Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

Cook Like No One’s Watching

roast zucchini and eggplant (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I suffer from performance anxiety. It’s not a big deal, really. It just means that I often cook better when I’m by myself than when I’m cooking for other people. When I’m home alone, there’s no need to prove myself, to live up to having a food blog, to make something so delicious that whoever I’m cooking for never wants to eat anywhere else. I guess that’s what performance anxiety means.

While we’re getting it all out into the open, let me go ahead and admit this now. I’ve never been good at group projects. I like to be either completely in charge or completely the opposite. I take direction well and I lead well, but that nebulous middle ground where everyone’s got a good opinion and we’re all trying to self-moderate – I don’t do that.

It’s not that I was that kid who always got “does not play well with others” on her report card. In fact, I played so well with others that I sunk into the background, becoming an un-player, or a non-entity, a completely forgettable figure. For most of my childhood and young adult life, I’m pretty sure none of my classmates thought I had a personality. If they even knew who I was.

No one believes me now when I tell them I’m shy. Usually, I no longer believe myself. But ask my parents, my grade school teachers, my hometown best friend, who I made cry by refusing to remove myself from the folds of my mother’s skirt the day we met.

I’m not sure if I could pinpoint when it was that I grew into myself, my idiosyncrasies, my strangenesses. Perhaps it wasn’t one moment, but a process of growing. It appears mine is a soul that dislikes stagnancy in temperament as much as location. » Continue reading this post…

Plans: Carrot, Sweet Potato & Sunchoke Soup

my little Hercules (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I was thinking, as I rode my bike rather recklessly the other day, about how much we rely upon the reactions of other people. As I sped down the hill at Hallesches Tor, I skimmed past a man weaving his way along. He was whistling, his step in lazed anti-tune to the sound. And I, too, was feeling the spring breeze in Berlin, letting the bike, brakeless, coast. We were close as I passed. I heard his tune; he surely felt my speed ruffle it out of place.

We expect someone in a straight line to continue in a straight line, without thinking that perhaps their plan had been, all along, to veer suddenly to the left. We continue on our way, taking for granted that the other person’s path runs smoothly within our plans. So we plan and we plan and paths snake along in perpendiculars until one day, they don’t. The man on the sidewalk veers to the left. You crash into him on your bike. It wasn’t the plan.

I don’t want to write a metaphor for happenstance. I just want to observe that we are constantly assuming the outcomes of others’ reactions, when those other people are planners themselves, planning our reactions back at us. It’s dangerous to do too much planning at fast speeds. Dangerous not to allow the veer its own possibility of chance.

We are natural planners – and it is good so – otherwise, how would we build cities, invent, bring our creations into being. We plan our lives, our futures, and these things are good. Still, we can plan and plan and plan and still plan a reaction wrong.

We’ll never drive less recklessly down the hill past Hallesches Tor. We’ll always assume the man to the left will walk in a straight line.

» Continue reading this post…

Icon

my grandmother's wooden spoon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This spoon was a spoon that my grandmother held. She stirred soups with it, melted butter into noodles, nudged vegetables in a pan. All that’s left of it now is the wood that’s worn smooth and what was once a cupped surface that looks as if it’s been licked too many times. The handle is polished with palms and bent, warped from the heat of a skillet. My grandmother has been gone for years. I barely remember her. Although if I close my eyes I can still hear a laugh that I think belonged to her. I have nothing of hers except my name, and that too is shared with my other grandmother. But now I have this spoon.

It was probably once longer, and straighter, and more useful to use. And yet, this is how a wooden spoon should be – well worn, paced, serving until it disappears piece by piece into the dishes it stirs, and these hereditary splinters connect us. » Continue reading this post…

Let It Rise: Fasnet’s Cakes

Fasnet's cakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s been a lot of yeast dough in my life lately. First there were Fasnet’s cakes, then I made donuts. Ok. So there were two instances of yeast dough in my life. But two yeast doughs within weeks of each other is more yeast dough than usually makes an appearance.

There’s something incredibly soothing about yeast dough. It takes time. And I think we spend far too little time taking time. What I mean is, I read this book called Momo, by Michael Ende (yes, yes, the very same Neverending Story mastermind) when I was living in New York, spending a lot of time regularly hyperventilating about how there wasn’t enough time.

Momo is a book about time and how humans construct it cleverly disguised as a children’s story. The sweeper tells Momo, “it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept. And then you start to hurry. You work faster and faster and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop – and still the street stretches away in front of you.”

I read that and I thought, Oh my God. Momo knows my life.

There’s this moment in the book where the grey men, bankers of time, visit each of the townspeople and convince them to put their spare time in a savings account. And when the people wonder how to save time, the grey men tell them, you know how to save time – spend 15 minutes less on each haircut you give or don’t drive all the way to the nursing home to eat with your mother –

I read that and I thought, My life is full of grey men. » Continue reading this post…

In Berlin, They Call Berliners Pancakes

frying Fasnet's cakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Well, it’s edible, says my grandfather, as he pops a hot beignet into his mouth and then quickly shakes the heat of it from his fingers. This means that it is actually very good. My grandfather is Schwabisch, where the phrase nichts g’sagt ist Lob g’nug, meaning nothing said is praise enough, is, in fact, nearly the highest form of praise. As far as I can tell, the most generous expression of delight is: Man kann’s essen, which means, you can eat it.

My brother and my grandfather and I are standing in the kitchen, deep-frying Fasnet’s cakes, the south-German name for beignets. We’ve developed an assembly-line of sorts – I’m rolling out dough and cutting it into diamonds, my grandfather is manning the deep-fryer, and my brother is dusting the cakes, blistering with hot oil, in powdered sugar. We’ve developed an unhurried camaraderie, mock-criticizing each others’ methods, telling old jokes, jostling against each other with batches of dough, making faces, taking pictures. The kitchen is warm and smells sweet.

beignets (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

opa (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This picture freezes in my mind. My grandfather grins at me in a half-laugh and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, Well, what do you think about that?

His eyes are wrinkled into crescents, his eyebrows lifted like a mischievous child’s as he swings a bottle of Oettinger Pils up to his mouth. And then his back is to me as he flips the Fasnet cakes in the deep-fryer. My brother catches the hot cakes on a plate of sugar and the powdered sugar he dusts onto them melts.

composition: cross, oettinger, donuts (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fasnet cakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fasnet (aka Fasnacht, aka Carnival) is mainly celebrated in the southern, Catholic parts of Germany. In Berlin, there were a handful of people who looked at me with confusion. They’d never heard of it.

In Burladingen, however, people belong to Fasnet clubs (called Vereins) which supposedly exist solely to march in the parades and plan parties during the two weeks or so that Fasnet is celebrated. » Continue reading this post…

The Appropriate Emoticon for a Butchered Chicken is :o

raw chicken (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Cutting up a whole chicken always seems to involve dangling it by some appendage. Grip the chicken firmly by the leg and lift it in the air as you slice your knife into the jointGrab the wing and pull it away from the body… Holding the chicken by one leg, place the tip of your knife…

It makes me sad for the chickens – not that they’re dead, but that in death, they must weather the ignominy of me ungraciously hefting them into the air by their prickled-skinned legs and hacking away as their naked little chicken bodies twirl away from the tip of my knife…

I will admit: I am an ungainly chicken partitioner. Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I dig out the lower piece of breast with my fingers because I can’t figure out how to get a knife into that strange curved dip of bone. I can never remember where the drumstick ends and the thigh begins or whether there’s a better way to cut along the ribs. And then there’s all that dangling.

I try to do my butchering in secret, so that no one else must see the shame of what is really all that the connotation of the word butchering implies. I like to have my guests walk into the kitchen with the pan of Nepali chicken curry contentedly bubbling like the La Brea Tar Pits on the stove. The dinosaur extinction scene is just too painful to watch.

bubbling tar pits: Nepali Chicken Curry (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Speaking of pain, I’ve been thinking about emoticons recently, and how I think they’re a necessary function of modern communication. For a long time, I was resistant to using them, and I think I’m still a bit of a prude. My faces never sport noses, or stick their tongue out, and though I sometimes use the winky-face, I find it vaguely pornographic…

I had placed emoticons in the same category as “LOL” or “OMG” or “ROFLMAO” (I mean, OMG, what a string of letters – it takes me longer to work out what that means than to dissect a chicken) without thinking about the function they play in communication. » Continue reading this post…

Turn Around, Bright Eyes: Bulgarian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

no raw meat in the rings, please (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

“But you have a Kochgefühl,” – a feel for the kitchen – Sylvia says to me when I tell her I don’t think I’ll ever be as good of a cook as my mother.

I’ve been saying things like this a lot lately, loosing the leash of my inner Thomas. Will I ever be a great writer? Should I even be writing? Are my dreams too outlandish? Should I just settle for some mildly literary career – if I can even find a job to begin with? Am I interesting enough? Am I pretty enough? Do I blink too much?

It’s exhausting, to doubt this much.

I’d been speaking with a friend recently about job searching and how incredibly despondent it makes us – the longer we look, the more depressed we are, and the more despondent, depressed, and desperate we are, the less likely we’ll be to get a job. Cruel, cruel circle. What we need is a turnaround. The German word for this is Wende, a word I find incredibly beautiful. It floats, a gentle turn, like a child tucking into his shoulder as he falls asleep. I stand by this interpretation of the word, even though in a historical context, the word Wende is fraught with the political and emotional turmoil following the fall of the Berlin wall.

But maybe that element isn’t too irrelevant to the metaphor I’m about to make. Because I think a Wende often begins with a sharp and incisive moment whose total import may or may not be apparent immediately. Sylvia’s comment was like an incision into the boggy doubt-world I’d been swirling around myself.

Of course I can cook. Maybe I’m not as accomplished as I might be someday, but I have a feeling for food, the way ingredients fit together. » Continue reading this post…

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