Resolutions, if I Have to: Kale Chips

Kale chips (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’ve never been much for making resolutions in January. I find the beginning of October a much more invigorating time for making grand gestures. January may have a new four-digit number after it, but really, what’s motivating about January besides that? The weather is still stuck in a perpetual slump, and me, I’m usually caught in some jetlag horror that pushes sleep way up to the top of the life goal list. This year, a lingering illness and late start back to work made my early January a less-than-inspiring start to 2015.

But for all that, I’ve really managed to make a lot of resolutions this year. And just as I type that, I swear to you, the gray clouds are breaking up and a bright blue sky is swinging into view. So maybe that’s a sign. (On a side note, the plus side to never seeing sun is that you never really know how dirty your windows truly are. Maybe I should add Windexing to the resolution list…

Dinosaur kale (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Raw kale (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So here are my 2015/rest of my life resolutions:

Live more unplugged – or, live plugged in, but conscientiously
During the second month I lived in Berlin, I spilled a drink into my laptop and broke it. I was living in a new city, I knew almost no one. The internet was my crutch. I panicked until I realized this was probably the perfect opportunity to really do the things I’d moved to Berlin to do – read, write, and cook. Computers are totally great, but they make us approach multitasking in the worst possible way. A computer allows you to work in multiple windows at the same time. You can check email, write a blog post, nose around on Facebook, listen to iTunes and edit photos all at the same time. » Continue reading this post…

Always

At Epcot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The hardest things to write are the ones that matter most. For three weeks, I haven’t written anything, not a poem, a post or even a journal entry. And it’s not because there hasn’t been anything to write about, but because the one thing I really wanted to write was impossible for me to process. My grandmother, my namesake, champion, and friend, passed away on December 18th, peacefully and surrounded by family.

But even a good death isn’t easy for the ones you leave behind. What a bizarre contrast, to feel the love and joy of Christmas, and yet mourn an irreplaceable loss. A heavy heart can still smile, but its weight throws you off-kilter, turning a laugh just as quickly into a sob.

She was a woman larger than life, filling a room with her presence, her conversation. Even her clothes were loud – bright purples and blues and reds, preferably accented with sequins or feathers or fur. And for the grandchildren, she was like a magnet. She demanded hugs, kisses, snuggles – and we gave them freely, instinctively.

A ready hug (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

She spoiled all of us. I remember as a child, when she came to town, she’d cook an entire pack of bacon just for me, and she made it just right – soft and wriggly so you could taste all the flavor of fat. And she’d make me an egg-in-toast. I’d stand by the stove, eyes barely high enough to peek over the counter, as she cut a round out of the buttered bread. I loved the sizzle of egg as it hit the hot skillet smack in the center of the hole. To me, it was culinary magic. They were special meals, the only time besides holidays when breakfast was a big deal.

With as much vivid clarity, I remember her singing me to sleep. » Continue reading this post…

A Christmas Market

Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Berlin has a rich and varied Christmas market tradition to distract its residents from winter’s misery. (I’m getting banal, aren’t I? Weather, weather, weather.) But truly, when there’s very little else to get people out of the house than the promise of a steaming mug of mulled wine and a hot bratwurst poking out either end of a round white roll, you appreciate what a good Christmas market can do.

A trip to the Christmas market begins with Glühwein, Germany’s take on mulled wine. This serves two purposes. The first is to help you get into the mood. In the same way a bite of bread pudding always takes me back to the Old Country Buffet, a very rural American buffet chain with surprisingly good fried chicken and hot ham sunbathing under a heat lamp, or the way my mother’s apple pie always feels like fall – you can’t really be at a Christmas market unless you’ve had a mug of Glühwein.

Glühwein and hot chocolate (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Poffertjes with powdered sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Baked camembert at the Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The second reason is much less romantic. By the time you’ve left the subway station and made it to the market, your feet are already frozen and you’ve got the shoulder shimmy shakes. A little hot drink made of a little hot alcohol goes a long way in warming you up.

The next thing you do at a Christmas market is walk. Each market is set up in its own little maze of tents and shacks selling sweets and toys, Christmas gifts, decorations, and other useless bits and bobs. Glühwein in hand, you wander from stand to stand picking up stocking stuffers and baubles for the tree.

Baked camembert (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making poffertjes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Camembert with red berries and aioli (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Soon it’s time for a refill on that empty mug. This time, you’ll nestle up to a spot around a tall, standing-room only table and send someone off to buy sausages – classic bratwurst or the special kind from Thüringen, whose flavor hints at caraway, marjoram, and garlic. » Continue reading this post…

Oh Tannenbaum

Räuchermann (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This morning I woke up and bought a Christmas tree. Berlin, as usual these days, was a mottled, cotton-ball gray and drizzly. But I had plaited my hair for the occasion, and we all know that there’s nothing more festive than a Christmas plait.

The walk to Südkreuz from Schöneberg isn’t a particularly pretty one. It’s not a far walk, but the Sachsendamm is a wide, industrial stretch of road, along which you pass the giant furniture warehouse with its America-sized parking lot, a long, low sports center, and the car-crammed entrance to the highway. But I’m especially good at pretending during Christmastime, and as I walked, I imagined myself in a dark green forest, surrounded by tall pines and lightly falling snow. I saw my future self lugging my little tree up the apartment stairs and decorating it as I sang along to Perry Como and sipped on hot chocolate swizzled with a candy cane.

I love the romance of Christmas – its clichéd images of rosy-cheeked children and sugar cookies, Santa hats and snowball fights, warm and cozy comfort foods. Though truthfully, I can’t remember the last Christmas I had that fit into such a glittering, glistening box. I haven’t had a white Christmas in years, so there’s been no sledding, no snowball fights, no bowls of homemade snow ice cream – the stuff my childhood holidays were made of. Most of my Christmas shopping involves feeding my credit card number to the internet and every time I try to listen to Christmas music I have to navigate a sea of bad Wham.

But I’m changing all that with this Christmas tree. » Continue reading this post…

The Turkey (a Thanksgiving Poem)

Turkey ready to roast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Slowly roasting in the oven
are the chestnuts for the stuffing
and the bread whose top is crusting,
while the pies that line the counter –
lemon, mince and plum and apple –
share a gleaming spot of sunlight
with a heaping of delightful
green beans, relish, candied yams;
stacked high ladles, pots, and pans
fill the sink to overflowing,
as the cooks keep stirring dishes
and dear uncle Albert minces
with the cold, hard slicing
of the knife, knife, knife.

Aunt Belinda in the kitchen
is in charge of all the mixing,
the potatoes and the gravy,
the green salad, peas, and pastry.
What’s leftover goes to Mother
with her pantry prowess bared.
She’s been up since seven thirty
basting thick the frozen turkey
while her darling husband relishes
the TV’s golden glow
and the giant bird is soaking
in the juices all its own.
Aunt Belinda shouting orders
fills the kitchen with her roar
while involuntary winces
lurk in mother’s charming smile.
Still dear Uncle Albert minces
with the cold, hard slicing
of the knife, knife, knife. » Continue reading this post…

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…