Archive for the ‘Berlin & Germany’ Category

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…

The Wurst

Homemade Bratwurst (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Intestines smell. Terribly. I’m not exactly sure what I’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the heady, pungent stench of a hound’s breath whiffed with rotten bone. However washed and dried and packed in salt they might be, intestines smell like what they are: long, stringy coils of an organ that once held yards of mulching food on its way to less pleasant places.

And yet, there I stood at the kitchen island, disentangling about seven meters’ worth of pig intestines. I was oddly reminded of the matted bundles of jewelry my grandma used to set aside for me. My nimble fingers were expert at parsing apart delicate gold links and unwinding them from multi-colored baubles. I never imagined the skill would come in handy here, as I gently tugged a knot out of the intestine, sending grains of coarse salt scattering across the floor.

It was sausage day.

Seven meters of intestines (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making your own sausages isn’t necessarily hard, but there are a lot of moving parts involved. And equipment. You have to have a meat grinder and a stuffing horn and probably a freezer that’s bigger than the crystal-filled icebox wedged at the top of my tiny European fridge. And it’s definitely a two-person job.

The meat grinder is an unwieldy beast, and one person must feed the chunks of meat into the machine, while the other keeps the red rainbow-strands flowing evenly into the bowl. After the dry-rubbed meat is ground once, it’s flash-frozen, then ground again with a finer dice before being whisked into the freezer once more. Finally, it’s mashed into a pinkish pulp by hand and worked with a glut of rich cream.

Intestines dried in salt (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Checking casing for integrity (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Before you even begin to stuff the sausage, you must check the intestines for integrity. This involves wedging one end up to the faucet like a water balloon’s lip, and watching as the long tube fills, pale and eerily veined like ghost leaves. » Continue reading this post…

A Little Literature: Mint & Dill Sweet Pea Dip

Mint and dill sweet pea dip (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For the first time since I moved to Berlin, I’ve missed my favorite social event of the year: SAND’s new issue launch party. Yes, sure, you might say I was gallivanting around Colombia, eating fried mojarra and drinking fresh-pressed juices, so what did I want with one evening of readings, of dancing, of congratulatory back-clapping? But for those of us who’ve spent six months putting it together, the launch party is our first chance to hold the new issue in our hands – this beautiful physical object we produce in an age where “print is dead.”

It’s been an interesting issue for me in any case, my first as retired editor in chief. It’s an odd feeling, somehow, to have worked my way from copy editor to managing editor to poetry editor to editor in chief and then to suddenly find myself with an honorary senior editorship and the hoary post of keeper of old history. I know the intricacies of the journal inside and out – after six years, you become something of an expert. But it’s more than just having knowledge. I feel like I’ve helped SAND grow from a small and maybe slightly ramshackle passion project to a fixture in the Berlin literary community and beyond. It’s well-organized and structured, the team is so so dedicated and talented, and the journal is ready to blow up. Which is ultimately why I decided to step down as editor in chief.

SAND Issue 15 (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemon zest (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A bowl of green (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Like any empty-nester, I had plenty of projects lined up for when the birdie flew. There’s The Wolf & Peter, a food venture the very talented Anna of Anna’s Kitchen and I are launching, where we host supper clubs and workshops and kitchen takeovers. And I’ve been writing a cookbook that is slowly but surely nearing completion. » Continue reading this post…

Going German: Eierkuchen with Speck

Eierkuchen recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I realized recently with some surprise that I’ve been living in Germany for nearly six years. The time has manifested itself in subtle ways. I’ve gotten accustomed to long meals with infrequent attention from waitstaff, come to enjoy waiting for the light to turn green before crossing the street. I’ve gotten less good at small talk, more good at getting to the point (but clearly, not better at speaking English…). I’ve gotten used to just buying food for one meal at a time, since my fridge is too small to support much more than that. And I’ve gotten very good at packing up my groceries in record speed as the cashier’s speedy swiping slings them precipitously towards the counter’s edge.

My speaking skills certainly haven’t escaped unscathed. I find myself forgetting words, or grabbing for something in German that feels so much more specific. Like the other night, when I was telling a story about the sink my neighbors were throwing out, and I couldn’t just call it a “sink,” because it was more than a “sink” or even a “kitchen sink.” It was the kitchen sink with all its accoutrements and pipes and cabinet system – a Spüle in German. So many words in English. In German, just the one.

I’ve also gotten into the habit of ending my sentences with “or?” – a direct translation of the German “oder?,” which functions like “you know?” or “right?” but is certainly not something we say. And yet, it has ceased to sound odd to me.

Eierkuchen recipe in English (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Eierkuchen pancakes in a stack (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

German has a reputation for being an ugly, angry-sounding language. And it’s not entirely inaccurate. There was that meme that went around some time ago with words in different languages… butterflypapillonmariposaSchmetterling. But some German words are better than their English counterparts. » Continue reading this post…

Many Movies Means More Movie Snacks: Nori & Sesame Buttered Popcorn

Popcorn snack for the movies (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

How can I describe the way it feels when this movie marathon comes to an end, the way my fingers linger over the last ritual unpacking of the bag, the flinging of ticket stubs and loose papers onto the desk. The slow, deep gulps of water salving a week’s worth of harried dehydration, and how I sink down onto the couch to tally up the week’s report of good, bad, and indifferent.

It’s especially as the Berlinale whirls to its inevitable conclusion that I feel that I myself am in a film. I see with a cinematic eye. Even now, as I hunch over my desk to quickly jot this paragraph down, I see how the camera pans in on my fingers, the gentle, white glow of the laptop screen in the dark, the soft tap-tap-tap of my pointer finger on the keys as I think of what to write next. I bite my lip self-consciously to show the audience that I am thinking. The camera picks up the sound of the children in the adjacent apartment, laughing, and the clink of dinner dishes. The scene is set.

Nori Popcorn (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Popcorn for the Berlinale (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The feeling is especially strong as I walk from place to place, which, in the past week and a half, has meant: from theater to theater. Then, my mind’s-eye-camera zooms out across Berlin’s blocky, boxy rows of apartment buildings, streets lined with naked trees rattling twiggy fingers in the wind. I hear the click of my boots on the concrete, catch the flick of my eyes upwards as I wait for the traffic signal to change. I reach into my bag and pull out my wallet, slipping the fat wad of tickets between my fingers to check where I’m going next and what time I need to be there. When you’re watching up to five films a day, it’s easy to lose track. » Continue reading this post…

Market Day: Roasted Beet Salad with Gorgonzola and Balsamic

Roasted beet salad with beet greens (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The Winterfeldt Market is a circus of color and noise. On Saturday mornings, it’s filled with people shopping for fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and baked goods of every hue. There are buckets of olives and pastes made with roasted eggplant, arugula, paprika, garlic, or chives. There are barrels of blooming flowers bursting with pops of purple, yellow, and pink. Trucks sell swirls of fresh pasta and raviolis alongside plastic tubs of pesto and long glasses of olive oil. One stand sells grilled fish, skin charred over an open flame – another sells raclette, silky with pungent cheese and brightened with fresh parsley and red chili flakes.

The market is walking distance from my apartment, at the end of a route that feels accustomed to my feet. Wherever I live, I find myself tracing familiar routes for as long as I can, before my destination chooses my route for me. If I were a river, I’d carve canyons along these trusted paths. Fanning like a star from my apartment, there’s the road that leads to the train station and the road to the park where I do my morning run, scattering rabbits breeding like clichés. The road that leads to work snakes through back alleys, through a school playground where I have to dismount my bike and walk between the shouting, shifting kids, up and around a grungy park, over a stretch of cobbled street and unpaved road that spills out onto the main thoroughfare. And then there’s the road that leads everywhere else: Out the door, a right, a right, and a left to Hauptstraße – Main Street.

Market day snack (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Greens and raw garlic (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I pass the Baptist bookstore on the corner where they sometimes put out piles of free books. Dan Browns and romance novels, 90s teen fiction with faded purple covers and curly script. There’s a second-hand shop around the next corner, and I always glance in the big glass windows. » Continue reading this post…

On Lost Knowledge

Homemade bread and strawberry-rhubarb jam (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Not long ago, while visiting family down south in the lush, low mountains of Germany, I spotted a cluster of sweet woodruff in the woods. The ground was covered with it, bright green fans of star-shaped leaves bursting with clusters of tiny white flowers. I plucked a leaf and crushed it between my fingers, inhaling its herbal scent, then snapped it up between my teeth, surprised by the tingly punch of cinnamon that pricked my tongue. It was then I remembered something about woodruff’s toxicity – the coumarin that lends it its sweet, grassy fragrance is also moderately toxic to the liver and kidneys. And I couldn’t quite remember if fresh woodruff was one of those things you weren’t supposed to eat. So I spat out the remnants of crushed leaves, still feeling the warm prickle on my tongue. Mother, I promise someday to stop putting unidentified foods from the woods in my mouth.

Processing pine shoots to make honey (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making "Tannenspitzenhonig" (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sweet woodruff – or Waldmeister, as it is known in Germany – had been on my mind since sampling a craft-brewed Berliner Weisse topped off with a cap of woodruff syrup the marshy color of a toad’s back.

A sour, cloudy white beer, Berliner Weisse is mainly a summer beverage, and people in Berlin drink it doused with a too-generous shot of garish-colored syrup. Red is for raspberry and green is for Waldmeister, but both taste the same – loud, sugary, and thick. The drink has fallen out of favor, especially with the younger generation. It’s too artificial for our coolly understated tastes. And so I was surprised – but maybe not too surprised – to find a stand at a local craft spirits festival serving the “real” stuff: Brewbaker Berliner Weisse with home-brewed sweet woodruff syrup.

It was nothing like its neon twin – a backwoods relative who scoops the potato salad out by hand at the family picnic. » Continue reading this post…

The Wolf & Peter

The Wolf & Peter Supper Club (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

You know you’ve done a good thing when in the midst of that thing – that’s been driving you crazier than any other thing you’ve ever done – you think, I wonder if we could get that moonshine distillery to work with us for the next one.

Two weeks ago, my friend Anna and I co-hosted our first-ever supper club, a ten-course tasting menu featuring paired beers from Vagabund brewery. Twenty-five guests spent a dusky spring evening inside Berg Burg Studio, talking and laughing, feasting on a menu of Swedish fusion cuisine as the sun slowly set and the subway rumbled past the vast windows.

Setting up the structure (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Test tubes of salt and pepper (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Herbs in tubes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We’d tested our menu for weeks, getting together on weekends and evenings to cook through dish after dish: Swedish-style deviled eggs garnished with caviar alongside home-pickled herring and dill & caraway schnapps. Butter herbed with parsley, chive, and sage melting into warm seed and nut rolls. Baby spinach tossed with shaved fennel, orange, and pomegranate seeds with tart Dijon-citrus dressing. Lamb tacos with roasted sweet potatoes, caramelized onions, lemon-tahini dressing, and cinnamon-toasted pecans. Red beet and apple salad with parsley and mint. A duo of white chocolate bark with basil and lime and dark chocolate bark with pretzels, almonds, and sea salt served with vanilla schnapps. Sea salt and caraway crackers with sharp white cheddar and plumion (plum & red onion) jam. Juniper-infused moose meatballs with lingonberry sauce and fresh thyme. Spring rabbit braised in cherry beer with honey-lemon roasted carrots. And finally, after all the endless eating, crisp gingersnaps topped with a scoop of bourbon-vanilla ice cream and cardamom-raspberry coulis.

Anna in the kitchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Prep work (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But hosting a supper club is more than just cooking and eating your way through a mountain of moose someone’s uncle shot on a Swedish hunting weekend. Hosting a supper club comes along with a mire of marketing and logistics neither of us really knew we were signing up for. » Continue reading this post…