Archive for the ‘Comfort Food’ Category

Saving Grace

Bulgur salad with tomatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s been a while. I dove right into crazy town and am just now coming up for air. In the past three weeks, some things happened: Like fine balsamic, I aged another year. My mother, grandfather, and littlest brother came to visit Berlin for a time, and we smashed the town – boating down the Spree, petting the goats in the zoo, touring the hidden depths of the Bundestag, and eating and eating and eating. Of course I was deathly ill for a time, during which there were massive deadlines at work. And on the other hand, we finally got chairs for the apartment. They’re blue and beautiful and I love them. I went to Greece, I rode a donkey, I came home from Greece, and now I’m here at my desk, watching a quickly fading dusk shutter the daytime sky.

It’s both a blessing and a curse to be back in routine – well, ish, since the work week hasn’t really started yet, and I came home to David’s visiting friends on the couch and a spontaneous trip to Mauerpark to grill, which was rained out by thunderstorms, and today we had lunch in the TV tower like tourists in our own city. So there’s that. And then there’s the specter of responsibility that hovers here – I left my calendar and its to-do lists sitting on my desk, and they’ve greeted my homecoming with reproach for having neglected them for so long.

Chopped dill (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Quick bulgur salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Today, the only reasonable thing to do has been to keep ignoring them. Instead, I swept the floor a few times, which always just seems to shift the dust from one room to another. I lay in bed with an icepack on my head and moaned about my humidity headache, trying to nap and restlessly jumping up from bed again. » 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…

On a Sticky Summer Day: Coffee & Cocoa Chili Con Carne

Chili con carne (Eat Me. Drink Me.) I know it’s summer. I can feel the sweat dripping down my back, the wet air making my elbows peel from my desk as I type. My eyelids stick when I blink. And yet… Call me crazy, but I made chili for dinner. I thought about calling this breezy summer chili. Fresh, seasonal meat and beans magic? And then I realized that there was really no point in telling the story any other way than the way it was. It was too hot to make chili, and that’s exactly what I did. Stick, stick, says my elbow, letting me know I spent too long thinking about that last sentence. Chopped vegetables (Eat Me. Drink Me.) Diced garlic (Eat Me. Drink Me.) You know that feeling you get when you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown? That quiet, manic calm that feels watery and full of cracks? I feel a little bit that way. There’s too much to do. I’ve had to read piles of poetry for SAND, the literary journal where I work as the poetry editor. I’ve been working on a translation competition, getting my own poetry collection finished, visiting with family, keeping the apartment clean, working on home improvement projects and crafts, answering emails. It doesn’t even sound like much to write it out, and a lot of it is things I generally enjoy doing – but all those little things add up. And when I think about tackling just one of those things, I go… ah! GIFs on the internet!

Oregano (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Fresh vegetables for chile con carne (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Bacon! (Eat Me. Drink Me.) So logically, after a full day of work, I pedaled to the grocery store to pick up beef and peppers, coffee for breakfast tomorrow, bacon, sour cream and green onions. My project was herculean, considering the weather. Stand by the hot stove, sweat streaming, to slow-cook some chili. At least I remembered to pick up an icy Hefeweizen to take the edge off. » Continue reading this post…

The Arrival Poems: Berliner Leek and Apple Tart

Leek and apple tart with goat cheese (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Who knows pleasure who does not know the smell of leeks on a stovetop? Fragrant and sweet, soft with butter, the scent is a perfume muskier than onion and green with earth. The leeks slowly simmer down, reducing to the thinnest slimness, translucent and rimmed with butter-burnt brown. Now there is sage in the pan, now salt, now the hiss of hard apple cider.

In this moment, I can imagine nothing more beautiful. I am completely happy.

I have just started to write poems about Berlin. What does this mean? For one, it means that I have stopped writing poems about New York. It means that at least for a while, Berlin is the most tangible home I have.

Baking the crust (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Rolled-out dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Tart crust (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Beneath my fingers, flour and butter blend. Light, quick rubs until the butter leaves no more trace than a yellow stain and the dough feels silkily dry. Then there is a whisked egg, drops of cold water. Then the dough is a smooth ball beneath my fingertips. It is rolled and glossy, wrapped in plastic and set aside. It needs to think.

It seems to me that New York is a story about leaving a place you love and Berlin is a story about arriving in a place you come to know. Where we are or where we live is never as simple as choosing what we love. It can be right to live in a place we don’t care for and wrong to live in the place that knows us best. » Continue reading this post…

In Sickness: Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken noodle soup (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I feel terrible. Like I’ve been run over by a gaggle of marauding geese with nothing better to do than peck out my throat for fun.

I have become fixated on the thought of soup.

And not just any soup, but the most comforting kind you can imagine – chicken noodle soup. When you are sick, there is nothing nicer than broad egg noodles slumped inside a broth made from the last life-juice of a chicken’s bones. A tinge of garlic, a tingle of ginger – and if you find a bone or two, well, “parts is parts,” as my great grandmother used to say. » Continue reading this post…

An Egg in the Hand (Post Script): Arepa e’ Huevo & Aji

Fried arepas (Eat Me. Drink Me)

After all this talking about Colombian food, the least I can do is leave you with a recipe.

One morning in Santa Marta, as I was recovering from a particularly retch-worthy day before (don’t drink the water…), we breakfasted on arepas e’ huevo. A typical arepa is a flattened, relatively bland disc of dough that’s been cooked in a skillet with just a little oil. Then, it’s topped with a slice of white farmer’s cheese and spicy ají.

But an arepa e’ huevo is something entirely different. This is an arepa, deep fried once, then stuffed with a raw egg and deep fried again. Double deep fried. Waistline death by delicious excess.

a satisfying stack of arepas (Eat Me. Drink Me)

I watched a few YouTube tutorials on making these arepas, and decided that it was going to be either impossible or phenomenal. Though watching someone deftly slip an egg into a tiny arepa glistening with hot oil is supposed to inspire you with confidence, it had the complete opposite effect on me. So I told the friend coming to dinner that depending on the way the experiment turned out, we might just be having ají for dinner.

In the end, inviting a friend to dinner turned out to be my saving grace. There’s too much to coordinate on your own – making sure the arepas don’t stick together in the oil, holding one open and dropping in the egg, sealing the hole shut with dough and frying it again. But the process is fun, and at the end of it, you’ve worked up quite an appetite.

Dropping an egg into the arepa (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Arepas con Huevo (Eat Me. Drink Me)

My dimly-lit Berlin kitchen might be pretty far from a breezy seaside town on the Colombian coast, but just one bite of these delicious, rich, and dense arepas brought me right back.

Hot arepas con huevo (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Arepas con Huevo with feta and aji (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Arepas e’ Huevo

For the ají:
2 chiles
1 yellow onion
3 tbsp. » Continue reading this post…

Comfort Food & Christmas Coming Up: Jansson’s Frestesle

Jansson's Frestesle recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Is it just me, or does it feel like holiday food necessitates buckets of heavy whipping cream and gobs of butter? Not just me? Alright, fine, let’s proceed.

At my other job, I’m already knee-deep in Christmas things. We like to stay a couple weeks ahead of the curve, and I spend my days translating articles about the best Christmas gifts, pretty sugar-cookie scented bubble baths and artfully wrapped cosmetics. The end result being that all I’ve wanted to do for the last few weeks is bake gingersnaps and indulge in a few “harmless,” late-night, online shopping sprees.

onions for Jansson's Frestesle (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

potatoes and one sneaky onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

onions ready for baking (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So when my other job said, photograph some Christmas foods for us, I said, absolutely and instantly ran to the grocery store to purchase buckets of heavy whipping cream and butter. Obviously.

Jansson’s Frestelse is a traditional Swedish Christmas casserole in which starchy potatoes play an understated backdrop to buckets of heavy whipping cream, butter, lightly caramelized onions and salty anchovies. When it’s all baked together in an oven, it becomes a rich medley of hot, bubbling cream beneath a crackling bread crumb crust. Holiday food at its finest.

layers of anchovies for Jansson's Frestesle (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
layered potatoes for Jansson's Frestesle (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It was about the time I was halfway through the dish of Jansson’s Frestelse (also known as Jansson’s Temptation for good reason), that I realized I had just single-handedly consumed one 250g carton of heavy whipping cream.

This brought me to the conclusion that holidays are meant to be shared with others not simply because they are about family and friends and togetherness, but because we should never have to eat so much butter by ourselves. (Or at least a holiday dinner allows us to do a better job of managing our feelings of guilt at having eaten so much butter by displacing them onto the rest of the assembled company.)

Swedish Christmas casserole (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

potatoes, butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Anyway, I’m sure the extra lipid layer will come in handy here in Berlin as the Christmas markets start popping up around the city and all the boot-shaped mugs of Glühwein in the world won’t keep me warm…

Jansson's Frestesle (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Jansson’s Frestelse (Jansson’s Tempation)

5-6 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
2 medium onions, sliced
15 Swedish anchovy fillets (usually from a tin, in oil)
3 tbsp butter
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
½ cup bread crumbs

Sauté onions in 1 tbsp butter with a pinch of salt and pepper and 1 tsp sugar until translucent and lightly browned. » Continue reading this post…

If on a Winter’s Night: Easy Winter Lentil Stew

easy winter lentil stew recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I haven’t taken my hat off for days. I’m beginning to wonder if I still have hair, and if I do, whether or not it matters. I’m supposed to be working. Instead, I’m chipping the nail polish from my fingers, staring outside at the falling leaves, debating whether or not to buy a monthly metro pass. (At the end of the story, I will end up buying one. I will not regret it.)

Some days it rains and in the coffee shops the crowds grow a low murmur. Outside, the smell of damp leaves and everywhere, I swear, I smell a roasting turkey. I’m reading a book of short stories by Italo Calvino and at the same time a Harper’s magazine from May I’ve been working on for months. In the news, it’s a blur of politics and hurricanes and I wonder what I’d be doing in New York if I were still there. I think of my McKibbin apartment, where I didn’t close up the three-inch hole in the window with duct tape until winter.

sliced peppers for lentil stew (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

garlic for lentil stew (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What I most look forward to are afternoons wrapped up in a blanket and my love, a movie laughing in the background and sleep in my limbs.

Don’t tell anyone, but I like these days. The damp, the leaves, the candles lined up on the windowsill. The snuggled in slippers, the garish green hat.

chopped vegetables for winter lentil stew (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I cook on nights like these, I cook for comfort. I want the seeping smell of garlic and spice. I want to feel the thin skin of a tomato crack beneath my knife and hear the familiar sound of a peeler’s swish against a carrot. And when I eat my stew, I want it to mean the day is done. The shutters can be let down and soon, soon, I can go to bed. » Continue reading this post…