Archive for the ‘Eating Outdoors’ Category

Norwegian Wood… and Waffles

Lysefjord, Norway (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

People who worry should not eat wild berries in the woods. Even if those woods are in Norway and the little fruits looks like blueberries and taste like blueberries, they may not be blueberries. There’s a certain euphoria that comes from hiking down a mountain after you’ve just stood on the precipice of a very big cliff towering over a fjord that slices between the mountains like a blue seam. It makes you braver, maybe, than you should be.

I’d been scanning the undergrowth for blueberry bushes. The last time I was in Norway, I told Elli, as we clambered down the rough stone trail from the top of the Preikestolen, I remembered picking tiny wild blueberries and greedily stripping the bushes bare as I ate them one by one. The surviving berries were baked into pies we ate for dessert in the little wooden house perched on the edge of a cliff, a gem-green fjord flowing down below.

Yellow flowers on a stormy day (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I found three tenacious berries peeking out beneath the green, I snapped them up and popped them in my mouth. It wasn’t until a few paces later that I wondered whether what I’d eaten really was a blueberry. Maybe it was a poisonous berry, and I’d just committed unintentional suicide on a Norwegian mountain trail, far from hospital or help. My stomach began to feel queasy. I felt dizzy, weak. It was a blueberry, Elli said. Tell me when 15 minutes are up, I said. If I’m not dead by then, I think I’ll continue living.

Purple flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Sverd i fjell (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Rock by the sea (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Burst of white flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We’d flown in to Stavanger the night before, and spent the evening wandering around the little city, marveling at its emptiness. For a Friday night, the streets were dead. We peered into dark shops, our footsteps the only ones echoing over the clean cobbled stones. » Continue reading this post…

Campfires & Cakes

Emma's Linzertorte (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It begins and ends with fire. In the middle, is cake.

On the day we arrive in Burladingen, we don’t waste much time in loading up the cars with boxes of sausages and driving up the narrow, winding road into the mountains. The landscape is brilliantly green, like a patchwork of multi-hued golf courses, speckled with tall, dark pines. Everywhere in the not-so-far distance is the upward slope of a gentle mountain thick with cover.

Here on the Swabian Jura, summer is a cool afterthought. Today the sun is shining, albeit meekly, meagerly, and I am dressed in all three sweaters I thought to pack. On the Eichland, the land of oaks, the grass is littered with pinecones and dead needles. The sun glimmers out beyond the copse. Where we are is shaded, and a naughty breeze nips the trees.

We quickly light a fire by throwing brush into the ring of stones, then adding sticks and larger logs. At nearly 85, my grandfather still fells trees up here on his two forest plots, and what we burn is the scrap from the wood he uses to fire the furnace in his valley home.

Kebabs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A grilled Bratwurst (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Soon, a blaze licks back against the breeze, and we creep our camp chairs closer to the flame. It’s quiet on the Eichland today; we’re a small group. Michael has taken over the task of burning woodsy brush on the fire. Livi has gravitated toward the push lawnmower, as every child who’s ever been to the Eichland is wont to do. She whirrs it industriously across the grass.

For dinner, we throw kebabs on hot coals and roast sausages on sticks over the open flame. There are potatoes with skin crisped black and dense slices of bread. It’s a simple meal: Meat. But our bellies are full as the dusk settles into night and we pack up and drive home. » Continue reading this post…

Some Kind of Beachside Romance: Colombian Shrimp Ceviche

Colombian ceviche (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In Colombia, David says, ceviche is an aphrodisiac. On the beaches of Santa Marta, dark, lanky young men walk up and down the shore bent over from the weight of Styrofoam coolers. Big straw hats protect them from the sun, which is powerful, especially around noon in this tropical city. They walk from beachside group to beachside group, offering to prepare ceviche for you towel-side. They flip open the lids of their coolers to scoop little pink shrimp into a paper cup. With quick-fire flips, they douse it with squirts of lime, garlic water, ketchup and mayonnaise, serving you the whole mess with a packet of Saltines.

Red onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Shrimp (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Chopped onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

They walk up and down the beach all day, opening and closing their coolers, scooping shrimp and squirting ketchup, while the hot sun just gets hotter. David wouldn’t let me try any of the beachside ceviche. Because in Colombia, ceviche also gives you food poisoning. Some aphrodisiac.

Camarones (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Ceviche with shrimp (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Colombian ceviche (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Limes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I had to wait another year and a half to try Colombian ceviche, when David offered to prepare it as an add-on to the Chopped competition turned epic feast we held during family vacation. » Continue reading this post…

Berlin to Burladingen, and Back

Opa (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The weather was unseasonably warm on the Alb. While Berlin’s skies were overcast and gray, raindrops dripping from every balcony and eave, Stuttgart’s sun was shining. A filmy blue sky unrolled over deeply green hills as we drove away from the city and into the rural landscape of the Schwäbische Alb. It’s called the Swabian Jura in English, but that feels so wrong to say, I just won’t.

I forget how pretty the Alb is when I’m not there, especially in late spring and early summer, when the trees have bloomed and the fields sprout full of wild daisies, dandelions and purple wildflowers. I love the unreal color of green coating the grass, the way the landscape looks freshly dipped in dew.

Flowers on the Alb (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My brother and I are on our way to our grandfather’s house. My uncle is driving, we’re chatting about the upcoming world cup and which nations are the happiest on Earth. He outlines our program for the weekend. When you only fly south for a long weekend, your hours are tightly regulated. My aunt and uncle are coming for dinner, the next day, if the weather holds, we’ll go grilling on the Eichland. There’s talk of Eurovision.

Burladingen is all talk, it’s always all talk. By which I mean, we start a constant stream of visiting and chatting and catching up from the moment we set foot in my grandfather’s house to the moment we leave. And in the Southern Germany I know, there’s no talking without something tasty to go with it – creamy mushrooms wrapped up in crepes, Danishes and coffee, homemade pizza finished with a round of my grandfather’s bootleg raspberry liqueur, dark bread for breakfast with butter and jam, cake and cake and cake. “It’s not my fault if you go home hungry,” my grandfather says. » Continue reading this post…

Baking My Own Birthday Cake

Birthday party (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

One of my greatest fears in life has always been that no one will come to my birthday party. I’ll invite everyone I know. I’ll send out pretty invitations on cardstock with glitter ink. I’ll promise party favors and food and fun beverages loaded with crushed ice. I’ll promise home-baked cake. But on the day of my party, people will just trickle in and out, if they come at all, and stare sadly at the limp, swaying streamers.

There’s generally very little anyone can say to allay these fears. My boyfriend said, “Don’t be ridiculous.” My brother said the same thing. I’m just always afraid that something else will come up – an apocalypse, a Backstreet Boys reunion tour – and I’ll be left tearing through the sugared crumbs of cake and piles of party food like a lonely Godzilla.

Birthday guest (Eat me. Drink Me.)

Grilling in Tempelhof (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I celebrated my birthday last Saturday with a grill in Tempelhof, a shut-down airport featuring a runway-turned-park where Berlin’s citizens gather on sunny days to rollerblade and bike down the long runways, lie in the sun, and cook on small, portable grills that send up a haze of smoke.

That morning, I’d picked up one of my best and oldest friends from the airport, and like a tyrant, pushed her through her jet-lag by making her go to the market to buy fresh strawberries and herbs, cheeses, vegetables, dirt-crusted potatoes and stalks of bright red rhubarb. Then I made her help me cook. We made my family’s German potato salad, tabbouleh chock full of bright, sweet tomatoes and parsley, and a rhubarb frangipani tart baked on puff pastry.

Picnic potluck (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Sun in Tempelhof (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We were gathering together the ingredients for mojitos, packing paper plates and picnic blankets, when David asked me, “When did you tell people to meet us?”

“Three PM,” I said.

“So around four?” he said. » Continue reading this post…

What I Took From the Woods: Pepper, Fennel and Sausage Breakfast Casserole

Fennel, pepper and sausage breakfast casserole (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Once upon a time, I used to lead backpacking trips. Strange to think about now, after having found my affinity for cities – and big ones at that – that at one time, I gladly trekked through green forests with a pack damping sweat on my back, feet sheathed in sturdy boots, and plastic bags of trail mix stashed inside my pack. We called it gorp, short for “good old raisins and peanuts,” and individuals were severely reprimanded for what was called “strip-mining the gorp” – eating only the colorful M&Ms and leaving behind a pile of nut-dusted raisins.

Round Knob hike (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Each trip lasted about a week and was divided three ways. Three days were spent hiking along the Tennessee-Carolina Appalachian Trail. As we wound our way up steep and rocky paths, we’d stop to pick small wild blueberries studding the bushes or to watch a Monarch rest its wings on a cluster of flowers. The woods were full of squirrels and chattering birds, honeybees, butterflies, and more dangerous animals too – rattlesnakes, bears, and pesky mosquitoes. We made camp near shelters, setting up blue tarps for tents, purifying water from nearby streams to drink, peeling sweaty socks from our tired feet.

There were two separate routes, but both led down to the Appalachian town of Hot Springs, where dirty groups would meet at the Smoky Mountain Diner for giant glasses of tooth-shattering sweet tea, deep-fried sweet corn and okra, cornbread and warm blackberry pie with ice cream.

Butterflies on the AT (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Peppers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Peppers, onion and fennel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

One day of the trip was spent doing a service project in the Asheville area. Some days, we’d clear forest trail of overgrown weeds, fallen stumps and stones. Others, we’d plant gardens for schools or sort cans at the food bank.

Two days of the trip were spent on the river, the French Broad, fondly referred to as “The Dirty Broad.” It was a very dirty river. » Continue reading this post…

Summer in the City: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry tea fizz (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Oh yes, summer is here, at least unofficially. At least, I’m sweating enough to call it summer. With every snatch of breeze that thinks about coming inside, I lean closer to the open window. At least, until the mosquitoes eat my face. Oh yes, it’s summer. Time for salads and goat cheese, basil, mint, and buckets of water with ice cubes and lime. Or even better, fancy little cocktails with wild tea vodka, strawberries, mint, lemons, simple syrup, and soda water.

It feels like summer vacation every time we sit outside in the backyard. Two tiki torches light up the freshly raked dirt where someday soon there’ll be grass. There’s now a little string of Christmas lights up and always candles burning after dark. Just enough light to eat by at night. Perfect light when your dinner is strawberry-rhubarb pie and cocktails.

There’s been rhubarb at the market these last few weeks and the strawberries have finally started smelling like strawberries. I had been wanting to make a German-style rhubarb tart, but the dough is yeast-based, and being me, I had failed to read the instructions more than ten minutes before my pie friends were about to come over. And as I always come, back to my favorite crust recipe: 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, a splash of milk, a pinch of salt. So easy and foolproof. Effortless like the summer night.

We sat in the backyard, talking as the pie baked and easing out of our stoic poises as the temperature dropped to something comfortable.

Strawberry rhubarb pie recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Oh, the gooey mess. Four people, one pie, and a few scoops of ice cream. Demolished.

And much the same my summer days go by. I go to work, I come home, I cook a little, sit in the sun a little, try to do yoga when I can, try to stay hydrated so I don’t die. » Continue reading this post…

Midnight Feast

Baby octopus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There are few things for which I will willingly stay up late. Pork belly is one of them. Of course, as I trekked through the slushy Brooklyn night I had no way of knowing that a thick and streaky slab of raw pork belly was waiting for me just past the Bedford stop.

I was on my way to a midnight cooking feast. In two weeks of schedule scouring my friend Ben and I didn’t have one overlapping free hour to cook. And all we really wanted to do was cook. So lets cook at midnight, we said, and that’s how I found myself struggling to stay awake on an empty train, kicking myself for having agreed to something as ridiculous as not being in bed at midnight.

Our plan was to let ourselves be inspired. To not plan a single recipe until we looked at what we had. During his 11 pm grocery run, Ben bought whatever looked pretty and cost less than $2 a pound.

I felt like I was on Iron Chef, watching as he pulled each ingredient out of a Whole Foods shopping bag and laid it on the counter. Lemons. Eggplant. Baby potatoes. Red and yellow beets. Pork belly. Parsley and cilantro. Jicama. Tangerines and grapefruit. Fennel. And lastly, a small, brown paper-wrapped package. “Guess,” he said. “Chorizo,”  I guessed. “Stranger than chorizo.” “Tripe,” I guessed. “Less strange than tripe,” he said and unwrapped a tangled mess of baby octopi.

We threw around ideas for our meal – should we do an Asian-inspired glazed belly or slice it up and cook it like bacon – should we roast vegetables or frittata them – could we do anything without vinegar? (No, was the answer, and Ben made a quick run to the corner store for two bottles of vinegar.) We settled on belly flash seared and then braised in a citrus glaze and a jicama and roasted beet slaw. » Continue reading this post…