Archive for the ‘Sweet Stuff’ Category

Fingers Crossed: Candied Lemon Cake

Candied Lemon Cake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Today is the day. Election day. I am too terrified to look and yet I can’t look away.

Elections have always been bitter things. Nasty words are said. Lines drawn. But this election cycle more than any other, I feel like a tiny car stuck between two trucks in bumper-to-bumper traffic. We’re in what feels like a country-wide gridlock that won’t loosen up even after all of today’s votes are tallied.

Both sides stand on their soap boxes, shouting past each other, words ricocheting like rubber balls in a glass squash court. But neither side takes a moment to listen – because the other is already wrong on principle. What is there to debate when we know all the answers already?

Lemon slices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We live in an age where we can tailor our news to fit our views. We can hand-pick our propaganda, read articles that support our opinion, watch only our favorite news channels, listen to reinforcing podcasts. And Facebook fools us into believing the whole world thinks like we do – a “customized” news feed sweeps us up in information our like-minded friends share – and anything that doesn’t fit the mold, well, there are always a few bad eggs in the bunch.

So we isolate ourselves behind party lines. We hear only the “truths” we want. And truth itself has become a nebulous phrase. Though facts are now easier to check than ever, we seem to care less and less about them. The other day I was listening to a podcast discussing this discarding of fact. When Rush Limbaugh says, “This fact-check technique is the latest,” it ties my stomach up in knots. Shouldn’t this be concerning for both liberals and conservatives alike? Because if you can’t check the facts, what’s left?

Not that rewriting history is anything new. We’ve done it before. » Continue reading this post…

When Life Hands you Zucchini, Make: Zucchini Bread

Zucchini bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Autumn is to fall as aubergine is to eggplant. One pair of words shares the sensual, multi-syllabic softness of that open “ah” that gently rounds into a hum. The other is flat and thudding, like a Dufflepud bouncing his single foot again and again into the sand. Autumn/aubergine is cashmere sweaters in jewel-toned hues, pumpkin soup with crème fraîche in your grandmother’s antique china, and a watercolor of dusky-colored leaves. Fall/eggplant is leggings stitched with candy corn, hayrides with hot apple cider waiting at the end, and hand-turkeys drawn in crayon.

Both have their merits, but one is just so much sexier than the other.

Pile of zucchini (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Zucchini bread batter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Shredded zucchini for zucchini bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Be that as it may, I’ve always been a fan of fall. It feels right somehow. This is the season where things “fall” into place: Growing up, that meant the school year began with new books and clothes and a trapper keeper full of blue-lined loose leaf. The temperatures “fall” – cooler weather brings boots and scarves and pleasantly clear heads. And in this season more than any other, when you’re biking down the street, there’s an awful lot of stuff that “falls” into your eyes, leaf and tree bits leaving their trunks and whisking from the wind like magnets to your corneas.

The work space (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But this year, fall is also feeling very personal. If you read about my plane ticket disaster, you know that I’ve temporarily “fallen” on hard times – luckily, I’ve also discovered the “windfall” that is buying fruits and vegetables from the Turkish market just before it’s about to close. Last Saturday, my brother and I split a case of about fifty sweet potatoes, a case of tomatoes, three heads of broccoli, and two giant heads of lettuce for six euros – total.

A few days before, Ben had shown up at the apartment with an armload of of zucchini from his market buy the week before. » 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…

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…

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…

Contingency Plan: Plum & Walnut Jam

Plum and walnut jam (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The world doesn’t always revolve the way you want it to. Take today, for instance. I woke up feeling disgruntled: My alarm wasn’t set to ring for another 45 minutes, but the pillow felt lumpy beneath my neck, the temperature was too hot under the covers and too cold on top of them, and the first rumbles of construction work were already drifting through the open window. So I got up and shuffled to the bathroom to get the whole waking up thing over with.

Breakfast was uneventful. I didn’t throw oats across the kitchen floor or slip on a puddle of milk, and so I hoped that maybe it was a foolish premonition, that the day would be fine, that I’d pep up.

But one by one, little things kept going wrong. The sun came out just as I was taking advantage of the overcast sky to start a photo shoot, I discovered SAND was dangerously behind schedule for its upcoming issue, plans I’d made had to be rearranged and then arranged back. And to top it all off, I was tired. Just glumly, eye-rubbingly tired.

glass jars (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
When life hands you lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have a plan in place for grumbly days. It’s: take a nap and start again. It’s like getting all your lives back after the Game Over screen has finished flashing. Like waking up with a new face after plastic surgery. Except without all the messy bandages and bruising.

It also involves a cup of coffee after the nap. Clearly.

Lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Picked and pitted plums (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Last night after work, my boss and I biked to his city garden plot and picked plums from his tree. The branches were weeping with fruit, and when he shook them, it rained pretty purple plums. They nestled in the grass like Easter Eggs the bunny hadn’t bothered to hide. We left the garden with two hulking garbage bags of plums each, and I spent the evening watching all three endings to the 1985 classic Clue and cleaning plums. » Continue reading this post…

Sanity Measures: Brownie Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting

brownie cupcakes with salted caramel frosting (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The insanity is about to begin.

Not long ago, like yesterday, I was looking through my calendar and realized that I don’t have a single second of down time until August. In case you do not have a calendar or are living with cave trolls somewhere in the mountains of Norway, it is currently May. Granted, the end of May, but that means there are still two solid, chunky months packed full of stuff.

All of it is good stuff. I’m taking a family trip to Greece, spending a whirlwind week shuttling between Chicago and Ann Arbor, whisking up to Norway for a weekend to tell the cave trolls what month it is, visiting family in the south of Germany, hosting visitors here. In fact, my first two visitors will be landing in Tegel in just two days (hi, Mom! Hi, Grandpa!).

chopped baker's chocolate (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

brownie cupcake batter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
cupcake therapy (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

a pan of brownie cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But even though it’s all good stuff coming up, it can be a little overwhelming for a workaholic like me to wonder when I’m going to be able to get some work done. It’s a little bit sad, isn’t it? That my biggest worry is not finding the time to check things off of my to-do list. Clearly I haven’t been doing a good job of keeping my New Year’s resolution to turn my computer off in the evenings, stepping away from work and being kind to myself.

I really should spend more time nurturing my sanity. I can always tell when I’m getting too stressed, because the number of to-do lists I have multiply. Sometimes, the lists start saying things like “spend one hour working on to-do list.” I’m not sure whether that’s meta or pathetic. Metathetic?

frosting cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

salted caramel frosting (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But I also start cooking more complicated things. It’s odd, I suppose, that the less time I feel like I have, the more time I spend in the kitchen throwing around mountains of puff pastry, teaching myself how to do things like poach eggs or make hollandaise, or pick the longest recipe with the most ingredients in whatever cookbook I happen to be obsessing over at the time. » Continue reading this post…

That’s All, Yolks!: Leche Flan

Leche flan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When life hands you a dozen egg yolks, you make flan, as the famous saying goes.

It’s a beautiful, lazy afternoon. The sun has decided to play along, and it flits in an out behind soft white clouds. The courtyard is looking particularly peach these days, instead of its ashen winter hue – the pinkish-gray of an undercooked shrimp

I’m in the mood for baking, a rarity as these things go, and I magically, miraculously have all the ingredients to make leche flan, a dense, rich and creamy take on flan made only with egg yolks and other ingredients to make your arteries groan in sadomasochistic delight.

Egg yolks and milk (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The garish sounds of some awful Colombian cartoon are playing in the background, and yet it feels strangely appropriate today. The sun, the oven set to preheat, the laugh track in another language – it feels like a charmed life. Except, of course, that I can’t get David to stop eating spoonfuls of sweetened condensed milk as I caramelize the sugar and simmer whole milk down to make evaporated milk.

Egg yolks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Caramelized sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Leche flan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
In the kitchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

With the weather finally warming up and the sun showing up for whole hours at a time, I’m realizing what a huge impact this dull, gray winter has had on me. All winter, I’ve felt dull and gray myself, wanting so hard to be productive and relaxed in appropriate measures, but simply feeling sluggish and beat – always – and always feeling like I wasn’t doing enough.

Leche flan recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The sunshine is like a balm. I’m making flan, and there’s nothing else I should be, or want to be doing.

Leche flan with caramel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Egg yolk-only flan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

By the time the flan is out of the oven, the apartment smells heavenly and rich. There’s a bit of tension for the flip, but the flan drops gracefully down on the plate as silky caramel puddles around the creamy line of flan. » Continue reading this post…