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…

Old Habits & Hollywood: Parsley & Wheat Berry Salad

Wheat Berry & Parsley Salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For a few days every February, I live for McDonald’s breakfasts. My regular order: a sausage and egg McMuffin and black coffee, scarfed quickly in the upstairs dining area before it’s time to sprint somewhere for the first movie of the day, if we’re lucky, at Potsdamer Platz, if we’re not (and so often, we’re not) at Haus der Berliner Festspiele, where the ancient, sagging seats scoop your spine into scoliotic curves.

This is my fifth Berlinale, my fifth year (see years four, three, and two here) of waking up at 5:30 a.m. to stand in line with other crazy people so we can get tickets to spend ten days of doing nothing but watching movies and waiting in line to watch more movies. After five years, I think I can say we have traditions, the most fixed of which is getting McDonald’s breakfast after the line. To be fair, we really only make it about four days before we can’t stand the thought of eating McDonald’s again until the next Berlinale rolls around. But it’s like Glühwein in December: the first Christmas market sip is like cutting the ribbon to the season. By the fifth sip, you’re ready for May.

Berlinale 2018 (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Putting together parsley and wheat berry salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Whole coriander (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Of course we eat other things during the Berlinale. We try to make it to Pizza Hut at least once. Sometimes for lunch there’s Dunkin Donuts or carrot cake from Starbucks, and naturally all the coffee beverages. There are the stale soft pretzels they sell outside the theaters and burgers from the food truck and chocolate muffins and basically anything you can get your hands on between screenings. There’s not nearly enough green. Two memories: One, walking past a display case full of cream cheese sandwiches and craving the chive and parsley garnish. Two, ordering a salad that was more or less a tub of raw arugula and thinking it was the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten. » Continue reading this post…

The Year of Doing: A Tarte Tatin for Winter

Winter vegetable tarte tatin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I landed in Berlin on New Year’s Eve. I hadn’t been in the city to see an old year out for the last five years, and didn’t have particularly fond memories of the one time I’d been here; the air had been heavy with smoke and grit, and shards of cracked bottles and spent confetti covered the sidewalks like a deadly shag carpet. Wanton firecrackers were constantly exploding underfoot. People threw them at cars, in trash cans, at other people, dropped them from buildings, lobbed them out of alleys. I remembered being afraid for my limbs, my eyes, any unprotected stretch of skin.

So I had avoided ever spending New Year’s in Berlin. It’s never been my favorite holiday anyway. There’s always so much expectation, and the party never does live up. The fireworks are too far away or hidden behind a building or a big tree and brittle in the cold. The ball is dropped to fanfare and applause, but when the party buzzers bleat their last, the new year feels just like the old and you haven’t magically morphed into a better version of yourself.

Beetroot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Honey glaze and herbs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This year, I’d planned to go to a dinner party with a friend. Something quiet and inside and away from the chaos on the streets would be safe, I thought; no need for spectacle, and I could avoid the raucous revelers bombarding the streets with lights and loud bangs. I’d have just enough time after landing in the afternoon to unpack a little, to shower and change and catch the train north. But when I got to my apartment, the heater was out, which meant the floorboards were like planks of Arctic ice and the shower water glacial. But I set about unpacking anyway, dressed in heavy layers of wool and double-thick socks, at one point realizing it was warmer outside than in and heating up the room by opening the windows to let in brisk December. » Continue reading this post…

Weekend in Shoreditch + Pop-Up Dinner at Violet

The streets of Shoreditch (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For a while, Josh and I started all our sentences with: “When I move to Shoreditch…” Like, “When I move to Shoreditch, I’m going to floor-to-ceiling stuff my flat with all these gorgeous plants from Columbia Road,” or “When I move to Shoreditch, I’m going to have breakfast at St. John every day – at the very least regularly pop in for fresh jelly donuts,” or “When I move to Shoreditch, I’m going to finally buy myself a decent black coat and nice shoes.” This was just me, though, because Josh always looked good.

To cap off our month of working together, Josh and I flew to London, where we met with DeVonn Francis of Yardy to put on a pop-up dinner at Violet, a lovely little bakery in Dalston. The dinner was the culmination of a crisscrossed web of collaborations. DeVonn had guest-edited the latest issue of Counter Service (#12 Guts), and Josh had taken the editorial break to spend the month in Berlin putting on a writing workshop with me. Josh and I had, independently of each other, recently discovered Shoreditch and were both hankering to go back and lay down roots of some sort (after all, when we move to Shoreditch, we’d like to be known) – and so it seemed like the right place to go.

Pilgrimage to St. John (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I landed a few hours earlier than Josh, and had some time to wander through my new home on my own. Shoreditch seemed so very clean, so quaint, compared to Berlin, and everyone in it so very put-together. There were little pubs on every corner with austerely painted wooden detailing on their facades and shops with five artfully arranged things in them and soft yellow lighting. The buildings all seemed politely small, just like the tube – and as a less tall person, it made me feel a little like Goldilocks finding her proverbial just right. » Continue reading this post…

Keep the Conversation Going – An Interview with Josh Hamlet

Photo credit: Gabriela Herman

Josh Hamlet is electric. He’s the kind of person who infuses whatever space he’s in with that brand of humming energy usually reserved for Friday night football games or the long, clanking trip to the top of the roller coaster before the drop. His mind is always working and seems to be in a hundred places at once. He’s organizing a dinner in New York, working through the details of a travel itinerary in Iceland, nagging writers about deadlines, and brainstorming about an event half a year away – all at the same time. And it’s infectious.

Josh and I have known each other since college. He’s the person who taught me how to move like no one was watching on the dance floor – and how to make a great grilled Portobello. Together, we’ve demolished a trash bag full of taco salad while whitewater canoeing down the French Broad and eaten real shrimp and grits in Savannah.

This October, Josh and I worked on a series of collaborative projects together in Berlin. The timing felt perfect. Josh’s online publication about food on the edges, Counter Service, is taking off in a big way, and I’ve been looking for ways to take Eat Me. Drink Me. out into the community. We spent the month writing and eating our way across the city, hosting a writing workshop, putting on events, reminiscing about the past, thinking about the future, and just basically having a damn good time.

We sat down one morning for breakfast at a very squeaky table to talk about New York, travel, hidden talents, and all things Counter Service.

LYZ PFISTER: I’m just going to dive right in. So tell me, why did you decide to start Counter Service?

JOSH HAMLET: Having worked in the New York food industry for six years, and having worked in food and around food since I was fourteen – I don’t know if that’s legal or not  –

* we laugh *

JH: …I saw so much passion and creativity and talent that was so untapped, because these days, the food industry requires all of your attention. » Continue reading this post…

Das ist Berlin – Counter Service Comes to Visit

Mauerpark at sunset, Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Walking back to the apartment after our run, Josh pointed up at the long and stately row of buildings across the street, shining white in the hazy morning sun. “That’s really beautiful,” he said, and I was silent. Not because it wasn’t beautiful, but because it was, and I had walked past that row of buildings nearly every day for the last four years without ever thinking about it.

There’s something about showing someone your city that makes you see it with fresh eyes. The mundane becomes magical. Places and routines you take for granted feel novel, inspired even. Your life is just your life, and you’re just living it, but with new perspective, even your life suddenly has its own special appeal.

Rathauspark, Schöneberg, Berlin (Photo courtesy of Counter Service)
Josh preparing lunch (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
On a Schöneberg corner, Berlin (Photo courtesy of Counter Service)
On a walk in Schöneberg, Berlin (GIF courtesy of Counter Service)

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time learning to re-see Berlin. Josh Hamlet, founder of Counter Service and old friend extraordinaire, arrived on a dark Monday night in mid-October and stayed with me in Schöneberg for nearly a month, writing, talking, dreaming, eating, living. We’d been planning our spate of collaborative projects for nearly half a year, and to suddenly find ourselves in it was almost surprising. “This is happening,” we said, and clinked our glasses together over the small kitchen table.

Josh and I met at Davidson in 2006, were friends throughout college, and in my senior year, his junior year, started Eat Me. Drink Me. together as part of an independent study in food writing. What’s the Reader’s Digest version of our lives? I moved to New York, I moved to Berlin, I became a translator, I became the editor of a literary magazine, I started The Wolf & Peter. Josh moved to South Korea, Josh moved to New York (but after I left New York), he worked in restaurants, helped start some restaurants, he founded Counter Service. » Continue reading this post…

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