Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

On Disasters and Finally Finding Pig Tails

Pig tails ready to braise (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The first thing to happen was that the bell fell off. So there I was, seconds after finally reconnecting with my Little Hercules, my beloved and somewhat broken Berlin bike, scouting for my broken-off bell in the middle of the road and trying not to get hit by the oncoming car. It was a success. If you count riding a gearless bike with a screwed-on bell down a potholed Berlin road a success.

I’ve been thinking about disasters that turn out ok recently. Burning sugar and ending up with Christmas cocktails instead of surfer juice. Mixing the cauliflower with the batter before reading the recipe to find out that the florets are meant to be dipped and deep fried – then finding out that the ensuing fritters were great. And myriad other failures that just either weren’t so bad or turned out to be surprisingly nice.

A few months ago, I realized a long-term goal of mine: cooking pig tails. And here’s how this relates: it wasn’t really a success. I’ll be honest, I was actually even a little let down. But what made it ok was that I’d wanted to cook pig tails for years and finally, finally I found them.

Pig tails in a pan (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The search for pig tails started in Brooklyn. I was neck deep in a Fergus Henderson love affair and getting excited in the way that only weird ones do for strange things like offal and bone marrow, dried, salted cod and kidneys. What was great about living in Brooklyn was that these strange things were strangely easy to procure. Salted cod was sold by the bin-ful at my neighborhood supermarket to make Dominican bacalhau, and you could buy everything from brains in a bucket to bull testicles at the nearby Carniceria. So when I read Fergus’ recipe for “Crispy Pig Tails,” I thought, no problem. » Continue reading this post...

’Merica – A List of Things I Love

4th of July (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Stars and stripes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
burgers and corn on the cob (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Once upon a time, when I moved to Germany, I made a list of the things that I thought the Germans did better than anyone else. I think it’s important to love the place you are – but sometimes, when you’ve had one Hefeweizen too many and your belly has grown a döner-shaped hole, you miss the place you left. I’m spending two months of my summer this year in America, and doing my fare share of traveling. Now that I no longer live in the ancestral country, I’m finding that there are some things the Americans just do best.

1. Barbecues The first in my holy grail of Bs: Barbecue. As a one-time Carolina resident, I love my pulled pork soft and buttery between my teeth, doused with spicy vinegar sauce, and topped with slaw. But don’t get me started on a slow-roasted brisket, so rich it simply melts away in your mouth (Fatty ‘Cue, I’m looking at you). At the end of the day, give me anything on an open flame – a sweat-greased grill searing fat from burgers, olive oil soaking into zucchini slivers, a dry rub fused into the crackling skin of chicken thighs – and I am in heaven.

Juicy burgers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

2. IPA Many people are surprised when I tell them that one of the things I miss most about America is its beer (B grail #2). I usually have to hasten and add that I do not miss the beer that most foreigners associate with the United States, that watery piss-potion college students chug from red solo cups, but that I miss interesting craft-brewed batches unafraid of experimentation. I love talking about the taste and texture of beer and the community that grows around certain breweries. I miss sitting out on a deck in summer with a cold summer ale and I miss IPAs. » Continue reading this post...

Things I’ve Never Done: Spaghetti Carbonara

pasta (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I don’t think of myself as a particularly brave person. I don’t have stories about skydiving in New Zealand or bungee-jumping off bridges. I’ve never lived in a third-world village or gone on a solo trip through some really high mountains in a country whose language I do not speak.

I was having dinner with a friend a while ago, and he asked me, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?”

I said, “I… don’t know.”

And I honestly couldn’t think of anything, with the exception of a few stupid stunts I’d pulled in college. And those were stories which, though funny then, would make me seem like that person now. So – no.

My life is lame, I thought. I should pack up my bags and go to Nepal or live with the Massai for a year or go ice fishing with the Inuits. And learn Yupik. Probably I should learn Yupik. Or something.

But is that what it means for me to live an interesting life, a brave life? Is living bravery on a smaller scale still as brave? Is it relative?

People tell me I’m brave for having moved to New York, for then having moved to Berlin, without knowing (in various combinations for each place) whether I’d find a job, an apartment, friends… But I don’t think of these moves as being brave things. They were just things I had to do. So I did them.

If I don’t feel compelled to go skydiving, does that mean it’s cowardice not to go?

I’ve been thinking about these questions as my life in Berlin settles into place. I’m getting comfortable. Comfortable in my routine, in the way I understand myself and who I am here. But I’m happy. And the feeling I felt before I left New York, that anxious, twitching itch like a circus troupe stuck in my gut – I don’t feel that now. » Continue reading this post...

Digits

cucina casalinga, Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here is a true thing: food tastes better stuffed into your mouth with your hands. I decided this definitively at Cucina Casalinga. Drew was visiting. Emboldened by the presence of another American, I scorned the German habit of slicing pizza (pizza!) into bite-sized pieces with a knife and fork and instead shoveled triangles from tip to crust into my hungry little mouth.

I took a few experimental bites with a knife and fork. They didn’t taste as good.

It’s common knowledge that before the wheel was invented, our bushy and laconic ancestors developed the spoon.* Primitive priorities. The wheel was only practical. Sure, it got you from point A to point B a little faster – but the spoon – the spoon had the capacity to distinguish between the classed and the uncouth. Urklk still eating wolly mammoth with his fingers? For shame.

Humans have always loved to make distinctions.

Which is why, sitting in this pizzeria along the canal, surrounded by beautiful people (why are there so many beautiful people in Berlin?), I feel like I should feel ashamed to be greasing up my fingers with hot chili oil and melted mozzarella. For shame, for shame, I hear in the metallic clink of slicing knives, the screech of a fork against a plate.

But what of it? My pizza belongs to me. If I want to dissect it with my hands in public, well, who will be hurt? Society? Propriety? My neighbor’s refined aesthetic?

Is it an American thing to love finger foods? Think of all the wonderful things we eat with our hands: hamburgers, barbeque ribs, pigs in a blanket, corn on the cob. Not only do we revere these foods, we seem to revel in the mess they cause. Say… sloppy Joe’s?

pulled pork sandwich, NY BBQ festival (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

All I can say is that the Europeans are missing out. » Continue reading this post...

The Not All At Once Approach: Pasta with Tomatoes & Arugula

tortellini with arugula and tomato recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I’m not good at change. Anyone who’s ever asked me to make a decision quickly knows this.

It takes me time to think things through. Not necessarily to weigh the pros and cons of a new course of action – but just to get used to the idea of something different.

As a human, I am a huge proponent of the not all at once approach.

Tell me something new, but don’t tell me all at once.

This is also the way I cook. I believe ingredients need time to understand themselves as they melt into a hot skillet – an onion doesn’t want an eggplant until it’s ready. And when they meet, they need time to get to know each other. To feel comfortable as a unit before tomato comes along.

Cooking like this takes longer. But it makes sense to me. One at a time, piece by piece until the composition of the pan has changed. Until it is a full pan, not an empty one.

tortellini with arugula and tomato (Eat Me. Drink Me.) » Continue reading this post...

Cook Like No One’s Watching

roast zucchini and eggplant (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I suffer from performance anxiety. It’s not a big deal, really. It just means that I often cook better when I’m by myself than when I’m cooking for other people. When I’m home alone, there’s no need to prove myself, to live up to having a food blog, to make something so delicious that whoever I’m cooking for never wants to eat anywhere else. I guess that’s what performance anxiety means.

While we’re getting it all out into the open, let me go ahead and admit this now. I’ve never been good at group projects. I like to be either completely in charge or completely the opposite. I take direction well and I lead well, but that nebulous middle ground where everyone’s got a good opinion and we’re all trying to self-moderate – I don’t do that.

It’s not that I was that kid who always got “does not play well with others” on her report card. In fact, I played so well with others that I sunk into the background, becoming an un-player, or a non-entity, a completely forgettable figure. For most of my childhood and young adult life, I’m pretty sure none of my classmates thought I had a personality. If they even knew who I was.

No one believes me now when I tell them I’m shy. Usually, I no longer believe myself. But ask my parents, my grade school teachers, my hometown best friend, who I made cry by refusing to remove myself from the folds of my mother’s skirt the day we met.

I’m not sure if I could pinpoint when it was that I grew into myself, my idiosyncrasies, my strangenesses. Perhaps it wasn’t one moment, but a process of growing. It appears mine is a soul that dislikes stagnancy in temperament as much as location. » Continue reading this post...

Plans: Carrot, Sweet Potato & Sunchoke Soup

my little Hercules (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I was thinking, as I rode my bike rather recklessly the other day, about how much we rely upon the reactions of other people. As I sped down the hill at Hallesches Tor, I skimmed past a man weaving his way along. He was whistling, his step in lazed anti-tune to the sound. And I, too, was feeling the spring breeze in Berlin, letting the bike, brakeless, coast. We were close as I passed. I heard his tune; he surely felt my speed ruffle it out of place.

We expect someone in a straight line to continue in a straight line, without thinking that perhaps their plan had been, all along, to veer suddenly to the left. We continue on our way, taking for granted that the other person’s path runs smoothly within our plans. So we plan and we plan and paths snake along in perpendiculars until one day, they don’t. The man on the sidewalk veers to the left. You crash into him on your bike. It wasn’t the plan.

I don’t want to write a metaphor for happenstance. I just want to observe that we are constantly assuming the outcomes of others’ reactions, when those other people are planners themselves, planning our reactions back at us. It’s dangerous to do too much planning at fast speeds. Dangerous not to allow the veer its own possibility of chance.

We are natural planners – and it is good so – otherwise, how would we build cities, invent, bring our creations into being. We plan our lives, our futures, and these things are good. Still, we can plan and plan and plan and still plan a reaction wrong.

We’ll never drive less recklessly down the hill past Hallesches Tor. We’ll always assume the man to the left will walk in a straight line.

» Continue reading this post...

Icon

my grandmother's wooden spoon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This spoon was a spoon that my grandmother held. She stirred soups with it, melted butter into noodles, nudged vegetables in a pan. All that’s left of it now is the wood that’s worn smooth and what was once a cupped surface that looks as if it’s been licked too many times. The handle is polished with palms and bent, warped from the heat of a skillet. My grandmother has been gone for years. I barely remember her. Although if I close my eyes I can still hear a laugh that I think belonged to her. I have nothing of hers except my name, and that too is shared with my other grandmother. But now I have this spoon.

It was probably once longer, and straighter, and more useful to use. And yet, this is how a wooden spoon should be – well worn, paced, serving until it disappears piece by piece into the dishes it stirs, and these hereditary splinters connect us. » Continue reading this post...