Author Archive

A Tale of Two Beaches

The Baltic stretches out to the horizon placid and pink from the reflection of the early morning sky. There is only a bank of cloud to the west, still heavy and purplish with night, but the eastern sun is quickly burning the sky above the ocean blue and white. I stand at the water’s edge; my bare skin prickles against the chill. I breathe in deeply and walk into the water.

The ice of it sucks my breath away, and today it’s all me propelling my body forwards and under. Gone are the greenish, churning waves of the last few days that slapped up against my belly and chest and made short work of getting in. But also gone is the wall of seagrass torn from the ocean floor and hurled against my legs and into every seam of my swimsuit. The water today is clear. I can see all the way to the neat, rippled rows of sand beneath my feet.

Finally, I’m up to my neck. The horizon is nothing but a scar. At my feet, mitosis; an underwater tumbleweed splits apart, and one half of it is a crab, its back the color of salad leaves left to wilt in the fridge. It scuttles in half circles around my feet and warily, carefully, we dance.

Ten minutes. That’s how long we stay in the water. It’s one minute for every degree Celsius that your body can take before it begins to cool too far, and the water here is fifteen degrees. So ten minutes is safe. Still, my wet skin prickles with goosebumps as it meets the salt-soaked air. The water is only at knee height when a reddish bloom catches my eye. Pulsing furiously and too fast for comfort, a jellyfish red as washed-out bricks shows us his tangled underbelly. » Continue reading this post...

So You Want to Talk about Cats:
Flammkuchen with Shaved Fennel
& Asparagus

So I had been planning to write about cats. Specifically, the cat birthday I was going to throw for Rum Tum light of my life, who turned two on April 8. He’s got a friend staying with him for a month and a half, and in these pandemic times, when you get to be in the same place as a friend, it’s already a party. My human friends with cats were going to Zoom in. I’d organized a Champagne-colored satin dress to borrow. (The aesthetic I was going for was one of those old oil paintings of royalty where everyone’s wearing light blue and pink satin and holding a silky-looking lapdog.) I’d purchased a sparkly gold party hat and a pink bowtie for Rum Tum, two tins of pate cat food – the good stuff  – which I was going to stick with a cat-head party topper and maybe candles, and a pack of milk-flavored cat snacks. Alas, two days before the big day, my human co-conspirator and photographer got corona.

Like my bag of 50-count deflated metallic balloons, I put my cat party dreams on the back shelf of the cabinet, to be dusted off in tamer times. When I finally do it, it’s going to be even bigger, even more absurd, and my cat will still care zero much.

When I finally do it, it’s going to be even bigger, even more absurd, and my cat will still care zero much.

In the meantime, I continue to enjoy the joys and annoyances of having two cats for just a few more days until my friend returns to Berlin to take my godchild away from me.

Universe and the German government, if you’re listening, please make it so that I can spend more time with people again.

But cats.

Zami has taken a while to settle in. » Continue reading this post...

Checking In:
Beetroot Chocolate Cake

Time goes by in a daze. I spend my days doing the same tasks without much variation. I work and I cook and I watch television and I read and I sleep. Stir crazy, I think, is the word for it.

The snow was a good break. It’s been nearly a decade for me since real snow, and even though it wasn’t real, get-out-of-school snow, it was a change from the city’s usual sleet-slush, and we drove out to Spandauer Forst the Sunday after it stuck to take a walk crisscross over the frozen waterways and under delicate ropy loops still clinging to the branches.

It’s gone now. The snowman the one child living in my building built in the courtyard is just an unpeeled carrot on the flagstones. The sky endlessly dribbles out a wintry mix, or just rain when it’s feeling particularly uninspired. The trees are dead, my plants are dying, and I lost my new raincoat. All day, I’ve been singing Leonard Cohen.

Some good news. I never loved green tea before, but now I crave its musky smell, like an old red barn filled with damp hay drying from the heat of itself.

I crave its musky smell, like an old red barn filled with damp hay drying from the heat of itself.

Cat is changing, too. He’s becoming fond of reading. In the evenings, I sit on the couch with a mug of hot drink and a book, and he slinks in beneath my arm, then crawls carefully across one leg and purrs with a deep-throated decisiveness and sleepish eyes. When he tires of being too close – because he’s wary of prolonged closeness – he sprawls himself against my calf, back just brushed against it, so that he’s there, but not there there. » Continue reading this post...

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...