Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

Tells

A new cookbook and Thanksgiving leftovers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have a few distinctive tells when things aren’t going so well. One of them is that I clean everything so thoroughly even the baseboards behind the bookshelves shine. And though I have a tendency to forget the tops of doorframes because they’re far too high for me to reach and generally out of my range of sight, everything else is fair game. The windows are scrubbed, every corner gutted of dust and grime, even the insides of drawers emptied out and neatly rearranged. You might think this is a constructive habit – that at least if my inner self is in turmoil, my outer world is dazzling – and I can emerge from these periods of anxiety and overwork into a clean and ordered home.

The Berlin TV Tower at dawn (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But it doesn’t feel quite healthy. It takes a long time to clean so thoroughly, and everything I haven’t touched feels like the fuzzled spots of green mold on an orange rind, and the orange rind lines the inside of my skin. I can’t just tidy up here and there and call it a day. I have to scrub the apartment from corner to corner. I have to throw the whole molding orange away.

And I’m not the only one who suffers. One of the stranger tics of this obsessive cleaning is that I can’t water the plants until the whole apartment is clean. Somehow, if I’m suffering, I feel the plants must suffer too.

On the street in Sofia, Bulgaria (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My other, maybe more telling tell, is that I don’t cook.

I guess the end of November, early December is a convenient time to decide not to want to cook. The Christmas markets are springing up all over the city, and for the price of just a few frozen toes, you can gorge yourself on crackle-skinned pork sandwiches and bratwurst split open over licking flames. » 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…

America and the Americans: Pineapple Mai Tai

Pineapple Mai Tais (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Everyone I’ve told about the cruise I went on in early January has asked me if I’ve read David Foster Wallace’s essay on cruising1. Yes, I have. And no, I don’t think there’s a cruise in the world that DFW would have enjoyed. It’s a tacky business, but in the best possible way. It’s like going to Oktoberfest in a dirndl and braids: You have to give yourself over to it. To the glitter and feathers at the evening show, the white pants and silk shirts, the poolside piña coladas, overpriced bingo games, the awkward audience involvement. You have to love it. And in return, it will love you back.

Meyer's Dark Rum and Añejo rum (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Mai Tai with lime (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

One of my favorite games has always been to pretend I’m someone else, to slip into another voice, another life. In fact, I was a theater kid long before I hit the stage. My grandma used to tell me how I’d stand in front of the mirror and practice crying, just so I’d be ready when real waterworks came in handy.

On a cruise, I get to pretend my life is always cocktails in the evening sun, that I’m in the habit of wearing cute skirts and high heels and bright red lipstick to dinner, that I keep my nails manicured and enjoy small-talk with strangers. I go to the sauna and to the gym and carry around a sparkling gold clutch as if I had anything more to keep track of than my little blue sea pass. There’s no internet to remind me of my responsibilities – or of my real life. All I can do is immerse myself in this alternate world. Yes, DFW, it’s a show. But if I’m already in it, I may as well live it up.

The ocean at Cozumel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pineapple Mai Tai Recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I spent a lot of time observing other people on the cruise, seeing small kindnesses in the buffet line and considerate gestures – and also moments of casual disregard for the crew’s constant service and hard work. » Continue reading this post…

14 Days More: Spinach- and Feta-Stuffed Chipotle Chicken Sweet Potato Skins

Spinach- and Feta-Stuffed Chipotle Chicken Sweet Potato Skins (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here it is. Fall. It’s been heading this way for a while, but I wasn’t paying attention to the signs. Maybe I didn’t want to pay attention to them. In Berlin, summer is a blink. And me, I process change so slowly, by the time I’ve come to terms with sandals and Saturdays by the lake, it’s already over. I bought a white crop top, and I never wore it once. “Don’t it always seem to go, that we don’t know what we got till it’s gone?” sang Joni, and this city seems to feel it.

Chipotle chiles, lime, oregano (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Wilted spinach (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Shredded chicken and spinach (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Baked sweet potato (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Berliners are slow to accept the death of summer. The cafés are packed with people sitting outside, stubbornly soaking in sun. But now all the chairs are lipped with fleece blankets to throw around your shoulders as the day wanes. Jacketed pedestrians clutch ice cream cones like a last defense. The parks are still full of families and the city’s effervescently hip young folk, but the babies are bundled up in hats and the hipster beanies are out for a walk.

Squeezed limes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sweet potato skins with chipotle sauce (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I love fall; it’s my favorite season. But this year, I can’t help but feel a little melancholy about these crisper days. I vowed to make more of my summer this year, and yet I find myself asking: Where did it go?

Sweet potato, chicken, and spinach stuffing (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Freely admitted, I’m a workaholic. But recently, I’ve been thinking about how unbalanced it’s making me. Balance has been on my mind a lot lately, from the way I approach weight loss to the way I organize my time. Yesterday, I crossed off every single thing on my to-do list. I accomplished everything I wanted to do in a day’s time, and still, as I was mid-way through cooking pumpkin soup (the last to-do item on my list), I found myself with some down time and thought: I could edit photos or send that email. » Continue reading this post…

Body Positive: Crunchy Cauliflower Couscous Salad

Crunchy cauliflower couscous salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m pissed. Just downright, straight-up peeved. I’ve been working out with an inspired consistency for the last six months. I go running two to three times a week, have a weight lifting program that focuses on strengthening my arms, shoulders, and chest. I stopped buying monthly train passes and ride my bike around Berlin instead. I’m probably the fittest I’ve ever been. But for all of that, I didn’t see the kind of results I’d been hoping for – until this detox.

I’m in the third week of my month-long detox. I’m not eating white carbs, refined sugar, or alcohol. I allow myself one cheat per week in each category, and I’m not a real stick-in-the mud about what constitutes a carb or whether I can’t eat ketchup because it’s packed with sugar.

But the thing that’s making me so mad is that it’s working. In the shortest amount of time, I’ve lost the weight six months of running couldn’t shake. Was it really that easy?

Cauliflower (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I feel conflicted about this for a few reasons. One, I’ve strongly opposed dieting for as long as I can remember. I love food, and I love eating – and anything that placed a restriction on my enjoyment felt like a lifestyle that wasn’t worth it. I could get behind eating smaller portions or trying to stop eating once I felt full – but to actually cut things out? The idea made me balk.

Two, I find the positive reinforcement about my weight loss both pleasurable and problematic. I enjoy hearing heartfelt compliments about my appearance (from people I know, not people on the street; that I never enjoy), but it makes me wonder – did I not look good before? Do I only look pretty when I’m thin?

Cauliflower florets (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Cauliflower couscous (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What was most important to me during this detox is that I never felt a sense of deprivation – that I never felt hungry. » Continue reading this post…

A Da(y)te with Myself

Loot from Winterfeldt Markt (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The apartment’s lights are turned low and only the candles’ soft, intimate glow falls across the table. Tonight’s dinner is wild mushroom gnocchi with pancetta, sage, and king oyster mushrooms sautéed in salted butter and garlic. The gnocchi are perfectly soft, creamy almost under the crunch of crisped sage, their richness tempered by peppery arugula salad freshened just with lemon and salt. The wine is a chilled pinot gris, purchased this morning from a Frenchman wearing a tailored gray suit in a small shop down the street. It’s a Saturday night, and the only person in the apartment is me. All this is just for me.

I woke up alone this morning, confused at first by the empty bed before remembering that David is in Munich for a conference, and that all week, I’ll be waking up early to the sun in our windows without his grumbly morning snores. It’s strange, when you live together with someone, to spend time in your shared apartment alone. I work from home two days each week, so during the daytime, I’m used to having the run of it and fully inhabiting our space – but not the nights or the mornings. It’s strange.

Blue and yellow flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A bundle of carrots (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But it’s still my first day alone, and it’s still novel. Too often, we’re afraid of spending time alone, afraid that it means we’re friendless, that we don’t have anything better to do. But I love keeping my own company. No pressure, just an easy pleasure in the smallest things – a new pop playlist, a room of dusted baseboards, time to write.

Slippers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This morning, I skipped around the house in slippered feet. I put a podcast on to play and ate a slow breakfast: hot coffee freshly French-pressed and granola with berries and amaranth. And while Friday night partiers were just slinking into bed, I left the apartment for the Winterfeldt Markt. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Berlin Part 3: Full Belly, Full Heart

Rain in Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I first moved to Berlin, I was convinced I wanted to live near Schlesisches Tor, or “Schlesi,” as Berliners refer to it, because let’s face it, “Schlesisches Tor” is just too damn hard to say. It reminded me of Brooklyn, with its graffiti-smeared walls, tufts of litter skipping the breeze, and pretty hipsters swathed in black. Like the first German settlers who saw in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania a home away from home, I was completing the circle. So to speak.

At first, all my favorite restaurants, bars, and clubs were here. When friends came to visit, I’d always take them across the iconic Oberbaum Bridge and along the East Side Gallery. In summer, I’d sit in Görlizter Park drinking cold Club-Mate and maybe grilling a brat or two.

But slowly, as these things happen, my circle of city widened, then shifted. Who I was in Brooklyn was no longer who I was here.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about cities and identities. We’re just finishing up production on Issue 11 of SAND, and many of the poems and stories explore the idea of identity – how its shaped and how we define it. Berlin plays a key role in the issue, and as I was writing the editor’s note, I thought about what makes Berlin Berlin and how much that’s come to influence who I am.

At the corner of Görlitzer Park, there’s a little stand called Hühnerhaus 36 that sells chickens and half chickens from a roasting spit where the seasoning-spiked grease from the top row of chickens drips down to the bottom. You can order a menu with fries or salad, but if you’re already getting a greasy half-chicken with perfect, crisp skin, you might as well go whole hog and order the fries dashed with seasoned salt and served with ketchup and mayonnaise. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Berlin Part 2: Owning It

Burgers from Schiller Burger (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My mom always told me that Hasenheide was a dangerous place. And it can be. Like many parks in Berlin, there’s an active, obvious drug trade that’s only a little annoying by day, but a little frightening at night. (It’s kind of like taking candy from strangers, isn’t it?) So for a long time, I didn’t go there. It didn’t help, of course, that when I moved to Berlin, the nearest entrance to the Hasenheide was along a rather desolate stretch of street that made the park seem doubly foreboding. I lived in Berlin for two whole years before stepping foot inside the park, I tell Jordi, as we walk through it, and as someone offers to sell us pot.

Today is a rather grim day, the sun hiding behind rain-heavy clouds, though we’re just nearing lunch time, and even in winter Berlin, the sun hasn’t set yet. The sloping hills of Hasenheide and its hidden green inlets are visible between the stark trunks of stripped trees. We’ve cut through the park because it’s the fastest way to get from Soluna Brot und Öl in Kreuzberg, the last stop on our Berlin food tour, to Schiller Burger in Neukölln, the next. We’re finding the park surprisingly big, but also beautiful in its slick bleak wetness.

I’m thinking about how places become yours in cities, as we walk through a park that’s bordered two of my past neighborhoods without ever becoming mine. You discover some places by accident, others are recommended by friends. Some places you really like, you never return to. Others you didn’t feel much for at first, you find yourself in again and again.

Schiller Burger was a staple of my life in Neukölln, especially on lazy weekends, when David and I would interrupt a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathon only to walk up the hill from Rathaus Neukölln past Spätis and junk shops and old German dive bars with lace curtains on the windows like someone’s dark, faded living room. » Continue reading this post…