Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

I Carved a Pumpkin, Now What?: Pork & Pumpkin Stew

Pork and Pumpkin Stew (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The costumes are balled up in a corner of the bathroom, glitter-streaked and covered in strange makeup stains. Ghostly white, witchy green, blood red. The cardboard props are soaking up rain outside with tomorrow’s garbage – duct tape-wrapped robots, giant popcorn boxes, and transformer parts melt wetly into the asphalt. A cold wind whisks up discarded candy wrappers like brightly-colored leaves. Scraps of decorations – streamers fluttering from trees, plastic gravestones, milky cobwebs – look lonely in the morning light, and the sorry Jack-o’-lantern’s teeth are caving in, making that fiercely-grinning grimace look like an old man’s dentureless mouth.

Halloween is over, and all we have to show for it is some wax-paint grit beneath our fingernails, a leftover bag of Dum Dums to sneak into after lunch, and a giant bowl of shavings scraped out from the inside of a glowing orange window warmer.

Pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Roasted pumpkin seeds with Old Bay (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Pumpkin seeds (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Decapitating the pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Like many others, I too spent the Saturday before Halloween up to the elbow in the bowels of a pumpkin. It takes a surprising lot out of you, that constant scraping, hollowing a gourd until its skin is thin enough to carve. And the mountain of flesh keeps growing – amazing how much meat emerges from something whose insides are mostly made of stringy webbing and seeds.

Shaved pumpkin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pumpkin seeds ready for roasting (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Halloween has never really been my holiday. Even as a kid, my sweet tooth was somewhat underdeveloped, and I’d stash my bag of trick-or-treat candy behind a pink velvet chair in the back corner of my room so my brothers couldn’t get at it. It’s not that I wanted to eat it all myself – it’s just that I didn’t want them to. I’d ration my way through the good ones – Snickers first, then Twix and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Butterfinger. And then I’d start on the second-tier treats: Twizzlers, PayDay, Baby Ruth, Milky Way, Almond Joy, Mounds, Nerds. » Continue reading this post…

It’s Time for a Reboot: Peppermint Marshmallows

Peppermint marshmallows (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

December is a wasted month. Or maybe it’s better put this way: for the entire month of December, I’m useless. It’s like my brain has decided eleven months is enough months of functioning, and that the twelfth month is a month of rest. While the pace of work picks up, my brain revolts. No, I will not perform for you this month, it says.

It’s a month of goofs. I forget major and obvious steps in the tasks I undertake (oh, there’s a whole middle of the film to subtitle?). I have trouble focusing (must wrap gifts, write recipes, send emails, clean bathroom walls, and paint toenails AT THE SAME TIME). And worst of all, I make mistakes so sloppy it pains my meticulous January-November brain (misspelling the name of a rather important email recipient? Twice? Check).

All-American ingredients (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Homemade marshmallows (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I arrived in my ancestral country about a week ago and have done – nothing. I sit on the couch and brush up on my cell phone game skills. I read my book. I let my coffee be made for me and ushered to my slothful seat. My brain has entirely given up. And I’ve let it. It’s a wonderful feeling.

I’m a firm believer in viewing your body’s refusal to capitulate as a self-defense mechanism. Deny yourself any breaks from your to-do list, and don’t be surprised if your leg seizes up or a winter cold levels you full-force. Work your brain too mercilessly, and it might just give out.

Clearly, my brain needs a break. I let it wander. If baking cookies is too much work, I tell it, That’s fine. Go lie down. If it wants to take a walk around Baltimore’s cool, blue Inner Harbor, I follow it outside.

Hot chocolate with peppermint marshmallows (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Hot chocolate with homemade peppermint marshmallows (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s kind of a wonder I managed to make marshmallows, which requires concentration and attention to timing – two traits that have fallen by December’s wayside. » 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…

That’s Joy: Elisenlebkuchen

Elisenlebkuchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I think one of my favorite winter songs is Sufjan Stevens’s “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!”. It’s a melancholy piece: Father yells, the gifts are thrown in the wood stove, sister runs away with her books, while the snow just falls and falls and falls. Haunting voices laced with soft banjo twist Silent Night’s chords into a new shade of recognition. But it’s a beautiful song, gently uneasy like walking out into the cold still feeling the flush of too much food and an overly warm fire.

Candied orange and lemon peel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Christmas tree (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’ve thrown myself into Christmas with a wild whoop. David and I decorated the tree with ornaments and lights. We listened to Frank and Mariah and cheered on all of Kevin’s holiday antics. I’ve outfitted the living room with boughs of evergreen and set out the tiny nativity carved from tough Colombian nuts, the pine-scented candle, the wooden Räuchermänner puffing cedar-scented smoke from their little carved pipes.

It makes me happy, this cozy, festive world I’ve created inside our small top-floor apartment. And yet, with every candy cane comes a strange sadness that catches me unawares, that colors my easy comfort.

Winter-blooming cactus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Baking lebkuchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Spices and candied fruit (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Spices for Lebkuchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Back in my ancestral home, “I’ll be Home for Christmas” is a banned song. It’s too sad, my mom says. I’d never felt the same before, but not so long ago when it shuffled into play, it made me realize why this season is making me ache.

My grandmother passed away around this time last year, and in the weeks before she left us, the family gathered around her bedside singing the songs she sang to generations of us when we were young. And because it was Christmas, we sang carols in the darkened room – “O Holy Night” and “Do You Hear What I Hear.”

The Christmas tree (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Lebkuchen dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lebkuchen ready to bake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As I stood in the kitchen slicing oranges for mulled wine, smelling the crisp citrus-laced air and listening to the words… “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me… I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”… I was in two places at once, feeling many things at the same time. » Continue reading this post…

A Thankful Heart

Thanksgiving dinner (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Generally, at Thanksgiving, I’m too busy cooking to take any pictures. So I can’t show you the long table cobbled together from ramshackle surfaces and chairs that people brought themselves. Or the way the whole thing was wedged into the living room so tightly you could barely breathe. Nor can I show you the bird, with its deep brown skin, crackled in the oven or the way the moist white flesh slipped gently away beneath the knife.

I can only tell you about all the things we cooked – sweet potatoes roasted in bourbon-maple sauce, bright kale salad with parmesan, almonds, and dates, cranberry relish, sour cream mashed potatoes, a stuffing chock full of caramelized onions and kale, lemony grated carrots, green beans tossed in a dried cranberry and walnut vinaigrette, and pan gravy made from turkey drippings.

Preparing the turkey (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Roasted garlic for aioli (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And I can only tell you about the things that other people brought – roasted beetroot, warm and spicy enchiladas slathered in cheese, tabbouleh and bulgur salad, olives and dips, onion focaccia and loaves of bread studded with cranberries and walnuts, tomato butter spread, spicy celery, pretzel and peanut butter mousse pie, pumpkin pie, and plenty of wine, certainly.

The kitchen, before it descended into chaos (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
The turkey, ready to roast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Bourbon and butter for the sweet potatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But what no picture could have managed to capture is a snapshot of my heart that night – full. Grateful for co-workers who have become friends, friends who have become family, and family that will come and fix the couch the next day after it breaks under the weight of too many guests squashed onto its brittle frame.

The turkey (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s so much sadness and anger in the world, too many things I can’t understand. So many bigoted and hateful opinions, so much violence.

When I read the news and feel my chest start to clench in helpless rage, I think of a story a yoga teacher told once after a class, long ago in a sweaty studio in St. » Continue reading this post…

A Thanksgiving Love Letter: Mrs. Burns’s Cranberry Relish

Cranberry and orange relish (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s nearly here! My very favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. For me, Thanksgiving is like Christmas without all the strings attached. You don’t have to wonder if the present you bought is heartfelt enough or of sufficient monetary value, there are no last minute stocking stuffers to stock up on, no crazy shopping sprees or crazily decked-out stores to suffer through. There are a lot of things I love about Christmas, and there seems to be a theme to the things I don’t.

If Christmas can sometimes feel like it’s about maximizing the value of what you can get out of it, Thanksgiving is about giving out of the plenty you already have.

A bowl of winter oranges (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Fresh cranberries and oranges (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Growing up, our Thanksgiving table welcomed others in. There was always enough food, always enough chairs for a few extra relatives, family friends, my parents’ international students with homes too far away. And every Thanksgiving, we’d crowd around the long dining room table set with the best dishes and laden with food like jewels: a crisp, brown bird in center stage, rich stuffing made from torn breadcrumbs and chestnuts, fresh cranberry relish and hot rolls, green beans spiked with toasted almonds, maple-glazed carrots, sweet potatoes dotted with flamed marshmallows, and creamy mashed potatoes and gravy made from turkey drippings. For dessert, there were pumpkin and apple pies, fresh from the oven and still warm to the touch.

Mrs. Burns's cranberry relish (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Cranberry relish on orange paté (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What also made an appearance at our table every year were a few dried beans. Before we could dive into that indulgent spread, we had to throw our beans into a pot and say what we were thankful for. One thankful thing per bean. When you’re an angsty teenager, having to publicly admit to being thankful for anything is the worst. I dreaded that show of gushy emotion. Also, it always made me cry. » Continue reading this post…

I’ll Give You a Clue: Booberry-Coconut Cupcakes

Booberry-Coconut Cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At work, we have a tradition to uphold, and that is getting fabulously, over-the top dressed up for a themed Halloween party, drinking witch’s brew from a smoking cauldron, and eating far more than a restrictive costume comfortably allows.

This year, we tried our very best not to kill each other with all those weapons conveniently lying around. There was a lead pipe, a revolver, some rope… And was that a thud coming from the Conservatory?

Mrs. Peacock, Yvette, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard and Miss Peach (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Mrs. White and Colonel Mustard (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The entire cast of Clue, including a few non-canon extras and some loose interpretations from Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film, assembled in the Kitchen to prepare for the party: Mysterious spaghetti carbonara, murderous shaved Brussels sprouts salad, poisonously-pink rosemary-grapefruit cocktails. And everybody kept their eye on the Knife.

Mrs. Peacock threatens Colonel Mustard, or is it the other way around? (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The murderous Mrs. White (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Strawberry monster cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Halloween isn’t just a holiday, it’s the start of a season. It was good planning on someone’s part – probably those pagans – that as the weather worsens, we can find solace in party preparations, pretty decorations, good cheer, and reason after reason to make too much food.

Colonel Mustard (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Mrs. Peacock and the cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Professor Plum's spaghetti carbonara (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
shaved brussels sprouts salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

October went a little haywire this year – projects piled up, deadlines reared their ugly heads, there were just a lot of things to do. My all-too-brief weekend in Baltimore watching sailboats bob in the harbor seems like ages ago, though I’ve only been back in Berlin for two weeks. Here, it’s crazy city.

Miss Scarlet (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Colonel Mustard murders Yvette (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m grateful to Halloween for bringing things back into focus. There will always be stressful projects and situations to navigate – but letting stress get the upper hand can taint even pleasant experiences. It’s like trying to clean the house with your hands covered in blue ink. No matter what you do, the whole house is going to end up blue.

A stack of butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A stack of cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Follow me on a mind leap for a second. Do you remember that series of General Mills Cereals that always appeared in the display aisles around Halloween? » Continue reading this post…

Do the Bunny Hop: Bunny Butt Carrot Cake

Bunny butt carrot cake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My boss had been talking about Easter since the end of April. Last year. Since we’d been planning our evening of Easter crafts for almost an entire year, it’s no surprise we went a little bit overboard with the amount of projects we undertook to make.

At the office, we each have a favorite holiday, barring Christmas, of course, since everybody loves Christmas. Mine is Thanksgiving, Ellen’s is Halloween, and Shaun’s is Easter. So far, we’ve done a great job of celebrating them all – I hosted my traditional Thanksgiving potluck, and we even threw a Halloween party where all our guests had to dress up as fairy tale characters.

Bunny butt cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But Easter is something special for Shaun, partly because of a long-ago childhood trauma involving sugar eggs. Let’s go back in time to a sepia-colored San Francisco, where a little 5th grade Shaun is eagerly anticipating the day the entire class gets to make sugar eggs and sell them as a fundraiser. For years, he’s watched the older kids spin sugar and decorate their eggs with pretty pastel icing and sprinkles, for years he’s been looking forward to this moment. And he’s so excited when his teacher stands before the class to make the announcement that the time has come… to make pizzas.

What a betrayal. Our protagonist is crushed. But this Easter, we strove to give back what was taken from him so long ago: Crafts.

Though we don’t all suffer the same Easter trauma, we’d all been looking forward to our crafts night for weeks. One internet search turned up another, and by the time we were ready to start, our roster was pretty full:

Bunny butt carrot cake
Bunny butt cupcakes
Rainbow Jello eggs
Rainbow pastel meringues

Rainbow pastel meringues (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And on top of that, we decided to make traditional Easter enchiladas. » Continue reading this post…