Author Archive

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...

Feel the Burn:
Sun-dried Tomato Butter (Tomatenbutter)

Tomatenbutter (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A few days after our apartment burned down, we went grilling in Tempelhof. “We don’t have to buy coals,” I said. “We can just shovel up the remains of the bedroom.”

Hey, I like a joke as much as anybody.

Nevertheless, we did buy a bag of non-homemade coals, and – after discovering that the grill I’d been storing in the damp basement was rusted beyond use – a new grill, too. The humor of a grill being the first household good replaced post-fire is not lost on me.

Tempelhof in the summer is a haze of smoke from the barbecues clustered in the two sections of the park where grilling is allowed. The air is scented with pork fat spitting from the paprika-spiked belly kebabs, sausages, steaks, and good char smell.

Not the toxic char smell that currently blankets the old apartment.

Our barbecue was smack-dab in the middle of the denial phase of my grief process, and it didn’t seem real to me that when the guards came around kicking people out of the closing park at dusk, we didn’t have a home to go to, didn’t have covers to crawl under, wouldn’t have a sleepy Sunday morning to lounge into.

But I also remember how deliriously happy I was, between scoops of salsa and a bratwurst dipped in mustard. I was so thankful to be alive, thankful I was living the life I’ve built for myself in Berlin, thankful for the people who surround me, so sappily thankful for the city itself and all the beautiful people in it.

I was so thankful to be alive, thankful I was living the life I’ve built for myself in Berlin, thankful for the people who surround me.

Long ago and before there ever was a fire, one of those people gave me a recipe for a sun-dried tomato butter called, in German, Tomatenbutter. » Continue reading this post...

Burned

Fire and ash (photo credit Daniel Stifler)

When I moved to Berlin, I moved here with a suitcase. Like Noah, I brought two of each: two sweaters, two pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes, two shirts. On my first night in my new home, I neatly folded each item on the cleared-off top of a bookshelf and realized I’d never had so few things.

But things have a way of multiplying. It didn’t take long before I purchased a t-shirt here, was gifted a hand-me-down jacket there, went home for Christmas and brought back a few more pieces of jewelry. Eight years and three increasingly larger living spaces later, and I was complaining about the overflowing closet filled with clothes I don’t wear, my inability to get rid of things because it might just be useful someday, and the lack of storage space for all the stuff I have.

Had. For all the stuff I had. Because it turns out the most effective way to clean out your closet is to set it on fire.

Just about three weeks ago, our apartment caught fire. That thing that makes you grumble about overly cautious airline regulations happened in our bedroom, on our desk. The batteries in a pair of wireless headphones exploded, setting fire to the curtains, setting fire to the closet, sending noxious black smoke billowing out the balcony door. The neighbors called the fire department, they ran to get me at the office where I work downstairs, and I didn’t see the burn, but from what I heard, it was a surreal show from street-level: orange flames licking the ceiling, the manicured balcony plants blowing greenly in the breeze.

Mirror (Eat Me. Drink Me.)Mirror (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Burned journals (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Slightly burned books (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have been through all the stages of grief. As they clunked out of the building in their heavy gear, a fireman pressed a sheet of guidelines into my hand and said some things that in my shock I don’t recall. » Continue reading this post...

Three Meals in Lisbon:
Chickpea Salad with Bacalhau
& Hard-Boiled Eggs

Chickpea salad with bacalhau (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I. Prado

We have not made a reservation. Two other restaurants will not have us, because they are full, so Prado is just a place that I read about that someone else really liked and it’s nearby and we’re not famished just yet. They don’t have a table available, but do we mind waiting? We can order a drink at the bar. And since we are not famished just yet, and there are lots of plants inside the lofty space and because we like plants, we say, okay, and order the kombucha that’s on tap. We’ve taken perhaps one, perhaps two sips of the slightly sour and tingly drink before our table is ready. And maybe it’s because service in Germany is so far removed from this level of consideration, but I fall a little bit in love with the kindness of the waitstaff, their friendliness and clear knowledge about the menu and what to order, their patience and solicitude, the way they make us feel like we are at home, like there is no right or wrong way to be or eat.

So it is a wonderful thing when the food is remarkable. We order cockles – because – cockles! They’re minuscule and translucent and poised within a sweet, creamy broth tempered by the mineral dampness of spinach. We soak up every last bit of sauce with the bread, honey-brown and crusty, served with both a whipped, garlicky lard and a smoky goat’s milk butter. It is a good tartar, because it comes from a good and confident cut of beef. There are beautiful ceps with swaths of creamy pimiento and sprinkles of crunchy buckwheat and a lovely fish. And then there is the mushroom ice cream, which we have to order – because – mushroom ice cream! And oh, it is earthy and cold and just sweet enough, and there is the rustic chew of pearl barley and a swirl of balm-like caramel. » Continue reading this post...