Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Month: October, 2011

Cheese Sauce for Everything

by lyzpfister

There is a battle royale being waged for my waistline.  I live on a sixth floor walk up, so every day I walk up and down, up and down, until I think I’d cry if I see just one more step in my life.  But I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now, all the up and downing, so I think I must be getting in shape.  And then I come home and I make things like potatoes with cheese sauce, thereby undoing all the good work I’ve done.

After a long day of translating, I walk up my six flights of stairs and into the apartment I’m calling home.  It’s easy to step inside and hang a quick right to the kitchen, turn on the stove, and throw some olive oil in a pot, since everything I cook seems to start that way.  I turn on the light, there’s only one small light in the kitchen and the large, orange shade around it keeps the ambiance dim.  Which is alright, I guess, since it gives my neighbors in the building across the way less of a reason to look in my window. Although I know their lives well, by now, so I’m sure they know mine too.  And yet it feels a little Hitchcock to do too much looking – besides, living in New York cured me of all my voyeurism anyway.

The kitchen is a small space, not even the most economical. The stove is wedged between the broken washing machine and the shower and across the countertops are splayed half-full boxes of tea bags, postcards, a potted plant, stacks of books, cutting boards, empty cardboard packages, jars of honey and nutella, small stacks of coins, receipts, ticket stubs, and a plastic placemat with a picture of a palm tree.  But it’s a comfortable kitchen.  And I like it here.

I slice potatoes with one of the kitchen’s two knives – a bread knife and a paring knife.  I won’t lie and say I don’t miss my chef’s knife – I do – but these are sharp and haven’t left me cold just yet. I chop onions and sauté them in the olive oil.  I think this is usually also how my recipes proceed.

The potatoes sizzle as they hit the oil and by now there is the wonderful smell of cooking onions which fills up the small kitchen.  I add chopped red pepper and garlic, a few pieces of basil torn from the dying basil plant on the windowsill, salt, pepper.

But my great experiment of the night is this: cheese sauce.  My dear Sylvia, she’d cooked me dinner, done my laundry, told me stories, and sent me home hands full of chocolates and cheese.

I’d never made a cheese sauce, but I figured that all good things in one pot on low heat would turn out alright.  Butter and Luzerner rahmkäse melting into cream. If I’d thought of it then, I would have added just a splash of the Bayreuther organic hefeweissen I was drinking.  Even without, the sauce was decadent, drizzled over my Eintopf of potatoes, pepper, and onion.  I whipped up a quick salad of tomatoes, avocado, onion with rice wine vinegar, and olive oil and after I had eaten dinner, realized I’d have to run a few more errands up and down and up and down those stairs to atone for the cheese sauce sin.  But it was so good.

My Life Without an Appendix

by lyzpfister

It’s not so bad, really, to live without an appendix.  It was nice, sometimes, to take walks with my appendix, to run errands with my appendix, even to have lunch with my appendix.  But it wasn’t really until my appendix was gone, that I realized what it was to miss my appendix.  I took walks, I ran errands, I ate lunch, and yet, I felt a hole, an appendix-shaped hole, right where my appendix used to be.  It’s been a few months now, since my appendix was taken from me, and I feel a little solace, looking at the three small scars on my belly where at least something was given to me in exchange.  I’ve grown to like those little scars, to like them almost more than I liked my appendix, since when I had it with me, I didn’t pay much attention to my appendix at all.

I’m alone in Berlin now.  It’s strange how, when there were people in the apartment, all I wanted was to be alone and quiet and now, when I’m alone and it’s quiet, all I want is someone else.

This morning, I sent my mother off to the airport at six, and fell back into a cautious sleep.  When I woke up, the apartment was already a different place.  It was more silent, heavier; I was afraid of the sound of my voice.  I’d never paid attention to my mother’s breath, but now that it wasn’t there, I knew what it was to miss her.

I am not comparing my mother to my appendix.  How grotesque.  I’m only saying that we often spend more time clacking after what we don’t have rather than listening for the presence of the things that are with us.  Our lives are in a flux of having and not having and almost always, what we have we will at some point lose.  It’s only perspective, to think I have, rather than I have not, I won’t have, I don’t have anymore.

So, I have: walls of books, two shelves of records and a record player that works, a little red bike, calm in which to work, big windows, walls around me and a roof above me, and somewhere outside of these walls, though I can’t see them or hear them, people who love me.

Ella Fitzgerald kept me company as I made myself dinner for myself.  Yet there was something soothing in the familiarity of being at the stove, in hearing Ella’s voice and singing with her, in the rhythm of the chopping, that kept me thinking, have, have, have.

Pasta with Fennel and Onions

Set a pot of salted water on to boil.  When it’s boiling, throw some pasta in the pot.  In the meantime, heat olive oil in a skillet.  Sauté one thinly sliced onion, one thinly sliced fennel bulb, and a minced garlic clove with salt, pepper, and a little bit of sugar until the onion and fennel are soft.  Add a handful of chopped basil and a chopped tomato.  Maybe some more olive oil.  Let it simmer just a bit.  The tomato is like a new kid on the playground – it takes some time to make friends.  Weeks and years, sometimes, until a friendship forms.  With the tomato, though, it’s not so long, maybe six minutes.  Throw in some capers and toss everything together, the pasta and the onions and fennel, no gentle friendships here, and garnish with shaved parmesan.

Welcome Home, Berlin

by lyzpfister

It’s been a long time, I know.  But I just haven’t had the inclination to write.  I’ve been doing other things – like moving out of New York, studying for the GRE, hiking in Colorado, making a beautiful assortment of to-do lists – and really, I just haven’t been inspired to write anything.  I’ve felt like every time I sit down to blog, I devolve into blasé maxims: food is good, food is love, food brings people together.  And I think all these things are true, but eventually, it’s boring for you to read – and boring for me to write.  I needed something new.

As I sat at my new kitchen table in Berlin, I was reminded of an entry I wrote long ago about sardines on toast.  This blog was begun as a class project almost three years ago, and when I first started blogging about food, I felt that every entry should be thoroughly researched – a blend of fact and memoir – though if you read through those early posts, they sound stilted.  The missing element, my advisor said, was spontaneity.  That day, I had a simple lunch – toasted baguette, butter, sardines – and the food was so good and unadorned, I immediately felt inspired to write about it.  I’ve written about the sardines and the writing since.

I think I keep coming back to that moment because it encapsulates an essential truth about both food and writing.  That both are acts of some skill rescued by intuition and a certain amount of receptiveness, and that sometimes a lesson is felt rather than explained.

Driving down the streets of Berlin from the airport to my new home, I felt both terrified and excited, thinking at the same time how wonderful it would be to grow attached to these streets, and yet, how different they were from my Brooklyn streets.  What possessed me to do this?  Why leave a place I love for a place I don’t know with streets that don’t belong to me and straight-edged buildings that all look the same?

And yet, every place looks all the same at the beginning.  Davidson was a sea of brick and white pillars, Brooklyn a slew of bodegas and graffitied grates, New York noise.  I came to love these places and the people in them until every detail – the worn dirt path cheated across the corner of the lawn on the way to the library, the brothers’ bodega with fresh, cheap cilantro, the bodega with the case of Polish specialties – was a disparate marker of my place.

I remembered this sitting at a kitchen table, the place where I feel the most safe.  And I don’t wonder that my first meal in Germany is one that represents, for me, inspiration, openness, and new beginnings.  And safety too.  Because I think that no matter how exciting this time is, how thrilling it is to feel the streets go from strange to mine, it’s also absolutely terrifying.  Food will always remind me that if I can feel the goodness of a single moment, the bigger piece will also be ok.

It’s good to be back.