Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Easter’s for the Cats

Easter chicks (Eat Me. Drink Me) The hungry cat (Eat Me. Drink Me)

My friend Anna has a cat named Monika. Monika, besides being Russian and in possession of her own passport, is small and plump, white with patches of brown and black, with the softest fur in the world. She would make an excellent rug.

But she also makes an excellent cat, a little uncharacteristic in her sociability, quite characteristic in the way she won’t let the puffball Easter chicks live, but has to pull their legs apart and strew the pieces across the floor without a fuss, without a word. The cat’s massacre gift.

This year for Easter, Anna and Monika and I cooked a feast. Monika’s way of helping was mostly to lick things she wasn’t supposed to – but also to sit on our laps when we were too tired to cook – and to guard the Easter chicks and eat them should they get out of line.

In the meantime, Anna and I spent the day cooking: roast lamb with garlic and fresh herbs, roast vegetables, garlicky haricot verts, three varieties of puff pastry tartlets (camembert and walnut / eggplant, caramelized onion and gorgonzola / spinach and feta), deviled eggs, Swedish ägghalvor (eggs with caviar), mango and red onion salad, Russian Easter brioche, white bean salad, red cabbage slaw, and sweet nut brittle for dessert.

herb, lemon, and garlic marinade (Eat Me. Drink Me) browning the lamb (Eat Me. Drink Me)

There’s something quite soothing about spending the whole day in the kitchen. The way scents slowly build – freshly squeezed lemon and cut raw garlic, the first sizzle of meat in a pan, sweet yeast and the vinegar scent of dyeing Easter eggs. There wasn’t any hurry – we’d met early and even had a relaxed lunch of tea with camembert and fig jam on pumpernickel rounds before we started chopping. » 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...

The Nontraditional Easteralist or Curried Easter: Jamaican Strawberry & Pepper Roasted Fish and Curried Mashed Potatoes

Sigourney with the peppers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The smell of frying fish and mangoes shocks the apartment as Sigourney drapes slips of catfish into a hot skillet. We’ve dragged ourselves out of bed for the third time today and this time, the effort seems to have paid off. Last night was a late night. An Easter party, whose connection to Easter seemed to veer toward the irreverent and bunny-themed took up the latter part of our night and the majority of the early morning. There was dancing, neon gin and tonic, and an Easter breakfast haloumi sandwich from the still-open or maybe just opened döner place by the train station.

This isn’t usually how I spend Easter. First of all, I’m usually still in bed at six. Secondly, I’m usually not roaming around the streets of Berlin with a pair of lopsided bunny ears haphazardly thrown together from a paper towel roll and some tape. Usually, I’m with my family. I make everyone dye Easter eggs, I cook an Easter feast, we unwrap baskets on Easter morning, and at Easter lunch we smash eggs together like our Bulgarian guests taught us once.

I guess this is what happens when you decide to uproot your life and move across the world and across the ocean. You make new traditions.

I let Sigourney cook. This is what I did instead… (Eat Me. Drink Me.) strawberry peppers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So our Easter feast this year is a roast Jamaican fish and mashed potatoes. There’s not an egg in sight. There’s no ham, no quiche, no rack of lamb. Just me and Sigourney and rap music and a roasting fish.

Jamaican strawberry and pepper roasted fish (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I love having visitors. Showing people around makes you more aware of the positive qualities of the place where you are. When you have to convince someone else they’re having a good time, you often end up having a good time yourself. Even though Berlin has been a bit moody this week (As Sigourney said, as it started to snow, then hail, then be sunny, “This weather is on its period.”), I’ve really loved watching someone else love my city and know that to some extent, I am responsible. » Continue reading this post...

In Berlin, They Call Berliners Pancakes

frying Fasnet's cakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Well, it’s edible, says my grandfather, as he pops a hot beignet into his mouth and then quickly shakes the heat of it from his fingers. This means that it is actually very good. My grandfather is Schwabisch, where the phrase nichts g’sagt ist Lob g’nug, meaning nothing said is praise enough, is, in fact, nearly the highest form of praise. As far as I can tell, the most generous expression of delight is: Man kann’s essen, which means, you can eat it.

My brother and my grandfather and I are standing in the kitchen, deep-frying Fasnet’s cakes, the south-German name for beignets. We’ve developed an assembly-line of sorts – I’m rolling out dough and cutting it into diamonds, my grandfather is manning the deep-fryer, and my brother is dusting the cakes, blistering with hot oil, in powdered sugar. We’ve developed an unhurried camaraderie, mock-criticizing each others’ methods, telling old jokes, jostling against each other with batches of dough, making faces, taking pictures. The kitchen is warm and smells sweet.

beignets (Eat Me. Drink Me.) opa (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This picture freezes in my mind. My grandfather grins at me in a half-laugh and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, Well, what do you think about that?

His eyes are wrinkled into crescents, his eyebrows lifted like a mischievous child’s as he swings a bottle of Oettinger Pils up to his mouth. And then his back is to me as he flips the Fasnet cakes in the deep-fryer. My brother catches the hot cakes on a plate of sugar and the powdered sugar he dusts onto them melts.

composition: cross, oettinger, donuts (Eat Me. Drink Me.) Fasnet cakes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fasnet (aka Fasnacht, aka Carnival) is mainly celebrated in the southern, Catholic parts of Germany. In Berlin, there were a handful of people who looked at me with confusion. They’d never heard of it.

In Burladingen, however, people belong to Fasnet clubs (called Vereins) which supposedly exist solely to march in the parades and plan parties during the two weeks or so that Fasnet is celebrated. » Continue reading this post...

Right Down Santa Claus Lane

gingerbread hearts (Eat Me. Drink Me)

In Berlin, there’s a Christmas market on every corner.  Really.  Every corner. There’s Gendarmenmarkt and Opernpalais – classy affairs – while the market at Alexanderplatz is a sprawling menagerie of fun houses, fair rides, and staggering, drunken teenagers.  But even besides these large Christmas markets (and those aren’t nearly all of them), there are tiny markets tucked into strange corners, scant strips of wooden houses lined up along the street, as if wherever you go, you absolutely, positively, need to be within arm’s length of Glühwein, gingerbread hearts, and 3-foot long sausages.

Of course.

But there is a certain amount of charm to these closely clustered cottages, though the markets are all relatively alike. Wandering through some of the larger, maze-like getups, you almost forget, for a moment, that you’re actually in the middle of a city. As if you’ve been stuck into a blown up fairy tale land, powdered sugar snow and gingerbread houses.

Bundled-up bands of people huddle around warm places – in Potsdamer Platz, there are tall fire pits, at Alexanderplatz, cylindrical heat lamps – and depending on where you are, these groups of people are students joking about their classmates, or whispering, huddled couples, or Prolls in pink velvet sweatpants and slick and shiny, black down-filled jackets. Conspicuously absent are young children, at least during the evenings, which is when I manage to make it to the Christmas markets. These gaudy shacks, stacks of candy, and carousel rides are for grownups? Na, cool, as the Germans say.

bratwurst at the Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Last week, we walked around the Alexanderplatz market, and when it started to rain, we posted ourselves under the corner of a cottage and sipped Glühwein out of mugs shaped like little blue boots. We people-watched and gossiped, huddling closer together as the rain shifted from a fine mist to an insistent, thick-dropped drizzle. » Continue reading this post...

In die Weihnachtsbäckerei: Gingersnaps

leaning tower of gingersnaps (Eat Me. Drink Me)

I don’t know if this is a thing – whether a whole nation inflicts this on their children, or just my family – but I’m reminded of it every now and then. Like the refrain to Feliz Navidad or the Wrigley’s doublemint gum commercial, the words appear in my head on repeat, and I feel an overwhelming desire to reach for the nearest person, grab their arm with both hands, pump it vigorously so the limb (preferable a fleshy part) rumples back and forth, while chanting, “Butter stampfen, Butter stampfen!” – which roughly translates to “churning butter, churning butter!”

Growing up, you never knew when a Butter stampfen attack was about to happen. Bare arms were extremely vulnerable. Maybe it sounds awful – but I suppose it’s one of those inexplicable childhood joys that involves shrieking and faux escaping, and joy at finally being caught. Butter stampfen, like the German version of steamroller.

That long lead-in story is mostly irrelevant (as most randomly remembered childhood moments are). But I thought of Butter stampfen the other day, while Elisabeth and Sophie and I were making Christmas Plätzchen – like cookies but smaller and cuter. Maybe because baking cookies is such an ingrained childhood Christmas memory. Then again, it could just have been because there was butter involved.

My other hypothesis is that it was because we were playing the god-awful Christmas song, In die Weihnachtsbäckerei (In the Christmas Bakery) and one good Ohrwurm inevitably leads to another. (Another irrelevant, yet interesting side note: the Germans have a great word for songs that get stuck in your head – Ohrwurm – which literally translates to “ear worm.”)

Plätzchen backen during Advent is a true German tradition, much like baking cookies at Christmastime in America. It seems that the world over, people love to be fatties for the holidays. » Continue reading this post...

Love is Wherever You Find It

Thanksgiving dinner (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Warm murmur, glasses clinking, candlelight, the smell of herbs and browned butter, a room full of people crammed around a long, improvised table, a whole roasted turkey. Thanksgiving in Berlin, beautiful.

Jamie and I have spent all morning cooking. Turkey with herbs and butter and apple cider gravy, bratwurst, apple and cranberry stuffing, celeriac and potato mash, carrots glazed in sherry, green beans in toasted walnut vinaigrette, cranberry nut rolls, roasted sweet potatoes with sage, kale and Brussels sprouts salad, apple pie, pumpkin pie… All of the good things Thanksgiving means. Elisabeth comes home around one after a long day at school and a quick shopping trip for some last minute menu items, and begins to set up the living room. At three, a quick pick-me-up (vodka/muddled orange, mint, brown sugar/goji berry smoothie), and back to work. We sneak finger-fuls of gravy base at regular intervals, dance around the kitchen to tacky party pop with whisks, improvise baking dishes from cake pans, toast with cans of champagne.

Our guests arrive between six and seven, I slip into my party dress, purchased at a vintage store last weekend in Paris, wipe flour from my face. We work through until eight – the last minute touches to a big dinner party – adding the olive oil to a dressing of Dijon, shallots, garlic, and sherry vinegar whose flavors have been melding all day, pouring pan juices into gravy base, shrieking at how good the gravy is, grating parmesan. » Continue reading this post...