Author Archive

Adultish:
Pumpkin & Chestnut Gnocchi
with Walnut Sage Sauce

The other day I was lying in bed, the cat curled up somewhere under the blankets beside me. It was around noon and I was working, laptop perched on my legs, coffee within reach, a whole, peeled kohlrabi I was eating like an apple lobbed into the side of my mouth. I was wearing my loose cotton overalls, ridiculous fuzzed socks that look like cat’s paws, my hair piled in a mess somewhere at the back of my head. I am a grownup, I thought. And I was filled with wonder at the thought.

A few mornings ago, between a high-intensity ab workout and a run through the park, I baked a cake. I took a nap with the cat. I ate the cake. I was the master of my destiny. By evening, I was slumped on the couch, talking about feelings and feeling about as mature as a pubescent teen clutching a stuffed animal and struggling with eye contact. Funny, how a day can go.

I think a lot about being a grownup and what counts as being one. Is it paying your own bills? Having a job? Owning a house? Or is it more the emotional work of remembering to call people on their birthdays without needing to be nagged, sending a bouquet of flowers to a sick friend, bringing someone a meal? Is it an age you reach, the moment you move into your own apartment, the minute you become a parent?

Is it an age you reach, the moment you move into your own apartment, the minute you become a parent?

Sometimes, when I confess these thoughts to friends, they look at me as if I’ve just said something very silly. “Of course you’re an adult,” they say. “Of course,” I say. “I know that.”

But most of the time, I feel neither adult nor not; I feel like I’m simply living my life, putting one day after the other, just doing the things. » Continue reading this post...

A Weekend in the Uckermark:
Breakfast Salad

Breakfast salad is a revelation. A weird one, perhaps. One of which I was incredibly skeptical, in fact. While I was eating it, actually. But like other things you’re not quite sure about while you’re in the middle of eating them – for me: kombucha, mango pickle, preserved lemons, fermented radish – once you’ve stopped eating them, all you can think about is eating them again.

I came to breakfast salad this past weekend, on a retreat in the Uckermark, a district in Brandenburg just an hour’s train ride north of Berlin. It was a spontaneous-ish trip with two of my dearest friends. For months, we’d been meaning to go somewhere together, and had even, after a long and wine-replete dinner, set a date in our calendars which we promptly forgot about until the week before we were set to go. Should we postpone again?, we wondered. Would we even find anything on such short notice?

For months, we’d been meaning to go somewhere together, and had even, after a long and wine-replete dinner, set a date in our calendars which we promptly forgot about until the week before we were set to go.

But in a fortuitous and last-minute turn of events, Taylor remembered that the boyfriend of her boyfriend’s friend’s friend runs a farm and guesthouse in the countryside, and he just happened to have an open weekend slot. So we wasted no time in booking train tickets to Angermünde, and met on the Hauptbahnhof platform in Berlin Friday evening laden with groceries – a basket of chanterelles and roast chestnuts for risotto, bulgur and feta and cherry tomatoes for a grain salad, sourdough starter and flour for pancakes, and an assortment of vegetable odds and ends – said Charlotte – for breakfast salad.

Odd, I thought, but did not comment. » Continue reading this post...

Some Meals I Have Eaten since March

 

1. Sourdough Like the rest of the quarantined world, I stumble into sourdough. But late, after it’s ceased to feel relevant. My starter is named Valley. Her parent is Shenandoah. She lives in a medium-sized glass jar on the counter and every few days I remember to feed her, when I realize with guilt the sludge of hooch on top has grown thick and sour. And yet, though I am not always a good mother to my starter, she makes delicious loaves. I pour the hooch down the sink and freshen her up with half a cup of flour and half a cup of water, and by the next day, she’s bubbling healthily and happily once more. A tablespoon of starter, now half a cup of flour and a third a cup of water, and in twelve hours, I have levain, goopy and gluey and impossible to scrub out of the measuring cup without a scouring sponge. Time is the thing to have if you want to make bread. There’s minimal fiddling with the dough – every half hour, for three hours, you fold it four times and somehow, magically, in those three hours, a wet-ish dredge of flour and water becomes a smooth, taut hump. You divide the dough and shape it not once, but twice. I love this part, the cupping and shaping, creating surface tension with the rhythmic, mechanical movement of your hands. And then the dough rests again, as if it’s worked so hard at becoming it needs a little break. Four hours on the counter and then baked late at night, the smell of toasting flour is like a lullaby. Or else they rest overnight in the fridge, and I take the lumps of dough to work the next day and bake them in the office oven, so the whole place smells like a bakery and the three of us nearly demolish a loaf before lunchtime. » Continue reading this post...

All the Things I’m Missing Out On: Berger Cookies

I’m not supposed to be where I am right now. I’m supposed to be in my ancestral home, celebrating the marriage of one of my dearest friends. In the weeks leading up to this one, I was supposed to have been in Boston at the wedding of another dear friend, living in a house with some of my favorite people, laughing about all those spring breaks we spent snowed in at the lake house. I was supposed to be in a cabin in the Finger Lakes drinking wine with my best friends from high school. I was supposed to be in a beachfront condo in Ocean City, sinking my toes in sand and getting sunburnt on the boardwalk. I was supposed to be spending time with my family at home, doing the wonderful, mundane things you do at home. Cleaning out boxes of childhood knick-knacks, letting your parents make you coffee, reading on the couch, taking the dog out to poop.

Last year at this time, I was gallivanting around Mallorca and then Japan. This year at this time, I’m in Berlin. Still. Maybe indefinitely.

I didn’t want to write about the pandemic, but it’s kind of hard to write about anything else these days. It feels tone-deaf to write something not shaped by the zeitgeist of social distancing and face masks and responsible consumerism, even if all you say is: I purposefully don’t want to write about corona today. Alas. Here we are. Talking about corona.

It’s been fascinating to watch us as a society sway through phases of talking and thinking about corona. Concurrent with the panic and anxiety was a pressure to perform and produce, a manic do-all-the-things energy that fed off the idea of optimization and being your best self. Then came the be-kind-you’re-surviving phase, where it was okay to lie around all day watching TV or doing nothing constructive. » Continue reading this post...

The Quarantine Diaries:
Classic Sauerkraut
with Caraway and Juniper

This morning, I managed to drink coffee without having heart palpitations afterwards. In these times of unpredictable anxiety attacks and unwanted solitude, it feels like a win. I seem to be on an every-other-day kind of rotation. One day will be unmanageable. I’ll feel short of breath and unable to concentrate. I can’t read, I can’t write, I can’t answer emails. The next will feel motivational. I’ll think about how to make the best of a bad hand and tackle projects with gusto that I’d normally let linger.

The trick, I’ve found, is to have an extensive grab bag of possible activities, which at any one time might help squelch the threatening upwell of panic. The other trick is that there’s really no trick. It’s a free-for-all of emotional management.

When things get really bad, the only thing I’m capable of doing is paint by numbers. A while ago, a friend sent me a link to a company that had a 50-50 chance of being an internet scam, but which I paid anyway to transform a photo I took into a paint by numbers. It took a solid three months for my canvas to arrive, at which point I was out of the temporary apartment (I thought it would be a good post-fire activity) and busy with settling back into the old apartment. I forgot about it until Corona Quarantine, but oh man, has the mind-numbing minutiae of applying tiny little brushstrokes of paint inside itty-bitty outlined blobs saved my mind from scarpering into an apocalyptic landscape.

The other trick is that there’s really no trick. It’s a free-for-all of emotional management.

When the paint by numbers has me breathing at a relatively regular rate again, I put on my headphones and have a free-flailing dance party in the living room, keeping my fingers crossed that my neighbors aren’t currently enjoying their balcony (which has a pretty clear view through my living room windows). » Continue reading this post...

Love in the Time of Corona:
Turmeric & Cinnamon Tea

My boss says that whenever he gets to feeling down about the Coronavirus, he starts singing “My Sharona,” and that helps. For me, it’s been drinking tea. And ignoring the news.

I’ve been told I’m a master of hyperbole. I tend to say, “Don’t do that, or you’ll die” more frequently than situations warrant. Things are often “the worst” or a “disaster.” We often “almost got abducted.” In part, the tongue-in-cheek exaggeration hides the fact that I have a lot of very real and not always rational fears. I am afraid of being abducted. I am afraid of being struck by lightning, of being hit by a car, of being yelled at, of government collapse, the end of society, apocalypse. My mind zips from the smallest thing to the end of the world in milliseconds. It’s a ride on the anxiety express I’m pretty good at stalling most of the time, but when something happens that makes my irrational fears seem founded, I struggle.

Yet as the clouds of Coronavirus began massing on Berlin’s horizon, I was blasé. The hysteria seemed illogical and inconsistent. How much toilet paper can you really go through in ten days of quarantine? Isn’t hoarding hand soap beside the point when we all need to be washing our hands to avoid spreading germs? And the travel bans and the shirking public spaces and the not meeting friends… Yes, we should wash our hands often, yes we should stay home if we’re sick. But can we really let fear dictate our lives?

I halfheartedly stocked up on non-perishables and dish soap – though while everyone else was panicked about toilet paper, my impulse was to buy a lot of coconut milk and fantasy novels. I even (and I’m a little ashamed to admit this now) decided to spend a day at the sauna. » Continue reading this post...

There and Back Again –
Introducing Palate

Well. Hello. It’s been some time. The longest time I’ve ever not written something in this space since I started writing in this space eleven years ago. But it’s been some things. It’s been fire and the end of a relationship. It’s been living with boxes for furniture and then unpacking boxes of furniture and getting really good at IKEA instructions once the five months of renovations were up and I was back at home. It’s been painting all the walls and trying to capture photos of Rum Tum the cat at his best angle. It’s been work, so much work, and endless pots of coffee. It’s been bouts of bizarre dreams and insomnia, but also lots of baths and even more reading because I’ve invested in bookshelves. It’s been a trip home for Christmas and a New Year’s cruise in the Caribbean, a weekend at the Baltic and in Amsterdam. It’s been the mundane things, like eating dinner and cleaning the bathroom, brushing my teeth. It’s been getting my bike fixed. It’s been watering the plants. Basically, it’s been life.

And also, it’s been a book. Last year, I decided that if I had nothing else to show for my year, I’d finally get around to finishing the book that’s been sitting on my hard drive 95% done for about four years. The book has had its own dramatic history – it would pick up momentum, garner interest, and then plans would fall through, people got busy. It’s okay, I get it. Life happens. Half the time it was my life happening that got in the way.

But in the same way that all of last year’s bitterest moments revealed just how much I have to be grateful for, the book has always been supported and loved on its journey to becoming, no matter how serpentine the turns. » Continue reading this post...

The Onsen at the End of the Earth

Ryokan windows (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The onsen smelled of wood smoke and wet, salty heat. Our shoes we’d taken off inside the door, and they’d been quickly, quietly whisked away before we even realized they were gone. We let them go without much thought, mesmerized by the heavy stillness and dusky smoke. A man in a striped yukata walked past, skin shiny and red, a towel slung around his shoulders.

Hoshi Onsen sits in the midst of mountainous Gunma prefecture about two hours to the north of Tokyo. We’d been almost too cavalier with the directions, not realizing how lucky we were to have caught an earlier Tokyo-bound Shinkansen out of Kyoto until we were standing at an empty end-of-the-line bus stop in the middle of a sleepy mountain town where the Kanji-only schedule informed us that the next bus to Hoshi was the last bus of the day. It was 3:00 p.m.

To reach Hoshi, you take a Shinkansen north to the Jomo-Kogen station, a long and lonely building with just a few tracks, even fewer travelers, the ubiquitous convenience store, and a tiny, fluorescent-lit shop selling bowls of unadorned, yet excellent udon soup (which I know, because we ate some on the way out). From Jomo-Kogen, you catch an old white 30-seater bus that takes you up winding mountain roads, past small hamlets and mostly dense, dark trees, and then a wide slate-colored lake with a row of fluttering fish flags strung majestically across it from end to end. Half an hour gets you to the end of the line at Sarugakyo, and from there, you take an even smaller bus twenty minutes to the last stop on its line: Hoshi.

Hoshi Onsen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Ferns in Minakami (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Tempura vegetables (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Broth with foraged greens (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Wildflowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Trees in full bloom (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The Hoshi grounds (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Somehow, we’d expected something more modern and gleaming, since our online search back in Berlin for an onsen near Tokyo had been limited to tattoo-friendly establishments. » Continue reading this post...