Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

It’s Time for a Reboot: Peppermint Marshmallows

Peppermint marshmallows (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

December is a wasted month. Or maybe it’s better put this way: for the entire month of December, I’m useless. It’s like my brain has decided eleven months is enough months of functioning, and that the twelfth month is a month of rest. While the pace of work picks up, my brain revolts. No, I will not perform for you this month, it says.

It’s a month of goofs. I forget major and obvious steps in the tasks I undertake (oh, there’s a whole middle of the film to subtitle?). I have trouble focusing (must wrap gifts, write recipes, send emails, clean bathroom walls, and paint toenails AT THE SAME TIME). And worst of all, I make mistakes so sloppy it pains my meticulous January-November brain (misspelling the name of a rather important email recipient? Twice? Check).

All-American ingredients (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Homemade marshmallows (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I arrived in my ancestral country about a week ago and have done – nothing. I sit on the couch and brush up on my cell phone game skills. I read my book. I let my coffee be made for me and ushered to my slothful seat. My brain has entirely given up. And I’ve let it. It’s a wonderful feeling.

I’m a firm believer in viewing your body’s refusal to capitulate as a self-defense mechanism. Deny yourself any breaks from your to-do list, and don’t be surprised if your leg seizes up or a winter cold levels you full-force. Work your brain too mercilessly, and it might just give out.

Clearly, my brain needs a break. I let it wander. If baking cookies is too much work, I tell it, That’s fine. Go lie down. If it wants to take a walk around Baltimore’s cool, blue Inner Harbor, I follow it outside.

Hot chocolate with peppermint marshmallows (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Hot chocolate with homemade peppermint marshmallows (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s kind of a wonder I managed to make marshmallows, which requires concentration and attention to timing – two traits that have fallen by December’s wayside. » Continue reading this post…

On a German Christmas Market

Christmas market in Braunschweig (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There is little quite so lovely as wandering beneath boughs of evergreen with a sack full of chestnuts warming your hand as the smell of powdered sugar and melted butter mingles with pine sap and spice.

The Christmas market is a beautiful thing, a little glow of warmth and good cheer in the bleak midwinter. The crowd jostles along, surprisingly friendly in the crush. It must be the Glühwein – warm wine mulled with citrus and spice – that everyone drinks from tiny, commemorative mugs. Each stand has its own – a little brown boot, a red mug tiered like a whirling advent tower – that people love to pocket at the end of the night, considering the transaction paid for with their two euro deposit.

Spanferkel in a Mumme-roll (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Evergreen huts at the Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Mumme-Glühwein (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here in Braunschweig, they serve a special kind of Glühwein laced with Mumme, a malty extract that started its life as a sailor’s beer but today is mostly non-alcoholic in its uses. A shot added to Glühwein deepens the fruity sweetness with aroma, an invigoratingly dark swirl of flavor and warmth.

At the Mumme stand, they also serve Mumme beer and Mumme-baked rolls heaped with freshly-sliced Spanferkel – suckling pig slowly roasted until the meat is juicy and tender with fat that melts on your tongue like caramels and crisp, salty crackling. We top it off with Mumme-honey mustard and eat it standing up at packed wooden tables, where we wipe our grease-slicked mouths with paper napkins and wash all that goodness down with slugs of hot Glühwein that burns our tongues.

A German Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Christmas sausages (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But there’s more to the market than Mumme. There are tiny poffertjes, buttery, puffy pancakes made with buckwheat and yeast and sprinkled with powdered sugar. There’s a stand selling Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce and rosemary-roasted new potatoes. » Continue reading this post…

That’s Joy: Elisenlebkuchen

Elisenlebkuchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I think one of my favorite winter songs is Sufjan Stevens’s “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!”. It’s a melancholy piece: Father yells, the gifts are thrown in the wood stove, sister runs away with her books, while the snow just falls and falls and falls. Haunting voices laced with soft banjo twist Silent Night’s chords into a new shade of recognition. But it’s a beautiful song, gently uneasy like walking out into the cold still feeling the flush of too much food and an overly warm fire.

Candied orange and lemon peel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Christmas tree (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’ve thrown myself into Christmas with a wild whoop. David and I decorated the tree with ornaments and lights. We listened to Frank and Mariah and cheered on all of Kevin’s holiday antics. I’ve outfitted the living room with boughs of evergreen and set out the tiny nativity carved from tough Colombian nuts, the pine-scented candle, the wooden Räuchermänner puffing cedar-scented smoke from their little carved pipes.

It makes me happy, this cozy, festive world I’ve created inside our small top-floor apartment. And yet, with every candy cane comes a strange sadness that catches me unawares, that colors my easy comfort.

Winter-blooming cactus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Baking lebkuchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Spices and candied fruit (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Spices for Lebkuchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Back in my ancestral home, “I’ll be Home for Christmas” is a banned song. It’s too sad, my mom says. I’d never felt the same before, but not so long ago when it shuffled into play, it made me realize why this season is making me ache.

My grandmother passed away around this time last year, and in the weeks before she left us, the family gathered around her bedside singing the songs she sang to generations of us when we were young. And because it was Christmas, we sang carols in the darkened room – “O Holy Night” and “Do You Hear What I Hear.”

The Christmas tree (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Lebkuchen dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Lebkuchen ready to bake (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As I stood in the kitchen slicing oranges for mulled wine, smelling the crisp citrus-laced air and listening to the words… “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me… I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”… I was in two places at once, feeling many things at the same time. » Continue reading this post…

Always

At Epcot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The hardest things to write are the ones that matter most. For three weeks, I haven’t written anything, not a poem, a post or even a journal entry. And it’s not because there hasn’t been anything to write about, but because the one thing I really wanted to write was impossible for me to process. My grandmother, my namesake, champion, and friend, passed away on December 18th, peacefully and surrounded by family.

But even a good death isn’t easy for the ones you leave behind. What a bizarre contrast, to feel the love and joy of Christmas, and yet mourn an irreplaceable loss. A heavy heart can still smile, but its weight throws you off-kilter, turning a laugh just as quickly into a sob.

She was a woman larger than life, filling a room with her presence, her conversation. Even her clothes were loud – bright purples and blues and reds, preferably accented with sequins or feathers or fur. And for the grandchildren, she was like a magnet. She demanded hugs, kisses, snuggles – and we gave them freely, instinctively.

A ready hug (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

She spoiled all of us. I remember as a child, when she came to town, she’d cook an entire pack of bacon just for me, and she made it just right – soft and wriggly so you could taste all the flavor of fat. And she’d make me an egg-in-toast. I’d stand by the stove, eyes barely high enough to peek over the counter, as she cut a round out of the buttered bread. I loved the sizzle of egg as it hit the hot skillet smack in the center of the hole. To me, it was culinary magic. They were special meals, the only time besides holidays when breakfast was a big deal.

With as much vivid clarity, I remember her singing me to sleep. » Continue reading this post…

A Christmas Market

Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Berlin has a rich and varied Christmas market tradition to distract its residents from winter’s misery. (I’m getting banal, aren’t I? Weather, weather, weather.) But truly, when there’s very little else to get people out of the house than the promise of a steaming mug of mulled wine and a hot bratwurst poking out either end of a round white roll, you appreciate what a good Christmas market can do.

A trip to the Christmas market begins with Glühwein, Germany’s take on mulled wine. This serves two purposes. The first is to help you get into the mood. In the same way a bite of bread pudding always takes me back to the Old Country Buffet, a very rural American buffet chain with surprisingly good fried chicken and hot ham sunbathing under a heat lamp, or the way my mother’s apple pie always feels like fall – you can’t really be at a Christmas market unless you’ve had a mug of Glühwein.

Glühwein and hot chocolate (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Poffertjes with powdered sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Baked camembert at the Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The second reason is much less romantic. By the time you’ve left the subway station and made it to the market, your feet are already frozen and you’ve got the shoulder shimmy shakes. A little hot drink made of a little hot alcohol goes a long way in warming you up.

The next thing you do at a Christmas market is walk. Each market is set up in its own little maze of tents and shacks selling sweets and toys, Christmas gifts, decorations, and other useless bits and bobs. Glühwein in hand, you wander from stand to stand picking up stocking stuffers and baubles for the tree.

Baked camembert (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making poffertjes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Camembert with red berries and aioli (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Soon it’s time for a refill on that empty mug. This time, you’ll nestle up to a spot around a tall, standing-room only table and send someone off to buy sausages – classic bratwurst or the special kind from Thüringen, whose flavor hints at caraway, marjoram, and garlic. » Continue reading this post…

Oh Tannenbaum

Räuchermann (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This morning I woke up and bought a Christmas tree. Berlin, as usual these days, was a mottled, cotton-ball gray and drizzly. But I had plaited my hair for the occasion, and we all know that there’s nothing more festive than a Christmas plait.

The walk to Südkreuz from Schöneberg isn’t a particularly pretty one. It’s not a far walk, but the Sachsendamm is a wide, industrial stretch of road, along which you pass the giant furniture warehouse with its America-sized parking lot, a long, low sports center, and the car-crammed entrance to the highway. But I’m especially good at pretending during Christmastime, and as I walked, I imagined myself in a dark green forest, surrounded by tall pines and lightly falling snow. I saw my future self lugging my little tree up the apartment stairs and decorating it as I sang along to Perry Como and sipped on hot chocolate swizzled with a candy cane.

I love the romance of Christmas – its clichéd images of rosy-cheeked children and sugar cookies, Santa hats and snowball fights, warm and cozy comfort foods. Though truthfully, I can’t remember the last Christmas I had that fit into such a glittering, glistening box. I haven’t had a white Christmas in years, so there’s been no sledding, no snowball fights, no bowls of homemade snow ice cream – the stuff my childhood holidays were made of. Most of my Christmas shopping involves feeding my credit card number to the internet and every time I try to listen to Christmas music I have to navigate a sea of bad Wham.

But I’m changing all that with this Christmas tree. » Continue reading this post…

Comfort Food & Christmas Coming Up: Jansson’s Frestesle

Jansson's Frestesle recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Is it just me, or does it feel like holiday food necessitates buckets of heavy whipping cream and gobs of butter? Not just me? Alright, fine, let’s proceed.

At my other job, I’m already knee-deep in Christmas things. We like to stay a couple weeks ahead of the curve, and I spend my days translating articles about the best Christmas gifts, pretty sugar-cookie scented bubble baths and artfully wrapped cosmetics. The end result being that all I’ve wanted to do for the last few weeks is bake gingersnaps and indulge in a few “harmless,” late-night, online shopping sprees.

onions for Jansson's Frestesle (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

potatoes and one sneaky onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

onions ready for baking (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So when my other job said, photograph some Christmas foods for us, I said, absolutely and instantly ran to the grocery store to purchase buckets of heavy whipping cream and butter. Obviously.

Jansson’s Frestelse is a traditional Swedish Christmas casserole in which starchy potatoes play an understated backdrop to buckets of heavy whipping cream, butter, lightly caramelized onions and salty anchovies. When it’s all baked together in an oven, it becomes a rich medley of hot, bubbling cream beneath a crackling bread crumb crust. Holiday food at its finest.

layers of anchovies for Jansson's Frestesle (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
layered potatoes for Jansson's Frestesle (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It was about the time I was halfway through the dish of Jansson’s Frestelse (also known as Jansson’s Temptation for good reason), that I realized I had just single-handedly consumed one 250g carton of heavy whipping cream.

This brought me to the conclusion that holidays are meant to be shared with others not simply because they are about family and friends and togetherness, but because we should never have to eat so much butter by ourselves. (Or at least a holiday dinner allows us to do a better job of managing our feelings of guilt at having eaten so much butter by displacing them onto the rest of the assembled company.)

Swedish Christmas casserole (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

potatoes, butter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Anyway, I’m sure the extra lipid layer will come in handy here in Berlin as the Christmas markets start popping up around the city and all the boot-shaped mugs of Glühwein in the world won’t keep me warm…

Jansson's Frestesle (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Jansson’s Frestelse (Jansson’s Tempation)

5-6 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
2 medium onions, sliced
15 Swedish anchovy fillets (usually from a tin, in oil)
3 tbsp butter
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
½ cup bread crumbs

Sauté onions in 1 tbsp butter with a pinch of salt and pepper and 1 tsp sugar until translucent and lightly browned. » Continue reading this post…

Better With Butter: Aunt Lynda’s Corn Puddin’

Mountainous mashed potatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The first thing I said when I woke up this morning was: “No more butter. Please don’t make me eat any more butter.” And then, because there was nothing else to eat for breakfast, I stuck a square of macaroni and cheese topped with a dollop of tomato puddin’ in the microwave.

If you’re unfamiliar with tomato puddin’, let me enlighten you on how it’s made. Two cans of chopped tomatoes are mashed with five pieces of white bread and one cup – yes, one cup of sugar. This concoction is then baked until all the natural health benefits of the tomatoes have been removed. Also good to know is that according to my family, this dish counts as a vegetable. Just some trivia.

Christmas in my family is predominantly loud. This year, though the pair of almost-octogenarians presided over only two braches of the family tree – my mother, father, me, my two brothers, my aunt, her husband, her two daughters, one daughter’s husband, his two children, her three children, and a dog – the decibel level was impressive. Everybody’s stories needed to be told at the same time, their recipes recounted in maniacal tones. The children seemed unable to have as much fun if someone wasn’t screaming and the camera’s shutter clicked so often the room began to resemble a disco rave.

I love my family very much. But I am a quiet person, and it takes a little time adjusting to the chaos of the (almost) entire Cohen clan. Fighting passionately about the rules of Mexican Train dominoes, telling the story (again) about that embarrassing thing you did at your baptism (like poop your baptismal dress) when you were a few months old, or belittle other family members’ sports teams as creatively as possible. It’s very Norman Rockwell, but a little louder and with less pastel. » Continue reading this post…

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