Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Welcome Home, Berlin

Sardines on toast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s been a long time, I know. But I just haven’t had the inclination to write. I’ve been doing other things – like moving out of New York, studying for the GRE, hiking in Colorado, making a beautiful assortment of to-do lists – and really, I just haven’t been inspired to write anything. I’ve felt like every time I sit down to blog, I devolve into blasé maxims: food is good, food is love, food brings people together.  And I think all these things are true, but eventually, it’s boring for you to read – and boring for me to write. I needed something new.

As I sat at my new kitchen table in Berlin, I was reminded of an entry I wrote long ago about sardines on toast. This blog was begun as a class project almost three years ago, and when I first started blogging about food, I felt that every entry should be thoroughly researched – a blend of fact and memoir – though if you read through those early posts, they sound stilted. The missing element, my advisor said, was spontaneity. That day, I had a simple lunch – toasted baguette, butter, sardines – and the food was so good and unadorned, I immediately felt inspired to write about it. I’ve written about the sardines and the writing since.

I think I keep coming back to that moment because it encapsulates an essential truth about both food and writing. That both are acts of some skill rescued by intuition and a certain amount of receptiveness, and that sometimes a lesson is felt rather than explained.

Driving down the streets of Berlin from the airport to my new home, I felt both terrified and excited, thinking at the same time how wonderful it would be to grow attached to these streets, and yet, how different they were from my Brooklyn streets. » Continue reading this post…

Pilgrimage

Bone marrow and parsley salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I stopped speaking. I vaguely heard the man beside me rant about the Americans as my friends gossiped about mutual acquaintances and all around in the rest of the restaurant was the low hum of conversations, women laughing, sniffs at swilled glasses of port, the rustle of waiter’s whites as they brushed between tables and the open kitchen at the back. But for me there was nothing but toast spread with bone marrow, pungent sea salt burning my lips, vinegary parsley salad cut with capers and paper-thin slivers of garlic. My mouth smeared with grease.

This was heaven. This was the silly smile of kissing, the quiet of vacation mornings on the beach. Bone marrow and parsley salad at St. John’s Restaurant in London, my own nirvana.

Fergus Henderson’s restaurant is on the tip of one of those winding London streets that fork abruptly into other cobbled lanes, overshadowed by low-storied buildings that lean precariously over street lamps and clustered packs of suited, smoking office workers. Inside, warm lights glint off steel trim, the décor is simple and white, the floors stone. The waiters are attentive – coats are hung, dropped scarves quickly scooped from the floor, chairs pulled out, menus discreetly slipped onto the tablecloth.

We set our shopping bags under the table, slipped into the silk of quiet conversation, took sips of syrah, spread thick smears of butter on bread. Already the atmosphere of the restaurant, casual yet completely elegant, impressed itself into our attitudes, and we sat with the sensual, fluid postures of posh and wealthy women. Not that that’s not what we were.

The food was unassumingly described. Ox tongue and chips. Pigeon and beetroot. I told my waiter I was deciding between those two things; he said, well, the pigeon was a really lovely gamey bird, perfect if I liked gamey meat, but the ox tongue, oh, the ox tongue was nice. » Continue reading this post…

Frühstück and Vespern: Friedel’s Fleischsalat

Laugenbretzel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My verbal skills are now thoroughly mangled. I’m thinking in three languages, navigating through two cultures, and working my way through something like six time zones. So I’m confused, mostly. All I can say for certain is that my family is keeping me regularly caffeinated and fed (and caffeinated) and that they forgive me for whatever errors my German may contain.

Since joining up with them in the rural south of Germany, I’ve been playing a fun game called, “Can I Say This in Schwäbisch,” in which I say a sentence out loud and then in my head try to sound it out in the garbled southern dialect (the aforementioned third language) my family speaks. Say: Meine Sprache ist ganz durch einander. Think: Moi Sprach ist hey. The result is that I speak a very strange German: either correct, crisp high-German pronunciation with a rolling Southern inflection or the reverse – as if an inhabitant from the Pacific northwest were to cleanly articulate the sentence, “That ain’t nohow the way to go ‘bout it.”

As I speak and eat my way through the week, I’m working out a theory that culturally, the difference between Americans and Germans is a principle of curves and edges. Lets assume that we evolve angularly against our environments in order to navigate them, that in the yin-yang of the universe, there must always be a balance between curves and lines. In this sense, the Americans are outwardly round and inwardly straight and the Germans are outwardly straight and inwardly round.

Pretend I’m not totally jet-lagged and work with me. American culture is loud and big and comfortable. Americans are easy to get to know, are chatty and open. Advertising is seductive and billboards are filled with colors, scripted font, pictures, and sequins. Yet Americans themselves are inwardly direct and goal-oriented, good at general friendships but wary of vulnerability, in relationships less earnest than flippant. » Continue reading this post…

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle: Cruzan Mojitos

The aging room (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Everything I might have learned on the rum tour I promptly forgot at the tasting session, where our Hawaiian shirt-bedecked tour guide shot generous splashes of Cruzan rum into plastic cups. Coconut, mango, guava, raspberry, some scary-looking molassesy black label concoction, cream rum… If only we hadn’t gotten there right before closing time. Though maybe that was for the best.

Cruzan rum is manufactured on a smallish plot of land on the western side of the island of St. Croix. The whole walking tour takes about fifteen minutes, from the office across a pebble-strewn lawn to an open warehouse with giant bins of fermenting alcohol, past a tower, storage facility, and trucks. The occasional chicken clucks past, and the whole operation looks more like grandpa’s moonshine still in the backyard than a legitimate rum factory which turns out something like 575,000 opaque, tropical cases of rum each year.

The fermenting house is really a raised platform built around large metal vats of water, yeast, and sugarcane in various stages of fermentation. The smell of raw alcohol sweetness, like mashed apples and burnt sugar, is overwhelming, especially in the heat.

From these vats, where thefermenting liquid spends about two days, the mash is transferred to a tall tower where it undergoes something called five-column distillation. In this process, the mash is pumped through a series of columns which remove aldehydes, esters, and other various trace compounds. This process also removes fusil oils, light oils formed during fermentation that accumulate during distillation and are often blamed for hangovers.

Barrels of rum (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
In the distillery (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We say, “So we can drink as much Cruzan as we want and not have a hangover?” Our tour guide says, “I’m not saying that.”

After fermentation and distillation, the rum is cut with rainwater and placed in handcrafted wooden barrels for aging. Around 23,000 charred oak barrels of maturing rum line the shelves of an extensive aging warehouse, where the rum just sort of hangs out for at least two years – and up to twelve – thinking about who it wants to be. » 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…

Why the Diet Will Never Work

Turkish pastries from Al Jazeera konditorei (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Right now, I’m sitting on a train from Berlin to Stuttgart, thinking back on my visits, the conversations I had, the things I saw, and the millions of pounds I gained. Not that I would give one single pound back. In fact, I’m stocked up for this train trip with a hefty mound of honey-laden pastries from Al-Jazeera, a Turkish Konditorei that my mom just happened to find once on a bike trip through Berlin.

When we first picked up our goodies, we walked into the two-armspan-wide store and asked for one of everything. The man on the other side of the counter couldn’t quite comprehend the request and asked us every third pastry or so if we really meant one of each. Oh yes, we did. And it didn’t take us long to walk back to our bikes locked other side of the street, open our three boxes of pastries and sample each piece. We had an assortment of Turkish baklava, stuffed with pistachios or peanuts, halva or melting sugar and layered between crisp sheets of phyllo dough dripping with honey.

There were three types of cake, one filled with apples and custard, another with crumb pressed into rose-water flavored cream, and a third which the pastry cook brought out after we had paid and which looked so good, we asked for a piece of that too and paid again.

After an extra-vigorous bike ride (a guilty calorie conscience?), we stumbled into a packed Vietnamese restaurant/café for lunch. Hamy, as the restaurant is called, only serves two dishes a day. Judiciously, my mother ordered the chicken curry on rice and I ordered the Pho with pan-fried pork over rice noodles. Hands down the best Vietnamese food I have ever eaten in my life, and for five Euros, the most reasonably priced. » Continue reading this post…

Eating in German: Schwabian Potato Salad

Opa on the Eichland (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I grew up speaking in German, and I grew up eating anything but. Schnitzel, sauerkraut, bratwurst? Never. If it was puddled in butter, wrapped in gravy, or leaking grease, my mother did not make it. I remember her once exclaiming about German food, “It’s all so heavy! They even cook the peas in cream!” So I grew up eating couscous and bulgur, slow-cooked stews, stir-fry, and salmon. But not a single Spätzle graced our table.

This was all ok with me. My father is from Germany, so my rare cravings for Würstchen and Läberkäs were satisfied on our trips to the country every two years or so. And while my brothers seemed never to get enough schnitzel (seriously, never enough), I was maxed out on potatoes by day three.

Still, some of my strongest (and fondest) childhood memories center around German food. My grandfather owns a piece of property on the Schwäbische Alb, a low mountain range in the South of Germany comparable to the weathered Appalachians. Every available Pfister would gather, and we’d have a bonfire and roast as many types of wurst as Aldi and Lidl had on sale.

There would be loaves of fresh, crusty bread, potato salad done in the German style with vinegar, oil, salt, Kräutersalz, and onion, Fleishsalat (strips of bologna mixed with mayonnaise, gouda, eggs, and pickle), cucumber salad, and beer – lots of beer. For the kids, there was süsser Sprudel and gelber Sprudel, both sweetened types of seltzer water.

Eichland Eating (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The grown ups would sit around the fire and gossip, while we cousins ran around the woods building houses out of bark, moss, and small stones for elves or catching crickets in the sunny neighboring field. Bocce ball was popular with everyone, and for some inexplicable reason, the kids fought over the right to mow the lawn with a rickety, unmotorized push-mower with scissoring blades. » Continue reading this post…

Single-Serving Life

Single-serving bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s been too long. Sorry. I’ve been working nonstop and traveling on top of that. My life feels a little like the other Tyler Durden’s: “Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap.” I’ve spent so much time on trains and planes and gobbling something up on lunch breaks that I’m not entirely sure what good food is anymore.

Of course, that is a lie. I’m sitting in a sunny apartment in Cologne, Germany right now, eating a nectarine so juicy that I can’t take a bite without having to quickly lick my fingers before juice runs down my arm. And last night, for supper, my mother and I had fresh ciabatta from a bakery down the street with lax, cream cheese, stuffed peppers in oil, and cherry tomatoes. Life is ok.

Sadly, though, these past three weeks, I’ve been eating mostly quick meals – Ramen noodles doused with Sriracha hot sauce, cold leftover lasagna, boxed pizza, takeout. And as a result, I haven’t really had anything good to write about. However, now that I have a chance to sit down and think about it, I kind of like eating en route, whether it’s in the car, on a train, or even sitting still in my kitchen while my brain keeps moving. At least, I like it if I don’t have to do it all the time. I especially find eating in planes novel. It’s kind of like a picnic, eating 20,000 feet in the air with no elbow room, watching Star Trek on a six-inch screen, and wrapping a single slab of white cheese from plastic wrap and putting it on a single cracker done up in its own wrapping. The food may certainly be nothing to write home about, but the ambiance (!)

As I mentioned, I am currently in Cologne, and will be in Germany for the next three weeks, so expect some delicious German food updates. » Continue reading this post…

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