Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

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...

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...

Keep the Conversation Going – An Interview with Josh Hamlet

Photo credit: Gabriela Herman

Josh Hamlet is electric. He’s the kind of person who infuses whatever space he’s in with that brand of humming energy usually reserved for Friday night football games or the long, clanking trip to the top of the roller coaster before the drop. His mind is always working and seems to be in a hundred places at once. He’s organizing a dinner in New York, working through the details of a travel itinerary in Iceland, nagging writers about deadlines, and brainstorming about an event half a year away – all at the same time. And it’s infectious.

Josh and I have known each other since college. He’s the person who taught me how to move like no one was watching on the dance floor – and how to make a great grilled Portobello. Together, we’ve demolished a trash bag full of taco salad while whitewater canoeing down the French Broad and eaten real shrimp and grits in Savannah.

This October, Josh and I worked on a series of collaborative projects together in Berlin. The timing felt perfect. Josh’s online publication about food on the edges, Counter Service, is taking off in a big way, and I’ve been looking for ways to take Eat Me. Drink Me. out into the community. We spent the month writing and eating our way across the city, hosting a writing workshop, putting on events, reminiscing about the past, thinking about the future, and just basically having a damn good time.

We sat down one morning for breakfast at a very squeaky table to talk about New York, travel, hidden talents, and all things Counter Service.

LYZ PFISTER: I’m just going to dive right in. So tell me, why did you decide to start Counter Service?

JOSH HAMLET: Having worked in the New York food industry for six years, and having worked in food and around food since I was fourteen – I don’t know if that’s legal or not  –

* we laugh *

JH: …I saw so much passion and creativity and talent that was so untapped, because these days, the food industry requires all of your attention. » Continue reading this post...

Tells

A new cookbook and Thanksgiving leftovers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have a few distinctive tells when things aren’t going so well. One of them is that I clean everything so thoroughly even the baseboards behind the bookshelves shine. And though I have a tendency to forget the tops of doorframes because they’re far too high for me to reach and generally out of my range of sight, everything else is fair game. The windows are scrubbed, every corner gutted of dust and grime, even the insides of drawers emptied out and neatly rearranged. You might think this is a constructive habit – that at least if my inner self is in turmoil, my outer world is dazzling – and I can emerge from these periods of anxiety and overwork into a clean and ordered home.

The Berlin TV Tower at dawn (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But it doesn’t feel quite healthy. It takes a long time to clean so thoroughly, and everything I haven’t touched feels like the fuzzled spots of green mold on an orange rind, and the orange rind lines the inside of my skin. I can’t just tidy up here and there and call it a day. I have to scrub the apartment from corner to corner. I have to throw the whole molding orange away.

And I’m not the only one who suffers. One of the stranger tics of this obsessive cleaning is that I can’t water the plants until the whole apartment is clean. Somehow, if I’m suffering, I feel the plants must suffer too.

On the street in Sofia, Bulgaria (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My other, maybe more telling tell, is that I don’t cook.

I guess the end of November, early December is a convenient time to decide not to want to cook. The Christmas markets are springing up all over the city, and for the price of just a few frozen toes, you can gorge yourself on crackle-skinned pork sandwiches and bratwurst split open over licking flames. » Continue reading this post...

An Idiot’s Guide to Missing a Flight: Favosalata

Favosalata (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s a feeling on late summer evenings where the air is like silk or a warm, salty pool of water, and you can’t tell where your skin ends and everything else begins. It’s especially lovely slicing through the city on my little red Hercules bike, the whipping wind more like a caress against bare skin. It’s the feeling of absolute freedom, a briefly endless moment where nothing matters but sensation.

I’d give anything for that feeling now. But I’m in an airplane, just jutting over a cusp of land and leaving Germany behind. The air has that strange quality of being both clammy and dry, singing my nose as I breathe it in. But it’s more than the air, it’s how I feel – shoulders tensed, brain a whirl of jostling pulses. I’m not sure which hysteria to tip into – should I cry or laugh – at the absurdity of the situation I find myself in.

For the first time, I’ve missed a flight. An international one, no less. But what a surreal experience, without frantic or rush – until the fateful moment when my brain clicked and realized what it had done.

Wine, garlic, and yellow split peas (Eat Me. Drink Me.) Spilled split peas (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As a meticulous planner, I checked my ticket – multiple times – checked my passport, checked my route to the airport. I wrote out a list: when to set my alarm, when to to leave the apartment, when I’d arrive at the airport. And yet, while my brain registered that my flight took off at 7 a.m., my brain also registered that I had to be at the airport at 7 a.m. Clearly, two completely contradictory pieces of information – that my brain held in tandem, without realizing how impossible it was.

So I missed my flight and am on a new flight trying to start my now significantly more expensive trip. » Continue reading this post...

On Lost Knowledge

Homemade bread and strawberry-rhubarb jam (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Not long ago, while visiting family down south in the lush, low mountains of Germany, I spotted a cluster of sweet woodruff in the woods. The ground was covered with it, bright green fans of star-shaped leaves bursting with clusters of tiny white flowers. I plucked a leaf and crushed it between my fingers, inhaling its herbal scent, then snapped it up between my teeth, surprised by the tingly punch of cinnamon that pricked my tongue. It was then I remembered something about woodruff’s toxicity – the coumarin that lends it its sweet, grassy fragrance is also moderately toxic to the liver and kidneys. And I couldn’t quite remember if fresh woodruff was one of those things you weren’t supposed to eat. So I spat out the remnants of crushed leaves, still feeling the warm prickle on my tongue. Mother, I promise someday to stop putting unidentified foods from the woods in my mouth.

Processing pine shoots to make honey (Eat Me. Drink Me.) Making "Tannenspitzenhonig" (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Sweet woodruff – or Waldmeister, as it is known in Germany – had been on my mind since sampling a craft-brewed Berliner Weisse topped off with a cap of woodruff syrup the marshy color of a toad’s back.

A sour, cloudy white beer, Berliner Weisse is mainly a summer beverage, and people in Berlin drink it doused with a too-generous shot of garish-colored syrup. Red is for raspberry and green is for Waldmeister, but both taste the same – loud, sugary, and thick. The drink has fallen out of favor, especially with the younger generation. It’s too artificial for our coolly understated tastes. And so I was surprised – but maybe not too surprised – to find a stand at a local craft spirits festival serving the “real” stuff: Brewbaker Berliner Weisse with home-brewed sweet woodruff syrup.

It was nothing like its neon twin – a backwoods relative who scoops the potato salad out by hand at the family picnic. » Continue reading this post...