A Story about Not Making Lemonade: Lemon & Sesame Seed Cupcakes

Lemon-Sesame Cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Winter is officially here – at least that’s what the size of my jacket says. I can’t say that I’m terribly upset. Fall was luxuriously long – an anomaly in Berlin – and I made good use of the weather to go on walks and eat more ice cream. But it’s been a strange fall as well. I feel a little bit like I’m swimming underwater, like life is drifting by just somewhere over my left ear.

I haven’t been a particularly good friend; I’ve been flaky and unreliable. Work-wise, it’s been hard to focus; as evidenced by the two months that have gone by without a new post. My temper has been short, decisions seem more complex than they really are, and I feel self-conscious in social situations, cringing at every flat joke I make. I feel like I’m behind on everything, and putting out one fire only means the forest behind me is ablaze.

My therapist says: Why are you so afraid of disappointing people? And I think that includes myself.

Lemons on a countertop (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemon zest for cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Cutting the rinds off lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemons in a row (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Last night, talking to my dad on the phone, it struck me that though my overall feeling was one of being overwhelmed, of having too much to do and too little to show for it, the stories I most wanted to tell were of wonderful experiences or bits of good news. Like how I won’t need nose surgery after all, or of how the weekend’s project was to paint the walls in truly gorgeous geometric blues and grays. How mom and I had not long ago been to San Sebastian for a food vacation capped by a swooningly good meal at the three-Michelin-starred Martín Berasategui, or how Daniel and I had just jetted to Belgrade for a long weekend. Even little things – like how this new apartment stays so cozy and warm, how investing in real pots makes the plants look so much happier, how I finally bought myself a new phone to replace the one that’s been cracked to pieces. » Continue reading this post…

But Cheese: Fig & Prosciutto Grilled Cheese

Prosciutto and fig grilled cheese (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I thought about calling this post “I Have No Self Control.” Because as far as cheese is concerned… I don’t. I’ve recently discovered – well, let’s be precise here – I’ve recently come under the very strong suspicion that I’ve developed a light lactose intolerance. It seems pretty straightforward. I eat soft cheese, I feel slightly uncomfortable. I eat ice cream, I die.

Here’s the medically-sound way in which I diagnosed myself: I started feeling sluggish and crampy after my morning coffee and figured I’d try cutting out the milk. I started drinking my coffee black, and wonder of wonders, the cramping went away and the coffee did what it was supposed to do, i.e., wake me up. About a year after the miracle of the black coffee, I started noticing gastro-intestinal distress after eating things like ice cream and pizza or those Double Eye galãos I like to treat myself to on a Saturday morning errand run.

Fig season (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Clearly, after removing the daily shock of morning milk from my diet, my stomach had decided that even smaller doses of lactose were intolerable to digest, and began putting up a fight against feta and cheese toasts and whipped cream on pie. That’s how lactose intolerance works, right?

But it wasn’t until Josh and I went to Italy, where all we ate was deliciously soft mozzarella and gelato and pasta with shaved parmesan and pastries with cream that I bought some Lactase (in Italian, from an Italian-only pharmacist, so I’m not really quite-quite sure what I bought), and was surprised by how much it helped. Lactose, it seemed obvious now, really was the culprit. Lactase aside, gelato still made me die.

Making grilled cheese (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Prosciutto, figs, arugula (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Prosciutto and Gruyère (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What I hadn’t yet done on my self-diagnostic journey, however, was to cut out lactose completely to see if the distress disappeared. » Continue reading this post…

It Means Soul – A Night at Alma

Vichyssoise with feta, apple, and poblano (photo courtesy of alma cocina latina)
Honeycomb (photo courtesy of alma cocina latina)

I don’t see my family as often as I’d like. One brother lives in Berlin with me, but the other is in Orlando; one set of parents is in Baltimore, the other in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There’s always Christmas, that whirlwind holiday in which we flit up and down the highway between homes, squeezing in visits with old friends and last-minute trips to the store for stocking stuffers. But in part because we all live so spread out, and because there’s so much else happening around the holidays, we make an effort to see each other throughout the year, to vacation together – a cruise through the balmy, blue Caribbean, a week sampling all the baklava in Greece, or renting a house on a sound in Maine.

Growing up, my nuclear family lived far from our extended families. Back then, my mom’s family was concentrated in Florida, my dad’s in southern Germany. We were in rural Pennsylvania. But we were always traveling to see family, spending Christmases in Orlando or summers on the Swabian Jura – or taking everyone, aunts and uncles and cousins to Tuscany to spend a week in one of those big, rambling terra cotta villas (German family) or to the smoky, barbecue-filled backwoods of North Carolina (American family). For me, family has always been something you travel for and with.

Enrique Limardo plating the first course (photo courtesy of alma cocina latina)

Food orders in the kitchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sous-vide duck magret with apple-jalapenño puree (photo courtesy of alma cocina latina)

Just recently, I spent a long weekend in Prague with my mom, stepdad, brothers, and grandpa. My favorite part of our trip – besides long evenings spent playing cards with the lights turned low and the electric fans whirring to combat the heat – was the meal we ate at Field, a Michelin-starred restaurant close to the old Jewish quarter. We ordered the wine pairing and sat beneath the ominous mounted farm-equipment for three hours, just talking and eating and toasting. » Continue reading this post…

Trolltunga

Yoga in Norway (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s this picture of me that I love. I’m seventeen years old and holding a battered copy of Les Misérables in my hand. It’s battered because I’ve been throwing it around the backseat of a van, kneading its pages with sweaty, road-trip-snack-stained fingers when I read, and also because at some point, I’ve dropped it into the toilet. I’m fresh out of the shower, my hair is stringy and wet, parted severely down the middle. I’m wearing brown stretch flares, a Twister graphic tee, and a maroon zip-up hoodie so worn-out it’s lost its shape. Leaned up against a cabin doorframe, I look every bit an ill-dressed, awkward teenager, unsure of how to move inside her own body. But the expression on my face, half-turned away from the camera, is dreamy. I’m somewhere else, but perfectly at peace. My eyes look to the horizon. All around me are massive mountains, glacier-scarred rock whorled with strange shapes that seem to come alive when you stare long enough. It’s like looking at a Magic Eye print. Below, green-tinged water surges over rocks, in a canyon it carved out over ages. I am in Norway, and the look on my face is the one I always seem to wear when I’m here.

The purple flowers of Norway (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Brown cheese and red wine (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Waffles and coffee (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Along the road in Hardangervidda (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Norway is my soul’s happy place. There’s something about the briskness of the chill air carrying that tinge of salt, the soft, mossy ground, the mountains of bald stone bursting above the dark green tree line, the fjords that turn Colgate-colored when they churn and glint like raw malachite where they are impassive and deep. This landscape was made long before me. It will be here long after I am gone. I am insignificant beside it, and that is a comfort to me.

Voringfossen, Norway (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Red house, Hardangervidda (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A walk on the Hardangervidda (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Voringfossen minor (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Two years ago, when we hiked the Preikestolen, Elli and I kept saying we’d have to come back for Trolltunga, which is how, not long ago, we found ourselves living in a small white house right on the Sørfjorden, where we woke to the sounds of waves lapping up against the dock and almost-midnight-sun streaming in through the curtains. » Continue reading this post…

A Cake for Berlin: Rhubarb Cake with Marzipan and Almonds

Almond and rhubarb cake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This September, I’ll be coming up on my seven-year anniversary in Berlin. It’s funny. I never expected to stay here that long. Hadn’t even been to Berlin before I decided that this was the place I was going to move. “Du bist verrückt mein Kind, du musst nach Berlin,” composer Franz von Suppe is said to have said. You are crazy, my child, you must go to Berlin. “You’ll like it there,” my mother said. My grandma said New York had made me brittle, which in its own way is possibly a kind of crazy, too.

Rhubarb (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Candied orange (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Seven years ago, I wasn’t really moving towards something, but running away. From New York, sure, but also from the person I’d become there and the person I saw myself still becoming. Two of my dearest friends had not long before sat me down on a dock in St. Croix, the sun setting out over the ocean, sand curling over our sunburned skin and said to me, “What’s going on?” by which they meant, Where has our friend gone? And I’ve always admired the bravery of that, because it takes courage to tell your friend she’s been behaving badly. Because it’s true, I had been behaving badly, had let the less pleasant sides of my personality run the show. In drawing comparisons now, retrospectively, I’m not sure if I’d call it armor (sarcasm, skepticism, an easy sneer) or lack of buffer. New York is a city that strips you. Maybe it was a little of both.

Rhubarb cake without cream (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemon and orange zests (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Macerating rhubarb (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But leaving New York was hard. I’d loved it more than any place I’d ever lived. And for everything it took from me, it starkly outlined my strengths. I knew I could make my own way, knew I could start from nothing and build a life. And I’d never known such fierce creativity. » Continue reading this post…

A Golden Roman Holiday

Pizza, Rome (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Rome, Italy (Photo courtesy of Counter Service)

Our worst meal in Italy was also one of the best, if only because by the time we finished eating it, our bellies were so sore from laughing, we hardly noticed how sore they were from the rocklike bundle of pasta settling heavier than a sinking wreck. It was the last night Josh and I had together in Rome after a week in Tuscany, and we wanted to find something special for dinner. We’d started the evening off with an aperitivo, then wandered Rome’s warm, golden streets in the direction of this little place we’d read about tucked away off the beaten path. We meandered, wriggling through the tourists clustered in front of the Trevi Fountain, past the shop windows full of bottles of limoncello and multi-colored pasta, past pin-up priest calendars and aprons of David’s torso, through any small alley that caught our fancy, spurred onwards by sprays of pink bougainvillea over doorways and enticing archways of crumbling stone.

Mopeds in Rome, Italy (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Tiber River at sunset, Rome (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Gathering storm in Rome (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Aperol spritz, Italy (Photo courtesy of Counter Service)

At 9:30 p.m., stomachs growling, we arrived at the restaurant to find it shuttered. Far from everything else, but not to be dismayed, we set back off on weary foot to another option we’d starred. It, too, was closed. By now, it was 10 p.m., and we were grumpy and frustrated and slightly delirious. We began to trudge back towards our hotel, resigned to stopping at the next open restaurant without a plastic menu board of pictures out front, when we passed a bright, cozy window framing a packed house, a large wood-fired oven, and blistered crusts of hot pizza. We took a table.

The obvious rule that we did not follow – perhaps because of that hungry delirium – was to never order pasta at a pizza place. But we’d had pizza for lunch. We so desperately wanted a nice, last gluteny Italian plate before heading back home. » Continue reading this post…

On the Lifesaving Power of Eggs

Breakfast eggs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I am, as we speak, in the process of moving. Not far, just around the corner. It’s a brisk four-minute bike ride, maybe a a ten-minute walk, and yet the proximity hasn’t seemed to make a bit of difference in my emotional state, which has hovered somewhere between general panic, unsustainable euphoria, exhaustion, worry, anxiety, and manic energy. My hands are raw from scrubbing. I am horrified by the amount of clothing I own. My ability to make logical, efficient decisions suffers at my inability to think amidst clutter. And what is moving if not clutter?

What’s saved me these days have been eggs. I have been too tired to cook, too tired even to go out to eat, and so I’ve christened my brand-new stove with the humblest of foods. I’ve eaten my eggs, sunny-side up, every morning on my new, still-bare balcony amidst the caterwauling birds and the relentless sun. I’ve eaten them for dinner, with kimchi or with ramps or with slices of herring from IKEA’s grocery shelves. Or with nothing at all, just the eggs, warm yellow islands in a sea of pockmarked white, pricked with sea salt and black pepper.

My countertops are full of jars and mismatched bowls, bags of dried beans and rice, all the accoutrements of a kitchen equipped to make anything I might desire. And yet, what I desire most is to be done with this liminal life, to finally hand over the keys to the old place and never again climb those million stairs or worry about whether I should still paint. What I desire second most is to be sustained through this process, both in body and soul.

And while the eggs have sustained my body, people have sustained my soul.

People who have carried boxes and bags and bins from one apartment to the other. » Continue reading this post…

Walking is the Only Way – San Francisco

Burritos in the Mission, San Francisco (Eat Me. Drink Me.) - Photo courtesy of Amy Lee

La Palma burritos, Mission, San Francisco (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The moment I stepped off the train at Mission and 24th Street and everything smelled like tacos, I knew I was going to like this place. San Francisco hooked me quickly, and hard. Walking down the street that first afternoon, I felt like I was back in the Brooklyn of my memory with its riot of Mexican eateries, its music and colors and windows full of cheap baked goods. Here a hipster bagel spot, there a brewery in stainless steel, and the sidewalks full of people out and about for who knows what reason on a Thursday afternoon, all clutching iced coffees despite the cool spring air not quite dispelled in even the sunniest sidewalk patches.

But coming from Berlin’s last wet, winter thrust, even the feeble sunshine felt like a blanket, open and spread out on the lawn, bedecked with a picnic lunch and maybe even a bottle or two of wine.

Dolores Park, San Francisco (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here’s what I didn’t do in San Francisco: I didn’t ride the cable cars, I didn’t see the painted ladies or walk down Lombard Street. I didn’t go to Fisherman’s Wharf. I didn’t have oysters.

What I did do in San Francisco was walk. I had been told, upon arrival, that public transportation was inefficient and probably wouldn’t take me anywhere I wanted to go. Maybe it was the jet lag, but I didn’t question the edict, and by the time I found out that there are, in fact, opportunities for getting around that don’t involve blistered feet or ordering a car, it was too late, the damage had been done. In my mind, San Francisco was a city of walking only.

At the SF MoMa (Eat Me. Drink Me.) - Photo courtesy of Amy Lee
Croissants from Tartine, San Francisco (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

On my very first day, I walked sixteen miles from the Mission nearly all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. I meandered, watching the city change from neighborhood to neighborhood without ever really knowing where I was and with nothing more to guide me than a vague pull north. » Continue reading this post…

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