Archive for the ‘Comfort Food’ Category

State of Affairs: Poor Writer’s Fish Chowder

Fish chowder (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s been raining nonstop for days. Apparently, we’ve had twice as much rainfall this July as the year before, and the month isn’t even over yet. The weather seems hell-bent on tripling its record, sending down sheets in alternating waves of velvety drizzle and cascading downpour, and I’m becoming adept at discerning nuances in gray. There’s the white-streaked gray that means a short reprieve is coming, and the bluish gray that means it’s coming to an end. A dull, sodden gray means temperamental rain, and dark, voluptuous clouds against pale, rare blue promise brilliant thunderstorms that mean you’d better find a café to hide away in for a while.

I’ve been knocked out with a cold for the last two weeks, and I can’t tell whether it’s all this infernal rain and icky chill or if it’s the mental strain that comes along with returning home from vacation and having to get your real life – and real life deadlines – back on track.

Celery stalks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lobster juice and potatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In any case, I haven’t been this sick in a long time, though by now it’s just lingering malaise and a wimpy-sounding cough, and I’m not sure it still justifies the excessive amount of time I’ve spent binge watching TV or the Game of Thrones theory sites rabbit hole I go down after every new episode airs.

For me, the worst symptom of sickness is guilt. It’s bad enough to feel awful, but it’s even worse to feel awful about feeling awful, to feel like I should go to work even when my body needs rest, to feel like rest is a waste of time, to ache as those hours of productivity slip by in sleep or as Netflix’s deliciously evil Next episode airs in… countdown keeps me tied to the couch. It doesn’t matter how vehemently I try to convince myself that recovery requires R&R – it only ever just feels like an excuse. » 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…

On a Lazy Saturday and the Start of Spring: Khinkali (Georgian Soup Dumplings)

Khinkali (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Spring is coming to Berlin, and the cold, wintry mountains of Georgia are starting to seem like a far-off memory. Of course, spring in Berlin is a relative thing. I’m still wearing my winter coat most days, and bright patches of hopeful blue have only pierced the overwhelming gray long enough to make me crave a picnic blanket in the sun decked with crustless sandwiches and glossy bunches of grapes.

Dough for making khinkali (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Onions (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

On the last of these pretty blue days, I woke early to the sun shining through the windows and felt inspired. I haven’t been feeling that way a lot lately. I’ve taken on too much, and even weekends, I wake up, drink my coffee, and wonder what to tackle next. It’s exhausting, to work in the mornings before going to my job, to work in the evenings when I come home, to keep working on the weekends. I miss doing things that have no ulterior motive or eke me closer to a goal.

It’s hard when my home is a hive of productivity. My computer, my papers, the broom and mop – all grin at me with sharp, consuming teeth.

Rounds of khinkali dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Filling for homemade khinkali (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Dough for homemade Georgian soup dumplings (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Stacks of dough for making dumplings (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What a blessing to wake up on Saturday morning and feel freed by the sunshine. I wanted nothing more than to wrap an apron around my waist and cook – preferably something new, preferably something time-consuming – just to flaunt how free I felt.

I put some podcasts on to play, and while David slept late into a lazy Saturday, I made dumplings.

Ground beef and pork mixture for khinkali (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Rolling out dumpling dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making khinkali (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

One of the best things we ate in Georgia were khinkali, stuffed soup dumplings. The classic dumplings are filled with minced meat like beef, pork, or lamb, herbs, and onion. Others are filled with potato or cheese. We even had tasty, tiny khinkali bursting with caramelized onion and mushroom at a dumpling house overlooking the Kura River and washed them down with crisp, golden pilsner. » Continue reading this post…

It’s Not You, It’s Me. It’s Not Me, It’s Mercury: Vegetarian Chili Bowl

Vegetarian chili bowl (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have broken nearly everything I’ve touched this month. Not just dishes and glasses, but hard-to-break things, like nail polish bottles and candles encased in heavy, shatterproof glass. I broke the little porcelain pig that holds the toothpicks, the Bodum French press, the bottle of hot sauce, the glass of anchovies that then dripped salty fish oil all over the kitchen floor. When I was making this vegetarian chili bowl, I showered the room with little bits of TVP as the bag fumbled from my hands.

Is this just a serious case of butterfingers? Or is it something more? January has been a hard month for me. My body aches like an old tooth. I’m cranky and easy to displease. I’ve had trouble waking up in the mornings and little energy for work. All of these things have made me an incredibly pleasant person to be around.

TVP (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s especially frustrating because it’s exactly the opposite of what I want – not that anyone actively wants to be cranky and accident-prone. I’d set clear goals for myself for January, all of them designed to make me a more relaxed and easygoing individual. Read more books in the evenings, don’t use electronics before bed, don’t force yourself to keep working when the work day is done, make time for exercise, stretch in the mornings before work.

And this January, I’ve had about a 25% success rate for meeting my goals. When I manage to wake up without hitting the snooze button four times, I stretch – sometimes. When I don’t devolve into playing Hay Day on the couch at night, I read – sometimes. I’m more enticed by Facebook’s endless scroll than I’ve ever been, and the thought of addressing the email situation makes me feel like I’m willingly signing up to be Sisyphus. » Continue reading this post…

A Winter Slumgullion: Chicken & Shrimp Gumbo

Chicken and shrimp gumbo (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I collect words. When I find a good one, I copy it into my little black notebook, the one that also contains restaurants and bars I’d like to visit, directions, sketches, snatches of poetry hurriedly composed in a cramped hand, email addresses and phone numbers, Spanish grammar tips, post ideas, books to read, little moments I’d like not to forget. And words.

I carry them around with me all the time – since my little black book is always in my bag – and read through them on occasion, rolling my tongue around and into those verbal nooks. There’s “pullulate”: “to exist abundantly, to send forth buds, to increase rapidly, teem.” Or “sirocco”: “any hot, oppressive wind.” “Quisle”: “to betray, especially by collaborating with an enemy.” “Collop”: “a small slice of meat, a small slice of anything, a fold or roll of flesh on the body.”

Garlic and thyme (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Living abroad, my vocabulary shrivels. Here, English lives within the law of averages, and if I remember from long ago math lessons (one thing I definitely don’t write down in my little black book are equations), an average sucks up the best and the worst and plunks you somewhere in the middle.

There are some words left languoring that way – and good riddance to them. I think “plethora” is the worst word in the English language, like a dull goat in an academic’s gown. Goodbye “myriad” and “veritable” and “moreover.” And truthfully, I’ve found that simpler words, when fitted well together, are often better at expressing ideas than all the viperines, girns and borborygamuses combined.

Okra (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Wintry chicken and shrimp gumbo (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

That brings me to this little gem of a word: “slumgullion,” whose meanings are as myriad as what it means: “A meaty stew, a weak beverage, refuse from whale carcasses, a muddy mining deposit.” I mean, wow, what multitudes! » Continue reading this post…

My Green Thumb: Fried Green Tomatoes with Sriracha Remoulade

Green tomatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I don’t have much of a green thumb. In fact, I think if my thumb were a color, it’d be a sickly ash brown, mottled with spots and covered with voracious aphids. All of the plants in my apartment are in various stages of death – it’s like they’re living, but unwillingly. Is it because I go for too long without watering them and then overwater in an effusive shower of liquid affection? Maybe. Is it because I’ve put the sun-seeking plants in the shadows and the shadow creepers right on the window sill? Could be. Not even the cactus is thriving. And that’s saying something.

Sriracha remoulade (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Sliced green tomatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Green tomatoes ready to be fried (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Fried green tomatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Alongside waking up with the sun every morning and reading the New York Times on my balcony with a cup of coffee, growing plants and gardening is something I’ve always associated with being grown up. I have no balcony, I live in a country where even the weekend NYT edition costs over 25 euros, and there is no sunshine in Berlin between the months of September and May. How am I supposed to be a grown up? All I have left of my childhood vision of what being an adult is, is that cup of coffee slowly chilling on top of a stack of taxes and bills I have to pay myself.

Sriracha (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A stack of fried green tomatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This summer, I decided to take my future into my own hands and do some urban gardening. I may not have had a balcony, but I did have a French balcony (a euphemism for a long window) with a planter full of dirt. So I planted tomatoes. I started them from seed in tiny cardboard cups on a cake plate in front of the window. I watered them every evening and watched as gentle sprouts peeked out of the dirt and sweetly unfurled their furry little leaves. » Continue reading this post…

The Road Home to Apple Country: Apple Butter

Homemade apple butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I know I swore I’d never can another fruit. And then along came a big bag of apples, plucked straight from the tree, and I couldn’t just let them rot.

I’ve never been much of an apple person. I think they’re a little boring as fruits go – a little too uniformly sweet, too big to nibble on, too much chewing to do. But apples feel like a harbinger of the fall, of cooler, crisper days, of waiting for the school bus and new sweaters, of cinnamon sticks and pie and holidays.

A bowl of just-picked apples (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Just a lonely little apple (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I grew up in apple country. Not far from where we lived, the roads started undulating like a kiddie coaster, curving through fog-stained fields full of gnarled fruit trees and corn. We bought our apples from a stand along the road which sold fresh peaches and blueberries – whatever was in season – along with homemade pickles and preserves. And every fall, there was the Apple Harvest Festival, a sweet-smelling country fair with bluegrass music and whole pigs roasting on spits. Mouths full of apples, of course.

Bowl of bright apples (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Apple butter helper (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Homegrown apples (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have a very vivid memory of the festival. It must be a composite, because I’m sure we went more than just the once, but in my mind it’s that one long day in the clear, blue fall. I remember an apple fritter pulled from a vat of boiling oil, soft and doughy and covered in powdered sugar. I remember sitting on a hay bale and watching a play whose plot points I can no longer recall though I can still feel the scratchy hay poking through my thin leggings and the straw sticking out from a scarecrow’s shirt beside me.

Weighing apple quarters (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Quartered apples for making apple butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I know there were tractors on display and squat ponies walking around and around the corral with children on their backs. » Continue reading this post…