Archive for the ‘Berlin & Germany’ Category

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…

Eat Me. Drink Me. Goes to the Movies: Philly Roll

Philly Roll (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m never quite sure whether the Berlinale is pure torture or if that torture isn’t tempered with an edge of pleasure. I do always seem to miss it when it’s done. For a week and a half, we wake up at 5:30 in the morning, dragging our unkempt, sleep-deprived bodies through the chilly Berlin dark to spend hours waiting in line with other unkempt, sleep-deprived people. We pick up reams of tickets and spend the days sprinting through all the city’s theaters watching films – many bad, some bizarre, others baffling. It’s a rare film that has it all – a good story, believable acting, a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Of this year’s 22 films (a few shy of last year’s 28), four were good, four were bad, and the rest were middling, clunkers earnestly attempting to fly, good ideas with bad execution, stilted acting undercutting interesting stories, tired stories propped up by excellent acting. Of all the films I’ve seen so you don’t have to, War on Everyone and Alone in Berlin are at the top of the list. For a story whose real-life stakes were so incredibly high, Alone in Berlin manages to have none. By the time the couple is executed (surprise!), the only thing that moves you is how Daniel Brühl, a German, has managed to sound like an American speaking with a German accent for two whole hours. And War on Everyone, well, unless you enjoy watching people be offensive while suffering under the illusion that they’re being ironic, don’t waste your time.

Nori and sushi fillings (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But let’s not dwell in negativity. The two best films I saw this year were miles apart in theme and temperament. Goat is a frightening, dark, and layered look at brotherhood and belonging (set at an American college fraternity). » Continue reading this post…

On a German Christmas Market

Christmas market in Braunschweig (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There is little quite so lovely as wandering beneath boughs of evergreen with a sack full of chestnuts warming your hand as the smell of powdered sugar and melted butter mingles with pine sap and spice.

The Christmas market is a beautiful thing, a little glow of warmth and good cheer in the bleak midwinter. The crowd jostles along, surprisingly friendly in the crush. It must be the Glühwein – warm wine mulled with citrus and spice – that everyone drinks from tiny, commemorative mugs. Each stand has its own – a little brown boot, a red mug tiered like a whirling advent tower – that people love to pocket at the end of the night, considering the transaction paid for with their two euro deposit.

Spanferkel in a Mumme-roll (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Evergreen huts at the Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Mumme-Glühwein (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here in Braunschweig, they serve a special kind of Glühwein laced with Mumme, a malty extract that started its life as a sailor’s beer but today is mostly non-alcoholic in its uses. A shot added to Glühwein deepens the fruity sweetness with aroma, an invigoratingly dark swirl of flavor and warmth.

At the Mumme stand, they also serve Mumme beer and Mumme-baked rolls heaped with freshly-sliced Spanferkel – suckling pig slowly roasted until the meat is juicy and tender with fat that melts on your tongue like caramels and crisp, salty crackling. We top it off with Mumme-honey mustard and eat it standing up at packed wooden tables, where we wipe our grease-slicked mouths with paper napkins and wash all that goodness down with slugs of hot Glühwein that burns our tongues.

A German Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Christmas sausages (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But there’s more to the market than Mumme. There are tiny poffertjes, buttery, puffy pancakes made with buckwheat and yeast and sprinkled with powdered sugar. There’s a stand selling Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce and rosemary-roasted new potatoes. » 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…

Spargel Fever: White Asparagus and Pancetta Pizza

white asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When spring finally hits Berlin, what people here are most excited for isn’t lush grass tickling along the banks of the Canal or bright bouquets of flowers filling every market stall, but the piles of white asparagus cropping up on grocery store shelves around the country. Spargelzeit is here.

I must admit, I’m not immune to the fever. Unlike the brisk, verdant crunch of green asparagus, white asparagus is surprisingly sweet and just this side of mellow – a perfect template for its traditional accompaniments of hollandaise or browned butter, salty prosciutto and creamy boiled new potatoes with parsley.

yeast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

pancetta and green onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

shaved asparagus peel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Last weekend, I took a stroll through our neighborhood Spargel Festival. It wasn’t much – just a few small stands set up around the fountain in the Rathaus Park. There were a few odd participants – a political cluster with competing parties and pamphlets, the boy scouts with their tipi set up on the lawn – but for the most part, it was full of typical German street festival fare: Thüringer Bratwurst and Knackerwurst, Flammkuchen (wood-fired flatbreads typically topped with crème fraîche, onions, and lardons), grilled pork steaks stuffed inside crusty bread rolls… and at the asparagus festival, of course, asparagus.

flour for pizza dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

salt (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pizza dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s something provincial about these neighborhood street fairs, even in a big city like Berlin. They’re different from the citywide festivals, like May 1st or the upcoming Carnival of Cultures, where there are rows upon rows of carts, stands, and foldable tables set up selling edibles of every kind on disposable plates. There might be a euro deposit on that caipirinha everyone seems to be carting around, but what’s one euro lost on a plastic cup when the crowd has carried you down the long, muggy line of revelry from one end to the other?

peeled white asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Spargel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At the Asparagus Festival, the asparagus tent served classically-prepared asparagus with accoutrements on real plates with real silverware. » Continue reading this post…

Going Local: Königsberger Klopse

Königsberger Klopse (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I remember the first time I went to a bakery in Berlin and asked for three “Weckle.” The woman behind the counter looked at me blankly, and then slowly, contemptuously, following my line of sight, said, “Don’t you mean three Schrippen?” I nodded, slightly confused at her huff – because even in the States, where we have few regional dialect differences, when someone asks for a “pop,” we just laugh and ask what rock they grew up under (it’s Ohio).

But not in Berlin. Here, Berlinerisch is spoken with pride – and a certain amount of sass, which even has a name. “Berliner Schnauze” literally translates as “Berlin snout,” but is more closely captured by the phrase “smart-ass sassafras pants.” The Berliner Schnauze is a trifecta of “snappy attitude, dry wit and downright rudeness” (a lovely description from Ian Farrell’s article on Berlinerisch in Slow Travel Berlin). Everyone’s a comedian. But a kind of scary one you can’t understand.

Kittys Berlin-Kochbuch (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My childhood experience of Germany was almost solely limited to the south, where they speak their own brand of incomprehensible dialect, Schwäbisch. But since I grew up hearing it, I can understand it – most of it.

But one of the interesting things about growing up in the US speaking a German heavily influenced by a particular dialect, is that when you move to a different region in Germany, you’re not ever totally sure if a word you use is real German (aka Hochdeutsch) or if someone is going to laugh at you for saying “Weckle.”

Anchovies (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Beets in apple cider vinegar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Meatballs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Capers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Technically, Berlinerisch isn’t actually a dialect (or an accent), but a metrolect, “a mixture of different dialects all piled together in one big urban area, usually due to a long history of immigration into the city, from both elsewhere in the country and further afield. » Continue reading this post…