Contingency Plan: Plum & Walnut Jam

Plum and walnut jam (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The world doesn’t always revolve the way you want it to. Take today, for instance. I woke up feeling disgruntled: My alarm wasn’t set to ring for another 45 minutes, but the pillow felt lumpy beneath my neck, the temperature was too hot under the covers and too cold on top of them, and the first rumbles of construction work were already drifting through the open window. So I got up and shuffled to the bathroom to get the whole waking up thing over with.

Breakfast was uneventful. I didn’t throw oats across the kitchen floor or slip on a puddle of milk, and so I hoped that maybe it was a foolish premonition, that the day would be fine, that I’d pep up.

But one by one, little things kept going wrong. The sun came out just as I was taking advantage of the overcast sky to start a photo shoot, I discovered SAND was dangerously behind schedule for its upcoming issue, plans I’d made had to be rearranged and then arranged back. And to top it all off, I was tired. Just glumly, eye-rubbingly tired.

glass jars (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
When life hands you lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have a plan in place for grumbly days. It’s: take a nap and start again. It’s like getting all your lives back after the Game Over screen has finished flashing. Like waking up with a new face after plastic surgery. Except without all the messy bandages and bruising.

It also involves a cup of coffee after the nap. Clearly.

Lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Picked and pitted plums (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Last night after work, my boss and I biked to his city garden plot and picked plums from his tree. The branches were weeping with fruit, and when he shook them, it rained pretty purple plums. They nestled in the grass like Easter Eggs the bunny hadn’t bothered to hide. We left the garden with two hulking garbage bags of plums each, and I spent the evening watching all three endings to the 1985 classic Clue and cleaning plums. » Continue reading this post…

Norwegian Wood… and Waffles

Lysefjord, Norway (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

People who worry should not eat wild berries in the woods. Even if those woods are in Norway and the little fruits looks like blueberries and taste like a blueberries, they may not be blueberries. There’s a certain euphoria that comes from hiking down a mountain after you’ve just stood on the precipice of a very big cliff towering over a fjord that slices between the mountains like a blue seam. It makes you braver, maybe, than you should be.

I’d been scanning the undergrowth for blueberry bushes. The last time I was in Norway, I told Elli, as we clambered down the rough stone trail from the top of the Preikestolen, I remembered picking tiny wild blueberries and greedily stripping the bushes bare as I ate them one by one. The surviving berries were baked into pies we ate for dessert in the little wooden house perched on the edge of a cliff, a gem-green fjord flowing down below.

Yellow flowers on a stormy day (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I found three tenacious berries peeking out beneath the green, I snapped them up and popped them in my mouth. It wasn’t until a few paces later that I wondered whether what I’d eaten really was a blueberry. Maybe it was a poisonous berry, and I’d just committed unintentional suicide on a Norwegian mountain trail, far from hospital or help. My stomach began to feel queasy. I felt dizzy, weak. It was a blueberry, Elli said. Tell me when 15 minutes are up, I said. If I’m not dead by then, I think I’ll continue living.

Purple flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Sverd i fjell (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Rock by the sea (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Burst of white flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We’d flown in to Stavanger the night before, and spent the evening wandering around the little city, marveling at its emptiness. For a Friday night, the streets were dead. We peered into dark shops, our footsteps the only ones echoing over the clean cobbled stones. » Continue reading this post…

Campfires & Cakes

Emma's Linzertorte (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It begins and ends with fire. In the middle, is cake.

On the day we arrive in Burladingen, we don’t waste much time in loading up the cars with boxes of sausages and driving up the narrow, winding road into the mountains. The landscape is brilliantly green, like a patchwork of multi-hued golf courses, speckled with tall, dark pines. Everywhere in the not-so-far distance is the upward slope of a gentle mountain thick with cover.

Here on the Swabian Jura, summer is a cool afterthought. Today the sun is shining, albeit meekly, meagerly, and I am dressed in all three sweaters I thought to pack. On the Eichland, the land of oaks, the grass is littered with pinecones and dead needles. The sun glimmers out beyond the copse. Where we are is shaded, and a naughty breeze nips the trees.

We quickly light a fire by throwing brush into the ring of stones, then adding sticks and larger logs. At nearly 85, my grandfather still fells trees up here on his two forest plots, and what we burn is the scrap from the wood he uses to fire the furnace in his valley home.

Kebabs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A grilled Bratwurst (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Soon, a blaze licks back against the breeze, and we creep our camp chairs closer to the flame. It’s quiet on the Eichland today; we’re a small group. Michael has taken over the task of burning woodsy brush on the fire. Livi has gravitated toward the push lawnmower, as every child who’s ever been to the Eichland is wont to do. She whirrs it industriously across the grass.

For dinner, we throw kebabs on hot coals and roast sausages on sticks over the open flame. There are potatoes with skin crisped black and dense slices of bread. It’s a simple meal: Meat. But our bellies are full as the dusk settles into night and we pack up and drive home. » Continue reading this post…

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…