Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

How to Be a German-American

Toast with leberwurst (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Tacos (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For lunch, make slices of toast from dark bread crunchy with seeds and grains then top it with fresh leberwurst and thin slips of yellow onion, cracked black pepper and coarse salt. For lunch the next day, make tacos on corn tortillas loaded up with limey guacamole, habanero, red onion and corn salsa, sour cream and ripe, red tomatoes.

Never lean too much one way or too much the other. Love butter with cheese. Love brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts.

Live in both lands and languages, never mind being better at one or the other.

Know how to whip up the dough for spätzle and how to press it into boiling water, waiting for the little gnarled noodles to bob up to the surface. Sweep them out with a slotted spoon. Know that the secret to spätzle is to fry them up in a buttered pan with cheese until the knobs sport caramel-colored scabs that crunch between your teeth. Know the warmth of eating at on old wooden table with a knit beige cloth and chipped, flower-printed plates. » Continue reading this post…

Going Home

The glass mostly full (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I am strangely at home navigating unfamiliar places. Especially those beneath the earth – the metro in Paris or DC, the London tube, the convoluted network of U-bahn and S-bahn lines that crisscross Berlin like a twisted mesh net. Ever since New York, I’ve learned to love the reliably unreliable rush of trains hurtling to a stop, the stiff speech of the recorded station announcers, the always incomprehensible intercom crackling that the rest of the line is out. Change trains now.

But I digress. Every place has its own rhythm, a tattoo that makes it unique. Yet here and there, in this city and that, patterns repeat, like a subtle three-bar refrain the ear can’t hear but the feet feel. So the unfamiliar, or new, can have an inexplicable echo of what is familiar, or what is old.

Right now, I’m sitting in Tegel, whisking the foam from an overpriced cappuccino as the baristas gossip about their bosses in the repercussion-free feel of the 5 am airport. I’m on my way home for the holidays. » Continue reading this post…

Let’s Talk About Lard

Toast with Schmalz (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My father used to talk about how when he was younger, he and his siblings would eat toast with Schmalz as a snack. Schmalz and salt when they were in the mood for something savory. Schmalz and sugar when sweet. I used to love the way it sounded. Schmalz. Like something rustic, real. Romantic even. Thick, crusty bread still bakery warm and slathered up with Schmalz, whatever that was.

One day I discovered that whatever it was, was lard. Yes, just good old fashioned rendered and congealed fat. Slap that on a piece of toast and eat it up.

Recently, for work, I was translating menus and got stuck on one of the dishes for the snack buffet: Auswahl von Brötchen mit Schmalz. How was I supposed to translate Schmalz? I couldn’t just call it “lard” and stick it on a menu. What sane English speaker would want to eat “Assorted rolls with lard?” » Continue reading this post…

On Disasters and Finally Finding Pig Tails

Pig tails ready to braise (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The first thing to happen was that the bell fell off. So there I was, seconds after finally reconnecting with my Little Hercules, my beloved and somewhat broken Berlin bike, scouting for my broken-off bell in the middle of the road and trying not to get hit by the oncoming car. It was a success. If you count riding a gearless bike with a screwed-on bell down a potholed Berlin road a success.

I’ve been thinking about disasters that turn out ok recently. Burning sugar and ending up with Christmas cocktails instead of surfer juice. Mixing the cauliflower with the batter before reading the recipe to find out that the florets are meant to be dipped and deep fried – then finding out that the ensuing fritters were great. And myriad other failures that just either weren’t so bad or turned out to be surprisingly nice.

A few months ago, I realized a long-term goal of mine: cooking pig tails. And here’s how this relates: it wasn’t really a success. I’ll be honest, I was actually even a little let down. But what made it ok was that I’d wanted to cook pig tails for years and finally, finally I found them.

Pig tails in a pan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The search for pig tails started in Brooklyn. I was neck deep in a Fergus Henderson love affair and getting excited in the way that only weird ones do for strange things like offal and bone marrow, dried, salted cod and kidneys. What was great about living in Brooklyn was that these strange things were strangely easy to procure. Salted cod was sold by the bin-ful at my neighborhood supermarket to make Dominican bacalhau, and you could buy everything from brains in a bucket to bull testicles at the nearby Carniceria. So when I read Fergus’ recipe for “Crispy Pig Tails,” I thought, no problem. » Continue reading this post…

’Merica – A List of Things I Love

4th of July (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Stars and stripes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

burgers and corn on the cob (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Once upon a time, when I moved to Germany, I made a list of the things that I thought the Germans did better than anyone else. I think it’s important to love the place you are – but sometimes, when you’ve had one Hefeweizen too many and your belly has grown a döner-shaped hole, you miss the place you left. I’m spending two months of my summer this year in America, and doing my fare share of traveling. Now that I no longer live in the ancestral country, I’m finding that there are some things the Americans just do best.

1. Barbecues
The first in my holy grail of Bs: Barbecue. As a one-time Carolina resident, I love my pulled pork soft and buttery between my teeth, doused with spicy vinegar sauce, and topped with slaw. But don’t get me started on a slow-roasted brisket, so rich it simply melts away in your mouth (Fatty ‘Cue, I’m looking at you). At the end of the day, give me anything on an open flame – a sweat-greased grill searing fat from burgers, olive oil soaking into zucchini slivers, a dry rub fused into the crackling skin of chicken thighs – and I am in heaven.

Juicy burgers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

2. IPA
Many people are surprised when I tell them that one of the things I miss most about America is its beer (B grail #2). I usually have to hasten and add that I do not miss the beer that most foreigners associate with the United States, that watery piss-potion college students chug from red solo cups, but that I miss interesting craft-brewed batches unafraid of experimentation. I love talking about the taste and texture of beer and the community that grows around certain breweries. I miss sitting out on a deck in summer with a cold summer ale and I miss IPAs. » Continue reading this post…

Things I’ve Never Done: Spaghetti Carbonara

pasta (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I don’t think of myself as a particularly brave person. I don’t have stories about skydiving in New Zealand or bungee-jumping off bridges. I’ve never lived in a third-world village or gone on a solo trip through some really high mountains in a country whose language I do not speak.

I was having dinner with a friend a while ago, and he asked me, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?”

I said, “I… don’t know.”

And I honestly couldn’t think of anything, with the exception of a few stupid stunts I’d pulled in college. And those were stories which, though funny then, would make me seem like that person now. So – no.

My life is lame, I thought. I should pack up my bags and go to Nepal or live with the Massai for a year or go ice fishing with the Inuits. And learn Yupik. Probably I should learn Yupik. Or something.

But is that what it means for me to live an interesting life, a brave life? Is living bravery on a smaller scale still as brave? Is it relative?

People tell me I’m brave for having moved to New York, for then having moved to Berlin, without knowing (in various combinations for each place) whether I’d find a job, an apartment, friends… But I don’t think of these moves as being brave things. They were just things I had to do. So I did them.

If I don’t feel compelled to go skydiving, does that mean it’s cowardice not to go?

I’ve been thinking about these questions as my life in Berlin settles into place. I’m getting comfortable. Comfortable in my routine, in the way I understand myself and who I am here. But I’m happy. And the feeling I felt before I left New York, that anxious, twitching itch like a circus troupe stuck in my gut – I don’t feel that now. » Continue reading this post…

Digits

cucina casalinga, Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here is a true thing: food tastes better stuffed into your mouth with your hands. I decided this definitively at Cucina Casalinga. Drew was visiting. Emboldened by the presence of another American, I scorned the German habit of slicing pizza (pizza!) into bite-sized pieces with a knife and fork and instead shoveled triangles from tip to crust into my hungry little mouth.

I took a few experimental bites with a knife and fork. They didn’t taste as good.

It’s common knowledge that before the wheel was invented, our bushy and laconic ancestors developed the spoon.* Primitive priorities. The wheel was only practical. Sure, it got you from point A to point B a little faster – but the spoon – the spoon had the capacity to distinguish between the classed and the uncouth. Urklk still eating wolly mammoth with his fingers? For shame.

Humans have always loved to make distinctions.

Which is why, sitting in this pizzeria along the canal, surrounded by beautiful people (why are there so many beautiful people in Berlin?), I feel like I should feel ashamed to be greasing up my fingers with hot chili oil and melted mozzarella. For shame, for shame, I hear in the metallic clink of slicing knives, the screech of a fork against a plate.

But what of it? My pizza belongs to me. If I want to dissect it with my hands in public, well, who will be hurt? Society? Propriety? My neighbor’s refined aesthetic?

Is it an American thing to love finger foods? Think of all the wonderful things we eat with our hands: hamburgers, barbeque ribs, pigs in a blanket, corn on the cob. Not only do we revere these foods, we seem to revel in the mess they cause. Say… sloppy Joe’s?

pulled pork sandwich, NY BBQ festival (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

All I can say is that the Europeans are missing out. » Continue reading this post…

The Not All At Once Approach: Pasta with Tomatoes & Arugula

tortellini with arugula and tomato recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m not good at change. Anyone who’s ever asked me to make a decision quickly knows this.

It takes me time to think things through. Not necessarily to weigh the pros and cons of a new course of action – but just to get used to the idea of something different.

As a human, I am a huge proponent of the not all at once approach.

Tell me something new, but don’t tell me all at once.

This is also the way I cook. I believe ingredients need time to understand themselves as they melt into a hot skillet – an onion doesn’t want an eggplant until it’s ready. And when they meet, they need time to get to know each other. To feel comfortable as a unit before tomato comes along.

Cooking like this takes longer. But it makes sense to me. One at a time, piece by piece until the composition of the pan has changed. Until it is a full pan, not an empty one.

tortellini with arugula and tomato (Eat Me. Drink Me.) » Continue reading this post…

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