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…

A Family History: Bagna Cauda

Davis Family Cook Book (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The other day, as I was looking through my mom’s collection of cookbooks, searching for some recipes to deal with our cash crop of zucchinis, I stumbled upon a blue binder clasping thick, yellowed pages and stuffed with wrinkled clippings. I quickly leafed through the clippings and turned to the first page. “Fern Eunice (6/22/1905 – 7/25/1977) m. Joseph Welle” ran across the top in my grandmother’s all-caps handwriting and below that a list of names, Marguerite, Sharon, Barbara Jo, Kenneth, Scott, Douglass. It seemed to be a family tree of sorts, though its logic was obtuse and the family members obscure. As I flipped the page, I realized what I held; it was the Davis Family Cook Book, inscribed by my grandmother, “With family love and tradition to my daughter Lauri, Mother 1979.”

The Davis Family Cook Book says a lot about my family—and about 1979. For instance, here’s the order of the table of contents. Appetizers, Beverages, Candy, Desserts and Breads, Meats and Main Dishes, Salads, Relishes and Preserves, Soups, and Vegetables. Clearly, there’s a sweet tooth running through my family tree. Not to mention that there are thirty pages of desserts, yet only ten sorry pages devoted to main dishes.

I love the titles of these recipes, like the opening one for “Truly Different Cheese Ball.” What, I wonder, makes one cheese ball different from another, and what makes this one truly different? “Sure Thing Roll Out Cookies” is quaint, and you know “Everybody’s Favorite Cheese Spread” must be good.

The salad section makes me nostalgic for a church potluck in the Midwest, where my grandmother’s family comes from. There are layered salads, a few recipes for coleslaw, some fruit salads, and of course, Jello salad. In fact, there are eleven recipes for some sort of Jello salad, though my favorite horror is this recipe for “Pineapple Salad,” which calls for pineapple tidbits, miniature marshmallows, and Velveeta cheese. » Continue reading this post…

New Zealand Memories

Egg, tomato and toast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Recently, for lunch, I made myself a meal that I hadn’t had since the winter of 2007, when I went WWOOFing through New Zealand. WWOOF, which stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms, is an ingenious program which allows volunteers to work on farms in exchange for food and lodging. I had just finished my semester studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia and since New Zealand was so close, decided to drag two of my newfound friends, Emma and Dan, with me to see the country. Since we were broke, we hit on WWOOFing as a brilliant travel method.Our first farm was a fledgling vineyard outside of Nelson. Alex and Gareth had started the vineyard only a few years before and were raising a young crop of grapes along with fruits and vegetables. Their house, a simple, elegant building entirely made from wood, overlooked the sloping vineyard that ran into soft green hills, dark forests, and in the distance, snow-capped peaks.

Our work in the vineyard was relatively simple, but crucial, especially as the vineyard itself was only five years old, and many of the vines were in their formative growing years. Each row of vines consisted of equidistant wooden poles strung with three horizontal wires on each side. Approximately five stalks were planted between the poles and attached with string to the lowest of the wires. This wire was fixed and provided support for the growing vines. Hypothetically, as the vines grew, they would stay within the two additional wires, growing up of their own accord.Realistically, vines are wayward things that like growing any direction except up, and preferably grow down. Our job was to pick vines up from the ground and make sure each stalk was contained within the wires. One of us would unhook the wire from its post, stretch it out, pull it towards the ground and sweep it up to catch all the straggling vines. » Continue reading this post…

Excavating Green Gold (a post by Josh)

Here, as promised yesterday, is a listing of my top ten. Top ten loves in the oil category. Mainly: olive oil and truffle oil. There’s much to say and even more memories, but here is a smattering of oil loves.

Olive Oil
I have get down to the basics before I go and start telling you about the slight variances that I have fallen in love with. So, here it is to me: olive oil. This stuff (as one sign in Florence, Italy once read) is Green Gold. Wait, green? Yup, most of the good olive oils in Italy, Spain, Greece, France, and New Zealand all have a slight green tint to the oil. This generally means you should get ready for a slight bite. It’s not just food lubrication as most Americans see olive oil, but it’s a flavor unto itself. Wait, let me back up. Olive oil is one of my most favorit-est things because it is universal in the cooking world.

(Notice, I did not say baking. Almost never use olive oil in your baking dishes; it will give that desired sweet a strange savory flavor. Especially if the dish calls for a pinch of salt, which most baked goods do).

It is called green gold because one: it is green, and two: because it flavors most dishes in the Mediterranean repertoire. It’s silky, heavy, robust and compliments garlic, salt, pepper and just about any other savory spice you throw at it. Too much, and your food is greasy, too little and the garlic is burning in a dry pan. Olive oil is something I thought I knew before traveling outside of the US, and something I fell in love with when I got outside of the US borders. Here are a few of my favorite oils I’ve met, taken out for dinner and back to my place for later. » Continue reading this post…

A Few of My Favorite Things

All that's left of a great sandwich (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Or, more precisely, ten of my favorite things. Making this list was harder than I thought it would be. For instance, how much of the list was I going to devote to spices or non-essential ingredients? Did these ingredients have to work together? Would this be an “if you were stranded on a deserted island…” list? What if I ended up devoting the entire list to cheese?

What this list has ended up being, however, is a list of foods that recur in my food life, continually influence what I order in a restaurant, or are things I’d just really miss if they didn’t exist. There are a number of food items that come up again and again on this list, such as garlic and tomatoes, that didn’t make the actual top ten, and I’m wondering if that means they should be here too. But then I realize the beauty of a top ten foods list. It’s inclusive.

Olive oil
Josh, having spent six months eating the real stuff in Italy, is certainly more of a connoisseur of olive oils than I am, but I do know a good thing when I’ve got it. Olive oil has the magical ability to transform anything. The bread they serve to you at restaurants? Boring. The bread they serve to you at restaurants plus a little bowl of oil and crushed herbs? Delicious. Broiled eggplant? Boring. Broiled eggplant brushed with olive oil? Delicious. Olive oil is also first on my list because it’s so integral to my cooking. It is a rare dish that wasn’t brushed with, soaked through, or sautéed in olive oil. It’s also first on my list, because it is often how many of my recipes start – a hot skillet drizzled with oil.

Goat cheese
I love cheese. I love all cheese. » Continue reading this post…