Come Together (Right Now, Over Me, Ba-da-da-da-dum)

Thanksgiving (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Americans love Thanksgiving. There’s feasting and family, paper turkeys, historically elusive pilgrims, ticker tape, brisk winds, tryptophan, and faintly ringing jingle bells making promises of an even bigger and better shabang to come. Maybe it’s an inborn gluttony or a cultural draw to symbol and spectacle. But maybe, through a delicious twist, a singularly American holiday is one in which pride, that cornerstone component of the (quotation marks necessary) “American Dream,” is replaced, at least hypothetically, by thankfulness.

Thanksgiving traditions are fierce and hard to kill. More than Christmas dinner, the Thanksgiving meal is scripted. There may be variations on a theme, but the melody is always turkey, stuffing, green beans, potatoes (both plain and sweet), bread, cranberry, and gravy. Last year, when I proposed to make an ancho-chile rubbed turkey from a recipe I found in Gourmet, my youngest brother said, “You’re going to ruin Thanksgiving.” Motivated by that vote of confidence, I made the turkey anyway, and was surprised when he announced over dinner that it was the best turkey we’d ever had. Of course, after seeing the “I-told-you-so” look on my face, he quickly recanted the statement.

Thanksgiving in my family doesn’t follow a specific formula, per se, but there’s always a menu-related tug of war between tradition and innovation that starts about a month before the event. Green beans bathed in butter, garlic, and roast almonds or ascetically blanched and served with salt and freshly ground pepper, Southern-style cheddar biscuits or jalapeno-studded cornbread or Pillsbury rolls from one of those popping cans, cranberry relish or cranberry jelly or cranberry salad, stuffing with chestnuts or croutons, mashed potatoes, potatoes au gratin, and the piece de resistance – where to begin on the duel-inducing differences. Brined, baked, slow-roasted, deep fried, basted, barbequed, stuffing in, stuffing out, salt-rubbed, herb-stuffed – if the turkey makes it to the table without a death in family, there’s more than enough reason to be thankful. » Continue reading this post…

If Your Grocer Doesn’t Sell Pork Neck Bones, You’re Probably Not Poor Enough: Poor Richard’s Pork Neck Bones

Pork neck bones (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This was the opening line to an email my uncle sent a few years ago after his move to West Virginia, the second poorest state in the country after Mississippi. At the time, I laughed. I’d never seen pork neck bones in any grocery store I’d ever been to. I didn’t even know you could eat pork neck bones.

Then I moved to New York. And not only am I poor, but everyone around me is poor too (unemployed artists and musicians to the left, the projects to the right). So on my first visit to Bravo, my local grocery store, I was intrigued to find that the bizarre cuts of meat outweighed the “normal” selection. Pig tails and feet, turkey necks, chicken gizzards, pork belly, goat meat, beef honeycomb tripe, cow feet, oxtails, beef liver, and pork neck. Remembering that long forgotten email and being of a curious bent, I decided to make pork neck my first foray into adventurous cooking.

I wish I could tell you it was a more bizarre experience than it was. But pork neck is, well, decidedly normal after you’ve cooked it for two hours. The meat is incredibly tender and rich after having soaked in notes of brown sugar, cayenne, and salty broth. I made a regular Southern meal out of it with fried okra and cornmeal griddle cakes, and with pork neck stew spooned on a hot griddle cake—I felt much wealthier than I was.

Okra, pre-frying (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

All this has gotten me thinking about food stigmas, what it means to eat “poor,” and how food often undergoes the same sort of gentrification a neighborhood might. Take grits, for example. Grits are unpretentious. They are plentiful, inexpensive, and staple-worthy. Yet you can go to a five-star restaurant and order grits for $40 or $50. Those better be some damn good grits. » Continue reading this post…

Bringing It Together in a Four-Foot Kitchen: Chicken Mole Wraps

Bushwick kitchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

On my silence, let me say this: Moving boxes, painting walls, working 8-hour days, and scouring a city for an extension cord or two is time consuming. I’ve barely been eating, much less writing about eating. Rice with ketchup was about as gourmet as it got. (Moment of silence for the sadly defunct Gourmet.) But all that is changing. I’m moved. My walls are orange. My clothes are hanging. My desk is bigger than it’s ever been. I am ready to go buy groceries.

Well. I was ready to buy groceries. And then I realized that I don’t know where to buy food in New York City. Think about that for a second. One of the biggest, most delicious cities in the country. And there’s not a normal grocery store for miles. Sure, there’s Whole Foods, if you want to spend $8 on an eggplant grown in a local, sustainably organic hydroponic cave. Or Trader Joe’s if you want a fist sized, shrink-wrapped head of lettuce you can only buy after waiting in a twenty minute line. There are specialty shops in midtown and unmarked bulk bags in Chinatown, ethnically-themed markets and bulgar-tempeh-tofu kingdoms, but all I really wanted was a comprehensive grocery store that wasn’t going to break the bank at item number three.

And then I thought – maybe I’m being a little too suburban right now. Maybe this is the chance for my foodie self to show some mettle. So I’ll buy the giant log of goat cheese for $5 at Trader Joe’s and my Illy espresso at Whole Foods. And I’ll buy my rice and nutmeg in Chinatown and my meat from the store down the street called “Meat.” I mean, it just takes time to grocery shop. And it’s not like I have to finish unpacking any boxes or commute to work or do the dishes. » Continue reading this post…

Paris in New York

Ceci-Cela (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I think I’ve found IT. True love. The café of my dreams. Ceci-Cela is located on Spring Street in the heart of SoHo, and the bohemian chic stroll by in droves. Inside, however, is an oasis of soft lights, well-worn wooden floors and tables, exposed brick walls, and crooked corners. There are only eight small tables in the back room; to get there, you walk past a display counter of glazed tortes and cakes, crisp croissants, and sugar cookies glistening with raspberry jam.

The first time I came to Ceci-Cela, I was visiting New York to meet up with a friend and native New Yorker, for whom coming to Ceci-Cela was a family tradition. We ordered cappuccinos and croissants, at which point Natalie, whose family is French and Persian, taught me the art of dipping croissant in coffee. It all felt so very – French, like being transported to Paris on a magic quiche.

I’ve been back a few times since then, stopping by almost every time I come to New York. And now that I live here (still so strange to say), I have the feeling I’ll be here more often. » 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…

I Came to Picnic: Eggplant & Sun-Dried Tomato Spread

4th of July picnic (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When the sun is shining and the weather balmy, I enjoy nothing more than packing a picnic basket and a blanket and heading into the great outdoors to eat. I love eating outside, and since the sun has been generous this summer, we’ve had dinner outside almost every day. There’s something special, however, about a picnic. A picnic requires planning, preparation, and packing. First, you must decide where to go and what to make. You have to decide whether you’ll be close enough to transport warm food or if your brie will melt before you get where you’re going. You have to figure out how many utensils and napkins you’ll need, since you can’t just run back to the house to grab them, or which container will work best to sneak red wine into the 4th of July Celebration in Washington DC.

Putting together a picnic basket is one of my favorite pastimes. Much of this is probably due to my love of cheese and cheese’s conduciveness to being transported in a basket. But there are a number of other delicious dishes that lend themselves to picnicking – some that aren’t specifically intended for such a meal.

A few weeks ago, Dickinson College (right around the corner from my house) hosted its annual Bluegrass on the Grass festival. My dad packed up our lawn chairs while I modified a dinner of salmon cakes with fennel slaw for transportation. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not very good at frying things (a great loss), so my salmon patties were less patties than hunks of salmon spiced with lemon, chives, and cayenne and threaded through with grated zucchini. All for the best, however, since this made them easy to stuff into buns then packed tightly in aluminum foil to retain heat. I packed the fennel slaw with grainy mustard, mayonnaise, and more lemon in a Tupperware and then threw some Ritz crackers, brie, and leftover chocolate-marshmallow no-bake bars in the basket for good measure. » Continue reading this post…