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…

Christening: Chickpea Curry & Failproof Rice

The new kitchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Finally, a beginning.

Last night, I was talking with my roommate about the bedbugs. It’s still almost shameful to say, even though they are an epidemic in New York – apparently the whole country. The people I tell, I laugh and say, Oh, it’s fine, I’m just spending a fortune in laundry. But the bedbugs have brought out the worst in us. They have robbed us of our time and stolen our sanity. We bicker over little things and act selfishly because we can’t think otherwise. But mostly, we haven’t made our new apartment home. And somehow, it’s worse to expresses these fears than to suffer them in silence. But now you know.

We were in the kitchen, and I don’t remember why, but I wanted to know the secrets of making rice. My attempts always leave a thin burned layer of grains stuck to the bottom of the pot. I think of them as sacrificial grains.

Eulas started telling me his method for cooking rice – water to just cover the rice, cooked to boiling, heat turned low and covered while the steam works. Then Sarah – I’ve perfected my rice recipe. You need lots of time, at least 45 minutes. We debated rice cooking methods, discussed the merit of steam, water to rice ratios, pot types, rice types, and lids for half an hour. As the last few words were said, we began to separate; silence pushing us back to our rooms. We could make rice now, Sarah said. I’ll make beans, Eulas said, and with relief we drew together again in the kitchen.

Rice in the pot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We cooked and talked – about something, I don’t even remember – as the music of cars and neighborhood children clashed outside our window. The redolent smell of cumin and pepper and the kitchen’s warm lights. » Continue reading this post…

Not Cooking

Empty plate (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There is a point where what you don’t cook means something too. Every day at work on my lunch break, the hectic rush to Starbucks, the deli, money spent. Two weeks into moving and I still can’t make myself at home in the long kitchen – so new and full of stainless steel, without character or enough space to chop onions. The fridge is smaller than me, there is no order to a glutted smash of plastic bags, yogurts, mustard, glittering cherry tomatoes in clear cases. Yesterday I threw away spring onions, cilantro, lettuce, and cucumbers. Forgotten in there. Mom says, try Paxil. But what I need is to christen the kitchen and to write again. I miss those anchors of sanity.

What is there in cooking that saves me? Stability: the heft of a knife handle in my hand, the rhythmic grind of the blade rubbing salt into a garlic clove. Creativity: the unexpected sour hit of feta on spinach wilted in bacon grease. Safety: fried eggs. Escape: a pinch of berbere spice. Comfort: pasta and basil, chorizo. My eyes closed, eating tacos.

I am fearless in the kitchen. A mistake is almost always fixable and sometimes leads to something better than what I had in mind. I try to approach life this way – the best things unfold before me despite my efforts. When I cook, it reminds me of the goodness of a greater plan. When I don’t cook, I forget. And I worry, about success and failure, jobs, getting a roommate, making phone calls, painting, finding time for yoga – as if I were picking apart the goodness of a whole orange and eating only pith.

Then I remember the soup I froze for bad times. Tuscan bean soup, thick with potato and butternut squash, smooth, sweet carrots cut through with the bitterness of kale. » Continue reading this post…

Thunder and Sweat

Dinner in Brooklyn (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In Brooklyn, sweat. And rain. At first, just heat lightning flaring between clouds. Flashes wrinkling through the undulating branches of the tree against the window. Anette and I sit on the couch drinking red wine out of real wine glasses for once. The fan makes the sweat prickle on our skin. On the stove, eggplant simmers with cut tomatoes, garlic, onion, chorizo, basil, oregano. I am insane to have even lit the stove, to want more heat in the apartment without air conditioning. My shirt is damp and stuck to my skin, sweat mats my hair across my forehead, mascara dripping on my cheekbones. Still, I can’t help but hold my face over the steam and scoop up a bite of tomato and eggplant, soft with hints of wine, balsamic, and sugar.

This has been a long month. The stultifying heat of July reaches record highs, the heat smothers my brain. I don’t write. Instead I lie on the floor and watch Nip/Tuck, my laptop propped on my legs, drinking water to quench some insatiable thirst. My throat still dry. I make involved to do lists I can’t begin to address, call landlords, pay bills, paint my toenails. I lose myself in this heat.

I feel it here, I say, and sweep my hand across my collarbones. My stress, like a prolonged caress, an ache of inactivity, of stuff.

Let’s take a walk and buy another bottle of wine, Anette says. We hope the air is cooler outside. The sky flashes. It’s just heat lighting. It’s fine, it’s fine, my heart beats. I am so afraid of lighting. Outside the breeze is like a bigger fan, but the air is already wet. By the time we get to the edge of the building, thunder grumbles loudly, close. Just to the bodega on the corner, Anette says, but already I’m turning back, I can’t, I can’t, I reach for her hand to make her turn around with me, but I grope air. » Continue reading this post…

Summer Lunch: Thai Chicken Sandwich

Thai chicken sandwich (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Partly because it’s unbearably hot everywhere in New York and partly because I’ve been ridiculously busy, I haven’t really been cooking much, writing much, or even eating much. I’ve made pilgrimages to my favorites, Roberta’s and the Tortilleria, tried out new places like Taïm for falafels and the Shake Shack (more on that lovely experience later) for burgers and concretes, but for the most part, I’m living on ice pops, toast, and cold beer.

But since it’s only 88 today in Brooklyn and because I want to celebrate the lease I just signed, I decided to make a sandwich. A sandwich is very rarely inappropriate. There are sandwiches bursting with lettuce and avocados for summer or fresh paninis with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. For winter, there are concoctions of melted cheese and sweet onions. Olives, feta, roast beef, eggplant, actually anything can find a home between two slices of bread. Bread like a blanket. Bread like your mother’s arms or puppies or unexpected gifts. Bread the panacea.

Palette (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Peanutty Thai slaw (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I find a nub of cabbage in the fridge. I think it’s over a month old, but with the outer layer cut off, it’s still crisp and fresh inside. Cabbage, hardworking and versatile, resilient, maligned as famine food, but good in times of plenty, also. I dress it with tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, and lime, drape it over two slices of toast and top with slivers of chicken breast. I wish I had better bread, but a sandwich is still good on Arnold’s whole wheat pre-sliced loaf, especially when the dressing is nutty, sweet, spicy, salty, and when there is cabbage to promise that under summer’s lethargy and sweat is something fresh and full of potential waiting to be revealed.

Summer Thai chicken sandwich (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Thai Chicken Sandwich

1/4 of a  green cabbage, slivered
1/2 carrot, ribboned
1 green onion, diced
Generous splash of rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. » Continue reading this post…

The Spoon Stands Alone

The beautiful spoon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)A fork is just a spoon with holes. How primitive, a set of little spears, to prod, poke, pierce, and rent. Where is the elegance of the spoon’s soft curve, the spoon’s caress of a pumpkin soup, its languid dive into pudding, the easy crunch with which it drops onto the caramel hat of a crème brulé. A fork is crude, a tine nothing more than a galvanized toothpick. Give me the heft of a spoon’s curved bowl cradled in the hand’s palm, the sensuous glide of the tongue beneath its cambered base, the upper lip’s sweep into the lightly sloping dip. How lovely, a piled stack of peas, pearls of tapioca suspended in pale pudding, a melting marble of ice cream lifted easily to the mouth in the safety of the spoon’s arms. A steak, you say? What good is a spoon for a steak? None; but for that I have my fingers. What is a fork, after all, but a bourgeois approximation of a hand? As if the hand were too delicate to grasp a breaded pork chop or a broccoli floret, as if the teeth weren’t meant to bite through veal or a tender medallion of filet mignon.

There is that crassness in a fork, a pretension that one shouldn’t feel the food one eats, a pizza must be prod and cut before it can be chewed, a tomato surgically sliced. A fork is redundant as is a knife, but a spoon – a spoon extends the hand as if the palm were mirrored past the fingers. How painstaking it would be to lap milk from a bowl of cereal or eat yogurt one finger’s sweep at a time. A fork and knife are just reductions of what we already have; the spoon completes the hand. » Continue reading this post…

Dips on Chips: Guacamole

Dip on a chip (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A legitimate question: why have I never written about guacamole? Because seriously, I make great guac. I’m sitting at my desk right now, listening to sweet summer jams and munching on chips and guac. I know it’s a little early for lunch, but I’ve been up since seven working on a writing project and running errands, and I just couldn’t resist that plump little avocado nestled between the onions and garlic saying, Eat me, eat me, I’m so squishy and green!

My passion for guacamole emerged out of on incredibly uncomfortable social situation, which occurred a few summers ago when I was leading backpacking trips with Davidson College. At the end of each trip, the group would go to a Davidson employee’s house for dinner. I don’t even remember who the employee in question was – all I remember is that she was in her late forties and worked in some sort of office and that along with us, she had invited her daughters and her new boyfriend to the dinner as well. Her boyfriend, whose name was Jaun, was clearly at least ten years younger – they had met while Juan and company were renovating her office, or something like that. Her daughters clearly didn’t like Juan and kept rolling their eyes at each other every time their mother said something about him.

Which was often, since she only talked about Juan, clearly to mitigate her daughters’ disapproval. Juan didn’t say anything.

The dinner was something Mexican. Juan is a really good cook. [Insert history of Juan’s family.] Juan, Juan, Juan, Juan. [Daughters roll eyes. Backpacking participants smile awkwardly. Juan smiles awkwardly.] I made these enchiladas just like Juan’s mom used to make. [Shoveling food into mouth to keep from having to make a comment. Silence. Longer awkward silence. » Continue reading this post…

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