Archive for the ‘Novelty Dining’ Category

The Wurst

Homemade Bratwurst (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Intestines smell. Terribly. I’m not exactly sure what I’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the heady, pungent stench of a hound’s breath whiffed with rotten bone. However washed and dried and packed in salt they might be, intestines smell like what they are: long, stringy coils of an organ that once held yards of mulching food on its way to less pleasant places.

And yet, there I stood at the kitchen island, disentangling about seven meters’ worth of pig intestines. I was oddly reminded of the matted bundles of jewelry my grandma used to set aside for me. My nimble fingers were expert at parsing apart delicate gold links and unwinding them from multi-colored baubles. I never imagined the skill would come in handy here, as I gently tugged a knot out of the intestine, sending grains of coarse salt scattering across the floor.

It was sausage day.

Seven meters of intestines (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making your own sausages isn’t necessarily hard, but there are a lot of moving parts involved. And equipment. You have to have a meat grinder and a stuffing horn and probably a freezer that’s bigger than the crystal-filled icebox wedged at the top of my tiny European fridge. And it’s definitely a two-person job.

The meat grinder is an unwieldy beast, and one person must feed the chunks of meat into the machine, while the other keeps the red rainbow-strands flowing evenly into the bowl. After the dry-rubbed meat is ground once, it’s flash-frozen, then ground again with a finer dice before being whisked into the freezer once more. Finally, it’s mashed into a pinkish pulp by hand and worked with a glut of rich cream.

Intestines dried in salt (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Checking casing for integrity (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Before you even begin to stuff the sausage, you must check the intestines for integrity. This involves wedging one end up to the faucet like a water balloon’s lip, and watching as the long tube fills, pale and eerily veined like ghost leaves. » Continue reading this post…

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…

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…

Giving Some Lip to a Piece of Tongue

Boiled tongue (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This is exactly what it looked like: as if someone had hacked off a foot, boiled it, and dressed it in a little white boot. It was like finding something from Dexter in my soup pot.

How I ended up making tongue for dinner is a roundabout story. What I really wanted was to try out this adorable sounding Fergus Henderson recipe for crispy pig tails. And I figured, in my neighborhood, with its preponderance of funny animal bits, I would definitely be able to find them somewhere. So I walked to the carniceria on the corner and asked for pig tails. The butcher laughed at me. And I thought – really? – because I’m staring at a pig’s head next to a goat’s head, right above bins of offal and piles of trotter. And he laughs at me for wanting pig tails?

So he gives me the address of a few more carnicerias in Bushwick and I begin a trek into the hoods of Brooklyn looking for pig tails. No luck. One butcher didn’t even know what part of the animal I was talking about, and we played an embarrassing game of charades trying to determine just what the tail of a pig was. I drew curlicues in the air. Despondent and luckless, I hopped on the train to Union Square to see what the early Spring Greenmarket had to offer. Not much yet, a few root vegetables and hardy winter greens. But I did find some beautiful broccoli rabe and a jar of silky creamed honey, some Jerusalem artichokes and a perfectly round, perfectly yellow squash. No pig tails.

Having given up on the pig tails (for now, just for now), I took the train back home to Brooklyn and walked back into the carniceria on my corner. “I’m back,” I said, and the butcher, a young guy from Mexico, not much older than myself, shook his head at me. » Continue reading this post…

The Spoon Stands Alone

The beautiful spoon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)A fork is just a spoon with holes. How primitive, a set of little spears, to prod, poke, pierce, and rent. Where is the elegance of the spoon’s soft curve, the spoon’s caress of a pumpkin soup, its languid dive into pudding, the easy crunch with which it drops onto the caramel hat of a crème brulé. A fork is crude, a tine nothing more than a galvanized toothpick. Give me the heft of a spoon’s curved bowl cradled in the hand’s palm, the sensuous glide of the tongue beneath its cambered base, the upper lip’s sweep into the lightly sloping dip. How lovely, a piled stack of peas, pearls of tapioca suspended in pale pudding, a melting marble of ice cream lifted easily to the mouth in the safety of the spoon’s arms. A steak, you say? What good is a spoon for a steak? None; but for that I have my fingers. What is a fork, after all, but a bourgeois approximation of a hand? As if the hand were too delicate to grasp a breaded pork chop or a broccoli floret, as if the teeth weren’t meant to bite through veal or a tender medallion of filet mignon.

There is that crassness in a fork, a pretension that one shouldn’t feel the food one eats, a pizza must be prod and cut before it can be chewed, a tomato surgically sliced. A fork is redundant as is a knife, but a spoon – a spoon extends the hand as if the palm were mirrored past the fingers. How painstaking it would be to lap milk from a bowl of cereal or eat yogurt one finger’s sweep at a time. A fork and knife are just reductions of what we already have; the spoon completes the hand. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Blind

unsicht-Bar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have developed an irrational fear of flying. It’s impractical. Its source is unknown. But there it is. I have become the person that grips the edges of the seat and dons a horrified expression at a hint of turbulence. I am the one frantically slinging back seltzer and wishing I knew a good Hail Mary.

I’m in a plane now, and I’m thinking back to the other times in life where I have been as paralyzed. Once, on the Appalachian Trail, caught in a raging lighting storm coming off the Blackstack Cliffs, shaking in lightning position, crouched low on one foot and singing the chorus to Amazing Grace over and over again, feeling hailstones hit my back. Once, flying through terrible winds, the plane plummeting and soaring like a whipped rag, with three failed landings. And once, eating at unsicht-Bar, the blind restaurant in Berlin.

What all of these experiences have in common is the sort of fear that grips the bottom of your stomach and wriggles up through your chest, shortens your breath, makes you know a panic attack is just around the corner. And there is helplessness. You are not in control.

unsicht-Bar is fashioned around the concept of blindness. Diners eat a four course meal in complete blackness, and the restaurant is staffed entirely by the blind. In the marble lobby, on plush lounge chairs surrounded by candlelight, you are given a menu whose dishes include such enigmatic delicacies as “The Frisian nobility is on fire and looking for acquaintanceship with the French underworld to practice love things.” It’s charming. We thought eating blind would be fun.

After making our dinner choices, we were introduced to our waiter, Harald. Harald instructed us to grab on to the shoulders of the person standing in front of us. I watched my mother grab on to Harald and Elisabeth grab on to my mother. » Continue reading this post…