A Thankful Heart

Thanksgiving dinner (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Generally, at Thanksgiving, I’m too busy cooking to take any pictures. So I can’t show you the long table cobbled together from ramshackle surfaces and chairs that people brought themselves. Or the way the whole thing was wedged into the living room so tightly you could barely breathe. Nor can I show you the bird, with its deep brown skin, crackled in the oven or the way the moist white flesh slipped gently away beneath the knife.

I can only tell you about all the things we cooked – sweet potatoes roasted in bourbon-maple sauce, bright kale salad with parmesan, almonds, and dates, cranberry relish, sour cream mashed potatoes, a stuffing chock full of caramelized onions and kale, lemony grated carrots, green beans tossed in a dried cranberry and walnut vinaigrette, and pan gravy made from turkey drippings.

Preparing the turkey (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Roasted garlic for aioli (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And I can only tell you about the things that other people brought – roasted beetroot, warm and spicy enchiladas slathered in cheese, tabbouleh and bulgur salad, olives and dips, onion focaccia and loaves of bread studded with cranberries and walnuts, tomato butter spread, spicy celery, pretzel and peanut butter mousse pie, pumpkin pie, and plenty of wine, certainly.

The kitchen, before it descended into chaos (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
The turkey, ready to roast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Bourbon and butter for the sweet potatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But what no picture could have managed to capture is a snapshot of my heart that night – full. Grateful for co-workers who have become friends, friends who have become family, and family that will come and fix the couch the next day after it breaks under the weight of too many guests squashed onto its brittle frame.

The turkey (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s so much sadness and anger in the world, too many things I can’t understand. So many bigoted and hateful opinions, so much violence.

When I read the news and feel my chest start to clench in helpless rage, I think of a story a yoga teacher told once after a class, long ago in a sweaty studio in St. » Continue reading this post…

A Thanksgiving Love Letter: Mrs. Burns’s Cranberry Relish

Cranberry and orange relish (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s nearly here! My very favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. For me, Thanksgiving is like Christmas without all the strings attached. You don’t have to wonder if the present you bought is heartfelt enough or of sufficient monetary value, there are no last minute stocking stuffers to stock up on, no crazy shopping sprees or crazily decked-out stores to suffer through. There are a lot of things I love about Christmas, and there seems to be a theme to the things I don’t.

If Christmas can sometimes feel like it’s about maximizing the value of what you can get out of it, Thanksgiving is about giving out of the plenty you already have.

A bowl of winter oranges (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Fresh cranberries and oranges (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Growing up, our Thanksgiving table welcomed others in. There was always enough food, always enough chairs for a few extra relatives, family friends, my parents’ international students with homes too far away. And every Thanksgiving, we’d crowd around the long dining room table set with the best dishes and laden with food like jewels: a crisp, brown bird in center stage, rich stuffing made from torn breadcrumbs and chestnuts, fresh cranberry relish and hot rolls, green beans spiked with toasted almonds, maple-glazed carrots, sweet potatoes dotted with flamed marshmallows, and creamy mashed potatoes and gravy made from turkey drippings. For dessert, there were pumpkin and apple pies, fresh from the oven and still warm to the touch.

Mrs. Burns's cranberry relish (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Cranberry relish on orange paté (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What also made an appearance at our table every year were a few dried beans. Before we could dive into that indulgent spread, we had to throw our beans into a pot and say what we were thankful for. One thankful thing per bean. When you’re an angsty teenager, having to publicly admit to being thankful for anything is the worst. I dreaded that show of gushy emotion. Also, it always made me cry. » Continue reading this post…

My Green Thumb: Fried Green Tomatoes with Sriracha Remoulade

Green tomatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I don’t have much of a green thumb. In fact, I think if my thumb were a color, it’d be a sickly ash brown, mottled with spots and covered with voracious aphids. All of the plants in my apartment are in various stages of death – it’s like they’re living, but unwillingly. Is it because I go for too long without watering them and then overwater in an effusive shower of liquid affection? Maybe. Is it because I’ve put the sun-seeking plants in the shadows and the shadow creepers right on the window sill? Could be. Not even the cactus is thriving. And that’s saying something.

Sriracha remoulade (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Sliced green tomatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Green tomatoes ready to be fried (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Fried green tomatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Alongside waking up with the sun every morning and reading the New York Times on my balcony with a cup of coffee, growing plants and gardening is something I’ve always associated with being grown up. I have no balcony, I live in a country where even the weekend NYT edition costs over 25 euros, and there is no sunshine in Berlin between the months of September and May. How am I supposed to be a grown up? All I have left of my childhood vision of what being an adult is, is that cup of coffee slowly chilling on top of a stack of taxes and bills I have to pay myself.

Sriracha (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A stack of fried green tomatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This summer, I decided to take my future into my own hands and do some urban gardening. I may not have had a balcony, but I did have a French balcony (a euphemism for a long window) with a planter full of dirt. So I planted tomatoes. I started them from seed in tiny cardboard cups on a cake plate in front of the window. I watered them every evening and watched as gentle sprouts peeked out of the dirt and sweetly unfurled their furry little leaves. » Continue reading this post…

I’ll Give You a Clue: Booberry-Coconut Cupcakes

Booberry-Coconut Cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At work, we have a tradition to uphold, and that is getting fabulously, over-the top dressed up for a themed Halloween party, drinking witch’s brew from a smoking cauldron, and eating far more than a restrictive costume comfortably allows.

This year, we tried our very best not to kill each other with all those weapons conveniently lying around. There was a lead pipe, a revolver, some rope… And was that a thud coming from the Conservatory?

Mrs. Peacock, Yvette, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard and Miss Peach (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Mrs. White and Colonel Mustard (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The entire cast of Clue, including a few non-canon extras and some loose interpretations from Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film, assembled in the Kitchen to prepare for the party: Mysterious spaghetti carbonara, murderous shaved Brussels sprouts salad, poisonously-pink rosemary-grapefruit cocktails. And everybody kept their eye on the Knife.

Mrs. Peacock threatens Colonel Mustard, or is it the other way around? (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The murderous Mrs. White (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Strawberry monster cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Halloween isn’t just a holiday, it’s the start of a season. It was good planning on someone’s part – probably those pagans – that as the weather worsens, we can find solace in party preparations, pretty decorations, good cheer, and reason after reason to make too much food.

Colonel Mustard (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Mrs. Peacock and the cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Professor Plum's spaghetti carbonara (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
shaved brussels sprouts salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

October went a little haywire this year – projects piled up, deadlines reared their ugly heads, there were just a lot of things to do. My all-too-brief weekend in Baltimore watching sailboats bob in the harbor seems like ages ago, though I’ve only been back in Berlin for two weeks. Here, it’s crazy city.

Miss Scarlet (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Colonel Mustard murders Yvette (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m grateful to Halloween for bringing things back into focus. There will always be stressful projects and situations to navigate – but letting stress get the upper hand can taint even pleasant experiences. It’s like trying to clean the house with your hands covered in blue ink. No matter what you do, the whole house is going to end up blue.

A stack of butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A stack of cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Follow me on a mind leap for a second. Do you remember that series of General Mills Cereals that always appeared in the display aisles around Halloween? » Continue reading this post…

On Pumpkins and Wrinkles: Beef & Maple Delicata Squash Boats

Beef and Maple Delicata Squash Boats (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Deep, grooved ridges and gnarly warts, pockmarked orange skin and scabby patches of bedsore dirt: A pumpkin is one of those vegetables that’s so ugly it’s beautiful again.

Maybe it’s association – for me, they’re just about as fall as apple butter or hot toddies on cool and quickly-dimming evenings. It’s the memory of being a child and holding a huge pumpkin in my arms, big enough to bowl me over, straw from the patch clinging to my clothes. Or it’s the way a pumpkin halved offers up smooth, bright flesh and white, jewel-like seeds. Or how a Jack-O-Lantern leers glowingly from the porch on Halloween.

Delicata squash (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Hollowing out delicata squash (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Diced zucchini (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But not all pumpkins are alike, as I discovered this weekend at our neighborhood pumpkin festival. I went on a bit of a bender, making David drag home a big bag full of them: a dusty, purplish-hued muscat pumpkin with perfectly domed sections; a brightly speckled festival pumpkin with kaleidoscopic patterns of green and orange snaking up its creamy sides; and two delicata squash – long and pale yellow pinstriped with green. I’m sure I would have purchased more, had I not paused to think about how we were going to eat them all.

Delicata squash halves (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I still can’t really get over how quickly the fall has come – how quickly all the seasons are whooshing past. Have I really lived in this apartment for two whole years? Have I really been in Berlin for twice that? Today I’m wearing the brand new jeans I just bought in… February.

Yikes. And from what I hear, it doesn’t get better.

Stuffed delicata squash boats with almonds (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Delicata squash boats (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I remember long ago, my dad tried to explain the passage of time to me, how when you’re ten, a year is longer than when you’re twenty, since one tenth is bigger than one twentieth. The longer you live, the faster life really does go by, because each year is a little less chunk of time compared to the whole. » Continue reading this post…

How to Make Your Own Oktoberfest, and a Recipe for: Obatzda

Make your own Oktoberfest (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

While Munich’s Oktoberfest days are drawing to a close, there’s no one to tell you, in whatever corner of the world you find yourself, that you can’t keep the dream alive. Here’s how to make your own Oktoberfest, in 10 easy steps.

What you’ll need:

1. Bavarian blue and white
Everywhere in Munich, and especially at this time of year, the city is decked out in blue and white checkers (officially, the pattern is called lozenge, but who knew lozenges were anything other than cough drops?). The Bavarian flag is hung with pride from shop windows and buildings; it adorns tablecloths, t-shirts, take-home trinkets, napkins, and nearly everything else you can stamp with a pattern.

Freshly-baked pretzels (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

2. Communal tables
For your backyard Oktoberfest, set up long, communal tables to recreate the feeling of being in one of the tents on the Wies’n. People are continually coming and going from the beer gardens and tents, which are always packed. You’re lucky to find a seat at all, so when you do, you don’t waste any time cozying up to your neighbors. The real bonds are forged over table-wide toasts and loud sing-alongs to everyone’s favorite Schlager hits.

3. Schlager pop
Speaking of music: Your Oktoberfest playlist should start with some soft brass oom-pa-pa and slowly move into the best of German schlager pop with a little John Denver thrown in for good measure. Helene Fischer’s “Atemlos durch die Nacht” is a must, but that’s not to say that last year’s German summer hit “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” isn’t a perfectly good follow up.

Stack of pretzels (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Oktoberfest breakfast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

4. Weißwurst
Ok. Here comes the good stuff: the food. Weißwurst, literally “white sausage” is… wait for it… a white sausage made from minced veal and porkback bacon flavored with parsley, lemon, mace, onions, ginger, and cardamom. » Continue reading this post…

The Oktoberfest Dilemma: “Oan Maß oder zwoa?”

Oktoberfest, Munich (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I had no idea how fun it is to wear a dirndl until I spent a sunny day in Munich traipsing around in one. It’s a silly little outfit that makes you feel half like a wench extra from Pirates of the Caribbean and half like Heidi. But it’s all fun, especially when everyone around you is sporting the same silly dress – or even sillier, a pair of leather shorts that inevitably makes their wearers look like they’re waddling around with a diaper full of poo. After the first Maß or two, nobody cares.

This year, Ellen and I decided to go to Oktoberfest on opening day. Our work colleague and his wife live in the city, and we figured it’d be a perfect opportunity to double up on fulfilling our promise to visit and gawking at the yodelers in funny hats. We weren’t expecting much – some drunk and lecherous tourists, some lurchy rides – but being on the Wies’n was great. We left before the leering hour, before the truly tanked had time to get rowdy – so I can’t say our experience was universal, but it certainly left us wanting to wear our dirndls all the time.

Rathaus Tower, Munich (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Our gracious guide (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We arrived in Munich the day before the Wies’n opened, and the city was surprisingly quiet. Stephan took us on a tour, past the Isar’s white-pebbled banks and up to the top of Alter Peter, where we watched the phlegmatic wooden dancers slowly rotate on the Glockenspiel and looked across the city’s sea of red roofs to the hazy Alps on the horizon. In the old Spanisches Fruchthaus, I bought tiny candied violets – little gnarled, bright-purple pinpricks – and then we were whisked to Dallmayr, which was awhirl with elderly shoppers choosing cold cuts and cuts of meat, slices of cheese from wheels, fresh prepared salads and tiny bites of things glazed in aspic. » Continue reading this post…

The Road Home to Apple Country: Apple Butter

Homemade apple butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I know I swore I’d never can another fruit. And then along came a big bag of apples, plucked straight from the tree, and I couldn’t just let them rot.

I’ve never been much of an apple person. I think they’re a little boring as fruits go – a little too uniformly sweet, too big to nibble on, too much chewing to do. But apples feel like a harbinger of the fall, of cooler, crisper days, of waiting for the school bus and new sweaters, of cinnamon sticks and pie and holidays.

A bowl of just-picked apples (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Just a lonely little apple (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I grew up in apple country. Not far from where we lived, the roads started undulating like a kiddie coaster, curving through fog-stained fields full of gnarled fruit trees and corn. We bought our apples from a stand along the road which sold fresh peaches and blueberries – whatever was in season – along with homemade pickles and preserves. And every fall, there was the Apple Harvest Festival, a sweet-smelling country fair with bluegrass music and whole pigs roasting on spits. Mouths full of apples, of course.

Bowl of bright apples (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Apple butter helper (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Homegrown apples (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have a very vivid memory of the festival. It must be a composite, because I’m sure we went more than just the once, but in my mind it’s that one long day in the clear, blue fall. I remember an apple fritter pulled from a vat of boiling oil, soft and doughy and covered in powdered sugar. I remember sitting on a hay bale and watching a play whose plot points I can no longer recall though I can still feel the scratchy hay poking through my thin leggings and the straw sticking out from a scarecrow’s shirt beside me.

Weighing apple quarters (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Quartered apples for making apple butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I know there were tractors on display and squat ponies walking around and around the corral with children on their backs. » Continue reading this post…