The Road Home to Apple Country: Apple Butter

Homemade apple butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I know I swore I’d never can another fruit. And then along came a big bag of apples, plucked straight from the tree, and I couldn’t just let them rot.

I’ve never been much of an apple person. I think they’re a little boring as fruits go – a little too uniformly sweet, too big to nibble on, too much chewing to do. But apples feel like a harbinger of the fall, of cooler, crisper days, of waiting for the school bus and new sweaters, of cinnamon sticks and pie and holidays.

A bowl of just-picked apples (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Just a lonely little apple (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I grew up in apple country. Not far from where we lived, the roads started undulating like a kiddie coaster, curving through fog-stained fields full of gnarled fruit trees and corn. We bought our apples from a stand along the road which sold fresh peaches and blueberries – whatever was in season – along with homemade pickles and preserves. And every fall, there was the Apple Harvest Festival, a sweet-smelling country fair with bluegrass music and whole pigs roasting on spits. Mouths full of apples, of course.

Bowl of bright apples (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Apple butter helper (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Homegrown apples (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have a very vivid memory of the festival. It must be a composite, because I’m sure we went more than just the once, but in my mind it’s that one long day in the clear, blue fall. I remember an apple fritter pulled from a vat of boiling oil, soft and doughy and covered in powdered sugar. I remember sitting on a hay bale and watching a play whose plot points I can no longer recall though I can still feel the scratchy hay poking through my thin leggings and the straw sticking out from a scarecrow’s shirt beside me.

Weighing apple quarters (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Quartered apples for making apple butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I know there were tractors on display and squat ponies walking around and around the corral with children on their backs. » Continue reading this post…

14 Days More: Spinach- and Feta-Stuffed Chipotle Chicken Sweet Potato Skins

Spinach- and Feta-Stuffed Chipotle Chicken Sweet Potato Skins (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here it is. Fall. It’s been heading this way for a while, but I wasn’t paying attention to the signs. Maybe I didn’t want to pay attention to them. In Berlin, summer is a blink. And me, I process change so slowly, by the time I’ve come to terms with sandals and Saturdays by the lake, it’s already over. I bought a white crop top, and I never wore it once. “Don’t it always seem to go, that we don’t know what we got till it’s gone?” sang Joni, and this city seems to feel it.

Chipotle chiles, lime, oregano (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Wilted spinach (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Shredded chicken and spinach (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Baked sweet potato (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Berliners are slow to accept the death of summer. The cafés are packed with people sitting outside, stubbornly soaking in sun. But now all the chairs are lipped with fleece blankets to throw around your shoulders as the day wanes. Jacketed pedestrians clutch ice cream cones like a last defense. The parks are still full of families and the city’s effervescently hip young folk, but the babies are bundled up in hats and the hipster beanies are out for a walk.

Squeezed limes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sweet potato skins with chipotle sauce (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I love fall; it’s my favorite season. But this year, I can’t help but feel a little melancholy about these crisper days. I vowed to make more of my summer this year, and yet I find myself asking: Where did it go?

Sweet potato, chicken, and spinach stuffing (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Freely admitted, I’m a workaholic. But recently, I’ve been thinking about how unbalanced it’s making me. Balance has been on my mind a lot lately, from the way I approach weight loss to the way I organize my time. Yesterday, I crossed off every single thing on my to-do list. I accomplished everything I wanted to do in a day’s time, and still, as I was mid-way through cooking pumpkin soup (the last to-do item on my list), I found myself with some down time and thought: I could edit photos or send that email. » Continue reading this post…

Body Positive: Crunchy Cauliflower Couscous Salad

Crunchy cauliflower couscous salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m pissed. Just downright, straight-up peeved. I’ve been working out with an inspired consistency for the last six months. I go running two to three times a week, have a weight lifting program that focuses on strengthening my arms, shoulders, and chest. I stopped buying monthly train passes and ride my bike around Berlin instead. I’m probably the fittest I’ve ever been. But for all of that, I didn’t see the kind of results I’d been hoping for – until this detox.

I’m in the third week of my month-long detox. I’m not eating white carbs, refined sugar, or alcohol. I allow myself one cheat per week in each category, and I’m not a real stick-in-the mud about what constitutes a carb or whether I can’t eat ketchup because it’s packed with sugar.

But the thing that’s making me so mad is that it’s working. In the shortest amount of time, I’ve lost the weight six months of running couldn’t shake. Was it really that easy?

Cauliflower (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I feel conflicted about this for a few reasons. One, I’ve strongly opposed dieting for as long as I can remember. I love food, and I love eating – and anything that placed a restriction on my enjoyment felt like a lifestyle that wasn’t worth it. I could get behind eating smaller portions or trying to stop eating once I felt full – but to actually cut things out? The idea made me balk.

Two, I find the positive reinforcement about my weight loss both pleasurable and problematic. I enjoy hearing heartfelt compliments about my appearance (from people I know, not people on the street; that I never enjoy), but it makes me wonder – did I not look good before? Do I only look pretty when I’m thin?

Cauliflower florets (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Cauliflower couscous (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What was most important to me during this detox is that I never felt a sense of deprivation – that I never felt hungry. » Continue reading this post…

Contingency Plan: Plum & Walnut Jam

Plum and walnut jam (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The world doesn’t always revolve the way you want it to. Take today, for instance. I woke up feeling disgruntled: My alarm wasn’t set to ring for another 45 minutes, but the pillow felt lumpy beneath my neck, the temperature was too hot under the covers and too cold on top of them, and the first rumbles of construction work were already drifting through the open window. So I got up and shuffled to the bathroom to get the whole waking up thing over with.

Breakfast was uneventful. I didn’t throw oats across the kitchen floor or slip on a puddle of milk, and so I hoped that maybe it was a foolish premonition, that the day would be fine, that I’d pep up.

But one by one, little things kept going wrong. The sun came out just as I was taking advantage of the overcast sky to start a photo shoot, I discovered SAND was dangerously behind schedule for its upcoming issue, plans I’d made had to be rearranged and then arranged back. And to top it all off, I was tired. Just glumly, eye-rubbingly tired.

glass jars (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
When life hands you lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have a plan in place for grumbly days. It’s: take a nap and start again. It’s like getting all your lives back after the Game Over screen has finished flashing. Like waking up with a new face after plastic surgery. Except without all the messy bandages and bruising.

It also involves a cup of coffee after the nap. Clearly.

Lemons (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Picked and pitted plums (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Last night after work, my boss and I biked to his city garden plot and picked plums from his tree. The branches were weeping with fruit, and when he shook them, it rained pretty purple plums. They nestled in the grass like Easter Eggs the bunny hadn’t bothered to hide. We left the garden with two hulking garbage bags of plums each, and I spent the evening watching all three endings to the 1985 classic Clue and cleaning plums. » Continue reading this post…

Norwegian Wood… and Waffles

Lysefjord, Norway (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

People who worry should not eat wild berries in the woods. Even if those woods are in Norway and the little fruits looks like blueberries and taste like a blueberries, they may not be blueberries. There’s a certain euphoria that comes from hiking down a mountain after you’ve just stood on the precipice of a very big cliff towering over a fjord that slices between the mountains like a blue seam. It makes you braver, maybe, than you should be.

I’d been scanning the undergrowth for blueberry bushes. The last time I was in Norway, I told Elli, as we clambered down the rough stone trail from the top of the Preikestolen, I remembered picking tiny wild blueberries and greedily stripping the bushes bare as I ate them one by one. The surviving berries were baked into pies we ate for dessert in the little wooden house perched on the edge of a cliff, a gem-green fjord flowing down below.

Yellow flowers on a stormy day (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I found three tenacious berries peeking out beneath the green, I snapped them up and popped them in my mouth. It wasn’t until a few paces later that I wondered whether what I’d eaten really was a blueberry. Maybe it was a poisonous berry, and I’d just committed unintentional suicide on a Norwegian mountain trail, far from hospital or help. My stomach began to feel queasy. I felt dizzy, weak. It was a blueberry, Elli said. Tell me when 15 minutes are up, I said. If I’m not dead by then, I think I’ll continue living.

Purple flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Sverd i fjell (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Rock by the sea (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Burst of white flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We’d flown in to Stavanger the night before, and spent the evening wandering around the little city, marveling at its emptiness. For a Friday night, the streets were dead. We peered into dark shops, our footsteps the only ones echoing over the clean cobbled stones. » Continue reading this post…

Campfires & Cakes

Emma's Linzertorte (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It begins and ends with fire. In the middle, is cake.

On the day we arrive in Burladingen, we don’t waste much time in loading up the cars with boxes of sausages and driving up the narrow, winding road into the mountains. The landscape is brilliantly green, like a patchwork of multi-hued golf courses, speckled with tall, dark pines. Everywhere in the not-so-far distance is the upward slope of a gentle mountain thick with cover.

Here on the Swabian Jura, summer is a cool afterthought. Today the sun is shining, albeit meekly, meagerly, and I am dressed in all three sweaters I thought to pack. On the Eichland, the land of oaks, the grass is littered with pinecones and dead needles. The sun glimmers out beyond the copse. Where we are is shaded, and a naughty breeze nips the trees.

We quickly light a fire by throwing brush into the ring of stones, then adding sticks and larger logs. At nearly 85, my grandfather still fells trees up here on his two forest plots, and what we burn is the scrap from the wood he uses to fire the furnace in his valley home.

Kebabs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A grilled Bratwurst (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Soon, a blaze licks back against the breeze, and we creep our camp chairs closer to the flame. It’s quiet on the Eichland today; we’re a small group. Michael has taken over the task of burning woodsy brush on the fire. Livi has gravitated toward the push lawnmower, as every child who’s ever been to the Eichland is wont to do. She whirrs it industriously across the grass.

For dinner, we throw kebabs on hot coals and roast sausages on sticks over the open flame. There are potatoes with skin crisped black and dense slices of bread. It’s a simple meal: Meat. But our bellies are full as the dusk settles into night and we pack up and drive home. » Continue reading this post…

Whether the Weather Be: Asian-Style Grilled Steak Salad with Peanut Dressing

Asian-style grilled steak salad with peanut dressing (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s been an uneasy summer, afraid to commit. Brilliant, glaring days are chased with sky-wracking thunderstorms that dissolve into cloudy cold and chill. The wind is a fierce prickle or a wet sigh, like hot breath fogging up a glass. We’re all wearing too many clothes or too few, and the city is like an endless striptease GIF. Now we’re dressed, now we’re not.

Yesterday, we rode our bikes down to the beer garden at Schlachtensee, a lake on the southern edge of the city. It was warm riding down on our bikes. There was a comfortable breeze, but the sun was shining, and as we moved, we peeled off sweaters and jackets and threw them in our baskets. By the edge of the lake, sitting at a table dappled with shade, it was almost too chilly. We guiltily slunk our sweaters and jackets back on as we gazed out at the sun paparazzi-popping over the waves.

Lettuce (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Salad components (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There are a few things summer is for me – or at least should be. There should be time spent reading in the sun, big glasses of milky iced coffee and cold beer dimpled with a lemon slice. There’s the smoky smell of a rack of ribs on the grill, soft grass beneath bare feet, ice cream melting down the side of a waffle cone.

When the weather is so indecisive about what season it wants to be, it’s hard to really get into the swing of summer. How to have a weekend cookout when it won’t stop raining? Why bother reading outside when it’s misty out and you’re wrapped up a few sweaters?

Summer is supposed to sweep you off your feet with its lethargic charms. Sometimes, I’ll wake up early to get work done so I can spend a lazy afternoon out in the park. » Continue reading this post…

Vintage Summer: Rosemary & Pistachio El Diablo

Rosemary & pistachio cocktail (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

“It felt very Mad Men,” I told my friend, “to come home from work and make myself a fancy cocktail, then sip it by the open French window with my feet propped up and a book in hand.

“I didn’t know you were watching Mad Men. How far along in the season are you?” he asked.

“Oh, I’ve seen the pilot,” I replied.

He raised an eyebrow, and I amended my comparison. “Fine. It was like an evening of living in Revolutionary Road, where everybody’s always swilling something and living out a sadly-thwarted version of the American dream. But like, in a good way.”

Rosemary and limes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Boston shaker full of ice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Rosemary, pistachio syrup, tequila (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For me, cocktails have always had a vintage charm. When I drink them, I want to be wearing pale lemon-colored nylon and chiffon, with a plate of shimmery canapés and pimiento-flecked olives close at hand.

But like most strange daydreams painted from a retro Hoover ad, this life is probably so fascinating to me because I don’t have to live it. I finished Revolutionary Road. I know how that story ends.

Bright greens: pistachio syrup, rosemary, lime (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Today, cocktail culture feels less about rubbing out the perfect pastel hues of a paperboard fairy tale (i.e., getting wasted), and more about experimenting with a rainbow of syrups, juices, herbs, bitters, and household shrubbery until each liquor’s notes have been expertly complemented (i.e., getting wasted).

Just kidding. While there are those cocktails whose sole purpose is to be drunk copiously at a beachside party out of plastic cups (I’m looking at you, Sex on the Beach), there are many others to make one feel just appropriately naughty enough.

Rosemary (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

El Diablo with pistachio and rosemary (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A few months ago, David and I did a cocktail making course hosted by a charming, almost Dickensian barkeep with a little ponytail and a tightly-fitted vest. In thick Berlinerisch, he walked us through muddling, measuring, and not spraying the contents of a Boston shaker over the entire room as we worked our way through five simple cocktails: Mai Thai, New York Sour, Moscow Mule, Park Lane, and a drink he’d named “El Pistacho,” a take on the El Diablo. » Continue reading this post…