Like Eating Clouds: Hummus Tehina

Hummus tahina recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

All I can think about is the next time I will be in Tel Aviv, how I will walk along the hot stone streets where discount boutiques spill hangers of fur vests and dresses and leather onto the cracked asphalt, and how I will walk until my feet are sore and I can smell the salt in the air, the crackled breath of exhaling fish and sea scum, almost hear the bustle of the Port of Jaffa just around an invisible bend, and I will wait at the little window of the hummuseria, hands palming the worn counter, until a short, bald man pauses in between tying up plastic bags of hummus tubs and shouting orders and talking to a regular leaning in the doorway. I will order musabaha and take it down to the sunny bench in the roundabout, and as cars whisk past, unpack my plastic bag and lay its contents out like offerings on an altar: musabaha, green chilies in lemon juice and water, two warm, plush pitas scarred with char, raw white onion quartered and beading in the sun, a film of paper-thin skin clinging to its curve. And then I will eat. I will streak tears of pita through the silky mass of tahini, lemon, garlic, and chickpea, catching drops of golden olive oil and spice, flecks of flat-leaf parsley and paprika, and whole chickpeas. And then I will chase it all with a crunch of raw onion I know I will regret a few hours later, when my tongue is swollen and my mouth tight and stale.

But it won’t be in a few hours, it will be now, and I won’t care about consequences, just the gentle swipe of pita, the feel of satin in my mouth. Like eating clouds, said the friend of a friend who said Abu Hassan was the place to go. » Continue reading this post…

Year of the: Chengdu ZaJiang Noodles

Chengdu ZaJiang Noodles (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

While having lunch with a dear friend back home over the holidays, we were talking about New Year’s resolutions and life plans, dreams both big and small, when she told me about how she’d given 2015 a theme. It had been an excellent year, she said, the year of getting back to basics. Somehow, having that overarching theme had helped give structure to plans that may otherwise have felt scattered or piecemeal. It had been motivation and goal. So when 2016 rolled around, she figured the year didn’t need a theme – after 2015, things were already on the right track. And, well, we all know how 2016 turned out.

Now, I’m not saying my friend is to blame for all of 2016. But maybe if she’d just given the year a theme, it wouldn’t have been such a heroic mess. So to help salvage 2017, I’m doing my part to bring some focus to the year ahead.

Sichuan peppercorns (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Chilies in oil (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My theme for this year is balance. For me, what that mostly means is working less and living more. I have a tendency to feel like I’ll never get enough done, and so as soon as I wake up, I answer emails, tackle some items on the list. Then I go to work, I come home, I keep working, I binge a few episodes of TV, I sleep, I wake up, I do it again. Soon enough, even my social life starts to revolve around meetings. It makes me a miser of my free time, which I hoard like a pot of precious jewels, and wonder why I end up feeling starved for human interaction.

Ingredients for making noodles (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This year, there will be a strict moratorium on work. My morning routine has become elaborate, expansive. I do yoga and go to the gym, I take my time getting ready and investing in throwing on more than leggings and a lumpy sweater. » Continue reading this post…

Tells

A new cookbook and Thanksgiving leftovers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have a few distinctive tells when things aren’t going so well. One of them is that I clean everything so thoroughly even the baseboards behind the bookshelves shine. And though I have a tendency to forget the tops of doorframes because they’re far too high for me to reach and generally out of my range of sight, everything else is fair game. The windows are scrubbed, every corner gutted of dust and grime, even the insides of drawers emptied out and neatly rearranged. You might think this is a constructive habit – that at least if my inner self is in turmoil, my outer world is dazzling – and I can emerge from these periods of anxiety and overwork into a clean and ordered home.

The Berlin TV Tower at dawn (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But it doesn’t feel quite healthy. It takes a long time to clean so thoroughly, and everything I haven’t touched feels like the fuzzled spots of green mold on an orange rind, and the orange rind lines the inside of my skin. I can’t just tidy up here and there and call it a day. I have to scrub the apartment from corner to corner. I have to throw the whole molding orange away.

And I’m not the only one who suffers. One of the stranger tics of this obsessive cleaning is that I can’t water the plants until the whole apartment is clean. Somehow, if I’m suffering, I feel the plants must suffer too.

On the street in Sofia, Bulgaria (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My other, maybe more telling tell, is that I don’t cook.

I guess the end of November, early December is a convenient time to decide not to want to cook. The Christmas markets are springing up all over the city, and for the price of just a few frozen toes, you can gorge yourself on crackle-skinned pork sandwiches and bratwurst split open over licking flames. » Continue reading this post…

Fingers Crossed: Candied Lemon Cake

Candied Lemon Cake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Today is the day. Election day. I am too terrified to look and yet I can’t look away.

Elections have always been bitter things. Nasty words are said. Lines drawn. But this election cycle more than any other, I feel like a tiny car stuck between two trucks in bumper-to-bumper traffic. We’re in what feels like a country-wide gridlock that won’t loosen up even after all of today’s votes are tallied.

Both sides stand on their soap boxes, shouting past each other, words ricocheting like rubber balls in a glass squash court. But neither side takes a moment to listen – because the other is already wrong on principle. What is there to debate when we know all the answers already?

Lemon slices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We live in an age where we can tailor our news to fit our views. We can hand-pick our propaganda, read articles that support our opinion, watch only our favorite news channels, listen to reinforcing podcasts. And Facebook fools us into believing the whole world thinks like we do – a “customized” news feed sweeps us up in information our like-minded friends share – and anything that doesn’t fit the mold, well, there are always a few bad eggs in the bunch.

So we isolate ourselves behind party lines. We hear only the “truths” we want. And truth itself has become a nebulous phrase. Though facts are now easier to check than ever, we seem to care less and less about them. The other day I was listening to a podcast discussing this discarding of fact. When Rush Limbaugh says, “This fact-check technique is the latest,” it ties my stomach up in knots. Shouldn’t this be concerning for both liberals and conservatives alike? Because if you can’t check the facts, what’s left?

Not that rewriting history is anything new. We’ve done it before. » Continue reading this post…

I Carved a Pumpkin, Now What?: Pork & Pumpkin Stew

Pork and Pumpkin Stew (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The costumes are balled up in a corner of the bathroom, glitter-streaked and covered in strange makeup stains. Ghostly white, witchy green, blood red. The cardboard props are soaking up rain outside with tomorrow’s garbage – duct tape-wrapped robots, giant popcorn boxes, and transformer parts melt wetly into the asphalt. A cold wind whisks up discarded candy wrappers like brightly-colored leaves. Scraps of decorations – streamers fluttering from trees, plastic gravestones, milky cobwebs – look lonely in the morning light, and the sorry Jack-o’-lantern’s teeth are caving in, making that fiercely-grinning grimace look like an old man’s dentureless mouth.

Halloween is over, and all we have to show for it is some wax-paint grit beneath our fingernails, a leftover bag of Dum Dums to sneak into after lunch, and a giant bowl of shavings scraped out from the inside of a glowing orange window warmer.

Pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Roasted pumpkin seeds with Old Bay (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Pumpkin seeds (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Decapitating the pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Like many others, I too spent the Saturday before Halloween up to the elbow in the bowels of a pumpkin. It takes a surprising lot out of you, that constant scraping, hollowing a gourd until its skin is thin enough to carve. And the mountain of flesh keeps growing – amazing how much meat emerges from something whose insides are mostly made of stringy webbing and seeds.

Shaved pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pumpkin seeds ready for roasting (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Halloween has never really been my holiday. Even as a kid, my sweet tooth was somewhat underdeveloped, and I’d stash my bag of trick-or-treat candy behind a pink velvet chair in the back corner of my room so my brothers couldn’t get at it. It’s not that I wanted to eat it all myself – it’s just that I didn’t want them to. I’d ration my way through the good ones – Snickers first, then Twix and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Butterfinger. And then I’d start on the second-tier treats: Twizzlers, PayDay, Baby Ruth, Milky Way, Almond Joy, Mounds, Nerds. » Continue reading this post…

Eternal Musings on Weather: Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter

Sweet potato gnocchi (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I first stepped outside this morning on my way to the gym, I said, “Wow. What a beautiful day.” And then I paused. There was no sunshine, and a heavy, gray mist was starting to roll in from the south. The air smelled threateningly of rain and a brisk wind rustled right through my thick fleece jacket. And yet, comparatively, it was a beautiful day. The wind wasn’t bone-chilling, the mist had a lightness, an almost sepia-colored tone to it you might mistake for daylight. In this city, there have been three sun sightings in the last month, and the fall weather I love so much was a tease, a dream dangled before my eyes and whisked away faster than the leaves had time to drop.

Roast sweet potatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Growing up, some of my favorite movies were the BBC film versions of the Chronicles of Narnia. There’s a scene in The Silver Chair, where the witch, all snakey and draped in green, casts her magic spell upon the children, Prince Rillian, and Puddleglum the grumpy Marshwiggle. “There is no sun. There never was a sun,” she hisses as the candlelit orb casts shadows in the underground chamber. These days, I often feel like I’m trapped in her world, her scintillating syntax in my ear, “There is no sun. There never was a sun.” And I believe it.

It’s amazing what you’ll get used to, what baseline you’ll use to define new norms. Good weather is a gentle drizzle. Bad weather is a noon downpour where the sky is the color of a Secret Service entourage and the wind as unflinching.

Sweet potato mash (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Making sweet potato gnocchi (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I know. It’s so incredibly boring to talk about the weather all the time. I feel that I’ve turned into an aged alter ego of myself whose conversations all start out the same way. » Continue reading this post…

When Life Hands you Zucchini, Make: Zucchini Bread

Zucchini bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Autumn is to fall as aubergine is to eggplant. One pair of words shares the sensual, multi-syllabic softness of that open “ah” that gently rounds into a hum. The other is flat and thudding, like a Dufflepud bouncing his single foot again and again into the sand. Autumn/aubergine is cashmere sweaters in jewel-toned hues, pumpkin soup with crème fraîche in your grandmother’s antique china, and a watercolor of dusky-colored leaves. Fall/eggplant is leggings stitched with candy corn, hayrides with hot apple cider waiting at the end, and hand-turkeys drawn in crayon.

Both have their merits, but one is just so much sexier than the other.

Pile of zucchini (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Zucchini bread batter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Shredded zucchini for zucchini bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Be that as it may, I’ve always been a fan of fall. It feels right somehow. This is the season where things “fall” into place: Growing up, that meant the school year began with new books and clothes and a trapper keeper full of blue-lined loose leaf. The temperatures “fall” – cooler weather brings boots and scarves and pleasantly clear heads. And in this season more than any other, when you’re biking down the street, there’s an awful lot of stuff that “falls” into your eyes, leaf and tree bits leaving their trunks and whisking from the wind like magnets to your corneas.

The work space (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But this year, fall is also feeling very personal. If you read about my plane ticket disaster, you know that I’ve temporarily “fallen” on hard times – luckily, I’ve also discovered the “windfall” that is buying fruits and vegetables from the Turkish market just before it’s about to close. Last Saturday, my brother and I split a case of about fifty sweet potatoes, a case of tomatoes, three heads of broccoli, and two giant heads of lettuce for six euros – total.

A few days before, Ben had shown up at the apartment with an armload of of zucchini from his market buy the week before. » Continue reading this post…

An Idiot’s Guide to Missing a Flight: Favosalata

Favosalata (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s a feeling on late summer evenings where the air is like silk or a warm, salty pool of water, and you can’t tell where your skin ends and everything else begins. It’s especially lovely slicing through the city on my little red Hercules bike, the whipping wind more like a caress against bare skin. It’s the feeling of absolute freedom, a briefly endless moment where nothing matters but sensation.

I’d give anything for that feeling now. But I’m in an airplane, just jutting over a cusp of land and leaving Germany behind. The air has that strange quality of being both clammy and dry, singing my nose as I breathe it in. But it’s more than the air, it’s how I feel – shoulders tensed, brain a whirl of jostling pulses. I’m not sure which hysteria to tip into – should I cry or laugh – at the absurdity of the situation I find myself in.

For the first time, I’ve missed a flight. An international one, no less. But what a surreal experience, without frantic or rush – until the fateful moment when my brain clicked and realized what it had done.

Wine, garlic, and yellow split peas (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Spilled split peas (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As a meticulous planner, I checked my ticket – multiple times – checked my passport, checked my route to the airport. I wrote out a list: when to set my alarm, when to to leave the apartment, when I’d arrive at the airport. And yet, while my brain registered that my flight took off at 7 a.m., my brain also registered that I had to be at the airport at 7 a.m. Clearly, two completely contradictory pieces of information – that my brain held in tandem, without realizing how impossible it was.

So I missed my flight and am on a new flight trying to start my now significantly more expensive trip. » Continue reading this post…