For me, there is not much more seductive than unwrapping a thick piece of smoked fish from fat-stained wax paper. I don’t know what that says about me, or about what I find seductive, but there you have it. Grease-flecked paper makes me swoon.
Maybe it’s the nostalgia of it, how it recalls a time when we went to the butcher for meat, the fishmonger for fish, the cheesemonger for cheese – and a piece of something would be picked out just for you, weighed on a scale, and wrapped up by hand.
This week, I finally made it back to the Winterfeldt Market, a Saturday-only affair I keep skipping because I’m tired or otherwise engaged or am once again lured by the Turkish market’s ludicrously cheap prices on crates of perfectly decent vegetables and fruits.
The Winterfeldt Market is classier, with the price tag to prove it. Most of the sellers are from small organic farms, there are beekeepers with jars of local honey and riotous bouquets of flowers, there’s the guy selling hand-sharpened knives and olive wood cutting boards, the craft vermouth stand, the truck that sells fresh whole fish grilled on the spot, and the tiramisu counter that’s always crammed with people slinging back espressos and digging into pillowy piles of dessert.
I don’t go to the market often, but when I do, I’m reassured to find my favorites in the same place, with the same good wares to sell. I always start my market tour with a raclette. I like to watch the big rinds of pungent alpine cheese bubble and brown under the hot metal grill, and the aproned woman working the contraption as she swipes the oozy top layer with a big wooden paddle and spreads it on a piece of crusty white bread, sprinkles it with paprika and parsley. » Continue reading this post…
Intestines smell. Terribly. I’m not exactly sure what I’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the heady, pungent stench of a hound’s breath whiffed with rotten bone. However washed and dried and packed in salt they might be, intestines smell like what they are: long, stringy coils of an organ that once held yards of mulching food on its way to less pleasant places.
And yet, there I stood at the kitchen island, disentangling about seven meters’ worth of pig intestines. I was oddly reminded of the matted bundles of jewelry my grandma used to set aside for me. My nimble fingers were expert at parsing apart delicate gold links and unwinding them from multi-colored baubles. I never imagined the skill would come in handy here, as I gently tugged a knot out of the intestine, sending grains of coarse salt scattering across the floor.
It was sausage day.
Making your own sausages isn’t necessarily hard, but there are a lot of moving parts involved. And equipment. You have to have a meat grinder and a stuffing horn and probably a freezer that’s bigger than the crystal-filled icebox wedged at the top of my tiny European fridge. And it’s definitely a two-person job.
The meat grinder is an unwieldy beast, and one person must feed the chunks of meat into the machine, while the other keeps the red rainbow-strands flowing evenly into the bowl. After the dry-rubbed meat is ground once, it’s flash-frozen, then ground again with a finer dice before being whisked into the freezer once more. Finally, it’s mashed into a pinkish pulp by hand and worked with a glut of rich cream.
Before you even begin to stuff the sausage, you must check the intestines for integrity. This involves wedging one end up to the faucet like a water balloon’s lip, and watching as the long tube fills, pale and eerily veined like ghost leaves. » Continue reading this post…
It’s been raining nonstop for days. Apparently, we’ve had twice as much rainfall this July as the year before, and the month isn’t even over yet. The weather seems hell-bent on tripling its record, sending down sheets in alternating waves of velvety drizzle and cascading downpour, and I’m becoming adept at discerning nuances in gray. There’s the white-streaked gray that means a short reprieve is coming, and the bluish gray that means it’s coming to an end. A dull, sodden gray means temperamental rain, and dark, voluptuous clouds against pale, rare blue promise brilliant thunderstorms that mean you’d better find a café to hide away in for a while.
I’ve been knocked out with a cold for the last two weeks, and I can’t tell whether it’s all this infernal rain and icky chill or if it’s the mental strain that comes along with returning home from vacation and having to get your real life – and real life deadlines – back on track.
In any case, I haven’t been this sick in a long time, though by now it’s just lingering malaise and a wimpy-sounding cough, and I’m not sure it still justifies the excessive amount of time I’ve spent binge watching TV or the Game of Thrones theory sites rabbit hole I go down after every new episode airs.
For me, the worst symptom of sickness is guilt. It’s bad enough to feel awful, but it’s even worse to feel awful about feeling awful, to feel like I should go to work even when my body needs rest, to feel like rest is a waste of time, to ache as those hours of productivity slip by in sleep or as Netflix’s deliciously evil Next episode airs in… countdown keeps me tied to the couch. It doesn’t matter how vehemently I try to convince myself that recovery requires R&R – it only ever just feels like an excuse. » Continue reading this post…
How much lobster is too much lobster? In Maine, the answer seems to be, there is no such thing. There, it is possible to eat a lobster roll for both lunch and dinner, to ceaselessly crack into the thick red hull of a crustaceous claw and swipe its soft, white meat through melted butter. You can cook your own live lobster, you can order it in chowders and stews, baked into pot pies, have it whole, halved, beheaded, even gnaw on frozen chunks nestled into butter-flavored ice cream – though I don’t know that it’s a combination I can recommend. You can have lobster any way you want it, and you can have it every day. And I did.
I love Maine, love its rolling mountains and crashing cold waves, the glacier-scraped rocks thick with barnacles and crushed shells, the way the low tide leaves vast patches of kelp exposed to the sun until the evening brings the salty water crashing up the shore. In late summer, I love the tenacious wild blueberry bushes full of tiny fruit that never hit the bottom of the bucket until the belly’s full, and the gentle, sweet smell of balsam fir that perfumes the forest and every Bar Harbor gift shop.
Our house in Maine was on a sound, and I’d wake in the mornings to sun streaming in the windows across the water. From the back deck, you could catch brief bright flashes of harbor seals’ heads as they flicked up out of the ocean in play. Once, we canoed out to where we saw them in the water, navigating close enough that we could make out each quivering whisker and their alert eyes, wet and black as midnight pools.
On the Fourth of July, we spent the day in Bar Harbor, staking down a small patch of green at the waterfront for first-row firework seats. » Continue reading this post…
For the first time since I moved to Berlin, I’ve missed my favorite social event of the year: SAND’s new issue launch party. Yes, sure, you might say I was gallivanting around Colombia, eating fried mojarra and drinking fresh-pressed juices, so what did I want with one evening of readings, of dancing, of congratulatory back-clapping? But for those of us who’ve spent six months putting it together, the launch party is our first chance to hold the new issue in our hands – this beautiful physical object we produce in an age where “print is dead.”
It’s been an interesting issue for me in any case, my first as retired editor in chief. It’s an odd feeling, somehow, to have worked my way from copy editor to managing editor to poetry editor to editor in chief and then to suddenly find myself with an honorary senior editorship and the hoary post of keeper of old history. I know the intricacies of the journal inside and out – after six years, you become something of an expert. But it’s more than just having knowledge. I feel like I’ve helped SAND grow from a small and maybe slightly ramshackle passion project to a fixture in the Berlin literary community and beyond. It’s well-organized and structured, the team is so so dedicated and talented, and the journal is ready to blow up. Which is ultimately why I decided to step down as editor in chief.
Like any empty-nester, I had plenty of projects lined up for when the birdie flew. There’s The Wolf & Peter, a food venture the very talented Anna of Anna’s Kitchen and I are launching, where we host supper clubs and workshops and kitchen takeovers. And I’ve been writing a cookbook that is slowly but surely nearing completion. » Continue reading this post…
When we pulled into the parking lot, the place was already swarming. It was a Sunday, and it seemed as if half the city had flocked to the northern outskirts to eat themselves into a gut-busting stupor. We wound through the open-air building, packed with rickety wooden tables and plastic chairs, all full of families grabbing food off large silver trays piled with glistening cuts of meat and puffed up whorls of chicharrón, potatoes and flat white mounds of yuca. A happy clamor drifted across the simple concrete floor and low walls, mingling with the smoky scent of barbequing beef.
Once we’d snagged a table nestled in the very back of the long hall, we divided – half our group to hold our spot, the other to order food and wrestle the trays through the crowd. The wait seemed everlasting. It was already edging past 3 p.m., and my stomach was growling, the morning’s arepa and scrambled eggs feeling frighteningly distant. I worried the salt shaker between my fingers, wondering if a few grains might sharpen or dull the pangs, when David’s dad swooped to the table bearing a basket of grilled corn on the cob, thick yellow pearls scrubbed with black char, butter, and salt. Mazorca. The kernels were sweet and slightly powdery, almost popcorn-like. He also set down a pitcher of refajo, a mix of pale Aguila beer with sweet Colombiana soda, and we poured a round into our small plastic cups.
And then, like an answered prayer, the food was there. Soup, slightly thickened and a little bitter with herbs, with tender strands of chicken and a few vegetables – just enough to whet your appetite for the giant tray heaped with fist-sized cuts of beef, charred from an open flame and dripping with juices. » Continue reading this post…
1. Be surprised. Ideally, you’ll wake up one morning to an innocuous-looking email from Air Serbia informing you that your itinerary has been changed. You will skim it, expecting to see a flight number switched or a terminal swapped out. And instead, you will realize that your flight has been cancelled, and that your new flight leaves a whole day later than the flight you were supposed to take. And even though you will call Air Serbia and mention the unacceptability of the entire situation, you will hear their shoulders shrug on the other end of the shabby connection as they tell you there’s really nothing they can do, and you will say, “Well, I guess I’m going to Belgrade.”
2. Leave no stone unturned. Insist on being put up in a nice hotel that’s walking distance from the city and has a complimentary airport shuttle. And when you get to the hotel, open all the tiny bottles on the bathroom counter – the shampoo and conditioner, the body wash and lotion, the shower cap and lavender-scented pillow spray – and claim them as yours, as payment for accrued inconveniences.
3. Be brave. Don’t linger over the soaps. Leave. Sling your backpack over your shoulder and grab a map (yes, a paper map because chances are very good that your phone will be about to die) from the front desk along with verbal directions into the city. Listen and nod and understand the uselessness of this endeavor because you are already well-acquainted with your inability to hold more than two directional instructions in your head at one time.
Step through the revolving doors. You are responsible for you and only you. What is it that brings you joy? To pause on a bridge over the Danube, feeling the tenderness of the setting sun on your skin, the cool breeze of early spring with its promise of softer days? » Continue reading this post…
I realized with some chagrin that I had forgotten to pack sunscreen, as we marched along a long, hot Israeli highway, our feet seeming to sink slightly into the melting asphalt as cars charged past. I held David’s windbreaker like a tarp above my head, hoping this half-hearted tenting would spare my milky Berlin winter skin the raw, red slap of a burn. I tried to remember which suffering Biblical figure it was who had been stuck wandering in the Galilean wilderness, because I now understood the tribulation conjured by the phrase – though then there was surely less traffic and more scrubby date palms to rest beneath.
I was the one who had so desperately wanted to see the Sea of Galilee, to give the stories I’d grown up hearing sustenance. David wanted to go camping. So we decided to camp at the Jordan River Park, just north of the Sea of Galilee. But now it seemed it might have been too ambitious to combine a camping trip and a brush with ancient civilization. Because no matter how far we wandered, big backpack roped up with a tent and stuffed with sleeping bags and food, we never got closer to the lake. It started to feel almost mythical. A mirage we’d never reach.
We’d arrived at Jordan River Park just as the midday sun was swinging its last long punches. The bus had belched us out on a dusty, desolate stretch of highway, no sign of life except for the lone bus station and miles of long road reaching out. No one else got off the bus, and for a moment, I thought the driver might playing a trick on us as he sped off and left us alone on the road. But David’s phone said the park was straight ahead, and so we set off at a good pace, feeling optimistic. » Continue reading this post…