve done it before. » Continue reading this post…

I Carved a Pumpkin, Now What?: Pork & Pumpkin Stew

Pork and Pumpkin Stew (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The costumes are balled up in a corner of the bathroom, glitter-streaked and covered in strange makeup stains. Ghostly white, witchy green, blood red. The cardboard props are soaking up rain outside with tomorrow’s garbage – duct tape-wrapped robots, giant popcorn boxes, and transformer parts melt wetly into the asphalt. A cold wind whisks up discarded candy wrappers like brightly-colored leaves. Scraps of decorations – streamers fluttering from trees, plastic gravestones, milky cobwebs – look lonely in the morning light, and the sorry Jack-o’-lantern’s teeth are caving in, making that fiercely-grinning grimace look like an old man’s dentureless mouth.

Halloween is over, and all we have to show for it is some wax-paint grit beneath our fingernails, a leftover bag of Dum Dums to sneak into after lunch, and a giant bowl of shavings scraped out from the inside of a glowing orange window warmer.

Pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Roasted pumpkin seeds with Old Bay (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Pumpkin seeds (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Decapitating the pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Like many others, I too spent the Saturday before Halloween up to the elbow in the bowels of a pumpkin. It takes a surprising lot out of you, that constant scraping, hollowing a gourd until its skin is thin enough to carve. And the mountain of flesh keeps growing – amazing how much meat emerges from something whose insides are mostly made of stringy webbing and seeds.

Shaved pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pumpkin seeds ready for roasting (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Halloween has never really been my holiday. Even as a kid, my sweet tooth was somewhat underdeveloped, and I’d stash my bag of trick-or-treat candy behind a pink velvet chair in the back corner of my room so my brothers couldn’t get at it. It’s not that I wanted to eat it all myself – it’s just that I didn’t want them to. I’d ration my way through the good ones – Snickers first, then Twix and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Butterfinger. And then I’d start on the second-tier treats: Twizzlers, PayDay, Baby Ruth, Milky Way, Almond Joy, Mounds, Nerds. » Continue reading this post…

Eternal Musings on Weather: Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter

Sweet potato gnocchi (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I first stepped outside this morning on my way to the gym, I said, “Wow. What a beautiful day.” And then I paused. There was no sunshine, and a heavy, gray mist was starting to roll in from the south. The air smelled threateningly of rain and a brisk wind rustled right through my thick fleece jacket. And yet, comparatively, it was a beautiful day. The wind wasn’t bone-chilling, the mist had a lightness, an almost sepia-colored tone to it you might mistake for daylight. In this city, there have been three sun sightings in the last month, and the fall weather I love so much was a tease, a dream dangled before my eyes and whisked away faster than the leaves had time to drop.

Roast sweet potatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Growing up, some of my favorite movies were the BBC film versions of the Chronicles of Narnia. There’s a scene in The Silver Chair, where the witch, all snakey and draped in green, casts her magic spell upon the children, Prince Rillian, and Puddleglum the grumpy Marshwiggle. “There is no sun. There never was a sun,” she hisses as the candlelit orb casts shadows in the underground chamber. These days, I often feel like I’m trapped in her world, her scintillating syntax in my ear, “There is no sun. There never was a sun.” And I believe it.

It’s amazing what you’ll get used to, what baseline you’ll use to define new norms. Good weather is a gentle drizzle. Bad weather is a noon downpour where the sky is the color of a Secret Service entourage and the wind as unflinching.

Sweet potato mash (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Making sweet potato gnocchi (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I know. It’s so incredibly boring to talk about the weather all the time. I feel that I’ve turned into an aged alter ego of myself whose conversations all start out the same way. » Continue reading this post…

When Life Hands you Zucchini, Make: Zucchini Bread

Zucchini bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Autumn is to fall as aubergine is to eggplant. One pair of words shares the sensual, multi-syllabic softness of that open “ah” that gently rounds into a hum. The other is flat and thudding, like a Dufflepud bouncing his single foot again and again into the sand. Autumn/aubergine is cashmere sweaters in jewel-toned hues, pumpkin soup with crème fraîche in your grandmother’s antique china, and a watercolor of dusky-colored leaves. Fall/eggplant is leggings stitched with candy corn, hayrides with hot apple cider waiting at the end, and hand-turkeys drawn in crayon.

Both have their merits, but one is just so much sexier than the other.

Pile of zucchini (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Zucchini bread batter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Shredded zucchini for zucchini bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Be that as it may, I’ve always been a fan of fall. It feels right somehow. This is the season where things “fall” into place: Growing up, that meant the school year began with new books and clothes and a trapper keeper full of blue-lined loose leaf. The temperatures “fall” – cooler weather brings boots and scarves and pleasantly clear heads. And in this season more than any other, when you’re biking down the street, there’s an awful lot of stuff that “falls” into your eyes, leaf and tree bits leaving their trunks and whisking from the wind like magnets to your corneas.

The work space (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But this year, fall is also feeling very personal. If you read about my plane ticket disaster, you know that I’ve temporarily “fallen” on hard times – luckily, I’ve also discovered the “windfall” that is buying fruits and vegetables from the Turkish market just before it’s about to close. Last Saturday, my brother and I split a case of about fifty sweet potatoes, a case of tomatoes, three heads of broccoli, and two giant heads of lettuce for six euros – total.

A few days before, Ben had shown up at the apartment with an armload of of zucchini from his market buy the week before. » Continue reading this post…

An Idiot’s Guide to Missing a Flight: Favosalata

Favosalata (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s a feeling on late summer evenings where the air is like silk or a warm, salty pool of water, and you can’t tell where your skin ends and everything else begins. It’s especially lovely slicing through the city on my little red Hercules bike, the whipping wind more like a caress against bare skin. It’s the feeling of absolute freedom, a briefly endless moment where nothing matters but sensation.

I’d give anything for that feeling now. But I’m in an airplane, just jutting over a cusp of land and leaving Germany behind. The air has that strange quality of being both clammy and dry, singing my nose as I breathe it in. But it’s more than the air, it’s how I feel – shoulders tensed, brain a whirl of jostling pulses. I’m not sure which hysteria to tip into – should I cry or laugh – at the absurdity of the situation I find myself in.

For the first time, I’ve missed a flight. An international one, no less. But what a surreal experience, without frantic or rush – until the fateful moment when my brain clicked and realized what it had done.

Wine, garlic, and yellow split peas (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Spilled split peas (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As a meticulous planner, I checked my ticket – multiple times – checked my passport, checked my route to the airport. I wrote out a list: when to set my alarm, when to to leave the apartment, when I’d arrive at the airport. And yet, while my brain registered that my flight took off at 7 a.m., my brain also registered that I had to be at the airport at 7 a.m. Clearly, two completely contradictory pieces of information – that my brain held in tandem, without realizing how impossible it was.

So I missed my flight and am on a new flight trying to start my now significantly more expensive trip. » Continue reading this post…

On Home and Other Gifts: A Visit to the Mercouri Estate

Mercouri Estate, Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Mainland Greece is dusty, like a sucked out sponge bristled with underbrush and spindly trees. There’s the whirr of cicadas screeching a constant soundtrack and the hot sun that broils the land and people on it with impunity. Olive groves shudder up from their sun-soaked torpor with the shake of an invisible breeze. Their silvery leaves are thick and strong, like hammered metal sheened in blowsy earth. Grape vines slither up stalks, their leaves looking wilted in this heat – but the clusters of grapes are crowded and plump like overperfect plastic fruit.

We are boat people, spilling out the mouths of our luxury cruise liners and crowding the tiny port towns for mere hours. We breeze along the rows of shops, buying linens and gold jewelry to take home as proof of our having been away. When you’re a boat person, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be on the other side. All you know is the heat and press of people, the frantic crush to buy a few souvenirs and snap pictures of the shattered vases in the local archaeology museum. But I remember what it was like to be in Stavanger, Norway when the boat people came. All week, the town felt sleepy and small, lethargic with its slowly chugging ferries and stone-paved streets arbored with flowers. One morning, there they were, Germans mostly, flocked into the little shops and even smaller streets. It felt like another city, a many-headed hydra roused and ready to devour you in any of its maws.

Sneaking cat (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Grecian grapes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Olive tree in Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Mercouri family house, Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here in Greece, we don’t know any better, so we just do the best we can. We try not to shove and we wait our turn in line to photograph the shards of vases and buy our linens and shrink-wrapped bags of olives and souvlaki spice. » Continue reading this post…

One Night in Venice

Sunset in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Venice is a sinking city. Its buildings slowly groan into the ground some one to two millimeters per year, the dark water lapping up lower staircases and sidewalks, consuming the city from the bottom up. “How many basements have water in them?” we ask our gondolier. “All of them,” he replies.

But Venice is also a city which begs you to sink into imagination. It’s not hard to picture it the way it was hundreds of years ago, full of merchants and nobles, beggars and peasants, reeking of silky sewage and stink. You can imagine the jostling crowds rummaging for room on the narrow paths, ducking beneath an archway where a dreamy girl looks out for her Casanova – or, more likely, chucks dishwater onto the street below.

Blue doorway in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Venetian canal (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Doorbells in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Doorbells, detail (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The city was once a world power – a hub of commerce and conquerors. It was the birthplace of many great minds and, through the years, a rite of passage for many others: Goethe, Mozart, Vivaldi, Marco Polo, and Thomas Mann all lived and worked within whispering distance of the dark green waterways.

Today, it seems to be a rite of passage only for the tourists, brandishing selfie sticks and Bermuda shorts and shopping bags full of leather-bound journals, carnival masks, and everything made of Murano glass. There are 60,000 people living in the historic city of Venice, but some 50,000 tourists thronging there per day. Walking along the winding streets, there are so many glossy glass windows filled to the brim with Murano glass, it makes you start to feel that you should decorate your whole house with it.

Pizza shop in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
House in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
View from a gondola (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Gondola ride in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Even the famous gondolas are now reserved for strictly charged and strictly timed pleasure rides. And the gondoliers no longer sing, though they still wear striped shirts and pole those long, flat-bottomed boats through the shallow canals like slithering eels. » Continue reading this post…

Market Day: Roasted Beet Salad with Gorgonzola and Balsamic

Roasted beet salad with beet greens (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The Winterfeldt Market is a circus of color and noise. On Saturday mornings, it’s filled with people shopping for fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and baked goods of every hue. There are buckets of olives and pastes made with roasted eggplant, arugula, paprika, garlic, or chives. There are barrels of blooming flowers bursting with pops of purple, yellow, and pink. Trucks sell swirls of fresh pasta and raviolis alongside plastic tubs of pesto and long glasses of olive oil. One stand sells grilled fish, skin charred over an open flame – another sells raclette, silky with pungent cheese and brightened with fresh parsley and red chili flakes.

The market is walking distance from my apartment, at the end of a route that feels accustomed to my feet. Wherever I live, I find myself tracing familiar routes for as long as I can, before my destination chooses my route for me. If I were a river, I’d carve canyons along these trusted paths. Fanning like a star from my apartment, there’s the road that leads to the train station and the road to the park where I do my morning run, scattering rabbits breeding like clichés. The road that leads to work snakes through back alleys, through a school playground where I have to dismount my bike and walk between the shouting, shifting kids, up and around a grungy park, over a stretch of cobbled street and unpaved road that spills out onto the main thoroughfare. And then there’s the road that leads everywhere else: Out the door, a right, a right, and a left to Hauptstraße – Main Street.

Market day snack (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Greens and raw garlic (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I pass the Baptist bookstore on the corner where they sometimes put out piles of free books. Dan Browns and romance novels, 90s teen fiction with faded purple covers and curly script. There’s a second-hand shop around the next corner, and I always glance in the big glass windows. » Continue reading this post…