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…

Bite the Piranha, Eat the Amazon

Green parrot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s a time and a place to drink gallingly black instant coffee from a plastic cup, and it’s here and now, at the Marasha Reserve, sitting on a wooden dock and looking out across the lake. The sun is just glimpsing over the tops of the tall, green trees, the breeze is still cool and causing the water to ripple like the skin of an octogenarian’s hand. Sharp, squawking parrots cut the morning’s silence, while fat red birds with pompous blue crests on their heads warble from branch to branch.

Carlos, our guide, has just speared a fish, and he holds it out for us to see. The prongs slit cleanly through its silvery side, and its useless, flapping gills are panting. Inside is ruffling the most gorgeous red. Soon, it will be deep fried and eaten for breakfast with crisp arepas, scrambled eggs and milky hot chocolate.

Anchors away! (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

No smoking in the boat (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Life jackets (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For weeks before my trip, people had been telling me how dangerous the Amazon was, and I’d been properly worried. There’d be mosquitoes carrying yellow fever and dengue, malarial and parasitic water, deadly frogs and spiders, poisonous trees and fruits, snakes that swallow you whole and alligators prepped to pounce.

Parrots (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A walkway in the Amazon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fried pirarucu with platanos, beans and rice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But the longer we spent in the Amazon, the less likely it seemed to kill me. In Leticia, Colombia’s main outpost before the wild, the city droned with beat-up motorcycles, a soothing hum in the relaxed, tropical atmosphere. The pastel streets were full of open storefronts selling neon plastic junk, beachwear, and souvenirs, and men and women manning little metal carts with kebabs and hot dogs, sweet fresh juices and fried empanadas for sale. Stray dogs lounged on every corner, and though they were mangy and beat-up-looking, they didn’t give a second glace as you stepped over or around them.

Stray dogs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Drying laundry (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As in much of Colombia, the restaurants all offered a daily plate lunch: Fried fish or grilled meat served with platanos, rice, beans, and yucca, and always accompanied by freshly pressed natural juice and a soup made with yesterday’s leftovers. » Continue reading this post…

Living Well(er): Bircher Müsli

Bircher Müsli (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m trying to be a better person. You know, helping little old ladies cross the street, paying my taxes on time, eating my Wheaties.

But at most turns, I find my ambitions thwarted. The little old ladies would sooner crush my toes with their orthopedic shoes than let me within arm’s reach of their white pearled handbags. I’ve taken so long to file my US taxes, I think I’m going to have to start sending fruit baskets. And I’m not really sure what a Wheatie is, much less where to find one in Germany.

So I’ve taken to tackling the littler things. Sending birthday cards to friends, remembering to call the bank and tell them I’m going on vacation, watering the plants on a semi-regular basis, and making my breakfasts better (Wheaties or no).

Oats in a beer stein (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Apple peel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I hadn’t ever cared much about breakfast before I moved to Berlin. I’d eat in front of my computer while reading emails or browsing the interwebs. My two-week rotation skipped from brown-sugar and cinnamon Pop-Tarts to toast with butter and honey to oatmeal, with random extras thrown into the mix every now and again: an egg-in-toast, cold pizza, last night’s take out, some of my roommate’s cereal (shhhhhhhh…).

But suddenly, upon moving to Berlin, I took my time with breakfast. I woke up earlier so I could sit and eat in leisure, reading a magazine, lolling over coffee. I’d spread the table with freshly sliced bread, different types of cheeses, hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, tomatoes, salamis, Nutella, honey, jams, and caviar crème – for just me! Every day! » Continue reading this post…

Some Kind of Beachside Romance: Colombian Shrimp Ceviche

Colombian ceviche (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In Colombia, David says, ceviche is an aphrodisiac. On the beaches of Santa Marta, dark, lanky young men walk up and down the shore bent over from the weight of Styrofoam coolers. Big straw hats protect them from the sun, which is powerful, especially around noon in this tropical city. They walk from beachside group to beachside group, offering to prepare ceviche for you towel-side. They flip open the lids of their coolers to scoop little pink shrimp into a paper cup. With quick-fire flips, they douse it with squirts of lime, garlic water, ketchup and mayonnaise, serving you the whole mess with a packet of Saltines.

Red onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Shrimp (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Chopped onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

They walk up and down the beach all day, opening and closing their coolers, scooping shrimp and squirting ketchup, while the hot sun just gets hotter. David wouldn’t let me try any of the beachside ceviche. Because in Colombia, ceviche also gives you food poisoning. Some aphrodisiac.

Camarones (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Ceviche with shrimp (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Colombian ceviche (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Limes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I had to wait another year and a half to try Colombian ceviche, when David offered to prepare it as an add-on to the Chopped competition turned epic feast we held during family vacation. » Continue reading this post…