Archive for the ‘Berlin & Germany’ Category

Love in the Time of Corona:
Turmeric & Cinnamon Tea

My boss says that whenever he gets to feeling down about the Coronavirus, he starts singing “My Sharona,” and that helps. For me, it’s been drinking tea. And ignoring the news.

I’ve been told I’m a master of hyperbole. I tend to say, “Don’t do that, or you’ll die” more frequently than situations warrant. Things are often “the worst” or a “disaster.” We often “almost got abducted.” In part, the tongue-in-cheek exaggeration hides the fact that I have a lot of very real and not always rational fears. I am afraid of being abducted. I am afraid of being struck by lightning, of being hit by a car, of being yelled at, of government collapse, the end of society, apocalypse. My mind zips from the smallest thing to the end of the world in milliseconds. It’s a ride on the anxiety express I’m pretty good at stalling most of the time, but when something happens that makes my irrational fears seem founded, I struggle.

Yet as the clouds of Coronavirus began massing on Berlin’s horizon, I was blasé. The hysteria seemed illogical and inconsistent. How much toilet paper can you really go through in ten days of quarantine? Isn’t hoarding hand soap beside the point when we all need to be washing our hands to avoid spreading germs? And the travel bans and the shirking public spaces and the not meeting friends… Yes, we should wash our hands often, yes we should stay home if we’re sick. But can we really let fear dictate our lives?

I halfheartedly stocked up on non-perishables and dish soap – though while everyone else was panicked about toilet paper, my impulse was to buy a lot of coconut milk and fantasy novels. I even (and I’m a little ashamed to admit this now) decided to spend a day at the sauna. » Continue reading this post...

There and Back Again –
Introducing Palate

Well. Hello. It’s been some time. The longest time I’ve ever not written something in this space since I started writing in this space eleven years ago. But it’s been some things. It’s been fire and the end of a relationship. It’s been living with boxes for furniture and then unpacking boxes of furniture and getting really good at IKEA instructions once the five months of renovations were up and I was back at home. It’s been painting all the walls and trying to capture photos of Rum Tum the cat at his best angle. It’s been work, so much work, and endless pots of coffee. It’s been bouts of bizarre dreams and insomnia, but also lots of baths and even more reading because I’ve invested in bookshelves. It’s been a trip home for Christmas and a New Year’s cruise in the Caribbean, a weekend at the Baltic and in Amsterdam. It’s been the mundane things, like eating dinner and cleaning the bathroom, brushing my teeth. It’s been getting my bike fixed. It’s been watering the plants. Basically, it’s been life.

And also, it’s been a book. Last year, I decided that if I had nothing else to show for my year, I’d finally get around to finishing the book that’s been sitting on my hard drive 95% done for about four years. The book has had its own dramatic history – it would pick up momentum, garner interest, and then plans would fall through, people got busy. It’s okay, I get it. Life happens. Half the time it was my life happening that got in the way.

But in the same way that all of last year’s bitterest moments revealed just how much I have to be grateful for, the book has always been supported and loved on its journey to becoming, no matter how serpentine the turns. » Continue reading this post...

Feel the Burn:
Sun-dried Tomato Butter (Tomatenbutter)

Tomatenbutter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A few days after our apartment burned down, we went grilling in Tempelhof. “We don’t have to buy coals,” I said. “We can just shovel up the remains of the bedroom.”

Hey, I like a joke as much as anybody.

Nevertheless, we did buy a bag of non-homemade coals, and – after discovering that the grill I’d been storing in the damp basement was rusted beyond use – a new grill, too. The humor of a grill being the first household good replaced post-fire is not lost on me.

Tempelhof in the summer is a haze of smoke from the barbecues clustered in the two sections of the park where grilling is allowed. The air is scented with pork fat spitting from the paprika-spiked belly kebabs, sausages, steaks, and good char smell.

Not the toxic char smell that currently blankets the old apartment.

Our barbecue was smack-dab in the middle of the denial phase of my grief process, and it didn’t seem real to me that when the guards came around kicking people out of the closing park at dusk, we didn’t have a home to go to, didn’t have covers to crawl under, wouldn’t have a sleepy Sunday morning to lounge into.

But I also remember how deliriously happy I was, between scoops of salsa and a bratwurst dipped in mustard. I was so thankful to be alive, thankful I was living the life I’ve built for myself in Berlin, thankful for the people who surround me, so sappily thankful for the city itself and all the beautiful people in it.

I was so thankful to be alive, thankful I was living the life I’ve built for myself in Berlin, thankful for the people who surround me.

Long ago and before there ever was a fire, one of those people gave me a recipe for a sun-dried tomato butter called, in German, Tomatenbutter. » Continue reading this post...

Another Year, Another Berlinale:
Quark Beignets

Quark Beignets (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Yes, yes, yes, February feels like a distant dream of long-ago coats and scarves, fur-lined gloves and wind so cold it creaks inside the wet, warm inside of your cheeks. But for the most part, none of the films I saw at this year’s Berlinale will be out for another twelve months anyway, so this post is mostly just as relevant as it might have been when it was maybe a little more relevant.

What was it about this year’s Berlinale that made us drop like flies? Every single one of us was sick by the end. I left my last film and went straight to bed for two days, waking in a feverish twilight and wanting the covers, a bowl of popcorn dusted with Old Bay, and the Game of Thrones opening sequence jauntily humming from my laptop speakers. Ugh, art films! it made me want to say and mouth a silent scream. Ugh, to the obscenity-strewn pointlessness of Mid-90s. Ugh, to the questionable metaphors of Flatland. Ugh, to the black-and-white smugness of Elisa y Marcela, which was so bad I had to leave the theater.

Some of our posse were more pleased with their choices, but I felt like I’d mostly picked a bunch of duds. Though there were films I really did enjoy, even now, looking back on it a month later, there wasn’t anything that left a sear in my heart like last year’s Tinta Bruta or Call Me By Your Name from the year before that.

What can I recommend of the twenty films I saw? VICE was excellent, incisive, timely – and terrifying. Systemsprenger, about kids who fall through the system’s cracks, was haunting and heart-wrenching and so well-acted. And Waiting for the Carnival was a beautiful documentary that did an excellent job of withholding judgment on a story that could so easily have been a lecture on the evils of industrialization. » Continue reading this post...

It’s a German Thing:
Glühwein

Homemade Glühwein and Zimtsterne (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Every country that suffers from a dearth of winter daylight and an overabundance of ice has a favorite hot and alcoholic drink to get its residents through to warmer months. The Swedish have Glogg, the English mulled wine, and I’m sure somebody else has something (who gets the hot toddy?). In Germany, no December is complete without a few too many mugs of Glühwein clutched in a gloved hand and tightly held against the jostle of the Christmas market crowd.

On that note, no December in Berlin is complete without multiple visits to each of the different markets, effused with the scent of candied almonds and grilled bratwursts spitting fat. Each has its own character – Gendarmenmarkt is always overly packed, but you’ve got that post-Christmas-shopping vibe inspiring you to purchase just another bag of Baumkuchen bites. The market at Schloss Charlottenburg is expansive and twisting, filled with people selling suckling pig and potato pancakes, custom jewelry and chocolate-covered fruit. There, the Glühwein bar is a giant wooden windmill, one of those classic German Christmas decorations where the heat of candles sends the manger scene spinning.

Rixdorf feels like a neighborhood market where your friends are selling arts and crafts, while the market at Alexanderplatz is full of bored-looking vendors pouring just another glass of swill to the tourists who’ll be charmed by anything. This year, I even made it to the market in Braunschweig, where the Glühwein is served with a shot of Mumme, a thick malt extract that tempers the sugar.

Christmas tree (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Orange slices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Christmas amaryllis (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Gingersnaps (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Glühwein accoutrements (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This year, I made Glühwein at home for the first time – and wondered why I’d never done it before. There’s something so wonderful about a pot of hot beverage perfuming the kitchen with spice while you stand at the counter rolling out dough for Zimtsterne – German Christmas cookies rich with cinnamon and almond and glazed with meringue – then taking your Glühwein to the living room and stretching out on the carpet in front of the little, live tree to write Christmas cards, even though you said you weren’t going to write any this year. » 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.

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 (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Candied orange (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

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...

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.

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.

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. » 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...