Spargel Fever: White Asparagus and Pancetta Pizza

white asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When spring finally hits Berlin, what people here are most excited for isn’t lush grass tickling along the banks of the Canal or bright bouquets of flowers filling every market stall, but the piles of white asparagus cropping up on grocery store shelves around the country. Spargelzeit is here.

I must admit, I’m not immune to the fever. Unlike the brisk, verdant crunch of green asparagus, white asparagus is surprisingly sweet and just this side of mellow – a perfect template for its traditional accompaniments of hollandaise or browned butter, salty prosciutto and creamy boiled new potatoes with parsley.

yeast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

pancetta and green onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

shaved asparagus peel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Last weekend, I took a stroll through our neighborhood Spargel Festival. It wasn’t much – just a few small stands set up around the fountain in the Rathaus Park. There were a few odd participants – a political cluster with competing parties and pamphlets, the boy scouts with their tipi set up on the lawn – but for the most part, it was full of typical German street festival fare: Thüringer Bratwurst and Knackerwurst, Flammkuchen (wood-fired flatbreads typically topped with crème fraîche, onions, and lardons), grilled pork steaks stuffed inside crusty bread rolls… and at the asparagus festival, of course, asparagus.

flour for pizza dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

salt (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pizza dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s something provincial about these neighborhood street fairs, even in a big city like Berlin. They’re different from the citywide festivals, like May 1st or the upcoming Carnival of Cultures, where there are rows upon rows of carts, stands, and foldable tables set up selling edibles of every kind on disposable plates. There might be a euro deposit on that caipirinha everyone seems to be carting around, but what’s one euro lost on a plastic cup when the crowd has carried you down the long, muggy line of revelry from one end to the other?

peeled white asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Spargel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At the Asparagus Festival, the asparagus tent served classically-prepared asparagus with accoutrements on real plates with real silverware. » Continue reading this post…

Going Local: Königsberger Klopse

Königsberger Klopse (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I remember the first time I went to a bakery in Berlin and asked for three “Weckle.” The woman behind the counter looked at me blankly, and then slowly, contemptuously, following my line of sight, said, “Don’t you mean three Schrippen?” I nodded, slightly confused at her huff – because even in the States, where we have few regional dialect differences, when someone asks for a “pop,” we just laugh and ask what rock they grew up under (it’s Ohio).

But not in Berlin. Here, Berlinerisch is spoken with pride – and a certain amount of sass, which even has a name. “Berliner Schnauze” literally translates as “Berlin snout,” but is more closely captured by the phrase “smart-ass sassafras pants.” The Berliner Schnauze is a trifecta of “snappy attitude, dry wit and downright rudeness” (a lovely description from Ian Farrell’s article on Berlinerisch in Slow Travel Berlin). Everyone’s a comedian. But a kind of scary one you can’t understand.

Kittys Berlin-Kochbuch (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My childhood experience of Germany was almost solely limited to the south, where they speak their own brand of incomprehensible dialect, Schwäbisch. But since I grew up hearing it, I can understand it – most of it.

But one of the interesting things about growing up in the US speaking a German heavily influenced by a particular dialect, is that when you move to a different region in Germany, you’re not ever totally sure if a word you use is real German (aka Hochdeutsch) or if someone is going to laugh at you for saying “Weckle.”

Anchovies (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Beets in apple cider vinegar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Meatballs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Capers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Technically, Berlinerisch isn’t actually a dialect (or an accent), but a metrolect, “a mixture of different dialects all piled together in one big urban area, usually due to a long history of immigration into the city, from both elsewhere in the country and further afield. » Continue reading this post…

Everything Old is New Again: Cheater’s Chicken Mole

Chicken mole with pickled onions (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For most of my life, I thought Mexican food was a can of Old El Paso refried beans covered with iceberg lettuce, sloppy tomatoes, and shredded cheddar cheese. What a surprise, then, when I bit into my first real taco from the truck in the gas station parking lot off Exit 33 and discovered that real Mexican food has very little in common with that. The flavors were fresh and incredibly present – aggressively green cilantro, tangy lime and such tender meat it felt ready to fall apart before I even took a bite. And the tortillas were a far cry from the brittle taco shells of my childhood. You could taste the corn with its gritty, dense texture scarred by the bitter burn of an open flame.

This was back at Davidson, and I don’t remember who it was who discovered the taco truck, but after we found it, we were always there – on lazy weekend mornings, on trips home from the Lake Campus, any time we could convince someone with a car to drive us.

Lime-pickled onions (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Browning chicken (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Chopped onions and garlic (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Rehydrating ancho chiles (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In Brooklyn, I lived down the street from a tortilleria, and many of my favorite evenings began at those dim and sticky tables, ladling plastic spoonfuls of spicy green salsa and pickled jalapeños on tacos and washing it down with garish pink Jarritos.

It was in Brooklyn, too, that I expanded what I knew about Mexican food beyond tacos. I lived in a neighborhood where every bodega sold giant fresh bunches of cilantro and bulk bags of masa harina and dried ancho chiles. My grocery store had an entire aisle dedicated to the Goya line of products. If ever there were the right time to experiment with the flavors of Latin cooking it was there, surrounded by easily-accessible ingredients and inspiration. » Continue reading this post…

That’s All, Yolks!: Leche Flan

Leche flan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When life hands you a dozen egg yolks, you make flan, as the famous saying goes.

It’s a beautiful, lazy afternoon. The sun has decided to play along, and it flits in an out behind soft white clouds. The courtyard is looking particularly peach these days, instead of its ashen winter hue – the pinkish-gray of an undercooked shrimp

I’m in the mood for baking, a rarity as these things go, and I magically, miraculously have all the ingredients to make leche flan, a dense, rich and creamy take on flan made only with egg yolks and other ingredients to make your arteries groan in sadomasochistic delight.

Egg yolks and milk (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The garish sounds of some awful Colombian cartoon are playing in the background, and yet it feels strangely appropriate today. The sun, the oven set to preheat, the laugh track in another language – it feels like a charmed life. Except, of course, that I can’t get David to stop eating spoonfuls of sweetened condensed milk as I caramelize the sugar and simmer whole milk down to make evaporated milk.

Egg yolks (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Caramelized sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Leche flan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
In the kitchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

With the weather finally warming up and the sun showing up for whole hours at a time, I’m realizing what a huge impact this dull, gray winter has had on me. All winter, I’ve felt dull and gray myself, wanting so hard to be productive and relaxed in appropriate measures, but simply feeling sluggish and beat – always – and always feeling like I wasn’t doing enough.

Leche flan recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The sunshine is like a balm. I’m making flan, and there’s nothing else I should be, or want to be doing.

Leche flan with caramel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Egg yolk-only flan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

By the time the flan is out of the oven, the apartment smells heavenly and rich. There’s a bit of tension for the flip, but the flan drops gracefully down on the plate as silky caramel puddles around the creamy line of flan. » Continue reading this post…

A Da(y)te with Myself

Loot from Winterfeldt Markt (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The apartment’s lights are turned low and only the candles’ soft, intimate glow falls across the table. Tonight’s dinner is wild mushroom gnocchi with pancetta, sage, and king oyster mushrooms sautéed in salted butter and garlic. The gnocchi are perfectly soft, creamy almost under the crunch of crisped sage, their richness tempered by peppery arugula salad freshened just with lemon and salt. The wine is a chilled pinot gris, purchased this morning from a Frenchman wearing a tailored gray suit in a small shop down the street. It’s a Saturday night, and the only person in the apartment is me. All this is just for me.

I woke up alone this morning, confused at first by the empty bed before remembering that David is in Munich for a conference, and that all week, I’ll be waking up early to the sun in our windows without his grumbly morning snores. It’s strange, when you live together with someone, to spend time in your shared apartment alone. I work from home two days each week, so during the daytime, I’m used to having the run of it and fully inhabiting our space – but not the nights or the mornings. It’s strange.

Blue and yellow flowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A bundle of carrots (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But it’s still my first day alone, and it’s still novel. Too often, we’re afraid of spending time alone, afraid that it means we’re friendless, that we don’t have anything better to do. But I love keeping my own company. No pressure, just an easy pleasure in the smallest things – a new pop playlist, a room of dusted baseboards, time to write.

Slippers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This morning, I skipped around the house in slippered feet. I put a podcast on to play and ate a slow breakfast: hot coffee freshly French-pressed and granola with berries and amaranth. And while Friday night partiers were just slinking into bed, I left the apartment for the Winterfeldt Markt. » Continue reading this post…

Do the Bunny Hop: Bunny Butt Carrot Cake

Bunny butt carrot cake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My boss had been talking about Easter since the end of April. Last year. Since we’d been planning our evening of Easter crafts for almost an entire year, it’s no surprise we went a little bit overboard with the amount of projects we undertook to make.

At the office, we each have a favorite holiday, barring Christmas, of course, since everybody loves Christmas. Mine is Thanksgiving, Ellen’s is Halloween, and Shaun’s is Easter. So far, we’ve done a great job of celebrating them all – I hosted my traditional Thanksgiving potluck, and we even threw a Halloween party where all our guests had to dress up as fairy tale characters.

Bunny butt cupcakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But Easter is something special for Shaun, partly because of a long-ago childhood trauma involving sugar eggs. Let’s go back in time to a sepia-colored San Francisco, where a little 5th grade Shaun is eagerly anticipating the day the entire class gets to make sugar eggs and sell them as a fundraiser. For years, he’s watched the older kids spin sugar and decorate their eggs with pretty pastel icing and sprinkles, for years he’s been looking forward to this moment. And he’s so excited when his teacher stands before the class to make the announcement that the time has come… to make pizzas.

What a betrayal. Our protagonist is crushed. But this Easter, we strove to give back what was taken from him so long ago: Crafts.

Though we don’t all suffer the same Easter trauma, we’d all been looking forward to our crafts night for weeks. One internet search turned up another, and by the time we were ready to start, our roster was pretty full:

Bunny butt carrot cake
Bunny butt cupcakes
Rainbow Jello eggs
Rainbow pastel meringues

Rainbow pastel meringues (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And on top of that, we decided to make traditional Easter enchiladas. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Berlin Part 3 – Full Belly, Full Heart

Rain in Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I first moved to Berlin, I was convinced I wanted to live near Schlesisches Tor, or “Schlesi,” as Berliners refer to it, because let’s face it, “Schlesisches Tor” is just too damn hard to say. It reminded me of Brooklyn, with its graffiti-smeared walls, tufts of litter skipping the breeze, and pretty hipsters swathed in black. Like the first German settlers who saw in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania a home away from home, I was completing the circle. So to speak.

At first, all my favorite restaurants, bars, and clubs were here. When friends came to visit, I’d always take them across the iconic Oberbaum Bridge and along the East Side Gallery. In summer, I’d sit in Görlizter Park drinking cold Club-Mate and maybe grilling a brat or two.

But slowly, as these things happen, my circle of city widened, then shifted. Who I was in Brooklyn was no longer who I was here.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about cities and identities. We’re just finishing up production on Issue 11 of SAND, and many of the poems and stories explore the idea of identity – how its shaped and how we define it. Berlin plays a key role in the issue, and as I was writing the editor’s note, I thought about what makes Berlin Berlin and how much that’s come to influence who I am.

At the corner of Görlitzer Park, there’s a little stand called Hühnerhaus 36 that sells chickens and half chickens from a roasting spit where the seasoning-spiked grease from the top row of chickens drips down to the bottom. You can order a menu with fries or salad, but if you’re already getting a greasy half-chicken with perfect, crisp skin, you might as well go whole hog and order the fries dashed with seasoned salt and served with ketchup and mayonnaise. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Berlin Part 2 – Owning It

Burgers from Schiller Burger (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My mom always told me that Hasenheide was a dangerous place. And it can be. Like many parks in Berlin, there’s an active, obvious drug trade that’s only a little annoying by day, but a little frightening at night. (It’s kind of like taking candy from strangers, isn’t it?) So for a long time, I didn’t go there. It didn’t help, of course, that when I moved to Berlin, the nearest entrance to the Hasenheide was along a rather desolate stretch of street that made the park seem doubly foreboding. I lived in Berlin for two whole years before stepping foot inside the park, I tell Jordi, as we walk through it, and as someone offers to sell us pot.

Today is a rather grim day, the sun hiding behind rain-heavy clouds, though we’re just nearing lunch time, and even in winter Berlin, the sun hasn’t set yet. The sloping hills of Hasenheide and its hidden green inlets are visible between the stark trunks of stripped trees. We’ve cut through the park because it’s the fastest way to get from Soluna Brot und Öl in Kreuzberg, the last stop on our Berlin food tour, to Schiller Burger in Neukölln, the next. We’re finding the park surprisingly big, but also beautiful in its slick bleak wetness.

I’m thinking about how places become yours in cities, as we walk through a park that’s bordered two of my past neighborhoods without ever becoming mine. You discover some places by accident, others are recommended by friends. Some places you really like, you never return to. Others you didn’t feel much for at first, you find yourself in again and again.

Schiller Burger was a staple of my life in Neukölln, especially on lazy weekends, when David and I would interrupt a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathon only to walk up the hill from Rathaus Neukölln past Spätis and junk shops and old German dive bars with lace curtains on the windows like someone’s dark, faded living room. » Continue reading this post…